December 2017

Gospel parenting prime topic for ERLC in 2017

December 22 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Applying the gospel of Jesus to parenting received significant attention from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) during 2017.
The ERLC dedicated its annual national conference to Christ-centered parenting and developed curriculum on the same subject during the year. The other issues that marked the entity’s work included religious liberty, racial reconciliation and the sanctity of human life.

Photo by Kelly Hunter
Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of The Jesus Storybook Bible, answers questions on parenting from Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during the Southern Baptist entity’s national conference in August.

At the national conference in August, ERLC President Russell Moore said parenting is about cross bearing.
“A cross-shaped parenting means our children are going to understand our goal for them is not that they be successful or impressive the way the world defines it,” Moore said. “Our goal for them is that they would be like us – crucified with Christ and therefore alive with the presence of God forever.”
Here are 10 key news topics involving the ERLC in 2017:

National conference addresses Christ-centered parenting

The ERLC’s fourth annual national conference – “Parenting: Christ-centered Parenting in a Complex Word” – attracted about 1,300 attendees. Speakers at the three-day event in August called parents to rely on the gospel, exercise grace-powered effort and become the people they want their children to be like.

ERLC, LifeWay offer studies on parenting, religious liberty

The ERLC collaborated with LifeWay Christian Resources to produce two small group studies – one on parenting and the other on religious liberty. The six-part studies feature videos of various speakers addressing the gospel’s application to both topics.

ERLC, Focus on the Family again host Evangelicals for Life

More than 50 speakers addressed abortion and other issues regarding the sanctity of human life during the second Evangelicals for Life conference co-hosted by the ERLC and Focus on the Family in January. Participants joined tens of thousands of others for the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., during the conference.

Southern Baptist Convention leaders condemn racism, call for prayer after Charlottesville

Moore and other Southern Baptist leaders repudiated racism and urged prayer after an August rally sponsored by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., resulted in violence and death. The protest and counter-protest came two months after messengers to the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting passed a resolution condemning “alt-right white supremacy.”

Supreme Court supports church in public benefits case

Religious freedom advocates gained a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court when the justices voted 7-2 in June for the right of a church to participate in government programs with secular purposes. The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo.

President Trump delivers pro-life victories

President Donald Trump acted to restore pro-life policies rescinded by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. Among his actions, Trump reinstated a ban on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas and withheld money for a United Nations family planning agency linked to China’s coercive population control program.

Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee, confirmed to high court

The U.S. Senate voted 54-45 in April to confirm Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scala 14 months earlier. Moore commended Gorsuch and his confirmation.

Administration protects objectors to abortion/contraception mandate

The Trump administration provided a major conscience-rights win for Southern Baptists and others in October by issuing new rules to protect employers who object to the abortion/contraception mandate implemented by Obama. A federal judge blocked enforcement of the rules in December, however, with a nationwide injunction.

High court considers vital religious liberty case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in December in an appeal by a Colorado cake artist who was penalized by the state for refusing to design a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Jack Phillips in what appears to be a pivotal religious freedom case.

ERLC joins successful effort to restore adoption tax credit

The ERLC joined other adoption and pro-life advocates to urge Republicans to restore the adoption tax credit in their tax reform legislation. In response, congressional leaders inserted the longstanding benefit for adoptive parents in the proposal.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/22/2017 10:32:12 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay celebrates new headquarters in Nashville

December 22 2017 by LifeWay staff

For LifeWay Christian Resources, 2017 marked a historic move and the launch of several new resources and services to meet the needs of churches in a rapidly changing culture.
In November, LifeWay moved into its new Nashville headquarters celebrating with a dedication ceremony.

Photo by Katie Shull, LifeWay
LifeWay Christian Resources employees gather for an inaugural chapel service in their new headquarters, with President Thom S. Rainer chronicling the Southern Baptist entity’s history and looking toward the future.

At the same time, LifeWay opened a new store in downtown Nashville, returning a retail presence to a community where LifeWay Christian Store had been a fixture for decades.
Earlier in 2017, LifeWay released the Christian Standard Bible, a newly revised Bible translation designed to bring the timeless Word of God to contemporary readers.
“There will never be a time we are not changing,” LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer told trustees in August. “We are choosing to move forward in an exciting and promising way.”

Other highlights of 2017:

