Thursday Thoughts

February 29, 2024

In their book, Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus, David M. Csinos and Ivy Beckwith write, “In our contemporary consumer/capitalist society, children can easily be seen as consumers of ministry, those who are on the receiving end of ministry. Notions of ministry to or for children can denote this view of children’s ministry, one of adults actively ministering and children passively consuming ministry.”  

This Sunday, I am excited to say that we have a wonderful opportunity and intentional reminder to flip the script on this common way of thinking about the role of children in worship. This Sunday, we get to take part in what Csinos and Beckwith refer to as “ministry with children.” They describe it in this way: “ministry that involves serving children, being served by children and serving the world with children.”  

What a beautiful gift it is to exist within a body of believers that allows little ones full access to participate just like anyone else! Dr. James H. Ritchie, Jr. says that, because children are concrete learners, depending on their own experiences to learn and process their own faith journeys, it behooves us to give them opportunities to experience all that being part of a faith community has to offer.  

That being said, thank you all for the ways you already empower our little ones and thank you in advance for supporting them as they lead us in worship together this Sunday morning. You will see members of both our AFBC Preschool and Children’s Ministry taking on different roles throughout the service, so let us be intentional about being as patient and welcoming as possible!  

For anyone taking part in leading the worship service or assisting those leading, we will meet in the sanctuary at 10:30 a.m. for a quick run-through. As always, please contact me with any questions or concerns. Otherwise, we are excited to see you at 11:00 a.m. and are confident that you will be blessed! 


In truth and love, 

Matt Waller 

(704) 466-2321 

February 22, 2024

Mission: HERE – Helping Everyone Reach Everyone

Mission: HERE is just around the corner and we hope you will sign up to join us as we serve our neighbors and share the love of God with them.  We will again be repairing homes for those in need in partnership with United Way and Habitat for Humanity.

Project work dates are April 4-6, Thursday-Saturday.  You can work all three days, one day, or even partial days as your schedule allows, and there is a place to note your availability upon registration.  Youth are welcome to participate on the worksites any day they can—we will have lots of fun tearing down and the rebuilding an old deck! Children can participate through the Children’s Workshop on Thursday and Friday, April 4 and 5, 9:30 am-11:30 am.

An organization/kick-off will be held 6:00-6:45 pm on Wednesday, April 3.

Sign up for Mission: HERE now through March 17 in the office or through this link:

There are two ticket types on the registration form.  One allows you pay directly through the app; the other allows you to register for free and then pay in-person through the church office.  The fee to participate is $15 per person.  Registration also allows you to indicate how you would like to help and which days you are available.  We’ll need volunteers to prepare and deliver lunches, Children’s Workshops helpers, house repair workers and assistants, and project team leaders. We’ll also be collecting items for gift baskets like last year, so donations of small items can be left in the cupboard across from the office.

We can’t wait to participate in the arrival of a bit of God’s Kingdom here in Aiken as it is in heaven.

We hope you will join us.

February 15, 2024

Thriving Congregations

Last year, the Church Council became aware of an initiative of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) called Thriving Congregations.  If you remember our guest preacher in October, Rev. Chris Aho, then can put a face to the leadership of this initiative.  When Chris was here in October he was able to meet with the Church Council and converse with them about this initiative.

According to CBF, “The Thriving Congregations Initiative exists to equip churches to fulfill their unique call, and by extension, thrive, in today’s chaotic world.  The organizing thesis of this work centers on the belief that thriving congregations exhibit capacities around five key traits: Compelling Clarity, Holy Tenacity, Faithful Agility, Rooted Relationships, and Dynamic Collaboration.  The Thriving Congregations Initiative’s signature ministry is the year-long, incubator-style learning community to equip congregational leadership teams to develop practices that lead toward the embodiment of the five thriving traits. Through this process, congregations will engage in Holy Experiments to accelerate learning and uncover pathways that lead to transformation.”  If you wish to read more about this initiative, you can do so here:

Toward the end of 2023, the Church Council decided to participate in the upcoming cohort of Thriving Congregations by putting together a six-person team—Randy Duckett, Lindsey McCullough, Rose Ann Pistole, Josh Pniewski, Matt Waller, and John Carroll.  Their first retreat will be February 23-25, and monthly remote learning calls will begin in March.  Please be in prayer for this team as they embark on a year-long learning experience and implement holy experiments to help us thrive in our sharing of God’s love.

February 8, 2024

Dear Church Family, 

Next Wednesday, February 14 is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day journey of spiritual preparation for the joy of Easter.  I simply wanted to reach out to you and invite you to participate in this season of preparation in a few ways. 

