A Word From Steve Jones
January 14th, 2019
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains, and friends,
Steve here… Our churches have remained committed to the social and spiritual welfare of children in our communities and around the world. Many times in recent years our FAIR appeals (Fellowship Aid and International Relief) have addressed the need to care for children, whether that be children victimized by cybersex trafficking in the Philippines, educating Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, feeding hungry school children in Haiti, or ensuring safe maternal care in the DR Congo. These appeals continue to be very well received and funded by our churches and donors. I thank you.
Our latest FAIR appeal seeks to care for children in Honduras. The current “Casa Hogar” children’s home is in critical need of one-time gifts along with donors who will commit to monthly support that will address the needs of these children. I will let our FAIR Director, Dan Shurr explain more.
“The streets can be a dangerous place for children anywhere. In Honduras this is especially true. Predators abound, particularly in poor neighbourhoods where children are left on their own to fend for themselves as best they can. Some children are abandoned. Some are orphaned. All lack the basic necessities to eat, to be safe, to get a good education or medical help. Most of all, they don’t know about a Heavenly Father who loves them as no one else ever could. Casa Hogar was established to help meet the needs of abandoned, abused, and orphaned children and to provide them with a place to call home.
But a new chapter is being written in the story of Casa Hogar. Over the past months negotiations have been ongoing between FAIR and Casa Hogar’s mother organization, Vida Y Libertad, in Spain. Lord willing, FAIR will be assuming much more responsibility for the home and its ministry. We are launching the Fresh Startproject this month to raise $110,000 needed to make provision for this change, provide bridge funding to support the children until the sponsorship program is fully in place, and to put a roof over a play area, making it accessible in any kind of weather.
The child sponsorship program currently in development will guarantee the sustainability of Casa Hogar for the future, and will be uniquely designed to meet the needs of the children in the home.
Two hundred and fifty sponsors giving $35 monthly will provide for the needs of the children currently at Casa Hogar. The program will become the model upon which other child sponsorship programs will be built, each one tailored to its specific setting and need. This exciting addition to FAIR’s ministry is expected to be launched in the Fall of 2019.”
Thank you Dan. This is the first of future child sponsorship appeals. We need 250 sponsors to join the team to meet this critical need. Please prayerfully consider this request; we need to hear from you soon. Thank you.
Have a blessed week,
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… One night Jesus met with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader and a religious man. Nicodemus was born in sin, so he could not inherit the Kingdom of God. He was also blind to sin, so he could not see the Kingdom of God. He was bound by sin, so he could not enter the Kingdom of God. But, the Spirit of God breathed life into this religious man and he was born again. He was brought back to life from the dead.
Today, we conclude my “President’s Address” from FNC2018 in November 2018. The past couple of weeks we’ve investigated the discipleship drought in our churches and the solution from Ezekiel 37:1-5:
“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones. Dem bones, dem bones gonna walkaround!”
James Johnson’s famous spiritual, made more famous by the Myer Jubilee singers in 1928, helped to popularize Ezekiel’s vision and underscore the supernatural work of God. New birth, whether in people or churches, is a supernatural event! Ezekiel 37:10 (ESV) says: “…they live and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army”.
But it’s not enough to just connect the bones. God also strengthened them sufficiently enough to stand, and to stand without the aid of crutches, splints, or a respirator. They were strong! We pray earnestly that many would come to faith, but also be strengthened by His Spirit and discipled by His Church, to stand and withstand. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father”, prays the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:14-19 (ESV): in that believers might be, “strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (vs 16b), and “rooted and grounded in love, [that you] may have strength to comprehend” (vv 17b-18a), and “be filled with the fullness of God” (vs 19b). We pray for new birth, we pray for new disciples who make disciples and churches who establish new churches. We pray that the supernatural work of God might reanimate the bones of this valley and then move as a “great army” to the next valley and to the next and the next. Verse 7 notes there, “was a sound and behold, a rattling…” (ESV).
Is there a “rattling” going on in Canada? In the Fellowship? Any signs of new life? Are there any places where the Holy Spirit might be “breathing”?
The Fellowship’s church planting story since 2010 is most definitely a sign of “rattling”.
Our Fellowship Pacific Region has planted 11 churches. Our Fellowship Prairies Region has planted three churches. Our FEB Central Region has planted 48 churches. Our AÉBÉQ (Quebec) Region has planted 11 churches, and our Fellowship Atlantic Region has planted three churches. This comes to a total of 76 churches planted in the past eight years. Previously, between 1990 and 2000 our Fellowship planted another 87 churches. Over the next 25 years, in many ways, we’ll look back on this period of our Fellowship as a time when we returned to our heritage as a church planting movement.
