What's In a Name? The Birth of the firstFAMILY

Since the chartering of First Baptist Church of Orange Park (the church I pastor) in 1951, the focus of our mission has been and always will be to honor and love God and to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the years the location of our church has changed as has leadership and models of ministry. However, our focus has never shifted from the Gospel and it never will.

(CLARIFICATION: First Baptist Church was actually begun as a Bible study class on Mrs. Carrie Clarke's front porch in 1919. In 1921, the church held its first business meeting. The sponsor of the new church in Orange Park was Murray Hill Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where Mrs. Clarke was a member. The 1951 date is when the church was officially chartered with a constitution and by-laws. The church was incorporated in 1976. So, regardless which date you choose, FBCOP has been around for quite some time.)

To state the obvious, the community where God planted our church campus has changed dramatically since 1951. I still run into some Orange Parkians (not sure that's really a word) who will tell me they remember when the four-lane, divided avenue our church is located was nothing but a dirt road with orange trees planted in the medians. Now, most all orange trees in Orange Park are just images on our street signs.

As our community has dramatically changed, we have sought to seek ways to continue reaching people for Christ in our neighborhood and beyond. Our county and nearby Jacksonville, Florida are areas that identify greatly by geographic names and community identifiers. When one speaks of living in Jacksonville to a native, the next question is "Where in Jacksonville?" and that question is a pointed one with an expected answer of a region such as "the Westside, Southside, Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, Northside, the Beaches, Mandarin, etc." Each area has a distinct identity and then within each area, there are more distinctions. In Clay County, where Orange Park is located, those distinctions often are defined by the names of housing developments or neighborhoods such as Pace Island, Eagle Harbor, Oak Leaf, the Ravines, Ridgecrest, Bear Run, Orange Park South, etc.

Yet, over time as as we have grown to be less internally-focused and have sought God's lead into areas of ministry, doors have opened for our church to begin new expressions of church in various locations throughout our county, Jacksonville and beyond.

"First Baptist Church of Orange Park" has been the name of our church since its founding. Apparently, there were no points given for creativity back in the 1950s. As is the case with many legacy churches, names prominently stated the denominational affiliation and the geographic location. In our case, it also designates that we arrived on the scene before any other Baptist churches. For those who have grown up in the Baptist world, this is normal. Yet, over the years I have been asked many times (and more recently) if all First Baptist Churches are the same. I used to joke that we were franchises like McDonald's, but have stopped due to the fact that most of the people asking believe me. 

In some areas of our nation, the denominational tagline is a hindrance. That is not so much a problem in the area of Florida where we are located, but thanks to the protesting, pseudo-church in Kansas that uses the Baptist name, I have had to explain to a number of young men and women that we are in no way connected to that group.

Proverbs 22:1 reminds us the value of a good name and thankfully, our church has been able to develop a name in the community over the years that brings with it good connotations. This is due to our church family members and their willingness to love people and serve those in our local schools and community. 

Forty New Expressions of Church

God is sending us outside Orange Park.

As we have been praying through and I have been preaching through the reality that God sends his church into a world that needs light and salt, it is clear now that we will not be limited only to the area of Orange Park. We have already experienced the sending of missionaries and church planters throughout the world, as those from our family have said "Yes" to the call and have been sent. 

There will be more.

There will also be more churches birthed through the ministry of First Baptist. Our desire is to see forty new expressions of church birthed through First Baptist. These will be satellite locations, new church plants, special-event gatherings and culturally-defined churches. 

The birth of the firstFAMILY

In truth, the ministry of First Baptist will be a mini-network of churches and missions founded on the Gospel and focused on implementing the "Big 3" of 1) Loving God, 2) Loving people, and 3) Making disciples.

GameDay Church at the Jacksonville Jaguars home games is one of our first new endeavors. As we began to put the pieces together for this expression of church, it became clear that we would be seeking to connect with people throughout the Jacksonville area. While the name "Baptist" may be attractive to some and a turn-off to others (and much has been written about that over the years, so I won't delve into that) we discovered that the regional name was going to be a larger barrier. Missionally-speaking, it is unwise to create barriers to reaching people with the Gospel, especially since we are called to engage the culture for the sake of God's Kingdom (not our little ones.) 

First family logo all blue

So, firstFAMILY was birthed and has become the banner under which all our ministries, venues, and mission endeavors function. The name is all-encompassing and travels well.

Don't Hear What I'm Not Saying (or Don't Read What I'm Not Writing)

Here are some answers to the FAQ:

  • We are NOT changing the name of the church. First Baptist Church of Orange Park remains our legal name and also remains the hub of all ministries hosted as the firstFAMILY. Our offices are at FBCOP. Our primary worship services and ministries are housed at this location. In a sense, FBCOP is the headquarters for all that is firstFAMILY.
  • As mission support is shifting for Southern Baptists, we will continue to give through the Cooperative Program, but also will be supporting missionaries on the field who are not funded by the International Mission Board or North American Mission Board, but who are doctrinally-aligned with us. In many cases, these are missionaries who were previously serving with the IMB, but have been released recently due to financial realignment. This mission support will be under firstFAMILY Missions and will help us continue to engage the world for the sake of the Gospel, especially in areas where we have connections and a vested interest.
  • Satellite campuses will be tagged with the name firstFAMILY. We have opportunities now and are praying through others regarding the placement of campuses in the Northside, Oakleaf and Swimming Pen Creek areas. Since geographic titles are not bad, these will likely be named something like firstFAMILY-Northside, firstFAMILY-Oakleaf, etc. The names flow better than "First Baptist Church of Orange Park at the Northside." Not only does that have two regional names, causing confusion, it is too long. A firstFAMILY-Toronto venue is not out of the realm of possibilities either.
  • New expressions of church will continue to be birthed in the firstFAMILY network. GameDay Church is our first non-traditional church expression. 
  • We are developing a Church Planting Center at our church, that will work in conjunction with the Jacksonville Baptist Association to assess, prepare and resource those called to plant churches.
  • Our orphan care ministry is already growing and will continue to expand services to those seeking to foster or adopt children as well as support children located in orphanages locally and internationally.

