Category Archives: missions

The Church, Her Spiritual Leaders and Their Failures

On a personal note: By God’s grace I recently celebrated four decades of ministry and have been blessed to serve on the pastoral staff of Hillsdale Baptist Church for thirty-four years.  The following article is written from my perspective as a pastor and graduate of a Christian University that historically made no apology for its Bible fundamental, separatist stance.

For two decades I have pondered the waning of conservative, independent, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges in our nation.  While I pray for a spiritual awakening in America, I see little hope when our own families and ministries are following the spiritual erosion of our culture. Indeed, should we who identify as Bible-believers continue our flirtation with sin, I fear Bible-preaching is at risk of being silenced within a generation.

Having experienced social media vilification in the past, I fear my perspective will offend some and is not shared lightly or with a desire to offend. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my concerns, not as a provocation, but as an exposé of what I believe is the primary factor contributing to the failure of historic, conservative Bible-Christianity in America.

Across our nation, a millennial consortium of progressive preachers is assuming the pulpits of conservative, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges.  Preaching a message of grace without a call to personal sanctification and holiness, they have spawned a pseudo-piety and tolerance of sin and carnality the generation before them decried.  

A brief history lesson on conservative, fundamental Bible Christianity

From the 1950’s to the closing years of the 20thcentury, Bible-fundamentalism inspired a Gospel awakening (not so much a spiritual revival) in America.  Veterans of World War II returned to America with an evangelistic zeal giving rise to conservative, fundamental Christian Colleges whose student bodies experienced phenomenal growth until the late 1990’s.

Tens of thousands of young men enrolled in Bible colleges and became pastors across America and missionaries around the world.  That generation inspired the School Bus Ministry movement in the 1960’s and began the Christian School movement in the 1970’s continuing through the 1990’s.  The birth of the Home School movement in the 1990’s revived the prospect of a generation of youth who might surrender their lives to the LORD and dedicate themselves to serve as pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

The 21st century; however, has proved disastrous for conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches and institutions.

Failing churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries dot the American landscape.  Spiritual apathy has taken hold on our homes, churches, and schools.  Aging congregations, falling church attendance, and a precipitous decline in young men going into ministry now threaten the future of conservative Biblical Christianity.

While there are many explanations for the spiritual erosion we are witnessing in our Bible-believing churches and institutions, I will limit myself to a few.  The first, cultural wars within and without our homes. Some will argue the church has failed to adapt to cultural changes.  Others will argue, in an attempt to be relevant, the church lost its identity and has become irrelevant.  The disparity between what the Bible teaches and what our homes, churches, and institutions practice is another reason for the diminishing of our churches. We are hearers of the Word, but are we doers?  Christian educators fault the churches for pervasive spiritual apathy in the students, while pastors accuse those same institutions of accommodating carnality at the sacrifice of spiritual zeal.

Believing everything rises and falls on leadership, I conclude the responsibility for the spiritual failings of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and universities, and seminaries rests with the spiritual leaders of this, my generation. 

My peers have served as the spiritual leaders of our institutions for more than two decades.  Unlike any generation before, my generation has faced and grappled with an unprecedented intrusion of technology.  While the pastors of my youth sounded the alarm regarding the secular influences of radio, television, movies, and rock music; the ministers of my generation pastor congregations that, with a few clicks of a mouse, surf the internet and introduce to their families every imaginable influence… doctrinally, culturally, and socially.

Cable television, internet, social media, and cell phones are seducing the hearts of our children and empowering the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology.  While Christian parents prove either ambivalent or ill-prepared for the seduction of “worldliness”, their spiritual leaders are encountering a radical cultural shift and failing to address the intrusion of sin in their own homes and ministries.

Facing a spirit of rebellion in their homes, churches, and Christian schools, the spiritual leaders of my generation, in an attempt to parley peace with their own youth, have accommodated their sins. The consequence is an extra-biblical liberty that embraces the sins of the world, its pleasures, and inevitable consequences (1 John 2:15-17).

Warning: Spiritual leaders who accommodate the sins of their children will invariably compromise the core values of the ministries entrusted to their care.

To understand why Bible-believing churches, Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries are forsaking spiritual disciplines, one need only to look to the pulpits and the leaders who occupy them. My generation has failed to call the church to sanctification and holiness because we have succumbed to a paralysis induced by our own spiritual failings.

Almost without exception, the failure of churches and the compromise and eventual closure of Christian institutions in my sphere have one thing in common… leaders who sacrificed their spiritual integrity to accommodate the sins of their children.

