Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

By Steve Perky

Is the church in danger of becoming irrelevant or obsolete? Many churches report declining attendance and membership. Couple this with the number of churches permanently closing their doors for good, and we may have good reason to be concerned. However, when we think about how our daily lives are deeply affected by digital technology, perhaps now is the time for the church to evaluate the opportunities that are available by using such technology.

The idea of evaluating innovations in society for possible use in the way the church expresses the love of Christ to the world around it is not a new thought. Throughout the centuries, innovations have influenced how the church has expressed itself in its contemporary cultures. One of the most significant catalysts for change occurred when the Gutenberg Press was invented over 500 years ago. Until that time, the Bible was not available in languages people could understand, and producing copies was often cost prohibitive.

As a result, expensive Bibles were often chained to the pulpits in churches for safe keeping. However, as a result of the influence of the Gutenberg Press, Bibles could be mass produced in the languages people spoke. This unchained the Bible from the pulpits and literate citizens were given direct access to read and study the Bible. As more people learned to read and write and Bibles became less expensive, more people were empowered to study and learn on their own.

Online ChurchAn example of a more modern societal change that has influenced the church is one that Richmond’s First Baptist Church has implemented—broadcast technologies such as television and radio. The Ministry of Communication at FBC uses a variety of broadcast platforms to produce effective messaging in the church family throughout the Richmond, Virginia area and the entire world. The weekly television broadcast, live webcasts, social media sites, fbcrichmond.org website, email updates, and even this online news magazine, First Things First, are just a few of the platforms used to spread the message of the love we have for Jesus and the community around us.

Over the years, the church has changed how it conducts evangelism, discipleship, and even worship through the application of innovations and technology changes made in the current society. From electricity allowing evening services to become a normal occurrence to HVAC systems making it more comfortable on days of extreme temperatures to audio systems making it possible for people to hear better during worship services, the church has a history of adopting the technology of its day and changing how it does church. While the methods used by the church may change, the message of Christ’s love for all stays constant.

Online Church

Currently the church is facing the way it examines, and perhaps implements, today’s world of online, digital technology. We live in a new normal of a world that is both online and offline, digital and physical. This new normal has become so ubiquitous outside the church that we are hardly aware of its daily impact. At various levels, we are accustomed to speaking or typing into a digital device and receiving an almost instantaneous response. We have access to online books, podcasts and a host of other digital resources. We have video meetings with people whom we would otherwise not be able to interact. Digital resources offer the church an opportunity to reach not only the community of believers but also those who may not be inclined to attend traditional church in a building.

We often think about the church’s neighbors as those who live within the sight of the church’s building, but it is important to remember we are not members of a building. We are members of the living congregation, the Ekklesia, or community, growing together in Christ to bring the kingdom of God to RVA. Since the followers of Christ are the Ekklesia, the location where it congregates is not as important as the message it manifests in its culture.

Online church is indeed a door that can provide a new dimension of Ekklesia. First Baptist has already laid the groundwork with the creation of Church Anytime on the website, which includes our webcast, video clips, sermons, podcasts and social media links.

Some fear online church because they view it as a door through which those who currently attend can slip out, simply watch online and eventually fall away from the fellowship of the local church. While this is a possibility, an online ministry guided by an online pastor and team with intentionality swings that door the other direction. The goal of online church is not to provide a way for people to view a worship service in isolation. The goal is to bring heaven to earth by being appropriately and intentionally “present” with people in the spaces where their converged lives, both digital and physical, merge.

Online church provides new opportunities for pastoral care, Christian formation, worship, compassion, communication and leadership development. It opens the door for people to use their gifts and talents in creative ways.

We cannot physically assemble every day. Many cannot assemble each week. We can, however, leverage interactive technology to be present in each other’s converged lives. Use of online church is not meant to replace traditional worship within the walls of the church building. It provides an effective alternative, just as so many other cultural innovations over the years have been embraced by the church in ways that now strengthen the community of believers and embraces those who most need the love of Christ—all of us!

Steve Perky

Steve Perky and his wife, Rachel, enjoy working with churches as guides, helping them vision how ministry applied technologies can reach and disciple people in our converged digital, physical culture. Steve previously served as a volunteer on the FBC Ministry of Communication team. He currently serves as the Directional Leader for Technology Services at The Saint Paul‘s Baptist Church in RVA.

