News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Ala., Okla. and Ark. evangelism/missions news; ‘Barriers are being knocked down’

Today’s From the States features items from: The Alabama Baptist; The Baptist Messenger (Oklahoma); Arkansas Baptist News


Ala. association diversifies
VBS training opportunities

By Grace Thornton

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — Audrey Krier said when it comes to Alabama Baptist churches and summer, one thing is universal — and it’s not the heat.

It’s that number of trained Vacation Bible School (VBS) workers is on the decline and has been for about a decade.

So last year Birmingham Baptist Association — where Krier serves as VBS director — formed a task force to figure out why the decline was happening and how to develop new strategies “for this valuable outreach,” she said.

A variety of reasons rose to the surface.

“Some of the largest churches have either opted for writing their own material for VBS or have gone to alternative summer activities,” she said. “Many small churches have aging congregations or lack resources to hold VBS.”

‘Training is critical’

Some churches were skipping training their workers because of lack of time or resources, Krier said. “And training is critical. Statistically, for every trained worker, there’s a profession of faith that happens in VBS.”

Daniel Edmonds, state missionary overseeing state VBS efforts, agreed that the more trained laborers there are the better the harvest.

“We are seeing better numbers when more people are trained,” he said.

When it came to figuring out how to address the decline in the Birmingham area, one question quickly emerged in the conversation, Krier said — why were they holding separate trainings in the same city to teach the same material every year?

A common goal

“In years past the association would hold training that would be attended by churches with Caucasian leaders serving predominately Caucasian congregations and the African-American churches would hold training for the African-American churches,” Krier said.

It hadn’t been done that way intentionally — it had just ended up that way, she said. And when they tried to figure out the reason, they quickly realized there was no reason.

So last year they decided to combine their efforts and partner together, Krier said.

“Last year because both teams already existed the teams became one with responsibilities being shared through team teaching,” she said. “This year there is one team made up of a diverse group of leaders.”

For the past four years training had been held at Eastside Baptist Church, Birmingham, in an attempt to serve the needs of all types of churches, Krier said.

“Eastside is located in a transitional community, which did move us closer to being able to appeal to a larger more diverse group,” she said of the church, where she also serves as children’s pastor. “This year Sixth Avenue Baptist Church has graciously agreed to host the Vacation Bible School clinic for BBA.”

Vernessa Barnes, minister of education for children and youth at Sixth Avenue Baptist, said it’s been a very helpful partnership.

“Particularly with the climate of things in the world, it’s always good to practice what we preach,” she said. “When we’re able to work together as the body of Christ, I think people truly see Christianity from a different light.”

And the more churches get involved from both communities, the better it will be, she said.

The Sixth Avenue clinic will be held April 29. A jump-start training will be held Feb. 23 at Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church, Birmingham.

‘Conscious effort’

Mike Johnson, pastor of Eastside Baptist, said it has been a “conscious effort” to build bridges and work together, and it’s paid off in a lot of understanding and headway being made for the gospel.

Adult VBS at his church has brought in people from both communities during the past few years and it’s brought a lot of great relationships, he said.

That momentum at Eastside has carried over into Krier’s effort to unite the two teams for the sake of sharing the Gospel in Birmingham.

“It’s just been a wonderful marriage of the two teams such a mutually advantageous thing. Good things are happening. Barriers are being knocked down,” she said. “We just want to be an encouragement to others to do a similar partnership.”
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist.


Okla. church helps solve
4-day school week issue

By Chris Doyle

INDIAHOMA, Okla. (The Baptist Messenger) — School districts are being creative in facing budget concerns in Oklahoma. According to state sources, more than 100 Oklahoma school districts last year considered observing four-day school weeks or recently made the switch.

Indiahoma, located 31 miles west of Lawton, implemented the four-day format last fall. As a small community with a population of less than 400 people, parents faced the decision of what to do each Monday, when school wasn’t meeting.

For children in Kindergarten through 5th grade, there is a successful solution. Indiahoma of Comanche-Cotton Association offers “MonDay Camp,” which meets every week during the school year from 7 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. on Mondays. Scott and Tami Patton, members of Indiahoma Church, coordinate weekly activities that provide both academic and spiritual support.

“Sometimes what we may perceive as a problem will end up being a blessing. God disguises blessings in a lot of ways,” said Scott who is a retired Army colonel. “We look at this as a tremendous opportunity not only for children to have augment or academic programs but also for a spiritual blessing to come out of it.”

Indiahoma’s school board approved the schedule change last July. Consulting school leaders, community leaders and church leaders about the idea of the all-day Monday program, Scott and Tami worked with pastor Les Banks to make MonDay Camp become a reality.

