2021-2022 Annual Elders Report
‘Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.’
Perhaps you recognize those words. They are from Psalm 33 (our Psalm of the Year). They appeared to be appropriate words for us as we emerged from the COVID world of 2020. The Lord’s eye has been on us. We have maintained our fear OF and hope IN him and he has blessed us abundantly with his steadfast covenantal love. For those of you unfamiliar with the annual elders report, we take this occasion at our December business meeting to look back upon what has transpired in the previous year within the life of our church. And we want to communicate to the church body what we anticipate doing in the upcoming year.
It is right and fitting to give praise and thanksgiving in how the Lord has blessed us. Allow me to take you back to January of 2020. At that time, some of you were frustrated with us, because at that moment we had to resume online services for the last three and first two Sundays of the year. It was a choice that no elder wanted to make. But considering that at that moment, 20% of our households were infected with the virus. The beds of the COVID ward at the hospital were at capacity. Vaccines were not available yet. It seemed an appropriate course of action, though we know some of you disagreed. You may wonder, why do you bring this up first? Because personally, I feel that the fact that our unity was preserved despite disagreement over those actions was a real test of our spiritual maturity. And the Lord was gracious to preserve the overall unity of our church despite significant differences. I, for one, thank you for your patience and endurance with us.
When we resumed services, we were still providing two different worship times in addition to our livestream. But that changed in the spring as we returned to one service. And we were pleasantly surprised to see that we had grown during this season of COVID. Our choir and special music numbers were able to resume to bless us. We were able to pass offering plates and communion trays in corporate worship. It was wonderful to resume a sense of normalcy. Once again, we must thank our worship team of Kevin Hammond, Glen Harper, Amelia Kelly, Brian Milby, Phillip Rigsby, and Andrew Smith for the extra time they put in during that period of conducting two services. I am truly grateful for your service to your fellow church members.
An additional area of growth that surprised us was Sunday School. Ric and Giselle Crooks have done a masterful job of recruiting teachers for the huge turnout of children that we have had. We have gone from days of combining classes because we didn’t have enough students for a single grade to breaking our kids by grade once again. You have heard tonight their great need for teachers. Please pray about allowing the Lord to lead you in this area. There is a great need to share the load with our teachers and nursery workers. If you are willing to help during the worship hour, please see Pamela Rigsby so she can get the background check done and get you on the rotation.
Under the direction of Mike Watson, our adult classes have grown as well. As soon as the fellowship hall partitions were complete, we needed to move into the larger spaces not because of a need to social distance, but due to the volume of people. Jordan and Hannah Ring have had to move our young adult class into the largest of our adult classroom in the education space due to high attendance.
For our youth program, I would refer you to Brother Brian’s written report included in your package for this evening. It contains a detailed account of how the student ministry grew spiritually over this past year.
Another area that reveals our growth is that we resumed Vacation Bible School in 2021. God blessed us with more children than we have ever had before with an average daily attendance of 85 children. The kids were challenged with another Super Sleuth mystery as they studied the book of Joshua – they learned to overcome their fears by fearing the Lord first and foremost. They also took up an offering of $1,337.41 for Next Step Farms. Once again, we have to thank Pam Giles for her tireless leadership and organization for the event. I know I feel like I say this every year, but it was the best VBS ever.
In addition to being able to enjoy our education space, we were able to open up our kitchen and fellowship hall. We officially dedicated the building at our June Quarterly update with an Ice Cream Social from Steel City Pops. We must thank Dwain Clardy, Scott Dolloff, Ken Pruitt, Barbara Ellen Smartt, and Ellen Vickery for their tireless work to see the new building to its completion. We also must also thank our mortgage team of Mike Ingram, Beau Sams, and Cassie Lofts. Already we have seen ministry conducted within its walls and on the grounds. To date, we had Robert and Lindsey Smith’s commissioning luncheon, Vacation Bible School, The church Wide Picnic, Ladies Bible Studies, Rehearsal dinners, men’s breakfasts, community meetings, and this Sunday it will host our first Wedding reception. Last month we were able to conduct our church history conference led by Dr. Tim Larson from Wheaton College. Tim gave us a brief history of Christmas. And many of you have expressed how you have enjoyed the season so much more from hearing him. If you haven’t heard the lectures, I encourage you to download them from our website. Since we had the history conference in 2021, be on the lookout sometime in the spring for announcements concerning our theology conference next fall.
