Proud to Be an Independent Baptist!

Last month I attended the Ohio Independent Baptist Preacher’s Fellowship in Delaware, Ohio. I had the privilege of being one of the preachers at this meeting. It was attended by approximately ninety preachers or full-time ministry workers from across Ohio, as well as few from Kentucky. In addition, there were another 150 or so lay people in attendance. The spirit of the meeting was wonderful from beginning to end. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching and attending this meeting. It was a day well spent.

At that meeting, there was a mix of preachers—younger men who would be considered millennials all the way to men like myself, who would be considered senior citizens.

Here is my point. We are living in a time when some men are trying to divide us. Some men are repudiating their former Independent Baptist identity and moving to a more Non-Denomination position. Some of these men are trying to influence others to join them in their departure from the Independent Baptist ranks. There are other men, who I call “wild-eyed fundamentalist,” that think you are a modernist if you are not doing exactly what was done in the 1950s. Both of these groups are a bit out of balance.

At this meeting there were some younger men I am sure that see things about ministry a bit differently than I do. I am not talking about Biblical doctrine, but more of preferences when it comes to ministry. As an older pastor, I may not agree with their preferences or want to practice them. Yet, if it isn’t a Biblical mandate, then I must give them the right to allow the Holy Spirit to direct them. We don’t have to agree on every issue to be friends and have fellowship. I want to go on record that I will use my influence and speak my mind about what I believe is the truth from the Word of God, but not everyone has to see everything just the way I do in other matters to be a friend or someone I can fellowship with.

The Bible leads to this conclusion—that every true New Testament Church has just one head. It is Jesus Christ, not me! I have the great privilege of pastoring a church, but I am just the under-shepherd, not the chief shepherd. My ministry among His people in His church in Cleveland is to keep them focused on Him and help them stay out of the ditches on the road of life.

Some of my closest friends in the ministry do things a bit differently than I do. Some of their music is different than the music we have at Cleveland Baptist. Their music isn’t wrong and ours right. Ours fits our church, and I believe it pleases the Saviour and honors Him. He is the One we are trying to please. One of my friends pastors a church that has a heavy Southern Gospel music influence. They are careful with it and choose appropriate songs. I have another friend who uses what I would term “High Church” music in their services. They do it well, and it is what they believe is best for their church and pleasing to the Saviour. Another friend is a bit left of us, nothing they do is distasteful, and I am sure the pastor believes it pleases the Lord. It is amazing that we can be friends and fellowship together. These men are all independent Baptists and proud to be labeled as such.

We have chosen to use video projectors and screens in our church. I have friends who don’t and perhaps will never use them. We project words to hymns and songs that we sing on the screens. We also have hymnbooks in the pews for those who desire to use them. At times I use an over-the-ear mic rather than a lapel mic. My son, who is younger and co-pastors with me, would rather use the lapel mic. There are some that would think I am a progressive because of my choice of using these tools for ministry.

I am weary of those who try to draw the lines so narrow that unless everyone does everything just the way they do, they are labeled as the enemy or as someone who is moving in a wrong direction. There are some men who want to be “Baptist Popes” and be the one that everyone is to align with. It is childish foolishness and not in the least bit Biblical! We are supposed to be Independent Baptists, which means that each church is autonomous (self-supporting and self-governing). When we have to measure up to some other preacher or spiritual leader then we are no longer an Independent Baptist.

I am proud to identify myself as Independent Baptist. I am glad to help and encourage those who are unashamed to be identified as such, too! I will not bow to another man’s preferences to gain his approval. There is only One we should seek to please and from whom we should want to hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” and that is the Lord!

Reflecting on Life

On November 26, 2017, I turned 60 years old which means I completed six decades of life and now embark on my seventh. In Ecclesiastes 12:1, we are told to “remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” I am thankful that for 54 of my 60 years, I have been a born-again child of God. I was saved as child here at Cleveland Baptist Church, and then was baptized in September of 1963, just before my sixth birthday. My decision to trust Christ as my Saviour has made a world of difference in the direction and quality of my life.

