August 2018

Trump hosts evangelicals to celebrate faith, freedom

August 29 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Some 100 evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, attended a White House dinner Aug. 27 to celebrate what President Donald Trump called “America’s heritage of faith, family and freedom.”

Photo from Twitter
Some 100 evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, attended a White House dinner Aug. 27 to celebrate what President Trump called "America's heritage of faith, family and freedom."

The event included remarks by Trump, prayer and an opportunity for attendees to reflect publicly on the Trump administration. Vice President Mike Pence also was in attendance. Among Southern Baptist attendees were Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, former SBC Presidents Ronnie Floyd and Jack Graham and former SBC Second Vice President Malachi O’Brien.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., said in a statement released on Twitter, “I received an invitation from the White House to attend a dinner in which the administration would address faith leaders. I weigh every decision carefully and consulted with a number of leaders across the political spectrum. In this case, I chose to attend in order to listen and meet other leaders and offer perspective where asked.
“Witness in the public square requires some presence in it, but I’m just as committed as ever to decoupling the church from partisan politics, and my desire for the SBC remains what it always has been – promoting a culture in which the gospel is above all,” Greear said. “Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of the gospel.”
Greear said he did not sign a Bible presented to Trump by Florida pastor Paula White, signed by some attendees and inscribed, “History will record the greatness that you have brought for generations.” Greear said he was not asked to sign and “was not aware it was being given.”
Other Southern Baptists at the dinner included Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University; Jonathan Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.; Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas; David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif.; Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters; Richard Land, former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif.; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; and Jay Strack, president of Student Leadership University.
Trump said in brief remarks, “America is a nation of believers. And tonight we’re joined by faith leaders from across the country who believe in the dignity of life, the glory of God and the power of prayer.” The dinner was given “to celebrate America’s heritage of faith, family and freedom.”
The president extended condolences to the family of late Sen. John McCain and the victims of an Aug. 26 mass shooting at a Jacksonville, Fla., video game tournament. Trump also recounted the administration’s accomplishments related to the sanctity of life, religious liberty, Israel, prison reform and combating religious persecution.
“Every day, we’re standing for religious believers,” Trump said, “because we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. And we know that freedom is a gift from our Creator.”
O’Brien, associate pastor of prayer and church revitalization at First Baptist Church in Raytown, Mo., told Baptist Press he was among those who spoke when the floor was opened for comments.
He recalled saying, “In this room is unbelievable unity – racially, probably very much theologically, denominationally. This room is an answer to prayer in the fact there’s unity here [and] we’re celebrating what God is doing in our nation.”
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, told BP via email, “The purpose of the event was to celebrate the contribution of evangelicals in the administration as well as the advancement of so many things Christians care about deeply. The president and his cabinet have been so committed to being: pro-life, pro-religious liberty, and [he] has made pro-conservative judicial appointments.”
In related news, the White House convened in late July a meeting of about 100 evangelical leaders under age 40. Among Southern Baptist attendees were O’Brien; Nathan Lorick, executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention; Shane Pruitt, evangelism director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; and Eric Fuller, high school pastor at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.
The young leaders met with Trump advisers Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Jason Greenblatt and discussed, among other issues, the tax-exempt status of churches, the ministerial housing allowance and prayer at public school events, Pruitt said in an Aug. 3 interview with KBAP radio in Dallas.
“It [was] almost like an invite to speak into what is going on in the administration, and the topic was ‘the role of faith in the future of the nation,’” Pruitt said. “And it was great.”
Pruitt said he has received a follow-up email inviting the young leaders to have ongoing dialogue with the administration.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/29/2018 10:26:35 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

BGCT’s Family Gathering celebrates unity, diversity

August 29 2018 by Kalie Lowrie, Texas Baptist Communications

A celebration of unity and diversity took place as 2,054 messengers and visitors gathered at the 2018 Texas Baptists Family Gathering and Annual Meeting. Several ethnic fellowships and conventions were represented in the three-day event at the Arlington Convention Center.

BGCT photo
David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, was one of four pastors to preach during worship services at the 2018 Texas Baptists Family Gathering and Annual Meeting in Arlington.

Messengers also elected a new slate of officers, and newly elected leaders set a course for the next year of cooperative missions and ministry work.

The family table

The Family Gathering began with an observance of the Lord’s Supper. Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) President Danny Reeves, pastor of First Baptist Church in Corsicana, noted the diversity represented by the more than 5,300 congregations that cooperate with the convention joining together as one family.
“There is no more common element of family life than to gather around a table for a shared meal,” Reeves said.
Ethnic fellowship and convention leaders shared their thoughts on the significance of the ordinance in their own language and context, and read passages of scripture that outlined what Jesus said and did leading up to His crucifixion. BGCT Executive Director David Hardage shared his personal salvation experience leading to his first Lord’s Supper and said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a Lord’s Supper like tonight.”
Pass the baton of leadership to the upcoming generations, Reeves counseled during his presidential address. “Choose today, Texas Baptists, to pass everything on for the glory of God until you see your Savior face to face,” he said.
Hardage also gave a report highlighting BGCT mission work and the disciple-making call.
“Disciple-making is who we are. That’s our call. That’s our DNA. We are in the disciple-making business,” Hardage said. “We want to see people know about Jesus all across Texas and beyond.”
Chris Liebrum, director of BGCT Cooperative Program ministries, led a recognition for eight churches which were leaders in Cooperative Program giving for the convention: The Fort Bend Church, Sugar Land; Chinese Baptist Church, Houston; Northside Community Church, San Antonio; Christ the King Vietnamese Baptist Church, Hewitt; First Baptist Church, Pecos; Central Baptist Church, Carthage; Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, Abilene; and Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler.

