OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) — Only Way Baptist Church has been rotating its “3 R’s 4 Him” outreach emphasis for the last 18 months.
It’s a concept developed by Tim Morlan, pastor since 2010 of the rural, historically Native American church that is more than an hour’s drive outside the Oklahoma City area. Today, the pastor describes the congregation as “more cowboy than Indian.”
The “3 R’s” are those absent from among the membership roll of the church. They get the church’s focus in the first month. The roads — or community — around the church are targeted in month two, and relationships that members have with friends, family and coworkers are gleaned for gospel opportunities in month three. Then the cycle repeats.
But the church’s giving to Southern Baptist mission and ministry efforts through the Cooperative Program hasn’t changed at all since at least 2001 — and probably years before that. A full 15 percent is directed toward CP each month out of the tithes and offerings of the 35 people who participate in Sunday morning worship.
“It’s just been part of the culture of the church to always be supportive of the Cooperative Program,” Morlan told Baptist Press. “One of the Indian pastors taught a lot on giving, and it became ingrained in the people to give.
“They wanted to do more than just 10 percent,” the pastor noted. “They wanted to give a good percentage of what they have.”
Only Way Baptist Church has seen many of its members find ways to serve beyond their financial gifts.
“Sometimes I used to be discouraged with small congregations,” Harold Heiney, a Native American and 60-year missionary to Native Americans, wrote in his 2015 autobiography, “Come, Walk With Us.” “It doesn’t seem like you can get anybody to go to church; but every time this comes to mind, I think back on the Only Way Baptist Church…. It’s never had over 30 to 35 people in church, but out of that one little church have come at least 25 full-time Christian service people.”
Only Way Baptist started in 1912 as a Native American mission to Sac and Fox Nation members living on their reservation northeast of Oklahoma City.
“They got the name because [the Native Americans who started the church] said, ‘We have tried all the old Indian ways and we have come to believe Jesus is the only way,'” Morlan recounted from what he had been told by long-time members.
Located on a five-acre corner of Sac and Fox land that was donated to be a Baptist church, the struggle over the years has come from tribal members who see Christianity as “the white man’s religion” and as such to be rejected, the pastor told Baptist Press.
“The native religion is still really strong,” Morlan said. “There’s a lot of family persecution for those who want to follow Christ, because others see it as forsaking their heritage.
“I notice that especially with funerals,” the pastor said. “There’s a lot of animosity toward the white man and white man’s religion because [some tribal members] see it as having attacked their community. Their community has changed a lot because of the white man.”
Though known as “the little Indian church,” the 30 square miles around the church — with a total population of 392 — is mostly Anglo. “The Native American sentiment is that white people have taken over land and church, and the stats show this to be true,” Morlan said. The church is a close family but needs to be more integrated with people who live in the community around the church.
The mixed, though leaning Anglo, congregation “has its limitations but they love each other and they love their church,” the pastor said. “This is a Bible-believing, Christ-loving church.”
As a whole, the area’s residents are “True Grit Americans,” the pastor said, people of limited education and limited financial resources, and “Only Way Baptist is a low population church in a low population area, but that does not mean low possibilities,” Morlan wrote in an essay last year, after he examined the region’s demographics for a class in Cross Cultural Ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University.
As is typical of many reservation areas, the people are generous, caring and giving, the pastor said.
“When people need a helping hand, [Only Way members] give it,” Morlan said. “There’s not much ‘community’ here. With only 13 people per square mile, they’re pretty spread out, but we do what we can.”
That’s another proof of the value of the Cooperative Program, the pastor said.
“Being a small church with limited resources you can’t always be part of a big thing, but with the Cooperative Program we can couple up with everybody else and take part in what our denomination is doing as a whole,” Morlan said.
Only Way Baptist experienced the benefit of cooperating when in 2014, 40 people from East Cullman Baptist Association in Alabama arrived to frame and roof a new facility. The previous structure, built in 1914, with a couple of additions since, had outlived its usefulness.
Other churches in Cimarron Baptist Association helped with lodging and meals for the Alabama mission team, and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma sent its shower trailer.
“It was a communal effort that showed the benefit of being Southern Baptist,” Morlan said. “We would not have been able to do it without the cooperative action of our sister churches and the Alabama association.”
Only Way Baptist members had been saving for years for a new building, and Morlan said he was called in 2010 as much for his construction expertise as for his preaching. “They figured I could teach the Bible on Sunday and help build the building on Monday.”
It’s his first pastorate, though he has more than 20 years’ experience in prison ministry and serving in a mission church. As well as being available fulltime to his congregation, Morlan is self-employed as a contractor who specializes in laying tile and marble. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Lori and their 11 children between the ages of 18 months and 24 years.
The church is about an 80-mile drive northeast of the city. “We drive a lot,” the pastor said, including traveling to his children’s various activities.
“The biggest challenge is time management. I listen to the iBible while I’m working, and to Christian radio when I’m driving. It keeps me marinating in the Word. I try to prepare in my mind during the week and Saturdays so I can put finishing touches on my messages for Sunday.
“We do stay very busy but the Lord has supplied,” Morlan said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s good work…. It is very challenging. We multiply being blessed and stressed.”