December 2012

SBC prayer emphasis focuses on the lost

December 13 2012 by Adam Miller, NAMB

Southern Baptist leaders are hoping churches will start 2013 with an emphasis on prayer and the lost during the month-long Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Call to Prayer beginning Jan. 1.
The effort will help congregations focus prayer in several key sets of relationships, seeking ways to engage those without Christ.
“The SBC Call to Prayer is a pivotal opportunity as churches cast a vision for ministry in 2013,” said SBC President Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. “This coming January we will have the chance to gather as a denomination and center our thoughts and prayers on the lost in our communities and around the world.”
Among the emphases of the SBC Call to Prayer are:
  • My Family and Friends. Select a friend and family member and pray that they would come to faith in Christ.
  • My Nation. Select a Send North America city and pray for the church planting efforts in that area (
  • My World. Select an unreached people group and pray that the gospel would be advanced among these people (
Through online resources and partnership with state Baptist conventions and local Baptist associations churches can design events and prayer opportunities that fit specific needs.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for pastors to lead their churches in praying for their families, their communities and lost people around the world,” Ezell said. “These are tools and resources we hope every church can use to lead their people into a deeper prayer life for the coming year.”
Al Gilbert, North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) interim vice president for evangelism, hopes the emphasis will help Southern Baptists view the lost around them in a new way.
“We need to pray with the question in mind, ‘Who do I know who needs to know Christ?’” said Gilbert. “It’s an opportunity to really think through and intercede even as we seek to penetrate lostness.”
“When Jesus saw the lost, He was moved with compassion. But notice the first thing He asked His disciples to do,” said Gilbert. “He told them to pray to the Lord of the harvest. Often we don’t see it as a harvest; we see it as people who don’t want to know Christ. But that’s not the way God sees it.”
Gilbert encouraged Southern Baptists to be evangelistically minded in 2013 and said participation in the SBC Call to Prayer is a great way to begin.
“As we approach the New Year, who do we know who needs to know Christ?” he said. “It should become a natural question that we ask and something we regularly pray about, and I think this is an opportunity to help us begin to shape our thinking for the coming year.”
To learn more about the SBC Call to Prayer, visit

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12/13/2012 3:44:11 PM by Adam Miller, NAMB | with 0 comments

Online poker opponents warn of Senate battle

December 13 2012 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) ethics entity and other gambling foes are speaking out against legislation to legalize online poker that is a threat to gain U.S. Senate passage before the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and conservative Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., have drafted a bill that reportedly would legalize Internet gambling on poker. They have yet to introduce the proposal, but opponents are concerned Reid may attach it to must-pass legislation that would receive a vote before the “lame-duck” session closes.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) “steadfastly opposes your efforts,” the entity’s president, Richard Land, told Kyl in a Dec. 5 letter.

“We cannot support any effort that grants government sanction to any form of gambling,” Land said. “Your bill not only does that but also creates a regulatory mechanism that is certain to be used to introduce other forms of Internet gambling in the future.

“No amount of regulation or taxation could make such legalization a winning proposition for America,” Land wrote Kyl.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) also has expressed its opposition to the Reid-Kyl proposal.

“Pastors regularly see the destructive impact of gambling on families and children,” NAE President Leith Anderson said in a Dec. 11 statement. “Those problems will increase if gambling moves from buildings to home computers.”

The online poker bill would weaken a 2006 federal law designed to bar most Internet gambling, Land told Kyl. That measure, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, requires financial institutions to block credit card and other payments to online wagering businesses, which primarily are located overseas. Gambling foes, with the agreement of the U.S. Justice Department at the time, argued a 1961 law that prohibited wagering over telephone wires also barred Internet wagering.

Proponents of online gambling gained impetus for their efforts when a late 2011 opinion by the Justice Department contended the 2006 law applies only to sports betting. Georgia and Illinois are now selling lottery draw tickets on the Internet, and other state legislatures are considering bills to legalize online gambling, The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 5.

Kyl, who supported the 2006 law, believes the new legislation will help limit the spread of gambling, according to The Journal.

Foes of his bill disagree.

“This is being disguised as a protective bill, if you will, that would limit gambling, but in fact ... this is just a precursor bill” to opening the Internet to casino gambling a few years from now, said Chad Hills, Focus on the Family’s gambling analyst, in a Dec. 11 online interview.

The proposal would aid Reid’s home state, Nevada, its opponents contend. The directors of state lotteries are even working to defeat the legislation. Only Nevada is set up to license Internet poker operators, a state lottery defender told the Las Vega Review-Journal. The state directors also argue federal legislation is unneeded, since their lotteries are able to regulate Internet gambling.

Kyl and fellow Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada say they have enough GOP support in the Senate to approve the bill, the Review-Journal reported Dec. 11.

