By Randy C. Davis
President and executive director, TBMB
Just a few years ago, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board exhumed the remains of Tidence Lane, the first Baptist pastor to journey over the Appalachian Mountains and into East Tennessee to invest his life in church planting, the pastorate and actively participating in associational ministry.
His remains were in a family plot in the middle of a pasture on land he received for distinguished service during the Revolutionary War, just a couple hundred yards from the spring near where he planted Bent Creek Church in the 1780s. That’s a decade-plus before Tennessee even became a state.
His remains, along with that of his wife and other family members, were reinterred about a mile away, at Whitesburg Baptist Church, which is the direct descendant of Bent Creek.
From modest beginnings and countless humble servants like Tidence, Tennessee Baptists pushed westward 440 miles across our state on a missionary journey that eventually carried the gospel all the way to the Mississippi River. From those first churches have come more than 3,200 churches, and nearly a million Tennessee Baptists.
As Tennessee Baptists grew and became more connected, they felt it wise to form a network of churches 147 years ago with a vision of engaging in Great Commission missions, Christian education and compassion ministries fueled by the gospel with a zeal for reaching spiritually lost family, friends and neighbors.
I look at who we are as Tennessee Baptists today, and from Memphis to Mountain City; Ducktown to Dyersburg, I see strong evidence of our spiritual ancestors’ DNA. We are focused on our mission, unified around the Baptist Faith and Message, and determined to win the spiritually lost citizens of our state to Jesus Christ.
Messengers to our 2014 annual state convention meeting, The Summit, affirmed the Five Objectives for making the greatest possible Kingdom impact in our state. Every strategy we develop as a Tennessee Baptist Mission Board aligns with one of these objectives or it doesn’t make the cut. Those objectives are:
Objective 1: Seeing at least 50,000 Tennesseans annually saved, baptized and set on the road to discipleship by 2024
Objective 2: Having at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024
Objective 3: Planting and strategically engaging at least 1,000 new churches by 2024
Objective 4: Realizing an increase in annual local church giving through the Cooperative Program that reaches at least 10 percent by 2024
Objective 5: Realizing an increase in annual giving for the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions that reaches at least $3 million by 2024
I would love to report that seven years in we are nearing that 50,000 figure, but we aren’t. However, we are hopeful because even during a global pandemic we’ve had churches reporting record numbers of baptisms, many of them baptizing people for the first time in years. Hundreds of churches are in the revitalization process, we are seeing a strong increase in new churches, our Cooperative Program giving has remained strong over the past several years – including during the pandemic and our state missions offering has seen a 30 percent increase in the past six years setting giving records for several successive years.
These Five Objectives have focused us as a people; as a family. I couldn’t agree more with my friend and IMB President Paul Chitwood when he has said many times, “When the Great Commission is not the lead topic of conversation in Southern Baptist life, the other topics tend to divide us.”
I believe the Great Commission is a top priority for Tennessee Baptists. We are under no illusions about the desperate spiritual and physical needs the people in our state face. That’s why we say, “Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field.” I believe we as Tennessee Baptists feel the gravity of that reality and we work shoulder-to-shoulder to see Jesus bring about a new reality for our fellow Tennesseans.
And serving Tennessee Baptist churches in making Christ known is the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, a Christ-centered, field-focused, Great Commission organization created by Tennessee Baptists. I get to lead these God-called servants as we value relationships, innovation, stewardship and excellence while working in unity with six other convention entities and 65 state associations led by gifted Associational Mission Strategists.
We open every TBMB staff meeting with “Good News from the Harvest Field,” stories our state missionaries share about how God is at work from one end of our state to the other through Tennessee Baptists. It is monumentally encouraging and fuels the many reasons why I love being a Tennessee Baptist.
And I wish Tidence could be at one of our meetings to hear the stories. I believe he’d love what we’ve become as Tennessee Baptists.
It is truly my joy to be on this journey with my Tennessee Baptist family. B&R