We continue to seek clarity regarding where God is at work in our area and throughout the world and will join Him there. Rather than create crowds, we will go where they already gather, taking the message of the Gospel with us and trusting God's Spirit to do what He always has. Our role is to be obedient.

There is value and power in the name "family." In fact, it is a "good name." When people join God's family, they cease to be "those people." This is a significant step. The term "family" brings with it a sense of identity and unity. 

These are exciting days and I'm convinced the best is yet to come.

Has Your Church Peaked?

I was reading post this morning by Seth Godin about the Mac and how businesses and primary products seem to hit a peak. That is, there is this point where the product isn't improved dramatically, the customer base is no longer increased and creativity stalls.

Godin writes. . .

The Grateful Dead hit their peak in 1977. Miles Davis in 1959, Warhol perhaps ten years later. It's not surprising that artists hit a peak—their lives have an arc, and so does the work. It can't possibly keep amazing us forever.

Fans say that the Porsche arguably hit a peak in 1995 or so, and the Corvette before that. Sears hit a peak more than a decade ago. It's more surprising to us when a brand, an organization or a business hits a peak, because the purpose of the institution is to improve over time. They gain more resources, more experience, more market acceptance... they're not supposed to get bored, or old or lose their touch. If Disney hadn't peaked, there would never have been a Pixar. If Nokia and Motorola hadn't peaked, there never would have been a smart phone.

One reason for peaking turns out to be success.


One does not have to look too far to find articles and blog posts about the rise of the "Nones" in American religious life and the stories of the marginalization of local churches.

Since the early 1980s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of megachurches in the United States. The most common definition of a megachurch is a church that averages over 2,000 attenders weekly. There were approximately fifty megachurches in the US in 1980. Today, there are over 880. One statistic states that a new megachurch emerges in the US every two weeks in today's culture.

As America has become a predominantly urban and suburban culture, the growth of such places of worship was inevitable, it seems. The impact of these fellowships has been good, for the most part, and attractive for those seeking to be part of a larger story.

However, even with the rise of the megachurch, church attendance and participation in our culture seems to be going the opposite direction.


Have many churches peaked?

Bob Russell, former pastor of Southeast Christian Church, speaks of the reality of a local church's "shelf-life." He states. . .

One can trace the history of most churches through the swing of a bell curve. Birthed out of a need, it progresses upward through vision, commitment, enthusiasm, growth, and reputation, peaking at pride of achievement. Then the church slowly declines through tradition, dwindling attendance, indifference, bureaucracy, cynicism, and eventually death. 

In a conference I attended years ago, Reggie McNeal stated "All churches have a shelf-life. That's why we're not talking about the church at Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc. as modern pictures of a health and growth."

It's a wake up call for most pastors and church members.

Even in the suburban community where the church I serve is located, we have had to address the amazing demographic changes that have happened in just the past decade. To continue to program and plan to reach people as we did ten to fifteen years ago means that within ten to fifteen years, we may be struggling for survival.

Tweet: No church wants to be known as the  No church wants to be known as the "Sears" of the church-world, or even worse - the "Montgomery Ward."

Has Your Church Peaked?

A strategic and honest analysis of the health of your church is needed. To believe that everything is okay simply because there are people attending today is not enough. Since disciple-making is the goal of, and commission to the local church, it behooves us to ensure we (pastors and leaders) are equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). 

Tweet: Equipped saints are not equipped just to maintain status quo. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/Rv0P9+ Equipped saints are not equipped just to maintain status quo.

Tweet: Disciples are not called out and ransomed just for the here and now. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/nf6h9+ Disciples are not called out and ransomed just for the here and now.

I think about the twelve whom Jesus called out as apostles. For three years he taught, led and poured truth into them. This was done for their present situations, but he had a larger story in mind. Peter, James, John, Andrew, Bartholomew and the rest had no idea that the work they would be commissioned to do for the sake of the Gospel would ever be more than the "holy huddle" of the twelve plus Jesus. Then, as he equipped them, he revealed to them their calling. 

He is still doing this.

The Local Church Is Valuable

The expression of the local church is valuable and God's design for impact in a community and ultimately the world. While His church will prevail, even when faced against the "gates of Hell" and the power of the Enemy, the reality is that numerous local churches no longer exist. This is not threatening to God or cause for distress. It is, however, a potential wake-up call for the fellowship of local believers.

We have a calling for now. The local church is still viable. However, the local church that becomes so inwardly focused and content to remain in small stories that ultimately do not matter, a funeral is coming. By the way, this is the truth for the mini-church and the mega-church.

We are wise to heed the words of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation (Bob Russell):

  • “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (2:5).
  • “Be faithful even to the point of death” (2:10).
  •  “Hold on to what you have until I come (2:25).
  • “Be earnest and repent” (3:19).
  • “Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die…” (3:2).

Tweet: Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/8Xe8E+ The adage is true - "Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future."

Your Church Has Peaked. . .Now What?

