Monday, December 8, 2008

Building Partnerships for World Missions

Christmas time has historically been the time of the year when Baptists emphasized World Missions. We traditionally had a Week of Prayer, sometimes a mission study, and we received our World Missions Offering. I remember that sometimes we had a “foreign missionary” as a guest speaker. When I was growing up it seemed like international missions was a long way from where I lived.

In recent years our world has become much smaller. Technology, communications, and international travel have brought the world to our door step. Today, local congregations have incredible opportunities for direct partnerships with missionaries and mission fields that were once thought impossible. Communication that once took weeks or months is now instantaneous. Many churches are involved in multiple international mission efforts every year. Church members not only give and pray for missions—they are missionaries.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri has been forging relationships and partnerships designed to assist churches as they seek to become involved in the global mission enterprise. Our convention established a relationship with WorldconneX. This organization helps churches discover their strategic uniqueness for the Kingdom, establish effective connections for strategic impact, and send their people long term anywhere in the world.

We are also a part of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. The Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 214 Baptist conventions and unions comprising a membership of more than 37 million baptized believers and a community of 105 million. Its mission is networking the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ.

Our mission partnership with the Guatemalan Baptist Convention continues to expand and new congregations continue to build church to church partnerships. If your church is interested in becoming involved in missions anywhere in the world we want to be a resource to you. We want to help you get connected wherever you believe God is urging you to become involved. We want to provide training for your volunteers and resources to assist your church.

Many of our churches are receiving an offering this month for World Missions. We hope you will consider including the BGCM World Missions Offering in your plans. This offering provides an opportunity for you to partner with your Baptist brothers and sisters around the World in sharing Christ and ministering in his name. The Baptist World Alliance is a global movement of Baptists sharing a common confession of faith in Jesus Christ, bonded together by God’s love to support, encourage and strengthen one another, while proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to a lost world. Downloadable posters and bulletin inserts are available on the BGCM website. Join us in building partnerships for world missions.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Promoting & Defending Religious Liberty

On Monday and Tuesday of this week I had the privilege of representing the Baptist General Convention of Missouri at the Board Meeting of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Our convention became a member of the BJC last year, and I was elected the serve on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee.

The BJC serves 14 Baptist denominations and conferences. They also receive support from local churches and individuals, foundations and endowment funds. If you believe that separation of church and state is the best way to protect and extend religious liberty in the new millennium, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is your voice in Washington. Serving fourteen Baptist bodies, the Baptist Joint Committee is a non-profit 501(c)(3) education and advocacy organization that has worked for nearly seventy years promoting religious liberty for all and upholding the principle of church-state separation. Baptists have always understood that the two must go together.

The mission of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty is to defend and extend God-given religious liberty for all, furthering the Baptist heritage that champions the principle that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced nor inhibited by government. The work of the Baptist Joint Committee has been somewhat handicapped through the years, because we did have our own facilities. Over the pass few years the BJC has been conducting a Capital Campaign to provide the resources needed for a Center for Religious Liberty. Momentum has been building for the Center for Religious Liberty on Capitol Hill and many have made gifts and commitments toward the effort. This summer a generous donor issued a challenge and offered to match up to $300,000 in gifts and pledges received by October 31, 2008. That means if you make a gift or a pledge to the BJC campaign this month it will be matched. You can fulfill you pledge over then next three years. Bettie Jo and I are making a pledge to take advantage of this generous offer and because we believe in Religious Liberty. You can learn more about the Baptist Joint Committee at their website. You can download the Baptist Joint Committee campaign pledge form here. I hope you will consider making a commitment to this important. I also want to encourage you to invite your church to make a commitment. Remember all pledges received by the end of October will be matched.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Leadership (6)

This is the sixth in my series of articles on leadership. We have been exploring the application of five lessons for leaders in the 21st century. They were developed by Joel Barker in a video called Leadershift. This series of articles provides my perspective on the lessons and their application to the local church setting. In the last lesson (in mid July) we explored the impact of our leadership style and how it affects our productivity as a leader. The last of Barker’s lessons is we must create shared vision to build bridges to the future.

I have worked with a number of churches, denominational organizations and Christian ministries as they sought to think strategically about the future and their ministries. I believe the heart of the strategy planning process is the development or refinement of the church’s mission and vision statements. Not everyone defines “mission” and “vision” in the same ways. I define a “mission” statement as a statement of identity or purpose. It is a statement that defines who we are and why we exist. I believe a “vision” statement is a statement of direction or destination. It is a statement that describes where we are going or the direction of our journey.

The mission statement should be brief, clear, and powerful. The vision statement should be concise and motivating. However, no matter how clear and powerful your statements are or how comprehensive your plan is, unless your congregation and church leaders come to share the vision it is unlikely any real change will take place.

Remember the definition of a leader. A leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. People have to choose to follow you. If no one is following, then you are not leading. We are leading the people of God on a journey of faith. We are attempting to move from where we are to where we believe God desires us to be. Leaders build bridges that enable people to make the trip.

There are many pastors who have given up on the journey because they have been unable to lead their congregations to share the vision. I understand their frustrations. It is so much easier to settle into a maintenance situation than to explore a fresh vision for the future. In reality “maintenance” is what makes many congregations comfortable, but leadership is not about comfort.

My experience is that it is much more than “approving a plan” or passing a recommendation at the business meeting. It is real ownership of the vision. I have rarely seen this happen unless the church leadership is personally and vitally involved in the process developing or discovering the vision. The church must come to adopt or own the vision. They must believe the bridges proposed will make the journey possible. They must be convinced the vision represents God’s will. They must see the ministry potential the vision creates, and they must be led by a leader whom they trust because he or she has “shared” the discovery process with them. I want to encourage pastors not to give up. The congregation does not have to get to their destination today or even tomorrow. They just need to be moving toward a shared vision of God’s plan for their ministry. Don’t stop building bridges to the future.

Missouri Baptist University Lecture Series

I attended the fall lecture series today at Missouri Baptist University at the invitation of their president, Alton Lacey. Their guest this year is Dr. William Willimon, Bishop of the United Methodist Church Conference in North Alabama. For twenty years he was Dean of the Chapel and Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University. Dr. Willimon has authored more than sixty books and his Worship as Pastoral Care was selected as one of the ten most useful books for pastors by the Academy of Parish Clergy.

In 1996, an international survey conducted by Baylor University named him one of the Twelve Most Effective Preachers in the English-speaking world. Bishop Willimon, orginially from South Carolina and raised at Buncombe Street UMC in Greenville, SC, received a B.A. from Wofford College in 1968, an M. Div. from Yale Divinity School in 1971, and an S.T.D. from Emory University in 1973. He has also received several honorary doctorates. He married Patricia Parker on June 7, 1969. They have two children: Harriet and William.

I participated in a pastor's retreat with Dr. Willimon a few years ago. He is a gifted speaker and skilled church leader. I am sure serving with university students for twenty years helped to refine his gifts. A university or college setting is a tough audience.

Following his message I participated in the clergy luncheon and informal discussion with Dr. Willimon. The group had a good discussion on a range of subjects including worship styles, reaching the younger generations, and the lack of "church growth" in North American. I appreciated his insights and perspectives. You can follow his blog at http://willimon.blogspot.com/.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Windermere: 50 Incredible Years

I wrote the following article for our Message page in the next issue of Word&Way.

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of joining approximately 500 Baptists from across our state in celebrating 50 years of ministry at Windermere Baptist Conference Center. It was a wonderful time to renew friendships, remember special moments and give thanks to God for a very special place. When the Baptists of Missouri purchased Windermere 50 years ago, no one could have imagined how God was going to use this very special place to change the lives of so many.

