News Articles

FROM THE STATES: Md., Ky., Ala. evangelism/missions news; ‘… God intended it for good’

Today’s From the States features items from:
BaptistLIFE (Maryland)
Western Recorder (Kentucky)
The Alabama Baptist


Md. Baptist leaders say God was
‘preparing us for such a time as this’
By Sharon Mager

COLUMBIA, Md. (BaptistLIFE) — Regarding the upheaval in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died in police custody, and the ensuing protests and riots, Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network churches in Baltimore swung into action, literally picking up the pieces after the riots, providing food, water and prayer in support of city residents and law enforcement officials.

Former Network Executive Missional Strategist Will McRaney told General Mission Board (GMB) members at their May 5 meeting at the Network Center in Columbia, “God made a lot of plans for us to be prepared.”

McRaney said the Baltimore situation has provided the Network a platform to speak on government, state and local levels. The ongoing ministries of Network churches and staff have provided the credibility the Network needed to be able to make a difference, he said.

Ellen Udovich, Network strategist for church strengthening and community engagement, was noted for her faithfulness in organizing local disaster relief ministries. Udovich had volunteers prepared and ready to deploy, if necessary; Church Multiplication Strategist Michael Crawford, hired earlier this year, is an African American man serving in the city with a passion for church planting and a heart for black pastors serving in Baltimore. McRaney said Crawford’s transition to the Network Staff was providential. “God was all over that hire,” he said. Little did we know what was going to happen in the city, but God knew, he added.

Also, providentially, just a few days before the riots, the “Unplugged” Conference, an annual event focused on ministering in the Baltimore area, was held at Freedom Church, Baltimore. There, longtime Civil Rights activist and minister, John Perkins, passionately shared about the importance of prayer, the sin of racism and the need for racial reconciliation.

The Network was prepared to respond to the aftermath of Baltimore’s riots following a week of building tensions exploding into a day of violence, looting and fires. “When it hit, we were ready to deploy,” McRaney said. The Network quickly prepared a “#LoveBaltimore” logo and web presence (www.bcmd.org/lovebaltimore). As news about our churches poured in, staff quickly promoted the stories on social media sites, highlighting opportunities to partner with and give to Baltimore churches to help them minister in the city.

“We have been trying to be responsive and communicate the love of Christ. We really are about loving our neighbors and sharing Christ,” McRaney said.

What Satan intended for harm, “… God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done …” (Genesis 50:20). McRaney said the crisis provided a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to help the Network be a significant partner not only in Baltimore, but in other places around the country.

Making a change, an impact in Baltimore and beyond, is going to take more than starting churches. “Our hope is not in government, not in schools; our hope is in Christ and Christ alone and His church,” McRaney said. In times like these, we definitely see the value of our Network, he said.

“It’s going to take more than starting churches, a lot more. We need to get ready as a staff, as members of the General Mission Board. McRaney said God has thrown open a huge door. There are challenges, but we will march forward. We are going to walk through that open door,” McRaney said.

Michael Crawford, discussing the Baltimore crisis situation, told GMB members, “This is very personal for me. It’s personal because you hear people say color shouldn’t matter in the Kingdom. We know that we have huge challenges in the Maryland/Delaware Convention. Race problems are really relationship problems,” he said.

“One reason we’re stuck is because we can’t talk about it,” he said, noting the recent unrest in Baltimore uncovered a lot of wounds.

Crawford explained it isn’t just African Americans who are feeling the discrimination. The Koreans and Chinese are really hurting but there are no news crews interviewing them or taking their sides. They had their stuff ransacked and stolen during the riots, but it happens all the time and nobody notices, he said.

He related how visitors took pictures of dilapidated buildings and talked about how damaged they were from the riots. “Those buildings have been like that for 20 years!” Crawford said.

Michael Crawford, Network team strategist for church multiplication, paused to gather his emotions after sharing about his passion for those hurting in Baltimore.

“My heart hurts for all the people in Baltimore City. My heart hurts for police officers that stood there with terror on their faces as they expected to get pelted with rocks and bricks. It’s wicked; it’s systemic … it’s all sin. Everyone has to repent: the police, African Americans, Asians, Caucasians,” Crawford said.

Crawford shared how he met an African American pastor ministering in the middle of the city and meeting at Frederick Douglass High School, where most of the kids involved in the riot attend. That pastor said to Crawford, “We need help. We’re out here all alone.”

Crawford encouraged the pastor and said, “You are not alone.” Already, Network staff are in discussions to bring this man and his church into the Network and partner with him.

God is in the city, Crawford told GMB members. He’s going to move as He will. “God’s like, ‘I’m already out there! You guys just need to get on the train!” Crawford said.

“I am so grateful to serve a God who knew what He was doing and brought me here for such a time as this,” he said.

Sharing some of his own personal testimony, Crawford said he wanted to kill himself at the age of 18, but after reading the Bible, he committed his life to Jesus. He was living in California and visited Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, where John MacArthur pastors. God spoke to Crawford and gave him a vision of preaching in a city with diversity and a passion to reach young black men.

