December 2018

Lilly receives special Christmas gift from Chitwoods

December 10 2018 by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today

Sure, 6-year-old Lilly has the typical wish list for Christmas, including Barbie dolls and a dollhouse. But it was something much more meaningful that she longed for most: a family of her own.

Photo by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today
Lilly Chitwood's face lit up when a family court judge officially declared her the daughter of Paul and Michelle Chitwood on Dec. 6, in Louisville, Ky. The Chitwoods had fostered Lilly through Sunrise Children's Services for three years.

For the past three years, Lilly had been in foster care through Sunrise Children’s Services, a Kentucky Baptist organization that ministers to abused and neglected kids. Her story is one that has become all too familiar to Kentucky authorities in a culture where drug addiction is rampant.
As a toddler, Lilly faced tough times and was well acquainted with hunger while she was in the care of a drug-addicted birth mother.
Those days are long passed now, because she got what she was hoping for in a Louisville courtroom Dec. 6. Judge Derwin L. Webb decreed that she is now the adopted daughter of Paul and Michelle Chitwood. Paul, a former pastor and executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, was elected in November as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB). Following Chitwood’s election as IMB president, he said the providential timing of the adoption proceedings was among factors that confirmed God’s leading to the IMB.
When Judge Webb handed Lilly the gavel, she pounded on the judge’s bench and declared: “This adoption is final.”
The finalized adoption was the culmination of a long journey for the Chitwoods, who, as foster parents, fell in love with Lilly as soon as she arrived in their home three years ago.
“When we first got Lilly, we could tell that this 3-year-old had been in a very difficult situation,” Paul said. “She had head lice and bedbug bites. The first night she was with us, when Michelle tucked her into bed, she asked a question: ‘Will we have food tomorrow?’ She continued to ask that question for several nights until she realized that she would never go hungry in our home.”
Michelle, a public school teacher for the past 20 years, said the food issue weighed heavily on the little girl’s mind.
“After about a week of trying to reassure her she would have food the next day, I placed a bowl of Cheerios beside her bed, and that was the fix,” Michelle said. “She never worried about food after that.”
Living with the Chitwoods was supposed to be temporary, perhaps a few months until her birthmother was able to get off drugs and get her life back on track. That never happened, and little Lilly was put up for adoption. The Chitwoods didn’t hesitate.
“As soon as we found out that we could adopt Lilly, I knew we would move mountains to make her adoption happen,” Michelle said.
Lilly arrived at the Chitwoods’ home in early February 2015. They had been serving as foster parents through Sunrise Children’s Services for about a year. They had felt a compulsion to open their home to foster children after learning of the thousands of abused and neglected kids who had become wards of the state.
The Chitwoods already had three other children, Daniel, Anna and Cai. Daniel and Anna are biological children. Cai had been adopted from China, where she, like Lilly, had known her share of hardship.
Because of China’s one-child policy, Cai ended up warehoused in an orphanage with hundreds of other newborns.
“Though she had a very difficult beginning to her life, when she came into our family, those difficulties quickly faded away,” Paul said.
Cai and the other Chitwood children were thrilled to have a little sister, especially one so hungry for the family’s affection.
“She bonded with us very quickly, as we did with her,” Paul said. “I knew that we would be giving her up very soon to be reunited with her mother, at least that was the state’s initial plan, but also knew that it would break our hearts.”
The Chitwoods said they recalled the words of a foster care trainer from Sunrise Children’s Services who challenged them by asking: “Who will, instead of refusing to foster parent because they ‘love them too much to let them go,’ be willing to say to a hurting child carrying all her pain by herself, ‘I’ll take some of your pain’? Who will let their hearts be broken to carry a child’s burden and, as scripture says, ‘so fulfill the law of Christ’?”
That challenge cemented the Chitwoods’ decision to open their home and hearts, knowing the risk of being hurt.
“As it turned out, the state had to terminate the parental rights of Lilly’s birth parents,” Paul said. “When we learned she would not be able to go back to her mother, the decision to adopt her was one of the easiest decisions we’ve ever made.”
The Chitwoods have been involved in Christian ministry throughout their adult lives. Those roles have given them platforms to promote foster care and adoption, urging Baptist families to open their homes to hurting children. They’ve especially championed the cause of Sunrise Children’s Services, which is caring for more than 1,300 children as of this week.
“Paul and Michelle Chitwood have meant the world to Sunrise,” said the agency’s director, Dale Suttles. “They are huge advocates for orphan care across our state, inspiring Baptists to be part of the solution.
“If every church in Kentucky got involved with foster care, the very landscape of our state would change,” Michelle said. “I’m not just talking about giving money or buying a Christmas present; I’m talking boots on the ground, making relationships with kids in residential care or even giving a child a place in your home. We all have tons of excuses to not get involved but we live in a state where kids are in crisis. This crisis has an easy fix.”
One of the greatest needs for Kentucky’s child welfare system is families to open their homes to hurting kids.
“Most of the kids in the state system are orphans of the living,” Paul said. “One or both of their parents may be alive but the state has declared that their children’s lives are in danger should they remain in their care. The plight of an orphan of the living is, I believe, a worse plight than that of a child whose parents have passed away.”
Suttles said the Chitwood family has exhibited the true meaning of sacrificial love.
“Adults frequently tell me they could not imagine becoming a foster parent,” Suttles said. “They express worry over caring for children over a period of time, then watching them move on. It’s true children sometimes return to their families and foster parents play a critical role in reunification. Fostering can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Paul and Michelle knew this, yet agreed to lay down the uncertainties because a little girl needed stability, guidance and love. They simply chose to put a child above their own needs, providing love and stability for the time needed, choosing to risk a broken heart in exchange for living the gospel.”

