July 2009

FBC-Dallas to end Criswell College ownership

July 15 2009 by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press

DALLAS, Texas — In a nearly unanimous vote, members of First Baptist Church of Dallas voted July 8 to end their 40-year ownership of Criswell College, paving the way for the school’s independence.

The vote followed the unanimous recommendation of First Baptist’s deacons on June 16 and months of negotiations between leaders of the church and Criswell College, a four-year school with its own radio station, KCBI-FM in Dallas, also broadcast as KCRN (AM & FM) in San Angelo, Texas, and KSYE-FM in southern Oklahoma.

First Baptist members voted with raised hands after hearing from several leaders from the church’s deacon body and Criswell College’s trustee board, including pastor and the school’s current chancellor, Robert Jeffress, who in quoting the school’s trustee chairman called the separation agreement a “win-win-win situation” — a win for the church and the school “but most importantly, it’s a win for the kingdom of God. That’s what we all want here.”

The fate of the radio station had been a “distraction” since talk of a proposed sale by the college became public several years ago. “It’s time for all of that to come to an end,” Jeffress said, explaining that the station would be jointly owned by the church and school as the two members of a newly formed nonprofit corporation.

The separation would allow the school to get back to its primary task of “training men and women with a biblical worldview and training preachers” and would give it an advantage in fundraising, Jeffress said, while offering the church a “valuable and much-needed solution” to the burden of tending to the school.

Jeffress told church members the college’s governance also had become a distraction for the last three pastors, whose duties included serving as chancellor alongside the school’s president.

Criswell trustee chairman Michael Deahl, a First Baptist deacon, said the separation would give the college its “best chance to reach the next level,” enhance fundraising, make it easier for the school to comply with its accrediting agency’s governance requirements, and relieve the school of operating the radio station.

Asked by a church member how the school planned to avoid drifting away like Harvard from its biblical roots, Deahl said trustees would be diligent in seeing that the articles of faith remain a requirement for trustees and faculty while receiving accountability from affiliation with the churches of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC).

Deahl praised the deacon leaders and trustees who negotiated the agreement after what had been at times a tense relationship.

“I believe God has intervened in this process,” allowing it to be settled “in an amicable way” that will “honor the cause and name of Jesus Christ,” Deahl said.

The separation agreement creates a nonprofit corporation with a 50-50 ownership split of radio station KCBI, which will be operated and managed by First Baptist. Criswell College will be a non-voting member of the corporation.

In turn, the agreement states that the corporation will make a fixed annual contribution to Criswell College. The school will retain all of its other assets. The ministry potential for KCBI is “unlimited” and would be enhanced by the church’s media ministry, Jeffress said.

The agreement also includes options for the church and college to buy out the other’s interest in the station after a set period of years.

Criswell College’s new governance would take effect Jan. 1. The changes require approval from the Federal Communications Commission and the school’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Criswell College’s interim president, Lamar Cooper, said in June after the trustees endorsed the plan: “I also am pleased that we have been able to accomplish this amicably, and trust that the college and church will continue to serve our Lord in a spirit of cooperation.”

Deahl appointed a six-member transition committee to report back by Aug. 31 with proposed bylaw changes for the school. The team includes trustees Curtis Baker, chairman, Jack Brady and Jack Pogue, all of Dallas; Paul Pressler of Houston; Jim Richards, SBTC executive director; and Cooper. Deahl will serve ex-officio on the transition committee at the behest of Baker. The trustees would vote on the recommendations in their next scheduled meeting Sept. 25.

Criswell College is an affiliated ministry partner of the SBTC, the only four-year school receiving budgeted funding annually from the convention. The convention also has an affiliated relationship with two-year Jacksonville College and a non-budgeted fraternal relationship with Houston Baptist University.

First Baptist launched the college in 1969 when founding chancellor W.A. Criswell announced his vision for an institution to provide biblical training for pastors, Sunday School teachers and other laymen who had not completed college-level ministerial training. The first classes were held in 1970. Today, nearly 400 students attend undergraduate and master’s-level courses.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/15/2009 6:59:00 AM by Jerry Pierce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Warren seeks Christian, Muslim cooperation

July 15 2009 by Erin Roach

WASHINGTON (BP)--In a controversial address to the nation's largest Muslim organization, Rick Warren asked for their cooperation in addressing some of the world's problems that governments haven't been able to solve.

Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., told about 8,000 Muslims at the Islamic Society of North America's annual convention in Washington July 4 that he was "deeply humbled" and applauded their courage for inviting an evangelical pastor.

