They've turned a corner from complacency to compassion, pastor Phil Bray says.
Their excitement for what God is doing in southeastern Missouri and around the world stems from a new emphasis on discipleship at First Baptist in Puxico coupled with the church's longstanding commitment to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP) .
"Giving to the Cooperative Program teaches our people that we don't live in a box here," said Bray, who became First Baptist's pastor in 2006.
"The Bible tells us that we have a responsibility to be disciples and to make disciples of all nations. We can't all physically go, but we can all give. I don't think giving money excuses you from going, but I do think giving helps our congregation realize we are helping fulfill the discipleship mandate of the Great Commission."
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists' channel of combining the efforts and resources of local churches to make a difference in the lives of people across the nation and around the world.
Bray described the Cooperative Program as "the greatest, the wisest, the most resourceful way of supporting missionaries around the globe." Bray said. "It enables local churches that would not have the ability to support a missionary on their own to be part of a global missions strategy.
"I think the Cooperative Program is essential because it's the best way of getting resources spread out across the world," the pastor continued.
"CP also has helped provide summer missionaries for First Baptist and it plays a key role in training pastors, missionaries, and other workers," said Bray, who is working toward a doctoral degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
First Baptist, where about 110 people attend Sunday morning worship, was founded in 1888. The church gives 10 percent of its undesignated income to missions through the Cooperative Program, plus 6 percent to Cane Creek Stoddard Baptist Association, 1 percent to the local seminary extension center, and a half-percent to a missionary couple in Mexico and to a church plant in New York state.
About a dozen First Baptist members went on the church's first mission trip last year to New York state. In local missions, a young couple who made professions of faith at First Baptist last year have started a van ministry that has jumpstarted a midweek program for youngsters called KIDMO. More than forty First Baptist members have signed up to help with the church's new Wednesday night service for teens called BASH — Becoming Alive by Savoring Him. And First Baptist is exploring possibilities in a nearby town for a new church, perhaps by initially making some door-to-door visits and conducting a backyard Bible club.
Bray commented that "the reason we [Americans] are so apathetic is that we're too comfortable," but noted: "We're getting away from that here. I've been really excited at the way the Lord is motivating people to get involved. You can see Him working in the lives of people, changing their hearts and giving them a desire to serve and reach out to people.
"We need Christ to change us even after we're saved," the pastor noted. "We need Christ to cut away sin, complacency, and apathy. We need Him to infuse us with a passion for Himself and the empowerment to accomplish His work."
Bray is leading First Baptist to engage in four aspects of discipleship to strengthen their connections with the community and, through the Cooperative Program, with the world.
Discipleship, as Bray is teaching it at First Baptist, entails treasuring Christ, loving one another, equipping believers, and serving others.
"There are a lot of people in this country who have church knowledge and church background but don't have a relationship with Christ," Bray said. "We emphasize that Christianity is not a religion about God, but a relationship with God. People are going to die and go to hell without that relationship.
"I think we've lost our urgency to tell people this," Bray lamented. "The building is on fire, and we're afraid to tell people about it. ... It's hard to be thirsty for Christ when you're drunk with the liquor of the world — entertainment, comfort, luxury, whatever. Jesus told the disciples in Luke 14, if you're not willing to give up that which is most precious to you, you're not worthy of Me. I think many of the people in this country are not willing to give up anything in order to have Christ."
In preaching through the books of the Bible on Sunday mornings, Bray noted, "The sermons all deal with the person and work of Jesus Christ. We finished Mark last year; right now I'm in John. To preach through books gives a more balanced diet of God's Word. Whatever book you preach — Old Testament or New — Christ is the center of the message. Sunday morning worship is our time to engage people with Christ by showing Him to be more valuable than all else in life."
The second facet of discipleship — loving one another — is a work in progress at First Baptist, Bray said. He hopes to see cell groups form in the church "where they can discuss issues and ideas they are learning in church and Bible study, to develop relationships, strong bonds, friendships. It's a way of praying for each other and holding each other accountable."
Bray said he disciples four men before Sunday School each week. He hopes in time they will become the nucleus of cell group leaders.
"The point is to develop deep relationships in our congregation," Bray said. "We have to foster true love for one another, and the best way to do that is to spend time with one another. The Bible says people will know we are Christians by our love for each other."
Equipping believers — the third step of discipleship — takes place during the Sunday evening worship service, Bray said.
"It's a real simple service, but it's a time we focus on God's Word for daily living as well as for theological thinking," the pastor said. "I think a lot of Christians in our culture are unclear on what the Bible teaches. They don't know the stories or understand doctrine or see the importance of doctrine. That doesn't square with Scripture. We have to work hard to equip them to have a biblical worldview, to have sound doctrine. That will lead to more passion for Christ, which will result in transformed living."
In serving others, the fourth aspect of First Baptist's discipleship emphasis, Bray noted, "We want our members to be involved in some sort of ministry at least once a week, from serving in the nursery to going on a mission trip. I just want people to do the work of ministry, not just come to sit."
Local ministry efforts include participation in the local Gospel mission, food pantry and nutrition center, door-to-door evangelism, street witnessing, and in-home visits.
"I think the Lord put us here for a reason," Bray said. "The Lord called us to make disciples. A disciple is someone not content to sit each week, but passionately following after Christ, looking for ways to spread the Gospel and serve other people. My desire is that the Lord would save people and send people away, that He would empty this church as people go to be pastors, missionaries, helping plant a church somewhere else — a steady growth and steady sending out."
Karen Willoughby is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana, and is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message and Dakota Baptist newspapers.