Thank God for the “Little” Things

Last week, while attending the Kentucky Baptist Convention, I received such an uplifting email from KY-MSC Missionary Keith Decker.  In addition to serving as Executive Director of Cedaridge Ministries, Keith serves as pastor of Black Oak Baptist Church in Williamsburg.

On Sunday, November 13, Black Oak Baptist Church went to Mr. Gatti’s Pizza for a children/youth outing.  Most of us know that Mr. Gatti’s offers a buffet with pizza, pasta, salad, dessert, and a game room.  It is a favorite spot for many, not just youth. 

The church paid for the meal.  Keith shared that, as they were eating, several of the young people came up to him and asked if they could go back for more food and drinks.  “Yes,” Keith said to them, “you can get all you want.  It is an all-you-can-eat buffet.” 

A little blond-headed boy came and gave Keith a big hug, followed by several others.  “It was then I realized that some of our kids had never been to a place where they could eat all they wanted,” Keith said.  “It just blessed my heart.  We were doing something that would touch these children for the rest of their lives.  We were ministering to our children/youth with a simple trip to Mr. Gatti’s.  It reminded me of what Jesus meant when He talked about caring for the sheep.  It was one of the most blessed times I have had in an outing.”

Keith said his mind raced back several years to when he had first started in ministry and took his first group of kids to Mr. Gatti’s.  He realized then that many of the children had never had a full stomach before.  He shared that with the restaurant manager, to which the manager replied, “whatever these children eat and drink is free.” 

Keith sees God in the little things.  “I just thought how amazing God is,” Keith said.  “It is such a privilege to be used by Him.”

 At one time Keith was one of those little boys that didn’t have all he wanted to eat.  God has blessed him and now allows him to minister to boys and girls who also are less fortunate.

As we enter Thanksgiving week let’s look for God in the “little things” and thank Him for His blessings on us, even a pizza…or turkey and the trimmings.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Going Changes Lives

When you hear your church or an organization talk about taking a mission trip, whether a few days to a couple of weeks, does something in your spirit tug at you to go? You hear about the work they may be doing, the difference it can make, and the opportunities it will provide. It pulls at your compassion, and you consider your options. And too often, I hear of people changing their mind, making up excuses, or just do not get signed up. And honestly, they miss a blessing.

I am reminded of many in the Bible who said “yes” to God when He called them. In particular, I think of Abraham when God said to him in Genesis 12:1, “Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”

Can you imagine going somewhere blindly without really knowing what will happen next? But in reality, we do that every day of our lives. We do not know what the day will bring so all we can do is simply be on mission where we are and let God direct our path.

However, when you go on mission, take a mission opportunity, say “yes” to God, I have learned going really does change lives. Not only to those I minister and care for, but I am changed.


When disasters strike and Kentucky disaster relief volunteers respond, there are some things I have noticed. And this is true with anytime we go on mission.

God Takes Us to the Unfamliar.
Every time I respond to a disaster; every time I go on a mission trip; every time I say “yes, I’ll go,” God takes me to unfamiliar places. There are new people to meet, new sites to see, new opportunities to experience, new skills to learn and so much more. And He changes me.

God Shows Us the Unexpected.
I have learned no mission trip has ever gone as planned. The reason: I am not in control. God is. I have experienced tire trouble in a strange town only to have an unexpected encounter to have a gospel conversation. I have seen God set up divine appointments with someone that only God could schedule. I have had people come up to me at a gas station asking for prayer or for a Bible which opened doors for ministry. All completely unexpected. I am reminded, I am not in control, God is and in unexpected ways, places and time. And He changes me.

God Teaches Us the Understanding.
When Jesus was washing the disciples’ feet in John 13, He said to Peter in vs. 7, “Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” There are so many times in the going and even in the doing I do not understand the why. But I have learned to trust and know God will show me. Not always in my time, but His. And as He teaches me, understanding comes. And when the understanding comes, He changes me.

The next time God tugs at your heart calling and compelling you to go on mission for Him, will you take that step? Will you say “yes?”

