The Providence of God in Perryville, Arkansas: A One Year Update on Reformation

The Story

A year ago I was discouraged. We had just had a frustrating SBC Annual meeting in Anaheim, CA. Our Nation was struggling morally and financially (still is!). I felt as though our local church, Perryville Second Baptist, had not responded properly to COVID-19 and was ultimately, under my lacking leadership, failing to implement the things that we said we believed as a Baptist church.

Then I went to Mexico. I was refreshed in the Lord making friends with solid pastors who loved Christ and His church. I repented of my slackness in implementing changes that needed to be made at our church. I came back from Mexico resolved to work toward biblical reformation with a fire in my bones.

At this point, I had been at the church just over six years. I want to highlight again my own failures as a pastor. I don’t want it to come across as though I am some courageous reformer setting a church on the right path. This is all credited to the gracious work of our sovereign God. Further, I need to thank so many pastors and friends along the way who encouraged me, prayed for our church, and walked through this with us in joy and sorrow.

The Sermon

So, last year on this date, July 24, 2022, I preached a message entitled, A Church at the Crossroads: A Biblical Path to Reformation from Jeremiah 6:16-17. I shared some past things I had been through that made me too timid. I publicly repented before the church. And I laid out six areas that we needed to reform in:

1) Theology – The Plan: Adopt the 1689 2LBC as our confession instead of the weaker BFM 2000.

2) Ecclesiology – The Plan: Move to an Elder led congregation (instead of deacon led) and get our membership properly constructed implementing biblical church discipline and membership practices.

3) Worship – The Plan: Make sure we are worshiping God according to His Word in every area.

4) Home – The Plan: Encourage and equip every home to be doing family worship.

5) Missions – The Plan: Make sure our missions’ giving is centered around the local church and not blindly given to missions’ organizations that do not share our values.

I asked ChatGPT to give me a summary of the sermon. I thought it was pretty accurate:

In this sermon, the preacher focuses on the message from the book of Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet. Jeremiah’s ministry involved warning the people of God’s judgment for disobedience and calling them to follow the ancient paths of God’s ways. Despite his persistent preaching, Jeremiah’s warnings were ignored, and the people remained stubborn and hard-hearted.

The preacher draws parallels between Jeremiah’s message and the present state of the church. He reflects on personal experiences in 2020 that led to a conviction for reform in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and a transformative trip to Mexico. These events pushed him to resolve to lead his church down the ancient paths, emphasizing the need for change and a return to biblical principles.

The sermon outlines five points of reform for the local church: theology, ecclesiology, worship, the home, and missions. The preacher emphasizes the importance of embracing a biblical understanding of God, deepening theological knowledge, implementing proper church structure with elders, practicing church discipline, enhancing corporate worship, prioritizing godly homes, and engaging in missions aligned with biblical principles.

While acknowledging that not everyone may fully understand or agree with the proposed changes, the preacher asks the congregation to follow him as he leads them down the ancient paths. He encourages open dialogue, repentance where necessary, and a commitment to surrender to Christ’s leadership. The sermon concludes with a call to take the warnings seriously, seek the Lord’s ways, and find rest and blessings by faithfully walking in the ancient paths.

The Significance

I understand that’s a lot to consider. And I was rightly cautioned by faithful brothers not to move too fast. There are certainly things I’ve learned from over the last year. There have also been serious trials and heartaches at times over the past 12 months. When you have a particular burden that you express to a congregation, you cannot expect everyone else is going to share that burden or fully understand the need to put the status quo to death.

Furthermore, it’s one thing to preach a sermon, but it’s another to continue to press the application of the sermon in the life of the church. A lot of people can preach true things, powerful things, reformation oriented things. But there is a difference between preaching those things and lovingly yet persistently trying to apply and actually implement those things.

So, yes, we ended up losing some folks. And I don’t want to pass over the pain and sorrow felt from that. I’m not trying to paint a picture pf only sunshine.

However, the big picture really is beautiful. The burden, fear, and mountainous trial that seemed to stand before us on July 24, 2022 has seemingly turned into a fruitful plain by July 24, 2023.

The Shift

So, here is the update after one year:

By God’s sovereign grace, our church has undergone reformation. In the last 365 days we have adopted the 1689 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (thank you Founders!) as our statement of faith. We have updated our constitution and bylaws to reflect an Elder led polity. We have called another faithful Elder.

We have connected with families from around our state and nation and even out of the country who have moved to our area. We have deepened fellowship in the church and seriousness about membership.

We have grown in our worship. We have implemented focused intentionality on evangelism. We have been connected with a church plant in El Dorado, missionaries in Belize, strengthened our connections in Mexico, as well as with important ministries like Free Grace Press and Grace Bible Theological Seminary.

All of this led to the church voting to change our church name from Perryville 2nd Baptist Church to Providence Baptist Church.

The Solemnity

If you would have told me last July that in just 1-year we would have reached all of these changes, it would have been hard for me to believe. This has been a work of our holy and awesome God. It is truly humbling.

Please don’t hear me say that I’ve been a hero or perfect or some historical warrior. There are definitely areas I need to grow in. There are definitely areas that have been challenging and experiences that have been hurtful. Furthermore, this has been the combined labor of so many within our congregation and even the prayers and encouragement of those outside the congregation.

But above all, God has been so, so faithful. He has been so kind and gracious to us. He is working in a way beyond what I could have asked for or even thought. He has been working through so many different people and families. We give all the glory to Him!

Christ is worthy of a healthy church in Perryville and by His kind providence, He is doing that kind of work right here in rural Arkansas. I have had to repent of my own lack of trust in His plan and trust again His Word and His promises and His work.

The Strategy

So, what does the future hold and what are our plans going forward?

I can’t say what God plans to do in the next 365 days and beyond. But He is sovereign. He is gracious. He is good. And Christ is building His church (cf. Matt. 16:18). In the last couple of months we’ve seen a baptism of a 17 year old young man, and have had conversations with others about uniting with this assembly and joining the work that God is doing here.

So, our plan is to continue, by God’s grace, trusting His plan! Submitting ourselves to His Word. Humbling ourselves before Him. Repenting where we have failed. Asking for grace to trust Him more!

To continue to preach the gospel. To herald Christ. To lift His banner high above our city. To focus on the purity and beauty of the local church. To commit ourselves to truth, to sound doctrine, to one another, to Christ’s mission.

We desire to let people in our area and beyond know that superficial, weak, anemic, Christianity does not have to be the standard. There is something more biblical, beautiful, historical, faithful, fulfilling, and Christ honoring out there. There are true churches seeking to submit themselves to God’s Word in every area. By God’s grace, this is our strategy moving forward.

The Supplication

After reading this how might you respond?

A few things to ask. First, if you’re in a situation where your church is not where it needs to be, will you work toward moving it in that direction? If you have questions or comments about that, feel free to reach out. There may also be times where you need to leave a church and unite with one serious about biblical fidelity. This must be done with much prayer and patience. But ultimately, life is too short to not give your life to a church willing to take God seriously.

Next, could you pray for us? We desire to grow spiritually and numerically. We desire to honor Christ. We desire to be healthy and faithful. Would you pray for Providence Baptist Church in Perryville, AR? We need God’s Spirit to continue His work. We need God’s wisdom. We need His continued grace. (Read more about our story here)

Finally, wherever it is you are, will you be resolved that Christ is worthy to be proclaimed in your specific location? Christ is King! Let us herald this truth to our neighbors and the Nations. May our little story be an encouragement to you.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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