First, I would invite you to join us for our Ash Wednesday service on the 14th at 6:30 pm in our Sanctuary.  For those unfamiliar with this day on the Christian calendar, it is a day set apart to recognize both our mortality and our sinfulness.  While these things are not something we are often eager to reflect on, spending time remembering these aspects of our lives can lead us to a greater sense of appreciation for the grace of God that more than covers our mortality and our sin. 

Second, I would encourage you to find a concrete way to observe this season of Lent.  Many people often decide to fast from something—particular foods or drinks, excessive media consumption or phone use, or any habit that draws your attention away from Jesus.  Other decide to take on an intentional commitment to a spiritual discipline—meditating on scripture, singing hymns and spiritual songs daily as a form of worship, listening to God through extended moments of silence, etc.  And some people have found it incredibly beneficial to combine such fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  For instance, if you have given up watching a particular TV show, you can use that time to read scripture.  Or, if you have given up a particular meal during the week, you can spend that time in silence before God. 

However we decide to make an act of surrender during this season—by giving something up, by taking a new discipline on, or by a combination of both—I pray that we will be able to purposefully walk alongside Jesus as he sets his face toward Jerusalem, surrendering himself to the will of God, journeying into the heart of human darkness and sin and taking up the cross until he bursts forth by the power of God in the glory of resurrection life.  May our Lenten journeys lead us, similarly, to new life abundant and free, even as they take us through the valley of surrender and purification for the sake of our Lord and his Kingdom. 

Grace and Peace, 


February 1, 2024

Joint Worship with Second Baptist

On Sunday, February 4 at 10:15 am, we will once again have the opportunity to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ at Second Baptist Church, and I can’t wait!!!  Last year was such a joy, and I know this year will be, as well.  Just like our joint worship opportunities last year, this Sunday will be another opportunity for us all to state how important it is to bridge the divides between black and white individuals and communities, to proclaim the goodness of God’s kingdom to which all Christians belong no matter which church they attend, and to stake a claim that our unity in Christ is far stronger than any of our differences.  These things are so important, in fact, that we are willing to give up our own Sunday morning gathering in order to make it happen.  We are also looking forward to October 27 when Second Baptist will set aside their usual Sunday morning routines and join us in our sanctuary at 11:00 am.

As we prepare for a joyful Sunday of worship and fellowship, I wanted to pass along a few reminders about our gathering to help us know what to expect.

Where:  1151 York St NE, Aiken, SC 29801

When:  10:15 am

How Long:  Worship is generally 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes

What:  Worship followed by light refreshments and fellowship.  We will not have a full meal like we did last year.

What about Kids:  There will be children’s church throughout worship for all elementary aged children.  There will be nursery care throughout worship for all younger children.  Children are also welcome in the sanctuary for worship.  They may stay for the whole service or part of the service and then be taken back to the children’s area at any time.  Some of our childcare volunteers will join the volunteers from Second Baptist so that all children will have a familiar face.  All childcare volunteers from both churches are background checked.  Parents will need to sign in their kids with some basic information.

What will worship be like:  Second’s praise band will lead us in worship and song, and our choir will offer a selection.  An offering will be taken by individuals coming forward to a basket, one for each church.  Pastor John will preach.

Attire:  As in our congregation, a wide range of attire will be welcomed.  Come as you would normally be comfortable in worship.

What if I Cannot Attend and Want to Join Online:  You can find a live feed of worship on Second Baptist Church’s website or on Second Baptist Church’s facebook page

We look forward to seeing you Sunday at 10:15 am!!!

January 25, 2024

How many of us who have had young children on a trip in our car to the mountains or the beach have heard the question, “Are we there yet?”  And then heard it several more times before you finally – and thankfully – arrived at your destination?  Well, all of us at Aiken’s First Baptist Church are on a journey of sorts as we are having Courageous Conversations about our large and wonderful campus, our physical and monetary contributions to our church and all of its missions.

When can we safely ask the question, “Are we there yet?”

Interestingly enough, the actual fun is not really reaching a “destination” per se, but taking intentional and measured steps and enjoying the journey!

