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.

We are Family

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If you’re over 50 the phrase “we are family” might bring the Sister Sledge 1979 pop song to mind. But recent events have reminded me that Baptists really are family. For example, when Jimmy Stewart of the Alaska Baptist Convention received devastating third degree burns in July, he was flown to a Seattle hospital. Upon arrival NWBC persons and pastors were onsite assisting the family with transportation and housing needs. A similar request came when a mission team member from Alabama was flown to a Seattle hospital in September. Staff at the Puget Sound Association responded to a request from his Alabama pastor who knew that his Baptist family in Washington would minister to his church member.

Requests like these are not unusual. Recently a Baptist family member in the south requested that we find an Oregon church to help a friend in crisis, and we did. Another shared that when their child moved from Oregon to Massachusetts they contacted our Baptist family in Boston who helped this young couple move into their apartment.

In August our Northwest Baptist family sent 163 from 32 of our churches to minister to 1,100 family members (missionaries) serving in Asia. Our missionaries depend on us to support them through the Cooperative Program, but they also need their Baptist family to pray for them and join them on their mission field. They invited us to help them in their training retreat because we are their family. Twenty-two of these same missionaries will spend nine days with us in early October, helping us know better how to reach Asian peoples living in the Northwest, among other things (details on our website at http://www.nwbaptist.org).

This summer we received an application from a church that wants to affiliate with the NWBC. This church has a large ministry, with thirteen members attending seminary and several serving in international missions. Their small group ministry includes learning Old Testament Hebrew and others studying biblical theology at a very high level.

So why do they want to affiliate with the NWBC? They are looking for family. They are a church without the extended family that Baptists have. They don’t have associations, conventions, seminaries, mission boards, and a support system beyond their own town. As Baptists, we even have an insurance and retirement system for our pastors (GuideStone).

Like all families, we have our disagreements, crazy uncles, loudmouthed cousins, and dysfunctional branches on the family tree. Sometimes these things frustrate us. But where would we be without our extended family?

In November the NWBC family will gather in Spokane for our annual meeting. We will celebrate what God is doing in our Northwest family with abundant testimonies and worship. Our family will even gather around tables Tuesday, Nov. 15, for a prime rib dinner (details on our website at http://www.nwbaptist.org). It will be a sweet time of fellowship. It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Churches Old and New

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Let’s start with the numbers. In the 2015 church year, churches that were established or affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) from 2011-2015 baptized 224 persons and gave $169,340 to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). Churches established and affiliated between 2006-2010 baptized 335 persons and gave $130,143 to missions through CP. Churches older than 2006 baptized 1,447 and gave $2,423,637 to missions through CP.

This means that churches older than five years of age baptized 89 percent of those baptized in our NWBC churches, and these same churches gave 93.8 percent of the mission dollars through CP. Churches more than ten years old performed 72 percent of all baptisms and gave 89 percent of the CP mission dollars.
For the past several years much attention and ministry focus of Southern Baptist denominational entities (associational, state and regional, and national) has been on church planting. Church planting has occupied a significant portion of my own ministry, both as a pastor and as a denomination leader in two state conventions. My involvement in church planting is convictional. It is based on my understanding of how people have been reached for Christ throughout history, both in the United States and beyond.

A pithy expression that I sometimes use is “whoever has the most churches wins.” This statement is based on the observation that the group with the most churches also has the most weekly worshippers (whether they accomplish the most for the Kingdom is another question). This has been true throughout the entire history of our nation (see Rodney Stark’s The Churching of America). Southern Baptists have more church attenders than Methodists because we have more churches and Methodists have more attenders than Episcopalians for the same reason. Likewise, the Bible belt is what it is because there are more churches there than in the Northwest where I serve. The Northwest Baptist Convention has 466 churches, but if we had the same density of churches as Mississippi or Oklahoma we would have 8,000 churches or 5,000 churches respectively. That’s why Mississippi and Oklahoma are the Bible belt and Washington and Oregon and Idaho are not.

The statement “whoever has the most churches wins” is not meant to convey that we reach people by planting new churches. New churches are, or should be, the result of evangelism. Church planters focus on reaching unchurched people, leading them to Christ, and gathering them into the new church. From what I can see, that is what our Northwest church planters are doing. But pastors of established churches lead their people to do the same thing, reach people for Christ and bring them into the church fellowship. So, when asked what our greatest need is, I always say that we need more pastors and evangelistic church planting pastors. If you have them, you’ll have more churches and you’ll have healthier churches. Evangelists and church planter/gatherers precede having more churches.

