Month: February 2024

Iron Sharpening Iron

Calvary Pampa’s disciple-making process offers a pathway for members to walk closer with Jesus—and each other

There’s getting into the word of God, and then there’s letting the Word of God get into you.

That phrase is often spoken by Robby Gallaty, a Southern Baptist pastor in Tennessee who has developed a disciple-making method used worldwide. Calvary Baptist Church in Pampa has adapted Gallaty’s method and is seeing lives changed as its members take a deeper dive into the Bible through its own D3 disciple-making process.

“What I really find is most people in the church have a great desire to learn or study Scripture but don’t know where to start,” said Paul Beam, who has served as Calvary Pampa’s lead pastor since 2017. “D3 gives people that opportunity to meet with others and to find that starting point for a closer walk with Jesus.”

Calvary’s D3 process begins with a leader who chooses up to three others of the same gender to join him or her for a weekly discussion of the Bible. Participants sign a covenant to be an active participant for the dura- tion of the study.

Each week, participants study one chapter of the Bible per day for five days, read one chapter of a discipleship book, and memorize one passage of Scripture. They use a journal to make notes about what they’ve studied and how they have applied it to their lives.

The weekly sessions provide a time for encouragement through Scripture memory, transparent discussions, and accountability.

Calvary Pampa’s D3 disciple-making process groups believers by gender. These groups read, study, and memorize Scripture and journal about how God’s truths apply to their lives. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

“What I really find is most people in the church have a great desire to learn or study Scripture but don’t know where to start.”

“We need each other,” said Kevin Costley, a Calvary Pampa member for 13 years. “We weren’t created to make this journey alone D3 prepares us through God’s

Word to be true Christians, the way Jesus was with His disciples and the same way He discipled. I think it’s one of the best things the church has ever done.”

Since 2021, 60 people from the church have participated in D3. When the study is complete, participants are encouraged to start a group of their own.

Jennifer Puryear, a member of Calvary Pampa for about 17 years, is among those who have graduated from D3 participant to group leader. She said she has been encouraged by the fact the program relies on participants becoming more skilled at handling the Word of God for themselves.

“It’s always good to read the Bible, of course, but D3 helps you read through the whole story,” Puryear said. “You look at the verses more, and depending on what we’re going through or our season in life, different verses appeal to us.”

After participating in a D3 group, David Land, a member of Calvary Pampa for eight years, now leads two other men in a group. Land said D3 has helped him continue to grow in many ways, including through his prayer life, his ability to share the gospel, in leading his family, and at church.

“For anybody who has reservations about doing a dis- cipleship program, it’s basically just studying the Word and doing life with your brothers,” Land said.

Costley agreed.

“When you get together with other Christians, you can see how they handle Scripture and how they’ve handled whatever they’ve gone through,” Costley said. “As we read Scripture, we talk about how we use that Scripture in our daily lives. We may apply it differently. As I hear about guys with the same struggles I have, I learn from them what they learned from Scripture.”

Beam is encouraged with the results he’s seen since Calvary Pampa started D3 and dreams about what it could mean for the community.

“We did the math,” Beam said. “Over 10 years we could reach the entire city of Pampa. I’m optimistic and yet realistic. Even though we might not reach everyone, if we are faithful, we’ll develop a large number of disciples for the kingdom.”

Staying true to the mission

Through personal outreach and online connections, FBC New Braunfels keeps its focus on Jesus in historic setting

There may have been very little Southern Baptist influence when New Braunfels was settled predominantly by Germans in 1845. But for the past century, First Baptist Church has been a beacon, preaching the gospel and ministering in Jesus’ name. 

Situated in the booming corridor between Austin and San Antonio, the congregation has seen church plants descend on the area with modern worship and new methods of reaching younger generations, but FBC New Braunfels hasn’t forgotten its identity.

“One of the things that I’ve tried to lead us in is remembering who we are as a church,” Pastor Brad McLean said. “That doesn’t need to change even though more church plants are coming in.”

FBC New Braunfels continues to preach the Word faithfully and God continues to bring new people of all ages to join the work regularly. One way the church has been able to reach families lately is by hosting Family Adventure Club on Wednesday nights to disciple parents along with children. 

“We really wanted to connect with parents, as well, not just have a drop-off situation,” said McLean, the church’s pastor since 2007. “We wanted to engage entire families.”

The idea is for parents and children to have biblical discussions on the way home from church and to foster conversation around the dinner table, he said. They’ve employed the same concept with Vacation Bible School, offering discipleship for parents to make better use of the time.

With 400-450 people attending services each Sunday, it was a display of unity in 2019 when the church voted to move locations in response to the city’s growth. “We are in a neighborhood centrally located in the downtown area,” McLean said. “With that comes parking issues and other constrictions being landlocked.”

