Ten years ago, I was called to be a state missionary and to assume the ministry assignment with the State Board of Missions as executive director. Having served for years as a pastor, I wondered in my heart and mind what this new venue of ministry would mean for me as a minister. I enjoyed the pastorate, and I truly felt the call to preach, to teach and to be a pastoral leader.
During the past 10 years I have experienced the joys of being a state missionary in an executive leadership role more than I could have ever imagined. It was a challenge to transition from the pastorate to this ministry opportunity, but I can now say with certainty that I feel the Lord was in it and I am grateful to be serving alongside Alabama Baptists who have answered similar calls to ministry in local churches, associations and with the State Board of Missions.
What has all this change meant? You don’t have the time, and I don’t have the space in this blog to go into all the details. Yet I do want to pause and share with you some reflections I have concerning the last decade of serving together.
I. We have reemphasized the Great Commission.
One priority was on my mind, when I was called to this opportunity of ministry. It was the Great Commission. I came in the door the first day telling myself that “we have one mission, which is the Great Commission.”
I needed some coaching on a number of subjects in the early days, just like I need some now, but the reemphasizing of the Great Commission as our priority in state missions was not one of them. I remember being asked by a reporter, “What is your agenda?” I answered very tersely, “The same one Jesus had and the one He gave us. It is called the Great Commission.” That was my response then, and it is the same now. That will never change.
II. We have sought to refocus the State Board of Missions organization on Great Commission ministries.
Early on, the state convention affirmed the Great Commission priorities of evangelism/discipleship, leadership development and missions mobilization as our template for ministry. A quick glance at our team leadership structure will reflect those priorities.
Our Evangelism & Discipleship Team has by far the largest number of employees, which indicates the urgency of such a Great Commission focus. We believe that evangelism and discipleship are two wings of the same plane. In the New Testament sense, you can’t have one without the other.
The three additional teams include the focus of the other priorities. The Leadership Development Team and the Missions Mobilization Team coupled with the Missions Support Team rounds out our simple organizational structure.
III. We have endeavored to relate to local churches personally and practically.
As state missionaries, we are currently in our second cycle of church visits. This is an effort to contact and personally visit every Alabama Baptist church cooperating with the state convention. To my knowledge, we are the only state convention to be so engaged with the local churches. Practically speaking, we exist to assist local churches and associations in Great Commission ministries. That is our focus, and we are glad to be a part of it.
Starting churches and strengthening existing churches represent a huge commitment on our part. We are delighted to help in the birthing process of new churches. We also see our role as partnering with established churches in a myriad of ways in order to share the good news of Christ.
IV. We have devoted ourselves to reaffirming our partnership with associations, state convention entities and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Associational missionaries/directors of missions are our major partners. We are in this Great Commission effort together, and we would not have it any other way. We work in collaboration not in competition with associations.
The same is true of our state convention entities. Each entity was established by the state convention throughout our history. Each one has a defined purpose with respect to Great Commission ministries. Our working relationships are healthy.
Alabama Baptists are among the most loyal partners with the SBC. Our contributions through the Cooperative Program and special mission offerings are perennially close to the very top each year, and we praise God for it. It is a blessing to be partners in missions with our fellow Southern Baptists.
V. We have made every effort to be diligent in our response to disasters and other tragedies.
In the past 10 years, we have faced some of the most unprecedented natural disasters as well as acts of crime against local churches. Hurricane Katrina was the big one, and we are still in New Orleans working with other Baptists seeking to help that area get back to a new state of normalcy. However, Katrina wasn’t the only natural disaster to which we responded inside Alabama and outside the state, including other countries. Add to the usual tornado events in Alabama the tsunami in the Pacific and the earthquakes in remote places like Iran and the floods of the Midwest, and you can begin to see the full scope of our involvement.
Reprehensible acts, like church fires and devastating vandalism, brought about significant responses to the needs of Alabama Baptists. In 2006, our state made the national news in this most unpleasant way. Every one of the churches affected by arson received funds, and some were the recipients of mobile chapels.
I am excited about the future, because I believe the Lord has used us to lay a solid foundation for it. I want to thank you for partnership in the years past, and I want to express my gratitude to you for what I think the Lord will do through us in the future.
Remember: We have one mission, the Great Commission. We have one program, the Cooperative Program. We have many ministries, Great Commission ministries. That is more than a motto; it is our purpose, our passion and our plan.