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Prayer, Cooperative Program extend church’s reach

CARLINVILLE, Ill. (BP) — Members of Emmanuel Baptist Church are praying for their sister churches — and seeing its value.

It’s similar to their investment in the Cooperative Program, says Cliff Woodman, pastor of the church in Carlinville, Ill., between Springfield and St. Louis.

“It will take all of us cooperating to push back the darkness,” Woodman said of Southern Baptists’ channel for reaching the billions of people across the world who haven’t heard of God’s personal love for them.

“The Cooperative Program puts us together on a team, in the same way that praying for our sister churches puts us on a team,” Woodman said.

“As we began the prayer focus on our sister churches, we came to realize that we are in this together, that burdens and victories can be shared as we pray for them,” the pastor noted. “The Cooperative Program allows us to focus on what we need to do in the mission field where God has placed us, knowing that we have partnered with other churches as the money given through CP goes to be used in other mission fields around the world.”

Winning souls is the foremost purpose of Emmanuel Baptist, where about 150 people participate in Sunday morning worship. In clearly articulating this purpose two years ago, the church began to see new horizons.

After continually and repeatedly saturating their town of about 5,700 people with the Gospel over the years, prayer for sister churches was one way church members determined they could expand their reach.

“We started praying for our sister churches in January [2014] or the end of [2013],” Woodman said, referring to the other 27 churches in the Macoupin Baptist Association.

Emmanuel Baptist had a long-established practice of sharing prayer requests and praises — and interceding for those without Jesus — at the beginning of Sunday School. These were compiled into one master list (with subheads for “health concerns” and the like) and distributed after class for people to refer to in their personal prayer times during the week.

When three of the other churches in the association were added to this list each week — in a rotation that takes nine weeks — “scripted prayers” were used to be more specific than simply lifting up the churches’ names.

“In scripted prayer, we pray for the church and the pastor, for his spiritual and physical protection, so he would deliver the message God had given him and lead the people to reach the lost in the community,” Woodman said. “If our prayers were not scripted, we might have prayed for the music or the building, but our primary purpose is not music or buildings, but winning souls.”

In addition to the specificity of the prayers, the act of praying for the other churches helps familiarize Emmanuel’s members with the churches as well as reminding them of Emmanuel’s focus on winning souls, the pastor said.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen a change in the other churches — there’s probably not two-thirds that know we are praying for them — but I see a change in our people,” Woodman said. “I’m hoping this praying builds a sense of teamwork among the churches.

“Several years ago I coached my son’s Little League,” he continued. “I learned then that we’re only as strong as our weakest link. … When we started praying for our sister churches, that helped us be healthier. If we as pastors and churches would take the same attitude, then we’d stop looking at what others were doing for us and we’d start doing for others.”

As part of what it’s “doing for others,” Emmanuel Baptist is involved with two church plants, one about 40 miles away near St. Louis and one in northern Illinois.

“We send a check every month, and when they have need of us, we’re available,” Woodman said. At two block parties last year, Emmanuel members handled a grill, snow cone grinder and cotton candy maker so members of the church plants could interact with their neighbors.

“It’s not like we’re major support,” the pastor said. “We’re like a part-time worker….” Both of the church plants Emmanuel is helping support are nearing the end of their support from the North American Mission Board.

“We helped pick up the slack from these churches that were taking a little longer to get established,” Woodman said. “This gives us the opportunity to do missions closer to home…. We could go and put a roof on a church 600 miles away or we could put one on one of our sister churches and sleep in our own beds at night, spending a fraction of the cost of gasoline than if we’d driven that 600 miles.”

The new roof scenario became a reality when an Emmanuel member, driving by a sister church, saw that its roof needed repair, the pastor recounted. It was an opportunity that might have been missed if the member’s sensitivity hadn’t been raised from praying for the sister church once every nine weeks.

There is value in cross-country and international missions endeavors, Woodman said, pointing to his trip to Baltimore for the 2014 SBC annual meeting as an example.

“The resolution about prayer [adopted at the annual meeting] … it reaffirms to us that God is leading us to do what He’s leading others to do, and that’s pray,” Woodman said. “Prayer focuses us on God and not on ourselves. Praying for our sister churches and the Cooperative Program is about being part of a team or body bigger than any one of us or our churches.”