Consider Paul’s admonition to Titus.  Having declared the virtues and spiritual qualifications of the leaders of the church (Titus 1:6-9), including “blameless”, the principal, indispensable qualification of the pastor that includes his role as the “husband of one wife” and “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6), Paul warns:

“For there are many unruly [disobedient; rebellious] and vain talkers [empty, useless talk] and deceivers [impostors; seducers]…whose mouths must be stopped [silenced; bridled], who subvert [overturn; destroy] whole houses [families], teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake [dishonest gain]…Wherefore rebuke [reprove; convict] them sharply [cut off; severely].” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13)

Principle – Leaders deficient in the spiritual qualifications of their office will invariably lack the spiritual power and authority “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” [opposed to Truth and sound doctrine](Titus 1:9)

I close this introductory article on spiritual leaders and their failings, urging you to take away three lessons from the failed example of my generation:  

1) Technology will seduce the hearts of your children and empower the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology; 2) Accommodate the sins of your children and you will invariably sacrifice your core values;   3) Compromise your convictions and you will lack the spiritual power and authority to exhort and rebuke those who oppose sound Biblical truths.

1 John 2:15-17– 15  Love not the world, neither the things that arein the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him
16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 
17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

God restores failures and uses imperfect people. (Mark 1-2)

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 29-30, Psalm 30, and Mark 2. Our devotional is from Mark 1-2.

I have heard it said, “Bible believers are the only ones who shoot their wounded!”

If true, that is a tragic statement!   We should be compelled to forgive and restore others by the reality we have been forgiven much by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:8).

I fear many who grew up in church or have known the LORD for years forget the sinful muck out of which God saved us.  We forget the command to forgive others to the extent we have experienced forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32).

Today’s Bible reading takes us to the Gospel of Mark and the ministry of John the Baptist; however, before we plunge into that study, let us take some lessons from the life of its human author, John Mark.

Who was John Mark?   Unlike the authors of the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, Mark was not one of the twelve disciples.  He was a citizen of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12) and some believe he was the young man who fled into the night when Jesus was arrested in the Garden (Mark 14:50-52).  He was also a traveling companion of Paul and Barnabas when they set out on their first missionary journey to Antioch (Acts 13:1-5).

Mark’s journey with Paul and Barnabas came to an abrupt end when we read, “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing [going away; deserting] from them returned [turning his back] to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).  The cause for John Mark’s sudden departure is not revealed (I speculate the hardships and threat of persecution was the cause).

John Mark reemerges in Acts 15 and his desire to travel once again with Paul and Barnabas becomes a source of conflict and division between the two (Acts 15:36-39).  We read “Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 15:37); however, Paul “thought it not good [desirable] to take [John Mark]…” (15:38).  The dispute became so great Barnabas and Paul went their separate ways (Acts 15:39-41).

That brings us to the question:  “How did John Mark go from being a man with whom Paul was unwilling to travel to the author of the Gospel of Mark?   We do not know what transpired in John Mark’s life after he departed with Barnabas; however, we know he went on to distinguish himself as one of God’s faithful servants.

It is believed Mark penned his Gospel while in Rome, leading me to ask,“What brought John Mark to Rome?”   The answer to that question is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  Paul writes, “…Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable [good; worthy] to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

When Paul viewed John Mark as a disappointment; Barnabas looked through the eyes of a Mentor and, at the risk of his friendship, lovingly restored Mark to ministry.  Perhaps it was this lesson that moved Paul’s heart when he penned:

Galatians 6:1-2– “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”

As you read the Gospel of Mark, remember one of the great spiritual lessons we take from its author:  God restores failures and uses imperfect people.

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

“He saw the multitudes [and] was moved with compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36-38)

Today’s Bible reading assignment is Genesis 21-22, Psalm 9, and Matthew 9.  Today’s devotion is taking from the Gospel of Matthew 9.

Matthew 9 gives us a beautiful portrait of Christ’s compassion for the physical suffering and hurting of His day.  Among the objects of His compassion was a paralyzed man “sick of the palsy” (9:2-7), a leader’s daughter raised from the dead (9:18-19, 23-25), a woman healed from “an issue of blood” (9:20-22), two blind men given sight (9:27-30), a man delivered from a demon (9:32-33), and the healing of “every sickness and every disease among the people” (9:35).

What an extraordinary record of compassion and miracles!  To almost overstate the obvious, we read, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them” (9:36a).

What a compassionate Savior!  Men’s afflictions moved Jesus; however, His compassion also plunged to the depths of men’s souls who “fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36b).  What lessons might a believer take from Jesus’ extraordinary example of compassion?

Christlike compassion is deeper and broader than empathy.  Cultural icons and American institutions frequently make hit and run “feel good” gestures in the name of charity.  Stars and athletes drop a few coins in a kettle, establish a “Go Fund Me” account, pledge money to a good cause, and hold a Money-thon for an emergency; however, when the popularity of the cause has waned, the hurting are forgotten.