If the bill passes the Senate, it still would face a challenge in the House of Representatives. Rep. Joe Barton, R.-Texas, has introduced a bill to legalize online gambling. Land wrote him in October to ask him to withdraw support for his proposal.

Stop Predatory Gambling (SPG), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that combats government partnerships with gambling, said legalizing online gambling would result in Facebook “casinos” that “would have a devastating impact on America’s children under 18 and deeply worsen the nation’s epidemic of gambling addiction.”

The organization said America’s children are a major target for casino operators seeking the legalization of online gambling. Facebook sees gambling as a significant strategy for the development of new revenue streams, said SPG, citing a July report in the Daily Mail. More than 20 million children under 18, including 7.5 million under 13, use Facebook regularly, according to Consumer Reports, SPG said.

“Legalizing Facebook casinos represents the biggest expansion of casino gambling in history, opening a Las Vegas casino in every home, office, dorm room and smart phone in America, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” according to SPG.

Land told Kyl in his letter, “We know all too well the destructive power of online gambling. It is ruinous not only to those who engage in the practice but also to their families and society as a whole. With its addictive lure, Internet gambling often leads to broken marriages, child neglect, and depleted finances, among other devastating consequences.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
12/13/2012 3:35:23 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay store’s customers find more than Bibles & books

December 13 2012 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

DANVILLE, Va. – Jean Ellis, manager of the LifeWay Christian Store in Danville, Va., beams as she recounts story after story of how God is working through the sales associates at the store to impact their community.

“Let me tell you about the girl from Subway ... oh, and then there was the time....”

Ellis’ excitement bubbles over with each anecdote. Her enthusiasm is understandable – the staff has led seven people to Christ since the store opened four years ago.

Recently, Kate*, a young woman who works at the Subway restaurant a few doors from the LifeWay storefront, came in searching for answers. Struggling with some of life’s tough issues, she thought maybe, just maybe, she might find something in the store that could help her.

Kate made her way to the Bible section where sales associate Mitch Cifers was working. He asked Kate if she needed some assistance. She explained what she’d been going through and said, “I think a Bible might help.”

When customers at LifeWay Christian Stores are searching for answers to life’s challenges, sales associates often find moments to point them to Jesus Christ.

Cifers realized God had opened the door to share how the Bible could help her. “Definitely, the Bible can help you,” he told Kate. “Do you know Who the Bible is about? Let me introduce you to its Author.”

Cifers began to talk about Jesus with Kate. “She had no church background and was completely caught off-guard that someone could love her the way that she was,” the sales associate recounted.

Kate gave her life to Christ that day in the LifeWay store. Cifers then introduced her to Ellis, who was able to talk with her about the issues in her life and pray with her before she left the store.

“It’s awesome to watch the Holy Spirit work through a situation like that,” Cifers said. “She came in the store with such a heaviness in her life, and she left completely transformed. It’s always amazing to see hopelessness turn to hope.”

“Kate has come back to the store numerous times to pore over books as she learns more about her new life if Christ,” Ellis said. “It’s wonderful to see someone who gets it and is growing in her faith. She even brings friends in with her who don’t know Christ.

“God has blessed this store,” Ellis continued. “We are thankful to be a light in our community.”

Ellis explained that many of the people who come to the Danville store are searching for something more than a book or Bible.

“Often we get to the heart of the matter using the Bible training we’ve been given,” Ellis said. “We have a series of questions we ask to help people find the Bible that best fits their needs. If there is a deep spiritual need, that naturally comes out during the course of those questions.”

Cifers, the outreach pastor of a local church, said he’s careful to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as he talks to people about the gospel.

He recounted the story of a young boy named Nicholas. He came into the store with his mother who was looking for a Bible for him. Cifers began asking questions to determine what kind of Bible might be best. The questions led to a discussion of being “born again.”

“I asked him if he knew what it meant to be born again,” Cifers said. “Nicholas said he understood it meant being saved and asking Jesus into your heart. I asked him if he was born again. He said, ‘No, but I would like to be.’“

With the mother’s permission, Cifers explained how he could be born again right then. Cifers, Nicholas and his mother all knelt in the Bible aisle of the LifeWay store and prayed as Nicholas gave his life to the Lord.

“I will never forget the look on this young man’s face,” Ellis said, “as he came around the corner and proceeded to tell me, the other associates and several customers that he had just been saved. We had a tremendous time praising the Lord with our new brother, and the customers in the store were moved to tears.

“It was one of those moments in the hustle and bustle of the busy retail experience when you truly appreciate where you work, and Who you work for,” Ellis said. “We start each day praying we don’t miss opportunities to minister to people. I am so thankful for LifeWay and its ministry to the Danville community.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is editorial manager for the corporate communications team of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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Plush puppies become LifeWay stores’ ministry
12/13/2012 3:27:10 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Plush puppies become LifeWay stores’ ministry

December 13 2012 by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – What started as an idea sparked by a hospitalized child has grown into a “Jesus Loves Me Plush Dog” outreach through LifeWay Christian Stores’ 160 locations nationwide.

