Alice Drive At 60…


On October 21, 1956, some very brave people gathered at Alice Drive Elementary School, believing God called them to start a church in what was then the western edge of Sumter.  Dr. W. R. McLin, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sumter preached the first sermon, “Upon this Rock.”  In the excitement of starting the new church, no one had thought to get something suitable for offering plates.  In those days, men commonly wore hats, so literally at the time of the offering, they passed the hat.

In their excitement, they choose the name “Alice Drive Baptist Church,” assuming they would be able to purchase land from the city of Sumter on Alice Drive.  The property they had their eye on was sold to other interests, and the church purchased property at 109 Miller Road instead. From early on in our history, Alice Drive has been confusing people in Sumter!

Those early days were filled with challenges of calling Francis Batson as first pastor, building the first building, and taking care of the needs of the new growing congregation.  In the background, there was always tension over the civil rights question and whether the new church should be open to people of all races.  The church finally settled this in 1977, declaring that Alice Drive would be a church for everyone who came, regardless of race.

For years the church struggled over issues of space and growth.  Dr. Bert Welch, the fourth pastor, led the church to begin a second worship service, to provide additional room.

In 1994, I became pastor.  I felt like God wanted ADBC to reach people and live up to her full potential.  Two years after I came, we celebrated our 40th anniversary.  We were again facing a space crisis – too little room, and too many people.

In 1998, averaging 400 in worship, the church made the bold decision to relocate.  Property was purchased at the intersection of Wise Drive and Loring Mill Road and plans for a new building were drawn.  The church needed room immediately, however. We moved worship services to USC- Sumter’s Nettle’s auditorium in 1999.

On Mother’s Day, 2001, we moved to our present location at 1305 Loring Mill Road.  The church continued to grow.    We celebrated our 50th anniversary with a campaign to provide more space.  Economic uncertainty and stalled growth caused us to miss our goals.  But God was faithful; He provided a way for us to get the space we needed at half the cost.  Additional parking was added in 2009, the Administration building was obtained from Shaw AFB in 2011 and the Venue was built in 2012.

In 2013, we began Monday night worship, unique in South Carolina, for those who can’t or won’t come on Sunday.

I celebrated 20 years as pastor in 2014.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine God would place me here for 20 years.

Now on the verge of turning 60, we are poised to become a multisite church with the launch of our Pocalla location in February 2017.   But I believe there is more for us.  God is calling us forward to embrace opportunities to tell people about Jesus and to help them take their next step.

I’ve been part of our 40th anniversary, when we were a church of 450; our 50th, when we were a church of about 1,000; and now, our 60th, when we are a church of 1,500.  I believe with all my heart that our best years are ahead of us.

I know Sumter needs all kinds of churches, and I pray good for all gospel preaching churches.  But I also feel deep in my bones that God is telling us that He needs a church like ADBC in Sumter and in other parts of South Carolina.  It’s not because we are special; it is because He has chosen us to help as many people as possible take their next step toward Jesus Christ.


Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

I don’t normally take my theological cues from Taylor Swift, but after a recent scan of Facebook, I felt compelled to ask her question:  “Why You Gotta Be So Mean?”

I get that you are voting for either Trump or Clinton or Johnson.  I get that you feel passionate about your candidate.  I even get that you feel like our country needs strong leadership and needs to go in a different direction.

What I don’t get is why you gotta be so mean?  Why are you re-posting something that isn’t true and is an obvious lie (“Trump’s Hair is done by Alien Hairdresser!”  “Hillary’s Secret Love Triangle with Putin and Beyonce’!”).   Why attack other people?  People who vote for Donald are not deplorable.  People who vote for Hillary are not crazy.

I was reading last week about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  If the Spirit is at work within us, that fruit should come out, even when we talk politics.  Jesus doesn’t grant an exception during election years.

If you are a Jesus follower, pray for God to soak your soul in the fruit of the Spirit, and for all your words between now and election day to be words of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control.

