I did not grow up as a die-hard Southern Baptist. I didn’t really grow up in church at all, but my family had an idea that church-going was important, so we at least made sure to be loosely connected to one during my most formative years. It just so happened that the church I was loosely connected to was an SBC church. This means that I have no real loyalty to the SBC. While I am thoroughly convinced that we’re in the right place doctrinally, the SBC isn’t the only denomination that can claim that. So why then would I choose to invest my life and career in this tribe?
There is a constant call within the northeastern part of the United States for laborers to move to the area and join the battle to see the region re-awakened to the power of the Gospel. Church planting ministries regularly recruit and promote vision tours in an attempt to get more missionaries to the shores of the proverbial Babylon that is the New England states, plus New York and perhaps New Jersey.
“The disciples were ﬁrst called Christians at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26)
The disciples at Antioch displayed substantially diﬀerent lives, so much so that they received a new descriptor that became the name for followers of Jesus Christ world-wide. What separated these believers from the moralistic religious adherents around them?
There are two main reasons why I am Southern Baptist: biblical doctrine and the Cooperative Program. There are other denominations and church groups that are doctrinally sound. Yet there is no other church or group of churches that offers a more comprehensive means for every church to participate in work focused on the King’s mandate to reach the whole world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The last 10-mile drive into Ivanhoe, NC, on Dec. 11, was not what we expected for our mission. It was flat, largely rural farmland, but evidence of poverty abounded. Broken-down buildings and trailer homes frequently interrupted the landscape. More subtly, there were signs of flooding. The ground was saturated and puddles flourished after the slightest of rain. Some boarded-up homes and buildings were clearly abandoned, while others had RVs parked outside with building materials stacked in the yard.
Many of our churches in New England understand that engagement in making disciples at home and abroad is essential for the health of the church. They express it through serving in and reaching their local communities for Christ, as well as connecting and partnering with other churches or plants throughout New England, the nation and the world.
New England is a mission field, and it’s important that we not forget it. We rank at the top or national surveys for the least churched and most biblically illiterate region in the nation. I tell people often that we must think like missionaries because the prevalent culture around us is post-Christian. That’s why one of our primary objectives is to reintroduce this culture to the Gospel. As with any mission work with an unreached people group, you need missionaries (either homegrown or transplanted) to go and share Christ in faithfully. Praying, sending and funding missionaries is an ancient practice of the church and is vital to any mission endeavor. Why give to New England Missions Emphasis? Because missions is God’s means of making Christ known to this generation.
I have long been passionate about our region of the country. From my first missions experience here forty years ago while a college student from the South to my current position of service in church planting, those who are a part of our family of churches in this region have always recognized the difference New England represents. It is a place of spiritual heritage in our land. It is a place of cultural influence across the nation. And it is a place of significant impact upon every life touched by our economy and our education.
I did not grow up Southern Baptist. I can hear the gasps in the Deep South ringing in my ears as I make my confession, but it’s the truth. I had great Christian parents who raised me in a Baptist church, but it was a church that was anti-denominational. Not only were we not Southern Baptists, but we thought Southern Baptists were the enemy!
This past year I had the opportunity to be a part of the Quest program. Quest is a leadership development program for high school juniors that provides opportunities to grow in faith, leadership skills, service and team building in order to better equip us as godly leaders in our churches and communities. The culmination of this advantageous program is an overseas mission trip. Students were sent to four different locations: South Africa, Hawaii, Scotland and the Dominican Republic. I was chosen along with eleven other students to go to the Dominican Republic. When I was told who would be on my team I have to say I was slightly confused. Everyone on my team seemingly had extremely different personalities and interests, and I was under the impression that none of us had anything in common.
When I was growing up in the church, I viewed mission trips as the work of the varsity team—something reserved for the spiritually elite delta force. Consequently, every time a mission opportunity presented itself, I gave every reason why it wasn’t for me. And even when I did put myself out there to serve, I only did so after laboring over the decision for weeks through prayer, internal debate, and counsel.
"…. But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:1b-2, 6
When this scripture was written, the nation of Israel was at war -- and the war was not going well. In the midst of that time of anguish and despair, Isaiah prophesied that one day a baby would be born. That baby would be the promised Jewish Messiah, the Prince of Peace. We know Him by the name of Jesus, and the story of His birth is what makes the Christmas season so special to us all. But as is often true in Old Testaments prophecies, there is a second prophecy hidden within the first one.