"We have a 10-year debt from our latest campus addition, and we want to pay it off earlier, allowing us to be more intentional in our partnerships and in our commitment to reaching the world for Christ," pastor Rick Grant said. "In the future we want to measure our success of honoring God not by our seating capacity but by our sending capacity."
First Baptist Benton helps spread the Gospel locally and in Ecuador, New York City and Wyoming. This is in addition to giving 10 percent of undesignated income to missions through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program is the way Southern Baptist churches work together to build the Kingdom of God around the world.
Grant, the church's pastor since 1999, has been part of the church's leadership since leaving his business in 1986 to join First Baptist Benton's ministerial staff as its youth minister.
"Maybe one of the reasons God continues to have His hand of blessing on this church is this church's commitment to supporting missions through the Cooperative Program," Grant said about the church that is among the highest-giving churches in Arkansas. "Giving through the Cooperative Program allows us to join with other churches in advancing the Kingdom in ways we could not by ourselves."
With at least 1,450 people in Sunday morning worship, First Baptist Benton can -- and does -- do a lot on its own and in partnership with the Central Baptist Association and the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, yet its cooperation with Southern Baptist churches across the nation is an integral part of the church's missions focus.
"We're an historic downtown church. We began in 1836, two months before Arkansas became a state," Grant said. "Throughout our history God has proven Himself faithful, and He has continued to bless us much more than we deserve.
"Giving through the Cooperative Program provides us an opportunity to be involved globally in Kingdom work," the pastor said. "But this is a new era, and we've got to do a better job of helping our folks understand why we do it and in doing it, show them the results."
As pastor, he has a two-fold responsibility, Grant said.
"I can't let our folks be satisfied with supporting missions by just giving through the Cooperative Program. Those of us who are older understand this. But we must be committed to go and being personally involved," he said.
"I believe there is also a younger generation that is more interested in getting their hands dirty than they are in giving through the Cooperative Program," Grant said. "I've got to teach them the value of supporting missions through the Cooperative Program and how God continues to bless churches who give toward the work of His Kingdom."
"Any organization, in my opinion, the older it gets, the more there is the tendency to become inverted," Grant said. "Giving through the Cooperative Program is one way of helping us not look so much inward."
First Baptist Benton's local ministries also help the church maintain its outward focus: A weekly Thursday morning clothing giveaway, hot meal and worship service; a free daily medical clinic in partnership with the local ministerial alliance; partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to help clean up Benton; and its own Hands and Feet ministry that helps with home repairs for widows and single mothers.
Its local ministries are "a work in progress," said Edd Spurlock, the church's missions pastor. "We're an Acts 1:8 church trying to be more productive rather than just throw money at a situation. We're now focusing on helping people get out of the poverty cycle rather than just meeting physical needs of the moment."
Spiritual needs are of paramount importance, Grant said. Sixty people baptized during the 2011 church year attests to the intentionality of the church's witness, the pastor said.
First Baptist Benton extends God's Kingdom through its assistance with a mission church in nearby Dixonville, and a Hispanic congregation in Benton, and if a planned multiethnic church plant takes root in Benton, it wants to help there as well, Spurlock said.
Arkansas Baptists do a major evangelistic blitz twice a year somewhere in the state. First Baptist Benton participates in that too, the missions pastor said.
Its missions partnerships outside the state include Wyoming, where members next summer will help complete the chapel at the Baptist camp on Casper Mountain before focusing more specifically on a one-quarter area of the state for the following three years.
"All our partnerships will have a finite time," Spurlock said. "We want to come alongside to help develop the foundation and let those who live and stay in the area of work carry on the ministry."
In New York City, the youth have gone three years now to minister in the Battery area near where the World Trade Center towers used to be. They minister to homeless people at the Bowery mission and in the community.
First Baptist Benton ministers at orphanages in Peru and Ecuador, and in Ecuador they're helping develop a Christian retreat center near the orphanage, where Americans will be able to stay at nominal cost when they're involved in missions in that mountainous land.
"The goal of this is to have Ecuadorians run all of it," Spurlock said. "That's good stewardship and a good witness."
First Baptist Benton wants to be an effective witness of God's love in each of its outreaches, Grant said.
"We want to be intentional in how we're involved in missions and ministry around the world," Grant said. "What we want to do is to be more intentional, strategic and measurable, to 'swing with a sharp ax.'"
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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