June 2014

LifeWay addresses Glorieta sale decision

June 13 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

During his report at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Baltimore, LifeWay Christian Resources president and CEO Thom S. Rainer introduced an initiative to help churches start 100,000 new small groups, honored two longtime Southern Baptist leaders, and explained LifeWay’s decision to sell the Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico.

“LifeWay Christian Resources is committed to make more of a difference today than we did yesterday, and to be more effective tomorrow than we are now,” Rainer told messengers.

In response to a messenger’s question, Rainer relayed a report he’d received from Glorieta 2.0, the Christian camping ministry that bought the conference center from LifeWay last year. Attendance at the center is up this year, he said, and “literally tens of thousands will be reached for the gospel.”


Photo by Van Payne
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, gives a report June 11 during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting saying “LifeWay is thriving and using all its proceeds to advance Great Commission ministries.”

John Yarbrough, a messenger from First Baptist Church of Carrollton, Texas, owns a cabin on land leased from the conference center. He turned down an extension of that lease and an offer from Glorieta 2.0 to buy the cabin.

He asked Rainer to provide what Yarbrough called “fair market value” for the structure. Rainer thanked Yarbrough for his question, and explained the decision to sell the center, which had lost money for years.

LifeWay offered to sell the conference center, which sits on 2,400 acres, to every national Southern Baptist entity and state Baptist convention.

When those offers were turned down, LifeWay sold the property to a Christian ministry that provides outdoor adventure experiences. At the time, the property was worth millions to developers, Rainer said, but LifeWay didn’t want to sell to a for-profit-developer.

“I would rather see the gospel continue than to see a casino go on this sacred ground,” he said.

Most of the leaseholders had a year-to-year lease at Glorieta, Rainer explained. The new owners offered to extend the leases or purchase buildings built there for up to $100,000. Those are fair offers for structures on leased land, he said, especially since the new owners had no obligation to make those offers, which all but a handful of leaseholders accepted.

“I’m always saddened when there are issues between brothers and sisters in Christ,” Rainer said. “But quite frankly, to the best of our ability ... we’ve handled it in a Christ-like way, and we are grateful Glorieta is continuing to see people won to Christ.”

Small Groups Matter

LifeWay’s presentation to messengers introduced a new initiative called Groups Matter which challenges churches across the country to start 100,000 new small group Bible studies this year.

LifeWay vice-presidents Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger pointed to research that found members of small groups read their Bible more, pray more, go to church more, and say they feel closer to God.

The website GroupsMatter.com features tools to develop church leaders, start new groups, and choose Bible study materials. So far, churches have pledged online to start nearly 25,000 new groups this year toward the goal of 100,000.

Geiger also explained the expansion of its popular Explore the Bible curriculum. Explore the Bible, which walks believers through books of the Bible, will now be available for children’s and student ministries, along with adult groups.

“The heartbeat behind Explore the Bible is that we want people to let the Word dwell in them richly,” Geiger said.

LifeWay also honored two long-time Southern Baptist leaders. Former SBC president Jerry Vines, who pastored First Baptist Church in Jacksonville for 24 years, was given a commemorative copy of his new autobiography, “Vines: My Life and Ministry.”

“This pastor, statesman and father tells the story of his life in ministry, providing a rare perspective on some of our denomination’s most pivotal moments through the eyes of one of its most influential leaders,” Rainer said.

Rainer also presented former Union University president David Dockery, who served that school 18 years, with the Holman Christian Standard Bible Award. The award honors those whose life and ministry honor the Word of God in a significant way, he said. Dockery, who recently became president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, is one of those people, Rainer added.

“His speaking and proclamation of the Word are uncompromising, and his academic and statesman leadership is known across the country and around the world,” he said.

Rainer promised messengers LifeWay will continue to find new ways to partner with churches and develop new resources to help Christians grow in their faith.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Lifeway’s Facts & Trends magazine.)

6/13/2014 10:54:36 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Celebration, challenge mark WMU report

June 13 2014 by Julie Walters, Baptist Press

Celebrating historic milestones and the highest offering ever for international missions was the focus of national Woman’s Missionary Union’s (WMU) report to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Wanda Lee, WMU’s executive director/treasurer, and Debby Akerman, national president, said WMU wrapped up a yearlong celebration of their 125th anniversary at this year’s missions celebration, June 8–9, complete with historic tours in the area.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
Wanda Lee, executive director and treasurer of the Woman’s Missionary Union, gives a report during the closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 11 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Debby Akerman, president of the WMU, looks on.

Days prior to the gathering, 100 people toured sites in Virginia significant to Lottie Moon and her legacy as a pioneer missionary to China, and on June 9 some 600 people toured sites around Baltimore where Annie Armstrong lived and worked as the first leader for WMU, which was founded in 1888.

On June 8, WMU in conjunction with the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board sponsored the first joint commissioning service at a national event in 25 years, encompassing more than 100 new missionaries.

“It is a privilege to work with the two mission boards to inspire and challenge churches to share the gospel with a waiting world,” Lee said. “Will you join us? The world is truly in desperate need of the gospel and we have it in our hands.”

WMU also celebrated and thanked Southern Baptists for the largest amount ever given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, more than $154 million in 2013.

“When the women organized as WMU in 1888 and accepted the challenge of raising funds for a church in Cuba and for women to help Lottie Moon in China,” Akerman said, “I know they never dreamed an offering of this size would be the result many years later. And yet, because they were faithful in their day, we have the opportunity to continue their legacy today in our giving.”

