The vision for First Baptist Church

Since I came to First Baptist on Easter Sunday, my fellow ministers and I have been diligently praying for God to show us how to lead the church in the years to come.  I’ve visited every life group, which helped me understand the heart of our members.  We’ve read a series of books together that expanded our minds and challenged our preconceptions.  All of this led up to our staff retreat, where we would take all that we had learned and experience and make our plans for the direction of our church.  We left Sunday evening for three days on Bolivar Peninsula (thanks to Roger and Debbie Garrett for the use of their beautiful beach house).  We didn’t have time for beachcombing or sunbathing (although we did eat some incredible seafood).  Most of our time was spent in the house, praying, dreaming and talking things through with multi-colored markers and a flip chart.  I have never experienced anything like those three days: I already loved the people on this staff, but after seeing how completely in tune with one another we are, I am grateful to God for putting me together with this team, and for stirring our hearts in the same way.  And I can’t wait to get started.  So below is the vision we agreed upon. Of course, this is just the broad strokes.  There are a lot of details we’ve worked through already, and many more yet to come.  And this vision will keep us all on our knees before God, or it won’t happen.  So read ahead, dream with us…and pray.

Our Vision

Over the next three years, we are calling on God to renovate the heart of First Baptist Church, so that we will become a church in which ordinary people are transformed into world-changing disciplemakers.  We have a storied history of wonderful, successful programs.  It’s good for us to celebrate the amazing things God has done in the past.  But as we follow the Spirit of God into the future, we recognize that He isn’t primarily concerned with the programs of our church.  God didn’t send a program to save humanity; He sent a person.  Jesus didn’t die for programs; He died for people like you and me.  It wasn’t a program that turned the world upside down in the days of the Apostles; it was ordinary men and women who had been transformed by an extraordinary Savior.  We want to build great people, not great programs.  When we say “build great people,” we’re talking about the kinds of people who change a workplace, a school, a neighborhood, or a family simply by their presence…people who are so full of the love of Jesus Christ, knowing them leads to knowing Him in a saving way.  In other words, through the ministry of our church, God will transform ordinary people into not only true followers of Jesus, but people who lead many others to follow Him.  We know this can only happen through the power of God, as He renovates our hearts to focus on His original mission for the church, and as He empowers our efforts to reach, disciple and equip people to follow and serve Him.

How will we know we’ve become that kind of church?  We are asking God to produce four clear signs of transformation in our church:

  1. A Clear Identity: We will become a church that is unified around, and known in the community for, transforming lives through the power of God. This will include the way we talk amongst ourselves, pray together, plan for the future, structure our finances, and present ourselves to the community.  It will mean saying “no” to many good things in order to stay focused on the best things.  When you ask the average church member, “What is First Baptist all about?” and they say, “Transforming ordinary people into disciplemakers,” we’ll know we’re getting close.  When the people of Conroe begin to identify us as a church where anyone, no matter how far they currently are from God, can experience real life change, we’ll know we’re there.

 

  1. Reaching people: We will become a church in which new people continually come to salvation through Jesus Christ. Conroe is a growing city, and God has placed us in the heart of the city to reach people for Him.  As we follow Him, we believe our attendance will double over the next three years, to 1500 average weekly attenders in worship and 1100 in Life Group.  It will also mean our church will more fully reflect the demographics of our community, as we reach people of other races.  And it will mean our church will become, on the average, much younger.  All of this will require consistently providing compelling environments for our people to invite their unchurched neighbors; exploring language-based service options; hiring for diversity; strengthening our ministries to children and youth; creating an effective marketing strategy; and preparing for growth.  Most of all, it will mean equipping our members to see themselves as missionaries to their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances.

 

  1. True Biblical Community: We will become a church where people are unified and unashamed in their love for God and for each other. In this church, new people will be quickly become part of the family.  In this family, they will experience the kind of love that changes lives through prayer, bearing each other’s burdens, accountability, laughter and tears.  Mentoring relationships will lead to broken marriages restored, destructive habits confronted and overcome, and old wounds healed.  Building this kind of community will require spending hours together in prayer, planning strategic intergenerational events, investing heavily into our Life Groups, and modeling, teaching and celebrating true community.

