Belton congregation has a yearning heart for Christian education
By Barbara Shoun
September 6, 2005
BELTON – David Baker sees his church’s Christian school as one of its most dynamic evangelistic outreaches – and for good reason. Last year, 68 children received Christ as their Savior through the ministry of Heartland Family Schools here. In 21 years, 1,500 have become Christians.
“A school changes the dynamics of how your church functions, although we can’t find a way to reflect it on our annual profile,” said Baker, who serves as chancellor of the school as well as pastor of Heartland Family Church. “We impact a lot of lives.”
In spite of the number who received Christ last year, only 12 were baptized at Heartland.
“Christian schools don’t necessarily help your church grow,” Baker explained. “We had 20 denominations in our school last year. We’re not trying to pull them out of their own churches. I feel like I have a trust relationship with those pastors.”
With more than 200 students in pre-school through grade 12, Heartland is one of the largest Southern Baptist schools in the state. It is in its 21st year and is accredited through the American Association of Christian Schools and North Central. It is also affiliated with the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools (SBACS).
Baker terms education as the largest Southern Baptist mission program that exists, noting that SBC schools – elementary, secondary, and college – have a faculty of 14,000 nationwide and about 175,000 students.
He said Christian education is a unique calling.
“In the right situation, when God’s in it, it’s the best ministry in Baptist life. This is the last stand of the church, the Christian school. We’re gradually becoming irrelevant. Our Christian schools are having an amazing impact.
“Our school has given us tremendous influence in our community. Our graduates run for alderman, school board, and other elected offices. They move into leadership rolls all across the community. The mayor calls for input; his children went to our school,” Baker said.
Many of Heartland’s graduates hold leadership positions in the school. Several are faculty members. One graduate, Baker’s son, Brian, serves as the church’s minister of education. He is also State Representative for Missouri’s 123rd District.
Baker’s interest in the school is not just administrative.
“I love it. I teach 11th and 12th grade Bible. I love teaching those juniors and seniors. It’s a hoot.”
He coached boys’ basketball for nine years and has been coaching girls’ basketball for six. His teams have won a national championship and six state championships.
“You really get to know them,” he said. “In some ways, you don’t get to do that as a pastor.”
The school accepts children from non-Christian families and Baker said it has had the effect of causing people to view him as pastor to the whole region. It has given the church influence in the community that it might not have had.
“We may have 700 people on Sunday morning, but 2,000 people a week walk through our building.”
A lot of the students are involved in children’s and youth programs at Heartland and attend camp with them because their small churches don’t have programs for them.
Baker gives much credit to church members for their support of the school and for taking on some responsibilities – such as hospital and shut-in visits – that free him to devote time to the school.
“It really changes your ministry,” Baker said. “Our people believe, and I believe, that this is the best thing we have ever done – nothing comes close.”