June 2009

Johnny Hunt seeks second term as SBC president

June 18 2009 by Baptist Press

Baptist Press file photo

Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt, seen here speaking to SBC Executive Committee members Sept. 22, is seeking a second term in office.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., will be nominated for a second, one-year term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) by Florida pastor Ken Whitten.

The SBC will meet in Louisville, Ky., June 23-24. Hunt was elected over five other candidates in 2008 on the first ballot, with nearly 53 percent support.

A native of North Carolina, Hunt has been pastor of the Atlanta-area church since December 1986. During his first year as pastor, the church baptized 318 people and had 268 additions by statement and letter.

The Woodstock congregation relocated to an 82-acre site in the fall of 2004. The $54 million sanctuary, which seats 7,500, hosts two morning worship services.

Information from the 2008 Annual Church Profile (ACP) for First Baptist Church showed 505 baptisms and primary worship service attendance of 6,504 and giving of $432,977, or 2.48 percent, through the Cooperative Program on total undesignated receipts of $17.45 million. According to the ACP, the church’s total mission expenditures were $3.61 million, with $175,000 given for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The ACP did not record an amount given for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

Hunt is a graduate of Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs. He earned a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981. The Chair of Church Growth at Southeastern was named for Hunt in 1997.

Hunt is married to the former Janet Allen of Wilmington. The couple has two daughters and four grandchildren.

He is the only announced candidate for president.

6/18/2009 8:04:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Crossover to include food distribution

June 18 2009 by By Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As part of Crossover ‘09 in Louisville, local Southern Baptists will distribute three truckloads of food and personal care items to some 1,200 families in the greater Louisville area on June 20.

The food “drop” is a joint effort by Crossover Louisville, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Feed The Children ministry, the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Long Run Baptist Association.

The three truckloads of food will be delivered to Louisville’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, Baptist Fellowship Center and Shively Baptist Church, which are Feed The Children partners. The 1,200 local families have been pre-identified, and each family will receive a box of food and personal care items to help the family for up to one week.

“We are so grateful to work with the Southern Baptist Convention and Crossover Louisville,” said Larry Jones, founder and president of Feed The Children. “Not only will 1,200 Louisville families receive food and personal care items, they will also receive the opportunity to learn about the message of Christ as well.”

Dudley Reaves, a member of 1,200-member Bethlehem Baptist in southeast Louisville and team leader for the food drop, said 65 volunteers at his church not only will share food but also will share the gospel via the distribution of tracts and CDs. Reaves said the pre-identified families will drive through the church’s parking lot and present food vouchers.

One of NAMB’s Intentional Community Evangelism (ICE) teams also is slated to be on hand to talk personally to family members one-on-one who want to come inside Bethlehem Baptist for additional information, Reaves said.

“The North American Mission Board and our local partners — the Kentucky state convention and the local Long Run Baptist Association — welcome the opportunity to work with Feed The Children in this food drop,” said Richard Leach, NAMB’s team leader for servant/ministry evangelism. “Because of the nation’s economic downturn, food ministries like these are more important than ever.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

6/18/2009 7:58:00 AM by By Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At 400 years, theological distinctions define, divide Baptists

June 17 2009 by By Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press

ARLINGTON, Texas — Some of the same theological disputes that divided Baptists throughout their first 400 years continue to distinguish different branches of the Baptist family tree in the early years of the 21st century, theologian James Leo Garrett told a recent conference.

And other challenges — ranging from the popularity of dispensationalist interpretations of the Bible's apocalyptic passages to a fuzzy understanding of the Trinity — likely will confront Baptists in the near future, he said.

"It is of paramount importance in the 21st century that Baptists think theologically as Baptists and in reference to the Baptist heritage," he said.

Garrett, distinguished professor of theology emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and author of Baptist Theology: A Four-Century Study, addressed the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute summer colloquy in Arlington, Texas.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, theological questions regarding salvation — specifically election and free will — differentiated distinct brands of Baptists, Garrett said. Calvinist Particular Baptists stressed God's sovereign role in the salvation of the elect, and Arminian General Baptists emphasized the ability of humans to respond freely to God's grace.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Baptists divided along liberal/evangelical lines, he said. Doctrinal issues focused on Christ's divine/human nature, the nature of revelation and the Bible, human origins and beliefs related to the Second Coming of Christ.

"Liberal theology, for Baptist and other Protestants, developed in response to the new theological climate — biblical criticism, Darwinian evolution and the Industrial Revolution," Garrett said. "Whereas liberals embraced the new climate, evangelicals or conservatives did not."

Past disputes continue to gain new currency — at least in some Baptist circles, he said.

"Now in the last quarter-century among Southern Baptists have arisen a neo-Calvinist movement, a neo-Fundamentalist movement and a moderate movement that does not know whether it is left-wing conservative or right-wing liberal," he said.

Looking ahead, Garrett predicted issues surrounding salvation, biblical authority, the doctrine of Christ and human origins likely will resurface among Baptists.

