December 2011

Urban engagement sparks NAMB-Rebuild partnership

December 30 2011 by Joe Conway, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – “Years later the church has become an idol/ It became a culture and it’s no longer a faith/ We seek comfortable living and no longer His face/ See churches on the corner but the corners don’t change,” – from “Rebuild the City” by Sho Baraka L.

Hip hop may not readily come to mind when thinking of Southern Baptist work through the North American Mission Board. With The Rebuild Initiative, it may be essential.

In an effort to enhance the reach of NAMB’s Send North America strategy, the mission board is embarking on a partnership with The Rebuild Initiative. Stemming from the vision and passion of two urban church planters, Rebuild is intent on identifying, equipping and networking urban church planters and leaders. The Rebuild Initiative is a network of churches that exists to plant multi-ethnic churches.
 
“Rebuild brings the focus of the gospel into cultural context,” Dhati Lewis, president of the organization, said. “What you often find is people who are culturally contextual but not theologically sound, or they are theologically sound but not culturally relevant. With Rebuild we are working with leaders who are both. We have a desire to connect new leaders who will be theologically sound and culturally relevant. We want to help raise up indigenous leaders and train them theologically so we can come together and address urban culture.”

In addition to establishing a network of urban church planters and leaders, Rebuild will host roundtable events in key urban areas to equip and encourage leaders. The idea is a natural fit for Send North America.

Noting that the Send North America strategy includes urban settings, NAMB President Kevin Ezell voiced enthusiasm “about what Dhati Lewis and Larry Grays are doing to mentor urban leaders and how the Rebuild Initiative can show us how to reach urban centers better, to model it so we can bring others alongside and make a significant difference in urban settings.”

Grays is vice president of Rebuild and pastor of Midtown Bridge Church in Atlanta. Lewis is pastor of Blueprint Church, which launched in downtown Atlanta last year.
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Photo by Susan Whitley.

Dhati Lewis (right), pastor of Blueprint Church in downtown Atlanta, is president of The Rebuild Initiative, which is beginning a partnership with the North American Mission Board to raise up leaders to address urban culture – leaders who are both indigenous to the community and trained theologically. Blueprint Church, begun in 2009 with 50 people, now has 380 in worship, including a diverse mix of students from nearby Georgia State University and Georgia Tech and families and young adults.


“One of the biggest challenges facing urban church planting is awareness,” Grays said. “If we are going to be serious as a convention about the Great Commission and reaching unreached people and underserved people, I think we’ve got to look at the urban environment.”

Aaron Coe, NAMB vice president for mobilization, underscored Rebuild’s synthesis of urban development, leadership equipping and church planting.

“The Rebuild Initiative will include roundtable conferences where leaders can exchange ideas and be further developed for church planting,” Coe said. “The ultimate goal of Rebuild is to see church planters come out of the process. Rebuild is a natural fit for the Send North America strategy.”

NAMB’s Send North America strategy is an effort to mobilize individuals and churches for church planting in key population centers across North America. The strategy entails finding churches that are already directly planting new churches and helping them do more. For churches not directly involved, meanwhile, NAMB will help them get started with hands-on church planting activities.

“Rebuild can provide a platform for minority leaders who get it theologically and who can connect with people,” Lewis said. “We have been blessed by the grace of God to reach a network that no one else has reached – urban, hip hop, young professional. We can get leaders equipped, get ahead of the cultural curve and reach people where they are. Rebuild is already scheduled to host roundtables in several Send North America cities. The partnership makes a lot of sense.”

Blueprint Church started with 25 adults who moved from the Dallas/Fort Worth area to Atlanta in 2009. They began small groups and soon had 50 people meeting in community. Blueprint now has 380 in worship, including approximately 100 college students, primarily from Georgia State University and Georgia Tech.

“Our people are very missional. They intersect the everyday lives of people in their community,” Lewis said. “Our goal is to plant five new churches in Atlanta in the next five years.”

Grays and Midtown Bridge have helped Blueprint get established and connected.

The city is distinct from suburban church planting, Grays noted.

“One of the primary differences in working in an urban center is the density – the number of people packed into a small space,” Grays said. “You start with many different worldviews and cultures. How do you address those as a church planter? There are practical things like the cost of living. Where there is more density there is greater demand, which means higher cost of real estate. Where do you park people? You have to think through how you are going to engage the city in a meaningful way.”

With the assistance of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., and several other partners, Grays launched Midtown Bridge in 2007 at the Fox Sports Grill in Atlantic Station. In 2008 the church moved to Regal Cinemas in the midtown development. Grays moved his family to Atlantic Station to establish a presence in the community, believing that it will take a church planting movement to transform the city. Midtown is helping lay a foundation for other church plants.

“God give your servant success today by granting him some of Your favor/ I need to, You need to, We need to Rebuild the City,” – from “Rebuild the City.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. To see Dhati Lewis and Larry Grays discuss the challenges of urban church planting, visit namb.net/namb1cb2col.aspx?id=8590118669. To learn more about Send North America, visit namb.net. To learn more about The Rebuild Initiative and roundtable events, visit www.therebuildinitiative.org. “Rebuild the City” was written and recorded by Sho Baraka L., a hip-hop artist and younger brother of Dhati Lewis.)
12/30/2011 12:57:23 PM by Joe Conway, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



The prosperity gospel – ‘pagan teaching with a Christian face,’ prof says

December 29 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WAKE FOREST, N.C. – A dangerous “egocentric gospel” that omits Jesus, neglects the cross, and instead promises health and wealth is being promoted by some of America’s most well-known preachers today, and their teachings are readily available on cable TV and in local bookstores.