Scott said they started planning in August. “We could have used more planning time, but through a lot of prayers we worked out things logistically,” he said.

MonDay Camp is free to families. Breakfast is offered when children arrive at 7 a.m., and food is provided through donations and contributions. They also offer lunch through supporting local businesses and restaurants.

The church and community have been supportive of the MonDay Camp. Scott said through donations they were able to buy a new basketball goal and take a field trip to a pumpkin patch last fall. He said the Lord has worked through this experience and exceeded expectations.

Even the turnout of children surpassed their projections. Scott said he thought if MonDay Camp drew 25-30 kids each week it would be a good start. Last fall, MonDay Camp enrolled 47 students and averaged 33 kids each Monday.

Chapel is the first activity the children experience at MonDay Camp. Led by Tami and other teachers, they sing Christ-centered songs “with a lot of movement and a lot of action.” They also salute the American Flag, the Christian Flag and the Bible before they offer a Bible lesson.

Then the children experience sessions of academics but in a lighter setting. Tami has a great team of teachers and workers who help every week, including Yolanda Blakesley (PreK/Kindergarten), Robin Jones (1st and 2nd grade with Tami) and Gayla Cable (3rd-5th grade).

“We make learning fun as much as we can,” said Tami who teaches 2nd grade at Indiahoma Elementary School. She consults other teachers to see what curriculum students are covering those weeks and uses MonDay Camp as a fun preparatory experience, applying games and puzzles with related academic content.

“The school has been wonderful in donating supplies and loaning equipment,” Tami said. “There’s been a good relationship. The teachers are saying (MonDay Camp is) making a difference.”

Banks said the church has been contacted by other churches in surrounding towns, evaluating what Indiahoma Church is doing.

“It’s really an opportunity where you see the church at work, not only helping this community but helping other churches,” Banks said.

MonDay Camp also has seen spiritual fruit blooming. Tami said they are “planting a lot of seeds.” Banks also has spoken with a 5th grade boy who prayed to receive Christ, and Banks is talking to his parents about following through with the observance of baptism.

“Two families have been asking about our church and started coming,” Banks said. “We want them to see that the church is a place where needs are met.”

Discussions have risen among state legislature about school districts observing four-day school weeks. If a law passes that requires school districts to follow the traditional five-day model, Scott said Indiahoma Church will be flexible with how to offer future programs to children.

“We may do an after-school program,” he said. “We can take same principles and apply to another provision.”

Pastor Banks believes MonDay Camp is only the beginning of what his church will be doing in the future.

“We can be the church in ‘here’ because we are the church out ‘there,'” Banks said. “This church is really community-minded, which is how the church is supposed to be. We need to get outside these walls and be a church out there.”
Chris Doyle is associate editor of The Baptist Messenger (www.baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.


Ark. Baptists ‘recharge,
refocus’ around evangelism

By Staff

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Baptist News) — Excitement and anticipation for ministry in the new year were high as Baptist ministers and others gathered Jan. 30-31 for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) 2017 Conference on Evangelism and Church Health at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock.

The multifaceted event — historically known as the evangelism conference — featured a number of speakers, interactive luncheon workshops, a prayer focus and an exhibit hall.

The annual conference is a great way for pastors and church leaders to “recharge their batteries and refocus on evangelism,” said Terry Bostick, team leader for ABSC’s evangelism and church health team.

“The ABSC Evangelism Conference is one of the consistently best opportunities in Arkansas each year,” was tweeted by Chad Graves of Conway about the event.

The Conference on Evangelism and Church Health was a time of spiritual growth, fellowship and conviction, as the hundreds attending heard inspiring messages from a variety of speakers.

Robert Smith

Using 2 Kings 13:20-21 as his biblical text, Robert Smith, who serves as Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., urged attendees at the Conference on Evangelism and Church Health to preach a Gospel that lives beyond the grave.

Elijah passed the mantle of his prophetic leadership to Elisha before Elijah ascended into heaven without dying. The two men shared ministries that were “mutually effective,” said Smith. Although

Elisha ultimately died and was buried, the body of a dead man that was tossed into Elisha’s grave came back to life, signifying his ministry outlived his physical life.

In order to preach a Gospel that goes beyond the grave, preachers must preach a Gospel that promotes “alien righteousness.” People must understand, Smith preached, that “apart from Christ they are dead.” God imputes His righteousness to His people, but no one person is indispensable, said Smith, explaining that when he became a Christian, “The Trinity didn’t become a quartet.”

