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Mississippi church rises to challenge


GIVING GENEROUSLY — Rick Blythe (left), director, Stewardship/Cooperative Program Promotion, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, is shown receiving a “13th”check from McLaurin Heights pastor Steve Jackson for the Cooperative Program. (photo)

By Tony Martin
Associate Editor

McLaurin Heights Church, Pearl, is committed to missions, and demonstrates that commitment through giving to the Cooperative Program (CP).

Four years ago, the church decided to fashion a Challenge Budget similar to what the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) does. If there are more non-designated receipts that come into the church in a fiscal year than budget expenditures, then those excess funds are placed in the church’s Challenge Budget. This past year, the church divided the Challenge Budget into three parts, one of which was the CP. The church already gives 12% of its non-designated gifts to the CP.

“Our church has three missionaries, not all of them International Mission Board missionaries, that our church supports,” said pastor Steve Jackson. “One is in South America, one is in the New York City area, and one is in Guatemala. All of them are helped by the church – not out of the regular budget, but out of this Challenge Budget. This past year, we used the Challenge Budget to fund them – 33% went to these missionaries sent out from our church, 33% went to the Cooperative Program, and 33% went to our budget escrow account, which is our savings account.

“Someone on our stewardship committee just said, ‘This is why we have the Cooperative Program.’ Even with a church our size, we’d have trouble supporting these missionaries,” Jackson said, “but the Cooperative Program is strictly Baptist, and for us it’s not an option. It’s time tested, it’s proven, and those that handle the money are all above board. To me, all churches ought to tithe their proceeds, and for me the Cooperative Program is where it should go.” McLaurin Heights chooses to give a bit more than a tithe.

Jackson has been pastor of McLaurin Heights for 21 years. He emphasizes there should be a plan in place of what to do with any excess monies due to the faithfulness of the church’s people.

“We choose to support the Cooperative Program,” Jackson said. “It’s not a burden that we have to fulfill. It’s a choice we gladly make.”

When Jackson was president of the convention board, he served on the state budget committee. He saw that the MBCB developed a Challenge Budget, and he presented the same concept to the church. “If we have a good year, other people can be blessed,” he said.

“In 2010 we began our Challenge Budget,” Jackson continued. “We voted on it at the same time we voted on our regular budget. At the end of 2009, we voted on the 2010 budget. We started the year with a certain amount – in our case, it was $20,000 – and at the end of the year we take all the undesignated funds from the budget. We put $20,000 back in the general fund on December 31, and any monies that are left over go into the Challenge Budget. The church has already voted the year before how that is to be spent. This past year was the best we’ve ever had. We had almost $21,000 go into that Challenge Budget.”

Because of this, the church was able to give a “13th” check to the Cooperative Program, giving the church the opportunity to be part of a team with a global impact. This year, the check was $12,809.39. A third of the Challenge Budget went toward the church’s budget escrow account, which is intended to equal one month’s operating funds.

Jackson encourages other churches to do something similar.

“Churches are not in the savings business,” Jackson said. “All churches should have a reserve, a rainy day fund. That’s good stewardship – that way, if an air conditioner goes out, you don’t have to immediately borrow money to cover it. The church should be mission minded enough to put feet to the words, and part of that is with money. This is just another way we can be mission minded. If you vote on how to use the money a year in advance, it keeps emotions from ruling the day. That way, someone won’t say, ‘Hey, we have an extra $10,000. Let’s spend it on ‘this.”’

For McLaurin Heights, their Challenge Budget gives them the opportunity to support their “own” missionaries as well as missionaries supported by CP funds. The Rankin Association also receives funds on a percentage basis. “We think this fulfills the idea of proportionate giving from 1 Corinthians 16:1 – 2,” said Jackson. “Since we started the Challenge Budget, we’ve met and gone over our budget every time.”

Jackson notes that any church of any size can do this, because it is based on a percentage of giving. “It’s a visible commitment that anyone in the church can see – that we’re committed to missions. We just believe that the best avenue to do missions is through the Cooperative Program. Remember we help individual missionaries, so for us it’s not an ‘either/or.’ It’s a ‘both/and,’ and we like doing a both/and. Remember we have all these missionaries who have given their lives to missions, and they need to be supported.”

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