Month: December 2021

Brilliant! UK resident receives Christ watching Texas church online, is baptized in Weatherford

UK resident baptized Weatherford

WEATHERFORD—UK resident Samantha (Sammy) Scott has Texas-themed décor throughout her home in Southampton, about 80 miles southwest of London. Now she has Texas-sized memories of her baptism at Greenwood Baptist Church—the culmination of a spiritual journey that started in a Hill Country dude ranch and found purchase in an online church service during the pandemic.

“For a very long time I had been feeling … empty, I think that is maybe the best way to describe it, cold even, never being able to put a reason on why,” Sammy said.

But all that began to change after Sammy met the Scott (no relation) and Clay families of Greenwood Baptist Church at the Mayan Dude Ranch near Bandera in 2017, starting a friendship that would make an everlasting impact.

The ranch had long been a destination for Emily Clay’s family. Her parents, Jack and Brenda Scott, started coming even before Emily was born; the tradition continued after she married and had kids of her own.

In 2017, the Scott and Clay families met Sammy, a single mom and western afficionado from London visiting the dude ranch the same week.

“My whole family … just took her in, adopted her for the week,” Emily recalled. They even joked about their shared surnames. “She was meant to be in our family.”

Sammy returned to the dude ranch the following summer the same week as the Scotts and Clays, this time with her two daughters, Kellyann and Elliemay, who became friends with Emily’s kids. Between summer vacations, the women kept in touch on social media and through the Marco Polo app, planning the next “reunion.” In 2019, Sammy and her daughters not only stayed a week at the dude ranch but spent an extra week at Emily’s home in Peaster.

“We all became extended family,” Sammy said, adding that the shared time also began her “journey to salvation” as conversations turned to spiritual matters.

“The Scott-Clays and I would discuss all things, including religion and the church they attended. The ranch also had a religious culture, and I found this all very warming,” Sammy said, adding, “Where I live, there is very little religious influence of any kind.”

COVID hit in 2020. Things shut down. Sammy’s plans to return to Texas were cancelled. Clay invited her to watch the livestream of Greenwood Baptist’s Easter service.

Sammy tuned in, remembering fondly her visits with the Scotts and Clays about God and the happiness she had experienced. Surely “there would be no harm in attending online and seeing how I felt,” she concluded.

After Pastor Brian Bond’s Easter 2020 message, Sammy said she felt “like a light had been switched on, a warm and fulfilling light. Everything Pastor Brian said felt right; it made sense and I understood it. The Scripture spoke to me. God spoke to me, and I knew then that I wanted a relationship with him.”

The “emptiness, the void, the confusion” was gone, she recalled.

During her second week of online viewing, Sammy informed the church that she had trusted Christ as Savior. Tina Jackson, Greenwood’s preschool minister, was tasked with follow up. Jackson checked out Sammy’s social media and found that she and Emily were friends. She emailed Sammy.

“I explained who I was,” Jackson said. “I told her I wanted to discuss her decision and see if she had any questions … [following] our usual protocol for those who respond during services.” Jackson mentioned that baptism would be the next step in Sammy’s walk with Christ.

As they corresponded through emails, Jackson and Sammy also became friends.

“Tina was amazing, is amazing,” Sammy said.

“She wanted to be baptized here in Weatherford,” Jackson said. “But COVID did not go on its merry way. Weeks turned into months and months into years.” The women discussed options for Sammy’s baptism in the UK, but she balked. “She was adamant. [Greenwood] is her church family. She watched every Sunday.” By then, Sammy made regular comments on the livestream; Greenwood members responded.

Greenwood seemed like home.

Finally, with restrictions lifted this fall, it became possible for Sammy to come to Weatherford in person, but flying to Texas had become financially prohibitive for her.

“It was weighing on me that she’d not had a chance to be baptized,” Jackson said, explaining that she approached Sonny Grissom, Greenwood executive pastor, to see if the church could make it happen.

Flights proved to be affordable, Jackson said, and the church offered to bring Sammy over for her baptism.

“She was shocked, elated, excited!” Jackson said of Sammy’s reaction to the news. Greenwood arranged for Sammy and Elliemay to fly over (Kellyann had school obligations and could not come) and secured a hotel and car for them for an extended visit.

Sammy’s Dec. 5 baptism was extraordinary. Student pastor Jon Hartman, who performed the sacrament, encouraged the congregation to stand. Groups approached the front of the church. The Scott and Clay families gathered in the special viewing area for close friends and family.

“I had never felt happiness and fulfillment like that,” Sammy said. “The church, its people and the services were and are so beautiful.” Greenwood had become “an extended part of my family,” she said, adding that she continues to attend services, prayer groups, and Bible study groups online.

“I thank the Lord every day for sending such an amazing church family,” she said.

“For a long time, Sammy knew something was missing. But she didn’t know what it was,” Jackson said. “When she prayed to receive Christ, she knew suddenly that that was what had been missing.”

The Scott and Clay families celebrated Sammy's baptism at Greenwood Baptist Church earlier this month.

