Click here for a pdf of the "State of the Church Address."
State of the Church Address
January 10, 2016
Pastor Noel Schoonmaker
In 2015, God did marvelous things in our church. Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory.” So let’s give God glory for the past year.
First, God led numerous people to join our church in 2015. Our new members last year include individuals, couples, and families; they include youngsters and seniors; they include numerous new believers and many long-time believers; folks with varying talents and backgrounds but one and the same Lord. We had hoped to welcome 52 new members last year, an average of one per week, but we actually welcomed 58 new members in all. According to our office records, this is the largest number of new members our church has received in one calendar year since at least 1990. We didn’t research anything before that. We praise God for our many new members!
Second, God allowed us to baptize 18 people last year. According to office records, this is the highest number of baptisms we have had in one calendar year since at least 2008. We praise God for the Christian commitment of each of these individuals, for the grace of Christ in their lives, and we pray that many more will find their way to the waters of salvation in the coming year.
Third, our music ministry continued to shine as we were blessed to call Bryan Anderson as full-time Minister of Music. Under his leadership, our chancel choir and accompanists offered beautiful anthems, offertories, and a spectacular Christmas cantata complete with a 25-piece orchestra. Our Connections praise band led us in energetic worship with a great sound and provided powerful special music offerings and a marvelous Christmas program that interweaved scripture, prayer, and songs of the season.
Fourth, our children’s ministry entered a new era as we called Reverend Brent Greene as full-time Minister of Preschool and Children. We had a wonderful Vacation Bible School last summer with a total of 252 people in attendance. It was our highest attended VBS in several years. Children are thriving in Sunday Morning Bible Study and in their Wednesday evening programs, including RAs, GAs, Children in Action, Mission Friends, and Children’s Choirs, all of which form our youngsters in the way of Christ. This was evident in the outstanding Christmas program our children performed last month in Sunday morning worship.
Fifth, our youth ministry continued to flourish. There was strong participation in youth small groups, a key arena of spiritual growth and support. There was Youth Sunday when our young people led various aspects of worship. Our youth did local missions to support homeless neighbors in the community. They did great work on mission trips as well, to Sparta, Tennessee and Owsley County, Kentucky. They also thrived at special events such as Jesus Journey and at their weekly Wednesday Endeavor meetings. We are fortunate to have our teenagers so active in various dimensions of our church life.
Sixth, our college-age ministry grew in 2015. Its name was changed from “Koinonia” to “JCM,” which stands for “Just College Ministry.” Participation in the College-age Sunday Morning Bible Study increased considerably, as did participation in Wednesday evening JCM meetings. There was also a powerful college-age retreat that was well attended.
Seventh, our Senior Adult ministry continued its dynamism. The monthly Young at Heart meetings featured strong attendance and splendid programs, including a very meaningful Veteran’s Day program in November. Our seniors took trips to various destinations in Tennessee, and our Senior Adult Choir was quite active, offering musical programs at several venues in Middle Tennessee.
Eighth, our Christian formation ministry flourished last year with a “Finding Your Fit” emphasis that helped 50 participants to identify their gifts and passions and then coached them to serve accordingly. Two new prayer groups were initiated on Wednesdays to intercede for our church and the world. Twenty participants attended a marriage retreat amid winter weather and had a joyous time together. We published another splendid collection of Advent devotionals written by church members. We held the first annual Chili Con Carnival last winter, which was awesome by all accounts. Involvement in the various Deeper studies on Wednesday nights continued to be strong in 2015. Our line-up for this winter is robust, so please make plans to join us on Wednesdays as we go deeper in faith and fellowship.
Ninth, we engaged wonderful fellowship opportunities, including the Dinner 8 program, “Coupletime” groups for marriage enrichment, our weekly basketball outreach, an intramural volleyball league, a co-ed church softball team, and a men’s 30 and over basketball team.
