Missional Monday : Love Gave 2015

mmSeveral months ago I was sitting with Shane Olsen, lead pastor of Decibel Church and Mike Green, lead pastor of the The Link at lunch. I do not remember the purpose of that meeting. Perhaps we were debriefing a past event or planning a future event. I simply can’t remember. I do remember that out conversation turned toward our city. As the discussion went on, one question seemed to emerge: How can our churches work together in order to show God’s love toward our city? We had already been serving our community in our own individual contexts. Collectively we were all part of large community-wide, non-denominational Thanksgiving event that fed hundreds and hundreds of families. Several questions helped to frame the above question.

What more could we do together?

Is once a year enough to make a real and lasting impact?

What resources could we pool and leverage to make a difference?

What is the best option for long-term and lasting impact?

It was out of this discussion that Love Gave was born.

So, what is Love Gave? Well, there is no formal mission and purpose statement. I guess you could call it an emphasis, a focus, or perhaps collaboration. My prayer is that it becomes a movement. We decided that over a 40 period (October 11th – November 22nd) that we would make it a priority to serve our city in a visible display of God’s love. During this 40 day period, each church will choose their individual emphasis. Port Royal Baptist will see 40 Days of Community. Collectively we will come together for two main community events in under-served areas; one in Beaufort (October 24th) and one in Port Royal (November 7th).  I believe a fundamental principle in community ministry is to ask agencies and city leaders how the church can help them in order to cut down on duplication and focus resources. We met with the mayor of Beaufort and Port Royal’s town manager to share our vision and seek guidance. Both recognized the need and welcomed the help. There are at least three goals we hope to attain through these events. First, it is our desire to show the cities of Beaufort and Port Royal a visible witness of God’s love through sacrifice and service. Second, it is our desire to show the community how beautiful and how strong the Body of Christ is. Lastly, it is our desire to give at least 1000 volunteer hours to our cities on each of the two city ministry days.  Although the details of each city ministry day are still coming together, we do know a few things for sure. The Beaufort ministry day will consist of park clean-up and painting, renovation work for a needy homeowner, and a carnival/block party in the Greene Street area. The Port Royal ministry day will consist of skate park repair/painting and other work in Veterans Memorial Park.

I would ask that you pray. Pray that our cities will see God’s love lived out in practical ways and that hearts will be softened to the gospel as a result. Pray for the approximately 10-12 churches that will be involved in Love Gave. Pray that their congregations will be strengthened as a result of serving their community. Please pray that this truly would be a movement that would be embraced as we partner with our cities to love the people who make them up. I would also ask that you volunteer. I would pray that you might embrace this opportunity to “be” the church.

Monday is For Missions : What Are You Doing For Others This Year?

mmThe Christmas season is upon us. Our city has begun putting up lights and decorations on the light poles that line the streets. Families have begun putting up their trees and are well into their Christmas shopping. Our church calendar is filling up quickly. Between class and ministry parties, choir celebrations, and Christmas-themed sermons, we are reminded at every turn that we have entered into a very special time in the life of the church; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It would be very easy for us to get lost in all of the fun and fellowship side of the holiday. There is certainly a place for all of these. I often tell our people that the priority in all that we do is life-changing ministry that leads others to worship the One True God and His Son Jesus. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy Christmas parties. I enjoy spending time with our various ministries/classes in times of fellowship. I enjoy the fun of the Christmas season. I am thankful that in the midst of all this, we prioritize ministry opportunities that intentionally introduce people to the love of the Savior. What does this look like for us?

1. Angel Tree Christmas Party

Angel Tree is a ministry program of Prison Fellowship which reaches out to the children of inmates who are incarcerated in our state prisons and their families with the love of Christ. Angel Tree gives us the opportunity to share the Savior’s love by helping to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the prisoner’s family. Angel Tree works to connect the gift requests/desires of the inmate for his/her family and the need for the children to remain connected to their parent during an especially emotional time of year. All of this happens while maintaining the dignity of both the inmate and the family. We help to provide toy and clothing gifts to the children as well as hand-written letters and family pictures to the inmates.

2. Christmas Party at Local Multi-Housing Complex

Across the street from our church is a multi-housing complex that have been volunteering and ministering in for many years. We take time on a Saturday and provide a simple party for the residents and children. There is food, games, a small gift, and a gospel presentation through the telling of the Christmas story. The greatest present we give here is our presence. This party is a simple way for us to communicate that each one is important and that we care about them. We have found that this event, along with other seasonal events (Easter, back-to-school, etc.), are critical to building lasting and meaningful relationships.

