From the Pastor’s Desk…
August 14, 2017
 
Blanketing Babies with Love, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
Last Sunday, we heard a moving Need 2 Know moment from Karen Rockhill and Becky Thorne regarding the baby blankets project by the Women’s Devotions group that meets once a month.
 
Nearly a dozen of ladies have been making baby blankets for newborns and their parents at Indian River Memorial Hospital over the past year.  Each blanket comes with a personalized card that expresses a blessing and word of encouragement on behalf of our church.
 
The need for blankets is great–there are approximately 80-100 births a month at IRMC.  The blankets, which are self-funded through the ladies’ group, require materials, cards, and other items.  Karen and Becky asked for prayer and any gifts that you may be called to give.
 
Since they began the blankets project, First Baptist Church has provided over 1,000 blankets to newborns in the hospital.  The Women’s Devotions group meets every first Tuesday of the month at 6:30 PM.  The blankets project is only a small part of the group, as they share devotions, testimonies, food, and fellowship.  
 
As pastor, I am proud of this amazing project–itis a personal and wonderful way to let people know that we care about families and that we exist to encourage and promote life.  This also allows us to recognize that our town is growing at a fast rate–young professionals and families choose Vero Beach as a place to work and live, not just vacation.  There is a mission field right outside of our doors, and we need to be prayerful and assertive about recruiting families who need a church to call home!
 
let’s commit to pray for the blankets project and commit to always express God’s love as we blanket Vero Beach with compassion and Christ’s call of salvation.   
 
July 31, 2017
 
Yes, Yes, and Yes! by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
I remember when I said “Yes!” to Jesus.  I was in elementary school, attending First Baptist Church of Perrine, Florida.  I knew I wanted to live for Jesus.
 
I remember when I said “Yes!” to church.  It was at New Covenant Presbyterian.  All I wanted to do was to be there, belong, and serve.  Kristina and I volunteered to be greeters on Sunday mornings, and led the middle-school youth group on Wednesday nights.
 
I remember when I said “Yes!” to ministry.  I was sitting in my New Testament Professor’s office at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and he told me that my calling was where my greatest passion met the world’s deepest needs.
 
I remember when I said “Yes!” to First Baptist Church.  The decision came late Saturday evening, the day before the church was to vote on me, and we had just gone through a vigorous “Q and A” session with the entire church hours before.  Kristina and I prayed half the night, and I’m quite certain that John and Karen Rockhill prayed half the night in the next room over. 
 
I remember when First Baptist Church said “Yes!” to my family and me the next morning.  It was one of the proudest days of my life.
 
August is the month to say “Yes!”
 
Pray, listen, heed, intercede, and implore the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where you need to say “yes” in your life, those areas where you’ve said “No!” for far too long…
 
Say “Yes!” to joining a Bible study–Sunday School, Sunday night small group, Wednesday Bible study, or the like.  I promise you that you will grow when you meet with other believers while studying God’s Word!
 
Say “Yes!” to prayer and daily devotions.  My vision for First Baptist Church is to be a “praying church”, but I can only teach and preach to you about praying for so long.  You have to make time to pray and to pray, its the only way!
 
Say “Yes!” to minister.  Whether you join us in ministry here at church or join good causes in our neighborhood, this is not about First Baptist only, but about your ability to minister as a representative of First Baptist in community.  I praise God, for instance, for some of our member’s who help with St. Francis Manor, or for one of our deacon’s volunteering to lead weekly Bible studies at the Source, or the business woman who represents Christ while meeting with executives during the week. 
 
Say “Yes!” to First Baptist Church–be an ambassador for our church as you are called to be an ambassador of Christ.  We have been given many gifts–Christ’s salvation, the Holy Spirit, the church, one another!–don’t keep those gifts to yourself.
 
What will you say “Yes!” to this month?  As you explore that question, be sure to join us on Sunday, August 27th worship for “Yes!” Sunday and let us know! 
May 1, 2017
 
Complaining is Biblical!, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
Last Sunday, we mentioned that complaining is biblical!  In Acts 6:1, scripture says that the early church grew so much, some people complained.  The disciples were frustrated, and instead of leading leaders to prepare for this growth, they became too paralyzed to follow through on Jesus’ command to share the Gospel beyond Jerusalem (Acts 1:8).  Instead, the Holy Spirit empowered and worked through the very men whom the disciples assigned to deal with the complaints, so much that one of them–Philip–ends up witnessing to an Ethiopian Eunuch.
 
