July 2018

Rainer: 6 ways the #MeToo movement affects the church

July 27 2018 by Joy Allmond, Facts & Trends

“There are phrases in culture, that if you look back a year ago, they didn’t exist,” said Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.
 
“But now (one) that is common, pervasive, and indicative of a lot of pain that has occurred … has been the #MeToo movement.”
 
During a recent Rainer on Leadership podcast, Rainer discussed the implications of this movement on the life of the local church.
 
“This involves those who have been sexually abused, usually in their past, and are bringing the event forward,” said Rainer, giving clarity and definition to the #MeToo movement.
 
“They are verbalizing something that has happened in their past that’s been repressed or held down for so long, it’s eaten them alive. And now they’re able to get the information out about past abuse.”
 
Rainer – along with Jonathan Howe, LifeWay’s director of strategic initiatives – outlined six things pastors and church leaders should keep in mind as they will inevitably hear stories of abuse from within their own congregations.
 
1. Local church leaders are often the first line of communication on issues of abuse.
 
Rainer learned this during his second pastorate more than 30 years ago. A woman in his congregation told him of some abuse she had suffered years earlier. This was the first time anyone had approached him with this kind of information.
 
“She had not told anyone about this,” said Rainer.
 
Fortunately, he knew a great Christian counselor in the area who had more competency and training to handle this kind of issue.
 
“Local church leaders, more often than not they’re going to come to you and say, ‘This happened in my past,’ said Rainer.
 
“You have to be prepared.”
 
2. Leaders must not hesitate in responding with urgency.
 
Once a pastor or church leader is aware of a past or current abuse situation, Rainer said they must respond immediately.
 
“It’s not something you can put off until tomorrow,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘Pray and get over it.’ You have to respond with urgency, and within the appropriate legal boundaries.”
 
Almost all states now require church leaders to report to authorities if they hear about an instance of abuse. This used to be the case primarily with children, but now many laws apply when it is an adult who was abused as a child – or even as an adult.
 
3. The unchurched world trusts leaders less because of recent events.
 
Rainer said in order to build trust with the unchurched, church leaders must “admit we’re vulnerable.”
 
And when it happens in another church, Rainer said leaders, especially, should take a public stand.
 
“(We must) speak with courage and boldness that something must be done,” he said. “To be silent is to be one of the perpetrators. We have to stand with the victims of abuse.”
 
There also must be parameters in place at churches to help prevent abuse, such as background checks, and using discretion when permitting people to work with kids.
 
4. Greater awareness is healthier for local churches.
 
“A healthy local church has healthy members,” said Rainer.
 
“Someone who is abused – and feels like they don’t have the freedom to report it – is not healthy. They are going through stress and a lot of anxiety. We have to make it easier for people who have been through abuse to get help and be healthy.”
 
5. Local church leaders need female input.
 
“A lot of our churches are led primarily by men, so when you begin to look at where these issues are, they’re predominantly with females,” Rainer explained.
 
“If I haven’t walked in the shoes of someone else, I can’t understand them, and I can’t become them, but I can listen to them.”
 
He recommended pastors and church leaders should have women in the room when decisions are being made.
 
“Women have perspectives,” he said. “Have women as part of your leadership team when you can.”
 
6. The issues will only grow, creating greater time and resource demands for churches.
 
Rainer said with more people coming forward with their stories of abuse, “Churches are going to spend time and resources on this. #MeToo is paradigmatic movement. It has changed things, and it means it has changed the church.”
 
Given these six ways the #MeToo movement is changing local church life, Rainer suggested church leaders and pastors should create safe spaces that allow people to come forward and talk about their abuse.
 
“The simplest and most powerful way is for the pastor to say in the pulpit – whether illustratively or directly – that if there are issues, this is a safe place,” he said. “That you are willing to do whatever it takes to reach people who have needs.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joy Allmond is managing editor of Facts & Trends, a quarterly magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources. This article first appeared at FactsandTrends.net. Used by permission.)

7/27/2018 10:05:05 AM by Joy Allmond, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments



Greear launches advisory group on abuse

July 26 2018 by Biblical Recorder Staff

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), announced today (July 26) that he is partnering with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to form an advisory group on sexual misconduct, domestic violence and other issues.
 

Baptist Press photo by Matt Miller
J.D. Greear

The announcement came as Southern Baptists wrestle with how the convention’s leaders and entities should respond to multiple cases of sexual abuse that have recently come to light.
 
The Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group, consisting of field experts and SBC leaders, will “study both how Southern Baptists are currently engaging these issues and develop recommendations in consultation with relevant SBC entities on best practices and resources for ministering to victims and protecting people and churches from predators,” a press release said.
 
“How we as a convention of churches care for abuse victims and protect against vile predators says something about what we believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.
 
“Our churches should be a refuge for the hurting and a safe haven for the oppressed. Over the next year, I look forward to hearing from this group and partnering with our churches, state conventions, local associations, seminaries and national entities to determine what we can do to equip churches to minister effectively and stand guard against any who would seek to prey on the vulnerable.”
 
ERLC President Russell Moore said, “Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core, and churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators. Thankfully, every Southern Baptist pastor I know cares deeply about these issues.
 
