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  • Hospitality and the Christian Life

    MONROE – It’s the month of February where our thoughts tend to focus on hearts and love and all things chocolate. However, as the most Hallmark of holidays approaches (Valentine’s Day), I would like you to consider one of the often overlooked ways that Christians are to show love for God and for one another. God’s word commands us to show hospitality. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:13 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:8-9 As a young pastor’s wife in rural Iowa many years ago, I was challenged and encouraged by the book The Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch. It had a profound effect on the way I perceived and practiced loving God and others. One of the key takeaways is that hospitality promotes loving Christian community. Hospitality is an identifying mark of the Christian life! In our fast paced, individualist society it is easy to put aside the Biblical command to practice hospitality. We live in a time that fosters isolation along with increasingly demanding work and family schedules. We are also bombarded by endless entertainment options and online diversions that distract us from deep and meaningful relationships. Hospitality is hard. It takes work and time and sacrifice. Hospitality is not always convenient. For some, hospitality can be downright scary. Rosaria Butterfield offers some challenging counsel in her book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. She writes, “Knowing your personality and your sensitivities does not excuse you from ministry. It means that you need to prepare for it differently than others might.” In other words, despite our objections, we have no excuses. So,  how do we practically start showing hospitality in love for God and others? Here are some steps that help me practice hospitality: Make a plan and start slowly. You do not have to fill every evening with people in your home.Pick a regular time and make a commitment. It might be once a month or once a week for your family. For our family, Sunday at noon works great. Keep a running list of people that you can encourage with your offer of hospitality. You should not always invite the same group of friends. Consider including the lonely and hurting and unchurched. Make a list of simple and inexpensive meals. You do not have to break the bank to be hospitable. We do a baked potato bar, much to the dismay of my children, almost every single week. It helps me know what to prepare each Saturday evening and it fits in with most dietary restrictions. Focus on people and not presentation. You do not need to have a gourmet meal or an immaculate house. Our goal is to show the love of Christ, not to try and be in the pages of House Beautiful. Pray for yourself and your guests. Hospitality provides us with a wonderful opportunity to spread the gospel. In this season of love, let us not forget that hospitality is a very tangible way we are commanded to show our affection for God and others. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Kristie Anderson is a wife, mom and homeschooler. She is a native of Kentucky, but has called Iowa, East Asia, and Michigan her home. She loves Jesus, hanging out with her husband, reading aloud to her kids, and drinking good coffee. #FEBRUARY24

  • Midwest Leadership Summit: Challenging the “You Be You” culture

    SPRINGFIELD, IL – Our Midwest churches and people are different from other regions in the US. I think that is why I love the practical nature of churches that are moving forward and accelerating Gospel movement in their community and state. Every two years twelve Midwest states come together and have a Midwest Leadership Summit. These Midwest states send their pastors and church leaders to Springfield, Illinois to hear from several great national speakers and choose from 60+ breakout sessions. They also hear testimonies from practitioners and how they are spreading the gospel message in our Midwest settings. There was such a good list of speakers and breakout group leaders that it was difficult to choose the one that inspired me the most this year. I think Trevin Wax, North American Mission Board (NAMB) VP of research and resource development and former missionary to Romania, compelled me the most. He spoke at the opening night plenary session, and I went to his breakout group the next morning called Meeting the Challenge of Discipleship in a “You Be You” Culture. The relevancy of the postmodern subject of the You Be You culture was spot on. I’m a member of Treeline Church in Ann Arbor whose focus is to reach students for Christ at the University of Michigan. They have a strong discipleship program. I’ve seen that the You Be You mindset is not just with the new generation, but it is a culture that spreads into all age groups and is even in our churches across the US. The focus is on “express individualism” which believes humans are inherently good, institutions are suspect, and external authority is rejected and internal authority is exalted. “Express individualism” allows you to be your own boss. Trevin spoke from his great depth of understanding of the culture. He had sources to back his conclusions. He looked at trends, and gave verbiage and meanings of those mantras. He pointed out openings in the culture today where Christians should step up and share the solid foundation of the Word of God, and lovingly share the Gospel with a world that is lonely and lost without Christ. A few things that caught my heart in the You Be You culture was their beliefs of: Be true to yourself is the utmost goal. Look inside for who you are, then to others, and finally up to a deity. Greatest sin is not being yourself. You must applaud others who are being themselves. There’s an explosion of pseudo-religions to choose between. We’ve moved from institutional religion to intuitional religion. It’s sad to know these all lead to loneliness. We were created to be relational, to have a relationship with God. That is the only thing that will satisfy our souls.  Trevin shared opportunities that the church has in sharing the gospel with this You Be You culture: To step into the culture and beckon people into a Kingdom much bigger than oneself. The gospel pushes us out of center and puts God where He belongs. The gospel invites people into a bigger world of adventure, to expand their horizons to a Kingdom that is everlasting. The gospel is a more exciting non-conformity! To not conform would be NOT listening to yourself or expressing yourself. Jesus says to deny yourself and follow Him. Some of the phrases that have crept into our churches from the You Be You culture are: You are enough. Follow your dreams. You do you. Trevin suggested that we can recognize that we’re affected by self-expression by staying connected to the Global Church, going on mission trips, and being around international Christians and churches. See how they pray, share, and testify of following God while denying themselves for the sake of others. We know that the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges any way of life that says, Me first! I found myself grieving for this culture that thinks they have nowhere to lay their sin-guilt (the cross). Their first commandment is to be yourself and the second is like it, affirm your neighbor’s self-expression. Thank God that He knows us. He knows us even better than we know ourselves. God, help us be open to sharing your foundation of truth in this pervasive culture that is slipping away from coming to see You as the Authority, Creator, and our only Salvation and Guide in life. The 2024 Midwest Leadership Summit video recordings of the sessions are at https://vimeo.com/showcase/10932605.  Trevin Wax’s plenary session video is at https://vimeo.com/showcase/10932605/video/905845827 ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jamie Lynn works at the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. She's a member at Treeline Church in Ann Arbor (new church start that is focusing on university students). It's her joy to mentor several young women. Jamie loves spending time with her husband Tony, her three kids and spouses, and nine grandchildren. #FEBRUARY24

