Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Giving Thanks for Family

Our family had a wonderful Thanksgiving. As the family grows, our adult children and their families have growing commitments and it is more difficult to get together. Sometimes we cannot all be together at the same time, but we did get to spend some time with all three of our sons and their wives and our grandchildren. Like most parents we are incredibly proud of our children and their families. It is always great to spend time with them. It is amazing how quickly the years seem to be passing.

Family is important to Bettie Jo and me. My wife’s parents have been more than my in-laws. Joe and Betty have been our close friends our entire married life. (Yes, I have told them they lacked a little creativity in choosing a name for my wife.) They live a few miles outside Jefferson City. They have spent nearly every major holiday with our family for many, many years. This was true even when we lived in St. Louis and Atlanta. They were a tremendous help us to during the early years of our married life, and we continue to feel very close to them.

Today we have the privilege of helping them. Their health problems sometimes mean they need our help and care. Bettie Jo and I have talked many times about the fact that it is our turn to provide the care and support. We think that is what family means.

We also had the chance to visit my mother a couple days after Thanksgiving. (With eight children and more than fifty grandchildren and great grandchildren, it is really better if we do not all show up at the same time.) We did see one of my brothers and one of my sisters their some of their families. Bettie Jo and my mother share a lot of common interests and perspectives. They regularly share books they are reading.

When we gather for Thanksgiving it is not unusual for us to think of family and friends. When we gather for our traditional dinner we hold hands and invite each person present to share something for which they are thankful. Most of the time the primary thing mentioned is family.

One of the greatest blessings God has given us is each other. Have you ever considered what our lives would be like without our families. These are the people who know us the best—flaws and all—and they still love and care for us. With these blessings comes great responsibility. We not only receive care, but we offer care for each other. The family is the first place we learn about responsibility. I am thankful for my family, and I am glad to accept the responsibility that comes with it.

This article was originally written for our Churchnet page in Word&Way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Caring for Your Pastor

I have been serving as an interim pastor for the past few months. The congregation recently extended a call to a new pastor who will be on the field in a few weeks. It is an exciting time for the church family and their new pastor. The church leadership recently distributed some suggestions to the congregation regarding how church members could welcome their new pastor and his family.

The suggestions were grouped in four broad categories—Be Patient, Be Positive, Be Prayerful and Be Proactive. The suggested in the “Be Patient” category reminded church members about the many decisions, transitions, and tasks that have to be completed by their pastor and his family as they make to the move to a new community and church. This includes getting to know the names of the new church family. The suggestions included being patient and giving the new pastor and his family time to settle in.

The suggestions in the “Be Positive” section included not expecting the new pastor to “fix” all the current problems when he arrives. Members were encouraged to express appreciation for their church and its ministries. They were also urged to be considerate of the pastor’s family.

The “Be Prayerful” section reminded members the new pastor cannot do his job on his own. Pray for God’s blessing upon his ministry. Pray for church leaders who will work with the new pastor.

The last section on the list—Be Proactive—encouraged members to write a welcome note to their new pastor. They were urged to volunteer to be helpful in the transition. Once when I arrived at a new pastorate a church staff member volunteered to take me to all the community hospitals showing me their locations, where I could park, and how the hospitals were organized. It was a very helpful introduction.

As I read through the list of suggestions for welcoming a new pastor, I realized that many of the suggestions were be appropriate for any pastor. It is so easy for a congregation to grow to depend upon their pastor and church staff. Sometimes we forget how important it is for us to express appreciation and care for them. Don’t forget to “Care for Your Pastor” whether he is new or a familiar friend.

This article was written for the e-newsletter of Churchnet: e-current.

Monday, October 25, 2010

God Teaches Us to Trust

The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 NIV). Psalm 37:5-6 (NIV) urges us to “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” The people of God are to trust God. The command seems simple enough, but in reality it is extremely difficult to do. We are so prone to trust ourselves, and we are so hesitant to trust anyone else.

The writer of Proverbs encourages us to, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV). Several years ago I read a book written by Patrick Lencioni entitled, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Later I read several of his books including one entitled, Death by Meeting. I sometimes tell people it is a “Baptist” book. He is an interesting author of leadership books. He calls them “leadership fables.” I like to think of them as modern day parables. They are stories about people like you and me.

