May 2017 Mind of the Missionary

Each May we conduct a week of prayer for Associational Missions. May 22-28 are the dates for 2017. With my retirement in October, there are some prayer concerns of great importance. Please involve your family and your church in prayer concerning these following items:


  1. The search committee as they consider persons who might serve as our mission director in the coming years. The work of the association has changed significantly in the past twenty years. It has grown as God has given challenges and opportunities to us.
  2. Wisdom in knowing how to organize the work of the association going forward. Our goal is to provide the churches and their members opportunities to be Great Commission Christians. Our structure dates from 1982. It reflects the design of the then Home Mission Board. Where we are and how we can serve has changed. We need to seek the mind of God concerning how to be faithful, effective, efficient, and loving in following the Great Commission.
  3. The Baptist Center has grown significantly. It does great ministries and provides resources to the association. Ask for wisdom in how to operate it well.
  4. The prison with nearly 2,000 inmates, most of them from other countries, ask God what he wills for us to do there.
  5. With most of our pastors not having formal education regarding the administration of a church, the preparation of sermons, the leadership of worship, or the interpretation of Scripture ask God how he wants the association to strengthen our pastors.
  6. With the decline of persons able to play the piano, ask God to provide answers so our worship will be vital.
  7. With so many of our pastors over 60, pray that God will call and men will hear and respond.
  8. Ask God how you and your church can be supportive of the mission of the college and career school scheduled to open in Carrollton in the fall of 2018. Surely it is in the best interest not only of our youth but also of our churches and communities.


These are very important topics of prayer at this time. Please do so. Please share God’s response.

March 2017 Mind of the Missionary

I truly enjoy ice cream, pizza, diet Dr. Pepper and kettle potato chips. I would like to eat my fill of these every day. However, I am told that this is not a good meal plan. I need some meats, fruits, and vegetables. I must limit my consumption of fats, carbohydrates, and sugars. And I need to get exercise both of my body and my mind. I need to also sleep well. Balance and moderation are called for, if I am to have a healthy body.

The Apostle Paul liked to compare the church to a human body. Each of us is like an organ of the body. We have a function to perform. The health of the church is dependent upon each of us playing our role. While some roles are not prominent, all are important. He declared that the healthy church, like the healthy body is one where the members put the health of the church before their own interests, where relationships are informed by the Golden Rule, where each one rejoices in the work of the others.

The church has several basic functions it must perform to be the body of Christ. Essentially, it must recognize that Christ is the head of the church and that the church must focus upon doing his will in the place where the church serves. Here is a list of the basic functions:

*Worship. The church must praise God in public worship, regularly. The minds, hearts and wills of the members must be involved. The five senses–hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling should be impacted. God is glorified. We are reminded of our dependence on and our submission to him.

*Witness. The good news of the Gospel must be proclaimed and persons invited to commit to becoming a part of the body–using their gifts and graces for its health.

*Disciple. The church must provide opportunity and resources for its members to grow spiritually, coming to understand and commit to the teachings, worldview, and lifestyle of Scripture. Mentoring the new by the experienced believers is a task of the churches.

*Minister. We need to care for one another. Paramount for us should be considering how we can practice the Golden Rule in our everyday relationships. This is counter-culture. Culture teaches us to put ourselves first. Not so, followers of Jesus. This calls for us to be sensitive and responsive to the material and spiritual needs of others. When we are practicing the Golden Rule we are ministering to others and they are ministering to us. Imagine what things would be like if most of us were living like this. Joy would abound. Suffering would be checked.

*Mission. We are to be Great Commission folk. Jesus told those assembled for his assent back to the father to practice these first four functions as they moved about. In recent centuries we have become more intentional about moving about and sharing the Gospel by appointing and supporting missionaries. Nearly 30 have gone from Pickens County with the support of our churches to other nations as career missionaries. And many others have gone on short-term mission trips.

