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.

It’s a Perfect Fit

For several years, the Kentucky Baptist Convention has helped local churches and associations to conduct medical and dental clinics that minister to the needs of people in their communities.  The clinics have traditionally been conducted on weekends during the months of March, April and May.  However, the work to meet the medical and spiritual needs of people through the clinics begins months earlier.   The KBC equips churches, assisting with volunteer and medical personnel enlistment, evangelism training, logistics, clinic set up and a follow-up strategy.   

One of the resources provided to churches hosting a clinic is use of a modern, state of the art dental unit owed by SEND Relief of the North American Mission Board.  The cost of the unit and supplies used while in Kentucky are provided by the KBC as a service to our churches. The unit has two operatories and is fully equipped to perform most any dental service, including x-ray. 

The dental unit was purchased with Annie Armstrong Easter offering gifts and is needed to perform the services provided at the clinics, but it isn’t nearly as effective without Martha Smith.  Martha has faithfully served as the primary coordinator on the dental unit since the KBC’s first clinic.  She was ready to go again this year, until COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the clinics scheduled for 2020. 

Martha has been working in dentistry since 1975.  She brings to the clinic each weekend she volunteers, her love for the Lord, her experience in the dental field and an infectious smile.  This ministry allows Martha to mix her two passions, dentistry and helping others.  “It’s a perfect fit for me!”  The weekends on the dental unit are long.  They begin with set up and prep before the clinic opens and Martha won’t finish till the clinic ends and everything has been cleaned and put back in its place. 

It’s obvious that Martha loves what she does and just as obvious is the fact that the dentists and assistants volunteering on the unit love her.  It’s not uncommon for a church hosting a clinic to ask, “is Martha coming again?”  

Martha shared with me that she enjoys listening to and sharing with those who come to the clinics for help. God has opened her eyes through the ministry to the many problems and difficult situations people find themselves in.   They come to the clinics for medical and dental help, but Martha knows that their real need is spiritual healing that only Jesus can provide. 

Martha is thankful that God has provided this avenue of ministry for her.  “I don’t know why Christians think they need to go overseas to serve, when there are so many opportunities for using our gifts and sharing the gospel right here in our own communities”, she said. 

I’m excited and thankful that Martha is willing to use the gifts God has given her for His glory.  She and so many others are blessed because of her obedient service.  Christ followers will always find it a “perfect fit” when we use the gifts and talents God has given us for His glory. 

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?