By Mike Hess
Why do you want to be a part of this church? That’s a question I would ask individuals seeking membership in the churches I was privileged to pastor. Today I have the privilege of asking pastors and church leaders that same question when they express their desire to become a part of the GARBC: Why do you want to be a part of this fellowship of churches? Here are four answers I never receive.
- I want to be a part of something I think is dying.
- Your lack of doctrinal clarity is appealing to our church.
- We want to be as issue centered as possible.
- There’s no enthusiasm or momentum about the GARBC, and we just love that!
As foolish as those answers sound, it would be even more foolish to want to be part of something that lacks momentum. As you read this, you probably serve in some capacity as a leader in your church. You love when fellow members are enthusiastic about your church. It encourages your soul to hear the testimonies of new members, who testify about their excitement in joining your church.
There’s a reason that athletes like Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, and Javy Baez sell so many jerseys—they’re proven winners who create enthusiasm. Popular teams are known for winning and creating a culture of excellence. As someone privileged to serve as national representative of the GARBC, I desire to lead a fellowship of churches characterized by enthusiasm. That means we’re enthusiastic about what we believe and what we’re about—making disciples, encouraging local churches, Biblically reproducing leaders, planting and revitalizing churches, and holding the standard high for excellence in expository preaching.
Enthusiasm is magnetic. It can function somewhat as a gravitational pull toward a church or fellowship. Conversely, indifference discourages people from wanting to be a part of something. Throughout the book of Acts, the gospel spread despite heavy persecution. The onlooking world got to see in high def what lives look like when they’re transformed by the gospel. I pray this magnetic enthusiasm will exist in the GARBC and that we’ll thrive.
Allow me to share four key characteristics of a thriving fellowship of churches:
1. Doctrinal Alignment
Since our inception in 1932, the uniting bond among the GARBC’s nearly 1,200 North American churches has always been our articles of faith. We do not unite around musical preferences, stylistic persuasions, or even cultural or political issues. Our rigid and hermeneutically sound doctrinal position is what fuels everything we do from resourcing, revitalizing, and reproducing local churches. Enthusiastic fellowships of churches have a settled doctrinal position that drives their mission—not the other way around.
2. Forward Thinking
I wouldn’t want to be a part of anything that didn’t have plans for the future. Faithful pastoring and church leadership is more than implementing innovative programs that increase the attendance and budget. It also involves setting the church up well for the future by Biblically investing in and mentoring the next generation of leaders. We must do the same as a fellowship. That means right now we’re investing in those key individuals who may lead this association in the future.
If you were to take a moment to talk with the influential leaders within the GARBC today, every one of them would point back to prominent men in their lives who mentored them and showed the importance of belonging to a fellowship of churches.
3. Financial Investment
While recently reading 1 Chronicles 29, I was reminded of what can happen to people’s hearts when they truly believe that what they’re investing in is of God. David left huge sums of his earthly wealth to go toward the construction of the first Jewish temple. As a result, God’s people enthusiastically united around this cause and gave as God burdened their hearts.
Being zealous about a fellowship of churches means investing in it emotionally, doctrinally, and financially. Giving financially demonstrates that you’re willing to make a personal sacrifice because you sincerely believe that you’re giving toward something that will reach people with the gospel and bring glory to God.
4. Driven by the Great Commission, Not Great Controversies
It is possible to avoid compromise and still obey the Great Commission. It’s also possible to deal Biblically and wisely with issues as God brings them to light without adopting a posture of grumpiness or a cantankerous spirit. When your doctrinal position drives your mission, it will be impossible to be derailed from the focus of making disciples.
Loving controversy is a mark of forgetting how good God has been to you in delivering you from your old foolish ways (Titus 3:1–8). May God help us realize that no matter what the political climate may be or whatever the latest kerfuffle on social media may entail, our mandate from Christ Himself is to make disciples until He returns for His church (Acts 1:8–9).
So may God by His grace give us an enthusiastic zeal for the fellowship of churches He’s blessed us to be a part of.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV).
Mike Hess serves as national representative of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches.