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  1. Forty years ago today, I was ordained into the gospel ministry. As I look back over the past four decades, I say with the apostle Paul, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12). Aside from my salvation and my family, there has been no greater joy in life than to serve Christ as a preacher of the gospel. Of course, I can’t look back at that day without thanking God for Terrie who stood at my side that evening…and still loves and supports me. A godly wife who serves as a partner and friend in life and ministry is an indescribably precious gift. As I’ve been reflecting on these past forty years, I started jotting down things the Lord has taught me. Some I already knew and believed before starting in ministry but believe now with the added conviction of experience. Some I learned along the way. I share this list here partly to testify of God’s faithfulness and largely to encourage anyone else in ministry who may be helped by reading through these truths. They are in no particular order. God is faithful and trustworthy. God has never failed to keep His promises. He has been faithful and true, and I have never regretted trusting Him. God’s Word is powerful and changes lives. Sometimes my grown sons look at my preaching outlines from thirty-five and forty years ago and shake their heads. Let’s just say I’ve grown as an expository preacher over the years. But even in those early days with sparse outlines and fewer cross references or in-depth study, I was preaching God’s Word. And God used it to change lives. I never want to preach less than the Spirit-inspired, life-changing Word of God. (See 2 Timothy 4:2 and Hebrews 4:12.) The church belongs to Christ, and He will build His church. I remember our first week in Lancaster when I had knocked on over 500 doors…and still had not seen anyone trust Christ. But it was that Saturday night that our daughter Danielle was saved. And she was the first person my first Sunday as pastor. I’ve learned over the years that if I will be diligent in obeying Christ’s command to witness, He will give the increase. (See Matthew 16:18 and 1 Corinthians 3:6–7.) Discipleship is part of the Great Commission. Every healthy church disciples new believers. It might not be in a specified one-on-one program, and they might not even call it “discipleship.” But helping new Christians grow in their faith is an essential element of the Great Commission. As our church became more intentional in a one-on-one discipleship program, we saw more new Christians flourish. (See John 8:31.) The church can get another pastor; you can’t get another wife. An older, wiser pastor made that statement to me when I was focused on the exploding growth of our church. It was a reminder of my God-given priorities as a husband and father first. Ministry and family do not need to be in competition. It’s possible to have a thriving family and growing ministry. Ideally this happens as you involve your family in serving together. Ultimately it happens as you rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom on when and how to make adjustments in both areas. There is value to life experience. I graduated Bible college with a lot more confidence than I had a few years into the pastorate! The things you are sure you know when you are 20 aren’t necessarily wrong (especially when you are doing your best to apply Scripture), but they can be shallow or misguided. Time and listening to wise counsel is essential. Ministry philosophy takes time to develop. I have the same doctrine and convictions today that I had forty years ago when I was ordained. But I’ve learned more along the way about servant leadership and about the application of biblical principles within the DNA of a particular ministry. The growth in my life has made me want to be patient with young leaders who are developing their ministry philosophy. They need time and space to develop, and they need biblical mentors who will dialog with and encourage them. Not everything that grows is healthy. This is true of churches and of ministries within a church. It’s easy to look at churches that are growing and just mimic their methods. But if their methods are not saturated in New Testament principles, including conversion of the lost to the gospel, it may just be a short-term crowd—not a church. The Great Commission is still the main thing. There are a million and one things that pull at a pastor’s attention. There is one mission Christ has given His church, and that is the Great Commission. We must focus on sharing the gospel with the lost, leading people to Christ, following up with baptism, and intentionally discipling new converts. (See Matthew 28:19–20.) God does amazing works in desert places. As Tom Malone used to say, “When God is going to do something wonderful He starts with the difficult. When God is going to do something miraculous He starts with the impossible.” Throughout Scripture, and the past thirty-seven years in my life, I’ve watched God do miraculous works in a desert place. Christlike leadership is servant leadership. The Lord used a season of trial early in my pastoral ministry to teach me the shepherd-like leadership of Christ and the importance of grace-filled, servant leadership. The book Guided by Grace was one result of this season. (See 1 Peter 5:2.) Resting is not laziness. Every moment of our lives should be lived to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). But this doesn’t mean every moment needs to be filled with activity. Waiting time is not wasted time. Our souls need time to renew. God blesses faith. Whether it is in our giving, soulwinning, serving…when we step out in faith, God rewards. (See Hebrews 11:6.) A loving family is a great source of joy. For a Christian husband and father, family should never be thought of as an inconvenience but as a God-given role for service. But even beyond that, when family and ministry are in sync, our families can be a wonderful place of acceptance and joy. A sacrificial life will always be unfinished. Living to cross every item off a to-do list only works if you carefully guard your list. But living sacrificially for Christ and others will include interruptions and a vision of faith that is never complete. For these reasons, we need to learn to build rhythms of work and rest into our lives. Relationships are more important than accomplishments. Years ago, I committed that I would not use people to build my ministry or embitter my family or our staff to build our church. Some of the greatest gifts God has given my over the past 40 years are dear friends and co-laborers in ministry. Failure can be good when it drives me to Christ. I would prefer a life of unbroken success, but that has not been my experience. Failure, however, whether that be in a ministry idea that didn’t work out or the conviction of the Holy Spirit that I mishandled a situation, can be good when it renews my dependance on the Lord. I am accepted in Christ and do not need the approval of others for joy. I do not need to fear what others think but to simply live for the glory of God. (See Ephesians 1:6.) True preaching happens in the power of the cross and emptiness of self. In my early years of ministry, I was quicker to think a “great sermon” was a bombastic sermon. I’m increasingly appreciative of preachers who preach the text and point hearers to the cross, regardless of their preaching style. (See 1 Corinthians 1:18–25.) The ministry does not depend on me. It’s something of a paradox: God uses people to make a real difference, and our surrender and obedience matter for the cause of Christ. But at the same time, God is able to accomplish His work through whomever He chooses. No one is indispensable. Time invested in my children and grandchildren is of eternal value. Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14). Children are not a nuisance; they are a blessing. Success is knowing and doing the will of God. Measuring “success” in either my personal life or ministry is impossible this side of Heaven—except for asking the question, “Am I being faithful to do the will of God?” An opportunity does not equal an obligation. To be involved in every possible ministry opportunity is to break the body and limit the ministry. Discernment is needed in order to do what God has called me to do. There is always time for the will of God. There is not always time for the will of Paul Chappell, but there is always time for the will of God. But doing the will of God requires saying “no” to distractions. (See John 9:4, 17:4.) It is only as we develop others around us that we permanently succeed. This goes back to the importance of discipleship, but it also includes leadership development. The example of Jesus, and of Paul as well, is that we not only teach and preach, but that we specifically develop leaders who are equipped to do the same. (See 2 Timothy 2:2.) Our willingness to give to the Lord is a tangible measure of our love for Him. I used to hesitate to preach about giving. I didn’t want to be “one of those preachers who only talks about money.” But the longer I have served as a pastor, the more I have seen the connection between our willingness to give to the Lord and our love for Him. (See Matthew 6:21.) God will supply every need. In 40 years of ministry, 37 in one church, God has met impossible needs in my life and for our church. He has enabled us to build a large campus and give generously to missions. None of it has been out of surplus. But God has met every need—financial or otherwise—for our ministry. (See Philippians 4:19.) My worry has been a lack of faith, and my faith has cancelled worry. Knowing God has met needs in the past and remembering He will today are two different things. When I forget God’s promises, I tend to worry, and that has always been detrimental to my faith. On the other hand, when I make the conscious choice to trust God, worry dissipates. (See Philippians 4:6–8 and 1 Peter 5:7.) The answer to overload is not trying harder. Some goals are reached by more effort. But when you have reached the end of your strength, the answer isn’t to just try harder. It is to gain a fresh understanding of Christ’s work on the cross and live in a more vital awareness of His grace. (See Galatians 2:20.) God’s grace is sufficient. There will never be a burden, trial, or strain for which God’s grace is not enough to meet my needs. It is always present and always sufficient. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9.) Satan never stops fighting. There is never a good time to let down your guard. Satan doesn’t play fair, and he doesn’t take breaks. (See 1 Peter 5:8.) The victory is already won. Although we remain in a daily spiritual battle, we do not fight for victory so much as we fight from Christ has already defeated Satan, and we are confident of His power in us. Don’t pay more attention to critics than to friends. It is true that we can learn from our critics, but not all criticism is helpful or worth listening to. And when the voices of critics become louder in our hearts than the voices of our friends, we need to adjust. Friends don’t need explanations and enemies don’t care. My friend R. B. Ouellette has encouraged me with this thought over the years. I have found it to be true. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I read widely and learn from nearly everyone I meet. But true wisdom comes from God and begins with a proper fear of God. People who know and fear God are who I want as the greatest influencers in my life. (See Psalm 111:10.) Nothing enters my life accidentally. I serve a sovereign God who providentially intervenes in my life. He has promised and is able to make even the results of mine or others sinful choices work together for His glory and my good. (See Romans 8:28.) My mission is not my legacy; it is to fulfill His glory. Whatever the Lord allows me to accomplish in this life is not for my name but His. I want to leave my children and grandchildren with a good name. But I do not need to worry about building a legacy other than a testimony of faithfulness. God is able. There is no reason to dream or plan according to my limited resources when I serve a God who “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20). My great desire is to end my race still in love with Christ, with Terrie, and with the local church. I don’t want to cross the finish line embittered, disgruntled, or disqualified. I want to be able to joyfully say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). View the full article
  2. This month I will celebrate my fortieth year being ordained as a Baptist pastor. No one could have prepared me for the changes that were ahead in the church and ministerial landscape over this forty-year period. I was raised as a Baptist and trained to be a Baptist preacher. While I believe there has been a succession of truth passed down through the ages, I have not found a line of church succession named “Baptist” that is identifiable every week of world history. I do believe, however, that churches whose doctrine of salvation and mode of baptism is scriptural have always existed since the time of Christ. And I believe that today those doctrinal distinctives are found in biblical Baptist churches. I don’t believe in a “Baptist Bride” position that only the churches which can trace their succession to the time of Christ are legitimate or that only the people who are members of such churches are part of the bride of Christ referred to in Ephesians 5:25–27. I have friends who are not Baptist and who are wonderful Christians. One of the Baptist distinctives is individual soul liberty. I believe every Christian must make doctrinal decisions based on his or her understanding of the Word of God. Even this article is not written to force my convictions on you. It is written to challenge your thought processes, especially if you are a Baptist pastor. I am not a denominational Baptist. Most large Baptist denominations have struggled and compromised in recent decades over a variety of important issues, including the inerrancy of Scripture, creation, alcohol, women pastors, and ordaining gay clergy. I am happy to not be a part of such groups and have identified throughout my whole ministry as autonomous, or independent, of Baptist denominations. Yet, I’m still a Baptist—and I am one by conviction. As I see Baptist pastors distance themselves from the name Baptist or young men who were, like me, saved and trained in Baptist churches claim that the name Baptist is unimportant, I have concerns. I invite you to think through some of these with me. Why Some Baptists Discard the Name I do believe there is a thought process a man who is trained as a Baptist but chooses to minimize or entirely shed the name works through. I’m just not convinced it is the right process. Sometimes it is a marketing decision. I get the fact that we want to present our church in brochures and on our websites and social media as something appealing. We don’t want to seem negative. Good marketers remove the “distasteful” aspects of their products. So, in following the marketing logic, many pastors remove the name Baptist. But it’s worth asking the question: who are you winning when you do this? It’s probably not unsaved people, who often don’t understand or care about the differences between Baptist or non-denominational anyway. I have found maintaining our historic and biblical identity helpful to our church family. If we lose potential members from different denominational backgrounds in that process, we likely have gained a good spirit in the church, maintained doctrinal purity, and attracted people who appreciate or become discipled in our doctrinal convictions. I don’t want people to visit our ministry websites or social media or to even drive by our church without knowing we are unashamedly a Baptist church. Sometimes it is a perceived stigma. Some who withdraw from the name Baptist do so because a mentor who strongly identified as a Baptist sullied the name to them—perhaps through moral failure or a mean spirit or just plain weirdness. So now this disillusioned pastor wants to remove everything from his past. Although each pastor and church will certainly have stylistic variances from the previous generation or from where they were trained, someone who is hurt by the past or believes there is a stigma to his heritage may take more pronounced steps to cast off any similarities to his recent predecessors. This is usually not just one thing, but is often a combination of things, including a distaste for having leadership requirements in the church, turning to more trendy cultural alignments, and avoiding strong doctrinal positions in preaching. I was recently talking with a pastor who is working through some of these issues, and I happened to call him “brother.” He responded, “Don’t call me brother; that’s the way I used to talk.” The problem with this kind of reactionary thinking is that focusing on doing things differently than your past means that your