Because of that decision, the focus of the church and the godly influences in my life, every major and most minor decisions made in my sixty years have been filtered through my relationship with Christ. I wish I could say that I never made any bad choices or did things I now regret or even that I never rebelled against God or resisted Him—that just isn’t true. However, God is patient, gracious and far kinder to me than I deserve, and He gently brought me to a place of complete surrender to Him when I was a junior in high school. God’s call upon my life has been one of my greatest privileges.

Surrender to the ministry isn’t something one should take lightly. When a person is called, it isn’t something to dread or think that he will miss out on things in life. In reality, it is a blessed life and is what God created us for. It has been such a great blessing in my life. It was that decision that sent me to Bible college where I met my wife and made some great life-long friends. That decision ultimately brought me back to Cleveland, my hometown, to begin four decades of ministry here at Cleveland Baptist Church. Sure, there have been moments of heartache and grief while serving God in the ministry, but there have been far more blessings and encouraging moments than difficult ones.

As I reflect upon my life, I can truly say that I am fulfilled. The decision to remember God in my youth kept me from alcohol, drugs and immorality. It taught me to love, trust and walk with God. It placed me in a vibrant, dynamic church family. God has enriched my life in so many ways. Marriage, family, and ministry are all blessed when one knows the Lord.

Essentially, life is made up of a series of moments in which we make decisions. I am blessed to have made the right decisions at the right moments in my life. The road has been a good one!

If you are reading this and maybe you sense that you have made some wrong decisions that led you down wrong roads, I want to tell you that it is never too late to turn around. You might not be able to recapture the days of your youth, but you can have a rich, full life going forward. It begins by turning from your sin and placing your trust in Jesus Christ. Once you make that decision, let God direct you to a good Bible-believing, preaching church, where a man of God and a loving church family will help you develop.

The Importance of Spending Time with God

If I asked you a question about your own devotional life, would you be uncomfortable? Some Christians spend little—if any—time with the Lord on a daily basis. There are those that think that if they read The Daily Bread or a verse or two out of the Bible and then perhaps whisper a short prayer, they are being extremely spiritual. In their mind, it is enough to help them develop and become spiritual. Yet, many times that same Christian will spend forty-five minutes to an hour looking at social media sites or perusing news or sports sites. Perhaps they spend several hours watching television, listening to sports or talk radio, or reading some secular literature.

In John 15, we find some of Jesus’ final words before His death on the cross. I think we realize that if a person knows that he has a short time to live, he might speak some of his most important thoughts to those he loves. Jesus did that in the Upper Room and on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. In this great chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of the importance of abiding in Him. He likens it to a branch being attached to a vine. If the branch is removed from the vine, it withers and dies. It only can bear fruit as it is attached or abides in the vine.

Jesus is saying that it should be the same way for believers. If we want to be truly spiritual and have fruit in the Christian life, then we must abide in Christ. We must do what Psalm 1:1-3 states—we must delight in the Law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night! When we do, we will be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth fruit, and we will truly prosper in the Christian life.

Here are a few things every Christian needs to do:

  1. Spend some quality time with Christ every day and throughout the day. (Matthew 4:4)
  2. Memorize Scripture truths and let them rest in your heart. (Psalm 119:11, Colossians 3:16)
  3. Let those truths permeate your mind and think on them throughout the day. (Psalm 1:2)
  4. Put away, or quit things, that aren’t pleasing to the Lord. Let the Holy Spirit search your life and share with you things that God wants you to face and deal with. (Psalm 139:23, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9)

If you will make this a practice with a heart that longs for and loves the Lord, you will truly be walking in the Spirit and growing in grace!