FBC New Braunfels has a Restoring Hope Boutique where it provides clothing to people in need. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Somehow, though, it didn’t work out. “The Lord just made clear that another decision needed to be made,” the pastor said. 

A few months later, COVID shut down everything and church members saw that God had protected them. “We would have been saddled with paying off land,” McLean noted.

Instead, FBC New Braunfels took a significant step into the digital world, hiring a communications director and learning to make the most of the online space where people often go first to find a church.

“Through that, especially through COVID as we began to put sermons online, we had many people visit us and say it was their first time, but they’d been listening for months,” McLean said. “We had a family that moved from Minnesota who joined a small group here while they still lived in Minnesota. They were able to do that on Zoom.”

The enhanced digital focus “has helped us tremendously because it has allowed us to better communicate who we are as a church—what our convictions are, what our values are.

“As folks have engaged with us online, I believe that commitment is already further down the road by the time they step into the church facility because there’s a sense of already knowing us and knowing who we are. They’re just coming to engage in person,” he said.

As far as local ministry, FBC New Braunfels has a Restoring Hope Boutique where it provides clothing to people in need.

“We’ve helped many, many folks who’ve come out of the penal system and they need something to wear to an interview,” McLean said. “We’re trying to help people as they’re trying to get their lives back on track by simply giving them clothes to wear so they feel more confident. Within that is an expression of the gospel and the invitation to worship with us.”

The church has several retired teachers, and they periodically take lunch to teachers at a nearby elementary school. 

“We’ve been sending groups out into neighborhoods and apartment complexes prayer walking, leaving a door hanger, and then going back and trying to engage in conversations with folks,” McLean said. 

For about a decade before the pandemic, FBC New Braunfels sent teams to Southeast Asia to share the gospel with people who had not heard of Jesus. Recently, they sent a group to Cuba and another to Denmark and Germany.

“Those are exciting things where people get to go and see other parts of the world and care for people,” McLean said. 

In 2017, FBC New Braunfels was tragically thrown into the national spotlight when a bus crash killed 13 of their senior adults. Though the church is not defined by that event, McLean said, they remember it as a time when God was glorified. 

“We could say with great confidence, ‘Lord, thank you for preparing for eternity every one of those who lost their lives because they knew your Son as Savior,’” he said. “We had to give great praise to God because they were saints, and they were prepared for that moment.

“In the aftermath of that, in celebrating those lives, we got to worship our God together as a church, and I believe the Lord healed so much and strengthened our faith so much through that time.”

Adorning Christ: Easy to say, so much harder to practice


help lead a small group at our church that is slowly walking through Paul’s letter to Titus. We recently talked about the verses in Titus 2 where Paul encourages the believing slaves in the Cretan churches to be faithful in everything “so that they may adorn the teaching of God our Savior in all things.”

Not too many years before Paul’s letter, Jesus taught that the first would be last and the last would be first. He taught that the greatest would be least and the least would be greatest. So who else might we expect Him to choose to make a bold, public gospel statement than a group of people who, in many cases, were viewed as some of the lowest in society?

Before ending our Bible study that night, I repeatedly challenged our group in every circumstance to “adorn Christ.” I think I repeated it like five times for effect. 

Taking my own advice, I wore Jesus loud and proud from that point forward. That lasted about 18 hours. 

The next afternoon, after picking my wife up from school, I had to pause at a green light because another vehicle got caught trying to turn left at an intersection and ended up blocking traffic. The car behind me *apparently* didn’t see what was happening in front of me and started honking—at me!

To punish this honking bumper-rider, I decided to creep through the intersection at like two miles per hour because, you know, that’ll teach her. As she jerked her car around me to speed by in the left lane, we exchanged irritated glances. 

My wife, watching all this play out from the passenger seat, flatly smiled at me and said the last two words I wanted to hear in that moment:

“Adorn Christ.” 

Follower of Jesus, you are most likely walking through some situation you consider less than ideal. It’s not easy and you’re ready for it to be over. As you pray and wait for the Lord to act in that situation, adorn Christ. 

As I reflected on the incident later that evening, I felt like the Lord had taught me a couple of things:

1. We who follow Christ never stop adorning Him. We either accurately portray His true character through the fruit of the Spirit, or we offer some hybrid version of Him that, when mixed with ourselves, paints a distorted and potentially damaging picture of Jesus to a world that desperately needs to see Him as He truly is.

2. The hardest moments to adorn Christ are also the ones that speak the loudest to the people around us. Do I talk a good faith game in safe, controllable settings and then mentally fall apart when the slightest thing doesn’t go my way? Do I preach patience, love, and kindness and then jam up an intersection to punish a driver who might just be having a bad day? 

