April 2013

Vision, leadership and mentoring critical to revitalization, Hunt says

April 30 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

Pastors across the room typed on their laptops and filled notepads with pithy one-liners and helpful tips as North Carolina native Johnny Hunt encouraged and challenged them to lead, empower, train up – and basically do “whatever it takes” –to save or strengthen their churches.
Nearly 300 church leaders gathered April 25 for the Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference, sponsored by the North American Mission Board and the Baptist State Convention of N.C. The event, which was held at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh, is part of a series of revitalization-focused conferences. Other conferences will be held later this year in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas. 
“People follow vision,” said Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “… Whatever is important to you as a leader is what’s important to your people.”
“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” he said. “You want a giving church? Start giving. You want a witnessing church? Start witnessing. You want a mission church? Do missions. … Sometimes [pastors] say, ‘Our people, they just don’t get this.’ … Well, maybe it’s because you’ve never gotten it.”

BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Johnny Hunt led the Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference April 25 at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh.

Hunt is no stranger to revitalizing churches. In addition to his years as a successful pastor in N.C., he led Woodstock from 250 people in 1986 to more than 6,500 in attendance today. But Woodstock is in the minority of churches across the Southern Baptist Convention. According to the latest available figures, he added, 73 percent of all SBC churches are declining or plateaued.
Every year 10,000 churches from all denominations shut down, said Hunt. Of those churches, 900 of them are Southern Baptist congregations.
Hunt shared with the crowd how Woodstock is helping relaunch dying churches – such as Vinings Lake Church in Mableton, Ga. – so they can reach their communities for Christ.
“In 30 days … I had four churches call me,” said Hunt. He said one church went from a handful of discouraged people, who were about to close their church, to those in need of every room in their building to fit the crowd during their opening relaunch day. “That could be happening all over the country.”
“[And] we’ve got all these guys that want to plant churches,” Hunt said. “You know what I found out about you church planters? You all could use a building. There’s 900 out there if we can find out how we can get them.”


Pastors need to be willing to go wherever God calls them. If a church is struggling and failing to reach out to its community, allow God to help you rebuild it, Hunt said.
“Guys say to me. ‘I’m not going there, they don’t even have an outreach program,’” he said. “That’s why they need you. … It’s leadership. Go lead. … Go somewhere and build something. … Go do a great work like Nehemiah. There’s a bunch of walls down in the Southern Baptist Convention, so we need to go, and we need to build.”
Pastors must also train up new leaders around them.
“A ministry cannot grow without developing more leaders,” he said.
“You go to make all of the hospital visits. You go see all of the sick. You do all of the witnessing. Everybody that’s baptized, you win them,” he added. “… If you will do it alone, they will let you.”
Finding new leaders can be as simple as setting up a meeting with other leaders.
“Leaders know leaders,” Hunt said. “Recently, I met with a good number of leaders and I said, ‘I’m really looking for some more leaders,’ and before we left the room that day … I had 80 names.”
Pastors also need to be willing to take two weeks or longer off to rest.
“Sometimes the reason you won’t, … you feel the church can’t do without you, which speaks of an unhealthy mindset to begin with,” Hunt said. “And I think if it’s just two weeks to a month, and it can save your ministry, [that’s] not a bad exchange.”
Many times getting a church back on the right track involves making subtle changes, not big ones. “It normally doesn’t take a major adjustment,” said Hunt, comparing some churches to a high-performance vehicle that simply needs “a small tweak.”
No church is beyond hope, said Michael Lewis, who spoke later that afternoon. Lewis directs church revitalization and pastoral relations for NAMB.
“I’ve talked to probably 10 pastors this week who … just feel hopeless,” he said.  “If revitalization is ever going to occur, it must first occur in the heart of the pastor.”
Lewis, who has pastored churches in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Texas, shared how he saw God heal wounds at the first church he pastored many years ago in Lancaster, S.C.
“The pastor that was there before me left in adultery, … two of the church leaders had committed suicide,” he said. “I walked in that church. It was 60 people, and it seemed there was no recovery. … We just felt hopeless.”
But after more than 7 years of serving there, Lewis said the congregation went from nearly shutting down to planting five Spanish-speaking churches in the community.
“God can do a mighty work,” he said. “We have to believe that. If we really believe the Lord is the Lord of the resurrection then it will lead us to obey Him by preaching His Word by prayer, which are key components of revitalization.”

