Month: June 2024

A little Texas twang in the Big Apple


Long known for its rich culture and diversity showcased in such movements as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, modern Harlem bustles with newly constructed multistory apartment buildings complementing traditional brownstones and thriving new and old businesses. It’s trendy.

Harlem also offers opportunities for the gospel, as the planters of Cultivate NYC are discovering with a little help from some friends at Texas churches and a series of events that could only have been orchestrated by God.

In 2021, Indiana natives Luke Calvert and his wife, Shelby, felt called to plant a church and were surprised when God led them from the Midwest to the Big Apple—a city they had never even visited before.

“We moved to the city on June 1, 2021, in the middle of COVID with a six-month-old baby,” Calvert said. 

During the pandemic, the Calverts saw New York pastors exiting the city at alarming rates. “The Lord was burdening our hearts that the city desperately needed the gospel in a time of strife,” Luke said. In the borough of Manhattan with a population of 1.8 million, only 1.8% believe in Jesus, Calvert said. That percentage of faith is slightly larger—up to 2.4%—over the five boroughs (including Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island) with 7.5 to 8 million inhabitants, he added.

Cultivate NYC uses a mobile Sunday school on wheels in neighborhood outreaches at Christmas and throughout the school year. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Before heading northeast, the Calverts partnered with CrossCreek Church (formerly First Baptist Colleyville) and its CrossCreek church planting network. Through CrossCreek, which became their sending church, and the North American Mission Board’s Send New York City initiative, they completed NAMB’s church planting assessment and underwent training.

Once in Harlem, they made connections. Co-planting pastor Robin Carabin and his wife, Jessica, with more than a decade of experience serving Harlem, joined the work six months after the Calverts’ arrival. Eventually, small group Bible studies grew to monthly gatherings to twice-a-month meetings until Cultivate NYC officially launched in September 2022. 

The church has office space, and on Sundays, the congregation of about 50 meets in a school in northwest Harlem. In neighborhood outreaches, they target West Harlem and the South Washington Heights area, about 30 blocks north of Central Park.

Within the Harlem church, people from all over the world are represented, speaking a variety of languages in addition to English, including French, Creole, Spanish, and German. “We are socioeconomically diverse, ethnically diverse, but united under the gospel,” Calvert said.

The multiethnic Cultivate NYC congregation of about 50 meets in a Harlem school. People from all over the world are represented at the church. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Meeting the people where they’re at

Texas churches are among those partnering with Cultivate NYC, especially during community outreaches.

CrossCreek assists with family days in the summer and children’s programs throughout the school year. Using a truck provided by another ministry organization and featuring a fold-down stage, Cultivate NYC members and volunteers take what Calvert called “a Sunday school on wheels” to strategic areas near massive apartment buildings after school 26 Fridays per year. 

“We mirror the school semester,” Calvert says, noting that the day before, volunteers make home visits and pass out flyers.

The “Sunday school on wheels” features music and characters relating Bible stories. CrossCreek has even sent its children’s ministry mascots to make appearances. Church members engage parents who bring their kids down from nearby apartments. This past year, 10 moms professed faith in Christ and joined the church, along with their families.

The Family Day summer outreach serves some 800 families over two days. Families enjoy snacks, free haircuts, photo opportunities, and the chance to hear about Jesus.

First Baptist Church of Rowlett has made Cultivate NYC’s Christmas outreach possible, not only providing volunteers but also gifts to distribute, as well as meeting other financial needs.

“FBC Rowlett has sent mission teams twice with funds. They have funded 80 to 90% of what we have been able to do with the Christmas outreach,” Calvert said.

“It was as though God tapped me on the shoulder to notice this was a church."

A divine appointment

The Rowlett connection began as a divine appointment.

When the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention sponsored a pastor prayer trip to New York in 2022, FBC Rowlett Senior Pastor Cole Hedgecock went, in his words, to “simply refresh, rest in God, and refocus.” 

