Will COVID-19 Distract Us from the Vision?

The world’s attention has been on COVID-19 for the last several months. We’ve seen how the virus can be passed from person to person and we’re learning daily how to protect ourselves and those we love while creatively ministering in a constantly changing world of uncertainty. I’m concerned about those who might be infected with the virus, but I’m even more concerned about those who have yet to be infected with the love of Christ.

Prior to this “new normal” surrounding COVID-19, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd announced a five-year initiative to reach every person with the Gospel in every town, every city, every state and every nation. Vision 2025 contains five major strategic actions for the SBC to accomplish by 2025.  My prayer is that COVID-19 will not be a distraction from these goals. Now, more than ever, we must work together to bring this vision to fruition because the world is looking for hope that can only be found in Christ!

One of the goals is to increase the total number of full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving the SBC 4,200 full-time, fully funded missionaries through the International Mission Board (IMB).

I find this goal humbling and challenging because our new normal is something many of our missionaries content with every day in their ministry settings. While we’re dealing with a contagious virus for what is probably only a brief period of time, our missionaries serve in places where things such as infectious diseases, intestinal disorders, flesh eating bacteria, and parasites that cause fatal diseases, are common daily occurrences.

So, how will we callout and enlist those God is leading to serve?  What will we do to contribute toward an increased number of missionaries?  I believe this goal is attainable, but it’s going to take every pastor and church taking hold of it and doing their part locally.   

Here are some practical steps that each local pastor and church can take toward increasing the number of missionaries serving on the field:

1. PREACH sermons that challenge people to go – 21% of missionaries were called to serve as the result of a missions sermon in their local church.

2. AFFIRM those upon whom you recognize God is leading – to the one who is questioning his or her abilities, your words may be the confirmation they need to go.

3. HOST a missions conference – 20% of missionaries felt called to serve after listening to a missionary speak. 

4. PROMOTE missions offerings – we will only realize an increase in missionaries going when churches send the necessary financial resources to sustain their ministries.

5. SHARE what God is doing through our missionaries – how exciting and stimulating it is to hear stories or see videos that help us to understand what missionaries are doing and how they’re making a difference.

6. PARTNER with missionaries – going becomes more personal when over a period of 3-5 years when a church is Skyping, sending teams, providing prayer support and sharing ministry resources with specific missionaries.

7. LEAD your church to engage in a short-term missions experience – many full-time vocational missionaries were inspired to go and serve as the result of a short-term missions trip.

8. PRAY and lead your church to do so – the fields are ripe unto harvest and the need for missionaries is great.

I suspect the fears and concerns over COVID-19 will pass, but our concern for the lost who have yet to hear the hope of the Gospel should never pass. Satan poses a much greater risk to humanity than COVID-19, so we should work together to make the kingdoms of this world the Kingdom of our Lord.  If our desire is to see people from every nation come to know Him, then we should be willing to do all that we can to accomplish the goal of more people going as missionaries. 

Creatively Meeting Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every community and every element of our society.  Businesses, schools, organizations and even parks, are closed if they don’t provide what is considered an essential service.  Most people are sheltered in place, while those that do get out are forced to practice social distancing. 

The pandemic has impacted our medical system to the point that the demand for medical supplies and personal protection equipment outweighs the supply.  However, after understanding how great the need was, many stepped up to creatively meet the demand.  Factories retooled assembly lines, university classrooms manufactured face shields, and individuals sewed masks.  It’s inspiring to see people get so creative in order to meet the need of others.

Years ago, from about AD 249-262, the Plague of Cyprian was a pandemic that spread throughout the Roman Empire.  It too, impacted every element of society and killed as many as 5,000 people per day in Rome.  During that time, the early church stepped up and effectively ministered when disease incapacitated a city.  So many people turned away from paganism because they saw how the church ministered to the poor and sick during that crisis! 

I believe the same could happen today if the world sees the church ministering during this crisis rather than only protecting itself. God is calling us to minister during this difficult time of crises so that people turn from lostness to Him.  Doing so, will require creativity on the part of the church, just as it did the factories and universities.  Let me encourage you to prayerfully consider how you will step up during this crisis and effectively meet needs while practicing social distancing and adhering to the guidelines given us by our elected officials. 

