Less May Mean More

It’s interesting to note how often we use numbers to determine the success or effectiveness of our churches.  We talk about how many attend on Sunday, the number of small groups, how many were baptized or the annual budget.  If attendance is less this year than last, things must not be going well.  However, that’s not necessarily true if the number attending is fewer because they’re sending out missionaries, ministry leaders and church planters.  But how often do we describe a church by the number they’ve sent out?  

Throughout the Word of God, it’s very clear that God’s people are to go because we are sent by Him (Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 6:8, Matthew 28:18-20, John 20:21, Acts 1:8).  So, why not describe the success of our church by how many went on mission trips, the number of members engaged in local ministry, or how many we’ve sent as missionaries or church planters.   I think it would be exciting for this reason to greet pastors and church leaders with – “how many less did you have in worship this week?”  

We typically celebrate growing attendance in church and grieve if the numbers are less than last year.  But what if the numbers are less because we’ve sent more?  The sending of missionaries, church planters and mission teams is reason to celebrate.  Let’s see if we can begin a shift in our thinking and conversation to realize less may mean more if the church is sending people out on mission.  Our sending may mean a smaller number is gathering, but how exciting it would be!  Let’s celebrate fewer people in our small groups and worship if it’s the result of more Christ followers going out with the message of Christ. 

The focus of the church must change from how many gathered to how many were sent.  It will be hard to talk over lunch or in meetings without asking how many attended small groups or gathered for worship this week.  But by changing the conversation, we’re taking a step toward changing the score card that determines success.  

The Mission Requires Submission

There are several things we think about when sending a group from our church out on mission for a week or even a weekend.  We expect those going on a mission trip to be people of integrity, faithful in their local church, bold in sharing their faith, and prepared for the work they’re going to do. 

I’ve seen many requirements for going on a mission trip, but I don’t recall ever seeing “submissive” on the list.  Our culture views submissive as a weakness so most don’t want to submit to anyone.  So, should submission be a requirement for going on a mission trip? 

What does submission mean? Google’s dictionary defines submission as “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.”

Submitting means putting others before yourself; it means not always doing what you want to do. It means putting God’s desires above your desires.

Missionaries on the field with whom short-term mission teams work have prayed and sought the Lord’s direction concerning the people they’re trying to reach, strategies they use and ministry methods.  Well-intentioned short-term volunteer teams generally arrive on the field, filled with excitement and zeal about the mission work they’re planning to do.  They too, have prayed and prepared themselves for this experience.

However, sometimes teams believe they know better than the missionary how the work should be done and question, or even push against the methods or ministry plans.  This creates tension and has the potential to minimize the effectiveness of the mission.

If there is a difference of opinions, an unwillingness by volunteer teams to submit to the missionary in authority shows spiritual immaturity.  And, if the short-term team is unwilling to submit, it is the missionary who remains behind to correct things long after the volunteers leave.

The Bible has much to say about submission: to God (James 4:6-7), to political authorities (Romans 13:1-7), to church leadership (Heb 13:17), within marriage (Col 3:18), and even a general submissiveness of all Christians to one another (Eph 5:21).

We all have a lot we can learn about submission. Submission can be a very hard thing. When Jesus prayed for an alternative to the cross (Luke 22:39- 44), he wanted another way so badly that he sweat drops of blood. However, He chose to follow the Father’s plan even when it was hard. All of us should be extremely grateful that He did.

There may be times as a volunteer team member that you believe you know better than the missionary what is best and that what you’re being asked to do doesn’t even make sense to you.  Like Jesus, you may find it hard to follow the plan, but exercise submission to the missionary in authority and trust our Father for the results. 

You Can’t Be One and Not the Other

I gave my life to Christ at the age of nine.  I understood then, as much as young boy can, that I was making a commitment to become a Christ follower.  That meant allowing Christ to control every aspect of my life.  I knew that my life was no longer mine.  I was to model my life, attitude and actions after Him.  Whatever Christ did, I was supposed to do.

Scripture tells us to imitate Christ, walk as He did and follow His steps.  (1 John 2:6, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21).   I didn’t know that I would one day serve as a missionary or go on a mission trip.  But I have come to understand that if I’m a Christ follower, I am also a missionary, because that’s what He was. 

A missionary is defined by the North American Mission Board of the SBC as a person who, in response to God’s call and gifting, leaves his or her comfort zone and crosses cultural, geographic or other barriers to proclaim the Gospel and live out a Christian witness in obedience to the Great Commission. 

