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Launching Out Into Deeper Worship

September 5, 2012

The greatest challenges, as well as the greatest returns, will come to those churches that manage to bring both tendencies together (traditional and contemporary worship) in creative ways, that incarnate an ancient future faith.

 Leonard Sweet

Among our ministry’s Five Ships, worship may be the most important. Through life-changing worship we are conditioned for deeper discipleship, faithful stewardship, real fellowship, and say Yes to God’s individual and congregational call to bold, Spirit-led leadership. Worship changes us so that we can by grace change the world through the Gospel.  The Five-Year Strategic Vision adopted by our congregation highlighted the need to enhance our Lord’s Day worship experiences in ways that honored our shared past and positioned us to create an atmosphere that edified a diverse and growing congregation. Most of the reforms requested by the congregation and incorporated into the strategic plan have been implemented and are bearing much fruit. Though met with some initial reluctance, the church has overwhelming embraced these modifications.

It must be noted that the truest measure of our fruitfulness is not the singing of new hymns, but the signaling of changed hearts! It is my prayer that a deepened sense of God’s presence and power motivate awe and obedience in all of us. Worship is truly realized when we can leave the sanctuary transformed, not just touched. Every encounter with God in the Bible testified to real change. In the Gospel of John Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The good news of this event is that Jesus meets us where we are but doesn’t leave us where we are. This woman, who had issues but was able to worship God in Spirit and truth, went back home as an evangelist with a testimony. Worship that impacts our heads and hearts ultimately leads us into a new way of life and service to God’s glory. Worship takes us to the mountain to be transformed and sends us back into the valley of disillusionment, despair, darkness, and death radiating with the Spirit of God. Worship awakens us to God’s glorious Gospel and anoints us to proclaim it in word and works. Worship reorients our desires and redirects our destinies. Only when we are changed from the inside out are we ready and able to bear witness to the Kingdom.

As we continue to launch deeper in worship it is important that we never lose sight of what it’s all about. Every carnal preference bows its knee in the King’s presence. Worship that is Christ-exalting, Spirit-led, and Gospel-centered will ultimately do in and through us what we cannot do in our own wills.

So what does this kind of worship look like? I think it’s fitting to lift up a few elements that should guide us further in our voyage of toward life-changing worship.

Above all worship is about God, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I humbly submit to you that our worship of this changeless God in these changing times must always and in every way be about magnifying God by honoring the past, being relevant in the present, and embodying hope for the future.

Honoring Our Past

Mt Helm was founded in the basement of First Baptist Church Jackson and is named after our benefactor Thomas Helm, a deacon in First Presbyterian Church Jackson. Anyone who watches the television ministries of either or both of these historic Southern Baptist and Southern Presbyterian churches will see how our worship DNA was greatly shaped by them. Our music ministry has long embraced the Euro-American classical hymn and anthem tradition of our spiritual parents. Many of our members were also trained in high school and choral programs that prioritized this tradition. In a time when many historically black churches have forgotten or forsaken anthems and hymns, it is only fitting that we honor the God of our weary years and members past and present through preserving the style and arrangements of such sacred music. There is a biblical precedence for this. The psalms often testify to what the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did for generations past. Our praise and worship must always be connected to a grand memory of what the God of history has done for us in the days when hope unborn had died.

Being Relevant in the Present

Because God is an ever-present God, we should always celebrate what the Lord has done and is doing. God is not dead; he’s yet alive! The Spirit is still inspiring composers and worshipers with new songs. Every generation comes to experience God in different ways and even as we preserve our classical traditions we will continue to promote contemporary ones in blended services. Sometimes ‘contemporary’ means new lyrics and sometimes it means giving an old song freshness through a new arrangement. This is no different from what I do each Sunday when I take an ancient biblical text from another land and language and, through the guidance of the Spirit, lift up a “right now” word to be applied to your everyday life. Music ministry proclaims the Word through rhyme and rhythm and should honor the past while making the past alive and relevant for today’s worshiper.

Embodying Hope for the Future

It must be noted that worship isn’t just about past traditions or new moves of God. Worship is truly biblical when it invites disciples into an eschatological hope. When John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day he got a glimpse into heavenly worship. The old Gospel quartet singers said that what we do “down here” is just a rehearsal. Through a spirit of excellent and with heartfelt devotion, each Sunday should be a glimpse of heaven where we join our voices and visions with the heavenly hosts. It should also anticipate the day when we will join together with that “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9) Whereas our worship should honor our historic Afro-Baptist tradition with its Euro-American classical DNA, and speak relevantly to where God’s diverse people are today, it should always turn its intention toward being an earthly anticipation of our Father’s heavenly kingdom.

