April 2009

Church hiring, firing practices in spotlight

April 9 2009 by Greg Warner, Religion News Service

LAKELAND, Fla. — As many congregations grapple with declining contributions, some faith communities are following the lead of cash-strapped corporations by laying off employees. But the stakes are higher, congregational leaders say, when you’re putting someone’s spiritual leader out on the street.

Churches have never been good at this.

“Terminal niceness” keeps congregations from dealing honestly with unneeded or ineffective staff members, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch told ministers recently.

Congregational leaders, meanwhile, say already-tough financial decisions can become excruciating when you are firing the man who married your daughter or the woman who held your hand in the hospital.

“Terminating employees, in business or in churches, is never an easy task,” said Phill Martin, deputy executive director of the Dallas-based National Association of Church Business Administration (NACBA). But the task becomes immeasurably more complicated, he said, if church leaders and ministers are lowering the ax.
“When you live out of the values of ministry, it is more difficult to segregate the impact on the individuals’ and families’ lives than it is for most business people,” Martin explained. “It’s tough when your core value is ‘I’m here to minister to people’ and you become the author of that pain.”

Instead, churches in financial crisis “get all flustered,” said congregational expert David Odom, executive vice president of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School in Durham. Congregations typically vacillate “between cold, hard business facts and denial,” he said.

So far, most churches report only a modest impact from the recession:
  • 6 percent have cut salaries, and an additional 4 percent have cut staff, according to a recent survey by Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research. Another online survey, by NACBA, found that as many as 20 percent of churches have already laid off staff.
One Greensboro large church pastor tells of receiving calls weekly or more from other pastors asking if he has a place for a recently laid off staffer. He used to get such calls only a few times a year.
Later pain
Because churches historically feel the pinch later than the general economy — worshippers tend to cut contributions only after everything else — observers worry that many congregations are unprepared to deal with the worst church-budget crunch in almost a century.

“Nobody who is around now has any experience with declining resources,” said Odom, founder and former president of the Center for Congregational Health affiliated with Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem. “Every large church I know is trying to figure out how many people they can keep.”

Most churches will put off layoffs as long as possible, said NACBA’s Martin, and George Bullard of Columbia, S.C., who like Martin consults with Christian churches of many denominations. Bullard is former executive leader and interim executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), and a former staff member of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

“Some churches, in order to keep all their staff, are deciding not to pay retirement for a year or are shifting health insurance costs to employees,” said Bullard, a consultant in The Columbia Partnership.

Other coping measures recently imposed by congregations include giving employees unpaid furloughs and shifting some staff to part-time status. But when firing employees finally becomes unavoidable, most churches are unprepared, Bullard and Martin said.

Particularly when it comes to dismissing underachieving or ill-matched employees, churches are notorious about evading the obvious, said Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. But being a church is “not a license to be lazy” about handling people, he said.

“You have a mission not to burden your people with a bad manager,”

Congregational consultants agreed, however, that what works for General Electric doesn’t always fit faith communities.

Players in a church culture are intertwined, said Bullard. While a business may have stockholders, customers and employees, in a congregation “they’re all the same persons” — parishioners, ministers, finance committee members, babysitters, counselors and counselees.

It’s hard for a church member to accept a staff firing when “you are ending a relationship with a person I love,” he said. “We symbolize Christ’s presence in our church leaders.”

A layoff eliminates not just an organizational leader but often a spiritual mentor and friend, he said.
Personnel policies help
While those overlapping relationships give congregations their unique character, they pose risks when good personnel practices are not in place, said NACBA’s Martin. “When churches manage out of relationship, not performance, there are some inherent problems,” he warned.

Congregations that let relationships — not policies and performance — steer employment practices sometimes allow friendships to blur supervisory lines, for instance. Or, he said, they “see hiring employees as a ministry,” by hiring people who lose or can’t find a job, have relatives in the church or know certain people.

What a congregation does before a crisis hits — specifically its personnel practices, both good and bad — largely determines how well it weathers a financial storm, experts said. Among those practices: clear job descriptions and lines of supervision, specific job expectations, and regular performance evaluations that are not tied solely to financial compensation.

“The systems and structures that produce strong churches in good economic times,” Martin said, “serve churches well in bad economic times.”

A church policies manual has been developed by the BSC. It is available to BSC churches for $83.75 and to others for $164. Write BSCNC, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512; attention Jo Ann Walton.

4/9/2009 4:27:00 AM by Greg Warner, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

Lending a Hand at Woodland Hills church

April 9 2009 by Douglas Baker, BSC Communications

ASHEVILLE — At first glance Pat Hand seems nothing like the itinerant evangelist he once was some 30 years ago. Walk into his office and you immediately get the feeling that this is no ordinary pastor.

