June 2011

N.C. ranks fifth in SBC attendance

June 17 2011 by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press

Attendance at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting June 14-15 slumped below 5,000 for several reasons, registration officials said.

Just before registration closed June 15, there were 4,814 registered messengers from the nation’s 45,000 Southern Baptist churches. Official numbers will not be released until later this month.

In 2003, the last time Southern Baptists gathered in Phoenix, there were 7,077 registered. The count is 43 percent of the 2010 numbers in Orlando, a dip Registration Secretary Jim Wells, who was unable to attend the meeting because of illness, predicted last summer and one that other registration staff confirm.

“First, it wasn’t an ‘election year,’ with Bryant Wright up for a second term as SBC president,” said Kevin Wilson, a registration volunteer from the Georgia Baptist Convention. “Plus, the big issues like the Great Commission Resurgence were voted on last year.”

It’s the lowest messenger count at an annual meeting in more than six decades, when in the throes of World War II, 4,301 messengers gathered in Atlanta in 1944.

North Carolina Baptists came in fifth with 332 messengers behind Tennessee (390), Arizona (374), Georgia (357), and Texas (347).

The substance of the meeting led plenty who attended to argue it shouldn’t be judged on numbers. More than 1,000 pastors and their wives packed a North American Mission Board luncheon to learn about the entity’s new Send North America church planting strategy. On the final night of the convention, hundreds of messengers flooded the front of the convention hall at the end of the International Mission Board report, having signed cards pledging to lead their church to embrace an unengaged people group. The convention’s focus on ethnic diversity and unity were also significant.

“I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually significant convention over the last 50 years,” SBC President Bryant Wright, who was re-elected to another one-year term, told Baptist Press after the Phoenix gathering.

Wright pointed to the sluggish economy and to the travel time from most SBC churches as possible reasons for the low attendance.

Attendance followed a general geographic trend of higher attendance from states in the West and lower from everywhere else: Utah’s attendance more than doubled its 2010 number, while Alabama’s was 28 percent of last year’s delegation.

The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers are as follows: Alaska, 13; Alabama, 244; Arkansas, 163; Arizona, 374; California, 241; Colorado, 43; Connecticut, 1; Washington, D.C., 12; Delaware, 1; Florida, 242; Georgia, 357; Hawaii, 12; Iowa, 6; Idaho, 17; Illinois, 82; Indiana, 78; Kansas, 53; Kentucky, 233; Louisiana, 182; Massachusetts, 8; Maryland, 57; Maine, 1; Michigan, 27; Minnesota, 27; Missouri, 169; Mississippi, 201; Montana, 9; North Carolina, 332; Nebraska, 1; New Hampshire, 1; New Jersey, 11; New Mexico, 85; Nevada, 69; New York, 13; Ohio, 88; Oklahoma, 148; Oregon, 11; Pennsylvania, 22; Puerto Rico 3; South Carolina, 190; South Dakota, 1; Tennessee, 390; Texas, 347; Utah, 24; Virginia, 191; Vermont, 1; Washington, 20; Wisconsin, 3; West Virginia 22; Wyoming, 13.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
6/17/2011 7:57:00 AM by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC spotlights ethnicity, unity, unengaged

June 17 2011 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) messengers meeting in Phoenix June 14-15 adopted an historic report encouraging ethnic diversity, witnessed dozens of leaders standing together in support of a landmark unity pledge, and saw hundreds of pastors and laypeople volunteer to lead their churches to embrace one of the world’s 3,800 unengaged people groups.

It was the lowest-attended annual meeting in 67 years, with just over 4,800 in attendance, but the substance of the meeting led plenty who attended to argue it shouldn’t be judged on numbers.

“I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually significant convention over the last 50 years,” Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright, who was re-elected to another one-year term, told Baptist Press (BP) after the Phoenix gathering. Wright pointed to the sluggish economy and to the travel time from most SBC churches as possible reasons for the low attendance.

From beginning to end, messengers heard biblical pleas for Southern Baptists to join the church planting movement in North America and to adopt an unengaged people group around the world. And messengers responded. More than 1,000 pastors and their wives packed a North American Mission Board (NAMB) luncheon to learn about the entity’s new Send North America church planting strategy. On the final night of the convention, hundreds of messengers flooded the front of the convention hall at the end of the International Mission Board (IMB) report, having signed cards pledging to lead their church to embrace an unengaged people group. An IMB representative will contact them later.

Each mission board report also featured a commissioning service, with Southern Baptists meeting their newest missionaries.

“Coming back to the authority of scripture was a correcting point that had to take place (in the SBC), but the mission is to fulfill the Great Commission,” Wright said. “I think this was the most unified convention around the Great Commission that I have experienced. People came here with anticipation of that unity.”

Wright practiced that unity during his press conference, inviting the presidents of NAMB, Kevin Ezell, IMB, Tom Elliff, and the Executive Committee, Frank Page, to sit on the platform with him and participate. It was the first convention as president for all four men, and each one had a unique emphasis during his respective report to messengers. Ezell highlighted church planting and Elliff emphasized the unengaged, while Page introduced an “Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation” pledge that was signed by entity leaders, state executives and ethnic fellowship leaders. The document had five core points, with the heart of it a pledge to “walk in unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.” During the Executive Committee report, the leaders stood on stage together.

“Our convention is fracturing into various groups, some theological, most methodological,” Page told messengers. “Sometimes there is an honest difference of opinion, but often there is self-centeredness that frequently mirrors our own culture.

“Christ-like selflessness is our only hope,” Page said.

Page also urged Southern Baptists to take the “1 Percent Challenge” — leading their church to increase gifts to the Cooperative Program by 1 percent-of-budget point. Doing so would lead to $100 million more for Southern Baptist ministries and worldwide missions, including funding for 380 more IMB missionaries, Page said.

The Executive Committee’s landmark report on ethnic diversity was the focus of national media attention, as was the election of New Orleans pastor Fred Luter to first vice president. He is the first African American to hold that post.

The report’s language encourages the SBC president, when he makes his various appointments, to “give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the Convention, and particularly ethnic diversity.” It also encourages the committee in charge of the annual meeting to reflect the ethnic diversity of the convention in the meeting program. A motion that would have struck the ethnic diversity language was defeated by a margin of 3-to-1. The Executive Committee report, delivered after a two-year study, cites the “need to be proactive and intentional in the inclusion of individuals from all ethnical and racial identities within Southern Baptist life.”

During a press conference, messenger Paul Kim, who made the 2009 motion that led to the report, urged ethnic Southern Baptists to get more involved in the convention in this “history-making moment,” saying, “This is the time.”

Ethnic diversity, Wright told BP, is “vitally important to the future of the church in America.”

“We have not reflected what is happening in America in both the makeup of our churches but especially in the leadership in our convention,” Wright said.

The convention’s resolutions — which express the sentiment on often hot-button theological and cultural issues — once again made news. In a surprising move in the convention’s final session, messengers overruled the Resolutions Committee by at least a 2-to-1 margin and voted to consider a resolution — promoted by messenger Tim Overton — highly critical of the NIV 2011 Bible translation. The resolution passed nearly unanimously.

The resolution’s text says that because of “inaccurate gender language,” messengers “cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.” It “respectfully request(s) that LifeWay” not sell the new NIV in its retail chain.

Messengers also passed resolutions:
  • supporting the Defense of Marriage Act.
  • affirming the historical, biblical concept of hell in a resolution that mentions Rob Bell’s Love Wins book.
  • condemning the actions of those who protest funerals, burn the Koran, and pray for the deaths of public officials.
But a resolution on immigration and the gospel, coming at a convention partially focused on ethnic issues, had the most floor debate. By a 4-to-1 margin, messengers adopted the resolution, which includes key language asking “our governing authorities to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” That sentence was nearly struck but survived on a ballot vote, 51-48 percent. The resolution gained more support when the Resolutions Committee proposed adding a sentence that says the resolution “is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.” Mostly overlooked in the controversy was the rest of the 22-paragraph resolution, which calls on churches to take the gospel to all people, “regardless of country of origin or immigration status.”

