When I think of the Cooperative Program, it reminds me that, when I was a senior in high school in 1965, my youth pastor asked me to go to a youth conference at the First Baptist Church of Dothan. Most of the expenses for the conference were provided by funds given through the Cooperative Program.
During that conference, I heard the most amazing messages that touched my heart and caused me as a fairly new believer to commit to a closer walk with Christ.
One message in particular was like a burning bush experience. V. L. Stanfield from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary said that God was going to call some of the high school students in the conference to “vocational service” for the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thought that was great — as long as it wasn’t me! I had already been accepted at the University of Alabama and was going to major in pre-law, then go on to law school and become an attorney. I could really support a lot of preachers and missionaries with all the money I planned to make, and I hoped that God would call some of my friends into the ministry.
I was so disappointed that, when the invitation was given, none of my friends went down the aisle to answer God’s call. Dr. Stanfield was about to close the service when he said, “Someone has been waiting for some of their friends to come forward, but God is calling YOU, not them!”
He may as well have pointed to me, and he said, “If you are willing to say that once you know that God is calling you, you will answer ‘yes,’ then raise your hand and I will pray for you.” My hand shot up into the air, and I felt a peace like I had felt when I surrendered my life to follow Christ as a 16-year-old lost church member.
As I sought counsel from my youth pastor and Arthur Walker who was the interim pastor of our church (and also dean of students and church history professor at the newly renamed Samford University), it became apparent that God wanted me to enroll at Samford.
When I enrolled at Samford, the Cooperative Program enabled me to receive scholarship funds for ministerial students and with the help of my parents be able to graduate without incurring any student debt.
God then led me to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where tuition and to some extent the ability to live on campus in very affordable student housing were underwritten by Cooperative Program funds.
Baptist people from all across the Southern Baptist Convention gave their money to God, and I was blessed by their faithfulness and prepared by godly men for a life of ministry.
In some small way I feel that God has allowed me to “pay back” some of these blessings as the churches that I have served have given through the Cooperative Program to spread the Gospel in North America and around the world, to help provide education for God’s servants in this generation and to minister in Jesus’ name to hurting people.
The best investment that I have ever made is when I give to God, through my church, and my church gives to God through the Cooperative Program. If every Alabama Baptist church would give 10 percent of their undesignated offerings through the Cooperative Program, we could double or triple the effectiveness of our missionary work. When your blood flows through your body without any problems then you generally are blessed with good health. When the blood stops flowing you will get weak, sick, and die. The Cooperative Program is the lifeblood of the Southern Baptist Convention. I hope and pray that every member and every church will be faithful in supporting the Cooperative Program.
Mike Shaw is pastor, First Baptist Church, Pelham, and past president, Alabama Baptist State Convention.
Mike Shaw served as the Pastor of First Baptist Church, Pelham until his retirement in 2015.