12/10/2018 10:25:17 AM by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

ADF, state conventions partner on religious liberty

December 10 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Partnership with the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was a recurring theme at Baptist state convention annual meetings this fall.

Of the 41 state and regional conventions that maintain cooperative relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), at least a dozen have forged partnerships with ADF through its Church Alliance program. Additional state conventions are considering such partnerships, which help churches and state ministries protect themselves from infringement of their religious liberty.
ADF partnerships were discussed at state annual meetings from New Mexico to Pennsylvania/South Jersey.
“Churches that hold to traditional, orthodox, evangelical beliefs are increasingly under attack from a variety of different directions, including the government sometimes,” said Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA), a Church Alliance member. “Often, churches can unwittingly get embroiled in legal action or in litigation of some kind because someone claims that they haven’t accommodated their sexual preference for a wedding ceremony or their transgender desire to use both bathrooms.”
Church Alliance helps churches “proactively and preemptively be ready for legal challenges like that,” Adams told Baptist Press (BP).
Established in 2017, Church Alliance includes nearly 3,000 churches to date, 264 of them Southern Baptist, ADF reported. For an annual fee based on church size, Church Alliance affords each congregation:
– Review of its policies and governing documents by an ADF attorney to ensure religious liberty issues are addressed properly;
– Access to an ADF attorney whenever legal questions arise over religious liberty;
– Access to online resources; and
– Legal representation at no additional charge should a case arise involving the church’s religious freedom.
Among issues commonly addressed with churches by ADF attorneys are policies concerning marriage, sexuality and life; employment policies; the use of government facilities or programs; and tax-related concerns, according to ADF.
When a state convention joins Church Alliance, that convention receives the same services local churches receive and cooperating churches each can join Church Alliance at a discounted rate.
Normally, a Church Alliance membership ranges from $250 annually for a church of up to 150 attendees to $4,000 for a church of more than 2,000. State convention discounts vary depending on the particular partnership. Georgia Baptist churches, for example, receive a 20 percent discount through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. In Illinois, where virtually all Southern Baptist churches average 150 or fewer attendees, each IBSA cooperating church pays $125 annually and the state convention pays the remaining $125.
If all 1,000 Illinois Baptist churches signed up, Adams said, “we would find a way” to pay half the fee for each of them “because it’s such a good” program.
In South Carolina, where the state convention is a Church Alliance member, the program has yielded dividends for Redeemer Fellowship of Edisto Island. Earlier this year, the Southern Baptist congregation filed suit with ADF’s assistance against the town of Edisto Beach, S.C., after rules for the local civic center were changed, allegedly to prevent Redeemer Fellowship from renting space in the center for worship.
The case is pending in federal court.
Erik Stanley, ADF senior counsel and director of the Center for Christian Ministries, said ADF has sought partnerships with state conventions “to create a very strong and robust large alliance of churches on the issue of religious liberty.”
“We see that churches are increasingly facing issues regarding religious liberty, and many don’t know where to turn or don’t know what their rights are,” Stanley told BP. ADF wanted to “dig in at the local level with churches and kind of remove the legal burden on the issue of religious liberty.”
Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (GBMB), said Church Alliance “is an amazing gift for our churches and our denomination.” The GBMB was among the first state convention organizations to join Church Alliance. In February 2018, White invited ADF to explain Church Alliance at the annual meeting of state convention executive directors in Galveston, Texas.
The annual fee for Church Alliance, White said, is “less than what you would have to pay an attorney for one hour of his service or her service.” He urged churches and state conventions to take advantage.
Many pastors “have never had any experience of even being in a deposition. I have, and it’s not a picnic. It’s a really difficult thing to go through – legal challenge and litigation,” White said. He underscored ADF’s admonition that churches should not “carry the legal burden alone.”
Along with state conventions, the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) also urges churches to join Church Alliance. The ERLC and ADF have partnered on a range of initiatives.
“The team at Alliance Defending Freedom have consistently proven themselves to be the kind of convictional and talented advocates that Christians and churches are in need of today,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in a statement on ADF’s website. “I have no doubt that Church Alliance will benefit ministries across the country by establishing such a partnership between local churches and attorneys committed to safeguarding our most fundamental liberties.”

12/10/2018 10:25:02 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘No flying joke’: Pastor’s object lesson goes viral

December 10 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Bartholomew Orr’s object lesson, flying to the pulpit on a zip line to signify Jesus’ return, caused a viral sensation on social media and major network talk shows.

