Tennessee’s Ministry Training Ground

Here’s a quiz. Ready? What does a country girl from McMinnville, an agnostic from Mt. Juliet, a Division I basketball player from Memphis, and a Jewish young man from Georgia have in common?

Hint: The same thing as several Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Yemen, and quite a few Buddhists from Korea, Japan, and China. They were all brought to Jesus as Lord and Savior through the Great Commission work of your Tennessee Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM).

Twenty-three of your TBC missionary staff lead our gospel-focused strategies on 22 college or university campuses across our state and serve more than 380,000 students — many of whom come from around the globe. These BCM campus ministry leaders are the brightest, most committed, creative, and Jesus-focused champions I could ever dream of working with in ministry. Our BCM ministries really are an extension of the local church. Here’s how.

Most of us are familiar with the statistical decline we see when youth leave home for college. Increasingly, leaving for college means leaving the church, many never to return. They walk away from any spiritual foundation that may have taken root while in a youth group when the freedom and trappings of college choke out a glowing gospel ember waiting to be fanned. Our BCM ministers know the importance of fanning that flame as soon as students arrive on campus, sometimes before.

Near the end of this year’s spring semester, Rodney Norvell, our BCM minister at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, invited area youth ministers to bring their high school seniors to the UT BCM’s Thursday night worship gathering. BCM  students made connections with those students, incorporated them into the event and introduced them to the BCM community. All of your BCM ministers stress the importance of community and connection. As Rodney says, with 27,000-plus students on campus, community is vitally important.

Lindy May is testimony to the importance of community. The recent University of Memphis graduate said that when she arrived as a freshman her intention was to pledge a sorority. However, the Sunday afternoon before the semester began, Lindy was invited to “Grub on the Grass” hosted by the BCM. “I was introduced to a great group of people and I realized this was the community I needed to be a part of,” she says. “I never pledged a sorority.”

Objective_5_GOTM_ICON_gotmThat decision changed Lindy’s life. As a result of her involvement she grew in her faith, served overseas as a summer missionary through BCM missions, and has expressed a full-time call to missions.

Tennessee Baptists, Lindy is just one of many similar stories we see every year. Dozens of students from your church venture out across our state, nation, and world serving God and people. Not surprisingly, so many of these young people wind up in vocational ministry and eventually serving overseas with the International Mission Board. BCMs are ministry training grounds.

Objective_4_CP_ICON_cpYou as a Tennessee Baptist and your Tennessee Baptist church have had a direct hand in their development through the Cooperative Program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, both of which support our BCM ministries. Your support enables us to have gifted ministers who are directly involved in seeing young adults saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship.

And beyond the financial support you provide, I’d ask you to pray. All of them are gearing up for a new year. Pray that our BCM ministers, BCM student leaders, and others involved in the ministry will have an effective first week connecting with returning students and especially incoming freshmen.

Pray for open hearts as our BCMers reach out and become campus missionaries. that those who arrived on campus — whether from across the street or around the world — will hear the gospel and respond to Jesus’ call of salvation.

Finally, pray that Jesus will call many of our young adults into ministry, becoming the next generation of church leaders and missionaries representing Southern Baptists the world over.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

Continue reading

Posted in Cooperative Program, Five Objectives, GOTM | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Empty Mosques, not Build Them

Tennessee Baptists are about emptying mosques, not building them.
There are a few pseudo-news websites authored by bloggers who produce satirical “news” stories, and some of their recent stories state that the Southern Baptist Convention is building mosques.

Those stories have gained traction through social media and people are assuming their truth. At least one of those stories states the Tennessee islamic-mosque-and-christian-church-cross-332x190Baptist Convention is also building a mosque. As my pastor back home would say, “That’s a lie born in the pits of hell!”

And I want to set the record straight about this slanderous gossip. (See  also story by Baptist and Reflector editor Lonnie Wilkey.) Continue reading

Posted in Missions | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Work the Fields; Remember the Harvest

I still own my grandfather’s large push plow. And it may sound strange, but I loved pushing it through rows of Pinkeye Purple Hull peas, okra, Silver King corn, Big Boy tomatoes (I’ve got to stop, I’m making myself hungry).

Why would I love pushing that plow through the rich soil of South Alabama under the hot sun of the Gulf Coast? Two reasons: First, I dearly loved Old plow in a fieldmy granddaddy and I loved spending as much time with him as possible. He was amazingly wise and masterfully encouraging. Second, I knew from experience our harvest would come if we were good at planting the seeds and faithful at tending the field. Continue reading

Posted in Devotional | Tagged | Leave a comment

So Why Change the Name?

Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a missions field.

I’ve known that for years but that really hit me a couple of years ago as I made my way across Tennessee and to all 95 counties. You may recall that yearlong journey as we gathered at county courthouses to pray and ring the bell of salvation. That excursion was an eye-opener to Tennessee’s deep spiritual and physical needs.

