April 2013

Former seminary president Duke McCall dies

April 2 2013 by Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Duke McCall, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president for three decades who earlier led the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, died April 2. He was 98.

McCall was president of Southern Seminary from 1951-82, a period that stretched from the civil rights movement to the beginning of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.

McCall stood firm for the civil rights of African Americans, and it was during his tenure at the seminary that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in chapel and in class in 1961. 

He also led the seminary in growth, both in enrollment and in its endowment. In 2011, the Duke K. McCall Chair of Christian Leadership and the McCall Leadership Lectures were created with funding by McCall and the McCall Family Foundation. In 2009, the seminary’s welcome center, the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion, was named in his honor on the Louisville, Ky., campus.

During the SBC conservative resurgence, McCall sided with the moderates, and at the SBC annual meeting in 1982 he lost to Jimmy Draper in a runoff for president. Draper’s election was the fourth in the line of conservative presidents.

Despite his theological differences with conservatives, McCall continued to state his love for Southern Seminary, even in his final years.

“We do not always agree with each other on everything,” he said in 2009 at the seminary’s 150th celebration service, “but what I call upon us to recognize is that the hand of God is upon this institution and those with responsibility for her and that we acknowledge that and say, ‘We will continue our own convictions as they diverge from one another. But we will stand together in one common commitment in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’”

Prior to his service at Southern Seminary, McCall served as president of the Executive Committee from 1946-51 and president of the Baptist Bible Institute in New Orleans – now New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary – from 1943-46.

SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in a 2011 campus event attended by McCall at age 97 marking the 60th anniversary of his election as the seminary’s seventh president, said, “Dr. Duke McCall is representative of a generation of Southern Baptists who served and built this denomination, its churches and institutions,” Mohler said. “We need to remember that we are living in houses we did not build and we are drinking from wells we did not dig. And, as God’s people are warned not to take these things for granted, we must live in constant appreciation to those who helped to build all that we build upon.”

“Southern Baptists are indebted to this man,” said Frank S. Page, current president of the Executive Committee. “I know that I follow some great men and Dr. McCall is one of them. He now moves to his ultimate reward and stands before our Lord. Southern Baptists have lost a great leader today. He leaves a powerful legacy.”

Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources and former dean of Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, said, “Dr. McCall’s impact on and love for Southern Baptists and Baptists around the world is unmistakable. He gave the most productive years of his life and ministry to this denomination, and in his later years provided a historical perspective to the present generation and assisted in healing denominational wounds.”

McCall was a native of Meridian, Miss., who grew up in Memphis, Tenn., the son of a judge. He graduated from Furman University in South Carolina in 1935 and earned two degrees from Southern Seminary, a Th.M. in 1938 and doctor of theology in 1941.

He and his late wife Marguerite had four sons. Following her death in 1980, McCall married Winona McCandless.
4/2/2013 5:16:02 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

13 attorneys general push Obama on contraception mandate

April 2 2013 by By Rex Santus, Religion News Service

COLUMBUS, Ohio (RNS) – Thirteen state attorneys general are urging the federal government to broaden religious exemptions for private businesses under the White House's contraception mandate, claiming the policy violates religious freedoms.
Put simply, the group believes any employer who says he or she objects to contraception should not have to provide contraceptive coverage.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ latest proposal, unveiled Feb. 1, would require all employers to provide contraceptive coverage to workers; some nonprofit religious organizations – primarily houses of worship – that object to contraception on religious or moral grounds would be exempt.
In a March 26 letter, the coalition asserted that the exclusion should be extended beyond religious institutions to include all conscientious objectors.
At least two dozen suits by private businesses have been filed against the contraception mandate, and 16 have been granted a temporary injunction while the lawsuits are pending, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is spearheading much of the opposition to the mandate.
In addition, 30 lawsuits by nonprofit religious groups have been filed against the mandate, although most have been rejected as premature because fines for noncompliance don’t kick in until 2014.
Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the letter was submitted during the comment period that followed a Feb. 1 White House announcement that the exemptions would be expanded to include all houses of worship, dioceses and affiliated organizations such as colleges and hospitals.
DeWine said the revamped Feb. 1 compromise will still cost money, and the exemption should apply to all detractors, including those such as small business owners who may object to contraception.
“These regulations will force many Ohio employers to choose between harsh penalties and violating their conscience,” DeWine said in a news release.
“This is another example of why Obamacare is bad policy, and it is another reason why I have joined attorneys general across this county to protect American families from its illegal overreach.”
HHS spokesman Fabien Levy said the mandate remains a proposal, and that the attorneys general are simply acting on their right to object during the public comment period, which ends April 8.
While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other critics continue to oppose the revamped exemptions as insufficient, some groups, such as Catholics United, have applauded the suggested changes.
“This is a victory not only for the Obama Administration, but for the Catholic Church,” said James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, in a statement. “As Catholics United said from the very beginning, reasonable people knew it was right to be patient and hopeful that all sides could come together to solve this complex issue.”
The attorneys general of Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia signed the letter.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rex Santus is a fellow in The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau at Ohio University. A version of this story originally appeared in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.)
4/2/2013 5:09:51 PM by By Rex Santus, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Girls need to build identity on God, ministry leader says

