FROM THE STATES: Ariz., N.M. and N.C. evangelism/missions news; 'I want to be on mission all the time ...'
Today's From the States features items from:
Baptist New Mexican
Biblical Recorder (North Carolina)
Phoenix church plants have
one goal, many strategies
By Danielle Waddell
PHOENIX (Portraits) -- The culture of metropolitan Phoenix shifts block by block, neighbor by neighbor. A need or narrative that is true and relevant on one street may not be so on the next street over.
Ministry tools and strategies that flourish in one congregation's context might fail completely in another. This truth can be found not only across Phoenix, but across the globe. Healthy local churches will always vary in styles, but remain fixed on the one overarching goal -- Christ.
Across the board, church planters agree on the key to effective planting: authenticity.
"Some try to force evangelism with a canned approach," Valley Life Church Arrowhead Pastor Cody Deevers says. "People are used to that. It's a turn off. People can smell disingenuousness -- insincerity -- a mile away."
For Deevers, genuine disciple-making looks like reaching out to his fellow gym partners at a local CrossFit gym. It looks like consistency paired with simple, yet intentional friendships.
"Whether it's at a CrossFit gym, or it's at work, just in the neighborhood walking the dog, it's just getting involved in people's lives," he says. "I don't want evangelism and disciple-making to be one little component of our lives. I want to be on mission all the time and take advantage of opportunities that God affords me."
Deevers' location places him and his ministry in the suburban outskirts of Phoenix. Jim Helman's lands him downtown.
Helman started Downtown Phoenix Church through relationships with local business owners. Through this specific avenue of ministry, his church is able to meet in a variety of coffee shops, restaurants and public locations throughout the downtown area.
"Part of it was just letting go of what I knew, what I thought I knew, what I was used to," Helman says. "The typical Christian thing is, 'I want to help you until you'll buy what I'm selling.' I allowed the Holy Spirit to lead, not my agenda."
Helman said these Spirit-led conversations have allowed him to cultivate deeper relationships and realize opportunities to serve in situations he would otherwise have missed. By watching his example, the church has grown in its ability to effectively reach its particular community.
At Valley Life Church Camelback, Pastor Bryson Isom reaches and teaches local college students through already-existing service opportunities.
"We have some more opportunities provided here because of Grand Canyon University's service partners," Isom says. "It sounds unusual, but they've already done all the hard work. We just get to come in to serve through their partnerships."
Isom says the church thrives off of its community groups, a staple in all four of Phoenix's Valley Life churches. It is through these groups that members are able to grow alongside and encourage one another to serve their local community.
"We have 15 community groups; that's 15 ministries being served," he says. "We make sure all of those groups are serving, that they're not just a Bible study that circles up and never goes into the community they're living in."
Service and a presence in the community prove to be important aspects of the church, yet how it plays out differs in various contexts. Isom and his church serve with community partnerships through GCU. As church planter Christian Watchman and his family prepare to move to Laveen, he is assessing how to serve most effectively and minister specifically to the area's Native American neighbors.
"You've got to be present, be visible in the community," Watchman says. "Reservations are very active, so whether through a weekly league or bigger, quarterly events with proceeds going to a specific community need, we want them to know that we're there and we care."
The how proves less important than the why, he explains. There are ways of serving that make sense to specific locations and cultures, but he, along with the other planters referenced here, list authenticity as a pertinent trait in church planting and ministry in general.
"Just be real when it comes to relationships in the community," Watchman says. "I've always heard it in school, but it's become real: 'You can fool a fool, but you can't kid a kid.'"
Whether in locally-owned coffee shops downtown, CrossFit gyms in the suburbs or nearby college campuses, church planters across Phoenix, the U.S. and the world are investing their lives in whatever context they're placed for the sake of the Gospel. Each planter expresses the falsity of the idea that one, all-encompassing way of doing ministry proves most correct.
