I was in fourth grade when my family first visited Northside. Nothing helped me disassociate “church” from “building” more than meeting in a high school cafeteria every week. The environment didn’t feel like the church I knew as a kid. We had no pews, no stained glass windows, and no baptistery behind the choir behind the platform.
But the experience of setting up and tearing down, of enjoying cookouts and fellowships out on the property (where the building now sits) taught me that the church is a people, not a place. And not just any kind of people – we were a people who gathered to hear God’s Word. The Bible brought us together.
Building On God’s Word
Here was a group of people who loved God, loved each other, and loved to listen to God’s Word!
We studied God’s Word in classes, sang its truths in worship, listened to its delivery in sermons. We passed out small, NIV New Testaments in our community. On the cover they said said “Here’s hope – God’s Word for you.”
I remember sitting in the Oakland High School auditorium, flipping through the pages of my Adventure Bible while the pastor preached. Over the years, I was flipping less and listening more as the Word was faithfully explained.
By the time I was a teenager, we had a building, but that was only a change of environment. We may have had new walls and a new roof, but our foundation was the same – the Word of God.
Digging Deep, Reaching Out
At Northside, we dug into God’s Word, then reached out with God’s Word.
It was those two activities – digging into God’s Word and then going out with God’s Word – that led me to join Northside mission teams going to Romania. We knew God was opening doors for our church to do ministry in Romania. So, the Word we dug into was the Word we reached out with. No matter what we did overseas – from medical clinics, to fitting people for eye-glasses, to school visits, to children’s ministry – we made sure the proclamation of the Word was at the center. Evangelism, mission, the church.
For ten years, from the time I was 9 to the day I bought a one-way ticket to Romania, I spent the most formative years of my church life in the Word. I listened to my pastor preach over 1000 sermons. If you include Sunday School lessons and youth group activities, retreats, VBS, and Disciple Nows, the number of times I was exposed to God’s Word goes up substantially. God’s Word was the foundation – the pillar – the constant of this church.
God, Not Gimmicks
As I’ve connected with people across the country and around the world, I’ve come to realize just how special that church really is. I once assumed that all churches were like ours – a refuge of friendship and community, centered on the serious undertaking of hearing and obeying God’s Word. Unfortunately, not all churches believe the foundation of God’s Word is solid enough.
I’ve seen churches go after fads and gimmicks – whatever might attract as many people as possible and be the best show. I’ve visited churches where lots of things are taken seriously – the structure of the church staff, or the production dynamics of the worship service, or the cultural relevance of the preaching – but where the faithful exposition of God’s Word is not taken seriously at all. The result is frightening – starved Christians being served a diet of junk food.
That was never the case at Northside. Health and growth meant biblical nutrition. And that’s what I got there.
It meant biblical theology, seeing how the Bible fits together and tells one overarching story with Jesus at the center.
It meant giving the gospel, calling people to repentance and faith and expecting them to respond.
It meant joining God’s mission, looking to see where God is moving in the world and joining Him as He changes hearts and lives through His love.
Head and Heart
At church, I didn’t find Christians of the mind only – bobble-headed believers filled with knowledge but no heart. Neither did I find Christians of the heart only – warm and winsome believers who didn’t know much about God and His Word. There, we had the combination of both head and heart. We knew God’s Word and experienced God. And that was life-shaping.
When I think of Northside Baptist Church, I am filled with gratitude. So many other churches have seen their young people walked away from the church after high school and college, with only a few returning. That’s not my experience. I am blessed to see so many who were in our youth group serving the Lord, whether through various ministries, in their various vocations, in their local churches.
Foundation for the Future
From mission to Romania, to local church ministry back in the United States, and now to LifeWay, where, five years ago, I was invited to start a new curriculum called The Gospel Project – the Word of God has been the foundation of my ministry, just as it has always been the foundation of this church.
The culture we live in is shifting rapidly. Many churches will get swept up in the tidal wave of compromise, bowing to the idols of our age. But the churches who have their foundation on the Word of God will remain firm, a witness to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord, and His Word is still powerful today.
Happy 25th Anniversary, Northside Baptist Church!