New officers elected

“This year will be all about unity and sharing the gospel,” said newly-elected President Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield. “We do that from our different platforms, different places and different faces, but the bottom line is Jesus. He binds us together.”
Jason Burden, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nederland, was elected as first vice president and Jason Atchley, pastor of Bacon Heights Baptist Church in Lubbock, as second vice president. The three officers represent diverse segments of the Texas population in size, scope and ethnicity.

African American Fellowship & Convención

In conjunction with the July 29-31 annual meeting, the African American Fellowship and Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas met for a time of fellowship, election of officers and business. The gathering took place a week after the death of influential leader James W. Culp, the BGCT’s first director of African American ministries. Culp devoted his life to training and empowering ministers for service. A special tribute was paid to him during the 25th Anniversary Culp Banquet with more than 400 in attendance.
“Dr. Culp began this ministry from nothing,” said Roy Cotton, director of African American Ministries for the convention. “Many in this room know what the struggle was, but here we are today, many years later, celebrating 25 years.”
Members of Culp’s family were in attendance, including his daughter Michelle and son John. “If we’re going to be unified, I submit we need to do three things: pray, love and build,” Michelle Culp said as she encouraged those in attendance to carry on her father’s legacy. “Relationships are the framework of the church,” she said, “and we are stronger together building relationships.”
With 233 messengers in attendance at the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas, a new slate of officers was elected including reelected President Rolando Aguirre, First Vice President Carlos Valencia, Second Vice President Tony Miranda and Secretary Abiel Aké.
“The church continues to be the light in darkness, the light of the earth, ambassadors of the gospel,” Pastor Roberto Arrubla of Iglesia Bautista El Buen Pastor of Fort Worth said. “We will continue to the end and the gates of hell will not prevail. Family, we are conquerors and we have the best message for a world that’s lost hope.”

Pastors highlight unity & oneness

Four pastors of BGCT churches preached during the worship services, affirming, encouraging and challenging those in attendance.
“Unity is valuable because it is so rare,” said David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, during his Monday night sermon. Referencing 1 Corinthians 10:10, Dykes took a look back in Texas Baptist history to some instances of division and strife to encourage Texas Baptists to embrace unity.
“We are partners in evangelism, committed to reaching people for Christ. We are not going to give up until everyone in Texas has had the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. We are united in missions. We are united in education, training the next generation to serve. We are united in ministry, a passion for compassion,” Dykes said. “We need to keep the unity and recapture the passion of some of our early Texas Baptists.”
During Tuesday morning’s worship service, Ralph Douglas West, pastor and founder of The Church Without Walls in Houston, preached on oneness from Ephesians 2:11-18. “All of us know that we have tried to bring humanity into oneness through our own efforts,” West said. “This morning, Paul reminds us that oneness can only be achieved through one person, and that is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Attendees at the Family Gathering, he said, are called to be a people of oneness, a people that makes peace.
Jason Paredes, pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, preached from John 14, discussing the final days in Jesus’ life. Contrasting the characters of Judas and Peter, he noted believers often struggle with two opposite, yet both sinful, responses to difficulty: fear and anxiety on one hand and taking absolute control over their lives on the other hand.
Paredes encouraged attendees to allow God to take control over all circumstances. “You have to come to the end of yourself to look beyond yourself for help, which is exactly what Peter does,” Paredes said. “We have to choose to be the ‘not I am’ for God to be the Great I Am. You have to choose to let God do for you what you cannot do for yourself.”
Nebiye Kelile, pastor of Pathway Church in Dallas, challenged Texas Baptists to pursue unity by focusing on a gospel-centered mission. With a background as a church planter, Kelile suggested that churches should look less like luxury cruise ships, loaded with amenities for passengers, and more like a battle cruiser, filled with soldiers.
“Although God designed us to carry soldiers into battle, we have become more interested in our own comforts during the journey,” Kelile said, drawing upon Philippians 1:27-30 to challenge Texas Baptists to unite and focus on equipping and sending individuals to spread the gospel.

Hunger needs & missions work

Elijah Brown, general secretary of Baptist World Alliance, reminded attendees at the annual Hunger Offering luncheon that hunger is a powerful force in Texas and around the world. Only one of Jesus’ miracles, he said, is recounted in all four gospels: the feeding of 5,000.
In the oft-cited story, Brown said, Jesus provided for the needs of His people in a way that only a king could. “The people of the king,” he said, “work to feed the people of the world.” Brown charged attendees to be like Jesus and, as individuals, churches and a denomination, live lives of hospitality with an open table.
Gus Reyes, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, recognized the top 10 churches in giving to the Hunger Offering, and awarded Tom Howe, former pastor of Birdville Baptist Church, a hand-crafted African basket in appreciation for that church’s giving to provide a water tower in the town of Brewerville, Liberia.
During the Missions Banquet, Brazilian missionaries Andre and Germana Matheus shared about their medical mission work through dentistry in the Amazon region. Detailing their journey of leaving a successful dental practice to engage in ministry with unreached people groups, the Matheuses shared how they plant churches through the tools God has given them: love and care.
Texas Baptists have adopted 50 indigenous missionaries in the Amazon through the new Missionary Adoption Program (MAP). Mission leaders also highlighted ongoing ministry to refugees along the Texas and Mexico border through River Ministry, and a new effort replanting churches through Urban Missions.
Awards were presented in recognition of outstanding mission work at the Texas Baptist Missions Foundation Luncheon to Suzanne Griffin, executive director of Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, an outreach ministry supporting vulnerable families in West Dallas; Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield; and First Baptist Church in Tyler.