I began attending events at Windermere when I was just a boy. Our family went to a conference and stayed in one of the old Spring Valley family cabins. It was long before many of Windermere’s older facilities were even built. Through the years I have attended many events, conferences, and workshops at Windermere. In fact, a few years ago I attempted to add up the nights I had spent on the campus of Windermere and discovered that I had spent almost three years of my life at Windermere. That is pretty good for someone who was never on their staff. The events included Royal Ambassador Camps, youth camps, retreats, training conferences, Big Mac conferences, Bible Preaching Weeks, Mission Conferences, BSU retreats, Deacon retreats, Director of Missions events, Music conferences, and many others. I began as a child and then progressed to youth and student events. I brought groups from the churches and associations I served. Later I came to Windermere as a conference leader for the Home Mission Board and the State Convention.

I saw my first copperhead snake at Windermere, and I learned to ski at Windermere. I grew and learned more about my commitment to Christ at Windermere. It would be impossible to recount all the times God’s Spirit has touched my life through the ministry of this special place and those who served there. Windermere really is a place where God is Building Lives!

During the weekend celebration the Windermere Board of Directors announced the naming of the Lakeview Lodge for Don and Marion Wideman. More than 10 years ago I had the privilege of following Don Wideman as executive director. Don’s leadership was instrumental in the development of the Windermere Board of Advisors and the redevelopment of the Windermere Campus. By the time Don came to serve Missouri Baptists many of Windermere’s older facilities needed to be updated. The campus had a lot of deferred maintenance. In addition Windermere needed new facilities to meet the changing conference needs of groups from across the Midwest. Don’s vision and leadership began a process that the Board of Directors has continued. I am grateful Windermere has named the beautiful Lakeview Lodge for the Widemans.

I have visited many Baptist conference centers across the nation, and Windermere is one of the finest conference centers anywhere. If you have not been to Windermere recently, you need to bring a group from your church soon. It truly is one of God’s masterpieces.

Over the past several years some in our state have sought to undermine and destroy Windermere’s ministry. I am proud the Baptist General Convention of Missouri continues to provide financial support for this ministry, and we are thrilled it is available for our conferences and events. Windermere still needs our support and help. In addition to the gifts of our convention, Bettie Jo and I give to support Windermere’s ministry every month. We want this conference center to continue their important ministry for the next 50 years. This anniversary year would be a great time to make a special gift to Windermere. Let’s celebrate by helping to ensure the future of Windermere’s ministry.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism

The Baptist Center for Ethics will release their new video “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism” on October 1. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri will be sponsoring a couple of screenings of the DVD in October or November in our state. We will also be making copies available to our churches. I am very grateful for the work of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

I am serving this year as chairperson of an ecumenical organization called Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. We are committed to helping people of faith become more effective advocates for justice. I hope your church will want to share this important video with your congregation. We will provide information regarding how to order a copy from our convention office as soon as they are available.

The DVD will come with a 35-minute short-version for community screening which might be followed by a panel discussion and a 47-minute long-term version for use in church educational experiences (Bible study or discipleship training). The longer version is designed to use over a four-week period. The DVD will have an accompanying online discussion guide for the long version and a secondary Web page with a large volume of articles. The DVD will also have extras for those who want a longer discussion experience. The link below is a video clip excerpt from the soon to be released video which highlights the Repentance and Reconciliation Service held at the Ghana slave castle in 2007.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Make a Difference through State Missions!

This month marks the launch of our State Missions Emphasis. Each September and October we encourage churches across our state to be in prayer for state missions. Missouri not only a state with a great heritage for mission involvement, but it is also a great mission field. There has never been a time when there were more people in our state who needed to hear the message of Christ than there are today.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is committed to the Biblical mandate to share the Gospel with the whole world. Our involvement in the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance allows us to partner with our Baptist brothers and sisters around the world to share the Gospel and minister to human needs. But, it is important for us to remember that we live in the midst of mission field right here in Missouri. Sometimes, it is easier to enlist volunteers for a national or international mission trip than it is to involve church members in mission opportunities where they live. State Missions is a way to remind your church family that mission begins at home.

Our State Missions theme for 2008 is Make a Difference! We believe your prayers, gifts and personal involvement will make a difference in the lives of people across our state. Our 2008 BGCM State Missions Offering goal is $30,000. Your Gifts to the Missouri Missions Offering Make a Difference! Gifts to the Missouri Missions Offering will help to provide care for children and for senior adults in our state through the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home and The Baptist Home. Missouri Mission Offering gifts will also provide resources for church planting, mission partnerships, and the drug and alcohol awareness work of the Freeway Foundation. Missions is about Believing, Giving, Caring, and Ministering in the name of Christ.

I hope you will lead your church to promote State Missions this year. Encourage your members to pray for our state and to explore ways they can get involved in missions where they live. I also hope you will promote our Missions Missions Offering. State Missions offering envelopes are available from the convention office by contacting Bettie Jo at bettiejo@baptistgcm.org or 888-420-2426 extension 701. Downloadable posters and bulletin inserts are available on our web site at http://www.baptistgcm.org/. If you need printed copies for your church or would like to a State Missions speaker for your emphasis contact our convention office. Together we can make a difference!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

2009 Holy Land Trip to Israel & Jordan

Three Hill brothers—Jim Hill (BGCM Executive Director), Drew Hill (Pastor of FBC, Sedalia) and Pete Hill (Pastor of FBC, Smithville)—will be leading a trip to Israel and Jordan in 2009. The group will leave on February 14, 2007, for a 11-day trip and return on February 24, 2009. In Israel the tour will visit Caesarea (by the Sea), Haifa, Megiddo, Nazareth, Cana, Tiberias, take a boat ride to Capernaum, see the Mount of Beatitudes, Church of the five loaves and two fishes, Caesarea Philippi, Jericho, Qumran, the Dead Sea, Masada, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and much more. In Jordan the group will visit Petra, Madaba, Mt. Nebo and Jerash. The tour will be a spiritual pilgrimage and a great time of fellowship. If you are interested in more information visit www.hillbrotherstours.com or contact Jim at jimhill@baptistgcm.org or (573) 659-3838.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bible Preaching Week at Windermere

We just finished a great Bible Preaching Week at Windermere. BPW has always been a time of preaching, Bible teaching, inspiration, and fellowship. We did not have a large group this year, but the week went very well. Our leadership for the week included Charles Wade (former Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas), David May (professor from Central Baptist Theological Seminary), Rod Maples (Associate Pastor of Worship at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City), and Kristy McGonegal (a member of First Baptist Church in Jefferson and completing her Master of Divinity degree).

We also had a great group of breakout leaders for the small group conferences. Our theme was Worship: An Encounter with God. The theme for the Bible studies will be Upside Down: Experiencing the Parables of Jesus. It was a good week. I am grateful to be a part of an organization committed to serving pastors and church leaders.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Serving in the World Baptist Family

I wrote this article for the BGCM e-message newsletter that was distributed today. I just returned from the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance in Prague, Czech Republic. I must admit that my body does not handle the long international trips as well as it did when I was younger. It takes a couple of days for me to recover.

The meeting was a wonderful gathering of the world Baptist family. In just the brief time the Baptist General Convention of Missouri has been a part of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance I have had the opportunity to begin building some significant relationships with Baptists from around the world. Each year we have the opportunity to learn about how Baptists are responding to needs and sharing the Gospel in challenging settings. The Annual Gathering provides several forum discussion times as well as affinity group meetings. Each year I meet with the general secretaries or executive directors from around the world. We share about our ministries, our challenges, and our opportunities. We also spend time praying together.

I also serve on the Development and Advancement Committee of the BWA and the Freedom and Justice Commission. This commission meets several times during the Annual Gathering to hear presentations regarding related issues and to discuss opportunities we have as Baptists to stand with our brothers and sisters who are experiencing persecution or oppression. I also serve as the BGCM representative on the BWA General Council.

