ALAMOGORDO (BP) - Giving to God's work is central to the "heart attitude" of members of Bethel Baptist, the largest church in southern New Mexico's Mountain Valley Baptist Association. The congregation allocates 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program - Southern Baptists' channel of support for state, national and international outreach - and an additional 10 percent for other missions enterprises.
"Our Cooperative Program giving keeps us in the right heart attitude," said Matt Celoria, Bethel's senior pastor since February 2018 who first became part of the church community in the city of Alamogordo in 2015. "We get the blessing of serving God's Kingdom.”
"The whole reason Southern Baptists came together in the first place was to support missionaries," Celoria said. "With the Cooperative Program we're able to raise up leaders on the home side and support them as God sends them out."
From its start in 1951, Bethel has supported not only the Cooperative Program but also the Mountain Valley Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Prayer, too, always has been a mainstay. This year the church is adding "going" to its obedience. "A church that does not give and serve outside itself is a church that is not spiritually healthy," Celoria told Baptist Press. "We're being faithful. We want to please the Lord."
A newly-engaged missions focus has strengthened Bethel in discipling those who become part of the church family -- as have praying about what God has in mind for the church and sending out those God calls elsewhere. Home prayer groups that start in September will add depth to the church's prayer life and fellowship bonds, Celoria said. And last spring, Bethel's missions committee had prayed and began looking for an international missionary with whom the church can partner for several years to add strength to both the mission field and the church.
"We're working with the International Mission Board because of our desire to partner with a missionary so we can have a continuing presence internationally," the pastor said. Through an international missions trip this fall -- Bethel's first in several years -- the missions committee hopes to gain that partnership.
Celoria noted that the church is to be as involved locally as it is internationally. "Our mission begins here with the Air Force," he said, referring to the personnel stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, located on the west side of Alamogordo. "God will send wonderful families, and when they leave, it's bittersweet."
During the time they're at Holloman, the military personnel launch into Bethel's discipleship and ministry opportunities, and when they leave, it's as missionaries on assignment to their next place of service. "We want them to know when they're here that God has sent them here to serve, and when they leave, that we're sending them to serve the Lord wherever He is sending them," Celoria said. "It's critical we invest in them. That was one of the big emphases from when I first came here."
Other local ministries include a four-day-a-week preschool for about 50 youngsters that has been in operation more than 20 years and a partnership with the local branch of the benevolence ministry Love INC (in the Name of Christ).
Bethel's regional and statewide reach is rooted in its involvement in the Mountain Valley Baptist Association and the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. Associational missionary Gary Buckner told Baptist Press that the association "is better and stronger because Bethel is an active part of it. They host our Emmet Carson Music Festival every other year and also host the BCNM training meeting we have annually for Sunday School and discipleship."
Other support includes printing the association's newsletter, providing space as needed for a variety of associational events, and planting churches on the Mescalero Indian Reservation. Bethel's next church planting effort will be a Hispanic congregation, the pastor said.
"One thing I really like about being part of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico," Celoria continued, "is that there's no competition, no territorialism. There's a partnership." Churches like Bethel provide financially for such ministries as the New Mexico Baptist Children's Home and the state convention's summer camps for youth.
"It's very important for us to give to our state convention," Celoria said. "Folks in our state take responsibility for maintaining and supporting the ministries we need in our state - for example, our students. They are the next generation of leaders. If we didn't have New Mexico Baptist camps, our kids would have to go states away. New Mexico churches have to support whatever Gospel ministries we have, because New Mexico is largely unreached."
About 2 million people live in New Mexico, and about 30,000 in Alamogordo, an hour west of El Paso, Texas. "God's the one who builds the church," Celoria said. "We believe Bethel's purpose should always be to exalt Christ and make disciples. To that end, we encourage our people to gather for worship, grow in the Word, serve in the work and send to the world."