When people are educated about missions, they pray better, give more, and go more eagerly, says Kansas pastor Ray Kempel.
"We can give to any cause. We can give to all kinds of good organizations," said Kempel, who has led First Southern Baptist Church in Hutchinson for twenty-three years. But he noted: "We need to educate people to the fact that we're not giving just to meet physical needs but also their spiritual needs. That's what our giving to the Cooperative Program is — it's an investment in spiritual needs."
"Missionary Moments" are part of each Sunday morning and evening worship service. Either a deacon reads a missionary vignette from the booklet available via the SBC Executive Committee or a Missionary Moments video is shown to the congregation.
Children's missions education programs thrive at FSBC — Mission Friends, Royal Ambassadors, Girls in Action, Acteens, Challengers, and TeamKid.
Hands-on mission trips also educate church members.
"I think the call of missions has to be on their hearts every moment," Kempel said. "The Cooperative Program makes that possible — and it's the unity of all the churches working together for a common purpose that makes the Cooperative Program possible. It's having a plan and working that plan — that's what we have with the Cooperative Program."
The Cooperative Program involves churches that give a portion of their undesignated offerings each month to support mission work in their state and around the world. Kempel said CP assures missionaries around the world of secure financial support each month so they can spend their time on what God has called them to do rather than directly solicit financial and prayer support.
"I believe the 'greatest need' is everywhere," Kempel commented. "I don't think there's any one place that has the greater need. I think there are needs everywhere — in rural places, urban places, even the golf course. I know that and I don't even play golf.
"The Cooperative Program gives me the opportunity to share in a global mission effort while my heart cry is to this continent," the pastor continued. "We give to missions because there's a world that's lost and if we don't give to missions they won't be reached."
Because of its investment in missions through the Cooperative Program — 10 percent of the church's undesignated offerings, plus 2 percent to ministries through the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association — Kempel said First Southern participates in the Great Commission commanded in Matthew 28:19-20 as it spreads out globally from its local community.
For the last fifteen years in Hutchinson, church members have participated in a weekly Bible study at a youth shelter that involves teaching sexual purity and sex education once a quarter. First Southern has participated in the True Love Waits sexual abstinence commitment every year since it was first promoted in 1987. The church has been an Angel Food Ministry host site for the last sixteen months, ministering to about one hundred families a month. And on October 31 for the last five years, they've done a Trunks of Treats for the community, which involves giving candy and a Gospel tract to about one thousand youngsters who come to the church parking lot.
Though members of the church have gone on international mission trips, the annual church-wide mission trip ventures to somewhere in the United States. In June, thirty-one volunteers from the church traveled to Scott's Bluff, Nebraska, to minister among two ethnic groups: Lakota Sioux and Hispanics. Their outreach included work on a mission building called the Jeremiah House and a five-day Vacation Bible School. Others, back home in Hutchinson, helped support the effort financially and through prayer.
In addition, an eight-person team of trained and certified disaster relief volunteers from First Southern Hutchinson participated in hurricane relief after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike ravaged Louisiana and Texas in September.
"Putting money in the plate is very important," Kempel said, "but also being able to have hands-on [missions] and coming back [to Hutchinson] and sharing with those who can't go will help stimulate interest in missions."
Kempel noted: "It's the mandate of Christ that we reach the world for Christ. God has called us to do that beyond our own town."
At the same time, the church must meet the real needs of the people in its congregation, the pastor added.
About one hundred and sixty people attend Sunday morning worship at First Southern, which is a cream-colored metal building with a green roof that has been debt-free since 2006. Sunday School and Discipleship Training are important parts of the church's educational ministry.
"We're kind of old school in that we're still going through the basics," Kempel said. "I believe your church is built on the Sunday School — educating people, learning and studying the Bible — not preaching. Meeting the real needs of the people, not their perceived needs, so they can learn to grow. I think the challenge is to provide stability for families, to educate them so they have help in meeting the crises of their lives.
"We're trying to educate people that marriage is important, and families are important, and dysfunctional families need help," the pastor continued. "How to penetrate them with the love of Christ and see Christ is the answer, without them shunning Christ — that's the challenge."
First Southern is working to accommodate an increasingly diverse local population, Kempel said. While Hutchinson is forty miles northwest of Wichita, its agricultural roots are giving way to people involved in urbanized industry.
"Kansas/Nebraska is a pioneer mission area," the pastor said. "We have 387 churches and missions in the two states, and most of them are rural, small-in-number churches. It's an area where one farmer might have thirteen thousand acres that he can run with his family and one hired hand. You've got to do things innovatively to reach the rural areas."
But don't throw out the tried-and-true, he cautioned.
"We just want to do the things we're supposed to," Kempel said. "Sunday School, Discipleship Training, and missions education .... Christ has the answer in the Bible."
Karen Willoughby is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana, and is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message newsjournal.