On Sunday evening, February 18, 2018, I delivered my first State of the Church Address at Westside Baptist Church. After our celebration in the morning service as we had a good ol’ fashioned note-burning, I delivered an address that celebrated the past and also pointed to the future of our church. It took about 30 minutes to deliver. Here is the text of that Address:
Westside Baptist Church Family,
From where I stand as pastor, I have had a front row seat to many of the wonderful things that God has continued to do in this church. From the time Westside was officially birthed in 1981 until the celebration service this morning, God’s fingerprints are everywhere.
I’d like to take our time together this evening to share a few of the more notable recent events, point out an area or two where we need to focus our attention, and then direct our gaze to what I believe is an even brighter future.
I want to begin by saying how blessed I am to follow the man who served as your pastor for 27 years before I arrived. It is generally true that a new pastor who follows a man who served the church for more than a couple of decades will usually have a short tenure. Either the previous pastor will find it too easy to interfere with the new pastor’s leading, or the church will constantly compare the new pastor to the former one, or any number of other possibilities will work to guarantee that the new pastor will only stay for a few years and then be forced to leave. Yet, Glynn Orr has given me his full support ever since I arrived. I have never questioned his heart or intentions. He promised to not step in my way and he has kept that promise. In the past 5 years, we have had lunches together, we’ve done funerals together, and we have enjoyed other occasions to get to know each other. In that time, my love and respect for him has continued to increase. God used Westside’s former pastor to oversee incredible growth in the membership at Westside, growth in the buildings we now inhabit, and growth in the impact this church has had locally and abroad. For this and more, I am incredibly grateful for Bro. Glynn’s ministry here at Westside.
This morning, we celebrated the retirement of our church debt. That debt was initially obtained about 11½ years ago when the youth building and children’s wing were added. While the construction of those buildings was not popular with everyone at that time, and while the debt was large, we are reminded that before those buildings were built, the children were cramped in rooms in the short hallway behind the sanctuary and the youth were meeting in the room that currently houses our e-worship program. The building of those facilities allowed our children and youth ministries to grow and we now realize that the decision to build was a very wise one. Once again, we are grateful that Bro. Glynn and some others led the way in the very ambitious decision to construct those facilities.
Speaking of the Children’s Wing, we are blessed that our Kingdom Kid’s Learning Center preschool program is led by Lesley Emerson. About 120 preschoolers converge on our property on Mondays through Thursdays. If you come during those times, you might see them walking in single file down the hallway as they sing anything from “Jesus Loves Me” to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” To give you some idea of how top-notch this program is that Lesley oversees, our preschool was inspected by the State of Kentucky a couple of years ago. As expected, virtually everything was in compliance and only a few, essentially insignificant, infractions were noted. (They simply cannot give out perfect scores.) And then that State inspector told Lesley this: “If I had a child in this area, I would bring them to Kingdom Kids Learning Center.” We have also heard over and over that elementary school teachers in our county can often tell who went to Kingdom Kids and who went elsewhere because the children who attend KKLC are well ahead of the other children in their learning and social skills. We are blessed to partner with this wonderful ministry and we are grateful that Lesley Emerson leads the way.
And as we think about our Children’s Ministry here at Westside, we are also mindful of our hard-working, competent, and very creative Children’s Minister, Penny Perkins. Penny oversees a host of volunteers who lead in programs on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday evenings. It is a well-known fact that Westside is known in our community for our children’s program and Penny is the one who has led the way. Because of her concern for the Safety and Security of the children in our congregation, she is the one who took the initiative to compile and write the Safety and Security Policy which eventually was seen as something that could be beneficial to the whole church. Every October, for the past 4 years, she has overseen “Trunk or Treat” and this past year we had over 700 folks converge on our property for that event. We are blessed to have Penny on staff here at Westside.
And who could forget the first Murray Mass Christian Choir? On August 25, 2013, this sanctuary was filled as “Experiencing God, The Musical” was performed. Every pew was packed and we had to fill the aisles with chairs. (We can only be grateful that the Fire Marshal wasn’t yet attending Westside.) That Murray Mass Choir was the brain-child of our Music Minister, Mike Crook. Since then, God has used him to lead us before the throne each Sunday as we sing. There have also been two other Murray Mass Choirs, one of which was broadcast on television from Lovett Auditorium … and one has to wonder when the next one will take place. Hmmm. We are blessed beyond measure to have Mike here.
