Author: Russell Lightner

What’s your story? He’s the God of the mountaintops and the valleys

Both our daughters were in intensive care for over 100 days after their births. But it was our first daughter who needed a miracle.

Alanna was born just about the time of the COVID lockdown, March 2020. She was about seven weeks premature, but the doctors thought everything was looking good. She was healthy and we were excited.
About three days after she was born, we got called down to the ICU and the doctor told us he heard something in her heart. He called it a heart murmur. It basically was making a noise that it wasn’t supposed to make. He said in all his years of working as a doctor, he’s only seen it three times. Our Alanna had a rare congenital heart defect that caused a vein in her heart to pump blood to the wrong spot. We noticed that her skin color was almost a bluish tint—she just wasn’t getting the oxygen she needed.

The doctor told us we had to transfer her to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, so we used an emergency transport from Arlington. This was the third day after we knew she was ill.

As you can imagine, my wife, Jamille, and I were just praying. We were so fearful. And Jamille actually wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital because her blood pressure was high because of the shock of the event, I guess. So it was just me. I ended up following the ambulance to Cook Children’s.

I remember following the ambulance and, like any other father would do, just saying a prayer and asking God to heal her. After getting to Cook, I didn’t hear anything for about an hour. And then a nurse stepped out and said, “We got her stable, but she almost didn’t survive the car ride because of the transportation and the stress on her body.”

Fast forward a few days later. My wife is out of the hospital and we’re both able to go to Cook Children’s. They explained that Alanna’s situation was so severe, she’s going to need open-heart surgery. Because she is premature, they wanted to wait three months before doing the surgery.

"It’s easy to remember that God walks with us on the mountaintops, but now I know He walks with us in the valley."

Nearly every day we were at the hospital. Jamille and I took a break from our jobs—she’s a nurse and I worked for an insurance company. COVID restrictions had kicked in by this time and only one of us could be in the hospital at a time, so we switched off. Jamille usually stayed during the nights while I slept in the car. It was pretty difficult for us.

We did that for three months. Alanna made progress and was just growing as we prepared for the heart surgery. And then, three months later, she was big enough for the doctor to feel comfortable doing the surgery. The surgeon sat us down and explained the risks.

All along, we’re just praying, hoping, believing that God would heal her. And she was healed, through an hours-long surgery. The surgeon said there weren’t really any major complications with the surgery itself, but that she would need routine heart checkups as she continues to grow. She’s doing well now.

I think the big question for us was, “Why?” But looking back, one of the lessons we learned is we can’t confuse God’s silence as absence. All the way through that whole process, He was with us, talking with us, providing for us, carrying us, giving us support. There are so many things that I can look back on and can see how God was with us the whole way. We’re just really grateful. And now we have an awesome story to share about our daughter and her life. It’s turned out to be a blessing.

Our church is called Mosaic Fellowship Church. We’re in Arlington. My father founded Mosaic in 2007 and pastored it until he passed away in 2018. I have been the pastor for about four years this month. God has surrounded us with great people. Our church supported us with love, prayers, and even finances. They supported us while we were staying with Alanna.

There is one story where, about two months in, we were just blowing through our savings because neither of us was working. I was thinking I should probably go back to work, but I didn’t want to because Alanna still needed the surgery. I remember going to our mailbox and finding a check for two months of expenses for us. We received this check at just the right time we needed it. It allowed us to stay at the hospital and make sure she was all set before we went back to work.
So what’s my story? It’s easy to remember that God walks with us on the mountaintops, but now I know He walks with us in the valley.

What's your story?

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

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Pastor, who is the Barnabas in your life?

Every pastor needs a Barnabas in his life. Barnabas was not only a mentor to Paul, but a faithful friend and peer. I have a handful of ministry friends who have been firewalls for me against isolation, loneliness, and spiritual drift for 35 years of vocational ministry. 

Pastoral wellness is not realistic or sustainable without the help of other pastors. So why don’t more pastors receive this kind of support from other pastors? The primary reason, in my opinion, is that we don’t ask or don’t know what a Barnabas looks like.

What does a Barnabas-type friendship look like?

A Barnabas will be supportive. 

Barnabas was a Jewish priest from Cyprus whose real name was Joseph. The apostles preferred to use his nickname, which is translated “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36).

All pastors and ministry leaders need a Barnabas who will speak words of encouragement, and sometimes rebuke, into their lives.  

When his nephew, John Mark, “wimped out” on his first mission trip, Paul wanted to permanently kick him off the team. Barnabas chose instead to mentor Mark, who got back on his feet and became a contributing author to the best-selling book in history. Mark would also become an invaluable partner to Peter, and yes, even Paul.

A Barnabas will be unselfish. 

In Acts, we read about the generosity of this church leader: “Barnabas sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).

