Go Make Disciples

My last two posts have been all about discipleship and specifically in reference to the vocabulary in Matthew 28. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” I first wrote about teaching, and then about baptizing, and this week I will address the word “go.”

Go means Go

There have been attempts to change the wording to “as you are going” or “having gone.” I must confess at the outset that I am by no means a Greek scholar, and in fact I have only taken the minimum requirement of Greek for my degree programs. This much Greek does not make me an expert translator, it only makes me dangerous when I try to change the way almost every other translation committee in the history of English translations has chosen to translate a word or phrase. Since most English translations (make that almost all English translations) use the word “Go,” I really see no reason why I would not do the same. You may have a really good argument for translating it a different way, and I do understand the language enough to know there is some room for that, given the verb form in the original, but we cannot get so bogged down into the details that we miss the big idea that requires some aspect of going. Any attempt to change the translation to make the word mean something other than an intentional movement toward biblical disciple making is not a valid translation. We must go make disciples!

 As I write this, I am on a plane headed to Richmond, Virginia for a meeting at the headquarters of the International Mission Board (IMB). Cross Church has sent me there to work towards a partnership between the IMB and our Cross Church School of Ministry. We want to help the IMB train missionaries because we believe in going. I appreciate this churches commitment to missions, and I appreciate the SBC for a long-standing commitment to missions. I became a Southern Baptist because I was born into a Southern Baptist family, I will remain a Southern Baptist because of our mission sending enterprise. I could care less about denominational politics and brand loyalty, what I am interested in is being as effective as possible in reaching people for Christ. I believe that the IMB is one of greatest mission sending agencies in the history of Christianity. In 1845 the SBC was formed under some very embarrassing circumstances of which we are now greatly ashamed, but in the midst of that scar in our history, we cannot miss the fact that the fist thing that newly formed convention did was to form a foreign mission board, immediately followed by a home mission board. The SBC exists for and because of missions, and if ever we deemphasize going, my loyalty will be going elsewhere.

The Missionary Call 

It is easy for Christians to treat foreign missionaries like they are some sort of God sent evangelistic navy seal, but they are just regular people. The only difference between you and them is context. We are all just as called as they are, but they just do the work in different places than us. Our existence as Christians and as the church is a missionary existence. We are all called to be missionaries, and we must all go make disciples!

Discipleship Requires Baptism

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of teaching as it relates to discipleship. This week, in keeping with that same theme, I am going to be talking about discipleship and baptism. In the Great Commission Jesus describes his final marching orders for his disciples. As stated previously, there has been a much needed emphasis on disciple making, but in some ways we are making it to be something it is not. I used the coffee shop version of modern discipleship as my example last time to say that discipleship is more than just “doing life together” we must teach. Likewise, we must not neglect the command to baptize.

Baptism Is Required?

The words “require” and “baptism” don’t often appear in the same sentence these days. In fact, we spend so much time teaching our people that, “baptism doesn’t save you.” That we make them wonder if it is even necessary at all, and today’s generation is not going to do anything that does not have an overt purpose to it. Of course we must refute baptismal regeneration, but we must also refute the neglect of baptism. Let me put it like this, there should be no dry christians. I understand the hesitancy in using the word “require” when it comes to matters of salvation, but we should most definitely say it is required for discipleship. The Lord Jesus gives a very brief word on the way his mission will continue after His ascension, and “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is included in that charge. Jesus seemed to think baptizing was required for discipleship, and so should we.

The Great Decline

If you spend any time at all at denominational meetings at any level in the SBC you will hear about the decline in baptisms. While I do not appreciate the way this dilemma is presented in most cases, I do agree that the problem is one in need of addressing and correction. I am under the understanding that annual baptism numbers are the most important numbers recorded in church metrics. I believe this, because baptism is the clearest external evidence for salvation. If we are in the business of seeing the lost saved, and we better be, than we must care about these numbers.

