Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Seven Questions with Pastor Dennis Newkirk"

1. In a day and time where there seems to be so little vision and leadership in the church, what has been the key to your leadership?

I believe in humble, servant, shared, and biblical leadership. Jesus set the example for all of these. Humility is a rare but necessary characteristic of pastoral leadership. I have witnessed so much arrogance in the ministry. What a shame! Servanthood is a key to influencing people toward godly ends. When we ask, "What can I do for you?" instead of "What can I get from you?" we earn the right to be heard. By shared leadership, I am talking about the biblical pattern of eldership. The model we find in the New Testament is that church leadership is spoken of in plural terms. "Elders" are mentioned in Acts 20, Phil 1, 1 Tim 3, and Titus 1. The only time "elder" is used is in referring to a particular elder. Finally, I believe in biblical leadership, meaning that the goals and methods we muse must be biblical. I do feel a little funny about answering this question because I have so much to learn about leadership.

2. What is your personal philosophy of ministry?

Someone said, "Spiritual ends are accomplished by spiritual people who use spiritual methods. I guess that is a pretty good summary of my philosophy. However, I might be a little more specific in saying that I believe that the primary calling of the pastor is to preach/teach the Bible. Before he is an administrator, visitor, counselor, strategist, or anything else, he must be a preacher of the word.

3. The Southern Baptist Convention is in the midst of an evangelism campaign called, "Everyone Can, I'm It". How does your church stress the importance of evangelism? In your opinion what is the key to being an evangelistic church?

First, let me say something that is controversial. (Oh no, here I go again!) I don't believe that evangelism is best accomplished through campaigns or revival meetings. In fact, the numbers associated with the current campaign seem to prove that point. Ephesians 4:11-18 tells us that pastors are called to equip the people of God to do the work of ministry. And 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that it is the Word of God that equips us. If we teach believers to be responsible, Spirit filled followers of Christ, whose aim it is to glorify Him, they will do the work of evangelism. I realize that it seems counter intuitive but I think we emphasize evangelism through encouraging the growth of believers.

4. Most churches use either Sunday School, small groups, or cell groups as their means of discipleship for believers. In your opinion what is the best method of disciplining new believers?

I think disciple making belongs first to the pulpit. I also believe that small groups of many kinds should be used to facilitate growth. We call these groups FLOCKs, standing for Fellowship, Leadership, Outreach, Caring, and Knowledge groups. (I don't remember where I first read that term, but it isn't original with me.) When they do all five of these assignments, the work of making disciples goes forward. Finally, every believer is responsible for becoming an expert student of the Bible.

5. Your church has been facing lots of criticism over the last couple of months over the issue of baptism and church membership. Why has your church decided to deal with this issue? What would you like for the average Baptist laymen to know about your church that they may not know yet?

We have faced criticism. One of my deepest pains about this is the name calling, insults, and threats we are receiving from our fellow Baptists. It is amazing to me that Christians can seek to defend what they believe through clearly unbiblical means. That being said, there are some issues I'd love for our brothers and sisters to know.

I've been asked to write an article on this subject. Since my objective in this article is to get to the heart of the subject with the fewest possible words, let me restate what I've written.

First, the Henderson Hills Elder Council believes in baptism. Our conviction is that the New Testament commands every believer to be baptized by immersion, subsequent to salvation, as the public identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. This commitment to baptism is quite evident from the number of people we baptize each year. Furthermore, we believe that in order to be good examples to the church and to fulfill the biblical qualifications of leadership, everyone in the senior leadership or the teaching ministry of the church must be baptized.

So, if we support baptism, what is the question? There are two concerns driving our consideration to stop using baptism as an initiatory rite of church membership. First, we do not find clear biblical evidence for using baptism as a prerequisite. We have read and reread the New Testament searching for one. Some will use Acts 2:41 as a proof. However, the notable Baptist theologian Dr. John Gill and a host of others reject that interpretation of this verse. Others suggest that because many biblical characters were apparently baptized immediately after salvation, it proves that baptism is a prerequisite for membership. Yet, it does not seem logical to demand that immediacy necessarily establishes baptism as a membership requirement. Paul did not join the church in Damascus where he was baptized. He went back to Jerusalem and attempted to join with the believers there (Acts 9:18, 26). Philip baptized the Ethiopian in the middle of the desert and there evidently was no church to join (Acts 8:38, 39). We are concerned about using the ordinance of baptism in any way that seems foreign to Scripture. (Please read the complete study of our findings at, or call 405-341-4639 to request a mailed copy).

Secondly, if there is no clear biblical command requiring baptism as a prerequisite for membership, then each local church has the right to decide whether or not baptism should be used as a prerequisite. We are concerned that needlessly withholding church membership hinders the progress of those whom we deny. It is a frightening thing to deny membership from those Christians who believe that God is calling them to join us, especially when there seems to be a lack of clear biblical authority for withholding membership.

One of the most common questions regarding this proposal is why we would want a member who refuses to obey the command to be baptized. In 31 years of ministry, I have never met a believer who adamantly refused baptism. Our proposal is not intended to excuse people from the sin of refusing baptism. Instead, our concern is for Christians in two categories, those who physically cannot experience immersion due to a disability, and for those who are under the mistaken conviction that sprinkling is baptism. We often sacrifice our opportunity to teach and influence those mistaken Christians by rejecting them or we unintentionally promote an unbiblical motive for baptism, making it little more than a rite of initiation into church membership. Why not allow them the blessings, responsibilities, and protection of church membership, and then teach, pray, and influence them towards biblical baptism?

At HHBC, our primary passion is to be a thoroughly biblical church, and we desire to be distinctively Baptist and remain in fellowship with Southern Baptists. We hope that our affirmation of the inerrancy of scripture, deity of Christ, justification by faith alone, the priesthood of the believer, the autonomy of the local church, the two offices of pastors (elders) and deacons, baptism by immersion, the Lord's Supper as a memorial, the separation of church and state, and well over $2 million of gifts to Baptist causes during my tenure as pastor, demonstrate that we desire harmony with other Southern Baptists.

6. What is your greatest passion?

Almost nine years ago, I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Following surgery, I experienced a time of significant depression what essentially immobilized me. I was cancer free but imprisoned by depression. After a year of struggle, I began to experience the Lord as my sufficiency and life. It was the best thing I never want to happen to me. Since then, the Lord has become more to me that I ever would have dreamed possible. He is my greatest passion.

7. With all that is going on in your life and church, what are some things that my readers and I could be praying for you about?

Thank you for asking. There are a number of things I'd appreciate you bringing before the Lord. First, please pray for the Lord's will to be done in the decision that is before our church. The last thing I'd want is for this to pass if we, the Elder Council, have made a mistake. Secondly, please pray that I would not allow personal attacks and insults to sway me from offering a soft, kind, gentle, and godly response. Finally, pray that the Baptist community would be willing to allow us to make this decision as an autonomous body and find us worthy of being Southern Baptists regardless of what we decide.

Dennis Newkirk is the pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. You can visit his blog at Dennis Newkirk.


Blogger Kevin Bussey said...

Good stuff.

I agree with his views on evangelism.



Blogger Wes Kenney said...

Pastor Newkirk's second prayer request is evidently being answered. He has been nothing if not gracious, gentle, and godly in the face of some ungodly and vicious personal attacks.

While I disagree with this proposed action to the point of advocating removal from our convention, I hope I can be half as good an example of graciousness in my opposition as Bro. Dennis continues to be in his advocacy.


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