Building disciples

After Lewis spoke, Baptist State Convention of N.C. (BSC) staff also encouraged pastors in attendance to contact them for more information on how they can help through various discipleship, evangelism and church growth initiatives.
For revitalization to take hold, it starts with the church’s culture, said Brian Upshaw, church ministry team leader for the BSC. To achieve a disciple-making strategy, he said, a disciple-making culture must be established.
“We believe that happens as we order our lives, our everyday lives, around this call … to love God with all of our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Upshaw said. “Everyone of us is called to make disciples.”
Seeing transformational change takes a lot of work and time, said Hunt during the closing session that afternoon.
“There is no such thing as a great work without longevity,” he said. “No one ever built a great work without years. … Don’t ever go somewhere for a good start.”
“If you go serve … [tell yourself] ‘Come hell or high water I’m called to be there.’”
Find out more about creating a disciple-making culture by contacting Brian Upshaw at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5632. For more information about future revitalization conferences go to http://www.namb.net/revitalization/. Or contact NAMB at revitalization@namb.net or call (770) 410-6388.
4/30/2013 3:06:44 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 3 comments

Many of top baptizing churches from 2011 continue growth

April 30 2013 by BR staff

With more than 20,000 baptisms reported for North Carolina Baptist churches, seven of the churches in the 2011 top 10 repeated in 2012’s list as well.
There was a 15.2 percent drop in numbers though when comparing the two year’s statistics. In 2011 churches baptized 24,376. In 2012 that number dropped to 20,665. The Summit Church, the 2012 No. 1 church for baptisms, had more than doubled its baptism over the previous year.*

4/30/2013 3:04:23 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Iranian pastor placed in solitary confinement

April 30 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

TEHRAN – In another effort to force Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini to recant his faith, prison officials in Tehran have placed him in solitary confinement, something the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) calls “perhaps his most grave situation since his imprisonment last fall.”

Abedini – a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent – has served time in solitary confinement in the past, telling his family it was the hardest time in his life, according to a statement by his wife Naghmeh. He explained that “every hour was like one year and that he was losing his memory and his health was deteriorating quickly,” she recounted. 

In addition to solitary confinement, ACLJ reported April 29 that Abedini’s severe internal bleeding continues – still going untreated – and now his kidneys are not functioning properly.

“We have been able to confirm that the horrible conditions in Evin Prison led Pastor Saeed and a number of prisoners in Ward 350 to sign a letter expressing to prison officials their concern about the lack of medical care received and the threats and harsh treatment facing family members who come to visit,” ACLJ said.

Saeed Abedini

The prisoners then expressed their dissatisfaction in a peaceful, silent protest in an outside courtyard at the prison, the legal organization representing Idaho resident Naghmeh Abedini said.

The letter and peaceful protest apparently prompted prison officials to select 10 prisoners to place in solitary confinement, including Abedini, ACLJ said.

“Our sources indicate that Pastor Saeed is likely to be beaten again, in private, away from other witnesses and prisoners,” Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s executive director, wrote. “At the same time, there’s concern that his kidneys are no longer operating properly, the result of the internal injuries he has received over many months.”

Abedini has been told not to expect medical treatment for months, and when his family arrived at the prison Monday to visit him, they were turned away and told he was no longer allowed to have visitors, ACLJ said.

Naghmeh Abedini requested, “Please pray for his health and healing. Pray for his release. Pray that the Lord would use this for His glory and salvation of many.”

Also in Sekulow’s report, he conveyed comments from a former Iranian political prisoner who spent 15 years in Iranian prisons, including some time at Evin.

The former prisoner said Abedini most likely is on a list of prisoners the authorities want to break, including those who have refused to repent of their faith or confess to their crimes. 

“They took Saeed to solitary confinement to put pressure on his belief and faith,” the former prisoner said. “This shows that Saeed has stood strong for his faith.”

In a letter obtained by ACLJ earlier in April, Abedini wrote that he was told by Iranian prison officials, “Deny your faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam or else you will not be released from prison. We will make sure you are kept here even after your eight-year sentence is finished.”

Abedini’s response, he wrote, is Romans 8:35-39, which says persecution and death cannot separate a believer from Christ. 

“The reality of Christian living is that difficulties or problems do arise in our lives,” Abedini wrote. “Persecution and difficulties are not new occurrences, but are seen often in the Christian life. It is through the suffering and tribulations that we are to enter the Kingdom of God.

In an article published by the Idaho Statesman April 26, Tiffany Barrans, ACLJ’s international legal director, said the group has petitioned to have the Red Cross enter Tehran as a third party to treat Abedini. “That has not been granted by the Iranian authorities,” she said.

