Bayless Baptist leaps way out of the box
ST LOUIS – When Mark Carpenter interviewed to become the pastor of Bayless Baptist Church, he presented a vision that would change the entire focus of this St. Louis congregation.
The church caught the vision and accepted the Acts 1:8 challenge to become a “missional” church when it called Carpenter to be its pastor nine months ago. Its goal is to sponsor a succession of new church plants throughout the St. Louis area.
Bayless has already begun to implement that vision by actively participating in the formation of a new church in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, about 30 miles from where Bayless Baptist Church meets.
Carpenter was connected with church planters Joel Burke and Patrick Clough though Darren Casper, associate executive director of church planting for the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association. After hearing Burke and Clough’s passion and vision, he asked the church to pray about supporting them.
With the backing of the Bayless congregation, Real Life was launched on Easter Sunday. It is attracting a younger, progressive generation of professionals meeting monthly, with plans to begin weekly services in August. To date, at least one person has made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.
“They would have launched with or without us, but this was a good place for us to start,” said Carpenter. The Bayless congregation is providing financial support, manpower when needed, and accountability. It is more relational than technical, Carpenter explained.
“There are 71 different languages spoken in St. Louis,” said Carpenter. “Bayless is a traditionally creative church. It fits the community, but there are lots of types of people we can’t reach.”
One of those groups is the Bosnian community which is close to Bayless. “The census says there are about 25,000 first-generation Bosnians living in the area, but everyone says there are more than that,” said Carpenter. His guess is that the number is closer to 40,000.
Carpenter has been in Bosnian homes, learning what their world is like. One thing he has gleaned is that the church won’t be able to knock on doors and have a Bible study, as is often the means of new church plants.
When visiting in one home, a young woman showed him a video of her wedding, which attracted 400 Bosnian guests. It enlightened him to the fact that “we will need to network through individual families. I’m still not sure how to do that.”
Carpenter said most Bosnians in the area are nominal Muslims. They don’t like the term “Christian,” but they accept someone who claims to be “a follower of Christ.”
Another group is the Japanese community. When Carpenter learned that 30 unchurched Japanese people were meeting in Bayless’ fellowship hall to practice songs for a Japanese festival, he called Casper for a Japanese church planter. Yoshi Ubakata is now in contact with the group.
Ubakata has been on the field about six months and already has a small congregation meeting in an existing Southern Baptist church in another part of St. Louis.
Carpenter said he is not afraid to entertain creative or “over-the-top” ideas for reaching unchurched people with the Gospel. As a historian, he has developed a “wait and see” philosophy regarding discussion of “emergent” and “emerging” churches.
He defines “emergent churches” as those that focus mainly on culture and context and have a willingness to do whatever they need in order to reach a group, possibly compromising in the process.
The “emerging churches” look the same and have the same focus, he said, but they do not compromise.
The difference between these churches and “missional churches,” he explained, is that the first two focus on the Sunday morning service. With the missional church, the focus is on planting other churches. The challenge is to find groups of people, go into their world, learn the context, and find creative ways of communicating the Gospel to them.
Large umbrella churches seek to include many types of people, but the churches Carpenter envisions would be made up of people from similar socio-economic backgrounds, similar ethnic backgrounds and languages, and in close proximity.
“We don’t want a racial divide. We’re not going to reach everyone. If we’re not being effective, we want to find someone who is.” He noted that people are more comfortable associating with others like themselves and that they are not going to associate with people in the church unless they feel comfortable associating with them outside the church.
In order for the new church plants to be successful, there must be a support network. This concept means that churches must be willing to give up ownership of their people, including some of their leaders.
“We want to work together, not draw fences around our flocks,” said Carpenter. Members who feel led to move their memberships to support new church plants will be commissioned to do so.
While no pastor wants to lose great leaders, Carpenter realizes this could be part of the deal. “I believe God is faithful. If we’re willing to send our leaders, He will raise new ones up,” he said.
“When a church planter says, ‘I need help,’ I want to send my best people,” Carpenter said. “If my leaders step out for the right reasons, I’m going to bless it, encourage it. I’m not going to be jealous of the flock. I’m not going to worry.”
The eventual goal is to bring people on staff whose job is to start new churches. They would be expected to reproduce and move to those churches within a year or two, a process which Carpenter calls “intentional reproduction, a natural result of a healthy church.”
He realizes that some aspects of his vision may not materialize and that he must be willing to change course, if needed. “If people are not willing to follow the vision God has given us, then we need to evaluate whether to go somewhere else to maintain the vision or to adapt the vision to the people God has given us.”
He is pleased with the way the people of Bayless Baptist Church have adopted the vision of church planting and stepped up to the challenge. In addition to the work in St. Louis, they are in the process of helping with church plants in Toronto, Canada, and Mali, Africa.
“This is all new to the church,” Carpenter said. “They’ve never done it before, but they’ve embraced it very well.”