Therefore… Let us in rich, reverent, and relevant ways worship God in Spirit and in truth for the sake of God’s exaltation, our collective edification, and our mission of evangelism and activism in the city and beyond.  Amen


Praise for “Thy Kingdom Come”

August 4, 2012

I recently published my first book, Thy Kingdom Come: Reflections on Pastoral and Prophetic Ministry, with Godzchild Publications ( Below are some “praise reports” for the book.

Savvy Lifestyle Magazine wrote a wonderful piece on me and my book:

The Jackson Free Press covered a presentation I did:

Lastly, Rhetoric Race and Religion positively reviewed the book:

I’m Back!

August 4, 2012

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve posted any original material to this blog. The busyness of pastoral ministry has in some measure kept me from regularly posting here. But, by the grace of God, I hope to share with you a lot more often.

There’s so much that’s happened since the last time I was here. For one, I married my helpmeet, Allison, and have been basking in the afterglow of a Spirit-filled wedding and adventurous honeymoon. I also published a book, Thy Kingdom Come, and it had met critical acclaim from ministers, professors, and laity.

And so many awesome things are happening in ministry at The Helm. I hope to share these wonderful things with y’all very soon. But for now I simply wanted to say, in the words of soul brotha James Brown, “I’M BACK!”

Prayer Rally for JPS

July 30, 2012

Historic Mount Helm Baptist Church will host a Back-to-School Community Prayer Service for the Jackson Public School District on Monday, August 6 at 6 p.m. in the main sanctuary located at 300 E. Church St., in Jackson, Miss. JPS Superintendent Cedrick Gray will attend and everyone in the community is invited to join the congregation in uplifting students, teachers, parents, staff and administrators for a successful school year.

I beleive it is critical for all of our children to be well-educated so they can become contributing members of society. At Mt. Helm, support for excellent education is one of our core values and we see this time of year as an opportunity to invite everyone in the community to support JPS.

In addition to ongoing prayer, we encourage the gifts of time and other resources, including financial contributions. Those who volunteer as individuals or as part of adopt-a-school programs are to be commended for giving service to the benefit of our children.

Mt. Helm is the oldest African American congregation in Jackson, Mississippi, dating back to 1835. As a flagship church, Mt. Helm exists to demonstrate and provide transformative Christian leadership in our city, our state and our world through the power of the Holy Spirit.


For more information, please call 601-278-5620 or visit


New Year Wishes of Love by LaTanya Dixon

December 30, 2010

I’m sitting here reflecting on the fact that there is 1 more week until the New Year begins. In the past, I can recall listening to many Watch Night sermons or having several conversations about getting ready for the New Year. There would be certain songs like “The Best is Yet to Come,”  “Walk into Your Season,” “The Prayer of Jabez (Enlarge My Territory)”, etc. that could be heard frequently around that time. Anticipation for the new year could become a very emotionally charge thing whether one was grateful for the present year or couldn’t wait to see the year go. Much of the emotion would be about believing for something bigger and better in the new year. Then, the faith messages would come and talk of the new year being the “year of new beginnings, year of completion, year of overflow…” Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Admittedly, some people have had such a tumultuous year that they need encouragement and strengthened faith. However, they get that plus some disillusionment. As I too continue hoping and believing that my tomorrow will be even better than yesterday, I want to suggest what we might really need. 1 Corinthians 13:13 assures us that when left with three: faith, hope, and love; love is the greatest of them all.

In believing for a job, better marriage, nicer things, healing, weight loss, more money, greater spiritual diligence, a new start, etc. what we really need is love…not more faith (in my opinion). What we really need is more intimacy with Jesus Christ, the one in whom we have placed our faith.  Then, we will be more content and patient with the state we are in until he permits it to change. A deeper love relationship with Christ also brings about more obedience to God’s principles for living which result in improved marital relations, financial stewardship, healthier lifestyle, and more.

This love is so important that Jesus prayed the following prayer to the Father before being arrested: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:26) Jesus also shared that loving God and loving your fellow man are the greatest commandments of the Bible. All other commandments hinge off of those two great commandments (Mark 12:29-31, Matt. 22:37-40). That being said, my prayer is that the love of God would be made complete in us in 2011. I pray we would love and serve each other more in the new year (1 John 4:12). I pray we will not be satisfied with another message of being exalted ourselves, but Christ instead.

That is not to discourage us from asking and believing for better in the new year because the Bible tells us to ask (Matt. 7:7-10, 8:13). But, I am not sure we would do that much better with an improved life if it is not all motivated by love. For God is love. Besides, a surefire way to strengthen our faith for God’s provision is to learn and experience more of His love. Don’t agree? Think about how much inherent your trust is in your family and friends’ provision when you know how much they love you. I hope you enjoy your last week of 2010 and have a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!


