Celebrating a Century at Forest Hills Baptist Church

Forest Hills Baptist Church will be celebrating 100 years of ministry this weekend. What follows is a letter I wrote to mark the occasion that will be published in the program for the weekend. If you are in the Wilson, NC area, we'd love to have you come join us! A complete schedule is below! Cetennial Invitation

Welcome to the centennial celebration of Forest Hills Baptist Church! Today we celebrate God’s faithfulness and our rich heritage as a church family. As we gather this weekend in worship, we must recognize that we stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants—men and women who sacrificed, gave, and served because they loved the Lord and loved his church. The faithful generations who came before us believed with great conviction that Jesus is the son of God and the savior of the world. As we proudly gather this weekend, we can declare with great confidence that though much has changed over the last 100 years, the gospel we proclaim has not. For we too stand on the firm conviction that Jesus is the redeemer king, who washes us with his blood and unites us to God.

We must continue to guard the precious deposit entrusted to us and pass the baton of the Gospel to the next generation. This relay race of faith has gone on now for two millennia and for a century now at Forest Hills. We stand in this grand tradition that today we honor, commemorate, and celebrate.

To our members, former staff, and guests, we thank you for attending this centennial celebration. I know that God has used the ministry of Forest Hills in your life. Some of you came to know Jesus through the ministries of this church. God has been so gracious to use and preserve this church for a century now. Though Forest Hills belongs to no member and no generation, but belongs to Christ Jesus himself, who purchased us by his blood. He has formed us into his people and called us on mission for him.

As we stand at the end of one century and the beginning of another, we know that the work of our founders has yet to be completed. For there are thousands in our city and millions across the world who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Until Christ comes again, we must continually proclaim the good news of Christ’s kingdom to the lost and dying world. Though the world looks very different today and our church would be unrecognizable to those founding members in 1916, we cling to the same Gospel truths and partake of the same Great Commission work. As the previous century of our church sets, a new century dawns. Our church today has articulated our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God. May God expand our efforts and grow our ministry, bringing glory to his own name. God has glorified himself greatly through us in the last century, may he do so even mightier in the century to come.

In Christ alone,

Rev. Justin Deeter

Senior Pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church

Three Key Passages on Community in the Church

Yesterday, I announced to my church about our move to community groups this upcoming fall. For us, community groups will be multi-generational, home-based, sermon-discussion, small groups. Our leadership team has been working very hard preparing for this move, and if you are curious your an read more about it on our church website. Today, I thought I would share with you three key scriptures that have led our church to make community groups an essential component of our discipleship strategy at Forest Hills. lightstock_31957_small_joe_woolworth-1140x760

1. Hebrews 10:19-25

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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.” (Hebrews 10:19–25, ESV)

This passage teaches us that community protects us from wandering. Because of the Gospel of Jesus, we have confidence that we have been cleansed by his blood and washed with pure water. We can now enter into God’s presence through the work of our great high priest, Jesus. Yet, now we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” Temptation comes and attempts to waver our faith. Every day we are bombarded by demonic lies tempting us to abandon Christ for worldly treasures. Then the writer tells us the best defense from falling away from the faith. That defense is community. We are called to stir up on another to good works. We are brothers and sisters in arms, in the trenches of the Christian life together. So, we should not neglect meeting together. We must intentionally surround ourselves with the community of the church so that we can receive and give ministry one to another. This means that you have a God-given responsibility to make sure that the person sitting in the pew next to you makes it to the finish line. We must meet together, encourage one another, and stir up one another to obedience to Christ until the day of his returning draws near.

2. Ephesians 4:11-16

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, ESV)

This passage teaches us the aim of community, which is building up one another in love. Paul describes how leaders of the church, including the pastor-teacher, equip the body of Christ for the work of ministry. As the body is equipped, it grows into maturity, no longer tossed to and fro by the world. So the body is an organism, held together and joined, and when each part is working properly, the entire body grows itself up in love.

This means that you have an important roll to play in the maturity of the person in the pew next to you. God calls you to minister to them, build them up in love, speaking the truth to them, and growing them in love. This work of equipping does not just take place by the pastors (though they do lead the way), but the entire body builds itself up in love. Every church member covenants together to build one another up.

3. Acts 2:42-47

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42–47, ESV)

This passage shows us the power of this simplistic but supernatural community. What does Gospel-centered, spirit-driven community look like? Look to this passage. We see the church devoting themselves to the teaching of the word, the breaking of bread and prayers. The people lived in close, intimate proximity with one another. They gave of themselves and they even gave of their financial resources. Each day they gathered together, they ate together in their homes worshiping the Lord. What was the result of this sort of community? Explosive, Gospel growth. “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Community is more than just being in the same room, but its life on life, intimate, personal, vulnerable ministry to one another. This means you share laughs, you share tears, you share your burdens, you share your soul with one another.