Lee reported that during the WMU missions celebration on Monday, Akerman of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was re-elected to a fifth and final term as president of national WMU, and Linda Cooper of Bowling Green, Ky., was elected as recording secretary. Cooper follows Rosalie Hunt of Guntersville, Ala., a retired international missionary who served as recording secretary the past five years.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Walters is the corporate communications team leader for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union), based in Birmingham, Ala.)

6/13/2014 10:36:17 AM by Julie Walters, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

“Do you know His name?” Fred Luter asks

June 12 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The gospel found only in the name of Jesus will change an America that has blown it with God and is quickly becoming more pagan than Christian, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Fred Luter told messengers on the eve of his last day in office.

Luter drew enthusiastic, soulful responses from worshipers at an evening revival service June 10 during the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore as he preached from Psalm 80:18–19, the meeting’s official theme scripture calling for “Restoration and Revival through Prayer.”

“As your president for the past two years, my heart’s desire has been that God would make us one and that God would send revival and renewal through the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Luter said.


Photo by Matt Miller
If Southern Baptists exhibit repentance and remorse, “there will be revival,” said Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, during a sermon June 10 at the Baltimore Convention Center on the first day of the SBC’s two–day annual meeting. “We are losing a generation,” he said. “Southern Baptist Convention, we can no longer be at ease in Zion while people all around us are dying and going to hell. Therefore, we must repent. Therefore, we must have remorse and do what Israel did in Psalm 80.”

“Brothers and sisters, the only way that will happen in this nation, the only way that will happen in this convention, the only way that will happen in our churches is if the people of God cry out to God in prayer, if there is genuine repentance, if there is genuine remorse, and if we call on the name which is above every name.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we need to call on that name,” Luter said, “that name which is above the name of the Republicans, that name which is above the name of the Democrats, that name which is above the name of Congress, that name which is above every name of the U.S. Senate, that name which is above every name of those riding a donkey or those riding an elephant.”

Luter used a traditional Sub–Saharan African call–and–response communication style, saying to the audience, “Southern Baptists tell me, who can stand before us when we call on that great name? What’s His name, church?”

“Jesus” they responded.

“What’s His name, church?”

“Jesus” came the enthusiastic reply.

“I wonder if you know His name,” Luter said, reciting a round of many of the names that refer to Jesus.

“Jehovah Jirah. Jehovah Nissi. Jehovah Shalom. Jehovah Tsidkenu.

“I wonder Southern Baptists if you know His name,” Luter said, expanding his list.

“The Alpha and the Advocate. The Almighty and the Amen. The Author and Finisher of our Faith. The Captain of our Salvation. The Chief Shepherd. The Door. The Cornerstone. The Commander. The Creator. The Faithful Witness. The Good Shepherd. The Great High Priest.

“The Head of the Church. The Holy Child. The I Am that I Am. The Emmanuel. Jehovah. King of the Ages. The Lawgiver. The Lamb of God.”

Hundreds of Southern Baptists stood applauding, clapping and shouting Amen and other affirmations.

Jesus is “the Light of the World,” Luter continued, “the Lion of Judah. The Lord of all. The Son of God and the Son of man. The Resurrection and the Life. The True Life.”

“The Lord of Glory. The Mighty God. The Messiah. The Lord of Righteousness. The Rock. The Bright and Morning Star. The Prince of Peace.”

America has erred as the biblical Israelites and will only enjoy a harvest of revival by repenting with remorse and submitting to God’s leadership as He revives the nation, Luter said.

“It is a difficult time in the life of America. It’s a painful time in the life of America,” Luter said, “because, just like Israel in Psalm 80, America has messed up with God.... America has blown it with God.... America has sinned against God.”

America has lowered its standards, Luter said, with sinful morals evident in sitcoms, movies, videos and video games, leading to crime, adultery, fornication, child molestation, racism, pornography and the abuse of drugs, alcohol and sex.

“America is rapidly becoming and turning into a pagan nation,” Luter said.

The cure is in the name of Jesus, Luter said, a name that America must call on in prayer.

In Jesus, we have “that name that can change the heart of a racist, that name that can change the mind of a murderer, that name that can change the desire of a child molester,” Luter said.

Jesus is a name “that can change the crowd of a gang member ... the habit of a prostitute ... the desire of a drug addict ... the taste buds of an alcoholic ... the heart of a hypocrite ... the lifestyle of a homosexual ... the actions of an adulterer … the thoughts of a thief and the desire of a lost sinner.

“Somebody know what I’m talking about, shout Hallelujah.”

“Hallelujah,” came the unmistakable response.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

6/12/2014 11:14:13 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

9 resolutions garner SBC messengers’ adoption

June 12 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted a resolution on transgender identity for the first time while returning to such issues as civil rights, gambling and world hunger for further statements.

All nine resolutions offered Tuesday (June 10) at the SBC’s 2014 meeting gained approval by unanimous or overwhelming votes. The messengers’ actions in about 30 minutes meant a second report scheduled for Wednesday morning (June 11) was not needed.

The resolution on transgender identity came in response to recent gains in state legislatures, the federal executive branch, public schools and the wider culture by advocates for recognizing a distinction between gender and biology.

In the resolution, messengers affirmed that “gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” It expressed love for transgender people and invited them to trust in Jesus.

Texas pastor David Dykes, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, said at a news conference after the vote, “To this point we had not spoken on this issue, so there was a need for clarity” on the SBC’s position.


Photo by Matt Miller
David Dykes, chairman of the Committee on Resolutions and pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, gives a first report during the June 10 evening session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center.