For the Gospel to go beyond the grave, preachers must also preach the truth of Christological exclusivity. Elisha’s name, he said, means “my God is salvation,” urging attendees not to offer a “salvific buffet” but rather to preach, “There is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ — none at all.”

Finally, he called on pastors to preach messages that are “fueled by the Spirit of God.” In Spirit-fueled preaching, “There is this reality of the eternal witness of the Spirit (Who) … takes and applies the Word to people that you and I preach to,” said Smith.

Herb Reavis

Herb Reavis, pastor of North Jacksonville Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla., answered the question, “What kind of church does God attend?”

Drawing his answer from Revelation 1, Reavis said that God attends a church that “produces a dynamic Christian.” John, the apostle, exemplifies the kind of Christian God wants us to be, Reavis said.

“If you really know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you may fall down, but you’re going to get back up. You may stray, but you’re going to come back because you’re in the grip of His grace. Even though you may leave Him, He doesn’t leave you,” he preached.

He said that there is “purpose in pressure” in the Christian’s life and that the Bible doesn’t differentiate between God being a person’s Lord and a person’s Savior.

The church that God attends emphasizes that “faithfulness is success,” said Reavis. “You’ve been hoodwinked into thinking success in ministry is a number and a visible result. When it’s all said and done, there is no human number that’s gonna blow God’s mind,” he said.

The church that God attends, he continued, gathers on a special day. “Church is not a funeral service; it’s a celebration that Jesus Christ is alive,” he said.

Also, the church that God attends fulfills a unique responsibility of seeking to save the lost. “Let’s don’t curse the darkness; let’s turn on the Light,” he said.

Finally, the church that God attends, he said, worships a living Savior. “I need to go to a church that God attends because … sometimes I need to be corrected … sometimes I need to be encouraged … sometimes I need to get a touch of revival,” he said.

In his second sermon of the conference Reavis spoke from Luke 3 about “power priorities.”

Reavis shared that, after graduating from high school, he attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to prepare for his call to ministry. He said that he used to ponder what the secret was to the school’s founder, Dwight L. Moody’s, fruitfulness until it dawned on him that “it was the power of God.”

Reavis said that while at Moody he would spend time in the library reading about men and women involved in revivals throughout history. The one thing that they all shared, he said, was the power of God.

“Today we have personalities, we have programs … strategies … facilities,” said Reavis. “But the one thing that we are lacking is the power of the living God coursing through the DNA and the veins of the local church and those who minister the word of God.”

Reavis listed three priorities for attendees to have the power of God in their lives: 1) the act of obedience, 2) the anointing of the Holy Spirit and 3) the approval of God.

“I’ve come to this place in my life, as I seek to serve Jesus Christ, win souls and lift up the banner of the cross. I’ve come to the place where if God is happy with me and Mama is happy with me, then I don’t give a hoot if anybody else is happy with me,” said Reavis.

David Allen

Preaching from Hebrews 1:1-4, David Allen, dean of the School of Preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas, said that the Scripture teaches that speech is a vehicle of revelation, communication and salvation.

“Jesus is the speech of eternity translated into the language of time,” Allen said.

The opening words of Hebrews go on to teach “seven wonders of Jesus,” Allen said. Those seven wonders, which describe Who Jesus is and what He does, are: 1) Jesus is the heir of all things; 2) Jesus is God’s agent of creation; 3) Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory; 4) Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature; 5) Jesus sustains the universe by His powerful Word; 6) Jesus made purification for sins and 7) Jesus is God’s great King, as He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Most of the book of Hebrews focuses on the sixth wonder of Jesus making purification or cleansing for sins. “Such is the love of God that although He is all of these things, He is also the Savior,” said Allen.

“It’s a wonderful thing to know about God — to know facts about Him … it’s a whole lot more wonderful to know God personally through His Son Jesus Christ. There’s nothing in the universe like knowing Jesus Christ personally. There’s nothing in the universe like sharing Him with someone who doesn’t know Him,” said Allen in closing.

In his second sermon of the conference Allen spoke from Hebrews 6. The subject of Allen’s second sermon was, “my anchor holds.”

“Genuine hope for a Christian produces confidence in your life. It produces assurance in your life,” said Allen.

“We have this hope anchor which keeps us no matter what. … Every link of the chain of hope that connects you to Christ as your anchor of hope has indelibly printed on every link four words: “Thus says the Lord.” And when God speaks and promises salvation, nothing can change that,” he said.

Allen explained that the largest anchor used on ships, used only in the worst of storms, is the storm anchor. He said that Christ is our storm anchor; He holds us even in all circumstances, good and bad.

