Counting the Wins in Baby Steps

As a preacher of the Gospel, how do I measure “success”? How do I know if I am actually fulfilling my calling?

I have heard some say that you should not talk about numbers because God just wants us to be faithful. Yes, that is true to a degree. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). If we are faithful to abide in Christ, He will give fruit in due season. At some point, there will be some fruit (which cannot always be counted in numbers) if we are being faithful to do God’s work, God’s way.

I used to think that a salvation “decision” was a way to measure success. And then, I witnessed so many walk away after they prayed a prayer. Then, I decided that someone making a public commitment of baptism was a win. Yes, it is a tremendous step of obedience, but it is not the end of the journey; it’s only the beginning.

next stepsToday, I would say that a win is taking the next step. When someone trusts Christ as Savior, we celebrate that. When someone gets baptized, we celebrate that. When someone commits to studying the Bible with a mentor, we celebrate that. When someone decides to join the church, we celebrate that. When someone gets to the point in their spiritual growth to begin mentoring a believer younger in the faith, we celebrate that. When someone commits to greater training and leadership, we celebrate that.

During the month of April, we set aside time for a “Celebration of Service” to recognize all those who are actively serving in worship, evangelism, and discipleship. We used the opportunity to encourage everyone to take the “next step” in their own spiritual journey.

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Preaching to the masses

Many lovers of art and history around the world mourned the recent fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. “We lost a teacher,” is their cry. I heard someone fittingly point out that today we construct church buildings to house our teachers, but the Notre Dame was the teacher. This is true in the sense that during the Dark Ages when the Cathedral was built, the majority of the public was illiterate. People had to learn with pictures or with the spoken word. Art was often used to teach those who could not read.

Today we are dealing with a different kind of illiteracy, ignorance of Who is God. Yes, people do and can read books, but what are they reading the most? Their social media.

So, how do we reach them? Do we continue the same methods we have used for the past 50 years, and then scratch our heads and wonder why it’s not as effective as it used to be?  Well, if the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results, are we insane?

From Genesis to Revelation we observe that God is always coming down from Heaven to the people. From coming down to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden (Gen. 2), to Jesus coming to earth to die for our sins, and even in the future when the new heaven and the new earth descend (Rev. 21). Therefore, as His instruments with the mission of making disciples, what are we to do? Do we continue to expect them to come to us looking for Jesus, inviting the unsaved to a worship service that they won’t even understand because they don’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them? Or, should we go to them?

Yes, first and foremost, we go to the unsaved by building one-on-one redemptive relationships with our unsaved neighbors, coworkers, and classmates.

When Jesus came to earth He was able to personally interact with some. We thank the Lord for the friendships we have formed with our neighbors and others in the community. A few even agreed to study the Bible together with us!

However, Jesus also preached to the masses. How can we preach to the masses in today’s context? Maybe inviting people to church or special meetings worked in the past, but is that the most effective method today?

At our church, we do continue to canvas once a month with the goal of reaching every house in our municipality of Pilar with an invitation flyer once every five years. We still hand out tracts, but it has its limits.

One method to reach beyond our personal circles of influence that is actually working is social media. We know social media can reach the masses, and so we are using it to preach to the masses. Taking advantage of the algorithms of Facebook and Instagram, we publish “micro” sermons throughout the week. Our goal is to point people’s thoughts to God through His Word, presented in a modern way. The message has not changed, but the method has.   

Social media is often the first contact someone will have with our church, whether they are searching for something or one of their contacts shared one of our posts. We present God’s Word in a variety of ways – Bible verses, quotes, clips from sermons, and links to articles. (We try to stick with the 80/20 rule – 80% teaching/encouragement and only 20% church announcements.) Through our interaction, they feel like they “know” us before they ever decide to visit our church. We see anywhere from one to five visitors each service because they follow us on social media.

They walked through the front door. Now, what happens? This is the vital point that cannot be missed:

If our visitors do not experience a welcoming, friendly atmosphere of a disciple-making culture that cares about people’s souls, they will not come back.

In other words, I can sit in my office all week long and create amazing content for social media, but if we are not discipling our people during the 167 hours per week that they are outside of the worship service, they will not minister to the visitors during the one hour they show up on Sunday morning. And it must come from the church people, not just the pastor and his wife. Believe me, we know.