This year the General Council approved several recommendations from the Implementation Task Force Report. This task force has been at work for several years exploring ways the BWA can best position itself for effective ministry. I believe the initial recommendations approved this year will help broaden the global input with the global Baptist family. My perspective is for a number of years North Americans have dominated the leadership of the BWA in ways that were not always healthy for the organization. As these changes are implemented over the next two years, the Baptist World Alliance will become even more a “global” organization. Our convention is not a large convention, but through the Baptist World Alliance we are united with the world-wide Baptist family. I hope you will pray for your Baptist brothers and sisters and for the ministry of the Baptist World Alliance.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Global Baptist Family

I just returned from the Annual Gathering fo the BWA in Prague. I wrote this article for the Word&Way issue published while I was attending the BWA meeting. There are still many Baptists in Missouri who know very little about the world Baptist family. The Baptist World Alliance is a fellowship of 214 Baptist conventions and unions comprising a membership of 36 million baptized believers and a community of 105 million. The Baptist World Alliance began in London, England, in 1905 at the first Baptist World Congress.

The mission statement of the BWA is Networking the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ. Our vision statement is The Baptist World Alliance is a global movement of Baptists sharing a common confession of faith in Jesus Christ, bonded together by God’s love to support, encourage and strengthen one another, while proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to a lost world.

Last year at our Annual Gathering Neville Callam was elected as our new General Secretary. This year Baptists from around the world will be gathering to consider the report of our BWA Implementation Task Force. This task force has been leading the efforts of the BWA to think strategically about how we might more effectively accomplish our mission and vision.

The goals of the Baptist World Alliance are: (1) To unite Baptists worldwide, (2) To lead in world evangelism, (3) To respond to people in need, (4) To defend human rights, and (5) To promote theological reflection. The BWA includes six regional fellowships: the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, the Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, the European Baptist Federation, the Union of Baptists in Latin America, and the North American Baptist Fellowship.

The Baptist General Convention a member of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. I have the privilege of representing our convention on the General Council at our Annual Gathering each year. It is an incredible experience to fellowship with Baptist brothers and sisters around the world. I hope you will pray for the ministry of the Baptist World Alliance. I hope you will prayer for our brothers and sisters around the world. Many are dealing with incredible challenges as they seek to share the Gospel.

I have been involved in discussions with representatives from several Baptist bodies from the North American Baptist Fellowship who live and serve here in Missouri or the Midwest. We are exploring the possibility of building more intentional relationships to strength our ministries and provide opportunities for greater collaboration for Kingdom ministries. I am grateful for the opportunities our involvement in the BWA brings to the Baptists of Missouri. I hope you will begin planning now to attend the BWA World Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 28 through August 1, 2010. Thank you for being committed to being a part of the global Baptist family.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

BWA Meeting in Prague

I am in Prague in the Czech Republic this week for the Annual Gathering of the Baptist World Alliance. On Tuesday we visited Terezin. In the late 18th century the Habsburg Monarchy erected the fortress near the confluence of the Labe and Ohre Rivers, and named it after Empress Maria Theresa. The fortress was never under direct siege. During the second half of the 19th century the fortress was also used as a prison. During World War I, the fortress was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. During WWII, the Gestapo used TerezĂ­n as a ghetto, concentrating Jews from Czechoslovakia, as well as many from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark. Though it was not an extermination camp, of the over 150,000 Jews who arrived there, about 33,000 died in the ghetto itself, mostly because of the appalling conditions arising out of extreme population density. About 88,000 inhabitants were deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. At the end of the war there were 17,247 survivors. It was liberated on May 9th, 1945 by the Soviet Army.

The visit caused me to have some of the same feelings and emotions I experienced last year as I visited the Slave Castle in Ghana. It is incredible what men will do to their fellowman. Sadly, many times it is done in the name of or with the blessing of religious organizations or institutions.

During our session yesterday morning we had a presentation about the life of John Hus. He was a Czech religious thinker, philosopher, reformer, and master at Charles University in Prague. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe. The Roman Catholic Church considered the teachings of John Hus heretical. He excommunicated in 1411, condemned by the Council of Constance, and burned at the stake in 1415. Hus was a key contributor to the Protestant movement whose teachings had a strong influence on Martin Luther. As a church history major, I enjoyed the session. It is good to be reminded how much we owe to those who have gone before us. John Hus believed his salvation was based upon Jesus Christ rather than the church. He wanted to scripture to be available in the common languages of the people.

Yesterday afternoon, we heard a report regarding the situation of Palestinian Christians living in Israel (particularly those living in Bethlehem). While no one objects to Israel’s desire to fight terrorists, the extremely difficult situation and living conditions created by the “walling in” of the Palestinian communities is not the answer. Ten of thousands of Christians including many Baptist brothers and sisters have been forced to leave their homes and Israel because of the of governments policies. Many other innocent people continue to suffer. I hope you will join me in praying for peace Israel and for the Christians living in Israel. I am praying for peace, justice and freedom for all people in this trouble part of our world.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Leadership (part 5)

This is the fifth in my series of articles on leadership. We have been exploring the application of five lessons for leaders in the 21st century. They were developed by Joel Barker in a video called Leadershift. This series of articles provides my perspective on the lessons and their application to the local church setting. The fourth of Barker’s lessons relates to our need to examine our leadership style to see how it affects productivity. Barker is primarily working in secular environments. He contrasts the “bully leader” with what he calls the “charismatic leader.”

There has been a significant movement in recent years within a portion of Baptist church life toward a more autocratic leadership style. Some schools and seminaries have advocated a more authoritarian approach to pastoral leadership. Some of the discussion links a rather chauvinistic attitude with a kind of “macho” approach to leadership. Within this model church members are taught never to question their pastor or leaders. It often functions as a very top-down management and leadership style.

It is interesting to me that Barker’s study of corporate leadership styles indicated that this “bully” approach to leadership has been far less effective than a more relational or person-centered approach. In fact many companies have made very intentional decisions to move away from the autocratic and top-down approaches to management, leadership and supervision, because it became clear they were far less productive. Barker’s study indicates the companies utilizing the “bully” approach were simply unable to compete with the more “relational” approach.

Remember the definition of a leader. A leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. People have to choose to follow you. If no one is following, then you are not leading. We can try to “order” or “coerce” people to follow, but these are very poor motivators. We are to build bridges to the future that help people move from where they are to where they want to be. We are leading the people of God on a journey of faith.

The Biblical model for leadership is “servant leadership.” The ultimate model is the suffering servant! Pastors and church leaders seeking to bully or dictate God’s will to their people will never be as effective as those who out of love, compassion and a commitment to God’s will seek to lead their congregations to know and do God’s will. It seems ironic to me that in some cases the corporate world from a secular perspective has learned the value of the Biblical model of leadership more quickly than the church.

Servant leaders understand that people matter. People are the “bottom line.” No holy agenda warrants mistreating or manipulating people. The servant leader is willing to sacrifice himself or herself for those they lead. It is the commitment, integrity, compassion, and vision of the leader that causes people to “choose” to follow a servant leader. Who are the people you choose to follow? What are the characteristics of their leadership style? If you having difficulty leading maybe the place to begin is an examination of your leadership style—your approach to leadership.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Leadership (part 4)

This is the fourth in my series of articles on leadership. A leader helps people move from where they are to where they want or need to be. Helping churches make this transition can be incredibly challenging. I believe one of the greatest needs today is for “leaders” who have the skill and insight to help congregations successfully change. As I indicated in my third article “change is difficult.” It seems particularly difficult for churches.

Have you ever tried to implement what seemed to be a “small change” only to discover the change had far reaching impact? I once presented plans to a small congregation where I was serving as pastor to conduct a committee training event. It seemed like a harmless and practical way to begin the new church year. I thought it might help our committees function more effectively. However, as a young pastor, I was unaware of the potential impact of the decision to conduct a committee training event on the informal and formal power structures of the congregation. I was not aware of how the recommendation would impact some of my key leaders. The response was rapid and painful.

Joel Barker says leaders need to have an appreciation for complex systems and how they work. We have to be aware that small decisions in one area of our ministry may impact many other areas. One of the examples he shares is the Y2K bug. As you know in reality it was no bug. It was a simple decision made by early computer programmers to abbreviate the year to the last two digits rather than four digits. The result was a massive problem when the year 2000 arrived. The problem was that computers recognized “00” as 1900, not 2000. Barker reminds us that the result of one seemingly simple decision made years before the new millennium cost billions of dollars to correct.

