Editor’s note: John Avant’s next column will post in January.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Not all great things are large things. The Christmas story, for instance, is filled with small things. Jesus was born as a small baby in a small manger in a small town, to a mother who seemed small and insignificant. God loves to show Himself through small things.
This is certainly true of churches. Some of the greatest churches I have been privileged to preach in this year would never be mistaken for mega-churches. Churches like First Baptist Church of Hernando Beach, Fla. When I spoke there a few Sundays ago there were between 100 and 200 people in attendance. Pastor Mark Walton has done a great job in leading those wonderful people. I rejoiced with them as a young woman was baptized who had come to Christ. I was thrilled to see another young woman publicly commit herself to at least two years as a missionary.
There was a palpable energy in the church. There were many young people, and the senior adults resonated joy. After the service, I was told that the church was going to try to set their all-time record for the Annie Armstrong offering next year. Several people talked to me with tears in their eyes as they shared their passion to reach their community. Over the last two years the church has averaged one baptism for every nine resident members -– three times better than the average Southern Baptist church. What an honor to spend a day with wonderful and faithful Christ-followers like these.
Don’t ever think that small churches can’t be creative. I will never forget what happened just before I preached. The pastor told me the children would do something special and there would be a song before I spoke. I watched as a large group of children walked to the front carrying wrapped Christmas presents. I assumed that there was going to be a children’s sermon. Actually there was, but it was the children who did the preaching –- and they never said a word. When they arrived at the front of the church they placed their gifts before a manger scene. And then they each removed the bow from the present, stuck it on their head and sat down. And then we sang. The children never spoke but the message was loud and clear. We are meant to be His gifts!
Looking back over the past year, I wonder how many times I have been a gift to God and a gift to others. Think about it. When people you know see you coming, do they look forward to talking to you because they know they will hear encouragement and love from you? Are you a gift from God to them? And when lost people encounter you, what are the chances that they will hear anything of God’s good news? Are you a gift from God to them? How are you viewed in your church? Do people think of you as the one who always seems to find something to complain about, as if the church existed to meet your needs? Or are you known as one who will always be ready to launch forward, to risk anything for the sake of the Gospel, and to do it with joy? Are you a gift from God to your church?
I will think about this as I look back over this past year and prepare for a new one. I hope you will, too. It has been a joy to serve you, Southern Baptists, for another year. I will take about a month off from these columns to spend Christmas and some vacation time with my family. And then I look forward to joining you in 2007 to move forward together and bring the love of Jesus to everyone. Thank-you Southern Baptists for all you do for the advancement of the kingdom. And thanks especially to all the wonderful people of First Baptist Church of Hernando Beach, Fla. You are making evangelism good news again!
John Avant is vice president for evangelization at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.