Suggestions for Churches Concerning Refugees and Immigrants

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On Tuesday of this week the Los Angeles school district cancelled classes in all 900 of its schools because of a terroristic threat. This comes less than two weeks after 14 people were murdered during an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, CA in a terrorist act in which one of the perpetrators was a recent immigrant to our nation via a fiancé visa program. The Disney Resorts, and others too, are revamping their security procedures, which will include various methods of detecting weapons and bombs. These acts and actions followed significant political debate on whether the United States should accept Syrian refugees who have fled the murderous chaos in their country. The ongoing political debate regarding terrorism and immigration is exacerbated by the fact that we are in the midst of a presidential election.

I have noticed that issues such as these are often discussed in our churches, and sometimes they are addressed from the pulpit. Pastors and Bible teachers struggle with whether to address some of the hot issues of the day, and, if they do address them, they wrestle with how to speak to such matters. I do not claim to have all of the answers, but I’d like to offer some suggestions that I pray are helpful when addressing the various issues surrounding immigration, including the immigration of Syrian refugees and others from predominately Islamic nations.

First, the people who attend our churches and Bible classes do not attend to hear what the pastor or Bible teacher “thinks” about the issues of the day, they come to hear what God’s Word says about the issues. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t address the hot issues of the day from the pulpit. I believe that we must do so, and that failure to do so can make us less relevant. But we are not called to preach what we think or to express our opinion. We are called by God to preach and teach His Word.

So, regarding the topic of Syrian refugees, or immigration policy in general, I would suggest that we address the believer’s responsibility concerning newcomers to our community, and the churches responsibility to make disciples of all nations. Whether certain peoples should be allowed into our country, and how many should be allowed into our country, is a political issue that cannot be addressed with biblical specificity or authority (Should we admit 10,000? 100,000? 10,000,000? Zero? Do you have a Bible verse for this?). There are biblical principles regarding the role of the state and her leaders, but the specific application of the principles to the Syrian refugee crisis moves into the area of opinion and politics very quickly.

Furthermore, the local church and the individual believer have little to no effect on how the matter is resolved nationally. I may have an opinion, but what difference does my opinion really make (my vote will be partly based on my opinion, but my sermon won’t be)? That said, the local church and individual believer can have a huge impact on a particular immigrant family that moves into their community. On this the Bible is clear: we are to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and share the gospel with them. The political questions concerning immigration can be debated, but the responsibility of the church to the “stranger in our midst” is not something up for debate. We are to love them and share Jesus with them. In this way, we are not preaching what we “think,” we are declaring and doing what God’s Word says about the matter. Therefore, we should separate what we “think” about proper immigration policy from how we respond to the immigrant that moves next door.

Second, churches do not exist merely to grow their ministry. Churches are intended by God to bring the transforming message of Christ to their neighborhood, their city, and to the nations beyond. The migration and immigration of peoples often presents churches a unique opportunity to plant new churches in their city, churches that are better equipped to reach immigrant communities.

Last week I received a message from one of our newest churches that an immigrant family was arriving in our area. This family speaks Nepali. Of our 484 churches, we have three that worship in the Nepali language. All three are new churches. All three were formed to reach first generation immigrants from Nepal and Bhutan. And all three were started by our NWBC convention of churches to reach an immigrant people that an English language church couldn’t reach. One of our Nepalese language churches met this new family at the airport, and drawing upon the resources of other churches in our convention (the fruit of cooperation!), they are ministering the love of God to this family. Praise God!

Yesterday I went to my doctor for a minor medical procedure and the physician’s assistant who did the procedure told me that she was an immigrant from Vietnam. She said that she was one of the original “boat people” (the boat people were Vietnamese who fled when South Vietnam collapsed and the Communists took control in 1975). She was eight years old when her family fled. They spent a year in a refugee camp in Malaysia before a church in America sponsored them and brought them to America. She loves the Lord. She loves that church. And she loves America. Her story brought back memories for me, when, as an eighth grader, I taught English to two Vietnamese boys who were “boat people.” They were the only Vietnamese family that moved to Whitefish, MT. They were welcomed into our school and community. They worked hard, and they did well.