I believe this was one of Paul’s main motivations in addressing the slaves in Crete. They who legitimately had the greatest reason to feel used, abused, overlooked, and indignant had the greatest opportunity to tell the world that Jesus—not their circumstances—commands their minds, which, in turn, guides their behavior.

Follower of Jesus, you are most likely walking through some situation you consider less than ideal. It’s not easy and you’re ready for it to be over. As you pray and wait for the Lord to act in that situation, adorn Christ. 

And for goodness sakes, please don’t honk at the car in front of you the next time he’s jamming up an intersection. It’s probably not his fault …

Small group Bible study where gospel is preached weekly is now having an international impact

Astride his horse in the back of an 18-foot-deep arena box, Ronnie Hill calmly watches the steer in the chute between him and his roping partner’s box. When the steer settles, his head straight, Hill nods. The chute bangs open. The steer takes off. So do the cowboys—Hill in the heading position and his partner heeling or rear position.

“We ride full throttle after the steer,” Hill said. “I rope him around the horns, roll him off, and turn him to the left, pulling him behind me, making him hop. My partner ropes his two back feet. When we turn our horses and face each other, ropes tight and steer between, the flag man drops his flag.”

When the competition timer stops, mere seconds have elapsed. 

For Hill, 55, who has been team roping since his 20s, those few thrilling seconds—and countless hours of practice—can be lucrative. He and roping partner Daniel Shehady won the event in the April 2023 USTRC National Finals Rodeo’s legends division. Hill has won with various partners, even against younger competitors in events not divided by age.

Ronnie Hill, wearing a black cowboy hat, is a champion team roping competitor.

“As exciting as that is, winning buckles, saddles, thousands of dollars, it’s nothing compared to seeing someone give their life to Christ.”

Ronnie Hill, pictured with his wife, Jennifer, and their son, Jake.

“As exciting as that is, winning buckles, saddles, thousands of dollars, it’s nothing compared to seeing someone give their life to Christ,” Hill said.

Hill is no stranger to sharing Jesus. President of the evangelistic Ronnie Hill Ministries for 35 years, he was asked to become staff evangelist at Greenwood Baptist Church in Weatherford five years ago. Hill’s ministry has taken him across the nation and beyond: to Africa, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Canada.

“We see people saved every week. We did a crusade in Fayette, Ala.—396 saved,” Hill said. 

He is on the road 30-40 weeks each year in addition to his dual role at Greenwood, where he preaches about four times annually. 

Greenwood is booming under the leadership of Senior Pastor Brian Bond, Hill said. 

“Our church is in the country … we’re running about 1,200 now, I guess. We have three services, about to go to four. We’re building a sanctuary because we’re just busting at the seams,” Hill said.

The church baptized 250 in 2023. That year saw Hill’s outreach unexpectedly attract local rodeo competitors with a Bible study that has since had international impact. 

Starting small

It all started when Lane Cooper, a Greenwood member with whom Hill had roped, asked the evangelist to start a small group. Hill initially hesitated, considering his hectic speaking schedule. Finally, he agreed on one condition: meeting days had to be flexible each week. 

“Yeah, we’ll do that,” Lane said. They gathered in the office of renowned cutting horse rider Michael Cooper, Lane’s father, an NCHA Futurity Finals reserve world champion. Most attending had ties to rodeo or horses.

It was the first small group Hill had ever led. He insists he is no expert. 

Typically, the group shares a meal from 6:30 to 7, then spends an hour reading the Bible aloud, with volunteers reading verse by verse. Hill will ask discussion questions and end by presenting the plan of salvation. The group started with 1 John, followed by James, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.

The gospel is presented each time Ronnie Hill and his wife, Jennifer, host their small group, which meets in their home. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“We just read the Bible and I give them a chance to accept Christ,” he said. 

The group began with six, including Hill. Two were saved that first night, including Canadian Tatum Wilson, whose sister Paige was Lane Cooper’s fiancée. Lane and Paige had been encouraging Tatum to “check out this church thing,” Tatum said.

“The first time I met Ronnie that night, immediately he was preaching the Word,” Tatum recalled. “Right in that moment, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is something I need to look into.’ That night I gave my life to Christ.”

“Tatum got on fire,” Hill said. “She started bringing people. The next week we had 12.” Attendance climbed and the group now averages 30, mostly ages 20-25. 

Hill noted that Tatum wasn’t the only one inviting people, but with her outgoing personality, she approached folks in stores or gas stations or at the ranch where she worked training horses and asked them to come.

They outgrew Cooper’s office and moved to the home Hill shares with his wife, Jennifer, and son, Jake, closer to Weatherford.

