The Celebration Equation

After years of marriage my wife has successfully trained me to watch for coupons. We recently received an oil change coupon in the mail and the timing was perfect as the reminder light had just appeared on my instrument panel. However, I noticed there was a lot of fine print at the bottom of the card. I’ve been burned before by not reading the fine print relating to expiration date and other exceptions so I reached for my glasses, but they were not where they were supposed to be. My attention immediately shifted from the card to the search – where did I put my glasses? After about fifteen minutes of turning my place upside down and accusing everyone, including the dog, of moving them, I stopped to collect my thoughts. And when I scratched my head I realized that I had been wearing them on the top of my scalp! Yes, I was that guy! I didn’t come to my senses until I stopped long enough for a moment of self-awareness.

As Luke followed Jesus and recorded his teachings, he recorded the familiar parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

Notice the repeated words/phrases until and and when. These key words form what I call the Celebration Equation. Start with until add and when and these equal a celebration when what was lost has been recovered.

The celebration cannot begin unless we have an until moment. This part of the equation begins when we realize something of value has been lost. Repeat – until signifies value. Think about it, if we’re not searching for something that is lost, it’s probably not important to us. And in today’s disposable world, we often think, “I’ll just get another one.”

This realization triggers an urgency which requires an expenditure of energy, resources and an allocation of time. We put things on hold until the lost is found. We leave the ninety-nine, we light a lamp, sweep the floor and search diligently. We think,“I’ve got to find this coin” or “I’ve got locate this sheep.” Until releases a wave of energy that fuels perseverance. We are willing to look high and low, far and wide, over and under, until

Until doesn’t begin unless we notice that something or someone is missing. The sheep didn’t realize it was lost. The coin had no idea how it got under the couch or in the crack in the floor. Could it be in our multi-tasking, always-connected culture that we fail to notice that someone is lost?

The great thing about until in these stories is the promise of and when. “And when she found the coin.” “And when he found the sheep.”Until paid a dividend of and when. It’s not “if” she found the coin or “if” he found the sheep, but and when

We need an and when moment in our churches. But this will never occur unless we have an until moment. When we realize and understandthat something valuable has been lost. When we’re willing to expend more time, effort and resources outside of our buildings than inside. We need to be re-convinced that what is lost is so valuable it requires an all out until effort.

God’s and when promise is still good if we’ll engage in the until phase.

Remember, celebration is the result, the sum of until when added to and when. There’s something exciting and fulfilling about finding what was lost! The shepherd returned home and called his friends and neighbors to “rejoice with me.” “And when” she found her coin, she did the same.

Maybe the reason we’re not celebrating more is we’ve omitted part of this equation? Without until there can be no and when. And without and when there is no celebration.

We are in the until stage of history. “Until He comes.” This should energize us and motivate us to go wherever and whenever to proclaim the message that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.

That is why efforts such as Here for You are so important. When Jesus said go into the highways and hedges, He meant keep going to the highways and hedges until… Putting this in a modern setting I believe Jesus is challenging us to keep going to those intersections of life where people live and where people work and compel them to come in – that is, give them a reason to check out the Gospel.

Using current communications platforms Louisiana Baptists are meeting people where they are – in their homes, at their offices, on their devices – and planting a seed of God’s truth. While we don’t know what happens to all the seeds, we do know that some of them find good soil. And those seeds generate a harvest thirty, sixty or even one hundred times more that what was planted.

Since the state-wide launch of Here for You in February, we are beginning to see some of the seed sprouting its head above ground level of people’s hearts. Over the last six months, more than 2,500 people have viewed the gospel presentation on HereforYou.org. Just under 425 of those have indicated a decision for Christ. This does not include the thousands of people who have seen the commercials on television and digital platforms. God’s seed is being scattered and it’s finding good soil.

Louisiana Baptists live in a culture that enjoys a good celebration. But these celebrations are short-lived and one dimensional – that is they’re limited in their geography and duration. But God’s celebration is different. It’s ongoing and occurs whenever one person repents and receives His gift of eternal life through a relationship with His Son. It also occurs in multiple realms – i.e. the celebration takes place in heaven and on earth.

The celebration equation begins with us. We must take note that someone valuable is missing. A missing person is a valuable thing and demands an until search. As we expend spiritual and material resources in this until search, God will open the door to the and when promise and as the old hymn says, “what a day of rejoicing that will be!”