3. Operation Christmas Child – Charlotte Distribution Center

We have some of our people heading to Charlotte to work at the Operation Christmas Child Distribution Center this year. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse which delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, candy, etc. to children around the world who may not have any gifts this Christmas season. Once the shoeboxes leave local collection centers, they make their way to Charlotte to be prepared for their final trip to over one hundred countries around the world.

Allow me to leave you with a question today. What are you doing this Christmas season for someone who will in no way be able to return the favor?

Monday is for Missions : VBS, Pastorally Speaking

AgencyAgencyD3_Badge-4color D3 is in the books. The investigation of the evidence surrounding the person of Jesus Christ has been completed. As I walked around the church building this past Sunday morning, I could not help but think that it looked as if Vacation Bible School had never happened. No more colorful decorations and screaming children. Vacation Bible School makes for a very long week around the church. If you take into account the weeks leading up to the actual teaching week, many long, long hours have been logged over the past three weeks. I heard one of our workers say this past week, “There is tired and then there is Vacation Bible School tired.” This is absolutely true. Although it is physically and emotionally draining, it is worth it. When it comes to Vacation Bible School, I’m all in. I’m sold on its ministry value. I fully understand how important this week is in the life and overall ministry of the church. Now that Vacation Bible School 2014 is over, allow me to make a few observations.

1. Attendance: For better or worse, this is often the marker by which Vacation Bible School is judged as a success or a failure. I am not completely sold on this. I am not exactly sure what our average attendance was for the week. I do know that is was down from last year. Although lower, I was encouraged by our attendance. I know that may sound odd. My reason for being encouraged is not so much about how many, but who was here. It is obvious that our people were active in inviting others this week. I know this because as the kids passed through the Missions Rotation that I was leading, they wanted me to meet their friends they had brought with them. Again this year our students met the same week as our children. I was encouraged to see the largest number in Youth VBS than I had seen in years, about 16 each night. This does not count the high school students who were assisting in other areas. We had the children who were members of other churches. That is perfectly fine. We are happy to have them for a week. We also had students who were unchurched and not affiliated with a local church. This is one of the markers by which I judge success. If I can answer the question “Were we able to have children with no church affiliation on campus with us for a week and be exposed to the gospel?” positively, then we were successful. Our Adult VBS was not only made up of our own church members. One of goals in Adult Vacation Bible School is to give parents who are not involved in a local church a place to go instead of dropping their children off and going home. We accomplished our goal here. Parents had the opportunity to interact and meet other people in a non-threatening manner and be exposed to the gospel message. I believe this was a success as well.

2. Volunteers: I am thankful to all of the volunteers who worked this week. As I mentioned earlier, it was a long week. It was also very hot. I am especially thankful and grateful to all of our teachers who worked full-time jobs who left work and came straight to church for five straight days. I want to especially mention and thank those who worked in the kitchen all week. During our Vacation Bible School, we skip the Snack Rotation. Instead, we choose to provide a meal for parents, children, and workers every night. Our kitchen workers came out early, set everything up, served the kids, and stayed until all was cleaned up. This year we had many new faces working in Vacation Bible School. This is always a good thing. I say to all of our 30 plus workers, thank you. I also want to thank the summer student missionaries who are a part of the Savannah River Baptist Association Low Country Ministries who came out and helped with our big kick-off event. To all those who worked so hard, your pastor wants you to know that you are appreciated.

3. Ministry: Any time you have kids on campus you have an opportunity to be engaged in real, one-on-one, life-changing ministry. It was good to be able to spend some time with these kids one on one. During our Worship Rally, our students take up an offering each night. There is anticipated and spirit-filled battle between boys and girls to see who can raise the most money for our designate ministry cause. This gives us an opportunity to further educate our students on the importance of missions. I am excited to report that this year we raised almost $300 for M28 Church in Atlanta, a North American Mission Board church plant that we have the pleasure to partner with. To the best of my knowledge we did not have any public professions of faith. I can’t explain it in human reasoning. For many who read this, you might say we failed as a church in Vacation Bible School. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are here to share a message and plant a seed, understanding that it is God who gives the increase. We trust God’s Word knowing that it will not return unto Him void. Real ministry takes place when you take time to listen, talk to, and show love toward a child in the name of Christ. This is what we did this week. If down the road a year or two or five, in God’s timing, a gospel presentation is given and a child responds because of something that was planted in their heart this week, then we were faithful to have done our part.