Jesus became the first missionary when He left heaven and came down to earth.  God called His son to leave the comfort of heaven and go to earth.  Now that’s a change of geography and culture for sure!  His mission was to seek and save the lost who needed to be rescued.  He engaged the indigenous people of the earth while proclaiming the Gospel.  He lived His life as a witness to the Father’s love.  What a missionary He was!        

I want my life to reflect Christ and pray that people see Him in me.  If I want to be like Christ in every way, it will mean going as a missionary because that’s what He did.  I might not cross an ocean, but I will need to cross the street or grocery isle.  I might not go to a foreign land, but I will need to engage the internationals in my community.  I might not be sent by a mission agency, but I have been sent by Christ Himself (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20).  I am thankful to be a follower of Christ AND missionary – you can’t be one and not the other.    

A Vaccine in Every Arm and the Gospel to Every Home

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 500,000 Americans have lost their lives due to COVID-19.  This sobering statistic and the threat of even more deaths has caused pharmaceutical companies to up their game.  They are working harder and faster, in an effort, to get a vaccine shot in the arm of every American. 

Prior to COVID-19, there was a very little desire for competing companies to work together.   But the urgency of the situation now required companies to think much bigger and bolder in-order to accomplish the goal.  One White House official said “we have to take bold action and overwhelm this”. 

As a result, Merck and Johnson & Johnson realized they could be better together and decided to work in partnership to ensure a greater impact toward the goal of defeating the virus.  Another White House official speaking about the partnership said “they understood this was a wartime effort. This was their legacy. This was their time.”

Getting the vaccines made, put into vials, and shot into arms is a massive undertaking involving many different people.  The Defense Production Act, which gives the government the power to compel companies to support a war effort, could have forced cooperation between Mercke and Johnson & Johnson.  But it didn’t have to because these two companies voluntarily chose to work together in order to address an urgent need.  As a result, millions more Americans will have the opportunity to receive a vaccination in their arm in an effort to avoid death. 

COVID-19 is a serious virus and statistics reveal that it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  However, there is an even more concerning statistic shared by the Glenmary Research Center, who reports that 85% of Kentuckians do not a have a relationship with Christ.  It’s alarming to think how many will die without Christ and spend eternity in hell because they’ve not received the gospel.  But how can they receive the gospel if it isn’t shared with them? 

The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s “Gospel to Every Home” initiative is an opportunity for associations and churches to partner together so that our neighbors, family members and co-workers might receive the gospel and avoid eternity without Christ. Getting the gospel to 1,728,681 homes is bold action and a goal that can be accomplished if we voluntarily choose to work together. We’re in a spiritual battle and this is a monumental task requiring a wartime effort!  Let’s take action with an even greater sense of urgency and cooperation than Merck and Johnson & Johnson, and get the gospel to every home before it’s too late.  

Love Thy Neighborhood

I enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day because it presents an opportunity to show love to those I care about … and eat chocolate too!   I will always try to remember my wife, daughters, and those closest to me on Valentine’s Day.  But what about my neighborhood?   If you’re like me, I don’t associate Valentine’s Day with showing love to my neighbors, but shouldn’t I? 

Matthew 22:34-40 says “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”   Jesus was saying, don’t stop at just loving me, love those around you too.   

I have the privilege and responsibility of being a covenant member in a young church whose mission is “to love God, love people and love community.”  From the beginning, it has been our goal to show our love for God by serving our community and those in it.  

One of the many ways that we loved and served our community early on was to spend afternoons tutoring children in the local elementary school.  The elementary school we chose to serve was struggling because very few parents were involved, many of the students were new to the US and learning English as a Second language, a majority of its students were on free or reduced lunches and academically, they were only in the 14 percentile state-wide.    

Our willingness to serve and love the children opened doors of trust with the faculty who were curious as to why we cared so much.  Our tutoring helped those students who were falling behind to catch up while discovering that someone genuinely cared about them.  It provided opportunities for sharing Christ and inviting families to join our community of faith.  It encouraged the teachers and faculty who had become so discouraged in their work.

Showing God’s love to the school greatly benefitted them … and us.  That school was recognized as the greatest success story in the district.  Their growth surpassed 90% of the elementary schools in the state, earning them a special distinction as “High Progressing” school, after finishing in the 71st percentile, up from the previous 14th.  WOW, what a difference our involvement and service had made. Their principal contributed the amazing turn-around to a team effort and thanked the church’s volunteers for loving the students and showing them the love of God.    

