Month: October 2013

Amarillo teacher develops evangelistic tool from Brazilian interpreter”s illustrations for kids

AMARILLO—Just out of high school, Melissa Alachev tagged along with Mary Lain to visit the kindergarteners Lain taught in an Amarillo school. The young Brazilian woman had served as a Portuguese interpreter for Lain’s husband when he traveled to her country on mission trips.

“She was so in love with Jesus and radiated that love to everyone who came in touch with her,” Lain recalled. “She wanted to find a way to share the love of Jesus with my students.”

Lain knew that presented a challenge, telling her guest that the children had to initiate the conversation.

Melissa imagined the varied shapes and sizes of people all over the world and set about drawing caricatures on an over-sized tablet with the markers Lain provided. “We started to think of ideas for using the pictures to tell the story of how people come from all different countries and they’re all special to God.”

The students responded with laughter at the exaggerated features—from the girl with the nose extending across two pages to the boy with the ears nearly the size of his head.

“The students loved the book,” Lain said, explaining how it prompted questions from the students and became a tool for Melissa to share that God’s love extended to everyone regardless of the person’s size or shape.

Lain carried the tablet with her on her first mission trip along the Amazon River, developing the story to establish God’s love for every person before explaining the one thing that he hates is sin. The story easily translated so that she could share the gospel with children and adults.

“Before I knew I knew it, people were coming up and asking to copy it to take on other mission trips,” she added. Her husband had begun using it while teaching in Canada. A mission team from their church, Paramount Baptist, took the tablet to Russia and on additional trips to Brazil.

“The reader and listener hear these words and realize the plain and simple truth that God loves them no matter what,” Lain shared. The repetition of that phrase has helped those who are learning English as a second language as well as young children reading the words for themselves, she said.

Ten years after the original illustrations were drawn and shared with a group of kindergarten children, Lain’s storyline has been added to create a picture book that can be used in a variety of settings with translations in Spanish and Portuguese.

“It’s amazing to me how God can take a relationship between two people to come up with a few simple ideas and use it as an evangelism tool,” Lain said.

Copies of the book are available by calling 806-355-3396 or by ordering online at where Lain can be seen reading the book.

Alba church finds Sonjo people responsive to gospel in region considered hostile

ALBA—In the fall of 2011, International Mission Board President Tom Elliff issued a challenge to the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Presented with the statistics relating for unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs) across the globe and their need for the gospel, SBTC churches from across the state responded with enthusiasm.

Lake Fork Baptist Church in Alba answered that call. After becoming aware of the IMB’s Embrace initiative, Pastor Perry Crisp and Missions Pastor Bob Stephenson began praying to discern the direction the Lord was leading their church.

“We began to go to Embrace conferences and did a lot of online searches, looking at the IMB website to read about different UUPGs,” Stephenson said. “The unique thing about it was that as my pastor and I began to pray about it, we didn’t share any information with each other about where God was leading us. We just continued to pray.”

As the two sought direction from the Lord on Lake Fork’s budding missions initiative, a common theme began to emerge in each of their hearts: East Africa.

“One day the pastor came into staff meeting and wrote a people group number on the board,” Stephenson explained. “It was the Sonjo people of the Temi Valley in East Africa, the same people I had been praying about.”

At that point, the people of Lake Fork Baptist Church wholeheartedly embraced that UUPG, voting unanimously to adopt the Sonjo people in August of 2012 as a part of the IMB Embrace initiative and the broader gospel mission.

“Since that time, our missions giving has increased,” Stephenson said. “Our congregation has given over and above their usual tithes and offerings to help with material needs, travel and Bibles for the believers in the Temi Valley.”

Although the area was originally deemed too difficult to reach and the people considered too hostile, Stephenson said that they have found just the opposite to be true. While the trip to the Temi Valley is certainly arduous (consisting of a two-day flight and a 10-hour drive over unpaved roads), the people of the Sonjo tribe have responded overwhelmingly to the gospel.

“We got there and found out that they were a very loving people. We found some people of peace and had a great vision trip,” Stephenson said. “God gave us a harvest—more than we ever dreamed of. More than 1,000 people came to know Christ on our first trip.”

Thirteen members of Lake Fork Baptist Church have traveled to the Temi Valley so far over the course of four mission trips, and according to Stephenson, most of those people are awaiting another opportunity to return. The church’s fifth trip to East Africa will be this month.
“The spiritual growth of the Sonjo people has been amazing,” Stephenson explained. “They are studying the Word and applying it to their lives. On our last trip, six of them went with us to another village to do evangelistic work. God used them to lead many of their own to Christ. They have learned to tell the ‘Creation to Christ’ story, they are holding their own services, and each of the churches is increasing in numbers.”