The main focus of the convention was on fulfilling the Great Commission — both in North American and around the world.

“With less than 4 percent of our (Southern Baptist) churches directly engaged in church planting, we’ve got to do better,” Ezell said at the NAMB luncheon. “We must do better. We are going to do better.”

Churches — and not NAMB — plant churches, Ezell emphasized, adding that over the next couple of years, NAMB will develop church-planting coalitions in 25 urban areas around North America. He said the coalitions will be made up of local pastors, church planters, representatives of local state conventions and associations, along with partnering pastors and state convention leaders from elsewhere. The coalitions will develop local strategies for planting new churches in their area.

“It’s a new day,” Ezell said. “It really is. Pastor, we’re not going to make it harder for you. Associations and states, we’re not (going to make it harder on you either). We’re going to make it easier. We’re going to make it easier for you to engage in missions and to pray and partner. We can do this together.”

Birmingham, Ala., pastor David Platt preached the convention sermon, quoting statistics on the world’s unreached and telling messengers, “This is not a problem for the International Mission Board to address. This is a problem for every pastor and every local church to address.” Other convention speakers — including several during the Pastors’ Conference and Wright himself during his sermon — made a similar point.

Elliff, in his report, spotlighted the need to embrace unengaged people groups, but said, “This convention has been one long sermon.... There is not one thing I could say” that messengers have not already heard. A lost world, Elliff said, needs churches who consider it unacceptable that there are people groups “who do not have somebody deliberately” trying to engage them with the gospel.

“Really, all there’s left for me to do is to give the invitation,” Elliff said, moments before hundreds of messengers came forward holding cards that said, “I will lead my church to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group.”

The Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation pledge — signed at the Executive Committee meeting June 13 and presented to messengers the next day — includes five key “pledges.” In summary, they are:
  • “We pledge to maintain a relationship of mutual trust ...
  • “We pledge to attribute the highest motives to those engaged in local church ministries and those engaged in denominational service in any level of Convention life ...
  • “We pledge to affirm the value of cooperative ministry as the most effective and efficient means of reaching a lost world ...
  • “We pledge to embrace our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, race, and language as equal partners in our collective ministries to engage all people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • “We pledge to continue to honor and affirm proportional giving through the Cooperative Program as the most effective means of mobilizing our churches and extending our outreach as Southern Baptists ....”
In other matters:
  • More than 1,100 Arizonans made professions for Christ during the pre-convention Crossover 2011 evangelistic effort.
  • Paul Thompson, one of the 10 Baptists held in a Haiti jail in 2010, appeared before messengers during the Executive Committee report, telling them, “I have never been so proud to be a Southern Baptist as I was in the 19 days in a lonely but yet God-filled prison cell in Haiti.”
  • Ezell promised that, under his watch, future financial stewardship at NAMB will demand “accuracy, transparency, effectiveness and efficiency — not smoke and mirrors.” He then clarified and put into perspective some oft-quoted NAMB statistics — for instance, that Southern Baptists planted 769 new churches in 2010, not the 1,400 to 1,500 a year usually reported in the past. “When the old NAMB counted church plants, they didn’t ask for church names or addresses or planter names. The new NAMB is asking and only counting churches for which those details can be obtained.” Ezell generated laughs and applause when he said, “If Walmart can track how much toilet paper it sells every hour, we should be able to track how many churches are planted each year.”
  • Wright, pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, was re-elected president over Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., who nominated himself. The vote was 2,274 (95 percent) to 102 (4 percent). Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected first vice president over Rick Ong, a member of First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix. Luter received 1,558 (77 percent) votes to Ong’s 441 (22 percent). In three elections without opposition: Eric Thomas, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., was elected second vice president; John Yeats, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, was re-elected recording secretary; and Jim Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Mo., was re-elected registration secretary.
  • There were no night sessions.
Next year’s meeting will be June 19-20 in New Orleans.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Mickey Noah, Barbara Denman and Mark Kelly.)  
6/17/2011 7:50:00 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wright, Luter, Thomas elected SBC officers

June 17 2011 by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — Bryant Wright, pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, was re-elected June 14 to a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), leading a slate of officers that included an African American as first vice president.

Messengers elected Louisiana pastor Fred Luter as first vice president and Virginia pastor Eric Thomas as second vice president.

By acclamation, messengers elected John Yeats, director of communications for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, as SBC recording secretary — a position he has held since 1997 — and Jim Wells, director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Mo., as registration secretary for the ninth consecutive year. Wells was elected in absentia, as he recovers at home from complications stemming from cancer treatment.

Wright defeated Wiley Drake, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., who nominated himself, by a vote of 2,274 to 102. Of the 2,384 votes cast, Wright received 95.39 percent; Drake received 4.26 percent.

Wright was nominated to a second term by David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

In nominating the SBC president for a second term, Platt said Wright “possesses a deep passion for Christ and a deep love for the local church and a deep respect for this convention of churches that he’s a part of.”

Photo by Matt Miller

Newly elected officers of the Southern Baptist Convention are: Bryant Wright, president and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta Ga.; Fred Luter, first vice president and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La.; Eric Thomas, second vice president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va.; John Yeats, recording secretary and communications director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Not pictured is James H. Wells, registration secretary and director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Mo.

During the past year as SBC president, Platt said Wright “has graciously and faithfully served Southern Baptist churches, encouraging us to work alongside one another in the advancement of Kingdom of Christ and the accomplishment of the Great Commission.”

Platt recounted how he had traveled with Wright to the Middle East two weeks earlier and seen him “come beside pastors and IMB missionaries, caring for them, praying for them, weeping with them, standing beside them.”

“Amidst all of our talk about the Great Commission, this is a brother who is doing it,” Platt said. “He pastors a church full of people who are passionate about spreading the gospel, both locally and globally. This is not an ‘either-or’ for them; this is a ‘both-and.’ The people of Johnson Ferry are active in sharing Christ all across Atlanta, baptizing hundreds of new believers this last year, ministering to urgent spiritual and physical need all across their community. And then they are directly involved in ministries to more than 30 different countries around the world.”

Wright has served as pastor of the metro Atlanta church since December 1981 when it was a mission with 20 families. Now the congregation encompasses 8,000 members and seven Sunday morning worship services with a weekly attendance of more than 4,100. Wright has led Johnson Ferry to plant and co-sponsor 13 new churches — seven in the Atlanta area and six in various areas throughout the United States. The congregation sent 1,600 members on short-term mission trips in 2010.

In nominating himself, Drake offered no speech, succinctly placing his own name into the contest. He was elected as second vice president of the SBC in 2006 in Greensboro, serving a one-year term.

Drake’s self-nomination was not unique in SBC history. Alabama evangelist Anis Shorrosh once placed his own name in nomination for SBC president.

Vice presidents
Messengers elected Fred Luter, senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, over Rick Ong, a member of First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix, for first vice president.

Luter’s election came as messengers considered a set of recommendations to increase the ethnic diversity of the convention’s leadership. They faced the choice between the African American pastor from Louisiana and Ong, a Chinese-American layperson.

Of the 2,012 ballots cast June 14 in Phoenix, Luter received 1,558 (77 percent) of the votes while Ong received 441 (22 percent) of the votes; 13 votes were disallowed.

Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, nominated Luter, calling him “one of Southern Baptists’ most popular and beloved preachers. He’s in constant demand in schools, colleges, seminaries and conferences all across our nation.”

Akin, in his nomination, reminded messengers that Luter, in 2001, was the first African-American to preach the SBC convention sermon. He also has served as an SBC second vice president.

In August 2005, Luter lost his home and church building to the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina. “Because of the love for his church members,” Akin said, the pastor traveled across the nation to minister to his displaced members, while living temporarily in Birmingham, Ala.