At the same news conference, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), described it as “a very good, wise resolution and a very hopeful sign of the Southern Baptist Convention saying to the outside world, ‘We’re standing with biblical conviction, and we also are making very clear that the gospel message goes to everybody.’”


In addressing some issues messengers had spoken to at various times in the past, the 2014 convention:
  • commemorated the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act and reaffirmed the SBC’s 1965 call for “peaceful compliance with laws assuring equal rights for all.”
  • Reaffirmed its “long-standing opposition to government sponsorship of gambling.”
  • Urged Southern Baptists to support the newly rebranded Global Hunger Relief initiative.

In approving the civil rights resolution, the convention again acknowledged its grievous past. Messengers, the resolution said, “lament and repudiate this nation’s long history of racial segregation as well as the complicity of Southern Baptists who resisted or opposed the dismantling of the evil or racial hierarchy in our churches or society.” The measure also expressed gratitude for the increase in racial and ethnic diversity among Southern Baptists in the last 50 years.

The hunger resolution stemmed from the rebranding of the World Hunger Fund as Global Hunger Relief. The SBC-approved division of funds remains at 80 percent for overseas use and 20 percent for domestic use.

The resolution urged Southern Baptist entities, the Woman’s Missionary Union and other partners to act aggressively to increase awareness of the need of the hungry and encouraged churches to promote giving to Global Hunger Relief.

Leaders of some of the SBC entities involved in promoting the initiative greeted the resolution with statements commending Global Hunger Relief and its part in spreading the gospel.

Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, said Global Hunger Relief “paves the way for the seed of the gospel to be sown by Southern Baptists. Demonstration leads to proclamation among some of the least reached peoples in our world.”

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said, “We live in a day when we must find ways to demonstrate God’s love by meeting significant human need while sharing Christ.”

Moore said the initiative “is not just an issue of charity, and not just an issue of compassion, but is also an act of spiritual warfare – as faithful men and women all across our churches labor to be a gospel witness and reflect the attitude of our Lord who shows compassion to the needy and destitute as He points them to the Bread of Life.”

The other resolutions:

  • condemned “predatory payday lending” and urged churches to offer financial stewardship instruction and skills training for people inside and outside their congregations.
  • reaffirmed “the sufficiency of biblical revelation over subjective experiential explanations to guide one’s understanding of the truth about heaven and hell” in an apparent response to the recently released movie “Heaven Is for Real” and similar books and films.
  • encouraged Southern Baptists to back the creation of Christ-centered elementary and secondary schools and Christian homeschooling systems, supported those who follow God’s direction by taking part in public schools and urged policies that “maximize parental choice.”
  • affirmed “the calling of pastors who revitalize churches as needful as the calling of pastors to plant churches.”
  • thanked God and all those who helped with this year’s meeting.

In response to a question, Dykes said he did not understand the education resolution’s parental choice language to be placing Southern Baptists in support of vouchers for Christian schools. “In fact that’s why we used the ambiguous language,” he said at the news conference. “We did not mention vouchers. We just said that we favor any kind of legislation that helps parents decide where they want their children educated.”

Joining Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, on the Resolutions Committee, were Whitney Alexander, member, First Baptist Church, Gadsden, Ala.; Matthew Arbo, member, Redeemer Fellowship, Kansas City, Mo., and assistant professor of Christian ethics, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Greg Belser, pastor, Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Clinton, Miss.; Roger Freeman, pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Nashville; Matthew Hall, member, Clifton Baptist Church, Louisville, and vice president of academic services, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Chris Osborne, senior pastor, Central Baptist Church, College Station, Texas; Ramon Osorio, member, First Redeemer Church, Cumming, Ga., and national church mobilizer, NAMB; Jay Shell, member, West Baptist Church, Batesville, Ark.; and Kevin Smith, teaching pastor, Highview Baptist Church, Louisville, and assistant professor of Christian preaching, Southern Seminary.

Twelve resolutions were submitted to the committee. Messengers defeated efforts to bring two of those resolutions to the floor for consideration.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/12/2014 10:51:46 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2014 SBC elections draw new leadership

June 12 2014 by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press

In a year when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) focused on “Restoration & Revival Through Prayer,” Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, who has sought to encourage Southern Baptists to deepen their spiritual walk through books, Sunday School material and pastor prayer meetings, has been elected as the 2014 SBC president.

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas for 27 years, topped fellow nominees Maryland pastor Dennis Manpoong Kim and Kentucky pastor Jared Moore to win the SBC post June 10 in Baltimore.

Floyd was nominated by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., and received 51 percent of the vote. Kim and Moore were placed in nomination, respectively, by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington and Bennie Smith, a deacon at the Kentucky church where Moore is pastor.

Other SBC officers elected were:

  • Clint Pressley, pastor of the Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., elected as first vice president, nominated by Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. Pressley is “willing and qualified” to serve, having held several SBC leadership positions, Traylor said.
  • Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla., elected second vice president. He was nominated by James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., who called Dilbeck a leader in Hispanic church planting and Great Commission giving.
  • John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, re-elected recording secretary, a role he has served in since 1997. He was nominated by Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
  • Jim Wells, strategic partners team leader, Missouri Baptist Convention, nominated by re-elected registration secretary, a role he has served in since 2002.

None of the other officers faced opposition.

Eddie Bumpers, pastor of Crossway Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., was elected to deliver the convention sermon during the 2015 SBC meeting in Columbus, Ohio. Michael Allen of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago was elected alternate; and Julio Arriola was elected music director.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barbara Denman is the Florida Baptist Convention’s director of communications. The BR edited this report.)

