December 12, 2017

Home Missions: Interview with Bob Thompson of BHM (1)

Don Johnson

Recently, I sat down with Bob Thompson, director of Baptist Home Missions, a small independent Baptist mission board devoted to church planting in North America. This aspect of mission work is often overlooked by the attention given to foreign missions, but it is vital for the church to replicate itself both on the home and foreign fields. In the interview that follows, Bob shares with us his burden for building churches in North America.

P&D: The first thing we’d like to do is find out about you and your ministry background. What ministries have you been occupied in up to now?

BT: I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My folks took me to church all my life. I was saved at an early age. The church that we attended had a strong missions emphasis, so there was always an interest in missions as I was growing up. The pastor we had also involved me in a lot of ministry opportunities so ministry and missions was a part of my thinking. But the Lord also gave me an interest in another area, that was in medicine. My mom was a nurse and I was thinking that it might be cool to go to the mission field as a medical missionary. That is what took me to Bob Jones University to prepare in Pre-Med, to get Bible training and Pre-Med at the same time and then move on to medical school. While I was at Bob Jones, though, the Lord redirected my focus directly towards ministry.

I went from Bob Jones to Southside Baptist Church in Rock Hill, SC, served as the associate pastor for five years. That was a continuation of my training as well as an opportunity to serve. While we were there, we again had a strong missions emphasis. The Lord used that to direct my wife and me to go to Brazil as missionaries where we served for fifteen years.

While we were in Brazil, we had the opportunity to help start churches: we worked with deaf ministries to help build up works with the deaf, we were asked to serve in the publishing ministry with the Regular Baptist Press in Brazil (I served as the director for twelve years), we taught in three different Bible schools – in other words, we had an opportunity to have a well-rounded ministry. One of the highlights of our ministry, though, was taking a team of Brazilian pastors along with a couple of American colleagues over to Mozambique and introduce them to the need for missions there. God used that trip to call one of the men back there as a missionary. We worked with the Brazilian churches to start a mission agency that could help get them into the country. So we were able to see missions started through the Brazilians, supported by Brazilian churches. That, to me, was one of the key highlighted moments because we were able to see missions come full circle so to speak.

In 2003, our second daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. We had to come back to the States for her treatment. The Lord used that to redirect our ministry. We began serving with Bibles International, a part of Baptist Mid-Missions, doing Bible translations around the world. I served as a projects manager. I enjoyed that ministry immensely, being able to get out with the nationals, working with the nationals to do the translation work and to see how God was using them to accomplish that.

In 2012, the Board of Trustees of Baptist Home Missions asked if I would serve as their General Director. After prayer and seeking counsel, the Lord led us in that direction and that’s where we are now.

P&D: Amen! Well, that brings us to the second question, what is the history of Baptist Home Missions?

BT: Baptist Home Missions was founded in 1969 under the leadership of Dr. Walter Kirk and Dr. Otis Holmes. There was a need that Dr. Kirk saw to see churches started and he needed an organization that would help him do that. Dr. Holmes helped him and worked with him to get Baptist Home Missions started for the purpose of helping him [Dr. Kirk] start churches. Soon after that, Dr. Holmes was invited by Bob Jones University to serve in their church planting ministry. Dr. Kirk stayed with Baptist Home Missions and carried it forward.

The mission grew through the years, was able to plant churches in many different places in the eastern United States. Today, we have fourteen families serving with Baptist Home Missions at different places in the United States and the Dominican Republic. We’ve expanded to reach out to the Caribbean region as well and are seeing God do some special things.

P&D: What would you say is the main burden at Baptist Home Missions?

BT: The United States today is not the same country today as it was ten years ago, let alone twenty or thirty years ago. The changes that have come about in the social arena as well as in the secular culture have reemphasized the need of getting the gospel to people who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of the needs that have developed in the United States have come because of the lack of churches, the lack of preaching, and the lack of clear teaching of the Word of God. We need to see these kinds of churches started.

Another area that burdens us is the fact that in our country there are over three hundred distinct people groups. Many of them have come here just in the last two or three decades — some as refugees, some seeking the “American Dream” — they are coming, the world is here. In Luke 24, verse 47, Jesus said that we need to preach justification and forgiveness of sin to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. For us, that means that we need to reach the world right where we are, here in the United States. We need to reach out around [us] where we are able to. So, we are seeking to start churches in multi-ethnic communities and being able to reach those people groups that many others are ignoring; that includes inner cities.

P&G: How do you see your mission in relation to boards that are more focused on foreign missions?

BT: One of the key things that is essential for those going to the foreign mission field is raising their support. In order for them to see places they can go and get their support, they need places here in the United States. But the number of churches that are available to give that support has declined and continues to decline. If we’re going to see missionaries go to the foreign field, they are going to have a place to go where they can find support. Part of that is only going to happen if we start new churches.

Back in the sixties and seventies when missions was growing and growing rapidly to reach out around the world, there was also a big movement in the United State to start churches. And there were many churches available to be able to help give that support to those missionaries going to the field. We’ve got to get back to that if we’re going to be able to see the work around the world grow.

P&G: To what would you attribute the decline of potential supporting churches for foreign missions?

BT: I think the decline comes from, number one, a lack of interest in spiritual things on the part of the American people — the ‘I have to get ahead in life’ attitude has caused people to lose the focus of reaching people rather than taking care of myself. It’s a societal change we’ve had that, even in our own neighborhoods, most people don’t know their neighbors anymore. Because of that we don’t think of other people, we have to take care of ourselves — it’s survival. We don’t want to reach out like we used to, and that includes our money.

Another area is that we aren’t being as evangelistic in our country as we used to be. We don’t out to win other people to Jesus Christ. It’s an attitude of, ‘everybody will find their way’ or ‘I know what I believe but everybody is allowed to believe what they want to believe.’ But if they don’t know what the truth is they’ll never know what they can believe. We’ve got to get out and share that good news.

Many churches have become comfortable where they are. They don’t seek to grow, they don’t seek to reach out more. They maintain but they don’t move forward. But if you stop that forward movement, you [inevitably] begin to regress. As you regress, you can’t do as much as you used to do.

P&D: Would you think that perhaps another factor would be churches focusing on minor points of doctrine and causing division among the churches?

BT: We have come to a place where we know what is right ‘for me’ and what is right for me has to be right for you, even though we can read Scripture and there are some things that are not one hundred percent clear. And we agree with the fact that it’s not one hundred percent clear, but it’s clear to me, and if you don’t like me then I can’t do a whole lot with you. Our independence has driven us to a place where we are no longer interdependent, where we no longer want to work together to accomplish things. One of the things I am doing with Baptist Home Missions is trying to develop what I’m calling a “Coalition of the Willing,” those that are willing to come together for the sake of missions, of getting the gospel out, to be able to accomplish the task. We may have our differences on how things are done, but the fact that I may wear a purple shirt in the pulpit and you only where a white shirt in the pulpit shouldn’t keep us from going out somewhere else and giving somebody the gospel. So… although we may not agree on those minor points, we can come together on the true mission of the church and that is to go and make disciples.

To be continued…

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

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