In addition to significant numerical growth in the churches, Stephenson also notes the stories they have seen of individuals who have experienced the power of the gospel.

“On our very first trip and our very first day of evangelizing among the Sonjo, a young man named Joseph walked with one of our teams and translated the gospel into the language of his people,” Stephenson said. “Between huts Joseph asked questions. He had recently heard about Jesus and prayed to receive Jesus while on business outside of the Temi Valley, but he had not learned much about his new faith.

“While walking between huts that day, he asked, ‘What is Baptist?’ Our pastor gave a quick answer: ‘Baptists are people who believe the Bible, only the Bible and all of the Bible. And we believe baptism is by immersion for those who choose to follow Christ. It testifies to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.’

“Joseph nodded and continued walking to the next hut. After translating and seeing another family pray to receive Jesus, we resumed our walk to the next hut and Joseph asked if he could be baptized,” Stephenson recalled. “Our pastor assured him that he could be baptized that very day. As they continued along the path, Joseph made a statement that answered our prayer.

“He said to our pastor, ‘We need a church. We need a pastor. I want to be that pastor.’”

Joseph was baptized that day in a river that was ankle deep in water. “Before our pastor could join him in the river, Joseph used his hands in the sandy bottom of that river to dig his own baptismal grave. When our pastor baptized Joseph, the water was still too shallow at Joseph’s head and his nose was still above water. Of his own accord, Joseph turned his head so that he was completely immersed. He is now the pastor of the very first Baptist church in the Temi Valley.”

When Lake Fork first began their Embrace initiative with the Sonjo people, there were a reported 3,800 UUPGs across the globe; according to the most recent statistics, however, that number is down to around 3,030.

“The three main ingredients for embracing a people group are prayer, prayer and prayer,” Stephenson said. “God is still in the business of reaching out to those unreached people groups, and our prayer is that other churches would catch the vision.”

Small church pastors and the SBC

BERRYVILLE, Va.—Can a small church pastor benefit the Southern Baptist Convention?

Biblically and historically, the answer is a clear yes.

Berryville is the county seat for Clarke County, the smallest county in Virginia. The latest census indicated that just over 4,000 people live in Berryville. It has a total of three stoplights, and the closest Wal-Mart is 17 miles away. By many standards, Berryville is puny.

In 2010, being led of God, I planted Apple Valley Baptist Church.

Mimicking the apple industry, once the primary industry in Berryville, I tell people that Apple Valley Baptist strives to be their source for spiritual nutrition.

God has blessed. While Apple Valley Baptist has not set any convention growth records, the church has touched lives that were going unnoticed. New Christians are uniting with mature Christians with a hunger to advance the kingdom. My soul is nourished every Sunday.

Still, I would be less than truthful if I did not admit that at times I wonder if serving in Berryville prevents me from having a role in my convention and in the kingdom. Is Berryville and those who serve here simply too small, too insignificant, to be of value to the convention?
After all, who has ever heard of Berryville?

God spoke to me on this issue while developing a sermon series on the life of Gideon. Through Judges 6, I was reminded that Gideon was from the tribe of Manasseh, which the text indicates had dwindled in size compared to the other tribes. Gideon, furthermore, was the youngest in his family, a position that would ensure his limited social standing.

Despite the reasons why Gideon was not the perfect choice, God chose him to free the nation from the grip of its enemies. God saw in Gideon what others, and even Gideon himself, could not: a mighty warrior.

Gideon’s submissive heart to God’s call and his willing obedience to eradicate the sin of idolatry from his own house was pleasing to God.
When the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon (6:34), he became a leader among his people and the instrument God used to oppose evil.
Our convention is full of testimonies of God working through the unexpected to accomplish great things. Long before I was present, Berryville already had an example of how God may work through anyone.

F.H. Kerfoot, a former professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was born in Berryville.

Arguably his greatest contribution to the convention was his editing work on James P. Boyce’s Abstract of Systematic Theology, a task that largely established the present theological footprint for the convention.

Amazingly, God called and worked through a dairy farmer from Berryville to impact the convention. Who would have thought?

It is exciting to realize that God still uses the least likely from the unexpected places to accomplish his will.

Our convention is made up of a majority of small churches in towns and villages across our nation. Each church has the potential to produce a mighty warrior for the kingdom.