When it comes to church health, we’re also hearing some “rattling” as well.
Our FEB Central Region has identified and classified 23 churches as “turn-around churches” in the past five years. This means that churches who were on the descending end of the “Church Life Cycle” are now in varying stages of good church health.
The story of our Fellowship Pacific Region is one of revitalization. After 3o years of a four percent decline (-4%) each year, leaders decided together that was not acceptable; this could not possibly be God’s desire for their Region. The result was a five year partnership (which was completed in 2016), whereby a greater degree of collaboration and interdependence would occur among churches. The outcome is a “turn-around Region” that is no longer experiencing -4% decline, but a healthy 7% growth annually on average among its churches. This is remarkable, in that this is not happening in most Evangelical circles in Canada today.
And to top this all off, this past year our Fellowship International department deployed nine missionaries from our churches, and our Chaplaincy department appointed 18 new Fellowship chaplains. These are recruitment records among our churches.
However, I would still contend that this is still the sound of the “rattling”, not the “thunder clap” of a marching army rising from the dry valley. As encouraging as all this fruit might sound, it still is only the “rattling”. The sound of a “reviving wind”—the Spirit of God is looking to envelope our churches with his “breath”. The “sinew, tendons and muscle” growth has only started to happen; there is still lots of dry bones out there; still plenty of graveyards, and too many “Boneyard Baptist Churches”!
When I started in my role as Fellowship National President in mid-2011, we were a movement of churches numbering 507. Seven years later we are 510 churches from coast to coast to coast. Seventy-six church plants were established in that same time frame, and yet we remain the same number of churches across our nation. Obviously, there has been some death. Some dry bones succumbed. Death is a natural occurrence, even among churches, sometimes even for good reasons.
But if our birth rate only keeps pace with our death rate, you do the math. We need to follow Ezekiel’s lead and pray for a resurrection. Church leaders in three mainline Protestant denominations woke up this morning to start their work day as real-estate agents trying to sell off 5,000 closed church buildings. The church does not have a mission, the mission has a church. Are we joining in with God on mission? Are we allowing Him to “breath” on us and bring “times of refreshing” (Acts 3:19)? We’re just starting to hear the “rattling”.
Every Fellowship Baptist church needs to discuss, identify, and implement and intentional Discipleship Path for every one of their current members and the ones who will be won. We need this intentionality, so that the “sinews, tendons, and muscles” might grow strong, so we might become the visible army that Ezekiel saw in the valley (vs 10). This army will fiercely take on the “gates of Hades” here in Canada and beyond.
“When the Philistines saw that their hero (“champion” [ESV]) was dead (Goliath), they turned and ran. Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued…” (1 Samuel 17:51b-52a NIV). Goliath is dead, and the Lord’s “great army” (Ezekiel 37:10) “surged ahead”. I love this picture. We need to get this picture in our heads. How will our churches “surge ahead” with Gospel advance in our land? Let’s follow Ezekiel’s prescription:
Near the tip of South India lived a godly missionary named Amy Carmichael in the late 19th Century. Her own mother and father had been “revived” during the Ulster Revival of 1859 in Northern Ireland. Amy devoted her life to the rescue and care of the “devadasis” women. These were young temple prostitutes who were used and abused in savage religious service. Amy took them into her care in her well-known orphanage in the town of Dohnavur in southern India. Amy and her mission helpers prayed for years for a visitation of the Holy Spirit upon all of India akin to the Holy Spirit’s visit during the Welch Revival of 1905. When the Revival did arrive this is what she wrote in her diary: “On October 22, to quote one of the little girls, ‘Jesus came to Dohnavur’. He was there before, but on that day He came in so vivid a fashion that we cannot wonder that it struck the child as a new coming.” Notice what Amy was saying: Christ was already there, but on that day, it was as if He had come again – a new coming.
Ezekiel writes in chapter 37:8 (ESV): “Flesh had come upon them and skin had covered them. But there was no breathe in them.” There was no power in them! The remarkable thing about gaining the Spirit of God’s power is that any work of the Spirit must be precipitated by a death. Ezekiel 37:12b (ESV): “I will open your graves and raise you from your grave.” The insight: we must first learn what it means to die (to self) before we’ll ever see a resurrection in any Boneyard Baptist church” in Canada.
Have a blessed week,
Under the heat of the scorching sun the bones were sapped of all moisture. They were absolutely useless. One step away from dry dust. Behold – what do you see when you see the state of the church in Canada today? Could Canada be characterized in the same way? A land of dry bones.
