NEOSHO – The people at New Salem Baptist Church were upset at the news and, quite frankly, Pastor Philip Martin was surprised they didn’t fire him right then and there.
“I said, ‘Look guys the hard truth is that financially we are not doing well and the numbers have been stagnate for a while,’” said Martin, who has served at New Salem for nine years. “I told them if we continued to go on like we have been we would not make it more than five or six years.”
The congregation, which consisted of about 20 faithful attenders, went on in the same way for the next year or so—Martin was even looking for other places to go when God finally got through to him. God reminded Martin that His message of hope and revitalization is true for a church body just like it’s true for individuals. God told him that there is hope for New Salem Baptist Church.
“I began apologizing to them with my sermons and admitting that my attitude wasn’t great,” Martin said. “They said, ‘We know, but we love you anyway.’ I appreciate their forgiveness and I realize now that the change had to start with me. Now I’m preaching the gospel every week and I’m intentional with visitation and phone calls to show my love whenever I can. More than anything I want them to know that I am with them for the long haul.”
So with hope in the forefront, Martin launched a church-wide revitalization effort at New Salem in January, though he’s been praying for, preaching, and teaching revitalization for nearly a year. He appreciates the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) recent emphasis and encouragement toward church revitalization and replanting, particularly from Mark Clifton, senior director of church replanting at NAMB.
“Revitalization is about bringing new life to the church,” Martin said. “Not by me or because of anything I’ve done or we’ve done, but because of the Lord’s work to bring the church from an inward focus to an outward focus to the glory of God.”
Located in a rural area halfway between the cities of Neosho and Seneca, there is not a bustling neighborhood or a thriving suburb nearby for New Salem to serve. However, Westview Elementary, one of the few remaining K-8th schools in Missouri, is located within a mile of their church.
Last semester the church chose a ‘Faculty member of the week’ and presented them gift cards in appreciation. They’ve provided pizza parties for the school’s “Students of the Month” and have paid cafeteria balances for anyone who might have fallen behind. Most recently they joined with another church in helping with the costs of the 8th grade class trip so that students will only have to pay for a third of it.
“We can’t go in there and start preaching, but we can be present in the school and let the kids see us and recognize us,” Martin said. “What we’ve done might be small things, but those small little things can make a big difference in showing how much we care. As Mark Clifton said, ‘The community is not there for the church, the church is there for the community.’”
Martin prays that New Salem, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, will continue to reach out to their community and that they will see some younger families come in. But more important than that, he prays New Salem disciples people well, worships the Lord with their whole hearts, and continues to find opportunities to serve.
“It can be hard for sure, especially when they push back,” Martin said. “But don’t give up on your people. You’re not alone. In fact, there are many other pastors going through the exact same difficulties, many worse—but we’re all in this together, wanting to do this for the glory of God. Jesus does not leave you alone. Keep the cross central and focus on the kingdom in everything you do because it’s about Him and never about us.”