April 2 2013 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Before a young woman can figure out her own identity, she must first figure out who God is, said Erin Davis.

Davis, a mom of two children and an author and speaker, spoke at “The Hidden Person of the Heart” mother/daughter retreat and the “Who’s Your Person?” Girls Embrace Ministry event. Embrace Women’s Ministry through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina sponsored both events that were held March 22-23 at Caraway Conference Center and Camp. The two events drew more than 200 women and girls.
“As girls we try to build our own sense of identity,” said Davis, founder of Graffiti Ministries and author of Graffiti: Learning to See the Art in Ourselves and Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role. “What matters is who God says you are.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
A mother and daughter paint together one of the activity times at the mother/daughter retreat at Caraway Conference Center recently. See photo gallery.

Experts call this generation the “mosaic generation,” Davis said, because they take what they want to use from each topic and assemble a mosaic of what they believe. The problem with this type of approach, she added, is that their belief system is not built fully on Truth.
“We need Your truth, God,” prayed Davis. “All the other truth we might try to assemble isn’t Your truth.”
Around 80 percent of girls will walk away from the faith, Davis said. It was when Davis was serving at a church with her husband that she realized the lies upon which she had built her life.
“When I was your age, I was absolutely eaten away with lies,” said Davis, who shared how the Bible helped her find Truth.
“God’s Word is a deep, deep well,” she said. “I can drop my bucket down in His well.” As Davis explored the scripture she began to learn the truth about who she was in Christ.

God’s love is steadfast

One of the key points Davis stressed to the girls was that God loves them.
“It’s not the kind of love that comes and goes,” she said, but a steadfast, constant and unwavering love (Psalm 137). “That kind of love should change things.”
Instead of basing their identity on achievements, beauty or other distractions, Davis encouraged them to not base their beliefs on their feelings.
“Feelings aren’t facts,” said Davis. “I wished I’d learned it earlier. Just because I felt it doesn’t mean it’s true. We have to build it on the solid rock of God’s Word.”

Reflection of God

Since girls are created in the image of God, they are to be image bearers of the Son, Jesus Christ. Davis told the girls they are a moon. On its own the moon does not have light but instead reflects the sun.
Instead of allowing Hollywood or friends to dictate who they are, Davis urged the girls to pursue God to find their true purpose.
“The most important lesson about being a girl, about you, is to reveal something about God,” she said.
How? “By becoming a student of His Word,” Davis said. “When you want to examine something you compare it to the original.”

Distinctly female

“One of the most unique and incredible things we can do as image bearers is being a lifegiver,” like Eve, said Davis. With women pursuing careers and delaying having children until later in life, Davis said, “motherhood is completely devalued in our culture.”
“I’m not anti-career. I’m not anti-college,” she said. “[But] my career and my master’s degree do not bear the image of God.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
“The entirety of the Bible is about Him preserving a relationship with us,” said Erin Davis. “There’s nothing better than living the way you were made to live.”

Culture tells people the way to be a powerful woman is to have others serve you.
“God flips that and requires you to be a servant,” Davis said.
Culture also tells girls to focus on beauty, Davis said. “A modern girl attracts attention any way she can. But a godly girl deflects attention.”
If girls want to be “God’s girls,” first they must learn who He is and imitate Him.
“It’s a simple formula really,” said Davis. “Simple to say, hard to do.”
Based on Matt. 6:31-34, seek first the kingdom “every day at every age,” she said.
“The entirety of the Bible is about Him preserving a relationship with us. There’s nothing better than living the way you were made to live.”