Texas Roundup

FBC Canton gasoline giveaway a ‘blessing’ to community

A Canton church gave free gas to the community late last year as part of a community outreach that lasted approximately five hours and resulted in plenty of smiles from surprised customers.

First Baptist Church in Canton set aside a block of money as a way to give back to the community and to bless others during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, KLVT reported. 

Each automobile got up to $50 of gas, as the congregation partnered with a local gas station, Mr. D’s.  

“I’m disabled and I get a limited check every month so this is a real blessing. It’s hard for me to fill up a truck,” Darrell Jobe, one of the recipients of the free gas, told the television station.

All total, the outreach impacted between 250-300 people.

“Gas going up the way it is, it just seems like that would be an easy way to do it,” said Rod Hite, the church’s minister of music. “We’ve done things where we’ve given away food—ministry things in the community—but this just seemed like the perfect thing to do this year.”

The church’s Facebook page called the outreach an “amazing day.” It was, the church said, an “answer to prayer for many” and “a blessing for all of us who got to serve, talk, and love on so many in our community.”

Sources: KLVT, FBC Canton

Tyler church choir once again allowed to share love of Jesus at care facilities 

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Tyler church is singing concerts in senior living facilities. 

Green Acres Baptist Church relaunched its choir-led concerts late last year, delivering joy to the residents of Primrose Retirement Community and The Hamptons—two senior living facilities located in the same city as the congregation.

The pandemic had canceled all concerts. 

“We are delighted to be back and share the love of Jesus with music,” the church’s worship pastor, Mike Parks, told KETK. 

“We love to get to come to this place and get to fellowship with them and get to worship the Lord with them,” Parks added. 

Residents laughed, smiled and sang along as the Green Acres choir performed Christmas classics and new songs alike. 

“It thrills me to the bottom of my heart. My heart is in it,” Hamptons resident Thelma Ruth Childs said. 

Sources: KETK, Green Acres Baptist

Texas church’s baptisms spotlighted in New York Times story

A SBTC church in Waco and its non-traditional baptistry got a mention in The New York Times as part of a feature story on the modern trend away from built-in baptistries. 

Because built-in baptisteries are prone to leaks and mold—in addition to taking longer to fill and heat—many churches have opted for non-traditional modes for baptisms, the Times article notes. 

Grace Church moved into a bowling alley in 2016. Instead of constructing a built-baptistry, the congregation bought a foam model that costs about $2,500. Using the foam baptistry “conveys this isn’t your grandmother’s church,” Drake Osborn, pastor of teaching and liturgy at Grace Church, told The Times. 

The story spotlighted a Florida church that conducts baptisms at the beach, a Kansas church that uses a hot tub, and an Iowa church that baptizes new members in a cattle trough.

“Maintaining baptistries is very expensive,” said Evan Welcher, the former pastor at Vine Street Bible Church in Glenwood, Iowa, explaining the trend toward non-traditional methods. 

Vine Church recently spent $3,000 to fix a heat pump on a built-in baptistry. 

“We have two baptistries, and at different times they both leaked,” Welcher said. “The cattle trough looks really easy; it looks so much better. People might say ‘Oh, the cool churches do it,’ but it actually looks like a better way.”

Source: The New York Times

SWBTS students share gospel with 800-plus Kenyans during first post-COVID mission trip

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary reported in November that its students shared the gospel with more than 800 Kenyans during a 10-day international mission trip that marked the first seminary-led mission trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

The team of eight served in Nairobi, Kenya, alongside two mission units from the International Mission Board (IMB) and saw more than 100 Kenyans come to faith in Christ. The trip was sponsored by the seminary’s World Missions Center. 

“Nairobi is a key city in East Africa,” said Sam Brittain, associate director of the World Mission Center, and the mission team leader. “Strategically, serving in Nairobi would expose students to missions in a city in the most-rapidly urbanizing part of the world. The team in Nairobi also had ways for the team to serve that were in line with their long-term strategy.”

Kenya was selected due to the relationship between the IMB teams and Southwestern Seminary, COVID-19 conditions within the country, and Kenya’s allowance of short-term visitors within its COVID-19 parameters, Brittain added.

The IMB teams used the seminary team to engage in outreach efforts on three university campuses and in street evangelism. 

Source: SWBTS

Rockwall Friendship Baptist Church (located in Royse City) broke ground on 23,000-square-foot facility

Rockwall Friendship Baptist Church broke ground in November on a 23,000-square-foot worship center and campus that, when completed, will serve as its first newly constructed meeting space.

The church was organized in 2003 through a mission effort started by Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in cooperation with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Dallas Baptist Association. The construction will also include a worship room and commons area for children, as well as an expansive common area outside.

RFBC initially met in an elementary school building in Heath before moving to and then renovating an existing worship facility in Royse City in 2010.  

“This is the result of the infinite faithfulness of our God,” the church said on its Facebook page.

Sources: Rockwall Friendship Baptist Church

Voters approve constitutional amendment prohibiting governments from closing churches

A proposed Texas constitutional amendment that prohibits state and local governments from closing or restricting church services passed easily on Election Day.