That’s the conclusion of two seminary professors whose new book, “Health, Wealth & Happiness” (Kregel), critiques what is often called the prosperity or “health & wealth” gospel – the claim by some of America’s most well-known preachers that God desires all Christians to be materially wealthy and physically healthy.

The prosperity gospel is dangerous, the professors say, because it contains just enough truth to make it appear biblical but more than enough distortions to make it heretical. That, they say, has led Christians to become discouraged in their faith or angry at God, or worse, to walk away from the church for good. After all, if a preacher says that enough faith can make a sick person well, and no healing ensues, then – according to the preachers – that person’s faith is weak.
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One study quoted in the book found that 50 of the 260 largest churches in America promote the prosperity gospel.

“If Christianity is supposed to be about God and His glory and is supposed to be about Christ, and we’re making it about us – that’s the worst thing we could do,” one of the authors, David W. Jones, told Baptist Press. Jones is associate professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “It is so catering to the flesh and it so exalts man that it gets to the point where you obscure Christ.”

The prosperity gospel, Jones says, is a “pagan teaching with a Christian face.”

The book, co-authored with Russell W Woodbridge, a missionary in Eastern Europe who is an adjunct professor at Southeastern, gives the history of the prosperity gospel movement, interacts with quotes from some of the most well-known prosperity gospel preachers, and ends by giving a “corrective” – that is, an explanation of the historical, biblical teaching on suffering, wealth, poverty and giving. Jones and Woodbridge distinguish between what they consider soft advocates of the prosperity gospel (Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer) and more staunch advocates (Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland).

Baptist Press recently spoke with Jones. Following is a partial transcript:

BAPTIST PRESS: Why has the prosperity gospel grown when, as you argue in the book, its teachings are overtly unbiblical and contrary to historical Christianity?

JONES: It caters to the fallen human flesh. All of us want Christianity to be about us, and we want to focus upon our own wants and desires and needs. And since our heart is already bent that way, when the prosperity gospel comes along and says, “Christianity is about you, and if you just believe in Jesus you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise,” that just resonates with our fallen flesh. People are already primed to hear that message – especially those in our churches that don’t know much of their Bibles.

BP: One question people might have is: Are you saying that God no longer heals and that God does not want to bless His people?

JONES: That’s a very common question. We don’t want people to over-learn the lesson that we’re trying to teach in the book. Of course, God still does bless His people, but what it boils down to is this: What is being rich? Is it wealth, having a lot of money, a sports car and a trophy wife? Or is wealth being content with whatever it is that we have? I have five kids and I have a teacher’s salary, and so I don’t have much but I feel like I am an incredibly wealthy man. So God does want to bless us, but we need to define blessing on God’s terms and not on materialistic man-centered terms.

BP: And healing?

JONES: There are several different kinds of healing in Scripture. There is miraculous healing, there is healing that we could say comes through medicine. There is healing of emotions. And there is also ultimate healing – which comes through the death of the believer. When we die, we’re in God’s presence, and we await a redeemed, resurrected, glorified body; we’ll no longer have aching backs, broken legs. It’s also a matter of timing: Is it now that we can expect these things or is it later; is it in the resurrection that we can expect these things? We need to first of all properly define health, wealth and happiness, and then we need to say what Scripture has to say about the chronology of it as to when we’ll get it. We would say it’s later, not now.

BP: What are some of the basic biblical or theological errors of the prosperity gospel?

JONES: First of all, there’s a distorted view of God – God is sort of like a cosmic bellhop that we can call upon and He’s there to serve us as opposed to us being here to serve Him. No. 2, there’s an exalted view of man – [it teaches that] Christianity is ultimately about us and not about Jesus and God’s glory. No. 3, there’s this idea of mind over matter – if you just believe it, it will come true. No. 4, there is an overall fixation upon health and wealth and the idea that if you’re just a good person and you love Jesus and tithe, you can expect to have a full wallet and perfect health. No. 5, there is a false idea of salvation itself. [According to the prosperity gospel,] it’s not so much that we’re saved from eternal damnation, saved from God’s wrath, but rather we’re saved from the unfulfilling, unprosperous life.

BP: In terms of how the prosperity gospel has spread, what role has TBN played?

JONES: You can just flip on cable television and see preachers saying a message that might be a little bit different than what your pastor is preaching at your church, but it’s a message that resonates with your desires. And they seem to have packed churches full of people, and they seem to have lots of money – which seemingly endorses their message. Of course, there’s a lot of good preaching on TBN. There are some solid guys on there. But let’s say you have Charles Stanley or Adrian Rogers and then the very next hour [TBN shows] Kenneth Hagin or Joel Osteen. How do you know when to turn the TV off?

BP: Would the prosperity gospel be as popular without TBN?

JONES: When TBN took off and cable and satellite television took off, that seems to have really been a milestone in the prosperity gospel movement. If you go back to the 1970s to the early days of Hagin or [Kenneth] Copeland, it was almost easier to spot the prosperity guys; they’re the guys driving the Rolls Royce who have the big hair and the white suits. Whereas today, if I tell people in my church that Joel Osteen is a prosperity gospel preacher, folks are like, “Really? I had no idea.”

BP: In the book, you differentiate between what you call “soft advocates” of the prosperity gospel such as Joel Osteen and more well-known advocates such as Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin. Explain the difference between the two types of advocacy.

JONES: Soft advocates are those who come from more of an orthodox background. At one point, if you go back far enough, you might find less prosperity preaching in their ministries. And even today in their preaching, they still try to get the gospel in there and they give the gospel lip service. Whereas, some of the more hardcore advocates – Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, even Creflo Dollar, these are guys that you very rarely hear them try to preach what looks like the traditional gospel. It’s almost all about avoiding suffering, avoiding losing your job, avoiding being poor. And you find the more egregious statements coming from them, as well, where they say poverty is a sin and Jesus had designer clothes.

