(A sermon for the First Baptist Church of Fitzgerald for Sunday, January 23, 2011; the text is 2 Peter 3:18)
One way to summarize the state of First Baptist Church would be to observe that while we’ve come a long way we still have a long way to go. Such would be an accurate statement for our individual lives as well, of course.
We have over the past year made good progress in some important areas. Let me name and say a few words about two of them.
First, we have made progress in giving renewed focus to our ministry to children and preschoolers and their families. That progress included adding Sarah Holik to our ministry team as Coordinator of Children’s Ministries and Director of Preschool. Sarah, who as you know will be ordained to the ministry this evening, is doing an excellent job and we’re excited about coming developments in our ministry with children and preschoolers.
I’d like to highlight one area on which Sarah is focusing her attention in our children’s ministry: worship. We want to be very intentional about teaching our children about worship and about helping them to experience worship as the foundational experience for their lives that it is intended to be. On Sunday evenings our children have been learning about why we do what we do in worship. Starting on Sunday evening, February 6, we will be re-instituting a Children’s Choir; a part of that time will focus on learning a new hymn each month that the children will sing in worship. Also, you have no doubt noticed the purple “FBC Happy Club” worship bags that our children now have during the worship hour; in those bags are materials to help them (and to help their parents help them) have a meaningful worship experience.
Our effort to focus on worship in our Children’s Ministry is an effort that we need to duplicate in our overall ministry as a church. Worship is vital to the life of a Christian and to the life of the church; indeed, worship is the life of the church. Worship is our response to who God and to what God does; worship is our service offered to God in response to and in gratitude for all the God has done, is doing, and will do.
My hope and prayer is that more of the members of our church body will participate regularly in the worship of God. Now, to be frank about it, if they’re waiting for us to develop a better show before they come then they probably won’t be coming because it’s not about the show; worship is about encountering Almighty God. We are grateful for the fine work that Blane and our choirs and musicians and others, including the pastor (!) do in planning and leading in worship.
It is the encounter with God on which we need to focus more and toward which we need to make sure we gear our worship experiences and preparations. We all need to be more intentional about remembering what worship is all about and about gearing our worship toward that.
Second, we have made progress in giving more focus to our ministries and missions beyond our walls. Of particular note is our decision to upgrade the gymnasium building so as to make it more suitable as a Ministries and Missions Center (the name by which we will be referring to it now). A new ceiling has been installed, the bathrooms and kitchen have been updated, and the inside has been painted, among other things. The new gym floor will be installed during the week of February 21.
The reason for doing all of this work is so that the Ministries and Missions Center can be just that: the headquarters for our discipleship beyond these walls. We want to be very intentional about remembering that the purpose of the Ministries and Missions Center is to provide a resource for us to enhance and expand our ministry efforts in the community and around the world. The building, once the renovations are completed, will be suitable for hosting and for providing a headquarters for all kinds of ministry efforts, ranging from athletic events to church family nights to collection of items for ministry partners to community activities.
As we get ready to begin using the Ministries and Missions Center, we need to be aware of some upcoming events. First, we will soon be distributing a survey to you that will help us to learn what kinds of events interest you in terms both of participation and leadership. Second, we will hold a Dedication Celebration of the Ministries and Missions Center on Sunday evening, March 6; this will be a church-wide event. Third, we will host the first major ministry event in the Ministries and Missions Center on the weekend of March 11-13 when we welcome March Missions Madness, a weekend of missions and ministries in our community for youth from all over the state of Georgia that is organized by CBF of Georgia. Fourth, the Sunday night Youth “Hang Time” will move to the Ministries and Missions Center on Sunday, March 13. Fifth, we plan to host a luncheon for community leaders on Thursday, April 7 to get their input on how we might use the building effectively to minister to our community.
As we have previously mentioned, Tom Braziel will be the staff person in charge of coordinating the use of the Ministries and Missions Center and we have been working diligently at developing his ministry description and at figuring out how all of this is going to work. Please understand that we will be feeling our way along and that it will take many months to begin to see how things are going to develop. We are on pilgrimage together and the journey is an ongoing one; that is true of everything we are about and it is true of our efforts at Ministries and Missions.
We are committed to maintaining a strong Senior Adult ministry and our Senior Adult Committee, the ministries and membership of which we will be expanding, are and will be working with us to make sure that is the case as we transition Tom toward these other areas of responsibility.
Our church already focuses much on Ministries and Missions. A few months ago we compiled a list of ministries in which the church as a whole and various groups within the church are involved and it was a long list. No doubt groups and individuals are involved in many more ministries of which most of us are not even aware—which is a good thing. More coordination through our Mission Ventures Team and through our Ministries and Missions Center is what we are developing in order that we might worship well both inside and outside the walls of the church buildings, both on Sunday mornings and in every other moment of our lives.
Obviously there are many other things about which I could talk but I wanted to highlight those two important developments of the past year—developments that are still and will continue to be in process—that will help lead us into the future that God has for us.
I leave you with one more thought over which I hope you will pray and ponder: it’s all about grace. Everything we are, everything we do, everything we say, is all because of who God is and because of how God has shown God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are growing and in which we want to grow ever more. It is as Anthony Robinson wrote:
Today I find that, as one woman said to me recently, “I do not need to be reminded, every Sunday, in each sermon, of my responsibilities. As a mother, a teacher, a wife, a church member, a citizen, my responsibilities are ever with me. What I do need to hear each week, what I need every sermon to remind me of, is God’s grace.” This is the first word; our response to God’s grace is the second word. In this new time, it is crucial that the church get this right [Anthony B. Robinson, Transforming Congregational Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 69].
Indeed. In this new time in the life of First Baptist Church, it is crucial that we get grace right…