“We as a denomination, though, owe it to our pastors and churches to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis. That’s exactly what an advisory council like this is able to do, and I am eager to work alongside this group in any way possible to serve our churches and minister to those in our pews who have suffered abuse.”
 
Greear did not indicate the size of the group or name specific individuals to serve in advisory roles. The presidential study group is expected to work over the course of this year and provide recommendations in addition to its findings.
 
Read the full statement below:
 
Southern Baptist Convention President announces formation of sexual abuse presidential study group
 
July 26, 2018
 
J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., in one of his first acts as president of the SBC, announced today his intention to partner with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to form a Sexual Abuse Presidential Study Group.
 
This presidential study group will consist of outside experts and Southern Baptist leaders who will advise Greear on issues related to sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and related subjects.
 
The group’s purpose will be to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions. This group will study both how Southern Baptists are currently engaging these issues and develop recommendations in consultation with relevant SBC entities on best practices and resources for ministering to victims and protecting people and churches from predators.
 
Greear commented on the formation of the new presidential study group:
 
“How we as a convention of churches care for abuse victims and protect against vile predators says something about what we believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our churches should be a refuge for the hurting and a safe haven for the oppressed. Over the next year, I look forward to hearing from this group and partnering with our churches, state conventions, local associations, seminaries and national entities to determine what we can do to equip churches to minister effectively and stand guard against any who would seek to prey on the vulnerable.”
 
At the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, messengers approved a resolution, “On Abuse,” which declared, “all abusive behavior as uniquely sinful,” and implored people “to act decisively on matters of abuse, to intervene on behalf of the abused, to ensure their safety, to report allegations of abuse to civil authorities according to the laws of their state and to pursue church against impenitent abusers.” At the same meeting, two motions were referred to the ERLC – one motion from Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson requesting the ERLC study expanded resources to help churches protect themselves from sexual predators, and the other motion from ERLC Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt requesting a task force for helping churches protect themselves from sexual predators.
 
Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, affirmed the need for a sexual abuse study group.
 
“Sexual assault and sexual abuse are Satanic to the core, and churches should be the ones leading the way when it comes to protecting the vulnerable from predators. Thankfully, every Southern Baptist pastor I know cares deeply about these issues. We as a denomination, though, owe it to our pastors and churches to come together and provide the very best resources and recommendations possible to address this crisis. That’s exactly what an advisory council like this is able to do, and I am eager to work alongside this group in any way possible to serve our churches and minister to those in our pews who have suffered abuse.”
 
Once established, the presidential study group will work over the next year and report its findings and any recommendations in order to address these issues in all SBC

7/26/2018 6:53:55 PM by Biblical Recorder Staff | with 0 comments



SBC faces #MeToo moment – now what?

July 26 2018 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) appears to be in the midst of a complex and uncertain moment as sexual abuse scandals raise questions about how the cooperative body of more than 40,000 self-governing churches can better identify sexual predators and provide safeguards against them.
 
An online petition was launched July 20 calling SBC entities and leaders to “establish a clergy abuse database, abuse disclosure protocols, and new training and education protocols for all ministry leaders.” At publication time the petition had more than 600 signatures.
 

Baptist Press photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Participants of the “For Such a Time as This Rally” hold signs outside of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center June 12 on the first day of the two-day Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas. The rally called for Southern Baptist clergy to receive training on how to treat women with respect, how to handle allegations of abuse and how to minister to victims of abuse.

A motion was made at this year’s SBC annual meeting that also proposed the formation of a database, in addition to a motion to form a task force to help churches protect themselves against sexual predators. Messengers passed resolutions that affirmed the dignity of women and denounced abuse. All six Southern Baptist seminary presidents tackled the issue of sexual abuse and misconduct during their reports.
 
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced during its report that it is partnering with LifeWay Christian Resources to commission a full-scale study on the extent of sexual misconduct in churches.
 
David Platt, president of the International Mission Board (IMB), announced in a statement July 25 that he is “presently in conversations” with other SBC leaders to “establish practical ways” to prevent situations like the one involving sexual abuse charges against Mark Aderholt, a former IMB missionary and executive leader with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
 
“The scales are falling from our eyes,” said Karen Swallow Prior, English professor at Liberty University and ERLC research fellow. She spoke to the Biblical Recorder in a phone interview July 25.
 
“Sadly, sexual crimes are much more common in our midst than most of us understand,” she said. “Being in denial about the pervasiveness of sexual abuse is what has made us less likely to believe victims when they come forward, and to respond slowly or too defensively of the perpetrator.”
 
Prior said SBC leaders should “seriously explore” the idea of developing a database or other tools to help churches and ministries protect their flocks from sexual predators.
 
Kimberlee Norris, a sexual abuse trial attorney and co-founder of MinistrySafe, told the Recorder in a July 25 phone interview that one of her concerns with a database is that it could undermine “due process” for charging and convicting sex offenders through the criminal justice system.
 
“If you have a database, how do you decide who is or is not in the database?” she said. “What is the basis for ending up on the database and who is going to decide that?
 
“Clearly, an individual who has been criminally prosecuted and convicted for illegal sexual behavior has been disqualified from further ministry positions. ... But what about those scenarios – and this is the majority – that were never reported to law enforcement?”
 
When asked by the Recorder about those concerns, Prior acknowledged there are complicating factors to be considered before implementing such a database, but said the moral bar for ministry leadership is higher than criminality.
 
