The Crisis of Decline in the SBC – Why?

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New issues and crises seem to arise weekly in the SBC. Southern Baptist leaders need to respond to current issues and crises, but the mission strategy of the SBC must be shaped by future-focused thinking. What we do today will determine who we will be in 2040. If trends continue the SBC of 2040 will be a fraction of what it is today.

The following charts show that the SBC is in crisis. The Cooperative Program has declined almost $80 million from its peak, despite strong growth in the U.S. economy (see Figure 1). Baptisms have declined to levels not seen since 1938 (see Figure 2). Perhaps most surprising is what has happened in church planting. Though NAMB has increased its church planting budget from $23 million to $75 million, total church plants have declined to less than half the number of a decade ago, and NAMB’s cost per church plant has exploded (see Figures 3, 4 and 5).

The critical question is not, “Is the SBC declining?” Decline is irrefutable. The critical question is “Why?” The answer to this question seems clear when you consider the strategic change made at the SBC Annual Meeting in 2010. Concerned about a more modest decline in baptisms, Southern Baptists formed the Great Commission Task Force, whose recommendations were adopted at the Annual Meeting of the SBC in 2010. Those recommendations were largely implemented by one agency of the SBC – the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

Under the leadership of Kevin Ezell, who was elected President of NAMB in September 2010, NAMB began a process of withdrawing from partnerships with State Conventions and adopted a more unilateral, top-down, nationalistic approach to missions, especially in church planting. NAMB slashed evangelism funding by about 65 percent, shed nearly all evangelism personnel, and eliminated funding for evangelism personnel in associations, state conventions, college campuses, and other places. At the same time, NAMB more than tripled the church planting budget, an increase of over $50 million annually, while nearly eliminating partnership with State Conventions in the starting of churches. This severe reduction of partnership has been devastating as new church starts have plummeted to less than half the number of a decade ago. NAMB’s approach changed from that of partnering with state conventions, and funding through state conventions, who then partner with local associations and churches, to setting up its own, autonomous church planting system in non-south state conventions, and greatly reducing work in the south.

When the current NAMB president began, he requested that he not be evaluated as to NAMB’s effectiveness for 10 years. He believed there would be a resurgence in church planting and evangelistic effectiveness. Alas, the opposite has happened. Initially the NAMB President said NAMB would lead in starting 1,500 churches each year. Then he decreased the goal to 1,200 church plants each year. In February 2020 he announced that the goal was further reduced to 750 church plants each year. In 2019 we recorded the lowest number of new church starts in our lifetimes – 552. The lowest years of the last half century in new church starts are the last four years, and this despite spending three times the money.

One might think that individual church planters are receiving three times as much money, but that is not the case. The church planting budget is funding the purchase of houses for use by a select few church planters (and others). There are also many pastors receiving funding as NAMB ambassadors, mobilizers, coaches, spousal support, etc. An independent forensic financial audit could help identify NAMB property holdings, paid consultants and contractors, and recipients of special grants, among other things. NAMB has reduced spending through state conventions by $50 million each year, maybe more than that (this is a rough estimate). How is this money being spent? The way dollars are allocated for missions in North America has undergone an enormous change in the last decade. With the accompanying decline in mission effectiveness, this bears scrutiny.

These charts reflect the fruit of diminished partnership and little trust between NAMB leadership and many state conventions. I believe this is the primary reason we have experienced steep decline. Southern Baptists were built on cooperation and partnership to advance the Great Commission. Concerning our work in North America, little partnership remains. One retired state convention executive director from a south state said, “Partnership is dead in the SBC,” referring to what NAMB has done. Much more could be said about this, and numerous examples could be given, to support the premise that lack of trust and partnership are the primary reasons for decline in the SBC.

The SBC took the wrong road in 2010 with the GCR and the new NAMB. It’s been said that you can’t turn back the clock, but that is the wrong metaphor for the SBC. We have taken the wrong road, so we must turn back and take the right road. The right road is local autonomy of cooperative missions. The right road is a bottom-up missiology, not a top-down mission strategy imposed by a handful of elite national leaders. Attempts to control cooperative work in North America, and dictate from NAMB headquarters, have failed. We must return to the cooperative mission strategy that made Southern Baptists a great missionary people.

Randy Adams, Ph.D.
Executive Director-Treasurer

God is Working, Doing More Than We Know

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Last Friday night in the city of Portland, OR rioters burned a stack of Bibles. Protests and rioting have continued nightly in Portland for over two months. Seattle, WA has seen similar happenings, including the short-lived “CHOP,” a pretend “nation” of sorts, but it was no joke as lives were violently taken amidst the rebellion.

