Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Reform of First Baptist Church of Durham

"On Sunday morning, August 19, 2001, I (Andrew Davis) began corporate worship at First Baptist Church Durham by calling on the members of the church to repent. The church had just elected a woman deacon for the first time in its history, and deacons in our church’s polity were treated as spiritual leaders with shepherding responsibility for the flock. I had been teaching the congregation that Scripture reserves spiritual leadership to men, and I had made private efforts to forestall this result. Still, the church voted in a woman as an authoritative spiritual leader.

So I began worship by calling on all the people of FBC to repent—including myself. In the spirit of Daniel 9, I felt that all of us must take responsibility for violating God’s clear guidance.  My call was an object of horror to many of the members of the church. They were outraged. In their minds, repentance was something you do at the beginning of the Christian life and then never need to do again. For them, it was as if I were saying, “Because you voted for a woman as a deacon, you are not Christians.”

But I didn’t believe that at all. Rather, I know that because of the power of indwelling sin described so clearly in Romans 7, a healthy Christian life is one of constant conviction over sin and repentance from that sin.

A church that stops reforming is dead. And as dangerous and uncomfortable as church reformation can be, the far greater danger is not reforming. FBC Durham was a church very much in need of reform.


My personal journey with FBC’s road of reformation began in August of 1998. I remember kneeling before the Lord in my office at Southern Seminary where I was finishing off my PhD dissertation.

Small Change-Important Shift

Most people who travel to Freeport from out of town do so on highway 20.   One of the billboards you will pass by when entering 'the Port' is pictured above.  When I first came to First Baptist our billboard was in some ways a microcosm of the direction of the church.  Our billboard once proudly declared the following two taglines. FBC: Where everybody is a somebody. And FBC: Where lasting friendships are made.  

Setting the larger context: My ministry predecessor had taken our church through "the 40 Days of Purpose" and was influenced by the Warren/Hybels church growth movement.  For a biblical review of this very popular 'philosophy of ministry' I would encourage you to carefully read this very important book or listen to this classic sermon. 

In time the leadership believed it would be appropriate to change the church billboard to better highlight what our ministry was all about (per 1 Timothy 3:15; Colossians 1:28-29).   Sometimes small changes represent important paradigm shifts.   For a season I use to honk my car horn whenever traveling past this sign.  This was my way of thanking God for His gracious work of revitalization at First Baptist.  "He who began a good work is faithful to complete it."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Leadership Lessons Gleaned from George Washington & the American Revolution

1.       The best of men are still men at best.

As a military tactician George Washington was an average Commander.  He lost many military conflicts and was often wrong in his strategic planning.  Having said that, General Washington was courageous, loyal, and extremely dedicated.  His ‘courage under fire’ inspired his men and an entire nation to persevere during a war that would have broken many a lesser man.

2.       All one can do is be a person of character and conviction.  Serve God faithfully and leave the results in the hands of Almighty Providence. 

 At various points in Washington’s career, General Washington was a few set backs away from infamy rather than ‘eternal glory’ and ‘fame.'  There is a thin line between being heralded as a military hero, a founding father, and one of the nations all time great Presidents and being remembered as something far less.  All one can do is be a person of character & conviction.  Serve God faithfully and leave the results in the hands of Almighty Providence.

The Christian life is not about personal glory and fame (Col. 3:17, 1 Cor. 10:31).  Having said that, we all will leave behind some kind of legacy.  What will your legacy be?  Persevering faith in Christ and obedience to His Word or something far less?  Hebrews 11 is a wonderful chapter to dwell on when considering this subject.

3.       Washington’s leadership was challenged and opposed from within on more than one occasion.  Good leaders are not exempt from friendly fire in fact they often attract more of it.

 Major General Charles Lee (was very jealous of Washington’s appointment as "Commander in Chief"; Lee wrote letters undermining Washington's abilities in hopes of taking over himself; At one point Washington accidentally was given this letter.  Later Charles Lee disregarded Washington's clear directives in the Battle of Monmouth; Washington could not allow this act of insubordination to stand).