Barrans told the newspaper that Abedini has promised Iranian authorities that if he is freed, he will leave Iran and never return. She sees some hope that Abedini’s pending appeal will go in his favor, releasing him from an eight-year prison sentence for working with house churches a decade ago.

“It gives the Iranian government an out, to save face,” Barrans told the Statesman. “They want to look like a country that is following the rule of law.” 

A positive development, she said, is that human rights groups within Iran now have taken up Abedini’s cause. If there’s enough unrest regarding him on social media there, Barrans said, Iranian authorities could decide it’s not worth holding such a politically volatile prisoner with elections looming in June.

The newspaper explained that Naghmeh Abedini was born in Iran but grew up in Idaho after her family fled during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. She graduated from high school in Boise and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

Naghmeh Abedini returned to Iran in 2001 to do some mission work, the Statesman reported, and met Saeed the following year. They were married in a Christian wedding in Iran in 2004. 

“Persecution of Christians intensified after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president, and they decided in 2005 that it was time to move to Idaho,” the Statesman said. “Naghmeh was pregnant with their first child.”

The couple lives with Naghmeh’s parents in Boise, and she said her first reaction when he was arrested was to go to Iran and be with him, at least to visit once a week like his parents had been doing. 

But Iranian officials warned that if she sets foot in their airport, she’ll go straight to prison, the newspaper said, explaining that she’s a Muslim who converted to Christianity and was involved in Christian house churches in Iran along with her husband.

Through ACLJ, more than half a million people worldwide have signed an online petition calling for Abedini’s release, and more than 42,000 people have sent him birthday greetings in the form of letters that ACLJ is attempting to deliver to Evin prison for his 33rd birthday May 7. 

On April 28, more than 250 people in the Idaho community of Nampa participated in a benefit walk and bicycle ride for Abedini. His wife and two children received a package of donated gifts from local businesses, the Statesman reported. 

“It is our hope that whenever she uses one of these gifts, she will be reminded that her community cares,” said Annette Welburn, who organized the benefit. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
4/30/2013 2:58:55 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ky. advisory group proposes $700,000 CP shift

April 30 2013 by Todd Deaton, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – More than $700,000 in Cooperative Program (CP) funding will shift from Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) entities and institutions to support international missions and other Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes, if recommendations from a special advisory workgroup are approved when the KBC Mission Board convenes May 6-7 in Louisville.

The special advisory team to KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood – tasked with studying the convention’s relationship with its 10 entities and institutions – presented their recommendations for adjusting the Cooperative Program allocations for each KBC entity to the Mission Board’s administrative committee. With its approval, the recommendations now advance for consideration by the Mission Board.

Overall, the advisory workgroup provided details for reducing CP funding for KBC entities and institutions over a two-year period by $706,911 –from $5,181,911 in the state convention’s 2012-13 budget to $4,475,000 in 2014-15.

The recent round of CP adjustments come as a second step in the KBC’s move toward a 50/50 allocation between KBC and SBC causes, taking into account a reduction in the Cooperative Program Resourcing portion from 10 percent to 7 percent. The first step entailed a reorganization of the Mission Board and the trimming of personnel by about one-third, for a net loss of 41 positions over the past decade.

A third step involves another advisory group currently strategizing for the future of the state’s Baptist campus ministry program.

“As I came to my role as executive director,” Chitwood said, “there was no question in my mind, nor in the search committee’s minds, that we were at a very critical and challenging place as a convention. With Cooperative Program giving continuing to be in decline and with us being staffed for a different era of ministry, we knew we needed to make some adjustments.

“We also knew we needed to make adjustments to meet the KBC Great Commission Task Force’s (GCTF) goals,” Chitwood added. 

The GCTF report called for a transfer of CP funds to send more to the international mission field.

Though the goals, as adopted by the state convention in 2010, set a 10-year timetable for achieving the objective, Chitwood said he and Mission Board leaders felt that the KBC needed to move forward with the transition because of difficulties in budgeting year-to-year adjustments.

The workgroup’s recommendations are broken into two-parts: specific CP recommendations for each entity or institution, and three general recommendations for all KBC entities.

Chitwood has contacted each of the entity and institution leaders and offered to speak with their trustee boards to further explain the proposed CP adjustments.

“No one is excited about their funding being reduced,” he said. “These are difficult days for all of us, and this will require sacrifice of each agency and institution.

“But my impression also has been that each agency and institution is committed to being a good partner with the KBC,” Chitwood noted, “and they are grateful for every penny that comes through the sacrificial giving of our churches.”

