Pastor Scott Linginfelter had just preached the opening night of a tent revival on a farm field in rural Greenback, Tenn., when he told Baptist Press of his commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Cooperative Program (CP).
“Somebody found treasure in a field,” he said of his sermon based on Matthew 13:44. “To find treasure, it means you don’t just get saved, but you become part of kingdom theology, and you work with other believers to reach people who also want to be a part of that kingdom, and also find that treasure. It’s something that we work together toward as a church and as Southern Baptists. We cooperate toward missions.”
Linginfelter pastors Maryville’s Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, which in October voted to begin giving 10% of undesignated receipts to the CP, doubling the longtime annual contribution of 5%.
The church made the commitment after paying off a $1.5 million construction loan in September and becoming debt free. Mt. Carmel also increased its annual giving to the Chilhowee Baptist Association in Alcoa from 3% to 5%.
Willie McLaurin, SBC Executive Committee vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, said Mt. Carmel’s “faithful and sacrificial giving” is a “reminder that faith honors God and God honors faith.”
“When Churches embrace the Great Commission they embrace an outward focus that enables them to see the harvest as Jesus sees the harvest,” McLaurin said. “Churches that see the world through the eyes of Jesus will be compelled to prioritize, elevate and accelerate Cooperative Program giving.”
McLaurin also appreciates Mt. Carmel’s commitment to the Chilhowee Baptist Association.
“I am encouraged by churches that increase their giving through the Cooperative Program and to the local association,” McLaurin said. “When sacrificial giving takes place, the beauty of cooperation is being put on display. Thank God for the many churches across the Southern Baptist Convention that partner to reach every person for Jesus, in every town, every city, every state and every nation.”
Emphasizing missions is one of three goals Mt. Carmel wants to focus on since retiring the loan.
“Something we could do really immediately is we could increase our Cooperative Program giving,” Linginfelter said. “We are Southern Baptists, which means we are cooperative Baptists. We cooperate for missions and education. And there are a lot of people that don’t know Jesus, and they need to know Him. And one way we can help that is by giving to the Cooperative Program.”
The church sees paying off the loan during the year of COVID-19 as an added blessing.
“Most everybody here would admit that it’s something really that the Lord did and used our people to be a part of that,” the pastor said. “About everybody here realizes that accomplishment was something God could do, and so He gets the glory for that.”
Now debt free, other Mt. Carmel priorities include short-term mission trips and launching a church website. For years during the church’s indebtedness, the church delayed such things as long distance telephone service and internet service including Wi-Fi. While the 20-year-old building is paid for, it needs a new roof and other maintenance. An Oct. 24 fish fry will help fund the building’s new roof, Linginfelter said.
Linginfelter began pastoring Mt. Carmel 16 years ago, about a year after the church moved to its new campus. When he earned a doctor of ministry degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2015, he focused on a plan to pay off the debt for his doctoral writing project.
“My project there was to develop a strategy here at the church to pay off our debt. I formed a committee here at the church, we interviewed other churches, we looked at different strategies and then developed our own strategy,” he said. “And our goal was ‘debt free by 2023’. That was the campaign we started.”
The project included fundraisers and encouraged individual giving above the tithe. Faithful giving put the church on track to retire the loan three years earlier than planned. Monthly loan payments were $10,000.
“Well then when COVID hit, that sort of threw everything into a tailspin,” Linginfelter said. “We weren’t sure how much money was going to come in, how much extra we were going to be able to pay on the loan. And to still be able to pay that off in September was pretty exciting.”
According to the Annual Church Profile, Mt. Carmel gave about $13,400 to the CP in 2019, when undesignated receipts totaled $257,000. The church averaged about 200 in Sunday worship attendance before the pandemic.
“When churches like Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Maryville, allocate more resources beyond the walls of their church, the Lord honors and blesses their ministry,” McLaurin said. “The Cooperative Program enables even the smallest-membership church to have a huge part in spreading the gospel to the nations and their neighborhood. No other opportunity allows individual churches to have such a far-reaching gospel impact as the Cooperative Program. I am thankful for Great Commission pastors and churches that place a laser-sharp focus on biblical stewardship that leads to missional impact.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the Southern Baptist Convention. Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ senior writer.)