Following Jesus’ example, here’s how we try to invest our time in making disciples:

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2019 Disciple-Making Conference

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One of our Acts 1:8 church-planting goals is to encourage and equip other missionaries and national pastors in disciple-making in South America. In June we will offer another pastors’ disciple-making seminar, with a focus on personal evangelism. Pastor Jeff Musgrave will be here to teach the Exchange Bible study and we will have times of disciple-making testimonies as well as prayer in small groups.

Praise the Lord, there are currently 73 people registered for the disciple-making conference in June! Twenty-eight are from our church and forty-five are from Buenos Aires, other provinces in Argentina, as well as Uruguay.

Our goal in the conference is two-fold: 1.) to teach a God-centered method of personal evangelism and 2.) to continue to create an interdependent network of like-minded churches in South America who agree to pray for one another, strengthen one another, and work together to plant churches for the glory of God.

This is no small task! Please pray for wisdom for us and for a teachable spirit in the mind of each one present.2019 conf ENG copy

Thank you for your support for this important step of personal growth for so many. We have surpassed our goal for funding this year’s conference and will use any additional funds for the 2020 conference when we hope to have representatives from every country in South America present!

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Winning more battles than we’re losing

One way we like to measure spiritual growth is to ask the question,

“Are you winning more battles than you were losing at this time last year?”

This question helps to put the sanctification process in perspective for the leader/mentor and his disciple.

For many years we struggled with getting our church people to do more than just say “hello” to our new people. We taught and showed them over and over that they need to engage in conversation and show interest in them as people. This was a frustration for us at worship services as well as at church events.

Finally, something clicked.

During the past several months the church has seen more and more visitors who found us on the internet. Literally, every week total strangers show up at our services. Normally, they would walk in the front door, receive a customary kiss on the cheek with a “Hello, how are you?” from a handful of church folks, and then sit down. Alone.

However, that is not happening anymore! Our people are stepping out of their comfort zone to engage with visitors and new people. Ladies are going with the moms to take their children to their classes. The youth are inviting the new youth to go play ping-pong after the service. They are exchanging phone numbers and then communicating during the week.

On Friday we had our second “annual” Good Friday church picnic. (I’m not sure how many consecutive years you need to do something for it to be called an “annual” event.)

Last year, most of the church youth made an effort to reach out to the visitors… until they didn’t. Many got tired or bored of the attempt and decided to play games, to the exclusion of everyone else.

This year was a totally different story. All day long the youth included the new kids, the shy ones, the introverts, the not-so-athletic ones… The adults, as well, stepped out of their comfort zones to get to know the new people. They were ministering to others with an eternal perspective. They demonstrated that they have a better grasp of how to shepherd someone’s soul much better than they did last year.

So, is this Disciple-Making church winning more battles than they were losing at this time last year? Are they engaging with new folks better than they were at this time last year?  Are they growing to become more like Christ? From the evidence, it would be safe to say, “Yes!”

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Small Groups

Two years ago we began to implement a culture of disciple-making in our personal lives and in the church in Pilar. Since that process began, we have seen growth in the Word and growth in numbers. It’s now time for the ministry to take the next step to add another dimension to our evangelism and discipleship.

In order to reach those who are not yet in a one-on-one mentoring relationship, we are launching four new small groups. Each group has a leader who we have been training as well as an apprentice who, Lord willing, will begin and lead his own small group in 12 months. One of the groups is strategically located in the home of a faithful deacon who lives about 20 minutes away, with the hopes that a church plant would grow out of that Bible study one day. We are excited about how God will work through this next phase of ministry!

There are a myriad of definitions of small groups as well as the way they are structured and implemented in a church, but here is what we are doing in Pilar.

SMALL GROUPS copy.jpgThe purpose of small groups is to Glorify God.

The mission:

  • Evangelize unbelievers – inviting new people to the group to study the Bible
  • Disciple the saved – studying the Bible with believers, encouraging them to greater commitment to the Lord
  • Train leaders – equipping them to be leaders of their own future group

→ This is NOT a substitute for one-on-one discipleship; It is another layer in the process of discipleship.