Third, invite an immigrant family into your home and get to know them. Only 25 percent of immigrants are ever invited into the home of an American. When they are, they feel greatly honored. This week, I connected a Chinese family in Beijing, China to an American friend who lives there. The Chinese family was neighbors of ours for about 9 months in Oklahoma City. We met them the day they arrived from China. We invited them to our home for dinner, and they invited us to theirs. We shared Christ with them, gave them a Bible, and loved on their little boy. They moved to Singapore and we moved to the Northwest. But we have kept touch via Facebook. He’s been reading the Bible. The family has taken a huge step toward Jesus. I don’t know if they are there yet, but when they decided to move to Beijing, they asked if I could connect them with a church there. And so I have. What a blessing! It began with dinner in our home.

There are serious political issues and questions that are being debated in our nation. I don’t have much control over what will happen nationally and politically. But I have a lot to say about the immigrant next door. What to do about them is a question easily answered. I am to love them, welcome them, pray for them, and share Jesus with them. On a day soon to come, there will be people from every nation worshipping our Lord. I hope our Chinese neighbors are in that number. I hope the family that arrived from Nepal last week is in that number. I hope your neighbors are in that number as well.

Update on IMB Missionaries Returning to the Northwest

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In September of this year, all IMB missionaries and staff age 50 and above, with a minimum of five years tenure, were offered a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) from the IMB. IMB leaders determined that our international mission force must be reduced by 600 to 800 in order to bring the IMB budget into balance.

Apparently, IMB leaders a number of years ago intentionally grew our mission force beyond what the income could support. The additional missionaries were sent and sustained by selling property overseas and drawing down the IMB reserve funds. But with reserve funds significantly lower, the time has come that the IMB must operate within its budget. Current IMB leadership determined that the first step in reducing our mission force would be to ask our most senior missionaries and staff to consider the VRI. The deadline to make their decision was in early November, but they were allowed to change their mind as late as early December.

While we don’t have the complete picture as to how this affects IMB missionaries from the Northwest (the IMB has not reported on this, as of Dec. 8, 2015), I want to tell you what we know. I do this so that you can pray for the men and women affected by the VRI, and also so that you might know who could be available to serve in our Northwest Baptist churches.

Those Northwest IMB missionaries who are accepting the VRI, and leaving their overseas assignment are: Andy and Kaye Martin, Susan Vessey, Al and Ann Rodriquez, and Ian and Sherri Buntain. There may be others, and probably are, but we don’t yet have information on any others. In addition to these, David and Nora Gass have accepted the VRI, after serving 13 years with the IMB, and David will join our NWBC staff on February 1, 2016 as a church health strategist, serving in Regions 1 and 2. David will also help lead our East Asia partnership. He served as the partnership strategist in East Asia for the IMB and has a relationship with hundreds of East Asia missionaries.

In addition to these, the couple that many of you know as “Leon and Kay” (pseudonyms), have accepted the VRI, but are choosing to remain in the country and city where they have served for many years. This summer they received a mission team from the Northwest, and though no longer officially IMB missionaries, they will continue to relate to IMB personnel, and they will continue to work with Northwest Baptist mission teams.

As we receive further information on IMB personnel from the Northwest, we will update you. Also, feel free to contact me if you receive information regarding one of our missionaries. If you would like to contact one of these that I have mentioned here, please contact Marsha Gray (marshag@nwbaptist.org) or myself and we will put you in touch with them.

There are dozens of IMB missionaries from the Northwest who will remain on their field of service. Those remaining need our earnest prayers. Many are losing their field leaders and mentors due to the VRI. In addition to praying for them, the NWBC is taking 200 volunteers to Pattaya, Thailand in August, 2016 to serve about 1,300 IMB missionaries and their children during a time of retreat. We will minister to their spiritual, physical and emotional needs in an unprecedented opportunity for our convention of churches (contact Sheila Allen for more information at Sheila@nwbaptist.org).

Also, thank you for your support of mission work by giving through the Cooperative Program. This is also the season in which many of our churches support the work of the IMB by giving through the Lottie Moon Offering. Last year our NWBC churches increased their missions giving through the Lottie Moon Offering by 25 percent, with total NWBC giving of slightly more than $500,000 in 2014. We anticipate another great year of giving to support the work of more than 4,000 IMB missionaries.

Ten Goals for Your Church in 2016

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A few years ago a pastor announced a dream, or goal, to his church that didn’t really sit well with the folks. His dream was for the church to build a worship center that would seat ten times their current average attendance. The church wasn’t growing, so his dream wasn’t connected to accommodating recent growth. It was more of a “if we build it, they will come” kind of dream.