Specific recommendations

Specific reductions in CP allotments proposed for each KBC entity and institution, accompanied by brief commendations and explanatory remarks in the document sent to the Mission Board, are:
  • Baptist Healthcare System: from $5,617 to $5,000, a decrease of $617.
  • Sunrise Children’s Services: from $311,708 to $300,000, a decrease of $11,708.
  • Kentucky Baptist Assemblies/Crossings: from $339,752 to $330,000, a decrease of $9,752.
  • Western Recorder: from $342,079 to $275,000, a decrease of $66,079.
  • Kentucky Baptist Foundation: from $296,146 to $235,000, a decrease of $61,146.
  • Woman’s Missionary Union: from $447,551 to 440,000, a decrease of $7,551.
  • Campbellsville University and University of the Cumberlands: from $1,269,760 to $1,000,000 each, a decrease of $269,760 each.
  • Clear Creek Baptist Bible College: from $540,323 to $535,000, a decrease of $5,323.
  • Oneida Baptist Institute: from $360,215 to $355,000, a decrease of $5,215.

General recommendations

In addition to proposed CP adjustments, general recommendations for all KBC entities include:
  • Expecting authentic Cooperative Program promotion, including administrators, trustees and employees modeling CP loyalty in their church memberships.
  • Inviting the executive director-treasurer to join their respective governing boards as an ex-officio member.
  • Striving to create an atmosphere that reflects the identity of KBC churches: high view of Scripture, doctrine consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message, and commitment to the Great Commission and cooperation.

Need for action

“I know it is going to be challenging for the agencies and institutions to make the adjustments they have to make to the CP allocation reductions,” Chitwood said.

Reemphasizing a mandate to take the gospel to the nations, Chitwood said, “I hope that Kentucky Baptists will be able to celebrate their obedience to the Great Commission in knowing that this transition of funds is out of our conviction that we must make sacrifices at home to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.

“My hope and prayer,” he added, “is that in knowing the sacrifices that our agencies and institutions, our mission boards, and all of the cooperative work that Kentucky Baptists and Southern Baptists are doing, Kentucky Baptists will be inspired to make a greater investment through the Cooperative Program.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Todd Deaton is editor of the Western Recorder, newsjournal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)
4/30/2013 2:54:04 PM by Todd Deaton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC’s Land delivers farewell chapel message

April 30 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land evoked the godliness of the prophet Ezra and the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. in admonishing the church to set the spiritual temperature of the nation, instead of being a thermometer that merely reflects the culture.

Land preached to the staff of Southern Baptist entities in the SBC Building in Nashville during a farewell chapel message Monday (April 29) upon his retirement after 25 years as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“The answer for what ails us is not going to come from Washington or from Nashville. Washington, government in general, is what’s known as a lagging social indicator. It’s a caboose, not a locomotive,” said Land, an author and former pastor in addition to the SBC’s most visible ethicist. “When God’s people change, Washington will change.”

Richard Land delivered the April 29 chapel message to the staff of entities in the SBC Building in Nashville, evoking the godliness of the prophet Ezra and the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. in exhorting the church to set the spiritual temperature of the nation.

Land read from Ezra 7:8-10 and 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3, encouraging Christians to grow in grace and represent God with authoritative maturity.

“[Ezra] knew what it was to be God’s man, in God’s place, in God’s time, on God’s business, with God’s power and God’s blessing,” Land said. “The problem we’ve got today, we’ve got churches full of Christians that are cases of spiritually arrested development. They’re not weaned yet.”

Land quoted King’s April 16, 1963, letter from a Birmingham jail in which the late civil rights leader and Baptist pastor encouraged the church to reengage its God-given power and lead the nation in the ways of righteousness.

“There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced, when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion. It was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society,” Land quoted King. “Wherever the early Christians entered a town, the power structure was disturbed. The early church brought an end to ancient evils, such as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

“Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church. The judgment of God is upon the church as never before,” Land quoted from King’s letter.

Land called on Southern Baptists to be leaders in the 21st century.

“We Christians who are called upon to serve God in the first decade of the 21st century have got to decide whether we’re going to be thermometers or thermostats. Thermometers reflect the spiritual temperature; thermostats set the spiritual temperature,” Land said. “Make no mistake about it, our churches are either going to have their temperature changed by those who are seeking to make the law of the Lord, to know it, to do it and teach it, and to be spiritual change agents who are going to change the temperature, or we’ll just be thermometers and reflect the temperature.”