Garrett also identified four theological trends that ran parallel to the Calvinist/Arminian and liberal/evangelical disputes:

· Defending distinctives. Early on, Baptists emphasized the beliefs and practices that set them apart from other Christians — particularly believer's baptism by immersion. Later, between 1850 and the early 1950s, Baptists published reams of literature dealing with "Baptist distinctives." Many of the individual principles and practices were not unique to Baptists, but the way Baptists combined them made them distinctive.

"One may ask whether the demise of this literature during the last 60 years has been a major factor in the failure of Baptist churches in the United States to teach their members about the Baptist heritage," Garrett said.

Facing the future, he said, "Although some of the Baptist distinctives will continue to be strictly less distinctive of Baptists as other Christian denominations and non-denominational indigenous movements embrace some of them, Baptists may continue to be less than effective in teaching and fleshing out these distinctives amid their own people."

· Affirming shared beliefs. Baptists have continued to hold basic doctrines shared by all orthodox Christians — particularly other Protestants. The earliest confessions of both the General Baptists and Particular Baptists demonstrated obvious kinship with the Reformed/Presbyterian Westminster Confession, Garrett said.

"Baptists have shared with the heirs of the magisterial Reformation such beliefs as the authority of Scripture over tradition, justification by grace through faith, the priesthood of all believers, predestination, church discipline and either Zwinglian or Calvinist understandings of the Lord's Supper," he said.

Garrett said Baptists may continue to rediscover their debt both to the early church fathers and to the magisterial Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli.

· Responding to ecumenism. Baptists differed in their response to the 20th century's ecumenical movement. British Baptists, Northern Baptists and most African-American Baptists responded positively to trans-denominational church unions such as the World Council of Churches. Southern Baptists and Latin American Baptists — among others — did not, "expressing fear of one world church," he said.

"Perhaps the question of interdenominational Christian unity will be answered in rather different ways in the 21st century than in the 20th," he said.

· Developing a theology of missions. Among Baptists, missiology has interacted with theology as far back as William Carey in the 1790s. Baptist theologians have begun to include chapters on missions in their systematic theology books, and books about the study of missions have included significant theological components.

In recent years, Baptist theology increasingly has grown more contextualized to specific settings — particularly in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia.

"It is very probable that the interaction of missiology and theology among Baptists will markedly increase," Garrett said.

Looking ahead, Garrett identified seven issues Baptists probably will confront in the near future:

· Dispensationalism. This theological system typically divides history into seven distinct periods and asserts God related to humanity in different ways during those "dispensations." It stresses the role of Israel, views the church age as a parenthetical part of God's redemptive plan and looks forward to the Rapture of the saints and the seven-year Great Tribulation prior to Christ's Second Coming, followed by a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth.

Dispensationalism gained currency among Baptists in the South first through the influence of Landmark Baptist James R. Graves and later through the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. In recent years, it was popularized in the Left Behind series of novels.

"I have proposed that we should reckon it one of the incursions into Baptist theology," Garrett said.

"Although one cannot with certainty posit any cause-effect relationship, it is noteworthy that the era of dispensationalism's greatest influence on Southern Baptists — that is, the turn of the 21st century — was concurrently the time of the greatest restriction of missionary methods in the history of the (SBC) International Mission Board."

· A common way of interpreting Scripture. "Can Baptists in various conventions and unions find a common biblical hermeneutic, especially in reference to contemporary social and moral issues?" Garrett asked. He pointed particularly to "issues such as homosexuality, abortion, pornography and cohabitation."

· Deficient doctrine of the Trinity. In their formal confessions of faith, Baptists have affirmed orthodox Christian teachings about the Trinity. But it's hard to tell from their songs, sermons and Sunday School lessons.

"For many Southern Baptists in the latter 20th century and even to the present, the Trinity has been a doctrine the denial of which could evoke charges of heresy, but the affirmation of which through preaching, teaching, worship, hymnody, praise songs and piety was woefully deficient," Garrett said.

· Destiny of the unevangelized. Garrett delineated three historic Christian positions on the eternal fate of people who never hear the gospel. Pluralism teaches that human beings can be made right with God through various non-Christian religions, as well as through faith in Christ. Inclusivism teaches that salvation comes only through Christ, but it can occur without explicit knowledge of Jesus or individual confession of faith in him. Exclusivism teaches that salvation depends on at least a minimal knowledge of the gospel and individual profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Few Baptists have endorsed pluralism, Garrett said, but Baptist theologians have been divided into camps espousing either inclusivism or exclusivism.

"Clear evangelistic and missionary strategy would seem to call for a clear theological answer to this question," he said.

· Ruling elders and congregational polity. "Perhaps as a consequence of the neo-Calvinism among Southern Baptists or the influence of Dallas Theological Seminary, not a few Southern Baptist churches have adopted ruling elders (as a church-government model) — sometimes so as to produce major division in the congregation," Garrett said.

This has set off conflicts between lifelong or traditional Baptists committed to congregational polity and new Christians or members who have joined a Baptist church from another denomination who are more familiar with and amenable to elder rule.

