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Church holds the rope for CP missions

INDEPENDENCE, Ky. (BP)–Pastor Will Langford of Hickory Grove Baptist Church still has the six-inch length of anchor-line rope he received when he was in seminary.

“Hold the rope,” Langford recalled a missionary leader in the mid-1980s challenging a class at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“As pastors, you need to hold the rope for our missionaries,” Langford remembers being told.

“I’m still holding on,” Langford said.

One of the ways he “holds the rope” is by keeping missions in front the Independence, Ky., congregation he leads — including personal examples of the Cooperative Program in his Sunday morning messages.

“What we have found is that the Cooperative Program is a very personal way of doing missions, if you take time to make it personal,” Langford said. “We want to put a face on the Cooperative Program. Our desire is to utilize media and print to feature a missionary a month so our people can become familiar with their ministry.”

“Talking about the Cooperative Program helps us remember the privilege we have of giving,” the pastor said. “Talking about it keeps us involved in supporting missions around the world. Talking about it reminds us we are part of a whole. We are not some island out here by ourselves. We are part of the body of Christ, and we need to participate in that.”

During the seven years he’s been at Hickory Grove, Langford has led the church to increase its giving to missions through the Cooperative Program from 6.5 percent to 10 percent. The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ method of supporting missions and ministries of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I felt strongly that we needed to increase our support,” Langford said. “We need to tithe as a church. What greater message can we share with our church that even in a bad economy you give sacrificially? And, to be honest, it’s been a good year. God is providing.”

Hickory Grove supports the Cooperative Program because it goes where the church cannot, the pastor noted.

“The Cooperative Program is the most comprehensive way to reach the world that has ever been developed,” he said. “It provides support for local, state, national and international ministries. I don’t know of anything else quite like it; its longevity speaks to its effectiveness.”

“It’s the most effective means of doing missions in the history of the world,” Langford continued. “Being Southern Baptist inherently says we’re making a commitment to our missionaries, and I’m not going to do anything to water down that commitment.”

Because Hickory Grove is a healthy church, it can keep its commitment to missions while it also ministers in its local community, throughout Kentucky and across the United States, Langford said.

Through Sunday School, small groups, recreation, Upward sports, local ministry opportunities and North American mission trips, Hickory Grove members draw closer to God and His direction for their lives as they reach out to others.

About 700 people attend Hickory Grove’s two Sunday morning services, but about 1,300 were on hand during three Easter services, which indicated to the pastor the potential span of the congregation.

“We have to be careful that the back door is not as wide open as the front door,” Langford said. “Life groups are one way we’re addressing that issue.” Life groups started last September when the church stopped having Sunday evening services.

“We were running 150 Sunday night, on a good night,” the pastor said. “To me that showed Sunday nights were not effective. We have about 300 who meet in life groups — and for two hours each week instead of one.”

“We have seen not only an immediate impact in the fellowship of the church, but we have seen growth: We baptized 27 people in the last quarter of the year, after we started the life groups,” Langford said.

Upward sports also has been a spiritual boost to people in the church and the community. About 500 boys and girls are involved in Upward Basketball; 40 girls in cheerleading; and 200 boys and girls in co-ed flag football.

“We started it; been doing it for eight or nine years,” Langford said. “It’s really built a sense of cooperation among churches and the community.”

“We’re working together every year, and it’s not just Baptist churches,” Langford continued. “It’s kinda cool how we can come together, because we’re all committed to sharing Christ.”

“We’re living in a day when sports teams are dominating the culture,” Langford added. “We feel we reach a lot of unreached kids and their families every Saturday.”

Upward sports involves a biblical, character-building devotional during practices and breaks at halftime during games. A major evangelistic thrust is made during end-of-season events that draw parents, friends and neighbors.

“We have big awards nights at the end of each season, and typically we’ll see 40 to 60 decisions for Christ at those events,” Langford said of what he described as “a Kingdom-building ministry.”

Among its other local ministries, Hickory Grove has had a preschool daycare for 20 or more years that draws about 100 youngsters, most from unchurched families in Section 8 low-income government housing.

“We also bring those families in for awards and graduation and really have a chance to love on our community,” the pastor said.

This “community love” continues through Thanksgiving and Christmas, with church members delivering up to 150 boxes of food to people in the community, plus clothing, each of the past four years.

“I was dumbfounded when I saw how many of our folks got involved with this,” the pastor said of the outreach, which was suggested by one of Hickory Grove’s members.

“We take everything to them, rather than asking them to come here to the church to get it,” Langford said. “We’ll pull up with trailers packed with food …. Then we invite them to come out to the trailers, where clothing has been separated by sizes, so they can choose what they want and need. … It’s really neat to see our members praying with these folks.”

All five members of Hickory Grove’s vocational staff do pastoral counseling; one is particularly good at finding people jobs, Langford said.

In addition to its local ministry, Hickory Grove is involved in church planting. In the last three years, the church has participated in two new church plants: Heritage Church in Mason, Ohio, and Journey Church in Florence, Ky.

Heritage Church, from its beginning in the fall of 2008, has expressed a commitment to Southern Baptist mission causes by committing 10 percent of its budget to the Cooperative Program. And the church has become strong enough to call its first pastor.

Hickory Grove also wants to be involved in a North America mission trip for families every year.

“What I love about missions is that anybody can do it,” Langford said. “We do a family mission trip every year, with backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible School, church construction projects and the like. We’ve even done basketball clinics.”

“It’s been one thing that’s brought us all together in serving our Lord,” the pastor continued. “It strengthens fellowship, develops conviction and passion, and inspires us to be part of the Great Commission.”

As part of its North American outreach, Hickory Grove mission trips in recent years have spread out to Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; and Appalachia.

“Our families really enjoy that,” Langford said. “We feel like families should be doing missions together. There’s no better way for children to learn about missions than to do missions with their families.”

“We’ve been given a commission to reach the world, to take the Gospel to the world,” Langford said. “When we go on these family mission trips, it gives our church a better understanding of how our missionaries serve, what they sacrifice. Second, going on these mission trips increases their burden and their conviction of the need to be supportive in their giving and their praying. There is no way we’ll fulfill the Great Commission without conviction.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.