Pastors Need to Be Encouraged

And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. (1 Samuel 23:16 NIV)

When I accepted the position of Executive Director for Louisiana Baptists, I made this promise:

Pastors will be encouraged. Churches are essential to our work, and spiritually healthy pastors are essential to healthy churches. I have been a pastor of four churches. Each church was a different size and had different strengths and weaknesses, but all required hard work. I want to encourage pastors through public ministry to them and private friendship with them to be all that God has called them to be. This will be my daily prayer, daily goal, and daily evaluation.

Years ago, I heard the Christian motivation speaker Zig Ziglar speak. The only thing I remember him saying is, “Who motivates the motivator?”

We could adjust the words slightly to say, “Who encourages the encourager?” Who preaches to the preacher?” “Who ministers to the minister?” “Who counsels the counselor?” “Who pastors the pastor?”

Your pastor needs all of this. We all need a Jonathan to come alongside of us to help us find strength in God.

My friend Scott, at the time a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was taking his written examinations. Written examinations—a grueling three-day test of perseverance—occur half-way through the doctoral program. This three-day period can be a very lonely experience. Another friend of ours knew that Scott was taking these tests. He arranged with the professor to put a note in Scott’s test packet. The note simply read, “Scott, here’s a dollar. When you have your break today, buy a soda on me. I’m praying for you.”

That story has always reminded me that encouragement does not have to be expensive, just thoughtful and intentional.

I pray that all of us find meaningful ways to encourage our pastors this month.

Louisiana Baptists All State Youth Choir Alumni

Dear LBASYC Alumni and friends of LBASYC,

I pray you are well and joyfully serving the Lord wherever you are.

Now in its 36th year of ministry, LBASYC, under the wonderful direction of Dr. Cameron Weatherford, chair of the Fine Arts Department at Louisiana College, continues its tradition of providing strong music and great opportunities for high school students from all over the state to be on mission for Christ.

In addition to singing outstanding music, you will want to know time is spent each year in retreat sharing our testimonies and learning a gospel presentation, so if a student comes to LBASYC four years in a row, they will have learned at least four different techniques for sharing their faith. We consider LBASYC a successful ministry when students return to their own sphere of influence and obediently share their faith in Christ using the tools and encouragement they received in their LBASYC experience.

It is important students continue to have this life-changing encounter to be on mission through LBASYC.

However, as is true everywhere, the cost for food, travel, and accommodations continues to rise. The LBASYC program is now almost completely funded by the students and I am reaching out to you, LBASYC Alumni and friends of LBASYC, asking you to prayerfully consider a financial contribution to LBASYC. Many of our students are working hard to raise their own funds, and while churches are helping with car washes, bake sales, auctions, etc, each student must pay $950 for LBASYC and EP students have an additional fee of $95.

My hope is that through donations we will be able to cover the cost of transportation each year and thereby reduce the participant’s financial responsibility. This year, transportation to Chicago, IL, will cost $20,000.

Will you be a part of reaching this goal?

Whether you choose to participate financially, please be in prayer for the students’ lives to be transformed as a result of their involvement in LBASYC. Thousands of you are serving Christ all over the world in vocational and voluntary ministry due in part to your participation in LBASYC. Just think what God can do with the next thousand students!

Dr. Herb Armentrout
Youth Music Consultant
Louisiana Baptist Convention

Sweat Equity

It all began with the stark reality that you need more space. Your family grew and your house seemed to shrink. On a sleepless night, you binge-watch HGTV and you see the allure of open-concept living complete with shiplap, marble countertops, and lots more room. Suddenly, you remember a term your dad talked about, “Sweat Equity!” It came like a sudden eureka! “I can self-contract and build my dream house!” All you need to do is watch some DIY videos on YouTube, invest a little good old-fashioned sweat equity and voila – you’re doing a live broadcast with Chip and Joanna Gaines on the front lawn of your new home. However, you soon discover it takes more than a little sweat equity – it takes barrels of it.  And there’s no way to avoid it – no sweat equity – no dream house.

Jesus tells us the harvest is plentiful but the laborers – not so much. By definition labor implies sweat equity.  It will take effort, lots of effort, to gather the promised harvest. It’s not always fun. We have to be willing the get our hands dirty. It takes time, usually more than we planned. We have to understand that we will never gather the harvest Jesus has prepared unless we’re willing to invest some sweat equity. No sweat equity – no harvest.

Without question our numbers are down. Most, if not all, of the major indicators tell us we have fewer people in worship. Fewer people in Sunday School and small groups. Fewer people being baptized. However, the issue is not the people who are not coming – it’s the lack of people who are going.

