News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ala., Ga., S.C. evangelism/missions news; Church’s discipleship program gets ‘unbelievable’ results

Today’s From the States features items from:
The Alabama Baptist
The Christian Index (Georgia)
The Courier (South Carolina)


Ala. church creates
discipleship lifestyle
By Grace Thornton

TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — What do you think is keeping the people in your church from being disciples who make disciples? What’s keeping you from doing it?

Is it because you feel you’re not a Billy Graham or a Beth Moore?

Is it because you feel you just don’t know how?

Whatever the reason, Bill Wilks says you can do it — it’s simpler than you think.

He said he knows this because he’s seen nearly his entire church turn into active disciple makers in the past two years.

What’s their secret?

They’re reading the Bible every day and they’re meeting up every week to talk about what they’re reading.

That’s pretty much it, he said.

They call it D-Life.

“It’s not a program; it’s a lifestyle,” said Wilks, pastor of NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville. “And it’s so simple it’s profound. The simplicity is what’s making it work. People are running with it.”

D-Life started at NorthPark two years ago when Wilks began meeting with five other staff members each week to talk about what they were reading in the Bible each day. Their goal: to get through the entire New Testament together in a year and then to split into separate groups, add in more people and do it all over again.

Feeling confident

“It was birthed out of a desire to see more people really living out the Great Commission,” Wilks said. “For many people in our churches, the concept of discipleship is to become more educated. It’s more ‘when’s the next class I can go to?’ than it is ‘how can I be a disciple who makes disciples?'”

Most people in the pews are plenty educated, Wilks said, but few feel confident enough to teach someone else how to follow Christ.

But Jesus gave His followers a “really simple model,” Wilks said. “They had intimate fellowship, and He taught them in a very simple way and then sent them out to tell others.”

D-Life is based on that model, he said.

Through an app, D-Life offers a year-long reading plan that has participants reading one chapter of the Bible each day on their own, then coming together once a week in small groups to discuss it.

When they meet, one person facilitates. Another leads a prayer. A third retells the story that’s assigned for the week, a story they will have all read in their personal time in the Word. A fourth person will read it from the Bible to see if anything was left out.

Each group chooses its own time and place for meeting up.

“It can be anytime, anywhere, any day of the week, and it can be in restaurants, coffee shops, homes or parks,” Wilks said.

‘Out in culture’

The only stipulation? “We just like for them to be out in culture, not in the church.”

That setup makes a difference, Wilks said.

“The multiplication of it out in culture is just powerful,” he said. “For example, there’s a group of senior adult ladies who meet at Arby’s every week, and a woman approached them one week because she saw them reading their Bibles together. They eventually led her to Christ. A few months later, the same thing happened again to the same group of ladies.”

That’s one way the groups are multiplying, he said. And that’s the whole point.

“We are discipling each other to do evangelism, read, multiply,” Wilks said.

Meeting outside the church invites encounters with strangers, but it also provides a neutral place to which people can invite their friends.

Sometimes they come. Often they stay. They meet Jesus.

And the groups grow.

“When it gets to eight or so, it’s time for them to multiply and form two groups,” he said. “It keeps us growing by multiplication rather than addition. And it gives us a natural place to connect people who visit the church and want to learn about following Christ.”

The natural growth and movement of multiplication also keeps groups from getting stagnant, he said.

“I know I’m not the only pastor who has struggled for years trying to get Sunday School classes to multiply,” Wilks said. “They don’t want us to mess their class up. It’s like pulling teeth.”

With D-Life, NorthPark is seeing multiplication happen, though it’s not about numbers, Wilks is quick to add.

“The first priority is training people to make disciples, period,” he said. “If people leave the church and move somewhere else, they should be doing D-Life wherever they go, because it’s a lifestyle. It’s what we’re supposed to be about. And it’s a lifelong habit we’re trying to cultivate.”

‘Unbelievable’ results

The results have been “unbelievable,” he said.

“We’ve got more people reading their Bible than ever before,” Wilks said. “We’ve got groups sitting around discussing the Bible like never before.”

They’ve grown from that first D-Life group of staff members to 52 groups meeting weekly. The groups range from the senior adult ladies at Arby’s to a group of sixth grade girls that meet one morning a week at Chick-Fil-A — that group has already grown from four girls to nine this year.

Whole families are involved in some groups, joining other families and letting the children be the ones to retell the story. Other families are splitting up, with husbands, wives and teenage children all leading separate groups.

