February 2015

War in eastern Ukraine aids church planting in the west

February 27 2015 by Marc Ira Hooks, IMB Communications


KIEV, Ukraine – One year after the Euromaidan Revolution on Kiev’s Independence Square thousands came this weekend to memorialize “The Heavenly Hundred” – those who lost their lives during last February’s bloody protests.
Much has changed in Ukraine over the past year. A new president is in office. War continues in the east between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian Army despite a recently negotiated cease-fire agreement.
But not all news coming out of Ukraine is bad. At the same time prayer services were being held for the fallen at Maidan, a new church was being birthed across town as 16 people gathered for worship in a former beauty salon.
Pastor Oleg, who leads the new congregation, is a church planter from the Luhansk region who has been forced to flee his home, and his church, due to the war.


“This was not in my plan,” Oleg said. “I had no desire to come to the big city. I was content to pastor my church and plant new churches in the Luhansk region. But, God had different plans.”
Leaders of the church-planting program at the Kiev Theological Seminary say Baptist leaders in Ukraine recently began an emphasis to plant new churches in Kiev and other areas of the west. However, they were short on church planters and did not know who would start and lead these new church plants.
International Mission Board worker Dan Upchurch, who teaches church planting at the seminary, explained that many of their students came from Ukraine’s east, which has seen the fastest percentage of church growth over the past 25 years.
Upchurch said that in recent months they have seen several of the church planting students move from their homes in the east so they could continue to plant churches in the central and western parts of the country.
When asked if he would ever return to his home church, a teary-eyed Oleg said that he longed for the day he could return.
“But, in the meantime, I will plant churches,” he said. “That is what God designed me to do.”
* Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marc Ira Hooks is a media producer for IMB based in Europe.)

  • PRAY - Pray for pastors like Oleg who are planting churches away from their homes. Pray for IMB workers like Dan Upchurch who are investing their lives in reaching Ukrainians. Pray that lives will be changed and that people will repent and be saved as a result of Christian witness during this time of war.

  • LEARN MORE - CommissionStories Eurasia has been covering the crisis in Ukraine since March 2014. View our interactive timeline or our story archive.

  • CONNECT - For more information on how you can be involved, like the Rebirth: Eastern Ukraine Facebook page or send an email to: rebirtheasternukraine@gmail.com.

  • GIVE - Thousands of homes in Mariupol need immediate repairs after numerous missiles hit the city on Saturday, Jan. 24. Youth and adults from several churches are already assisting their neighbors with plastic sheeting to cover windows and doors to keep out the cold. To help, go to netcommunity.imb.org/StrategicOpportunities. In the “Find projects by keywords” search box, type “Ukraine,” and you can find more information on how to give.

2/27/2015 1:52:49 PM by Marc Ira Hooks, IMB Communications | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists, SBC leaders pray for revival

February 27 2015 by K. Allan Blume & Seth Brown, BR staff

It’s been more than 200 years since the 1806 Haystack Prayer Meeting in Williamstown, Mass. – the famous prayer gathering of five college students as they took shelter from a storm. That meeting, many believe, was the initial event that led to a revival and a profound missions movement. Many Southern Baptist leaders today are praying for another such event.
Chris Schofield, director of the Office of Prayer for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, says a prayer for spiritual awakening – a revival – is rising to God all over the country. “It’s been going on for years,” he said.
Pastors and church leaders across North Carolina are coming to Schofield in search of strategies and resources to encourage their congregations to pray.


Chris Schofield
Chris Schofield is the director of the Office of Prayer for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“It’s been building. It’s been growing – the initiatives, the emphases in the different state conventions have all been dovetailing,” he said. “It’s a groundswell.”
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., told Baptist Press in an interview prior to his election to the SBC presidency that, if elected, he would call Southern Baptists to “cry out to God in extraordinary prayer for the next great spiritual awakening in America.”
Floyd has made good on his word. After taking the presidential post, he launched an outright campaign – via an e-book, speaking engagements and blog posts – to plead with Southern Baptists to call out to God in prayer.
There is a sense of desperation, of dependence, in the words of both Schofield and Floyd. “As we come to God in humility and repentance, entering into this special season of extraordinary prayer, we plead with God for spiritual revival personally, revival in the church, and the next Great Awakening in the United States,” writes Floyd.
Schofield wants to make sure that such an emphasis does not come and go as a fad. He wants to see the call to prayer heeded not only by church leaders and pastors, but by people in the pews as well.
“God is a great initiator of prayer,” says Schofield, “and He’s calling.”
To that end, there are seven prayer conferences planned for North Carolina Baptists in 2015. Six are regional; one is statewide. The Statewide Prayer Conference is scheduled for March 13-14 at Village Baptist Church in Fayetteville. The plan also includes a 50-day prayer focus for Hispanic churches in the state.


Ronnie Floyd
Ronnie Floyd is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.


“God is raising up leaders in our convention to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. Our greatest need is not that we become relevant, not that we have the greatest marketing strategy and not that we need some kind of socio-political change. No, our greatest need is God,’” says Schofield.
The 2015 SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 16-17, will emphasize prayer for spiritual awakening according to President Ronnie Floyd. In a recent meeting with Baptist editors, he announced the theme, “Great Awakening,” and a full remake of the convention’s hourly schedule.
Tuesday morning will begin with opening formalities, worship and the president’s address. All six seminaries will follow with back-to-back reports. Floyd said he wants the messengers to see what the “churches are doing through our seminaries.”
The Tuesday afternoon session brings the first introduction of business, including motions, the Executive Committee report and recommendations, the Committee on Committees report, the Committee on Nominations report, the Resolutions Committee report and the election of officers.
“Tuesday night, I want us to call for a national gathering of Southern Baptists to pray for the next great move of God in America and to reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Floyd said. The two hour session will include time to “unpack the Word of God,” pray a lot and worship.
“Are [Southern Baptists] in clear agreement that the number one need of America is a mighty spiritual awakening? I promise you, I know of no hope apart from that,” he said. “We’re all concerned about our nation, let’s call out to God for our nation. God can do more in a moment than I can do in a lifetime.”
The entire Wednesday morning session is reserved for global missions. Messengers will hear from the Woman’s Missionary Union, North American Mission Board (NAMB) and International Mission Board (IMB), followed by a two-hour celebration of missionary sending. Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB and IMB president David Platt will be speaking.
After the Wednesday noon break for seminary luncheons, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission report will be the center point of the afternoon session that will include a panel discussion.
Floyd said since the Supreme Court will release their decision on same-sex marriage in June, “We felt like there is a real need to prepare our churches for whatever happens. Without a move of God we already know where it seems the pendulum is going.”  So a panel of five leading Southern Baptists will be interviewed by Floyd on the subject, “The Supreme Court and same-sex marriage – preparing our churches for the future.” 
Go to praync.org to learn more about prayer events in North Carolina. For more information on the SBC annual convention, visit SBCannualmeeting.net.

2/27/2015 1:43:35 PM by K. Allan Blume & Seth Brown, BR staff | with 0 comments

Survey: 81% for religious freedom on marriage views

February 27 2015 by Staff, National Religious Broadcasters

Contrary to the “inevitability” narrative most Americans have accepted of same-sex marriage, a new survey released Feb. 24 finds broad support for traditional marriage and protection of those who hold such views.
The survey, commissioned by Family Research Council (FRC) in partnership with National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), found that 81 percent of Americans agree that government should “leave people free to follow their beliefs about marriage as they live their daily lives at work and in the way they run their businesses.”
Additionally, 61 percent support the right of states and citizens to uphold traditional marriage, affirming the statement: “Supreme Court should not force all 50 states to redefine marriage.” The survey also found 53 percent of Americans agree marriage should be defined only as the union of one man and one woman.


The survey of 800 registered voters conducted by WPA Opinion Research was released at a news conference in conjunction with the NRB International Christian Media Convention in Nashville.
With the Supreme Court poised to rule this summer on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, FRC President Tony Perkins said the court “will be at a point of overreach if they impose a one-size-fits-all definition of marriage on the nation by redefining it.”
Major policy decisions should not be made without broad social consensus, Perkins said, noting the continuing cultural debate about the issue of abortion more than 40 years after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
“It’s clear, based on [this] polling, that Americans have not reached a broad social consensus that marriage should be redefined,” Perkins said.
Calling the findings “incredible,” NRB President Jerry Johnson said it is a “slam dunk” that more than 80 percent of Americans agree that citizens should be free to practice their faith – including in their businesses. Even 80 percent of those who never attend church agree, he noted.
“Government has no right establishing speech codes or business codes on marriage and 81 percent of Americans agree entirely,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that NRB is an organization concerned with First Amendment rights of religion, speech and press and stated that the organization aims to become for the First Amendment what the National Rifle Association is to the defense of the Second Amendment.


Joining Perkins and Johnson at the news conference were the former owners of an Oregon bakery and a sports broadcaster who have been discriminated against for their support of traditional marriage.
Aaron and Melissa Klein, former owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore., are being threatened with $150,000 in fines because they declined to bake a same-sex wedding cake. In the wake of the controversy, the Kleins closed their business in 2013.
Aaron Klein, who now drives a garbage truck, said the new poll reflects how state governments and many in the judiciary are ignoring the voters’ wishes. Yet Oregon, in 2004, adopted with 57 percent of the vote a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Klein underscored “an obligation to the next generation to stand up for our constitutional freedoms, not given by man, but given by God,” whatever the cost resulting from such a stand.
Craig James, a former Fox Sports football analyst, was fired by the network in 2013 – 24 hours after being hired – when the network learned he supported traditional marriage as a 2012 U.S. Senate candidate in Texas.
“I hope that my situation becomes a poster child for employment discrimination,” said James, a former NFL running back with 20 years’ experience as a broadcaster.
“We have to be as bold and tenacious as those who are trying to trample” religious freedom, James said. “If we don’t, we will lose it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the National Religious Broadcasters.)

2/27/2015 1:35:38 PM by Staff, National Religious Broadcasters | with 0 comments

Islamic jihad, in many forms, ‘gaining ground’

February 27 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Many in western democracies are blind to radical Islam’s threat to their security and cultural values, speakers said at a day-long discussion of Islam during the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) International Christian Media Convention.
“The majority of Muslims are peaceful and good citizens,” Robert Edmiston, a member of Britain’s House of Lords from the Conservative Party, said at the Feb. 24 event in Nashville. “But there are some that are extremists, and they are gaining ground.”
The threat Islam poses stems not merely from a radical fringe but from central doctrines of the Muslim faith, some of the speakers said.
“Moderate Islam is to Islam what nominal Christianity, cultural Christianity is to Christianity,” said William Lane Craig, a professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University who has studied Islam for 30 years. “It is a mere cultural set of mores that one has adopted, but it isn’t representative in either case of the fundamental teaching of the original book of that religion, whether the Quran or the Bible.”
Caroline Cox, another member of the House of Lords, said “verses of peace” are in the Quran, but the Islamic principle of “abrogation” teaches that “verses of the sword” trump those advocating peace.


“Way back in the early days of Islamic theology, the authorities found it very hard for Allah to be inconsistent. So they had to reconcile the inconsistency between the verses of peace and verses of the sword. They did so by the principle of abrogation, whereby the earlier revelations of the prophet [Muhammad] are abrogated by the later revelations,” said Cox, a former member of the Conservative Party who currently is not affiliated with either of the two major British parties.
“And unfortunately for all of us, the earlier verses, the earlier teachings or revelations, are the verses of peace. The later ones are the verses of the sword. And so those who do use those verses of the sword to justify their terrorist activities, which we see on our television screens, are operating in many ways from the correct theological interpretation according to traditional Islamic teaching,” Cox said.
Cox added, “You cannot say that [jihadi terrorism] has nothing to do with Islam.”
Topics at the NRB Islam discussion, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, ranged from national security to culture to the church.


Islam and security

If estimates by the Gallup polling organization are correct, 7-10 percent of Muslims worldwide believe in violent jihad, author and Middle East expert Joel Rosenberg said. That translates to approximately 150 million supporters of jihad – a number equivalent to half of the U.S. population.
The Iranian government and the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) advocate “apocalyptic jihad” and pose perhaps “the most grave danger right now,” Rosenberg said. Those two groups believe they can hasten the end times and the coming of an Islamic messiah by committing genocide, he said.
Iran’s leaders think a way to hasten the messiah’s appearance is “to annihilate two nations, two civilizations: Israel, which they believe is the little Satan, and the United States, which they believe is the great Satan,” Rosenberg said. “But the Iranians’ strategy thus far has been, wait until you can acquire [or] build the nuclear weaponry to accomplish that end.”
In light of Iran’s genocidal theology, it would be foolish for the U.S. to strike a nuclear deal with Iran that allows the Middle Eastern nation to maintain nuclear weapons, Rosenberg said.
Frank Gaffney, a former adviser to President Reagan, warned that “global jihad” – not just the isolated activities of ISIS – is the present generation’s “existential threat.”
There is “a global jihad brought to us by these Islamic supremacists for the purpose of imposing what they call sharia on the entire world and creating a caliphate or a similar kind of governing arrangement to rule according to it,” Gaffney said.
Rosenberg and Gaffney made their comments during a panel discussion moderated by Richard Land, former president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Islam and culture

Violent jihad, Cox noted, is just one of many strategies used by Muslims who seek Islamic dominance of western nations. Among the other types of jihad she cited:

  • “Political jihad” seeks the passage of legislation imposing judicial penalties for criticizing or making jokes about Islam. The British parliament narrowly defeated legislation during the Blair administration that would have imposed up to six years in prison for criticizing Islam, Cox said.

  • “Cultural jihad” utilizes investment in western universities to create centers for Islamic studies and install professors with biases toward Muslim causes and ideas.

  • “Demographic jihad” has led to government-permitted polygamy for Muslims in the United Kingdom, with some men having as many as 20 children. As a result, the Muslim population is vastly increasing.

  • “Legal jihad” has led to the establishment of at least 80 sharia courts in the United Kingdom that impose a strict Islamic code on individuals who choose to settle legal matters there. Sharia courts “pose a threat to the fundamental principle of democracy of one law for all,” Cox said.

  • “Humanitarian jihad” demands conversion to Islam as a condition of receiving humanitarian aid, even amid dire circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations have given $27 million toward humanitarian jihad in South Sudan, Cox said.

“In western liberal democracies, [jihadists] are using ... the freedoms of democracy to achieve political change to try to destroy that democracy and the freedoms which it enshrines,” Cox said.
Erwin Lutzer, pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago, told of seeing a Muslim holding a sign on television during a demonstration in Dearborn, Mich., that said, “We will use the freedoms of the Constitution to destroy the Constitution.”
Such a strategy captures “exactly where Islam is at,” Lutzer, author of “The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent,” said.
In 2004, an FBI investigation revealed that the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood planned to infiltrate America by establishing Islamic influence through education, mosque construction, the banking industry and other cultural avenues – not violent jihad, Lutzer said.
Faced with such cultural attacks by Islamic extremists, America must discontinue its present strategy of submitting to Muslim demands and seeking to avoid offending Muslims at all costs, Lutzer said.
Lutzer compared America’s posture toward Muslims and Islamic nations with “dhimmitude,” the custom of minorities paying a tax within an Islamic state in exchange for protection from persecution. “What we have decided to do is to play the role. We haven’t signed a pact, but the pact is there,” he said.

Islam and the church

Michael Youssef, pastor of The Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, said he is less afraid of jihadists than he is of Christians departing from biblical theology because Islam has expanded during periods of doctrinal weakness in the church.
In the sixth century, Muslims conquered North Africa as a heresy called Montanism caused many Christians to believe God would provide continuing revelation beyond the Bible, Youssef said. Centuries later Islam expanded all the way to Austria “on the back of a weak church.”
“I look around today and I see the church is plagued by universalism, heterodoxy, hyper-grace, emergent church, the insider movement, Chrislam,” Youseff said, “I grieve more and become more concerned about this than I am about Islamists.”
Despite the church’s weakness, Youssef said thousands of Muslims are coming to faith in Islamic lands and providing hope for a better future.
One such former Muslim, Isik Abla, told of praying as a little girl in Turkey that Allah would let her kill and die for Islam. As a teenager, she married a radical Muslim and began supporting “educational jihad” – sending Muslim students to study at western universities and then gain power in western nations.
By age 28, Abla had been abused and twice divorced, and she plotted to kill herself. But on the day of her planned suicide, she received Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
Since 2009, she has been hosting Christian programming on satellite television to reach Muslims in the Mideast. Abla reported terrorists being saved through her broadcasts and cited the gospel as the ultimate solution to Islamic radicalism.
“The name of Jesus Christ was an offense to me as a Muslim,” Abla said during the NRB sessions. “... Truth offends but it saves. And I am so glad that I was offended by the name of Jesus Christ.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)


Related Stories:

‘The Islamic spectrum’: from radical to moderate
Islam examined at SBC seminaries

2/27/2015 1:17:37 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Benham brothers take stand, ‘Whatever the Cost’

February 27 2015 by Ken Walker, Baptist Press

Growing up in the home of a noted pro-life activist taught David and Jason Benham that standing up for one’s faith came with a price, one they are paying after losing their TV show, “Flip It Forward.”
The Benhams made nationwide headlines last May after Home and Garden Television (HGTV) cancelled the show before its planned premiere in the fall of 2014.
At the time, USA Today reported, “It appears, according to Towleroad.com, that HGTV was alerted to a ... story by RightWingWatch.org, which looked into the background of the Benham brothers and found them to be ‘anti-gay, anti-choice extremists.’”
David, co-author of the newly-released memoir, Whatever The Cost, said he and his brother quickly decided they “needed to hit the issue head on” through sharing their story.
“The greater narrative is: Are we willing to stand for Jesus, no matter the cost, and in a very dark and trying time?” he said.
“If you say, ‘No, there’s not a targeting going on in our culture, you’re burying your head in the sand,” Jason, David’s identical twin brother, said.
“There are people who have taken a stand in Hollywood and now they can’t find a job. You see what happened with the Internal Revenue Service going after certain ministries and non-profits. That’s a cultural battle that will never end.”


Natives of Texas, the Benham brothers both attended Liberty University on baseball scholarships. The pair played with several major league organizations before establishing their nationally-recognized real estate firm and moving into homes on the same block in Charlotte, N.C.
In their new book, the brothers recall how their father, Flip Benham, got involved in pro-life work in the 1980s, first as a pastor and then as the leader of a national pro-life organization.
“We remember all too well what it was like back in those days, watching our dad get tossed around by police officers,” they write. “It made a big impact on our lives. We witnessed firsthand what it was like to stand for Jesus, whatever the cost.
“We didn’t realize it then, but watching our dad get beat up for defending the unborn created an insatiable appetite in us to become powerful men of God.... We all have avenues for responding to injustice in the world. The question is whether we are willing to take a stand.”
While the Benhams became household names after the cancellation of their TV show, their book traces their longstanding Christian heritage. They say it began with their father showing them how to live out one’s faith every day.
Later, Jason used those lessons to praise God despite grounding out on the last play of the game to ruin Liberty University’s chances of advancing in the college regional baseball tournament.
That prompted a columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat to remark about the player’s stance, something the writer said went against the grain of most Christian athletes.
“He wrote that typical athletes were quick to give God credit for helping them win a game,” Jason said. “But he (had) never seen one do it quite like this before in a loss. For this columnist, my testimony gave him pause to ponder faith in Jesus a bit deeper.”
This is the same faith that kept them from bending to the lure of fame and fortune a decade after they launched The Benham Companies, which had already been honored by several national business publications and organizations.
In their book, the brothers describe how they would never discriminate against a gay person appearing on their reality show. Yet, they said they refused to bend on their principles in favor of traditional marriage, pro-life causes and other issues.
“We can see what happens when a couple average dudes take a stand for biblical values,” David said recently. “... When Jason and I go speak now, almost everywhere we go a liberal blogger, magazine or website twists our words and makes their own story.”
Jason noted, “From the foundation of time, it’s always been a battle between good and evil, and good always wins when good decides to take a stand. Look inside every human heart and there’s a battle that goes on, which plays itself out in culture.”
The Benhams, who attend a nondenominational church, worked with collaborating writer and Southern Baptist Scott Lamb to complete their memoir.
Lamb, who recently relocated to Nashville, Tenn., is the former director of theological research and editor for R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
While working on the book, Lamb said he learned the Benhams walked away from a sizable sum of money because they wouldn’t compromise their beliefs. He called the book an encouragement to other Christians to take similar actions.
“In America there is verbal and financial persecution, but recently in Egypt 21 Christians lost their heads,” Lamb said. “Whether we live in Egypt or Nashville, we better have that mindset – that life means nothing and we better be ready to lay down our life.
“I know they could have kept the TV show if they wanted to, if they had toned things down. But they knew they would have literally had to soft pedal everything that was dear to them.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ken Walker is a freelance writer from Huntington, W.Va.)

Related Story:

HGTV cancels Benham brothers’ show for Christian convictions

2/27/2015 1:07:47 PM by Ken Walker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Platt unveils ‘reset’ of IMB strategy, structure

February 26 2015 by Anne Harman, IMB

International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt proposed streamlining the mission agency’s strategy and structure – in keeping with his desire for IMB to exalt Christ and work more effectively toward accomplishing the Great Commission – during IMB’s Feb. 24-25 trustee meeting in Houston.
Trustees unanimously voted to approve the plan.
“We want to empower limitless missionary teams to make disciples and multiply churches among unreached people,” Platt said. “We need a strategy that doesn't cap our number of missionaries merely based upon how much money we have.”
Photo by Chris Carter, IMB
IMB President David Platt addresses the agency's trustees with a proposal “to reset our strategy and realign our structure so that as we ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His field, we will be ready when He does.” Trustees unanimously approved the proposal during their Feb. 24-25 meeting in Houston.

Platt noted the IMB operated “in the red” last year, with the agency's operating expenses exceeding income by nearly $21 million.
“Right now our funnel is really small ... such that we're turning people away,” Platt said. “And what I’m saying, what we know, is that we need to blow open this funnel and create as many pathways as possible for Christians and churches to get the Gospel to unreached people.”
IMB must creatively consider how to leverage the avenues God has given for limitless men, women and families to join together on missionary teams to make disciples and multiply churches among unreached people groups, Platt said. Since his election in August 2014, Platt has stated his five biblically based desires for IMB are to exalt Christ, mobilize Christians, equip the church, facilitate church planting and play its part in completing the Great Commission.
As a result of these desires, Platt recommended to IMB trustees a “reset” of the agency’s strategy, and realignment of its structure, to focus on five main areas:
– Global Training, led by Zane Pratt, who was named vice president of global training during the November 2014 trustee meeting.
– Global Engagement, which entails work formerly called “global strategy,” to be led by John Brady. Trustees elected Brady, current vice president for global strategy, as vice president of global engagement.
– Operations and Finance, which consolidates the current offices of personnel, logistics and finance into one team. Trustees affirmed the search for a person to lead the newly formed operations and finance work. Randy Pegues, vice president of global logistics support; Tom Williams, vice president of global personnel; and David Steverson, vice president of finance; will step out of their current positions and into other assignments to be determined in the days ahead. “In the meantime, they will continue to function in their current roles,” Platt said, and Steverson will continue his chief financial officer responsibility.
– Mobilization, which “re-envisions” the current Church and Partner Services team to more effectively mobilize Christians and churches for global mission, to be led by a to-be-named vice president of mobilization. Ken Winter, vice president of church and partner services, plans to return to work in a local church.
– Strategy, which overarches all the areas with a “relentless” focus to unify IMB culture. As a result, the current Office of Global Strategic Mobilization, currently led by Scott Holste, will fold into the new strategy in various ways. Some areas will move under Global Engagement; other areas will report directly to Platt and Sebastian Traeger, IMB executive vice president. Holste will work in one of these areas. The current Office of Prayer, led by Gordon Fort, will be “infused across this entire strategy,” Platt said. Fort, who has served as senior vice president of prayer mobilization and training, will work alongside Platt and Traeger to help fuel the overall strategy with a focus on relating to key IMB partners and constituents.

In this graphic, IMB President David Platt outlined his organizational plan for Christians and churches to be mobilized to take the gospel to unreached people. IMB trustees adopted the plan during their meeting Feb. 25 in Houston.

Clyde Meador, executive advisor to the president, noted IMB has gone through many minor and major “resets” in its history to adjust to changing needs. Each “recalibration” of the organization “has been used by God” to advance His church, Meador said. While changes can be difficult and painful, they are necessary for the survival of any organization, he added.
Platt said the changes are intended to be reproducible through the IMB’s national partners around the world: making disciples among unreached people and seeing churches established, then seeing those churches, in turn, send Christians to unreached people, training them and supporting them as they engage the world with the gospel.
“We want to fuel movement like this all over the world!” Platt said. “But let me be clear. Strategy and structure are not the ultimate answer to seeing Christians and churches engaging unreached people with the Gospel. ... What that means is that more than we need a streamlined strategy or a simplified structure, we need the power of God to do what only He can do.
“This is why I am calling everyone across our IMB family – from trustees to personnel or otherwise – to fast and pray, because only God can do this work. ... Let’s get down on our knees, then get up from our knees and do whatever it takes, no matter what that means, to set the sails for God to empower limitless missionary teams who are making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached people for the glory of His name.”
The impending changes are not about IMB employees or trustees in specific roles, but about the billions of people who die without a relationship with Jesus Christ, Steverson noted during his finance report.
“I’m confident that my colleagues on staff and our missionaries around the world are also single-mindedly focused on this reality: We must find ways to get the gospel to more and more people,” Steverson said. “Any change that facilitates that reality and moves us forward in our task is something we must do. I’m committed to doing all that I can, in whatever small way, to make it a reality that there is a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ. May it be so for all of us.”
Other business
– During the meeting, IMB trustees also appointed 25 new missionaries to serve around the world, joining a total missionary force of approximately 4,800. The missionaries were commissioned during an appointment service at Sagemont Baptist Church of Houston on Feb. 25.
– Steverson, IMB’s chief financial officer, presented a report on the reallocation of funds as approved by the finance committee. While personnel expenses were below budget in the past year, Steverson noted income also fell below budget. Property sales of $75 million have been used in recent years to overcome budget shortfalls.
– The next IMB trustee meeting is May 12-13 in Louisville, Ky. The next missionary appointment service is May 13 at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville.
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Anne Harman is an IMB writer.)
2/26/2015 3:38:23 PM by Anne Harman, IMB | with 0 comments

Southern Baptists plant gospel in Mormon heartland

February 26 2015 by Jim Burton, NAMB & Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

You’ve looked out the front window of your home and seen them coming. Two young males wearing white shirts and black ties are riding bikes in the neighborhood. When they knock on your door, what do you do?
North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionary Travis Kerns would encourage you to love them. That’s what he has learned to do. His love for Mormons grew to the point that he now lives 35 miles from downtown Salt Lake City, Utah and serves as city missionary for NAMB’s Send North America: Salt Lake City.
Kerns has a doctor of philosophy degree in applied apologetics with a focus on Mormonism from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Ky. During his undergraduate studies in 1996, he had a class on new religious movements, and Mormonism was the first they studied.
“It took hold of my heart,” Kerns said of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). “In school, every paper I wrote was geared toward Mormonism.”
When he began teaching at SBTS in 2007, Kerns started taking students to Salt Lake City. On the flight home after his sixth trip there in 2012, Kerns said there were fires on the mountains. As he viewed the smoke filling the Salt Lake Valley during the plane’s ascent, it became a fresh vision.