  • Summit offer 12,000 hours of training for church leaders

    SPRINGFIELD, IL – Church leaders from the central states engaged 12,000 hours of training, teaching, and worship at the three-day Midwest Leadership Summit meeting in Springfield January 23-25. In multiple plenary sessions led by national SBC speakers and church planting practitioners, and in 80 breakout sessions, almost 1,000 leaders shared and received equipping for ministry in their unique Midwest settings. The biennial event brings together nine Baptist conventions covering 12 states. It is sponsored by Lifeway, Guidestone, the North American Mission Board, and Woman’s Missionary Union. In day two of the gathering, Vance Pitman, president of NAMB’s Send Network, encouraged pastors, “The size of the church does not determine the significance of the church. The size of the mission determines the significance of the church.” Noting it might be controversial, Pitman said, “Church planting is not the goal. The church that you are planting one day is going to die. All the churches that were planted in the New Testament are all dead and gone….But the kingdom of God is alive and well.” Then where does the local church fit in? To introduce people to Jesus, disciple them, and launch them into serving him. “We’ve made the local church the goal,” said Pitman. “We’re doing it wrong. The church is a tool for establishing the kingdom of Jesus.” Pitman said, “The church being born isn’t the finish line of God’s activity. It’s the starting line.” Church planter Aaron Taylor from Columbus, Ohio, said their congregation, Living Hope Baptist Church, runs 120 on a “banner day,” but is impacting its city in a big way. The church started a free furniture store, Finding Hope Center, three years ago with virtually no inventory or funds, only God’s calling. When space across from the church opened up, Taylor asked the landlord to give the church 30 days. “It was going to cost $25,000 to pay rent for a whole year,” he said. “We did not raise $25,000. God did it in 22 days, and we raised $31,000.” A year later Taylor received a call about connecting with a friend who had a storage unit with some furniture he wanted to give away. “We pulled up and it was the Midwest Distribution center for La-Z-Boy Furniture, and we found out the director of that facility loved Jesus a whole lot,” Taylor said. They were given permission take as much scratch and dent furniture as they wanted. Over the course of the last few years, the church has given away over in $700,000 in furniture and shared the gospel with 350 families. “We’re living in the middle of a miracle,” Taylor said. Healthy pastors The Guidestone leaders addressed pastoral health in a luncheon the financial institution sponsored. President Hance Dilbeck picked up a theme he introduced at the IBSA Annual Meeting in November—pastoral self-care. “If God is calling you to oversee the flock, you’ve got to oversee yourself,” he said, citing 1 Timothy 4:16. Paul tells Timothy to guard the self and the doctrine. More pastors fail at the issue of the self than the doctrine, Dilbeck said. “If we mess up in these two areas, it’s all going down the tubes—if we get the doctrine wrong, or we don’t pay attention to ourselves,” he said. The Summit was scheduled to conclude with one more breakout slot and a final worship and teaching session on Thursday. ABOUT THE AUTHORS Lisa Misner and Eric Reed are writers for the Illinois Baptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association. #FEBRUARY24

