"I have to continually remind them of the importance of the Cooperative Program," said Miller, who also serves as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I have to do two things: Remind them of why the cooperative method is the best way -- pooling the resources of churches across the country is more effective than is giving directly to a missionary -- and make intentional efforts to get missionaries here to personalize the Cooperative Program."
CP is the way Southern Baptist churches support the missions and ministry efforts of state conventions and the SBC.
"If we had a $10 million budget, we still couldn't do a small portion of what we can do when we cooperate with 45,000 other Southern Baptist churches," Miller said. "That really is the driving point for me. With the Cooperative Program, we're involved in a big world missions project. It's pretty cool....
"You have to personalize it for them because our people have no Southern Baptist history; the way we do things doesn't come natural to them," the pastor continued. "For two to three years I had to argue in stewardship committee meetings for percentage giving.... I think they understand now. They've bought into the Southern Baptist way of doing things."
The growing grasp of the Southern Baptist way of being missional has enabled Southern Hills to be among the leading churches in the Baptist Convention of Iowa.
Southern Hills Sioux City, organized in 1964, encompasses about 400 active members, with about 225 of them participating in one of two morning worship services on any given Sunday, the pastor said.
"I pastor two churches, both called Southern Hills," Miller said with a wry grin, referencing the two services. "They get along pretty well, but they're very different in outlook."
The people at the early service like hymns and are resistant to change. Those who participate in the contemporary service are more apt to try new strategies to reach the same objective -- reaching people with the Gospel -- in a world that has changed, the pastor explained.
Mission trips, local ministries and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions are some of the ways Southern Hills members come together.
"One year our church gave almost 40 percent of the statewide offering," Miller said. "That says something about how enthusiastic this church is about it. Sioux City does not have a good economy."
Miller, Southern Hills' pastor since 2005, has taken members of the church on yearly international mission trips. This year for the second time they went to Taiwan, where his parents served as missionaries during the Vietnam War.
"We had a great time this summer. We handed out 19 cases of Bibles, about 500 of them, to Chinese vacationers at Sun Moon Lake, as they got off the bus," Miller said. "It just felt amazing to stand there, knowing they were going to end up in places where there are very few Bibles. That was just really exciting."
Even more exciting was the change Miller saw in his daughter Bethany when she went to Taiwan two years ago at age 17.
"She was just a far-too-typical American church kid, not a bad kid, just not much interested in spiritual things. She is a solid, committed, Dave Platt radical Christian now ... studying to be a missionary," Miller said, referencing Platt, an Alabama pastor and author of "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream."
The change in his daughter is because she went on a mission trip, Miller said.
"In the short term, the money spent on mission trips could accomplish more on the mission field; but long-term, mission trips are an investment that will reap even more benefits in the future, like with my daughter," the pastor said. "A mission trip is the best mission education program out there."
Southern Hills members start their mission trips at the local level. Two years ago the church got involved with a mobile home park, conducting weekly home Bible studies and repairing steps to homes. The church recently expanded the outreach, including other maintenance and repair projects, providing backpacks filled with school supplies, donating turkeys at Thanksgiving and more. A couple of times a year, church members cook big pots of chili to share at Bible study.
"The park management loves it, because are fixing homes, they're raising the level of everything," Miller said. "Now our associate pastor has moved into the park. It's a major commitment for us."
The youth pastor and others on the church's evangelism team have ramped up Southern Hills Sioux City's fair ministry, which includes two county fairs and other local events and festivals during the year.
"They use a 'Way of the Master' hybrid," Miller said, referring to an evangelism encounter method made popular by actor Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort, founder and president of Living Waters Publications.
"They ask people, 'Are you a good person?' and ask them to take a test. That bridges to a Gospel presentation, and they end up having a lot of good conversations," Miller said. "It's a great ministry."
Several families have joined the church because Southern Hills Sioux City leads in Upward Basketball and Upward Cheerleading, partnering with an Assemblies of God church and a Missouri Synod Lutheran church.
"It's another worthwhile ministry," Miller said. "I go over and do halftime devotionals for five or six of the eight weeks. It gives me an opportunity to connect with people I otherwise wouldn't know."
Mission trips across North America have included three trips to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, a trip to Joplin, Mo., after the devastating 2011 tornado, and a construction and door-to-door evangelism outreach in Missoula, Mont.
"What I am trying to do now is to refocus the church more and more on ministry outside the doors of the church, in the community and throughout the world," Miller said. "I think a church that focuses inward is always going to begin to die. A church is meant to be focused outward."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
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