Kids shining the Light lead Jehovah’s Witness out of darkness

By Anthony Banks

In July, Second Baptist hosted a week-long project that had a tremendous impact in our community of Turrell, Arkansas. There are a few testimonies that I would like to share, but first—would you like to know who was behind the Lord’s work? It was kids!  

This summer we hosted our second annual Backyard Bible Club. It was four full days of Bible camp with kids from our church and from First Baptist Church Rogers. In the morning, we taught the kids about the Bible through songs and skits. Then in the afternoon, for three of the four days, we took them out to Help in the Community (what I like to call HIT-C). The kids helped the elderly of Turrell with their chores and yardwork, and they also did other services like washing down the public library. With First Baptist’s 55 kids and 35 of our own, there were 90 kids total learning about the Lord who then went out to serve our community!

But what I think really resonated with the people in our community was how our churches took the kids to knock on doors. At each house we would share the Gospel and pray with them. Together, we knocked on every door in Turrell—and most we knocked on twice! I would say that about 50 percent of the people we spoke with were not in church or were attending another church besides Second Baptist.

Block party 3By the end of the week, we saw 10 professions of faith from knocking on doors! In addition to this, on Saturday members of the Missions Team at the Arkansas Baptist Convention coordinated a block party and medical-dental clinic at Second Baptist. More than 100 people from the community attended, the medical-dental clinic saw 40 patients, and six people received Christ. Praise God!

Now here’s a testimony you need to know, too. Something that God appointed and made happen as a result of our church and First Baptist Rogers coming together to do His work…

While working in the community, one of our groups noticed a man standing on the sidewalk at the post office. A young girl from First Baptist told the chaperone and driver, Bro. Jerry Bolander (and pastor of FBC Rogers), “I want to stop and talk to this man.” When they got out of the car to talk with him, they discovered that he was a Jehovah’s Witness. He was sarcastic with them, so they reluctantly got back in the car and drove to a neighborhood to begin knocking on doors.

Well, the first door they knocked on was this man’s door! But he acted the same way he had before, so the group continued their work. When they told me later about what had happened, they said it was on their heart to go back to his home and talk with him again.

And when they did go back—this time to invite him to Bible study—he was different. He apologized for how he had treated them because he had seen how the kids were doing things for the community. That night he came to Bible study and talked again about his guilt for treating the kids that way. He gave his testimony in front of the group and finished saying, “I’m walking in darkness.”

{ That night he came to Bible study and talked again about his guilt for treating the kids that way. He gave his testimony in front of the group and finished saying, “I’m walking in darkness.” }

I came down from the pulpit and witnessed to him, “If you want to get out of that darkness, Jesus can take you out.” That’s when he received Christ! We all gathered around and prayed for him after. He has asked that I baptize him once he recovers from a recent surgery.

That week a lot of folk, even those who did not receive Christ, responded to what we had done in Turrell. When they saw the way we were serving and knocking on doors to pray with them, they testified, “Nobody has ever done things like you are doing.” I’m praying now that these people will come out to see us at Second Baptist because they know we care about them.

Now we have a vision to go beyond Turrell. Next year we want to do this in Turrell again but also expand to Gilmore by working with our new partner, First Baptist Church Marion. We won’t stop in our Jerusalem; we’re moving now to go to Judea!

Your prayers and giving to the Dixie Jackson Arkansas Missions Offering support me and my church plant, and we are able to carry out this Acts 1:8 model because of you. And I want to continue going out into my community and neighboring communities—combining efforts with other churches who have the same heart—to reach souls, like the 16 people and the Jehovah’s Witness, who needed to hear the Gospel right here in Arkansas!

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Thoughts on faith and our daily bread

By Lee Kemp 

This summer Forefront hosted “Summer Fun Days” at Timberline Apartments to make a positive impact on kids who would otherwise spend the summer alone.

Monday through Wednesday we would meet from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the morning we played games, sang songs, made crafts, and told Bible stories. After we fed the kids lunch, they would swim in the pool for afternoon playtime. Then on Thursdays we would go on fieldtrips to places like the nature center and skating rink. We even had a special water slide party one day with the fire department’s help.

This summer alone, we reached 58 kids. Seven of those kids prayed to receive Christ!

This was our third and best year for Summer Fun Days. It came together really well, but we’re learning how to do it better. This summer Forefront had two E4Call interns, college students who feel called to ministry, named Joel and Taylor. They connected and served with Forefront for the summer.

Joel and Taylor were not only a blessing to us as a church but also the many kids/families we met through the summer program. Here’s the thing: We wouldn’t have had the ability to pay them if it wasn’t for Dixie Jackson dollars. Other churches’ giving gave us the money to pay them.

The conundrum of money in ministry  

Early in Forefront’s ministry, a local businessman—Steve—told me something about money that really convicted me. He said, “Lee, I’ve never seen a ministry that Jesus wanted to see done that didn’t happen because of money.”

I know when we start talking about money everybody gets weird, but the raw and the real is that we’ve got to be careful with how we view money in ministry.

To me, there are two sides of the continuum. There’s the guy who may not plant a church because he doesn’t have the money. He is sitting there, stressed, and thinking that if he doesn’t raise some sort of money then he can’t start, or he thinks he knows how much money it’s going to take. But by then, he isn’t really thinking about church planting.

There’s a guy I talked with once who said, “You know, I really wanted to be a church planter, but I don’t know about the financial instability. And I’m not good at raising money.”

{ I’ve never seen a ministry that Jesus wanted to see done that didn’t happen because of money.}

On the other end, there’s an established church that has more than enough money but is trying to figure out what to do with their end of the year excess. When they planned their budget, the church was saying, “This is what we need in order to do what God’s placed on our hearts.” That’s really what a budget is. And they’ve not only met that budget but they’ve exceeded it.

I’ve been in that meeting before at an established church. God gave us an excess, and as support staff we put in our wish list of what we would like to get as if it was Christmas. Instead of having just one projector that everyone looks at on the left side of the room, we could get one for the right side. Or we could look into getting a church van with a better air conditioner.

But I don’t ever remember thinking, “Hey, we could give that to missions.” I was thinking of my own kingdom and not God’s. I’m not saying it’s wrong to “up” your game or buy a better projector for your auditorium, but how can we spur generosity?

I remember asking once about stewardship during an ordination council meeting. Lee Woodmansee said, “Every time we come along an extra sum of money, we ask the Lord, ‘Ok, who do you want us to give it to?’”

A lot of times we don’t think this way.

Ping pong back to the guy who is worried about money and is expecting money from another church. He’s thinking about what it takes to get the church up and running instead of God’s kingdom. He’s paralyzed. What would it look like if that church planter realized he will never have enough money—at any given point—to supply all the church will ever need, but he does have enough to start?

Walking (and spending) with faith

A pastor pulled out a white handkerchief once to clean his glasses, and he said to me, “When you surrendered to ministry you raised this white flag.” If God wants to send me, then where he sends me he will provide for me. It’s so simple, but it’s so hard to walk out.

You can never have enough money in ministry. It’s expensive. It’s risky. And even if you have money, ministry will probably take more money than you currently have.

In the Bible, there’s manna—when God is providing. Then there’s man taking more than God instructed—where men tried to provide for themselves by their own efforts.

The point here is being careful not to spoil ourselves with something God really didn’t give us. When we have this abundance, instead of asking What do we want? we should be asking How much should we really keep?

What if we looked at money as if it was manna?

Baptist churches think about a lot of good things in their budget: how to provide for their staff, what’s going to support the key ministries their staff oversee, how to retire debt, how to fit capital items in their budget, building a budget to get people excited, etc. I’ve been a part of teams where we did that and God still gave us excess, and I made the mistake thinking it was for us just because we had already put those “visionary” things in our budget.

