By Johnny Hunt, Vice President for Evangelism and Leadership, North American Mission Board
When I look back on my 33 years of ministry at First Baptist Woodstock and think about what I could have done differently, one of the first things that comes to mind is our church campus, which might seem a strange thing to focus on. In those days, we built large buildings because we needed them to accommodate the people who were coming.
In my latter years, though, my whole heart has shifted. Looking back, I wish I led the church to take the finances we used for our facilities and invested them in different areas, specifically sending missionaries and combatting poverty.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen God do great things through our church in these areas. Our people were extraordinarily generous and accomplished much over the years, but I believe our effectiveness could have increased tenfold had we managed the development of our church campus differently.
As a church, we have been involved in places like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and South Africa: building churches and schools, digging wells and sponsoring children’s education. We’ve sought to give people a hand up rather than a handout so that they can build a life of their own by helping them develop skills to lead a productive life.
In Haiti, we build churches that also serve as schools, and our people ensure that hundreds of children are able to attend by their giving. We’ve partnered closely with the International Mission Board in Cuba, helping pastors who live off of $15 a month.
I list all of these things to praise God for giving our church a heart of generosity. I grew up in poverty and never dreamed I would have the means to be extremely generous myself. Yet, we could have done more in places like Haiti, Cuba, and beyond if we had invested differently.
Our church has been a sending church. We have a great testimony of sending people to the nations, and First Baptist Woodstock is investing in 35 church plants right now. Still, I think about how much more we could have provided for other churches if we had been more strategic in developing our campus.
When we send out church planting missionaries, we tend to send them to those cities identified as Send Cities by the North American Mission Board. The cost of living tends to be high in cities. So, it takes a lot to help those pastors move in and establish their families.
While we also sent people out to serve internationally, more financial freedom would have deepened our impact around the globe. If I could do things over again, I would have made it a point to invest more of the gifts we received outside the walls of our church.
Investing in our campus the way that we did seemed right at the time, and doing so allowed us to serve the community in ways that other churches could not. Even so, there may have been other avenues that could have expanded our kingdom impact in North America and around the world.
On a personal note, if I could go back and do my formal education over again, I would be sure to take my coursework more seriously. I’m not sure that I engaged the great education that I received to the fullest.
I am satisfied with the degrees that I acquired, but I was more intent on getting out of school. Once I finished, I was able to tell my various congregations through the years that I had earned the degrees, but I didn’t make it as much of a priority to learn as broadly and deeply as I could have.
I would love to go back and tell myself to slow down and enjoy the season of learning that God had given me.