February 2009

Churches respond to new urban ‘creative class’

February 25 2009 by Robert Dilday, Associated Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — Lights strung from a sanctuary’s ceiling at Epiphany. Art galleries and exhibits. Bicycle repair seminars. Cafes and coffee houses. Worship gatherings in downtown music venues.

In meeting the challenges of revitalized urban neighborhoods across the country, urban churches are rethinking the ways they connect with their adjacent communities, combining an eclectic mix of edgy art and ancient Christian traditions.


Urban churches reach out to the ‘creative class’ with edgy art, ancient traditions.

For some 20 years, many of America’s cities have been seeing a trend toward reverse migration from the suburbs to increasingly vibrant downtowns. There, the new urban dwellers are finding an array of lofts and condominiums, restaurants and clubs, lively street festivals and vibrant art and music scenes. The urban neighborhoods are attracting artists, musicians and others of what sociologist Richard Florida calls the “creative class,” as well as professionals, students and retirees — all seeking the energy and spontaneity often missing in the suburbs.

It’s new territory for many Christian congregations that fled deteriorating downtowns in the 1960s for more fruitful fields of harvest in the burgeoning suburbs — and now see a growing and culturally influential class of creative people populating inner cities.

“I wouldn’t say we’re going after a niche market,” says Winn Collier, pastor of the newly planted All Souls Church in Charlottesville, Va. The congregation — affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia — ministers in Charlottesville’s lively downtown area, not far from the University of Virginia. “We want to be a church for the whole city. But one of the cultures that we have a deep resonance with and in which we want to see the gospel take root is the artistic, progressive urbanite.”

“These people have an incredible cultural, as well as social and economic, influence,” said Pastor Jonathan Dodson of Austin City Life, a Baptist church in the Texas capital’s downtown. “They can help renew the social fabric of the city, and if they are brought to redemption, they can apply those redemptive elements to the city as well.”

To connect with the new urbanites, churches in their midst reflect a potent blend of artistic integrity, authentic community and groundedness — a sense of place that might surprise suburban dwellers — while also navigating the tricky terrain of increased diversity and tolerance.

“The creative class moves around a lot, and so they’re attracted by the idea of being rooted,” said Chris Backert, co-pastor of Imago Dei, a new church gathering people from the Fan and Museum districts in Richmond, Va. “That’s why you find them in older, renovated urban neighborhoods, because they find there a sense of rootedness.”

That rootedness often is expressed in worship that closely follows ancient Christian traditions — with a contemporary twist. “We need to be in touch with the broader church,” said Collier, whose Charlottesville church follows Celtic Christian patterns of worship.

“We cross geographic lines, and we need to cross historical lines as well. We’re asking less and less what radical new things must be done (in worship), but asking what have God’s people, when they have been faithful, done to incarnate the gospel in worship time and time again? What are the common themes and strands?”

“We are drawn to the traditions of the ancient church and the teachings of St. Benedict and the Desert Fathers,” said Don Vanderslice, pastor of Mosaic, another Austin church with Texas Baptist ties. “There is a strong contemplative and liturgical strain that informs our worship, and we follow the Christian calendar and the lectionary.”

A sense of community, especially across social and economic barriers, also is key, Dodson added. “I think the idea of the new urbanism, apart from making it a more attractive city to live in, is to create more community within the city. The church has a big part to play in that.”

At Ecclesia, a Baptist congregation in Houston’s trendy Montrose district, Pastor Chris Seay has tried to create community by finding the places where “people naturally connect.” Identifying those places is “the postmodern equivalent of knocking on doors,” he said. It also led Ecclesia to operate Taft Street Coffee.

“When you create space for people to talk and drink coffee, allow a place for people to converse, it creates community,” Seay says. “We really believe that to be salt in our society, we need to begin the conversation.”

That led Seay, when Ecclesia was first gathering a congregation, to “office” at a local coffee house and bar with a regular supply of tickets to Houston Astros games in his pocket — and invite people he met to join him at the stadium.

“Baseball’s slow pace is beautiful. It allows for conversation and eating in a relaxed atmosphere,” he explained.

The result was a number of additions to the church’s faith community, including two bartenders who invited friends from their extensive network.


Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond is an established church transitioning to meet the New Urban challenges of its very popular in-town neighborhood, the Fan. Lights are strung throughout the sanctuary during Ephiphany.

Community often comes out of churches’ artistic endeavors, said Sterling Severns, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, a 118-year-old congregation in Richmond’s Fan District. Last year before Pentecost, the church printed photographs of items from its history and of current ministries and church members, cut the photographs into the shapes of doves and asked members to write prayer requests on the back. For Pentecost Sunday, dozens of the doves hung on strings from the sanctuary’s ceiling. “That creative exercise took a group of people who didn’t really know each other and helped transform them into the community that people are longing for,” said Severns. “By finding a creative way for people to express themselves, it facilitated people getting to know each other.”

