From the Pastor’s Desk…
March 29, 2018
Do you have a Christian Worldview?, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
Over the last four weeks I have had the honor of being adjunct professor for a Thursday night class at Palm Beach Atlantic University.  The class, an eight-week required course for graduating seniors, asks students to think through how their education synchronizes with the rest of their life and projected fields of service.
It is a class about worldviews–and encouraging students to articulate, further define, or develop a Christian worldview that sees not as the world sees, but as Jesus sees.  It is a lens through which we interpret the world and our place in it whereby the Bible is true, God is real, and an ethic of God’s activity on earth determines the boundaries of our thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
You will be surprised to know how few Christians reflect on how they see their world and whether they see it as Christ sees.  Much of this depends on our values growing up, but it is also shaped and formed by our experiences of church, Bible study, and public engagement. 
Here are a few thoughts I have pushed in my class:
†  Our worldview and our view of who we are in the world largely rests on our view of who God is and how we believe God relates to us.  For instance, if you believe that God is mean and judgmental, you will likely see the world as a hostile place only worthy of wrath and doom.  But if you see God as ever-loving and intimate Creator, than there is something to be said about the world that is worth saving.  If God gave Jesus to die on the cross for the whole world, then it is worth the Gospel message indeed.
How we treat others–from strangers to enemies–rests on how we see them as either beloved or alienated by God.  If you have a worldview that takes Genesis seriously, then it is logical to posit that all people–to the most depraved to the saints among us–are made in God’s image.  God knows each person well; and, because of that, each person has the potential to experience the saving love of Christ and find redemption at the foot of the cross.  But if we are too busy judging people or ignoring them or killing them, how will they ever have a chance to hear the Gospel or experience Christ’s love through us?
Our debates, whether theological or political or whatever, depends on where we stand and how we see the world.  If we grew up on the island of Guam, for instance, we may believe that there is a scarcity of land and an abundance of water in the world; whereas if we grew up in, say, the Gobi desert, we may believe the opposite.  Bring these two citizens together and two worlds collide: How will we shape public policy when we believe that two divergent resources are scarce?  Our debates must consider our worldviews.
We have assumptions and presuppositions that have never been tested and, in many cases, never scrutinized by the lordship of Christ and the authority of Scripture.  A large portion of my time in class is helping students figure out why they believe, talk, and act as they do.  One of their assignments is to present a 15-minute conversation on an ethical conundrum with which they struggle.  A majority of time is not spent on ethics, but their assumptions that have shaped their ethics on the subject.  We deal with what philosophers call “first-order beliefs,” which ultimately determine our actions (second-order and third-order beliefs).  It is amazing how little we think critically about our own convictions!
As we come upon the empty tomb of Easter and re-affirm our confession that the Lord is risen indeed, it might be worthwhile asking the hard question of how our Easter faith informs our life.  Is our faith so private that it has no bearing on our public life–can people even tell that we are Christians by our behaviors, words and deeds? 
Is our faith so individualized, that it has become irrelevant in shaping both Christian community and our public witness in secular society? 
These questions are important–we wrestle with them every Sunday, and its part of the work of the church.  But let us not avoid them just because they may frighten us.  Remember, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 
January 10, 20187
Joining Jesus in 2018: Disciples Making Disciples, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
We started off the year right last Sunday, January 7, with a fresh vision to join Jesus at work in the world for 2018!  Living into the Great Commission–to go into all the world, make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity, and teaching them all that Jesus taught us–will mark that fabric and texture of our life together this New Year.
The concept of joining Jesus at work in the world is not new, but we all need reminding that we are called to be ministers of the Gospel wherever we go.  It is the book of Hebrews says that we are “holy partners in a heavenly call,” that we are to be disciples making disciples.
I have been praying about this for the last month.  Every time I pray, I feel the Spirit encouraging us to work towards this disciple-making goal.  That means not adding “to-dos” to your plate or starting some grand ministry project.  Making disciples should not be busy work.  Rather, we are to reinforce the many ways we are already reaching our community for Christ on and off campus.
We encourage you to walk with Jesus in the world: Invest in the lives of others, pray actively for those around you, meet people’s needs, and facilitate conversations that matter.  You can do this at work, with family, with grandkids, with caregivers, at the store, or in the groups and relationships that you share in the community.
Look at it this way: As Christ-followers, everything we do should have an evangelistic component!  We are to be present with Christ, to be the presence of Christ, and to give the present of Christ to others!
We have launched this vision with certain worship and discipleship themes this season:
  • Sunday worship services over the next several months will follow the book of Hebrews, and book that tells us why Jesus is worth serving and following.
  • February worship themes will revolve around leadership: Biblical models of leadership.  We are called to lead the way and be bold in our proclamation of Christ!
  • Wednesday evening Bible study through April will focus on the book of Revelation–It is a book written for persecuted Christians who long to wage the spiritual battles that count, not with weapons of war, but by the testimony and confession of who Christ is in the world. 
