Churches face challenges. Those challenges arise from the surrounding community and shape the ministry of the local congregation. Each one is different. Some churches care deeply about racial reconciliation because their cities are diverse. Others are concerned about military ministry because an army base is located nearby. Still more wonder what the future of cooperative ministry will look like in their region, due to changing demographics and church attendance trends.
BR photo by Seth Brown
Frank Page called the New South River Baptist Association to renewed faithfulness during their July 19 messengers’ meeting at Sperring Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C.
On July 19 the New South River Baptist Association (NSRBA) held a messenger meeting at Sperring Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., and in that location several issues converged. The group crowded into the sanctuary, representing an association of more than 100 churches in a racially diverse community surrounding the largest military base in the world.
Frank Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, delivered the associational meeting’s sermon, calling churches to renew their faithfulness to God and hear His word to them.
“God is saying, ‘I am calling you back to my lordship,’” Page said, as he preached from Revelation 2:1-7. “He is in the middle of what’s happening in your church. … He is walking in our midst, and He is doing what the Lord does – to reprove, to convict, to convert. And, yes, He is still saving men, women, boys and girls – even now!”
In an interview with the Biblical Recorder before the meeting, Sperring Memorial’s pastor, James Fields Jr., recounted the unique history of the church. Thirty years ago the church was a predominantly white congregation, he said. Today it’s 90 percent black. Rarely do churches survive such a transition.
“This is a church for the community,” Fields said.
In light of the recent deadly shootings involving black men and law enforcement officials, racial reconciliation has been a concern.
“We prayed for America to wake up and hear God,” he said. “Vengeance is His. He will repay. There is never a time when we should take up arms against one of our brothers or sisters, no matter what a person does. They have to answer to God.
“I teach my church that God says, ‘I will fight your battles.’ The only fight that you’re supposed fight is the fight of faith.”
Brian Kinlaw, pastor of Southview Baptist Church in Hope Mills, N.C., and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Board of Directors, commented on the significance of the meeting, “Our convention is far more diverse than many of us realize.
Tonight we got to see there’s not simply one race represented among Southern Baptist churches in this region, across N.C. and across this convention. … the unity that we have centered in Christ moves beyond the differences that we have culturally or racially. We can show that in a tangible way in a gathering like this.”
Randy White, NSRBA’s associational missionary, led the group of church representatives in a moving time of intercessory prayer during the service. Huddled in small clusters, attendees prayed through a portion of Isaiah chapter six, asking for a renewed vision of God and pleading for peace and unity in the midst of racial unrest.
Page said before the meeting began, “It’s time for churches to realize they need to be stronger than ever before in community involvement. … Our churches need to be at the forefront with a prophetic voice and community based ministry that makes a difference.”
Fort Bragg, an army installation that hosts more than 50,000 active duty personnel, sits near the northern border of the NSRBA. Many ministries in the area are heavily influenced by the presence of such a high concentration of military service men and women. Fields said Sperring Memorial’s congregation is 80 percent active and retired military.
“It’s like pastoring a parade, because they come and they go,” said Page, who previously pastored in the area.
Fields holds a simple philosophy for ministering next door to Fort Bragg. “I give them the Word of God, and I love them,” he said. “That’s all I got, and that’s enough.”
When asked what churches with military focused ministries can do to serve the community, Page said, “You establish relationships as quickly and deeply as you can. There are huge stresses on the family. So, churches in any military community … need to have family ministry.”
As the packed sanctuary emptied after the meeting, Kinlaw emphasized the work of local associations.
“Our cooperative work together is more crucial than ever,” he said. “As the challenges are growing, as the needs are increasing, we can do more together than we can alone.”
The Recorder asked Page if he thought the role of local associations is changing. Page answered, “Well, I don’t think it is. I know it is. This is happening not just in N.C., but around the nation.
“Some associations have unfortunately failed in their understanding that they exist to serve the church and not vice versa. There are associations however that do understand they exist for the church, and they provide a wonderful and powerful ministry.”
Page emphasized near the end of his sermon, “Friends, we are in a serious, serious situation. Our country is a mess. Black people fighting white people. White people fighting black people. … Everybody’s pointing fingers. We’re in a mess, and inside the church we’re doing no better. … It’s time to get serious about the gospel.”