Churches keep commitment to CP despite struggles

by Tammi Reed Ledbetter/Southern Baptist TEXAN, posted Friday, March 04, 2016 (one year ago)

IRVING, Texas (BP) -- First Baptist Church of Iowa Park has a long, committed history to giving 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to through the Cooperative Program. The only problem came when the Texas church's budget expenses outstripped income.

"We were having the financial secretary cut the checks, and then she would mail it if the money was there," explained pastor Glen Pearce during a March 1 Cooperative Program luncheon as part of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention's Empower Conference in Irving. When funds were tight, other commitments took precedence over giving through the Southern Baptist Convention's channel for supporting missions and ministry.

"We did this over and over again," he said. "At the end of the year we'd sit down the finance committee and if there wasn't enough money [for the CP portion] we'd release some of it and void the other."

Pearce admitted, "We felt guilty, repented a little bit, felt terrible about it and promised to do better. But the same cycle happened again, and this went on and on and on."

God eventually convinced Pearce of the need to pray specifically for the church's financial situation, inviting staff and deacons to join him.

When an administrative assistant proposed writing a check for CP giving every Monday based the previous day's offering, Pearce agreed. "Every Monday they would count the offering. She would write the check and mail the check," he recalled.

"For 52 weeks that happened, and we ended the year in the black because we pulled money from our contingency fund," he explained, "but the Cooperative Program (commitment) was met that year." As the church began 2015 with no money in the bank and no contingency fund, Pearce said, "I think God was testing us to see if we'd keep doing that."

There were times when the staff held their checks, waiting for another Sunday to come through. "But the Cooperative Program check went."

By the end of last year, receipts exceeded budgeted expenses, depleted reserves were replenished, and excess income covered the cost of remodeling an entire floor for children's ministry. Once again, the church kept its commitment to allocate 10 percent of undesignated receipts for distribution through the Cooperative Program.

"I believe what we're seeing is that God hears our prayers," Pearce shared, interrupted by applause. "God blesses, but we have to do what it takes to be obedient."

Encouraging pastors to make good on their support for the Cooperative Program, Pearce said, "Our church isn't huge, and we don't have a lot of rich people, but if you're faithful to God and pray and expect Him to come through, He will come through."

Darryl Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Huntington, described giving to the Cooperative Program as an investment in a kingdom that reaches around the world.

"Many times it is easy to look within our four walls and our city limits," he said in describing ministry in a small town. "Obviously we're responsible for reaching Huntington for Christ, but the Cooperative Program is a great way to invest in God's kingdom that's going around the world."

Early into his 17-year tenure as pastor, Smith heard a young man express appreciation for prioritizing missions giving. Looking at the financial report during a business meeting, the man asked if Smith had noticed that after making a commitment to give sacrificially to missions and the Cooperative Program, God had blessed the church with more than they had planned on receiving.

"It's the paradoxical truth that's throughout the Scripture that as we give our life away more and more, we receive more and more of life," he noted.

"Missions is a part of my DNA, and it became a part of the DNA of our church," Smith said. "The Cooperative Program is very personal to us because it's real people."

First Baptist Church in Huntington has adopted an unreached people group in West Africa and travels to the site four or five times a year. When members of the church give their offerings, they know they are supporting missionaries who serve through the International Mission Board like the couple with whom they work.

"They came from churches just like ours," Smith said. "I look at them as my kids and tell them, 'We have to take care of you.'"

Following the testimonies, Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement at the Executive Committee of the SBC, told those attending the luncheon, "We have a great cause to cooperate together to do what Christ Jesus is calling us to do."

At a time when criticism of the local church abounds, Weathersby praised what is right, starting with the mission found in the Great Commission. Drawing from Matt. 16:16, Weathersby said, "We're to knock the gates of hell down and go in and set the captives free."

The method of "witnessing, evangelizing and sharing Christ out of the overflow of an intimate walk with Christ" provides further evidence of what is right with the local church that is empowered by God, Weathersby said. For Southern Baptists, the mission strategy of the Cooperative Program serves as a tool to accomplish God's work, he said.

"How are you going to be able to do all this?" he said. "We accomplish what Jesus Christ has called us to accomplish because the minister is right," he said, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in coming alongside believers in the local church.

"We are grateful and thankful for what God is doing through this convention that sacrificially sends more money for national causes than what you keep in the state," Weathersby said in closing. "What a sacrifice from the churches, but what a sacrifice from the convention of churches who give 55 percent away. That is a testimony in itself."

Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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