The congregation “seized the moment,” Akin said, and started churches in Baton Rouge, La., and Houston, Texas.

In spite of losing half the New Orleans congregation — and receiving numerous invitations to move to a new pastorate — Luter stayed with his people, Akin said, and was asked to serve on the mayor’s Bring Back New Orleans Commission.

Since Katrina, the revived Franklin Avenue congregation has grown to 7,000 members.

Akin said Luter also “set the example” in Cooperative Program giving after Katrina. The congregation “stepped out on faith,” giving $44,000 through the Cooperative Program in 2007, increasing their CP giving to $205,000 in 2008, $250,000 in 2009 and $260,000 in 2010.

Virginia pastor Eric Thomas was elected unopposed as second vice president of the convention.

Thomas, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va., since July 2003, was nominated by Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte. In bringing the nomination, Pressley said the Virginia pastor is a family man, scholar and churchman, serving “a historic church” and “leading that great church to reach its community and the nations for Lord Jesus.”

“At every level, Eric believes in the cause of Christ lived out as a Southern Baptist,” Pressley said.

Thomas has served on the SBC resolutions and nominating committees and is active in his state convention.

In other action, messengers elected David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., to preach the convention sermon at the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. Kenny Qualls, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arnold, Mo., was elected as the alternate. Mark Cottingham, worship pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., was chosen as the 2012 music director.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.)
6/17/2011 7:41:00 AM by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Resolutions: SBC tackles immigration, NIV

June 17 2011 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — Messengers addressed the thorny issue of immigration by adopting a resolution that sought to promote the gospel of Jesus while calling for justice and compassion during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), June 14-15 in Phoenix.

The resolution on immigration was one of eight approved either unanimously or overwhelmingly during the morning and afternoon sessions June 15.

In an unusual move, messengers called to the floor and passed a resolution on the “gender-neutral 2011 New International Version” (NIV) that was not reported to the convention by the Resolutions Committee.

Among the other resolutions adopted were ones affirming biblical teaching on the reality of hell, religious liberty throughout the world, corporate repentance, civility in public discourse and marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.

The immigration resolution — adopted by what appeared to be about 70 to 80 percent of the messengers — urged Southern Baptist churches to proclaim Christ and minister in His spirit to everyone, regardless of their “immigration status.” It said “any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The measure called for the government to make a priority of border security and holding businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials “to implement, with the borders secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.”

The resolution’s paragraph on instituting a process for illegal immigrants to gain legal status after the securing of the borders and with restitution elicited an amendment that produced the most floor debate during the resolutions report. Final action on the resolution was delayed from the morning to afternoon session when the vote on the amendment was too close to call and required a ballot vote.

Richard Huff, a messenger from Corona de Tucson Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz., introduced the amendment, which would have deleted the paragraph in question. In support of his amendment, Huff said from the floor, “(T)he principle is that citizenship is a right of people that are here under legal processes, and you do not want to make this something you are rewarding people who are in violation of the law and they have no interest in being here legally.”

Paul Jimenez, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, urged messengers to defeat the amendment. He said the committee members think the resolution is “a realistic and biblical approach to immigration” and removing the language affected by the amendment “would really weaken it in such a way that we would oppose it.”

Messengers barely defeated Huff’s amendment, 766-723 (51.3 percent to 48.4 percent).

In the afternoon session, messengers handily rejected an amendment that would have basically gutted the same paragraph. They backed an amendment offered by the committee, however, that clarified the resolution was “not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”

In explaining the immigration resolution, Jimenez told messengers the committee’s goal was that the measure “speak first and foremost to the pockets of lostness” in the United States. He said the resolution was built on a 2006 resolution but “moves us light years ahead when it comes to its gospel-centeredness, as well as understanding how the culture itself is changing. And the culture itself is moving in such a way where immigrants in this country are in desperate need of the gospel and their numbers are growing and growing at an exponential rate.”

Regarding the public policy aspect, he said the committee decided “to state those principles as broadly as possible.”

“We can present the gospel while at the same time upholding the law of the land,” said Jimenez, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. He said the resolution “is very strong; it is very balanced, leads with the gospel but also takes into account our mandate to obey the laws of the land.”

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, lauded the resolution at a news conference after the committee’s final report, calling it “very statesman-like.”

“This resolution upholds the rule of law,” Land told reporters. “This resolution upholds the sovereignty of the United States, and this resolution seeks to deal compassionately and fairly and justly with those who are here in an undocumented status, and calls upon us to act as if this is a gospel issue, which it is.”

The NIV resolution overwhelmingly approved by messengers “expressed profound disappointment” with publication of the new translation and “respectfully request(ed) that LifeWay” not sell the version in its stores.

The resolution came to the floor when Indiana pastor Tim Overton persuaded messengers to address the 2011 version of the popular translation that his resolution said had “gone beyond acceptable translation standards” regarding gender. His resolution said 75 percent of the flawed gender translation in the TNIV appears in the new NIV. Southern Baptist messengers expressed their disapproval of the TNIV in a 2002 resolution.

Overton, pastor of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., told messengers the Southern Baptist Convention needed to address the issue in its role as a leading voice in the evangelical Christian community.

Speaking for the committee regarding its decision not to present Overton’s measure, Russell Moore said the members did not believe the issue “rose to the level of needing to be addressed by this year’s convention.” Moore said the TNIV was “something of a stealth move,” which was not true in this case. He also said the NIV is not in the same position now as it was in the past, since such translations as the Holman Christian Standard Bible and English Standard Version are now available. He also said the NIV is “just one of many Bibles out there (with) similar language.”

The committee did not oppose passage of the resolution. At the news conference, Moore said, “The committee, of course, shares the concerns that were expressed in the resolution. The issue was not whether or not we would affirm the NIV and its changes but whether or not we thought the current changes were worthy of being addressed” at this year’s meeting.

Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as teaching pastor for Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.

The resolution on hell came as part of an ongoing response to the publication earlier this year of Michigan pastor Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Bell’s controversial book “called into question the church’s historic teaching on the doctrine of eternal punishment of the unregenerate,” as the resolution described it.

In adopting the resolution, messengers affirmed “our belief in the biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in hell.” The resolution also urged Southern Baptists “to proclaim faithfully the depth and gravity of sin against a holy God, the reality of hell, and the salvation of sinners by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.”

The other resolutions approved:
  • Reaffirmed the convention’s belief that all people have religious freedom, meaning they possess the liberty “to convert to another religion or to no religion, to seek to persuade others of the claims of one’s religion, and to worship without harassment or impediment from the state.” It also called for prayer for persecuted Christians throughout the world.
  • Urged President Obama to reverse course by ordering the Department of Justice to defend fully the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court and renewed the convention’s call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. DOMA is a 1996 law that defines marriage federally as exclusively between a man and a woman and protects states from having to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where such unions are legal.
  • Called for corporate repentance and prayer, urging Southern Baptists to seek “a life of genuine repentance, Kingdom-focused prayer times for sweeping revival and spiritual awakening, and consistent prayer for specific lost people, missions, and ministry.”
  • Encouraged civility in the public discussion of controversial issues and denounced “the speech or activities of any individual or group that brings shame upon the name of Christ and His gospel.” It urged Southern Baptists “to speak biblically and authoritatively with conviction, kindness, and gentleness.”
  • Thanked God and those He used in producing the annual meeting of Southern Baptists.
Ten resolutions were submitted for this year’s meeting. The committee declined to act on some but addressed others in the final resolutions recommended to the messengers.