While some argue elders essentially serve the same role as church staff, "the critical issue is whether the elders alone make decisions, which, according to congregational polity, are normally to be made by the congregation.... Few seem to realize that this is one of the marks that historically differentiated Baptists from Presbyterians."

· Believer's baptism by immersion. From their earliest days, Baptists have included proponents of closed communion who allowed only believers baptized in a church of like faith and order (and perhaps only from that specific congregation) to take the Lord's Supper and advocates of open communion, who allowed all professing Christians to join in communion.

Open membership, on the other hand, is strictly a modern development, with its greatest strength in England.

"This is the practice whereby a Baptist church does not require that all its members be baptized on confession of faith by immersion," he said.

"Hence, in the membership may be persons having been baptized as infants or by sprinkling or pouring or having had no baptism at all.... With open membership, there seems to be little rationale for a continuing Baptist denomination."

At the same time, some British Baptist theologians have begun to favor the term "sacraments" rather than "ordinances" to describe baptism and the Lord's Supper.

"Moreover, baptism is said to be 'more than symbol' in the sense that divine agency and divine grace are involved in Christian baptism — not merely the confession of the faith of the candidate — and conversion is reckoned as incomplete without baptism," he said.

· Doctrinal unity. Throughout their history, Baptists have divided over theological differences, and some Baptist groups have sprung up independently of others, Garrett said.

"Even so, Baptists must know the Pauline teaching about Christian unity and how Jesus, according to John 17, prayed for the unity of his disciples," he said.

"Baptists once again have the challenge of repairing or mending their broken unity without forsaking the gospel or losing essential Christian truth."

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)

6/17/2009 9:09:00 AM by By Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Tutoring program helps students, tutors

June 16 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

Contributed photo

Peggy Abernathy, who was a teacher and served on the Guilford County Board of Education, helps a student as part of a tutoring program at her church.

Jim and Peggy Abernathy led a seminar a couple of years ago about how retired folks can still make a difference.

Then they demonstrated it by starting a tutoring program that just completed its second year at their church, Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greensboro.

Peggy Abernathy, who was a teacher and member for 14 years on the Guilford County Board of Education, said that after the seminar she and Jim were brainstorming what they could do. They knew her sister and brother-in-law were involved in a tutoring program at their church in Maryland and decided to try a similar ministry at Friendly Avenue.

The Abernathys thought such a program would benefit both students and tutors. They canvassed church members and found 15 who had tutoring skills and wanted to be involved.

Next, they contacted nine area schools for potential students.

By the end of the first year, 34 students were involved. When the program paused for the summer this year, there were about 60 students from 20 schools on the role and 42 tutors. About half the tutors are members of the church.

“It has exceeded our expectations,” Jim Abernathy said.

Tutors helped students every Monday from 7-8 p.m. On an average night there were about 40 students and about 36 tutors.

The tutoring program operates like a study hall, Peggy Abernathy said. Students bring in homework, which the tutors help them with first. The homework usually doesn’t take the full hour, so students in elementary grades work from a folder with activities that fit their grade levels.

All the tutoring is done in the church fellowship hall and a nearby conference room. Parents can wait in the church’s parlor, which is also close to the fellowship hall.

Participating students range from first to 10th grade, but most are in elementary school.

“Periodically students or parents tell us, always following report cards, that their grades have improved,” Peggy Abernathy said. “High school students tell us they made the A-B honor roll.”

A second-grader who went from a C- to an A in math started getting help with reading.

“One of the biggest things we’ve noticed is an increase in self-confidence,” she said.

Jim Abernathy said that tutors are blessed by helping students, and they get involved in the students’ lives.

About half the tutors are retirees. Of those, about half are retired teachers. Peggy Abernathy said those who aren’t teachers can be good tutors.

“They both are very effective,” Jim Abernathy said.

He believes it helps the students to be around successful business people.

“It’s just a positive experience to help these kids,” he said.

One young man had to take a test to pass third grade last year. Jim Abernathy knew it was going to be a challenge, but the student passed.

“I was probably more thrilled about that than he was,” he said.

This year, one student had to do a project on North Carolina by finding something about the state starting with each letter of the alphabet. The project would have been difficult for the student to do at home, but at the tutoring program he was able to use a computer to complete it.

“When he got it done last week he was as thrilled as a kid can be,” said Jim Abernathy, who declared every tutor can tell similar stories.

About a third of the students are black and a third Hispanic. This year, the program added English as a second language (ESL) classes for some of the parents.

“That has been a grand success this year,” Jim Abernathy said.

Peggy Abernathy said three ESL classes are taught, each on a different level. About 15 adults are taking the classes.

Five ladies, including four from Friendly Avenue, teach the classes. The other teacher is a neighbor of one of the tutors. One of the ESL teachers also tutors a student in Spanish.

The tutoring program is free but parents have to provide transportation to and from the church. This is a sacrifice for some, including one family that lives about 30 minutes away.