Each group grows together and then they go out and serve the community together.

Then they multiply and do it all over again.

The whole church has noticed the impact.

Ray Walker, a NorthPark member, says D-Life has been “transformational.”

“My group has been meeting for a little over a year now and the impact on the men’s lives has been incredible,” he said. “Men in my group are excited about reading the Bible, sharing the stories and leading our time of discussion. It’s been a great joy for me to see God work in the lives of these men and see how they have matured in Christ.”

It’s been a joy for Wilks to watch too — a joy he’s now passing on to other pastors.

Several churches across the Southeast, including First Baptist Church, Arley, and First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia, have brought Wilks in to train them in how to do D-Life in their churches.

At First, Arley, it’s already going strong, according to Pastor Zach Reno.

“Our people are so excited about D-Life,” he said. “In my experience, it has been hard for many people within the church to engage in discipleship for many reasons, with the most common being that they have never seen it modeled or been given a model that works. The approach, process and overall simplicity in D-Life makes it possible for any Christian to become a disciple maker.”

Churches wanting to do D-Life can download training guides and reading plans and even personalize the D-Life app to their own church, Wilks said.

Wilks said he’s available to lead one-day boot-camp trainings at interested churches, or they can participate in quarterly trainings offered at NorthPark — or they can just download the materials from the D-Life website (http://www.livingthedlife.com/) and start.

“I’d be happy to talk with anyone who is interested in doing this at their church,” he said. “It’s changed the conversation of our church. It’s just contagious. And we want to pass it on.”
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist.


God’s hand upon Ga. church’s
Celebrate Recovery ministry
By J. Gerald Harris

DALTON, Ga. (The Christian Index) — Chris McDaniel is the worship pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton and the ministry leader for their Celebrate Recovery ministry. He was formerly with the award-winning, multi-platinum-selling country group Confederate Railroad. He spent 16 years with the group until 2000, where he found himself in the middle of a $70,000 a year cocaine addiction.

McDaniel went into rehab, admitted he had a problem, and realized his need for a Higher Power. He got out of rehab and found himself in a Baptist church where he heard a message of hope and redemption and surrendered his life to Christ.

He testified, “I thought God was through with me. I had to literally peel my face off of the carpet from a drug binge. I have been to the top of what the world calls fame and success. [I had] money, women, and even a Grammy award, yet it left me empty, because I was trying to fill a hole that can only be filled by God.

“God placed me in a small church that allowed me to play the piano and God just led me from there on. There are Celebrate Recoveries all over the world; and God is doing something in this one that I’ve never seen done anywhere else.”

Celebrate Recovery is a Bible-based ministry that offers people struggling with a variety of issues the atmosphere and opportunity to heal and overcome their personal conflicts in life.

CR is a Christ-based approach to recovery that was a response to twelve step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. It was founded in 1990 by pastors John Baker and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, who felt that AA was too vague in referring to God as a “higher power.” They wanted a Christ-based program aimed at all hurts, habits, and hang-ups that people encounter in the struggles of life.

‘A ministry for everyone’

Many churches in Georgia offer Celebrate Recovery to those in their community who need a special touch of love and grace. At Dalton’s Liberty Baptist Church this ministry has been a blessing to those who need a healing touch, but the ministry has blessed Liberty and other churches with new life and new believers.

Pastor Brian Branham explains, “Celebrate Recovery has created a vital connection between our church and the community. It is an unmistakable front door that welcomes the hurting.

“The biggest surprise about Celebrate Recovery is that it is not a ministry for certain ones, but it has become a ministry for everyone. The more the church is exposed to the eight principles and twelve steps of CR, the more we all realize that in some way we are all in recovery. There is recovery for everyone who makes Christ a priority.

“The unique thing about CR is that we have seen it grow every congregation that has been a part of the program. Liberty is the host site, but there have been churches from East Brainerd to Benton, from Fort Oglethorpe to Chickamauga who have been impacted by what God is doing through CR. We are thankful to be a part.”

Jeff Lewis, who provides leadership for CR, declares, “What makes the Celebrate Recovery special at Liberty is the lives that are being changed throughout it. The Lord is allowing a group of us to come together as one team to use it to build a discipleship pipeline straight into the church.