Many pastors and church leaders have been “blind-sided” by the impact of what seemed to be simple, small decisions in their congregations. Whether we are dealing with the world of nature, a business venture, or a local congregation the decisions we make sometimes have major impact. If we fail to recognize the nature of complex systems then our leadership may be compromised before we even get started. Many congregations have split and pastors have resigned because leaders failed to recognize the impact of small decisions.

Helping churches successfully change takes time and patience. It also takes insight to see the complexities of the church’s systems and power structure. Pastors and church leaders can develop the skills to help the congregation gradually transition through changes as they move toward greater health and effectiveness. It is not impossible for churches to change, but it can be challenging. Remember Barker said, More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be. Leaders need to understand the nature of change and how it impacts those they lead.

Before we rush in with all our new ideas, we need to reflect on the impact of the changes we are recommending. How will these decisions impact our church’s ministry in the short-term and long-term? Who will be affected by the changes? How can we help these changes take place with less stress and resistance? What is the best time frame for making these changes? The list of questions goes on. Leaders take the time to ask and answer the right questions as they lead their congregations into the future God has planned. That is a part of building bridges to the future. No matter how great your ideas, if no one is following you, then you are not leading.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bible Preaching Week Opportunities

Last year the Baptist General Convention of Missouri sponsored Bible Preaching Week at Windermere. The Missouri Baptist Convention quit sponsoring the event several years ago because they refuse to utilize Windermere’s facilities. I have always enjoyed the time of study and fellowship with pastors and church leaders. It was great to have the opportunity to give this special week a new birth last year. I talked with a number of pastors last year who were not aware Bible Preaching Week was back. I hope you will plan to join us this August.

The theme for this year’s week is Worship: An Encounter with God! from Isaiah 6:1-8. The week will begin on Monday, August 11, with the evening meal and conclude with lunch on Friday morning, August 15. Dr. Charles Wade, Retired Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, will be our preacher for the week. Dr. Wade served as Executive from 2000 until January of this year. Prior to coming to his position with the BGCT, Dr. Wade served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington since 1976. Charles is a great preacher, and I am looking forward to hearing him each evening.

Dr. David May, Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, will be our Bible Teacher. Dr. May previously served as Visiting Professor of New Testament (1991-94) at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and Baptist Chair of Bible (1987-1993) at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Missouri.

The theme for the Bible studies will be Upside Down: Experiencing the Parables of Jesus. Dr. May says, “The parables of Jesus have often been neatly boxed and wrapped and their interpretative powers domesticated for popular theological agendas of the Church. Yet, these enigmatic riddles, which serve as the core of Jesus’ teaching on the reign of God, continue to defy conventional wisdom and interpretation. This Bible study will reassess the nature and function of parables and highlight some of the latest approaches for reading and understanding them.”

  • Session 1: Swallowing the Parable Pill: The Function of Parables
  • Session 2: “Warning, Handle with Care”: Approaching Parables
  • Session 3: Weddings, Kings, and Assorted Things: Parables in Matthew
  • Session 4: Sowings, Feastings, and Assorted Things: Parables in Luke

The Women’s Conference will be led this year by Kristie McGonegal. Kristie is a third-year student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, working towards a Master of Divinity degree in Christian Education. She has served within her home church (First Baptist Church of Jefferson City) as a Department Director and Bible study teacher for many years and has also taught numerous Bible Studies from Precept Ministries. As a relatively new Stephen Leader, she is also currently serving as training coordinator for FBC’s new Stephen Ministry. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in mass communications from then Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. She is married and has two daughters. The Women’s Study will focus on “Finding Your Role(s) with the Kingdom of God.”

One important aspect of Bible Preaching Week is the breakout sessions. These small group sessions provide an opportunity for dialogue and discussion with a wide variety of conference leaders who cover a diverse range of topics. This year our break out sessions include:

  • BaptistWay Bible Study Resources—Phil Miller
  • Christian Education Certification—Phil Miller
  • Contemporary Worship—Chad Cooper
  • Cowboy Church and Rodeo Bible Camps—Kevin Collins
  • Emerging Trends in Worship—Brad Andrews
  • Finding Fresh Sermons while Walking Ancient Paths: Preaching the Lectionary—Doyle Sager
  • How to Develop a Golf Links Fellowship—Steve Long
  • In-Side Out Weekends—Debbie Atteberry, WorldconneX staff
  • Introduction to Family Systems Theory: Understanding Church Craziness—Bob Perry
  • Managing the Worship Wars—Ian Coleman
  • Moving from Committees to Ministry Teams—Jeanie McGowan
  • Planning for Retirement—Stephen Mathis
  • Preparing for Cross-Cultural Missions—Gary Snowden
  • Right Leader, Right Place, Right Time—Verlyn Bergen
  • Roundtable Listening: Using Mid-Week Services to Prepare for Sunday’s Sermon—Doyle Sager
  • Stewardship: Giving as an Act of Worship—Jim Hill
  • Technology & Worship in the 21st Century—Chad Cooper
  • The [He]art of Worship Leading in the 21st Century—Brad Andrews
  • The History of Church Music and Worship—Ian Coleman
  • They Like Jesus, but Not the Church—Jeanie McGowan
  • Women’s Conference: Finding Your Role within the Kingdom of God—Kristie McGonegal
  • Worship Planning Roundtable—Rod Maples
  • Worship Strategies for New Churches—Owen Taylor

We are delighted to be able to provide $400 scholarships for pastors serving congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. Pastors, church staff members, and church leaders are all invited to join us for the week. Student teams from Missouri Baptist University and William Jewell College will be leading morning and evening sessions for children and youth. Special “family rates” are available for all Windermere lodging. I hope you will plan to join us for this special time of worship, fellowship and study at Windermere. Check out our website (www.baptistgcm.org) for more information. (This article was originally written for our BGCM e-message.)

Common Ground

I began a new teaching assignment today. Common Ground is a Bible study class directed by Cari Collins at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri, where Bettie Jo and I are members. It is an unusual gathering of a diverse group--attorneys, medical doctors, students, and other young professionals. Judge Duane Benton has been teaching the class for several years. He is completing a move to the Kansas City area with his family, and Cari convinced me I should become their new teacher. I told the class that I was on probation--they can still fire me if things don't work out.

The class has been studying the revised common lectionary scripture passages. At least for the present, we are planning to continue the process. I have been a part of a lot of different Bible study classes and groups through the years both as a teacher and a participant. This is truly a unique group. The conversation is open and lively. No one seems to have any hesitation about speaking up to share an insight or to ask a question. They seem genuinely interested in exploring the scripture to both understand its meaning and find appropriate application for their lives today. Preparation for this class will be a new experience for me because of their use of the RCL and because of the diversity of the class. I am looking forward to the challenge and opportunity.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Partners in Kingdom Ministries

I originally wrote this article for our Message page in the Word&Way. This past week I had the opportunity to participate in the Baptist Center for Ethics Luncheon and the Annual Meeting and Luncheon sponsored by the Religious Liberty Council of the Baptist Joint Committee. The luncheons were held in Memphis during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly. Both events were significant gatherings, and I am proud the Baptist General Convention of Missouri supports these important ministries.

The Baptist Center for Ethics luncheon featured a presentation on the issues of tax justice the need for the church and community of faith to be advocates for justice. Susan Pace Hamill, professor at the University of Alabama Law School, commented on high sacrifice vs. low sacrifice issues for people of faith. I also had the privilege of participating in interviews for a new DVD being produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics on Racial Justice. I am grateful for the ministry of this organization, and I encourage you to check out their work at EthicsDaily.com or on our convention website.

The Religious Liberty Council luncheon was also held during the General Assembly. The Rev. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III was the featured speaker. Since 1991, Wright-Riggins has served as the executive director of National Ministries for American Baptist Churches USA, where he is chief executive officer of ABC’s publishing arm, Judson Press. He also is a member of the BJC board, and has served as its chairman.