Let me note that the primary function of the Pickens Baptist Association is to undergird the work of the 34 affiliated churches in performing these five tasks and addressing more directly the missionary task in the territory where the association and its churches serve. In recent years this has been primarily at the Aliceville FCI. Through these efforts nearly 500 inmates have made professions of faith, more than 100 baptized, and more than 1,000 ministered to and discipled through Rubies for Life, Samford Ministry Training Institute, meals for staff, Kairos and other efforts.

Three Protestant churches started by the association there have been started within the walls. And these churches are performing these five tasks well and being blessed of God. Women are leaving the prison with a testimony about being saved and/or restored here. Many of them are returning to other nations and serving there as volunteer missionaries.

In addition to these five tasks, the Apostle Paul identifies four marks of a good church–unity, purity, mutual submission and spiritual warfare. But this will be the subject of another column. How is your church doing in regard to these tasks and marks? How are you contributing? How might the PBA help your church? If you have not, it is because you ask not.

February 2017 Mind of the Missionary

I recently read a new book by columnist Thomas Friedman, Thank you for Being Late. The theme is to understand the impact of change, particularly electronic communication, on our lives. Certainly, here in Pickens County there has been tremendous change since 1998 when I came. Few people had computers and were on the internet. Very few smart phones. No texting. We shopped in stores, not online. Very few TV channels for news and entertainment. The textile industry still provided about 1,000 jobs for our residents. We could buy new cars in the county.

Friedman identifies six important learnings for himself coming from his many interviews with key leaders in government, business and industry.

  1. America is becoming more diverse and, for him, this is a good thing. While he makes a good case for this, he neglects the importance of a society having shared values, a common set upon which laws can be based and followed. For many such values as freedom of religion, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, security, property rights, traditional family and rewards for hard work seem threatened by change. Some of us worry that “the baby is being thrown out with the bath wash,” that in blissfully accepting diversity we will set the stage for chaos.
  2. He found that many successful persons believed that being mentored by a successful person was the key to their success. I hope that one application for this truth here in our association will be experienced pastors mentoring the young pastors and other church leaders will mentor those who will take over the leadership in years to come. Today most of our pastors are local and not formally trained as ministers of the Gospel.
  3. Friedman sees that for a community, or a nation, to prosper, and for there to be peace and order in the world, the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” needs to be actively practiced. Perhaps this is the corrective to weakness I see with number one above. However, from my perspective the Golden Rule is not consistently applied by most in their everyday lives, nor in the practices of businesses and government. He suggests, and I would certainly agree, that this must become a priority. For this to happen, in my opinion, it needs to begin with an emphasis on it in our churches. If millions of Christians around the world would do so, then there is hope.
  4. He continues that isolation is a great threat for our nation. True. But so, to my mind, is an uncritical embracing of diversity and all change. One of the great fallacies of popular culture is that change is progress. Often it is, but often it is not. For example, consider the context of television and music entertainment. Lots of trash. Or consider mind altering drugs. Or consider the failed efforts of communism. Change is not a synonym for progress.
  5. So, while we should benefit from changes in our lives: personally, family, community, nation and world, I cannot just accept these changes uncritically. In many cases the change has been at least as bad as what it aimed to correct. It seems that the election of Donald Trump can be interpreted as many Americans feeling that some of the changes in the past couple of decades were not beneficial. Certainly, there are flaws in how things are structures and there are flaws in how we live. Changes need to be changed. But there needs to be a criteria for judging changes. To my mind this is found in the Word of God. There we find principles for how to conduct our lives, how to relate to others, both neighbors and enemies, how to have a family, a business, a community, and a nation. If change is to be made, make in a way that reflects the will of God.
  6. Finally, good relationships, good transactions, good neighborhoods are based on trust. Here the Golden Rule comes back in. Trust comes out of repeated experiences with one another. It can and should build and expand over time. What a wonderful thing it is to have a trust relationship with another person.
  7. While I doubt many of you will take the time to read this book for yourselves, I do hope that you will consider its points and work for better relationships on all levels in the coming year. Work on being a Golden Rule person in 2017.