I was particularly intrigued by his book about the dysfunctions of teams. The first dysfunction is the absence of trust. While the author discusses the other “dysfunctions” that make teamwork difficult—fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results—I am convinced he correctly identified trust as the foundation for real teamwork. Without trust it is impossible to form a real team, partnership, or collaborative effort. I believe trust is the foundation for Kingdom work. In the parable of the trustworthy servant in Luke 19:17 (NIV), the master said, 'Well done, my good servant! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' We are to be worthy of trust. Our relationship with God, who is completely trustworthy, should enable us to become trustworthy as we learn to trust each other.

I have many opportunities to work with churches and church leaders. It amazes me how often I meet with congregations where it is obvious the members do not trust each other. Sometimes members do not trust their pastor or other church staff. Sometimes staff members do not trust church leaders. Sometimes we have misunderstood the meaning of trust or misused the term. It certainly does not mean we always agree with each other. Lencioni’s book says in the context of building a team, trust is confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. This confidence in the intentions of others allows us to be genuine, honest, and transparent in our relationships with each other. It allows us to accept each other with all our flaws and weaknesses as children of God saved by his grace.

I have learned in my own life to trust God more and more as I have come to know him better. The better I get to know God, the more I trust him. One of the tragedies in many of our churches is that we do not “know” each other. Our failure to invest ourselves and genuinely share ourselves with each other has kept us from getting to know each other and that has prevented us from developing relationships of trust within the family of God. Do you really know the people who are a part of your Bible study class? Have you been willing to be vulnerable with those who are a part of your committee assignment? Are you willing to invest the time to get to know those who sit near you in worship services? Real relationships build trust within the body of Christ and enable us to serve together more effectively in Christ’s Kingdom. Building relationships of trust is a Christian discipline. Let’s start building trust.

This article was written for the "Message" page in this week's Word&Way.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Defending Religious Liberty

I serve on the Board of Directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I participated in our annual Board Meeting earlier this week. The BJC's mission 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.

Primarily an education and advocacy organization, the Baptist Joint Committee is a leading voice in Washington, D.C., fighting to uphold the historic Baptist principle of religious freedom. It stands guard at the intersection of church and state, defending the first freedom of the First Amendment.

Churchnet (or the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) is one of 15 national, state and regional bodies in the United States which are a part of the BJC. Our work is supported by thousands of churches and individuals across the country. The BJC works with a wide range of religious organizations providing education about and advocacy for religious liberty. The BJC is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. While primarily supported by Baptists, the BJC fights for religious liberty for all, including Jewish, Muslim and a host of Christian groups, who count on the BJC for leadership.

A proven bridge-builder, the BJC provides reliable leadership on church-state issues as it leads key coalitions of religious and civil liberties groups striving to protect both the free exercise of religion and to defend against its establishment by government.

On Monday afternoon our board had the privilege to meet with Barry Clayton Black, U.S. Senate Chaplain. Chaplain Black, a retired Rear Admiral, Chief of Navy Chaplains, and twenty-seven year veteran of the U.S. Navy, was elected the 62nd Chaplain of the Senate on June 27, 2003. It was incredibly interesting to hear Chaplain Black describe his work and ministry to a Senate family of approximately 7,000 people including some of the most powerful leaders in our country.

He affirmed his belief in and commitment to defending our religious liberties and the principles of the first amendment--Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Our Religious Liberty requires a delicate balance between these two principles of non-establishment and free exercise. I am grateful for the privilege of serving on the board for the BJC. I encourage you to visit the website to learn more about the work of the Baptist Joint Committee.

Be a Voice for the Poor

I continue to sense a worsening crisis for the poor in our state. At the very time when the most vulnerable in our state are in need, our budget crisis continues to result in budget cuts which ultimately mean fewer services for those with the greatest need. Our current state tax code was adopted in 1931 and has become one of the most regressive in our nation. When will we begin to live out the meaning of our state motto? Missouri's motto is The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.

The prophet Isaiah wrote: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:6-7, 10

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his speech Strength to Love in 1963 said, The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How should we respond to World Hunger?

Our world is filled with hungry people. Hunger is a term which has three meanings (Oxford English Dictionary 1971):
  • the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food
  • the want or scarcity of food in a country
  • a strong desire or craving
World Hunger refers to the second definition, aggregated to the world level. The related technical term is malnutrition. Malnutrition is a general term that indicates a lack of some or all nutritional elements necessary for human health. Estimates indicate there are over one billion hungry people in the world. Most of these people live outside the developed parts of the world.

