At Friendly Avenue, 'our mission is missions'by Mike Creswell
"Our mission is missions," Pat Cronin says.
He's referring to Friendly Avenue Baptist Church, the 1,300-member congregation in Greensboro, where he has led as pastor for 17 years.
Walk through the building complex and you'll see mission trip photos and mementos lining the halls; there's a big photo display of the Burmese congregation that meets in their building.
The design is intentional, Cronin said: "We're creating a culture of missions. How important that is! Missions is woven into our church's historical fabric."
"If you're not in the mission business, what are you in?" he asks. Commitment to missions, as in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28, is basic to the church and to his calling as pastor, he said.
"How could we not cooperate on that? Otherwise, you become an isolationist. Our people know, deep down in their faith journey, that the ministry is out there beyond the church walls," he said.
"I've always felt that, as a pastor, God hasn't chosen me to go into full-time missions, but I'm on the front lines to lead my people, to win them to Christ and disciple them. A part of that discipleship is supporting missions and those missionaries who will go," he said, "and missions support is very much a part of who we are."
"Loving God is obeying God. He asks us to go into the world. The majority of us don't go into the uttermost parts of the world physically, but when there are others to go in their commitment to Jesus Christ, we must be willing to support and underwrite them," he continues.
Commitment to missions and commitment to cooperation are the two main foundations to his support for the Cooperative Program, the unified budget system of the Baptist State Convention which allows churches across the state to support both state ministries and also those of the nationwide Southern Baptist Convention.
This year Friendly Avenue is contributing 10 percent of their total receipts through the Cooperative Program.
Why so much? "The Cooperative Program is the premier program for giving and going, as far as I'm concerned," Cronin said.
He recalls how the pastor of a large, non-denominational church did a careful study into the missions support systems of many groups and concluded that Cooperative Program of Southern Baptists was the best missions support system in the country.
Though Cronin acknowledges no system is perfect, he said the Cooperative Program works much better than the independent approach.
He recalls attending an independent Bible college years ago, where he saw independent missionaries come back to solicit funds from churches: "I remember when there was trouble at the helm, the person influencing people giving to those missionaries, there was trouble in the support of those missionaries."
"The Cooperative Program comes down to good, wholesome stewardship. That's why we cooperate," he said. "There are so many offerings, you can't always do everything, but I think there are some things you must always do, and that is the Cooperative Program and missions giving," he said.
Maintaining commitment to Cooperative Program support means lay members, especially finance workers, have to be constantly informed on what their giving accomplishes, he said. He praised the church's Woman's Missionary Union for their missions support through the years.
He singled out the late Mrs. Sarah Parker, with her husband, Friendly Avenue pastor emeritus Dr. A.L. Parker, long-time members and strong advocates for missions support.
"She just loved the Lord and believed that the Cooperative Program and all the ministries it supports were vitally important to the Kingdom of God. It was part of her, the fiber of who she was. She didn't say, 'Oh, we gotta do this.' She celebrated it," he said.
Friendly Avenue maintains a missionary residence for missionaries who spend time in the area on stateside assignments, which assures members rub shoulders with missionaries they support and pray for.
Members Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Hill, retired after long careers as Southern Baptist missionaries in Thailand, have also provided a constant missions leavening effect on the congregation. The Hills have played key roles in the church's support for the congregation of Karen people from Myanmar (Burma). Bryan Presson, who served as missionary 19 years in Thailand, leads the church's ministry to the Karen.
Taking members on mission trips is one of the most effective ways to teach missions and missions support, Cronin said. He has led members on a mission trip each of the 17 years he has served at Friendly Avenue, but one, when he had a health issue.
In recent years teams have served in Romania, Ukraine, Argentina, Ecuador, Cuba and Thailand.
"We just got back from India" he said. He taught church planters there; meanwhile, Friendly Avenue's children raised enough money to get two water wells dug there in Bihar state, India's poorest.
"When our kids saw the pictures they clapped and celebrated. That's what Christianity is all about: Christ incarnating Himself through us. When you do that, it all comes down to stewardship. In Christianity, I think we have to ask ourselves, what have we done for Christ lately?"
North Carolina Baptist missions and ministries in India and Cuba, are coordinated by NC Baptist Men, whose main funding source is the North Carolina Missions Offering, also supported by Friendly Avenue.
Closer to home, Friendly Avenue members are involved in dozens of local ministries, such as jail and hospital ministries, Habitat for Humanity, and several ministries to the needy. Friendly Avenue is called to support missions locally and across the state, nation and world, he said.