Hello again First Baptist Church family,
As we began our sermon series near the end of August, I asked you to consider a question with me: “Now What?” I won’t bore you with the reasons why this is even a question worth asking in the life of our church, but as we began to wade into the process of thinking through our vision package together, there were two sets of three questions that help us to begin to see what God might have us to see in His answer to “Now What?” The first series of three questions is “what do we do?”, “why do we do it?”, and “how do we do it?” These are answered respectively by our Mission, our Values, and our Strategy. The next series of questions is “where are we going?”, “where do we start?”, and “how will we know we are getting there?” These questions are answered by our Vision proper, an Annual Plan, and particular goals.
Most of you may be wondering how long this sermon series will last if we intend to answer all these questions sufficiently. I assure you, it will be over before Thanksgiving Day. Because of this, we will not thoroughly answer all of these questions. Some of you are rejoicing to read this, but it’s primarily because all of these things can’t be answered from the pulpit. Much of the nuts and bolts of Strategy, and Goal setting can’t be done behind the pulpit. These things will be done in committees, by ministry leaders, and many of these things will certainly require adjustments over time. The “30,000 foot” stuff, however, is my responsibility as your pastor. I intend to begin answering the question of “how we will do what we do”, but I know it will be an incomplete answer. I also want to begin to paint a picture of “where we are going”, because has clearly shown me some things, but as you look at a painting of a mountain scape, it’s obvious that there is a limited clarity at best when it comes to mountain slopes that are miles in the distance.
Our Annual Plan for 2022-23, as I mentioned last month, will help us to think through “where do we start?” Over the next 11 months, our “one big thing” will be first impressions. The system through which we best serve our guests needs to be strengthened in a major way. This will affect several different areas of ministry across our church. Working through and shoring up this vital area will strengthen our entire church family. Thankfully, these are good problems! The fact that God continues to bless us with visitors and new faces is something worth celebrating. We just need to do whatever it takes to serve them well.
We can talk about plans and goals, strategies and systems, but the most important question for us to make sure we understand a crystal clear answer to is “what do we do?” As I shared from the various versions of the Great Commission in October, “what do we do?” must be answered with “what has God commissioned us to do?” God’s Word makes clear that we have been commissioned to bear witness and make disciples. Knowing this, there is only one question left to ask: “are we doing it?” Is our church bearing witness and making disciples? Are we doing so as well as we could, or should? Are we as individuals doing our part to bear witness and make disciples? Are we being the followers of Jesus we claim to be? If we aren’t making disciples, then we aren’t really being biblical disciples. These are questions that ought really rattle our collective “cage.” This idea should convict us, challenge us, and force us to think about how we can better obey the mission God has given us. In the days ahead, our church will go through a subtle rebrand, but in doing so, we will see our new mission statement: HELPING BROKEN PEOPLE FIND HEALING IN CHRIST! This is unique to our church; God has blessed us in unique ways, and we have a unique context in which to bear witness. There are unique challenges and opportunities within Walnut Cove, and we must be broken people, working to help other broken people. We must be broken over our own sin, walking in humility. We must be broken over lost sheep around us, burdened to help them. We must also be thankful for the Healer! I am so thankful He healed me! O, that I might help others meet the Healer too!
There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus; no, not one, no, not one;
none else could heal all our soul’s diseases; no, not one, no, not one!
Happy New Year!!
I know, the fact that our fiscal year begins on October 1, rather than on January 1, may seem rather arbitrary to many of us. Here around the Office, however, it’s a big deal. If you serve on a committee or ministry team, it matters to you too. As we pass from 2021-22 into 2022-23, I want to do what we all tend to do personally as a new year begins: look backward, and then look forward.
Let’s reflect together. I wish to thank everyone that has volunteered on a committee or ministry team within the past year. As usual, the Finance Committee, Nominating Committee, and Personnel Committee have been particularly busy in recent weeks, spending the bulk of the fourth quarter gearing up with proposals for the new fiscal year. The Personnel Committee has been particularly busy within the past year. We hired Jacqueline Miller at the very beginning of the fiscal year, and you elected to hire Maxwell Digman in July. I would have never thought we would have filled the Children/Students vacancy within the fourth quarter, but by God’s grace Braydon Turpin came our way, and the Personnel Committee exercised great wisdom in a relatively few number of weeks, working hard to make it possible to get this all done before the end of the year! I would also be negligent to not thank specifically our SONquest volunteers for all their labor within the past year. 2021-22 was the first year since the corona virus where we have been able to have twelve months of uninterrupted children’s ministry. I’m thankful for folks who worked with various age groups Sundays at 10:00, Sundays at 11:00, and Wednesday evenings to make this ministry so strong. O, and by the way, we did it without a Minister of Children at the helm. A number of volunteers stepped up in significant ways to make things work together! This is perhaps our most robust area of ministry strength across our church, and I am profoundly grateful for the ways in which God has blessed it.
I also wish to thank our Deacons for serving. David Burroughs, Roy Busick, Andy Cheek, Mark Moore, and Blaine Williams will continue serving, but I thank these men for the wisdom and care with which they have served our church. Jim Oakley and Chairman Ronald Watts just completed their fourth year of a three-year term. We all owe these men a hearty thanks for their steadfast leadership through service in many areas of our church’s life, but particularly as we navigated a pandemic. As we give Jim and Ronald a well-deserved rest from this area of service, we are excited to have Brad Cheek and Randy Wood take their place in the year ahead!