Addressing mothers

Davis encouraged mothers to get past the desire to love their children “enough to make them OK.” Instead, “ tell them you love them but God loves them more than you do.”
Every parent is trying to raise good kids or athletic kids, Davis said, but a mother’s job “is to raise radical followers of Jesus. It’s not about you.”
Davis urged the parents to raise them based on God’s principles not “based on who I think they should be.”
“Let’s have bigger dreams for our kids … than that they are safe. They are to be a reflection of Christ.”
Breakout sessions offered smaller environments for girls and their mothers or leaders to strengthen their relationships and to discuss some of the issues they face in school or in their homes. Topics included modesty, peer pressure and God’s desire for them as girls and mothers.
For more about Embrace events contact Ashley Allen, director, at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5559, or embrace@ncbaptist.org.
4/2/2013 3:15:25 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Hobby Lobby gets boost in battle against abortion mandate

April 2 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

DENVER – Hobby Lobby’s legal battle against the abortion/contraceptive mandate received a boost March 29 when the full 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the company’s case.

Such “en banc” hearings are relatively rare.

In November a federal judge ruled that Hobby Lobby must cover the drugs in its employee health insurance plans, and in December a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit refused to step in and prevent Hobby Lobby from being impacted by the mandate.

Under the federal government’s mandate, businesses must cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs as part of their health insurance plans. The abortion-causing drugs come under brand names such as Plan B and ella and also are known as emergency contraceptives.

The 10th Circuit said it will expedite oral arguments and will set a date soon.

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store, is owned by a Christian family who says the mandate violates their beliefs and their constitutionally protected freedoms. That family, the Greens, also owns Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain that also is part of the suit.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing Hobby Lobby and Mardel.

“Full court review is reserved only for the most serious legal questions,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “This case asks whether the First Amendment protects everyone’s right to religious freedom, or whether it leaves out religious business owners like the Greens.”

Hobby Lobby and Mardel are self-insured and could face millions in fines if a court does not intervene. In January Hobby Lobby announced it had found a way to avoid for “several months” being penalized by the government. The announcement said the company had “discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months.” A specific date was not given.

Hobby Lobby is the largest and highest-profile company to file suit against the mandate. The irony for Hobby Lobby is that while its losses have captured national attention, other businesses – smaller and located in other circuit courts – have been winning. Of the 20 for-profit lawsuits that have been acted upon by a federal court, 15 of them have seen opponents of the mandate win and the government lose. Among the winners in court is Tyndale Publishers, which prints Bibles and Christian books. There are more than 50 suits against the mandate. The issue likely, at some point, will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

With more than 500 stores in 41 states, Hobby Lobby’s owners always have made their faith a central part of their business. Their stores play Christian instrumental music and are closed on Sundays. Hobby Lobby contributes to Christian organizations and runs full-page ads in newspapers during the Easter and Christmas seasons with gospel-centered messages.

“These abortion-causing drugs go against our faith, and our family is now being forced to choose between following the laws of the land that we love or maintaining the religious beliefs that have made our business successful,” David Green, Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, said in September. “... We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

Green said religious liberty is at stake.

“Hobby Lobby has always been a tool for the Lord’s work,” he said. “... For me and my family, charity equals ministry, which equals the gospel of Jesus Christ. ... But now our faith is being challenged by the federal government.”

The mandate was announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in August 2011 as part of the health care law championed by President Obama. Although the Supreme Court upheld the health care law in June of 2012, the justices’ ruling did not deal with the religious liberty issues surrounding the abortion/contraceptive mandate. That means the nation’s highest court could yet strike down what has been for religious groups the most controversial part of the law.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
4/2/2013 3:06:10 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘On My Honor’ calls Scouts to stand firm

April 2 2013 by Baptist Press, WORLD News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. – A group of parents and scoutmasters has launched OnMyHonor.net in an effort to keep sex and politics out of the Boy Scouts of America.

According to CitizenLink, representatives from 13 states have pledged to oppose any revision to Scout policy that would allow open homosexuals to hold positions of leadership. Since its founding in 1910, BSA has traditionally excluded homosexuals because their lifestyle is inconsistent with the Scout oath to be morally straight.