6/12/2014 10:46:41 AM by Barbara Denman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CP advancing, not retreating, Page reports

June 12 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists are advancing, not retreating, as they rally to give more through the Cooperative Program to fuel the Great Commission task, Executive Committee President Frank Page told messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore June 10.

“We thank God that two years ago the Cooperative Program stopped its declination at 5.41 percent and last year rose for the first time in two decades to 5.50 percent,” Page said.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ way of combining resources to finance ministry worldwide.

“I like to say to pastors young and old, ‘If you know a better way, let me know. I’ll support it. I’ll drop the Cooperative Program if you can show me something else that long-term is effective and engages every church concurrently and consistently in an Acts 1:8 strategy. Show it to me, and I’ll support it. I’ll drop Cooperative Program,’“ Page said. “But I haven’t found it yet.”

Page showed a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a vulture stalking a Sudanese girl as she struggled to find sustenance at an aid station in 1994. When critics asked the photographer if he helped save the girl, he disclosed that he did not. Page said the photo has gripped him since he first saw it.


Photo by Van Payne
Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, gives a report during the first session of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 10 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“Friends, I say to you today that I don’t really think we’ve done much better for that little girl. Have we done any better with our world? Have we helped the girl spiritually? Have we helped countless millions to die without hearing the Good News of our Lord Jesus?” Page asked.

Southern Baptists must reach the girl and those like her who are perishing without Christ, he said. The church has received a calling from Jesus in the Great Commission, and believers share the love of Jesus that is demonstrated as a powerful force throughout scripture.

Page commended state convention partners that have joined national entities in streamlining their operations to devote more resources to reaching the nations for Christ. Ten years ago, state convention employees numbered 1,750. Now the figure is 1,350, he said.

“But you see, regardless of what happens at the national level or even the state level, what really matters is whether or not local churches understand what the Cooperative Program is and reengage in those ministries,” Page said.

A diverse group of pastors appeared in a video called “Count Me In,” expressing their support for the Cooperative Program as a key component in the missions task.

“We have a God who can make all this happen,” Page said. “... I say this to you because I ask you to join me in begging God like never before. Would you join me and pray for God to ‘show up’ like never before? I’m asking that across this convention we join in prayer like we’ve never prayed before.”


Cooperative Program in action

Earlier in the day, in the first part of the Executive Committee’s report to messengers, Page welcomed to the stage Brian and Hannah Crane, who this year planted Progression Church on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Cranes were influenced heavily by the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at LSU, which is supported by the Cooperative Program.

“It was through the BCM that I taught my first Bible study, that I preached my first sermon, that I led my first ministry event and the first time I ever led any ministry team,” Brian Crane said. “... The BCM taught me one thing, and they taught it well: They taught me how to make disciples.”

Because of Southern Baptist collegiate ministry, Crane said he recognizes that Jesus did not call him to be a passive participant in the church but to be a missionary.

“Through the BCM I learned how to effectively share the gospel with lost people and see them put their faith in Christ,” Crane said, adding that as a church planter, he daily uses the skills he learned through the BCM.

“Your giving through the Cooperative Program has fueled my call to ministry,” Crane said.

Jacob Watts, an LSU student and member of Progression Church, joined the Cranes on stage to testify that because of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, as a sophomore in college he helped start a church.

“Southern Baptist family, your investment is changing the lives of thousands upon thousands of college students every day just like me,” Watts said.

As another example of the Cooperative Program in action, Page introduced Terry and Vicki Lassiter, International Mission Board affinity group leaders based in Peru, to tell about God’s ongoing and special work in the Americas.

The Lassiters thanked Southern Baptists for their gifts, which have made a “tremendous impact” on their entire lives.

The cooperative giving of Southern Baptists contributed to the training of the youth pastors that led them to follow Christ and pursue vocational ministry, the couple reported. It also instilled in them a deep love for the Bible through state Bible drills, summer associational camps, Girls in Action and Royal Ambassadors. The couple also shared how they attended Baptist universities and a Southern Baptist seminary that trained them for service on the mission field.

Because of Southern Baptists’ giving through the Cooperative Program, the Lassiters had transportation such as dugout canoes and prop planes to travel to unreached and unengaged people groups in remote jungles. Thirty-seven people groups in the Americas have learned of Jesus as a result of Cooperative Program giving, they said.

Page also recognized Matt Rogers, pastor of The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, S.C., who through the Cooperative Program has been involved in church planting and church revitalization.

“Church planting and church revitalization, particularly in the Southeast, was not on my radar when my wife and I moved to Southeastern Seminary in 2005,” Rogers said.

But he was discipled, prepared and encouraged to plant a church, and in the summer of 2009, with a team of seven people, he set out to plant a church in South Carolina, “where the church was increasingly losing ground in seemingly fertile soil.”

“The lackluster religious climate of the Southeast needed the energy that comes from new churches and revitalized existing churches that can multiply disciples and leaders and plant new churches,” Rogers said.

Increasingly Rogers felt a responsibility to “reboot the church planting conversation where for too long, fear and skepticism and mutual distrust had caused those who should partner together to grow further apart.”

Recently the young church Rogers led, meeting in an elementary school, merged with an existing congregation to form a new church, “to forge a new paradigm for Kingdom partnership that would eclipse generations of church divisions and splits.”

The two churches voted to become The Church at Cherrydale. “We hope that this rewrites the scorecard in the Southeast to show that churches can work together,” Rogers said.

“We have seen the lost saved, the weak in the faith matured and a disciple-making culture come alive. And you have played a significant role in that journey. Your giving through the Cooperative Program has been a primary conduit of God’s grace for us.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville, Tenn. Tim Sweetman, director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, also contributed to this story.)