Churches in these areas are striving and struggling as they seek to share Jesus Christ and pray for the peace of their cities. Covid-19 has made everything we do much more difficult, but pastors and churches remain faithful. Although I have sensed a “settled sadness” in many, if not most, there is also a confidence that God is at work.

Many years ago as I was reading the story of Jericho’s walls tumbling down, a truth jump out that I hadn’t considered before. As Israel marched around Jericho day after day, God was at work, and he was doing more than they knew. God’s battle plan for Jericho was unlike any before or since. Yet the people obeyed Him, marching every day, then on the seventh day adding trumpets and a shout to the march. The truth that leaped from the text for me that day was that the decision of the people to obey God, and march around the city, built their faith and their confidence in God. God’s battle plan for Jericho had never been used before, and it couldn’t have made much sense to a military commander, but their obedience developed their faith as they witnessed God do a mighty work.

I must confess, when I see much of what is happening in the Northwest, and across the nation, I can settle into sadness. But then I read God’s Word, as I do daily, and I’m reminded that God is always at work, and He’s always doing more than we know. I see God at work in some of my neighbors as they seek ways to teach their children and build their families. I’ve seen tears in the eyes of church attenders as they sing together, and I’ve seen their tears through my own. I’ve seen people lose hope in a dream built by human hands, and find hope in a Savior who overcame a troubled world. One of our NWBC churches is starting a school while many public schools have announced they will not allow classes to meet. This church sees a need, and an opportunity, provided by the leftward lurch in public schools, and the Covid-19 shutdown. As the pastor, who’s older than me, spoke of his vision and dream for this new school, I was awed and humbled by his faith and confidence in God. Far from sadness, I heard giddiness in his voice as he spoke about the dream God had given him, and how that dream is quickly forming into a workable plan. If we ever thought “certain circumstances” were necessary for joy and peace, we’ve been reminded that they are not.

It still makes me sad when I learn that people down the road and across town are blaspheming the God I love. It bothers me greatly that many in the “ruling class” now consider biblical Christianity as hateful. But then I read the words of a man imprisoned for Christ say to the church in his day that they shined “like stars” in a “crooked and perverted generation” (Phil. 2:15).

People who know and obey God, living in grace and truth, are different from the peoples of the world. This has always been true. The greatest temptation we face is failure to live by faith, and then to act with courage, fueled by faith. We can do this because, by faith, we know that God is doing more than we know. We see Him at work, if only we have eyes to see. Some things God is doing are clear, but He’s even doing more, and that knowledge gives me hope in a troubled world.

It’s Not All Bad News – Good News from the Northwest!

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We’re half way through 2020 and this year can’t end too quickly. That’s a common sentiment in this bad news year. But it’s not all bad news. Good things are happening. Young couples are beginning wedded life together, about 6,300 every day in the U.S. and 2.3 million annually. During these stay at home days my wife found the love letters we wrote to each other in the months leading up to our marriage almost 40 years ago. I’ve been reading them in the evenings, reliving the dreams we had and the love we expressed so deeply. In this troubled year other young lovers are beginning life together with the same love and dreams we had.

And babies are being born, 10,388 each day in the U.S. (3.8 million annually) and 386,000 each day in the world (141 million annually). Babies bring joy today and hope for tomorrow. We do not know their future. Will 2020 yield children who live courageously and serve God faithfully? Will this batch of babies triumph in tribulation and wear the white robes of the martyrs? We don’t know, but we know that every day parents welcome children with the hope and joy parents have always had. That’s good news.

There’s good news from our Northwest Baptist Convention churches too. People in the Northwest have been led to Christ over Zoom calls. New believers are being baptized. A pastor just told me that on their first Sunday gathering for worship following the Covid-19 shutdown, a 67 year-old woman professed faith in Christ and will be baptized. There were 25 gathered on that Sunday, and God was at work! He’s always at work. Our God is always doing more than we know, never less. That’s good news! The Word is being preached and taught. New ways of loving our neighbors are being discovered. God is hearing and answering our prayers.

Incredibly, when we announced that 50 East Asia missionary units needed temporary housing because of Covid-19, about 70 churches and individuals responded with housing offers. This was huge. The only disappointment is that most will not host a missionary because many are going to stay with their family. But the offer to provide housing revealed the huge hearts of our people. All 50 missionary families are provided for. Please pray for them. They had to leave their East Asia home and most will not be allowed back into the country. They will be in temporary housing for several months before finding a new place to serve.

