The members of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Carlinville, Illinois, have come to see the benefits of their investment in praying for their sister churches.
It’s similar to their investment in the Cooperative Program, says Cliff Woodman, Emmanuel’s pastor for the last two years. The Cooperative Program is the way Southern Baptists work together in the expansion of God’s Kingdom.
“It will take all of us cooperating to push back the darkness,” said Woodman about the billions of people across the world who still haven’t heard of God’s personal love for them. “The Cooperative Program puts us together on a team, in the same way that praying for our sister churches puts us on a team.
“As we began the prayer focus on our sister churches, we came to realize that we are in this together, that burdens and victories can be shared as we pray for them,” the pastor continued. “The Cooperative Program allows us to focus on what we need to do in the mission field that God has placed us, knowing that we have partnered with other churches as the money given through CP goes to be used in other mission fields around the world.”
Winning souls is the primary purpose of Emmanuel Carlinville, where about 150 people participate in Sunday morning worship. Clearly articulating this purpose last year led the church to define how it could best achieve its purpose.
After continually and repetitiously saturating their town of about 5,700 people with the Gospel over the years, prayer for sister churches was one way church members determined they could expand their reach.
“We started praying for our sister churches in January or the end of last year,” the pastor said, referring to the other twenty-seven churches in Macoupin Baptist Association, about 250 miles southwest of Chicago and sixty miles northeast of Saint Louis, Missouri.
Emmanuel Carlinville had a long-established routine of giving prayer requests, praises, and the names of those without Jesus in their lives at the beginning of Sunday school. These were compiled into one master list (with subheads for ‘health concerns’ and the like) and distributed after class for people to refer to in their personal prayer times during the week.
When they added three of the other churches in the association to this list each week—in a rotation that takes nine weeks to complete—they also added “scripted prayers,” so the prayers would be more specific than merely lifting up the names of the churches.
“In scripted prayer, we pray for the church and the pastor, for his spiritual and physical protection, so he would deliver the message God had given him, and lead the people to reach the lost in the community,” Woodman said. “If our prayers were not scripted, we might have prayed for the music or the building, but our primary purpose is not music or buildings, but winning souls.”
In addition to the specificity of the prayers, the act of praying for the other churches helps familiarize Emmanuel’s members with the churches, and it reminds them of Emmanuel’s purpose of winning souls, the pastor said.
“I don’t know that we’ve seen a change in the other churches—there’s probably not two-thirds that know we are praying for them—but I see a change in our people,” Woodman said. “I’m hoping this praying builds a sense of teamwork among the churches.
“Several years ago I coached my son’s Little League,” the pastor continued. “I learned then that we’re only as strong as our weakest link. . . . When we started praying for our sister churches, that helped us be healthier. If we as pastors and churches would take the same attitude, then we’d stop looking at what others were doing for us, and we’d start doing for others.”
As part of what it’s “doing for others,” Emmanuel Carlinville is involved with two church plants, one in northern Illinois, and one about forty miles away near Saint Louis.
“We send a check every month, and when they have need of us, we’re available,” Woodman said. At two recent block parties, Emmanuel members handled a grill, snow cone grinder, and cotton candy cooker so members of the church plants could interact with their neighbors.
“It’s not like we’re major support,” the pastor said. “We’re like a part-time worker tithing is how we’re assisting.” Both of the churches Emmanuel Carlinville is helping support are nearing the end of their support from the North American Mission Board.
“We helped pick up the slack from these churches that were taking a little longer to get established,” Woodman explained. “This gives us the opportunity to do missions closer to home. . . . We could go and put a roof on a church 600 miles away, or we could put one on one of our sister churches and sleep in our own beds at night, spending a fraction of the cost of gasoline than if we’d driven that 600 miles.”
That new roof became a reality this August because an Emmanuel Carlinville member, driving by a sister church, saw that its roof needed repair, the pastor said. It was an opportunity that might have been missed if the member’s sensitivity about sister churches hadn’t been raised from praying for the church once every nine weeks.
In addition, investment in nearby mission endeavors allows Emmanuel Carlinville to watch and see what God does, the pastor said.
“The intent with us partnering with [the Saint Louis-area church plant] was that we were close enough that we can drive by the interstate, going to the Cardinal ball game, and pray for them,” Woodman said. “I think there are needs we drive by and miss on our way to do the same thing 600 miles away.”
There is value in cross-country and international missions endeavors, the pastor said, pointing to his recent trip to Baltimore for the 2014 SBC annual meeting as one example.
“The resolution about prayer [adopted at the annual meeting] . . . it reaffirms to us that God is leading us to do what He’s leading others to do, and that’s pray,” Woodman said. “Prayer focuses us on God and not on ourselves. Praying for our sister churches and the Cooperative Program is about being part of a team or body bigger than any one of us or our churches.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for SBC LIFE and is a member of First Baptist Church in Pleasant Grove, Utah.