Objectives:

  • Establish small groups that increase spiritual growth in the following activities:
    • study of the Word
    • biblical fellowship
    • prayer
  • Train believers to be leaders of their own small group while ministering to unbelievers and/or other believers.

Healthy small groups combine all the elements necessary to grow healthy and reproduce disciples. They offer food and spiritual support, development of skills for ministry, responsibility, training to reach others, long-term relationships, and worship. They develop the skills for leadership and they are the best instrument the church has to bring people together. (Bill Hull, The Complete Book of Discipleship)

Small Group Principles:

  • Be intentional in maintaining your own commitment and surrender to the sanctification process of deepening your relationship with Christ
  • Provide structure in attending, participating and being punctual
  • Promote intimacy by establishing relationships and bonds with others, showing love and support that provides the strongest form of mutual responsibility
  • Insist on growth (open groups) by having a mission outside of oneself (evangelizing)
  • Make a commitment to multiply each year (train leaders to start their own groups)

Requirements for leaders: Each leader must

  • Be an example in their character (1 Cor 11: 1, Mark 3: 13-14, Acts 6: 1-7, 1 Tim 3: 1-16, Titus 1)
  • be faithful in his service (1 Cor 4: 2; 2 Tim 2: 2)
  • be an active member of the Independent Baptist Church of Pilar
  • follow a more mature believer in the faith (each one follow one)
  • guide a newer believer in the faith (each one lead one)
  • take a Bible Institute class or inductive study per year (each one take one)
  • go through a previous training time with the Pastor to share the philosophy and purpose of the small groups and be able to continue growing during the time of their leadership
  • Be fit to lead
  • Be available to devote the necessary time to the project

If you want to be the kind of leader that others follow, you must pass the simple spiritual test of being teachable, humble and always progressing.

Materials to study: We follow the church’s established “Recommended Resources” list. Each member of the group must obtain a copy of the study book in order to read and meditate on it during the month, before arriving at the small group meeting. Not only is it more profitable for learning, but it also protects the group from the risk of shared ignorance and false teachings.

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Encouraging Like-Minded Pastors

Arch Ministries Pastors’ Fellowship

When we left the States late October, we thought we would not be back until our next furlough. However, the Lord graciously provided for us to attend the 2019 Arch Ministries Pastors’ Fellowship in Bradenton, Florida. It was an exceptional time of instruction from God’s Word, reconnecting with long-time friends, and forging new friendships. Although we were able to help out a little, it was nothing in comparison to all the blessings we received!

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Encouraging Like-Minded Pastors and Churches

Just as our minds were instructed and our hearts were encouraged at the pastors’ fellowship in Florida, we desire to continue to encourage and equip other missionaries and national pastors in disciple-making in South America. This year, we will offer another pastors’ seminar, with a focus on personal evangelism. Pastor Jeff Musgrave will be here to teach the Exchange Bible study.

In order to make this conference accessible to national pastors all over Argentina, we are offering assistance with transportation, lodging, and meals. An individual has already given half of the $5,000 we need to raise for this need. If you would like to contribute toward this project, you may do so by mail or online by simply noting “Greenwood 2019 Conference.” Any additional funds given beyond the $5,000 needed for the 2019 conference will be designated toward the 2020 Disciple-Making Conference.

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Stateside Ministry

10-bwmIt is often difficult to share the effectiveness of one’s ministry when your time with a supporting church or church where you are presenting for new support is very brief. We thank the Lord that our visits have been met with overwhelming encouragement and support for what the Lord is doing in and through His church in Pilar, Argentina. Many leaders and lay people alike expressed a desire that their local church would have a renewed focus on evangelism and discipleship. Our prayer is that this desire be accompanied by a work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals as they begin to look beyond themselves to the opportunity to minister to “one another” in ways that will result in reaching our generation for Christ and His glory.

We were privileged to attend Baptist World Mission’s annual meeting at our sending church this year. About every six years, we have the opportunity to catch up with missionary friends and meet with members of the mission board to report on ministry progress. The reports from the missionaries were encouraging and the opportunity to see new missionaries appointed to the board filled our hearts with joy as we see fellow laborers prepare to enter the harvest fields of the world.