The Deadly Grip of Wealth in the Church

We live in a prosperous society. We pull out expensive smart phones out of our pockets. We eat out at expensive restaurants and dress in the latest designer clothing. Though the poor remain among us in America, we remain the richest nation in the history of the world. Yet, our affluence grows like kudzu around our necks, choking the spiritual life out of us. Wealth and prosperity can have spirit numbing effects, masking our spiritual hunger and inoculating us with comfort. Just like in the dystopian novel Brave New World, we take our daily dose of soma to vaccinate ourselves from asking the big questions of life. One hundred dollar bills in the shape of a heart isolated on white background The love of money

Jesus speaks so frequently about money for a reason. Though money is morally neutral, we ourselves are bound in the shackles of sin. Because of our propensity to sin, Paul tells Timothy that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils" (1 Tim 6:10). Indeed it is, and we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where our capitalistic ideals drill a love of money deep into the recesses of our hearts. Our greed and materialism often goes unnoticed, because everyone else around us runs the same rat race.

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The recent lottery fever illustrates our deep love for money and our desire for more. With the recent 1 billion Powerball lottery, Americans went nuts. Sadly, even many Christians proudly posted $20 plus worth of lottery tickets hoping to strike the jackpot. Even after they've already announced the winners, Facebook users are now sharing images of the winners in a vain attempt to gain some of their cash. We think that more money will solve all our problems and we've convinced ourselves that our greatest need is economic, not spiritual. Our affluence, wealth, and desire for more  not only corrodes our spiritual lives, but also the spiritual vitality of our churches.

Affluence in the Church

Recently I was teaching through the history of the Christian church to my congregation. We looked at the book of Acts and saw the urgency and generosity of the early church. Their community was remarkably simple, but unusually beautiful. The first century church, marked by their dependence on the Holy Spirit, spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The church did not possess multi-million dollar facilities, charter buses, or expense media technology. Rather, their community consisted of submission to the apostles teaching, prayer, and worship. Yet, day by day the Spirit added to their number.

As I was teaching about the early church, many wiser members began to speak, contributing to the discussion. One lady commented on how wealth in the church can distract from the churches mission. Then an eighty-year-old member, who has attended since a babe, commented on the incredible simplicity of the early decades of our church. The budget was thin, buildings were small, and each day the church was required to depend on God for survival. Yet, over the decades the church grew into an upper class institution filled with multiple programs and activities, bigger budgets and bigger buildings. The urgency and dependency on God in those early decades waned as the church became comfortable in their own routine and traditions. As the conversation continued among the crowd, many voiced their affirmation of our analysis. Affluence had highjacked our church.

Restoring Urgency and Dependency

I have a feeling my church is not a lone. Rather wealth has assumed prerogative in our local churches. We've settled for maintaining the institution rather than advancing the mission. Driven by our prosperity and desire for comfort, we would rather cling to our affluential chains and comfortable traditions, than be set free by the Spirit's power. The local church should be characterized as a community of urgency and dependency. We must urgently declare the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world, and we must do so depending on the Holy Spirit's power. Over the decades, in the comfort of our prosperity, urgency wanes and we grew independent. After all, who needs to depend on God when you have a few hundred-thousand dollars in the bank?

So what is the solution do the kudzu of affluence that has engulfed our congregations? Repentance. We must repent of our lethargy and turn away from our apathy. We must repent of our self-reliance and fall on our knees to beg the Spirit for his life-giving power. So I write this to sound an alarm to a great danger within our lives and our churches. The problem is not our wealth per se. I am not advocating that we all should take a vow of poverty, because the problem ultimately lies within our heart. Yet, many of us are unaware that our prosperity is choking our spiritual lives. Let us repent, lest we betray our Lord for a bag of silver and go to potter's field to hang ourselves with the rope of affluence.

6 Tips for Millennial Pastors in Established Churches

I'm a young pastor.  Trust me. You don't have to tell me. I get told that every time I step into a hospital room or a funeral home. Although young pastors are not all that unusual anymore, it is unusual for a pastor in his twenties to be pastoring an established and predominantly older church.  Some how, God willed it for me to become the Pastor at Forest Hills Baptist Church.  I'm not sure if the church was crazy, but they called a young, inexperienced, guy like me to shepherd them.  I've been at my church for almost four years now – 2 years as a Student pastor, 1 year as the interim Senior Pastor, and another year as the permanent Senior Pastor.  Over the course of these past few years I've learned a lot about my self and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way.  My church has been so gracious to me as I learn and grow as a man of God and as a shepherd. I'm observing a generational passing of the baton in most churches right now.  The aging boomers are starting to retire and the millennial pastors are getting their first opportunity to lead established churches. Although many established churches are hesitant or afraid to hire any pastor under 40, more churches are open to having a younger pastor.  Being a younger pastor has its own unique sets of challenges (some of which I might outline in a future post), but for now I want to provide some council to any young pastors in establish churches.  For what it is worth, these are some things I've been learning slowly and sometimes painfully.

