Friday, June 19, 2015

There Is None Righteous . . .

We’ve just experienced another senseless killing, this time in Charleston, South Carolina. Unfortunately, it’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. Some blame this shooting on race and others bemoan the ease of obtaining a gun in the United States. We’ll always have some tool available for the taking of a person’s life, so it’s not about the weapon of choice. I’m not even going to try to deal with that.

Racial issues are another story. At the root of racial issues is hatred. So it’s not simply about race. It’s about something deep within man. I would call it the evil that exists within all of us. One of the themes we keep hearing from parents of those who are committing these crimes is that he/she was a good boy/girl. They seem to refuse to believe that their child could commit such a crime.

Guess what? Every teacher or worker with children who also deals with parents has heard this same line many times over. When a child gets in trouble at school or on the bus, a parent may say, “My child just wouldn’t do that!” So, let’s face it. The Bible has it right. When the Bible says, “There is none righteous, no not one,” (Romans 3:10) it’s something to which we should pay attention. When Paul writes in Romans that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) we should learn that, at the core of all of us, there is an evil that drives us to anger and hatred. The tools are multitude: cars, baseball bats, knives, razor blades, bombs, and guns—to name a few.

How do we deal with such evil? On a grand scale, we go to war. Our nation has fought in a few, and we are currently engaged in a war with ISIS and terrorism. We can bomb until we run out of bombs, but that won’t end it. On a lesser scale, we pass laws, rules, and regulations, put people in jail, or execute them. But they just keep coming.

Many will have issues with what I am about to write. So be it. But for me, the only answer that I find acceptable is to embrace the teachings of Christ. We need a moral code that works and I believe the one Jesus teaches works. When asked what the two most important commandments were he chose to sum all of the commandments up in just two. Love God and love others. Can anyone deny that if we all did that, we’d solve this problem of hatred and killing?

There’s a problem, though. I can’t do that. I can’t keep them because there is already anger and hatred in my heart. I’m flawed. Big time! I sometimes get angry when someone cuts me off. My grown children can attest to the fact that I certainly expressed anger more than once when they were growing up. How in the world did Jesus expect us to keep those two commandments? By a changed heart. What I can’t do the Spirit of God can do in me.

Not everyone who says they are Christians behave as one. But those that truly follow Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle are most likely to demonstrate that by loving God and loving others. I’m praying that many will find their hope in Jesus and follow his commands to love God and love others. It’s the only hope for hatred and violence in our world. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Are We There Yet? Not Quite.

I think I could write a book on the nuts and bolts of church planting, and I haven’t even planted a church yet. It’s not as simple as a lot of people think. For me, it began with mission trips that were used by the Holy Spirit as he poked tenderly at my heart. Then there was the burden for a couple of communities that God placed on my heart. Finally, the day came when I knew my Heavenly Father was calling me to be a church planter.

The process from that point forward seems to take a lot of time. First, there was the sharing of my call to church planting with state denominational people who have responsibility for coordinating church plants and planters in our state. Then there were the forms and surveys that I needed to take to gain denominational approval. Finally, there was the interview process to determine if my wife and I would be approved as church planters. From the time I originally answered God’s call on my life to that point I continued to serve as pastor of a great church and burned up about five months of time. At my age (I’m 63 years-old) time goes by quickly, but it seems like a long time when I look back at it.

Then there was the announcement to my church family, followed by my resignation a few weeks later. We used that time to try to prepare documents to use in enlisting supporting partners for our new church plant, and I developed a “plant plan.” We made several trips to East Alton, Illinois to expand on early vision tours, and also looked for a place to live. When we couldn’t find a place to rent God showed us a house and we were able to purchase it. In the meantime we were trying to locate free boxes to use for packing up our goods.

We closed on the house three weeks ago and began the process of moving. In all the moves I have made in ministry I have been fortunate to have churches who paid for professional movers or who sent people to help us pack. On the other end, the church to which we were called willingly labored to help us unpack.

Not so with this move. Because we are planting a church that, as of yet, doesn’t exist, we had help in loading the truck, but no church family on the other end to help us unload. Thankfully, family came to the rescue. They not only worked to clean and paint our new home, but they helped us unload.

We are in our new house and you’d think we are ready to plant our new church. We are—and we aren’t. After we unloaded the truck we went back to load to vans and a utility trailer. This week we rented another truck to move the rest of our belongings. It took four vanloads, two utility trailer loads, and two truckloads to get all of our possessions moved.