You have enough takers in your world. A Barnabas is the type of friend who will think of your needs as more important than his own (Phil 2:3).

A Barnabas will be loyal. 

When the Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch, he took along a risky new convert named Saul (aka: Paul). Paul had a reputation for persecuting Christians before his conversion, and few assumed Paul was a genuine convert. However, the apostles trusted Barnabas, and Barnabas trusted Paul. Otherwise, Paul may not have had his first ministry opportunity (Acts 11:22-30). 

"Pastors need more sons of encouragement who are committed to helping other pastors succeed. Who are you encouraging, and who is encouraging you?"

A Barnabas will be mature. 

When the church at Antioch began to grow exponentially through the conversion of Gentiles, the leaders in Jerusalem got a little nervous. They sent a mature and trusted representative, Barnabas, to check it out, “For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:24). 

Pastors need a mature confidant they trust, as much as the early church trusted Barnabas, to share victories and defeats with. This kind of partner is invaluable when we need someone to talk us off the cliff of ministry suicide, when we are on the verge of a tantrum, or worse.

A Barnabas will be humble. 

Paul was a good writer and speaker, yet there was no evidence of Barnabas doing either. Most Christians are not called or gifted to take up the pen or microphone, so we may be tempted to assume that our gifts are inferior to those on stage. 

Somewhere along the way, “Barnabas and Paul” became “Paul and Barnabas.” It is a change that Dr. Luke subtly, but intentionally, makes in the book of Acts. 

A Barnabas will be bold. 

Barnabas was more than just a nice guy. He didn’t back down from Paul when they had a sharp disagreement about John Mark (Acts 15:36-39). Sons of encouragement don’t look casually beyond our weaknesses. They walk through those challenges with us.

Pastors need more sons of encouragement who are committed to helping other pastors succeed. Who are you encouraging, and who is encouraging you?

Four life-changing resolutions for 2023

Some pastors are resolution rebels who discourage others from making resolutions because of the predictably high rate of failure. Many resolutions fail because they are unrealistic or just flat uninspiring.

What if you made four life-changing Great Commandment resolutions for 2023 instead of a bunch of lame ones that you will eventually blow off? 

A scribe asked Jesus, “Which command is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-30; Deuteronomy 6:5-6). Like you, this scribe already knew the answer to this question. He had been quoting that passage twice a day his entire life, as had his relatives back to the day Moses originally penned the Shema about 1,500 years earlier. 

Healthy churches are led by healthy pastors who love Jesus with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength. I want to challenge you to write out a simple, practical plan based on the Great Commandment.

1. “With all my heart”

My secret to staying spiritually healthy is really no secret at all. I start every day in prayer and Bible study. I use a chapter-a-day reading plan which walks me through the Bible in three years. 

The most important commandment in the Bible reminds me of my most important relationship in life. I aspire to put Jesus first by devoting myself to prayer and ministry of the Word before I allow myself to connect with others on social media, phone, email, etc. Everyone else can and should wait in line behind my first love. 

"2023 can be a breakthrough year for you or it can also be another year to do absolutely nothing but drift. Without a biblical, practical plan, you are simply walking into another year with a wish list. "

2. “With all my soul”

My soul (life) is the internal part of my life which is constantly in need of being restored, renewed, and refreshed. 

Whether you prefer the term soul-care or self-care, does your interior life need a little rearranging or refreshing this year?

King David allowed God to restore his soul in green pastures and beside still waters (Psalm 23:2). Where are the “green pastures” where your soul is best restored? My soul soars on hiking trips with my wife, Janet, and on bowhunting trips with friends. Ministry is very fulfilling, but we all need a life outside of it. Is there something you love doing that you have been putting off? 

3. “With all my mind”

My 2023 plan to stay mentally healthy includes reading one book a month on whatever format is most convenient to me. My mental health plan also includes a filtering system to keep tempting media out of reach, and brainless media to a minimum.

Some of you need to consider talking to a mental health professional this year. I have no regrets about doing that a dozen years ago. Would it surprise you to hear that Guidestone’s mental health claims are up 40% from just three years ago?

4. “With all my strength”

It is hard to love Jesus with all of my strength if I have depleted it all. Janet and I often jog or walk together and are equally committed to eating healthy at home and on the road. We set and share fitness goals which are specific and realistic to our stage of life.

Ocean rip currents are responsible for countless drownings and lifeguard rescues every year. They are dangerous to swimmers because even though they are as strong as river currents, they do not pull you under the water or give you any resistance at all. All you must do to drift into danger is—nothing. 

2023 can be a breakthrough year for you or it can also be another year to do absolutely nothing but drift. Without a biblical, practical plan, you are simply walking into another year with a wish list. 

Young mom finds new life in Christ and a new church home

Haevanle (pronounced heavenly) Satterfield prayed for God to send her a church home in 2021. The 27-year-old single mom had gotten a New Testament from a Little Free Library box at the Cedar Hill park where she had taken her young son.