However, that does not mean there are no hungry people where you live. The following statistics summarize hunger in the United States.

Poverty Statistics in America
  • In 2009, 43.6 million people (14.3 percent) were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 8.8 (11.1% percent) million families were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 24.7 million (12.9 percent) of people aged 18-64 were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 15.5 million (20.7 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty.
  • In 2009, 3.4 million (8.9 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.
I serve as chairperson for an ecumenical advocacy group called Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. Over the past year our group has repeatedly received information regarding the increasing number of hungry people in our state. The economic downturn has forced many families into poverty. What is our responsibility? How should a Christian respond to the hunger problems around the world?

This year we have begun a new level of partnership with the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. We are collaborating with our brothers and sisters in Texas to promote our World Hunger Offering. Some of the funds we receive will ultimately help to meet hunger needs here in our state of Missouri. They will also help to address needs across our nation, and through the Baptist World Alliance we will also help to meet the global hunger needs.

Traditionally, we have promoted our World Hunger Offering during October; however, beginning next year we will be providing resources to help our churches learn about poverty and hunger needs throughout the year. We cannot meet the challenges of world hunger with an offering we promote only one month a year. As we seek to Share Hope with our state and our world, I want to encourage you to explore new ways to challenging your members to find ways to get involved in eliminating the poverty in our state, our nation and the world. We have to find ways to do as Jesus did—feed the hungry. Watch for information regarding new resources for promoting your World Hunger Offering during the coming year.

This article was written for our month e-newsletter (The E-Message).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Life is a Stewardship!

When I served as a pastor, most of my preaching plans included series of messages. I looked forward to sharing an Easter series, and I always looked forward to our Advent services. In the fall I always led the congregations I served in a stewardship emphasis. Normally I shared my stewardship series in October or November. Sometimes it coincided with the adoption of our ministry plans and budget for the coming church year. I am serving as an interim pastor this year, and I am preparing to begin another series of stewardship messages this Sunday on The Giving Life.

I have always enjoyed preaching on the great theme of Christian stewardship. I guess I learned this from my father. He also led the churches he served in annual stewardship emphases. I know there are pastors who do not enjoy preaching on stewardship themes, and I also know there are church members who sometimes discourage their pastors from preaching on Christian stewardship. I believe it is sad when this happens. Christian stewardship is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. All of life is a stewardship.

It is important to help every believer remember all we are and have is a gift from God. We are responsible to God for how we use everything we possess. While this includes our financial gifts to support the ministries of our churches, it also means much more. I have often encouraged Christians to consider growing beyond the Old Testament principle of giving a tithe of our possessions. If we have been greatly blessed we should learn to give in greater ways. Bettie Jo and I began many years ago seeking to increase our gifts to Kingdom causes on a percentage basis beyond a basic tithe of our income. We have not been able to increase our giving every year, but many years we have been able to make a small percentage increase in our giving. Over the years we have been able to give more than we ever believed we could.

As important as our gifts are, Christian stewardship involves much more than our financial gifts. God is concerned about how we use all our financial resources, not just the amount we give. Are we responsible for how we manage and use all our income? Do we pay our bills on time? Do we spend wisely? Do we prepare for the future appropriately?

God also has a plan for our lives. How we use our time, our talents and our gifts is just as important as how we use our money. Maybe we have no more valuable resource than our time. It represents our lives. Are we making our lives available for Kingdom service? Is God pleased with how we spend our time and our energy? Have we talked with God about his priorities? As a disciple of Jesus Christ we acknowledge all of life is a gift from God. We are responsible for how we use this precious gift. Life is a stewardship! I encourage you to be faithful in your stewardship.

This article was written for this week's Word&Way issue.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Missouri Missions Offering

I am grateful for the break in the hot, humid days of summer. The fall has always been my favorite time of year with warm days and cool evening. School has started, football games have begun, and everyone seems to be settling back into their routines following a busy summer.

The fall is also the time of year when we promote our Missouri State Missions Offering. September and October are the traditional times when we think and pray about the mission opportunities and needs of Missouri. The 2010 State Missions Offering will provide funding for our Mission Partnerships as we enable local churches to become directly involved in Missouri, national, and international mission partnerships. Our Missions Mobilization Team gives direction to these mission partnerships and volunteers from churches across our state have an opportunity to get involved in hands-on mission projects. The offering will also provide resources for new church starts across the state.