On the financial side of things, our total revenues for 2023 were $986,760.87, expenses totaled $982,136.39 for a net positive of $4,624.48.  I consider that a small step forward in our journey, even though we did not reach our budget of $1,171.897.  We have right-sized our budget for 2024 to be $999,985, which is $13,224.12 more than our revenues for 2023.  I think a next step in our journey will be attaining our Ministry Action Plan (our budget) realizing that it is not just the number itself that is important, but rather our hope for missions – inside and outside – our church walls were carried out!  The best thing about our trip is that we can all get on the same page, each of us doing what we are best at, thinking outside the box when necessary, and enjoying each other’s company along the way, without having to ask, “Are we there yet?” because the journey itself is accomplishing our goal to be the best First Baptist Church we can be.

Pete Sampson, Finance Committee Chair

January 4, 2024

Dear Church Family,

I am looking forward to our courageous conversation series that begins this Sunday morning at 9:30—but make sure you come early for breakfast at 9:00 am.  This year’s courageous conversation focuses on stewarding our facility for changing times.  During this year’s conversation we will have opportunity to talk about our changing cultural context, the good things happening in our church, our current financial situation, and the strengths and hurdles of having a large, older facility.  We will also have opportunity to discuss a report from our facilities renewal task force and to brainstorm ways to turn hurdles into opportunities.

To help us hit the ground running, I wanted to remind us of the way we began our conversation last year—by talking about why we should have courageous conversations generally and by establishing some ground rules for our conversation.

First, there are several reasons why we should have courageous conversations generally.  We should have them because they help us to clarify our identity as a congregation that finds its unity not in conformity of belief on every matter but rather celebrates its diversity as it gathers in unity around the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  We should have such conversations because it is an opportunity to deepen relationships by getting to know one another beyond surface conversations.  We should have such conversations because they enrich our understanding of subjects by helping us to see them from an angle we may not have considered previously.  And, we should have such conversations because our culture needs a better way modeled about how to value relationships and engage in fruitful conversation amidst disagreement.  We can genuinely hold firm beliefs while still welcoming the perspectives of others and remaining loving and kind throughout it all.

Second, those gathered at the first conversation last year helped to brainstorm covenantal guidelines we should all follow in order to have a safe, productive, and loving courageous conversation.  I am sharing these again as a reminder for all of us as we lean in for another great conversation this year.

  • Come with curiosity, eager to learn something new about our subject and to learn something new about your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • It is ok to disagree, but in disagreement:
    • ask open ended questions to seek understanding.
    • allow everyone to express their thoughts without judgment.
    • assume good intentions—we all want what is best for our church and what honors God.
  • Share speaking space like you share food at a table and don’t interrupt one another.
  • Share here and don’t wait to share in the parking lot.
  • Listen, listen, listen . . . listen as if love mattered.
  • Avoid absolutes like always and never.
  • Respect one another for simply being here and having the courage to speak out.
  • Be kind, encourage one another, love one another.
  • Be conscious of our body language and tone which matter as much as what we say.
  • Understand that no one has all the answers, and we don’t always have to be right.
  • Don’t be afraid to express what you are thinking in any words that you can express it.  It does not have to be sophisticated or perfectly worded.
  • Be careful not to use scripture verses out of their context.

Grace and Peace,


December 21, 2023

A Christmas Meditation (Judges 13:2-24; John 7:40-52)

As a child, I was taught that Christmas was not about receiving gifts, but about giving them. Nonetheless, I still remember waking up every Christmas morning and running to my living room to open the gifts that I was privileged enough to have waiting for me under the Christmas tree. My mother always wrapped the presents weeks in advance, which meant that my impatient young mind had already singled out the largest gifts that I would inevitably tear into first. However, as I would reach for the biggest boxes or bags, my mother would often caution me using familiar phrases like, “Bigger isn’t always better!” or “Good things come in small packages!” While these phrases are often disregarded as cliches, they helped me to understand the importance of making informed judgements as a child. Even as I have grown older, I am constantly reminded of this simple lesson and the importance it has on daily interactions with other people.

Simply put, when I read these two passages of scripture, I see several humans that make significant judgements, some correct and some incorrect. In Judges 13, Manoah and his wife mistakenly take their mysterious visitor for something of a prophet rather than the angel of the Lord. Even after Manoah asks God to send the visitor again, he understands nothing more about the angel and even tries to provide food and obtain the angel’s name. It is not until Manoah sees the angel of the Lord ascend into the air that he realizes his mistake. Understandably, Manoah’s response is one of fear, but his much more level-headed wife assures him that God has blessed them.

Much in the same way, Jesus is misidentified in John 7. The interpretations of some in the crowd fail to see that Jesus is the Messiah. These interpretations drive individuals like the Pharisees to seek Jesus’ downfall. However, the temple police are so surprised by Jesus’ words, that they do not arrest him, and Nicodemus, seeing past the Pharisees’ motives, even defends Jesus. Unfortunately, as is often the case today, the Pharisees simply mock those who do not agree with their judgements of Jesus.