A growing and vibrant church does not ignore complaints.  Rather, complaints in a church, although negative at times, can be God’s clue that the Holy Spirit is moving a church to the next stage in growth, be it in attendance, spiritual power, or some other ministry that the arises.
 
A church has a decision: It can either become paralyzed by complaining, or it can become empowered to move beyond the tipping point of growth and turn complaint into collaboration to reach new people and incorporate new ideas.
 
Yesterday’s sermon was not in response to complaining at First Baptist.  In fact, we here at First Baptist are on a positive push towards an amazing, spirit-filled future–we assess criticism, but we have not become a community of complaint. 
 
Yet, the sermon was also prescriptive: It warned us of the dangers of complaint, but also how to affirm complaints if and when they do occur (because, as Casey Neiwuhf argues in an article on church growth, “growth attracts critics”).
 
In my experience, here are a few areas in which complaining can become a clue to growth:
 
Finances: We all know that the church thrives and survives on voluntary giving.  According to the Bible, all believers are called to give of their first-fruits, but that isn’t always the case.  We rely on generous donors to provide for the missions and ministries to which we’re called.
 
Yet, it is difficult to be inspired to give if we see the church running a deficit.  This can result in two things: either complaint (why are we spending so much?!) or education.  If you’re concerned about the budget and spending, get educated: call the church office, have conversations with the stewardship committee, and learn to ask questions of your staff.  Don’t remain ignorant; push through the tipping point of being blessed by becoming an active and informed giver!
 
New Families:  You will be surprised at how many churches want to grow, but then complain when new families arrive and start to participate in the life of the church.  If you feel that staff or volunteers are taking time with new families at the expense of meeting your needs, perhaps it is God’s sign that you are to get to know the new families too!  In building these valuable relationships–getting to know the children or youth of new families, conversing about hobbies and likes–we will find that growth not only becomes possible, but sustainable as well!
 
That kind of healthy growth requires the entire church, not just the staff!
 
Staff and change: Not many of us enjoy change–it can be unsettling and, at times, uncertain.  If you see change in your midst (like the new construction happening on our campus), don’t complain!  Be proactive and find out how you can become a part of the change you want to see.  If you don’t like something, know that you can always talk to staff–but be prepared to hear an answer that may not necessarily conform with your understanding of church or ministry.
 
Remember, for every change that happens, there will always be someone uncomfortable with the change.  If a church seeks to get 100% agreement on everything with 100% joy, then it won’t end up pleasing anyone! 
 
At the end of the day, Acts 6 shows us that the Holy Spirit uses complaint to point the church in the right direction, but the nexus of the Gospel does not remain in the center of complaint.  The Spirit moves on, and  leaders are expected to hear the complaint, meet needs, assess the direction of the community, and move on too! 
 
Complaint does not show negative feedback, but a profound trust and open communication that is healthy and active–a sure sign of growth!  That’s why complain is biblical!
June 5, 2017
 
Core Values: What Makes Each Church Unique!
 
In scripture, Jesus gives every church a basic mandate called the Great Commission (Matt. 28): To share the Gospel, make disciples of all people, and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
 
This mandate unites Christ’s Church across the globe, but the scriptures also attest that each local church serves God in different ways: We are a part of Christ’s Body, but some are legs, others arms, and yet others feet.
Each local church is distinctive from other churches in this organic make-up.  Why else have churches on every corner? 
 
These distinctives are also called core values — values that make up the basic DNA of a local church, unique qualities that play a major role in the local community, distinct from other local churches, and significant in the larger Body of Christ. 
 
These values are usually implanted in the church from its founding and do not change over time, although they may be articulated differently from one generation to another.
 
In Sunday worship on June 11, we briefly explored four core values–a rough draft, if you will–that make First Baptist Church of Vero Beach a unique place to worship, serve, fellowship, and disciple.  Each core value finds a home in our mission statement:
 
  1. The Worshiping Church: First Baptist values the worship of God in spirit and in truth, engaging people through ancient traditions, liturgical rhythms, the Christian calendar, and contemporary creative arts.
  2. The Discipling Church:  First Baptist values the discipleship of all people–men, women and children–who long to obey God, grow in Christ, and live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  3.  The Teaching Church:  First Baptist values passing on the legacy of Baptist community by fostering the gifts of the Spirit, mentoring believers along the journey of faith, and including both men and women in leadership.
  4.  The Missional Church:  First Baptist values participating in God’s mission to the world, being the presence of Christ by advocating for the impoverished, and standing in solidarity with those who seek justice and reconciliation.
 
