Let’s celebrate the past and the present, too

I’m so glad the pastor invited me to participate in his church’s 190th anniversary. Can we even begin to imagine the kingdom impact of a rural congregation over the course 19 decades of ministry? Think about the total number of people saved and baptized or the number of Vacation Bible School cookies eaten on the premises or the total number of chickens that were fried for all the church luncheons. The numbers are unfathomable.

The drive to this worship service was breathtakingly beautiful. The colors are starting to put on the trees in mid-Missouri. The combines are running wide open to bring in the harvest of corn and soybeans. Then you can smell the fresh-cut hay drying in the field and waiting for the bailing machine.

This particular church’s building was located at a crossroad on the top of a hill – white framed building with a cemetery across the road. Even my GPS couldn’t understand my wanting to enter the location at the corner of Highway O and Highway H. But Google maps satellite spotted the location.

As we walked in the door, the pastor handed me a panoramic historical sketch of significant events of the church. Of course, there was the founding of the church two years after statehood. There were the bumpy years during the War Between the States in the 1860s. There were seasons of incredible harvests, not field crops, but souls.

From the historical information, one could see that this church predated the Cooperative Program (CP). However, along with the note of celebration about the Cooperative Program in 1925, an interesting addendum read, “The churches were challenged to move to a 50/50 split.”

When I read that, my historical recall was ignited. I do remember reading that tidbit of history during my seminary days. Our Baptist heroes in the past were so passionate about world outreach that they believed a worthy local church goal for was a 50/50 split between local expenditures and missions. Such missional thinking would require huge faith and a Great Commission focus. You would think that the Great Depression and a world at war would have derailed the vision.

While many never achieved the 50/50 goal (there are a few), thousands of Southern Baptist Convention churches worked toward achieving this benchmark by incrementally moving up their percentage of Cooperative Program support. Prior to the 1980s, there were many established churches giving through the CP in the 20-25 percent range. But a time of disillusionment entered the scene, and finding local churches today with that level of CP giving is few and far between but not unheard of. I learned of one the other day that one of our First Baptist churches continues to give 24 percent to the CP. I’ve heard of another that gives almost 40 percent to missions and part of that is CP.

The vision of touching a world with gospel through our cooperative ministries has always been a unifying factor in Southern Baptist/Missouri Baptist life. The gospel message that must be told to this generation and the next is a compelling message, a transforming message, and worthy of our offering our lives and resources to the Lord.

If that were not enough motivation, there is the testimony of brand new churches that are joining the ranks of those who are celebrating their anniversaries. Ben Hess, Missouri Baptist Convention church planting team leader, sent me a report this month about some of our church plants.

“We were able to lead to Christ the owner of the building we lease for our weekly worship gatherings!” reports Kevin Barnes of Legacy Church. “This is huge and a great step towards connecting the families that go to her school to Jesus.”

Benjamin Barron-Gonzalez of El Calvario writes, “Here in Neosho and Anderson we have the largest attendance that we have ever seen. The people are welcoming the gospel and are inviting their families. We have discipleship, musical education and Girls in Action, Royal Ambassadors and Woman’s Missionary Union ministries. On the15th we celebrated Hispanic Heritage day. Five of our Sunbeams graduated. They were dressed with their country’s customs, such as Mexico, Guatemala and Puerto Rico. We had one professions of faith.”

“The most significant thing this month was the baptism of five new believers,” writes Adrian Hendricks II of The Joshua House Church. “We also have had a musician join our church and he has been helping out with worship and that has been a big help to me.” He also reported some of the challenges of planting churches in difficult places, “My vehicle was broken into and my wife’s purse, church tithes, and last 100 dollars were stolen from the car. This has rattled my wife and children, and the uneasiness of feeling vulnerable or being watched is evident.”

“Seven people, five adults and two children were baptized this month,” reports Ednor Sebag of Filipino-American Christian Fellowship, Springfield.

The Lord has worked in the past and is at work today through Missouri Baptists. Celebrate!