Peggy Abernathy said information about church events is given to the students, but that’s not the main thrust of the program. Matt Queen, associate pastor for discipleship and evangelism at Friendly Avenue, said the program has been a blessing.

“It’s had a positive impact on our community,” he said.

Another Greensboro church is considering the Friendly Avenue model for its own ministry. Any church interested in getting started can call the Abernathys at (336) 299-3355 or e-mail them at jabernathy2@triad.com.

6/16/2009 8:29:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Every ring brings chance to support caller

June 16 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

For six years people from all over the country and Canada have been calling Anna Snyder, asking her to pray with them or seeking some other spiritual support.

Snyder, who lives in Leland and is a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Wilmington, has been taking phone calls as a “telephone encourager” with the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Evangelism Response Center (ERC). The program allows people to answer calls that come in through a national number.

The calls are routed through NAMB’s headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga., to volunteers logged in to the network. Snyder usually takes calls for two to three hours on Saturday afternoons.

“I think it’s a wonderful program,” she said. “There’s nothing more exciting than sharing the gospel with someone.”

Snyder is one of about 3,900 people who answer calls for the ERC. The volunteers fielded about 94,000 calls from 2006-08, including about 5,000 from callers who made first-time decisions for Christ, NAMB officials said.

About 35 of those came to know Christ while they were on the phone with Snyder.

“It’s very exciting,” she said.

The callers phone in after seeing toll-free numbers in places such as television ads and programs, radio ads and programs, print ads and articles, and billboards.

The ERC also handles some calls for the Billy Graham Association.

Miranda, who asked that her last name not be used in this article, took the NAMB training about a year ago and has been volunteering two or three times a week for the past few months. She usually logs in to take calls from about 10-11:30 p.m., after her children have gone to bed.

“I thought it’d be a great chance to share with people and grow in evangelism,” she said.

“It’s been a great fit for me.”

Miranda recalls how God used her background to help a lady, who called seeking encouragement. She had not been able to find a church to attend after recently moving to Las Vegas, where Miranda grew up.

“I was able to give her some solid churches in the area,” Miranda said. “Just being able to pray with her was great.”

Many callers have a spiritual need, such as a prayer request, Snyder said. Some are calling because they want literature offered in the ad they saw.

Snyder talked to one teenage boy who was contemplating suicide. When she gets such calls she seeks the Lord’s guidance on what to say.

“I have to bathe it in prayer before I even call in because you never know what you’re going to get,” she said.

Snyder said she sometimes encourages callers to seek professional help. She uses information she’s learned from a Graham book to encourage people.

“We always have prayer with them regardless of what the need is,” she said. “Most all of the calls you feel like hopefully you’ve been a help to somebody.”

Callers are referred to a Southern Baptist church in their community for follow-up. NAMB is seeking “covenant” churches as it plans to launch its “God’s Plan for Sharing” (GPS) evangelism emphasis next year. The churches contact the callers and encourage them to be baptized and discipled, and join a local Southern Baptist church.

NAMB recently held pilot GPS projects in Philadelphia, Stone Mountain, Ga., Lubbock, Texas, and Riverside, Calif. About 240 people called the ERC as a result with 12 making salvation decisions.  Thirty-nine were referred to a local church, association or state convention office with the rest seeking other spiritual support.

NAMB’s toll free help line number is (888) JESUS2009. People or churches interested in helping can contact the ERC at erc@namb.net or (770) 410-6383.

6/16/2009 8:20:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Burchette's question garners full-time 'yes'

June 15 2009 by By Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

Contributed photo

Jim Burchette poses with some Ukrainian children.

When Jim Burchette retired from managing an office equipment company in 2000, he had already been involved with North Carolina Baptist Men efforts for more than 30 years.

So it felt natural for him to ask Executive Director Richard Brunson and his staff if they needed any help.

“You don’t ever ask church people that,” Burchette said with a laugh. “They’ll give you something to do.”

That “something” turned Burchette into a full-time volunteer.

He’s in the Baptist Men offices at least three days a week coordinating international volunteer projects in Armenia, Ukraine, Latvia, Israel, Gaza and other places.

Burchette’s journey among Baptist Men started in the late 1960s. Shortly after he and his family joined Samaria Baptist Church in Raleigh, the pastor asked him to attend what was then called a Brotherhood workshop, which included a segment about Royal Ambassadors (RAs).

Burchette’s pastor asked him to organize an RA group at the church, which he did.

“I very much felt like that was what God was calling me to do,” he said. “That’s what I needed to do.”

As Burchette continued to work on the effort, he often had questions.

Since the Baptist Building was a few blocks from his office, he’d go to talk to leaders in what was then called the Brotherhood Department.

Soon Burchette was involved in Brotherhood activities on the associational and state levels.

Burchette served as RA director and Brotherhood director for Raleigh Baptist Association. He was president of N.C. Baptist Men from 2004-2006 and before that was vice president, Region 4 director, RA program director and state coordinator for Men’s Ministry and Resort/Leisure Ministry.

In addition, Burchette has been involved in Lay Renewal Ministry and was recognized as the layman of the year for N.C. Baptist Men in 1991. In April 2009 Baptist Men recognized him as their Baptist Heritage Award winner.

World as his field

Before his retirement, Burchette was mostly involved in local missions efforts. Since he started coordinating international volunteer projects, he’s been overseas a number of times, mostly with other Baptist Men leaders to investigate potential ministry sites. But on two occasions, he helped hungry people get food.

Burchette helped deliver United Nations food boxes to people in Gaza.

On a separate trip to the West Bank, Burchette and others went into homes to hand out coupons for food at nearby grocery stores.

They found one mother feeding her baby the last bottle of milk in the house. While thankful for the food coupons, the people always told Burchette and the others that they appreciated the time and prayers.

“That happened over and over,” he said.

Much of Burchette’s work involves helping others have similar experiences. He excitedly gives details of work in Armenia, where teams of N.C. Baptists have been working since 2002. A lot of the work involves renovating old buildings that can house churches.

One of their first such buildings sits on the border with Iran. Only a stream marking the border separates this church bearing a cross from a mosque on the Iranian side.

Burchette said that in Munkacs, Ukraine, N.C. Baptists are helping New Life Gypsy Church, which purchased a building that was an unused telephone center in the Soviet era. N.C. teams are working with Hungarian Baptist Aid, which is also helping the church.

Burchette tells how the church is helping gypsies who live in a camp built on top of an old garbage dump.

“When it rains, the dirt goes down and the trash comes up,” he said. “You look around and say, ‘Why don’t they clean up the place?’ They can’t. It’s a garbage dump.”

About 10 N.C. Baptist teams are going to help the church this year. One that recently returned has already asked about potential dates for next year.

“The teams that go want to go back,” he said.

All the teams run a Vacation Bible School for gypsy kids. About 50 children might attend the first day, but about 200 are coming by the end of the week. The teams provide lunch for the kids.

“That’s one of the best meals they’ll get, if they even get any other meals,” Burchette said.

The church is already using the building in a variety of ways and has plans for others.

“They started ministering to the gypsies as soon as they got that building,” he said.

Trips change lives

Burchette said the lives of N.C. Baptist volunteers are changed by the trips.

He tells of a young man who took one of his most valued possessions, a guitar, on a trip. When he came back, he left the guitar with the gypsies.

The young man said that God told him that the guitar was God’s, not his.

A man who read about the young man’s action called Burchette and asked how to get in touch with him so he could give him another guitar.

“That is a real blessing to me,” Burchette said.

“As I read and hear about this stuff, I’m sure there’s so much that goes on that I don’t hear about.”

People often call the N.C. Baptist Men office and ask how they can help.

“People really amaze me — the heart they have for missions and helping other people,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people still in the world.”

Burchette said God has blessed him with a wonderful family, including his wife, Joyce, who for many years was administrative assistant for former BSC Executive Director-treasurer Roy Smith. He said it’s fulfilling for him to serve as a “facilitator” for other people to go on mission trips.

“I know they’re going to do great work,” he said. “That’s the wonderful part.”

To find out more about N.C. Baptist Men and its projects in North Carolina, the United States and around the world, visit www.baptistsonmission.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599.

6/15/2009 7:17:00 AM by By Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Draper released from hospital

June 15 2009 by By Art Toalston, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — James T. Draper Jr. was released from the hospital Thursday, June 11, and is continuing his recovery from strep bacterial meningitis.

In an e-mail to Baptist Press June 12, Draper wrote, "Got home from the hospital yesterday after 6 days in ICU and 2 days in progressive care. I will have nurses come twice a day for two weeks.

"Please thank the people for their prayers and assure them of my prayers for the convention in Louisville," Draper wrote, referencing the Southern Baptist Convention's June 23-24 annual meeting. "This will be the first convention I've missed in 40 years."

Draper was hospitalized at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Grapevine, Texas, when he became unresponsive following a myelogram June 3 at an outpatient clinic in Fort Worth, Texas. After a preliminary diagnosis of an allergic chemical reaction, doctors determined that strep bacterial meningitis had entered his bloodstream during the procedure.

Draper was president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1991-2006 and president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1982-84. Prior to his service at LifeWay, Draper was the longtime pastor of the Fort Worth-area First Baptist Church in Euless.

On June 9, Draper's wife Carol Ann described her husband's recovery as "a miraculous turnaround."

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)

6/15/2009 7:14:00 AM by By Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

One beggar tells another where to find bread

June 11 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

When Ken Atkins was starving, Neal Eller helped him find bread.

Atkins is pastor of North Catawba Baptist Church in Lenoir and he was starving for more of God. “We are hungry!” he wrote Eller, leader of the church health team at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“Hungry for renewal, true spiritual awakening, and God’s moving hand in our lives.”

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Ken Atkins has more than 750 Pez dispensers, a collection that started when he was a youth minister. He also collects Mickey Mouse memorabilia. See related story.

