FROM THE STATES: Del., Mo., Texas evangelism/missions news; 'They came in, and God started saving them!'
Today's From the States features items from:
The Pathway (Missouri)
Southern Baptist TEXAN
Del. church revitalized with
prayer and a basketball
By Sharon Mager and Shelley Mahoney
BETHANY, Del. (BaptistLIFE) -- God is lovingly causing a reblooming of life at Bethany Baptist Church in Wilmington, Del. A beautiful picture of revitalization and rebirth, the church increased from 40 regular attendees in 2015 to more than 200 in 2018. They've seen 127 new believers baptized in the last three years, and a thriving new student ministry has taken root. And all it took was hundreds of hours of prayer, an unfathomable display of the power of God -- and a basketball.
Pastor Jack Weight came to the church a few years ago and brought his son, Jack III, with him as a student minister. At this time most of the small congregation was over 50 years old, and the church was struggling with the decision about whether they should close their doors and sell their building or take a step of faith and reach out to a new pastor for a desperately needed church revitalization. They prayerfully chose to contact Weight.
"I believe the church had many of the pieces in place to thrive," says Weight. "They just needed some vision and leadership."
Weight firmly believes that "the church needs to be outward-focused. So many churches are inward-focused, and that leads to churches plateauing and ultimately to dying."
The church fully bought into Weight's vision and began looking for new ways to reach out. The unlikely solution was found in a basketball hoop in front of the church building. Teens gathered to play, but no one was engaging them. Weight got his game on and headed out to shoot hoops. The teens enjoyed the competition and relationships formed. Others from the church joined in. Soon there was a consistent, unreached group that the church was engaging on a regular basis.
Families in the neighborhood began taking notice of this new church outreach and embraced the genuine authenticity and compassion displayed by the church. They formed relationships and attachments, and, when they were invited to move from the basketball court to the sanctuary, community residents intently and enthusiastically began attending the church, receiving the Gospel, and following through in baptism.
"Authenticity is very important to us," emphasizes Weight. "They saw we were real and they were attracted to that. They came in, and God started saving them!"
Bethany Church has continued to step out on faith, just as they did on the day they called Weight. The church is working on a $200,000 renovation project that will fix neglected spots in the building, create an atmosphere that is appealing to the younger generation and provide an overall experience that is more positive and accessible for individuals and families with special needs.
"We hope that making our church building more accessible will also allow us to further engage our community," explains Weight.
More than a quarter of the people baptized at Bethany Church have been students, and the church is now plugged into the Baptist Student Ministry 20 minutes up the road.
This article appeared in BaptistLIFE (baptistlifeonline.org), newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. Sharon Mager serves with the convention as a communications specialist and correspondent for its BaptistLIFE newsjournal. Shelley Mahoney is a freelance writer and an adjunct professor of communication at Anne Arundel Community College.
Mo. Baptists train Mexican
church leaders to 'be the Church'
By Kayla Rinker
ATECINGO, Mexico (The Pathway) -- The lack of true discipleship at Primera Iglesia Bautista had been heavy on Pastor Alejandro's heart for a while.
"He told us they were a congregation that has tried one event after another, hoping something would happen," said Mike Self, pastor of discipleship and church administration at Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis. "By the end of the third day of the conference, Pastor Alejandro explained to his members that he saw this as a holistic approach to how the church should disciple people. He made a commitment to the members that this would be the discipleship strategy and groups began forming immediately following the session."
Self, along with fellow Canaan Baptist Church member, Bruce Klaverkamp, traveled to Atecingo, Mexico, in March to lead a three-day Discipleship Conference for Pastor Alejandro and the members of his church, Primera Iglesia Bautista. Mario Ramirez, a translator and member of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Atlixco, Mexico, assisted them.
This trip followed a vision trip that took place last summer. During that trip, Canaan Baptist Church pastors Martin Winslow and Bryan Davidson identified leadership training as a major need of the churches and associations there. They were confident Self could show the Atecingo church the tools and biblical strategies that have helped Canaan Baptist Church expand its discipleship ministry.
At the conference they discussed the purpose and strategies of discipleship and were also given a session-by-session overview of Discipleship Essentials, written by Greg Ogden. Prior to the trip, Self reached out to Ogden and was granted permission to make copies of the Spanish version of his manual and send them out ahead of time.
"Canaan Baptist Church has used this tool for about five years to multiply the number of people who are building disciple-making relationships in groups of three to five disciples," Self said. "We went from having about 10 to 15 people going through it to over 100 now."
While God worked out His overall plan for discipleship in the hearts of church members during the morning hours, He gave Self and Klavercamp the opportunity to share the Gospel and pray with people in the afternoon. During these personal visits, three people became followers of Christ. As if that weren't exciting enough; all three new believers also happen to be related to Pastor Alejandro: his son and daughter-in-law, and his son-in-law who lives with him.
"The pastor has had conversations but had not been able to get through to them so he invited them to listen to us as the missionaries and they all agreed -- one even took the afternoon off from work to be there," Self said. "We feel very strongly about their conversions. They were really tuned in and listening and his son even told us that he had never had it fully explained to him that way. He thanked us for coming into his home and said more than once that this is life-changing. He cried and asked us to pray for their marriage."
Self believes God used every moment of their trip to strengthen and encourage the church there. He said plans are already underway for him to go back in July and teach discipleship at a student camp in Mexico City.
The Missouri Baptist Convention has a partnership with the Puebla/Tiaxcala Association of churches and rather than going there to do evangelism for them, Self said Missouri Baptist churches should consider going and training people to make disciples and plant more churches.
