By Elizabeth Young
Photos by Jean Bihn and John Keller

David Johnson describes the parallels between a successful 182-mile bike ride and how Arizona Baptists further the gospel through the Cooperative Program -- by working together.

David Johnson describes the parallels between a successful 182-mile bike ride and how Arizona Baptists further the gospel through the Cooperative Program — by working together.

At an annual meeting bookended by missions activities, Arizona Southern Baptists heard Cooperative Program testimonies, adopted the first Cooperative Program budget increase in five years and were reminded of their personal responsibility to share the gospel.

“All Peoples” was the theme of the annual meeting, attended by 175 messengers and 40 registered visitors at Stone Ridge Church in Yuma. It was the first time since 1979 that the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting had been held in Yuma.

Riding for the Cooperative Program

Preceding the Nov. 13 meeting, eight men completed a three-day, 182-mile bicycle trek from the site of next year’s annual meeting, Palm Vista Baptist Church in Surprise, to Stone Ridge Church. Their purpose was to spotlight the Cooperative Program, with all participants either representing organizations that benefit from or give through the Cooperative Program.

“I learned a lot on this ride, not just about the guys I was riding with but about working together as a team,” said David Johnson, AZSBC executive director. “There is no way that I would have made it to Yuma without the team. … We depended on each other.”

On the second day — which was the longest, with 88 miles to cover — the team battled 18-mile-an-hour headwinds.

“The only way that you can do that is if you’re working together and you help each other as you’re going along the way,” Johnson said. “It’s a beautiful illustration of the Cooperative Program. You can do far more together. You can go farther, you can go faster when you’re working together.”

During his annual report, Johnson asked the cycling team and others to share what the Cooperative Program means to them.

Bike team member Victor Berrelez said when he was called as pastor of Mission Drive Baptist Church in Phoenix, the church was not giving through the Cooperative Program.

“I challenged the people that if we’re going to be partners with someone, we should be partners all the way,” he said. “We want to be a part of missions. The Cooperative Program does that. Even though we’re home and [missionaries] are out in the mission field, we take part in that blessing as well.”

Bike team member Dallas Bivins, director of the Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said five of the eight cyclists attended Golden Gate.

“About one-third of the churches in the state have a Golden Gate Seminary student or a Golden Gate graduate or former student, and your Cooperative Program dollars made that possible,” he said.

CP missions

IMB missionary David Hooten said because of the Cooperative Program, he and his wife, Janet, are able to

IMB missionaries David and Janet Hooten explain how the Cooperative Program aids their work.

IMB missionaries David and Janet Hooten explain how the Cooperative Program aids their work.

serve in the midst of unreached people groups.

“IMB is not doing missions for Southern Baptists,” he said. “IMB is Southern Baptists doing international missions. … We are you. You are us. You are doing missions in these countries … and we want to thank you for your obedience.”

A father and son — Ashley Clayton, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship development, and Whitney Clayton, who is planting Living Stone Community Church in the greater Phoenix area — spoke of the value of the Cooperative Program.

“I am so grateful that through the Cooperative Program, we have a network of Southern Baptist missions and ministries that are playing at the highest possible level,” Ashley Clayton said. “Whitney is locking arms with Arizona Baptists. … He is now placed on a team that can help him to succeed. As a dad, that’s what you want for your kids.”

To those who question whether they should be a part of the SBC or should give through the Cooperative Program, Whitney Clayton said his answer is “a resounding yes.”

With only six families, Living Stone still recognizes its call to reach North America and the nations he said,

“I am fully confident that there is no other place I, as pastor, could be investing my money that will carry my people into Jerusalem and Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth,” he said. “There is no better vehicle through which we can help disciple all the people of all the nations, teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded them.”

CP budget increase

Messengers drawn from the 466 Arizona Southern Baptist churches adopted a $4,816,164 operating budget for 2016, a $92,213 or 1.95 percent increase over 2015. The operating budget includes a $3,230,000 Cooperative Program budget — an increase of $50,000 or 1.57 percent over the 2015 budget — the first increase since 2011.

The Cooperative Program budget allocates $936,700 or 29 percent — an increase of 1.5 percentage points — to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries.

The percentage increase represents another step in reaching Arizona Southern Baptists’ Centennial Vision goal of giving 50 percent of Cooperative Program receipts to missions outside the state through the SBC by 2028. It will be the second year for the SBC percentage to increase. With the 2015 budget, the percentage was raised 1.45 percentage points.

The remaining Cooperative Program budget will be distributed as follows: Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, $1,873,400 or 58 percent, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from 2015; Arizona Campus of Golden Gate Seminary, $226,100, unchanged at 7 percent; and Arizona Baptist Children’s Services, $193,800, unchanged at 6 percent.

The Cooperative Program budget and percentage increases are “made possible because you as Arizona Southern Baptists have been increasing your giving,” Johnson said. “Last year was the best year we have had since 2009 in giving to the Cooperative Program, and this year we are already $67,000 ahead of last year’s pace.”

The Centennial Vision was designed so that “as we increase the number of churches, as we increase our generosity to missions around the world, we can give more away and at the same time reach our state for Christ,” he said.

A challenge to share Christ

Dr. Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said in his message to the convention that greed is the most prevalent sin among Southern Baptists.

“We’re robbing God of the tithe and stealing his offering every chance we get,” he said, “and because of that, after a generation of that, we’re [declining in total number of missionaries] and adopting skeletal budgets across denominational lines rather than having the resources that we need to go forward.”

Preaching from Ephesians 3:7-13, Iorg said all believers have an evangelistic responsibility, and no one is disqualified. The focus should be on people, “and then let the places follow,” he said.

“When we share the gospel, we plug ourselves into God’s eternal purpose, and when we do it appropriately, it costs us: our time, our energy and even our lives,” Iorg said. “But whatever life affliction we’ve borne in this regard, think of the eternal good that will come from that pain.”

AZSBC officers

Left to Right: Charles Wesner, Second Vice President; Bret Burnett, AZSBC President; Josh Tompkins, First Vice President.

Left to Right: Charles Wesner, Second Vice President; Bret Burnett, AZSBC President; Josh Tompkins, First Vice President.

Bret Burnett, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church, Tucson, was elected to a second term as president, and Joshua Tompkins, associate pastor and director of student ministries at Hillside Baptist Church, Phoenix, was re-elected first vice president. Charles Wesner, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Wellton, was elected second vice president. All were elected by acclamation.

Prayer tours and mission projects

The day before the annual meeting, about 70 people participated in two prayer tours, one of churches and ministries in Yuma County and the other in Mexico.

Then, 80-100 people participated in mission projects, all but one the day following the annual meeting, on both sides of the border. Projects included helping with a fall festival at a mobile home park, assisting two Arizona Baptist Children’s Services’ New Life Pregnancy Centers, distributing food and cleaning up yards. After taking an Arizona Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw class, newly trained volunteers put their skills to work in another ministry project.

Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 18 at Palm Vista Baptist Church, Surprise.

Jean Bihn, a freelance writer for Arizona Southern Baptists, also contributed to this story.