Though we must never diminish our efforts to send out missionary church planters who focus on reaching peoples from among all the peoples inhabiting our nation, the fact is the great majority of the gospel work being done in the Northwest, and throughout the United States, is being done by established churches. Moreover, most of the Cooperative Program mission dollars are given by established churches. This is not to say that established churches are necessarily more generous in their support of missions, nor are they necessarily more evangelistic in their behaviors. It is simply recognizing that most people who attend church are in established churches, and if we do not seek to help these churches remain and regain health and evangelistic effectiveness, we are missing our most significant opportunity to reach people “today” with the good news of Jesus Christ. Moreover, it’s important that we continue to acknowledge and say “thank you” to the faithful churches that built, and continue to build and support, who we are as Northwest Baptists and Southern Baptists.

Our younger churches are a significant part of our present ministry and they will be a growing part of our future ministry. Also, if in the Northwest we hope to increase the percent of our people who know Christ and attend church, we need to continually call out evangelists and church planter/gatherers. Planting new churches will always be a high priority.

That said, we must never forget, and never neglect, those churches long since established. Most of the gospel work is being done through them. And most of the support for new churches is being given by them. Some of these churches have enjoyed continuous ministry for over 100 years. Imagine that! We have churches in the Northwest who have met weekly, preaching the gospel and worshipping Jesus, without fail, for 30, 40, 50 years and more. Our oldest church is the Baptist Church on Homedale in Klamath Falls, OR (formerly the First Baptist Church before a merger with another church) founded in 1884 as Mt. Zion Baptist Church. We thank God for you!

So consider this a “shout-out” to churches old and new, without which the NWBC and the SBC would cease to exist as a people cooperating in gospel work to the glory of our God.

Northwest Baptists are Heading to Asia

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Tomorrow Paula and I will leave for Asia, joining 163 Northwest Baptists from 32 churches, to serve hundreds of missionaries living throughout Asia. Most of our mission team will serve several hundred missionary children, teaching them VBS, among other things. For example, Paula and six others will have 41 second-graders for nine hours each day.

There are a large number of kids in each age group, from newborns through high school. The volunteers from our churches have been preparing for several months to serve them, teach them, and love on them. This is the first such retreat these missionaries have had since 2009.

Each day we will have a worship service in which the missionaries will gather to pray and sing and study God’s Word. For many this will be their first time to worship in English, and to worship together, for three years or more. I will preach at some of these services. I will also lead a morning Bible study the first five days and would appreciate your prayers, not only for myself but for all our team. Other team members include a medical doctor, three nurses, security persons, technology persons, and two licensed Christian counselors.

Our volunteers are taking vacation from work and they are paying their own way. We have several mothers going who are leaving their children with their dads, grandparents or friends. Just yesterday I learned of one mother who is leaving four children with her husband, the youngest just two years-old. It’s humbling to see God’s people do such things because they love the Lord and they love our missionaries.

Also of interest is that 17 of the missionaries are from the Northwest or have served in the Northwest. These are men and women that our churches sent overseas, some 30 years ago, others more recently. We look forward to seeing them and encouraging them.

This mission effort of our churches is one more step in a partnership that the Northwest Baptist Convention of churches has with missionaries in Asia. Over the past two years, many of our churches have sent short term teams to serve alongside our long-term missions personnel. Most of these teams have sought to share the love of Jesus Christ in remote cities and towns in Asia where the name of Jesus is not widely known. For several weeks this summer one of our churches had 20 university students serving in an Asian university city, sharing Christ with college students there.

Words cannot express the gratitude I have for our pastors and churches. I believe that the growth in baptisms, church attendance, and Cooperative Program mission giving that we are seeing in the Northwest is due in part to our churches becoming more outwardly focused.

Churches that do evangelism and missions locally and globally tend to be more effective in reaching their neighbors with God’s love. Christians who are confident that Jesus Christ can save any person from their sin are more likely to tell others about Jesus. Believers who say with the Apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day,” are a powerful force in the world (2 Tim. 1:12).

Our team will return Aug. 11-13. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your support.

Welcoming Newcomers to Church

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As a college senior I had an interview trip to Dallas, TX with Arco Oil Company. I arrived on a flight from Butte, Montana on a Sunday afternoon. I became a Southern Baptist through the ministry of the Baptist Student Union at Montana Tech, and was a member of the Floral Park Baptist Church in Butte, but I had heard of FBC, Dallas and their legendary pastor, W.A. Criswell. My hotel was in downtown Dallas, and I knew the First Baptist Church was somewhere downtown, so I set out on foot to find it.

I found the church easily enough, arriving in time for the Sunday evening worship service. To my disappointment, Dr. Criswell wasn’t preaching that night. He was in attendance, sitting on the platform, but an associate pastor brought the message. As I recall it was in a good message, but what I most remember was how Dr. Criswell welcomed those who responded during the invitation. I especially remember a woman who came to join the church. Dr. Criswell said something very much like this: “I see here that you’re an English teacher. How wonderful. God bless you. Did you know that my bachelor’s degree was in English? If I was anything in all-of-the-world other than a preacher of the gospel, I would be an English teacher. God bless you dear woman. God bless you. Welcome to First Baptist Church.”

