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‘Hard to argue with’ CP success, pastor says

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah (BP) — Maxine Warren takes home the coffee left over from fellowships at First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah, not wanting to see it thrown out.

She and her husband Louis, in their early 80s, were children during America’s Great Depression. Frugality is so ingrained they don’t even think about it.

But when the motion was made at the church’s November business meeting to increase Cooperative Program giving from 1 percent to 5 percent, with a 1 percent increase each year thereafter, they didn’t need to think about that, either. Their immediate “ayes” joined a unanimous affirmative chorus.

“I was appalled,” Louis Warren said of the time he learned the congregation had been giving about $50, less than 1 percent of its offerings, to missions through the Cooperative Program.

During many years as church treasurer, Warren hadn’t thought about the monthly check he wrote for the Cooperative Program, he said. He had just followed the church’s directives.

But over the last year, under the direction of bivocational pastor Mike Bagley, the church has been learning about the Cooperative Program and what it means to the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

Videos and photo presentations from the International Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and SBC state conventions show members that God works through Southern Baptists working together.

“The Cooperative Program is awesome,” said Bagley, a building contractor who has pastored the congregation two years. “It allows a small church like ours to be a part of a global Christian witness. It helps us focus outside ourselves, and that in itself helps people grow more like Jesus.

“It’s hard to argue with success,” Bagley said. “What we do as Southern Baptists to together carry the light of the Gospel message to a dark world honors God. That’s why He blesses it.”

First Baptist Pleasant Grove, founded in 1954 as a mission of First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah, appreciates the need to take the Gospel to a dark world. Pleasant Grove is in Utah County, arguably more steeped in Mormonism than anywhere else in the nation as home to Mormon-owned Brigham Young University.

Mormon, the common name for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, comes from the founding of that religion in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who “declared that in these latter days of the world, all other churches were participating in apostasy,” according to LDS documents cited on the Christian-based www.gotquestions.org. For Mormons, the Book of Mormon “goes hand in hand with the Bible, becoming a second witness for Jesus Christ,” according to www.mormon.org.

It’s not easy for a Southern Baptist church to grow in a county where about 99 percent of the residents have been taught since childhood that all religions except LDS are an abomination to God, Bagley said.

“It’s not my job to grow the church,” Bagley said. “That’s God’s job. My job is to shepherd the people as He leads me.”

With its newly-energized missions focus, First Baptist Pleasant Grove is moving forward with the 35 to 40 people who participate in Sunday morning worship.

Local ministries include “Miss Shirley’s Closet” to help the needy, and regular street-witnessing. Four members also went on a short-term construction mission trip to Montes Claros, Brazil, this summer as part of a group of about 130 involved in a variety of ministries encompassing sports; drama; a community, school and prison outreach; medical, and church planting. In Montes Claros, at least 4,500 people professed faith in Jesus.

First Baptist Pleasant Grove was among eight Salt Lake Baptist Association churches participating in Camp USA, an outreach to South Korean children and adult chaperones in August. Church members provided host homes and meals, built friendships and immersed the visitors in Bible study, English conversation classes and sports.

In November, church members packed 111 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse ministry, exceeding the church’s goal of 100 shoeboxes and surpassing last year’s 65 boxes.

“It’s awesome what God is doing at Pleasant Grove church,” Bagley said. “We just want to be obedient to follow as He leads.”

The church’s worshippers include those disenchanted with the Mormon church, and the occasional transplanted Southern Baptist. While laborers are few and finances are stretched, Bagley said, God uses faithful members to move the church forward.

“We do what we can to honor God,” Bagley said. “God responds to that by blessing us so we can do more.”