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.

Northwest Baptist Update as We Begin 2017

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Happy New Year! I trust that each of you had a meaningful Christmas celebration, a great New Year, and some wonderful times with family.

I wanted to give you some encouraging information regarding 2016, even as we begin 2017. We don’t yet have all of the ACP (Annual Church Profile) reports from our churches, so we do not have total baptism and attendance information. We do, however, have information regarding cooperative mission giving and some of what we accomplished cooperatively. Regarding the Cooperative Program, income exceeded budget for the first time since the 1990s. We received $2,811,960 on a budget of $2,777,000, for a total of $34,960 over the budget. As exciting as this is, it is even more significant that we received $101,455 above giving in 2015, which is a 3.74 percent increase.

Other mission giving increased as well. The Lottie Moon International Missions Offering was $559,526, increasing from $495,843 over 2015. The Northwest Impact Offering was $103,611, increasing from $102,231. World Hunger Offering was $21,597, up from $20,338. The only offering that decreased was the Annie Armstrong Offering which was $244,297, down from $246,269 in 2015. In addition to these offerings, Northwest Baptists contributed an additional $14,548 through Disaster Relief. When you put all of this together, Northwest Baptists contributed $3,755,539 to missions through the cooperative means of the NWBC and the SBC. We have generous, mission-hearted churches and people in the Northwest!

The significance of our missions giving is quickly understood when you know that we currently have 66 new churches receiving monthly supplements. Also, more than 1,000 received in 2016, and will receive in 2017, pastoral leadership training, as well as evangelism, small group, VBS and other forms of training. It is particularly exciting to see growth in our collegiate campus ministry. At the end of 2016 we had Baptist Collegiate ministries on 13 campuses. This week, however, ministries were started on two new campuses with the plan to begin two more shortly! Though the NWBC participates in collegiate ministry through the CP, most of the work is done by volunteer/self-funded campus ministers who have a call from God to reach the next generation. We praise God for these men and women!

Additionally, our CLD training (Contextualized Leadership Development), in partnership with Gateway Seminary, is showing significant growth. We had one location last year (Portland), but we will have three locations this spring, adding Springfield and Longview, with East Wenatchee likely starting a center in the fall. Five students completed work during the fall 2016 term, receiving the Pastoral Ministries Certificate.

We are also planning on two East Asia vision trips in 2017, taking pastors to Japan and the Big Country so that their churches can connect with our IMB workers there. In 2016, about 250 Northwest Baptists, from dozens of churches, did mission work in East Asia, including 163 who ministered to 1,100 East Asia IMB personnel and their children last August. All of this is communicated to our churches via the outstanding publication of our bi-monthly Witness publication.

Additionally, enrollment at Gateway Seminary’s Pacific Northwest Campus showed a significant increase last fall, growing to 57 students from 46 the previous fall. And the work of the Northwest Baptist Foundation, the trust agency of the NWBC, has grown and prospered to the extent that they gifted the NWBC with a $25,000 check during our annual meeting in November 2016. Thank you!

I often say that it is a good day to serve the Lord, and it’s a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest. I believe this to be true. It’s true because every day is a good day to serve our Lord. And it’s true because we have great people with whom to serve in the Northwest and God’s hand is evident in our work. Thank you for how you serve our Lord through your church, your community, and through the NWBC.

Executive Director’s Annual Report 2016

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The Family Gathering (Annual Meeting) of the Northwest Baptist Convention is in Spokane on Nov. 15-16. Our theme for the meeting is “Jesus, Our Peace.” The report below will be included in our book of reports.

“For He is our peace” (Eph. 2:14a).

Every human being yearns for peace. Peace of mind and heart. Peace in relationships. Peace in the home. But few find such rest.

Those who know Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Scriptures understand why peace is often absent. Peace and joy are blessings available only to those whose faith rests in Jesus Christ and live in obedience to Him.

Historians will not use the term “peace” when describing America in the year 2016. We have experienced the most discouraging and divisive presidential election campaign since the 19th Century. The topics and language of the campaigns were unedifying, morally corrosive and corrupting. Bitterness, contempt and cynicism bloomed fully. Friendships have been damaged or destroyed, even among Christians, over this year’s election. The witness of the Church, and of many believers, has been damaged as well.

