June 2015

CP surge showcased in exhibit hall discussions

June 23 2015 by Karen L. Willoughby, Bonnie Pritchett and Erin Roach, Baptist Press

Underfoot throughout the exhibit hall at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting were 12-inch directional decals affixed to the carpeting that proclaimed, “Fueled by the Cooperative Program (CP).”
Those decals – signaling ministries funded by CP gifts at the state or national level – were in front of at least three-quarters of the exhibits, including the North American Mission Board (NAMB) exhibit, which offered coffee cups emblazoned with the names of Send Cities, and the International Mission Board (IMB) exhibit, which distributed Kingdom Growers coffee beans. Between the two was the CP Stage, where several recipients of that Cooperative Program fueling explained over three days how CP fuel is expended.
“The CP Panel is really to spotlight the impact that Cooperative Program dollars have throughout North America and the world,” Mike Ebert, NAMB executive director of public relations, said. “It’s the missionaries who benefit, [as well as] the lives that are changed and the churches whose impact is multiplied through their giving.”

CP ‘to a new level’

Cooperative Program giving is up, said Executive Committee President Frank S. Page in the first of 10 20-minute interviews videoed for online viewing and watched by annual meeting participants walking through the exhibit hall.
“There is a new level of trust,” Page said. Churches that stopped giving have restarted their giving, and churches that were giving are giving more, he added.


Photo by Rebekah Rausch
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, is interviewed by Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources, at the Cooperative Program platform June 15 in the exhibit hall of the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

The decline in the number of Southern Baptists can be stopped just as the decline in CP giving was stopped, Page told Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, noting that the Cooperative Program is experiencing a resurgence. Churches are engaging with CP for the first time, and younger leaders are looking seriously at Southern Baptists’ unified method for funding missions and ministries, he said.
“We’re seeing some reengagement from guys my age,” Page said, noting that CP began a decline decades ago but in the past six months has shown a strong up-turn.
The Great Commission Resurgence in 2010 helped spark the CP surge, Page said. It led pastors such as Ronnie Floyd of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas and Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., to recommit to funding the Great Commission through CP, he said.
Now Cross Church leads Arkansas and First Baptist Woodstock leads Georgia in CP giving, Page said.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Cooperative Program’s birth, and Page is leading a 10-year, multifaceted Great Commission Advance toward the 100th anniversary in 2025. He has plans to engage churches that have never participated in CP.
“We’re also looking at a strategy to reach those who have been engaged at one level” and move them “to a new level,” Page said, adding that he sees his role as bringing in the funds to support the IMB and NAMB in their Great Commission work.
Stetzer referenced Annual Church Profile data which could be interpreted to predict a long-term, accelerating decline in membership at Southern Baptist churches. Though the trend line suggests a continuing decline, Page said a Holy Spirit revival could reverse that trend.
If churches “become true soul-winning, evangelistic places of ministry and mission, we’ll turn this ... around,” Page said. “Together we can do more, better.”

‘Check on’ CP investment

Stetzer also interviewed SBC President Ronnie Floyd about Great Commission Advance.
“I saw Ronnie Floyd, so I thought I’d stop and listen,” said Micah Rogers, of International Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. He was among the crowd that stopped to hear what was being said on the CP stage.
“Prayer is our greatest action,” Floyd told Stetzer. “We need our churches to rally to the primacy of prayer, to live on mission with God. We’ve got to have leaders in clear agreement that the highest need is spiritual, is a great awakening.”
Floyd spoke of the need for visible unity throughout the SBC, for a reemergence of Christians joining together for the propagation of the gospel.
“If we talk to each other, we don’t need to talk about each other,” Floyd said. “God called me to love people. That’s what we need to get back to. I need you and you need me.”
He encouraged people watching the interview online to come to next year’s SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
“If you give to [missions through] the Cooperative Program, you ought to come check on your investment,” Floyd said. “We’ve made significant changes. We need our convention to see what we’re doing in the world. ... I’m more encouraged now than in years about the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Lostness around the world