This past year the Baptist General Convention of Missouri became a member of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I have the privilege of representing our convention as a member of the board. Through this organization we have the opportunity to join with other Baptists in being advocates for Religious Liberty causes. You can learn more about the BJC at their website (www.bjcpa.org).

Earlier this month our Board of Directors voted to approve some structural changes for our staff, and they elected Verlyn Bergen as our new Resources & Relationships Team Leader. Verlyn comes to this new role with tremendous gifts and experience in serving pastors and churches. Verlyn, like all of our staff, will serve on a part-time basis as we seek to utilize practitioners as convention leaders. I continue to be incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve with our entire staff. We continue to be committed to serving churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We look forward to hearing from you regarding how we might assist your church.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Fresh Vision for a Historic Church

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Fee Fee Baptist Church. Randy Fullerton, pastor of Fee Fee, was participating in a mission trip with a group from the church in Mexico. This past year Fee Fee celebrated their 200th Anniversary. It is the oldest protestant church west of the Mississippi River. The church hosted the organizational meeting for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri in April of 2002. Earlier this year they did a wonderful job of hosting our 6th Annual Meeting. Randy has been a member of the Board of Directors for two terms and is currently serving as Vice President of the convention.

The Fee Fee church family is a wonderful and gracious fellowship of believers. They have an incredible history and heritage of ministry in their community. Maybe even more important, they have a vision for the future. The church is currently in a building program which will significantly expand their facilities and capacity for ministry. They are reaching out to the unchurched in their community. Old historic churches can find a fresh vision for the future. In the words of Robert Dale, "they can dream again." In a world where many congregations seem to be struggling for survival, it is great to see churches growing. It was a privilege to worship with them.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tiger's Interview with Joel Gregory

Kevin Gibson, Associate Pastor of Music and Senior Adults at First Baptist Church in North Kansas City, shared a link to the latest episode at http://www.worshipodcast.com/ with me. It is an interview with Dr. Joel Gregory on the subject of preaching.

In this episode, Pastor Tiger Pennington (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of North Kansas City) interviews Dr. Joel Gregory on the subject of preaching. A sampling of topics discussed in this podcast are: the role of preaching in worship, sources for illustrations, preaching in a media-saturated culture, and the interaction of the biblical text with politics. Dr. Gregory is the Preaching Professor at Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University and was appointed Distinguished Fellow by Georgetown College, Kentucky, in 2004. He is also the founder and president of Joel Gregory Ministries, a non-profit organization supporting a preaching, teaching, counseling, and writing ministry.

I thought the podcast interview was helpful. I believe Joel Gregory is one of the great preachers of our day. His message at the New Baptist Convenant meeting in Atlanta regarding our need to "welcome the stranger" was powerful. If you have not heard it, I encourage you to listen to it at the New Baptist Covenant site.

The total length of the worship interview with Dr. Gregory is 19:59. I encourage you to check it out at http://www.worshipodcast.com/.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Finding a Denominational Home

I originally wrote this article for the May issues of the BGCM e-newletter called the e-message. Contact Brian Kaylor at bkaylor@baptistgcm.org if you would like to receive the e-message.

What does it mean to be a part of a state convention or denominational organization? Why would a church choose to affiliate with or support the ministry of a state convention? Denominational life is not as simple as it once was. Maybe it was never really that simple. When I was growing up most local congregations did whatever the denomination promoted. We established programs, structured ministries, attended training conferences, and sent our mission gifts just as prescribed by the denomination.

Some say we are living in a post-denominational era. Others say that denominational organizations that survive into the future will be radically different than they once were. In Baptist life we have experienced tremendous changes in the last thirty years. For some of us the changes seemed to destroy some of what was best about Baptist denominational life. The results have been conflict and division. For some denomination life has become about control and power. In a sense this process has made our transition to the new denominational paradigm even more traumatic.

But that brings us back to my question. Why would a church choose to affiliate with or support the ministry of a state convention? Churches come together to form associations, unions, and conventions for a variety of reasons. First, because we recognize that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We share a common mission. We serve a common Lord. We need and benefit from our relationships with each other. Each congregation has the opportunity to help a sister congregation become more effective.

Secondly, we acknowledge that we are able to accomplish more for the Kingdom by collaborating and working together. I remember learning as a boy that we could send and support more missionaries by working together. We come together for training and ministry partnerships. There are many reasons for churches to come together, but they do not include, because the denomination leaders say they should.

Churches should explore what congregations and denominational organizations are compatible with their beliefs, values and goals. Congregations should build relationships, networks and partnerships that enhance their ability to effectively serve Christ. Some church leaders have shared with me that they have maintained old relationships because they are afraid being ostracized if they make a change. Others indicate it is the easiest thing to do. Some fear conflict if they surface denominational issues.

The Mission of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. We have made a commitment to serve any congregation that desires our help whether they are supporting our ministries or not. It is certainly not our place to tell a church how to implement their ministry or with whom they should affiliate. That is only a decision for the congregation. Leaders from some denominational organizations want to bring pressure to bear upon congregations, but that is not our purpose or desire.

The truth is each congregation and its leaders must seek God’s will regarding how they build effective relationships for ministry and how they channel mission and ministry contributions. While it might have been easier when everyone just did what the denomination said, it was probably not really healthy. Learning about and working through the issues helps a congregation mature and enables the people to understand and “own” their decisions and relationships.

Almost every month I talk with church leaders who are struggling with denominational relationship questions. I am always happy to share about our ministry and values. I believe in our convention—the relationships we have, the networks we have established, the mission partnerships we have built, and the ministries we provide as we serve churches. We are completing our fiscal year next month. It will be our best year to date. I have never served with a better board of directors or staff team. Some are comfortable being a part of a denominational organization committed to litigation and power politics. Some of us are not. What kind of relationships does your church need? How do you want to use your energy and ministry resources? In this new Baptist world, each congregation must decide. I hope you have the courage to help your church family through the process.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

From Followers to Leaders

One of the resources we provide for local congregations is Natural Church Development surveys and coaching services. Robert E. Logan is the executive director of CoachNet, Inc. and the lead trainer for NCD coaches. Bob has been a church planter, pastor, church consultant and seminary professor over the course of his ministry. He serves as the Director of Research and Development at Church Smart Resources. He graduated from U.C.L.A. with a B.S. in chemistry, an M.Div. from Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon (pastoral studies), and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary (church growth). Bob and his wife live in Los Angeles, CA.
He has recently released new book entitled From Followers to Leaders. I have not read it yet, but I recently read the exerpt below provided by Church Smart Resources. I connected with his thoughts, and I believe they are in line with my series of articles on leadership. I plan to get a copy of his book, but I wanted to share his ideas.

Debunking the Myths of Leadership Development:
  • Myth: Developing leaders is about having the right program to run people through.

  • Reality: Developing leaders is primarily a relational process, centered on the individual, not the system. The most effective starting point is the person, not the program.

  • Myth: Developing leaders is a synonym for training.

  • Reality: Training constitutes one small piece of leadership development, and it doesn't always look like classroom training.

  • Myth: Developing leaders correctly means treating them all exactly the same and expecting that they will all turn out exactly the same.

  • Reality: Everyone has different God-given gifts, capacities, and callings. Developing a quiet intercessor will look very different than developing an entrepreneurial church planter. And it should. Leaders do not all look the same.

  • Myth: Leadership development begins with mature Christians.

  • Reality: Because we are holistic beings, developing leaders is a holistic process. Evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development are all part of one whole...they're all integrated. Leadership development actually begins with pre-Christians.

  • Myth: Leadership development focuses on skills.

  • Reality: Skills are one piece of the whole pie. Effective development takes ito account the individual as a personal, social, emotional, spiritual being. Any compartmentalization of these areas of our lives is artificial.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Leadership (part 3)

This is the third in my series of articles on leadership. A leader helps people move from where they are to where they want or need to be. In my last article I emphasized the fact that the Christian life is all about change. Everyday and in everyway God is in the business of shaping our lives. Most of us do not like change, even when we are involved in the decisions about the change. Change is difficult. That is one of the reasons personal growth is difficult. It requires change. Remember Barker’s definition of a leader—A leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. We don’t go by ourselves, because the journey is uncomfortable. It requires change.

