The first 10 years of life I grew up sporadically attending a Church of God in rural North Carolina. That didn’t last too long, something about the wrong person sleeping with the wrong person I think. On mom’s side, we flirted with Independent Baptists and Wesleyan’s, which seems a super odd contrast looking back. On dad’s side, I believe it was Methodist, but I don’t really remember too much other than occasionally robing up to light the two huge candles up front and being mischievous in Sunday School. I walked the aisle in that quaint red brick Wesleyan church, but mostly because I figured if the guest preacher was right about God knowing everything, the jig was up. I made a “decision” for Christ, just a few years before I made many more decisions for everything opposite Christ.
Married at 23 to my 19-year-old wife, we made a ton of mistakes. The Lord was gracious and it wasn’t long after our “post-marriage”, or I might say “post-eloping” counseling, we found ourselves in a massive church in Hickory, NC. Something was much different about this church, and I’m not certain that I know to this day what that difference was. One morning just after the Sunday school lesson I walked up to the teacher and told him that I was far from Jesus and I need him. We kneeled and prayed for some time, and to my surprise when I opened my eyes my new wife was right there with me, under the same weight of conviction. I had no idea at the time that this church was a Southern Baptist Church, and who in the world gives their life to Christ in Sunday School. I guess Southern Baptists do.
A few years, moves and false starts at church later, my wife happen to be at a church playground in Elgin, SC with a friend. My work and promotions generally took precedence over anything any church or my family could offer. Getting home late I found out that the pastor of that little church came out, introduced himself to the ladies and invited them to visit the church that next Sunday. Seemed manly enough to warrant a visit. I ended up being a deacon and Sunday School director at that church, the worst deacon and Sunday school director ever I might add. It was the first time I think I’d actually heard the term Southern Baptist. It was in this church during a very tumultuous time for our family in which our house burned, I changed careers and we became pregnant with our third child.
Being a completely incompetent Sunday School director I let us run out of Sunday School attendance/tithe envelopes. I didn’t know much about Southern Baptist life in a small rural church, but I knew enough to know this was not good. So, I darted over to LifeWay, or so I thought, to grab some. I can’t remember if they actually had them, but I do recall walking out the doors that Sunday thinking how great it would be to take my 10 years of retail experience and run a Christian bookstore. I didn’t know much about Christian bookstores, but I knew two things that day. Our church got supplies from a bookstore called LifeWay in Columbia, and that I had just shopped in a Christian bookstore on a Sunday. Funny thing is, it wasn’t LifeWay at all. LifeWay isn’t open on Sunday. It was a store called Family Christian Bookstore. Thinking I was at the only store I knew, LifeWay, I applied that evening to LifeWay. I spent the next seven years of my life managing the Amarillo, Gastonia, and Southern Seminary Stores. In case you didn’t know, because I didn’t at the time, LifeWay is a Southern Baptist Agency. God radically formed my life in these years in ways that are hard to comprehend at times.
The last three years of my LifeWay career were spent as the Southern Seminary bookstore manager. I didn’t have a clue as to just how pivotal this Seminary and it’s president, Dr. Albert Mohler, where in what I heard referred to as the conservative resurgence. I soon understood just a glimpse of the sacrifice and commitment that many had given. It struck me and continues to. We’re slow learners, my wife and I, but one thing was for sure, we were not going to spend but just a few weeks looking for a church before we committed. Having been overwhelmingly convinced the moment we walked in the doors that we were supposed to be members of Ninth & O Baptist church, we spent our three years in Louisville here, at Ninth & O. About a year in, I was asked to take over, what was called, a BFG. No, not “Best Friends Group”, though it was that too. A “Bible Fellowship Group”, or Sunday school-ish class. Turns out this wasn’t just any BFG, it was once led by some dudes I had really come to respect; like Steve Wellum and Russell Moore. I kind of wish I didn’t know that at the time. My first thought was why in the world am I teaching this class. I was not even in the same layer of the atmosphere as those guys, and in my feeble attempt at being in that atmosphere regarding the lessons, it was terrible. So terrible was my teaching, that it provoked me to go back to my alma mater for a graduate degree in education at the same time that I was working on a master in Theology from Southern. Word of advice. Don’t do that. It wasn’t until I left Ninth & O for the big city of Minneapolis that I learned even more of their historic role in the Conservative resurgence, led by LaVerne Butler, whose son is a friend and voice of leadership for me now. I had been shaped once again by Southern Baptists.
