A Church Closure and a Modest Prayer for 2018

I’ve read numerous articles and heard stories about churches closing their doors. I’ve had people come into our church family who tell me that they don’t have a “membership to transfer” because their previous church had disbanded.

Churches close for a variety of reasons. These have been cited in numerous publications and played out in congregations in many different settings. Usually churches close due to declining attendance, decreasing financial contributions, and gradual and consistent change in the neighborhood around the building itself.

When I received a message that College Place Baptist Church was shutting down, I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know why I couldn’t believe it, except that I didn’t know of any churches on a personal level that had closed. This time was different.

I grew up in College Place, and started attending there when my family moved into a small farm house right down the street. I attended the elementary school right across from the church, so my world was Sherrouse avenue.

It’s been a few decades since I attended that church, but remember being part of youth choirs, missions organizations, and the puppet ministry. We went to Glorieta on more than a few occasions (it’s now defunct too), and had numerous other experiences which have stayed with me to this day.

I mention this church because it has had a profound influence upon my life, and a great deal of what I’ve been able to do and be has its roots in that congregation. I dare say no one (especially myself) could have envisioned that a boy roaming the halls of that building would grow up to be a pastor.

I’ve read a lot of articles and books about church growth and what a church is supposed to be about. There are all kinds of programs, activities, and events that are associated with the work of the church. Still, what is most important, in my view, is that lives are forever changed for the better because of a church’s witness and influence.

I received a wonderful Christmas card a few weeks ago from a woman named Julia. She is Carolyn’s grandmother, one of the Missouri State students who graduated this month and attended UHBC during her four years in school.  Julia thanked our church for our encouragement of Carolyn and our investment in her life.

That card meant a lot to me, and I shared it during our last worship service of 2017. It’s a good reminder of what the church should be doing; our work should be about helping people deepen in their relationship with Christ.

That’s what College Place did for me more than four decades ago. I’m so grateful for all those who were in that church while I was growing up physically and spiritually. I hope that our church now can have that kind of impact on students who come our way, and also provide a spiritual home for others who can spend more time with us. Survival is not the ultimate goal of a church; it’s investing time and resources in human beings for the cause of Christ.

There’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to what’s yet ahead, but what is known is that God remains faithful and able to provide for what is needed and when it is needed. Yes, I am a pastor but much more than that, I’m a follower of The Way. And, I hope that I can trust the Lord for what is yet to come and be excited about the opportunities and challenges of a year.

Psalm 31:14-15 is a good place to begin 2018:  But I trust in you, LordI say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.

Not one of those charter members could have imagined what College Place would accomplish in its seven decades of life. Today I celebrate its impact upon my life and for all the “saints” that have gone on to glory from that congregation. They entrusted their future in the Lord’s hands, and completed several generations of ministry while impacting thousands of lives with the gospel. That’s a wonderful legacy.

For now, and for where I am today, I celebrate the beginning of another year. I’ll do my best to live in the now and lean into each moment as it comes. I’m sure I’ll revisit the words of the psalmist when anxiety creeps in about what’s going on (or not going on) in the church and my family. And, I hope to remain secure in who I am as a follower of Christ regardless of my circumstances.




The rise of “whataboutisms”

Matt Lauer was fired last week from the TODAY show. NBC executives released a statement indicating that he had been accused of sexual harassment, and that enough evidence had been substantiated to result in his immediate dismissal.
An obviously shocked Savannah Guthrie offered these words to the viewing audience: “We are grappling with a dilemma that so many people have faced these past few weeks. How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don’t know the answer to that.”
TIME magazine has announced its people of the year as “The Silence Breakers.” These are women (and a few men) who have spoken up and out after a prolonged silence regarding their own experiences with sexual harassment. They are “finding their voices” at a critical moment in our nation’s history.
Whether Savannah intended to or not, she aptly summarized the nature of our human condition. There are people whom we know and love who make terrible decisions, and when this happens we have to decide how to respond to them.
I’m grateful that these women are finding their voices; this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and it has gone unchecked for too long. I’ve been shocked at the revelations of high profile men who have “behaved badly” in the workplace; but thankful that the testimony of these women are being believed.
Of course, politics can play a role in how these situations are handled for our elected officials. The latest meme that is going around relates to “Whataboutisms.” This means that when one elected official is accused of bad behavior, then someone then says, “well what about _________________?” The amount of moral relativism going on in the public arena is dizzying.
Now, more than ever, the church must find its voice. The church must also speak out against injustice and abuse in a clear and direct manner. What confuses our world is when people who claim to be Christians and quote the Bible are selective in its application. We must be a people who are “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.”
That voice is rooted in the voice crying out in the wilderness centuries ago. We’ll talk about that this Sunday morning, as we do our best to prepare for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
As we continue through this Advent season, let’s “lean in” to each day and the moments we have together. One way we can do this as a people is being together for worship and special events as a family of faith.
I hope you’ll take advantage of all the special times that are planned this month. You’ll be blessed as a result.