NAMB photo by John Swain
2015 Send North America Week of Prayer missionary Travis Kerns moved with his wife, Staci, and son, Jeremiah, to Salt Lake City to help reach the city with the gospel. Kerns serves as city missionary for Send North America: Salt Lake City.


“What it said to me was that this city is on fire and burning,” Kerns said. “I just lost it; started crying like a baby.”

Mormon heartland

Salt Lake City, where LDS headquarters is located, is the religious center of the Mormon faith. “Utah is 70 percent LDS,” Kerns said.
“LDS members run the state government. The majority of judges, police officers, firefighters, lawyers, real estate agents and bankers are LDS. Almost everyone here is LDS.”
When Kerns moved into a home with his wife, Staci, and their son, the neighbors already knew it was the “NAMB” house.
“They knew right away we weren’t Mormon,” Kerns said. “Plus, we didn’t show up at the meeting house on Sunday.”
Mormons attend meeting house (comparable to church) meetings based upon their residence. Between Logan and Provo, Kerns estimates there are over 4,000 meeting houses or halls.
“It’s so Mormon here, many have never met or heard from anybody who is not Mormon,” Kerns said.

Church planting challenge

Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in Utah, but the presence is minimal. Most Protestant churches run between 50 and 100 people.
“The hardest part about any Christian church (in Utah) is that the average tenure for pastors is 14 months,” Kerns said. One key to success, he believes, is to keep showing up.
As city missionary for Send North America: Salt Lake City, one of 32 Send North America cities, Kerns oversees church plants in the metropolitan area.
“The Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention has a goal that by 2020 they want to double the number of churches [in the two-state convention],” Kerns said. “That means another 150 churches. We want to be one third of that number, 50 new churches by 2020.”


Contributed photo
Ben and Lindsey Neiser and their two daughters made the move from Wake Forest to Utah in 2014. They are praying toward the planting of a new church.

By 2014, there were 18 active Southern Baptist church plants through Send North America: Salt Lake City, with 12 having started within the year. Kerns spends much of his time mentoring the current church planters while recruiting and assessing future church planters. Utah County, which Kerns calls the cultural capital of Mormonism and the home of Brigham Young University, garners most of his attention.

Accepting the church planting challenge

Ben and Lindsey Neiser, former members of North Wake Church, Wake Forest, N.C., moved to Utah with their two daughters in July 2014.
They chose Provo-Orem as a place to plant a church for a few reasons. Neiser kept an open mind as he and his wife considered locations. “God, you’ve given us a heart for church planting,” he said, “now You fill in the blank.”
Neiser was already engaging LDS missionaries around Wake Forest while attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Then in a seminary class, he saw a list of the 50 most unreached metropolitan areas in North America; Provo-Orem topped the list.
The International Mission Board classifies a people group as “unreached” if it is less than two percent evangelical. Provo-Orem rates 0.6 percent evangelical. “It’s really heartbreaking,” said Neiser. “What reason do we have not to go?”
The religious atmosphere in Utah is unlike North Carolina, though. “This is not like planting a church in any other context that’s within the United States,” Neiser said. It’s more similar to an international church planting effort among an unreached people group.
Neiser’s posture toward church partnerships also resembles church planting efforts in international contexts where there are few evangelicals.
The couple joined First Baptist Church Provo (FBC), and they are serving the church in various ways as they become acclimated to the area.
“Everything that I do … comes from a very high view of the local church,” Neiser said. They teach Sunday School classes at FBC and lead a campus Bible study at Brigham Young University.
Neiser’s plan is to start a house-church under the oversight of FBC after a period of pastoral assessment. He also wants to “plant pregnant,” meaning they hope to take along one or two families from FBC with the intention of planting another church in the future.
Neiser would like to see other church planters come to Utah as well. “There’s plenty of opportunity. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. Though it is difficult, according to Neiser. “But what keeps us here – what holds us here – is a deep sense of God’s calling.”

Church planting needs

The cultural challenges church planters face in Utah often translate into logistical challenges too. Whereas in most major cities church plants can meet in public schools, that does not happen in Utah.
Most new churches spend much money on rent, typically commercial space. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) and Cooperative Program (CP) help new churches meet those challenges.
“That money goes directly to our church plants to help them reach people,” Kerns said. “Without CP and AAEO, there would be no Send North America: Salt Lake City. There’s been no shortage of resources when I’ve asked. It’s because of the generosity of Southern Baptists.”
Kerns was close to tenure at SBTS when he accepted the call to lead Send North America: Salt Lake City. Through his research, Kerns has built relationships with many LDS leaders.
“In 18 years of doing this, I’ve only seen two people convert from Mormonism to Christianity,” said Kerns who notes that on average it takes from two to seven years for most Mormons to convert, the majority being much closer to seven years. “Being around leaders of the LDS church to share my faith with them drives everything that I do.”
The goal for the 2015 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $60 million.
To learn more about the Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visit anniearmstrong.com.