Reaching the lost – at home and abroad – requires a first-century approach to a problem as old as mankind, three SBC entity leaders agreed in a June 15 discussion led by Micah Fries, a vice president at LifeWay Christian Resources.
In addressing “lostness around the world and the Great Commission,” IMB president David Platt, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore and Page agreed that the “illusion of American Christianity” is rapidly fading to reveal the extent of human sinfulness.
“In terms of falleness, we have the exact same situation that we have always had since Eden,” Moore said.
The three leaders fielded questions from Fries, who said Christians in America have “lost the home field advantage” and now must speak the gospel into a culture that has no frame of reference for it.
Flagging evangelism by Christians – and not an antipathy to the message – explains the decline in conversions, Page said.
“So I’m calling people to a first-century kind of lifestyle where it was a natural way [of life] to share the good news Jesus Christ with neighbors and friends,” Page said.
Many American Christians are convinced no one wants to listen and are panicked by escalating cultural battles, Platt said. The first-century church, facing similar cultural challenges, prayed for boldness, a practice pastors today should emulate, he said.
Taking a cue from foreign missionaries, “ordinary Christians” can learn to engage their foreign-born neighbors, Platt said. Befriending Hindu neighbors, for example, can help Christians identify potential cultural barriers in their churches that hinder Hindus from attending. Bridging divides at home, in turn, can naturally lead some to take advantage of God-given opportunities abroad – without entering full-time ministry.
“[Don’t] leave jobs to become a missionary, but leverage jobs to be a missionary,” Platt said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen Willoughby is a writer based in Mapleton, Utah; Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

6/23/2015 10:35:37 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Bonnie Pritchett and Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N.C. ultrasound law loses at the Supreme Court

June 22 2015 by Leigh Jones, World News Service

North Carolina abortionists will not have to describe to mothers ultrasound images of their unborn babies.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that overturned a 2011 law requiring abortionists to show women the ultrasound images so that they would fully understood what happens during the procedure. The lower court ruled the law violated abortionists’ free speech rights and was “ideological in intent.” North Carolina legislators passed the measure overwhelmingly, even overriding a veto from the governor to put it into effect.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said the measure was intended to provide women with life-saving information.
“In any other medical procedure, doctors would have a duty to disclose all of the relevant information, and, yet, a procedure as destructive and life-changing as abortion is held to a lower standard,” she said.
Three other states – Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin – also require abortionists to describe the ultrasound image to women. Twenty-one states require abortionists to offer or provide women the opportunity to view their ultrasounds. Courts upheld Texas’ ultrasound law, but struck down the law in Oklahoma.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Leigh Jones s the managing editor of WORLD's website.)

6/22/2015 11:21:53 AM by Leigh Jones, World News Service | with 0 comments

Christians in Washington respond to S.C. tragedy with prayer

June 22 2015 by Jae Wasson, World News Service

Pastor Otis Gordon of Charleston, S.C., stood on the grass near the U.S. Capitol on Thursday afternoon, his eyes brimming with tears. Around him more than one hundred lawmakers and congressional staffers, dressed for the business day, bowed their heads.
And Gordon prayed for his city.
In response to the slaughter of nine African-Americans on Wednesday evening at a church in Charleston, S.C., Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., organized Thursday’s prayer vigil in Washington. The group met at noon to join Gordon and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., in prayer for the victims.
“God is near to the broken-hearted, and that would match South Carolina and all of us today,” Lankford said.
The victims of the shooting met Wednesday for a prayer meeting inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Police suspect 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof walked into the service and sat for an hour before opening fire. FBI and local police apprehended him June 18.
“A church should be one of the safest places on the planet,” Senate Chaplain Barry Black told the group at Thursday’s vigil. “And people assembled to lift their head in prayer to hear the word of God. And they were brutally murdered in the house of God.”
Black opened the vigil by reciting an old hymn: “Come to the mercy seat. … Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”
“Our heart aches for our nation,” Black said. “We pray that somehow God would use us to end the insanity of violence that we see.”
Gordon said he came up to Washington for Scott’s annual prayer breakfast June 17. He found out what happened in his city while he was gone when he turned on the television that night.
His first thought was the need for churches to pray. On Thursday, he prayed for peace for the victims’ families and for Charleston. He prayed God’s love “would usher in a flood of hope, of joy, and of restoration.”
“We seem to have forgotten that righteousness exalts a nation,” Black said. He told the group America needs to seek God: “We need healing in this great land.”
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a hate-crime.
“Anyone who would do something like that is pure evil,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said June 18. “On behalf of the whole House, let me say how shocked I am at the murder of church-goers.”
President Barack Obama called for a time of mourning and healing. The group on the Capitol steps appealed for a time of intense prayer.
“God heal us as a nation,” Lankford prayed. “We need Your help.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Jae is a 2015 World Journalism Institute intern.)

Related Story:

S.C. massacre ‘demonic,’ Baptist pastor says

6/22/2015 11:15:42 AM by Jae Wasson, World News Service | with 0 comments

‘Lord break us … make us,’ NAAF leader prays

June 22 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams cried out to God to mold Christians to stand as Christ’s ambassadors in these last days, as he closed his remarks with prayer during the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) annual banquet June 15 in Columbus, Ohio.
“Lord, break us, that You can make us, that we might be the people of God that You’re calling for in these last and evil days,” prayed Williams, NAAF president and pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church. “God, the people of God need to come together, but until we lay flat on our face and cry out to You, and allow You to do a work in our hearts that we might be that which You’re calling for in these last and evil days, neither revival nor spiritual awakening will come.”


