Northwest Missions Impact

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God is working through Northwest Baptists. Consider these encouraging numbers. College campus ministries have increased from 13 to 17 in one year and two new college churches have been launched. The number of NWBC churches grew from 466 to 492 and baptisms increased to 2,039 from 2,006. Worship attendance grew by over 600 persons to an average of 30,190 weekly worshipers. Vacation Bible Schools (VBS) are strong this summer, led by 402 workers trained in NWBC training events. Nothing is more important than reaching children and 25 percent of all baptisms are related to VBS in our churches.

Other encouraging information includes 23 new churches launching, 12 of which are non-English. Forty-three of our churches worship in Korean and 30 more in Spanish. Russian, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Romanian, Bhutanese and Zomi are growing language groups in our churches. These join Japanese, Cantonese, Tagalog, Chin, and a dozen other languages spoken in our NWBC churches. Such diversity is evidence of cooperation and collaboration by our churches and partners, and the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In August, 27 young people and sponsors will do an NWBC mission trip in Cuba. Also, 20 pastors will participate in their first-ever East Asia mission trip this year, joining dozens of other pastors and churches serving there.

This growth is not happening by chance. God blesses the cooperation of our churches. We train together. We do missions together. We believe in each other and enjoy a high level of trust and respect.

In addition to the Cooperative Program mission giving of our churches, many support Northwest missions through the Northwest Impact Offering (formerly Sylvia Wilson offering). This offering is important to NW missions and I want to encourage you to participate.

This year the offering will fund five areas of work – church planting, collegiate ministry, VBS training, Disaster Relief, and the Oasis Pastor/Spouse retreat. Every dollar given through the NW Impact Offering helps reach people where we live. Only four percent of our Northwest neighbors attend church weekly. The great majority don’t know Jesus. Can you imagine the hopelessness of not knowing Jesus and believing that what you get in this world is all you’ll ever have!? That’s the condition in which most of our neighbors live. The good news is that the majority is open to learning about Jesus. Surveys conducted in Portland, OR suggest more than 90 percent are open to learning about Jesus!

Every NWBC church will receive information as to how they can participate in the NW Impact Offering by early August. Please inquire and participate in this vital offering. Also, you can contribute directly through our website, http://www.nwbaptist.org. Click on the “Give Now” tab to give to missions through NW Impact.

Ministry has never been easy. Churches are like sand castles. Sand castles are always eroding, crumbling each moment, but through persistent, hands-on attention a beautiful sand castle can be built and maintained. Together, this is what we are doing. Of course, the sand castle illustration is terribly incomplete because the church is not built by human hands, but by God’s hand. The church is Christ’s body, purchased by His blood, inhabited and enlivened by His Spirit. Crossing oceans and centuries and innumerable barriers, God has built His church. And He is doing so today, through you, through us, together, for His glory. It is a good day to serve our God in the Pacific Northwest!

Lou Holtz Can Teach Us Something about Church

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Lou Holtz knows how to build a successful football program. He knows a few things about successful organizations, period. After more than 50 years in the sports world, one striking observation he made is that only two organizations looked better on the inside than they appeared from the outside – the University of Notre Dame and Augusta Country Club. Every other entity he has been part of looked worse from the inside than it did from outside.

Churches and ministries could ponder Holtz’s observation and learn from it. Many churches struggle with building a successful evangelism and outreach ministry. Part of the problem is that inside reality doesn’t match outside appearance. Because churches depend on the insiders (attenders) to invite outsiders to come inside (unchurched people), it’s vital that the insiders believe they have something wonderful to offer.

A couple of stories will illustrate what I mean. While in seminary I served as an evangelism intern in a church. I spent five to ten hours each week teaching people how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and leading them to do it door-to-door. It was a formative experience for me. However, one sad fact in that experience is that I believed there was another church in town that was better than ours. Their pastor was a better preacher (our pastor said he didn’t spend much time in sermon preparation). They planned a more dynamic worship service and stronger mission engagement. I had no problem telling people about Jesus Christ and what He did for them, but it was more difficult to invite them to our church because I feared they would be disappointed when they came.

The second story concerns a church I served as pastor. A fellow minister from another denomination visited with me about joining our church. It was a big step for him and his young family. I will never forget what he said: “I want to attend a church where I can bring lost friends, confident that they will hear a well-prepared message from the Bible, be welcomed and treated well, and where we don’t have to fear something will happen that will make us want to crawl under the pew.”

