Count Me In!
Annual Report to Hatcher Pass Baptist Association
Gary Bearce, Associational Missionary/Church Planting Catalyst
Yes, Count Me In! I am deeply grateful for the “call of God” on my life to serve as a missionary! I give honor to God because I have been allowed to serve in Southern Baptist denominational life for the past 25 years and for the last 8 years as a servant missionary in Alaska. It is a very special privilege to both serve and to serve alongside the pastors, planters and lay leaders of Hatcher Pass Baptist Association. Since we launched “PlantLife” as our associational missions and church planting focus in January 2014, I have spoken about associational missions and church planting many times, usually using our theme verses found in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9. When I present this focus as a sermon I have included verses 18-23. These later verses apply in my own life as a missionary! I belong to Christ, so when it comes to being Christ-like by desiring His wisdom and holiness, Count Me In!
1 Cor. 3:18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness” 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
So, missionaries must humbly seek God’s wisdom each day and if we do not we are fools. Also, every missionary must acknowledge that our mission is all about teamwork with co-workers. Can we count you in? In my case, I praise God for the awesome co-laborers, the pastors, church planters and key church leaders that I serve and serve with. I praise God for the co-workers in my life. I deeply appreciate those who work with us at the Alaska Baptist Convention, at the North American Mission Board, as Alaska missions’ mobilizers and our partners, such as First Baptist Church, Paris, Tennessee. Humbly working together all of us are smarter than any of us but without His guiding we are nothing.
We acknowledge that lots of our own church members have not been Southern Baptists for very long and, so at times, I do need to explain my role and our associational work together. In doing so I want to honor God and give Him glory without the boasting. The association exists to serve the church! An associational missionary / church planting catalyst is a servant leader unassumingly working directly with our churches and mission partners. The associational missionary provides pastors, lay leaders, Bible teachers, mission-minded volunteers and pastor search efforts with an identified missions champion, discipleship encourager, church planting point person and a friend. With the help of each church and mission partners, an associational missionary is a vision-minded, missions-driven servant, assisting an association of vibrant churches and God-called church leaders to bring honor to Christ and serve Him cooperatively. His key job is to build teamwork for together we can do far more in the Mat-Su Valley and beyond than any one church can do alone. No two churches are alike, but we should encourage unity of purpose! Without the strong influence of associational missionaries a majority of our church planting efforts will never result in cooperation with other like-minded churches. Encouraging one another must be a priority. Church planting must also be a priority for us, first, because it is a key to reaching Alaska for Christ, second because it should be a significant unifying task and third because the North American Mission Board provides for the salary of your missionary / church planting catalyst through the Cooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
Under the Holy Spirit’s leadership our association of churches desires to be prayerful and strategic planners to accomplish the Great Commission together! As God leads us in setting visionary goals, we know that we must pray for God’s leadership as we plan prayerfully, carefully and strategically! The 2013 population for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough was reported at 93,925. The borough population forecast will take our region to 111, 500 by 2020, an increase of 19% over the next six years. That computes to about 8 new people every day. All demographic projections we have seen from our borough and the state of Alaska agree that we will increase in population by over 25% over the next 10 years. Alaska’s Senior Transportation Planner stated earlier this year that the Mat-Su Valley is growing 2 ½ times faster than the Anchorage area and that the Palmer/Wasilla area could reach a population of 400,000 in 40 years. We must see our churches grow numerically and we must plant new churches.
At this point we are assuming our area of church health focus and our church planting thrust includes the Mat-Su Valley plus Dillingham and Valdez but, with a God-given vision, we must plan to reach toward new points that could eventually extend to Cordova, Bethel, Glennallen, Galena, Gulkana, Trapper Creek and beyond. The entire Mat-Su Valley and regions that touch our current areas are in need of new work and have a very high percentage of lostness! Some say that Alaska is 90% unchurches. Over the next couple of years we anticipate that our annual strategic planning will address many additional ways to “lengthen our cords” thru planting and watering in the Valley and in new areas for us. Associational partnerships may help us in this expansion. We also seek your input.
To be on mission in our current areas and in these new areas we must also pray and plan in order to place a consistent focus on church health and church revitalization including effective evangelism, strong discipling efforts, leadership development, Bible study ministries and mission/church planting education that encourages mission/church planting giving.
With all of that said, our heart to reach and disciple Alaskans requires a visionary goal of 30 healthy churches and 10 healthy church plants in Hatcher Pass Baptist Association by December 31, 2020. Again, our Associational Executive Board and Associational Leadership Team (ALT) have prayerfully laid out a strategic plan and set goals like this each January. In January 2014 we focused specifically on “PlantLife.” This has been the priority promotional focus for most of our leadership team through-out this calendar year and helps us lift up the cooperative work of collaborating, fellowshipping churches. When it comes to “PlantLife” I am urging every church member to respond with, “Count Me In.”
- PlantLife is an effort to provide mission education to our churches and incoming mission teams, especially as it relates to Alaskan church planting and the work of our association of churches. We must educate our own as well as the Lower-48 Southern Baptists to our work and our vision for reaching our world, beginning in our own Jerusalem. We do not expect our incoming teams to provide strong financial support without our own churches stepping up to increase funding for “Jerusalem and Judea” mission efforts. Our association of churches needs financial support! To reach the stated goals we must education our own churches to the need for increased associational church planting and associational church health funds. When it comes to church planting, we must “count on every church for support.”