From the African carvings on his floor to the pictures on his wall, this is a man who has been around the world and served in some of the most oppressive places on earth. When listening to this 54-year-old man, there is a sense that he has passed through many iterations of ministry and begins, in his words, “his last pastorate” with a certain sense of determination to finish well.

Many unexpected tributaries jut across the landscape of his life. From Canada to upstate New York, he has served churches separated from “Southern” religion with its accompanying stereotypes (both good and bad) of life in America’s southeast. He comes to Woodland Hills from Istrouma Baptist Church, a large Southern Baptist church in Baton Rouge, La., whose most famous pastor, Forrest Pollock, died in an airplane crash last year in North Carolina. When he first arrived in Asheville late last summer as the official candidate for the office of Woodland Hills’ senior pastor he immediately felt that “God had been strategically preparing this church for a bold leap forward — something which I sensed throughout the entire process with the search team,” Hand said.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that this church had made some critical decisions which placed it on a track to impact those outside its four walls, and I was quickly drawn to such a ministry.”

Normally such changes do not come easily to congregations in what Hand terms “a standard Southern Baptist church.” When pressed about his standardization of Southern Baptists, he is somewhat open about the fact that so many SBC churches seem to exist to reach other Baptists or run programs able to serve people like them through a certain conforming of outward forms into a “be like me pattern.”

In the 120 days he has served as Woodland Hills’ pastor, worship attendance has increased by over 100 and the church has already established a second worship service to accommodate new guests who arrive every week.

“Many of the young families who are new to our church are the children of Southern Baptists who left church after they left high school never wanting to return,” he said. Those children are now young adults with their own children and they begrudgingly “want to give church a second chance.”

Yet, Hand is noticing a clear pattern as he talks with this group of visitors: they want nothing to do with the worship services and ministry programs of their past. “Many feel as if what they grew up with made it easy to hide and masquerade real life issues,” he said.

In contrast, Hand is always quick to remind this generation of church drop-outs that what they left as teenagers can all too easily be replicated in their own lives if they aren’t careful.

“The same legalism and phoniness so many of them remember can become their own experience if they aren’t becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ,” Hand says. Here is where “we have missed it. Never are we instructed in the New Testament to simply preach for decisions or to make converts. We are called to make disciples and that is a very messy process — one I’m not quite sure most of us are willing to embrace.”

BSC photo

Pat Hand

Hand sees a tension in Scripture — a radical obedience to Jesus that requires people to be holy even as God is holy and a compelling openness and willingness to intentionally be among lost people as an act of love to God for their souls and their eternal destiny.

“Unfortunately,” Hand says, “it takes time to get to know people and build relationships. And honestly, we just are a bit too good to be around people who are lost, who aren’t like us, who might offend us, who might cause us to be uncomfortable simply because in many ways we have abandoned the way Jesus evangelized.” As a pastor, he is learning to “enjoy people who are still trapped in sin.” Jesus made quite a statement when he “was publicly seen eating with sinners, and we must imitate Jesus.” Hand is quick to state, however, that engagement with the culture never allows the Christian to simply be with lost people without calling them to repentance at some point just as Jesus did.  “Perhaps not immediately, but over time we must share the gospel with them,” he said.

When Hand speaks of the gospel he quickly sweeps through the entire Bible highlighting the acts of God planned from “before the foundation of the world which were done at precisely the right time by the right man — the God/man — so that a real relationship with God could be restored to sinners.” Hands sees the ongoing ministry of the gospel advancing through God’s greatest evangelistic tool — the church.

“When my wife and I were praying about where God would send us, we knew we wanted a church that was ready to move forward in a serious way to reach lost people and we only looked at churches with an elder system of church government,” he said. This would come as a shock to many Southern Baptists who view elders as a rare (even unbiblical) form of church government. He embraces the elder model because “there is safety among other counselors and men of God who are capable of bringing wisdom and insight into areas where I am not gifted or seeing things clearly.”

As for the city of Asheville with its high concentration of homosexuals, Wiccans and urbanites who have little regard for the church, Hand “loves the community because it is a mission field filled with people who care very little about Jesus or the gospel.” Of course, many could find it difficult to minister here.

“If all I want to do is tell homosexual jokes and speak of environmentalists as some sort of crazy people, then it is obvious that I do not love these people enough to care about how to reach out to them and seek to understand what is motivating them to sinfully act in the way they do,” he says. “I must biblically speak to their condition from a posture of humility as I too am a sinner in need of Jesus.” Hand’s challenge is just where to begin in a city filled with so many lost people.