LifeWay’s first Global Summit drew leaders from around the world to discuss outreach to the nations. LifeWay now reaches 163 countries with print and digital resources, with offices or representatives in China, India, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Guatemala.
B&H Publishing celebrated the life and legacy of 19th-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon with the release of several resources, including the CSB Spurgeon Study Bible, with Spurgeon’s sermon outlines and notes; Steal Away Home, the story of Spurgeon’s unlikely friendship with a former slave; and the first two volumes of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, a multivolume set that will be completed in 2021. In August, B&H hosted the first-ever Charles Spurgeon Conference at Spurgeon’s College in London.
Other new LifeWay resources to help believers and the church include “Pray Like This: Living the Lord’s Prayer,” a six-session Bible study created in partnership with Southern Baptist Convention president Steve Gaines, and “Authentic Love,” a new True Love Waits Bible study for teens.
At its retail stores, LifeWay began a nationwide series of hands-on workshops, focused on such topics as Bible study, Bible journaling and apologetics.
And online, LifeWay launched services to help Christians navigate an increasingly digital world. TwentyTwoSix Parenting, an online resource named after Proverbs 22:6, started in June to help busy parents disciple their children. LifeWay Social, an online coaching service to help Christians manage social media from a biblical perspective, joined the lineup in October.
As the nation reeled from natural disasters, LifeWay offered support. After Hurricane Harvey, LifeWay sent Bibles and study materials to Texas to replace those lost to the storm. Through World Changers, LifeWay also helped people in need of ordinary home repairs.
In September, LifeWay partnered with Getty Music for the inaugural Sing! conference in Nashville, featuring songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty. More than 4,000 pastors, music leaders and musicians attended. Other LifeWay events drawing hundreds or thousands of participants in 2017 included the ETCH family ministry conference in October; LifeWay’s second Pipeline conference in October; and the Women’s Leadership Forum in November.
Also in May, Forbes magazine named LifeWay one of the nation’s top 300 midsize employers, based on an independent survey of 30,000 workers at large or midsize firms nationwide.

LifeWay Research

Troubled by research showing around 65 percent of Southern Baptist churches are stalled or shrinking, LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer partnered with the North American Mission Board this year to launch With testimonies, resources and research, the website emphasizes encouraging Christians to share their faith. Visitors can receive a free e-book, “Rainer on Evangelism.”
LifeWay Research surveyed thousands of pastors, Christians and Americans this year on a wide range of topics. Among the studies released by LifeWay Research in 2017:
Young Bible readers more likely to be faithful adults
Most churchgoing Protestant parents of young adults say their kids grew up to be Christians – but half of them don’t actually practice their faith, the study showed. The biggest factor predicting their spiritual health as young adults is whether they read the Bible regularly as kids. The survey is highlighted in the book “Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith,” released Oct. 2.
Evangelical label, beliefs often at odds
About a quarter of Americans say they are evangelical Christians but fewer than half of those who identify as evangelicals strongly agree with core evangelical beliefs, according to the study. And a significant number of evangelical believers reject the term “evangelical.”
Pastors’ spouses experience mixed blessings
Most spouses of Protestant pastors feel a call to ministry and enjoy their roles inside and outside the church, the study showed. But many also have few friends, think they yell at their kids too much and worry about money.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by the communications staff of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/22/2017 10:31:18 AM by LifeWay staff | with 0 comments

‘Game On!’: VBS previews slated by LifeWay in January

December 22 2017 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

As football begins to wrap up for the year, sports enthusiasts need not despair. The season for Smocket is right around the corner.
Smocket (a made-up competition) is featured in “Game On!” – the 2018 Vacation Bible School (VBS) theme from LifeWay Christian Resources.

LifeWay photo
In the Creative Zone at this year’s VBS preview days, participants can try their hands at crafts for the 2018 theme “Game On!”

In January, several thousand children’s ministry workers will get an introduction to Smocket and other Game On! content at one of LifeWay’s six 2018 VBS previews.
“These events offer a chance for church leaders and volunteers to get started early because VBS season comes fast,” said Melita Thomas, VBS and kids ministry specialist for LifeWay Kids.
“For many churches, VBS is a priority because it’s the number one way they reach their community,” Thomas said. “There’s a causal relationship between training and professions of faith. When people are intentional about VBS and want to improve their effectiveness, you often see the results.”
Thomas will be among nearly two dozen LifeWay VBS experts at the 2018 previews to provide an insider’s look at this year’s theme and content.
The first VBS preview will be at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, N.C., Jan. 5-6, followed by events in Fort Worth, Texas, at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Jan. 12-13; Houston, Texas, at Sugar Creek Baptist Church, Jan. 19-20; and three events in the Nashville area at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Jan. 25-27.
Live demonstrations will be a new feature in the Creative Zone this year, said Andy Dukes, events coordinator for LifeWay Kids. “Attendees can construct crafts, make snacks, check out sets and ask questions of the creators of LifeWay’s VBS.”
At the creative zones, attendees can touch and see every Gave On! VBS product; preview music and videos; and get personalized help from LifeWay’s VBS geek squad.
“Attending one of these events allows you to hone your VBS skills, perfect your craft and get a feel for what’s coming,” Thomas said. “It’s a chance to come with your whole team and build camaraderie – and to see what’s possible and get inspiration.”
Each preview event will offer more than 30 breakout sessions, including classes titled, “Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry,” “Decorating for an All-Star VBS on a Dollar Store Budget” and “See You Next Year or See You Next Sunday?” – a session designed to help churches leverage VBS momentum to increase Sunday morning attendance.
For further information or registration sign-up for the 2018 VBS preview events, go to or call LifeWay’s events registration line at 1-800-254-2022.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/22/2017 10:30:52 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

20 states boost Cooperative Program sending to SBC causes

December 21 2017 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptists approved the most dramatic increase in the portion of Cooperative Program (CP) receipts to be sent beyond the state next year, moving from a 78/22 split to retaining 68 percent for in-state use and sending 32 percent for distribution to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) missions and ministries.