We have folks joining committees, we have new Chairs, we have new teachers, we have new classes, we have new staff, we will financially support some new ministries, we are turning over a series of new leaves! As you have heard from my “Now What?” sermon series, we are asking a series of questions in hopes that God will provide answers. I would regret not taking this opportunity to invite anyone reading this to become a part of our Ministry Leadership Action team. As new committee Chairs become part of this team, it is a great time to join. We will meet on the third Sunday of each month, and continue the work of crafting annual plans and setting particular goals for several areas of ministry.
It is this team, and the long-range strategic planning process that has directly shaped the our current sermon series. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to seek God’s answer for each of the following questions. What do we do? This is answered by our Mission. Why do we do it? This is answered by our Values. How do we do it? This is answered by our disciple-making Strategy. Where are we going? This will be revealed in our Vision. Where do we start? This will be gauged by our Annual Plan. How do we know if we’re getting there? This will be measured by Goals. As we continue to unpack this vision package, my hope is that God clarifies to us all what He would have us to see. It will be vital to the health of our church for these to not merely be fun gimmicks that change our branding, fill a pretty note book, and then sit on a shelf. If this process is going to do what we want it to do, it will need to be a vision that every member of our church sees together!
The 2022-23 annual plan will be centered around one big thing: first impressions. God, in His grace, has sent many new people our way. Are we taking care of them as well as we should, or could? My hope is that we shore up this area of ministry in the coming year. It will result in personnel changes on certain teams, and will affect how those teams function. It will affect our facility. There will be systems in the Office that shift. There will be systems on Sunday mornings that shift so that we can better care for our guests. I know that God has already moved us toward a culture of being more welcoming of our guests. We want to take the caring heart God has given us and inject a structure that will give it more impact. From walking in the door from Summit Street, to going with some of us out to lunch, we want to do whatever it takes to treat our guests the way God wants us to.
My hope is that God continues to bless our church in the days ahead. We want to continue doing what we have been doing, raise the bar of quality, and add new areas of ministry. I am excited for God to reveal these things to us!!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, o Ruler of all!
As most of you know already, October will begin our new fiscal year. As we cross from 2021-22 to 2022-23, I’ll be in the midst of a sermon series in which I hope to capture God’s vision for our church for the years ahead. I am excited about what God is doing within First Baptist Church, and how God is using us beyond the walls to impact our community with the great Good News of salvation in Jesus’ name! On Wednesday evening, September 21, at 7:00pm, we will convene a church-wide Business Conference. During this meeting, members will vote on a number of items. The two big annual items will be proposals from the Finance and Nominating Committees.
The Nominating Committee’s proposal will be a slate of officers and committees for 2022-23. There are a few items of note from this proposal. The Finance, Personnel, and Nominating Committees are what I call the “big three”. From each of these, people must rotate off for at least one year before being able to serve again. There are several people rotating off of each of the “big three” so filling these, and their respective Chair positions is an important task. Several other committees have shifted around a bit. Perhaps the greatest change you’ll find in “Brad Cheek’s spreadsheet” is regarding our counters. The Nominating Committee has enlisted several new people to serve, and it has scrambled up the counting teams to maintain a stronger balance of personnel. Finally, among the Sunday School teachers, you’ll see a reflection of a structural shift we are making across the board in SONquest. On Wednesday evenings, during children’s church, and during the Sunday School hour, our children’s ministries will have a pre-school age grouping. This will look on the Nominating Committee’s proposal like an additional children’s Sunday School class, but this shift will affect all components of our SONquest brand. We are excited, to offer this new age grouping for children that have turned 3, 4, or 5 years old by August 31, because we have a great need in this area of ministry!
Members will also vote upon a proposal from the Finance Committee. The budget proposal for 2022-23 has a few changes that I’d like to mention. Several of the line items have been retitled. Whether more or less general, the hope is for the title to provide greater clarity of meaning. The Finance Committee has elected to invest in roll-over line items to build up “nest eggs” for both our vehicles, and our building/grounds. We anticipate paying for some significant repairs in the years ahead, and wisely, the Finance Committee wants us to be prepared when those days come. In a few cases, multiple line items have been merged together, the most notable case being children’s ministries, as we continue to consolidate SONquest into a singular unit of ministry. Several line items have jumped sections. Our budget is divided into “Outward Missions”, “Ministries & Support”, “Property”, and “Staff Salaries”. We’ve previously labeled things as “Outward Missions”, but the Finance Committee has decided some of them to be better labeled “Ministries & Support”.
In the “Ministries & Support” section, the Finance Committee has elected to return several line items to pre-pandemic levels after a couple of years of slashing spending. I am glad to see an investment into our collegiate and young adults ministry! Though not explicitly listed, our third line item, “Local, Regional, and International Missions” has embedded support for three new items about which I am extremely excited. First, it has a dedicated gift to the North Carolina Missions Offering. This will support Baptists on Mission (formerly Baptist Men). Second, it will include dollars for The Pregnancy Network. My prayer is that this financial gift is but the beginning of our partnership with this great organization. Third, this line item will include a gift for the mission work of Hannah Wood Kendrick and her husband William!