Overall, we had a great week and look forward to what comes out of the efforts of this week. Again I want to thank every teacher, worker, and parent who allowed their child to be a part of our Vacation Bible School. We are eagerly looking forward to Lifeway’s VBS 2015; “Journey Off the Map” in only eleven short months.

Book Review : How to Pick Up a Stripper

stripperWhen it comes to ministry carried out by the local church, the most important element is the people outside of it. While churches are careful and intentional in ministering to those who are in the local body, there must be an equal concern in reaching those not in the body of Christ. The key to reaching those outside the body is to communicate to them that they are loved and they matter. In their new book, “How to Pick Up a Stripper and Other Acts of Kindness” Todd and Erin Stevens have written about the importance of showing people the love of God instead of only telling them of God’s love.

Todd Stevens is the pastor of Friendship Community Church in Nashville, TN. His wife Erin is the founder of Nashville Strip Church, a ministry that reaches out to the employees of strip clubs (hence the name of the book). The premise of this book can be summed up in two words: be kind. Using the ministry of Friendship Community and their own personal generosity as a backdrop in kindness, the Stevens give numerous examples of how serving people with no expectation of return best demonstrate the love of God. Examples of lives changed are given throughout the book. Woven throughout the book is the ministry that Erin started after being led to reach out to the women in the local strip clubs. The Stevens not only highlight the importance of a servant lifestyle, they also deal with topics such as having a good reputation in the community, sacrificial service, being a generous giver, and praying for those you are attempting to reach.

“How to Pick Up a Stripper” is a good book. It is written in an easy-flowing conversational tone and is a very easy read. The Stevens do a good job of mixing personal stories and biblical admonition. The major problem with the book is that we have heard this before. As a pastor, I see nothing new in the overall message of the book. We know that we should be serving people. We know that we have been commanded to do so. The examples of service projects and ideas for outreach the authors gave include, but are not limited to gas buy-downs, block parties, easter egg hunts, and moms night outs are ideas already being employed, although maybe not as successfully as Friendship Community , by many other churches. “How to Pick Up a Stripper” gets lost in the crowd of other “serve your community” books.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Missional Monday : Lessons Learned Through Community Ministry in 2013

My first pastor, Lamar Anderson, whom I was called to the ministry under used to say, “It is a sorry frog that won’t croak over his own pond”. So, let me croak. At Port Royal Baptist Church we place a high priority on community ministry and missions. The reason: God’s Word teaches that we are to care for and serve others in the name of Jesus Christ. I must say that our people take seriously the missions mandate given to the local New Testament church. They are compassionate, generous, and caring. When presented with a ministry opportunity, they always rise to the occasion. I have at times challenged our people to invest more in current ministries and add new. I have never been disappointed and our community has been the beneficiary of their love and care. I appreciate Port Royal Baptist Church greatly for placing such a high priority on the care of our community. Your commitment to minister to all people, regardless of their race and economic background, surpasses any place I have ever been a part of.

We have had a full and fulfilling year in 2013. We have been able to touch our community in many, many ways. From mentoring elementary school children to assisting families with staying in their home, we put them first. From helping a sister church minister to migrant workers in VBS to serving lunch to state park workers just to say thank you, we put them first. From assisting families provide Christmas gifts for their children to food baskets for nourishing meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we put them first. From community improvement projects to giving out free cold water in the summer, we put them first. From giving and going to meet the needs of those in the mountains of Kentucky to giving the most basic needs such as laundry detergent to our partner apartment complex. We have used these opportunities, along with others, not to make our name known, but to foster relationships and build bridges for gospel conversations. Through all of this, I have learned two lessons this year that I would like to share with you here.

Lesson #1. Be Open. 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 those who believe that everyone we help during the week should be in church with us on Sunday. That would be nice. The hard truth is that most of those we serve in our community will not attend Port Royal Baptist for one reason or another. What really matter is the opportunity to minister to them where they are. If our willingness to serve is taken advantage of, so be it. 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 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 serving our community.