Today, we continue my “President’s Address” from FNC2018 in November. Last week we clearly stated the discipleship drought in our churches and the dry bonesfound in the pews. The problem was outlined in last week’s blog; the solution follows from Ezekiel 37:3-5: “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’ Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’”
Recent surveys and studies indicate the Canadian church is shrinking. One of the starkest indicators is the exponential growth of the religiously dissatisfied in Canada, often referred to as the nones, or those expressing no religious affiliations. The Canadian average is 24% indicating no religious affiliation and this grows to 29% on average among those born between 1987 and 1989 – the millennials. In BC it’s even worse with 44% on average indicating no religious affiliation. The trending is bad across the country.
Last week we investigated in vv.1-2, that:
Ezekiel’s vision should cause us to pause and look at our own land
The dry bones of lives that exhibit no spiritual life, lost in sin with no means of escape. Churches that are so spiritually sapped and dry that they have become useless to the Lord. Slowly being pounded into dust by the constant waves of secularism, distraction, and apathy. Churches that have forgotten they’re supposed to be on mission. In fact, some have forgotten what the mission is. Now they’re only seeking their own survival.
A few months ago I heard a report about three mainline Protestant denominations who are currently seeking to sell almost 5,000 church building due to closures. It was heartbreaking to hear, knowing that at one time these were vibrant witnesses who lost their way. Denominations are becoming real estate business, rather than mission agencies.
Is the Evangelical church in Canada doing any better?
It actually is, but the trends don’t point to a future of tremendous vitality. Church health and church planting barely keep up with the national birth rate. And so, a visitation of the Spirit of God needs to invade our typical Boneyard Baptist Church, or we could be closing many churches in a generation or two.
What is the solution?
The Lord spoke to Ezekiel and told him what needed to be done. He had a responsibility to be on mission with God to reignite and revitalize these “dry, dead bones.”
“Can these bones live” (v.3). “O Lord God, you know.”
This responsibility rests upon the preachers of our churches, and I’m not only talking about the clergy.
Ezekiel’s first responsibility was to:
A. Preach (37:4 ESV): “Prophecy over these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord.” Like any fellow follower of the Most High God, Ezekiel was to preach life into these dead dry bones by preaching the Word of God. The level of death and desolation represented by these dry bones in the valley must have made Ezekiel initially feel his assignment was utterly futile. But God’s Word is more powerful than our plans and methodologies.
The prophet and preacher Isaiah reminds us of this in Isaiah 55:11 (ESV) saying: “So shall my Word be that goes out from my mouth: It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s Word penetrates “joint and marrow … [and the] thoughts and intents of the heart” according to Hebrews 4:12. God’s Word will infuse truth, infuse life, into these dry bones.
For the past few years I have been meeting with our five Regional Directors discussing and considering best practices to revitalize the 30+% of our congregations that are not exhibiting mission-effectiveness. They find themselves on the descending side of the church life cycle, feeling dry and struggling to turn the ship around. But there is some good news on this front in every Region. Signs of health are showing in all our five Fellowship Regions, though we still have lots of work.
One of the critical reasons why revitalization is happening is because of what Ezekiel is commanded to behold or look for, found in verse 5 (ESV): “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” Until the Spirit of God breathes new life into these dry bones, our preaching will be in vain.
B. Ezekiel’s Second Responsibility is to Pray (v.5): Ezekiel had preached the Word of God to these dry bones. They seemed to appear to be alive, but they remained dead. They needed to be touched by God before they were fully alive. Ezekiel was commanded to pray that God might breathe on them and reanimate these dead corpses.
One of the seven reality principles of the Experiencing God discipleship toolkit is to look, watch, behold, and engage wherever God is already clearly working. Revival, revitalization happens when we join in where God is already doing a work of grace. Pray and ask the Lord to show you where He is breathing new life into dry bones. Join in with God’s purposes by not only preaching with urgency, but also praying with fervency. And let the outpouring of the Spirit of God bring life to dry and lifeless people and churches who have lost their way and have forgotten their purpose in life.
Next week we’ll investigate Ezekiel 37:6-10 and discover the result of this kind of preaching and praying. The insights we’ve learned so far is as follows:
Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here… I recently heard a church planter say, “Our future is in the harvest”. That got me to thinking: If we have no harvest, do we have a future? What are our churches doing to ensure we have a future harvest?
So started my address at our Fellowship National Conference (FNC2018) this past November. I spoke about what I was seeing across Canada in these days. We investigated Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones. My hopeful message was the “rattling” I was hearing among the dry bones.
