There’s a homeless man who lives in Chattanooga tucked under a towering overpass. He abused crack cocaine and alcohol. Physically, his life was a wreck and heading for death. Spiritually, he was heading for hell. But about a year ago, someone navigated quarry stones, briar bushes and the threat of personal harm to share the Gospel with him.
Today, “Tree Man” Smith is clean and sober, and is a missionary because he is taking the Gospel to others ranked among societies outcasts.
There’s a Mexican man living just south of Knoxville who never read a Bible and never heard the story of Jesus. Actually the only time he really ever heard Jesus’ name was when it was taken in vain. He lived just outside the Bronx, in New York, for more than 20 years, but he heard the Gospel on a visit to Knoxville during a neighborhood dinner in a trailer park. Conviction hit hard and grace descended quickly. He was baptized on a rainy July Sunday afternoon in a lake new Oak Ridge.
There’s a young Muslim man who came to the United States a year ago to study English at the University of Memphis. He had a limited grasp of the language and knew only one other person on campus. But that changed when a young man from U of M’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry became a friend. That friendship grew to spiritual mentorship, and that led to deliverance from the oppressive religion of fundamentalist Islam to the salvation found in Christ and through the Gospel.
I share these three great stories because they communicate the importance of the local church, the Cooperative Program and the Tennessee Baptist Convention working together to bring to bear a Gospel witness on the spiritually lost population living in our state.
Over the past several weeks I’ve been sharing the TBC’s desire to see at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024; to have at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024; and to plant and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024. These are the first three objectives of what we call the Five Objectives. Number 4 is to, “realize an increase in annual local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024.”
If you’ll notice, the first three of these objectives focuses on reaching Tennesseans with the Gospel. This fourth objective relates to resourcing that initiative. It is appropriate that this column falls in this second week of October since October is Cooperative Program month. It is certainly an opportunity to celebrate how the Cooperative Program has been at the heart of our Great Commission effort as Southern Baptists for more than 90 years. What a great opportunity to pause and thank God for the millions of lives He’s allowed us to impact through our cooperative effort during that time.
But let’s not get lost in nostalgia. We have 3.65 million people in Tennessee alone who are still as spiritually lost as were the three men I mentioned earlier. So how, exactly, did local churches, the Cooperative Program and the Tennessee Baptist Convention make a difference in these three lives and how can we continue to make a difference long into the future?
First, local churches had a direct involvement in reaching these men by financially giving through the Cooperative Program. Although geographically disbursed, Cooperative Program offerings given through the TBC enabled church planters and specialists to be on the front lines of spiritual darkness sharing the Gospel. In the case of the University of Memphis, churches (and associations) across our state support 24 campus ministers who are mentoring the next generation of missionaries. These young men and women are leading people to Christ who are from some of the world’s most spiritually closed countries.
Another connection between local churches, the Cooperative Program and the TBC is that the TBC works in cooperation with local churches to extend local church ministry. Two of our Chattanooga Baptist Churches have been heavily involved in reaching the homeless, and the TBC has offered practical support and expertise. One of our Hispanic Churches in Knoxville is launching multiple 1-5-1 Bible study groups and the TBC has provided training and guidance. Multiple churches in the Memphis area tangibly support the work of our BCM in ways like providing meals for functions, but they also welcome into their congregations these new believers from around the globe.
As you can see, the Cooperative Program truly does allow us to do more together here in Tennessee, across North America and around the world than we could ever do individually. It is a shared opportunity that reaps a God-glorifying result. Churches increasing their Cooperative Program giving even the slightest amount individually will have a profound collective impact. As Southern Baptists, we’d be able to significantly increase the number of missionaries we send out to our respective Jerusalems, Judeas, Samarias, and to the ends of the earth.
I’ll have traveled to all 95 Tennessee counties this year by the first week of November. I’ve met some great people, preached in some great churches and seen God doing some great work. God has used Southern Baptists and the Cooperative Program to accomplish His mission in our state and around the world. Let’s celebrate, but let’s keep pressing forward in a cooperative effort through the Cooperative Program for the glory of our Savior.
There are still a lot more great stories waiting to be told.