I would be lying if I said that I still don’t enjoy opening up gifts or even trying to guess what is inside of them while they are still wrapped. However, I have grown to realize that more precious than any possession is the joy of being able to accurately identify the identity of Christ as well as my own identity in Christ. People, like presents, were never meant to be judged based on their outward appearance. It is what comes out of a person that determines who they are. We see this through Jesus, who entered the world as a lowly child, but did what no human would ever be able to do by saving humanity. Though some have misjudged Christ and continue to misjudge His followers, we have the greatest gift of knowing Christ’s true identity and sharing it with others.

As we give and receive gifts this Christmas season, may we also strive to prioritize the gifts of patience, understanding, perspective, and love and the call they place upon our lives to live according to the Spirit. May we cast our fears and prejudices aside in exchange for seeing the world through the eyes of the One in whose image we are made. Amen.

In truth and love,

Matt Waller

December 14, 2023

Have You Prepared?

I’m not sure about you, but this Advent season feels like it has positively flown by! Here we are more than halfway through the season of preparation, and I hardly feel ready at all for Christmas to be here! The fact remains, however, that whether we feel ready, that special day is going to arrive. After the hustle to airports, or chaotic family dinners and when the last piece of tissue paper drifts to the floor after the frenzied gift exchanges. After the last dishes have been washed and dried following a simply massive meal. My prayer is that you will be able to find a moment of peace and reflection. During that reflection, I hope you are overwhelmed by gratitude. Gratitude for this beautiful, messy, lovely, and wild time of year. Most of all, I hope you feel gratitude for Christ who came down to join us, live among us, and save us.

Our Christmas Cantata will take place during regular worship time on Sunday, December 17th at 11:00 am. This year’s cantata is entitled “The Glory of Christmas” by Lloyd Larson. This is another new addition to our music library that combines beloved texts and tunes with fresh compositions and arrangements. The choir has been working hard on preparing this energetic work. You won’t want to miss this wonderful opportunity to celebrate the coming savior! Come sing together. Come listen together. Come worship together!

soli Deo gloria,

Zach Derr

Director of Music & Worship

December 7, 2023

Courageous Conversations: Stewarding Our Facilities for Changing Times

During the month of January, we will hold our second, annual, church-wide Courageous Conversations. This is an effort we started last year to create intentional, safe space for our congregation to have enriching conversations around topics that might be difficult to engage because of the varying perspectives we all may hold. It is also an effort to model for our community that disagreement does not have to lead to disunity but that we can seek understanding amidst our disagreements, can enjoy harmony and unity amidst our diversity, and can be kind always.

The discipleship committee had discussed several topics for this year’s conversation, many of which were suggested by the congregation at the close of last year’s conversation. Ultimately, however, the discipleship committee, in conjunction with the church council, realized that there was a great deal of information coming together regarding our facilities and the strong work of our facilities renewal task force. We all realized that the congregation needed space and time to hear about this information, to absorb some of the ideas that are on the table, and to help discern how to proceed wisely with open questions that remain. During this year’s conversation we will have opportunity to talk about our changing cultural context, the good things happening in our church, our current financial situation, and the strengths and hurdles of having a large, older facility. We will also have opportunity to discuss a report from our facilities renewal task force and to brainstorm ways to turn hurdles into opportunities.

This year’s conversation will take place on the four Sundays in January (1/7, 1/14, 1/21, and 1/28) from 9:30 am until 10:45 am. You will notice this is 15 minutes earlier than our typical Sunday School start time so that we can have more space for table conversations than we had last year. We hope all adults and youth will join us in this conversation. Nursery and children’s Sunday School we begin at 9:30, as well, so that parents can drop off their children and be present for the full conversation. There will also be a church-wide breakfast for the first gathering, January 7, beginning at 9:00 am. We can’t wait to see you there!!!

November 30, 2023

This Sunday we will have an opportunity to present our 2024 financial pledges to God as a part of our worship and commitment to Him. The pledges that we make are important to the church and the work of the finance committee, but they are even more impactful as we consider our own spiritual growth. Making a pledge of financial support is an important part of our faith journey. It gives us opportunity to practice gratitude and humility as we consider all that God has provided for us. It gives us opportunity to practice obedience, generosity, and selflessness as we promise to return a portion of the income and wealth God has empowered us to earn and graced us to receive back to our local church. It gives us opportunity to be on mission and to connect with something bigger than ourselves as our gifts collectively empower the work of God in us and through us. And it gives us opportunity to seek first the kingdom of God.

