Because missions has "captured the heart of our people," pastor Doug Melton said, it isn't a top-down effort, but a grassroots effort by which Southern Hills gives 12 percent of its offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program.
The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptist method of supporting missions and ministry efforts of state conventions and the Southern Baptist Convention.
"Once we put it on paper, we're amazed at what God is doing," Melton said of the Oklahoma City congregation he leads. "This is a church the Lord is using first in our backyard. He has been calling out our church family, and we are seeing people -- young husbands and wives -- who did not grow up with a Christian background, being won to the Lord, discipled and turning their families around.
"They really do have an understanding of a Kingdom focus," the pastor continued. "This means we're not just trying to take care of our church. We're really wanting to be part of the work going on in our association, state, nation and world. The best way to do that is through the Cooperative Program. It enables us to join with our sister churches in doing something far beyond what we'd be capable of doing on our own."
About 1,500 people participate in Sunday morning worship at Southern Hills. With its $4 million annual budget, about a quarter of which is allocated for mission causes, the church can -- and should -- do a lot, said James Biesiadecki, Southern Hills associate pastor for missions & evangelism..
"Our recent trip is part of our overall strategy," Biesiadecki said. "Our goal in missions is 100 percent involvement in ... the way we respond to the Great Commission, by praying, giving and going. We've broken that down in our context to give the challenge to every one of our small groups to address local needs.
"The next level is regional: Each age division is challenged to adopt a regional focus area," Biesiadecki continued. Colorado, Boston, New York City are among the regions -- chosen in each case because of a Southern Hills connection with Southern Baptist church plants there.
"Then the church as a whole is adopting an area ," Biesiadecki said. "We're looking for ways to pray, give and go. ... God called out one of our couples to go through what appears to be an open door to a very closed country."
From its beginnings in 1962, Southern Hills has been committed to doing what it could to fulfill the Great Commission, Biesiadecki said.
"I've read through all the business meeting notes from the beginning," the missions pastor said. "It's in the DNA of the church. One of the first actions they took was to decide they were going to give to the Cooperative Program, and how much -- 7 percent to begin with; now we're at 12 percent. And from then on, this church has been very involved in giving through the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong ... and in going."
Southern Hills' "going" starts in its neighborhood. "English Corner" draws about 100 participants each Monday night for classes in English as a Second Language and tutoring for international youngsters. Their homelands include Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, China and Iran as well as several Spanish-speaking nations.
"God is bringing the nations to this country of ours," Melton said, "and being sensitive and burdened to reach all people of all nations is something we're constantly focused on. We need to be ready and equipped to reach out to everyone."
Southern Hills members also minister through a crisis pregnancy center in the area as well as a weekly food and clothing ministry and a weekly Bible study at the local First Step drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
"We've seen many of the ladies -- maybe 40 to 50 over the last two years -- accept Christ through this ministry," Melton said. "We also have a group of men who minister to people who have maintenance needs, whether or not they're members of the church; they've built wheelchair ramps and that type of thing."
Outdoorsmen in the church take handicapped youngsters on hunting trips, even those blind and those wheelchair-bound. "They meet legitimate needs and share the Gospel with family members too," Biesiadecki said.
"Our people take missions personally," he said. "It's amazing the ministries they come up with."
In addition to its CP giving, Southern Hills now takes up a World Missions Offering in a two-month emphasis that starts with Thanksgiving. Its goal last year was $500,000 -- with 50 percent allocated to the International Mission Board, 20 percent to the North American Mission Board and everything above the goal going to an orphanage/training center in Cambodia, which the church helped start five years ago.
"It says a lot that our church is doing a lot on our own," Biesiadecki said. "But the reality is that we're in this together with all Southern Baptist churches. It's Philippians 1:27 -- we're striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.
"Even as we're involved in so many different local ministries, we're making sure we keep the Gospel focus so we're not just engaged in social ministries," the missions pastor said. "We're making sure we're meeting peoples' ultimate need: their need for a Savior."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newspaper for the Louisiana Baptist Convention.
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