January 2017 Mind of the Missionary

We have just celebrated the birth of the king of kings. Later this month we will inaugurate our new US president, Donald Trump. We are commanded to pray for him and for our other leaders. Recently, while worshiping with Hebron, pastor Randy Gray took as his text Ezra 9:8, “a little space of grace.” His point was that in years past we have been heading in ways that are not pleasing to God, as a nation, as churches and as individuals. Hopefully, the coming years will be a time when there can be correction and getting back on course as a nation, as churches and as individuals.

Life is about, he continued, seeking and doing the will of God as individuals, as churches, and as nations. Perhaps you, like me, were troubled about how little attention was given to the topic of God’s will in the recent political campaign.  He was mentioned only as a postscript, a request for his blessings on the nation. I heard no mention of the fact that blessings seem to be conditional on our being in compliance with his will.  You and I, our church, and our nation will not be truly blessed unless we are doing the will of God.

Jesus taught that the core will of God is for us to love him, totally, and that we love our neighbors as well as we love ourselves. Mention of this truth was missing from the campaign rhetoric. Rather, the will of Satan that we love money, sex, and power was the focus of both campaigns. These are the idols that Jesus came to destroy. If we worship any, or all of them, they will destroy us as individuals, churches and as a nation.

Our popular culture teaches us to worship these three idols. Often they are in harmony with one another. Position of lots of money is touted as the means to sex and power. The same is true for each of the others. Movies, television shows, music, and products all promote the worship of this satanic trinity. Take for example Sunday night NFL football.  Millionaires  pushing one another around to the cheers of the beautiful cheerleaders.

Please join me in committing to pray for our town, county, state and national political leaders. Pray that they focus on the common good, religious freedom, opportunities for each citizen to be involved and contributing to the well-being of others. Pray that we will have a period of peace, that diseases will be conquered, that hatred will fade. Pray that we will come to appreciate the gifts and graces of others. Pray that attitudes of exploiting others will die. Pray that serving others, not being served, will be the goal of each one of us.

Pray that the next few years will prove to be “a little space of grace” and that each of us will take advantage of the opportunities it provides.  In the current age, the church is God’s primary agent. Pray that our churches will focus on their true head, Jesus Christ, will know his will, and work to carry it out. If I read the book of Ephesians correctly, God’s general will for each church is that it be pure and holy, characterized by mutual submission and fighting against Satan, not one another. God also has a specific will for each church. Make that a matter of prayer regularly in your church meetings.

December 2016 Mind of the Missionary

As the Old Testament prophets told of the coming Messiah they painted three pictures of him—a king of the Davidic line, the Son of Man, and the Suffering Servant. Read Isaiah 11, Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 as examples of texts where these pictures of a Messiah appear.

When Jesus came the people of Judah gave attention to only one of these pictures, that of a king of the line of David. Recall, the coming of the Wisemen to worship the king and the reaction of Herod and his spiritual counselors. Jesus, on the other hand, referred to himself many times as the Son of Man. This picture is one of a pre-existent being who comes from heaven to bless God’s people. Then as the early church reflected upon the death of Jesus on the cross they discovered that his role was as the Lamb of God, the suffering servant who atones for the sin of humankind.

Why did the religious leaders of 30 AD misunderstand Jesus? Obviously, they wanted a Messiah who would meet their perceived needs, a worldly king who would defeat Roman oppression and restore Judah as a world power.

This Christmas we will worship Jesus as suffering servant, the Son of Man and as the coming king—all three. We will note how the Jews misunderstood the role of the Messiah. He came as the Son of Man, God in the flesh (John 1). He died on the cross as the suffering servant (John 19). He is coming again as King (Matthew 24-25).  This is the correct order.

As we look for his return, we must be careful to not repeat the errors of the Jews of the first century; that is, not seek to dictate to God how, when, or where Jesus will return. We are sure only of who and why. Like many of you I have expected to see Jesus here on earth during my life time. From Hitler on I have heard many world figures identified as being the anti-Christ. But none of these proved to be true.