These two major proposals will be available at the beginning of September. Please pick them up and begin to think about any questions you might have for either of these two committees, or me. On Wednesday, September 14, at the beginning of the bible study hour, we will have a listening session, during which you’ll hear from the committees, and have a chance to ask questions and make comments. We believe this is a helpful forum for information so that our voting will be simplified on September 21.
Additionally, allow me to encourage you strongly to fill out a Deacon nomination form. They are available to every church member, and give clear biblical instructions. Pray through this decision as you fill it out personally, and pray that God would raise up the servant-leaders of His church that He needs in His time. These are due by the end of our worship service on Sunday, September 18.
Not only have our Finance Committee and Nominating Committee been working hard in recent weeks, our Personnel Committee has been too! Since Maxwell came on board in July, the Personnel Committee turned its attention to filling the vacancy left by Luke Long among our ministries to children and students. They have begun a series of interviews with a promising candidate. Though it may be impossible for us to bring this candidate aboard before October, the hope is for the church to be able to consider hiring one day soon. As they work, pray for the Personnel Committee. Pray that they be given wisdom in decision-making processes. Pray that God would send to us His candidate, in His timing. Pray for our Deacons as they guide the timeline; pray for our next generation and their parents, as we hope they will have a chance to meet this candidate. These are exciting days within the life of our church. Join me in seeking God’s will for our church in the days ahead, and remember, it is not too late to join in the strategic planning process if you’d like to become part of the Ministry Leadership Action team!!
High King of heaven, my victory won
may I reach heaven's joys, o bright heaven's sun
heart of my own heart, whatever befall
still be my vision, o Ruler of all!
Women’s health care…reproductive rights…family planning…a lady’s right to choose…bodily autonomy… we live in a world that loves to use euphemisms, sanitizing things using vague descriptors, but let’s call it what it is: abortion. We’re talking about the termination of a pregnancy, the destruction of an embryo or fetus, and the snuffing out of human life. It is with a sober mind and a grieved heart that I write about this issue. It is an issue about which most people, and seemingly every American is quite passionate these days. For this reason, it is incumbent for us as followers of Jesus to speak slowly (per James 1), humbly (per Philippians 2), truthfully & lovingly (per Ephesians 4), and with great grace (per II Timothy 2). As I am sure you are well aware, at the end of June, our federal Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Dobbs vs. Jackson [Mississippi] Women’s Health Organization case. We as the Church, have been unapologetically pro-life for centuries. As far back as the second century [a.d.] believers have worked to reduce the perceived need to abort children, adopting them and caring for them well. To our shame, we as evangelicals were not as well-educated as our Catholic brethren prior to 1973 working to protect life.
While I grant that faithful bible-believing Christians can respectfully disagree on some specifics regarding public policy, legislation, case law, medical care, etc., I know that everyone claiming Jesus as their Savior can agree that sixty-three-and-a-half million lives ended pre-maturely is a great stain upon the fabric of our nation. It is a truth worth mourning, lamenting, repenting. These are human lives made in the image of God. Psalm 139 is perhaps the most specific passage of scripture that speaks to the beauty of God’s creation. Even those of us believers that have the political opinion that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”, share in lamenting this great shame in the life of our young republic. Those of us that desire for abortion to be made illegal altogether, criminalized, and even eliminated from our country might be tempted to cheer and celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling, but before we “spike the football”, it is imperative for every Christian to grieve the fact that such a ruling would have ever had to take place from the beginning.
In the Dobbs vs. Jackson case, [six of the nine justices of] the Supreme Court upheld the Mississippi law effectively outlawing abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. Five of these six went out of their way to highlight that their decision was strictly specific to the issue of abortion, affirming 1970s legal reasoning that the fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments to the federal Constitution imply a natural right to privacy in our lives. I am thankful for this legal clarity, as it may prove to have religious liberty implications in the days to come. Additionally, a side effect of this ruling, was that [a different] five of these six justices turned over the ruling of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade case. In doing so, they have returned decisions regarding law and public policy [per the tenth amendment] to the states, and the people’s elected representatives. While those of us that identify as pro-life celebrate what I consider a legal and moral victory, let’s be clear that much of the work necessary to protect innocent human life is just beginning. I also want to call all Christians to be very charitable toward everyone viewing this ruling as a defeat. Those of us that highly value the right to “keep and bear arms” are naturally defensive when we perceive any degree of infringement upon that right. This is exactly what many of our neighbors are feeling, and we need not go overboard in causing offense to any neighbor. Other than the glaring reality that arms are specifically addressed in our Constitution and abortion is not, for decades, the legal arguments surrounding both of these issues are nearly identical. As we engage in gracious discussion, and even debate, with friends and neighbors about this – and any other social issue – [and I believe we should] let’s all be as charitable as possible. In doing so, when we speak the Truth of God’s Word into a situation, we do so in a winsome, loving way.