Known as Proposition 3, it was placed on the ballot by legislators in response to a push by some governments to close houses of worship during the pandemic. Supporters of Proposition 3 said such a decision should be left up to churches.

Proposition 3, which passed with 62 percent of the vote, says state and local governments “may not enact, adopt, or issue a statute, order, proclamation, decision, or rule that prohibits or limits religious services.”

State Senator Kelly Hancock, who sponsored the amendment, said its purpose is to “provide some belts and suspenders to what we know to be true within our constitutional rights already.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott deemed churches “essential services” early during the pandemic—an action that limited what local governments could tell churches to do.

The constitutional amendment strengthens the religious liberty protections for churches.  

“Churches provide essential spiritual, mental, and physical support in a time of crisis,” said state Rep. Scott Sanford. “Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom guaranteed by our laws and Constitution.”

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Texas Secretary of State

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? Pastor’s journey is ‘beautifully broken’

It was Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, 2020. 

Our church was still in recovery mode after Hurricane Laura and I had planned a meeting that night with some of the young leaders in our church to discuss post-COVID, post-hurricane church life and to set some disciple-making goals. This was a really important meeting for us.

So that afternoon, I decided to take my e-bike that I’d gotten over the summer out for a ride just to relax and clear my head. The last thing I remember is riding down an empty stretch of road in the back of our community and then … nothing. My next memory is waking up in a hospital ICU bed three days later.

I would later learn that I’d had an accident—what my doctors called a “high-impact incident.” Based on the timeline, they think I lay there unconscious on the side of the road for a half-hour before a high school kid driving home from school found me. In the ER, my wife tells me I was saying, “I’ve got to get home and get ready to preach” and “Who’s going to preach for me?” I don’t remember any of that.

I’d suffered a traumatic brain injury that left me with bleeding and swelling between my brain and my skull that required two craniotomies to repair. Because I also had acute respiratory failure, I had to be put on a ventilator. My left arm was shattered. I later had a series of debilitating seizures in which I lost feeling and use of the right side of my body because it was a left-brain injury. I was immobilized for weeks.

Jeremy Bradshaw, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Bridge City, was involved in an accident on his e-bike. His faith and the faith of his family was challenged and strengthened during his recovery. Photos submitted

In the days that followed I had severe hallucinations due to the brain trauma and some of the effects of the medication I was on. Seizures, memory loss, panic attacks, anxiety, I went into deep depression at times—and not just during the hospital stay. September through December, those were very difficult months. I also suffered from confusion, blurred vision, intense headaches, weeks of sleeplessness. I think the first time I slept through the night for five or six hours straight was sometime around Christmas. Rehab was very productive, but it was a grueling process.

During my second hospital stay (due to some setbacks I was having), my neurosurgeon, Dr. Ian Angel, came to follow up with me. That’s when he really gave us the scope of how severe these injuries were and brought the gravity of the situation to us. In that conversation, he said there’s something called the “Golden Hour” where, after a traumatic brain injury, doctors only have about an hour to treat you, save your life and to mitigate against long-term disability. He said, “You were past that hour. You shouldn’t be here.” My wife and I were in tears, and I just said instinctively, “Dr. Angel, thank you for saving my life.” This I remember clearly—he looked at us and said, “No, I didn’t save you. God saved you.”

I took that as a mandate. I’m responsible to share how God preserved me through suffering and to tell others of the hope that I have—and that we all can have—in the midst of suffering because of the suffering of Jesus. That has stayed with me every week, and I’m thankful for that. My pain reminds me of my responsibility to use this for God’s glory.

My first Sunday back in the pulpit was Jan. 3, 2021. Preaching normally feels so natural. It’s just what God has called and equipped me to do. But on that day, I was scared to death. It felt like my first sermon all over again. I preached out of Psalm 23, which felt very appropriate, and about how I walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but it was just a shadow. I didn’t die and God was there with me.

God used that experience and the trauma that followed to really strengthen the faith of each member of my family. They had to care for me and they got to see God at work in providing for us. Short of Jesus, my wife is my hero. It’s amazing how God used her to care for me, to care for our kids. She had to keep things going because I wasn’t able to be much of a husband at the time.

On one hand I’d say God used this trauma to do a sanctifying work in our hearts and in our home, but also, God used this as a platform to minister to others. Through this God has opened doors for me to share the gospel, to counsel others. In the last year we’ve been able to grieve with those who are grieving and encourage those who are hurting in a way that maybe we didn’t fully appreciate before and with an added sensitivity. We’ve tried as much as possible to use this, even if just for a moment, to express our hope in Christ and how God’s provided.

Oh, and remember how I was going to meet with those young adults in our church to cast vision and talk about goals and disciple-making before my accident? They eventually had that meeting without me and started discipleship groups on their own. It was such a joy to see that God doesn’t need me to accomplish his work. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that he wants me, but this is his church and he can raise up leaders and do what he wants. He’s got this covered.

So what’s my story? I’m a living example that God’s grace is sufficient for you and his power is made perfect in weakness.

