July 2015

More than 13,000 registered for Send Conference

July 29 2015 by Joe Conway, NAMB

The 22 students from The Church at Lifepark had no idea they would be the first of thousands. Student minister Paul Coleman registered his Mount Pleasant, S.C., group for the 2015 Send North America (SNA) Conference when online reservations opened last year. More than 13,000 people have followed their lead.
The conference, to be hosted at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Aug. 3-4, is sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the International Mission Board (IMB).


File photo by John Swain/NAMB
The 2015 Send North America Conference will be held at Nashville's Bridgestone Area Aug. 3-4, with more than 13,000 paid registrants. The missions event is hosted by the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.

“This may sound crazy, but I’m bringing 22 high school students to the SNA Conference because I believe that these future leaders will be the ones that start a movement in our church and city,” Coleman said. “I’m asking God to grip these 22 students and to ignite in them something that will be trailblazing and powerful.”
NAMB president Kevin Ezell said he is “thrilled with the response.”
“We’re praying it will be a turning point for a lot of Christians and churches who will go home and make an impact for Christ like never before,” he said.
Church members and leaders from all 50 states and four Canadian provinces will be in attendance. The main sessions will be held in the Bridgestone Arena, the first beginning at 12:45 p.m., Aug. 3. Breakout sessions will be hosted in the Music City Center and the Renaissance and Omni Nashville hotels on both Monday and Tuesday.
On the opposite end of the age spectrum from the Lifepark group, First Baptist Church Lawrenceville, Ga., is bringing 30 senior adults. The group takes an annual excursion to exercise hospitality and share the Gospel as they fellowship and travel. Their 2015 trip is to the Send conference.
Organizers say the two-day gathering is more than a missions conference. It will challenge Christians to live on mission in every aspect of life and provide an environment for intentional networking among church leaders and church planters. Platform speakers include Louie Giglio, J. D. Greear, Eric Mason, Russell Moore, David Platt and more. Breakout session leaders include Jennie Allen, H.B. Charles Jr., Ronnie Floyd, Johnny Hunt, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Thom Rainer, Ed Stetzer and Bryant Wright among many others. Worship will be led by Casting Crowns, David Crowder, Passion Band, featuring Kristian Stanfill, and Shane and Shane.
The gathering has generated much social media attention, like this tweet from church planter Brent Williams:


File photo by Susan Whitley/NAMB
David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, presented the closing sermon at most of the Send North America Experience Tour stops held in 2014-15, including this one in Boston’s historic Tremont Temple Baptist Church. Platt is a platform speakers for the 2015 Send North America Conference, to be hosted at Nashville’s Bridgestone Area Aug. 3-4, which already has more than 13,000 paid registrants for the missions event hosted by the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board.

“We’re bringing 22 Alaskans to the @sendnetwork Conference in August. Thank you @kevezell for your leadership. We love @NAMB_SBC.”
Williams is the founding pastor of True North Church, launched in 2010. What began as a Bible study in his home with 15 college students is now the third largest church in the Alaska Baptist Convention.
Next steps are also built into the conference. There will be three stations for next steps in the venues where participants can connect with church planters, adopt unreached people groups and commit to ongoing missions efforts through both mission boards. An intentional, six-week, next steps Bible study will launch through the Send North America Network on Monday, Aug. 10. The Bible study will be supported with videos and blog posts.
“We have designed the conference to help every Christian live their life in a more intentional, missional way,” said Dustin Willis, team leader for Events and Promotion at NAMB. “Many pastors and church planters are attending – but what’s even more exciting is that most attendees are everyday Christians – the people who can have the most impact on our world if they have an on-mission focus.”
Platt, IMB president, said, “I am exhilarated when I think of the possibilities we have to mobilize Christians and equip churches for mission in North America and the nations together, and this conference is a reflection of that reality.”
Anticipation and expectations among participants appear to be running high. Coleman’s group may be leading in that area, too.
“This group of students is coming to the conference hungry for more in their lives and they want to be challenged,” Coleman said. “I expect that as a result of the gathering they will be greatly encouraged with the direction of the church and that they will choose to be leaders in God’s next great spiritual awakening. I expect that because of our gathering in Nashville, these 22 students will never be the same again.”
Learn more about the Send North American Conference at sendconference.com. To explore missions and church planting through NAMB, visit namb.net/mobilize-me. Discover more about global missions at imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)

7/29/2015 11:51:59 AM by Joe Conway, NAMB | with 0 comments

Scouts’ vote may diminish numbers, Bapt. leaders say

July 29 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) executive board has voted to lift the Scouts’ national ban on gay adult leaders and employees – a move Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said may hasten the exodus of Southern Baptists from Scouting.
“Sadly and regrettably, I believe churches who stand on the biblical ethic of sexuality will have to cease their sponsorship and involvement in the Boy Scouts of America,” Floyd told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “I also believe it is important that everyone understands that in reality, it is the Boy Scouts of America that is walking away from their historic heritage that has been embraced by the vast majority of Americans.”
The BSA executive board approved the policy change, which is effective immediately, by a 79-percent majority, the Scouts’ website reported. The vote occurred during a July 27 conference call. The BSA will continue to allow troops chartered by religious organizations to exclude gays from volunteer leadership positions if homosexual behavior is incompatible with chartering organizations’ religious beliefs.
One Baptist leader told The Washington Post that concession may only be temporary, and churches could be forced eventually to accept homosexual leaders. “The next step, which may be a year or two down the road, seems obvious to us,” said Roger S. Oldham, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s (EC) vice president for convention communications and relations. Groups with Christian convictions, Oldham told the Post, “are being put into a situation where they have to either compromise their conviction or choose to leave. And for those for whom biblical sexual morality is a conviction, they have no alternative.”