Screen capture from YouTube
Southern Baptist pastor Bartholomew Orr used a zip line in his sermon delivery to signify Jesus' second coming.

Despite both negative and comical comments from an estimated 200 million hits a week after a brief video clip of his entrance was posted, Orr told Baptist Press (BP) it was a “win-win.”
“God took the negativity and turned it into an opportunity,” said Orr, pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church in Southaven, Miss. “Because the unique thing was, that little clip alone, just a minute, the message was real clear:
“He’s coming. He’s on His way back. Jesus Christ is returning. Here’s the question, ‘Are you ready for His return?’”

Social media, The View, Steve Harvey, comedian D. L. Hughley and social commentator Roland Martin were among those weighing in after the daughter of a Brown Missionary Baptist member posted the zip line clip from the Nov. 25 message on Facebook.
“Within a couple of hours it was up to 250,000. And before that night was over with, it was getting up close to a million, if it hadn’t hit a million,” Orr told BP. “By the end of the week our media team said that, from what they had gathered, it probably had hit 200 million views.”
Orr describes himself as a “prop preacher.” He began delivering his Nov. 25 sermon while flying from a corner of the sanctuary ceiling on a zip line, stopping just above the pulpit as the contraption lowered him in place, assisted by two staff members.
The zip line, funded by sponsors and used after training from installers, was in place for the church’s annual Christmas production ending Dec. 7. The past four years, the church has used a zip line at Christmas to fly in angels, drummers and other characters, including people portraying Jesus.

Bartholomew Orr

Orr originally had no intention of using the zip line for his sermon, he told BP Dec. 6. But he later realized the appropriateness during sermon preparation.
BP talked with Orr as he was preparing to depart Johannesburg, South Africa, where he joined two other Southern Baptist pastors as speakers at an annual Revival, Evangelism and Prayer Conference just south of the nation’s capital.
The social media saga began when Orr decided to test the zip line Nov. 24 while workers were installing the machinery. He posted a brief video of his test flight on Instagram and asked viewers to come see the “flying preacher,” he told BP, but had no intention of actually using the zip line during the service.
“My little video, I put it out on Instagram, and at the end of it (I said), ‘This is no flying joke. I need you to sign up and be a part of Vision 2025,’” Orr said on Instagram, referring to a church initiative to effectively use social media in discipleship. The Instagram post “actually started getting some traction, and I told my wife I might have to fly in on Sunday, because folks are like, ‘Oh I can’t wait for Sunday.’”
Brown Missionary Baptist members are accustomed to Orr using props in sermons, he said, referencing wigs, life vests, Barbie dolls, Sure deodorant and other items.
“Well, when I started my sermon preparation, sure enough, the passage of scripture (James 5:7-12) was speaking about the second coming of Christ and His entrance,” Orr explained. “And I was like, oh wow, well this is perfect.”
Negativity drove much of the social media buzz. The zip line was described as a waste of money, a flaw of African American congregations and a joke, Orr said. But in a video posted on the church website hours after the sermon, Orr thanked the student who posted the sermon video clip.
“Even though all of the talk about my sermon this morning hasn’t been complimentary, I’m thankful that the Word of God is being discussed in cars, in homes, on social media,” Orr said Nov. 25. “There is a bigger picture, and that is Christ is returning soon. Just as Christ is going to be unexpected, my flying in this morning was unexpected. But we must be ready.”
Orr cited Philippians 1:12-18 as the basis for his gratefulness.
“Paul said what has happened to me, some of it has been out of envy or whatever,” Orr said. “He says but, if the gospel is going forth ... that’s perfectly fine. I’m glad that the message is going forth. So I looked at it as a win-win situation.”
Orr encourages the public to view the entire sermon at, which shows him zip lining from the pulpit at sermon’s end, singing “I’ll Fly Away.”
Orr is active in Southern Baptist life. His church in northern Mississippi is suburban to Memphis, Tenn., and a member of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. He served on the 2017 Evangelism Task Force named by then SBC President Steve Gaines.
Brown baptized 226 members and averaged 4,850 in Sunday worship attendance in 2017, according to self-reported Southern Baptist Convention church profile data, with 11,101 resident members. Already in 2018, Brown has recorded 200 salvations and baptized 112 of them, with plans to baptize the others, he told BP.
“We live in a very digital world. I think what has happened to business has happened to churches as well, and that is attendance overall is being affected,” Orr said. “But ... was this a gimmick or out-of-the-ordinary stunt to boost attendance? No. Was it a part of our regular, creative preaching and teaching, spreading the gospel? Yes.
“Jesus was an object preacher,” Orr said. “If the message is going forth and you’re trying to be sound to the biblical text, I believe you ought to use everything at your disposal.”

