Note: I shared this with our church on Sunday morning, January 12. It’s the result of discussions among the ministry staff during our retreat in October, after years of prayer for God’s direction. First, a couple of disclaimers: First, I don’t know the future anymore than you do. I believe, as James 4:15 says, we should be humble when we talk about our plans, but I also believe, as Proverbs teaches us over and over again, that we should plan as best we know how.
Second, I realize that you may not like what I will say over the next thirty minutes. You may think to yourself, “That’s not the vision I have for this church.” That is your right. I am the pastor; I am not Jesus Christ, the head of the church. So let me say this: Whether you jump in feet-first to this vision and do everything you can, praying and working and seeking opportunities to advance this vision, or you just keep on doing what you’ve always done, completely ignoring what I say today, either way, it won’t change the love God has for you. It won’t change the way that I or anyone on staff here treat you. We are a family because God brought us together. But I believe He has given us a tremendous opportunity right now and in the coming years. In the 23 years I have served as a pastor, I have never seen a church that is more positioned to make a powerful impact on its community than this one is right now. And I believe that the vision our ministry staff has is God-honoring and will lead us into amazing things. I’d love it if you’d join in.
Where we are as a church. 2019 was a very eventful year for our church. In the past year, we added 124 new members. That has led to growth in both of our worship services as well. You don’t need for me to tell you statistics; you can look around and see. Many of our long-time members have commented that they see so many new faces, it almost feels like a new church. I am glad to say that the members who tell me this see it as a good thing. It’s been a good year financially, as well. Heading into last year, we had to make cuts to our budget. But coming into this year, we were able to make some modest increases. Just as significantly, our debt has been sharply reduced. Two years ago, we started the For the Mission Campaign. We were seeking to raise a little over $2 million. Some of that was to fund a new sound system and other upgrades for our sanctuary. Those have been a huge blessing. But $1.7 million of it was to eliminate debt from a previous renovation. Today, that number is around $300,000. If people give to For the Mission this year the way they did last year, the debt will be eliminated before the year is through. Think about what that means: We will have over $12,000 a month to use in ministry that has been going to debt service.
Then there are the things that you can’t measure in numbers: This continues to be a loving, warm, welcoming church. The unity here is wonderful. People are growing in Christ. And we continue to increase our outreach to the community around us. This past year, 80 people a week learned English as a second language through Literacy First. Last Fall we began a partnership with Sam Houston Elementary School, just two blocks from us. We furnished school supplies and extra funds, served a back-to-school lunch for the teachers, and best of all, sent 15 mentors onto that campus to invest in the lives of students. Members of this church took the Gospel to places like New Orleans, Vancouver, Costa Rica, Colombia, and England.
But in the midst of all these good things, I need to remind you of something: We’re still not fully fulfilling our purpose. Of the 124 people who joined our church, only 22 did so by baptism. Most of those were brand-new believers. We had many others who moved into our area and joined our church. We rejoice at that. But many of our new members left another church in our area to come here. If you’re one of them, please know, we are so glad to have you. You’ve already made our church better. But our gain is another church’s loss, and that’s not how we want to grow in the future. My prayer is that someday soon, we’re not just rejoicing at bringing new members to our church, but that most of those new members are also new Christians.
Our community. If you’ve lived here for long, you don’t need me to tell you this area is growing. A little over a decade ago, a Houston Chronicle reporter called Conroe a “sleepy, semi-rural area.” But between 2010 and today, the population increased from 36,000 to over 87,000. For the three years 2015 to 2018, Conroe was the fastest-growing city in America. By 2040, the population of Montgomery County is projected to double, to over 1 million people. They move out here for the good life; better schools for their kids, more house for their money, a slower pace. But look beneath the surface, and you’ll see that the good life isn’t as simple as buying a house on the lake or posting family pictures on Instagram. Beneath the carefully crafted exterior of these lives, there is chaos. Families are being torn apart by divorce. Many marriages are hanging on by a thread; the love has gone out of them long ago. Parents are doing their best to provide their kids with more than they could possibly need, but have no idea what to do when those kids still struggle with bullying, crippling anxiety, depression and hopelessness. Everywhere, loneliness is epidemic. In all the chaos, some work harder to make life even better, but that’s just a case of trying the same thing, hoping for different results. Others devolve into addictive behaviors, and still others seek to end their own lives. We had a man shoot himself just a few feet away from our church building a month ago. How many of our own neighbors, friends, family members are just one step away from such a tragic choice?
