Bill Melton, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Harrison, prepares some cotton candy at a block party for the Beautiful Feet outreach in Fort Worth, Texas. Submitted photo
Cooperative Program lifts Arkansas church's core commitments
"As the new pastor coming in who has never seen this kind of percentage giving [to Southern Baptist causes], I had to ask, Does that kind of giving hurt 'this' or 'this'?" Melton recalled.
"It doesn't hurt anything! It helps everything."
Union Baptist has given 25 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions for many years through the Cooperative Program (CP), the way Southern Baptists work together in state, national and international endeavors.
The church, with 90 people in worship on Sunday mornings, gives another 6 percent to the North Arkansas Baptist Association, 2 percent to church-generated outreach, and its people pay their own way on mission trips.
"I would love churches to have the courage to say, 'We're going to increase our giving dramatically and put our finances out of our hands and see what God can do,'" Melton said. "Too often we do what only we can do, what we feel comfortable doing.
"We limit God and what He can do when we do that."
The church, located in Harrison, gives to missions first through the Cooperative Program because of CP's inherent strength, Melton said.
"For a missionary to be able to be on the field and to not have to worry about where his support is coming from -- 'Is it going to show up this month and am I going to be able to stay?' -- the Cooperative Program is an aid for our missionaries," the pastor said.
"They have a sense of empowerment because they don't have to worry about financial support," he said. "I believe it allows us to put more people on the field and in places where new work is needed."
Union Baptist puts its own people "on the field." The church is known throughout the state because they have mastered the art of hosting block parties using the association's block party trailers.
They go "two or three" times a year as they are invited by churches, associations and even the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, such as the eighth annual "Acts 1:8 One Day Mission Trip" in Poinsett County in northeast Arkansas on Oct. 6. About 2,000 people from 130 churches in 80 cities and towns across Arkansas joined in. "We all had a great time," Melton said, noting that 56 people made professions of faith.
"The trailers have enough elements to set up as a small carnival basically," the pastor said. "We'll have 20 people or more, working at 10 to 12 stations, with two block houses, games, face painting, balloon animals, have a cookout and share the gospel.
"People will come to a block party in a park," Melton said. "They'll bring their kids and we'll just love on them and their folks. It's a neat thing and a good way to make an impact."
Union Baptist also travels to Fort Worth, Texas, at least once a year. Melton was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary when the street ministry Beautiful Feet started in the mid-1980s.
"I've kept that relationship all these years," the pastor said. "This church has just fallen in love with Beautiful Feet and we can't go enough! They'd love to go four times a year. We just feed the homeless, love on people and share Jesus."
Fort Worth is an 11-hour drive from Harrison, but the church travels in a Greyhound-style bus. Before receiving a call to Union Baptist, Melton had pastored Calvary Baptist Church in Andrews, Texas, for 14 years. When Calvary heard about Union's missions commitment, they gave their older bus to Union.
"We're always looking for opportunities; our church is very missions-focused," he said. "This church is passionate about making a difference in our community, in the lives of people, serving folks and sharing Jesus."
Melton said he is praying about missions in the western U.S. next year and being part of an association-led international partnership.
Union's missions and ministries start at the church building.
"We talk a lot and over and over again about sharing Jesus in the workplace, in our circles of influence, wherever God brings people into our lives," Melton said. "It's friendship evangelism is what it is."
"We try to be very intentional in building those relationships. We'll have 40-50 kids we pick up, all the youngest grades through high school, most of whom come without their parents," Melton said of the church's van ministry, reinforced with adult members bringing some in their vehicles.
"We want to put them [in this prayer time] in contact with an adult who loves them and prays for them," he said.
"It's pretty cool. Adults love it and the kids just eat it up, can't get enough of it. I wouldn't have thought that, especially the teenagers, but my goodness they love it!"
After the prayer time, the children and youth go to their age-graded activities while the adults have Bible study.
"We'll find a Scripture on growth or spiritual development and unpack it together," Melton said. "The emphasis is on how to study together. We break the Scriptures and unpack it together. Then we'll have more prayer."
With the children, "we'll do [day-long] road trips, take them fishing or different things, to try to disciple and develop them," Melton said. "We try to use what we're looking at and give it a spiritual element."
Union Baptist has been an older congregation in recent years, but with their heart and passion to reach younger families, that's where the church is growing, Melton said. The church is traditional, he acknowledged, but what draws people is the love so freely shared by church members.
"There's a pull to becoming more contemporary in our music, but we figured out we just need to focus on who we are, and that's welcoming," Melton said. "When those young families come into the church and we love on their kids, they're hooked, because that's what's important to them. They want those relationships. They want their kids to have grandparents. Union is a place where we're all one family. That really is the personality of this church."
The church is teaching him to be a pastor, Melton added. "I've been a preacher most of my ministry and tried to be as good a pastor as I could, but this church is teaching me about what's important.
"It's all about those relationships where we encourage and build one another up in Christ," he said. "That's where discipleship happens. We have to be intentional about it; we have to be purposeful. It doesn't happen enough in Sunday morning worship. It happens as we share life together and as we spend time being friends."