What's your story?

Want to share a story of what God is doing in your life or your church? 

It starts—and ends—on our knees

It is an understatement to say, “When God shows up, everything changes.” When the infinite power and presence of God enters the equation, it is impossible for things to stay the same. Just as a person could not stand directly in the Texas sun for a length of time without it causing significant physical change, a person cannot be in the manifest presence of the God who made the sun and remain spiritually unchanged. 

This should bring us to the sad reality that God’s manifest presence is absent in most of the churches across our state. How can we see hundreds of thousands of people gathering weekly in our churches and see so little life change? I believe the root problem in the church today is not declining attendance, declining baptisms, or the absence of biblical preaching. These could only be symptoms. No, I believe the root problem is the absence of desperate prayer that has led to the absence of God’s manifest power and presence.

So, what is the answer? It’s not more manpower, better methods, or innovative ministries. The answer is a return to desperate prayer that is fueled by a deep desire for the presence of God. And here’s the encouraging news: we are actually seeing this happen! In recent days, God has been doing some incredible things across the country in an increasing number of our churches. There is a wave of revival happening! Stories are being shared of miraculous healings, repentance from sin, restored marriages, freedom from addictions, and an exponential number of salvations and baptisms. 

What is the catalyst for this powerful move of God? The one common denominator in each of the churches experiencing this move of the Holy Spirit is a return to desperate prayer motivated by a recognition of the absence of God’s manifest presence.

What is the catalyst for this powerful move of God? The one common denominator in each of the churches experiencing this move of the Holy Spirit is a return to desperate prayer motivated by a recognition of the absence of God’s manifest presence. In different ways, these churches came to the end of their earthly solutions to kingdom problems. They were honest about their true spiritual condition and placed seeking the face of God in prayer as their highest priority.

In the book of Acts, you clearly see the power and effect of corporate prayer by those who seek him. The early church was a praying church! They recognized the necessity of praying together for the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1-2, what appears to be a 10-day prayer meeting led to the miracle of Pentecost and the radical conversion of thousands. In Acts 4, the church’s first response to persecution was a prayer meeting. In Acts 6, the church was growing so quickly that the apostles appointed more leaders to share the burden so that they would not neglect their highest priority—the ministry of prayer. Yet again, we see in Acts 13 another prayer meeting. In that season of prayer, the Holy Spirit called the church to send out Paul and Barnabas on the first global mission trip in the history of the church. The gospel went to unreached people because a reached people prayed together! 

When God’s people pray together, there is a supernatural outpouring that happens in the church! There is also a supernatural favor or grace that he bestows upon us. Doors will open, resources will be provided, and divine opportunity will be given to God’s people! But most importantly, God’s presence will be encountered, enjoyed, and experienced.

My prayer for the SBTC, our state, and our nation is to witness the largest prayer movement among our churches we have ever had. In turn, I pray that it will usher in the greatest revival this generation has ever seen.

Don’t outrun your walk

I am a runner. Well, to be honest, I want to be a runner. I have completed one full marathon and two half marathons. I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with running.

I hate it while I am doing it and I love it when I am done. The one thing I like about running is the culture and community it creates. You can show up for a race with a few people or a few thousand people and, regardless of the size of the race, have the same goal as everyone else: to cross the finish line. 

In March of 2012, I ran my first and last full marathon on the same day. It was a great—yet painful—experience. As I ran the 26.2 miles, I learned a life lesson. Marathons are not run in miles, they are run in steps. What every person in the race had in common was they had to take the race one step at a time. They had to put one foot in front of the other 55,000 times. I knew that every small step I took brought me closer to the big goal of crossing the finish line. 

As we begin the New Year, we will inevitably face things that seem insurmountable, some planned and some unplanned. There will be victories to win and mountains to be climb. In all these things, the same principle that applies to running applies to our lives in 2022 …

Just take the next step. 

One of my mentors who is now with the Lord, Rod Masteller, used to tell me, “It’s not in the day-to-day, it’s in the daily.” As a young man, I never fully understood that statement. However, the longer I walk with the Lord and serve the Lord, I have experienced exactly what he meant. The most satisfying things in life are not found in the day-to-day experiences, but rather in the daily habit of walking with the Lord. 

It is my commitment as I grow in the Lord and as I begin this new year to make sure my priorities are intact. If I am not diligent about this, the busyness of ministry can cause me to outrun my walk with the Lord.

As we look to the New Year, may I suggest one simple thing to you? Don’t outrun your walk. Simply put, life and ministry can get incredibly busy and demanding. There are things that come up that consume your days and nights. There are challenges that can drain every ounce of energy from you. If we are not careful, those same things can distract you from the daily routine of walking with Jesus.

I honestly can’t count how many times I have let the day-to-day keep me from the daily. It is my commitment as I grow in the Lord and as I begin this new year to make sure my priorities are intact. If I am not diligent about this, the busyness of ministry can cause me to outrun my walk with the Lord. If I am not careful, I can let the challenges that come into my life be given an urgency that the situation doesn’t truly deserve. In doing this, I shift all my attention to good things rather than the greatest things.