{ I made the mistake thinking the excess was for us just because we had already put those “visionary” things in our budget.}

And there’s this strategy of us cooperating as Baptist churches. God has blessed us! Not only with what we need to do ministry but more because we do it together! Forefront’s goal as a church plant was not to plant or pastor a church that thinks about its own people. We are building God’s kingdom in the state of Arkansas. Other peoples’ success is our success, but only if we’re cooperating.

If your church gives a large amount to Dixie Jackson or to the Cooperative Program, someone will be blessed! Sometimes we don’t want to because we won’t physically see where it goes, or what it does. But what is that expressing? Where’s the Holy Spirit in this? I think at times the reason we are lax in giving is because of a spirit of control.

It’s just that I think our questions about money really ought to be, What are we doing here? and What is the Holy Spirit leading us to do with it?  How are we advancing God’s Kingdom within our local church and the capital “C” Church?

We can wisely spend the money that God has entrusted us with and still think big!   

When religious kingdoms fall, the Kingdom of God wins

By Lee Kemp 

Today, I write this post with a burdened heart. 

I am filled with an overwhelming desire to see established churches receive church plants and support them. For them to view church planting as an opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God. For them to take on the awesome privilege of incubating a baby body of believers instead of being consumed by advancing personal religious kingdoms. For them to pass the ball to teammates, instead of attempting to win the game in glorious pride.

When churches operate with this biblical mindset, the church walls fall down, religious kingdoms that separate local believers crumble, and the kingdom of God wins!

Macedonian Model

When we look at the New Testament we see the Apostle Paul calling on churches to support other local churches. We watch as they not only give financially to these churches, but give of themselves as well, sending the encouragement and spiritual support that only arrives with the physical presence of fellow believers.

Even more captivating, and definitely profound, was that the Macedonians, to Paul’s surprise, radically assisted and overwhelmed Paul with their willingness to hold up his ministry…

1 “Moreover, brothers, we want you to experience the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, 2 how in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty overflowed toward the riches of their generous giving. 3 For I bear record that according to their means, and beyond their means, they freely gave, 4 begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of ministering to the saints. 5 This they did, not as we expected. First, they gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this gracious deed for you. 7 But as you abound in everything—in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love to us—see that you abound in this grace also.”

2 Corinthians 8:1-8 (emphasis added)

Paul was surprised by the Macedonians’ radical willingness to be braces for his ministry namely because they were in a season of “great trial” and “deep poverty.”

When I reflect on our current realities as a Convention, it is apparent what we desire and seek… souls saved and vibrant churches experiencing a state of revival. I also understand our realities in the American church are not “great trial” and “deep poverty.” I am not ignoring that our religious liberties are being battled in the name of “tolerance.” However, we are not in a state of defending our liberties to the point where we may wave the banner of “great trial” over our spiritual state.

The Tension & Truth

One real tension church planters currently feel is the need for more “open handed” support…

  • It’s not always about money
  • Could be a physical need, such as a place to gather
  • Could be people (although beware of a planter who wants more than a handful, may not be planting the gospel, but rather just starting another church service.)
  • Could be around an event, where a helping church provides the physical blessings while giving the church plant the credit

As a church plant, we have been incredibly gifted with the biblical support of a church thus minded! Grand Avenue Baptist in Fort Smith. Not only did they take us under their wing physically, allowing us to meet for a year in their youth center, but they also have constantly supported us in the ways mentioned above.

For two years they have partnered with us, providing all the turkey dinners we need to distribute in our Timberline community, while giving us all the credit and allowing us to make the spiritual connections!

Who wins in this situation? Is it Forefront Church? Is it Grand Avenue Baptist?

Wrong question.

What wins? The kingdom wins!