For him, it starts by thinking like a missionary in his community. While attending a recent training session at the International Learning Center of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Richmond, Va., Hand observed that the young people in their 20’s and 30’s who were training to go to countries across the world were “accommodating their dress and lifestyle to that of the people they were serving.” Hand wants that same missiological principle to be employed in Asheville at Woodland Hills. “Why don’t we think like those missionaries do?” he asks. “We should work to engage our culture with the gospel and not ask them to conform to us in ways which would cloud the gospel.”

Woodland Hills is a church changing almost daily, Hand says. There was a time not long ago when many thought the congregation was trapped in a death spiral certain to end up on the ash heap of Southern Baptist history. It seemed as though it could not break free of the inertia of nostalgia and resisted the necessary changes which had to take place in order to reach the lost in Asheville. Yet the church has undergone radical changes and is now on a path toward what Hand hopes will be a trajectory of growth. While shedding some of the most visible Southern Baptist identifiers, Hand is adamant the church remains a cooperating congregation in the “network of churches who cooperate together to actually do missions.”

Not shy about stating what to him is “obvious about the Southern Baptist Convention” he is, nevertheless, hopeful that the denomination can passionately re-invent itself “before it is too late.” He believes there is a short window of opportunity for something radical to take place in the SBC “before the apex of Cooperative Program giving is reached, followed by a steep and dramatic downturn in the denomination’s engine because younger pastors are not giving to the Cooperative Program.”

Hand is not sure Southern Baptists can recover if local churches do not reassert themselves as the primary agent of evangelism and discipleship. For him, church is not an event. He often reminds the congregation that they must not merely “do” church but they must “be” the church. “Without apology, we must recommit ourselves to a conservative theology with a progressive methodology that is able to connect with the lost people in our communities.” Absent that, Hand says, “we cannot expect the SBC or evangelicalism as we know it to last long beyond our lifetime.”

“The gospel must anchor this ministry, and I am hopeful that soon we can work to plant other churches to reach this city for Christ. I want this church to be known as a place where the gospel is real, the Bible is preached and disciples are made.”

4/9/2009 4:24:00 AM by Douglas Baker, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Rainer, Stetzer urge bridging generations

April 9 2009 by Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST — Unity in the body of Christ can be hindered by pride, an unforgiving heart and an unwillingness to join together for the sake of the gospel message, speakers said during Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s LifeWay Conference Week.

The special chapel services, which are an annual event to focus on Christian education and spiritual formation in the local church, featured Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, and Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.

During his address, Stetzer exhorted young and future leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to work to close the generational divide that he said is threatening the convention.

From Titus 2:1-8, Stetzer examined the roles and responsibilities of multiple generations of believers in ministry and said it is important to overcome the challenges of generational tradition and bridge any outstanding gaps.

“I know it’s easier to birth a baby than raise the dead,” Stetzer said, referring to the importance of finding common ground among the generations rather than splintering into multiple factions.

“We share the same gospel but perhaps not the same direction,” Stetzer said. “Generation has become a dividing line in the SBC, and it hurts and hinders our witness and our mission in the world.”

A tendency to divide along generational lines stems from differences in the way one generation does church versus the way a different generation does church, Stetzer said.

“Why are we battling about the way to do church instead of standing on the word of God and taking it to every tribe and tongue in the world?” Stetzer asked.

It is the responsibility of young leaders to honor leaders from previous generations as those who fought for the Bible and built the denomination and seminaries into what they are today. Young leaders also ought to work on cultivating elders of integrity, he said.

“We need to stop seeing older members as hindrances to the plan and instead see them as fellow laborers for the gospel,” Stetzer said. “It doesn’t mean I need to treat his way as truth, but it does mean I need to honor him. There’s a promise of mutual accountability.”

To bridge the generational divide, young leaders should talk less about the way they do church and talk more about the doctrines they teach, he said.

During his address, Rainer said forgiveness is a vital part of the Christian doctrine that Christians should emphasize among the local body of believers.

The power to forgive others, regardless of how grievous the sin, is found in God alone, Rainer said, referring to Matthew 6:14-15.

“When we talk about the health of the church, perhaps one of our greatest spiritual impediments to that is the inability to forgive others,” he said.

Even within the broader SBC, some conflicts arise because people are unwilling to forgive and to realize the issue is their own hearts, Rainer said. Jesus knew people would hurt, but he didn’t give any constraints in the passage on when to forgive others, he said.

“Every Christian has been sinned against, and everyone has something in their past or present that causes them to have anger,” Rainer said. “There is no sin we should not forgive.

“ ... It does not say, ‘Forgive men when they commit a minor sin against you.’ Sometimes, we have to forgive them for more than the minor,” he said. “Sometimes it is more than the petty. It’s deep and you say, ‘How can I do it?’ In God, all things are possible, including forgiving those who have hurt you.”

Rainer cited as an example the early years of his relationship with Stetzer, which he said was characterized by strife and an unwillingness to forgive.