I’ve thought of that statement made in 1993 many times since. If the church doesn’t look good from the inside, if members and attenders lack the confidence that guests can experience God’s presence, hear a well-prepared message from God’s Word, experience the heart-felt worship of God’s people, be led to God’s throne in meaningful prayer, and experience God’s love through His people, they will hesitate to bring their friends to church.
Our SBC family nationally has experienced a significant decline in evangelistic effectiveness. Fewer people are following Christ in believer’s baptism through our churches. Church membership and attendance has declined. Many are exploring the reasons for decline, most often lamenting that we are not sharing the gospel in our communities like we must. Others complain that we are not receiving the resources and leadership at the national level that our churches need because other strategies have been prioritized.

I believe both of these are true. That’s why in the Northwest Baptist Convention we provide MY316 evangelism resources free-of-charge to our churches (our churches paid for them through their Cooperative Program mission gifts). It’s why we conduct regional evangelism training events like Story Witnessing. Dozens of churches each year host “mystery guests” to help them evaluate Sunday morning worship gatherings. Pastor-clusters always have some emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. At this year’s annual NWBC meeting (November 7-8 in Eugene, OR) every attender will be given a book, Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out, and will have the opportunity to attend a training event led by author, Alvin Reid, to learn how to teach it in their churches. Missions and evangelism is why we exist as a convention of churches. Together we can equip our leaders and extend our missions impact far better than we could if we were alone.

These things being true, at the local church level, it would be good if we asked the question, “Does our church look better from the inside than it does from the outside? Can I confidently invite people to my church, believing they will experience God through our church?” If not, what changes can be made to have that confidence?

Churches with effective outreach and evangelism ministries have attenders who enthusiastically and confidently recommend their church to others. These churches provide opportunities for attenders to learn how to share the gospel, and they provide special events that give attenders easy ways to invite friends and neighbors to church.

If you need help diagnosing the condition of your church and finding a prescription that helps your church get healthy, we have staff trained and assigned to do that. Please call upon us. That’s our job, and more importantly, it’s our joy to assist our pastors and churches as together we strive to reach the Northwest with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Wept. Will We?

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Jesus issued commands and commissions. He also cried. The commands of Jesus instructed the church from its first days, but so too did His compassion. Jesus wept when He saw Lazarus dead (John 11:35). He was “moved with compassion” and healed those stricken by terrible diseases and malformations (Mark 1:41). He welcomed the weary and burdened (Matt. 11:28).

With all Jesus did as our sinless Savior, crucified and risen, and with all that He said that no other man could ever say, it’s the compassion of Jesus for the bruised and broken, the dirty and disfigured and damaged, that most revealed His heart. Powerful? Yes. Jesus is powerful in creation and salvation and in every other way. Wise? Jesus’ wisdom is perfect. But He also wept. He felt. He hurt. He suffered.

A few months ago, on a day when I learned some disturbing news, I woke up in the middle of the night with the words “Jesus wept” in my mind. Those words haven’t long left my thoughts since.

“Jesus wept” has challenged me personally. I fear I weep too little, and then too often for the wrong reasons.

“Jesus wept” has also spoken to me about the proper response when our ministry is weak and ineffective. The annual compilation of statistics for SBC churches was released this week. What they reveal is deeply sad. It prompted me to think, “Jesus wept. Will we?”

Before I get into the national SBC numbers, let me say I am most grateful that our Northwest churches have grown in ministry impact by almost every measure. For three consecutive years our churches have baptized more new disciples of Jesus Christ than the prior year, with 2,046 baptisms in 2016, up from 2,007 in 2015. Total worship attendance increased to 30,616 from 30,147. Total missions giving increased to $6,914,914 from $6,129,398, and Cooperative Program giving also showed a significant increase in 2016, though that is not a number included in the annual church profile report.
Probably the most important thing about the annual report is the trend line.

In the Northwest the trends are heading in the right direction, and for this I am grateful. Not that we’re beating our chests in triumphal victory. Far from it. Lostness is so great in our area that at times we wonder if we’ll ever make real progress. Half of our churches average 50 and below. It’s a struggle for many of our pastors and churches just to survive. Still, when we step back and look at the bigger picture, we are thankful to see our ministries inching forward. From the NWBC level, we feel that our focus on evangelism, missions (including church planting), and training leaders is serving our churches well. We exist to extend the missions impact of our churches and to help equip leaders in our churches. We are doing that. We believe in cooperative/collaborative work in the Northwest. This includes cooperating with our SBC partners. Our partnership with NAMB mostly involves church planting, but also some on evangelism. Our East Asia IMB partnership has proven to be a huge blessing to our missionaries and our NWBC churches. Our partnership with Gateway Seminary has had enormous impact on the Northwest as hundreds of our leaders have attended Gateway (formerly Golden Gate Seminary) and graduated from its programs with increased effectiveness.

Although my primary focus is the NWBC, as it should be, I am concerned for the SBC nationally. We are part of this important family. Consider these statistics from the 2016 annual church profile:

Baptisms – 280,773 people in 2016, down from 295,212 in 2015 for 4.89 percent decline. A decade ago we were baptizing over 350,000 people annually. We haven’t reached fewer than 300,000 since the 1940s, until the last two years. Again, the trend nationally has been downward for several years.

