Backpacks Provide Hope for Children at Christmas

17.3 million of the children in the U.S. live in poverty, trapped by circumstances beyond their control.  Almost 1 million of them live in Kentucky, where 26% of our children under the age of 18 live in poverty.  That means that for 1 out of 4 children, Christmas doesn’t always come with the promise of gifts—or even a Christmas meal. Every day is more about survival than celebration. But we can help change that.

One very practical way that Kentucky Baptists can reach compassionately the needy children in our state is through the Christmas Backpack Project. Last year, there were over 50,000 backpacks distributed in 13 states by missionaries and church planters, and 15,000 of those went to children in KY.  Each backpack is a tangible expression of God’s love – and is filled with gifts of clothing, toys and food items. But the greatest gift in each backpack is a copy of the true Christmas story.  It may hard to believe, but many children have never heard the Biblical account of the true Christmas story.

Last year, there were over 1,500 decisions for Christ as a result of the gospel message that is shared with each backpack.  An exciting thing about those decisions is that many of them were made by parents and grandparents of the children receiving the backpacks.  The backpacks don’t just provide hope to a needy child, they impact the whole family.

A little girl named Gracie received a backpack and sent the following thank you note:  Thank you for the backpacks. I’m so thankful for all the cool stuff I got. My friend and I both got some gloves and a Holy Bible. We are reading the Bible together. Thank you!”

When the backpacks are received by children living in difficult circumstances, not only are the children and their families affected, so are those who prepare and pack the backpacks.  Many churches report that their whole congregation was involved in this ministry, young and old, including those who can’t travel on a mission trip. Some churches reported that working together on the backpacks helped them to focus outwardly on the needs of others rather than upon internal church issues.

Evangelist Dwight L. Moody said, “If I could relive my life, I would devote my entire ministry to reaching children for God!”   How devoted are you to reaching children for God?

Let me challenge you and your church to commit to preparing and packing backpacks for children to receive this Christmas.  It all starts with you – but ends in someone coming to know Jesus Christ and the true Christmas story.

For more information, or to register your church’s participation in the Christmas Backpack Project, visit:  www.kybaptist.org/backpacks

Implementing Associational Change

In today’s rapidly changing context, associational directors of missions (DoMs) are being forced to choose between leading like a missionary or serving as a curator and preserver of what has been.  Effective DoMs who want to see results will choose to have a missionary mindset.  They stand upon the eternal truths of scripture, but are ready to dump methods and paradigms that no longer give value to the association.  DoMs who function as missionaries are open to change and adapt their ministry to the real need of member churches, not the churches of yesterday.  Like the apostle Paul, they become all things to all people so that they might save some (1 Cor. 9:22).

On the other hand, DoMs with a curator mindset will value the past and resist change.  They believe old methods and paradigms are worth protecting, even if they no longer work. They are afraid of innovation and slow to embrace needed change.

While change may be needed, it almost always leads to failure if there is no appreciation for the past. I’m not suggesting a preservation of the past at the expense of the future, but an acknowledgement of the past and it’s contribution to the association’s current reality is important when leading change.

Associations that are effective and provide benefit to member churches will exercise flexibility, a willingness to try new things and the desire to make needed changes quickly.  Associations today should regularly assess themselves and the need for change.  Not every needed change will work, but don’t be afraid of failure or innovation.

Here are four things to keep in mind as you lead your association through needed change.  Hopefully these suggestions will allow your association to enjoy the benefits of implementing change without losing credibility, if things don’t go exactly as planned.

  1. Use Experimentation Language – words are important, so consider useing “try” instead of “change” or “discussion” instead of “meeting”. Experiments provide you with wiggle room and people expect trial runs to need mid-course corrections. See compromise as a sign of wisdom, not a sign of weakness.
  2. Plan in Pencil – nothing ever goes exactly as planned. A planned change or innovation is only a theory until implemented, and then it becomes a failure or a success. Think flexibility rather than certainty.  Think in terms of this is what we’ll do for now, rather than, this what we will do forever.  They only thing certain is that the future will be different from what you expect. Keep as many options open as long as possible.
  3. Stay Away from Hype – a big splash leaves little room for retreat. If you want long term success, be cautious of using hype to sell it. If we hype and it succeeds, all is well.  But if we hype and it fails, there is a loss in future leadership.  “Buy in” is helpful, but more importantly, we need permission to try something different.  Permission is easier to get than “buy in”, and a lot easier to back away from if things don’t go well.
  4. Avoid Leadership ADHD – ADHD leadership is very similar to innovative leadership. They both try lots of stuff. But non-ADHD leadership tries it in an experimental mode.  Nothing is oversold.  Everything is judged by its impact on the mission. However, ADHD leaders never slow down to experiment.  Everything is always full speed ahead.  When ADHD leadership is in charge, there is a constant stream of new initiatives and failed projects that numb everyone about the importance of the mission at hand.