 General Benedict Arnold-  (was someone who George Washington trusted.  Benedict Arnold could not deal with tough setbacks which led him to betray his Commander and nation. This Judas ram agreed to sell out West Point for a command position and money from the British. Arnold's story is perhaps similar to disloyal Demas' actions in the apostle Paul’s day).

 American Soldiers and officers- (Like Moses in the Old Testament, Washington endured various attempted mutinies and acts of insubordination from among his own troops.  On one occasion Washington had 8 nooses tied.  He wisely decided to let seven soldiers go and only execute one of the leaders.  In another period of difficulty Washington had the leaders of a mutiny stand before a firing squad composed of the followers who joined this mutiny.  Those men had to execute their fellow insubordinate leaders.  All this was done with the entire army present to prevent chaos and mutiny from taking hold of the camp).

Godly leaders are Satan’s greatest enemies.  The devil will try and bring down all of God’s people especially those serving on the front lines.  Of those officers serving on the front lines he is most interested in bringing down those who are most faithful to Christ and His Word (church history and biblical history proves this is so).
Jesus had Judas Iscariot.  Paul had Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14) and many others.  The apostle John had Diotrephes (3 John 1:9).  Moses had Korah (Numbers 16).  If you serve the Lord faithfully you better count on opposition.

Our ministry efforts have been undermined by outsiders and have been assaulted by a number of (former) members along the way. Character assignation through slander and gossip campaigns, rank insubordination, and many other fleshly tactics were Satan's attempts to thwart the revitalization and reformation of FBC.  

In the end, the Lord in His mercy decided to protect and preserve this work.  When a pocket of disgruntled attendees eventually left God provided for our financial needs through a very unexpected two hundred acre farm estate gift.  He provided for our spiritual needs by giving as one quality deacon board after another, by leading many like-minded new families to our church, and by encouraging the hearts of longtime members to endure yet another conflict. 
"Great is Thy faithfulness.  Sunday by Sunday new mercies we see!  All we have needed Thy hand has provided!  Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me." 

The Unity of The Spirit

When we moved to Freeport, Illinois my family did not know anyone in the region.  I had experienced the blessings of a close pastoral network in Indiana and I prayed that God might provide something similar in Freeport.  The Lord answered that prayer in an overwhelming fashion; my cup literally overflows with godly pastor-friends.  Pastor Larry Pauley was both a friend and a mentor to me.  Larry introduced me to some other like-minded men in the Rockford area.  Pastor Scott from FBC of Rockford, Pastor Chris Brauns from the Redbrick Church, Pastor Bixby from Morningstar Church, Pastor Brandon from Rock Valley Bible, each of whom pastor Word-centered, Reformed Baptist churches here in NW Illinois.  I have also been greatly enriched from a "John Wesley friend" in Pastor Tim Lehman.  Each week a small pocket of pastors sends out a Sunday morning intercessory prayer email to one another.  Pastor Bob and Morningstar Church provided FBC with many guest preachers whenever our ministry was in need.  On special occasions the men listed above have attempted to fill one another's pulpit.  

PSALM 133 
How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bring in the Reinforcements

In 2010 FBC celebrated 165 years of God's faithfulness.  In order to highlight the abundant mercies of the Lord we invited one of the nation's premier Bible expositors to come and "bring the book."  Pastor Lawson has been a very important mentor to me and has become a ministry friend.

We also invited area churches and like-minded ministry friends to join us for this very special celebration. Brothers and sisters in Christ from Elim Baptist and Morningstar Baptist sweetened our fellowship time!

Our  conference speaker, Dr. Steve Lawson, experienced many similar challenges in his very trying ministry at Dauphin Way Baptist Church.  He understands first hand how difficult and how painful church revitalization ministry and biblical reformation can be.  In God's good providence the Lord brought Pastor Lawson to Freeport in May 2010.   Besides the faithful preaching of the Word of God Pastor Lawson also greatly encouraged us to press on  in the face of various obstacles and challenges.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

"Four Steps Foward for the Very Sick"

"In my previous post, I addressed the issue of very sick churches, noting that as many as 40 percent of the American congregations fall in that category. Several readers commented that they would like me to write about possible solutions to the problem.