It has been one year since they started meeting and over 90 people have trusted Christ, with 72 being baptized at Greenwood, Hill said.

“The first time I met Ronnie that night, immediately he was preaching the Word. Right in that moment, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is something I need to look into.’ That night I gave my life to Christ.”

International influence

The small group’s influence has stretched beyond national borders.

Hill performed Lane and Paige’s wedding at the Cooper ranch, meeting the bride’s Canadian relatives. Paige and Tatum’s older brother visited the small group, trusted Christ, and decided to stay in Texas. On a later visit, Tatum’s father and younger brother also trusted Christ after coming to small group.

Tatum continued to invite friends, including Jade, a breakaway roping competitor, who was saved. Soon Jade’s brother, her boyfriend, and parents followed suit.

The ripple effect of rodeo salvations continued.

Whole rodeo families, including those of top-ranked competitors qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, have trusted Christ and been baptized, Hill said.

“When I’m baptizing them … somebody will come up from their group and they end up getting saved and we get them baptized,” Hill said. “It’s nonstop.”

When Tatum returned to Canada for three months last September to renew her visa, Hill challenged her to start a small group there, offering to teach remotely. In October, five in Tatum’s family home near Calgary, Alberta, met with Hill via video chat. As with the original group, two were saved that evening.

The group has grown, moving locations to the home of Jenessa and Matt McNichol, whose son, Clay, was also a Weatherford rodeo student. 

Hill and Jon Hartman, Greenwood’s next gen pastor, traveled to Alberta for a week of teaching. Salvations and 15 baptisms followed. Eventually, Tatum’s mother trusted Christ.

Hill continues to teach both the Weatherford and Calgary small groups and plans a return trip to Canada this spring to follow up with the new believers.

“I’m excited to see how God is going to continue to work here,” Tatum said. “I didn’t grow up in a church home. … Now everyone in my family has been saved and baptized.”

Canadians—mostly from Tatum’s small group—were baptized by Hill during a recent trip north of the border. Hill plans a second trip to Canada this spring. SUBMITTED PHOTO

‘God is moving in our country’

“I don’t think the salvations we are seeing are anything unusual,” Hill said. “One, God is moving in our country. And it’s not just in one place: you see pockets everywhere. … I think God’s doing it [this way] because He doesn’t want any one person to get the glory for it.” 

Next, Hill said he has noticed a hunger for Scripture. “If you present the gospel, people will get saved. That’s what we are doing. We do it in our church every single service. We do it in our small group,” he said.

Relationships are important—but simple, clear explanations of the gospel are key.

“The reason why we have people saved in our small group is because … they’re bringing lost people every single week, and they know lost people. And so I’m presenting the gospel every time. I’m not waiting, I’m not letting them think about it. We’re doing it right then and there on the spot,” Hill told a friend. Baptism follows soon after.

“You hear revivals are dying,” Hill said. “We don’t see that. We see lost people saved.”

Hill’s own faith journey is remarkable. The product of a rape, he thanks his mother for choosing to give birth to him rather than seeking an abortion. Saved at age 8, he started preaching at 14 and served as a youth minister at 18. Mentored by widely known evangelist and professor Roy Fish, Hill earned a doctorate of ministry in evangelism from Southwestern Seminary. In 1997, he embarked on a new adventure when he founded his evangelistic ministry. 

As Hill’s small groups will attest, it’s been quite a ride.

Retired missionary mobilizes Black churches to the nations

Keith Jefferson stood at an all-too-familiar pulpit in Cachoeira, Bahia, in Brazil. With gratitude, he looked out at the church he’d partnered closely with during his time on the field over a decade ago. The retired International Mission Board missionary finished his sermon, and a young Quilombola walked the aisle, tears in his eyes.

Broken over his sin, he came forward and buried his head in the preacher’s chest. “I surrender. I just give up. I want Jesus in my life,” he said. That night, he was one of three to decide to follow Christ.

Anytime someone puts their faith in Christ, Jefferson knows it’s an act of God. But when a Quilombola comes to faith, it’s extra special to Jefferson. The entire trip proved to be notable. Later that week, the Jeffersons were honored at another church through song and speeches.

This church was one Keith helped build with his hands 15-plus years ago. He’d returned with a team of volunteers from a church in the United States. He wanted them to see this – the fruit of missions – a thriving church among a previously unengaged people group. He wanted them, and wants all Southern Baptist churches, to catch this vision.

He and his wife Deborah marveled at all God had done in the church since they left the field in 2011. As a plant of the church he preached in earlier that week, he was thankful the Quilombola church was being constantly mentored and encouraged by the local Brazilian congregation about 30 minutes away.

Jefferson returned to a different world than the one he arrived in the late ‘90s.

‘This was beyond my understanding’

While living as a missionary in Brazil, he learned of the Quilombola tribes, an unreached people group. Before 1997, they were largely unengaged. There was one known believer in the entire Quilombo village where Jefferson first visited. They trace their ancestry back to escaped or freed slaves during and after the time of the slave trade in Brazil.

Jefferson first heard of the people through an Afro-Brazilian pastor he worked with during his more than 15 years on the field. At that time, he and Deborah traveled 200 miles from the city where they lived, trekked an hour down a dirt path with the national pastor and found the front door of the small hut where the only known Christian in the village lived.

“How long has it been since a minister has visited this village?” Jefferson asked the believing Quilombola woman.

She replied, teary eyed, “Pastor Jefferson, we have not had a minister in over four and a half years.”

Decades later, while recounting the story, the emotion is apparent in his voice. “As an American Christian this was beyond my understanding,” he said, his voice choking back tears. “I thought to myself ‘So you mean there has been no one to preach, to marry, bury or baptize any individuals?’”

After this initial contact, “I felt God leading me to help take the Gospel to as many Quilombola villages as possible,” he explained.

For the next 10 years, he mapped out and visited villages and surveyed more than 130 Quilombolas. He’d navigate muddy roads, entering regions much different than the Brazilian cities. Single bedroom homes were crafted from mud. Women still carried water from ponds to care for their families and after sunset, everything went dark. With the help of the Brazilian officials and national pastors, he and his team were able to strategically locate clusters of villages, plant churches, host Vacation Bible Schools and share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard the good news.

Staying connected

Each time Jefferson returns to one of his villages, he’s amazed that water and electricity run through modernized homes – often made of brick now.

When Jefferson left his position as an IMB missionary, he wanted to be a part of sending so that more missionaries would take his place, perhaps working among the Quilombolas. He served for five years as the African American missional strategist in the IMB’s Richmond office, where he focused on mobilizing Black churches to the nations.

He’s retired now, but he hasn’t slowed down in his love for Brazilians or his passion to see Black churches on the move. Since retirement in 2016, he’s been on nearly 10 mission trips. At least once or twice a year, he visits his beloved Brazil – like the last trip he took. But he doesn’t go alone because he’s a mobilizer at heart.

When he takes these trips, he brings along leadership from churches he connected with during his time as a missional strategist. There, he introduces the pastors and church leaders to national pastors. In turn, they can form their own relationships – sometimes lasting.

On his last trip, Ken Tilley, pastor of Crosslink Baptist Church in Mebane, N.C., brought with him several church members after experiencing a vision trip with the Jeffersons earlier in 2023. On these trips, they did ministry in the cities, sharing the light of Jesus in a drug-saturated culture, while also visiting Quilombos.

They went into schools and spoke on abstinence, suicide prevention and the dangers of drug abuse. They also hosted sports camps for youth. Because of the culture of respect for elders, both Deborah and Keith agreed that the messages the team shared with the Brazilian teenagers were well-received. In November 2024, Jefferson is planning to accompany another group on a trip, hoping they catch the vision too.

Jefferson believes that retired missionaries are valuable to the ongoing mobilization of churches because they not only have experience, but they also have contacts – if they’ll keep up with them.

“We’re at our peak number of contacts and places we’ve been and pastors we’ve worked with. So, keep up with them,” he encouraged retired missionaries. “It’s important. Don’t let your contacts go. Call up your old friends and pastors and let them know you’re praying for them.”

IMB trustees appoint 62 missionaries; highlight growth in globalization

PHOENIX, Ariz.—International Mission Board trustees approved the appointment of 62 new full-time, fully funded missionaries during their Feb. 14-15 meeting in Phoenix. Trustees met in conjunction with a Sending Celebration for new appointees hosted by North Phoenix Baptist Church on Feb. 14.

Keith Evans, trustee chairman from Washington state, presided over the meetings. Trudy Crittendon, trustee recording secretary from South Carolina, called Thursday’s plenary session to order and opened the meeting in prayer.

The meeting included reports from standing committees: administration, mobilization, global engagement, human resources, LFTT (logistics, finance, travel, technology), marketing and communications and training.

President’s remarks

IMB President Paul Chitwood thanked trustees for their ongoing service and commented on the significant partnerships among Southern Baptists. Chitwood spent time earlier Thursday morning with state convention executive directors.

“All of IMB’s Cooperative Program dollars and the overwhelming majority of our Lottie [Moon offering] gifts come from churches through their state conventions,” Chitwood said. “As such, those state conventions are not only essential partners, they are among IMB’s strongest advocates.”