Ain’t no reason you gotta be so mean.

This Is a Test…

“Take out a piece of paper, close your books.  This is a test.”

Those words elevate blood pressure and inspire fervent prayer.  As the bumper sticker says, “As long as there are tests, there will be pray in school.”  There is nothing like the word “Test” to make your brain go into lockdown.  Have you ever looked at a question, and known you know the answer, but it hovers just outside the range of consciousness?  Thinking about it harder doesn’t help; I know, I had the grades to prove it.

Why do teachers give tests?  I used to think it was so they could make us prove we were paying attention.  Now I realize they had to give us a grade and a test was the most empirical way to determine if we were really awake in class.  I don’t know that a test proved I learned anything.  For most of my academic career, I would cram knowledge in the night before the test and then pour it out on paper the next day.  When I handed in my paper, my brain flushed all the facts, formulas, and figures into whatever corner of the brain holds stuff you don’t remember anymore.

We can think this is what the Bible means when it speaks of God testing us.  We picture trying to prove to God we know enough to pass.  The word translated “test” means to prove or to measure.  The picture changes from sitting in a classroom to an engineering lab testing the strength of concrete.  I see in my mind cattle being standing on a scale, so their weight is not a guess, but is proven.  That’s a test.

We say we believe, we say we will follow, but our words alone do not prove our love for God.  Our religious acts do not prove the weight God has in our lives.  The reality of our faith is shown in the moment of testing.  Faith is only real when we act.  Following Jesus, even when the picture is not clear, is passing the test.

By this measure, I have failed God’s tests many times.  So have you.  The temptation for me, and maybe for you, is to say it is impossible to pass the test.  Yet the Bible gives us stories of regular people who passed the test.  They were not super heroes.  They were people who decided to trust and follow, people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and John.

You have been and you will be tested.  If you have failed the test last time, the good news is our God loves you and will give you another opportunity.  If you have a test coming up, pray to obey when you can’t see the way.  Ultimately, your tests and mine are opportunities to trust our Heavenly Father.

I don’t know when, but I know God will test you.  I’m praying not that you will pass, but that you will trust.

No One Is An Object…

By now, everyone has heard about Donald Trump’s indefensible remarks about women.  His defenders have said that such talk is common in locker rooms across the country.  Maybe.

Comments such as these shift people from the category of being a “soul” to the category of being an “object.”  God did not make us to be objects.  We are not just our bodies, or our minds, or our talents, or our performance.  We are souls, created by God, valued by God, loved by God.

If you are a Jesus follower, you must see all people as souls.  Every life has value, whether it is the new born baby, the porn star, the football lineman, the neighbor across the street, or the parent with dementia.  God values everyone.

At the very least, we who follow Jesus must deal with our fellow soul travelers by being Jesus to them – extending to them love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (yes, ripped off from Galatians 5:22-23).  You cannot treat people as objects under any circumstance while following this path.  This is a radically counter-cultural way to live, but it is the way of Jesus and it is to be the way of His followers.

Has Hillary Clinton every objectified people? Yes.  When she has spoken of people who are Clinton-haters, she categorizes them as objects.  Jesus doesn’t approve of this either.

Have I ever treated people as objects?  Yes.  When I face this in my own soul, I must confess and be humble.  To confess is not to compare and say, “Everyone else has done this.”  We cannot say, “But compared to his sin, mine is not as bad.”  With transparent souls, we seek God’s healing grace so we know forgiveness and our souls are healed.

Has Donald Trump done this?  Only God knows.  Has Hillary Clinton done this?  Only God knows.

Have I done this?  Have I confessed my sin of treating people as objects?  That’s what counts.  Have I asked Jesus to help me see people not as objects, but as souls needing grace?  That’s the prayer I need to make in my journey to be just like Jesus.

(And yes, I deliberated wrote and posted this before the debate Sunday night)




Why God Makes You Wait…

Have you ever wondered why God makes you wait?  God does not deliver in two days like Amazon Prime.  Why?