LaTanya Dixon

Give YOURSELF Away? Be Careful by Shaun Saunders

December 21, 2010

“Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23


“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38


Many of my friends have low self-esteem. Everyone in my family will freely give up their dreams to help others’ dreams come true. Come to think of it, everyone I know has a struggle with healthy giving. We either spend too much, or don’t know how to accept gifts, or we demand what we don’t deserve. I’m concerned, then, about this new hot worship song “I give myself away,” and the way people like me, with low self-confidence and self-worth, interpret it. I want to caution you to make sure you understand what you’re singing before you give yourself to another thing that has NEVER given itself to you.

When you give yourself to God, you’re ALWAYS replenished. When you give yourself to people, you’re most times diminished. People will borrow until you’re broke, they’ll ask until you feel bad for saying no, they’ll guilt you into doing things that you don’t want to do. And at the end of the day, the problem is not with the people who ask, it’s with the person who says “yes” hoping to keep friends (for fear that their “no” will accrue enemies).

Every time you settle or lower your standards, you give yourself away. Every time you succumb to the expectations of the crowd, you reduce a part of yourself for people who really could care less. Each time you compromise, you delete another letter from the word “abundance.” Some of us, all we have left is “a – dance.” Life is nothing but “a dance.” We’ve had so many “partners” and we’ve shared ourselves with so many people that we’ve lost our sense of purpose On this unending race to be liked, we hate ourselves. Why? Because we’ve given our greatest selves to the most undeserving of people. Others of us have turned our lives into “ a bun.” No dance, no joy, no excitement. We’d rather be alone than to be vulnerable. We curl into our corner, hoping that no one will zoom in on our unhappiness. We “blend in” but don’t “buy in.”

Every time you settle, you give yourself away. I know as Christians we are called to serve and to sacrifice, but sacrifice never meant to lower your standards. Sacrifice means the divine process of chiseling away things that reduce the real YOU so that God can maximize His light through the best version you can offer the world.

Last week I had to confront people who were asking me to do things that would put me in a major bind. Because I am a recovering approval addict, I tend to bend over backwards to make the impossible happen. But the Holy Spirit reminded me of the week before, and the month before, and the year before, when I have made some crazy sacrifices for people who are still in the hole they were in before I dug them out. They never improved. They are either just as unmotivated today or just as ungrateful. The lesson I learned was this: giving yourself to people always means you’ll end up bankrupt spiritually, mentally, and sometimes financially. Giving yourself away to God means that He will place “appreciators” in your life who will value your gifts, enhance your vision, and not abuse your niceness. They will say “thank you” and you sense their genuine appreciation.

It’s funny, the people we love the most hear it the least. The places that give us the most life, we run from in order to tend to things that ultimately bring us sadness and deep pain. There are relationships that we know are destined for failure, yet we cling to them; and then there are life-giving relationships, of which we can so easily let go.

We’re imbalanced. We are often led by our emotions, and not God’s instructions. When you sing, “I give myself away” this week, don’t think about what you’re going to do for the church. Too many of us are hiding our issues behind the church. Don’t even think about what you’re going to do for your pastor. Too many of us are creating substitute Messiah’s by giving TOO much to our pastors. Instead, examine if what you’re giving away is really yours to give in the first place. If you’re charging it, don’t buy it. It’s not yours to give. If you love someone who barely likes you, put your emotional investments on pause. If you’re constantly listening to friends who never ask how you’re doing, hang up the phone. The worst investment is the one you think is an asset, but is, in reality, a liability!

Give and it shall be given unto you. If what you get back is more of a burden than it is a gift, then you’re begging. You’re not giving in the first place. You’re begging for attention, you’re begging for affection, you’re looking in the lost & found for an item that was never there to begin with. What you lost was stolen  the moment you placed your heart in the palm of unworthy hands.

Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Prayer: Help us, God, to give ourselves to YOU;  for when we give to you, there is always an abundance of life attached. I pray for those struggling with low self-esteem; with those who feel the need to prove their commitment by doing things they cant afford to do. Help us to be more balanced;  to know when we need to ask for help; to recognize when people are taking advantage of us and not pouring into us.

Give us the courage to walk alone if we need to. In Jesus’ Name…Amen

This Christmas, give yourself to God, and let God decipher whom deserves what and how much from you.

Shaun Saunders is president of Godzchild Publications, the pastor of worship at Cornerstone Community Church in Durham, NC, and a dear brother of Pastor Rhodes.

Deeper, Deeper: The Executive Summary of the 5 Year Strategic Plan

December 7, 2010


As Mt. Helm Baptist Church works to position itself as an agent for transformative Christian leadership in our city, our state and our world, the church must begin to make certain modifications in how we engage one another and the community at-large. These modifications will ensure the sustainability and posterity of Mt. Helm as a church and provide the critical support that the community and the City of Jackson needs in order to flourish spiritually, educationally and economically.