experiences, rather than God’s Word, becomes the standard for how you operate. And speaking of God’s Word, Ephesians 6:21 says, “But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things.” (Sorry, brother, I couldn’t resist.) Of course, shedding the name Baptist because of its stigma is not always because of hurts of the past. Sometimes it is just the concern that the public at large looks down on Baptists as being narrow-minded, out of touch, or mean-spirited. There is definitely a negative stereotype media portrayal of born again Christians, and sometimes Baptists, along these lines. And the truth is that there is a stigma to the name Baptist. But there is also a stigma to words like church and Bible. But is removing the name the right answer? What the Name Baptist Means When considering words of identification, it’s good to know what those words represent. In the case of the word Baptist, there is a rich heritage and biblical identification that I do not see in any other single word. Identifying as a Baptist encompasses a biblical position and historic identity. At our church, we teach this in our new members class and emphasize it to our church family. Biblical distinctives I like to use the acrostic with the word BAPTISTS to explain the Baptist distinctives to new Christians. I explain that although there are non-baptist churches that hold some of these beliefs, the eight of these as a whole is what sets Baptist churches apart from others; they are what makes us distinct. Biblical authority in all matters of faith and practice: We believe the Bible is inspired and infallible and is the final authority. It is from God’s Word that we understand and teach the fundamental doctrines of our faith as well as pattern our church polity. (See 2 Timothy 3:16; John 17:17; Acts 17:11; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:20–21.) Autonomy or self governing power of the local church: We believe that every local church should be independent of a hierarchical framework or outside governmental structure. (See Colossians 1:18; Acts 13–14, 20:19–30; Ephesians 1:22–23.) Priesthood of believers: God’s Word assures believers that we have direct access to God through our relationship with Christ. We believe and teach that the priesthood of the believer is the unspeakably precious privilege of every child of God. (See Hebrews 4:14–16; 1 Timothy 2:5–6; 1 Peter 2:5–10.) Two offices within the church: Scripture only mentions two church offices—pastor (also referred to as elder or bishop) and deacon. These two offices are to be filled by godly men of integrity in each local church. (See Philippians 1:1; Acts 6:1–7; 1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:6–9; 1 Peter 5:1–4.) Individual soul liberty: We believe that each person must make a personal decision of repentance and faith in Christ. (See Romans 10:9–17, 14:1–23.) Parents do not make this decision for their children, and the government cannot make it for its people. Additionally, each person is responsible before God in matters of holiness and conscience. Separation of church and state: The state should have no power to intervene in the free expression of religious liberty. (See Matthew 22:21; Acts 5:29–31; Romans 13:1–4.) Two ordinances—baptism and the Lord’s Table: These ordinances have no part in salvation and only serve as pictures of what Christ did for us. (See Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; Acts 2:38–43, 8:36–38; Romans 6:1–6) Separation and personal holiness: We believe that Christ’s ultimate sacrifice demands our complete consecration, and we desire that our daily living would reflect the holiness of our great God. (See 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Peter 1:16.) We could list more, such as believers’ baptism by immersion and the church as a body of saved, baptized believers. But ultimately these and others are embedded in the distinctions listed above. Historic identity The history of those who have held Baptist convictions is a history of choosing to suffer for Christ over enjoying the favor of men. Whether at the hands of oppressive emperors or under the Roman Catholic Church or even from the Reformers themselves, Baptists have stood courageously through persecution for their biblical convictions. I think of Felix Manz in Switzerland who preached salvation by grace alone followed by believers’ baptism for church membership. (This was in contrast to the Reformers who were teaching salvation by grace but church membership by infant sprinkling.) For his convictions on baptism and church membership, Manz was imprisoned multiple times and—because he kept preaching it and planting churches across Switzerland—was ultimately executed by drowning. I’ve stood on the shore of the River Limmat where his mother and brother watched him taken out to the middle of the river for his execution. I think, too, of the whole congregation of the earliest Baptist church in Wales. Established in 1649, it was originally located in the town of Ilston but soon relocated to nearby Swansea. John Myles served as the first pastor, until he, along with several members from the church, fled persecution by immigrating to the American colonies. They ended up in Massachusetts where the same group established a Baptist church in 1663—the earliest Baptist church in the state. The town of Swansea, Massachusetts was named after this church’s hometown in Wales. True to Baptist beliefs of individual soul liberty, the town was one of the first towns in New England founded on the premise of religious liberty for all. We are all aware that, as rich as our history is, there have been those who claimed the name Baptist but we wished they wouldn’t have! I have been clear with our church family over the years to state our disagreement with Baptists whose doctrine was false, such as Westboro Baptist, or whose spirit or ministry philosophy is toxic. But we have not allowed these exceptions to drive us away from our true heritage. Functional implications Remaining a Baptist is more than keeping the word on your church sign. I have always believed that having a Baptist church means having a church of Baptist people. I remember back when we were averaging under fifty people in attendance and needed a pianist. A dear family visited our church, and the wife was an excellent piano player. They were saved but had previously been baptized in a church that taught a non-biblical view of “speaking in tongues” and that this was the evidence of salvation as well as that one could lose their salvation. Our belief about baptism is that the mode is immersion, the order is after salvation, and the authority to baptize rests in a church of biblical doctrine. (This is the historic Baptist position.) Thus, we encouraged this family that if they believed the doctrinal statement of our church, they should consider being baptized to identify with Christ and be added to our church. They chose not to be baptized in a Baptist church. We lost a pianist but kept our conviction. Had we filled our church with people of different doctrines and practices, we would today be more of an interdenominational church. Another practical aspect of remaining a Baptist church is following biblical teaching regarding the Lord’s Table. First Corinthians 11 makes it clear that observing the Lord’s Table was required, not optional, for the members of the Corinthian church. And the context of 1 Corinthians is clear that the Lord’s Table is for a saved, baptized body of believers: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). It may seem easier, maybe even more polite, to let an unsaved person take the elements, but it is not scriptural. Church polity is another practical distinction of a Baptist church. Baptists are not elder ruled in the sense of a small group choosing the next pastor. In fact, the most congregational decision of a Baptist church is the election of pastors and deacons. We see this in Acts 6 in the verbiage, “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men…” (Acts 6:3). In the pastoral epistles of Timothy and Titus, we see that pastors lead the daily ministries of the church, working with deacons. In Ephesians 4:11–12, we see pastors are to equip the entire congregation for “the work of the ministry.” Additional Considerations So where does this leave a Baptist pastor thinking through whether being a Baptist is a an asset or a liability? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind. The pressure on young Pastors to “succeed” is real. Our human nature desires the acceptance of others and the affirmation of numeric growth. It was probably easier to be a Baptist in America fifty years ago when many large and influential churches were Baptist. While there are still thousands of strong Baptist churches, the pressure to attract a crowd is great. And sometimes the quickest path to do that is by not taking a clear doctrinal stand. But there is a ripple effect to this. When one church planter or pastor changes his polity, doctrine, or stand, he quickly encourages others to consider the same path. Seminars are conducted and books are written on how to transition away from the perceived stigma mentioned above. Guys are on social media every day or at meetings encouraging one another in each other’s transition from their Baptist heritage. Pragmatism is prevalent. I remember being asked by prominent people in our community if the name Baptist was necessary. No doubt we lost some donations because we kept the name. However, God has provided and has enabled our church to build a large campus as we have grown numerically and to be a leader in missions giving within the Baptist world for many years. I decided forty years ago I wasn’t going to market the church identity away to hopefully get some other denominational people to join. Some good Christian people did this in other eras. For instance, the Christian & Missionary Alliance was built on this philosophy. (It began as two parachurch organizations focused on outreach and missions and eventually morphed into a denomination.) But those were different days when some sound truth was to be found in various types of churches. I still would not have participated in such a movement then, but I especially would not today as the ecumenical trend of our day downplays vital doctrines and clear biblical practices. Rarely does a pragmatic pastor change just one major tenant of faith or distinctive. Usually there is a domino effect that follows as more beliefs become “non-essentials.” Some of the men who downplay the name Baptist have enough theological grounding to reject liberal doctrine and woke ideology with its false teachings of social justice and anti-family dogma. But many of these pastors have adapted a type of virtue signaling by removing the name Baptist or even doctrinal terms like atonement, sin, judgment, hell, or anything that might seem offensive to unsaved people. This idea of being relevant by downplaying truth was introduced in my lifetime in the seeker-sensitive movement forty years ago. This movement has had an impact on every group—Baptist and others. I remember thinking that being relatable was going to be key for me in growing a church in Southern California. Thankfully, a pastor preached a message that offended me. But the message also reminded me that being culturally sensitive is not as important as being Christ sensitive. (I eventually wrote a little book The Saviour-Sensitive Church on this thought. Also, this experience in my life has emphasized the need to lovingly pray for and purposefully dialog with pastors who are tempted to make unnecessary changes.) Most unsaved people don’t know the difference between the name Baptist and any other label. I’ve always focused on reaching unsaved people rather than attracting people from other churches. In fact, it is interesting to me that while many in the seeker philosophy advocate dropping one’s distinctive identity in order to reach the lost, at a second look, it appears they are trying to reach a broader number of people from various church backgrounds. A pastor needs to be careful of trying to accommodate every person. Decision making based on “not wanting to offend everyone” is not leadership. This type of philosophy has led American churches into wokism and a low view of Scripture. I still believe in the importance of making our message understandable. To that end, I employ methods like using projection on screens while I preach to show maps or pictures. I also believe there is value to making our message relatable. We try to use tracts with attractive graphics and think through what our church posts on social media. There is no reason to be sloppy, outdated, or mean spirited in conveying our message. Even so, relatability is not the goal. It is only part of keeping the message understandable. Two illustrations of this are Peter and Paul as they preached the gospel in two different settings. When Peter preached in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), he knew that his audience already understood monotheistic religion and looked for a Messiah. Thus, most of his message was simply pointing them to Christ as their Messiah. On the other hand, when Paul preached to the Greeks in Athens (Acts 17), he spoke of the many false gods and used illustrations and quotes from their culture in his message. Yet, Peter and Paul both related to their audience, and neither of them adapted or compromised the message itself in order to have a stronger appeal. An effective preacher longs for people to understand truth, but he does not water down truth so as to seem relevant. Making the message understandable is important; changing the message to make it palatable is wrong. The incremental changes pastors make today will be made in excess by the next generation. There is always a tendency to push things further along in the direction in which they are already headed. So when a pastor leans into a direction away from his heritage, those coming up in his ministry tend to take further steps in the same direction. The likelihood of young men who grow up in a church that has relegated the identification of Baptist to a non-essential becoming Baptist pastors themselves is not strong. Young people in these churches who have a heart for things of the Lord tend to have more excitement about graphics and the presentation aspects of ministry than the desire to personally declare the gospel. I believe we send a dangerous message when we change our emphasis from doctrine and preaching to relevancy and excitement. Dropping distinctives is not necessary for growth. Thirty-seven years ago, the Lord brought Terrie and me to a dwindling congregation of about twelve at Lancaster Baptist Church. In those early years, I made repeated decisions to take bold stands for truth and to teach the Baptist distinctives of our church while at the same time passionately and strategically saturating our community with the gospel. For eighteen months, I knocked on five hundred doors per week in my personal soulwinning in addition to training our church family Thursday nights and Saturday mornings on how to share the gospel. The Lord blessed those efforts, and for the past thirty-two years now, I have pastored what some call a “mega church.” And all of this happened in Los Angeles County, California. I have found that God honors His Word and that people appreciate a pastor who is not given to change. I believe the strongest churches in history have had strong commitments to truth. Do not believe those who tell you that dropping your distinctives is necessary to reach people. Our church today has the same doctrinal stand and convictions that it did when it was running twenty in attendance. Does the Name Baptist Really Matter? Yes, there is something to a name. Most parents check the meaning of a name before they give it to their children. And all decent parents want their children to value and uphold their family name. We live in a day when society is forcing the change of traditional terms. Usually, there is an anti-God and anti-family agenda behind that. While it is true that there are a variety of terms or nomenclature that can be adjusted for sake of clarity (Sunday school or small groups mean the same thing), there are some names that matter. In the case of the name Baptist, I have chosen to identify with the truth it represents and the people who died to pass it down. And forty years later, I am thankful to still be a Baptist. View the full article