And here’s another good news story. With remarkable generosity during these Covid-19 months, when we could not gather for worship, our people brought God’s tithes and offerings to their churches. The best explanation we have for this is that many of our church members are biblical stewards, not religious consumers. They love God and their church. Pastors and churches have also responded during these difficult days by offering support to churches that are hurting. Several churches have contributed to the NWBC pastoral assistance fund to meet the needs of pastors whose churches are struggling, and several have been helped. That’s the fruit of cooperation with the NWBC.

As evidence that our churches collectively are doing well, missions giving through the Cooperative Program from January–June remains over budget, and even over what was given during the same period in 2019. It’s pretty amazing! This has enabled us to continue supporting missionaries, church plants, and other mission efforts. Although we’ve received significant funding reductions from NAMB and Lifeway, our churches remain strong.

Like you, I want to get past Covid and wearing masks, and I want to shake hands and hug people again. But until that day comes, I’m grateful God is working, doing more than we know. It remains a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest.



Saving the SBC Ship – Part 3

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In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I’ve demonstrated that the SBC ship has taken on a great deal of water and is riding low in the sea. Every metric used to chart Great Commission effectiveness has trended sharply downward, especially since the Great Commission Resurgence recommendations were adopted at the SBC in Orlando in 2010. My sources for data are the SBC Annuals which can be accessed online through SBC.net. You can access Parts 1 and 2 of “Saving the SBC Ship” through the following links, which I highly recommend if you’ve not yet read them.

https://randyadams.org/2020/03/03/saving-the-sbc-ship-part-1/
https://randyadams.org/2020/03/05/saving-the-sbc-ship-part-2/

Since publishing those articles I’ve received pushback from leaders at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). More than pushback, and in spite of our growth in baptisms, churches, and CP giving from the churches in the Northwest, and even growth in Annie and Lottie giving, they informed me and our leadership at the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) on March 9 that they will end our joint-funding agreement for evangelism and church planting, and will stop virtually all funding through the NWBC as of September 30, 2021 (we will be able to “request” funds for certain evangelistic and church planting projects). Furthermore, they intend to place NAMB staff to work in the Northwest with no accountability to the NWBC. This has been done in other states as well. This will be interesting, to say the least, because we in the Northwest will not “walk away” from our mission field, the place where we live, and hand church planting in the Northwest to NAMB. We will have church planting staff that is fully funded by the NWBC. We hope that NAMB will reconsider “competing” with us in our own mission field by placing staff here. We value true partnership. But money withheld or given cannot and will not purchase my silence as it concerns the serious issues of decline facing the SBC.
Interestingly, NAMB has not refuted the data that comes from our official SBC Annuals. Nor have they offered a different interpretation of the data, other than to say that church plant reports prior to 2010 cannot be trusted because they are “fake numbers,” a term used from the platform of the SBC Annual Meeting.

Against the “fake numbers” argument, I offer three points. First, current church plant reports are the lowest we’ve seen in at least four decades. Were all prior NAMB leaders, and Home Mission Board leaders prior to the creation of NAMB, “cooking the books” with fake numbers? Is that scenario more likely than the fact that we have seen a steep decline in recent years?

Secondly, our most recent church plant numbers are about 400 below the number of church starts that were reported six and seven years ago when we were under the same leadership at NAMB. They are asserting that we are planting “higher quality” churches that will prove to be more durable. This has not been proven, merely asserted, and even if true it ignores the fundamental issue that we are starting far fewer churches and spending an extra $50 million dollars to do it!

Thirdly, the net increase in Baptist churches from 2000 to 2010 was 4,139 (2001 and 2011 SBC Annuals), and between 2011 and 2018 the net increase was 1,729. The net increase in Baptist churches has dropped significantly, demonstrating that we were adding more new churches in the first decade of the 21st Century. In 2018 we actually suffered a net decrease of 88 churches, and all indications are that we suffered a decrease in 2019 as well. This has so alarmed SBC leaders that we now have an effort to recruit non-SBC churches to affiliate with the SBC, with a goal of 400 affiliations each year, and we will begin counting new church campuses as churches (http://www.bpnews.net/54364/first-person-vision-2025-a-call-to-reach-every-person-for-jesus-christ). You will also note the “new” church planting goal is to start 750 churches each year. In 2010 that goal was 1,500. When that goal seemed out-of-reach the goal was dropped to 1,200 a few years later. Now the goal is down to 750 new church plants each year.

