Go West! … And Don’t Stop

Standard

Northwesterners are the children of pioneers, immigrants who seized opportunity and hungered for new experiences.  Those on the Oregon Trail said they were going to “see the elephant” as a way to express their excitement on the westward journey.  Stopped only by the Pacific Ocean, our pioneering forbearers carved life from a beautiful wilderness.

Northwest Baptists trace their roots back to those early pioneers.  But today we do not stop at the ocean shore.  Some 110 of us have crossed the ocean to live as pioneering IMB missionaries in the darkest places of our world.  Hundreds and thousands of others join these missionaries each year to spend a week or two, or much longer, serving beside them.

Recently I travelled to East Asia on a vision trip with five pastors from the NWBC.  Imagine visiting a remote city of 50,000 which is dominated by a huge Buddhist monastery and temple complex, served by 3,000 monks, without one Christian numbered among the 50,000.  Think also of seeing 15,000 Muslim men gathered at a mosque for Friday prayers, and this in a communistic country not known for a strong Islamic presence.  Think also of talking to people who have no idea who Jesus is, have never heard the gospel, and have no Scriptures or Christian witness.  These were just a few of our experiences in East Asia.

These five pastors and myself (Lance Caddel, Matthew Savage, Tim Walker, Dale Jenkins and Dustin Hall) returned from our vision trip believing that God would have the NWBC partner with our IMB workers in East Asia to reach the Unreached People Groups (UPGs) of that region.  Northwest Baptists know something about sharing the gospel with those who have never heard.  We understand pioneering work.  We have been invited by our East Asia leadership and personnel to continue the westward journey, all the way to the East, that we might serve alongside them.

Steve E., the IMB leader for all of our work among East Asia peoples, was in the Northwest last week, meeting with several groups, including the Executive Committee of the NWBC Executive Board.  Our Executive Committee voted to recommend to our Executive Board that we enter into a partnership with our IMB missionaries who are laboring among the UPGs of East Asia.  Steve E. was so taken with the people that he met in the Northwest, including some of our university students, that the IMB is giving us $25,000 to scholarship students that go on a partnership trip.  Imagine that!  Our missionaries are going to help us send our students.  In addition, we will have about 20 IMB missionaries in the Northwest this fall, from Oct. 9-19, for East Asia 1-day conferences (EA1Day) throughout our convention.  These conferences will serve to help you know how you can engage lostness in East Asia.  Engagement will include praying, giving, going and sending, so there is something for each NWBC member.  At our annual convention in Salem this November, I anticipate a time of celebration as we covenant with our East Asia IMB partners to join them in their pioneering work.

What will a “sending partnership” mean for the NWBC and our people?  First, it will provide us opportunities to engage in direct mission action with our field missionaries.  You will get to know these missionaries and their children.  You will bless them as you pray for them and serve with them.  And by giving, you will receive abundantly more.  We have outstanding personnel in East Asia.

Second, this will provide focus to our mission engagement.  We will receive numerous requests from our East Asia field staff, giving your church opportunity to focus on a particular city in which lostness is great, or a particular people group that has little to no gospel witness.  Over the next several years, your prayers, giving, sending and going to this one particular people will prayerfully result in some of the first believers among these peoples, and hopefully the first churches.

Third, Northwest Baptists from all parts will have the shared experience of partnering in East Asia.  Church members in Klamath Falls will swap stories with believers in La Grande and Spokane, St. Maries and Ellensburg, Eugene and Bellingham.  And we will discover that reaching people in East Asia will enable us to reach more in the Northwest.  Your church has young people, and not-so-young people, who are eager to do more and to make a difference.  Even now there are five young men praying about teaching Nomadic children in the area of the Buddhist city that I mentioned above.  They will teach English and Scripture.  And this invitation came from a Buddhist monk!

Fourth, you will see your Cooperative Program and other mission dollars at work, confronting darkness, and building the Kingdom.  One of the roles of the NWBC is to extend the kingdom impact of our churches throughout the Northwest and to the world beyond.  We do this through your Cooperative Program and mission offering giving.  But we can also do this by facilitating mission partnerships.

Our fathers’ westward journey was stopped by the Pacific Ocean.  Today we can travel west until we arrive in the East.  We live in exciting times.  Indeed, it is a good day to serve the Lord, and it’s a good day to serve Him in the Northwest!  

 

 

The Greatest Need of Northwest Baptist Churches

Standard

In my last article I said that the greatest need of Northwest Baptists was for more pastors. That said, the greatest need I see in our churches is for more prayer – bone deep, Christ-exalting, Spirit-led prayer to a holy God who hears the cries of a repentant and broken people. In our worship gatherings we need prayer that goes beyond our surface, spur of the moment thoughts. We must bring requests to the King of Kings with the confidence of a little child asking for bread at the table.