One-third of the Missouri Missions Offering provides support for our benevolent institutions through The Baptist Home, the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, and the Freeway Foundation. Your gifts help to provide care for senior adults and children who need Christian homes and care. The offering will also provide funds for the Freeway Foundation’s drug and alcohol awareness programs across Missouri. Missions is about Believing, Giving, Caring, and Ministering in the name of Christ. Our state-wide goal is $18,000. Your gifts make a difference! I hope you will lead your church to be a part of the Missouri Missions Offering. Resources for the offering are available here.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Who is shaping your life?

I am sure everyone knows the political season is in full swing. The political ads on television and radio and those annoying automated phone calls are in full operation. I am looking forward to the elections just because I want the campaign season to be over. I know from reading American history that politics has always been a tough game in our country, but sometimes I wonder what all the negative ads say about our society. I am told that the politicians use the negative ads because they work. It seems that it is easier to tear down your opponent than it is to sell your own qualifications or your own ideas for addressing our nation’s problems and challenges.

Even with all the problems and “mud” in our political system, I would not be willing to give up on our first amendment freedoms: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. None of us want to live in a country where we do not have these cherished freedoms, including the freedom of speech. Maybe the political rhetoric says as much about us as it does the politicians. If we demanded more honesty in political ads, more genuine debate on the issues, and more transparency in political campaigns, maybe we would get it. I know you have to be a serious optimist to believe it is possible.

My real concern is not political campaigns, but how we allow them to shape our society and our lives. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome and said it is God’s plan that we would “be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” He desires to shape our lives. Each day he is seeking to reshape our lives so we might become the persons he created and planned for us to be. Like many of you, I am aware he has a lot of work left to do in my life.

There is a constant struggle going on in our lives. There is a question we must answer for each new day. Who or what will shape our lives today? Will we allow God’s Spirit the freedom he desires to work in our lives? Will we accept his plans, adopt his attitudes, and work on his priorities? It is so easy to allow someone else to shape our lives. It is so easy to be shaped by our society and it values. The call of the Christian faith is to reshape our society rather than being shaped by it.

We cannot allow our society to persuade us that dishonesty is okay when it is for a good cause or destroying or devaluing another person is acceptable behavior for a child of God. We do not have to agree with someone to treat them with respect and to acknowledge they are important to God. It is easy to get caught up in the campaign mindset, but the challenge is to remember who we are as children of God. We need to live our lives (even during the campaign season) acknowledging our Savior and allowing him to continue his work of redemption and sanctification in our lives. Remember the question is who is shaping your life?

Note: This article was written for the September 2 "Message" page in Word&Way.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Religious Liberty—God’s Gift!

I wrote this article for our "Message" page in Word&Way. This is the time of the year (the celebration of our Independence Day) when Americans celebrate the freedoms our country provides. Obviously, we are grateful for all our freedoms, but I am particularly grateful for the religious freedom we enjoy. You do not need to be a great student of history to know that religious oppression and persecution have been a part of our world for most of our recorded history. Our religious liberty is not something we should take for granted.

I have the wonderful privilege of representing our convention on the board of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. We are one of 15 national, state and regional bodies which are members of the BJC. The BJC's mission 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 Baptist Joint Committee is primarily an educational and advocacy organization. It is a leading voice in Washington, D.C., fighting to uphold the historic Baptist principle of religious freedom. It stands guard at the intersection of church and state, defending the first freedom of the First Amendment. The BJC is the only religious agency devoted solely to religious liberty and the institutional separation of church and state. While primarily supported by Baptists, the BJC fights for religious liberty for all, including Jewish, Muslim and a host of Christian groups, who count on the BJC for leadership.

One of the newer brochures available from the BJC web site (www.bjconline.org) is entitled Religious Liberty is a Gift from God. The brochure states, “Religious liberty is a gift from God, not the result of any act of toleration or concession on the part of the state. It has to do with what we Baptists call “soul freedom” — the liberty of conscience that we all receive simply by virtue of how God created us and chose to relate to us.”

The brochure goes on to say, “God has made all of us free — free to say yes, free to say no, and free to make up our own minds about our spiritual destiny. Religious freedom has theological import. It goes to the heart of who God is and who we are. So, the fight for religious liberty for all is to ensure against government doing what even God will not do: to violate consciences or to coerce faith. Baptists became champions of religious liberty and church-state separation in large measure because we are a people of the Book.”