Please don’t think I’m complaining. I’m not. God has provided miracles for us all along the church planting journey to date. I’m just saying: it takes a lot more time to get there than you might think. We originally thought we would be moving around the first of the year. Then the goal moved to April and the first interest group meeting May 1. Now it’s June and we’re still in the moving process. But I know that soon we will begin the actual process of planting a new church. I’m still just as excited as when God first called me to this new ministry.

Maybe the title of the book should be The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting Before You Even Get There.

Join us in prayer as we continue to make this journey.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

We're Moving!

A lot has happened since my last post. Needless to say, it’s been hectic. But in all of this, we have seen our God work in our lives to confirm the call to plant a house church in East Alton, Illinois. And we pray that it is the first of many.

Since my last post my wife has been offered a job and plans are that she will begin in June. We’re excited about that, and we believe that God opened the door for that position. It means that we will have some income very soon after our move. We praise God for that.

Our next major step was to secure a place to live. We decided to look at places to rent. That proved to be a futile effort, so we started to look for a house to purchase. We first looked at a couple of online internet sites. After looking at many houses in the East Alton area I found one I thought would work. Later, we called a realtor and scheduled a couple of days to look at houses. She informed me that the one I had found on the internet had an offer on it and was not available at this time. So we drove up and looked at a half dozen houses one afternoon. My wife and I agreed that none of them “felt right.” I was impressed to ask our agent again about that house. God moves in mysterious ways. The other offer fell through and we looked at the house. We believed it was exactly what we needed and we made an offer. Through negotiations we were able to get the house at substantially less than the asking price.  Tomorrow we will close on the house and next week we will begin the actually moving process. We are thankful for the way God has provided for us.

Last Sunday was my last time in the pulpit as pastor of Ridgway FBC. I have to say it was a great experience. I love this church and they have been supportive of God’s call upon my life to plant house churches. They gave us a great love offering and I take that as a tangible expression of their love and support for my wife and me. It’s a God thing.

We are still looking for a church to serve as our “mother church.” We’ve talked to a couple of pastors and neither has worked out. Recently someone talked to a pastor at another church who expressed interest. Yesterday I called him and had a long phone conversation with him. He is definitely interested. Could this be the hand of our Lord and God at work again? I’m optimistic that it is.

Over the last few months I’ve watched God work in the lives of my wife and me as we’ve tried to be faithful to His call to plant house churches. He has moved in little things and in major ways. I’ve praised Him each and every time. So, today as I pack more boxes in preparation to move I’m going to be praising the Lord. If you live close enough to drive by, don’t be surprised if you hear praise coming from my house.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

It's Official!

A week ago I submitted my resignation to First Baptist Church, Ridgway, Illinois. My last official day will be May 31. So, we will be moving to the Alton, Illinois area, where we will plant a church in East Alton. It’s a bittersweet experience. We are excited to begin a new phase of ministry as church planters, but I’m going to miss the Ridgway FBC family.

Twenty-two years ago I came to southern Illinois to serve as the Director of Missions for Saline Baptist Association. I spent nineteen years in that role. During that time I got to know the Ridgway FBC family and developed a closer relationship with them when I first served six months as their interim pastor. I made some real friends during that time and fell in love with the church family. When they called their next pastor I knew he would be serving a great church.

Several years later the pastor resigned to serve another church in Illinois and, again, the church asked me to serve as their interim. I served six months again and then became their pastor shortly after my interim with them was completed.

Two great interims were followed by a great pastorate. When I became their pastor I assumed I would spend ten years with them and then retire. God had a different plan. About a year and a half into my pastorate he began to speak to me about another change in my life. So, after three years as their pastor, I’m off to plant a church in East Alton.

Ridgway FBC isn’t a perfect church. I don’t know of one that is. But they’ve been a perfect church for me. They have loved me and allowed me to share God’s word with them every Sunday for almost three years. I’ve ministered to them and been ministered to by them. We’ve been family, and that’s why I’m going to miss them.

I’m praying God will send them a great man to serve as their pastor. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

We’ve Been Approved!

A few days ago I received word from the North American Mission Board that we had been approved as church planters. That’s one step closer to becoming a church planter in East Alton, Illinois. But we are not there yet. There are still a few steps that must be taken before we can actually begin planting a church. We must find a supporting church, jobs, a place to live, pack, and move. It seems like a lot that needs to happen, but we’re trusting the Lord to open the doors, and He can make it happen “in a flash.”

A lot of church planters go to plant a church. We are actually going to East Alton to plant multiple churches. How many? Well, that’s in the Lord’s hands, too. We are planning to plant house churches, sometimes called organic or relational churches. This is not a new idea. You will find house churches in the New Testament.