Other business

Messengers approved the appointment of new trustees, committee members and directors for the Executive Board.
Jill Larsen, BGCT treasurer/CFO, presented the treasurer’s report. The assets of the BGCT as of 2017 were $179 million, an increase of $11.5 million from 2016. Giving classified by the BGCT as Cooperative Program decreased by $1.3 million to $40.6 million in 2017.
In 2017, the convention enabled each church to designate the percentage of its gifts that will be used for BGCT missions and ministries and the percentage for one of three worldwide partners: the Southern Baptist Convention, BGCT Worldwide or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). Earlier this year, the CBF was removed as a giving option. The convention recommends that congregations designate 79 percent of their cooperative gifts for BGCT ministries and 21 percent for a worldwide partner, but the 79-21 split is not mandatory.
Giving to Texas Baptists CP in 2017 was $28.6 million. Gifts to Special Mission Offerings in 2017 totaled $16.5 million, a decrease from $17.9 million in 2016.
Due to the nature of a summer meeting, the 2019 BGCT budget will be approved by the Executive Board during its September meeting. No motions or resolutions were presented during the business sessions.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kalie Lowrie is news director for Texas Baptist Communications with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/29/2018 10:26:18 AM by Kalie Lowrie, Texas Baptist Communications | with 0 comments

U.N. accuses Myanmar military of Rohingya genocide

August 29 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Murder, rape, enslavement and other crimes against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims necessitate the country’s military leaders be charged with genocide, the United Nations said Aug. 27.

Photo by Roger Arnold, UNHCR
Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh to avoid what the UN describes as genocide in Myanmar.

“Criminal investigation and prosecution is warranted, focusing on the top Tatmadaw generals, in relation to the three categories of crimes under international law,” the U.N. said in a special report, accusing the generals of “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
The accusations are based on the findings of a three-member, independent, international fact-finding mission that gathered more than 800 testimonies and other data, the UN said. The scale of persecution and violence is evidenced by a refugee who reportedly described herself as “lucky” because she “was only raped by three men.”
“The scale, brutality and systematic nature of rape and violence indicate that they are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize or punish the civilian population,” UN team member Radhika Coomaraswamy told reporters at an Aug. 27 press conference in Geneva. “These have principally been committed by the military, the Tatmadaw.”
The report follows the forced exodus of more than 700,000 and the murder of perhaps 10,000 Rohingya Muslims from majority Buddhist Myanmar (also known as Burma) in violence a year ago, according to many reports. As recently as October 2017, Reuters quoted Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s highest military official, asserting on Facebook that Myanmar was not the Rohingya’s native homeland, and referring to the Muslims by the term “Bengali,” considered derogatory.
“The Bengalis were not taken into the country by Myanmar, but by the colonialists,” Reuters quoted Hlaing. “They are not the natives, and the records prove that they were not even called Rohingya but just Bengalis during the colonial period (1824-1948).”
Hlaing and five top military commanders should be charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Rakhine and Silan states, the UN said. Other perpetrators include non-state armed groups, the Myanmar Police Force and the Border Guard Police, investigators said, pointing to Myanmar’s government leaders as culpable and calling on the international community to seek justice.
“Myanmar has a heavy responsibility to remedy the situation as a matter of the utmost urgency, or risk destroying its democratic reform process,” the UN said. “The international community also bears responsibility and must take a united stand to both condemn the violations and assist Myanmar in addressing the root causes of its recurrent problems. This begins by ensuring that the perpetrators of crimes are held to account, and by giving hope to victims of a future without the fear and insecurity that have characterized their existence.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2018 annual report, lists Myanmar as a Tier One Country of Particular Concern where religious persecution is most severe. In an April update to its report, USCIRF noted the “deprivation of Rohingya Muslims’ rights” to practice their faith, live as free citizens and access such necessities as food, water, shelter, education, healthcare and income.
Based on study trips to Myanmar in November 2017 and refugee camps in Bangladesh in January 2018, USCIRF noted 140,000 Rohingya in internal displacement camps, rape and other sexual violence, forced starvation, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other crimes against Rohingya. Religious leaders also faced detention, torture and death, USCIRF said.
“Even if these restrictions and violations in some cases are not motivated by religion or specifically intended to deny religious freedom,” USCIRF said, “they disrupt or interfere with religious practices and threaten Rohingya Muslims’ ability to observe their faith. Also, several Rohingya refugees with whom USCIRF spoke noted that they felt targeted in Burma because of their faith, their ethnicity, and generally for being different.”
Rohingya comprise between 2.3 percent and 4.3 percent of Myanmar’s 51.5 million people, USCIRF said. Nearly 90 percent of the population is Buddhist.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/29/2018 10:25:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kentucky church takes VBS ‘to the streets’