So how does the church serve as a witness for Christ and minister during these difficult days when there are so many restrictions needed to protect us, and others, from the virus?   Here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Prepare and deliver meals for those that can’t get out.
  2. Deliver needed supplies to the front porch of the elderly and most vulnerable.
  3. Sew masks for frontline workers.
  4. Leave a simple card on front doors that says, “Hello! If you are self-isolating, let me know how I can help.” Include your name and contact information.
  5. Serve as the host for a blood drive as blood is in short supply.
  6. Encourage medical personnel on the front lines with meals, thank you cards and prayers.
  7. Provide childcare for hospital staff members and first responders since day cares are closed.
  8. Deliver meals prepared by the local school to children receiving lunches as transportation may be a need.
  9. Take baked goods to neighbors and ask them if there’s anything you can do for them.
  10. Create videos of hope and place them on social media as an encouragement to others. 
  11. Provide a sense of connection to those in quarantine. If video calling isn’t an option, consider standing outside their storm door on the phone so they can see, as well as hear you.
  12. Call a frontline worker and offer to pray for them.
  13. Serve grab-and-go meals for the homeless while teaching social distancing and sharing hygiene tips.
  14. Children can write Bible verses and encouraging messages with sidewalk chalk on driveways in their neighborhood.

What will you do to minister during COVID-19? The need for the church to step up and meet the need of the community has never been greater.  Seek the Lord about how you can creatively press into this situation in strategic ways for the sake of His Kingdom.

Showing Mercy Should Bring Change

We’re all familiar with churches that minister to the hungry by providing a bag of groceries, hot meal or sack lunch.  Some churches provide financial assistance to individuals and families needing help with their rent or utilities.  Others provide clothing, household items, job training, pregnancy resources or shelter to those in need.  Each of these acts of mercy are good and the church should be involved in many different forms of ministry to those in need. 

Scriptures instruct us to care for those who are orphaned, widowed, naked, homeless, hungry and imprisoned (James 1:27, Matt 25).  But what does that look like and should the church just give without any expectation of the recipient?  Some people deserve mercy because they are working and show gratefulness for what they receive from the church.  But do the wicked and ungrateful deserve mercy as well?  The answer is yes … initially. 

We can only understand our responsibility to others by looking at the grace and mercy God shows to us.  His mercy is unconditional and He loved us while we were still in our sin (Romans 3:9-18).  God’s mercy comes to us without any conditions, but it demands a response from us.  God loves us so much that He can’t leave us in the same condition He finds us.  We must actively pursue Christlikeness through prayer, worship, Bible study and service to others. Otherwise, our condition will not change. 

In this same way, we should show mercy to those in need just as Christ did to us.  The church shouldn’t judge those needing mercy as underserving, even if they are in this condition because of their own sin.   We should give a witness to the free grace and mercy of God.  But mercy doesn’t stop there.  It isn’t only about meeting a felt need or stopping the current suffering.  Our goal in showing mercy is to see those we help come to know Jesus as their Lord.  Total restoration and self-sufficiency of the person in need requires active pursuit and cooperation on their part.  So, while we show mercy and offer help to all regardless of their condition, we won’t be satisfied to only band aid the situation.   Eventually, mercy will demand change of the individual or we’re not really showing the love of Christ.  We offer mercy so that people will grow in Christ, not so that they will continue to rebel against Him. 

So, if your church has a mercy ministry of some kind, how effective is it in total restoration of the individual in need?  Is it intentional and gospel-centered?  Mercy ministries must do more than just meet a felt need.  They must lead to total restoration of the individual in need.   Perhaps your church is considering starting a mercy ministry in order to engage the lost.  Whether you’re starting a new ministry or refining an existing one, the Missions Mobilization Team is ready to assist you.  Contact our office for help with your mercy ministry.   

The Key to Success

How do you measure success?  The world looks at bank accounts, houses, prestige, degrees earned, or your position in the company.  The athletic world looks at scores, games won, and championships attained.  The church may look at membership rolls, worship attendance, the number of baptisms, or the size of buildings.  All of these things are indicators or “marks on the measuring rod”.  But true success is obedience to God.  How can you be more successful than obeying God who created and sustains us, and calls us to obediently join Him in the work?  