Celebrating the appointment of 62 new missionaries by the board on Feb. 14, Chitwood told trustees that the missionary candidate pipeline is currently 1,355. He emphasized the importance of encouraging those who have served with the IMB before to return to career service. The missionaries appointed on Wednesday participated in a Sending Celebration at North Phoenix Baptist Church that evening.

Chitwood shared a report from Daren Davis, the leader of IMB’s Sub-Saharan African Affinity. Davis shared earlier in the week about the launch of the Africans on Mission sending body, a partnership of 14 African Baptist entities that will now work together to send cross-cultural missionaries to all of Africa and from Africa to all nations.

“IMB’s role in the formation of Africans on Mission could not be overstated,” Chitwood remarked, “but that is only one example among many of how our investment in the globalization of the missionary task is inspiring sending among our Baptist brothers and sisters the world over. An important part of this investment is our objective to add 500 global missionary partners to IMB teams. Since the pandemic released its grip on the world, we have added 134 global missionary partners to IMB overseas teams and have 136 more GMP candidates currently in the pipeline.”

Global missionary partners are overseas partners, called to cross-cultural missions, sent by their local church or sending entity and affirmed by IMB field personnel. They receive training and ministry resources through their cooperative work with IMB missionary teams.

Chitwood reported that the IMB audited financials for 2023 have been reviewed by the LFTT (logistics, finance, travel, technology) and the audit committees of the board of trustees. “We are happy to report that we’ve received an unmodified opinion by the auditors, which is the highest level of assurance available,” Chitwood said.

“No property sales were used for operations,” he continued. “Reserves were funded at appropriate levels, including commitments to retiring missionaries being fully funded. And as always, 100 percent of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering proceeds were spent on the field. We’re thankful for the generosity of Southern Baptists and their faithful giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Simply put, the IMB would not exist without them.

“We are also thankful for the IMB Finance Team, both abroad and in Richmond. We are blessed to work with many men and women of integrity who love the Lord and desire to see the Gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth. The auditor’s opinion confirms, yet again, what we already knew, and indeed we are grateful.”

Chitwood closed his remarks reflecting on his six years as president. He told trustees that though there is much work to do, “I retire every evening confident of this — the work of the IMB is the Lord’s work. We give ourselves to it as a privilege and a calling but never under the illusion that the Revelation 7:9 vision we long to see fulfilled will in any way be accomplished in our power or according to our plans.

“But the vision will come to pass. Every nation, all tribes, peoples and languages will someday be a part of that great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Might God find us faithful striving to do our part. But might God also find us full of faith that He will do what He has said in His Word, with us or without us. As much as it depends on you and me, let it be with us, not without us.”

A powerful way to edify your church

“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” — Revelation 1:3

Normally, before we preach through any book of the Bible at our church, we have an introductory sermon. For longer books I preach an overview sermon, and for shorter books I will read the entire book and preach a shorter sermon.

As we were preparing to preach through the book of Revelation this year, Revelation 1:3 continued to come to mind. I thought about how amazing it would be to read the entire book of Revelation as a church, but my hesitation came from its length: 22 chapters, 404 verses, 11,472 words (in the English Standard Version). However, after reading it aloud (which took almost an hour, much longer than my 35-40 minute sermons), I couldn’t be happier that we did or more confident in our decision to do so. We knew this would be a new experience for many, so we shared four reasons with our church as to why we did:

Scripture is God’s inspired, inerrant Word

1 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12
While I am full of excitement to preach the depths of God’s truth from Revelation over the next few months, this is better than any sermon I’ll ever preach. I’ll be honest: reading this book will take significantly more time than an average sermon. But there is no better use of your time than to spend time reading God’s inspired, inerrant Word.

Publicly reading Scripture is biblical

1 Timothy 4:13
The public reading of God’s Word is modeled in the Old and New Testament (Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 31:10-13; Joshua 8:34-35; 2 Kings 23:1-2; Nehemiah 8:3-4; Luke 4:16-21). In fact, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra read the law to God’s people from sunrise to noon. But it’s not just a biblical practice that brings blessing: it’s a biblical command (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 1 Timothy 4:13).

Reading entire books brings understanding

Luke 24:27, 44-45; Acts 8:30-35
Each book of the Bible is a complete literary unit. Therefore, knowing what happens in the book provides context to help us understand each smaller part within the whole. Not only should we read books completely, but reading the whole book in one sitting furthers our understanding of the content and purpose of each book and how it fits into the larger story of Scripture.

Faith comes from hearing God’s Word

Romans 10:17
God’s Word is powerful, for by it the universe was created (Genesis 1). And while creation declares God’s glory, God’s Word is what revives the soul (Psalm 19:1-7). This is why the Holy Spirit inspired men to record the 66 books: “That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

After reading this book, we received numerous words of encouragement from members and visitors. Even though it took almost an hour to read the book, everyone’s ears were tuned and their eyes were glued to the page (especially the youth). I cannot wait to see the fruit this will bear on our church in the coming months and years.