Sherry Parnell started the Christmas Plush Donation at the LifeWay store she was managing in Southaven, Miss., outside of Memphis.

But call it her idea, and she is quick to say it was all God – that He spoke to her out of a crisis her family experienced.

In 2006, Parnell’s infant grandson Will was hospitalized during Christmas for a serious illness. A year later, Parnell was thanking the Lord for Will was healthy and wasn’t in the hospital. That’s when the Lord reminded her that other families were experiencing what her family had been through.

Parnell shared her desire to do something for hospitalized children and their families with assistant manager Mary Gowen and other store employees. They decided to encourage their staff and customers to buy the store’s plush bear to give to children spending Christmas at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, where Will had been treated.

On Christmas Eve, Parnell and a few employees went to the hospital and personally delivered 167 bears to all the patients and families on every floor.

The next year more than 200 plush animals were donated. The ministry has grown every year since. Parnell retired in 2011 after more than 24 years with LifeWay Christian Stores.

The Christmas Plush Donation, now a plush puppy, has expanded to all LifeWay Christian Stores, with each location and a local ministry partnering to provide the special gifts for children in need.

Customers can purchase the Jesus Loves Me Plush Dog at LifeWay stores for $5. They come in three different colors, with the words, “Jesus Loves Me,” sewn into their red hats. The plush puppies are then donated to local hospitals, Baptist Children’s Homes and other groups for needy children.

“Expanding this program to the entire chain was an easy choice,” said Scott Chancey, marketing director for LifeWay Christian Stores. “Every year we’ve been amazed at the generosity and support of our customers.”

More than 100 stores worked with nearly as many charities to provide more than 50,000 plush animals last year. Customers also may participate via by purchasing a Christmas plush puppy to be donated to the Front Porch Ministry for at-risk kids in Nashville, where LifeWay’s headquarters are located.

The Christmas Plush Donation has extended to other times throughout the year as store employees and customers alike suggest ministry opportunities to LifeWay.

Mark McMillan, manager of the LifeWay Christian Store in Tallahassee, Fla., said customers donated about 500 plush toys to the local police department to give to children at crime scenes, domestic violence calls and traffic stops.

The plush toys ride along in the patrol cars ready to be given out when a child is separated from parents during a domestic dispute.

“The police give the plush animals to those kids who at no fault of their own are in the middle of a tough situation ... to provide a little comfort when the kids are scared or worried,” McMillan said.

“It’s a great ministry and honor for us to help with these kids through the plush campaign,” he said.

The employees at the Southaven LifeWay store have watched the ministry’s outreach grow daily. Opportunities to partner with churches, ministries and community organizations have “just snowballed,” Mary Gowen said. “We have been blown away by the generosity of our customers.”

“People driving by the Southaven store may see only a business, but its faithful customers and employees know it is truly a ministry,” said Mick Houston, LifeWay’s director of store operations. Whether through the Christmas Plush Donation program or other avenues of service, Houston noted, “Every day there are opportunities to share hope and encouragement to anyone who walks through the door.”

“I love the people. I love serving the Lord,” Gowen said. “This is my ministry. ... There’s nothing more satisfying than telling someone about Jesus or helping them find their first Bible.”

Parnell agreed, “There are so many needs and so many people ... who have never heard the gospel. And if you get a chance to plant a seed, then why not? We can easily miss opportunities, but if we’re attentive to them we can find ways to minister to people.”

Local store contact information is located online at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jon D. Wilke is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

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LifeWay store’s customers find more than Bibles & books
12/13/2012 3:21:55 PM by Jon D. Wilke, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey: Pastors value Cooperative Program

December 12 2012 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Southern Baptist pastors have high opinions of the convention’s Cooperative Program (CP), according to a study conducted by LifeWay Research.

The survey of 1,066 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) pastors found 81 percent agree the Cooperative Program fuels an aggressive global enterprise of reaching the unreached people groups around the world. Similarly, 80 percent say the Cooperative Program provides partnership opportunities for local, state and national missions.

The study also indicates that pastors’ support for the Cooperative Program does have its limits. One in five pastors (19 percent) say the strategies of the SBC entities that receive Cooperative Program dollars are not moving in the appropriate direction and that SBC entities are not using their contributions effectively. However, the majority (55 percent) agrees the SBC entities supported by the Cooperative Program are moving in an appropriate direction. And 52 percent say the entities are using their contributions effectively.

Seventy-three percent of pastors say the Cooperative Program supports the ministries and missions valued by their churches.

