GLENROCK, Wyoming (BP) – There were months, years even, in the 40 years Jim Ritter has been pastor of First Southern Baptist Chapel in Glenrock, that paying the light bill and building note came before giving to missions.
Nonetheless, for all but one time [the financially disastrous year of 2008] the church for 20 years has given 11 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together to spread the gospel and do God’s work in state conventions, across North America and throughout the world.
“There were definitely some lean years when we were barely able to make the payment on the building,” Ritter told Baptist Press. “The church was doing the best it could to supplement our support, but every month the treasurer would have to give us what was left after paying the bills. I had left a career in engineering to pastor the church, and had to pick up part-time jobs to make ends meet.”
“The church prayed about the financial situation, and what we thought God was saying was, ‘Give to missions and trust God.’ So we made a commitment to that, and God has just blessed this church. We’ve not had a lean year since, and that was 25 to 30 years ago.”
Most pastors who talk with Baptist Press speak of the global benefit of the Cooperative Program. Ritter looks more closely.
“Our Cooperative Program giving goes through the Wyoming Southern Baptist Mission Network, so to me it’s very personal,” the pastor said. “We have excellent people, the best of the best, at our state office. Every time I have a need, I place a call and there’s someone right there responding.”
During the especially lean years, the church conducted an internal evaluation of its spiritual condition. It was the type of endeavor that needed to be led by someone other than the pastor. Ritter said,
“It was transformational for our church when John Thomason, our executive director, came and led us through the process,” the Glenrock pastor said. “When we give to the Cooperative Program we know we’re helping with church planting and church strengthening in Wyoming.
“Wyoming can be a difficult place for some to live and minister. Winters are long, cultural amenities are often lacking, and isolation is a daily reality. We have a need for pastors who integrate well with Wyoming’s climate, culture, and conditions. So we’re training Wyoming people who live here and want to live here, and that’s part of the Cooperative Program. I have to give credit to Gateway Seminary and our Regional Missionary Fred Creason for their vision in this.”
First Southern Glenrock has been debt-free since the mid-1980s, and the pastor has been fully bivocational since 1991, both of which have enabled the church to allocate significant percentages of its income to missions; in 2021 its total allocation to missions was 33.8 percent. In addition to its CP giving, this includes 6 percent to strengthening the work of Southern Baptists in the northeast quadrant of Wyoming, and annual special giving to the Lottie Moon offering for world missions, the Annie Armstrong offering for North American Missions, and the Wyoming Missions offering. The church has also been providing support to two smaller Wyoming churches, mission work in Mexico, and several other key ministries.
“Although I have been bivocational, the church has always contributed to a retirement fund in my name,” added the pastor, who retired from engineering three years ago. “It has made a difference that I can feel now in my retirement.”
Children’s ministries are a prominent focus for the church. “We did Experiencing God [the Henry Blackaby study produced by LifeWay Christian Resources] years ago, and what stuck with us was, ‘Find what God is doing and join Him in it.’ If we see God’s in something, we’ll get behind it and find the money for it,” Ritter said.
The church saw what God was doing through Child Evangelism Fellowship about 15 years ago, and got involved with the local CEF Good News Club. It meets Thursdays after school.
The church also sponsors a 5-day club in the town park once a year – led by teens who go through a 2-week training camp provided by CEF, and who then go throughout Wyoming as missionaries in the summer.
“We’ve had kids in the church go through this,” Ritter said. “In 2020, two twin sisters got saved, then their parents got saved, and then their adult sister got saved.” That contributed to the 11 people baptized that year at First Southern Glenrock, though most years see six or fewer, for a total of 40 for the decade.
Five people from the church are now on CEF’s Wyoming state board. “We have lots of workers for our CEF ministries,” the pastor said. “We’re just blessed that way. God, in his sovereignty, has done something there.”