One morning during the trip, Hedgecock was strolling outside following a breakfast meeting with Colin Rayburn, SBTC Missions Mobilization associate. The men happened to walk by the Cultivate NYC office in Harlem.

Intrigued by the name on the door, Hedgecock paused.

“It was as though God tapped me on the shoulder to notice this was a church,” he recalled. “An intern opened the door and welcomed us, asking if we had any questions about the church. Then we met Pastor Luke and their team and felt like this was a divine church planting partnership appointment.

“Through the initial conversation, I just really felt like God wanted us to partner with Cultivate,” Hedgecock said. “We connected quickly with their team … and clicked with their heart for Harlem. It really was a God moment where I felt God directing this partnership.”

Since then, FBC Rowlett has taken two groups and nearly 30 people to NYC to help Cultivate with community outreach. FBC Rowlett also financially partners with Cultivate and stays in communication with its leadership team. 

Hedgecock said he has been grateful and humbled by the connection, noting FBC Rowlett had been praying for some time about a missions/church planting partnership. 

“When you go on a trip to focus on communicating with God, it should not surprise you when He speaks to you, taps you on the shoulder, and reveals directions He wants you to move,” Hedgecock said. “Prayer is not just talking to God … but also God speaks to our spirit in prayer. This was evidence of His greater desires for FBC Rowlett.”

A time to rest, recharge & recalibrate

Summer is here! This is a busy time for my family, but we always try to get away for a week or so. Though I love summer, I also realize these next couple of months will go by quickly. I certainly don’t want to get to the end of the season and wonder what I accomplished. 

This is a great time to take a step back and evaluate the first half of the year and set goals for the rest of the year. I try to do this every summer. I want every moment of my life to count for God’s glory. However, if I am not diligent and intentional, time slips away and I find myself wondering why I didn’t do more or why I spent time on insignificant things. 

As we arrive at the midpoint of the year, let me encourage you to do three things:

1. Take time to rest

Summer is a good time to be intentional about refreshing your heart and soul through resting. No, I don’t mean stop working, but simply find the times that are less busy and take some time for yourself. 

2. Take time to grow

I love the summer schedule because it helps me to stop and redevelop a growth plan for my life. This may include practices such as more time in the Word, praying, or reading books that challenge me to be all I can be for our Lord. Take the time this summer to pause the noise and busyness and make a plan to grow. 

3. Take time with your family

The older I get, the more I realize time is one of my greatest assets. I’m also aware more every day that time with my family is one of the greatest needs and investments I have. Summer often allows us to create special family moments and memories. I have heard it said that the older you get, the slower the days go by but the faster the years go by. This is so true. Create some space this summer to invest in your family. You will be grateful you did. 

Life moves fast, but these few months give us a chance to be intentional. I pray the Lord gives you a great summer and that you are refreshed and ready to tackle the remainder of the year with energy and passion for Jesus. I love you and am honored to serve you.

Praying that Jesus will set a fire

Jimmy Pritchard served as the pastor of First Baptist Church Forney for 27 years before passing away in 2021. In 2010, he preached the convention sermon for our annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. He was a wonderful pastor and leader and served as the chairman of the International Mission Board’s trustees.  I served with Jimmy on a mission trip to India. What a great man of God he was!  

Pastor Jimmy once told the story of when he served as the pastor of a church in southern Arkansas. The church had recently built a new parsonage for the pastor. He and his sons, who were 5 and 3 at the time, built a fire to burn some of the construction debris around the new house. 

His wife, Jeannette, came outside and cautioned Jimmy that he should not do that, as the wind was blowing and could be dangerous. He said he was offended by her suggestion that he could not control the situation, so he made a snide comment about her going back in the house and ironing his shirts. As the wind blew upon the fire, little embers began to burn all around, leading Jimmy to stomp them out. 

Then some of the little fires started getting bigger, so he asked his 5-year-old to go get a wet towel. Jimmy used the towel to put out the larger flames and, as he did, he noticed his wife standing at the door watching him. He asked her if she was going to help him, to which she replied, “I have shirts to iron.”  