Photo from Facebook
More than 1,300 messengers from around the state of Florida gathered at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., for the 2017 annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention.

Simultaneously increasing their budget by seven percent, the huge leap to giving 32 percent of anticipated CP gifts of $544,000 to SBC causes follows seven years of keeping a pledge to increase the amount by a half percent annually from 2011-2014, then increasing the pace four years ago.
Two other state conventions – Maryland/Delaware and Alabama reported significant increases of 4.44 and 4 percent, respectively. Several others ended a practice of prioritizing what they call “shared ministries,” increasing the likelihood that more of their undesignated CP gifts from local churches will make it to the ends of the earth. Ultimately, that priority depends on whether the Southern Baptist churches within that state convention are more generous in their giving to the Cooperative Program beyond the average of 5.16 percent that most churches budget.
In their 182nd annual meeting, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCMD) messengers increased CP funding allocation for the SBC from 43.5 percent to 48 percent, with plans to reach a goal of 51 percent by 2020.
BCMD General Mission Board President Curtis Hill said there was a desire to “move the needle higher this year.”
In Alabama, the withdrawal of Samford University from state convention funding freed up $3.5 million and was combined with the $3 million reduction in the Alabama Baptist Convention budget to allow messengers to reach the goal of a 50/50 split more quickly than originally planned.
The Alabama Baptist Convention joins five other conventions that forward half or more to the Southern Baptist Convention, without a “shared ministry” calculation, including the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (55/45) and Florida (51/49), with Iowa, Nevada and Ohio all at a 50/50 split.

Photo by Philip Timothy/Baptist Message
Louisiana Baptist messengers cast their ballots on various issues during their annual meeting Nov. 13-14.

In addition to Alabama, Maryland-Delaware and Minnesota-Wisconsin, conventions where increases of more than 1 percent will be realized at the national level include Arizona, Arkansas, Dakota, Kansas-Nebraska, New England, Pennsylvania/South Jersey and Tennessee.
State conventions in California, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Utah/Idaho, Baptist General Association of Virginia and West Virginia voted to increase the SBC portion in amounts ranging from .10 to 1 percent.
A few state conventions reported far greater increases to the SBC portion, however, those hikes have little effect once adjustments are made for prioritized “shared ministries” or significant budget reductions.
With 20 states increasing their CP percentage to the SBC, 13 making no change and seven states decreasing that portion, the amount projected to be sent to the SBC is $193,500,000 according to William Townes, vice president for convention finance at the SBC Executive Committee.
Alabama, Michigan and Missouri no longer will include “shared ministry” expenses in their budgets. The portion taken out in 10 states where this is a feature ranges from 1.19 percent in Maryland/Delaware to 18.89 percent in Wyoming. Others keeping priority items in their budget are Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also forward a percentage of their Cooperative Program receipts to the SBC for the SBC allocation budget.
The actual dollar amount of a state convention’s allocation fluctuates annually depending on how well cooperating churches in the state are able to fund their respective budgets.
Each state convention elected officers to leadership for 2018. Those serving as president are:
ALABAMA – John Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pell City;
ALASKA – Bryan Myers, pastor of Faith Baptist Church, Fairbanks;
ARIZONA – Jackie Allen, lead pastor of Palm Vista Baptist Church, Surprise;
ARKANSAS – Greg Sykes, pastor of First Baptist Church, Russellville;
CALIFORNIA – A.B. Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church, Spring Valley;
COLORADO – Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge;
DAKOTAS – Steve Ford, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Vermillion, S.D.;
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – The lack of a quorum prevented messengers from conducting business.
FLORIDA – Stephen Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church, Brandon;
GEORGIA – Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Blackshear;
HAWAII/PACIFIC – Wes Higuchi, a member of Kahului Baptist Church, Maui;
ILLINOIS – Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Country Club Hills;
INDIANA – Bruce Reynolds, pastor of Old Town Baptist church, Muncie;
IOWA – Robert Knight, pastor of New Birth Baptist Church, Ames
KANSAS/NEBRASKA – Derrick Lynch, pastor of Blue Valley Baptist Church, Overland Park, Kan.;
KENTUCKY – Charles Frazier, pastor of Zion’s Cause Baptist Church, Benton;
LOUISIANA – Eddie Wren, pastor of First Baptist Church, Rayville;
MARYLAND/DELAWARE – Michael Trammell, senior pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church, Mt. Airy, Md.;
MICHIGAN – Jerome Taylor, pastor of Eastgate Baptist Church, Burton;
MINNESOTA/WISCONSIN – Jackie Hill, pastor of Roseville Baptist Church, Roseville, Minn.;
MISSISSIPPI – Mark Vincent, senior pastor of Clarke-Venable Baptist Church, Decatur.
MISSOURI – Ken Parker, pastor of First Baptist Church, Kearney;
MONTANA – Lee Merck, pastor of Church of the Rockies in Red Lodge;
NEVADA – Ted Angle, member of Fellowship Community Church, Reno;
NEW ENGLAND – Tim Owen, lead pastor of Mission City Church, Rutland and Castleton, Vt.;
NEW MEXICO – John Hinze, pastor of First Baptist Church, Tucumcari;
NEW YORK – Paul Florez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Nazaret, West New York, N.J.;
NORTH CAROLINA – Lee Pigg, pastor of Hopewell Baptist Church, Monroe, N.C.;
NORTHWEST – Dustin Hall, pastor of Kennewick Baptist Church, Kennewick, Wash.;
OHIO – David Starry, pastor of First Baptist Church, Vandalia;
OKLAHOMA – Joe Ligon, pastor of First Baptist Church, Marlow;
PENNSYLVANIA/SOUTH JERSEY – Kevin Roberts, pastor of Community Baptist Church at Charleroi, Charleroi, Penn.;
SOUTH CAROLINA – Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston;
TENNESSEE – David Leavell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millington;
TEXAS (BGCT) – Danny Reeves, pastor of First Baptist Church, Corsicana;
TEXAS (SBTC) – Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin;
UTAH-IDAHO – Mike McGukin, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Idaho Falls;
VIRGINIA (BGAV) – George Fletcher, retired pastor;
VIRGINIA (SBCV) – Eric Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church, Norfolk;
WEST VIRGINIA – Todd Hill, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Parkersburg, W.Va.;
WYOMING – John Constantine, pastor of Story Community Church, Story.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is associate editor for the Southern Baptist TEXAN,, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

