Northwest Baptist Update as We Begin 2017

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Happy New Year! I trust that each of you had a meaningful Christmas celebration, a great New Year, and some wonderful times with family.

I wanted to give you some encouraging information regarding 2016, even as we begin 2017. We don’t yet have all of the ACP (Annual Church Profile) reports from our churches, so we do not have total baptism and attendance information. We do, however, have information regarding cooperative mission giving and some of what we accomplished cooperatively. Regarding the Cooperative Program, income exceeded budget for the first time since the 1990s. We received $2,811,960 on a budget of $2,777,000, for a total of $34,960 over the budget. As exciting as this is, it is even more significant that we received $101,455 above giving in 2015, which is a 3.74 percent increase.

Other mission giving increased as well. The Lottie Moon International Missions Offering was $559,526, increasing from $495,843 over 2015. The Northwest Impact Offering was $103,611, increasing from $102,231. World Hunger Offering was $21,597, up from $20,338. The only offering that decreased was the Annie Armstrong Offering which was $244,297, down from $246,269 in 2015. In addition to these offerings, Northwest Baptists contributed an additional $14,548 through Disaster Relief. When you put all of this together, Northwest Baptists contributed $3,755,539 to missions through the cooperative means of the NWBC and the SBC. We have generous, mission-hearted churches and people in the Northwest!

The significance of our missions giving is quickly understood when you know that we currently have 66 new churches receiving monthly supplements. Also, more than 1,000 received in 2016, and will receive in 2017, pastoral leadership training, as well as evangelism, small group, VBS and other forms of training. It is particularly exciting to see growth in our collegiate campus ministry. At the end of 2016 we had Baptist Collegiate ministries on 13 campuses. This week, however, ministries were started on two new campuses with the plan to begin two more shortly! Though the NWBC participates in collegiate ministry through the CP, most of the work is done by volunteer/self-funded campus ministers who have a call from God to reach the next generation. We praise God for these men and women!

Additionally, our CLD training (Contextualized Leadership Development), in partnership with Gateway Seminary, is showing significant growth. We had one location last year (Portland), but we will have three locations this spring, adding Springfield and Longview, with East Wenatchee likely starting a center in the fall. Five students completed work during the fall 2016 term, receiving the Pastoral Ministries Certificate.

We are also planning on two East Asia vision trips in 2017, taking pastors to Japan and the Big Country so that their churches can connect with our IMB workers there. In 2016, about 250 Northwest Baptists, from dozens of churches, did mission work in East Asia, including 163 who ministered to 1,100 East Asia IMB personnel and their children last August. All of this is communicated to our churches via the outstanding publication of our bi-monthly Witness publication.

Additionally, enrollment at Gateway Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus showed a significant increase last fall, growing to 57 students from 46 the previous fall. And the work of the Northwest Baptist Foundation, the trust agency of the NWBC, has grown and prospered to the extent that they gifted the NWBC with a $25,000 check during our annual meeting in November 2016. Thank you!

I often say that it is a good day to serve the Lord, and it’s a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest. I believe this to be true. It’s true because every day is a good day to serve our Lord. And it’s true because we have great people with whom to serve in the Northwest and God’s hand is evident in our work. Thank you for how you serve our Lord through your church, your community, and through the NWBC.

Pastors, Please Enjoy Christmas with your Family

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One December I spent 22 nights away from home leading up to Christmas Day. Then I repented and never did that again!

The December schedule is fast-paced for many but perhaps more so for pastors. Class Christmas parties, community events, special Christmas services at church – if you try to do it all it can become too much. This year Christmas Day is on Sunday, so even that day cannot be fully devoted to your children and family. While many travel to be with family on Christmas, pastors rarely do so because Christmas is too important to miss, including the traditional “Christmas Eve services” many churches have. For 25 years I never went “home” for Christmas. I’m not complaining about that, and I don’t have any regrets about it. It’s just reality for a pastor.