The Strategic Analysis and Implementation Leadership (SAIL) Team was commissioned by Pastor C.J. Rhodes to critically analyze the external environment and the internal operations and functions of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in order to provide recommendations for a comprehensive strategic plan. During several exhaustive meetings that included the review of suggestions, recommendations and historical context provided by Mt. Helm members during the Navigation Conversations and other forums, the SAIL Team worked collaboratively to develop an ambitiously realistic five-year plan for the church.

This five-year strategic plan is to be viewed as a living, working document that will be monitored and augmented as necessary to adjust to the spiritual, numerical and financial growth of the church. The purpose of this plan is to cast a vision of what Mt. Helm can be over the next five years and to set out detailed means to achieve this vision, particularly in the priority areas of educational enlightenment and economic development.

Need for a Five-Year Strategic Plan

According to Kennon Callahan, author of Twelve Keys to an Effective Church: Strategic Planning for Mission, “effective long-range planning will help a local congregation to achieve its mission,” and as Mt. Helm launches into the deep and prayerfully refines its mission and trajectory, crafting a strategic plan is paramount. Strategic plans are a critical component of transformative leadership and responsible stewardship and are especially critical in a changing environment.

The recessed economy and fluctuations in membership have impacted Mt. Helm substantially and threaten the long-term vitality of the church as an institution. Furthermore, certain components of the church are in need of updates and enhancements in order to function more effectively, and only through critical internal evaluation and scrutiny will the body be able to move as the Spirit directs.

The assembly of a ministry-focused work plan will ensure that Mt. Helm is an exemplary model of the body of Christ and remains committed to carrying out the work of Jesus Christ throughout the immediate community and around the globe.

Key Areas and Time Frames

The recommendations in this strategic plan are categorized by key area and time-frame. The six key areas discussed in the strategic plan are: Outreach, Property Development, Other Community Development, Ministries, Fiscal Policies and Procedures, and Giving and Kingdom Building.

Outreach recommendations focus on initiatives that will build a spirit of community within the church and with external entities, including community residents, city government, non-profit organizations and other churches. Property Development recommendations include innovative strategies to upgrade and utilize the properties Mt. Helm currently owns to benefit the church and the community. Other Community Development recommendations target strategies to enhance the educational and economic strength of the community and the City of Jackson. Ministries recommendations explore how to streamline the manner in which Mt. Helm auxiliary ministries are organized and aligned to maximize the use of resources. Fiscal Policies and Procedure recommendations propose innovative strategies to strengthen Mt. Helm’s financial foundation, and Giving and Kingdom Building recommendations focus on ways to enhance individual and corporate stewardship.

The time-frames outlined in this strategic plan are short-term (12-months), mid-term (3 years), and long-term (5 years). Short-term recommendations are capable of being implemented within one year with Mt. Helm’s current spiritual and physical resources. Mid-term recommendations will require a longer period of time to implement and may require collaboration with other local, state and national organizations. Long-term recommendations cast the vision of the type of body Mt. Helm should strive to be in its faithful attempt to serve God by the year 2015.

Overview of the Strategic Plan: Recommendation Snapshots

This strategic plan critically analyzes the internal and external factors that influence Mt. Helm and provides realistic, ambitious goals that will help Mt. Helm navigate forward over the next five years. Some of the recommendations from each key area are outlined below:


  • Mt. Helm should focus on increasing active membership by at least 50 individuals over the next 12 months.
  • Mt. Helm should increase its contributions to agencies and organizations that serve the working poor, impoverished and homeless populations in the immediate community and throughout the city of Jackson.

Property Development

  • Mt. Helm should immediately begin to make cosmetic improvements to the interior and exterior structures on the church campus.
  • Mt. Helm and should seek to acquire the remaining properties on Church Street.

Other Community Development

  • Mt. Helm should host a monthly or bi-monthly community speaker forum that focuses on education and economic development.
  • Mt. Helm should work with the community to petition the City of Jackson and Hinds County to reopen a public library branch in the community.


  • Each active ministry should submit goals and objectives for the 2011 calendar year.
  • All ministries should seek to enhance their connection to individuals and families within the community through more intimate interaction and engagement.

Fiscal Policies and Procedures

  • Mt. Helm should appoint a subcommittee responsible for researching the process associated with obtaining federal non-profit (501(c) 3) status.
  • Mt. Helm should establish an investment club for the membership of the church.

Giving and Kingdom Building

  • Mt. Helm should create a “needs list” with specific dollar amounts that members and other potential donors can review and elect to provide funds.
  • Mt. Helm should also work to educate members on the importance of tithing and provide more avenues for members to become acclimated to the tithing process.

from the December 05, 2010 Strategic Plan Recommendations document. For more information, please visit