Michael & Carrie Godfrey - Church Planters in Washington DC

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Michael & Carrie Godfrey were longtime members of First Baptist Church of Orange Park. While teenagers, here both were very active in Student Ministry and served in leadership roles. Following graduation, Michael answered God's call into ministry and after years of serving in pastoral ministry in Waynesboro, Georgia, the Godfreys are now moving to the Washington DC area to plant a church with the North American Mission Board. This is Michael's story of calling.

The audio link is an interview I had with Michael on Sunday, May 10. 

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If you wish to join in supporting the Godfreys financially, click the link below and choose the option to give to the Send DC church plant.

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Broken: Part 5 "Broken Messenger"

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As Christ-followers, we are God's living letter to a lost world full of "junk mail." As Jason Dukes has said in his book Live Sent

You are a letter. Your everyday life is more than just a story being written. You were created to receive and send a message intentionally into the lives of the people you do life with daily. That's how humanity works. Together. That's how love is demonstrated and how relationships happen and how people find abundant life as they were intended to find it. We live out our intended purpose and mission when we live beyond ourselves. Are you giving yourself away in the daily, being to other people the letter of God's love that has been written on your heart? We must be that letter together. Our community needs us. Our world needs us. Let's LIVE SENT.

You can get Jason's book online at our online store.

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What Churches Commonly Fail To Do

Earlier this week I was asked to lead a Breakout Session at one of our state's denominational regional evangelism conference. I was asked to speak on how churches can stay engaged to reach those in their communities.

1114372_19748099I struggled with a title for the session and was glad I was given the opportunity to explain what it was about prior to beginning. We know in the western church, especially in the United States, there is a definite trend away from being connected to a local church and attending regularly. Carey Nieuwhof recently posted on his blog an article titled "10 Reasons Even Committed Church Attenders are Attending Church Less Often." He touched on an issue  just about every pastor I know is having to address. Those who aren't addressing it may just be living with blinders on, or could possibly be the anomaly in the church-world.

The title I ended up using for this session was "Reaching the People Near You Who Actually Exist." Honestly, I don't like the title but I couldn't fit "Be Sure You Know Your Community and Stay Up-To-Date On Changes and Open Your Eyes Every Now and Then Or You May Be Closing the Doors of Your Church In the Near Future."

Subtle, huh?

This session was primarily about neighborhood mapping. Though I didn't have enough time to cover all of the info, here's the gist. Church leaders should take this to heart.

An oft-quoted question has been asked over the past few years by pastors and church leaders seeking to live missionally and direct their churches to do so as well  - "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR.

Button-tweet-this "If your church ceased to exist today, would your community notice?" - Pastor Rick McKinnley, Imago Dei, Portland, OR

The Relevant Church

Relevance in ministry is sometimes scoffed upon. It’s a word that causes people to bristle and push back. Some pastors and leaders will say things like “The Gospel is always relevant” as if that justifies a poorly organized and weak strategy within the local church to fulfill the Great Commission. No one is saying that the Gospel is not relevant (at least not here) but we must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist. If your church is not making a dent in the culture nor reaching those in the area of your footprint, the sad reality is that you, as well as those reaching many, are perfectly organized and positioned to reach those you are reaching. In other words, while the Gospel is always relevant, your strategies may not be.

Button-tweet-thisWe must come to grips with the reality that sometimes we seek to reach people who simply do not exist.

In Dr. John Fuder's book Neighborhood Mapping he states "In a world that is constantly moving and changing, it is imperative that the church not only know how to interpret the Bible but also how to engage with and and adapt to those for whom the gospel message is addressed."

He speaks of the necessity to continually exegete the community where one serves. Otherwise, we become stagnant and continue to produce events, programs and mission engagement for the people who used to live there, rather than those who now do.

The longer you are in a certain place, the less you see.

As has been stated in various venues, the world is coming here, to the United States. In a sense it always have, but the numbers are quite staggering in today's culture. Our neighborhoods are in a continual state of change. In many cases, the local church is overwhelmed and unable, if not unwilling to respond.

This is why mapping one's community on a regular basis is vital.

Button-tweet-this"A map is the fieldwork out of which strategies can be formed." - Caleb Crider, IMB & Co-Author of Tradecraft.

Here are some basics on mapping one's community (more details may be found in the book Tradecraft: For the Church On Mission.)

A Theology of Mapping

In the 1960s urban planner Kevin A. Lynch conducted an extensive study and developed the five elements of a city or community, which are still vital for mapping today. These elements are:

  1. Paths
  2. Nodes
  3. Districts
  4. Edges
  5. Landmarks

I'll break these down briefly here.

Paths

 

Paths are important because they limit an individual’s experience of the city and shape his perspective of it. If you want to relate to someone, follow his paths. People tend to only know the areas along their paths. This shapes his understanding of the community. Church leaders may travel the route from home to church often and therefore, miss the community between. Over time, the community may shift unknowingly to the established church. This is why church plants often attract people where established churches are, simply because they hit what others miss or cannot see.

The paths one travels leads people to believe a city or community is a certain way or demographic, but that may be skewed to reflect only the areas around the paths.

Alternate routes can reveal a new-ness to a community previously unseen.

Button-tweet-thisTo know your community, you must know the paths people travel.

These can be streets, sidewalks, trails, subways, bus routes, etc. 

Nodes

 

Nodes develop where paths cross.

These are strategic spots in a community where people may enter and allows for interaction. It is a place of intermingling, but it is not intimate and people are often guarded (holding onto their purses or belongings tightly, looking straight ahead, not communicating with others, etc.)

Nodes are important for gaining cultural insight because they provide the opportunity to observe how people interact or avoid interacting (mall watching.)

Businesses use these places – billboards are placed here, signs, people spinning signs,  news stands, etc. These tend to be busy places. This is where flyers can be distributed, but normally no good one-to-one communication will occur. Prior to social networking, these were the promotional spots. These areas are not good for long conversations, but good for information distribution.

Districts 

Most community dwellers develop a sense of identity around the district in which they live, play or work. Each district has a reputation in the larger community. Jacksonville is a city of districts. The surrounding bedroom communities are as well. Districts are perceived differently based on your audience.

You may live in Jacksonville, but that's not descriptive enough. Where in Jacksonville? Are you in the Southside, Westside, Riverside, Beaches, Northside? If you're in a suburb, where exactly? St Johns, Fleming Island, Middleburg, Yulee, etc.?

Then within each area are sub-districts that have their own identities. This is the first place I have ever lived where people are actually very proud and identify themselves not only by city, town, or community but by sub-division. It seems strange to celebrate a builder's planned community, but you'll see license plates and bumper stickers identifying such.

Button-tweet-thisEach population segment has its own subculture, language and rules that present barriers and bridges to the spread of the Gospel.

Edges

These may be the most disregarded elements by churches. Edges create barriers that are not impossible to cross, but improbable. These may be any of the following. . .

  • Boundaries of a District (sub-division exit)
  • Streets
  • Divided Highways
  • Gates
  • Interstates
  • Bridges
  • Bodies of Water
  • Tunnels
  • Railroad Tracks

Until I acknowledged this, I could not understand why people near where I live had no understanding of where my church is located and mostly, would not visit. Then, I looked at these elements and realized that there are at least three divided highways, a railroad track, a body of water and a bridge between my house and my church. Edges. Not impossible to cross, but for those with no reason to do so, improbable.

Landmarks

 

When in your town, what do you use to tell people how to get from point A to point B? What about on how to get to your church? In many cases, our verbal directions do not include all the street names and compass directions, but do include landmarks. You know, "Turn by the donut shop." and the like.

Landmarks may be anything that the community knows.

In Orange Park, where I live, it was the Dunkin’ Donuts. I’d tell people to "Turn at the Dunkin’ Donuts, drive a mile or so, go over the railroad tracks, past the park on the right and turn left by the Animal Hospital." 

We all use landmarks.

Use yours to your advantage.

Most Important

Spiritual mapping is vital and most important. Prior to you planting or serving in your community, God has been at work.

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To effectively evangelize your mission field is to first acknowledge that God has tilled the soil. 

Follow His map and work where he has already done the heavy lifting.

Recommended Resources

Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission by McCrary, Crider, Stephens & Calfee

Neighborhood Mapping: How to Make Your Church Invaluable to the Community by Dr. John Fuder

 

 

 


Guest Blogger Ashley Tarkington: "My Journey From PK to Child of God"

Growing up in a pastor's home is not easy. Oh it can be a tremendous blessing, but there are also the pressures that those who do not live in this "fishbowl" just don't understand. My daughter, Ashley, is graduating from the University of North Florida this spring. She has been a pastor's kid (PK) her entire life. She's known no other story. While many PKs find themselves pushing strongly against the values and biblical worldview that is taught in the home and echoed in the church, and thereby creating the bad stereotype that is joked about often within church circles. However, there are many more PKs who discover a faith that is their own, not just a carbon copy of their parents. That faith is right and true and Gospel-centered and leads them onto journeys that rightfully bring glory to God.

This summer, Ashley plans to serve internationally as a summer missionary. As always, God has the right to change those plans, but her prayers and opened doors seem to leading down this path. In preparation for this summer, she must be able to clearly articulate her story of faith (i.e. her personal testimony.) She has been journaling for years and today at lunch, she shared the following with me. So, here's Ashley, my "Guest Blogger" speaking truth as a Pastor's Kid, but more importantly as a Child of God. . .

In 2000, a movie was released based on the popular book series, Left Behind. Now, it wasn't a great movie, but there was a message at it's core that had me asking questions. I was only six years old and up to that point (and even up to today) I had been in church all my life. At the time, my dad was the youth pastor at our church. You could say that I had never missed a Sunday or Wednesday service. As a child, my life revolved around church. Not only did I attend all the children's activities and events, I was also "cool" enough (at least that's what I still believe) to go to many youth events.

Staff - atarkAt the time of this film release, I was six years old. I was in first grade. I knew right from wrong. I knew that every Sunday I would sit in the front pew with my dad, while mom sang in the choir. Dad would stand down front at the close of each service with our pastor waiting for people in the congregation to come forward for prayer or to make a spiritual decision public in their lives. At this time, to me at least, it seemed like people were coming down front following the worship services to make a decision every week. It always seemed like there were baptisms happening as well.

Now, as much as my six-year-old self could understand, this was a great thing. People were being saved! Then, I thought to myself, "Am I saved?" 

I knew who Jesus was. I knew most of the major stories in the Bible. I knew Jesus going to come back one day. The Left Behind film was shown at our church when it was released and the building was packed. The story showed how horrible scenario was for those who were not saved. To me, so many in my church were making decisions for Christ and the thought came to my mind, "What if what happened in the movie happened now? I would be left behind. I'm only six-years-old, my mom pretty much did everything for me. I can't be by myself."

It was a moment of panic for me.

One Wednesday evening after church, I was riding home with my dad in the backseat of our Honda. I was asking questions. I didn't want to be left behind. The movie was just that. . .a movie, but my dad shared more about God and his promises. I prayed to God and received Jesus into my life as Savior. I was so excited. A few weeks later, I was baptized, and the cool part was that my dad baptized me. It was a great day! I even told my teacher at school about what happened.

But, life just kept going. I still attended every church thing that was offered. I grew in knowledge and as a Christian and did all the "churchy" stuff. As the years went by, some things changed in our lives. Right before I entered high school, my dad became the Lead Pastor at our church. Our previous Senior Pastor retired. I always said that dad was now the "big man." It was cool, I guess, but there weren't as many fun trips with him anymore. 