“As pastors question every dollar they spend, it is not surprising that some are wanting evidence they are being good stewards with their mission dollars,” said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. This study shows pastors believe the efforts supported by the Cooperative Program matter. However, “some do not overlook the need for further ministry improvement in the efforts of the SBC entities supported by the Cooperative Program.”

Cooperative Program allocations

Southern Baptist pastors also indicated how closely they agree with the current allocation of national Cooperative Program funds. The median responses for the entities – International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), six SBC seminaries, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and SBC operating budget – were all within 0.3 percent of the current allocations, which pastors were shown as they answered.

About one in five pastors entered amounts exactly matching current percentage allocations. A majority listed higher percentages for NAMB and at least half listed lower percentages for IMB, SBC seminaries and SBC operating budget.

“Pastors’ opinions on CP allocations are remarkably similar,” McConnell said. “Even when comparing mean percentages, which can be swayed by those wanting large changes, the responses have not changed significantly from a survey of pastors completed in early 2008 for the Executive Committee.

“Both the earlier survey and this study show mean percentages within 1 percent of the current allocations for IMB, ERLC and the SBC operating budget,” McConnell said. “Another similarity is both surveys show preferences for a slightly higher allocation for NAMB and lower allocation for SBC seminaries.”

Nearly 70 percent agreed with the statement, “The SBC allocation budget places a high priority on penetrating lostness both locally and worldwide.”

Ministry priorities

Pastors also were asked to indicate the priority their church places on 12 missions and ministry efforts funded by the Cooperative Program. The majority of pastors indicate “sending and supporting overseas missionaries to reach unreached people groups around the world” is the highest priority. Almost 70 percent of pastors rate it essential or a high priority, and it is the only ministry effort that less than 10 percent of pastors rate a low priority or not a priority.

Following is the percentage of SBC pastors who rated each CP-funded mission and ministry as essential or high priority:
  • Sending and supporting overseas missionaries – 68 percent
  • Engaging in local ministry projects for evangelism – 65 percent
  • Developing and implementing an evangelism strategy for penetrating lostness in North America – 59 percent
  • Improving the vitality and health of existing churches – 59 percent
  • Educating and training future pastors, missionaries, church planters and other denominational leaders – 57 percent
  • Reaching ethnically and culturally diverse people – 51 percent
  • Promoting an ongoing program of missions education for all ages – 48 percent
  • Engaging in direct international missions – 45 percent
  • Conducting an ongoing program of leadership development – 45 percent
  • Intentional church planting in cities and towns across North America – 44 percent
  • Intentional church planting in large urban centers – 43 percent
  • Providing a Christian perspective and response about social, ethical and public policy issues – 37 percent
“International missions is clearly a rallying point for the Cooperative Program, yet pastors also place a high priority on evangelism efforts in North America,” McConnell said.

Statistical differences

Significant statistical differences emerged among pastors based on average weekly worship attendance and age. Older pastors are more likely to support the Cooperative Program and place a higher value on the ministries it supports.

Older pastors, 55-64 (57 percent) and 65-plus (60 percent), are more likely to indicate the entities use their Cooperative Program contributions effectively, compared to younger pastors, 18-44 (45 percent) and 45-54 (48 percent). Older pastors also are more likely than younger pastors to say the Cooperative Program supports SBC ministries and missions their church values: 65-plus (80 percent), 55-64 (77 percent), 45-54 (69 percent) and 18-44 (68 percent).

Pastors age 65 and over are the most likely to say improving the vitality and health of existing churches (41 percent) and developing an evangelism strategy for North America are essential (38 percent).

Nearly 50 percent of 65-plus pastors say planting in North America’s urban centers is a high priority or essential, compared to 40 percent of pastors age 18-44.

In regard to sending and supporting overseas missionaries, larger churches, with average attendance of 100-249 (42 percent) and 250-plus (47 percent), are more likely to say it is a high priority compared to smaller churches, 0-49 (33 percent) and 50-99 (29 percent).

When asked about engaging in direct international missions projects, differences mainly emerged according to church size. Churches with an average attendance of 0-49 (16 percent) are the most likely to select “not a priority.” Churches with 250-plus attendees (53 percent) are the most likely to say it is a “high priority” while those with 0-49 attendees (17 percent) are the least likely to say so.

Church contributions through CP

LifeWay Research also asked pastors about the decision their churches made regarding contributions to the Cooperative Program in the most recent budget process. The vast majority of churches (81 percent) decided to keep their CP giving the same as last year. Nearly twice as many churches raised their contribution (11 percent) as decreased it (6 percent). Three percent said their church does not contribute to the CP.

Of the 177 churches making a change in their giving to the Cooperative Program, 41 percent increased it by less than 2 percentage points; 22 percent increased it by more than 2 percentage points. Ten percent of churches decreased their contribution by less than 2 percentage points while 26 percent decreased their contribution by more than 2 percentage points.