My suggestion to NAMB leadership was, and is, that if they believe the data I use is incorrect, or my interpretation of the data is wrong, they should make that argument. But it needs to be a fact-based argument, not one based on assertions that we should trust them and not trust those who came before them. Moreover, we have still not received an explanation as to why the church planting budget has increased from $23 million to $75 million in less than a decade, while we are planting far fewer churches and baptizing 100,000 fewer people, have slashed NAMB evangelism funding by about 65 percent, and total assets have increased by tens of millions of dollars in cash and property.

So then, how do we save the SBC ship? First, we must know the truth and we must not fear the truth. Knowing the truth requires transparency and accountability regarding finances and strategic decisions. Knowing the truth means knowing all the truth, the good, bad and ugly. Knowing the truth means we need to ask and answer hard questions. I have been told by some that exposing the truth will demotivate Southern Baptists mission giving. I strongly disagree. Truth, even hard truth, moves and motivates people to do more than they ever thought they could. However, I also believe that concealing the truth, burying the truth, ignoring the truth, and retaliating against those who ask hard questions and expose the truth will demotivate Southern Baptists like nothing we’ve ever seen. I believe we are in a struggle for the heart and soul of the SBC, and a part of this struggle is surfacing truth.

Second, we must rebuild trust. Trust requires truth, honesty and transparency. Trust requires mutual respect and valuing all cooperative mission partners. Weaponizing the mission dollars given by Southern Baptist by punishing and starving local associational and state mission partners who advance cooperative missions and the Cooperative Program is no way to build trust, nor is it a way to honor God. When I moved from being a local church pastor to a denominational leader, I soon learned that establishing trust and respect amongst a convention of pastors and churches was much different than doing so in my church. Pastors lead people whom they look in the eye every week, speaking God’s Word into their hearts, calling them by name when they see them on the street, and praying with them before surgery. In denominational leadership trust is mostly earned in ways that are less personal. Trust is earned through transparency, integrity, forthrightness, and competence, among other things. We have a crisis of trust in SBC life and we must restore it if we are to save the ship.

Third, we need to return to New Testament missiology, which is organic, grassroots and bottom-up, with strategic decisions made by those closest to the mission field. The Apostle Paul was commissioned and sent by the church in Antioch, but they did not micromanage him. They unleashed him and released him as he was led by the Holy Spirit to evangelize the lost and gather them into churches. Antioch prayed for Paul and supported Paul, but they did not seek to control Paul and dictate his work. Everywhere in the world where the church is growing, from China to Africa to the United States of America up until the past couple of decades, the growth of the church has been organic. Top-down control from national headquarters has never worked and it never will. This doesn’t mean that some great things aren’t happening. Of course they are! God is at work. He always is! But when you look to the broad scope of the SBC, the picture is not pretty. We must restore biblical missiology to our mission strategy.

We need to return to the time when Southern Baptists believed that every church matters, not just churches deemed “significant” based on size of attendance or budget. If a local church is the Body of Christ, purchased with the blood of Christ, that church matters, and that pastor matters, and the widow with her mite matters, and maybe she matters more. We need to return to cooperation, not competition; partnership, not power plays; and respect for all, not a “respecter of persons.”

I believe our future is bright if we do these things. If we rebuild our convention on a foundation of truth, and rebuild trust, God can bless us in great measure. But we cannot presume growing our Great Commission advance if we continue down our present path. Tragically, ships do sink, even big ones.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

Great Commission Advance through the Northwest Baptist Convention

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Yesterday I released a series of messages on social media that contain factual information detailing the decline of Southern Baptist’s Great Commission impact. You can check my Facebook or Twitter to see those messages. I will release a future article that will go into greater detail.

Today I want to briefly share what the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) is doing to help our churches advance the Great Commission. You see, I believe in a cooperative, systematic approach to evangelism and advancing the Great Commission. While it is the local church that does the biblical work of sharing the gospel, preaching the Word, raising up the missionaries, teaching tithing and stewardship principles, the local Baptist Association and State and National Conventions have played an important role in developing a cooperative system of training and sending and developing resources, among other things.

First, when I arrived in the Northwest in 2013 I promised our churches that the NWBC would provide evangelism resources to every affiliated church, without charge, so that every church, from the smallest to the largest, could equip their people to share the gospel and deploy them to actually do it. The reason we can provide the resources at no cost is because our churches have already paid for them through the Cooperative Program and our NWBC Mission Offering. When I was in Oklahoma I led Oklahoma Baptists to do the same, with my team developing the My316 evangelism materials. We have continued to use these materials in the Northwest, and other state conventions have used them too. However, the NWBC also provides other evangelism tools. In fact, we will pay the bill for any biblical evangelism training resource that a church chooses to use.

