Month: March 2021

Despite church saturation, gospel witness needed in DeSoto

DESOTO—As in much of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, churches are easy to find in DeSoto. What is harder to find, though, is a consistent gospel witness leading to changed lives. With that need in mind, Ed Johnson III led a group to plant Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church. 

One of the first changed lives was a woman who was “heavily involved in Catholicism and had not really read the Bible,” Johnson told the TEXAN. “She had never really been impacted by the gospel of Jesus.” 

During one of the church’s monthly “Share Jesus” evangelism initiatives, a church member met the woman and told her about Jesus and about Harvest. 

“She had been out of church for years,” Johnson said of the woman. “She came a few times, and God worked on her heart. She was very impacted by our focus on Christ and the expository preaching we’re committed to doing. She joined, and now she is one of our most faithful volunteers.”

Johnson, a graduate of Dallas Baptist University and Baylor’s Truett Seminary, was raised in Austin in a church affiliated with the National Baptist Convention. He served for a decade as an associate pastor at Antioch Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas and during that time had been “basically dreaming, planning and going to church planting conferences.” 

After leaving that position, Johnson applied for various church leadership roles, “and the Lord providentially closed all those doors,” he said. God led him to plant Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church in DeSoto, but he recalls that only seven people attended the first interest meeting in 2016. 

“Three of those individuals were myself, my wife and our daughter,” Johnson said.

With some resources from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the core group spent a year laying the groundwork for the church plant by reaching non-Christians and people who were not connected to a church. 

“We went to local apartments and talked with people. We would go to places like the mall, grocery stores, parking lots,” Johnson said of their efforts to start gospel conversations.

On Easter Sunday 2017, Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church launched. 

“Our mission is to lead people to trust and obey Jesus. It comes from Matthew 28:18-20, and that has been our focus since day one,” Johnson said. 

The church realized the value of dovetailing with the city for events such as Easter egg hunts and Juneteenth and Fourth of July celebrations. Instead of trying to create events as a church plant with a tight budget, one of the church’s strategies was to be present at citywide events already happening.

“Whatever events they would put on, we would volunteer at their events. They would allow us to have a booth, and that was an awesome way we were able to rub shoulders and connect with people who didn’t have a church or were not Christians at all,” the pastor said.

Harvest gathers for worship in an events center called Forever Swing Dallas, and before COVID they generally had just under 50 people in attendance, Johnson said. Since then, they’ve shifted to a hybrid model of both in person and online. Their main way of discipling members is through fellowship groups which go deeper into the sermon passages, he said.

Most of the people who attend Harvest have a church background of some sort, Johnson said. The church-saturated area tends to produce nominal or cultural Christians, and people in the community who have no knowledge of Jesus are harder to find.

Johnson expressed gratitude for the way the SBTC came alongside the church plant when they didn’t have the blessing of a sending congregation. 

“We just really are grateful for the SBTC in terms of their focus on the Great Commission, their focus on reaching people who are far from God and don’t have a relationship with God through faith in Christ,” Johnson said. 

“We are so grateful for their focus on church planting and church revitalization and the fact that they get behind church planters and support and encourage.” 

The SBTC helped sustain Harvest in its first three years, Johnson said, and it’s his joy to lead the church to give through the Cooperative Program to help other church plants. 

Johnson is a bivocational church planter, working Monday through Friday as a site coordinator for an afterschool program in the DeSoto Independent School District. He’s married to Tiffany, a native New Yorker, and they have two young daughters. 

“Pray that God will continue to have a gospel impact in our area, that he will continue to allow us to reach people who have yet to trust in Christ, that he will continue to add to our church and that he will continue to sustain us in this unprecedented time of the pandemic,” Johnson said. 

Church Health and Leadership dept. poised to provide “resources and relationships” to SBTC churches

GRAPEVINE—Over the last several months, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has undergone a significant strategic and operational restructure aimed at streamlining the convention’s efforts to minister to churches.

The process began in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic forced the convention to be more creative in examining the needs of the churches and determining how best to formulate a response. 

“The SBTC was formed by the churches for the purpose of facilitating their Great Commission work. The pandemic has been a unique challenge to that work,” Executive Director Jim Richards said. “Our first effort last spring was to contact all our churches to encourage them and to see what help they might need. We then formed a COVID task force to provide resources fit for the challenges the churches were facing.”