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by Heather Creswick

Our adventures began in 2016 when two friends, Heather Creswick and Stacy Sirois, formed a Brownie troop with the mission of providing all girls in the Richmond area access to Girl Scouting regardless of their school or neighborhood affiliations. Richmond’s First Baptist Church generously welcomed us to join their existing scouting tradition. We are grateful to Linn Kreckman, an FBC member and lifetime Scout, who helped arrange this.Get to know Girl Scout Troop 413!

Get to know Girl Scout Troop 413!We began with a core group of 12 Brownies. We have since grown to a multi-level group of 24 Girl Scouts (including Brownies, Juniors and Cadettes) representing many different parts of the Richmond metro area. Our meetings involve collaborative activities that support the development of independence, confidence and leadership for girls. We have had guests including an artist, an author, a detective, a doctor, a business owner and someone who has earned a black belt in taekwondo. We also enjoy camping, learning outdoor skills, and of course, selling Girl Scout cookies! As leaders, we emphasize the importance of contributing to the community and we reserve a portion of the troop’s cookie sale proceeds for a charity of the girls’ choosing. The troop has supported Bridging RVA’s Beds for Kids, an organization that connects people in the Richmond to advance initiatives in the community, and the Richmond Ronald McDonald House (RMHC), a charity focused on keeping families together and close to the medical care they need. In fact, several of the Juniors earned their Bronze Award this year and their Take Action Project was focused on supporting the RMHC. The girls spent a morning painting the patio furniture at the RMHC. The troop also donated a patio umbrella and rolling cooler so that they can deliver lunches to the families who are visiting their children in the hospital.

Our girls are looking forward to a fun year ahead. We continue to welcome new members and adult participation.

Editor’s note:
For information about our troop, you choose Girl Scouts on our contact us form.

Heather CreswickHeather Creswick is a mother of two Scouts and a Golden Retriever. She is a genetic counselor at Massey Cancer Center and faculty in the School of Medicine.

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by Debbie Boykin

Sam James: A Life in Ministry

The James family

For over 55 years, Sam James, a long-time member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, has served with the International Mission Board in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He has been a church planter and administrator, as well as a preacher and teacher in 115 countries. It would be impossible to determine how many people Sam, and the love of his life, Rachel, have touched in their years of service. Sam and Rachel, along with their four children, Deborah, Stephen, Phillip and Michael have allowed the Lord to use them in mighty ways.

Sam James: A Life in MinistryIn the book, The Making of a Servant, Sam tells of his experiences on the mission field and of using any opportunity as a door opener to learn a new language and culture. He found that even laughter would allow friendships and relationships to develop. Many times, Rachel, a registered nurse, began ministries using her talents and profession as a tool to meet the physical needs of those in the communities in which they served. The relationships formed through meeting physical needs enabled both she and Sam to tell others about God’s love.

Sam James: A Life in Ministry

Rachel & Sam James

In the book, Sam reveals how many of their decisions required God’s discernment, particularly in stressful, painful and scary times. In every one of the situations, they felt the Lord’s abundant peace with them even when faced with death. Sam also spoke of the peace and joy—the exhilaration—in his life as he lived in the center of God’s will. Through ocean crossings, monsoons, and war, the James’s family became living witnesses to their communities in how the sovereign power of God was at work. Through Sam’s 55 years in the mission field, through his trust and obedience to our Creator, the Lord shaped Sam into the vessel He wanted him to be: a servant in a world that needs God so desperately. Sam explained that his inspiration came from Jeremiah 18: 3-6 (NIV):

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as the potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

With obedience and trust, Sam and his family have let the Lord use them. Sam encourages each of us to look back at the experiences that have helped shape who we are today and who we are becoming. Are we enjoying the thrill of discovering how the Lord has been preparing us for what He wants us to be and do in this world? Are we experiencing the peace and joy of living in the center of his will for our lives?

Sam signs his book with scripture from Galatians 2:20 (The Voice):  

I  have been crucified with the Anointed OneI am no longer alivebut the Anointed is living in me, and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me.

Amen, Brother Sam.  Amen.

Sam James: A Life in Ministry

Vietnamese Baptist Theological School

Editor’s note:
Watch an introduction to The Making of a Servant by Archway Publishing.
Watch a sermon preached by Sam James at The Summit Church.