Allen said that all people find themselves either in the midst of a storm, on their way out of a storm or heading into a storm.

After sharing about the death of his wife following a battle with cancer, Allen said, “Hear me when I say this today. Everything that I have ever believed, everything that I have ever taught and everything that I have ever preached about this Jesus from the time I was 16 years old in the pine thickets of north Georgia until this moment today — Jesus has proven Himself to be everything He claimed to be.”

“He is my anchor of hope. … As long as you are tethered to Him, neither hell nor high water can keep you from Christ,” said Allen.

Steve Gaines

Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, shared five characteristics of Gospel preaching: 1) prophetically declared, 2) scripturally based, 3) Christ-centered, 4) evangelistically persuasive and 5) spiritually fruitful.

Speaking from Acts 2, Gaines said, “Gospel preaching requires a Gospel preacher. … When somebody stands up for Jesus, other people start standing up for Jesus. Some of you are waiting on someone to stand up for Jesus. Why don’t you stand up for Jesus? Maybe there are 11 people behind you that would do the same thing if you would just do it.”

Citing a quote from author E.M. Bounds, Gaines said that many Christians want a better program to help them do ministry better, but that God is looking for “better men” to stand up and be obedient to His call.

“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. … They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they will sing as they return with the harvest,” said Gaines.

Vance Pitman

Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nev., and a national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board, said the kingdom of God is a recurring theme of the Bible.

Pitman said when God mentions something in the Bible 100 times in 16 books, “God must think it is important.”

While he grew up Southern Baptist, Pitman said he heard little about the kingdom of God.

“We’ll never understand the mission of God and the mission of our church without understanding the kingdom of God,” he said.

“The kingdom of God … is the big picture of what God is doing in the world.”

Reading from Revelation 5, Pitman said God’s purpose is to establish His kingdom, not your (or any) particular church.

Referencing Revelation 5:9-10, Pitman said, “The church you pastor and the church I pastor isn’t the goal,” adding that churches that were at the center of New Testament are gone.

“The church is simply a temporary tool” to further God’s kingdom, adding that Jesus’ last instruction to the church while on earth in Acts 1:3 was not to forget the kingdom.

Speaking from Philippians 4:15-19, Pitman emphasized: 1) “When God births a church, it’s always about something bigger” and 2) “When God births a church, He invites us to join His kingdom activity.”

Pitman said in conclusion, “When you engage a city, your church ought to look like the city. Our church looks like a bag of Skittles.”

He asked, “Where is God opening doors in the world where we can join Him?”

Pitman emphasized that all churches should be “sending churches” so as to further the kingdom of God.

“What if we quit being so concerned about keeping them (members), but more concerned about sending them?” he asked.

Todd Cook

Todd Cook, senior pastor of Sagebrush Community Church in Albuquerque, N.M., began his sermon by sharing how when he was 16 years old, one of his best friends was killed in an automobile accident. After hearing about the death of her son’s friend, Cook’s mother asked him if he knew if his friend, John, was a Christian. He did not know if he was or not.

While attending John’s funeral, Cook said he made two decisions: to take His relationship with Christ seriously and to never again miss the opportunity to share Christ with his friends.

“We live in a world that is lost and dying and very, very confused. What they need more than anything else is someone who loves Jesus. … We have got to get our friends to Jesus,” said Cook.

Speaking from Matthew 28, Cook asked the audience if they, and their churches, are living out the Great Commission in their lives.

“There is nothing wrong with singing our songs to the Lord. And there is nothing wrong with parsing the Greek if you want to do that and it helps your congregation grow closer to Christ,” said

Cook. “But if we are not doing what He called us to do, what in the world are we doing?”

Christians should go out of their way to bring their friends to Jesus. Cook cited Mark 2 where a disabled man was lowered through the roof of a home where Jesus was staying.

“You have to be an idiot to turn away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Cook. “So here’s the question: If the Gospel is still compelling, and we believe it is, why aren’t our churches growing?”

Cook said that churches must have a compelling message, passionately invite the Spirit of God into their gatherings and teach their members how to share Christ and how to create and take advantage of opportunities to share the gospel with their friends and the people they come in contact with every day.

“Have we become a holy huddle of ‘our four and no more’ and to hell with everybody else?” said Cook. “I don’t want to offend anybody, but if you’re not baptizing somebody you are not a church anymore. You are a country club, and you need to hand the keys over to somebody who wants to do something more with it than what you are doing.

“Our world is going to hell in a hand basket … and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what is going to be the hope of this world,” said Cook.
This article appeared in the Arkansas Baptist News (arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas 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 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.

    About the Author

  • Staff