Big-sky missions view: Mont. church ups CP 5%
JORDAN, Mont. (BP) -- About nine months after pastor KJ Ellington started educating Jordan Community Bible Church about missions, missionaries and Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program, members voted to increase their percentage CP giving from 8 to 13 percent.
"I added a Missions Moment to the Sunday morning service about nine months ago," the Montana pastor said, referencing the CP resource for churches' weekly use in worship. "The church did not really understand what it meant to be involved in missions. They didn't understand where the money went" through the CP channel to missions and ministry in Montana, across North America and around the world.
"We started highlighting missionaries ... and ministry opportunities outside of our local church," Ellington continued. "What that did was create anticipation and excitement about missions, and when the budget came up for discussion, we increased our CP percentage by 5 percent."
What the church learns through its participation in the Cooperative Program about missions and global needs, the pastor said, inspires them to want to make a difference in the world.
"I don't think you find any backing biblically for churches to grow in order to just build more buildings," he said. "You grow churches for the purpose of bringing more people into the Kingdom.... My first and major responsibility is to where God planted me, but ultimately He wants to use the people of Garfield County to impact the world, just like He brought Jesus through Israel in order to reach a bigger world.
"... We just want to do what God wants us to do: to think bigger than here, but not just bigger. We've got to think 'here' too," Ellington added. "I want to see 'that person' come to Christ, and change that life first, but I know that's how He changes the world: one person at a time."
Despite the recent birth of his first-born son, Ellington told the congregation he didn't need a raise this year so the church could increase its CP percentage giving.
"We are highly blessed in America," the pastor said. "We've got a lot more than we need. Even living on a small income, I feel the money can be better used in God's Kingdom than my kingdom.
"The way I explain it to our church, the Cooperative Program is about Southern Baptist churches working together to do things we could not do alone," Ellington said. "I tell them all the work our missionaries are doing overseas and here in America -- all the people hearing the Gospel -- we're able to be a part ... of something bigger than ourselves because we give through the Cooperative Program."
It wouldn't be hard to be involved in something bigger than Jordan, Mont., population about 300 hardy folks in the county seat. Garfield County is about the size of the state of Connecticut, but as of the 2010 census, a total of 1,206 people live across the county -- about one person on every three acres.
The church works hard to create community within the congregation -- some of whom drive 50 miles one way to worship -- and also to minister to Jordan and to Garfield County residents.
"We have a fellowship dinner every Sunday after church," Ellington said. "Some Sundays, families volunteer to feed everyone; the third Sunday is always potluck. What we say is, it's not about the food; it's about the fellowship. The meal provides opportunities for them to visit and talk with one another and create community."
At least 35 people gather Sunday for morning worship, up from fewer than 10 the first Sunday Ellington was called as pastor.
A women's Bible study also helps draw the congregation closer. So does a men's Monday evening fellowship involving televised football.
"This is something we started when football started as an opportunity for men to hang out and watch football without going to the bar," Ellington said. "There were guys looking for that."
The men meet in the basement of the unassuming building purchased from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and extensively renovated for church use. They don't have a big-screen TV, but they do have snacks and "the fellowship is great," the pastor said.
"If our church never grows above 30 or 40, that's fine," Ellington said. "As long as we send people into mission work and send them away.... We want to take people here and grow them in Christ."
Among the congregation's first steps toward Christian growth: its Helping Hands ministry.
"We'd been looking for opportunities to be a church that not only talks about helping others but does," Ellington said. "This summer, a mission team from Rutledge Falls Baptist Church in Tulllahoma, Tenn., came up and the whole purpose of their trip was to do random acts of kindness. They saw yards that needed mowed; they bought the groceries of the person behind them in line; that type of thing. That was the start of Helping Hands."
Helping Hands' primary focus is to do for those not able to do for themselves because of illness or other reasons.
"We've got a list of needs," Ellington said. "Our plan is one Saturday a month to get together to knock out as many projects as possible. And some things won't wait. Last week we helped someone clean out a wood stove."
Jordan Community Bible Church was started in 1994 as a mission of First Baptist Church in Circle, Mont., the nearest town, though some 67 miles east. One of Ellington's challenges is to move the congregation from a "that's the way we've always done it" mindset.
"The church generally in America has been doing church their own way for so long that they think it is the way you're supposed to do church, and sometimes that might not match up with what the Bible says," the pastor said. "The way people have done evangelism in the past is to say 'bring your friends to church' -- to invite them to church instead of actually telling them about Jesus.... [O]ur church is beginning to see things from a biblical worldview.
"There is a great opportunity here to see changed lives," the pastor continued. "This isn't the Bible Belt. [Many of the people of Garfield County] live lives like God does not exist at all. The field is white with harvest. There are plenty of opportunities to lead people to Christ and I encourage everybody to be involved in activities around town."
Two church members are on the Jordan Chamber of Commerce, and Ellington noted, "We encourage each member to live out their faith, and to be an encourager to many. Living in a small town is like living in a glass house. When you are being a Christian involved in the community and living a life of integrity in front of them, that says more than anything else.
"Out here, authenticity and integrity is more important than a smooth line or big event," Ellington said. "They still do hundred-thousand-dollar deals on a handshake. Your word means something out here. If you don't follow through on your word, you've lost your integrity, your authenticity. That's why the people here want to see real people Jesus has made a difference in, and that's why they're open to the Gospel -- when they see it lived out in someone's life."
The church's motto is "Connecting with God, Connecting with people, Changing the world."
"Everything we do has to fit into one of those three categories," Ellington said. "It's absolutely possible for God to take a little small church in the middle of nowhere and use it to change the world.... God is going to raise up missionaries and pastors who leave Jordan and impact the world."
Karen Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, The Montana Baptist and Dakota Connections, the state papers for those conventions.