Evangelism, Baptisms, and Politics (Crazy I Know!)

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Last week we completed our Story Witnessing Workshops. What a joy to see 260 people from 50 or more churches, including many pastors, trained to listen well and connect Bible stories with the lives of those who need a Savior. Every community needs more witnesses to Jesus and His love. People will listen to a Bible story that relates to their life. The Prodigal Son, Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, and the Good Samaritan have universal appeal. More than that, they are powerful. Like a lightning bolt, God’s Word penetrates the mind and heart as no other word can. And people love stories. You can use these Bible stories to share Jesus with others.

Something to rejoice over is that 236 more people followed Jesus in believer’s baptism in the past year than in the previous year in our NWBC churches. In 2015 our churches reported 1,915 baptisms, up from 1,679 in 2014 and 1,643 in 2013. We praise God for this. There is nothing more important than loving God, loving our neighbors and sharing Christ with them. We will not go far wrong if we do these things.

Many are discouraged and disgusted with this year’s election politics. Count me in that number. But if nothing else, political elections, though important, remind us that our greatest needs will never be met by government. Indeed, our citizenship in heaven is that which is most precious to us. And this too can strengthen our witness to our neighbors. Like us, they are likely dismayed by the 2016 election process. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrates that our personhood is eternal. Therefore, our relationships “in Christ” are eternal. I will know my loved ones in heaven. Heaven provides us with a forever family. I do not fear that when death strikes my loved one, I will never see them again.

The resurrection of Jesus means that all God’s people will be raised and we will keep our personhood. I will know my wife. I will know our sons. Death will not end our relationship. That is a precious part of the blessed hope. We do not find this hope in our earthly citizenship. We do not find it in our job or career or any other thing.

So when our neighbors are discouraged by life or politics or poor health, share with them the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Help them see that all who know and love Jesus will be raised from the dead to eternal life. Tell them that in heaven we will know each other, and that we don’t have to say “goodbye” when a Jesus follower leaves this life. This is our hope. This is our life. This was the hope of those who suffered under Nero and Hitler and ISIS, and this was the hope of those who prospered under Washington and Jefferson, or your favorite president.

One final thought – summer provides wonderful opportunities to share Christ. Vacation Bible School and Bible camps are among the best opportunities, but also remember that many relocate in the summer months. Keep your eyes open to new move-ins, the new kid on the ball team, and the new customer or coworker. New people are open to new friendships. Let’s be their friends for Jesus’ sake. It is a good day to serve the Lord!

New Year Opportunities and Challenges

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Thank you Northwest Baptists for your faithfulness to make disciples and do missions. Not only did our churches reach more people for Christ last year, and baptize more, your generosity to support missions through the Cooperative Program, the Sylvia Wilson Northwest Mission Offering, Annie Armstrong North American Offering, World Hunger and Disaster Relief offerings all showed significant increase in 2015. The Lottie Moon International Missions Offering was slightly down in 2015, but the Lottie Moon Offering we received on January 2, 2016 put us ahead of the previous year as well, which was a 25 percent increase from the year before that. In addition, 35 new churches were launched last year. We have grown from 34 funded church plants two years ago, to 68 by the end of 2015. The total number of NWBC churches now stands at 484, up from 466 the previous year.

The new year presents us with some great opportunities, as well as a challenge. First, in March we will have one-day Story Witnessing workshops throughout our convention. These will be followed up by a three-day workshop in September (dates and locations in the Witness and on our website at http://www.nwbaptist.org). In MY316 evangelism training, we teach you how to tell your salvation story, and how to use John 3:16 to share the Gospel. In Story Witnessing you learn how to listen, ask good questions, and then tell a Bible story that relates to what the person said. It is a powerful way to share the gospel.

Another opportunity is that of serving our IMB missionaries in a huge retreat in August. We need 200 volunteers to serve in Thailand, and we need many more praying for them and supporting them. We will have 1,300 missionaries, including children. They currently have 524 children, with 8 more in adoption process, and 14 missionary wives are with child. How fun! We get to serve these missionaries and their children. Please note, a $350 deposit is due by February 15, with the total cost being $700, plus airfare and some meals. Your church has much more info about this trip. You can also email Sheila Allen at Sheila@nwbaptist.org.