Pastors, read entire books to your church on Sunday mornings. It may take a long time, and you may need to change your service around a little bit to allow for more time. But it will edify, strengthen, encourage, challenge, and bless your church. You won’t regret it.

George Liele: A gospel trailblazer who helped thousands come to Christ

One of the most significant figures in the history of Christian missions is a freed Georgia slave named George Liele. Even though William Carey may be called the father of the modern missionary movement, George Liele left America and planted the gospel in Jamaica a full 10 years before Carey left England.

Conversion and early ministry

George Liele came to Christ in 1773, at the age of 23, and was baptized by his White pastor, Matthew Moore. Sometime after Liele’s conversion, his owner, Henry Sharp, who was a Baptist deacon, gave Liele his freedom so he could pursue God’s call. After his conversion, Liele preached for two years in the slave quarters of plantations surrounding Savannah and into South Carolina.

Because of his faithfulness and powerful preaching of the Word, many surrendered their lives to Christ. George Liele was ordained on May 20, 1775, becoming the first ordained Black Baptist preacher in America. After his ordination, he planted the first Black Baptist Church in North America, a church still in existence today.

An open door to preach in Jamaica

In 1778, Henry Sharp was killed in the Revolutionary War. After his death, Sharp’s heirs took steps to re-enslave Liele. As result of their actions, Liele was thrown in jail. Eventually, he was able to produce proper documentation concerning his freedom and was set free.

Soon after his release, Moses Kirkland, a colonel of the British army, befriended Liele and helped him leave the country. Kirkland helped pay for Liele’s trip to Jamaica, and after two years Liele paid this debt and obtained a certificate of freedom for himself and his family. George and his wife, Hannah, and their four children left Savannah and landed in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1782.

When Liele landed in Jamaica it was a British colony. There, Liele found land and a people who needed a missionary. Slaves were brought from Africa to Jamaica to work on the sugar plantations. These men and women had no real knowledge of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Liele planted a church and held a baptism service every three months. These baptisms were public events in which professing converts were baptized in a nearby ocean or river.

The growth of an integrated ministry

The work of the church and the public baptisms caused persecution. Eventually, Liele was charged with preaching sedition and was thrown into prison. He was later acquitted of these charges. Despite facing these hostilities, during the eight years of preaching, he was able to baptize 500 people and establish a strong church.

Not only did Liele’s ministry lead to a spiritual impact on the island, but his work also made a social difference for the Jamaican slaves. By July 31, 1838, slavery was eradicated in Jamaica.

In 1814, there were only about 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica. This number included slaves, freedmen, and some Whites. However, as a result of Liele’s ministry, by 1832 there were over 20,000 believers.

Author David Shannon summed up Liele’s life of ministry this way: “The Christianity practiced by Liele was not limited to one nation, colony, or ethnic group but was a faith found and spread through interaction with colonists and national leaders in the Americas and England. In turn, this broad vision of Christianity shaped and spread a variety of Christian experience that became widespread and influential in Black, White, and integrated congregations in Georgia, South Carolina, Jamaica, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone, and beyond.”

Training and sending out missionaries beyond Jamaica

Not only was Liele an effective missionary and evangelist, he was known for encouraging his converts to go preach the gospel to the lost. As a result of his leadership, they went to Savannah, Georgia, Nova Scotia, and Sierra Leone.

Adoniram Judson is often cited as the first Baptist missionary from the United States. But, in fact, this designation belongs to George Liele. His story is an important part of missionary history and is worthy of emulation.

George Liele died in 1828. He may have begun life as a slave, but he lived as a free man in Christ. He left a rich legacy of thousands who were transformed by the good news of Jesus.

This article first appeared on IMB.

NAMB revitalization expert Clifton offers glimpse of speaking topics at Empower

‘Not one sermon you preach is wasted’

Mark Clifton will be among the speakers at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Conference in February. He serves as executive director of church replanting and rural strategy for the North American Mission Board and as teaching pastor at Linwood Baptist Church in Linwood, Kan. He recently talked with the Texan about some of the topics he plans on speaking about at Empower.

On the role evangelism plays in church revitalization: 

Mark Clifton: [Churches needing revitalization] must spend their time and energy on reaching the lost. If you don’t do that, you’re not going to exist in the next couple of decades. If you reach two or three families who don’t know Jesus, and they’re baptized and then their kids are baptized, guess what? Most of their friends don’t know Jesus, either. … That’s how we see churches come back to life—not through programs, not through events and attracting church people to come to their place, but through evangelism. If you will focus this year on finding one person you can lead to Christ and disciple, it will change the trajectory of your church.

