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First Thoughts

What Happened at First Baptist?

This week concludes our limited-run podcast called “What Happened at First Baptist.” It is a story about how a single congregation grew to become one of the largest and most influential churches in America, only to experience a cataclysmic decline that placed its very existence in doubt. For the past seven weeks, we’ve discussed how that same church endured a brutal and painful season of change and emerged from the transition stronger, more united, and more committed than ever to Jesus’ great commission. This is a story about the way ministry is changing in a new and harsher world painfully different than the one known by our parents and grandparents. It’s a story for pastors facing the daunting task of leading their churches through necessary but excruciating seasons of transition so they can move from surviving to thriving. This is a story for people who are part of those churches and experiencing the profound loss, painful heartbreak, and intense frustration that always comes with change. This is the story of What Happened at First Baptist Church, the rise, ruin and restoration of one of America’s great churches. You can listen to each episode and bonus episode wherever you listen to podcasts.
Below are the main episodes featured on YouTube:

Episode 1: Rise

This episode features:

  • An overview of the significant leadership role First Baptist Jacksonville had within the SBC, its influence on ministries throughout America via its pastor’s conferences, as well as the imprint the church made upon the city of Jacksonville.
  • Even though the church enjoyed great prestige, in more recent years, it has experienced a dramatic decline as mounting problems necessitated massive changes.
  • These changes were met with brutally sinful responses, and many in the church had to endure a season of difficulty never experienced before.
  • Yet, through it all, God was faithful and blessed First Baptist Jacksonville, making it a more vibrant and faithful church where God is glorified and the people are blessed.

Episode 2: Ruin

This episode features:

  • How one photo represents both a shift in the SBC and the end of a golden age in the life of First Baptist. (WA Criswell, The Old Time Religion)
  • The pinnacle of growth under the Lindsay years was marked by constructing its 10,000-seat Main Auditorium.
  • The succession of pastors and the two decades of painful decline following Homer Lindsay Jr’s death.
  • Conversations with church members, including one from Lindsay’s own family, who explain their heartbreaking experience as they witnessed the church’s troublesome descent.

Episode 3: Change

This episode features:
  • A failure to change course is deadly.
  • You will hear of Dr. Lambert’s journey to becoming senior pastor of FBC, how he grew to love this church, and his observations in the early years of what needed to change.
  • The church faced massive problems with a debt of tens of millions of dollars, oversized and failing facilities, a bloated and divided staff, and diminishing numbers of members and givers. (September 8 video).
  • The church was declining, and something needed to change, which meant that tumultuous days would come.

Episode 4: Pain

This episode features:
  • Change is necessary, but it is going to hurt.
  • First Baptist Jacksonville needed to make some drastic changes, or the church was going to die. Yet those changes were made in hopes that on the other side of the pain would be a renewed season of ministry faithfulness and further advancement of the gospel.
  • Dr. Lambert will share four different kinds of pain that he and others in the church experienced through the loss of relationships and the fears that came with the uncertainty of the future. (September 8 Recap Video)

Episode 5: Lies

This episode features:
  • People lied about Jesus during his ministry, and people will lie about the leaders of his church, especially in the midst of change and transition.
  • Dr. Lambert will share some of the many lies that were swirling around the church as he and other leaders sought to make the necessary changes at First Baptist.
  • While most of the dishonesty was intentionally unaddressed, there was one lie that was so big with far-reaching ramifications that it required a response. What was that lie, and what was the response?

Episode 6: Stay

This episode features:
  • In the spring of 2020, the complex changes at First Baptist were made even more difficult as the global impact of COVID affected all the plans for revitalization.
  • Yet while the situation got increasingly tumultuous, Dr. Lambert chose to stay and shares several reasons why you should try to stay at a church going through change, as well as some legitimate reasons why it might be time to leave, and bits of advice on how to leave well.
  • First Baptist Church members will testify to the great things that the Lord has done and the blessing they now see on the other side of the trials of change.

Episode 7: Stand

This episode features:
  • By the fall of 2022, by and large, First Baptist was on the other side of the hardships of change with a renewed sense of joy in the church.
  • However, cultural developments, especially in the city of Jacksonville, called for the church to take a stand for the truth through FBC’s Statement on Biblical Sexuality (Open Mic Event).
  • How was this statement received both inside and outside the church? And how did First Baptist respond to the attention received (Resource Page)?

Sean Perron (Ph.D. in Applied Theology from Midwestern Seminary and M.Div., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the Associate Pastor.  He is the co-author of three books: Letters to a Romantic: On DatingLetters to a Romantic: On Marriage, and Letters to a Romantic: The First Years. 

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