Land in 2012 announced his retirement from the post he has held since 1988 when the ERLC was still known as the Christian Life Commission. At that time, Land’s title was executive director and treasurer.

SBC President Fred Luter, by recorded video, thanked Land for his service and friendship, and said he was happy to become the convention’s first African American president during Land’s tenure.

“Thank you my brother for all that you’ve done for me, your support and prayers for me as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I know this is something you’ve been praying about for many years. I am so honored that it happened on your watch and you were able to see this and be a part of it,” Luter said. “Thank you for being a personal friend of mine. Thank you for supporting me and encouraging me through the years of ministry at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. Let me congratulate you on being one who’s always been on the front line on standing up for the Bible, standing up for values, standing up for morals, [and] standing up for the kingdom of God.”

Noted author and longtime Land friend R.T. Kendall attended the event, and a number of SBC leaders and advocates for religious liberty sent encouraging words to Land, who has accepted the presidency of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in a recorded video message, spoke of Land’s influence upon SBC life, saying Land spoke with wisdom, scholarship, tremendous conviction and passion.

“The history of the Southern Baptist Convention will not be written, it cannot be written without pointing to the singularly important influence of Richard Land in terms of transforming the social and moral witness of the world’s largest evangelical denomination,” Mohler said. “The influence of Richard Land now extends to every church in our denomination. It extends to the hallways of Congress, to the corridors of power and also to the hearts of Christ’s people who’ve been touched by his prophetic teachings and witness on issues ranging from the sanctity and dignity of human life, to the integrity of marriage, to the issues of justice and righteousness throughout the land.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’s staff writer.)
4/30/2013 2:48:29 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In China, Baptist relief presses into mountains

April 30 2013 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

YA’AN, China – Xia Donghai was 900 miles from his family when word came April 20 that a major earthquake had struck his hometown. Unable to get through with phone calls, the frantic construction worker spent almost half his monthly salary to catch a plane – his first flight ever – and join the massive tide of breadwinners trying to make their way back home and learn the fate of their families.

“I am filled with terror, I do not know what I will find when I return to the family home,” Xia told a reporter. He is one of 230 million workers from impoverished provinces who migrated to China’s booming coastal areas in search of jobs to provide for their families. At the end of his flight, Xia found he was among thousands of others trying to find rides into the earthquake zone. He climbed uninvited into a car, but blocked roads and congestion prevented progress, so he got out and began pleading with motorcyclists for a ride home.

BGRI photo
A family in rural Sichuan, China, surveys damage to their home and wonders how they will rebuild. Ninety percent of all the homes in the area of China struck by an earthquake April 20 were either destroyed or so seriously damaged that they are unlivable.

BGR International, the Singapore headquarters of Baptist Global Response, is focusing its initial relief effort on getting water purification machines into the 30 counties and towns China’s government has identified for rebuilding.

“Ninety percent of all the homes in the cities, towns and countryside were either destroyed or so seriously damaged that they are unlivable,” said Pat Melancon, BGRI’s managing director of disaster response and training. “The government is trying to group 3,000 to 5,000 people at a time into tent communities. Those who are living in the countryside are pitching tents near their damaged homes.”

The earthquake affected 2 million people, according to news reports. The death toll stands at 196, with 21 missing and 13,484 injured. Rescue efforts have largely ceased and the focus is shifting to recovery and rehabilitation, said Ben Wolf, who with his wife Pam leads BGRI work in the Asia Rim.

“All the water sources in the cities have been damaged so we are having to pull water in from the polluted rivers to be filtered. And, we are needing to find water wells but the wells found thus far have not been in easy access to the tent communities,” Wolf said. “We have not seen any toilets brought in or built either, so sanitation also is a problem.”

Among other needs in the quake zone: baby formula/powder, vitamins for pregnant women and children, food for diabetics, women’s hygiene and water-deflecting tarps.

Water purification machines have been delivered and additional machines are ready to be sent, thanks to the efforts of volunteers working alongside nationals, Wolf added. Doctors and medicine are available in the cities but not in the countryside. Relief teams are looking for ways to walk in medicines to survivors in the countryside.