On the need—and challenge—for dying churches to reach younger generations:

MC: [Reaching younger generations is] really the bread and butter for a dying church. If you don’t reach the next generation, you’re not going to have a future. … I just think we’ve gotten way off target sometimes thinking we have to attract young people with young people things. You attract young people by loving them and being authentic with them. If your church will just be who you are authentically and love people with sacrificial love, man, young people will embrace that. You don’t need cool music to reach the next generation. You need authentic music to reach the next generation. If the next generation comes in and hears your older people singing at the top of their lungs … they will love that.

[Churches] always want to reach young people. They just don’t want young people changing anything. But young people are going to come in and they’re going to change some things. They’re going to want to bring coffee in the sanctuary because they bring coffee everywhere they go. They may not dress the same. Some of them may wear their hats in the worship center. Those are the kinds of things older adults are going to have to get over. They can’t give the stink eye to young people for doing that and then expect young people to stay around. They won’t stay.

“But trust me, not one Scripture you read, not one prayer you lead, not one sermon you preach, not one Bible study you lead, not one funeral you conduct—none of that’s wasted, because His Word never goes out and comes back void.”

On his message to discouraged pastors leading struggling churches:

MC: Only eternity is going to reveal the results of your labor. God, in His sovereignty, chose to put you not in an easy place, but in a hard place. He chose to put you in that place because He trusts you and values you with this very difficult task. You’re probably not going to get your reward this side of heaven. Nobody’s going to write a book about you. You’re probably not going to get tweeted about. You may not get asked to preach on the platform someplace. But trust me, not one Scripture you read, not one prayer you lead, not one sermon you preach, not one Bible study you lead, not one funeral you conduct—none of that’s wasted, because His Word never goes out and comes back void. You’ve got to go to bed every night knowing that only eternity is going to reveal the true results of your labor. God will take everything I’ve done in my ministry for Him, and if I’ve done it obediently, He’s going to knit together a story that, when we get to heaven, the angels are going to be amazed with.

Hundreds of students gather for first M3 WKND of the year

EULESS—Cold weather didn’t deter nearly 700 teenagers from attending the first of four M3 WKND events held Jan. 12-13 at Cross City Church. The event was hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention student ministry staff.

M3 WKND is designed to encourage, equip, and empower students to share the gospel wherever they go and with whomever they encounter. The remaining M3 WKND events are scheduled for Jan. 26-27 in East Texas, Feb. 2-3 in Austin, and Feb. 9-10 in Amarillo.

“We will never know the full extent of the fruit of M3 WKND 2024,” SBTC Student Associate Brandon Bales said, “but we do know the fruit of God’s work at this event: 32 professions of faith, 41 committed to be baptized, and 14 placed their ‘yes’ on the table to serve in ministry, missions, or leadership in the local church. To God be the glory.”

The weekend kicked off with a concert—but not the type some students may have been expecting. As the event timer ticked down to zero, students began to cheer, clap, and shout in anticipation of the loud, musical kickoff that often accompanies student events. Instead, they were met with a concert of prayer, with songs and time set aside to focus their attention on Christ. After an object lesson on the filling of the Holy Spirit, students were asked to assume a posture of prayer to seek God. For the first 90 minutes, students, leaders, and others in attendance prayed and sang, petitioning God to fill them with the Holy Spirit so they can be bold in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone anywhere.

Bales said the sight of hundreds of teenagers praying was “chilling—but in a good way.” One student pastor in attendance added, “This is what a revival generation looks like—on their hands and knees praying for God’s power and pleading for the lost around them.”

The weekend was packed with opportunities to equip students to share the gospel. On the first day, students attended two main sessions and two breakout sessions. The main sessions focused on the Lord’s prayer and the urgency to share the gospel. The breakouts targeted core issues students face every day, including the problem with evil; the intersection of science, politics, and faith; bridging the culture gap with authenticity; starting a campus ministry; and reaching unreached people groups.

SBTC Student Associate Brandon Bales speaks during M3 WKND, held at Cross City Church in Euless. SBTC PHOTO

Students also participated in a block party designed to help them socialize. The block party included obstacle courses, drift mini-bikes, jousting, a mechanical bull, and food trucks. But the main point of the block party, Bales said, was to show teenagers they are not alone in the mission to fulfill the Great Commission. One student pastor in attendance said, “It’s a joy watching our students interact with students from other local churches.”

The final element of an M3 WKND is the send-off. But just as the weekend started with a twist, Bales said it ended with one, as well. Instead of the hype and light show that typically concludes the event, a send-off rally was held to help students focus on the words of Jesus as they prepared to head back to their communities and schools: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have taught you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”