2/26/2015 12:19:27 PM by Jim Burton, NAMB & Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 2 comments

Naghmeh Abedini shares evangelism passion

February 26 2015 by Sharayah Colter, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband Saeed Abedini is imprisoned in an Iranian prison for sharing his Christian faith, expressed her passion – and her husband’s passion – for rescuing “that one sheep” with the gospel during an evangelism conference, Feb. 23.
Naghmeh was one of the speakers at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Empower Conference at First Baptist Church (First Euless) in Euless, Texas.
During her message, she said the evening before she had joined a group from First Euless to share the gospel at a handful of houses in the area. At one of the houses the group visited, a Muslim woman answered the door and told them her husband was at the mosque.
While some might assume the Muslim woman would not be interested in hearing about the gospel, Naghmeh said the opposite was true.


SBTC Photo by Allen Sutton
Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband Saaed is imprisoned in Iran, is interviewed by Nathan Lorick, evangelism director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, during the SBTC's evangelism conference.

“The Muslim was the most open person out of the five, six or seven houses we went to,” said Naghmeh, who converted to Christianity from Islam as a young girl and later served as a missionary to the Middle East. “There’s the harvest, but we’re not seeing it.”
She reminded conference attendees that Jesus did not say to pray for a harvest. The harvest is already there, she said. Instead, Jesus said to pray for laborers.
Naghmeh said Saeed has been a prolific witness for the Lord in the Iranian prison and has seen so many place their faith in Christ that officials have had to continually move him in hopes of keeping him quiet. Nothing they do or threaten, though, keeps Saeed from sharing the news that Naghmeh says changed her husband’s life.
“I’m proud of him,” Naghmeh said. “He knows that sharing the gospel in the prison could cost him his life. In Iran the penalty of evangelism is death. Outside of his desire to see his babies and to see his wife and for his freedom, he desires that one more person would come to know Christ.
“As I was in the cold last night, I was thinking of all the things I have learned from Saeed and about the heart of God for that one sheep,” she said.
“I don’t care about having 30,000 in my church,” she noted. “I care about going after that one sheep.”
During the last two and a half years that Saeed has been imprisoned, Naghmeh has had numerous opportunities to meet with government officials around the world on behalf of her husband. On Jan. 21, she met with President Obama.
“I sat down with our president, and I just knew I had a few minutes to either beg him for Saeed’s release or to share God’s love, and I knew why I was there,” Naghmeh said, noting that she chose the latter.
Naghmeh acknowledged she fights fear and anxiety each day and sometimes cannot even get out of bed before spending several hours praying, reading scripture and listening to worship music. She said sometimes that means waking up at 4 a.m. But through the days and weeks and years since her husband’s imprisonment, the Lord has upheld her and given her the peace to trust His hand, no matter the outcome. She said she has learned what it means to abide in Christ.
Evangelism is not as complicated or difficult as people think, Naghmeh said. She says it simply requires people who are convinced that Jesus is real, who realize their every breath is dependent on His existence, and those who love God and love others.
Naghmeh said she sees this kind of faith in her husband.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of my husband to be in the hands of radicals and still share, (even) knowing that this means he may never see our family again,” she said.
Naghmeh said she is grateful for others’ prayers to bring her husband home and to reunite her family.
“When someone tells me, ‘We are praying for your family. We are praying for Saeed,’“ Naghmeh said, “it is more valuable to me than if they had handed me one million dollars.”
However, even more valuable, she said, is seeing one lost sheep come to faith in Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sharayah Colter is staff writer of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.)

2/26/2015 12:12:25 PM by Sharayah Colter, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

Teamwork yields spiritual fruit in East Asia

February 26 2015 by Caroline Anderson, IMB Communications

Before returning to the U.S., two American mission volunteers arranged to meet one last time with more than 20 new believers they led to the Lord during their two-week visit in East Asia.
“We wanted to give you a gift before we return to the U.S.,” Timothy,* one of the volunteers tells some of the new believers who gathered to meet him and his teammate Joshua* for lunch.
The new believers received Bibles from the volunteers, complete with a handwritten note inside the title page.
The two volunteers are members of a multi-ethnic church in California.
Joshua, who is Taiwanese-American, says he realized his life was worth more than just crunching numbers and that’s why he decided to go. He works for a company in Silicon Valley that develops ads for mobile device applications. His teammate Timothy is Chinese-American and works for Stanford University.
For the past four years, the church has sent volunteers to minister alongside International Mission Board (IMB) workers and local believers in East Asia.


IMB Photo
Timothy Chen,* center, and Joshua Zheng* pray with a new believer, bottom left. A local believer will disciple her. Chen and Zheng spent time in English classes on an East Asian campus and around 20 people came to the Lord.