Barker said, More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be. Leaders need to understand the nature of change and how it impacts those they lead. If you are going to help those you lead move into the future God has planned for them, you will need to help them cope with the changes coming their way.

Much of the time church leaders are playing “catch-up.” It seems the world is moving much too fast. Sometimes we find it difficult to minister to our church members, let alone those in the community who are outside of the church. Just about the time we feel like we have a handle on our ministries, the world around us shifts and the rules all change.

Churches seem particularly vulnerable to this leadership “time lag” because we are so easily tied to our traditions and the “way we have always done it.” Barker said, The future always shows up before you need it! Most pastors could say “Amen” to that statement. If we are going to be successful leaders we must be open to the future and to those who bring it. I have worked with and observed hundreds of churches through the years. Many of them are locked in their past. I shared with one group of leaders, If the 1950s come back, we are ready for them! The problem is they are not coming back. While our message and mission remain the same, our context and methodologies change.

Who are the people most prepared to help your church get in touch with the world where you minister? Usually, it is your newest converts and newest members. They may not only have a fresh and vibrant relationship with Christ, but they also come with a unique perspective of the community where you serve. Early in his ministry Rick Warren said, We need to learn to think like a lost person. The problem is the longer we are a Christian and active member of a local church, the less we think like those we want to reach. Many times we have fewer non-Christian friends and contacts. Most congregations allow their newest members only limited input or leadership in the life of the church. We wait until they are “mature” Christians (which means, we wait until they think and act like the rest of the members). Barker said that when profound changes take place, the rules for the new paradigm almost always come from “outsiders.”

I am not suggesting that every new believer should be given a key leadership role in their new church family. However, I am suggesting that leaders have the courage to look outside their “comfort zones” and remain open to new ideas and opportunities. They need to see the world with fresh eyes. Some of you have seen Barker’s paradigm videos. They described the impact of major paradigm shifts on industries and our world. (If you have not seen them, we have a copy available for loan.) Many times the businesses were blind to the changes taking place around them. They continued to function as though the changes were not taking place, and it cost them their future. Church leaders need to understand the nature of change. Otherwise, we may miss our opportunity to lead God’s people into the future he has planned.

Friday, May 9, 2008

An Evangelical Manifesto

I wrote the following article for our Message page in the upcoming Word&Way issue. If you are not a subscriber to Word&Way you can find subscription information at here.

Our Communications Specialist, Brian Kaylor, called my attention to the release of An Evangelical Manifesto in a recent post to his blog (For God's Sake Shut Up). It was released on May 7, 2008, by a broad group of evangelical leaders. I appreciated Brian’s insights, and his article caused me to download and read the entire Manifesto which was subtitled A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. I have always considered myself a conservative, evangelical Christian, but I must confess that in recent years some of the things that have been said and done by those who call themselves “evangelical Christians” have made me uncomfortable. Sometimes I was not sure I wanted to be grouped with some self-professed “evangelicals.”

I found this recent statement refreshing and revealing. As a Baptist I am sure I would have written parts of it differently. Surprise, surprise, there are opinionated Baptists. But, I am grateful for those who committed the time to write a statement that provides a positive statement regarding evangelical Christianity. The first portion of the manifesto addresses the need and context for the statement. It speaks to the evangelical identity and the defining features of evangelical life. I found their statements both helpful and positive.

I was particularly interested in how they contrasted evangelicals from what they call liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. Some today have attempted to merge the evangelical and fundamentalist movements in our society. The manifesto draws a needed contrast with the modern fundamentalist movement. Baptists have certainly seen the negative impact of the fundamentalist movement in our church life.

The heart of the manifesto is a call to reform our own behavior as a witness to the Christian faith. When self-professed “evangelicals” fail to live out their faith in their daily lives and relationships we discredit our witness and diminish our impact in the world.

I also appreciated the manifesto’s call for religious liberty for all people. The writers call for a commitment to a civil public square—a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. I am not convinced this recent manifesto is the last word on evangelical Christianity, but I believe it offers some healthy insights and corrections that have distorted our heritage in recent years. I encourage you to explore the full statement for yourself. Let’s reclaim our evangelical voice.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Responding to Those in Need

Later this month I will be representing the Baptist General Convention of Missouri at a disaster relief network meeting in North Carolina. The North American Baptist Fellowship (a regional fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance) is in the process of building a NABF Disaster Relief Network. The planning committee leading the process has scheduled a Disaster Relief Network Development and Training Session for May 21-22, 2008 in Cary, NC. Representatives from Baptist bodies from across North America will be present to explore how we can work together to respond to all types of disasters.

The session will cover topics such as:
1) Overview of NABF Disaster Relief Network
2) Timeline of a Disaster
3) Disaster Relief Coordinators Role (organization and volunteer management)
4) Models of Disaster Relief (things that you can do to minister after a disaster)

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri has been developing a Disaster Relief Ministry over the past few years. We have a brand new Chain Saw Unit equipped with state of the art saws, safety equipment, and other tools for relief ministry. Gary Hurst, a member of First Baptist Church in Savannah, is serving as our Coordinator for the Chain Saw Ministry. Several have participated in one of our regional training events for volunteers. Our next training event is scheduled for June 14th at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield. You can contact Gary for more information at gd_hurst@yahoo.com or (816) 324-3761.

When disaster comes it is always important to know you are not alone. The NABF Disaster Relief Network will allow our convention to partner with Baptists across North America and around the world to respond to disasters. We anticipate expanding our ministry into a variety of response teams during the coming years. Let us know if you would like to volunteer by calling (888) 420-2426 and talking with Veronica at extension 703.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Building Bridges to the Future

I wrote this article originally for the e-Message (our monthly e-newsletter). You may subscribe to the e-Message by sending an e-mail to Brian Kaylor (bkaylor@baptistgcm.org). You may read the archives on our web site.

On Tuesday, April 29th, I met with representatives from several Baptist conventions and associations from across the Midwest in Kansas City. I had asked Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., Pastor Emeritus of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church and Vice President at Large, National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., to assist in convening a group of key Baptist leaders during April to the discuss the feasibility of a regional meeting of the larger Baptist family in 2009. We had representatives from several National Baptist conventions, General Baptists, American Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri, and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri present for the discussion.

Our Order of Business Committee and Board of Directors have given approval to exploring a collaborative or joint meeting with our Baptist brothers and sisters in 2009 in the Kansas City area. I don’t know if the meeting with happen next year, but I felt our initial discussions were very positive. I believe the Baptist family and the larger Christian community is stronger when we collaborate and partner for the sake of the Kingdom. We miss a great deal when we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

On March 12th I attended a follow-up meeting for the New Baptist Covenant hosted by Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Approximately 70 people representing nearly 40 Baptist bodies across North American were present. A great deal of excitement and enthusiasm was generated by New Baptist Covenant Celebration. The real question is what next? It is not a simple thing to bring a diverse group of Baptists together for worship and discussion, and it is even more challenging to explore a meaningful ongoing relationship. I can appreciate the incredible challenge before us as we seek to explore what God is doing in this Baptist Movement in a way that engages and involves our denominations and organizations and yet avoids the dangers of attempting to institutionalize a movement. One exciting development from the follow-up meeting was preliminary decision to move toward another North American gathering in 2011.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our biases and work through the racial and cultural differences that have often kept us apart. This does not mean we have to merge into a single body; however, it might mean that we eventually have fewer Baptist bodies. Most importantly, it means we find a way to work together for the sake of our churches and Christ’s kingdom. It means we humble ourselves enough to admit that we can learn from each other. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. I believe Black congregations often do a much better job of identifying with and engaging their communities. Many times they do a better job of empowering leaders for service, and many of us have come to understand the vitality in their worship is much more than merely the cultural differences expressed in worship styles. We have much to learn from our Black brothers and sisters. Obviously, this is also true for the other predominately Anglo denominations. Our first step is to get to know each other. We are planning a second leadership meeting in June, and I am looking forward to where God takes us in this discussion.