“People are getting real and taking their masks off, so much so that the CR ministry has already influenced the overall church culture at Liberty. In the course of a year we have doubled in size from 35-40 on a Thursday night to 125-175 on just about any given Thursday night. God is using it in a powerful way to reach many people’s lives. It has become a highly effective side door for church growth for Liberty as well.”

Walking with others

Some of the struggles that Celebrate Recovery seeks to address are: chemical dependency, alcohol, anger, codependency, eating disorders, marriage issues, pornography, sexual addiction, self-discipline, depression, living with a serious or life-threatening illness, etc.

At Liberty these issues are addressed in a “safe, loving, and festive environment.” The church asserts, “You will not get any judgment here. We do not try to ‘fix’ people; we come alongside you through your life and your hurts. We incorporate praise, worship, food, lessons, testimonials, fellowship and most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Brent Coffee had been on a methamphetamine binge for quite some time and was in the process of losing his wife Amanda, his family, job, house, and likely everything in his life when he saw the lights on at the church one night. In desperation he stopped by the church to see if the pastor would pray for him.

What he encountered was a Celebrate Recovery gathering, which was the beginning of a genuine spiritual renewal. The group provided support and accountability. Amanda started attending the CR meetings with Brent. Their relationship was restored and God gave him back his family, his house, and even a better job. Brent and Amanda were remarried during a Celebrate Recovery Thursday night at Liberty. They are now both leaders in the ministry.

Brent exclaimed, “CR has impacted my life by God restoring everything that I had let Satan destroy – my mind, family, health, heart, home, and marriage. Joel 2:25 says, ‘I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.’ To God be the glory!”

Lewis, who also serves as a counselor/ministry coordinator for Providence Ministries in Dalton, added, “I am seeing God do things in this church that I have never seen before. Walls are coming down, masks are coming off, and families are being put back together. This ministry has become a well-oiled and streamlined disciple-making machine.”
This article appeared in The Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. J. Gerald Harris is editor of the Christian Index.


S.C. men become
‘band of brothers’
By Staff

COLUMBIA, S.C. (The Courier) — To Shakespeare’s characters in “Henry V,” the term “band of brothers” carries a message of comradery, loyalty, and friendship born from struggles. Some 400 years later, South Carolina’s Band of Brothers are living out that message.

Three years ago, 18 ministers agreed to become kingdom allies and be known as a Band of Brothers. They met for a weekend retreat to get to know each other then continued meeting regularly in cluster groups to share struggles, triumphs, and ministry experiences.

Monty Hale, director of pastoral ministries at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said Band of Brothers is a movement, not an event. “It is about building up the pastor where he is. The experience is proactive instead of reactive,” Hale said.

Three Band of Brothers retreats are held each year at White Oak Conference Center in Winnsboro and serve as a springboard for participants to join a local cluster group. Retreats are held in January, April, and September and last from Monday night until lunchtime on Wednesday. Ministers, that are new to the retreat, experience basic training provided by a military chaplain and begin building trust alongside other ministers. During the retreat, these new ministers are also able to immediately connect with a group that is local to them.

In addition to participating in their cluster group, Hale said most Band of Brothers ministers attend a few retreats a year. Meetings emphasize vulnerability and trust and focus on the individual person, not their role as a pastor. Currently, about 125 ministers participate in roughly 25 Band of Brothers cluster groups throughout the state.

John Lee, pastor of Brown’s Creek Church in Union, and his cluster group are featured in a video testimonial on the South Carolina Baptist Convention Web site. During his time in pastoral ministry, Lee described having ‘Elijah moments’ of feeling alone in the desert. Band of Brothers has provided personal support for him while enhancing his ability to minister.

“For the first time in 15 years of being a pastor, I feel like I belong to a Band of Brothers in Christ that know what I’ve gone through, what I face, and what I experience. For the first time in my life as a minister, I feel like I’m not in competition with the church down the street. I am in partnership with them and celebrate their successes,” Lee said.

Band of Brothers cluster groups have taken on a life of their own. Hale reported that groups have gone on mission trips together, done pulpit exchange, and held a joint revival with shared preaching responsibilities among them.

“Leaders are becoming healthier and are making allies among themselves. They are breaking down church walls to partner together to better reach their areas,” Hale said.

The next Band of Brothers retreat will be held September 14-16. For more online information, visit www.scbaptist.org/band-of-brothers, or contact Hale by phone at (803)227.6194. -30-
This article appeared in The Courier (baptistcourier.com), newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
EDITOR’S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board’s call to embrace the world’s 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board’s call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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