Executive Director Blog

Pray About Everything

I’m using Mark Bethea’s book, 30 Days of Hope for Peaceful Living, as part of my devotional material for January. The topic of Day Five is Prescriptive Prayer. Mark writes, “Paul declares that if we are not to be anxious about anything, then we pray about everything. If we mix prayer with rejoicing and add thanksgiving, we have a recipe for living free from our anxious tendencies.” Later he outlines the exact prescription for dealing with anxiety and living with the peace of God.

 

We pray.

We pray about everything.

 

What a great reminder as we begin 2017. As we try to discern God’s future for us, let’s pray. Let’s pray about everything. When friends, family members, and colleagues have hurts both large and small, let’s pray. Let’s pray about everything. When we are overwhelmed by our list of tasks to accomplish, let’s pray. Let’s pray about everything.

WMU Matters

Preparing this month’s column has been challenging since I realized it would be my last as your executive director. After 12 columns a year for 16 years and numerous other writing assignments including four years as president, I suspect I have written more than 125,000 words for Missions Mosaic alone. Each month I’ve tried to convey my heart for missions, my love for WMU, and my personal belief that what we do through WMU for spreading the truth of God’s Word and His love for all people matters. I believe it not only matters but also is a critical part of the future of missions and our denomination. Without our shared missions commitment, we have little left to bind us together as Southern Baptists; without our missions purpose, we have little reason to exist as WMU.

Reversing a Trend

Millennials are leaving the church. Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away, and the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade from 44 percent to 52 percent, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing in America.

This was the headline of an article published by the Barna Group on its website on April 6, 2016.1 The article lists several reasons why Millennials, those in their 20s and early 30s today, are leaving church. Among those listed were things that took them away from church when they were youth: sports leagues, extracurricular activities through school, and a lack of significant church relationships. Gone are the days when a young person found social interaction primarily at church through weekend youth retreats, game nights, and Bible study on Sunday morning. The occasional attender in their youth who did not develop a growing faith will find it hard to connect once they leave for college.

Trust During Transition

Several years ago, former national WMU president Janet Hoffman sent me a little book by Robert J. Morgan entitled The Red Sea Rules: Ten God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times. Recently when I was preparing a devotion for a group of denominational leaders, I noticed the caption at the bottom of the front cover of the book: “The same God who led you in will lead you out.” Wow! What an important truth for me as I prepare to hand over the leadership of WMU to a new leader in the coming months.

I have prayed to know how to end well and transition well with all things in good order as the new leader arrives. This statement prompted me to pause and remember the journey God led me through as He called me to serve 16 years ago. I was reluctant, scared, and uncertain of my abilities to lead, but God ultimately demonstrated for me a most valuable lesson: whatever He called me to do He would be right there going ahead of me, with me, and coming behind me to make all things work for His good. I have seen Him do just that over and over during my years of service.

Reflections on Leadership

In 2001 at the end of my first year as executive director for national WMU, I wrote an article for our magazines about my experience after one year in office. It had been a year of great change for me personally—job changes for my husband and me, a move that required selling and buying a house, helping both our children graduate from higher education experiences, and a wedding for our daughter. What a first year on the job! And that list doesn’t include all the changes at national WMU as it embraced me as its new leader.
 
As I reflect upon 16 years of service in this role, it is interesting to note each “lesson learned” I identified in the 2001 article I still believe to be true today. So what were my reflections on leadership at the end of year one?
 
1. You can never overcommunicate your message.
2. Relationships are paramount for success.
3. Leadership means serving others by enabling them to serve.
4. Listen, listen, listen, and then you have the right to speak.
5. Most of all, in our weakness, God is most clearly seen and His will accomplished.

On the Same Frequency

Over the past several months, national WMU staff members have engaged in conversation with many different groups, seeking input on our current curriculum for children and students. Through surveys, Facebook, and a face-to-face think tank with state leaders, we are beginning to address some of the things we heard. First and foremost, we were thrilled to hear that churches using our materials find they are of high quality, provide the missions focus needed in our churches in an age-appropriate way, and are valued. However, we were also grateful to receive some great suggestions for ways we can improve the content and delivery. We are now in the process of determining how to implement as many of the ideas as possible. This will be an exciting year as we develop new and improved resources to assist you with missions learning in your churches.
 

An Opportunity to Gather

During 2015, national WMU was involved in five different regional and/or national training events. We heard great missionary testimonies, experienced wonderful conferences that challenged our thinking about missions in our churches, and found encouragement in just being together. We committed to a comprehensive year of equipping leaders for missions in these unique events while we prepared to launch a full online, on-demand leadership training program. Many of you have taken one of the courses on ChristianLeaderLearning.com and have shared your enthusiasm for this new approach to missions learning. Others of you may be engaging in your first course. Our goal is to provide just the right training needed to lead with confidence and enthusiasm. I hope you will give this new approach a try soon if you have not already.
 

A Shared Love for North American Missions

I love the WMU building! When you walk in the front door, you know immediately who we are and why we exist. You are greeted with a beautifully crafted bronze replica of the world, and farther down the hallway you see a mural with the faces of the peoples of the world. All around you are artifacts emulating the culture and diversity of our world.

Many of our artifacts are gifts from missionaries and friends of missions who served as partners with WMU. One of those is the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Begun in 1845 as the Board of Domestic Missions and later the Home Mission Board, NAMB shared with WMU a love for missionaries serving in our nation and its surrounding territories.

We recently received some very special gifts from NAMB. One is the armoire belonging to Annie Armstrong, a welcomed addition to our Annie Armstrong collection. The other item is the desk of former secretary of the Home Mission Board Isaac Tichenor. Receiving this gift prompted me to dig a little deeper into the life of this great Southern Baptist leader.

Start Something New

I love wandering through bookstores when I have free time. While I have a Kindle and a tablet for reading when I fly on airplanes, I really prefer a real book. I love the feel and smell of a new book and the comfort it brings as my mind is transported wherever the book takes me.

I especially love missionary biographies like Both Feet In by Bud Fray and A Thousand Times Yes by Wana Ann Fort. Books like these provide deeper insight into the life and calling of missionaries and inspire us to lead and participate in missions with passion as well as knowledge. Their stories challenge us to commit our very best to the calling God has given us to live a missional life.

No Turning Back

Both Feet In Book Cover

In his book Both Feet In, retired missionary Dr. Bud Fray references an old African proverb that says: “Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet.” It’s like testing the temperature of the pool water before you jump in; we stick our toe in first and if it’s too cold we have the option of pulling back. Once we jump in with both feet we are committed . . . and we better know how to swim!

After serving 28 years among the people of Zimbabwe and South Africa, Bud and his wife, Jane, know firsthand what the African people mean by this proverb. The African peoples’ life experiences taught them to tread cautiously before committing to something. They worshipped many different gods and held many beliefs that were contrary to the gospel. So when confronted with the truths of the Bible, they hesitated to commit to the one true God of Scripture. Carefully and wisely, missionaries like Bud taught them to weigh all the consequences and then, when they were ready and totally committed to Jesus’ teaching, put both feet in, knowing there is no turning back.

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