Sometimes God makes us wait because we are not trusting.  When we do not trust, we feel tension.  Our requests are really pleas to relieve our inner tension.  We falsely think that God is supposed to make us comfortable.  Tension isn’t relaxing; but it is an opportunity for faith.  In the midst of the tension, have faith.

Sometimes God makes us wait because we are not ready to receive.  God wants to bless us, but there is a major spiritual issue we haven’t dealt with; or there is a priority we’ve let slip; or we need to grow some character to be able to handle what God wants to give us.  When this is the case, God will make clear the growth step that is required, if we listen.  When the growth step is clear, do it!

Sometimes God makes us wait because His timing is better than ours.  God sees how the whole picture will unfold.  If He sends the blessing now, other pieces of the puzzle will not fit.  This is often His concession to us, His way of understanding our limited ability to see the whole picture.  Ask God to help you see more of His picture.

Sometimes we think God is making us wait when God is actually telling us “no.”  You may be praying for someone to fall in love with you and think God is telling you to wait, but He is actually saying “No, she/he is not the person for you.”  Ask God to help you accept His will and His “no.”

Sometimes God makes us wait because He wants to make it clear that He is the one who makes the promise come true.  If God gave us the fulfillment of His promise as soon as we asked, we would be tempted to think we controlled Him.  Or we would think it was our actions that made things happen.  Ask God to remind you of the ways He is in control.

Sometimes God makes us wait because someone else isn’t ready.  This is hard.  We’re ready, God’s ready.  But someone else is involved.  This is hard, especially if we can identify the other person and know what they need to do to be ready.  Even if they never take that step of readiness, God will find a way to work His plan.  When this happens, pray for the other person.

Sometimes God makes us wait for reasons unknown.  Isaiah cries out, “His understanding is beyond searching.”  God’s ways and timing can be mystery.  Our minds are not all knowing and we are not all powerful.  When you can’t find any other reason why God asks you to wait, stand before His great power and knowledge and honor Him as the God who is infinite, and therefore beyond understanding.

While you wait, remember these other words of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like Eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Grit in the Gears – Why Procrastination Harms you and your Organization

If you know me, you are wondering why in the world I am writing this.  I have low self structure and low tolerance for external structure.  Procrastination is my middle name.

Yet as any organization grows larger, procrastination is the grit that grinds the gears.  It robs us of performance.  It keeps an organization from focusing on mission.  Procrastination creates sideways energy.  We wait on other people.  Deadlines are missed.  The crucial conversations are unspoken.

That’s why the larger the organization becomes, the more procrastination must be attacked.

Why We Procrastinate

We procrastinate because:

  • We have enough talent to pull something off at the last minute.  When we had Sunday night services, I would sometimes prepare my sermon walking down the hall into the service.   I had enough talent (extemporaneous speaking) and enough knowledge (Ph.D.) to pull it off.  It worked about 70% of the time, just enough for me to justify it.  It was, however, a path to mediocrity.
  • We want to avoid the unpleasant.  Maybe an assignment is outside our comfort zone.  Maybe we are afraid of conflict.  So we shuffle the pile, we do something that is a time killer, instead of that which is important.
  • We live for the thrill of the urgent.  Some of us have very high urgency scores.  This leads us to love an “urgency high.”  If you ever raced the clock on turning in paper, or studying for a test, you know this feeling.  It is a rush.  Unfortunately, it gives us the illusion of productivity, when in fact, the result of our high is less than quality work.
  • We are waiting for “sure” and “certain.”  You may have a personality that wants 100% of the information.   This is impossible.  Your failure fear corresponds to your thoroughness need.  The higher your thoroughness need, the more likely you are to be afraid of failure.
  • We are missing an important piece.  This is when procrastination works for us.  Something doesn’t feel right.  We may be missing piece of data, or buy in for a key leader.  Our reading of a meeting tells us people are saying “yes” verbally, but “no” with their souls.  We delay action until something feels better.
  • We replace the important with the urgent.  This is most destructive form of procrastination.  We have to meet deadlines and expectations, attend meetings and make phone calls.  Emails pops up and says, “I’m here!  Pay attention to me!”  The important work – Vision, Strategy, leading leaders – is pushed aside.  We may be proud of our producing a good looking chart, but that chart has done nothing to move the organization forward.