"I come to you today with a spirit of love and a spirit of friendship and a spirit of deep respect. I love my dear, dear Muslim friends, my next door neighbor and so many that are friends, and I love you," Warren said.

In his 20-minute address, Warren set forth four specific ways Muslims and Christians can work together, "maintaining our separate traditions, maintaining our convictions without compromise," for the world's greater good.

"As the two largest faiths on this planet -- Muslims and Christians -- we must lead in this. We must lead," Warren said. "With over 1 billion Muslims and over 2 billion Christians, together as half the world we have to do something about modeling what it means to live in peace, to live in harmony."

First, Warren called on Muslims and Christians to demonstrate what it means to respect the dignity of every person.

"Tolerance is not enough. People don't want to be tolerated. They want to be respected. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to be listened to. They want to be valued," he said.

Toward that end, Warren proposed a coalition to end stereotyping.

"Since today much of the press is actually clueless as to what you believe and as to what I believe, there are frequent mischaracterizations in the media, frequent ignorant generalizations -- generalizations are generally wrong -- and frequent stereotyping of all of us. And, friends, it needs to be challenged," Warren said.

A second area where Muslims and Christians should work together, Warren said, is restoring the civil public square where people of all beliefs can debate and even disagree without demeaning each other.

"The right to believe anything does not mean everything is right," he said. "But you can, as I said, disagree without being disagreeable."

Warren cited as a third goal of Muslims and Christians working together to promote peace and protect freedom, particularly the freedoms of speech and religion.

"History has proven over and over again that freedom is eventually lost to either license or political correctness or the fear for security. And so we have to work at protecting the freedoms," Warren said, adding that Muslims who have been in America for many generations have a responsibility to teach the newcomers what it means to be American.

Fourth, Muslims and Christians can work together toward tackling what Warren called five global giants: conflict, corruption, poverty, disease and illiteracy.

"There are 600,000 Buddhists in the world, there are 800,000 Hindus in the world, there are over a billion Muslims, a couple billion Christians," he said. "Most of the world has some kind of faith, and if you say only secularists can do humanitarian care, you've ruled out most of the world."

Warren gave as an example his church's work with Muslims in Rwanda toward improving the African nation's poor health care system, suggesting that the success could be duplicated elsewhere.

"Friends, this is the time for action, this is the time for civility, this is the time for respecting each other. It's the time for the common good, that we work together because some problems are so big you have to team tackle them," Warren said.

Before and after Warren spoke at the Muslim convention, observers voiced views supporting and criticizing his decision. The Associated Press said that, given Warren's standing as "one of the most prominent religious leaders in the country," his willingness to speak was "a sign of growing acceptance of U.S. Muslims."

AP also noted that it was not the first time Warren had addressed an American Muslim group. Last December he spoke at a meeting of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a policy organization based in Los Angeles.

"But the Islamic Society gathering is by far his most dramatic display of friendship with U.S. Muslims," AP said.

Mike Edens, a professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press Warren was acting in line with a document he had signed previously advocating Muslim-Christian interaction.

The full-page letter endorsed by Warren and nearly 300 other Christian leaders appeared in The New York Times in December 2007. It was drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture and said conversation should take place between Christians and Muslims centered on the "common ground" the two religions share.

"Warren speaks as a disciple of Jesus Christ [and] explains the meaning of Jesus' command to love our neighbors," Edens said in a statement to BP. "In his view, biblical love is active, attacking stereotypes, respecting diversity and living with civility with neighbors.

"Freedom of thought and religion is granted lovingly for neighbors. This freedom includes persuasive witness, without coercion between neighbors," Edens continued. "For Warren, this definition of neighborly love is the beginning of establishing the common good for all humanity.

"The hard part of this speech is the application: working together for the common good and conducting personal witness to salvation in Jesus Christ within the context of that work," Edens said.

7/15/2009 1:22:00 AM by Erin Roach | with 0 comments

Shreveport church focuses on staff daughter

July 15 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

JACKSON, Miss. (ABP) -- Five of six victims still hospitalized after a deadly July 12 church-bus accident were improving two days after the wreck, but the next 72 hours remained critical for a church staff member's daughter who suffered severe head injuries.

Greg Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., said doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson were still waiting until brain swelling goes down before they can determine the extent of trauma to Maggie Lee Henson, daughter of the church's associate pastor for emerging ministries, and how she might respond to treatment.

"She's the one we are most in need of prayer for," Hunt said July 14 from the hospital in Jackson. Hunt said doctors had gotten her brain pressure under control and are monitoring her condition.

Henson, a seventh grader at First Baptist Church School, was one of three passengers ejected from, and trapped under, a church bus carrying youth to a camp in Georgia. It flipped and rolled three times after a blowout on an interstate near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. One victim, 14-year-old Brandon Ugarte, was pronounced dead on arrival after being airlifted to the hospital in Jackson.

Of the 17 youth and six adults injured in the wreck, six remained hospitalized on July 14.

Hunt said one of the youth, Lauren Murchison, was doing well after surgery July 13 to fix two breaks in her femur, facial fractures and other injuries. He said Sarah Smith, who was transported to Jackson with neck fractures, could go home as early as Wednesday.

He said three people hospitalized nearer to the crash site in Meridian, Miss., including two adult sponsors, were also improving, and that the still-hospitalized teenager there, Chase Johnson, would be released soon.

Hunt announced in May that he was resigning at the end of August as pastor of First Baptist Church to devote himself full time to a seminar-and-consulting ministry he started in 2001.

Hunt declined to discuss whether the tragedy might alter those plans, but he did pledge that the associate pastor "can focus all his energy on being a father and being a husband" and that youth minister Jason Matlack would be allowed to recover from serious injuries he sustained in the crash.

"I am present and accounted for, and I'm the senior pastor of First Baptist," Hunt said.

"This church needs me to be fully present and accounted for and I intend to be," he said. "We're going to make sure that everything is under control and good solid leadership remains unbroken."

The family of Maggie Lee Henson set up a page on an Internet service called Caring Bridge to consolidate updates on her condition. Her father said on Facebook early July 14 that the top priority now is for brain swelling to go down. 

First Baptist Church held a midday prayer vigil July 14 for Henson and other victims and their families.


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Previous ABP articles:

Pastor says National Guard saved lives following wreck of church bus

Church bus headed toward Passport overturns, killing teen
7/15/2009 1:09:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ministry reaches inmates with Bibles, books

July 14 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

Kathleen Skaar doesn’t remember who made the suggestion, but the idea changed the ministry of Christian Library International (CLI).

CLI had been distributing books in various locations — YMCAs, nursing homes and the like. The ministry had some extra books and workers were trying to decide what to do with them when someone suggested that prison chaplains might like them to give to prisoners.

Skaar is director of CLI, which is located in a wing of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Raleigh.

She said prison chaplains told her the books were “answers to prayer.”

“They were just thrilled,” she said. “Some chaplains said they’d been praying for years and years.”

BR photo by Steve DeVane

Kathleen and Anders Skaar work with more than 1,000 prisons to provide inmates with Bibles and other Christian literature.

The ministry had clearly found a need.

“Almost immediately we started getting letters and testimonies from inmates,” Skaar said.

She likened the experience to the admonition in the “Experiencing God” discipleship series to find where God is working and join Him there.

“It was so dramatic where God was working,” Skaar said.

Now CLI is totally focused on prison ministry.

“That’s where we are and that’s where we’ll stay unless God tells us otherwise,” she said.

Faith finds hunger
Skaar said the CLI story begins with her testimony. She grew up in church, but had no personal relationship with Jesus Christ until she attended a retreat in Raleigh in 1995 when she prayed to invite Jesus into her life.

Her life changed. It wasn’t dramatic, she said, but inside she had a thirst and hunger to know God. She read the Bible and Christian books.

“God would just bring the right book to me every time I had a question,” Skaar said.

She thought it would be great if other people had Christian books when they needed them.

“I just wanted to get books in people’s hands,” she said.

In 1996, CLI was born. Skaar’s husband, Anders, joined the ministry full-time in 2002 as mission director.

Now, CLI has sent more than 300,000 books to more than 1,000 prisons and detention centers.

The ministry has sent books to at least one facility in every state and to 88 in North Carolina.

“They go out like missionaries into the prisons,” Skaar said.

Last year, the ministry received more than 2,500 letters from inmates.

“We decided not to let anyone fall through the cracks so we do answer every letter,” she said. Volunteers write letters to the inmates.

“It’s without a doubt the most rewarding volunteer work I’ve ever done,” said Carol Weathersbee, a member at Hillcrest who writes letters.

Norman Beckham, who retired after more than 30 years as an international and North American missionary and was pastor at Hillcrest for six years, also helps at CLI. He said he is impressed by the Skaars and CLI.

“They have a surprisingly small budget but they do so much with it,” he said.

Shipping is the ministry’s biggest expense. Skaar said it costs about $15 to $25 to send a box of books to a chaplain.

Anders Skaar monitors shipping costs to get the best rates. On a recent day, boxes were packed to be shipped to prisons in Washington, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and New York.

“We’re always looking for books,” he said.

The biggest request CLI gets from inmates is large print study Bibles.

The ministry also needs up-to-date Christian youth books for teenagers in detention centers.

Most of the books the ministry sends are “gently used” Christian books, but CLI also buys new Bibles.

Kathleen Skaar tells the story about an inmate who called a donated leather Bible he got from CLI the “best Christmas present” he’d ever received. The inmate is now out of prison and attending Bible college. He spoke at a CLI dinner last year and proudly showed that he takes the Bible with him every time he speaks somewhere.

CLI also offers inmates a free Bible study correspondence course.

“That’s just something the Lord put on my heart,” Skaar said.

Chaplains have told CLI that they need Bible studies to give to inmates. One day Skaar felt a burden to do something about it, so she sat down at the computer and wrote an application. She told volunteers not to put it in every letter but to pray about it and put it in the ones to which they felt led.

When the applications started returning, Skaar, who is 15 hours shy of completing her master of divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, starting writing lessons.

The course now has 15 lessons. When an inmate completes one study, he or she returns it to CLI.

The workers write positive comments about that lesson and send another one. Inmates who complete the course get a certificate.

Last year, more than 150 inmates enrolled in the CLI Leadership Bible Study. An inmate in Texas wrote the ministry to say it had blessed him.

“This study made me think and search my heart,” he said.

Find more information about CLI at www.cli-nc.org or by calling (919) 212-8122.

7/14/2009 8:39:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 4 comments

Historic Murphy church dedicates building

July 14 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Peachtree Memorial Baptist Church in Murphy blossomed from the originating purpose of the Baptist State Convention in 1830: to start a school in which to train preachers, and to evangelize the Indians of western North Carolina.

On June 27 Peachtree Memorial dedicated its new facility and two participants are direct descendants from those original mission efforts. A month after a symbolic march from their old building, landlocked by cemeteries, and 172 years after its founding, members moved into their $2 million-plus home.

Chester Jones, pastor for the past nine years and former director of missions for the local Truett Association, said the new one-level, steel and stone building will seat 600 for worship and is fully handicapped accessible. A fellowship hall will accommodate 400.

The move is “a giant step for our congregation,” he said, and eases them out from a landlocked situation to higher visibility on a more traveled road next to Peachtree Elementary School.

Jones said he is “honored to be a part of this country church” and “so proud I wouldn’t trade places” for any other.

Two of Peachtree’s 10 founding members were Native American, according to Jones. Current members Michael Mingus and his sister Jennifer Mingus King and her three children are their direct descendents.

Former Baptist State Convention executive director-treasurer Roy Smith, a North Carolina Baptist historian by avocation, told dedication participants how ladies from the Philadelphia Missionary Society employed Humphrey Posey to help them work among the Indians.

Smith said Posey, who had a “passionate concern” for the Cherokee, consulted with Luther Rice on a strategy to start a school. He traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to President Monroe and Secretary of War John Calhoun, under whom responsibility for Indian Nations fell.

When Posey obtained permission for a school, he carried his case north where members of the Philadelphia Missionary Society helped to fund his efforts. The Society sent three men and their wives, and three other women to help.

The first church that resulted from their efforts is the Valley River Baptist Church. Peachtree Memorial is likely the second, according to Smith.

One of the early converts was John Thimpson who studied at the school and eventually participated as an interpreter in the Trail of Tears that took North Carolina Cherokee to reservations in Oklahoma. The Minguses are direct descendents of Thimpson.

7/14/2009 8:38:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

World Changers marks 20,000th home

July 14 2009 by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. — There’s something special about Eleanor Williams’ home.

Hers is the 20,000th home World Changers has worked on since the Southern Baptist ministry began as a pilot project in 1990.

Each year when the City of Savannah Department of Housing notifies homeowners they have been approved for government-funded home improvements, several respond with a special request: “Please put me on the list of homes to be worked on by the World Changers students.”

Williams is one of those residents, having qualified for funds to replace her leaky roof this summer.

BP photo by Adam Miller

High school students David Robbins, left, and Broderick Turner, both from First Baptist Church, Eufaula, Ala., fit felt paper to the roof of Eleanor Williams’ home in Savannah, Ga. Hers is the 20,000th home refurbished by World Changers since the ministry began in 1990. 

