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Muscle Shoals’ Highland Park Baptist part of ‘the big picture’comment (0)

May 19, 2011

By John Evans

Highland Park Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, was about $60,000 behind budget in March. Brett Pitman, lead pastor of the Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association congregation, is thrilled that in the midst of that, the church collected $150,000 in a week — and gave it all away.

“Jesus didn’t say to make sure you’re taken care of and whatever you have left over invest in the Kingdom,” Pitman said. “Jesus said to take care of the Kingdom.”

Highland Park Baptist, while a large congregation (running about 1,000 on Sundays), is not a megachurch. But with a determined focus on reaching the lost, it has funded taking the gospel halfway around the world and ignited a spark that is beginning to spread to other churches.

“‘Amazing’ doesn’t do it justice, because it’s so incredible what God’s done ... among the hearts and lives of our people,” Pitman said.

When he took the helm of Highland Park in August 2010, Pitman inherited a church that he said already had a strong missions heart. His first Sunday as pastor, he set before the church a challenging vision of a day when half its income is given away, a short-term missions team is somewhere every Sunday and strategic partnerships are developed on every continent. It got started by increasing its missions budget by 50 percent, and Pitman challenged every able-bodied member to go on a missions trip within the next five years.

“I said, ‘We can talk about missions, but we’re gonna make missions a priority, even if some areas of ministry suffer,’” he said. “We know the heart of God is the peoples of the earth.”

Pitman and Highland Park’s staff felt strongly the church should host a missions conference — its first ever — and three months later, it was a reality. The Kingdom Advancement Conference, named after one of Highland Park’s core values, was held March 9–13. It brought together a number of local, national and international ministries.

Harold Peasley, director and founder of Multi Ministries of South Africa, spoke during the conference, as did Pitman’s older brother Vance, senior pastor of Hope Baptist Church, Las Vegas.

Pitman said many of Highland Park’s members have since gone on short-term trips and committed to pray regularly for the ministries at the conference and 30 members resolved to pray every day for a different country.

He said it even helped bring several people to Christ.

“That was not really our goal and target, but when you exalt God, lost people are [going to] be saved,” Pitman said.

Church member Greg McGuire said it reminded him of what’s important.

“I’m passionate about a lot of things that really don’t matter, that are just temporary things,” he said. “But it breathed a passion into me for eternity and just reminded me, ‘Greg, remember what it was like to be lost? Remember how desperate you were? Remember how hopeless you were? Think about the people who don’t have that access to [the gospel that showed you salvation].’”

An unexpected blessing, which Pitman describes as “overwhelming,” also came during the conference.

Vance Pitman is president of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference (see story, this page). The Pastors Conference’s love offering, usually collected to offset expenses, will go toward missions this year. The goal is to raise $100,000, most of which will go to the International Mission Board (IMB) to fund the translation of the “JESUS” film into the language of an unreached people group in the Arabian Peninsula and do humanitarian work among it. The rest will go toward training conferences for pastors in Africa and Southeast Asia. But that goal already has more than been surpassed, thanks to Brett Pitman. He led Highland Park to join in the effort, announcing the need a few days before its missions conference.

“I said, ‘I know what the people of Highland Park can do, but I’m asking God to do something through us,’” he said.

In seven days, members gave $150,000 — roughly five weeks’ worth of offerings.

“Just because our people said, ‘We’re gonna put our ‘yes’ on the table and be obedient to God,’ now people are [going to] have the opportunity to hear the gospel for the very first time,” Brett Pitman said.

Vance Pitman, who called the massive offering “unheard of,” said the IMB may be able to reach multiple people groups now instead of just one.

“[Highland Park’s] people just really caught this spirit of missions and the nations and taking the gospel where it had never been before,” he said. And that spirit has begun to spread. Brett Pitman said three other churches (one in Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio) are taking up offerings for the Pastors Conference’s love offering. It’s an answer to prayer for him, who hopes Highland Park’s offering is merely the beginning of a massive movement to reach the nations.

“I told Vance, ‘What if this is just five loaves and two fish God is about to put His hands on and multiply? What if we (as Southern Baptist churches) gave $1 million?’” he said.

It’s part of his conviction that what has happened at Highland Park is bigger than one church.

“It’s not about us,” he said. “We think God has called us to grow churches, but when you search the New Testament, there is nowhere we’re told to grow churches. We are told to advance the kingdom of God.”

For more information about the Pastors Conference, visit www.sbcpc.net.

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