June 2014

Lottie Moon offering hits record $154 million

June 6 2014 by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press

Southern Baptists gave an unprecedented $154 million to the 2013 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, breaking the record for the largest total in the offering’s 125-year history.
The 2013 offering, finalized June 5, reached $154,057,852.36. The total represents an increase of nearly $4.8 million over 2012, or 3.2 percent. It tops the previous record, $150.4 million in 2007, by more than $3.6 million, and marks the fourth increase since 2008.
“This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the incredible generosity of Southern Baptists over many years,” International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff said. “The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering represents well over half of our budget each year, so those who give sacrificially and out of concern for the lost can be assured that an enormous portion of all that happens overseas can be directly tied to their support.

“It’s estimated that close to 1 billion people living now are very likely to go through life without ever hearing the gospel in such a fashion that they can understand it and respond to it in faith,” Elliff said. “Our missionaries are ‘chasers after darkness.’ We’re looking for those dark corners of the world where the light of the gospel has yet to be shed so we can get the message of Christ into the hearts of people who need so desperately to hear about it.”
Wanda Lee, executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), which promotes the offering in partnership with IMB, also expressed gratitude:


IMB photo
In Sweden, IMB worker Anissa Haney (left) meets with Linda Hamfors for Bible study. Struggling with addiction and spiritual questions, Linda approached Anissa after a musical performance and asked if they could talk more. Today, the young Swedish woman is a follower of Jesus. The 2013 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and gifts through the Cooperative Program enabled Anissa to be there when Linda, searching for truth in a highly secularized society, was ready to hear it.

“How exciting that Southern Baptists would give the largest amount ever to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering on the 125th anniversary of both the first offering for international missions and WMU!” Lee said. “In 1888, when WMU was founded, it was for the purpose of ‘stimulating the missionary spirit’ and ‘collecting funds’ to support the work of missionaries around the globe. We are grateful for the response of our churches as they embrace both personal missions involvement and sacrificial giving so the story of Jesus may be shared with all who have yet to hear.”
While the total fell short of the $175 million goal, the new record is good news for more than 4,800 Southern Baptist missionaries worldwide who depend on the offering to fund their efforts to spread the gospel. Named for Southern Baptists’ most famous missionary, the Lottie Moon offering – and Southern Baptists’ regular giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) – funds missionary salaries, housing, medical care, children’s education, field transportation and other expenses. Supporting one missionary overseas costs an average of $140 per day. Every penny of the Lottie Moon offering goes to the IMB overseas budget, which directly supports missionaries and their work.
The offering does far more than pay for basic needs, however. It provides the “resources that enable us to chase the darkness,” Elliff said.
That means helping missionaries and their national partners go into areas untouched by the gospel, engage people groups with no believers or scriptures, start churches and make disciples. Missionaries and their ministry partners communicated the gospel to more than 1.6 million people, led more than 235,000 people to faith in Christ, baptized more than 114,000 new believers and started thousands of churches and believer groups that will become churches, according to IMB’s 2013 annual statistical report (reflecting 2012 year-end statistics). Beyond that, trained disciples among 235 people groups engaged their own people inside their countries. Disciples among 56 people groups engaged different groups or cities within their countries – and workers representing 20 peoples went out from their own countries to reach different groups. In other words, they became cross-cultural missionaries.
Jon Gerwig,* an IMB worker in East Asia, serves among the Iron Pea* people, who number more than 3 million and long had no known churches. For years, progress was agonizingly slow without gospel resources in their “heart language.” But Lottie Moon support helped Gerwig and his co-workers develop “scripture planting” to reach minority peoples like the Iron Pea people with the Good News of Jesus. scripture planting integrates Bible translation with real-time church planting, evangelism and discipleship. It provides quicker access to scripture so Christian workers can develop resources like worship songs, recorded testimonies and oral Bible stories.
In 2006, Gerwig saw his first believer follow Christ. By 2007, there were nine more in the same village. A few months later, 80 from his village and 60 from another had put their faith in Jesus. Gerwig and his team trained these new believers in a basic discipleship plan, and in late 2007 the first church among the Iron Pea people was started. Since then, the gospel has spread throughout Iron Pea communities. Today, there are 28 churches and approximately 3,000 believers (see the story at http://vimeo.com/95998183).
“There’s still hundreds of thousands of Iron Pea people who have never heard the gospel,” Gerwig said. “But I want to thank all of you back home. Everything that you contribute gives us traction, which gives us more time to meet with these local brothers and sisters as they’re going out to share, that every Iron Pea person will have a chance to hear and respond to the gospel.”
In postmodern, post-Christian Sweden, meanwhile, leading people to Christ can be harder than in places where the gospel faces heavy restrictions or persecution. But Lottie Moon support enabled IMB worker Anissa Haney to be there when a young Swedish woman, Linda Hamfors, was ready to hear the truth. Hamfors, who was struggling with addiction and spiritual questions, approached Haney after a musical performance and asked if they could talk more. Today, she is a follower of Jesus. (see their story at http://vimeo.com/95759661)
“It’s a very dark place spiritually, very lost, very godless,” Haney said of Sweden. “It’s just so vital to have people here being light amid the darkness.”
The task ahead for Southern Baptists and other mission-hearted Christians is huge. Of the world’s 11,000-plus distinct people groups, more than 6,500 are considered unreached (fewer than 2 percent of the population identifying as evangelical Christian). They include more than half the world’s population. More than 3,000 of those unreached people groups are also unengaged, having no church-planting strategy among them at all.
“Southern Baptists are a generous people and are concerned about the world,” David Steverson, IMB vice president for finance, said. “The Lord is in control. He knows what we need and when we need it. We just need to be on mission with Him in all we do.
“Southern Baptists determine how many missionaries they will send. Your IMB is fully committed to being a good steward of every penny that Southern Baptists entrust to us for the support of their missionaries.”
In addition to the sacrificial gifts given through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, Elliff emphasized that “we must continue to explore new avenues that God is placing before Southern Baptists to send more and more missionaries to the field.”
And he remains convinced even greater Lottie Moon giving is on the horizon, too – especially in light of this year’s increase.
“It is my feeling that as long as there are Southern Baptists, every person in this world should have a legitimate reason to believe that if they can just hang on a little longer, we will get there with the gospel,” Elliff said. “To that end, it is important for each Southern Baptist to know just how grateful we are for their giving.”
*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