Let God take you to the unfamiliar, show you the unexpected, and teach you the understanding. And I promise you, your going will change you. He changed me.

Healthy Church Formation

Do we need to plant more churches or strengthen existing churches today? In other words, what should be the focus of our churches: plant new churches or revitalize/strengthen current churches? Healthy church formation is not about choosing between these two as if they are opposing options.

(A church meets in a small building in South Asia, IMB photo)

We need both.  Healthy church formation comes through discipleship. Discipleship must be intentional, or it will not occur.  Followers of Jesus need to be taught scripture reading, doctrine, prayer, evangelism, church membership, fasting, missions, parenting, biblical view of work, ethics and so much more. In other words, each church must have a robust and intentional method of discipling their own people from the youngest to the oldest – from the cradle to the grave – with the word of God.

Churches must ensure that disciples are being formed within their congregations. Paul reminds the church at Colossae that the goal of every church is to proclaim Jesus by “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete (mature) in Christ” (Col 1:28).  Similarly, Jesus instructed his first-century followers on that Galilean Mountain to “teach [all believers] to observe all that [he] commanded [us]” (Matt 28:20).  Ultimately, we are after the transformation of lives rather than simply the preservation of information.  Jesus and Paul are concerned with disciples living out the teaching of Scripture and not simply knowing the teaching of Scripture. 

So, what might a transformed disciple look like?  The IMB speaks of 6 marks of a disciple (Foundations, IMB).  In other words, every church’s goal is to see every Jesus follower mature by the transformation of the word in these areas of their life:

  • transformed heart- being born again with a new heart
  • transformed mind- being renewed in our minds
  • transformed affections- being led with godly desires/affections
  • transformed will- being obedient in what we do
  • transformed relationships- being reconciled with others because of Jesus
  • transformed purpose- being engaged in God’s mission

In essence, then, establishing healthy churches involves the holistic transformation of each disciple in every aspect of their life—heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose. 

Further, disciples transformed by the gospel will contribute to overall healthy church formation.  But what does a healthy church look like?  Helpful in this conversation is the IMB’s 12 Characteristics of a Healthy Church (Foundations, IMB).

  1. Biblical evangelism
  2. Biblical discipleship
  3. Biblical membership
  4. Biblical leadership
  5. Biblical preaching and teaching
  6. Biblical ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  7. Biblical worship
  8. Biblical fellowship
  9. Biblical prayer
  10. Biblical accountability and discipline
  11. Biblical giving
  12. Biblical mission

If establishing churches involves the ongoing growth of existing churches and not simply planting new churches, then our desire, as seen in these 12 characteristics, is for healthy church formation.  Aiming for church health, thus, involves these characteristics.

What plans does your church have in place to ensure that all believers are taught not simply to know the Bible, but to live [observe] the Bible?  How is your church ensuring its ongoing healthy growth by intentionally focusing on these 12 characteristics?    

Pastoral Care for Sent-Ones

Shepherding Sent-Ones

In terms of the local church sending missionaries, one of the most overlooked areas is missionary care. Providing missionaries with a touch point of Pastoral Care is critical for them to not only maintain a healthy relationship with the church, but also sustain a healthy relationship and share Christ well among the nations. In order to plant healthy churches, we must have healthy disciples. Here is a simple outline or template of a Pastoral Care Plan with touch points:

Purpose: The goal of the Pastoral Care Plan is to have every missionary family and single adopted and advocated for by the church and the pastoral care team.

Limitations: Pastoral Care is intended to provide a base level of encouragement, care, and advocacy. Pastors need not feel the full load of care and advocacy unless desired. Each missionary has access to care through multiple channels including Sunday school classes, community groups, a care team, and missional staff (voluntary or paid).

Details: I ask that pastors consider committing to a missionary family/single and following through on basic touch points of communication and being accessible to the missionary. We want each missionary to feel like our pastors are “in their corner.” 

Step 1: Know what you are committing to (suggested touchpoints):

Every Month: Provide a simple touch point. This could be a short email of encouragement,  WhatsApp, a handwritten letter, or something of the like.

