Their fresh perspective confirms a generations-old missions partnership among Southern Baptists.
Three under-40 pastors share their outlook toward the Cooperative Program:
Jacob Atchley of The Church at Martinsburg, West Virginia, says the partnership of 45,000 churches makes possible all that Southern Baptists do.
Kris Barnett of East Pickens (South Carolina) Baptist Church, says CP partnership makes it possible for the church he leads to do so much more than just its own missions projects.
Brian Saxon of Second Baptist Church in Lancaster, South Carolina, says while the church he leads has limits, the Cooperative Program is limitless because of its partnership.
THE CHURCH AT MARTINSBURG
Younger pastors are positioned to be the tip of the evangelical spear in penetrating the darkest corners of the earth with the life-giving Gospel of Christ, said Jacob Atchley, 29, pastor of The Church of Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Southern Baptists are "uniquely positioned because we already have the cooperative piece [in place] to step out and continue fulfilling the mission," Atchley said.
"The Southern Baptist Convention and its Cooperative Program are great tools in the hands of people and churches," the West Virginia pastor continued. CP is not "the end-all, be-all, but it's a great gift Southern Baptists have to mobilize for the call God has placed on all Christians."
"The Convention may not be perfect, but it's still releasing God's people to partner in God's mission," Atchley said.
Atchley is both a giver to and recipient of the Cooperative Program. From the first time an offering was received at The Church at Martinsburg last spring, its members committed 10 percent to reach people through CP, Southern Baptists' method of supporting missions and ministries of state conventions and the SBC. Atchley himself is a missionary with the North American Mission Board, with support provided via CP and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.
"Southern Baptists help equip and send missionaries, and we're part of that and ... part of a church that will plant other churches as a result of the generosity of Baptists," Atchley said.
He and his wife Lindsey chose to start the church in Martinsburg because of its location. It's the last stop for a commuter train that goes into Washington, D.C., and it's within thirty miles of the next four towns where they plan to start churches.
"The vision is that through prayer, time, resources, and strategy, churches can be planted in those four cities and also in the heart of the nation's capital over the next two decades," Atchley said. "The harvest is plentiful and the Lord is sending people out."
The Church at Martinsburg started in May 2009; by December it had grown to more than seventy.
The young pastor said he preaches in straightforward fashion: "It is nothing more than opening the Bible and exposing people to the Bible and the Bible to people. We're teaching for life change and for mission. As the pastor, I see my job as the head of a Gospel-sending agency. Each week I have the opportunity to teach, train, and send out missionaries."
The church began three groups in August for spiritual development and meaningful relationships to form, with about thirty-five people participating four months later. Each group focuses on the message taught the previous Sunday.
This method allows the church to move in a common direction, Atchley said. "Functionally it fits right now and it's really starting to bear fruit as people wrestle with and seek to apply the same truth all across the entire church body, and everything is based on what is preached on Sunday."
Each community group also engages in their choice of one mission project a semester, such as a servant ministry or a mission trip near or far.
"I want to release people to the mission; that for me is the strength of it," Atchley said. "When God's people are serious about God's mission, it's revolutionary to the world."
EAST PICKENS BAPTIST CHURCH
"The Cooperative Program expands our horizons; it goes out into the entire world," said Kris Barnett, 32, and pastor for the last year at East Pickens Baptist Church in Pickens, South Carolina, where about 450 people worship on Sunday mornings.
He's another young pastor who readily supports how Southern Baptists pool their missions resources for maximum effectiveness in state conventions and throughout the world.
"We need the Cooperative Program to make this whole missions thing work," Barnett said. "God's not limited to South Carolina. We have multiple people who have gone out from our church who have support from the Cooperative Program — Baptist schools and seminary students as well as missionaries.
"CP adds to the awareness of what's going on in the world," the pastor said. "It adds to what we're able to do as a church."
What East Pickens does as a church is have each of its eighteen cross-generational E-groups [for Experience] adopt a Southern Baptist missionary in order to put a face to CP. Each E-group also takes on a local mission project, such as writing letters of encouragement to the local police department or painting a recent widow's garage.
East Pickens sponsors a July Fourth celebration for its community — including fireworks — which was attended by about five thousand people last year. But the church is moving from primarily event-based evangelism to "more personal evangelism, getting people to recognize divine appointments within their sphere of influence," Barnett said. "We're trying to utilize more of the individuals and get them to recognize the mission field around them every day.
"That's the model Jesus gave us," Barnett continued. "It leads more directly to discipleship, which is where the church in general is sorely lacking. If you interact with someone, develop a relationship with them, and lead them to faith, you have a greater sense of responsibility in discipling them" than someone with no personal connection to the person he/she is evangelizing.
East Pickens, which built a new worship center nearly six years ago and recently celebrated its 101st anniversary, has refocused to become more discipleship-oriented, as reflected in its new mission statement: "We exist in order to develop disciples of Christ by becoming the body of Christ."
"It's a process," Barnett explained. "As we become the body of Christ, we engage the heart of Christ in worship, encounter the mind of Christ in Bible study, experience the arms of Christ through fellowship, and extend the hands of Christ through missional living. And all of these overlap, interact, and intertwine."
East Pickens offers both traditional and contemporary services on Sunday mornings; on Sunday nights, the church gathers in multi-generational groups for discussion on living out the morning message.