Christlike compassion is deeply invested in the well-being of men’s souls. Author William Barclay observes the compassion Jesus expressed was “no ordinary pity or compassion, but an emotion which moves a man to the very depths of his being.”  (N.T. Words; Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, 1964), p. 276.

What moved Jesus with compassion in Matthew 9:36?  The spiritual condition of the people moved Him.  He observed they “fainted”, tired of pursuits that left them spiritually and emotionally wanting. They were like sheep, “scattered abroad…having no shepherd”.

Knowing, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few” (Matthew 9:37), moved Jesus with compassion.  Harvest speaks of judgment when the sickle is employed to cut grain (Isaiah 17:11; Joel 3:9, 13; Revelation 14:14).   When the harvest comes, good grain is separated and stored, but bad grain is gathered and burned (Matthew 13:24-30).

We should be moved to compassion knowing the harvest and judgment of men’s souls.  Lost sinners are dying everyday without the  Shepherd.

What would Jesus have us do?

Matthew 9:38– “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”

Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith

Hillsdale’s First Disaster Relief Team Is In Panama City…A second to follow this Wednesday

Natural disasters are terribly inconvenient and come at the untimeliest moments.

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Friends and Followers,

Last Wednesday, Hillsdale was finishing four days of blessings after hosting, housing many, and feeding 200 guests for Baptist World Mission’s Annual Meeting.  At the time, we had no way of knowing the devastation Hurricane Michael had created in Panama City and outlying coastal towns of the Florida Panhandle.

Our church family is tired, many of our members having taken vacation days to assist with the BWM conference.  News of the suffering in the Panhandle followed by an invitation and request from Dr. Jan Milton, founder of Operation Renewed Hope, that Hillsdale organize to assist brethren and neighbors in northern Florida, motivated us to arise to the occasion in light of this principle:

1 John 3:17-18 – 17  But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassionfrom him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18  My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

Some have said, “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Our current goal is to send three teams to the Florida Panhandle.  Our first team is focused in Panama City at Central Baptist Church and assisting Lighthouse Baptist Church.  I am advised our second and third team will thrust out from Panama City to small coastal towns that have not received aid or assistance.

Hillsdale’s policy is to work with and through local churches that are like-minded and can continue as a Lighthouse of the Gospel long after we are gone.  As I told our church family on Sunday, “We are not interested in taking credit for any effort. We are working with local churches for them to shine for Christ and minister to their families and neighbors.”

The expense of renting a large box truck, purchasing pallets of water, cases of non-perishable food, paper goods (including diapers), and cleaning supplies is enormous. In addition, the cost of fuel for hauling in trailers and heavy equipment if needed is beyond one local churches effort. The expense of our first team has exceeded $5,000 and we believe the second and third teams might be near the same.

(Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

I close with two challenges. The first, if you can GO, call our church office and request to speak to Family Pastor Eric Peterman to volunteer.  The second, if you cannot go, GIVE. You can give online to Hillsdale at http://www.hillsdalebaptist.org, look for the Donations button in the upper righthand corner, select Other and designate to Disaster Relief Fund. 100% of your gift will go to defray the expenses incurred in our ministry in the Florida Panhandle.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Pastor Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor

Hillsdale Baptist Church

Hillsdale’s First Disaster Relief Team Departing for Panama City This Morning

Please pray for Hillsdale’s first Disaster Relief Team consisting of eight members is departing for Panama City at 8:00am this morning.  The team will be working with local churches and in cooperation with Operation Renewed Hope.

The initial cost for supplies and the rental of a box truck to transport pallets of water and supplies is $5,000.00. We hope a second team will follow with chainsaws in the middle of the week to assist or relieve the first team.

To donate, go to http://www.hillsdalebaptist.org and click on the Donate button in the upper right hand corner. Hillsdale members are encouraged to prepare for a special offering this morning.

HELP US HELP THE VICTIMS OF HURRICANE MICHAEL

October 12, 2018

Hillsdale family and friends,

As many of you know, Hurricane Michael left a path of destruction this week when that storm, packing near Category 5 winds, directed its fury on Panama City and outlying areas along the coast of Florida’s Panhandle.  The pictures coming out of the area are described as having the appearance of a war zone.

The devastation from the winds was so great in that area that details are only now slowly emerging.  Operation Renewed Hope, an organization Hillsdale has worked with in the past has found it impossible to establish a staging area for assistance since it appears the churches contacted in advance of the storm were themselves destroyed.

One of Hillsdale’s men, a man with extensive background with the military and an expert in disaster relief, is leaving Tampa this afternoon and driving to Panama City.  Fortunately, he has credentials to go into secured areas not open to residents and the general public (by the way, a “thank you” to the good people at Veterans Fordand manager Lorenzo Pena for supplying our man with a vehicle elevated enough to go into those areas).