6/6/2014 11:54:06 AM by Erich Bridges, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Cuban Baptists overcome challenging ‘Roads to Victory’

June 6 2014 by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press

It’s 5 a.m. Saturday and while most of the town of Vueltas is still asleep, pastor José Enrique Pérez is prepping for what promises to be a long day. Fourteen hours to be exact. Just like every Saturday. That’s the reality of church planting in Cuba.

Pérez is joined by a dedicated team of self-described missionaries from his congregation, Bethel Baptist Church. More than 50 Christians pour their lives into the dozens of small towns and villages surrounding Vueltas where there is little or no gospel witness. The missionaries’ goal is straightforward: make disciples and gather them into house churches.

Daylight is breaking as the engine rumbles to life on the “Roads to Victory,” Bethel Baptist’s ramshackle bus fused together from makes and models dating back to 1932. It will make more than a dozen stops during its nearly five-hour drive through the Cuban countryside, dropping off Bethel members at their target communities. After an eight-hour day of ministry, the bus returns to Vueltas, picking up Bethel’s missionaries along the way.


IMB photo:
José Enrique Pérez, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Cuba.

“During the first stage of the project, the trips were shorter,” Pérez says. “But we’ve been filling the places that are closer with [new] churches,” driving Bethel’s teams farther out to reach unchurched areas.

“[If we want] to rest and be comfortable, there’s heaven,” Pérez says with a laugh. “The time that God gives us here is to be involved in the work of His Kingdom.”

Pérez admits the bus may not be the most efficient method for starting churches, but it’s working. Today, Bethel’s missionaries are nurturing nine new traditional churches and multiple house churches. That’s in addition to the 32 traditional churches born since 1999. Some are direct offspring of Bethel Baptist. Others are second- and third-generation churches started by Bethel’s church plants. Pérez says his dream is that by 2020, Bethel’s network will top 100 traditional churches and hundreds of house churches.

“We want every town in our country to have a living, healthy church,” Pérez says. “A church where God’s Word is alive, where the brothers [and sisters] love and support each other … a church that is the salt and light of the community where it is planted. This is our cry to God.”

Pérez remembers when starting even a single new church seemed impossible. He was a boy when revolution swept the country in 1959. By 1963, Bethel Baptist was shuttered and gutted by the government. Bethel’s pastor was eventually arrested – along with dozens of other pastors – and sent to prison.

“They began to teach that God didn’t exist, that everything I had been taught by my parents was a lie,” Pérez says.

When Pérez was in middle school, a teacher mocked him and three other boys from Bethel in front of his classmates.

“These fools you see here, they still believe in God,” the teacher sneered. “They are dazed by that opium that puts people to sleep – by religion.”

But what man meant for evil, God used for good. Though churches were closed, many Christians worshipped anyway – in their homes. Otherwise, Cuba’s house church movement may never have been born.

“It is a time of harvest like never before,” Pérez says. “We don’t want to waste a second.”

The teacher who had humiliated Pérez and his friends eventually gave his life to Jesus. Pérez baptized him. Today, he leads a church in Bethel Baptist’s network. He’s also a faithful missionary on the “Roads to Victory” bus.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Don Graham writes for the International Mission Board.)

Related Story:

Cuban pastor sees divine appointment twice
6/6/2014 11:35:23 AM by Don Graham, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

TRUSTEES: Golden Gate move on track

June 6 2014 by Tyler Sanders, GGBTS/Baptist Press

Discussion of the most significant transition in the seminary’s history highlighted the spring trustee meeting at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., as faculty and students prepare to move their main campus to Southern California.

President Jeff Iorg affirmed the work that trustees have accomplished in the past few years. “I congratulate you both on the decisions you have made and the manner in which you have made them. We are now on course to do something that has never been done before – relocating a fully functional seminary,” Iorg said.

Golden Gate announced in April that it would sell its Northern California campus to North Coast Land Holdings. The terms of the sale agreement will enable the seminary to remain fully operational during the transition, leasing back the Mill Valley campus property and continuing present operations for at least two more academic years. After that, Golden Gate will operate a new commuter-style campus in the Bay Area, much like its current Southern California campus.


Iorg reminded trustees there is still much work to do in terms of the sale and relocation.