12/21/2017 9:07:26 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

State convention building sales accumulate

December 21 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

At its annual meeting this fall, the Colorado Baptist General Convention (CBGC) announced plans to sell its Denver-area office building and relocate to a smaller facility nearby.
As CBGC executive director Nathan Lorick put it, the convention’s “desire in selling our building is to maximize the reach of our dollars through minimizing our space needs” and “to have our staff be more mobile.”
Those sentiments appear representative of at least eight state conventions that have sold, moved out of or attempted to sell their buildings since 2015. At least 12 of the 42 state conventions that partner with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have taken such actions in the past decade.
Bill Townes, vice president for convention finance with the SBC Executive Committee, told Baptist Press, “While each state decision to sell/relocate their office has unique factors and circumstances, there are probably some common factors.”
Townes noted via email, “As a result of advances in communication, growth of ‘work from anywhere’ situations and reductions in staffing levels, state conventions have had to evaluate their current facility needs in light of the current realities.” In some cases, those realities include a “significant investment [necessary] to maintain aging facilities that may exceed the size needs of the current staff.”
In addition to the Colorado convention, among state conventions to take building-related actions:

  • The Alabama State Board of Missions is scheduled to move into a new facility in January. In 2016 messengers to the Alabama Baptist Convention approved a “key exchange” with the state’s Baptist Health medical organization, in which Baptist Health will receive the previous Board of Missions building in Montgomery and build a new, smaller facility for Alabama Baptists in Prattville.
  • The Wyoming Southern Baptist Mission Network voted this year to sell its 1.46-acre property in Casper, which houses a 7,000-square-foot building. Proceeds from the sale will be used to lease office space of approximately 2,000 square feet.
  • The Florida Baptist Convention closed on the sale of its previous building this year and moved to a new facility.
  • The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board moved into a new building this year after selling its previous facility in 2013 and occupying temporary office space in the interim.
  • The State Convention of Baptists in Indiana sold its Indianapolis office in 2016 and constructed a new facility at the Highland Lakes Baptist Camp.
  • The Baptist Convention of Iowa sold its office building in 2016 and transitioned its staff to a “mobile office” setup.
  • The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) sold its Dallas building to Baylor University in 2015 and moved to a leased facility.
  • The Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC) voted in 2015 to sell its Billings headquarters and relocate to a smaller facility. But after two years on the market “with very little interest and no offers,” said MTSBC executive director Barrett Duke, convention leaders decided it was “more cost-effective to remain in [the current] building, which is paid for, than to sell it and reestablish an office somewhere else.”
  • The State Convention of Baptists in Ohio sold its building, purchased a more modern facility in 2008 and moved into it in 2009.
  • The Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive board voted in 2007 to sell the convention’s building and relocate. But a sale opportunity stalled the following year, and the convention eventually decided to remain in its present facility.
  • The Dakota Baptist Convention sold its building in 2007 and moved to a smaller leased office, with some employees working remotely.


Tech advances

When the Baptist Convention of Iowa sold its building, executive director Tim Lubinus wrote in a blog post, “With the digital revolution, many organizations have already discovered that their office facilities are not being used as they once were.”
Lubinus added that a transition to mobile offices would allow convention staff “to spend more time with churches and pastors, work from home offices and public places and increase the use of digital means of communication and collaboration.”
The Dakota Baptist Convention felt strongly enough about the advantages of telecommuting that its executive board stated last year the convention will not own another building in the foreseeable future, executive director Garvon Golden said.