  3. Every church has core values, but not every church has written them down. And actually, it wasn’t until several years ago that I and some of the other leaders in our church worked on writing our core values. Both the process and the product proved to be a helpful exercise and tool. Today, we have our core values visibly displayed and give them to each new member. They are a key way that we communicate the philosophy of ministry and goal for the body life of our church family. Whether you are a church planter or have been pastoring for many decades, clarifying the core values of a church is beneficial at any stage. As ministries mature, sometimes clutter in purpose and goals builds. Creating a written list of core values can be an aligning tool that helps bring a renewed focus on the church’s doctrine and philosophy of ministry. In this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast, my son Larry and I discuss the process that went into developing and sharing the core values of Lancaster Baptist Church as well as walking through the core values we presented to our church family. (If you cannot view this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.) If this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast was a blessing to you, please share it with a friend and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe to future episodes via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or YouTube. View the full article
  4. Two weeks ago, I spent time at the home bedside of Michael Michael—a dear friend and one of our longtime church members and deacons. Michael talked with great warmth and joy about the faithful love of God in his life, his love for his family and church family, people to whom he had recently witnessed of Christ, and how he was looking forward to seeing his Lord. I felt like I was sitting by the threshold of Heaven listening to a man whose experience with God and prospects of eternity gave him amazing clarity both in looking back and looking forward. The Lord did call Michael to Heaven a few days ago (August 18), just over a week after that conversation. I can’t help but feel glad for him to have left the pain of cancer behind and to right now be in the very presence of the Lord he loves. But I also can’t help but feel sad for his family and our church family in this loss. I’ll never forget when the Michael family first visited Lancaster Baptist Church thirty-one years go. Michael and his wife Aida are both from Egypt. They immigrated to the States (separately) and married here. Brother Michael was saved as a fourteen-year-old boy in Egypt and was already a godly, stable Christian when their family joined Lancaster Baptist Church in 1992. At the time, they had two little girls, who are now both serving the Lord alongside their husbands in ministry. Brother Michael loved his family with all his heart and was a committed provider for them. He and Aida were just a few weeks away from their forty-second wedding anniversary when he went to Heaven. Michael was a pharmacist by profession. Yet, even in his work, his real focus was on his coworkers and patients. He loved people, and that love was most seen in his faithfulness to share the gospel with everyone. In our conversation a few weeks ago, Michael told me in detail about people—fellow cancer patients, nurses, doctors, and others—he had recently pointed to Christ and several he was still praying would be saved. Michael was a longtime deacon in our church and a blessing to me in that capacity in untold ways. But what most of our church members knew him as was a friend and a faithful man of God. He was consistent in church soulwinning and outreach opportunities. And he loved our church family. If you ever met Michael Michael, you meant a man who truly cared about you. He loved me as his pastor, and he often expressed that love—in person, in notes, and in prayers. If you’re getting the idea that love was a driving force of this man’s life, you would be correct. And in our last conversation together that day at his bedside, love is what he most talked about. He expressed his love to me and our family, his love for our church, his love for his brothers and sisters, and especially his love for Aida and his girls, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. But what he most talked about was the love of God—not his love for God, evident as that was, but the amazing reality of God’s love for him in Christ. He talked about how faithful God has been to him through the years and how incomparable the love of Christ is that it holds us even in our weaknesses, failures, and lapses of faith, and how wonderful it will be to see Christ face to face. Today, Michael Michael does see Christ face to face. And he leaves a testimony to me and to our church family of a faithful race run for Christ. We will hold the Homegoing service for Brother Michael this Monday at 11:00 AM (PST) at Lancaster Baptist Church. The service will be live streamed at lbclive.tv. View the full article
  5. One of the blessings I look forward to every summer is extra time with our eleven grandchildren. Summer is a good time for grandparents to create special memories! Being with our grandchildren always reminds me of the innocence and impressionability of young hearts. Our grandchildren are ages three to thirteen, and every one of them needs love and acceptance, reassurance and guidance. Satan is waging an all-out assault on the hearts and minds of children. This summer, that assault has been less-veiled than ever before. From the Los Angeles Dodgers honoring a group that performs lewd and blasphemous acts in front of children, to Target selling LGBTQ-themed clothing in toddler sizes, to multiple states setting in motion legislation to allow confused children to have surgeries to mutilate their bodies without their parent’s knowledge, children are under attack. Now, more than ever before, children need parents and grandparents who purposefully and persistently pour truth into their lives. Now, more than ever before, children need parents and grandparents who purposefully and persistently pour truth into their lives. Click To Tweet What are some of the truths children need to hear over and over? 1. I Am Uniquely Created I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. (Psalm 139:14) The world is telling children that they are an accident—a random result of nature. They are being told that everything about them, including their gender, is up to them to decide and to form. Those are overwhelming—not to mention untrue—thoughts for children to bear. The truth is that every child is uniquely created by God with love and purpose for their lives. Nothing about them is an accident. Children need to frequently hear that God loves them, purposefully designed them, and has a special purpose for their lives. Children need to frequently hear that God loves them, purposefully designed them, and has a special purpose for their lives. Click To Tweet Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5) 2. I Am Lovingly Accepted To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6) Children are most vulnerable to the lies of Satan when they do not feel accepted by their parents. Children are most vulnerable to the lies of Satan when they do not feel accepted by their parents. Click To Tweet Throughout the New Testament, God frequently assures His children that they are fully accepted in Christ. When we become sons and daughters of God, we are His forever, and He never holds us at arms length to prove our worth. Our own children and grandchildren also need to know that they are lovingly accepted just as God made them. Today’s world promises children acceptance if they will “be brave” to change something about themselves—such as their gender or sexual identity. We need to assure them that we love them as they are. We don’t wish they had a different personality, gender, age, or any other characteristic that is part of who God made them. They need to know that we delight in and fully accept them for who they are. 3. I Am Patiently Directed Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; (Ephesians 5:1) Children of every age need guidance. And they need to know their parents and grandparents care enough about them to provide that guidance. Patiently directing children tells them they are valuable to you, that you believe they are worth your time, and that there is a future for them that is good and worth pursuing. Patiently directing children tells them they are valuable to you, that you believe they are worth your time, and that there is a future for them that is good and worth pursuing. Click To Tweet Ignoring or continually losing your patience with children tells them that they are a nuisance and that all you care about is that they don’t disturb you. God never designed children to raise themselves. He gave them fathers and mothers and grandparents that these adults might invest in children through teaching and instruction and love. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. (Psalm 32:8) And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) Tell a Child the Truth Today As children across America are going back to school this month, I urge every Christian parent and grandparent to regularly and persistently tell the children in your family these three truths: God made you special. I love you just the way God made you. I am here to help teach and prepare you for the good plans God has for your life. And if you serve in any aspect of children’s ministry—bus, Sunday school, Christian school—teach these truths to the children you serve. Every child needs to know these three truths. If you serve children in any capacity—as a parent, grandparent, teacher, Sunday school teacher...—tell these three truths to those children over and over again: Click To Tweet View the full article
  6. In the process of leading a church family and building a congregation, there are times when you need a restart. The apostle Paul wrote to the Galiatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Sometimes this needed reset is because the church has gone through a specific trial or need. Other times, it’s simply the process of a spiritual leader stepping back, renewing his own heart and focus, and then helping the church family reengage in the work of the Lord. In this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast, I share seven steps that have been helpful to me in this process. (If you cannot view this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.) If this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast was a blessing to you, please share it with a friend and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe to future episodes via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or YouTube. View the full article
  7. In the previous post, we looked at five characteristics of an effective ministry team: Calling: We must be confident in the calling and equipping of God. Attitude of Faith: We can approach our area of service with pessimistic discouragement or with an attitude of faith that assumes “God can do anything.” Understanding of Spiritual Gifts: Being aware of the spiritual gifts God has given to us and to the others on our team leads to a synergy and humility that brings excellence. Character: The ministry is no place for slackers. Effective teams are comprised of men and women with moral integrity and a serious work ethic. Compassion: The heart of Jesus is a heart of compassion. And when we are serving in a Christlike way, we will care for lost souls and for one another on our team. In this follow up post, we finish with six more characteristics of an effective ministry team: 6. Connectedness Cohesive ministry teams aren’t comprised of many “independent contractors” who are each seeking to leverage their position on the team to build their own platform or satisfy their own needs. Cohesive teams are comprised of individuals who seek the good of the team and appreciate everyone else on the team. So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:5) There are a few ways this connectedness takes place specifically in a ministry environment: Fellowship: We should work to maintain relationships with those with whom we serve. In fact, we should work harder at maintaining relationships than solving problems. Work harder at maintaining relationships than solving problems. Click To Tweet Do you know the people with whom you serve? Do you enjoy spending time with them? Do you create opportunities to share what God is doing in one another’s lives? Accountability: Another key aspect of connectedness is accountability. Do the others on your team know you will follow through on what you said you will do? Do they know where you are if they need you? Do you often have to be “tracked down,” or do you show up when and where you have committed to be? Does the person you report to know what you are working on, and is it what he or she has assigned you to do? Acceptance: One of the most helpful things I have learned about developing others is that acceptance is the optimal environment for change. Think about it: when you know someone accepts you, you are more open to their input and more motivated to grow in the areas they point out. Acceptance is the optimal environment for change. Click To Tweet All of us have room for growth, but those we serve alongside should not feel like projects we are constantly trying to fix. Rather, they should feel our acceptance and know that we are thankful for them. 7. Respect General Eisenhower once rebuked a generals for referring to a soldier as “just a private.” Eisenhower reminded the general that the army could function better without its generals than it could without its foot soldiers. “If this war is won,” he said, “it will be won by privates.” A team of godly people will be a team that respects one another. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (1 Peter 2:17) We show respect through affirmation and gratitude. We should be quick to recognize the contributions of others and to thank them. Leaders also show respect through loving correction. To not correct those you lead is to not show confidence that you believe they could improve. Of course, the other side of this coin is in how you give that correction. Godly leaders will show respect by giving reprimands with a heart of acceptance, not anger. 8. Loyalty The New Testament never teaches blind loyalty to leaders. When a leader doctrinally errs or morally fails, he should not be followed. But leaders who are following Christ are worthy of the loyalty of friendship and synergy. Paul shared what a help it was to him that he could send Timothy to Philippi knowing that Timothy would act in Paul’s interest there. But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel. (Philippians 2:19–22) From sports to the military, thriving teams are built on loyalty. Trust is built as each person knows that their teammates will always have their back. Proverbs 17:17 tells us, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” From sports to the military, thriving teams are built on loyalty. Click To Tweet Ministry teams must also exhibit loyalty to one another. You may not always agree with those on your team, but if you are loyal, you will support the leader and the good of the team. 9. Commitment The apostle Paul lived with an intense focus on Christ and commitment to the future. He was constantly pressing forward and reaching forth. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14) Effective teams exhibit continuing commitment. Leaders on these teams are committed to growing in leadership skills, and members are committed to following the vision and charted path of the leader. Everyone on the team holds a shared commitment to team goals and personal growth. As spiritual leaders, part of a commitment to the future involves equipping our teams with training. Anyone can dump guilt on people that they should “be better.” True leaders give “how to” training to develop personal growth and specific skills. 10. Endurance The landscape on which we serve is a battleground, not a stadium. Endurance is required. Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. … Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 2:1, 3) The landscape on which spiritual leaders serve is a battleground, not a stadium. Endurance is required. Click To Tweet Thin-skinned, easily-swayed, insecure people won’t lead well or last long. We serve our teammates well by our own faithfulness to the Lord—during times of trials and over the decades of time. In other words, endurance is practiced both in the heat of battle and by staying enlisted for Christ over the years. 11. Discipleship Right in the middle of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to endure as a good soldier is instruction about what he should be doing while he endures. It’s really the heart of what local church ministry is. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2) The goal of a ministry team is to fulfill the Great Commission given by Christ: declare the gospel, baptize new believers, and disciple Christians (Matthew 28:19–20). There are many aspects to fulfilling that responsibility and many connected angles from which it takes place—such as through children’s ministry, adult small groups, building upkeep, etc. But everyone on the team should be personally involved in both receiving and giving Bible truth to others. Discipleship is larger than a curriculum for new converts. (Although we use such a curriculum and have found it very helpful.) New Testament discipleship is the lifelong pursuit of following Christ. And discipling others—teaching them what it means to follow Christ—is the lifelong privilege of every growing Christian. New Testament discipleship is the lifelong pursuit of following Christ. And discipling others is the lifelong privilege of every growing Christian. Click To Tweet This takes place through shepherding a class or congregation, mentoring in one-on-one settings, inviting people into our homes, and encouraging others in their spiritual growth. And, of course, each person on a team has different spiritual gifts and different roles in discipleship. But all of us should be involved in the transfer of truth to others. Evaluate Take a moment to evaluate your effectiveness as a team member. Do these six characteristics describe you? In which areas do you most need to grow? Connectedness: Do you seek to further the mission of your team? Or are you on the team to further your own goals? Do you make time to fellowship with those with whom you serve? Are you accountable in practical ways? Do others feel your acceptance of them? Respect: Do you show common courtesy to others on your team? Do you show appreciation for their contributions? Are you willing to correct lovingly when necessary? Loyalty: Do the other people on your team know that you “have their back”? Do you talk negatively among yourselves about teammates who are not present? Are you willing to set aside your preferences for the good of the team and to follow the team leader’s vision? Commitment: In what ways do you demonstrate continuing commitment to future success? Are you growing in your skill set? Are you equipping others with training and encouraging personal growth? Endurance: When do you find it most difficult to persevere? How does remembering that we serve in the context of a spiritual battlefield help encourage your faithfulness? Discipleship: Who are you currently and personally investing in by way of discipleship? Is there someone God has placed on your heart that you should invest in? Are you sharing God’s Word with others? Are you practicing hospitality? And in what ways are your regular ministry responsibilities part of the larger picture of the church’s responsibility of discipleship? View the full article