“We still have to close the sale of the Mill Valley property, purchase and develop the primary campus in Southern California and purchase the new Bay Area campus as well. And after we accomplish all of that, then we have to move one of the largest seminaries in the world over 400 miles without shutting down our academic program,” he said.

Iorg also reported on the seminary’s Diamond Plan goals that coincide with its 75th anniversary celebration in 2020. He said he is confident of a healthy future.

“In light of the sale and relocation, we are reconsidering many aspects of our Diamond Plan goals,” Iorg said. “The sale of the Mill Valley property will have a large impact on our endowment and future financial strength – including new capacity for expansion and improvement of our academic programs.”

Accrediting agencies have approved Golden Gate’s plan for transitioning current students during the relocation, Iorg said, noting that the plan includes a pathway for every student to remain on track to graduation, Iorg said.

Trustees approved a 5.6 percent budget increase from last year, bringing the operating budget to $12.6 million. Trustees also approved faculty status for two current staff members: Adam Groza, vice president for student services and enrollment; and Maury Robertson, director for online education.

A re-elected slate of trustee officers included Chairman Steve Sheldon, pastor of Wrightsdale Baptist Church in Peach Bottom, Pa.; Vice Chairman Bill Moffitt, a retired businessman from Pasco, Wash.; and Secretary Greg Bynam, pastor of St. Joe Community Church in Fort Wayne, Ind.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tyler Sanders is coordinator for communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)
6/6/2014 11:19:34 AM by Tyler Sanders, GGBTS/Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Greens, Abedini to be honored at SBC meeting

June 5 2014 by Baptist Press

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will honor at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting a family and a prisoner who are demonstrating faithfulness to Christ in the face of governmental pressure.

During its June 11 report to messengers in Baltimore, the ERLC will give this year’s John Leland Religious Liberty Award to the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby. The Greens, evangelical Christians, have 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 U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to announce its ruling before it adjourns in late June or early July.

The ERLC will give the 2014 Richard Land Distinguished Service Award to Saeed Abedini, an American citizen imprisoned since 2012 by Iran’s oppressive regime for his Christian service in that country.

Steve and Jackie Green, representing their family, and Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Saeed, will accept the awards from ERLC President Russell D. Moore.


Saeed Abedini (left) and Steve Green

The ERLC gives the Leland and Land awards annually to recipients who have shown a commitment to religious freedom and Christian service, respectively. The entity announced this year’s recipients Tuesday (June 3) after their approval by its board of trustees.

In a message to the ERLC trustees, Moore said the Greens were selected for the Leland honor for standing for religious liberty “against a federal government demanding that they, along with countless other for-profit businesses, provide insurance for services that violate their core religious convictions.”

“The Greens are, in such a time as this, standing for the religious freedom of all of us,” Moore said in a June 3 news release by the ERLC. “They rightly recognize that the government is not lord of the conscience. Their allegiance, they’ve rightly understood, belongs first and foremost to God, not government.”

In the release, Steve and Jackie Green said of the award, “On behalf of the Green family we are honored to accept the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s 2014 John Leland Religious Liberty Award. We appreciate your prayers & support as we stand together for religious freedoms.”

The ERLC chose Abedini for his admirable service and faithfulness to God’s kingdom, Moore said.

“Through his story, and through Naghmeh’s advocacy, millions of Americans have heard a gospel-focused plea for religious freedom,” Moore said. “We are eager and grateful to have the opportunity to present Naghmeh with this award on Saeed’s behalf – so we as a Commission can show honor to this family, their witness and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Naghmeh Abedini, who lives in Idaho with their two children, said she was honored to accept the award for her husband.

“I had hoped that Saeed would be here to receive the award himself, but I know that Saeed would say that he counts it a privilege to be suffering for Christ knowing that his imprisonment is being used for the furtherance of the gospel both inside of Iran and also across the world,” she said in the release.

“There is nothing more that Saeed desires than to see how his chains have chained the body of Christ together in unity and have brought boldness to believers in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ both here in the U.S. and abroad.

She said, “I am thankful for [the ERLC] for recognizing the importance of religious liberty and those who give their lives for the furtherance of the gospel. My family is humbled and grateful to the ERLC for standing with us and my husband during this trying time of suffering and persecution. “

The abortion/contraception mandate challenged by Hobby Lobby is a regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement the 2010 health-care law. The rule requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of a child.

More than 300 parties –- some non-profit organizations and some for-profit corporations – have combined to file 97 lawsuits against HHS, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has led a diverse effort challenging the mandate. Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by a pro-life Amish family in Pennsylvania, is a party with Hobby Lobby in the Supreme Court case, which deals only with for-profit companies. The cases involving non-profits have yet to work their way up to the high court.

The ERLC signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Christian Legal Society in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; its president, Daniel Akin; and Southern Baptist mega-church pastor and author Rick Warren joined in another brief on behalf of the businesses.

Steve Green, Hobby Lobby’s president, is the son of David and Barbara Green, who founded the Oklahoma City-based company of 565 stores.

Saeed Abedini, an ordained minister of Iranian descent, was arrested and imprisoned nearly two years ago, and a court sentenced him to eight years in prison for endangering Iran’s “national security.”