Please don’t misunderstand, I love and loved all that we do in our churches for Christmas. I love to sing the traditional Christmas songs. Joy to the World is my favorite. Christmas Eve services can be truly special times of worship, marked with tenderness and wonder and joy. And Christmas provides our churches unique outreach and ministry opportunities. But pastors need to be careful not to neglect their families during this meaningful time of year, and church members need to help them in this regard.

So, what is a busy, conscientious pastor to do? Here are a few things to consider. First, prioritize your children’s Christmas activities. Attend their school Christmas events. If you don’t have children, or if your children are grown up, you might have grandchildren activities to consider. Family commitments change with the seasons of life. Churches should understand that a pastor with children in the house has obligations (and opportunities) that older pastors may not have.

Second, as your children grow, and are able, involve them in the special Christmas ministry opportunities of the church. One church I served prepared and delivered meals on Christmas Day to hundreds of homes. We delivered meals to widows and shut-ins that had no one to spend Christmas with and we delivered meals to poor families. One thing I was impressed with was how many families made this a Christmas tradition with their children. Parents used it as an opportunity to teach their children the importance of serving others, especially the poor and lonely. Some churches sing Christmas carols in nursing homes and other places, which gives families an opportunity to sing and serve together.

Third, take some time away after Christmas. And churches, be generous with your pastor concerning his vacation days and time away from the church field. It’s difficult for pastors to truly get a “day off” unless they leave town. I know that was true for me (and with cell phones it’s next to impossible!).

There are other things you could add to this short list. And please do. My main point is this – a big part of a pastor’s responsibility is to model family-life for the church. One way we do this is by taking care of ourselves and our families. Our wives and children will understand when a pressing matter or crisis takes us away, as long as it is truly a crisis event and not us constantly scheduling them out of our lives.

Things happen. Pastors and parents make mistakes. We all do. But when we do, we need to repent and change course. That’s what I did in December 1995 when I spent 22 nights away from home leading up to Christmas. I’ve had to correct course since then as well, but I won’t quickly forget what I learned 21 years ago.

Checklist for Planning a Worship Service

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Recently I led a seminar for the Columbia Basin Baptist Association on planning a worship service. The following is the handout I used and I thought it might be helpful to others who plan worship services.

A classic and helpful understanding of corporate worship was given by Soren Kierkegaard more than 150 years ago. He said that in a service of worship God is the audience, the congregants are the performers, and the pastor is the prompter. If this is a correct, and I believe that it is, then worship needs to be directed toward God with the intent of pleasing Him. Worship leaders are to lead congregants to “perform” for God, to engage with God, in thought and heart and behavior. Worshippers are not consumers of religious products and the worship leaders are not the suppliers of such products.

This in no way infers that worship leaders should ignore the presence of unbelievers and church guests attending a service of Christian worship. Worship services are a major entry way into churches and into the Kingdom for the unbeliever. As missionaries have identified, unbelievers experience two “conversions” as they come to Christ. First, they are converted to us. Second, they are converted to Christ. They first ask the question, “Do I like/respect these church people?” If they do, then they will listen to what we say about Christ. Worship leaders must guide the congregants with clarity and understanding, much like a Holy Land tour guide explains each step of the pilgrim’s journey through Jerusalem. With this in mind, the following checklist is helpful in worship planning.

1. Prayer

a. For what do we need to pray? What do we need to say to God? What do we need to hear from God? Even as the pastor prepares his sermon, he should prepare to lead the congregation in prayer by making a prayer list as the week passes.
b. When will we pray? Beginning of the service? Pastoral prayer? End of service?
c. Who will lead in prayer? Methods of praying that will be employed?

2. God’s Word, the Bible

a. What passages will we read and when will we read them?
b. Who will we select to read God’s Word? (Pastor/preacher, men, women, children)
c. Is the reading of God’s Word a central act of our worship?

3. Music/singing

a. What do we want to teach through the song(s)? Does the song teach biblical truths?
b. Does the congregation know the song?
c. Is the song singable? Is the music in a range that men and women can sing?
d. Does the song magnify God and exalt Jesus Christ?
e. Do any of the songs mention Jesus? The gospel?
f. Does the music leader engage the congregation and lead them to sing? (eye contact, facial expression, smile, good use of transitions between songs)
g. When using a “praise team,” does each member sing every verse? If not, what does this communicate to the congregation?
h. Caution: worship music can sometimes become performance rather than leading the congregation to participate, making the congregation the audience rather than God.