In this age where church planting is celebrated in the evangelical world, many established and "legacy" churches are struggling to discover their identity in a changing culture. While some may have to shut their doors and eventually sell their property, not all have to go this route.

Revitalization is key. 

To revitalize a dying church requires strategic "heart surgery." I have heard of far too many churches still gathering in old buildings, with rusty baptismal pipes (Baptist churches) and just a handful of senior adult ladies and one or two senior adult men gathering on Sunday mornings wondering what will happen in just a few years. 

Until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change, nothing will likely happen.

However, I have also had the privilege of watching a handful of dying (actually these churches weren't dying - they were actually dead and had been for years. I call them Zombie churches) churches swallow the pride of yesteryear and seek partnerships with growing, healthy and new expressions of church in their community. In some cases, the skin tone of the leadership had to change to better impact the changing community. In other situations, the heart language was different as immigrants have moved into an area. It's the same old story - the community changed and the church didn't respond. The wonderful thing is that in these cases, it wasn't too late.

The original expression of church peaked, but then was re-introduced through a healthy partnership and a newer, strategic vision. This is more than a fresh coat of paint on a broken-down building. This is a rebirth.

These churches have been born again.

Time ran a story a while back on "10 Companies That Radically Transformed Their Businesses" with illustrations of corporations who used to sell certain products then shifted and remain impactful today. IBM still exists because they realized at some point the business of creating punch-cards and tabulating machines would end. Nokia used to be a paper mill that sold rubber and cable works. Now, they make cell phones (though they may have to shift that too as Apple and Samsung seem to have cornered that market.)

The difference in these businesses and the church is that the "core product" is the only thing that will never change for the church. The Gospel is unchanging and always relevant. The means for sharing this Word changes over time, yet the Word never changes.

The local church may peak, but the Gospel never does.

The word to the wise is to know the Gospel, learn from the past, live in the present and look forward to the future. Just don't water-down or change the message.


At Some Point, You Have to Stop Asking "Isn't There Another Church Doing This?"

Yeah, I know - "There's nothing new under the sun."

It's a wise saying from a wise man and it still holds true.

However, as we seek to lead well and pastor with integrity in a swiftly changing culture, the fact is that often we (the church, pastors, leaders, etc.) find ourselves just doing the same things over and over again and wondering why we aren't seeming to gain any ground.

Unchanging Gospel

Now, I am referring to methodology here, not doctrinal soundness. To be clear, the unchanging truth of the Gospel remains the solid footing upon which we stand. There is no changing of the Gospel. There is no value in "watering it down." There is no viability in "making the Gospel relevant" because in and of itself, the Gospel is always relevant, for all people, in all cultures, at all time.

Changing Methods

What I am speaking of are the methods of "doing church" in our culture. I grew up in a Baptist world where regardless where I lived (Mississippi, Alabama, Ohio, Texas, Tennessee, Alaska, etc.) the way we held church weekly was virtually unchanged. Sunday School was always at 9:45am on Sunday morning. That was followed by an 11am worship service. Most Sunday afternoons were short in that we were back at the church building for Training Union/Church Training/Discipleship Training and an evening worship service. Tuesday was church-wide visitation and Wednesday was filled with "Prayer Meeting" for adults and a combination of choirs, missions education and student worship services for the rest of the congregation.

In most of my Baptist church families, the bulletin on Sunday mornings were the same (we all bought them from the Baptist Book Store - now LifeWay) and in many cases, the layout of the facilities were identical. This was due to the fact that our family often joined churches that were small in size and received building blueprints from the Baptist Book Store or somewhere in Nashville, so the L-shaped or U-shaped buildings with a "Sanctuary" on one end and offices and Sunday School rooms on the other were common.

New Wineskins

There comes a time when the methods for connecting and reaching people in the community (i.e. mission field) where God has placed His church must change. In most cases, churches struggle with this because we tend to lean on old models that worked decades ago and therefore put money and effort into plans ultimately designed to reach people who no longer exist.

Tony Morgan has recently blogged about the reality and danger of churches that are so predictable in all they do that, for the most part, they are finding themselves being ignored by a culture who does not care what they are "selling." Unfortunately, this is not just reserved for those who are outside the church. Some who have attended for years are wondering how they found themselves in such a rut.


In Tony's post titled "Predictable: 9 Reasons Your Church Services Are Stuck in a Rut" he gives some great insight. (You should click the link and read his full list as well as related posts in the "Predictable" series.)

His first reason is this:

Tweet: All your new ideas comes from others churches - the same churches that are too predictable. @tonymorganlive All your new ideas comes from others churches - the same churches that are too predictable.

When I read that, I thought "YES!!! Someone finally said it. Thank you, Tony!"

I cannot tell you how many meetings I have had over the years with pastors, in our church and in our network, and other leadership team members when a new idea was thrown onto the table that resulted in someone saying "Surely someone else is doing something like this. Let's go see them or visit their website or talk to them."

Now, I fully agree that the wise leader will seek information and detail from others who have gone down a similar path, but the fact of the matter is that when God reveals new and creative ways to do ministry for the sake of His name and the intent of reaching the people (i.e. mission field) surrounding one's church, there is likely NO ONE doing ministry exactly how you will do it, or should.

Tweet: At some point, you should be the first to do  At some point, you should be the first to do "something" ministry related.

We live in the age of the mega-church. So many great and creative ideas have been developed and new ways of connecting with people have been birthed. While the Gospel remains unchanged, there are few, if any, vibrant, healthy churches that look like the churches I attended back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Just because City Church, Passion City Church, Saddleback, North Point, Summit or any host of other solid churches around our nation and network do ministry a certain way does not mean that is the exact way you should.

