Today’s From the States features items from:
Christian Index (Georgia)
Southern Baptist TEXAN
The Pathway (Missouri)
Ga. pastors train
Central American pastors
By Scott Barkley
CUMMING, Ga. (Christian Index) — When Alan Morris first heard the suggestion from his friend Gary Bulley, the idea seemed so simple yet made so much sense.
Toward the end of 2015, Bulley, pastor of Living Stones Church in Cumming, approached Morris, North Central Area Missions director, on a way to help churches in Latin America become more viable. It would center around a school that met in various locations and could be made possible through American pastors serving as teachers.
“Gary had a missionary contact in El Salvador who could get it started. I knew pastors who could teach,” said Morris.
“In the New Testament Paul would go into a city and raise up leaders,” he explained. “He’d help establish those leaders and then leave, trusting the Holy Spirit to help them grow.”
The model inspired from Scripture became the Global Network of Theological Training, set to celebrate its third year. With 15 locations throughout Central America, Bulley anticipates that number could reach 20 by the end of 2019.
“I kind of feel like we’ve got a tiger by the tail,” he admitted recently. “The Lord provides incredible field partners. Most are nationals; some missionaries.
“The school consists of a scaled-down curriculum taught in a culture where it’s not uncommon for bivocational pastors preach six nights a week. It’s just what’s expected.”
A course of training packed into one week
Organic growth in a church became more possible when led by a pastor from the area, Bulley and Morris figured. So, the surest way to guarantee that was to offer basic theological training for those pastors. Bulley’s background includes leading church planting and revitalization at the North American Mission Board, so his experience lent itself toward success.
To make the schedule work, though, requires a lot of commitment. And stamina.
On Monday pastors fly to where they’ll teach around seven hours that day, Tuesday and Wednesday. They travel to a different location and do the same Thursday and Friday. They fly back Saturday. American pastors won’t even miss a Sunday in the pulpit. The schools aren’t brick-and-mortar, but provided various locations to meet. There are eight locations in El Salvador, four in Honduras, and two in Peru.
As of right now the 15 or so pastors involved come from Etowah, Hightower, Lanier and Roswell Baptist associations, which make up the North Central Area Missions Program. Bulley called the work they do “foundational.”
“All four people who write the courses either have a Ph.D. or taught at an accredited Bible college. Three are former missionaries. All have pastoral experience. And while the institutes (each location) are Baptist, students from all denominations attend.”
What it brings back home
The energy Georgia pastors get from the experience stays with them, said Bulley.
“Guys are always excited to go back,” he said. “They see incredible fruitfulness. It makes a difference that the students are already pastors and understand their need for the material. We’re just trying to keep up with God.”
Bulley added that there was no intention of going beyond one teaching location. But, word of mouth traveled, and it began to grow exponentially. A marginal $5 fee is to help provide for materials, but pastors and church leaders wanting to take part aren’t turned away. Classes typically have 30-35 students, he said.
Morris emphasized it was important for teachers to have the right spirit when presenting the materials.
“We wanted those who were humble, someone God could use. But, they also had to have a solid basis in theology. Every pastor we’ve sent goes with that attitude. They see it as God allowing them this opportunity. That attitude speaks volumes to these pastors.”
When those pastors come back to Georgia, Morris notes the difference.
“The hunger for the Word of God is so strong. One student rides a bicycle three hours one way to class. Afterwards he rides home, works, goes to bed, then gets up the next morning and does it again. The commitment level is unreal.”
Can work anywhere, worldwide
Seeing the desire for growth tells Bulley the hunger for training doesn’t have to be limited to Central America.
“We have a heart for training pastors. I read somewhere that in America we have one trained (Bible college or seminary) pastor for every 250 people. But in developing countries that number goes to one trained pastor for every 450,000 people. The need is great and we can’t do it ourselves.
“If there are pastors and churches in Georgia with mission partnerships around the world and looking for a way to leave a significant impact, I can’t think of a better way than to train local pastors. The materials we’ve produced are free to use, and I’ll help train pastors wanting to teach myself.”
The goal, he said, was to produce pastors who can lead churches to create other churches.
“It equips pastors in doing the fundamentals of their jobs. We don’t want to make them an American church. We want them to reproduce.
“These are godly men who haven’t had the advantage of good models and training. When we give them that, it’s amazing what they do.”
This article appeared in the Christian Index (christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention. Scott Barkley is editor of the Christian Index.
Texas church fueled by
love and ‘earned’ trust
By Karen Willoughby
RANGER, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) — In a bit over two years, The Woodbridge church plant has grown to about 170 mostly unchurched people of varied ages in Sunday morning worship, and at least 40 baptisms.
Church planter Jared Johnson has done this with shoe leather, acts of service and simply inviting folks to the church that meets in the Ranger Academy of Martial Arts.
“America has voted on whether or not they want to go to church, and the church is dying,” Johnson told the TEXAN. “You can do all the neat gadgets and tricks you want to get people there, but they’re not going to come on their own unless they feel love and trust.”
The Woodbridge’s story starts in 2005, when a pastor told Johnson, “If I would start a church with five people who weren’t steeped in tradition, I’d be further along in one year than with a church that started with 100 people steeped in tradition.”
Johnson traces his call to church planting — and to church planting with a focus on the unchurched — back to that remark. In 2015, he left a church staff position to begin a one-year church planter apprenticeship under Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, Texas, which had just started in 2011.
Plan A was to start a church in an under-churched big city. Plan B was to focus on a section of a city and make a more focused impact on the unchurched.
“Then,” Johnson said, “I began to ask myself, ‘How big would that section of a city be?’ And as I was passing through all the little towns on my way home from the big city, I felt like the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘This big.’ That’s when we began to see the value of ministering to a small town.”