4. Testimonies

a. Is there someone who can share a testimony that connects to the theme of the message and the Scripture?
b. Has someone experienced God and the church would benefit from hearing their story?
c. New believer testimonies, including young people?
d. Testimonies of sharing Christ with a lost person?

5. Message/sermon

a. What biblical text does God want me to preach/teach?
b. What is the central truth of the text?
c. How and when will I read the text? When I do, how should I hold the Bible?
d. How will the text and its truth be communicated and applied?
e. Big Question for the preacher – Do you believe what you say, or is this just helpful information or good advice?
f. Am I preaching to those present?
g. What do I want the congregation to know, believe or do as a result of the message?
h. Am I aiming for the heart and not just the head?
i. Who attending needs to know Christ as Savior or follow Him in baptism?
j. Is PowerPoint helpful?
k. Is the message internalized?
l. What level of eye contact do I seek to maintain (at least 80 percent)?

6. Opportunity to respond to God’s call

a. How will we give people the opportunity to say “yes” to Christ?
b. Methods of response/invitation? Will we use multiple methods?
c. How will we share with the congregation decisions for Christ that are made in the worship service?
d. How will we welcome new believers and new members into the church?

7. How will you receive the offering (the correct word is “receive,” not “take”)? How can we do stewardship education as we prepare to receive the offering? Is there information we can share about how this offering will be used in God’s work?

8. Is there something we can celebrate or highlight as we worship?

9. Is our worship “indigenous?” i.e. using the gifts and talents of the people God has given us?

10. If a lost person, or a person unfamiliar with our church, attends today, would he know what to do during every aspect of the service? Are we assuming people know how to find a biblical text, have a Bible, or that they know the stories of the Bible, or that they know when to sing, etc.? How can we make everything clear and helpful to a guest?

11. How do we give new people an opportunity to learn about Christ and our church?

12. Are there opportunities to express joy and gratitude as we worship?

The pastor/preacher is the worship leader of the church because he is the church’s theologian by the call of God, spiritual gifting, educational training, and the call of the church. As a part of his calling, therefore, the pastor must give direction as to the content and flow of the worship service. Worship planning can be done as a team, and it’s generally best to do it that way. But the pastor knows what he’s trying to accomplish through the message and the worship service should flow from that.

In addition, wise pastors know that vision transfers through people not paper. The vision that God gives a pastor (the source of the vision must be from God) must be transferred into the hearts of the people in order for it to become the vision of the church. This is a key job of the pastor as servant-leader. The worship service provides the pastor his best opportunity to lead the church into God’s preferred future.

In Times Like These We Need Confidence in the Gospel

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When missionary Lesslie Newbigin returned to Great Britain from India he said that he found a greater mission field in Britain than he had left in India. Key to this was his observation that Indian believers had confidence in the gospel and those in Britain did not. Christians with whom Newbigin worked in India believed in the power of Christ’s shed blood to wash away sin and guilt. They believed that death had been defeated through the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to raise a repentant sinner from death to life. But things were different with the church-goers he encountered in Britain. They were timid and apologetic in the face of a culture that was increasingly hostile to, and dismissive of, biblical truth. It shocked him.

What Newbigin experienced in Britain is far too common in American churches today. Thank God Baptists have not abandoned biblical truth as some have. But that is not to say we haven’t too often neglected to teach and live the truth we claim to believe. Denial of Bible truth is three steps too far for a good Baptist. We wouldn’t do that. But neglecting to teach the truth, and demonstrating a lack of confidence in the transformative power of the Gospel to bring eternal life, is much too common for far too many.

So how do we restore the confidence of God’s people in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest a few things.