Second, we provide evangelism workshops and training every year. Our Annual Meeting always includes workshops on evangelism, and we sometimes do them at other times too. Our Pastor Cluster groups make evangelism a key part of their monthly meetings.

Third, the NWBC established an IMB partnership with East Asia that launched in 2015. In addition to dozens of churches sending teams to work with missionaries, volunteers from the Northwest have staffed several major IMB retreats. These have been coordinated by our NWBC staff. For example, in 2016 we sent 163 people from 32 NWBC churches to minister to our missionaries and their children in a huge training conference. In 2019 we sent 113 people from 23 churches to do the same. We have also staffed smaller IMB East Asia retreats, sending up to 50 people from multiple churches. We do this because we believe in Acts 1:8 missions. Our churches could not do these big retreats and partnerships without leadership from both the NWBC and IMB. That’s part of the “mission system” Southern Baptists have established. Additionally, I have personally preached in 9 IMB retreats and conferences, going back to 1993 in Pakistan. Every church and convention I have served in has been heavily involved in missions, both locally and globally. The result of which has been increased support of missions, both in financial giving and in sending missionaries to the field. Three Northwesterners were commissioned by the IMB just last November.

Fourth, the NWBC has a strong and growing commitment to church planting, in partnership with NAMB. I believe in partnership and cooperation and it grieves me deeply that we do not cooperate like we once did. The NWBC is the only State Convention that remains in a jointly-funded partnership with NAMB. We do this because we believe in what NAMB and the NWBC can do together. Churches young and old need local partners, the Southern Baptist system, which historically was highly relational and local, with national partners primarily supporting the local denominational partners. I believe in that system. I believe in local partnerships strategy and methods that are driven and developed as locally as possible. In my experience, locally driven strategies better mobilize local churches than top-down strategies.

This is a fairly brief summary, but I hope it gives you some idea of our commitment to actually do things that help our churches advance the Great Commission. Is it working? Yes. Not like we want it to work. I always want more and am never quite satisfied with what we are achieving. But since I came to the NWBC in 2013 baptisms have increased, mission giving has increased (Cooperative Program and the mission offerings), church plant numbers have increased, and the net number of churches has increased by more than ten percent (60 more churches at last count). As always, I am happy to address questions and provide clarification or additional information. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

The Peace of Jesus or the Peaceful Bigotry of Social Theories

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I once heard an Irish poet say that the peace agreement that ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s did not cause enemies to love each other. It did not produce peace in people’s hearts. Rather, he said they had achieved a “peaceful bigotry,” meaning they still hated each other, but they had stopped killing each other. I would argue that “peaceful bigotry” is the best the world can do. We speak of peace in the Middle East. Peace in Afghanistan. Or even peace between political opponents in the Federal Government of the United States. But what the world calls peace is merely a cessation of violence, peaceful bigotry, not peace in people’s hearts.

The Bible tells us peace is found in the person of Jesus Christ. “He Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). True peace in the human heart, and peace between enemies, can only be achieved as people meet at the foot of Christ’s cross, reconciling with God and then with each other.

This came to mind as I read that some Southern Baptists are embracing aspects of Critical Race Theory (CRT), and other social and political theories, that promise answers to the ongoing problems of racism and racial division. At best, the application of such theories can only produce a “peaceful bigotry.” Peace will not be achieved by embracing theories. Peace is only achieved through Jesus Christ.

To look at this another way, the Bible defines and describes justice and it does so without adjectival modifiers. The Bible doesn’t use the term “social justice,” but simply justice. When you add a modifier to the word “justice” you get something less than true, biblical justice. “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully” (Prov. 28:5).

The message of the church is unique. The uniqueness of our message is the person of Jesus Christ. He is our peace. He is just. He enables us to understand what justice is. And on that coming Day, He will produce perfect peace and justice. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31f).

We must not settle for peaceful bigotry. We must not commit to social theories that enable the continuation of hate, bigotry, and division, and deny the gospel as the only power to change hearts, thus producing true peace. The Church only has one message – Jesus. He is our peace.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

A Heart for Pomeroy

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Recently I preached at FBC, Orofino, ID, population, 3,142. Orofino is a beautiful town on the Clearwater River, a few miles upriver from where the “Lewis and Clark Expedition” camped and made the five canoes in which they travelled all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Church members are currently seeking God’s man to serve as their pastor.

