"While doing that, it came to me that replanting is what we needed," Chandler said of the congregation, which averages nearly 400 people on Sundays. "Here we are, a bit root-bound over the last hundred-plus years -- the church was started in 1899 -- so we need to be shaken out and replanted into a bigger vision."
One part of its vision has not changed. Though First Baptist Bonifay has cut its budget for the past two years, it refuses to cut the 13 percent of undesignated offerings that are given to missions through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program is the way churches in the Southern Baptist Convention work together in a global missions thrust.
"This church has always given at least 10 percent; it's been at 13 percent for the last four or five years," said Chandler, pastor of First Baptist Bonifay for the last 10 years and youth pastor from 1993-97. "This is sacrificial giving for us."
The church is located in a county-seat town in the part of Florida's panhandle that is south of Alabama. The number of residents in Holmes County is around 20,000, and the number of children continues to decrease as younger families move away for better-paying jobs.
"The only way a church our size can truly impact the world with the Gospel is through the Cooperative Program," Chandler said. "The Cooperative Program does what the local church cannot do alone.
"There's no way First Baptist Church of Bonifay could have a really good ministry in China or Montana or anywhere else in the world, but with the Cooperative Program we have a part in a global mission strategy," the pastor said. "It gives us an identity larger than just Bonifay."
Along with its giving, First Baptist Bonifay does what it can to impact Holmes County and the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the same way that it has refused to cut its giving through the Cooperative Program, the church -- which has baptized 45 people in the last nine months -- also refuses to cut missions and ministries where members can see God at work.
"We've turned into a missions church," Chandler said. "We have more than 100 people participating in missions.... Ten years ago we just gave to missions. Now we're also doing missions."
The church's international missions interest includes Honduras. First Baptist Bonifay last year helped pay for and build Living Waters Baptist Church in Guiamaca, Honduras, in partnership with Hospital Bautista. Members also participate in Holmes Baptist Association's commitment to an unreached people group in Peru and are helping fund an associational missions trip to Baltimore, Md.
But it's locally where First Baptist Bonifay exhibits its day-in, day-out commitment to participating in the Great Commission.
David Lauen, music minister at the church for 30 years, was the catalyst to starting a thrift store now run by the local ministerial association.
The local pregnancy center is supported financially by First Baptist Bonifay. Earlier this year, the church opened a free faith-based medical clinic twice a month for anyone without insurance. It is staffed by eight doctors plus nurses and administrative support. Many are volunteers from the church.
Through First Baptist Bonifay's prison ministry, the Gospel is shared each week at three facilities: a state prison, a juvenile "wilderness camp" and a county jail.
"We've been able to baptize inside the walls of the prison, where we have ongoing discipleship and follow-up two days a week with the guys who make decisions," Chandler said. "The jail is for men and women, so we have both men and women go there ."
First Baptist Bonifay's most ambitious ministry to date is the FARM -- Faith-based Addiction Regeneration Ministry. It's an outgrowth of a need Chandler became aware of soon after he was called in 2002 as pastor and is expected to be operational by the fall of 2013.
"I was seeing at least one person a week who was dealing with addictions," the pastor said. The church sent those who were ready to make a change from drug and/or alcohol abuse to Dunklin Memorial Camp, a faith-based treatment center an hour south of Orlando.
"Many returned from Dunklin changed," the pastor said. "We've learned so much about drug and alcohol addiction and recovery."
A year ago First Baptist Bonifay began praying about the possibility of opening its own recovery center. Holmes Baptist Association leased a 22-acre camp site to the church for a nominal sum. A ministry director became available: Chip and Jill Chester and their two daughters are in training at the Dunklin Camp for the FARM.
The FARM regeneration program will require a 10-month commitment: four weeks of induction, four weeks of orientation and 10 weeks each of regeneration, inner healing and discipleship, "where he learns to take his focus off the addiction and who he used to be and learns to walk in the truth of who God says he is," according to the website, www.thefarmnwf.org.
"This ministry is new to me -- addiction recovery or prison ministry," Chandler said, "It's the Blackaby thing: 'God's at work in these places. Are you going to join me or not?'...
"There are a lot of churches that shy away from addiction," the pastor said. "Our church has had to embrace it.... Churches have to get to the point where we acknowledge what's going on in our communities."
It is the membership of First Baptist Bonifay that is making the church's "repotting" possible, the pastor said.
"Leading a traditional church in a changing world, trying to adjust and adapt ministries to reach the unreached culture is a huge demand, and how you do that without alienating anyone, I don't know," Chandler said. "The resources here -- the talents and abilities here -- are just enormous. It's my job to release them into ministry.... We're probably positioned right now to reach this whole county for Christ."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
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