By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BYRDSTOWN — When Eric Thoman (pronounced Toh-mahn) came to Etter Baptist Church here about four years ago, he was glad to be called as pastor of a church which was so supportive of Southern Baptist efforts. He was a North American Mission Board missionary in Ohio for seven years who was downsized because of restructuring by the Southern Baptist Convention agency.
Since then, Thoman has continually been impressed with Etter Baptist and its generosity, especially toward missions.
“It’s nothing I did or anything. This church is strong in missions and I just encourage them.”
In fact, “there’s even an excitement to see how much we can collect for missions,” he added.
The fact that he’s competitive helps him fit right in, added Thoman. He also is assistant football coach at the Pickett County High School and Junior High School though he is the only staff member of the church.
Last year Etter Baptist members responded to the dire financial situation of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board by nearly tripling their gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
Members gave $15,634 or about $142 a person because the church draws about 110 to Sunday morning activities. Members live in a rural county where unemployment is high. This past year the church gave $8,422.
Etter Baptist is supportive but also innovative when it comes to missions.
Last year the church held a 5K “Golden Run” for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions which supports Tennessee Baptist missions and ministries. About 40 runners participated. Next year Etter Baptist will hold it again and will draw about 100 runners, predicted Thoman. The pastor explained that this past year short notice didn’t allow more people to participate.
Another way the church promoted the offering was by letting a person “buy” a county in Tennessee which was then colored by giving $5 to the GOTM. The goal was to cover the state with color which members easily did. As a result of these activities, giving increased from about $3,000 to about $5,000.
In addition to giving to special Baptist offerings, Etter Baptist regularly gives 8 percent through the Cooperative Program to Southern Baptist missions and ministries and 5 percent to Riverside Baptist Association, based in nearby Livingston.
The rest of its gifts to Baptist missions totaled a whopping 32.7 percent of its undesignated offerings in 2014-15.
The congregation gave another 9 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions work of other evangelical Christian groups such as YWAM (Youth With a Mission) in the Ukraine and Samaritan’s Purse. Part of this portion of their gifts also supported the Baptist Medical Dental Fellowship and Five Loaves Food Pantry in Crawford, Southern Baptist ministries which are mostly independently funded. Most of these groups have a personal connection with Etter Baptist members.
Like he said, noted the pastor, this support of missions and in particular Southern Baptist missions has been going on for many years. Several years ago Etter Baptist gave about $7,000 to the Father’s Day Offering of Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes, which was the largest single gift of a Tennessee Baptist church at that time.
“These are not rich people, just normal folks,” explained Thoman.
The main factor in the church’s giving is the Woman’s Missionary Union, he added. WMU members help plan the missions offering emphases and present them during worship services.
“Our WMU ladies are amazing. They believe in missions and they really promote it.”
Some credit also should be given to the 44 families in the church who subscribe to the Baptist and Reflector which keeps them informed about Southern Baptists, he noted.
All of this has helped him emphasize evangelism, added Thoman. The church has seen baptisms increase dramatically. This past year the church baptized 20 people up from two the previous year. He explained that “God’s the one who called me to be a missionary so I am a missionary for life.” Prior to being a missionary Thoman was a church planter for the Ohio Baptist Convention. In Byrdstown he also ministers in the schools and jail and leads a weekly addiction recovery group as well as other things.
Church members also have been doing missions work for years. This year a church team will serve on a Native American reservation in North Carolina as well as join their association in Cincinnati. All volunteers receive half of their expenses from Etter Baptist.
“This is the greatest church I’ve ever been a part of. They just don’t hesitate to support missions,” stated Thoman.