Photo by Matt Miller
Newly elected 2015 officers of the National African American Fellowship include (left to right) Michael Pigg, parliamentarian, pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Robert Wilson, historian, pastor of Light of the Word Church in Atlanta, Ga.; K. Marshall Williams, president, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.; Frank Williams, treasurer, pastor of Wake Eden Baptist Church in Bronx, N.Y.; Erik Cummings, treasurer, pastor of New Light Baptist Church in Miami, Fla.; Byron J. Day, vice president, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md.; Brian King, Eastern Regional Director, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.; Garland Moore, mountain regional director, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Milan, N.M.; and Elgia Wells, executive director of NAAF. The officers were elected during the NAAF dinner and presidential address June 15 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Williams drew from several scripture passages in a message titled “The Prerequisite for Revival and Spiritual Awakening,” pointing to fear of the Lord and a humility born of brokenness. Speaking to pastors, pastors’ wives, other ministers, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity leaders and guests in a ballroom of the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Williams interspersed prayer with a call to Christians to surrender to God.
“We need to surrender from the pulpit to the door, from the ceiling to the floor. We need Jesus to fill us that we might be children of the Most High God,” Williams said, also voicing thanks to God for NAAF and the SBC.
“Thank You for what You’re going to do in our lives and in this nation, and even in this eon,” he prayed. “Allow a fresh wind to blow through America and turn this nation right side up for Christ.”
SBC leaders greeting the group included Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; O.S. Hawkins, president, GuideStone Financial Resources; Keith Jefferson, International Mission Board African-American missional church strategist; Mark Croston, LifeWay Christian Resources national director of black church partnerships,; Gary Frost, vice president of the North American Mission Board’s Midwest Region; Daniel Sanchez, missions professor and director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Scarborough Institute for Church Growth; Ken Weathersby, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention advancement; Bob Sena, Executive Committee Hispanic relations consultant; and Valerie Carter, executive director and treasurer of the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, also expressed his love and appreciation, making reference to Micah 6:8.
“There are times we have a right to do something, but it’s not the right thing to do. And I’m glad that we’re finding out and learning what is right and hopefully starting to do that which is right,” Page said. “I want us also to be a people who love mercy, who treat each other with mercy as you have to me, and to walk humbly before our God.”
NAAF honored the late Samuel G. Simpson with its Legacy Award. Simpson, who died in February at age 83, served two terms as president of the Baptist Convention of New York, was the founding pastor of the Bronx Baptist Church and Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church, both in New York, and was a Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) missionary. He was often called the “Bishop of the Bronx.”


Photo by Matt Miller
K. Marshall Williams, 2014 president of the National African American Fellowship, speaks at an NAAF banquet June 15 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Williams is pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa.

NAAF reelected its slate of officers to serve another one-year term, during its annual business meeting preceding the banquet.
In addition to Williams, they are vice president Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, Laurel, Md.; treasurer Frank Williams, pastor of Bronx Baptist Church and Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church in Bronx, N.Y.; secretary Erik Cummings, pastor of New Light Baptist Church, Miami; parliamentarian Michael Pigg, pastor of Philadelphia Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga.; and historian Robert Wilson, pastor of Light of the Word Baptist Church, Atlanta. Presidents of state African-American fellowships serve as vice presidents at large.
Returning regional directors are Brian D. King Sr., Eastern Region, pastor of Ezekiel Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pa.; Jeffery Friend, Central Region, pastor of Suburban Baptist Church, New Orleans; Garland Moore, Mountain Region, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, Milan, N.M., and A.B. Vines, Western Region, pastor of New Seasons Baptist Church, Spring Valley, Calif.
Ray Gaffney, president of the Ohio African American Fellowship and pastor of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Defiance, delivered the business meeting devotion.
Croston, preaching pastor of the Living Grace Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., preached during NAAF’s annual worship service the morning of June 14 at New Antioch Bible Fellowship in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Croston preached from 1 Samuel 16:1-14 on “The Power of God’s Anointing.” Trent Hayes was host pastor.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/22/2015 11:08:27 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBTS Press publishes ‘A Guide to Church Revitalization’

June 22 2015 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS Communications