Then a fire lit in the top of the pine tree by his house, so he hollered out for her to call 911. He said everyone in southern Arkansas had a scanner, so when the call went out that the preacher’s house was on fire, everyone came—the rich, the poor, the sick, everyone. He would later make the point that when a church is on fire spiritually, the people will come—the rich, the poor, the sick. They all will come.  

"Perhaps your love for Christ has grown cold and you need a fresh touch from the Holy Spirit to reignite your passion for Jesus."

John Wesley said, “When a pastor is on fire for Jesus, people will come and watch him burn!” My prayer for all our churches in the SBTC is that they will be led by hot-hearted pastors preaching the Word of God and sharing the gospel with the lost. I am praying even now for your pastor and your local church. Would it not be awesome if all our 2,700-plus SBTC churches were on fire for Christ! 

How zealous are you personally for the things of God? Perhaps your love for Christ has grown cold and you need a fresh touch from the Holy Spirit to reignite your passion for Jesus. The Lord is worthy of our greatest devotion and efforts. Do what Pastor Mark Batterson suggested in his book The Circle Maker—draw a circle around yourself and ask God to move powerfully upon your life and revive your soul.

As the song powerfully states, “You deserve a fiery love that will not deny Your sacrifice.” Let us be on fire for Jesus, living and sharing the gospel until all in our cities and communities have heard the message of salvation. Ask the Lord to set your pastor and all in your church ablaze for the glory of Jesus, and then let us rejoice when people come to watch us burn brightly for our King.

Sharing our homes and our lives for Jesus’ sake

My husband, Dale, and I married 11 years ago—I was widowed and he was divorced—and the thing that attracted us to one another was a mutual interest in missions. Dale was a missionary kid. He grew up in Africa. My first husband and I had been involved in short-term mission trips, so that was kind of the key thing that drew us together.

During this time, my best friend had been teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and she kept telling me I would like volunteering for ESL after I retired. I retired shortly after we married, and I was like, “OK, I am going to give this a try.” I did and was asked to teach the beginning English class to people who know almost no English. I enjoyed it immensely, interacting with them and getting to know their backgrounds. As I got more comfortable with the teaching part of it, God began to move in my heart that I needed to do more than just teach them. I needed to befriend them and be involved in their lives however I could.

God began to show me that this was a way to reach the nations. After a missions training course at our church [Church at the Cross in Grapevine], I began praying for ways to connect with my students. It began with taking some students to lunch and sharing the gospel with them.

“We were willing to go overseas, and we have, but we’ve seen that there’s a huge mission field right here in our town and our own neighborhood.”

Through our women’s ministry I learned of a need [on the internet]—a mother and daughter, refugees from Cuba, were looking for a place to live. First I looked at it and I thought, “Huh, that’s interesting. I’ll just watch this post and see if anybody responds to it.” After a day or two, there were no responses. I showed it to Dale. I said, “What do you think about this?” He encouraged me to find out more, pointing out that we had the resources to provide housing, food, and transportation, and we weren’t uncomfortable with people who speak a different language. One step at a time we looked into it [and met] Griset and her 14-year-old daughter Chanely by Zoom (it was during COVID). We ended up welcoming them into our home in 2020.

They will have been with us four years this August. Dale taught Griset to drive and we helped her do the things that allowed her to get a green card and a job. Our goal is for them to be independent, but there’s been a lot of challenges. Chanely graduated from Grapevine High School in May. Both Griset and Chanely have trusted Christ and were baptized into our church.  

Chanely, Katerina, Debbie, Griset, and Honza at Katerina and Honza’s naturalization ceremony. All four have come to faith in Christ in the last two years and have been baptized at Church at the Cross. Katerina and Honza are from the Czech Republic and are now American citizens.