August 29 2018 by Myriah Snyder, Western Recorder

This year, Westport Road Baptist Church in Louisville took a new approach to LifeWay’s “Game On” VBS theme. They “took it to the streets” by providing six backyard Bible club-style VBS events in neighborhoods throughout Louisville.
The neighborhoods included Westwood, Sycamore, Crosby Park, Hillcrest, Maples Park, Murray Hill and Portland. Events were held in public places such as the new Maples Park in Crestwood, Portland Promise Center in Portland, and even church member’s backyards.
“We’ve been really trying to break down walls,” Jeanne McClure, Westport Road’s children minister, explained. “Rather than have the ‘build it and they will come to you’ philosophy, our thought was ‘let’s take it to the streets.’”
In January, Pastor Chip Pendleton preached a sermon series on the topic, and that was part of the inspiration for this new model, McClure said.
Each site had a host, whose main goal was to make connections with parents and families. A director headed up a mission team of no fewer than five members plus volunteers headed up the other various facets of VBS.
One big plus to this model was the “ownership” that the volunteers and mission teams took. “People took greater ownership, feeling like part of a mission team, just like they would if they were going to Haiti or Malta or wherever,” McClure noticed. “It was a completely different sense from coming into the building and teaching in a traditional VBS setting.”
It even provided a great opportunity for general outreach within the communities. In the Crestwood area, the host was David Atcher, Westport Road’s minister of music and worship. Not only did his whole family, including children, get involved in passing out fliers and making connections, during the course of their visits they happened upon a Hispanic community. With the help of his bilingual wife and the pastor of Iglesia Baptista Gethsemane, connections were made into this community.
“For us to be able to go as a family, and for my kids to be able to experience what it’s like reaching out to people, and we really had a great time with that,” Atcher said. “It was a great experience getting out and even crossing some cultural and language boundaries.”
With the around 100 children that came and the 80 members who volunteered their time and energy, McClure said that all the feedback she received was good. “Everything that we heard from the mission teams involved was positive in terms of feeling like they connected with the children more, feeling like they connected with the families more. It felt more personal than doing it here in the building.
She said she would encourage any church to consider this model: “I would encourage them to do missions of any type. And this felt like going out and doing missions, reaching people where they are, rather than just those that are willing to come meet you in the building. There are some that are going to come meet you in their neighbor’s backyard that aren’t going to walk into the building.”
To hear more testimonies of how God worked throughout the week, visit
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appeared in the Western Recorder,, news journal of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Myriah Snyder is assistant editor for the Western Recorder.)

8/29/2018 10:25:30 AM by Myriah Snyder, Western Recorder | with 0 comments

LifeWay’s Rainer to retire

August 28 2018 by Biblical Recorder Staff

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, told the organization’s board of trustees Aug. 27 that he is retiring. Rainer, 63, plans to step down whenever a replacement is named or after one year, according to a LifeWay announcement published late Monday evening.

“It is time to pass the baton of leadership to a new generation,” Rainer said. “The next president will lead an organization poised for a great future. Though it will come with challenges, I have never been more excited about the future of LifeWay.”
He thanked LifeWay employees and gave four reasons for the transition in a blog post:

- “LifeWay is poised for a great future with a new leader;”

- “I have been tempted to hang on. I must avoid that temptation;”

- “I want to maximize my time with family in this next phase of life;”

- “God willing, I strongly desire to dedicate this next phase of life to making a contribution to the revitalization of churches across the world.”

LifeWay’s trustee chair Jimmy Scroggins said, “We are deeply grateful for the work Dr. Rainer and his staff have accomplished the past 13 years to support churches in their mission of making disciples and providing biblical solutions for life.
“Dr. Rainer has strategically led through times of economic uncertainty, the digital revolution, changing church practices, and tumultuous shifts in culture. His foresight and ability to lead change has well prepared LifeWay for the future as the organization continues to impact and influence the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Rainer became the ninth president of the organization in 2006.
Read the full announcement here.

8/28/2018 10:12:15 AM by Biblical Recorder Staff | with 0 comments

‘Be the light’ urged after Jacksonville shootings

August 28 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Four deaths and 13 injuries from shootings at two sporting events this past weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., have leaders lamenting “a new normal” of violence amid calls to prayer that seemingly fade away.

News4Jax screen capture
First responders aid a victim of a mass shooting at the Aug. 26 Madden NFL 19 tournament in downtown Jacksonville.

