Kingdom Generosity In the Heart of a Pastor
By Jim Burton
NAHUNTA—When Pastor Randy Carson moved from Southern California to First Baptist Church of Nahunta more than 15 years ago, the red brick, county seat church had been predominant in the region where agriculture was king. The church membership was majority senior adult, but that began to change.
“I did 100 funerals our first year, nearly half of which were church members,” Carson recalled.
The good news is that the funerals slowed to the point that Carson recently went three years without officiating one.
Between generational changes and a growing economic emphasis on services—schools and county government—Nahunta First also transitioned. Today, Carson pastors a congregation of more young professionals from many families, none of which dominate the small-town church as often happens in rural counties.
One other change began to occur. God was doing a work in the heart of Nahunta First’s pastor. The change began at the President’s Generosity Summit, initiated by the Georgia Baptist Convention at Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta. The GBC stewardship staff in conjunction with former GBC President Wayne Robertson and then current GBC President, Dan Spencer of First Baptist Church in Thomasville, planned this regional conference to encourage generosity among GBC churches. Carson chose to attend because of his respect for Robertson and his “heartbeat for evangelism.”
“I was reinvigorated with everything that I was raised to believe and know about giving,” Carson said of the summit. “It helped me to come back at the right time and the right moment to push our church to a new level.”
What Carson believed from his youth was that Southern Baptists work best when they work together, as represented by the Cooperative Program (CP) and other mission offerings. When his father moved the family from Texas to minister in Palma, Calif., that move reflected his family’s heart for missions. His father was a pastor in that community for 36 years.
“What we accomplished over those years could never have been done without our relationship with our association and without the California Southern Baptist Convention,” Carson recalled. “The Lord just blessed us as a mission-minded faith group in the U.S.”
His first pastorate was in San Luis Obispo, Calif., at age 25. His associate pastor was in his 70s and had spent his childhood with missionary parents in China. Without the Woman’s Missionary Union’s record of accomplishment of missions fund raising, Carson recalled the veteran associate saying that his family could never have accomplished what they did in China.
“I want to do more with the Cooperative Program,” Carson said.
When he returned from the President’s Generosity Summit, there was an immediate need—the church roof was leaking. About five years had passed since the recommended replacement time for the roof. Carson shared with his Wednesday evening congregation that the messages of Malachi and Haggai had moved him.
“I couldn’t see how we could take care of our own ‘paneled houses’ while the Lord’s roof was left in disrepair,” Carson said.
After Bible study that evening, church members began offering solutions and checks. On that one night, First Nahunta spontaneously raised $15,000 in pledges.
“I had never had quite that response before, and it was the first time some of our young families stepped up and took ownership of the Lord’s work,” Carson said of commitments made above member’s regular tithes.
“All those who made pledges trusted God to do something good because even though it was difficult for most to come up with the funds, we trusted God to honor obedience.”
Though Nahunta First had historically relied on a few benefactor families, the church had never had a surplus. Now, with more faithfulness in stewardship the church no longer depends on a few families. Since the President’s Generosity Summit, the church has had budget surpluses despite a weak economy in an impoverished county.
The church has also recently doubled its CP giving with the goal of reaching 10 percent. Meanwhile, Nahunta First maintains a strong commitment to Piedmont-Okefenokee Baptist Association by giving another 3 percent of its non-designated gifts.
“We are in a good place,” Carson said. “We are healthier now in unity.”
– Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming, and the bivocational pastor of Suwanee International Fellowship, in Suwanee.