Quick Filters for a Kingdom Winning Strategy

As pastors and staff, are we truly seeking to advance the Kingdom of God, in whatever that may be, or do we spend, seek, protect, and build around our own religious kingdom? How are we and/or how can we partner with church planting in light of all of our current resources?

We are thankful for churches that support Dixie Jackson, for they are partnering and supporting church planting, throwing the ball down court, and allowing the freshmen to score!

And that’s a kingdom win for sure.

How a vision became Forefront Church

forefront logo

By Lee Kemp 

My wife Sarah and I really felt affirmed in our ministry. We had spent eight and a half years working with youth and absolutely loved it. I was also preaching several times a year in our church, which is unusual as a youth pastor.

We questioned whether we would go to seminary or begin pastoring a church. I actually went to seminary three different times . I was thinking “I have three kids with one on the way.”

Instead, I got involved with a multi-site church called Brand New Church, and I was a campus pastor for 18 months there. We enjoyed that time even though it wasn’t completely what we felt called to. It did give us a lot of opportunities to work with adults. The only adults I had worked with were my kids’ parents in youth ministry, so I really got my feet wet working with adults and not just students.

Still, we were asking God why this didn’t feel like everything we were being told to do. So I gave Dave McClung a call; he is on the Church Planting Team at the ABSC. I told him “I’m ministering and enjoying it, but I know I’m not doing everything I was created to do. I’m lacking.”

{ I’m ministering and enjoying it, but I know I’m not doing everything I was created to do. I’m lacking. }

Dave sent me several books to read, a few being “Strength Finder 2.0” and “Church in the Making.” At the time, I also was reading a book called “Greater” by Stephen Furtick. As I read those books, it was a process of assessing who I was.

The Vision Comes

So then I tried to sit down and pray for a vision. I asked myself, “If Jesus were to ask, ‘If you could do whatever you want to advance my kingdom in ministry, what would you like to do?”

I just thought about church—getting outside the box—and I wrote out Forefront Church.

After that I had coffee with Roy, a business man in Fort Smith, and told him what I wanted to do. He gave me four other guys to talk to. I also talked with a guy named Burt who would ask questions. What we ended up with was a magazine; it’s the business plan of our church plant. We put in 40-50 hours planning out this vision.

Raising Support

There was a season where it was just businessmen and my money. I was going to be short and I was like I have to get a job or it’s going to slow me down. We had some support from our personal savings, from businessmen, the ABSC, Dixie Jackson funds & the cooperative program. There are church planters in Arkansas like me who really need those Dixie Jackson funds to keep them going.

With things in motion, we lived with our parents for a little bit before moving-in to an apartment complex that the businessmen (who were sponsoring us) owned. It was a two-bedroom apartment. We had three children at the time with one on the way!

Lee’s advice if you are considering church planting :

  • Start by asking yourself these questions: Who are you? What are your spiritual gifts? What are you passionate about?
  • Write down your thoughts/vision.
  • Meet with a coach to critique your plans in a positive way, someone who will bounce your ideas around and be a sounding board.
  • Business men are not pastors; they want to know what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.

Planting the Gospel vs. planting a church

By Lee Kemp 

It’s the old, worn out elephant wearing the fresh, sparkly tutu. She’s sitting in the room, and we can’t help but notice the mismatched pair. We silently observe that the glittering tutu does nothing to mask the giant, sagging wrinkles of the tired figure wearing it. It doesn’t seem to work.

Church plant launching is sparkly. It’s fresh. It’s attractive. It’s a brand new tutu. The issue at hand though is not the fact that there’s another new church plant, but rather the issue is the body that gathers under the newly sewn hems. 

Instead of reaching unchurched people groups with the gospel, new church plants often just “gather” Christians looking for some new, fresh “fabric.”  Perhaps this is what truly disheartens some pastors and other leaders when they are asked to consider being involved in church planting.

It’s the difference between planting the gospel versus planting a church.

One thing we have sought to do in starting Forefront Church is to “plant the Gospel” and not just “plant the Church.” This is the truest calling for church planters.  