Word has spread through the Savannah area over the years as more than 12,000 students since 1992 have given a week of their summer to help replace roofs, apply a fresh coat of paint and renovate homes while sharing Christ with homeowners and residents.

“I had the World Changers come in 2005 and paint my house,” Williams recounted amid the sound of hammers pounding on the roof and the buzz of activity in her yard.

“It’s been like a fence of love surrounding me this week,” Williams said of the World Changers’ presence.

Every home World Changers students work on is special because the point of the week is not only to work on houses but to connect with homeowners and share the love of Christ and the salvation story. But on July 3, Williams’ home became especially significant because it marked the 20,000th renovation completed by World Changers over the years.

“We have mobilized more than a quarter of a million students and adult leaders since 1990,” said John Bailey, student volunteer mobilization team leader with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB). “We’re here as a response to our faith,” Bailey said during a brief ceremony in Williams’ backyard. “We’re answering God’s call to go and serve.”

This summer more than 23,000 middle and high school students will participate in 98 World Changers projects in 91 cities throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. World Changers provides the tools and volunteer labor while local governments provide the funding, often utilizing federal government housing dollars.

In addition to working on homes, World Changers participants share their faith with homeowners and others in surrounding neighborhoods. In 2008, participants in World Changers and PowerPlant, a sister ministry geared toward assisting in church planting efforts, made 14,757 presentations of the gospel resulting in 997 recorded professions of faith.

While World Changers is impacting homeowners and other residents, participating students say World Changers is changing their lives at the same time.

“God has been using this week to show me I’m a lot more fortunate than some people are and I can use my abilities to help people who need it,” said 11th-grader Broderick Turner, a member of First Baptist Church in Eufaula, Ala. “I will definitely come back and do this again.”

Meredith Johnson, a high school junior who attends Florence (Ky.) Baptist Church just south of Cincinnati, said the week had reconfirmed her call to missions.

“It’s been a good experience. I want to do missions when I grow up. I would like to go to Africa or a place like that. This is good practice. God has shown me I can do whatever I can put my mind to with His help. I didn’t really think I could come out here and shingle a roof. I’ve never been on a roof before!” Johnson said she may want to go on an international World Changers mission trip next year.

The practical side of World Changers is what has made the partnership with the city of Savannah and so many other municipalities a success over the years.

Cynthia Holly, loan officer with the city’s housing department, said World Changers helps stretch housing dollars. Holly has worked with World Changers each of the 13 years she has been with Savannah’s housing office.

“It allows us to help out many more homeowners. We wouldn’t be able to do as many houses each year without the free labor. We would have to pay contractors,” Holly said.

NAMB President Geoff Hammond visited with students who were working at the construction site, describing them as “the heroes of World Changers. Think of the time, the effort, the leadership this takes. But they are doing it because of something greater than themselves. They’ve experienced the love of God in their hearts and they want to share that with these families here in Savannah.”

To the students who made up the construction crew working on Williams’ home, NAMB’s John Bailey said, “This is just the beginning for you. You can be a part of the next 20,000 homeowners we’re going to minister to.

“As I look around today, I might be looking at the next Geoff Hammond who will lead the North American Mission Board or the next Jerry Rankin who will lead the International Mission Board,” Bailey said. “That’s one of the things World Changers is about: a beginning point to serve and to minister because of what God has done in our lives.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ebert is publications and media relations coordinator for the North American Mission Board.)

7/14/2009 8:36:00 AM by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fruitland names Kenneth Ridings emeritus

July 14 2009 by BR staff

Kenneth Ridings, who retired Dec. 31, 2008, from Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute, will be named president emeritus during a special chapel service at 9:50 a.m. July 16.

Ridings, a teacher at Fruitland 40 years and president the past 11, will preach at the service, to be held in the chapel bearing his name.

New Fruitland president David Horton said he petitioned the board to honor Ridings and they unanimously agreed.

“We wanted to honor Kenneth Ridings for his years of service and to let him know he is always a part of the Fruitland family,” Horton said.

“He has been an encourager to me in my new role. We want him to know he is always welcome on campus and that we will look to him for continued leadership in the years ahead.”

The school held a special service honoring Ridings in October 2008.  

7/14/2009 8:35:00 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Guard helps save lives at bus crash

July 14 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

SHREVEPORT, La. — A church-bus crash that killed one teenager and critically injured another July 12 could have been worse if a transport bus carrying National Guard soldiers had not come upon the accident scene nearly immediately, according to the pastor of the stricken congregation.

Greg Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., described rescue efforts by the Alabama National Guard’s 2101st Transportation Company, Detachment 1, as “amazing.” “Every story for people of faith has these subplots where God sends his angels,” he said July 13.

Photo courtesy of toomsubafire.org via ABP

Rescue workers from Toomsuba, Miss., respond to Sunday’s crash of a church bus from Shreveport, La.

Hunt said the soldiers were traveling right behind the church bus, which was carrying 17 teenagers and six adults when it blew a tire on Interstate 20 near Meridian, Miss. The blowout caused the driver to lose control, and the bus flipped three times before landing on its side.

He said guardsmen literally lifted the bus off the ground to remove two victims trapped underneath. Unit members trained in triage immediately started treating the most seriously injured until emergency crews arrived.

Hunt said “there are kids and adults who are alive today” because of their response.

One youth died on the way to the hospital. Hunt identified the dead teenager as Brandon Ugarte. Hunt described Ugarte, 14, as “a lovely young man” who, while not a church member, was involved both with the youth group and First Baptist’s Chinese mission.

Ugarte was one of three crash victims airlifted from the crash site to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.

Another victim taken to the Jackson hospital was Maggie Lee Henson, the daughter of John Henson, the church’s associate pastor for emerging ministries. She remained in critical condition the morning of July 13 with severe head injuries.

Hunt said doctors worked throughout the day July 12 to stabilize her because of heart and lung complications. Surgeons were waiting for her vital signs to improve before operating.

A third victim, Lauren Murchison, was having surgery July 13 to repair a broken femur. She suffered multiple fractures, a punctured lung and cuts and bruises. “She’s not in good shape, but they are confident they will be able to put her back together again,” Hunt said.

Hunt said in all six people remained hospitalized a day after the accident. They included Jason Matlack, the church’s minister of youth, and another adult sponsor, Kyle Kelley, who is part-time associate coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of Louisiana. Kelley’s wife, Charlene, represents Louisiana on the CBF’s national Coordinating Council.

“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship family grieves over this tragic accident involving members of one of our partner congregations,” said Daniel Vestal, CBF’s executive coordinator. “I encourage each of us to be in prayer for the family of the deceased, those who are injured and this church family during this time of crisis. We know that the Lord who gives us life will also sustain us through difficult times.”

The group had left the church’s campus in Shreveport about 4:45 a.m. on July 12. They were headed toward a week-long camp operated by Passport, a Christian organization formed in 1993 that combines camping with a hands-on mission project. Passport is a CBF partner organization, and youth groups from many CBF partner churches participate annually in Passport camps.

Camp pastors told participants in the Passport session that began July 12 about the tragedy during their Sunday vespers service and prayed for those involved.

“Passport has been inundated with prayers of support for the students, leaders and their families,” said Colleen Burroughs, the group’s executive vice president. “Meridian ministers and churches have been gracious in their response and offers for help, as has the hospital staff. We continue to wait for positive reports for those still in the care of the medical staffs in Jackson and Meridian.”

Burroughs and her husband, Passport President and CEO David Burroughs, traveled to Meridian the night of July 12 after learning about the accident. She described it as “a terrible tragedy that will take a long time to recover from on physical and emotional levels.”

The camp was being held on the campus of Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Mercer President William Underwood expressed “profound sympathy” to the Shreveport congregation.

“Our thoughts and prayers will be with them as they grieve and heal in the days and weeks ahead,” Underwood said in a statement.
The crash occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Back in Shreveport, church members began hearing about it just minutes later, while gathering for First Baptist’s 10:30 a.m. worship service.

Hunt said as soon as word of the tragedy was received, the church immediately altered plans for its two morning services, focusing on prayer and immediate action.

“Our church was the church yesterday,” he said, describing the experience as “just absolutely an extraordinary story of love and grace.”

Parents and church members rushed to Mississippi, where members of two Meridian congregations — First Baptist Church and Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church, met them to help sort out where their loved ones had been sent. Emergency personnel took injured victims who were not airlifted to Jackson to three local hospitals in the Meridian area. Luggage and other items recovered from the crash site were taken to Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church — located in Meridian’s hospital district — where family members could pick them up.

Hunt said support for the congregation was flooding in from all over the world. Several prayer groups cropped up on social-networking sites, and by the morning of July 13 one Facebook group had more than 1,200 members and nearly 100 wall postings.

A funeral mass for Ugarte has been scheduled for 10 a.m. July 15 at Cathedral of St. John Berchmans in Shreveport. Burial will be in Bellevue, Neb.

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

7/14/2009 1:46:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Church bus overturns, killing teen

July 13 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

MERIDIAN, Miss. — One youth was reported dead and a busload of teenagers and adult sponsors injured when a bus carrying them flipped enroute to a youth camp sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner ministry Passport.

A church bus carrying 23 teenagers and adults from First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., overturned July 12 when a tire blew out on Interstate 20 near Meridian, Miss. Media reports said the bus, headed toward a Passport camp in Macon, Ga., rolled three times before landing on its side, trapping some passengers underneath.

One youth was reported dead at the scene. At least one person was airlifted. Clayton Cobler, coroner of Lauderdale County, told the Shreveport Times that injuries ranged from severe pelvic and chest injuries to scrapes and scratches.

First Baptist Church of Shreveport got word of the accident, which occurred about 10:20 a.m., shortly before its Sunday morning service. “Our congregation is leaning on our faith and confidence in God, balancing direct action with reliance on the goodness and power of God,” Greg Hunt, the church’s senior pastor, said in a statement on the church’s web site.

7/13/2009 7:09:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ross helps churches protect, provide

July 13 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

 Johnny Ross has seen too many unnecessary tragedies to take lightly his role in helping church leaders understand the need to care for and protect their staff.

For a retirement contribution of as little as a dollar a month, any ministerial staff member who receives W2 income from a church qualifies for two vital protections provided for them by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, through GuideStone Financial Services: life and disability protection benefits. That includes full-time, part-time or bivocational staff or non-ministerial staff who work at least 20 hours per week.

In addition to these safety net protection benefits, the BSCNC also provides matching contributions to those who contribute more than $52.50 per month to their retirement.  There is a one dollar match for every three dollars contributed between $52.50 and $105 at which point the match ceases.  Therefore, the maximum free dollar match is $17.50 per month for a total of $210 dollars per year.

To receive these benefits the employing Southern Baptist church must contribute $420 per participant per year to Cooperative Program Plans A, B, and/or D. If the church contributes to Plan C, the yearly requirement is $460 per participant per year.  Because of the escalating costs of these benefits that annual giving requirement will increase in 2010 to an amount still under discussion by the BSCNC budget committee.

Still, 40 percent of North Carolina Baptist churches do not take advantage of those benefits. As the GuideStone representative on the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina staff, that drives Ross nuts.

BR photo by Steve DeVane

Johnny Ross talks about helping N.C. Baptist churches navigate the murky waters of pay, protection and benefits plans.

He said the average North Carolina pastor retires with a retirement portfolio of $100,000. “Is that not tragic?” he said.

Even combined with Social Security, earnings from that size portfolio will not be enough for a person to live on and many pastors need to find other income, often even beyond the age when they can physically  handle the work. He told of one 82-year-old “retired” pastor working at Hardees to make ends meet.

He said of the 4,200 churches shown on the BSCNC membership rolls 1,700 of them have no one on the retirement plan, which would also provide them life and disability protection.

“I don’t care how small they are, if they can’t put in a dollar a month to help their pastor in case something happens to him, they ought to close their doors,” Ross said.

Ross, who will complete 30 years of service with the BSCNC in September, has been 10 years in his role of helping churches understand the most tax efficient compensation for staff, and helping staff navigate the tricky rapids of advocating for adequate pay without appearing greedy.

Minister tax status is not easy to understand. In most cases ordained persons have a dual tax status. They are employees for federal and state tax treatment, but self-employed for Social Security purposes.And the amount of their pay designated for housing allowance is tax exempt.only for federal and state taxes. They must pay self-employment taxes on the housing allowance or on the fair rental value including utilities if they live in a parsonage.

“It is the height of irresponsibility for a church not even to know the insurance and retirement benefits of its staff,” Ross said. He is willing to drive anywhere to talk with a single church about its responsibility and about the benefits the BSCNC

Hates ‘packages’
One of his pet peeves is a “salary and benefits package” from which the pastor is expected to divide the money between salary, housing, insurance, retirement, book and car allowances. Too often insurance and retirement are left out because the “package” simply isn’t large enough to cover the family’s immediate needs with money “left over” for protection and for the future.

“If you’re paying for it, it’s not a benefit,” Ross said. “That system denies the meaning of the word.”

“It’s a no brainer,” Ross said.

“Don’t give your pastor a choice about retirement. Put him in there.”

When church leaders argue that they cannot dictate how the church staff allocates the funds, Ross says, “Excuse me. Aren’t you the employer?”

“Don’t give them a choice,” Ross said. “You’re saving them from their own ignorance … especially the younger ones … they’re going to take the money every time.”