John Stemberger, spokesman for OnMyHonor.net and president of the Florida Family Policy Council, clarified at a March 23 rally in Orlando that the initiative would allow anyone to participate as Scouts, no matter their sexual orientation. But it would prevent gays and lesbians from holding leadership positions.

Photo by Jerry Pierce
Boy Scouts from the Dallas area gathered near the podium at a February rally to show their support for the traditional policy of the Scouts, which encourages them to be morally straight. The Scouts do not allow homosexuals to serve as members or leaders.

“When it comes to young boys, parents have the final say on the issues of sex and politics,” Stemberger said.

BSA has been under pressure from gay activists to allow open homosexuals in leadership for more than a decade. Last year, gay activist groups convinced several corporations, including UPS and Intel, to cease funding BSA after its board members unanimously affirmed traditional leadership policies at their annual meeting.

That pressured the BSA to announce its willingness to reconsider revising the 100-year-old policy. The announcement met considerable opposition from parents and religious leaders, including leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. Members of the SBC Executive Committee warned in a resolution in February that changing the policy would “place the Boy Scouts organization at odds with a consistent biblical worldview on matters of human sexuality.” Earlier in the month, BSA’s executive board announced it wouldn’t make a final decision on the matter until May.

In the meantime, grassroots efforts such as OnMyHonor.net are rallying to raise support for the traditional policy. Changing the policy, they say, would result in a decrease in membership, a rise in sexual misconduct and overt pro-homosexuality political activism.

During OnMyHonor’s March 23 event, former U.S. Congressman Dick Schulze from Pennsylvania urged BSA board members to uphold tradition, asking, “What kind of a message are we sending to our young people if the very leaders who are teaching Boy Scouts to be brave, cannot even find the courage to stand firm and avoid caving to peer pressure from Hollywood and political activists?”
4/2/2013 2:57:28 PM by Baptist Press, WORLD News Service | with 3 comments

Kazakh court orders Bibles to be destroyed

April 2 2013 by Baptist Press, Mission Network News

KAZAKHSTAN – Religious freedom is losing even more ground in Kazakhstan, according to religious freedom monitor Forum 18.

For the first time since Kazakhstan gained independence in 1991, a court has ordered religious literature to be destroyed, according to Forum 18, which is based in Oslo, Norway. Forum 18 reported that 121 pieces of religious literature mostly in the Kazakh language were taken from a believer in the northern Kazakhstan city of Shchuchinsk.

Vyacheslav Cherkasov reportedly was handing out religious literature on the city streets when police arrested him, and confiscated a suitcase full of religious books – Bibles, children’s Bibles, books and tracts on the Christian faith.

The judge fined Cherkasov a month’s wages on March 5 and ordered the literature – Bibles, children’s Bibles, books and tracts on the Christian faith – be destroyed.

“Most likely the books would be burnt,” an official told Forum 18.

Authorities accused Cherkasov of violating Kazkahstan’s religion law, which was rewritten in 2011 to include more “religious offenses.” Cherkasov is appealing the case.

“We know that religious literature has frequently been confiscated since the new religion law came into force in 2011,” human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis told Forum 18. “But I’ve never heard that religious literature is being destroyed, unless it is extremist.

“This is terrible, terrible!”

This case seems to highlight the fact Kazakhstan is moving back toward its Soviet era, now joining neighboring Russia and Uzbekistan as countries where courts order the destruction of religious literature.

When Kazakhstan’s government enacted the revised religion law in 2011, its restrictions seemingly were intended to curb extremism. However, most of its resulting consequences fell on the shoulders of minority Christians.

Last October, a third of all religious groups in Kazakhstan reportedly were shut down in the crackdown on religious freedom. In early 2012, 579 religious groups were banned if they had less than 50 registered members, according to AsiaNews.it. This forced many unregistered Protestant congregations to go “underground,” meeting in members’ homes. But even there they haven’t been safe. Forum 18 frequently reports on Kazakh police raiding homes, the latest incidents occurring in January.