In addition to Jimenez and Moore, the other members of the committee were: Linda Clark, member, Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind.; Stephen Farish, senior pastor, Crossroads Church in Grayslake, Ill.; Mark Howell, senior pastor, Houston Northwest Church in Houston, Texas; Tim McCoy, senior pastor, Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon, Ga.; Michael Pigg, senior pastor, Philadelphia Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Jimmy Scroggins, senior pastor, First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Jamie Work, pastor, Candies Creek Baptist Church in Charleston, Tenn., and Carol Yarber, member, First Baptist Church in Malakoff, Texas.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)  
6/17/2011 7:36:00 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wright calls for unity in SBC’s ‘new era’

June 17 2011 by Jerry Pierce & Tammi Ledbetter, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright broke with tradition following his re-election to a second term June 14 as he asked SBC entity leaders Frank Page, Kevin Ezell and Tom Elliff to join him in the customary president’s news conference.

Wright thanked “the people of the convention who felt led for me to serve in this role another year” and noted that Page as Executive Committee president, Elliff as International Mission Board president and Ezell as North American Mission Board president all took office within the past year, marking a historic change of leadership in the SBC.

Wright called for unified support of the three colleagues: “As your president, I am asking Southern Baptists to join me in covering these men in prayer and support as we enter a new era of leadership.”

The annual meeting in Phoenix marked an opportunity for renewed focus on unity rooted in “love for the Lord and in carrying out His Great Commission together,” Wright said.

“Unity is a byproduct of being in the will of God and on mission together.”

Noting two crucial challenges before the convention — planting churches in unreached North American areas and engaging unreached people groups internationally — Wright called on Baptist Press and state papers to keep those two issues in front of Southern Baptists.

Photo by Van Payne

Bryant Wright, re-elected to a second one-year term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, answers questions during a news conference after the close of the first day of the two-day Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting June 14-15 at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

Wright also asked churches to keep their state conventions informed of new church plants and people groups they engage with the gospel, “so we can publish reports about what God has accomplished through our churches as we work together.”

Wright said: “The Spirit of the Lord is moving in a unique way in these days, and we hope Southern Baptists will lead the way in building up the Kingdom of God to fulfill our Great Commission.”

Rebekah Kim, who, with her husband Paul, ministers on the Harvard University campus in Boston, asked Elliff about the increased cooperation between the International and North American mission boards approved by messengers June 14. Elliff said he and Ezell would have initiated a greater cooperation between the two boards anyway because they are friends.

“Those of us at the International Mission Board cannot wait to receive the benefit of the expertise the North American Mission Board will bring to our table in terms of church planting,” Elliff said. “And I’m glad that when people give their Cooperative Program dollars, they know they don’t have to separate them up or worry about giving more to the one than to the other. They know they can trust that these agencies are working together.”

In turn, Ezell said he was reading Elliff’s book on prayer last year as he was finishing his tenure as Pastors’ Conference president. He walked off the stage after the Orlando meeting, and checked the voice messages on his phone. The first one was from Elliff.

“I consider him a mentor ...,” Ezell said. “We would do this anyway.”

Asked how the four men’s peacemaking personalities would influence Southern Baptists generally, Page replied: “We’re pastors. We’ve learned in church what it takes to get along and what it takes to not get along. And we’re committed to dialoging in the way Christ wants us to. We had enough of church members not doing that, and we’ve seen what happens when disagreements or even differences of opinion or differences of emphasis are dealt with in a Christlike way versus a non-Christlike way. So I hope we are setting examples.”

Page also fielded two questions about the emphasis on ethnic diversity in the SBC, noting that two decades ago Time magazine identified Southern Baptists as the most ethnically diverse denomination. Even so, “we’ve got a long way to go,” Page said.

Some ethnic Southern Baptists have been “reluctant to step up to the plate” in leadership roles, Page added, while others have not participated heavily in the Cooperative Program, and yet others have not felt like “full partners” in a Anglo-dominant convention.

Calling the 2011 meeting a watershed time, Page said, “I think Southern Baptists have taken a bold step to say we do care about every ethnicity, every group, and we want to move past just saying nice things, to full involvement.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pierce is managing editor and Tammi Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)  
6/17/2011 7:32:00 AM by Jerry Pierce & Tammi Ledbetter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

1%, Page says, would boost CP by $100M

June 17 2011 by Norm Miller, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — A pastor, a seminary student and Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, delivered a challenge for renewed commitment to unified ministry through the SBC’s Cooperative Program (CP).

The pastor and seminary student were part of the Executive Committee report to the SBC annual meeting in which Page urged Southern Baptist churches to magnify their impact nationally and internationally by even a 1 percent-of-budget increase in support for CP.

Kevin White, pastor of First Baptist Church in Longview, Wash., thanked Southern Baptists “for giving so sacrificially so that my family might know Jesus Christ. I am the product of your sacrifice and your giving to the Cooperative Program.”

White was 4 years old, living in a mining town of 80 people in northern Nevada, when a CP-funded missionary began visiting and repeatedly witnessing to White’s father.

The missionary “never gave up. ... And through his devotion, my family came to Jesus Christ,” White said. “I watched a radical change in my father,” who five years later was pastor of a church the missionary planted in the remote town. White said his father also planted several other churches, primarily among Native Americans, during the next 35 years.

White himself also became a church planter, as will his son, a recent seminary graduate, who will soon engage in church planting among an unreached people group overseas.

“Three generations so far because you gave. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” White said tearfully, his voice cracking.

Quincy Jones, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said: “Is our vision of the Cooperative Program the Lord’s vision? ... Could the Cooperative Program actually be about more than numbers and dollars (and) actually be about a special stewardship from God given to Southern Baptists?”

The questions — part of an initiative started at Southwestern by Jones — should “stimulate a greater awareness and appreciation for the unprecedented resources and impact Southern Baptists have through this incredible mechanism for ministry called the Cooperative Program,” he said.

The initiative’s goal is “to burn the historic vision of the CP upon the hearts and minds of students in such a way that we graduate with a real commitment to continue this extraordinary stewardship of the Gospel given to Southern Baptists by God,” the father of five added.

Jones said he and his wife Rhonda, who was standing next to him, came from an independent church background and so appreciate the value of cooperative missions. “We look around us, and we get it,” Jones said. “We have caught the vision, and we want to help promote that vision so the impact of the SBC will continue and be even greater for the sake of the gospel as we press ahead into the 21st century.

“So we thank you, Southern Baptists, for the investment in our lives and in the lives of countless others through your commitment to this incomparable stewardship of the gospel that we call the Cooperative Program,” Jones said.

Page echoed that sentiment on behalf of all the annual meeting messengers June 14.

“I know all of you could stand here, and in some way or another share the impact of the Cooperative Program upon your life,” Page said. “I certainly can as well.

“What we do together, we do to the glory of God,” Page said. “And He is using cooperative ministry, unified ministry, in a mighty way across this land. Let’s not forget that.”

Despite the level of unified ministry underway, Page said the SBC has “been headed in the wrong direction, in several ways. Our convention is fracturing into various groups, some theological, most methodological.

“I believe our unity affects our evangelism,” Page said. “And it’s time to come together in a principle of unified ministry.

“It is natural to have an individualistic mindset. And in the 21st century, that has reached epic proportions. Everyone thinks they can do best what they do by themselves. Some of our churches have adopted a fortress mentality. That is sad,” Page said. “We need to recommit to a principle of unified ministry. To accomplish this, and to do better at what we’re doing together, we’re asking you ... and we’re challenging you, would you please do more than you’ve done before?

“Our Cooperative Program ministries have decreased every year for many years. We challenge you; we encourage you to raise your Cooperative Program support,’” Page said. “Would you do that? One percent next year. We have churches that have already said, ‘We will be a part of this. We will join in raising our Cooperative Program support by 1 percent next year.’”

Page introduced a video showing that a 1 percent-of-budget increase in Cooperative Program giving from all SBC churches would add $100 million to the CP.

This would allow hundreds of churches to be planted across the United States, Page said. Internationally, 380 missionaries could be commissioned to begin reaching the 3,800 unengaged people groups worldwide. A 1 percent increase could boost seminary student enrollment by 16,000 students.

“I’m excited that almost all of our state executive directors have made a promise to move their states to giving more to reach the lost in the world as well as in their own states,” Page said.

