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Ala. congregation reminded about stewardship principles

BAY MINETTE, Ala. (BP)–In the late 1970s, First Baptist Church of Bay Minette was reminded of a biblical principle about stewardship — God will honor our faithful giving.

When they dropped their Cooperative Program (CP) Missions giving from 18 to 12 percent, the church’s total receipts dropped to the point that for the first time in years, they didn’t meet their budget needs.

The pastor wanted to drop the percentage to 10 percent — the deacons held the line at 12, but for a second year, the church failed to meet its budget needs.

Henry Cox was called as senior pastor in 1981 and that year the CP Missions percentage was raised to 14 percent.

“We met our budget in that next church year and we have met and exceeded our budget needs every year since,” Cox said. “CP Missions fits in with God’s wonderful plan of economy. I think as you give, God allows you to become a channel rather than a reservoir. If you stop up that channel by hoarding the money, you abort God’s plan of economy.”

First Bay Minette today gives 20.5 percent of undesignated receipts to CP Missions, and 4.5 percent to Baldwin Baptist Association. And that’s just a start of what it does in missions and ministry.

“First Baptist Church of Bay Minette met my needs 50 years ago when they led me to accept Christ as my savior,” said Frank Burt, former chairman of the deacons. “They met my needs when they supported and celebrated my marriage 49 years ago.

“They supported my family through the births of my children and their growing up years,” Burt continued. “They supported me through hard times and good times …. Where could I find a better place to worship my Lord, support His work and enjoy the fellowship of such good people? My wife and I love this church.”

And they love the pastor, the deacon said.

“His ability to lead and work with the staff of the church helps strengthen the church,” Burt said. “Even after hearing him and working with him for 23 years, Henry Cox still challenges me to better serve Christ and His church.”

Youth groups at First Bay Minette are involved in resort ministry on the Gulf Coast; youth and adults are involved in migrant ministries. About 20 men are trained in disaster relief — the hard work of chain saw and mud-out ministries; they’re on duty in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley in Florida.

“Our church led the way to purchasing and equipping a van for the association, fully equipped with chain saws, shovels etc. for disaster relief,” Cox said. “Most of these men have a knack for this, a love for this. They love to minister and to help.”

This team doesn’t just wait for disasters, the pastor said. They’re often found in the community, taking care of trees that need to be removed and making structural repairs as needed.

“We have a widow in the church who called me a month ago about a tree that was causing the deterioration of her house,” Cox said. “The men took care of that; now we need to repair the house, and we have men interested in doing that, too.”

Men and women from First Bay Minette are trained in disaster relief food services, including operation of the state convention’s 18-wheeler food trailer. They’re also trained in construction ministry.

Disaster relief has been a ministry priority for about 15 years at First Bay Minette; construction ministry has been a priority for 30 years or more.
“Since I’ve been here they’ve gone to Guatemala, Honduras, Spain, Matamoras, Mexico twice, and Alaska to build churches and other structures,” Cox said. “This past year we went to Philadelphia and framed up a building and blacked it in.

“The people come back and have a first-hand knowledge of mission needs and mission work, and share that on a personal level,” Cox said. “It keeps the spirit of missions very much alive and has immeasurable positive connotations for those who are involved and for the church as a whole.”

First Bay Minette does face challenges, Deacon Burt said.

“I see our challenges as the world’s competition for people’s time,” Burt said. “Most people are so very busy that they lack time for their spiritual needs. This is true of church members as well as those people the church is trying to reach.

“The aging members and their physical needs are visible on a daily basis,” the deacon continued. “How do we meet those needs? Also, the educational needs of our membership must be met. If we are to grow and reach others, we must be trained to perform those tasks.”

The church’s strength comes from the membership’s love for Christ, each other and those on the other side of church membership, Burt said. “We really care about people and their needs, both spiritual and physical,” the deacon said.

The pastor concurred.

“I have been blessed by the emphasis on missions here,” Cox said. “It has increased my zeal for missions and given me more desire to be involved in missions and to keep missions in focus.”

First Bay Minette’s basic purpose is missions, Cox said.
“We are here to reach people for Jesus and to teach people about Jesus,” the pastor said. “The church’s love for missions has also made it easier for me to lead the church. I haven’t had to convince them that missions is our primary calling.”

That includes providing for the needs of the church, Cox said.
“We ran two services for nine years, until we decided to build a new worship center,” the pastor said. “It cost $4.8 million; we paid for it in four years.”
The church paid cash for four smaller building projects, such as a new kitchen building and appliances.

“God has just blessed us greatly, and we think it’s because we’ve stayed true to missions giving and to giving through the Cooperative Program,” Cox said. “The whole church feels that way. We have proven to ourselves that it works.”

Giving to and going on CP Missions projects has another benefit for the church, the pastor said.

“In the 23 years I’ve been here, we’ve never had a faction, a split, a big squabble, and I think it’s because of our missions emphasis,” Cox said. “The people are more concerned about working together to share the gospel and to carry out the Great Commission than they are to have their own selfish desires fulfilled.

“That doesn’t mean we never disagree, but we’ve always done it pleasantly,” the pastor continued. “It’s been a joy to serve here as pastor. There’s a strong sense of unity and togetherness, which I believe ties in with our missions emphasis.”