Legal analysts disagree on whether church-chartered troops could be liable to discrimination lawsuits for denying leadership positions to open homosexuals, Religion News Service reported.
EC President Frank S. Page told BP the Scouts’ latest decision represents a disappointing turn from their heritage of character and faith.
“The Boy Scouts used to instill principled courage and resolute character in its members,” Page said in written comments. “Under pressure to conform to political correctness, courage withered. It deeply saddens us to see the white flag of surrender flapping in the morning breeze.”
Ernest Easley, professor of evangelism at Union University, told BP churches that still sponsor Boy Scout troops should cease their sponsorship in light of the BSA’s acceptance of homosexual adult leaders. The Georgia church where Easley formerly served as pastor broke its relationship with the Scouts in 2013, when the BSA lifted its ban on openly gay youth participants. At that time, USA Today reported that Southern Baptists sponsored more than 3,900 Boy Scout troops.
“The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on same-sex marriage played right into the hands of the Boy Scouts as they take ... yet another step away from their own pledge of being ‘morally straight.’ I suppose it’s time to change the pledge,” Easley said in written comments. “The Bible says in Proverbs 14:12, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.’ I hope churches that still sponsor troops, that were reluctant to end their sponsorship earlier, will now decide to cut their ties with the Scouts and find other ways (such as RAs) to invest in the lives of young boys.”
RAs is short for Royal Ambassadors, the Southern Baptist missions organization for boys in grades 1-6. The tandem Southern Baptist program Challengers engages young men in grades 7-12 in missions education. Both programs have been suggested as Scouting alternatives for Southern Baptist churches along with Trail Life USA, a boys organization which requires adult leaders to sign a statement of faith and requires both boys and leaders to live by a code of conduct that defines “any sexual activity outside the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman” as “sinful” and “inconsistent with the values and principles of the program.”
The Los Angeles Times reported a 13 percent decline in Scouting enrollment since 2013, when the BSA began loosening its policies regarding homosexual membership. The Mormon Church, which sponsors more Boy Scout troops than any other organization, issued a July 27 statement saying its leaders were “deeply troubled” and might leave the BSA, The New York Times reported. Mormon-sponsored troops accounted for 17 percent of all Boy Scout and Cub Scout units in 2013, according to the Times.
Oldham, of the SBC EC, called the decline in Scouting enrollment predictable.
Southern Baptists, Oldham said in written comments, “predicted in 2013 that the Scouts would see an immediate loss in membership, with continual attrition over time, something their 2014 and 2015 annual reports clearly demonstrate. We also predicted that the 2013 decision was merely the first step toward achieving the goals the BSA’s executive committee announced in January of that year. This decision [to permit homosexual leaders] shows that to be an accurate assessment.”
BSA National President Robert Gates said in a statement that permitting gay adult leaders will save the Scouts time and money while not compromising their mission or values.
“As I said during our national annual meeting in May, due to the social, political and legal changes taking place in our country and in our movement, I did not believe the adult leadership policy could be sustained,” Gates said. “Any effort to do so was inevitably going to result in simultaneous legal battles in multiple jurisdictions and at staggering cost. The best way to allow the BSA to continue to focus on its mission and preserve its core values was to address the issue and set our own course. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Despite the Scouts’ loosening standards of sexual morality, some Baptists urged churches and individuals to continue their involvement with the BSA. The Association of Baptists for Scouting released a statement lamenting that “cultural shifts and the legal landscape” have “forced” the BSA to lift its ban on homosexual adult leaders.
“We urge Baptist churches to start or continue Scouting programs,” the Association of Baptists for Scouting said, “and to have them led by adults who are faithful to the moral beliefs of that congregation, thereby aiding in the spiritual development of our youth. We believe conditions resulting in this policy change by the BSA provide clear evidence of the increasing need for current and future moral champions in our society.”
Chip Turner, a Southern Baptist who chairs the BSA National Religious Relationships Committee, told BP that Scouting is still a viable ministry outlet for Southern Baptist churches.
“At no time in the history of the Boy Scouts of America has there been a greater opportunity to give voice to the Scripture on sexual conduct as well as doing one’s duty to God,” Turner said in written comments. “Having a Scouting ministry in local churches also provides Baptists unparalleled opportunities to reach children, youth and families for Christ.
“It is important to note that Baptist Scouts and leaders have [comprised] and continue to comprise sizable portions of the membership of units provided by churches of other faiths,” Turner said. “Thus, Baptists continue to have a large population in Scouting. Commitment to the spiritual well-being of these Baptists as well as the unreached should remain strong.”
In 2013, messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Houston adopted a resolution expressing “continued opposition to and disappointment in the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change its membership policy.”
The resolution said the Scouts’ decision was “viewed by many homosexual activists as merely the first step in the process that will fundamentally change the BSA,” putting “the Scouts at odds with a consistent biblical worldview on matters of human sexuality.” The resolution added that the decision had “the potential to complicate basic understandings of male friendships, needlessly politicize human sexuality, and heighten sexual tensions within the Boy Scouts.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/29/2015 11:45:35 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Penalized cake bakers garner faith-based funding