I love to be a dispenser of hope. But I refuse to be a dispenser of false hope. The current reality is that most of the churches in this category will not reverse their trends. Again, the process may be long, but it seems so inevitable for many.

Will God Reverse the Decline?

Where is the hope in God? Do I not believe He can perform the miracles necessary to reverse the courses of these churches?

Of course I do. But in Scripture, God usually works with a willing people, at least a willing leader. When He delivered the Jews from the bondage of Egypt, he had a leader named Moses. That leader was initially reluctant, but eventually He obeyed and the people followed.  The rebuilding of Jerusalem was not easy after the exile, but God used Nehemiah to lead in the rebuilding of the wall around the city. He used Haggai to lead in the rebuilding of the temple.

Four Broad Categories of Action

Yes, reversal is possible, but God usually waits for a willing leader who will find willing people. Indeed, some of the readers in the last post shared such great stories of hope and leadership

What are, then, some responses church leaders and members can have in their church if it is very sick? I offer four broad categories. These are not quick-fix methodologies. To the contrary, they are not specific methods at all. They are really major shifts in attitude and a new posture of the heart.
  1. The church must admit and confess its dire need. Most churches move toward death because they refuse to acknowledge their condition. Sometimes a single leader will be used of God to move the church in this positive direction.
  2. The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary. The change will not be easy. Many will resist it.
  3. The church must be willing to change radically. Frankly, this point is usually the point of greatest resistance. The church has to change decades of cumulative problem behaviors in a very short time.
  4. That change must lead to action and an outward focus. When a church begins to act positively with this radical change, it has essentially become a new church. It is not the church of old that refused to change and move forward.

The Possibilities with God

Can the reversal take place? It is highly unlikely. But it is not hopeless. Our hope is built upon the words of Jesus after he confronted the rich young man who wanted to enter the Kingdom of God:
With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

This article is one of many fine ministry blog posts from the pen of Dr. Thom Rainer.


Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Dr. Thom Rainer

Article by Dr. Thom Rainer

"I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.

The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.

The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.

Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed.

The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.

The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.

There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.

The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.

With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.

The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.

The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.
The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.

The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes. Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years."

Please visit http://thomrainer.com/ if you would like to read this and other ministry articles on the church.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What you need to know about me and this blog

ABOUT ME- I am only a sinner saved by grace.   Jesus Christ is my life.  

It is my conviction that Jesus loves the Church and therefore so should we.  In this vein, I am a committed churchman.  I love the bride of Christ and have done everything I can to reform our local church ministry (Colossians 1:28-29) according to the perfect precepts of Holy Scripture (per Titus 1:5f).  However, I am not without my own warts and blemishes.  Those who have served alongside of me in the ministry trenches can attest to this.  Having said that, by the grace of God I am what I am.   I pray that like Paul I can humbly say to my people, "Imitate me as (much as) I follow Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).   I am not an uber gifted pastor-preacher but I am striving to be an uber faithful servant of Christ!  To the praise of His glory, God has been revitalizing the First Baptist Church of Freeport.  To Him alone belongs the highest praise!

ABOUT THIS BLOG- These blog stories have been somewhat vaguely told in order to not say more than is necessary. The 'goriest of  ministry details' are often best reserved for personal conversations with God and with those directly involved in one's local church ministry. Much restraint has been exercised as I have written and edited these stories as this is not a pastoral "tell all."  Having said that, like the apostle Paul it is wrong to try and sugar coat the trials and tribulations of gospel ministry.  As such I do not apologize for highlighting some of the blood, sweat, and tears that have been shed in effort to "set in order" the Lord's church.

None of the articles that describe sinful conduct or speech have been written about current members. We all know how cowardly it is to stand behind a bully pulpit (or a bully blog) and point fingers instead of dealing with people directly. The Biblical process of confrontation/restoration is summarized for us in Galatians 6:1-4, Luke 17:3-4, 1 Thess. 5:14, Matthew 7, and Matthew 18.

This blog in no way represents anyone else's official opinion/perspective. This is how I view things as I interpret my experiences through the grid of Holy Scripture.  These posts represent my pastoral perspective about life and Christian ministry.