Added to this, 2016 was a year of protests over police shootings, the assassination of police officers, and vicious acts of terrorism. In 2015 the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right, and in 2016 the Obama administration interpreted federal civil rights law (Title IX) to mean that federally funded schools must not discriminate against transgender students and therefore must allow them to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their chosen gender identity. Some businesses and other organizations have quickly adopted the federal government’s approach, resulting in the boycotting of states that oppose the new policy.

Shakespeare would have loved to write about all of this! But perhaps Solomon described it best when he said of mankind, “madness is in their hearts while they live” (Eccl. 9:3).

What is the believer and the church to do when “madness” fills the heart and “contempt” inhabits the space between neighbors? We must do what God’s people have always done: trust Jesus Christ to enable us to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The shed blood of Jesus Christ applied to the sinner’s heart brings us near to God and near to others, creating peace.

When Jesus saved the chief persecutor the Church, Saul, he gave him peace with God, peace with his enemies, and enabled him to help others find peace through Christ. These included his jailer in Philippi and some of Emperor Nero’s own household in Rome. Though the Early Church lived under persecution which was often intense, peace with God brought the certainty of eternal life, and it enabled the Church to love its enemies, sometimes loving them into repentance and faith.

Our neighbors must see and experience peace from Northwest Baptists. Through our love for God, our love and respect for each other, and our love for people that embrace values and lifestyles totally opposed to biblical teaching, our neighbors will witness a “peace that surpasses understanding.” Recently I was speaking with an elderly man who called himself an agnostic. When he asked me what I did for a living, and I told him that I was a pastor, he said, “You won’t like me!” I said, “Now why wouldn’t I like you?” That led to a respectful conversation in which I think he saw that disagreement does not have to equal dislike, and Christians need not draw lines of friendship and respect that negate those who disagree with us.

As you read this annual report of the NWBC, I pray it represents faithfulness to Jesus and communicates the peace that is found in Him. The front-line work of disciple-making, baptizing and teaching believers to obey Christ is the work of each local church. But we believe that only by working together as a network of churches can we effectively carry out the Great Commission and Great Commandment of Jesus Christ. Starting churches among dozens of language groups, training servant leaders, sending missionaries, doing disaster relief and college ministry and developing evangelism tools and strategies, are best done as we collaborate.

Perhaps no work of NWBC churches in 2016 illustrates this better than our mission trip to serve 1,100 IMB missionaries and children serving in Asia. Thirty-two of our churches sent 163 persons to Thailand in order to serve our missionaries during a 10-day retreat in August. We provided all of the teaching and care for 450 children, provided tech support, medical professionals, and preaching and worship leading for the missionaries themselves. Eight of our churches sent one person, eight sent two, and sixteen sent three or more. Other churches sent their VBS offering to help pay for the trip. Still others prayed for those who went.

The man who leads all of these missionaries said that 500 missionaries completed an evaluation form, giving our team the highest marks in all aspects of our work. We have already been invited to return for their next big retreat. No convention or association of churches has ever done this, making the NWBC the first. I love it! And the reason I so love it is because we modelled our claim that we can do more together. And this isn’t the only way we ministered to our IMB missionaries this year. Many churches have sent teams to work alongside our missionaries where they serve. As they served missionaries over there, God blessed these same churches here.

I am grateful that as we gather for our annual meeting in Spokane, November 15-16, we celebrate a significant increase in baptisms (an increase of more than 15 percent, or 326 persons and 2,006 total baptisms), an increase in church attendance (our combined attendance is over 30,000 in our churches each week), and an increase in Cooperative Program (CP) mission giving (3.16 percent increase over the first nine months). Through the first nine months we have also seen 19 new church planting teams begin their work. These include a church for the Somi people in Portland (the pastor is from India), African people in Seattle (the pastor is from Zimbabwe), Mandarin Chinese in Federal Way, a college church in Eugene, and others in Spokane, Olympia, and Hamilton, WA, among other peoples and places.

This year we also trained more than 300 people, from about 70 churches, in how to share Christ through Story Witnessing, or Listening Evangelism, as it is sometimes called. Many of our churches also used the MY316 Evangelism Resources, which are available through the NWBC at no cost as your CP giving has paid for these resources (some of this material is available in Korean and Spanish).

