MONROE, Mich. (BP) -- At Monroe Missionary Baptist Church, church members understand that pushing back darkness requires a readiness to serve.
"Our purpose as Christians is not to stay in well-maintained buildings where cars drive by and see us from the outside, where everything looks good," said Roy Southerland, the church's pastor since 1999.
That's why the church gives away food and winter coats and helps struggling families through their benevolence ministry. That's why they host funerals -- and post-funeral meals at no cost -- for every family they minister to.
That's also why they give 12 percent of undesignated offerings to missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together to reach out from their states to the ends of the earth with the Gospel.
"There are always people who say, 'If we kept back part of that , think what we could do,'" Southerland said. "It has to be constantly stressed: It's not about us. It's about what we can do to model the love of Christ."
Monroe Missionary Baptist is one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in Michigan, where about 700 people gather for Sunday morning worship.
Even so, Southerland said, "I cannot see it possible for any church to really impact the world all on its own. It's going to take working together.
"We believe the lifeline to reaching the world is the Cooperative Program," he said. "If we are willing to give together and work together to reach the world with the Gospel, then we can make a greater dent in the darkness."
Despite a sizable debt on the building and the 40 acres on which it sits between Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, Monroe Missionary gives another 6 percent to missions and ministries through its association and local causes.
Still more goes to its international missions partners, developed over the years by connections often made by people called out of the congregation to overseas assignments.
Each Sunday, time is given during the worship service to highlight Monroe Missionary Baptist's ministry partners around the world.
"We call the names of those we send out and try to highlight something they have done this week," Southerland said. "We tell the congregation that their gifts will directly affect getting or keeping our people on the field, or will send others to the field.
"People give if they see a reason," he said. "We stress that the majority of their gifts are going to reach people.... When people see that, they continue to give."
Despite the severe downturn in the economies of both Michigan and Detroit, some 25 miles north, Monroe Missionary Baptist members continue to give faithfully, the pastor said.
"The challenge we have here is trying to engage people who have no understanding of the Gospel, no scriptural or biblical background at all," Southerland said. "We've got to be able to meet this culture where they are and share the Gospel with people in such a way they will be receptive to it."
The church's most effective ministry is in providing funerals led by Southerland and the luncheons after in a city of nearly 23,000 people.
"We do this so we can get to the people who are hurting," the pastor said. "We reach more people through that ministry of love than anything else. With every family we minister to, we ask God to open the door for us to love them into the Kingdom of Christ."
Monroe Missionary Baptist has several funeral luncheon teams and on occasion does as many as three funerals a day.
"The opportunities are better than they've ever been for reaching people with the Gospel," Southerland said. "There are plenty of opportunities for us to impact our community, our country, our world. It's going to cost us financially, sacrificially.... But the world is waiting for someone to love them.
"Today's culture is filled with a generation of people who are seeing life as sort of hopeless," the pastor continued. "The church has the opportunity to reach them. But: doing things the way we've always done them isn't going to work. Lost people are not coming to our churches until we go to them. I'm not talking about going door-to-door; I'm talking about going to them in their times of need."
Monroe Missionary Baptist's partners include a church member who is now in Central Asia; a children's home -- built by the church earlier this summer -- about two hours from New Delhi, India; a couple and their four young daughters from the church who now are doing medical missions in Papua New Guinea; and a partnership in Israel.
"We keep before our people what God has called us to do, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth," Southerland said. "We cannot do that unless we send people and partner with people. God has made a way through the Cooperative Program."
Monroe Missionary Baptist also works with pastors in Detroit and across the state, responding as it is able to email communications circulated by Michigan Baptists' lead state missionary Bobby Gilstrap. "God has also taken some of our young men and placed them elsewhere in the state.... I couldn't praise God enough for all He has done," Southerland said.
"We're not worried about building a church; we're building the Kingdom," the pastor noted. "We've seen over the last few years God doing some amazing things. It has to be constantly stressed by the leadership.... It's not about us. It's about what we can do to share the love of Christ with a lost world. I think God honors that kind of ministry. We've got to get past ourselves and see it's going to take a sacrificial effort if we're going to reach people."
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of Dakota Baptist Connections, the newspaper of the Dakota 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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