The congregation of more than 1,400 Sunday morning worshippers gives a standing ovation each time founding pastor Terry Turner announces that the good work Southern Baptists are doing is partly funded by Mesquite Friendship's Cooperative Program and seasonal missions offerings.
"We decided to raise our percentage given to missions through the Cooperative Program last year," said Turner, who in 1991 founded Mesquite Friendship, which is made up mostly of African Americans. "We added 1 percent based on the challenge of Dr. Fred Luter and Dr. Frank Page.
"And then we recognized we wanted to add another percent," Turner said. "That was intentional. We believe in the Cooperative Program, what it does.... I've come to understand we can never do as a single church to fulfill the Great Commission what we can as part of a convention of churches."
The Cooperative Program enables Southern Baptists to work together to maximize their mission dollars in state conventions and throughout the world.
"We do home missions ... and realize how small an impact we're able to make ," Turner said. "When we go overseas we realize how overwhelmed we are ; we are making a very small dent.... When I tell our people what the Southern Baptist Convention is doing -- such as meeting needs after hurricanes or flooding -- we always give an ovation knowing that we are committed to the Cooperative Program."
Mesquite Friendship's outreach starts with the CP and spreads out to include at least 40 local ministries, such as a partnership with the local school district to mentor troubled young men; prison ministry; a homeless men's ministry and many other outreach efforts.
Mesquite Friendship has planted six churches in Texas, one in Florida and one in India. They have discipled young men who are called to the Gospel ministry and provided the men with additional leadership development through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. SBTC matches the men with church planting sites, and Mesquite Friendship helps undergird the new work by sending ministry teams each week to assist the church plants.
"Whenever preachers find themselves with a desire to pastor, we always try to lead them to plant a church," Turner said. "Our convention is really great at working with church planters."
Turner, a former SBTC president, said he has learned over the years what it takes to involve men in church life. "The men of our church are committed to working around the church. Our men in leadership start by helping. God takes over, and some sense a calling to preach; others become deacons or trustees. The leadership is chosen by a person's commitment to work for the Lord."
"When I first started the church, we had very few men," Turner said. "We moved into an old condemned building that the city allowed us to occupy for a year while making repairs. I found myself late one Saturday night exhausted, after ripping out old carpet and trying to put in new carpet by myself.
"I broke and cried to God, and asked God to send men and women to help build his church," he said. "And God answered that prayer. Before I knew it, we had brick layers, carpet layers, roofers, plumbers, electricians.... God has been gracious to us. Men love to do ministry. We've built our facilities while at the same time being able to build ministry within the facilities."
Every male who joins Mesquite Friendship automatically becomes a member of the Men of Integrity brotherhood, which operates the mentoring program "Man Talk" for men and boys of all ages.
"We wanted to teach our men how to be better husbands, better fathers," Turner said. "The name 'Men of Integrity' was our decision, to be men who were the same at home and behind closed doors as we are in the community and in our church. We want to represent Christ, represent strong moral values.
"Men are drawn to real men," the pastor said. "I believe when you are a transparent man, who is committed to doing the things men do, men will follow you. Men believe in doing things men do."
The women's ministry "Women of Worth" -- WOW -- started for the same reasons.
"They wanted to be women committed to making an impact in the lives of our young girls," Turner said. "Their worth is established by their relationship with Christ.... That close walk with Christ will enable them to impact other women and girls."
One benefit of Men of Integrity and WOW is their work to produce strong Christian families, an important aspect of Mesquite Friendship's reason for being, Turner said.
"The family is in trouble," Turner said. "Our emphasis moving forward is to build strong families.... I think most Christians have failed to educate or to develop Christian principles in their kids. They expect the church to do it, but the church has them only a few hours a week."
Unless the trend reverses, he said, this generation's love for God will continue to wane.
"I don't believe Christianity is about the selfishness that's so prevalent across America today," he said. "It's about meeting the needs of others, and it's about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
At least 50 people have been baptized during each of the last three years at Mesquite Friendship, and a total of 571 over the last 10 years, Turner said.
"We are in the process of revamping our evangelism, from friendship to one-on-one," he said. "We brought in a consultant to help us do this. We'd like for every member of our church to have the ability to share the Gospel one-on-one with individuals they come in contact with.
"To me, that's the old method of evangelism, but I think it works," Turner said. "It's worked for over a thousand years and I know it still works today; we just need to have the boldness to do this."
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. 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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