  8. Being on a sports team is awesome when everyone on the team is team-spirted and individually skilled. Cohesive teams with motivated individuals win championships. But when any single player loses either the drive to personally excel or the humility to further the success of team as a whole, everyone’s experience suffers. The same is true for ministry teams—only with far more significant ramifications. Each person serving the Lord on the team can make a tremendous difference based on their personal growth as well as their humility and investment in the team as a whole. Ministry teams in the local church may be paid or volunteer, but if they are effective, they will also be growing—individually and collectively. So what are some of the attributes that are present in effective ministry teams? We could list many, but I would like to share eleven—five in this post and six in a follow up post—that I believe are most needed: 1. Calling There is no replacement for having the certainty in your spirit that you are doing what God has called you to do. We see this in Paul’s life; he knew he was called of God to be an apostle and separated to labor in the gospel. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Romans 1:1) This doesn’t meant that without a calling to full-time vocational ministry you will be ineffective in local church ministry. But it does mean that if you aren’t serving with the heart-level conviction that God has placed you in the position you are in and given you the opportunity to serve Him through it, you will struggle with doubt rather than serve with confidence. This will especially become apparent when you face challenges. A man who is uncertain that he is where God wants him will see challenges as indication he should be doing something else. But a leader who has confidence in his calling will display courage and conviction in the face of challenges. 2. Attitude of Faith Everything begins with an attitude. And attitudes are contagious. A Philippians 4:13 attitude in one team member can influence everyone to a spirit of faith. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13) When you think back to the early days of the church in Jerusalem and the selection of the first deacons, you’ll remember that one of the characteristics of Stephen was that he was “a man full of faith” (Acts 6:5). When we have a confidence in God’s ability to sustain us and to work mightily through us, it leads to forward momentum in the work of the Lord. When we have a confidence in God’s ability to sustain us and to work mightily through us, it leads to forward momentum in the work of the Lord. Click To Tweet 3. Understanding of Spiritual Gifts In God’s grace, He has given each of us one or more spiritual gifts—His divine enabling for various aspects of ministry. These are not for our personal benefit but for the good of the body of Christ in the local church. So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:5–8) When everyone on the team understands their spiritual gifts and willingly works within the framework of their gifting, it leads to incredible synergy. It also brings contentment as we no longer have need to compare ourselves to one another but can simply rejoice in how God is using others. When everyone on a ministry team understands their spiritual gifts and willingly works within the framework of their gifting, it leads to incredible synergy. Click To Tweet Warren Wiersbe said, “We must enjoy God’s gifts humbly, because they are gifts.” Recognizing our spiritual gifts should give us added motivation to serve fervently and deflect praise for what God does through us back to God. 4. Character Timothy, who served closely with Paul, knew the many challenges and persecutions Paul faced in ministry. And through them all, Timothy saw Paul’s response of integrity and continued diligence. But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured… (2 Timothy 3:10–11) Ministry is getting tougher, not easier. Effective teams are comprised of men and women with moral integrity and a serious work ethic. 5. Compassion The heart of Jesus was a heart of compassion. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) The work of the ministry is people work, not paperwork. Sure, it includes administrative tasks with needed desk work. But even these should be done for the purpose of meeting the spiritual needs of people. The work of the ministry is people work, not paperwork. Click To Tweet What does compassion look like on a ministry team? Christian compassion is caring for the lost. Lost people matter to God, and they should matter to us. Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In Romans 10, we have a grand verse of salvation available to all that declares, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (verse 13). But the very next verse questions, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” A compassionate Christian will declare the glorious message of the gospel to people who don’t know Christ. Christian compassion is forgiving one another. Christians aren’t perfect. If you serve alongside other people, there will be times when they hurt you. But a Christian who is filled with Christ’s compassion will be tenderhearted toward others and, through the grace of God, be able to obey Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Evaluate As mentioned earlier, I’ll share six more characteristics in a follow up post. But take a moment now to evaluate yourself on these five: Calling: Are you confident in the calling of God to serve Him? Are you passionate in your ministry as you serve as unto the Lord? Attitude of Faith: Do you approach challenges with an attitude of faith? Are you actively seeking to move forward in greater fruitfulness in your ministry? Understanding of Spiritual Gifts: Do you know what spiritual gift(s) God has given to you? Are you applying it in your ministry? Do you appreciate the spiritual gifts of others on your team? Do they know that? Character: Would those who know you best describe you as a person of integrity? Is your work ethic solid? Compassion: When was the last time you personally shared the gospel with an unsaved person? Do you tend to hold grudges? An accurate self evaluation in these areas will surely reveal some areas of needed growth. Ask the Lord for His grace and wisdom as you work on these areas. In our next post, we’ll see six more characteristics of an effective ministry team. View the full article
  9. At a recent California for Christ meeting, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Alan Fong, Robbie Yapp, and James Kim to discuss the need for and challenges of church planting. It was our joy nearly twenty-five years ago to help Pastor Fong in planting Heritage Baptist Church in San Leandro, CA. It was a blessing to me then in this discussion to join with Pastor Fong to encourage a new generation of church planters on their journey. Robbie Yapp and James Kim are preparing to plant new churches in Los Angeles and Orange Counties here in Southern California next year. In this episode of the podcast, the four of us discuss several topics that relate to sending out church planters and being a church planter including the biblical model of church planting shown in Acts 13, the kinds of churches that get involved in planting other churches, the church planter’s heart for God, the spiritual pressure on a pastor, the need to refresh your spirit in the Lord, developing a calendar for your first year, disciplining your time, establishing convictions and training faithful leaders in a new church, and how the gospel penetrates a liberal culture. If you are involved in any aspect of church planting—whether as a supporting pastor, a sending church, a church planter, or praying about God’s direction to plant a church—I pray this episode will be an encouragement and help to you. (If you cannot view this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.) For more information on the California for Christ initiative mentioned in this episode or for more information on or to provide support for Robbie Yapp or James Kim, visit CA4Christ.org. If this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast was a blessing to you, please share it with a friend and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe to future episodes via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or YouTube. View the full article
  10. The article below is significantly longer than most blog posts. In fact, it’s actually a small booklet I have recently written relative to questions I’ve been asked regarding funding new church plants. If you would prefer to read this as a PDF, you can download the booklet here. In whichever way you read—booklet or blog post—I pray these thoughts are a helpful contribution to needful discussions and to forward momentum in planting gospel-preaching, Baptist churches. Introduction There are two years of ministry that stand out as launching forth moments in my mind. The first is 1986 when the Lord led my wife, Terrie, and me to Lancaster, California, where a small and struggling congregation of twelve members asked us to come. We didn’t know it until some weeks after we arrived, but the church was involved in two lawsuits and a foreclosure. We did know that the church could not afford to pay our support. We asked a few likeminded churches to support us as we got started and lived on a shoestring budget until our church grew and was able to pay us a salary. The Lord blessed. To His glory, our church has seen tens of thousands of people saved. We have been able to start a Christian school and a Bible college, have built nearly $90 million in buildings, and for the past several years have given over $1 million annually to missions. All of this has been without receiving money from a denomination or fellowship. The second year that stands out so clearly is 1995 when our church family voted unanimously to begin West Coast Baptist College. That fall, we opened our doors to forty-three students. Since 1995, the Lord has allowed us to see over three thousand graduates serving Him around the globe. Many of these graduates are church planters—here in the States and on mission fields around the world. I thank God for each of them and for their faith to follow the New Testament pattern of serving in or planting churches as centers for the spread of the gospel. Over recent months, some church planters have asked me about the assistance they have been offered by representatives of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). They have either been approached directly by representatives of NAMB or introduced at meetings where the hosts present the SBC funding and affiliation as an option for assistance. These church planters or “re-planters” are told that if they simply sign to agree with SBC doctrine and provide some support back to the convention, they can receive funds from NAMB. It seems to them an expedited process for getting engaged in the work of church planting to which God has called them, and they have asked what I think. While I understand the attractiveness of this offer, I also know from experience—my own and the many church planters our church supports—that it is not as essential or helpful in the longview as it may initially seem. I would like to respectfully submit to the reader some thoughts and biblical principles to be considered in this matter. My own background is independent Baptist. I’m grateful for the mentoring I received from men such as Dr. Lee Roberson who aided the planting of hundreds of churches—directly throughout Tennessee and indirectly through training church planters at Tennessee Temple University. Although Dr. Roberson was educated at Southern Baptist schools, he became an independent Baptist, and he trained the church planters at Tennessee Temple in independent Baptist principles for funding both their church plant and their missions programs. When it comes to independent Baptist church planters today being offered and receiving funds from NAMB, there are significant reasons that I do not encourage this partnership which I would like to share with you in these pages. These are principles for consideration I shared with a college class I taught recently. I offer these thoughts prayerfully, as well-intentioned men may not realize some of the “yoking” that takes place in these support relationships. Also, I have asked several men who are within the SBC to read this article for accuracy. Their comments and insight have been helpful. Several commented they regret the truths I have revealed, but agree the concern is warranted. I am not writing to condemn people who have taken funds from NAMB. But I am not convinced that the preachers considering this route are thinking this through with a big-picture view and considering “the end of a thing” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Allow me to explain. 