The lesson is simple. When individual Southern Baptists humble themselves before God and consecrate their lives in holiness, the Spirit of God can work through anyone—a dairy farmer, a small town pastor or whomever he chooses—to have a great impact for the kingdom. n

—Van Welton is pastor of Apple Valley Baptist Church in Berryville, Va.

SWBTS introduces D.Min. in cultural engagement

FORT WORTH—Beginning in the summer of 2014, a new doctor of ministry degree program focusing on cultural engagement will be offered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in partnership with The Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. 

Founded in 2007, The Land Center exists for the study and research of ethics, public policy and other cultural and philosophical issues.  The D.Min. in cultural engagement will be an extension of that mission.

“We are living in a time where there is a lot of change and not for the good,” said Craig Mitchell, director of The Land Center. “I want to produce guys who go out and make a change in the world.”

The D.Min. program involves two years of course work, followed by a project. In addition to two weeks each summer on campus, participants will also spend a week each fall in Washington, D.C. and a week each spring in Austin or the DFW metroplex, meeting with politicians and members of think tanks, as well as others who are involved in the cultural, political and economic issues facing our world.

“We will be studying politics and economics from a Christian perspective,” Mitchell said.

“In the next 10 years, it is my goal to produce a hundred Richard Lands.”

Mitchell believes the D. Min. program will draw participants from a wide variety of Christian vocational fields. “It may appeal to pastors or denominational workers,” he said. In addition, he believes the program will benefit people who work in financial management, marketplace ministry, and government, as well military or police chaplains and those who work with moral concerns in society.

No more than a dozen students will be part of each cohort, according to Mitchell. The limited number of students will enable him to fulfill his goal of spending individual time with students, learning their interests and helping them develop D. Min. projects. Mitchell hopes these projects will produce change on the local, state, national and world levels.

“We are very excited about the new direction of the cultural engagement track in our doctor of ministry program at Southwestern Seminary,” stated Deron Biles, associate dean for the doctor of ministry program at Southwestern.

“We believe this to be the only program of its kind in the country. It will reflect how the issues of cultural engagement and political economy collide with the church and how we as leaders in the church can lead with integrity through them.  Anyone interested in Christian worldview, public policy, Christian ethics, whole-life stewardship, or religious liberty and how those issues impact the church should consider the value of a DMin from Southwestern in cultural engagement.”

For more information visit the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary website at or The Richard Land Center website at

Religious liberty and military personnel

No one escapes religion; the most he can do is trade one for another.

The first few centuries of Christianity were marked by a progression in the attitude of church leaders toward military service. That attitude was affected by the government’s deadly persecution of Christians in some eras, by the systemic idolatry and immorality in other times, by the barbarian threat and by the later acceptance of Christianity as an acceptable, even preferred, religion. These arguments were messy, clearly moved by the changing context within the Roman empire; but one thing was true throughout—a Christian’s conscience must remain inviolate if he is to serve the government. A believing soldier must be able to live according to the precepts of his God, not merely believe but actually practice his faith, if he is going to continue to be a soldier. This is a place where some compromises are unacceptable. Asking a man to compromise his faith in the pursuit of any career is asking him to trade one religion for another. It is also a mild form of persecution, but it is persecution and unworthy of the term “religious liberty.”

So what do we make of our current American context? The end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the U.S. military followed a path familiar when upstart dogma is forced on citizens by their magistrate. It fits an ideological or political need so is deemed necessary. Necessity is equated with established truth. Unforeseen consequences arise. The magistrate cannot budge without seeming a failure. A “benign” political faith statement becomes a flail to discourage dissent, or punish dissenters. The historical examples of this process usually involve the establishment or suppression of a religious faith. We are somewhere in the late “unforeseen consequences” stage of our current drama. 

Perhaps you’ve read the TEXAN stories on Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Philip Monk. Sergeant Monk found himself caught between his commander, a lesbian, and his conscience. Understand that Monk was not asked do something he found unacceptable but was asked his opinion on marriage by a superior who strongly believed in same-sex marriage. His unwillingness to answer as she wished resulted in his dismissal and reassignment. Are Sergeant Monk’s potentially career-ending troubles an unintended consequence of our government’s current definition of tolerance?  