Will our God forgive our sin? Yes, but we must confess it to Him and ask for His forgiveness. Will our God hear our prayers for spiritual awakening and revival? Yes, but we must beg Him for it. Will He intercede on behalf of our missionaries and the persecuted believers in Syria and Iraq and a hundred other places? Yes He will! But we must pray for the persecuted. We must plead for the lost. Our worship houses must become houses of “prayer for the all the nations,” as Jesus said when He entered the temple (Mark 11:17).

Please forgive me if you think I am being too harsh. But I hear far too little of this kind of praying on Sunday morning. Our churches, our worship gatherings, must center on praying to a holy and grace-giving God who delights in the prayers of His people. Strategies are good. Friendliness is important. But every person who walks into our churches must find God’s people and God’s house saturated with soulful prayer. May it be so!

I have heard of preachers and Bible teachers who say that they don’t write their sermons word-for-word, but they do write their prayers. I’m not advocating manuscripting our prayers, though that might be a good thing. But I certainly do believe that we should do advanced planning about our prayers, especially our public prayers. The children in our churches, including the spiritual babes, learn how to pray by listening to others pray, including their pastors. Although God is our audience when we pray and we must never forget that. We must know that we teach others how to pray when they hear us pray.

I want to suggest some matters for prayer that I believe ought to be included every time God’s people gather. I will simply list some and elaborate on others.

First, acknowledgement of God’s greatness and goodness should be included in our public prayers.

Second, gratitude to our holy and loving God should permeate our prayer.

Third, confession of sin, and asking for forgiveness and cleansing needs to be a part of our Sunday worship praying.

Fourth, intercession for unbelievers, missionaries, and those persecuted for Christ’s sake, should be a included each Sunday. Our people need to be reminded of, and they need to pray for, the missionaries that we are sending and supporting. When possible, specific people and situations should be mentioned. And don’t forget to pray for the persecuted. This will help remind our people that Jesus is worth everything and there are people right now, in many places, who are proving this to us by the torture and imprisonment they are enduring. Praying for missionaries and for the persecuted helps us put our own struggles into perspective. It humbles us. And don’t forget, there are people in your town who are being persecuted by their own families because of their faith in Jesus Christ. The website http://www.persecution.org will help keep you abreast of the world’s persecuted Christians.

Fifth, pray for community leaders and community concerns. Our cities and towns must know that we are partners in building a great community. When we pray for them, pray for the schools and the businesses and the police officers and fire fighters, they will know and they will appreciate it. Most importantly, God hears these prayers!

May our church houses be houses of prayer for all peoples. We will never go wrong when we lead God’s people to turn from their/our wicked ways and seek His face.

Now, have a great Resurrection Sunday!

The Greatest Need of Northwest Baptists

Standard

I’ll get right to the point – the greatest need of Northwest Baptists is for more pastors. We need more God-called, Jesus-loving, Gospel-sharing, Bible-preaching pastors in the Northwest Baptist Convention of churches. If we are going to fill the 50-odd vacant pulpits that currently exist, we need 50 more preaching pastors. If we are going to start the hundreds, and thousands, of new churches that we need in the Northwest, we need hundreds and thousands of pastors to shepherd those churches.

The more churches we have, the more people we can disciple for Christ and deploy into ministry. Whoever has the most churches wins, meaning we will reach increasing numbers of people as we increase the number of churches. But we can’t grow the numbers of churches without pastors to plant and shepherd those churches. So calling out and training pastors is the key.
I want to suggest a few things that we can do to address this need for more pastors. First, every current pastor must seek to call out new pastors from his congregation. As pastors we often think our primary responsibilities are to preach the Word, care for the people, and make disciples of the lost. I would add one more key task to that list – we need to pray for God to call pastors from our churches, and we need to “keep our eyes open” for those whom God might use as pastors.

Second, churches and pastors need to provide opportunities for potential pastors to utilize the spiritual gifts of leadership, teaching and preaching that God has given to the would-be pastors in our churches. When we provide opportunities for potential pastors to lead a small group, do missions, make prospect and hospital visits, and preach from the pulpit, these opportunities will help confirm God’s call on their lives. God’s call on my life was kindled and confirmed as I taught my first Sunday school class and led our Baptist Student Union ministry. My pastor took me under his wing and gave me opportunities to preach. He reviewed my first few sermons with me. He brought me with him to a men’s retreat so that we could talk about ministry on the drive to the camp. These were greatly important experiences for a young man seeking to clearly hear from God about a call to pastoral ministry.

Third, the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) must place a high priority on helping our churches develop pastoral leaders. Some might think our top priority is the starting of new churches. But actually our top priority is finding and developing more church planters and pastors. We could start 75 new churches each year if we had God-called men to lead them. And the most important thing we can do for our established churches is provide growth opportunities and resources to their current pastor, and to assist churches when they are without a pastor to find a pastor who is a Bible-preaching, Southern Baptist cooperating pastor.