While in Orofino, a person made an offhand comment about a former Director of Missions having “a heart for Pomeroy.” Apparently he wanted to get a church started in the little town of Pomeroy, but it never happened. Pomeroy is in Washington State, 75 miles west of Orofino, with a population of 1,388. It is the only town in Garfield County. An internet search shows seven churches in Pomeroy, none of which are affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention.

But it was the phrase, “a heart for Pomeroy” that struck me. The phrase captured my attention because I have driven through Pomeroy many times “on my way” to another place, but I’ve never stopped in Pomeroy. It’s an attractive little town, but as many times as I’ve driven through it, I have not stopped, nor have I developed “a heart for Pomeroy.” I have thought about the fact that we have no church there. I have wondered if the churches that are there provide a faithful gospel witness in that town, but I’ve thought the same about dozens of other towns I drive through on my way to someplace else. It’s impossible to truly have a “heart” for dozens, or hundreds, of specific communities spread across thousands of miles of roads in the Northwest.

No, I don’t have a “heart for Pomeroy,” certainly not like that Director of Missions had many years ago. What’s more, I don’t personally know a person who has a “heart for Pomeroy,” at least none of which I’m aware.

That causes me to ask two questions. First, “Is there a person who has a heart for Pomeroy?” Second, “Is it important that someone has a heart for Pomeroy?” The answer to the first question is, I don’t know if there is a missionary/pastor/lover-of-Jesus who has a heart for Pomeroy, but if there is it’s probably someone who lives there, or near there, and who feels a deep sense of responsibility to reach that town for Christ. If there is one living person who has a heart for Pomeroy, it’s someone who knows that little town, or has someone they love living there, and they don’t want the one they love to be left without a faithful gospel witness. If there is a person alive with a heart for Pomeroy, it’s a person who has prayed for Pomeroy, and as they prayed names and faces came to mind.

Now for the second question, “Is it important that some living person has a heart for Pomeroy?” I believe the answer is yes. And if the answer is yes, who will that person be? Most likely it will be someone who feels responsible for Pomeroy, spiritually responsible, like the Director of Missions did. It may be someone who grew up there, or has family there. It will be someone who believes that every person deserves to have a gospel witness. If a person has a heart for Pomeroy, it will be a person deeply burdened that every child in the town has someone praying for them and sharing Christ with them. It will be someone who believes that every human being is made in the image of God, and thus every person is valuable and someone for whom Christ died, and that every person for whom Christ died has a basic right to know who Jesus is and what He did for them.

Every community needs people who love Jesus who also “have a heart” for their community. The tragedy, as I see it, is that we have far fewer people than we once did who are tasked with the responsibility to see that every town, and neighborhood, and people group, have a church ministering to them. There was a time, only a decade ago, when virtually every county in America had a Southern Baptist missionary working full-time to reach that county. In many places, like where I serve in the Northwest, a missionary might be assigned four or more counties. Still, there was at least one person in that part of the world who was responsible to “have a heart” for the people there.

We still have missionaries assigned to certain areas, but not as many, and they are assigned to vastly bigger territories. We can discuss and debate the strategic choices which were made, and are being made, that brought us to these reduced numbers. But it is probably more helpful to explore the question, “What do we do now?” The answer, I think, is that we need “average Christian people” (is there such a thing?) to invest themselves in Kingdom service, asking God to “give them a heart” for their city, for their people, and for their neighbors.

There aren’t enough “professional clergy” (a worse term than “average Christian”), or called-out missionaries, to assign to every community. We need more, many more, farmers and teachers and homemakers and business people who have “a heart for Pomeroy” and a heart for your town. Will you be one of those?

Travelling to Orofino and driving through Pomeroy was important for me, as was following the trail of those first explorers and being reminded of their do-whatever-it-takes mentality. It was that pioneering, overcoming spirit that brought people out west. And when you join a pioneering spirit to the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, you have a heart that God can use to bless a city.

An Encouraging Word about God’s Work in the Northwest

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In a world where tragedy, scandal, and politics dominate the news, sometimes you need to hear a good, refreshing word. With that in mind, I want to share some of the really good things that have been happening in the Northwest.

As I write, 28 are gathered in our Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) building, learning how to serve churches as “transitional pastors.” These are men who’ve spent their lives as pastors, and now they will continue to serve churches that are seeking their next pastor. These men are lifelong learners and in ministry lifelong learning is the “fountain of youth.” It keeps you relevant, effective, and vigorous. Helping church prepare for the next pastor, and find a good pastor, is probably the most important and helpful thing we can do for a church.