However, there are some truths from Revelation and the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24-25) concerning how to prepare for his return. These are certain.  Among them:

*Resurrection awaits

*Judgment is coming

*We are expected to serve others, in part, by meeting basic human needs—food, clothing, shelter, water, and caring friendship

*Love God and love neighbors

*Respond to the invitation of the Holy Spirt, put one’s faith in Jesus

*Have one’s name recorded in the Book of Life

*Be watchful and prepared

Revelation describes tribulation, war, destruction—evil running wild. It describes a great battle between good and evil. It tells of a thousand year reign of Jesus when there will be true justice and peace. It describes a great city where the saved will live eternally, worship God joyfully, and attend a great banquet.

As a part of your Christmas, read again the song of Zechariah found in part in Luke 1:72-75. Jesus is the victor. He will defeat our enemies—sin, death, and Satan—so that we can live and serve without fear in holiness and righteousness.

November 2016 Mind of the Missionary

In a few days we get to cast votes for public officials. As I see it my most significant vote will be for Superintendent of Education. Developing a strong vocational education program will benefit our children, our communities and our churches.

The presidential debates have been of interest to me as a theologian. The candidates have focused on accusing the other on breaking one, or more, of the Ten Commandments – six, seven, nine, and ten. Missing is attention to the teaching that the life that pleases God begins with adhering to the first four – those about honoring and serving God. Apparently. It is unlikely that a person will do well at keeping the Commandments concerning interpersonal relationships, if he/she does not keep the first four. Certainly, keeping the first four is not very popular, or well supported, in our culture. While one hears calls for God to bless our nation, few appear to be concerned about knowing and doing His will. God’s blessings are conditional.

Later in November we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Our nation needs to ask itself to whom are we giving thanks – Washington, ourselves, fate, or the God of history. Thanks for what, to whom are questions we must ask. And then there is Christmas and its core meaning.

I have begun the process of interviewing the pastor and leaders of each of our churches concerning their vision for their church and how the association can help facilitate it going forward. This will inform the re-structuring of the association. Will keep you posted.

Thanks to Flatwoods and Mineral Springs for hosting our associational annual meeting earlier this month. They both did very well. The offering for the Children’s Home was $521. The offering for ALCAP was $384. Jordan Lollar did a great job with the introduction sermon. And so did N.C. with the mission sermon.

Thanks to our volunteers who manned the bouncers at the Face in the Window celebration. One of only two free things at the event. Scores of children had a great time. And thanks to the ladies who sold gift items to raise funds to support our ministry in the prison.

Some of you will get to read this on the final day of our Pickens Gospel Celebration. Pray. Attend. Bring the lost.

We will be working to re-activate our Bible classes here at the associational office in January. The first class will be on pastoring a bivocational church. We need 10 students to offer the class.

During the annual meeting I spoke on the history of 200 years of the Gospel Light being in Pickens County – its planting, the establishment of churches, adjustments to changes in the economy, transportation, communication, worship styles and where people dwelt. We also dealt with the association being mostly an annual event to being a 365 day organization led by an associational missionary. We celebrated the fact that 26 persons from our association have served Southern Baptists as international missionaries. And we launched a process of considering how best we can continue the work going forward.

October 2016 Mind of the Missionary

October is a very busy month for the association. Annual meeting, area wide revival, street fairs in Carrollton, Panola, and Aliceville. Let me share more about these events in hope that you will participate.

This will be the 181st annual meeting of our association. It is kind of like a family reunion. We hear praise and petition reports from each of our 34 congregations. We rejoice and we pray for our sister churches. We hear about what God is doing in our area, our state, our nation, and around the world. We rejoice and repent. We will elect a moderator and vice moderator.  We will hear from a new international missionary who was raised among us. We will hear about the mission and ministry efforts of the association. We will rejoice and recommit. Our theme will be Celebration of the Bicentennial of the coming of the Gospel Light to our area during 2017.

We will take up offerings for the Children’s Home and for ALCAP. We will enjoy fellowship meals. We will hear good Gospel music. We will sing, laugh, and renew friendships.