Staff reductions

In 2000, state conventions employed a cumulative 1,750 staff members, according to 2013 survey data submitted to the SBC Executive Committee (EC) by 32 state conventions. By 2013, that number decreased 22 percent to 1,350 employees. EC President Frank S. Page reported an additional 8 percent decline by 2016.
Such staffing reductions left conventions like those in Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and Texas (BGCT) with more office space than needed.
LifeWay Christian Resources cited a similar excess of space as a factor in the decision to sell its downtown Nashville property and move to a new facility this fall.

Building maintenance costs

The “old building was falling down,” Jack Kwok, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, said of the convention’s previous facility.
Conventions in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee and Texas (BGCT) likewise said building maintenance costs at their old facilities were diverting funds that might have been used for ministry.
“It really did come down to a matter of stewardship and practicality,” said Chris Turner, communications director for the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

More money through the Cooperative Program

When the Florida Baptist Convention sold its building this year, it forwarded 51 percent of proceeds ($3.1 million) to SBC causes through the Cooperative Program (CP) – the same percentage the Florida convention forwards of CP receipts from churches.
The Dakota Baptist Convention invested some $200,000 from its building sale with the Southern Baptist Foundation, saw it grow to $280,000 in a decade and gave 10 percent of that total to SBC CP causes this year, Golden said.

Real estate boom

In some cases, former state convention offices were located in areas experiencing “economic redevelopment” and an accompanying rise in real estate prices, said Townes of the Executive Committee. That gave conventions “a unique opportunity to sell/exchange their facilities at very favorable rates.”
For instance, the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s 40-year-old property in Brentwood, Tenn., sold in 2013 for nearly $9 million. The old Florida Baptist Building in Jacksonville increased in value by more than $5 million over a half century, according to Baptist Press reports.
Likewise, LifeWay experienced a significant increase in the value of its previous facility, and rising real estate values in downtown Nashville were a contributing factor to the SBC’s June 2017 decision to authorize sale of the SBC Building if a favorable offer is made.
Ultimately, however, building sales are not about money, convention leaders say.
BGCT executive director David Hardage appeared to express a sentiment representative of all state convention building transactions when he said in a news release, “It’s more than dollars and cents – it’s about flesh, blood and souls.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/21/2017 9:02:12 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Longest-frozen-embryo baby ‘from the Lord,’ mother says

December 21 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A 26-year-old mother gives all credit to the Lord after she gave birth to a baby girl from a donated embryo frozen more than 24 years, considered a record in cryopreservation births.
“People say it’s science. No, I say it’s purely the Lord,” Tina Gibson told the NBC affiliate WBIR in a Dec. 19 video posted on Facebook. “This is a gift from the Lord for sure.”

NEDC photo
The National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tenn., released this photo of a baby born Nov. 25 from a donated embryo the center said had been frozen for more than 24 years.

The Christian-based National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) in Knoxville, Tenn., announced the birth Dec. 19, noting it as a historical record of the longest-frozen embryo to lead to a healthy birth. Emma was born to Tina and Benjamin Gibson Nov. 25, weighing 6 lbs., 8 ounces and measuring 20 inches long.
“That’s just the kind of God that we serve that He would do something like that for us. It’s just precious,” the mother said. “She’s precious, She’s perfect.”
Benjamin Gibson agreed. “I think she looks pretty perfect to have been frozen all those years ago,” he said in the NEDC press release.
NEDC Medical Director Jeffrey Keenan described Emma’s birth as “a God thing.” He transferred two embryos into Tina Gibson on March 13, he said in the press release, and only one survived, as is typical. The embryo was conceived less than two years after Tina Gibson was born, but was frozen in 1992 and later donated to the NEDC. The NEDC cites a 43 percent national average for pregnancy from donated embryos, and a 35 percent live-birth rate, based on the Centers for Disease Control.
“We hope this story is a clarion call to all couples who have embryos in long-term storage to consider this life-affirming option for their embryos,” Keenan said.
Founded in 2003, the NEDC describes itself at as a nonprofit, faith-based organization “working to protect the lives and dignity of human embryos. … As an organization guided by our religious faith and protected by the Constitution of the United States, the NEDC firmly believes in the sanctity of life beginning at conception and recognizes marriage as a sacred union between man and woman as defined by scriptures of the Holy Bible.”
Christian bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell has applauded the use of frozen, donated embryos to allow infertile couples to give birth, but has cautioned against the creation of surplus embryos.
“I think embryo adoption, generally speaking, is a good thing,” Mitchell said in the November 2016 issue of Focus on the Family’s Citizen magazine. But “while I favor the attempts to rescue frozen embryos, I don’t want to do anything to encourage additional spare embryo production.”
Mitchell, a faculty member in moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., described the use of leftover embryos as a good “rescue ministry” for infertile couples and others, when handled ethically.
“We’re dealing with unborn human beings,” Mitchell told Citizen. “We’re not talking about pieces, parts or mere tissues. Couples don’t want tissues. Couples want a baby.”
The center has performed more than a thousand transfers, assisted in more than 600 births, and received over $3,900,000 in federal funding, according to its own statistics.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/21/2017 9:00:05 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Racism addressed in 10 state convention resolutions

December 21 2017 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN

A desire for racial reconciliation is on the minds of Southern Baptists across the U.S. as 10 state convention adopted resolutions decrying racism of any form. Other states have addressed the concern in previous years, though tensions in recent years likely motivated a return to the subject this fall.
With the exception of New England Baptists, state conventions where messengers passed resolutions on racism were in the South and Southwest, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.