She opened the Scripture, the New Living Translation, and started reading about Jesus.

“This is nothing like the King James version,” she recalled thinking. “I could understand it.” The more she read, the more she “fell in love with Jesus.”

Baptized at age 5 in a swimming pool after a church bus ministry came to her neighborhood, Haevanle believed in God but “didn’t know the information,” although she had the desire to know more about Him. “I know what I felt,” she said. “But I didn’t know Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life.”

Childhood trauma followed her. Finally, at age 22, she felt she had “arrived,” at last able to afford her own furnished apartment. Then it all went up in smoke, literally, as kids playing with matches sparked a fire that destroyed her building, leaving her homeless.

The next several years she lived with various relatives and tried to find her moorings, co-parenting her son with his father who lives in the DFW area.

“I wasn’t living for purpose. I was living for me,” she said. But in that park, she read the Word of God and found it “beautiful.”

Life didn’t magically turn around. There were still struggles, and she started praying for a church home.

An unexpected turn

The morning of Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, the opposition seemed particularly strong.

“The enemy was on my mind terribly,” she recalled. Despairing and crying hysterically while driving on Interstate 20 to a housekeepking job in North Richland Hills, Haevanle was following her GPS—until she felt prompted to exit the freeway. 

She resisted, stating that, “I was arguing with the Lord. I didn’t realize at the time it was the Lord.” Finally, she exited the freeway and turned into the parking lot at Tate Springs Baptist Church in Arlington. 

“I didn’t see anybody who looked like me. I am an African American woman. I have dreadlocks. I didn’t think I would be welcomed in this part of town,” she recalled thinking. “My insecurities were prevalent.”

She sat in the car about 30 minutes and just “bawled.” She made her way toward the church entrance but paused to sit on a bench outside for 45 minutes. She texted her supervisor to explain she would be late for the job, which was okayed. At last, she mustered enough courage to approach the door and push on the intercom doorbell before scurrying away.

“Hello, can I help you?” a voice came on a loudspeaker. Haevenle couldn’t answer. “It’s OK sweetheart, I’ll send someone to you,” the voice said.

Pastoral associate Thomas McCarty came out asking how he could help.

“I don’t have any idea why I am here,” Haevanle said.

“You want to come in and we can talk about it?” McCarty asked.

That conversation changed her life. The church staffer listened to Haevanle as she poured out her fears and concerns.

“Anything the enemy had told me that morning, he knocked it down Scripture by Scripture,” she recalled of that talk with McCarty, who asked if she had a church home and assured her that Tate Springs would love to have her come.

She came on Sunday.

“That first service, I just smiled the entire time. I realized why God wanted me here. I had never felt more welcome in any church. … I never felt kingdom love like that before.”

On Nov. 14, 2021, she was baptized at church by McCarty.

“He wants to do what He has done for me for everyone. He wants us all to be in a relationship with Him. It’s available to everyone, not any one race or ethnicity. We are all welcome.”

Growing and blessed

Since then, Haevanle has participated in a discipleship program and Bible study. Church friends with connections at local school districts recommended her for jobs and she recently started working as a teacher’s assistant in special education at Lamar High School, the most fulfilling job she has ever had and her first salaried position.

“I’ve worked since I was 14,” she said. “But this is where I belong. It’s so wonderful,” she said, adding that students often come to her and ask questions about Jesus and heaven.

And God continues to bless.

Money was running short before Haevanle received her first school district check. Driving from Cedar Hill to Arlington for school, church, and Bible study, and then to pick up her son from his father’s house in Waxahachie, proved to be expensive. 

Her Bible study leaders offered her money but, as she said,
“I didn’t want to take, take, take. I want to earn it.” 

She was down to five dollars when an unexpected blessing happened. A woman followed her for miles on the freeway before pulling up alongside her at a Cedar Hill gas station. 

“God told me to bless you,” the woman said after approaching Haevanle’s car and handing her a $100 bill. Not even looking at the bill’s denomination, Satterfield jumped out of her car and gave the lady a hug.

“You have no idea what you just did for me,” Haevanle exclaimed. “I had no idea how I was going to get to work tomorrow. You just touched my heart so much.” The lady reached into her purse and pressed another hundred on her.

“I haven’t done anything to deserve this,” Haevanle thought. Then she remembered: “It’s not what God is doing for me; it’s what He will do through me!”

Calling it an honor and privilege to share her story, Haevanle said of God: “When you start running for Him, He will be running to you. He wants to do what He has done for me for everyone. He wants us all to be in a relationship with Him. It’s available to everyone, not any one race or ethnicity. We are all welcome.”