If an association is going to be effective and valued by churches today, change and innovation are necessary.  There must be the ability and permission to make changes as needed or the association will die.  While change is needed in most of our Baptist associations, change at any cost will kill the association and render her of no value to member churches.  As Larry Osborne has pointed out, “change is a lot like electricity.  Handled well, it brings great blessings. Handled carelessly or without understanding, it can burn the house down.”

The Mission Field Down the Street

One of the most fertile and unreached mission fields in any community sits very close to, or just down the street from, the local church. It is the public school.  Public schools are filled with children, teachers and staff members who live, work and play in the shadow of our steeples.

There are 655,642 students and 50,148 teachers/staff members in 1,177 elementary, middle and high schools in Kentucky. These children, teachers and staff members need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and yet, 87% (2010 Glenmary report) don’t attend a worship service, as close as it may be. 

adopt_a_schoolThe local school represents a God-given opportunity for evangelism and missions if relationships are built upon trust and the meeting of needs. The local church is poised by its proximity to produce the greatest possible Kingdom results and community impact in the most efficient, effective and expedient way.

Depending upon the community, there are approximately 5 churches for every public school in the state. Imagine the Kingdom impact and community transformation that would happen if churches adopted schools. Things the church can do in and for the school include:

  • mentoring students
  • after school tutoring
  • assist with festivals, carnivals and parties
  • minister to teachers (provide breakfast, prayer partners, gifts, etc)
  • supply school supplies or educational resources
  • clean or paint classrooms
  • landscape around the building
  • volunteer to serve as teacher’s aids

If there’s uncertainty on the part of the school, suggest that you begin with a “semester of service” as a way of introducing the concept.  This allows the school to experience how beneficial the church’s involvement can be to the students and their families, teachers and staff.

I saw firsthand the impact that an adoption can make when Christ Community Church reached out and adopted Southside Elementary School.  After a couple of years into the adoption, the school’s academic growth surpassed 90% of the elementary schools in the state.  They earned a special distinction as a “High Progressing” school, finishing in the 71st percentile, up from the previous 14th percentile rating. Southside’s principal contributed the amazing turn-around to a team effort involving teachers, the church and the local community.  The church’s involvement presented opportunity for sharing the gospel, gave them credibility with teachers, and opened doors with the community and the school system for future ministry.  It’s now common for school administrators to call upon the church about needs and ministry opportunities relating to students and staff.

When God says that He is a “father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5), He is not speaking about some intangible heavenly spirit. God is a “father to the fatherless” through His church – as they become surrogate parents to students in need.  Staggering negative statistics change to successes when Christ followers become mentors and tutors in the local school, providing guidance, instruction and commitment that is missing in a child’s life. Will your church overlook the mission field down the street or will they dive in and serve where others dare to go?

 

 

Gift Idea for the Person Who Has Everything

Christmas is a very special time of the year.  I love the music, lights and decorations, time with family, baked goodies and gift giving.  I really enjoy giving special gifts to those I love.  But not just any gift, the perfect one.  The one that is just what they needed or really wanted.   But what do you give to the person who has everything?Christmas Shopping stress pic

Several years ago, my parents announced that they would no longer receive gifts from us at Christmas because they “had everything they needed”.  Rather than give them a Christmas gift, they requested that we give to a ministry or charity in their honor.   A meaningful tradition was begun that continues today.  We have given animals for farmers in Haiti, transportation for pastors in Africa, shelter for the homeless in the US, and job training for the poor in eastern KY.  Although these are good gifts that bless others and honor my parents, we consider the most important gift each year to be the one we give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  If you’re not familiar with this offering, it is collected by the SBC International Mission Board in December for the support of more than 3,651 missionaries sharing the Gospel in countries all over the world.  Every single penny given goes directly toward the support and equipping of the missionaries because necessary administrative costs are covered by other means.

