I’ll be upfront: as an independent Baptist pastor, I am concerned.
Statistics bear that various groups are sliding, and every indication is that established independent Baptist churches are seeing fewer people added to the church by baptism.
This means that even as our nation is growing, our evangelism and discipleship efforts are not. Or at least that they are not growing in effectiveness.
I believe it is time for independent Baptist pastors to seek the Lord about our spirit and our vision. Do we believe it is possible to reach our nation? Is our spirit hindering the spread of the gospel?
And more importantly, what can we do about it?
I would suggest seven biblical steps for faith-filled leaders who truly want to make a difference.
Does this sound elementary? But are you doing it?
We must pray—for revival and for laborers.
I don’t believe that our nation is too far gone for God to bring another great awakening. But I do believe we need an army of men and women who will pray for revival and who answer God’s call to serve as laborers.
Pastors, youth pastors, parents, I urge you to pray for God to send forth young people from your church, from your home, as laborers for the harvest.
2. Believe in God
I’m concerned that our movement has lost the spirit of faith that characterized it in the early years.
Lee Roberson taught me to have faith in God and to have a pastor’s heart for my entire community—not just for the people already attending our church. We need men who will claim their city for God.
So get positive again! Set some prayerful goals for the work of God in your church.
Currently at Lancaster Baptist, we are asking God for seven hundred souls in ten weeks this spring. (Please pray with us!)
What are your current goals? Do they reflect faith in God?
3. Humble Ourselves
Scripture is clear—there is one way that contention comes into churches and among pastors: “Only by pride cometh contention” (Proverbs 13:10).
Too many straw man issues are created to marginalize other ministries because of institutional loyalty and institutional competitiveness. We must stand for truth and avoid worldly trends, but there is a thin veil of fleshliness behind most criticisms against other fundamental ministries.
God resists the proud. If we want His grace, if we are sincere in our prayers for revival and our goals of faith, we must walk humbly with our God and with our brothers.
4. Get Creative
Remodel a building. Landscape your curb areas. Get better lighting, Print new tract designs. Buy a bus for outreach. Do something, anything, to reach people and convey truth.
And if the Lord is leading you in an area of outreach, follow Him. Never let a critic set the agenda for your ministry.
When we were building our main auditorium over twenty years ago, the architect suggested screens. He said it would be better to have the screens mounted in place than to stop service to pull them down with a stick. (If you’re younger than twenty-five, you may not remember those screens.)
We were criticized for those screens, and we were placed on a slippery slope by some who needed an issue for whatever purpose they had. But this tool has helped us communicate everything from Paul’s missionary journeys to live updates from the mission fields, and yes, to the hymns of our faith as well.
5. Simplify around the Great Commission
Sometimes we entangle ourselves from forward momentum by creating too much program without canceling something that is dead. It may have even been something that was helpful at one point, but the need for it has changed. Look for ways to simplify your church schedule and calendar by eliminating these kinds of activities.
Evaluate every activity or program (especially the one already in place) against the standard of what benefit it has toward winning new souls, discipling young Christians, or edifying the saints. And ask God for creativity to think outside the box.
For example, one of the best moves we made was to have discipleship on Wednesday night while I taught the midweek Bible study. This helped new Christians develop the habit of coming on Wednesday evenings, freed our faithful disciplers from an extra evening obligation, and allowed more people to come to discipleship as we already had childcare in place.
6. Seek to Train and Involve New Servant Leaders in Each Ministry
This is the baseline of 2 Timothy 2:2 ministry: “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.”
If we only see people saved and maybe even baptized, but we aren’t training new servant leaders, we aren’t fulfilling the work of the ministry. Yes, new leaders will make mistakes (just like we do), but they will not learn without involvement.
At Lancaster Baptist, we periodically ask, Who are we involving and training as leaders? This could be anyone from new deacons to new adult class care group leaders to new bus captains…in every area of ministry, we must be training and developing.
One of the ways we do this is by periodically having a “ministry involvement night,” encouraging every church member to be engaged in ministry. After the service, there are tables around the room (or in another room) with each church ministry hosting a table for people to come ask questions and express interest. From there, a staff member will set up an appointment to discuss the commitments needed and leadership requirements.
We also encourage people to get involved in ministry as part of the Continue discipleship lessons. On week 10 they are given a Spiritual gifts tests and encouraged to choose a ministry that they see fits with their spiritual gifts. Our goal is that by the time they complete discipleship (week 14), they are already serving in weekly ministry.
7. Get God’s Direction for Preaching Series in the Future
I believe in the primacy of preaching. Biblical preaching—not programs or activities—must be the engine of the church. God uses the foolishness of preaching to bring people to Christ and the exposition of His Word to grow His people in the likeness of Christ.
As pastors, then, we must put emphasis on preaching—through our time in study, through prayerful selection of message themes and passages, and through emphasis of the preaching services among our congregation.
I encourage pastors to promote upcoming sermon series—announce them in advance, send out an email to your church family about an upcoming series, and promote them through social media. During the series, use printed handouts or online study response tools to encourage engagement.
It is through the preaching of God’s Word that lives are changed.
Vision + Faith
The bottom line is that if we are going to make a difference for Christ in this needy hour, we must be willing to take bold, biblical action.
We can’t just trifle with our labor for the Lord. We must, in faith and in the filling of the Holy Spirit, work with a renewed vision and willingness to do the work of the ministry.
This is one reason that I am thankful for church planters. With strong faith, they are leading the way in innovation and new growth. Yes, some of them push envelopes even I wouldn’t push, but I admire the faith of men who go to a city with no salary, no people, and only a vision and faith in God.
It’s time some of us got out there with a dynamic creative faith again and ramp up big for God!
If how to do this sounds like the kinds of conversations you would like to have…
If learning from pastors who have done and are doing it sounds like the kind of mentoring you could use…
And if meeting church planters who are just getting started sounds like the kind of men you would like to encourage…
Then I invite you to join us for the 2017 Spiritual Leadership Conference in Lancaster this June. You can find more details about the conference and register at slconference.com.