It is a two day event. On Monday, October 10, we will meet all afternoon at Flatwoods, off Benevola Rd. Services will begin at 1 and conclude at 5:30 pm. We will then enjoy a wonderful fellowship meal provided by the church.

Tuesday, October 11, we will meet at Mineral Springs on the old US 82 near McShan. We will start later at 2:45 pm. At 5:30 pm we will have a wonderful fellowship supper provided by the host church. And then at 6:15 pm we will go back to a time of worship and have our annual mission message. The evening session is provided for those who hold jobs which keep them from attending the afternoon sessions.

Then October 24-26 we will have the Pickens Gospel Celebration. Monday through Wednesday at the Service Center in Carrollton. The Evangelism Committee has secured three of the finest preachers in the world for this set of meetings—Pastor Fred Luter, Professor Robert Smith, Jr. and Evangelist Junior Hill. While the services begin at 7 pm, each evening we will have mini-concerts beginning at 6:45 featuring the choir from the Aliceville Federal Prison work camp, recording artists Bros. Bob Little and Marcus Wright and others.

These services are for everyone. Pray that we will see lost persons saved and believers revived.

Then on October 15 the Rubies for Life mentors will be selling quality gifts from Lighthouse Christian Products to raise money to support their program in the prison. All of the proceeds will be used for this. They will have gifts for pastor appreciation, Christmas and other special occasions. Our prices are below wholesale.  Visit their booth at the Face in the Window celebration. On October 29 the RFL mentors will have a booth with more items at the Aliceville Fall Street Fair.

Many of our churches collect canned goods for the food bank at the Baptist Center this month. We are in need of these donations. We received the food gathered by the mail carriers only for Carrollton and half of that from Reform this past May. If you want to support the associational food bank, October will be the best time to do so. Less than half of the food collected in May comes to the Baptist Center.

September 2016 Mind of the Missionary

Oh, how I have enjoyed watching the Olympics. It has been a joy to hear and read the testimonies of many athletes concerning their faith in, dependence on, and thankfulness to God. Perhaps you too heard the three women who had just won the medals in the 100 meter hurdles tell about how they had spent the day at a prayer group preparing for a race where they would be competing with one another. If I do not meet her here, I know that one day I will be able to say thank you to Brianna Holling and her friends. How wonderful to pray, worship, and testify. How wonderful to share the Good News.

School is open. Football is here. It is time for us to be praying for important events coming in October.

One is the countywide revival October 24, 25, and 26. You will find a prayer list, the names of the preachers and more to help you prepare for this event.

Another is the annual meeting of the association on October 10th and 11th at Flatwoods and Mineral Springs. Featured will be the son of Ernie and Renay Carroll, former associational missionaries here. We will be kicking off the celebration of the bicentennial of the Gospel Light to Pickens. How it was kindled here, burned brightly, was taken to other places, and what we need to do to pass the light on to the next generation.

At the recent Community Relations Board meeting at the prison, the Warden shared pictures of the tornado damage. How grateful we should be that no one was injured and no prisoner escaped.

Third, our communities of Carrollton, Panola, and Aliceville will be having festival events. In each location Christians will be giving testimonies and sharing the Good News. Pray for effectiveness. Wonderful opportunities await us.

August 2016 Mind of the Missionary

The Executive Board voted last month to invite the Louis Johnson family to live in the Missionary house in Carrollton for the coming year. Louis will serve as worship leader at Carrollton Baptist Church and will assist missionary Farley with developing an associational strategy plan. He and Dr. Farley will be interviewing the pastors and key leaders of our churches concerning how the association can be helpful to them and to the churches. Louis will be paid by Gordo First thru mid-June 2017. The hospitality ministry of the PBA will be moved to the Ammons house.

State Missions Director, Rick Barnhart, will be the featured speaker at the next Executive Committee meeting on Monday, August 15.  He will launch the associational strategy planning process at that time. Our association structure and process date from about 1980. Since then Pickens County is much changed and so are our churches.  The focus of the plan will be on what we need to be doing in 2021.