It would no longer be enough to manage church processes and plan activities to draw a crowd. Atkins was done with that. “God help me,” he told Eller. “I need a touch that is so real that it scares my people to death and brings me to the point of wondering, ‘How did I get here?’”

Eller took some of his team to meet with Atkins and five church leaders at Hollifield Leadership Center for what Eller called “a divine appointment with God.”

“In our four hours together, we worshipped, studied God’s word together, prayed, shared and prayed some more,” Eller said.

A year earlier Atkins had participated in a conference at Hollifield, in which Eller was trying to get pastors to share about their visions for what church would look like if they could make it happen and about processes to move in that direction.

Atkins saw the men “wanting to be open but couldn’t...wanting to share what was on their heart but being afraid. That was eye opening to me.”

And he would do all he could to move past that at his church.

Today Atkins, who has been leading North Catawba three years, is cutting through the fluff and peeling back the layers to expose a deep seated yearning in his people for more of God, just as he felt it. It is taking time but every week more people climb on board.

About 125 people came to hear Atkins preach in view of a call three years ago.

Only later he learned that the real core attendance was about 50. Today the core is closer to 300 and 400 attended a visioning service in which people worked and prayed together to discern God’s plan for their church.

“We are beginning to see our people truly become intentional in their lives,” he wrote Eller. “No negativity, leave a nugget of Christ behind in every conversation, look intentionally for ways to grow in your walk with God, and pray intentionally for service opportunity. It is changing the way we see things and that is creating a transformation of the heart.”

Atkins wants to build, and be a part of a people who yearn for “God to be God. If it means I have to die to me, and I have to let these people know we’re going to die to us, we’re going to do that.”

It wasn’t always that way. Atkins built a youth ministry over 12 years at nearby Mountain Grove from 17 to 350 using all the tools and activities, programs and parties in every youth minister’s playbook. Then one day he heard the Lord tell him to stop the hoopla.

He changed direction to a more serious study of scripture and purposeful prayer and attendance dropped to 35, just one tenth of what it was. But over time it rebuilt to 250 youth who were serious about their faith, who were “warriors for Christ.”

Atkins yearns to be a part of a great revival. During a conference at Ridgecrest he was reminded of the great Welsh revival of 1904 when an estimated 150,000 came to Christ in six months. He felt God asking him how many he wanted to see saved.

“That instigated the fire in me again and I thought I don’t want the neighborhood, I don’t want the state, I don’t want 8 million. I want the planet!” he said.

He felt very convicted that he did not yet have “the humility and holiness” required to be a factor in such a revival.

“God said, ‘Ken if you want revival get your own house ready.’ All of a sudden it made sense. I took that to mean God wanted to use us for revival.”

So he has been preparing North Catawba Church’s house, focusing people on “intentional parts of Christianity,” not just the systems and activities born in previous generations.

He encourages the congregation to read the Bible as if they’ve never read it before, as if they are not even Christians, and let God speak to them in a fresh way.

“They’ve heard me say 100 times you’re no good, but God is good and He can use you,” Atkins said. “I’m keeping them in a reality check. It’s not about us, it’s about God. That’s why we’re here. Our people are beginning to sense it and see it.”

The church is walking through Thom Rainer’s “Simple Church,” figuring out “what we should get rid of if we want to focus on Jesus in our church now.”

They are learning not to ask God to bless their plans as much as they are asking God, “What is the plan?” he said.

During the meeting with Eller’s team Atkins realized so much of the conversation of his church leaders had been negative.

“We walked away from that meeting knowing we need to intentionally look for the good. We need to spend time and energy creating good and getting out of the dark side,” he said.

Now when an office visitor starts complaining he stops them and says, “Tell me about what God is doing. We’ve all got a dark side. Tell me about the light. What is God doing in your life?”

Consequently he said the light is quieting the dark. “I’m very excited about seeing the people change and their attitudes change in that direction. I’m enjoying it.”

This intentional focus on the positive and on the person of God changes expectations of church life and forces people to look for the actions of God in their lives so they can be ready to share their revelations with others.

After three years, Atkins said his congregation trusts that he is “not carrying them over the cliff.”

He is frank in telling them, “I love you but I’m not listening to you anymore. I love you but I’m not here to serve you, I’m here to give you the kind of stuff you need and you’re not going to like it. I’m not here to serve you, but to lead you to serve.”

He said people hug his neck and thank him for that kind of leadership.

Atkins, 50, has been married to Carolyn for 26 years and they have three children. Jimmy is the worship leader at North Catawba and Michael plays drums in the praise band. Daniel is 11 and they all have red hair.

A Navy veteran, Atkins did not grow up in church. He graduated from Campbell in 1990 with a religion degree and earned a master of divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1995.

He still loves the freedom to experiment that he enjoyed in youth work because it is “so phenomenal to watch God do something that you didn’t know would work.”

He knows churches must be willing to try things, fail or not, because, he says, “If we don’t do something, by the year 2010 the church won’t exist the way it is today.”

