A God-Shaped Vision

Back in 2001, the leadership team at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, launched a vision plan that laid out some lofty goals. By the end of 2010, they wanted to have people serving in all 24 time zones around the world. They strove to plant a church in every international mission board throughout their region. They aimed to do ministry in all 50 states, plus plant five churches in the U.S. and one church in Canada. 

Ultimately, they did ministry in 21 time zones, covered 15 regions and planted seven churches in the U.S. and one in Canada.

“I tell people that my theology is better than my geography because there are three time zones in the Pacific Ocean where there’s no one around, so it’s difficult to cover those,” jokes former Senior Pastor Danny Wood, who retired not long after this interview. Senior Pastor George Wright took the helm in 2021 with the church’s vision front of mind. 

The vision plan, according to Wood, served to keep people focused on specific goals. By coming alongside the North American Mission Board, the church aligned from a strategic standpoint, supporting the planting efforts in those cities that were the least resourced and the least served. The emphasis was for them to then reproduce indigenous plants within that context. 

“A lot of churches want to grow disciples and impact the community, but here we actually start with an action verb. We say, ‘If you’re going to be a part of this church, you need to know that we’re about sending out,’” says Tim Wheat, pastor of missional living at Shades Mountain. It’s a message that speaks to every demographic in the congregation, from older adults to kindergarteners. 

“The earlier you start, the more fruit you’re going to produce,” says Wood, noting that sixth-graders at the church go on a mission trip to Seeker Springs Ministry in Monroe, Louisiana, to work with the impoverished. For many, it’s their first mission trip, but it’s far from their last. In fact, by the time they graduate from high school, these young people may well have gone on six to eight mission trips, some international. 

“As a result, their whole view is so different from other college students who may have lived within the bubble of their community,” says Wood, who adds that whenever missionaries visit the church, they are impressed with the questions Sunday school students ask about their work. 

“[The kids] are integrated with all of this,” says Wood. “They are already a step ahead when it comes to missions and thinking about how they can invest their life.”

In 2017, the church laid out a new vision to take them to 2025. According to the North American Mission Board, there are 32 “sending” cities all around North America. 

“We’ve got a goal to do ministry in all 32 of those cities and to try to find some partnerships with church planters there,” says Wood. The church is working on connecting with unreached people groups overseas as well as on a Bible translation in Nepal. In addition, they are doing a lot of community mission work by adopting schools, ministering to first responders and helping with orphan and foster care.

In 2020 and 2021, COVID-19 forced church leaders and congregants to learn to go with the flow in every way, shape and form.

“Every plan we made was on an Etch A Sketch,” says Wood. Despite the ever-evolving plans, people’s spirits remained upbeat. Even when things were shutting down, Wheat says that directive to go with the flow became catalytic for them to mobilize people to serve in their neighborhoods.

“It really helped to move the needle of personal involvement in missions to a whole other level,” he says. Although good things came out of the pandemic, he wonders about what the future may hold when it comes to multiplication simply because so many churches are now focused on regathering.

“There’s such a longing to bring everybody back that it’ll take extra effort on the part of pastors to remind folks that it’s not about us getting back together,” says Wheat. “It’s about us influencing our world, bringing people into relationship with Christ and being sent out as disciples.”

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewinghttp://christyheitger-ewing.com/

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.