To suggest America is experiencing rapid change may strike you as an elaborate understatement. Ironically, for most of our lives cultural change has been a constant. America is no stranger to change and even frequent disruptive adjustments to the status quo. In the midst of rapid change, regardless of how frequently it challenges us, we always have choices to make.
We can recoil and hope for the best, or we can get involved and attempt to influence the moment. Southern Baptists have a history of choosing action.
For instance, in 1919 our Southern Baptist predecessors, including Baptist leaders in Texas like George W. Truett, L. R. Scarborough and J. B. Gambrell, led the convention to embrace a vision that would capitalize on global change and get serious about reaching the nations for Christ. They and others championed the idea of a new way of cooperating to fund missions, evangelism and theological education. The $75 Million Campaign of 1919 was an effort to raise $75 million for missions and ministry.
By 1925 their initial vision matured and was presented to the convention as a way to work cooperatively and sacrificially to do “missions, teaching and benevolence.” The plan was adopted, and the Cooperative Program, which still serves as our best way of funding the Great Commission, was born.
Most of us are familiar with that history, but for a moment, consider those dates. Think about the cultural upheaval around those events. From 1914-1918 America was embroiled in World War I. The next year, Southern Baptists began pressing for a coordinated giving mechanism. In fact, L. R. Scarborough used the unity and sacrifice exhibited by the nation during the war effort as a prime example of what can be done when we sacrificially commit and work together. So rather than letting the specter of war and the cultural disruption it caused stop them from launching their vision, Scarborough appealed to that same can-do spirit present in the nation during the war as a catalyst for funding missions.
In addition to the national challenge of war and its aftermath, the most deadly pandemic of the 20th century claimed nearly 700,000 American lives as the influenza of 1918 spread across the country and around the world. Still, Southern Baptists soldiered on with their vision to reach the world for Christ despite the fact the convention was mired in crippling debt at the time of the Cooperative Program’s adoption.
Then, just a little more than 48 months after the 1925 Convention, when the Cooperative Program began, the stock market crash of 1929 led immediately to the Great Depression. Still, Southern Baptists gave generously and pressed forward with their new Cooperative Program.
It’s obvious from this brief overview we are not the first generation to experience big challenges and constant change. The exact circumstances may be different today, but, in one sense, the questions before us are the same: Will we recoil at this moment of cultural change, or will we work together and give sacrificially in the face of the volatility around us?
The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, as we trust God with the future and give faithfully and sacrificially through the Cooperative Program, will continue to support missionaries, minister compassionately and responsively in times of tragedy, plant churches and train a new generation of men and women for ministry. Our work together is greater than anything we can achieve separately. Cultural change is not a reason to stop working together.
On the contrary, the constant change in culture and many of the problems associated with destabilized cities, families and emerging cultural norms are clearly calls for us to work more in sync than ever before. We work better as a team.
Our generosity and faithfulness in giving is part of our answer to volatility and change. We give not in spite of change but as a response to it. After all, we are proponents of change – the kind that occurs in the human heart when lost people become followers of Christ.
Through sacrifice, generosity and teamwork, God has used Southern Baptists as a powerful witness across Texas and throughout the Southern Baptist Convention. In the days ahead, regardless of unforeseen changes, our support of the Cooperative Program can be among the things that don’t ever have to change.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kie Bowman is senior pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas, and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)