See No more programs, Eller invests in discipling.

Special series — Body parts

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

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

This week:
Neal Eller of the church health team in the Congregational Services group and North Catawba Baptist Church in Lenoir.

Coming up: Johnny Ross, consultant with GuideStone Financial Resources.

Visit Body Parts, a Biblical Recorder special series.
6/11/2009 12:26:00 PM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

No more programs, Eller invests in discipling

June 11 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Neal Eller no longer has time, patience or interest in helping churches pursue life on the plateau.

As leader of the church health team for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Eller’s personal growth from Christian to “Christ follower” in the past five years ignites in him an urgent frustration that “we have been measuring the wrong things.”

Photo by K Brown

Neal Eller, who has become a voracious reader in recent years, leads the church health team for the Baptist State Convention.

Instead of trying to measure and grow an indefinable “spiritual maturity” Eller says now he works with pastors to evaluate effectiveness by measuring “life change.”

“What behaviors are they demonstrating?” he asks. “What’s the theology they demonstrate?”

He focuses now not on building successful church programs but on making disciples.

“How do we develop leaders? How do we develop pastors as leaders, leaders within churches, next generation leaders?” he asks. “What does a healthy pastor really look like and how do we build a fence at the top of the cliff instead of doing triage at the bottom of the cliff after they’ve fallen?”

Eller is known best in North Carolina for his 13 years in the BSC’s church music department, including eight as team leader, before shifting to church health in a reorganized Congregational Services group.

He is a “junior,” son of a Baptist minister who led churches across the state. Frequent moves as a child gave Eller the inherent ability to make friends quickly, and provided him many connections he’s found especially useful once he came to Convention staff.

Eller, who has become a voracious reader in the past five years, said churches look “too much like the world” and insists “We’ve lost our younger generation because we’ve failed to disciple them. We’ve not developed leaders.”

He encourages pastors to “pour themselves into a few leaders, just like Christ did with his disciples, with the intention of having them multiply.”

Eller benefitted from adults in his life who invested in young people.

He named high school teacher and coach Jack Musten who created opportunities and pushed young people to assume leadership.

When Eller’s father was pastor of Union Grove Baptist Church near Winston-Salem, the minster of music at First Baptist Church, Fred Kelly, created a county-wide youth choir of over 300 students called the Good News Singers.

Later the group was pared to 75 and became the unofficial ambassador group for Winston-Salem, singing at numerous civic events. Kelly is now at First Baptist Church, Goldsboro.

“It was because of Fred Kelly that I began to see maybe God is calling me into this area of ministry,” Eller said.

Churches narcissistic
Eller says some churches are “self-centered and narcissistic” with “no sense of the kingdom.”

“We’re not taught to be yeast into this world, so we can be like the kingdom of heaven,” he says. “We’re not taught how to be missionaries in work and in our environment and how to disciple our families.”

The result of “biblical illiteracy” is that “a lot of our own church people may not believe that Jesus lived a sinless life, there’s a literal hell, the Bible is the inspired word of God without error, there’s a personal Satan. If they don’t believe the essentials of our faith as an evangelical, it is no wonder we look so much like the world,” Eller says.

He maintains people are hungry for declarative confirmation of biblical truth and that they are ready for leaders willing to “stand in the gap and be courageous.”

“What we find is that many churches are so stuck and have so much ungodly behavior in them that they’re not willing to be like Christ,” he says.

“It would mean a change, a transformation, and that’s what saddens me.”

Eller comes by his conviction honestly. His life was as he describes so many churches – programmed and shallow.

Then, not through any one dramatic moment, but through a series of events and interactions, “It was as if the scales on my eyes fell off and I could see how self-centered I was. I could see there was sin in my life, that I did not have the joy. Since that time, it is as if I’m alive for the first time. I have found joy I’ve never experienced in my life.”

UNC-Greensboro grad
Although he lived all over, Eller considers himself to be from Kernersville because that is where he attended high school and where he lived as a student commuting to UNC-Greensboro, where he earned a music education degree in 1976.

He is a 1978 master’s graduate in church music from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Neal Eller, BSC team leader for church health, has worked closely with Jimmy (cap) and Ken Atkins, worship leader and pastor at North Catawba Baptist Church in Lenoir, as they lead the church to simplifying ministry and seek the heart of God. See related story.

While at UNC-G Eller directed music part-time at Bethany Baptist in Winston-Salem, a church that later called his father as pastor.

He also served at First Baptist Church Hazlewood, First Baptist Jacksonville and Winter Park in Wilmington from where he came to the Convention Jan. 1, 1991.

He acknowledges that God has burdened his heart with compassion “for our plateaued and declining congregations” and he prays daily “that the burden gets heavier.”

Eller leads one of three teams in Congregational Services. Members of the entire group, led by Lynn Sasser, intend to lead North Carolina Baptist churches in creating a disciple making culture.

“We’re about life transformation,” Eller says.

Sasser said Eller “provides excellent leadership” for his team and that he “leads out of his passion for making disciples within the context of healthy churches.”