  • Why your church needs to be planning VBS now

    BRENTWOOD, TN – For many churches, dates for Vacation Bible School (VBS) are among the first placed on the church calendar each year. Churches give VBS high priority because pastors recognize VBS as one of the most important evangelistic events for the entire church year. In some churches, a volunteer serves as the VBS director. Other churches may have a children’s ministry staff person who’s responsible for coordinating VBS. For some churches, especially single-staff churches, the pastor may wear the hat of VBS director. When a VBS director is wearing multiple hats, it is not uncommon for earlier events on the calendar to quickly push VBS planning to the back burner. Preparation with a purpose But preparing for Vacation Bible School can be compared to preparing for a trip. When I go on a trip for five days, I don’t just throw a toothbrush and some clothes in a bag and head to parts unknown. When planning a vacation, I sometimes spend months learning as much as I can about my destination. As a result, I can make lists of items I need to pack to enable me and those traveling with me to have the best experience possible. Similar to planning for a destination vacation, planning must take high priority when preparing to guide children and families on an exciting journey during VBS. The destination for some may be accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. For those who are already Christians, the destination may be growing in their daily walk with Christ. When a church recognizes the potential for eternal impact, VBS planning may become the most important planning of the church year. I often hear, “There is no tired like VBS tired.” Let’s face it. VBS is hard work! But it’s worth it. VBS is the one week of the year with the potential to mobilize the entire church to reach the community with the gospel. At the same time, churches are providing a unique discipleship experience for individual children and volunteers. Equipping leaders for VBS Enlisting volunteers early in the year and providing teaching resources are important parts of VBS preparation. In order to be successful, volunteers need to receive more than a leader guide. Volunteers need training. While most churches schedule VBS during the summer months, the planning and training process should begin much earlier. Thousands of leaders attend Lifeway VBS Previews in January each year. State conventions and associations schedule training sessions as early as February. Training is an important part of seeing people come to Christ through VBS. Lifeway VBS statistics show that for every person trained for VBS, we see 1.1 salvations. Awareness of those statistics motivates me to see every VBS leader trained to share the gospel. Training VBS leaders includes more than Bible study leaders. Music, crafts, recreation, missions, and even snack leaders need to be trained to share the gospel during VBS. Recreation and snacks are areas where kids often let their guards down and are more open to conversations. I have heard testimonies of recreation and snack leaders who had an opportunity to lead a child to Christ. A trained leader will be more confident in having gospel conversations with children, parents, and grandparents. Enlistment and training are key elements of preparing for a successful VBS, but there is so much more. Every April and May, multiple people ask me: “Are you getting ready to start working on VBS?” People are often surprised to learn I work on VBS all year long. While some breathe a sigh of relief when the last decoration comes down, some of the most important work is just beginning. Personal follow-up with prospects and individuals who have made decisions needs to start right away. How to equip your VBS director By now, you may be thinking “VBS is months away and we are already behind. How can we map out a strategy for VBS without getting overwhelmed?” Lifeway prepares a VBS Administrative Guide each year to help in planning a successful VBS. The VBS 2024 Administrative Guide presents a six-step strategy to guide churches in VBS planning. Know your purpose and theme. Start planning. Enlist and train your workers. Promote and publicize. Register participants. Continue the connection. Each step has tips and tools to help you accomplish that particular step. One of my favorite tools for helping VBS directors is the planning calendar provided in step two. The calendar is a checklist of tasks that need to be completed before, during, and after VBS. The list is divided into months leading up to VBS, helping VBS directors track their progress as they move toward VBS week. The calendar begins with tasks to be completed as early as six to nine months before VBS and gradually adds additional tasks. This planning process helps directors avoid feeling overwhelmed by attempting to do multiple tasks within a few weeks before VBS begins. Lifeway’s VBS Directors Club is another great resource. The VBS Directors Club gives access to recruiting and enlistment tools, downloads for exclusive themed clip art, training presentations, a downloadable VBS planning timeline, and more. Keep the main thing the main thing In the midst of everything that must be done before VBS, it is easy to forget the purpose of VBS. The VBS director may have gathered all the items on the supply list. Teachers may have cut and sorted all the items in their leader pack. Worship leaders may have learned the motions to every song. Craft leaders may have organized every item possible for a project. But a leader who has not studied information on sharing the plan of salvation is not ready. Always remember that the main purpose of VBS should be to reach lost people for Christ. You can have lots of fun with a theme and share all kinds of stories from the Bible. But remember to keep the main thing the main thing—helping unsaved children, students, and adults come to an understanding of their need for a Savior. When you have made your lists and checked them multiple times, what else do you need to do? Be intentional about informing leaders about how your church plans to handle decisions during VBS. Help leaders know it is not their job to save people. They may not see results from their efforts right away. Their role is to share the good news of Jesus prayerfully, carefully, and lovingly. Encourage leaders to leave the rest to God. Consider having a commissioning service on the Sunday before VBS begins. Pray with leaders, thanking God for the privilege of sharing His love with future generations. Ask God to bless the preparation of each leader and to give them opportunities to share with children, students, and their families. If you find yourself questioning how you can justify months of planning for one week out of the church year, remind yourself of the main purpose of VBS. VBS is worth it! ABOUT THE AUTHOR Vicki Hulsey has served as a childhood specialist for the Tennessee Mission Board for 19 years. Previously, she served on church staff in the areas of preschool, children, students, family and education ministries. #FEBRUARY24