Many people in the world do not enjoy the freedom to worship God as they choose. It is important for us to remember that this precious freedom is fragile and must be defended for all people. Historically, Baptists have been at the forefront of the efforts to ensure religious liberty for all people. I am grateful we continue to be advocates for God’s precious gift.

Understanding Social Jusice

My son, James, is pastor of Southwest Baptist Church in St. Louis. He recently posted a good article on "social justice". Check it out here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Caring Ministry

I love to read the Gospels. They provide the opportunity for us to see glimpses of the life and ministry of our Savior. It is not unusual for me to read a familiar story about Jesus and see some new truth or insight that I had not seen before. It is wonderful how the scripture stays fresh and new even when we read passages we have read many times. I have discovered two wonderful truths about Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus was always teaching. Obviously, there were specific times when he was teaching such as “the Sermon the on Mount.” But, I have noticed that he was always teaching. When he travelled with his disciples he used every circumstance of their lives as an occasion to teach them and others about God, the Kingdom, and how they should live. Jesus packed an enormous amount of teaching and instruction into three short years of public ministry. He could only do this by taking advantage of every opportunity.

The second thing that is obvious about his ministry is that he always started where people were. Jesus accepted people—all people—right where they were. He loved them in spite of their sin. The tax collector in Jericho and the Samaritan women at Jacob’s well are just two examples. His universal acceptance of people formed the foundation of his ministry to them. He always began with their felt needs. No matter whether they were blind, hungry, lonely, thirsty, sick or afraid, he met them where they were and ministered to their need.

Our Share Hope emphasis is designed to help our churches become more effective in developing congregational ministries as they seek to meet the needs of people in their churches and communities. Ministry has the potential to open many doors into the lives of people as we care for them in the name of Christ. Someone once said, People will not care about what we know until they know we care. People were drawn to Jesus by his compassion and ministry. He was often able to not only address their felt needs, but he was also able to lead them into a new relationship with God. I encourage you to read the Gospels again with me and see the fresh and wonderful way Jesus ministered to people. Maybe we should do the same.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Building a Relationship with Your Pastor

The relationship between a pastor and a church is a very special relationship. It is usually a relationship which is forged through years of ministry. Pastors have the opportunity to minister to their church members in times of joy and in times of grief. Through the years of my ministry I have come to understand that these moments of highs and lows for church members form the foundation for deep relationships. Most of the church members I have served would not be able to recall the details of my sermons (even those I felt were my best), but they often remember times when I was with them during an illness or the death of a family member. They remember the celebrating the birth of their children and the times when they dedicated their children to God and pledged to raise them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” They remember the times of joy at family weddings or when they received good news from the doctors regarding an illness.

When I was a very young pastor, I was concerned that I was not prepared to minister effectively to families at the time of death. Because I had not experienced the death of a close loved one, I felt I did not know what to say to those who were grieving. My father suggested that I should not be so concerned about what I would say. He said that I should just go and be with the family. He suggested that I should spend more time listening and sharing their grief. Through the years I have found his counsel to be very wise. A significant part of a pastor’s role is to “with” his church family. The most meaningful ministry relationships I have developed through the course of my ministry have been with individuals and families where I shared their grief, trials, joys and celebrations.

Obviously, a pastor does not walk on to a new church field with these relationships. Because the relationship is new there has not been the time for it to grow. The pastor still has a relationship by virtue of the role of the pastor; but it takes time for the relationship to grow. We sometimes refer to the first few months or the first year of a pastor’s tenure with a church as the “honeymoon” stage. The church family is excited to have a new pastor, and the church family and pastor are in the process of getting to know each other and building a new relationship. The investment the pastor makes in building relationships with the congregation during the early months and years of the ministry may have a significant impact on the tenure and success of the pastorate.

Through the years the relationship between a pastor and congregation grows and changes. As the members of the church family get to know and trust their pastor they often have a growing confidence in the pastor’s leadership. In a real sense pastors earn the right to lead their congregations. In one of my earlier pastorates, I was serving a church which needed to have a building program. The church leaders knew they needed to do some work on the building, but they were concerned about starting a building program and then losing their pastor. They had had a history of very short tenure for their pastors. I had to serve the congregation for several years before they were confident that I would stay and see them through the building program. Once they came to trust me they moved forward to address the building expansion.