Yes, baptisms are in decline nation wide, but we should never address this decline in terms of negativity or what I hear most often, the dooms day approach. We must use this decline as motivation to go and share the Good News of Jesus. When a denominational leader stands up on the platform and rails against the pastors who have dedicated their life to seeing more people baptized, it only discourages them all the more. We must change our approach, and who must do so in a way that encourages the pastors yet at the same time stresses the reality of the need to see more people saved.

We must get the number of baptisms up, not for the sake of the SBC, but for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the lost souls we have been called to reach. The good news about this problem is that there is job security for my line of work. I pray that my generation will experience a recommitment to evangelism, that we will take hold of this great opportunity to reach many lost souls for Christ, and that as a result the number of baptisms will be higher than ever. We must never forget that discipleship requires baptism.

Discipleship Is Teaching!

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is one of the most quoted sections of scripture among todays church leaders, and there has been a much needed emphasis on disciple making. We have emphasized so much that “make disciples” is the imperative and all the other verbs are supporting participles, that we have lost some of the weight behind, “going, baptizing and teaching.” In other words, in our efforts to push for disciple making we have neglected the very ways in which the Lord told us to make them. The result is a kind of discipleship that is far different from that mentioned in the Great Commission. Matthew records no mention of doing life together, or meeting once a week in a coffee shop to confess the same sins you confessed last week. While those things are not bad, they are not the end all be all of discipleship. Discipleship is more than relationships, it is going, baptizing, and teaching. This week I want to talk about teaching.

Teaching

In many ways, our churches are educational institutions, that do not stop at graduate or even post graduate work. We teach our people from childhood until the day that they die. This means that church members should be the most educated people on the planet in their respective field of study. What would we say of the public school system if we sent our kids there for 12 years and they came out only knowing all information on a 5th grade level? I fear that our churches have failed to educate the people entrusted to us. We have a responsibility and obligation to teach God’s people. This is how disciples are made!

I was once told by a pastor who was nearing retirement that he always preaches on a 3rd grade level, and had done so for the entirety of ministry. It is great that he is thinking of those who may be learning for the first time, but my fear is that he will produce nothing but a congregation of 3rd graders. As a young man just starting in ministry I understand that I don’t know everything, I just really want to be able to say at the end of my ministry that I taught the people more than that.

Sunday School

I really believe that Sunday school is one of the greatest ministries of the church. I just don’t understand the negative reputation it has among people today, and I have to hold my tongue when I hear people talking poorly about it. I often hear people say, “Meeting once a week on Sunday mornings to listen to someone teach the Bible from a quarterly is not discipleship.” In response the listeners cheer in agreement, but I say, “If that’s not discipleship, than what is?” I just don’t see how meeting in a home on a day other than Sunday, yet teaching the same exact material only from a different book makes any difference. Sunday school is not perfect either, but if there is teaching, and the people are reaching the lost in their groups, than it must be discipleship.

Sunday school is obviously not the only option, we just really need to remember that in order to make a disciple we must teach. If you like the coffee shop thing, teach. If you like home groups, teach. If you like Sunday school, teach!

The Future of the Local Association Part 2: Church Networking

As I have made very clear in the last few posts, I believe in the local association. In fact, I think it is the most valuable component of the Southern Baptist Convention other than the mission boards and the cooperative program that funds them. The local association accomplishes something that no other denominational entity can do; they are on the ground with the local churches. This close connection with the local churches gives the associations a leg up for the future.

The multisite movement has taken the church world by storm, and we are better off because of it. Yes there are weaknesses with the movement, but overall I think it is going to benefit the church in the long run. The local associations should take notes on the multisite movement and borrow some principles from it. I’m not saying that associations should become multisite churches or that there should be a bishop-like director of missions that has ultimate authority of the churches in his region, but I am saying the fellowship of churches should be closer than it is now. I am going to call this connection church networking.

There are two major factors that will contribute to the success or failure of such a movement. The first is associational leadership and the second is church cooperation.