“The first time I came to Baltimore, as soon as I saw the city, I started crying. I knew God was calling me here. I would have never imagined I would be in the position I have now.

“Let’s pray we have really big ears and really big eyes to see what God wants us to see and hear what God wants us to hear; for us to know the love of Jesus and share it with everyone. May God give us strength to persevere,” Crawford said.
This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlifeonline.org), newsjournal of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network. Sharon Mager is a correspondent for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.


Ky. Church ‘Revitalization
two miles from Podunk’
By Todd Gray

FARMINGTON, Ky. (Western Recorder) — Bell City Baptist Church is defying conventional thinking when it comes to church growth.

Church growth proponents tend to agree that one important reality for a growing church is location, location, location. Bell City Baptist, however, is located in rural Graves county, two miles from Podunk, one mile from the Tennessee state line, 30 minutes from Murray, Mayfield, Fulton and Paris, Tenn. — or as their members like to say, “30 minutes from anywhere.”

Church growth experts might also add that you need a good population base from which to grow a church, but there are no houses visible from the front steps of Bell City Baptist. Church growth advisors might further agree that to reach young families, you will need a modern facility, with programs and ministries that appeal to young families with children, but, as you may have guessed by now, Bell City Baptist did not have those either.

They did, however, have a Spirit-filled young pastor named Presley Lamm, who loved the people, felt convincingly called to this church, and believed that God could do the improbable, or impossible, with the Bell City congregation.

In the three-and-a-half years that Presley has served as pastor, the church has grown in worship attendance from about 10 people to an average of 75. Sunday School attendance has increased from the same 10 people to 35 or 40 each Sunday. They have gone from a building that had not been updated since 1965 in a land-locked setting to a remodeled worship center with land available for future growth.

God has already done a great work in a short time with this rural congregation.

In an interview with the pastor, and long-time church member, Edith Warren, I asked what had changed in the past 42 months, and what they addressed as a church in their attempt toward church revitalization. Following is a list of actions taken by the church:

1. The pastor motivated the congregation to think outward.

Pastor Pressley believes, “Everybody deserves a redemption story.” He said, “Regardless of their background each person within the reach of this church deserves to hear the gospel—whether an alcoholic of single mom, rich or poor.” Presley sought to remind the congregation that they have a mission to accomplish in reaching the people of their community.

As a result of their shift in focus to outreach they have baptized more than 45 people in the past three years. In some months, they have baptized every Sunday, and three baptisms are scheduled in coming weeks. They have also received almost as many new members by transfer of letter or statement of faith. Recently, one of their new attenders remarked that “every service feels like a revival.”

2. The church established a social media presence.

Pastor Presley had never been on Facebook before coming to the congregation, but he has used it effectively as an ongoing social media presence that ministers to their members and the surrounding community.

“The day of going and hanging posters for VBS and revivals is gone,” Pressley said. They have about 300 likes on their Facebook page which gets the word out for upcoming events.

3. They sought to improve the worship service.

Presley stressed that worship should be enjoyable and organized, but not planned to the point there is little room for trying something different. Praise has become a major part of their worship service from the congregational singing and the pastor’s leadership to celebration from the people of recent victories in their lives.

Members have become accustomed to expecting God to do something in the service. There is a freedom in worship where members do not like to miss services because they are afraid of missing what God might do.

4. They updated their facility.

The building was small, with no updates in the past 45 years. They now have a sound system, video projection system and an open pulpit area to aid in worship and presentations. According to the pastor, “The facility change was a big issue as it was a positive impression to guests that something was happening in the church.”

The remodeling cost approximately $16,000 and was done mostly with volunteer labor and the financial sacrifices of the members. As they stepped out in faith to do the remodel, God provided all that was needed to get the work completed. They have since purchased six acres of land around the church for parking and the construction of a new fellowship hall.

There are no wealthy people in the church or community, but the members give as they are able. They raised $20,000 in one Sunday in a church that takes in around $60,000 annually.

5. They developed a Community Response Team.

A CRT team was organized in 2014 as an effort to respond to community needs. Since that time the church has ministered to nearly 100 families by doing small construction projects, taking food to families, providing transportation, and in some cases giving money to people in need.

This ministry involves at least 20 members and has served to establish the church as a caring group in the community.

6. They have engaged in missions.

Before Presley came as pastor, the church had never taken a mission trip. In 2014 they sent five people to Muskogee, Okla., to work on an Indian reservation.

This year they are sending 14 people to Sioux Falls, S.D., to minister to a NAMB church planter and help with his ministry.

7. They have become intentional about church fellowship.

The church eats together often, and when there is a conflict in the church family, the pastor encourages them to work through their differences and reunite around the will of God. They accept that people will have spirited business meeting discussions about issues for which they are passionate.

Ms. Edith says she has not seen a major rift in the fellowship since Pastor Presley has been their pastor. He leads business meetings with a rule that if people get angry, the meeting is over.

