BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Joel Stephens encourages members of Westfield Baptist Church to give to the Cooperative Program through their personal tithe and special offerings. A new prayer guide is being sent to churches this month to help them pray throughout the “53 Sundays” of 2012.
Pastor Joel Stephens tells his church members they’re supporting nearly 10,000 missionaries across Asia, Africa and all around the world and across the country.
He tells them they’re helping start new churches in California, New York City and all over North Carolina – nearly 30,000 new churches a year – and start more new churches across North America than any other church group.
It’s the world’s largest Christian missions program that averages baptizing a new believer every 35 seconds.
Stephens tells his members they are helping educate 16,000 future pastors and missionaries through six of the country’s top seminaries.
Stephens holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of those six schools, located in Wake Forest.
His members rescue and care for abused children, support the largest Christian youth program in North Carolina and have a hand in supporting scores of Christian ministries.
How does a church of 200-plus members manage all that? “It’s the Cooperative Program,” Stephens says.
Westfield Baptist Church sits at a crossroads in the rural Westfield community near Pilot Mountain, north of Winston-Salem and not far from Mount Airy, the mythical Mayberry in the long-running TV show.
Stephens is well-traveled and has an earned doctorate, but he turns to his farming background to explain the Cooperative Program to his members.
He recalls how farm families pitched in to help other families at harvest time, because one farm could not manage the challenge alone.
Churches today, he says, are like those farms.
“Our crops are not soybeans or corn: the harvest we look for is spiritual – a harvest of souls saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But no one church has the resources to bring in this harvest individually. We need to employ the same principle of pooling our resources,” he says.
He tells members that it starts with their personal stewardship. “Out of gratitude and obedience to God for what He has done for you, you give a portion of what He’s provided you back to Him by giving to Westfield Baptist Church.
“This is commonly called a tithe and represents 10 percent of your income. Westfield Baptist Church then takes the amount you give and combines it with what others give to the church.
“Each year, during our annual business meeting in September, our congregation decides what percentage of our total receipts that we will forward to the Cooperative Program.
“Our church currently sends 11.33 percent,” he says, explaining how the funds are sent to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and 35.5 percent goes on to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“This is not about great institutions or about a great denomination. It’s about the Great Commission. It’s about souls. It’s about the harvest. Due to the faithful giving of SBC churches like Westfield, we were able to pool our resources and engage in Great Commission ministry all over the globe.
“To God be the glory!” he says.
A new prayer guide called “53 Sundays” is being sent to North Carolina Baptist churches during December. Produced by the Baptist State Convention’s Cooperative Program office, the guide will help churches pray for missionaries they support through their Cooperative Program giving. The guide includes devotionals on prayer by Chris Schofield, Baptist State Convention consultant who works with churches on prayer and spiritual renewal.