Things I Learned in Africa

The beginning of April I returned from my most recent missions’ trip to the continent of Africa. While on this twelve day trip, I was able to visit three different countries and preach numerous times. While this wasn’t my first trip to this great continent, it was one that profoundly impacted me. Allow me to share some things I observed, as well as some things God showed me.

  • One great thing a church does is send missionaries.

Through the years, Cleveland Baptist Church has been the sending church to a number of missionary families. It is never easy to say goodbye to wonderful people that have been greatly used to bless their home church. However, God doesn’t reach down and select marginal people. He selects engaged people who are already busy impacting their world through their church. It is those people that God burdens and sends to the mission field. There is no way to do that without sending people out from the home base. As we look in the Book of Acts, we see the New Testament model. God selected Paul and Barnabas and told the church at Antioch to separate them, lay hands on them and pray over them, and then send them away to the work.

If we want the world to have the gospel, some have to go and some have to send. It was great to see firsthand what sending the Mickey family from Cleveland Baptist has meant to the people in the countries of Kenya, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • I was reminded of our missionaries’ dedication.

It is admirable that they are willing to leave behind their home country, church family and physical family because they love the Lord and believe He is worthy. They often put their lives in peril to fulfil the Lord’s mandate of taking the gospel to another people and culture. Many times it isn’t just a husband and wife impacted by this decision, it is a family. Children are raised on a mission field, where they are the minority and in many ways very different. As these children grow up on the mission field and come of age, many times they head back to America to start their own lives. After spending years in a different culture, it can be difficult for them to make adjustments to American life and figure out where they fit. Missionary parents then face the difficulty of not being close to their children or grandchildren. It is a price that they pay. Add to that, often times living conditions on the field aren’t always the best; yet they have a spirit of joy and a willingness to do what God has asked of them.

I know that there are some missionaries not doing anything, but from my point of view, they are the exception and not the rule.

  • I learned that Christians in other places love the Lord and express their love in their worship in ways I found refreshing.

In all of the churches we visited, the people were willing to fit into tight quarters and gladly sit on hard surfaces in order to meet with the Lord and worship. Their buildings weren’t fancy; in fact, a few of them had floors that weren’t finished. One of them didn’t have electricity. It was just a shell built for the church to meet for worship.

I was impressed with how the Christians in Africa who have so little put such an emphasis on getting dressed up to go to church. No doubt they save and work in order to buy something nice. They make sure it is clean, pressed and ready for Sunday worship. They weren’t trying to impress me or anyone else; they were coming to church to worship God, and He was worthy of this kind of preparation and dress. It was something to behold.

I marveled at the way one of the churches conducted their offering. They brought their offerings and gave them publicly but with great humility. The offering container was placed at the front of the building. During the offering the people sang, and many began to leave their seats one by one and make their way to the front to deposit their offerings in the container. They weren’t waving their offering around for everyone to see. No. It was an act of worship. I was moved by their simplistic, sincere and humble demeanor and the genuine heart of worship they demonstrated.

Their music was different—no piano or organ— a simple rhythm was kept with African drums and a box containing small rocks that was shaken. The instruments weren’t overpowering; they were simply used to keep time. But oh how powerful the singing! Though I didn’t understand the words, I understood the spirit and the heart of worship behind the music and the singing.

During the preaching (which was done through an interpreter), I could sense the power of God in every service. People hung on every word, and there was a connection between me and my interpreter. While we spoke different languages, we were delivering the same message. When the invitation was given, it was humbling to see folks coming to bow on the dirt in their Sunday best in worship and obedience to the Lord. In one of the churches the floor wasn’t just dirt, it was dirt and rock. It wasn’t easy for them to kneel at the altar, but they did.

  • Finally, I was moved by the spirit of Christian love from these dear Christian brothers and sisters.

They were so appreciative of the fact that I was the pastor of their missionary and that I would take time to come to their church to preach for them. I was blessed by their joy and gladness. Although they have few worldly goods, they have more genuine joy than many Christians in America.