As we explore these four values in conjunction with our “Journey Through Acts” over the summer season, be in prayer about how these core values inform who we are, our common identity as a church, and the shape and scope of our missions and ministries in our neighborhood.  
 
Hear from God, and if there are any changes or questions that arise, come and let’s talk about it!  These are, after all, rough drafts–but articulating what makes us unique is the first step of having a laser focus in doing God’s work together!
May 22, 2017
 
Distinctive Generosity, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
 
Several weeks ago, a good friend of mine from North Georgia, the Reverend Matt Sapp, published an article about Christians engaging others in the public square.  He argued that Christians make an impact by the magnitude of their generosity, which “offers more than is expected, more than is reciprocal, and more, even, than what is fair.”  A similar article published on a Christian Leadership blog affirms, “Christians should be the most generous and selfless people on the planet.”
 
Yesterday’s sermon continued our “Intentional” series about living as intentional Easter people.  Since God puts purpose to our steps, then we should live as purpose-fully as possible.  Generosity does not happen by accident; it requires thoughtful decisions throughout the day–and it starts by having the same mind as Christ: as 1 Peter 4:1 says, “arm yourselves with the same intention” as Christ (NRSV).
Christian generosity offers more than is expected, more than is reciprocal, and more, even, than what is fair” –Rev. Matt Sapp,Heritage Community Church.
 
Peter encouraged Christians to be generous in several ways in 1 Peter 4:1-10. We are to be generous:
  • …in our proclamation of the Gospel (v. 6).
  • …in our prayers for others (v. 7).
  • …in earnest love, which covers a multitude of sins (v. 8).
  • …in our hospitality, an antidote to the exclusive, hostile attitude too many Christians exhibit in society (v. 9).
  • …in our service and use of gifts for others (v. 10).
 
Having now served for an entire year at First Baptist Church, I can say with all confidence that we are a truly generous church!  It takes intentionality, but we see how generosity has shaped everything from our concern for neighbors and our missions to our willingness to learn the fundamentals and complexities of our faith in Christian discipleship.  Our love has covered a multitude of wrongs, and our hospitality is unyielding in the face of discomfort and, at times, inconvenience.
 
By our generosity and love, people will know that we are Christians! 
February 27, 2017
 
“Let the Children Come Unto Me”, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
 
We have been blessed here at First Baptist Church with being a part of a movement of young people in Vero Beach who love the Lord, want to grow in Christ, and change their world from the inside out.
 
First, we praise God for our Youth Ministry Team who lead and facilitate youth group every Wednesday night.  We have a core group of teens who are learning about the Lord and, in many ways, participating in the life of our church.
 
Second, we have partnered with the Jimmy Graves Foundation, established in the wake of Jimmy Graves’ death, in order to help provide a safe and sacred space for people–adults and youth alike–to have conversations that matter, discover what the Bible says for them, and empower youth to craft their mission and ministry on their own terms. 
 
This past Saturday, we hosted the Jimmy Graves Foundation youth Christian concert featuring The Renewed Band.  It touched so many lives and ignited a movement that intends to reach beyond the walls of any one church, denomination, or school.  There are other concerts in the making, featuring various genres–from violin to Christian hip hop artists.  Hang on tight!
 
Additionally, the Foundation hosts Bibles studies every Saturday in the First Baptist Music Building–adults meet at 9 AM, and youth meet at 10:30 AM.  All are welcome. 
 
Last, we are excited about hosting the Navigators college ministry next month, from March 4 – 18.  The Navigators is a nation-wide ministry that facilitates short-term mission trips while students are on Spring Break.
 
The Navigators will bring about 120 students to our campus over two weeks.  They will sleep and eat on campus, have devotions and times of worship, participate in the life of our church, and do missions projects around town, with non-profits, and on our church campus during the weekdays.  We are honored to have such godly young people join God at work in our neighborhood, and we are blessed to have a campus hospitable enough to be part of it!
 
