Tidence Lane, the first Baptist pastor to journey over the Appalachian Mountains and into East Tennessee, settled his family and invested his life near what is now Whitesburg, just east of Morristown. He planted Bent Creek Church in the 1780s in a pasture on the bank of the spring that originates Bent Creek. It was on land he received for distinguished service during the Revolutionary War.
It was the most modest of beginnings, but by God’s grace, others arrived, planted more Baptist churches and added associations. Strength was multiplied and Baptists steadily advanced westward toward the Mississippi River. In 1874, Tennessee Baptists convened in Murfreesboro to estabish a state convention of churches. The Tennessee Baptist Convention is now comprised of approximately 3,200 churches and nearly a million Tennessee Baptists.
Our Tennessee Baptist ancestors reflected geographically diverse cultures, ideas and differing theological perspectives. However, they found common ground on the essentials, embraced the importance of collaboration, and unified around missions, Christian education and compassion ministries. Simply put, they saw the Kingdom possibilities of the sum being far greater than individual parts and differences.
We as Tennessee Baptists are one year out from celebrating our 150th anniversary as a network of churches, and we have so much to celebrate as we extend the legacy of those who came before us.
• We are one of the strongest networks of churches of any kind in the country.
• Each year you and your churches provide care and comfort to adults with disabilities through Tennessee Baptist Adult Homes, to children through Tennessee Baptist Children’s Homes, and Christ-centered education through world-class Baptist universities.
• Thousands in Tennessee and beyond feel your strong arm of compassion by receiving hope and help through a prepared and passionate army of Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.
• You enable ministry at Ground Zero in the culture war on secular university campuses by providing gospel lighthouses serving countless students through Baptist Collegiate Ministries.
• And you make it possible for your Tennessee Baptist Mission Board to serve churches in hundreds of ways every day.
In Jeremiah 6:16, the Lord admonishes us to “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it … ”
Throughout this year, Tennessee Baptists have stood at the crossroads and through the Acts 2:17 Initiative have asked for the wisdom of God to reveal to us which is the good way moving forward.
Through the input of thousands across our state and the diligent work of a committed group of laypeople and pastors praying and pouring over mountains of information, God has raised to the surface some key initiatives and has revealed a way forward for Tennessee Baptists.
You will read and hear more of that in the weeks to come as we move toward Summit next month, but what I want you to know is how excited I am to see what has emerged.
Sometimes the way forward is rooted in the past journey, especially if you were traveling the right road to begin with. I believe our Tennessee Baptist predecessors would be excited to see the direction their convention of churches is moving toward, continuing the great Great Commission work they were determined to pursue.
You will notice the Tennessee state tree, the tulip poplar, is the centerpiece of our 150th anniversary logo. That is intentional. We today are enjoying the shade of trees planted by those who came before us. And as we turn the corner next year at 150 years, we will be planting ministry and mission trees of which the coming generations will enjoy the shade.
So join us in Chattanooga Nov. 12-15 and let’s get this party started. This is truly an exciting day and age to be a Tennessee Baptist. God is firmly at work, and in our midst, as we push toward a historic 150.
It is a joy to be with you on this journey. B&R