I wrote the second in a series of articles on Leadership in my blog earlier this month. In it a quoted Joel Barker who said, “More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be.” We need leaders today who help bring the family of God together rather than dividing it or driving it apart. I am glad our convention is a part of an effort to build bridges to the future. I pray it is a future that brings a new level of partnership and collaboration among the larger Baptist family.

Visiting Old Friends

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Memorial Baptist Church near Nelson, Missouri. The open country congregation is without a pastor, and I had shared with their Director of Missions that I would be happy to supply for them sometime. Memorial Baptist Church called me as their pastor a little over 35 years ago while I was a single college student. I served the church for a little over five years. During that time I married, finished college and seminary, and Bettie Jo and I had our first child. The church ordained me to the Gospel Ministry. The church family provided a setting for me to apply what I was learning as I prepared for ministry. In a sense, they "raised me" as they have many "preacher boys." Most of all they loved and accepted me. Obviously, many of the people who were there when I served as their pastor are gone, and now there are new faces and new leaders. A few of the old-timers (like me) were still there. It was good to renew friendships, and it was good to remember how God used the congregation to help shape my life and ministry. I will always be grateful to the family of God known as Memorial Baptist Church.

After the worship service Bettie Jo and I drove to Eldon, Missouri, to attend a reception for Dr. Randall Bunch who retired this past Sunday as Pastor of the First Baptist Church. Randall has had a long and very productive ministry in a variety of ministry settings, but more than half of his ministry has been at First Baptist Church in Eldon. I have had the opportunity to preach revivials at First Baptist Church twice over the years. The congregation is truly a gracious and committed Christian family. They are an easy congregation and setting to preach. I believe they reflect the spirit and character of their pastor. Randall is gracious, thoughtful, and very insightful pastor and leader. He is a man of character and conviction. He genuinely has a pastor's heart. Dozen's of his church members shared stories with Bettie Jo and me about how he has cared for and ministered to them and their family. It was great to share in the celebration of his retirement.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri recently elected Randall as our convention president. It will be a privilege to have his leadership this year, and I look forward to working with him as we explore the future G0d has planned for our ministry.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Building Ministry Teams

A number of years ago a transition began within American life as both the corporate and non-profit sectors of our society began moving toward the development of “teams.” Sometimes the transition was primarily a nomenclature change and really did not involve real substance. A business may have renamed departments or divisions into teams even when the new organizations never actually made the transition to teams. Other organizations radically changed the nature of their structures and functions and began to benefit from the new potential generated by genuine teams. Unfortunately, the church is sometimes shaped by our world, instead of being shapers of the world. We often lag behind even when the ideas being applied are founded on sound Biblical principles.

I have the wonderful privilege of being a part of our first priority staff team. Our BGCM staff named our team first priority as a constant reminder that our first priority is serving churches. I have served with a wide variety of staff groups, departments, divisions, etc., over the past 35 years. I can genuinely say I have never served with a better “team.”

A few years ago I picked up a little book in an airport store while I was looking for something to read on my trip home. The book, entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, was written by Patrick Lencioni. He calls it a leadership fable. It was a lot different than most leadership books I have read. It reads more like a short story as the author tells the story of how a dysfunctional team becomes an effective and productive team. It was a fascinating read.

I have participated in a wide variety of “team building” seminars, workshops and events. I completed a 40-hour, facilitator certification training provided by the Next Level Leadership Network for “Building Powerful Ministry Teams” a few years ago. In reality Patrick Lencioni’s little book was simplest and most helpful approach I have found for building ministry teams. It focuses upon the barriers that keep groups from becoming real teams. Lencioni says, Genuine teamwork in most organizations remains as elusive as it has ever been. Organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls.

The lessons from his book are:

1. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

2. This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

3. A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.

4. Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

5. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their division above the collective goals of the team.

While Patrick Lencioni writes for corporate America, I believe the principles he shares are both practical and Biblical. Healthy teams trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering on those plans, and focus on the achievement of collective results. I have had the opportunity to lead several workshops for church staff teams and congregations as they began to explore ways to make their ministry teams more effective.

Check out his Patrick Lencioni’s site at The Table Group. Let us know if you are interested in a workshop or retreat for your staff. (Free is a lot cheaper than Patrick Lencioni.) I would also recommend his other books: Death by Meeting, The Five Temptations of a CEO, and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. They are all interesting reading, and Death by Meeting is definitely appropriate for Baptists. He has two I have not read yet, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Let us know how we can help you as you seek to build effective ministry teams.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Leadership (part 2)

This is the second in my series of articles on leadership. In some ways the nature and characteristics of a leader never change. All of us recognize leadership traits in the lives of people we encounter in our daily lives. Most of us could develop a pretty good list of characteristics for successful leadership. Joel Barker (in Leadershift) said the characteristics of a leader never change. He identified qualities like loyalty, compassion, communication, courage, commitment, integrity, trust, and inspiration.

Barker said, “More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be.” Remember his definition of a leader—A leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. The Christian life is all about change. Paul indicates in the eighth chapter of Acts that God has planned for us “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Everyday and in everyway God is in the business of shaping our lives. Pastoral leadership is allowing God to use your life in the “shaping process” in the lives of others, both individually and corporately. We do not manipulate, control or coerce people into change, but we build bridges to the future that enable people to move from where they are to where God wants them to be.

You probably remember the guy with the hat that said, I’m their leader...which way did they go! Someone has rightly said, “If no one is following, you are not leading.” People have to choose to follow leaders. They choose to follow people they trust, people with integrity, and people who inspire them. Leadership development is far more than developing a set of management skills. It is developing character. It is the process of becoming the person God created you to be.

One of the reasons leaders must “build bridges” is because life is a journey. For Christians it is a journey of faith. We travel a life road designed to help us not only accomplish God’s will in our lives, but, maybe more importantly, a road designed to help us become the people God’s wants us to be. The transformation of a life is a lifelong process.

I have told a number of staff members through the years, “We need to take the long look!” Everything does not have to happen right now. We just have to keep moving in the direction God has planned for us. Every time we make leadership decisions in our ministries we need to be thinking about the future. Is this the right decision for the long-term? Too often we are looking for simple solutions and quick fixes, and many times they turn out to be the source of new troubles or reoccurring problems.

Joel Barker’s first lesson for 21st century leaders is “leaders must focus the majority of their efforts on the future.” No one else is charting the course for the congregation’s journey. No one is “building the bridges” that will be necessary to help the congregation successfully move into the future. Both the “tyranny of the urgent” and the “overload of the present” keep many pastors and church leaders from investing the time, energy and spiritual discipline necessary to explore God’s future for their congregation’s ministry.

I have a personal passion for helping churches think strategically about the future. What is our “current reality” both internally and externally? What does God want us “to be” and “to do” as we confront these realities and move into the future he has planned for us. I believe the failure of church leaders and congregations to think and act strategically regarding their church’s ministry causes them to miss incredible opportunities as they drift through years of “business as usual” ministry that keeps them locked in the past. Sometimes they are like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. Leaders help them see the future. They build bridges from where we are to where we want to be. They are bridges of hope and vision. Is there risk in the journey? Sure, but there is even greater risk when we fail to make the journey.

