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

My Commitment to Southern Baptists

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The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) exists for one grand purpose – to advance the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. I am allowing my name to be entered into nomination for the presidency of the SBC because I believe that we need a clear change in direction in order to fulfill our God-given mission and reverse our present course of decline in every key measurement of Great Commission advance.

I grew up in the small town of Whitefish, Montana. There was no Southern Baptist church in my hometown, but when I attended college in Butte, Montana I met a group from the Baptist Student Union (BSU). They reached out to me and it changed my life. By my senior year I was the BSU Director. I was paid a whopping $50 per month to plan the weekly meetings, teach the Bible study, and build a strategy to reach our campus for Christ. It was a wonderful year in which several students came to Christ and we doubled our weekly attendance. Through that experience God called me to preach, and, after receiving my degree in petroleum engineering, my wife and I moved to Fort Worth, Texas to attend Southwestern Seminary.

I reflect on my BSU experience with gratitude that Southern Baptists cooperate to reach the world for Christ. There was no other Christian group on my college campus – only Southern Baptists – and from that I learned that we must cooperate if we are to accomplish big things, particularly big things in out-of-the-way places.

The growth of Southern Baptists was one of the most important religious developments of the 20th Century. With fewer than 2 million members in the year 1900, Southern Baptists experienced annual growth for more than a century, peaking at 16.3 million members in 2006. The International Mission Board grew to a force of 5,600 missionaries serving throughout the world. A network of over 1,100 local Associations and 42 State Conventions was established to serve more than 45,000 churches and their cooperative mission work. The North American Mission Board (formerly Home Mission Board) largely worked through State Conventions and Associations to assist in church starting, evangelism, mission education, disaster relief, and other missions ministries. Added to these, six Southern Baptist seminaries and dozens of colleges and universities with ties to State Conventions were established to train pastors, missionaries, educators, medical personnel, business persons and others. The numerical and institutional strength of Southern Baptists, coupled with prosperity and religious freedom in the United States, enabled the growth of one of the most potent global missionary forces in Christian history.

While Southern Baptists retain considerable ability to impact the world for Christ, we are currently experiencing our greatest challenge. After waging a decades-long battle for the Bible, we are in danger of losing the war we were founded to fight, that of advancing the Great Commission by making disciples and rescuing the captives of the evil one. In the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL, messengers narrowly adopted the “Great Commission Resurgence Report,” with the assurance that these recommendations would lead to an evangelistic “resurgence.” What has happened in the decade since? Increasing levels of decline. A clear-headed assessment of Southern Baptist mission efforts reveals the steepest decline in evangelistic effectiveness in our 175-year history. In the past decade baptisms have fallen to a 75-year low, with the last four years being the lowest four years since 1947. New church starts have plummeted over 50 percent in the past decade to at least a 40-year low, with the last four years being the lowest four years in decades, and this while the church planting budget grew from $22 million to $75 million in less than 10 years. Some suggest that church plant numbers prior to 2010 cannot be trusted. Please note, however, that the SBC was experiencing a net increase of a few hundred churches per year in the first decade of the 21st century, and in 2018 we experienced a net decrease of 379 churches and church-type missions. A declining net increase in total churches over the last several years, including our current net decrease in the number of SBC churches, demonstrates a significant decrease in the number of new churches being started.

Other indicators of decline include 1,900 fewer IMB missionaries, 1.5 million fewer church members, and about 15 percent fewer in weekly worship attendance (over 850,000 persons). Cooperative Program (CP) giving, as a percent of the church budget, has continued to decline and is now less than half of what it was in the 1980s. These trends demonstrate that the Great Commission Resurgence has not produced the results for which we had hoped. Sadly, we are experiencing a Great Commission Regression. Leaders must confront these hard realities in order to make necessary changes.

I understand that some think we should not engage in denominational discourse about our present situation. Some believe that the hard realities of our current condition should not be discussed openly because it puts focus on the “negative.” If we do not honestly confront issues others will do so, including those who do not love the SBC like we do. Christians must be able to engage in honest discourse, speaking the truth in love.

Although we are in the midst of a great challenge, there is also immense opportunity. If we recommit to the purpose for which we were birthed – advancing the Great Commission – and couple that with a missiology that empowers those closest to the field of ministry, we can return to an upward path once again. With this in mind, please join me in affirming seven commitments that will strengthen the impact of Southern Baptists for the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. For the brutal facts to become blessed realities in the years to come, we must:

1. Prioritize the Mission – The SBC was founded to advance the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. Our primary mission must not be compromised by intra-convention politics or pet projects. Secondary issues are not unimportant, and must be addressed at times, but Southern Baptists were founded to advance the mission, not a political agenda.

2. Determine to Cooperate – No single entity or group can accomplish the mission themselves. We must respect and recognize the value that every church, each association and state convention, the Woman’s Missionary Union, Baptist college ministries, and SBC entities bring to the table. People cooperate to the extent of their inclusion and we must start cooperating again. It is a matter of integrity that denominational leaders give strong evidence of cooperation. This includes an impeccable track record of Cooperative Program support which is the primary means by which Southern Baptists fund Great Commission work.

3. Value Every Church – The local church is the body of Christ purchased with the blood of Christ. Whatever its size, the sphere of influence and potential impact of any church is broader than what we can see in a weekend gathering. As such, every cooperating SBC church should be valued, and strategies to increase the engagement of all churches in SBC life must be employed, including use of technology to enable remote access to voting at the Annual Meeting of the SBC. We should not be satisfied with how few of our churches participate in the Annual SBC Meeting. Cooperating SBC churches must not be disenfranchised from participation in the decision-making process because they cannot afford to travel to annual meeting locations.