Our search for a Student Minister began almost 2 years ago. As an ex-officio member of the Search Team, I was able to see how the search played out behind closed doors. The men and women that served on that team were dedicated to the task and felt the weight of the responsibility. It was well known that if we got the wrong guy, our own youth would suffer. So, a boatload of resumes were considered, a lot of phone calls were made, preliminary interviews occurred, references were called … and the process had to be restarted two more times before we finally got God’s man for the job. Brian Capshaw has only been with us for a couple of months and has already proven to be a wonderful blessing. With his passion for youth, his love for the Lord and His Word, and so much more that he brings to the table, I don’t doubt at all that the best years in our youth and college ministry are yet ahead of us. We are so glad that God has added Brian to our ministry team.
Among our other support staff, the one that calls Westside his home is Rickey Alexander. His competence and commitment to this church are what drives him to keep this place in working order and clean for each gathering. The nature of his job keeps him working in the shadows when few are watching. But, the very fact that the carpet below you is clean, the restrooms are clean, and various things that have fallen apart are presently working is because Rickey takes his job seriously. We are glad to have Rickey here at Westside.
But, as grateful as I am for the staff that I get to work with, every single staff member would acknowledge that the bulk of what gets done in the life of Westside only happens because there is an army of volunteers who serve, and a host of folks who generously give, to make it happen.
The generous spirit of this church was evidenced this morning. It was a wonderful time of celebration as we praised God and thanked Him for allowing us to give so that our massive debt could be paid off. This church is filled with a multitude of generous givers, some of which go so far as to give sacrificially. I noticed this very soon after I started pastoring Westside. In the Fall of 2013, both sanctuary HVAC units bit the dust. It was hot in here and the units needed to be replaced quickly. So, the work was done … but the bill came to $41,200. Insurance paid out $7,200 but that left us with a bill of $34,000. Very soon, on a Sunday morning, I preached on the talents and then we handed out over 200 $1 bills. I encouraged Westside members to put into practice the principle of the parable of the talents and then we would bring our talents and profits back in about 4 weeks later. The stories of how people were making use of their talents was so fun to hear! People were excited and were enjoying the adventure. When we brought those dollars bills and the money we had made with those $1 bills with us to worship on that Sunday, we realized that we had collected over $32,000 on that Sunday alone. God is so good!
But, this church doesn’t simply like to give. It also loves to serve. One group that demonstrates this love to help others is the Baptist Men. When I arrived, the Baptist Men were soon on their way to Alaska again to help with some needed construction projects. I would soon join them on a trip they took to Lynch, Kentucky to do some major work to the exterior of a home in the mountains. This past year, I joined with some men who went to Houston, Texas to do a lot of construction work on 3 homes that sustained extensive flood damage during Hurricane Harvey. Besides these trips, the Baptist Men have constructed an enormous number of wheelchair ramps for local folks who desperately needed them and they have helped some folks as they moved from one residence to another. Plus, the pavilion that stands on the back of our property is due to the gifts and service of those men. We are incredibly grateful for the Baptist Men.
But, the men of Westside aren’t simply doing construction projects. Many of them are meeting each week for mutual encouragement and accountability. A few years ago, we started some men’s accountability groups. Soon, Gary Wallis took one group and it has continued to meet each week ever since. They meet for Bible study, prayer time, and accountability and I am so grateful for Gary’s leadership.
Last year, I was convinced that we needed more men in leadership. Leadership in the church. Leadership at home. Leadership in the workplace. So, I started 3 men’s leadership development groups that met last Fall. We resumed these meetings earlier this month and have just completed our second week. I am leading the group that meets on Tuesday mornings and Paul Rister is leading the group on Monday evenings. Phillip Peeler was available to lead a Saturday group if that was deemed necessary. I am incredibly grateful to Paul and Phillip for seeing the need to help other guys grow in leadership competency and for their leadership in helping to meet that goal.