This spring a preaching conference served 40 pastors, followed by another on reaching and caring for people (Count the Cost), with about the same number attending. “Count the Cost” is something you’ll be hearing more about as it will help any church regardless of size, location, ethnicity or language. We’ve also had 128 attend children’s ministry and VBS training this spring. Our annual Women’s Summit had 302 women, by far our largest attendance ever. One person told me that she brought a friend who was a Buddhist and she gave her life to Christ at the Women’s Summit!

Our annual Youth Conference had 440 in attendance, with 12 professions of faith. Our NWBC youth ministry leader, Lance Logue, invited two boys playing basketball to join the conference. They said they weren’t there for the conference, but he told them they were welcome to attend. They did, and both boys prayed to receive Christ!

In April we had 247 gather for our annual NWBC Church Planter’s Retreat. This included 58 pastors, 45 wives, and over 100 of their kids. Twenty-two volunteers taught the VBS curriculum to the kids. Languages represented among these church planters included English, Spanish, Korean, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Romanian and Mandarin. And we had four new churches launch on Easter Sunday!

What about Disaster Relief? In April 140 DR volunteers attended a two-day training event, preparing for wherever they might be deployed. If you have a disaster in your area, know that we have people ready to serve. DR chaplains have been called upon in school shootings and other traumatic events.

You are providing all types of leadership training and resources by supporting missions through the Cooperative Program. When people are trained, you are providing the training through the NWBC. When Disaster Relief volunteers are deployed, you are sending them through the commitment of your church to invest in a cooperative mission’s strategy. At our church planting retreat, I told all of our church planters that every cooperating NWBC church is investing in them through Cooperative Program missions giving (and through the Northwest Impact Mission Offering).

I know I’m giving you a lot of numbers, but these numbers represent people, and most of these numbers represent people trained for ministry in our churches – your church! Is it making a difference? Yes! According to our Annual Church Profile information, worship attendance increased in our NWBC churches to 33,433 in 2018, up from 29,412 in 2017. Small group attendance increase to 20,406, up from 18,455 in 2017. Total baptisms reported by our churches were 1,742. This number is down from 1,954 the previous year, but the general trend over five years is up. That said, we must make sharing the gospel a top priority and it is our commitment to help you by providing resources and training yearly.

One final word: please pray for the 115 people from 26 of our NWBC churches who will serve hundreds of IMB missionaries and their children in Asia this coming July.

I hope this brief report encourages you as it does me. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Black Holes and the Gravity of Death

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It’s been a week since we saw the first stunning photographic image of a black hole. A network of telescopes dispersed across the globe, called Event Horizon Telescope, zoomed in on the massive monster 55 million light-years from earth in the constellation Virgo. With a mass 6.5 billion times more than that of our sun, and a diameter estimated to be 23.6 billion miles (the diameter of earth is 7917.5 miles), the science which enabled the photo has been over 100 years in the making (Lisa Grossman and Emily Conover in Science News, 4/10/19).

The term “black hole” speaks to the fact that its mass is so great that even light cannot escape its gravitational pull, thus it is black. It is the ultimate trap from which there is no escape, thus it is a “hole” into which we cannot see and from which nothing can emerge.

Science fiction writers have spun terrifying tales about being consumed by a black hole. And though that would be horrific, I’m sure, the black hole that is more fearful, and an ever-present reality for every human being, is the black hole of death.

If succumbing to the gravitational pull of a black hole seems impossibly remote, succumbing to the black hole of death is a certainty we are reminded of almost daily. Beginning with Abel, every person ever born has been consumed by death; Enoch and Elijah are the only exceptions noted in the Scriptures.

The certainty of death, and the fear it evokes, has been recorded by all peoples throughout history. Most civilizations have theorized that there is another life beyond the black hole of death, but this hope of another life was impossibly shrouded in darkness. There was simply no way to know for sure whether the Egyptian Pharaohs would receive the afterlife for which they so extravagantly prepared. The same was true for the ancient Chinese or the Norsemen of Europe. Both ancient and modern religions have theorized what might come after death. But how could one know for sure? Because death was a black hole, no one had ever broken free from its gravitation pull and emerged to describe what the hole of death held.

And then came Jesus. Like all before and after Him, Jesus Christ entered into the black hole of death. He was as dead as any person who has ever died. Totally and completely dead. Unlike all others, however, Jesus plunged into the black hole of death willingly and voluntarily. And, unlike all others, Jesus was liberated from the black hole of death after three days. No one before or since has emerged from death finally and forever, except Jesus. Jesus restored life to Lazarus following his death, but like others in the Bible who were raised to life, Lazarus only emerged from death’s black hole temporarily. He died again on another day.

