The Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled for June 15-16 in Nashville. To help Kentucky Baptists get to know the four known candidates for SBC president, Kentucky Today reached out to Randy Adams, Ed Litton, Albert Mohler, and Mike Stone.
We asked each of them to submit a 1,200-word essay addressing the following questions:
We are publishing the unedited essays by the last name in alphabetical order on May 16-19.
This is the essay from Ed Litton.
The Cooperative Program is the unified plan of local Baptist churches to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ together with like-minded congregations to extend our reach beyond our ability alone. The purpose is to get the life-changing Gospel to those who are at this very moment far beyond its influence. We truly are better together than we can be alone. We see all along the pipeline of Southern Baptists life, a process that the Cooperative Program aids in spreading the gospel, make disciples and prepares leaders, scholars and missionary personnel and church planters to expand the gospel worldwide.
At times we as Southern Baptist seem to lose our sense of the beauty of cooperation. First, and most important, it is beautiful in the eyes of the Lord. Psa. 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Our unity is not in our cultural similarities but in our theological commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The CP is not beautiful because it is an effective way of financing the mission, it is beautiful because it reminds those who participate that our collective generosity fuels the Gospel movement around the globe.
I have been greatly blessed of God to pastor two Southern Baptist churches, one a plant that grew into a strong church and the other already established. In both churches I led people in evangelism training processes to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their everyday traffic patterns of life. Both churches are unique and in very different cultures yet the priority of sharing Jesus with others, some near and some far, was effective. Evangelism is not a gift for some but a command to all. We are called by Christ to make disciples of Jesus. The beginning of answering the call to follow Him is the call of evangelism. When people are trained and encouraged, they are most likely to share.
The great threat to this strategy is that many of our people in church are in contact with fewer and fewer people who do not know Christ. Or maybe I should say they are in contact, but we have a tendency to develop relationships only with those who look like us, think like us or even vote like us. We are increasingly isolated from a lost and dying world. This was never Jesus’ plan for His church. We are the Salt & Light in this world. Our churches are a comfortable place for believers. Yet we must see people sacrifice their personal comfort for the sake of sharing Jesus far outside the walls of our churches.
A recent article in the Washington Post stated that a full 64% of Americans said they did not know a single person who did not think like themselves politically. Over time we tend to sort out our lives so that we are surrounded by people like us. The Gospel demands that Jesus’ Disciples do the opposite. Jesus lived each day in a pattern of Gospel engagement. He modeled this for His disciples then and now. We are to connect with those who do not look like us, think like us or even vote like us. Not to change their political persuasions but to introduce them to Jesus.
Jesus said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail or overcome it.” First, the church is His church—not mine or my congregations. He founded His church to thrive universally in each part of the world. It also has many and varied local expressions. His church is a movement before it was an organization. As such the Church moves toward a goal. That goal is the making of disciples who take the movement to others. This transformative movement seeks, saves and matures disciples who now live in a distinct way as to make other disciples.
One of the great dangers throughout times has been to see the church as an institution of power or a sacred place. Yet the word used for church in scripture reveals that we are a gathering of God’s people. We gather ourselves together to receive instruction, preparation and deployment into God’s world for His glory.
Since the New Testament makes it clear that the church is a people, made up of every tribe and tongue, we are also called His bride in the Word of God. We are heading for a marriage with Christ that will be the ultimate expression of His glory and honor forever and ever.
We cannot place a value on the church higher than what Jesus has placed upon us. He gave Himself for us. The church offers hope, comfort, strength, and renewal to those who make up her membership. However, it is imperative that we never forget- that we are His on mission with Him in this world.
I will focus on calling Southern Baptist to a place of prayer and fasting in repentance and preparation for a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to move through our churches, networks, and conventions. I will focus on the Great Commandment and Great Commission to advance the gospel as ultimately this is the reason for our union as a convention. We must continue to seek and heal divisions within the SBC family. I will focus on helping to shrink the divide that still exists in our communities between races by urging Southern Baptists in reaching across racial, political, and ethnic divides with the smile of grace. And to celebrate God’s creative power in people who are not like ourselves in color or culture. I hope to continue to hear fresh voices engaged in SBC leadership. My hope is that Southern Baptists will heartily renew our calling to be missional in our communities by reaching whomever God has placed as our neighbors.
Like so many others, we experienced people asking us to prayerfully consider allowing my name to be placed in nomination, so we did. After much prayer, Kathy and I sensed the Lord leading us to move forward in the process of being nominated.
I genuinely love my Southern Baptist family. Southern Baptists introduced me to Jesus, deeply imprinted me with God’s Word, helped me go to seminary, supported the church I planted and the love of my brothers and sisters comforted me in the hour of my deepest loss. It would be my honor to serve and lead this convention of churches to focus our hope in Christ and make Him known to the nations.
Ed Litton is the senior pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, AL.