8. They established prayer as the foundation for all they do.

They pray about upcoming decisions and for resources to carry out the plans of the church. They also pray for each other and for all the churches in the area.

There is no way to explain the encouraging atmosphere at Bell City apart from it being a work of God in a rural community. When Presley is asked by members of other churches what they need to do to grow, he says, “Do something. Do something. Don’t just sit here.”

That’s pretty good advice from a pastor who is doing what he can do to help a rural church move into its best days. And, if God can bring revitalization to Bell City Baptist Church, He can do it anywhere there is a motivated pastor and willing people.
This article appeared in the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Todd Gray is western regional consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.


Ala. churches come alongside church
plant to help reach community
By Grace Thornton

TARRANT, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) — One day when Cedric Brown was just a little kid growing up near Tarrant, his mom stopped going to church.

“When my grandmother passed away, my mother had a faith crisis. She couldn’t believe God would take her mother away,” said Brown, pastor of Destiny Covenant Church, Tarrant.

So the family started skipping Sundays, until one day the young boy realized he was missing something.

“I got up, put on my little suit and walked myself to the nearest church,” he said.

His mom was stunned when he came back and she learned where he had been. But eventually she started sending his siblings with him, then sent some offering money. Eventually she came back to church and to God.

“Children can lead their parents to church,” Brown said.

‘God wants to do something’

And that’s exactly what his hopes are for Destiny Covenant, the church that through “a movement of God” moved into the north Birmingham community near where he grew up.

“We wanted to be a church in a community where people could walk to church,” Brown said.

That’s been their goal ever since the church started in Hotel Highland in Birmingham’s Five Points South neighborhood in 2009. They moved from there into another rented space in a commercial building downtown, then out to a skating rink on a major highway in Tarrant.

The church was growing, but it was never quite in the position to be a presence in a neighborhood like Brown and others prayed it would be.

That’s when Central Baptist Church, Tarrant, came on the scene.

“I was talking about our vision with a friend and he told me I should get in touch with this pastor in town,” Brown said, referring to James Parnell, Central Baptist’s pastor.

Parnell and his congregation — whose youngest member was “about 70” — had been praying about how to best transition their church to reach the community around them.

So when Brown contacted Parnell, the two began to meet up on Thursdays to talk and pray, Parnell said. They had “no agenda,” he said.

But, Brown said, it became quickly apparent that God had one.

“I remember Bro. James saying, ‘I don’t know what God wants to do, but I know He wants to do something,'” he said.

It wasn’t too long before that “something” got started by Destiny Covenant moving into Central Baptist’s chapel.

And on the very first Sunday there, Brown saw his prayers answered.

“I was preaching on the passage where Jesus said, ‘Put your nets on the other side of the boat, and you’ll catch some fish.’ We felt like that’s what God said to us when He moved us to the other side of the highway in Tarrant. And in the middle of the sermon, two men from the neighborhood walked in,” Brown said. “It was amazing.”

And it only grew from there.

After a big Easter event, 20 visitors from the community came to the church, and Destiny Covenant and Central Baptist together began to dream even bigger.

‘Everything we needed’

“We made our theme ‘All in for outreach 2015,’ but we didn’t have enough people in our congregation to do the kind of outreach we wanted to do,” Brown said.

So they began praying for God to send some people to help them do it.

Enter Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Warrior, and Carolina Baptist Church, Andalusia. Parnell connected Destiny Covenant with the two congregations, as well as with the greater Baptist family — the church joined Birmingham Baptist Association in July. And as a joint effort, everyone began to work toward an evangelistic effort with a clothes giveaway and MEGA Sports Camp.

“God sent everything we needed,” Brown said.

Volunteers from Smoke Rise Baptist prayer-walked the neighborhood, handing out flyers and telling people about the event. And Carolina Baptist brought a team full of coaches and teachers to run the sports camp, which offered cheerleading, basketball and martial arts classes for about 45 neighborhood children. Their parents came too. And everyone heard the Gospel.

Keith Tankersley, pastor of Carolina Baptist, said it was a good way for his church to use “our God-given talents to reach out.”

Jonathan Jones, also with Carolina Baptist, agreed. “Destiny Covenant is a great church trying to introduce itself to the community,” he said. “We were glad to be able to help them do that.”

Brown said the evangelistic efforts are gaining momentum and boosting his faith, and Parnell said the whole thing has been a blessing to him and his church.

“Our mindset at Central Baptist is that we want to be in the community, and we don’t know how much longer we will be around, age-wise,” Parnell said. “My role is to lead us in the direction that God wants our church to go.”

And that direction, he said, is to support, equip and encourage Destiny Covenant for ministry inside and outside the walls of Central Baptist’s building.

Brown said his church is thrilled about that. “We’re just trying to find what God is doing and join Him, and He continues to open doors.”
This article appeared in The Alabama Baptist (thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention. Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist.


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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