So, as we begin 2022, I again encourage you, don’t outrun your walk. Take the small steps every day to grow in the Lord and to sit in his presence. Take the steps each day to fervently pray to the Lord and meditate on his words. Take the steps every day to find someone to share the gospel with. One step in front of the other. If we do this together, I believe we will see a powerful movement of God in our lives, churches, cities, and across Texas!

I am praying and believing 2022 will be a great year! I love you and I am honored to serve you!

92-year-old professes Christ, proves ‘God is never finished with us’

It started with enthusiastic cheering, transitioned to raucous applause and ended with a standing ovation. This kind of response—normally reserved for touchdowns and troop homecomings—instead was directed toward the baptistry at Green Acres Baptist Church last October, when after 33,855 days of living (that’s 92 years, if you’re doing the math), Jack Peaslee was baptized.

Needless to say, the folks at Green Acres were pretty pumped.

“We obviously celebrated like crazy with him,” Pastor Michael Gossett said. “It was such a special moment.”

Peaslee began attending Green Acres in early 2021 at the invitation of a friend. After several months, in response to one of Gossett’s sermons, Peaslee expressed a desire to join the church. Staff were more than happy to talk to him about making that decision, but first, they talked to him about the decision that matters most: “Have you ever trusted Jesus as Lord?”

No, Peaslee said, he had not.

A staff pastor then spent the next 45 minutes using the 3 Circles method of evangelism to share the gospel with Peaslee and explain to him what it means to follow Jesus.

“He said he had never heard that before,” Gossett said.

The staff pastor then invited him to follow Jesus, but Peaslee said he needed more time to think about what he had been told. As Peaslee spent the coming days thinking it over, the Green Acres staff took their pleas to the Lord.

“We prayed for Jack Peaslee by name for three weeks. He came back three weeks later and said, ‘I’m ready to give my life to Jesus.’”

“We prayed for Jack Peaslee by name for three weeks,” Gossett said. “He came back three weeks later and said, ‘I’m ready to give my life to Jesus.’”

Peaslee was baptized by Jeremy Jones, Green Acres’ minister to adults. Jones said the congregation began cheering the moment he introduced his new brother in Christ from the baptistry the morning of Oct. 3. “I turned to Jack and said, ‘There is a whole church out there full of people that are proud of you and who love you.’ … It was an awesome moment in the life of our church and one that we will not soon forget.”

For his part, Peaslee said he was surprised at how the church responded to his baptism. “The standing ovation really blew my mind,” he said. “I had no idea what to do. It felt wonderful. … I had never received anything like that.”

Gossett said the moment was meaningful for the church for many reasons, including the fact that they have been talking a lot about how God is a God of all generations. Over a span of months, the church saw tangible proof of that as a young child, a median-age adult and then Peaslee decided to trust Christ and be baptized.

“Our church loves to see life change no matter who it is, and to see a life transformed at the age of 92—that was really big for our church” Gossett said. “God is always pursuing us. He is never finished with us.”

Plan Your Discipleship Plan

Four minutes into one of my first sermons, I realized I’d made a pretty big mistake. Leading into that sermon, I genuinely believed words just came to the person speaking as he went. At least, I thought that’s what would happen to me because, you know, of my special talent for preaching.

That night, I walked up on the stage, read the passage, prayed, and then began with the few prepared thoughts I had. After four minutes I was completely out of material. I looked at the clock and panicked. Nothing else came whatsoever. So, I did what any self-respecting preacher would do—I repeated the only material I had. After six total minutes elapsed, I crash landed the plane and left the stage, resolved to never do that again. I learned this principle that night: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

That same failure to plan extends into other areas of our churches—like discipleship. I assumed discipleship was taking place in my people’s lives simply because they were attending the service and hearing me teach. Thankfully, this failure of mine to plan out discipleship was challenged at a youth pastor conference I didn’t have much interest in attending.

At the time, I was a youth pastor, and I attended a YouthLab Conference in Fort Worth, mostly so I could come back for the weekend to the city I loved and missed. Robby Gallaty was the keynote speaker, and he spent the entire weekend sharing about discipleship and creating a discipleship plan. I’m not exaggerating when I say that weekend was one of the most impactful ministry experiences for me because it was the first time I’d ever heard about an actionable discipleship plan within a local church.

Since that weekend, I have focused a lot of my attention on discipleship planning and leading cultural change within my church context for the sake of greater discipleship among my people. Here are some thoughts that may be helpful to you as you seek to do the same in your church.

1. The Hard Work: Plan Your Discipleship Plan

If we desire our people to develop as disciples of Jesus—in Christlikeness and in their involvement in the Great Commission—then we must give them the path forward. What happens for most people is that if uncertainty exists as to what to do, nothing is done. Thus, we need a plan for discipleship that we can lay out before our people with specific steps and goals that will lead them to greater levels of Christlikeness and Great Commission work.