The repeal of DADT also puts our military chaplains in an awkward place. Our North American Mission Board is an endorsing agency for Southern Baptist military chaplains. The guidelines released by NAMB indicated that Southern Baptist chaplains should not perform or even attend marriage-like ceremonies for same-sex couples. In a setting where such households are being forcibly normalized, a commissioned military officer puts his ministry at risk if he even appears to have doubts about the current program. I’m not saying he should put career above conviction; I’m saying that the loss of evangelical chaplains may be another unintended consequence of this social experiment. As Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler pointed out in his column on the subject, it could also mean the loss of Muslim and Jewish chaplains who believe the clear teachings of their own holy books. Although military chaplains still have the explicitly stated right to decline personal participation in services in conflict with the teaching of their endorsing faith, the end of DADT will create unimagined complications for chaplains who believe that God has created only two sexes and only one definition of marriage. I also see the possibility of evangelical chaplains being subtly edged to the margins of military life, unpromotable and destined for short careers. The problem is this draconian effort to normalize what most do not consider normal; but the view from the top will be that dissenters are grit in the social engineering gears.

I don’t think anyone in the administration or the Pentagon intends for evangelical Christian (or practicing Muslim and Jewish) personnel to have no chaplains for their tradition. I do believe they are incapable of understanding the difference between religious affiliation and life-changing faith. Someone who believes that God has spoken and that he must act on what God has said will live his faith. That faith will impact what he will and won’t do, what he can and can’t affirm. That has been true of Christian military personnel for as long as there have been Christian military personnel. Those who consider religious liberty something that ends Sunday morning at 12:00 or Saturday night at sundown cannot understand a transformed life.

The National Defense Authorization of Act for fiscal 2013, signed in January by President Obama, includes Section 533, “Protection of Rights of Conscience of Members of the Armed Forces and Chaplains of Such Members.” The intent of this section, which the president criticized after signing the bill, is to clarify that military personnel and their chaplains are still free to hold religiously based opinions. Chaplains cannot be required to “perform any rite…contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain.” Neither can chaplains face “adverse personnel action…including denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment,” as a result of such refusal. The president’s response: “My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.” It was the president who implied, calling Section 533 “ill-advised,” that the religious freedom of military personnel is incompatible with current policy. 

Our culture is changing, but not as quickly as some would wish. Our military personnel still reflect our culture as it is today, even leaning to the more conservative end of the spectrum. To push a progressive social agenda upon our service people from the more liberal top will be disruptive and more negative to morale and order than any dissenter could be. Christian soldiers will leave and Christian families will hesitate to send their sons and daughters into a context that persecutes their faith or guarantees short and rocky careers.

Historian Roland Bainton, in his survey of early Christian opinions of military service, notes a late third century persecution in which Christians were violently purged from the Roman legions. In an effort to determine how many Christians may have been serving during the early Christian era, Bainton cites another historian as guessing that Christians were relatively few because “no sovereign would readily deprive himself of a tenth or even of a twentieth of his military power.” Christians, evangelical Christians and Catholics, represent far more than a few of our current military personnel. Is our “sovereign” so committed to dogma that he will deprive himself of their service?

Stay with Jesus to the end. We win!

“So we will be glad and happy and give him praise. The wedding day of the Lamb is here, and his bride is ready. She will be given a wedding dress made of pure and shining linen. This linen stands for the good things God’s people have done.”
—Revelation 19:7, 8

The last two years have been a wonderful experience serving the churches of the SBTC. As I write this final article, allow me to encourage our churches to keep the faith because we win in the end. While I have watched the morality of our country plummet and the values of home and married life decline lower than I ever thought possible, I have questioned where the Christian morals have gone that once existed in homes and churches across America. How did we get to the state where couples would prefer to cohabitate than marry? Why didn’t the church take a stronger stand against the gay and lesbian marriage agenda? How can some Christian families and churches do nothing while 55 million unborn babies are aborted?

These last two years I have fought the things that the Bible tells me God is against and embraced the things that God loves. Although my time as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is ending, my fight continues for the family, traditional marriage and biblical morals. So please allow me to encourage you to keep the faith and stand for Christ. He’s coming back for his bride for whom he gave up his life to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word as described in Ephesians 5:25b-26.

I believe that the church must do all she can to fight the moral ills of society and keep the church and marriage a representation of the bride’s relationship with Christ. We must continue to raise our children to love the Lord and know that the battle is not over until the marriage feast of the Lamb. It is highly important that believers understand how essential it is that the Christian home becomes the subject and object of evangelism. The function of religious centers and churches is to bring families together for fellowship with other believers, sharing in God’s Word and worship, and in cooperative ministry. However, God was intentional when he created families and homes to become discipleship centers. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). The family is a discipleship small group and small groups are about relationships. The biblical purpose of parenting and grandparenting is to impress the hearts of children with the love of God—he has given us children to raise them with the Word of God. Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll, in “Family in the Bible,” state, “The family is God’s primary engine for world evangelization, through the power of multi-generational faithfulness.”

