By Randy C. Davis
TBMB President & Executive Director
About a year ago I wrote about a change that few Southern Baptists would have ever anticipated. LifeWay Christian Resources sent ripples through denominational life when it announced the closing of its 170 LifeWay Christian Stores and shifting exclusively to online sales.
Southern Baptists had an emotional as well as practical attachment to the bookstore. Generations of us have never known a world without a Baptist Book Store or a Lifeway Christian Store. It was the people who worked there who made the stores what they were.
Closing the stores was difficult, but necessary. Shrinking margins exposed the organization to great financial risk. The tough call to sacrifice one thing may sometimes be necessary to protect the main thing.
LifeWay’s mission is crystal clear: LifeWay Christian Resources exist to assist churches and believers, to evangelize the world to Christ, develop believers, and grow churches by being the best provider of relevant, high-quality, high-value Christian products and services.” Eliminating the brick and mortar stores doesn’t prevent LifeWay from accomplishing its mission.
Indeed, the decision was made to protect the ministry. Change happened. The mission remained.
I’ve been thinking about LifeWay’s decision while considering where we find ourselves today amid the COVID-19 crisis. The emergence of the coronavirus, and mandates to socially distance, have thrown churches and pastors into an unprecedented situation.
Not once in American history have we intentionally separated from each other on Sunday mornings. Our DNA is to congregate. Some churches find the situation difficult while other congregations are adapting to the sudden change.
But not everything about the separation has been bad. In fact, I talk to pastors every day who say the change has forced them to use technology and other creative methods to minister to their congregations and communities. Dozens have told me about doors that have opened to reach people for Christ that would not have otherwise been available to them.
We should all take notice and learn. Even before coronavirus, we saw churches die all the time because leaders and members lost sight of their church’s mission to go, evangelize, baptize and disciple.
“In its simplest form, mission-true organizations know why they exist and protect their core at all cost,” Peter Greer writes in his excellent book, Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches. He adds, “They remain faithful to what they believe God has entrusted them to do. They define what is immutable (which is) their values and purposes, their DNA, their heart and soul.”
All pastors and ministry staffs should read the book, especially now.
Greer says it is vitally important you know why you, your church, and your ministry exist. Fickle cultural changes, the winds of adversity, and critics hurling insults and discouragement must not cause you to drift from your mission.
However, methods change. Processes can be improved and updated. Technology can introduce new efficiencies.
Change whatever needs to be changed to keep the mission moving forward in a relevant way. Don’t fear change; fear mission drift.
The unchanging certainty in our situation is God and His commitment to use His church, and His disciples, to accomplish His mission, in His world. We must embrace this vision of God’s mission and fight against the panic that comes with dramatic change.
The stakes are high. It isn’t easy, but this could be our generation’s finest hour. Will our children remember this as a time when we labored in prayer before the Lord, proclaimed His gospel and longed for a Great Spiritual Awakening unlike we’ve seen in hundreds of years?
The Psalmist writes, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts” (145:4). May those who come behind us find that we may have changed our methods, but we never compromised our mission.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.