There are more than one hundred successful missionaries serving in Kentucky through the Mission Service Corps.   These Mission Service Corps missionaries are having an impact in all areas of ministry through local churches, institutions, associations and individual ministries.  In terms of ministry opportunities, the sky’s the limit with Mission Service Corps missionaries because each one has a special ministry that fits their giftedness and uniqueness.   Each missionary felt God’s calling on their life to do the specific ministry they’re involved in.  

Mission Service Corps missionaries are committed to long-term mission service (4 months or longer for at least 20 hours per week) and are either self-funded or supported by partners while on the mission field.   Successful Mission Service Corps applicants are carefully screened to serve in specific ministries and following approval, are commissioned and participate in an orientation prior to their placement. 

If you want to be obedient to God, and therefore successful, prayerfully consider if God wants you to be a Mission Service Corps missionary by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Have you felt an unusual moving and/or stirring of God in your heart? 
  2. Has God alerted you to see or hear of missions and/or ministries that you could perform?
  3. Has God placed in your heart a strong desire to help others?
  4. Are you available to serve, either by going someplace or by remaining at home? 
  5. Did the Lord call you previously to missions or a special service and you were not able to or did not respond?
  6. Has God assured you that He will provide enabling for all He may call you to do?

If you answered “yes” to several of these questions, you are aware of God working in your world and He may be calling you to serve as a Mission Service Corps missionary. 

Let me encourage you to…

  • seek guidance from God’s Word, 
  • talk to and pray with your pastor or Associational Mission Strategist, 
  • discuss your feelings with family members, and most importantly,
  • pray, asking God to show you what He is doing and how you can be a part of it.

          The genius of the Mission Service Corps missionary structure is that every Baptist can be directly involved in missions.  For some, involvement means responding to go;  for others, it is providing so that someone else may go.  For still others, being involved means praying for those who go and their partners; and for many it is a combination of these.   

          Mission Service Corps missionaries won’t climb the corporate ladder, become a celebrity, be featured on ESPN, or make as much as Bill Gates, but they will be successful if they serve the Lord with gladness by answering His call to go.  Will your response be, here am I, send me?   

Choose Obedience Over Safety

I talked with a pastor last week who was discouraged and hurting.  The reason he was discouraged might surprise you, because worship attendance wasn’t down and the church wasn’t behind in the budget.  It wasn’t because of internal fighting or dissatisfaction with his sermons.  Instead, this pastor was discouraged because members felt like conducting ministry in near-by apartments was too dangerous for the church. They didn’t want to go to that hard place because it could be un-safe for them. 

I remember a similar situation many years ago when I was serving as a student minister.  I had planned a mission trip to inner-city Chicago and some were questioning whether or not they should allow the trip to take place because it could be un-safe. We did go, and God blessed. 

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is our foundation for going and making disciples everywhere.  Everywhere, sometimes include unsafe or hard places.  I’m not suggesting that we face all danger with no regard for the safety of ourselves or others.  But, like Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts, we are called to “risk” our lives for the cause of Christ (Acts 15:26).  Do we really want to remove our gospel witness from the hard places in the world where it is most needed?   Jesus doesn’t call us to safety, He calls us to GO!  If we always choose safety over obedience, we’ll never make disciples of all the world.    

The Great Commission commands us to go.  Here are three reminders found within The Great Commission that will help us as we seek to be true to the calling. 

1. The Great Commission reminds us of Jesus’ power over all things.  These are the words of the risen Christ, who had overcome death on the cross.  He claimed all authority and gave us the authority to represent Him in the world that we live in.    

2. The Great Commission reminds us of Jesus’ purpose for our ministries. Our mission is, that we are to make disciples of all the world as we go.  This mission is a call to reach all people groups.  We are called to share the gospel in our neighborhoods (even the un-safe ones) and in all the nations (even the hard ones). 

3. The Great Commission reminds us of Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  The promise that Jesus made should be meaningful and encouraging.  We live in a dangerous world, but His promise should bring us enormous comfort because He will always be with us. 

There are many Christians throughout history who have faithfully served the Lord at tremendous cost to their safety and security.  Our calling is to be found faithful with the gospel today, even in the unsafe and hard places.  Lord, may we choose obedience to you over our safety and security. 