As in all things, search the Scriptures to see if these things be so.  Only God's Word is infallible and without error.  Swallow the meat and spit out any bones that you might encounter along the way.  Above all, press on and do not lose heart.  Jesus is worth it!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Establishing the Larger Context

When I came to FBC, Freeport five years ago I was informed by a pastoral staff member and by some of the key deacons that First Baptist Church was in decline numerically, financially, and most importantly spiritually and had been in decline for quite some time. All one has to do is read through the church minutes or converse with honest long-time members to confirm this humble assessment.  At one point in the sixties FBC averaged 700 attendees and was by all accounts the "it church in town."  Many things transpired during the 90's and 00's that slowly changed the trajectory of the church.

However, in early 2008 the lay leaders and youth pastor (rightly) determined that the most important thing was for First Baptist to try and become a Word-dominated ministry once again. To focus first and foremost on Colossians 1:28-29, Ephesians 4:11-15, and Hebrews 5:11-14 rather than on numerical growth and church growth strategies.  I believe this was a landmark decision in the life of this church.

Before I ever candidated Pastor Gary Gilley from southern Illinois was asked to come and speak with the lay leaders who also served as the search committee of the church. Pastor Gary rightly assessed that First Baptist was at an important ministry crossroads. “What kind of church do you want to be? A Word-dominated, Christ-centered church, or something else?" He also asked the men whether the tail was wagging the dog here? Gary believed that the church needed shepherd-leaders who would lead the church rather than have a congregationally-led church. Pastor Gary told the lay leaders that if we committed ourselves to being a Word-dominated church that the ministry may not grow numerically or financially. Pastor Gary understood that our church needed to follow God’s blueprints for His Church and to trust the Lord with the results; which as many of you know is much easier said than done. At this critical point in the life of this church the lay leaders were united in spirit which is why they eventually decided to hire a Senior Pastor from the Master’s Seminary. The reason for this decision is because they believed TMS' philosophy of ministry was biblical and was what this local fellowship needed to implement.  These faithful men also saw that Freeport sorely needed a "9 Marks" local church.

During my first year we enjoyed what is often referred to as the pastoral "honeymoon."  Despite five funerals a year things numerically were moving in the right direction. More importantly First Baptist gained some key like-minded families/couples along the way but we also had a lot of internal tension and infighting going on behind the scenes. Some within the flock did not like the new depth and bible heavy direction of the church. One long time member asked a staff member, "Are you guys actually going to do whatever the Bible says?" "You can't be serious?"  Many of these disgruntled members wanted shepherds who would visit them in the hospital, which we tried to faithfully do, but they did not want shepherd-leaders who would watch over their souls.  Many did not truly believe in any kind biblical confrontation/restoration. After many painful face to face meetings and a number of explanatory congregational meetings the vast majority of these folks eventually decided to leave (often time with guns blazing).

All that to say, after a very challenging start we were the smallest we had ever been. We were also more united and focused than ever before. We appeared to be growing spiritually and were no doubt moving in the right direction. The ministry was blessed to have a debt free four million dollar facility. At the same time, we faced the corresponding challenge of seeking to maintain such a huge facility.  The test of faith was ever before us. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The First Baptist Church of Corinth

When God led me to pastor the First Baptist Church of Freeport I had no idea how challenging or demanding the work of church revitalization was going to be.  For one, Mark Dever had not yet published his fine series of essays on church revitalization.  Second of all, how do you really appreciate and understand something until you have experienced it yourself?  Firsthand ministry versus classroom education is often much different.  Finally, the work of biblical reformation is often somewhat glamorized in books and movies.  Having made it through the past five years of revitalization work I now understand a little bit of what Carl Truman writes of in his fine book, Reformation: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow.  I am referring particularly to his masterful chapter on "Meeting the Man of Sorrows: A Theology of the Cross." I will devote an entire blog post or two to that very important topic at a later date in time.

The ministry I inherited in 2008 was in many ways similar to what Paul described in
2 Corinthians 12:19-21, All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.  For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced. 

One pastor familiar with this local church later told me that First Baptist had developed the reputation as a "pastoral graveyard."  So much for stepping into the shallow end of the ministry pool for your first senior pastorate.