I realize that over the years, First Baptist has, as many churches, struggled to reach young families and youth.  It is an ever-growing difficulty for places of worship; however, we have been given so many opportunities to tap into partnerships that allow us to be a part of youth movements–local and national–that create opportunities for growth and outreach. 
 
God is at work, and we are so joyful to be a part of it! 
February 20, 2017
 
Its a Start, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
This past week, Kristina, the children, and I started a butterfly garden in our front yard.  Since we are surrounded by homes that have immaculate landscaping, I felt that the garden was a little underwhelming.  We are not finished yet, and it will take a few years for the garden to grow in.
 
Kristina reminded me that we have to start somewhere.  Those hibiscus bushes–now only small plants–will eventually fill in the space that now seems bare and pitiful. 
 
Its a start, she said.
 
As I come up to my first year anniversary at First Baptist, I realize that the same truth applies to ministry.  There are so many things I would love to do as a church, but it takes time to grow a sustainable garden for God to work. 
 
Its not that we are limping along–we are working tirelessly to build a strong foundation for an ever stronger future–its just that we are planting seeds that will eventually grow into the kind of church that matches the tradition, values, and legacy that have shaped First Baptist for over 100 years!
 
What are the types of “plants,” the “seeds” that we are planting now for the future?  The answers to that have to do with establishing cultural trends that shape who we are and who we will become.
 
We are “planting” a shared grammar that shapes intentional community and positive outreach.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, Paul tells a fractured church that they are to “share the same language” (KJV).  Its another way of saying that we need to talk about First Baptist, share the First Baptist story, and identify First Baptist in a way that communicates our values, the magnitude of our outreach, and how we believe God is working in our midst and in the world today.
 
It is a language not built on discord, distrust, or dysfunction, but on healthy communication, conflict resolution, unity, and shared values in which we say, “This is us, this is who we are; and that is not who we are–and that is ok!” 
 
It starts with saying, “We can’t be all things to all people, but we will fulfill the specific mission God has given us.”  And that faithfulness will provide the sustainability that will last beyond any one pastor, group of people, or even one generation.
 
We are cultivating values that have long been dormant and ready for fresh growth.  First Baptist has championed being the center of religious life for Vero Beach for over a century by being the type of church that makes disciples, reaches out in a spirit of love, and garners partnerships and relationships that furthers God’s kingdom.
 
This means being the type of safe, sacred space that encourages people to explore their faith with Jesus, ask the tough questions about life and culture and where God is at work in that culture, and have conversations that matter–about our world, God’s mission field, and our place in Vero Beach even today.
 
What values are wrapped up in that kind of tradition?  Compassion, empathy, Christ-like engagement, prayerful partnerships, and the spiritual discernment needed to see burning bushes where others see only dead foliage, an ability to see God at work in a world too busy to see God’s presence in the first place.
 
We are training our congregation to look to the future.  Like countless churches across the nation, we are concerned about raising up the next generation of Christian leaders who will draw First Baptist into a vibrant future. 
 
We have to train our church to accommodate young families and young professionals and move those young families into a places of leadership, let them have a stake in the game, and take ownership of a faith that is enduring and loyal to Christ’s church. 
 
We are teaching our congregation an understanding of how younger generations think and live–what drives their values, causes, and concerns.  Second, we are shifting how we think about church–we are to become a “teaching church” that values relationships in which mentoring, rather than managing, occurs. 
 
Young families do not want to be managed; they want to be mentored–they want people to invest in their lives and teach them all of the values that make for a great church, a great culture and community, great marriages, great childrearing, and great missions and ministry. 
 
We are learning how to do more with less.  Our contemporary economics shape how we engage missions and ministry.  Like wise businesses and non-profits that partner with others in order to leverage assets to further their missions, we too are learning how to partner with people in our church and in our neighborhood in order to expand our impact and capitalize on resources that exist in our sphere of influence.
 
By building partnerships that inform our mission, we are (1) keeping it local, and (2) not spending resources on “reinventing wheels” that are already turning.  This may not lead to massive growth in the pews at first, but it will lead to a movement in which First Baptist becomes a hub for missions and resources that reach out in meaningful ways. 
 
