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2019 Annual Report

‘The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Those words should sound familiar to you. It is the last verse of Psalm 50, which was our Psalm of 2019. From that passage, we saw that the Hebrew nation was under judgment of Yahweh. They had developed an attitude of entitlement. And they went through the motions of worshipping God and offering sacrifices without a heart of thankfulness. So Asaph concludes with this instruction, ‘The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” So it is right and good that at this point as I deliver the 2019 annual elder report that it be done in a spirit of thanksgiving. Our hearts should be grateful because the Lord has truly blessed us this past year.

            The first (and probably most radical) blessing of note is what is occurring outside the church. Praise the Lord the portables are gone and a permanent building is taking its place! This was an amazing feat that only the Lord could do. Throughout the process of planning, presentation, and voting, the church has been remarkably unified in spirit. I don’t want to make it sound as if every single person agreed on every detail (for example some wanted small, others wanted large), but we were unified in our goal, determined to love another and committed to one another through the process. I think that is a testimony to our building team. To Dwain, Ken, Ellen, Barbara Ellen, and Scott- and Mike Ingram who worked tirelessly on the loan- I want to offer a hardy thank you on behalf of the church. The end is in sight! I also want to thank your families for all the sacrifices that they have made while you have been away to work on this task. We are still on track to be outfitting the new building at the first of March.  

            I also want to commend the church body on your giving to this project. Your zeal for it is showing. Just in 2019 alone, you have given to date just a few dollars short $222,000. Making overall a total of $416,000 that we can out towards the new building. We are right on track to being debt-free in the new building within five years. You have managed to do this while also supporting our working budget that allows us to do ministry both here and around the world.

            It would also be a disservice only to highlight the planning and giving of the education Building alone. As a congregation, you have also demonstrated unity and patience in our current situation of being in one building and having one combined Sunday School for youth and adults. Ric and Giselle’s leadership in Sunday School, along with Pamela Rigsby’s in the nursery has been outstanding. We have not missed a beat in the transition. I want to personally thank every nursery worker and teacher. I know the conditions have not been optimal but you have been incredibly patient in carrying out your duties.

            Before I move on from the children’s ministry. I need also to give out some additional kudos. Hasn’t it been wonderful to have the children’s choir singing in church again? Thank you, Jackie Burton and Pam Clardy for restoring this ministry. It is such a blessing to hear these children sing the truths of God. And once again, last summer, Vacation Bible School was our biggest yet. I say biggest because it was in numbers. We had more children this year then we have ever had. At one point, Pam called me and said, ‘Blair do we need to have a cut off?’ I said if the Lord brings them, he will provide. And he did. We had fantastic adults and youth help with the largest number of kids we have had to date. But while the numbers increased, the ministry remained scripture oriented and personal. The focus was on the gospel. It showed in the offering that the kids took up for the Boarding House in Southeast Asia. In one week, they raised $1683.05. Once again, parents who attended mega-church VBS as well as our own told me that their kids liked ours the best. When I asked why? They told me because my kids weren’t just entertained for five days. They heard about Jesus, sang songs about Jesus and focused upon Jesus. It was a real Bible school and they loved it. That is a testimony to Pam, Kim and our volunteers.

            Keeping on the theme of education, I should also commend Mike Watson and the adult Sunday school teaching ministry team. Having one combined adult class has been a challenge. But the content of the lessons have been blessedly stimulating and well-thought out. And we, as teachers have learned many things from you as we have cycled through each class. And from that the teaching continues to improve. In fact, I hear that the latest teacher is AMAZING. (And he wants to remind you to turn in your church planting questions for this next Sunday). I want to thank the church and parents of the youth for your patience and input. We are getting better at this, and you are demonstrating love to us through patience and encouragement as we work toward sustaining our teaching ministry during this time of transition. Thank you, teachers, Greg Barnett, Randy Cox, Brian Forroux and Mark Smith. Well done!

            Of course, our youth should not be neglected in this report. Brian and his leaders began the year with the theme ‘Living Faith’. They kicked off the year at Vision camp back in January and ever since then, they have been trying to put their faith into action. They have been finding ways to serve the community such as writing cards to encourage our deputies, visiting nursing homes, baking cookies with our ladies, and serving at the Miracle League and Special Olympics. The highlight of the year was the trip to Panama City Beach this summer where the group grew in love towards one another and helped with cleanup from families affected by Hurricane Michael. Thank youth for the impact you are making on our community and the world.