The final question on the survey referred to the “1% CP Challenge,” an effort by the SBC Executive Committee to encourage all Southern Baptist churches to raise their Cooperative Program contributions by 1 percentage point of their church’s undesignated contributions. Nearly 40 percent of pastors had not heard of the 1% CP Challenge. Another 42 percent said they have not accepted the challenge.

Only 7 percent of pastors said their church had accepted the 1% CP Challenge with another 8 percent planning to do so in the next budget year.

Methodology: The survey of 1,066 SBC pastors was conducted April 1–May 11, 2012. Surveys were mailed to the senior pastor with the option of completing the survey online. The mailing list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of all Southern Baptist churches (7,000 in the South and 1,000 each in the Northeast, West and Midwest). Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution and worship attendance of the churches. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.0 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is editorial manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE, journal of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.)

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1% CP Challenge has $100M potential
ANALYSIS: Survey shows CP legacy, challenges
12/12/2012 3:00:40 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

1% CP Challenge has $100M potential

December 12 2012 by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The 1% CP Challenge is “a succinct way to do something more – an understandable way to say, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’“ said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee. “It is understandable, is easily acted upon, and can be done without shifting major sections of a church’s finances.”

According to a new survey focused on the Cooperative Program (CP) by LifeWay Research, 7 percent of cooperating Southern Baptist churches reported they had accepted the 1% CP Challenge to raise CP in their budgets by 1 percentage point. An additional 8 percent of pastors indicated they plan to lead their churches to accept the 1% CP Challenge in the coming year. The survey was taken in May.

“The Cooperative Program is not a reservoir that we hold; it’s money that we send through the CP to missions and ministries,” Page said. “It’s exciting to see new pastors, younger pastors, ethnic pastors, Anglo pastors, say, ‘You know, it’s time to put more emphasis on the Cooperative Program.’”

Following his election as Southern Baptist Convention president in June, Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, joined Page in challenging messengers to the state Baptist convention annual meetings to accept the 1% CP Challenge. This past fall, a number of state conventions embraced the theme of the 1% CP Challenge, making it a focal point at their annual meetings.

If every cooperating Southern Baptist church raised its contributions through the Cooperative Program by 1 percentage point of their budgets, the resulting CP gifts would increase by nearly $100 million dollars in a single year.

This would allow state conventions to make a greater impact on lostness in their respective states. It would give the North American Mission Board greater flexibility in its Send North America church planting initiative. It would allow the International Mission Board to keep a larger number of missionaries on the field. It would allow our seminaries to explore new delivery systems for ministerial training and graduate theological education to make an even greater impact on training pastors and church leaders for effective service.

Simply put, the 1% CP Challenge has the potential to be the rising tide that raises all the ministry boats supported by churches in their states, in the nation and throughout the world.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee and executive editor of its journal, SBC LIFE, where this article first appeared.)

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12/12/2012 2:48:39 PM by Roger S. Oldham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor braves triathlon for bivocational pastors

December 12 2012 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

PANAMA CITY, Fla. – Tim Dowdy had been in training for more than a year when he looked out over the Gulf of Mexico, ready to brave it for a swim.

Members of the church where Dowdy is pastor, Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., had joined him on the beach to cheer him on.

The waves were choppier and the water colder than expected, and he was about to swim farther than he ever had.

A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and a marathon run would put Dowdy’s mind and body to the test for nearly 15 hours.

It would be a meaningful feat, no matter his reason for doing it.

But Dowdy wasn’t staring at the expanse of water just to prove he could finish the 140-mile Ironman Florida triathlon on Nov. 3. The 51-year-old pastor and his 25-year-old son Micah were in Panama City sending a message to Southern Baptist bivocational pastors.

Photo by Adam Miller

Tim Dowdy, pastor of Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., swam, cycled and ran in the 140-mile Ironman Florida triathlon in honor of Southern Baptist bivocational pastors.

“The water’s a little chilly today, but it’s warm outside so hopefully they’ll balance each other out,” Dowdy said as the crowd of competitors gathered at the start gate. “Bivocational pastors, this is for you. I hope you’re praying for me. I’m going to float on the prayers of people today. Thanks for all that you’re doing.”

Iron Men of the SBC

Early last year, as then-chairman of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) trustees, Dowdy was inspired by NAMB’s goal of a net gain of 5,000 congregations by 2022.

He was also struck by the reality that it would require many more pastors – and many would need to balance their ministry with a money-making career and a family in order to start churches in areas where expenses are high and congregations could be small.

“I had done a couple of races and a short triathlon and at the same time I was meeting all these bivocational pastors,” Dowdy recounted. “I saw the correlation. I got to hear some of their stories and thought, ‘These guys are the real Iron Men.’”