Baptist and Reflector photo

A “Resolution on the Evils of Racism” drafted by a committee for Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE) messengers stated the desire of BCNE churches for “progress in rooting out any remaining forms of intentional or unintentional racism in our midst” while praying that those who advocate or subscribe to racist ideologies will repent and come to know the love of Christ.
Known as a denomination that is pro-life, state conventions frequently address sanctity of life issues. This year Missouri Baptists expressed gratitude for pro-life legislation while Alabama Baptists lent support for a statewide constitutional amendment referendum next year to guarantee the right of the sanctity of human life. Alabama and Louisiana messengers spoke to pro-family issues as well.
Northwest Baptists resolved to be vigilant in opposing human trafficking in their communities and the nation in the context of a resolution declaring the value of all human life. Oklahoma Baptists specifically decried and rejected “the alarming trend that suggests babies diagnosed with genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, should be aborted,” urging churches to “stand with and speak up for people – born and unborn – who may have disabilities.”
Messengers in three state conventions – Alabama, Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) – thanked Congress for retaining the federal adoption credit. Missouri Baptists encouraged churches to endorse adoption and orphan care while Oklahoma Baptists applauded the 500-plus churches participating in their children’s home initiative relating to foster care.
Religious liberty also remains a matter that Southern Baptists uphold, and this year messengers in Alabama, Missouri and the Baptist General Convention of Texas addressed the concern, with Alabama Baptists objecting to a Birmingham nondiscrimination ordinance for “creating an unconstitutional burden on religious freedom for churches, ministries and religious entities” as well as individuals and businesses.
Both Texas conventions, BGCT and SBTC, passed resolutions condemning sexual harassment, while both Arkansas and BGCT referenced current divisions in America and encouraged civil discourse.
In the days following the church shooting at Sutherland Springs, Texas, many of the state conventions holding meetings after Nov. 5 devoted time for prayer for victims and passed resolutions expressing sympathy to families. Kentucky Baptists encouraged intercessory prayer on behalf of “a people who desperately need God’s intervention” in light of “cataclysmic storms, mass shootings, daily violence in cities across the land, heartache caused by an epidemic of substance abuse and other factors that have brought pain and suffering for people of all ages, including helpless children.”
Messengers in Arkansas, North Carolina and the SBTC addressed aspects of human sexuality or gender identity in their resolutions. New York Baptists amended the convention’s constitution to affirm the biblical definitions of marriage and gender.
A number of anniversaries were remembered by way of resolutions, with Louisiana Baptists noting the 100th anniversary of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as well as the 50th anniversary of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry, Mississippi and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and Oklahoma Baptists noting the 100th anniversary of their Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center.
Hawaii Baptists, in a resolution encouraging participation in cooperative ministries, giving through Cooperative Program and filing the annual statistical report with the convention, said churches “that do not cooperate in some way beyond merely” declaring their intention to cooperate and aligning theologically with the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention (HPBC) “are falling short of their duty as members of the HPBC … and are not fully embracing one of the key tenets of Southern Baptist life, which is cooperation.”
Fourteen of the state Baptist conventions did not pass any resolutions other than those expressing gratitude for particular people or host churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is associate editor for the Southern Baptist TEXAN,, news journal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

12/21/2017 8:59:44 AM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

Point of Grace partners with LifeWay for new albums

December 21 2017 by LifeWay communications staff

Grammy-nominated singing trio Point of Grace has partnered with LifeWay Worship to release a new album and will soon begin work on a second.
“Sing Noël,” Point of Grace’s first album with LifeWay, features 10 new arrangements of beloved carols and Christmas favorites, including “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” “Mary, Did You Know?” and “What Child Is This?”

LifeWay photo
Point of Grace – from left, Denise Jones, Shelley Breen and Leigh Cappillino – and LifeWay Worship have begun a partnership for their latest albums.