While in the days ahead, there will be much debate [even here within North Carolina] surrounding policies and legislation, let’s remember a few theological points. First, ladies that have been the victims of crime like sexual assault, and even incest, are experiencing profound shame and brokenness. May we as God’s Church work to defend them, promote biblical justice, and sympathize with their agonizing decisions. Second, even for ladies that flippantly view termination of pregnancy as a form of birth control, let’s be agents of love, teaching about God’s forgiveness and redemption. Third, let’s pray for doctors that make [in a split second] decisions about whether to save an unborn child or a pregnant mother, especially given that their decisions may face increased scrutiny in the days ahead. Let’s also thank God for the great blessing that these men and women are in our society. Fourth, let’s avoid attempting to criminalize ladies’ decisions, or desired decisions, especially given the fact that most of the girls of two generations have been misled and indoctrinated to believe that there is nothing immoral about killing a child within your own womb. Fifth, let’s do whatever we can to see to it that abortion continues to be hemmed-in, knowing that countless lives might be saved through these restrictions. Sixth, let’s remember that legislating our moral standards, superimposing, and enforcing it upon others will not get anyone into heaven. Seventh, let’s “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” of being disciples that go and make disciples. As we engage in the time-intensive and difficult work of “sowing” Gospel “seed”, we know that hearts and lives will be changed. May we pray and work together to see souls saved and desires shift such that abortion dries up from a lack of demand. May we continue to work toward a day when no one even thinks that abortion is necessary at all. May we plea for God to move in a powerful way, and may we be His agents as He does.
Finally, let’s be the Church that Jesus built. Let’s put our money where our mouth is. If we claim to be pro-life, will we line up to foster and adopt children that might be unwanted, or for which young ladies might be unable to provide? Are we willing to mentor and disciple ladies that have contemplated abortion, but have made the decision to carry their child? Are we willing to love and faithfully care for mothers that have made decisions to snuff out their own baby’s life? Are we willing to lovingly train boys what it means to be a responsible, biblical man? Let’s put our money, and our time, and our efforts, and our real estate, and our political capital, and everything else where our mouth is! I am extremely excited to announce that in the months ahead, we will have an opportunity to support a Gospel carrying ministry here in the Triad that is working to do all of these things. The Pregnancy Network is working to intercept abortion-minded women, care for them well, evangelize them, and funnel them into supportive local churches. Are we willing to be one of these churches?
Lord, for the gift of children we come to give You praise;
we bring them here before You as they begin their days.
Though they will not remember what we have done this day,
each day we’ll shape their future by all we do and say.
Greetings again friends,
I write to you the final weekend of June, and within the last forty-eight hours, the federal Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Org. case. Though I very much would like to write about the issues surrounding abortion and other near-death implications of being biblically pro-life, I will reserve my ramblings for a future month. I haven’t yet read the ruling, and I am currently digesting the opinions of people I greatly respect. That being said, I would like to write this month about the Southern Baptist Convention.
Many of you have read several times in the past of how I have called “independent Baptist” a redundant term. One of the primary characteristics of being a Baptist church, historically, is that of local church autonomy. We answer to only one higher order of organizational leadership: God Himself. We hold highly His Word as our guide, but no person or body have any authority over First Baptist Church. That being said, we have freely chosen to associate with like-minded churches for the purposes of fellowship, strengthening one another, and collaborating to amplify our mission efforts. By churches working together, our witness in missions and evangelism can be greater than the sum of our parts. We are active parts of Walnut Cove’s Ministerial Association and a gospel saturation network called ChristTogether. We also choose to cooperate with other churches of our “theological stripe” through the Pilot Mountain Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention.
For 363 days per year, the S.B.C. is governed by an entity known as the Executive Committee, but for two, our churches – through sending messengers – are in control during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. This year’s was held in California on June 14 and 15. There are several important things that came out of the Convention meeting, and I’d like to share with you my take-aways.
The first important thing I’d like to note is the election of a new presiding officer. Due to terms and term limits, this doesn’t take place every year. This year, Dr. Bart Barber was elected to serve as the 2022-23 President. He is a pastor of the First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas. I know him as a recent part of the Committee on Resolutions and have been following him on Twitter for the past thirteen months. Two friends of mine from here in North Carolina know him personally, one rather well, and I respect him greatly. I appreciate his stance on many issues, and I trust that he’ll lead the Convention well. Join me in praying for him as he serves our church in this way.
The second thing I want to read you in on is a bit of a watershed moment in our Convention: the approval of the recommendations of the Sexual Abuse Task Force. Stemming from a rather damning expose published by the Houston [Texas] Chronicle in 2017, the Task Force was created several years ago, and given more authority by me and other messengers at last year’s Convention meeting. In doing so, we also directed the Executive Committee to waive attorney-client privilege so that the Task Force and its contracted investigators might uncover attempts to cover up allegations of abuse. The Task Force published its report in May, and I invite anyone to visit <www.sataskforce.net> in order to read its heart-breaking findings. Indeed there has been great sin in the camp across our Convention of churches. For this, we grieve and repent. God’s Kingdom has been harmed. In an attempt to correct mistakes made, and avoid making them again, the Task Force made several recommendations to the Convention’s messengers. After much (though humble) debate, the messengers approved the recommendations! I am pleased to report this to you, and I very much hope that the steps taken in the days ahead will further equip our church to defend and protect the sheep of our flock!
Additionally, a number of “resolutions” were adopted. These are position statements, but have zero impact upon our church. I am not convinced the Convention even needs resolutions moving forward, but several of them are very good. We will discuss a few of those during an up-coming Wednesday evening.
Fourthly, I am discouraged that there was a bit of a sour tone among some during the Convention meeting. A few hot-heads were more passionate about kicking churches out of S.B.C. than conducting the business at hand. Still others wanted to inject politics into a Christian meeting. The heads of our six seminaries and our Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission were asked a series of “gotcha” questions from the floor that seemed to hold little value beyond trying to get these faithful leaders to endorse specific divisive political strategies to address issues upon which everyone already agreed. These attempts to stoke division are unhelpful and frustrate me. Though the sour tone was present, it was much less so than last year’s Convention, and I am thankful for the overall harmony that saturates our eclectic group of churches!