As the convention began responding to the needs arising in Texas churches, it became apparent that more comprehensive revisions would be necessary.

“The pandemic’s impact is going to be long term. The convention needed to pivot in order to be a relevant resource for our churches in the future,” Richards said. “After asking hundreds of our leaders for input, a new task force recommended to our board a structure and a vision for the convention’s future.”

In August, the SBTC Executive Board affirmed a re-engineering of the convention’s work that would reduce the number of departments from seven to five, including the creation of the new Church Health and Leadership department, which combined the former Pastor/Church Relations and Church Ministries areas.

“It is more than just shoving two organizational charts together,” Tony Wolfe, CH&L senior strategist, told the TEXAN of the realignment.

Wolfe said the revisioning is an opportunity to provide local churches with relevant resources to help leaders at every level. 

“It’s more than just an organizational shift. In my mind it’s a strategy shift, to unify the strategy toward church health and church leadership health. We’re hoping we can start getting on the front end of things and, prayerfully, that ultimately might position churches to receive spiritual awakening, if God chooses to send it,” he said. “And it might even reduce our clean-up on the back end when churches and their leaders are unhealthy.”

A survey sent to statewide pastors and associational leaders received almost 400 responses, Wolfe said, and was instrumental in the formation of the new department.

Needed: healthy churches

“One of the things that came to the top very quickly and stayed at the top was this resounding desire from our churches that we would focus on church health,” Wolfe said, explaining that among the items on the survey was the question: What is a healthy convention? 

“Basically when we combined all of those answers what we got was a healthy convention is made up of healthy churches, and healthy churches are led by healthy leaders,” Wolfe said. 

The survey indicated that the convention needed to focus not only on evangelism, church planting and revitalization, but on church health more generally. And while the former structure of the convention tended to place much of the priority on the senior pastor, CH&L has oriented its work so that leaders at every level, both lay and vocational, will receive specific resources aimed at healthy leadership.

According to Wolfe, some of the strategies they are pursuing come from lessons learned when he worked in what was formerly known as Pastor/Church Relations. 

“I finally realized that if we were going to make a dent in this, we were going to have to get on the front end of pastor health and church health instead of just always cleaning up from the back end. And so we kind of carry over that same mindset into the Church Health and Leadership department, where we’re not just focusing on the pastor office but we’re focusing on all church leaders. 

“So CH&L is going to span the full spectrum of church leadership, vocational and volunteer, from the pastor, deacon, children’s minister, youth minister, security team, hospitality team, women’s ministry leader, nursery team—you name it. We’re going to try to pour the same level of effort into the front end of helping church leaders be healthy.”

Tools to help

Wolfe said they are hoping to release a church assessment tool in March which will offer not only a self-evaluation for churches, but will also directly connect them with SBTC resources designed to meet their specific needs.

“There will be 10 touch points for church health, including prayer, evangelism, devotion to God’s Word, reproduction, leadership, worship ministry, prayer ministry and more,” he said. “Whenever their self-assessment pushes them to their three top needs, the tool will immediately redirect them to resources and relationships where they can find help.”

Church Health and Leadership Team Leader Jeff Lynn emphasized the convention’s desire to come alongside churches to assist in whatever ways possible.

“We believe that God is about to bring awakening to the Lone Star State, and we believe that as much as it depends on us, we want to help churches receive it,” he said. “And because healthy churches are led by healthy leaders, we look to encourage, resource and network not only pastors and their wives, but all church leaders in every vein of ministry, whether lay or vocational.”

Both Wolfe and Lynn urged churches to reach out to the SBTC no matter what their needs may be.

“Our team is trained and experienced walking with pastorless churches through seasons of transitions, leading established churches through a proven process of revitalization and serving local congregations in all forms of conflict and crisis management,” Wolfe said.

Ultimately, a convention of churches is only as strong as the churches themselves. Church Health and Leadership is designed to work with and for churches, providing resources to help pastors and laypeople alike develop healthy habits and relationships.

“At the end of Acts 15 as Paul is beginning his second missionary journey, he chose Silas and they traveled throughout the region strengthening the churches,” Wolfe said. “The Church Health and Leadership team has only this in mind—strengthen the churches.” 