Three were killed and 11 injured in a mass shooting at a high stakes video game tournament Sunday (Aug. 26) in downtown Jacksonville, following the killing of one and the injury of two others at a high security Friday night high school football game just seven miles away. The violence follows the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre of 14 students and staff at a Parkland, Fla., high school that also injured 17.
Several Southern Baptist churches are hosting concurrent prayer gatherings Tuesday (Aug. 28) at 7:07 a.m. in and around Jacksonville. Themed Ask Seek Knock prayer gatherings (ASK), the time and theme are based on Matthew 7:7, Jacksonville Baptist Association lead missional strategist Rick Wheeler told Baptist Press. Jesus says in the scripture, “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”
School and community leaders are reviewing safety measures and conducting investigations, although the gunman at Sunday’s video game tournament is among the dead.
The host of one of the eight prayer gatherings scheduled to date, senior pastor David Tarkington of First Baptist Church in Orange Park, expressed his view in a blog post today.
“It is at times like this when community leaders, news agencies, and even those with no belief in God call for things to be done,” Tarkington wrote. “The word ‘pray’ becomes a hashtag that trends for a few days as many use social media to state we must #PrayForJacksonville.
“I believe that and am even sharing that statement, but the church of Jesus Christ must not fall into the trap of seeing prayer as a weak, viral response to tragedy,” Tarkington blogged. “… One Jacksonville city leader stated ‘We really need to talk about God. I’m asking the faith-based community to step up.’ I cannot disagree with that, but the church must understand that to ‘step up’ means we must first kneel before God together, seeking His face, His will, while confessing our sins of complacency and self-promotion.
“Pray. Step up. Kneel down,” Tarkington urged. “Step outside and be the light in the darkness.”
Heath Lambert, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said the latest shooting reminds him of the love God displayed in the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross more than 2,000 years ago, followed by Jesus’ miraculous resurrection.
“There is a lesson for us in this. Confronted with the unvarnished evil of Sunday’s shooting, we must counter it with love. The antidote to hate is love,” Lambert wrote Sunday. “There are all sorts of ways we can love each other in the aftermath of this obvious hatred, but one way was made obvious in the hashtag, #Pray4Jax, that quickly appeared on social media. Right now, one of the most tangible ways we can love our city is with our prayers.”
Many lamented the killings as too common and a new normal, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.
“We have faced an occurrence that is all too common,” Curry said Sunday at, the website of the Florida Times Union. “At terrible times, we see the best in people, and today is no different.”
In addition to First Baptist of Orange Park, ASK prayer meetings are set at seven Southern Baptist churches. Hosts, according to Wheeler, are the Southside campus of Chets Creek Church, pastored by Jeff Bedwell; Hillcrest Baptist Church, pastored by Chris Pruitt; Neptune Baptist Church, Tom Bary; Norwood Community Church, Elijah Simmons; Parkwood Baptist Church, Manny Kiser; and the Southside campus of San Jose Baptist Church, Marcus McGill.
Police described Sunday’s shooter as 24-year-old David Katz of Maryland who reportedly opened fire during a Madden NFL 19 tournament at Chicago Pizza, a restaurant at Jacksonville Landing. The tournament included cash prizes totaling $165,000, according to the Madden Classic website. Police did not state a motive for the 1:30 p.m. shooting, but a witness told that Katz was losing the game.
Police attributed Friday’s shooting at William Marion Raines Senior High School to gang violence, according the news reports. Diana Greene, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, called the shooting indicative of a new normalcy.
“I first want to extend my thoughts and prayers to the victims of last night’s incident,” she said in a video posted on the Duval County Public Schools website Saturday (Aug. 25). “It is clear that this new normal means that there needs to be a new approach,” she said, pledging to meeting with community leaders for dialogue and new approaches to security.
The Raines High School shooting occurred about 15 minutes after Friday’s game, authorities said, when the crowd had dwindled from 4,000 to 1,000. Heavy security was already in place with 57 security officers on duty and metal detectors used to scan all attendees, police officers said. But it was not clear whether the gunman attended the game. The gunman had not been apprehended.
High school students across the nation have spoken against gun violence at schools after Feb. 14, when 14 were killed and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/28/2018 10:11:59 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Reaching gamers with the gospel

August 28 2018 by Aaron Wilson, Facts & Trends

For Drew Dixon, taking the gospel to the nations involves traversing the Kingdom of Hyrule, visiting the Planet Gaia, and mingling with settlers of Catan.
For those who are not familiar with these locations, don’t bother trying to find them on Google Earth. Each of these lands acts as a virtual or imaginary setting for a popular video or tabletop game.
While such worlds may be made up, Dixon believes they exist as real mission fields for the church.

Engaging ‘nerd culture’

Dixon, who is the lead editor for LifeWay’s Explore the Bible Students’ curriculum, has a passion for reaching what he calls “nerd culture” with the message of the cross. He loosely defines the nerd population as consisting of video gamers, card and tabletop game enthusiasts, and fans of fantasy and sci-fi media.
It’s a segment of the population that continues to grow.
“More than 150 million Americans now play video games according to the Entertainment Software Association,” Dixon said. “And there are Comic Cons [conventions that celebrate nerd culture] everywhere. It’s no longer uncool to be considered a nerd.”
For this reason, Dixon is part of a team that runs “Love Thy Nerd,” a ministry dedicated to extending the love of Jesus and taking the message of the gospel to nerd culture.

Video game mission trips

One way Love Thy Nerd seeks to engage gamers is to meet them on their own turf through mission trips to gaming conferences. On these mission trips, Dixon and others host interactive gaming events where they can have conversations with attendees.
Dixon and other mission team members tell attendees that Jesus loves them and invite them to engage in an online community where they can continue to build relationships with Christians who are gamers.
As these relationships develop, Love Thy Nerd strives to help gamers get plugged into local churches.
“We’re a seed-planting ministry,” Dixon said. “One of our goals is to partner with local churches in the cities we’re ministering in.”
Dixon has seen people come to faith and get connected with local churches as a result of such mission trips. He says many gamers are already accustomed to being in community.
“One misconception about gamers is that they’re all socially isolated and living in their parents’ basements,” he said. “But today’s games are very communal. People build lifelong friendships out of relationships that develop through games.”