First, pastors and Bible teachers must be convinced that the Gospel is true and we must teach it with confidence. The first question a listener has of any speaker/teacher is, “Does he believe what he says?” We have abundant reasons to have confidence in the gospel because it is supported by historical events. Our faith is not a leap into the dark. Our faith is not mere philosophy. It is history. Our Savior did things and said things in history. Peter, James and John and Matthew and the others changed the world because they heard Jesus speak. They saw Him act. They watched Him die. They saw Him raised. They touched and spoke to our resurrected Lord. They watched Him ascend back to heaven. And then they travelled the world for the next 30 years and more, preaching this good news until most of them surrendered their own lives in a martyr’s death.

These are some of the historical facts of our faith. There are many more. We have reason to be confident that Jesus Christ lived, died, was raised, and that one day He will return to judge the living and the dead. Our preaching and teaching must reflect our strong confidence in the gospel message.

Second, when believers gather for worship our gatherings must be saturated with confident, gospel praying. The reading and preaching of the Word of God must be the central act of our worship. And Scripture reading must be restored to a place of primacy in worship. We should sing gospel songs that speak of Jesus and what He has done and what He will one day do.

There was a time that Baptist worship services were characterized by Kingdom and gospel praying, the singing of gospel songs (songs that teach and celebrate who Jesus is and what He did on the Cross), the reading of Scripture, and a message from the Scripture. From my observation, most Baptist sermons focus on proclaiming and applying the teaching of a particular biblical text. That’s good. But much of our praying and singing does not reflect on gospel truths and kingdom concerns, and we rarely hear Scripture readings in our worship services. I believe most of our churches could benefit greatly by adding more Scripture and prayer to our worship services, and by including some songs whose lyrics present and declare gospel truths and actually use the name “Jesus.”

Third, the witness of each local church is more vibrant and confident when the church is sent into the world from a worship experience in which gospel power was expressed and experienced. When God’s people are confident in the power of Christ to change lives, and when we express and experience this in corporate worship, we are more likely to live our faith positively and confidently.

One of the tragedies of a presidential election year in the United States is that the term “evangelical” is associated with a particular political candidate. “Who do the evangelicals support?” is a familiar question in news reports, which makes evangelical Christians (including Baptists) sound like we’re a political organization. Even worse, I fear people think that we believe the church’s agenda is accomplished through politics (and maybe some of us believe that too!) rather than gospel witness.

It’s not that we don’t have a legitimate interest and concern regarding who our political leaders are. We do and we should. But the bottom line is that the only thing the church has is Jesus and the gospel of His saving grace. We don’t have good ideas. We don’t have political clout. We don’t have strategies or programs or anything other thing that remotely compares to Jesus’ presence and His power to replace a heart of stone with a heart for Him. Gospel preaching, gospel singing, gospel praying, all of which flows from God’s Word, that’s where the power is. In times like these, the old hymn says, we need a Savior. That we do. And that we have. Rejoice and be glad! Be confident in Him!

P.S. This morning in my devotional time I read Jeremiah 9:1 in which the prophet writes, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” I don’t pretend to know the sorrow that Jeremiah knew as he watched the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the slaughter of thousands. But like many of you, I’ve felt anger, and, at times, a depressed resignation when I look at the goings on in our nation. The one thing, the only thing, that grabs me by the throat and awakens me to what is really real, is God’s Word and my confidence in Him. When I consider the glories of Christ, my hope and my joy soon returns.

Executive Director’s Annual Report 2016

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The Family Gathering (Annual Meeting) of the Northwest Baptist Convention is in Spokane on Nov. 15-16. Our theme for the meeting is “Jesus, Our Peace.” The report below will be included in our book of reports.

“For He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14a).

Every human being yearns for peace. Peace of mind and heart. Peace in relationships. Peace in the home. But few find such rest.

Those who know Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Scriptures understand why peace is often absent. Peace and joy are blessings available only to those whose faith rests in Jesus Christ and live in obedience to Him.

Historians will not use the term “peace” when describing America in the year 2016. We have experienced the most discouraging and divisive presidential election campaign since the 19th Century. The topics and language of the campaigns were unedifying, morally corrosive and corrupting. Bitterness, contempt and cynicism bloomed fully. Friendships have been damaged or destroyed, even among Christians, over this year’s election. The witness of the Church, and of many believers, has been damaged as well.