And yet, the women at Westside are not to be outdone. They are equally passionate about giving and serving. In May of 2014, our gym was filled with decorations as women converged on the “Bloom Where You Are Planted” Ladies Conference. Kim was the keynote speaker as she spoke of the multiple tragedies that had happened in her life and yet how God’s grace had sustained and helped to heal hear. Since that time, there have been other ladies’ events that have helped to bring women together for relationship building and Bible study, including one this past Wednesday with Jennifer Wilson as the guest speaker.
For about 2 years, women have been gathering on Tuesday evenings to study God’s Word and pray together. For about a year, women have joined together in our sanctuary to pray on Thursdays that God would show up in His power and glory to change lives. I am convinced that God does very little without first getting people to pray. It has been my experience that women can be the most powerful prayer warriors. So, I am greatly encouraged that, even though may successes are behind us, the best years of Westside just might be ahead of us as we see the women around us in prayer.
Westside University is a training program that we offer two times a year. The ultimate purpose of Westside University is to allow people an opportunity to gain a greater knowledge in a skill or competency that they could greatly benefit from. It is also a chance to put people together in different groups so that they can get to know and be known by other members of our Westside family. As Westside University is underway, I am grateful to Erik and Lesley Emerson who are leading a very helpful class on parenting. I’m grateful to Paul Rister who is leading a course on biblical financial management. I’m grateful to Phillip Peeler who is leading a course on how to share your faith. And I’m grateful to Meg Norsworthy for leading a women’s Bible study. It takes men and women like this to oversee Westside University to help the pastoral staff so that we can accomplish the instruction found in Ephesians 4:12 where it says: “Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”
I would be remiss if I did not also mention a group of ladies who meet each week. Quite a few ladies, led by Denese King, have formed a sewing ministry. Each week, they work to create products that are given to organizations to help women in need or who simply crave something tangible to remind them that someone cares about them. I am incredibly grateful to Denese King for leading this wonderful ministry.
There are so many other ministries that Westside is engaged in within the walls of our church and out in our local community. But, it has been exciting to see us branch out beyond our walls … way out.
A few years ago, we agreed to participate in an ambitious movement that is orchestrated by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. We partnered with a new church plant in Denver, Colorado that is simply called Calvary Church Denver. The number of evangelical churches in Denver pale in comparison to what they need. Thousands and thousands of Denver residents have absolutely no contact with a church and have a growing conviction that they don’t need church and neither do they need the Lord. We are convinced that without the Lord, they will spend eternity apart from Him in a place called Hell. So, we have partnered with this church plant. We send $400 each month to help them make Jesus unignorable in their community. This past summer, eleven members of our church along with 2 others joined together to serve with Calvary Church Denver in their annual summer soccer camp. To say that it was an adventure is an understatement. Now, as we embark into 2018, our youth group is making preliminary plans to serve in Denver this summer. We pray that they will find joy in serving and make many memories that will last a lifetime.
We also recently partnered with Carey and April Alexander to solidify Westside’s relationship with the ministry to Guatemala. Carey, April, Carley, and Emma have been going to Guatemala for many years. They have provided much help with the orphanage, they have taken shoes to help those who needed them, they have helped us as a church to sponsor children to give them hope after spending their lives at the community dump, and they have forged a relationship with a church in the area. A Westside group is already being formed that will do missions in Guatemala this summer and it appears to be a record number from Westside. We are excited at what God will do through us as we serve this summer.
Time does not allow for us to also consider our partnership with the Carroll’s in Haiti, our record number of Operation Christmas Child Shoe Boxes that we have collected each November, the money we collect for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and so much more. Our church has a heart for missions and it shows. But, I believe that God is calling us to yet greater involvement in missions. In my heart, I believe that the best is yet to come.
All of this would not be possible if it were not for the enormous number of Westside men and women who have learned the joy of serving. Ministry locally and abroad is only possible because people are stepping up to serve within our own congregation, to work toward its continued health and growing viability. So many serve on committees that oversee various aspects of life here at our church. Many serve as nursery workers, children’s workers, Sunday School teachers, Deacons, ushers, and so much more. We have truly understood the principle of the Southern Baptist Convention – that we can do much more together than we could ever do on our own. With so many finding the joy in service, and with our great God leading us, the sky is the limit as to what God can accomplish through us as a Westside family of friends.