Why is sweat equity so important?

  1. Sweat equity indicates value. When you believe that something or someone has value, you’re willing to invest your time and effort to secure them. Your sweat equity tells them they are important. If we want to see people saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship, it’s going to cost us something.
  2. Sweat equity requires desire.The old sports adage says “you have to want it.” We talk about the harvest. We study the harvest. We gaze at the harvest. But do we really want it? If so, this God-honoring desire will drive us to invest our sweat equity to bring in the ready harvest.
  3. Sweat equity yields an exciting reward. All of the prayers, all of the effort is worth it when the harvest responds to God’s gift of grace! The angels celebrate. Hearts are changed. Families restored. The pews begin to fill up with new people. It’s rewarding to those who go as well as those who come.

In February 2019, Louisiana Baptists launched a statewide effort to seed God’s truth inside every heart and every home almost every day. Literally hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens have had a seed of God’s truth sown in their hearts through Here for You, Louisiana Baptists multi-media evangelism strategy. Scripture-based commercials have aired during the Super Bowl, the Final Four and on broadcast TV.  Social media and our partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Internet Evangelism strategy are engaging people on their smart phones, tablets and computers. Billboards dot the landscape of some of our smaller cities and rural areas letting people know Louisiana Baptists are “Here for You.”

Only one question remains, are we willing to invest the sweat equity required to gather the harvest these efforts can generate? God will not waste His Word so let’s not waste this opportunity.

Visit HereforYou.org and share your favorite commercial with your “ONE” and others via your social media platforms. Pray for people to see the billboards, the commercials and visit the website and view the gospel presentation. Discover how your church can connect with Here for You by visiting LouisianaBaptists.org/HereForYou and entering the password, luke1432. There you’ll find specific ways, ideas, and resources you can use to help your community make the connection with your church and ultimately, the Gospel.

You can also dig deep and give some “lagniappe” to the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering (GeorgiaBarnette.org/Giving). A portion of this offering goes toward the Here For You multimedia strategy.

The harvest is waiting – just as Jesus promised – for those willing to invest the sweat equity to bring them in. Who’s up for a little perspiration?

Getting Ready for the Louisiana Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

We are three months out from the two day annual meeting of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Now is the time for you to make plans to attend. This year we are meeting in Alexandria at the Riverfront Center on November 11 and 12.

We just completed a planning meeting for the Convention. Our theme is RENEW. We have some new things to celebrate, and we want to renew our commitment to our common work. We have new leaders who are planning to be with us. The International Mission Board has a new president in Dr. Paul Chitwood. We will be blessed to hear him on Monday night. We have a new president at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Dr. Jamie Dew. Dr. Dew will be with us on Tuesday morning. For these two reasons alone, I want you to come to this year’s convention. We want to connect with these new leaders. We want to form strong relationships with them.

Of course, this year will be my first convention as your new executive-director. I will be able by then to share with you some things I have been hearing in my listening sessions around the state.

Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that “those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” Join me in praying that this year’s Convention will prove to be an occasion of genuine renewal—personal renewal and corporate renewal for our common work.

How to Add Missions to What You Are Already Doing

If you survey the average church goer and ask if their church is involved in missions, it would be safe to assume that many are. Some would respond that yes, they are taking trips around the world to share God’s love and others would say that they give to various mission offerings.

We see that missions is the work of God through the church by which the gospel of Jesus Christ is extended in word and deed to all people in the world.If a person is born again, they have been given a very specific assignment by God. Matthew 28:19–20 reads19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, evento the end of the age.”

Jesus has commanded every believer to take the gospel into all of the world. To make the easy transition of adding missions to what you are already doing, it is important to help students understand the biblical basis for missions. Help them to see why we should do this in addition to what we should be doing.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis are the introduction for the missions story. With the call of Abram in Genesis 12, the missionary theme gets underway. God called Abram to leave his country and promised to make a great nation beginning with him. The missions message continues throughout Bible. Matthew 4:18-20 shows Jesus calling His disciples to “Follow Him,” so that they could fish for people. Immediately the disciples left their nets and followed him.

We see here that a disciple is a follower of Jesus and missions discipleship is the lifelong process of equipping individuals to share the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.

A recent statistic sates that the average church attender frequents the church twice a month. If you really think about it, you begin to understand that we as leaders have to make the most of the time that we have with our students. Once we reach them with the gospel and teach them about how God is at work in the world, we can begin to share a biblical worldview and global perspective with our students.