As I walk into my third year at First Baptist, I am excited about this vision for our church.  We hope you will join us!
January 4, 2018
What’s so great about committees?, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
I have met few (if any) pastors who are excited about church committees.  In fact, some churches are so frustrated with committees that they have disbanded committees and moved to other models of church polity.  But did you know that committees communicate our earliest Baptist roots and American founding in democracy and representative government?
Not many people know this, but the government of the United States was founded as a representative republic precisely because of the deepest values that our earliest churches shared in what is called a “congregational polity.”  That means that churches governed by way of representative bodies–many called committees-to make decisions on behalf of the congregation, to elect leaders, and chart a course for the future.
When our Founding Fathers and Mothers sought to carve out a new body politic, this is the model they decided to use for our democracy (along with help from the writings of John Locke and other philosophers who gleaned from our ancient Roman, Reformation Protestant, and Renaissance forebears in Europe).
We have committees not because we are obligated to have them, but because representative government is in our Baptist DNA!  And you can tell if a church is healthy by how well committees communicate, collaborate, and pray together in the life of the church.
It is true that committees get bogged down with bureaucratic nonsense when they compete and conflict with one another.  In contrast, a well-oiled machine in which committees work together helps us be “the church.”  We have to strive to achieve the latter, and prioritize faith formation so that we know how to be the church in the first place.
I for one trust in the efficacy of committees and their place in Baptist life.  They allow the congregation to have a say, and provide opportunities to resolve issues rather than complain to the higher ups.  They speak to our egalitarian ministry emphasis as we all stand under the lordship of Christ and the authority of scripture.  It allows us–together–to hear the Spirit and follow God’s leading.
This Sunday we are coming together at 5:00 PM for our annual committee reorganization meeting to elect officers, discuss plans for the new year, and be empowered for a season of ministry and missions.  It also gives us a chance to pray and humble ourselves before God who ultimately calls the shots.
So in a spirit of our American founding and democracy, lets get together with enthusiasm and practice some good, old-fashioned church business!  See you there!
December 14, 2017
The Ten Commandments of a Welcoming Community, by Dr. Joe LaGuardia
Church consultants and pastors have spilled much ink regarding how churches should welcome guests.  There is a reason for that: Churches, from veteran churches to church-starts, need to learn how to greet guests and be the welcoming community Christ calls us to be. You may be surprised to know that this does not come naturally for churches–we must instill a culture of welcome time and again!
As Christmas is that time of year when guests visit churches, I reckon its also a good idea to remind you how to welcome guests.  Here are the ten commandments for welcoming guests:
1. Thou Shalt Be Friendly.  You think that this is a given, but you many people tell me that they have visited churches that are not friendly.  People can enter and leave without someone greeting them or even smiling at them–it really happens!  I visited a church one time and the pastor passed me three times without stopping once to greet me.  This was a small church, so it wasn’t like he wouldn’t know whether I was a visitor or a member.  Be friendly!
2.  Thou Shalt Communicate Kindness. Greet guests with a firm handshake, open posture, and smile.  It is not enough to be friendly–thought that’s a first step.  Ask the names of guests and try to use their names in the course of the conversation.  Don’t forget to introduce yourself too!
3.  Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Your Surroundings.  Pay attention to who is near you in the pews.  You are the first line of greeting when a guest comes, and if you see someone new in your section of the church, follow the first two commandments, then let the nearest staff member know so we can do it too!
4.  Thou Shalt Invite Guests to Something Significant.  How do we get guests to stay and participate at church?  Invite them to lunch or coffee.  Church is not like social media, where you check in and out of people’s lives at your convenience.  We are the church and we are to make disciples, so guests need to feel a part of it to start that journey.  Invite people somewhere: to coffee, to lunch, to Sunday School, or to a gathering.  It may be inconvenient, but too bad.  Someone a long time ago went out of their way to welcome you, so now its your turn to do the same for others.
5.  Thou Shalt Help with the Children.  If guests have young children, be kind and accommodating to the family.  Point out where the restrooms and nursery are, ask the names and ages of the children, have conversations with the children–they need to feel a sense of belonging too.  Get one of the staff to introduce the children to our children and youth leaders.  If the children are vocal or playful during worship, play with them silently–don’t worry about the sermon, you can catch it online at home.  For now, focus on the children–they are miracles, each and every one, and you may be the first of Christ’s ambassadors they’ve ever met!!
6.  Thou Shalt Not Ask Too Many Questions.  When you welcome a guest, don’t ask too many questions.  For instance, don’t say, “Oh, and is this your mother?” because you may get the response: “NO!  THAT’S MY WIFE!”  If there is a single guest, don’t ask if he or she is married or what not.  Follow through on the fourth commandment, and then you may–may!–eventually get the emotional permission to ask probing questions.
7.  Thou Shalt Not Comment on Appearances (except for children).  People love to hear praises and compliments about their children, but please refrain from commenting on the appearances of adults.  It is not appropriate to say, “You are very pretty,” or worse, “Your wife is very pretty.”  If you want to be nice, be broad–“You have a beautiful family.” 