Hillsdale, in cooperation with Operation Renewed Hope, will send in men and supplies after a safe route is found and a secured staging area is established.  Our goal will be to find a church that will commit to housing supplies and working with us, allowing us to minister to churches and their neighbors in Panama City and surrounding regions.

Departure time is uncertain, pending the survey trip; however, Hillsdale’s youth pastor, Justin Jarret, is acting as our point man for putting together the first team which is already forming with skilled and unskilled volunteers.

Hillsdale members will be given an opportunity this Sunday to designate financial gifts for the Disaster Relief effort.  You can also bring cases of bottled water this Sunday morning to be transported by our team to Panama City.

If you want to be a part of our Disaster Relief effort, you may donate to Hillsdale Baptist Church, knowing 100% of your gift will go to the expenses and supplies in our effort to minister to those in need in the areas impacted by Hurricane Michael.  Please look for the “Donations Button” and follow instructions.  Of course, you can also mail your financial gifts to Hillsdale Baptist Church, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL, 33624.  Please designate to “Disaster Relief”.

With a shepherd’s heart,

Pastor Travis D. smith

Senior Pastor

COPYRIGHT 2018 – TRAVIS D. SMITH

A National Missionary Worthy of Your Support: Yaovi Kpogno, Hillsdale’s Missionary Appointee to Togo

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Reader,

Greetings from Hillsdale Baptist Church!  I have enjoyed a reprieve from the pressure of writing daily devotional posts in recent months.  During this season of rest, I am enjoying an in-depth study of the Gospel of John as I prepare for my Sunday morning series, “Reflections on Compassion and Grace”.  I plan to begin regular posts in the near future and once again enjoy the privilege of ministering to saints around the world.

The purpose of this letter is to introduce you to a young man Hillsdale Baptist Church has come to love and appreciate.  Mr. Yaovi Kpogno is a national of Togo, West Africa.  I had the opportunity of meeting and interviewing Yaovi a year ago and my heart was touched and challenged as I listened to his testimony of salvation and God’s calling on his life to return to Togo as a church-planting missionary pastor.

Yaovi was born in a small village in Togo and raised by his mother in a hut where she continues to live today.  In fact, one of Yaovi’s goals when he returns to Togo in July, 2018 is to build a small concrete home for his mother.  

Yaovi accepted Christ as His Savior in August 1996 and publicly dedicated his life to serve the Lord in 2002.  Yaovi moved to Lome’, the capital of Togo, in 2005 to begin his formal education and ministered in Bible Baptist Church of Adakpame until he came to the United States to attend Bible College.

 Yaovi has earned four college degrees from The Crown College of the Bible while working full-time and paying his way through Bible college.  His hard work and dedication has paid off and his long-awaited return to Togo as a church-planting missionary has arrived.  Yaovi has purchased tickets to return to Togo this July 2018 and will begin his ministry in Lome’.

That brings me to the purpose of this letter.  Unlike American missionaries who travel for 3-5 years raising support, go to language school for another year, and require thousands of dollars in support each month, Yaovi is returning to Togo determined to live by faith, believing God will meet his financial needs through the giving of His people.

After completing four months of his five months missions internship, Hillsdale Baptist Church voted this past Sunday to be Yaovi’s supporting and stateside sending church.  We have estimated Yaovi needs a minimum monthly support of $2,500.  This amount includes not only his personal support funds, but also ministry funds to support his evangelistic endeavors and eventually rent a meeting place for his church.   It is Hillsdale’s missions policy to commit to 20% of a missionary’s support when we are the “sending church”.  In keeping with our policy, Hillsdale will be supporting Yaovi for $500\month, leaving a balance of $2,000\month needed for support.

We estimate Yaovi will need at least $20,000-25,000 to fully fund his ministry as he returns to Togo.   This amount includes $15,000 to purchase a used truck to carry equipment for public evangelistic campaigns and to transport children for summer Vacation Bible Schools and Sunday School programs.

Yaovi will eventually have a means for support dollars to be designated to him through a missions agency; however, until that time you can make designations for “Yaovi Kpogno” to Hillsdale Baptist Church  and our Deacons will insure 100% of the designated funds will go for Yaovi’s ministry in Togo.  It is my prayer many who read this letter will take the initiative to support a young man who loves the LORD and returns to Togo determined to reach the souls of his countrymen with the Gospel.

Please note that Hillsdale and this pastor will serve as Yaovi’s accountability partners.  If you have questions, please contact me directly at pastorsmith@HillsdaleBaptist.org.

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith

Senior Pastor