"We have a great opportunity to learn from the adults who have gone before," Barnett said. "And our younger generation can teach the older generation new approaches to missions, ministries, and outreach into the community. I think the interaction between these two generations will kindle excitement in both groups."
Making disciples, the pastor said, is "evangelism from a different perspective. We have to do effective discipleship or we're not doing effective evangelism. It's essential we do effective discipleship, or we don't train them to do what Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission. Partial obedience is always disobedience."
East Pickens undergirds its missions focus by putting love in action through supporting the Cooperative Program with a tithe of its undesignated tithes and offerings, along with providing support to the Twelve Miles Baptist Association. The church gathers mission dollars for short-term mission trips throughout the year, in a Kingdom Mission Fund (KMF), so it's available when needed. The KMF also sponsors local ministries; a new work in Bluffton, South Carolina, led by former pastor Carl Martin, who left with the church's blessing and support for the initiative; and Mission Service Corps missionaries Ann and Steve Corbin in New Orleans.
Internationally, East Pickens members go to Romania every summer, where they help with an orphanage the church helped start in 2000.
"We're beginning a new phase of that partnership," Barnett said. "The church we've been working with is doing quite well. The pastor there has deacons going out to plant churches in the villages. He wants us to adopt one of those villages. Our hope is we would send several smaller teams — medical missions, construction — and over the course of those trips, create a buzz that will give us an opportunity to share the Gospel."
In addition to Romania, East Pickens also sends teams to Peru and Nova Scotia. The partnership with Nova Scotia was birthed out of a local ministry called Real Champions that East Pickens started as an outreach to outdoorsmen. The men from Real Champions traveled to Nova Scotia for missions and hunting and have now seen the Canadian church grow by adopting similar strategies for reaching men.
"Missions is in the DNA of this church," Barnett said. "It starts with the Cooperative Program. That comes right out of the general fund of the church."
SECOND BAPTIST CHURCH, LANCASTER
Undergirding the missions and ministry of Second Baptist Church in Lancaster, South Carolina, is a foundational commitment to the Cooperative Program.
"I still believe the Cooperative Program is the best method of cooperation for our churches," said Brian Saxon, 37 and pastor of the church since the summer of 2006. "I grew up in a small rural Baptist church and I have heard about the CP all my life. Our church gives 10 percent of our budgeted receipts because we want to partner with other churches to build God's Kingdom."
Even with one thousand people in worship on Sundays, there are limits as to what Second Baptist can do on its own, Saxon said. It has a finite amount of people, of money, and ideas. But the Cooperative Program is virtually limitless.
"I believe CP has been, and still is, a vision for our Convention to join together in a work that would be literally impossible to accomplish as individual churches," Saxon said. "CP builds a spirit of cooperation among our churches and allows us to invest in eternity."
In addition, the pastor said, he wouldn't have been able to go to seminary if it hadn't been for the Cooperative Program. He earned an M.Div. and a D.Min., thanks in part to CP gifts, and several members of the church have received the same educational benefit at college and seminary. Other members are living in nearby Southern Baptist retirement communities funded in part by South Carolina Cooperative Program dollars.
"Also, the partnerships we are able to form with the state convention, NAMB, and IMB have aided us in carrying out the Great Commission," Saxon said.
Second Baptist historically has been a mission-minded church, the pastor said. "We just hired a staff person to be over missions mobilization. We have started a new strategy where we are going to partner with five people groups/regions across the world," he said of the initiative in conjunction with the South Carolina Baptist Convention and IMB.
Locally the church has developed "The Way" as an entrée to local missions involvement. The Way helps direct volunteers from the church to the pregnancy care center, boys and girls home, local food pantry, and other entities that serve the Lord while serving others. The church also has a handyman ministry and a class in English as a Second Language.
Event evangelism is another facet of Second Baptist's ministry, such as its involvement in a Salt & Light Men's Ministry Conference on February 5-6 at White Oak Conference Center in partnership with the South Carolina convention and North American Mission Board.
Across the nation, Second Baptist partners with a church in Kentucky and, next summer, will partner with a church in Prospect, Ohio.
"I believe that partnerships at the local, home, and international levels is the 'how' we are going to impact our world with the message of Christ," Saxon said, explaining that partners are just people coming together for a common cause.
"It's true; every believer is called to reach out into the world to give a cup of cold water, meet real needs in the community, and share the love of Christ," Saxon said.
One of the problems with being a Christian in the 21st century is that there are so many options, leaving people overly busy and struggling to get their priorities in order, Saxon said. "Not that the things our families are doing are wrong, but they seem to be competing with God's call on their lives."
One way Second Baptist addresses this is with "Deeper Pursuits," short-term small group studies to help learners "go deeper in your pursuit of the living God. Build close relationships with other people. Experience growth in your spiritual life," according to the church's website.
"We also see a battle for the family," Saxon continued. "We make it a priority to stress the importance of making our homes Christ-centered.
"Our thrust is to enable our people to live the life of a missionary," Saxon said. "Many of our ministries have been born out of a vision that God has given an individual or individuals. As a church, we provide many opportunities to get involved with missions, but there are many ministry opportunities that happen every day because our members have the attitude of Christ. Missions and ministry is more than a program. It is a lifestyle."
Karen Willoughby is a member of Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana, and is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.