'What we do for God' most important, pastor says
HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP) -- The global missions vision of East Shore Baptist Church radiates outward from Lower Paxton Township in Harrisburg, Pa., with sights set as far as Central Europe's Czech Republic for 2017.
The church where about 175 people worship Sunday mornings allocates nearly 22 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions, including 14 percent for the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program that funds outreach nationally and globally.
"We were giving 13 percent, but when we heard [International Mission Board President] David Platt say they were having to pull missionaries off the field, we became very concerned," Harrison said. "We said, 'We can't fix this but we can give a half percent more.'" The following year East Shore Baptist added another half-percent to CP giving, bringing the total percentage to 14.
"I believe in the Cooperative Program," Harrison said. "I served five years as president of the executive board of our state convention and as a result became acutely aware of the work of Southern Baptists around the world."
"There simply is no other mission organization better poised to meet the Gospel needs of our country and the world than the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and the Cooperative Program," said Harrison, who has pastored East Shore Baptist 14 years.
Missions education starts early at East Shore Baptist. "Our children from pre-school through sixth grade are in missions study," Harrison said, including both Girls in Action and Royal Ambassador programs Wednesday nights. Sunday morning Bible Study for all ages, and weekly home fellowship groups also routinely reference Southern Baptist global ministries.
While the CP expands the reach of East Shore Baptist members, there still is much to be done, starting with the region around the church, the pastor said.
"We are not keeping pace with the growth of our community," Harrison said. "We have too many people here not being reached with the Gospel. We are facing an increasingly ambivalent culture towards Christ.
"Church matters because Christ matters, and Christ matters because some day we really are going to face eternity," Harrison said. "We believe Christ offers hope, hope for today and hope for eternity."
Harrison, his wife Jean, and several others from East Shore Baptist serve as hospital chaplains, bringing hope to people dealing with illness or other challenges. Longtime member Tom, himself a cancer survivor, ministers to people during their hours-long chemotherapy treatments. Other members serve as truck stop chaplains, prison chaplains, and even minister to the "back-track" workers at the Penn National Race Course horse racing track in nearby Grantville. Also, the church mentors through Kids Hope USA in a local elementary school.
"We have a significant number of men and women very interested in serving Christ," Harrison said, noting the significant number of men actively engaged in the life and missions of the church. "Unintentionally to intentionally, these men are engaged in ministry. They're great guys and they're serving as examples to other members, as well as their own families."
The continually-growing number of men actively involved with the ministries of East Shore Baptist were drawn to the church "by doing life together," the pastor said. "We're intentionally just engaging our men, challenging them and growing them, talking with them over lunch, walking and running with them, and more."
The men of the church have an unofficial "East Shore Moving Company," allowing men to build relationships with other members and recent arrivals while helping them move. East Shore Baptist men also caught on to something women in the church were doing.
"Each day, men and women in the church grow their faith with 'SOAPing,'" Harrison said. Small groups of three-to-five men (or women) write a scripture (S), an observation (O), a personal application (A), and a short prayer (P) and e-mail it to others in the group.
"It has been encouraging to see the number of men and women who have gotten to know one another better," he said, "and sharpen one another with mutual accountability."
Church members annually attend Word of Life conferences in upstate New York for Bible study and fellowship. In a ministry that started about six years ago, East Shore Baptist men have built relationships with residents of a nearby halfway house for released felons, leading a weekly Bible study there and giving men rides to Sunday services.
Church planting is a major area of interest for East Shore Baptist. Transcend Church, a plant in Harrisburg, recently moved from mission to church status. And the mother church has set its sights on Lebanon, Pa., about an hour east for the next plant.
"Planting churches is, I believe, one of the most effective ways of reaching people with the Gospel," Harrison said. "We try to identify areas in need of a church plant -- areas underserved with a Gospel witness -- and help train up and nurture a church planter, and help resource them."
Internationally, East Shore Baptist recently completed a multiyear missions partnership in Kingston, Jamaica. When the mission they partnered with completed its work of planting a church there, they began searching for where God would have them serve next. Right now that appears to be the Dominican and the Czech republics.
The Dominican Republic in particular offers a trip affordable to entire families.
"Too many mission trips are so expensive that the affordability bar is too high for many to go. We also wanted to provide challenging opportunities for entire families to go and do missions together," he said. "If missions are to have a future, we need to expose our children not just to cool stories and pictures; we want them to see what missions looks like up close and personal. We believe God led us to a great opportunity and [are] determined to take advantage of it."
East Shore Baptist plans to send between 20 and 30 people next summer to serve at a youth camp in the Dominican Republic in partnership with the international Word of Life Ministries. In addition, an exploratory trip to connect with IMB personnel in the Czech Republic is being planned for the fall to engage the congregation in missions.
The church offers two leadership training classes twice a year to refocus members' attention on God's greater Kingdom work, and is intentional in teaching biblical truth.
"We're dealing with a very busy culture," Harrison said. "We compete every week with sports, hobbies and things of that nature. This week it's deer-hunting season; a lot are out with that. I get that, but at times I see too much that distracts us from what is most important -- what we do for God.
"I cannot imagine that with my dying breath I would be wishing for one more deer, one more fish, one better bargain, or one more game to attend," Harrison said. "What have I done that makes an eternal difference? That's where it is at."