During the 2012 SBC annual meeting in New Orleans, NAMB President Kevin Ezell emphasized the need for bivocational pastors in penetrating lostness in North America with the gospel.

“[It’s] going to have to be with the help of bivocational pastors because there’s no way possible to completely fund missions work full time without your impact,” Ezell said at a luncheon to honor bivocational pastors.

On average, the SBC loses more than 900 congregations every year. To counter this trend and achieve a 3 percent increase in the SBC church-to-population ratio, it will require bivocational pastors to plant churches.

As part of its long-term emphasis on bivocational pastors, NAMB’s Send North America strategy includes a support network, resources and educational opportunities for these “Iron Men of the SBC.”

Going the distance

A few hundred yards into the Gulf, Dowdy experienced what everybody had warned about in competing with 3,000 other swimmers. He’d never raced with that many people.

“I was kicked in the teeth and elbowed, and people were getting sick in the water,” Dowdy said. “‘Wow,’ I remember thinking. ‘This could be over sooner than I thought.’”

A year of 5 a.m. pool swims hadn’t fully prepared him for the challenge. Then he focused, one freestyle stroke after another, a kick in the head, an elbow to the face, and after nearly two hours of swimming he was on the beach racing toward his bike and dry clothes.

He wiped the sand from his feet, changed, clipped into his pedals and was off into the rising temperatures for 112 miles of flat city streets.

“You never get to stop pedaling,” Dowdy said.

Though he’d trained extensively, Dowdy had never actually covered the full mileage required of an Ironman triathlete. The distances of each event by themselves require absolute determination. When grouped together in one day, they require the discipline of proper pacing and an iron will.

Dowdy said there was a third element that helped see him through the day.

“I realized you need encouragement from other people,” he said. “You could probably do it by yourself and I’m sure there were guys out there who drove down by themselves, raced by themselves and drove themselves home.

“But it makes a huge difference to have people encourage you – both people who are running it with you and people cheering from the sidelines.”

A person’s body can just lock up and say, “No more,” Dowdy said. His son Micah, in fact, had completed an Ironman distance race in North Carolina last year but was unable to finish this year because of a bacterial infection that cropped up and took him out of the competition after mile 19 of the marathon.

Still, Dowdy said, completing an Ironman is so much easier than living as a bivocational pastor.

“It was hard and there were a lot of early mornings and late nights of training,” he said. “But when I think of the day-in, day-out balancing act bivocational pastors endure, I remember that a triathlon only hints at what these guys experience in their ministries.”

After 140 miles, 14 hours and 47 minutes, of swimming, biking and running, Dowdy crossed the finish line of Ironman Florida.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board.)

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Guest Column: Seeing the connections

12/12/2012 2:34:13 PM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Beijing’s masses keen for relationships

December 12 2012 by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s theme for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to Beijing is the focus of the 2012 International Mission Study (

BEIJING – Beijing is an urban center peopled by the rich, politically privileged – and utterly poor.

Outwardly, it’s strikingly modern with its Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium and rapidly expanding state-of-the-art subway system. It’s ancient, too, with the Forbidden City of Imperial China at its heart. It’s blatantly communist with the Soviet-styled Great Hall of the People set in the city center – yet capitalist with posh shopping areas shimmering with luxury designer goods nearby.
It’s also a magnet, drawing people from throughout the country as they flow in from provinces seeking employment and a better life. Thomas*, a Christian worker in Beijing, sees the drawing power of the capital city as a strategic place for reaching into China’s provinces with the gospel message.

“Beijing is a city that breathes people,” Thomas reflects. “Every day hundreds of thousands of people travel in and out of the city. At peak times there are more than a million travelers per day. Some stay only a few days, yet others stay much longer.

BP photo

This Beijing train station is the entryway to the capital city for many. Fully one-third of the 20 million residents are from somewhere else, drawn here hoping for employment, education and a better life. Christian workers look for outreach opportunities in various facets of their lives. View the photo gallery.

“A few who come are already Christians from two strong Christian areas of China – Henan and Anhui. Most are not and know more about Coca-Cola than Christ,” Thomas continues. “Whether they come as tourists, on business or looking for some kind of employment, we want all who enter the capital of the Middle Kingdom to learn of the eternal Kingdom and the Emperor who died on a cross for them,” Thomas says.

Unprecedented growth

When Beijing’s population hit 19 million in late 2009, it had already surpassed the government’s target to keep the capital’s population below 18 million until the year 2020. Government officials are searching for ways to slow the city’s growth, as infrastructure can’t keep up with the surging population, which has now reached more than 20 million.

“The size of Beijing doesn’t intimidate me,” Thomas says. “It’s not a mass of humanity. You learn to read it socio-demographically ... once you get above a million, it doesn’t really make a difference. You look at where you have the relationships.”