In creating the discipleship plan for our churches, there are a number of questions we need to answer to give us a framework:

  1. What is discipleship?
  2. How did Jesus model a discipleship relationship?
  3. What are we calling our people to do?
  4. In what areas are our people expected to grow?
  5. What are specific replicable steps people can take to grow as disciples in those areas?
  6. How do you define or gauge success?
  7. What is your method for replicating this process?

Whatever answer we give to these questions, we must source them from the Word of God.

In walking through these questions, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I encourage you to read books from pastors who have promoted discipleship in the local church. Two books that have been helpful to me are Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples and Rediscovering Discipleship, both by Robby Gallaty.

What Discipleship Looks Like at My Church

We promote Discipleship Groups (or D-Groups) within the context of our larger church structure consisting of large group worship service and non-gender-specific small groups or Life Groups. Each element of our structure—worship service, Life Groups, and D-Groups—fulfill an aspect of our discipleship plan for teaching, community, spiritual growth, and mission.

Our D-Groups are gender-specific and consist of 3-5 people who meet an hour or an hour and a half weekly for the purpose of Bible reading/discussion, Bible memorization, accountability, and prayer. These groups meet for 12-18 months, after which each member is encouraged to begin their own D-Group made up of new Christians or Christians who have not yet been discipled.

2. Promoting a Discipleship Culture

Once you have a discipleship plan, you need to have a plan for how to roll it out to your people. Just because you mention discipleship once or set out an informational sheet doesn’t mean your people will take it and run with it.

Here are a couple methods that, when used together, have been successful in rolling out discipleship in our church.

  1. Be a Discipler Yourself

This is the most organic method of promoting discipleship within our churches. We as disciples of Jesus are called to engage in discipleship just as all believers are. Out of faithfulness to Christ, we must personally be discipling people within our churches, leading the charge for spiritual development. And, as pastors, what we do, are involved with, and celebrate will be what our churches become. Therefore, we must have boots on the ground, leading discipleship groups and training people within those groups to replicate this process when our time as a group is over.

2. Preach About Discipleship

In addition to the ground attack of discipling people yourself, consider using an air attack by preaching about discipleship, both as a series as well as sprinkling discipleship stories and application in your sermons. What we celebrate from the stage is what our people will begin to be excited about.

3. Allow Members to Share Stories of Discipleship

In addition to preaching about discipleship, consider having members who are involved with discipleship share their positive experiences and stories about discipleship from the stage on a Sunday. The benefit of allowing others to speak about discipleship from the stage is that it may change the perspective in some peoples’ minds that discipleship is something “pastors” do to something people like they themselves take part in. This could be done by giving them three minutes to share their experience or it could be an interview that you lead.

3. Give Grace and Allow Time for Development

When I began at my church, a godly elder (and close friend) named Paul told me often, “You’ve got time.” What he meant was that I didn’t have to be in a rush to bring about all that God was going to do here at our church. Things take time to develop and that is OK. Often, that is God’s way. Just as in the parable of the mustard seed, new initiatives such as a discipleship plan will start small and develop over time with diligence. Celebrate each win, such as when a group flourishes and continues to meet after three months or when a member takes initiative to begin a group. Give grace to the process and to your people as a new culture of discipleship begins to develop.

Now, looking back on that rudderless preaching experience, I’m grateful it happened. Of course, there was embarrassment at the time, but I learned the great value of having a plan. For those of you also tasked with shepherding God’s people, do you have a discipleship plan?

Suicide is preventable, and God’s people know the cure

I have no hope.
It’s only going to get worse.
I don’t know if I want to be around any longer.
People won’t miss me if I’m not around.

Over 1.3 million people attempt suicide every year. Every year, more than 47,000 succeed. In the past, Christians haven’t always spoken out on the topic of suicide. In many denominations it was taboo, sometimes communicated as a lack of faith to a struggling believer. Suicide is preventable, and God’s people know the cure.

The Truth

Battling with suicidal ideations has nothing to do with lack of faith. It is part of the human condition to struggle with trials that often produce great sadness and sorrow. The Bible records many who cried out to God in frustration, anger, and bouts of hopelessness. The Psalms are full of King David’s laments, including Psalm 13:2: “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?” The apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome expresses “great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart” (Romans 9:2).

Normalizing the struggle we all have with sorrow and disappointment is part of the healing process. It demoralizes people to believe they are all alone in their struggle and are somehow deficient as a believer because of it. Condemning or shaming a person into isolation keeps him or her from reaching out for help.

The Belief

Scripture is full of verses that refer to a man’s thoughts. It is David who asks the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts.” In 1 Corinthians 10:5 we are charged to “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

As any cognitive behavioral therapist will tell you, thoughts matter. The filter you choose to view life through often determines your mental health. Perhaps one of the most detrimental beliefs is that “life will never change.” The belief that one is “doomed to this existence” is a lie from the enemy. With God we have hope.