BP: Would you say the prosperity gospel has harmed the name of Christ?

JONES: I think it really has – not only in the effect that it’s had upon believers, but when the lost world hears about the prosperity gospel, they lump Jerry Vines and Adrian Rogers in there with Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen, because to a lost world, these are all people who claim to be Christians. Many people in a lost world can see the hypocrisy of people who go on TV with their Rolexes saying, “Send me some money and I’ll pray for you.” They can see it’s just a big scheme. But, unfortunately, that undermines the true gospel. It’s happened to both of us [David Jones and Russell Woodbridge] numerous times in the pastorate. You’re out there talking to lost folks coming to your church, and an objection is raised, “I’ve seen you guys on TBN, and I know what you’re all about, and all you want is my money.”

BP: You devoted an entire chapter showing how the prosperity gospel has its foundation in New Thought philosophy [a late 18th- and early 19th -century quasi-Christian heresy that promoted the belief that the mind has power over movement]. Why did you think it was important for Christians to understand the foundation of the prosperity gospel?

JONES: We thought people need to realize that the prosperity gospel is not just another variety of Christianity. It’s a baptized form of a secular heresy. It’s not just Christianity that’s a little bit off. It’s pagan teaching with a Christian face. We thought that if folks can start with that and grasp that, then some of the objections we’ll raise later in the book will be easier to process. We’re not trying to say that every advocate of the prosperity gospel knows the roots of their own belief system. But the movement as a whole and its core teachings, that’s where it comes from.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
12/29/2011 4:01:17 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Dolly scientist: abandon embryonic stem cell research

December 29 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

LA JOLLA, Calif. (BP) – The scientist who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep has urged fellow researchers to forego embryonic stem cell research – which he says is fraught with practical problems – and pursue more promising types of research.

That’s because he believes other research likely will overtake embryonic stem cell research.

Ian Wilmut spoke to a crowd of stem cell researchers Nov. 29 in La Jolla, Calif., telling them that because embryonic stem cells tend to lead to tumors, scientists should spend their time on non-embryonic forms of research, particularly on a new method called direct reprogramming. In direct reprogramming, scientists avoid stem cells altogether and, for instance, reprogram a skin cell directly into a nerve cell. Researchers have had success doing just that with lab mice. It has the support of ethicists who have opposed embryonic research.

“I’m not quite sure why this hasn’t been pursued more actively,” said Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep in the 1990s.
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Ian Wilmut, who helped clone Dolly the sheep, says researchers should get out of embryonic stem cell research – which is plagued with tumors – and pursue more promising, less problematic research.


Wilmut’s speech was reported by the North County Times (Escondido, Calif.), which paraphrased him as saying direct reprogramming would provide the benefits of embryonic stem cell research without the risks. The government, he added, likely won’t spend money on embryonic research if a safer method is available.

If successful, direct reprogramming would turn the political and ethical debate upside down, making moot discussions over which types of stem cells are most promising. Wilmut was speaking in the same state where California voters in 2004 approved a 10-year, $3 billion investment into embryonic stem cell research. No cures have been found.

With embryonic stem cell research, scientists try to take stem cells from embryos and turn them into specific cells for the body. The process is opposed by pro-lifers because it destroys the embryo. In direct programming, scientists – in theory – would take a skin cell and simply reprogram it into, say, a nerve cell, without involving either embryos or stem cells of any kind.

In the results of one mice lab experiment released in 2010, fibroblast cells – found in connective tissue – were reprogrammed into nerve cells.

David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, called direct programming a “booming area where you might say they cut out the middle man.” Even induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, long championed by pro-lifers, can cause tumors, Prentice said. In iPS research, scientists change an adult stem into embryo-like stem cells.

“iPS cells are ethically OK, but because they act like an embryonic stem cell, frankly are still not safe,” Prentice said. “Wilmut is saying there is an even better way that gets around the ethical problems but also bypasses much of the safety issues.”

Significantly, Wilmut wasn’t making his argument on ethical grounds but mere feasibility.

“This is Dolly’s daddy, the guy who cloned Dolly the sheep,” Prentice said. “He’s turned away from cloning, he’s turned away from embryonic stem cells, and he’s pointing towards reprogrammed cells.”

Upon learning of the 2010 lab mice experiment, ethicist Wesley J. Smith called it a “holy cow” moment. Much work remains to be done, he wrote before adding: “Good ethics do produce good science.”

It has not been a good year for supporters of embryonic stem cell research, which took a big hit in mid-November when Geron, the company that launched the nation’s first government-approved embryonic stem cell trial, announced it was halting the trial and shifting its funding into cancer research. Funding for embryonic research, it said, was scarce. Pro-lifers said the lack of funding showed that the promise of embryonic research was false.

Research using adult stem cells, meanwhile, has produced 73 medical treatments, according to a tally by the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. Nearly all of the high-profile stem cell treatments involving well-known patients have involved adult stem cells. If successful, direct programming likely would far surpass the achievements of adult stem cells.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)

12/29/2011 3:54:07 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pew: Christianity has become global faith in past century

December 28 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) – Christianity has grown into a global faith in the last century, moving from a predominantly European, North and South American religion to one that is now practiced in large numbers on every continent, particularly Africa and Asia.
 
That 100-year view is one of the major findings of a new report from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which compares the worldwide Christian population of 2010 to that of 1910.
 
“Clearly, Christianity has spread far from its historical origins,” the 130-page report says. The report used a broad definition for Christianity and was based on census reports and population surveys.
 
