Regular Baptist Builders Club is committed to renewing churches. In its efforts to renew churches, Howard Bixby has been a faithful partner and champion for church revitalization.
Dr. Bixby recently retired as president of ChristWay Ministries and gave the balance of that ministry’s church revitalization funds to Regular Baptist Builders Club. His generous donation will help several churches walk through the church renewal process.
As president of ChristWay Ministries, Dr. Bixby assisted churches and pastors with strategic planning, led teacher training seminars, and consulted with churches to help them develop a passion for Biblical outreach and growth.
In addition to his role with ChristWay Ministries, he was a pastor for 19 years, was the dean and a professor at Baptist Bible Seminary for 22 years, and has been a small group Bible teacher for more than 50 years.
“I greatly appreciate the impact Dr. Bixby had on my life as a seminary instructor, as a confidant, and as a friend,” says Clare Jewell, director of Regular Baptist Builders Club.
When Clare heard from Dr. Bixby that he was retiring, he graciously agreed to an interview so Clare could capture some of what Howard has learned from his many years of experience.
An Interview with Dr. Howard Bixby
CLARE: What are some of the greatest joys you have experienced in your years of ministry?
HOWARD: My greatest joys have been hearing of the number of lost people saved as a result of churches being revitalized, seeing young pastors revived and excited about ministry, and seeing churches that are revitalized and refocused on God’s purposes for them.
CLARE: What has been most rewarding for you as you have engaged in five decades of ministry?
HOWARD: During the last eight years of pastoral ministry I started and operated the School of Church Ministries at my church, Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. The school was a full-time, 12-month pastoral internship program. During those eight years, 57 couples completed the School of Church Ministries’ year of internship training.
More than 35 years later, the graduates are all over the world, successfully providing the leadership, teaching, discipleship, and evangelism that they learned and practiced while with us in the program. This is very satisfying and rewarding to think about. Intensely discipling those 57 couples changed the trajectory of my own ministry and how I consulted with churches over the years. In fact, that ministry changed the future ministry of my wife and kids as well.
CLARE: That story is a significant statement about the importance of reproducing leaders and the joy we experience as we invest in other people. At this point in time, what hopeful signs do you see for the North American church?
HOWARD: The commitment and ability of some younger individuals and churches to build personal relationships with unchurched people and lead them to Christ is very encouraging. Personal evangelism accomplished through building friendships will allow all methods of evangelism to be more effective and fulfill the spirit of 2 Corinthians 5: to be ambassadors of Christ to the world.
CLARE: As we step further into the 2020s, what are your primary concerns for churches in North America?
HOWARD: One concern is the need for Christians to be in the world but not of it (1 John 2:15). There is a huge pressure to share the same values and priorities as the lost world’s culture without realizing it. In an intended effort to make friends with the world, sometimes Christians then forget their mission to this world.
Another concern is allowing technology, fellowship, and activity to overshadow Bible study and life application. While I have not found many researchers trying to quantify and test Bible knowledge and application between decades and generations, I fear that the amazing technology of our electronic devices, which have often replaced print copies of the Scriptures in our daily lives and church events, may be allowing us to become Bible illiterate. If true, that is scary.
I’m also concerned with a general neglect of evangelism as a personal and church priority. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20, as fleshed out in the ministry of reconciliation and ambassadorship of 2 Corinthians 5:17–21, has not been rescinded by God. Every Bible-believing church and individual should be involved in this ministry as a core value.
Another concern is allowing fellowship to be the primary purpose of a church or an individual’s life. Many 21st century Christians spend huge amounts of time fellowshipping with each other at church while neglecting Biblical worship, witness, and discipleship. This can become selfish in focus and can stifle church growth.
CLARE: I agree. I am finding that making disciples who make disciples is the most neglected aspect of church ministries. Based on your experience, if you were leading a church revitalization effort as a pastor today, what are some steps you would take?
HOWARD: As a pastor and leader, I must understand and strive to meet God’s purposes and expectations for His church. So my first step would be to know and teach what the New Testament says God’s priorities and purposes are for the church. What should we be producing (in both quantity and quality)? The words worship, witness, fellowship, and discipleship describe God’s purposes for the church well.
I would keep good records and observe attitudinal and action behaviors realistically. We need to have measures of data in order to honestly evaluate. Otherwise, we engage in assuming, wishing, or self-deception.
I would evaluate what we are producing for the glory of God in the areas of worship, witness, fellowship, and discipleship. This would include measures (numbers) of attendance (participation); hours spent in an average week, month, or year involved in each purpose; and numbers of people who profess faith in Christ. Where is our church spending its resources of time, money, volunteers, space, etc. among the four purposes? Perhaps we need to reallocate in some.
I would lead my church in strategic planning and goal setting in order to refocus our prayers, vision, and resources to achieve stronger results in the church’s purposes where lacking. The church needs a vision.
CLARE: What word of advice do you have for pastors who are in the last phase of their ministries?
HOWARD: See your final few years of ministry as a great opportunity to learn new and creative ways of ministering. This period of life is a great time to attend seminars, pore through websites, and become friends with younger men whom God is using to build growing ministries. Get help changing what may have become humdrum, and find ways to use your past as a strength to shape the future.
CLARE: What word of advice do you have for emerging pastors?
HOWARD: Try not to ignore the past accomplishments and perspectives of those who have gone before you. Older pastors and church members have much to enrich us with. Don’t look at their methods as much as their motives and their work with God and people. Their methods may be outdated, but don’t let that divide you. If an older man of God is not threatened by your brashness and hopeful certainty, he will follow your leadership and strengthen your hands as you minister together.
CLARE: When you have retired, how do you hope to be remembered?
HOWARD: I guess a summary statement that I wish would describe me is this: “He loved serving God and growing His churches.”
Two Scriptures that became my life missions are 2 Timothy 2:2 (“And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”) and 3 John 4 (“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth”).
These two verses have motivated me and given me purpose. As an affirmation, God has called our two sons to be pastors in growing, multiplying churches. And to top it off, our three oldest grandsons are exploring pastoral ministry as an option for their lives.