He and his family — wife Laine and four children under 8 — didn’t know anyone when, in February 2016, they arrived in Ranger, a community near his hometown that he had rejected the first nine times it came to mind.
Ranger sits just off Interstate 20 about 75 miles west of Fort Worth. It had a population of about 50,000 during its early 1920s heyday as an oil boom destination. Today, only around 2,400 people remain. An initial demographic study showed only about 10 percent of the town’s residents attended church, most of whom were senior citizens.
“I went around Ranger and asked people to help us start a church, people not in church,” Johnson said. “We started a launch team and probably had 20 folks, give or take, who were pretty invested and excited before we had our first church service.”
Jared and Laine Johnson met weekly in their home with the launch team. Three preview services in August 2016 led to the grand opening service that about 75 people, all from Eastland County, attended. SBTC’s church planting ministry added strength to the effort by providing basic training, financial support and coaching.
The Woodbridge worships with contemporary music and a four-instrument praise team. A monthly rotation provides leadership for KidBridge, aimed at children between birth and fourth grade and coordinated by Laine Johnson.
Those fifth grade and older stay in the worship service. Youth meet Wednesday nights in their “One80” group, while students from Ranger Community College meet Thursday evenings. Adults meet during the week in three life groups.
Sunday mornings start early, with volunteers rolling up the martial arts mats and punching bags, setting up the chairs and children’s classrooms and then replacing everything after the service.
The Woodbridge story mostly takes place in the community.
“If the city is doing it, we’re involved,” Johnson said. “We try to partner with the city with everything we can — city, school, whatever.
“We’ve done a lot of things to earn a good reputation,” Johnson added. “One of our most effective ways of discipling people is to put people in charge of something and walk with them. We ask people early on to serve.”
The Woodbridge returned the city park to a place of useful beauty, including transforming the unused tennis court into a regulation basketball court, painting playground equipment and park benches, landscaping and more.
For the last three summers, the church has provided free family movie nights in the park. Other community outreaches include popsicles and water at the summer parade and popcorn and hot chocolate at the winter parade, a harvest event in October that includes a pumpkin smash and pumpkin toss for parents and a variety of activities for youngsters, including a hay maze.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Johnson said, referring to the church’s emphasis on local involvement. “We don’t make it into something religious. We just try to bless the community and invite people to church.
“With whatever we do, we invite people to church. We tell people there’s no bad day to bring somebody the first time.”
Johnson’s advice to his volunteers each week: “Find a heart and heal it. Find a need and fill it.”
The church’s name — a bridge between God and people, joined together by a now-empty wooden cross — reflects its mission.
“Our goal is to bring people closer to God, to the unchurched, de-churched and atheist,” Johnson said. “A lot of people don’t come to church because they don’t know anyone there. They don’t feel loved.
“My job as pastor is to teach people to love people. We stress the importance of loving, so love them, and invite them.”
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN (texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Karen Willoughby is a writer in Utah.
Return to the basics
builds up Mo. congregation
By Dan Steinbeck
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (The Pathway) — Some might say a new pastor has helped First Baptist make positive change. Steve Clark — the pastor — credits returning to the basics of evangelism and outreach.
“I had been in Africa as a mission pastor. I pastored for seven years at Claycomo Baptist, and at Lockwood for eight years. This enabled me to have a broad view of the denomination. I’ve been Southern Baptist all my life and part of the Conservative Resurgence in Kansas City. I was well informed of what works and what does not work,” Clark said.
“My wife and I were looking for a church home. I began pulpit supply at Waynesville in June or July, then I became interim, and in late 2018, they called me as pastor.”
“The church had been in decline. They were discouraged when we arrived. They hadn’t heard much of evangelism and outreach or how to enjoy themselves in coming to church.”
Since then, God has done some work.
“We’ve had some good stuff happen,” Clark said.
“There has been an uptick in attendance. By the grace of God we got a guy to help us with the music. We’ve had some people come who haven’t been regular church attenders. We’ve had better participation in Wednesday night and now Sunday night Bible studies. Some had only been here for Sunday mornings and not part of Bible study.”
At a community event last year, the church had a presence distributing home-baked cookies and Bibles.
There has been one baptism so far in Clark’s short time of service. This revealed the baptistery needed to be replumbed. A new Bible discussion class now meets near the front door for newcomers not used to Sunday School classes. A small choir has started again. Attendance has slowly climbed, from averaging 30-some people, to 50 some.
“Now, we’re looking for someone to teach the teens class,” he said.
“It’s all been little things any church would do in our situation. I think in two or three years, we’ll find the average age cut in half.”
“Evangelism and outreach hadn’t been our focus before. No one was able to bring it into view. I think the Lord will now bless us in this way.”
Now, Clark sees a member who works at Ft. Leonard Wood being intentional in inviting people to church. More visitors are attending. While there used to be a number of military people from Ft. Leonard Wood come and eventually go, the church now focuses on local resident to be part of the church.
His style has been “to demonstrate grace” for those dealing with what the world calls social issues, but Clark defines as moral issues, without compromising on God’s Word.
“Instead of being driven away, they continue to come. When I was not a pastor, my wife and I were in churches where we wouldn’t want to invite people to the church we were in. We want to invite them now.”
Clark wants to develop an evangelism-focused small group.
“I want to get the church to do what we’re supposed to do. It gives the Lord a chance to bless, and I think He will.
“It’s a real life ride. There will be bumps in the road and resistance. Remember the climate you are in but don’t quit working. We can’t be ready to go across the world to do the Lord’s work, if we’re not ready to go across the street.
“The people are responding. I’ve told the church the number one reason people visit a church is because they were asked,” Clark said.
This article appeared in The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Dan Steinbeck writes for The Pathway.
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. Except for minor style, security, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.