“The situation in the remote areas is critical,” Wolf said. “Blocked roads are making the delivery of relief supplies very difficult. Please ask God to give comfort and preserve lives until assistance can arrive. Pray that our relief efforts would help people understand God’s love for them and discover the new lives He offers as they rebuild from the earthquake. Pray that those who are returning to search for their families will be able to find them – and encounter the compassion of God’s people as well.” 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response.)
4/30/2013 2:42:18 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Calvary Baptist calls Rob Peters as senior pastor

April 29 2013 by BR staff

Rob Peters of Weston, Fla. has been called to serve as senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Winston Salem, N.C., effective June 16. The church voted April 28.
Peters was born in Augusta County, Virginia. He completed an accounting degree at Tennessee Tech and immediately enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. While at Southwestern, he worked for the accounting firm Ernst and Young for two years and served in a variety of leadership positions at Sagamore Hills Baptist Church in Fort Worth. He served First Baptist Church Dallas, Texas, as associate to senior pastor for O.S. Hawkins.
In January 2000, the Peters family moved to Weston, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Since then, he has served as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church. As a solo pastor he began the work of church revitalization with approximately 300 attenders. The church grew from 300 to more than 1,100 in worship attendance. Today, the church has seven executive staff members, four directors, and 95 employees in its church and school. The membership comes from more than 60 different nations and has strategic missions partnerships around the world.
In December 2001, Peters completed his D.Min. degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He has authored three books. He and his wife, Wendy, are the parents of three children.
Speaking to the Calvary congregation, Peters said; “Wendy and I are anticipating a great time of ministry together in this wonderful and historic church.”
Frederick W. Kremkau, chairman of the pastor search committee, said the search for Calvary’s senior pastor concludes an 18-month process involving 146 candidates and 60 committee meetings.
The Search Committee said in a statement: “Our prayer from the start was that God would lead us down a straight path to His shepherd for Calvary Baptist Church, and that the process would culminate in a confident, unanimous vote without reservation.” Their unanimous vote was on March 26.
Gary Chapman, senior associate pastor of Calvary, has served as the interim pastor of the church since Al Gilbert left to serve on the staff of the North American Mission Board in September 2011.
More information is available on the Calvary Baptist website: http://www.calvarynow.com/welcome-dr-rob-peters.
4/29/2013 4:39:40 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Military official: Malware to blame for site block

April 29 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – A military official says malware was to blame for the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) website being blocked on some military bases.
Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a Defense Department spokesman, said the military’s software filters detected malware at SBC.net and blocked the website. The malware since has been removed off the website, and the denomination’s website unblocked, he said.

“The Department of Defense is not intentionally blocking access to this site,” Pickart told The Tennessean in an email. “The Department of Defense strongly supports the religious rights of service members, to include their ability to access religious websites like that of the SBC.”

Social media sites were buzzing April 25 over allegations that the military had blocked the website for other reasons. FoxNews first reported that Southern Baptist-endorsed chaplains on military installations had unsuccessfully tried to access SBC.net, and had received a message: “The site you have requested has been blocked by Team CONUS (C-TNOSC/RCERT-CONUS) due to hostile content.” The site was not blocked at the Pentagon, FoxNews said.

The Associated Press wrote a story summarizing what had happened, and that story was carried on websites around the world. Some Christians focused on the phrase “hostile content” and wondered whether the denomination’s traditional positions on abortion, gay marriage and the Bible were the reason the military was blocking the site.

Chris Chapman, the SBC Executive Committee’s director of information systems, said SBC.net – like the websites of many other organizations – is a target for hackers. He also said the military’s filters are at an “optimum level” in blocking content, not simply “recognizing invading viruses” but also blocking anything that possibly could be harmful. 

“This most recent challenge fits into that latter category, and has been dealt with satisfactorily,” Chapman said. “Unfortunately, SBC.net has joined the ranks of other major organizations that are targets for hackers, detractors and activists. Those engaged in destructive creativity will exploit the continuing development of new technologies to cause new harm and threats of harm continually, so this latest challenge is, for us, just another one of the sort we deal with every day. The fact that it ‘made the news’ was certainly a distinguishing feature, but the attempted attack was not all that unusual.”

But SBC.net remains safe to visit, he said.

“Certainly, having adequate virus protection is necessary for us all, but visitors to SBC.net need not worry about harm from visiting our site to any greater degree than they should from any other credible and well-established site,” Chapman said. “If any user suspects a hacking attempt, vulnerability, or virus, or even if there are accessibility issues, we welcome being informed by email. You may contact our IT division directly by emailing us at Webmaster@sbc.net.” 

Early on April 25, Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations for the SBC’s Executive Committee, expressed caution against jumping to conclusions. 

“Though there have been several instances recently in which evangelical Christians have been marginalized by the broader culture, we think that a rush to judgment that the United States Military has targeted the Southern Baptist Convention as a hostile religious group would be premature,” Oldham said at the time.