WorldChangers is another major thrust of the church. The church has been sending teens to this summertime construction and renovation ministry two or three times a year for more than 25 years. What previously started and operated as a Southern Baptist ministry now continues as LifeChangers Ministries. First Southern Glenrock is going again this year to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Sioux City, Iowa.
In addition, the church’s WorldChangers / LifeChangers group has made themselves available to the community for projects such as renovating a deck for a homeowner, constructing an access ramp for another, and unloading and stacking hay for elderly owners of a blind horse.
“The town called one day and asked us if we could take care of an overgrown yard, and we sent out the WorldChangers,” the pastor said. “The town [of about 2,600 people] also celebrates Deer Creek Days every year, and a number of times the town has called and asked, ‘Could your WorldChangers pick up the trash?’ Of course, we are happy to do that.”
“We have also gone to the mayor and said, ‘We are here as your servants. What does the town need?’ The mayor asked us, ‘Could you plant a flower garden in the town park where the road comes in?’ We said we could do that. She asked, ‘Would you pay for it? Would you maintain it?’ We agreed to do all of that. The mayor said she was going to put a sign next to the flower garden with the church’s name on it. We told her we preferred to remain anonymous. The next thing you know, there’s a guest editorial by the mayor in the local newspaper. She wrote, ‘An anonymous group has provided a beautiful flower garden for our town park. What about you? What can you do?’”
“The Mayor next asked us if we could provide a Friday morning breakfast for the high schoolers and give them a little devotional and some encouragement to help them get through the temptations of the weekend. We did that for years and years. We just try to discern where God is at work and try to follow Him there.”
First Southern Glenrock has for about 20 years been supporting Vision Beyond Borders, a ministry that takes Bibles into places that restrict access to God’s word. They also do humanitarian relief, providing clothing, medical supplies, necessities, seed for crops, and of course, Bibles – in Jesus’ name. The church has a group of ladies who make small quilts for Vision Beyond Borders to give to children in devastated places who might not have anything of their own. “That is a real heartwarming thing for us to do,” Ritter said.
The church also donates to the Gideon’s Bible distribution ministry. “That comes out of our prayer, ‘Lord, show us where You’re at work. We want to be part of it,” Ritter continued.
The church’s newest thrust is with the Family Life division of CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. “They have a marriage ministry that’s outstanding,” the pastor said, “They train couples to provide marriage mentoring for couples in crisis. I see that as a real pivotal point in the community.”
“It has been clear to us for years that there are areas that are really blessed by God,” Ritter said. “I believe God has put His fingers on this church to be a church that ministers to children and their families. Marriage mentoring is going to be a big part of that. I see that as one of our greatest needs. That’s a real burden on my heart.”
Glenrock First Southern also expanded the size of their building by 40%, in a process that ran from 2019 through 2021. Pastor Ritter says that he was not eager to take on a construction project, but the need for educational and fellowship space was real. The church committed to the expansion with the internal stipulation that the church would remain debt-free. Even though the State Fire Marshall required a fire protection system that added 50% to the total cost of the expansion, the church completed the project without having to halt construction for financial concerns, and without decreasing its giving to missions.
Glenrock is in an area influenced by the energy industry, and so the town has been through a series of booms and busts. Many people have come and gone. “First Southern has developed to its current 60 to 70 people in church on Sundays through community ministry and one-on-one discipleship,” said the man now starting his 41st year of ministry at the same church.
“I was bivocational [as an engineer] for most of those years,” Ritter said. “I had assumed I didn’t have time [to work outside of the church] but through a series of events the Lord revealed that that is what we were supposed to do. I asked the church: ‘Are we ready for this?’ It seems then our people started rising up and taking their place as leaders. I believe I could walk away from the church and the church wouldn’t miss a beat. There are so many things that happen without my having to promote them; things that I haven’t created or crafted. God has put them on peoples’ hearts, and we have gotten on board with them. I believe it all started when God led us to take our eyes off of ourselves and to trust God and to live for His kingdom.”