By Jarrett Stephens, Teaching Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These words were the driving force that unified Southern Baptists and compelled them to begin what we now know as the Cooperative Program (CP). Established in 1925, the CP was a way to fund SBC mission endeavors so that the Great Commission could be accomplished in a more effective way. Church leaders felt that they could accomplish more, give more, and see more fruit when they worked together.
I believe that with all my heart. It’s why I continue to participate in the Southern Baptist Convention. Do we have our issues? Sure. (Come to the summer business meeting and you’ll see some of them!) But what brings us together and keeps us united is much stronger than what could ever divide us: our passion to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth. This has been our rallying cry from the beginning, and if we are to have a future as a convention, we must continue to rally around the task Jesus left us. Everything else much come second.
So how do we keep the Great Commission primary? And how can we make people see the importance of funding that mission? In a word, vision. As my pastor, Dr. Jack Graham, often says, “Vision funds mission.”
Here’s what it means for vision to fund the mission, in the three concentric circles of SBC life–the local, state, and national levels.
God didn’t choose a mission for his church. He created his church for the purpose of mission. And the local church is the headquarters for that mission. It’s the responsibility of local church pastors to lead their congregations to be engaged and involved in reaching their neighbors, their coworkers, and their friends with the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as taking the gospel to the nations.
If a congregation cares about the Great Commission, that nearly always begins with the leadership. At Prestonwood, for instance, we make sure people know the Great Commission involves praying, giving, and going. When we teach on stewardship and sacrificial giving, we connect it to missions by celebrating what our people are giving to.
As local church pastors, when we begin to champion the Great Commission and paint a compelling vision of how it’s being accomplished, an increase in giving will be the inevitable result. Vision funds mission.
Our state conventions provide an invaluable resource in assisting local churches to accomplish the Great Commission. They offer disaster relief, help plant churches, and coordinate a dozen other ministries that meet tangible needs in Christ’s name. I’m incredibly grateful for the work of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention specifically, as they have been a great partner in many of our church’s mission endeavors.
Due to the urgency of the times and the devastating lostness surrounding us, however, the Southern Baptist Convention has to evaluate how best to allocate its dollars in light of global lostness, both in the most under-reached parts of our own country, as well as the overwhelming number of unreached people groups in the world .
In bringing this up, I know it raises the difficult–but inevitable–question: “How much?” How much should we be keeping in our state conventions? Is a 50/50 split our goal? Something more?
These aren’t easy questions to answer. But it’s more important that we recognize the role of vision in all of this. Let’s look to those state conventions that are setting a new pace for getting the most resources to the least reached places. We may not have to copy their exact numbers, but we should be inspired to follow their example. I believe that the more we open our hands to send Cooperative Program money out, the more God will be faithful to bring Cooperative Program money in. Vision funds mission.
The greatest way that the SBC can fuel Cooperative Program giving is by helping to control the narrative of what the SBC is about–namely, missions and evangelism. People may know what we are against; let’s make sure they know what we’re for.
Thanks to the hard work, tireless effort, and sacrifice of many pastors and laymen, the Southern Baptist Convention has been known for The Conservative Resurgence. We were known and recognized for what we were for: a return to allegiance to Christ and biblical fidelity. This is what made be proud to be a Southern Baptist when, as a college student in 1997, I attended my first convention. And this is what we must do at a national level. We must explain to the world what we are for!
- We are for working together through our state conventions and national entities to accomplish the Great Commission.
- We are for supporting our six seminaries that are training up more than 16,000 pastors, missionaries, and future church leaders.
- We are for the North American Mission Board and the planting of more than 900 new churches in the last year.
- We are for the International Mission Board and the 4,000 missionaries we support all over the world.
As we share what we are for and communicate how the Great Commission is being accomplished through the Southern Baptist Convention and its entities, Cooperative Program giving will only increase. Vision funds mission.
For me, and a generation of pastors like me, this is our resurgence. We are ready to take the lead in this. We are ready to sacrifice. We are ready to make tough decisions. We are ready to unite and rally our churches around that which matters most—taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
For the past six years, Jarrett has served as Teaching Pastor at Prestonwood. He is part of the Preaching Team and preaches during the Saturday Worship Service at the Plano Campus and on various Sunday mornings at all three campuses. Jarrett also oversees the Internship Program, which includes more than 30 interns at any given time, and the Prestonwood Network, which gives support to ministers all over the world who are leading churches planted by Prestonwood.