Reaching the community through gaming

Dixon hopes local churches will replicate the type of outreach Love Thy Nerd models. Christians can do this, he said, by engaging with people at community game shops and tournaments and by using services like to plan gaming events at local coffee shops and libraries.
Given the popularity of gaming, it’s likely many churches already have people in their congregations who are drawn to aspects of nerd culture. Rather than making fun of such pastimes or dismissing them as a waste of time, churches should encourage members to invest in those interests for the sake of local outreach.
“Look for ways to go out and play games with people to build relationships,” Dixon said. “Be a part of your community.”
As relationship equity is formed, churches can open up their buildings to host events for popular games. They can also use their facilities as meet-up locations for events like International Tabletop Day (the next one occurs on April 27, 2019).
Just avoid doing a bait-and-switch.
“Don’t invite people to come play games at church and then stop halfway through the event to give a devotion and gospel invitation,” Dixon said. “This kind of thing makes people feel like you tricked them.
“It’s super important we get to the gospel with people,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to do that. But we also need to demonstrate we really care about people enough to build relationships with them first.”

Nerd culture is primed for the gospel

Like some of the Athenians in Acts 17 who were prepped for Paul’s message because of their familiarity with religious themes, many fans of nerd culture are already positioned to receive and appreciate the gospel. Dixon gives three reasons why.
Nerd culture often revolves around themes of redemption.
“Game worlds are usually ones that are broken – worlds in which the player gets to have a role in bringing restoration,” Dixon said. This mimics Jesus’ call for disciples to join in His mission by living out the Great Commission and by being the salt and light of the earth.
Nerd culture mythology also tends to revolve around heroic figures or saviors. This paves the way for Christians to share how Christ is the real-life hero of history’s story.
Games provide relational bridges for a divided culture.
The church in America exists within the context of a divided culture in which people tend to vilify those who think differently from them. Dixon believes games help people dislodge such biases.
“Tabletop games are naturally communal,” he said. “You sit around a table and agree to abide by the same rules. Everyone comes into these settings on equal footing.
“This provides opportunities to build relationships with people you might otherwise think you have nothing in common with,” he said. “You come to realize, ‘Oh, this guy I’m playing with is a human like me.’”
Nerd culture can help craft a theological imagination.
“There’s so much creativity, mystery and imagination in nerd culture,” Dixon said. “It’s so important for Christians to have a theological imagination also. If you can’t engage your imagination to fill in the gaps as you’re reading, say, Jesus feeding the 5,000, then your Bible-reading must be really boring.”
A healthy imagination also helps people envision the future restoration scripture promises.
“The biblical accounts of the New Heaven and the New Earth call us to imagine a world free from sin – one that’s full of valuable and fulfilling work,” he noted.
“A responsible engagement in video games or nerd culture can give us the opportunity to imagine a better world and to long for something that trumps what we’re experiencing now.”

Meeting people where they are

Dixon also hosts a podcast called “Humans of Gaming” in which he interviews game developers about their spiritual beliefs. Many are atheists or agnostics, he said.
The podcast provides a platform for having open and honest conversations about two things many people today are afraid to talk about: God and their experience with religion.
Dixon also makes sure to occasionally have Christian game designers and developers on the podcast so the gospel can be shared in those interviews.
He hopes churches will create similar ministries by encouraging members who already enjoy nerd culture to engage with people at local game shops and tournaments.
“We see Jesus constantly doing this kind of thing in the gospels,” Dixon said. “A big part of the incarnation is about Jesus meeting us where we’re at. Our faith is built on the foundation of a God who was willing to come be with us.”
In other words, modeling Jesus can sometimes be as simple as picking up a video game controller with a stranger.
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(EDITOR’S NOTE – A few days after this article was written for Facts & Trends, tragedy struck the video gaming community as three people were killed and others were wounded in a mass shooting that occurred at a Madden NFL video game tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. The gunman, also a gamer, died after he turned his weapon on himself. Aaron Wilson is associate editor of Facts & Trends,, of LifeWay Christian Resources. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/28/2018 10:11:33 AM by Aaron Wilson, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Small church, bivocational group offers free education

August 28 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

As Joe Wright Jr. and his wife Pennie worshiped with a Southern Baptist congregation of 12 members in the Tennessee Delta just a few weeks ago, the pastor’s participation was noticeable.

Submitted photo
Joe Wright

“We sat there and watched the pastor open his hymnbook and without a piano, he led those 12 people in about three songs,” said Wright, in his fourth month as executive director of the Bivocational & Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN). “When he was done, he shut the hymnbook, and he said let’s pray. And he prayed, and he said, ‘It’s time for the preaching.’ And he opened the Bible, and then he preached.
“I sat there during that whole time, and not only did I worship with him, but my heart was broken that he needed resources,” Wright said, describing the church as faithful. “That’s the driving vision for this, and for me, to be able to provide resources and educational opportunities for leaders and pastors, and primarily bivocational pastors.”
Utilizing a love for small churches that Wright has perceived among Southern Baptists, the BSCLN is planning an educational initiative to provide free video training and mentoring to small-church and bivocational pastors and leaders by key church leaders from across North America, Wright told Baptist Press.
A quarter of the approximately 46,125 Southern Baptist churches and missions report Sunday School attendance of one to 24 individuals, Wright said, based on current Southern Baptist Convention Annual Church Profile reporting. Another 26 percent have less than 50 in Sunday School. About 83 percent of churches have less than 125 in Sunday School, with only one percent of Southern Baptist congregations serving 1,000 or more.
Larger churches “are the mountains of our convention,” Wright said, “but the small hills and vales are the small churches. And the mountains are not majestic without the foothills of the small churches. And that’s my burden.
“If we lose the small churches in our convention,” Wright said, “we lose 83 percent of our churches. We lose one half of the Cooperative Program. We lose one half of the baptisms. I think we lose a great portion of the vitality, and the strengths, and just the spiritual foundation of who we are as Baptists. It all comes out of the fiber and the fabric of the small church.”