A Cultural Change May Be Needed

Last week, at our annual state convention, we recognized churches that had shown marked improvement in their missions participation. Those churches understood the commandment we’ve been given to go and make disciples of all people and had intentionally sent their members out on mission. 

It was so interesting to learn of things the churches had done to encourage their members to be on mission.  One pastor even commented that the increased attention on the various aspects of missions praying, giving and going contributed to a cultural shift within the congregation that led to the increased missions participation. They recognized that their church had a responsibility to send members out on mission trips, church planting efforts, disaster relief responses and local community ministry projects.  Living as sent people had brought intentionality to their going that God desires for His church.  They didn’t just go on mission, but were sent on mission by their church. 

The culture of a church will greatly influence whether or not it becomes a sending church. Culture is the personality of the church. Culture, more that vision or strategy – is a powerful factor in the church. Therefore, it’s possible that the personality or culture of a church will need an adjustment so that it can become a sending church.  Here are some steps toward development of a missions culture, that in turn, will produce a sending church.

  1. Preach sermons about missions – tell them of the church’s responsibility to send and our responsibility to go.
  2. Expect it.  Share with leaders, members and visitors that everyone is commanded to go and we’ll help you to be obedient.
  3. Repent of your failure to send and go as the Bible commands, if you’ve not been doing so. 
  4. Communicate impact – share and celebrate missionary achievements, spiritual decisions and answers to prayer.
  5. Skype with a missionary, or invite them to come and speak during the service.
  6. Pray for missionaries and ministry needs – share specific needs.
  7. Offer many different kinds of opportunities for people to use their gifts, talents and skills in missions and ministry (mission trips, local projects, long term service, etc). 
  8. Give scholarships to financially enable people to go.
  9. Provide missions education opportunities for children and adults – small groups, Sunday School, online, etc.
  10. Plan and implement a missions fair to introduce members to missionaries and missions opportunities. 
  11. Encourage giving to missions and share how the offerings are used. 
  12. Commission individuals and groups going out on mission.
  13. Adopt a missionary – develop relationship, provide support, give updates on their work, invite them to come, partner with them in the work, send teams.

So, what is the culture within your congregation?  What steps will you take to influence your church’s culture that will result in more people being sent out on mission?

The Lord Will Provide

In the book of Genesis, God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering.  So, in obedience, Abraham binds Isaac and places him on the altar.  At that time, God provided a ram to sacrifice in place of Isaac and Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah Jireh, meaning the Lord will provide, or the Lord will see to it.   

A little over a year ago, God told Kevin Cornette, pastor of Mays Lick Baptist Church, that they should start a feeding ministry to address the hunger needs of those living in the area. Believing that God would provide, Kevin led the church to begin Jehovah Jireh’s House, a food ministry that now serves over 500 homes in 4 counties. What began with a couple of chest freezers and a few boxes of food has grown to many pallets of food that require 14 chest freezers, a large walk-in freezer, a box truck, flat-bed trailer, and a forklift. And the Lord provided it all!  The ministry has grown to the point that Jehovah Jireh’s House has become a cooperative effort of multiple churches requiring an average of 100 volunteers on each distribution day.

Poverty in Mason and surrounding counties is higher than the state’s average of 17%.  One-third of those coming through Jehovah Jireh’s House live in neighboring Lewis County, which has a 26% poverty rate. Kevin shared that 58% of those coming through Jehovah Jireh’s House were grandparents raising their grandchildren. 

The church sees Jehovah Jireh’s House as a reservoir. The Lord provides the food, they distribute all that they have and the Lord fills it back up again.  Pastor Kevin shared that “we serve everyone, no matter where they live, because the Lord has brought them to us for a reason.  One of the primary reasons is because people are spiritually hungry too!”  The church has baptized six people as a result of the ministry and one family reached through Jehovah Jireh’s House now volunteers on distribution days.   

I visited Mays Lick on one of the recent distribution days and was amazed to see how smoothly the entire operation went.  Hundreds of people registered and heard the gospel clearly presented before walking through the distribution “store” to fill up their grocery carts with food, personal hygiene items, fresh vegetables and paper products.  Each person walking through Jehovah Jireh’s House is accompanied by a church member who shepherds them through the process, talking with them and helping them to load their cart.  

