Bowling Green—An evangelist who has preached in more Kentucky Baptist churches than anyone alive will receive the KBC’s Cooperative Program Leadership Award at the Nov. 11 annual meeting in Bowling Green.
A longtime pastor, associational moderator and two-time president of the state convention, Don Mathis is staff evangelist at that city’s Eastwood Baptist Church. His pastor, Tom James, is this year’s only announced presidential candidate.
“I’d be honored to receive it anywhere, but it’s special to receive it in Bowling Green and my pastor be elected as president,” said Mathis, who estimates he holds half of his evangelistic services within the state.
“Eastwood has a tremendous number of mission teams who go out, but one reason we joined Eastwood was its support (12.5 percent of undesignated offerings) of the Cooperative Program,” he said.
A native of Christian County, Mathis accepted Jesus at the age of 15 at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church near Hopkinsville.
Over the years, he pastored five Kentucky churches: Crofton Baptist, Green River Baptist in Cromwell, Southside Baptist in Princeton, Central Baptist in Corbin, and Central Baptist in Winchester. In addition, he has been an interim pastor at Central Corbin and five other KBC churches.
Mathis’ only time living away from Kentucky was in the 1990s. From 1991-94 he was executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists. From 1996-99 he was director of pastor and staff leadership at Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tenn.
Mathis declares himself a Kentuckian from head to toe.
“I told ’em in West Virginia they were ‘almost heaven’ (that state’s slogan) because they were next to Kentucky,” he joked.
Three Kentucky Baptist leaders say the state has been blessed by his leadership.
Executive Director Paul Chitwood called Mathis deserving of this award because he models a lifestyle of giving and cooperative missions.
“As a pastor he led his churches to give generously and sacrificially through the CP,” Chitwood said. “He is a dear brother and friend to me, the Cooperative Program, and to Kentucky Baptists.”
Associate Director Curtis Woods noted that in 2012—as chair of the mission board business and finance committee—Mathis “courageously” led the mission board to lighten personnel by streamlining job positions and rethinking missional strategies.
“Kentucky Baptists owe Don a great debt,” Woods commented. “But I am certain he would respond, ‘Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law’ (Romans 13:8). I am personally thankful for his labor of love.”
Adam Greenway, dean of the school of missions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, labeled Mathis a “consistent champion” of cooperative missions.
“Don has used his ‘bully pulpit’ to challenge Kentucky Baptists to increase their CP giving levels to advance the cause of the Great Commission in Kentucky and to the nations,” Greenway said. “His example and legacy is one that is worthy of emulation by current and future KBC pastors and leaders.”
Mathis first learned about the Cooperative Program at Pleasant Hill, where he made the decision to follow Christ. He remembers fondly the missions education he received there in the Royal Ambassadors program.
“We probably gave 10 to 11 percent to CP,” Mathis said. “I just assumed every church did what we did.”
The evangelist calls the program “rock solid,” noting that it enables Southern Baptist missionaries to lead hundreds of thousands of people to Christ annually.
Noting modern communications and travel enable many churches to organize their own networks and mission trips, Mathis said it can be dangerous when such capabilities compete with CP offerings.
That’s because enthusiasm about short-term missions can prove short-lived, while the Cooperative Program and international missions is consistent, Mathis said.
For that reason, he thinks Kentucky Baptists need to be more diligent about teaching young people about missions made possible by these unified offerings.
“There’s competition for time and that’s one of the things we’ve left out,” Mathis said.
“When my sister (was in Liberia) and got sick, the International Mission Board sent a plane and flew her home. If she had been an independent missionary, she probably would have died. The support we give our missionaries is unparalleled.”
Mathis said the key to increased CP support comes from a pastor with a vision and key leaders, such as a deacon and Woman’s Missionary Union director.
Such advocates on the finance committee will likely increase giving, said Mathis, who regularly led his churches to increase CP giving by one-half a percent annually.
“That’s not a shock to the system, but over time it increases dollars to CP,” Mathis said. “If you have a pastor and a couple people with vision, it’s not difficult. It’s all about leadership.”
Ken Walker is a freelance writer for the KBC Communications Department.