As I walk into my second year at First Baptist, I am excited about the future for our church.  There are things we have improved and worked on in the past year–we have come a long way!–and there are so many things I long to do in our great family of faith.  As an Italian, however, I know first-hand that we cannot build Rome in a day. 
 
But its a start.
  February 6, 2017
 
Sunday Conversations and the Future of our Church, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
 
 
A question I hear often is, “So, where is our church going?” 
 
I appreciate this question.  It implies enthusiasm, a passion to grow and move beyond our comfort zones.  It is born out of an unyielding excitement to reach the lost and preach Good News to a world in need.
Arriving at an answer, however, is easier said than done!  A church moves as a Body, not as a result of any one person’s (or pastor’s!) agenda.  Vision and the future-casting in a church requires community involvement, discernment, intentional conversations, prayer, and a shared set of values that shape the nature and scope of ministry.
 
Perhaps you are wondering the same thing about our church, but attending Sunday morning service does not provide ample time to have those conversations or seek ways to help our church grow in new and creative ways.
 
And that is the reason we meet on Sunday night!  While many churches have done away with Sunday night Bible study or service, we are committed to meeting together Sundays at 6 PM to have intentional conversations related to the mission, ministry, and future of our church.
 
Last night, for instance, we talked about the Sunday morning sermon, related to having a faith courageous enough to wrestle with God in the midst of mystery and uncertainty.  As a church, we don’t seek to have all of the answers or tell people what to think.  We certainly don’t talk down to people.  Rather, we provide a safe space where people can take ownership of their relationship with God, to meet the Risen Savior rather than receive mere commentary about the Savior.
 
A watershed moment happened last night too: Together, we agreed that our church needed to provide a safe and sacred space for people to ask the deepest, most difficult questions related to their faith and relationship with God.  We agreed that we would not shun people or cast people out because of their search for the Spirit’s purpose in their life. 
 
People call this a teaching church model of ministry, in which we disciple people and give people the space to have Jesus shape their worldview, to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit and coach people in clarifying what they believe and how they are to make disciples of others.   This is something that Baptists have been doing since the beginning of the Baptist movement in the 1600s!
 
Young people, especially, are interested in this type of church model.  People between the ages of 18 – 40 come to church to have a first-hand faith rather than get commentary about faith.  They want to meet God, not just talk about God.  They want to wrestle with Scripture, not dance around scripture.  
 
Young people are seeking ways to engage their world by wrestling with causes, issues, and theological insights that will promote a radical trust in Christ and an open-ended faith that moves beyond the walls of church.  They, like we, want to walk with a Risen, Living Savior, not pay homage to a historical figure lost in the annals of time.
 
This takes courage and risk on our part.  We have to be willing to walk with people who are in uncomfortable places in their lives.  It means having to enter into their sacred space and find where the Holy Spirit is at work.  It means getting out of our own comfort zones in order to see God in the midst of mystery and discernment.  It means being surprised and finding a sense of wonder again (some call it revival!) where we least expect it!
 
Do you want to help shape this kind of community beyond listening to a sermon or attending a Sunday morning worship service?  Are you interested in engaging your world differently, to move beyond your easy chair and preferred news station or social media platform to build relationships that matter?  Then join us on Sunday evening and participate in shape the precise direction that we are heading as a church. 
 
It is fun, open, and lively.  We hope you’ll be a part!
 
January 24, 2017
 
Are We United?, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
Over the last two Sundays, our church asked several important questions in our “State of the Church” series.  The first question was, “Are we united?”
 
Of all the things we wonder about God, being united should not be one of them.  We know that unity is pleasing to God, and there are enough verses in scripture to assure us that being united is God’s will for the church, the Body of Christ.
 
In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul wrote, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (NRSV).
 
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Well..maybe not!  I have learned over the years–and through many church conflicts–that disharmony and unhealthy conflict is habitual.  Church splits and divisions do not happen overnight.
 
Cultivating unity requires that we replace bad habits with good habits that promote unity, celebrate diversity, and discern the meaning and magnificence of God’s mission for our church.  Look no further than Paul’s words of encouragement, it’s all right there!
 