Christian leaders and pastors consider the necessity and nature of church revitalization in the 21st century in a new guide book released by SBTS Press, sponsored by the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In A Guide to Church Revitalization, editor and Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. highlighted in the opening chapter the need for a new generation of church revitalizers. Replanting struggling churches about to close their doors is a critical calling for contemporary pastors, Mohler writes.
“One of our central tasks in the present generation is to be bold in our vision of replanting churches – helping existing churches to find new vision, new strategic focus, new passion for the gospel, new hunger for the preaching of the Word, new love for their communities, and new excitement about seeing people come to faith in Jesus,” writes Mohler in the chapter. “Replanting churches requires both courage and leadership skills. A passion for replanting a church must be matched by skills in ministry and a heart for helping a church to regain a vision.”
The guide book details the necessary elements of revitalizing a dying church, from the centrality of expository preaching to cultivating spiritual discipline among members. It includes a description of the revitalizing process, a summary of the factors indicating ultimate success, and a depiction of the personal character required to be a spiritually effective church planter.
Also featured in the guide book are Dan Dumas, senior vice president for institutional administration; Croft, who is also senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville; Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality; and David Prince, assistant professor of Christian preaching and pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky.
“This new guide book seeks to help this historic need in the Southern Baptist Convention by relying, not upon the latest trends and church growth gimmicks, but upon the power of God working in his Word,” said Brian Croft, senior fellow at the Mathena Center. “It is a helpful beginning to what we hope will launch a great movement of God’s Spirit and equipped men called to this unique work to breathe new life into dying churches.”
Dumas’ chapter focuses on the need for genuine godly character and integrity, while Croft offers several considerations for churches about to enter a revitalization phase. Whitney’s chapter encourages pastors to rekindle a passion for godly spirituality among their congregants, and Prince emphasizes the need for expository preaching in a growing church.
The book concludes with a series of interviews with Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.; Andrew Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina; and Croft. The interviews present evaluations of necessary components of church revitalization, including frank and honest assessments of the pastors’ early years of ministry in churches that experienced revitalization.
Other titles in the SBTS Press guide book series are A Guide to Biblical Manhood, A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care, A Guide to Expository Preaching and A Guide to Evangelism. The imprint also published God and the Gay Christian? and The Call to Ministry.
A Guide to Church Revitalization is available in print and digital editions at sbts.edu/press.

6/22/2015 11:03:32 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Former Mars Hill elder Sutton Turner apologizes and repents

June 22 2015 by Warren Cole Smith, World News Service

One of the three former executive elders at the recently dissolved Mars Hill Church has publicly apologized for his behavior while serving there.
In a series of blog posts published over the past few weeks, Sutton Turner has taken responsibility for his role in a book-buying scandal and for helping to perpetuate a culture of fear and intimidation at the Seattle megachurch co-founded by Mark Driscoll.
“Early on in my time at Mars Hill, I unfortunately operated in a sinful way that was consistent with the existing church culture that had grown and been cultivated since the early years of the church,” Turner wrote. He later clarified that statement in an email to me, saying, “I don’t want people to think I blame the culture. I take responsibility for my own actions.”
Turner does not mention Driscoll by name in any of the blog articles detailing his time at Mars Hill. When I asked him specifically about Driscoll, he said, “I would prefer to answer questions about me and what Jesus has taught me through my experiences.”
Turner said he wrote these articles – three so far – “to help other leaders like me. I pray that someone – even just one person – can be spared the consequences of his/her own mistakes by paying careful attention to mine beforehand. I also pray that my public confession of sin and admission of mistakes will further enhance opportunity for reconciliation and restoration among those whom I have experienced conflict.”
Critics of Mars Hill Church have so far praised Turner’s public confession. Rob Smith, a former Mars Hill deacon who became a vocal critic of Driscoll and the church, said he hoped Turner’s “willingness to admit error” would begin “healing and reconciliation that could be a powerful testimony to Seattle and to the world.”
Turner said he has been meeting with individuals associated with the church, and that the repentance and reconciliation process actually began last year.
“Since March of 2014, I have reached out to 25 people with whom I had a relationship where there had been issues,” he said. “I have had meetings or phone calls with 21 of them. The remaining have yet to meet with me after multiple requests on my part.”
At its peak, Mars Hill operated 15 church “campuses” in five states. Most of these campuses have since become independent churches. Other churches also have formed. For example, Tim Gaydos, who left Mars Hill in 2013, now pastors a new church in Seattle with 200-300 worshippers and an understated name, “A Seattle Church.”
Turner summed up the feelings of many who are picking up the pieces in the post-Mars Hill era in Seattle: “I look back on 2011 and 2012 with a lot of regret, but I’m also very thankful for the Holy Spirit and his ability to grow us all to be more like Jesus.”
Meanwhile, Driscoll, who refused an interview request for this article, has kept a low profile since he stepped down as Mars Hill’s pastor last October. But he received some attention recently when his Seattle-area home went on the market for $1.6 million and after he appeared a few times as a speaker at churches and conferences. On at least one occasion his appearance brought out protesters. Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong invited Driscoll to speak at a conference in Australia this summer. But Pastor Brian Houston rescinded the invitation in the wake of unfavorable media accounts and online protests.
“The teachings of Christ are about love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him,” Houston told Australian media. “However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Warren Cole Smith is vice president of WORLD News Group.)