“Credible accusations are a biblical standard for churches to use,” said Prior, “because pastors and deacons have to be above reproach, which is a much higher standard than conviction. If there is a credible accusation, then that person is not above reproach.
 
“We err not on the side of employing someone in ministry,” she continued. “We err on the side of the vulnerable. It would be wrong and regrettable for an innocent man to be denied a place in ministry, but it would not be as devastating as it is for a vulnerable person to be exploited and abused.”
 

Photo by Matt Miller
Panelists address “Gospel Sexuality in a #MeToo Culture,” convened by the ERLC, on the eve of the SBC annual meeting June 12-13 in Dallas. Panelists included: (left to right) Phillip Bethancourt, ERLC executive vice president; Trillia Newbell, author and the ERLC’s director of community outreach; Russell Moore, president of the ERLC; Jamie Ivey, podcaster and author; James Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga. and former Southern Baptist Convention president; and Kimberlee Norris, a sexual abuse trial attorney and co-founder of MinistrySafe.

Prior also said a voluntary certification could be established as an “intermediary step.” She pointed to the accreditation process provided by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability as a model.

 
“If we believe the bodies and spirits of our church members are as important and precious things to steward as our finances,” said Prior, “then we can find a way to hold churches accountable for caring for them.”
 
Norris said the number of churches and ministry leaders that fail to report suspected cases of child sexual abuse is one of the fundamental problems.
 
“Most ministry professionals do not know their state law related to reporting requirements,” she said.
 
Norris cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice that reveal less than 10 percent of sexual predators encounter the criminal justice system. That is why background checks do not work as a “silver bullet” or “standalone safety system” to protect children from predators, she explained.
 
She gives ministry leaders three suggestions about reporting suspected cases of child sexual abuse:
  • “When in doubt, report.

  • “Don’t investigate as a condition of reporting. In other words, your job is not to be [a crime scene investigator] and figure out whether you think it happened or not. When a reasonable suspicion arises, when you get an allegation, that’s a reportable event. Ministries that try to investigate as a condition of reporting – ‘We’re going to try to figure out whether this happened or not’ – those are the scenarios that go badly.

  • “Don’t let the sun set on it. I encounter anywhere from 15-20 failure to report criminal prosecutions a month in child-serving contexts, and about half of those are situations where a circumstance was communicated to leadership and they’re slowly processing what they’re going to do about it.

 
“If the church as a whole were reporting instances of suspicions of abuse and circumstances where allegations of abuse have been made,” Norris said, “then a big percent of the problem would simply go away because those circumstances would be criminally prosecuted and there would be a past criminal record to find.”
 
MinistrySafe provides training and resources for churches to increase awareness, improve screening procedures to help identify sexual predator “grooming” practices, implement effective child protection policies, conduct accurate background checks and maintain proper oversight of child supervision.
 
Norris said church environments are often easy targets for predators.
 
“We assume as believers that those who want to work with kids ought to be able to work with kids and their motives are good and right and appropriate,” she said. “We applaud them for wanting to work with kids, and we assume the best.”
 
Norris hopes more ministry leaders will seek training to better understand the grooming process.
 
“Molesters tend to groom ministry leaders, as well as parents of specific children, to cause them to believe they’re helpful trustworthy people,” she said.
 
“Very few offenders are abduction offenders – the ‘snatch-and-grab’ is like 3-5 percent. The rest of them are grooming the gatekeepers and wooing access to kids through time spent. It’s a process.
 
“This is why when one of these situations hits the news, there is a big chunk of folks who are saying, ‘I don’t believe it. I’m so shocked. That can’t be true. He was the nicest guy. I’ve known him for years.’”
 
Prior urged churches to take advantage of the resources already available for protecting against sexual predators and responding to child sexual abuse.
 
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we are faced with an accusation,” she said. “We need to be trained and ready and proactive.”
 
All 50 states have mandatory reporting laws, although they vary from state to state.
 
North Carolina’s mandatory reporting laws require any adult with cause to suspect the abuse or neglect of a person under 18 years old to alert the county Social Services department. Contact information is available at ncdhhs.gov. Reports made in good faith are protected from civil or criminal liability. Failure to report could result in fines or jail time. Clergy privilege does not exempt ministers or religious organizations from reporting requirements.

7/26/2018 1:42:41 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



IMB’s Platt initiates sexual abuse investigations

July 26 2018 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Two “thorough, outside, independent” investigations have been initiated by International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt into the IMB’s handling of any past sexual abuse allegations and into its policies of zero tolerance for such abuse.
 

BP photo by Van Payne
IMB President David Platt

Platt also stated a public apology to Anne Marie Miller, who has alleged sexual abuse by an individual who subsequently became an IMB missionary yet was not reported to authorities following a 2007 IMB inquiry into the matter.
 
Platt’s actions and apology were relayed to Baptist Press in a statement July 25, which is posted at the IMB’s website.
 
Platt spoke with Miller before releasing the statement to Baptist Press, according to an IMB spokesperson. Miller subsequently sent an affirmation of Platt’s actions.
 
“[Many] facets of this situation are extremely disturbing,” Platt said of charges filed against Mark Aderholt for sexual assault of a child under 17 stemming from a 1996-1997 relationship when he was 25 and of the 2007 IMB investigation. Aderholt, who later served at two Arkansas churches and with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, was arrested July 3 in Fort Worth, Texas, and released on bond.
 
