“Experiencing God” transformed TBM over last two decades

by Ken Camp, Managing Editor (The Baptist Standard) Return to Articles

Principles in a book published 20 years ago revolutionized Texas Baptist Men, transforming it from a missions program for men and boys in Texas Baptist churches to a broad-based ministry with global outreach.

In 1990, the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board published an interactive workbook by Henry Blackaby and Claude King titled Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God.

“Before, were program-driven. But when Experiencing God came in and we began responding to God’s invitations, our ministries began to expand right and left,” TBM Executive Director Leo Smith said. “It shaped us and made up what we are today.”

Blackaby had just become director of missions for a Baptist association in Vancouver, British Columbia, when TBM leaders first heard about him. Before joining the associational staff, he reportedly had been pastor of a church there that was dying when he arrived but experienced revival and birthed multiple mission congregations after he led members to “join God where he is at work.”

Since Blackaby’s experience dovetailed with the TBM emphasis on lay renewal, the mission organization invited him to speak at the 1987 TBM Convention in Fort Worth.

There, he presented in an early form the basic elements of what he later called “the seven realities” of Experiencing God:

  • God is always at work around us.
  • God pursues a continuing love relationship with us that is real and personal.
  • God invites us to join him in his work.
  • God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances and the church to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways.
  • God’s invitation for us to work with him always leads to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
  • We must make major adjustments in our lives to join God in what he is doing.
  • We come to know God by experience as we obey him and he accomplishes his work through us.

When TBM began applying those principles, the missions organization changed dramatically, said Bob Dixon, who led TBM nearly three decades as executive director.

“When we began looking at where God was working and responding to his invitations, we didn’t have to drum up things to do,” Dixon said. “The Father kept giving us assignments. And when we were faithful, he would give us another one.”

When a cholera epidemic hit Peru, TBM worked with Texas Baptist hospitals to provide more than $4 million in financial help and medical supplies, with the first round of emergency aid delivered to the country by military transport planes.

After the Pentagon discovered the capability of TBM to respond to disaster, a representative from the Office of Humanitarian Assistance in the U.S. Department of Defense called to ask, “How are you Baptists at getting blankets together?”

He explained Kurdish refugees from Iraq had fled to the mountains of western Turkey and eastern Iran, and by some estimates, 1,000 a day were dying of exposure. Through a Texas Baptist River Ministry contact, Dixon learned about a manufacturer who could provide blankets at cost. He had in stock enough blankets to fill four 18-wheelers, and TBM could have the 14,400 blankets for $48,000.

Soon after Dixon assembled his staff to pray about the matter, a $4,800 check arrived in the mail with a notation: “For wherever God wills today.” It was signed by a deacon at a church where Dixon recently had led an Experiencing God weekend. Dixon was convinced if God could provide 10 percent of the needed funds immediately, he would supply the rest, and TBM committed to the project.

TBM not only ended up providing blankets, but also worked with mission partners to provide medical teams and field kitchens in areas normally closed to Americans. Churches that worked with TBM also began ministries to Kurds who resettled in the United States.

That international experience led to future global initiatives as TBM responded to “invitations to join God in his activity”—lay renewal in South Africa, famine relief and agricultural development in North Korea, refugee relief in Africa, building projects in the Middle East, disaster relief training for Christians in Cuba and water purification projects in more than 50 countries.

Stateside, TBM also applied the principles of Experiencing God to its varied ministries such as volunteer construction projects, church renewal and restorative justice ministry.

Restorative Justice Ministry took on new life because of Experiencing God,” said Don Gibson, TBM church renewal consultant. The workbook became the key curriculum for Inmate Discipleship Fellowship, a related program that grew out of TBM and focused on ongoing discipleship efforts behind bars.

Ten years ago, application of the “seven realities of Experiencing God” also led to the birth of Victim Relief Ministries, an interdenominational organization that grew out of TBM’s restorative justice ministry initiatives, Gibson noted.

TBM moved from lay renewal weekends to weekends designed to introduce churches to an overview of the Experiencing God principles. Pastor Jim Shamburger credits one of those weekends with sparking a transformation at First Baptist Church in Victoria.

“Experiencing God revolutionized my church. We had been doing church with an emphasis on buildings, budgets and long-range planning—not asking God where he was inviting us to go,” Shamburger said.

In recent years, the church has begun new ministries in its community and beyond as God has opened doors, he noted.

“Our approach to sharing the gospel has become more about taking it to people where they are rather than trying to bring them to us,” he said.

TBM also has sent teams outside Texas to lead Experiencing God weekends in churches. Last September, TBM volunteers worked with leaders of Central Baptist Association to lead simultaneous Experiencing God weekends in five churches in South Central Wisconsin.

“I had never been around revival or spiritual awakening before,” said Mark Millman, associational director of missions. “God did it. It wasn’t anything that could be manufactured or manipulated.”

The event proved so life-changing for participants, one congregation in suburban Madison even changed its name, from Prairie Springs Baptist Church to Transformation Church, Millman said.

TBM leaders insist as the organization looks to the future, whatever ministries it may develop will grow out of a keen awareness of the principles of Experiencing God—a love relationship with God, sensitivity to his activity and obedience to his invitation.

“God is still inviting us to join him,” Smith said. “We’re always going to operate this way. It’s who we are now.”

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