July 29 2015 by Sarah Padbury, WORLD News Service

Christians looking to raise funds for religious liberty causes have a crowdfunding option – Continue to Give (CTG) – that won’t kick them off the site for defending their faith.
In April, the crowdfunding site GoFundMe halted a campaign raising money for Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Ore. Oregon’s labor commissioner found the couple guilty of violating state anti-discrimination laws when they refused to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony and ordered them to pay $135,000 in damages to the lesbian couple. For the Kleins, their next legal step is the state Court of Appeals.
GoFundMe staff was alerted to the fundraiser for the Kleins by activists and declared it in violation of the site’s terms of agreement. Company policy says the site cannot be used “in defense of formal charges of heinous crimes, including violent, hateful or sexual acts.”
But friends subsequently opened a new campaign using Continue to Give (CTG), a faith-based giving platform, with the goal of raising $150,000. By late July, the campaign had raised nearly $400,000 and tallied 20,000-plus social media “shares” and 8,400 comments from donors.
Jesse Wellhoefer, then a college student in 2004, first envisioned a fundraising site for missionaries while on a mission trip to Tanzania. The idea soon grew to include helping Christians with other types of fundraising – church offerings, support for nonprofits and individual causes such as adoption expenses. Wellhoefer began building the site in 2011 at night and on weekends while working as a web developer. After piloting the program with a few organizations, he launched CTG for public use in 2013.
Today, the for-profit company has five full-time employees and has raised “millions of dollars from thousands of donors,” as Wellhoefer puts it. Many users are attracted to CTG because its fees are about half as much as GoFundMe’s for individual and nonprofit causes, he said. Churches make up CTG’s largest user group, with the site hosting online giving for hundreds of congregations across the nation for a low-cost monthly rate, rather than a per-donation fee.
Wellhoefer, 32, describes himself as a born-again Christian who wants to “run the company in a God-honoring way,” providing tools that truly help others, rather than just making money. But he does not require his employees or the people who use the site to share his faith. Any organization, group or individual is free to raise money on the site, which uses Facebook-based networking to help donors vet causes.
“The idea of Continue to Give is that you know who you are giving to and why,” Wellhoefer said. “We don’t stop people from supporting you. We let the community decide who they will support.”
Wellhoefer is vague about what causes are “legitimate.” He said CTG can be used, for example, by a non-Christian nonprofit or a homosexual couple trying to raise money for an adoption. He would not offer an example of a hypothetical fundraiser he would ban from the site.
GoFundMe, meanwhile, bans users from using its site to raise money for a host of reasons, including pornography “of any kind,” assisted suicide, non-prescription drug use, weapons, organized violence or rebel groups and “funding of an abortion (human or animal).”
In contrast, CTG’s terms are short, only banning users from fundraising for causes that are “offensive, obscene or racist.”
“Because we mostly work with nonprofits and churches, we haven’t been forced by people abusing us to make a laundry list [of objectionable causes] yet,” Wellhoefer said. “We’re just trying to do what God called us to do.”
The CTG description on the fundraising page for the Kleins states:
“Let’s help the Kleins through this hard time as they fight for religious freedom; which they are not just fighting for themselves but for all of us as our freedoms are threatened. They have been struggling financially ever since they were forced to close the doors of their bakery in 2013 as their income was basically cut in half. If they are forced to pay the damages to the lesbian couple they will be in much worse shape than they are now. They are pioneers in standing strong for the Lord and have been very courageous and steadfast throughout this whole ordeal. Please let’s rally around them to help ease the stress of everyday expenses and unexpected urgent needs. Thank you for your desire to help the Klein family, they will certainly appreciate it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Padbury writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

7/29/2015 11:41:28 AM by Sarah Padbury, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

First-year church plant giving back

July 29 2015 by Meredith Yackel, NAMB

After more than 30 years in ministry, pastor Garth Leno stepped down from his role at his church of 10 years, not knowing what his next steps would be. A few months later, he helped form The Gathering.
“We started out as just a small group,” Leno said of the church in Windsor, Ontario. “We met at my house on Saturday nights for Bible study, and within just a few months, we completely outgrew the living room.”
It was only four and a half months after their first meeting when Leno announced to the group they would be taking the next steps toward becoming a church.
“Everyone cheered when we made the announcement,” Leno said. “So we started outlining who we wanted to be as a church, and who we wanted to associate with.”
Leno was clear they didn’t want to find a network or denomination and then just conform to them. They wanted to form their own DNA and then find a larger group of churches who matched up with them.
“I started looking at Southern Baptists because of guys like David Platt and Al Mohler,” Leno explained. “I do not come from a Southern Baptist background, and neither does anyone in my congregation. We searched out a number of other groups, but Southern Baptists are most aligned with our values.”


