Discipleship is the priority at First Baptist Church in Columbia, Illinois, and discipleship fuels the church's passion for cooperative world missions and giving through the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program.
Our passion is to make disciples for Jesus Christ," said Jonathan Peters, the church's pastor since 1998. "Our need is to fulfill the Great Commission. The Cooperative Program is the means by which we do this collectively."
A Passion for Outreach
"Reaching the nations" starts locally for the church, which serves a bedroom community fifteen minutes from downtown St. Louis.
"The majority of people we reach are through friendship," Peters said. "I think two things have been used of God to help His Kingdom move forward in our fellowship," Peters continued. "One is that we genuinely seek to love people. The other is that we tell it like it is; we boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Local initiatives include using part of the church's property for newly arrived refugees to grow vegetables. St. Louis is among the nation's largest receiving points for refugees entering the United States.
A twenty-five-member quilting ministry "cranks out blankets they send all over the world, to soldiers, to orphanages in East Asia, to the homeless in St. Louis," Peters said. "They put a Gospel tract in each one that says, 'God wants to wrap His arms around you.'"
First Baptist also presents the spiritually based "Judgment House" each fall, an annual community outreach that results in dozens of decisions for Christ.
Among initiatives in poverty-stricken East St. Louis and nearby communities, the church conducts monthly outreach events that include feeding the hungry, providing assistance with basic life needs, and sharing Christ through worship services.
A Passion for Discipleship
"My passion is to see people become disciples of Christ," said Peters, who serves as vice president of the Illinois State Baptist Association. He has also served as the Illinois pastor's conference president and on the boards of the state Baptist foundation and children's home.
"We have to recognize that discipleship is a commitment," the pastor said. "Doing life together and helping someone grow in their faith in Christ is a process. In my experience, it takes two hours a week over the course of a year of personal investment being poured into a new believer to help them start well in the Christian life. Discipleship is God's work but it takes time."
About 500 people participate in Sunday morning worship at First Baptist. The congregation has doubled in size since Peters was called there—his first pastorate—in 1998.
The church was saddled with debt when Peters arrived. It is now debt-free and has begun saving money for a planned relocation from its land-locked facility. The new property already has been paid for.
New members are taught their first few weeks about the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist way of supporting thousands of missionaries overseas and throughout North America as well as the work of state/regional Baptist conventions in the United States.
"New and existing members are constantly challenged to be missionaries—and giving to missions is one part of that," Peters said. "I'm a nuts and bolts guy. I believe in tithing. God commands His people to tithe, to demonstrate His lordship over their lives. So we tithe as a church. We gratefully give ten percent to the Cooperative Program and for us it's not an option."
In addition to the ten percent of its undesignated offerings given through the Cooperative Program, First Baptist gives another ten percent in various other Great Commission causes such as its ten-year partnership with The Sanctuary Church in Toronto, Canada.
Sacrificial missions giving has not compromised First Baptist's missions going. When Peters first was called as pastor, church members already were participating in World Changers, Southern Baptists' national home renovation missions opportunity for high school students.
Peters expanded the church's vision to include the entire world. "The church is God's missionary," he said. "This is our DNA. Absolutely God is raising up people to reach the nations."
And the "nations" aren't necessarily overseas. First Baptist finds cross-cultural opportunities locally, in the association, and in Chicago, where church members go for a "family mission trip" each year.
"There is vast lostness in Illinois," Peters said. "Our state must reach our cities, Chicago being first and foremost, in my opinion.
"We partner with Chicago-area churches," the pastor continued. "We assist the churches in their expressed areas of need, whether it be through construction projects, community outreach events, or worship and prayer opportunities—whatever needs to be done … Cook a meal, play with kids, paint a house, do a block party, etc. … Folks get missions in their DNA."
About sixty First Baptist members served Chicago-area churches this year. The church also sent members on thirty international mission trips over the last ten years to eighteen nations in East Asia, Central America, Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, and Canada.
"I think we're living in an ever-changing society, and whether people believe it or not, they are incredibly vulnerable," the pastor continued. "As our church loves people and does life with them, we will have the opportunity to present Christ to them. I just believe God is in the business of bringing people to His Son."