Platt stated he is “commencing a thorough, outside, independent examination of IMB’s handling of past actions – including this case and any other similar situations. In addition, I am commencing a thorough, outside, independent examination of IMB’s present policies to ensure that our current commitment to zero tolerance for child abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment is completely and consistently enforced across IMB today.
 
“Further, I am presently in conversations with leaders of other churches and ministries, particularly within the SBC, to establish practical ways we can and must prevent situations like this in the future,” Platt stated. “Any attempts to minimize, ignore, cover up, or overlook child abuse, sexual abuse, or sexual harassment are absolutely intolerable, and we must take action together now to ensure safety and support for every person employed or affected by a church or ministry.”
 
Platt, addressing Miller, stated, “I want to publicly apologize for the pain and hurt that Anne Miller has specifically suffered in this situation. I will not presume to know the variety of other emotions and challenges that she, those around her, and others who have walked through similar situations have experienced. Further, I want to apologize for various ways we in the IMB have contributed to such hurt and pain through our response to this point.
 
“In addition, I want to publicly thank Anne Miller for the courage she showed in approaching IMB in 2007, and the courage she is showing even now. I realize the actions I have outlined above cannot remove her hurt and pain, or the hurt and pain of others who have experienced similar situations. But I am committed to doing all that I can so that her courage, and the courage of others like her, will prevent hurt and pain among others in the future.”
 
Miller, in a response emailed to BP, said, “I am grateful for David Platt’s immediate and thorough response upon his return from Africa today. His apology and the action of obtaining third-party investigations into my case and all other similar cases demonstrates his commitment to not tolerating sexual abuse or misconduct in any capacity.
 
“Furthermore, the conversations happening in the IMB and in convention leadership encourage me that abuse survivors will finally have an ally in the Church as we pursue healing. It’s my prayer that past and present survivors receive the support we need and the policies which result from these changes will prevent future victims from becoming so. I am excited and hopeful for the future of the SBC and am thankful for the many voices who are encouraging and inciting change along the way.”
 
Platt concluded his statement asserting that “we must do better. In the IMB. In the SBC. In any church and any ministry, we must do everything we can to protect children and adults from abuse and harassment, and we must do everything we can to hold anyone who is guilty of these things fully accountable.”
 
Platt, at the outset of his statement, recounted that “I just returned from the last couple of weeks in sub-Saharan Africa” and had met “immediately with IMB trustee leaders.” Because there is an ongoing criminal investigation “with which IMB is committed to full cooperation,” Platt said “it is wise, for the sake of everyone involved, for me to refrain from commenting on specific details in this case.”

7/26/2018 1:42:30 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Imprisoned U.S. pastor in Turkey moves to house arrest

July 26 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been granted transfer from a Turkish prison to house arrest awaiting an Oct. 12 hearing, his attorneys said July 25.
 

The move comes a week after a Turkish court denied Brunson’s plea for release after nearly two years’ imprisonment on allegations of terrorism and spying. The longtime pastor and native of Black Mountain, N.C., has instead been charged with “the crime of ‘Christianization,’” his defenders at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said.
 
“We have confirmed that the Turkish government has issued an order releasing Pastor Andrew Brunson from prison and allowing him to be returned to his home in Turkey,” ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a press release. “This is a critical first step that we believe will result in the freedom of Pastor Brunson so he can return to the United States and be reunited with his family.”
 
Today’s judicial control decision of the Second High Penal Court in the western province of Izmir prevents Brunson from leaving the country, the Hurriyet Daily News of Turkey said. The court’s only stated reason for Brunson’s transfer from Kiriklar prison is his health, the same reason Brunson stated at a July 18 plea for release that the same court rejected, the Daily News said.
 
The Presbyterian pastor who has lived in Turkey 23 years has been imprisoned since October 2016, originally on charges of working with the Fetullah Gulen movement to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In August 2017, officials added charges of espionage aimed at overthrowing the Turkish Parliament and government, and undermining the constitutional order of the state. If found guilty, Brunson faces up to four consecutive life sentences, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2017; but the Daily News today estimated his possible jail time at up to 35 years.
 
Brunson’s wife Norine was en route to Kiriklar prison today, World Watch Monitor reported, to ensure that the court order to transfer Brunson is delivered to authorities without delay.
 
Sekulow, a member of President Donald Trump’s defense team, commended Trump for advocating for Brunson’s release, which remains unsecured.
 
“We have worked closely with the President on this matter and are grateful for his efforts,” Sekulow said in today’s press release. “We look forward to the ultimate release of Pastor Brunson.”
 
Kristina Arriaga, vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the house arrest is insufficient relief.
 
“It is good that Pastor Brunson will have some relief after being held in a Turkish prison for more than 600 days. But it is not enough,” she said in a USCIRF press release. “The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump Administration and the Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible.”
 
Among many in the international community advocating for Brunson’s freedom is former Turkish parliament member Aykan Erdemir, who tweeted today that “there isn’t a shred of evidence against” the pastor.
 