I went to the youth group, but it wasn't the same as when my dad was the youth pastor. High school was. . .well, high school. It didn't change me. I knew who I was and I was not ashamed of it, but I was pretty quiet most of the time. I behaved like I was expected to, how a PK should. I never pretended to know it all. Lord knows I never did. . .or will, but people would act like I did, or should. That was probably one of the most frustrating things.

I thought youth group was supposed to be more than it was. I wanted to be more involved and be a leader so I could make an impact. My life was pretty busy, though. I played basketball at school and during the season we had a lot of mid-week games, so it was impossible to make the leadership meetings.

I felt like I had nothing to offer. I was not blessed with the ability to sing or play an instrument. I wasn't super-outgoing and bubbly, so I wasn't sure how to engage with new people. I wasn't sure how to relate to people. In some ways, I felt that people were intimidated by me because of who my dad was. I hated going to youth group at times. I felt as if I didn't really belong, but no one could tell. I was good at putting on masks.

This was high school and at this point you're supposed to figure out where you belong and somewhat about who you are, right?

Then, my senior year began (2010-2011.) It was finally here! I was so excited. This was the year that I was going to become somebody and excel in the sport I loved. I was so ready for basketball season to begin. I had the potential to play in college. There were three schools looking at me at this point. Then, during our first game of our season, I suffered an injury - an ACL tear. I was  so angry and upset. 

Why me?

Wasn't I showing Christ to my teammates?

Did I not use my ability to play basketball to impact people for Christ?

My basketball career was over. I didn't know what to do.

This was the first time I cried out to God. I knew He had it all under control and that he had plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11), but I had to get to the point I truly believed that. I had to be able to see my complete identity in Christ. 2011 was the year that I felt I really became close with Christ. Our relationship went to an entirely new level for me. I knew I didn't want to just settle and live comfortably. I wanted to live for Him. I wanted, and still do, want people to see Christ in me way before they even see me.

Now I know this is pretty long and I've been told that testimonies, if you call this that, should only take two minutes to share, but this was just the beginning of my story. It's still being written. God is always working in my life, giving me desires and passions for Him and His glory that I never thought possible.

I find my identity in Christ. In some ways, I always have. I had to figure out how to bring Christ everywhere I went, to live for and become more confident in Him. 

It does not matter that I have not been given a talent as a singer or artist. God can, and does use me the way I am, exactly how He created me. 

I'm not as quiet anymore (I know some of my friends and family would laugh in agreement with that statement.) It's funny - when you get excited about Christ and what He does for you, you just can't really shut up about Him.

So, here's my two minute "testimony":

I was lost. I asked questions. I didn't want to be left behind. Christ died for me. He forgave me. I live for Him. I can't just keep that to myself.

I mess up. I sin. Yet, He still loves me and his grace is overwhelming.

I am saved. 

Now, I'm ready to go into all the world.

To tell others.

Everyday I try to live for Him and become more like Him.

As I said before, my story isn't over. Christ has put a passion within me that I am ready to act upon. Im ready to be sent. That could be across the street or across the world. I want to make an impact for His kingdom. I want to pour into teenagers and college students the truth of the Gospel. I want to be a part of the "big picture" - to live missionally and worship Him daily. To encourage, engage and serve.

I want to go.


It's Time to Stop Justifying Our Lack of Racial Diversity in Church

On this day of remembering the life of civil rights leader and pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the nation pauses to reflect on those who suffered for years in a culture of racial inequality, remembering a march on Washington DC that changed the course of our nation and declare that Dr. King's dream is coming to fruition.

Well, at least that's the idea.

477879_32397088While we have come so very far, as we reflect on the news stories of the past year and see tensions grow stronger in many areas of our nation between the races, the inevitable question arises, "Have we really made much progress?" 

Life is always filtered through current events and personal circumstance. In the larger picture, much progress has been done. No longer are there "Whites Only" and "Colored" water fountains in public places. There are no legally designated "black schools" and "white schools." No one can legally be denied service due to the color of their skin in our nation. That which would be categorized as unthinkable if not impossible about five decades ago has occured in our culture - a black man has been elected President. 

Yes, progress has been made in some areas.

We still have so much further to go. 

Sunday Is the Most Segregated Hour

Years ago, Dr. King stated that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. He was referring to the reality that church gatherings, for the most part, were far from racially diverse. While marches and protests were happening calling to allow people of differing races to go to school together, sit on busses together or even have a sandwich together in a restaurant, many were satisfied with keeping their houses of worship segregated. This is a generalization and this feeling was not held by all, at least intentionally.

Recently, LifeWay Research released data collected regarding diversity in churches. The results have been shared in numerous venues and news outlets with varying degrees of response and interpretation.

Here are some highlights of the research:

  • 8 out of 10 congregations are made up predeominantly of one racial group.
  • Two-thirds of American church-goers state their church has done enough to be racially diverse.
  • Fewer than half believe their church should do more to be racially diverse.
  • Evangelicals are most likely to say their church is doing enough.
  • Whites are least likely to say their church should become more diverse.
  • African-Americans and Hispanics are most likely to say their churches should become more diverse.

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"Surprisingly, most churchgoers are content with the ethnic status quo in their churches," Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said. "In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are -- and with whom they are." (Read the full article at Baptist Press here.)

Are you a Black Church or a White Church?

Author, blogger and church consultant Scott Williams (Big is the New Small) shares of when he was attending college and visiting local churches. He was getting his shoes shined and preparing to go to a predominantly black church one week when he struck up a conversation with the man shining his shoes. The man began to tell him about his church to which Scott asked, "Is your church a black church or a white church?" The man's response was classic. He said, "Young man - that's the stupidest question you could ever ask. It's not a black church. It's not a white church. It's God's church."

 

That is the right perspective.

