We embrace everything that the Holy Spirit desires to do in and through us.”
President Randall Bach stated the following resolutions for this convention:
- We turn away from complacency and satisfaction with the status quo.
- We choose to not be content with who we have been.
- We resolve to be the people He has called us to be.
- We receive as a fresh promise from Jesus, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
In his welcoming remarks, President Bach addressed the status of Open Bible Churches. He said, “Open Bible is at a crossroads. We have aging pastors/leaders and a lack of influx of new ministers and church plants. Open Bible and its churches/pastors must make significant moves with bold declarations and goals to reach our communities and our world for God. Fulfilling the Great Commission must be more than just a discussion. It must be our battle cry. It must be our compelling motivation.“
A regular attender of Open Bible national conventions, I look forward to them for the opportunity to connect and be encouraged. This year my family arrived early to be a blessing to missionary families. We played with their children, took several to lunch, and worked at helping them to relax and have fun. What a great way to start Embrace19!
As people began to arrive on Monday, June 17, the atmosphere felt like that of a family reunion. There was a lot of hugging, even some screams (you know who you are)! I realize that not everyone can attend this event, but if you could have and you opted for something else, you missed out. Open Bible is about family. It is about encouragement. Gathering together with friends from across the world just feels right.
I make it a priority to attend these events. In my 25 years of licensed ministry with Open Bible, I have missed only one national convention. There were many years my church didn’t have the money to send my family, and we attended at our own expense because we felt it so critical to be present.
Being part of Open Bible is about more than just obtaining a license or an endorsement to do ministry. It is about being part of something bigger than ourselves. It is about adding our uniqueness to the pot and seeing how Open Bible looks, tastes, and is experienced.
Dr. Michael Brown
In our first session Dr. Michael Brown challenged us to encounter God afresh. Dr. Brown shared that the reason that America is messed up is because the church is messed up. The reason the church is messed up is that so many leaders are messed up. Speaking out of Revelation 2 regarding the church walking away from its first love, he sounded an alarm.
He shared that we can work hard and do lots of things that appear right and still be spiritually backslidden. It is so easy to be busy “about the things of God” that we lose our first love. Every day can feel as if we are running a race with so much to do, but at the end of the day only one thing matters: Am I pursuing God?
Sadly, many of us have learned how to do ministry as a “profession,” and we can do it regardless of the condition of our hearts. We can put on a performance that would deceive ourselves!
One of the greatest signs of a backslidden heart is loss of joy. Paul confronted the Galatians about their lack of joy, and Dr. Brown confronted us: “Are you struggling to enjoy what God is calling you to? What is going on in your private life? Look deep. Ask the right questions. Get real with God. Reawaken your first love.”
On Wednesday morning, Dr. Brown dealt with some of the issues surrounding the battle with human sexuality. He referred to 1 Chronicles 12:32 and the “men who understood the times.”
He related that the greatest threat to Christian freedom is this debate on human sexuality. We cannot sit this battle out! Our responsibility is to reach out to people with compassion but also courageously resist the agenda that is being promoted.
We need to weigh our words carefully as we interact with individuals caught up in this issue. When we say we hate the sin but love the sinner, individuals in this arena hear “you hate me” because this is how they identify who they are. Our message must be biblical and communicated in such a way that we keep the door open for opportunities to reach people.
When most Christians age 50 or over hear the word “homosexuality,” they hear an issue or an agenda. That is different for Millennials, Generation Y, and Gen Next. They don’t hear issues or agendas; they hear “people.” It is our responsibility to communicate in such a way as to not turn them away. We must realize we are called to reach people and touch them at the core of their hurt. On the flip side, some people strive to be so sensitive that they speak in such broad terms that they never address actual issue going on all around them. Our words must be laced with grace and truth together. We can’t approach our message with such a course, rough tone that it immediately alienates those we are called to reach. We must have hearts of compassion with backbones of steel.
Dr. Brown stated that this is not just an issue of gay and lesbian, but it is a war on gender! We do God a disservice and we do people a disservice when we act like these are not issues, or when we try to agree with this agenda. One of the pitfalls of the Church today is that instead of interpreting their lives and leanings through the lens of the Scriptures, people interpret the Scriptures through the lens of their lives and leanings.
Our Wednesday luncheon was focused on Open Bible’s Hispanic Ministries. It is estimated that there are 51 million Hispanics in the United States today. The United States has become the fifth largest Spanish-speaking country. With the continually increasing population of Hispanics, the U.S. needs Hispanic Churches.
Open Bible has more than 62 years of history ministering to Hispanic people. We have countless opportunities to reach more. The goal of Hispanic Ministries is to plant new churches and ministries that will reach Hispanics. We are training future pastors within current churches who will reach not only the Hispanic community but also the new generation that is being born within the U.S. Open Bible has six new Hispanic churches being planted in the U.S. right now. That is not enough! America is the new mission field. Let’s work together as a family to reach this mission field.
Dr. Ed Stetzer
A message from Dr. Ed Stetzer focusing on the four commissions of Jesus concluded the day Wednesday.
The four commissions of Jesus:
We are called to be sent.
We are all sent on mission (John 20:21). Mission is not about comfort, but purpose. We are called to live as one who is “sent.” We are called to live on mission at all times, which means we must embrace the mentality that comfort is a byproduct of the past.