  • Doodle-bugger

    PLYMOUTH – It has been said of my homeland that, “this is where God sat down and made the rest of the world.”  One glimpse of the West Texas countryside will reveal the reason for this statement. It is a barren, flat and desolate place that is home to only the heartiest of desert dwellers. Hundreds of years before the white man settled this region only jackrabbits, lizards, coyotes and a few brave, but very skinny Native Americans inhabited it. Sagebrush, cactus, mesquite, and sand covered the surface of this wilderness along with a few sprigs of buffalo grass. When the pioneers were making their way to the West coast and happened upon this land, they made a very wise decision. They kept moving. No riches to be seen, but plenty of pain and suffering abounded. Later, a few brave cowmen decided to make a go of ranching in this “God forsaken land” and for the most part did fairly well. Of course, it took five acres to graze one cow, but there was plenty to go around. With the advent of the automobile and the insatiable need for petroleum, the search was on for new sources of oil. It just so happened that this dry and desolate desert became a true diamond in the rough. Beneath its unforgiving and harsh surface lay billions of barrels of the finest crude oil known to man. West Texas Crude is considered the benchmark for all other petroleum that is extracted from the coursing veins of our terrestrial ball. Some people have the mistaken idea that it really doesn’t matter where one might drill for oil in West Texas. They think that all that is necessary is to punch a hole through the earth’s crust in the middle of this desert region and oil will automatically come gushing forth. Many have operated under such a mistaken notion and have lost fortunes poking holes in these shifting sands. There is a great deal more to drilling for oil than just surveying the surface for a likely spot and setting up a rig. It is far too expensive a venture to risk drilling into some dark unknown hole. To know where to drill is far more important than the drilling itself. When I was a young man and still living in Texas, this process of knowing where to drill was determined by a group of men known affectionately as “doodle-buggers.” Doodle-buggers are men who operate seismographic equipment that maps and records the strata and substance of the subsurface formations. This is accomplished by creating shock waves with big hydraulic “thumpers” that are carried in large all-terrain vehicles. These “thumpers” pound the ground with enormous force, thus sending shock waves racing downward through the earth. Special seismographic instruments then record the returning shock waves as they are bounced back to the surface by the varying strata they encounter. A sonogram or “sound picture” is recorded, and then a knowledgeable geologist can read and interpret them, thus determining where the likelihood of oil deposits were to be found. Hundreds of thousands of miles of land are mapped before the first drill bit is placed in the ground. When man first looked upon the flat desert lands of West Texas, he determined that it was worthless and undesirable. But when a closer observation was made of what lay below the surface, they came to the realization that this was, and is indeed, a valuable and precious place. What lies beneath is where the real worth resides. God tells us that man is in many ways like this desert region. That which we see on the surface of man is not that which determines the true worth of an individual, but what lies deep beneath the exterior is where a man’s value is to be found. The foundation upon which the whole man stands or falls, is discovered deep within the heart of an individual and not by his outward appearance. If we desire to know the true worth and character of an individual, we cannot determine this by looking only at the outward appearance. We must know and see the foundation upon which one’s life is built. The clothes one wears or the physical features one possesses has little or nothing to do with who that person is. What lies below the surface is the deciding factor. You and I have a difficult time seeing past the outward appearance of men, but God does not. In fact, He tells us in I Samuel 16:7 “But the LORD said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” I can just imagine what many of those early settlers thought after they passed up all that sand only to later find out that wealth beyond belief lay just below the surface. “If I had just known. I would have…….?” When it comes to people, God does know. Shouldn’t we ask Him what He thinks of an individual before we pass judgment on them? There could be a world of riches lying just below the surface. If you don’t believe me, just ask a “Doodle-bugger.” ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tim Patterson is Executive Director/Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Elected unanimously in May of 2015, Patterson formerly served for 9 years as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He also served as trustee chair and national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board. #FEBRUARY24

