The cooperation we share in the gospel and its advancement depends upon our relational connectedness. Talking about cooperation is much easier than living out our cooperation.
In one of my recent articles, “There has to be a better way,” I mentioned the necessity of relationships and our cooperation together. This is the way we can work through the challenges we may face and the problems we may encounter.
As one Baptist leader, I believe deeply our cooperation will never be greater than our joint commitment to our confessional conviction, “The Baptist Faith and Message,” and our joint missiological commitment to reaching the world for Jesus Christ through the priority of giving through the Cooperative Program, which helps us advance the gospel regionally, statewide, nationally and internationally.
Furthermore, while each of these are essential, it is our relational connectedness that either elevates our work together or threatens it greatly.
It is apparent that we are being threatened severely by our lack of relational connectedness. If we do anything well, it ought to be relationships. Our cooperation in gospel work will never be any greater than the relationships we have with one another.
As Dr. Oscar Thompson used to say in my classes at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “The gospel always travels on the tracks of a relationship.” This led him also to this powerful, insightful statement: “The word ‘relationship’ may be the most important word in the English language.”
Believing these things, I want to suggest a few thoughts for our consideration about relational connectedness and cooperation:
- Since relationships are valued in the scripture and by our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to increase our belief in the value of relationships, and be willing to go the extra mile to initiate them and sustain them in a healthy manner.
- Relationships take time. Therefore, we need to take the necessary time for people and the nourishing of our relationships with them.
- Our Southern Baptist leaders, entities, state conventions, local associations and partnering ministries must establish and maintain a level of trust with our churches and one another. Failing to invest in and represent our churches causes relational disconnection at the institutional level and jeopardizes our cooperation.
- The Southern Baptist Convention is committed to doing our work together with faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in the Holy Scriptures. We have outlined our convictions in our consensus statement of faith, the Baptist Faith and Message. Being unclear about these beliefs and practices creates relational disconnectedness and endangers our cooperation.
- The funding of our gospel work together through our voluntary giving through the Cooperative Program is not just dependent upon our confessional conviction and our missiological commitment, but also hinges upon our relational connectedness. Therefore, we must prioritize the value of relationships in our Southern Baptist family.
- One of the most challenging things we face in our Southern Baptist family is the decreased amount of time we spend with each other annually. Our meetings and conventions are now shorter and more condensed, which limits our time to talk about our work together. While this may be helpful and necessary in many ways, we have lost and perhaps forgotten the value of our relational connectedness. When time does not allow us the beauty of cultivating and maintaining friendship, it is much easier for people to lose trust in one another, resulting many times in attacking one another. Because we now see less of each other in these gatherings, we do not know each other as well. Therefore, we find ourselves where we are today – often more divided than unified.
- The gospel and its advancement through us is at stake in this urgent time. Therefore, the choice is clear: We must get to know each other more and develop the needed relationships so the gospel will be advanced through us exponentially.
Relationships are imperative in our gospel cooperation together, and I would encourage all Southern Baptists – leaders, pastors, and church members – to approach one another in a spirit of gentleness, humility and understanding to work together for the advance of the gospel to every town, every city, every state and every nation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.)