“I despised him. We didn’t see eye to eye on hardly anything,” Rainer said.

But as God began to soften their hearts, the two men sought reconciliation with each other.

“Finally, my stubborn heart melted enough to see that I did not have an enemy but a brother in Christ,” Rainer said.

Now that Rainer and Stetzer both work at LifeWay and recognize the need for unity among the body of Christ, Rainer said they are attempting to glorify God together.

“Sometimes now we may actually be able to do some good things for the Kingdom,” Rainer said.

“... Maybe some denominations are failing because they fail to forgive. The health of the local church depends on the hearts of its people, and the restoration of our fellowship with God is predicated on our willingness to forgive others,” Rainer said.

“Though our relationship with God will hold, our fellowship with Him is broken as long as we are unwilling to forgive.”

4/9/2009 4:22:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. Acteen selected for national panel

April 8 2009 by Staff and wire reports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) has selected Mary Caitlin Clark of Galeed Baptist Church in Bladenboro as one of six teens to serve on the 2009 National Acteens Panel.

Acteens is the WMU missions organization for teenage girls in grades 7–12.

Clark was chosen for her outstanding leadership and strong missions involvement.

The WMU Foundation also awarded her a $1,000 scholarship from the Jessica Powell Loftis Endowment for Acteens.

WMU leaders said Clark actively seeks to share the love of Christ in word and deed. She participates in missions projects and trips and leads conferences at Acteens retreats.

“I feel that God has blessed me with a missions heart and a burden for other people,” Clark said. “Missions has helped me realize that not everyone has it as good as some people, and we have to help each other and show the love of Christ in our own actions.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

Mary Caitlin Clark, a junior in high school, speaks during a session of Woman's Missionary Union Missions Extravaganza.

Clark said people usually will listen to someone who has helped them.

“It amazes me how God can work through things as simple as cleaning a yard or singing songs with elderly people and how he uses individuals, like me, to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Clark, who is a junior at West Bladen High School and is part of an interpretive movement group called Hands of Praise.

She’s planned and hosted a WorldCrafts party to showcase pieces from all over the world and participated in a county-wide revival. She’s taken part in Operation Inasmuch and loves WorldChangers. WorldChangers provided Clark with her first opportunity to go on a mission trip.

She grew up in GAs and says she was saved at an early age. Around the age of 10, Clark said she rededicated her life to the Lord.

Last year she went to Pennsylvania to help with Camp Angel Tree, a camp for children of prisoners.
Clark shared her testimony March 22 at the 118th annual meeting of the Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina.

“Acteens has enabled me to serve God,” she said.

She shared her experience of helping provide wells to an African village and her life in school.

“Every day in public school listening to profanity, witnessing illegal and immoral activity,” Clark said she finds it a tough environment but her friends in Acteens have supported her.

She encouraged the ladies to share their God-given spiritual gifts to help others.

North Carolina has had a representative on the national panel for several years.

Members of the Acteens panel will be featured during the WMU Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in Louisville, Ky., June 21–22, prior to the Southern Baptist Convention.

They will also have the opportunity to interact with missionaries and national leaders involved in missions; and may be requested to speak to church, associational, and/or state Acteens and WMU groups.

They will serve from Feb.1 to Dec. 31. Throughout the year, they will write articles for The Mag, the missions magazine for Acteens, and for the Acteens web site, www.acteens.com. In addition, they will work together as a focus group to help shape the future of Acteens.

4/8/2009 8:36:00 AM by Staff and wire reports | with 0 comments

Churches partner to help kids, reach community

April 8 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

A Baptist church in Thomasville held an “educational summit” March 28 to help local students finish the school year strong.

About 50 children and 150 of their family members attended the event at Greenwood Baptist Church. The congregation partnered with First Missionary Baptist Church, a black congregation about a mile from Greenwood.

Mike Ferguson, the pastor at Greenwood, said the summit was successful.

“It was a really good day,” he said. “I was thankful for the way things turned out.”

Teachers tutored students to help them prepare for end-of-grade tests. Other teachers met with parents to tell them how to help their children get ready for the tests.

“The main thrust was to help them finish the year strong,” Ferguson said. “We invited them to show we care.”

Representatives from local schools and community colleges talked with high school students about requirements for graduation and for attending college. Exhibit booths focused on areas such as job training and teen pregnancy awareness.

White, black and Hispanic children attended the summit, according to Ferguson. Translators were there to help the Hispanic children.

“We tried to reach out to different groups,” he said.

Ferguson said he was pleased with the partnership with First Missionary Baptist Church.

“It’s really neat how the Lord worked it all out,” he said. “It’s good for our church to be stretched and know we’re not the only believers in the area.”

Ferguson said the churches might work together on other projects. A similar event might be held just before the next school year starts, he said.