But, We Worship Differently

As LifeWay's data has been shared, I have read some of the reader comments provided. In most cases, there is a common theme of "Yes, we need to be God's church and let racial barriers melt." However, there are many comments that are obviously well intentioned that seem so short-sighted and wrong. In these cases the argument goes something like this. . ."Each culture and race worships differently and therefore, segregated Sunday mornings are a good thing."

I don't discount that different groups have unique worship styles and practices. Our missionaries are educated in this as they serve in international locations in order to keep from leading those in other cultures to "do church the American way."

While there are numerous churches in my community with varying styles of worship, music and instrumentation, teaching styles, and meeting times, to say that we are satisfied being identified as a "white church" or "black church" or some other shade of melanin is to say that division is godly.

I have a dream, too. Mine is that the color designators of church will one day fade into history and that we will become wise as a shoe shine man and with our diversity, uniqueness and varying backgrounds settle only for being part of God's church.

Diversity's Symphony from Emanate Media, Samson Varughese on Vimeo.

 


Reflections From Three Days with Baptist Pastors & Leaders

I have spent the last few days in Lakeland, Florida attending the Florida Baptist Pastors Conference and the annual Florida Baptist State Convention. It has been a good few days as I have been able to reconnect with pastors and ministry leaders from throughout our state. The worship leaders were wonderful and the sermons challenging and definitely God-inspired.

Here are some observations, in no particular order, of this convention and my opinions and inferences about the future work of Baptists in the state of Florida:

Leadership Matters

We have been blessed these past 25+ years to have Dr. John Sullivan lead Florida Baptists as Executive Director-Treasurer. As with any leadership task so large, there have been many challenges over the years. Since people are. . .well, people, there have been some personality conflicts over the years with Dr. Sullivan and some in the state. There have been disagreements and differing views as to how certain things should be done and I'm sure different views regarding vision for the future of the Florida Baptist Convention and all that makes up our cooperating union. 

However, even with those issues, which are common in any organization or church, Dr. Sullivan has led with dignity and honor. In a world (and a Christian sub-culture) that is continually changing, I have been thankful for Dr. Sullivan's stance on biblical authority, church autonomy, missional growth and ultimately on seeing as many people in our state and world come to know Jesus Christ personally as Lord and Savior.

Dr. Sullivan is retiring now and leaves a legacy that honors God. There are still challenges ahead for Baptists in this state, so the leadership void will be looming. That being said, we look back with fond memories and thankful hearts to the years behind us, ready to step forward into a future that has the same God at the helm we have always served.

So, personally, I say "Thank you" to Dr. John Sullivan and am praying for our state's search committee and State Board of Missions as we seek to discover the man God has already set aside for this honorable role. It is vital that we hear the voice of God clearly because Godly leadership matters.

Encouragement Is Needed

The Pastors Conference is a gathering prior to the annual state meeting. It is a time where emphasis on pastoral leadership and health is paramount.

B2HtcN_IIAILeLaThe pastoral ministry is not easy. Any man serving in such role could attest to this. I'm not seeking sympathy or desiring to play a victim. That's not my goal at all. However, I have discovered in my own walk, and as I talk with others, that often the pressures of pastoring seem to creep up on an individual and ultimately, wear down a man until the joy of serving and leading seems foreign.

Encouragement is a strong tonic. To hear strong, inspired, challenging and comforting words from men speaking from the battlegrounds to other soldiers in the field is vital. I often do not realize how much I need this time until I am experiencing it.

A three-day convention gathering can be tiring as well, but it is more energizing as we see pastors ready to go back home to churches who love them. Pastors are ready to lead again, to serve again, to fight battles against an unseen enemy again and ultimately recharged for that which is ahead.

With as many pastors resigning and falling into sin as we see in our nation today, this time of encouragement and re-charging must not be forsaken.

The Mission Remains

As I hear of victories in local churches and watch highlight videos of ministries and mission endeavors throughout our state, I am encouraged, but also saddened. 

Here's why - with all the "wins" the reality of a state that is growing darker in sin and further from the Truth of the Gospel is our reality. We must celebrate the victories, but also remember that the task is great and there is much to be done.

To be satisfied with where we are and to sit on our small victories is like the baseball player who settles for a single, but never makes it around the bases to home plate.

Cooperation Is More Than a Tag-Line

Staying with the baseball motif, the runner on first often needs help getting around those bases. Oh, there's the rare player who steals second, steals third and may make it home on a pitching error. Even in those cases, the extra bases are gained based on the mistakes of the opposition. In most cases, the runner gets home "with a little help from his friends." The next batters play a major role in moving the runner along.

In our world, cooperating churches are needed to push back the darkness. God's church will prevail, but we must remember that "our" churches aren't really "ours." They're His!

Therefore, we MUST COOPERATE in this great mission in order to fulfill His Great Commission. 

We will never win this state to Jesus Christ if we continue to try to do so as individuals, with small kingdom mindsets and personal glory as the goal.

We Must Not Forget What It Means to Be Baptist

In an age where denominational titles seem to be less than vogue, it is vital that we, as Baptists do not forsake our distinctives. I agree with Dr. Ted Traylor who said that churches who take "Baptist" out of their name doesn't bother him, but churches who take "Baptist" out of their identity do. There is a reason we Baptists, in our autonomy and independence, with a firm understanding and belief in the inerrant Word of God, our ordinances and celebrations of new life (baptism) and renewed life (Lord's Supper) have been blessed by God so. 

Maybe it's education. Perhaps it's just living out our faith well. Regardless, we have a great heritage and a greater God. Christian first, absolutely. Baptist as a distinctive, definitely.

Mission and Missional Are Non-Negotiables

I had a gentleman berate me about leading our church to be missional not too long ago. My response was clear - "A church that is not missional is not a church." I stand by that statement. 

However, the term "missional" is becoming too much of a buzzword lately and unfortunately, seems to be losing some of its "oomph" (you know what I mean by that, right?) Yet, living missionally is our calling. It's more than a trend.