The challenge we face concerns church planting funding. Because of the rapid growth we have had in new churches, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) provided us with additional funding in 2015, corresponding with extra funding that we provided. Though NAMB encouraged us to keep growing the number of our new churches, with the expectation that we would receive additional funding in 2016, things changed when the International Mission Board announced that they would were downsizing by 800 missionaries for financial reasons. For many years the IMB has been spending from reserve funds, and selling property, to keep more missionaries on the field. They can no longer do this. Baptists across the country, and indeed the world, are grieved as hundreds of missionaries return from the field. NAMB has determined to help the IMB by giving them $4 million dollars in 2016. Largely because of this, we were told in late November that additional dollars beyond our basic funding agreement would not be available in 2016. If other state conventions underspend their budgets, we could receive additional funding, but we won’t know this until April.

It is important for you to know this because it affects the funding that our church planters receive. Please pray for our church planters. Please support them as you can. We are grateful for the support that we receive from NAMB and other partners, but this is a reminder that Southern Baptists are an interconnected system of 46,000 churches, associations, conventions, seminaries, and mission agencies. When one part of the system suffers, we all do. In the Northwest we receive a great deal of support from our SBC family, including NAMB and the IMB. Sometimes the decisions they make affect us adversely, but we are far, far better for being a part of the SBC family. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest.

Baptism – A Dangerous Opportunity

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Andrew White is pastor of St. George’s Church in Baghdad, Iraq. The church has been under siege for over a decade. Church members are killed frequently, 93 in one year alone. The threat is particularly great for those who convert to Christianity from Islam and are baptized. In one year White baptized 13 adults, each secretly, 11 of whom were dead within a week. He always warns them of the danger of baptism, but they want to follow Jesus and eagerly share their newfound joy. White says, “Christians in Iraq always practice their faith.… Our people refuse to deny the practice of their faith” (Faith Under Fire).

Baptism is a very big deal. It marks the beginning of the public life of a Christian. It is the act by which we affirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ and identify with His people. Clearly, the world sees baptism as a defining event, an act that threatens family and community cohesion. Baptism is viewed as dangerous.

It might surprise you that many unbelievers in the Northwest regard baptism as a “big deal.” One Northwest pastor said that 95 percent of the people who come to him needing Jesus address the issue by saying, “I want to talk about being baptized.” They do so because water baptism is the defining act whereby a person commits publically to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Is baptism a big deal for you and your church? I want to suggest several things you can do to make baptism the celebration and evangelistic opportunity that it should be for your church.

First, meet with every baptismal candidate and help them make a list of people they want to invite to their baptism. Obviously you want to explain to them the meaning of their baptism, but don’t neglect to help them identify the people they know who need Jesus.

Second, provide them with “baptism invitation cards” that they can send to friends and family (the church could even mail the cards for them). Your church can order invitation cards from the NWBC at no charge. Your Cooperative Program (CP) contributions have already purchased your invitation cards.

Third, share the gospel in each baptism service and share the testimonies of each person baptized. You might want to videotape the testimonies in advance. But allowing the church and guests to hear the gospel personalized through testimony is powerful.

Fourth, the worship service should celebrate Jesus and what He has done for us. Choose gospel music appropriate to such a service. And remember, unchurched guests do not know our new songs. This is a good time to dust-off some classic gospel hymns with which they might be better acquainted.

Fifth, pray personally for each baptism candidate by name. They will remember this day for the rest of their lives, as will their families. The service should be very personal and gospel centered.

Sixth, present each candidate with a baptism certificate and with a quality Bible. You can order baptism certificates through the NWBC without charge as your CP giving has already purchased these. You can also order new believers books for each person, also purchased through your CP.

A baptism service can be a great evangelistic opportunity for your church. It should be a celebration start to finish. But also remember that baptism is serious. It is dangerous. It is an act pregnant with deep and profound meaning, something for which we would give our very lives. Many have and are giving their lives for Jesus. Pray for the persecuted. Rescue the perishing. Jesus is merciful. Jesus will save.