Every 6 months: Have one Zoom call.

Every year: Send a care package from your family to theirs. If possible, build it into the budget, and do not forget to include shipping cost.  

 Step 2: Commit to a missionary family/single by

1) Signing up for available missionaries on the excel document.

2) Send an email to the missionary letting them know that you are committing to be their pastoral advocate.

3) Calendar your monthly touch point so you do not forget!

Step 3: Keep other leaders in the loop as needed. If you need help, have questions, or are concerned about your missionary; please let us know and we will be glad to help.

Adopting a missionary is a simple way you and your Missional Community can begin serving in missions. For information about adopting a Kentucky MSC missionary, visit  www.kybaptist.org/adopt-a-missionary. To learn more about adoption options with national and international SBC missionaries, contact the Missions Mobilization Team ([email protected] or 502-489-3530). If you have any questions about setting up a Missionary Care Plan, please contact John Barnet ([email protected] or 502-654-3385).

Ministry on Rattlesnake Ridge

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting KY-MSC Missionary Hilton Duncan and three of the volunteers at Integrated Community Ministries (ICM) in McCreary County, Kentucky.  Located in an area known as Rattlesnake Ridge and situated in the foothills of Appalachia, ICM is making a huge difference in the lives of families in a county that is one of the poorest in the United States. 

Hilton’s wife Barbara, also a KY-MSC Missionary, is from the area and Hilton said, “I just married into the family and the area.”  The ministry began in 1999 when Barbara’s grandmother was very sick and dying of cancer.  Her grandmother had a large garden and did not want her garden “stuff” to go to waste.  The community rallied around the family and took care of the garden for them that year.

When Barbara’s grandmother passed, the family decided to do fruit baskets for those that had helped them during her illness.  A lady from the community called and said she had some clothes that she would like to donate and asked if they could distribute the clothes for her.  One mother was able to get school clothes for her children that year thanks to this donation and asked if they would keep give out clothing.  Barbara agreed.

The first Christmas Hilton and Barbara were planning a yard sale to raise money to purchase coats for fifty children.  It “just so happened” that a lady named Lynn from Alpharetta, GA had stopped by and overheard their conversation.  Lynn was a member of a large church just outside of Atlanta and asked if she could go back and share with her church about this need for coats in Appalachia.  The church sponsored the event that year and provided coats and gifts for one hundred children. 

Fast forward twenty-three years and ICM has expanded to serve three hundred fifty kids and families with clothing and so much more, not only at Christmas, but year-round.  In addition to the thrift store, they offer a food assistance program that serves one hundred fifty plus families a month.

Through ICM’s after-school program students have access to a computer lab, get help with homework, life skills, and much, much more.  Back-to-school events help to provide needed school supplies to the students.

Their Front Porch Ministry and Youth Ministry Programs introduce the families to Christ and minister to the spiritual needs of those they serve.  Through Bible studies, youth ministry, and counseling services the families not only learn about Christ but are exposed to strong Christian examples.  Visiting mission teams lead Vacation Bible Schools during the summer months that also teach the children about Jesus.

At Christmas mission teams partner with ICM to provide each child with new toys, clothing, the Christmas Backpacks, and other items.  Families receive food to prepare a Christmas meal.  For most, this is all they will receive for Christmas.

The list could go on and on as to how Hilton and Barbara Duncan are impacting the lives in their own community through Integrated Community Ministries.  All assistance programs are offered free of charge to the families.  Local volunteers, businesses, and mission teams come alongside ICM to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the families they serve.  Oh, and in addition, Hilton is also pastor of Stearns First Baptist Church.

In February 2016, at the 50th Governor’s Prayer Breakfast where Guest Speaker Coach John Calipari emphasized actions over words, Hilton & Barbara were awarded the William Cooper Faith and Community in Action Award for serving the needy in Eastern Kentucky.

Please pray for Hilton & Barbara and Integrated Community Ministries as they continue to serve.  Pray especially for Barbara as she is having some health issues, and for Hilton as he also cares for his wife and as he serves the church.