Worship attendance – 5.2 million weekly, which is a drop from about 5.55 million, for a 6.75 percent decline.

Church starts – 732 new church plants, down from 926 in 2015. I don’t remember when we’ve seen so few church plants. Until this decade we regularly reported over 1,200 new church plants each year.

Cooperative Program percentage – 5.16 percent of the church budget on average, down from 5.18 percent the year prior. In the Northwest the average is about 7 percent per church, for which we are most grateful. The trend toward lower CP missions giving has been going on for decades and is now less than half of what it once was.

Added to these statistics is the fact that our IMB mission force is 25 percent smaller than it was two years ago with 1,200 fewer field missionaries. Our international missions force has not only been greatly reduced in numbers, but many of those who left the field were seasoned leaders with language and cultural skills developed over ten or twenty years and more. This alone ought to make us weep.

Next week is the annual meeting of the SBC in Phoenix, AZ. While gathered we need to face the hard facts and not smooth things over with anecdotes and a few good stories. Is God at work in many of our churches and ministries? Certainly He is. But the job of leaders requires that we take the satellite view of things. We need to look at the major trend lines. We need to ask the questions, “Why? Why the decline? How did we get here? What do we need to change? How do we move forward?” I believe that we can identify reasons for our decline nationally and each denominational agency and trustee board, each convention of churches, every association and local church leader has a part to play in this. And after saying all that, my great hope is that we will drop to our knees and weep. That would be in keeping with the meeting’s theme – “Pray for such a time as this.”

The great genius of Southern Baptists is that our cooperation is voluntary. Voluntary cooperation through the Cooperative Program has enabled us to develop a system of associations, state conventions, educational institutions, and mission boards unparalleled in history. But for a voluntary system of support to thrive there must a high level of trust and respect for all partners. That’s too often missing in our work these days.

In a voluntary system, when significant problems arise, leaders are often hesitant to talk about them publically for fear that it will demotivate cooperative giving. Let me be clear, there is no other denomination or convention of churches that is doing more to reach the lost in the United States and around the world than Southern Baptists. If you know of one please tell me. We have every reason to support the SBC and to increase our support. No one sends more missionaries. No one starts more churches. No one disciples more people. No seminary system educates more preachers. But we should do better. We used to do better and we can again. If we fail our impact for Christ will grow less and less and less.

I’m going to stop there. I’m going to pray, maybe even shed a tear.

Looking Up and Out

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We live in the greatest time in all of history to advance the gospel. We live in a most difficult time in which to pastor and lead a church.

Opportunities abound for believers to share their faith, and the kingdom of God is advancing powerfully among many peoples the world over. At the same time, churches in America face new challenges daily. There’s not space to outline the challenges floating in the sea of opportunity, but many problems are placed in perspective by looking up and out – looking up to God in prayer and contemplation upon His Word, and looking out to the world that so desperately needs God’s grace and mercy.

Whenever God’s people gather they must look up to God in prayer for the lost and needy in their community. They should pray regularly for the persecuted and suffering church, and pray also for the missionaries and their children. Pray that God will forgive us and cleanse us and use us for His glory.

Humbly submitting ourselves to God in prayer when we gather is rarer than you might think. Consider, how much time does your church spend in prayer during your worship services? And for what do you pray? Reading the newspaper will help you know what to pray for in your area. Perhaps your church is connected to one or more missionary families. Do you pray for them regularly? Do you pray for their children? The smallest church can have a powerful, worldwide ministry through prayer. If your church gives to missions through the Cooperative Program, and every Baptist church should, you are supporting 3,600 international missionaries and about 2,000 missionary children. Our missionaries serve in virtually every nation on earth. Ten of our missionaries have given their lives for Christ in the past 15 years. They need our prayer and support, as do the 3,000 church planters in North America and 19,000 seminary students attending one of our six SBC seminaries.

A church that looks up to God in fervent, kingdom prayer, will have better perspective on the challenges they face. A church that prays for kingdom concerns will less likely focus on small and petty things. Likewise, a church that submits to the reading and exposition of God’s Word, with a heart to obey God, will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of contemporary life. Remember, Jesus didn’t say, “Teach them my Word,” but “teach them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20a).

Look up to God in prayer and submission to His Word, and look out to the world in ministry, witness, mission and love of neighbor. Paul told the church in Corinth they were “a letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3). Your church is a letter from Christ to our world. God’s life is in you. You are His ambassador. Feeble and small in number, but powerful as you look up to God and look out to a world in desperate need of Him.

It is a good day to serve the Lord.

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.

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.