In addition to living missionally in our community and world, we must also be "on mission" at all times. These two terms tend to overlap, but there is a distinction. The mission we must be at is global in scope. In fact, it's a Kingdom-sized mission.

While our missional expressions that lead us to the local school to help teachers and mentor children, to the public playground to do acts of service and kindness, engagements with local organizations in need of volunteers or space, etc., our "on mission" actions lead us concurrently to engage strategically with the Gospel. 

Mowing your neighbors lawn in the name of Jesus is good and right, and missional. Intentionally sharing the Gospel with your neighbor is living on mission. 

We have missionaries throughout our state and many who are being sent by local churches to the uttermost parts of the world. 

As we push back the darkness, we must continue in this journey. To be a sending church requires faith and funds and family. This was made clear this week.

Healthy Church Plants are Wins for All

Sometimes I hear people complain about all the emphasis being placed on church planting. They lament that we need to focus more on established church revitalization. 

The problem with an either/or mentality is that . . . well, we stay exactly as we are and nothing changes. 

Yes, revitalization must happen and we saw some incredible stories of churches in our state working through that. However, the clear reality for churches who are crying "Revitalize! Revitalize!" is that it will not happen if the church is unwilling to change.

Churches stuck in the "this is how we always done it" mentality are perfectly positioned and organized to do exactly what they're doing now. It's going to take more than a new coat of paint and a better website.

So, for the church ready to change. . .let's revitalize. We need you alive and healthy where God planted you.

If you won't change, hurry up and shut down or hand over the facilities to another work so an engaged church may have a chance to be birthed where you are currently located but doing nothing.

As for church planting. The key is "healthy" church planting. New works reach more people quickly. There are caveats to that statement, I understand, but the results we are seeing in Jacksonville and throughout the state are clear. When a planter is assessed and partnered with a strong, established church, Kingdom growth happens.

More Diversity Is Needed

The racial makeup of our state is continually in flux. While I cannot change the color of my skin or the heart language I speak, I know that we must seek to grow churches and partner better with those who are not lily-white and English speaking. While some may joke that Miami and south Florida is more like Latin America than the rest of America, the word I hear from pastors in those regions is that more churches are needed, more pastors are needed, more workers are needed. The fields may be "white" unto harvest elsewhere, but in south Florida and in many of our urban areas and other pockets of subcultures throughout our state, those fields are "brown" and "black" and every other shade of skin. 

It's Time to Have a Spanish Sermon

I shared with one friend that perhaps it's time that one of the key messages brought at the annual meeting is done by a Spanish speaking pastor with a heart for the Kingdom. It does not matter than I do not speak Spanish. There are many churches in our state where English is the primary language and we have guests and members who speak another heart language. Maybe it's time for the subtitles to be put on the screen in English for those of us who are mono-lingual and let the Word be broadcast in the room (and throughout the state and world since it's streamed live on the internet) in the heart language of a growing portion of this wonderful state?

There's Much Work To Do

Overall, it has been a good week, but as I reflect on this state and our Baptist partners, I know, as do others, that there is much to be done. As one pastor mentioned over the weekend "There's no place for lazy pastor in God's Kingdom." Amen to that and I add to it, "There's no place for a lazy Christian in God's Kingdom." There's much to be done and to God be the glory.

Thankfully, We Are Not Alone

I am so thankful for pastor brothers and friends in ministry. It is so encouraging to see that even though the work ahead is daunting, I am not in this battle alone. Not only do I have brothers and sisters in Christ along in this journey, I rest fully on the reality that my God is with me as well. As H.B. Charles stated this evening, "God's personal presence is also His perpetual presence."


Our Next Steps In Orphan Care

A few years ago, it became very clear that God was leading the First Family in Orange Park to engage strategically in orphan care. We knew that steps would need to be taken in order to help those in our church fellowship as well as those throughout our community to view our church as a hub for resources and help for those fostering or adopting. It has been our desire to remove as many barriers as possible for families in our community seeking to enter the orphan care story. 

That's a lofty goal, especially in a culture where churches are often the last organization or group to come to mind in areas like this.

For years, fostering and adopting has been considered such a personal, family issue that the local church has not even been on the radar. It is our conviction, however, that the absence of the church from this story is not only a mistake, but sinful on the part of the church.

Orphan care

THE BIG 3

That is why we developed our "Big 3" emphaseis a few years ago to highlight and promote three areas of missional living deemed vital. These three - Global Missions, Church Planting and Orphan Care, are part of the DNA of our fellowship and allow us to fulfill and be obedient to the commands and expectations of God in our lives.

As for Orphan Care, we have come far. Yet, there is so much more to be done.

Currently. . .

  • We fully fund a missionary couple to serve at the Cabaret Baptist Children's Home, an orphanage and school in Haiti.
  • We increased sponsorships of orphans at the Cabaret Home.
  • We have partnered with the Florida Baptist Children's Homes and KidsFirst of Florida to provide the state-required PRIDE classes on campus for those seeking to foster or adopt. 
  • We provide facility space and transportation for KidsFirst of Florida for classes and outings.

ORPHAN CARE CHAMPION

Our next steps are already being put in place. Our church's previous Orphan Care Champion, Kaytee Jimenez now serves in Canada with her husband, Neil, as a church planter. She helped lay the groundwork for all that we are doing now. Our new Orphan Care Champion, Susan Feltner, is currently working to lead us into a strategy that provides even more for people in our church and community regarding orphan care. You may contact her for more information regarding orphan care through First at sfeltner@opfirst.org

WHAT'S NEXT?