Following is the full statement from Chris Chapman:

“The recent situation impeding access to our website for some was aggravated by a misunderstanding of a term familiar to those in the information technology field. That term is ‘hostile content.’ To technical administrators, it simply means some sort of vulnerability or virus. It might not even be an actively harmful element, but simply an exploitable or potentially exploitable condition. We now live in an age where defending against or removing ‘hostile content’ is a daily undertaking, especially for any organization that maintains multiple Internet servers.

“As one might expect, the wall of defense for the computer systems of our armed forces is at an optimum level. We appreciate the fact that it goes beyond recognizing invading viruses and includes closing down harmful possibilities. This most recent challenge fits into that latter category, and has been dealt with satisfactorily.

“Unfortunately, SBC.net has joined the ranks of other major organizations that are targets for hackers, detractors and activists. Those engaged in destructive creativity will exploit the continuing development of new technologies to cause new harm and threats of harm continually, so this latest challenge is, for us, just another one of the sort we deal with every day. The fact that it ‘made the news’ was certainly a distinguishing feature, but the attempted attack was not all that unusual.

“Certainly, having adequate virus protection is necessary for us all, but visitors to SBC.net need not worry about harm from visiting our site to any greater degree than they should from any other credible and well-established site. If any user suspects a hacking attempt, vulnerability, or virus, or even if there are accessibility issues, we welcome being informed by email. You may contact our IT division directly by emailing us at Webmaster@sbc.net.” 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust associate editor of Baptist Press.)
4/29/2013 4:33:06 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bush library dedication takes spiritual tone

April 29 2013 by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press

DALLAS – An affair that drew all five living American presidents to Dallas on April 25 opened and closed in prayers referencing the prophet Micah’s call “to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God” and success that “yet ultimately rests in Your providential care.” 

And as an estimated 10,000 people waited for George W. Bush to speak during the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the Southern Methodist University campus, a choir sang the words “as He died to make men holy let us die to make men free” in a rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Such spiritual language accented the dedication of the library named for a president who counted himself among the Christian evangelicals who so strongly supported him. 

Photo by Charlene Ensley/Southern Baptist TEXAN
President George W. Bush flashes a “thumbs up” to someone in the crowd at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. In attendance were all five living U.S. presidents and their wives – the honoree and his wife Laura, President and Mrs. Obama, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. 

Dignitaries including world leaders, senators and congressmen and a large media contingent attended the invitation-only outdoor event on a still, sunny day with temperatures in the 60s.

The 43rd president was honored by the former presidents, including his father, and by President Obama, who echoed President Bill Clinton in stating that despite political differences “to know the man is to like the man because he is comfortable in his own skin.”

Obama recalled that one of the first things he did the day he took office was read a handwritten note from Bush that he had left for Obama in an Oval Office desk. Obama said the note demonstrated Bush’s “compassion and his generosity. For he knew that I would come to learn what he had learned: Being president above all is a humbling job.”

Obama also spoke of the weight of the presidency, lauding Bush for his resolve and leadership after 9/11 and recalling Bush’s speaking through a bullhorn to hurting New Yorkers, “promising justice to those who sought to destroy our way of life.”

The president used the occasion to press for immigration reform as he praised Bush’s efforts on the issue while in office. Obama told the crowd that “if we [pass a reform bill] it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush.”

Obama mentioned a note President Kennedy’s secretary found that JFK had written after negotiating with Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev. It stated, “I know there is a God and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me I believe I am ready.”

“No one can be completely ready for this office,” Obama said, “but America needs leaders who are willing to face the storm head–on, even as they pray to God for strength and wisdom so they can do what they believe is right. That’s what leaders with whom I share this stage have all done. That’s what President George W. Bush chose to do.”

Former president Jimmy Carter praised Bush’s commitment to development and peace in Africa. Carter told the crowd how that early in Bush’s presidency, Bush had promised to give Carter input in achieving peace in the bloody, war-torn Sudan. 

“President Bush kept his promise,” Carter recalled, noting how Bush called him back to the White House three weeks later to discuss a strategy.

In 2005, thanks to Bush’s efforts, the 21-year civil war ended with a peace treaty, Carter said. He also praised Bush for increasing development aid to Africa to combat AIDS and other problems.

Bill Clinton, whom Bush succeeded, praised Bush’s inclusion of the former presidents as advisers when major decisions were faced. During Bush’s second term, Clinton said the two talked politics on numerous occasions.

