Breakouts: Immigration, revitalization, witnessing among topics discussed
From staff and press reports
November 27, 2017

Breakouts: Immigration, revitalization, witnessing among topics discussed

Breakouts: Immigration, revitalization, witnessing among topics discussed
From staff and press reports
November 27, 2017

Five staff members of the Biblical Recorder and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) attended breakout sessions scheduled during the BSC annual meeting. Below are some summaries of seven of the available breakout sessions.

BR photo by Steve Cooke

Antonio Santos leads a breakout session titled “A biblical perspective on immigration” at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, where he serves as Hispanic strategy consultant. He and Larry Phillips, BSC immigrant ministry strategist, led this session, one in English and another in Spanish.

An overview of basic pastoral counseling for anxiety-depression

Trying to define the terms depression or anxiety promises to be difficult for anyone, said Brad Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham. He noted that both terms offer broad definitions and vary from person to person.

“I don’t think our faith is any stronger if we face anxiety and depression with medicine,” he said. In fact, Hambrick puts medication in a wisdom category not relating to moral character.

He believes more ministers and lay people need to learn the phrase, “I don’t know.”

People get ulcers; zebras don’t.

“Our ability to anticipate and reflect,” Hambrick said, offers some clue as to why. “The neurological cocktail … between panic and euphoria, between compassion and depression, the difference is not in the biology,” he said. “It’s in the interpretation we place on the experience.”

He offered some questions to ask to help determine the level of anxiety and depression a person has:

  • Does your depression-anxiety come from or cause doubting of God’s goodness?
  • Does your depression-anxiety come from or cause trying to control things that are God’s to determine?
  • Is your depression-anxiety rooted in other sins such as bitterness, greed, jealousy or discontentment?
  • Is your depression-anxiety rooted in a sense of entitlement or comparing yourself to others?
  • Is your depression-anxiety the result of shame about or a fear of being “found out” for another sin?

“Somehow weeping with those who weep is not a contradiction of ‘rejoice in the Lord always,’” Hambrick said, referring to Philippians 4:4.

The first thing people need to do is to listen well.

Another thing is to advise a medical checkup. Sometimes there are chemical imbalances (temporary or permanent) that require medication. Keeping physical health a priority helps in a person’s overall well-being.

Hambrick also advises studying something with others and cultivating relationships. In his handout, he said, “Friendship, exercise and healthy diet are leading predictors of long-term alleviation of depression-anxiety, even when counseling and medication are beneficial and necessary.”

He encouraged pastors to mention depression and anxiety in sermons and on social media accounts. Talking about it opens up lines of communication with people who are usually embarrassed by the stigmatism of struggling with anything.

Some resources include his website: bradhambrick.com/depression; bradhambrick.com/anxiety; bradhambrick.com/mentalillness.

He also mentioned two books: Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray and Descriptions and Prescriptions by Michael Emlet.

Revitalization like you’ve never seen before

Five pastors shared their church’s stories on revitalization during a panel discussion at the BSC annual meeting moderated by Lonnie Reynolds, senior consultant for BSC Church Health and Revitalization.

“What are the common characteristics … the key elements we see happening in these churches?” Reynolds asked participants as the pastors prepared to speak. He encouraged participants to listen for the common themes among the various messages.

The speakers included Jeremy Peeler, Skip Allen and Jeff Marburger, all pastors at Hope Community Church, Shelby. Hope Community Church was formed from the merger of Second Baptist Church of Shelby and Element Church. The other panelists included Devon Varnam, pastor of Tar Heel Baptist Church, Tar Heel and Nathan Cline, pastor of REVO Church, Winston-Salem.

Each church was given seven minutes to share their story, and the panel concluded with a question and answer session with the audience.

Peeler began the discussion by describing a scene in the Gospels where the disciples had been fishing all night, yet caught nothing.

Jesus came to them and asked them to “cast on the other side … out in the deep,” Peeler said.

This is what needs to take place for revitalization. “We have to look at Jesus’ question … ‘are there fish there?’ … and listen to that voice. It may be something that is totally different than we have been doing.” Peeler reminded participants that obeying the voice of Jesus takes courage and sacrifice.

A similar encouragement was given by Allen from the same Bible passage. He emphasized that when God speaks, we should respond. Our response to God may be, “I don’t know if this is going to work,” Allen said, “but [I’ll do it] if You say so. That’s one of the themes that [church revitalization] takes.” Church members and pastors need to have the same mentality of Peter; no matter what God says, they should be willing to obey. He challenged North Carolina churches to be willing to say to God, “If you say so, I’m willing to do it.”

Marburger left participants with two thoughts on church revitalization. He exhorted the audience to not let the details distract them from the vision God has given them and to exhibit humility, affirming that the pastor’s humility leads others to humility. Marburger stated, “If there’s not humility in your hearts, there won’t be humility in your people’s hearts. … It all starts and ends with character.”

Although Varnam ministers in a town of less than 150 people, God has been drawing people to Himself through Tar Heel Baptist Church’s ministry. Varnam stated that revitalizing a church was the hardest thing he has ever done but that “Jesus Christ is worth following.” He asked each of the church’s Sunday school classes to adopt a local mission. He has seen classes partner with a variety of organizations, including local public schools, hospice, a Christian-based drug rehabilitation center and first responders.