Why This Matters to Us Now

True confession: as the guy at the top of the organization I have been known to abuse my position.  In my immature moments, when I have procrastinated, I have justified it as “No one knows the pressures I feel.”  “No one has my schedule.”  The truth is there are times when I have to ask people to flex because there is a genuine crisis.  But the more dominant truth is I procrastinated, I didn’t follow my own schedule, I got engrossed in reading something interesting that wasn’t vital (my number one sin), or I was guided by my inner child “I don’t want to do this!”

Procrastination creates distrust in organizations.  It makes wonder if the next deadline will be meet.  It bends the family system.  Soon the organization spends its time chasing each other instead of gaining higher ground.

The opposite of procrastination is not timeliness; it is trust.  Trust is grease to the gears.  The organization can go faster, farther, using less energy when there are high levels of trust.  Decisions can be made and not checked out with supervisors because we know we can trust each other.

Trust also makes communication move from dial up to fiber optic.  We are not trying to clean up old messes and undone assignments.

Trust creates respect.  When I demonstrate I respect you by following the system, meeting or beating the deadline, I feel like you respect me.  Although I have confessed I am a procrastinator, I can’t stand it in other people (I know, “First take the beam out of your own eye before you remove the speck from your brother’s eye”).  When I distribute something to a team and all the responses pile in at the deadline, I can never give them my full attention.  I like it when people are early.

Ultimately, to build a great team and a great organization, we must be unselfish.  That means I must respect your needs, your system, and your deadlines.

What We Need to Do

If only we could say, “So stop procrastinating.”  But it’s not that easy.  If it were, we’d all be thinner, in better shape, and have a better devotional life.

What I can ask you do is engage in a 30 second personal exercise.  Thirty seconds.  That’s all.

Before I share the exercise with you, let me tell you about a conversation I had with Dick Lincoln years ago about church groups.  I was asking his opinion about groups, and was candid enough to say, “I know we need groups.  I just don’t really care.  I don’t care if we have Sunday morning groups or home groups.  I just know we need groups.  I don’t care which.”

Dick stopped me short and said, “Clay, if you don’t care about groups, no one will.  You must find why you care about groups.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation.  It’s my job to discover why I care.

So here’s your 30 second exercise:  In one sentence, tell why you care about stopping your procrastination.

Before you start, let me give you a couple of thoughts.  Find out why you care.  Not why you should.    To say something like “I care because I want us to honor God” – that only works if you are Mother Teresa.

So in one sentence, tell why you care about stopping your procrastination:



Imagine an Organization without Procrastination.

Imagine a being able to look everyone in the eye and know you meet or beat a deadline.  Imagine how good you will feel knowing you did something that counted for the Kingdom.  Imagine that you felt an explosion of trust with your peers.  Imagine people at next the level of the organization – up or down – respecting you.

All this is possible –and more.  It can happen when you find the reason to care.

Hitting Back…

When I was in first grade, I was scared of Joby Skitka.  It was his third time through the first grade, so he was bigger than the rest of us.  He got into fights, and was always winning when the teachers intervened.  He was sent to the office so often, there was a chair reserved outside the principal’s office with his name on it.

I told my brother I was scared of Joby.  Steve told me that if he hit me, I should hit him back.  Somewhere in my mind, there was a pause.  Though I was five, I learned in church that I was supposed to turn the other cheek.  I protested to Steve that Jesus told me I wasn’t supposed to hit back, but turn the other cheek.  Steve, whose theology had advanced to junior high level, told me “turn the other cheek” was for church, but “hitting back” was for school.