Saeed and Naghmeh, both Muslim converts to faith in Christ, witnessed the Christian conversion of thousands and the growth of the Iranian house church movement in which they were involved. Married in 2004, they left the country in 2005 after the persecution of Christians mounted following the presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Saeed Abedini returned to Iran more than 10 times from 2009 to 2012 in an effort to build a government-approved orphanage. Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard arrested him in July 2012, when he was visiting the country in an effort to finish the orphanage. He has reported that Iranian authorities have tortured him and pressured him to deny Christ.

Iranian prison officials have threatened to lengthen Saeed’s sentence because he is leading fellow prisoners to faith in Jesus, Baptist Press reported May 30. Naghmeh told BP some formerly Muslim prisoners who placed their faith in Christ through Saeed’s witness have already received extended sentences.

Saeed wrote in a letter last year, “Because I want to serve God, I see all of these difficulties as golden opportunities and great doors to serve. There are empty containers who are thirsty for a taste of the Living Water and we can quench their thirst by giving them Jesus Christ.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, also contributed to this story.)

6/5/2014 1:36:26 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jack Graham marks 25 years at Prestonwood

June 5 2014 by Berta Delgado-Young, Prestonwood/Baptist Press

Prestonwood Baptist Church celebrated the 25th anniversary of pastor Jack Graham during special services this past weekend (May 31-June 1) that joined all three campuses for the first time.

Graham, who has led the Dallas-area Prestonwood to become one of the country’s largest churches, thanked the congregation for the privilege of being their pastor yet made it clear that the celebration was not about him.

“I say this is a Jesus church; it’s His church…. Our focus is on Him; He is the one we adore; He is the one we proclaim; He is the one we love,” said Graham, 63, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 2002-04. “All of this is for Him, and Him alone, for He is worthy of all our praise.”

Graham recounted the story of the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem when He was going to give His life on the cross. People greeted Jesus with praise and adoration and “hosannas.”

“That donkey was smart enough to know that the praise and the applause were not for him,” Graham said. “I’m just a donkey carrying the message of Jesus.”


Jack Graham

In the quarter-century that Graham has led Prestonwood, much has changed. The church has grown from 8,000 members to more than 37,000 members and from one campus to three campuses, in Plano, Prosper and Dallas. In the past 25 years, more than 19,000 people have been baptized and more than 15,000 members of the church have served on mission trips throughout the country and world.

At the same time, however, little has changed.

“The message is the same,” Graham said. “I’m still preaching the message of the gospel and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.”

Graham, in an interview, spoke about the past, the present and the future as Prestonwood’s pastor.

BP: How would you describe the past 25 years at Prestonwood?

GRAHAM: God has exceeded all I could have ever imagined. … When I came to Prestonwood, I knew the promise for great growth. It was in a great community. When I got here, the people of Prestonwood understood that they existed for those who were not yet here. I found a congregation that was already growing and had just been through a difficult time with the resignation of the pastor. It was just a matter of allowing the church to heal and providing new leadership. It was risky. I was in West Palm Beach and our church was growing and I was hopeful to stay there for my entire ministry, but this call was so compelling, and truly the people of Prestonwood prayed us here.

There was never a strategic plan for this, no big vision. I remember one of the members of the pastor search committee asking me what would be my vision for Prestonwood, and I answered, “I have no idea. But I do know that if we preach and teach God’s Word and are committed to reaching people for Christ locally, nationally and internationally, then God will help us to grow.”

BP: How would you describe the relationship between you and the church family?

GRAHAM: I always have to be careful what I ask of our people because they are so ready to do whatever is needed to reach others for Christ. When we look at what God has done, this has not been the result of the work of a few but the sacrifice of many. We’ve had struggles along the way and difficulties to overcome, but every time, this church has responded to the challenge and the people have trusted in God and His faithfulness. The celebration of our church and what we’ve done together truly have been the work of the Holy Spirit and the faithfulness of God. I stand amazed at what has happened here.

BP: What is the focus of Prestonwood right now?

GRAHAM: Jesus said to be fishers of men, and we just keep a lot of hooks in the water. We refuse to be happy with where we are. Until the last person within the scope of our influence is won for Christ, our mission is not complete. We will continue to make the Great Commission our mission, so we will stay externally focused – whether that is locally or expanding our global outreach.

BP: What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the Christian church today?

GRAHAM: Our greatest challenge is complacency and the lukewarmness that Jesus talked about to the church at Laodicea. I would also say we are facing great challenges to religious liberty, which will be increasingly more difficult on the church. But I am confident the message will prevail and the church will advance despite obstacles, but it’s becoming more difficult and challenging in this generation. I don’t want it to happen on our watch. I don’t want to have to say to our grandchildren that we failed to stand up and speak up for the freedoms and faith that we hold so dearly.

BP: What would you like your legacy to be?

GRAHAM: I’ve always said that it’s not about leaving a legacy but living a legacy. I want to be faithful with the resources God has given us – “to whom much is given, much is required.” I want my family and my children’s children to carry on the message of faith. The apostle Paul said, “I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord.” I want to finish my course with joy. Unfortunately, you see too many ministers who end up joyless in life. I want to be joyful in the ministry that I’ve been given and that I’m ready to pass the baton to someone else when the time comes.

BP: Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

GRAHAM: I don’t have a lot of regrets. Sure, there are some things that I would have done differently but the good hand of God has been upon us and He’s led us all the way. I’ve never wanted to do anything but be a pastor. If I had 1,000 lives to live, I would live every one of them for Jesus and doing what He called me to do.

