‘Hats off to the past, coats off to the future’ for 150-year-old Texas church
March 5th, 2020 / By: Karen L. Willoughby | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
SHERMAN—Rather than resting on 150 years of ministry in North Texas and throughout the world, First Baptist Church of Sherman sees children in its future.
The church where 400 people gather for worship is in the process of completing a $3 million Children’s Center. But members took time out Nov. 17 to celebrate the church’s sesquicentennial and Mike Lawson’s 20th anniversary as pastor.
“Our past has made us who we are,” Lawson preached that brisk Sunday morning. “As meaningful as it is, it really is past. Hats off to the past. Coats off to the future. It’s time for us to be about the business our Master left us here to accomplish.”
“What drives the legacy we’re talking about? The legacy we leave will be determined by what we believe,” he continued.
First Sherman believes in evangelism, baptism, discipleship, missions, ministry and sound doctrine.
“The focus has been on remaining true to Scripture and the practice of evangelism,” Lawson said. “I think the life of the church can be attributed to the depth of its people, which comes from their love for the Lord, their love for the Word, and their love for the things of God, praying for one another, caring for one another.
“Our mission is to exalt Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and to lead all people into a life-changing, ever-growing relationship with him,” the pastor told the TEXAN, echoing the church’s mission statement. “We seek him through prayer to engage his heart, discover his will, accomplish his purpose and experience his power.”
First Sherman joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention when it was first organized, “so we could vote on things we were sending our money to,” Lawson said. “We liked SBTC’s determination to move more money away from the convention than they chose to keep. That model is to be commended and duplicated. We also like the strong doctrinal positions.”
First Sherman maintains an Acts 1:8 strategy of reaching out simultaneously in missions and ministry in Sherman, Texas, North America and overseas. Its outreach starts with children’s programming: community-wide AWANA, Upward Basketball and cheerleading, plus Sunday school, children’s church and children’s choirs.
Programming for teens through senior adults is also multi-faceted. An outreach in a low-income area across town provides a twice-weekly opportunity for hands-on ministry.
Additional aspects of First Sherman’s missional focus: Baptist Collegiate Ministries at nearby Grayson College, a church plant in Indianapolis and ministry in Mexico, until in the wake of violence there the church’s hands-on attention moved to the mountains north of Lima, Peru.
The church’s giving reflects members’ heart for missions, the pastor said. Most years since 1982 the church has given at least 10 percent to missions through the Cooperative Program. For the last 20 years it’s been 10.5 percent.
“There’s just no better way to make an impact worldwide than the Cooperative Program pooling the multiplied resources of so many churches,” Lawson said. “There is nothing else as important, as effective. It’s such a huge mechanism for reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And at the local church level, the pastor said, “The person who might never have the opportunity for whatever reason—immobility, finances, schedule—on their own to be able to go and do missions, can do so by contributing dollars and cents through the Cooperative Program.”
According to the SBTC accounting office, “In 2018, FBC Sherman was in our top 50 CP-giving churches, and through 3rd quarter 2019 this still held true,” a spokesperson wrote via email. “As far as Lottie Moon giving, they are in the top 50 in giving and top 75 in per capita.”
First Sherman’s collection of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions involves families bringing their offerings to a manger at the front of the worship center the second Sunday of December.
“We ask them to drop their gift in the manger, symbolizing giving it to Jesus,” Lawson said. “It’s something particularly the children will never forget.”
Over the last five or so years, “We have buried 25 to 30 strong members a year, people engaged and involved,” Lawson said. Previous generations attended church more frequently and were more active in church ministries than is typical in today’s choices-filled culture, he explained, so often out of 10 who now join, only three become fully-engaged.
Nonetheless, “We’re in a forward momentum,” the pastor said. “We are very optimistic about our future.
… We try to take a holistic approach to everything we do. All are opportunities for evangelism and discipleship.”
Lawson’s counsel for pastors who desire to be at a church for 20 or more years:
- Preach expositionally. Keep the Word in front of people.
- Speak truth to a culture blinded by this world.
- Be aware of how to address cosmic shifts in the culture.
- Speak lovingly to a world that has a twisted mindset of morality.
“There has to be a willingness to gut it out, to stay the course, even through the early days of hardship,” Lawson said. “It [longevity] doesn’t come so easy; it always comes at a cost.”
Lawson’s counsel for members who want to keep a pastor 20 years or more:
“To me, the best thing is to pursue a relationship with him, where there is mutual trust, love, respect, understanding; where the church members share more from a heart of concern, rather than a heart of criticism. … The church must never approach a candidate [for the pastorate] with a divorce mentality—that if it doesn’t work, you can get another—but that they want it to last forever.”