Associational Leadership 

The position of director of missions or associational missionary must be given high priority! I believe that this position, while it is currently not emphasized, is going to play a major role in the future of the church. We must fill these positions with great men of God with strong vision and leadership. It does not matter how good the idea is if the man who pulls the trigger is not able to make it happen. In order for the association to have any future the leadership positions must be filled with capable individuals who are ready to take the organization to the next level. Without this factor there is no future for associations in church networking.

Church Cooperation 

The second factor is church cooperation, and this is easier said than done. For Baptist churches, autonomy is a sacred right and to even think about questioning it is a hangable offense. I do agree that autonomy is healthy and necessary, but we cannot make it an idol. In the system that I am suggesting, unlike in the multisite system, each church would remain autonomous, but the bond between them would be much tighter than it is now. Churches are who say they are going to be autonomous or die, are going to do just that. For the future we are going to have to forfeit some personal privileges for the sake of the Kingdom. 30 churches in one association who are all completely separate in every way from one another but are doing the same exact things is just not going to work anymore. They must work together, and rather than creating a new system, we should rework the one we already have. The local association could be a great commission networking center promoting the health and future of local churches to the glory of God.

The Future of the Local Association Part 1: Pastoral Training

In order for any organization to survive it must adapt. Walmart for example adapts all the time. They do not leave even the simplest things the same if increased productivity is possible.  If the local associations are going to survive, they are going to have to adapt. I choose the word adapt intentionally. Change is dangerous because it can be done with out purpose or only to accommodate the latest fad. Adapting however is intentional and meets a specific need. The local associations don’t need to go changing what they do, only adapting what they do in order to meet the current needs in the churches they serve. Below is the first way I believe the local association can adapt to not only survive but to lead our churches into the future.

Pastoral Training 

One of the strongest aspects of the local association as they now stand is the fellowship of pastors, as I wrote previously. Some say to become better you should focus on your weaknesses to make them stronger, and there is some truth to that. However, it seems even more productive if you improve something you are already doing well. If associations can take that time of pastoral fellowship and adapt it or build upon it to form some kind of pastoral training, great things would happen in our associations and our churches.

Many associations serve churches were very few pastors have formal theological training. This is the case not because the pastors don’t want training, but because they don’t have access to it. These men crave the knowledge and experiences some of their colleagues received in seminary. I am extremely confident that the local association can secure its place in the future of Christian life if they would become training outposts for pastors all over the nation.

My experience here in the Cross Church School of Ministry has taught me that training, even formal training, is possible in any setting, and seminaries are ready and willing to work with churches to provide it. The only issue is finding funding and qualified teachers, but I’m willing to bet both of those things exist in almost every association. Not every church has the resources to start a pastoral training program, and not every church has enough men desiring training to warrant such a program anyway, but the association as a whole does.

If the association partnered with a seminary such as Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary they could take advantage of the EQUIP program and other programs like it. In this program a student can earn as many as 30 hours toward his Mdiv without ever entering a classroom. The best part is that these classes can be taught by anyone with post masters level work. The seminary provides the curriculum and does all the accreditation, but the teaching is done by men who have faithfully served in the trenches of ministry. On top of that, the teachers actually receive a stipend from the school instead of paying in to the school. The future of theological education is found in programs like these.

Imagine if there was a localized organization that serves as a hub for an area of local churches where such a program could be hosted. Oh wait, such a place already exists… the local association.

 

Pastoral Fellowship Leads To Church Health

Every Tuesday morning the pastors of the North Canadian Baptist Association (NCBA) gather for a time of fellowship, encouragement, and prayer. These men actively pray for each other and share about what is happening in their local churches, but the most beneficial aspect of these meetings is simply hanging out with other pastors. One of the greatest benefits provided by any local association is the fellowship of pastors. Most churches do not have large staffs, so the work can become quite lonely. Providing some sort of fellowship for the pastors can help alleviated some of that stress and consequently improve the health of the pastor and his church. These fellowships will help…

Prevent Pastoral Burnout 

My pawpaw once told me the story about the pastor who used to watch the train roll through town every day. When asked about the unusual habit, he would simply reply, “I watch the train because it is the only thing in this town that I’m not pushing or pulling.” Sadly, the load carried by many pastors is heavier than anyone in his congregation realizes, and in most churches the pastor is carrying that load by himself. He has no one to talk to about his problems, and if something goes wrong, he is the one to call. Overtime, this can lead to pastoral burnout. However, the local association and the pastors who participate provide an excellent remedy for burnout. Simply being around other pastors and hearing that they are dealing with many of the very same issues can really help reduce burnout.