6/12/2014 10:35:56 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Elliff calls SBC to ‘one sacred effort’

June 12 2014 by Don Graham, Baptist Press

Touting the explosive growth of evangelical Christianity in Cuba as inspiration for Southern Baptists’ global missions effort, International Mission Board’s (IMB) president challenged messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention to unite in “one sacred effort” to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Speaking to more than 5,000 Southern Baptist pastors, leaders and church members gathered at Baltimore’s convention center June 10, Tom Elliff said God used a trip to Cuba in late 2013 to radically touch his heart.

Elliff traveled to the small island nation, just 90 miles off Florida’s coast, to survey the church-planting movement which has swept the country during the past 20 years. After conversations with many Cuban pastors, Elliff discovered the simple elements behind Cuba’s spiritual transformation included prayer, hard work and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Elliff invited some of the Cuban pastors he met, such as Jose Enrique Perez, to speak to SBC messengers. At times, Elliff was brought to tears while acknowledging the sacrifices many Cuban believers such as Perez made to remain faithful to Christ during difficult periods in Cuba’s recent history. He compared Cuban Baptists’ resilience to the country’s national tree, the Royal Palm, which can bend nearly horizontal during a hurricane and quickly shed all of its fronds to survive a storm.

“And when the storm is over, after a period of silence, that trunk of that tree begins to stand upright, and buds in the top of that tree begin to spring forth again,” Elliff said, his voice cracking with emotion. “And the tree is more beautiful after the storm than it ever was before. That is exactly what has happened in Cuba.”

During such challenging times, Perez said prayer was the church’s one sustaining effort.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
Tom Elliff, International Mission Board president, reported to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting messengers – on average, each IMB missionary: helped lead 49 people to faith in Christ last year; led 24 new converts to be baptized; helped mentor at least five potential leaders and was involved in discipleship with 90 people.

“When these things happen, God takes control, and He makes the changes,” Perez said. “It was like in the Book of Acts, before Pentecost; the church only had one program – praying together.”

By the early 1990s, Cuban Baptists began to see the results of that prayer. Through a spontaneous spiritual awakening that Perez believes can only be attributed to the movement of the Holy Spirit, new believers began flooding Cuba’s remaining traditional churches, which quickly reached capacity. Unable to obtain permission to construct new church buildings, Cuban Baptists remembered the house churches that sheltered them during the darkest days of the revolution. Soon, Perez said, house churches began to spring up across the country by the hundreds and thousands.

“Many have come to faith in Christ,” Perez said. “Many churches are being formed. Today we’re seeing the glory of God in Cuba. Our fathers prayed for that.”


Hard work, unflinching obedience

But as the Holy Spirit stirred Cubans’ hearts, Elliff said gathering the spiritual harvest meant hard work and unflinching obedience for the Cuban Christians who evangelized and discipled new believers.

Cuban pastor Daniel Gonzalez was a young man when God called him to share Christ on the Isle of Youth, off Cuba’s southern coast. For five months Gonzalez slept on a park bench during weekend visits to the island as he began his ministry, sharing the gospel door-to-door. Today, as a result of the 10 years he labored there, more than 10 government-recognized churches and a network of more than 200 house churches are thriving, including a small seminary. The island is regarded as the most evangelized area in the country, and churches there have sent Cuban missionaries to Mexico, Nicaragua and Vietnam.

“A person who is called to plant churches doesn’t see it as a sacrifice but as a privilege,” Gonzalez told SBC messengers.

Now working as a pastor in Havana, Gonzalez is part of Cuban Baptists’ “Urban 20-20 Project,” aimed at mobilizing traditional Baptist churches to start house church networks in each of Cuba’s 20 largest cities.

“Our heart is that by the year 2020, there won’t be one neighborhood in any of these 20 cities in Cuba that does not have Baptist churches,” he said.

“What we are able to see in Cuba is because you have been supporting us,” he told those gathered in the convention hall. “You are our heroes. Please keep being strong. Thank you for everything you have been doing for the church in Cuba.”

SBC messengers also heard from Juan Carlos Rojas, president of the Western Cuban Baptist Convention. Though Rojas pastors Cuba’s largest Baptist church, Calvary Baptist in Havana, he cautioned Southern Baptists not to depend on buildings.

“Let’s not limit ourselves to our temples,” Rojas urged.

“Please, offer your homes that there might be in your home a place where you worship, where you teach God’s Word, where you share God’s Word – that there might be a church in your home.

Elliff strongly affirmed his sentiments, targeting a key word he’d like to see deleted from Southern Baptists’ church planting vocabulary: building.

“With the power of God, with prayer, and with hard work we could see a movement of God in our nation,” Elliff said. That’s all that’s necessary to “bring the lost to Him and then to catapult them around the world.”

Rojas added that Cuban Baptists are excited about walking alongside Southern Baptists as they find their place in international missions.

“We as Cubans are now thinking about the nations,” Rojas said.

“And we pray for this time next year to be sending Cuban missionaries to the nations. We want to be a part of this sacred effort.”

Elliff’s report

In his report to the convention, Elliff unveiled IMB’s theme for 2014, “One Sacred Effort,” encouraging every Southern Baptist to “find your place in God’s story.” For more information on IMB’s theme and how to get involved go to imb.org/one.

Elliff’s report detailed the activities of Southern Baptist missionaries in 2013. But rather than highlight the total numbers of new believers and baptisms witnessed by Southern Baptists and their national partners, Elliff instead chose to focus on the efforts of the roughly 4,800 IMB individual missionaries.