  •  Good changes

    PLYMOUTH – I am in my ninth year working for the Send Network as the Send Network Director in Michigan. Three years ago, I invited Matt Thompson to join the team as a church planting catalyst. Early during our partnership in the ministry, I saw the discipline, the spiritual gifts, and the dedication in Thompson that convinced me that I had found someone in whom I could invest extra time allowing him to see “behind the curtain” so that he could hopefully, one day increase his platform of service with the Send Network. Others saw the progress Thompson made these past three years adding value to the Send Network, locally, regionally, and nationally. I am happy to say the day of recognition arrived for Thompson; and the timely expansion of his assignment as Lead Church Planting Catalyst, creates space for me to devote my time and energy on two important areas in Michigan. My Changes The two vital areas where I will redirect my efforts are . . . 1. Language/Ethnic Work – I will cultivate relationships, coach towards multiplication, and catalyze movement in language/ethnic church planting throughout Michigan. When called upon in the Midwest region, I will serve as a resource person in eleven other states. 2. Michigan Baptist Churches – I will assist BSCM churches in the application of the North American Mission Board’s pipelines for training, leadership development, and multiplication. These processes are convenient, flexible, and robust. In order to recall how I will continue to serve Michigan Baptists you can use two titles to remember my newest direction. I am the “Send Network Director” in Michigan, and I am the “Language/Ethnic Church Planting Catalyst” in Michigan. Thompson’s Changes Matt Thompson’s new title is “Lead Church Planting Catalyst” in Michigan meaning he will serve as the main point person for leading all things Send Network in Michigan. Send Network Movement – Matt will lead the Send Network Michigan staff in continuing the mission, vision, values, and strategy seeing that we continue as a family of “churches planting churches everywhere for everyone.” He will be the first point of contact. Pathway Guide – Thompson and the team will help each potential planters and partnering churches move forward on their respective pathways: Potential planters will advance from assessment, to orientation, to training, to coaching, to care. Partnering churches will advance from cooperating, to supporting, to sending, to multiplying, to movement churches. Regardless of our new or additional titles, Thompson, the team, and I, with our unending passion to effectively serve the pastors/planters and members of our churches are here for you. Why Change? Some of you may be asking, “Why make these changes?” The answer is easy, “We see the Lord accelerating Gospel movement among the language/ethnic groups in Michigan. We are convinced this is the perfect time to increase the impact of the Kingdom of God in Michigan, the nation, and the world. Observing those advances, we must put more time into language/ethnic groups and longtime established churches in the state.” Jesus Christ’s invitation to make the journey out of a sinful, human, broken existence into the Kingdom of God is streamed for everyone to see on the big 360o screen we call the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:3 author Luke, summarizes what Jesus Christ did during the forty days in between his resurrection from the cave to his ascension through the clouds to the Father’s right hand in heaven. Luke writes, “During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God,” (italics added for emphasis). Using your device or your paper edition of the Bible, flip to the last written chapter of the Book of Acts to see the final two verses. Acts 28:30-31 says, “For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him,” (italics added for emphasis). Like any epic, memorable film, overcoming conflict to accomplish a mission is the highlight of the opening and ending of the gripping story! We see this in Acts 1 to the final verses of Acts 28. The Book of Acts displays the heroic effort of thirty-two years of the early church continuing Jesus Christ’s mission to help others see, hear, and experience the Kingdom of God. Luke 17:20-21 records an interaction between community leaders who were spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb with Jesus Christ prior to his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The text says, “One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you,” (italics added for emphasis). “The Kingdom of God is already among you,” are some of the most hopeful and inspiring words. We believe we are approaching a new threshold in Michigan where we can see the Lord’s Kingdom expand and impact the world . . . but that expansion of the Kingdom requires change. Let’s Talk About Change Matt Thompson and I are available to discuss and explain these changes with anyone, so that we are all striving for the same Kingdom expansion. Call one or both of us for a visit: Tony Lynn, (734) 770-0608 and/or Matt Thompson (616) 202-8707. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Tony L. Lynn is the State Director of Missions for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before coming on staff at the BSCM, Tony served as lead pastor for more than six years at Crosspoint Church in Monroe, Michigan. He and his wife, Jamie, also served with the International Mission Board in Africa and in Europe. #FEBRUARY24

  • Search for identity

    WINDSOR, ONTARIO – In a recent sermon I disclosed something that made people wince. “For the first five years of my pastoral ministry in a small church in Canada, I did not take a day off, except for vacation. Five years of non-stop work, seven days a week.” I felt justified. People around me, living without Jesus, were on their way to hell. How could I stand by and imperturbably take a day off? They needed me. God needed me (or so I thought). The Bible says that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how can they call on Jesus to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in Jesus if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about Jesus unless someone like me tells them (Rom. 10:14)? So, yes, I felt justified working around the clock. God needed me to declare the gospel so they could be saved. Wrong on so many fronts! God does not need me. He is not served by human hands as if he needed anything (Acts 17:25)! He loves me and he welcomes my service in the name of Jesus but he is not dependent on me. Sadly, my theology and the mission of God back then were not as compelling as my identity crisis. Pastors either get their identity vertically, from who they are in Christ, or they shop for it horizontally in the experiences and relationships of ministry. That was my biggest problem. I excused my workaholic tendencies by appealing to the lostness of mankind, but the way I worked my fingers to the bone and neglected my marriage and family proved that my horizontal search for affirmation was clearly misdirected and hazardously mismanaged. Paul Tripp speaks to this tendency in most of us. He suggests that many church leaders place themselves into a nonexistent spiritual category and see themselves as “arrived” or spiritually mature, or in my case, indispensable. They are quick to minister to others, but slow to receive ministry from others. But, whenever we place our identity in ministry instead of Jesus, then a distorted and skewed sense of self-awareness, pride, and sin will result. Our identity should be found in Jesus only who freely lavishes grace upon us and transforms our hearts, minds, and souls (Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Crossway, 2012). In an article for The Gospel Coalition website, Tripp adds a bit of his own testimony: Ministry had become my identity. I didn’t think of myself as a child of God, in daily need of grace, in the middle of my own sanctification, still battling with sin, still in need of the body of Christ, and called to pastoral ministry. No, I thought of myself as a pastor. That’s it, bottom line. The office of pastor was more than a calling and set of God-given gifts that had been recognized by the body of Christ. Pastor defined me. When we derive identity from ministry we develop spiritually unsafe habits. We allow inconsistent devotional habits to take shape, read the Bible only for sermon preparation, and worship songs no longer find the soft spot in our hearts. Loving correction from faithful friends are suspect at best, and often interpreted as betrayal. Ministry as identity is a dangerous place for anyone to live, but especially an elder or pastor. If you find yourself in this space, get alone with God. Seek his face and cry out. Remember all that he has done for you. Repent of your sinful passion to find yourself in what you do, in your performance. Restore your first love in Jesus. Recalibrate your heart for the journey ahead. When Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus, he said, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev. 5:2-5 ESV). You may be working hard every day, toiling for the sake of gospel, ministering to your church family, patiently enduring whatever trial is in front of you, and you are doing it for the name and fame of Jesus. But if you forsake your first love in the process, exchanging worship for work, pursuing a sense of worth from work, then it’s all for nothing. Remember what God has done. Repent of your self-sufficiency. Restore your first love. Acceptance by God has nothing to do with performance. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Garth Leno is the Pastor/Planter Care Specialist with the BSCM. He serves in a similar role with the Canadian National Baptist Convention, and he is the founding pastor of The Gathering Church in Windsor, Ontario, a church he planted with his wife, Patty, and a few of their friends. #FEBRUARY24

  • First-Person: Midwest Leadership Summit

    ADRIAN – It can be difficult to leave the joys of family and the obligations of ministry for three days. It is possible that you might wonder if there is any real benefit to attending this leadership summit or any other conference. Humbly, I suggest there is great benefit to attending the Midwest Leadership Summit. My takeaways had two common themes that have been personal prayer items throughout the past few months. First, how do we saturate the community with the gospel? Second, how do we fully depend on prayer as a congregation? God was gracious to provide insights for both themes. The Midwest Leadership Summit is a collective of nine Baptist state conventions. Pastors and church leaders from twelve states gather in Springfield, Illinois to be refreshed, renewed, edified, and encouraged as they strive to lead their churches well. There are main session speakers. There are ministry testimonies. There are breakout sessions. There are late night conversations. There are meals with other Michigan church leaders. There is prayer, worship, and a replenishing of your soul. Is it possible to pack all of that into three days? Yes, and so much more. On Tuesday evening, Trevin Wax spoke about a few worldview aspects of our culture. I was reminded to allow the gospel to speak for itself. Wax said, “The gospel helps us get beyond the emotions of guilt and shame.” I also wrote down, the gospel is GOOD NEWS, provides rest, fills the gaps, feeds the soul, redirects the lies, and points to the truth. On Wednesday evening, Vance Pittman reminded us that God invites churches into His activity FOR God’s glory. On Thursday morning, Jared Wilson taught from Romans 15. He said, “Our church must be impacted by the gospel before our church impacts the community with the gospel.” He continued by giving six proofs that the gospel impacts our church. The breakout sessions were the focus of Wednesday. Those in attendance chose from sixty sessions in ten categories of ministry. The sessions were led by pastors and ministry leaders who live in trenches, just like you and me. They are familiar with the toil and the weight that we carry in ministry. Writing space will not allow me to share from each of the breakouts, so I will give three highlights. Leading From Your Knees reminded me that God always pursues our relationship. When I pray, I ought to ask him to remove the scales of sin, open the heavens and show me his glory. From Surviving To Thriving reminded me to protect time for rest by establishing biblical rhythms. Lastly, I would like to share the words of a fellow pastor named Aaron. While Aaron was telling the story of his church plant, he said, “God loves to give big vision. Ask him for it and communicate it well.” Fellow church leaders, you are dearly loved, and your efforts are seen! All of us need the reminders that come from the Midwest Leadership Summit. They will fill you up and prepare you for another year of ministry. The archived videos can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/showcase/10932605 ABOUT THE AUTHOR Chris Peoples serves as the lead pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Adrian, Michigan. He has been married to Bridget for twenty-five years. They have four children. #FEBRUARY24

  • A better new year!