God’s heart and our mission. I’ve been using the word “chaos” to describe life in our community. The definition of chaos is “a state of extreme confusion and disorder.” It comes from a Greek word that means “chasm” or “void.” Interestingly, the Bible itself starts with the story of the Spirit of God hovering over a formless void. We’ll talk more about this in two weeks, but Genesis 1 is all about God bringing order to that chaos. With only His spoken words, He turned confusion and disorder into trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, and life itself. That is what God does. He turns chaos into peace. He takes what seems to be total destruction, and turns it into something beautiful beyond comprehension. This past Christmas season, we studied John 1, and saw that when God saw the chaos of this world, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, God didn’t take up a collection in Heaven and send down a care package; He came to live with us Himself. He addressed the problem personally. He ultimately invested Himself in us in the most profound way possible, by giving up His own life for our salvation. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. Once we come to know Jesus, the more time we spend in His presence, the more like Him we become. The more like Him we become, the more of His peace and joy come into our lives. But we can’t keep that peace and joy to ourselves. We have to follow Jesus’ example, leaving our comfort zone and investing ourselves personally in the lives of the people around us. As the people around us see His glory reflected in us, they are drawn to Him, too. That’s how He brings peace to the chaos, by rescuing and redeeming one heart, one family at a time. That’s what He wants to do in the lives of all our neighbors, and in the lives of the thousands who will move here over the next ten years.
Think about where we are located. Many churches choose to build in the new, growing areas of a city. Some pick up and move to where the new homes are being built. But we’re right here in the heart of Conroe, the heart of Montgomery County, and we have no plans to move. That means we’re not the church of Woodland Hills, or Greystone, or Grand Central, or Woodforest. This city and county are our mission field. And what do we have to offer them? Yes, we’ve been blessed with some great facilities, and I think our programs are high quality, but that doesn’t really matter to the people who aren’t here. Do you think a person whose life is chaotic is looking for a comfy pew and a nice sermon? They need to experience transformation. The main thing we have to offer is a large number of people who have spent a lot of time in the presence of Jesus.
Let’s do a quick survey: Raise your hand if you’ve been following Jesus for twenty years or more. That’s our treasure. We have hundreds of people who for decades have been slowly transformed from who they were into the image of Jesus, with all the peace and joy He brings, and a community full of people trapped in chaos who need what we have. Spiritually speaking, our community is starving and thirsting to death, and we have a warehouse full of the Bread and Water of life. Once they get a taste, they will never go hungry again. Once they take a drink, the water will bubble up inside them and never go away. I’m not talking about old-school door-to-door evangelism. We live in a time when people aren’t curious about what the Bible says regarding salvation. They don’t accept Scripture’s authority, and they certainly don’t respond well to people who come to their door unannounced with a canned presentation. The Gospel hasn’t changed, but our mission field has. I’m talking about getting FBC members invested in the lives of people around us who are struggling in confusion and disorder, and by the power of God in these transforming relationships, bringing them peace and joy.
Our vision. Over the next ten years, the people of FBC Conroe will be involved in 10,000 transforming relationships, watching God use us to bring peace to the chaos, one heart, one family at a time. Let’s define what I mean by “transforming relationships.” I don’t simply mean, “I have three family members, four guys I play golf with, two guys at work that I eat lunch with, and eight neighbors I talk to once in a while, so that’s 17.” A transforming relationship is intentional, meaning you choose to get invested in someone you wouldn’t otherwise spend time with, or you take an existing relationship in an intentional direction. A transforming relationship is also focused on a need. So, for instance, you start inviting your elderly neighbor over to dinner once a week, since you’ve observed that she never gets out of the house and rarely has visitors. You help your young coworker set a budget and get out of debt. You visit a prisoner on a regular basis, praying with him that the Lord would prepare him for life on the outside once he’s paroled. You meet for coffee with a single mother, and you let her vent, and pray for her. In all of these things, you’re helping someone with a need, and you’re doing it in Jesus’ name. If they aren’t a Christian when that process begins, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have the opportunity to share the Gospel with them at some point, because people just don’t take the time to invest in others like that. And if they’re already a Christian, you’re helping bring peace to their chaos, so they can more fully reflect the light of the glory of Christ to someone else.