“It has been several years since we have recorded a Christmas project, and this one is really special,” Point of Grace’s Shelley Breen said. “It has a central focus on the carols of Christmas.”
In January the group will begin recording a second album with LifeWay featuring a collection of best-loved hymns and worship songs.
Point of Grace has received three Grammy nominations, most recently for “Directions Home (Songs We Love, Songs You Know)” in 2015. The group has won multiple Dove Awards and sold more than 8 million recordings in their 25-year history.
The new projects come through an exclusive partnership with LifeWay, said Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship.
“Sing Noël has been a wonderful Christmas journey for all of us at LifeWay Worship,” Harland said. “As fans, we love it. As friends, we are so proud of who they are and what they have created here. And as ministry partners, we are blessed beyond description to share in the creation of this Kingdom project with true servants of the church in song.”
After meeting Harland and others at LifeWay, Breen said, “We became a family. ... We’re now proud to tell others we have an exclusive partnership with LifeWay and that our record is only sold at LifeWay.”
Breen said she feels the new Christmas album captures the spirit of the season.
“It was so fun to sit around together in the beginning stages of the record with our old Baptist hymnals and realize just how many classic carols we had not recorded,” she said. “Our producers and LifeWay Worship were amazing in helping us find our own ‘spin’ on these songs.”
LifeWay employees, retirees and guests were among the first to hear Point of Grace in a live performance of most songs on Sing Noël, along with a few classic songs from their albums throughout the decades. Three chapel services were offered Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 12-13.
“Their rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ absolutely captivated me and let me experience a sweet moment of holy stillness,” said Bekah Stoneking, Explore the Bible for Kids content editor. “I am grateful to work in a place that gives my heart room to worship.”
Sing Noël is available as a CD exclusively at LifeWay Christian Stores and for $5 this Christmas season. It is also available for digital download on iTunes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston from reporting by LifeWay Christian Resources’ communications department.)

12/21/2017 8:56:59 AM by LifeWay communications staff | with 0 comments

Partnering churches embolden Boston-area planter

December 20 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

“Where would Paul go today?”
Chris Causey, pastor of Boston-area church plant Encounter Church, asked himself this as he read the accounts of Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts.

Photo courtesy of Larry Aultman
Chris Causey and his wife, Ginny, left, alongside Jason Hodges and his wife, Rachel, right, have been the founding leaders of Encounter Church. After being sent out by Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., Causey entered the North American Mission Board’s assessment and equipping program. Encounter Church launched in September 2015.

What started off as a reflection during his personal study, Causey noted, would become the Holy Spirit drawing him in a new direction. Causey noticed that Paul often went to the major cities, cities with a global impact, and as he reflected and prayed on that fact, he started to sense a calling from God.
“I didn’t realize that this movement was developing in the church to minister in these global cities, but the seed was planted at that point,” he said.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul describes the different roles Christian disciples play in cultivating such seeds. And Causey eventually found himself surrounded by a church family, locally and nationally, that confirmed the calling God had placed on his life to become a church planting missionary.
At first, he wasn’t so sure that he, a guy from a small town in South Carolina, could cut it in a culturally diverse, global city.
“I was judging my call based on my qualifications rather than the heartbeat of God,” he said.
Causey shared what God was doing with his good friend and co-laborer, Jason Hodges. Together, they developed a vision with the rest of the pastoral staff at Taylors (S.C.) First Baptist Church (FBC) to plant a church in the greater Boston area. Ultimately, Taylors FBC would send out seven of their families, so they could love, serve and share Christ with those in and around that influential city.
The pastors at Taylors FBC connected Causey with the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
“They wound up sending me to assessments,” Causey recalled, “and that process confirmed and affirmed what God was doing in my life.”
Causey credits NAMB’s training and coaching process for helping Encounter Church “start stronger and wiser, like a laser beam instead of a light bulb.” During their first Sunday gathering on Sept. 13 in 2015, they saw more than 200 people attend.
The encouragement of Causey’s sending church and the equipping ministry provided through NAMB’s Send Network demonstrated effective cooperation between the church and the national missions entity. But not long after the hearts of Causey and Hodges were stirred, the Lord seemed to also be moving among the leadership at First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Ga., just north of Atlanta.
First Redeemer started as a church plant in its own right in 1996. Though they had done significant work to help plant several churches internationally, they felt God moving their hearts to do more domestically.
So, senior pastor Jeff Jackson and missions pastor Larry Aultman approached NAMB. Those discussions eventually led Aultman and Jackson to discover Encounter Church.
“God placed Boston on our heart. We took a look, and God led us to a good partner,” Aultman recounted. First Redeemer ultimately joined a group of 15 churches who have come alongside Encounter Church.
“Chris and Jason are exceptionally sharp,” Jackson said.
First Redeemer decided to become what NAMB calls a supporting church by regularly sending financial resources. They did not stop there, however.
“It made sense to do more than send just money,” Aultman noted, “So, we sent a Families on Mission team.”
Causey welcomed the extra hands that First Redeemer brought.
“It’s churches whose hearts beat for the churches outside of their zip code that help build a broader kingdom impact,” Causey said. “They deserve the bolder headline.”
The mission team from First Redeemer, made up of families serving together, put on Encounter Church shirts and served the community in the name of Jesus and representing Encounter Church. They picked up trash, raked leaves and visited nursing homes among other things.
“At first, I thought these tasks were a waste of time,” Claudia Cornelison, a member of First Redeemer shared, “but my attitude changed as I began to hear stories of people visiting the church because of the good they did for the community.”
Encounter Church desires to be known for what they do for the community, not by what they want from the community.
First Redeemer provided Encounter with some extra hands to do that, and Encounter gave First Redeemer a glimpse of what missions could look like back home.
First Redeemer’s team realized “that ‘missions’ can happen anywhere,” Aultman said.
Prayerfully, those in Boston, those in Cumming and Christ-followers from all over will continue to learn the truth that “all things are possible with God” (Matthew 19:26).
After all, as pastor Causey would put it, we are all “ordinary people in ordinary places called to extraordinary things through the God who sent His Son to bring redemption.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