Pastors too often make the mistake of “spiritualizing” their compensation, saying “God called me, He’ll take care of me,” Ross said. “I believe if God calls you He’ll take care of you, but He gives you a brain and sends me along to remind you to use it.”

Ross reminds pastors their second responsibility is to their family. When children grow up in churches their daddy serves, and hear him verbally abused and see the church nearly starve them to death, when they’re grown, they’re gone.

Ross is a firm believer in the disability protection provided by the Convention. North Carolina actually has the largest number receiving disability benefits, a statistic Ross “hopes means that our people are informed and when something happens they know there is help.”

Clueless on benefits
Still he feels 95 percent of key leaders and decision makers in churches, and 60 percent of pastors “don’t have a clue” about the benefits.

One man had been on Social Security disability for two years before learning as a GuideStone retirement participant he qualified for an additional $500 monthly.

Another stewardship committee chair called Ross recently asking about a retirement plan for staff besides the pastor. Learning about what is available “blew him out of the water,” Ross said. The man told him, “We can’t afford not to have every one of our employees in this plan.”

The man volunteered to take the information to every church in his association.

GuideStone sponsors a program to help the most desperate annuitants called Mission Dignity (formerly called Adopt an Annuitant).

More than 200 in North Carolina receive a monthly stipend unrelated to any retirement planning they did or did not do. “You have to be in abject poverty to even qualify for that,” Ross said. A married couple would get a maximum $260 a month in this emergency aid.

This fall GuideStone will begin giving some financial guidance to people trying to plan for retirement. The first question always is “How much should I put in” to which Ross said the answer is, “More than you think you can afford.”

Until now, the second question, “How do I invest?” had to be left unanswered. Now the “guided planning service” will allow GuideStone staff to talk with clients about potential plans.

Ross, 65, and working toward his own retirement plan, said if a church budget is under $75,000 and will make a commitment to put money into retirement for the pastor GuideStone will add $600 annually to that person’s retirement account for five years. This is made possible by a gift from Wyndolyn Royster Hollifield, who was a prominent donor to North Carolina Baptist causes

Church planters in
Church planters who receive financial assitance from the BSCNC are required to be in the retirement plan.

Two church planters working with consultant Pam Mungo died closely together in 2006 and didn’t have enough money for burial expenses.

One was 39, the other 52. She said she has begged for money to bury Baptist preachers for the last time.

Today, if you’re a North Carolina Baptist church planter you are in the retirement plan.

Ross spent 20 years as an adult Sunday School consultant, equipping lay leaders “to teach people scriptural truths that are life changing,” he said. He was a school teacher four years, working on a Ph.D. in education when he was called into vocational ministry. He earned a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1975.

When he took a busload of his first church members to a Sunday School conference, he was “absolutely embarrassed” he said because the conference leader read to him.

He promised his church members never to take them to another conference unless he verified the qualifications of its leaders beforehand.

Before long he was the one leading those conferences as Sunday School director Robert Stewart asked him to join the BSC staff in 1979.

Ross and Rhea, his wife of 43 years, are members of Salem Baptist Church in Apex and fans of all things University of North Carolina.

He has taught leadership recruitment and training at Southeastern adjunctively for 13 years and currently co-teaches a class at Campbell Divinity School on designing church programs and ministries.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Just 10 minutes after Ross gave the interview with the Biblical Recorder, he received a call from the friend of a 42-year-old pastor who had to resign his church because of illness from cancer. The caller had encouraged his friend several years ago to enroll in the retirement plan, especially for the protection benefits. He did not, and now he and his family face a very uncertain financial future.)

Contact information
For information on how your church can be a model employer and best provide for and protect your staff, contact Johnny Ross at (919) 459-5594 or jross@ncbaptist.org.

Related to this story
Coverage helps church, family
Church seeks to be ‘model employer’
Meeting helps calm stricken pastor’s fears

Special series — Body parts

Did you know you have a large church staff? Your gifts through the Cooperative Program support a staff resource at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina that exists to serve your church.

The Biblical Recorder continues a series — Body Parts — featuring one of your Convention staff members, and churches which has grown through that staff member’s ministry. Body Parts is inspired by 1 Cor. 12:12 — “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (NIV). The parts of the Baptist State Convention exist to serve you.

This week: Johnny Ross, consultant with GuideStone Financial Resources.

Coming next: Eddie Thompson, family ministry.

Visit Body Parts, a Biblical Recorder special series.

7/13/2009 7:05:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

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