After 17 years in the business world, it was time to move on. We set our eyes on the city I’d always wanted to live in, Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I’m a lifelong Viking’s fan. For all Viking’s fans, you know exactly why I can say that and retain a deep affinity for my team. After giving notice that we’d be moving to the big city several trusted friends planted mental seeds that God may want me to do something else, different or at least in addition to teaching in the inner city. When confronted with the prospect of church planting, I didn’t even know what that was or meant. We took their advice and headed to Chicago to be assessed. I figured it couldn’t hurt, besides I was looking forward to having Pizza and Hotdogs for two days. I had neither, the two days were vomit-inducingly intense. We left there convinced they would never endorse us as church planters. In fact, they may even call the police. I even got into a rather tense and a little awkward discussion with one of the assessors from Michigan. The long and short of that conversation was that he was right and I was a jerk. Since that was over, we could get on to Minneapolis as school teachers. A few weeks later, NAMB called and wanted to endorse me as a church planter. I knew enough about NAMB to know that one of our Louisville pastors had recently become its president and that they were SBC’s North American missional arm. Their endorsement was puzzling. I thought they must either be crazy or desperate. Maybe a little of both. So we said yes because we were either crazy or desperate. Maybe a little of both.
So we came to the Twin Cities as church planters. Pioneer church planter is what they called it. I know now that “pioneer planter” was synonymous for “fool for the Gospel.” We made just about every mistake you can imagine as church planters, but some lives were eternally impacted. Maybe that’s why God thought it’d be to His glory to have an overzealous over-confident Kingdom stretcher oversee and serve all of church planting in the Twin Cities for NAMB/SBC. So this unpolished, once didn’t even know what SBC stood for, shrewd retailer ends up in a North American metro with one of the smallest SBC footprints in the nation. Sounds doable. Most of my life has felt like one big “Watch this” boast from God to the heavens to display his glory in my incompetent weakness. Well, by the end of 2017, we will have likely planted 23 or 25 churches in the past 3 years, and are on pace to plant 10 churches a year on average. That’ll give us a similar SBC church to population ratio that Atlanta, GA currently has. The Twin Cities you know now, will not be the Twin Cities you’ll know in 2050. How does that happen? God’s doing it, by His word.
I did end up finishing my SBC history class with an A or a B, I can’t recall. The history of the SBC and my, unaware at times, involvement in it in a pioneer area captivated me. During my journey, I have noticed some peculiarities about Southern Baptist that I loved and do love to this day. So, besides apparently being chosen by God to be a Southern Baptist, here’s why I’m a Southern Baptist.
It’s simple. I love where we’ve been, and I love where we’re going. The great commission is our destination, the vehicle is our missional mechanics, and the road is God’s precious and piercingly inerrant word. Many before us pained themselves in the battle for the bible, may we pain ourselves from that platform to all its implication. May Southern Baptists, as the tip of the kingdom spear, pierce deep into the darkness at the expense of our own lives to the glory of God. May we gaze unflinchingly deep into the eyes of culture grasping a sword fashioned long ago. May we wield with determined precision, and when the kingdom of darkness presses in, may our 45,000+ shield wall tether firm into God’s word. That’s why I’m SBC…
BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL.
I. The Scriptures
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 17:19; Joshua 8:34; Psalms 19:7-10; 119:11,89,105,140; Isaiah 34:16; 40:8; Jeremiah 15:16; 36:1-32; Matthew 5:17-18; 22:29; Luke 21:33; 24:44-46; John 5:39;16:13-15; 17:17; Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11; Romans 15:4; 16:25-26; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 1:19-21.