12/10/2018 10:24:51 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abortion decline calls for ongoing pro-life effort

December 7 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The continued drop in the number, rate and ratio of abortions in the United States is a cause for celebration but also for further efforts to protect children and assist women in need, Southern Baptist pro-life advocates say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Nov. 23 the total, rate and ratio of abortions in 2015 – the latest year for which statistics are available – all declined by two percent from 2014. The ratio and rate reached their lowest points since the Roe v. Wade ruling legalized abortion in 1973, while that year was the only one since the Supreme Court decision with fewer abortions than in 2015, according to numbers attributed to the CDC.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), described the lower abortion rate as “good news. No doubt, the heroic advocacy of the pro-life community contributes to this lower rate.
“Nonetheless, the continual assault on unborn children by the abortion industry should cause us to mourn,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press (BP). “My prayer is that the pro-life movement will continue to make advances against the predatory forces that seek to snuff out the life of the vulnerable and prey upon vulnerable women.”
David Uth, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., expressed his gratitude to Jesus for the demonstration that the work of pregnancy care centers like that sponsored by his church and other pro-life endeavors are having an impact.
“I think all of it has made a difference, no doubt,” Uth told BP in a phone interview. “I think that we have to be very, very aware that this has been an effort that has had many fronts.”
In 2015, 638,169 abortions were reported to the CDC, while the rate was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women who were 15 to 44 years of age. The ratio was 188 abortions per 1,000 live births.
The decline in all three measurements was especially dramatic from 2006 to 2015, the period analyzed by the CDC in its latest report. The number of abortions fell by 24 percent during that span, while the rate and ratio decreased 26 and 19 percent, respectively.
While the CDC’s yearly report is helpful, its statistics are incomplete. States are not required to report information on abortion, and three – California, Maryland and New Hampshire – have not provided data to the CDC for at least eight years.
The Guttmacher Institute, which is affiliated with the abortion rights movement, covers all 50 states in its research and has reported similar declines in the abortion total and rate. In January 2017, Guttmacher said the rate fell to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women in 2014, marking a decline of 14 percent since its most recent survey in 2011. In its census of all known abortion providers in the country, Guttmacher found abortions in 2014 totaled 926,190, a decrease of more than 30,000 from the previous year.
Its report also has limitations, Guttmacher has acknowledged. For instance, it reported only 58 percent of facilities it believes provided abortions in 2014 responded to the survey. Guttmacher used state health department information for 20 percent of facilities and made estimates on another 17 percent.
Various reasons are offered for the continued decline, which goes back to 1990 for the abortion total and the early to mid-1980s for the rate and ratio of abortion.
Abortion-rights advocates credit better contraceptive use and fewer abortion clinics. Seven states have only one abortion clinic in operation, according to an ABC News report in June. Forty Days for Life – which sponsors semi-annual outreaches at abortion clinics – reports 99 clinics have closed and 186 clinic workers have quit after its campaigns since 2007.
Meanwhile, pro-lifers point to such factors as the growth and ministry of pregnancy care centers, the advent of ultrasound technology, more state laws restricting abortion and requiring health and safety standards and efforts to educate the public on the humanity of the unborn child. Surveys also have shown the millennial generation is more pro-life than older Americans.
Americans United for Life (AUL) has led the way in helping states enact laws in protecting unborn lives and women’s health. It has provided model legislative language and legal support. States have approved about 260 pro-life laws in the last five years and more than 540 since 2010, according to AUL. Those laws have included such measures as health and safety requirements for clinics and doctors, ultrasound mandates, and prohibitions on late-term procedures and abortions based on sex, race or genetic abnormality.
Even AUL, however, cited a decline in requests for abortion as the primary factor.
Research, even by pro-abortion organizations, has shown “that while the inability of many dangerous, fly-by-night abortion centers to comply with basic women’s protection laws has forced some abortion centers to close, the abortion rate has dropped precipitously over the last 25 years chiefly because demand for abortion has fallen,” said Steven Aden, AUL’s chief legal officer and general counsel, in written remarks for BP. “This means that abortion is becoming ‘the forgotten right’ – what the law made legal in 1973 with Roe, it could not make acceptable.”
Uth told BP that pregnancy centers – like his church’s First Life Center for Pregnancy – have opened the eyes of many through technology to the reality of unborn life.
“I think that technology has changed the game,” he said, adding statistics at the center have shown when a woman is willing to have an ultrasound “it’s unbelievable the number of women that changed their mind. I think we’re living in an age of technology, and that has helped us to try to show and convince women of the truth.”
Efforts such as the ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project reflect the pro-life recognition of the importance of technology by helping place ultrasound machines in pregnancy resource centers across the country.
The services provided by a pregnancy care center are vital to help a church not only proclaim “pro-life truth” but to help women who think abortion is their only option, Uth told BP.
“[A] pregnancy center is the church’s way of saying, ‘Yes,’ not just, ‘No,’” he said. “And so we have been able to say, ‘Yes,’ to so many – that ‘Yes, we’ll help you;’ ‘Yes, we’ll find a way for you to make it through this;’ and, ‘Yes, we’ll even help you make a decision about your child, whether you’re going to keep the child or you’re going to give the child up for adoption.’ And so in my opinion, it’s just a whole gospel approach to the issue of the sanctity of human life.”
The center’s ministry has had an ongoing impact in the church, Uth said.
On Dec. 2, Uth invited people in the congregation who had needs to come forward and also asked members who wanted to help meet a need to come forward and stand by them.
One of those who came forward and stood with someone in need was a woman whom the pregnancy center helped to choose life for her unborn child “and changed her life,” Uth told BP. “And now she’s married. Now she’s found Jesus. She is living a great life. And she came and stood with somebody, saying, ‘I’m going to help you, because I know what it’s like. I’ve been there.’ So we’re seeing the fruit of the pregnancy center now in terms of people who are helping to bless others.”
The CDC’s latest report showed a dramatic increase in the use of non-surgical abortion methods. The typical, two-step procedure described as medical or chemical abortion in the first eight weeks of gestation rose from 11.3 percent in 2006 to 24.2 percent in 2015, according to the CDC.
The fourth annual Evangelicals for Life conference, which is sponsored by the ERLC, will address abortion and pro-life ministry work Jan. 16-18 at McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