6/22/2015 10:58:05 AM by Warren Cole Smith, World News Service | with 0 comments

S.C. massacre ‘demonic,’ Baptist pastor says

June 19 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christians are uniting in prayer and benevolence across racial distinctions in Charleston, S.C., after a 21-year-old man massacred nine Christians in a June 17 prayer service at historic Emanuel AME Church, said neighboring Southern Baptist pastor Keith Biggs.
“Everyone together – white, black, Hispanic, everybody – we’re coming together in unity to see this not only [as] an attack on people, but an attack on the body of Christ,” said Biggs, associate pastor of Citadel Square Baptist Church, which neighbors the site of the crime. “I mean, who can walk into a church and sit for an hour and have prayer, and then just begin to kill everybody?”
The FBI identified the shooter as 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Columbia, S.C., whose uncle told police he believes Roof received a .45-caliber handgun as a birthday present, Reuters reported. Roof was arrested on the morning of June 18 in Shelby, N.C.
In what police are calling a hate crime, a man identified as Roof sat calmly in the church during the prayer service and without notice shot worshippers and fled the scene. The church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed. The other victims were Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; and the reverends DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Singleton, 45; and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, according to news reports.
A 5-year-old child escaped murder by pretending to be dead, and a woman was purposely allowed to live so that she could tell police what had happened, it was widely reported.


Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“As everybody said on TV, it goes deeper than just hate. To me, this is something that’s very demonic to be able to do that. It’s a big spiritual warfare, so we’re coming together,” Biggs said. “We’ve just got to pray and seek direction, see how we can help one another, see how we can pray to get this action and so forth out of here. Everybody is very calm right now and just looking for answers.”
Biggs said the two churches have a growing friendship and that the Baptist church loaned Emanuel AME the use of its parking lot during a funeral a few weeks ago, as the churches are in the same block.
“The parking in Charleston is just very hard for everybody. They knew they had a lot of people coming in. Right after that happened, Bro. Pinckney had written us a card, just of his appreciation and so forth. So we had a connection where we worked together as a church in the resources that we had,” Biggs said. “We’re down here today, everything is shut down because of all of the security, but we have already contacted one of their members, Charles Williams, who’s a friend of mine … who happened not to be at the meeting, but was out of town on vacation. And we let him know … that our church is available for anything that they need at any time.”
While Citadel Square Baptist Church pastor David Walker was in Columbus, Ohio, attending the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, Biggs said he and other church leaders have already planned a special prayer emphasis June 22 during the Sunday worship service.
“Sunday we will make sure that our membership will come together and pray [during] a portion of our service,” Biggs said, “and then again we will sit down as a church and put our heads together to see what we can do to extend even more in the days, weeks and months to come.”
Both churches have security systems, Bigg said, and the Baptist church “will revisit everything to make sure everyone is protected.”
“Just be praying for us,” Biggs requested.
The SBC has placed a renewed emphasis on prayer for spiritual awakening, and included a nearly three-hour prayer service June 16 during its annual meeting in Columbus. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also hosted a citywide prayer meeting June 13 in Charleston.
“This last Saturday we had 5,000 or so in our coliseum for statewide prayer,” Biggs said. “We’re in the middle of [spiritual warfare], but God is faithful and He will come out on top. We’ve just got to be faithful, strong and trusting.”
Haley posted a statement on her website after the tragedy.
“Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church,” Haley wrote. “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/19/2015 9:16:44 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB, NAMB celebrate missionaries, sending churches

June 19 2015 by Laura Fielding, IMB Connections

In a darkened convention center hall filled with Southern Baptist messengers, individual pinpoints of light illuminated the darkness. Moments earlier, in passionate pleas, International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt and North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell urged Southern Baptist messengers not to be cold toward the vast lostness in the world, but to join in God’s global mission as church planters, missionaries and sending churches to take the light of the gospel to a dark world.
IMB and NAMB partnered together in a Church and Mission Sending Celebration to recognize 59 missionaries and their sending churches during the final day of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), June 17, in Columbus, Ohio.
“The stakes are too high, the gospel is too good for us to settle for incremental increases in Southern Baptist church planters and missionaries,” Platt said in his message. “We need to open the door for tens of thousands more people to engage the nations with the gospel.
“Wouldn’t you want that to be our legacy?” Platt asked. “Don’t we cry out for God to bring a Moravian-type missions movement among us so that our legacy might be a convention of churches who send thousands, tens of thousands of God-exalting, Christ-following, Spirit-led, biblically faithful, people-loving, high-quality missionaries and church planters across North America and the nations for the sake of God’s fame?”