Basically, a house church is made up of six to twenty people who regularly meet in someone’s home. Once a week they come together for a fellowship meal followed by worship and Bible study. These church meetings often last between one and a half and three hours. It is usually inter-generational and is usually not led by a full time pastor.

The desired outcome is that those attending will grow in their relationship to the Lord; grow in community with each other; share the love of Christ where they live, work, and play; and that they will reproduce other such communities of believers. We believe God has called us to raise up a network of these small churches. Our hope and prayer is that many people will come to know Christ and grow in a relationship with Him and with others.

We need help. Here’s how you can help right now.

  1. Pray for a supporting church. We need a church in the area who will agree to support us by receiving our house church as members and by assisting us in our financial accounting needs. 
  2. Pray that my wife and I can find jobs. We are too young to retire and most employers would consider us too old to hire. So, this is definitely going to need to be a “God thing.”
  3. Pray for others to join us in this process. If two or three Christian couples join us we can multiply much more quickly and reach more people for Christ. 

We believe in the power of prayer. Thanks for praying for us.

Monday, March 23, 2015

We Passed Another Hurdle

Last week my wife and I sat down with Charles Campbell and Eddie Pullen, members of the Illinois Baptist State Association Church Planting Team, to discuss the results of our recent Invest assessment for church planters. When we went began the assessment process I spent a lot of time working through a book and preparing documents. Then we went through the actual assessment, which was a series of interviews with assessment teams. They asked a lot of questions, and either wrote notes on paper or entered notes in a computer. We had no idea what they wrote. But the process was good.

So when we sat down with Charles Campbell and Eddie Pullen we were looking forward to finding out if we had “passed.” The good news is that we have passed that stage. The results will be passed on to the North American Mission Board. We are trusting that God will lead us through this next stage.

We are still moving forward. While we wait to hear from NAMB we are in the process of seeking a church to serve as our sending church. I am looking for a job, and we are looking for a place to live. We are also praying that God will lead us to the “person of peace” that we need to discover in order to begin the planting process.

We will be planting a “house church” in East Alton, Illinois. House churches are small, with an attendance that usually is between ten and thirty people. East Alton is a town in the metro-east area of St. Louis. The population of East Alton is just a little over 10,000 people. The town mimics the U.S. average with a third of the population uninvolved in a faith experience, one-third somewhat involved, and one-third actively involved. The average age of the people is 41 years old.

Right now we are looking for prayer support. Here is a list of our prayer needs:

  • Pray for our approval from the North American Mission Board.
  •  Pray for a sending church to come alongside us.
  •  Pray that God will provide employment for me.
  •   Pray that God will provide a place for us to live.
  •   Pray for a “person of peace” as we begin to plant a church in East Alton.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Call To Church Planting

I had the joy of serving as Director of Missions for Saline Baptist Association for almost twenty years. During that time I have the privilege of promoting missions among thirty-four churches and participating in several mission trips. Our association was also involved in support church plants.

About ten years into my ministry there God began to speak to me about the need for new church plants and I took advantage of opportunities to encourage young pastors to consider church planting. At the same time God began to place a burden on my heart about a town in need of a new church plant.

As I prayed about it I also talked to other pastors and with leaders in our state office. There came a time when I finally scheduled a meeting with the state church planting strategist for that area. As we talked about the need and my desire to involve our association in supporting a church plant there he said, "Randy, it's obvious God has given you a passion for this. Maybe you should be the church planter."

I responded that it was a college town and needed a young man to serve as church planter. We prayed, I left, and they called a man to serve as church planter there. I left my position as Director of Missions and began as pastor of First Baptist Church, Ridgway, Illinois. I settled in and thought my interest in church planting was over. After all, I’m approaching retirement age! But God wasn't done with me yet.

I've served as the pastor for Ridgway FBC for almost three years, and I've had a blast. It's a loving church, and I love them. But God was using this time to speak to me about church planting. About a year ago God began to speak distinctly and consistently about church planting. I began to talk with my wife about what God was saying. Then I began to talk to a few close friends and family. Eventually I spoke to state personnel involved in church planting.

During the last few months God has clarified His call to church planting and opened doors I never expected to open. Six weeks ago I began the North American Mission Board and Illinois Baptist State Association assessment process. A week ago my wife and I went through two days of intense interviews. We are now waiting to find out the results of our recent interviews.

I am confident that we will be planting a church in the near future. We believe God has called us to plant in a specific town and a specific kind of church. In my next post I'll tell you more about it. In the meantime, pray that we will pass our next interview.