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Small church learns you cannot out give God

DUBACH, La. (BP)–The forests and farmland surrounding Sharon Baptist Church don’t block its global vision.

Church members — with perhaps 40 in worship on Sunday mornings — still give 48.6 percent of their offerings to missions.

“We just simply try to give what the Lord is doing for us to somebody else,” said Caroll Holmes, pastor of the Dubach, La., church since 2004. “We don’t see ourselves as a money-making church, but we put the money that comes in to work for the Lord.”

The congregation in the northeast rural part of the state is older and mostly living on fixed incomes. Their missions giving does what they can’t by going where they can’t, the pastor said.

“The Cooperative Program is such a tremendous program,” Holmes said. “We see it as one of the most beneficial ways we as a church can participate in supporting seminaries, missionaries and all the areas covered by the Cooperative Program. It gives us the opportunity to support so many different ministries, which is why it was founded.”

The Cooperative Program supports missions and ministries of state Baptist conventions and the global efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sharon Baptist, which is debt-free and has a 2011 budget of $132,000, allocates 10 percent of offerings to the Cooperative Program. Another 10 percent goes to the ministries of Concord-Union Baptist Association, where Barry Joyner is director of missions.

“We’ve got one of the best directors of missions in the state,” Holmes said. “Barry really does a good job of keeping us all focused and together, and he keeps good lines of communication open, keeping us informed of what’s going on in the state convention and across the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I just enjoy being part of the association and hearing what other churches are doing as well,” the pastor said. “That’s where I heard about Team Kid, and we started doing it three years ago as a result.”

Team Kid, developed by LifeWay Christian Resources, is designed as a Sunday or midweek evening group activity for children through the sixth grade.

Each component of a Team Kid lesson — a noncompetitive game, Bible story, memory verse, missions, refreshments and conclusion — contributes to helping children understand and apply God’s Word to their lives.

“We have Team Kid on Sunday nights,” Holmes said. “It has worked really well. We feel like it’s been worth it for what it does for kids and the church.

“Our greatest challenge right now is that we’ve got a number of young couples living in the church field, mostly working in oilfield services,” the pastor said. “They need to be in the church, and the church needs them to be involved. Team Kid is bringing some of them to the church.”

After seeing the success at Sharon Baptist, other churches in the association are inquiring about Team Kid, Holmes said.

“I really enjoy the fellowship we have,” the pastor said. “We’re so far away that we don’t go to the [Louisiana Baptist Convention’s] annual meeting, though I’ve been able to go to the evangelism conference the last two years. That makes the association that much more important to us. I try to make all our executive board meetings too.

“Barry has good programs for us to draw from,” Holmes said. “He tries to help all the churches.”

Sharon Baptist used the association’s block party trailer last fall to start off a new Sunday School year.

“That was another good investment on the part of our church, that we were able to get all that [block party] equipment,” Holmes said. “Some of the young couples we’re trying to reach came to it. I’m on the board of Harris Baptist Camp, which the association supports. We’re hoping we can get the kids involved with that next summer.”

Sharon Baptist hosts a catered Valentine’s banquet each year, which also draws in young couples.

“They’ll come for fish and fried shrimp and all the trimmings,” Holmes said. “In the country, it seems like if you can build a relationship with folks, you have a lot better chance of reaching them.”

Holmes and his wife Kay both are trained disaster relief volunteers and serve with the association’s Rolling Hills Ministries disaster relief unit. Rolling Hills also has a thrift shop that Sharon Baptist helps support.

“Our association goes every year to southern Louisiana and hooks up with several churches in the Houma area,” Holmes said. “We support that financially. We send $100 every month to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and to Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.” A former pastor of Sharon Baptist, Allison Gray, later was named president of Mid-America.

“We just had a young man from our church graduate from New Orleans [Seminary] in music ministry,” Holmes said. “Even though we were sending money directly to the seminary, we also gave him monthly assistance.”

Among other ministries the church supports: Promise of Christ Ministries for evangelist Scotty McDowell of Louisiana; missionaries Jacob and Linda Wiebe in Mexico; and missionaries John and Lea Anne Campbell in Malawi, Africa.

One of Sharon Baptist’s deacons, Tom Odom, spent a month serving with the Campbells last year.

“I taught discipleship in three of the village churches and preached in one on Sundays,” Odom said. “In the summer months, many mission teams go to Africa, and tens of thousands of people get saved, but then they go home, and there is no one left to teach the people how to live.”

When he wasn’t teaching discipleship, he was playing with the 30 youngsters who live at the orphanage the Campbells started about seven years ago.

“They love gadgets,” Odom said. “They don’t often see cell phones, digital cameras and watches that beep. I’d pull something out, and they’d gather around me. They were awed by pictures you could take and see immediately.

“Occasionally I would put my ‘bubba teeth’ in and chase the kids around,” the deacon said. “We had a great time.”

Back in Louisiana, Sharon Baptist continues its international missions focus with a monthly check to Global Maritime Ministries in New Orleans for its ministries to international seafarers.

The church also allocates $10,000 each year in the operating budget for each of three seasonal Southern Baptist missions offerings — the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions and the Georgia Barnette Offering for Louisiana missions.

“We did this five years ago because with our folks on fixed incomes, it makes it difficult for them to give to these offerings like they want to,” Holmes said. “We still take up the offerings at the time, and that’s in addition to the $10,000.

“The budget committee looked at what we were capable of doing year-long and they said we don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t give $10,000 to each of them,” the pastor said. “Jesus said to go into all parts of the world…. This way we are participating in all three of the areas Jesus told us to go into.

“We gave them the same $10,000 each because they’re equally important,” Holmes said. “We need to fulfill the Great Commission and go to the ends of the earth, but we also need to keep reaching people here in North America. And as far as Louisiana, this is our home. We want it to be as strong as it can be spiritually and, besides, if we don’t reach Louisiana, who will?”

Another aspect of Sharon Baptist’s missions giving is the money shared with people in the community who have suffered a tragedy, such as a fire, or in other ways have fallen on hard times, Holmes said.

“The Lord has continued to provide the funds necessary to maintain the giving that we do,” Odom said. “That’s doing the Lord’s work. Those funds are reaching the lost for Christ. That’s what we’re charged to do in Acts 1:8.”

Joyner emphasized the significant role Sharon Baptist plays in the Concord-Union Baptist Association.

“They’re doing an exceptional work for a rural church,” Joyner said. “They’re a wonderful church body that cares about their members and their community…. They go out of the way to help the ones who have personal needs.

“And the mission emphases of our convention — Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Georgia Barnette — they are committed to doing their part,” the DOM said. “Caroll’s a very dedicated pastor. He worked bivocationally as a state probation/parole officer in Claiborne Parish before he retired, and he has invested himself in the church. I am very grateful for the strength they add to our association.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.