4. Listen to the Field – Local churches, followed by associations and then state conventions, are closest to the ministry field. Our national SBC agencies should support and work through local and state convention partners, who have local knowledge and for whom the work is most personal because it concerns the eternal destiny of their closest neighbors. There are regional differences within our nation, and within regions there are vast differences from one community to another. Knowing the particulars of a community, as discerned through prayer and local knowledge, is essential to making disciples for Christ and shepherding believers.

5. Operate in the Light – The SBC should be the toughest place to hide corruption, abuse, and poor stewardship, operating at the highest level of integrity and accountability. We must eliminate organizational tools, structures and processes that help hide wrongdoing and abuse. The SBC and its entities should end the use of, and recall, all remaining Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). We must not hide corruption and we will not protect predators at the cost of harming victims. There must be transparency in how we make decisions and how we spend money. Records should be open. Property purchases and ownership should be disclosed and records made available. Annual audits of entities should be open and accessible to Southern Baptist constituents. If we choose to operate in the light, we will maximize the trust and goodwill that are essential to maximizing the Great Commission cooperation of Southern Baptists. Transparency and frank communication regarding challenges and opportunities will build trust and unity in the SBC.

6. Speak Truth – We must love our neighbors and we must speak the truth. There are many lies that are told by the world, and these must be countered by the truth found in God’s Word. Just, righteous leadership engages culture with biblical truth and values, not social or political theories.

7. Believe and Obey God’s Word – We must not compromise obedience to God’s Word in word or deed. The Baptist Faith and Message expresses the biblical beliefs and convictions of Southern Baptists, and it provides the theological parameters within which Southern Baptists work together.

These seven commitments reflect the activity, beliefs and behaviors that made Southern Baptists the missionary force that has taken the gospel of Jesus Christ to tens of millions of persons throughout North America and to the world beyond. Southern Baptists can experience a future brighter than our past, but that is not inevitable. It requires that we put the mission first. It means we must rebuild trust and cooperate in a more complete way. We must love God supremely, and love our neighbor as we love ourselves, with hearts set ablaze by the Holy Spirit. God does not need Southern Baptists to accomplish His mission, but if we are to enjoy God’s favor and remain useful to Him, we must plead for the blessing and smile of our almighty, ever-merciful God. Southern Baptists need nothing more than God. He alone has the power to transform our lives and equip us for His mission.

As we prepare to return to Orlando for the SBC in 2020, these are my seven commitments to you. The challenges that face our convention are too big for any one of us to handle alone. However, through open and honest dialog concerning the challenges that face our convention, we can grow the trust and goodwill which will unite us and maximize our efforts to advance the Great Commission.

Like many of you, I am forever indebted and grateful to Southern Baptists and the missionaries we have sent, including those sent to the small city of Butte, Montana. Thank you Southern Baptists!

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention

A More Excellent Way

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The second mile … the longest day … the shot heard round the world … the golden rule. These phrases bring to mind images, thoughts and memories. Some relate to an historical event, but many come from the Bible. “A more excellent way” is a phrase that comes from the Scriptures. You might recognize it as a quote from 1 Corinthians 12, concluding Paul’s discourse on spiritual gifts and transitioning to one of the most beloved passages of Scripture – 1 Corinthians 13.

Known as “the love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13 is a poem that not only celebrates love, it reveals loving behavior in glorious detail. Because it is frequently used in weddings, the context of the teaching is often overlooked. The church in Corinth was a divided church, a sinful and deeply troubled church. Much like the church today, they valued giftedness and celebrity more than love. But 1 Corinthians 13 says that love is superior to supreme intelligence, mountain-moving faith, sacrificial generosity, and death-defying spiritual courage. A person who truly loves God and others is a greater gift to the church than anything else in the whole world!

Our churches need love. Our communities need love. Where will North westerners find love if they don’t find it in God’s people? They’ll find it nowhere. There’s a country song about “looking for love in all the wrong places.” That’s a description of every person before they find love in Jesus Christ.

A More Excellent Way is the theme for the annual meeting of Northwest Baptists. More than a theme, this phrase expresses the deep yearning we all have for God’s love. We’ll celebrate how Northwest Baptists are loving their communities. We’ll remind ourselves that how we love “the least of these” (another of those precious phrases) matters more to our Father than most anything else. In testimony and message, in Scripture readings and prayers, maybe even in reports, we’ll be called to live “a more excellent way.”

Northwest Baptists annual “family gathering” begins November 11 with a Great Commission Celebration and continues November 12-13 with the annual meeting. We’ll gather at the Great Wolf Lodge in Centralia, WA so bring the kids and grandkids. The water park is available to those attending our meetings and the room cost is deeply discounted for NWBC attendees.

Speakers include Richard Blackaby, Dennis Pethers, Carlos Rodriquez and NWBC President, Dustin Hall. Each of these men love the Lord and His people, and they are being used by God to build and bless His Church.

A funny thing happened in our home recently. My wife Paula took her blood pressure shortly before I got home and it was 110/62. I turned on the television news shortly after arriving and it was full of political conflict and other things that can stir emotions and boil blood. Paula checked her blood pressure 15 or 20 minutes into the news and it had shot up to 135/80! She’s been telling me ever since that I’m killing her by watching the news! But here’s the point, the news relates to things we have little control over. It’s probably better to focus on matters in which we can make a difference. We can “love our neighbors.” We can serve Jesus in our community. We can make a difference where we live. We need to pray for our leaders and our nation, but most of our attention should be given to people in whose lives we can make a difference by living “a more excellent way.”

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.