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.

This is Our Day

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In another day, on April 13, 1948, messengers from 15 Northwest Baptist churches met in Portland, OR to organize the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC). They believed that together they could more effectively reach the Northwest for Christ. By 1952 there were 53 churches in the NWBC. There were 291 churches by 1972 (some of these were in Canada). Strong growth has continued over the past 40 years through sharing the gospel, training leaders, and gathering new believers into churches. Today we have 485 churches in the NWBC. The Canadian Convention separated from the NWBC in 1985 and became its own SBC affiliated convention numbering several hundred churches.

In our day the work of the NWBC is much the same as it has always been. Our churches cooperate together in ways that maximize our effectiveness in key areas of Kingdom work. So how does your NWBC serve our churches in this, our day?

First, we put a priority on training leaders. Monthly pastor clusters is one of the large pieces of this training. The clusters focus on the spiritual life of the leader and the spiritual health of the church. They study and discuss disciple-making, evangelism, worship planning, and much more. We also support the Pacific Northwest Campus of Gateway Seminary as a primary method of training leaders. Currently I am teaching preaching to 17 students at our PNW campus. Added to this is training for Bible teachers, worship leaders, Disaster Relief volunteers, college ministers and others. We train transitional “interim pastors” and help churches in their search for pastors. Training leaders is something that we best do cooperatively, understanding that no single church can do broad-based training on their own.

Second, we prioritize evangelism. The NWBC provides evangelistic training and resources to every NWBC church. The Cooperative Program (CP) mission giving of our churches makes this possible. We continue to provide My316 evangelism materials to our churches. At our annual meeting this November 13-14, 2018 we will launch a new resource available to every church, without cost, because we believe that making disciples should be at the center of ministry for every church.

Third, we help start new churches. Currently we have churches worshipping in about 27 different languages in communities of all sizes. Churches are started in urban and rural areas, from cities to small towns. I am personally involved in a new church in a town of 8,000 people. The church launches on September 30, but already we have had a young man come to Christ and receive water baptism. With only one church for every 23,000 in population in the Northwest we need many more churches in many more places.

Fourth, we do missions beyond the Northwest. Through the CP and other mission offerings we support missionaries in over 100 nations. Also, the NWBC has a special partnership in East Asia in which many of our churches have participated. During July 10-23, 2019, we will bring about 130 people from our NWBC churches to serve hundreds missionaries and their children in a retreat in Asia. We are the only state convention of churches to ever do this, and this will be the third major retreat in which we serve our missionaries in this way.

You are making an enormous difference through your involvement and support of the NWBC, and we have much left to do. This is our day! And it is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Diagnosing Church Health with One Question

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Yesterday I spoke with our son and his wife about the church they visited in St. Louis that morning. Luke and Hannah moved to St. Louis a few weeks ago so that he can pursue an MD-PhD program and she do premed studies at Washington University. A priority for them is to find a church home.

We talked about the church they visited that morning, and Hannah said that she didn’t think that was the church for them. When I asked why, she said that she wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting friends to the church.

Hannah and Luke’s experience at church surfaces an essential question that church attenders ask and answer, even if they don’t voice the question. The question is this: Do I invite people to my church? If not, why not? If yes, why yes? And, when people are seeking for a church home, Hannah’s response reveals that this is a question that some seek to answer before they join a church.

If I was going to ask church attenders one line of questions to diagnose the health of their church, these are the questions I would ask. I would begin with the question, “Do you invite/bring friends and extended family to your church?” If they do, it reveals that they have some level of confidence that their friends will have a “good experience” at their church. This “good experience” includes everything from being welcomed and warmly received, to whether they will “enjoy” the worship experience, or, more importantly, whether they will have an opportunity to encounter God through His Word and through the worship of His people. If church attenders do not invite friends to church, it might reveal that they have less confidence that their friends will have a “good experience” at church. We would have to “dig down” to identify the reasons people do or don’t invite their friends to church. Thus, the follow-up questions of “why?” or “why not?” are essential because some are excited about their church for the wrong reasons (i.e. some cult-group members excitedly invite people to their cult).

So, here’s a question for church leaders: Do your people invite others to church, confident that they will hear from God and be led to Him through prayer and the ministry of the Word? Or, do the attenders of your church fail to invite others because they lack confidence that their friends will have a good experience, and, more importantly, experience God as they worship?

As helpful as it might be for leaders to ask that question, it would be more helpful to ask it of all those who attend the church. Growing churches have attenders who confidently invite others to their church.

For more help on building the confidence of your church to invite others, see Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom Rainer. Also, the NWBC Pastor Cluster groups will focus on this topic beginning in September, 2018.

Summer Ministry in the Pacific Northwest

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Summer in the Pacific Northwest is as close to the Edenic garden as you will to find. But in addition to enjoying the outdoors, Northwest Baptists do some of their most impactful ministry in the summer months. Vacation Bible Schools and various sports, children and youth camps, anchor our summer ministry, and to these you can add mission trips and community outreach and service projects.

This spring 383 people were trained to lead Bible schools in NWBC and associational events. We anticipate the making of many disciples among the thousands of children ministered to by our churches in Bible schools and camps this summer. Many churches have more children in their Bible schools than the total church attendance on an average Sunday. Bible schools remain the most effective evangelistic ministry of our churches.

Not only do we conduct Bible schools here at home, 50 Northwest Baptists from 10 churches will serve the children of IMB missionaries in Asia from July 30 to August 5. Next summer we have been invited to a missionary retreat which we will require about 140 people serving hundreds of missionary children in Asia, as well as providing medical, technical, and security support. Only by partnering together can we have such great impact serving our IMB missionaries.

Here at home our churches are loving their neighbors in community holiday events, city clean-up projects, school improvement activities, refugee and immigrant ministries, and person-to-person Gospel sharing. The churches with which I have worshiped already this summer have attenders that come from about 25 different nations (about 50 nations are represented in our almost 500 congregations)!

As we consider the primary task that God has given us, to reach 11.5 million neighbors in the Northwest, there are certain values that help guide our work. First, we value the individual person. Most of what we see Jesus doing in the New Testament is focused on one person – Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, a blind man, lame man, demon-possessed man, Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Peter, the thief on the cross, and many others. Jesus gave His full attention to individual people, often people that others did not value. We must do the same. One person matters.

Second, we value every church, because every church, regardless of size, is the Body of Christ which “He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28d). We need each church and we value each church as a partner in the gospel, understanding that the local church best knows their people and must determine how they can best love their community and share the gospel where they live.

Third, we value the collaboration of true partners. In a partnership, the “weaker” partner is respected by the “stronger” partner, understanding that God works in mysterious ways, choosing the “weak” to shame the “strong” (1 Cor. 1:27). Whether speaking of individuals or churches, partnership enables us to have a bigger and more consistent gospel impact. This is the genius of the Cooperative Program (CP) method of funding missions. By the way, our NWBC churches gave an average of 7.5 percent to missions through CP last year, far above the national average of 4.86.

I hope that you are enjoying your summer, and that you will know that it is a good day to serve the Lord in the Pacific Northwest!