Missions leaders say the situation in Kazakhstan, as Mission Network News put it, “calls for much prayer,” including intercession:
  • that Cherkasov’s appeal will succeed.
  • for the government to release pressure on Christians so Gospel work could continue and for the crackdown on religion in Kazakhstan to end.
  • that the Lord will protect His followers in Kazakhstan and give them boldness.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adapted from Mission Network News, a news service based in Grand Rapids, Mich., dedicated to keeping Christians informed on evangelical mission activity around the world. For the full Forum 18 report on the court-ordered destruction of religious literature in Kazakhstan, go to http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1813.)

4/2/2013 2:51:13 PM by Baptist Press, Mission Network News | with 0 comments

Revitalized: Two Fayetteville churches become one

April 1 2013 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Two churches in Fayetteville ceased to exist in February. And everybody seems to be happy about it. That’s because two churches merged into a single, stronger congregation: Refuge Church.
By mid-2012 New Life Community Church had dwindled to around 10 or 15 members and had no pastor. Lay leaders feared they would have to close the doors.
“We were in need of help from the Lord,” said Carl Barefoot, a long-time member of New Life, founded 30 years ago as Providence Baptist Church.
Meanwhile The Bridge Church, led by pastor Brian Woodall, was a healthy and growing church with about 90 members. But they needed a better place to meet.
“The Bridge had been going about four years,” Woodall said. The church had met in a series of rented facilities over those four years: a conference center, a school and finally at a tanning/video store they had outgrown. Then the rent was raised.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
In their first service together Feb. 10, members of Refuge Church in Fayetteville greet one another. Refuge is a combination of New Life Community Church and The Bridge Community Church. The first joint service included baptizing four members of a family. See photo gallery.

That’s when Randy White, director of missions, and Robert Ivey, associate director, for New South River Baptist Association got involved.
At the time the two ministers were taking turns filling the pulpit for services at New Life. They began thinking, “What if these two churches merged?”
“The Bridge Church had members but no older adults to provide stability,” White said. “New Life didn’t have young adults or children. The Bridge had no building, but New Life has a nice building sitting on five acres of property. Why not combine the two?
“I just couldn’t get away from that idea,” he added. “One Wednesday night I said to myself, it’s time to float this balloon and see what happens.”
The 10 New Life members voted unanimously to approve the merger; soon afterwards, The Bridge members also gave unanimous approval.
“Even though this happened quickly, they did not rush it,” Robert Ivey said. “They took time to visit with each other, and each side made sure that this was what God was leading them to do.”
“It’s a God thing,” White said.
Pastor Woodall agrees: “It has been awesome. This is God at work. People here at New Life have been as accommodating as can be. They allowed The Bridge to come in and continue a lot of ministries we were doing, but then ramp up some new things that are more relevant to [this] community,” he said.
The older New Life members have remained, though Sunday morning services now feature a praise band with guitars and drums. “The older adults have reacted well to the changes. They realize what’s needed to reach a younger generation,” said Woodall, a 2003 graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wednesday evening services are more traditional, with hymns and a Bible study.
“Brian has done a superb job of bringing together the two separate bodies into one body,” Ivey said. “Almost like a marriage, the two became one.”
And the marriage is likely to last because of the nature of the churches involved in this particular merger, according to Mark Gray, who leads church planting for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. His team helped start 101 new churches across the state during 2012.
“Mergers tend to work best when an effective growing church merges with a struggling church. The strong provides strength for the weaker. But, when a struggling church seeks to merge with another struggling church, the outcome tends to be less fruitful than anticipated,” Gray said, citing a study by Leadership Network that supports his assessment.
For the last several months the newly united church has been worshipping together as they also set up teams, trained members and renovated the building.  On Sunday, Feb. 10 they launched the church to the community, with a new sign out front proclaiming the new name.
“God just led us together,” said New Life member Carl Barefoot. That Sunday he greeted people at the front door and handed out bulletins. It reminded him of the Genesis account of Abraham and Sarah having a child in their old age.
“If God had told me a few months ago that today we would have 75 to 100 people in this church, I would have asked, ‘Lord, you’re not funning me are you?’ But here we are,” he said with a broad smile.
The new church, renamed Refuge Church, meets in what was New Life’s building complex that includes a sanctuary, classrooms and a fellowship hall. Members and visitors nearly filled the sanctuary Feb. 10, an indication the church may need a bigger building before long. They will have room for one on the five paid-for acres, valued by one real estate agent at $1 million or more.
Woodall said some of The Bridge’s members already live near the new location. Refuge Church’s location on Ireland Drive, just off the busy Raeford Road, seems a perfect location for a growing church. Four schools are within a mile; apartments and housing developments are nearby.
Woodall estimates their location is right in the middle of the sprawling city. “You can access this church within 10 to 15 minutes from anywhere in Fayetteville,” he said.
Already the church has reached some local ethnic minorities and leaders hope to expand that outreach effort; a Spanish-speaking church may be sponsored in the future. Woodall remains committed to reaching Fayetteville’s predominant military population as well.
“It’s a new beginning for a new church,” Barefoot said to sum up the situation.
4/1/2013 1:49:38 PM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Revitalization to be key topic at upcoming conference