12/7/2018 10:53:17 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Felix Cabrera new Puerto Rico executive director

December 7 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Felix Cabrera is the new executive director of the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico, he confirmed to Baptist Press (BP) Dec. 6.

Felix Cabrera

The executive board of the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (CIBSPR) asked Cabrera to fill the executive post after the group met this week.
“I think that the Lord is doing something special here, and I’m glad, honored, to be part of what the Lord wants to do here in the island,” Cabrera told BP. “I think we are in a special moment. We have a special momentum.”
Jorge Alvarez, pastor of First Baptist Church of Arecibo, had served as the CIBSPR acting executive director.
CIBSPR held its first annual meeting since Hurricane Maria Nov. 17, electing a full slate of officers and a board of directors. CIBSPR has a new and aggressive plan to serve local churches and pastors, Cabrera said, and to work cooperatively with the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
“I’m excited to work with the new board of directors and with the pastors, with the church planters,” Cabrera said. “I’m excited to see a combination of new pastors and veteran pastors working together in the same spirit, in the same faith, with a spirit of unity.” Cabrera also serves as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
As executive director, Cabrera said, he will first meet with pastors, learn the welfare of leaders and families, assess the condition of CIBSPR churches, and determine the best ways to serve and help Southern Baptists and their ministries on the island.
Giving more generously to the SBC Cooperative Program is also a goal, Cabrera said.
“Every church in Puerto Rico made a commitment to give more to the Cooperative Program,” Cabrera told BP. “We in Puerto Rico, in the last year, evidenced the benefits, the blessings to be Southern Baptists,” he said, referencing Southern Baptist disaster relief and compassionate ministries to pastors and churches there following the 2017 devastation of Hurricane Maria.
“We want to encourage our churches, our pastors to give more to the Cooperative Program,” he said. “We want to be more involved … in SBC life.”
Cabrera talked to BP from Puerto Rico and is in the process of relocating to the U.S. territory, the place of his birth. He will preach his last sermon as pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Dec. 23.
Cabrera is also searching for a home for Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios, a CIBSPR member and mission congregation he is currently planting on the island.
Nearly 80 churches comprise CIBSPR. See the Biblical Recorder’s Nov. 30 story on the group’s 2018 annual meeting.

12/7/2018 10:52:08 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

BGAV ‘Living the Story’ at 195th annual meeting

December 7 2018 by Baptist Press and BGAV Staff

The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) continues the purpose of its 1823 founding to strengthen local churches and help them work cooperatively in ministry, Executive Director John Upton said at the BGAV’s 195th annual meeting.

BGAV photo
Newly elected 2019 Baptist General Association of Virginia officers are, from left, president Richard Martin, first vice president Adam Tyler, second vice president Jay Lawson, and secretary Herbert Ponder. Executive Board chair Kevin Meadows is at far right.

Cooperatively, churches can accomplish more than an individual congregation, Upton said at the Nov. 12-14 event hosted by Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Glen Allen, Va. “Living the Story” was the theme, based on 1 Corinthians 15:58.
New initiatives are underway to help churches meet the changing needs of congregants and communities, Upton said. Among them is a Fresh Expression outreach offering $500 micro-grants to 50 congregations willing to try a nontraditional approach to take church to people where they are.
Other initiatives include BGAV scholarships and Ministerial Education Funds grants available to churches to fund pastoral interns or age-level ministries. For 10 years, the funds have helped students affiliated with BGAV churches.
Upon BGAV’s 50th anniversary in disaster relief outreach, Upton summarized 2018 ministry valued at $1 million in North Carolina after Hurricanes Florence and Michael. BGAV has responded to 72 disasters since Hurricane Camille in 1969, Upton said, including 37 in the past four years.
Annual meeting attendance included 676 messengers and 283 guests. A missions dinner at Gayton Baptist Church in Henrico on the meeting’s opening night drew more than 300.


BGAV messengers adopted a budget, elected officers and passed resolutions during the Nov. 14 business session.

BGAV photo
Baptist General Association of Virginia Executive Director John Upton, at left, presents a Resolution of Appreciation to retiring BGAV secretary Fred Anderson.