Light of the World

The Sending Celebration symbolically celebrated commissioning the new missionaries and church planters to share Jesus as the Light of the World (John 8:12). Christian band Shane & Shane led the audience in worship.


NAMB Photo by John Swain
Kevin Ezell, left, president of the North American Mission Board, and David Platt, president of the International Mission Board end a joint Church and Mission Sending Celebration by recognizing missionaries with a standing ovation at the June 17 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Of the 59 missionaries and church planters highlighted, 27 will serve in North America in the Northeast, South, Midwest, West and Canada, while 32 will serve overseas in East, Central and South Asia; North Africa and the Middle East; Europe; Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas.
Stationed throughout the crowd, missionary families and representatives of their sending churches stood with an open lighted “book” illuminating their faces, while information about the missionaries and their work was displayed.

The sending church

Ezell said although the service was focused on missionaries, they also wanted to celebrate the sending churches. “Churches plant churches,” he said.
On stage, Ezell interviewed Chuck Herring, pastor of First Baptist Church in Collierville, Tenn., about being a sending church pastor. Herring has led the church to adopt an unengaged, unreached people group in South Asia and send a family to plant a church in Toronto.
“It’s good for our church to have ownership of a church plant in an unreached part of North America,” Herring said.
Being a sending church does not require a large congregation or a lot of money, Ezell said. “It’s about having a big heart and compassion and a passion to reach people here and around the world.”

Five truths

In light of the vast darkness, Platt emphasized five truths.

  1. The stakes are high. Darkness is a real destiny for billions of people who are headed to hell, he said. “We don’t have time to waste our lives and lead our churches in casual, cold, comfortable, cultural Christianity.”

  2. The gospel is good. “The divine Savior has defeated the deceptive snake,” Platt said. “The sovereign King has conquered sin and suffering and death forever. This is the greatest news in all the world.”

  3. The church is central – it is God’s chosen agent for the eventual accomplishment of the Great Commission. That truth drives both IMB and NAMB, Platt said. “We want to say to 46,000 Southern Baptist churches, ‘You exist for mission, we exist to help you accomplish it.’”

  4. The opportunities are limitless. Missionaries and church planters can be sent through new pathways, such as students, professionals and retirees taking advantage of God-given opportunities to live and work around the world. “Are we going to let our minds broaden and in our churches begin to say to people, ‘Global missions is not a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few people who are called to that – the glory of God among the nations is actually the reason you have breath on the planet?’” Platt said.

  5. The time is now. Our lives are simply a mist (James 4:14), Platt stressed. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, so Southern Baptists should make their lives count now.

“As IMB, NAMB, as every entity and every local church across the SBC, let’s unite together around this good gospel, in view of these high stakes, and in light of limitless opportunities God’s given us to send and shepherd church planters and missionaries around the world,” Platt said. “May the urgency of this mission mark us. May our light shine amidst the darkness and may our mist count while we’ve still got time.”

Sending out

After Platt’s challenge, the missionaries, church planters and their sending churches again stood with their faces aglow from their lighted books. Platt and Ezell led in prayer for them as messengers gathered around to lay hands on them in prayer.
SBC President Ronnie Floyd closed the celebration, urging pastors and church leaders to fill out commitment cards to pray passionately, give generously and intentionally disciple people to be sent out nationally and internationally.
“Think about the big vision of asking God for an awakening so we can reach the world with the gospel of Christ,” Floyd said. “All of it goes together, a mighty move of the Lord and His people mobilized to reach the world.”
To learn more about being a sending church, visit imb.org/send or namb.net/mobilizeme.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is an IMB writer.)

6/19/2015 9:15:00 AM by Laura Fielding, IMB Connections | with 0 comments

ERLC to open Mideast office, honors embattled florist

June 19 2015 by Art Toalston & Erin Roach, Baptist Press

An international religious freedom office in the Mideast will be opened by the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Russell Moore announced at the SBC annual meeting June 17.
Moore, the ERLC’s president, told messengers, “We must contend for religious freedom for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for everyone else wherever they are on the globe.” He added, “We will not stand idly by while those with whom we will share eternity are being led to the slaughter.”
Also during the ERLC report, Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington state florist punished for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding, received a standing ovation by messengers at the convention in Columbus, Ohio.
“Mrs. Stutzman knew that the truth is not up for sale and the gospel doesn’t bend to the highest bidder,” Moore said, “and faithful Christians do not stow away their convictions in a blind trust when they enter the public square.”