Submitted graphic

The free training will join 116 free resources currently available on the BSCLN website, including books and articles, and a complimentary thumb drive of all resources for pastors and leaders without internet access. Wright’s goal is 2,000 online resources at, with hard copies of certain resources also available.
“What we’d like to be able to do at this point is walk into a local association office, meet with six or eight small-church pastors, open up a laptop, dial in, connect with one of these men or women who are great educators, and let them speak by video conference to these six or eight people from small churches,” Wright said of the initiative. “BSCLN can facilitate that.”
Gateway Seminary associate professor Warren Haynes, author of Discipleship Uncomplicated, has agreed to be the first video conference educator, said Wright, who is working to schedule the training through a Southern Baptist state convention. Classes would last about two hours, allowing pastors and leaders to ask questions, interact and learn.
Wright will also use the internet in an initiative to encourage pastors, wives and their children to persevere in the faith and in their calling.
“The average small-church pastor that gets up in the morning and has to go to a job,” Wright said, “and then tries to carve out time to go to the hospitals, and to do weddings and funerals and prepare sermons and work in Vacation Bible School and do all the things that small-church pastors do, and then on top of that try to maintain a healthy family, technology has to serve them, and we need to make technology a benefit to the small-church leader.”
Wright’s late father concurrently worked as a butcher, farmer and pastor in the valleys of Clinch Mountain, Tenn., during his 87 years of life, while also enjoying fatherhood and family. Bivocational pastors tend to be “time needy,” Wright said.
“They don’t have as much of an opportunity to pursue an education,” he said. ‘They can’t take time away from a secular job, a church service and the caretaking of their family to spare very much time to achieve … a traditional education.”
BSCLN was founded in 1997 as the Southern Baptist Bivocational Ministerial Association and was funded by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) until 2005, Wright said, when NAMB’s vision changed. Since then BSCLN has remained Southern Baptist, but is self-funded by gifts, grants, donations and adhoc partnerships with state conventions.
Small-church and bivocational pastors, as well as donors and supporters, can access the network at or Giving is available online and by check.
“The BSCLN is always in need of financial support,” Wright said, “since we do not receive Cooperative Program money. … If someone wants to connect with the BSCLN and God leads them to connect financially, that would be more than greatly appreciated.”
Wright, the only paid BSCLN employee, encourages pastors and leaders to subscribe to the BSCLN newsletter on the website, where membership is also available. BSCLN works with volunteers, nine regional consultants and other denominational servants who receive stipends, Wright said.
Pastors and leaders may also connect with BSCLN through regional directors. They are Larry and Janet Orange, Central Midwest region including Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio,; Ron and Susan Ward, Upper Southwest region including the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia,; Shannon Smith, Plain States region including Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas,; Henry Luckel, Rocky Mountains region including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state,; Bobby Clark, Arkansas and Oklahoma,; Thomas Echols, Texas,; Gary Mitchell, Louisiana,; Joe Young, Mississippi and Alabama,; and Vernon and Jean Beachum, West Virginia,
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/28/2018 10:11:12 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Johnny Hunt to lead NAMB evangelism, leadership group

August 27 2018 by Mike Ebert, NAMB

Johnny Hunt, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), will join the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership. Hunt and NAMB announced the news Sunday (Aug. 26).

Photo by Hayley Catt, NAMB
Johnny Hunt (right) longtime pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will join the North American Mission Board as senior vice president of evangelism and leadership. Hunt and NAMB President Kevin Ezell (left) announced the news Sunday (Aug. 26).