Our service through the school allowed me to see first-hand how loving our community opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed.  I saw the smile of a child who finally understood how to complete his homework assignment. I discovered what it means to love your neighbor and most importantly, I witnessed people coming to faith in Christ because we loved God, people, AND our community.  Let me challenge you to love your neighborhood this Valentine’s Day … and eat chocolate too?    

All Life is Sacred

January is a month set aside for focusing on the sacred nature of human life. Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday will be observed throughout the Southern Baptist Convention on Jan. 17, marking the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand in America.  Sadly, according to the Office of Vital Statistics, there were 3,664 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2019.

While Kentucky Baptists certainly won’t be celebrating Roe v. Wade, we will be celebrating that because of almost 50 pregnancy care centers affiliated with the KBC, hundreds of babies were spared from abortion last year.  Additionally, many women have accepted Christ because pregnancy center staff members shared the Gospel with them.

The sanctity of human life is a core principle for me as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe that humans are created by God and in His image (Genesis 1:27). That means that every person, from conception to death, possesses dignity and worth – including unborn children, elderly individuals and those with special needs. As Christ followers, we are called to defend, protect and value all human life. 

Human life is defended, protected and valued everyday throughout Kentucky in pregnancy resource centers that are there to support and encourage mothers through the birth process by helping them to choose life for their unborn children.

With Sanctity of Life Sunday only a few weeks away, let me encourage you to be a friend to life by offering assistance to one of the many pregnancy care centers in Kentucky.  Why not visit your local pregnancy resource center to discover ways that you can help. Learn how you can pray for and/or with center directors and volunteers.

Pray that God will:

  • Protect center personnel (board of directors, staff, volunteers, families) from any type of physical abuse or harm and from discouragement or doubt from the enemy.
  • Meet the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of center staff.
  • Lead clients to the center so they may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Give counselors special wisdom and boldness in sharing the Gospel with clients, challenging them to live a life of obedience and purity.
  • Change the minds and hearts of mothers who are considering abortion and give them the courage to choose life and consider adoption, when appropriate, for their unborn children.
  • Bring healing and a renewed relationship with Christ to women and families inside and outside the church who have chosen abortion in the past.
  • Meet the financial needs of each resource center.

Consider helping your local pregnancy resource center in the following ways:

  • Donate baby clothing, furniture, car seats, and/or formula.
  • Provide food, clothing, and a safe place for expectant mothers.
  • Serve as a mentor for expectant mothers.
  • Sponsor a baby shower for the center with gifts of clothing, furniture, diapers, and formula.
  • Partner with a pregnancy resource center to teach young women good parenting skills.
  • Plan a mission trip to a center to do maintenance, painting, and redecorating, if needed.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention recognizes and appreciates the life-giving ministry of faith-based pregnancy resource centers in Kentucky. We encourage your support of the pro-life pregnancy resource centers with which KBC churches and associations partner. For a list of those centers, visit: http://www.kybaptist.org/pregnancycare/

KY Churches Focus on SENDING Rather Than Seating

Our God is a sending God.  Nearly every time He speaks to someone in scripture, He is sending them on a mission.  From Abraham to Moses to Paul, to us, God’s people are always being sent into the world on mission.  He sent His best and only son into the world to save us.  Jesus is referred to as “sent” forty seven times in the New Testament.   Clearly, God is a sender by nature.  Jesus sent the apostles, and He has sent us.  After His resurrection, Jesus passed on this responsibility to His disciples:  “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).

In “Gaining by Losing”, J.D. Greear challenges us to recognize that in healthy growing churches, sending capacity is more important than seating capacity.  Many churches think their primary problems are about declining baptism numbers and poor attendance. When often times, they are evidence that the church has drifted from it’s primary vision to SEND members out on mission. 

A church that is sending equips members to demonstrate the gospel every day in their workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools and be prepared to give an answer to those in our community who ask them to “give the reason for the hope that they have”  (1 Peter 3:15).

What is SENDING?  The act of enlisting, equipping and mobilizing believers to engage the world with the gospel through:

  • local community ministry
  • short term missions
  • church planting efforts
  • disaster relief work
  • vocational ministry
  • long-term missionary service

Below is a list of Kentucky’s top ten churches, in terms of missions participation. Each of the churches has earned recognition because they had a greater percentage of their worship attendance participating in missions this year than they did the previous.