As the church around many parts of the world has exploded, the church in the United States has just trickled along. In many parts of the world Christianity is such a sacrifice that people are willing to get uncomfortable for the rest of their lives.
We are called to all different kinds of people.
Matthew 28: 18-20 reinforces the fact that we are called to reach all nations. The ministry needed to reach all nations may not look like the church we are familiar with or comfortable with. We need to learn to rejoice that some are being reached that we would never reach. Don’t judge people from other cultures just because they are different than we are.
We have a message.
Luke 24:46-48 highlights the message of repentance and forgiveness that we are to herald. It is critical that we realize we cannot be on a mission and forget the message of freedom. God has called us to announce to captives around the world that Jesus has brought new life. We must hold our models loosely and our message tightly.
We are empowered by the Spirit.
The message of Acts 1:6-8 is not just about us reaching our neighborhoods and expanding out from there to reach the world. Samaria also represents all the people we don’t like, all the places we avoid. The empowering of the Spirit is meant to increase reach and effectiveness. The Holy Spirit came to empower us to go on mission. We are commissioned with a purpose.
At the business meeting we discussed an embezzlement that occurred at the national office by a former accountant. A full report was given, and responses to questions were provided. After a full presentation and analysis of what occurred and an expression of remorse from President Bach that the embezzlement was not caught earlier, forgiveness was extended by ministers and delegates who also were ready to move forward with the vision for where we are going as Open Bible.
It is difficult to fully capture the tone and intent of the rest of the session without presence, but suffice it to say, it was sobering to reflect on where Open Bible is now and what needs to happen to move forward.
President Bach emphasized that Open Bible must pursue a fresh 21stcentury vision. This will be accomplished in part through praying, dreaming big dreams, and collaborating with others to create strategic foresight. When speaking to this issue, Mike Nortune, pastor of Life Church in Concord, California, and co-leader of a New Generation Leadership initiative, said, “Our dreams must be greater than our memories.”
Open Bible must reaffirm its core doctrinal truth found in our doctrines manual, We Believe, and our reliance on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we emphasize the fruits of the Spirit over the gifts of the Spirit, we will embrace His character without appropriating His power. If we emphasize the gifts of the Spirit over the fruits of the Spirit, we will appropriate His power without embracing His character. We believe in holiness without narrowness, Pentecostalism without fanaticism, freedom without wildfire. To assist in this endeavor, Open Bible is creating a new resource, Life in the Spirit.
Our second tier in this endeavor is to prioritize effective communication. We are working on a contemporary focus that addresses our website, our ability to administer our licensure test through Acquire, an online administration site, continued growth of the Message magazine as an online tool, and finally, continued promotion of our Statement of Faith.
Our third tier is to activate, addressing upward trends in ministers and churches. We must have growth in the number of young ministers and churches. As a movement we have 248 churches today.
President Randall Bach challenged each church to set goals to be accomplished by 2025 in the following five areas that are pivotal to accomplishing our mission:
|Decisions for Christ||% Increase (Not less than 10%)|
|Baptisms in the Holy Spirit||% Increase (Not less than 10%)|
|New Credentialed Ministers||Number (Not less than one)|
|Parent/Partner in a New Church Plant||Number (Not less than one)|
|MVP Contributions||% Increase (Not less than 20%)|
Each church must decide how they are going to assist in moving Open Bible forward with their own Vision 25 goals. Involvement in this process must be measurable. This will help churches determine which of their ministries are working and which need to change. Open Bible will not grow if we stay where we are with the same level of commitment. Now is the time for your church to go to the next level.
Our concluding message was from one of our own, Rev. Karl Francis. Karl shared about being here “for such a time as this.” When we look at all we can do and where we can go, it would be easy to say that it is the “best of times.” In another sense it is the “worst of times.” We face new challenges and currents that are affecting the church. We live in a society that is leaning towards having no faith.
Our culture believes the Church is mean, hateful, lacking joy, and lacking power. We need to ask ourselves: Are we a viable alternative for what the world offers? If we are not, we have a problem! America is a great harvest field and we should not forsake it. For such a time as this, the Spirit of God is speaking to us!
Are you listening? Have you learned to walk in obedience?
If the gospel is needed in every home, it is evident we need more churches. Church growth is not hindered by outside forces. It is hindered by the mentality of our churches. We must change or die. We need church planters and church partners. There is a place for us all! We need to plant more churches, so we need to raise up church leaders. It is not about you and your abilities; it is about allowing God to use you!
Finally, we need the anointing of the Holy Spirit! Without the Spirit of God we will not have the effectiveness we need.
I left Embrace19 having been challenged and encouraged. If Open Bible is going to become all that it is called to become, we must come to the full realization that it will require more from us. We cannot sit on the sidelines and expect everyone else to do more. We must do more. I would like to thank all those who had a part in the planning of this convention. It was truly a blessing!
About the Author
Dr. Ralph Vencill, lead pastor of Bellbrook Community Church and a chaplain with Ohio’s Hospice, is a graduate of Eugene Bible College and also holds a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree from the King’s University. He and his wife, Nancy, have four children and three grandchildren.