The Gift of Gratitude

We’re approaching the Thanksgiving season, and with that thoughts about the kind of year it’s been. Is it possible to run out of words to describe the mood of our nation?

We have gone through tumultuous, serious, and some would say ridiculous political experiences. There have been significant developments around the world relating to the condition of the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. We have witnessed natural disasters along with terrible gun violence. Most recently, we’ve seen and heard about the people who were killed while they were in their house of worship. This most recent development at FBC Sutherland Springs has caused many congregations, including ours, to revisit their security procedures.

Security is a timely word. We all long for it. I want to provide this for my own family and move our congregation forward in a reasonable conversation about who we are, what is going on in our world, and how best to respond to it. But, I’m reminded of the simple truth that despite our best efforts, there are going to be times when things happen beyond our control. It is during those times that we most struggle with the realities of our faith in Christ and the challenges to that faith that the world provides.

I frequently go back to the phrase popularized by the late John Claypool in responding to the death of his 8 year old daughter: “Life is a gift.” Indeed it is. I find that when I approach each day with this mentality, it provides a better perspective on dealing with people, places, and events. It doesn’t solve my problems of course, but it causes me to slow down to realize that I don’t deserve the blessings I’ve been given. The old hymn is still true: “Count your blessings. Name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

When asked what I think about what’s happening in our nation and world, I’m tempted to focus only on the negative. It’s easy to do, and most of the ink (literally and digitally) is tilted in that direction. It’s important to be aware of events taking place around us, and be challenged to see how our faith intersects and influences our reactions to them.  However, it’s also vital for our own spiritual, mental, and emotional health to have a positive, meaningful approach to where we are and what we are going as individuals and as the people of God. This is not always easy to do, but for myself at least, I need the reminder. Especially at Thanksgiving.

So, I’m going to attempt to pump the brakes a little bit on how fast life comes at me. I’ll do this even as I and our family make the annual pilgrimage to see Lori’s parents (and perhaps more importantly) Cally, Lucy, and Matt’s grandparents. For the weekend at least and maybe beyond, we’ll have fun stressing over the outcome of the Iron Bowl and elevate it’s importance beyond what reasonable people do. But, it will be fun to be together and that for me will make for a meaningful experience.

So, I’m hoping for a great Thanksgiving. I’m hopeful for a great Thanksgiving for all the victims of the floods. I’m mindful of the families who will have a place missing at the table because a family member was taken from them through gun violence. I’m hoping for a great Thanksgiving for all the victims of sexual assault who have spoken out recently about their experiences. I’m also grateful for all the churches who are reaching out to these persons in need. The recovery process will take a long time and there won’t be easy answers, but I’m thankful for those who are being the presence of Christ in a time of need.

Along with that, I’m hoping for a great Thanksgiving for myself, my own family, church family, and all my friends. To be honest, our entire nation could use a great Thanksgiving.

One definition of what I’m talking about could include lots of food, family, and a celebration of what we have and hope to accomplish in the days ahead. But, what I am learning is that being thankful causes me to slow down and appreciate what I already have. As Robert Holden said, “The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become.”

A prayer for myself first and our people is that we would slow down, and even stop on occasion, so that we can be “fully present” during the time we have right now. Conversely, let us be mindful that ingratitude is a terrible vice and can be toxic to our well-being. Let us practice gratitude for the simple things and be “in the moment” because we aren’t promised another day. And, may we be encouraged (and surprised) and all the things the Lord has done–and is doing–among us.


FBC Sutherland Springs and UHBC

FBC Sutherland Springs is meeting this Sunday morning. It’s the Lord’s day, and that, of course is what churches do. But this Sunday will be different.

