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Dear brothers and sisters of Sola 5,

The past year has been a difficult one for churches across the globe. Brackenhurst Baptist Church (BBC) is no exception. While we are thankful to God for his kindness in many ways, there is much hard work to do in the wake of COVID-19.

Great Commission Work

In the last year, everything has in one sense changed, and yet nothing, in another sense, has changed. Despite the challenges of the pandemic and its attendant lockdown, we remain, as a church, committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ. The biblical exhortations to generosity (2 Corinthians 8:1–5) and to going for the sake of the gospel (Acts 13:1–4) remain in place, despite the challenges we have faced.

This year, we did not have our regular missions conference. Typically, we formulate our missions budget during this time as members make faith promise commitments for the year to come. The lack of a formal conference, coupled with the complications of trying to collect pledges in the absence of a conference, has made it difficult to assess what we should expect as a church with regard to missions giving for the year to come.

Our supported missionaries have great needs. They have not been spared the economic ravages of COVID-19. While no increases were considered for our supported works this year, there is need for the membership of the church to remain faithful if our existing budget will be met. Missions giving this year has proven erratic and the possibility of dipping into the general fund to support missions needs has been discussed. We are fervently praying that God will graciously provide, through the faithfulness of his people, so that our missionaries will not suffer.

I believe that, if an appeal is made as needs arise, the church will respond. But we would rather not live with an emergency mentality. There are so many opportunities to do good. We have opportunity to further our partnership with others in church planting and the elders desire to lead the church in this direction.

Internship 2021

Our newest intern—Buhle Dlamini—will, Lord willing, join us in early July. Buhle comes from Estcourt Community Church, pastored by Sipho Mfusi. A highly respected pastor in our country, Sipho also serves as a director on the board of Imprint.

Buhle’s sending church plans to use him in church planting among the Zionists in KwaZulu-Natal but believes that his exposure to the life, leadership, and ministry of BBC will be of great value towards this. We trust that God will enable our elders and our church to be a blessing to this young man as he prepares for church planting ministry.

Perseverance

BBC’s elders have sought to wisely gather the body in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. This is a work in progress. Most have returned, while some others are struggling.

Pray with us as we seek to help the disconnected reconnect. Pray that church members will disciple believers out of unbiblical fear, realising some are indeed vulnerable and hence wisdom is required.

At the same time, pray for us as we seek to help the many visitors we have seen to connect with the body. We want to welcome them and show hospitality. Pray that our members will be involved in evangelism, discipleship, and membership mentoring. This will require extra effort in these days, but it is effort that God expects. We cannot thrive spiritually if we are disconnected from fellow believers. This requires us to sometimes do the hard thing but it is both necessary and beneficial.

Pray for us, also, as we seek, as a church, to prioritise prayer. John R. Mott is correct: “If added power attends the united prayer of two or three, what mighty triumphs there will be when hundreds of thousands of consistent members of the church are with one accord day and night making intercession for the extension of Christ’s kingdom.” Our Sunday evening prayer meeting, which started slowly after lockdown, is increasingly well-attended. Pray with us that this will continue.

A Work of Reformation

For a church to be healthy, it must always examine itself in light of Scripture. As we have examined the Scriptures, the elders have become persuaded that there is a further work of reformation that is required of us—specifically with reference to the corporate reading of Scripture.

The elders take seriously leading the congregation in public, corporate worship. We usually lead the services, having prepared the call to worship, confession of sin, and assurance of forgiveness. We almost exclusively do the public Lord’s Day preaching. We have historically read Scripture publicly, with a few exceptions.

However, we have become increasingly persuaded that the public reading of Scripture can, and should, be shared with the wider membership. Members equipped to effectively read Scripture will benefit the body. We believe that this is true of both male and female church members.

Several years ago, we transitioned our evening service from a more traditional service to a more prayer-focused service. On Sunday evenings, we ask church members to pray publicly for various needs, burdens, and ministry opportunities. When we made this change, we included women as public pray-ers, persuaded that there is nothing in Scripture that prohibits this. The elders are persuaded that the same is true of public Scripture reading. We have offered our biblical rationale here.

We want to be faithful stewards of the gifts and abilities that God has given to our church. There are gifted men and women who will help our corporate worship with clear and capable reading of Scripture. We want to use these members to serve the body well.

Affirming New Members

We have also recognised that we can do a better job of equipping our congregation in affirming new members. The local congregation holds the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:13–20; 18:15–20). The membership is responsible for admission to and exclusion from our local outpost of the kingdom. When admitting members, the congregation has the sober responsibility to assess the applicant’s profession of faith. The congregation will, of course, largely trust the leadership of the elders, who will lean heavily on the counsel of the member who has led the applicant through the membership process. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon members to make an informed assessment of a person’s profession of faith.

To better facilitate this, we have seen opportunity to strengthen our process. We don’t believe that our process is broken. The process at present begins by visitors attending the church and gaining an understanding of the flavour of our church life and worship. It then involves a membership class, at which we expose prospective members to the doctrinal foundation of the church.

Should a visitor express continued interest in pursuing membership, an existing member of the church leads the prospective member through ten lessons, focusing on what it means to be a healthy church and a healthy church member. This process covers the topics of the Bible, the gospel, church membership, church discipline, the ordinances, church government, making disciples, corporate worship, church associations, and our church covenant.

Once the visitor completes these lessons, he or she is asked to complete a membership application form and return it to one of the elders. Thereafter, two elders arrange a membership interview. Assuming they are satisfied that the person understands the gospel and offers a credible profession of faith, the elders then recommend the applicant to the church for membership for two consecutive Sundays, during which the congregation is invited to ask questions or (if necessary) raise objections. The applicant is then formally affirmed as a member on the third week.

We have realised, however, that it is not always easy for members to get to know a member applicant in the space of two weeks, if they have not met the applicant during the membership process. We have therefore recognised that we will do a better job in this regard if we name the applicant close to the beginning of the process and name the existing member that will lead the applicant through the membership process. This will give opportunity for members to introduce themselves to applicants long before an applicant’s name is recommended to the church for membership.

Pray With Us

In light of all the above, we value your prayers as a church.

  • Pray that God will graciously provide, as the members of the church sacrifice, so that we can meet the needs of the various church planters and missionaries we support.
  • Pray for Buhle Dlamini, our newest intern, as he joins us in July to further prepare for the church planting work the Lord has set before him.
  • Pray for our elders and our church to prove helpful in meaningfully ministering to and furthering Buhle’s training.
  • Pray for us as we seek to persevere, and help one another persevere, in gathering, in welcoming visitors, and in prayer.
  • Pray that members who get involved in public Scripture reading will do so well and in a way that builds the body further into Christlikeness.
  • Pray that the many visitors who are currently in the membership process will choose to plant their flag at BBC and that the church will prove to be helpful to them in their walk with the Lord, even as the new members strengthen us as a church in our striving for Christlikeness.

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. Once again, we covet your prayers with us as we seek to faithfully glorify God by making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in all nations.

For Brackenhurst Baptist Church,

Doug Van Meter