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Mo. church, in prayer & fasting, stretches globally in ministry

LEBANON, Mo. (BP)–First Baptist Church in Lebanon, Mo., has doubled its Sunday morning worship attendance in the four years since its pastor repented of complacency.

It’s also become a Great Commission church with a global focus and passion for Kingdom growth.

First Lebanon was stop No. 32 Sept. 23 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour rally of Southern Baptist churches across the country to bolster the cause of evangelism. The bus tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” by SBC churches in one year.

“We have a Kingdom vision,” said Gary Longenecker, First Baptist’s pastor since 1990. “We’re just as interested in the people in Mongolia as we are the people in Lebanon.

“We have about 300 people involved in mission work, and we keep adding programs,” the pastor continued. “We started with just a few [initiatives] and because of the interest we keep adding. People are just excited about what God is doing in their lives.”

The change at First Lebanon started in 1997 when Longenecker went to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention and heard Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd preach about prayer and fasting.

“I went forward at that meeting and got before the Lord and repented of my complacency,” Longenecker said. “‘Lord, I want You to do a work in my life,’ I told him.”

He began praying and fasting one day a week. That September, Longenecker told his deacons what he was doing and why – he had vowed to do so until God did something in his life. Longenecker asked the deacons to pray with him for new direction. Word spread and soon 40 people were involved.

“The following January I challenged our church to a year of prayer and fasting,” Longenecker said. “That really changed the whole direction of our church – 140 people made the commitment to do so. We had people praying and fasting every day of the month, for a year!”

A year later in 1998, Longenecker heard about the FAITH strategy of evangelism through the Sunday School. Earlier this month, First Lebanon started its 12th semester of FAITH, “and our church has doubled,” Longenecker said. “We have 22 new learners this fall. In all, I’ve trained more than 200 in FAITH.”

The church also has a lay-led, three-pronged focus on missions involvement, with two international coordinators, one national and one local. Each project has a leader whose responsibility is to pray and encourage the involvement of others.

First Lebanon’s biggest project is in a nation, unnamed for security reasons, where a ‘JESUS’ film distribution project is underway in one of the provinces, with a goal of reaching 1 million people for Christ.

“It’s a four-year project and we have just completed the first year with tremendous success,” Longenecker said. “The cost of the project is $250,000 and we have already raised more than half of the total cost.”

Members from First Lebanon also are involved in various ways of outreach toward India, Mongolia, Mexico, Brazil, Niger, United Arab Emirates, Romania, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Canada. The church also led a FAITH clinic in Puerto Rico in 2003, which was a first for that island nation, and plans are in process for a second clinic there, one that would target the entire nation.

“We’re working with the Canadian Baptist Theological Seminary in Alberta, and we’re looking at planting a church next year in Vancouver, B.C.,” Longenecker said. “We’re working with a Russian community in New York City; we help with an abused women’s shelter in Kansas City and a Christian activity center in East St. Louis.”

First Lebanon also has planted three churches in northern Colorado within the last three years, and a fledgling congregation in Columbia, Mo., that targets university students.
In Lebanon, it is the mother church to Hillcrest and Calvary churches.

At the local level, First Lebanon works with a Christian Women’s Job Corps, sponsors a ministry at a mobile home park, and teaches five classes at the county jail – three Bible studies on Sunday and two substance abuse classes during the week.

Despite not having a gym, First Lebanon also sponsors an Upward Basketball ministry that involves about 200 youngsters a year, about 40 of whom make professions of faith. First Lebanon funds and staffs the program; practices and games take place at other churches.

Eight people from the church are serving fulltime in international missions, including Richard and Becky Cupp who had participated in a Global Missions conference at First Lebanon and sensed God’s call to sell everything and move to Guatemala.

“They sold their farm and equipment, loaded up a pickup and went down there,” Longenecker said. “They’re as happy as can be. Still don’t have a house, and they’re learning the language. They said, ‘You can live cheap in Guatemala and we don’t need any money. We just want to live our life doing God’s work.’”

Two more from First Lebanon are midway through the appointment process for international missionary service. A couple from the church now serve in Nebraska as church leaders. And at least 10 college students have made commitments to fulltime ministry.

A major presence in Washington, D.C., is in the preliminary stages. The first year’s budget is $160,000 in a partnership with the North American Mission Board. “Here’s our goal: to share Christ with every person on Capitol Hill,” Longenecker said. “It started with Gib Atkins, our national coordinator; he’s on fire for the Lord.”

Lay leadership is key to the success of its multiple ministries, the pastor said.

“When I started this global focus, I said I believe God is calling us to it, but that the leadership of it needs to be the church, not the staff,” Longenecker said. “The blessing for me personally is that I am amazed at what they’re willing to do.

“When I came here, Gib used to come to church on Sunday morning,” the pastor continued. “Now he’s involved in FAITH as one of our team leaders. He’s excited about what God is doing in his life. The blessing for me is to see how people grow as a Christian. … They’re working at jobs, but their biggest job is to serve the Lord.”