Can you imagine the impact if those kinds of relationships happen ten thousand times over the next ten years? I can. I imagine thousands of lives being changed, thousands of families being restored, the Gospel being shared thousands of times, and scores of people coming to faith. I imagine our local leaders saying to themselves, “Whenever there’s a problem, we definitely need to get First Baptist involved. They bring peace to chaos.” I imagine even unbelievers saying things like, “I still don’t agree with their beliefs, but I have to admit those First Baptist people sure do care about us. They make this a better place to live.”
How will we accomplish this? First of all, we’re going to talk about it…a lot. We want this to become embedded in our church’s culture, so that when you think about yourself as a member of First Baptist Church, your first thought isn’t, “I’m a member of this Life Group,” or “I serve in this ministry,” or “I prefer this worship service over the other one.” Instead, your first thought is, “Here are the transforming relationships I am involved in right now.” Next, we need to create openings for these kinds of relationships. For instance, someday soon, we may have mentor couples in this church who meet with people who are engaged, newly married, or just struggling to stay married. We have plans to build a leadership pipeline, so that young Christians train under people who have been serving for years, to prepare them to lead our church in the future. We could create a mentor discipleship model, in which Christians are given the tools to sit down and discuss Christian truth with non-believers in a gentle, respectful way over a period of time. We have already committed to start some form of outreach to our local city government this year; that may have a mentoring component. Perhaps we’ll each have the opportunity to adopt a city employee, praying for him and his family. We could give you tools to use in witnessing to the non-Christians in your life, like a book you could study along with them. These are all ideas at this point, you understand. Don’t volunteer for them yet, but be listening as they come up.
Third, we need to figure out a way to keep track of these transforming relationships, so we know how we’re doing. Some of these kinds of relationships are already going on. We have many members involved in mentoring relationships at Sam Houston Elementary and other schools in our community. You can volunteer for that ministry today; there is a huge need for mentors. We have mentor Moms serving in Mothers of Preschoolers. And I have no idea how many transforming relationships are already taking place without any kind of official church program, just one member investing in the life of his neighbor, her coworker, their son-in-law or friend.
What happens next? This year, our theme is “His story, your story.” I’m going to be preaching all year about how God brings peace to the chaos around us. The sermons will be primarily stories of how God uses ordinary people to bring this about. Meanwhile, you’ll hear a lot of stories about FBC members engaging in these kinds of transforming relationships, too. The hope is that, as you hear all these stories, you’ll think about the people who’ve invested in you, and you’ll be praying for opportunities for you to do the same for others. Meanwhile, we’ll be doing what I said earlier: Talking about the vision, creating openings for these transforming relationships to take place, and finding a way to keep track of what God is doing. And we’ll be preparing for the future. If we become this kind of church, we’ll see more people want to join our church family, including many new believers. We’re already getting crowded, so we’re working through the details of starting a third worship service and a second Life Group hour within the year. I know just saying that opens a huge can of worms, and you want details, but just trust me…we’re working on it, and we’ll let you know when we know. Here’s what I know: The year 2030 sounds far away, but it’s not. If Jesus doesn’t come back first, that year will be here soon. More importantly, our community can’t wait for us to get our act together. We need to become a church of people who invest in our neighbors as soon as possible. The people of this community need to know that the heart of Jesus is at the heart of this community, and He loves them.
Here’s something else I know: If your life is full of chaos, confusion and disorder, there is good news. All of us were lost in that chaos. It was like there was a vast chasm filled with churning death separating us from the joy and peace we hoped for. But Jesus loved us enough to die for us. He threw Himself into that chasm, and became the bridge so we could walk to the Promised Land. He did that for you. He can bring peace and joy into your confusion and disorder, if you’ll let Him. That’s the ultimate transforming relationship. Come to Him today.