{ Instead of reaching un-churched people groups with the gospel, new church plants often just gather Christians looking for some new, fresh fabric. }

Sustaining 

Let’s be honest and transparent for but a moment. This is hard, dirt busting work and this work requires us to be continually spirit-filled. The unchurched are not amused with religious showmanship (which is quite easier for us, requiring less of the spirit and more of our “churchiness”). They care not for the things that will draw existing believers by the masses. 

This work is hard for established churches as well, hence, the majority of churches gaining new members by transferring from a sister church in our area. It’s not that there’s not enough money or resources to do the work, it really doesn’t take all that. It’s that there’s not enough satisfaction for us to carry the work on. Unchurched people take much, much longer to develop into the churched folks we feel good about and want to fill our pews. 

I think if we were all deeply honest with each other, we would catch ourselves talking about how we need more magnetic leaders to grow our churches instead of being overwhelmed by reaching the lost in our community. 

With such a focus, we develop strategies and programs that are highly internal rather than external in focus.  All the creative brainstorming and focus is directed on things that really only would excite and encourage response from existing believers rather than generate response from the unchurched community in which we exist.

Plant DNA 

One thing I am realizing is that the concept of keeping focus on the Gospel and lost-ness in our faith community will run through a process of an “ebb and flow.”  Andy Stanley once said it best when he stated, “Vision leaks” (read what I mean in “The Struggle is Real…”).  

When we started Forefront Church, my wife and I moved into an inner city apartment complex and had all the church functions on site at the complex while focusing only on people who lived with us there.  In my thought process this gave us two large benefits… 

One is that anything the church would do in the future; we would have done since the beginning.  Even though we have a Sunday morning gathering now at another location, we still have a couple from our church living at those apartments and hosting weekly worship gatherings on-site.  And because of this strategy, apartment ministry is in our DNA. 

Second, since Fort Smith was my hometown where I was a youth pastor, it kept my Christian friends from joining us. Most of the Christians I know in my hometown would never join a church in an apartment complex. This may sound harsh, but it really kept our focus on the Gospel.

 

fort smith
Fort Smith, Ark.

 

“Elephantish” 

However, fast forward the tape.  Although we have started this church in what some may call radical ways, it still amazes me how I can catch my vision and heart leaning away from the Gospel. New tutus can be itchy and my elephant is pretty untrained and doesn’t act like one. Although the fresh fabric fits the fresh body, the rawness of teaching an elephant to be one can be tiresome and takes time. I am prone to wander at times and leave the vision I have from God. 

We now have a Sunday morning gathering at one of the Boys and Girls Clubs in our town, located in the inner city of Fort Smith.  The thing I continue to find challenging for me is to guard my heart from coveting or envying the leaders in some of the established churches in my town.

{ I am prone to wander at times and leave the vision I have from God. }

Their “elephant” is big, experienced, able to balance a ball on its trunk, performs well at the circus…just more “elephantish.”  “Churchiness” and churched people feel good to be around, they are excited by what excites me, they perform with ease, and I know how to get them to gather. 

We have one of the best worship bands I would argue in my area and for sure who I have ever worked with in ministry thus far.  This many times causes me to start thinking about how we should just start a huge marketing campaign and do some of the strategies I know we can do to get a crowd of people to show up.  However, the thing I also know is that most of the time, the people who you hook through these ideas tend to be already saved.

Just an old, tired elephant in a new fluffy skirt. 

They are either upset or playing the Christian church circuit (which I can’t understand why we Baptist pastors allow this game to be played…another post though.)   

Caught! Thank God! 

Before I sound like a church cynic, let me acknowledge that there are many churches reaching people with the Gospel.  Many of these churches are great Arkansas Baptist church plants too.  Forefront has seen 30 people trust in Christ this year for salvation and had 9 people last year.  Currently we average around 60 adults, which if you do the math, you know that we have not abandoned the heart of planting the Gospel.  However, I would say for a portion of this year in planting Forefront, we have gotten caught up in the details of church a little too much. 