But, now I want to direct our attention to the future. Let’s talk about what lies ahead of us.
A Long Range Team was formed about a year and a half ago. It was made up of the church ministerial staff and the Chairpersons of some of the church committees. We interacted with the data we received from two church surveys and information that was gleaned from an interactive church meeting in the gym after the surveys were given. The Long Range Team prayed and spent much time in conversation about where we are as a church and what God desired for us to accomplish for His glory.
Certain dynamics that presented themselves at that time made it clear that it was not God’s plan, at that time, to present a Long Range Plan to the church. So, the plan was put on hold as God’s timing was determined. A few months ago, as it became clear that our massive debt was about to be retired very shortly, people began talking once again about the Long Range Plan. It seemed as if Westside was saying: “Now that we’ve conquered this mountain, what’s next?” So, I met with some members of the Long Range Team one last time and we solidified what we believed God was calling us to do.
Let me share most of those things with you right now.
Evangelism was the first topic we tackled. Honestly, this is the one that is currently heavy on my heart. Did you know that we only baptized 5 people last year and that they were the ones that were directly tied to the summer youth camp? We have simply got to be more intentional on winning those who are lost.
So, we set at a goal to create and grow a visitation program. But, I didn’t want to wait. I asked Phillip Peeler if he would oversee a visitation program a few months ago. He and I currently go out each Sunday afternoon and visit with those who signed Visitors Cards. We also visit folks who are on our church rolls but haven’t been to church in quite some time. Beginning next week, he and I will go door-to-door starting in the immediate vicinity of the church facilities. All the while, we’re looking for an opportunity to share the Gospel. If you want to be a part of this ministry, talk to Phillip Peeler.
Also in the realm of Evangelism, we wanted to be more intentional about using existing activities or adding new ones that provided us with opportunities to share the Gospel. The goal is to have at least 4 activities each year with a Gospel component. For example, our annual October “Trunk-or-Treat” ministry gives us a wonderful opportunity to invite folks onto our property. But, we want to think about how we can take activities like that and make it much more Gospel focused. What can we hand out or what can we do to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the minds and hearts of those who come? Because, if all we do is kind, nice things for people without telling them about the Jesus that motivates us to do those kind, nice things, then we are neglecting our greatest privilege as followers of Jesus and that is to tell others about Him.
Further, it was agreed that we needed to develop a ministry team whose purpose it would be to search out ministry opportunities. Once again, I did not want to sit back and wait. This was near and dear to my heart so I created the Acts 1:8 Missions Team at the conclusion of last year. This team’s name derives its purpose from Acts 1:8 where Jesus told His followers to be witnesses of the Gospel message locally and abroad. The members of this team are men and women who are involved in missions either locally or abroad and we are currently praying through and thinking about what God might have in store for us. I love the competency of this team. They believe that if God is calling us to engage in ministry, then it needs to be done well and overseen by competent leaders. As we continue to meet, please be in prayer for this group. I believe that great things will come from a group of men and women who are passionate about the fame of Jesus’ name being proclaimed locally and abroad.
The next area the Long Range Team focused on is Fellowship. Simply put, we are convinced that the Westside family of friends needs to enjoy each other’s company more often. We set a goal of 4 church-wide fellowships a year that will provide us with an opportunity to eat together and continue to cultivate the family bond that makes this church so special.
Our next area of focus was Discipleship. This is based upon our conviction that Christians need to grow. They need to continually be becoming more like Jesus.
We recognized that while we have many opportunities to help Jesus-followers grow to become more like Him, our greatest program to accomplish that objective is our Sunday School program. We are so convinced that it is viable and helpful on so many levels that we set a goal of growing Sunday School by 5% each year. This will require a lot of participation and planning by quite a few folks but we believe it a worthy goal that can easily be attained.
We are also convinced that our Westside University program has incredible potential. These courses that are offered two times a year have the potential to target areas of life that Jesus-followers need help in. Currently, we are offering four courses. But, we are convinced that we need to grow this program to offer more opportunities for growth on more topics to God’s people. So, we have set a goal of adding two small group trainings every year.