But that’s just one layer of the story. After things opened up after COVID, I went back to teaching ESL in-person and I started praying, “God, show me who of my students is open to the gospel and who you want me to invest my time in on a more personal level.” That first year back a new student came to my class for the first time. She was from [a Muslim country]. God led me to befriend and invest in her. We’ve had her family to dinner at our house and they have invited us to dinner in their home. All the while she was improving her English and I was learning more about reaching Muslims with the gospel. A second answer to prayer was a relationship I formed with a lady from the Czech Republic. She had a keen spiritual interest, and both she and her husband have now received Christ and been baptized into our church. 

Dale and I had always said that when he retired, we wanted to do some more international mission trips and maybe even do something a little longer term. He retired a couple of years ago and we went on a church mission trip to Japan. But I told Dale, “We could do something else. Let’s see what other opportunities are out there.”

Debbie (far left) sharing Jesus with Muslims in Europe.

So, I went to the International Mission Board’s website and looked at short-term mission opportunities for people our age. The one that popped out at me offered us the chance to witness to tourists from Muslim countries as they visited Europe. We went on a trip and shared with people for about five hours a day for two weeks. When we came home, we were like, “Wow, that was amazing. We want to do this again next year.” We’re actually going to a different spot next time.

We were willing to go overseas, and we have, but we’ve seen that there’s a huge mission field right here in our town and our own neighborhood. It’s been a process, a journey, for us. We’ve learned some important things along the way. Maybe the most important is to take a step toward immigrants or people of other beliefs and engage them. You show them love, share the Bible with them, pray with them in Jesus’ name. You don’t have to know everything there is to know about their religion. You’ve just got to know who Jesus is.

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5 minutes with Kaibin Fu

Kaibin Fu was born and raised in China and answered God’s call to full-time ministry in 2012. He is the founding and lead pastor of Trinity Chinese Church, a congregation of 200, in the Allen/McKinney area, and also a founder of a new network of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Chinese pastors. He is married to Jihong and they have four children: David, Daniel, Christopher, and Joy.

What is something you’ve been able to celebrate at Trinity Chinese Church recently?

We celebrated Good Friday and Easter with a 48-hour fast. At Easter, our focus was on Christ’s death. We emphasized Passion Week and had a daily devotional focused on Jesus’ life that lasted a week. On Thursday, we had a Passover meal. On Friday night, we asked leaders and others to voluntarily start fasting. Scripture and prayers all focused on the crucifixion. On Saturday morning, we held a prayer meeting. On Sunday, we attended a sunrise service with other Chinese churches. At our church [we rent a building from another church], we had afternoon Easter services to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Many people were touched by the Spirit that week. Also, April 26-28, we had our second annual missions weekend, with workshops and activities. Missionaries shared. We visited local Muslim, Hindu, and refugee communities. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your ministry lately? 

We grew pretty fast, particularly in the first two years. We have had to move to a larger place. Our afternoon worship [time] is not ideal. We have bought land and plan to build, but construction costs are high. Our leadership believes we need our own building … for a church and a training and missions center. Our rate of growth has leveled off, also, because of building limitations. 

What’s a lesson you’ve learned to this point of your ministry you know you’ll never forget? 

Our building limitations are a visible challenge. An invisible challenge is to remember that the church is the Lord’s church. In my 12 years since seminary, the Lord has taught me that it is His church … not my church. I should not worry so much. Nor should I take credit for the church. We also have an opportunity to create a church culture. In the church, everyone has a role. As pastor, I am part of the church, but we all have our roles. 

What’s one thing you’d like to see God do specifically at Trinity this year? 

So far, we have had 26 people baptized, but I want to see more local evangelism and more baptisms. Our growth is primarily from migrants from California and the West Coast, from Chinese immigrants who don’t go to church regularly, and some people from other churches. We give thanks for the 26, but we want to see more.

How can other SBTC churches be praying for you?

I really appreciate all the SBTC resources [and] would like to see the new Chinese pastors network grow. There are 18 Chinese churches affiliated with SBTC, 12 in the DFW area. I hope this can bring these Chinese churches together, not to emphasize Chinese culture but to maximize our roles in the church. There are over 100,000 Chinese people in the DFW Metroplex. At most, 5% percent go to church regularly.