Tenth, God continued to boost our financial giving. To give you an idea of the increase in our giving, from July-December of 2013, we gave about $562,000 to the general budget of our church. From July-December of 2014, we gave about $635,000. Over the same period this past year, we gave about $653,000. This included over $172,000 last month, which was the best single month of budget giving in our church since 2006. This upward trend is encouraging, but there are six months left in our current budget year, so let’s keep up the good giving! As a result of the generous giving last year, we were able to make major improvements to our physical facilities, including putting a new roof on the 2-story building. At this point, every roof on our main facilities has been replaced in the last 6 years, a project that began with the “We’re Here for Life” campaign.
Eleventh, we continued our longstanding tradition of multi-faceted mission work. We did mission work in the Neverfail Community in Sparta, Tennessee, where we distributed school supplies and provided a community luncheon and offered a one-day VBS and beautified the property of Neverfail Community Church. We did mission work at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as well, where we shared the gospel with folks, held a week-long VBS for children and youth, offered week-long programs for men and women, provided two big community suppers, and repaired buildings in our construction ministry. We also did mission work right here in Murfreesboro. We offered our Benevolence Ministry three times per month instead of two, and helped many of our neighbors with basic needs. We worked with the Child Advocacy Center and the Domestic Violence Shelter to help multiple families at Christmastime. We had a wonderful Christmas caroling outreach to seniors in our community.
We also continued hosting the Coldest Nights Program. On nights when the low temperature drops to 30 degrees or lower, we provide a warm meal and a warm place to sleep for homeless men in the community. We do this in partnership with Journey Home and the Murfreesboro Rescue Mission. From February 17-20 of last year, when the ice storm had left snow and ice on the ground, temperatures dropped to around zero degrees a couple of nights. It is no overstatement to say that the Coldest Nights Program might have literally saved some people’s lives. We had over 30 men staying in our building some of those nights. We thank God for this and every opportunity we have to serve as a downtown congregation.
Some of you may remember that we set 5 church-wide goals for 2015. I am glad to report that with God’s help, we were able to achieve 3 of them. The 2 goals we did not achieve were attendance related. One was to increase average combined Sunday morning worship attendance to 500. By my calculations, we came in with an average worship attendance of about 460. But it was 470 if we count the huge crowd at Legacy Sunday. (I say we count it!) The other goal was to increase our average Sunday Morning Bible Study attendance to 450. By my calculations, we came in around 420. Although we did not make either of our attendance goals, we thank God for all those who were faithful to participate in Bible Study and worship throughout 2015.
The 3 goals we did achieve pertained to missions and discipleship. One goal was to have 105 church member participants in our church mission trips last year. We ended up with 115, which was fantastic. Another goal was to start one new local missions initiative. We did that with the “P.E.P. Team.” “P.E.P.” stands for People Encouraging Pupils. It’s a mentoring ministry at Mitchell Nielsen Elementary School that we carry out in partnership with First Baptist Church, E. Castle Street. Volunteers are making a difference in the lives of children by showing the love of God. The third goal we achieved was to read through the New Testament as a church family in one year. Over 300 people signed up to take this “New Testament Challenge.” If you have not finished reading yet, you have 3 weeks to complete the challenge by January 31. Overall, I think that achieving 3 of our 5 goals was pretty good.
In this brief review of 2015, I’m just naming a few highlights. We also ordained four new deacons, heard several meaningful lay testimonies in worship, observed the Martha Stearns Marshall month of women preaching, and had Bible Study classes doing countless beautiful things for God. Our Sarah Ministry continued to provide food and support for families in bereavement. Our WEE School continued ministering to preschoolers and their families on weekdays. Our Fine Arts Academy continued to provide high-level music lessons to young people. Our Church Media Center continued its longstanding ministry, and if you have never walked around there, I would encourage you to check out the resources it has available. My parents performed a Mission Benefit Concert in our sanctuary that raised over $6,000 to support our church mission trips. We also held child dedications for 14 precious children last year. We held a Missions and Ministry Fair. Renowned organist Dr. Wilma Jensen performed a concert to mark the 90th birthday of our Skinner Organ. We also celebrated “Legacy Sunday,” which was a joint worship service between our church and First Baptist Church, E. Castle Street held at Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro. The two churches were originally one First Baptist Church, and this event marked the first time that the two congregations have worshipped together all at once under the same roof since before the Civil War. What a powerful day of worship it was!