Added to this, 2016 was a year of protests over police shootings, the assassination of police officers, and vicious acts of terrorism. In 2015 the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right, and in 2016 the Obama administration interpreted federal civil rights law (Title IX) to mean that federally funded schools must not discriminate against transgender students and therefore must allow them to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their chosen gender identity. Some businesses and other organizations have quickly adopted the federal government’s approach, resulting in the boycotting of states that oppose the new policy.

Shakespeare would have loved to write about all of this! But perhaps Solomon described it best when he said of mankind, “madness is in their hearts while they live” (Eccl. 9:3).

What is the believer and the church to do when “madness” fills the heart and “contempt” inhabits the space between neighbors? We must do what God’s people have always done: trust Jesus Christ to enable us to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The shed blood of Jesus Christ applied to the sinner’s heart brings us near to God and near to others, creating peace.

When Jesus saved the chief persecutor the Church, Saul, he gave him peace with God, peace with his enemies, and enabled him to help others find peace through Christ. These included his jailer in Philippi and some of Emperor Nero’s own household in Rome. Though the Early Church lived under persecution which was often intense, peace with God brought the certainty of eternal life, and it enabled the Church to love its enemies, sometimes loving them into repentance and faith.

Our neighbors must see and experience peace from Northwest Baptists. Through our love for God, our love and respect for each other, and our love for people that embrace values and lifestyles totally opposed to biblical teaching, our neighbors will witness a “peace that surpasses understanding.” Recently I was speaking with an elderly man who called himself an agnostic. When he asked me what I did for a living, and I told him that I was a pastor, he said, “You won’t like me!” I said, “Now why wouldn’t I like you?” That led to a respectful conversation in which I think he saw that disagreement does not have to equal dislike, and Christians need not draw lines of friendship and respect that negate those who disagree with us.

As you read this annual report of the NWBC, I pray it represents faithfulness to Jesus and communicates the peace that is found in Him. The front-line work of disciple-making, baptizing and teaching believers to obey Christ is the work of each local church. But we believe that only by working together as a network of churches can we effectively carry out the Great Commission and Great Commandment of Jesus Christ. Starting churches among dozens of language groups, training servant leaders, sending missionaries, doing disaster relief and college ministry and developing evangelism tools and strategies, are best done as we collaborate.

Perhaps no work of NWBC churches in 2016 illustrates this better than our mission trip to serve 1,100 IMB missionaries and children serving in Asia. Thirty-two of our churches sent 163 persons to Thailand in order to serve our missionaries during a 10-day retreat in August. We provided all of the teaching and care for 450 children, provided tech support, medical professionals, and preaching and worship leading for the missionaries themselves. Eight of our churches sent one person, eight sent two, and sixteen sent three or more. Other churches sent their VBS offering to help pay for the trip. Still others prayed for those who went.

The man who leads all of these missionaries said that 500 missionaries completed an evaluation form, giving our team the highest marks in all aspects of our work. We have already been invited to return for their next big retreat. No convention or association of churches has ever done this, making the NWBC the first. I love it! And the reason I so love it is because we modelled our claim that we can do more together. And this isn’t the only way we ministered to our IMB missionaries this year. Many churches have sent teams to work alongside our missionaries where they serve. As they served missionaries over there, God blessed these same churches here.

I am grateful that as we gather for our annual meeting in Spokane, November 15-16, we celebrate a significant increase in baptisms (an increase of more than 15 percent, or 326 persons and 2,006 total baptisms), an increase in church attendance (our combined attendance is over 30,000 in our churches each week), and an increase in Cooperative Program (CP) mission giving (3.16 percent increase over the first nine months). Through the first nine months we have also seen 19 new church planting teams begin their work. These include a church for the Somi people in Portland (the pastor is from India), African people in Seattle (the pastor is from Zimbabwe), Mandarin Chinese in Federal Way, a college church in Eugene, and others in Spokane, Olympia, and Hamilton, WA, among other peoples and places.

This year we also trained more than 300 people, from about 70 churches, in how to share Christ through Story Witnessing, or Listening Evangelism, as it is sometimes called. Many of our churches also used the MY316 Evangelism Resources, which are available through the NWBC at no cost as your CP giving has paid for these resources (some of this material is available in Korean and Spanish).