Photo courtesy Garth Leno
Church planter Garth Leno (center) had such a strong affinity for Southern Baptist churches and leaders, he patterned The Gathering, a Windsor, Ontario, Canadian National Baptist Church plant, after what he admired. The Gathering continues to outgrow its meeting space and is now in its third location.

Though the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is incorporated only in the United States, it has given the North American Mission Board (NAMB) the ministry assignment to plant churches and reach people in the U.S. and Canada. Many Canadian churches have developed close ties with NAMB and Southern Baptists since the 1950s. Today, NAMB works closely with the Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC), an autonomous network of churches in Canada that shares a like-minded passion for evangelism and church planting with the SBC. The Gathering partners with CNBC to plant churches in Canada.
The Gathering continued on Sunday evenings in a small boardroom at a local golf and country club. However, they outgrew that room quickly, so they started renting another room in the facility – keeping the old room for childcare. Again, a few short months later, they outgrew their newest room so they began renting the largest room in the facility – keeping both old rooms for the growing number of children attending.
“Our time together is very simple,” Leno stated. “We made three taglines to be a descriptor of our weekly gathering: simple worship, passionate prayer and strong teaching. That is what we are known for.”
The Gathering continued to grow, and they soon outgrew the golf and country club. It was time for a new location.
As he became more familiar with Southern Baptists, Leno was introduced to and became friends with Wayne Parker, pastor of Merriman Baptist Church and Send City Missionary in nearby Detroit, Mich., with the North American Mission Board. Parker assisted Leno in the process of becoming a NAMB church planter.
“We knew we had to find a new location,” Leno said. “After looking at over 60 different options, we found an empty warehouse. Pastor Wayne came with me to look at it and pray over it.”
After speaking with the owner, and almost walking away due to cost, the owner had a change of heart and asked them how much they could afford. When they told him, he cut the asking amount in half to meet their price point.
“We continue to see the hand of God every time we turn around,” said Leno, noting the church received a generous grant from NAMB. “We didn’t know it at the time, but it came from the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. We really didn’t know what this was or who Annie Armstrong was either, but were thankful because, through it, the gospel is being better spread throughout our city.”
Within less than a year of meeting on Sundays, The Gathering was able to afford a new location in Windsor that fit them. With the grant from NAMB, generous donations from partnering Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. and their weekly offerings, they were able to secure the space and remain debt free.
The congregation met for their first Sunday in their newly renovated warehouse on January 11, 2015. Their first Sunday meeting was in May 2014.
“There were grateful tears at church that first Sunday [at the new location],” Leno said. “When I told our congregation that we now had a chance to give back to the organization that helped get us started, they were excited to get behind it.”
Despite the short time since their launch, The Gathering was able to raise more $9,300 for their first ever Annie Armstrong Easter Offering contribution.
Although Leno has more than 30 years in ministry experience, this is his first time planting a church – a church much needed in the community where statistics show only 7 percent are evangelical Christians. The Gathering is the first church in over five years to be planted in Windsor, a mirror city to Detroit, Mich.
“We are Motor City Canada,” Leno said of Windsor. “The city is largely blue collar and proud of it. People migrated here in the ‘50s and ‘60s to work in the factories, so it is tremendously ethnically diverse. Our congregation is filled with South Asians, Chinese, Filipinos, Romanians, Caucasians, Eastern Europeans and people from the Caribbean. We are a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural church family.”
Since moving into their new location, The Gathering has grown from an average attendance of 140 to 210 people. Last September they baptized six people, and they baptized six more in May. At their one-year anniversary for Sunday morning services on May 3, they reached a new attendance record of 351.
“We are just experiencing the radical grace of God,” Leno said. “We couldn’t be happier than to be right in the center of God’s will. We know we have a lot of work to do in our city.”
Southern Baptists gave more than $58 million to the Annie Armstrong offering in 2014. Everything given to this offering goes to the mission field in North America and helps start and support church plants like The Gathering in Ontario.
Learn more about church planting in Canada at namb.net/Canada. Also, learn more about the Annie Armstrong offering at AnnieArmstrong.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Yackel writes for the North American Mission Board.)

7/29/2015 11:35:49 AM by Meredith Yackel, NAMB | with 0 comments

Basketball gives entrée to inner-city’s young men

July 29 2015 by Sharon Mager, BaptistLIFE/Baptist Press

Curiosity was mounting on a sweltering late afternoon at the basketball courts at Gilmore Homes in Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood. As young men played hoops, a tall African American man strolled onto the scene along with members from several Baltimore-area churches.
The young men didn’t know the visitor was Ray Sydnor. A former Philadelphia Eagles player, Sydnor’s status went unrecognized – but the crowd took note of the free food and cold drinks that soon arrived.
Harold Phillips, pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit, Md., and a team from his church carried in large containers with several hundred hotdogs already in the buns, chips, condiments and lemonade to share with the hungry players.
The evening was the first of a five-week basketball league that Mentoring Academics Athletics in Partnerships (MAAP), founded by Sydnor, launched June 22 in partnership with the Baltimore Baptist Association (BBA), Upward Basketball and the Maryland Bible Society.