- PlantLife is an effort to provide our own church planters with local partners and to recognize each of our planters as genuine God-called Southern Baptist Missions Personnel who are God-called missionaries cooperating with partners to effectively reach out to Alaskans who are lost and unchurched. Currently we have six church plants and we anticipate two more by December, 2014.
- PlantLife is an effort to support our mission efforts, especially church planting, though the promotion of a “PlantLife” Associational Summer Missions Offering. Associational mission giving is one of the best investments in missions! You can know exactly where every dollar goes and you can actually join with us in most of the efforts you help fund. Your association has received $1550 during summer 2014 without strong promotion and has set a 2015 missions offering goal of $8000 for 2015. We will develop the promotional and mission education tools, in order to invite each church as well as our mission partners and incoming mission teams to participate with us through a monthly giving plan and/or one-time donations. We have noted that almost one half of all IMB and NAMB funding now comes thru special offerings. We believe that our promotional efforts will lead to increased percentage giving to the Cooperative Program and to the association as well as giving to an annual PlantLife Summer Associational Missions Offering. We can enthusiastically promote world missions when we begin in Jerusalem and move toward “the ends of the earth” especially when cooperating churches can do missions together! When it comes to local missions, Count Me In!
- PlantLife is an effort to mobilize incoming mission teams! Incoming volunteers are an essential part of building partnerships and recruiting co-laborers to assist us in ministry as well as funding our associational mission efforts. As we seek one-time and returning mission teams to help our church plants and mission projects we believe we can draw several hundred incoming missionaries to serve alongside us! Some will give, and continue monthly giving, toward our efforts. Who do you know who would like to come to Alaska? Together let’s invite co-laborers to join us.
- Because we intend to remain very Southern Baptist in our recruitment of incoming teams, to customize the tasks for each incoming mission team and to involve every team with a local church or churches that can assist with follow-up we will appeal to Lower-48 Southern Baptist missions leaders. As an association of churches we can offer a strong connection with Alaska Baptists. At the same time we are grateful to missions mobilizers who work full time to bring volunteers and to our partners who are currently bringing mission teams to Alaska. We desire their partnership, coordinated teamwork and urge everyone to pray for the success of these co-laborers!
- We are urging many of our churches to become mission team hosts, allowing groups to stay in their building, sleeping on associational-provided cots and cook in their building. We believe housing teams that will bless the host church and other churches or church plants.
- We believe that within the next few months we will receive the first donated van to help us with incoming mission team logistics. We believe good quality vans are one of the key elements if we intend to aggressively attract and mobilize incoming mission teams. We need these co-workers! Meeting teams at the airport and accommodating tons of luggage is essential for a mobilizer. We realize that the beauty and mystic of Alaska offers great excitement for mission teams! We are very aware that incoming teams want to experience Alaska and we must offer them travel / sightseeing options during their breaks from well-planned ministries alongside us.
- Church planters will guide much of the outreach efforts or missions projects of our incoming mission teams because church plants must use the summer, when Alaskans will be outdoors, as their primary prospect discovery tool. Host or local churches can plan with us to mobilize some of these volunteers for church prospect discover (using block parties and similar events), construction projects, building maintenance and much more. This must be a cooperative win/win situation for every church, for the association and for our incoming teams!
- We must pray for co-laborers! There is no way that an associational missionary/church planting catalyst can coordinate this effort without local and incoming volunteers! Increased Summer Camper-On-Mission Couples and Collegiate Missionaries will be essential. Within the next three years we would like to bring our summer crew to six (6) Camper on Mission Couples and twenty (20) summer colligate missionaries. Your association will need to recruit and mobilize mission team coordinators at each of our host churches. These Camper-on-Mission Couples or local volunteers will assist the host church with their incoming missions groups. We believe that incoming Southern Baptist missionaries and mission teams working with our churches and church plants will place volunteers in contact with salmon fishing ministries, community block party outreach, our music camp for kids, Alaska festivals/events, state fair evangelism and many other Alaskan opportunities. Still each incoming team must have a local church host and local church follow-up evangelism plans.
- Mission education is a key ingredient of PlantLife. Each incoming team must receive a solid overview of our teamwork as an association of churches, understand the uniqueness of being Alaskan and comprehend some of the bold goals we have set as well as our very significant financial needs. We want our volunteers and co-workers to understand our vision!
To meet our encouragement, church health and planting priorities, strategic planning is essential in Hatcher Pass Baptist Association. It reminds us that we must pray and seek God’s wisdom together. We must be visionary, believing God will guide us cooperatively to reach the goals He leads us to set. Because of the rapid change in our world we seldom lay out a detailed path beyond three years but this report touches on a few of the things God has and is saying to us as we continue to prepare together and humbly serve together to do effective ministries through 2020 and beyond. We will review our plans each year at a one day retreat and believe as we do so God will give us His wisdom. Again, thank you for your teamwork with us! Count Me In: I will be on the team and doing my part as we do the Great Commission together in Hatcher Pass Baptist Association and beyond! To God be the glory!