Russian nesting dolls are among Jeff Rasnick’s illustrations of the way Southern Baptist churches work together locally, in state conventions and across the U.S. and the world.
Children learn about Russian Maruschka dolls from Tennessee pastor Jeff Rasnick, who received them during a short-term mission trip to Ukraine years ago.
The ethnic flavor of Maruschka or Matryoshka dolls, also known as “nesting” dolls that fit inside each other, adds to the illustration, said Rasnick, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Tenn.
“A church is really a ‘Cooperative Program’ of many people bringing their resources, gifts and experiences together for the greater good,” Rasnick said.
The church fits into a local Baptist association that’s a key facet of Southern Baptist cooperation. Then comes the state convention “that fits into the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program, which is the Great Commission in action.”
“Like a Maruschka doll, all these things nested together – church, association, state convention and the SBC – make one overall action for the Lord,” Rasnick said. “The Cooperative Program is all our churches working together – all ethnicities – doing God’s work in our communities, counties, states and the nation, and from there to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
First Baptist is seeking to do its part, Rasnick said, to follow Jesus’ instruction as quoted in Acts 1:8: “You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
In most years since 1977, at least the first 10 percent of undesignated tithes and offerings at First Baptist are set aside for missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). Another 10 percent goes to other missions and ministries the church is involved with.
“The Cooperative Program is consistent with the call God has placed on us to go and make disciples all over the world,” Rasnick said. “The efficiency and ability to make an impact for the gospel through the Cooperative Program is far greater than what we can create on our own.
Jeff Rasnick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Tenn., underscores from his knees a key point in a Sunday sermon. The church [members] thrive, he says, “not because I’m a great pastor. They thrive because they have bought in that the Word of God should be the foundation and the gospel the tool that they live their life by.”
“With CP, we can partner with other churches and do an even better job of making a gospel impact because of our cooperation.”
In addition to CP giving, First Baptist’s missional focus is near the Amazon River in Brazil; west of the Wasatch Front line of mountains in central Utah; and 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It’s also in Shelbyville, Bedford County and New Duck River Baptist Association.
Locally, a food ministry at the church provides a tractor-trailer (20,000 pounds) of food once a month in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank. A daily benevolence ministry starts with pastoral counseling. Members lead seven-week Child Evangelism Fellowship sessions at two elementary schools near the church.
Financially the church provides monthly support for the Gideons’ Bible distribution ministry and for a crisis pregnancy center the church started 20 years ago, but which is independent of the church now. First Baptist also provides support for local Christian organizations for women, children and counseling.
“We really just try to figure out where we can help and support the Word of God going out into our community,” Rasnick said. “All our missions activities have a core component: We’re helping people share the gospel.”
First Baptist started Women of Worship (WOW) two years ago to involve women from several churches in the community. Five or more smaller events lead to a large women’s conference the first Saturday in November.
A Fall Festival on Oct. 31 draws about 2,500 people from the town of 20,000 to the church for an evening of fun, games, bounce houses, face painting and more. Four nightly performances of a Living Christmas Tree in December draws about 2,300 people. Last year church members packed 1,437 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
Children in a church plant in Shungnak, Alaska, take part in the outreach 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle by mission volunteers from First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Tenn.
“We’re not just about what we do,” Rasnick said. “We [including other Christian churches] all have the same goal: to build the Kingdom for Jesus. That’s why we like to cross over and include as many churches as possible: It strengthens our witness to the community.
“When every church behaves as an individual church with no crossing over, we look inconsistent to our community,” Rasnick noted. “We’re not going to deviate from the Word, but we like to coordinate when we can with other people. We seek to allow the Word of God to be the purpose, authority or goal of what we seek to accomplish.”
About a quarter of Shelbyville’s population is Hispanic, the pastor said. First Baptist planted a church 15 years ago for those who want to worship in a Hispanic context and today provides Spanish lessons for area residents wanting to improve their bilingual ability.
In Brazil, the church has planted two of its planned five churches and supports a pastor there. The church is part of church plants in Utah and in Alaska and provides support for the pastors.
“I think this church thrives not because I’m a great pastor,” Rasnick said of the church where about 400 people gather for Sunday morning worship. “They thrive because they have bought in that the Word of God should be the foundation and the gospel the tool that they live their life by.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – October is the Cooperative Program Emphasis month in the Southern Baptist Convention. To learn more about the Cooperative Program, go to sbc.net/cp. Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)