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FBC Oxford sponsors local church looking to join SBCcomment (0)

June 26, 2014

By Anna Keller

First Baptist Church, Oxford, is one of the oldest churches in the Oxford/Anniston area. Throughout its more than 175-year history the church has helped plant several other Baptist churches in the region. So when First, Oxford’s missions pastor heard about the need for a sponsor of an area church, his interest was immediately piqued.

Justin Holland first heard about the need during the Calhoun Baptist Association’s annual meeting in late 2013. 

The Life Center, an African-American congregation, had been around for nearly five years but was hoping to become a part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In order to become an affiliated church, The Life Center needed an SBC church sponsor for one year. This is a requirement to ensure the churches requesting affiliation are aligned with SBC beliefs and doctrine. It also serves as a way to create partnership and leadership during the transition.

Holland said, “Our church is located right up against a community with a largely African-American population but our attempts to reach them have not been successful. We thought, ‘This is our chance to be effective in this community we’ve been trying to reach.’”

After talking with Sid Nichols, director of missions (DOM) for Calhoun Association, and John Thomas, associate DOM, about what the sponsorship would entail, First, Oxford, members started to feel even more confident this partnership was something they were called — and equipped — to do. In May the congregation voted unanimously to sponsor The Life Center.

Eugene Leonard, pastor of The Life Center, believes the partnership was ordained by God and said he and the church members are “so excited to have First Baptist Oxford” as their sponsor church. 

The Life Center, also called TLC, was originally interested in becoming an SBC church because of the convention’s emphasis on missions, Leonard said.

“The basis of our whole foundation is outreach and so we’ve always been focused on helping others,” he said. “And that’s what it means to be a Southern Baptist; it’s a missions-driven denomination.”

Leonard, Holland and Thomas said they are looking forward to the outreach that TLC and First, Oxford, will achieve together in their area and beyond.

Leonard said he thought First, Oxford’s attempts to reach the African-American community in the area did not succeed because of “cultural walls that were up.” But by partnering together the two churches can “help break that cultural wall and form a bridge,” he said. “It’s been fun.”  

Working together 

The two churches have already started to work together in outreach. In mid-April, they held a “Gas Buy-Down” outreach where the churches covered the cost of 50 cents for each gallon of gas purchased by people in the community. TLC organized the event in order to share the gospel and promote the church’s Easter services. 

Holland said, “The response was awesome. We were able to serve over 1,000 people, and I think the gospel was officially shared with about half of them.”

The churches also have plans to sponsor backyard Bible clubs in July as a way to reach the community. 

The Life Center also will move into an unfinished 19,000-square-foot facility in Anniston and have prioritized the recreation center as a space to complete first to help create a community outreach center.

Leonard said he hopes the partnership with First, Oxford, can help inspire other churches to team up in similar ways.

“I think this sets the precedent that a black and white congregation can come together,” Leonard said. “We hope this partnership starts a wildfire within Alabama and even across the U.S. to grow God’s kingdom.”

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