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.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Leadership (part 1)

I believe one of the great challenges of pastoral ministry today is leadership. Joel Barker, in his video Leadershift: Five Lessons for Leaders in the 21st Century, said, "A Leader is someone you choose to follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself." I like his definition. I want to share some thoughts about pastoral ministry and leadership in a series of posts over the next few months. I welcome your input and thoughts. I will number the posts to help you track my thoughts.

Very early in my ministry I read a little book entitled, Called to Joy: A Design for Pastoral Ministries, by Ernest E. Mosley. I found the basic premise of the book very helpful in understanding my personal ministry, and I have also used the book to help staff members, deacons and other church leaders explore a balanced approach to pastoral ministries. Mosley divided pastoral ministry into three major areas of responsibility:

1. Lead the church in the accomplishment of its mission.
2. Proclaim the gospel to believers and unbelievers.
3. Care for the church's members and other persons in the community.

He also described the relationship of these three major areas of responsibility, and he utilized a visual model that I found helpful in understanding their relationship. He used three interlocking circles that demonstrate the inter-relatedness of the pastoral ministries roles. Pastors Care, Proclaim and Lead. We do all three; however, my experience is that normally we have greater strengths in one or two areas and lesser gifts in the other areas. Some pastors are great preachers, but lack the skills necessary to provide effective leadership for the congregation. Other pastors may be weaker in the pulpit, but their pastoral care skills and personal relationships carry their ministry. Obviously, it would be great if we could all be completed gifted and perfectly balanced in our gifts and ministry, but our humanity betrays us.

Early in my ministry I began to recognize some of my weaknesses. I worked hard to strengthen the areas of my ministry that were weaker. My personal conviction is that classical theological education does a better job of preparing ministers "to proclaim" and "to care" than it does "to lead." While the church administration classes I had in seminary were helpful, they really did not provide the kind of help needed to prepare me to lead a congregation. Many areas such as personnel supervision, financial planning and management, strategic planning, stewardship development, and many others received only cursory or no attention. Much of what I learned about leadership, I learned from supervisors, mentors and training opportunities I had throughout my ministry. The Christian life is a journey. The missional church is a community on a journey of faith. Unfortunately, many pastors are not equipped or trained to provide the leadership necessary to help the congregation make the journey. Remember Barker definition says, A leader is someone we choose to follow to a place you would not go by yourself. This series of posts will allow us to explore how we can "lead" our churches to make the journey.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Growing and Changing

Yesterday, was our youngest son's twenty-first birthday. He is a student at Columbia College studying forensic science. He was not able to come home on his birthday, so we are celebrating it today. I will be taking him to lunch in about an hour. Josh was born 10 years after his older brothers, James and Joe. They were eleven months apart. (Bettie Jo and I did not know much about family planning.) Bettie Jo and talked yesterday about how incredible it seems for Josh to be turning 21. He is a senior in college and at Christmas he gave Sabrina an engagement ring. Bettie Jo's baby boy is a young man. I think he is a good kid, but he is growing up. Actually, he is doing exactly what we wanted him to do. He is maturing and growing. We also had our grandchildren with us this weekend, Katarina and Ben. They are five and three years old. Bettie Jo took them to mall and the ran into the Easter Bunny. They are growing and changing almost every day. Change is a part of life. In fact, it is a part of God's plan. He wants us to grow and change. He wants to shape our lives. Parents and grandparents sometimes help to shape the lives of their children and grandchildren. Hopefully, we do it in positive ways. God is always seeking to use His Spirit and the everyday experiences of our lives to shape us into the people he wants us to be. Sometimes the process is pleasant, and sometimes it is difficult, but it is a part of his plan. Watching our children and grandchildren grow up is a great reminder that God is not through shaping our lives either.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Annual Meeting is an Opportunity to Celebrate

In just a couple of weeks, April 4-5, 2008, we will gather at Fee Fee Baptist Church for the 6th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. It seems incredible to me that it has already been six years since the organizational meeting at Fee Fee. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri came into existence because Baptist congregations and individuals across the state had a commitment to cooperation and a commitment to our Baptist heritage. The founders wanted to affirm their commitment to and historic relationships with our Baptist institutions. Most of all we had a commitment to serve churches

Our mission is to serve churches and church leaders as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Our vision is to be an organization that gives first priority to serving churches. God has truly blessed the vision that gave birth to this new Baptist family. Every year we have experienced growth in participation and resources, but more importantly we have experience new opportunities for collaboration and partnership. We have built new avenues for serving churches.

Our Great Commission initiatives are Leadership Development, Congregational Health, Church Planting, and Missions Mobilization. It has been exciting to see our teams develop new resources as they seek to serve local congregations. I shared with our Board of Directors a couple of weeks ago at our retreat that I have never served with a more gifted or committed team. It is truly a personal joy for me to serve the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.