You can also listen to the biweekly Church Health and Leadership podcast, hosted by Wolfe and Lynn, available from Apple Podcasts. 

Texas churches delivered firewood, repaired pipes, took in others during historic freeze

SAN ANTONIO—The issues brought by the historic cold front that enveloped Texas last month were many: bitter cold, power outages, frozen and busted pipes and lack of drinking water top the list. But the list of Southern Baptist churches responding to those needs is even longer.

Temperatures across the state have returned to normal, with highs this week into the 70s and even approaching the 80s. But a few weeks ago, members of University Baptist Church in San Antonio were offering their homes to others who were without power. It made for a few days of close-quarters living, but kept people out of the cold that had invaded their own homes.

Early on, many churches served as warming centers for those who lost power. However, University Baptist’s building went dark before the sun rose Sunday, Feb. 14, Pastor David Norman said. This prompted the cancellation of Sunday services. Most in the area experienced rolling blackouts. Some, like Norman, never lost power. So, he and other church leaders decided to go in a different direction to provide relief from the cold.

“Our church responded en masse throughout the city,” he said. “One family whose temperature in their home dropped below 50 degrees stayed with us. Our worship pastor, Terry Samplaski, took in two older couples. Church members weren’t waiting for someone else to do it, but reaching out into the church body and community for anyone who needed to be brought in.”

Minister of Education Jim Wells had no power at his home for 60 hours. But he put his handyman skills to use in helping others with minor repairs and leaks in homes as well as at the church.

In Rockwall, Pastor Josh Howerton of Lakepointe Church made the initial announcement Feb. 19 that the congregation would commit more than $200,000 to help low-income families in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with repairs to burst pipes. As other churches offered to join the effort, Lakepointe announced Feb. 22 that more than $400,000 would be going toward the repairs.

The day before that announcement, Howerton thanked the church in his sermon for its work in not only giving toward the repairs, but delivering water, groceries, firewood and other items to others as well as inviting them inside their homes.

“It was an honor to be a part of this church this week as hundreds—probably thousands—stepped forward to do whatever we needed to do to meet the needs of people around us,” he said. “I believe what we celebrate as a church, we cultivate.”

The total economic impact of the storm in Texas could reach $295 billion which would make it one of the costliest in the state’s history, according to one group.

In Stephenville, Pastor Anthony Svajda of Harvey Baptist Church said temperatures inside many members’ homes approached freezing, with some families living without power for days. It didn’t take long for his church to respond.

“We rallied guys together and had about 20 cutting firewood with another five or six delivering it in their trucks,” he said. “We did that from Monday (Feb. 15) through that Saturday when temperatures started to rise back up. We also had bought a lot of bottled water and distributed that to people.”

That firewood, he added, was used not just to stay warm but also for cooking food and boiling water.

“I’m honored to be the pastor here and see God working through these people,” he said. “They answered the needs of the community and helped others see the love of Jesus. These situations give the opportunity to present the Gospel in a relevant way.

“You’re not just delivering firewood. You’re connecting to families because they saw you as the hands and feet of Jesus.”

At University Baptist in San Antonio, Norman had been preaching through 1 Peter since September (except for a break at Christmas). That preaching schedule took another hiatus earlier this year when he contracted COVID-19.

When he resumed his sermon series, the message out of 1 Peter 4:7-11 originally planned for weeks earlier instead was delivered Feb. 21. In it, verses 9 and 10 brought particular meaning:

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace …

“That Sunday, I was able to point out the hospitality and generosity of our church,” he said.

Vision 2025 is ready to go to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting

NASHVILLE—As followers of Christ, it is our directive to make disciples of all nations. Vision 2025 renews our call as Southern Baptists to reach every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation.

This is our opportunity for our generation of Baptists to stand tall together with a passionate vision, and it begins now. There are five strategic actions for us to join in to fulfill this Great Commission vision.

Five Strategic Actions

Strategic Action #1: Increase full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving us 4,200 full-time, fully funded missionaries through the International Mission Board.