Related stories:
Still jailed in Turkey, Brunson gave ‘bold’ witness
N.C. lawmakers urge release of Pastor Andrew Brunson

 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/26/2018 1:27:49 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



#MeToo confronts small churches, bivocational pastors

July 26 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Amid the #MeToo movement, conferences and seminaries have heightened their focus on training pastors to prevent and report sexual abuse.
 

Photo by Matt Miller
Amid the #MeToo movement, conferences and seminaries have heightened their focus on training pastors to prevent and report sexual abuse. But associational leader Sean McMahon worries those training efforts are leaving out small church and bivocational "heroes."

But associational leader Sean McMahon worries those training efforts are leaving out a sizable group of pastors: small church and bivocational “heroes” who “work 55-60 hours a week in their normal job,” serve 20 hours with the church and “never take a Sunday off.”
 
“Most bivocational pastors don’t get to go to conferences,” said McMahon, executive director of the Florida Baptist Association in Tallahassee. “Most bivocational pastors never set foot on a seminary campus.... To be able to get some real training in their hands” on abuse prevention and reporting “is huge.”
 
The Florida Association is just one of the associations, state conventions, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities and churches seeking to communicate the urgency of abuse prevention and reporting to smaller congregations and their pastors. According to data from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 67 percent of Southern Baptist churches average 100 or fewer in worship; 89 percent average 250 or fewer.
 
This year’s SBC annual meeting in Dallas, with its emphasis on abuse, spurred McMahon and other leaders of the Florida Association to schedule a Sept. 20 event for three north Florida associations where congregations of all sizes will be trained about a church’s biblical, moral and legal responsibilities related to abuse. McMahon hopes for an attendance of 60-80 church leaders, some from congregations with 20 or fewer worship attendees.
 
For some pastors, their training on abuse began at the Dallas annual meeting, where messengers affirmed the dignity and worth of women and heard reports of policies SBC seminaries have enacted to address any allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. Several motions and messenger questions related to the May 30 firing of former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson, who allegedly mishandled a 2003 report of sexual assault at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary during his presidency there.
 
Beyond the convention floor, a panel discussion in the SBC exhibit hall considered “sexual abuse in the church” and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission sponsored a panel discussion on “gospel sexuality in a #MeToo culture.”
 
The annual meeting’s 9,632 registered messengers came from 3,796 churches in 48 states, and 35 percent were first-time attendees, according to a messenger survey.
 
Yet implementing best practices learned at a convention can be especially difficult for small churches, McMahon told Baptist Press (BP). By reporting suspected abuse to the authorities in a small, family church, “you’re going to potentially alienate your whole church” because nearly everyone is related to the accused. “But you have a moral obligation” to report.
 
“There is concern among associational leaders about how churches are responding to [abuse] and how churches are identifying issues of abuse,” McMahon said.
 
State conventions also are seeking to train smaller churches on abuse prevention and reporting. Resources from three state conventions – Alabama, Arizona and the Baptist General Convention of Texas – are listed under the “Resources for Sexual Abuse Prevention” section of SBC.net.
 
The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s facilities and risk management manager Mark LeMay has led 50, free, risk management conferences since November for some 130 Tennessee churches, he said, including training on how to prevent abuse. To highlight the importance of minimizing the risk of sexual abuse and other dangers, the Tennessee mission board changed LeMay’s title in the last several years to include risk management.
 
Small churches are giving more attention to sexual abuse amid the #MeToo movement, LeMay told BP. “But as a general rule, it’s not on their plate” because they have fewer “resources of people to address it.”
 
LeMay cited one common practice of smaller churches that needs to change: “An adult goes into a closed room with minors. There’s no windows in the door. There’s nobody checking. There’s no background checks that have been done on those adults.”
 
Churches “should never put a church family member in a situation where they could be accused,” LeMay said.
 
Among SBC entities, GuideStone Financial Resources has developed an online “safety toolkit” that addresses sexual abuse along with other topics. GuideStone also has developed a relationship with the Texas law firm of Love & Norris, which trains churches to prevent and report sexual abuse through MinistrySafe conferences.
 
“GuideStone is committed to providing risk management solutions for churches, and these are just a couple of areas where we can help our SBC churches be prepared as they proactively seek to make their churches a welcoming and safe place for their members and broader community,” GuideStone spokesman Timothy Head told BP via email.
 
LifeWay Christian Resources offers a variety of online resources on sexual abuse, including podcasts by LifeWay President Thom Rainer, articles published in Facts & Trends magazine and a collection of videos and resources on protecting children available through the MinistryGrid training service.
 
Eric Geiger, a LifeWay senior vice president, has written a book titled How to Ruin Your Life, which discusses avoiding moral failure and repenting when it occurs.
 
A motion at this year’s SBC annual meeting proposing a task force to help churches protect themselves against sexual predators was referred to the ERLC.
 
Seminary Extension – a ministry of the Council of Seminary Presidents providing non-degree education for pastors who cannot attend seminary – offers multiple courses with sections on personal integrity, Seminary Extension director Randal Williams told BP. Field mentors who guide students through courses also can give counsel on #MeToo-related issues, he said.
 
Among resources available from churches, North Carolina’s The Summit Church, pastored by SBC President J.D. Greear, published on its Vimeo channel in April a video explaining legal and moral obligations for reporting suspected abuse of children and adults. Several media outlets, including ChurchLeaders.com and Christianity Today, have publicized the video, available at vimeo.com/264504579.
 