A report on spiritual formation in the home by Strong Families Innovation Alliance (available at says evangelical families are failing to win and keep their children in the Christian faith. This is a strong statement that causes us to examine our commitment to the Great Commission. With this in mind, it should be the aim of local congregations to transform their churches into ministries with an emphasis on becoming intentional in strengthening strong home ministries throughout all their church departments. This will ensure that, as churches, we are fully committed to continue our efforts to impact the next generation of Christians and build strong families.

When 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce it’s essential that one goal of the church must be to provide tools that will mature marriages. When couples believe that their marital relationship can draw them closer to God, they are on the road to marriage maturity. Accepting one’s spouse as a gift from God allows a couple to observe the value that God places on marriage. This will also help couples understand that they will never be able to love one another as God loves them. Every couple should know that God appreciates their mate more than they ever could, and he understands our spouses in a way that a human partner is incapable of perceiving. If a couple is going to develop a mature marriage, they must find the heart to change themselves for God. In order to be happy in marriage, one has to realize that our spouses cannot provide total happiness, only God can provide a life of true happiness. It is important for churches to educate couples with this biblical truth. In spite of the many good times that are shared in married life, there is a void inside every person that only God can fill.

Gary Thomas also promotes the effort of improving marriages and homes when he writes, “The holy place of God is where humans discover each other in love. Marriage should be viewed as a Holy institution.” Within this divine institution (marriage), the Bible has established the foundation for loving our spouses through all the joyous and difficult times of married life.

Marriage, as God intended between a man and woman, is a symbol of Christ’s marriage to the church and God’s marriage to Israel. It’s a masterpiece to be celebrated—that God created on earth to give us a heavenly glimpse of the great day when we celebrate the wedding feast in heaven. Marriage was the first human event to take place on earth, with God serving as the officiating minister and witness. Al Janssen, in “Marriage Masterpiece,” says, “From the moment God created the first man and woman and joined them in marriage, it was his desire that through this union all of creation would gain a little understanding of the Lord’s immeasurable love for mankind.” Every marriage on earth was intended to be a foretaste of this great day. Holy marriages are gems that reflect facets of the incredible love of the Lamb and his bride. So we will be glad and happy and give him praise. The wedding day of the Lamb is here, and his bride is ready. She will be given a wedding dress made of pure and shining linen. This linen stands for the good things God’s people have done (Revelation 19:7-8). The Bible teaches how marriage is a culminating act in our earthly environment and is the source of our eternal heavenly existence. Although some Americans no longer consider sin shameful, the church must remember that there is a day when all who are not God’s will be judged. On that day all who have lived according to God’s will are invited to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. Stay with Jesus—we win in the end!

So others may live

We are having an earlier than usual time for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting. When we go out west we have a late October time mainly because we don’t want to get caught in the first snow of the fall. When we are in the Gulf area we want to have the meeting as late in November as possible because we want to avoid the threat of a hurricane. Calendaring around weather is not a bad strategy. Any strategy is better than no strategy. Planning under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential for the future of ministry.

November 14 the SBTC in partnership with the North American Mission Board will be hosting a church revitalization conference at the North Richland Hills Baptist Church. The purpose of the conference is to get churches to evaluate the effectiveness of their current ministry strategies. While remaining biblically faithful we must stretch ourselves to reach people for Jesus. I don’t have to recount the dismal statistics about Southern Baptist churches in decline. A committee has been established to study the downward trend in baptisms among SBC churches. The obvious solution is to tell people about Jesus and his power to save. When pastors and churches are intentionally evangelistic baptisms will follow. It is the law of sowing and reaping.

New churches baptize more people than older churches. The SBTC and SBC emphasize the need to start new churches. The resources are available to start twice the current number of funded church plants. Texas needs qualified church planters. Spanish language planters are being trained in several locations across our state. I’m optimistic we are about to see a church planting movement among Hispanics. While the number of Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic background people continue to grow in Texas they remain a small part of the overall population. Your gracious gifts through the Cooperative Program and the Reach Texas Offering make it possible for the SBTC to have people group specialists to assist in penetrating lostness in these communities. With shifting population trends traditional and contemporary style Anglo church starts are needed in the suburbs and inner cities where gentrification has taken place. Pray about being a part of the strategy of reaching Texas with a church start that has your church’s DNA.

