BARTLETT, Tenn. (BP)–While the rest of America was in an uproar over an economic “stimulus package” from Washington, leaders of Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett, Tenn., were planning a stimulus package of their own.
A faith stimulus package.
In mid-February, the 3,600-member congregation on the eastern outskirts of Memphis rolled out a 16-page plan designed to stimulate businesses run by church members and help members of the congregation get needed services at more affordable prices. The Faith Stimulus Package was part of a broader initiative to minister to the entire community throughout the spring.
“We hear so much about the economy. A lot of people are struggling,” said Todd Pendergrass, the church’s executive pastor. “For us, it’s about not turning a deaf ear to what’s happening. There are things we can do for each other, take care of each other through difficult times.”
Besides providing a directory of businesses willing to discount services for church members, the congregation also planned to offer “Recession Ready Workshops” to help members strengthen their financial positions and a “Recession Ready Saturday” that offered free services to the community — everything from haircuts and car washes to medical screenings and automobile oil changes for senior adults and single parents. Church members also planned to teach residents how to reduce grocery expenses by planting their own vegetable gardens.
“It’s not going to solve the world’s problems but it will help them to see each other as family that can support each other,” Pendergrass said. “It says to the community that we care about you, we want to do something to help.”
‘SALT AND LIGHT IN A DARK TIME’
A time of economic downturn presents God’s people with tremendous opportunity, senior pastor Danny Sinquefield said as he signed the stimulus package in a ceremony modeled after the White House event formalizing the federal plan.
“Believing that God is the ultimate source and solution to this current economic crisis, and that the church is the body of Christ commanded to love our neighbor as our own lives, and that we as the local expression of His church are responsible for one another in Christian love, we hereby sign this commitment to be ‘recession ready’ as the people of God in this community,” Sinquefield said. “We recognize that this current season of financial uncertainty has the potential to create fresh dependence on the hand of God in each of our lives. We hereby commit ourselves to prayer for our nation to be brought to a place of humility, repentance and spiritual awakening and we acknowledge this as a wonderful opportunity for the church to be salt and light in a dark time.”
The congregation was primed for a ministry like this because they had just completed a churchwide study of “Eternal Impact: The Passion of Kingdom-Centered Communities,” the newest component of the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Eternal Impact not only can help a congregation understand for the first time the importance of being Kingdom-centered, it also can help Kingdom-centered congregations like Faith Baptist Church get all their people on the same page about witness and ministry, associate pastor Ryan Johnston said.
“The Faith Stimulus Package was a response to the Kingdom mindset put on the forefront for us by the Eternal Impact study,” Johnston said. “We are a church that has already embraced Kingdom principles. We have an outward focus. Our discipleship classes are packed and we literally don’t have another room to do them in. This year we will be in 20 different countries on short-term mission trips and hopefully we will have close to 3,000 people do short-term mission projects.
“But we also understand that not every individual has personalized that truth. We can have all the programs we want, but unless every member grabs it personally, we will never truly be a Kingdom-focused church,” Johnston added. “Eternal Impact gave us a great opportunity to unveil everything we do for people who are new or haven’t grasped that yet. Hopefully, it helps start an epidemic in people’s hearts that the Kingdom of God isn’t on Sunday morning or Wednesday night but it’s happening all the time, whether it’s at home and in your family or in your business.”
Johnston helped tweak the Eternal Impact material to address that need and also adapted it so the material could be studied by students as well as adults. He said the material can help any church, regardless of its size or how missions-minded it already is.
“We were able to thread that heartbeat for six weeks to everyone. It was beneficial and healthy for us to go through it together,” Johnston said. “Eternal Impact deals with what we need to be as a church and maybe what we have distanced ourselves from. If you have 50 people or 100 or 2,000, the resources are available with this study to develop a missions program or to increase involvement in a healthy missions program. Across the board, it will help any church grab onto the very heartbeat of the Book of Acts and the heartbeat of what it means to be the people of the Kingdom.”
‘TURN THE CORNER’
An Eternal Impact study can help any congregation regain a sharp focus on what the church is supposed to be about, said Anthony Burdick, a church member who led a Sunday-morning class through the material.
“It’s possible, in any organization, to lose focus on why we are here and what we are about. Everybody also needs to be revived from time to time,” Burdick said. “Folks who have been in church forever need to look at who we are and what we need to be doing. Eternal Impact really helped us kind of turn the corner and move on into the next step for our class.”
Many church members will be challenged by Eternal Impact because it is countercultural, added Jerry Rainer, who teaches a class of married couples in their 30s.
“We have such a consumer mentality in the church today. Eternal Impact hits hard on some issues; like, instead asking whether the music makes me happy, we should be asking did the music make God happy,” Rainer said. “Instead of shopping for what a church do for me, I need to be asking, ‘What does God want from me? Where does He want me plugged in?
“God’s got a blueprint for the way He means for the church to work. Our culture is drawing the church to this consumer mentality where we make the church into what we want and need it to be,” Rainer added. “Eternal Impact pulls us back to what the first church was like. Was their focus on themselves or on God and other people? It’s a call back to the foundational principles of what God meant His church to be.”
Eternal Impact takes a congregation a step beyond the first Empowering Kingdom Growth component, “EKG: The Heartbeat of God,” explained Ken Hemphill, the SBC’s national EKG strategist.
“While EKG: The Heartbeat of God changes the heart or the passion of the church, Eternal Impact changes forever how we think about the church,” Hemphill said. “If we think the church is designed only for the comfort of the saved, we neglect the needs of the lost. The church is God’s primary instrument for advancing His Kingdom on earth, and that means our service to the King through the church enables us to live with eternal impact.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. For information about Eternal Impact, visit empoweringkingdomgrowth.net.