McMahon, the Florida associational leader, noted that sexual abuse “has been around for a long time,” and “we haven’t talked about it. Well, now we’ve got to.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/26/2018 1:27:33 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In Mormon-heavy Utah, church slates witness training

July 26 2018 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Church leaders and members are invited to Utah’s Desert Ridge Baptist Church for training in evangelizing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, slated for Sept. 7-8.
 
“We love our neighbors in Utah, and to love our neighbors it is important to understand what religious beliefs they hold,” Rob Lee, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention (UISBC), told Baptist Press.
 
“This conference sponsored by Desert Ridge Baptist Church (DRBC) is an opportunity to get a better handle in how to share the love of Jesus in terms that will help you communicate biblical truths that conflict with their belief system,” Lee said. “What better place to learn than in Utah, where Mormonism is central to the culture and embraced by the majority of residents.”
 
The event is to be live-streamed on the church’s YouTube channel: DRBC Videos from Desert Ridge, located in the city of St. George in southwestern Utah, with a metro population of more than 150,000 people.
 
“People wanting to reach Mormons is the target audience for this event,” said Michael Waldrop, founding pastor of Desert Ridge and a recent first vice president of the Utah-Idaho convention. “We hope to increase the awareness of the need to evangelize as well as to increase the effectiveness of our witness to Mormons.”
 
Bill McKeever, founder of Mormonism Research Ministry (MRM), will be one of the keynote speakers of the conference titled “Sharing the Good News with Mormons: Practical Strategies for Getting the Conversation Started.” MRM According to its mrm.org website, MRM has been “challenging the claims of Mormonism since 1979.”
 
McKeever will speak at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, “on the type of references we can use when talking with Mormons about what they believe,” he told Baptist Press. “There are a lot of sources Christians can use that Mormons should respect, and thus have a more convincing witness.”
 
From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, McKeever continued, conference participants will be learning “at least three different strategies they can use when talking with Mormon friends” – “how to use questions, how to get Mormons to think through what they’ve been told and how to respond to Mormon missionaries when they come to the door.”
 
Forgiveness is a key issue, McKeever said.
 
Mormons are taught if they repent and confess all their sins and keep all the commandments, they will get forgiveness, but “I don’t know one Mormon who has done this,” McKeever said. Thus, a cloud of doom hangs over Mormons.
 
“We are going to talk about this in depth, that this is one of the real pitfalls of Mormonism,” he said, adding, “They’re not a truly New Testament church. They deny or distort all the basic truths of the Christian faith and are outside the realm of Christianity.”
 
McKeever had a caution for Christians interacting with Mormons.
 
“While we may be fully understanding of what Mormons are supposed to believe, not all Mormons believe what their church teaches,” he said. “The reason they stay in, they feel the church is true regardless of what they believe.”
 
Gentle probing rather than accusation about their beliefs is the way to witness to Mormons, McKeever said.
 
“The probability is that people who stay Mormon are not going to learn New Testament truth about how a person receives forgiveness,” he said. “The Mormon Church robs its people of assurance, an assurance that only comes when a person is justified by faith.”
 
Eric Johnson, coauthor with Sean McDowell of the book from which the conference title is drawn, will be another keynote speaker. Sharing the Good News with Mormons was released June 5 by Harvest House Publishers, with bonus chapters available on the Mormonism Research Ministries website: mrm.com and on the book’s website: sharingwithmormons.com.
 
The websites note, “Every relationship and situation is unique, and that’s why these essays from respected scholars, apologists, and pastors – including Sandra Tanner, Robert Bowman, David Geisler, Bill McKeever, Mark Mittelberg, J. Warner Wallace, Lynn Wilder and others – lays out a variety of creative methods for sharing the gospel effectively so you can initiate authentic conversations, respond with compassion and clarity to Mormon teaching, [and] understand your Mormon friends and find ways to keep the dialogue going.”
 
Waldrop said the conference is the first time Desert Ridge Baptist Church has undertaken a Mormon-specific evangelism training event, “though we regularly schedule evangelism training and strive to provide instruction and encouragement for gospel witnessing. St. George is on I-15 in southwest Utah, so it’s an easy drive whether you’re from California, Nevada, Arizona, and of course all the Rocky Mountain states, where Mormonism spread out from the Salt Lake area.”
 
David Bernstein, associate pastor of Desert Ridge and a current member of the UISBC Executive Board, was instrumental in setting up the Mormonism evangelism training event, Waldrop said.
 
“When I first arrived in this area almost five years ago, I knew very little about the LDS [Mormon] system, much less how to witness to them,” Bernstein told Baptist Press. “I continue to need training, information and encouragement and so does the church in general.
 
“When I got some information from MRM, it was clear that these were the go-to guys for this,” Bernstein added.
 
Christians who know at least one Mormon often grapple with the need to share the truth of Jesus with them, of showing what God’s Word teaches, Waldrop said. “This two-day conference will answer questions like, ‘But where do you start? How can you convey the biblical gospel boldly and clearly, speaking the truth in love?’”
 