Abilene church lauds Regenesis boost as it reaches more of its community

Growing and ready to go

A couple of years ago, North Park Baptist Church had dwindled to about 30 people on Sundays, mostly senior adults. Now attendance has doubled and people in their 30s and 40s have joined.

What has made the difference is God working through a new pastor and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Regenesis process. The church also voted late last year to affiliate with the SBTC, which Joe Grizzle, North Park’s pastor, described as having “such vibrance and youth and excitement.”

A young woman who grew up in the church and now lives in Dallas told Grizzle, “I can see life in this church again.”

“I can see life in this church again.”

Shortly after Grizzle arrived at North Park in early 2022, he was told “if things didn’t change, in six months they were probably going to have to shut the doors.” Then Grizzle got connected through the local association to Shane Kendrix, SBTC’s regional catalyst in that area of the state.

“He texted me and we met for coffee or lunch. We’ve had about 6 million of [those meetings] since then,” Grizzle said, illustrating the commitment Kendrix has shown to the church. North Park attended the SBTC’s Equip Conference, which aims to train leaders in the local church, and took nine people.

“I kept saying, ‘This isn’t our state convention,’” Grizzle said, but his church members noted the value of the trainings offered and the connections they made with other people in attendance.

As 2023 arrived, North Park began to see some improvement—making budget and having a few more people attend. But the church kept hosting block parties and hardly anyone showed up, Grizzle said. 

They started planning a fall festival, and when the pastor asked a member to help, the response was: It’s going to be just like everything else we’ve done. We may get a dozen kids, and it’s going to be a lot of work for nothing.

Meanwhile, Kendrix told Grizzle about Regenesis, a revitalization emphasis, and the pastor hesitated because “we’re not SBTC.” Kendrix said, “It doesn’t matter.” 

“It all spoke volumes. Not once did someone go, ‘You really should join the SBTC.’ And do you know what that made?” Grizzle said. “That made me want to join the SBTC.”

New life has been infused into the church, where a discipleship process is taking root. Submitted photos 

At the fall festival, the fellowship hall was mostly filled with families, which Grizzle considered “beyond a success compared to everything else.” 

During the first Regenesis meeting at North Park, members of various churches were being transparent about their congregations, and someone from North Park said she didn’t feel like she was being discipled. 

That was a hard comment to hear, but Grizzle shot into action in the coming days, asking pastors and other people to define discipleship and how they had been discipled. 

“I got different answers from everybody I asked. Nobody was on the same page,” he said. 

He ultimately landed on curriculum developed by a ministry called discipleFIRST, and he and his wife started working through it with the church member who said she wasn’t being discipled, along with her husband.

“Discipleship has come out of Regenesis. It has changed us,” Grizzle said. “It’s a small part of our church at this point, but we have this vision. Discipleship is going to spread.”

“I’m excited about what the future holds and what God’s going to do.”

North Park is a neighborhood church, and when Grizzle first went door-to-door in the community, he found people were not familiar with the church despite its presence just down the street. Now more people recognize the name.

“The key to Regenesis is being intentional and sitting down and figuring out how you’re going to get from here to there,” Grizzle said. “In the meantime, God is working. You don’t just shut the church down while you’re doing Regenesis. We have absolutely seen God working during this eight months of Regenesis, and it’s been mind-blowing.”

Recently a new member told the pastor, “It’s just amazing what God is doing in bringing some young people.” About that time, seven people joined the church—all under age 40, Grizzle said. Five people were lined up to be baptized.

Last December, after receiving so much help from the SBTC and observing the effectiveness and the kindness of the convention, North Park voted to uniquely affiliate. 

“I’m excited about what the future holds and what God’s going to do,” Grizzle said.

What does a special-needs family experience when they visit your church?

Editor’s note: The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has designated July 14 as Disability Ministry Sunday.

