Dear FBC Family,
The writer of Hebrews states in Hebrews 13:15-16:
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
May we, as a church family, never cease “to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” for all that He is doing in our midst during this COVID-19 season. God’s faithfulness has been evident in the sweet spirit and fellowship that we have enjoyed over the past few weeks, even during the days of social distancing.
As a senior pastor who is on an absolute medical quarantine (our family cannot come into contact with any other people, which means no one is able to come into our home and we’re not allowed to leave) for 8 weeks (we’re 3 1/2 weeks in), I have a unique perspective. From my viewpoint, it has been incredible to see the beauty of the body of Christ at FBC Sparta. In this post, I’d like to take just a few moments to offer up, what has been framed as “evidences of God’s grace.” That is, I will be attempting to list just a few of the ways in which I’ve seen the Lord working in our midst and reasons for which we should offer Him praise and thanksgiving during this season.
First, I’ve seen our amazing staff working around the clock (they always work hard, by the way) to establish ways for our faith family to connect with God, with His people and with His mission. When I was first called to FBC, I told our Pastoral Search Committee that one of the tangible areas that our church needed to address was our infrastructure. This is the establishment and maintenance of all of our church’s policies, procedures, tools, structures, systems, etc. While the “fruit work” is the essence of what we are called to do (as seen in our mission statement), by making disciples of all nations through Christ-centered worship, Christ-centered service and Christ-centered gospel proclamation, “trellis work” is also essential. If a vine doesn’t have an adequate trellis (infrastructure), then the fruit will often fall to the ground and rot or will be eaten by bugs and animals. In church and ministry life, discipleship, evangelism, prayer and the ministry of the Word are primary tasks, but without adequate structure, communication, and organization, people and ministry fall through the cracks. FBC Sparta has seen amazing seasons of fruit work and has established infrastructure at different times; however, much of the infrastructure was tied to personnel, rather than implemented into our church culture. Therefore, each time a new staff member was added, they would have to begin from the foundation, building up a new organizational structure. When this trellis is not utilized, understood, and maintained by the church (as well as the staff), then each pastoral change introduces a reset. It has been our current staff’s desire to establish infrastructure, implement tools and form maintenance that will outlast any certain staff member or pastor. Due to our time being monopolized by various challenges, forming our new staff team and establishing our fruit work, our progress in infrastructure development has taken a backseat.
While the state’s mandate on social distancing brought our gathering services, ministries and events to a screeching halt nearly a month ago, ministry, for our staff, has been taken to another level. Not only has our staff been busy figuring out how to establish means of ministry under our temporary restrictions, our team has been diligent to address our many organizational needs. In the week that I was in Alabama receiving a chemo treatment for M.S., Pastor Kevin, Pastor Jon and Mrs. Debby had begun to advance much of our planned administrative agenda for the year. The temporary reallocation of ministry events afforded the opportunity for us to work on administration. We praise the Lord for this and we believe that this will help our church be more faithful and fruitful.
One of the exciting initiatives our team embarked on was to establish our people management software, ACS Realm. Our church has moved to a new kind of church record keeping solution called Realm®. In the past, FBC had used a computer system that was on floppy discs. After this, as far as we could tell, the primary means of people management was an Excel spreadsheet, periodic church directories and a binder with physical decision cards. Obviously, this management system presented many problems. Among them, were dated information that was rarely updated, a lack of usability for church members and little accessibility for staff and leaders to utilize for ministry purposes. While this new system primarily serves the administrative needs of our staff, it also offers some exciting opportunities to support the way that you are involved in our church. It will make it easier for our church family to connect with each other, keep up with what’s going on, and grow as a connected community of believers. Each member will have access to update (at any time) their information in our database. Furthermore, each member and family will be able to access and connect with our faith family through ACS Realm’s web page and/or the ACS Realm Shepherd app. This will essentially be an accessible, editable and digital online directory. It will have additional staff/leader-only portal’s to help us communicate ministry and family needs that will only be viewable by staff/leadership. ACS Realm also tracks attendance, maintains roles and communicates to certain groups, among other things.