No cost or pre-registration is required for the conference, though a love offering will be taken to help recover the church’s expenses. No meals will be provided but several restaurants are within a two-minute drive of the church. Lodging is available throughout the St. George area.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/26/2018 1:27:18 PM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



10,000 baptisms: Pastor sets milestone

July 25 2018 by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today

Kentucky pastor Steve Ayers has reached a milestone that has Christians across the state taking notice: 10,000 baptisms since he arrived at Hillvue Heights Church.
 

Photo by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today
Hillvue Heights Church Pastor Steve Ayers surpassed a milestone in baptisms when his Bowling Green church reached 10,000 baptism decisions this summer. Ayers, who began his ministry with Hillvue in 1991, said the church averages about 500 baptisms each year.

Since becoming pastor of the Bowling Green congregation in 1991, Ayers has seen the church grow from 30 people into a megachurch where 5,000 people regularly attend Sunday morning services.
 
“The evangelistic success of Hillvue is nothing short of miraculous,” Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood said. “We celebrate every soul saved and pray God gives a harvest of 10,000 more.”
 
Chitwood said Ayers has kept his church laser focused on reaching the lost.
 
Hillvue consistently leads the state in baptisms and is the only church that consistently tops 500 per year.
 
Ayers said he stresses to all new believers that they need to share the gospel with their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, everyone.
 
“As soon as they come out of the water, they are prayed over and blessed, and then they are brought into the ministry,” Ayers said. “I’ll say, ‘What do you need to go do?’ and they say, ‘Go tell somebody.’ And they go do it.”
 
Ayers said he believes 10,000 is only the beginning of what the Lord will do at Hillvue.
 
“I think we have a Great Awakening at Hillvue yet to come,” he said. “This is the beginning. It’s crazy. I’m more excited now than when I first arrived here. It’s amazing to watch people come to Christ. It never gets old.”
 
Todd Gray, head of evangelism for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, noted he is “not aware of another church in the state that has surpassed this historic milestone of 10,000 baptisms under one lead pastor.”
 
“The entire staff at Hillvue Heights sets individual goals for reaching the lost with the gospel and leading them to follow Christ in baptism,” Gray said. “The Lord is honored by this intentional effort led by Pastor Steve and the staff. We stand by cheering them on as they continue to set the pace for our state in intentional gospel outreach.”
 
Throughout his ministry, Ayers has focused on evangelism. But after surviving a fiery explosion that nearly killed him two years ago, he has redoubled his efforts to reach the lost. He says he now has a fuller understanding that “truly, at your last breath, nothing else matters.”
 
“I’ll be talking about Jesus until my last breath,” Ayers said. “We have one message that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save sinners, that He’s risen from the grave to give us new life. We don’t have a system at Hillvue; we have attitudes. The first attitude is we believe God created every human being and every human being is worthy of grace. The second attitude is we meet people where they are to invite them to come where Jesus will take them. We can’t save people, but we can share the cross and resurrection with them so that they might know Jesus will save them.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robin Cornetet is associate editor of Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, an online news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/25/2018 11:12:07 AM by Robin Cornetet, Kentucky Today | with 2 comments



‘In spirit & in truth’ aim of black conference worship

July 25 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

An original arrangement of “Blessed Assurance” at the 2018 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference culminated in a musical round of three different phrases sung in unison, harmonizing the word “assurance” at the same time.
 

Photo by Diana Chandler
Joe Pace, worship pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., leads the Whosoever Will choir at the 2018 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C.

“Oh what a blessed assurance.” “Blessed assurance, this is my song.” “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” sang the Whosoever Will Choir comprised of volunteers attending the conference.
 
Arranger, worship pastor and recording artist Joe Pace, who serves under senior pastor H.B. Charles Jr. at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., describes his arrangement as putting a “little spin” on the classic Fannie Crosby hymn.
 
“Cultural relevance even to our hymns is not predicated upon a specific style,” Pace told Baptist Press after the July 16-20 sessions at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. “God calls us to worship in spirit and in truth, not necessarily spirit and in style.
 
“To be able to broaden the expression of worship by holding true to the theological truth that is embodied in the hymns is all we were trying to do,” Pace told BP. “They are different expressions of worship stylistically. As long as they are rooted and grounded in the same theological truth..., the style just kind of broadens the expression.”
 
Pace led evening worship with lively audience response at the conference that organizers describe as the largest gathering of African Americans in the Southern Baptist Convention, a training event capturing the nuances of African American church culture and worship.
 
“There is a style that is culturally connected to the African American church historically. That is without question, as much as it is in any other particular genre or culture,” said the Grammy-nominated Pace, who has sold over a half-million albums in his career. “But I think the goal is that we can embrace all of those styles.”
 

Photo by Diana Chandler
H.B. Charles (far right), senior pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., sang a traditional hymn before preaching the July 18 evening sermon at the 2018 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C.

Charles sang the traditional hymn “Lord Keep Me Day by Day,” included with Blessed Assurance on the album “Joe Pace Presents: H.B. Charles Jr. and the Shiloh Church Choir,” that debuted in second place in September 2016 on the Billboard gospel albums chart.
 
One of four pastors who preached evening sermons at the 25th anniversary conference, Charles focused on “Power to Reach Your Full Potential,” based on Hebrews 13:20-21, in his July 18 evening sermon. “Not only can God equip you,” said Charles, the 2017 president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference, “but God can restore you after you’ve been broken so He can use you again.”
 