Relationships between pastor and churches are very special. I hope you will take time to pray for your pastor. I hope you tell your pastor and church staff how grateful you are for their ministry. I hope you will take time to invest in a relationship that can make a difference in your life and in the ministry of your church.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making the Most of Transition Moments

Our youngest son graduated from college this past week. It is another step in our master plan. My daughter-in-law will graduate with her masters this week and my middle son will complete his masters later this year. I have attended a number of graduations through the years in addition to my own, and I have had the privilege of speaking at a few of them. This time of the year it seems like graduations are taking place everywhere. Young people are graduating from high school and college. Graduate students are completing advanced degrees.

The dictionary defines graduation as “a ceremony at which degrees or diplomas are conferred” or “a division or interval on a graduated scale” or “a mark indicating the boundary of such an interval.” In a sense graduation does mark an interval or transition point in our lives. For some it is the completion of training for a specific career field or job. For others it is a transition to another advanced course of study. I always liked school. Years ago I thought about becoming a professional student, but I discovered that it did not pay very well.

Transition moments are important in our lives. They are worthy of a pause to celebrate and reflect on our journey. It is also important to consider God’s plan for our lives. I was a college student before I really paused to ask God what he wanted me to do with my life. When I did, I was surprised to discover that he had a plan for me that was different than mine. Through the years I have also come to understand that his plans were best.

It is pretty easy to adopt the values of the world around us, and most of us have been impacted by a culture that tells us that life is about acquiring things. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi and said, I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).

Sometimes we spend our lives rushing to get ready for the future instead of living in the moment and exploring the opportunities of the present. As I reflect on my own graduations and transition moments I realize that sometimes I was in such a big hurry to complete my education and get ready for the future that I overlooked the opportunities God was placing before me. In spite of the fact that Jesus knew the crisis and task that lay before him, he always managed to live in the moment and notice each person he encountered. Maybe we would be wise to pause at these important transition points. Not just to celebrate, but also to reflect on our lives—how we are living and where our lives are headed. God is always at work “shaping our lives” as he seeks to conform us to the image of his Son. He is still working on me. How about you?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Strategic Opportunities

This past week I participated in a leadership retreat with approximately 80 leaders of Baptist organizations from across the nation. We met April 27-29 at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. The retreat was convened by Babs Baugh, president of the Baugh Foundation, and Daniel Vestal, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The group included national and regional CBF leaders, a few state convention executives, and leaders from a variety of educational and ministry organizations and institutions. It was an interesting dialogue as we reflected on the transitions that have taken place in Baptist life over the past twenty plus years and dreamed about what God might have in store for the future of our ministries.

The meeting was particularly timely for me in light of the recent approval of our First Priority 2015 strategic plan during our Annual Meeting a few weeks ago. It was interesting to hear from other Baptist organizations and institutions are dealing with some of the same challenges and opportunities confronting our convention as we seek to serve churches. It was even more significant to learn that some have identified similar strategies for addressing these needs. I visited with leaders from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship regarding ways we might collaborate to more effectively and efficiently achieve our shared goals. Baptists have always been proud our autonomy, but we should also be committed to move beyond mere cooperation to genuine collaboration for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

Our First Priority 2015 strategic plan includes seven specific initiatives that we believe will enable us to more effectively serve churches. These initiatives will be launched this year under the name of ChurchNet. They focus on helping our churches with Relationships, Training, Resources, Consultations, Missions, Church Starting, and enhanced relationships with our Institutional Partners. The plan also includes a five-year, state-wide emphasis called Share Hope! This emphasis is an effort to assist our churches as they share hope with their communities through relational evangelism, congregational ministry, and community advocacy.

I thought we had a wonderful Annual Meeting; however, I am confident the real impact of this year’s gathering we be felt over the coming years as we begin to implement our in new initiatives and explore together how we can best serve churches as they fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I look to making the journey with you.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

First Priority 2015 Plan Approved

The theme for our Annual Meeting this past weekend was “God’s Plans: Hope and a Future!” from Jeremiah 29:11. I believe God does have great plans for our cooperative ministry. Eight years ago a courageous and visionary group met at Fee Fee Baptist Church to organize the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. H. K. Neely provided leadership for our convention during the first two formative years. In 2005, the convention adopted its first strategic plan called First Priority. We have made great strides in our ministry over the past five years as we focused on our mission of serving churches. We have sought to lay the foundation for a new paradigm denominational organization.