The missionaries supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering are committed to giving themselves totally and selflessly toward reaching unengaged and unreached people groups who have nothing, because they don’t have Jesus, who is “everything”.  So, if you’re struggling with what to get the person who has everything, why not give a gift in their honor to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  That way, instead of giving an unneeded gift to someone who has everything, you’re giving the gift of “everything” to someone who has nothing.   For more information, visit  www.imb.org/offering.

How Easily We Forget

“I try to fit you in the wall inside my mind.  I try to keep you safely in between the lines.  I try to put you in the box that I’ve designed.  I try to pull you down so we are eye to eye.

doug-williams-adoption-picWhen did I forget that you’ve always been the king of the world?  I try to take life back right out of the hands of the king of the world.  How could I make you so small, when you’re the one who holds it all?  When did I forget that you’ve always been the king of the world?

Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas.  So who am I to try and take the lead.  Still I run ahead and think I’m strong enough.  When you’re the one who made me from the dust.”

These lyrics are from the song “King of the World” by Natalie Grant.   They are a reminder of what is all too familiar to us all.  We easily forget!  In the business of life’s circumstances, we often forget who is King over our circumstances.

My family has been in an adoption process for over four years.  We are nearing the end, but recently were told that the end would not come until after the first of the year.  How easily we forget that God is King over all things, even adoption processes.

A week ago, out of the blue, we received word that we must prepare to travel and meet our daughter.  The past several days have been a whirlwind of preparation and emotion.  This long journey is nearing the end.  There were days we (by we, I mean me) wondered if this day would ever come. There were moments that we (by we, I mean me) doubted.

Oh, how easily we forget that God is King of the world.  In the midst of chaos and uncertainty, the Psalmist reminds us to be still and know that He is God (Ps 46:10).  When all around us seemingly unravels, the Psalmist is not telling us to run or even panic.  In fact, he says, “Be still.”  The only thing we should do in those times is be still and know that God is King.

I have been reminded once again (not for the last time I am sure) that God is King of the world.  We travel this week to meet our daughter and then bring her home.  I am sure there will be challenges in this final process, but I pray we will remember that God is King of the world.  So, Doug, remember God has “always been the king of the world” and He always will be.

by Doug Williams

Steps to SENDing

I had the privilege to be in a church recently that has made a deliberate effort to become a sending church.  They take seriously the commandment we’ve been given to go and make disciples of all people.  It was so exciting to see the progress they were making toward that Biblical goal as they develop a sending culture within their church. They recognize that their church has a responsibility to send members out on mission trips (locally and globally), church planting efforts, disaster relief responses and local community ministry projects.  Living as “sent” people has brought intentionality to their “going” that God desires for His church.  They don’t just go on mission, but are sent on mission by their church.  steps-to-a-sending-culture

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 in order for it to become a sending church.  Here are some steps toward development of a sending 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.

For I Wasn’t Hungry…

Several years ago, I came home from work complaining about how hungry I was.  My wife was fixing dinner and the girls were working on homework at the kitchen table.  They asked if I had eaten lunch today. To which I replied, yes, but I haven’t had anything since lunch. They laughed at my foolish reply because no one else had eaten since lunch either.  I was embarrassed by my response because it had only been hours since I’d eaten, but I acted as if I were starving.  Truth is, I’ve never been starving, but there are those for whom starvation is a reality.

hunger-child-groceriesAlmost 800 million people around the world live with constant hunger, and 1 in 6 people in the US are food insecure, meaning, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. The tragedy of hunger is very real for many of our churches and their communities. We all wish hunger would go away, but it isn’t going anywhere and the church has a clear command in scripture to feed the hungry (1 John 3:17-18 & James 2:5-17).

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Global Hunger Relief is a very effective funding system, put in place to assist ministries and churches in feeding the hungry.  80% of the hunger relief funds are used internationally while 20% are distributed within North America. 100% of every dollar given to Global Hunger Relief goes directly for the purchase of food.  None of it is used for promotion, administration, transportation, or operation costs.

The Global Hunger Relief offering has helped rescue starving children in West Africa, provided food for forcibly displaced refugees and given hope through backpacks filled with food to children in Appalachia.  SBC hunger relief ministries provide food to the hungry and offer the Bread of Life to them as well. There were over 21,000 professions of faith as a result of hunger ministries throughout the world. That includes 142 decisions for Christ last year in Kentucky as a direct result of hunger relief ministries.

Even though we have an effective hunger relief funding system in place and every penny of every dollar goes only toward the purchase of food –  it’s still not enough because the average Kentucky Baptist church member gave less than the cost of a canned soft drink to hunger relief last year.