A $9.1 million 2019 Cooperative Missions (CP) budget forwards 28 percent, or $2.548 million, for world mission causes, which include both Virginia Baptist mission initiatives and Southern Baptist Convention missions and ministries, 6 percent or $565,000 to ministry partners in Virginia, and 66 percent or $5.987 million to Virginia missions and ministries, BGAV reported.
The 2019 CP budget is $900,000 less than the $10 million 2018 budget that included $7.2 million for BGAV ministries and partners, and $2.8 million for world mission causes.
BGAV offers three preset giving tracks to its churches, and provides a fourth option for churches to customize their giving. The percentage divisions are as follows:
– The World Missions 1 track provides 66 percent for Virginia ministries and 34 percent for Southern Baptist Convention ministries.
– The World Missions 2 (WM2) track provides 72 percent for Virginia missions and ministries and BGAV partners in Virginia, including 2 percent for partnership missions. BGAV will distribute 28 percent of WM2 cooperative missions dollars to items approved by 2018 messengers, including Virginia, national and international ministries.
– The World Missions 3 (WM3) track provides 72 percent for Virginia ministries and 28 percent for Kingdom Advance New Mission Initiatives, including More Than Nets, International Indigenous Church Starts, BGAV Regional Seminars & Training, Church Planting in Virginia, and Latino/Hispanic Ministries. Previously, WM3 gave 28 percent to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ministries.
In addition to CP contributions from its 1,400-plus churches, BGAV anticipates in 2019 $8.081 million in receipts from BGAV ministry resources and $4.304 million from special offerings.
BGAV ministry resources include revenue from designated gifts, camp and conference center registrations, program revenue and other income. Special offerings include the Alma Hunt Offering for Virginia Missions, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, and the Global Hunger Relief offering. Comprising CP giving and other sources, BGAV adopted a 2019 budget of $21,485,784.
Newly elected 2019 officers are president Richard Martin, a deacon at Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond; first vice president Adam Tyler, pastor of Grace Hills Baptist Church in Appomattox; second vice president Jay Lawson, senior pastor of Warrenton Baptist Church in Warrenton; and secretary Herbert Ponder, pastor of Mount Tabor Baptist Church, Richmond.
Resolutions of appreciation recognized Jim Ailor, who retired in April, as a field strategist for BGAV’s northern region after 11 years of service; J. Scott Burhoe, a rear admiral retiring after seven years as president of Fork Union Military Academy, a BGAV ministry partner; Wayne Hannah, retiring as BGAV assistant clerk after 35 years of service, and Fred Anderson, retiring from 36 years of continuous service as BGAV secretary.

Guest speakers

Tod Bolsinger, Fuller Theological Seminary vice president for vocation and formation, led a slate of guest speakers. Bolsinger, who also serves as an assistant professor of practical theology, delivered a keynote address drawing from his leadership book Canoeing the Mountains.
Other guest speakers were David Bailey, founding executive director of the cultural understanding ministry Arrabon; Elijah Brown, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance; Valerie Carter, executive director of Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia; Allen Jessee, lead pastor of Highlands Fellowship in southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee; Chuck Warnock, pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va.; and Kristin Adkins Whitesides, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Winchester, Va.
Worship leaders included BGAV’s Uptick Artists.
The 2019 annual meeting is scheduled for Nov. 11-13 at Bonsack Baptist Church in Roanoke.
BGAV encompasses more than 1,400 churches in the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as churches from Seoul, Toronto, Washington, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington state, and West Virginia.

12/7/2018 10:50:14 AM by Baptist Press and BGAV Staff | with 0 comments

IMB workers, Summit Church reaching Ukraine

December 7 2018 by IMB staff

In Ukraine, Southern Baptist missionary Russell Woodbridge often encounters people who fled their homes in the eastern part of the country when war broke out a few years ago.

IMB photo
Greear, center, says his church's partnership with the IMB allows them to have a 'front-row seat in what was formerly one of the most closed places in the world.' That happens through the work of Russell Woodbridge, right, an IMB missionary who equips church planters like Elisey Pronin, left, in Ukraine.

And in the midst of that heartbreak, the International Mission Board (IMB) worker and Ukrainian believers – along with help from his home pastor J.D. Greear and The Summit Church – want to help locals find a hope that transcends the uncertainty of war.
“A year and a half ago, with the help of Ukrainians, we started a new church plant that specifically tries to reach these people who have been displaced and lost everything,” Woodbridge said. “We’ve seen people come to Christ and be baptized.”
Through the seminary where Woodbridge teaches, he’s been able to mobilize displaced believers to plant churches among other displaced Ukrainians. He’s even seen them plant churches beyond Ukraine’s borders. One student went to Central Asia and led people there to faith in Christ. Another planted a thriving church in Poland.
“This is what we’re about – training Ukrainians to go with the gospel to the nations,” Woodbridge said. “It’s been a joy and a privilege for me to come alongside them.”

Back in the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina, Woodbridge’s home church feels the same way about his work. Pastor Greear, also president of the Southern Baptist Convention, says their partnership with Woodbridge and his wife Ingrid, encourages the church and enlarges their faith.


IMB photo
J.D. Greear, standing, right, talks with a congregation planted by Pastor Elisey Pronin, left, made up of people who were displaced by the war in eastern Ukraine. The church offers the hope of Christ to people there who have lost everything.

“We pray, we give, we go – not because we have to, but because of what God has promised He’s going to do among the nations,” Greear said. “We get to have a front-row seat in what was formerly one of the most closed places in the world. It’s our honor to be connected.” That’s the blessing of working alongside the IMB, he noted.
“Being a part of this great network of churches provides opportunities that maybe you couldn’t do if you were by yourself,” Greear said. “It helps us engage in ways that are meaningful and not just a flash in the pan.” That’s the same whether your church is 50 or 5,000 strong, he said. Regardless of size, churches “can be directly engaged in the exciting things God is doing in the most unreached places on the planet.”
Woodbridge agreed. “It takes all of us – American churches, IMB missionaries, and Ukrainian believers,” he said. “It takes all of us working together to reach the nations for Christ.”
Pray for:
– Ukrainian believers to plant strong, healthy churches that spread rapidly among the lost in their country and beyond.
– Churches to come alongside the work overseas and support them with prayer, funding and volunteer help.
Watch J.D. Greear talk about his church’s involvement in missions around the world:


Day 5: Not a 'Flash in the Pan' from IMB on Vimeo.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 2-9 with the theme “Every Church. Every Nation.” The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $160 million.

12/7/2018 10:50:04 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

Advancement council deploys data in diversity strategy

December 6 2018 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) is making efforts to encourage greater participation of ethnic minorities in Southern Baptist life and leadership. One of its consulting groups, the Convention Advancement Advisory Council (CAAC), uses a database to track progress and develop strategies for the future.

SBCLIFE photo by Sing Oldham
Members of the Convention Advancement Advisory Council gathered in Atlanta, Ga., on Aug. 2-3, 2018, for their semi-annual meeting.

The CAAC reviews information from the database by utilizing a “dashboard” that organizes and formats selected statistics. The group’s subcommittee on research presented the dashboard at the semiannual meeting Aug. 2-3 in Atlanta, Ga., according to the EC’s news journal, SBCLIFE.
The database draws information from LifeWay’s Annual Church Profile (ACP), along with other data collected by the EC and the North American Mission Board, to help leaders of the SBC’s ethnic fellowship groups track their respective churches’ efforts in evangelism, discipleship, missions and cooperative giving.
The CAAC’s subcommittee on research believes qualified leaders from ethnic groups in the SBC are overlooked for potential service on boards and committees because their churches are not represented in ACP reports, according to SBCLIFE. ACP data is often used by Southern Baptist committees as part of the vetting process for nominees.
In response to their findings, the CAAC rolled out an initiative at the August meeting to develop “ethnic-specific strategies” that it hopes will encourage churches to complete the ACP and, as a result, increase opportunities for minorities to be nominated for SBC leadership positions.
Sing Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, told the Biblical Recorder the dashboard enables leaders to identify churches that have not submitted ACP data.
“This allows them to contact those pastors to be sure their church statistics are represented when SBC leaders and committees review potential nominees for a variety of roles in Convention life,” Oldham said.
The SBC currently includes 39,094 churches that identify primarily as Anglo and 8,156 non-Anglo (or 17.2 percent), according to the latest figures published by the EC at
Ken Weathersby, who leads the CAAC and the EC’s office of convention advancement, told SBCLIFE the dashboard also provides a “ministry progress indicator” that traces ethnic representation on SBC boards and committees, in addition to staffing at SBC entities.
In 2011, the EC presented a report to the SBC annual meeting with recommendations for all SBC entities that were “designed to foster conscious awareness of the need to be proactive and intentional in the inclusion of individuals from all ethnic and racial identities within Southern Baptist life.” Those recommendations included the implementation of ethnic-specific data in yearly informational reports submitted to the EC from SBC entities and due consideration of ethnic representation in presidential appointments, committee nominations and entity hiring practices.
The report was based on a two-year study undertaken by the EC Communications Workgroup in response to a motion at the 2009 SBC annual meeting by messenger Paul Kim, who currently serves as the EC Asian American relations consultant.
“The Southern Baptist Convention is one of the most diverse networks of congregations in the United States,” Weathersby said in a statement provided to the Recorder. “A large part of the CAAC’s mission is to help our ethnic churches know how to read the Southern Baptist ‘menu.’ This includes the importance of giving through the Cooperative Program.
“The CAAC also helps our fellowship leaders understand that many [people] desire for our ethnic churches and church leaders to become more fully engaged at every level of Southern Baptist life, including service on committees and boards.”

12/6/2018 1:02:56 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

N.C. pastor’s election to Congress still uncertain

December 6 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

On election night, it appeared former Southern Baptist pastor Mark Harris finally had fulfilled a years-long sense of calling by being elected to Congress. But a month later, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has yet to certify Harris’ narrow victory in the state’s 9th Congressional District amid allegations of election fraud.