The fifth important take-away I’d like to report to you comes from our International Mission Board (recipient of our Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings) and our North American Mission Board (recipient of our Annie Armstrong Easter Offerings). The annual Convention meeting began Tuesday morning with a commissioning ceremony, where we celebrated over fifty missionaries that are being sent into the field. Most of these are heading to a foreign country, and nearly half of them had to stand behind a fabric screen such that only their silhouette was visible. They used alias names because they are heading to countries where it will be illegal to be a Christian missionary working to “proselytize” anyone. As we – yes WE – commission these faithful saints into their respective corners of the mission field, it was a powerful reminder why we gladly choose to partner together as a Convention of churches! First Baptist Church probably couldn’t afford to educate and train, supply and fund one missionary well, but by giving to the Cooperative Program, we are one of about 65,000 churches that collaborate to train, resource, pray for, and stand behind tens of thousands of men and women that carry the great Good News of salvation to the farthest corners of the globe. This is why we support financially. This is why we choose to affiliate with a denominational network. This is why we strive to work together to be the Gospel Carriers, and thereby the Gospel Carrying Church, God has called us to be!
Ev’ry kindred, tongue and nation
join to sing the great salvation;
loud as mighty thunders roaring, floods of mighty waters pouring,
prostrate at His feet adoring… worthy the Lamb!
Hello again brethren (= brothers & sisters),
I write this to you the week before Memorial Day, so I haven’t yet preached on May 29, but since May has five Sundays, I have gotten to deliver eight Sundays’ worth of sermons to you since April 1. I heard from many of you before April, and I have heard from several of you since, that you already knew how I preached because you have heard me many times over the past thirteen years. That being said, prior to Pastor Jim’s retirement, the closest thing I have had to a “routine” were limited to when he had his neck surgery, and when he took his sabbatic trip each spring.
In the past eight weeks, the biggest learning curve I have had in this role is to structure a weekly routine of study, meditation, writing, and [what I call] “percolating”. I confess to you, and have had to repent to the Lord, that through Easter, I spent every Friday working eight to twelve hours writing my sermons. This was a mentally taxing process because I had squandered time earlier in the week doing administrative stuff. I am slowly but deliberately working to nail down a reliable rhythm of reading on Sunday afternoons, studying on Mondays, and doing administrative stuff on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so that by Thursday evenings, much of the guts of my sermons are clear. This has taken away much stress on Fridays and Saturdays. Much more important than my calendar, however, is what God has allowed me to see about the preaching process.
Save sitting by the bed of a saint nearing their heavenly commendation, or praying with someone as they yield their life to Jesus, nothing an elder/overseer/shepherd does is as holy as opening the Word of God before the People of God and heralding the great Good News of salvation. When one of God’s men stands behind the sacred desk and exposes the truths of scripture faithfully, the Holy Spirit convicts sinners, encourages disciples, challenges believers, equips witnesses, and builds the Kingdom. I pray weekly that I never take this lightly. Because God is in the business of saving souls and transforming lives from the inside out, it is imperative for a preacher to A) recognize the weight of such a responsibility, B) hear clearly from the Lord Himself, and C) have a burden over the souls in their care. It is critical that I never position myself as to preach AT anyone else. Rather, I must humbly strive to convey whatever God has laid upon my heart for all of us to hear.
Though every preacher has a different personality, and I reject the idea of taking on a different persona in the pulpit, every good preacher should want to continually improve. Pastor Jim modeled this for all of us to see. He had a passion and drive such that he wanted to continually improve his knowledge and skills. He was never lazy, settling for what was comfortable or easy; he wrestles with difficult passages, gleans from the wisdom and experience of others, and always works to deliver what our church needs to hear, when we need to hear it. Some of you are quick to point out that he and I have very different personalities and delivery styles. I agree completely! The very ones of you that point this out, remind me that what matters is that we preach the Word! Even within one personality, different passages direct different delivery styles. Some passages require me to do more teaching and explaining, others force me to do a little less “thinking” and a bit more “feeling” (refer to what I said on Palm Sunday).
I have also been told since April that I would make a good seminary professor. That’s all find and good, but when you sit in the pews on Sundays, you aren’t a bunch of aspiring theologian pin-heads debating amillennialism or supralapsarianism! I have to work to take theological concepts that might otherwise seem academic, and shape them such that they are relevant to normal church members. Also, I need to remember that we aren’t in Vermont, or Hungary, or the inner city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I need to always allow the Holy Spirit to guide me in making my sermons to be what God has to say to OUR church, THIS week.
I will never preach because of what the news paper says. I will, however, preach knowing exactly what the news paper has said. We want to be well-informed disciples, dealing with the cultural whirlwind around us. We need to be equipped to speak the truth, with grace, directly into the issues of the day. I promise to never bring partisan political speech into God’s pulpit. However, where God’s Word speaks, I will speak. First Baptist Church shall not be afraid to call sin “sin”, neither shall she neglect to proclaim that her bridegroom died to wash that sin away.