Know Your Community & Culture

Tweet: The pastor should know his culture so well that it would not be a stretch to connect on a real, relevant and deep level. @davidtark 
 The pastor and leadership team should know their culture so well that it would not be a stretch to connect with them on a real, relevant and deep level. 

If your community (you know, the mission field) is full of people who wear camouflage, drive four-wheel drive trucks, listen to outlaw country music, own big dogs, hunt and fish and love their Budweiser, it is likely that preaching in skinny jeans, bowties, hairstyles where the back of your head is shaved and the top just flows like a One Direction member, referencing kale salads and soccer games is not the "new, creative" steps needed to engage. However, I don't advocate becoming something you are not, pastor, in order to connect. Sure, be all things to all people, but ultimately, be authentic. Most anyone can see through fake-ness.

Fear Stifles Creativity

Hopefully, you have a leadership team (these are not always paid staff members, by the way) who have the freedom to think creatively. Celebrate that freedom, especially if you are not naturally bent to be creative. Listen well and take some chances. Predictability may be safe, but there are many "safe churches" who are closing their doors. 

Remember, this calling we have is not a calling to safety, but a dangerous calling for His sake.

We are the "sent out ones." 

So, while there may be someone who has done it before (whatever "it" is) please quit stifling what the Holy Spirit may be birthing for sake of safety.

Tweet: Predictable churches are led by predictable leaders who often are just afraid of stepping out in the faith they proclaim. @davidtark Ultimately, predictable churches are led by predictable leaders who often are just afraid of stepping out in the faith they proclaim.

A Church That Calls Out the Called

As I was preparing to preach the ordination sermon for Robert L. Powell last Sunday morning, I started writing down names on my church bulletin of men and women who were (and in some cases, are) members of our church who in the past said "Yes" to God regarding the calling to full-time Christian ministry. Of course, as I began to write down the names, it became clear that I would miss some. Nevertheless, here is a sampling of some of the names of those who have been a part (even if just for a short time) of the ministry at our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) who have stepped forward in answer to the call to serve. In some cases, there are couples who serve together. In most cases, many are still serving in ministry full or part-time (pay is the only part of ministry that is part-time, by the way.) Here's a portion of the listing, in no particular order, of those who have or are serving on ministerial staff at a local church, in a ministry, on the mission field. These are in no particular order:

  • Eddy & Monica - worship pastor, worship leader
  • Art - evangelist and pastor
  • Susan & Karl - missionaries
  • Karla - worship leader
  • Kerrie - missionary, church staff
  • Shanna - church ministerial staff, pastor's wife
  • Andy - pastor
  • Michael - church ministerial staff
  • Heather - minister's wife
  • Neil & Kaytee - church planters, missionaries
  • Jason - missionary
  • Brian - church ministerial staff
  • Brian - men's pastor
  • Robert - children's pastor
  • Brandon - student pastor, worship pastor
  • Lee - associate pastor, group home leader
  • Michael & Carrie - church planters, missionaries
  • Jon & Mandi - church ministerial staff
  • Nik & Mandy - church ministerial staff, children's minister
  • John & Monica - orphan care ministry, director of orphanage
  • Austin & Nicole - church ministerial staff
  • Kenzie & Ryan - church ministerial staff
  • Crystal & Jacob - church ministerial staff
  • Callie - Christian camp staffer
  • Patrick & Selena - mercy ministries pastor
  • Scott & Brittany - church staff & mission support ministry
  • Boyd - pastor
  • Curtis - missionary
  • Patrick - military chaplain
  • Nicole - missionary

Now, here's the problem with this list. . .I know I've left some off. I don't, at this time, know which names have been left off, but I am getting older, so I know I've left some names off. So, if you would add names of those who were a part of our church for a season (and that could be through the student ministry) who have answered God's call to full-time ministry in the comments below, I would appreciate it.


Following the ordination of Robert (Bobby) Powell on Sunday, one of our deacons shared with me this truth:

"If all those over the years who have said 'yes' to the calling had stayed in their small groups and in this church over the years, we may have a couple of dozen more in the seats on Sunday, but think of all the hundreds who would not have been reached by these faithful men and women."

It's true. While I affirm the sovereignty of our God and the reality that He doesn't need us, I celebrate the reality that He so chooses to invite us into His great story.

All Christians are called by God to serve. Some are called to the noble role of pastor and many others to serve in full-time ministry. The church is God's instrument to affirm the "calling out of the called." 

I am humbled by how God has done so here and how He continues to draw men and women to Himself.

The International Mission Board is Bringing Home Hundreds of Missionaries. Who's to Blame & What's Next?

Over the past few days, I have read numerous accounts regarding the financial situation of our International Mission Board and the announcement that up to 800 missionaries will be pulled off the field through early retirement and other means over the next six months.

Dr. David Platt, President of the IMB has been making the rounds to SBC agencies, seminaries and churches sharing this update and has recently posted an "OPEN LETTER" to all Southern Baptists regarding the announcement. The letter can be read in its entirety here.


David Platt, IMB President
David Platt, President of the IMB (Photo Credit: Baptist Press)



On or around September 10, many veteran missionaries throughout the world will receive word from the IMB that they are part of the 600-800 being offered voluntary retirement incentives (VRI.)

This is a difficult time for Southern Baptists, but it does not have to be so.

Once the IMB made the announcement, there have been varied responses from church leaders, church members, missionaries and pastors.