Look at our demographic reality. Did you know that we now have more than 145 global people groups living in our state and that more than 40 of those are identified by the International Mission Board as among the world’s most unreached with the gospel? Staggering. Continue reading

Posted in TBC Vision | 1 Comment

Moving Forward With the IMB

(Note: This is part three of three in a series of posts on the IMB)

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

We’ve all heard that sports cliché and frankly it is one I don’t particularly like. Yes, it does matter how you play the game, but the point of playing the game is to win. However, how we deal with setbacks reveals our true character and builds resiliency. Like Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”

imb-logoSouthern Baptists, it is time to put on our overalls and get back to the hard work that defined us as people who had a passion for sharing the gospel and building great universities, seminaries, hospitals, and mission boards. We did the hard work of sacrificial giving to fuel all these endeavors, often during some of the most economically depressed times in our country’s history. Hard work is in our DNA, and it is time to seize the opportunities that lie ahead. Continue reading

Posted in Cooperative Program, Missions | Tagged , | Leave a comment

First Show Up, Then Participate

There is an old expression that states that about 80 percent of life is just showing up. That may be true, but it begs the question: So what do you do once you get there? That’s easy. Participate.

That would be my advice to any minister or messenger wondering whether to attend the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, and especially this meeting coming up in a few weeks in St. Louis. Show up and participate. Continue reading

Posted in TBC Vision | Tagged | Leave a comment

The IMB: How Did We Get Here?

plattIt was a dark day two weeks ago when International Mission Board President David Platt stepped to the microphone to inform Southern Baptists that 983 missionaries and 149 IMB staffers were stepping away from their involvement in taking the gospel to the nations. Dr. Platt described it best when he spoke of the “heaviness” of the day. I agreed, and wondered, “How’d we get here?”

That’s a question worth exploring. It is important to learn from our past so that we can make necessary changes that positively impact our future. There are lessons here for all of us, and as Christians, we need to pause and take stock in how this applies to us individually and collectively.

I love the work of the IMB’s missionaries and staff. I was an IMB trustee for 10 years. They were inspiring. It was also a joy to pastor locally and global-minded churches. Missions became part of our DNA, and we saw tenfold increases in giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Cooperative Program, and other missions offerings.

I’d love to see every church capture that same passion for missions. Millions of people living in Tennessee, and billions of people living around the world, need our churches to have a passion for reaching them with the gospel. To get there, we need to understand how we got here, to this moment of downsizing our missionary force.

Here are six observations I believe are part of the reason the IMB and Southern Baptists have had to take what I hope is a temporary step back from the extent to which we have participated in the Great Commission.

(1)    We’ve lost evangelism as a priority. Bringing spiritually lost people to Christ creates the need for churches; not the other way around. What is happening overseas is a reflection of our stateside approach. Southern Baptists must recapture a zeal for clear gospel proclamation bathed in prayer with the intention of seeing people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

imb(2)    We’re failing at discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship should be two sides of the same coin. Failing to grow mature believers who understand intentional personal evangelism, continued discipleship and biblical stewardship has come home to roost. Missionaries, and the resources to support them, will come from among discipled believers.

(3)    We’ve become financially selfish. People once gave generously to their local churches, and local churches gave generously to the Cooperative Program. Just a few decades ago the average church invested 10 percent of its Sunday offerings in the Cooperative Program to support missions, education and compassion ministries, then gave an additional 15 to 20 percent for other Great Commission causes. Now Cooperative Program giving is half what it was 25 years ago. Generous Cooperative Program giving once exponentially grew our missions endeavor and I believe it can once again.

(4)    We’ve developed blurred vision. Through the years our focus shifted to maintaining the “machine” more than the mission. Yeah, I get that is the label hung around the neck of state conventions, but let’s all address this issue with integrity. The same can be said for all SBC entities. Let’s get our eye back on the ball and regain the passion that used to drive our strategies. Let’s respect what Dr. Platt calls the “Southern Baptist Ecosystem” of churches, state conventions, associations, and local and national entities working in cooperation.

(5) We’ve become prideful. We’ve developed an intellectual arrogance that fuels a personal arrogance that draws attention to ourselves rather than Jesus. The result is a latent disrespect for one another. Leaders should be locking hearts in unity rather than butting heads. Please, let’s all take a breath, strive for humility and think more highly of others than we do ourselves.

(6)    We’ve created unrealistic expectations. The IMB has been diligently pressing into the world but it is a problem that staffing had to be reduced by more than 20 percent to bring expenditures in line with giving. What Dr. Platt did was difficult, and we need to pray for his team as it seeks to build stronger fiscal accountability.

This list isn’t comprehensive and remember these are my observations as I look across the SBC landscape. Now that I’ve identified these six challenges, I intend to share in the coming columns how I believe we can move forward as a network of churches.

It is a joy to be on this journey with you.

Posted in Cooperative Program, Missions | Tagged , , | 3 Comments