WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the New Hampshire Baptist Association have officially announced the forging of a partnership aimed at establishing 50 Southern Baptist churches in this northeastern state over the next 10 years.
The partnership calls for a commitment from five graduating seminary students each year to go to New Hampshire as church planters and pastors. Together, each church planter will work with a core group of 10 spiritually mature Christian adults from churches within the New Hampshire Baptist Association toward establishing home Bible study fellowships that will serve as seed-beds for new churches.
John Kuespert, executive director of the New Hampshire Baptist Association, and Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, presented their mission vision Feb. 26, on the campus of Southeastern Seminary calling for students, faculty and administrators to begin seeking God’s direction while praying fervently for a spiritual awakening in the state of New Hampshire.
Kuespert, who served as a church planter and pastor for eight years in neighboring Massachusetts before becoming director of the one-year-old New Hampshire Association in 1994, admitted that from man’s eyes the prospects look grim for starting Southern Baptist churches in New Hampshire.
“When I first came we had 17 (churches),” he said. “Now we have 15. We seem to be going in the wrong direction, but we’re trying to turn the work of starting new churches in New Hampshire around.”
Kuespert candidly shared with the Binkley Chapel audience the struggles of trying to evangelize a largely Roman Catholic and human secularist culture that is outright antagonistic toward the gospel.
For example, there is King, N.H.
“There hasn’t been a new church-start in over 30 years that has lasted longer than 5 years,” said Kuespert. “Southern Baptists have made three attempts in that town. We’ve poured literally thousands of dollars into these starts and we have nothing to show for it.”
Kuespert said the association’s financial resources have been sapped, yet there still remains a state with 1.1 million people who desperately need to hear the gospel.
“Right now our association has no budget for this project and we’re a very small association. When it comes to financial support for this we don’t have any. Our biggest church is only 300 people and most of our churches are in the 25 to 50 member range.”
Patterson said the seminary and those who will go to New Hampshire will be depending solely on God to provide for their most basic needs including food, shelter and clothing.
“Everybody knows it can’t be done which is the single best reason it can be done,” Patterson said. “We thank you (God) that it’s unable to happen so that you will get all the glory when it does,” Patterson prayed during the opening of the chapel service on the Wake Forest, N.C. campus.
Patterson exhorted the seminary audience to not be intimidated by the ominous task that New Hampshire poses. “If it happens it has to be the work of God,” he said. “It’s going to take hours of prayer everyday. I can see 10 churches in New Hampshire in the year 2005 running 500 in Sunday school. Can you see it folks? And churches (now) are closing on every corner.”During a Jan. 28 chapel address, Patterson warned seminary students that God’s call to New Hampshire is not for just anybody.
“If you’re looking for an opportunity to prove that God is able in the most difficult circumstances of life, and you’re willing to accept an assignment that has no monetary basis for it, no money to put you up there, no money to take care of you once you get up there, and no money to support you if you stay in the pastorate — you’ve got to find a way to do it on your own. If you’re looking for an opportunity like that to see God do the miraculous, that which will never be explained by anybody’s program, or can never be explained by anybody’s personal desire, but can only be explained because the Spirit of the living God stepped in and God answered with a spiritual earthquake, you’re looking for New Hampshire.”
Throughout the Feb. 26 chapel service, those in attendance wore gold ribbons, distributed by Southeastern’s Student Council, as a symbol of their commitment to pray for the New Hampshire mission. Following the service, more than 30 people remained to talk with Kuespert about the possibility of God calling them to serve in New Hampshire.
David Wight of Derry, N.H., is in his third semester at Southeastern pursuing a master of arts degree in Christian education. Wight is a member of Island Pond Baptist Church in Hampstead, N.H., the largest Baptist church in the state with more than 300 members.
“I think it’s great,” Wight said, referring to Kuespert’s invitation to join God’s work in New Hampshire. “It’s definitely needed. New Hampshire is a very hostile environment to Christianity. Christianity is not a part of the culture up there as it is down here. You’re dealing with a lot of high-tech business-minded people that are very worldly in their view of life.”
The first stage of the project will involve setting up a 24-hour prayer ministry on campus, where students will have the opportunity to pray at least one hour per week in a designated prayer room in Binkley Chapel.
“We’re going to pray for each of those 50 locations by name until they get in our heart to a place where we just can’t do anything else but go and serve,” said Patterson.
The second stage will begin in late May when a group of about 40 Southeastern students, under the leadership of evangelism professors Alvin Reid and Daniel Forshee, spend three weeks in New Hampshire going door to door witnessing in the name of Jesus.
Mark Walton, a master of divinity student at Southeastern from Spencer, N.C., said he is seriously considering going to New Hampshire this summer to spread the gospel.
“I really have a sense that God is about to do something and I want to be a part of what he is about to do,” Walton said.
Kuespert said he was encouraged by the response he received from students while he was on campus.
“The spiritual support of this partnership, I wish I could bring everyone of my pastors to experience it,” he said. “Knowing the zeal and fervor of the president and experiencing the zeal and the fervor of the students here, I’m very much encouraged.”