12/20/2017 10:02:00 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

Remembering the martyrs at Jibla Baptist Hospital

December 20 2017 by Michael Logan, IMB

It’s been 15 years since I walked the dry, stony grounds of Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen, where a lone gunman murdered three International Mission Board (IMB) medical missionaries on a December morning in 2002.

IMB photo
Martha Myers saw the world differently. One of her colleagues said that she often moved from event to event while focusing on what was in front of her.

Southern Baptists had invested their lives in this medical center for more than 35 years as they cared for thousands of people in this struggling Middle Eastern nation.
I arrived shortly after the Dec. 30 attack to cover the tragedy. Just days after the killing, I stood in hospital director Bill Koehn’s office, where Abed Abdul Razak Kamel, an Islamic militant, had appeared at the doorway and gunned down Koehn, physician Martha Myers, and purchasing agent Kathy Gariety that terrifying morning.
I remember feeling as though a weight had fallen on my chest as a hospital worker showed me how the killer left Koehn’s office and briskly walked through the hospital’s courtyard to the pharmacy office where he shot Don Caswell two times, severely wounding him. The worker guided me back out to the courtyard where the gunman, then out of bullets, was confronted by armed hospital guards. He calmly placed his pistol on the ground, raised his hands and was arrested.
The heavy smell of cleaning products filled the air as I walked from the narrow courtyard, with its recently scrubbed offices, toward the living quarters of those IMB workers. Rounding a corner, we came to Koehn’s workshop where, after a day in the office, he often crafted small wooden toys for children in the area.
The hospital worker pulled out from under a weathered workbench a box with some of Koehn’s most recent creations. Seeing these simple carvings, some half-finished, deepened feelings of loss as I thought about how senseless it was to cut short his life marked by so many acts of kindness.
Similar feelings burdened me when I looked at Gariety’s meticulous lists in the hospital’s office. On the day of the attack, Gariety and Koehn were to go over the long inventories in preparation for transferring ownership of the hospital to the local Yemeni government in a matter of days.

IMB photo
Kathleen Gariety, Bill Koehn and Martha Myers

Later, when I stepped into the apartment of Myers, the pain grew as I surveyed a multitude of piles that lined her rooms. There were piles of clothing, toys, books, baskets and even plastic bags – all staged for Martha’s next village trip.
Myers was well known for her trips, which often lasted days as she journeyed over rugged roads to treat the illnesses and wounds of some of the poorest people in Yemen. It was on these trips that she talked carefully about Jesus while dispensing as much of her apartment’s ragtag inventory that her vehicle could carry.
The atmosphere throughout the hospital compound was understandably subdued. As I crisscrossed the grounds, small groups of IMB and international workers huddled together, talking quietly. I tried to steer clear of the circles to respect their privacy and their grief. It was easy to understand why those on the hospital compound sought their colleagues’ comfort. Yemeni police, security forces and even international news media had descended just after the attack. Now, those outsiders were finally gone and everyone at the medical compound needed time to be left alone.
And yet, by Sunday morning, just six days after the attack, the hospital team decided it was time to turn outward toward the community they were there to serve. So around mid-morning, some of the remaining IMB workers and others from the hospital staff stepped through the compound’s front gate to walk into the streets of Jibla.
I walked alongside the group of about a dozen people, well aware of how the townspeople were watching us on the steep street leading from the hospital down into the community. Nearby shopkeepers called from their stores, some offered tea while others urged some of us to come, sit and talk. Some men on the street passed by, paused to look back and then turned to join the walk.
It was such a simple thing to do – just walk down the street, drifting in and out of conversations, letting the community share in the grief and offer what care they could. With each interaction, the strain of tragedy and maybe even a little of the pain, lessened for some in the procession as they talked, listened and even prayed for one another.
Now, 15 years later, news out of Yemen makes that simple walk feel so far away. The nation has plunged into a civil war that’s pushing the country toward devastation, with millions at risk of starvation.
Logic and the inherent risk of being in Yemen may suggest it’s better to leave them to the suffering brought about by their own war. But the gospel is not about isolation. It’s about God’s love for all, even for those in the hardest places.
Pray for those who will one day take the next walk down a Yemeni street, ready to share the love and peace of the gospel, no matter what the cost.
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(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Logan writes for the International Mission Board.)

12/20/2017 9:56:22 AM by Michael Logan, IMB | with 0 comments

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