In 1910, Europe had 66.3 percent of the world’s Christian population and North and South America had 27.1 percent. Today, Europe’s share of the Christian population is only 25.9 percent and the Americas is 36.8 percent. During that century, Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the world’s Christian population has grown from 1.4 percent to 23.6 percent, while the Asia-Pacific region has grown from 4.5 percent to 13.1 percent. At the same time, the Middle East-North Africa region has seen a slight decline in its worldwide share (.7 to .6 percent).
 
Jim Haney, director of global research for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, says the Pew numbers are “consistent with IMB’s global research effort,” although the IMB’s global research is “more focused on evangelical Christianity” as reported by missionaries and evangelical partners.
 
Christianity, Pew says, remains the world’s largest religion “by far” and has seen the number of adherents nearly quadruple in the last century, yet its growth – as a portion of the population – has not kept pace with worldwide population. In 1910 there were about 611 million Christians, making up 35 percent of the world’s population of 1.75 billion. Today, there are 2.2 billion Christians, which comprise 32 percent of the world’s 7 billion people.
 
Pew’s broad definition of Christianity includes Catholics and Protestants as well as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, although the latter two make up only a small percentage of the total population. Pew says Catholics comprise 50.1 percent of the world’s Christian population, Protestants 36.7 percent, Orthodox 11.9 percent and “other” Christians – a category that includes Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – 1.3 percent. (Evangelicals typically see the beliefs of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, particularly their views on the doctrines of God and Christ’s deity, as outside the tenets of historical Christianity.)
 
Protestantism, too, is worldwide. Sub-Sahara Africa has the largest share of Protestantism (36.9 percent), followed by the Americas (32.9 percent), Asia-Pacific (17.4 percent), Europe (12.6 percent) and the Middle East-North Africa (.2 percent).
 
China – a country where religious freedom is limited and the underground church has thrived – has the world’s third-largest Protestant population at 58 million, trailing only the United States (159 million) and Nigeria (59 million), Pew says.
 
Haney, of the IMB, says much work needs to be done to spread the gospel. At the end of 2010, he said, 5,776 of the world’s 11,642 people groups “were engaged in church planting efforts by evangelicals around the world,” with 741 of those “engaged by teams including IMB missionaries.” There is bad and good news when examining data on the growth of Christianity, he said.
 
“We are disturbed by the kind of Christianity practiced today and heavily influenced by secularism, post-modernism and atheism, even among those counted as Christians because of baptism or affiliation,” he said. “On the other hand, field research is showing that unreached people groups, thought to be resistant to the gospel in times past, are seeing amazing church planting movements where God is working mightily. Those coming to Christ within these people groups are likely still counted as adherents within their religion, but testimonies of new believers among these peoples give glory to God for new faith in Jesus Christ.”
 
Among Pew’s other findings:
 
– Nigeria has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, the birthplace of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
 
– Muslim-dominated Indonesia has more Christians than all 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa combined.
 
– Only 10 percent of the world’s Christians are minorities within their own country. Ninety percent live in countries where Christians are in the majority.
 
“The challenge of missions today is before the church: when the Lord returns, will He find a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshipping our Lord Jesus Christ?” Haney asked.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
12/28/2011 1:56:43 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Big-sky missions view: Mont. church ups CP 5%

December 28 2011 by Karen L. Willoughby

JORDAN, Mont. (BP) – About nine months after pastor KJ Ellington started educating Jordan Community Bible Church about missions, missionaries and Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program, members voted to increase their percentage CP giving from 8 to 13 percent.

“I added a Missions Moment to the Sunday morning service about nine months ago,” the Montana pastor said, referencing the CP resource for churches’ weekly use in worship. “The church did not really understand what it meant to be involved in missions. They didn’t understand where the money went” through the CP channel to missions and ministry in Montana, across North America and around the world.

“We started highlighting missionaries ... and ministry opportunities outside of our local church,” Ellington continued. “What that did was create anticipation and excitement about missions, and when the budget came up for discussion, we increased our CP percentage by 5 percent.”

What the church learns through its participation in the Cooperative Program about missions and global needs, the pastor said, inspires them to want to make a difference in the world.

“I don’t think you find any backing biblically for churches to grow in order to just build more buildings,” he said. “You grow churches for the purpose of bringing more people into the Kingdom.... My first and major responsibility is to where God planted me, but ultimately He wants to use the people of Garfield County to impact the world, just like He brought Jesus through Israel in order to reach a bigger world.
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Jordan Community Bible Church in Montana uses an array of means, including a bouncy house as an outreach at a local fair., to demonstrate its heart for the community.


“... We just want to do what God wants us to do: to think bigger than here, but not just bigger. We’ve got to think ‘here’ too,” Ellington added. “I want to see ‘that person’ come to Christ, and change that life first, but I know that’s how He changes the world: one person at a time.”

Despite the recent birth of his first-born son, Ellington told the congregation he didn’t need a raise this year so the church could increase its CP percentage giving.

“We are highly blessed in America,” the pastor said. “We’ve got a lot more than we need. Even living on a small income, I feel the money can be better used in God’s Kingdom than my kingdom.

“The way I explain it to our church, the Cooperative Program is about Southern Baptist churches working together to do things we could not do alone,” Ellington said. “I tell them all the work our missionaries are doing overseas and here in America – all the people hearing the gospel – we’re able to be a part ... of something bigger than ourselves because we give through the Cooperative Program.”

It wouldn’t be hard to be involved in something bigger than Jordan, Mont., population about 300 hardy folks in the county seat. Garfield County is about the size of the state of Connecticut, but as of the 2010 census, a total of 1,206 people live across the county – about one person on every three acres.