Dios fusiona el sueño de un hombre de emprender con alcanzar a otros en la PIB de Forney en Español

Trabajando en los negocios del Padre

El ministerio pastoral siempre ha sido una parte importante de la vida de Eduardo “Eddie” López. Creció como hijo de pastor y vio a muchos otros miembros de su familia respondiendo al llamado de Dios a predicar y pastorear.  

Puede que ejercer ese llamado fuera bueno para ellos, pero López tenía otros planes para su vida. Siempre quiso ser empresario. 

“Pídeme lo que quieras,” le decía López en oración a Dios hace muchos años, “excepto ser pastor.” 

Pero cuando López empezó a emprender, sintió un vacío que sus negocios no podían llenar. Ese vacío, según él pudo comprender, provenía por estar huyendo de lo que sabía que era la voluntad de Dios para su vida: servir en el ministerio pastoral. 

“El Señor me permitió cumplir todos mis sueños para mostrarme que nada de eso llenaría mi vida,” dijo López.

Finalmente, López respondió al llamado de Dios al ministerio pastoral y dedicó tres años a prepararse para servirle en esa capacidad. Fue durante ese tiempo que recibió una llamada de Richard Pile, el pastor de misiones de la Primera Iglesia Bautista (PIB) de Forney, quien le presentó una propuesta para iniciar una iglesia hispana. La ciudad de Forney, situada a unas 25 millas al este de Dallas, tiene una población de unas 24,000 personas, de las cuales el 20% son hispanas. 

El sueño de plantar una iglesia hispana comenzó cuando el pastor de la PIB de Forney, Jimmy Pritchard, quien falleció en el 2021, vio la necesidad de ministrar a un grupo de creyentes hispanos que trabajaban en la cocina de la iglesia. Ese grupo de trabajadores recibía estudios bíblicos a través de un misionero hispano que había venido a la iglesia, pero Pritchard sintió que necesitaban más que materiales de estudio. 

Necesitaban un pastor que hablara su idioma.

“Cuando conocí al pastor principal, él supo de inmediato que yo era la persona que Dios estaba llamando para iniciar la obra hispana en Forney,” dijo López.

López comenzó a trabajar junto a su esposa Zoila, a quien describe como una “ayuda incondicional y pieza esencial” de su vida y ministerio. El grupo hispano comenzó a reunirse en una capilla propiedad de la PIB de Forney con capacidad para unas 50 personas. Con su esposa a su lado, López hizo un poco de todo, desde dirigir el culto hasta enseñar. También empezó a trabajar con el grupo hispano en la cocina de la iglesia, ganándose su confianza y enseñándoles a invitar a sus amigos no creyentes a sus celebraciones o reuniones habituales.

“Como pastores, a veces dudamos de lo que Dios nos está llamando a hacer. Pero si Dios nos ha llamado, Él proveerá todos los recursos y las personas para el momento indicado.”

“Es más fácil que [personas no creyentes] vengan a una celebración que a la iglesia,” les decía López. De este modo, cuando López asistía a las actividades de los miembros de la iglesia, se presentaba como el pastor de la iglesia hispana y se hacía amigo de ellos. Esto, a su vez, abrió la puerta para compartir el Evangelio. Muchos comenzaron a entregar sus vidas a Cristo y la naciente iglesia hispana comenzó a crecer.

Hoy, las misiones y la multiplicación son el enfoque de López y la PIB de Forney en Español. Sin embargo, López dijo que su preocupación no es multiplicar el número de miembros que tiene la iglesia. En vez de eso, su enfoque es plantar iglesias y extender el alcance del evangelio para expandir el reino de Dios. 

“En nuestra iglesia hay dos tipos de personas: los que van [al campo misionero] y los que envían [misioneros],” dijo López, quien recientemente fue elegido vicepresidente de la Convención de los Bautistas del Sur de Texas. Esta mentalidad misional, añadió, ayuda a los miembros de la iglesia a dedicar más tiempo de sus vidas a centrarse en los demás y no en sí mismos.

Una de las oportunidades que el Señor ha dado a la congregación para centrarse en los demás en la comunidad es a través de un evento anual llamado Celebrando la Herencia Hispana. Como parte del evento, la iglesia invita a miembros de la comunidad de diversas nacionalidades—incluyendo, no sólo hispanos, sino también asiáticos, indios y otros—a confraternizar y degustar aperitivos de diferentes países. El evento ha tenido tan buena acogida que las congregaciones en inglés y español de la PIB de Forney se han comprometido a organizarlo conjuntamente el año que viene.

Además de procurar alcanzar a la gente que se encuentra al cruzar la calle, López dijo que la PIB de Forney en Español ha plantado tres iglesias en diferentes ciudades del Metroplex – Dallas, Seagoville y Mesquite.

