Answer the Call
By Eddie Moody
Our world today has many problems and much pain. On an average day in the United States, 129 people take their lives , 30 people die after overdosing on opioids , 880 people are raped or sexually assaulted , 1,748 babies are aborted , and 2,156 marriages end in a divorce. Culturally, the world seems to be upside down, with right viewed as wrong and wrong as right. On an average day, 11 Christians are killed somewhere in the world for their decision to follow Christ. There are 7,102 people groups unreached by the gospel, which equates to 3.19 billion people without access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our nation and our world need Jesus Christ and His Church.
Yet, the Church is waning in influence. On an average week in the U.S., between 100 and 200 churches close.  Since the nation’s founding, the majority of Americans have worshiped weekly in some way. That has changed. Though the population of the U.S. increased by 61 million people between 1990 and 2010, worship attendance decreased by 100,000 people.  Today, only 52% of Americans are members of a church, down 19% from 2000.  Recently, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported their membership had reached its lowest point in 30 years , and only half of children from Southern Baptist homes remained in the denomination as adults.  I suspect if we had the data on Free Will Baptists, we might find similar results. Soon, you will be the minority if you are a member of a church. The world needs churches at a time when they are struggling to survive.
What, if anything, can Free Will Baptists do about this? I hope you did not chuckle when you read that question. The National Association of Free Will Baptists (NAFWB) has fewer than 2,500 churches in the U.S. and limited resources. You will not hear Free Will Baptists mentioned in the media (unless something goes dreadfully wrong). Even Free Will Baptists are unlikely to see themselves as important in addressing problems. Peruse the social media sites of most Free Will Baptist congregants and observe how many times you see them posting or sharing about the denomination?
So, if you are a Free Will Baptist, should you concern yourself with the challenges our world faces? Are those problems not best left for larger, better-funded groups with bigger platforms? We are unable to ignore these issues because they impact our friends, family, co-workers, and classmates. Our role as the ambassadors of Christ demands we address them (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Recently, while reading the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), I could not help but think about Free Will Baptists. You know the parable. One servant received five talents, another two, and the last received one. As I consider Free Will Baptists, we have a lot in common with the servants who received two and one talents. I can’t help but observe Jesus’ wrath at the individual who assumed he could do nothing with his one talent.
It is also noteworthy that Jesus pointed out to him that God does a lot with little (Matthew 25:26). It forces one to think of the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32) where we are reminded God uses small things. Scripture provides many examples where God uses those who are small to accomplish His will. Consider Gideon (Judges 6-8) and God’s insistence that he attack an army with limited resources. Let us not forget David initially was overlooked (1 Samuel 17) and the manner in which God used him. God is capable, willing, and wants to use any person who answers His call. But how can we? We can begin by striving to help our leaders, churches, and agencies be healthy and effective.
Healthy and Effective Pastors
We need healthy leaders, and one of the biggest threats to their health is discouragement. The downturn in worship attendance and major challenges faced by pastors can be discouraging. In a survey, Free Will Baptist pastors were asked about their greatest barriers in ministry. The top response was disappointment (43%).  I, too, have found it easy to become discouraged and feel insignificant. As we toil in our respective ministries, we can begin to feel most churches in America are megachurches operating multiple sites. In reality, most American churches (59%) have fewer than 100 attenders  and 65% of churches have plateaued or are in decline.
Never forget Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), and he looks for ways to create confusion and discouragement. Satan uses discouragement to keep many people from fulfilling their mission.
Though the gospel is the answer to the major problems in life, fewer people are interested. Today, the pastor is more likely to encounter suspicion than a listening ear. One study indicated even self-identified Christians do not have a high opinion of pastors, with 43% rating the ethical standards of clergy as just average. 
Most pastors struggle with these and similar issues. This does not mean we should accept the decline in our churches as the status quo. However, we would benefit from attacking these issues together. The message of Ecclesiastes 4:9 is that we are better when we work together. Proverbs 27:17 teaches us that as we interact with one another, we make one another better. As pastors, we would do well to find another pastor who has been where we are and who can partner with us on our ministry journey. Those further along in ministry will benefit from this relationship as Elijah did with Elisha (compare the Elijah of 1 Kings 19 to 1 Kings 21). Through encouragement and coaching we can increase the health and effectiveness of our pastors.
Healthy and Effective Churches
Too many churches are unhealthy, filled with division and self-centeredness. Unhealthy churches will not survive the current environment. We must have an outward focus, an Acts 1:8 mindset focused upon others rather than our own comfort and preferences. Effective churches adapt to the changing ministry landscape where fewer lost people naturally visit the church by learning to meet the needs of people in their community. Increasingly, the depressed, addicted, abused, trapped, and entangled must find in our churches the hands and feet of Christ. As we reach them, we must disciple them to reach their families and friends.
Effective churches develop pastors and leaders and engage in leadership transition without losing momentum. The results of a recent Free Will Baptist pastor survey indicated 55% of responding pastors were over the age of 50.  We must be proactive about developing pastors and making effective transitions.
At the end of the survey, two open-ended questions asked how the NAFWB could help pastors and churches. Many respondents mentioned the value of the resources provided by the NAFWB and noted the need for more resources to help them be more effective. We hear you. We will be looking for ways we can help one another by providing resources and networking opportunities.
This will take time. Often, we seek a quick fix to our difficulties. Sometimes, for a struggling church it is a new, perhaps younger, pastor. For the pastor it may be a bigger, seemingly better church or a new facility. I do not think these kinds of problems can be solved quickly. In Thom Rainer’s research on breakout churches (churches that experienced a drastic turnaround), he found their pastors had tenures ranging from 11.2 to 21.6 years.  Effective ministry takes time.
Churches need to stick with imperfect pastors, and pastors need to persevere through the ups and downs of a ministry. Congregants must learn how to effectively meet the needs of a despondent or addicted friend and point them to Christ. Much will be unnoticed by others, like a small church helping a recovering addict start over or a bi-vocational pastor shepherding a young married couple in the early stages of marriage. Much will seem unimportant like a young person who answers the call to ministry, learns another language, and heads off to a previously unreached people group in a place most people have never heard about. Little things—seemingly unimportant things—are largely unnoticed but mean a lot in the Kingdom of God.
That’s the story of Free Will Baptists. Let’s answer the call.
About the Writer: Dr. Edward E. Moody recently stepped down from his position as professor and dean at North Carolina Central University to become executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. The long-time pastor of Tippett's Chapel FWB Church in Clayton, North Carolina, he holds a Ph.D. in counselor education. He is author of the First Aid for Emotional Hurts series and has published many articles in scholastic journals and magazines.
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