Then, additional volunteers help each family to load their vehicle with the items in their grocery cart.  While the value of the items in the grocery cart are approximately $125, the cost to the ministry is only pennies on the dollar because again, the Lord provides.  They procure the items distributed from two major sources and many individuals and churches. 

God was faithful to provide what Abraham needed and He has been faithful to Mays Lick to provide everything they need as well. But before God provided for Abraham, he had to hear God and respond obediently.  The same was true for Mays Lick and is true for us. If we want to witness God’s provision, we must first hear from Him and respond obediently to what He says.   

They Went because They Were Sent

In response to Scripture (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8), churches should be intentionally sending their members. Sending them on mission trips, church planting efforts, ministry projects and disaster relief responses. The church can reach our world with the gospel by putting the focus on how many we send rather than how many attend. 

What does it mean to send? Sending isthe act of enlisting, equipping and mobilizing believers to engage the world with the gospel through local community ministry, short-term mission experiences, church planting efforts, disaster relief work, vocational ministry, and long-term missionary service.

A sending church equips its members go, challenges them to live on mission every day, and provides many opportunities for them to demonstrate the gospel using their gifts, talents, and life experiences. 

First Baptist Church, Inez, Kentucky is one example of a sending church.  FBC Inez has experienced tremendous missions participation growth during the last two years  because pastor Casey Carver has made sending a priority. 

Pastor Casey preached a month-long series of sermons on the importance of missions, challenging the church to not only pray and give, but to send and go.  He used “One Call” to send a missions themed daily devotional by phone to the entire church during that month-long emphasis.

The church had not taken a mission trip in many years, so pastor Casey planned a 3-day mission trip to an eastern Kentucky ministry that was only 3 hours from their church.  They sent 25% of the church’s Sunday morning attendance on that initial mission trip.

Pastor Casey also encouraged the church to engage in ministry to the local community and many have done so.  Members are doing mission work through local ministries like Appalachian Reach Out, Haven of Rest, Heavenly Treasures Thrift Store, and God’s Food Pantry. Additionally, a group of ladies meets regularly to knit items that are given to residents of the local nursing home. 

The church recognized the need of children in the foster care system who arrive at local homes with nothing to call their own.  Therefore, the church began a ministry in which they provide host families with backpacks filled with items needed by foster children.

The sending of members on mission continues, as does the vision for how that will happen.  Pastor Casey has taken steps toward a new ministry called, God’s Connection, that will serve as a residential drug recovery ministry.  That vision includes a coffee shop and thrift store that will provide revenue for the ministry and a place of employment for those in the program. They have received permission to use an old motel for the ministry are seeking donations to help with renovation as plans for God’s Connection and the micro-ministries are developed. 

Sending people on mission out from the church won’t happen by accident.  There must be intentionality by church leadership, specifically, the pastor.  Pastors, will you challenge your members to go?  Churches, will you send your members out on mission as commanded by Christ?  We serve a sending God who expects nothing less from us, than to go, because we’ve been sent. 

Strategy is a MUST for Baptist Associations

Most of the 2,400 churches of the Kentucky Baptist Convention have chosen to belong to an association of churches.  Generally speaking, each association exists to provide support and assistance to member churches.  But, the specifics of how that is done and what it looks like is up to each association and its member churches to determine for their context.

For years, associations have been able to assist member churches, and many of them without any real strategy in place. But times are different today and every association should have a strategy that is understood and embraced by member churches.   It is estimated that 60-70% of associations exist in a rural or town and country setting, and they too, need a strategy that guides their work. 

According to the 2017 Baptist Associations Survey conducted by Jason Lowe, the second-most frustrating aspect of rural/town & country associations (according to church leaders) was a lack of clear vision/strategy.  It’s interesting to note that the greatest frustration was a lack of church participation.  Perhaps there is a lack of participation because there is no associational strategy. Additionally, it’s encouraging to note that according to the same survey, the top reason among church leaders in rural/town & country associations for why they would consider increasing their church’s financial contributions to the association was if the association had a clear vision/strategy.   The survey shows how important it is that every association develop a strategy that church leaders can embrace. 

