Invest in others through CP, Ky. pastor urges

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Wednesday, March 02, 2016 (2 years ago)

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (BP) -- In Bowling Green, Ky., which leads the nation in restaurants per capita and is home to General Motors' Corvette plant, Eastwood Baptist Church provides spiritual food and a fast ride to supporting missions across the globe.

Tom James has for 11 years pastored the church where about 850 people worship on Sunday mornings, up from 450 attenders at the beginning of his pastorate before the congregation had two campuses.

"I had been here a year when God gave me a vision, to be on mission in every continent," James said. "Today we have three Asia partnerships, two in North America, and one each in South America, Europe and Africa."

Eastwood's missions awareness starts with its commitment to give 12.5 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program.

"You can't out give God," James said. "God is the consummate businessman. If God is going to invest in people, he's going to get the best return for His efforts.... When He's going to financially bless a church, He blesses the church that uses funds to invest in other people's lives.

Eastwood Baptist Church
 
"The Cooperative Program is the greatest means of missionary support that any denomination has ever experienced," he said. "We're the only organization -- the International Mission Board is -- where people don't have to pay or solicit their own support. We should be doing so much more."

The Cooperative Program also is personal to James.

"I'm a benefit of it," he said. "I tell the church, you were helping pay for my seminary before you knew I existed. We're now paying for someone who will be on staff here 30 years from now.... When people know the impact of the dollars they give, they're more prone to give.

"We have to put a face or faces to the Cooperative Program," he said. "We need to tell our people what the Cooperative Program does. We can't blame our people for not knowing what CP does if we don't tell them."

Because of the CP, a young girl who once contemplated suicide is living today as a Christian, the pastor recalled being told by Tommy Johnson, a Baptist Collegiate Ministries director in Kentucky. Johnson was discipling a deaf college student who felt called to do ministry one summer in his hometown of Philadelphia. The student's plan was to go to area parks and playgrounds in Philadelphia, giving away Gatorade and water, sharing the Gospel with anyone asking about his generosity. He set up a men's basketball league that's still active. It was through the work of the league that the student encountered the suicidal girl, who came to the game with a team member.

"[The student] shared the Gospel with her and she gave her heart to Christ," James said. "That's the power of God at work through the Cooperative Program." Today, [the student] is a high school teacher and elder in the Kentucky church he attends.

In addition to Eastwood's sizeable CP gifts, major thrusts take place during seasonal missions offerings. In 2015, the church gave $62,772 to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and $77,725 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

"On Easter we set up two crosses and call it March to the Cross; two weeks before Christmas we set up two mangers and call it March to the Manger," James said. As the congregation files past the seasonal displays at the front sides of the worship center, they place their missions offering in nearby baskets.

"They really do enjoy giving," he said. "One year we gave $105,000 [to the Lottie Moon offering] and sent two career and two journeymen missionaries to the field that year."

Having Skype conversations during worship services with missionaries is another way Eastwood fuels the congregation's enthusiasm for missions that is equally served through giving, going and praying.

"We try to have partnerships, each with a different focus," James noted. "In Canada we work with First Nations people; [Vacation Bible School] works especially well there. In Romania we targeted Gypsy people, who are real outcasts, highly frowned upon. They respond to personal attention; we try to work with pastors there in evangelism and women's ministries. Other outreaches are to Europeans in southern Brazil, and work to supply clean water to Muslims in Southeast Asia, establishing water filtration systems.

In a security-sensitive, extremely remote area, Eastwood was directed to an unreached people group. Outside one village, the team encountered a large family where no one had ever seen a Westerner. After several years of return visits, the as-yet non-Christian "family of peace" calls Eastwood members "family."

Last year, 111 Eastwood adults participated in a mission trip. While the church provides $500 scholarships to those in need, most adults pay their own way. The last three years, Eastwood has put $6,000 into its budget to pay the way for two small church or bivocational pastors to accompany the church on an international mission trip.

The church is also active in local missions, conducting a variety of ministries to low income families, helping to build one Habitat for Humanity home annually, supporting an annual children's camp and offering money management classes.

"When you look at the various ministries done in North America and internationally, and in Warren County, if we did all those things and didn't share the Gospel, it would be no Gospel at all," James said. "We'd just be taking care of the devil's children."

While Bowling Green has 42 Southern Baptist churches, there are still 94,000 unchurched people in Warren County, James said, expressing a desire to open additional Eastwood campuses there.

"I've got to believe God wants more from us than what we're doing now," he said. "My vision is to continue to have a mission mindset but also to help people focus also on our community, our Jerusalem."

Karen L. Willoughby is a Baptist Press national correspondent based in Utah.
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