1. Concerns for the Direction of the SBC I pray for victories for the biblical conservatives remaining in the Southern Baptist Convention. And while I am grateful for the conservative resurgence of the SBC in the ’80s and ’90s, there are current trends within the convention that are deeply troubling. I wrote about some of these concerns in my book Keep the Faith, which includes Dr. Don Sisk’s story of leaving the convention and his present-day concerns for it as well.1 My study of recent convention history and my interviews with godly men, including Dr. Jerry Vines (a previous president of the SBC), have given me sufficient facts to state that the convention which once returned to the inerrancy of Scripture and a submission to its authority is now a body struggling with a myriad of theological and practical issues. As you read through some of these issues in the coming pages, consider the significance of them and what a financial tie to them means for a new church planter and for that church plant in the decades to come. From my conversations with those who have been approached by NAMB, it seems they are under two inaccurate impressions: First, that the SBC is fully conservative in doctrine and practice with all churches and SBC entities aligning with the Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement. As much as I wish this was true, it is not, as you’ll see throughout the next few pages. Second, that the funds from NAMB are more or less “free money” without a significant commitment to the SBC as a whole. This is also inaccurate. Church planters who receive funds from NAMB are (understandably) required to give money back to the SBC. In fact, the official list of expectations for NAMB church planters includes this: “Lead church plant in a minimum of 10% missions giving: minimum 6% to SBC Cooperative Program and 4% to other SBC Great Commission causes.”2 Thus, church planters who receive money from NAMB are choosing to plant an SBC church, and their church plant will be tied to the SBC for years to come. With these facts in mind, church planters should thoroughly consider the direction of the SBC and how that relates to the Cooperative Fund to which they will be contributing. Allow me to first share a few of the concerning recent trends within the SBC. Every one of the concerns listed here are significant biblical issues, especially for churches. Ordaining Woman Pastors The New Testament is clear on the intrinsic value and spiritual worth of women. Both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and both are equal in Christ through salvation: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Throughout the New Testament, we also see women engaged in meaningful roles of ministry within the church. But the New Testament is also clear that God gave men and women different roles in marriage (1 Peter 3:7) and in the church. Regarding the church, the Bible gives straightforward directions in both 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:35: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” “And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” My wife Terrie is an avid student of God’s Word and a capable Bible teacher. She has spoken to ladies over the years and has occasionally given a testimony of thanksgiving in our church assembly. But scripturally, neither she nor I believe it is a woman’s place to teach or preach the Word of God in a mixed congregation. Yet, in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture on this topic, and seemingly in an attempt to please our culture, I’m watching SBC leaders explain these verses away as they blur the lines of male pastoral leadership in preaching settings. Here are a few examples: Saddleback Church For those who follow SBC conversations, Saddleback Church is the most currently talked about example of woman pastors. Here’s what happened: On May 6, 2021, Saddleback Church, at the time an SBC church pastored by Rick Warren, ordained three woman pastors.3 It wasn’t until March of 2023 (nearly two years later) that the SBC finally made the decision to disfellowship Saddleback due to this issue. End of story with the concern resolved, right? Actually, no. Saddleback itself is not letting go of this. Andy Wood, the current pastor of Saddleback Church (whose wife Stacie serves as a co-pastor and preaches at Saddleback)4 doubled down on their church’s position with a video describing why the church will continue to have women in pastoral roles.5 And in a recent interview with Russell Moore (the previous president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), Rick Warren asserted that he intends to bring this issue up at SBC’s upcoming annual meeting in June in an attempt to get the decision overturned.6 Meanwhile, the SBC Executive Committee has been unwilling to allow a proposed amendment to the Baptist Faith & Message clarifying the SBC position on women pastors to come up for a vote at the annual SBC meeting. What will instead be voted on at the next SBC meeting is whether or not Saddleback should be allowed as an SBC church.7 But Saddleback is not the only SBC church with woman pastors. NAMB-funded Churches with Female Pastors Recently, a team of researchers from the Conservative Baptist Network (a group of men within the SBC) compiled a document describing their concerns in the leftward drift they are seeing with the SBC. On the subject of women pastors, they wrote the following: In 2020, Nate Schlomann discovered five NAMB-funded church plants that had female pastors.8 NAMB claims to have extensive vetting wherein every church planter is assessed, trained, and coached through the Send Network.9 Southern Baptists are concerned that NAMB evidently failed to recognize and consequently funded multiple church plants which contradict the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. A notable example, the North American Mission Board included Echo Church as a residency church where aspiring church planters can be mentored for future ministry.10 This was while Echo Church had multiple female pastors on staff11 and operated an “evangelistic” alcoholic beverage brewery.12 An SBC pastor, himself once a NAMB church planter recently posted similar concerns on twitter in an eleven-tweet thread explaining why their church is now earmarking funds away from NAMB. Among the reasons he gave was egalitarianism. (Abbreviations are his for the brevity on Twitter.) NAMB has an egalitarianism problem, and little progress has been made. When multiple egal church plants were found, no one was held accountable. The leadership up and down NAMB continually communicates that they are soft on this issue. It is very obvious that whatever adherence to complementarianism NAMB as a whole has is begrudging, and not convictional.13 Beth Moore Although no longer a Southern Baptist, Beth Moore was in 2019 when she announced on Twitter that she would be bringing a message in a Southern Baptist Church on Mother’s Day.14 In response to an SBC seminary professor who wrote a blog calling Moore out and highlighting the complementarian order of Scripture, Moore doubled down. Rather than clarifying or more fully explaining what role her presence and words would play in that church service, she wrote a series of tweets in which she claimed that the Holy Spirit was calling her “to draw attention to the sexism & misogyny that is rampant in segments of the SBC, cloaked by piety & bearing the stench of hypocrisy.”15 Additional Examples Mike Law, an SBC pastor in Virginia who proposed the amendment the SBC Executive Committee has prevented from coming up for vote, says that what prompted his concern wasn’t actually Saddleback Church. It was that in “just a five-mile radius of Arlington Baptist, I had noticed five other SBC churches that had female pastors on staff.”16 This is not a limited issue in the SBC, relative only to one megachurch. This has to do with the convention itself and many churches within it. For now, it is yet to be seen where the convention will stand—or if they will take a stand—on the subject of woman pastors. My greatest concern for the SBC on this issue is that denominations that change their position on women pastors invariably become LGBTQ affirming. (In fact, Saddleback Church is already partnering with LGBTQ-inclusive organizations in their outreach.17) There is something about a willingness to bend to culture on the biblical distinctions God makes for men and women’s roles in the church that leads to caving to culture on all issues of gender and sexuality. Why any independent Baptist would consider any type of affiliation with the SBC when such questions are at play is amazing to me. Weak Stand on LBGTQ Issues and Homosexual Involvement in Ministry Churches can say that they hold to the biblical definition of marriage and gender identity, even in their doctrinal statement. But if they refuse to address LGBTQ lifestyles as sinful when it comes to church membership and ministry involvement, they do not really believe it. At Lancaster Baptist Church, as well as all churches I know of with a heart for outreach, we invite all people to hear the gospel. But, according to 1 Corinthians 5, we cannot biblically allow people to become or continue as members who are living in open, sexual sin. Whether it is cohabitation or practicing homosexuality, we must draw the line where God does. Yet, prominent churches within the SBC are clearly struggling here. Here are a few examples. First Baptist Orlando In prepared comments early last year, the senior associate pastor of First Baptist Orlando read a list of the variety of people attending and serving in the church. In these comments he said, “We have transgender, LGBTQ, straight, single, married, divorced, and cohabitating people. These same people attend, listen, serve, grow, and give.”18 (It is worth noting that not only is First Baptist Orlando an SBC church, but this associate pastor, Danny de Armas, was formerly the head of NAMB’s board of trustees.)19 Not only does First Baptist Orlando allow people living in open sexual sin to be members in good standing, it also allows these members to baptize new converts. Recent social media posts show Joe Mills, an openly gay man who is currently “married” to another man, performing baptisms at First Baptist Church Orlando.20 Echo Church A few years back, Andy Wood, then-pastor of Echo Church, more recently the new senior pastor of Saddleback Church, made these comments in a message titled, “What Does the Bible Say About LGBTQ+?”: We embrace that diversity. And within that, we have people who are of different sexual orientations. We have people who are heterosexual, some people who are gay, and we have a lot of disparity and a lot of differences in our church. … And we’re going to have to have an agreement on the front end that maybe on the backend we won’t all see eye-to-eye with one another, but we can create a community where we love each other, where we care for one another, and it’s a safe place to be different from people other than yourself.21 I can appreciate the desire to let unsaved people with sinful lives know that the gospel is for them, which was surely part of the motivation for Wood’s comments. But if we are unwilling to name the sins the Bible names, especially the sins that are currently prominent in our culture, we are not really calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus as their Savior. Later in the same message, Wood compares a gay person who struggles with giving up a relationship with their partner, to what he would do if God asked him to give up his wife Stacie. He begins to cry because he says he doesn’t know what he would do if God asked him to give up his wife. Why would God ask him to give up his wife? How are these two relationships comparable? And he’s suggesting that struggle is like a gay person giving up a homosexual relationship.22 These two examples are a sampling of the current trends among Christianity at large, including SBC pastors in particular, in struggling to make direct, forthright statements about God’s standards of marriage, sexuality, and gender. I appreciate those who have taken a strong stance on it. It seems to me that they are in the minority and that the SBC as a whole is going to struggle with this in the years ahead. Social Justice & CRT Every truly Bible-believing Christian stands against racism and injustice. But today’s ideas of social justice, often linked with Critical Race Theory (CRT), are not friends of biblical Christianity. I have written about specific concerns with social justice in the little book Which Justice? as well as in Keep the Faith. But in short, the social justice movement of today has much more to do with insisting that categories of people, as opposed to individuals, have not received justice over time and thus should be treated differently today—even when there are not immediate instances of injustice in an individual’s life. Many who are driving the social justice agenda have openly-stated goals for the destruction of the nuclear family and the promotion of an LBGTQ agenda. Christians who jump on the social justice bandwagon find themselves tied to causes that have nothing to do with the gospel and often undermine the very foundations of the gospel. Closely tied to social justice is an adherence to CRT. The premise of CRT is that “the very concept of race was constructed in order to benefit whites at the expense of people of color.”23 A result of this approach is that “Even if a white person has never had a genuinely racist thought or he has repented of past racism, he is still a racist, white supremacist, because he is white and belongs to the majority.”24 These ideas are the antithesis of the gospel which teaches us that there is one race (the human race) which is a fallen race in need of a Savior. It also makes unity within a church impossible because it says that white church members will always be guilty of racism. Yet, in 2019, at the SBC annual meeting, the convention passed Resolution 9, affirming that CRT could be used as a “set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society.” While the resolution did “denounce the misuse of Critical Race Theory,” the decision to use it is a puzzle. Why use a theory at all that is actually anti-scriptural? In their thorough document, The Evidences of Concern within the Southern Baptist Convention, a team of researchers from the Conservative Baptist Network documented several instances of CRT among SBC professors, presidents, and leaders.25 Here are a couple who were included in their report: Matthew Hall, the former dean of Boyce College at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2016–2019, as well as the former provost and senior vice president of academic administration at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) from 2019–2022, and also a former research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) from 2014–2022, was the guest of the Coffee and Cream podcast on July 15, 2018. In the podcast, Hall speaks to the racial reconciliation he believes is needed in the Southern Baptist Convention. Toward the end of the video he says the following: I am a racist, okay, so if that freaks you out, if you think the worst thing somebody can call you is a racist, then you’re not thinking biblically, because guess what, like, I’m gonna struggle with racism and white supremacy until the day I die and get my glorified body and in a completely renewed and sanctified mind. Because I am immersed in a culture where I benefit from racism all the time.26 Dhati Lewis, former president of Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), on his podcast Where Life Exists, said the following. (Notice how these statements reveal a lack of clarity on the gospel as it attempts to conflate the gospel and social justice issues. The emphasis below is mine.) The gospel is not simply a message for the afterlife. It has real-time, real-life applications for our day-to-day lives. . . . The gospel is not good news without spiritual redemption and restoration, but the gospel is also not good news without emotional, economic, and social restoration, as well. . . . Traditionally, this is how we share the gospel, right? . . . God created the world, and it was good. We lived in perfect relationship with God, with one another, and his creation. However: sin. Adam and Eve came in, sinned, and the whole world was put under a curse, bringing separation between us and God . . . . But when we learn the truth of the gospel, we learn that Jesus came to earth, died for our sins, and rose again and that if we repent and believe, then we can have access to God. . . . Do you recognize how this gospel presentation falls short? Sin caused brokenness to more than just our spiritual needs. I believe Tim Keller is spot on when he says we must neither confuse evangelism with doing justice nor separate them from one another. You see, the gospel demands the church engage holistically with our cities.27 Did you catch how in his second paragraph he articulated the historic, biblical gospel—really as defined in 1 Corinthians 15—that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose, and offers eternal life to all who believe, but then in the following paragraph said that this gospel presentation “falls short”? That’s deeply concerning. These examples are a small sample of an ongoing sickness of social justice and CRT that seems to be spreading throughout the SBC. My observation was that much of this progression was accelerated when J. D. Greear became the SBC president—a role he served in for three years, due to Covid. Although there is much to appreciate about Greear and his emphasis on outreach, his openness to social justice has been undiscerning at best and led the SBC in a less gospel-focused direction. Although not a Southern Baptist, Timothy Keller has similarly articulated the need for greater involvement in social justice issues in his book Center Church, which has undoubtedly influenced many Southern Baptists in shaping their ministry philosophy for church planting. (In his book, Gospel, J. D. Greear said Keller’s “thinking has so permeated my own that I can no longer really tell where his stops and mine starts.”28) In his book, Keller says that we cannot change culture simply “through lots of conversions.”29 I disagree. Scripture teaches that the truly converted become “a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As someone grows in their faith, everything about their life will change, including developing biblical viewpoints on moral and social issues. Those who insist that a focus on social justice must accompany the gospel can do the gospel itself an injustice by seemingly suggesting that the gospel alone is not enough to transform lives. In a personal interview I had with Dr. Jerry Vines a few years ago, I mentioned this concern, and he offered an important insight: “If everything is the gospel, then nothing is the gospel.”30 I’m concerned that the current trend of churches to lean into social justice issues, even at the expense of clarity on the gospel, is rooted in a lack of conviction in the sufficiency of Scripture to address cultural and personal sins. But using the world’s answers to solve problems will not only be ineffective; it will pull churches away from a dependence on Scripture as their final authority for faith and practice. Alcohol Consumption Like some of the other topics mentioned in these pages, alcohol consumption is significant because of its blatant disregard for Scripture. Actually, the SBC used to be known for its stand against alcohol. (What is today the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission actually traces back to a standing Committee on Temperance in the early 1900s.31) But as recently as 2006, the topic of alcohol was raised at the SBC’s annual meeting with vigorous discussion. The Baptist Press reported: “A lengthy debate on a recommendation concerning the use of alcoholic beverages consumed the Resolution Committee’s report in the morning session. In a departure from recent years, the committee needed the evening session to complete its report.”32 After the meeting, “former SBC president Bobby Welch … told SBC Life the biggest surprise for him from the convention was ‘that several Southern Baptist pastors actually came to a microphone and publicly promoted the drinking of alcoholic beverages and wanted the SBC to do the same.’”33 In the end, the resolution passed, which included “our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing and consuming of alcoholic beverages” and “we urge that no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”34 However, research conducted by LifeWay just twelve years later reported that “About one third of Baptists admit to drinking alcohol.”35 One SBC professor summed it up well: “I believe we are seeing a change from total abstinence to a trend of acceptance of alcohol among Southern Baptists,” said Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The emphasis has moved from warnings about alcohol to highlighting Christian freedom.”36 It is worth pointing out that the NAMB code of conduct requires abstinence: “I will abstain from the consumption of any alcoholic beverage or illegal drugs.”37 However, my observation is that the SBC as a whole is weakening on this issue. Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) Those familiar with SBC cooperative program know that is used to finance the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, six Southern Baptist seminaries in America, and the ERLC. Initially formed as the public policy arm of the SBC, the ERLC seems to be consistently pulling left from the stated position of the SBC as a whole. In recent decades, the ERLC has shown remarkable drift. Rather than taking firm and clear stands for religious freedom and the moral positions stated in the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message, such as the sanctity of life, traditional definition of marriage, and biblical gender distinction, the ERLC has leaned into issues of social justice and wokism. For instance, a recent report revealed that the ERLC received a $701,000 donation from Servant Foundation, the organization behind the He Gets Us campaign. (NAMB received another $7,000.)38 This campaign features video ads about a Jesus who, as one author wrote, “is nothing more than an inspiring human who relates to our problems and cares a whole lot about a culturally palatable version of social justice.”39 Another example took place in 2022 when Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the US Supreme Court. The ERLC twitter account posted the congratulations of its president, Brent Leatherwood, saying, “Despite the philosophical and legal differences individuals like me will have with her, Judge Jackson’s confirmation is a history-making moment. We should appreciate it as such.”40 Considering Justice Jackson’s advocacy for pro-choice, unwillingness to define a woman, and lenience to pedophiles, a tweet like Leatherwood’s seems like a poor representation of the SBC. Yet, the ERLC consistently attempts to straddle the fence on matters of conviction—citing a biblical answer while at the same time giving unclear verbiage and virtual nods to those who disagree. One example is an article published on the ERLC website for parents whose child is dealing with gender identity issues. While affirming the biblical position on gender in one paragraph, the very next sentence counters that this truth “needs to be nuanced.”41 It is this nuancing of truth that is concerning. While the ERLC is supposed to represent the concerns of SBC churches, it seems to push its own agenda instead. One example was during the COVID lockdowns—a time when the ERLC should have stood up for the religious liberty of autonomous churches to assemble. Incredulously, the ERLC instead argued that the shutdowns did not actually infringe upon religious liberty.42 Some Southern Baptists felt that the ERLC did more to defend the government shutdown of autonomous churches than to defend those churches’ religious liberty.43 Concerns over the direction of the ERLC have led a growing number of leaders and churches within the SBC to call for the ERLC to be abolished.44 A couple years back the SBC executive committee created “a task force to evaluate objectively the effect the ERLC is having on the Cooperative Program” of the SBC.45 “The unanimous report found the work of the ERLC to be “a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”46 At the SBC 2022 national convention, a motion was made to abolish the ERLC. One messenger said, “I would love to live in a world where a bold and faithful ERLC advocates for just policies, but that’s not the world we live in. … Abolishing the ERLC is better than continuing to fund a compromised ERLC. … Too often the leadership speaks for DC against the pews, not for the pews to DC.”47 However, the motion was overturned, and the ERLC continues. Summary Thoughts on These Concerns So, where do these concerns leave independent Baptists who are considering partnerships for church planting? One Southern Baptist educator, preacher, and friend recently shared with me that many in the convention who are conservative remain concerned with NAMB as it pertains to woke philosophy. Although NAMB has substantial funds, this friend doubts the discernment its leaders use in the distribution of such funds. I am aware that there are thousands of churches within the SBC. My guess is that many of these churches are pastored by faithful men who believe and preach the Bible. I am also aware of many who have concerns over the issues mentioned above. Additionally, there are a handful of SBC leaders who have formed the Conservative Baptist Network to fight these trends. I appreciate their work. However, considering the prevalence of these issues, the fact that SBC churches send money to organizations tied to these issues, and the reality of the SBC’s annual meeting with member churches at some level tied to the organization’s decisions, it seems unwise for independent Baptists to partner with the SBC. Many younger independent pastors may not know the stories of men like Lee Roberson and Don Sisk who left the convention, but the issues I am sharing convince me that there is no reason for any independent Baptist pastor to seek alignment with the SBC now. As Amos 3:3 questions, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” A similar question is echoed in 1 Corinthians 14:8, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” My advice to independent Baptist church planters is to not place themselves in partnership with a group that is not giving a certain sound regarding the direction in which they are heading. 2. The Independent Baptist Model of Raising Support Church planting can be an expensive endeavor. Historically, church planting has been one of the great areas of cooperation between independent Baptist churches as they give to individual missionaries to meet the common goal of church planting. Most church planters with assistance from NAMB will still need additional support, which they will raise. I would propose bypassing institutional/denominational money entirely and seeking support only from local churches in order to retain an unaffiliated status. The New Testament Pattern Church planting is really a form of missions. In fact, it was the primary focus of the apostle Paul in his missionary work. And for this work, we see a New Testament model of individual churches supporting missionaries. A single church was the sending church for Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:2–3) Later, Paul and Barnabas reported back to this church. And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. (Acts 14:26–27) Additionally, other local churches, including the church at Philippi, could support Paul. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. (Philippians 4:15–16) This model places a focus on the autonomy of the local church and the missionary/church planter’s accountability to his sending church. I believe this model is followed in the independent Baptist method of sending and supporting churches. And I believe this has contributed to missions and church planning being one of the great strengths of the independent Baptist movement. Today, there are fifteen thousand independent churches supporting thousands of missionaries who are currently on the field and planting churches. The SBC Cooperative Program The idea behind the SBC Cooperative Program is to expedite missions by encouraging all SBC churches to contribute to a central fund. One drawback to this model is that individual churches have no control over where their money goes. This reality was one of the key reasons for the major independent Baptist pull-out from the SBC in the mid twentieth century. At the time, conservative churches were realizing that their missions dollars were going to support seminaries that were actively teaching against the fundamental tenets of Christianity and Baptist doctrine. (The book Keep the Faith includes a few pages of testimony from Dr. Don Sisk relating this as a catalyst for his own separation from the SBC and why he would still not advise someone to be part of it today.48 Specifically, he mentioned that only “a small percentage of the SBC cooperative mission program goes to actual on-the-field, gospel-preaching missions work.”49 In fact, a growing number of SBC churches are supporting missionaries directly, rather than through the cooperative program, because they feel it to be less wasteful. Although some of the concerns of the ’70s and ’80s have been mitigated by the Convention’s conservative resurgence, I don’t believe the concerns are obsolete, especially related to the issues we already noted: trends toward social justice, ordaining women, gay church membership, and others. These unresolved issues mean that churches that give into the central cooperative program may be supporting seminary professors and church plants (home and foreign) that are caught up in woke ideology. Additionally, part of the cooperative fund goes to the six SBC seminaries, the ERLC, and NAMB.50 So, churches that have concerns relative to these entities may be still funding them. I was made a similar offer for support by a California state fellowship when Terrie and I prepared to move to Lancaster. It was from a group with whom I had much in common and with whom I closely fellowshipped. However, I didn’t accept their offer because I did not want to accept money that would come with strings attached—even if it was something as simple as the expectation to attend regular fellowship meetings. It’s a decision I have never regretted. I am especially grateful that today we are free to support church planters and missionaries directly and have no financial obligation to a denomination or fellowship. Additionally, this has also given us the freedom to directly plant churches, including the Los Angeles Baptist Church in downtown Los Angeles and many others. The church plants and the 220 missionaries we support receive every dollar we send. Meanwhile, money sent through conventions have a large percentage kept for administrative expenses. The direct method of support is one of the strengths of the independent Baptist philosophy of missions and church planting. Several years back, David Azzarello, a man I saw come to Christ over thirty years prior, felt God calling him to resign the pastorate and begin full-time church planting. As he shared this burden with others, he was soon approached by representatives from NAMB, offering to support him as a church planter. The offer they made was for a modest monthly salary with the stipulation that the churches he planted would be SBC churches and give 10 percent of their budget back to the SBC. He called me to discuss their offer. I shared with him my concerns over the SBC cooperative program and encouraged him to follow the historic independent Baptist model of raising support from individual churches. His initial reason for considering the SBC funds was that it seemed like a more efficient process to get to full-time church planting. He has since shared, however, that the process of visiting multiple churches as he raised his support was helpful for him. He has led each of the churches he planted in this model of supporting missionaries. Currently, he is in the midst of his eighth church plant. Concerns with NAMB in Particular In addition to the difference of philosophy for church planting, there is reason to question the effectiveness and transparency of NAMB as a whole. Will McRainey, former head of the two-state Southern Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware (and who is in a current lawsuit with NAMB), suggests that statistics do not bear up the effectiveness of NAMB or of the convention’s stated renewed commitment to the Great Commission. In an article about this, he notes that there is a 70-year low in SBC baptisms, both nationally and per church, and a 40-year low in number of SBC churches started. Indeed, in a report that came out May of 2023 shows the SBC continuing its recent downward trajectory with a loss of 457,371 members—the largest single-year numerical drop in more than one hundred years.52 (Perhaps this is one reason young independent Baptists are being approached to join the convention.) Additionally, there are concerns about the financial transparency of NAMB itself. One group that is calling for an audit of NAMB cites this concern: The NAMB church planting budget has grown from $23 million to $75 million in 10 years, but the number of new church starts has dropped to less than half the number a decade ago. How is NAMB spending $50 million more in church planting and getting less than half for it? Where is that money specifically going?53 Researchers from the Conservative Baptist Network found that Not only has the North American Mission Board lacked transparency concerning finances, but they have also stopped disclosing how many appointed missionaries were assigned to some aspect of church planting.54 This number was reported in the SBC Annual up until 2012, but after 2012 it has not been reported since.55 The SBC pastor I mentioned earlier who cited his concerns regarding egalitarianism as a reason to defund NAMB also mentioned this lack of transparency saying, “NAMB needs an audit. We do not trust where all the money is going.”56 Independent Baptists who see partnership with NAMB as a fast way to get to the work of church planting would do well to consider the statistics, the problem of NAMB’s testimony, and the direction of the Convention. 