In addition to the things we currently offer, some things in the works for the next few years include:

  • A strategic partnership with The Abba Fund, a non-profit organization that offers interest-free loans to Christian couples who are adopting and meet pre-determined criteria.
  • Connecting individual adoption stories into our framework for family discipleship so the adopton is a church-wide celebration, rather than just a family one.
  • Provide information to those in our community regarding available resources for financial helps, loans, grants, fund-raising, etc.
  • Provide "Where to Start" small group and information packets for families in the initial stages or "just kicking the tires" on the possible calling of fostering or adopting.
  • Provide "All In Orphan Care" small groups throughout the community.
  • Retreats for adoptive and foster mothers.
  • Offer respite care for fostering/adoptive parents.
  • Provide post-placement support to church members and those in the community through our partnerships with Florida Baptist Children's Homes and KidsFirst.
  • And. . .more.

This ministry will continue to grow as God leads us to focus in this area. As one of our "Big 3" emphases, our plans are to create such a fully functioning and resource strong ministry for those fostering, adopting (both nationally and internationally) or advocating for orphan care, that First Orange Park becomes one of the primary groups that those in our community think of regarding helps for the journey.

ORPHAN SUNDAY

November 2 is Orphan Sunday. This annual emphasis is set to remind us of God's call to serve Him by offering help and love to the orphans in our world. We will be emphasizing orphan care the entire month of November. We are excited how God is going to lead in this area for First. In truth, the best is yet to come.

ALL IN Intro from Arrow on Vimeo.


Redeeming the Four "B"s in the Western Church (Budgets) - Part 2

This is part 2 of a four part series focusing on the four "B"s that at times become idols in the western church. If not idols, these are often used as elements to determine success in church (often comparatively.) These elements have created a false scorecard for many. It's time to redeem them.

BUDGETS – Finances and budgeting are essential for established churches and church plants. When speaking of missional theology, the concept of finances often is foolishly ignored. Funding is needed in ministry and God always provides all that is needed.

Unfortunately, many churches develop their budgets based solely on the previous year’s spending. In some cases, the budgets are built around concepts of events that the church hopes to do in the next twelve months.

Over time, personnel expenses tend to take up the majority of funding within a church. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in that the staff provided by God to the church is a valuable resource and should be able to serve without constant fear of financial support.

When there is financial stress within the church, it adversely affects the health of the pastor and his family. This, in turn negatively affects the health of the church. Whether full-time or intentionally employed, the pastor will stress over the workings of the church, the ministry funding and programming. If married, the pastor’s wife will carry the very same load of stress in addition to the personal frustrations and stressors that come with managing a home (i.e. bills to pay, children, school, etc.) If not handled wisely, budgeting and finances can do damage to the church and to the marriage of the pastor.

The concept of missional theology and action cannot be limited to programming and community involvement. The budget of the church must also reflect this. To determine the values of the church, just as with individuals, see where the most time and money is spent.

A MISSIONAL CHURCH BUDGET

How can a church budget missionally? If the budget is built to just redo all the previous year’s events without consideration of how those events and programs reflect the missional makeup of the church, the church will never fully be missional. It will be held back by the budget and retreaded evenets.

While giving to missions is essential in any church budget, a strong look at other ministries and entities within the community must be made. Over the past eight years, our church has intentionally increased giving to denominational missions (CP and Associational Missions.) However, increased giving to these areas alone does not necessarily equate to missional giving.

While there are varied ways churches can give missionally, God has revealed some strategic areas for our congregation over the past couple of years. In our case, the foci have been three specific areas – orphan care, church planting and global missions.

Picjumbo.com_IMG_7460Like most churches, First Baptist has often been one that systematically has worked in the red for the majority of each year with hopes for increased giving in December to pull us back to the black. It has been a crazy strategy and, honestly, one of poor stewardship.

When we began to recognize our three areas of missional living as revealed by God, through prayer we decided to give any funds over and above expenses twice a year to ministries and groups serving in these areas. As God has blessed, we have been able to give away thousands of dollars.

Is that missional? We believe so. The funding of such ministries and churches allows for a larger Kingdom picture to become clear. Our mission is not really our mission. It’s God’s mission and we are just getting in on it, by invitation of course.

Therefore, the budget of the church needs to reflect His mission. Otherwise, as is the case in many places, the budget will simply reflect siloed ministries that feel as is they're the most important at the time.

As we have shifted to this model (it's a continual shift - we're not fully here, yet) we have been able to create an atmosphere of generosity among the people. As the church models good stewardship and missional focus, it becomes natural for those who are the church to do so as well.


When You're Accused of Being Too Focused on Missions

"Can a church be too missional or too focused on global missions?"

Every so often I hear the murmuring. It's natural. No church of any size, seeking to engage its community and and the world for the Kingdom is immune to the this.

Terms become buzzwords all to quickly in our world, so just to clarify. . .

WHAT IS MISSIONAL?

Perhaps it is best to begin with explaining what “missional” is not. Missional is not the latest in a long line of church growth strategies. It is not a new program for evangelism. It is not a way to mobilize church members to do missions more efficiently and effectively. Neither is it a fad created by postmodern Western Christianity. It is not the same as being “mission minded.” It is not an effort to increase mission giving or support within the church.

In the western church, we have been trained to use a scorecard that validates event attendance and participation in church programs as evidence of congregational health. The reality is that by focusing so intently on this man-made scorecard, the church has drifted from fulfilling its commission to make disciples. There are a number of theological distinctions that help undergird the theological foundation of living and conversing missionally. Without a biblical foundation to terms used within the culture of the church, we run the risk of simply attaching the word “missional” onto everything the church is already doing, and therefore ignoring the necessary paradigmatic shift.[i]

In an attempt to make the shift to the new paradigm, pastors and churches often misuse terminology. As Alan Hirsch states, “The word ‘missional’ over the years has tended to become very fluid and as it was quickly co-opted by those wishing to find new and trendy tags for what they themselves were doing, be they missional or not. It is often used as a substitute for seeker-sensitive, cell-group church, or other church growth concepts, thus obscuring its original meaning.”[ii] This is why missional is often viewed as just another phase or program. In this case, since “missional” seems so hard for many to define clearly, the word is misapplied. Consequently, the missional theology we have been called to live out becomes nothing more than a watered-down retread of previous attempts to be relevant in a changing culture. When the term is used in a way to mean anything that is evangelistic or contextualized or relevant (often viewed as being edgy or “cool”) its meaning is then lost in the method employed.[iii] Missional then, becomes difficult to define. Therefore, we are left describing what it is not. We are then relegated to describing its uses.