1. Lead with the Bible

This is absolutely essential.  As a young pastor there isn't a ton of life experience to pull from and you have little to no relational authority.  Sure you might be the Senior Pastor, but when your younger than everyone in the room, that positional authority doesn't seem to go very far.  Thankfully, the authority of the pastoral position is not tied to age but to Scripture. The authority of the pastor is not his experience but God's word.  As you lead your people, make sure you hold out the word of life through preaching, in meetings, in hospital rooms, at funerals, and any other place you might find yourself among your people.  The pastor (young or old) should always be pointing his people to follow Jesus, not him.  When leading any sort of change or initiative, you should demonstrate thoroughly from the Bible why it is necessary to go that direction. Convince your people that as they follow you, you are following Jesus.  This happens by centering your leadership on the teaching of God's word.

2. Demonstrate Humility

A lot of younger pastors get themselves in trouble because they are about as humble as Kayne West. They think they have church figured out. If only everyone would follow their plan, their ideas, and do what they say, everything would be fine.  Not only is this arrogant, it's idiotic. The painful lesson I learn each day is that just when I think I have ministry figured out, I find out I don't. Listen to criticism. Be teachable.  Demonstrate humility.  No body wants to follow a know-it-all. If you lead your people under compulsion you will not only loose any credibility to do anything meaningful and lasting in that church, but chances are you'll get asked to go elsewhere.

3. Adapt to the Culture

Contextualization is one of those buzz words out there right now.  From church planters to missionaries, everyone is thinking through how we can communicate the unchanging gospel in a constantly changing culture.  When the culture we find ourselves doing ministry is traditional, nobody throws out the importance of contextualization.  Many of the established churches are formal, traditional, and resistant to change.  Many young pastors make the mistake of ignoring the current culture of their church and forcing cultural change on the church before they are ready.  Adapt your methods to the people God has given you to shepherd.  To adapt to the culture, you must know the culture of your church.  This means you must pay attention and learn your people.

I'm not a big fan of the coat and tie. In fact, I can't stand wearing a tie. Every time I put one on it feels like I'm putting on a noose.  Yet I wear one every Sunday morning at my church to preach.  Why? I'm adapting to the culture of my people.  I do not want the fact that I'm not wearing a tie to hinder the preaching of the word of God.  I'm contextualizing to the people God has given me, reaching them where they are to teach them and instruct them. If this means that wearing a coat and tie allows them to hear the Gospel clearly, than it is no sacrifice.  This is a simplistic illustration but the point is made. Meet your people where they are,and slowly implement cultural change.  Then after many years of careful teaching maybe the tie can come off. (I'm hoping!)

4. Be Patient

Patience doesn't come naturally to anyone, especially young men. It is easy to come into an established church as their pastor thinking that the reform and revitalization they need will happen in six months.  It won't.  Leading change in established churches can be a painfully slow process over the course of many years and sometimes even decades.  It is like turning around an ocean liner. It can take a while to get on course.

Young pastors, do not let your eagerness get the best of you.  Do not lead too fast or too far in front of your people that you loose them.  The wise shepherd knows his sheep. He can sense when they are tired or worn out from the journey.  He can tell when he needs to slow down or when he can speed up.

5. Don't Be Afraid to Lead

On the flip side, you must lead. It is easy to go into an established church and get comfortable.  The salary is nice, the routine is predictable, and no one is going to get mad at you if you just keep every thing the same.  I see many pastors who are so afraid to lead that they just sit there and feed off the sheep. Pastor you are not called to feed off the sheep.  Ezekiel 34 has some pretty strong words for shepherds who do that. Rather, we are called to lead them.  Yes, we must be patient, but if you are not moving them to greater health and a deeper love for Jesus and their community than you are failing them as a pastor. Sure leadership can be painful and yes the sheep might bite back, but this is the call of ministry.

6. Love Your People

Your church is not a project to be fixed, but a people to be loved. Spend the first few years of your ministry just loving your people well.  Get to know them. Go out to eat with them. Pray with them.  Love them. It is so easy for young ambitious pastors to loose sight of this.  Not only by loving your people will you serve them well, but you will also gain relational credibility and buy-in to lead in more significant endeavors later down the line.