The pledges that we make to Aiken’s First Baptist are only seen by our Financial Secretary, Gail Floyd. And, as a reminder, to fulfill our pledges we may make contributions by placing our tithe/offering in the plate passed each Sunday, by using our app, by setting up an automatic draft, or by giving online. These various ways allow us to choose what is best for each of us.

Some of us may also fulfill our pledge by gifting appreciated stock to the church without incurring capital gains tax. Others may be able to give through a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from an IRA. Your total QCD cannot exceed $100,000 in any one year, but the donated funds count toward satisfying the annual required minimum distribution but are excluded from income, thereby reducing adjusted gross income. You must be 70 ½ to qualify for the QCD. As always, please consult your financial advisor to see if you are eligible to give to the church in this way.

As we enter this time of reflection on what support we pledge to give to the church in the year to come, it is also a good time to consider if we have made provision for supporting the church and the ongoing work on God beyond our lifetimes. There have been members of our church from the past who have greatly blessed God’s work in and through AFBC by naming the church in their will as a recipient of some portion of what they leave behind. If God has graced us to come to the end of our lives with more than we need, might we consider making plans for a portion of that to continue to honor God through the work of the church for years to come.

Finally, as we enter the last month of the year, please remember to continue to give to our 2023 budget. We currently have a deficit of $39,303.38, and we would like to cover that amount plus what we will spend during the month of December so that we will break-even or have a surplus going into 2024. All 2023 donations must be received by December 31, 2023 or postmarked by that date.

Thank you for your faithfulness and generosity—your financial gifts, your donations for mission efforts and for the sake of those in need, and the giving of your time and talents. As a church we could not continue to do what God has called us to do without you!

November 23, 2023

If you spend much time around me, there’s a pretty good chance that at some point, you’ll hear me talk about (and maybe even quote) my favorite theologian and hero of the faith, Howard Thurman. So, it comes as no surprise that a sermon of his has come to mind as I sit down to reflect on Thanksgiving. The specific idea that I want to unpack here is Thurman’s conviction that memory is a gift and that it is best used accordingly.

Around this time of year, we are often prompted to remember and give special attention to the things in our lives that we ought to be grateful for. In fact, just last Sunday, we were presented with a way to practice gratitude daily through the use of our church app. Pastor John did a great job emphasizing the life-changing possibilities that are to be found in practicing gratitude and that gratitude can allow us to “see a bigger picture.”

That being said, I’m often convicted that I’m not exactly breaking new ground when it comes to most of the things I express thanks for year after year (and I bet I’m not alone). Luckily, as a children’s minister, I get many chances to marvel at the ability that children have to not only quickly recall good things that they have experienced, but also, to enthusiastically point out the good they see in the world around them, even in things they have not yet experienced. You see, it comes naturally when practicing gratitude to focus on the many tangible things in our lives that we have experienced in a positive way or feel some sense of possession over; in other words, saying things like my abilities, or my resources, or even my people. Let me be perfectly clear that we should, in fact, not neglect giving thanks for these things, but what about the people we have yet to experience in a positive way? What about the things we do not have control over or the situations that we are simply just not comfortable thinking about? Are we using the gift of memory in a way that expands our horizons for all that we could truly be thankful for?

Consider these words by Howard Thurman, “Now I have two suggestions to make about memory as a gift. The first is a warning that unless we are very careful, we will use our memory…to store up things that will give us trouble in the future. It is very interesting to notice how we can slip into the mood of remembering all the slights, all the hurts, all the little ways by which individuals tried to make life difficult for us. We store them up and introduce into the existence of memory the principle of negative discrimination.…The alternative suggestion is that we plan to introduce into our memory pattern, the principle of excellence. It is quite possible to go through our days on the hunt for the good things in people, sniffing around to find the worthful thing, the meaningful thing, the positive thing.…I do not say that the negative thing is not there, but I let the principle of excellence, the positive discrimination, lift out from my storehouse the things about you that make me glad that you are alive, and glad that somehow, in the circling movement of the process of life, you and I met” (164-5, The Growing Edge).

As we seek to become better practitioners of gratitude this Thanksgiving (and beyond), may we give thanks for the gift of memory and the call it puts upon our lives to open our arms wider so that we might have even more to be thankful for than we once thought.

In truth and love,

Matt Waller