MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) — This state-capital First Baptist Church exists as a “missions factory.”
“We want to be a factory that produces disciples who look like Jesus and engage our world with practical expressions of God’s love and light,” Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., told Baptist Press.
“Our goal is to be like the church at Antioch,” said Wolf, who has led the 190-year-old church since 1991. “We want to be an inclusive church family that is multi-generational and multi-racial. Like the Antioch church we want to exalt the Savior, equip the saints and evangelize the seekers in our neighborhoods and in the nations.”
First Baptist, where about 2,400 people gather for worship services and discipleship groups, sits on a small parcel of land downtown between the county jail and federal courthouse. “So if you come to God’s house, you may avoid the courthouse and the jailhouse,” the pastor said with a grin.
The church allocates 11 percent of its operating budget for missions through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ channel of support for state, national and international missions and ministries.
“We see our contribution to the Cooperative Program as a tithe of our offerings,” Wolf said. “Being part of the larger Southern Baptist family is extremely important because Jesus called us to function as a synergistic team.
“I believe in the effective work of our seminaries, the International Mission Board, the North American Mission board and our state conventions. We can do so much more together,” the pastor continued, “For instance, one goose can fly 1,000 miles alone but in a flock that same energy expenditure will take a bird 1,700 miles. So if you have the sense of a goose, be part of God’s team!”
Being a pastor, Wolf reflected, “is like being the head coach of a football team. The coach doesn’t try to play quarterback or linebacker but instructs and inspires the players to get in the game and experience the joy of involvement. My job is to turn spectators into participators. My job is to equip the saints to do God’s work of the ministry and see their faith explode into joyous reality by serving God’s victorious purposes.”
During Wolf’s 28 years at First Baptist, the church has paid off $40 million on facilities and real estate costs so more money can go to missions. It has 22 church planting partnerships linked to the North American Mission Board, numerous partnerships outside of North America, and last year sent 822 members on short-term missions outside Montgomery — 67 projects in the United States and 42 overseas.
“We try to grow devoted disciples who live on mission for Christ,” Wolf said. “We are attempting to raise up a team of God’s people who are living sent for the Savior.
“When you use your time and money to do short-term missions,” he noted, “it changes your perspective on everything. You expand your horizons and your heart. We strive to move people beyond consumerism to Christ-like service. We are not here to entertain the saints but to equip servants for the Savior.”
In a large nation in South Asia, First Baptist has partnered with others in spending more than $1 million to start and fund 32 “fully-grown” churches in one large province classified as 99.7 percent non-Christian.
In a large East Asian nation, in coordination with IMB partners, First Baptist provided $35,000 to assist local church planters with an array of projects and requests.
“We met with 70 church planters and witnessed the effectiveness of their work,” Wolf said. “Our funds will buy lots of motorcycles, Bibles, evangelism tools and discipleship material. It is imperative that we fuel indigenous work because American missionaries are being removed from some key countries.”
First Baptist encourages its members to be “ministry entrepreneurs” who find where God is at work and join Him. One example is Andy Birchfield, who started a ministry in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
“Andy started Children’s Hope with 16 orphans in Jacmel, Haiti,” Wolf said. “That small seedling has grown into a five-acre compound that houses more than 50 children. Additionally, more than 1,200 students are receiving a quality education connected to nine of our Haitian partner Baptist churches. More than 4,000 people have embraced Christ as their Savior.”
Also through Children’s Hope, a medical/dental clinic in Haiti provides health care to 30,000 people. The Alabama church also provides full-time employment for 160 Haitian staff, “giving them critical income for their families and meaningful work,” Wolf said. “All this has happened because Andy Birchfield summoned the faith and courage to join God’s work of compassion in a broken place.
“Missions and ministry starts in the church’s ‘Jerusalem,’ in Montgomery,” the pastor said. “This includes growing future missionaries by offering the training through Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action each Sunday evening. We have more than 100 in attendance each week.”
The Woman’s Missionary Union serves as the church’s prayer catalyst and leads the way in collecting five special mission offerings each year.
Last year’s offerings to support international, North American and Alabama Baptist missions exceeded $500,000 “because God has given us a culture of mission support and generosity,” Wolf said.
Another example of encouraging First Baptist members to be “ministry entrepreneurs” is the annual presentation of “Judgment House.” Member John Smith had the vision for the creative Gospel presentation, and gathered a team that drew more than 4,000 viewers last year, with 863 people recording decisions for Christ.
In terms of hands-on local mission involvement, First Baptist’s Caring Center registered 9,446 clients for food and clothing assistance last year, which involved distributing 55 tons of food and $63,000 in financial assistance. For at least 30 years the church has hosted a weekly tutoring ministry for school-age children; 2,000 students have participated.
The church offers English as a Second Language classes. More than 300 people from at least 40 countries have participated. Other components of the church’s community ministry include prison ministry, disaster relief teams, Celebrate Recovery ministry to help with addictions and The Master’s Garden, where 8,000 pounds of produce were grown and distributed in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods.
Snapshots from the pastor’s “State of God’s Church” report in February include 268 new members in 2018 and 119 baptisms (at least the 15th straight year of triple-digit baptisms). Total missions giving in 2018 exceeded $2 million.
“Jesus calls us to join His magnificent work of expanding His Kingdom,” Wolf said. “Our job is to be obedient and faithful. The key ingredients are prayer, faith, boldness, humility, dependence, harmony and consistency.
“We’re not a perfect church, but our faith family strives to be a loving, healthy and productive team,” he said. “Our holy quest is to be a Christ-like people who do the Great Commandment and the Great Commission with joy together.”