Great Failures are Covered by a Great Savior

As you lead an established church as a millennial pastor it will be challenging.  It can be painful, frustrating, and heart breaking.  Along the way you will experience some major leadership failures, yet despite our failures we have a great savior.  As we lean in on Jesus, and ask him to help us love our people, he will give us wisdom to shepherd wisely.  Millennial pastors do not need to abandon established churches just because it may be difficult.  As one myself, I'm excited about seeing other millennial pastors begin to take seriously the call to lead established churches, and I'm excited to see what our great Savior is going to do through young pastors.

Are you a young pastor in an established church? If so, share with us some things you have learned in your ministry context on social media or below in the comments!

6 Ways You Can Create Authentic Community in Your Church

The church is not a building or an event, but a people. The Church is the called out people of God, a holy community made up of redeemed sinners. Unfortunately often the emphasis of church is on the Sunday event or the building itself and not on the community. In many churches it is not hard to show up incognito, hide out in the back, and leave as soon as the service is over all the while remaining completely unknown. It is possible to go to church without participating in the community of the church. For those who do seek to build relationships with other church members, often those relationships are on the superficial level. We may talk about the weather, how our favorite college football team performed over the weekend, or some hobby interest, but rarely to we break through the brick wall of superficiality. Isn’t biblical community more than this?

We wall tend to long for authentic community. We want it. We need it. Yet, a culture of authentic community in the church can be hard to foster. There is the great pressure to present your life as an ideal Christian, so we hide our struggles and slap on our plastic smiles. The pressure to have it all together has turned the church into an actors guild perfecting their religious masks. But play acting is the death of authentic Christian Community. When vulnerability is replaced by a hypocritical masquerade the church is lost. The church is to be a bastion of hope for redeemed sinners not an elitist ivory tower for the self-righteous. The church is made up of self-confessed sinners who have been made righteous in Christ Jesus. If any people on the planet should have the freedom to be authentic, it should be Christians. For their sin has been covered by the blood of the lamb.

So how can you help create a culture of authentic community in your church? How can you help build meaningful relationships with other Christians for the mutual building up of the body? Let me share with you six ways.

1. Be Intentional

Go deeper through perceptive questions. Rather than a quick “Hello! Pretty cold weather today”, ask questions that encourage people to open up. “How have things been going this week?” or “How is your mom who has been fighting cancer?” or “What can I be praying of you this upcoming week?” or “What has God been teaching you recently through His word?” Ask questions that allow you to dig deeper that creates opportunity to encourage and remind one another of the Gospel and its implications.

2. Be Hospitable

Find opportunities to invite others into the rhythm of your life. If you are running to the store, invite someone to go along with you. If you are making a delicious apple pie for dinner, invite someone over to enjoy it with you. Invite people into the routine of your life, all the while being intentional in your conversations, going deeper together in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. Be Available

Community cannot be manufactured through planning. Sometimes there may be a friend who needs you to drop what your doing an pray with them. There may be a crisis such as a death in the family that they need your support. Someone may have had a terrible day at work and they need a friend to talk to that night sharing their sorrows. If we are going to foster community in our lives and in our churches we must learn to be less busy. We must learn to not so over schedule ourselves that we don’t have time to be available for those who need us. Intentionally leave time open and unscheduled so you can drop what your doing and be there for others.

4. Be Teachable

Some people seem to think they have it all together. You start talking about an issue, and they seem to have it all figured out. Yet, in genuine Gospel-community everyone should take a posture of humility and teachability. We have a lot to learn from one another and others may be able to see blind spots that we are missing. If we come across as unteachable and prideful, than community will be non-existent. Go to others for advise or counsel. Ask others how they would handle the situation your facing. Not only will your conversations be richer, but God may teach you something through your brother or sister that you might not have known had you keep yapping your mouth.

5. Be Forgiving

When we enter into deep and authentic relationships with other believers, we leave ourselves exposed to be hurt. Often times other people may say something that deeply wounds us. When those times happen it is vital that we be quick to offer forgiveness. We we sit an allow others offenses to fester, the poison of bitterness creeps into our hearts, eating away at our soul. So when others hurt you be quick to forgive and quick to seek reconciliation.

6. Be Vulnerable

You have to be willing to let down your guard and open up. It is scary, its risky, its terrifying, yet essential for Gospel community. Be courageous enough to let people see the real you. Share with a sister in Christ about a struggle you are facing. Be aggressive in asking for prayer from a good friend. Share the struggles of your heart or encourage another with a difficult lesson God has taught you in the past. When we let down our guard and are vulnerable with one another, authentic community is the result.

May these six things help you as you seek to foster authentic community in your life and in the life of your church. May we as Christians not settle for anything less than authentic, honest, and vulnerable community. May we be so bold as to find our identity and worth in Christ that the fear of man that so often hinders true community be put to death. As we throw our religious masks to their graves we will find the joy of that wonderful community of grace with which God has gifted us, the local church.

What other things would you encourage others to find authentic community? What does community look like in your relationships and in your church?