3. Hope for the Future of Independent Baptists I’m aware of the flaws of the independent Baptists. I wrote an entire book about how to correct these issues in The Road Ahead. But it is short-sighted for independent Baptists to not assume there are flaws in the Southern Baptist Convention as well. There is real danger in going from one ditch to another by over-correcting from a disappointment. For me, I am grateful for my heritage of non-conformist, Anabaptist forefathers and for the soulwinning and missions spirit of the independent Baptists. Rather than leaving this movement, I prefer to work for balance and gospel momentum. Indeed, I’m grateful as I see a renewed emphasis on church planting among independent Baptists. And I am thankful to be part of supporting these church planters. It is my conviction that for independent Baptist pastors to partner with a body such as the SBC that is struggling with such clear issues is the antithesis of the instruction in Jude 3 to “contend for the faith.” I can love and appreciate men who aren’t where I am on every issue. But I cannot condone the bridge building that is currently being encouraged that will attach independent Baptist church planters to a group that is struggling with significant biblical issues. I do appreciate the work of those within the SBC who are preaching the gospel and leading people to Christ. But one does not have to join a group simply because he appreciates the good within that group. I still believe that being independent allows for greater liberty of conscience and stronger forward momentum in church planting, missions, and soulwinning. Shaping all of the concerns I have shared in these pages is an overriding passion for the Great Commission of Christ. As independent Baptists, we must engage in strategic church planting in which we deliberately saturate metropolitan areas with the gospel and plant churches. Can we do a better job at this? We can and we must! Can we espouse new ideas for collaborating on church planting? Yes. But we must consider the trends of the day and the identity of the church that is to be planted. We must stand unapologetically for the whole counsel of God in our generation. Church planting is larger than funding a church’s start up costs. It requires many levels of sacrifice in prayer, soulwinning, and discipling new believers in the faith. It requires faith and vision to establish a biblical congregation that is bound to the Word of God and constrained by the love of Christ. The decisions made and direction taken in the early years of a church plant will have ramifications for decades to come. Thus, as one old preacher used to say, we must not sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate. Many of us pastors warn parents, “What you do in moderation, your children may do in excess.” There is truth to that statement for pastors and churches as well. If you compromise your convictions to raise support for planting a church by receiving money from a group that has an unclear stand in several areas, those may be the very areas your church leans into in the years that follow. For these reasons, I encourage independent Baptist church planters to look beyond the days of raising support and ask themselves what kind of church they want to plant. To assume that there is little difference between independent Baptists and Southern Baptist churches is incorrect. If you, as a church planter, have any concerns about the direction of the SBC and about funding ministries that are tied to this direction, I would encourage you to not set aside those concerns for quick, up front support. Conversely, if you are an independent Baptist and believe in the biblical model of churches supporting the planting of new churches, I would encourage you to seek the support of other churches and then get to the community where the Lord has led you and diligently begin sharing the gospel and discipling new Christians. I believe that you will discover—and more emphatically with each passing year—that the extra time in raising support was a small trade off for the blessings of pastoring an independent Baptist church. Conclusion I love our Baptist distinctives, and I have personally taught them to hundreds of new believers. I recognize the autonomy of the local church, and I pray for revival in my life and the church I pastor. Yet, we must not fall into the “same team” ideology with people who are compromising the truth. It is my prayer that the principles shared in these pages will cause some preachers to pause, pray, and then proceed for the glory of God and with the future of local Baptist churches in mind. Endnotes Paul Chappell, Keep the Faith (Lancaster, CA: Striving Together Publications, 2020), 54–67. “Planter Expectations,” North American Mission Board, accessed March 22, 2023, https://www.namb.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Planter-Expectations.pdf. Saddleback Church, “Yesterday was a historic night…” Facebook, May 7, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/saddlebackchurch/posts/-yesterday-was-a-historic-night-for-saddleback-church-in-many-wayswe-ordained-ou/10159190549013544/. Terri Green, “Here is Andy Wood’s wife Stacie Wood preaching at Saddleback Church,” Twitter, March 15, 2023, https://twitter.com/TerriGreenUSA/status/1636200636386615296. Andy Wood, “Pastor Andy Wood: The role of women in the local church,” YouTube video, posted by Saddleback Church, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J15dGUQQNBU Denny Burk, “Rick Warren Has Done the SBC a Great Service,” Denny Burk, March 14, 2023, https://www.dennyburk.com/rick-warren-has-done-the-sbc-a-great-service/. Megan Basham, “Mr. Smith Goes to the Convention,” American Reformer, April 11, 2023, https://americanreformer.org/2023/04/mr-smith-goes-to-the-convention/. Nate Schlomann, “NAMB and SBC Egalitarrianism,” Servants and Heralds, February 8, 2021, https://www.servantsandheralds.com/namb-and-sbc-egalitarianism/. “Church Planter Pathway,” Send Network, accessed March 22, 2023, https://www.namb.net/send-network/church-planting/planter-pathway/. “Residencies for Churches,” Send Network, accessed January 26, 2021, https://www.namb.net/send-network/church-planting/residencies/. “Leadership,” Echo Church, accessed January 23, 2021, https://www.echo.church/about/leadership/. “#BeerandBible: NAMB supported church has its own beer,” Capstone Report, February 17, 2021, https://capstonereport.com/2021/02/17/beerandbible-namb-supported-church-has-its-own-beer/35597/. Nate Schlomann, “Why we are defunding @NAMB_SBC…,” Twitter, April 13, 2023, https://twitter.com/NateSchlomann/status/1646602011188645897. Beth Moore, “I’m doing Mother’s Day too!…” Twitter, April 27, 2019, https://twitter.com/BethMooreLPM/status/1122134785244184576. Beth Moore, “I am compelled to my bones…” Twitter, May 11, 2019, https://twitter.com/BethMooreLPM/status/1127205241961746433. Megan Basham, “Mr. Smith Goes to the Convention,” American Reformer, April 11, 2023, https://americanreformer.org/2023/04/mr-smith-goes-to-the-convention/. Ibid. “Prominent Southern Baptist Church Brags That Transgenders and Abortionists Serve in Their Church,” YouTube video, 00:37, posted by “The Dissenter,” February 7, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RUhJv1B7vc Jonathan Howe, “NAMB appeals to Supreme Court in McRaney case, claims first amendment protections,” Baptist Press, February 17, 2021, https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/namb-appeals-to-supreme-court-in-mcraney-case-claims-first-amendment-protections/ Open, “Gay-Married” Homosexual Man Baptizes Other People at First Baptist Orlando,” Disntr, March 13, 2023, https://disntr.com/2023/03/13/open-gay-married-homosexual-man-baptizes-other-people-at-first-baptist-orlando/ Andy Wood, “What Does the Bible Say About LGBTQ+? | You Asked For It (Pt. 4) | Andy Wood,” YouTube video, posted by “Echo.Church,” April 30, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UM5mSu0BWI. Terri Green, “Andy Wood compares a gay person who struggles…,” Twitter, March 14, 2023, https://twitter.com/TerriGreenUSA/status/1635846051914555392. Shannon Craigo-Snell and Christopher Doucot, No Innocent Bystanders (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), 67. Ronnie W. Rogers, “Understanding the Terms of Cultural Marxism (Social Justice): A Christian Response,” Ronnie W. Rogers, June 29, 2020, https://ronniewrogers.com/2020/06/understanding-the-terms-of-cultural-marxism- social-justice-a-christian- response/. Klayton A. Carson and a team of researchers from the Conservative Baptist Network, The Evidences of Concern within the Southern Baptist Convention (Conservative Baptist Network, January 2023), https://conservativebaptistnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/The-Evidences-of-Concern-Within-the-Southern-Baptist-Convention.pdf. Jake Cannon and Matt Bryant, “Epidode 13: Seminaries And Radical Reconciliation With Matthew Hall,” YouTube video, 49:45, posted by “Coffee and Cream,” July 15, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwI82hKUTgI. Reference clip starts at 49:45. Dhati Lewis, “Dhati Lewis: The Gospel Is “Not Good News Without Emotional, Economic, And Social Restoration,” YouTube video, posted by Woke Preacher Clips, November 25, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQjwWGPkMG8. The original podcast has been made private on Youtube. This is the clip of his statement. J. D. Greear, Gospel (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), ix. Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 291. Jerry Vines, phone interview by Paul Chappell from Lancaster, California, June 2019. Alex Ward, “Explainer: A history of the ERLC The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, March 21, 2023, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/explainer-a-history-of-the-erlc/. Tom Strode, “Debate on alcohol use dominates resolutions report time,” Baptist Press, June 15, 2006, https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/debate-on-alcohol-use-dominates-resolutions-report-time/. Bob Allen, “SBC Leader President Says Bible Doesn’t Demand Total Abstinence from Alcohol,” Good Faith Media, August 11, 2006, https://goodfaithmedia.org/sbc-leader-president-says-bible-doesnt-demand-total-abstinence-from-alcohol-cms-7746/. Frank Newport, “Religion and Drinking Alcohol in the U.S.,” Gallup, August 12, 2019, https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/264713/religion-drinking-alcohol.aspx. Bob Allen, “Survey says teetotalers slowly losing ground in Protestant churches,” Baptist News, November 27, 2018, https://baptistnews.com/article/survey-says-teetotalers-slowing-losing-ground-in-protestant-churches/#.XVFR60lYY2w. Ibid. “Code of Conduct,” North American Mission Board, accessed March 22, 2023, https://www.namb.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/NAMB_CodeofConduct2017.pdf. “BREAKING: Org promoting Woke Jesus gave $700k to ERLC,” Capstone Report, October 13, 2022, https://capstonereport.com/2022/10/13/breaking-org-promoting-woke-jesus-gave-700k-to-erlc/39517/. Natasha Crain, “7 Problems with the He Gets Us Campaign,” Natasha Crain, October 27, 2022, https://natashacrain.com/7-problems-with-the-he-gets-us-campaign/. Brent Leatherwood, “Despite the philosophical and legal differences individuals like me…,” Twitter, April 7, 2022, https://twitter.com/ERLC/status/1512238077397266432. Jared Kennedy, “What do I do if my child doesn’t seem to fit with typical gender norms?” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, May 17, 2021, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/what-do-i-do-if-my-child-doesnt-seem-to-fit-with-typical-gender-norms/?fbclid=IwAR0sXHMpztssG8iua4M24uwxcYic7x_kO_yfUc-cDG1z5fjaHkHaWRfS6Vk. Klayton A. Carson and a team of researchers from the Conservative Baptist Network, The Evidences of Concern within the Southern Baptist Convention (Conservative Baptist Network, January 2023), https://conservativebaptistnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/The-Evidences-of-Concern-Within-the-Southern-Baptist-Convention.pdf. See also the article cited in this document by Jeff Pickering, “A Q&A for churches on government restrictions with a religious liberty attorney,” ERLC, April 15, 2020, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/a-q-and-a-for-churches-on-government-restrictions-with-a-religious-liberty-attorney/. Ibid. Roger Alford, “Vote to abolish SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission fails,” The Christian Index, June 15, 2022, https://christianindex.org/stories/attempt-to-abolish-sbcs-ethics-and-religious-liberty-commission-fails,25359. “Changes in ERLC leadership create opportunity for clarity and conviction rather than compromise the ‘nuance’,” Conservative Baptist Networks, accessed March 20, 2023, https://conservativebaptistnetwork.com/statement-changes-in-erlc-leadership-create-opportunity-for-clarity-and-conviction-rather-than-compromise-and-nuance/. Ibid. Roger Alford, “Vote to abolish SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission fails,” The Christian Index, June 15, 2022, https://christianindex.org/stories/attempt-to-abolish-sbcs-ethics-and-religious-liberty-commission-fails,25359. Paul Chappell, Keep the Faith (Lancaster, CA: Striving Together Publications, 2020), 63–67. Ibid., 65. “Five Facts about the Cooperative Program,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, November 6, 2014, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/5-facts-about-thecooperative-program. Will McRaney, “5 Current Impacts of GCR on SBC Network Partners,” Will McRaney, accessed March 20, 2023, https://willmcraney.com/5-current-impacts-of-gcr-on-sbc-network-partners/ Aaron Earls, “Southern Baptists grow in attendance and baptisms, decline in membership,” Baptist Press, May 9, 2023, https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/southern-baptists-grow-in-attendance-and-baptisms-decline-in-membership/. “Why We Need a forensic Audit of NAMB and Lifeway,” SBC Transparency, accessed March 20, 2023, https://sbctransparency.com/. Annual of the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville, TN: Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, 2012), 185. (Accessible online at http://media2.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/annuals/SBC_Annual_2012.pdf.) This is the last annual that included the number of missionaries involved in church planting. Annual of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention (Houston, TX: Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, 2013), 182–184. (Accessible online at http://media2.sbhla.org.s3.amazonaws.com/annuals/SBC_Annual_2013.pdf.) This is the first annual that did not include the number of missionaries involved in church planting. Nate Schlomann, “Why we are defunding @NAMB_SBC…,” Twitter, April 13, 2023, https://twitter.com/NateSchlomann/status/1646602011188645897. View the full article
  11. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Jerry Vines for the Spiritual Leadership Podcast. Some of the audio and technical quality was not up to the quality we desired, so we held on posting it. However, I felt the content of this interview is relevant and important, so we are posting today in hopes that it will be a help and encouragement to you. In this episode, Dr. Vines and I discussed ministry trends and his commitment to Bible truth. I enjoyed our discussion and hope you will enjoy it as well. If you cannot view this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.) If this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast was a blessing to you, please share it with a friend and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe to future episodes via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or YouTube. View the full article
  12. On this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast, I sat down with one of my closest friends and mentors in the ministry, Dr. Don Sisk. We discussed an article he recently wrote for the Baptist Voice magazine and ministry127.com on the topic of disagreement without disunity. His thoughts on ministry relationships was a blessing to me, and I trust it will be an encouragement to you as well. Dr. Sisk’s original article is here If you cannot view this video in your email or RSS reader, click here.) If this episode of the Spiritual Leadership Podcast was a blessing to you, please share it with a friend and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. You can subscribe to future episodes via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or YouTube. View the full article