Some things the NWBC is doing to develop pastors are: provide substantial financial support to students of Golden Gate Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus in Vancouver, WA. The NWBC contributes more than $3,000 per student, each year, helping them to receive a world-class education. These dollars come from the Cooperative Program contributions of our churches. Second, pastor cluster groups are conducted across the convention each year, involving about 50 pastors at any one time. Currently, we are in the process of reshaping our ministry to pastorless churches, which will include training more transitional pastors. Other opportunities for pastors include the Oasis Retreat (May 19-21) and MY316 evangelism and new believer resources for churches.

Another pastoral development ministry that we are planning to greatly expand is Contextualized Leadership Development for pastors who are not planning on receiving traditional seminary training. As previously stated, we need more pastors, and we’ll never have enough if we only rely on seminary-trained leaders. Golden Gate Baptist Seminary graduates about 50 each year who want to be a preaching pastor. Those 50 come from the entire Golden Gate system, which includes campuses in Colorado, Arizona and California, as well as Washington. In the Northwest alone we could easily use 50 more pastors each year. That means we must find ways to provide practical, effective training to men that doesn’t require four years of college and three years of seminary.

The Northwest needs churches of all sizes and types, serving various cultures and language groups. We need bi-vocational and full-time pastors to lead these churches (we need more bi-vocational pastors than full-time). More pastors is our greatest need. And our best opportunity to get more pastors is for current pastors to place a high priority on calling out and providing opportunities to potential pastors in their congregations.

A Conversation with a Buddhist

Standard

Recently I had a conversation with a woman on her way to teach her brother’s Sunday school class. This would not be unusual except that she was planning to tell them that she is a practicing Buddhist and has been for forty years.

Her brother asked that she share the teachings of Buddhism and what her religion “does for her.” So I asked her, “What does Buddhism do for you?” And, “What do you find appealing about the teachings of Buddhism?” Her answers surprised me. After forty years as a practicing Buddhist, it was not the teaching that most attracted her. Rather, it was how she felt when she was in the presence of a “great Buddhist master.” She said, “Over these years I have met many of the great Buddhist teachers of the world, including the Dali Lama, and the peace I feel in their presence is what most attracts me to the religion.”

Her response to these questions reminded me of a general truth: before a person converts to our religion or belief system, they first convert to us. People do not consider our message until they decide whether they trust us, like us, and want to spend time with us. That’s really what this woman was expressing. She finds the Dali Lama attractive as a human being and that’s what most appeals to her. We can argue that it shouldn’t be this way, and that people should first consider the message and the truth claims of a religion. But the reality is that most people make a decision about the messenger before they decide on whether to believe the message. Even followers of Jesus do this. Before a person joins a Sunday school class, choir, or church family, they ask themselves, “Do I like these people? Do I want to spend time with them?” The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16), but when the gospel is shared by a neighbor who loves us, we hear the message more clearly.

Now, back to my Buddhist friend. I followed these questions up with another: “What hope does Buddhism give you for the future, after you die?” She said that she had no certainty about the future, but that the Buddhist teaching of Karma assured her that she would get what she deserves.

As a parenthesis, you should know that Karma is one of the most diabolical and wicked concepts ever hatched in the human brain. Karma teaches that the inequality of mankind has a just cause. For example, the wealthy and strong among us, including those with brilliant minds and fit bodies, have such because they were a good person in a prior life, before reincarnation into their present life. If, however, you are mentally dull, physically deformed, steeped in a life of misery, you are getting what you deserve because you were a bad person in a prior life. Karma does include consequences for actions in our present life, but the weight is placed on “prior lives.”

I did not challenge her belief in Karma, but I did share with her what the Bible says about salvation, including the message of the Gospel, and how this is very different from Karma. I then inquired as to her “feelings” about Jesus, including her knowledge and understanding of His teachings. She had a general understanding of Jesus and was quite positive about Him. So I quoted John 3:16 and asked her what she thought Jesus was saying. We discussed a couple more of Jesus’ teachings, and how they compared with her understanding of Buddhism. By the end of the conversation she agreed that what Jesus taught is incompatible with her beliefs. She couldn’t have Jesus and Buddha. She agreed that she needed to learn more about Jesus so I encouraged her to read John’s Gospel.

I tell you this story because it includes some elements that are important in sharing Christ. First, listen carefully. As you listen you will hear the discrepancies and contradictions in their beliefs. Rather than confront these beliefs directly, you can ask thought-provoking questions that will allow the truth to surface naturally. When this happens you can more easily build a bridge to the Gospel and share Christ in a way that is natural, winsome, and personal.

I did not see repentance and faith in my Buddhist acquaintance that day. But she was made to think about what her faith teaches, and how this compares to Jesus’ teaching. She came to see that she cannot have both Jesus and Buddha as supreme in her life. She even told me that she was going to rethink how to teach her brother’s Sunday school class!