When Al James drives up to Carey Baptist Church near Henderson, his head is uncovered but actually he wears two “hats.”
He is pastor of the church and also professor of missions at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, some 30 miles to the south at Wake Forest. He also serves as the school’s associate dean for proclamation studies.
It seems fitting that James leads this 400-member church, which has been firmly focused on missions since it was founded in 1896.
The church was named for William Carey (1761-1834), the famous English missionary. His preaching and writing helped launch the modern missions movement before and after he went off to India for a trailblazing career as missionary, translator and educator.
“Missions has always been an important part of this church’s heritage,” James said.
BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Pastor Al James stands in front of Carey Baptist Church. The church was named for William Carey, a famous English missionary, and gives 13 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program.
James became a pastor at age 19 and later served as Southern Baptist missionary in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. He earned degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, La., and later joined the Southeastern faculty.
Considering that missions is major both for Carey Baptist and for James, it’s no surprise either that the church is a strong supporter of the Cooperative Program (CP).
The church currently contributes 13 percent of its undesignated receipts through CP, James said.
Although Southeastern is one of six Southern Baptist seminaries supported through the Cooperative Program, James is quick to say his is not a self-serving attitude.
“It’s that I really believe this is the most effective way of promoting who we are as Southern Baptists and what we want to accomplish. It doesn’t matter if you are in a church with 10 people or 100 people or 1,000 people. We all have a way of giving together,” he explained.
He does think the percentage a church gives of its undesignated receipts is important.
“I have heard people say, ‘You spend dollars, you don’t spend percentages,’ but percentage giving is a way for us to all be in this together with equal sacrifice. In the Bible, when you have a woman giving her widow’s mite, Jesus wasn’t looking at who gave the most money, He was looking at her heart. The Cooperative Program is a way we can all give sacrificially and we are united together so that we can do more,” he said.
Keeping a church focused on Cooperative Program support takes some effort, even for a seminary professor.
James credits “excellent pastoral leadership” in earlier times at Carey, plus past and present Woman’s Missionary Union leaders. He commends Linda Kelly and Pat Peoples as current missions leaders who support the Cooperative Program and the church’s many other missions activities.
James brings in Southern Baptist missionaries, both North American and international, plus staff with the Baptist State Convention and other professors from Southeastern to speak.
He said he hears some churches say they want to support missionaries they know, but counters that they can bring in Southern Baptist and North Carolina Baptist personnel to put faces with financial support. James says pastoral support for CP is crucial.
He preaches and teaches on missions and frequently mentions the Cooperative Program in his messages and announcements; he connects Carey’s CP giving to people or places in the news whenever possible.
“I try to keep them informed on what those CP dollars are actually doing,” he said. “I remember when I was growing up I often heard, ‘You don’t give to the Cooperative Program, you give through the Cooperative Program.’ It’s still the truth,” he said.
CP giving is part of Carey’s overall missions program, he stresses.
Carey members both give to missions and do missions. They gave more than $11,000 to the 2011 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions; he expects they will meet their $5,000 goal for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions in 2012 as well.
Carey members give 3.5 percent of their undesignated receipts to Cullom Baptist Association and also give offerings to the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, North Carolina Baptist Hospital and GuideStone’s Mission:Dignity, which supports retired ministers. Carey members fill Samaritan’s Purse boxes with gifts for children at Christmas and take part in local ministries in the Henderson area. Some serve in the disaster relief ministries of N.C. Baptist Men. Carey’s young people serve in North Carolina and other states through the North American Mission Board’s World Changers program.
During his overseas service, James recalls meeting independent missionaries who had to raise their own support. It usually took them between 18 to 24 months just to raise their support and then they had to make frequent trips back to the United States to keep their support going. “I just stayed out there and did my ministry. Those other missionaries told me they wish they had something like our Cooperative Program,” he said.
For more on the Cooperative Program, go to ncbaptist.org/cpemphasis.