BP: What are you thinking about in terms of the future for you?

GRAHAM: Games are won or lost in the late innings or in the fourth quarter. I want to finish well and be remembered as a person who was faithful to the calling God gave me so long ago. I expect to do more teaching internationally next year. I spoke in China, Romania and the Dominican Republic over the past year and will be going to India and Brazil in the coming year. We have great young ministers in place at Prestonwood, so I am able to go abroad to teach a new generation of leaders and train pastors on the mission field. It will become a natural transition when I’m no longer the pastor here. But I intend to keep preaching as long as God gives me breath.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Berta Delgado-Young is editor in Prestonwood Baptist Church’s communications ministry.)
6/5/2014 1:29:31 PM by Berta Delgado-Young, Prestonwood/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Luter reflects on presidency, remains hopeful for future

June 5 2014 by Baptist Message/Baptist Press

On the cusp of completing his two-year presidential tenure as the first African American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, pastor Fred Luter sat down for a question-and-answer session with the Baptist Message, the newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

“My prayer and hope is that this diversity will continue once my term ends at the Baltimore convention,” Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. “I truly feel strongly that it will.”

President Luter’s answers to Baptist Message questions

MESSAGE: Would you reflect on being president of the Southern Baptist Convention for the past two years?

LUTER: It has truly been overwhelming to serve in such a position. On one hand, you are doing your best to visit as many churches, associations, state conventions, seminaries, colleges and entities as your time and schedule permit. On the other hand, you are getting phone calls, emails, texts from people all across the country making all kinds of requests from book endorsements, writing letters for all types of events, to media requests for interviews on current events happening in our country as well as throughout the world. Then, to add to that I have to still maintain my most important roles as a husband, father and pastor. Whew!


 Fred Luter

MESSAGE: What do you think you were able to accomplish during your time as president?

LUTER: I have been truly proud to visit a lot of smaller churches, associations and conventions where it is the very first time an SBC president has been there. I also think I was able to accomplish more diversity in meetings across the country and our convention. There is more participation from ethnic groups getting involved in the SBC. Finally, I believe I was able to remind our churches and convention of how important revival and prayer are to us carrying out the Great Commission.

MESSAGE: What were the greatest challenges you faced during your terms?

LUTER: My greatest challenge was trying to accommodate all of the requests for speaking engagements. I could have used at least three more of me the past two years.

MESSAGE: In your opinion, what is the state of the SBC at this time?

LUTER: I believe the state of our convention is good; however there is a saying that goes, “We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” We as a convention have to address our declining numbers in church attendance, baptism, reaching our young people and CP giving. Until we can do better in those areas there will always be room for improvement. That is why revival and prayer are so critical at this time.

MESSAGE: Does the Cooperative Program remain strong and viable today? How do you see the CP’s future shaping up?

LUTER: The Cooperative Program is not only viable but also critical to this convention if we are going to impact our world with the gospel. Because of our CP giving we are able to put missionaries all over the world to share the gospel with unreached people groups. We are also able to start and strengthen churches, as well as assist students at our seminaries who are being trained as future leaders in our convention. As for the future of CP giving, our churches must make our CP giving a priority because it is the engine that runs the SBC.

MESSAGE: Having been the SBC’s first African American president, do you think the SBC is doing a better job of becoming more diverse? Do you see this diversity continuing after you leave office?

LUTER: Because I was elected unopposed as the first African American president, I have certainly seen more conversation, both written and spoken, about the importance of involving all ethnic groups in SBC activities. And to that I say, “Praise the Lord.” In all of my travels across the country I have truly been impressed by the diversity at each function, whether it was a worship service or a Q & A time with the president. My prayer and hope is that this diversity will continue once my term ends at the Baltimore convention. I truly feel strongly that it will.

MESSAGE: You mentioned in your first SBC presidential press conference that the president of the convention is not a position of power but of influence. How much influence do you think have you had in that position?

LUTER: I think I have been able to influence more African American pastors and churches to consider becoming a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. I also think I have had an influence in showing it is possible for all of us to work together regardless of race or the size of your church or convention.

MESSAGE: As president of the SBC, you traveled quite frequently. What is your favorite new city that you visited and favorite new food you ate while on the road?

LUTER: I have been to so many cities and eaten so much food; however I vividly remember the bacon-wrapped shrimp in a small town in North Carolina. Being from New Orleans, I was truly impressed. The cheese biscuits at Jim ‘N Nicks in Alabama however came in a close second.

MESSAGE: If you could give a word of advice to the next SBC president, what would that be?

LUTER: Get out of the election! No seriously, make sure he has a good staff at his home church taking care of the pastoral responsibilities while he is traveling for convention business. Also if at all possible, make a commitment to preach in your pulpit on Sunday mornings. Your church members will understand your being gone during the week however they want to hear their pastor on Sunday mornings.

MESSAGE: With the changing landscape of American culture, what do you see as the biggest threat to the family structure today and what will it take to turn that around?