"I think it just comes down to being a good missionary," Isom says of church planting. "Good missionaries do three things:
1. They know the Gospel themselves.
2. They know the 'gospel' of their community, what they are believing in. They know their community's stories, they know their neighbors. They are able to connect the two.
3. Missionaries take the gospel story we know is true and connect it to the narrative of their community and of their neighbors."
This article appeared in Portraits (portraits.azsbc.org), newsmagazine of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention. Danielle Waddell is a senior studying journalism and religious studies at the University of Alabama. She spent her summer in Arizona as a North American Mission Board GenSend student missionary.
Remote N.M. church revitalized
through preaching, outreach
By Joy Pittman
LANDRITH, N.M. (Baptist New Mexican) -- With words like, "It's time we take ownership of this ministry," rural pastor Jim Benshoof and the members of Lindrith Baptist Church have started reaching their dispersed mountain-ranch community. Though the church is 15 miles from the end of a dead end highway, it is far from the end of its ministry. Instead, church members are rekindling ministry. People are coming, too. Alongside Lindrith neighbors, veterans, Marines, and Southern Gospel musicians are going out of their way to make Lindrith one of their stops.
Lindrith Baptist Church had advertised for a pastor for months when it received a call from a Nevada man inquiring about the position. Finding a pastor for a remote, rural community is sometimes difficult. Church members worried that their mountain community would appear too remote, its winters too harsh and its roadways too rugged. But, instead, they were thrilled to discover that their setting was the type of situation with which the man and his wife were familiar. The man was Jim Benshoof. His wife was Ruth.
By road, Lindrith Baptist Church sits roughly 27 miles north of Cuba, New Mexico alongside two-lane State Highway 95 at roughly 7,200 feet above sea level. Fifteen miles further along the highway, the pavement abruptly ends at a gate. Lindrith is only "on the way" to ranches. "City folk" rarely visit. For those who live in the area, Lindrith's post office, school (home of the Mustangs) and two churches are gathering places where neighbors separated by miles see each other. Wide open spaces are plentiful.
At the 2017 Baptist Convention of New Mexico Annual Meeting in Bloomfield, Ruth Benshoof told the Baptist New Mexican how she and Jim reacted to the small community during an early visit. She said, "When the church asked what we thought of the town, we said, 'Well, it's a little larger than we're used to.'" Their response both surprised and comforted the church, she said.
In May, 2016, Benshoof accepted the church's call to become their pastor. During the 18 months since, he has focused on rejuvenating the church and reaching the people around the community. Lost people are everywhere, even in remote, rural New Mexico.
The Benshoofs moved to Lindrith from Nevada, where Jim had served as an unofficial associate pastor. They had no intention of making a move. But, God had other plans for them. Benshoof had been mentoring a man who was approaching his seminary graduation. He offered to help the soon-to-be graduate find open positions through the Southern Baptist Convention's website, sbc.net. While looking through the opportunities listed there, he happened upon the notice for Lindrith Baptist Church. Unfamiliar with its location, he began researching the church and its setting.
Since he and Ruth were used to a smaller community than Lindrith, the town's small size mattered little. But, Benshoof assumed that his wife would not want to deal with snow again. Surprised, he discovered that she was willing to listen for a call from the Lord. The next day, Benshoof called the Lindrith Search Committee's chairman and emailed them some information. In his words, "The rest is history."
For Benshoof, the church is his first full-time pastorate, though he has taught and preached for years, he said, without the official title. His career path is varied. He was taught and conducted in the Penn State University music department for 11 years. Then, he and Ruth launched a private business overseas, where they lived there for about six years. In 1986, when their children were ready for college, they moved both their family and their business back to the United States. They also raised horses in Oklahoma for a time. Counting all they have done, Jim and Ruth have worked together full-time for more than 30 years.
The first effort to rejuvenate the Lindrith church's ministry and community outreach consisted of a Christmas Eve candlelight service. Twenty-five years had passed since the last similar service. The church formed a community choir for the service. And, a "Toys for Tots" event at the church accompanied the service on the same evening. Lindrith church members stopped counting people when the attendance reached 120. Benshoof said, "People were everywhere."