Debbie BoykinDebbie Boykin is a nurse practitioner and medical consultant for the International Mission Board and is married to Dr. Joseph Boykin. Dr. Flamming, instrumental in their coming to FBC, married them 35 years ago. They have three children, Joey, Katie and Rachel.

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Story by Ruth Szucs. Photos by Karen Brown and Robert Thompson.

Each Wednesday night from the first week of September through the week before the end of the school year, children from age 3 through grade 5 meet together in Children’s Choirs. They sing hymns, anthems, spirituals, Psalms and choruses. Participating in choir provides a medium for singing about things not often heard in the secular world of music or on the radio. They sing about God, talk about God and explore the nature of God.

However, being a part of the Children’s Choir program at Richmond’s First Baptist Church is about so much more. This year, the choir program focused on the fruit of the Spirit. The Carol Choir singers, for those in grades 3 through 5, have a goal of being a total “Fruit Basket.” To be a “Fruit Basket,” they have to learn 10 verses starting with Galatians 5:22-23: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things.” After memorizing this verse, the children earn baskets and begin to learn another scripture verse. Once they have recited the new verse, we place a piece of fruit into their baskets, and then they are “Fruit Baskets.”

Children's Choirs: So Much More than SingingThrough their time together, longtime friendships develop, and the children begin to learn about living in Christian community. When you ask Virginia Dean, who participates in the Carol Choir, what her time in choir means she will tell you about the importance of hospitality during choir time. Hospitality doesn’t have much to do with music, but it has much to do with community, which is how choirs are formed. Virginia says, “It makes me feel good to be friendly and to show others around.” Being hospitable occurs when “you are a disciple and you are showing others about your church,” says Virginia. When we asked Virginia about choir she said, “It is not just about singing, but being friendly, welcoming others and worshiping God.”

Another Children’s Choir member, Peyton Thompson, put the importance of Christian community a little differently. When we asked for her thoughts on coming to the Angels (for those ages 4 and 5 or in kindergarten), she said, “I get to have dinner, see Vanessa Carter and Lynn Turner and play with my friends in the gym. When I go to choir, I have a lot of fun singing, and then I get to go to Mission Friends to learn about missions.” For Peyton, Wednesday evening is an experience where she feels loved and can have fun.

Wednesday night is a special night. It takes effort for parents to bring their children to the Wednesday family activities. The midweek connection with other Christians for fellowship, music and missions is well worth this effort. We are blessed at FBC to have Wednesday programs. More than programs, these are learning experiences to make disciples of Christ.

The children’s choir program incorporates developmentally appropriate materials and activities by age and grade. The four different choirs are:

  • M&M 3s, age 3 by October 1 of the choir year
  • Angels 4&5, ages 4 and 5 or in kindergarten
  • Music Makers, grades 1 and 2
  • Carol Choir, grades 3 – 5

Editor’s note: If you are interested in becoming a part of the Wednesday Night First Family through Children’s Choir, contact Ruth Szucs at 358-5458 ext.164.

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By Phil Mitchell

One Accord ensemble

One Accord ensemble

The music of Richmond’s First Baptist Church finds its way from the sanctuary and rehearsal rooms to the community. …and back again. Our church has been blessed by the rich relationships that have been shaped through making music in nursing homes and retirement centers like Lakewood and Covenant Woods, in outdoor settings such as public housing events and at Richmond Squirrels games, in parks, malls, concert venues like Carnegie Hall, and caroling in the neighborhood. Choirs from our church have sung and played in Mexico, Italy, Canada, Romania, Germany, Czech Republic and the United States. As our musicians have sung and rung, they have discovered the common ground of mutual respect and hospitality, and shared in the common language of love and music-making. God has taken us around the world to share his love with his people.

JoySingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

JoySingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

While we have regularly taken music to the world, beautiful music and thousands of gifted musicians have come to us! The revolving door of music has given us the privilege of hearing choirs and individual musicians like Ken Medema, Ovid Young and Stephen Neilson (pianists), George Beverly Shea, State Honor Choirs, The Centurymen, the choir of St. Olaf and other college choirs, and the Kyiv Symphony and Chorus. FBC had the honor of serving as the home of the Richmond Symphony in 2008-2009 during the construction of the Carpenter Center.

