But, Is It Missions? Why the Work of ABCNW Is Considered Missions

Somewhere in Baptist history a line formed dividing missions-usually conceptualized as foreign missions-from the work of the local church. Church ministry was seldom considered to be mission work. Yes, there was home missions, but that was something a national board did. Complicating the situation was the attitude that relegated home missions to secondary status behind foreign missions. Perhaps that's why over time many denominations stopped using the term "home missions"; it sounded like a quaint throwback to a former time in national Baptist work, now considered passé.

A close observation of foreign mission work reveals that effective missions has a lot to do with planting and growing healthy congregations in mostly unchurched environments. Much foreign mission work concentrates on exegeting the culture, evangelizing the population in culturally relevant ways, starting new congregations, and training pastors. Overseas missions also conduct social ministries that not only meet human needs but foster receptivity to the Gospel. The hoped for result of foreign mission work is the establishment of numerous indigenous congregations that will expand and grow by reaching the unchurched with the Good News of Jesus Christ and by attending to the needs of the hurting, hungry and homeless through various relief efforts.

The vision of the ABC of the Northwest is to "grow disciples through healthy, mission-focused churches." We invite the congregations that comprise the Region to support this vision through prayer, work, involvement and financial contributions. By joining forces between churches we believe that we can assist congregations to be more effective in reaching the present generations for Christ.

But, you may wonder, is that missions? Is the ministry of the Region legitimate mission work on par with foreign missions? The simple answer is, "yes." And, here is why. The Region's first priority is to expand the Kingdom of God in the Northwest. We seek to do this in a highly unchurched part of America in which thousands of people need to experience the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ. This expansion of the Kingdom is accomplished primarily through the growth and multiplication of churches. This strategy is identical to that of international mission work. Whenever the church is being formed through the continuous birth of new disciples it is evident that someone is taking the Gospel to the surrounding culture, and that is mission, whether it is conducted locally or globally.

Since the Northwest is a giant mission field and since mission focused churches are God's primary tool for reaching the lost, then it stands to reason that as the Region strengthens and multiplies churches that it is engaging in legitimate missions.

There are numerous ministries the Region is conducting to foster the expansion of the church. One that is highly demanding and somewhat unheralded is the work the Region does to come alongside churches during pastoral transitions. This entire period is critical for the church's future. The best scenario is when a church leans into the future anticipating exciting new faith ventures and is able to call an excellent pastor to lead them there.

To this end the Region provides multiple layers of service during the transition period to help churches continue to be faithful and growing. These services include encouragement during the closure time of the vacating pastor; assignment of a search consultant to work with the search committee; the provision of a detailed search process handbook developed by Region staff; recruitment of excellent pastoral candidates; availability of a church assessment to clarify future direction; and appointment of a qualified interim minister in partnership with Interim Ministries-ABC. Once the pastor is called and installed, the Region continues to provide assistance to the pastor through the ongoing peer-to-peer support of the Leadership Learning Communities and the All Region Ministers Conference. The Region offers coaching to the congregation and pastor as they embrace strategic changes to be more effective in its ministries.

This is just one example among many of how the Region conducts missions alongside its member congregations so that the churches will be healthy and mission-focused. The intended result is that more people will experience the joy of knowing Jesus Christ and the Northwest will be transformed by vibrant and relevant, outward focused churches working together to advance God's Kingdom, for His glory alone. May our partnership in mission together give Glory to God and strengthen not only the existing churches, but the expansion of additional churches that give clear witness to the saving grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.     - Dr. Charles Revis

THE REGION AS ASSOCIATION: What It Means for Churches to Be Connected

In today's world a growing number of church leaders and pastors have no denominational background.  So, it is common to hear the question, "Why belong to a denominational group of churches?” As national denominations have become institutionalized, lost vision and have little to offer the local church even long-time adherents to a denomination are asking the question.

There is a good answer to the question. But, a little background helps, especially in our Northwest context. In the 19th century as Baptist churches pushed west they worked together to extend the reach of the Gospel. A primary motivator was their desire to plant churches in areas without a Gospel witness. Through prayer they discerned where the next church should be planted. Then they would bring in an evangelist from the Baptist Home Mission Society who would hold evangelistic meetings with support from local congregations from nearby towns. Many new believers came to Christ through these efforts. These new disciples joined with other believers God had sovereignly placed in the area and together they formed a new church.