Maybe it’s this election, or maybe it’s just where we are as a people, but sometimes I feel like the whole world has gone crazy.  There are tragedies of black men being shot by police compounded by greater tragedies of protests that turn violent.  From Ferguson, to Minneapolis, to our backyard in Charlotte, people turn to violence to express feelings of resentment and powerlessness.  In one week, a lawyer shoots people in Houston because he dislikes his job, nine people are stabbed in Minnesota, and seven are stabbed in Boston.  No one is turning the other cheek.  Everyone is hitting back.

I watched the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  I know it’s politics, but it felt more like a first grade playground: “You attack me and I’ll attack you back.”  Couples come to see me about their problems and after a few moments and it feels just like the debate: “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you.”

When I got better teachers than my brother, I learned Jesus meant it when he said “Turn the other cheek.”  Not only did he say it, he did it.  Spat upon, beaten, nailed to a cross, he did not tap into all his power and hit back.   Somehow that day, Jesus’ refusal to hit back meant violence and hate were stopped in their tracks.  It took incredible strength for Jesus to turn the other cheek and not look back.  It always take more strength to not hit than to hit.

As we move into the post-Christian phase of our culture, we’ve lost this core teaching of Jesus.  We’re reverting to old ways of believing violence is the answer.  That’s why it is imperative those who follow Jesus live by His way, not the way of the this world.  That’s why we need to grow strength and trust.  We need strength to receive the blow and not strike back.  We need trust so we can believe God’s way is superior.  It’s time for the people of God to do something counter-cultural and not hit back like everyone else.

A couple of years ago in my hometown newspaper I saw this headline: “Man Killed by Grandson in Domestic Dispute.”  Turns out Joby Skitka was killed by his grandson in an argument over a knife.  It made me sad, for Joby and for his grandson.  They never learned Jesus’ way is the way to life; hitting back leads to death.

Have you learned Jesus way?

What Were You Thinking?

Have you ever looked at someone’s yard and wondered “what were they thinking?”

I saw old firetruck hooked up to a well with a hose to pump water to the house.  Wouldn’t an electric pump be easier?  In the South, you can’t drive more than five miles without finding a truck, car, or tractor up on blocks.  You can always tell by the height of the weeds around it how long it’s been there.  More than once, I’ve seen twenty foot tall trees growing up through the engine compartment

In front of one house outside Great Falls, an old combine sits in front of the house.  It’s been there the twenty two years I’ve been driving past the house.  It makes me wonder if there was a conversation that went like this: “Maw, I’ve been thinking the front yard needs a little decoration.   I think I’ll pull up that old combine from the barn and park it in front of the window.  It can sit there and rust and folks will understand it is a representation of the deterioration of American industrial might and the rise of neo-deconstructionism.”

One day it hit me:  everything I have seen, from the firetruck to the combine, started with thinking, “This would be a good idea.”

Maybe they thought it would be temporary:  “I’ll park the combine here and move it later.”  Maybe they have told themselves the lie all men tell themselves: “I’m going to fix that car/truck/tractor one day.”  Maybe they were stubborn cusses and figured if something was worth doing, it was worth doing the hard way.

It’s not just people’s yards.  I see people breaking up their marriages to pursue fantasies that I know will be empty.  I want to shake them and ask, “what are you thinking?”  I see parents who will not say “no” to their children.  I want to pull them aside and ask “what are you thinking?”  The other day I saw a young man pull up in a new expense car I’m pretty sure he can’t afford.  I wanted to rush over, grab the keys, and say, “what are you thinking?”

But then I pause and remember Jesus’ instruction: “First take the fence post out of your own eye before you fish around looking for sawdust in someone else’s eye.”  Does God ever look at me and say, “Clay, what are you thinking?”

I think about words that fly out of my mouth and hurt people.  I think how stupid I am to believe old lies I know aren’t true: “Two pieces of cake will make you feel better.”  I think about how often hurry through prayer or Bible Study, and then wonder why I feel empty.