When Jesus emerged from death’s black hole, He rose triumphantly and victoriously as The One who forever defeated death. Until the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death was a black hole whose gravitational pull was impossible to overcome. Even today, no one but Jesus Christ has emerged from the black hole of death. He remains the sole overcomer of the grave.

However, the Bible contains a promise, multiple promises, actually, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first of many. “Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). And, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).

This week Christians will remember the death of Christ on the cross, the day in which He plunged into death’s black hole. By His death He secured the eternal salvation of all who trust in Him. But even as we remember the death of Jesus, we do so knowing that Resurrection Day followed shortly three days hence, forever removing the sting of death’s black hole.

The universe God created is vast and mysterious beyond our feeble ability to see and know. When we get glimpses of it like we did with the black hole photo, we are stunned beyond description. What is more amazing, however, is that the God who created all that is, loves us and knows us, even to the detail of numbering the hairs on our heads. And because of this, we are set free from the fear that death will be a black hole of separation from all those we know and love.

If you haven’t yet given your life to Jesus Christ, do so now. Come to Jesus and experience life now and forever.

Ministry Guaranteed to Bless Your City

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A sanitation worker in our town was crushed when he was hit by a car and pinned up against the garbage truck. He was horribly injured and our church prayed for him and his family. Following the prayer, a church deacon asked a simple question that ultimately transformed our ministry. Here’s the question: “I wonder if that man has a church that is ministering to him and his family?” We learned that he did have a church and they were doing well by him. But this led to a second question: What about others in our community, who in time of crisis, have no church family? What of those who have no pastor, no Bible class, no ministry and no living testimony of God’s love and care in their life? What about them?

This tragic situation and the subsequent questions resulted in a profound commitment by our church. We determined that we would pray for, and serve as best we could, every family in town touched by tragedy. House fires, car wrecks, crime victims, accidents of various kinds, horrible medical diagnoses; these happened with some frequency in our ministry area of 25,000 people. And when they did, we sent two or three to the home with the simple message, “We’re from First Baptist. We heard what happened. We’re so sorry. We want to pray for you and see if there is any way we can help.”
Sometimes our involvement ended after the prayer and words of love and concern. Other times clothing or food was provided, biblical counseling was provided, a wheel chair ramp was built, among other things. The results included some coming to faith in Christ, goodwill built with the family and friends, and some actually joined our church so that they could be involved in this ministry of care. Our church was known for several things, one of which became, “They’re the church that serves everybody and anybody in time of crisis.”

So here’s a goal that will bless your city: commit to visiting and praying for every person stricken by tragedy. The tragedy doesn’t have to be physical injury. In our local newspaper I read weekly, if not daily, of hardships in families. A local mayor’s portrait was on the front page because he was accused of soliciting sex for money. A grandmother went to prison because she embezzled from her employer. A family was ripped apart when a grandson murdered his grandmother. The list goes on. But questions that a local church needs to ask are, “Does this family have a church? Do they have a pastor? Let’s visit them and pray for them and see how we might show them God’s love.”

When I surrendered to ministry leadership a pastor told me that if I would minister to hurting people I would never lack for ministry opportunities. He was right. But I also learned that I couldn’t do it by myself. I needed to lead our church to organize and to do this in our ministry field.

Often when we discuss ministry goals we talk budgets and baptisms and attendance in public worship and Bible study. These are important matters to consider. But mostly they are the byproduct of other things. Things like leading a church to pray for Kingdom concerns and mobilizing outreach ministries of various kinds. Through ministries like http://www.Pray4EveryHome.org every member of your church can pray for their 100 closest neighbors. Through My316 and God Space you can teach your church how to share the Gospel and minister to people (these are provided to every NWBC church without cost thanks to the generous Cooperative Program missions giving of our churches).

How about this as a goal: We will pray for missionaries, the lost in our community, city and school leaders, and all of the children in town, in every public gathering of our church. That is Kingdom praying –praying for the city, unbelievers, and the missionaries we send and support. If we don’t pray for Kingdom concerns when we gather as church, Kingdom praying won’t happen in the homes of most church members.

Things like this make me excited for the spiritual possibility present in every church. Whether you gather with 20 or 200 on Sunday, these are the kinds of things you can do that will touch heaven and human hearts and will make a difference in your city. God told the people in Jeremiah’s day, living as exiles in Babylon, “Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper” (Jere. 29:7). That is a good word for us, living in a 21st Century Babylon.