Photo by Sharon Mager
A five-week basketball league in Baltimore involved a partnership of Mentoring Academics Athletics in Partnerships, founded by former NFL play Ray Sydnor, the Baltimore Baptist Association, Upward Basketball and the Maryland Bible Society.

The outreach is part of a prayerful effort in the community following the death of Freddie Gray – within two blocks of the basketball courts – while he was in police custody, an event that sparked riots and unrest in the city last spring.
“Do we have to pay for those?” one young boy asked as he checked out the food while wiping sweat from his head with a T-shirt.
“No, they’re free,” someone answered.
“We don’t have to give you any money?” he probed again, shocked but happy.
Additional basketball players soon arrived in cars from various churches. After Phillips blessed the food, players and bystanders chowed down and emptied the lemonade in less than a half-hour before hitting the courts. Sydnor organized the guys into teams, each led by a “coach” – a pastor, church leader or one of Sydnor’s ministry associates.
Each week, different churches, including The Garden Church and Colonial Baptist Church, hosted the games, providing food and inviting local sports figures to lead a devotional time. The league encompassed more than a dozen teams of youth and young adults from both the inner city and surrounding communities.
“Stuff like this is a big deal for these kids. They don’t have a lot of opportunities for organized sports,” said Joel Kurz, pastor of The Garden Church that meets about 10 blocks from the courts.
Kurz said the basketball league gives him and other church leaders an opportunity not only to interact with the teens hanging out at the rec center, but also to bring neighborhood teens to the games. Some of the guys they brought on the first night, Kurz said, already knew local teens at the courts.
“We take a relational approach,” Kurz said regarding sharing the gospel. “We live in the neighborhood and volunteer at the school and the rec center. We play basketball with the guys and build relationships.”
The partnership is the result of a friendship between Sydnor and Phillips. Sydnor, who was raised in Baltimore, was a rising football star in the early 1980s. In fact, when the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 1981, Sydnor was a rookie tight end, thrilled with the excitement. But he didn’t get to play. The day before the big game, Sydnor smoked crack cocaine, part of a habit he developed as a teen along with alcohol and marijuana. His career spiraled down and ended a few years later. For two decades he struggled with his addictions before committing his life to Christ in 1998.
Now Sydnor ministers to teens and children to help them seek Jesus and avoid decisions with potentially devastating consequences. When Baltimore erupted in violence after Gray’s death, Sydnor wanted to do something to help. Through his organization and his friendship with Phillips, he met with BBA director of missions Bob Mackey and his staff to organize the league.
Though the gospel was shared each week, Phillips said the league’s long-term goal is to provide an opportunity for local churches to get to know the young men, build on those relationships and ultimately share not only friendship but also a solid relationship with Jesus.
Mackey added, “Observing these young men play basketball with respect and appreciation for the league and those leading it gives rise to hope and encouragement for so many through Jesus and fun in Baltimore.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sharon Mager is a communications specialist with the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network/Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware. This article first appeared in BaptistLIFE, baptistlifeonline.org, the network’s newsjournal.)

7/29/2015 11:29:01 AM by Sharon Mager, BaptistLIFE/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hurricane Katrina left mark on Baptist relief

July 28 2015 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

“We’ve shared the gospel with so many people in this community, I don’t know if there is anyone else we can share with,” Randy Corn thought to himself six months after Hurricane Katrina when he arrived in Gulfport, Miss., one of the many Gulf Coast cities devastated by the historic hurricane 10 years ago.
Corn was involved in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) construction projects through his church, Biltmore Baptist in Arden, N.C., which had served in the area multiple times and seen many give their lives to Christ through SBDR ministry.
Corn had prayed with the homeowner his team was serving on their first morning in Gulfport and, with his proclivity for evangelism, took a look around the neighborhood and spotted a group of young people talking at the end of a driveway.
After striking up a conversation with the group, who expressed gratitude to Southern Baptists for their relief efforts, Corn led one of the young men to faith in Christ – the first of eight people he would lead to faith in less than three hours.
Thanks in part to Corn’s experience as an SBDR volunteer following Katrina, he and his wife Ronda became North American Mission Board (NAMB) missionaries and have spent much of the past decade helping train SBDR teams in personal evangelism. 
Corn, who served on his first SBDR team just days after Katrina’s onslaught, was one of nearly 21,000 volunteers from 41 Baptist state conventions to participate in Baptist relief efforts that began after the hurricane’s Gulf Coast landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, and continued through March 2006.
Another 26,000 volunteers would participate in Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Homes) Rebuild from March 2006 to April 2009. The influx of new volunteers – by far the most who would ever participate in a single SBDR response and rebuild effort – would transform future disaster relief efforts by Southern Baptists.
Fritz Wilson, executive director of disaster relief for NAMB, calls Hurricane Katrina one of a handful of transformational events in the history of SBDR – from its inception in 1967 during Hurricane Beulah to the Southern Baptist response after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet no response remotely compares to Hurricane Katrina. 
“Everyone has their own list of what were the most influential events in SBDR,” Wilson said. “But everyone has Katrina as the watermark event in the history of the ministry.”
Within the first five years after the hurricane, the number of trained volunteers soared by 46 percent – from 51,300 to 95,000 volunteers – with more than 25,000 new volunteers trained in the first few months after the hurricane.
“The disaster relief teams of the SBC are second to none,” said former SBC President Fred Luter, pastor of New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church for nearly three decades. “I don’t just say that for what I’ve heard or read about. I say that because of what I’ve seen firsthand.
“Being there in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I saw missionaries and disaster relief volunteers come here from all over the country to help those of us in the city, whether it was to gut out our homes or our churches or to help us to paint or cut grass,” said Luter, president of the SBC from 2012-14. With reports by national media outlets, awareness of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief rose throughout all levels of government.
“It opened doors that normally we couldn’t even get close to knocking on,” said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization at NAMB at the time.
“We got much, much better at telling our story through secular media. Then when the government got around to doing a report in 2006 to evaluate what had happened, they were all over the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief response with praise, according to what had been accomplished there.”
Burton noted that SBDR’s Katrina efforts became a model for other organizations, even secular ones. “What most observers could not understand or measure was the sense of call our volunteers had to serve Katrina survivors,” Burton added. “That obedience to God’s purpose for them as individual Christian volunteers drove our commitment to excellence and caring.”
SBDR volunteers returned home with a new passion for disaster relief – as well as for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. And some stayed, making a gospel-sized impact on their new home. 
Today, Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
NAMB coordinates Southern Baptist responses to major disasters in partnership with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief ministries.
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief ministries can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call (866) 407-6262 or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.) 

7/28/2015 11:20:09 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Parkwood Baptist honors M.O. Owens

July 28 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

M.O. Owens Jr. preached his last sermon as the pastor of the traditional service at Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia on Sunday, July 26. He is pastor emeritus and founding pastor of the church.
In September Owens will be 102 years old. He preached a closing celebration sermon at the 11 a.m. traditional service, a ministry he has pastored for seven years at the church. The service will be discontinued with Owens’ departure.


Parkwood’s senior pastor, Jeff Long, spoke of Owens’ strong commitment to the integrity of scripture and widespread influence across the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  He said Owens is “a very humble man” who did not seek recognition.


The service celebrated Owens’ 80 plus years of faithfulness in ministry. He pastored churches in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. Since retirement, Owens has been an interim pastor at 15 churches, including a year at an English-speaking Baptist church in Belgium.
He has held numerous leadership positions in the BSC and SBC. Owens served on the BSC Board of Directors and its various committees, and also served as president of the Pastors’ Conference for two years. He was instrumental in the process of buying property for the NC Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell and for Fruitland Baptist Bible College, where he taught for a number of years.
On the national level, Owens was engaged with the ministries of the Baptist Sunday School Board, Home Mission Board and Education Commission. He was present at the annual meeting of the SBC in 1925 when the Cooperative Program was adopted.
The M.O. Owens Chair of New Testament Studies was established at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2013. Seminary President Danny Akin noted in an article the high standards set by men like Owens. He said, “One way we encourage future generations of gospel-ready champions for King Jesus is by challenging them to learn from examples like that of M.O. Owens.”
Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the BSC, said the convention honored Owens with the Lifetime Award in 2013. “M.O. Owens Jr. is one of my great heroes,” Hollifield said. “I am grateful for what he has meant to us as North Carolina Baptists and to the Southern Baptist Convention. Few people have had more influence in helping move the SBC, its seminaries and the BSC back to its conservative theological roots than Owens.
“I respect, admire and appreciate M.O. Owens for many reasons,” Hollifield added. “He has demonstrated integrity and he has been faithful as a role model for those who serve as ministers of the gospel. He has based the decisions of his life upon the truth that he learned from being a faithful student of the Word of our God.”
Throughout his ministry, Owens never strayed from his commitment and passion to tell people about the life-transforming message of the gospel.
“Just preach the gospel,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”

7/28/2015 11:10:50 AM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Tax-exemption: Where do churches stand?

July 28 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

In a TIME magazine article June 28, Mark Oppeheimer, religion columnist for The New York Times, wrote the words that many churches in America have feared for some time now: “It is time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt status.” Churches and other non-profits gained exemptions from the Internal Revenue Service early in the 20th century because they were considered a public good. Oppenheimer now argues for an alleged greater good.
Many tax-exempt institutions, like churches and private universities, hold large amounts of wealth while they sit on prime real-estate in poor cities, contributing little financially to the good of their local municipalities, according to Oppenheimer.
If they paid taxes, he argued, “government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. … countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.”
Furthermore, that many conservative churches oppose same-sex marriage only exacerbates the problem for Oppenheimer. He compares the current situation, given the June 26 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, to the 1938 Bob Jones University case, where the school’s tax-exemptions were revoked for opposing racial equality – a “fundamental national public policy.”
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a blog post “moral approval” is the center of the issue. “The real intent of removing tax-exempt status,” said Burk, “is to cripple the institutions that continue their dissent from the sexual revolution.” He added, “A call for ending tax exemptions for religious institutions is a call to close them down – or at least to plunder them of their property.”

