TUPELO, Miss. (BP)–Pastors of churches started in the mid-1800s, mid-1900s and the middle of this decade share more than their under-40 age in common: They’re all advocates for the Cooperative Program (CP).
CLAY ANTHONY, Richmond Baptist Church, Tupelo, Miss.
At the start of each worship service throughout the year, youngsters are sent into the congregation to find all the change they can. The change is dumped into a 5-gallon water jug near the pulpit. It takes about six weeks to fill a jug, which yields $200 to $300. That money goes toward whichever missions offering is coming up next.
“We’re real big on making sure our Southern Baptist missionaries are taken care of,” said Clay Anthony, 37, pastor of Richmond Baptist Church. “I want our people to know when you give to Lottie Moon, to the Cooperative Program, it’s not just writing a check. You’re investing in souls.”
Although in need of a new building, Richmond Baptist remains committed to putting love in action through CP and other missions endeavors. Currently about 25 percent of its offerings go toward missions — including 10 percent
through the Cooperative Program, another 3 percent to the Lee County Baptist Association and hands-on missions and ministry locally, regionally and internationally.
“There are people in South America, Africa, St. Louis, Orlando and Lee County who need Jesus a lot more than we need a building,” Anthony said. “If it comes to the Cooperative Program or a fancy chandelier, it’s going to missions every time.
“The Cooperative Program makes it possible for us to do a lot more together than we can by ourselves,” the pastor continued. “The things that divide certain Southern Baptists are not worth the division they cause versus the togetherness the Cooperative Program brings.”
Richmond Baptist, founded in 1843, is the oldest Baptist church in northern Mississippi, predating the formation of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, Anthony said. Of the 120 who worship at the church on Sunday mornings, perhaps five are over 65. The rest are young families who typically did not grow up in church.
“We’ve increased our budget this year, and increased giving through the Cooperative Program in this economy, and 90 percent of these people are first-generation church growers,” the pastor said. “It’s wonderful because they don’t know what we can’t do.”
What Richmond Baptist does do, in addition to worshipping God on Sunday mornings, is study His Word on Sunday nights and connect with Him and with people in the community during Wednesday night prayer times — when prayer needs have been submitted by 60 or more people. Bible Drill is seen as an important part of the church’s ministry to children. Ministry to men is seen as a key to reaching entire families.
“Our biggest physical need is for a new building so the people keep coming, but that’s not as important as making sure we reach and disciple the next generation,” Anthony said, gesturing to his two sons, 8 and 10. “I don’t want to look back 10 to 20 years from now, and have to hang my head in shame to see a whole bunch of [adults who were reared in the church] who do not know what they believe and who don’t put that belief into action.”
Richmond members put their belief into action through an orphanage near Monterey, Mexico, which they pray for, send financial support to throughout the year, and visit each January. Spring breaks are reserved for family mission trips. Special missions thrusts take place during times for the state, North American and international mission offerings.
Richmond Baptist also has been known to dismiss Sunday evening and even Sunday morning worship services on occasion, so the congregation can spread out evangelistically throughout the community.
“Only one out of three people goes to church anywhere in Mississippi,” Anthony said. “If someone is in Wal-Mart at 11 a.m. on Sunday, they probably don’t know Jesus…. Sometimes we’re radical and sometimes we do just the best we can.”
HANS WUNCH, Calvary Baptist Church, Ware Shoals, S.C.
“We are not a wealthy church and it would be nice to have more money, but the Lord provides,” said Hans Wunch, 36. “God gives more money to those who use it for His glory and purpose.
“The more we give, the more that goes to the International Mission Board…,” Wunch, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Ware Shoals, S.C., said in reference to Southern Baptists’ global outreach. “The more that goes to the IMB, the more that gets into the hands of the people who are telling the nations about their Savior, whom most have never met. God has not yet called me to international missions, but I can support those who have been called — with my prayers and with my money.”
Started in 1951, Calvary reaches out globally through hands-on mission trips and through committing 21 percent of its offerings to reaching people through the Cooperative Program. Another 3 percent is forwarded to Lakelands Baptist Association.
Locally the church reaches out through community ministry and major events, such as the mid-December Christmas Living Nativity replete with music and drama and “released time” instructors provided so public school students can learn about the Bible in off-campus classes.
Wunch has a talent for making high-quality writing instruments, a skill learned from his grandfather. He uses the proceeds to help fund church missions projects, such as an upcoming trip of about 10 Calvary members to minister during the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska in early March. The exquisite fountain and roller ball pens are made from rare woods or other materials, such as cut-up credit cards and can be seen online at www.pensbyhans.com.
“Our team is really excited about the trip, knowing that we will meet people from all over the world, knowing that God will use us to make an eternal impact,” Wunch said. “We’re praying that this adult mission trip will turn into an annual trip because of the impact He makes on us.”
Calvary also has “Mission Emphasis Sundays” and, in the last two years, has restarted Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors missions education programs to build on its longstanding Mission Friends program for younger children. As part of its local ministry presence, the church recently began prayerwalking its community, starting with Ware Shoals public schools. “We are working on seeing what needs those around us have and, as the Lord leads, meet those needs,” Wunch said.