Además, Dios ha abierto las puertas para que la iglesia opere un ministerio internacional llamado “Semilla de Vida” en México. El ministerio brinda apoyo gratuito a iglesias marginadas que no tienen los recursos financieros para continuar predicando el evangelio y ofrece entrenamiento y cuidado a pastores y sus familias. Forney en Español proporciona recursos a tres iglesias en pueblos muy remotos de México y también ha apoyado a congregaciones y pastores en Cuba y Puerto Rico. López dijo que la PIB de Forney en Español está orando para que algún día pueda establecer el ministerio en los Estados Unidos. 

“Como pastores, a veces dudamos de lo que Dios nos está llamando a hacer,” dijo López, quien, además de ser pastor, es dueño de un restaurante Tex-Mex llamado Tino’s en Sunnyvale. “Pero si Dios nos ha llamado, Él proveerá todos los recursos y las personas para el momento indicado.”

Empower speaker Ripken says Christianity is safe—until we tell others about Jesus

ripkens

Nik Ripken is a pastor, missionary, and author who is considered one of the leading voices in advocating for and spreading the message of believers who live in persecution around the world. He and his wife, Ruth—who have interviewed more than 600 persecuted believers in 72 countries—will be among the guest speakers at this year’s Empower Conference. Ripken recently spoke with the Texan about why faith in America isn’t often risky and why not sharing our faith is a form of persecution in itself.

TEXAN: You’ve said believers in persecution have often told you they’ve never felt closer to Jesus than when their faith costs them something. In America, faith isn’t often risky, costly, or sacrificial. Why is that? 

NIK RIPKEN: It gets risky when people share their faith. It gets risky when they cross the street [to share their faith]. Believers in persecution tell me that they are holding Satan hostage in his own backyard so that we are more free [to share our faith] here. And when they hear that they’re suffering in persecution and I am not taking advantage of that spiritual freedom that they’ve bought for me, that’s more devastating than anything their persecutors do to them. They cannot understand how we can be so silent in our witness when it doesn’t cost us anything.

Satan wants two things: he wants to deny people access to Jesus, and if he cannot keep them from Christ, he wants believers to be marginalized. In other words, he wants them to be silent in their witness. Generally, you can avoid most persecution just by keeping Jesus to yourself. 

TEXAN: In your many decades of experience, what have you learned about how believers in other parts of the world view persecution compared to how believers in the western world view it? 

NR: As Ruth and I go from church to church, 99% of the time someone in leadership is going to say to us, “You know Nik, persecution has come or is coming to America” … because of their stance on a social issue like homosexuality or abortion. I’m a very conservative Christian and I have very biblical stances on social issues … but there’s not a believer I have met out of over 600 I’ve interviewed that’s ever been persecuted for a stance on a social issue. They’re persecuted because they are living and sharing the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We’re from a faith system that sees persecution as bad and as something to be avoided. What we’ve learned from believers [in other parts of the world] is that persecution is normal. It’s neutral. It’s not good or bad, and it’s what you do with it that gives it value. … When we look at it through the lens of some of the greatest movements of God, where there is a bold witness that leads to a great harvest, there’s great persecution. 

Believers in persecution understand that the number one reason, or cause if you will, of persecution … is when large numbers of people come to Christ. And they don’t want us to feel sorry for them, because they say they have never felt so close to Jesus as when their faith is costing them something. It is not that they’re being flippant or that they’re throwing themselves away—it’s just something Jesus does when you put yourself in His hands with no reservation.

"We’re from a faith system that sees persecution as bad and as something to be avoided. What we’ve learned from believers [in other parts of the world] is that persecution is normal. It’s neutral. It’s not good or bad, and it’s what you do with it that gives it value."

TEXAN: What have you learned on the mission field that can help us here in America be more missional in our daily lives?

NR: There are pastors who are super evangelistic and they’re baptizing hundreds of people, but they’re doing it through something that’s attracting people into the church for the most part. But the number one way people in other parts of the world, especially Muslims, come to Christ is by sharing meals with believers like you and me in our home.

Believers are taught that witnessing is a drive-by [event] rather than loving people. Acts 2 tells us how those early believers were meeting daily in homes and how they were breaking bread, how they were sharing the Word, and how, as a result, people were being added to the kingdom and being baptized daily. What if, in Dallas, Texas, a Pentecost-like movement is predicated by how many times we share meals in our homes and in the homes of lost people? 

TEXAN: What do you want those who hear you and your wife speak at Empower to better understand about missions and persecution when they walk away from the event?

NR: One thing we’re going to emphasize at the Empower Conference is that sending is much harder than going. I often ask churches the question, “Which is harder, dying on a cross or sending your only Son to die on a cross?” We know we only do this for one reason and that is for Jesus Himself. And if I don’t believe Jesus is worth my life, the life of my wife, and the lives of my children … [the question is] not only why would I go, but the harder thing is why would I send?

