Highlawn Pastor Posted Explanation on Facebook in October

Updated 4 years ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
Dear Fellow Ministers of the Gospel,

I'd like to begin this letter by saying thank you for all the support and encouragement many of you have shown to me, the staff, and the members of Highlawn Baptist Church. The outpouring of letters, phone calls, and messages provided hope during times of difficulty for us. It is a blessing to be a part of a ministry with such mighty men and women of God. From one Christian to another, thank you for the kind words of encouragement and prayers.

Some or most of you may not know that HBC has been facing some difficult times financially. If you will permit, I'd like to tell a little of our story. We minister in a building designed to house 1,100 people. It is a magnificent facility. Beautiful in all respects. It is a testament to the devotion of generations past that sacrificed to construct such a wonderful place of worship.

HBC never reached the goal of consistently filling the building. Much to our dismay the church only accomplished about 75% of our numerical desire even at the zenith of our ministry. For the past 30 years, we have trended downward in attendance, with some spikes along the way that continued to give us hope.

However, it became painfully clear at the beginning of this year that the very thing that had been so much of our ministry in the past was now a burden our small congregation could not afford. On average, 68% of our income was devoted to maintenance and utilities. With two out of every three dollars coming into the church going for maintaining the building, our leadership made a difficult decision to sell everything.

So, on Dec. 12, 2013 we will auction all the property of Highlawn Baptist Church.

Now, for the rest of the story…

In the past five years, God has done something amazing within these walls. Thirty-four men and women have been sent out from HBC to full-time ministry. Read that again…34. These are men and women that God has sent to HBC to be trained, commissioned, and sent out as missionaries (IMB and NAMB), pastors, seminary students, student pastors, worship leaders, and church planters.

It began simply as a desire to see God reach the unreached and unchurched. God continued to send people He wanted to train. As a church, we've been transformed.

This year alone we've been a part of planting 11 churches. Last week over 2,000 people gathered in these churches to worship Jesus. We doubled our original goal.

We have no plans of slowing down. The first week of December we will plant at least one more church. With the funds from the sell of the property, we plan to finance teams of church planters from right here in Huntington, WV to reach the world. Next year we will double the number of churches we planted this year. (This is not a pie-in-the-sky dream. We have a plan of action to see our God-given goal accomplished. Pray for us. It's a mighty task that only He can do.)

Already, two of the churches we planted this year are planning to plant another church in 2014. We want to see all of them replant by the end of 2015. That year we will more than triple the number of new churches we planted this year.

Not bad for a church averaging 101 in Sunday morning attendance. Right?

All the glory and credit goes to our God. He's so faithful and abundantly merciful. He is not finished with this group of believers. We are so thankful that He has charted a course of action that involves us in partnership with His Holy Spirit to tell the world about Jesus.

Through it all, I've made some terrible mistakes. I was asked what I would do differently if I relived the last 6 years. After thinking a bit, I responded to my dear friend, "Knowing what I know now, I would have got out of God's way sooner and let Him have His way with His church. My pride kept me from completely following Him. I've been so worried about what others, especially my colleagues and former members, would think about me. Sometimes, I feared what men thought about my ministry more than I cared about what God thought."

Just to be honest, I know that some of my Christian brothers will never understand what's happened. I don't blame them. I've stood on the outside looking in at different ministries and judged harshly without full understanding. "You reap what you sow." And in many cases, it is my time to reap those judgements. But for others, I hope you see this monumental change at Highlawn as what it truly is. There's 67 adults that regularly attend this church. They have all agreed that God is doing something wonderful in our midst. Together they've rallied each other, supported each other, endured the discouragement of a dwindling congregation, and looked toward heaven for a clear vision of our future. We see that future now. We are excited about what God is doing and where He is leading.

Our new place of ministry does not include this building. We're okay with that because we know that He is leading us.

What can you do to help us during this time?
Pray for us. We have a huge task that God has given us. We need His wisdom.

Join us. Let's plant some churches in WV, USA, and the World. We have trips planned for next year. Let's go win the world to Jesus.

Encourage us. There are members of this church that are going through a great deal of grief. We feel that we are losing a huge part of our lives as we put this building on the auction block. Now is not the time to remind us of things we've done wrong, or what you would do differently. We are beating ourselves up enough for all that. We need brothers and sisters to encourage us. To believe in us. To help others see that God can use a group of people even if they have no building.

Protect us. Some, even from within the Christian family, will want to continue to spread rumors and gossip. (I've heard some great stories about us…even from the platform at a pastor's gathering.) I'd just ask that, for the sake of the men and women that are pouring out their lives for this ministry, that you consider them when you hear things. Pray earnestly before you repeat anything about Highlawn that is negative. Because, above all else, we are the Bride of Christ. Help others to be careful how they speak about His bride.

Remember us.

Again, thank you for all the amazing words of encouragement. We, your brothers and sisters in Christ, thank you.

In His grip,
Dr. Ricky Ray
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