LUTER: The biggest threat to the family structure is husbands and dads not accepting their roles as priest, protector and provider for their family. I am convinced that “as the man goes, so goes the family.” A close second is the absence of discipline. Again, I am convinced that love for God, respect for mankind, values and morals start in the home. To turn this around, our churches need to challenge the men in our congregation to accept their God-given role as leaders of their families. I am convinced that our kids can never be what they have never seen.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Baptist Message is the newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
6/5/2014 1:18:14 PM by Baptist Message/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CP, baptisms for SBC nominees’ churches

June 4 2014 by Baptist Press

The churches of three nominees for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president reflect much of the uniqueness of the SBC, including their giving through the Cooperative Program, baptisms and other facets of church life.

One is a multi-campus church in a robust part of Arkansas led by a pastor who has held numerous SBC leadership positions for two decades. Another is an ethnic congregation in the Washington, D.C., area, whose pastor has been a leader in the SBC’s Korean fellowship. The third is a rural Kentucky church led by a Ph.D. seminary student currently serving as the SBC’s second vice president.

Baptist Press, prior to the election of a new SBC president, traditionally has reported on various measures of church life in the lead-up to the SBC annual meeting. This year’s sessions are next Tuesday and Wednesday in Baltimore.

In addition to information relayed by a church regarding its CP giving and baptisms, it should be noted that no single measure – such as the Annual Church Profile or the records of a church’s state convention – provides a full picture of each church’s commitment to missions-oriented stewardship. The Annual Church Profile (ACP) is a largely self-reported database collected by the state conventions and compiled by LifeWay Research.


Among various complicating factors:

  • Different fiscal years often are used by a church or state convention compared to the ACP’s fiscal year of Oct. 1-Sept. 30. The CP giving and baptisms a church may report for a calendar year, for example, may be recorded quite differently by the ACP or a state convention in a different fiscal year. Also, some state conventions adjust their ACP reports of a church’s gifts to the convention’s fiscal year while other conventions do not make such adjustments.
  • An ethnic church may send some of its giving through the missions initiatives of its ethnic fellowship within the SBC. Such gifts are not recorded as Cooperative Program gifts. Such a possibility is particularly true within the Korean Council of Southern Baptist Churches in America which has its own international and North American mission boards.
  • Volunteer treasurers who keep financial records of some churches may not be fully aware of what constitutes Cooperative Program giving compared to other gifts that are received for other purposes, which typically are recorded as “designated gifts.”
  • Church gifts sent to the SBC Executive Committee for dispersal according to the CP Allocation Budget distribution formula are considered designated gifts since the Cooperative Program is a cooperative agreement between the state conventions and the SBC.

Following are Baptist Press reports, then, on Cooperative Program giving, baptisms and other facets of church life using information relayed by the three pastors to be nominated for SBC president as well as data from the ACP and their state conventions.

Ronnie Floyd

Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, where Ronnie Floyd is pastor, is the top Cooperative Program giving church in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention among more than 1,400 congregations. The five-campus church increased its CP giving from .26 percent of undesignated receipts in 2005 to 4.1 percent in 2013.

In terms of dollar amount, Cross Church went from giving $32,000 through the Cooperative Program in 2005 to $700,000 in 2013, the church told Baptist Press, reflecting an increase of just over 2,000 percent. In both 2005 and 2006, the church’s giving included $189,000 to the SBC Executive Committee for dispersal as designated giving according to the CP Allocation Budget distribution formula.

“In the journey of leading the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, God changed my life and ministry,” Floyd told BP. “Confronted with the reality of lostness, I was convicted to give the rest of my life to influencing and investing in others to win the world to Christ. ... Projected to top $750,000 this year, our [CP] giving increased significantly even during our nation’s great recession. We made sacrifices to give more through CP – like eliminating our national television ministry.”

The effect of different fiscal years is seen in records relating to Cross Church: The ACP and the Arkansas convention in 2009 both indicated approximately $250,000 in CP giving by the church, while the church reported about $350,000 to BP for 2009. The following year ACP and the ABSC both reported about $500,000 in CP giving, compared with the church’s report to BP of $400,000. Over the two-year period, the CP reports by the church, the ACP and ABSC matched at $750,000.

In its information to BP, Cross Church noted that its Great Commission Giving has grown from $677,988 in 2005 to $1.2 million in 2013, a 77 percent increase. For 2014, the church has reported $181,000 in gifts to the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions and $61,000 to the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions. In 2013, the church saw 346 members participate in 17 mission trips in six countries and seven states.

Cross Church, averaging 8,500 in worship each week, reported 1,175 baptisms in 2013 through its five campuses, according to ACP, with 1,102 baptisms in 2012 and 1,082 in 2011.

Among the ministries Cross Church uses to reach people with the gospel are a Compassion Center that provides food, clothing, English classes and life skills training; age-graded ministries such as Bible studies, Vacation Bible Schools and camps; and special events on holidays.

Cross Church has helped plant 101 churches since 2000, including 56 in the past three years, according to the information it provided to BP. The congregation is investing in 27 church plants in 2014 – 15 of which are in cities that are part of the Send North America church planting strategy of the North American Mission Board.

The Cross Church Circle Prayer Ministry, meanwhile, involves 3,200 people praying in 30-minute blocks weekly.

Dennis Manpoong Kim

Global Mission Church of Greater Washington in Silver Spring, Md., where Dennis Manpoong Kim is pastor, is among the top five CP giving churches in the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware among more than 500 congregations. The church gave 4.4 percent of its undesignated receipts through CP in 2013.