 

  1. Leadership Development: We will become a church that continually builds new leaders for serving God both inside and outside the church. Every member of the Body of Christ is gifted by God and called by Him to serve in an eternally significant way.  In our church, every member will find his or her calling in God’s Kingdom and will receive the encouragement and equipping to fulfill their part in His plan.  This will mean an abundance of volunteers for every church ministry, a continued unity and momentum for the staff, and a substantial impact on the city of Conroe and beyond.  This will require a comprehensive discipleship process, ongoing staff training and vision opportunities, as well as a process for recruiting and training ministry volunteers.  Most of all, it will require the power of God Almighty.

 

What’s next?  Our goal for the next twelve months is that we will reach 1000 in average worship attendance, with at least 10% of our attenders being non-white.  The numbers 1000 and 10% aren’t actually the point; but both would be compelling signs that we are beginning to reach people for Christ in a consistent and effective way.  If we are truly reaching an increasingly diverse community, the demographic makeup of our congregation will also change significantly.  We believe that would be something to celebrate!

 

 

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What I know about the future

   

125th-anniversary

            Note: This past weekend, we celebrated the 125th anniversary of First Baptist Church in Conroe.  My deep and sincere thanks go out to the members of the steering committee who worked for months to make this event happen, to the donors who made it possible, the community leaders who were gracious enough to attend, and all the members of FBC.  At the banquet Saturday night, I had the opportunity to speak briefly on the future at FBC.  

This has been such a great day.  It’s been so good to spend time in the presence of our community leaders, to meet members of our church family that have since moved away, and to eat good food and hear wonderful music.  I am honored to be the pastor of this church, and to follow in the footsteps of men like Cliff Herrington and Rusty Walton.  I am privileged to work alongside the men and women of First Baptist, including our amazingly gifted, dedicated staff.  And it’s been great to listen to the stories of what God has done for this church over 125 years.  I think it’s always good for us to remember what God has done. If you’ve never written down your testimony, including all the big signposts that God used to get you from where to started to where you are now, you’re doing yourself and all your loved ones a disservice.  So this has been great.  But, for just a few minutes, I get to talk about the future now.

Jerry Clower tells the story of a guy in his hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi who looked up into the sky just after a skywriter had written “Pepsi Cola” in the heavens.  The plane was gone, and Jerry’s friend happened to be illiterate; he ran through the streets of Yazoo, screaming, “It’s Judgment!  God done wrote it in the sky!”  I have to be careful when I talk about the future.  Better and more esteemed preachers than I have made absolute fools of themselves by trying to read the signs and predict what God is going to do.  If I’m not careful, I could end up as misguided as that poor redneck from Yazoo City.  And that’s not the kind of leadership this church needs.

So I’m not going to talk about what I think will happen in the years to come.  I’m going to talk about what I know about the future.  I base my comments on the way the Lord has worked in the past, right here in Conroe and further back, in the Scriptures.

God won’t change, so we’d better not stray from the Gospel.  Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same  yesterday, today and forever.  God is the one thing on Earth that doesn’t need to change.  He is perfect as He is.  The same Gospel that changed Saul of Tarsus from a Christ-hating persecutor of the church, the same Gospel that turned the Roman world upside down, is the Gospel that Conroe, Montgomery County, the United States and the world need today.  It would be a huge mistake for us to try to make ourselves seem hip and relevant. God has never been irrelevant.  It would be a waste of resources for us to focus on being a lobbying arm of some political party or ideology.  Jesus is the King of Kings, and His agenda is the only one we should care about.  We will make some mistakes in the future, I’m sure, but if we continue preaching that God loves every person in our community so much that He’d rather die for them than spend eternity without them, and that Jesus Christ is the Savior they’ve been looking for, we can’t go wrong.