Southern Baptists have set aside October 9th as Hunger Relief Sunday.  Let me challenge you and your church to step up it’s giving to the Global Hunger Relief offering. Raise awareness of the offering and how it helps relieve hunger.  Encourage friendly competition between small groups in your church.  Preach a sermon on hunger relief or prepare a children’s sermon for Sunday morning.  You’ll find resources to help with these suggestions at:  www.kybaptist.org/hunger

The next time you start to say, I’m starving, stop and remember that you aren’t. But, there are many others in the world, and in our neighborhoods, who are.

Going Outside is NOT an Option

What do you think of when you hear the words, “go outside”?  I’m reminded of those times as a child when I was in the way and my mother would say to my brothers and I, “you all need to go outside and play”.   We knew exactly what that meant and would go outside to escape the consequences that would follow if we didn’t.   Did anyone tell you to go outside when you were a child?   Has anyone told you recently to go outside?

Go Outside logo

Church planter, entrepeneur and author Alton Lee Webb, in his book, “Go Outside”, challenges Christ followers regardless of age or experience to go outside.  But not to play, because going outside is serious business and it’s not an option.  It’s God’s urgent mandate to those of us who have chosen to follow Him.  Lee reminds us that we are challenged through Paul’s writing in Hebrews 13 to go outside the city to worship God in acceptable ways in the unholy places.  We are called to be imitators of Christ to those who’ve not yet seen Him.

Going outside involves getting out of our comfortable place and stepping into something unfamiliar in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Going outside is discovering and using our gifts and talents for God’s glory, not mine.  Going outside is seizing opportunities to do for others at my own expense.  Going outside is recognizing and addressing the needs right in front of us that God has equipped me to meet.

The world is not coming inside to us.  If we’re going to reach them, we must go outside – and that is risky and messy.   Not all of us like taking chances, but there are many out there who have.  Lee shares his story and those of others who’ve decided it was time to get off the bench and get into the game, serving those they wouldn’t normally be associated with.  The stories inspire and challenge me to serve others more than I currently am.  They stretch me to push through myself and quit looking for someone else to do what God has equipped and purposed me to do.

Jesus was the ultimate outsider when He came to earth to redeem you and me.  If I’m going to be a Christ follower, then I too, must be an outsider.  However, if I’m completely honest with myself, some days I’m much more of an insider and nothing like Jesus.  But I’m not giving up – because being outside is a lot more exciting and brings so much more meaning to life, now and eternally.

“Go Outside – get up, get out, change the world” by Alton Lee Webb is available at http://altonleewebb.com/product/go-outside/ or from Amazon.com.

Is Yours an Innie or an Outie?

Most of us can answer pretty quickly about whether we have an innie or an outie, if we’re talking about belly buttons. Whether you end up with an innie or an outie is usually a matter of chance. Most people end up with innies, but some people have outies. Outies usually occur when more of the umbilical cord is left when it’s cut, leading to more skin left over once it dries out.  Inward or Outward

While it may not be as simple as lifting your shirt and looking down, can you identify whether you are part of an innie church or an outie church?

What’s the difference?  Outie churches are strong and healthy within, but focused on reaching those outside the church.  Innie churches are most concerned about keeping those already in the church engaged.

Outie churches are deliberate about engaging their community with good deeds and the good news of Christ.  Innie churches integrate activities and programs in the church, but fail to engage the community.

Outie churches emphasize their influence and impact on the community everyday of the week while innie churches emphasize how many attend on a given Sunday.

Outie churches will be greatly missed by the community if they cease to exist while most innie churches aren’t even noticed by the community.

Take a look at your church’s calendar or budget and it too, will help to determine whether you’re part of an outie or an innie. Is the biggest portion of your budget spent on missions, engaging the community and reaching the lost? Or is it allocated for maintaining buildings, church programming and keeping the already baptized believers content?  The activities and ministries on your churches calendar are just as telling.  Do they indicate that your church is an innie or an outie?

A study by Lifeway Research showed that 78% of those surveyed believed the church was more concerned about organized religion that it was engaging and caring for their local community.  Whether it’s true or not, that was their perception.  What is your church doing to disprove that belief?  Outie churches discover the needs in communities and develop ministries to address those needs and share Christ.

