You can see all of downtown Nashville from St. Cloud Hill. It is the tallest of seven hills that ring downtown and offers a unique perspective of the city. Looking south, you can see for miles. Keeping watch over the city and its surrounding area is exactly why the Union Army built Fort Negley atop it, the largest fort built during the Civil War.
St. Cloud Hill offers a spectacular view of beautiful Nashville, but I can’t help but wonder, if Jesus stood on St. Cloud Hill would He see beyond the classical and contemporary architecture and weep for the lost souls walking Nashville’s bustling streets?
I believe He would. I believe He does.
But Nashville is not the only city I believe Jesus weeps for. I believe He weeps for Memphis, and Knoxville, and Chattanooga, and Atlanta, and Chicago, and St. Louis, and New York, and every other city of 100,000 or more people where 83 percent of North America’s population now lives.
Think about Jesus coming over the Mount of Olives, located just across a ravine from the walled city of Jerusalem. We read in Luke 29 that people came out to sing His praises as He approached the city for the last time. He looked up and saw the prized city of His Father and knew the worship would soon turn to rejection, scorn, and crucifixion. He wept, not because of His impending death on the cross, but for the people missing their opportunity for salvation because of their rejection of Him as their Savior.
It begs the question: Do we look over our cities — regardless of size — and weep for lost souls knowing they are missing their opportunity for salvation because they don’t know Jesus as Savior? We should not only weep, but we should do something.
As Southern Baptists, we have the North American Mission Board (NAMB) helping us as a denomination focus on the strategic need to take the gospel to America’s population centers. It’s where we must go if we consider ourselves an evangelistic people.
Let’s face it, the number of people in America identifying themselves as Christians is in a free-fall decline. Within the Southern Baptist Convention alone, we’ve lost significant ground in the church-to-population ratio since 1900. Then it was one church for every 3,800 people. Now it’s one for every 6,200 people. We are not keeping up with population growth and Southern Baptists lose about 1,000 churches each year, many of which simply close their doors and die. This reality shatters the illusion that we have too many churches already. Fact is we need more — lots more.
NAMB has set a goal of 15,000 new churches planted from 2012 to 2022 and of course that means church-planting missionaries to lead them. Many pastors will need to be bivocational or self-funded because NAMB can’t fund that many, but the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is used directly to pay these missionaries and help fund their ministries.
NAMB’s president, Kevin Ezell, explains that NAMB’s focus is on cities with 100,000 or more. Kevin and I both left the pastorate around the same time to assume our current responsibilities. I think highly of Kevin’s leadership and friendship. He has brought focus to our North American church-planting effort. NAMB’s focus may be large cities, but it simultaneously continues strong support of church planting well beyond the cities (such as in rural areas like Appalachia), investing $41 million across America last year alone. Most of that went to church planting. Rest assured, NAMB is putting your offering to kingdom-building use.
I’d encourage you to personally give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and I’d also encourage your church to designate ongoing giving to the Cooperative Program, which also supports evangelism and church planting in Tennessee and beyond. Both enable each of us to individually and collectively maximize our financial investment in advancing the light of the gospel into America’s darkest spiritual places.
Yes, let’s weep for the spiritually lost in our cities and beyond … and then let’s get to work doing something about it.