In this way early Baptists realized that by joining forces they could make progress that otherwise would not happen. This cooperative work formed the basis for their local associations.

In addition to evangelistic outreach and church planting they built churches, providing manpower for construction along with financial backing. Additionally the local association trained pastors and credentialed them. They resourced local church leaders. They encouraged one another and held each other accountable through regular meetings, which included music, preaching and church reports. Counting baptisms and new members was stressed.

What those early Baptists discovered by working together through their local association carries forward to today's context. These discoveries include these notions: 

  • They were stronger together than apart. They were weaker when they operated independently.
  • They were more effective in reaching the unchurched when they collaborated.
  • They were more stable—biblically, theologically, ethically and relationally—when they worked together to provide training and mutual accountability.
  • Their collaborative work resulted in multiplication of new disciples and new churches, far exceeding any efforts when they tried to go it alone.

The association was the means through which they worked together. The congregations created the association that organized and gave expression to their cooperative efforts. In today's world we might use the word "network" to describe this togetherness. Although the association had officers and regular meetings distinguishing it from its member churches it was never an entity that functioned apart from the churches that comprised it. Over time these associations organized into state conventions. Eventually, a national denomination was formed out of the various state conventions. But, the main action remained local with the association of churches.

Today, the Region is the entity that embodies and carries forward the intention of churches to work together in association. The Region is not a "denominational organization" off on another planet separate from the churches. Rather, it is an organization OF the churches, consisting of member churches who link arms together to accelerate the cause of Christ through their cooperative work.

Belonging to this association of churches requires mutual investment and commitment by its member churches, pastors and leaders.

Unfortunately, this admirable intention is undermined by two attitudes:

  1. Consumerism. This is the attitude that looks to the Region as a remote organization, which is in competition with other organizations that dispense goods and services. This is surfaced when someone says, "What has the Region done for us lately?" It's similar to the attitude of the "church shopper" who wants to know what "this church has to offer."
  2. Us vs Them. This attitude creates an artificial divide between the local church and the Region by failing to recognize the Region as "our organization", our tribe with whom we travel and the friends to whom we are accountable. The counter to this attitude is embracing the conception that the Region is the broader and larger expression of the church in its cooperative form.

Because of this continuing association of churches and their investment of missions dollars the Region is able to provide multiple resources and opportunities for cooperative ministry. Some examples include: 

  1. Each church is supported by its sister churches through prayer, encouragement, coaching, training, mentoring and guidance during pastoral transitions. Through the Region connection a local church doesn't minister alone!
  2. The pastor doesn't minister alone! Through clergy clusters pastors are invited into a collegial relationship in which they learn together, coach one another and pray together. In our Region these are called Leadership Learning Communities. Each is led by a Region-appointed “Region Pastor” (aka “Mentor Pastor”).
  3. Church transformation resources. One of the greatest needs today is for the local church to be constantly renewed in its pursuit of Christ’s mission. Towards this end the Region offers church assessments, guidance through the Church Unique process and coaching for church boards and pastors.
  4. Leadership development resources including LLCs, the annual Leadership Tune-Up, local gatherings for training (“Tools for the Trade”, Oikos Training, Leadership Styles Training, etc), ethics conference and area meetings.
  5. Guiding churches through pastoral transitions including the provision of interims, intentional interims and transitional pastors. Search team consultants are provided for search teams. Candidates are prescreened and recruited.
  6. Wide variety of financial advice, church financial reviews and coaching for stewardship campaigns.
  7. Church Plants and Restarts. Rather than simply closing churches when they decline to the point of closing we are able to re-launch churches. We continue to look for opportunities to plant new churches and/or assist our churches that are planting.

The Region is owned by the churches and is an expression of the churches in mission. As such it is worthy of your church’s support through missions giving. Let’s keep our association strong as work together to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the great Northwest.   - Dr. Charles Revis