“We both have the same desire to reach our community,” he said.

4/8/2009 8:34:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Prolific author impacts Campbell students

April 8 2009 by Amanda Johnson, Special to the Recorder

Even the seemingly insignificant can become significant.

Prolific author Cecil Murphey shared that belief with Campbell University students during a worship service in March.

“You’re insignificant,” an energetic Murphey told a crowd of nearly 600 undergraduate students. “No one knows who you are, but someone can come along and let you know you can do it.”

Author of 112 books including 90 Minutes in Heaven with Don Piper, Murphey’s role as a ghost writer has helped others share their inspiring tales, some of which he relayed to the audience.

“God gave him this moment,” said Murphey about Piper. “And because of this moment, this man can be used by God.”

Piper “died” after a car accident in 1984 and came back to life after spending 90 minutes in heaven, according to Murphey’s account.

Piper’s story intrigued junior English major Michael Tyndall, who played guitar and sang before Murphey took the stage.

“You don’t really hear stories like that today,” said Tyndall. “It reminds you of the miracles in the Bible.”

Contributed photo

Cecil Murphey, who has written more than 100 books, recently visited Campbell University students.

Murphey used characters from the Bible to illustrate the importance of unsung heroes.

“Does anybody know the boy’s name who gave Jesus his lunch?” Murphey asked. “That’s funny. Me neither,” he said after a long pause, adding that no one knows the name of the boy whose offer of five loaves and two fish is told in John 6. The boy remains anonymous, despite the fact Jesus used his gift to miraculously feed over 5,000 people.

Murphey also humorously discussed how seemingly insignificant experiences can significantly change a life.

As a child, an episode with his Sunday School teacher scared Murphey away from church for years.

“One time my Sunday School teacher said, ‘God has his hands on you,’” said Murphey, vigorously imitating how his teacher shook him. “I said, ‘No, you have your hands on me!’”

Years later, Murphey learned the impact of this teacher on his life. At a reunion she told him she knew God had something special for him.

“What you don’t know,” she said, “is I have prayed for you every day since you came into my Sunday School class.”

Terry Tucker, administrative assistant in the office of the campus minister and a religion major, felt Murphey’s personal story “gives hope for students because it shows the importance of prayer.”

Murphey maintained his animated demeanor during a question-and-answer session later that evening where he discussed many aspects of his writing career. Murphey has worked with the likes of renowned surgeon Ben Carson and evangelist Franklin Graham. However, his most intriguing story wasn’t about a famous person, but an elderly death row inmate who admitted to murdering someone with rat poisoning.

“She had a conversion experience while she was awaiting trial,” said Murphey, who spent six weeks with her prior to her execution.

He was almost a priest and psychiatrist in the situation, listening to her deepest confessions. “She told me she was ready to die in peace,” he said.

Murphey said he really gets to know his subjects through simple conversation, but maintains his true passion is still writing and he spends six days a week fulfilling his passion.

“I wake up every morning and I think, wow, I get to write today,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Johnson is a rising senior and journalism student at Campbell University.)

4/8/2009 8:31:00 AM by Amanda Johnson, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

Churches prepare Children’s Home cottage

April 7 2009 by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications Associate

In the past months, church teams transported trailers filled with tools and supplies used to refurbish a Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) residential cottage. But the most important resources these individuals brought were themselves.

Groups of North Carolina Baptists donated their time, resources and individual skills to transform Mills Home’s Bright-Brown Cottage in Thomasville. The cottage is being revitalized for boys who will participate in BCH’s transitional living service, a newer aspect of BCH’s residential care that provides specialized aid to older residents preparing for life as independent adults.

Churches including Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, and Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington all stepped up to help.

“Bay Leaf, Scotts Hill, and Pleasant Garden are three of our most strategic and influential North Carolina Baptist churches,” says BCH president Michael C. Blackwell. “Having them work in unison at Bright-Brown Cottage has been inspirational to all of us at Baptist Children’s Homes.”

Contributed photo

Members of Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh lend their skills to help revitalize Mills Home’s Bright-Brown Cottage in Thomasville. Bay Leaf is one of several church groups volunteering their time and resources.

Scotts Hill Baptist Church is involved in missions work within their community and beyond. A strong partnership with Baptist Children’s Homes grew from the church’s desire to develop a closer relationship with the 124-year-old institution.

“We became closer through BCH’s ‘Food Roundup’ last year, and decided we wanted to do even more,” said Jimmie Suggs, Scotts Hill’s pastor of administration and evangelism. “There was a need with Bright-Brown Cottage, and our church felt we had the gifts and skills to make the commitment.”

The church sent four volunteer teams to Mills Home throughout a five-week period. The groups installed laminate flooring, painted bathroom cabinets, and completed additional painting jobs. Other churches picked up where they left off.