            Not to be outdone is our college ministry. Under the leadership of Robert and Lindsey Smith, the college ministry has excelled. You may not realize it, but since the summer they have been meeting together in two small group Bible studies where they have been working through David Platt’s book Radical. They took their first mission trip to rural Franklin County, TN where they did street evangelism and service projects through First Baptist Church, Cowan. One of our college students, Logan Dolloff spent three weeks working in Asia which you will hear about on Sunday night at the missions banquet. Already Robert has other mission endeavors planned for our college students in 2020.

            Our pulpit ministry has also been stellar. This past year we completed our study of Proverbs. I have been told by many of you that it was one of the more practical series as we learned Biblical wisdom together. We studied and prayed through Psalm 50 (our Psalm of the year) during our Summer Prayer Meetings. And of course, at the beginning of the school year, we began our study of Matthew’s Gospel. And I am very grateful to Philip, Glen, Amelia and Robin (who co-ordinates our special music) for enhancing the pulpit ministry through our music. We don’t just get to hear the gospel, but we get to sing the gospel to one another as Colossians 3:16 instructs.

            Our ministry within the community is continuing. We have members who regularly serve at the Rose of Sharon homeless ministry and in local nursing homes. We are still involved with Lunches of Love and we still sponsor a Good News Club through CEF at Legacy Elementary. We took up a significant donation to purchase goody bags as a way to encourage our deputies through our two chaplains to the Sherriff’s Department. And Brian and the youth participated once again in Rocket City Missions where they did service projects in the more impoverished neighborhoods of Huntsville.

            But our ministry has not just been local. Providence still has a presence throughout the world. You will hear more on Sunday night, but this past year you continued to support church planting in Chicago and Portland, Maine. In fact, you purchased a snowblower for the church in Maine. You supported our brother T in Mongolia and continue to sponsor him in his new mission in the Middle East. You paid a scholarship for training a pastor in China under the 9marks model. You supported the Kemps in South Africa and the Moorheads in the Czech Republic. You continued to sponsor children at the Boarding House in South East Asia. To date, you have given $16, 540.45 which means you have sponsored 30 kids for the year at the home. And you sent Monika to Ecuador and myself, to the Philippines to teach pastors and missionaries at the Baptist Seminary in Bagiou City. Altogether, in 2019 alone, Providence has contributed $97,317.88 for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel in the hard and unreached places. That is an increase from last year.

            The results of all of this ministry have been evident. We are growing. The Lord is sending large numbers of visitors to check us out and to be fed on the gospel. It seems like we are processing new visitor cards in the office every week. Of course, with growth comes great challenges. To assist with the ministry needs the church called Mike Hutchinson to be a new elder. In addition, the elders are already apprenticing some young men to take on leadership roles within the near future. But here is how you can help with all these new visitors and have an impact in their lives: Introduce yourself. Invite them to eat with you. Scoot into the middle of the pew and leave the outside for newcomers. Sit closer to the front or in the transepts to make space. Park in the back of the parking lot rather than the front. All these actions communicate to visitors that they are welcome here and we want you.

            Before I close out 2019, it is fitting that I mention two significant losses. In the last week, we have witnessed the home going of Neal Stephens and Henry Smith. Both of these men were faithful brothers that set a fine example to us in love towards the body of Christ. Their race has been run and I would say they ran well. But that also means we need that legacy to carry on. We need more men to step up and provide that kind of leadership and to stand in the gap. I challenge my brothers to consider that in the upcoming year.

            Also, on the heels of that occasion, I want to applaud the church staff. Weeks like the last seven days show the Lord has provided such a blessing to have Laura and Brian serving us. They have been diligent and gone the extra mile in the service to the body. Would you join me in thanking them?  Now on to 2020.

            In November 2018, our elders had a retreat where we outlined five points of emphasis that we wanted to grow within Providence in the years ahead- places where we thought there should be significant improvement. I introduced those areas to you in last year’s annual report. They were our unity in the gospel, our dependence upon the Holy Spirit, our obedience to the word in order to look like Jesus, our demonstration of Father’s love to the world, and our perseverance until the Lord returns. This past year, the elders have been building upon those themes as we are being led by the Lord in how we can best accomplish them. And already several ideas have emerged.