He made that woman feel like a million bucks! His words were spoken warmly and personally. He looked directly at her as he spoke to her, giving her his full attention and appreciation, before speaking with equal warmth and welcome to the others who responded that evening.

Welcoming newcomers and new members into our churches in a warm, joyful and pleasant manner is extremely important. Some churches do this well. Some do not. With that in mind, I would like to offer some things to consider when welcoming guests and new members into your church.

First, the welcome begins with the invitation. Few people attend a church for the first time unless they are invited to do so. Church attenders who love their church, and believe in what God is doing through their church, are the best “inviters,” and they are often the best witnesses for Christ. Few church members will invite others to their church if they fear their friends won’t be welcomed and have a good experience when they attend. Thus, one thing we should strive to do is give our church attenders confidence that they can bring their friends to church gatherings with the full confidence that we won’t embarrass them by being unprepared or uninterested in their friend.

Second, the welcome continues as the newcomer parks their car and walks to the front door of the church. Most churches have greeters at the front door, but I have noticed that often these greeters are inside the church and do not open the doors for people as they approach. Walking up to a closed church door can be intimidating for a newcomer, especially an unchurched newcomer. Train your greeters to open the door and welcome people “as they approach the door,” not after they enter the building.

Third, place greeters inside the worship center, with specific instructions to look for those who might be newcomers. Don’t put a “greeter badge” on these greeters. They should simply be friendly people who make sure all attending are warmly welcomed. Also, they can help the newcomer get infants into the nursery or preschool area, and in other ways make sure their needs are met and their questions answered. If they can follow up with the newcomers after the service, thanking them for attending and offering any needed assistance, that is even better. This method of greeting is more helpful than a “formal greeting time” during the worship service when everyone is invited to greet others.

Fourth, contact newcomers within 24 hours. Give them a phone call at the very least. Bringing a gift to their door, with a “thankyou” for attending, and making yourself available to answer questions, is even better. A personal note from the pastor, or another person in the church, is a good follow-up to the phone call or personal visit.

Fifth, connect newcomers and new members to as many church members as possible. Small group leaders and ministry leaders need to connect with new people and help them find their place in the fellowship of the church. As you introduce new members to the church, have the person who invited them stand with them. Also, invite their small group leader stand with them. Certainly, the person who led them to faith in Christ is vital to connecting them to others in the church.

Sixth, invite new members, or newcomers, into your home. When I was a pastor we had new member fellowships in our home. We invited them in small groups and used this time to get better acquainted, answer questions, and help them feel personally connected to our family and to the church family. We also hosted Sunday school/Bible class groups in our home, with the goal that every member of our church would be in our home. This was much easier than me, as the pastor, trying to visit the homes of all of our members, and I believe it was more effective in extending a warm, personal welcome to our church.

I did not take the job with Arco Oil Company in Dallas. Instead we moved to Ft. Worth nine months later to attend seminary. We visited FBC Dallas a couple of times and did get to hear Dr. Criswell preach. But interestingly, it was the warm manner in which he spoke to individuals that I most remember. I suspect that what people most remember about us is how we treat them individually. For this reason, it is very important to plan well how you and your church welcome newcomers.

Northwest Impact – Expanding God’s Kingdom in the Northwest

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Northwest missions began when four Native Americans travelled to St. Louis and requested from the Superintendent of Indian Affairs that missionaries be sent to their people.  The year was 1831 and the man with whom they met was William Clark of the famed “Lewis and Clark Expedition.”  Methodist missionary Jason Lee was the first to arrive, coming in 1834.  He was followed by Presbyterian missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and Henry Spalding, who arrived in 1836.  Baptist layman, David Lennox, travelling the Oregon Trail, arrived in 1843, and started the West Union Baptist Church in 1844.  It was the first Baptist church in the West.  Located near Hillsboro, OR, it remains to the present day.

From this beginning, believers have continued to establish churches and do evangelistic work in the Northwest.  Still, our beautiful land remains one of the great mission fields in North America.  Only four percent attend church on a given Sunday, and the great majority of our neighbors profess no faith in Jesus Christ.

To meet the missionary need of the Northwest, Northwest Baptists (NWBC) are doing more than any other group to do four things.  First, we train more pastors and leaders than any other grouping of churches.  Already, more than 200 pastors and 800 lay leaders having participated in some form of training in 2015.

Second, we start more churches, with 27 church planters beginning their work in the Northwest in the past 12 months (through June).  Approximately 130 of our 466 churches worship in one of 30 languages other than English.