    SOUTHGATE – I was talking with a young man from our church regarding how 2023 had gone, and what his goal was for 2024. At some point, he made a statement which caused me to stop our conversation for a moment. He had concluded that what he desired for the next 12 months was, “better, not easier.” I paused so I could quickly write that down. While it is February, the year is still in its infancy. For some, you were ready to kick last year to the curb well before the Holiday season. For others, it may have been full of the favor of God. For most, it probably falls somewhere in between. Some highs, some lows, some incredible blessings, and some challenging difficulties. Which is maybe why that statement hit me with such impact. No matter where you fall on the spectrum – you can always aspire for BETTER! Scripture shares with us. Psalm 84:10 gives us the launching pad for pursuing “better” in the months ahead of us. “A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.” The more significance we place on the presence of God in our lives, the more confidence His presence will bring, and the more influence His presence will have! While we all are aware of God’s presence, if you’re like me and it took you more than two years to read the “One Year Bible,” then a gentle reminder of the power that comes with that presence may not be a bad idea. We can get so engrossed in the work and busyness of ministering out to others that we fail to allow much ministry into our own hearts and minds. Remember when Jesus and His disciples made their way to Mary and Martha’s home for dinner? One sister was in the kitchen seemingly doing all the work, while the other sister was sitting at the feet of Jesus taking in every word. As Luke shares the story in his gospel, I can’t help but imagine the clanging of pots and pans getting noisier as Martha endeavored to make her point without having to…make her point. But then, she’d had enough and actually interrupted the gathering. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!” Jesus responds with “Martha, Martha.” Remember when your mom called you by your full name? Never good – kind of the direction I feel this conversation going. “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is (wait for it…) BETTER, and it will not be taking away from her.” (Luke 10:38 – 42) I gave this as a benediction to my church earlier this year, and I share it with you as we bring this article in for a landing. My prayer for you in 2024, is to have moments this year where peace comes flooding over you in a way that is so overwhelming there can be little doubt as to where it came from and who sent it your direction. My prayer for you in 2024, is to have a request so incredibly answered, it’s as if it was from God specifically just for you. My prayer for you in 2024, is that you would experience moments where you are so keenly aware of the presence of God, your eyes fill with tears, you are so overwhelmed by His love. My prayer for you in 2024, is that you would have a greater understanding that you are never alone, but that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the abiding Love of our Heavenly Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, not only goes with you…but before you. Not Easier…Just Better! ABOUT THE AUTHOR Billy Walker is the Lead Pastor of Calvary Church in Southgate, MI and Vice-President of the Billy Walker Evangelistic Association. He and his wife Laurie live in the Downriver area of Michigan. #FEBRUARY24

  • Secondhand Faith

    SHELBY TOWNSHIP – With all the media we have access to in our lives now, we are able to gain knowledge and have access to so much more than ever before. However, we aren’t having true and real experiences; we are often living through the experiences of others through the world of social media! I can relate this same idea to my own faith. I grew up in a Christian family and went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I even married a pastor and started a church, but for years I was living through a “secondhand faith.” I believe for the majority of my life, my faith came through my parents and then through my “pastor” husband. It wasn’t until I was faced with a crisis of belief that I had an encounter with God, and everything changed for me! I was a very good rule follower growing up and always wanted to please. I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a young girl and then became very good at doing all the right things and looking like a good Christian girl. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was missing a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I thought I was doing all the right things; but that is where I was misled. I love this quote from Geri Scazzero, author of the book the “Emotionally Healthy Woman”: “Our doing for Jesus must flow from our being with Him. Often, we live vicariously through other people’s spirituality while busily on the run. Going to church, attending conferences, and listening to worship music are all good things, but they should not be a substitute for being quiet and listening to God for ourselves.” I was doing all the right things but was far from God. In Hebrews 5:12-14 (NLT), we read, You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. I was a baby Christian for most of my life. Just like our children when they are babies, they don’t know they are babies. It isn’t until they grow up and look back over the phases and stages of their lives that they realize what a baby is. The same goes for our spiritual life. We don’t know what we are missing until we experience it. Recently I was reading in John about the Samaritan woman at the well. I have read this story and heard it preached more times than I can count. However, God gave me a fresh revelation on this day that I had never seen before. As we know from the story in John 4, the Samaritan woman had an encounter with Jesus at the well and her life was changed. She ran back to tell everyone in her town about her experience. John writes in John 4:39 (NIV), Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I ever did.” Our testimonies are powerful to the people we share them with. However, their faith should not stop there! They need to have an encounter with Jesus for themselves. When we stop short of encountering Jesus for ourselves, we are living a secondhand faith. John continues in John 4:40-42 (NIV), So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two more days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the women, “We no longer believe because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is really the Savior of the world. I truly didn’t know what I was missing in my life until I received it. God is so good to continue to pursue us and draw us closer in our relationship with Him. Don’t settle for living a secondhand faith in Christ! He wants to give you so much and grow your relationship with Him. There are so many treasures to be found. Seek God for yourself! Don’t live off someone else’s faith! If you are serious in wanting a deeper relationship with God, pray the following prayer. Father God, Your word says that when we seek you, we will find you. I admit that I have relied on the faith of others in my life. God, I just want to know you more. Reveal more of yourself to me and show me how to walk closely with you. I want to recognize when you are speaking to me and have an intimate relationship with you. Give me a heart to follow you and your ways. Help me turn to you and not to others. I know that you will give me all I need as I choose to put you first and seek you. I don’t want to wait until heaven to see you; I want to see you here on earth. I pray these things with anticipation of experiencing you in my life. Amen ABOUT THE AUTHOR Karen Blanchard is married to Scott Blanchard, pastor of Lakepointe Church, and moved from Florida to Michigan in the summer of 2009 to plant Lakepointe Church in Shelby Township. She enjoys mentoring and discipling women and also leads women’s life groups through her church. She is passionate about helping women find their purpose in who God created them to be. She is on staff at Lakepointe Church and loves being part of what God is doing in the Metro Detroit area! #FEBRUARY24

  • What does love look like?