A week ago, a gunman armed with an assault rifle entered a room which is traditionally called a sanctuary and killed 26 people. He emptied 450 rounds of ammunition into that room; tragically some ended the lives of friends, family, and neighbors.

Sutherland Springs isn’t that big, really. There are about 600 residents in that community, which means that 4% of the population died in the church house. To gain another perspective of how devastating this has been on that area, think about our own city. Springfield has about 165,000 residents in its city limits, and that percentage would be equivalent to the deaths of 6,500 men, women, and children.

Social media has been littered with “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. That’s about all we know to do until the next mass shooting occurs. I would simply and humbly ask our governmental leaders to find a way to come together to reduce and limit these kinds of events in our nation. Yes, there is evil in the world, and this man had a history of mental illness Let’s not be satisfied with “thoughts and prayers” this time, but rather find common ground and common sense to move forward as a people.

One reaction to this latest shooting has been other churches examining their own security measures. Our church is no exception to this sentiment. In response to the concerns of our people and in consultation with our Deacon Chair, we will have a special called business meeting later this month to talk about this. We will review our current security measures and discern what and if anything else needs to be done to deal with our current reality. Prior to this meeting, the deacons will come together and discuss this matter as well.

I wanted to make you aware that we do have certain protocols already in place relating to the security of our entrances. There are also individuals who miss out on Bible Studies, worship, and other fellowship moments to be attentive to the unexpected. I appreciate them “having our backs” and know they want to do what is best to keep our people secure.

The reason we are having a churchwide meeting later this month is for us to have consensus and clarity about our security protocols. Whenever there is a mass shooting, much attention is given to what has happened, but then over time the attention shifts to other matters. I want us to embrace this moment as a church family. When I entered the ministry, I never thought this would be a subject for me to deal with in the church. We must not develop a fortress mentality, but I do want us to embrace this moment and seek the wisdom of the Lord.

Sunday’s coming. I look forward to seeing you all and remember “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil. 1.3)

Suzii Paynter at UHBC on Sunday, Nov 5


We’re looking forward to having Suzii Paynter with us on Sunday, November 5th for Baptist Heritage Day. She will be preaching during our 10:30 am service and lead a session in the afternoon at 4 pm on “Baptist Missions: Heritage and Future.” This annual emphasis is a way for our congregation to reflect and celebrate its values and principles as “free and faithful Baptists.”

UHBC is unique among Baptist churches in the Ozarks in that we ordain both men and women to leadership positions as deacons and ministerial staff. We are the only CBF congregation in this area. For this reason, I have on more than one occasion said, “We’re not that kind of Baptist.” Our church cherishes historic Baptist distinctives like the separation of church and state and religious liberty for all persons.

I’m looking forward to this time together, and welcome friends, neighbors, and interested persons to be part of a great event.



UHBC Quarterly Report: “Desiring Joy”