The 2014 Empower Evangelism Conference will be February 23-26 at Sagemont in Houston. Be ready for a number of exciting changes. Training events will be added to the usual powerful preaching lineup. Praise and worship music is to have a greater part of the program. The location itself gives us an opportunity to hold the gathering in the beautiful new sanctuary of Sagemont as well as be in the Houston area. New approaches without abandoning the biblical plan of telling the old, old story are necessary to reach the next generation. 

Strategies come and go. The Word of God never changes. Our vision must be his vision for us. Placing ourselves before him to find his plan for our lives and the church is vital not just for our survival but to put us in a position to give glory to God. As 2013 comes to a close and we look toward another year should the Lord Jesus not come before, let me encourage you to find God’s direction in how you can be strategic in reaching people for the glory of God.

This year’s SBTC Annual Meeting theme says it all, “So others may live”. Psalm 102:18, “This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” Let’s live for the glory of God so others may have eternal life!

Seminary presidents see great need, train pastors to serve rural churches

In addition to serving as presidents of Southern Baptist seminaries, Paige Patterson and Jeff Iorg share much in common, including ministry experience in rural West Texas churches and a desire to train God-called men to pastor churches in both urban and rural contexts.

Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, served as executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention for nearly a decade, which included extensive contact with pastors and bi-vocational pastors in small towns and rural locations. Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has preached in and pastored churches of various sizes and geographical locations.

Both men see a great need for pastors in small churches and rural settings and lead their seminaries in training young men to fulfill these assignments. Given their experience in these settings, Iorg and Patterson offer advice and insight into reaching these communities.

“Small churches are important. They are going to be with us for years to come, and that’s a good thing,” Iorg said.

“What I would say to pastors is to follow God’s call, and if that’s to a small church in a rural setting, be content there and fulfill that calling. We need to get past the pressure that we’re putting on each other to fit a certain mold of what church planting or ministry has to be like. While I wholeheartedly affirm reaching large numbers of people in the cities, that doesn’t mean that everyone is called to do that.”

Patterson agreed, adding, “The apostle Paul’s methodology, as has long since been noted, was to go to the major cities, but that is only the first half of the strategy. The strategy included the city churches then reaching out to the countryside, and that is precisely what happened. Southern Baptists by-and-large are already in the countryside, spread over a large portion of the United States. For us to simply turn our backs on those churches and neglect them would be a categorical mistake and a disaster.”

Iorg said the majority of seminary graduates begin ministry in small church settings, so Golden Gate focuses on preparing them with the relational skills and proper perspective they need to pastor these churches.

“We try to help pastors understand that their calling is not a career, and it’s perfectly acceptable to be called to a small church and to weave yourself into that community and to stay there for a long time. There shouldn’t be any ministerial pressure to move up or to move on. (Pastors) don’t have to feel pressured to fit someone else’s mold of what success might look like.”

Patterson offers three ways Southwestern prepares students:

“First, we get them out to the rural churches to do evangelism events and to preach revivals and supply preaching for existing pastors.

“Second, we teach them that the pastorate, even in the small rural church, is a crucial matter of growing the church in Christ, both numerically and in their theological understanding and application of the Scriptures to life. 

“Third, Southwestern understands that just as the Lord knew everything about each of the seven churches in Revelation, so he knows everything about each of the churches in rural America. These churches today stand as a testimony to the evangelistic aggressiveness of former generations of Baptists who paid a substantial price in order to establish those churches. We owe it to them to maintain what they have done. “

But rural churches have their challenges.

Iorg noted the limited growth potential of rural churches and the discouragement this can bring to pastors.

“Small churches in small communities usually stay small for a number of different reasons; and in spite of evangelistic success and growth that may come, they may not have the explosive growth that would be found in suburban or inner city churches,” Iorg said.

“Small church and rural church pastors must have patience and a kingdom perspective or mindset. Many churches in these smaller communities have limited growth potential in their own congregation, but there is an opportunity to lead that congregation to participate in an association of churches and even in a national or international network of churches where that church can make a difference by being a part of something larger.”

Patterson, too, sees the possibility of discouragement due to the “relative paucity of evangelistic results.”

“Baptizing no more than two to 10 a year may cause the evangelistic impetus to wither in his soul. In order to be successful long-term in a rural situation, he simply must keep pushing the envelope in his witness. He will have to keep his personal walk with God very strong, and he will have to walk faithfully with his people on a day-by-day basis. These are the simple but God-blessed rules for being a pastor anywhere, and they certainly apply in the rural situation.”