8.  Thou Shalt Not be Culturally Insensitive.   Kristina and I once visited a primarily African American congregation, and the first thing the greeter said was, “Wow, we don’t get visitors like you here often.”  We were not impressed and we never returned.  If a guest visits who may be an ethnic, gendered, or racial minority, don’t make it awkward.  Don’t say, “We don’t get a lot of your kind here,” or, “Wow, it’s nice to have you…so, as a Mexican, what do you think of that comment about immigration that Trump said the other day?” or, “Hey, you’re the perfect person to ask this: What do you think about those Confederate statues being removed from public parks?”  All of these questions are either racist or bigoted in one form or fashion.  Other questions can be misogynistic, so just treat everyone the same and be sensitive. 
9.  Thou Shalt Not Use Off-Color Humor.  First impressions are everything, and people may not share the same kind of humor as you.  Do not try to use humor to break any tension or awkwardness in the greeting.  Be yourself, but just be sensitive (see Commandment 8).  So if you feel inclined to make a joke, just don’t.  Be warm and friendly, but be professional.  The other day, someone lamented that they were afraid to joke around anymore because of all of the sexual harassment suits in the news lately: “Everyone is so sensitive these days,” he said.  Yes, that’s right–the truth is that that kind of humor has always been wrong–the fact that no one is laughing anymore is a good and godly thing, trust me.  Locker room talk is not appropriate for the Christ-following Christian.
10.  Thou Shalt Not Make Assumptions.  Do not assume that because a guest looks or talks a certain way, that you have them “pegged.”  People who visit churches are taking a risk, and there is a level of vulnerability we need to respect.  One of the ways we respect strangers is to give them the room to surprise us and perchance become our best friends.  That is what it means to be an inclusive, welcoming church: We welcome strangers into our sacred space–with all our own strangeness thrown in the mix–only to become fellow pilgrims on the journey of faith.  Since we all do not start out in the same place, our journeys vary, but as God’s creatures made in God’s image, we can all learn from each other. Plus, we don’t want to become “That church!”
Read more on how not to greet guests at Tom Rainer blog.
October 11, 2017
Creating Ministry through Creative Resourcing, by Rev. Dr. Joe LaGuardia
I’m sure you’ve heard of crowd sourcing.  What about fundraising?  What about fund sourcing?  Maybe, maybe not.
I have a new one for you: Creative resourcing.  What is creative resourcing?  Creative resourcing happens when you engage in building ministries by utilizing a variety of assets at the church’s disposal: volunteers, line items in the budget, designated gifts, local community and business partners, synergy between staff and laity.
It has been something we’ve been focusing on since I became pastor of First Baptist.  It has helped bolster ministry, inspire growth, and implement a positive vision for the church.
One example of creative resourcing happened when we secured our new Family Minister Intern: You may wonder, “How can we afford an intern if we are behind budget?”
By creative resourcing, of course!  We researched and borrowed ideas from corporate internship programs: Secure a student at a local college, provide a modest stipend to provide funding, and utilize other resources to subsidize the position, (in the case of an intern who is actively in college or grad school, we provided a scholarship through the scholarship fund). Its a win for the student, who gets a scholarship and benefits from getting hands-on ministry training at our church, and a win for the church as we get much-needed staff support for an age group that is critical to our church and our church’s future!
Creative resourcing works!
At Church Council last Tuesday, the Council voted unanimously to recommend a 2018 budget that is about $753,000.00.  Seems like a lot, I know, but that’s roughly $23,000.00 less than the 2017 budget.  Some consultants may look at this and wonder why the budget is going down: Have we cut salaries?  Have we incorporated furlough days for staff?  Have we incorporated short-cuts or short-falls on our missions giving or other ministries, or cut out ministries altogether? 
The answer to all of this is a resounding NO! 
In fact, we are implementing more ministries and man (and women!) power than in the last two years of our church’s history.  That is done not by cutting costs or scaling back salaries, but by utilizing creative resourcing–such as our new internship program–for healthier ministry and cost-effective growth.
I know that we talk about money a lot during this time of year.  Really, if you ask me, I don’t talk about money all that much–when was the last time you heard me preaching on money?  I bet you can’t remember, because I know that God provides so I don’t need to harp on it often! 
But it is budget time, so we ask you to get involved.  The budget will be presented to the church on Sunday, October 22nd at the end of both services.  Then, we will have discussion on the budget at Church Conference after church on November 12th (potluck included!), and then we will vote on the budget with no discussion the following Sunday in both services.
This budget reflects the positive momentum and increased growth by utilizing creative resourcing!  You will see that every departmental budget has decreased for 2018, but has not lost any ground in reaching the lost for Christ.  We are doing a great deal of ministry because we are working smarter, not harder.  And we hope that by being faithful in our giving, in our stewardship, and in our business as a church, that God will continue to be faithful to us as we are faithful to the mission God has given us.  Until next time… blessings!
our 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.   
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!
  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
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

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
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!