We walked up to the registration area for the children’s classes one Sunday at the church we were visiting in North Carolina while staying with family. The woman we met there asked questions to figure out where the boys should go and typed the answers into her computer.

“What are their names? When are their birthdays? Do they have any allergies?”

The questions were easy to answer for our older son, but our younger son took more explanation. His birthday does not represent his developmental stage. The computer can’t consider all the variables that would tell her what class option would be a good fit. “Can I type in that he was born in a different year? Would that work?” she asked.

It was our first time visiting a new church after James’s autism diagnosis. We didn’t know what to expect, how to prepare, or even whether we would be able to attend or if they would turn us away. The church wanted to welcome us and figure out a way to include James, but without any options for kids who didn’t fit into the usual ministry structure, they weren’t sure how to proceed.

Visiting a church as a special-needs family is challenging. Of course, we are no strangers to challenges. We navigate special education meetings at school to advocate for our kids. We drive them to therapy appointments and incorporate those goals into our family life. And we learn new acronyms and visit specialists. We feel guilty about the time and attention one child requires over the others. And of course, we worry about what the future will look like for our children and ourselves.

Add in the unknown challenges of visiting a church, and you can understand why many families stay home on Sundays. Studies show that a family like mine who has a child with autism is 84% less likely to attend church than a typical family. When you consider that 1 in 36 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with autism, you realize the number of families missing from our churches is significant.

What can churches do to reach and welcome special-needs families? There’s a biblical example they can follow. In Matthew 21, Jesus entered the temple area and drove out those who bought and sold goods and the money changers. What we often overlook in this passage is what came next, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple ….” (v. 14a). There were obstacles in the way that made it impossible for people with disabilities to enter the temple area that they had access to. Jesus overturned and overcame those obstacles, setting an example for us today.

Here are three ways to make it easier for special-needs families to visit your church and feel welcomed:

1. Put information on your website

Special-needs families are often going to visit your website before they visit your church. They will likely look on the children’s ministry page to see if there’s any information about how you accommodate kids with disabilities. Also, consider whether there is a way for them to communicate about their child’s needs before they attend. If you have an online registration option, you can add a question like this: “Does your child have allergies, learning disabilities, or special needs that we can be aware of to make sure he/she is safe and comfortable in our ministry?” If a family answers yes, you can ask more questions so you’re better prepared.

2. Train your greeters and guest services team

They are the first people who will welcome families. Make sure they know how to help a family go to the right place if they want to attend children’s or youth ministry activities. You can also help them know how to meet the needs of families who attend the worship service. In our church lobby, we have noise-reducing headphones and buddy bags with sensory items available for those who need them. Our greeters can make sure families know where they are.

3. Have some level of accommodations available

Churches of every size can take steps of inclusion. There are three common types of accommodations in children’s ministry and Next Gen ministry: inclusive settings (often with additional help from a buddy), specialized settings like a sensory room or self-contained class, or a hybrid of both options (when a student attends class with typical peers and has the option to visit the sensory room when needed).

Your church can work toward these options. For example, if you don’t have space for a designated room, you may have a sensory corner in a classroom or put sensory items in the hallway when kids need a break.

The next time we visited a church, we were better prepared. I had looked at the church’s website ahead of time to see if they had any information on their children’s ministry page about accommodations or options for kids with disabilities. I emailed the children’s ministry director to let her know when we were coming and told her more about James (how he communicates and what might trigger his anxiety).

When we went to the registration area in the children’s lobby that Sunday, they welcomed us warmly and introduced us to the man who would be James’s buddy. The plan was for them to start in the class for his age group and visit the sensory room if he got overwhelmed. When we picked him up after the service, his buddy brought him to us and said he enjoyed music time and playing with trains. We were able to attend the worship service without worrying because we knew they were prepared.

Taking these three steps—putting information on your website, training your greeters, and having a level of accommodations available—will help special-needs families like mine feel welcome, knowing you are prepared for their visit.