International religious freedom

The ERLC announced the appointment of Travis Wussow of Austin, Texas, as ERLC director of international justice and religious liberty in a news release, also on June 17.


Photo by Paul W. Lee
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, gives a report during the last session of the two-day June 16-17 SBC annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Through its Mideast office, the ERLC will develop “a holistic strategy to advocate for religious liberty and social justice around the globe,” the news release stated, listing four primary initiatives:

  • “Provide training resources for churches and organizations on issues related to justice and religious liberty.

  • “Create original content to raise awareness and champion advocacy through research and storytelling.

  • “Collaborate with Baptist Global Response for advocacy and awareness of human needs opportunities.

  • “Develop strategic relationships with like-minded organizations to advance advocacy efforts.”

Moore called the Mideast office “a historic moment for the ERLC” and the location “a strategic key to working for religious liberty with world leaders, especially in the Middle East.”
Moore said Wussow has “the convictional leadership and gospel courage that leading this office requires, and his work will be of immeasurable value in the ERLC’s goal of advocating for soul freedom around the globe.”
Prior to his appointment as director of international justice and religious liberty, Wussow served as an ERLC legal consultant and as an executive pastor and general counsel for the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. Wussow holds a juris doctor and an undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Texas.
“Every day around the world,” Wussow said, “religious minorities face persecution and millions of people are held in slavery. We look forward to advocating on their behalf.”
David Platt, president of the SBC’s International Mission Board, also commented in the news release on the Mideast office.
“Surrounded by the global reality of religious persecution, and driven by our love for God, we must act,” Platt said. “In a land of religious liberty, we have a biblical responsibility to stand up and speak out on their behalf. I am thankful that the ERLC will represent Southern Baptists on issues related to international justice and religious liberty.”

Embattled florist

Moore, speaking before introducing Stutzman during the ERLC report, stated that Baptist Christians have been comfortable in American culture for most of the past century.
But, he noted, “Baptist Christianity just doesn’t do well as a water carrier for anybody’s civil religion. Ours is a jailhouse religion, carried to us by heroes who were often outlaws: Paul of Tarsus, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, John Leland, Martin Luther King Jr.
Some heroes “went straight from the baptistery to the jail cell to the great cloud of witnesses,” Moore said. “We are their sons and their daughters, and we stand here again on the ‘wrong’ side of history, right where we started.”
In the modern struggle for religious liberty, Stutzman’s story stands out, Moore said.
“Barronelle had a difficult choice,” he recounted. “She wanted to be kind to her friend and she wanted to honor him, but as a Christian she didn’t want to violate her conscience by participating in a ceremony that she believed to be wrong.”
Stutzman was found guilty in February of violating a gay couple’s U.S. and state civil rights and was held personally liable for damages and their attorney fees, putting her at risk of losing her business and personal holdings. Backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Stutzman is appealing the case and is prepared to take it to the Supreme Court.
Stutzman’s choice was one of courage, compassion, conviction and kindness, Moore said. Her story is one that shocked many, but it is one that Southern Baptists need to be prepared for – “a world in which the gospel and our convictions seem increasingly strange and freakish,” Moore said.
In his intercession for Stutzman and others struggling for religious liberty, Moore prayed that “every one of us in this room would be able to love the Gospel more than we love our comfort, our security and our safety.”
Also in his report, Moore said the ERLC repeatedly has engaged the public square this past year.
“When one of the most ignorant and willfully deceitful public relations campaigns was waged against religious freedom legislation in Indiana, your ERLC fought back,” Moore said. “Religious liberty was purchased with the blood and toil of our Baptist forefathers, and we will not see it bartered away at the hands of corporate or government bullies.”
When the mayor of Houston “had the audacity to subpoena sermons,” the ERLC made known that soul freedom is not subject to subpoena, Moore said.
“As Christians we will render unto Cesar what is Caesar’s,” he said, “but the preaching of the church of God does not belong to Caesar and we will not hand it over, not now, not ever.”
When Congress refused to pass legislation making it illegal to take the lives of pain-capable children in the womb, the ERLC made clear that “we’re not interested in rhetoric without results, and we fought to see the passage of the Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act in the United States House of Representatives,” Moore said.
In closing, Moore emphasized that Southern Baptists are not ministers of condemnation but are ministers of reconciliation.
“We will speak a word that calls to repentance, but we will not end at repentance,” he said. “We will not end at a call that says, ‘Look at your sin.’ We will continue until we say, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service; Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