As I consider where we are as a nation, and what we are trying to accomplish as Northwest Baptists, the truth that Jesus is our peace has warmed my heart and settled my soul many times over the past year. I look forward to developing this theme more fully in my oral report on Wednesday morning, Nov. 16. Who we are in Christ, and the spiritual work He has done in us, precedes what we do in His Kingdom. Those in whom the peace and joy of Christ are present will serve Him best “in times like these.”

It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

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!

For This, and More, We Give You Thanks

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Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for me. Uniquely American and thoroughly Christian, Thanksgiving was birthed in the hearts of those who needed much. When the Pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving, they did so at the end of a year in which half of them died. Plymouth Rock received 102 Pilgrims, but by Thanksgiving only 51 were still alive. Still, they feasted for four days with their Native American friends, grateful for what God provided. Then, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, just days after he delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19. With the blood of soldiers watering the ground in the North and the South, Lincoln called upon the nation to set aside a day to thank God for His blessings. Remarkable!

As I look forward to Thanksgiving, gratitude fills my heart as I reflect back on collaborative ministry that we enjoy in the Northwest. Consider a few matters for which we can be thankful.

First, rejoice that we reached more people for Christ, and the baptismal waters were stirred more frequently in our churches, than they were the previous year. Pastors and churches are facing great challenges, but your obedience to Christ and labor for Him is changing eternity for thousands of people in the Northwest and the mission fields beyond. Thank God for this!

Second, in the past year new work was started among those speaking English, Nepali, Spanish, Mandarin, and Korean, joining almost 30 different languages represented in our NWBC churches. By working together, we have become the most linguistically diverse network of churches in the Northwest. In our annual meeting last week we prayed for Christian Phan, pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Renton (Vietnamese), and Raju Subedi, pastor of International Church in Beaverton (Bhutanese), each of whom is the nationally elected leader of their respective fellowship of churches. It is an honor and a blessing to partner with such men. Among our pastors are those who have led the national Korean fellowship of churches, the national Romanian fellowship of churches, and the national Ukrainian fellowship. Thank God for this!

Third, we ended October at 99.9 percent of budget through the first ten months of 2015. With a strong final two months we could make budget for the first time since 1997. Thank you for your sacrificial generosity to support missions through CP. The very reason for our existence as a convention is to provide our churches the means to collaborate in missions and evangelism, and your faithfulness in giving enables us to do that. In addition, our Sylvia Wilson/Northwest Impact Mission Offering is up 23 percent over last year. You still have two months remaining to donate to Northwest Missions in support of Disaster Relief, Evangelism, Church Planting, and Leadership Development in the Northwest. Thank God for this!

Fourth, at our annual meeting last week in Portland we elected outstanding new leaders. Steve Bryant, a layman from Highland Baptist, Redmond, OR was elected President. Matthew Savage, the pastor of Journey Church, Everett, WA was elected first Vice-president. And Josh Martin, worship pastor of Resonate Church, Pullman, WA was elected second Vice-president. I look forward to working with these fine men. Pastors Dale Jenkins, Bryan Toll, and Frank Johnson each served two years in the aforementioned offices, and they each served us exceptionally well. Thank God for this!

Fifth, regarding your NWBC staff, I am grateful to report that David Gass will join our staff on February 1. You will learn more about David and his family in the next couple of months, but I want to mention him now so that you will lift David and his family up in prayer. Nora is his wife and Parker and Halle are their two children. David will serve in Regions 1 and 2 as a Church Health/Evangelism Catalyst. He will also assist convention-wide with our East Asia mission partnership. For the past 13 years David and his family have served with the IMB in Asia. Some of you have met him at the EA1Day events we have done. David and Nora are two of the returning missionaries that we have been praying for as the IMB reduces staff. David volunteered to leave the IMB and join the NWBC. We thank God that He led the Gass family to the Northwest. They are moving from Taipei, Taiwan.

For these reasons, and many more, we thank our heavenly Father. I trust that each of you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving! It is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!

Executive Director’s Annual Report for the NWBC, November 2015

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Among the most moving and challenging passages of Scripture are those in which the Apostle Paul speaks personally about his life and ministry. One reason these passages are spiritually and emotionally powerful might be that Paul often wrote from jail. He wrote about his suffering, his fighting “the good fight” and finishing “the race” well.

