By Vicki Stamps
JEFFERSON CITY—Reduced, cut-back, and eliminated are all common phrases used in Jefferson City these days. Missouri legislators are dealing with a major budget crisis requiring millions of dollars in cuts. Many of the service programs Missouri citizens have taken for granted in recent years are slated for downsizing.
“It is still too early other than to be speculative about the state’s budget,” said Kerry Messer, Missouri Baptist Convention lobbyist. “Every aspect of the state’s budget is being examined. Some of the services the state performs many people never see. It depends on where they live – for example, the Water Patrol. But, regardless of the program, the cuts will be noticed.”
Messer and many state legislators see the response of Christians to the budget as being important.
“The state budget crisis is an opportunity for churches,” Messer said. “As we evaluate our ministries to meet the needs of people, we have the privilege to represent Christ in ways we have never done before or reestablish more traditional ministries which have evaporated from our practices.”
“I don’t see it as bad news,” Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis, said. “It offers an opportunity for churches to be creative. It is scriptural for Christians to meet the needs of others and to not depend on the government.”
Rep. Linda Fischer, D-Bonne Terre and a member of East Bonne Terre First Baptist Church, believes that churches should be involved with helping people.
“With the budget crunch, it is important for churches to be proactive in the ministry to the needs of people,” she said.
Fischer added that research may provide answers for churches.
“There are many ways to help through faith-based programs and to get teaching and training,” she said. “Living and nurturing through the Christian lifestyle is not the role of state government but for God’s people.”
Parents as Teachers (PAT) is one of the targeted programs. PAT is an educational program to benefit new parents in rearing their children. It is run through the public school districts with early childhood educators visiting homes to give tips to parents. PAT began in Missouri and it is now available in all 50 states and other countries.
“This is a good example of a widely popular program that is found in every community of the state,” Messer said. “Newborn ministries at the hospital have almost evaporated at churches. Churches can reestablish this older traditional ministry by creating a program where older women in the Titus tradition can take resources to visit the new mother. By offering the resources and guidance, the women establish relationships from the ministry perspective and not just a social service.”
Fischer advised churches to not reinvent the wheel with developing ministries.
“Churches need to step up and have programs to help those struggling with direction,” she said. “In my area of Park Hills, there is a pregnancy resource center and members can volunteer or support in other ways. Volunteers can show how to rear and nurture children. When volunteers sit down with those in need and pray, or have Bible study, they provide support and establish relationships.”
“No mother, especially a new mother,” Messer said, “should ever enter a hospital, deliver a baby and go home without the church standing by her bedside. If we cannot consider this as a ministry opportunity, then we are clearly praying amiss.”
Cunningham had some other suggestions for churches.
“Summer school is canned,” she said. “Churches could set up tutoring and provide virtual classes on computers in the church basement. They could provide them free or at an inexpensive cost to help students come from behind. Churches have so many teachers; they might also be willing to provide enrichment classes which could help as a summer camp or a babysitting service.”
Messer urges the creativity of churches to respond in a practical way to job losses by teachers and others.
“Our churches need to be sensitive to needs of those losing their job,” he said. “Depending on the talents of the church members, they might offer an auto care ministry that would provide basic maintenance and assistance to the elderly and other needy members of the church or community. These programs might look different from traditional ministries but they meet real needs.
“We also need to pray for these needs. We need to realize that thousands of state employees have the same needs we do, as people and as families. We need to pray for these people as our churches find new ways to respond to the needs.”
Messer issued a charge to churches and associations.
“I would love to personally challenge every Missouri Baptist church to look at this idea and cooperate with other churches in their association to creatively find new ways to minister,” he said.