The Remedy

When we view life through the eternal lens, it changes things. If we begin with the premise that God is good regardless of our current circumstances we are able to realize that a bigger plan exists. The lost job becomes God guiding your steps as you trust in his provision. A broken relationship provides an opportunity for you to develop a closer relationship with the one who will never leave you or forsake you. What looks like loss today is merely an effective tool in the hand of an all-powerful God and an opportunity for him to grow you up and bless you, as you trust in the Lord with all your heart.

As a Christian therapist I’ve always taken a different approach to a therapeutic intervention called journaling. There might be some benefit to penning current thoughts and feelings, but I believe people profit greatly when they focus on past blessings. I ask my clients to journal on what God has already rescued them from in the past. This creates a beautiful track record of God’s faithfulness in their lives. My example comes from a passage in the book of Joshua. When God parted the water for the children of Israel to cross the Jordan River, Joshua asked a man from each tribe to take a stone of remembrance from the middle of the river. Those markers would come in handy when they faced the battles of Jericho and many more challenges.

New Life

Life on this side of eternity looks very different than the other side, but there are plenty of joys to be experienced today. Our Lord set up an entire new way of thriving, even during difficult times. Here are a few comforting markers of the abundant life:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:27)

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

A Friend
But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:26)

Promises Fulfilled
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the LORD. (Psalm 27:6)

A Sound Mind
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (James 1:2-3)

How to Help the Suffering

  • Keep checking in on the person you are concerned about – don’t let him fall between the cracks.
  • Help with reframing broken thoughts: “This could be a blessing in disguise.”
  • Keep her moving with activities, lunch dates, and exercise, even if she doesn’t feel like it.
  • Don’t let the person struggling with suicidal ideations isolate.
  • Encourage your friend to get professional help. Many churches can offer assistance as well as local Christian counselors.

Pete & Lynne Thompson provide office and online counseling services at Pete Thompson Christian Counseling, in the Dallas area. They have been married for 35 years and have two adult children. You can reach them at

Gospel labor leads to new life for churches 200 miles apart

United City Humble baptisms

HUMBLE—Nobody was baptized at United City Church during the early weeks of 2021, said Pastor Chris Kouba, who came to the church in 2019.

With just a few days left in the year, 203 have now been baptized, with three more scheduled this weekend. “We feel like we’re seeing God move,” Kouba said.

When Kouba arrived in April 2019, the church was called The Hub, its third name change in 15 years. Attendance and giving had declined. The church, flooded during Hurricane Harvey, needed to rebuild.

“The church was pretty beat up—emotionally, physically, all those things—coming out of the flood. The church did an amazing job helping the community, but its facility was in disrepair,” Kouba said.

Construction started in August 2019, and staff was reorganized. Yet in Easter 2020, when the new name and building debuted, COVID “zapped” all momentum.

“COVID hits, and all the sudden we can’t even meet,” Kouba recalled, adding, “It wasn’t exactly a recipe for greatness.”

The pause did allow the 106-year-old church time to develop name recognition. By July 2020, United City experienced “little stretches” of baptisms, ultimately baptizing 67 by year’s end.

Kouba said the largest number of baptisms occurred historically from 2006-2008, when the church moved into a new facility and averaged weekly attendance of 1,800-1,900. Now a typical Sunday welcomes 1,400-1,500 worshipers—a significant increase from pandemic lows.

Baptisms in 2021 spanned age groups: kids, youth and adults—including two septuagenarians and some people who had been watching online.

Kouba said he prayed for the church to experience unity and direction, focusing on a core value: “Lost people matter.”

An emphasis on diversity has also produced results. “We are so much more diverse and younger than we were two years ago. Even out of the 40 men we have baptized, 18 are non-white,” Kouba said.

The pastor reinstated a weekly public gospel invitation and the church has made baptism a central part of worship.

Cameras positioned near the baptistry improve viewing for the congregation, and a designated area allows friends and family to approach as their loved one is baptized. Baptisms beget more baptisms, as friends are saved after watching their friend’s act of obedience.

“It’s become this cascading thing, come watch a friend get baptized, six weeks later they’re in the baptism waters themselves,” Kouba said, noting that the church actively encourages invitations to friends.

“We actually say, don’t ever invite more people to a birthday party than you would to a baptism.”

Kouba said the staff had prayed and fasted for a week at the beginning of 2021, asking God to act abundantly. They have continued in weekly prayer.

“Ever since that prayer week, we’ve baptized someone every week … I don’t know if that’s a coincidence, but I know I’ve never seen anything like that before,” he said.

Rock Hill Criner baptisms

Rock Hill: Recovered lives lead to living water

Michael Criner assumed the pulpit of Brownsboro’s Rock Hill Baptist Church—the oldest Southern Baptist church in Henderson County—less than three years ago.

“Five months before the pandemic hit, we had just landed,” he said.

The established church had relocated to State Highway 31 eight years previously, a “massive move” to a new facility that proved to be a gift, Criner said.

Before Criner was called as pastor, Rock Hill had begun a partnership with a drug treatment group, Call 2 Recovery, led by Dan Hosch, who is part of the church staff.

The church is committed to ministering to individuals who have critical needs and helping them see their spiritual needs. This, Criner said, leads to transformation.