The world will change, so we’d better be ready to adapt.  God doesn’t change, but the world does.  I was a teenager when the Back to the Future movies came out, and they speculated that in 2015, we’d be driving flying cars, scooting around town on hoverboards and wearing self-drying clothes.  It also said the Cubs would win the World Series.  2015 has come and gone and none of those things came true, but think about the stuff that has happened: For just one example, I carry in my pocket a device that enables me to keep track of my calendar, check email, take pictures, figure out how far I’ve run when I go jogging, listen to any song ever recorded, download and read any book ever published, and watch my favorite TV shows and sporting events, along with posting my thoughts and pictures on social media for the whole world to see.  Oh yeah, I can also make phone calls on it.  I don’t know anyone who predicted the smartphone.  And that’s just one of thousands of changes we didn’t foresee.

The Gospel hasn’t changed but society has.  We need to recognize that the way we reach society with the unchanging Gospel needs to constantly be reevaluated and revamped.  Outreach used to be easy: Send out teams to visit people door to door and share a canned Gospel presentation.  Then in the Spring or Summer, bring in a hot shot evangelist and hold a week or more of revival meetings.  Today, most people won’t open their doors to unexpected visitors.  And most unchurched people wouldn’t come to a revival meeting if you paid them.  The way we reach people has changed; Now, it seems most likely to happen through personal relationships with their Christian neighbors and co-workers, and through practical ministry, like mentoring at-risk students or helping people break addictions.  We don’t know yet what it will take to reach people ten years from now, but it will probably change again.

Here’s what I do know: The Bible is a history of God’s relationship to His people, from Adam and Eve to the apostolic church.  As you read it, you see that God constantly had to drag His people where they didn’t want to go.  The Israelites wanted to stay in Egypt in slavery rather than go to the Promised Land.  The Religious leaders of Israel didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah.  The Disciples didn’t want to believe Saul of Tarsus had really been converted.  Jewish Christians didn’t want to worship alongside Gentiles.  We need to recognize that we’re no different.  We want things to stay the same, but they never do.  And God is constantly on the move.  As Henry Blackaby says, “You can’t stay where you are and go with God.” So whatever the future holds for us, we need to be willing to constantly reevaluate what we’re doing, and think of new, better ways to get it done. Otherwise, God will find some other congregation that is less stuck in the mud through which to reach the people of Conroe.

Following Him will require faith, courage and sacrifice…but it will be worth it.  Reading the stories of the men and women who most faithfully followed Jesus is sobering.  None of them got rich or lived what we would call comfortable lives. Many of them died in His name.  But they changed the world forever.  Every church has a decision to make in regard to its future.  If they want to follow Jesus into the future, they will need faith enough to make decisions they know will be difficult in the short term.  They need courage enough to stick by those decisions even when some people in the congregation say, “We liked it a whole lot better back in Egypt…” And they need to be willing to sacrifice their own comfort and preferences for the sake of others.  Most churches, sad to say, choose not to follow that path.  They choose instead to stay the same, remembering the good old days and hoping that somehow, they’ll reappear.  But think of what will happen if we follow the path of true discipleship and become a church that cares more about the people outside our stained glass windows than we do about ourselves…think about the positive change right here in the heart of Conroe.  Think about the joy we will feel as we do God’s true work together.  Think about the families that will be transformed and the souls who will have a very different eternity because we choose to be the church, not a religious history society.  And think about someday hearing our Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”

I don’t know the future, but I know who wins in the end.  And God’s grace means that even if we are content to rest on our laurels and never become the church God wants us to be, we will still spend forever in His presence. His grace is enough to cover our lack of faith and shortsightedness.  But I want something better, something far more glorious for us.  I want to see us be the kind of church First Baptist has been in the past, a church that says, “Whatever it takes to advance God’s Kingdom and reach the people of this city, we’ll do it.”  How about you?