  C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce, wrote, “No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock, it is opened.”
     I’ve become more and more convinced that our church’s greatest vision is fulfilling the Great Commission and seeking the Great Commandments of Jesus. These two fundamental teachings serve as the basis for all that we do. It should serve as the heartbeat of who we are as a church. With these twin teachings in mind, I’ve been encouraged by our increased presence in our immediate community and the broader Springfield area.
    Our church continues to receive notoriety for our University Hope Payday Loan relief ministry from CBF as well as local media outlets. More importantly, our church provides a resource for individuals to escape “the debt trap.” This work would not be possible without the church’s support and specifically the involvement of individuals who mentor and work directly persons in need obtain needed loans.
     A few weeks ago we hosted a Rountree Neighborhood Festival which brought in hundreds of attendees. People of all ages (especially children!) enjoyed the wonderful food, entertainment, weather, and games. We don’t have an official count, but Kevin Smith cooked almost 500 hot dogs. Thanks to SO many members who helped pull this off!
    The RIF (Reading is Fundamental) team used our fellowship hall as a resource to plan, prepare, and distribute books to area schools. This is a valuable resource and I’m grateful we can have a small part in it.
    Our Board of Trustees, in concert with the City of Springfield, will make preparations to allow our church to be a polling location for the Rountree community. The elementary school has been used for this purpose, but our building provides a better venue than the school to accommodate people during the day.
    The Rountree Neighborhood Halloween Parade is coming soon, and our church is providing parking for residents. Those who use our space will provide a donation or canned good for the privilege. Proceeds will go to the Grand Oaks Mission Center. This is a creative way to provide a “win/win” situation for both Rountree and Grand Oaks.
    I’ve been working on Wednesday night series these last few months. I’ve finished up one mid-week series on James and now we are working through the book of Jonah. Liz McGiffin from KY3 Storm Team came and talked to us about the Eclipse as well.
    On Sundays, I completed a three sermon series from Luke 15 entitled “Lost and Found” and am currently working through the “Seven Churches of Revelation.”
     I also plan on making reference to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on one of our upcoming Wednesday nights together.
     Looking ahead, it’s important to remember that our annual Baptist Heritage Sunday is November 5th. Our guest will be Suzii Paynter, Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She will preach in the morning worship service and led a session in the afternoon.
     Of course, with the holidays approaching, there will be numerous occasions for celebration. Our Thanksgiving luncheon will November 12, and the Advent season will be kicked off on December 3rd with Global Missions Sunday. Steven Porter is the Global Missions Coordinator and wlll be our special guest for the day.
    Speaking of Advent, I appreciate so many of you who make this a special time of the year for our church family. The Springfield Chamber Choir will be presenting a concert on Sunday afternoon, December 10th, and our own Chancel Choir will be presenting a special musical program on Sunday morning, December 17th. Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year, so we’ll have meaningful services both morning and evening.
     I also wanted to thank those who will be making sure our building gets decorated for the season. The sanctuary along with other parts of our building will be ready for the holidays. This will happen in a few weeks and takes a lot of effort and planning. I appreciate it as does our whole church family!
     With all these special events, we’ll be doing our part for increased promotion and publicity through radio, Facebook, and other media outlets.
     Also, please keep in mind your regular, faithful, systematic giving to the operating budget of the church. Your contributions are vital to support our staff, mission, and ministries.
     Finally, we continue to have guests in our worship services. It was wonderful to see college students coming into our church family and several of you reaching out to welcome them into the family of faith.
    I want our church to “seriously and constantly desire joy” going into these last few months of 2017. God has been good to us. Let’s be faithful and grateful.

Rountree Festival “A Whale of a Good Time”

The Rountree Neighborhood Festival was terrific! I appreciate our Outreach Task Force for their good work in organizing, planning, and promoting this wonderful event. I am also thankful to all of you who made this part of your Sunday afternoon. We had terrific weather, and it was good to be outside with our community.
If the goal was to meet our neighbors and show hospitality, then the event was a tremendous success. We hosted hundreds of people for the afternoon, many of whom were not part of our church family. I don’t have an exact number, but Kevin Smith said he cooked over 500 hot dogs! (probably an unofficial way of finding out attendance).
Of course, we may never know what kind of impact something like this will have moving forward. But, I look forward to inviting our neighbors to upcoming events, especially during the Advent season.
I’ve been in church most of my life, and that perspective doesn’t accurately carry over to how those outside the church view us. It was useful to talk with those who weren’t part of our church as well as note some Facebook posts regarding the Festival.
Some people have negative perceptions of the church; perhaps it has to do with their own experiences. Sometimes it relates to how the church in general seems not to know or care about social or justice issues.
Events like last Sunday’s offer opportunities for the church (specifically OUR church) to demonstrate an appreciation for the neighborhood and show a desire to an active part of it. Bringing the church and Rountree neighborhood together goes a long way towards addressing fear and stereotypes regarding what kind of people meet in our building.
I also wanted you to know that we have received numerous expressions of gratitude from the Rountree Neighborhood. There is a need to bring people together, and many were thankful that we shared our “Lot of Fun” with them.
Thank you for being such a warm and welcoming people! Let’s be open to what the Holy Spirit has for us to do as the people of God whose headquarters is the corner of Grand and National.
Along with that, please continue your participation in the 40 days of prayer emphasis! October 1 was the first day, and you can find each day’s entry on the church Facebook page. There are also hard copies on the information station if you need those as well.
Finally, thank you for your ongoing, faithful support of our operating budget. We are entering into the second half of the fiscal year, so let’s keep up the good work! Your generosity makes a tremendous difference as we seek first the Kingdom of God, together.