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Diverse ministry of California Southern Baptists highlighted during CP Stage panel

Panelists discuss the diverse opportunities and challenges of ministry in California in a discussion titled "As Goes California" June 13. Panelists included (left to right) Jeff Iorg, Victor Chayasirisobhon, Anthony Dockery, Ryan Blackwell and Kelly King. Photo by Charissa Graves

ANAHEIM, Calif. (BP) – The diverse ministry taking place among California Southern Baptists was highlighted during a panel discussion on the CP Stage during the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

The panel, titled ‘As Goes California,’ took place June 13 and featured a variety of Southern Baptist leaders, including Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary.

Iorg opened the panel by explaining the unique spiritual impact California has on the world.

“California has had a profound impact on Christianity across the nation and around the world,” Iorg said.

“A lot of people think of California as kind of a spiritual wasteland and wonder if there really is much emphasis on the Gospel, but the three Great Awakenings in the 20th century in American culture, the Azusa Street Revival, the Billy Graham Movement and the Jesus Movement of the 70s, all started here in Southern California.

“In a recent list of 100 of the largest churches in North America, 19 of them are in Southern California, so this state has a profound spiritual impact on the nation.”

The panelists including California pastors Anthony Dockery, senior pastor at St. Stephens Baptist Church in LaPuente, Calif., and Victor Chayasirisobhon, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim and president of the California Southern Baptist Convention, pointed out the variety of ethnicities that live in California, and the unique ministry opportunities this provides.

Chayasirisobhon said ministering to a diverse congregation can help pastors demonstrate Christian faith in a unique way.

“California is a really exciting place and it’s extremely diverse,” Chayasirisobhon said. “It can be very challenging, which breeds creativity.”

“Even in times where you cannot speak the same language, you learn that it’s less about words and more about actions. As God calls us to the nations, it helps to act out our faith rather than just talking about it. That is what people really want to see.”

Dockery echoed this sentiment.

“The nations have come to California, so when you impact California, you impact not only the nation, but the world,” Dockery said.

Other guest on the panel included Kelly King, women’s ministry specialist at Lifeway Christian Resources, and Ryan Blackwell, executive and teaching pastor at Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark.

Although she does not live in California, King is currently a student at Gateway Seminary.

King said anytime she or other Lifeway representatives visit California, it is an opportunity to learn how to better minister and create resources for its diverse communities.

“We are definitely learners and not just practitioners,” King said. “When we come to California, we want to ask a lot of questions, and this helps us better train women in these different areas of the state.”

Before transitioning to do ministry in Arkansas, Blackwell experienced the diversity of California while attending Golden Gate Seminary and later doing his doctoral work at Gateway.

“I loved having my Southern roots growing up in Arkansas, but when I was deciding on Seminaries I thought if I really wanted to make a difference in the world I had to go where the world was and I saw that as California,” Blackwell said.

While in California, Blackwell served as the pastor of First Baptist Church, San Francisco. 

“I am a completely changed person because of my time in California pastoring,” Blackwell said.

“The number one thing I learned is how to depend deeply upon the Holy Spirit. Almost every day ministering in California I thought ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.’ I didn’t think I could meet the needs of my congregation or the need of the moment. It created in me a deep reliance on the Spirit.

“It also taught me to minister to people who were different than I am. We had 40 different nations represented in our church, so every single dinner and time out with someone was a learning encounter. One lesson was the importance of hospitality in discipleship and evangelism. If you can get people very different from you around your table, you can have conversations that you just can’t have in other environments. We’ve tried to take that back to Arkansas.”

The panel also addressed three myths about California: there are not any Christians in California, there is a lot of antagonism and opposition to Christianity in California and there is a lot of racial tension or division issues in the state.

Iorg reiterated how the diverse ministry opportunities outweigh the challenges that may exist.

“I’ve been living on the West Coast for 33 years and I can count on my hands the conversations with people who have been antagonist with me about the Gospel. Most people are open to a conversation if you approach them in a winsome way,” Iorg said.

“I’m grateful that these myths don’t define who we are or what we are doing. We have the capacity to make a significant difference here. There is far more opportunity here than the challenges that may exist or the myths some people may hold.” The full panel, along with the rest of the CP Stage panels, can be viewed here on the Cooperative Program YouTube channel.