VALDOSTA – For the past five years State Missionary and Church Planting Consultant Jimmy Baughcum has lived in South Georgia and is well known in the lower tier of the state. However, he spent a good bit of his younger and adult years in the northern region mainly between his hometown of Thomaston, and then Macon and Atlanta.
So, his election on Monday night as Executive Director/Lead Mission Strategist for Metro Atlanta Baptist Association is pretty much a kind of homecoming.
Baughcum will succeed longtime Associational Missionary Joel Harrison, who retires on Dec. 31 after nearly four decades in that position. Baughcum will assume the position on Jan. 1.
A followup story looking back on Harrison’s 39 years of ministry in the state capital is forthcoming.
“I am more familiar with Atlanta than I am with my own hometown due to my longtime ministry in the Atlanta region,” Baughcum joked as he began the long drive back to Valdosta on Tuesday evening. As the road unfolded before him he discussed his past years of ministry, mostly in the Atlanta region, and the excitement that awaits him with his newest challenge.
“Even when growing up in Thomaston we spent a lot of time in Atlanta. My Dad was a manager for Atlanta Dairies in Macon and my uncle was a captain in the Atlanta Fire Department,” he explains.
It seems he has always been involved in missions and evangelism. Before planting a church, he worked with international students in New Orleans with a view towards planting multi-national churches, pastored in Georgia, served with Injoy Stewardship Services (a John Maxwell company) and was the Leadership Pastor of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough.
It is perhaps that draw to sharing Christ across the cultural divide and observing how people interact in different parts of the world that came into focus while in seminary. While attending New Orleans Seminary and serving on the staff of First Baptist Church of New Orleans, he was asked to start an outreach to the city’s international students.
“I went to all the universities and began to build relationships on which to base a witness. There was a lot of common ground to share and some cultural awkwardness to understand, but we worked around all of those in order to share our faith,” he explains.
For example, he was able to build a relationship with Chinese students and invited them to attend service at the church. But he soon noticed a hesitance to participate because the services were televised. The students had been told to avoid all contact with Christians and being seen on camera caused no little concern.
So, Baughcum came up with an idea of creating a section in the balcony that was out of camera range and the students could hear the gospel freely and in a far more welcoming setting.
That approach later came to be known as contextualization – modifying the presentation without changing the message and tailoring the witness to the culture. And it has become a hallmark of his ministry.
On another time he led a student from Indonesia to Christ and took him witnessing every week. When the individual returned to his homeland he rose through the ranks in the government and now has a steady witness – something largely unheard of in a Muslim nation.
Baughcum’s love for contextualizing the gospel has grown as he embraced different ways to tell the Old, Old Story in a variety of cultures. It’s all about being sensitive to the different worlds in which people live and respecting their taboos on interacting with strangers.
His ministry and love for evangelism has taken him to remote villages in Siberia, where Americans had never visited, to Beirut, Syria, Germany, Albania, and Greece. That’s just to name a few.
In every instance the presentation needed to be modified slightly to reach a different audience – and the message itself was never compromised. That will be the hallmark of his new ministry to that vast majority of unreached people in Atlanta.
“That is the biggest challenge in Atlanta today. We are no longer a Bible Belt city where you can take for granted that people you meet on the street have an understanding of church and what the Bible is about. We are as lost as any city in the nation,” he explains.
That vision underscored his comments to the Association who approved his election earlier this week. His three points for the future include:
Vision 1: Saturate Atlanta with the gospel
The primary focus is “to focus our efforts relentlessly on taking the gospel to every heart in every neighborhood in metro Atlanta through the three pillars of Church planting, Church renewal, and missional engagement. This is priority one with the three pillars of church planting, church renewal and the missional engagement of every believer in every neighborhood,” he explained.
“We want to engage every heartbeat in every neighborhood through strategic churches prepared to understand the neighborhoods and specifically taking responsibility to either revitalize or plant a church in each neighborhood.”
Vision 2: Send missionaries into every mission field
Baughcum noted there are 242 officially identified neighborhoods in the city of Atlanta alone. He wants to find churches who can adopt and establish a ministry presence in each neighborhood and contextualize the gospel to each unique audience. If there is a church in that neighborhood, he wants the Association to help develop new leadership to embrace the challenge. If the church is too weak, he wants to partner with the congregation to undergo a revitalization to prepare it for greater ministry.
When those neighborhoods are reached and resulting leaders are raised up, the next step will be to send those believers as missionaries – as volunteers, through leveraging their careers, and other through vocational ministry – to mission fields throughout the city, state, nation, and world.
Vision 3: In collaboration with partners we want to shape a biblical missiology for Atlanta that will extend its reach throughout North America and the world.
He readily noted that such collaboration only happens if the churches make significant strides in the first and second priority.
Baughcum has loved living in South Georgia and will miss ministry partners he has grown to love, but he is pleased to be returning home. And he feels his life’s experiences have prepared him for the challenges which he will find in Atlanta and that, with the help of his new partners, will be able to overcome with a fresh approach to ministry.
Jimmy Baughcum and his wife, the former Susan Jordan, have been married since Dec. 1988. They have three children: daughter Jessica born in 1993, son Jordan born in 1996, and daughter Kaylee born in 2010.