  1. Turner Ridge, Falmouth – pastor Dale Beighle
  2. First, Inez – pastor Casey Carver
  3. Finchville, Finchville – pastor David Ladner
  4. Hartford, Hartford – pastor Jason Bratcher
  5. Kelly, Hopkinsville – pastor Joshua Powell
  6. Island Creek, Manchester – pastor George Grigsby
  7. Oak Grove 2, Eubank – pastor David Gambrel
  8. Deane, Millstone – pastor Chris Dool
  9. Muldraugh Hill, Lebanon – pastor Billy Compton
  10.  Flat Rock, Orlando – pastor Gregory Burton

Let’s reach our communities, nation and world with the gospel by placing our focus on SENDING, rather than seating.    

Baptist Associations Need Our Prayers –

The Baptist association has been an important part of our history as Southern Baptists. It has been described as “the oldest cooperative unit in Baptist life tracing its existence back over 300 years.” 

The Baptist association has been defined as “a fellowship of local autonomous churches with a singular vision to work together to claim their surrounding areas and ultimately the world for the Kingdom of Christ!”

Southern Baptist associations are much like Southern Baptist churches in that they are a diverse group and are unique in many ways. Some associations are large while others are small, so they cooperate with a neighboring association to accomplish their vision, maybe even sharing an Associational Mission Strategist (AMS).

I am blessed to have been part of some great associations in my ministry.  I remember as a young man how the Green Valley Association brought churches together to do missions that our individual church could not do by itself. I’ve seen associations equip and resource leaders for ministry service through their church.  I know of several Kentucky associations that serve as catalysts for church planting, and others that lead member churches to engage in evangelism and ministry efforts.  

The Baptist Association is a value to member churches and important to their accomplishment of The Great Commission.  Therefore, Southern Baptists have chosen to recognize October 18-25, 2020 as the Week of Prayer for Associational Missions. 

Would you join with me in praying for your association in the following ways?

1. Pray for a spirit of unity and harmony within the churches as they partner together. Satan loves to cause division between believers and churches.  Jesus pointed out the importance of unity in His priestly prayer (John 17) and a lack of harmony between churches is a stumbling block to accomplishment of Kingdom goals.

2. Pray for your Associational Mission Strategist and his family. An AMS is many things to many people, but he must first-of-all be a spiritual leader. He is expected to care for and challenge churches while loving and leading pastors.  He has a difficult task. He and his family will be under attack and need your prayer support. 

3. Pray for a clear vision to plant new churches. There is great opportunity in our state today for the planting of new churches.  New churches are needed as we become increasingly unchurched and lost. Existing churches may not know how to plant a new church, but an association can be proactive and helpful to provide needed leadership and support.

4. Pray for effectiveness in strengthening existing churches. Many existing, traditional churches are struggling today. Their effectiveness is sometimes hindered by history and attitudes that limit their vision and create unnecessary challenges to outreach. An association is able to encourage and provide the resources for dysfunctional churches to become healthy and spiritually reproductive.

5. Pray for a passion and plan to impact lostness, both locally and globally.  The 2010 Glenmary reports shows that only 12.9% of Kentuckians attend a church of any kind.  Lostness in the Commonwealth abounds! Some churches need training, resources, or an evangelistic initiative like the Gospel to Every Home in-order to impact lostness. 

6. Pray that your association is challenged to resource, support and encourage every pastor.  There is no doubt that pastors are targeted by the enemy who desires to destroy their families and ministries. The AMS can be a great friend and encourager to local pastors. Fellowship and time together gives pastors the opportunity to just be themselves and share their needs and frustrations.

So, please pray for your association and your AMS during the week of prayer for associational missions. Lead your church to pray for the association and AMS too!  As the association grows stronger, the churches will benefit and become more effective in their Kingdom work.

Teachers Struggle with Back to School

It is “back to school” like no other time in our history.  School districts are debating whether to reopen in person or conduct online learning, or a combination of both!  Schools that do reopen may be faced with enforced closures if the virus positivity rate increases within the school or district. The uncertainty of how to respond to the virus has created unbelievable stress for teachers, students and parents. That stress is heightened by the polarization of the loud opinions concerning how teachers should do their job.

Our educational system is built upon the backs of caring, faithful and committed teachers, whom in most districts are underpaid and underappreciated.  There’s a huge learning curve for many since most have never taught remotely before.  Our teachers are working fast and furious to meet the demands of the time.  They know that at a moment’s notice, they may have to pivot and change course… again.