Nearly 1,050 adults, teens and children attended the conference hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources, reported Mark Croston, LifeWay’s national director of Black and Western Church Partnerships. The conference, founded in 1993, offered more than 100 teachers and leaders in breakout sessions and classes, evening banquets, daily Bible study, women’s and men’s events, morning and evening worship, and day camps for children and teens.
 
Joining Charles as evening worship preachers were Dhati Lewis, BLVD director of the SEND Network of the North American Mission Board; Emory Berry, senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.; and Breonus Mitchell, lead pastor of Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville.
 
Former SBC president Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, led the July 17 joint adult Bible exposition class. Following him on successive mornings were Eric Beckham, lead pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; T. Vaughn Walker, lead pastor of First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.; and Beverly Sonnier, content editor of LifeWay’s YOU Bible curriculum. Sonnier demonstrated the use of the curriculum that celebrated its 10th anniversary at the conference.
 

Photo by Diana Chandler
Children and adults participated in evening worship at the 2018 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at Ridgecrest, N.C., although childcare was also available.

Other key speakers were Man2Man leaders Tarrance C. Floyd, pastor of Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan., and Micah Gaines, pastoral assistant of Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky. Woman2Woman presenters were Inez Cotton, women’s and children’s chaplain at Baylor Scott & White Health Center in Dallas, and Marshelle Wilburn, an urban church planting missionary in San Francisco.
 
Greenforest Community Baptist Church youth pastor A.L. Hollie served as FUGE Camp pastor, joined by FUGE camp director Bianca R. Howard, children and youth pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and FUGE worship leader Vernon Gordon, lead pastor of The Life Church in Richmond, Va.
 
Russell M. Andrews, minister of music of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., led morning praise and worship; Roy Cotton Sr., director of African American ministries for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, served as worship auditorium coordinator; and Victor L. Davis Sr., senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., was usher coordinator. Shekinah Alston, worship leader of Cathedral of Deliverance in Jacksonville, Fla., was a featured vocalist during evening worship.
 
Julie Berry, wife of Greenforest Community Baptist Church pastor Emory Berry, completed the roster of key presenters as speaker at the women’s fellowship dinner.
 
MP3 recordings of key conference sessions are available at lifeway.com/en/product-family/black-church-life.
 
Registration for the 2019 Black Church Leadership and Family Conference, set for July 22-26, 2019, is available at ridgecrestconferencecenter.org.
 
See earlier coverage of the 2018 conference here and here.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/25/2018 11:11:56 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Deaf men stir IMB worker’s heart for their souls

July 25 2018 by IMB Staff

The imam placed his copy of the Quran carefully on the table and called the men at the memorial service to attention. He opened the book, lifted his hands toward heaven and began to chant in honor of the man who had died.
 

IMB photo
A Deaf believer describes how the Bible came alive when its stories were presented to him in his heart language, signing, for the first time.

The Deaf men in the room copied the stance but remained silent, as they couldn’t hear the verbal entreaty. At least the men were able to see the ceremony; the Deaf women in the next room covered their heads and wondered what was happening.
 
One thing was certain, the dead man’s soul was in danger. Allah does as he wills, and no Muslim is ever certain whether he will accept their works and obedience.
 
Maybe Allah will accept this, the men said to one another at the memorial service. Maybe.
 
David Gregory*, an IMB worker among Deaf people, felt overwhelmed by the sense of hopelessness in the room. Even his friend Tamar*, a man who is Muslim by birth but pays no heed to his religion under normal circumstances, was nodding his head and adding to the imam’s commentary. “Allah,” he muttered, “Allah.”
 
After the service, the mood lightened with a memorial meal. David and Tamar talked with the group of men over tea.
 
“If we keep giving him tea, one day he’ll be Muslim like us,” Tamar joked.
 
“No, but I pray for you to become a Christian and follow Jesus,” David said.
 
“Me? You pray for me?” Tamar asked.
 

IMB photo
Southern Baptists partner with local believers to share the good news of Jesus with Deaf peoples around the world, including hard-to-reach places, or places not openly receptive to the gospel.

When David assured Tamar that he regularly prays for him, he was stunned. He just sat there speechless.
 
David and his wife Kelly* met Tamar and his wife Nadia* more than a year ago. Kelly and Nadia are good friends now, but Tamar has always kept his distance and never shown interest in David or his faith until now.
 
“Prior to this, I had all of three conversations with Tamar, all of them superficial,” David said.
 
But now Tamar is eager to spend time with David. Some of the Deaf men planned a trip recently and Tamar agreed to go only if David was going to be there.
 
David and Kelly are in awe of how God is working even through the hopelessness of the memorial service and the casual banter over tea. And they are praying that Tamar will continue to respond to their friendship and prayers.
 
“Pray for Tamar and his wife. Pray for them to see the light of Christ in our lives, our words and our love for them,” David said.
 

Learn more about Southern Baptists’ ministry among the world’s 35 million Deaf at imb.org/deaf, including an infographic about Deaf peoples. Watch this video about Southern Baptists at work among Deaf peoples and alongside national partners. Gifts through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering support Southern Baptists such as David and Kelly in Central Asia who are taking the gospel to Deaf peoples around the world who have never heard it.
 
*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications staff of the International Mission Board. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/25/2018 11:11:16 AM by IMB Staff | with 0 comments



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