Last night, for example, I went to Covenant Woods, a gorgeous retirement community in Mechanicsville, to have dinner with some of our members and to speak afterward. Dinner was delightful, and I truly enjoyed the company of the nine other people at my table, but when it was time to speak I walked into a large room that was packed with people.
Do you want to know why it was packed?
Because the worship services at First Baptist Church are broadcast on Channel 8 at 11:00 each Sunday morning, and for thousands of people in Central Virginia who are not physically able to get to their own churches on Sunday morning, the televised services from First Baptist have become the next best thing. Some of those people have come to think of First Baptist as “their” church, and a few of those have come to think of me as “their” pastor. So, when I walk into the room at Covenant Woods they begin to whisper—“There he is!”—even though we have never met in person.
When I came to First Baptist nearly five years ago I wasn’t sure about the television ministry. I mean, I’ve spent most of my life trying not to look like a television evangelist. But since then I’ve learned what a true ministry it is, and how people who are lying in hospital beds have been able to sing along with the hymns on Sunday mornings, bow their heads for the prayers, and hear the sermons. A lot of them tell me how much they loved hearing Jim Flamming, my predecessor, preach, but they are usually kind enough to say they enjoy my preaching, too.
What they’re trying to say, really, is that they’ve found a place to worship God when they can’t get to worship, that somehow—through the miracle of technology—they are able to enter into worship almost as if they were there in the sanctuary.
When that happens, heaven comes to earth.
First Baptist has been broadcasting its weekly worship services since 1987. It costs a lot of money to do it. A third of the cost comes out of the church budget; two-thirds is underwritten by the church’s endowment. And although it is an iron-clad rule that we never ask for money, we still receive a number of generous contributions every year from people who are grateful for a church they can get to when they can’t get to church.
So, here’s to the TV ministry of First Baptist Church, and the way it’s been bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, for more than 25 years.