The teachers I know, and I’m married to one, desire to make a difference in the lives of their students.  They teach because it’s their passion, and in many cases, their calling.  I’ve heard teachers talk about the many unusual challenges and I’ve seen first-hand the stress that COVID-19 has created in their lives.  However, they keep pressing on, because of the students.  

Teachers are concerned that online learning may be hindered because some students don’t have access to proper technology.  Will teachers and students be safe if in-person classes are held?  Or, how do you console a child by remaining socially distant? Some wonder if they can effectively teach while simultaneously enforcing social distancing and managing the safety of their students.  The list of questions and concerns goes on and on. 

The people we depend upon to educate our community’s children are struggling and the church has an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to them.  There are many ways that we can provide encouragement and support to local teachers and doing so will open the door for gospel conversations. It is also very likely that schools will promote and participate in your church’s activities in the future if you provide practical, loving support to their teachers.

Here are some suggestions for how your church can minister to teachers:

  • Appreciation breakfasts/lunches or coffee bars
  • Drawings for gift cards or special services
  • Provide volunteers to help with reading/after school-tutoring etc.
  • Notes of encouragement
  • Personalized care packages
  • Meal trains – volunteers sign up to deliver to teacher’s home
  • Adopt a teacher/classroom to care for
  • Donations from a classroom “wish list”
  • PRAY for them and WITH them

For more information and ideas for how your church can show support and encourage teachers during this difficult time, check out the “We Love Teachers” initiative implemented by Seed to Oaks at www.seedtooaks.com

Make Sure Zoe’s Not the Last

Last fall, Rockcastle Baptist Association hosted and implemented “Give Hope”, a Christmas Backpack distribution for children in the area.  A young lady named Zoe, who was very shy and hesitant, came and selected a backpack filled with surprises to take home.  She heard the gospel shared and enjoyed the activities and events of the day.  Later that night after arriving home, she opened the backpack to discover a Bible.  Zoe had never had her own Bible and was interested and curious to explore the stories within.  Although she struggled with depression and anxiety, while reading her new Bible she experienced an overwhelming sense of trust, peace, and joy. Zoe was so excited to learn that God could love someone like her and that He died to give her life!  Full of joy, she came out of her room crying and hugging her mom.  I don’t know the individual or church that packed and prepared the backpack for Zoe, but God does, and He worked through them to reveal Himself to a young girl in need of hope.  

Not many months from now, backpacks full of clothes, toys and food items will be distributed and the gospel shared by missionaries and church planters with other children like Zoe. I anticipate the number of families needing help at Christmas this year to be even greater because of high unemployment due to COVID-19.  Business is returning slowly in the Commonwealth, but the future remains uncertain for so many who are still out of work, or only allowed to return part-time. 

The increased need for backpacks and the hope they provide is challenged by the fact that many churches are just now returning to in-person gatherings because of coronavirus restrictions.  That challenge is exacerbated because most small groups and mission organizations who normally assume the responsibility for leading the initiative are still not meeting. 

For this reason, your help is needed so that other children can experience at Christmas this year, the joy and hope that Zoe discovered.   Prayerfully consider the following:

  • Use your social media network to promote the effort and encourage others to participate in preparing and packing a backpack.
  • Some small groups and mission organization are using Zoom, MicroSoft Teams, or Google Groups to stay connected during this time.  Use these platforms to tell about the need and share how your group can get involved. 
  • Lead your family to shop for and pack a backpack, praying together for the child that will receive it.  This is a great way for children to join mom and dad in showing the love of Christ. 
  • Take a few minutes during Sunday worship, in-person, on the parking lot or online, to promote the Christmas backpacks and determine to be the church, not just go!
  • Let us know how many backpacks you plan to pack by registering online so that we can coordinate with the needs of missionaries and church planters.

The coronavirus is not the first challenge the church has confronted when meeting needs and sharing the gospel, and it most likely will not be the last.  Zoe wasn’t the first person to come to Christ because of Christmas backpacks, and my prayer is that she will not be the last.  Let’s work together through this crisis and creatively explore how we might most effectively prepare backpacks to be shared at Christmas, so that Christ will be made known, again and again and again!

For more information about Christmas backpacks, contents, packing, dates and delivery, visit:  www.kybaptist.org/backpacks.