“I want to lead Southern Baptist churches to put evangelism back on the front burner again,” Hunt said. “Jesus came to seek and save the lost; we know what He is doing. We must join Him.”
Hunt shared in worship services at his church Sunday morning that he will walk with the church through the transition and begin serving full time with NAMB at the beginning of 2019. NAMB trustees will vote on Hunt’s role at their upcoming meeting Oct. 2.
“I am humbled and overwhelmed by God’s favor and blessing to have a leader like Johnny Hunt willing to join the NAMB family.” said NAMB President Kevin Ezell. “The vision, passion and leadership he will bring will help us motivate pastors to lead out in evangelism.”
The group Hunt will be leading will be focused on championing the cause of evangelism among Southern Baptist churches and pastors. It will also equip pastors with tools and leadership skills that will allow them to lead their churches to become more evangelistically active.
J.D. Greear, current SBC president and senior pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., called Hunt’s pending move to NAMB a “great day” for Southern Baptists.
“For as long as I can remember, pastor Johnny has been carrying the torch for evangelism and demonstrating what evangelistic faithfulness looks like both in life and in the context of a local church,” Greear said. “I can’t imagine anyone more qualified to lead us in this. I know it is a sad day for First Baptist Church Woodstock, but it is a great day for the larger Southern Baptist community. I believe his life and passion will lead to great joy among the lost in our communities!”
Ronnie Floyd, the senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas who currently serves as president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said he is “so fired up” about Hunt’s new role.
“Dr. Hunt is a living legacy of evangelism, building one of the world’s greatest churches that exemplifies the Great Commission regionally, nationally and globally,” said Floyd, who served as president of the SBC from 2014-2016. “Equally, he is a living legacy of leadership, teaching pastors and launching leaders continually. We need these kind of pastors leading Southern Baptists.”
On Aug. 12, NAMB announced formation of the Evangelism and Leadership group and that Jim Law would serve as its executive director. Law, who has served as executive pastor of First Baptist Woodstock for nearly 28 years, will begin serving at NAMB Oct. 1. He will handle day-to-day leadership for the group while Hunt casts vision, stirs passion for evangelism among Southern Baptists and mobilizes pastors and churches.
“My priority will be to help facilitate the present and next generation of pastors to embrace gospel conversations, soul winning if you will, witnessing as a lifestyle,” Hunt said. “After being a pastor the last 42 years, with 32 of those years at First Baptist Woodstock, I have come to believe deeply that whatever is important to the pastor is what is important to the people. Evangelism must be the heartthrob of our pastors.
“I am very excited that the North American Mission Board, under the leadership of Kevin Ezell, has invited me to serve,” Hunt said. Still, he called the decision to make the transition “one of the hardest of my life,” but said he will walk closely with his church through the transition, adding “I still believe with all of my heart that Woodstock’s best days are ahead of them.”
Hunt has led FBC Woodstock since 1986. The church averages more than 6,000 at its weekend worship services and is nationally known for the missions ministry it has in the United States and throughout the world. Hunt served as SBC president from 2008-2010. He founded the Timothy Barnabas ministry, a conference and retreat ministry, which has been attended by more than 8,000 pastors and their wives since its beginnings more than 20 years ago. Hunt is the author of several books. His annual men’s conference attracts thousands. He pastored three churches in North Carolina before being called to FBC Woodstock.
“God has given brother Johnny a unique, international platform,” Ezell said. “He wants to continue to use it to introduce as many people as possible to our savior and to equip believers to share their faith. I am humbled and grateful that God has orchestrated this in a way that allows him to lead at NAMB.” 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert serves as executive director of public relations for the North American Mission Board. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/27/2018 10:30:27 AM by Mike Ebert, NAMB | with 0 comments

Pew: African, Latin American Christians most committed

August 27 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Commitment to prayer, church attendance and religion is highest among Christians in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, Pew Research Center said Aug. 22 in an analysis of data collected over the past 10 years.

IMB photo
Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, along with those in Latin America, are among believers who consider themselves "very religious," praying daily and attending church at least weekly, Pew said in an analysis of studies spanning 10 years.

In the U.S., Christians register comparatively high levels of religious commitment among the most developed countries, Pew said in its analysis of 84 countries with Christian populations deemed sizable. Here, 68 percent of Christians deemed religion “very important” and just as many said they pray daily. Weekly church attendance was registered among 47 percent of U.S. Christians.
In 35 of the countries studied, at least two-thirds of Christians said religion was “very important” in their lives. All but three of those 35 countries are in sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, namely the U.S., Malaysia and the Philippines.
More than 75 percent of Christians surveyed in each country in sub-Saharan Africa said religion was very important in their lives, voicing higher levels of prayer and church attendance. In Ethiopia, where Ethiopian Orthodoxy is the most prevalent Christian faith, 98 percent of Christians rated religion as very important.
Among Latin American countries analyzed, at least 80 percent of Christians in six countries including Guatemala, Honduras and Paraguay pray daily. More than two-thirds of Christians in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador attend church weekly, Pew said.
Religion is least important to Christians in Germany, the United Kingdom and Europe, Pew said.
“These findings reflect the broader pattern of Christianity’s ‘march southward’ from wealthy countries to developing ones,” Pew said at “This phenomenon is particularly evident in sub-Saharan Africa, where Christianity is rapidly growing, largely due to high fertility.”
Fewer than a tenth of Christians in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Malaysia pray daily, Pew said. In nine European countries including Denmark, Estonia and Russia, fewer than a tenth of Christians attend church weekly.

Among African nations included in the data, at least 80 percent of Christians in Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Cameroon and Chad said they pray daily. And more than 60 percent of Christians there said they attend church at least weekly.
Pew’s FactTank released the 2018 analysis based on the results of studies conducted between 2008 and 2017. According to Pew, analyzed data encompasses statistics gathered in sub-Saharan Africa, America, Latin America, Israel, and Central, Eastern and Western Europe. The data includes a global survey of Islam and Pew’s wide-ranging religious landscape study, and contains studies of Asian Americans, Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans.
Christians in other countries rating religion as very important to them, along with the percentages Pew noted, include Ghana, 89 percent; Nigeria, 82; Colombia, 80; South Africa, 79; Ecuador, 80; Israel, 58, and Egypt, 50.
Other countries at the low end of the scale are Russia, 16; France, 12; Italy, 23; Czech Republic, 25; Poland, 32 and South Korea, 38.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/27/2018 10:30:15 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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