He divided the results by the number of missionaries to reflect the work of a single missionary, an individual whom Elliff said participated in leading 49 people to faith in Jesus, walking with 24 of those believers as they expressed their faith through baptism.

“Seventy-five percent of the people in this world live in nations that are hostile to the Christian faith,” Elliff said, citing a recent email from an IMB missionary which caught his attention.

“How do you baptize 1,200 people on one Sunday morning in a Muslim country? It staggers the imagination.”

In 2013, an “average” IMB missionary also:

  • Assisted in systematic, ongoing Bible training for 90 individuals and personally mentored five additional potential leaders;
  • Participated in training and encouraging six different churches and personally led in the planting and establishment of at least one new church;
  • Joined others in pointing 3,861 believers toward extended, formal theological training;
  • Welcomed to the field the 1,918 Southern Baptist churches and entities that have committed to embrace UUPGS (unengaged, unreached people groups) across the globe;
  • Witnessed the engagement of 120 UUPGs by Southern Baptists during the past three years and participated with other evangelical groups in engaging 919 previously unengaged, unreached people groups.

Elliff thanked Southern Baptist churches and the Woman’s Missionary Union for their role in making those numbers a reality by giving the largest Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in history in 2013: $154 million, $4.8 million more than the 2012 offering.

Recognizing this will likely be his last SBC annual meeting as IMB’s president, Elliff also thanked Southern Baptists for the opportunity to serve. In February, Elliff announced God is leading him to leave IMB once a successor could be found.

“We believe people support what they help create,” he said. “And it seems we have an entire generation of Southern Baptists who’ve yet to have an opportunity to help us create who we are. There comes a time when leaders need to be cheerleaders.

“Jeannie and I have been so privileged to serve in this role for the past three and half years. This has been one of the most incredible blessings of our life; the joy of serving you (Southern Baptists), of serving our personnel, of serving with our board of trustees.”

Messengers expressed their appreciation to Elliff with a standing ovation.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham is an IMB senior writer.)

6/12/2014 10:20:24 AM by Don Graham, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Seek God, share a testimony, pastors urged

June 11 2014 by Baptist Press

The 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference, themed “Show Us Your Glory,” concluded much as it began with speakers calling attendees to live passionately for Christ and to lead others to make disciples.

The June 8-9 sessions in the Baltimore Convention Center preceded the June 10-11 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

J.D. Greear

“The greatest potential for the Kingdom of God is not in the pulpit, but in the congregation,” said J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C.

Greear focused on John 16:7, which reads, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Greear also read John 14:12, in which Jesus told His disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Sharing the gospel with people and seeing lives changed from death to life is ultimately greater than Jesus’ earthly miracles, Greear said.


Photo by Bill Bangham
J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., speaks during the afternoon session of the 2014 Pastors’ Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“When we preach the gospel and sinners believe, we are doing the greater work,” he said. “We are doing the thing all of Jesus’s miracles were trying to illustrate.”

Much of church growth, Greear said, is based on “shuffling existing Christians around” while reaching lost people accounts for just a small percentage of growing churches.

Greear called churches to be more concerned with spreading the glory of God on earth instead of their own glory.

“Sending capacity and not just seating capacity ought to be the measure of any Kingdom-minded church’s success,” he said.

Churches were called to sacrificially give away their best resources, leaders and opportunities in order to grow for God’s glory.

“Jesus’ promises about the greatness of His church are tied to sending,” Greear said.


Alex Himaya

The surprise speaker of the Pastors’ Conference was Alex Himaya, pastor of theChurch.at in Tulsa, Okla. Bad weather prevented Tony Evans, the originally scheduled speaker, from flying out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In lieu of recapping statistics describing the poor state of the church in America, Himaya simply called pastors and everyday believers alike to share their redemption story with those around them as a way to call people to faith in Christ.

Himaya’s message focused on Revelation 12:11, which reads, “And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

Himaya said he fears Christians today have overcomplicated the gospel. The essentials, he said, are the blood of Jesus shed for sinners and Christians’ testimony of transformation, as described in Revelation 12:11.

With that in mind, Himaya shared his personal testimony of growing up as the son of an Egyptian father and a mother from North Carolina. Both he and his brother came to faith at youth camps and later led their parents to Christ. He closed his message by calling attendees to pause for prayer, asking God to show them their testimony, help them organize it and write it down, lead them to practice it and give them opportunities to share it.

“He wants to use us to take the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and share it with those who desperately need it ... it’s good news,” Himaya said. “[W]e are taking the greatest news on the planet to the world that Jesus wants to save and died and gave His blood for. That’s as simple as it is.”

Rick Warren

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., spoke Monday evening about suffering. His message came a little more than a year after his son Matthew committed suicide.

Warren kept his remarks brief, saying that, though he had prepared a full message on suffering, a whisper from the Holy Spirit guided him in another direction during his flight to Baltimore.

“The Holy Spirit whispered to me, ‘The people and the pastors need your prayers more than they need your sermon,’” Warren said.

After speaking for about 15 minutes about suffering, Warren called for those who were in the midst of suffering to walk to the front, where he knelt and prayed for them. Warren asked the Lord to use the suffering in their lives to make them more like Christ and to better enable them to minister and witness. Many in the crowd came forward.

Before the prayer, Warren told the attendees that suffering, though entwined with sorrow and grief, can be and is used by God to accomplish His purposes. He said he has learned from his own experience that, after asking “why questions” – questions that even Jesus asked – Christians must realize that God allows suffering to direct, inspect, correct, protect and perfect them.

