We are often reminded in God’s Word of our call to care for and serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. We are reminded to consider others more than ourselves. This community care was modeled for us in the book of Acts. At First Baptist Church, community ministry is becoming a high priority and the people are demonstrating compassion and generosity. When presented with a ministry opportunity, they rise to the occasion. I challenged our people to invest more in current ministries and take on new challenges. I have not been disappointed. As a result, our community has been the beneficiary of their love, care, and concern.
2018 was a year of firsts for First Baptist. It was a year of wading back into the community ministry pool. Our Back to School Bash and Community Thanksgiving Brunch were new ministries for us this year. The results of these two events were beyond my expectations. We have had a busy and fulfilling 2018. We were able to touch our community in many ways. From mentoring school children to helping families stay in their home, we put others first. From serving as a warming shelter to the homeless to helping sister churches prepare for and recover from Hurricane Michael, we put others first. From providing school supplies for children heading back to school to providing a Thanksgiving meal for our community, we put others first. From giving and going to meet the needs of those in Guatemala to giving the most basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, we put others first. We have used opportunities such as these to foster relationships and build bridges for gospel conversations. Through it all, I have learned three lessons this year I want to share with you.
Lesson #1. It’s not about us. I believe you must be willing to be taken advantage of in order to reach your community. I have often shared with our people that we must give to our community with no expectation of return. Many find this troubling. There are some who believe that every person we help in community ministry should be in church with us the following Sunday. That would be nice. The hard truth is that most of those we serve in our community will not attend First Baptist Church for various reason. If our willingness to serve is taken advantage of, that must be okay with us. In the course of this year’s ministry opportunities, has our giving been taken advantage of? I know it has. In the course of this year’s ministry opportunities, have we suffered offense through the actions and responses of those we were helping? Absolutely. In the end, I have learned that we are only responsible for “why” we do ministry. If we give and serve with the sole motive of being obedient to Christ and being a blessing to our community, we have nothing to worry about. The possibility that we may be taken advantage of is real, but it should not stop us from continuing to serve.
Lesson #2: There is tremendous value in planning. Our missions and ministries leaders understand planning and preparedness. This past year I have sat with ministry leaders and our missions team for countless hours ensuring the details were covered in our missions work. Some ministry opportunities require very little planning. Others require a great deal of planning and preparation. It is counterproductive to arrive at a ministry site and not have the food, supplies, and volunteers, needed to serve others effectively and efficiently. While we understand the need for flexibility in ministry, that does not negate the need for prior planning preparedness. Being prepared shows the community you care. Being prepared demonstrates to the recipients of your ministry they were thought of in advance. We were busy this past year with meaningful missions work and I expect the coming year to be filled with even more. I have learned that without proper planning we would have been be far less effective.
Lesson #3: Together we are better. 2018 was a year of partnerships. As Southern Baptists, working together is a familiar concept. I wholeheartedly believe we can do more together than we can do alone. We were able to partner with our county to provide cold weather shelter to our homeless population. We began a partnership with our local primary school to provide mentors for children and encouragement for staff. We partnered with our local service agencies and school district to offer a family-friendly back to school event. Tragedy opened the door for meaningful partnerships. In October, Hurricane Michael devastated the panhandle of Florida. In the aftermath, we made the decision to come alongside two congregations and provide help in the form of finances, chain saw and debris removal teams, and construction/renovation teams. Our Florida Baptist Convention was crucial in helping us connect with these congregations. There is no way we could have accomplished any of this on our own. We need others to fulfill our purpose and vision in our community. We desire to come alongside others to help them fulfill theirs as well. I am excited to see what 2019 holds for First Baptist Church.