  13. The message of popular culture is clear: “You have what it takes. Dig deep, persevere hard, and reach for the stars.” There’s value in encouraging people to have confidence to seek to make a difference with their lives. But the whole message of self-sufficiency is misleading. Conversely, mature, clear-minded Christians wake up every day with an awareness that they don’t have what it takes to make a success of the day. They know that they can’t be and do all that God has for them that day or the rest of their lives without the grace of God. There is nothing that reveals our need for God’s grace like a trial. One of the very reasons God allows difficulties and even failures into our lives is because He desires for us to learn the sufficiency of His grace. On Sunday mornings at Lancaster Baptist Church, I’ve been preaching a series titled “Trusting God in Tough Times.” This past Sunday, I preached from 2 Corinthians 12:1–10—a passage that encourages us with God’s sufficiency in our times of trial. You may remember from this passage that it describes Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and God’s promise to him of sufficient grace. In this passage, the apostle Paul teaches us that trials and infirmities can lead us to understand the sufficiency of God and to depend on the reality of His grace. Trials and infirmities can lead us to understand the sufficiency of God and to depend on the reality of His grace. Click To Tweet From Paul’s example and God’s promise to him we learn three ways God uses trials to give us what we need: He Directs Our Spiritual Growth Paul had much in which he could boast. He received direct revelation from God and a spiritual experience in seeing the third heaven—the very Heaven of the presence of God—that no one else has had the opportunity to see (1 Corinthians 12:1–5). Yet, God allowed Paul to also experience a continual reminder of his need for God in the form of a “thorn in the flesh.” And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7) It is remarkable that Paul recognized that this thorn in his life—whatever it was—was not without purpose. For Paul, the specific purpose was to keep him from pride. It was a daily reminder of his need for God’s grace. God’s grace is always available to us. But on our good days, we tend toward a self-sufficiency that forgets our need for God’s grace. When we are proud and self-sufficient, we resist the very grace we need. But when we come to God in humility, He gives us His grace. But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6) From a human perspective, trials seem meaningless and random. From a divine perspective, they are directed and full of potential for spiritual growth. Knowing that God knows exactly what we need and that He has a purpose in our trials is encouraging. He Gives Us His Grace If God had answered Paul’s request to remove the thorn, Paul never would have discovered the daily reality of God’s all-sufficient grace. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.… (2 Corinthians 12:8–9) The Greek word for grace, charis, describes God’s undeserved favor to us. Of course, we first experience God’s grace at salvation. But God desires to continue to give us His grace. It is a dynamic force at work within us. It is a disposition created by the Holy Spirit that gives hope and strength in the inner man. And it totally transforms our lives. In Paul’s life, it was a daily thorn that daily drew him to Christ in dependence on God’s grace. Without difficulties in our lives, we would never know our need for the Lord. And so, each day we have trials…and each day we have matching grace. Each day we have trials, and each day we have matching grace from God. Click To Tweet In theory, we all know our need for God’s grace. But in reality, we have a tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we should. So God brings us enough difficulty to draw us to Himself, and then God gives us enough grace to live in His strength. God never calls us to be strong in ourselves. And He uses times of weakness in our lives to expose just how much we need His might. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; … That no flesh should glory in his presence. (1 Corinthians 1:26–27, 29) He Provides Us His Power In addition to God’s grace, Paul received the power of God descending on and working within him to give him strength. …Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10) It is an amazing blessing when we recognize that God is not attracted to our strengths but to our weaknesses. It is in our weakness that He is strong. As Paul realized the provision of God’s power in his life, he actually praised God for all the weaknesses in His life: infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, and distresses. And in this realization and praise, Paul could say, “for when I am weak, then am I strong.” And here we come full circle from where we started: you and I don’t “have what it takes” to serve God and live a life of eternal significance for Him. We don’t even have what it takes to get through the various trials of life with joy and resilience. But every day God offers us His grace to live the Christian life victoriously. As we turn to Him in humble dependence, He gives us His extravagant grace and equipping strength. And through Him we can live in the power of His sufficiency. View the full article
  14. It’s hard to envision a more grace-filled response and Spirit-anointed outcome to a trial than Ron Hamilton’s when he lost his eye to cancer. You may already know the story: As a young husband, Ron was diagnosed with cancer behind his left eye. The surgery to remove the cancer also resulted in the loss of his eye. After surgery, he found that kids gravitated toward him wearing a patch. They were full of questions, and some called him “Patch the Pirate.” It was though this tragedy—and Ron’s trust in the Lord through it—that the ministry of “Patch the Pirate” began. Over the past forty-five years now, Ron and Shelly Hamilton have produced over forty children’s musical audio dramas with Patch the Pirate. And that is in addition to writing and publishing church music through Majesty Music ministry. Their music and children’s ministry has blessed tens of thousands of churches and Christians all over the world. But Ron Hamilton, who went to Heaven this evening, was so much more than Patch the Pirate. And he experienced more trials than losing his eye. I was blessed to see Ron respond to each of those trials with trust in the Lord. And I rejoice with him that today his faith has become sight as he is now “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). As we grieve with the Hamilton family and with friends around the world, I’d like to share a few ways I was blessed through Ron’s life. His love for the Lord and others To be around Ron, you knew that he really loved the Lord. He didn’t just write songs about his love for Christ, but it was something you could see in him in real life. He talked about the Lord, shared personally what the Lord was teaching him, and saw his ministry as a service to the Lord. Ron’s love for the Lord spilled over into his love for others. One of the things that always stood out to me was Ron’s tender love for Shelly. He loved his family, including their five children, their children’s spouses, and their grandchildren. The fun conversations between Patch and his crew on the recordings may have been make believe in content, but they weren’t fake in the reality of loving relationships within the family. Additionally, Ron loved the people and children he served through his ministry. He was like a kid magnet whenever he came to our church, and he really enjoyed it. He didn’t just tolerate kids; he loved them. And he wanted to bless them. It was easy to love Ron back, and our family did. Our kids have many happy memories of hosting Patch the Pirate and Sissy Seagull (Shelly) and their crew in our home. (The children in the pictures above are our children and grandchildren with Patch.) Our church family, too, loves the Hamiltons and is praying for Shelly and the family in this time of loss. His humility and local church focus As a pastor, what blessed me the most about Ron was his heart for local church ministry. That is rare in a Christian musician, especially in one with a worldwide impact. Several years ago, I wrote a booklet titled Biblical Principles for Music and Worship. I sent a pre-print draft to Ron to ask for his input as a musician. He gave some helpful feedback, but his summary comment was so revealing of his heart. He wrote, “I wish that church musicians had less conversations about music and more about soulwinning and one-on-one ministry.” Ron had a worldwide impact, but he wasn’t a big shot musician. He was a true servant of the Lord who weekly led the congregational music and directed the choir at the church where he served as the music pastor. And he regularly shared the gospel in personal outreach. I’m sure over the next several weeks we’ll all hear stories of people Ron and Shelly mentored and discipled in personal, local church ministry. His trust in the Lord through trials The most obvious and known trial in Ron’s life was the loss of his eye to cancer. But, like every Christian, he experienced many burdens others didn’t know about. Many of us remember when Ron and Shelly’s son, Jonathan, died in 2013. What many people didn’t know until after Jonathan’s death was the burden of Jonathan’s private battle with mental suffering that Ron and Shelly had carried with him for many years. On multiple occasions as Ron and I spoke of Jonathan’s needs, Ron shared the heartache of watching Jonathan suffer. But he also always expressed—directly or indirectly—his trust in the Lord. Shortly after Jonathan’s Homegoing, Ron spoke here at Spiritual Leadership Conference on “Grace in the Midst of Trials.” (You can listen to an audio of that session here.) His choice to rejoice in the Lord Ron didn’t just resign himself to trusting the Lord because there was nothing else he could do. He didn’t have a fatalistic faith. Rather, Ron chose to follow the instruction of Philippians 4:4 and “Rejoice in the Lord.” In fact, his signature song—for which he wrote both the music and lyrics—was based on Philippians 4:4 and titled “Rejoice in the Lord.” God never moves without purpose or plan When trying His servant and molding a man. Give thanks to the Lord though your testing seems long; In darkness He giveth a song. O Rejoice in the Lord. He makes no mistake. He knoweth the end of each path that I take. For when I am tried and purified, I shall come forth as gold. His faithfulness to the end It’s been several years now that Ron has been struggling with dementia. It’s been a long, slow battle. In recent years, the burden of this long, painful goodbye has largely been carried by Shelly and the rest of the family. Shelly herself has been so very faithful in her love and care for Ron right up until the end. Our family is praying for her in this time of loss, and we encourage you to as well. Ron’s trust in God through this final trial—even in the early years of it when he realized what was taking place—was unwavering. I can only imagine what it was like for Ron to one moment be in a failing body with a mind no longer resembling its former brilliance…and the next moment to be surrounded by the very music of Heaven and hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21). View the full article
  15. You’ve heard the maxim, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” There is much truth to this statement, and no one modeled teamwork better than the apostle Paul. Over the years at Lancaster Baptist, I have preached verse-by-verse through many books of the Bible. This past Sunday, I began a new preaching series through Romans. A few years ago, we did three series through the pastoral epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. (The expanded outlines for these pastoral epistles are now in a book, set to release next week as part of the Striving Together Study Library.) Throughout Paul’s pastoral epistles, we repeatedly see the necessity and value Paul placed on teamwork in ministry. We catch a glimpse of this in the closing verses of Titus: When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis: for I have determined there to winter. Bring Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their journey diligently, that nothing be wanting unto them. And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful. All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. (Titus 3:12–15) The first Sunday night message I preached as the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church was about the importance of teamwork, inviting our new church family to join with me in “striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (Philippians 1:27) Teamwork should be more than something we talk about. It should be more than a stated value among Christians serving the Lord together in the local church. It should be something we proactively and personally nurture. From Paul’s concluding instructions in Titus, we learn three essential characteristics of effective team ministry. Faithfulness There are rarely awards or recognition given for faithfulness, but no great work for God happens without it. There are rarely awards or recognition given for faithfulness, but no great work for God happens without it. Click To Tweet Paul mentions two faithful servants: Artemas and Tychicus—men whom Paul trusted to take Titus’ place of leadership in Crete while Titus left to visit Paul. The only mention of Artemas in the New Testament is in this verse. Yet, it seems reasonable to assume that he had a testimony of consistent servant leadership over the years. And so it is in every healthy local church—there are spiritually-strong leaders who, though not often mentioned or recognized, are faithfully serving the Lord. In every healthy local church, there are spiritually-strong leaders who, though not often mentioned or recognized, are faithfully serving the Lord. Click To Tweet Tychicus, the other of these two men, is first mentioned in Acts while Paul was in Ephesus during his third missionary journey. And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. (Acts 20:4) Tychicus’s willingness to travel with Paul shows his servant’s heart. Travel in the ancient world was far more difficult and dangerous than in our day. The trip they were currently would have been arduous, and it would take Tychicus away from his family, friends, and church for a long time. Tychicus was also with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: (Colossians 4:7) And Paul sent Tychicus to fill in for Timothy so Timothy could visit Paul. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus. (2 Timothy 4:12) Tychicus was faithfully by Paul’s side, whether in missionary journeys or in prison. He served Paul by filling pulpits and delivering the epistle to the Colossians. Although Artemas and Tychicus’s opportunities and responsibilities were different, and although one of them is mentioned more frequently in the New Testament, both were necessary to the work of the Lord and the ministry of the apostle Paul. Whatever your role is in serving the Lord, faithfulness is an essential discipline for fulfilling your responsibilities. Whatever your role is in serving the Lord, faithfulness is an essential discipline for fulfilling your responsibilities. Click To Tweet Fellowship The fellowship that Paul shared with his co-laborers was edifying and encouraging. In these verses, he mentions desiring fellowship with Titus as he instructed Titus to “be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis.” Paul’s intention to meet Titus in Nicopolis sometime after being released from prison in Rome would have been a continuation of his evangelistic ministry. And he wanted Titus with him for it. Paul also instructed Titus to bring Zenas and Apollos on their way, apparently on the way to Nicopolis. Thus, Titus and these two men would enjoy fellowship as well. It’s easy for teams to move to extremes in fellowship: Some Christians so value fellowship that they rarely get around to action. Others so value productivity that they overlook the necessity of fellowship in the life of a believer. Here, Paul encouraged fellowship while serving together. In fact, one of the best ways to build spiritual friendships is through serving together. One of the best ways to build spiritual friendships is through serving together. Click To Tweet As you serve the Lord with others, remember to invest in relationships and to enjoy fellowship in the Lord with others on your team. Fruitfulness As Paul closed this epistle, he gave a final challenge to Titus and the “team” of believers there at the churches in Crete, exhorting them to fruitfulness. As important as faithfulness and fellowship are, we must also strive for fruitfulness. As important as faithfulness and fellowship are, we must also strive for fruitfulness. Click To Tweet Fruitfulness can be hard to measure because the fruit of our faithfulness doesn’t always show up immediately. It doesn’t always even show up in our lifetime. But Paul gives a particular area of fruitfulness here that we can focus on—maintaining good works. As we maintain good works, we are good witnesses for Christ. We know from Ephesians 2:8–9 that our good works do not save us. Only God’s grace through the sacrifice of Christ saves. Yet, this same passage tells us that God did save us “unto good works.” For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10) We don’t do good works to be saved but because we are saved. Look back to some of the ministry goals God has place on your heart—perhaps even the ones that you wrote down at the beginning of this year. Remember, these aren’t just items on a checklist. Rather, they are good works to which God has called you in which to be fruitful. Don’t be too quick then to give up on them. Assess, reevaluate, determine next actionable items, and set checkpoints throughout the year to gauge your fruitfulness. Effective Team Ministry Whether it’s the first century or the twenty-first century, an effective team ministry is crucial for the advancement of the gospel as you serve with your church family. How are you doing in applying these principles? Faithfulness is critical: be in your place. Fellowship is significant: value relationships. Fruitfulness is needful: be diligent in acting on the opportunities God has given to you. The Pastoral Epistles expanded outlines and comments releases from Striving Together April 24, 2022. You can preorder now at strivingtogether.com. Use code PC20 anytime before April 24 for 20% off the preorder of this new resource. View the full article
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