I practice expositional preaching. As you know, I love to preach within a series of sermons. More important than the series, though, is the principle of digging into, unpacking, and mining the riches of God’s Word. You have not hired me to spew my own opinions. If it were not for the Word of God, I would have nothing to say, and ought to shut up and sit down. As Pastor Jim has done so well, I aim to treat scripture not like a diving board, but like the swimming pool itself. He handled God’s Word as such, with great fidelity and care. I very much hope that one day, you might say the same about me.
For those of you that have given me feed-back in recent weeks, thank you! My door is always open when it comes to these things. I also wish to thank y’all for the spirit with which you’ve spoken to me, not in a tone of criticism, but one of encouragement. I am thankful to God that we have such a gracious and encouraging church! I am also thankful that He has so kindly given me the opportunity to preach every week!! May He continue to show us His favor!
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say that to you He hath said,
to you who – for refuge – to Jesus have fled?
I recently had a chance to help lead chapel for the children in the New Life Center. This is such a tremendous ministry in our church. Diane Oakley is leading a ring of folks to make it possible, and we are so thankful to be back able to do it after a 24-month forced pause. It gives us an opportunity every week to have face-to-face instruction with the students. We're able to raise the overall spiritual temperature across the New Life Center, and I have it on good authority that even some of the staff are being blessed by the lessons. Many of you know that the parents / grand-parents / legal guardians of many of these children have no church to call their home. You can also infer by the way I worded the last sentence that some of these kids have less-than-completely-stable home circumstances. It is an incredible chance for us to impress upon them the truths of God's Word each week. In doing so, we hope that the relationships we're building will directly affect the "success" of Sunday and Wednesday evening programming in the days ahead.
Obviously, "success" is much more than just a high attendance number, but we always thank God when we have the chance to touch as many lives as possible. Between our recent Easter Egg Hunt out-reach event, and our renewed emphasis within the New Life Center, we hope in the weeks and months ahead to gain momentum across all of SONquest's weekly events. One of these, Wednesday bible study, is ramping-up in May. It should hopefully go without writing, but we will continue to hold a weekly bible study for children every Wednesday evening. Once per month, however, we are going to dial it up. At 6:00, we will retrieve children when the New Life Center shuts down for the day, bring them to the Fellowship Hall for supper, and at 6:30, take them back down stairs for a distilled Vacation Bible School session over the course of 90 minutes. By doing this each month, we will take a large load of preparation, stress, and physical exertion off of our volunteers WHILE expanding V.B.S. to 12 nights!! All the while, stoking the slow burn of a robust out-reach effort throughout the whole year!
I was talking about my chapel lesson before I veered so far off course. Anyway, Diane and Ann Watts couldn't teach one week recently, so Ms. Leigh played the piano and was once again saddled with me leading the study! In it, the children had an object lesson of unique tools that do specialized functions. The lesson was two-fold. First, we are all created specially when specific gifts and talents. Second, no tool will serve its purpose unless it is in the hand of someone who knows how to use it. Assuming I am a tool, who is holding the handle? Am I a vessel that is willingly allowing the Master Craftsman to use me for His good work and purposes? Am I like a screw-driver, laying on a table, unable to twist myself because I won't let His hand hold me?
In the months ahead, we as individuals, and we as a church corporately, must work to actively avail ourselves to the hand of God. As we ask God to reveal to us a vision for the future, we must be willing tools seeking His hand. We will seek His will for our future, but we must first seek His face. As we know Him, enjoy intimacy with Him, and allow Him to be our primary source of identity, we'll be much more malleable. As we ask Him to "lead, guide, and direct" us, we'll be more likely to submit to His leadership, better able to follow His direction, and more sensitive to sensing His guidance as we move forward. Lets seek the face of God, the will of God, and the hand of God. Join me in praying that He'll reveal to us a vision for the future, and a strategy for making it a reality.
I invite all church members to take part in a strategic planning process I'll be implementing in May. If you are a committee chair, ministry leader, or out-reach volunteer, you're more than just invited; you're encouraged and I'll be bugging you personally very soon! We'll meet together adjacent to May's Deacons' meeting, and we will spend time seeking the will of God. In the months ahead, we will strive to clarify a vision for the future of our church from 30,000 feet, and we'll begin to articulate some component goals as we begin to work in that direction. Whether it's sharpening our blades, strengthening our steel, reinforcing our body, making our handle more ergonomic, or even adding an electric motor, may we all be tools in the hand of the Builder that He would have us to be!
To the work, to the work! We are servants of God,
let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
with a balm of His counsel our strength to renew,
let us do with our might what our hands find to do!
An open letter to Rev. James A. Cohn
On March 27, I made a conscious decision to not speak personally at your retirement reception. I knew that we were limited on time as folks floated in and out, and I knew that I might tend to ramble. Instead, I want to speak personally, and on behalf of First Baptist Church, as I thank you now.
First and foremost, thank you for your faithfulness to the bible. You believe that it is the Word of God, and you treat it as such. You preach and teach God's people what the truths of scripture are, and how to discover them. You have helped us to mine the depths of God's Word, understand it, and apply it to life. You treat the book less like a diving board on Sunday mornings and more like the swimming pool. We as a church hold scripture highly because of your leadership. We strive to apply biblical principles [individually and corporately] because you have led from the front in walking the talk.