            Towards our unity in the gospel, the elders,  examined the topic of ‘worship’ at our annual retreat last month. We asked ourselves the simple question of what should happen when the body of Christ gathers together? How can we demonstrate our unity as sinners saved by grace and how could our worship services enhance the gospel even more? One of the ideas that we will be implementing in the months ahead is a time for personal testimony in the worship service. It is clear within the Psalms that we are to declare the deeds of the Lord from one generation to another. The testimonies will consist not only of salvation experiences but also in how the gospel is sustaining a believer in the present. The policy on how to present them is still in the works. However, be on the lookout soon, for additional ways that we can clearly articulate our connection to the gospel in the diversity of our people as we worship together.

            When we speak about being dependent on the Holy Spirit, that occurs in our prayer lives as we seek the will of the Spirit through His word. In this respect, I want to also commend your elders to you. They are a praying bunch. The first Tuesday of every month they are in prayer for you. November alone took two hours to complete our time of prayer. Please help us minister to you by supplying your prayer requests when the elders contact you. Our new Women’s Ministry Council is getting ready to implement a prayer ministry for the entire church. They will be sending out a letter soon that will describe how we will carry out this ministry. They have the elders full endorsement in this project and we hope you will participate. And our elders will be moving towards even more opportunities where our church can gather corporately with a design to pray.  And we hope that you will join us in the summer in our normal prayer meetings as we study Psalm 57 as our Psalm of the year.

            Within that Psalm is the repeated refrain, Psalm 57:5 (ESV) 5  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!’ That is what we want to see as we extend love of the Father to the world. His glory over all the earth. To that end, three important trips are being planned. One is late spring with our college students. Several will be looking to take the gospel into Asia. The second is a trip back to our work in South East Asia in late summer. We will be conducting evangelism training and evangelism alongside the local church there. And as soon as we can get in, Brian will be leading a trip for disaster relief in the Abaco Cays in the Bahamas. The destruction of hurricane Dorian will create ministry opportunities for years to come. And on Sunday night, our missions team will be introducing a new church planting family that our church will be sponsoring in Boston, MA. There will also be a short term trip associated with evangelism in that city in September.

            To assist with all of this, you have heard this evening that we will be hiring Robert Smith as a pastoral intern. Robert has proven himself in ministry both in Wisconsin and here with our college students. It is his and Lindsey’s desire to plant or revitalize a church in Tennessee and we want to be a part of that ministry to assist him. So we are helping him with the skills and experience that he will need there. As I mentioned earlier, we have another young man who is apprenticing to be an elder. We are grateful that God continues to send godly men to serve our congregation.

            In order, for Providence to reach the nations, we must continue in our education and discipleship. In late January, the elders will be teaching on each of these five points of emphasis and how we can continue to grow in our devotion to God and be conformed into the image of his son. We want to be ready to hit the ground running when this new building opens to use it for the glory of God. So be prepared to go into action as we pray over this project.

In addition to church planting, your elders have become concerned with sister churches that are closing their doors. We are asking ourselves how can we help those churches become revitalized? Can we share our resources, particularly in the area of teaching where we can be of service so that these churches can thrive again? Our Brother Greg Barnett is looking into these prospects and how best to assist them.  Another unique education opportunity will be another history conference in November. This year we will have Dr. Tim Larson, professor of History at Wheaton College. Tim is also the editor of the soon to be released Cambridge Companion to Christmas. He will be leading four sessions on the history of Christmas and its traditions.

            And before I conclude with our fifth area of emphasis. I want to commend the leadership of your elders to you. They truly love you and are passionate about serving you. They love one another. If you come to the meeting you will hear lots of laughter and occasional tears as we share our hearts. They cherish the Word of God. They surrender so much of their time that you never see working tirelessly behind the scenes. Please pray for them and please tell them how much you appreciate their service to the church.

            As you can tell, 2020 is going to be a marvelous year. But that also means we must emphasize our fifth point of persevering until the Lord returns. In addition to these wonderful opportunities of ministry, we still have both the debt and the challenge of completing this building. I hope you will pray and persevere. Perseverance requires sacrifice. But as I said in a sermon this week, sacrifice means you find something worthy of the sacrifice. And to me, Providence is worthy of the sacrifice in order to proclaim with Psalm 57,  ‘Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!’