Research provided in The State of Baptist Associations report did reveal 5 common elements that church leaders indicated that they wanted to see in their association’s strategy.  Those strategy elements were shared by Jason Lowe in a breakout session during the 2019 SBCAL meeting in Birmingham.  Here they are:

  1. Local evangelism and community engagement strategy –the most desired element of an associational strategy was to increase the association’s efforts to assist member churches in evangelism and community engagement.  While the details of how that looks will be different in each context, church leaders want to partner with other churches to engage their communities with the gospel.  Associations should take the lead in studying spiritual & social demographics of communities and coordinating efforts to mobilize churches on mission locally.
  2. Local church planting strategy – while some church leaders would prefer that their association spend less time in church planting efforts, the majority of church leaders would like to see their association spend more time in leading, assisting, or (at the very least) supporting local church planting efforts.
  3. Missions Strategy – in addition to local evangelism efforts, church leaders want their association to assist in planning and coordinating missions opportunities beyond their local area. This could include state, national, or international partnerships or mission projects led by the association.
  4. Leadership Development Strategy – associations need to make sure that opportunities are provided to equip, encourage, and strengthen pastors and church leaders. Consider developing a Leadership Pipeline, especially if your association has difficulty in identifying enough pastors to serve in your churches. Partner with your state convention to provide workshops and conferences that assist in developing leaders. 
  5. Communication Strategy – when asked to identify what would motivate them to increase their church’s financial contributions to the association, one of the most popular answers was an increased awareness of the association’s ministry efforts among church leaders and lay members alike. Therefore, associational leaders must not only implement a clear strategy for helping churches partner together to advance God’s kingdom, they must share the message of how it is being done through email, newsletters, social media, etc.  And it must be clearly communicated frequently and consistently. 

Association’s that have an effective strategy to guide them will prove value to member churches and bring benefit to themselves.  If your association doesn’t have a clearly defined strategy, now is the time to develop one.  For assistance in developing a strategy for your association, contact your state convention or an associational mission strategist.   

My Name is Alex and I’m a Missionary

There was a celebration reception at the Freeda Harris Baptist Center in eastern Kentucky earlier this month to recognize retiring missionaries Greg & Alice Whitetree and incoming missionaries Richard & Amy Greene. 

Richard served as a pastor in Salyersville before being called to come serve as director of the Baptist center in Pike County.  He and Amy have a 10 year-old son Alex, who has Down syndrome and has always been an active part of their ministry.   It was not uncommon for Alex to accompany Richard when pastoring, as he made visits, took care of things at the church, handed out popsicles or met needs in the community.  Coming to Pike County to serve as missionaries at the center will not be any different.  Alex will be there serving alongside his parents as they feed the hungry, operate a thrift store, welcome and direct the work of volunteer teams, conduct mobile Bible clubs for kids in the hollers and share Christ. 

Something very special happened during the introduction of the Greene family at the reception. After Richard and Amy were introduced, Alex took the mic and said, “my name is Alex and I’m a missionary”.  Wow, what a statement of intent and understanding.  I was moved by his candor and innocence.  Here is a young man that understood anyone can be a missionary. 

Many people picture a missionary as a middle-aged man who leaves his job in America to evangelize and plant churches in Africa. But that is a simplistic view. Today, African Christians reach out to Muslims in the Middle East. College students spend their summer teaching English in Asia. A family in America befriends and witnesses to international students. A truck driver responds to those hurting following a disaster and a 10 year-old boy in Appalachia wants to share Jesus with people he meets. All these are missionaries.

Although technically a missionary is someone specifically called by God and sent out by the local church, every Christian has a mission to share the gospel and make disciples.  But simply put, a missionary is an ambassador of Christ and every believer is expected to live out our faith and represent Christ as we go. 

You don’t have to be formally educated, have years of experience or receive a salary to be a missionary.  You just have-to be willing to GO.   The Greene’s are beginning to learn the community and meet the people who live there.  But I have a feeling it will be Alex who the community knows best because he is so accepting of others and shares an infectious smile with everyone he meets.  Thank you Alex, for being a missionary at the Freeda Harris Baptist Center.