I came back from this trip aware of the fact that America doesn’t have a corner on God. He isn’t limited to us, and He is doing a great work in this world. I was blessed that I got to experience these great moments, and I am thankful that the Lord showed me some important truths.


Inflexible or Flexible

I have learned in the ministry that things are always changing. Transition, change and flexibility are good words for the church.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about changing ministry philosophy. Nor am I talking about changing doctrine, standards, or music. I am not changing the name of the church to make it more acceptable with the culture. I have no interest or intention of becoming Cleveland Community Church. As long as I am pastor, it is going to be Cleveland Baptist Church. I have no intention of leaving the heritage and positions we have come to embrace as being right from the pages of Scripture.

What am I talking about when I use the word flexibility? Flexibility is accommodating growth and making adjustments so growth isn’t hampered. I am talking about things that can be changed and should be changed if it helps the overall mission of the church.

One of our newer Adult Bible Fellowships is the Young Professionals class. It is a singles class made up of those who are out of college and includes those through their thirties. That class has literally exploded in growth, averaging about 45-50 each Sunday. The classroom space that they occupied on Sunday morning has reached its capacity, so we have been trying to figure out what we can do. The Junior High department has a larger classroom space and probably could accommodate about 80. The problem with this solution is that the Junior High department has occupied this room for close to thirty years. When it was time to make the decision, we discussed it with the class leaders. The Junior High leader said that while they didn’t want to move, they will because it is necessary to accommodate this larger growing class. I appreciate leaders like that.

In churches and ministries, if we aren’t careful, we begin to think of classes and space in terms of ownership. This is my classroom, this is my ministry, and truthfully, when people begin to think of it in those terms, they often bristle at the thought of change.

In the last ten years, the church has been in a constant state of remodeling. The newest building on our property was constructed over twenty-three years ago. Some of the other buildings date back to the 1960s, so there has been a need to update. Because our ministry is out of debt, we have been able to make these improvements without going into debt. Some part of our buildings is always under construction. That means we need to be flexible in order to accommodate the construction and keep moving forward. I remember one particular Easter Sunday morning when I preached with scaffolding in the auditorium. Remodeling and construction mean we may have to adjust the schedule or temporarily move a class. These things can’t be helped; when people make those adjustments without complaint and with a great attitude, it is such a blessing.

Here is my challenge to you:

  1. Some things should not to change! Hold on to them! Don’t bend or bow to the pressure or succumb to the winds of change. No matter how many people are changing, if it is something that has been tested and found as a timeless truth, be inflexible and unchanging.
  2. Be flexible and willing to change and to let go of things that don’t really make a difference. You may be comfortable. You may not want to change, but if it is a matter of personal preference, don’t be inflexible. When I was a child, the Sunday night service was at 7:00. Many years ago we changed the time to 6:00 PM in order to better accommodate families with children. I know some churches that are now meeting at 5:00 PM on Sunday. That is something that can change.
  3. Be willing to let go of things for the benefit of the work of God. Be willing to change and be flexible in those areas that will benefit the church and the work of God.


For many years I have selected a theme that our church will focus on and strive for during the current year. On Sunday, January 8, I shared this year’s theme with the church family.

Last July, as I was preparing for our annual pastoral staff calendar planning meeting, I sensed the Lord nudging me toward this year’s theme. I discovered it in Titus 2:13: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” When I read those words, God stirred in my heart—it spoke to me of the need for Christians to be Ready! Ready for the Lord to return! Ready to live an authentic Christian life while we watch and wait for the Lord to come! Ready to be the salt and light that the Lord has called us to be! READY, in all things that pertain to the Christian life.

How does the Christian live ready and remain focused in a world that is quickly moving away from God?

