Here are Phil's remarks from the 2022 Annual Meeting in case you missed it!
There is a popular diagnostic question that churches are encouraged to use to evaluate
their effectiveness in living out God’s mission. The question goes something like this: “If
your church no longer existed, would anyone notice or care?” I once had someone
respond to that question with an honest answer. She thought for a minute and replied,
“Only the people who are already a part of our church.” Her admission was that most of
the people outside their church members and regular attenders, no one in the community around them would notice or care if their church no longer existed.
I know that recently, one of the pastors in our Association was brave enough to ask that
question – not only of his church members – but outside the walls of the church and into the streets of his local community. It was astounding what he discovered. Along the main street where his church is located, many of those who were asked if, and what, they knew about this church, responded with little or no knowledge whatsoever of the church or its ministries. (And this church is doing a great ministry)
This question was brought to light for me again just a couple of weeks ago. I received a
text from a pastor in one of our Association churches with the following message:
Had a great discussion last night with a group of guys . . . We asked the question,
if (our church) was removed from our community, would there be any upset people? We
all agreed that it would be minimal at best. We are a good church for the people in the
inside, but we don’t do good with truly being an element of change for our community.
On a bigger scale, if all SBC churches were removed from Knoxville, would there be an
impact? (Outside of church people being upset.) Do we make an impact on the city that is equivalent to the resources and number of churches we have? This is not a reflection on any church or leader . . . (we all have our challenges). I am just (wondering) if we are
doing the best we can.
These are challenging questions that demand thoughtful and courageous answers.
Just a few minutes ago as we began our meeting tonight, you watched a video
highlighting some of the significant challenges we face in Knox County. Add to this list
the results of a recent Pew research study that reported that 45% of American adults say
they attend religious services monthly or more. In Knoxville, 65% of people surveyed
identified as “Christian”, yet earlier research revealed that less than 20% are actively
involved in a Christian church. This same Pew Research predicts that Christians will
make up less than half of our population by the year 2050 – less than 28 years from now.
We have to ask the difficult question: Are we doing the best we can? Do people outside
our churches care, or even notice, what the church is doing to impact our communities?
Let me assure you that churches within the Knox County Association of Baptists are
impacting our communities in significant ways. As a network of churches:
We partner together to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of
people in two of the most underserved communities of Knox County. Our
Compassion Ministry Centers, recently renamed as The Center @ Western
Heights, and The Center @ Montgomery Village, provide pathways for KCAB
churches to make a significant impact in our city. This past year alone through
these two ministry centers, churches have participated in almost 37,000 hunger
relief opportunities through emergency food distribution, weekly meals and
free-food markets. Over 600 people in the two combined locations were
engaged in weekly Bible studies for youth and adults. Educational assistance
and after-school programming for over 200 children continues to be provided
on a daily basis. And 12 inner city youth have gone on to graduate from college
through the scholarship program at The Center @ Western Heights. Our
presence in both of these communities provides an even greater impact in
assisting residents through the disruptive tension and divide brought on by
social challenges in our culture. Our ministry is more urgent than ever before.
As an Association of churches, we partner together to resource and help
mobilize churches through church and community engagement. Through our
Engage 10/10 Initiative, we have prioritized 10 pockets of lostness and 10
people groups across Knox County for the purpose of connecting KCAB churches
toward intentional evangelistic outreach and potential church planting. Just a
few weeks ago, we launched the 2nd Home initiative (in partnership with
Knoxville Internationals Network) to connect KCAB churches with
International Students and families that have come to Knoxville. We currently
have matched 13 international students with families from our churches, with
5 families in the process to be matched, and we still need 15 more families to
ensure that the remaining international students that have signed up are
matched with a family to show them the love of Christ over the course of a year.
These initiatives allow churches in the Association to live out our Acts 1:8
commission right here at home.
As an Association of churches, Camp Ba Yo Ca ministered to over 1200 children
and youth in Camp ministry this year and over 2300 people through retreats.
These opportunities saw 14 people become followers of Jesus Christ in addition
to numerous others who made new or renewed commitments through their
local church. through Camp ministry. With the significant increase in anxiety
and depression among young people, the ministry of Camp Ba Yo Ca is more
significant than ever.
As an Association of churches, we continue to welcome new churches into the
network, with the United Awakening Baptist Church being the first Congolese
Church in Knox County, and the Knoxville Deaf Church being the first
autonomous deaf congregation in our area. We currently connect over 80
church leaders in Learning Communities to help develop stronger and healthier
churches and church leaders.