This winter, the two volunteers were part of four short-term volunteer teams who shared the gospel with more than 3,500 people and led 242 to follow Jesus Christ. Local believers are following up with those who put their faith in Christ. Those involved contend the partnership between the local church, IMB workers and U.S. churches shows how missions can be more effective when all three groups work together.
An IMB worker in East Asia says this region was once known as a missions-sending Antioch and he hopes believers will rise up again to regain its heritage of faith. In the Bible, the city of Antioch was a center for Christianity. Short-term volunteers are helping believers find their Antioch.
The IMB worker, once a short-term volunteer, said he has seen entire villages profess Christ and hundreds more who traveled hours because they heard Americans had come with a message to their shores. He said this is one of the reasons he and his IMB teammates continue to work with volunteers in ongoing partnerships.
Teams from California, Oklahoma, Texas, and Singapore have made multiple trips and continue to champion the work while stateside.
One California worship leader says his church’s close ties with the IMB worker in East Asia helped spark a partnership.
“As a church that supports (IMB) workers ... I think the key is to keep a long-lasting relationship with the people we are supporting globally,” the church worship leader said.
Another church leader in California says his congregation keeps returning to East Asia because of “the spiritual fruit, both for our team members and for those whom they share with, [that] we see each time we send a team.”
Music was one way volunteers from California ministered in East Asia. Volunteers played worship songs while local believers passed out invitations to an outreach party. Six people accepted Christ at the party.
Through the work of California volunteers and the local believers they partnered with, more than 30 people made decisions of faith and many more heard the gospel for the first time.
The IMB worker in East Asia said he’s seen from experience that volunteers who come and serve on their own don’t have as much success.
“One of the things that has really been revolutionary is [for volunteers] to ask, ‘what are the needs on the ground?’” he said.
He said they then follow the local churches’ lead. The local believers decide what is secure to share in different settings. This way, the worker said, the U.S. church has optimum effectiveness and it’s a safer investment of time for the local church.
“You can do so much more when you have people working together for a common reason,” he said. “When you do it strategically, things really come together.”

*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes from Asia.)

2/26/2015 12:03:18 PM by Caroline Anderson, IMB Communications | with 0 comments

Christian media’s reach surveyed by LifeWay Research

February 26 2015 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Resources

Christian broadcasters have a devoted following, with about two-thirds of weekly churchgoers and evangelicals saying they tune in to Christian radio and television on a regular basis.
Christian books have a reach among churchgoers and evangelicals, and Christian movies remain popular, with about four in 10 Americans having seen one in the last year.
But many Americans never connect to Christian media.
Those are among the findings of a new study on the use of Christian media from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, sponsored by the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), included an online survey of 2,252 Americans and a phone survey of 1,009 Americans.
“Christian media delivers teaching, music and entertainment to a predominantly Christian constituency,” Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, noted. “Not surprisingly, those who embrace Christian teaching will value and consume these the most.” Stetzer released the study’s findings Feb. 25 during the NRB national convention in Nashville.


Researchers found demographic splits between those who frequently or sometimes listen to or watch Christian broadcasts and those who rarely or never tune in.
Self-identified evangelicals are more likely to watch Christian television (69 percent according to the survey) along with weekly church attenders (62 percent) and African Americans (54 percent).
They also are more likely to listen to Christian radio compared to 32 percent of all Americans.
About two-thirds of evangelicals (67 percent) and more than half of weekly church attenders (57 percent) are Christian radio listeners. Just under half (46 percent) of African Americans also tune in. Overall, about one in four (27 percent) Americans frequently or sometimes listens to Christian radio
More Protestants and nondenominational Christians (45 percent) watch Christian television than Catholics (28 percent). Radio has a similar denominational split. Just under half (41 percent) of Protestants and nondenominational Christians tune in, along with one in five (21 percent) Catholics.
“It’s stunning to see how many American believers are listening to or watching Christian media,” said Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, an international association of Christian broadcasters and communicators. “But we must be more effective stewards of all media forms, especially to reach those who have yet to believe,” Johnson said.
Christian books fare about the same as Christian broadcasting. About a third of Americans (33 percent) say they frequently or sometimes read Christian books. Two-thirds (65 percent) rarely or never read Christian books.
Still, many Americans have little contact with Christian media.
Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) rarely or never watch Christian television, rising to 94 percent of those who skip church all together and 89 percent of those with no religious affiliation.
Seven in 10 Americans (72 percent) rarely or never listen to Christian radio, with increased numbers among those with no religious affiliation (94 percent) or who rarely attend church (84 percent) or never do so (97 percent).


Films & online media

Christian movies, meanwhile, have wider appeal. Four in 10 Americans (40 percent) say they’ve watched a Christian movie in the last year. About half (51 percent) have not. One in 10 (9 percent) said they are not sure.
Americans over 65 (31 percent) are less likely to have seen a Christian movie than those 18-29 (40 percent). African Americans (59 percent), evangelicals (74 percent) and weekly churchgoers (64 percent) are more likely to have seen a Christian movie.
Those with no religious affiliation (11 percent) and those from non-Christian faiths (37 percent) are least likely to have seen a Christian film.
“Great movies hinge on great stories and the Bible is filled with great stories,” Stetzer said. “These numbers show that many Americans are watching, and perhaps this will encourage more and better films.”
Christian media also has found a significant audience online.
One in 4 Americans (25 percent) say they watch or listen to Christian programming every week on their computer, phone or tablet, according to the phone survey. An additional 5 percent tune in online monthly. One in 10 (9 percent) watch or listen online less than once a month.
“That would amount to over 60 million adult Americans each week,” Stetzer reported.
Six in 10 (60 percent) never watch or listen on their computer, smartphone or tablet.
Few Americans (4 percent) listen to Christian podcasts frequently. About 1 in 10 listen sometimes. Most Americans (84 percent) rarely or never listen to Christian podcasts.
The online survey of adult Americans was conducted Sept. 17-18, 2014. A sample of an online panel demographically reflecting the adult population of the U.S. was invited to participate. Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender and income to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 2,252 online surveys.
The phone survey of Americans was conducted Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 2015. The calling utilized Random Digit Dialing. Fifty percent of completes were among landlines and 50 percent among cell phones. Weights were used for geographic, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,009 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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The church & social media

2/26/2015 11:39:22 AM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

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