Baptisms have grown steadily in recent years—from 60 in 2019, to 90 in 2020 during the pandemic, to 116 by November 2021 with more scheduled to come by year’s end. Many of the adults baptized are those “walking out of addiction, many helped by Call 2 Recovery,” Criner said.

Rock Hill also subsidizes Iron House, a residential rehab home housing up to 19 men a month who are recovering from addictions. “We help them get jobs and [achieve] sustainable living,” Criner said. The men attend Rock Hill on Sundays and participate in Bible studies at the home. Many are baptized as a result.

Children and youth also are being baptized, Criner said.

The church offers a class to help children trying to understand what it means to believe in Jesus, the pastor explained. The six-week new believers’ class, structured by children’s minister Arom Adalian, supplements what parents are teaching at home and occurs during the regular Sunday school hour.

Adalian is doing a “marvelous job in a tangible and accessible way helping kids understand what it means to believe in the gospel,” Criner said.

“Kids aren’t necessarily coming to faith in the class but going home and having conversations with Mom and Dad who are leading them to Christ,” he added.

For teens, the primary sources of salvations and baptisms are church-sponsored youth camps and retreats. Six youth were called to vocational ministry during camp this summer, Criner said.

The pastor urged that “every church can be evangelistic. They have to be consistent. It just takes discipline. You just have to do the work.” This can be hard, he admitted, as other things can  easily fall victim to the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Yet the formula is simple. “Every day sharing the gospel, meeting people’s needs, caring for them … this leads to an evangelistic culture,” Criner said.

Salvations and baptisms result.

Christmas teaches us about true love

Advent is a season of remembrance, and few things fuel us more than to remember, “For God loved the world in this way . . . ” (John 3:16, CSB), for this love comforts the brokenhearted. But, do we understand the meaning and depth of love?

I was reminded of this love recently when my family experienced an expected, yet painful, loss. My grandfather passed away after many years battling health complications. Yes, we knew it was a matter of time, but losing a loved one is a serious and bitter matter. It’s a raw reminder of the brokenness of life on earth.

Even during the Christmas season—a time to celebrate love, joy, and peace—we continue to find ourselves calling to God from the depth of our sorrows. Maybe it’s not the loss of life that haunts you, but continual torture from past mistakes. Perhaps a dysfunctional family, broken relationships, or financial burdens weigh you down. In a world like this, where do we go? Our longing is to look to the future with hope, but the heart must first grieve and be comforted by truth.

During Christmas we buy gifts to remind others of how much we care for them. Stores are filled with cards meant to “share the love” with others. Magazines, TV shows, the news—all of these mediums insist we must “love each other” in this season. But why should we love others? And furthermore, are we using the same meaning of the word “love”? The sad reality is that our eagerness to love is compromised by a misunderstanding and generalizations of what love truly is.

So what is love, really? The Christian faith has language for this: “God is love” (1 John 4:16 CSB). This love is shown to us in what He has done in Christ. But our society is so foreign to its inner condition that the work of Christ is no longer a matter of wonder. For this reason, 4th century Christian Athanasius explained in his writing “On the Incarnation that to understand the wonderful news of Christmas, “it is necessary . . . to speak of the origin of human beings, in order that you might know that our own cause was the occasion of his descent and that our own transgressions evoked the Word’s love for human beings.”

In Genesis 1 and 2 we read about God’s beautiful creation, including Adam and Eve who were given everything they could ever need in the garden and walked side by side with God. But in Genesis 3, everything changed. Adam and Eve did not count the cost and sold themselves to a lie that was not worth the price. God loved them, but they chose to disobey. Since then, all their children sin, fall short of the glory of God, and, despite their best efforts to blame someone else, they are condemned.

Throughout the ages, the people of God have cried out for deliverance, but if we don’t understand the significance of this plea in light of our human condition, the coming of Christ may not be marvelous in our sight. Whether as exiles, enslaved, or oppressed at the hands of foreign rulers, God’s people have suffered the price of their rebellion and disobedience. And even with the sacrifices ordained by God, they could not fully atone for their transgressions. But God stepped into our world and made a way: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16, CSB).

As the Nicene Creed has declared for generations, “for our salvation, he came down and was incarnate.” The giver of life comes and dwells with us and reveals God’s plan to save the world. It’s as Richard Sibbes once said: “Grace has not a body to appear visibly. But Christ appeared; and when he appeared it was as if grace and love had been incarnate, and took a body. So that grace and mercy most of all shines in the incarnation of Christ.”

This is the true display of love. The only-begotten Son of God came down from heaven to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, CSB). By showing the greatest love that there is, it was necessary He suffer to the point of death in human flesh.

Therefore, let us rehearse and listen to the old story again and anew, so our hearts will be pointed to the faithfulness of a loving God who did a great thing for us. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Love has come; let every heart prepare him room.

Joel Rosario is associate publisher for Spanish books at B&H Español. He graduated with an MDiv from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is passionate about the intersection of faith and the marketplace. A native from the Dominican Republic, Joel now lives in Nashville with his wife, Emily, and their two daughters.