April 1 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

In the coming weeks pastors in North Carolina will have an opportunity to learn how they can revitalize their churches and help other struggling congregations experience new life.
While church planting continues to be a hot topic among Southern Baptists and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) today, many of its leaders recognize that revitalization is also a critical element in creating disciples. On April 25, N.C. native Johnny Hunt will lead the North American Mission Board’s Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh.
Today 73 percent of Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or dying.
“We lost 900 Southern Baptist churches last year,” said Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. “When you realize we started 1,000 churches [last year] and only gained 100 … we need to gain 1,000 a year to start seeing a change in the cultural trend.”  
Using biblical models and principles in leadership, Hunt said, pastors of declining or plateaued churches can make some “minor, not major, adjustments” that can help their congregations.
Most churches simply need a “tune up,” said Hunt, who encourages pastors to bring their lay staff to the conference: “Number one, to stop bleeding and losing and start gaining ground again and help them to realize that most of them don’t have to gain a lot of ground to become healthy again.”
Too many churches have quit developing leaders, and many churches are asking the wrong questions. 
Hunt knows personally the challenges that come with navigating a church through difficult times.
Throughout his career, Hunt has pastored four churches – three of which were in North Carolina – that were plateaued or declining when he arrived. All of them went on to thrive under his leadership. When he became pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, the church averaged 200 people in worship and was healing from a split. Since then, they have grown to more than 6,500 in attendance.
Most recently, Woodstock helped revive Vinings Lake Church in Mableton, Ga. With just 17 people – and the average age being 74 – the few remaining members sought help from Hunt and First Baptist Church. Together First Baptist and Vinings Lake relaunched with a new pastor, Peter Hixson, (Hunt’s son-in-law) and now is up to around 650 people.
“They became totally self supporting in one year,” Hunt said. “That’s a vibrant church, giving to missions.”
For those church members who are resistant to merging or making adjustments because they are afraid of change, Hunt urges them to consider their legacy.
“What if your last days … can become your best days because you’re going to invest the rest of your life helping your church … reach[ing] your children and grandchildren,” he said. “So when you’re gone this church can continue on.”
Hunt and Neal Eller, team leader of church health for the Baptist State Convention of N.C., cautioned that merging with another church isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
Merging with another church can work, but it has to be about more than bringing people to a location, Eller said.  The pastor and church leadership have to be focused on the right things.
“It’s all about the motive of the heart,” he said. “If it’s about saving the institution then no, forget it.”
“Many of our leaders are looking for the silver bullet, the right here, right now. … [And] just a conference will not do it.” he said.  “There’s no silver bullet.”
“Revitalization [must] start with the gospel,” Eller added. Many churches have “drifted from biblical principals, biblical authority, Christlike character, Christ’s commands and Christ’s commission.”
Instead of making disciples, churches are often times more concerned with looking like other ministries and end up producing “deformed Christians,” who look too much like the world and not enough like Jesus Christ.
“We have created competition within the kingdom, which does not make sense to me,” he said.
“And we’re competing for the same people,” said Eller, who contended that most churches end up attracting people from other churches or those who haven’t attended in a while.
“We need new blood,” said Eller.
True revitalization also requires repentance, Eller said. “Repentance and confession is the beginning of revitalization,” he said.  “But nobody wants to do that. … That’s hard. That’s not easy.”
Ultimately, revitalization takes time and steady growth. Eller said one pastor and church many could learn from is Russ Evans and Peace Baptist Church in Calypso, N.C. About three years ago the church had dwindled to about 25 members – all over the age of 50 – after the remaining teenagers left for college.
When the church hired Evans, a jewelry store owner with no seminary training and little ministry or preaching experience, some might have thought the church’s future didn’t look much brighter.
And the fact that the bivocational pastor and his wife, Ann, live about 20 minutes from the church doesn’t make his job easier.
But despite all of that, today the congregation has more than doubled in size, and on a recent Sunday about a dozen children attended.
While Peace Baptist Church doesn’t appear to be headed for megachurch fame anytime soon, the church appears to be showing signs of healthy growth.
Evans is quick to give God, a lot of prayer and a committed congregation the credit.
“This is a praying church,” he said. “It’s a gradual process of daily surrendering, total commitment.”
“I’m having the best time of my life pastoring that church … nothing like it.”
For more information about the conference go to http://www.namb.net/revitalization/North_Carolina/.
4/1/2013 1:38:36 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Delayed marriage fallout: More unwed births, report says