Despite deadly storms, ‘the light of the gospel continues’

CELINA—Rapidly developing storms spawned tornadoes and ripped through a series of North Texas communities on Memorial Day weekend, leaving debris, death, and disbelief in their wake. 

Seven people in North Texas were among the 22 who lost their lives across several states as a result of the storms. Homes across the region were reduced to toppled brick, splinters, and mangled metal.

As news stations surveyed the damage in Celina, one camera caught a compelling image—that of a makeshift cross (shown at top right) someone had constructed using two pieces of wood that once belonged to a structure. It was a symbol of the Christlike sacrifice already underway.

As Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers began deploying to affected areas around the state, members of Legacy Hills Church, a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church plant in Celina, were helping friends and neighbors begin to pick up the pieces immediately after the storm—even as some suffered damage to their own homes.

“Today was a devastating day for many in Celina,” Robert Welch, senior pastor of Legacy Hills, wrote on Facebook, “but it’s been awesome to see this growing community dig in so deep and care for one another. So proud and grateful for the many [Legacy Hills Church] men and women who were willing to rally immediately and spend their day using their hands, feet, and hearts to help those who lost so much.”

Two days later, Prestonwood Baptist Church Senior Pastor Jack Graham reported in a video posted on social media that the Plano campus had suffered significant damage. Even so, Graham—standing in a light rain and walking amidst a debris field of soggy insulation scattered across the church’s parking lot—said he was proud of the efforts of Prestonwood members who were reaching out to help those in their community.

“You can blow down the walls, you can blow down the church,” Graham said, “but the witness—the light of the gospel—continues.”

Calling a ministry time-out

Ijust talked to a highly effective yet exhausted pastor who was looking for some ministry coaching on keeping a sustainable schedule. This particular conversation happened to be on the same day I read Mark 6, a passage which finds Jesus and His apostles depleted after the funeral of John the Baptist: 

“His disciples … came and removed his corpse and placed it in a tomb. The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.’ For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place” (Mark 6:29-32).

Jesus and His dozen disciple-apostles were exhausted from a ministry sprint that included Him resurrecting Jarius’ daughter followed immediately by the execution of John the Baptist. One thing ministry peaks and valleys have in common is they leave us exhausted and in need of a recharge. 

Perhaps I’ve caught you at the end of a ministry sprint and you are in much need of a time-out. I found a few practical reasons in this passage to do just that: 

Take a time-out to assess your ministry

I don’t know how many times I have experienced the burn of burnout only to look on my calendar and see how long it had been since I took a real break from my ministry routine. If you have gone more than three months without taking a break from preaching or teaching, you will experience this burn. 

Remember that you are an equipper who has been called to prepare others for ministry. If you are not equipping people for ministry, you are robbing them of it and inadvertently robbing yourself of an opportunity to recharge. 

Who speaks into your schedule consistently? Allow a handful of people from your family, ministry, and friendship circles to call a time-out for you when you become blind to your own limitations. 

Take a time-out where nobody needs you

I realize this is much easier to write about than to do. Ironically, it usually takes some effort to get rested. 

Intentional time-outs are usually a result of some advanced planning. Finding a remote cabin or retreat center that is accessible and affordable is something you probably don’t have spare time to research. Why not ask for help? Most of us belong to an association of churches or a denominational organization that can help you find a remote place. 

Take a time-out to care for yourself

Sometimes stress drives us to work through breakfast or lunch. I got into this harmful cycle a few years back and experienced a season of burnout that led to clinical depression. My normal work cycle had become a work cyclone and I neglected my body, mind, and spirit. 

Jesus called a ministry time-out for His leaders because they were tired. Although not every pastor in Texas will read this, I am praying the ones who need it most will respond by taking time for a time-out this summer. 

Southeast Texas couple seeing gospel fruit after answering God’s call to minister in Zambia

'They were ready to send us'

Three sentences were jotted on the piece of paper a church member handed Nicholas Peveto after a morning worship service in 2011: “The time is short. You need to go. Trust God.”