I am looking forward to our Annual Meeting. Our convention operates with a fresh paradigm related to our Annual Meeting. We have minimized the business and report sessions, and we emphasize worship and fellowship. This year’s meeting will again feature some outstanding speakers, great preaching and inspiring music and worship. Dr. Scott Harrison, pastor of First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit, will deliver the annual sermon. Scott is gifted pastor and leader, and he serves one of the great churches in our state. Harlan Spurgeon will share the president’s address. We have been blessed to have Harlan as our leader for the past two years.

We have two special guests coming to preach at this year’s meeting. We have the wonderful privilege of having one of keynote speakers, William J. Shaw, from the New Baptist Covenant Celebration preaching. Earlier this year more than 15,000 Baptists gathered for the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a historic gathering as Baptists from approximately 40 Baptist bodies and conventions participated in one of the most diverse and inspiring gatherings in the history of Baptist life in North America. Dr., Senior Pastor, White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia and President of The National Baptist Convention, USA., Inc., will be speaking on Friday afternoon and Friday evening.

William R. O’Brien, Co-Director of BellMitra Associates, Frisco, Texas, will be preaching Friday evening and also on Saturday morning. Bill and his wife, Dellanna O’Brien, former Executive Director of Woman’s Missionary Union, were missionaries to Indonesian. Bill later served as Executive Vice President of the Foreign Mission Board.

The theme for our meeting this year will be Faith in Action: Making the Most of Every Opportunity from Ephesians 5:15-17. Prior to the Friday evening worship we will our have our Annual Missions Banquet and hear reports from our mission partnerships. Gary Snowden, our Missions Mobilization Team Leader, and Jose Samol, President of the Guatemalan Baptist Convention, will be speaking. The cost of the banquet is $15.00, and you may make your reservations online or by calling the convention office. The Annual Meeting will also feature a Christian bookstore and a large exhibit area at the church. I hope you will make plans to join us for a time of celebration and worship.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Personal Involvement Makes a Big Difference

While I was in Atlanta this week for the follow-up meeting regarding the New Baptist Covenant, I had the opportunity to personally thank Jimmy Carter for his testimony on the closing night of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration. If you did not have the opportunity hear him, I would encourage you to view the video at the The New Baptist Covenant site. He described his experiences in "pioneer missions" in the 1960's. It was a powerful and revealing testimony.

Early in my ministry my father offered some advice for dealing with discouragement. He said, Jim, Whenever you feel discouraged about your ministry, I would encourage you to get out of your office and away from administrative tasks. Go visit someone who is sick or in the hospital. Find someone in need and help them. Look for someone who does not know Christ and share the Good News of Jesus with them. It will help you gain a new perspective on your ministry. I have discovered many times during the course of my ministry that Dad was right. His advice was essentially the same advice that Jimmy Carter's evangelist sister gave him. His testimony indicated that God used his experiences to change is life and restore is faith.

New Baptist Covenant Follow-up

This past week 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 in Atlanta on January 30-February 1, 2008. 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 shared future.

I sent a note to Jimmy Allen, Bill Underwood, and the other members of the steering committee yesterday to thank them for the follow-up meeting. 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.

I, like many others, felt the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant was a truly historic gathering. I have a great desire to see Baptists across North America find a way to build a new level of partnership and collaboration for the sake of Christ’s Kingdom. One exciting development from the follow-up meeting was preliminary decision to move toward another North American gathering in 2011. Several people present voiced a suggestion which I also made after the January gathering. I believe we should encourage local and regional meetings that would facilitate the development local relationships and ministry involvement.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our own provincial 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. It has often been said, You can tell a Baptist, but you cannot tell him much! I serve an organization made up of predominantly Anglo congregations. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. 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 need our Black Baptist brothers and sisters.

I have been in discussions with representatives from several Baptist bodies (National Baptists, American Baptists, and others) in our region of the country (Missouri and the mid-west) since we returned the Atlanta gathering. We have a meeting scheduled in April with a group of pastors and convention leaders to explore the possibility of a regional gathering of the New Baptist Covenant. I am hopeful that this movement could be the beginning of something very special in Baptist life.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Finding a Place in the Baptist Family

A few of weeks ago I joined more than 15,000 Baptists from across North America at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta. As you might imagine, I have been to a lot of Baptist meetings in my lifetime. Without hesitation I can say the New Baptist Covenant Celebration was one of the best meetings I have ever attended. Baptists from approximately 40 Baptist bodies and conventions participated in one of the most diverse and inspiring gathering in the history of Baptist life in North America. Already many are exploring ways they can build a new level of partnership and collaboration as we serve Christ together. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is exploring ways we might build a similar coalition among all types of Baptists in the Midwest.

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. I am excited by the opportunity this new movement provides to get better acquainted with Baptists as we serve together.