April 22, 2003
JEFFERSON CITY – The restructuring of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has created a "Mr. CP," an ambassador for the Cooperative Program who is passionate about his new role.
"It’s our future," said Mike Dennis. "Not only is it our past, but it is absolutely our future."
Dennis was wondering where he might fit into the restructuring when he was asked to pray about becoming Mr. CP, the Baptist Building leader who specializes in the Cooperative Program.
"I didn’t have to pray very long," he said. "It was just a natural fit. I was delighted for the opportunity of working with the Cooperative Program."
The Cooperative Program has been the financial channel of the Southern Baptist Convention since 1925. By cooperating in this manner a large army of missionaries has been mustered. Through the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, Southern Baptists now support 10,200 missionaries.
Dennis said he must build on this heritage while analyzing whether other ideas are gaining favor. Some Baptists would like to return to the old societal method of raising support; a new state convention may try to chip away at CP. Rather than chip away, Dennis wants to build.
"As we do disintegrate, and we have more and more entities that are striking out on their own, all of those entities will seek to have a hearing with the church," Dennis said. "The local church will become so tied up in knowing who to let speak and when that all their efforts are focused on letting people come in to gain access to their pulpit.
"But as God’s people come together as Southern Baptists, and we begin to pray together and begin to seek God’s will together and that Cooperative Program budget is adopted, God leads us to do some marvelous things we could never do apart."
Why has the word cooperative been so important to Southern Baptists over the years? To be cooperative in the sense that a Baptist seeks to be in cooperation with the Cooperative Program is close to the heart of Baptist life. This is how Dennis defines himself. He is a CP Baptist.
"I’m a product of CP," he said. "I’ve been on the receiving end of CP. I’ve been on the giving end all of my life, and I have a great heart for that area."
The story that Mr. CP has begun to tell is a story that includes anyone out of the Baptist Building who comes in contact with anyone in Missouri who calls himself a Southern Baptist.
"All of our staff, when we go out in all of our churches, we represent the Cooperative Program," Dennis said. "Every single one of us, from support staff to our executive director, we represent the Cooperative Program. Our appearance there is possible because of the churches’ gifts through the Cooperative Program.
"We need to tell that over and over and over again."
Support for CP in 2003 is somewhat uncertain. A potential shifting of a small group of churches into a new convention is causing Dennis to pray through key elements of his job description.
"In order for us to get a direction, we’ve got to determine where we are and the reality of what’s occurring today," he said. "We need to have a firm enough grasp of that so that we can sense God’s leadership in moving our churches toward that cooperative spirit in giving."
His strategy is to pound the pavement.
"I’ve going to be traveling more than I have before," he said. "I want to be in the churches. When I worked with small churches, we had a personal goal of being in a couple of hundred churches every year. I want to do that. I want to be in the churches with the people so I can hear their hearts, hear their passion, so that I can encourage them to carry that out.
"We’re only going to be as strong as that good base is intertwined with one another. We’re not always going to agree, so we’ve got to be firm enough, grounded, that we don’t lose track of who we are."
An example of how this strategy works came during an all-day Saturday meeting with deacons in a local church. Dennis and Monty Hale, MBC leadership development specialist, described themselves as North American missionaries as well as state missionaries.
"Our presence there was made possible through their Cooperative Program gifts, and we expressed appreciation to them for that," Dennis said. "We’ve been sort of bashful in doing that. We just need to encourage our churches by telling the good things they have done."
Dennis would like to challenge churches to set aside at least 10 percent of their budget for the Cooperative Program. This ought to be a good starting point throughout the state, he said.
To turn from 78 years of success would be a mistake, in his opinion. To build on CP would be preferred."It’s been highly successful," Dennis said. "It’s almost another wonder of the world."