To learn more about this ministry and how you can get involved check out their website at www.ky-icm.org.  You will be blessed.

It’s Time to Pray

As we have all watched Hurricane Ian make landfall on the news and weather stations, there is no doubt a stirring in our hearts for those affected by this massive storm. We are all amazed at the magnitude of this storm, the power it has to create such destruction, and the amount of rain it has produced. Once again, our hearts hurt with those who are hurting.

Southern Baptists are mobilizing to bring help, hope and healing to those who are hurting. Feeding operations are currently being set up and operating. Mobile shower units, recovery units, chaplains, support equipment and more are being sent to provide for the needs of people.

It’s time to pray.

It’s time to pray for those who have been directly affected by this devastating storm. Many have lost loved ones or their homes. Many have lost their jobs and belonging. It’s time we pray for them that their immediate and long-term needs are met.

It’s time to pray for those who are mobilizing to bring help to provide meals, clean up the debris, and restore needed resources. It’s time to pray for their safety as they travel and work.

It’s time to pray for financial support to come to purchase supplies, food, water, fuel, household items and more. The needs will be enormous. It’s time to pray how you can give to support the relief efforts.

It’s time to pray that even in the midst of this destruction, God would open doors of opportunity to have gospel conversations with those who are asking “why?” Southern Baptist chaplains are mobilizing to care for the emotional and spiritual well being of those who are hurting.

It’s time to pray for the local churches who have been affected and the pastors who are caring for their congregations. The needs will be great. It’s time to pray for churches who can partner with churches to lend support and make a cooperative kingdom impact.

It’s time to pray that the God of heaven will bring a revival to this land. As big and powerful as this storm has proven to be, our God is bigger still. May we cry out to Him to meet our need.

It’s time to pray.

Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. Psalm 4:1

The Work: Every Church on Mission

“They had turned inward,” the pastor said with regret.  As I gathered with a group of pastors, AMSs, and church leaders from around Kentucky in Cincinnati recently to hear about ways their churches and associations can partner in the Queen City, one pastor in Cincinnati shared an all-too common story about his church.  When he first arrived at his church 15 years ago, the congregation had just completed a building project that increased the seating capacity to about 250 people.  However, when the pastor arrived at the church there were only about 30 people attending. 

“What happened?” one of our Kentucky pastors asked with curiosity.  The pastor went on to explain, “They had turned inward.  In fact, I discovered as I got to know the community that the people who lived here did not even know that this was a church.”  As I have reflected on this conversation with the pastor, I wonder how this can even happen.  The short answer, as described by the pastor, is that churches turn inward. 

In other words, we forget the work to which the Holy Spirit calls each church. What is that work?  To find that answer we turn our attention briefly to Acts 13.  Perhaps the second most influential church in the New Testament next to Jerusalem is Antioch, located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem near the Mediterranean Sea.  The church at Antioch was a mission-sending, mission-participating congregation.  The DNA of this first-century church flowed with making disciples of all nations.  From the outpost of Antioch, the Holy Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul (Paul) on what we refer to as Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3). 

Notably, this church places a premium on worshipping and seeking the Lord (Acts 13:2), which is key for a church in avoiding the trap of an inward focus.  While the church of Antioch is filled with robust leaders—Barnabas, Simeon (Niger), Lucius, Manaen, and Saul, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul to the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

But what was “the work” to which the Holy Spirit had called them?  If Acts 1:8 is the theme of the book, then our answer lies within that passage.  In short, Jesus calls the apostles to make disciples of all nations in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.  This work of disciple making to which Jesus calls the apostles is extended to the church as we see the gospel spread from Jerusalem and beyond. In essence, disciple-making involves reaching the unreached and discipling the reached.

