Cross Lanes Baptist Church in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, "holds the rope" for missions through the Cooperative Program, senior pastor Seth Polk says.
Expanding on the familiar description of Southern Baptist missions, Polk said of the Cooperative Program, "It's not the only way to do missions, but I believe it's the best way."
Southern Baptist churches "can accomplish more together as the body of Christ than we can alone," the pastor said. "The Cooperative Program is a proven way for churches of like faith to cooperate together to accomplish God's agenda."
Polk, who is completing the fifth year of his second pastorate in ten years of fulltime ministry, described Cross Lanes Baptist as "a committed Acts 1:8 church. We believe in doing missions locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally. Where our reach ends, the Cooperative Program carries on."
Local ministries — the Acts 1:8 Scripture passage's "Jerusalem" realm of ministry — include a gigantic clothing giveaway held just before the start of school the past two years; support for a local crisis pregnancy center; a new venture into multi-housing ministry; and various benevolence ministries.
For their "Judea," Cross Lanes Baptist is the primary sponsor of Freedom Baptist Church, a church plant pastored by Jimmy Morton in nearby Charleston in conjunction with the North American Mission Board and the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. Cross Lanes also supports Big Creek Team Center, a community resource center for young people and their families in War, West Virginia, led by Debbie King.
Stretching the North American boundaries of its "Samaria," Cross Lanes Baptist has worked for the last three years in Cleveland, Ohio, with Village Chapel, a NAMB church plant pastored by Joe Jaworski, as part of the Strategic Focus Cities effort there. Cross Lanes also has ministered in Kentucky, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and has plans for Baltimore, Maryland, this year.
Global mission efforts include Jamaica and East Asia, and the church recently began work with Children's Emergency Relief International, a Texas-based Baptist ministry to children at risk in Transnistria and Moldova in Eastern Europe.
Cross Lanes has simplified its Acts 1:8 focus to four elements: praying, giving, going, and educating.
"Without prayer and the power of God, nothing of eternal value is going to happen. So we emphasize praying for missions," Polk said. "Sacrificial giving is vital," the pastor continued, "because someone has to hold the rope. Without cooperative efforts, the missionaries can't do what they have been called to do.
"We believe in people participating in short-term missions because it gives them a vision for God's work," the pastor noted. More than one hundred Cross Lanes Baptist members participated in hands-on mission efforts outside the church last year. One family from the church is serving in career missions in an undisclosed location with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Another couple from the church also is preparing at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for international missions.
"Mission education in the church is an equally important element," Polk said. "If we don't educate the younger generations about God's work, they're not going to know about the Cooperative Program and the work isn't going to be carried on."
Expository preaching with an emphasis on spiritual growth and a call to commitment is also important at Cross Lanes Baptist.
"We've had a very strong emphasis particularly over the last year on prayer, repentance and spiritual devotion, encouraging people in their walk with Christ so they are strong in their faith," Polk said. Various semester-long discipleship studies on spiritual growth also are part of Cross Lanes' educational strategy.
"A church is only as strong as its members are spiritually," the pastor said. "Leadership in a church is important, but without willing servants in the church with a spiritual mindset, you can't accomplish the task at hand. They have to catch the heartbeat of God."
Yet another dimension of the congregation, Polk said, is "our responsibility to care for the lives that God entrusts to us." Cross Lanes' Sunday School, which the church calls "Bible Fellowship," has nearly tripled in attendance in the five years since Polk was called as pastor. Worship has doubled — it's now about five hundred — and undesignated giving has more than doubled.
The church in recent years completed a major building project that included a family life center, adjacent property acquisitions, and expanded parking — all the while leading the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists in total missions giving and baptisms the past two years.
"It's always a challenge to maintain focus as you grow and expand and keep the main thing the main thing," Polk said. "That's one reason we've emphasized missions.
"Throughout a $3.5 million building campaign, we continued to increase our mission emphasis — financially as well as physically — and God has blessed because of that. We are living in such a consumer-oriented society in general, that when a Gospel of surrender to Christ is preached and taught, it is in clear conflict with the culture. You have to diligently maintain the spiritual focus because of the distractions of the world.
"I believe God won't let flow to us what we won't let flow through us," the pastor said. "The church should be a river of God's blessings, and not a reservoir. We truly are blessed to be a blessing, and if a church can see that, they'll catch fire for what God wants them to do."
Cross Lanes, which was started in 1959, gives 25 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions — 11 percent through the Cooperative Program, 4 percent to its local Baptist association, plus its own worldwide mission efforts.
"We have had a wonderful spirit of unity within our church family, and I think it is because we've been centered on a unity of purpose to glorify God and follow a Kingdom agenda," Polk said. "We have a tremendous congregation that has an outward focus that continues to expand. We're motivated by the Great Commandment, to fulfill the Great Commission and we believe Cooperative Program missions is an excellent way to do that."
Karen Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.