To address communication needs, we have re-initiated our First Baptist Church’s Monthly Newsletter and calendar, started a staff blog, and implemented an all call/text tool that gives our church’s pertinent information via phone messages or texts. Also, to serve our people, we have placed our recorded online worship services at various virtual platforms. They can be accessed on the FBC Sparta Facebook Page, at www.fbcsparta.org under the “sermons” link, and on the “FBC Sparta Streaming” YouTube Channel. In addition, we are attempting to post regular encouragement through Twitter and Facebook videos and posts.
For some time, our trustees and financial team have been looking at providing our church with a digital online giving platform. In the last couple of weeks, we have implemented online giving options that will not only serve us well in this COVID-19 season, but they will serve us moving forward in a digital 21st century. Our faith family can give a one time gift or set up reoccurring giving. Giving online is easy, secure and only takes a few minutes to set up. You can participate by going to http://fbcsparta.org/giving or by going to the home page and clicking the “giving”tab. You can also give by text message. Simply text FBCSPARTA to 73256 to give your Tithes & Offerings. Giving online is easy and only takes a few minutes to set up. The other way to give is by downloading the ACS Realm Giving App. These are just a few of the ways that God has enabled our staff, committees and members to serve our faith family during this season.
Other evidences of grace that I’ve witnessed during this season are that your hearts and ears have been eager to hear the Word and your hands have been diligent to apply it. Through much transition, God has preserved a spirit of unity and oneness. Even in this time of “sheltering at home,” The Lord has been working in marriages and calling believers back to Himself in repentance. He is saving new believers and restoring hope in others. We have seen incredible ministry through our disaster relief team serving families and individuals in our community that have been affected by storms. I’ve witnessed our Loaves and Fishes Ministry adjust to continue meeting the needs of our community, while ensuring the safety of our volunteers. We’ve witnessed our ladies’ ministry sew masks to distribute to medical workers throughout the region. They are demonstrating the love of Christ by meeting an incredible need. I’ve even had medical workers to call me in order to request other masks to be made.
Our deacons have been busy checking on, praying for and ministering to our members during this time of isolation. Our deacons have served in disaster relief, met the new media demands, made sure that our children and student ministries continue, and copied and distributed DVD’s of our services for those who have requested them. Our financial committees (trustees, treasurer, financial secretary, and the budget and finance committee) have worked diligently to ensure that our church’s financial system adapts to the new gathering restrictions, that financial obligations are met and that communication among leadership and the congregation continues smoothly. Other committees have met, via an online meeting program called Zoom, to meet deadlines for committee responsibilities. We’ve been able to help address some benevolence needs that have arisen. Our people have been enthusiastically sharing their faith with all of their social media contacts. Our music ministry has continually met to encourage one another on Wednesday nights, as have our students through their “Youth Group Online” meeting time. Our ladies’ ministry has continued on in an inductive study of Ephesians and have been meeting weekly to encourage one another with what they are learning. Our prayer ministry reconvened last Tuesday, and our prayer warriors have fervently sought the Lord on behalf of our church. As someone eloquently stated, the church has not been stopped, it’s been deployed. While our online gathering services aren’t a replacement, and this season is far from ideal, I am so encouraged as your pastor that we have not stopped the work of the ministry. When the apostle Paul was placed in prison, he shared his faith with his fellow prisoners and prison guards. When he was on house arrest, he ministered through letters. First Baptist Church, in 2020 during a global pandemic that has required us to stay “safer at home” and not to congregate, I’ve seen you rise up and make much of Jesus! I praise God for this. As Pastor Kevin challenged us in one of his sermons from Philippians, we are to thrive in isolation during this season. We do this by leaning into the grace of God in Christ, devotionally pursuing Him and seeking to overflow into our relationships (virtual or physical) with others.
I could go on and on about other evidences of grace, like how you gave more financially on the first week of April than is normal. I could speak about how joyful, sacrificial giving is emanating from our congregation during an economic downturn. My encouragement to you is to make a list of evidences of grace that you see. What are answers to prayer that you need to thank God for and how have you seen Him working? Make a list and share it with others. This is how we offer a sacrifice of praise to the One who is worthy of it! Make much of Jesus this week, church! I love you and it is an honor to be one of your pastors.