In Pastor David Brady’s newest book, One Sacred Effort, he writes that in the 175-year history of the International Mission Board, the SBC has sent more than 25,000 missionaries overseas. God has built the largest overseas missions sending agency through our churches. The book notes that thousands upon thousands of missionaries have lived and many have died going to the nations, but as IMB President Paul Chitwood writes in the book’s foreword: “The lasting fruit of their investment is visible today in no less than 140 Baptist conventions and unions around the globe, many sending missionaries to other nations.”

We can accomplish this vision together. We can see a net gain of 500 missionaries by the end of 2025 – if we pray, if we work, if we go, if we call out the called, if we send, if we give and if we cooperate together for this greater cause.

Strategic Action #2: Add 5,000 new SBC congregations to our Southern Baptist family, giving us more than 50,000 SBC congregations.

America needs more new churches, and we need more existing churches to be revitalized and to recapture a passion for evangelism and the planting of new gospel churches.

How would this work? Annually, it would mean:

  • 600 new church plants
  • 200 church replants
  • 100 new campuses
  • 350 new church affiliations
  • 1,250 new congregations

I believe we can see this done together. Cooperation is the way forward.

Strategic Action #3: Increase the total number of workers in the field through a new emphasis on “calling out the called” and then preparing those who are called out by the Lord.

It was my young bi-vocational pastor who instilled the idea that God may be calling me to ministry. I had the personal goal of becoming a head football coach, but it was my pastor’s passionate calling out the called regularly in that small church that resulted in my responding to God’s call to enter the ministry of the gospel of Christ.

I believe in calling out the called. In my pastoral ministry, I regularly issued the call for people to surrender their lives to the ministry of the gospel. Pastors and churches of all sizes, universities, seminaries, conferences and conventions should regularly call out the called to go to the nations in gospel ministry. Then we prepare and equip them for the call God has placed on their lives. People need Jesus and people need Jesus now.

Strategic Action #4: Turn around our ongoing decline in reaching, baptizing, and discipling 12- to 17-year-olds.

I am consumed with the vision of seeing this turnaround occur between now and the end of 2025. Today, our convention of churches is baptizing 38 percent fewer teenagers than we baptized in the year 2000. Don’t believe me? Each pastor and church can see from their own records or Annual Church Profile from 2010 to now, and track it year by year. The vast majority will discover their church is tracking downward in reaching and baptizing teenagers.

The reality is this: You cannot baptize those you do not reach. You cannot disciple those you do not reach. The order is clear: We must reach, baptize and disciple teenagers.

We cannot accept this dismal reality and ignore this great need. This generation of teenagers needs Jesus more than any generation before them. We must turn the brightest spotlight possible upon this cause by challenging and equipping our churches to see this turnaround occur.

In partnership with our Vision 2025 efforts, the North American Mission Board is investing an additional $5 million over the next four years to support student evangelism efforts across North America. A portion of these funds will be sent to state conventions to use in more localized student evangelism events, strategies, and resources. That is how much North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, Shane Pruitt, Johnny Hunt, and the NAMB board of trustees believe in the need to reach teenagers.

Strategic Action #5: Increase our annual giving in successive years and establish a new path of growth that will lead us to reach and surpass $500 million through the Cooperative Program to achieve these Great Commission goals.

Please read this part again: We want to see an increase in our annual giving in successive years and establish a new path of growth. We understand that we find ourselves in a different place now versus last year due to the challenges we have all experienced. Therefore, we believe that establishing a new path of growth over the next four years will help us see a turnaround in total Cooperative Program giving.

Not only have our dollar amounts in giving declined since the recession of 2008-2009, but fewer churches are giving through the Cooperative Program at a smaller overall percentage. These are statistics that highlight some areas of concern we are preparing to address, and I will be able to detail those actions soon.

Vision 2025 is for everyone

In order for us to accomplish this grand task, we must have all hands on deck—Southern Baptist pastors and churches from the smallest membership churches to our largest membership churches. We also need the involvement of every one of our 1,100-plus Baptist associations across America.

It will also take every one of the state conventions that serve our 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico to be all in with us in order to get this job done. Plus, we must have each of our 11 national entities and our SBC Executive Committee working together daily, weekly, monthly and annually with our partners in ministry: our churches, associations and state conventions.

For this greater cause, everyone must buy in to this vision for us to reach every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation. This means all churches, all generations, all ethnicities, all languages. Vision 2025 is for everyone.

Now is the time to lead.

—This article first appeared at Baptist Press