Third, no group in the Northwest does Disaster Relief like we are doing through our 660 plus volunteers.  On this very day 60 of our DR volunteers are deployed, providing thousands of meals daily to those who’ve lost their homes in the wildfires, and providing chaplaincy to firefighters and others.

Fourth, evangelism training and resources are provided to every church that requests them.  Next spring we will conduct one-day “listening evangelism” workshops in multiple locations throughout the Northwest, funded in part by the Northwest Impact Offering.

In addition to your mission giving through the Cooperative Program, a major source of funding for Northwest Missions is the annual Northwest Impact Offering (Sylvia Wilson Offering).  This year’s offering will provide funds for each of the four areas mentioned above.  Materials (prayer guides, posters, bulletin inserts, envelopes) to promote the offering have been sent to each of our churches.  You can also access them through a link on the Northwest Baptist Convention website, www.nwbaptist.org.

One new promotional feature this year is videos which focus on the four areas mentioned above.  Links to the videos are on our website, but I’m providing them here so you can take a quick look at them.  They are kept very brief so that you can show them to your church on a Sunday morning:

  1. Church planting:  https://vimeo.com/137394331
  2. Leadership:  https://vimeo.com/137408075
  3. Evangelism:  https://vimeo.com/137407924
  4. Disaster Relief:  https://vimeo.com/137403838

Please consider giving your church an opportunity to support Northwest missions through Northwest Impact.  Together, we can have a larger gospel footprint and impact our communities more forcefully in the year to come.  Remember, you are not alone.

This Side of Glory

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“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12).

This amazing statement acknowledges the tremendous privilege that belongs to those who have lived on this side of Jesus’ earthly life. The Old Testament prophets “predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11b), but their knowledge was partial. They spoke out of the darkness of the light that was to come, and in this sense they served us rather than themselves. Indeed, even the angels were “in the dark” before the glory of Christ was revealed in Bethlehem and Galilee and Golgotha.

Sometimes we think of “glory” as that which is yet to come, forgetting the glory that is ours in the present. Can you imagine what life would be, with all of its suffering and struggles and victories too, if we did not have Jesus and all that He is to us? For 2,000 years, up to the present moment, believers have uttered the simple prayer, “Help me Jesus,” in moments of despair and confusion. Martyrs are today dying with “Jesus” on their lips, sometimes quoting Jesus’ own words as He faced His killers, “Father, forgive them.” The privilege of prayer in Jesus’ name, with all that means, is glory.

It’s hard to fathom how life would be were it not for knowing “The Sermon on the Mount” or the “The Farewell Discourse.” Untold thousands have been sustained by Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12a). Seeing how Jesus spoke to the “Woman at the Well” and the woman who wept on His feet has enriched the entire world. Which has brought us greater blessings, deposits of gold mined in the hills, or Jesus’ “Parable of the Prodigal Son?” How can we compare the beauty and glory of the most precious gems to that of Jesus’ words “For God so loved the world ….” Give me “I am the bread of life” and you can keep “riches untold.”

Recently I read a fascinating book titled The Man Who Touched His Own Heart by Rob Dunn. The book describes man’s relationship and investigation of the human heart from ancient times to the present. One thing that struck me is that early pioneering heart surgeons often despaired to the point of quitting as their patients died while they strived to develop lifesaving methods that are commonplace today. Jack Gibbon, the inventor of the iron lung, only used it a few times. His last two surgeries were on 5-year-old girls, both of whom died. He never again performed a surgery. His invention, and its perfection, has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, but he lived on the other side of “glory,” unable to fully see what his work would one day mean.

The glory of knowing Jesus and the New Testament witness brings us a “living hope,” as Peter calls it (1 Peter 1:3). It is living because it is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The glory that is ours because we have a living hope is greater than every other thing we could know or have. It’s better than our jobs, our families, our ministries, everything. The Old Testament prophets predicted it, as looking through the darkness, but we possess this living hope. We see clearly the glories of Christ. When our eyes are rightly focused, we see all that there is to see through the lens of Christ’s glory.

To see the glories of Christ is to know that Jesus is worth everything. Are you suffering in your service to Jesus? He is worth it. Do you lack “stuff” because you have chosen to serve Jesus? He is worth it. I’ll always remember sharing Christ with a man in Bangladesh, my youngest son Luke with me, and the man told us, “If I do this, I might get killed.”   He meant that if he received Jesus he might die. What could we say to him except that Jesus is worth it? Jesus is worth everything. This side of glory, with all that Jesus said and did, we know that Jesus is worth everything.

I think it would have helped those pioneering heart surgeons if they could have seen what would become of their work. It would have blessed Isaiah and Jeremiah, and even the angels, had they seen the glory that is Jesus. We have seen Him. His words give us life, shape our thoughts, and enrich our lives beyond expression. What a privilege is ours to live this side of glory!