Churches provide ‘intangible benefits’

The Biblical Recorder (BR) published an article in 2012 written by Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF; previously, Alliance Defense Fund), where he explained why churches have remained and should continue to remain tax-exempt.
“Churches minister to the poor and needy in the community, provide numerous social services for the downtrodden among us and reach out to the ‘least of these’ in thousands of different ways,” Stanley said. “The social benefit theory justifies tax exemption for churches as a kind of bargain – churches provide needed services, so they are entitled to tax exemption.”
Stanley added, “Things like reduced crime rates resulting from transformed lives, suicides prevented when people surrender to Christ and people with destructive behavioral patterns that harm the community changing into hard-working and virtuous citizens who contribute to the well-being of the community.”
One study conducted by a University of Pennsylvania professor valued the intangible benefits of several Philadelphia church ministries in the millions of dollars per church.
Those economic effects directly benefit local, state and federal governments, since churches provide services for free that public institutions would normally pay a range of social workers, counselors and others to provide.

Church tax-exemption is ‘constitutional’

Stanley also offered a principled reason for church tax-exemption: “Our history is one of an unbroken practice of exempting churches from taxation. Churches were exempt from the very first time the tax code was passed at the federal level, and have remained exempt in every iteration of the tax code ever since. Every state in America also exempts churches from property taxes. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case regarding the property tax exemption of churches, called Walz v. Tax Commission, it stated that providing a tax exemption for churches was a less intrusive option under the Constitution than requiring churches to pay taxes.”
If the reasons listed above were to become unconvincing to American courts, and if tax exemption were taken away from churches, Art Rainer, vice president for institutional advancement at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, offers six suggestions.

  1. Give – “Tax deductibility has been a side benefit for those who give to their local church, but it has never been the reason why we give. At least, it shouldn’t be. We give because God has told us that this is how we properly steward what He has given to us.”

  2. Celebrate budget cuts – “ … should the loss of tax exemption become a reality, budget cuts will help maintain the existence of a church. It is a sacrificial, missional move.”

  3. Volunteer – “The most important resource for churches has never been money. It’s their people. A potential reduction in resources should motivate you to give your time and your energy to your local church.”

  4. Help unleash bi-vocational pastors into the workforce – “ … the new financial reality will force [churches] to hire fewer full-time pastors. It will usher in a whole new era for bi-vocational pastors. Assist these bi-vocational pastors with finding jobs.”

  5. Stay involved politically – “Do not use this as an excuse to shy away from the opportunity to speak into the political system. … it is a mistake to completely abandon the opportunity this governmental structure gives us.”

  6. Pray – “ … when you pray, ask that God will use this moment in history to bring Him glory. Because God’s agenda was never going to be determined by whether or not U.S. churches were or were not tax-exempt anyway.”

N.C. tax exemption bill before Senate

A bill, HB 229, is currently before the North Carolina Senate Committee on Finance that would modify tax-exempt status for religious property, BR previously reported. Beulah Baptist Church in Bennett received a $7,000 bill in 2014 from the Randolph County Tax Department for property taxes on a building that was under construction.
The tax department decided, based on their reading of the current religious property exemption law in North Carolina, the church owed taxes on the building because they did not yet have an occupancy permit; therefore, the property was not used “wholly and exclusively for religious purposes.”
HB 229 would modify the current law to provide tax exemption for religious property “if it is under construction and intended to be wholly and exclusively used by its owner for religious purposes upon completion.”
The bill passed in the House by a 114-0 vote.

7/28/2015 11:04:08 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

TX Supreme Court: Repeal or vote on Houston ordinance

July 28 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/ Baptist Press

The Texas Supreme Court has directed the Houston city council to abide by its own charter and repeal the controversial Equal Rights Ordinance or put it up to a city-wide vote this November. The city has until Aug. 24 to comply or be compelled to do so by the high court.
In a rare move, the Texas Supreme Court conditionally granted a writ of mandamus stating “the legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.” Last year, Mayor Annise Parker and then-City Attorney Dave Feldman declared “invalid” a referendum to repeal the controversial city ordinance. Petitioners – a racially and politically diverse group of pastors and civic leaders – sued, alleging the mayor and attorney manufactured signature requirements in order to defy the city charter mandates. The court agreed with the petitioners July 24, stating the city secretary, not the city council, is obligated to evaluate petitions.
Enforcement of the ordinance is suspended.
“Simply put, the City Secretary’s certification started the process outlined in the Charter for reconsidering ordinances following a referendum petition, invoking the Council’s ministerial duty to carry out its obligations,” the court wrote.