An artistic vision drives worship at Austin City Life as well. “We very much reflect our surroundings of music,” says Dodson, whose church meets in a music venue in Austin’s Sixth Street entertainment district.

“We have three worship leaders, all remarkable musicians, all write their own music. We delight in seeing these musicians growing in their faith and seeing how it influences their art, and that way it influences the community.”

At Mosaic, which maintains an art gallery, “We had to make a conscious decision about how to use limited space, which is valuable,” said Vanderslice. “To dedicate space to an art gallery is a strong statement.”

The diversity and tolerance that allows art to flourish also stretches churches seeking to engage those who practice and value that art.

“We believe the church doesn’t exist to be anti-culture,” said Dodson. “Some churches begin with sin; we try to begin with the gospel, which of course addresses sin. But it’s a hopeful beginning, not a condemning one. We’re trying to take the redemptive approach, though we don’t run away from issues.”

“The foundation we stand on is respect,” Tabernacle’s Severns said. “It’s not that we’re opening the doors to encourage diversity but that whoever walks through the doors deserves respect. It’s not diversity for diversity’s sake; all God’s people deserve respect — period.”

“Diversity is a tough question and stretches us in ways that are messy,” All Souls’ Collier said. “It comes down to authenticity. If we are a community of faith living out a believer’s lifestyle, then a lot of things happen in the context of relationships, and acceptance comes bottom-up, not top-down.”

Vanderslice agreed authenticity is critical. “In our worship (at Mosaic) we’re not very smooth.... But we’re OK with mistakes, with the fact that it’s not an air of professionalism but of genuine authenticity. There’s a draw there for artists because they know the creative process is not a smooth process. There are lots of mistakes, lots of do-overs.... I think that the liturgy rings true for our people because the liturgy seems creative. It can be messy, but in the end, something beautiful has been created.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Dilday is associate editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald.)

2/25/2009 4:08:00 AM by Robert Dilday, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Russian Baptists denounce bogus newspaper

February 25 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

MOSCOW — Russian Baptists denounced the injection of religion into politics after a bogus newspaper circulated in a mayoral race falsely identified a candidate as a Baptist in an effort to besmirch his character.

According to Internet reports, a counterfeit newspaper stuffed into mailboxes in the western Russian city of Smolensk claimed Baptists were supporting a mayoral candidate in hopes that his election would cause Baptists to rival the Russian Orthodox Church for influence.

“Russian Baptists are for Maslakov!” appeared as a banner headline in the supposed special edition of The Protestant, presumably forged as a political dirty trick.


Allegedly bogus headline reads 'Russian Baptists are for Maslakov!'

The article claimed that Baptists all over Russia and from around the world were hoping candidate Sergy Maslakov “will become the first Baptist mayor in Russia” in the upcoming March 1 election. But Baptist leaders said Maslakov, one of 10 candidates running for mayor, is largely unknown outside the region and has no known ties to Baptists.

The article alluded to rumors of rampant sexual immorality and pedophilia among Baptists, and implied Russian Baptist churches are funded largely by Western sources, including the government of the United States.

“Political con-artists are trying to turn the respected, 140-year history of Baptists in Russia into a horror story in hopes of helping and hurting certain political parties,” said Vitaly Vlasenko, the Russian Baptist union’s director of external church affairs.

Viktor Ignatenkov, pastor of First Baptist Church of Smolensk, told the Slavic Legal Center the candidate has no relationship to Baptists and has never been a member of a Baptist church. He said the anonymous authors apparently intended to inflame irreligious strife with statements about Baptists that are patently false.

Anatoly Pchelintsev, a university professor and chief editor of the Religion and Law journal told Slavic Legal Center that Baptists have never conducted themselves in ways described in the newspaper or interfered in political activity. He joined Russian Baptists in saying law enforcement should investigate who was behind the publication.

Smolensk, with more than 300,000 citizens, is one of Russia’s oldest cities and scene of some of the heaviest fighting during World War II. Located on the Dnieper River, it is a port city and important rail junction for distribution of agricultural products and other goods.

It is also hometown of the new Russian Patriarch, Metropolitan Kirill, who supports better relations between the Orthodox Church and other faith groups.

Tensions between Orthodox leaders and minority faiths are not uncommon in the former Soviet Union. Last year a court in Smolensk dissolved a Methodist church for having a Sunday school attended by four children, but Russia’s Supreme Court later reversed the decision.

The First Baptist Church of Smolensk, on the other hand, was recognized by the government of Vladimir Putin with a medal recognizing its social ministries.

The International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, recently sponsored a groundbreaking conference aimed at improving Baptist-Orthodox relations in European contexts with an Orthodox religious majority.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

2/25/2009 4:05:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bihar wells launch churches of living water

February 24 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

A curious gallery watches from rooftops and doorways when new believers gather for worship in the courtyards of Indian villages first opened to the gospel by deep water wells provided by Christians.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

An Indian man works with a well pipe in Bihar. N.C. Baptist Men have been working to bring wells to villages with little or no water access. View India photo gallery.

In the desperately poor villages in Bihar, commonly acknowledged as India’s most illiterate and backward state, new wells are going down and churches are popping up all over. In each village where Christians have brought fresh water, church planters bringing the news of “living water” find a receptive audience.

Biju Thomas, an Indian with Bihar on his heart, formed Transformation India Movement in 2002 to reach the vast numbers of his countrymen who have never heard the name of Jesus.

“I saw so many unreached people and the harvest force was few in number,” Thomas said. “I wanted to see a movement taking place.”

Thomas was introduced to Richard Brunson, director of North Carolina Baptist Men, during a visit to the United States in 2006. Brunson was struck by Thomas’ sincerity, vision and abilities and led N.C. Baptist Men to add Transformation India Movement to its list of active partnerships.
Vast opportunity
Thomas has outlined for himself an extraordinary task, as Bihar is a state a little larger than North Carolina with 10 times the population – 85 million people. Bordering Nepal to its north, Bihar’s people crowd into a few big cities, like Patna and Muzaffarpur, but mostly they scratch out a subsistence living in 45,000 villages of 200 to 600 people.

In most villages, open sewers slice through narrow walkways and drain toward the fields.  Cows are staked to front doors and their dung is patted into disks and slammed against the walls to dry in the sun, each with a visible hand print. When dry, villagers peel off the dung patties and store them in stacks to use later as fuel for heating and cooking.

Empty rice and wheat stalks are piled nearby to feed the cows, whose skin hangs loosely from protruding hip bones, and who chew placidly, not daring to strain against the ropes stretched tightly through their nostrils. Everything is brown. From the swept dirt courtyards to the unpaved streets and paths between the mud wall houses to the stacks of stalks, and brown air carrying the dust kicked up by brown people and brown cows.

Only the brightly colored saris covering diminutive women head to toe break the relentlessly drab and dusty landscape. Curry spices a steady diet of noodles, rice and potatoes and fried bread.

Thomas was working in Faridabad, near Delhi for Trans World Radio (TWR) when TWR wanted to begin planting churches there and asked Thomas to take the lead, but he resisted. A third generation Christian, born in Kerela, where more than 30 percent of the people are Christian and all can read, he had little desire to move permanently a world away.

It would be a 56-hour train ride from his parents and a century or more behind his present.

Eventually, he felt the tug of God and began to see the people through His eyes and in 1995 he pioneered TWR work in Bihar. In 2002 he formed TIM and is gathering resources globally to transform the state.  
Adopting villages
Thomas is looking for sponsors to adopt each of the 45,000 villages in Bihar. For about $4,000 a sponsor can fund a new well, a church planter, a bicycle for the church planter, a one-day medical clinic, literacy training and 200 Bibles and hymn books. To fund a well alone is $800. Sponsors can easily round the numbers up to provide some operating capital for TIM.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Ted Menster, of Troutman Baptist Church, shares his video with the children of his church's adopted village. View India photo gallery.

TIM operates a Great Commission Training Center in Patna that has prepared 120 church planters and 50 other church volunteers. TIM also has started the Mercy Home orphanage that keeps 15 boys off the street and provides security and education. Its Bridge of Hope Tailoring Center teaches women to sew and provides a new machine with which they can start a business.

Having a skill like a seamstress and a business too offers a woman the chance to support a family and increases the value of a single woman in the eyes of potential in-laws.

Thomas, who started TIM with no sponsors in 2002, employs 48 people and operates on a $150,000 budget.

The North Carolina Baptist connection has been especially fruitful as they have provided funds to adopt 50 villages and to dig an additional 180 wells. Thomas employs local well digging teams, which helps the local economies.

A well requires 7-10 days to dig if drillers do not hit rock. The equipment is ancient: a weighted pipe tied to a lever and hinged on a vertical frame is lifted and dropped. A man halfway up the frame holds his hand over the pipe end to create suction to pull a small bit of water and mud up with each stroke.

They can dig as much as 60 feet a day with this method in soft ground. Although they often find water around 30 feet, they dig each well at least 100 feet deep.

Thomas leaves a committee of seven in charge of each well. They are responsible for maintenance. Each well is dedicated in a Christian ceremony and a permanent sign tells villagers this well is provided by Christians and represents the “living water” of John 4.

The new well and the “Jesus” film which church planters show in the villages, work together to make tangible the “living water” offered by Jesus. Deep water wells with a closed system and a pump provide water much cleaner and safer than the open wells they replace. Dirt, dung and debris can fall into those wells and in the rainy season, worms make them totally unusable.
Caste system begs for wells

The ancient caste system of the Hindu religion still plagues India, especially in rural areas. Even though every person in a village may be dirt poor, castes still exist within the same economic strata.

That means that the available water source in some villages is restricted by caste. When Christians build a new well it is open to all. Those new wells bring a palpable hope and joy easily apparent to visitors.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Richard Brunson, director of N.C. Baptist Men, gives a sewing class graduate a new machine that will enable her to start a profession. View India photo gallery.

Christian believers often are not allowed to take water from other people or wells, according to Thomas. It is not uncommon for new believers to be ostracized from their families and to lose their jobs. Landlords can expel them.

With a laborer earning an average daily wage of 120 rupees — about $3 — even an entire family or village would have difficulty funding a new well on their own.

Wells are like a key to the village. A new well opens all the doors and villagers are receptive to the message of the ones who provided it.

Five North Carolina Baptists visited Bihar with Biju Thomas to participate in a well dedication and to assess progress and opportunities for work. With Brunson were the Biblical Recorder editor; Mark Abernathy, who directs the N.C. Baptist Men partnerships; Chad Lingerfelt, administrative pastor at the River Community Church in Fayetteville; and Ted Menster, a member of Troutman Baptist Church, which has adopted the village of Mohan Chak, where a medical clinic was held.

A worship service in Mohan Chak demonstrates the equalizing power of the gospel. Populated primarily by Dalits, the lowest caste, the church in this village includes at least one believer from the highest caste.

In Babhanpura a new Christian stands to testify. Through an interpreter in a crowded upstairs room in fading light the stone mason confesses to an earlier problem with alcohol. Since he found Christ, he said his prayers seem to be especially effectual and now even high caste persons seek him for prayers on their behalf.

“We have drilled wells in some villages where they heard the name of Jesus for the first time because of the well,” Thomas said. “One hundred die every hour in Bihar who never heard the name of Jesus. Every day and a half, the twin towers fall again in Bihar.”

Related stories, photos:
How you can help Transformed India Movement
Cows improve Bengali lives
Spoke'n: Body incinerator most arresting India image
India photo gallery

2/24/2009 5:12:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Ways to help Transformation India Movement

February 24 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

As Baptist Men’s Director Richard Brunson told eager church planter candidates at the Great Commission Training Center in Patna, “When North Carolina churches hear about you, they get excited about what is happening here.”

A list of possibilities:
  • $4,000 — Adopt a village. This money funds a new well, a church planter for one year, a bicycle for the planter, a one-day medical clinic, showing of the “Jesus” film, literacy training, 200 Bibles and 200 hymn books.
  • $800 — Provide a well
  • $1,200 — Support a church planter for one year. “We have 10 church planters ready to go,” Thomas said. “They just need support.” Each planter works in at least five villages.
  • $600 — Support a child at Mercy Home orphanage for one year. $50 monthly. Thomas plans to start a home for girls, as well.
  • $100 — Purchase a new, pedal powered sewing machine to give a graduate the tool she needs to start her business and become self supporting.
  • $390,000 — Purchase three acres of land and build a facility in which Transforming India Movement (TIM) can locate its offices, the Great Commission Training Center and Mercy Home orphanage. A site has been identified near Rupuspur that is available for $150,000. Land costs are rising quickly because the Indian government is committed to move the area forward and modernize it.
  • Monthly — Any amount to support the ongoing work of Transformation India Movement. Thomas and his wife, Margaret, had made an early commitment not to tell others of their needs. But they operate on $150,000 annually, support 48 people in various ministries and have personally had to move seven times in 10 years. Landlords do not like the traffic the orphanage and Great Commission Training Center create and are limiting TIM’s capacities for training and caring for children.
Gifts and support are best funneled through the Baptist Men’s partnership office, Brunson said. This keeps transfer fees overseas to a minimum and enables the partnership office to stay abreast of North Carolina Baptist involvement in the partnership.

Thomas married Margaret in 2001 and they have daughter Christine, 7, and son Nathan, 3. They met when Thomas was featured in a Christian magazine as an eligible bachelor with a commitment to Bihar. Her own calling was to Bihar before they ever met.

Although he received 10 proposals for marriage from the article, he said Margaret’s was the first – and the only match because of her commitment to minister in Bihar. They married 15 days after meeting.

Thomas wants to establish work in each of the 39 districts of Bihar. So far TIM is in eight.

“I desire there should not be any village that doesn’t hear the gospel,” he said. “I want to spread the work to other states, too. We are getting many requests from people to ‘come help us.’”

Thomas will be speaking Saturday, March 21 at the annual Baptist Men’s meeting at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. He has appointments in the Fayetteville area March 22, and in Raleigh on March 24. He is still establishing his schedule and could possibly speak at your church or association. Contact Baptist Men for his schedule at (919) 459-5597.

Related stories, photos:
Bihar wells launch churches of living water
Cows improve Bengali lives
Spoke'n: Body incinerator most arresting India image
India photo gallery

2/24/2009 5:03:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Cows improve Bengali lives

February 24 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

KOLKATA, India — A dozen widows and abandoned women in India’s West Bengal state are now better able to care for their families, thanks to a Southern Baptist development project that drew on $22,000 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund.

The project focused on women in two villages who were living in desperate poverty, some with small children who were suffering from malnutrition. Because they were members of a minority religious group, many of their neighbors looked down on them and would not help.

BGR photo

A dozen widows and abandoned women in India's West Bengal state are now better able to care for their families, thanks to a Southern Baptist development project that drew on the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to help the families launch small dairy operations. A recent North Carolina Baptist Men group went to India. To see photos, view India photo gallery.

A Southern Baptist field partner who had seen the plight of these families believed their lives could be dramatically improved if the women were given a dairy cow and shown how to care for it. Not only would the assistance demonstrate Christ’s compassion for all people, but it also could be done for as little as $80 per family.

“The gift of a cow to a desperately poor family is an appropriate expression of Christian charity and a tangible demonstration of the love of Christ,” said the field partner, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. “A donated dairy cow would significantly improve the economic viability of the recipient family. They would have little difficulty in caring for the cow and have ready access to food and veterinary care. A year-round market exists for milk and local vendors roam the area looking for villagers willing to sell milk.”

Helping a poor family earn some modest income by selling milk would improve their lives and give them opportunities in turn to help others.

Working with community leaders and local Christians, the field partner identified households headed by women who had no reliable source of income and were finding it difficult to educate and feed their children. Each family was given a dairy cow and a newborn calf and shown how to care for them. The project provided food and veterinary care for the animals and, over the course of six to nine months, proceeds from milk sales reimbursed the cost of purchasing the cattle.

Once that was accomplished, the family could build on their dairy business and help find other families who could benefit.

Although it took longer than expected to find a reliable source of healthy cattle and to secure experienced veterinary care, the first round of the project went very well, the field partner said.

“We have seen significant poverty relief in several families,” he said. “One widow with two children ‘paid off’ her cow quickly and used the income to set up a small shop on a nearby rail platform. One abandoned woman with eight young children now has better food for her family.”

Your world hunger gifts through your church, association or Baptist State Convention fund hunger-alleviating and life-giving projects like this one.

Related stories, photos:
Bihar wells launch churches of living water
How you can help Transformed India Movement
Spoke'n: Body incinerator most arresting India image
India photo gallery
2/24/2009 4:56:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

RecLab combines physical, spiritual

February 23 2009 by Brooklyn Noel Lowery, Baptist Press

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Playtime could change your life.

In sports and recreation ministry, the activity is secondary, said John Garner, host of LifeWay’s annual RecLab.

“Sharing the gospel in an intentional way is the primary purpose,” he said. “If you’re just there to play games, you can do that at the city park. Life is too short and the gospel is too important.”

LifeWay has been hosting RecLab conferences since the mid-1960s to provide training, tips, insight into trends and networking opportunities to individuals who work in sports and recreation ministry.

Because it encompasses everything from church softball leagues and sports camps to family festivals and father-son game nights, some 200 RecLab participants arrived in San Antonio — from as far away as Albany, N.Y. — with a variety of needs and hopes for the Jan. 25-29 sessions.

Pleasant Garden
Caleb Neff, family life director at Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, said RecLab taught him a “bazillion games” to take back to his church.

A pastor’s kid from Burlington, Neff said the goal of his church is to “use games, fitness, sports to reach out to the community around us.”

A huge part of that effort involves Upward, a sports ministry. Neff said about 600 children (divided into 64 teams) are involved this season.

“A lot of the kids that play Upward start coming to church,” Neff said.

BP photo by Kent Harville

During a breakout session at RecLab, John Thompson, center, directs Caleb Neff, left, of Greensboro and Kyle Kilgore of Rockville, Md.

Many of the games Neff learned at RecLab can be utilized in children and youth ministries so he is hoping to share with others on staff at Pleasant Garden.

Neff said RecLab does not “single out the best athlete” but instead gets everybody involved.

“Everybody can be a winner,” Neff said.

RecLab “is a great learning experience,” said Neff, who was a four-sport athlete in high school and played football for Liberty University.

While at Liberty, Neff said he worked with intramural sports, helping run 80 intramural basketball teams.

One of the ways Pleasant Garden is reaching out is inviting the community in during its open hours. A basketball night after church on Wednesdays draws people in to play.

“Most of them are unchurched and they come and listen,” Neff said of the speakers that share with the group each week. Some have even started coming to church because Pleasant Garden’s people have shown an interest in their lives.

“We try to reach everybody and not leave anyone out,” said Neff.

A key to sharing Christ with others in the family life center is to have God everywhere. Neff said they post verses around the family life center as well as play Christian music during open hours.

As a first-time family life director, Neff said he sometimes calls on his mom for help with ideas. She is athletic director for Burlington Christian Academy.

Eddie Robertson, minister of recreation at First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., said he has lost count of how many RecLab conferences he has attended -— perhaps “eight or so.”

“When I first came to RecLab, I felt kind of isolated and like I was out there on my own trying to make recreation ministry happen,” Robertson said. “But I came and found other people who were turning sports into ministry. It was encouraging.”

While Robertson was among this year’s RecLab veterans, Garner said first-time attendees make up a growing percentage of each year’s conference participants.

“We live in a leisure-driven culture,” Garner said, “and pastors are looking for a way to tap into that mentality. They see other churches having success with a recreation ministry and they send people (to RecLab) and tell them, ‘Go find out what this is all about.’”

“The face of my church is older,” said Stacey Smith, a first-time RecLab attendee and minister of recreation at First Baptist Church in Madison, Miss. “I’m really looking for activities that I could offer to senior adults.”

Before he had even attended the “Senior adult 65+” breakout session, Smith began learning about the In His Grip golf ministry founded by RecLab speaker Scott Lehman. After listening to Lehman’s presentation, Smith said golfing seemed like an activity that could show promise for fellowship and as an outreach opportunity at his church.

“I realize recreation ministry is probably one of the biggest front doors we have,” Smith said. “The nature of the ministry means we can provide things the music minister can’t. We’re able to get out of the building and onto the field.”

Organized into sports, outdoor and adventure recreation, men’s ministry and other tracks, RecLab enabled attendees to follow a particular subject throughout the 10 track times or learn a little something about everything.

During his “What is this work and how do I get started?” session, Garner told attendees that recreation ministry requires leaders who can work with anyone.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lowery is a media relations specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information about RecLab sports and recreation ministry conferences, visit
LifeWay.com/RecLab. BR Assistant Managing Editor Dianna L. Cagle contributed to this article.)

A purpose to ‘games, games, games’

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — John Thompson brought a kid’s point of view.

In his “Games, games, games” and “More games, games, games” breakout sessions, he had attendees juggling foam penguins and cooperating to carry balls between their foreheads.

Thompson, a representative with Sports Supply Group, offered tips with each activity, including:
  • Use cooperative activities, such as partnering to carry a ball between two people’s hips, to encourage athletic children to slow down and help the less-athletic members of the group.
  • “The stopwatch is the great equalizer,” Thompson said.
  • Rather than setting a number goal for games that require repetitious movement, set a time limit and encourage individuals or teams to complete as many repetitions as possible during that time.
  • Don’t forget the lessons the games can teach.
For example, remember to stress that success depends on communication during partner activities.

Thompson also encouraged Rec-Lab attendees to overcome the fear of trying new activities.

“See, juggling isn’t that bad,” he said as tentative attendees tossed brightly colored handkerchiefs in the air.
“And it teaches kids perseverance. This really makes your kids think, ‘I can get past this.’”

Visit LifeWay.com/RecLab.

2/23/2009 9:30:00 AM by Brooklyn Noel Lowery, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Some churches slashing budgets

February 23 2009 by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press

DALLAS — Churches that aren’t cutting their budgets due to the economic downturn are, by and large, taking measures to curb expenses, according to a survey the National Association of Church Business Administration has done of its members.

The organization — the professional society for church administrators of all denominations — released the study Feb. 20. It found that 57 percent of the congregations represented by members surveyed had experienced a slowdown in contributions.
Thirty-two percent of the churches’ administrators said the dip was “not common for our congregation this time of year,” while 25 percent could not say for certain whether the downturn was due to the economy.

Meanwhile, 30 percent of the respondents said their churches were “doing okay” but “not seeing strong growth in financial support.” Twelve percent said their giving was “strong” and continuing to grow, while only 1 percent said their financial support was “very strong.”

Twenty percent of the respondents said their churches had been forced to lay off employees and 26 percent said they had postponed a major capital project. Nearly half — 47 percent — said they had reduced or frozen staff compensation packages.

Phill Martin is NACBA’s deputy chief executive and a veteran Baptist church administrator. He said the 32 percent of members who believed the economy had definitely affected their congregations was much higher than the 14 percent who thought so when they answered a similar survey in August.

“I think we are starting to see more pain felt — although nothing like in the private sector,” Martin, who is also a member of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, said.

Martin noted that it is often more difficult for churches than businesses or secular non-profits to judge whether the economy is responsible for a dip in contributions or if it owes to some other factor, such as church conflict or the a lack of a pastor.

“Our local ABC (TV) affiliate came and asked me to give them the names of five churches in (economic) trouble,” he said. “But I can give you five churches in trouble when the economy’s in good shape.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.)


2/23/2009 9:29:00 AM by Robert Marus, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CBF cuts spending, partners

February 23 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

DECATUR, Ga. — Starting March 1, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) will operate on a contingency spending plan that cuts staff salaries by 1 percent and reduces funding for theology schools and other CBF partner organizations by 30 percent.

The plan, adopted by the CBF advisory council and reported to the full CBF Coordinating Council Feb. 19-20, saves $5.5 million over the next 19 months.

Connie McNeill, the Fellowship’s coordinator of administration, said the cutbacks anticipate a worst-case scenario of revenue projections during the current economic recession. Should the financial picture get brighter, she said, the cuts will be only temporary.

“You can imagine that these have been painful and thoughtful decisions,” McNeill said. “We are fully aware of the possible implications to the entire Fellowship movement. We also know that we are held responsible by you to be good fiscal managers of CBF.”

McNeill said no current CBF employees will lose their jobs in the contingency plan, but some vacant positions will not be filled. She said further staff reductions could come in the future, however.

Daniel Vestal, CBF’s executive coordinator, is recovering from surgery and did not attend the meeting.
The plan cuts salaries by 1 percent across the board and decreases contributions to employees’ retirement plans by 3 percent. It includes no raises in 2010, reduces travel by 20 percent and requires employees to reimburse CBF for personal use of their cell phones.

CBF has about 60 paid employees at its headquarters in Atlanta, along with 135 global-mission personnel in 29 countries. Thirty-five of those missionaries are CBF “affiliates,” who are commissioned by CBF but provide or raise their own support.

The contingency plan also cuts funding for 15 theological schools and 17 other autonomous “partners” that receive part of their support through CBF. They include Associated Baptist Press, which stands to see its $110,000 annual CBF allocation — about a fifth of its annual budget — reduced by $33,000 in each of the next two budget years.

Jack Glasgow, CBF moderator, said receipts early in the fiscal year were about 79 percent of budget levels, prompting CBF to cut back spending to 80 percent of amounts approved in the 2008-2009 budget adopted at last year’s General Assembly in Memphis, Tenn.

“This is a spending plan that is an effort to match our current spending with receipts, and it is based on the early-fiscal-year look at receipts,” said Glasgow, pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C.

Glasgow said in an interview that partners would be cut at a higher level — 30 percent instead of 20 percent — because they have the possibility of making up the difference from other sources.

“With partners and schools, CBF funding is a piece the funding,” Glasgow said. “A 20 percent cut is a real 20 percent cut to us.”

CBF leaders said they decided to tighten the belt now, rather than waiting for a crisis that could force even harder decisions down the road.

“We’re trying to figure out how not to panic,” said Colleen Burroughs, chair of the CBF finance committee. “Everybody in America is panicking right now. It’s better to come up with a plan now to spend wisely on the front end rather than to panic on the back end.”

Burroughs said if the economy rebounds and revenues increase, CBF can go back to spending at budget levels. Glasgow said any funding due partners and schools would be made up at the end of the year.

“We did not feel reserves were at a place where we could ignore this revenue shortfall,” Glasgow said. He added that if revenues are lower than the contingency plan anticipates, such as 78 percent instead of 80 percent of budget levels, reserves could be tapped to make up the difference.

In other business, the Coordinating Council approved a $16,150,000 budget for 2009-2010. The contingency plan continues into that budget year, however, meaning that unless revoked the new budget will start out with spending at 80 percent.

The proposed budget, to be presented for approval at the CBF General Assembly July 2-3 in Houston, is 2 percent lower than the $16.5 million originally budgeted for 2008-2009.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)


2/23/2009 9:26:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In downturn, corporate chaplains step up

February 20 2009 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

ATLANTA — Behind the crashing numbers on Wall Street and the failing finances of once-thriving business are the stories of people facing pay cuts, unemployment, family worries and crises of faith.

Amid these traumas, Southern Baptist chaplains who serve in corporate settings are seeing greater opportunities to engage hurting people.

Mark Cress, a North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain, is president of Corporate Chaplains of America, encompassing more than 100 chaplains, most of them Southern Baptists.

“We make ourselves available 24/7 for businesses, we offer our services free of charge to them, and business owners see a real value in our ability to help alleviate emotional strain caused by family life problems and market problems,” Cress said.

Corporate chaplains work with multiple companies, ranging from hundreds of employees to dozens. The chaplains make “rounds” and build relationships, though sometimes it takes years before permission and opportunity arise to share Christ with a person.

Photo by John Swain

Chaplain Jerry Weaver spends much of his time making rounds at companies in the Atlanta area. One of his clients is a trucking company where employees are feeling the crunch of higher diesel fuel prices. 

But as the nation’s economy has deteriorated, so have the walls between chaplains and employees.

“Sometimes you don’t get beyond talking about football and family,” said chaplain Matt Baldwin, who serves six businesses in North Carolina. “We live in a disengaged culture, though. A lot of people don’t have family nearby. Many don’t have a church. Sometimes I’ll think I’ll never get beyond small talk. Then I’ll be surprised.”

Baldwin tells the story of a man who stopped him for conversation recently after years of silence. “I spent around three years of doing rounds with him, checking on him each week. One day he pulled me aside. He disclosed more than I could have ever imagined.”

More than helping employees open up about their feelings and life issues, chaplains work within the context of a friendship to share a hope-filled response to life’s crises.

“We can share Christ as long as we’re invited to share what we believe,” said chaplain Bill Ciocco, who serves in South Carolina.

Many chaplains have a background in business and a heart for businesspeople.

“We have different types of casualties in the workplace,” said Jerry Weaver, a chaplain to trucking companies near Atlanta. In addition to employees who lose jobs or experience pay cuts, there are the “left behinds. Those who say, ‘Why wasn’t it me?’

“We also focus now on employers, most of whom experience grief even as they are forced to lay off for the health of a company,” Weaver said.

“We really have unprecedented access,” he said.

Currently, 2,875 Southern Baptist chaplains have been endorsed by the North American Mission Board. As economic uncertainty builds, chaplains increasingly are working to incorporate the assistance of local churches and believers who can serve as lay community chaplains. Chaplains serve in a variety of settings including medical centers, the military, prisons and in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief work. To learn about NAMB chaplains, visit www.namb.net/chaplains.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine, published by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/20/2009 11:21:00 AM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baptists born through difficult labor of religious liberty

February 19 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

If Baptists' fifth century is to be faithful to its first four, its adherents will continue their tradition of "uncoerced faith grounded in the power of conscience and the inevitability of dissent," according to Bill Leonard, historian and dean of Wake Forest University's Divinity School.

Leonard, who has taught at places like Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Samford University in addition to Wake Forest, spoke Feb. 9 during the Convocation for a New Baptist Century at First Baptist Church, Greensboro. The year 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of Baptists emerging as an identifiable entity in Amsterdam.

Their birth knew the difficult and deadly pains of labor, as they were persecuted for their commitment to faith based on conscience and not coercion from a state sponsored religion. They were "an unashamed Christian sect, born of the idea that the church should be composed only of believers, those who could testify to a work of grace through faith in Jesus Christ," Leonard said at the event sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

"Baptists understood conscience and dissent in light of the need for sinners to be 'regenerated,' made new through conversion to Christ," he said. "Yet in their assertion that conscience could not be compelled by either state-based or faith-based establishments, they flung the door wide for religious liberty and pluralism in ways that even they may not have fully understood."

That religious liberty for which some early Baptists were martyred meant freedom not only from state-based churches, but also freedom from persecution for non-believers or adherents of non-Christian faiths.

Their "commitment to freedom of conscience led Baptists to oppose religious establishments and develop principles of religious liberty that anticipated modern pluralism," Leonard said.

He briefly traced some examples of Baptist dissent from the state church in Europe and disagreements that emerged among believers in America. Baptists "began as a community of dissent," he said, and were "non-conformists who often refused to abide by the rules of religious uniformity demanded by the state-based churches of their day."

They rejected laws that compelled them to support a "religious communion in which they had no voice."

Baptists were unruly and never "all that respectable," Leonard said. "As their earliest critics saw it, Baptists demonstrated bad theology, bad citizenship and bad manners every time they opened their mouths."

While they freely argued with opponents and each other they asserted the right of others to do the same.

They rejected the idea of being born into a state-sponsored religion or church and maintained that "true faith was grounded in freedom to choose or reject God's gift of grace," Leonard said.

He said even in America, conscience carried Baptists into dissent, setting them against the "principalities and powers" of religious and political establishments, leading to exiles, imprisonments and sometimes death.  

What of the future? "How might Baptist churches become, in the words of Roger Williams and John Clarke, 'a shelter for persons distressed of conscience' and a prophetic community that distresses the consciences of members and non-members alike in response to the great issues, ideas and injustices of our times?" Leonard asked.

"Might we determine to nurture a safe environment in the church and the society where consciences are enlivened even as they collide?"

He said it is important to discern and challenge "religio-political establishments that seek privilege and entitlement through sectarian or secular hegemony over politics, religion, educational institutions and economics."

Leonard asked if early Baptists' radical understanding of conscience might encourage an environment in which everyone can speak even when differences are vast and irreconcilable.

He implied that the organizational structure that might aid Baptists in "perpetuating an effective witness in the world" might more closely resemble the older "society method" of Baptist organization, "rather than the more Southern-style “associational or convention' systems."

He said, "Societies allow for multiple groups with varying ideological emphases to join together (not necessarily unite) around common ministry endeavors to facilitate mission, ministry, education, publication, evangelism, and identity."

He suggested that with their early brothers, modern Baptists might examine and raise voices of dissent "in the face of such issues as mass culture, media religion, and the struggle for global resources," even if that dissent "will never secure majoritarian approval."

(EDITOR'S NOTE — The full text of Leonard's speech is available as a pdf file here.)

 For complete coverage, visit Baptists at 400.

2/19/2009 7:32:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

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