CARLSBAD, N.M. (BP)–“They do without stuff” at First Baptist Church, Carlsbad, N.M., “so they can be involved in missions.”
Joseph Tillery, director of missions for the Pecos Valley Baptist Association, said the Carlsbad church, with about 500 people worshiping in two services each Sunday, chooses to be understaffed in order give more to missions. The congregation has chosen to not add to their three-building downtown location in 40 years. And, Tillery noted, First Baptist members assist others in their ministries or step in and take over when needs surface, rather than engaging in church-based ministries that duplicate others’ good work.
“We make sacrifices here for a reason,” Bob Bacon, pastor of the Carlsbad church since 1986, said. “I believe we can’t reach the world by ourselves. We’ve got to work together. The Cooperative Program helps us to be the kind of Christians Christ challenged us to be. We’re a benefit to other people as we meet their needs and we benefit ourselves as we grow as Christians and become more Christlike.”
Members of the church are involved in meeting the needs of the poor, along with at-risk youth, orphans, prisoners, recovering addicts and nursing home residents, among others. They are involved in hands-on missions beyond their generous giving to CP Missions.
While giving of themselves, First Baptist members also give 17.5 percent of their undesignated receipts through the CP Missions channel of support for Southern Baptist global missions causes (a .5 percent-of-budget hike from a year ago). The congregation gives a total of at least 25 percent of their $700,000 budget to local and all other missions causes, including CP Missions.
Longtime member Charlotte Davis noted, “I think our giving to the Cooperative Program is the primary way the majority of people have of following the Lord’s leadership and direction in the Great Commission. A lot of people can’t go on mission trips and a lot of people can’t become fulltime Christian workers, but everyone can give through prayer and the Cooperative Program. It’s important because it makes us feel we are obeying God and that we are a part of the missions effort.”
“We have a heart for the world while keeping the home base strong,” Bacon said. “We just try to follow the Great Commission.”
As an example of First Baptist’s ministry, Tillery recounted that the Baptist association started an emergency food and clothing ministry in a disbanded church in Carlsbad a dozen years ago, which has grown into the Carlsbad Outreach Center. First Baptist members “stepped to the plate” when support languished association-wide for the ministry, Tillery noted. Church members and others pick up, sort and bag enough food to provide 500 meals a week.
“The outreach center meets needs and reaches people our church otherwise wouldn’t be reaching,” Bacon said. “We’ve found some of the people come through the Bible study there and eventually into our church.”
When the state of New Mexico dropped its weeklong summer camp for at-risk boys six years ago, and then another for at-risk girls, First Baptist took up the slack.
“Law enforcement and Boys Club officials make the recommendations of kids in troubled families and in trouble with the law,” Bacon said. “Some of these kids turn their lives around at Opportunity Camp, and some are saved.”
First Baptist was in on the start of a community soup kitchen 13 years ago less than two blocks from the church facility. Funded primarily through United Way and government money, about a dozen church members are among those who volunteer to help prepare a free hot lunch five days a week for about 125 people.
Women from the church go regularly to the town’s three nursing homes to shampoo, set and style the residents’ hair — and lead Bible studies.
First Baptist members also lead Bible studies at the area’s two alcohol and drug treatment centers. When patients leave the center, they are invited to Sunday morning worship services at the Carlsbad Outreach Center led by First Carlsbad member Dirk Roberson, whose mother was a member of the church when he was born. Roberson is one of perhaps 10 members who in recent years have felt called to fulltime Christian service.
“Most of the people who are coming out of the drug and alcohol treatment facilities don’t feel welcome in church or don’t understand church or have a different perception of what church is,” Roberson said. “We tell them church doesn’t change you; your relationship with God does. Our whole aim is helping that individual become restored with the Lord. We want them relationally to be with a group of people where they feel loved and accepted.”
Roberson got started in ministry at First Baptist by participating in prison evangelism, which the church has done for 27 years. Charles Wilson, now 84, has been instrumental in connecting church members to Bill Glass Prison Ministries, an outreach that headlines sports stars to draw a crowd for evangelistic rallies in prisons. First Baptist members and others serve as post-rally counselors and, throughout the year, they minister regularly in the local jail.
First Baptist also has a strong and active group of Campers on Missions who travel throughout the state to work on volunteer construction projects. In recent weeks they have helped at the Baptist Convention of New Mexico children’s home in Portales and at the LifeWay Christian Resources-owned Glorieta Conference Center near Santa Fe.
Church members provided at least 200 Christmastime parcels for Samaritan’s Purse overseas distribution last year. They also have participated in an Angel Tree drive to provide Christmas presents for children of prison inmates. And they provide a special Christmas for the youngsters at the children’s home.
To put all this in context, Carlsbad is a town of about 26,000 people in south-central New Mexico. Many of the church’s members work in the area’s potash mines or at the underground, low-grade nuclear waste storage site that opened a year ago. Several members also work for the National Park Service at Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe National Park, both located south of town. Nearly all the young mothers in the church have jobs outside the home.
“The amazing thing is most of these folks [involved in ministries] are super involved with the church too,” Bacon said. “In most cases we don’t see a direct result in local church growth but we see the growth of our people who are involved. We’ve seen them branch out into other ministries.”
A fulltime music/education minister coordinates with dozens of church members who lead in Sunday school, Discipleship Training and music ministries. First Baptist is now in its fifth semester of FAITH evangelistic training, with about 30 people visiting prospects and members on Sundays and Tuesdays.
A fulltime youth minister who spends at least 10 hours a week at the town’s junior and senior high school activities draws up to 200 teens each Wednesday night for a Bible-based praise worship service. The youth will go at least every other year on an out-of-state missions trip and several times each year will participate in local or regional missions projects.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that our kids leave here with a heart for missions,” the pastor said. “They go off to college and get involved in summer missions through their campus BSU.”
This will be the eighth year college students with ties to the Carlsbad congregation have gone out as summer missionaries. The two this year will be serving in Russia and in Southeast Asia.
“I think it shows these kids have gotten something in the local church that they’ve carried on to college with them,” Bacon said. “Even after they leave here, they continue to serve the Lord and minister to people.”
First Carlsbad’s active GA, Acteen and Women on Mission groups help reinforce the concept that a Christian is to be the hands, hugs and heart of Jesus locally and globally, Davis said.
“We’ve had pastors who were very missions-minded, but even more than that there has just always been a real spirit of cooperation in all areas of the church,” Davis said. “I think this is something the Lord has fostered in this church. I can’t put my finger on any one thing. It’s just a lot of committed individuals who work together.”
The many missionaries who have spoken in the church have fed the church’s zeal for missions, Davis added.
Although a building committee was just elected for a projected multi-purpose building that will house the youth Sunday school departments and mid-week youth worship, the church has no short- or long-term action plan, nor any vision or mission statements, Bacon said. The church merely exists to be Christ in the community, responsive as he was to needs as they arise, the pastor said.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TYPICALLY INVOLVED, NEW OPPORTUNITY, CAMPER’S APPRECIATION, and CARLSBAD CONGREGATION.