Blame the Churches

Some have taken the opportunity to express that churches are to blame for abandoning mission education programs such as RAs, GAs, Acteens and WMU. While there is a definite need for mission education, I believe that our current situation would not change even if more churches had these programs. (Our church no longer has these programs in place.)

There have been others who have shared that lower giving to the Cooperative Program has resulted in this. Some churches give to specific missions and missionaries by reducing their CP giving. Others do not give systematically to CP at all.

Some blame churches who have abandoned giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions as well) and that is what has led to this situation.

Blame the Church Members

Blame is being placed upon the shoulders of believers who are members of local churches, too. A church budget is only functional based on the tithes and offerings received by members (and guests.) Some push against the teaching of the tithe, but I feel it's not only right, but biblical. When church members are content to "tip" rather than "tithe" the overall receipts suffer and ultimately, giving to missions decreases. Now, this presupposes that the church where the members are giving are good stewards of funds received and using them for Kingdom purposes.

Blame the State Conventions

Bureaucracy builds automatically in organizations. It just happens over time. Some state conventions have taken the bold step restructure and move quickly to a 50/50 distribution where half of the collected funds from member churches stay within the state and the other half is given to the SBC, which includes IMB through CP giving. My state, Florida, is moving quickly to be a 49/51 state, where less than half stays in state. According to a posting on Baptist 21. . .

“If by decree tomorrow (impossible by our polity and rightly so), every state convention moved to a 50/50 split, then that would mean $55.4 million more to the SBC and $27.7 million more given to the IMB. That’s without any increased giving at all!” That would have been a big chunk of the IMB’s nearly $35million yearly shortfall!

Blame the Economy

The economy is always in flux. It always has been. The economic bottoming out a few years ago pushed many families, churches and non-profits into a frenzy. It's true the economy has affected giving greatly. However, it is time to stop blaming the economy for every financial issue we face.

Blame the IMB

There are some who are putting much blame on Dr. Platt and the trustees of the IMB. In addition to Dr. Platt, leaders from the past are being thrown under the bus as well. Questions relating to the "suddenness" of the announcement are pushing these blames to the forefront. I believe Dr. Platt answered well in his open letter:

No blame should be assigned to previous IMB leadership. Previous leaders knew these financial realities, and they put in place a plan to slowly reduce our mission force (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. I praise God for the resources He provided to make that plan possible, and I praise God for leaders who chose not to sit on those resources, but to spend them for the spread of the gospel among the unreached. Ultimately, I praise God for the people who came to Christ over these last years because missionaries stayed on the field, and because we used our resources to keep them there.

Yet when staff and trustee leaders alike looked at the realities before us, we realized that plan is no longer viable, for we cannot continue to overspend as we have. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.

Blame Isn't Helping, So Now What?

There's definitely enough blame to go around, it seems. However, I'm not sure how helpful or healthy it is to continue playing the "blame game." The fact of the matter is that over the decades, God has used the SBC to impact the world for the Kingdom. He has allowed an incredible model to be developed that enabled thousands of missionaries and families to be on the field. The harvest is plentiful, I hear. The workers have always been few, but in these decades, we have had a good number serving.

Now that number is going to diminish.

It seems.

Is blame the best response? Maybe there's no reason to blame anyone? We're all in this together, it seems. And, just in case it has been forgotten, God was not taken by surprise here. So maybe, just maybe, He's up to something.

In the midst of this story, where there are people on all sides lamenting the realities of what will happen this fall, there is hope.

Though some pastors celebrate the downsizing of the IMB, likely because they love when things are new or restructured for better work, the reality is that these 600-800 people who will receive these notifications soon are just that . . . PEOPLE.

These are men and women who wrestled with a call from God many years ago to leave their homes and their culture to go "somewhere else" for the sake of the Kingdom. While it was likely adventuresome at first, even while on the field there were likely days when they thought "Did I hear God correctly?"

Yes, they heard God correctly and were placed in the center of His calling. In most places, they went to dark areas where the Light of Christ hadn't shown for years, if ever.

These missionaries are more than two-dimensional images on postcards plastered on our refrigerators. These are men and women of God, serving Him in full-time and long-term in areas where most of us will never trod.

Not all will accept the VRI. Not all should. What does that mean? It means that for many, as long as they are affirmed that God has not said "Go back to the States" they will remain on the field. Their funding will be changed. The IMB may not be able to offer what they have in the past. If fact, that's not a "maybe" that is pretty much a certainty.

Yet, for churches who are partnered with these missionaries, there will be a crisis of belief.

Many of our churches are the ones who sent out (or "cast out" as the original language in Matthew 9 states) these lifetime missionaries. For others, we have come alongside them through mission emphases, mission trips and a love for the people in the region they serve. 

I'm not exactly sure what this means for all, but in many cases, God will choose to leave these men and women on the field and then will speak to His churches regarding their support. 

In our church's case, this in no way will impact our giving to the Cooperative Program. Yet, we will seek God's lead on what to do with our missionaries. We may not be able to fully fund them, but perhaps, along with other means, those whom God has not said "Finished" to yet, will have the means to remain where He has called them.

For all of us, missionaries, pastors, churches, and church members, we must pray intently and strategically. We must have "ears to hear" and ensure that what we hear is God's voice and not our idea or plan to fix a decades long problem.

I support Dr. David Platt, the IMB and our Trustees. I know their decision has come after much prayer and seeking God. I don't like the answer that leads to removing missionaries. In fact, based on what I've heard and read, they don't like it either. Nevertheless, we are beyond just sending press releases and creating videos and begging churches to give more.