Second, thank you for your personal holiness. Yes, you are an unholy sinner in need of God's grace, but you actively strive toward biblical holiness personally. You are a man of honest integrity. Your character is as Paul instructs Timothy to be: above reproach. You lead with transparency. Even in difficult decision making, you pass over convenience, opting for what is right. You are quick to forgive, seek forgiveness from God and other people, take responsibility, and give praise and credit to others.
Third, thank you for loving lost sinners. Your personal burden over the eternal condition of lost people, and for the needs of the "least of these" in Stokes County has spurred our church toward love and good works. You have kept our eyes on the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors. In doing so, you have maintained appropriate focus upon the Great Commission, preventing our church from being too inward focused, ensuring that we keep the main thing (mission/evangelism/discipleship) , the main thing! You have challenged the status quo, questioned our motives, and refused to allow traditions to stifle fidelity to God's commands!
Fourth, thank you for shepherding the flock with great care. I have had the privilege of seeing behind the curtain as you sit at the bed side of a hospice patient, visit the hospital before dawn, love a grieving family, patiently serve those that are angry, counsel those who are hurting, officiate weddings, and dedicate children. You have comforted those who mourn, and celebrated with those who rejoice. You have done these things personally, but you have also wisely leveraged your leadership so that the entire flock isn't dependent upon one man. You have equipped me and many others to do these things, so that long after you are gone, our flock is better capable of ministering to one another. If this soul care rises and falls upon the ability of one man, then a pastor would not have been very effective.
Fifth, thank you for being loving, and joyful, and an agent of peace, and patient, and kind, and good, and faithful, and gentle, and self-controlled. You have treated all of us, particularly me, in this way. You have allowed the Holy Spirit to produce great fruit in your life. We have seen it, and have a slightly clearer picture of how Jesus Himself treated others.
Sixth, on a more personal note, thank you for leading by example. Thank you for sharing paramedic and soldier stories. Thank you for opening your heart as a widower, bachelor, someone trying to put two families together, someone that has lost parents and a child. Thank you for letting me pick your brain and understand how you maintain perspective. Thank you for sharing profound wisdom, letting me be over your shoulder as you make complex decisions, and challenging me to pan out and see the lay of the land from 50,000 feet. You have been a pastor, a colleague, a brother, a partner, a boss, a mentor, and a friend to me. I have tried to keep my pencil sharpened, because I have learned as much from watching you work as I have from listening to you give instruction.
Seventh, thank you for maintaining balance in your life. Thank you for knowing that a relationship with the Christ and His Bride are not one and the same. In a world where pastors' children have been sacrificed on the altar of church work, thank you for walking with God first. Thank you for being a godly husband and father second, and for being a faithful pastor third. Thank you for helping our church set a realistic expectation of what a pastor should be, guarding your home and calendar, avoiding burn-out, therefore cultivating longevity! I have seen many a pastor stumble, even falling out of the race. I have seen others coast across the finish line lazily, just maintaining until they can retire. Few and far between are those that have worked hard to fulfill their calling through the last week. Fewer and farther between are those that view retirement as simply an employment status, knowing that no saint can ever retire from their work as a disciple! Though you cannot say it yet, I know that one day, you will be able to say as Paul said to Timothy "I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith!"
I know that I speak for the whole of First Baptist Church when I reflect upon Matthew 25:21, and know that our Master will invite you to share in His joy when He declares accurately "well done, good and faithful servant!"
Thank you again Pastor Jim, and love in Christ,
Greetings again friends,
In recent days, I have reflected back upon the second week of March in 2020. On Monday, March 9, 2020, Pastor Jim and I spent the day down in Indian Trail at a North American Mission Board workshop. We spent much of the day talking about our health and safety procedures for the coming Sunday. By Wednesday evening, my blessed Tar Heels had lost a basketball game to Syracuse University. By Thursday morning, we’d learn that Carolina’s game was the last game played in the conference tournament. As “normal” seemed to be grinding to a screeching halt, I attended a Baptist State Convention prayer gathering in Pleasant Garden, where I spent two hours on my knees with a couple of hundred other pastors across North Carolina weeping over the condition of the lost and pleading to God for revival and spiritual awakening. It’s also worth noting that this was the day Pastor Jim left town for a three-week sabbatic period on an Outer Bank. By the time Saturday’s portion of that gathering drew to a close on March 14, 2020, I had received a telephone call from Bradley Cheek. As you know, Brad wasn’t just a highly-respected Deacon, he was a chief within King’s Fire Department. He had been in a conference call with the head of our state’s Department of Health and Human Services, and within twenty minutes of speaking with him, I had made four more telephone calls, and we had made the decision to cancel a public gathering on Sunday, March 15, 2020.
Needless to say, our church changed greatly that weekend. We now know that the Church has changed – the world over – since that weekend. A three-and-a-half-month lack of public gathering forced us to bolster our technological abilities. We re-ordered ministry priorities, dividing up the directory in order to call a member of every family, every two weeks. Pastor Jim, Pastor Luke, and I spent grueling hours making decisions that had taken minutes before we’d ever heard “corona virus”. We wrestled through how to re-gather, and which elements of our church’s ministries needed to return before others. I am so thankful for the wisdom and patience of our Deacons in serving and leading our church to keep our people safe and healthy, and to keep us on the mission of advancing the Kingdom.