I could go on, and I’m sure I have left out many of the great things God has done, especially since the intangibles are often what God uses to bless our church: an atmosphere of love and joy, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives, lay initiatives that lead to powerful ministry, and other wonderful things that cannot be quantitatively measured or quickly summarized. Great things have happened here over the past 12 months. And together as a church family, we give all the glory to God.
It is now time to anticipate briefly what God might want to do at First Baptist Church in 2016. Our ministerial staff discussed several different ideas, and we want suggest a few church-wide goals for 2016. But first, let me provide 3 brief disclaimers.
1) We confess that church growth in many ways resists quantification and cannot be accurately measured in numbers. 2) These are not goals for the church staff, but for the church as a whole to consider and pursue. 3) We are not presuming God’s will, but prayerfully seeking specific ways to grow in Christ and share His love, which is our church’s mission.
Goal #1: Let us seek to enroll 75 new people in Bible Study Classes. Our Sunday Morning Bible Study program is crucial because it provides the opportunity to study Scripture and enjoy fellowship with other Christians. Our Bible Study leadership team will provide encouragement as we pursue this goal. Based on our history, this is a challenging goal, but one that we can reach if we all work together.
Goal #2: Let us seek to have 24 church members share a God Moment testimony in Sunday worship. This goal would involve 2 persons per month sharing a 3-minute testimony about a “God Moment” experience in their life. We want to hear about a time in believers’ lives when God was particularly real, or when they saw God work in a special way. First Peter 2:9 says, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Here, we see that God has made us a priesthood of believers so that we can proclaim God’s acts. It’s not just the preacher’s responsibility but the responsibility of all Christians to tell what God has done. If you are interested in sharing a 3-minute “God Moment” testimony, please write up the testimony on a single page and submit it to the church office for consideration. We also plan to seek submissions from Bible Study classes. We look forward to hearing what God has done in the lives of our church members.
Goal #3: Let us meditate on and memorize 12 important Bible passages as a church. There are many benefits involved in the effort to memorize Bible verses. Josh 1:8 says, “Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth but meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” One benefit of meditating on and memorizing scripture is that it keeps the word in our mind so that we can do it. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Another benefit of meditating on and memorizing scripture is that it can help us battle temptation and avoid sin. Deuteronomy 6:4-7 says, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our god, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” This is what we have in mind: families, couples, individuals, and friends reciting scripture together to learn it by heart and to magnify our love for God. Next month, we plan to publish a list of 12 key biblical passages, one for each month from this February through next January. We encourage you to join us in focusing on one passage per month and committing it to memory. We realize that scripture memory is easier for some than others. The point is not so much to be able to recite a passage verbatim when someone calls out chapter and verse as to be meditating on Holy Scripture and thinking about it day and night. So even the unsuccessful effort to memorize scripture trains our heart on the written word of God. As Col 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly.”
These 3 goals represent concrete aspirations that summon us to spiritual growth. But we have many other hopes as well, spoken and unspoken, named and unnamed. For example, I hope we can keep welcoming an average of one new church member per week. And if you are thinking about joining our church, I encourage you to attend our Newcomers Class, which will take place on Sundays Jan 24 and Jan 31 at 9:50am during the Bible Study hour. We will meet in the Conference Room, and the folks behind the Welcome Center desk can direct you there. If you ever consider joining our church, please don’t hesitate to contact me so we can talk about it. We would love to have you. You have the opportunity to join a congregation that has been witnessing in the heart of Murfreesboro for over 172 years.
To God be the glory for all that God has done in this church since its inception in 1843. To God be the glory for guiding us over the years through the Holy Scriptures and especially through God’s Son. To God be the glory for the ways the Spirit has worked in our midst in 2015. And to God be the glory for anything good that happens here in 2016, in 2017, and beyond, and even to the day of eternity.