China is riding the same wave of urbanization as the rest of the globe. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 nearly 70 percent of the world’s 10 billion people will be living in cities, up from only 30 percent living in cities in 1950. A similar scenario is occurring in China but – as in its economic and industrial development – at a much more rapid pace.

As recently as 1980, less than 20 percent of China’s population lived in cities. In the ’80s, Chinese citizens were generally assigned to “work units” and the central government largely restricted their movements. Opportunities for work in cities nevertheless beckoned and even in the mid-’80s a significant percentage of temporary workers ventured to cities such as Beijing. With China’s meteoric economic development of recent decades, that “floating population” has increased in the capital and in other cities in China. By the end of 2011, half of China’s population was living in cities.

“You have a lot of advantages [as a Christian worker] in the city,” Thomas says, noting that relationships in urban environments are built through mutual interests rather than proximity.

Effective witnesses

“In some ways it is very natural,” Thomas says. “In some ways, the bigger the city, the better your odds of finding somebody with similar interests. In the city you can’t share with everybody. It’s not practical and not effective. You find points of common interest. You build relationships. The gospel spreads along relational lines.

“So when I look at the city I don’t see the masses of people,” he says. “It’s easy to start seeing the pockets. Where do you start in a city? Wherever your relationships take you.”

For Thomas, this occurs through training others to be effective witnesses. For others it may be connecting with subcultures of artists or musicians.

Change has come to China at such a blistering pace that it is hard to know what is next. Thomas points out that in the Book of Acts, God used persecution to scatter the church. Likewise, he suggests, “God is using economic migration to bring the lost to the church [in the city].

“Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘when China awakes, the world will tremble.’ In the sovereignty of God, as countries rise and fall, God is bringing China to the center stage of world history,” Thomas says. “It’s not a question of ‘Will China rise?’ It’s a question of ‘What kind of China will it be?’

“Those fields of harvest are rice paddies. They’re longing for the gospel. And they’re coming to us, even here in the city.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contributing writer Elaine Gaston provided this story for the International Mission Board. Download related videos at

Related story

Beijing’s young adults become U.S. couple’s focus of outreach

12/12/2012 2:17:25 PM by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Beijing’s young adults become U.S. couple’s focus of outreach

December 12 2012 by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s theme for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to Beijing is the focus of the 2012 International Mission Study (

BEIJING – When Steve* was diagnosed with prostate cancer just before he and his wife Lisa* were planning to move to China, some friends took it as a sign.
“People [said], ‘I guess you are not supposed to be going overseas,’” Steve recalled. “I said, ‘No, I think I am just getting a tune-up here.’” Treatment for the illness caused a year’s delay in their plans, but it didn’t deter the middle-aged couple.

At a time when most of their generation are deciding where to settle for their golden years, Steve and Lisa saw these years as a golden opportunity. During an earlier visit with friends who work in another part of China, Steve and Lisa opened their hearts to the idea of sharing Jesus Christ in China as well.

“Every day we just saw the Lord doing things. So halfway through the trip we said we ought to check this out,” Steve said. It was a longer road to the field than they expected. Before they landed in Beijing, Steve completed a seminary degree as well as his cancer treatment.

“We can see that that whole year was all part of the plan,” Steve said. “We were in a whole different place when that year was over.”

God has used them from the very start, bringing a variety of young people into their lives before they even acquired language skills. They led several to the Lord, and by the time they’d been in Beijing a year, they were discipling a number of young adults. All had come from other provinces in search of employment.

While these relationships fuel Steve and Lisa’s enthusiasm, there also are plenty of challenges in their life, perhaps the most daunting being language learning.

“Language at our age is really hard,” Lisa said. “I took Latin in high school because I wouldn’t have to speak it. I didn’t take [a language] in college.”

They invest the time to learn Chinese knowing God will open even more doors for them to be His heart, hands and voice when they can communicate in the heart language of those around them.

“The encouraging thing is that I [study so much] and feel like I am just struggling and not doing well. But, you know what? However I butcher this language, God is using us. And He is bringing people to us,” Lisa said. “So having these relationships has made the struggle of language worth it.”

It’s interesting that the Lord has brought young people into their lives rather than people of their own generation. Lisa points out that these are young people precisely the ages of their own children in the U.S., from whom they are so far away.

“It’s not us,” Lisa said. “God is preparing people and putting them in our path. And it’s just amazing. It’s just amazing.”

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contributing writer Elaine Gaston provided this story for International Mission Board.)

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Beijing’s masses keen for relationships
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12/12/2012 2:03:24 PM by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Northwest Baptists reduce executive board

December 11 2012 by Cameron Crabtree, Baptist Press

PORTLAND, Ore. – Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) messengers reduced the size of the executive board and approved a $5 million budget that increases funding for new churches.