Team members “work off the same page” so any church that calls for consultation will receive consistent input.

Eller says the teams are utilizing technology to expand their reach, establishing a pastors’ disciple making network; adding a monthly ezine called Next Steps, centered on the pastor as disciple maker.

A monthly teleconference connects pastors with leaders from across the nation, including Dallas Willard, Christian philosopher at the University of Southern California and author of Renovation of the Heart and The Divine Conspiracy in June and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin in May.

The group sponsors conferences such as Simple Church, Essential Church and Comeback Church.

Personally, Eller, 55, actively pursues relationships so he can share Christ and his goal “is to be Christ to someone today.”

“A disciple of Christ will share the gospel, period,” Eller says. “We’re commanded to do it but we do it because of our love relationship with Christ. We want everyone to have that joy.”

He develops relationships through regular patronage of several Starbucks, and he hates lukewarm coffee.

He and his wife, Cherri, are getting into  kayaking and are part of a church plant in Cary sponsored by Apex Baptist Church called The Creek Church. It launched in September 2008 and “there is nothing like” being a part of a new work, he says.

See One beggar tells another where to find bread.

Special series — Body parts

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

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

This week:
Neal Eller of the church health team in the Congregational Services group and North Catawba Baptist Church in Lenoir.

Coming up: Johnny Ross, consultant with GuideStone Financial Resources.

Visit Body Parts, a Biblical Recorder special series.

6/11/2009 12:09:00 PM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 20 comments

Ethnic groups respond differently to outreach

June 10 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — African-Americans are far more open than other ethnic groups to receiving information about local congregations.

A majority of African-Americans responded favorably to e-mail messages from churches.

That’s one key insight drawn from a survey conducted by LifeWay Research on behalf of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as NAMB prepares to launch God’s Plan For Sharing (GPS) throughout North America in 2010. The survey, which was conducted online in December 2008, asked more than 15,000 Americans about their willingness to receive information about local congregations through various channels.

The survey asked about 13 different methods churches might use to communicate with prospective attendees. Respondents were segmented into five ethnic groupings: Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, African-Americans, Asians and mixed/other ethnicities.

The research revealed that regardless of the communication channel used African-Americans are at least 12 percentage points more open to receiving information than any of the other groups. The responses from other ethnic groups are within three points of each other in most categories.

For example, every ethnic group expresses its greatest openness to receiving information through a family member, but 80 percent of African-Americans say they are “willing” or “very willing” regarding that interaction. The next largest response is from Hispanics, who register 64 percent openness. Non-Hispanic whites, Asians and mixed/other Americans trail Hispanic openness by only two or three points.

“The church has been the only institution we African-Americans have had throughout our history that we could trust and depend on,” said Tyrone Barnette, pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. “The church educated our children, fed our families, listened to our pain, married and buried our loved ones, and provided leadership and insight for our political views. Throughout the years the positive perception of the church has been passed from generation to generation.”

Another portion of this study, released in the article, “Survey: Americans open to outreach from churches,” revealed Americans are more open to conversations with friends, neighbors and family members than any other method of communication. This is true regardless of ethnic background. Among African-Americans, 73 percent say they are “willing” or “very willing” to listen to a friend or neighbor, and positive responses from other groups ranged from 51 percent among Asians to 57 percent among Hispanics.

Other methods
Not every method of communication ranks so highly, but even when a church provides information using less popular methods, African-Americans are much more willing to receive that information. The four lowest-scoring methods were:
  • E-mail messages: 53 percent of African-Americans respond favorably, while only 31-38 percent of respondents from other groups are “willing” or “very willing” to receive information this way.
  • Door hangers left by a church representative: 55 percent of African-Americans respond favorably. From 28-37 percent of respondents from other groups respond positively.
  • Social networking web sites: 50 percent of African-Americans are open to receiving information this way, and 32-38 percent of respondents from other groups respond favorably.
  • A visit at their doors by a congregation member: 39 percent of African-Americans respond positively, while only 21-25 percent of respondents from other groups are “willing” or “very willing” to receive information this way.
“A few weeks ago, I went with our evangelism team into our community passing out tracts and doorknockers,” Barnette said. “When I sought to hand information to one 25-year-old African-American male, he said, ‘I’ve got to take this paper from you ... cause to not take it means I am not taking something from Christ.’

“In the African-American community there is a clearer understanding that Christ is not detached from His church,” Barnette said.

Survey participants were also queried about more specific methods of communication:
  • Video about a local church’s services and beliefs: 66 percent of African-Americans in contrast to 43 percent of Asians and non-Hispanic whites are “willing” or “very willing” to watch.
  • Postcard from a church advertising interesting talks: 69 percent of African-Americans, 53 percent of Hispanics and a smaller percentage of respondents from other groups respond positively.
  • Interesting ad about matters of faith that listed a web site: 64 percent of African-Americans, but only 42 percent of non-Hispanic whites respond favorably.

6/10/2009 5:28:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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