FirstRingers at Covenant Woods retirement community

Joyful Ringers at Covenant Woods retirement community

Music inside our church and from our church into the world blooms in the choir room and in the sanctuary. It is planted by faithful servants like Fran Costin sitting in a circle with an energetic group of three year olds, and in the handbell room where Ruth Szucs patiently guides volunteers to make music jump off the page. The choir room is nothing less than an incubator where music is prepared to be set loose into the community. In that warm and welcoming space, singers prepare to lead in worship. In that same room, singers are led to worship while rehearsing!

Men's Chorus at YMCA breakfast

Men’s Chorus at YMCA breakfast

The leadership of our Worship Ministry is continually seeking and discovering both means and places to be the presence of Christ through making music. We are regularly made stronger and richer by our engagement with our community and beyond. These are exciting days as God continues to bless our hosting, partnering, and going, to usher in the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom can be found among us when we sing, sing to God, and sing together. It comes near when participants in FBC’s music ministry are willing to go and share. …and then watch God at work in and through the music. We see God’s Kingdom come near when we go and when others bring their music to us, opening their hearts and inviting us to do the same.

Youth choir at Toronto stadium

Youth choir at Toronto stadium

The Kingdom of God came near when the Youth Choir stood in a cramped nursing home in Atlanta and was suddenly serenaded by a 90+ year old gentleman singing, “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound.” The Kingdom of God came near when the Youth Choir sang the final lines of the Canadian National Anthem in French to an appreciative crowd in the stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays. It came near through the sounds of our FirstRingers on the streets of Slovakia and here in Richmond during Advent at a local nursing facility. It came near on Monday, January 21, 2019 when the choirs of FBC and Mt. Tabor Baptist Church sang “Total Praise,” following powerful, tag-team preaching by Jim Somerville and Herbert Ponder.

Mt. Tabor and First Baptist Church choir

Mt. Tabor and First Baptist Church choir

The Kingdom of God is at hand and we have only begun to sing and hear it resound in our neighborhood and in our world.

Phil MitchellPhil Mitchell has been Associate Pastor for Christian Worship at FBC since 2001. Libby and Phil are both from Nashville, TN and have two children. Their daughter, Erin Thomas, lives in Portland, TN with husband, Olin, and their children, Preston and Caroline. Their son, Austin, lives in Washington, DC. Phil loves to conduct research, read biographies, play golf, and do the dishes.

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By Bev Wells

Have you ever stopped to assess what led you to some of the major milestones in your life? Would you consider the times following those milestones to be peaceful and filled with a close relationship with God, or tumultuous and consumed by the stress of the situation? When I look back on marriage, the birth of my son, my divorce, the loss of my father, my deacon ordination, losing my job and other significant events in the last 20 years, I see a common pattern. Each event led me to a closer walk with God—a dependence on Him—a sense of peace—a feeling of gratitude.

Going through a divorce is painful but facing a divorce with children to provide for is downright scary. The fear of not being able to provide financially for your child; the desire to keep them in the same home and school; finding a way to logistically handle all of their activities while working; the concern of how the divorce will emotionally impact your child; handling home repairs, yard work and car maintenance on your own—these are all intimidating challenges. Added to these challenges are feelings of pain, anger, rejection and isolation. My married friends could not relate. My family was supportive but could not understand. My coworkers and church friends wanted to help but struggled for the right words.

There was nowhere to turn but to God, and he answered so many prayers. He lifted me up and brought me peace. He put the pieces of my life back together in a way I could not have imagined. I was able to let go of how I thought my life should be and embrace what my life had become. I felt God with me on a daily basis, as I often reached out to him at times of frustration or physical weakness, whether because of exhaustion or not having enough strength to start the lawnmower. Every night when I checked on my son, it brought tears to my eyes as I felt grateful for this beautiful boy given to me, and I was grateful for the events that led me to this place in my life. I was, and still am, happier than I have ever been. God has blessed me in so many ways and has protected my son and me and provided for us financially. He has helped me make difficult decisions. I reached a peaceful place in my life, where I felt completely confident and happy with being a single mom. I wanted to help others get to this place.

As I gradually met other single mothers, I realized that most were not doing quite so well. Many were struggling financially, did not have a stable job, were stressed beyond belief and were not confident in their abilities to make decisions and handle things around the house on their own. Some were emotionally full of anger and pain, and were terrified to be alone. Some were making reckless decisions that were negatively impacting their self-esteem and their children. I realized that single moms needed an opportunity to help each other, to bond with other women, to share their joys and struggles and to take some time to focus on their needs.