“Do you know what that means?” the church member asked.

“I know exactly what that means,” Peveto answered. 

God had placed a call on Peveto’s heart to serve as a missionary, but he didn’t know when it would be the right time to go. He had served as an associate pastor of families and missions at First Baptist Church in Spurger for five years, and his wife Alyssa also knew they were to be missionaries.

They just didn’t know when.

“It’s roughly the size of the state of Georgia, and we were the only IMB missionaries here for the longest time.”

The church member God used to nudge the Pevetos that day knew handing over the piece of paper might catch them off guard. Even so, she felt compelled to share with them a message God had put on her heart as she listened to Nicholas promote the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions. 

“I still have that in my Bible. I keep that piece of paper,” Alyssa said. 

That afternoon, the young couple went home, ate lunch, and returned to the church to use the internet and start the application process with the International Mission Board. Later, when they announced their call to the church, “No one was shocked,” Nicholas said. “They were ready to send us.” They arrived on the mission field in 2013.

First Baptist Spurger is a small congregation that would not be able to support missionaries financially on its own, but by giving through the Cooperative Program, the church is able to pool its resources with other churches to support the Pevetos. 

The couple serves in Solwezi, a growing city in a remote area of northwestern Zambia. The area had been without a consistent Southern Baptist witness for nearly 30 years, and though it was not unreached or unengaged, it was underdeveloped spiritually, Nicholas said.

“It’s roughly the size of the state of Georgia, and we were the only IMB missionaries here for the longest time,” he said of their province, noting that an IMB Journeyman recently joined them to target the 65% of the population under age 30 with NextGen ministries. Journeymen are short-term missionaries under the age of 30 sent to reach younger generations.

Solwezi’s population has grown to around 300,000 people, Nicholas said. “We have people from around the world coming to Solwezi for copper mines.” 

IMB Photos

In a church they planted last year, a Chilean man and a South African man help with preaching. A German woman and her husband also feel called to serve as missionaries in Zambia, “so our little church is looking at being their sending church,” Nicholas said.

The Pevetos try not to do anything that cannot be replicated by nationals, said Nicholas, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary. Instead, he focuses on training and mentoring. He also writes and translates material when requested and meets with local leaders.

“On Tuesday, I’m going to drive out 130 kilometers to mentor a guy who is the chairman of the association of churches in that area, kind of like a director of missions,” he said. 

Recently, the Pevetos have started digital engagement, using Facebook to reach a different group of people who are more proficient in communicating using their smart phones. A lot of that digital interaction involves answering questions—something Alyssa can do amid her work at home where she homeschools their two children.

In the past, Alyssa has helped local women realize they can be involved in ministering to abuse victims, prisoners, and orphans. “We want to give them the resources and the tools to make that happen,” she said. 

Zambia’s constitution declares it a Christian nation, Alyssa said, so people are open to the gospel message. The difficulty comes in helping them sort through their foggy cultural understanding of Christianity. 

“A benefit of us staying longer is we’ve learned the way they interpret what we’re saying, and now we’re able to share the gospel in a way that connects with their worldview,” Nicholas added. “We’re having a lot more fruit in evangelism now.”

“A benefit of us staying longer is we’ve learned the way they interpret what we’re saying, and now we’re able to share the gospel in a way that connects with their worldview.”

Cole Clark, pastor of First Baptist Spurger, grew up with Nicholas, even attending the same youth group and graduating from the same high school. The church has been energized toward missions because of their partnership with the Pevetos.

For instance, the church prayed for a specific people group the Pevetos were trying to reach. Once that prayer was answered and inroads were made, the church prayed the new believers would be able to find a place to meet corporately. 

“Then that started happening,” Clark said. “They were trying to make some focused discipleship among women and younger people, and that started to work out. Now they’re at the point where they’re trying to call a pastor there.” 

Such experiences let them know that God uses their prayers, the pastor said, just like He used one of their own to nudge the Pevetos across the globe.