*Since 1980 the county has been de-industrialized, losing about 2,500 jobs. Others have come, but the net loss has been more than 1,500. Most of our workers now commute daily to either Tuscaloosa or the Golden Triangle.  The life rhythms of many of us have changed. Churches struggle to handle this change.

*Our population has aged. Many in our churches draw retirement income. So, our churches have low, but stable income.

*The prison has brought more residences, but most of the staff does not live in the county. It offers great opportunities for mission and ministry efforts.

*The four-laneing of US 82 across the county, seems to be bringing more new settlers. So, many of the churches in North Pickens can grow.

*The business sections in our towns are diminished and our churches have fewer business and professional persons in them.

*Ministries in the jail and hospital have prospered.

*The Baptist Center has become a major ministry.

*Weekly radio Sunday School lessons have been added.

*The state convention is providing more training for the basic programs in our churches.

*The association is helping to fund church starts and other ministries beyond our bounds.

*Mission teams are being sent out by the association.

*2017 will mark the 200th anniversary of the Gospel Light coming to our area.

*I will need to retire soon.

All of this and more suggests that we need to make a good plan, one that is in accord with God’s general will for churches and one that is specific to our setting. My hope is that each of our pastors and the leaders of our churches will actively participate in the process. The plan will guide our structuring of the association and our search for new leadership.

I worked with a VBS in the Sapps community for one week in July.  It was a joy. Along with Mrs. Janet Estis I taught the students how to play the harmonica. Work on the rebuilding of Sapps community is moving forward. Recently, a team from Habitat for Humanity was there.  They were hosted by West End Baptist church. Incidentally, Bro. Jim Robinson is the new pastor there. Good man with good skills. He also serves as a hospice chaplain.


July 2016 Mind of the Missionary

The 4th of July has always been special to me. Freedom is precious. During my life the freedom of my nation has been threatened time and time again. Now is no exception.

Baptists played a central role in securing freedom for us. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to gain the support of the Baptist Christians. Our Baptist forefathers should be credited for not only freedom of religion, but also the right to own guns, to speak our minds, to have privacy and all of the rights protected by the first ten amendments to the Constitution. I wish that the Baptist Bashers knew that their very right to attack us is guaranteed by our early Baptist leaders such as Roger Williams, Isaac Baccus, and John Leland.

For many centuries the national governments required all of their citizens to belong to the denomination supported by the king. In England it was the Episcopalian, in Spain the Roman Catholic, in much of Germany the Lutheran, in Scotland the Presbyterian and so forth. Those who did not want to conform were punished. Many were even killed.

In the Sixteenth Century men and women all across Europe questioned this arrangement. Their argument ran like this. Beyond this life awaits Judgment by God. We will be accountable to God for what we believe and how we behave. Consequently, individuals should be given freedom of conscience. Accountability presupposes freedom. For the Baptists salvation came by a person personally responding to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to believe in faith that God would forgive one for his or her sins.

Apparently, the rulers of nations and of religious denominations believed that for the society to work properly everyone should share the same religious beliefs. So, Baptists were persecuted. For example John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, spent many years in jail. The colony of Rhode Island, established by Baptists Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke, was the first colony to offer freedom of religious beliefs to its citizens. This was true not only for Christians, but for Jews and Muslims as well.

About 1750 a great revival swept through the American colonies. Many responded to the invitation of the Holy Spirit, experienced forgiveness and the new birth. Many joined the ranks of the Baptists. When the colonies, having won their freedom from England sought to form the United States, the support of the Baptist was needed. So, while some states in New England had established Congregationalism and some in the South Episcopalianism, the nation as a whole supported the Baptist position and allowed freedom of religion.

So, this Independence Day please recall your Baptist heritage. And when some express the desire to suppress the free exercise of a faith which is clearly in error or are critical of you for wanting to evangelize Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons and others, just remember the Baptist way. It is not easy. But the Baptist way is to both affirm freedom of religion and to share the truth with those whose beliefs or behavior are in error.