What was I thinking?

Thinking matters.  Before you let your brain sign off on something as a good idea, you need to ask your Father in Heaven, “good idea or bad idea?”  You will surprised how often He wisely shakes His head and says, “No.  Bad idea.  You can’t see where this leads, but I can.  If you do this, it will be like parking a combine in the front yard of your soul.

This is why the Bible says, “Pray without ceasing.”  We need guidance in every decision, for every moment of our lives.

Wouldn’t it be great if your Heavenly Father said to you “I’m glad you prayed.  You are learning to think just like me.”  Isn’t that a lot better than our Heavenly Father saying, “What were you thinking?”

This Story Can’t Be True

I saw this story on my twitter feed.  It’s a from a guy I know who works for a denomination.  He works in the office all week and then preaches at different churches every week.  He sees a lot of churches, hears a lot of things.

This past Sunday, as the worship begins, announcements are shared.  The first thing spoken was not a word from God, not even “Remember the potluck dinner Wednesday night.”

The first thing said was “Ya’ll remember to keep the doors locked.  We don’t want people getting into the church.”

Let me repeat: “Ya’ll remember to keep the doors locked.  We don’t want people getting into the church.”

My friend thought he had heard wrong.  He didn’t.  Heads nodded. Mentally, deadbolts clicked.  These people were sure that church was only for people who had keys.

Anybody want to place a bet on how much longer that church will be in business?

Or did it go out of business years ago, and no body has told them yet they are just a social club, where only members get the keys?

Please, somebody tell me this story isn’t true.  It just can’t be.


Home Hunters…

For five years I served as pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  The church was located in the middle of a neighborhood that had seen better days.  Eleven hundred square foot houses were lined up on lots that were 50 feet wide and 120 feet deep.  Most of the people in the neighborhood and in the church had moved up from rural Kentucky during the great depression or moved in when they came home from World War II.   They found work in the L&N Railroad shops, or at the Naval Ordinance Station, or at International Harvester.  As soon as they could scratch together a down payment, they bought a house and raised a family.  Often, four or five children were jammed into two tiny bedrooms, with everyone in the house sharing one bath.  When I asked the parents about it years later, they said with enthusiasm, “Having indoor plumbing was a real upgrade from the outhouse back on the farm.”

By the time I came to the church, most of the people had put in their thirty or forty years.  They got their gold watch and retired.  They had sent their children off to college and were a little surprised their children didn’t move back into the old neighborhood.

When a pastor is new to a church, people want to know about you.  I was asked, over and over, “Now where are you from?”  I told them about being from Florida and growing up on a ranch.  Before I could ask them a question back, they were quick to pick up the thread of “Where are you from?” by telling me “I’m from Campbell County.”  Or “I’m from Barren County,” or “McCracken County.”  They never referenced the name of a town or a city, always a county.  When one man told me he was from “Bourbon County” I thought that must have been an interesting place to grow up.  No one ever said they were from Louisville.


After they had established which county was their place of origin, I would ask them how long they had lived in Louisville.  The most common answer: “Oh, about 45 years.”  Many had lived in the same house, in the same neighborhood, going to the same church for 45 years, but they all wanted me to know that they were not Louisvillians;  they were from the country.

In another sense, they were telling me that Louisville was not home.  Whatever it meant for them to be from Campbell County, or Barren County, or even Bourbon County, they had not found it in Louisville. For those folks, home was a memory.  Forty or fifty years after they left, they were still longing for home.

Everyone is hunting for a sense of home.  We try to make a house a home, filling it with pictures and furniture.  We hunt for a church that feels like family, where we can feel like home.  But finding a home ends up not being so much about a place, but something our heart seeks.

The deepest longing of your heart is find a place of rest, a place of grace, a place of love.  You will never find that in a building.  You will, however, find it in the presence of an amazing Savior, Jesus.