THOMASTON — The churches in the Centennial Baptist Association – 35 of them, or 90 percent of the total number of churches in the association – participated in the Bridges to Missions weekend April 30-May 1.
The special weekend consisted of an inspirational banquet on Saturday evening at First Baptist Church in Thomaston and Georgia Baptist state missionaries speaking in the churches of the association on Sunday.
Steve Laughman, Centennial Associational missionary, highlighted “The Power of Partnership” in a recent newsletter. He stated, “I chose those words, because I believe that we are stronger together then we could ever be on our own. That is true for us as individuals and as individual churches.
“Each body of believers exists to glorify God in their own area of influence, to equip believers in their own congregation, and to reach the lost in their own community. However, as a whole, the Church is one body with “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (Eph. 4:5-6). As Southern Baptists, one way that we demonstrate this truth is by cooperatively supporting missions through Centennial Association, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, the North American Mission Board, and the International Mission Board.”
Laughman added, “Bridges is an opportunity to hear from our state missionaries about how we as Georgia Baptists are working to reduce lostness in our state.” Laughman worked diligently as the associational missionary to encourage the participation of his churches and ensure the success of the event.
The value of support
Georgia Baptist state missionary Buck Burch and his staff, who work in the area of Cooperative Program and Stewardship, partnered with Laughman in prayer and preparation for the event.
At the banquet Pastor Gabriel C. Stovall of New Life Christian Church in Forest Park spoke of his experience as a church planter. He expressed his gratitude for the support and encouragement he had received from the North American Mission Board and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He commented, “The money we have received is good, but the prayer support and encouragement has been invaluable to us.”
Chuck Johnson, who served the International Mission Board in Latin America, also expressed his appreciation for partnerships with churches and the funding provided by the Cooperative Program. He indicated that God has richly blessed the work in the Latin America and specified, “The Caribbean has turned from a mission field to a mission force.”
Singer/songwriter Josh Farr provided the music for the banquet and J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, preached a message from the book of Jonah.
White declared, “First of all, God has a plan to reach the lost. Jonah was a weak, disobedient, reluctant prophet, but God’s plan to reach Nineveh involved Jonah. God also has a plan to reach poor, lost sinners on this planet, and it involves weak, finite, human instruments like us.
“When Bobby Welch was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention he developed a theme for his tenure in office: ‘God has a plan to reach the lost; and I am it.’ God has a plan to reach the lost and you are it,” White added.
“Second,” White continued, “God has a way of getting our attention. He used a whale to get Jonah’s attention. He used a dream, or vision, to get my attention recently. We have had some Hispanic workmen helping us at our house. They had been there for several days. One night God put them on my heart when I had a dream of me in heaven and those men in hell.
“I shared the Gospel with them and asked them if they wanted to trust Jesus. They said, ‘Si Senor!’ They prayed to receive Christ, but God had to get my attention.”
Obedience is the key
White concluded his remarks by adding his third point: “God has a way of blessing our efforts.” He explained, “God used a prophet who was not even good fish food, but when Jonah finally became obedient and preached the message that God had given him for the Ninevites, there was a great harvest. The Bible says, ‘And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.’”
White indicated that God is using “The Five Smooth Stones” initiative to impact Georgia Baptist churches. “Spiritual Renewal and Kingdom Generosity go together,” White stated. Kingdom generosity is a requisite to spiritual renewal and one of the signs of spiritual renewal is kingdom generosity.
White then turned the spotlight on Church Revitalization and remarked, “We have 85-90 percent of our churches that have plateaued or are in decline, but God can take a church that is nearly dead and pump life into it and revitalize it.
“And as a result of our Church Planting efforts we start 65-80 churches a year. This is a vital part of our Five Smooth Stones emphasis.
“Then there is Authentic Evangelism. We have an evangelism staff that can train your people to reach the lost in your community. But on a personal note we must open our mouths and declare the glory of God.
“One of the key verses in the story of Jonah is in the sixth verse of the first chapter when the ship’s captain came to Jonah when he was fast asleep in the bow of the ship and cried out to him, ‘What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.’”
White concluded, “That is precisely what God is saying to us. He wants us to wake up and give him our obedience.”
The fellowship at the banquet was convivial as the local pastors and church leaders met with state missionaries and built meaningful relationships, shared mutual concerns and discussed how partnerships can be strengthened. While many discuss the need and value of building fences, Georgia Baptists are focusing on building bridges – bridges of cooperation, bridges of service, bridges to a lost and dying world.