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Seminarians learn from La. church while helping members grow

NORCO, La. (BP)–First Baptist Church in Norco, La., has more than doubled since Shane Dismuke was called as pastor 14 months ago, from 30 to at least 65 in Sunday morning worship.

The church, located about 25 miles west of New Orleans, was stop No. 25 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour to strengthen the cause of evangelism among Southern Baptists. The bus tour is a kickoff for “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

The leadership of Dismuke and his two part-time staff members — Chris Moses for youth and Joshua Bell for music — is bolstered by what they’re learning as students at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Both the church and the seminary are helping the staffers grow in their walk with the Lord as well as their leadership skills and abilities while, at the same time, the trio is helping First Baptist grow.

“Our job is to equip the saints and build up the body,” Dismuke said, noting what must be done first: “setting a personal example of what you expect the folks to do — visiting, working on the building, cutting the grass, witnessing, discipling — anything you want them to do, you have to be the example.”

First Norco has baptized 10 people since Dismuke became pastor in July 2003 and four more are awaiting a late September celebration.

“That might not seem like a lot, but in a church that only baptized one person in the previous three years, that’s a positive change,” Dismuke said. “We have a couple of Sunday School teachers who really love the Lord. They encourage the kids — ‘even at your age you can tell people about Jesus.'”

The pastor spoke of Tommy, going into the fourth grade this year, who last year wasn’t yet a Christian. But Tommy thrilled in the Bible stories he heard each week in Sunday School and repeated them at school to a friend named Brandon.

Brandon asked his mom questions about what he heard Tommy say. She didn’t have the answers, and called Tommy’s pastor.

“She asked me what she had to do before she brought her son to church,” Dismuke said. “I told her, ‘Absolutely nothing.'”

They came, and First Norco responded with a Tuesday night FAITH team visit during which Brandon’s mom made a profession of faith.

“The Lord impressed on us to visit again on Thursday and Brandon, the fourth-grade boy from Tommy’s school, accepted Christ,” Dismuke said. Mother and son soon were baptized, and Tommy also in time made his personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. So did his brother and sister.

“Tommy does what I’m encouraging my folks to do — relational evangelism with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers,” Dismuke said. “Now that school has started, I know he’s telling those Bible stories and inviting his friends to come to church with him to hear for themselves.”

Dismuke also told of a man who recently accepted Christ after having been invited to church for about six months by a co-worker before finally saying yes. The pastor ate lunch at his work with him later that week and learned that biblical seed had been sown previously but never harvested.

“God had been dealing with him for some time,” Dismuke said. “I told him he couldn’t be the spiritual leader in his home without accepting Christ as his Lord and Savior. He prayed right there at the lunch table to receive Christ.”

First Norco reaches out to its community through a food closet, emergency funds and a women’s outreach Bible study and is planning to add a divorce recovery group.

“We’re encouraging folks to take the gifts God has blessed them with and if we don’t have a ministry in that area, we’ll start one,” the pastor said.

First Norco’s greatest challenges and opportunities stem from being in a region where most of the people culturally are Roman Catholics, Dismuke said.

“I have seen teenagers tell other teenagers that it is a sin for them to come to our youth services,” the pastor said. “There is a wall of heresy that is put in the minds of people that can only be overcome by the Holy Spirit removing the scales from their eyes.”

So many people are Catholic in name only, Dismuke said. First Norco is the only non-Catholic church in the community of about 18,000 people.

“What a ripe field to harvest from! We are just praying the Lord will send workers into the harvest,” the pastor said. “God is at work. As [discipleship author] Henry Blackaby says, we just have to join Him.”