My College Football Daydream

Warning: If you don’t care about college football, you’ll want to ignore this post.

While mowing my lawn this Labor Day morning, just after the finest opening weekend of football season ever, I started daydreaming.  Conference realignment is the big topic these days; my own Houston Cougars are waiting anxiously to see if they will be welcomed back into the ranks of football’s privileged class after wandering in the wilderness for twenty years (I think most observers think that they will, unless the Big 12 is collectively stupid or scared, or both).  But if I could be Lord High Commissioner of College Football, I would create a conference that would rival the SEC for quality of teams, passion of fans, and intensity of its rivalries. This conference would make sense geographically, with drivable road games for everyone, and alumni of the various schools who live and work near each other.  I don’t know what it would be called…As Lord High Commissioner, I would delegate that task to some creative underling.  But I know who it would include:

Houston, of course.  With more on-campus beds than any university in Texas aside from UT, a beautiful new stadium that can easily be expanded to 60,000, and an administration that finally sees the university’s true potential, this isn’t the UH I attended.  The results—on the field and in the stands—speak for themselves.

Texas A&M and Texas.  These two programs should play each other every year.  The fact that they currently do not is a sign of how ridiculous college football is today.  Bring back the rivalry.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma St.  OU is one of the winningest programs in college football history.  OSU was once a stepchild in its own state, but has been strong for over a decade now.

Arkansas and LSU.  Yes, I know these two would never leave the SEC, but this is my daydream, not reality.  Hog fans may not want to admit it, but their best years were when they played in the Southwest Conference, against Texas schools.  As for LSU, they are always in the National Championship conversation.  And I’d love to make the drive to watch my Coogs play in Death Valley, enjoying a lot of good Louisiana food along the way there and back.

TCU and SMU.  TCU was terrible for years, but they’ve won more games than any other school in Texas over the last decade (Guess who is second?  I’ll give you a hint…it starts with U and ends with H).  SMU has never really recovered from their Death Penalty in the 1980s.  But they certainly have the financial resources to build a successful program.  And I love the idea of keeping the Dallas-Houston rivalry alive.

Texas Tech and Baylor.  It has to be hard for Tech coaches to convince elite athletes to spend four years on the South Plains, but they’ve been consistently competitive and often entertaining since the SWC broke up twenty years ago.  And Baylor has some rebuilding to do after the horrid lack of control they have had over their players during their unprecedented run of recent success.  Here’s hoping they do.   I would love to see Baylor live up to its evangelical principles while excelling in sports…I believe it can be done.

Rice.  The SEC has Vanderbilt, the ACC has Duke, the Big 10 has Northwestern, and the Pac 12 has Stanford.  It’s good for conferences to have a small, scrappy private school with great academics.  It raises the academic expectations of everyone else, and it’s a thrill when they upset one of the big boys.  Plus, Stanford has shown that this kind of school can become a football power under the right circumstances.  And on a personal level, Rice Stadium is where I had my first date with my wife.  I love going back there.  And I may be in the minority here, but I find the MOB hilarious.  Especially when they annoy entitled fan bases, of which there are a few in this conference.

Here’s how the conference would stack up:

East                                                                        West

Houston                                                              SMU

Rice                                                                       Texas Tech

Texas A&M                                                        Texas

Baylor                                                                   TCU

LSU                                                                        Oklahoma

Arkansas                                                              Oklahoma St

 

They would have an 8 game conference schedule.  Each team would play all the teams in their division, plus three in the opposite division, including one crossover game they play every year.  I’ve listed them with their crossover games above.  So Texas and A&M would play every year, Houston and SMU, etc.  As a football fan, especially one who lives in Texas and grew up watching SWC games on TV, this would be heaven.  It would be better than the old SWC, because most of the Texas schools are far stronger than they were back then, plus LSU, Oklahoma and OSU would add tremendous strength.  There would be multiple fantastic games every week.

Anyhow, that’s the way it would be…if I were in charge.  What do you think?  What would your ideal conference look like?