The church works hard to create community within the congregation – some of whom drive 50 miles one way to worship – and also to minister to Jordan and to Garfield County residents.

“We have a fellowship dinner every Sunday after church,” Ellington said. “Some Sundays, families volunteer to feed everyone; the third Sunday is always potluck. What we say is, it’s not about the food; it’s about the fellowship. The meal provides opportunities for them to visit and talk with one another and create community.”

At least 35 people gather Sunday for morning worship, up from fewer than 10 the first Sunday Ellington was called as pastor.

A women’s Bible study also helps draw the congregation closer. So does a men’s Monday evening fellowship involving televised football.

“This is something we started when football started as an opportunity for men to hang out and watch football without going to the bar,” Ellington said. “There were guys looking for that.”

The men meet in the basement of the unassuming building purchased from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and extensively renovated for church use. They don’t have a big-screen TV, but they do have snacks and “the fellowship is great,” the pastor said.

“If our church never grows above 30 or 40, that’s fine,” Ellington said. “As long as we send people into mission work and send them away.... We want to take people here and grow them in Christ.”

Among the congregation’s first steps toward Christian growth: its Helping Hands ministry.

“We’d been looking for opportunities to be a church that not only talks about helping others but does,” Ellington said. “This summer, a mission team from Rutledge Falls Baptist Church in Tulllahoma, Tenn., came up and the whole purpose of their trip was to do random acts of kindness. They saw yards that needed mowed; they bought the groceries of the person behind them in line; that type of thing. That was the start of Helping Hands.”

Helping Hands’ primary focus is to do for those not able to do for themselves because of illness or other reasons.

“We’ve got a list of needs,” Ellington said. “Our plan is one Saturday a month to get together to knock out as many projects as possible. And some things won’t wait. Last week we helped someone clean out a wood stove.”

Jordan Community Bible Church was started in 1994 as a mission of First Baptist Church in Circle, Mont., the nearest town, though some 67 miles east. One of Ellington’s challenges is to move the congregation from a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mindset.

“The church generally in America has been doing church their own way for so long that they think it is the way you’re supposed to do church, and sometimes that might not match up with what the Bible says,” the pastor said. “The way people have done evangelism in the past is to say ‘bring your friends to church’ – to invite them to church instead of actually telling them about Jesus.... [O]ur church is beginning to see things from a biblical worldview.

“There is a great opportunity here to see changed lives,” the pastor continued. “This isn’t the Bible Belt. [Many of the people of Garfield County] live lives like God does not exist at all. The field is white with harvest. There are plenty of opportunities to lead people to Christ and I encourage everybody to be involved in activities around town.”

Two church members are on the Jordan Chamber of Commerce, and Ellington noted, “We encourage each member to live out their faith, and to be an encourager to many. Living in a small town is like living in a glass house. When you are being a Christian involved in the community and living a life of integrity in front of them, that says more than anything else.

“Out here, authenticity and integrity is more important than a smooth line or big event,” Ellington said. “They still do hundred-thousand-dollar deals on a handshake. Your word means something out here. If you don’t follow through on your word, you’ve lost your integrity, your authenticity. That’s why the people here want to see real people Jesus has made a difference in, and that’s why they’re open to the gospel – when they see it lived out in someone’s life.”

The church’s motto is “Connecting with God, Connecting with people, Changing the world.”

“Everything we do has to fit into one of those three categories,” Ellington said. “It’s absolutely possible for God to take a little small church in the middle of nowhere and use it to change the world.... God is going to raise up missionaries and pastors who leave Jordan and impact the world.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen Willoughby is managing editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, The Montana Baptist and Dakota Connections, the state papers for those conventions.)
12/28/2011 1:49:54 PM by Karen L. Willoughby | with 0 comments



Diversity-rich Vancouver is NAMB’s 2nd ‘Send’ launch

December 28 2011 by Adam Miller

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BP) – Vancouver can have a surprising aura as North America’s most diversity-dense city and Canada’s largest seaport.

It’s a vertical city – a large garden of high-rises at the foot of the mountains and the edge of the Salish Sea. It’s younger than you’d imagine (125 years old), growing into every available space (mostly in high-rises) and garnering a reputation for global magnetism. Some 200 language groups are represented among its residents.
 
Discovered by the Squamish (First Nations), explored by the Spanish, established by the English and heavily settled by the Chinese following the Gold Rush years, it’s as much West Coast North America as it is Far East and Western European. With its winning hockey team, it’s also thoroughly Canadian.

Vancouver is the third-largest metropolitan area in Canada, with a population of 2.3 million, according to the Canadian census. It’s a city of several cities – Richmond, Steveston, New Westminster, Burnaby, Surrey and Pitt Meadows to name a few. Dozens of communities bustle along the transit line (Skytrain and Seabus), each with its own personality and spiritual typography. To reach the people who live in Vancouver, it will take churches that reflect the ethnic makeup and culture of the communities in which they are planted.
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Photo by Adam Miller.

 

This intersection in Vancouver reflects the bustle of a city with a population of 2.3 million and more than 200 languages spoken by its residents.


The North American Mission Board, on Nov. 8, launched its second Send North America city emphasis – Send North America: Vancouver.

Send North America is NAMB’s strategy to mobilize and assist churches and individuals in hands-on church planting in 29 cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Through Send North America, NAMB will come alongside Southern Baptist churches that are not directly involved in church planting and help them become more hands-on. And NAMB will partner with Southern Baptist churches already planting churches to help them increase their efforts.

Convergence of cultures

Because of its location as a thriving port city, Vancouver has become thoroughly multi-cultural. The percentage of Vancouver residents whose first language is English is 49.1 percent and Chinese is 25.3 percent. People groups that once inhabited the city center have now moved throughout the metro area.