“If you study church history, you will discover that behind every publicly successful ministry, there is private pain,” Warren said, adding later that in his worst year, Saddleback had its best year.

“Pain is God’s megaphone,” he said. “There is no testimony without a test. There is no message without a mess. There is no impact without criticism. It is not by accident that the most blessed ministries are also the most attacked ministries.”

Warren also offered five specific ways people can use suffering when it comes, telling them to use it to draw closer to God, to draw closer to people, to become more like Jesus, to help others and to witness to the world.

“God’s number one purpose in your life is to make you more like Christ,” Warren said. “If God’s going to make you like Jesus, He’s going to take you through the things that Jesus went through.”

James MacDonald

James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Chicago, called pastors and leaders to seek after God’s presence in their churches.

“The holy hour of worship is a time and a place for God to rend the heavens and come down,” MacDonald said. “Nothing else will substitute. We have settled for less, and we have forgotten how to blush about it.”

That’s why, MacDonald said, “the church in America is in trouble. Actually, it’s in big trouble.”

Several thousand churches in America every year are closing their doors, MacDonald said, and not many pastors who start out are still in ministry when they finish their active working years.

MacDonald pointed to God’s voice and presence described in Isaiah 64:1 and Exodus 32–33, noting that it’s God’s voice and presence that’s missing in American churches.

“What’s lost in the church in America is the presence of God,” he said. “Churches don’t die. God’s voice in them dies.”

The Exodus 32–33 passage is the source of the Pastors’ Conference theme: Show Us Your Glory.

“Know God better. Go deeper with Him. Find favor. There’s a whole sermon in that,” MacDonald said. “Show me your glory: That’s what we need. That’s the only thing that will change the course we’re on.”

Francis Chan

In an emotional conclusion to the Pastors’ Conference, Francis Chan, author, speaker and former pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, Calif., passionately called attendees to “not be content to hear Moses” instead of going up the mountaintop themselves.

His plea referenced Exodus 32–33, which describe Moses going up to meet with God on the mountain.

Chan urged attendees to develop a hunger to really know and love God, rather than “taking selfies with Moses and writing about it.”

“Movements start when founders really know God, but movements die when the followers only know the founder,” Chan said.

Referencing Mark 14 – which tells of Jesus, in the depths of His sorrow, falling to the ground and asking for the cup to be passed from Him – Chan pressed the pastors to keep their eyes on the cross where Christ gave His all.

“Are you resting in the cross right now? Is your joy and salvation coming from Jesus?” he asked.

Chan concluded by saying he felt many of the conference participants are bound by rituals and patterns instead of “dying in their hearts to really know God.” In the midst of their devotion to those rituals, “people groups and people are going to hell” without Christ, he said.

2015 Pastors’ Conference officers

Attendees elected the following officers to lead the 2015 Pastors’ Conference in Columbus, Ohio: Willie Rice, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla., president; Jeremy Westbrook, pastor of Living Hope Church in Marysville, Ohio, vice president; and Drew Landry, pastor of Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, Va., treasurer.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Frank Michael McCormack of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, with reporting by Ali Dixon of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Sharayah Colter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Karen Willoughby, freelance writer from Mapleton, Utah; Barbara Denman of the Florida Baptist Convention; and Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)

Related Story:

Pastors preach, pray "Show Us Your Glory"

6/11/2014 11:22:06 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Panel: Don’t ‘shrug off’ religious liberty issue

June 11 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

American Christians’ recognition of the threat to religious freedom means they not only may be persecuted but they may be culpable as persecutors, Russell D. Moore said in a panel session sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission on the eve of the 2014 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Rick Warren, David Platt and Samuel Rodriguez joined Moore, the ERLC’s president, in addressing June 9 the current status and future of religious freedom in the United States.

“Many Christians ‘shrug off’ the issue because they don’t understand they are accountable for religious liberty in the American form of government,” Moore told an audience of about 260 people.

“The question,” he said, “is not only, ‘Are we going to be persecuted?’ The question is, ‘Are we going to be persecutors?’ And so if we shrug this off, what we’re doing is we’re consigning future generations, we’re consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for.”


Photo by Paul W. Lee
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission panel on “Hobby Lobby and the Future of Religious Liberty” with (left to right) Phillip Bethancourt, director of strategic initiatives at the ERLC; Samuel Rodriquez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.; David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.; and Russell Moore, president of the ERLC.

Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said that religious freedom “will be the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

“Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity,” he said, adding, “The firewall against secular totalitarianism is religious liberty and religious pluralism.”

Christians “need to fight for religious pluralism, religious liberty across the board,” Rodriguez said. “If not, the voice of religious liberty, religious freedom, conscience will be silenced in the 21st century.”

Warren, popular author and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., said he does not fear freedom in a pluralistic society. He believes in pluralism, not relativism.

“In other words, I believe in a free market world,” Warren said. “The gospel is going to win because it’s got the better story to tell. So I’m not afraid of a free market.

“I do not believe in religious coercion. I do believe in religious persuasion.”

The title of the panel discussion was “Hobby Lobby and the Future of Religious Liberty,” so named because of a vital case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Hobby Lobby – which is owned by the Greens, a family of evangelical Christians – has refused to abide by the federal government’s abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide abortion-causing drugs to their workers. Their challenge to the requirement awaits a decision by the high court, which is expected to announce its ruling before it adjourns in late June or early July.

“The justices will decide whether “there is the freedom to dissent and the freedom to accommodate these conscientious objections in the governing of people’s lives and the running of their businesses,” Moore said. “This will have everything to do with everything that your church does for the next 100 years.”