Single Moms in the Lord's Embrace

It was out of my desire to help other single moms that the Single Moms in the Lord’s Embrace (SMILE) program started at Richmond’s First Baptist Church in 2013. Every month for the last five years, FBC has provided a place for SMILE to meet, a meal for the moms and kids and safe childcare for the children. We provide not only a program but a network of friends. We partner with other churches, other Bible studies, the Divorce Recovery Workshop held each year at FBC, the Sophie House and other organizations geared toward meeting the needs of single moms. The Compassion Ministry at FBC also provides baby items, clothing, and supplies to women who participate in SMILE.

Each month we have a speaker present on a relevant topic specifically focused on single moms. The speakers range from co-parenting specialists, therapists, financial advisors, lawyers, physicians, fitness experts, spiritual leaders and many others. We close with a devotional and prayer and then there are hugs, smiles, tears of joy and tears of relief as they share their struggles. We all share the bond of wanting to do our best for our children amidst the struggle. SMILE gives the children an opportunity to socialize with other kids raised by single moms without judgement, but instead, acceptance and understanding. It allows the moms to feel the love, support and acceptance that God wants all of us to receive.

Thank you, FBC, for making this program possible! As one of our regular participants said, “Through SMILE, I feel wrapped in God’s love and hope during this time of transition in my life. Richmond’s First Baptist Church demonstrates the true meaning of compassion; Gods love in action. Thank you for positively impacting lives and giving hope to many families here in the Richmond region.”

Editor’s Note:
The monthly SMILE meetings moved to Wednesday evenings in January 2019, which allows the children to participate in additional opportunities provided by our church and simplifies meal planning as we join the rest of the church family for Wednesday night suppers.

For more information or to help provide a program for the children, speak on a topic, serve a meal or provide a devotional for our program, contact Bev Wells.

Follow SMILE on Facebook.

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by Robert Thompson

chair photo

In my years of ministry, I cannot count the number of times I have been contacted by someone who is suddenly facing an end-of-life health issue. It’s during these times when questions are asked such as, “What do I do? I wasn’t ready for this. Where can I go for help? I can’t afford a nursing home! What does Medicare pay for? How do I begin to make funeral arrangements? What does hospice mean? How can I cope? I’m told I need an Advance Directive. What is that?”

There are steps that can be taken now before the end of life issues must be faced. When beginning the process of planning for the end of life, I have found that there are two key words to focus on: preparation and choice.

calloutThe first word, preparation, involves organizing the information that will be essential when your life is coming to an end. And, it will make your death easier on those left behind who will carry out your wishes and desires. There are many resources available to help you plan, and one of the best and most comprehensive resources was developed by the Pastoral Care and Compassion Ministries of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. The manual, entitled For the Living of These Days…an end-of-life guide is a practical outline of decisions that will need to be made. It also includes information that will be essential such as contact information for those who will need to be notified, information that will be needed for the death certificate, and suggestions on governmental and financial institutions that will need to be contacted. The guide includes a section on legal documents that should be prepared now such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, and an advance directive for health care. Another section lists the important documents with space to record where these documents are kept. It even includes a section on planning your funeral or memorial service so that music that is special to you and Bible verses that have meaning for you can be included. By taking the time now to work through the manual, or something similar, all of the necessary details will be organized and documented.

The second word, choice, means that you have the opportunity now to decide what is important to you and how you want to be remembered, and to communicate those choices. Would you like to be remembered with flowers or would you prefer to be remembered through memorial gifts? Is there a ministry within the church that has been a meaningful part of your life? Are there people who are special to you who you would like to take part in your service? Taking the time now to think through what is important to you means that when the end comes, plans that are important to you can be put into action.

The good news is that you are still alive! Take advantage of the time you have. As Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a pioneer in the field of death and dying once wrote: “It’s not really the dying that is so hard, dying takes no skill and no understanding. It can be done by anyone. What is hard is living—living until you die; whether your death is imminent or a long way off…the real challenge is to fully live the time you have.” (Corr, pg. 13)

Be prepared; make good choices; live so you can echo the words of 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”


Editor’s note: Consider your legacy. The 1780 Society is an option.

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