“The Chinese are not in Little China anymore,” says Dan Crawford, a Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary professor who’s brought students from the Texas campus to Vancouver for more than a decade. “The majority of Chinese are in Richmond.”

In Richmond, a 10-minute drive south of Vancouver, there’s a stretch of road with a place of worship for every major world religion: the Temple of the International Buddhist Society and British Columbia’s largest mosque, for example. “There’s even a golf course,” says Crawford, joking. “They call that road the ‘highway to heaven.’“

And the highway runs right by Towers Baptist Church, which shares a building with Richmond Chinese Baptist Church, a fairly large Mandarin-speaking congregation. Nearly 38 percent of Richmond’s residents speak a Chinese dialect.

A number of Koreans live in Vancouver because of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Suzanne Perry, international student minister at UBC, says many Korean mothers let their husbands support them from abroad while they bring their children to educate them.

“Their husbands have climbed the ladder in their country and to come here they’d have to start from scratch, so they stay there and support their wives and their children’s education,” Perry says. “It’s created this community of, essentially, single mothers and some of them have come to me to learn English.”

Vancouver has changed even in the last couple of years. A longtime haven for refugees and others from the international community, the Winter Olympics opened the world’s eyes to the opportunities abounding there. Since then, the Vancouver Sun reports, more than 1,500 new immigrants enter the city every month.

“When God called me to missions, He called me specifically to cross-cultural missions,” Perry reflects. “Vancouver is very multicultural and very global. There are 153 countries represented here.”

Origin Church, launched in September by church planter Craig O’Brien and a core team including Perry, was a recent fulfillment of a longtime desire of the UBC student ministry. With the international student ministry and the ministry to the community surrounding the university, Perry hopes these foundations will help sustain the church planting effort.

Across town, Victor Thomas is finding open doors at Simon Fraser University. As church planter pastor of The Point church, Thomas has seen God do amazing things as The Point has lived with love and service as its commission.

“We make it clear that we don’t want anything from Simon Fraser but to serve the university community in whatever way we can,” Thomas says. “God, in turn, has provided us with more open doors than we could’ve dreamed.”

On the horizon

The work in Vancouver is only just beginning. Though Southern Baptist and Canadian National Baptist Convention church planting efforts laid the groundwork for more than a decade, the fruit is growing slowly.

Re-acclimating people to God and the church takes nothing short of a miracle, says North American Mission Board missionary Jeff Phillips, who is planting The Crossings church in Vancouver’s city center. The church in Canada is seen by some as a threat to freedom, since the freedoms Vancouver seeks to create conflict with the gospel.

“Just the things our children are being taught in the local public school are a sign of how unchurched this city is,” Phillips notes. “It gives us some interesting discussions with our kids and reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle all the time.”

Again, though, through service and friendship, Phillips and The Crossings core team are building a network of residents they hope will develop into disciples.

Josh Arrington, planting to the east in Pitt Meadows, is working to overcome skepticism toward the church. “This community has seen so many churches come and go that we’re having to build trust and let them see that we’re here to establish a church that’s here for the duration,” says Arrington, a NAMB church planter missionary.

About 50,000 Iranians live in North Vancouver, Coquitlam and Burnaby, where an Iranian refugee, Amin Kavah, is reaching his fellow countrymen, and also the large groups of Afghans and Kurds who speak Farsi as well.

Zendeh is the name of the Farsi church Kavah started in Burnaby. “The name means living,” he explains. “We want to offer life to Farsi speakers.”

One Iranian man has already accepted Christ and is attending a church elsewhere in the city. “He isn’t coming to our church,” Kavah says, “but that does not matter.” The man was an Iranian refugee who came to Kavah for help with immigration information and tax forms. “He had met with a Catholic priest when he was a refugee in Germany and that Catholic priest helped him understand some things. When he came to me and I was able to tell him my story, he accepted Jesus.”

Partnerships


The reality in a place like Vancouver is that a church is a community effort involving planter, core team and the support structure of likeminded churches.

Vancouver church planting efforts are the result of missions giving by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and through the SBC’s Easter and Christmas special offerings – but also critical to their success is the ongoing praying, giving and sending of partner churches.

Josh Arrington says eight churches across two associations in the States are how he’s able to become an established part of Pitt Meadows. Jeff Phillips says living in downtown Vancouver is only possible because of the church partners who are faithfully giving every month.

Through Send North America: Vancouver, Southern Baptist churches can partner with planters on a number of levels, from supporting them prayerfully to sending teams to work in the field alongside them to even multiplying the church by helping plant new ones just like it.

“Vancouver is a testimony to the power of partnership and a persevering sense of purpose among our partner churches,” says Ray Woodard, the coalition coordinator for Send North America: Vancouver. “I’ve been here 23 years and I’ve seen what can happen when churches take the call to this city seriously.”

Churches interested in partnering with a church planter through Send North America: Vancouver can start the process by visiting www.namb.net and clicking on “mobilize me.” For stories and testimonies from church planters as well as updates on the work being done in Vancouver, visit www.namb.net/Vancouver.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)
12/28/2011 1:37:14 PM by Adam Miller | with 0 comments



One-third of shelter residents are newly homeless

December 28 2011 by Josef Kuhn, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) – Nearly one in five clients of Christian rescue missions said they were victims of physical violence within the past year, a 6 percent jump from the previous year, according to a new survey.
 
“It’s quite possible that the uptick in physical violence ... is due to a friend or family member’s feeling of desperation and helplessness accompanying their unemployment and underemployment,” said John Ashmen, president of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM).
 