I think when we come to Christ and we share our faith, we identify with our brothers and sisters in chains. When we supposedly come to Christ and keep Jesus to ourselves, we identify with those who chain our brothers and sisters. Because when we withhold our witness from our family and our friends and our colleagues, we persecute them through eternity. The worst persecution on Earth is not having access to Jesus. So when I keep Jesus to myself, I have persecuted those around me.

Ripken’s documentary, “The Insanity of God,” will be screened at the Empower Conference. For more information on the film, visit nikripken.com/film.

What if?

If you are like me, at the end of the year I begin to reflect and look forward. It has been said the reason the rearview is smaller than the windshield is because you are not supposed to spend as much time looking back as you are to be focused on looking forward. 

As I look forward to 2023, I find myself getting excited about the possibilities. I get excited thinking about what goals and dreams I should set and how to accomplish them. As I began thinking through the next year as a family of churches known as the SBTC, I kept coming back to the question: “What if?” Allow me to share with you some “what ifs” I am dreaming about for the SBTC in 2023:

What if we could see more lost people come to Christ than ever before?

As we enter 2023, I want to be more aware of the lostness around me and more diligent to take every opportunity to share Jesus with others. What if, as a family of churches, we focused on taking the gospel into our communities with a renewed passion to see people saved?

What if we could experience a movement of God through a prayer movement in our state?

As you may have heard, one of our goals this year is to see at least 500 SBTC churches across Texas holding consistent prayer gatherings. I know there are many churches that currently have prayer meetings and many that desire to start one. I believe prayer could help us see God move in our churches and state like never before.

"I believe if we dream together, stay focused on the mission, and cooperate together, the greatest days are ahead of us."

What if we planted more churches than any other time in our history?

In our first year of Send Network SBTC, our family of churches planted more churches than we have since 2005. It was an incredible year, and we believe it’s just the beginning. What if this year, many SBTC churches decided to help plant churches across the Lone Star State? I believe we could very well see more churches planted together than any other time in our history.

What if more churches were strengthened and more pastors encouraged?

One of the greatest joys we have in our calling at the SBTC is to walk alongside churches, pastors, and leaders as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission in their context. We are expecting great things to happen as we walk with churches through our newly launched church health and revisioning process, Regenesis.
It is our deep desire to see churches strengthened as pastors and leaders are encouraged and work through a process together to bring new life, vision, and energy into their contexts. I am asking God to allow this to be a catalyst for church health and leadership. 

As I look through the windshield and ask these “what if” questions, I get excited about the possibilities. As we have the honor of serving you and adding value to your church, we are seeing God do great things. However, I believe if we dream together, stay focused on the mission, and cooperate together, the greatest days are ahead of us. 

I have thought a lot about the questions listed above. I have dreamed about what could be and, in the midst of my dreaming, the question began to change. I am no longer asking, “What if?” for 2023. I am now asking, “Why not?” As you make your “what if” lists for the next year, let your mind and heart then ask, “Why not? Why not here? Why not us? Why not now?”

I love you and consider it an honor to serve our family of churches!

Newly affiliated FBC Caldwell sees God’s faithfulness through cooperative mindset

When First Baptist Church of Caldwell affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention last August, it brought a rich history into the youngest Southern Baptist state fellowship. First Baptist is older than the SBTC and, actually, older than the state of Texas.

First Baptist Caldwell was founded during the Texas Republic in 1843. That central part of the state is rich in Texas history as the Republic’s capital moved back and forth between Washington-on-the-Brazos, southeast of Caldwell, and Austin, west of Caldwell, during the 10 years of independence. Southwestern Seminary’s founding president, B.H. Carroll, was one of the church’s early pastors. 

“I think that the history of the church tends to give us a picture of God’s faithfulness over the years. It wasn’t just in those beginning days,” Pastor Shane Dismuke said. “He remained faithful in the midst of the body over the years. The people love their history, and they love their building, and they love the community. But what makes this place impactful has been God’s faithfulness.”

Missions is a big part of church’s story. They have an ongoing missionary project in Matamoros, Mexico, and have planted a Spanish-speaking congregation just down the road. This in addition to faithful contributions through the Cooperative Program. 

“God seems to have spurred an excitement among our people for the gospel; the church has a rich history of missions,” Dismuke said. “We’ve done two [mission] trips in the last six months. We have another one in March and another one in June, which are all in a partnership with Matamoros. We still have a partnership with Uruguay that we’re helping down there as well. And the church has historically planted other churches.” 

A love for missions is also what drew the church to the SBTC. Dismuke said the commitment of the convention to emphasize worldwide outreach and statewide needs was appealing to his church. 

Shane Dismuke and his wife, Shannon.

“I did the research,” he said, “and I found out that the SBTC was sending the majority of its money to the SBC for missions efforts and the furthering of the seminaries, the furthering of NAMB, the furthering of IMB. For me, that was where I wanted our money going.”