This past year, our elders have been working on a formal policy for the new building and all of our church grounds. Dennon Clardy has been spearheading the project. I can confess it has caused much consternation trying to foresee all the possible issues of the use of the building. We are learning there is more than one way to sue a church. But the policy is in its final stages and is being reviewed by various ministry teams to make sure we have adequate guidelines. We hope to make it available at the first of the year.
The building has already been an immense resource for ministry. Some of the final numbers are in, it cost us a little over $1.8 million to build it. In the process, you donated over $900,000.00 since the project began. Let me try to paint a picture of the progress we are making on paying down the building. When we began the construction of the education building, our mortgage was 2.6 million. Currently, it stands at 3.4 million (that is an $800,000 difference). In 2021, we designated two Sundays to collect an offering for the debt of the building, One is called ‘Building Fund Faithfulness’ in February and the other is ‘The Jim Milby Memorial Offering’ in November. Both those offerings alone amounted nearly to $45,000. We will continue those emphasis again in 2022. For the overall year, you contributed $148,000 to debt retirement in addition to our monthly mortgage payments. You have been a most generous church.
In the fellowship hall, this past Sunday night you heard reports of how Providence has been supporting church planting and missions around the world. Currently, we are supporting 10 different family units (or persons) domestically and globally. Probably the work foremost on the minds at Providence has been supporting Robert and Lindsey Smith planting a church in Cowan, TN. If you did not hear the news Sunday night, Grace Fellowship Church, constituted into a formal body on Sunday morning with eight additional people pledging themselves to membership. And a few others are in the process of joining. The work there is not done, and Robert and Lindsey will still need some assistance in the upcoming year. I would encourage you to take a Sunday morning and visit their congregation which is meeting at the Franklin House Hotel in Cowan.
You also heard that Christ Fellowship in Portland, ME officially constituted into a church this past May. You sent me to Maine to preach for that occasion. On that day, the church ordained three other elders and added 30 people to its membership, and has an average attendance of 55. In the fall, Don and Eleanor Moss made a trip to Portland to encourage the people there. So congratulations Providence. You can say with pride that our church was instrumental in planting TWO sister churches in 2021!
We have been unable to resume some of our short-term international mission work in 2021 due to travel restrictions. But that does not mean we have not been supporting missions overall. This past year your gifts have allowed the work to continue with the workers stationed in the field already. You did not take your eye off the target. In addition to the contributions to the building fund, you gave a total of $69,309.23 for the work of missions alone. Despite the COVID restrictions, you made sure the ongoing work continued across the globe.
While 2021 was a year of many victories, it also had its share of trials. We were just recovering for the losses of 2020 when the Lord saw fit to call home more of our church family. To the families of Thomas Carroll, Jesse Giles, Sharon Warner, Ron Vaughn, and Sarah Gayle Gibbs, you have our deepest sympathies. We will continue to pray for you as we await our own time to join our loved ones either at our own departure or at his soon coming. Our hearts are with you.
There is one last bit of business that needs to conclude 2021. [Please note this was happening in real time at the Business Meeting] Steve Smartt will you please come forward. Steve became an elder at Providence in 2006. He has served this congregation faithfully ever since. Steve was the chairman of elders during some of the most significant events at Providence. He was chairman on the year that I was invited to be the interim pastor. And he has served as chairman over the past two years during the construction of the new building. Steve has felt the Lord leading him to step down from the council of elders (at least for the time being) with his role concluding at the end of the calendar year. Steve, your fellow elders want you to know, we don’t think you have reached your expiration date yet. We hope the Lord may call you to serve your church again in this role someday, but we respect your decision. To thank you for your service, we got you two gifts. One is John Piper’s newest book, Providence. We know you will never read it. [Laughter] But we hope that as it collects dust on your shelf, you will look at the spine and think of us- and just maybe think it is providentially time to return as an elder.
Our second gift is a daily devotional by Charles Spurgeon. This one we know you will read because they are only one page in length. [Laughter] I jest, but if you have sat with Steve at any of our elder meetings, ten you know we have ALL benefited from hearing what he learns in his daily devotional readings. He is also an admirer of Spurgeon. We hope the Lord will bless you brother with the continued discovery of treasure in God’s Word in the years ahead. Let the record show that Providence Baptist church is extremely grateful to our God for providing us exemplary leadership through Steve Smartt.
