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Calif. church pastor calls CP ‘investment’

LA PUENTE, Calif. (BP)–Because of the Cooperative Program, St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church can concentrate on Los Angeles.

St. Stephen, where about 850 people participate in Sunday School, expects that each class — and each ministry area of the church, such as its six choirs — has an ongoing mission project in the community around the church, or in Los Angeles County.

“We take our missions giving seriously,” said Anthony Dockery, pastor since January 2008. “We want to have as much global impact with our dollar as we can, and the Cooperative Program helps us do that.

“With our support of the Cooperative Program, we are able to concentrate on what we can do locally. To be involved in the Great Commission, we’ve got to get outside the borders of the [United] States. The Cooperative Program lets us do that, while we serve hands-on here.”

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministries of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. St. Stephen commits 10 percent of its offerings through CP to global missions, and it sends people from the church “all over the world” to support the work of Southern Baptist missionaries.

“The Cooperative Program is an investment in God’s most priceless commodity: His people,” Dockery continued. “It provides us with seminary leaders, church leaders, community leaders and home leaders, plus missionaries. Right now our young adult minister is attending Golden Gate [Baptist Theological Seminary].”

At St. Stephen, the offering is gathered by white-gloved ushers, prayed over to ask God to guide its use, and ceremonially removed from the worship center to a secure location by ushers.

“We can do much more together than we can as individuals,” Dockery said. “Streaming it all together, we can get IMB and NAMB missionaries serving where God has sent them, and our seminaries preparing them…. We have missionaries coming back here on furlough; they give testimonies which are directly impacting our people to go to the mission field…. And when they see Southern Baptists as ‘first responders’ [in disaster relief], they take pride in that, knowing their CP giving are helping in that.”

The Cooperative Program is promoted from the pulpit three times a year, Dockery said. He includes it as part of his annual “state of the church” address, as well as during the times of the SBC and California state convention’s annual meetings. It also comes up during promotion of North American and International Mission Boards’ seasons of prayer and offering.

About 87 people a year are baptized at St. Stephen, although on Palm Sunday this year, at the church’s first-ever baptism in the Pacific Ocean, about 200 were baptized; the figure included many “walk-ups.”

Among many local ministries, St. Stephen goes to “Skid Row” in downtown Los Angeles every Thursday and provides a meal for the people who congregate there. Hygiene kits also are passed out to those who want them, and all is done with the reminder of God’s personal love. On Sunday, those who desire can ride the church bus to the church services.

“You wouldn’t know they were homeless,” Dockery said. “We don’t ask it of them, but they get cleaned up on their own. They sit right with the members.”

St. Stephen also sponsors and hosts an ongoing drug and alcohol rehabilitation program called Free at Last, with meetings held each week. Youth basketball is a big draw that helps connect teens with good influences designed to deflect the peer pressures of being in a fast-paced urban environment.

“We try to have resources allocated at the right time in the right place and the right way,” Dockery said. “The only challenge is helping people to see they actually have a challenge. The biggest opportunities seem to be the needs themselves. What we have to do is to be needs assessors, and meet the needs, and help them see the person who met their needs.

“We might be the mouth piece, but Jesus ultimately is the one trying to get their attention,” Dockery added.

St. Stephen is Dockery’s first pastorate. He was an Air Force pilot for 21 years and served for 17 years as a volunteer at the church, the last 12 as minister of education youth and executive pastor for one year. At the same time, he earned master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

St. Stephen was started in 1964 by Arthur Lyle III with 32 people meeting in his garage. In 1970 E.W. McCall Sr. was installed as the new pastor. St. Stephen grew in a short amount of time to having the largest Sunday School in the California Southern Baptist Convention, and in time McCall was elected second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Dockery succeeded McCall.

The church has a new focus for its ongoing interest in global missions. Several members went to a missions retreat in San Diego earlier this year and were collectively touched by what one church was doing with the needs of a specific people group in West Africa. St. Stephen decided to adopt a village of its own.

Four members recently went to West Africa where they connected with a village of a size the church could handle.

“It’s 99 percent Muslim,” Dockery said. “The poverty level is unsightly…. We’re going back in October to give good news, but it’s hard to just say, ‘Jesus loves you.’ We want them to know we care about them…. We want to build relationships, to start to build a sense of community with the frequency of our visits.”

St. Stephen plans to send seven teams of five to seven people each year to learn what the IMB missionaries and villagers see as their pressing needs, and to meet them at the same time they introduce the villagers to Christ and His great love for them, the pastor said. The church has made a five-year commitment to the village and is open to extending it as God leads.

“We know we’ll get way more out of it than we put in,” Dockery said. “It’s a pistol approach of resource usage, rather than a shotgun. It’s focused, directed attention that will get results, and those will be reciprocating results: we’ll benefit too.”

Members going on mission trips will come back enthusiastic and more supportive than ever about reaching out to people outside the church walls, which will result in more people locally as well as globally coming to know Jesus Christ personally, the pastor said.

St. Stephen also supports its global missions focus with small group mission education: Mission Friends, GAs for elementary-age girls, Acteens for teen girls, RAs for elementary and teen boys, WMU for women and Brotherhood for men.

“By learning more about what our missionaries are doing, and what people like us are doing, we learn more of what we can do to be part of the Great Commission,” Dockery said. “That’s empowering. That multiplies ministry.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal for churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.