The Missions Mobilization Team is excited to help each KBC church do the work to which the Holy Spirit has called them with a new Fall 2022 initiative called Every Church On Mission (ECOM).  This initiative seeks to help each KBC church identify their unique role in the Great Commission, equip members to live out their role in the Great Commission, send members to fulfill the Great Commission locally and globally, and care for those who are sent both locally and globally.  For each of these four elements there are assessment questions and recommended resources.  The goal of this initiative is to help churches focus on the work of making disciples locally and globally, while avoiding the trap of turning inward and forgetting the work to which we are called.  Learn more about ECOM at kybaptist.org/ecom. 

The work of the church at Antioch is our work.  The work of all churches is to make disciples of all nations among whomever we can and wherever we are.  Some recent gospel “workers” serving in another country had to leave their place of work for another place of work.  In reflection about that move, they affirmed, “God called us for the work, not for a place or a people.  He called us for the work to ‘make disciples of all nations’ (Matthew 28:19).  Whatever changes we may experience in the world or in our life, and wherever we may find ourselves to be, may we do the work God has called us to do!”

Adopt a Sent-One  

Missionary Care Through Missional Communities

Taking the gospel to the nations is not an easy task. As missionaries go out to proclaim the good news, they often become discouraged and consider quitting. Why? They feel as if they are entirely on their own, without the active support of sending brothers and sisters who can uphold, encourage, provide, and pray for them. The church’s desire should be obedience to the Scriptures as a going AND sending, supporting community. The little letter of 3 John calls the church to both send out and care for its missionaries “in a manner worthy of God.” It calls us to partnership – to “work together for the truth” with those we send to faraway lands. John commands us to love these missionaries with a hands-on kind of love, even if we do not know them personally (verse 5) precisely because we are partners in the gospel! This means that one of the best ways your Community Group can get involved in international missions is to adopt a missionary and begin caring for them.

The church’s vision may be to see each of our missionary units supported by several Community Groups who are strategically praying for, communicating with, and regularly sending packages to our member missionaries. Bottom line: We want each of our missionaries to have real and consistent care just as 3 John says they should. Would your group be willing to adopt a missionary, provide the care, and the love they need? If so, here are your next steps:

  • Talk it over as a group. Pray about it as a group. Discern your ability and willingness, as a group, to commit the time, energy, resources, and relational investment necessary to love and serve one of our missionaries or ministries well, “in a manner worthy of God” (v 6).
  • Designate a person in your group who will be the missionary care leader. This person/couple will connect with both the missionary and a Missions Mobilization Team member.
  • Get started. There are numerous ways you can care for your missionary unit:  
    • Prayer– Get prayer requests from your missionary unit and pray as a group at least once a month.
    • Communication– Have personal conversations with your missionary unit at least once a month through email, written letters, or Zoom.
    • Care packages– Commit to send a care package to your missionary unit at least twice a year. Set a goal of once a quarter.
    • Have them Visit– When your missionary unit is in the U.S., have them come and visit your group.
    • Visit them– Encourage group members to visit your missionary unit on the field. People could do this individually or you could do this as a group, if possible.

Adopting a missionary is a simple way you and your Missional Community can begin serving in missions. For information about adopting a Kentucky MSC missionary, visit  www.kybaptist.org/adopt-a-missionary. To learn more about adoption options with national and international SBC missionaries, contact the Missions Mobilization Team ([email protected] or 502-489-3530).    

It’s State Missions Month

It’s September!!  Vacations are over, school is back in session, football season is here, and Fall is in the air.  For Kentucky Baptists September is recognized as state mission’s month.  Next week, September 11-18, is the week set aside in our calendar for State Missions Emphasis and the week most Kentucky Baptist Churches receive the Eliza Broadus Offering. 

As Missions Mobilization Coordinator with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, let me say thank you for your prayers and gifts through the Eliza Broadus Offering to state missions.  Through your praying and giving you are part of the work of 117 Kentucky Mission Service Corps Missionaries that serve across the state, and the 874 professions of faith that they reported.  You had a part in ministering to children and teens, men and women, repairing homes for needy families, ministering to those in and coming out of jails and prisons, church planting, pregnancy care centers, internationals, disaster relief, associational work, and much more.  As is often said, “we can do more together” and that is certainly true in Kentucky as we pray and give through the Cooperative Program and the Eliza Broadus Offering for State Missions.