That is what Andy Taylor, attorney for the pastors’ coalition, has said all along.
“The only person who calls balls and strikes is [City Secretary] Anna Russell,” Taylor told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. “They can’t ignore her and force us to sue.”
In a statement released late Friday, Parker wrote, “Obviously, I am disappointed and believe the court is in error with this eleventh hour ruling in a case that had already been decided by a judge and jury of citizens.”
At issue was the “validity” of petition signatures – those of the signers and the circulators. Attorneys for the city argued in court in February the signatures did not meet a prescribed standard and therefore invalidated the petition. Taylor countered that the city created the standards in an effort to keep in force an ordinance the mayor called “deeply personal.”
The jury and judge disagreed, and the plaintiffs lost the initial trial. The coalition appealed to the Texas 14th Court of Appeals. And with a mid-August deadline for placing the referendum on the city ballot, plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. Their request was denied, and the appeal was put on the normative months-long track for a hearing. That would have put any ballot measure off until 2017.
Acknowledging the plaintiffs were pressed for time, the high court wrote, “Under such circumstances, mandamus has long been recognized as an appropriate remedy when city officials improperly refuse to act on a citizen-initiated petition.”
Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, the group that spearheaded the petition drive, was grateful for the ruling. Feeling vindicated, he said, “Obviously, we thank the Lord for providing the perseverance and commitment on the part of our pastors, Andy, and our financial supporters,” Welch said. But, he added, “This is a battle we should not have had to fight.”
The coalition charged the Equal Rights Ordinance created “special rights” for Houston’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community at the risk of compromising the constitutional rights afforded citizens, especially people of faith. The ordinance also permits citizens to use the public bathroom of the gender with which they identify – allowing biological males who identify as female to use the women’s bathroom. The referendum garnered 55,000 signatures. Of those, Russell certified 17,846 – more than enough to send the ordinance back to the city council for repeal or vote by the citizens.
“The mere existence of the City’s challenge to the petition does not negate the City Council’s duty to proceed with the political process,” the court wrote. “To hold otherwise would be to allow cities to freely shirk their obligation to follow through on properly certified petitions.”
In her statement, Parker said the city would proceed as directed but “at the same time, we are consulting with our outside counsel on any possible available legal actions.”
Taylor said there is no legal recourse since the court has spoken. If the city fails to act according to its City Charter, the writ of mandamus will be issued, forcing the city to comply.
Parker and Welch are confident their respective sides will prevail in a city vote.
“We fought for the right to vote and we look forward to that challenge,” Welch said. “It’s time for the church to act.”
(EDITRO’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/28/2015 10:54:39 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/ Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New workshops provide audio training for churches

July 28 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Every week thousands of musicians and singers in churches spend hour upon hour practicing for their worship service only to have that presentation hampered by audio issues.
A series of new training workshops being offered across North Carolina will provide vital training for audio technicians at churches to help them in making worship services the highest quality they can be to the glory of God. Beginning in mid-August, the worship ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), in conjunction with local Baptist associations, will offer several audio seminars in locations across the state that will address the basic skills that an audio technician needs to be successful in the local church.


“As we’ve worked with churches on various aspects of worship and music ministry, we’ve discovered that there is a great need for this type of training,” said Kenny Lamm, BSC senior consultant for worship and music.
Mark Brady, worship pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church in Moyock, will lead the workshops. Brady’s experiences as a longtime Army musician and a music minister give him the unique perspective of addressing topics from the viewpoint of both the audio tech and the music director. “A good audio tech with mediocre equipment can make a mediocre choir sound good,” Brady said. “On the other hand, a mediocre tech with good equipment can make a good choir sound mediocre.”
During the training, Brady will cover topics such as the basics of sound, understanding the role of the audio technician and understanding the functions of the mixer, equalizer, monitors, microphones and other equipment. The workshop will also include hands-on training, as well.
“The task that really allows them to gain confidence in their skills is this hands-on portion,” Lamm said.
During the hands-on training attendees will have the opportunity to use analog and digital mixers to create mixes utilizing multi-track audio files. Attendees will also receive feedback during the hands-on sessions.
The classes will be offered on a Friday night and Saturday schedule. Part one, the basics class, will be offered on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. In addition, an advanced class will be offered on Saturday afternoons. To take the advanced class, participants must take the basic class or pass a prerequisite survey. Each class is limited to 20 people to allow for more personal and individualized instruction. Due to limited space, classes are offered for N.C. Baptist churches only.
Workshops are already scheduled for Bolivia (Aug. 14-15), Lincolnton (Sept. 11-12), Waynesville (Oct. 2-3) and Spring Hope Nov. 6-7) for the remainder of 2015. In 2016, sessions are already scheduled for Sanford (Feb. 5-6), Hamptonville (Feb. 19-20), Charlotte (March 4-5), Statesville (April 8-9) and Roxboro (April 22-23). Additional trainings are also being planned for the remainder of 2016.
The registration fee for the classes ranges from $15-$20 per person for the basic class, and $25 per person for the advanced class. The fee for attending both the basic and advanced classes range from $40-$50. Early bird registration rates are available. More information, including a detailed schedule and registration information, is available online at worshipAUDIO.org.

7/28/2015 10:49:05 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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