As I consider where we are as a nation, and what we are trying to accomplish as Northwest Baptists, the truth that Jesus is our peace has warmed my heart and settled my soul many times over the past year. I look forward to developing this theme more fully in my oral report on Wednesday morning, Nov. 16. Who we are in Christ, and the spiritual work He has done in us, precedes what we do in His Kingdom. Those in whom the peace and joy of Christ are present will serve Him best “in times like these.”

It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

The Praying Pastor

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When the congregation gathers it doesn’t need nor does it expect “cool” and “hip” in the pulpit. What the congregation needs and wants (whether or not they articulate it) is a word addressed to God and a Word from God.

That thought came to me this morning as I was praying and thinking about our churches. I have written about this before, but I am really burdened by the need for more prayer in our church gatherings. The prayers offered are usually quite brief, lacking depth and breadth in terms of Kingdom matters. I realize that sounds judgmental, but please know that I am too often guilty of the same. Too often when I consider myself and my ministry there is more doing than praying, and, even worse, there is doing without praying.

I know the Bible well enough to know that God’s people experience utter disaster unless He shows up and takes action. I believe Paul expressed something similar about himself when he said “I am unspiritual” (NIV) or “I am carnal” (KJV) (Romans 7:14). What did an unspiritual Apostle Paul do? I think he sometimes acted without prayer or made decisions based on experience or human reasoning without seeking God’s mind on matters.

So what do I mean by the congregation needing to hear a word addressed to God? I mean that they need to hear God’s man speaking to God on their behalf, leading them to the Throne, confessing sin, asking for forgiveness, interceding for the lost and the persecuted and the missionaries and the leaders and the servants of God. God’s man pouring his heart out to God as the congregation listens and engages with their hearts. It’s not that others cannot and should not lead in prayer when the congregation gathers, but the pastor must do so. No one prepares and plans for the Sunday meeting like the one who occupies the pulpit.

Leonard Ravenhill tells the story of a special worship gathering involving many pastors. Each pastor was to do only one thing. One would pray, one would read the Scriptures, another would preach, and one would appeal for the offering. Charles Spurgeon was chosen as the one to preach, but as he heard explained how things were going to work, the famed preacher said, “If there is only one thing that I may do tonight, I want to offer the prayer” (Revival Praying, p. 80). Wise man.

We preachers must lead our people in prayer and teach prayer, and we teach prayer by praying with and for our people. We hear a great deal today about great preachers. We need to hear more about preachers who pray and who lead their people to pray for the great concerns of God’s Kingdom.

Without question, pastoring a church is more difficult today than at any time in recent memory. We have churches in the Northwest that are discussing whether to admit into membership, or employ in the church (yes, I’ve had one phone call about this), individuals involved with marijuana in some way. Our churches and church members are dealing with same-sex marriage and transgender issues. We are in the midst of a presidential election campaign with two deeply flawed candidates, and this too is causing discord among Christian leaders and in some churches.

All of that is to say that pastors need prayer, and need to pray, more than ever. If you’re a lay person, please pray for your pastor and be his friend. More than once the encouragement of a layman helped me to do the right thing when I was a pastor. Pastors, more than any other person, earnestly strive to speak the truth in love and dispense grace, while also being faithful to reprove, rebuke and correct us when we go astray. They need our prayers.

If you’re a pastor, do not delegate all of the public praying to others. If the pastor is to lead in only two things, it would be the teaching of the Word of God and prayer. No one is better positioned to know the needs of the church and community than the pastor. And no one cares more, or thinks more deeply about Kingdom matters with each approaching Sunday, than the pastor. As you study to prepare the Sunday sermon, think also about the matters you want to address in prayer that Sunday. Take notes, make a list of those matters with which you want to approach God while worshipping with your people.

One final question – who have you heard that really knows how to pray? I can think of a few, but too few. That bothers me less, however, than wondering if my name would come to anyone’s mind when asked that question.

Lord, have mercy, and teach me to pray.