The Tuesday morning pastors’ fellowship at the NCBA is usually followed by lunch and, if the weather permits, golf. Some of the greatest learning experiences I have had in the ministry have happened around the lunch table. These lunches are about much more than just good food, it is an opportunity for the pastors to build one another up. Never underestimate the power of a lunch or a round of golf to lift the spirit of the pastor. Regularly participating in these simple things is like staying up to date on vaccinations to prevent pastoral burnout.

Increase Pastoral Tenure

I know this information is only anecdotal, but I do believe there is something to it. The pastors in the NCBA seem to stay at their churches longer than the national averages. The average is around 4 years, but in that particular association many of the pastors have been there since I was in high school, and some even longer than that. I think one of the major contributing factors to the extended tenure is the quality of the fellowship provided by the Director of Missions and the pastors of the association.

It is much easier to stay somewhere when hard times come if you have such a solid support system. When I had a hard week, I always knew that there would be a circle of great men waiting to encourage me and push me forward at the associational office on Tuesday morning. That group of men made my first years in the pastorate, mistakes and all, a truly wonderful  experience. If that was true for me, I am sure the others feel the same way, and I am quite confident that this reality helps them stay in their churches much longer than the statistics suggest.

Promote Church Health 

Healthy pastors lead healthy churches. The association has a direct impact on church health every time they schedule a pastors’ breakfast or a mere round of golf. If pastoral fellowship has such a strong effect on the health of the pastor, and I believe it does, than every step taken to help him is helping the church as a whole. If pastors are staying in churches longer and they are not dealing with the issues associated with burnout, than  our churches will be the better for it. The good news is that any local association can provide opportunity for pastors to fellowship. Which means that every association can take great steps toward promoting healthy churches with even the smallest of means. Let the North Canadian Baptist Association serve as a positive example of how this can actually work out.

 

 

Is The Local Association Finished?

A lot of people are asking if there is still a place for the local association in SBC life, and my answer is a firm YES. I am not going to deny the reality that many local associations are virtually lifeless, but I am also not ready to write them all off as obsolete organizations of antiquity. Churches could be greatly benefitted by having a healthy association in their corner.

I pastored a small church in small-town Oklahoma that, when I arrived, was having some very difficult conversations. The goal was to just keep the doors open one week at a time, but when I left, the church was in an entirely different situation. There were several factors that fueled that turnaround, and one of the largest was our local association and director of missions. He believed in me and in our little church. When everyone else thought we were done, he was ready to invest more. He gave us his time and attention. For example, on more than one occasion the association chose to serve our church for their summer mission trip. One summer, groups from the churches came to our facilities and helped us demolish an old parsonage that was becoming a hazard to the community. This was a project that would have cost our church thousands of dollars that we did not have, but the whole thing was done free of charge. Nothing gets a church excited like having heavy machinery on the property. In fact, the local newspaper came out and took pictures of the project and published a story in the paper informing the community about the progress of our church. The community knew that our church was not out for the count, because of the work of the local association.

We need to revive local associations all over the country, because there is no other organization out there that is on the ground serving our churches on such a personal level. Sure there is work to be done, and the system is not perfect, but it will definitely be worth the investment. My story is not unique, and I know there are churches out there who are crying out for help and a dedicated local association might just be the answer they have been looking for. Over the next few weeks I am going to be addressing some issues concerning local associations and my vision for their future. I also want to dedicate these blogs to DuWayne Colvin the director of mission for the North Canadian Baptist Association in Oklahoma.