“Hear it and hear it well,” he said. “We need a revival of total mission support, including a renewed commitment to unified ministry through the Cooperative Program.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va.)  
6/17/2011 4:51:00 AM by Norm Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Send North America shared with pastors

June 17 2011 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — The North American Mission Board (NAMB) rolled out its Send North America strategy to a packed house of pastors during a June 13 luncheon at the SBC Pastors’ Conference.

At least 1,000 pastors and their wives attended the luncheon, which featured NAMB President Kevin Ezell, LifeWay vice president Ed Stetzer and a surprise appearance by Rick Warren.

While Ezell had shared the Send North America strategy in a variety of gatherings around the country over the past four months, Monday’s luncheon was the first time he had unpacked the vision to a room full of pastors.

“With less than 4 percent of our (Southern Baptist) churches directly engaged in church planting, we’ve got to do better,” Ezell told the pastors. “We must do better. We are going to do better.”

Stetzer shared six reasons Southern Baptists need to start new churches in North America: people need Jesus; new churches reach more people; God is calling church planters; the nations are coming to North America; the future of the convention depends upon it; and planting churches is how the disciples responded to the Great Commission.

“Why do we need more churches?” Stetzer asked. “Because people need Jesus.... We are here because God has called us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. One of the most effective ways to do that is through the establishment of new congregations.”

Stetzer explained that his passion to reach more people through church planting is highly personal. His family’s spiritual legacy began when his sister became involved in a Southern Baptist church plant in New York.

“People might say that the North America Mission Board is getting too focused on church planting,” Stetzer said. “I say thank God.... We don’t need just the North American Mission Board focused on church planting; we need this denomination to get focused on church planting.”

Ezell explained that the Send North America strategy centers on the biblical principle that churches plant churches. Using a visual representation of the strategy, Ezell showed pastors that evangelism and leadership development undergird everything the North American Mission Board will be doing.

Photo by John Swain

Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church, made a surprise appearance at a NAMB luncheon for 1,000 pastors Monday at the Phoenix Convention Center, telling the pastors that a healthy church must reproduce and plant new churches.

“You’ll see the biggest part of what we’ll do is to mobilize and equip,” Ezell said. “We’re going to mobilize churches to plant churches — through associations, states and clusters of networks. All of it will be to mobilize churches to plant churches.”

As part of this new strategy, Ezell told pastors that over the next couple of years, NAMB will start by developing church-planting coalitions in 25 urban areas around North America.

These coalitions will be made up of local pastors, church planters, representatives of local state conventions and associations, along with partnering pastors and state convention leaders from elsewhere. The coalitions will develop local strategies for planting new churches in their area.

Then the board will develop coalitions in other locations around North America.

“It’s a new day,” Ezell said. “It really is. Pastor, we’re not going to make it harder for you. Associations and states, we’re not (going to make it harder on you either). We’re going to make it easier. We’re going to make it easier for you to engage in missions and to pray and partner. We can do this together.”

The meeting concluded with a surprise visit by Rick Warren, who started Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., in 1980 with just himself and his wife. Today, Saddleback is one of the largest and most influential churches in North America.

Warren told pastors that churches of all sizes could participate in church planting. He noted that Saddleback had planted churches at every stage of its development in keeping with his commitment to start at least one church every year.

“Don’t give me this thing of ‘we’re too small’ or ‘we don’t have enough money’ to start churches,” Warren said. “I don’t believe it. I simply don’t believe it. You can start a church anywhere, at any time, if you’re intentional.”

Warren ended the luncheon by telling pastors not to strive for just growing their churches — but to plant new ones. Reproduction, he said, is the mark of a healthy church.

“I don’t think God brought you to this convention by accident,” Warren told the pastors. “He wants to use your churches. He wants your church to have a significant impact.”

Several of the pastors in attendance expressed their excitement about the direction of the North American Mission Board as they left the luncheon.

“I’ve never been so excited about the potential of where our denomination could go with the visionary leadership God has given us at NAMB,” said former SBC President Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.

Wesley Noss, who pastors New Hope Baptist Church in Versailles, Ky., called the Send North America strategy “an answer to prayer.” Through a partnership his church has forged with a Boston church planter, Noss has seen the difficulties many church planters face in trying to reach their communities.

“I appreciate what Kevin said,” Noss said. “We have to do something different. I really believe in my heart and spirit this is what we need to do.”

Daryl Craft, pastor of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point, called the presentation “clean, clear and compelling.”

When asked whether he thought Send North America was something his church could be part of, Craft responded, “It’s something our church must be a part of.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about Send North America, visit www.namb.net.)  
6/17/2011 4:45:00 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelicals rising as U.S. falters, Land says

June 17 2011 by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — While the number of evangelicals in the United States is rising, the moral health of the nation continues to falter, Richard Land told messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting June 14.

In his report to the convention, Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the ERLC continues to fight for the sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death and “everywhere in between.”

Land said he was encouraged by recent polls that show a shift in opinions on the life issue, noting that more than 50 percent of Americans described themselves as pro-life in a May 2009 Gallup survey.

While some of the movement to a life-affirming position flows from “brilliant arguments on the part of Christian spokesmen,” the greater cause appears to be a growing “fertility gap” between pro-life and pro-choice couples, Land said.

“Since Roe v. Wade there is now a 41 percent fertility gap between those that are pro-life and those that are pro-choice,” he continued. Over 50 million babies have been aborted in the 38 years since the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case.

Since the court decision in 1973 that effectively legalized abortion on demand, pro-life couples have been having their babies and raising them to appreciate the preciousness of human life, Land said, adding that “pro-choice couples have not had their babies and they haven’t raised them to be anything.”

“The younger you are in America the more pro-life you are,” Land said. “Every year, another year’s worth of pro-life voters are added to the rolls and are voting for pro-life candidates.”

Saying it is a welcome sign for the future, Land noted that last year’s election resulted in more than a dozen new U.S. congressmen who are Southern Baptist.

Photo by Kent Harville

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, gives a report and presentation June 14 on the first day of the two-day Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

Land recalled a visit he made in early 2010 to Houston to protest the opening of one of the world’s largest abortion clinics, a 78,000-square-foot facility he said includes an entire floor dedicated to providing late-term abortions. He said he was amazed that the great majority of those alongside him picketing the center were under the age of 30, calling the abundance of young protesters a “pro-choice nightmare.”

“I am firmly convicted that if I live out a natural life span, I will live to see the infamous Roe v. Wade decision end up on the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” Land said.

Yet Land warned that the culture of death is “deeply imbedded” in the health care reform measures signed into law by President Obama last year.

“We are called now not just to defend the unborn, but to defend those who are terminally ill, those who are sick and those who are aged,” Land said. “Mark my words: They are the new targets of Obamacare.”

Land expressed concern at the transfer of money from Medicare to fund the president’s health care plan “just when Baby Boomers are hitting retirement.”

“People who are in Medicare will have to wait longer for a doctor. Once they see a doctor, they will have to wait longer before they get treatment,” Land said. “That is often a death sentence for those that are in that age category.

“Do not misunderstand me,” Land added. “We desperately need real health care reform in America.” He cited a white paper developed by the ERLC’s Research Institute, available on the entity’s website that outlines what he called “real reform.”

“I can tell you with certainty that whatever the issue is, whatever the problem is, Obamacare is not the answer,” Land said.

If the president’s health care plan is not rescinded, most Americans will live shorter lives, Land warned, citing mortality statistics in nations with similar health care plans.

‘Generational theft’
The ERLC is standing against the “generational theft” that is taking place in Washington, D.C., Land said.

“Our government is borrowing 41 cents of every dollar it spends. It is borrowing it from our children and our grandchildren and we are putting upon them an insurmountable debt that will foreclose their futures,” Land said. “It is immoral; it is wrong; and it must stop.”

The ERLC executive expressed gratitude for Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program, noting its support of the commission and pivotal role in his family’s life.

“As an entity head, as a person who considers it the honor and privilege of a lifetime to have been asked to serve Southern Baptists, I am the product of the Cooperative Program,” Land said, noting he and his father both were led to the Lord in a church plant funded by the Cooperative Program.

“I was nurtured in the faith in a Southern Baptist church funded by the Cooperative Program,” Land continued.

Yet Land said America is radically different than it was in the 1950s, when he came to faith in Christ.

“At the end of the 1960s, our country took a wrong turn. We began to emphasize rights and privileges at the expense of obligations and responsibilities,” Land said, noting that the nation adopted the mantra of his generation: “Pursue your own course. You are your own god.”

The litany of “expressive individualism” has led the culture down “dangerous and corrosive” roads, Land said.

Marriage and parenthood
Social and economic issues cannot be separated as some are urging, Land said.

As an example, Land said, “Marriage is good for children. Marriage is good for parents and marriage is good for society.”

Single parenthood has a “grim impact” on the majority of children in these families, while noting there are some single parents who are performing “heroically” and producing “well-adjusted, productive children,” Land said. “Yet the single greatest cause of poverty in America is fathers who don’t marry the mothers of their children or who don’t stay married.”

A majority of children today are growing up in single-parent homes, Land lamented, noting these children are often more likely to engage in risky behaviors, have academic and emotional issues and find themselves single parents.

“How did we ever delude ourselves into thinking that this kind of generational child abuse, perpetuated by selfish adults on children, was all right?” Land asked. The U.S. government is spending millions of dollars a year “to make up for the damage done by fathers who have not lived up to their obligations and their responsibilities,” Land said.

“We need the gospel, and the gospel needs to be made clear that Jesus is a changeless Savior for an ever-changing world,” Land said. “We need a revival. We need churches to get right with God.”

Christians need to get “serious” about the gospel, Land said, noting that in several social indices, evangelicals perform no better than the society at large.

Noting that mainline Protestants are now on the “sideline,” Land said the U.S. has seen a resurgence of evangelicals, yet the nation is “worse off morally” today, except in areas of racism and the “prejudices of sexism.” To a great degree, the world has influenced the church more than the church has influenced the world, he said.

Only when Christ-followers diligently “apply the truths of the gospel to the evils of society” will the nation see the reformation it so desperately needs, Land said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hastings is a vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
6/17/2011 4:38:00 AM by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone recognized by financial industry

June 17 2011 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

PHOENIX — GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins delivered the 93rd annual report of the financial services organization to messengers of the 2011 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting June 14-15 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Despite the current economy, which continues to struggle since the 2008-09 economic downturn, GuideStone has had one of its greatest investment years ever, receiving favorable recognition from industry firms like Lipper and fi360, Hawkins said.

For example, fi360 recently ranked GuideStone Funds eighth out of 224 fund families. The fi360 Fiduciary Score evaluates investments on nine different criteria to determine if the investment meets a minimum fiduciary standard of care. Fund families also must contain at least five distinct funds with a three-year history to be considered in the report.

Additionally, Hawkins reported on GuideStone’s ongoing activities to ensure compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Hawkins emphasized that GuideStone already meets many of the health care act’s requirements, including no lifetime or annual caps on insurance coverage. GuideStone has never canceled anyone’s insurance coverage, except for non-payment of premiums, Hawkins said.

Photo by Bill Bangham

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, gives a report during the morning session June 15 of the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Turning to GuideStone’s new property and casualty insurance, Hawkins noted that the organization is licensed to provide coverage in 49 states and expects to be licensed in all 50 states in the near future. “So many churches trust GuideStone for retirement and insurance coverage, making the property and casualty coverage a natural fit for many churches,” Hawkins said.

In addition to GuideStone’s financial products and services, Hawkins noted the continued success of Mission:Dignity, a ministry providing ongoing financial support for retired Southern Baptist ministers and their widows who are in need.

Through Mission:Dignity, GuideStone Financial Resources assists approximately 2,000 retired Southern Baptist ministers and widows who have critical financial needs. Most of these served small congregations in decades past with little, if any, contributions toward a retirement plan.

Sixty percent of Mission:Dignity recipients are widows. One out of every four recipients is a pastor’s widow age 85 or older. Qualified recipients are eligible for grants of $200 to $530 each month.

The Mission:Dignity program is funded by gifts from individuals, Sunday School classes and churches across the Southern Baptist Convention. Gifts of any size are welcome and 100 percent of contributions are paid out in grants, with nothing taken out for administrative expenses. Guidestone, which receives no Cooperative Program gifts, has raised $60 million over the last decade for this initiative.

Hawkins invited messengers to encourage their churches to join GuideStone in celebrating Mission:Dignity Sunday, scheduled for June 26.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hayhurst is editorial services manager for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For a full report on GuideStone’s investment performance, visit www.GuideStone.org and click on the “News Room” link at the bottom of the page. Through Mission:Dignity Sunday — June 26 on the SBC calendar — churches can learn more about this ministry. To order free bulletin inserts and a DVD for use in worship services, Sunday School departments or mission-oriented organizations, visit www.MissionDignitySBC.org/ORDER or call 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).)  
6/17/2011 4:35:00 AM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Seminaries report to Phoenix messengers

June 17 2011 by Baptist Press

PHOENIX — Messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention were reminded of the importance of theological education through reports from the convention’s six seminaries during the June 14-15 gathering in Phoenix:

GOLDEN GATE — A school like Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary would not exist in America’s West apart from the support of Southern Baptists, Jeff Iorg, the seminary’s president said June 14 during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Golden Gate Seminary is your seminary, with responsibility for training leaders in the western United States. We currently have more than 2,100 students, meeting on five campuses, in cyberspace and at dozens of learning centers,” Iorg said. “Because there are few Christians and even fewer Baptists in the West, a seminary of our size and strength would probably not be possible without your support. We are profoundly grateful for your Cooperative Program gifts, your prayers, and for sending us students.”

Iorg said his report was aimed at helping the messengers better understand the strategy and scope of the seminary’s work. “Golden Gate uses some unique approaches to meet the special challenges and opportunities in the West,” Iorg said. “Our key strategy: Golden Gate is a seminary-system, not a seminary campus. We operate fully-accredited campuses — not extension centers — in five of the largest cities in the West.” Extension centers offer a few classes, while regional campuses deliver entire degree programs — culminating in five graduation ceremonies every spring.

Much of the seminary’s strategy is driven by geography, Iorg said, noting the West is a vast territory that mandates a multi-campus systemic approach to cover the region. “Our primary administrative campus is near San Francisco,” he said. “We also have campuses near Los Angeles, Portland, Denver and, yes, right here in Phoenix.”

Iorg explained how Golden Gate’s five campuses encircle the West, somewhat like the other five SBC seminaries encircle the South. The five campuses cover 3,569 miles. “If you made a similar trip to visit the other five SBC seminaries,” he said, “You would only log 3,056 miles. Our five campuses are more than 500 hundred miles farther apart than the other five SBC seminaries are from each other. The West truly is a big place!”

Iorg also pointed out that the West’s diversity is another reason for operating five campuses. “While people have the same basic needs everywhere, they express those needs quite differently in different locales,” he said. “A five-campus system makes cultural adaptation more possible in a wide variety of ministry settings.”

The president also addressed the question of quality and efficiency, when comparing a standard campus approach to a system approach.

“We have one academic dean, one faculty, one set of degree objectives, one set of course templates and one academic policy guidebook,” he said. “We are one seminary at many locations.”

A significant way to assure quality among the campuses is by sharing faculty, Iorg said, describing how professors teach at both their home campus and a secondary campus.

“Many of our core faculty — myself included — also teach in our online learning program,” he said. “This means students have the opportunity to take classes from almost the entire faculty as professors rotate to various campuses or teach in cyberspace. During our recent 10-year accreditation review, one of the assets pointed out about Golden Gate is the academic strength and educational quality of our multi-campus system.”