“I believe in the power of collaboration,” Kim said. “That is the reason why I have always led the Global Mission Church to be faithful in its participation in the Cooperative Program.”

In terms of dollar amount, Global Mission Church went from giving $86,200 through CP in 2012 to $97,600 in 2013, the BCMD reported, an increase of 13.2 percent.

Global Mission Church’s report to BP of $93,600 given through CP in 2013 varied slightly from the state convention’s report, a deviation possibly stemming from different definitions of the fiscal year.

In 2013, Global Mission Church told BP it gave $13,601 to the Lottie Moon Offering, $11,396 to the Annie Armstrong Offering and $16,900 to its local Montgomery Baptist Association. In 2012, the church reported $21,523 for Lottie Moon, according to ACP.

In 2013 total missions expenditures for Global Mission Church, a predominantly Korean congregation, amounted to $321,026 or 14.6 percent of its undesignated receipts. A portion of that amount included gifts to the Council of Korean Southern Baptist Churches, a network of Korean Southern Baptist congregations that partner in joint missions and ministry efforts; the Korean North American Mission Board, an organization of Korean churches that support church planting in the U.S. and Canada; and the Korean International Mission Board, an organization of Korean churches that support institutions and churches across the world.

“With a steadfast commitment to world missions, our church is training and sending more than 10 short-term mission teams every year and it has produced more than 50 career missionaries working for the International Mission Board,” Kim said. “The Global Mission Church has also planted five churches in various locations: Baltimore (Md.), Fairfax (Va.), Seattle (Wash.), Cary (N.C.) and Bun-dang (South Korea).”

In 2013, Global Mission Church, averaging 1,580 in Sunday worship each week, reported 25 baptisms, according to ACP. It reported 71 in 2012 and 78 in 2011. The church generally holds baptism services on Christmas and Easter as well as once in late summer or early fall if needed, Kim told BP. Between May 2013 and March of this year, Global Mission Church members presented the gospel to 3,125 people through personal evangelism using a witnessing technique devised by Kim. Through that effort 1,078 individuals professed faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.

Jared Moore

New Salem Baptist Church in Hustonville, Ky., where Jared Moore is pastor, told BP that it contributed 16 percent of its undesignated receipts through CP in 2013. That puts New Salem 10.5 percent above the convention average of 5.5 percent.

In terms of dollar amount, New Salem gave $12,412 through CP from $77,587 in undesignated receipts, the church told BP. In each of the previous four years, the congregation gave between $11,000 and $12,000 through CP, according to ACP.

“New Salem Baptist Church believes in the Cooperative Program,” Moore said. “We give 16 percent of our undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. … Giving through the Cooperative Program is still the best way to fulfill the Great Commission.”

In some instances, New Salem’s giving report to BP varies from ACP data and information reported by the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Moore said the variation is largely due to two factors. First, some giving was reported as undesignated when in reality it was designated. Second, the church treasurer does not send CP gifts to the KBC each month, but often sends several months of contributions at a time.

The effect of placing designated funds with CP gifts, for example, resulted in an ACP record of $119,941 in undesignated receipts for 2013 and a resultant CP giving percentage of 10.6. In sending CP gifts less frequently than monthly to the state convention resulted in a KBC report for New Salem of just $7,477 in CP for 2013.

Last year the church gave $417 to the Lottie Moon Offering and $532 to the Annie Armstrong Offering, according to ACP. The church reported to BP an additional $322 to Kentucky’s state missions offering and $2,151 to the local Lincoln County Baptist Association (2.8 percent of the congregation’s undesignated receipts). New Salem’s Great Commission giving for 2013 totaled $21,383, the church reported.

New Salem, averaging 55 in Sunday worship each week, reported two baptisms in 2013, according to ACP. It baptized none in 2012 but four in 2011. Moore estimated that at least a quarter of the church’s members engage in personal evangelism weekly. For the second year in a row, a group from New Salem plans to take a mission trip to Oklahoma to conduct a day camp for children where the gospel is presented. Among New Salem’s local evangelistic ministries are an annual Vacation Bible School; two annual revivals; a church van picks up children each Sunday morning; a booth at the local flea market at which church members talk to people about the gospel; and a “free sale” where the congregation gives away items typically found at yard sales and talks with shoppers about Jesus.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press chief national correspondent David Roach and BP editor Art Toalston.)

6/4/2014 11:23:03 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Christian moviegoers want more faith-based films

June 4 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

Hollywood’s “year of the Bible movie” continues to drive sales at the box office in 2014, according to a study by LifeWay Research.

Four faith-based films have already earned more than $50 million each in ticket sales, according to Boxofficemojo.com. Those films – “Noah,” “Heaven is for Real,” “Son of God,” and “God’s Not Dead” – are among the top 20 grossing films of 2014.

And movie audiences may want more, a survey of 1,054 Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research revealed. Researchers found that half of Americans (56 percent) say they wish there were more movies with Christian values.

“Faith-based movies are no longer a niche,” Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said. “It’s smart economics – if you make a film that appeals to that audience, they will show up.”

Movies with an explicitly Christian message – like “God’s Not Dead” – have done especially well. The independent film was made for $2 million and has earned more than $59 million at the box office. That’s more than high-budget projects like “Muppets Most Wanted” or the critically acclaimed “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Kris Fuhr, founder of Moviegal Marketing, said Christian movie fans want films with a clear presentation of faith. That’s been true in the past for films like “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” as well as more recent movies like “Son of God.”