Over the past 9 months our Strategy Planning Leadership Team has been guiding a process designed to help us think strategically about the next five years of our ministry. At our Annual Meeting we approved First Priority 2015. This plan outlines our strategy as we take the next step in our journey toward this new paradigm state convention. We want to minimize our overhead and bureaucracy. We want to genuinely focus on helping churches become healthy and effective. I believe the initiatives we approved have the potential to help us serve churches more effectively.

We identified seven initiatives—areas where we believe we must take decisive action. Four of these focus specifically on how we serve churches: the development of a resource center, the creation of a web-based training program, the facilitation of relationships through affinity/peer groups, and the expansion of our consulting program. We also approved initiatives in the area of mission partnerships, church starting, and more strategic collaboration with our institutional partners.

The plan includes a five-year emphasis called Share Hope. Our goal is to encourage, equip, and assist churches as they mobilize their members to share the hope they have found in Christ through relational evangelism, congregational ministry, and community advocacy. A task force of local church leaders will lead the process of developing resources and training for the emphasis. While we will continue to be the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, we also approved a simpler “doing business” name—ChurchNet. We want to be a Baptist network serving churches!

I was blessed by the worship and fellowship during our Annual Meeting. The musicians did a wonderful job leading in worship, and our speakers challenged us as they shared God’s Word. It was incredible to see our convention approve what I believe is a very significant strategic step in our ministry as we approved First Priority 2015. I came away from the meeting with a sense of anticipation as we explore the future God has planned for us. I hope you will check our home page for a downloadable copy of the strategy planning brochure, and I want to encourage you to watch for the launch of our expanded ministry during the coming months.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Our Annual Gathering


The 8th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri will be held Friday and Saturday, March 26-27, 2010, at the First Baptist Church in Lee's Summit, Missouri. The theme for this year's Annual Meeting is "God's Plans: Hope and a Future!" from Jeremiah 29:11. This is an appropriate theme for this year’s annual gathering. Last year our Board of Directors voted to begin a Strategy Planning Process designed to allow us to think strategically about the future of our cooperative ministry. This year is the final year of the current strategy which was approved in 2005. I have been working with a Task Force of 25 from across our state for the past eight months as we sought to understand God’s will for the future of our ministry.

This week our Board of Director’s will be receiving a report from the Task Force including recommendations, goals and strategies. I am very grateful for the input and leadership of those who served on our Task Force. I believe God used the process to help us better understand his plans for our ministry. The Task Force will be making some significant recommends which will help to share the nature of our ministry as we seek to “think in new ways” about denominational life and how we serve our churches. We are anticipating the Board will approve these recommendations, and we hope to share them with our churches and church leaders during our Annual Meeting.

The Annual Meeting is a “gathering” of the Baptist family from across our state. It is a time of fellowship, worship and decisions as we make plans for the future. The Friday afternoon session begins at 1:00 p.m., the Friday evening session begins at 6:30 p.m. and the Saturday morning session begins at 8:30 a.m. The Choir and Orchestra from First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit will be leading our worship on Friday evening. The Concert Choir from William Jewell College will be singing during our Saturday morning session. Randy Buffington, Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Lee's Summit, will serve as the Music and Worship Coordinator for our Annual Meeting.

Dr. William Shaw, Pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia and past president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, will be our keynote speaker. Dr. Shaw was a speaker at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration held in Atlanta in 2008. Dr. David M. May, Professor of New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, will be our Bible Study Teacher. David is a gifted communicator and Biblical scholar. Our President, Dr. Randall Bunch, will deliver the President's Address.

Our Annual Missions Banquet will be held Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. at First Baptist Church. The menu will feature Jack Stack Barbeque and the cost is $10 per person. You may make a reservation by contacting Bettie Jo in our convention office (bettiejo@baptistgcm.org or 888-420-2426 extension 701). We hope to have a guest from Guatemala to share about our Mission Partnership. The Annual Gathering will also include an exhibit area and opportunities for fellowship. More information regarding the gathering is available on our website (www.baptistgcm.org). Everyone is welcome to attend. I hope to see you in Lee’s Summit!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Thanking God’s Servants

I wrote the following article for the BGCM e-message (our e-mail newsletter). You can sign-up to receive our monthly e-message here.