Ernest Mosley’s brief book, Called to Joy: A Design for Pastoral Ministries, defined one of the major responsibilities of pastoral ministry as the task of leading the church in the accomplishment of its mission. We do not accomplish this visionary leadership in isolation from our preaching and pastoral care ministries. All the pastoral roles are intertwined. My conviction is we often spend too little time, energy and spiritual discipline in leading. I would encourage you to explore the future God has planned for you and your congregation. Then get busy building bridges to that future as you lead your church to accomplish God’s mission in our world.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Organic Leadership

I participated in a webinar sponsored by The Columbia Partnership today. The session was focused on Organic Leadership and was led by Robert D. (Bob) Dale. The session provided an brief overview of his new book Seeds for the Future: Growing Organic Leaders for Living Churches. It was good to reconnect with Bob Dale. I am about one-third through the book, and I am fascinated by his thoughts. He talked today about the transition in his own life and thoughts about leadership. He uses the model of three interlocking circles (similar to the model I referenced in my earlier post on leadership). Churches are not static organizations, but living organisms. They need organic leadership which focuses on Connecting, Centering, and Challenging. Bob's book provides fresh look at leadership for our day, and new handles for cultivating leadership in your own life and growing leaders in your congregation.

On a related note the BGCM staff has been exploring options for providing training experiences for churches and church leaders. Our Great Commission initiatives are leadership development, congregational health, church planting, and missions mobilization. All of these initiative areas include significant training opportunities. One of the options we are exploring is the development of more web-based training programs, webinars, on-line affinity groups, etc. We would like to hear about your needs. We would also like to hear from you about the delivery systems and training methods that would work best for you.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Celebrating with Brothers and Sisters

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri held our Annual Meeting yesterday and today at Fee Fee Baptist Church in St. Louis. Fee Fee is the oldest protestant church still in existence west of the Mississippi River. The church was founded in 1807. Fee Fee is also the place where the BGCM was organized six years ago. Randy Fullerton, pastor of Fee Fee, and the congregation acted courageously and with vision to host the organizational meeting. It was wonderful to experience their gracious hospitality as we gathered for this year's meeting.

While there was no overt reference to the 40th anniversary of the untimely and tragic death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we marked the anniversary by having two outstanding Black pastors speaking at our Annual Meeting. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, Sr., recently retired Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City and Vice-President At-Large of the National Baptist Convention of America, spoke during our Friday afternoon session. He had to leave immediately after his message to participate in a special event marking the anniversary of Dr. King’s death at the church where he was pastor for 40 years. His son, Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, followed him as Senior Pastor.

We also heard Dr. Ronald L. Bobo, Sr., Senior Pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis and past President of the Youth Department of the Baptist World Alliance, during our Friday evening session. The Berean District Choir from St. Louis and the Contemporary Choir from Dr. Bobo’s church joined with the choir and praise team from Fee Fee to lead us in worship. We had a great time of worship together.

We were also blessed by the Annual Convention Sermon delivered by Dr. Scott Harrison, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, the President’s Address by Dr. Harlan Spurgeon, and the two messages (on Friday evening and Saturday morning) by Dr. William O’Brien, former Executive Vice President of the Foreign Mission Board.

A great many people from both White and Black congregations talked with me following our Friday sessions about the blessing they received by gathering for worship and fellowship together. Slavery and the countless crimes against African-Americans that grew out of it have left scares on our nation and our world. Segregation was a terrible injustice to our Black brothers and sisters and was often supported by “Christian” people. Many have rightly acknowledged that Sunday morning may still be the most segregated hour in our nation. I believe segregation was not only an injustice to our brothers and sisters; but, it was propagated at a terrible loss to our predominately White congregations. I believe we have a great deal to learn from our African-American brothers and sisters about effective ministry in our communities, engaging our people in worship, empowering leaders, and many other areas. We need the humility to acknowledge that we need each other.

We are a long way from making right the many injustices and crimes committed against our brothers and sisters. Racism and the evils it brings into our lives and communities still exists. We have a long way to go in our journey, but I was encouraged by the time of worship and sharing. I am encouraged by the signs of hope which are coming out of the New Baptist Covenant held in Atlanta earlier this year. Dr. King’s dream has not been realized, but I believe many more share the dream today than did 40 years ago. If we are serious about reaching our world for Christ, it is time for us to unite with all God’s children as we stand for justice, peace and love.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty

I am a part of an organization called Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. The group was formed by the Missouri portion of "Churches Uniting in Christ." CUIC is made up of a wide variety of protestant denominations including the Africian Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church. I became a part of the organization as a representative of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Obviously, we have some differences, but we share a common passion to be advocates for the most vulnerable in our state.

Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty (MOCARP) was formed to invite other Christians to get involved in addressing racial and poverty issues in our state. Earlier this year we sponsored a Legislative Breakfast Forum with legislative leaders from the Missouri House and Senate. It was an opportunity for religious leaders to dialogue with legislative leaders about issues of tax justice and fairness. The group has also sought to be an advocate for health care for the poor and marginalized in our state. Christians should be taking the lead in advocating for racial and economic justice. Yet, some Christians advocate a dangerous type of racism. Brian Kaylor, the BGCM Communications Specialist, wrote an article for Ethics Daily about an editor for a Missouri Baptist publication, Missouri Baptist Editor Supports Confederate Flag. It is both an excellent and scary article. In his book the editor "compared the NAACP to the KKK and asserted that it was 'closer to becoming just another hate group.'" He went on to describe "slavery as 'the misfortunate of blacks' and claimed that Reconstruction actually produced greater injustices than slavery or Jim Crow laws." It is hard for me to imagine someone could call himself a Christian and have these attitudes or publish such hateful words. Check out Brian's blog at For God's Sake Shut-up.

I am grateful for the work of MOCARP and it is my hope that more Christians will get involved. At a time when Baptists from across North American are exploring a New Baptist Covenant and a new level of partnership and collaboration across racial, ethnic, national and tradition lines, other Baptists are locked in a past characterized by hatred, division, bitterness, and attack politics. I am grateful to be a part of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. We are an organization committed to working with other Baptists and other Christians as we serve our Savior and seek justice in our world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Joint Convention Session

Our BGCM staff have a very special privilege this week. We are hosting representatives from the three other conventions for a couple of days of sharing and collaboration. Staff members from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention will be meeting jointly with our staff beginning Wednesday evening in the Kansas City area. The meeting lasts through noon Friday and will provide the opportunity for the leaders to share about their ministries and the needs of the churches they serve. We met for our first joint session a little over a year ago in Texas. We have the privilege of hosting this meeting here in Missouri.

I have found this type of meeting very helpful through the years. It is always good to get outside your own ministry field and hear reports of what God is doing in other places. We all tend to become a little provincial in our attitudes whether we serve a local congregation or within a denomination organization. In addition to some large group sessions, we will also have the opportunity to break into some small groups based upon our roles to share strategies and resources.

Obviously, the ultimate goal of our time is strengthen all our ministries as we share ideas and explore ways to collaborate for the sake of the Kingdom. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from others as we seek ways to more effectively serve churches.

BGCM Annual Meeting

I am very excited about the Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri at Fee Fee Baptist Church on April 4-5, 2008. We have a great program planned. Our theme is Faith in Action: Making the Most of Every Opportunity. The Opening Session will feature messages by Dr. Scott Harrison, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Lee's Summit, Missouri, and by Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, retired Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church of Kansas City, Missouri and Vice President-at-Large of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.

The Evening Celebration Friday evening will feature messages by Dr. William R. O'Brien, Co-Director, BellMitra Associates, Frisco, TX, and former Executive Vice President of the Foreign Mission Board and by Dr. Ronald L. Bobo, Sr., Senior Pastor, West Side Missionary Baptist Church, St. Louis, and past president of the Baptist World Alliance Youth Department.

The Closing Session on Saturday morning will feature Convention & Institutional Reports, the President's Address by Dr. Harlan Spurgeon of Springfield, Missouri, and a message by Dr. William R. O'Brien. Our Missions Banquet is a special part of the BGCM Annual Meeting as we celebrate our mission partnerships.

Dr. William J. Shaw was originally scheduled to speak Friday afternoon and evening; however, he will not be able to be present due to an international flight schedule problem as he returns from the Sudan. We are delighted to have Dr. Hartsfield and Dr. Bobo speaking at our Annual Meeting. Dennis Goskie, our Worship Leader, has enlisted a broad range of gifted musicians and three choirs to participate in the sessions. I believe we will have a great meeting. For more information including posters and a copy of the provisional program check out Annual Meeting.