“We have a wonderful group of men known as the ‘Bay Leaf Builders’ who helped repair windows and doors, replaced glass, and did a whole lot of painting,” said Bay Leaf Baptist Church business manager Will Warren. “It’s really a witnessing tool for some of these men. They witness through their actions.”

The men stayed for an entire week sleeping in the cottage they helped refurbish. Throughout their stay, they spent time with residents sharing an occasional meal in their cottages and learning about the children they were there to help.

“You always get more than you give,” Warren said. “You always walk away more blessed.”

Pleasant Garden Baptist Church pastor Mike Barrett and men from his church helped revitalize Mills Home’s Huffman Cottage, a transitional living cottage for girls, last year. Assisting at Bright-Brown and its transitional living service for boys was a natural follow-up choice.

“It gives these boys a safe place where they are loved and mentored for their next step in life,” Barrett said. The church also assists and ministers at BCH’s Oak Ranch in Sanford. “It’s important to help them with their transition to life through a Christ-centered ministry, and that’s what we love about it.”

Through transitional living, BCH teaches residents necessary life skills including managing bills, maintaining a budget, and determining appropriate living arrangements.

“When children leave our care, if they do not have strong family support, and many do not, they can have a difficult time on their own,” Blackwell said. “We’re helping teach them how to handle their new adult responsibilities before leaving BCH so they may achieve success once they have exited our care.”

Contributed photo

Pleasant Garden Baptist Church pastor Mike Barrett adds a new coat of paint to a wall.

Bright-Brown will open its doors soon. With work at the cottage winding down, churches are already focusing on upcoming projects. Teams from Pleasant Garden, Scotts Hill and Bay Leaf will soon head to Camp Duncan, BCH’s forthcoming girls wilderness camp in Aberdeen. Volunteers are preparing the 576-acre property for the ministry.

“It just shows what can happen when ministers and laity commit their resources of labor and prayer to make better the lives of children,” Blackwell said.

And while churches’ efforts help meet specific needs for BCH, Suggs believes the work is equally important for the churches.

“We have a biblical mandate to care for the orphans and the defenseless,” he said. “We are talking about a segment of society that must have intervention by the church. Scotts Hill sees BCH’s mission as an extension of the work of the church. It’s critical for all churches to carry out the mandate. One church can’t do it by itself.

BCH is a place for us to help and support the ministry so we can be obedient to God’s word and the mission He has mandated.”

If your church would like to help Baptist Children’s Homes, contact Brenda Gray at (800) 476-3669, ext. 1230, or at bbgray@bchfamily.org.

4/7/2009 7:42:00 AM by J. Blake Ragsdale, BCH Communications Associate | with 0 comments

Chaplain’s call to pray, fast angers some

April 7 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

WASHINGTON — The Army’s chief of chaplains is being criticized for a proclamation calling for prayer and fasting on April 8, which coincides with the first night of Passover.

The Jewish holiday — one of the faith’s most important — traditionally involves a commemorative meal called a seder.

Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver, a Southern Baptist, issued a proclamation March 2 urging Army chaplains to pray and fast April 8 during a 120-day “stand down” period beginning Feb. 15 to focus on suicide-prevention awareness among soldiers.

“As spiritual leaders we are called to be a people of prayer,” Carver explained in an Internet newsletter article. “One initiative that was proposed is that we employ the power of collective prayer more consistently in our efforts to combat suicide. I have issued a call to all members of our Corps to join with me on 8 April in leading the Army Family in a special day of prayer and fasting for the preservation, protection and peace of our Army. I have directed our Center for Spiritual Leadership at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School to provide resources to support you in your prayer effort.”

BP file photo

Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said the directive, which includes a resolution-style “whereas” statement saying spiritual leaders “model faith and belief in the Hand of God to intervene in the course of history and individual lives,” is “not an appropriately pluralistic description of the theological and spiritual diversity present within military chaplaincy.”

The group, founded by Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein to advocate the separation of church and state in the military, also said the Army chief of chaplains is a bureaucratic job with no constitutional authority to dictate a specific religious practice like fasting or prayer.

The web-based political magazine Truthout.org said timing the observance on a Jewish feast day was also being perceived as insensitive to people with non-Christian faiths.

Investigative reporter Jason Leopold quoted one Jewish member of the armed forces who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution calling the proclamation “an insult to all Jews” that displayed “unconscionable arrogance” by Carver.

Nominated to the post in 2007, Carver is the first Southern Baptist to be named Army chief of chaplains since the Korean War. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has been pastor of churches in Kentucky, Colorado and Virginia. His endorsement as chaplain is by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Southern Baptist label alone is enough to raise suspicion in some Jewish circles. In the past the SBC has sparred with Jewish organizations over a variety of issues, such as when Southern Baptists passed a resolution targeting Jews for evangelism in 1996 and published a prayer pamphlet urging Baptists to pray for the salvation of Jews during Jewish high holy days in 1999.