    WOODHAVEN – Fifty-three years ago, Pastor Jones sent people to plant a church in Woodhaven. The church developed a motto that we still use today saying “A Church Born in Love”. When I think of love the first and foremost thing that comes to my mind is our God and how much he loves us. His love is proven to us day after day. Salvation alone is pure proof of that love. Through the love that God has for us we can learn more about love every day. We are required to love him and serve him and are to love one another. John 15:17 says: “These things I command you, that ye love one another.” There are many ways to show love. One example is on February 14th, many will buy candy, flowers, or go out for romantic dinners. While these are ways to show love, I think the greatest way to show love is to pray for others. Think of the disciples, of all the things they could have asked Jesus for, they asked him to teach them to pray. Romans 1:9 says: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” Most times when we greet people with “How are you doing?”, so often people answer “I’m doing well” or something general like that, when sometimes that is not always the truth. People try to cover up what’s really going on when in return what they really need is prayer. We MUST take people to the Lord in prayer. Maybe, instead of saying, “How are you doing?”, we can ask, “Can I pray for you?”  You see, we have One who can help, so taking them to God in prayer is very important. Here’s a small story on how I know people are watching us as Christians and need God’s love. When I was in Trenton High School, I played football. One day we were scrimmaging Grosse Ille, and I made a tackle. During this tackle, I got a concussion. I started cussing everyone out and my friend knew immediately that something was wrong—they grabbed me and took me to the coach. They said “Coach, something’s wrong with Rick, he doesn’t talk like this!” That’s when I saw the team doctor and they realized that I had a concussion. The moral of this story is my friend saw that I had a need. They didn’t make fun of me, they didn’t let me keep rambling on, they took me to the coach for help. Folks, people around us are hurting. We are not here to make fun of them, nor to talk about them, but to take them to the one who does or can help, Jesus. We can take our friends to Jesus for help just like my friends helped me. They saw a need in me during that moment, but we should be able to see the daily need in them. God’s love is an eternity of help, not just for one moment. If we love people like God’s Word commanded us to, we shall take them to him in prayer. God is love and prayer changes things! ABOUT THE AUTHOR Rick Sparks has been blessed to be pastor of Woodhaven Baptist Church for almost 27 years. His wife, Debbie and he have 6 children, a son-in-law, 2 daughter-in-laws and soon another, and in the best part of life they have 6 grandchildren, 3 boys and 3 girls. #FEBRUARY24

  • Blood drive

    OSCODA – In early January, I received a call from a blood drive center requesting the use of a room at the church for a Community Blood Drive. They had been double booked at another location. I said that we would be glad to host them. Fast forward a few weeks and it is donation day. The crew arrives and sets up shop. They have loads of equipment, and it is freezing outside. I asked if they have a full docket and they replied, “We have 15 scheduled appointments.” I was thinking of all the different people that could come and give their blood when one of the young ladies asked, “Are you going to give?” I told her that it has been a while since I gave so when traffic slows down, I will come back to give. About an hour before they closed, I sat down to give. The needle going in my arm had a small bite, less than a bee sting, then a short wait until the container was full. It took a little less than 10 minutes, and the machine started beeping. That was it. A small poke and a few minutes to help save a life. The ladies working were talking about how many people do not even think to give blood until they or someone else is in need of it. My best friend growing up had a total blood transfusion that saved his life when he was a baby. That has always stuck with me and has been my reminder that it saves lives. Sometimes that life is yours or someone you love. I asked if they would take my picture so I could write an article about the importance of giving blood, and that the blood of Christ is the greatest example of giving blood. His blood redeems us. “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 NKJV The Father showed His love to us by sending Jesus to shed His blood instead of ours. It is for our salvation, our redemption. It is the only thing that would satisfy God for the remission of our sin. When I think of the suffering of the cross, I am humbled to the core. Our gratitude is what should drive us to share the Gospel with others. Many people will not give blood for one reason or another. Maybe they don’t want to experience the small poke, or maybe they think they don’t have time in their busy lives. Maybe they are simply scared. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t think of the love it is showing by saving the lives of those that need it. Many people will not share the love of Christ with others as well. It is so simple and yet so important. The joy that comes with leading someone to saving faith in Christ far outweighs anything we might have to endure. Jesus stepped out of heaven to put on flesh to shed His blood to save the world. There is no greater love story than this. Let’s go share with the world. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Pastor Jason Livvix is the Planter/Pastor of Fresh Start Fellowship of Oscoda since 2013. Serving with his beautiful wife Tracy and their four wonderful children, Madeline, Wyatt, Joel and Sophia. (The Three oldest have moved back to Illinois.) #FEBRUARY24

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