Dismuke came to Caldwell about 15 months ago with his wife, Shannon, and two teenage daughters. He’s seeing some growth and excitement at First Baptist Church as it recovers from the COVID slump. He describes his work there as one of revitalization. 

“This is kind of what we’ve done in ministry for over 26 years. And every church we’ve served at, it’s been a process of revitalization,” he said. “Some of them we’ve helped after splits and got them back going well and done more like a transitional thing. 

“I don’t think there’s a church in the country that doesn’t need revitalization. If we stop renewing, we stop growing, and renewing doesn’t mean changing our goal. Giving a new challenge, a new direction, a new vision on a regular basis is part of what keeps us as a people thriving in the right direction.”

In a sermon last October, during the Independence Baptist Association’s annual meeting, Dismuke described cooperation between churches as part of “church health.” 

“So, if one of the churches that is struggling needs help that we can address financially, we don’t want to just put our words towards it. We want to put our finances behind it, our people behind it."

“And not just health in the church alone,” he added, “but in the overall gospel message.
I preached [to our associational meeting] from Ecclesiastes 4:10-12 and I talked about [cooperation] producing a better outcome and an accountable encouragement and a sustainable ministry, and basically being engineered to carry us through opposition within our churches.”

One way that First Baptist Church has expressed its love for missions and cooperation is by helping sister churches in the area. The church’s 2022 budget included what they call a “fostering fund” for local needs. 

“So, if one of the churches that is struggling needs help that we can address financially, we don’t want to just put our words towards it,” Dismuke said. “We want to put our finances behind it, our people behind it.

“Last summer, we did two vacation Bible schools for other local churches. Not to outreach for First Baptist, but to outreach for them. We funded those, and we sought to reach folks in their community for that body of believers. That’s the point. We are all on the same team and we have one purpose and that’s to give God glory.”

Galveston pastor, family head west to reach college students for Christ

Chris and Kristyn Cummings started the new year with a new address, as they moved their family of six from Texas to Tucson to plant a new church.

Even before the move, Kristyn, a pediatrician, started working at a medical facility near the University of Arizona. Chris preached his last sermon as discipleship and college pastor of Coastal Community Church in Galveston on Dec. 18. With their children’s school semester at an end, the couple packed up their four kids—ages three to seven—and headed from the beach to the desert.

Why Tucson?

Despite its educational, natural, and cultural assets, Tucson—the second largest city in the state after Phoenix—can be as spiritually dry as its Sonoran Desert surroundings.

The city landed on Cummings’ radar after Kristyn’s sister relocated there for a job in the aerospace industry. As Chris wrapped up his master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary via its Houston extension in May, the couple began praying in earnest for the opportunity to plant a church. They wanted a college town and considered Corpus Christi and other Texas locations. 

Then Kristyn started investigating out-of-state possibilities and “couldn’t get Arizona off her mind,” Chris said. 

They saw a need.

Barna Research in 2019 surprisingly ranked Tucson, with a population of more than a half million, as the 16th most post-Christian city in the U.S., Chris said, noting that by comparison, New York City ranked 20th and Los Angeles 30th. 

The native Texan, used to seeing churches on every street corner, said they seem to be in short supply in Pima County, where Tucson is located. Whereas the state of Georgia has one church for every 300 people, Marana—a suburb northwest of Tucson—has only one church per 1,700 people, he explained. 

“Unless you are looking for a church in Tucson, you don’t find one,” Cummings said.

Chris and Kristyn Cummings at the University of Arizona campus.

With the couple’s commitment to collegiate outreach, proximity to the University of Arizona (UA)—which enrolled more than 49,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 2021—was also a factor in deciding where to plant a church.

“We have found maybe at best 2,000 students engaged in a ministry or church at the university,” Cummings said. Not many local churches have UA ministries, he added, calling the school vastly “underreached,” and college campuses in general, the “most strategic mission field on the planet.”

The plan 

Chris and Kristyn aren’t undertaking the Tucson venture alone. Coastal Community, their primary sending church, will provide both financial and leadership support. In the summer of 2023, 10-12 adults from the church are expected to move to Tucson, get jobs, and help by serving. Among the first official hires will be a college pastor. At least one student currently at Texas A&M Galveston is considering transferring to the University of Arizona to help, also.

“Because my wife is a doctor, we don’t have to depend upon my salary at first,” Cummings said, noting that vacation rental income from the couple’s Galveston home will prove useful as well.

As the Texas transplants move into apartment complexes and neighborhoods, they will start engaging students and Tucson residents alike, developing missional communities following the Acts 2:42 model used at Coastal Community.

“We have found maybe at best 2,000 students engaged in a ministry or church at the university.”

The family’s Tucson home is adjacent to the university, near enough for them to walk to UA basketball games. It’s a convenient location for them to start neighborhood outreaches soon after they get settled: block parties, family movie nights at local parks, and other informal events. They will also host a Sunday gathering at their home or a nearby park for volunteers.

