Baptist Life Church Issues


The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio took place in Cuyahoga, OH outside of Cleveland on November 14-15, 2022. There were two hundred messengers, many of who are pastors. Dr. Ray Umphrey of Briggs Road Baptist Church was the president and will serve in the same role next year alongside Dr. Jeremy Westbrook the Executive Director.

Dr. Westbrook shared his vision for the SCBO and the accompanying budget for the 2023 year. There were a few dissensions and some questions. The tenor of the meeting was very good and encouraging.

Nothing was more encouraging than the Pastor’s Conference. Brian Croft with Practical Shepherding began the conference. His story is remarkable. He pastored one church for seventeen years. When he left, there were seventy-five members and a yearly budget of $110,000. You might think that is not enough. He’d tell you that isn’t the full story. The full story is thirty-two families are serving overseas as missionaries or as pastors who were sent out from that church! Allistair Begg finished off the conference. He challenged us to follow the church growth plan from Acts 9. It is simply this: edify the church and watch it multiply.

Throughout the Pastor’s Conference and the Convention, The Jason Lovins Band lead us in worship. They did a great job of leading us with songs old and new. In full honesty, most of them were new to me because I didn’t grow up hearing old hymns. His testimony is incredible. They recently released a song and music video about it.

Jason Lovins Band I’ve been listening to them on Spotify. They have some nice arrangements of familiar songs, well they might be familiar to you. To me, they have all new music!

Some things I found hopeful at the SCBO:

The not-so-good news is the SCBO has only met budget 3 out of the last 20 years. The hopeful side comes as 2022 looks to be a year in the black. This is without taking into account the sale of Seneca Lake or the three-year grant from the North American Mission Board.

The SCBO presented a good paper as a response to the Sex Abuse Task Force and the report of the Southern Baptist Convention. The report had good definitions, practices, and procedures to follow. Compiling this information at each level is helpful for churches.

The SCBO budget has money earmarked for ethnic churches. In the county where I live, our school system has over twenty languages represented. There are only one or two churches that target these languages. There are more languages in the entire state and having money dedicated to their work is good.

The partnership in Florida will allow states to work together. Dr. Westbrook wants to see SCBO walk alongside Florida Baptists and their work with One More Child. One More Child is a ministry helping churches and their members with foster care and adoption. I’m very familiar with the ministry having grown up in Florida. It will be a welcome here in Ohio.

Dr. Westbrook wants to focus on the pastors of the churches in Ohio. This is part of the regional catalyst system. Instead of centralizing all ministries in Columbus, he has hired people who are geographically spread out around the state for better connection. He shared about the prayer ministry of Bill Elliff. He was emotional when sharing about it. Bill Elliff will come to Columbus to train the SCBO staff and the Associational Missional Strategists (the new name for the DOMs).

The Send Luncheon was a hit. We got some massive sandwiches from Panera and some nice coffee cups, a NAMB staple. What was better though was hearing from three guys who have used NAMB to plant a church. We heard of a revitalization/campus method that plans to be autonomous. We heard from a seasoned church planter who is planting a second church. The last one was a Nepali church planter who took a night off of work to attend and share how NAMB is helping them.

Some challenges ahead for the SCBO:

Financially, the SCBO is in a good place. However, the SCBO does not present any financial statements to the convention. The SBC and most churches will give a balance sheet so people know what is in the accounts. Since the SCBO does not do this, it is hard for anyone to know what is going on financially. There is a financial committee that sees what is going on but this same committee allowed for the budget to only be met 3 out of the last twenty years.

The SCBO and NAMB partnership is a very good thing for Ohio Baptists, if your church is new or if it is dying. Dr. Westbrook wants to address the established churches. Out of the 700+ churches in the SCBO, many are established churches so connecting with and equipping them is paramount. Dr. Westbrook is a church planter and those in the catalyst positions are focused on church plants. This is a good thing but there is a need to assist churches that are already here.

The IMB had a fantastic video with Dr. Paul Chitwood. He said, “Missions is why we came together and why we stay together.” The problem is the video was right after lunch and before the worship. There were maybe only 15% of the people there and almost not SCBO staff. I look to suggest a time that we will combine the NAMB luncheon and highlight the IMB missionaries who came from SCBO churches. We could also make this part of the regular meeting and have the pastors stand who have missionaries from their churches.

The SCBO was a great time. Things are on the move in Ohio. Better days are ahead. There is a great past and the future is very bright.

Church Issues

To attend or not attend?

The outcome of COVID-19 remains to be seen. We do not yet know when the world will get back to normal, whatever that is. I have no interest in adding to the many hypotheses and analyses. There are more competent and qualified people than me to address the subject. I want to speak about something more important and more dangerous. I want to talk about the church.

Churches still have not returned fully after months of quarantine. More troublesome is one-third of people have not returned and may never come back. What happened? There are different theories. Some pastors I have spoken to see it as a salvation issue, while others see it as pseudo committed people getting out of the rhythm of church attendance.

Church attendance is a salvation issue and it is also not a salvation issue. The pastors I have spoken do not believe going to church makes one saved. Their argument is as stated: The gathering of the local body is an issue of obedience to Scripture, to reject the biblical command to gather together is a sign up an unrepentant heart. Because repentance is a sign of a believer, those who willfully reject gathering together are in unrepentant sin and not truly converted.

I am sympathetic to their line of reasoning. Everyone I have spoken to understands those who, for medical reasons, do not feel comfortable attending. We are not talking about those in that type of situation. Those who find other things to do, created new routines, or found out they liked having an extra weekend morning are the ones causing the concern.

Hebrews 10:24-25 gives clear direction to believers to gather together, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I do not think this is a time to pile on people who have enjoyed time away from church. Rather, these verses teach us that the struggle to gather together for believers is not new.

Believers then and believers now need encouragement to gather together. The writer of Hebrews tells us to consider how to encourage others. The idea of consider in the text carries with it the idea of careful, thoughtful, contemplation for the sake of others. We are supposed to use our minds to think of ways to encourage others to love, do good works, and gather together. This encouragement comes as believers gather together.

When believers gather together there are numerous benefits. They are strengthened as they worship together. The work of God is magnified through their prayers. They are comforted as they minister to one another, especially those who are suffering. They grow in holiness as they listen to the Word preached. They help send gospel missionaries and care for the poor as gather offerings. Their witness is benefited as a socially and economically diverse group of people fellowship in unity. More could be said for the benefits of gathering for mental health as it pertains to loneliness, depression, and other results to staying away from fellowship. At the very least, many people have long-standing deep friendships that are cultivated through in-person gatherings over Bible study and prayer.

Consider then, how you might encourage others to gather this Sunday. Find that friend that you haven’t seen at church in a while, check on them, invite them back. If they are concerned about health reasons, reassure them and encourage them that they are not in sin. We are living in crazy times. We need another. We need you there.