But Carver has also been called out for using apocalyptic language of his own.

“The scripture talks about how God is the One who raises up leadership,” Carver said in a 2007 interview with Baptist Press. “For such a time as this, it has appeared that God has raised me up as a Southern Baptist chaplain to provide spiritual leadership for our chaplains in the Army.”

He is on record as finding parallels in the war in Iraq and situations written about in parts of the Old Testament book of Daniel that some Christians view as end-times prophecies. Part of the modern-day nation of Iraq is called Babylon in the Bible, and Carver said at a 2006 prayer breakfast he found it strange that Saddam Hussein believed he was the reincarnation of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king mentioned in Daniel.

Addressing an annual chaplains’ luncheon at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006, Carver described America’s long war against violent religious extremism “as a war contending for the future of humanity as you and I know it.”

“But as chaplains, this is my time and your time, your destiny,” he said. “Like Daniel, you’ve been raised up to speak light into the darkness. Like Moses, you and I have been made shepherds to walk people from the darkness into the light of Christ Jesus. Like Caleb, we have been given a mountain and a vision to claim for the glory of God. Like Gideon, we have been given an army to lead.”

Carver told an Alabama Baptist church in 2006 that converging disasters like devastating hurricanes, simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and America’s allegedly crumbling moral fiber convinced him the devil was turning up an attack on the United States.

“I’m not an end-times preacher, but I think something is up,” he said. He said the current times mirror verses in Daniel 12:1-3, a passage that prophesies tribulation and consummation at the end of the world.

Carver added that Christians were destined to respond like another Old Testament character, Esther, who was placed in a certain situation “for such a time as this.”

According to Baptist Press, the SBC’s news arm, Carver chose April 8 for the prayer emphasis because it is a Wednesday, which is prayer-meeting night in most Southern Baptist churches and provides an easy opportunity for churches to pray for the military.

Carver’s office did not reply to an email requesting comment in time for this story.

The flap is the latest in a series of complaints by Jewish and religious-liberty groups about the growing power of conservative evangelical Christianity in the U.S. military.

Weinstein wrote about it in a 2007 book titled With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)
4/7/2009 7:28:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Vt. override legalizes ‘gay marriage’

April 7 2009 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont’s Democratic-controlled legislature handed the “gay marriage” movement a landmark victory earlier today, overriding a veto and making the state the first in the nation to legalize “gay marriage” without a court order.

Requiring a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override Republican Gov. Jim Douglas’ veto, the bill passed the Senate with ease, 23-5, and then squeaked by in the House by the slimmest of margins, 100-49. It needed a minimum of 100 votes in the House to reach a two-thirds majority.

The bill will go into effect Sept. 1, making Vermont the fourth state to legalize “gay marriage,” following Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa. But unlike those three states, Vermont will begin recognizing “gay marriage” voluntarily.

Passage of the bill also means the nation has seen the number of states that recognize “gay marriage” — or soon will do so — double in the past week. Iowa’s highest court handed down its ruling just four days ago.

Douglas vetoed the bill Monday evening, setting up a quick-paced attempt at an override.

Anticipating just this scenario, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina recently joined the NC4Marriage coalition to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Legislation allowing North Carolina to vote on such an amendment is buried in committee, with little hope of resurrection.

House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democrat and a strong backer of the bill, seemed to be fighting back tears upon announcing the vote total.

During floor debate in the House, opponents urged representatives to oppose the bill, saying it would bring negative social change to the state. Republican Rep. Donald Turner said the bill would result in “radically redefining our most basic social institution.”

“Marriage is the way that we as a culture — like virtually every other culture known to man — link children with their mother and father who made them,” Turner, who voted against the bill, said. “Whatever rights and benefits we decide to extend same-sex couples, this biological reality of marriage should not be lightly erased.”

A January Gallup Poll found that Vermont was the least religious state in the nation, with only 42 percent of residents answering “yes” when asked, “Is religion an important part of your daily life?” But Terry Dorsett, director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association — an association of Southern Baptist churches — told Baptist Press that evangelicalism is “small, but growing rapidly” in the state. In the past eight years he has seen the number of churches in his association more than double, going from 17 to 37. Dorsett had contacted members of the legislature, asking them to vote against the bill.

“There are times when those of us who are leaders in the evangelical Christian community become discouraged with the smallness of our numbers and the way that the mainstream liberal media marginalizes our efforts,” he said. “But then we are reminded that the battle is not fought in the courtrooms or in the state House, but in the hearts of men and women who are in need of Jesus. I have personally witnessed the spiritual transformation of several homosexuals who are now living free from that emotional addiction. They were drawn to one of our Southern Baptist churches because the people in that church showed concern for them.”