“We do want our people to gather together,” Chris said, but Sundays will be “low key” for the first year.

As the community groups get established and start to grow, a more traditional church launch should occur sometime in 2024, Cummings said.

In addition to Coastal Community, the North American Mission Board and Redeemer Church in Lubbock will partner with funds and volunteers.

“Redeemer has planted more than 20 churches, and they have shifted their focus to planting collegiate churches,” Cummings said.

Because of the college emphasis, Cummings said he anticipates the Tucson plant will need a “long financial runway” since college students are often short of funds. He said he hopes the new church is financially stable within five years.

Spring in Tucson is when the desert blooms. With a new mission field and new address, Chris and Kristyn Cummings have uprooted their family and are praying confidently that their ministry flourishes as well.

God merges man’s dream of entrepreneurship with reaching others at FBC Forney en Español

Doing the Father’s business

Pastoral ministry has always been a close part of Eduardo “Eddie” Lopez’s life. He grew up the son of a pastor and watched as many others in his extended family answered God’s call to preach.  

That may have been good for them, but Lopez had other plans for his life. He always wanted to be an entrepreneur. 

“Ask me for anything you want,” Lopez recalled saying to God during a time of prayer many years ago, “except to be a pastor.” 

But as Lopez started down the road of entrepreneurship, he felt a void that his business pursuits could not fill. That void, he came to understand, stemmed from his running from what he knew was God’s will for his life—to serve in the pastoral ministry. 

“The Lord allowed me to fulfill all my dreams to show me that none of that will fill my life,” Lopez said.

Lopez ultimately answered God’s call to pastoral ministry and dedicated three years to preparing himself for service. It was during that time he received a call from the missions pastor at First Baptist Church of Forney, who presented him with a proposal to start a Hispanic church. Forney, located about 25 miles east of Dallas, has a population of about 24,000 people—20% of whom are Hispanic. 

The dream of planting a Hispanic church began when FBC Forney Senior Pastor Jimmy Pritchard, who passed away in 2021, saw the need to minister to a group of Hispanic believers working in the church kitchen. Those workers were given Bible study materials through a Hispanic missionary who had come to the church, but Pritchard felt like they needed more than study aids. 

They needed a pastor who spoke their language.

“When I met the senior pastor, he knew right away that I was the person God was calling to start the Hispanic work in Forney,” Lopez said.

Lopez served alongside his wife, Zoila, whom he describes as an “unconditional help and essential piece” of his life and ministry. The Hispanic group began meeting in a chapel owned by FBC Forney that accommodated about 50 people. With his wife at his side, Lopez did a little bit of everything, from leading worship to teaching. He also began working with the Hispanic group in the church kitchen, gaining their trust and teaching them to invite their lost friends to their personal get-togethers.

 “As pastors, we sometimes doubt what God is calling us to do. But if God has called us, He will provide all the resources and people for the right time.”

“It is easier for [lost people] to come to a celebration than to church,” Lopez would tell them. In this way, when Lopez attended the church members’ activities, he introduced himself as the pastor of the Hispanic church and became friends with them. This, in turn, opened the door to share the gospel. Many began giving their lives to Christ, and the new Hispanic church began to grow.

Today, missions and multiplication are the focus for Lopez and FBC Forney en Español. However, Lopez said his concern is not on multiplying the number of church members. Instead, his focus is on planting churches and extending its gospel reach for the benefit of the kingdom. 

“In our church there are two types of people: the one who goes [to the mission field] and the one who sends [missionaries],” said Lopez, who was recently elected vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This missional mindset, he added, helps members spend more time in their lives focused on others rather than themselves.

One of the opportunities the Lord has given the congregation to focus on others in the community is through an annual outreach event called Celebrando la Herencia Hispana (Celebrating Hispanic Heritage). As part of the event, the church invites community members of various nationalities—not only Hispanics, but also Asians, Indians, and others—to fellowship and sample snacks from different countries. The event has been so well received that the English- and Spanish-speaking congregations at FBC Forney have committed to jointly host the event next year.

Beyond reaching people in their own back yard, Lopez said FBC Forney en Español has planted three churches in the Metroplex cities of Dallas, Seagoville, and Mesquite.

Additionally, God has opened the doors for the church to operate an international ministry called “Semilla de Vida” (Seed of Life) in Mexico. The ministry offers free support to marginalized churches that do not have the financial resources to continue preaching the gospel and training to pastors and their families. Forney en Español provides resources for three churches in very remote villages in Mexico and has also supported congregations in Cuba and Puerto Rico. 

 “As pastors, we sometimes doubt what God is calling us to do,” said Lopez, who owns a restaurant in nearby Sunnyvale in addition to pastoring. “But if God has called us, He will provide all the resources and people for the right time.”