Don Dent, a Southern Baptist missionary recently posted notes regarding the decision on Facebook. In one posting, he states:

The loss of another 600-800 colleagues is going to be painful, just as the drawdown of 900 was painful several years ago. Let’s pray for everyone who will be affected. I am praying that a leaner IMB will actually be meaner. I am not implying that things will be better without these colleagues, because the failure to support them is tragic. However, the IMB will still be one of the largest agencies in the world, and one of the most effective.  Southern Baptists are going to lose some precious resources in this process, but God can still use the 4000 harvesters that remain.  The harvest is plentiful and the workers are too few, so unless God himself tells you to come home then sharpen your sickle and get back to the harvest.

Tweet: It is in times of testing and trial that God often does His greatest work in our lives. @davidtark http://ctt.ec/RK00g+ It is in times of testing and trial that God often does His greatest work in our lives.  

Therefore, I am seeking the Lord of the harvest and waiting on His lead.

I pray our other SBC churches will as well.

Why the Jokes About Jenner Have to Stop

This has been a landmark year for advocates of the LGBT community.

In addition to the SCOTUS ruling that changed state recognition of same-sex marriage, a prominent celebrity (Bruce Jenner) slid to the far right of the acronym to announce that he is transgender and will begin living not as the gender he was born, but as a woman.

To be clear, I do not support the shift in gender that Jenner has and is going through. I don't even know the man, but my belief in identity and bestowed gender, founded on what I believe the Word of God to reveal, means that I cannot affirm this lifestyle choice. I wrote about Jenner's announcement here. I also believe that God loves Jenner as he loves all. Love, nevertheless, is not synonymous with affirmation and acceptance of life choices.

CREDIT: Tony Duffy/Allsport/Getty Images, Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair

Since Jenner's "coming out" as Caitlyn, the entertainment and sports media has pointedly fought to find more details about Jenner and this has effectively pushed him back on the cover of magazines, on the stage at awards shows and as the lead story on many entertainment "news" shows. Some say this was what he desired all along. Perhaps, but I doubt that was the driving force. 

It's Not About Political Correctness

In a culture where political correctness reigns and celebrities, politicians, and athletes spend more apologizing for saying or Tweeting things that have been labeled as insensitive by the self-proclaimed political correctness police, I am not calling for the end of Jenner jokes and other LGBT jokes for this reason.

Like most guys, I love a good joke. Like most jokes that are really funny, there's always a hint of truth in them. Sarcasm is easy for me. Humor that may offend some has always been a default for me as well. While I find no humor in jokes laced with profanity, racial stereotypes or hurtful words, there are times I have told jokes, or at least laughed at some that are hurtful. What's worse than couching hurtful language in a joke that may cause an individual to feel personally ridiculed is the hurt that takes place for God and His Kingdom.

It Is Mission Critical

When missionaries are sent to international lands, they are sent with a mandate - a Commission. This is to love God fully as they love people with the intent of leading people to the rescue that is found only in Jesus Christ. Our missionaries are not taught to "Americanize" the natives. They are not taught to look down on those whom they been sent to serve. They are not led to water-down the Gospel for any reason, just to be accepted either. They are sent equipped to live among the culture that does not know Jesus, or in some cases is loudly opposed to Jesus.

Christians in America are discovering that the mission field is no longer only overseas. It's not just on another continent where a different religion reigns supreme. The mission field is here. In some cases, the mission field is within one's home and family.

Our culture is growing more loudly opposed to Christ and Christians. The marginalization of the church in cultural life is upon us. Yet, rather than lament the reality, we must celebrate that God has seen fit to place us here, now, for "such a time as this." Apparently, he is equipping us to be His ambassadors and His church for a mission field that is very dark.

Love Wins

While #LoveWins has trended recently as a call for unity and celebration by the LGBT community, the truth of the matter is that Love who wins has already won. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of love. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And. . .lost people do not know that. Sometimes, they have been blinded to that truth because of religion, unfortunately.

So, Why Stop the Jokes?

Maybe you've never told or laughed at "gay jokes" or "transgender jokes." Or ... maybe you're like me. Here's why I feel the conviction to stop. I believe God has given us a unique opportunity to share His love and hope with those in our community who struggle with same-sex attraction and even deeply troubling gender issues. I know that previous statement is a challenging one, especially for those who are LGBT and are not struggling with it, by their own admission. Nevertheless, based on my faith convictions and understanding of Scripture, I would stand by my wording.

That being said, the Great Commission does not have an asterisk by it that eliminates certain people from our love through Christ. 

This is the biggest challenge - loving truly without affirming sin (and I mean any kind of sin - so don't think I'm just saying LGBT lifestyles. I do mean adultery, fornication, thievery, gluttony, etc.) If we can't love people who sin. . .well, we have to eliminate much Scripture.

Humor Is a Gift, But Can Be a Barrier

I believe humor is a gift from God. It's not a spiritual gift. It's not even a primary gift. I just believe that God, in his sovereignty and glory has gifted us with the ability to laugh (at ourselves mostly) and circumstances. Laughter can be healing (Ever see "Patch Adams?")

However, jokes can be hurtful. 

How many times has someone said something hurtful to another and then tagged "just kidding" at the end, thinking that makes it all okay?

Tweet: If we're going to live as missionaries in a culture far from God, we can't continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach. @davidtarkIf we, as Christians, are going to be living sent, as missionaries in a culture far away from God, we cannot continue to make fun of those we are seeking to reach.

