A well-known North Carolina
Baptist pastor chokes up when he talks about his “hard heart” toward missions
in his seminary days.
It wasn’t until he worked
with the International Mission Board (IMB) that God began to soften Al
Gilbert’s heart. The pastor now leads Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem,
a church that gives generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and is
one of three North Carolina members of the Great Commission Task Force, which
presented its proposal to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee
In a blog post at
pray4gcr.com dated August 2009, Gilbert writes this about his seminary days:
“Knowing I was called to pastor, I avoided ‘Missions Chapel.’ My call was to
the church not ‘missions.’”
A rather strange statement
coming from the pastor of a church that supports missionaries serving locally
and overseas, and year after year sends church members on mission trips across
Gilbert goes on to say in
the post that “after years of serving as a pastor, God began to deal with my
He spent five years as special assistant to IMB’s president, visiting
and encouraging missionaries, and challenging churches to take missions
seriously. Gilbert traveled to unreached areas of the world, meeting
missionaries and beginning to see people as they saw people — lost without the
gospel of Jesus Christ.
During a recent interview
Gilbert gets choked up at times as he talks about these experiences. But the
emotion is not for show. Gilbert seems acutely aware of the importance of what
he is talking about. Gilbert came to Calvary Baptist Church in 2002.
the Task Force was appointed last summer that phrase — the Great Commission —
has been used. A lot. So much so that the temptation may become to start
unintentionally using it as some type of passing jargon that is said without
really understanding its meaning, or perhaps forgetting the weight of what is
What does it mean to be a
Great Commission church? What does it mean to be a church devoted to the Great
Gilbert described a Great Commission church this way: “The Great
Commission really is the mission of God, to bring worshippers to Himself. We
see that pattern from the very beginning when He blessed Abraham and said
through him all people will be blessed.”
Gilbert said a Great Commission church
understands the mission of God and its global implications.
Churches seeking to be
obedient to the Great Commission must make discipleship a priority, and look
for strategies to make disciples in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends
of the earth, as taught in Acts 1:8.
Fulfilling the Great
Commission requires churches to maintain a “multiplying mindset.”
“It’s not how many our
church can seat but how many we can send,” Gilbert said.
From the outset of the
interview Gilbert made it clear that Calvary is on the road to becoming a Great
Commission church; in no way does the church have it all figured out, right
now. Yet, Gilbert is encouraged as the church continues to grow in its
understanding of the mission of God and its desire to be part of that mission.
When he began as a pastor
years ago Gilbert had a lot to learn about what it means to be a Great
Commission church and what it means to be a church that cares about missions,
which he described as essentially the mission of the church, or bringing
worshippers to God.
“Missions has to take on an
intentionality of stretching, moving, crossing a barrier and taking the gospel
where it is not,’ he said.
Gilbert had to get over a
“false dichotomy” of being a local pastor and being on a global mission — the
two can in fact co-exist.
As a trustee of the Foreign
Mission Board for eight years, his wife told him story after story of God at
work around the world.
“I think she was praying
that God would soften my heart and make me open to that,” Gilbert said. “Going
on a mission trip did a lot for me in this regard. When I was confronted with
poverty like I had never been before I was faced with the reality that God
loved those little boys and girls as much as He loved my own. It broke my heart
and showed my arrogance.”
Locally, Calvary takes the
waffle approach in determining where and how to minister. The waffle/pancake
analogy, one Gilbert picked up from the IMB, goes like this: pour syrup on a
pancake and it moves freely and runs over the entire surface. Pour syrup on a
waffle and some of the pockets won’t get it.
“As leaders trying to reach
the neighborhoods in our town we need to do a waffle analysis. Try to figure
out where those pockets of lostness are,” Gilbert said.
Churches must consider
where in their community the gospel is present and where it is not, what
hinders the gospel in that area and what the church can do to help.
Calvary often partners with
other local churches in their effort to take the gospel throughout
Winston-Salem and surrounding areas.
They are intentional about
reaching out to internationals and helping meet practical needs. Calvary
includes language congregations, such as Hispanic and Vietnamese.
not try to meet all the needs in Winston-Salem, as that would be impossible and
would most likely duplicate ministry efforts of other local churches. They
focus much of their outreach on two communities and seek to pour into the lives
of those people.
Pastors must think like
missionaries and in turn must help the church think like a missionary.
“A missionary thinks with a waffle
model in mind. We should be trying to work ourselves out of a job. We want to
plant reproducing churches that become missionaries themselves,” Gilbert said.
“In the local church we do this by finding where the gospel is not. We pastors
tend to fall into the trap of thinking we are measured by how many people we
gather in our particular location, rather than how many people actually know
and are being transformed by the gospel. So I tell pastors they may actually
have to get smaller to be more successful because we are working toward giving
people away for the sake of the gospel.”
Calvary keeps missionaries
from their church in front of the church. They pray for them, help meet needs
when they can and allow them to share about their ministry with the church as
often as possible.
Churches must stay connected with the missionaries being
called and sent out of the church.
“When a pastor feels that
the church has transferred the job of witnessing to him, he knows that there is
a sickness in his church. He knows he is not to be the only one sharing his
faith; he knows his job is to equip them so that they can share their faith,”
Gilbert said. “We have made the same mistake by placing the responsibility to
reach the world on the missionary and then failed to link our lives with
theirs. We are losing the component of tasting and feeling the responsibility.
We have to own the task along with them.”
Great Commission churches
are churches with a passion to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ at home
and around the world. They are churches not content to maintain the status quo
because that’s what is most comfortable.
Gilbert urged pastors not to get
bogged down with church member expectations and measuring themselves by the
expectation of others.
“Get on your face before
God,” he said. “Ask Him to help you balance the needs your church has with the
direction that the church needs to begin to move in, in order to become a Great