Our leadership and people have wandered from the passion of seeing the Gospel planted and we got caught ourselves planting a church instead.  Already, we have had to repent and recalibrate our focus towards advancing and planting the Gospel. 

People sometimes ask, “Pastor, what is truly the focus of your church today?”  What is even more convicting for me is, what is truly the focus of my life currently?  And what fruit do I have to show that to be true? 

May we all plant the Gospel in our ministries!

Pray for us as we plant Forefront that our focus will stay on reaching the lost and not gathering the saved.

No more old elephants in new fluffy, skirts. It is all too easy to abandon the Gospel and start gathering the saved.  We know the kingdom of God demands us to surrender our spiritual envies and push forward with a God-sized vision.

We are Forefront

By Lee Kemp 

Today I wanted to introduce you to the beginnings of Forefront church and the pulse of this blog! My heart is that you would experience with us the glorious adventure and sometimes raw struggle that is church planting.

The Stirring for Change

In November 2012, after 12 years in full-time ministry, my wife and I were evaluating what we had done in the ministry and asking God for clarity on what He wanted to do in our lives. We both felt like God was leading us to make a transition and a big step of faith. We just didn’t know what.

After reaching out to friends in the ministry, reading several books, and most importantly praying, God led us to the work of church planting! We shared with our church family that we would be moving back to my home town of Fort Smith, AR to plant a new church!

The Change Conceived

We moved to Fort Smith in February, 2013 and began to meet with key Christian business men to partner with us. We would begin planting Forefront Church by doing ministry at a large apartment complex and these men would be key in fulfilling that vision. Later in June 2013, we moved into a small two bedroom apartment and took on the adventure of starting a new ministry work.

{ we moved into a small two-bedroom apartment and took on the adventure of starting a new ministry work. }

We started with just getting to know people! We put together ballet classes for girls and also did some swimming lessons on Saturdays. Once we had several key friendships established in the apartment complex, we launched an outdoor worship experience for adults while serving the kids in the apartment clubhouse.     

The Idea Takes Shape

Ministry work continued in the complex for one year as we focused on doing events to foster new friendships and worked to develop and build a consistent weekly meeting for worship. Meanwhile we had several families who lived in different areas praying for us and keeping up with what we had started in Fort Smith. Almost a year and a half after we took that step of faith and began the work at the apartments, six other families sold their houses and moved to Fort Smith to help us plant Forefront in the Summer of 2014!

Forefront Launches

With an established group of families committed to the work, Forefront church was ready to launch in September of 2014. We started meeting weekly for worship at another existing local church who also supported us by integrating our children into their ministry while we met on Sunday mornings.  This gave us a huge opportunity to focus on reaching lost people where we lived, worked, and spent time having fun. 

Over a year passed in this context and our Sunday morning gatherings grew to reaching around 60 adults and 35 kids weekly.  We began to experience another stirring for change and started praying about our next steps of planting the church.

Within this time we approached the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club about allowing us to use their facilities on the north side of town for worship on Sunday mornings. The Boys and Girls Club in Fort Smith had previously experienced some less than desirable behavior from churches before and were a little cautious in the beginning. Over time though they became more open to partnering as we had agreed to take on the task of freshening up their facilities with new paint and basic level remodeling work. This past September 2015, we started having our weekly gathering at the Boys and Girls Club!

The Heartbeat of Forefront Church

Forefront’s desire is to be at the forefront of what God is doing in changing the lives of those who feel far from God.  Our vision is to Reach the Lost, Equip the saved to reach others, and Serve God by using our gifts to show Jesus to the local community.  Our heart is to maintain an external focus as a church.  Right now we are keeping that focus by continuing our work in the apartment complexes with couples from our church living onsite and by worshiping at the Boys and Girls Club in an ongoing partnership.