  • It would be like a white Christian missionary being sent to a tribal area in an African nation and telling "black jokes"...
  • It would be like an American moving to Europe and continually making fun of European accents and customs...
  • It would be like moving to Miami and telling jokes that make fun of Cubans...
  • Or living in South Texas and telling Mexican jokes...

It would be like doing all these things and more and then expecting to be able to share the Gospel message with those you have just made fun of, expecting a good response.

Tweet: Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our Christians, we cannot construct walls from within the church by laughing at the lost and expect the lost to respond to our "love."

I know, some of you are already poking holes in my premise by stating that the LGBT community is not a racial or cultural people group. I agree. It is different. I do not equate them as the same. I oppose the use of the Civil Rights Movement in our nation as a parallel to the LGBT causal movement of today. They are vastly different.

However, this is what we do know to be a reality. The LGBT community is just that - a community. In most cases, there is unbridled acceptance within the community (unless you are vehemently opposed and then there is no place at the table.) Most are not angry gay men or lesbians. Many just want to live their lives and be left alone. There are some (and they're loud) who advocate pretty harshly. Harshness often attracts harshness.

Love Without Affirmation of Sin

The church is going to have to make a decision in this world where the biblical worldview is being pushed aside and redefined by many (wrongly, I might add.) Some denominations in our culture are already capitulating. In other words, they are wimping out and have sacrificed the authority of Scripture and adherence to such for short-lived applause by those who really don't like them anyway. 

Tweet: The church must decide if people are really worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. @davidtarkThe church that stands firmly on Scripture and does not bend in this area, must decide if those within their membership (and there are quite a few) and those who are seeking God really are worth loving and ultimately worth reaching with the Gospel. 

While some say that's an offensive statement, I say no. If we truly love God then we can truly love people (all people, not just those who live with church approved sins). If we love people, we must show that love so that ultimately LOVE WINS. This is not a bait and switch. This is what we have been called to do.

We are missionaries to a culture that is as dark as any unchurched part of the world. Let's live well, live holy, live uncompromisingly on the Gospel and love well and tell some good jokes along the way, but let's not build unnecessary walls.

A Bad Day Fishing Is Better Than. . .

For the past few days, my wife Tracy and I have been camping with family at Bull Shoals State Park on the White River in Arkansas. Each day consists of getting up early, taking the boat out on the river and working to catch the daily limit of rainbow trout. 

Tracy's father is an excellent fisherman and has years of experience on this river as well as other lakes and rivers throughout the state and Texas.

I, on the other hand, have very limited fishing experience. In other words, I don't know what I'm doing. Nevertheless, this has been a great week and we have caught our share of trout (Tracy easily out-fished me. For every one I caught, I think she had three or four.)

A Bad Day Fishing Is Better Than a Good Day at Work

I now understand fully the phrase "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work."

So, as I sat on a boat for hours, throwing a fishing line into the water, I had quite a bit of time to think. For years, I've heard pastors reference Jesus' fishing illustrations in sermons. Here are some of the random thoughts regarding fishing and faith that came to mind, in no particular order:

  • It is good to be with someone who knows what they're doing while fishing. Mentors are vital. The Bible refers to this as "making disciples." (2 Timothy 2:2)
  • Sometimes, it's time to cast on the other side of the boat. (John 21:6)
  • The river is continually flowing. . .quickly. It's like the culture - changing quickly. The anchors we dropped were essential to allow us to fish effectively. (Hebrews 6:19)
  • Clean, proper bait is needed to catch the desired fish. (1 Corinthians 9:22)
  • We have to move the boat on occasion, otherwise, we're throwing lines out to empty water. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)
  • Sometimes the fish just play around with the bait, but never bite. This can be frustrating, but you just cannot make the fish bite. (Psalm 115:6)
  • If I had just stayed in the camper, read about fishing, talked about fishing and even developed great plans for fishing. . .I never would have caught anything. (Mark 16:15)

Then, I saw this sign posted in the park.

Life Jacket
It is obvious that the Arkansas State Parks are trying to encourage people to not just have life jackets in the boat, but to actually wear them.

I couldn't help but think that many people use Jesus just like they do life jackets. You know, they want to keep him close. . .but not too close. Unfortunately, unless you "wear the name of Christ" the life jacket will do no good. 

You must be born again. (John 3:1-21)

A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, but here's the reality: There is no such thing as a bad day fishing.

As Christians we cannot worship vicariously. We cannot outsource discipleship. We must not just talk about sharing Christ with those in need of the Gospel (and we are all in need of the Gospel.)

And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19 (ESV)

David Platt's Speech Clarifies Policies & Goals for Global Missions #SBC15

During David Platt's first year as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, there has been a noticeable effort of refocus and clarification of mission and a strategic attempt to partner with our North American Mission Board and local churches for the propagation of the Gospel.

23360-123963At the annual SBC meeting this week in Columbus, Dr. Platt present the annual report for the IMB. In this, he addressed critical remarks and overstated media reports regarding some policy changes within the IMB. What began as a report, became a sermon. For this, I am grateful and when Dr. Platt concluded, there were no questions offered. This is a significant moment, perhaps missed by many, within our family of churches. 

May God continue to bless our missionaries globally and the leadership of our International Mission Board.

Here's Dr. David Platt's "report" in its entirety. Yes, it's worth ten minutes of your time. . .

11429989 10153438404764715 1290255863 n from David Tarkington on Vimeo.

Video courtesy of the International Mission Board SBC.

