'Above & beyond' through CP is church's growing commitment
HAUGHTON, La. (BP) -- Within the past five years, First Baptist Church in Haughton, La., has made a commitment to go the second mile.
This can be seen in its partnerships with Southern Baptist missions and ministries in East Asia, northern Mexico, Wisconsin, central Louisiana, a nearby prison and metro Shreveport.
Besides this, the congregation that numbers about 750 in Sunday morning worship allocates 12 percent of undesignated receipts for missions through the Cooperative Program -- the way Southern Baptist churches pool their missions dollars for maximum impact in state conventions and throughout the world -- plus 1 percent more, directly to the SBC's International Mission Board.
"In the past our church has given 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program, but we want to give above and beyond what we felt was a tithe," said Gevan Spinney, the church's pastor for the last 10 years. "I think as Christians, God has called us to give above and beyond; it's that second-mile mentality. There's joy in that."
"Our people love the fact that we're involved with a cooperative effort to reach the nations," Spinney, a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said. "We can do far more together than any of us could alone. There's power in unity and in moving in the same direction.
"The Cooperative Program is the best thing out there," he said. "When you realize the strength in all of us giving together to reach the world with the Gospel, it's amazing."
Known since its founding in 1885 for being exceedingly generous, First Baptist Haughton channeled that generosity into specific impact beginning five years ago.
"We had a shotgun approach to missions: We were supporting a dozen or more ministries financially," Spinney said. "We were hitting a lot of places, but we weren't a part of a real sustained impact partnership.
"Our church was very generous, but we weren't physically involved in going to the ends of the earth," the pastor said.
That changed after he was given, within a month, two copies of a book: "To the Ends of the Earth," by former IMB President Jerry Rankin.
"I was a young pastor; I just stepped in and kept moving with the tradition of the church, trying to get my feet under me," Spinney said. "But in this book Dr. Rankin said it wasn't the IMB's responsibility to do the Great Commission on behalf of the church. I thought, 'That's how we are set up.' Boy was that convicting."
Underscoring the local church's primary role in missions, Rankin noted there were about 6,500 unreached people groups and how local churches could work through the IMB to reach them.
It wasn't long before First Baptist Haughton was connected with a people group in East Asia.
"I guess for us, we've always been faithful to reach Haughton," Spinney said. "'That Haughton may know Christ' was our mission statement. Haughton was our heart. We gave to missions; we just didn't do a lot of it away from here. Through this people group in Southeast Asia, we have seen God change our mission statement and now it's 'That the world may know Christ through Haughton.'"
Four years ago First Baptist Haughton planted a church in Hermosillo, Mexico, and the church has sent groups there to help with that ministry.
When Spinney's son came home from kindergarten talking about a girl in his class who didn't speak English, it didn't take long for the pastor to learn that 105 students in Haughton's five schools did not speak English.
Because there was no Spanish-speaking church for them to worship in, First Baptist Haughton began a Spanish mission church on its campus two years ago. About 35 people from at least 11 nations in Central and South America now worship on Tuesday evenings at First Baptist Haughton.
"We've realized the community has changed," Spinney said. "God is bringing the world to us and we have to be responsible to give the Gospel to them."
Now a partnership is forming with the Spanish believers in Haughton and the church plant in Hermosillo. "We as humans can't orchestrate these things," Spinney said. "God is in the middle of this."
Also two years ago First Baptist Haughton sent a mission team to a new Southern Baptist church on the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin.
Now, despite the 20-hour drive, the church is committed to the partnership, which involves training Native Americans to disciple others.
Several years ago First Baptist Haughton's singles' ministry started a class at a local prison for inmates. The class grew so large that in 2010 First Baptist Haughton and First Baptist Church in Arcadia partnered with Louisiana Baptist Builders so the inmates would have a standalone chapel within their gates.
"Now we're buying a three-quarters house for men released from prison, with the help of money from the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering," Spinney said. "It will house 10 men who have proven themselves in prison and are working [while still inmates] in job release."
First Baptist Haughton also is involved in helping churches in Louisiana reach out to their community. It purchased a block party trailer used by many in the association for local church events, and it canvasses the Haughton community door-to-door four times a year.
"This isn't an opportunity to just give information about our church," Spinney said. "We pray God will give us divine appointments and opportunities to share our faith with our neighbors."
First Baptist Haughton has been intentional to model their ministry after Acts 1:8.
"The state of Louisiana and more specifically the town of Haughton is our Jerusalem, but it cannot be the end of our influence," Spinney said. "We feel responsible to give the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the earth."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).