Vacation Bible School and Backyard Bible Clubs are summertime staples. The church’s 23-acre location on a main highway just outside of town limits helps draw participation in Calvary’s annual outdoor productions at Christmas, Easter, the Fourth of July and “Fall Harvest.” Ministry to men also is a major linchpin, with two men recently licensed to the gospel ministry.
“I believe God has us here for a reason, and is preparing us for something,” Wunch said. “What that is exactly, I don’t know, but we continue to grow as His disciples while we wait.”
The church’s greatest challenges revolve around training leaders in this and in the next generation, the pastor said.
“Our church’s needs are much like other churches,” Wunch said. “We need most of our congregation to be more committed to the cause of Christ. We need them to see outside the walls better….
“I think the Cooperative Program is the best vehicle ever devised to get ministry money to areas where it is desperately needed,” the pastor continued. “It is an incredible tool, but it seems to have lost some of its focus and momentum.”
His college and seminary education were partially underwritten by the Cooperative Program, and the churches where he has served received training and Christian growth events and missionary speakers thanks in part to local church’s participation through CP.
Wunch is aware of the growing needs around the world from reading articles in South Carolina’s Baptist Courier state newspaper, the SBC’s online Baptist Press news service and from the International and North American mission boards.
He is one of more than 40,000 pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention with similar knowledge of the benefit, need and command to spread the Gospel globally, and yet, he noted, “Estimates are that between 95 and 98 percent of all evangelical money is used in the United States, while we only comprise about 5 percent of the world’s population.
“To put it another way,” Wunch continued, “we consume 95 percent of all that is given in churches to reach only 5 percent of the world’s population. Why? So our churches can be pretty while a lost and dying world are going to an eternity without God.”
One of his goals is to continue to rail against that inequity, Wunch said. He’s seeing progress in South Carolina, he said.
“Two years ago, our state convention started the process” of increasing the percentage of CP giving that left South Carolina, Wunch said. “And I believe that small step of faith is the reason why ours was one of just a few conventions who made budget last year.”
RANDY NORRIS, The Church at Ross Station, near Birmingham, Ala.
For The Church at Ross Station, the mission field for the 3-year-old congregation is Hoover, Ala., and the world, said pastor Randy Norris, 37.
“The world” includes nearby Talladega Superspeedway, where ministry takes place among NASCAR drivers, crews and crowds; coastal Alabama, where a 2010 mission trip is planned to aid a new church plant; upstate New York, to help another church; plus Belize, Uganda and possibly Ukraine.
And where The Church at Ross Station can’t get to, the Cooperative Program can. The church commits 10 percent of its offerings to putting love in action through CP in addition to supporting the Bessemer Baptist Association and the church’s direct missions endeavors.
“By participating in the Cooperative Program, even as a new church we have a part in supporting missionaries and seeing people come to Christ all over the world,” Norris said. “Our church has a strong commitment to the Cooperative Program and to our local association.”
Because CP “has the church’s back,” the pastor said, The Church at Ross Station can focus locally, starting with the men in the church, and reaching out to others in the community.
“It is our belief that if families and churches are ever going to be all that God desires them to be, it will be because the men stand up to be the spiritual leaders that God wants them to be,” Norris said. “We put a lot of emphasis on ministering to men and encouraging them in their roles as husbands, fathers and sons.”
The Church at Ross Station meets at Bumpus Middle School, which means members set up and tear down each week for Sunday morning worship. But it also means the church has a tight connection with its community and that helps with the church’s evangelism strategy, the pastor said.
This church’s three-strand strategy — three strands are not easily broken, Norris noted — includes prayerwalking and door-to-door visitation; classes on evangelism; and big events such as a yearly Christmas musical.
The Church at Ross Station also plans several new servant evangelism projects for 2010. Already they provide a monthly worship service at a nursing home, several mission projects at local schools, a day-old bread distribution ministry to food pantries and rescue missions in the metro Birmingham area, and they just completed the Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry for Samaritan’s Purse.
“We believe we are never more like Jesus than when we are giving,” Norris said. “When we are serving, we are giving of our time and talents with the hopes of pointing others to Jesus. Serving God allows each of us to worship Him in a way that is as unique as we are. Applying the gifts God has given us and allowing Him to work through us is an expression of our love to God and our gratitude to Jesus for saving us. Pleasing the Lord with the gifts He has entrusted to us should be of the highest priority in each of our lives.”
The Church at Ross Station has grown in its first three years to 275 who are present for Sunday morning worship each week — about 100 are in the fifth grade or younger. In addition to its missions giving, the church has saved about a quarter of the $456,000 needed to purchase the first eight of 32 acres on which they plan to have a church building and space for recreational activities that will draw people from throughout the community.
“This isn’t about building our kingdom,” Norris said. “It’s about building the Kingdom of God. Hoover is where our mission field starts. Jesus has called us, and the light that shines the farthest, shines the brightest at home.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.