Vermont passed the bill nine years after it became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions. That, though, came after a court-order.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
4/7/2009 7:02:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Baptist Board to consider Horton as Fruitland president

April 7 2009 by Norman Jameson and Steve DeVane, BR Staff

David Horton, pastor of Jamestown’s Gate City Baptist Church the past 16 years, will be recommended to the Baptist State Convention Board of Directors as the 8th president of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute when the board next meets May 19.

Horton, 48, was unanimously selected April 3 from among four finalists interviewed by the Fruitland search committee, chaired by Fruitland board chair George Cagle.

During the interviews, Horton “came to the top,” Cagle said.

“He just did the best job answering the questions, and he’s a great guy,” said Cagle, who described Horton as “outgoing, energetic and personable.”

“You need all that to put Fruitland out to the public,” he said.

Lisa Horton, David’s wife of 29 years, will be an asset to pastors’ and students’ wives and five women who enrolled at Fruitland in the fall, Cagle said.

Contributed photo

David Horton

Horton graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a degree in psychology in 1987. He had attended Gardner-Webb, but moved closer to home when his father died in 1980 to help his mother and two siblings. It was “five years and three children later” before he was able to return to school.

He earned his master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1992.

Horton is a native of Hillsville, Va., 21 miles north of Mt. Airy. Born in the mountains, he’s returning to the mountains, he said.

Horton also has been pastor of Three Forks Baptist in Taylorsville; Welcome Baptist in Mt. Airy; and Reed Island Springs Baptist in Meadows of Dan, Va.

Pending approval by the BSC board, Horton anticipates starting at Fruitland June 1.

Fruitland has been a ministry of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) since 1946. It is an agency of the BSC and its board is accountable to the BSC Board of Directors.

Horton said Fruitland has effectively trained ministers of the gospel since its founding. “The Fruitland slogan says, ‘Where preaching is our passion,’” Horton said. “Those at Fruitland realize it’s not just preaching, it’s expositional preaching they are talking about.”

He loves the practical approach to ministry for which Fruitland is noted. “The things you learn in class that morning you can put into practice that afternoon at the church,” he said.

Horton appreciates Fruitland's history but suggested several "train cars" he would add to the engines effectively driving its ministry:

-          Effectively utilizing technology  in the campus classrooms and developing online curriculum;

-          Expanding curriculum to better prepare pastors of smaller churches in children’s ministry, counseling, and lay leadership development;

-          Expanding curriculum to prepare individuals who are called to church planting;

-          Considering additional extension opportunities across North Carolina.

Perry Brindley, pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Canton, is president of the Fruitland alumni association.

While he said he can speak only for himself, he said, “Knowing and trusting that God has answered our prayers in giving guidance and leadership to the search team, we’re fully supportive of their decision to bring David Horton’s name to the board.”

If elected, Horton would succeed Kenneth Ridings, who retired Jan. 1, after a 40-year association with the school, including the last 12 as president.

“I trust the Fruitland presidential search committee in their selection of David as the next president of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute,” Ridings said. “In every way he will have my cooperation, support, and prayers.”

Greg Mathis, pastor of Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, former Baptist State Convention president and professor of evangelism at Fruitland for 24 years has been Fruitland’s interim president since January.    

Ironically, Mathis was Horton’s pastor when Horton was ordained to the ministry as a young man at Pine Grove Baptist Church in Hillsville, Va., and he served there as Mathis’ associate pastor.

“Through the years, I have watched David mature and develop into a gifted preacher, a great pastor and a very eloquent statesman and leader in our North Carolina Baptist State Convention,” Mathis said. “He is a man with an impeccable character, a deep devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ, and has a great vision for the upbuilding of God’s kingdom.  I believe David and his wife, Lisa, will be a great addition to the Fruitland family.  I believe that God is leading David into this new position as our next president and he has my full support.”

Fruitland traces its heritage to 1899, when area Baptists started a Christian high school to serve local and boarding students. A partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) was later formed and Fruitland Institute continued to offer a Christian secondary education until it closed in 1936.

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina later bought the property and used it as a conference center during the summer months for several years. In 1946, BSC leaders invited J.C. Canipe, pastor of First Baptist Church in Boone who had been teaching local pastors with little formal training, to move his classes to the Fruitland campus.

Canipe served as the first president of Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute until his retirement in 1960.

Other presidents of the school include Fritz Hemphill, Gary Harthcock, Alex Booth, Mack Roberts and Randy Kilby.

4/7/2009 2:14:00 AM by Norman Jameson and Steve DeVane, BR Staff | with 3 comments

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