  • Paul says we are to be “in agreement.”  I prefer the King James Version here: “We are to speak the same language.”  That does not mean that we all have to speak the same things or even believe everything the same way, but it does mean nurturing the habit of speaking out of shared values that unite our church.  Sure we may differ on various theological views, but as a church family, we hold several core values in common–its what makes us First Baptist Church!
  • Paul says we are to be of the same mind.  Again, that does not mean you have to think like I think, or that we have to fight trying to change each other’s minds.  Rather, we are to seek the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).  It means coming to a place where we seek to understand one another, but move beyond our own limited insights to seek the deeper things of the Holy Spirit.
  • Paul says we are to be of the same purpose.  The worst question anyone can ask at church is, “How do I get my way!”  Jesus did not intend for His church to be the sum of any one person’s agenda.  Rather, Jesus establishes each church to fulfill a specific mission.  This mission transcends any one person, group, or generation–it lasts for the life of the church.  We have a mission at First Baptist that is sound and worth uniting behind: 
Our mission is the worship of God. In obedience to Him, worship includes reaching out and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, equipping our members for discipleship, and demonstrating Christ’s love through ministry and fellowship.
 
So, are we united?  I think we are, but it doesn’t happen overnight.  It must be intentional, and it requires all of us to believe that God is at work at First Baptist Church–to convict us, challenge us, call us, and commission us for the work that lies ahead!
January 10, 2017
 
A Thousand Little Things, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
walking-on-the-beach
 
After church last Sunday, I was crazy enough to do my exercise walk on the beach in 55-degree, windy weather.  The waves were breaking as far as the eye could see, almost perpendicular to the coast, and the wind was so strong the seagulls were flying backwards (or, was it that they were blowing away with grace?).
 
The first half of my walk took me southbound, so the wind was at my back.  I wore shorts, so I felt sand pelting against my legs.  The sand hurt, like a thousand little needle pricks on my skin.
 
On the walk back I had to bundle in my sweater–it took me twice as long to get back.  The seagulls and I fought the wind together.  By the time I reached my car, I felt like sea salt had settled in my lungs.
 
When we think of ministry–not just for a minister, but all of us–we often think of the big things we do that bring meaning to the lives of others.  Ministry and mission projects, feeding the impoverished, helping the elderly, teaching Sunday School class– those are the things that come to mind.
 
But I am often reminded that ministry is made up of the sum of a thousand little decisions and acts of kindness we do over the course of time.
 
Something  as simple as a smile can make a person’s day.  Praying for someone who “pops” into your mind while driving in the car can make a difference. Writing a short note of encouragement can move and inspire people to act in godly ways.
 
But the opposite is also true.  We can harm relationships and people by the thousand little ways that we prick and needle at their lives and hearts.  Words hurt, decisions not always wise can distract people from finding healing and encouragement.  We can be bad friends who are held at arms-length because we take advantage or take others for granted.
 
As you walk your journey path this week, consider that it is often the little things that count.  Be mindful, pray often, and keep aware of the way God shines through you!
January 4, 2017
 
A Pilgrimage in Downtown Vero Beach, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
donuts1

We delivered donuts to law offices in our surrounding area, the first step in connecting with our backyard mission field.

Church is more than a building, it is a movement of people who have God in their hearts and bring the Gospel wherever they go.
 
That’s why here at First Baptist Church, we don’t believe that our church is restricted to brick and mortar.  All our churchgoers are asked to embody the values of our church and be “on mission” in their workplaces, families, neighborhoods, and places of recreation. 
 
We all live the First Baptist story, one connected to the larger drama of God’s intention to redeem all of creation in Christ.
 
When I first became pastor in May, I wanted to get to know the church and the community.  I have been spending time visiting parishioners and getting to know them better, but I have also been walking around the downtown district where First Baptist calls home. 
 
I continually feel the Holy Spirit moving First Baptist to be a leader in this community as it has been for over 100 years, a hub of ministry and missions resources, as well as a safe and sacred space where healing, restoration, and justice impact our immediate neighborhood to improve people’s lives, relationships, areas of needed reconciliation, and even the local economy.
 
And I hope that this Spirit-led inspiration will take shape for years to come: Perhaps we can host luncheons for local business leaders who are longing to network with others in the downtown district.  Maybe God is calling us to be the “chaplains” for employees and employers who are going through rough times or are in need of spiritual direction.
 
Over the summer, we started to communicate with our neighbors about our intentions to connect.  We delivered about eight boxes of donuts to law offices in our area, complete with a little note telling them that we are prayer for them. 
 