A young 25 year old must have been thinking just how lean his future seemed as he and his people were marched into exile.
Ezekiel was a preacher’s kid who was taken to Babylon in 598 BC with King Jehoiachin, who had only enjoyed his coronation, becoming king three months previously. Thousands of the finest and most promising citizens of Judah who had not been left for dead in a brutal battle in a valley were taken into exile to Babylon.
Ezekiel’s name means “strengthened by God”. There is little doubt his repeated visions over his 20 years of faithful ministry were used to challenge and strengthen God’s people.
In Ezekiel chapter 37 his vision of a valley full of dry bones is a message specifically for the nation of Israel. Verse 11 mentions: “the whole House of Israel” (ESV). The nation is dead but God promises it will come back to life and bring glory to God.
So, is Ezekiel’s vision a word for the church today?
The church in Sardis was described in a similar way in Revelation 3:1: “…I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Like Ezekiel we too are surrounded by the dead. Everywhere there is existence of decay. It dominates our cities, our counties and our country. Our task is to spread the message that the dead can live again. God is in the restoration business. The conditions that surround us, should sober us, cause concern, and stir us into action. Ezekiel’s vision was shocking, even gruesome! A valley full of bleached white, scattered bones; this is the remnants of the nation of Israel.
So, in this growing hostile environment, what is the solution? We believe the hope of the world is Christ and the platform to deliver this hope is the local church. Is the local church healthy enough to stem the tide? In 2015, the Barna Group completed a significant study on the state of discipleship. Let me briefly share several findings from this large study on the state of discipleship health in the church today. While listening to these stats, ask yourself: Is there sufficient evidence to indicate that the Canadian church is healthy enough to address the growing indifference and even hostility toward the church?
Barna’s study involved the interviewing of 833 pastors and 2013 Christian adults:
An encouraging 52% of Christian adults definitely believed the church was doing a good job of helping people to grow spiritually, with another 40% saying the church was probably doing a good job.
However, church leaders were far more pessimistic. Only 1% said the church is doing very well at discipling young believers, and 60% said our churches are not doing well at discipling.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Edinburgh Mission Conference of 1910, four conferences were held in the four cities of: Edinburgh, Boston, Tokyo, and Cape Town. At each conference, just eight years ago, the overwhelming concern was the lack of discipleship in churches as a universal worldwide problem.
The Cape Town conference produced a document referred to as The Cape Town Commitment (2010). One commentator writes: “The Cape Town Commitment (2010) uses the language of confession, lamentation, and repentance more than 25 times referring to the scandal of the shallowness and lack of discipleship in churches.”
The encouraging thing is that in Barna’s 2015 study, 77% of practicing Christians indicated a desire to see growth in their spiritual life. In fact, 23% or one quarter indicated they are currently discipling someone and 94% of pastors said they were discipling someone. 25% of practicing Christians wanted their spiritual growth to happen in a small group while 40% wanted to grow all alone and another 16% would prefer to be discipled one on one with someone.
The picture is not an encouraging one. There remains so much our churches could do to help people grow spiritually. Very few Fellowship churches have developed a clearly defined Discipleship Pathway or Process. The result is a lot of spiritual dryness in the pews.
Ezekiel looked over the valley and he saw death. In verses 1-2 of chapter 37, Ezekiel sees a revelation. He looked over the valley and he saw death. The bones pointed to death. Many Bible commentators believe Ezekiel’s vision was the scene of the aftermath of a great battle. A valley filled with the bones of his own countrymen after their battle with Babylon. Thousands of Jews never receiving a proper burial (a horrific thought to a Jew), were left to rot where they fell, this was death on a massive scale.
What do we see in our own communities?
We see the living dead, the spiritually dead, sheep without a shepherd. The Fellowship’s mission statement declares that we are, “A movement of churches making passionate disciples of Jesus Christ.”
“Lord, open our eyes. Help us to see the devastation, help us to not become so familiar with the stink of death that we remain half-hearted in our work of making passionate disciples.”
John 4:35 (KJV) reminds us: “Behold, I say unto you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” The word behold used in the ESV and KJV is a dramatic way to say look; look carefully and feel the immensity of the moment. Look carefully and see what the Lord is doing, and will do. Behold the mighty deeds of the Lord are at play, at work. Look! We must see the world as it really is: dead.
But in Ezekiel 37:7 (ESV) we read: “And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a great rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone.”
Next week we’ll investigate the rattling that is going on in our land. Some encouraging signs of health and Gospel advance in our Fellowship of churches and the Evangelical church in general in Canada.
Have a blessed week,