Gospel generosity gives rural Kentucky church far-reaching impact

By Karen L. Willoughby

MORGANTOWN, Kentucky (BP) – It was early in his pastoral ministry, Randy Burns said, that he realized, “I was blessed to recognize there was an undercurrent of generosity here,” at Monticello Baptist Church, which never has averaged more than 75 in Sunday morning worship except in 1991, when it reached 80.

That group – post-Covid reduced to about 60 onsite and maybe a dozen online – gave more than $57,831 toward the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® for North American Missions and $75,000 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® for International Missions during the church’s most recent fiscal year.

The church is also consistently generous to its association and other missions offerings.

Monticello Baptist Church in Morgantown, Ky., is made up of young families who have recently moved to the area and members who have lived in the area all their lives. Photo submitted

“Our desire is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ through gospel-centered worship and ministry,” Burns told Baptist Press. “We have been blessed with a number of people who are very generous, and we want to really get the gospel to as many people as possible.

“In part, we do what we do because we remember Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of these, we do unto Him,” the pastor continued. “And it makes us feel good to help others in practical ways.”

Burns was speaking about “Socktober,” a gathering of socks by the church’s WMU for elementary school children and residents of the local nursing home, a ministry in its second year.

Monticello Baptist sits about 11 rural miles west of the Butler County seat, Morgantown. Members include farmers, small businessmen such as a sawmill owner, a veterinarian, teachers, blue-collar workers, nurses, and others.

“A lot of people were born and raised in this community and others recently moved in,” the pastor said. “It’s a good mix, with young families, teenagers, and our oldest members now are in their 80s.”

In addition to regular tithes and offerings, of which 10 percent is allocated for the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together in North America and throughout the world, Monticello Baptist takes up five special offerings a year: Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, Eliza Broadus State Mission Offering, Bill Wells Offering for Gasper River Baptist Association, and The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Sunrise Children’s Services Thanksgiving offering.

A longtime couple established a trust in their will for Monticello Baptist, the annual income from which at their request is shared equally with the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. A sizable additional amount comes in each year during the weeks of prayer at Easter and Christmas.

The state, association and children’s mission endeavors all come from the pockets and paychecks of current Monticello members.

“We had a goal of $12,000 for one of them, which we hadn’t quite reached,” the pastor said. “I was going to mention, ‘Let’s round it up to $12,000’ and at a business meeting someone else first said, ‘Let’s round it up to $15,000.’ That’s the spirit we have here.”

The goal was more than reached, the pastor said.

Disaster Relief is yet another example of Monticello Baptist’s missions generosity.

“We give Disaster Relief two percent of undesignated funds primarily because a lot of people in our church see the good Disaster Relief has done,” Burns said. “A few would like to help but can’t get away from work or they have health issues. [Giving to Disaster Relief] allows them to participate in that work.”

Monticello’s generosity starts with financial support and moves outward from there.

Morgantown Elementary School’s resource center lets the church know when there is a need for children’s winter (or, for that matter, summer) clothing. There’s the local socks ministry, Christmas backpacks for students and Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

“If needs arise with our own [church] body, we try to take care of that, and we try to come alongside other ministries and help where we can,” Burns said. “This, I think, is the best use of our resources. If we try to do all things here, we would be able to do less than we do by helping these other organizations.

“It’s multiplying our outreach,” the pastor continued. “In my time here, we haven’t had anyone surrender to full-time missions work, but our giving allows us to help thousands of missionaries. The Cooperative Program helps us maximize our outreach.”

Burns was in his mid-20s in 2001 when 42 members of Monticello Baptist Church voted to call him as their pastor. He was a graduate of Clear Creek Baptist College and had also earned an MDiv degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS). By 2015, he had also earned a Doctor of Education degree from SBTS.

Monticello Baptist Church had been started in 1805; the members in 2001 were “mostly older,” the pastor said. Several were in their 90s.

“I’ve seen the Lord do a lot of amazing things, like the way He’s brought the church together,” Burns said. “I know as a pastor I have a part to play in this, but really it’s how the Spirit of God is at work in the hearts of His people.

“There was a time I wasn’t sure we would become a mission-minded church. From a human standpoint that looked unlikely, but again, people have responded, so largely any success we have as a church is due to the work of the Spirit in the body.”

Prayer and missions remain at the forefront in his leadership of the church, the pastor said. At his request, the WMU group keeps the church’s focus on the five major offerings taken each year, and Burns preaches routinely on both prayer and missions as they come up in the scripture passages from which he preaches.

The church also has special prayer times during each of the five offering seasons.

Monticello members joined with Gasper River Baptist Association twice in mission trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They partnered for two years with a church in St. Louis, Missouri, to help reach its community. They helped when a Hispanic church, Luz y Vida, started in Morgantown. Last year they went to Otoe in northern Oklahoma to minister an hour north of Oklahoma City at Camp Crossway and plan to return next year.

Children from the Hispanic community join Monticello for vacation Bible school each summer, a connection made because the pastor’s wife Delia teaches English as a Second Language at Morgantown Elementary School.

“A lot of the things we do that might appear to be successes, a lot of what we’ve experienced over the last 21 years, is how people respond to God’s word and God’s love,” Burns said. “We exist to know Him and make Him known.”

Published November 23, 2022

Karen L. Willoughby

Karen L. Willoughby is a veteran Southern Baptist journalist and a freelance writer.