Missional is. . .

  • God's nature (John 20:21)
  • Incarnational
  • Joining God in His mission
  • A movement
  • Making disciples

In our effort, as a church, to live missionally, we have strategically sought places of impact outside the walls of the church facility. Whether it be a school, a nursing home, a hospital, a community gathering place, coaching at the Y, serving the community, or anything else that offers us opportunities to be the hands of feet of Christ in the midst of the community where we have been placed, missional living becomes the new normal.

GLOBAL MISSIONS

As Southern Baptists, global missions has always been a big part or our identity. The thing about global missions is that it begins in our "Jerusalem" and extends throughout the world. Our focus is not to complete our mission efforts here (our "Jerusalem") and then move to the next outlying area ("Judea, Samaria, etc.") before going throughout the world. The mission of Acts 1:8 is concurrent.

Over the years, since before I was called to be Lead Pastor at our church, leadership has led the church to engage globally. This has been done through short-term mission trips and through the partnerships with missionaries on the field, not to mention our financial support given directly to missionaries, through annual missions offerings as well as consistent giving through our Cooperative Program.

As God has blessed us, financially and in other ways, we have been able to send teams to places throughout our city, state, nation and the world. 

We have been able to play a strategic role in seeing Kingdom growth throughout the world.

It's a joy to get a message from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona or Greensboro, North Carolina or even Burlington, Ontario relating God-stories regarding services, gatherings, small groups, life change, salvations and baptisms. We celebrate with our partners knowing God has used us in a small way in this great story.

When our missionaries in the UK let us know of a young man in their post-Christian culture who surrendered to Christ as Lord, we celebrate because we are part of this!

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WE'RE DOING TOO MUCH REGARDING MISSIONS?

Sometimes, it's easy to forget the mission. It's easy to forget what really matters. It's easy to get worried (i.e. temporary atheism) about church finances and property and worship times and other things and come to the conclusion that "We need to take care of things here rather than worry about those churches and missionaries 'over there.'"

Yes, I have heard this.

It grieves me to hear it.

Here's my premise - we can never do too much.

Oh, I know, we (as one local church) cannot fund every missionary fully. We cannot provide everything for everyone. I understand that reality. However, I believe partnerships are more than financial (though finances are vital, and I don't apologize for reminding people to give.) Prayer for and with church planters, missionaries and those in the community we serve is tangible. 

Prayer is not passive.

We must remain focused and remember that God has blessed us so that we may be a blessing. When we are engaged in the larger story, God's story, He is pleased. When we settly for small stories where the kingdom is more about us than God, sin is the result.

Do you ever wonder what happens to churches who refuse to live generously, model prayer and proper stewardship, refuse to give and partner with those "over there" for the sake of the Kingdom? 

They die. 

Some have been dead for years. They still have buildings. They still meet. They survive on the financial gifts of club members who have voted God out of the story, but they're dead and eventually. . .even the building will be empty.

NO.

YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO MISSIONAL OR FOCUSED ON MISSIONS.

___________________

[i] Brisco, Brad. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Missional Church Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2012. 

[ii] Meigs, Rick. "Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church?" Friend of Missional - What Is the Missional Church? N.p., 30 Jan. 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.

[iii] Thomas, Scott. "What Is Missional?" Web log post. Acts 29 Network: Flower Mound, TX. Acts 29 Network, 15 June 2010. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.


What We Need from IMB President David Platt & What He Needs From Us

Earlier today word spread that David Platt was to be the next President of the International Mission Board. Apparently, word was out via social media prior to the trustees vote. Seems like we're good at "Secret Church" but not so good at secret votes.

Nonetheless, the trustees did vote today and the IMB has since publicly announced that Dr. David Platt will be the next President. This announcement has pushed Platt to the top of the trending list on Twitter as people throughout SBC life and evangelicalism are talking about it.

However, it should be noted that Homer Simpson remains on the top of the trending list of Facebook. I'm not sure what this represents or means, but thought I'd share it.

Platt's appointment has been praised by many and yet, some show concern.

This would be the case regardless who was chosen.

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I have met Platt once (though I doubt he would remember the meeting) at the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago. When he first was called to serve as pastor at The Church at Brook Hills, it caught my attention due to the fact a former staff member at my church was serving there at the time. Brook Hills was a church in transition when Platt was called. His personality, style and not to mention, his age, were dramatically different than the previous leadership's. 

Encouragement From David Platt

He has family in my community and a few years ago his niece attended one of our local schools where a friend teaches. This teacher was reading one of David's books at the time and had it on her desk when the young girl said "That's my uncle." It wasn't long before I received a gift. David and his wife had sent my wife and I a copy of his book, autographed and a personal note to Tracy, my wife, encouraging her as a pastor's wife.

I'm not sure David and his wife, Heather, will ever truly know what that small gift meant. I thanked them with a note, but it truly was needed at the time and very encouraging.

Radical

Over the years, Platt has become more known through his speaking ministry and his books, Radical, Follow Me and others, as well as Secret Church - an annual gathering that began in his church. He became a voice for a younger generation of pastors. His youthful appearance belies a deep wisdom and walk with the Lord. Though his reformed theological bent causes unease among some, he remains strong in his convictions. Therefore, Baptists and believers, reformed and not, show great respect and honor for Platt and his love of God and His Gospel. There is no doubt that he is a man of God with a deep heart for the lost.