Lesson #2: Be Intentional. You must plan and prepare. Life-changing ministry doesn’t “just happen”. I am proud to say that our missions and ministries leaders see the value of being prepared. Some ministry opportunities require very little planning while other opportunities require a great deal of planning. Nothing could be more counterproductive than to arrive at a ministry site and not have the food, the supplies, the craft, the gift, the lesson that is needed to be a blessing. Being prepared shows the community we care. Being prepared shows the community that we have thought about them in advance. As I said earlier, our ministry calendar was very full this past year and I expect it to be the same this coming year. I have learned that without planning we would be far less effective than we were. I am so thankful that our people are opposed to flying by the seat of their pants. I am a firm believer in the old adage that says “when you fail to plan you are planning to fail”.

Missional Monday : National Night Out

nno2013Last August, Port Royal Baptist Church had the privilege to participate in a community event known as National Night Out. National Night Out is an initiative to develop and promote crime-prevention programs in neighborhoods involving watch groups, law enforcement agencies, churches, non-profit organizations, businesses, and individuals working toward one simple goal: safer and stronger communities. Our church had been seeking a way to gain entry into the multi-housing community that adjoins our property. We approached the property manager with this initiative and were welcomed with open arms.

This is how it works. A church, business, or non-profit organization identifies a neighborhood to “adopt”. Local law enforcement and fire departments are brought in to share the anti-crime and safety message. Through this initiative, foundational partnerships are formed that lead to future opportunities of ministry and involvement. Port Royal Baptist will host a block party (bounce house, popcorn, sno-cones, etc.) including a cookout. The property manager will provide the space, power, and internal promotion to more than 100 family units. Port Royal Police Department, Beaufort County Sheriff’s Department, and Beaufort County Fire Department will provide staff and resources from their departments to communicate their anti-crime message, while showing a side of their work that most of the communities never get to see. On August 6th, 2013, we will all come together again to do our individual part in collectively making sure our community knows that we care about them.

Earlier I mentioned foundations for future involvement. From the church standpoint, we have had the privilege to minister in other ways. Because of a “non-church” event, we have been allowed to come back to host “church” events including those related to Easter and Vacation Bible School. I believe we were able to carry out the purpose of the church because we built trust and earned the right to minister. How did we do this? How can you do the same thing?

1. We took advantage of a secular event in order to lay the groundwork for ministry. Check your community calendars and involve your church in those events. I wrote about the importance of merging church and community calendars. You can read that post here.

2. We earnestly believe that our community is our responsibility, not someone else’s. Remember, missional is not about doing. It is all about being. Don’t allow someone else to be the missionary to your community.

3. We were not afraid to be told “no”. You should not be either. Pray, identify, and ask. We were told “no” in this particular multi-housing unit once before.

Missional Monday : MissionsFEST Atlanta

atlanta-skylineIn October of this year I, along with two other member of Port Royal Baptist Church (Joyce Bunton, Judy Greenlee), will take part in MissionsFEST Atlanta. This trip is the result of a partnership between South Carolina Baptist Convention Missions Mobilization, National WMU (Women’s Missionary Union), Georgia WMU, and the UACP (Urban Atlanta Church Planter’s) Network. The UACP is a cooperative effort to engage lostness through the planting of intentionally reproducing churches with the I-285 perimeter of Atlanta. Individuals and churches who participate in MissionsFEST work alongside church planters who active in reaching neighborhoods with the I-285 loop where over 100 different languages are spoken. Events and projects are designed to demonstrate the love of Christ in real and tangible ways that allow bridges to be built for future gospel conversations. Some of the week’s projects include block parties, service ministries, prayer walking, and light construction work.

We are looking at this trip as more than just an opportunity to help church planters with the enormous task of reaching their community. We are viewing this time in Atlanta as a vision trip for Port Royal Baptist Church. Every spring we sponsor a state-side mission trip for our congregation. As we seek the Lord’s guidance as to the coming year’s destination, we are praying He uses this week to open doors for future ministry. As in any trip, meeting, or conference I attend, certain hopes are always present. My hopes for this trip are as follows.

1. It is my hope that we will create partnerships for future service. As I mentioned above, we hope to be able to discern the needs of the church planters and determine if our congregation would be a fit in Atlanta.

2. It is my hope that I will be personally challenged. I believe that many of us minister within a bubble of safety. That is not always our fault, just a result of where we are. I hope to be stretched and challenged to do ministry that I never have and among people I never have.

3. It is my hope that we will learn new methods and practices for our own local ministry. Our church is very active and present in our community. I am hoping that some of what we experience in Atlanta will give us fresh ideas for reaching Port Royal.