God breaks church's heart for the lost11/15/2011
By Mark Kelly
OWENSBORO, Ky.—Jamus Edwards and members of Pleasant Valley Community Church were living the American Dream.
Then the Lord woke them up — and the last thing they want now is to go back to sleep.
The congregation in Owensboro, Ky., once was on the verge of closing its doors. After a pastor’s illness forced his resignation, the young church had dwindled to fewer than 40 members and lost their building. They turned to their state convention for help, and an interim pastor was sent to assist. He helped them find a new leader — Edwards, who had recently graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
The congregation responded well to Edwards’ leadership. They renamed the church and purchased an old pharmaceutical warehouse on the east side of town to renovate into a worship center. In a little over four years, they grew to more than 500 in attendance.
“God has just given us a lot of favor in the community,” Edwards says. “We’ve seen a lot of people come to Jesus. God really began to grow the church and bless it. We’ve just been overwhelmed by God’s kindness.
“We were all about reaching our city, our Jerusalem,” Edwards adds. “We were giving to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon. I think for about the first four years we were here, from the outside looking in, things looked great. The church was growing, people were being saved, but something was just missing.”
Then, during a meeting in late 2010, the Lord broke the church staff’s hearts for people groups around the world with no access to the Gospel.
“God just overwhelmed our pastoral staff, all at the same time, “Edwards says. “This was a conviction that our church had been all about us and our four little walls in western Kentucky. The Lord showed us so clearly that the kingdom of God is so much bigger than Owensboro. We began to see that there are thousands of people groups in the world — people for whom Jesus shed His blood — who have never even heard the name of Jesus.
“That became a game changer for us. We had just failed to see the nations,” Edwards adds. “God began to show us that it’s so comfortable and safe and convenient and easy to write a check, but if we really believe people will go to hell without Jesus, and if there really are thousands of people groups in the world that have no access to the message of Jesus, then for us it was simply no longer enough to simply give. We had to go.”
Edwards challenged the congregation to fast and pray for unreached people groups. For 12 weeks, worship services featured a “missions moment” that highlighted one of 12 people groups with no access to the Gospel. Edwards decided to preach a sermon series on the Great Commission.
That was where things really began to turn for the congregation, Edwards says.
“The Word of God just did the work. We just watched as week after week, God’s Word and His Spirit began to move through our people,” he says. “By that last Sunday, when we called for commitment, it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a pastor.”
People were flooding the altar, begging God to use the church to take the Gospel where Jesus has never been named, says the pastor.
“That day, over 50 people stood up and said, ‘I want to get on an airplane and go.’ Others said, ‘We’re going to write checks. We’re going to pray,’” Edwards recalls.
Since that time, two church families have said they feel God calling them to Thailand. In light of that, church leadership has decided to follow that lead and explore a commitment to a Thai people group.
Edwards already had contacted the International Mission Board and learned about "Embrace," a challenge for churches to do "whatever it takes" to make Jesus’ name known among one of the approximately 3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPGs), in which less than 2 percent of the people are evangelical Christians and no intentional church-planting strategy currently is underway.
Launched at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., the Embrace initiative sets an ambitious goal for congregations: a lifetime commitment to a UUPG. The idea was born of a prayer-laden collaboration between IMB President Tom Elliff and SBC President Bryant Wright, who have challenged Southern Baptist churches to claim responsibility for all 3,800 UUPGs by the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention.
Twice IMB staff members have visited the congregation to provide training and resources. In September, a group from the church attended an Embrace conference at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. They are scheduled to participate in a vision trip to Thailand in 2012, and Edwards hopes they will begin sending teams in 2013.
“The IMB has asked us to consider what they call a ‘Tier 1’ group, a primarily Buddhist people of roughly 96,500 people with, from what we know, no more than 100 Christians,” Edwards says. “They believe it is the most strategic people group we could reach in Thailand that could hopefully begin to reach others.”
A pastor who feels burdened for the world’s unengaged, unreached peoples should focus on preaching the Word and trust God’s Spirit to call out His people, Edwards says.
“I’m a huge believer in the centrality of preaching and calling our people to the mission,” Edwards says. “It can’t just be an announcement: ‘Let’s get a mission team together.’ That’s not going to work. It’s got to be preached faithfully, week after week.
“It’s amazing the power of the Scriptures to awaken our people from complacency, from the American Dream, and to change them, to break them, to call them to obey the Great Commission,” Edwards adds.
“Do not underestimate the power of God’s Word and His Spirit to call out people to leave their comfort zones for the salvation of every tongue, tribe and nation, for the glory of God.”
The next Embrace conference will be held March 24, 2012, at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. To register, or to sign up for a free, one-hour Embrace equipping webinar, visit call2embrace.org.