He has seen people start various Bible studies ministering to non-believers. Tar Heel Baptist has also changed and given up traditions, in one instance combining homecoming services with a fall festival. At the fall festival in their town of 110 people, they had 300 people attend.

Varnam concluded, “I didn’t come to give you a blueprint for revitalizing your church, I came to encourage you to follow Jesus Christ and let Him lead the revitalization of your church.”

Cline said, many pastors start revitalization in the wrong place. Pastors should be encouraging people instead of reminding them over and over that the church is dying. He said, “What if someone stepped up and told them what it could be like? What if a pastor came in and said, ‘How can we be more effective?’”

Many times when a pastor tells a church they are dying, the attitude of the membership can be, “We’ll just see who makes it longer, pastor!” Instead, Cline encouraged pastors to inspire their congregations to something greater.

Concluding the discussion, Reynolds asked participants to note some commonalities in their respective messages, among them: engagement with community, obedience to a God-given vision, prayer and making disciples who make disciples.

Reynolds challenged pastors to begin asking their hesitant church members, “What preferences would you be willing to give up if it meant that your son or daughter or grandchild would become faithful followers of Jesus?” Pastors will be more likely to see the change they desire when they begin with questions like these.

A biblical perspective on immigration

As a school nurse, Deborah Sasser often encounters students afraid of deportation. Sasser and 27 other North Carolina Baptists attended the breakout session called “A Biblical Perspective on Immigration,” seeking to engage immigrant populations that are part of their lives.

Antonio Santos, BSC Hispanic strategy coordinator, and Larry Phillips, BSC immigrant ministries strategist, facilitated the discussion along with John Faison, executive director of the Council on Immigrant Relations. Santos gave an overview of scripture addressing immigration, including Acts 17:26 and Deuteronomy 10:18-19, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you …

The BSC has effectively served widows and orphans through ministries like the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry and Baptist Children’s Homes, Phillips said, but only recently initiated ministry to the sojourner. “We’re playing catch up,” he said.

Santos and Phillips’ vision is to help churches become aware of the need for immigrant ministry, and equip them to guide immigrants through the process of becoming legal residents or citizens, if possible.

Faison explained how nonprofit organizations can become certified sites offering low-cost immigration services.

Individuals who receive partial or full accreditation from the U.S. Department of Justice can, as non-attorney representatives working with a recognized organization, represent noncitizens before either the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or both DHS and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Unaccredited individuals can volunteer with clinic welcome teams and childcare.

Speaking the truth: Women using everyday conversations to share the gospel

Combining role play with two approaches to engaging in gospel conversations, Ashley Allen of the BSC’s Embrace Women’s Evangelism and Discipleship ministry encouraged and equipped women to share the gospel through natural, everyday interactions.

Allen shared two techniques that women could utilize to begin gospel conversations with others.

The first technique involved sharing a brief testimony using six descriptive words – two describing their life before Christ, two explaining who Christ is to them and two describing their life after Christ – along with a follow-up question like, “Do you have a story like that?”

The second approach involved an overview of the “3 Circles Life Conversation Guide,” which is a conversational evangelistic tool that incorporates drawing three circles to depict the brokenness of the world, the goodness of Jesus and how the world will one day be restored to the design that God originally intended.

Attendees had a chance to practice both techniques during the session.

With: A disciple-making relationship

George Robinson, associate professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Josh Reed, senior consultant for adult evangelism and discipleship with the BSC, encouraged attendees to cultivate disciple-making relationships, beginning with people they already know.

Robinson and Reed asked participants to write the names of four people who are “far from God but close to them.” Robinson and Reed encouraged attendees to spend time and share with those individuals through everyday life activities, while looking for creative ways to encounter other lost people, as well.

Robinson and Reed also shared four key disciple-making principles taken from the book With: A Practical Guide to Informal Mentoring and Intentional Disciple Making, which Robinson co-authored.

The principles were inspiration, equipping, training and mobilization, and Robinson and Reed provided a scriptural basis and personal examples of each.

“If people aren’t asking the right questions, you may need to take them somewhere to where they start to ask right questions,” Robinson said.

Faith at home in every ministry

Mark Smith, senior consultant for family evangelism and discipleship with the BSC, encouraged pastors and churches to help families become the primary disciple-makers of their children by equipping parents and grandparents to become “eager learners, authentic doers and intentional teachers” of God’s Word in the home.

Using Deuteronomy 6:4-7 as a guide, Smith described four modern-day applications of the passage in which parents can impart biblical truth to their children. These times include sitting at home, walking or riding down the road, lying down and getting up.

“This should just be in the rhythm of our day,” Smith said. “We should be very intentional as we go throughout our day to be talking about the Lord.”

Smith said he is available to meet and consult with churches to help them begin to implement a “Faith at Home” approach to their various ministries.

The heart of disciple-making

Fulfilling the biblical mandate to make disciples isn’t merely about scriptural knowledge or evangelistic skill. It’s also about having a heart for God and for people who don’t know Him.

Brian Upshaw, team leader for the BSC’s Disciple-making Team, shared how the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbors fuels the Great Commission mandate to make disciples of all nations.

“We’re not going to fulfill this mandate of making disciples unless our hearts are for God and for people,” Upshaw said.

Upshaw also shared an assessment tool called “The Great Commandment Matrix” with attendees. The four-quadrant matrix tool is designed to help individuals explore and examine their heart motives related to various aspects of disciple-making and whether their motives are religion-centered, self-centered, man-centered or Christ-centered.