It was over a year ago I heard someone say "David Platt should be the next President of the IMB." When I heard it, I laughed it off, thinking that was so far outside the realm of possibility, it would never happen.

Then today's announcement came.

What We Need from David Platt

Stepping into a denominational role such as this is a daunting task. David is only 36 years old and the organization is much older, with many overt and covert rules and expectations, I'm sure. 

As a pastor of an SBC church, this is what we need from President Platt:

  • Clarity. A strong voice for the work of global missions.
  • Effectiveness. Keep us focused on reaching the unreached, unengaged. Help ensure we work to lead nationals to lead local churches.
  • Funding. This is perhaps the biggest challenge. The best "crowd-sourcing" for missions in our history is the Cooperative Program. Whether CP remains under that name or not, the effectiveness of serving together for the sake of the Gospel is evident. Churches aren't giving to CP as they used to do. Lead out to ensure that the funding needed remains. . . and grows. Personally, I believe in the Cooperative Program, so I'd suggest starting there.
  • Connectedness. Speak to pastors, as a pastor. I do not know any pastors in the SBC who wish to see missionaries come home from the field or be defunded. However, I do know many who are living daily under financial pressure and who may be working with old models that no longer suffice. As you have done for me, encourage pastors. . .as a pastor, as one who understands and help create handles for the pastors to grab hold of as they lead their churches to engage the lost globally.
  • Efficiency. I don't pretend to know what this entails, but we all know that over time, organizations drift toward bureaucy. People matter. That is a given. However, the funds given to international missions by local churches (and little old ladies gathering in WMU circles) are expected to be used to further the Kingdom of God and engage the world. We understand that funds are needed to keep things in Richmond working, but do your best to ensure that we are good stewards of all that is given. (Please note - I am not saying that previous leadership did anything other than that. It's just a statement of what is needed today, and every day from leadership.)
  • Focus. There are many areas globally where our missionaries are serving. Some are able to serve openly. Others have to be more covert. There are men and women committed to the Gospel and God's mission of reaching the world. Some are in areas where the fields are ripe. Others are serving in post-Christian areas where the work is tedious and for those seeking immediate gratification and high numbers of salvations regularly, often are overlooked. Stay focused on the big picture, but seek to keep missionaries where they are called, to the people where relationships are formed and being formed. Do not forsake the "post-Christian" areas (i.e. Europe) for the sake of others. We need work in all areas. Though we've never seen a resurgence of revival in post-Christian cultures, we are seeing sparks of a fire. Let's not forsake any.
  • Integrity. The President, the IMB staff, and missionaries throughout the world are to be men and women of integrity. Holy. Set apart. Again, I do not post this as a response to something done wrongly in the past. This is just a reminder that "so goes the shepherd, so go the sheep." Be above reproach in all areas. I believe the Enemy seeks to take out pastors, especially those with great influence. David has experienced this, I'm sure, and now in this new position, the attacks will undoubtedly increase. That leads to the next section.

What David Needs From Us

Whether or not a Southern Baptist approves of Platt's selection as President of the IMB is now irrelevant. He is our President. I, for one, am glad that he is.

Beyond tweets and postings and news updates, there are a number of things David Platt needs from us as Southern Baptists, and me as a brother in Christ:

  • Prayer. This is not a passive option, but active. David, Heather and their children, need our prayers. We are commanded to pray for our leaders in the nation, but I believe we must also pray for those who serve in denominational leadership. This man of God and his family have been in the Enemy's cross-hairs for years, and that has just intensified today. The members of a local church can be demanding and unforgiving. It takes a toll on a family. How much more will the pressures inherant to this new role be upon the Platts. Pray for David and Heather's marriage to remain strong. Pray for their children to be strong and eventually dangerous Christ-followers.
  • Encouragment. When I received a note and a book from David years ago, it was like a balm of encouragement during a challenging time. I'm sure he receives many notes, messages and gifts, but rest assured, they are powerful and meaningful. For those with the opportunity to meet and speak with David, encourage him. For those who will not get that opportunity, send a note of encouragement to him via the IMB. Be a "Barnabas." Don't presume someone else will.
  • Openness. There's no doubt Platt will make some decisions and lead the IMB into areas that others may question. There may be some new opportunities revealed that will help engage the world even better. Be open to new ideas and opportunities. Not everything new will work. Not everything new is good, but the opportunity to try new things as God reveals them should be given to Platt and his team of leaders.
  • Celebration. Have you noticed how many people under 40 are tweeting and retweeting this announcement? It's an amazing thing that best not be ignored. While the attendance at the annual SBC is getting older and greyer, the vast crowd that has been attending NAMB's Send North America events is young. David Platt comes from this demographic. He has been used by God and will be used by God to reach and connect with a generation that has often been ignored, simply out of not knowing how to connect. Celebrate that God is revitalizing the church in North America and the world. For those like me who are realizing that being the "young pastor" in town is now a designation for someone else, this is encouraging. 
  • Accountability. Platt needs accountability, just like every pastor, every Christ-follower, needs accountability. Some will be used by God to lovingly keep David accountable. The key word there is "lovingly." That means, not thorugh a blog, such as this, or with negative undertones, but in love, being effective as a friend and brother. Encouragement and accountability are related closely.
  • Financial Support. Churches must not cut CP or Lottie Moon giving simply because they do not (or their pastors do not) approve of the vote for David Platt. Some may actually start giving more due to his selection. I understand that. Regardless, the IMB (and NAMB, too) need financial support from Southern Baptists to continue to do the Kingdom work they have been tasked. Give generously, not because or in spite of who is president, but for the global work we are cooperatively doing for the Kingdom.

One More Thing

We should pray for our sister church, The Church at Brook Hills. While they are no doubt excited that David Platt is going to be leading the International Misison Board, they will be going through the tedious and long process of seeking God's will for the next man to lead them as pastor.