This past weekend, David, Michael, and I went to Washington, DC, to attend a "Weekender" at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Tom was unable to attend as CHBC only allows three to attend from each church and he was gracious to let the three of us attend. A Weekender is a special conference for elders to come to CHBC and to be exposed (immersed really) into the inner workings of their church and elder leadership. It began on Thursday afternoon and concluded Monday morning at 9:30. We were greatly impressed and challenged by what we saw and learned there.
In case you are not aware, CHBC is a SBC church literally one mile from the U.S. Capitol building right there on Capitol Hill. It was founded in 1878 and is a rare, shining example of an historic and yet thriving Baptist church in our nation today. It isn't thriving because of its size as it only has 980 people on the membership roll, a paltry number compared to today's mega-churches who boast 10,000 or more. It is thriving because it is God-exalting, Word-centered, and holds to and clearly teaches the deep truths of Scripture, obeying them carefully and tirelessly.
The teaching at CHBC is heavy on theology and yet is balanced in its practical teaching and application of doctrine to its people. This means that CHBC actually takes seriously the command for each Christian to be a "disciple-making disciple". This activity is modeled by its elders and other staff and has born much fruit there. When senior pastor Mark Dever came to CHBC 20 years ago there were only 100 people or so in attendance. He was in England finishing his PhD at Cambridge University when he was asked to come pastor at CHBC. Mark is a brilliant man and yet possesses a winsome and outgoing personality, great selfless leadership ability, and a love for God, His Word, His will, and His people - those called and converted and those yet to be called. The church currently has 20 other men serving as elders of which about half are staff elders working full time and receiving remuneration. They also have several pastoral assistants and interns who are paid.
While there, we attended many seminars on church membership, polity, leadership, teaching, preaching, discipline, children curriculum, and discipling. We also attended two elders meetings, a membership meeting, a service review meeting, a luncheon with an elder, two worship services, and witnessed five baptisms. It was an extremely busy time for us but very informing, edifying, challenging, and at times even overwhelming as they do everything so well and with such precision.
Here are a few features of their church that you may find interesting. CHBC has one Sunday morning service following Sunday School. The service is traditional in the sense that they only have one piano, a guitar and two vocalists singing up front. The congregational singing is the only singing they do and they feature mostly old hymns and a couple of newer "praise songs". They have a service leader, one of their associates, who leads between the different songs, prayers, scripture reading, and the sermon, connecting them all in a coordinated way that brings the congregation to praise The Lord for His greatness, especially for His mercy in redemption. When Mark came to the pulpit, he preached on discipleship which is his current series. He only preaches around 25 times each year as he works to train and give opportunity for his other leaders the opportunity to develop their skills. The baptisms followed the sermon and were extremely moving. Each candidate gives a 3 to 5 minute testimony of their prior life, hearing of the gospel, and response in repentance and faith. Before baptizing them, Mark then asks them each again to affirm their commitment to follow Christ and be faithful to Him and His church for the rest of their lives. It is very apparent the candidates have been faithfully discipled and taught the clear doctrines of the Bible as they refer to them and the Scriptures that contain them.
CHBC is involved in many ministries. They are the founders of the 9Marks ministry which publishes books and materials centered on "the 9 Marks of a healthy church". They are heavily involved in "lifestyle evangelism", looking with great intent at those in their pathway of life who they can begin to engage in various ways for the sake of evangelism and discipleship. In recent years CHBC has also begun to do church revitalization where they are able to use their members and an elder or two to move into a dying church and infuse new life using their simple, Biblical model of pure preaching of the Word of God and disciple making. They support missionaries both through the IMB and on their own and have a vibrant Campus Outreach ministry. And, they train other elders and pastors from around the world through events like the Weekender.
In all, we were struck with the energy and deliberation of the leaders and members of Capitol Hill Baptist to follow the Lord's commands in worship and disciple making. While some things we do at CBC already reflect a similar philosophical position, other areas were exposed as needing attention for improvement. Please pray for us to have wisdom and that we will be pleasing and obedient to our Lord in implementation of change where needed. We also thank you, our own church family for providing us this invaluable opportunity to learn and be encouraged. If you are ever in DC over a Sunday, I highly recommend a visit to Capitol Hill Baptist.
Thankful and humbled,