It is also our conviction that God planted us in a community with a world-class university. While we celebrate how other churches are reaching many college students for Christ, they cannot do our ministry for us. So, we have set a goal to cultivate and nurture a college and career young adults. As we bring Brian Capshaw onboard as our Youth, College, and Career Pastor, he will greatly influence the direction that this takes.
Our fourth area of focus was on large group Worship. While the surveys we took a year and a half ago revealed that our congregation listed Worship as one of the areas that they believe we do the best job in, there is always room for growth. So, we prayerfully set a goal for periodic Sunday nights of worship. These evening services would be filled with much singing and various opportunities for members of our congregation to participate and even lead in worship.
The next area we focused on was Prayer. We are absolutely convinced that nothing of eternal significance will happen at Westside unless people are praying. While we are so grateful for the ladies who show up to pray in our sanctuary each Thursday, we believe that we aren’t praying nearly enough. So, we set a goal to prayerfully select a Prayer Coordinator and increase our number of prayer groups by 2 each year.
That is the bulk of the Long Range Plan. There are a few other goals but these are the major ones. And while we look at them and agree that they are worthy goals, we may not be convinced that some of them are big enough. Which brings me to my final point this evening…
I believe that while there are always going to be things in any church that need to be addressed in order to achieve health and growth, there is one thing here at Westside that seems to be obvious. In fact, the absence of this resource is what I believe will cause us to continually hit the ceiling of 400 in Sunday morning attendance and then fall back below it. That resource is an Administrative and Care Pastor.
Simply put, Westside is far too big for one Senior Pastor to manage and lead. In fact, having only one Senior Pastor who is expected to meet all spiritual and management needs in the life of Westside is holding us back.
I am so convinced that an Administrative and Care Pastor could help Westside increase in both health and growth that I have met with the Personnel Committee to begin this conversation. I have asked them to investigate other churches our size and see how their pastoral leadership is structured. I have asked the Personnel Committee to speak with leadership in the Kentucky Baptist Convention and Lifeway Resources. I am convinced that we need an Administrative and Care Pastor but I don’t want the Personnel Committee to simply take my word for it. I want them to do their homework and see for themselves what Westside needs. I want them to hear from others who could speak into our situation objectively.
I have often wondered how Westside was able to previously grow to an average attendance of about 500 with only one Senior Pastor. But, then I spoke with Martin Severns who told me that he was the unofficial associate pastor who worked closely with Glynn during some of those years. I believe that we need another “Martin Severns” again so that we can once again focus on health and growth.
There may be those who would resist my desire for growth. But, I would ask them to consider the following thought. While we are currently averaging and maintaining an attendance of about 350 in Sunday morning worship, it is quite often that we see new faces. People are visiting and some are joining our church family … which means that they are replacing others who are leaving. Our front door is open but so is the back door. People are coming but they are simply replacing those who are leaving. So, we come to understand that a stagnant attendance in church life is actually unhealthy. If a church is to remain healthy, it must remove the obstacles to growth and close the back door so that it can properly care for those currently in the congregation while making room for those who will come to join us.
Now, back to the point I was making a few minutes ago. I believe that Westside could see healthy growth if it allowed me to focus on preaching, teaching, leading, and providing pastoral care while allowing an Administrative and Care Pastor to take the oversight over the managerial responsibilities at Westside while helping me care for the members of this congregation who are in the hospital, those who need counsel, as well as any number of others ways that they might need help. Essentially, I would claim the spiritual responsibilities and he would claim the managerial responsibilities. Having someone to help me with the oversight of this great congregation would allow us to set even more ambitious goals as a church and remove an obstacle that has prevented further, sustainable growth.
Please pray for the Personnel Committee as they are informing themselves on this subject. Their conclusions will have a massive impact on the future of Westside.
As we conclude our time together, I want you to know that I love you, Westside! My heart’s desire is to see the church grow and thrive. But, it is also for the individuals within the congregation to grow and thrive. You have no idea how gratifying it is to see men and women, boys and girls becoming more sold-out for Jesus and thinking that I had some small part in that.
I truly do believe that the best years are ahead of us. Certainly, there will be times when things get rocky. There will be times when we may even be brought to our knees as a church. But, I believe that Jesus’ promise is true of us and I’m claiming it. Matthew 16:18 says: “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
May God bless you! And may God bless Westside Baptist Church!