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Church helps members live out passion

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (BP)–“I feel fortunate to pastor people who have caught the vision to be what we’re supposed to be as a church,” pastor Stephen Davis said of First Baptist Church in , Russellville Ark., a body of believers that determined 10 years ago to do everything they could to give themselves away.

Davis has led the church for 23 years, and said, “You’re talking to a guy that is just overwhelmed. I’m just trying to stay out of the way. I watched them get focused and catch hold of the vision. Now I’m watching their kids — their kids are becoming the leaders.”

In 1987, before there was an “Acts 1:8 Challenge” in the Southern Baptist Convention, Davis said the church started becoming an Acts 1:8 church. The staff first became convicted that intentional outreach to what Acts 1:8 calls the church’s “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria” and to “the ends of the earth” was the right thing to do. They began to pray, and then they began to line up opportunities to get their people involved.

“People want to have ways to express their Christian faith,” Davis said. “We as a staff laid out the track, and then helped people to find the right train to ride on that track.”

Thirty-eight is the average age of church members at FBC Russellville. Davis has found that the younger generations want something they can be a part of that is bigger than themselves. “We concentrated ourselves on families — on young families. We geared ourselves to that,” he said.

With an average Sunday School attendance of nearly 1,000 and about 1,700 on the church roll, more than 500 people have ventured overseas in short-term mission trips. Every year they go to Africa where they have built churches and trained about 150 pastors. They have gone regularly to Mexican border towns, China, Brazil and the Amazon region. They have also been to India, with plans to do more in that country.

An FBC church member with a particular passion for the Chinese was disappointed when they learned they would not be permitted to enter the area in China where they had planned to go. But she soon discovered that God had brought China to Russellville when she encountered a Christian Chinese college student at Arkansas Tech in Russellville.

The church member soon began hosting a home Bible study for Chinese students, which is attended by about 20 students.

The church now ministers to about 200 international Arkansas Tech students from Japan, Taiwan, India, Nepal and China among other areas of the world, Davis said. Eighteen have prayed to receive Christ and have been baptized since this ministry began.

As for their Samaria, FBC Russellville sends groups about every two weeks to serve in Louisiana and Mississippi helping with the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

Marked Tree, Ark., is one of First Baptist’s “Judeas,” where 150 volunteers from the church recently conducted backyard Bible clubs and home visits that resulted in 72 salvation decisions in that city. This is the third year the church has ministered in the Marked Tree community. Davis reported that some of the youth even had the experience of leading some adults to Christ during the home visits.

As for their Jerusalem in Pope County, Ark., you might find members involved in the twice-monthly River Valley Christian Clinic, a free clinic operated in Dardanelle by volunteers from various denominations. Or they might serve in a skateboard ministry that transports more than 30 latch-key children to a skateboard park each week to enjoy skateboarding, hear a Bible lesson and receive help with homework.

More than 100 church members are involved with a cowboy ministry at the fairgrounds, teaching riding or roping skills, or they might play in a cowboy band or preach.

The church has plans to add more avenues for outreach, such as hunting and fishing ministries. They have also mentored numerous Arkansas churches in short term missions and in evangelism.

“We as a staff give our leadership the direction. The big thing is that our people have bought in to the vision,” Davis said. “By praying, by getting them involved and then letting them give testimonies — that’s what inspires others to get involved.

“It takes time to get there,” the pastor said, “but you have to stay on course. Determine where you want to go and what you’re all about. Get a clear plan and strategy, present it to your church, and then they’ll say, ‘That’s where I want to get involved.'”

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  • Kay Adkins