Note: This is an extended edition of the article that appears on page 17 of the print edition of SBC LIFE.
Each Christmas Elkton Baptist Church raises enough money to support one international missionary family for a year. But that's only a fraction of what this Western Kentucky church does to advance God's Kingdom locally and globally—fulfilling its purpose statement of "Reach, Teach, Serve."
For the fourth year in a row, the 275 Sunday morning worship participants of the downtown church in Elkton, Kentucky, are on track to meet or exceed their $40,000 goal for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. That is the amount Pastor Mark Keith learned in 2010 was the starting salary of an IMB missionary family.
Shortly after he was called as pastor in May 2009, Keith learned the church – with limited promotion and without a pastor's leadership – had given $25,000 the previous Christmas season for Lottie Moon. About the same time, he learned the IMB was not going to be able to send as many missionaries as were ready, for lack of sufficient funding.
"I was impressed with what the church had accomplished [in its Lottie Moon giving], and hearing we had missionaries ready who weren't able to go, I thought that with the pastor promoting it, we could increase our goal to one that would provide the annual salary for one family," Keith said.
"IMB gave us the name of a young couple from Kentucky, and they've been our 'poster children' for Lottie Moon ever since. We pray for them and have regular contact with them, and they're coming to see us in January, on their first stateside assignment," Keith said. "We know the money we give doesn't go directly to them, but they represent what Southern Baptists are doing around the world."
About 25 percent of Elkton Baptist's tithes and offerings reach out in various ways, including 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists support the ministries of state conventions, theological education, and national and global missions.
"I strongly believe in the Southern Baptist method of missions giving through the Cooperative Program," Keith said. "The way we do it is probably the best on earth . . . I can honestly say the church has never suffered financially for placing missions as our top priority. You cannot out-give God!"
Keith is a third-generation Southern Baptist pastor, now in his fortieth year of ministry, whose grandfather was probably a messenger at the SBC annual meeting in 1925, when the Cooperative Program was enacted, Keith said.
"My grandfather felt the Cooperative Program was God-given, and that was passed on down to us," Keith said. "I could not have afforded a graduate degree without the help I received for it from the Cooperative Program, and when I was at Southwestern [Baptist Theological Seminary] we were told every semester that we had a debt to pay because of the education we were receiving."
Even as it disciples the next generations – and the present ones – to be Jesus' hands, feet, arms and heart, Elkton Baptist reaches out locally and globally.
Elkton Baptist is the largest church in town, located just off the town square. Its facilities, including a family life center built fifteen years ago, are in use nearly every day of the week by various groups, and a constant emphasis is placed on connecting with the community to share the Gospel.
This includes distributing backpacks filled with supplies at the start of the school year and backpacks filled with weekend food throughout the school year; giving financial assistance to those who are unable to pay rent; offering an archery/hunter safety ministry outreach each fall; and hosting events such as Easter egg hunts, Fourth of July fireworks, and Christian concerts.
The church extends its reach to a new church plant – Passage Church in metro St. Louis, one of the North American Mission Board's thirty-two Send North America cities. It also does a variety of cleanup and repair activities each year at Oneida Baptist Institute, a Southern Baptist boarding school in Kentucky. And the church is praying about which unreached, unengaged people group God wants it to embrace.
"We're in an area where family is big," Keith said. "The children's and youth ministries are driving the growth of the church."
One Sunday in late July, the children went to the park for Sunday School, not to play on slides and swings, but to hand out salvation bracelets they had made, and to explain to the unchurched recipients what each of the colors represented.
More teaching took place during midsummer weekends at Camp Hero, Children's Camp, and Vacation Bible School. Awana is also big during the school year. About 100 youngsters eat Wednesday dinner and participate in Awana activities each week – roughly 20 percent of the age group living within a five-mile radius of the church.
This September, about 200 middle- and high-school students participated in See You at the Pole as an outgrowth of First Priority, a campus "club" that started with three teens and has grown to around 150 in two years. It has displaced FFA – Future Farmers of America – as the largest club on campus.
Bo Bailey, the minister of youth and recreation, coaches—rather than leads—Elkton Baptist's fifty youth to follow their spiritual passions. "The idea is to quit manipulating the youth into doing what the youth minister wants to do, what the youth minister thinks is best," Bailey said.
Elkton Baptist no longer waits for teenagers to become adults to empower them to do ministry, the youth minister said. "I'm not picking their burdens. I'm telling the students, you need to seek out what God has laid on your heart. I'll be your coach and help you so you can be successful at what God is calling you to do."
One of the youth had an interest in serving the homeless. This prompted the teens to collect food and clothing for local homeless ministries and spend one Friday night sleeping outside the church in cardboard boxes.
"They had to go twelve hours without food, and learned what it felt like to be hungry, to wear what no one else wanted to wear, to sleep out in freezing weather," Bailey said. "They got to feel what it was like to look homeless and go into a restaurant. Then they had to walk through that [church] building, where other people were wearing what they'd like to be wearing. They really got to discuss what it was like to be homeless."
One student had a heart for Haiti, and as a result, sixty-three teens and adults from six area churches spent their 2012 spring break helping at an orphanage and working with Haitian Baptist leaders in reaching their community with the Gospel.
Two of the students on that trip wanted to make a return trip the next summer. Bailey coached them as they grew into a mission team of nine students and five adults who raised the money needed, booked transportation, and worked with Haitian Baptists in developing a ministry plan.
"The students did it all," Bailey said. "They raised $14,000 for this ten-day trip; they had to manage every aspect of it, and I was there as coach to help them when they ran into difficulty. Now, they know how."
Send North America: St. Louis
During their 2013 Spring Break, Elkton Baptist youth traveled about 300 miles northwest to Florissant, Missouri, just north of the St. Louis beltway, to help Elkton's partner, Passage Church. It was a ministry suggestion made by a junior high boy who had become a Christian just two years previously.
"We were helping a church plant spread the Gospel by doing things to help improve the community, working side-by-side with the government," Bailey said. The teens and other church members cleared and trimmed brush, painted inside and out, and otherwise helped "recondition" the older homes in that part of Florissant, with tools, supplies and materials provided by the town.
"We shared the Gospel all the way through," the youth minister said. "We shared it with the people whose homes we worked on, and we shared it with the city workers who brought us supplies."
"It's hard for adults to stand side-by-side [with people of other denominations]," Bailey said. "But teenagers of this generation are tired of the lie; they're tired of losing the battle because churches have drawn lines."
As part of the growing unity among the teenagers in Elkton, a monthly service attended by about one hundred youth travels from church to church, with the Gospel as the subject, rather than what each church is doing.
"They don't push their church; they push teens to stand side by side for the cause of Christ," Bailey said. "Sixteen kids got saved at a dodgeball tournament. Eight churches were involved, and you could have heard a pin drop when the Gospel was shared between games."
Blessings and Challenges
Pastor Keith is quick to give credit to Elkton Baptist church members, who are "gung ho for missions," Keith said. "All you have to say is missions and their pocketbooks open."
He also credits youth and children's ministry workers and Sunday school teachers for leading the church to "Reach, Teach, Serve."
"Now we're developing inreach and outreach leaders in our Sunday school . . . going back and using Sunday school the way it was designed," the pastor said.
As the church continues to grow, "We're going to need more space," Keith said of the landlocked church building. The church bought a nearby house and a medical clinic which are now being used as additional classroom space. "The question is, how to use the space we have, the best way we can without incurring a lot of debt.
"God has promised to provide everything we need to carry out His Great Commission," the pastor continued. "As long as we seek to find out where God is working and join Him in that, we will never lack."