Next, the church hosted Vacation Bible School. For the past 15 years, First Baptist Church, Logan, had brought a student mission team to Lindrith that conducted VBS for the congregation. The Logan church was dedicated and did a great job, Benshoof said, but he felt that the time had come for the Lindrith church to retake that responsibility. He told the congregation, "It's time we take ownership of this ministry. Logan does a great job; but, then they leave. Since we live here and can follow-up, we need to take this back." The congregation was willing, though initially hesitant. Members felt uncertain about handling the task. But, as the VBS date approached, church members' excitement steadily grew as they prepared to help. Overall, the church saw 18 teachers and helpers volunteer.
Benshoof reported that the church experienced a "great" VBS. He said, "A couple of kids accepted Christ, and a couple of kids from the community began coming to Sunday school and church." VBS workers arranged a contest between the boys and girls to see who could collect the most offering money. The offering benefitted the New Mexico Baptist Children's Home. By the end of the week, the VBS children had raised approximately $750. On Friday, the children came to Benshoof and asked if they could take another offering that night during Parents' Night, so they could send even more money to the Children's Home. In all, the church sent over $1,000, all because of VBS. He said, "The children were so pleased to be able to do that."
Benshoof challenged the VBS children to memorize one Scripture a day, plus the VBS-themed Scripture, which they would recite for their parents on Parent's Night. They rose to the challenge and, "Knocked it out of the ballpark," he said.
"The church members were ecstatic about VBS," Benshoof said. He reported that people did not want to leave the reception that followed the Parent Night service because it had been "such a wonderful evening." He said, "It was an awesome time."
Immediately following VBS, two VBS teachers asked Benshoof if they could go to Fort Worth, Texas, for the unveiling of next year's VBS curriculum. They wanted to begin planning for next summer, he said.
Also last summer, some hunters from the Wounded Warrior Project attended church one Sunday morning. While visiting with them after the service, Benshoof invited them to return in November for Veteran's Day. He offered to let them take charge of the Sunday morning worship and have some of the men give testimonies. Like the Christmas Eve service, the event gathered what Benshoof called "a very large crowd of worshipers" from the community. The Wounded Warriors returned again this year for a 2017 Veteran's Day service.
In still another community activity, the church hosted a concert featuring the Southern Gospel music group The Blackwood Legacy. The group arranged a concert stop for Lindrith during one of their tours.
As for the church itself, Benshoof says the congregation is growing. He said, "We are committed to teaching the Word. And, when we do, the people come." His comments describe more than a feeling. The church has seen tangible growth in the past year and a half. Worship attendance has grown from 20-24 to 35-40. The church's adult Sunday school class is averaging 16-18 each Sunday. Its women's Bible study has grown to 16-18 every Tuesday. A Wednesday Bible study is running about 15-20 people each week.
In a mountainous rural area, Benshoof admitted, winter is a dangerous time for night driving because of unpaved roads and wildlife on the roads. So, last year, the church decided that during the winter months, they would start their Wednesday service at 3 o'clock in the afternoon so people can return home before dark. The change was "very successful" last winter, he said. As a result, since Daylight Savings Time this year, the church is back on that schedule. During the spring and summer, the Wednesday service is held at 6 p.m.
In a rural town that is 30 miles from the nearest grocery store, 13 miles from the nearest gas station and 100 miles from Walmart and with a predominantly older population, ministry is tough, Benshoof claims. He says that young people are scarce because of the lack of jobs. But, the church is reaching its community, and will continue to keep on going.
This article appeared in the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico (bcnm.com). Joy Pittman is a ministry/editorial assistant for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.
N.C. women share 'wonderful
message of His love' in Boston
By Chad Austin
BOSTON (Biblical Recorder) -- Two years ago, a group of women from North Carolina traveled to Boston to assist church planter Dane Helsing with the launch of Beacon Community Church.