The president described another unique aspect of the system approach: the variety of delivery methods: block scheduling where classes only meet once a week, intensive classes that meet for one week or for a series of weekends, hybrid-classes that combine a few days of face-to-face instruction with online delivery, and fully online courses through the “eCampus” program.

“Another distinctive of our strategy is our close partnerships with state conventions in the West,” Iorg noted. “Most of our seminary’s strategy has been developed in response to requests from state convention leaders who depend on us to train leaders for their churches and ministries.”

“Thank you, western state leaders, for being our partners,” Iorg said. “Thank you, Southern Baptists for helping make our work possible. We realize we are not ‘your father’s seminary.’ We have been on the cutting edge — geographically and methodologically — for a long time. We have had a multi-campus system since 1972. We taught our first online class in 1998. We have often been swimming upstream against funding challenges and detractors who dismiss our strategy, but we have persevered because we believe it was and is the right approach for our half of the country.”

Southern Baptists adopted Golden Gate Seminary in 1950, Iorg reminded his listeners.

“Thank you for making us part of the family. We are committed to our denominational mission of accelerating the fulfillment of the Great Commission,” Iorg said. “We are doing our part by shaping leaders who expand God’s Kingdom around the world. Southern Baptists, you can trust our product — we are biblical. You can join our focus — we are missional. You can celebrate our significance — we are global.”

R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, focused on the impact receiving an education can have upon a singular person and thus the world, when he delivered his annual report to the messengers of the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention.

Roberts described a young man from a wealthy family who attended a university and was strongly influenced by a brilliant professor. The student’s life was transformed and he became deeply involved in religious activities, including scripture study and daily prayer. Through his educational experience, this rich young student found a purpose in life. The institution was the King Abdul-Aziz University in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. The professor was Palestinian-born Islamic scholar Sheik Abdullah Azzam and the student was Osama bin Laden.

“What a difference an education can make,” Roberts said. “However, when it’s a Bible-based education based on the truth and reality of the word of the Lord, the fruit that the Bible teaches will be evident. When it’s based on anything else, whether it’s radical Islam or liberalism or an alternative worldview, the fruit — as in the case of Osama bin Laden — is also, sooner or later, clearly evident.”

When people and churches send their students to study at Midwestern Seminary or any of the other Southern Baptist seminaries, they will get the grounding they need to change the world for the cause of Christ, Roberts said.

“Students who come to us will not learn about a god who hates, but they will learn about a God who loves — a God who loved the world so much ‘that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever would believe in Him shall not perish but will have everlasting life,’” Roberts said. “They will not learn about a god who demands us to sacrifice our lives or the lives of our children or to kill in his name, but they will learn about a God who sacrificed for us — ‘for He Himself is the propitiation for our sins and not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world.’”

The president, now in his 11th year at the helm of Midwestern, continued his report by saying the seminary is “alive and well in Kansas City, Mo., in the heartland of America.” The seminary is experiencing record enrollment this semester, with 1,103 students taking 6,877 credit hours, the president noted.

Roberts provided an update on the progress of Midwestern Baptist College, the 100-percent online degree program, which began in July 2010. The master of arts in theological studies degree offers 15 courses online that are completely transferrable into the master of divinity degree at Midwestern, he said.

“We are happy to tell you that the master of arts in theological studies online program is now participated in by students from more than 30 states and eight countries, to help and equip and provide theological education anywhere in the world,” Roberts said. “We’re also glad to tell you we have a fully actualized missions program through not only our regular missions curriculum at the seminary level, but also through a program called FUSION.”

The FUSION track provides college students a time of training in evangelism and disaster relief and a semester of credit hours for theological studies. In the FUSION trainees’ second semester, they deploy overseas to places such as Angola, Thailand, India and Peru to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. While overseas, Roberts added, the students serve with International Mission Board (IMB) workers in various ministry areas.

“In strategic partnership with the IMB, we provided this year the opportunity for 42 students to serve and evangelize in eight countries — some of them closed to traditional missionary activity — for the cause of the gospel,” Roberts reported. “Sharing the Gospel, telling the truth, deepening their devotion on mission for Jesus Christ — “Veritas, Pietas, Missio” — lives changed forever and lives forever changed for the cause of the gospel.”

The president’s report continued with a brief update on the progress of the Midwestern chapel complex project. The construction of the 40,000-square-foot building is progressing well and is about 80 percent complete, Roberts said. Sixty volunteers from Southern Baptist churches and organizations are laboring to accomplish the task at the present time. Additionally, the endeavor was originally quoted to cost around $12 million, but spending to date is just over $6 million. About $3 million in savings has come through the time and efforts of Southern Baptist volunteers, Roberts said.

The presentation concluded with a video that demonstrated Midwestern’s commitment to its core value of “mission” — taking the great truths of the Bible and putting them into practice.

“We’re thrilled to be serving you as your Southern Baptist institution in the Midwest for the cause of Christ, for the glory of God and for the progress of the gospel,” Roberts said.

NEW ORLEANS — Theological training in the 21st century requires a strong commitment to the unchanging gospel paired with flexible methodology, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) President Chuck Kelley said June 14.

The days of a “one size fits all” approach to ministry training are gone, and the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina helped the seminary find innovative ways of training students, Kelley said. Now the seminary is working hard to develop even more access points for God-called men and women to receive training.

In the aftermath of Katrina, the faculty completely reinvented the curriculum and found new ways to teach, Kelley said. Now the school is using those lessons to reshape its approach to ministry training.

“While we will continue doing things we’ve always done, we have now determined we are going to fit what we do into the circumstances and calling of our students and the ways that they are best able to learn,” Kelley said.

“Traditional classes are still there. You want to study apologetics? You want to come to the campus to one of the largest collections of ancient Greek manuscripts in the United States and study the Greek text in a serious, scholarly manner? You want to study expository preaching? You want to come and prepare for women’s ministry, Christian education, discipleship? Come on,” Kelley said. “We have all the traditional classes that we have always had.”

The seminary’s extension center system, which offers training sites throughout the Southeast, also is here to stay, Kelley said. But the school is not limited to main campus and extension center training. NOBTS offers online training that allows anyone in the world with an Internet-equipped computer to access theological training.

The seminary has developed hybrid courses which combine the best aspects of traditional classroom training and Internet study, Kelley explained. Hybrid courses give students face-to-face interaction with faculty and fellow students, but with a limited number of course meetings. The rest of the course is completed online. Other students are enrolled in hands-on training programs in which they are mentored by a pastor or ministry leader. Kelley calls these multiple access points the “ministry training cafeteria.”

“This is what we are doing now, but who knows what the future may be,” Kelley said. “God has opened up possibilities for us to equip students for ministry that one could never have dreamed of in the past — and the best is yet to be.”

This year, New Orleans launched its fourth prison-based ministry training program, Kelley said. The latest program is located in Louisiana’s only women’s prison. The first class includes 20 women who are trying to reach their prison for Christ.

“Jesus is going to be able to use them to transform the inside of that prison,” Kelley said. “We’re just going to unleash the power of the gospel by training effective leaders for ministry.

“That is the story of theological education today. It is the story of being flexible in your methodology,” Kelley said. “It is the story of grasping hard to the biblical content of the inspired, inerrant Word of God and all the ministry skills that someone needs in the world of this day.”

Closing his report, Kelley urged the messengers to attend the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. He invited two New Orleans pastors, David Crosby of First Baptist Church and Fred Luter of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, to share a word on behalf of the city’s Baptists.

“God is at work in the city of New Orleans. It’s a great time to be there,” Crosby said. “We want you to come and be a part of the convention next year.”

“(New Orleans) is a great mission field,” Luter said, encouraging the messengers to participate in the Crossover witnessing event next year. “There are a lot of lost folk down there who need to know about Jesus Christ.”