6/19/2015 9:14:00 AM by Art Toalston & Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC panel: Value love, gospel with LGBT community

June 19 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Christians should not undervalue the effect of love or the gospel in relating to gays and lesbians, recognizing, however, that faithfulness to the biblical definition of marriage will prove costly, members of a special panel told messengers at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
During the Wednesday afternoon session (June 17), five panelists answered questions from SBC President Ronnie Floyd about how churches and pastors can minister in an American culture that increasingly approves of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The discussion occurred about two weeks before an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could result in gay marriage’s legalization nationwide. Same-sex marriage already is legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, the conversation came on the same day Floyd and 16 former SBC presidents released a statement saying they will not perform and the churches they pastor will not host same-sex ceremonies.
Rosaria Butterfield, an author who has chronicled her journey from lesbianism to Christ, told messengers not to “deny the power of the gospel to change lives and to travel at the grass-roots level. Your friendships matter.

Photo by Paul W. Lee
Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, leads an SBC Presidential Panel on “The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: Preparing Our Churches for the Future.” Panel participants included (left to right): Rosario Butterfield, an author from Durham, N.C.; Ryan Blackwell, senior pastor, First Baptist Church, San Francisco; Matt Carter, senior pastor, Austin Stone Community Church, Austin, Texas; R. Albert Mohler Jr.; president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The panel was held during the last session of the two-day June 16-17 SBC annual meeting at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.

“Don’t underestimate the power of genuinely loving people with a sense of fervency and consistency and honesty,” Butterfield said in explaining how to minister to gays and lesbians. “[W]ith compassion, we’re going to speak the truth in love, but we’ve got to show up to do it.”
Matt Carter, lead pastor of Austin Stone Community Church, said the Texas church is attempting “to train the believers who go to our church to pursue [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender – LGBT] people with the gospel in the same way they would pursue anybody with the gospel.”
“We try to help our folks understand: ‘These people are not your enemy.’ Satan is our enemy. These are people that desperately need the blood and the love of Jesus Christ,” Carter told messengers.
“We offer love. We offer grace. We offer kindness. But we do call to repentance.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr. said he believes “we’re going to pay an enormous social, cultural price for not doing a same-sex ceremony.”
In the past, people “gained social capital” by joining SBC churches, said Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Now they’re going to lose it.”
For pastors, “the next decade of ministry is going to require courage,” said Ryan Blackwell, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco. “[I]t’s important as you go into ministry in this culture that you are operating out of an identity that is firmly in the love of Christ, the relationship that you have with Him.”
Carter encouraged pastors and church staffs to make decisions ahead of time on such issues that could involve gays, lesbians and same-sex couples as baby dedications, church membership and staff hiring.
Pastors should teach their church members “a robust understanding of biblical sexuality” and instruct them “to be very good listeners,” Blackwell told messengers. “Our churches should be the safest places to have conversations about same-sex attraction.”
When asked how to help Christians with same-sex attractions, Russell Moore said the first thing needed is to “recover testimonies in our worship services in Southern Baptist churches.”
Those testimonies need to reflect the biblical reality that Christians are “all fighting spiritual warfare,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). In the case of same-sex attraction, he said, a Christian would testify, “I’m a follower of Christ, and I’m having to fight and to struggle against the temptation to homosexuality.”
“[W]e need the whole body bearing one another up,” Moore told messengers.
He also urged Christian parents not to be ashamed of their gay and lesbian children. “[D]o not throw your gay [or] lesbian child out of the house,” he said.
Churches need to become communities that are safe places “to work through who I am,” Butterfield said, “and whose I am eventually.”
“The first thing we need to do is be an accessible community,” she said. “Be a rhythm-of-life community. Be a family of God [that] we can call people into.”
Mohler said the SBC and its churches must be diligent to confess and abide by biblical truth to make certain they do not follow other denominations that long ago abandoned the Word of God and the gospel and now affirm homosexuality and gay marriage.
Southern Baptists also should say, “There but by the grace of God would we have gone – and we nearly did,” Mohler said in a reference to the SBC’s condition before its conservative, theological resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s.
At Floyd’s request, Moore closed the discussion by referencing the ERLC’s resources on the issue for pastors and churches. These include Protecting Your Ministry, a new legal guide for churches and other institutions, and Equip, an online initiative with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to aid pastors and others in ministering to the LGBT community.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
6/19/2015 9:13:00 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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