April 1 2013 by Kim Painter, Religion News Service

First comes baby, then comes marriage? That is the new norm for many middle-class young Americans – and they and their children are paying a price, says a new report.
With 48 percent of first births now outside of marriage, “today’s unmarried twentysomething moms are the new teen mothers,” says the report, released today by the National Marriage Project, the Relate Institute and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The report says reviving cultural support for earlier marriage may be part of the solution, but some experts question that approach.
The National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia, has been sounding alarms about the growing disconnect between marriage and parenthood for a while. But the report is the first to make clear that a “tipping point” has been reached for many Americans in the middle class – those who have at least a high school education but no college degree, says Bradford Wilcox, the sociologist who directs the project.
Among young women with high school diplomas, 58 percent of first births are now outside marriage, the report says. For high-school dropouts it’s 83 percent; for college-educated women it’s 12 percent. The report notes that 54 percent of young women are high school graduates; 37 percent are college graduates.
Overall, the median marriage age is now 27 for women, 29 for men. But the median age at which a woman has her first baby is 26, the report says.
Young people delay marriage to finish their educations, launch their careers and try to achieve economic security. Marriage is “something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row,” according to the report. In general, the delay works out well for college-educated young people who also delay having children, it adds.
The benefits of delayed marriage can include higher incomes for women and lower divorce rates, it notes. But there also are costs for young people, says Wilcox: “The ones who are married have more life satisfaction.”
For children, the cost of having unmarried parents can be instability. According to the report: 39 percent of young unmarried parents who start out living together break up before their child is 5 years old; just 13 percent of married parents split so soon. Such upheaval hurts children, many studies have found.
The report suggests several remedies, including economic and education policy shifts that will make financial stability attainable for more young people. But it also says some who might otherwise marry are now being discouraged by parents, friends and popular culture.
“The broader culture should respect the choice of twentysomethings to marry, especially those who have reached their mid-twenties, provided that they are in a good relationship,” the report says.
But marriage “may not be such a good deal” for less-educated couples, says Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. “We do know that people with lower levels of education who get married are more likely to get divorced.”

Brown, who did some of the research cited in the report but did not help write it, adds that “one of the biggest predictors of divorce is financial instability.” So, she says, young people putting off marriage for financial reasons may have good reason.
“The ones who are not marrying are the ones who don’t have the job prospects, don’t have the economic stability,” says Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the non-profit Council on Contemporary Families. She was not involved in the report. They also may have other problems unrelated to marriage that help explain why unmarried young people are generally less satisfied with life, she says.

But young people who are careful about marriage may not be as careful about having babies, she says. “We should focus on the idea of postponing children until you are ready to provide a stable environment, whether that’s a stable single, married or cohabiting environment.”
Report co-author Kelleen Kaye, senior director of research at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, says her group is working on efforts to help single women in their 20s delay having children. Right now, 69 percent of pregnancies in that group are unplanned, she says. One program, she says, reaches out to community college students.
“Our message isn’t that all twentysomethings should run out and get married,” she says. “We are saying just think about the most successful way to launch your family.”
The Relate Institute, the third sponsor of the report, is part of the Marriage Study Consortium, a non-profit research and advocacy organization at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kim Painter writes for USA Today.)
4/1/2013 1:23:40 PM by Kim Painter, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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