With the theme “Making, Marking & Maturing Disciples,” the convention’s 65th annual gathering drew 313 messengers and more than 40 visitors Nov. 13-14 at the Embassy Suites Airport in Portland.

Steve Schenewerk, pastor of Community Baptist Church in Winston, Ore., was re-elected as president, along with two new officers: first vice president, Dale Jenkins, pastor of Airway Heights Baptist Church in Washington, and second vice president, Michael Brownell, pastor of Pine Street Baptist Church in Othello, Wash. All were elected by acclamation.

The $5 million budget for 2013 anticipates $2,840,000 in Cooperative Program (CP) gifts from Northwest churches. The CP gifts comprise 56.3 percent of the spending plan.

Additional revenue for the overall 2013 NWBC budget includes more than $1,729,000 from the North American Mission Board, nearly $64,000 from LifeWay Christian Resources and another $407,000 from the convention’s regional offering and other sources.

While the 2013 budget is roughly 1 percent lower than the current year, it increases by 0.5 percent the amount of CP funds forwarded to the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will receive 27 percent ($766,800) of NWBC CP funds, while state ministries will receive about 67 percent ($1,894,400). The convention does not set aside shared expenses.

The roughly 6 percent ($178,800) of the remaining CP portion of the budget will support the Pacific Northwest Campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Vancouver, Wash.

Messengers also approved a $140,000 goal for the convention’s regional mission offering in 2013. Gifts to the Sylva Wilson Mission Offering, named in memory of one of the Northwest’s early Woman’s Missionary Union leaders, will be allocated evenly between church planting efforts and leadership development ministries.

Messengers amended the constitution and bylaws to reduce the size of the convention’s executive board from 36 elected members to 20.

“A smaller board is more easily engaged,” Schenewerk said in affirming the constitution committee’s proposal. During discussions of the proposed change in board committees over the last several months, board members indicated support for the change, saying the board is too large for individual members to participate in meaningful ways.

The change also eliminates the president of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) – currently Laura Harper of Seattle – as an ex officio member of the board. A move during the business session to retain the WMU position on the board was withdrawn after officials pointed out it could result in current NWBC staff member Brian Harper losing his post, since the constitution prohibits the convention from employing a board member’s spouse.

“Let me encourage you to take a longer look at this,” Nancy Hall, a member of First Baptist Church in Beaverton, Ore., and a former Northwest WMU president, said. “We consider it to be a great privilege to be in partnership with the Northwest Baptist Convention.”

After additional questions and conflicting parliamentary rulings, the reduction in board size and elimination of the WMU position on the board was approved on a voice vote. Officials pledged to reconsider the WMU-related matter and report back to next year’s convention.

The change also eliminated specification of committees for the board’s work. For years, the board achieved its work through three committees: administrative, finance and program. Officials indicated their desire to align the work of the board’s committees more closely with the assignments and priorities of the convention’s work.

“This gives us the flexibility to appoint committees that relate to the work we’re actually doing,” said Schenewerk.

Messengers approved five resolutions. Among them were statements affirming a focus on gospel impact among local churches, expressing appreciation for the service of retiring executive director Bill Crews, pledging prayer support for the NWBC executive director search committee and support for men and women serving in uniform.

In other business, messengers heard reports from various entities related to the NWBC. No new members were elected to the executive board during the nominating committee’s report. The current 24 members with terms expiring in 2013, 2014 and 2015 were elected for service. Officials did not specify how or when the board would meet the new requirement of 20 elected members that will take effect.

The Northwest Baptist Historical Society presented its annual Heritage Awards to two couples: Frank and Betty Jo Barnes and Bill and Jo Ann Crews.

In what was expected to be his last message as executive director, Crews urged church leaders to renew a passion for evangelism, church planting and “whatever it takes” to reach people in the Northwest.

“Despite our growth as Northwest Baptists, our impact is smaller than it was when we started,” Crews said. “This world needs to be changed. Your community needs to be changed. The way it is going to be changed is through Jesus.

“God has committed that to our hands and given us a ministry of reconciliation,” Crews said. “It’s not the things we can do, but what God did. We need to do whatever it takes to reach those around us.”

During his presidential message, Schenewerk emphasized the basics of ministry regardless of style or form: “Our structures look different, reflecting the unique culture we are trying to reach. The foundation on which my grandparents started churches is the same then as now. The same gospel was preached then as now. They didn’t look like the churches we have today, but the foundation was the same.”

Schenewerk asked messengers to “recommit with me to ensure the foundation of our lives as leaders remains solid. Will you recommit with me as the NWBC moves forward to do our utmost to ensure our foundation does not change?”

Next year’s annual meeting of the Northwest Baptist Witness will be Nov. 12-13 in Yakima, Wash.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cameron Crabtree is editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention.)
12/11/2012 3:45:57 PM by Cameron Crabtree, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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