The Snapshot Survey of the homeless is conducted annually by AGRM, North America’s oldest and largest network of independent homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers.
 
Nearly 19,000 individuals took the survey in October at 114 rescue missions; 17 percent of those surveyed were not currently homeless, but all had received services offered at the missions, such as food and medical care.
 
Although a quarter of those surveyed said they had been homeless three or more times before, an even higher figure – 35 percent – said they had never before been homeless.
 
Bill Roscoe, director of Boise (Idaho) Rescue Mission, said his shelter housed more than 2,000 people in the past year who had never been homeless before.
 
“We’ve seen quite a significant increase in numbers with women and children. In two years the average daily population in our women and children’s shelter more than doubled,” Roscoe said.
 
Aside from the increases in reported violence and numbers of women and children, the survey found that 80 percent of those using the rescue missions preferred receiving assistance from an agency with a spiritual emphasis.
 
“Unfortunately, nothing in the report is a huge surprise,” Ashmen said. “Some public figures like to give the impression that government programs are curbing homelessness and hunger. We certainly aren’t seeing it.”

12/28/2011 1:27:35 PM by Josef Kuhn, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



North Carolina Baptists called to prayer

December 22 2011 by BR staff

To kick off the year in prayer, pastors, church staff and prayer leaders are invited to gather Jan. 10-11 at the Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest for the Empowered: North Carolina Pastor/Staff Prayer Retreat.
 
The theme for this year’s prayer retreat, “Empowered,” is based on Acts 4:31. “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.” 
 
Chris Schofield, director of the Office of Prayer at the Baptist State Convention (BSC), described the event as a combination of speaking, dialogue and prayer with a “two-pronged approach toward missional prayer and prayer for revival and spiritual awakening. This is an opportunity for leaders to gather to be refreshed and renewed and reenergized and their focus [to be] dependence on the Lord. We do these conferences for awareness and training … and equipping people in Kingdom prayer that focuses on praying toward revival and praying toward the great commission.”
 
The prayer retreat will take place the same month the Southern Baptist Convention will call Baptists to prayer and spiritual awakening and focus on praying missionally. To learn more about planning your church’s Call to Prayer, visit namb.net/sbccalltoprayer.
 
Praying for revival in N.C. and across the nation is critical, Schofield said. “We’ve got to get away from temporal praying and even reactionary praying,” he said. “We’ve got to [look] toward intentional, proactive, kingdom-focused praying that seeks to move the kingdom forward. That’s what we’re encouraging, challenging.”
 
The speakers at the prayer retreat include: John Franklin of John Franklin Ministries; Richard Owens Roberts, president of International Awakening Ministries; James Walker, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; Chad Pollard, worship pastor at Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia and Schofield.
 
Other BSC prayer events will include Pray2Go: A Kingdom Focused Prayer Gathering, March 6-7 in Hendersonville. Morning sessions will be held at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, and evening sessions will be held at Mud Creek Baptist Church. On April 27-28, a regional prayer conference, Renew: A Northeastern North Carolina Prayer and Spiritual Life Summit, will be held at Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City in the Chowan Baptist Association. In partnership with N.C. Baptist Aging Ministry, BSC will also offer Connection for Life: 2012 Senior Adult Prayer Retreat Oct. 22-24 at Ridgecrest.
 
For more information, go to praync.org. To register for the upcoming Empowered prayer retreat contact the LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center at (800) 588-7222. Or, contact Betsy Roland at the Office of Prayer; broland@ncbaptist.org or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5513.
12/22/2011 1:52:07 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



Americans’ view of Southern Baptists studied

December 21 2011 by LifeWay Communications

The majority of Americans have a favorable impression of Southern Baptists, according to a recent LifeWay Research study. However, 40 percent of respondents have an unfavorable view of the denomination; more than a third strongly assume a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church is not for them; and the negativity is higher among the unchurched.
 
The LifeWay Research study was conducted in September after Bryant Wright, SBC president, appointed a task force to consider a possible name change for the 166 year-old convention.
 
The study indicates a segment of Americans have unfavorable opinions of Southern Baptists in comparison to other faith groups. However, with 53 percent being favorable toward Southern Baptists (including 15 percent very favorable), both sides need to be considered, said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
12-21-11sbaptstudy.jpg
“On one hand it does look like the SBC has higher negatives than other faith groups – and the unchurched numbers are particularly disconcerting,” Stetzer said. “But on the other, most people don’t seem to be concerned either way because there is a level of indifference to denominations or religion in general.”
 
In fact, two-thirds of Americans are without strong feelings in regard to all the Christian faith groups included in the survey, with a third or less either very favorable or very unfavorable to them.
 
Respondents were shown the names of five “denominations or faith groups” and asked to “indicate if your impression is very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable, or you are not familiar enough to form an opinion.” The study indicates 62 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Methodists compared to 59 percent for Catholics, 53 percent for Southern Baptists, 37 percent for Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and 28 percent for Muslims.
 
The study sought to determine how the name might impact the interest or connection with a congregation. When asked their level of agreement with the statement, “When I see (fill in denominational affiliation) in the name of a church, I assume it is not for me,” 35 percent “strongly agree” a Southern Baptist church is not for them – higher than for Catholics (33 percent), other Baptists (29 percent), Methodists (26 percent) and community or nondenominational churches (20 percent).
 
Significantly more respondents – 58 percent – disagree with this statement for community or nondenominational churches, indicating that such churches are considered as a possible fit more often than other Christian faith groups included in the survey. When considering Baptists (not specifically SBC), 44 percent disagree with the statement; Catholics, 43 percent; Methodists, 42 percent; and Southern Baptists, 38 percent.
 