  1. Maintain a daily walk with God. It is impossible for a Christian to stay focused on what is clearly important from God’s perspective without taking some time each morning to meet with God. I know some people have their devotions in the evening, but personally, I know how important it is for me to start my day focused on God and His Word. I have a designated place where I do my Bible reading and prayer time. Develop this habit, and find a place where you, too, begin your day with God.
  2. Attend a good, solid church. A Bible-oriented, New Testament church is the place God designed for believers to develop in the faith. I honestly don’t know a Christian that has a Biblical mindset and walks faithfully with Christ that doesn’t connect with God and other believers by attending church a few times a week.

Growing up, I knew that unless I was sick or our family was out of town, there was only one place we were going to be on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. God used that time in my life to develop my heart and life for the church. It was where my closest friends were. It was a place where I made life’s most important decisions. It was where I was convicted of my lost condition by the Gospel. It was the place I was baptized into the fellowship of believers known as Cleveland Baptist Church. It was where I heard the still small voice of God calling me to ministry and full-time service. I love the church and can’t imagine my life without the church family.

Let me hasten to say that it isn’t enough just to be a member, you need to be engaged in the ministry of the church. Find a place to serve the Lord with a sincere heart of joy and love for Christ.

  1. Witness for Christ. No matter where our travels take us, it is guaranteed that we will meet and be engaged with unsaved people—sinners in need of a friend and in need of a message that can change their eternal destiny. We aren’t to be closet believers; rather we are to be vivacious living testimonies of the grace of God. The Bible speaks of us needing to be ready to give an answer of every man that asketh us of the hope that is within us.

Friend, are you living ready? If not, I encourage you to apply these truths to your life. If you do, you will find yourself focused and ready for Christ’s return.

Rejoice Alway

It has been said that more people are anxious and emotionally distraught over this year’s Presidential election than any other time in recent history. The candidates themselves tend to make people nervous. It is hard to know what to expect. By tonight America will have elected its 45th President, and it will either be President Hillary Clinton or President Donald Trump. Either way there probably is a considerable amount of concern in your heart and soul about what the future holds for our country. Whether your candidate wins or loses, here is what you should know—God is still on His throne. The Bible makes it clear that His throne is set in heaven and nothing that happens here impacts or shakes God. His reign is eternal, and He has a plan that will be accomplished!

Philippians 4:4-7 is a great reminder that our focus needs to be on Heaven and God rather than on who wins or loses the Presidency. When are we to rejoice in the Lord? Should we rejoice in the Lord when our candidate wins? What about rejoicing in the Lord when you are feeling good about the future? Maybe you should rejoice in the Lord when everything is going your way. No! The passage is clear:  Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS! (v. 4)

I must remind you of where Paul was when he wrote these instructions to the church at Philippi. He wasn’t taking a tropical vacation. He wasn’t living the high life and having the best that life had to offer. No, just the opposite. Paul was sitting in a Roman prison when he told the church to “Rejoice in the Lord alway and again I say rejoice.” Rejoice in the Lord no matter what happens with this election. “Rejoice in the Lord always” even if your world is shaky, and it seems to be falling apart.

The prophet Habakkuk was anxious because of what was going on his world. He was troubled because of God’s revelation about His coming judgment of Israel. As a result, he went into his prayer closet, and God met with him. This is what he stated:  “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

What does Philippians 4:5 mean? The word “moderation” means a sweet reasonableness. People should see that we, as the people of God, are reasonable; that we aren’t always insisting on having our way. Sometimes we need to give up ground in order to maintain unity and blessing in the place where God has put us. That doesn’t mean we are to overlook sin or do something our conviction wouldn’t allow, but it does mean that when the world looks at us, they ought to see people that are at peace and under control. Remember the Lord is at Hand. He is watching and knows. Beyond that, the world is watching us too, and they know.

According to verses 6-7, if you find yourself troubled (“careful” or full of care) because of what is going on in your life or in the world, you are to give that over to prayer and supplication. When we truly give it over, the God of peace will step into our hearts and give us peace.