Luter said he hopes many who came to New Orleans to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery will come and see how God is restoring the city. “You have shown the people of New Orleans and the media what churches in our convention can do through your prayers, your support and coming down and helping us rebuild,” Luter said.

Kelley echoed Luter’s comments, urging the messengers to come experience the miracle God is performing in New Orleans.

“There is a greater receptivity to the gospel than we have ever had in my 35 years in New Orleans,” Kelley said. “People are going to come to Christ.”

The Southern Baptist Convention heard from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin about increased enrollment numbers, faithful faculty and intentional partnerships for theological education during the seminary’s annual report June 15.

With a record enrollment during the preceding school year, and another expected record enrollment in the coming months, Akin said he is greatly encouraged by God’s faithfulness in bringing students to study at Southeastern.

“In 1992, in the height of the Conservative Resurgence, the school was at 585,” Akin said. “There were people that were predicting the school would not survive, but by God’s amazing grace, today more than 2,700 students are at Southeastern.”

People are drawn to the seminary because of the caliber of heart for the Great Commission and of the faculty, Akin said. He pointed out that, as in past years, the number of students coming to study for service with the International Mission Board has continued to increase.

“Southeastern Seminary aspires to be a Great Commission seminary, and we are now training more missionaries and church planters than at any other time in our history,” Akin said.

The heart for sharing the gospel among the unreached and unengaged of the world comes directly from the faculty, Akin said, many of whom have served overseas as career missionaries and have come to Southeastern to infuse the Great Commission into a variety of disciplines.

“God has brought back six former career International Mission Board personnel who teach — not in the area of missions — but in the areas of Old Testament, Hebrew, New Testament, Greek, hermeneutics and also theology,” Akin said. “What’s exciting is those men also bring to their discipline the question of, ‘How do you teach Hebrew so you’ll further the Great Commission? How do you teach theology, or Greek so you’ll further the Great Commission? How do you teach hermeneutics so that you further the Great Commission?

“These are men who not only talk about the Great Commission, but they do the Great Commission,” Akin said. He told the story of David Alan Black, a professor of Greek at Southeastern, who along with his wife Becky travels each year to Ethiopia at Christmastime, in lieu of gifts, to minister among the poor and share the gospel.

“I could spend hours telling you about these who go on the international mission field,” Akin said. “Many of them serve on pastoral staffs. They serve as pastors, elders and deacons. Southeastern does have a remarkable group of men and women as our faculty.” Akin also gave an update on Southeastern’s intentional initiative to wed the seminary to the local church for theological education.

“We call it our Great Commission Equipping Network,” Akin said. “Our goal is that by 2015 we will have more than 250 churches that we’re in partnership with in delivering theological education. We recognize that there are some things the seminary does very well. There are other things that are done best in the laboratory of the local church. We take great delight in partnering in providing theological education.”

Questioned from the floor about whether Southeastern Seminary is pushing a “Calvinist” agenda, Akin said, “Southeastern has one agenda: It is called the Great Commission. We are committed to the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe His last words are meant to be lasting words, so any agenda other than that would be the wrong agenda.”

Akin said, “As long as I’m there, we’re going to be about joining hands with Southern Baptists and taking the gospel to the ends of the earth to fulfill the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus Christ — the Great Commission.”

SOUTHERN — During his report to the convention, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, pointed to the increasing secularization of American culture as motivation for continued fervor in theological education.

Mohler emphasized the apparent disconnect between what many people claim to believe and how they apply that belief.

“Even though 95 percent of Americans say that they believe in God, the secularizing forces that have hollowed out the religious life of Western Europe are fully in force in American culture right now,” Mohler said.

This loss of biblical fidelity is evident across the academy, where history professors discount the importance of history, English professors deconstruct classical literature and science professors seek to inculcate students with scientism. Southern Seminary finds herself squarely in this context, Mohler said.

“We understand that the hope for the next generation of Southern Baptists is not merely in programming and activities,” Mohler said. “It is instead in pastors and church leaders who are able to equip the saints for transformation through what the Holy Spirit calls ‘renewing of the mind.’”

In a culture where beliefs and standards are constantly changing, Christians cannot assume the gospel is understood; rather, the gospel message must be “proclaimed, modeled and guarded” as a matter of stewardship from one generation to the next, Mohler said. This stewardship represents exactly why Southern Seminary assembled — and continues to assemble — a world-class faculty that is orthodox, evangelical and committedly Baptist.

Southern Seminary continues to fight the good fight for the gospel as she trains others to do the same, Mohler said.

SOUTHWESTERNSouthwestern Baptist Theological Seminary honored two distinguished alumni whose ministries have impacted Texas during the annual alumni luncheon at the SBC annual meeting, June 15. Alumni and friends of the seminary also heard a president’s report from Paige Patterson and elected alumni association officers.

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and David Allen, dean of Southwestern’s school of theology, were honored with 2011 distinguished alumni awards.

Jeffress has served as pastor of FBC Dallas since 2007, but he also has a lifelong connection with the historic Southern Baptist church. He grew up attending the church and put his faith in Christ at age 7 under the preaching of W.A. Criswell. Later, he served as the church’s youth minister.

Jeffress earned his doctor of ministry degree from Southwestern in 1998 and has served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Eastland, Texas, and First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls. He makes regular appearances on national radio and television programs and has authored 16 books.

“I think all of us are glad that we lived to see the renaissance of Southwestern Seminary under the strong leadership of Dr. Patterson,” Jeffress said upon receiving his award. He acknowledged the support and contributions of his family to his ministry, saying, “Any good thing that has happened to me or through me is simply because of the grace of the God we all serve.”

Allen joined Southwestern’s faculty as dean of the school of theology and professor of preaching in 2004. He previously served as pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, and as the W.A. Criswell Chair of Expository Preaching, professor of preaching and director of the Jerry Vines institute of Biblical Preaching at the Criswell College.

Allen earned his master of divinity degree from Southwestern in 1981. He also served on the seminary’s board of trustees from 1992-2004. He has authored and edited numerous books, including the volume on Hebrews in The New American Commentary series, “The Lukan Authorship of Hebrews,” “Text-Driven Preaching” and “The Return of Christ.”

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of Southwestern,” Allen said. “I love this place. It is a joy to serve here.” After thanking his family for their impact on his life and ministry, Allen echoed Patterson’s comments in his SBC seminary report to the SBC about an atmosphere of revival on Southwestern’s campus.

“There is something amazing, a revival that is happening on this campus,” Allen said. “I cannot explain it other than that God is doing it. Our students are so fired up about evangelism and soul-winning. It is a remarkable thing to see.”

Patterson, in a report of what is happening on “seminary hill,” announced the date of Dec. 1 as the dedication ceremony of the new chapel and invited everyone to attend. In addition to a ribbon cutting ceremony, Patterson said the dedication will include a worship service with the Word of God being sung and preached.

“We believe there will be people there that day who need to make a decision for Christ, and we will see people saved,” Patterson said. “There’s no better way to inaugurate a building than to see people come to Christ.”

Patterson also announced the six-month exhibition of the seminary’s Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient biblical artifacts on campus beginning in July 2012. The seminary anticipates as many as 500,000 visitors to the exhibition, which will not only explain the value of the scrolls to biblical studies but will also present the Gospel.

In addition to sharing about Southwestern’s new bachelor’s program in biblical studies, new student housing and additions to the homemaking program, Patterson spoke about the goal of the seminary to train special forces for Gospel advance around the world.

“(Students) not only come out knowing Hebrew, Greek, the exposition of God’s Word and theology, but they come out knowing exactly how you translate that into reaching the world for Jesus Christ,” Patterson said.

In election of national alumni officers, Tommy French, pastor emeritus of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La., was elected president and Mark Hartman, pastor of Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Houston, was elected vice president.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Based on reports by Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; T. Patrick Hudson of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Gary D. Myers of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Garrett E. Wishall of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Keith Collier of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. )
6/17/2011 4:25:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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