“When you have a movie where the title is almost a doctrinal statement – the audience will come out,” she said. “People want their faith to be affirmed.” Films with a more subtle faith message may not do as well, Fuhr said.

In the survey, LifeWay Research asked Americans to respond to the statement: “I wish there were more movies that reflected Christian values.” Those who go to church weekly are most likely to agree (91 percent). Those who never go to church (18 percent) are least likely to agree.

Self-identified born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christians are more likely to agree (84 percent) than other Americans (45 percent.) Americans who live in the Midwest (62 percent) and South (63 percent) are also more interested in more Christian films than those in the Northeast (48 percent) or the West (44 percent).

Two-thirds of middle-aged and older Americans agree, including those 45 to 54 (63 percent), 55 to 64 (66 percent), and 65 and older (65 percent). Americans under 30 (43 percent) are least interested in more films with Christian values.

Two other major films with Christian themes, “Left Behind” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” are due out later this year.

Methodology: The online survey of adult Americans was conducted March 25, 2013. A sample of an online panel representing the adult population of the United States was invited to participate. Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender and income to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,054 online surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from this panel does not exceed +3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources’ Facts and Trends magazine.)
6/4/2014 11:13:34 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2015 VBS: ‘Journey Off the Map’

June 4 2014 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

Kids will have the opportunity next summer to explore and discover the adventure of life during a “Journey Off the Map” that is “Unknown to Us, Known to Him” in the 2015 Vacation Bible School (VBS) from LifeWay Christian Resources.

The description of the 2015 VBS theme invites students to “set out on a journey to uncharted territory where they will encounter the unexpected waiting around every bend. On this expedition of a lifetime, kids will need to stick close to their guide in order to survive. They will discover that Jesus is the ultimate guide on a journey uncharted by them, but known by Him.”

LifeWay’s VBS specialist Jerry Wooley said Journey Off the Map will be “filled with things kids like such as adventure, discovery, cool tree houses, challenging destinations, bright colors and fun music.”

Wooley said the theme’s message is particularly relevant today. “Kids are being bombarded by loud voices telling them what they should do, where they should go, who they should be and what they should believe. The messages are confusing and misleading,” he said.

“[K]ids of all ages, meaning adults too, need to know that in the midst of these voices there is one and only one they can totally depend on,” Wooley said.

Most previous VBS materials were geared to build to an evangelistic lesson later in the week. This year, LifeWay felt it would be better to introduce the idea of a personal relationship with Christ on the first day.

“Since Journey Off the Map is based on following Jesus as our guide, it is necessary to introduce this relationship on day one and build from there,” Wooley said.

The theme verse for the week will be Isaiah 30:21: “And whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: ‘This is the way. Walk in it.’“

Participants will learn to trust Jesus as Savior and walk along the journey of life becoming more like Him as they traverse the adventures in The Overlook Worship Rally, Tangled Branch Tree House Bible Study, Shady Grove Crafts, Boulder Bridge Missions, Rushing Waters Music, Rappelling Ravine Recreation and Survival Springs Snacks.

Each day kids will discover more truths about Jesus as their guide: Day 1 – Know your guide; Day 2 – Follow your guide; Day 3 – Trust your guide; Day 4 – Stay on track; and Day 5 – Keep watching.

The 2015 VBS Jump Start Kit will be available for purchase in early October to help church leaders and VBS directors in the planning and promotion of the event. All other resources will be released in December.

For leaders wanting to experience Journey Off the Map a little early and learn from experts on how churches can best use the materials, LifeWay will host preview events in four locations next year: Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center, Jan. 9-10; Fort Worth, Jan. 16-17; Nashville (three events) Jan. 22-24; and two events in Kissimmee, Fla., Feb. 6-7.

Additional information about the materials or preview events can be found at LifeWay.com/VBS.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
6/4/2014 11:05:56 AM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Cooperative Program receipts top $125 million

June 4 2014 by Baptist Press

Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee exceeded $125 million dollars through the two-thirds mark of the SBC’s fiscal year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page.

The $125,918,507.10 received by the Executive Committee for the first eight months of the fiscal year, October 1 through May 31, for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget represents 98.63 percent of the $127,666,666.67 year-to-date budgeted amount to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America.

The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of May and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution, according to the 2013-14 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.

The total is $883,585.72 or 0.70 percent less than the $126,802,092.82 received through the end of May 2013, and is 1.37 percent less than the SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget goal for the current year.

Designated giving of $148,094,674.59 for the same year-to-date period is 7.34 percent, or $11,732,971.45, below the $159,827,646.04 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund) and other special gifts.

May’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $16,788,260.12. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $17,349,519.01.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention.

State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.

The SBC allocation budget goal for 2013-2014 is $191,500,000, an increase of 1.86 percent over the $188,000,000 budgeted goal for the previous year, and is distributed as follows: 50.41 percent to support more than 4,800 overseas personnel with the International Mission Board (IMB), 22.79 percent to help fuel North American evangelism and church planting through North American Mission Board (NAMB), 22.16 percent to help underwrite low-cost ministerial preparation and theological education through six SBC seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to promote biblical morality and religious freedom through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.

CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at www.cpmissions.net/CPReports.
6/4/2014 10:52:59 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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