Moore and Warren predicted Hobby Lobby and another family-owned business, Conestoga Wood Specialties, would win the case. At the same time, Moore provided encouragement if religious liberty does not prevail.

“If we lose this case, the gospel is not lost,” Moore said. “If the United States of America crumbles away, the gospel is not lost.

“I’m spending all of my time right now making sure that we stay out of jail,” he told the audience. “But there is one thing worse than going to jail, and that’s staying out of jail and sacrificing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Warren responded, “This issue may take – just as it did with Martin Luther King – it may take some pastors going to jail. I’m in.”

Platt, also a popular author and pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., said he wants to raise “an army of church members who are in, who are in regardless of what happens in this case.”

A reason for the church’s complacency on religious liberty is many members “are not taking the risks for the gospel that we need to be taking, proclaiming the gospel,” Platt said.

Government is seeking to limit religious freedom to what happens during corporate worship, the panelists said.

“Government doesn’t have to do that for Christians,” Platt said. “We have privatized Christianity ourselves.

“Privatized Christianity is impossible,” he said. “It is impossible to have privatized faith with a resurrected King.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/11/2014 11:00:24 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

WMU sees Annie Armstrong’s Baltimore

June 11 2014 by Shannon Baker, BCMD/Baptist Press

Some 600 Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) members toured five Baltimore sites related to WMU legend Annie Armstrong during the June 8 session of the WMU Annual Meeting and Missions Celebration.
Armstrong is a Baltimore native who served as WMU’s first corresponding secretary (akin to today’s executive director) and the namesake for the annual Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions with the North American Mission Board.

Year after year, Armstrong came up with new ways to stir up missions efforts, to get missions information out to the churches and to raise prayer support and money for missions.

Tour participants viewed where Armstrong first lived at the corner of Pratt and Calvert Street, over a tobacco shop owned by her father (now where the Gallery at Harbor Place is located). They viewed the site from Federal Hill Park where WMU members prayed over the city and its Inner Harbor.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
Hundreds of members of the Woman’s Missionary Union boarded buses June 9 for a Tour of Annie Armstrong’s Baltimore. The tour included the first WMU headquarters, Annie’s homechurch where she attended and taught an infants class and her gravesite. The tour was sponsored by the WMU as part of their annual missions celebration and annual meeting held prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

Tour participants rode by the site where the first national WMU headquarters was located on East Fayette Street. This was the Maryland Baptist Mission Rooms, which served as a missionary library and reading room. Later it served as the location of the Southern Baptist Convention’s missionary literature department until the work was placed with the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) in the early 1900s.

Tour participants also passed by Armstrong’s home church, Eutaw Place Baptist Church, which is now City Temple Baptist Church. Eutaw Place was started by Seventh Baptist Church (where the Shrine of St. Jude now stands), where Armstrong was baptized at the age of 20. Armstrong attended Eutaw Place from 1871, when it was formed, until her death in 1938. She taught the infants class there and led a mothers’ club for underprivileged women. Her last home was behind the current Cecil Apartments.

The group also visited the gravesite of Armstrong and other family members at Greenmount Cemetery. Intentionally stark at her request, Armstrong’s grave marker reads: “Annie Walker Armstrong, daughter of James D. and Mary E. Armstrong. Born July 11, 1850 - Died December 20, 1938. She hath done what she could. The Lord knoweth them that are His.”

A commemorative plaque later placed during her centennial year by the WMU of Maryland and national WMU “in appreciation of Annie W. Armstrong’s leadership in world missions” details Armstrong’s many positions in ministry as well as her famous rally cry, “Go Forward.”

Participants then visited one of three church sites where they celebrated the 125th anniversary of WMU with cookies made from recipes from Armstrong and fellow missionary Lottie Moon:
  • Woodbrook Baptist Church (formerly Eutaw Place Baptist Church). The church’s Eutaw Place Room contains Miss Annie’s antique secretary and other items of historical interest.

  • Patterson Park Baptist Church, which started as a Sunday School called Highlandtown Mission by Eutaw Place Baptist Church in 1906. This church recently was given to Gallery Church, a church plant that had been renting space nearby.

  • Jesus Our Redeemer Church (formerly Lee Street Memorial Church), which was started before the Civil War as a Sunday School ministry. The congregation became one of the largest in the city, flourishing under the ministry of E.Y. Mullins, a former Southern Baptist Convention president and a president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Five GAs from Hoffmeyer Baptist Church in Florence, S.C., were among the tour participants. The girls, ages 9-12, held several fundraisers for their trip to Baltimore.

Melissa Crowley, 11, said her favorite part of the tour was seeing Liesl Bolin from Woodbrook Baptist Church dressed up as Miss Annie. During the recent celebration of the 100th anniversary of GAs, Crowley also dressed up as Armstrong.

“It’s fun to put real life to history,” said Julie Heath, a preschool, children and student ministry specialist for Tennessee’s WMU. “In Mission Friends, when we talk about the [Annie Armstrong Easter] offering, I’ll be able to say we’ve been to Miss Annie’s hometown. She’s not just a black-and-white photo; she’s a real live person.”

For a video featuring John Roberts, pastor emeritus of Woodbrook Baptist Church, sharing an oral history of Annie Armstrong, go to https://vimeo.com/96924454. The video features John Roberts, pastor emeritus of Woodbrook Baptist Church, who shares an oral history of Annie Armstrong.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.)

6/11/2014 10:52:12 AM by Shannon Baker, BCMD/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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