Clinton said the two men “do a lot of speeches together” and Clinton said he finds it enjoyable to debate his successor, largely because Bush is likeable. Being able to debate differences “is an important part of a free society,” Clinton said.

The elder Bush, sitting in a wheelchair, spoke only briefly but to loud applause, noting the “beautiful day in Dallas” to honor his oldest son. “Glad to be here. God bless America and thank you very much.”

In addressing the crowd, the younger Bush thanked his peers and especially President Obama for attending. “Unlike the other presidents here, he actually has a job,” Bush quipped. 

Reflecting on his political career, Bush said the job of a public servant is “not to fulfill personal ambition” despite poll numbers or trends. “But in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. My deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom,” he said to applause.

“I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart. Freedom inspired our founders and preserved our union through civil war and the secured promise of civil rights,” Bush said. “Freedom sustains dissidents bound by chains, believers huddled in underground churches and voters who risk their lives to cast ballots. Freedom unleashes creativity, replaces poverty with prosperity. And ultimately, freedom lights the path to peace.”

Such freedom “brings responsibility” and thrives “when neighbors help neighbors and when the strong protect the weak,” Bush said.

Bush said visitors to the library “will find that we stayed true to our convictions.”

Bush said he has an “unshakable faith in our country.” Whatever the challenge, he said with a cracking voice as tears formed in his eyes, “I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead. God bless.” 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)
4/29/2013 4:09:11 PM by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chaplain introduces president to grieving families in West, Texas

April 29 2013 by Keith Collier, SWBTS Communications

WEST, Texas – Less than 24 hours after a fertilizer plant exploded in the central Texas town of West, Fire Chaplain John Babler arrived on the scene and helped emergency crews remove the remains of fallen first responders from the blast zone. A week later, as Co-Incident Commander for the Texas Line of Duty Death (LODD) Task Force, Babler introduced President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to the families of the 12 fallen firefighters and EMS workers following the April 25 memorial service at Baylor University’s Ferrell Center.

“When the president arrived, there were three of us who met him and welcomed him on behalf of the task force,” said Babler, who serves as associate professor of counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

SWBTS Photo/Adam Covington
President Obama offers remarks at the West, Texas, fallen first responders memorial service at Baylor University, April 25.

“He and Mrs. Obama were very compassionate and thankful for what we had done.”

Following the memorial service, the president and first lady spent an additional hour meeting with each family individually.

“Both he and Mrs. Obama went group to group introducing themselves, talking with each person,” Babler said. “I had the opportunity to walk through with them. In addition to his remarks during the program being very appropriate and very helpful and encouraging to the families, that time with them alone after, I know, was very encouraging to them.”

In the wake of the April 17 tragedy that made national news, Babler experienced long hours, little sleep, and emotional exhaustion. Still, Babler and his colleagues embraced the difficult assignment in front of them.

“My primary role the night [after the blast] was to go into the hot zone and represent the families as a chaplain and make sure that their loved ones were handled with dignity as they were placed in the funeral home van and honor guard members draped them with a U.S. flag,” Babler recalls.

Babler’s responsibilities in the week following the explosion included planning the joint memorial service, providing honor guard and chaplaincy support for the families as well as firefighters and EMS workers, and providing support for the individual funerals.

04-29-13texaschap175.jpgSWBTS Photo/Jason Davis

A supporter joins others along the street to show support for West, Texas, fallen first responders, April 25.

“Since we found out that President Obama would be attending the service,” Babler said, “much of my time was spent in planning meetings with White House staff, Secret Service, Baylor University, and others as we developed and coordinated the memorial service.”

Babler said his goal was to “honor the fallen while making sure that the fallen were the focus of and were truly honored by the service and that the families, firefighters and EMS workers were the VIPs of the service.” Thousands of friends, family and community members attended the memorial service, which featured remarks from President Obama, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Baylor President Ken Starr, and others.

Yet, even though the memorial service is over, Babler’s work is not complete. The LODD response team, a branch of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, aids families and fire departments in preparing funeral arrangements, organizing honor guards and assisting with the coordination of benefits. With a large number of chaplains on the team, they also counsel families and firefighters in the wake of these tragic deaths. They spend an average of three years caring for a family and one year caring for a department.

“The LODD Task Force and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation will continue to provide chaplain, benefits and survivor support for the families for years to come,” Babler said, adding, “The LODD Task Force will continue to provide support for the individual funeral services in the days to come.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
4/29/2013 3:48:02 PM by Keith Collier, SWBTS Communications | with 0 comments

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