This positive reaction to community or nondenominational churches reflects other recent LifeWay Research analysis that showed growth among nondenominational churches while Southern Baptists are trending in a membership decline.
 
Respondents also were asked: “If you were considering visiting or joining a church, would knowing that the church was Southern Baptist impact your decision positively, negatively or have no impact?” The study found that 44 percent of Americans indicate knowing a church is Southern Baptist would negatively impact their decision to visit or join the church; 36 percent say it would have no impact; and 10 percent say it would positively impact their decision. “The study did not explore why some respondents hold a negative view of Southern Baptists,” Stetzer said. “For instance, one reason may be because they disagree with positions Southern Baptists take on certain issues such as sanctity of life or the exclusivity of the gospel, and that is the only point of reference they have for Southern Baptists.”
 
Stetzer said he is “hopeful the results will be useful to the members as well as to all Southern Baptists seeking to be more effective in their witness by better understanding the culture in which their churches exist.”
 
Methodology: The survey was conducted Sept. 23-26 using an online panel. A representative sample of the U.S. adult population was invited to participate. The sample of 2,114 provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed + or -2.2 percent.
12/21/2011 2:33:42 PM by LifeWay Communications | with 1 comments



GuideStone helps provide ‘happy days’ for retired couple

December 21 2011 by John Ambra, GuideStone Financial Resources

“Sunday, Monday, happy days…Tuesday, Wednesday, happy days…” Who can forget the familiar tune from the popular mid-70s TV show “Happy Days”? Seeking to capture the nostalgia of the 1950s, the sitcom focused on teenager Richie Cunningham and his family. Life for the Cunningham clan usually turned out happy by the end of each episode.
 
For Floyd Woodard and his family, pastoring in rural churches for 52 years was definitely not a sitcom. While life for him and wife, Ivey, usually turned out happy, too – it was for a much different reason.
 
Floyd was 25 years old when he felt God calling him into a life of ministry. Married just five years, Floyd was teaching a Sunday school class when he was approached about becoming a preacher.
 
“I knew the Lord was dealing with me and so finally I came to the place that I decided I would answer the call, that God called me to preach,” Floyd said. “I started pastoring back in 1955 in a church that had us preach two Sundays a month. They paid us $15 a Sunday. We drove about 55 miles one way to get there.”
 
When a church in Forsyth, Montana, offered $150 a month in the mid-60s, Floyd readily accepted the call. He fondly remembered talking to a church member about receiving a weekly check. “When I talked to him and asked him about giving me a check every week, he said, ‘Well, there are five Sundays in some months,’ and I said, ‘We have to eat that Sunday, too!’”
 
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Contributed photo

Floyd and Ivey Woodard served low-paying small churches their 52 years in the ministry. Now in retirement, they’re seeing God’s faithfulness through Southern Baptists’ Mission:Dignity gifts.

At times, it was difficult to make ends meet on the small salary Floyd received, but God was always faithful. In looking back, Ivey recalled, “There were several times when I would go to the grocery store and I’d spend my last dollar for milk, and I didn’t know where the next dollar was coming from, but it always came.”
 
Over the years, Floyd and Ivey were not afraid of hard work and often took additional jobs to make ends meet. “We did some work for different people like in the sugar beet fields and helping cut corn in the silage and stuff like that occasionally. I did a little carpenter work to help supplement our income. Roofed a few houses,” he said, chuckling at the memory.
 
As with many small churches, food from members’ gardens or farms was also part of the “pay” received by most preachers. For the Woodards, the meat served at the dinner table could be of an unusual variety. “When we first moved to Eureka, a man from Great Falls had killed a deer. He didn’t need it, so he gave us that deer. It was so big it looked like a cow to us, but that was our meat for the winter,” Ivey said as Floyd chimed in, “Even gave us a little elk and a little moose – we got to try out. Only thing I never tried was the bear meat.”
 
Retirement made getting the necessities of life even more difficult. When a fellow pastor died, his widow applied and began receiving help from Mission:Dignity. That prompted the Woodards to seek assistance, too. The monthly check from Mission:Dignity helps in a variety of ways.
 
Through Mission:Dignity, GuideStone Financial Resources assists about 2,000 retired Southern Baptist ministers and their wives who have critical financial needs. Most of these pastors  served small congregations in decades past with little, if any, contributions toward a retirement plan. Sixty percent of Mission:Dignity recipients are widows. One out of every four recipients is a pastor’s widow age 85 or older. Qualified recipients are eligible for grants of $200 to $530 each month.
 
The ministry, which receives no Cooperative Program gifts, is funded by the generous support of individuals, Sunday school classes and churches across the Southern Baptist Convention. Gifts of any size are welcome, and 100 percent of contributions are paid out in grants with nothing taken out for administrative expenses. Individuals who want to join in providing dignity to these retired ministers and their widows can learn more by visiting MissionDignitySBC.org or by calling (888) 98-GUIDE or (888) 984-8433.
 
“I am just thankful that somebody thought of this – that sometimes retired pastors might need extra help. It’s a real blessing to a lot of people besides us,” Ivey quietly shared.
 
Floyd had a special word to donors, “I am grateful to the donors for their sacrificial giving because it has enabled us to come to the end of the month meeting our bills without getting so far behind.”
 
Through it all, Floyd and Ivey trusted in God’s provision and kept smiles on their faces.
 
“We talked about the hard times and all the lean times we went through in earlier years with the salary being low and not knowing where the next dollar was coming from all the time, but it’s always been a happy time,” Ivey said. “We felt we were doing what the Lord wanted us to do, and we knew He would provide. And He always did provide.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Ambra is director of development at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
12/21/2011 2:00:56 PM by John Ambra, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments



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