Should I care about who is in the White House or who represents me in the halls of Congress? Yes! What should I do if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it to? I am to “rejoice in the Lord.” I am to let my sweet reasonableness be seen. And I am to take my anxiety to the Lord in prayer. That will keep me focused and stable in an unstable world!


The Need for Rest and Nourishment

It seems that there are busy seasons of life when we give ourselves to our calling in more intense and more protracted ways than normal. No matter your calling, your life is demanding, and you are busy running from one event to the next. I don’t suppose that there is much we can do to change that. Modern conveniences don’t seem to make our lives less busy; they just provide a way to cram more. People have begun to think that unless they are busy doing something, they feel bored and unfulfilled.

Because we are busy, we are people in need of rest. We need to physically rest as well as spiritually rest. Even during the ministry of Jesus, there were times of great stress, and He spoke of the need to rest. “And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31).

I am also reminded of Elijah the prophet as he went through a very intense time of ministry when he faced Ahab and the nation of Israel on Mt. Carmel. He dealt with the false prophets of Baal, and of course, subsequent events that came one right after another. He was so exhausted that when it was all over, he wasn’t able to enjoy the victory. On the heels of this great victory, Queen Jezebel sent him a message, and he ran for his life. It was at that point that God stepped into the stress and provided him with physical rest and nutrition, and he recovered.

Although we may not be to that point of exhaustion, it is advisable that we find some time to pull back from the hectic pace of life and relax each week. The Lord understands the demands of life and ministry. He knows our need for rest, and He admonishes us to get in the yoke with Him. He promises a rest that the world can’t provide. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I am laboring, so why not labor with the One who is able to give me rest as I labor with Him? If I look to the Lord, He is more than able to give me what I need in the realm of strength and energy.

Do you find yourself in need of rest? There is a rest for the people of God through a time of corporate worship. God designed the congregating of the body of Christ, not to take things out of us, but to put good things in us. The statement has been made about our physical bodies that “we are what we eat!” I think that is true of the spiritual body, too! These passages address the fact that God’s church is a good place where we find rest and nourishment for our souls:  Psalms 1:1-3, Ps 73, Ephesians 4:11-16, Jude 1:20-21.

There is an energy, a dynamic that God gives to His people who are willing to come apart from the world and come together to worship and to hear from Him.

I trust that you will get that rest and nourishment you need for your soul this week, as you meet at your church!

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

The Impact of One Church

As I sit in my office this afternoon, I contemplate that today, August 14, 2016, this church celebrates its fifty-eighth anniversary. In those fifty-eight years, God certainly has done some amazing things through this “one church.”

I have a unique perspective of this church because most of my life has revolved around what God has done in this place. You see, this church started in my grandparents’ living room. They moved out of their home so the young preacher, Roy Thompson, could lease the house to start a church. My grandfather consented to attend the first service, and the rest is history. I was just a baby when my parents carried me into that living room that was functioning as a church meeting place. What transpired in that house impacted my parents and several members of my family. This church has continued to play a part in almost every aspect of my life as a person and a preacher.

I am grateful for a man of God that had faith and a vision for a city and was obedient to the calling of God upon his life. That man, Roy Thompson, was my pastor for thirty-seven years. I am grateful for his influence, preaching and mentoring in my years as a young preacher. Six years ago God saw fit to take him to heaven, but there is hardly a week that goes by when I don’t think about him and the impact he had upon me and my family.

Today at fifty-eight years of age, Cleveland Baptist Church is still a thriving ministry that is impacting the world for Christ. There are a few things that have been emphasized through the years that have helped the church stay focused.

