"A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing: our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing" (Martin Luther).
Martin Luther’s classic hymn was birthed from a life exposed to great danger. Without God, he was finished. No divine help meant no hope against mortal ills and enemy assault. But Luther had faith in a God who has prevailed against all the powers that threatened to destroy him.
The writer of Hebrews urged first-century Christians to prevail in faith despite suffering. The all-surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ provides all the resources needed to stick with Him through the thick and thin of life. In one of the most beautiful word pictures in Scripture, the writer says believers are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” referencing the Old Testament saints whose exploits are recounted in Hebrews 11. With faith in the promised Christ, who is greater than angels and all created things, these saints chose obedience to God over worldly pleasures and life itself. Hebrews says that as they prevailed, we too can prevail, by fixing “our eyes on Jesus.”
As we consider the past year, and even the years before that, the word “prevail” is an apt description for Northwest Baptists. Covid-19, controversial mandates, economic turmoil, political division, and difficulties within our national SBC, have challenged us. Added to these are the “flood of mortal ills” that are endemic to the human condition. Still, Northwest Baptists have worked together to advance the cause of Christ. We have prevailed over debilitating discouragement by focusing first on Christ, and then on His mission.
Though we do not yet have Annual Church Profile (ACP) information for the last church year, anecdotal information suggests that our churches have rebounded from the pandemic lows of the prior year. Baptisms seem to be up over totals in 2020. Attendance and church participation is increasing. Perhaps most remarkable is that 29 new churches and church campuses have begun since November 2020. Some of these have launched, while some are just getting underway. This is double the number we saw in the previous year. Worship languages of these churches are English, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish and Swahili. Some are in small towns, others are in rural, urban and suburban areas.
It is vital that Northwest Baptists understand that more than ever in our lifetimes, biblical convictions are under assault. Laypeople who adhere to Scripture are being challenged and considered bigoted by some employers, including state and local governments. Teaching in public schools seeks to normalize behavior and values contrary to biblical teaching. Such teaching is happening in the earliest years of a child’s education. Why do I mention these things? Because as we strive to make disciples, we must equip disciples with the reality that suffering and persecution are expected for those who claim Jesus Christ is Lord. We live in a culture increasingly hostile to biblical faith and believers must be equipped to live in this world and to advance God’s mission in this world. The early church taught that suffering and persecution were to be expected. We must do the same.
NWBC Building Relocation
In the 2020 Annual Meeting messengers authorized the convention to assume a temporary debt of $5 million so that the convention could purchase property and build a new NWBC building, while simultaneously seeking to sell the facility we had occupied for nearly 25 years. Gratefully, acquiring debt was unnecessary because the former NWBC building sale closed in August 2021 for a price of $9,138,000. Land for the new facility was purchased on the day the building sold, and the convention is now in the process of building a new facility.
Groundbreaking is expected in the spring of 2022, with completion in the spring of 2023. After all associated costs, including rent at the temporary offices, we anticipate about $3 million to remain which will be invested for ministry in the years to come. The new offices will occupy a prime location across from the entrance to Costco in north Vancouver. An additional blessing is that the seller donated about 40 percent of the cost of the property, reducing the selling price to $803,000.
NWBC 2022 Ministry Budget
By the grace of God, the NWBC entered 2021 in the strongest financial position in our history. Remarkably, our finances have grown throughout this year, so that we have over 7 months reserve in our Ministry Budget account. That’s the good news.
The challenging news is that joint-funding from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) ended in September 2021. Joint-funding ended for all other State Conventions 5-6 years ago. The NWBC maintained a higher level of funding than any State Convention until the 2022 budget. Reductions from NAMB began in 2012 and total over $2 million in annual investment. As recently as 2020 NAMB invested over $1.2 million through the NWBC. In 2022 that is reduced to a maximum of $100,000 through evangelism grants.
The NWBC is meeting this financial challenge in several ways. First, we will continue the spending reduction we’ve been doing since 2012 when the NAMB cuts began. The 2022 budget reflects an income reduction of over a million dollars and $450,000 deficit because of reduced income from NAMB. By 2023 we expect to be at, or very near, a balanced budget. Much of this spending reduction has been achieved through personnel reductions via retirements, which will continue over the next couple of years. It is important to know that we have no intentions to further reduce staff positions in the areas of evangelism, leadership, church health and church planting.
Second, we are increasing income through investments and increased cooperative mission giving from our churches. Our NWBC churches have increased cooperative mission giving to the NWBC every year but one since 2013. In addition to approximately $3 million residual income from the sale of NWBC offices, we were recently notified that an NWBC church established a $1.2 million endowment with the Northwest Baptist Foundation (NWBF), the income from which is earmarked for church planting through the NWBC. Also, as the NWBF assists individuals with wills and trusts, they frequently help people to further God’s work through their local church, the NWBC, and other Baptist causes. Moving forward, we have every expectation that resources for Northwest missions, from churches and people in the Northwest, will continue to grow.
Third, issues in the SBC are substantial and ongoing. There is great concern in many churches and Baptist leaders throughout the nation. We do not know where all of this is going, but we do know that some churches are responding by changing the way they support missions. The SBC suffered a net decrease of over 5,000 churches supporting the Cooperative Program from 2007-2019. Many of these churches still support selected Baptist missionary efforts. This has led to increased financial support for the work of Northwest Baptists, both from churches in the Northwest, and from a few churches beyond the Northwest. To be clear, churches can choose to support the work of Northwest Baptists, whether or not they support all or some of the ministry of the national SBC. We cannot control, and have limited input, into the workings of the SBC, but we can determine what we do in the Northwest. Through transparency in our finances and decision-making, and by maintaining accountability to Northwest Baptists, we work to earn and keep the trust of our churches. Trust and goodwill must always be a top priority for NWBC leadership, and these are maintained through transparent and effective leadership.
Change is never easy. And change isn’t always a good thing. But good or bad, we must deal with it. I’m just glad that we have a God who is never surprised, and who often does the unexpected at just the right time. He “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” He knows how to meet needs. He knows how to do His work. We simply want to be among those through whom His work is done. If that be true, it will remain a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest!