“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry…” (I Timothy 1:12).
I was pastoring the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi. This was the zenith of our twelve-plus years in that wonderful old church located in the heart of “the Friendly City.”
Here is the background….
In the summer of 1979, we had flown over 70 of our people–adults and youth–to New Jersey where they spent two weeks in a church-building blitz as well as ministering in the community. My son Neil was 16 that summer and went along. He has never forgotten the experience of working alongside successful businessmen and women who rolled up their sleeves and worked like dogs and sweat like…uh, pigs?
The experience was so great for our church, we decided that since we needed a new building for our music ministry in Columbus, rather than contract it out as we might normally do, we could build it ourselves. The summer of 1981 would be highlighted by a two-week period in which we would ask our people to take their vacation from work and act just as if they were in New Jersey or somewhere, and help construct that three-story building. (Yes, we actually hired an on-the-scene construction supervisor, and paid to have the foundation poured and the steel girders erected. Some things you don’t want volunteers doing.)
Anyway, we decided we would raise the money for the project and not go in debt. Our target date for the money was March 1, 1981. Now, I want to share with you excerpts from my journal leading up to that. Every pastor in the audience will see in a heartbeat why this experience ranks as perhaps “the most fun” of all my years in the ministry….
December 17. Wednesday. Tonight was the monthly business meeting. After the regular reports, we discussed what we are calling SMP, the Summer Mission Project. I successfully squelched the temptation to psyche everyone up about the project. It’s God’s work, so let Him proceed according to His own schedule. Then, just before the benediction, I said, “And we know of three people who have received Christ this week. Folks, God is up to something.” (“May those who love thy salvation say evermore, ‘God is great'” Psalm 70:4).
Friday, December 19. The membership continues to amaze us by their response to the SMP. Someone has volunteered to provide the steel. We’re talking about $40,000 worth! Someone else the lumber, and still another the electrical supplies. — Someone handed Bill Hardy (min/ed) a check for $3,000 today and said, “Minister to some needy family.” He did. He came in later and told me about it. “I get all the joy,” he said, “because I see their faces when they hear that God is meeting their need.” — The secretary told me, “We’re going to have a good (church) offering this Sunday. Already $30,000 has come in this week.”
Saturday, December 20. Two weddings, two receptions, a couple of counseling appointments, and Handel’s Messiah at church tonight. And this was my “off day.”
Sunday, December 21. Three on profession of faith today. $50,000 offering. One lady told me, “Preacher with the extra money we take in for the Summer Mission Project, I want us to build a small prayer chapel.” The goal for SMP will be $250,000 over and above our budget. Raising that will be a miracle. And here she is planning how to spend the extra! I love such faith.
Wednesday, December 31. A lot of last minute money coming in. $50,000 in two checks for the SMP, $21,000 in stock for the project, $19,000 for next year’s budget, and over $1,000 for the foreign mission offering. (We ended the year some $15,500 over this year’s budget.)
(In early 1981, we were praying for the Iranian hostages. Newly elected President Ronald Reagan was preparing to take the leadership of the nation. These things were much on our minds.)
February 3, Tuesday, 1981. Received a letter from an 83-year-old preacher from Maben, MS. “Do not have much of this world’s goods. I live on a small SS check. But was led to send you ‘the widow’s mite’ to help in the erection of the building you purpose to build.”
February 22. Sunday. I announced that the “Miracle” offering has passed $180,000 as of this morning’s service. (Goal is $250,000 on March 1.) Praise the Lord. I asked people to invite 10 each to Sunday School for “Miracle Sunday.” 86 people raised their hands saying they would.
February 25. Wednesday. The Miracle offering stands now at $186,000. We did not make a lot to do over this in prayer meeting tonight since we’d received the victory long ago. Two or three prayed prayers thanking God in advance.
February 26. Thursday. In church council, we were trying to set a goal for the Foreign Missions offering for next December. I said it should be $100,000 in honor of the church’s 150th anniversary. Some said $80,000 and some $60,000 and added, “Let’s let the church rest a little after the Miracle offerings.” Someone else, “They’re going to rebel about all these goals.” Oh, such fear.
I told them the story of the hunter who ducked just as a lion jumped for him, went over his head and landed 15 feet on the other side. The hunter escaped. Next day, back in the jungle, the hunter heard a noise and looked into the clearing where he saw the lion practicing short leaps. I said, “We will not be practicing any short leaps around here. Our people are catching the joy of giving. We cannot lose what God has begun.” As of today, the Miracle offering stands at $192,000. (Oddly enough, instead of encouraging me, this is worrying me. Maybe everyone is turning in his offering ahead of time so there won’t be any left for next Sunday.)
Fear was at work at every level.
Sunday. March 1. Miracle Sunday!!! Early service had almost 300 people. During Sunday School, the classrooms could not hold the people. Some departments exceeded their goals by 15 or 20. At 10:45, the staff and Sunday School leadership paraded into my office. “Guess the attendance, preacher!” I stammered, “I’d say 1,085.” Ray Cross, SS Director, said, “Boy, that’s the trouble with this church—no vision in the leadership!” Pause. “How does 1125 sound?” It sounded beautiful. We all joined hands and thanked the Lord. – At the second service, folding chairs everywhere. When Bill announced the attendance, spontaneous applause erupted.
At the end of the service, we announced “the total now stands at $242,000, and they’re still counting.” Applause.
(That night, Margaret and I took the entire evening service to share our testimony about God healing our marriage.)
After church tonight, the phone rang in the office. A man said, “Preacher, my wife says you need another $5,000 to reach the goal. Put me down for it. That’s in addition to the $5,000 I told Dr. Platt I’m planning to give.” I said, “Wait a minute. We didn’t count your first $5,000 if you haven’t given it yet.” He: “I’ll do it this week.” I answered, “In that case, that puts us over the goal. We won’t need your second $5,000.” (Did I just turn down $5,000?)
Had difficulty going to sleep, so high.
And that’s how it went. That summer, our people covered the city witnessing, doing concerts, blessing people, at the same time they constructed that new “Miracle” building, dedicated to the music ministry and to classrooms.
One aspect I forgot and someone reminded me of is that the Calvary Baptist Church, Matawan, NJ, the congregation we helped in the summer of ’79, sent a team of their people down to help us construct our own building. They were wonderful and added so much joy to the occasion.
The summer of ’81 was the highlight of my 42 years of pastoring.
Ask any pastor. When God’s people are rallying to the cause, loving each other, reaching into their community, and doing Kingdom work without a thought as to the sacrifice or hardship or what someone might think, “fun” is the only word to describe it.
It makes all those hard times worth the trouble.
I’m so grateful the Lord let me pastor His churches. Thank you, Jesus.