Now it is time that we turn to 2022. We trust that the Lord is going before us. Any plans we lay now, are at his discretion and we never presume. But already based upon current circumstance we can see how the Lord is leading us.
First, we need to continue the projects that we are already pursuing, namely focusing on retiring the current debt on the building as soon as possible. The elders desire you to know this is a task that is always on our radar and we will continue to promote it. We want to stay the course in how the Lord has already directed. We mentioned in 2020 that we thought we might need to replace the roof on the sanctuary. As it turns out, that WILL be the case and the ministry teams charged with those decisions, will be deciding the type of roof (shingle or metal) and when it will be done. Thankfully, the surplus from our previous years will cover that cost. So those are ongoing projects.
Due to the tremendous growth, we have experienced, we need to formulate a leadership pipeline to care for the needs of the church. Right now, we have more work than leaders to lead it. It’s a good problem to have, but one that needs a solution. We want to focus on ministry to men. This is not to neglect the women, we are most appreciative of the ladies ministry that has been growing over the last two years. Jim Carter will be announcing a time in January for a meeting to gather men together and have a town hall about the best way to proceed in this. One way we want to accomplish this is to plan a retreat for the men of Providence. We see a need for our men to become leaders in the home, leaders in their friendships, leaders in the church, and leaders in our community. Be on the lookout for a special date to accomplish this- I hear there may be steak involved.
Another way to relieve the pressure of growth at Providence is to begin the preparation of planting another church- this time the plant will be in the greater Huntsville area. Already, we would like to ask you to pray, is the Lord calling me to participate in such an endeavor, either long time or short time?’ It is our desire to see Providence plant its second church by the end of 2023. In order to do so, we need to begin the prayer, study, and planning in 2022. That may mean we have to make sacrifices from our own congregation. But we believe the Lord will supply everything that is needed to ensure the health of both Providence and its daughter church.
We also need to resume our own international mission work to unreached people groups. The missions team will be sending a member of our missions team in March back to South East Asia. From there, he will meet with our contacts and make arrangements for our next GROUP trip in late 2022, which will be led by another member of the team. If you are interested in participating, please see a member of the missions team. As we were challenged last Sunday evening by Dr. Chuck Henderson. We need to push away from our own feasting tables and take the nourishment of the gospel to the unreached places.
We also want to announce another partnership with a community organization. Robin Kramer of Next Step Farms has requested to use our facility two days a week beginning in the Spring in order to launch the education portion of her program to provide vocational training to special needs adults. This is only a temporary arrangement until Next Step Farms has their new building complete to do this on their own premises. Robin predicts that will be done by the year's end (Lord willing). And Next Step Farms has agreed to cover any expenses and liability while on our premises. The reason why we feel this partnership is valuable is that the elders would like to get to know the families of these wonderful students of Robin. Their needs are often neglected by the local church. It is our hope that through this partnership, we can gain valuable information to create ministries avenues to a little reached segment of our community. We can’t say exactly what our ministry to special needs families may look like in the future, but this will be a wonderful opportunity to begin the process. These families have much to teach us about the love of Christ.
And last, two years ago we introduced to you our five points of emphasis in which we want to grow at Providence. Those were an emphasis on (1) our unity in the gospel, an emphasis on (2) our dependence upon the Holy Spirit, an emphasis on (3) our obedience to Christ’s commands, an emphasis on (4) loving the world through the father’s love, and an emphasis of (5) persevering in faith until he returns. This year we want to focus on the fourth point of loving the world through the Father’s love. We want to grow into a more loving body that looks after the needs of one another. We want to be a loving body that works to promote love within the family. We want to be a loving body that promotes evangelism to the lost and we want to be a loving body that looks for ways to engage our community in service. If you will note, all of our future goals- training men to lead, planting another church within our community, re-engaging without mission work to unreached people groups, and seeking to serve the special needs community, all focus on serving others through the Fathers love. We love because he first loved us.
This is why I would like to introduce to you the Psalm for 2022. This year I have chosen Psalm 5. In this Psalm, David cries out for mercy from a God whom he knows must punish evil. And in the middle of it in verse seven, he declares why he believes he may stand before him. Psalm 5:1-12 (ESV) 1 Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. 2 Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. 3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. 4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. 5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. 6 You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. 7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. 8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. 9 For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. 10 Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. 11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. 12 For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
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