FRISCO—As a seminary student pastoring his first church, Kevin Ezell learned that trust comes with giving. He and a deacon visited the home of a member of Hilltop Baptist Church, where he heard the woman describe the joy she felt in giving to the tiny congregation.
From that day forward, he determined to spend every dollar of the church’s $12,000 budget like it was Lenny Fenton's dollar, aware that every resource he’d been given came from God.
Later pastoring churches in Illinois and Kentucky, Ezell was tapped in 2010 to lead the North American Mission Board, carrying that same commitment to stewardship at a job that required sweeping changes in order to prioritize church planting and evangelism.
“We have 200 less employees than we did at our peak,” Ezell told a Feb. 28 Cooperative Program Luncheon audience during the Evangelism Conference of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “We are continuing to downsize because we want to do more with less. You're expected to do that in your church and we're expected to do that too.”
He drew applause when he praised the work of SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards as “a man you can trust to lead your state with integrity.”
Ezell thanked SBTC churches for leading the way in sacrificially giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and partnering with NAMB to plant churches in Vancouver, Canada.
As partners in a missions enterprise, Ezell appealed for an attitude resembling the determination described in chapter two of Mark when friends of a paralyzed man cut a hole through the roof of an overcrowded room to get him to Jesus. “Here you have a service going on and something happens that's not on the printed program,” Ezell recalled. “Don't you love it? God takes over and doesn't do it always as we planned.”
Speaking particularly to pastors who might be “on the fence” regarding their church's CP commitment, Ezell recalled his own frustration when he looked at the system by which CP funds were distributed in the state where he pastored. “But now is the time to engage,” he said. “You're a part of a state that takes very good care of the resources that you pass to them.”
He imagined that many who observed the initiative shown by the paralytic's friends would have been distracted by the cost of repairing the hole in the roof rather than “the guy who needed what Jesus could do for him.”
“It may not be the normal way of going in through the front door or a side door. We may have to do something that has never been done here before and dig a hole in the roof,” Ezell said.
Empathizing with pastors who are discouraged by what they face, Ezell said, “I want to encourage you that we serve a God who is bigger than anything or anyone opposed to you. He has called us to a purpose much greater than we are. God often calls us to do things greater than our ability to accomplish and when that happens, he gets the glory and we do not. Together we must do whatever it takes to see people’s lives changed by Jesus.”
Three SBTC pastors shared testimonies of the value of partnering with Southern Baptists by giving through the Cooperative Program.
Pastor Walter Jackson described the generosity and faithfulness of the members of First Baptist Church of DeKalb, who recently committed to increase CP giving by 1 percent. “The Cooperative Program allows us to partner with the world. Regardless of the size of our church, we have the privilege of being involved in reaching the world for the kingdom of God.”
Jackson remembered a couple who went out from the church to serve over 30 years in Zambia, relatives of one member's family who are serving overseas today, and two teenagers whom the church sent out on short-term mission this year.
“We're able to say to the missionaries, we've got your back. You keep serving where you're serving and we'll make sure it's possible, and to seminary students, keep preparing,” he explained.
“SBTC cares so much about reaching the world that we give away more money than we keep,” he added. “At our very core, our desire is to see the world come to Jesus.”
Joe Rivera, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Grand Prairie, thanked the SBTC for joining the congregation in a vision of fulfilling the Great Commission.
“They have been very instrumental in standing by our side as we struggle and as we grow,” Rivera said. “It doesn't matter what size the church is. It's all of us working together to do that.”
Through the Real Men of Impact conference and Hispanic marriage conferences, Rivera said he has seen the lives of men and families transformed. These events as well as an evangelistic block party organized at the church were possible through CP support, he said. Through a partnership with Southern Baptist missionaries serving in Mexico, Rivera and other members hope to engage an area known as “the lowlands of Mexico” where less than 2 percent of the region is evangelized.
“We feel we need to go down there and help those people, training them to witness to their own people,” Rivera said.
Pastor Tony Mathews of North Garland Baptist Church said CP dollars provided him with theological training. “I grew up broke. I was in college broke, and then I went to seminary broke, but the Lord provided a way,” he said, expressing gratitude for “planting those incredible seeds through those gifts in my life.”
“It's been such a blessing to pastor a church that encourages the members to give through the Cooperative Program,” Mathews added.
Members have taken mission trips worldwide during the past 20 years, including outreach in Tanzania, Peru and Brazil. “It's just a way of life for us.”
Recalling from Exodus 3 that God called Moses to go and deliver the people, Mathews said, “God uses us to get his Word all over this world. I encourage every pastor and church leader to give, give and give. We go and we give.”
Pastor John Meador of First Baptist Church of Euless said churches can be involved directly in missions and be involved in something even bigger than the local church through the CP. “It takes pastors and leaders to set it in front of the congregation, to take steps to increase what we give to send people all around the world all the time with the mission of Jesus Christ.”
The Euless congregation increased CP giving to 11 percent of undesignated gifts last year, amounting to $849,752 and also led SBTC in per capita giving.
Richards, the SBTC’s executive director, praised the church’s generosity, noting, “They’ve given by percentage, but they also give above CP gifts to direct missions, funding missionary efforts directly as well as funding their own people on missions,” he reported, accounting for 22 percent of undesignated receipts going to missions every year. “So you can do both,” Richards said.