This has resulted in 8 intentional partnerships that have helped to revitalize
struggling churches. In addition to these partnerships, 12 other churches are
participating in an intentional revitalization process, and we have assisted over
80 churches in developing a Community Profile for the purpose of engaging
their community. Your partnership through the years has enabled these
ministries to make a significant impact upon the lives of people in the greater
Knox County area, and especially these past few years amid challenges related
to the global pandemic, economic challenges, and social issues impacting the
lives of people across our ministry area.
As an Association of churches, we reported 1,275 baptisms in 2021, with almost
half (75) of our 165 churches not submitting a report. What separates our
Association of churches from other groups in Knox County doing good work is
the gospel. And people across our county are connecting to Christ and His
We are having an impact upon our city. Yet we still must face the question: Are we
living out God’s mission in a way that people outside the walls of our churches care . . .
or even notice? At the risk of being repetitive, I want to take us back to a passage of scripture that I shared in our Annual Meeting last year. The passage is found in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21.
The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth:
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The penetrating question about our relevance; the stunning statistics about our current
condition; and this compelling challenge to be ambassadors for Christ in His ministry of
reconciliation all point to a heightened sense of urgency and intentionality. You have
seen and heard tonight that we are focused on our purpose to champion churches to live out God’s mission everywhere, everyday. That is basically what Paul is presenting to the church in Corinth.
We believe the impact of our Association of churches will become greater as we work
together toward key outcomes such as Equipped Leaders, Enriched Churches, and
Engaged Communities. To remain true to our purpose we must be guided by deeply held core values such as being Church Focused, Gospel Centered, and Mission Intentional.
For this purpose to become a reality, we must be Spirit-Empowered and strategically
missional . . . totally dependent upon God to pour out His Spirit upon His Church, while
providing practical and helpful resources for churches to Discover their Missional Profile,
Develop their Missional Leaders, and ultimately Design their Missional Journey.
Our purpose as an Association is well-grounded; and our outcomes, values and strategic
steps are clearly defined. But I want to take a moment and share my heart with you. Our
culture has shifted significantly and rapidly in recent years. We live in a culture where
competing narratives are shouting for attention, the message of the gospel is considered irrelevant, and the impact of the church goes mostly unnoticed.
Having a clearly defined purpose, goals, values, and strategy is important. Yet being
Spirit-Empowered as we live out God’s mission is essential. The challenges before us
have perhaps never been greater. That simply means that the opportunities before us are greater than ever!
The opportunity is greater than ever for us to become more dependent upon
God. The Apostle Paul began by proclaiming his reverent fear of the Lord. My
heart yearns more deeply than ever to see a mighty movement of his Spirit among
us. God is raising up individuals and churches across our county that have a
strong desire to see a spiritual awakening take place in our churches, across Knox
County, and throughout our country. I am convinced that if we return to a greater
dependence upon God, the world will notice.
The opportunity is greater than ever for us to become more unified in our
ministry as the church. Paul made it clear that he was not commending himself
in any way. He desired that all the glory would be given to God. The divide that is
growing deeper each day in our country is making its way into our churches. And
the division among our churches always makes its way into the public arena. I am
convinced that if we partner with one another more than we compete against one
another, the world will notice.
The opportunity is greater than ever for us to become more like Jesus in the
way we live out God’s mission. Paul emphasized, All this is from God, who
through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of
reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not
counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of
reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his
appeal through us. The more we become like the world, the less the world will
take notice. It is well documented that Mahatma Ghandi was drawn to the life of
Jesus Christ, but frequently pointed to the life of Christians as his reason for
rejecting Christianity. At one point in his life Ghandi is quoted as saying; “Live
like Jesus. The world will listen.” I believe he is right. I am convinced that if we
live like Jesus, the world will notice.
Almost 12 years ago when Dr. Randy Davis became the Executive Director of the
Tennessee Baptist Convention, he wrote: “Indeed, we must give our attention to vision,
realignment and strategic planning. But the fuel and fire for all we do must come from a
brokenness of our hearts so that we might know His heart.”
We have a greater opportunity than ever to know His heart!
It is time for us to Know His Mission
It’s time for us to Be His Church
It's time for us to Live it Out. Everywhere. Everyday.
Thank you for the privilege of serving as your Director of Missions for the Knox
County Association of Baptists. It is truly a joy to serve you!