December 14, 2017

Home Missions: Interview with Bob Thompson of BHM (3)

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.

In Part One, Bob introduced us to himself and his board and we discussed some general trends in mission work and missionary support in the current climate.

In Part Two, we discussed the challenges in recruiting missionaries and planting new churches, helping churches get to the self-supporting stage, and challenges facing home missions from existing churches.

P&D: You mentioned the inner cities and also the fact that some of the boards have a regional focus. Would you say that your mission at the moment is focused in a particular region?

BT: Because of the missionaries we have and the areas where they are serving, I would say that we are in the eastern half of the United States as well as the Caribbean region. We are looking to expand to the western United States. Our focus would also include Canada, but at this time we don’t have anybody looking at Canada. For us to look at a place like Canada, it would mean looking into what is necessary for a man from the United States to go into the Canada, unless of course the Lord were to raise up a Canadian to be able to do that work. Those are all things that are included in our vision, but we won’t do until we have the people called to do them.

P&D: Well, we trust that eventually that will happen. We desperately need churches all across the continent. I think the West particularly presents challenges by the distance between cities. And (to throw in my two cents), one of the burdens we see is men who will come and become so discouraged because the distances precludes fellowship, or makes it an effort to have fellowship, and so when discouraging things happen — and they will — there is often hardly anybody to fall back on to encourage you. That’s one of the things the FBFI has done in the Northwest, for example, providing a place for men to support one another. I think that’s a very important aspect to the goal of church planting.

BT: We look at the western United States and I think the same would be true in Western Canada — I don’t have the history to say this, but I think it would hold true as well — when the New World was settled, it’s interesting that with almost every group that came over, there was a religious leader — and I say that because there are some cases it was a Catholic priest that was with the people, in other cases it was the pastor of a church that was with the people, but there was a spiritual leader that was there in the community with them. As expansion in the United States moved westward, the pioneer spirit was there, let’s go and find out how we can build up our lives in a new place, but that spiritual leadership didn’t travel with them, necessarily. Without that spiritual leadership, no matter what kind, the emphasis on following scriptural mandates or having scriptural principles was not there. So you began to get a more secularized version, a more liberal lifestyle, and that has to be combatted now with the things of God.

P&D: I think that’s so. In the pioneer spirit, there is a certain amount of rebellion, and that factors in. Now to shift gears a bit, how does your work fit in with the aims of the FBFI? (Seeing as we are here at the FBFI Annual Fellowship!)

BT: The FBFI desires to see more churches started that will promote the fellowship of those that are already a part of the FBFI but it also desires to see people reached with the gospel. Baptist Home Missions is doing that very thing, going out and seeing churches started. Some of our churches the pastors have become part of the FBFI, others have been involved in other pastor’s fellowships, but they are all men who would stand on the same doctrine that we do. We desire to see the same things accomplished.

P&D: That brings up another question. I did an interview with Dr. Ed Nelson earlier this year, we talked about church planting quite extensively. He made the point that he felt the best way to plant churches was to use the ‘mother church’ concept, where a local church will have a man who is sent out from their church but they will utilize the resources and deacon board of the mother church to help get that new church get started, before they can really have people qualified to be deacons. Do you use similar methods?

BT: We do use similar methods. When we are reaching into an area… one right now is St Louis, Missouri. We have a missionary there who has planted two other churches in the area and is planting a third church now. He has said this is the most difficult one yet. One of the things he needs is to have other churches in the area who are willing to help. When a man goes to start a work, he is there by himself unless there is a team to work with him. When you win new people to the Lord, that’s exciting, but they need to be trained before they can do a whole lot. That takes time. So that means the church planter is still doing a lot himself. That’s why he needs to have others come in to help. We are trying to challenge other churches, “Do you have a couple, one couple, that might have a vision to work alongside this missionary pastor and help see that church get started?” It doesn’t mean they have to stay there for the rest of their lives, but they make a commitment, “I’m going to go work with him for two years, five years, and help build up that work, then I can go back to where I’ve been going to church.” It gets help involved that way. When people are actually in the work, they want to see it succeed more, rather than, “I see what you’re doing, God bless you, keep up the good work.” But if they can help you with it, it makes a difference.

Another area that we are challenging, especially in Bible colleges and learning institutions where you’ve got more learning opportunities than just training for ministry, when they get done with college, they are going to go find a job somewhere. Our challenge, “Why don’t you set your vision to find a job in an area where a church is being planted? Go to church there, be a Sunday school teacher, nursery worker, and help out in different areas and help build that work up.” That would provide workers, that provides those who have a good job to help support the ministry — that also brings younger families into the ministry. If you are fresh out of college, probably you are going to get married before too long and begin having a family, when that family gets in there, that draws other families — it just opens doors of opportunity. So we are trying to get teams together to work with these men. We really don’t want to see men out by themselves.

P&D: Well, that sounds pretty challenging. I’ve known from my own experience that dilemma, you’re not established — I remember one young couple came to visit, they had a couple of small kids, I remember the guy asked me, “What kind of Sunday school do you have?” I said, “Well, if you start coming we’ll have one.” That didn’t seem to be a very satisfactory answer, because they didn’t come back. But… it does require, I think, a missionary mindset on the part of, not only the church planter, but everyone involved. I think perhaps that’s the biggest challenge we face in church planting. You mentioned earlier that, “I’ve got to take care of myself” mentality — I think we need to be missions-minded, all of us.

P&D: In closing, what message would you like to give to our readers concerning your ministry?

BT: The work of Baptist Home Missions or any mission agency is to be able to work alongside a local church who is trying to get their missionaries out. We don’t start the churches, churches that start churches. We don’t send the missionaries, churches send missionaries. Baptist Home Missions desires to work with those local churches that are reaching out to start new churches, to help them be successful in that. We want to be a facilitator and to be able to encourage them. That means we have some teaching to do. That’s one of our purposes, to provide education in the local church and other places, Bible colleges, and so on, teaching people about missions. It means that we need to be able to help them see how things can be done and be creative in reaching out with the gospel. It also means that we need to try to economize in missions as much as possible. I don’t say this to be critical of other agencies, but I think that in missions sometimes we are becoming too extravagant, where it’s costing too much — all of what we do has to be paid for somewhere. Sometimes things we do is taking actual money away from actual church planting. So we need to be careful that we are being as economical, as frugal, as dollar conscious as we can, to be able to be good stewards of what God gives us.

P&D: Well, I appreciate you taking the time to tell us about your mission. We trust the Lord will use it, maybe it will spark somebody to think, “Maybe that could be me.”

BT: If there is anything we can do to be of service or to be of help in any way, we’re available.

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

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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