If you are not able to have year round missions discipleship in your student groups, here are ways that leaders can add missions to what you are already doing:

Missionary Speakers

Begin by examining your network. Do you have a connection to a North American Mission Board or International Mission Board? Has a missionary been sent from your church? Many times your local association or state convention can point you in the direction of what missionaries are on their stateside assignment. This can be done by Skype or in person.

Weeks of Prayer

Teach students about the state, national and international weeks of prayer. Many times state convention, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering student lessons are written to correspond with these weeks. Help students understand the importance of giving to these offerings by showing them videos, pictures, and information of how this money is used to further God’s Kingdom.

Mission Camps

When planning for summer camp, do you have options to select one with a strong missions emphasis? Is the particular camp leading students to understanding how they can move from just learning about missions to engaging in mission action and witnessing?

Mission Projects

Getting students to understand the needs of their community is key to their understanding of missions. Three questions that you can ask yourself are: What people live in the area, what resources are available in my church/association, and what other ministries exist in the community. When you ask these questions you may discover many different types of community missions existing in your community such as: tutoring, food ministry, clothes closet, literacy training, and so much more!

Mission Trips

A great way to infect people with a heart for the world is through firsthand exposure to missions and missionaries through short-term mission experiences. Missions becomes real to people when they go. If your group is preparing for a trip mission team training is vital. CARRY ON by Libby Quigg (chapter 7) explains how this is done. The International Mission Board website also has great resources.

Share a Missions Story

Has a team in your church arrived home from serving on the mission field? Invite them to share their experience with the students and recall how they saw God at work. This gives the team time to debrief and allows the student to know that all members can pray, some give, and some go.

Students on Mission

Did you know that WMU is offering a new way to target co-ed group leaders looking for ways to teach and engage students in missions? Missions Journey: Students curriculum has been released and it includes a missions story, video, debrief, activity, and prayer time. This is an excellent resource for ways to drop in undated and relevant missions material.

As we are going, telling and making disciples of all nations explore ways we can teach others what it means to cultivate a missions lifestyle. Let’s join God at work and have some missions fun!

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 9

Step 9: Re-Launch

Do it again! It is tempting to just coast. Besides, we worked hard. Can’t we just enjoy the “fruits of our labor”? There is a season for everything. As soon as the celebration has concluded, it is time to start evaluating and planning for the next Sunday School Challenge. Your biggest question might be “why do it again?” And the answer is, your church members want to just coast, too. They also have lives away from the church. They have pressures in their lives and sometimes they just want one area of their life to be “less stressful.” That excuse works if church and faith are not a crucial part of your existence and life on this earth.

Life is a cycle. There is an ebb and a flow to things. One thing remains true: the Great Commission is never finished. Until we draw our last breath or God calls us home, we still have work to do. Sunday School is the church organized. It is the churches’ best strategy to reach and enroll new people; disciple people through teaching that changes lives; and involve members and guests in ongoing ministry. Along the way, staff and key leaders have to keep the machinery working by starting new classes, enlisting and training new leaders, managing and maintaining facilities, maintaining a budget, and so much more. The Sunday School Challenge makes sure we don’t forget the life changing aspects of our ministry when all of the administrative stuff screams for attention.

Hopefully you have celebrated what God has accomplished in your church and community. You have affirmed and rewarded leaders and members for their participation and accomplishments. You took the time to evaluate your process. Now, it’s time to put another date on the calendar…the next Sunday School Challenge. If you don’t calendar it, it will never happen.

Pray. Pray that God will guide each of you as you plan and strategize how best to use your resources for Kingdom work. Every time you do the Sunday School Challenge, it becomes a little easier to do it again. People become accustomed to the transitions and timing of things. Just don’t let it become mundane. Keep it fresh. Throw in a few new wrinkles.

In our culture today, the world needs stories of God’s transforming power. They need to see God’s people, doing God’s work and glorifying God for all He has done. Something so simple and yet so powerful. That is the Sunday School Challenge.

As always, the Louisiana Baptists, your local association, the SBC and Lifeway Christian Resources will be here to pray and offer assistance in accomplishing God’s mission for your church in your community.

Yours truly,
Sean Keith, Sunday School/Discipleship Strategist, Louisiana Baptist Convention

Advance

When I was in college, I was invited to attend an “Advance” sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I had been on retreats before, but I had never heard of an “Advance.” When I asked about the meaning of an “Advance,” my leader asked if I had ever been on a retreat. When I indicated that I had been on many retreats, my leader told me that an advance was like a retreat. My leader continued that Christians are never to retreat, but always to advance. As Christians, even when we go on a retreat, we do so in order to advance.