Kentucky Woman’s Missionary Union so faithfully promotes state missionaries and ministries year after year and provides materials for our mission emphasis.  Through their print material and videos we have an opportunity to learn what is going on in Kentucky, are encouraged to pray for missions in Kentucky, are given the opportunity to give to missions in Kentucky, and are provided with many ways do missions right here at home.

Thank you, Liz Encinia and staff, for your promotion of Kentucky missions.  Thank you, Kentucky WMUs across the state, for your support of Kentucky missions.  And thanks to all of you who pray, give, and go to share the Gospel right here at home.  Because of your faithfulness to promote and participate in state missions we can reach Kentucky for Christ.

Check out the State Missions and EBO materials at www.kywmu.org and the Kentucky missions page at www.kybaptist.org/missionaries.   

The Hardest Work You’ll Ever Love

I have often joked and laughed about the three rules of a handyman. First is to contemplate what to do. Then you contemplate on how to do it. And finally, you just contemplate.

How many times have you followed those three rules without even realizing it? There are many times I have projects I either really don’t know how to do, or I’m just trying to think through the best way to do it. Or it’s a really hard or dirty job and I don’t want to do it, so I keep putting it off.

Yet there is something completely different when it comes to serving through the Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief ministry. It is interesting how we will go places, serve with people we’ve never met, and sleep in strange places on cots or air mattresses. We will also go into homes which have been destroyed by water and mud (which is a smell all its own), dangers we would typically avoid, and work harder and longer than we ever would at home. But we love it.

It is the hardest work you’ll ever love.

This work doesn’t make sense to most people. And honestly, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me. So, I began to ask, “why is this?” And I was reminded of several things.

It is a motivation from God.
It is an obedience thing. As I look through Scripture, God is always using someone to care for others. God can meet needs by the very words of His mouth. But He chooses to use people to love and care for people. So, God calls His people. He stirs in the hearts of His people. And we respond to His call. We bring help.

It is a model of Jesus Christ
The main reason I am so passionate about the disaster relief ministry is how it models the ministry of Jesus Christ when He walked this earth. He saw a need. He compassionately did something to meet the need. And He had opportunity to tell them about the hope they can have through Him. Disaster relief does the same thing. People have a physical need. We see their need. We are moved with compassion to meet their need, and it opens the door for gospel conversations. We bring hope.

It is a ministry of compassion
When you see people hurting who have lost everything, they don’t know what to do. Their physical world had been destroyed, and it leaves them emotionally and spiritually numb. We can come alongside those who are hurting and care for them. Listen to them. Spend time with them. Hear their stories and let them grieve and we often cry with them. We bring healing.

It is a mission of the Church
The Great Commission commands the church (us) to go into all the world. It does not tell us to proclaim the world come to us, rather we are to go to them. I have seen many people get out of the pew and into the field through disaster relief.

The beauty of all of this is it requires people of all skill sets. This ministry requires good leaders, those who can manage people, assign work projects, and oversee a specific area. It requires those with good organizational skills. Those who can cook (we love our cooks!). Those who have good mechanical skills for set up of equipment, repairs, and resources. Those who do not mind getting dirty and willing to work hard. Those who have the gift of evangelism. Those who just want to serve. And the list goes on. God has a place for anyone He calls.

It is an evangelistic opportunity
Evangelism and missions always go together. You cannot be on mission without a focus on evangelism, otherwise why do it? You cannot evangelize without being on mission because that is the calling and purpose. Jesus said He came to this earth to seek and to save (evangelize). Yet, when you look at His method, He was on mission as He cared for those who were hurting. He met their physical need and sought to meet their spiritual need.

It IS the hardest work you will ever love.

You can learn more about the Kentucky Disaster Relief ministry at www.kybaptist.org/dr. Also visit www.kybaptist.org/flood to learn of opportunities to serve in eastern Kentucky with the flood response and rebuild.