This past weekend I had the wonderful privilege of sharing a message at the retirement celebration for Dr. Richard Lionberger. Dick has been Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Savannah for 22 years. He is concluding 40 years of ministry and service to the congregations he has served and to the Baptists of Missouri. It was obvious that this congregation loves Dick and his wife, Linda. There was laughter and there were tears. The service included many memories and many words of appreciation, but it was also a worship service because that is what Dick wanted it to be. The wonderful music provided by the church choir and other musicians led us to remember we were present to praise the Lord.

Dick was licensed to the Gospel Ministry the same month I was—August 1972. He served congregations in St. Joseph, Stanberry, Salem and Savannah. In addition to providing outstanding pastoral leadership, Dick also served faithfully in his local associations and on a variety of Missouri Baptist agency and institution boards including Grand Oaks Camp, The Baptist Home, and the Executive Board. He also demonstrated courage and provided significant leadership by serving as the first President of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. It was wonderful to hear about the lives that had been touched through Dick’s ministry at Savannah. He led the church in significant growth including a relocation of their facilities and three building programs. He was faithful pastor and shepherd conducing 263 weddings and 510 funerals during his ministry at Savannah. Most importantly 532 people came to know Christ during his ministry with the church. We praised God for the way he has used the lives of Dick and Linda.

Dick is a humble servant of God, and he was not really comfortable with all the attention he received. He knows, like all of us who serve in vocational Christian service, the praise goes to the Lord. All of us are unlikely candidates for any place in Kingdom service. But, it was certainly appropriate for this wonderful congregation to express their appreciation for his ministry as their pastor. I know God has plans to use these servants even in their retirement. I also know that God has great plans to build upon the foundation of the past 22 years as he continues to bless the First Baptist Church in Savannah.

As I have reflected upon the events of this celebration day, I thought about how wonderful it would be for churches to pause at times in their pilgrimage of faith to express their appreciation for their pastor and others who serve among them. Some churches have staff appreciation days, and others acknowledge special anniversaries. Whatever approach you use, let me encourage you to express your appreciation for those who serve among you. Celebrate what God is doing through their lives.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BGCM Trip to the Baptist World Congress

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is planning a very special opportunity for church leaders from across our state to participate in the Baptist World Congress in 2010 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Our trip includes airfare and hotel reservations for 50 people.

Airline Flights
Flights on Continental Airlines are available from Kansas City or St. Louis departing on July 27. Both flights will connect in Houston and arrive together in Honolulu 3:05 p.m. on July 27. The return flights will leave Honolulu at 8:45 p.m. on August 2 and connect through Houston to Kansas City and St. Louis. The cost of the flights will be $960.00 + tax and fuel surcharge which is estimated to be $78.95 (subject to change). The flights will be booked through the convention office. A $50.00 deposit per person is required to hold your reservation. The remaining flight payment will be due to the convention by May 28, 2010.

Hotel Reservations
The BGCM has reserved a block of 25 rooms in the Ala Moana Hotel which is located across the street from the Hawai'i Convention Center where the World Congress will be held. The room rate is $179.00 per night double occupancy for six nights. The deadline to reserve your room is April 21, 2010 4:00pm EST; however, we expect the rooms to all be taken well before that date. Once you contact the convention to indicate you desire a room we will provide you with instructions for reserving your room from our BGCM block of rooms online. Each person will be responsible for paying their own hotel bill directly with the hotel. The Ala Moana Hotel adjoins the world-class Ala Moana Shopping Center with over 260 retailers showcasing the finest names in fashion and a delightful array of dining. Hawaii Convention Center is across the street and the 76-acre Ala Moana Beach Park is about two blocks from the hotel.

BWA Registration
In addition to the flights and hotels guests will need to complete a registration for the World Congress directly with the BWA. You may complete your registration at www.bwacongress2010.org. The cost for adults from the USA is $200.00 per person. We are currently negotiating airport transportation to and from the hotel in Hawaii. Each traveler will be responsible for any additional local transportation and all meals. The congress begins officially on the evening of Wednesday, July 28, 2010, and officially concludes noon Sunday, August 1, with bible study and worship. One day before and after the World Congress has been built in for personal sight-seeing and other activities.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech"

I continue to be moved by the words of Dr. King during his address at the "March on Washington" on August 28, 1963. More than 40 years later his words still present a powerful message of hope and a call for justice. The text of his speech is below:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. [Applause]

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"