Several of those women returned this fall and were amazed to see how God has been at work through the church's ministry in reaching the community for Christ.
"We were there two years ago and helped spread the word about the launching of Beacon," said Donna Elmore, a member of Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro. "To come back two years later and see they have about 50 adults and 30 children is amazing."
Elmore was among a team of nine women from N.C. Baptist churches who were part of a short-term missions team to Boston as part of a trip organized by the Embrace women's ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC). The team spent four days in Boston in late September engaged in community outreach and other ministries affiliated with Beacon Community Church, which is located in the Boston suburb of Belmont, Mass.
"My family and our church loved getting to know the women from Embrace," said Helsing, who planted Beacon Community Church in 2015. "Gospel partnership thrives through gospel friendship. When we witness church planting in the book of Acts, one truth rings loud and clear -- churches are planted through a plurality of people. We are absolutely dependent upon our partners to plant and continue to sustain Beacon."
Members of the Embrace team spent much of their time in Boston engaged in what Helsing calls "servant evangelism," which included serving subway commuters coffee and snacks, and participating in a variety of local service projects.
"Tangible acts of service in our community provide a way for us to display the very character of Jesus Christ," Helsing said. "This helps build trust and relationships with people who may be very skeptical and suspicious of anything church related."
Hannah Morgan, a member of Hales Chapel Baptist Church in Zebulon who was participating in her first missions trip with Embrace, said she was able to converse with a young man named Steven at a subway stop.
"We talked for 20 minutes, possibly longer," Morgan said. "This interaction was encouraging because I was actually able to engage with someone beyond handing them a granola bar. Plus, he was genuinely interested in why I was doing what I was doing."
In addition to serving the community through projects at a local park and senior center, team members spent time prayerwalking the community with Helsing.
"I enjoyed prayerwalking with Dane," said Ashley Newton, a member of First Baptist Church in Creedmoor. "One highlight for me was simply seeing how much Dane loves the people of Belmont and his passion for sharing the Gospel with each person in the community. Just taking the time to walk the streets and boldly pray to God for the community was awesome.
"It's always amazing for me to see how the Lord can use a small group of ladies to join His work that is taking place in Boston."
The Embrace team also assisted with several needs around the church facility, which meets in a rented dance studio. The team repainted Beacon's faded church sign, cleaned up and decorated the kids' ministry space, and performed some landscaping around the facility.
"They worked so hard," Helsing said.
Embrace team members also served in a variety of capacities during Beacon's Sunday morning worship service which gave church members a needed break and enabled them to worship together as a church family.
"This was the first time in the two-year history of our church that all of our members were able to participate in our worship gathering," Helsing said. "It was life-giving."
Helsing said his desire is that God would use short-term mission trips in the lives of those who participate even after the trip is over.
"There is a mutual benefit to mission teams," Helsing said. "They encourage us as a church plant and multiply our gospel efforts in our community, but our prayer is that God would also stir the hearts of the members of the team to catch a vision for church planting in their hometown or perhaps in another city where gospel-centered churches are needed.
"We view mission teams from an overall kingdom perspective. It's not just about our church and our community. God can use a mission trip to ignite a fire in a person to serve in another area."
For Paula Rogalski, a member of Second Baptist Church in Rutherfordton, September's trip marked her fourth trip with Embrace. Rogalski said each trip has allowed her to see the spiritual needs that exist and how God wants to use her and her church to meet them.
"Each trip to the Northeast reveals to me the spiritual need that is there, as well as the partnership needs that smaller churches have," Rogalski said. "Each time I go on one of these trips the Lord impresses on me how much He wants to reach our world with such a wonderful message of His love.
"I wish every member of our local church would participate in one of these trips."
This article appeared in the Biblical Recorder (brnow.org), newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Chad Austin is communications coordinator for the convention.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. Except for minor style, security issues, formatting and grammatical changes, the items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.