Bob Fielding serves on the Missions Team at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

The folks at New Life Fellowship outside of Perryville are among the kindest and sweetest folks I have met in over twenty years’ service with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC). They were without a pastor for quite some time when the decision was made to call the ABSC for help. I was approached by our leadership to, if asked by the church, serve as a “SmartStart” interim.   

SmartStart is an ABSC initiative designed to help churches in those crucial weeks after a pastor leaves. A trained SmartStart interim serves the church for eight weeks, preaching through eight different themes, while working with a church-approved leadership team to help make sure things are on track during the interim/transitional period. That can range from identifying things that need to be addressed before the next pastor comes, giving options for how to proceed after SmartStart (supply preachers, Intentional Interim Ministry, etc.), to various areas of training where needed.   

In the case of New Life Fellowship, one very important order of business was helping them develop a pastor search policy. The church had never needed one before. That went very well, and the church elected an excellent pastor search team. Armed with the ABSC’s “The Search is On” booklet, the team went to work with a proven and effective framework of how to search for and call a pastor.   

The church responded enthusiastically when they found out what they are a part of when it comes to ABSC and SBC missions causes. They were not well educated about the Cooperative Program (CP) but had been giving since the church was founded. The best I could tell, they did not know about ABSC and SBC special offerings. I wish you could have seen their responses when they started hearing about what THEY are a part of through CP, literally helping fund everything Southern Baptists do. They were thrilled to find out that they were part of every IMB missionary’s work, every NAMB church planter’s work, and every ABSC endeavor from collegiate ministry to church planting to disaster relief to evangelism training and much more. That look on their faces NEVER GETS OLD! After a few short weeks of missions education they were more than willing to participate in the Dixie Jackson week of prayer and offering for Arkansas Missions. For the first time, they saw Dixie Jackson videos that showed the work God is doing through Arkansas Baptists all over our state and through ministries like Arkansas Disaster Relief, even other parts of our nation.     

The SmartStart interim also has a chance to speak into folks’ lives with a pastor’s heart.  It NEVER GETS OLD to see people respond to the Lord Jesus and His commands. After some personal conversations and through the preaching of the Word, it was a thrill to see two adults and an elementary-aged boy come forward and be baptized.  

Weeks later that same little boy came running up to me while he and thirteen others from New Life Fellowship served on their first ABSC mission project at the One Day Mission trip in Russellville. New Life was assigned to serve at a block party set up in a large city park. He and others had been sent across the park to a nearby sports complex to invite folks over to the One Day block party.  I am still blessed as I recall the look on his face and the excitement in his voice as he shared with me how God was using him to invite folks to the block party, and that “they were coming!” To see a child understand that God is using him to touch others’ lives NEVER GETS OLD! 

Another interesting aspect of this interim was helping the church with several internal processes. New Life Fellowship had no constitution, and while I certainly wanted to influence them in this area, I was very careful in letting them know that I was only recommending that they adopt one. A team was appointed to work on the issue, and they were furnished with several examples. I have no doubt they will follow the Lord’s leadership and come up with a document suitable for their situation. We discussed, and they gained a great appreciation for, Baptist autonomy. I was not there to make them do anything!  

Another heartening part of this interim time was their reaction to learning about their area. A service offered by the ABSC is demographic studies of local church fields.  Early on, I ordered one for New Life, profiling both a 2.5- and 5-mile ring around their building. When they found out the number of children and teens in those rings, which translates to young families, you could literally see the wheels turning on how they could use that information in doing ministry for Jesus. Friends, to see God’s people thinking like this NEVER GETS OLD.  

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