You can’t control whether you have an innie or an outie belly button, but you can control whether your church is an innie or outie.  Take steps to move your church from being an innie to becoming an outie.  Assess the needs of your community, move your congregation from the seats to the streets in meaningful ministry, equip members to share Christ in the course of their daily activity, develop new ministries to reach those still unreached, and partner with ministries already plugged into your local community.

The way to inwardly build a strong and healthy church is through external service and ministry.  Will you accept the challenge to become an outie?   The Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention has assessment tools, resources, training, networking and grants to assist your church in becoming more externally focused.  Call or email for assistance.

The Future of Associations

If associations are going to exist in the future we must ask the hard questions now and that is why I’ve chosen to share the following article with you.  It is from a June 21, 2016 blog post by Ed Stetzer.  It addresses the importance of associations demonstrating their value to local churches and was part of a series on the “future of the SBC”:    http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/june/future-of-sbc-local-associations.html.

churchesEd Stetzer –  As geographic concerns lessen through the use of technology, churches are forming networking partnerships that unite churches around theological and missiological concerns.  That’s generally called associationalism.

These networks did not, and could not, exist 20 years ago—due to technological limitations—have exploded now. This generates questions for denominations whose structural model has remained the same since pastors traveled by horses to meetings.

We have to ask exactly how effective we have been over the last 100 years when many horse riding pastors would recognize today’s structures.

Currently, in Southern Baptist life, there is a direct link between the state conventions and the national convention through the funding mechanism of the SBC. It’s called the Cooperative Program (or “CP” for my non-SBC readers).

Baptist associations have been historically left out of that by their request, actually.

This causes them to function as free agents of sorts—each is autonomous. While the state and national conventions desperately need each other, they drawn from the same CP dollars. Strategies like the Great Commission Resurgence called for tightening of state belts to fund the national body ever more fully. This, for some states, has been a challenge, but has had little impact on associations.

 Local associations predate the larger organizational structures, but pastors in the next 20 years are not going to continue using a methodology simply because “it has always been that way.” Because of this, a squeeze is coming that will cause the local church to evaluate the partnerships they are engaged in to determine the ones that are the most beneficial to their stated goals.

 Clarification of roles

Churches that have multiple layers of partnerships will often choose between them—and they will do that based on their stewardship focus.  If a church is financially partnering with a theological network, a local area association, a state and a national organization, it is investing a significant amount of its resources in these groups.

The question then becomes: “Who does what?” If the local church has multiple overlap between all of their partnerships, why should they continue to keep them all?

Each partnership should have a clear and established role that benefits the local church. Most denominations do not have a long successful track record of accomplishing this. Often there is duplication key roles. Many church leaders, especially those with business or leadership training, become frustrated by the perceived (or actual) waste of resources.

This is where networks have frequently stepped in and provided a much more flexible solution for the churches. Not having decades or even centuries of bureaucratic weight, networks have organized themselves to be as lean as possible to meet the needs of churches in the current context.  

So, in some ways, networks are replacing associations.  But, it does not have to be that way.

Future of local associations

I’m in favor of the new networks that have developed. Any network that pushes people to greater mission and partnership is a great thing. But local churches need to decide how best to connect with them—when to partner and when not to partner.

There can be a place for these smaller geographic connections for churches to continue, like associations. A far spread network may share your passion for church planting, but they don’t share your zip code. There are roles local leaders can provide that a national organization will not be able to mimic.

Also, you can meet and connect with local pastors who are, yes, different than you. That’s good for you, your church, and the kingdom.

Local associations need to look at the involvement of their churches. In my non-scientific observation, the majority of local associations have well-connected relationships with churches that are 75 years and older, moderate connection to those around 50 years old, but minimal connection to churches less than 20 years old. If that is the case, the future does not look bright for those associations. They, like many of the older churches that comprise them, will die from attrition.

 The key to sustained ministry in associations is discovering the needs of the churches local to your area and meeting them. Theological networks, along with state and national organizations cannot possible know all of the ministry needs of the people on your street. But your association may.   Those closest to the ground can have the strongest partnership if they involve more churches, engage faithfully, and connect pastors.

 Different tools to reach the same goal

Central to the purpose for every church should be the Great Commission.

We exist to making disciples. For the different levels of connectivity to remain, they need to demonstrate to the local church how they can help them further that goal in unique ways.

When resources are wasted through various partnerships all offering the same thing, churches become discouraged and the goal is hindered. However, when each partnership of the church meets a need and provides a service the others cannot, the church is encouraged to do more and the Gospel is advanced.

 Associations can most definitely be one of those beneficial partnerships.