I have noticed that when Paul speaks personally about his life that he often references the “day of the Lord.” As he served Christ, and when he suffered for his service, never far from his thoughts was the certainty of the coming day when “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). He even anticipated that he would “boast in the day of Christ” that he “didn’t run in vain or labor for nothing” (Phil. 2:16).

Paul’s belief that he could labor in such a way as to “boast in the day of Christ” is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot. Almost daily we hear new accounts of brothers and sisters giving their lives for Christ in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Occasionally we are privileged to learn that they died boasting of Jesus, praising Jesus, with anticipation that they will soon look into the face of Jesus. As the Bible says, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

If you are able to attend the annual meeting of the NWBC on November 10-11, 2015, I pray that the reports you hear represent a faithfulness to Jesus about which we can boast in the day of Christ. The frontline work of disciple-making, baptizing and teaching believers to obey Christ is the work of each local church. Still, we believe that only through believers and churches working together, supporting one another, cooperating in the great missions task before us, can we accomplish all that we hope to boast about in the day of Christ.

Consider some of what we have accomplished in the Northwest as we have worked together. Together we have engaged new language and ethnic groups through planting churches among Mandarin, Spanish, Korean, Bhutanese, Native-American, African-American and other peoples. More than 130 of our 466 churches worship in a language other than English. Increasingly we are seeing second-generation churches formed. These are churches comprised primarily of ethnic peoples who worship in English. One of the “miracles” of cooperation is seen in the diversity of our convention of churches.

In leadership training we have seen well over 1,000 people participate in various regional and convention-wide training events. This includes over 200 pastors in pastor cluster groups, transitional pastor training, mission and evangelism training, Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) and other specialized opportunities. The greatest single evangelism ministry of our churches is Vacation Bible School. This year 552 leaders were trained in VBS and hundreds of professions of faith were recorded by our churches.

MY316 Evangelism Training is used by many of our churches, with some of the curriculum now available in Spanish and Korean. The impact of helping each new believer learn how to share their faith, and identify those in their life who are unchurched and most likely lost, is the single most important thing a church can do for a new Christian. Well, it’s difficult to put anything above teaching new Christians to pray and meditate on Scripture, but you get the point. And remember, MY316 Evangelism Resources are available to all of our churches without charge. Your Cooperative Program gifts have already purchased those.

In 2015 many of our churches continued the westward journey until they arrived in East Asia. Our partnership with the IMB has blossomed as Northwesterners travel to faraway places where there are few believers and little access to the gospel. Our IMB leaders have asked the NWBC to bring 200 Northwest Baptist people to serve 1,300 IMB missionaries and their children in Pattaya, Thailand from August 1-10, 2016. What a privilege!

Although the Northwest is not immune to the financial struggles and disappointing evangelistic results of our greater Southern Baptist family, we are thankful that we experienced an increase in baptisms and church attendance last year. From the reports we are receiving, we anticipate experiencing growth in baptisms this year as well. In addition, missions giving through the Cooperative Program saw the largest increase in our history last year, with NWBC churches giving $185,000 more in 2014 over 2013, for a 7.47 percent increase. Through the first nine months in 2015 we are $44,867 ahead of last year, for a 2.27 percent increase. With a strong fourth quarter we could make budget for the first time in almost 20 years.

It is no empty slogan to say that Northwest Baptists serve Christ from our neighborhoods to the nations. Our pastors and churches are engaged in the joyful task of loving their neighbors, blessing their communities as “salt and light,” and sharing the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, we are sending and sustaining missionaries the world over. Many Northwesterners are even joining them on mission in foreign lands.  And increasingly we are serving the nations who have come to us. International students and immigrants from many lands are now our neighbors. For this we are grateful. It truly is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest.

As I meditate on Paul’s references to “the day of the Lord,” I am moved to consider that day myself. Will my life and work stand scrutiny on that day? Am I stewarding my witness, gifts and finances in a manner worthy of Christ? As I consider the coming “day,” I am less concerned about the opinions of others and more committed to pleasing Christ, and Him alone if necessary. On “that day” nothing else will matter, which means, in fact, that nothing else really matters today.