I Know the Scorecard Has Changed. . .But It's Hard Not to Look at the Old One

The news media has been reporting what they declare to be the decline of Christianity in America. It seems the latest Pew Survey (this is the name of the research group, not a survey of number of pews in your church. . .though that survey probably exists somewhere) reflects this reality by showing the PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310pxgrowth of the "Nones" (those with no religious affiliation, and the decline of mainstream Christian denominations and groups with the greatest decline being with Mainline Protestant affiliations.

Is The Sky Falling?

The simple answer is NO. The church will not fail, even if buildings close and denominations lose traction. Some churches should close. Some denominations, based upon unbiblical and ungodly choices will decline. . .and should. And, the reality is that as the culture swings further away from biblical morality, those churches who continue to stand firmly on the Word of God and seek to love Him and others well, will likely be marginalized by a culture that cannot understand.

This is not unique to the United States, nor is it unique to our time in history.

Nevertheless, as Ed Stetzer pointed out in an op-ed for USA Today. . .

While it should be noted that evangelicals' share of the overall U.S. population dropped by 9 percentage points over the last seven years based on denominational affiliation, the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as evangelical or born-again rose from 34 to 35% over the same period of time. Don't miss that: More than one-third of Americans call themselves evangelical.

And despite what many are saying, evangelicals are attending church more than ever. The latest (2014) General Social Survey found that in the last two years of the study a greater percentage of evangelicals are attending church than in any other time of the last 40 years. Currently, 55 percent of evangelicals attend church at least nearly every week.

This is part of the growing "evangelicalization" of American Christianity in which the church in the U.S. is increasingly taking on the attributes of evangelicalism. According to Pew, half of all Christians self-identify as an evangelical or born again.

The Old Scorecard

I have read the books on missional movements and engagement. I have led conferences on the paradigm shift that must take place within local churches in order to honor God and engage a lost culture. I get it. The scorecard has changed. Yet, even though I know this. . .it's difficult not to default back to that which I have always known.

I like scorecards.

There, I said it. I actually like scorecards.

When I was a kid going to Cincinnati Reds games, I'd take a pencil and, at least for the first few innings, keep score on the provided scorecard program page. It kept me interested in the game and since baseball seems to be the sport that focuses most on statistics, I felt like I was in the know.

As a kid, I would play baseball, basketball and even soccer (just one season - we lost every game except the one I missed. I figured out then that soccer wasn't my sport.) I have a few trophies from those years, but they were for winning. Even as a kid, the score mattered to me. I know we now live in the "everyone gets a trophy" age where the score isn't even kept in certain situations. I get it. I understand the reasoning, but I also know this - the league may not keep the official score for the kids' sports, but most every parent in the stands knows exactly what the score is.

We like scorecards.

Why? Because we like to win.

That's a message for another day.

Nevertheless, another scorecard of sorts was released today. This one is from Baptist Press and reveals the state of Southern Baptist Churches in our nation, supposedly. I read the article and did what everyone I know does when they see these lists and charts. I went to my state (Florida) to see how we have done financially, church number-wise, number of baptisms and all other indicators. Then, I looked at where were were in relation to other states, which is crazy because Florida Baptists aren't part of a sports league. It's not like we are competing against Georgia (we beat them in baptisms, by the way) or Tennessee (we beat them in baptisms, too) or Texas (that's unfair, they have two conventions and more teams. . . uh, churches). You see, this can be really unhealthy.

Click Image to View Larger Version


Here's what every Baptist pastor knows about SBC statistics as provided by State Conventions - they're flawed. This is not really anyone's fault. It's the nature of the autonomous church. These statistics are built upon numbers provided by churches, as they choose to provide them, to the state conventions. Some churches keep lousy records. Others are meticulously anal when it comes to numbers. Some provide data. Others do not. Therefore, even with our best working on this, the numbers are never going to be 100 percent accurate.

Do Numbers Matter?

Yes, numbers matter. Sometimes, numbers can be used by God to spur us on to better service. If a community is growing exponentially and the church lives in a silo, the numbers on engagement with the community may show a need to do better. 

The reality is that there are likely many small churches who are better engaged and more missional than comparatively larger churches.

Baptisms are perhaps the best indicator we have of life change, yet that is likely a flawed number as well. 

Biblical Precedence

There's no ignoring the reality that people were counted when the church gathered in the New Testament. Even prior to the institution of the church, when Jesus would enter a town, perform miracles, teach the people, etc. someone was counting the number of those in the crowd. It was apparently so important that the numbers attending were listed in Scripture.

A Better Scorecard

Though the old scorecard will likely remain for years, another element must be added (or used as a replacement for some of the items counted now) and that is the number of "sent" Christ-followers. For years, we have counted the gathered. Yet, I cannot help but remember Christ's instructions for his followers to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out more workers. 

I am encouraged that many of our SBC churches are seeing this and entering into this story intentionally. Now, it's not new. For years, churches have sent missionaries globally. Churches would start "missions" in unreached areas. What must count today is what counted years ago. We are a sending church, part of a sending denomination. We must remain so.

The Win

Scorecards show where we're winning. . .and where we're losing. So, where's the win? The win is that even though the Enemy has called to the bullpen and seems to be throwing his biggest and best at the church, he will not prevail. We know the win is life-change. We know the win is transformation. We know the win is God being glorified. Let's all "live sent" for we have a great task before us.

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:17-19 (ESV)


Michael & Carrie Godfrey - Church Planters in Washington DC

051015_1045_Mike Godfrey Interview

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. 

Godfrey app large

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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