Paul said it this way to the church at Philippi. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 NIV) Christians do not run away from tough times; we run toward the prize for which God has called us. Christians do not panic, but instead we pray, trust God, and react with peace.

As we contemplate the back to school season and many of us get back to “normal routines,” let’s pray about how we might advance. Let’s advance first of all in our personal lives. Set some new goals spiritually. Then, let’s work together for the advance of the kingdom of God.

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 8

Step 8: Evaluate

What comes to your mind when I say the word “evaluate”? If the image is negative, I want to change that.  All too often, the images of inadequacy, failure or judgement, come to mind. But the kind of evaluation I want to describe helps us to improve, get better, and create greater opportunities for success.

Everyone feels inadequate at times, and, failure can make us want to never attempt something again. But often times, these are the very things that God uses to accomplish His greatest work. First of all, we can accomplish nothing for the Kingdom of God without Him. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me. John 15:5 (CSBBible) Secondly, failure just means there is always a better way. In addition, sometimes in our failure, God can accomplish even greater things. 13I am able to do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (CSBBible)

Too often, we believe our success depends on us, when it doesn’t. God is the one at work in us accomplishing His purpose. 13 For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 (CSBBible) The purpose of evaluation is to identify the ways that God works in us and the ways we prevent Him from working. God always accomplishes what He desires to accomplish. We need to determine how to “better join God” in fulfilling the Great Commission through our church. God is perfect, we are not. Together we can do so much more than just a few of us alone. This truth is, this is what makes the Sunday School Challenge a great tool for your church.

You need an honest evaluation of how to do the Sunday School Challenge better the next time. God is at work. Honestly, He is waiting for us to get ready to do His work and see His handiwork with in our churches and communities.

What worked? What didn’t work? How could we involve more people in praying and preparing for the Sunday School Challenge? Who are the right people to be the Sunday School Champions? Which classes are ready to push the limits and which ones need to make smaller steps? How do we get more buy-in from the people in the seats? Are there areas of our Sunday School Ministry that we need to focus on more than others?

Asking good questions gets better results, making sure everyone is on the same page and attempting to work together for greater results. A good evaluation process will ensure that the next time you do the Sunday School Challenge, you will be better prepared, more unified and focused. Below are some articles and tools that can help you to evaluate your Sunday School and the Challenge.

The Sunday School Challenge – Step 7

Step 7: Celebrate Victories/Successes

Let’s Party! Well not exactly. The reality is that in most churches we don’t celebrate enough. And what I mean by that is, we don’t tell people enough how much we appreciate them and all that they do for the church and the Kingdom of God. Even more importantly, we don’t celebrate what God has done. God is at work. Lives are being changed every day, all around us. We should celebrate what God has done, is doing and will do. Along the way, we need to show appreciation towards one another for the ways that God uses us.

Pastor, gather your Sunday School Champions and other leaders together and listen to all the stories of things that happened during the Challenge.  Plan to share these stories during your corporate celebration time. Use testimonies of lives changed, goals met, and show the value of what Sunday School/Small Groups can bring to the church and community.

It is strongly recommended that at the end of the Sunday School Challenge the church plans time to publicly celebrate all that God has done and all the work accomplished. People need to hear the outcome of their work. Were goals accomplished? What is the overall impact on the church and community? What specific stories can be shared and celebrated? Show appreciation for the things that were successful, but also, for the people who worked hard but did not accomplish their goals. The fact that a class set a goal and worked hard to achieve that goal should be celebrated and affirmed, too.

Plan a special worship service and have testimonies from those who participated. Give a report. Pray for all of the life-changing things that happened such as decisions for Christ, new people enrolled, people who are regularly reading God’s Word, new people using their spiritual gifts in service, etc. But most importantly, worship God for all that He has done. Then, eat! Because that’s what Baptists do.

There are many ways to affirm Sunday School–it’s leaders and members, and to thank God for what He is doing. Have each Sunday School Champion share what they saw and experienced, from their perspective. Sometimes we need to change things up. Involve lots of people. It will take a lot of planning but the outcome could be huge. People need to see, hear and experience that God is working, and understand that they have been a part of it.

Here are a couple of articles you may want to peruse for ideas. Honestly, there isn’t much out there about this topic. Maybe that indicates we need to be doing this more.