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Jay McNeal3I had lunch with Jay McNeal yesterday, my former intern, who is now a fully ordained Master of Divinity. I told him shortly before he graduated from seminary that I couldn’t afford to hire him, but I could give him a job, and that’s how Jay became First Baptist’s “Microchurch Pastor.”

I’ve been talking about Microchurch for a few years now. Here’s the way I explained it to our television viewers in October, 2010.

Often when I’m out and about I bump into someone who says they watch our worship services on TV. Sometimes they tell me that they go to the early service at their own church and then hurry home to watch, and although I’m honored, I secretly wonder if that’s not overdoing it a little (smile). But sometimes they tell me First Baptist is their only church, and although they never actually come to our building, they watch every week. If you are one of those people, then this message is for you.

I want to invite you to take part in something we’re calling “Microchurch,” a bold new initiative of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. Here’s how it works. Before next Sunday, think of one or two friends who might be able to come watch the broadcast with you. Invite them to bring food—something simple and easy—so that after the service is over you can sit down and eat Sunday lunch together. After lunch take time to share your concerns with one another, and then ask someone to lift those concerns up to God in prayer. Finally, take up an offering, and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action right where you are—in your subdivision, your retirement center, your apartment complex, or your neighborhood. If it works, try it again the next week, and then the week after that. Make it a regular habit. Give it a name. And remember, it doesn’t have to be big to be church. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” (Mt. 18:20).

Our hope is to start 200 new Microchurches in the next year, and I’d like to ask for your help. I’m not asking for your money, just your participation. I believe that when Jesus asked his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven, he really meant it. But it’s going to take all of us to bring heaven to earth, and not just the people who come to worship in our building. I understand that some 20,000 people watch our services on Sunday morning. If only one percent of those people would accept this challenge we would have those 200 Microchurches I’m talking about, and we might have them not by next year, but by next week. As those churches start working with us to put God’s love into action I believe heaven will come a little closer to earth, and that those of you who join us in our mission will become part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer.

That was in 2010. What I’ve learned since then is that we don’t have any way of knowing how many Microchurches are out there. There may be 200. There may be 2,000. And so I’ve asked Jay if he can help us figure out how many there are and how we can encourage and sustain them as they work with us to bring heaven to earth. I’ve challenged Jay to start 500 new Microchurches in the next year, almost as a dare, and he has accepted the challenge. There was a moment during yesterday’s lunch when I realized he was serious. I had asked him to visit a Microchurch next week and maybe another one the week after that. He said, “But there are 52 Sundays in a year. If we’re trying to start 500 new Microchurches I’m going to have to visit a lot more than that.”

You go, Jay.

I’m sure he’ll figure it out, but in the meantime consider this. If you looked at a map of Central Virginia next year and saw 500 new dots on the map—500 more places where people are working to bring heaven to earth—wouldn’t you be encouraged? Wouldn’t you think that it was beginning to happen, that God’s kingdom was coming, and God’s will was being done,

On earth as it is in heaven?

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This was the blog post I had scheduled to go up on Tuesday, Day 219, but I was on staff retreat at Graves Mountain Lodge with a spotty Internet connection and it didn’t work.  So, I’m posting it today, instead, with gratitude for those people who understand technology, who make the most of media, and who find creative ways to get the Gospel to the people.  Thanks, TV crew!

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I’m on staff retreat today, and it seems only fitting that I share with you some of the good work our staff and volunteers do every week to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond and and the surrounding region.

I can’t tell you how many times people approach me in public to tell me what a gift our television ministry is to those who can’t make it to church. In hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and even some retirement communities, the weekly broadcast at 11:00 Sunday morning on Channel 8 is a window into a world some people miss terribly.  They love it that the broadcast is a full hour, and that it includes the hymns and prayers.

Of course, for those of you who can make it to church, and who live in the area, I hope you will turn off the television and come!

There’s nothing quite like being there.

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TV MinistryOne of the things that I’m learning on this year-long, every-member mission trip is that bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, is not a new thing for First Baptist Church.

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.

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Yesterday I stood in front of a television camera and recorded this announcement to go out with our Sunday broadcast from Richmond’s First Baptist Church:

Often when I’m out and about I bump into someone who says they watch our worship services on TV.  Sometimes they tell me that they go to the early service at their own church and then hurry home to watch, and although I’m honored, I secretly wonder if that’s not overdoing it a little (smile).  But sometimes they tell me First Baptist is their only church, and although they never actually come to our building, they watch every week.  If you are one of those people, then this message is for you.

I want to invite you to take part in something we’re calling “Microchurch,” a bold new initiative of Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  Here’s how it works.  Before next Sunday, think of one or two friends who might be able to come watch the broadcast with you.  Invite them to bring food—something simple and easy—so that after the service is over you can sit down and eat Sunday lunch together.  After lunch take time to share your concerns with one another, and then ask someone to lift those concerns up to God in prayer.  Finally, take up an offering, and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action right where you are—in your subdivision, your retirement center, your apartment complex, or your neighborhood.  If you need suggestions, give us a call at 355-8637, ext. 203, and when you do maybe you can tell us how it went for you.  If it works, try it again the next week, and then the week after that.  Make it a regular habit.  Give it a name.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be big to be church.  Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am also” (Mt. 18:20).

Our hope is to start 200 new Microchurches in the next year, and I’d like to ask for your help.  I’m not asking for your money, just your participation.  I believe that when Jesus asked his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come, and that his will would be done, on earth as it is in heaven, he really meant it.  But it’s going to take all of us to bring heaven to earth, and not just the people who come to worship in our building.  I understand that some 20,000 people watch our services on Sunday morning.  If only one percent of those people would accept this challenge we would have those 200 Microchurches I’m talking about, and we might have them not by next year, but by next week.  As those churches start working with us to put God’s love into action I believe heaven will come a little closer to earth, and that those of you who join us in our mission will become part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer. 

How about it?  Think of one or two people you could invite to your home next Sunday, ask them to bring some food, something simple and easy, watch the service together and talk about it over lunch, share your concerns with one another and say a prayer, and then take up an offering and talk about how you might use it to put God’s love into action.  Again, if you need suggestions, call 355-8637, ext. 203, and when you do tell us how it went.  It may seem like a small thing to you—your Microchurch—but it could be the start of something big.  

Really big.

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