Dear IARBC Family,
We love our fellowship, our family of churches. We love the people, the pastors, and what we get to do to partner together for the cause of the gospel. You could say we have a PASSION for our fellowship (sorry for the slightly clumsy synonym for love, but I needed a word that began with “P”). Dr. Delnay would likely be disappointed in me for trying to make alliteration work. But, in my defense, I don’t think I needed a big hammer to make it fit, or sacrificed clarity.
I love working with PULPIT Committees. It is a role that is somewhat unique to my responsibilities as the IARBC State Representative. Since we started 5 years ago, 38 churches have called a new senior pastor, 40% of our 95 churches. And I have had the privilege of working with most of these churches during their transition. I offer a Pulpit Committee Workshop, resumes, reference checks, and counsel along the way for any questions that may come up. I assist with installation services when asked to help and follow up when possible by visiting these churches after their new pastor has settled in a bit. On the other side of it, I meet with young men who are getting into their first ministry, and with seasoned men who are looking for God’s direction for a possible ministry change. I have been very impressed, and thank God for, the diligence and patience of those who serve on Pulpit Committees. In the vast majority of these transitions, God has blessed with strong support from their church families when presented with a candidate. And in several cases, even a 100% vote to call the candidate.
God has also blessed our fellowship with a good number of young PREACHERS who serve their churches with great care, compassion, conviction and creativity. They are serving their churches and their Savior well. They are actively engaged in serving our fellowship in many ways. I enjoy investing in them and also learning from them. I do not take this for granted. I have heard from some other Baptist friends in different circles that they do not have many young men to pastor their churches. God has been good to us. I give Him all the glory for this. Thank the Lord with me for this blessing.
As we move ahead together, it is imperative that we remember the PRIORITY of our mission…the Great Commission…that we would make disciples of all nations, including right where we live. Actually, I believe it is something that we need, like the church in Ephesus, to reclaim…to go back and do the “works you did at the first”. And very possibly, along with it, reclaim the “love you had at the first”.
Ours (mine and Sandy’s) is an itinerant ministry among our churches. We travel a lot. We are in a different church every Sunday whether to speak or just to “pop in” to stay connected, to make new friends or to encourage. We see the big PICTURE. We get a unique PERSPECTIVE. And we want to be good stewards of what we see. To be honest, though, there is much that we find encouraging, there is much that we find disheartening:
- Many of our churches have experienced a decades-long decline in numbers.
- Many of our churches have plateaued and are not turning the corner to grow.
- Only a few churches are growing…fewer by conversion growth.
- Many of our churches have aging congregations, with very few or no children.
- Some of our churches are very small and are at, or near, a tipping point.
- We have lost 6 churches in the last 5 years, 4 of which have closed.
- There are few adult conversions in most of our churches regardless of size.
- Most of these churches have no real plan to reach these people.
- A common “plan” is to pray and hope that people come to church.
- There are very few people who share the gospel with people outside of church.
- In some cases, there is a level of contentment with the status quo.
- Some churches have little vibrancy or are debilitated by conflict.
- We have also seen a deeply held resistance to meaningful, thoughtful change.
- In general, there is a diminished sense of our mission…the Great Commission.
- Or in some cases, a loss of Great Commission focus…making disciples.
You have heard me say these things and it can be very discouraging. And in truth, these things ought to alarm us. You could say it is almost an epidemic needing a wake-up call. Thus, the theme of our Annual Conference from Revelation 3:1-6:
“REVIVE or DIE!?”
Kind of edgy? Probably. But everywhere I go and tell people our theme they react in the same way: Whoa! (alarm)…and Hmm (I get it…what should we do?).
God must do a work among us, and I believe that His work has begun. Here are a few examples:
One pastor said, “We do a great job of doing church, but a terrible job of making disciples.” This church is larger than average and relatively mature.
One pastor told me, “I think we have left our first love”. He had just finished preaching though the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation.
Another pastor called me and said, “Tim, our church is dying and we need help.”
There is a growing sense of ALARM and an increasing AWARENESS of the need to reclaim a Great Commission focus and love for Christ. Some are ASKING for help and others have already launched ACTION plans in leadership training and church revitalization. In many cases pastors and churches are partnering with mission agencies (like BCP) and other IARBC churches. We are working together in meaningful ways for counsel, support, and encouragement. This gives me great hope! Christ is still building His church…and is breathing new life into our churches. There is a long way to go, but we are trusting the Lord to use this conference to help us to reclaim the first works and a vibrant love for Christ.
Over these two days in Ames, we will be sharing some PLANS to accomplish this. We are very grateful for Jon Jenks, Tim Weeks, and Scott Owen (all with Baptist Church Planters) being with us to come along side of us, and help facilitate some of these things. We need a clear focus on our mission. We need strong, healthy churches. We need to work together as PARTNERS in the gospel ministry. Would you PRAY with us to that end?
God bless and thanks for being here,
Tim & Sandy