This month, we will do the same with other businesses. 
 
As we walk, we bring Christ with us.  That is, after all, the meaning of pilgrimage: To follow the steps of Christ and go to places made holy by none other than the Holy Spirit.  When we connect with our neighbors, we start standing on holy ground!
 
In the meantime, I look forward to sharing stories with you along the way, to tell you how God is working in our neighborhood.  Please join me in praying that God will bring the Gospel beyond our campus!
December 5. 2016
 
Building a Missional Identity at First Baptist, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
[Curated]
This article originally ran on the Patheos blog of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on November 21, 2016.
 

One Sunday morning during the collection of tithes at First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, Florida, Randy (not his real name) reached in, dug deep, and padded all of his pockets in order to find money to put into the offering plate. His pants, too big for his lean body and too old to wear anywhere else, hung loosely and flapped about him as he struggled to find his treasure.  The plate passed by, and Randy was disheartened, unable to contribute.

 

Just four months ago Randy was someone who often asked for an offering. As one of many marginalized and displaced persons in quaint Vero Beach, Randy is well known in these parts for hanging around churches, borrowing a few bucks to get McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and getting in deep with the wrong people related to his on-again, off-again drug addiction.

Randy was one of the first people I met last May when I began as senior pastor to First Baptist. We sat and talked a while in my office, about the area, his trouble with holding a job and getting along with family.

I got to know him well, as well as some two-dozen other displaced individuals we serve every Wednesday with hot supper at the church. This ministry is called “Wednesday Without Walls” (WWW). In addition to a meal, there is a clothes closet, seasonal items like bug repellent and blankets available, and a time for a sermon or devotion by guest speakers from around town… [Read more at the Patheos Blog].

November 15. 2016
 
Aging in Place, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
 
shesSince I arrived at First Baptist Church last May, I have met with over a half-dozen residents who moved to retirement facilities that value the concept of “aging in place.”  Aging in place means helping people progress through levels of services and support as they age.  Usually, this commitment includes utilizing different facilities and programs depending on the needs of the residents.
 
For many churches that are well-established in communities across the nation, there is a need for strategic and intentional “aging in place.”  Unlike care facilities that see to the “final act” of a person’s life, churches that age in place must find new ways of engaging its surroundings, share the Gospel of Christ in ever-creative ways, and revitalizing a sense of mission to reach new demographics in fresh and relevant opportunities for growth and ministry.
 
Some churches decide not to age in place:  Some move campuses to the suburbs or growing cities across town, while other churches close shop or merge with healthier congregations.
 
Churches that stay put, however–successfully “aging in place”–are intentional about who they reach and how they reach out.  It means transitioning to ministries that provide a variety of support, all the while leveraging partnerships and assets that are available within and beyond the church building.  And they prayerfully reflect on the type of community they wish to become as a result.
 
Serving downtown Vero Beach for over a century, the faith family of First Baptist Church made an intentional and prayerful decision to “age in place” despite unique challenges in our ever-growing secular culture.
 
First Baptist has adjusted to the growing needs of Vero Beach by engaging the neighborhood with greater investments in the underprivileged population in the surrounding area, by re-tooling staff and volunteers to accommodate a growing diversity in its endeavors, and by including new and seasoned members in places of leadership and education on Sunday mornings.  
 
As a result, First Baptist has shifted its missional footprint and is flourishing as a result.  In remaining as a steadfast presence in downtown, we have committed to bridging the gap between rich and poor, young and old, established and transitional populations.  We have committed to diversifying our worship to God by incorporating both liturgical and global sounds into our 8 AM “Celebrations” and 10:30 AM “Traditions” services.  We have committed to communicating Christ’s message of love by investing time and relationships in local businesses, non-profits, and service organizations in our immediate area.
 
As we age in place and join God in reaching our neighborhood, we invite you to come alongside us.  Participate in the unique opportunities only First Baptist can provide: like making a difference in the lives of people who long to experience the love of Christ, and by becoming a part of a Christ-centered community in which all people feel welcomed and safe.
 
For just as Christ sent his disciples to reach their neighborhood and beyond long ago, so too does Christ call us today to bridge that gap between those who are lost and those who belong by sharing in the Good News of a Gospel still impacting Vero Beach today!