Over the past two years, churches have lost people because they didn’t take CoViD-19 seriously enough, endangering themselves. Others have lost people because they took CoViD-19 too seriously, allowing fear to paralyze everything, thereby neutering the churches’ ability to further the great Good News! Perhaps worse, some haven’t lost any people, but are tearing themselves apart in fights that I believe grieves our Savior. Still other churches allowed a completely septic political climate to creep into its “ministry” efforts. In hearing these horror stories from other pastors (across multiple denominations), I am profoundly thankful that God has protected the unity of our church as we have labored to navigate these past twenty-four months. I don’t think we’ve done anything perfectly, but God has graciously sowed humility, selflessness, and patience across our congregation, thereby allowing us to remain together, focused upon God’s mission, and loving one another faithfully along the way!
I saw an article from LifeWay’s research department several weeks ago highlighting trends across the Church at large, and I see it’s reality in our own expression of the Body of Christ. It read that the Church has generally been broken into thirds. It claimed that about 33% of believers had become side-lined in the past 24 months. Our attendance numbers roughly reflect this. The article gives a number of possible reasons. This could be a result of genuine reservation due to health issues. This could also be due to new habits formed (think of the people that are “back to doing everything, but church”). This could also be due to a sifting between wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30 [I have no insight here; I’m leaving this in the hand the Sovereign]). This could also be due to folks that are hurt, or even angry, due to being neglected, hurt by their church, or even actively pushed away. The next 33%, according to the article, are those that have faithfully tried to carry on through the pandemic. In some ways, they have done more and worked harder since March 2020. This third is generally tired, just hanging on, and experiencing fatigue – internal and external. The article discussed how these numbers are applicable at the level of individual believers, but also applicable at the level of churches corporately.
The final 33%, are those that have experienced true spiritual growth during the past two years. This could be a direct result of God turning their world upside down and re-ordering their priorities. This could include folks that have experienced His grace or the love of a church family during this difficult time. This includes those that have been clearly reminded of the world’s brokenness and burdened under the lostness of their neighbors. This also includes those for whom God killed their distractions, and sitting at home in silence allowed them to hear His still, small voice drawing them into His loving arms!
I believe that many of us might be in the second group, but I am fully committed to letting God move us as a church squarely into this final third. I want many of us to be in the final third! Where are you? Are you tired? Do you need to rest in the strong arms of our Creator? Have you become distracted? Is He calling you back onto the court from the side-line? Are you on your knees pleading to the God of the universe for revival and spiritual awakening? It may be two years before you can see it, but are you allowing Him to draw near to you and working to draw unto Him?
Praise the Lord, His mercy is more! Stronger than darkness,
new every morn; our sins, they are many, His mercy is more!
Salutations again brothers and sisters!
During our quarterly Business Conference on January 19, I had the opportunity to share with you a bit of my heart regarding the pastoral transition, the midst of which we are in, and I began to articulate the vision God has given me for where our church’s ministries might head in the days ahead. I continue to welcome any questions, concerns, or comments you might have for me regarding anything you heard that evening. Please contact me directly, or catch me on a Sunday or Wednesday! I will be available for another “town hall” style event on a Wednesday evening this month! I am increasingly excited about what God has allowed me to envision!
As you have heard me say in many ways in the past, I am not only passionate about discipleship, I am burdened by the Great Commission given to us by King Jesus Himself (as recorded in Matthew 28) to go and make disciples! I want First Baptist to think of disciple-making as the “operating system” upon which ALL of our ministry “applications” run. It must undergird everything we do systemically, and this mission must be THE reason behind everything we do. Why do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and warm those that are cold? Because we want to “get in the door” so that we have opportunities in which to share the great Good News of salvation! After all, eternity is at stake for everyone of our neighbors.
One of the things I talked about during the “town hall” was church growth. Of course I would like for more people to attend on Sunday mornings. Of course I want more and more people to enter into our covenant body. Of course I want more people to be actively engaged in learning, bearing one another’s burdens, and ministering to neighbors across our community. Of course I want to experience an increase in quantity of bodies, buildings, and budgets. Of course I know that these are side effects of increases in quality and faithfulness to God and His Word. However, in the years ahead, would we willing to enact the policy of a church I have heard of in Vermont? I do not know the pastor personally, he is only an acquaintance of an acquaintance, nor do I fully understand the variables of their context, but they have an intentional size ceiling of about 125 members. When this church grows to 125, they send out a team of 25-50 to plant a new church. They send out their best and brightest, many of their leaders, and then work to reach more people that do not year know the Christ. This is a bit of a radical approach to capping a church’s size, but it’s a powerful example of prioritizing Kingdom growth over the growth of a particular church. Are we willing to make such a commitment to prioritizing the Kingdom?
I am so encouraged by the heart of Roy Busick. He wants to cultivate a culture across our Sunday School ministry where we strengthen the three components of discipleship: education/training, in-reach/fellowship, and out-reach/mission. If all of our small groups work toward health in all three of these areas, we will be forced to practice biblical multiplication. Like our friends in Vermont, the New Testament shows growth by division. This is a beautiful picture of Kingdom advancement. We want to see souls saved and lives radically transformed. We want to see the unsaved today become the Church’s leaders of tomorrow. We want to have visions come to fruition!
Are you being the disciple God wants you to be? Are you burdened by the brokenness and lostness of our neighbors? What are you doing to make disciples of these?
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done!
Rev. Andrew J. Reynolds