Screen capture from CNN
Amid allegations of election fraud, N.C. congressional candidate Mark Harris, a former pastor, says he is unaware of wrongdoing by anyone associated with his campaign.

The Harris campaign told Baptist Press Dec. 4 Harris has never been aware of any wrongdoing associated with his campaign and expects all volunteers and staff to be above board in their behavior. Harris trusts the election process and God’s sovereign guidance of it, the campaign said. They added that the allegations surrounding Harris have not shaken his faith and may even have deepened his relationship with Christ.
In June 2017, Harris resigned the pastorate of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., to run for Congress in the 9th District. Previously, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Harris was president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina from 2011-13 and served on the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions Committee.
Attack ads during the campaign have focused at times on Harris’ preaching about biblical gender roles.
According to unofficial 2018 general election results, Harris, a Republican, defeated Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of nearly 283,000 total votes cast in the 9th District. But the Board of Elections voted Nov. 30 by a 7-2 margin not to certify the results due to “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities” involving absentee ballots, according to media reports.
The board has not disclosed details of the alleged irregularities and has set a Dec. 21 deadline to hold an evidentiary hearing.
Harris criticized the board in a Nov. 30 tweet for not providing “any details to the public as to what exactly is being investigated.”
Media coverage has focused on rural Bladen County, which is being investigated by other state authorities for alleged election tampering in 2016 and 2018, the political news site Roll Call reported.
In the Nov. 6 general election, 19 percent of mail-in absentee ballots for Bladen County were cast by Republicans yet 60 percent of them went for Harris, who is from Bladen County. Additionally, media reports have cited sworn statements by Bladen County residents claiming people went door to door collecting absentee ballots, even if they were not complete. It is against the law for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.
Another sworn statement claims a Harris campaign contract worker may have been offered a $40,000 bonus if Harris won the election. It is illegal for campaign employees to receive bonuses, according to NBC News.
In Harris’ May primary election victory over GOP incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger, Harris won 96 percent of Bladen County absentee ballots. NBC News reported that Pittenger seemed to allege inconsistencies in the vote.
Harris tweeted Nov. 30, “Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties. There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.”
According to the Board of Elections website, the 684 mail-in absentee ballots recorded in Bladen County for the 9th District congressional election do not equal Harris’ apparent district-wide margin of victory. His total Bladen County victory margin of 1,557 votes is greater than his statewide margin.
According to state law, if the board determines irregularities “cast doubt” on the election’s “fairness,” it can call for a new election regardless of the number of votes in question.

12/6/2018 10:44:11 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

MBTS’ Spurgeon College to offer communications degree

December 6 2018 by MBTS and Baptist Press Staff

A new degree program in communications has been introduced at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (MBTS) undergraduate school, Spurgeon College.

The bachelor of arts in communications, is “specifically designed to equip students to expand the footprint of Christ’s Kingdom no matter what industry, vocation or geographical location they find themselves in,” the seminary stated in a news release.
The 120-credit hour program includes ministry core courses such as biblical studies and Christian ministry intertwined with training in journalism, public relations, rhetoric, visual communications and other communications-related vocations.
“When we speak of Spurgeon College existing ‘For the Kingdom,’ offering a bachelor’s degree in communications is one of the ways we can fulfill that mission,” MBTS President Jason Allen said. “In a world filled with questions surrounding the credibility and truthfulness in many areas of communications, most notably journalism, this degree track will instill training and application from a Christian worldview for our students that will be rich in credibility, ethics and accuracy.
“Through these studies, students can take the skills they’ve learned and apply them in bivocational ministry from most anywhere in the world. This enables us to fulfill the Acts 1:8 mandate of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.”
The degree is fully accredited through the Higher Learning Commission and students can earn their degree at Spurgeon College’s Kansas City campus, completely online or through a combination of online and on-campus classes.
Spurgeon College dean Sam Bierig noted that just as Charles H. Spurgeon helped found more than 60 ministries that had great social and cultural impact, so also Midwestern wants to train students who will be engagers of the public sphere.
“Spurgeon College is preparing students for a lifetime of Christian service inside and outside of traditional ministry roles,” Bierig said. “The B.A. in communications is just one more avenue open for students to be trained for broader Christian service in the marketplace and public sphere. It is our great hope that the Lord would use our B.A. in communications graduates to advance Christ-glorifying journalism and media content throughout various industries stateside and abroad.”
One other benefit to students in the communications program will be a full semester of applying the skills they’ve learned through an intensive practicum course.
“What can be more beneficial than practical, hands on experience?” Bierig asked. “Through the practicum, students will be paired up with departments on campus and in other locations to hone the skills they’ve worked hard to learn throughout their coursework.
“Employers are constantly requiring experience from applicants. By writing journalistic stories and press releases, coordinating public relations events, engaging in public speaking opportunities and producing graphic design portfolios, students can enter the workforce with confidence and proficiency in these skills.”
Courses toward the new degree will be offered beginning in fall 2019, with core classes being developed and added into the course rotation incrementally over the next three years until the program is completely populated.
To learn more about the bachelor of arts in communications, visit

12/6/2018 10:44:00 AM by MBTS and Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

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