Published May 30, 2017
APPLE VALLEY — High Desert Baptist Association, which includes more than 50 congregations, stretches from the Nevada state line west, to the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and from Mammoth Lakes in the north to south of Interstate 40.
It’s an association with missions in the DNA of many of its Anglo, African-American, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean and Filipino churches, said Don Parker, director of missions for the last four years.
High Desert’s watchword is “Leading churches to be intentionally missional,” and Parker said his twin passions are to plant churches and help them stay healthy in a windy and fairly treeless part of the state that yet boasts the only Joshua trees outside Jerusalem.
Alfalfa and small grains, hay, onions, carrots, potatoes, peaches, pears and nectarines are grown commercially in the High Desert. It’s also fertile soil for planting churches.
“In the last three years we have had 13 plants in process with seven new plants growing,” Parker said. “For our association that’s pretty exciting!
“I am also excited about how our northern regional churches banded together to replant a church in a strategic area of our association,” he continued. A church that had withered to four people couldn’t afford to pay a pastor to live in its high-dollar community.
“I was able to get five of our churches to give towards the work, and our state convention and association stepped in to assist as well,” Parker said. “We now have a pastor there with the skill-set needed for that congregation.”
Planting new churches is equally important to healthy existing churches, Parker noted.
“The Lord has opened quite a few doors for planting churches; I’m excited about these possibilities too. Our association can provide some funding and guidance for those who meet the criteria of the right kind of vision, passion and presentation.
“Whether a church planter or re-planter, this would be the kind of person who has done the necessary homework to know the culture, demographics and the field he is led to reach. In other words, he has a basic understanding of the area and people he’s trying to initially reach,” Parker continued. “He understands who he is; he’s defined his focus group; he’s working to develop a core team and he has a teachable heart.”
Parker’s caveat: “We are interested in helping church planters and our churches accomplish what they are compelled to do — not tell them what do.”
While a half-dozen churches are doing cutting-edge ministry, a number are “stagnant,” Parker acknowledged. They seem content to “do church rather than be the church.”
With these congregations his ministry is to help them see a healthier future, Parker explained.
In his view, “a healthy church is two-fold: a church seeing people won to Christ and in turn developing into well informed, responsible followers of Christ who have a Christ-like concern for all people — a church that is doing ministry in deed and word — and a church doing ministry beyond themselves or working cooperatively with sister churches in meeting needs and planting churches.
“Some churches are healthy churches but show little numbers growth simply due to the size of their community,” Parker continued. “Yet, when we look at what they are accomplishing beyond their community, it is exciting to see how God is working.
“That, in my view, is just as healthy a church as one that is growing in ‘conversion growth.’
“A healthy church shows their love for the Lord in deed and word, in love internally and externally,” Parker said.
“I love my wife. If you’re in love with someone, you have a hard time keeping quiet about that love. If I have a compelling love, I’m going to tell you about that love. I’m going to show it.
“That’s what being a healthy church is,” Parker declared. “It’s loving God, talking about Him and showing that love through the things we do whereby He gets the glory.”
Among High Desert churches are some that could use a helping hand. So far, two have requested assistance with Vacation Bible School.
Another has requested construction teams to help restore its property, including a new roof and essentially rebuilding one of its buildings. The church has the money for materials, but doesn’t have workers. If the property was restored, the facilities also could be used to start a Hispanic church, Parker said.
“Our most poverty-stricken church’s worship center is unusable because of unsettled ground, and needs the worship center totally demolished,” he explained. “They also have lost their parsonage, yet they keep right on seeking to reach people for Christ in the one nearly decrepit building they have left.
“And our Chinese church plant is seeking to relocate to an old bar that needs major renovation well beyond their ability to complete the task.”
One of the strengths of High Desert Baptist Association is the interest the churches have in supporting each other, Parker said.
“But some of our church’s needs go beyond the ability of our association’s ability to help.”
He welcomes contact from churches looking for a California mission project.
Because of its geographic size, High Desert has three regions: Victor Valley with a diverse population of about 400,000; Antelope Valley with a diverse population of about 400,000; and rural communities that stretch north up to four-and-a-half hours’ driving time from the association office, which include another 90,000.
Each region participates in Elevate “clusters.” “Elevate” is a concept developed by the California Southern Baptist Convention healthy church group that provides pastors with fellowship, accountability and opportunities to discuss effective strategies to improve a church’s health. For more information about the Elevate process visit www.csbc.com/elevate or contact the healthy church group at 559-256-0845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.