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26 years as Clifton Park’s pastor, Gary Javens still has enough to do

SILVER SPRING, Md. (BP)–About 30 years ago, seminary student Gary Javens saw an evangelist lead a young man to pray to receive Christ.

Javens’ response? “Wow!”

He also remembers thinking, “I can do that.”

Ever since, Javens, pastor of Clifton Park Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Md., has made it his habit to go out one night a week specifically to visit people, share his faith and lead them to the Lord.

When he was finishing Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., Javens began looking for a church to serve.

At Clifton Park, he “saw a nucleus of people who wanted to have someone who preached the Word.” He said he sensed God’s call to the church and started as pastor the first Sunday in September 1974.

For many years, the Washington, D.C., area has been ethnically and racially diverse. Clifton Park reflects this diversity. People from around the world come to work, attend school — to make better lives for themselves and their families.

Although he said he has never really counted, Javens thinks there are now about 30 nations represented in the Clifton Park congregation.

“The Caribbean, Central America and a lot of African countries are represented among our people. Some come for economic reasons; some, for school.”

The church celebrates its diversity, and Javens seems surprised that the multicultural aspect is considered unusual.

“Why wouldn’t we want to have everyone worshiping together? In a world that’s so divided and there’s so much conflict between people who are so different, there’s just such a great opportunity to be together and to celebrate God’s love.”

Among the language and culture groups, Javens said Clifton Park has found it best to have common language groups worship together.

“For example, everyone who speaks English worships in the English-language service. If they speak Vietnamese but not English, they all worship together. If they speak Spanish, they worship together. It works.”

Sunday school has become not only Bible study, but also caring, supportive groups at Clifton Park. “We call them Bible study care groups,” Javens said.

“Sunday school was great. People were learning and being nurtured, but something had been missing … evangelism,” Javens said. “We needed to get evangelism as a part of our Sunday school.”

Javens said that’s why he loves the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy.

“The exciting thing to me is I’ve always had people who’d go with me to visit, but there’d only be two or three teams of two people. Now we have 10 teams of three,” he said.

“We’re multiplying the number of people going out, so God is multiplying the number of people coming to know Christ,” Javens said. “Using FAITH, people are feeling more confident in knowing how to lead people to Christ.”

FAITH, a strategy combining evangelism and Sunday school, originated at First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., and has been introduced to Southern Baptists by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. FAITH is endorsed by the North American Mission Board.

“I think we’re just beginning to see the results of FAITH,” Javens said. “Baptisms are increasing. One woman led her 90-year-old mother to Christ, then led her son who is in his 40s to Christ. People are finding the courage to witness … even to family members … because of FAITH.”

LifeWay’s resources are an important part of Christian education of Clifton Park. “We’ve had people from LifeWay come and do studies for us. Dr. Draper (LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr.) came and preached at our 50th anniversary celebration,” the pastor said.

Minister of education Janet Henley, also a LifeWay trustee representing the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, is working now on having 500 people involved in a study of the “Experiencing God” discipleship course. She plans to have 50 groups of 10 each involved in the study.

“Experiencing God is one of Janet’s dreams,” Javens said. “She is working hard to see that the church will all be involved.” Also, Clifton Park’s choir will be working on “Experiencing God … the Musical,” presenting one selection a month until they present the musical in its entirety in September.

On Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings, Clifton Park offers other discipleship opportunities. “We’ve done Experiencing God, T.W. Hunt’s prayer book and some of our women have said the Beth Moore materials are their favorites,” Javens said.

“We do a lot of things on Saturday mornings because of people’s work schedules. Some people can’t do things in the evenings because of work,” he said.

Sunday school time at Clifton Park is for studying, fellowshiping and loving.

Brenda Taylor, the teacher of a women’s class, uses LifeWay’s “Explore the Bible” series. Preparation is important — to her and to the women in the class. In a recent class session, Taylor pointedly asked, “Did you study your lesson?” She received affirmative answers.

Repeatedly, Taylor stressed the importance of individual Bible study and prayer.

“As you go out on Thursday night [for FAITH], pray,” she urged. “Pray before you go out and witness to people. We are preparing for eternity. We don’t have time for foolish thoughts. If you’re running for the Lord, you can’t be carrying a heavy load. You can’t run with a lot of baggage.”

Javens acknowledged that staying at the same church for 26 years is unusual for Southern Baptist pastors. But, he said, “I love this church and they love me. I never run out of things to do here. It’s exciting. I have no desire to go anywhere else.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GARY JAVEN.

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  • Polly House