As I thought about his dream, or goal, I realized that there were several reasons his dream never achieved “lift off” with his people. First, it wasn’t connected to anything that God seemed to be doing through the church. They weren’t reaching many lost people, baptisms were low, and transformational growth in people wasn’t really happening. Thus, his dream wasn’t connected to God’s work in the church, or at least it wasn’t apparent that it was. Second, his dream did not address the spiritual needs of the church. It didn’t address the need for more prayer, more evangelism, or more leaders. It also didn’t tap into the spiritual needs and hunger of the people. It didn’t tie the people into the mission of God in their families and neighborhoods, or the nations beyond. Third, and this might not be fair to that pastor (thus no names or locations), but I wondered, “Whose ego does it stoke to build a huge worship center?” It didn’t stoke the ego, or stir the imagination, of the people in the pew. They would be asked to pay for a building for which the need was not apparent. Now, if the church was growing and spiritual transformation was happening on a regular basis, if they were experiencing the excitement of new births through their ministry, they might have gotten excited about building facilities to accommodate a growing ministry. But absent that, it appeared that the pastor’s dream wasn’t transferred into the hearts of many others.

I thought about the above story in a recent discussion I was having with a young pastor. He and I were talking about setting goals for their church for 2016. In light of that, I would like to suggest 10 goals for you to consider in 2016. Set goals to:

1. Pray for lost people by name. Pray for as many people as you have on Sunday morning. If you average 40 on Sunday morning, develop a prayer list of at least 40 lost people. Make this a part of your church’s prayer strategy. The people you pray for will be friends and family members of your church.

2. As a part of your prayer ministry, and outreach ministry, set a goal to reach the children and grandchildren of the attenders of your church. Connect your outreach ministry, and all that you do, to reaching children and grandchildren. Teach parents and grandparents how to share their spiritual stories and testimony with their own children, and lead them to do it. The MY316 evangelism resources provided by the NWBC can help you teach your church to do this.

3. Reach the children in your neighborhood and community. The ruffian down the street might marry your daughter or granddaughter one day. Lead him to Jesus first! These kids will work with you or for you. They will become teachers and business leaders and political leaders. They will be your neighbors and your children’s neighbors. Reach them for Christ early in their lives and build a better community as a result.

4. Train 10 percent of your church (average Sunday attendance) to share the gospel, and lead them to actually go into the community and share Christ. Many churches stopped weekly evangelistic visitation without replacing it with some other method of taking the gospel into the community. Find some way to connect those you train with lost people, lead them to share the gospel, and then share witnessing stories with your church.

5. Train XX number of new Bible study leaders. Small group Bible study leaders reach people. The more leaders you have the more people you will reach, serve, and deploy in ministry.

6. Start XX number of new Bible study groups. Goals 5 and 6 replace a goal to increase your average attendance. Attendance goals are not helpful if they do not include goals to train leaders and start small groups. A church’s average weekly attendance is about 10 per small group. Churches that average 70 in Bible study attendance have 7 small groups, for example. If you want to average 100 people, you need at least 10 small groups.

7. Train your church, not neglecting the children, in the principles of biblical stewardship. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Christian people must develop generous hearts toward God and His work. We must be taught to live within our means and not rob from God in order to indulge a lifestyle we cannot afford. As a part of this, invite the Northwest Baptist Foundation to conduct a “will and trust” seminar at your church. Seventy percent of our church members do not have a will, which is dangerous. Also, many continue to invest in the Kingdom after they are in heaven by setting up a trust that will finance Kingdom causes until Jesus returns. There are many good charitable causes, but Christian people need to fund Christian work that will glorify God.

8. Send XX numbers of people on mission this year. The NWBC has a partnership in East Asia, including a trip to serve 1,300 missionaries and their children at a retreat in Thailand next summer (July 30-August 6 or 11). This is but one opportunity to send church members on mission. Email Sheila Allen at sheila@nwbaptist.org for more information on this mission opportunity.

9. Provide quarterly community service opportunities for your church. By this you will bless your community and grow your people. Service to others should be a “first step” for new Christians and young people because we grow when we help and serve others. Jesus deployed His disciples in ministry long before they were “ready.” He knew this was necessary for their spiritual growth. He then debriefed them so that they could learn from their experiences.

10. Challenge every church member to develop relationships with non-church people. You could challenge them to develop one new relationship, or two, but get them focused on looking outside their Christian circle for a new friend.

I am sure that you can come up with other goals, including some that are better than some of these. The main thing is to focus on goals that build people, connect people to others, and connect people to God. If we do these well, we will reach more people for Christ, and we might have to move to a larger facility, or start a new worship service, or even a new church. But attendance grows as people grow spiritually and look outside the church walls to other peoples, people who need Jesus.