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Reaching the next generations requires love, pastor says

First Baptist Church in Malakoff is reaching new generations through Vacation Bible School and other efforts. In the seven years Jody Jones has been the pastor there, the church has baptized nearly 150 people. Submitted photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the Southern Baptist Convention.

MALAKOFF, Texas (BP) – First Baptist Church in Malakoff is navigating a challenge common to many Southern Baptist congregations today – maintaining the strength of a faithful congregation despite the inevitable deaths of its oldest members.

Pastor Jody Jones said First Baptist Malakoff, a congregation approaching 140 years of existence, has “a great history” but is focused now on growing new leaders who exhibit the commitment of previous generations in a way that is relevant to the present time.

“I think we’ve gotten so comfortable with the older generation and their consistency, their support and their encouragement that we sometimes fail to carry on the legacy that they taught us,” Jones said.

In the seven years Jones has been the church’s pastor, First Baptist Malakoff has hosted at least 130 funerals, he said. Not all of those funerals were for church members, but it illustrates the significant number of empty seats left as the natural course of life unfolds.

God has “brought a lot of new people” to keep the congregation moving forward, Jones said, adding that many are from the Boomer generation who find nearby Cedar Creek Lake appealing for retirement. He said most of them are coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which is about an hour’s drive to the northwest of Malakoff. Jones said the newcomers “bring a lot of new life into the church.”

First Baptist Malakoff also is seeing people begin to walk with Jesus. “We’ve done, I think, a little over 140 baptisms in the seven years we’ve been here,” Jones said, adding they have 10 more lined up.

“People’s lives have been changed. That’s exciting for a small town of 2,300 people where you see that many people come to know the Lord,” Jones said, adding that the number is a good mix of children, students and adults, he said. “It is great for our church to know that we’ve had that kind of an impact in this community.”

The older generation “left a great model for us because they were so loving, and I think the generations following them, including mine, have a lot to learn from them. I think love is the key as we move forward,” Jones said.

As churches struggle to reach new generations, “it comes down to loving them right where they are and listening to them,” the pastor said. Part of that happens at First Baptist Malakoff when the older women disciple the younger women and older men disciple younger men.

Churches run the risk of being seen in the community as pretentious, Jones said, so he urges people to do all they can to counter that impression. In practical terms, that might mean “being real with them, talking to them at the gas pump, talking to them at the pharmacy and the grocery store, making those connections.”

The Cooperative Program (CP), Southern Baptists’ unified method of giving to support local, national and international missions and ministry, is a thread that runs throughout the church’s history and remains strong today, bridging the generations.

“We’re trying to focus on being kingdom-minded and not so much FBC Malakoff-minded because we know the kingdom is much bigger than our church,” Jones said.

CP giving “is just something we do,” Jones said, comparing it to a believer tithing in order to be obedient to God’s command. “Our church has that same mindset for supporting the Cooperative Program. We do it because we know we’re being obedient to the Lord.”

The church is encouraged by work that’s being done through the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, Jones said. They also appreciate the resources that come with being a part of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In fact, First Baptist Malakoff was instrumental in the SBTC’s founding.

“We have been blessed and have used those resources quite often. … I know for cooperating and fellowshipping and getting together with other churches and ministers, it’s great to have that like-mindedness,” he said.

In recent years, members of First Baptist Malakoff have traveled to India, Costa Rica and Guatemala to serve in Christ’s name. Early in the global pandemic, they heard of some specific needs in India where people were without food, and they were able to send money that was freed up when activities were canceled at the church because of the virus.

“We were able to send some of those funds to two different parts of India to help with feeding families and getting the Gospel to those families,” Jones said.

Years ago, the church started a food pantry and clothing ministry in Malakoff called Faith in Action Outreach, which now operates independently but still draws volunteers from the church. The church also assists in disaster relief work when needs arise.

“For such a small community, I would say our church has had an amazing impact not only locally but around the world,” Jones said. “We’re looking forward to the years ahead.”