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CP giving a matter of principle, pastor says

QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. (BP)–Home prices in metro Phoenix are down dramatically, multitudes of homes are in foreclosure and thousands of people are unemployed.

The Phoenix-area Queen Creek suburb, where San Tan Heights [Southern Baptist] Church is located, is among the hardest-hit communities in the nation.

“A lot of people have called me who are at the brink,” said Billy Van Camp, founding pastor of the church that started with five people at its first service Easter Sunday in 2004. More than 250 attend now “A few people have come up to me at church who are at the point of crisis — bankruptcy, losing their home.”

While reaching out to help those in financial distress and helping others stave off distress, San Tan Heights [Southern Baptist] Church is seeking to maintain a biblically based, outward-focused, forward-moving perspective.

The congregation continues to give 10 percent of its offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, which supports missions and ministries of state Baptist conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention. The church also bought 12 acres last summer next to the high school where it currently meets, with plans to erect a Sprung -– similar to a tent -– later this year.

“I have been trying to make sense of all that is going on in this world,” Van Camp wrote in his February letter to San Tan Heights members. “It seems we are in a time of unprecedented chaos in our generation…. The drastic change in the economy has people living in fear and holding on to money.”

Van Camp listed six ways the church could respond to economic uncertainty:

Live by the Word of God.

Make prayer your priority.

Wisdom is your greatest need. James 1:5.

Relationships matter now, more than ever.

Worshipping weekly can keep your fire burning.

Be faithful to God.

“Run to God, honoring Him with at least one-tenth of all you have,” Van Camp wrote, reflecting the commitment San Tan Heights has maintained to the Cooperative Program since it started.

“I just think it’s a principle,” the pastor told Baptist Press. “If I am going to ask my church members to give 10 percent, it would be sort of blasphemous if the church didn’t. And besides … why not give to thousands of missionaries, rather than just one or two? It’s just such a great tool for global evangelization.

“I believe a church that is not globally minded will never be locally effective,” Van Camp continued. “Matthew 28:19-20. If you look at Jesus’ periscope, His contextual emphasis, you have to start here locally, but the Kingdom is global. We need to be about our neighbors, but we need to be about people on the other side of the world too.”

Missions at San Tan Heights includes short-term trips to Ecuador and the Virgin Islands, and the sending of a volunteer research team to Ghana, Africa.

But it starts with meeting people, Van Camp said. At least 35 people have been baptized each year of the church’s existence; 47 the first year.

“From the beginning, we’ve prayed hard and we’ve worked hard at meeting people,” Van Camp said. “We knock on doors; we advertise.

“My main thing is meeting people where they’re at — grocery store, restaurant, parking lot. Put a smile on your face and invite them to church.”

Van Camp was a successful building contractor and businessman with a concrete company when he said yes to God’s call on his life five years ago.

“I was teaching Sunday School and felt I wasn’t doing enough for God,” he recounted. “I prayed about it and God said, ‘If you knock on the door of a school [to find a meeting place], I’ll do the rest.'”

When Van Camp knocked at an elementary school, the principal told him, “Absolutely not. You’ll never be able to use this building.” A month later, the principal called and offered the building.

“God did what I couldn’t,” Van Camp said. “First Samuel 14:6. I said, ‘It might work or it might not work.’ My role is just to be obedient.”

Acknowledging that he’s a fairly driven person, Van Camp jumped with both feet into the church planter role. But about a year later at the dinner table, after prayer for the meal, his gregarious teenage daughter screamed at the top of her lungs, “Daddy, I hate you’re a pastor.”

“That woke me up,” Van Camp said. “I think it’s the most important thing as a witness and a pastor to care properly for your family. 1 Timothy 5:8. The church is important but our family comes first. We pray together … we encourage each other.”

His daughter Paige now is a sophomore at California Baptist University. His son Trey was licensed to preach at age 16 and led 60 teens to make professions of faith in Jesus in the last year. Completing the family: Shea, in the fourth grade at a Christian school where her pastor’s wife/mom, Lisa, teaches kindergarten.

“Things are changing; it’s the cycle of the Bible,” Van Camp reflected. “God supplies us with the information and we just need to let the Holy Spirit show it to us. John 16:13. I believe the church is going to change. Ephesians 3, the mystery of Christ. We need to get ready and be more like what God intended church to be.”

The church is to help the hurting as Jesus did; church members need to realize that their mission is to carry on Jesus’ work rather than just to sit and soak, Van Camp said.

“When you get on a bus, the church being the bus, you first look for the destination of that bus,” Van Camp said. “We want people to realize exactly where our bus is going. Its destination is outward — to reach the lost — and although we accept and love everyone, our hope is that people will find a church that they can stay with.”

Van Camp’s church planting method is to reach people with God’s love, to teach others to do the same and to disciple those who respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

“The Bible is our guide to know and understand what God wants us to do individually, as well as collectively as His church,” Van Camp said. “We believe that God must do great things in us before He can do great things through us.

“It’s meeting people and teaching people how to be a conversationalist,” the pastor continued. “John 6:44. The person is only going to be saved as the Holy Spirit will move them…. We have to love people and show them Jesus.”

San Tan Heights this year locally is focusing on helping the hurting in Queen Creek. The church is providing financial instruction for people in the community -– Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University — and preaching stewardship from the pulpit. In addition, while money isn’t always the best answer, a substantial benevolence ministry helps those in crisis.

“With the economy, there’s not a lot going on,” Van Camp said. “The church worldwide is in a new situation. We have to help people through their finances and through their hurts. The church needs to step up significantly in that. If people are ever, ever, ever going to see Jesus, it’s going to be through the church.”

Church members might need to open their homes to another family for a season, much as people did after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the pastor said.

“If we’re going to give God praise for the good in our lives, we need — Job 2:10 — to give Him praise for the lack,” Van Camp said. “We’ve got to stand up and say, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.'”

San Tan Heights members, whose discipleship is fueled by ongoing programs for youngsters, teens, men and women, are finding hope in God’s principles, the pastor said.

“If we can’t as a church give a tithe through the Cooperative Program, how can God do great things through us and in us? That’s why God started the church, to do great things through it,” Van Camp said. “When we give, we’re being obedient. I’ve seen it happen when churches don’t follow the principles of God’s Word. Psalm 66:18. God doesn’t hear us if we have iniquity in our hearts, and that’s what it is –- iniquity, sin — when we aren’t obedient in our giving.”

Once people acquire a biblical perspective on their finances, they also are eager to serve God with their time and talents, the pastor said.

“You can do a lot for God after you pray, but you can’t really do anything for Him until you do pray,” Van Camp said. “So let’s do something instead of standing around and acting like we’re holy. We want to be obedient. We want God to do great things through us.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message.