"With a population of nearly three million people and only about 25 churches in the region, there is plenty of work to be done," he said. "My personal feeling is that while there is a time for construction projects, backyard Bible clubs and door-to-door evangelism, that's not their biggest need. They want and need to be trained on how to be the church. We can go there and help give them hope for the future of their churches."
This article appeared in the The Pathway (mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Kayla Rinker is a reporter living in southwest Missouri.
Texas pastor uses technology
to help pastors make disciples
By Tobin Perry
COLLEYVILLE, Texas (Southern Baptist TEXAN) -- Pastor Craig Etheredge realizes the trends don't look great for many local churches. The vast majority of churches today have hit growth plateaus. The culture seems to be becoming less godly with every passing year.
"Pastors see the writing on the wall," said Etheredge, pastor of First Baptist Church of Colleyville. "And they want to know what to do about it. We've been doing evangelism hard, but people are going out the back door after decisions are made. Pastors are looking for help."
Etheredge believes the answer can be found in following Jesus' pattern of making disciples.
"Disciple-making is not a program," Etheredge said. "It's following and emulating a person. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. But we need to see people that we can see doing it. We need pastors and other leaders in our churches who are passionate about walking the way Jesus walked."
Three laymen at the first church he pastored opened Etheredge's eyes to disciple-making. He had noticed these businessmen were leading men to Christ, discipling them and reproducing themselves, so he asked them if they could show him how they did it.
"What I didn't learn from seminary or from other pastors, I learned from three businessmen who taught me how to walk with God, how to memorize Scripture, how to read the Bible for myself, how to share my faith, how to invest in another man and how to show him how to do the same thing," Etheredge said.
The disciple-making patterns Etheredge learned from those three businessmen became a regular part of his life and ministry.
"Those three businessmen really ruined me for ministry," Etheredge said. "I always thought at that point that ministry was about programs and preaching and pastoral care. If you do those three things, you're good. If the church grows, that's all the better. I really had no idea how to make disciples who make disciples."
When he became the senior pastor of FBC Colleyville in July of 2007, Etheredge began training his congregation to make disciples using the pattern with which he had become familiar. A few years later, FBC Colleyville partnered with the SBTC to start the Flashpoint Disciple-Making Conference to help other Christians learn how to make disciples similarly.
To Etheredge's surprise, pastors all across the country were signing up for the conference with the hope they could take what they were learning back to their churches and make disciples there.
"We realized that it's great to give pastors a conference with great speakers and lots of information, but unless a pastor has been discipled, he will never reproduce that in his church," Etheredge said. "So we pivoted and began really focusing on the pastor himself."
DiscipleFirst, a disciple-making ministry Etheredge started, established forums for pastors to get a glimpse at what disciple-making is and what it can look like in their churches. The ministry then provides pastors with an online disciple-making cohort where they get discipled themselves and learn to disciple others.
The pastors in the cohort go through a seven-week curriculum Etheredge wrote, entitled "Walk with God," that teaches how to follow Jesus, how to listen to God, how to pray and how to obey God, among other topics.
Two subsequent seven-week studies focus on evangelism and discipling others.
Thanks to video conferencing technology, DiscipleFirst involves pastors all across the United States in these cohorts. Currently, Etheredge leads two online cohorts himself and has pastors in them from Houston to Winnipeg.
Etheredge says that once the groups get going people forget that it's online and the cohorts aren't much different from groups you lead around a table.
The discussions get deep, he adds. Etheredge mentioned one recent conversation where he asked the pastors participating to describe a time when they heard God's voice. One of the pastors responded that he doesn't know if he ever has.
"Number one, he is being vulnerable, and he is being honest. That's a good thing," Etheredge said. "But it just shows you that many pastors felt the call to ministry, they went to Bible college, maybe went to seminary. Then they just started preaching and doing what they've seen other pastors do, but they've never really been taught to walk with God and invest in other men."
Lance Crowell, who focuses on disciple-making at the SBTC, says when the convention pivoted a few years back to focus more attention on disciple-making, he began looking for pastors who were practicing it in the state.
"A couple of things became apparent," Crowell said. "One, most people didn't have a clear understanding of what disciple-making was. The second thing is, if you're really going to make disciples in a church, the senior pastor is going to be a key component of that in every church. It trickles down from him. If the pastor isn't disciple-making, then the church is going to struggle to do it. Then the third thing is, most of the time senior pastors we interact with have never been discipled.... That leaves many pastors asking the question, 'How do we do disciple-making?'"
The SBTC is hosting a Disciple-Making Forum at its office in Grapevine on April 11 to help answer that question for Texas churches. Etheredge will join four other Texas pastors to discuss disciple-making and how to implement it in churches.
Etheredge makes a distinction between discipleship and disciple-making, saying discipleship has become too broad of a term.
"When we say the word, 'discipleship,' that's usually a broad bucket where everything about spiritual growth gets thrown into it," Etheredge said. "I'll talk to pastors and they'll say, 'We do discipleship. I preach. That's discipleship. We have worship. That's discipleship. We do Sunday School. That's discipleship. We do Beth Moore studies and men's breakfasts. All of that is discipleship.' But if discipleship is everything, really it's nothing. But disciple-making is the intentional process of training someone to walk with God, reach their world and invest in others. The end goal of disciple-making is multiplication."
Ethredge notes that implementing disciple-making in your church can transform it and help you make a bigger impact on the community.
"This is what pastors are looking for," Etheredge said. "I really believe that. Pastors want more people to volunteer, more people to share their faith, more people to serve. They want all of these outcomes. Those are the outcomes of what a disciple does. But you need to back up and show them how to be a disciple so you can get those outcomes."
For more about the April 11 Disciple-Making Forum and to register, visit sbtexas.com/discipleship.
This article appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Tobin Perry is a writer in Indiana.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, typically 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.