  1. The Word of God has always been principal in this ministry. Roy Thompson was a Bible preacher. He thundered the Word of God from the pulpit, and I have endeavored to continue on as a preacher of the Bible. I primarily preach expository messages, chapter by chapter and book by book.
  2. Soul winning and discipleship have also been a focus of this ministry through the years. For almost fifty years this church has maintained a dynamic bus ministry. Still today we have over fourteen bus routes that cover the west side of our city. We still knock doors endeavoring to reach people with the gospel. Those that are saved are encouraged to get into a discipleship class in order to ground them and help them grow in the faith.
  3. Church-planting and missions are also a key focus of this church. As it was in the days of Roy Thompson, that focus continues under my leadership. We have planted many churches in this region and across the face of the world through our CBC-sent missionaries.
  4. Finally, we have tried to keep the truth of loving and living for Jesus in the hearts of our people. We don’t want to be a ministry that just does things to do things. We want to be a church that does what it does because we love the Savior. Love is the greatest motivation for service and ministry.

I don’t think we can possibly know until we get to Heaven how many lives have been changed or individuals and families have been impacted because this church was placed by God in Cleveland, Ohio. I just know personally that five generations of my own family have been powerfully impacted and changed because of this church. May God help us to continue!

Churches Working Together

Without a doubt, the New Testament alludes to the concept of a local assembly of baptized believers as being the church. In our current study on the book of Revelation, we are in the section where there are seven local bodies identified as churches. The Lord saw them and was aware of what each of them was doing in this world. He likens each church to a lampstand or candlestick. Interestingly enough, the Lord didn’t see one huge candlestick, but he saw seven individual candlesticks and identifies each one as a church.

I would be so bold as to say that there is no concept of a universal, invisible church found in the pages of the New Testament. The suggestion that all the churches will make up the church in the future in Heaven is surely seen, but right now, God sees churches—plural. Each real New Testament church is the body of Christ, and He is the head of that church!

In the New Testament these churches were identified by their geographic location. In 2016, Independent Baptists often tag their churches with a location; for instance, we are known as Cleveland Baptist Church. We are a regional church that draws people from across the greater Cleveland area. Yet, around us are other Baptist churches that have names such as Grace Baptist Church, NorthCoast Baptist, Southwest Baptist, etc. In New Testament times, those churches would have had a city associated with them in order to designate its location.

As one of the oldest and largest Independent Baptist churches in this area, Cleveland Baptist Church has planted several of the other Baptist churches in this area. We have either directly planted that church out of our church, or we have helped a man that has been sent to this region to plant a church. Throughout the years, we have given people and resources to help these regional church plants. We don’t look upon these other churches as competition. We see them as partners in the ministry. I firmly believe that as large as the metro Cleveland area is—seven counties and 2.1 million people—it would be impossible for one church to reach and impact this region totally or effectively. So it takes churches—plural—to be placed in strategic areas to reach a region like this with the gospel.

It is a wonderful thing when churches in a close geographic area can cooperate and strategically plan some combined efforts. As I look around me, I know some of these Baptist churches in this region wouldn’t agree on every detail, but we agree on the major doctrines and understand the concept of independence and autonomy. Yet, we have been able to come together for teen camps, summer missionary ventures and other joint efforts. Some of the churches in our region have chosen to utilize our Christian school for some of their church families and send men and women to our Bible Institute for training. Recently, we have been planning a combined outreach to the Republican National Convention which will be convening here in a few weeks. It has been refreshing to have the pastors and leaders of these churches sit down with us to strategize about outreach and evangelism. Next year we are looking at working together for a joint meeting on Revival and Prayer!

Please join me in praying for the Independent Baptist churches of the greater Cleveland area to not only be effective in their individual work but also powerful in our collective work! I want Cleveland Baptist Church and the other area Independent Baptist churches to have a great spirit of unity and cooperation. In this day of cultural shift and animosity toward Bible-believing Christians, we are going to need each other. Unless something changes, I believe that we are going to be dealing with pressure and persecution that we have never known from the world around us. Therefore, we must encourage and pray for each church and pastor. We must remember the Lord is still walking among the candlesticks, and He is the head of every New Testament church. I think He is pleased as we show grace and kindness toward each pastor and church that shares our doctrine and faith.