That’s why you see runners push through the pain and exhaustion to cross the finish line. Or why swimmers stretch with every inch of stretch they have those last few feet to touch the wall. Or why football players lift four fingers into the air at the beginning of the final quarter.
A well-contested college football game whose score is close going into the fourth quarter brings me a great amount of enjoyment. I love those sideline camera shots of sweaty players in grass-stained uniforms and faces awash with exhaustion thrusting four fingers in the air with a sense of defiance and determination. It’s the final quarter and everything about them screams, “We’re in it to win it and we plan to finish strong.” There is no quit in them, and that’s when things are about to get good.
Tennessee Baptists, I believe things are about to get good.
In just a few months, we will hit the fourth quarter of a decade-long emphasis that messengers enthusiastically affirmed at the 2014 Tennessee Baptist Convention in Brentwood.
As a network of churches, Tennessee Baptists kicked off the Five Objectives and have rallied around the pursuit of the impossible and impractical — but imperative — goals.
1. Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship by 2024.
2. Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024.
3. Planting and strategically engaging at least 1000 new churches by 2024.
4. Realizing an increase in annual church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024.
5. Realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024.
Some may look at these objectives, calculate where we are and say we should not have put hard numbers with definitive dates. I had someone tell me that when we started this journey nine years ago. However, that’s not my nature, and I don’t believe it is in the nature of most Tennessee Baptists.
There is a Theodore Roosevelt quote I love that characterizes my perspective of pursuing challenging goals: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
But friends, those of you — those of us — who have been in the arena for the past nine years, working to advance the Kingdom of God in the mission field we call Tennessee, need not give the critic credence or feel the slightest bit defeated. Even if our collaborative labor had garnered “only” one soul for salvation it would have been worth it, but we are approaching 200,000 souls who will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ because of the efforts of Tennessee Baptists.
Or what about revitalized — resurrected — churches across our state? Let’s be transparent. Southern Baptist churches are dying more rapidly now than ever. However, we’ve seen nearly 500 Tennessee Baptist churches rise, some of them off their death beds, to once again be vibrant houses of worship.
Church planting has gained traction as more and more churches have caught a vision for calling out some of their own people to go and plant. Cooperative Program giving, while overall inching upward over the past nine years here in our state, has held steady and enabled ministry from the smallest of Tennessee communities to the high rises of some of the world’s largest cities.
And then there is the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. We’ve been saying for years that “any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field.”
I have no doubt Tennessee Baptists have grabbed that vision and run with it. Giving through GOTM has increased more than 30 percent in nine years and has served people through disaster relief, supplied ultrasound machines for crisis pregnancy centers, provided Christmas backpacks for some of our most disenfranchised children, reached college students with the gospel and so much more. I never want to miss an opportunity to say thank you Tennessee Baptists for giving through the Golden Offering. So … thank you!
I’m also thankful for the focus the Five Objectives have brought to the ministry of Tennessee Baptists and Tennessee Baptist churches. Where would we have been without it??
However, it’s not how we start but how we finish. We are in the homestretch, finish line ahead.
The wall is within reach; the fourth quarter is kicking off. It is not in my nature to quit, so I’m thrusting four fingers in the air, and I plan to finish strong.
Who’s with me? B&R