June 2017

5,018: SBC’s unofficial Phoenix registration

June 15 2017 by Brian Koonce, The Pathway

The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting drew 5,018 messengers to Phoenix June 13-14. The unofficial total is 31.6 percent fewer than last year’s 7,321 messengers in St. Louis but 164 more than 2011 when the convention last met in Phoenix.

Photo by Van Payne
Five-thousand-eighteen messengers representing hundreds of churches across the country attend the 160th Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

When registered guests, exhibitors and others are included, the count of those at the SBC annual meeting rose to nearly 8,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.
That 2011 total was the smallest messenger count at an annual meeting in more than six decades, when in the throes of World War II, 4,301 messengers gathered in Atlanta in 1944.
Newly elected SBC registration secretary Don Currence, who served as acting secretary throughout the meeting, said this year’s results were in line with estimates.
“With next year being in Dallas and being an election year (for SBC president), we’ll probably be back up around 9,000 messengers,” Currence said.
As expected, Arizona Baptist churches turned out for their host-meeting; their 374-messenger total was the second largest of the state delegations. Texas was the highest at 474 messengers.
Attendance followed a general geographic trend of higher attendance from states in the West and lower from everywhere else: California’s 283 dwarfed their 115 total in St. Louis last year, while Alabama’s attendance was just 63 percent of last year’s delegation.
The unofficial state-by-state messenger registration numbers are as follows: Alaska, 17; Alabama, 234; Arkansas, 175; Arizona, 374; California, 283; Colorado, 48; Connecticut, 2; Washington, D.C., 11; Delaware, 4; Florida, 266; Georgia, 303; Hawaii, 16; Iowa, 12; Idaho, 6; Illinois, 98; Indiana, 55; Kansas, 51; Kentucky, 240; Louisiana, 187; Massachusetts, 10; Maryland, 7; Michigan, 28; Minnesota, 7; Missouri, 242; Mississippi, 141; Montana, 11; North Carolina, 316; Nebraska, 4; New Hampshire, 2; New Jersey, 19; New Mexico, 92; Nevada, 75; New York, 30; Ohio, 77; Oklahoma, 135; Oregon, 12; Pennsylvania, 22; Puerto Rico, 1; South Carolina, 191; South Dakota, 11; Tennessee, 373; Texas, 474; Utah, 21; Virginia, 176; Vermont, 5; Washington, 41; Wisconsin, 15; West Virginia 23; Wyoming, 9. There were 21 messengers who were approved through the credentials process but were unaffiliated with a state convention.
Jim Wells, the outgoing recording secretary, was unable to attend the annual meeting because of illness. His duties were picked up by SBC Recording Secretary John Yeats and various other workers, including Currence.
Official attendance numbers will be released later in June; the state-by-state numbers do not include guests or children.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway, mbcpathway.com, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

6/15/2017 9:38:09 AM by Brian Koonce, The Pathway | with 0 comments

CP-funded collegiate church network multiplies

June 15 2017 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

In a college football stadium, in the third quarter of a Washington State versus Oregon game, surrounded by 20,000 cheering fans, Keith Wieser heard God say, “Look at all this potential. I want to do something here, but you have to think bigger.”

Photo by Matt Miller
Keith Weiser, pastor of Resonate Church in Washington, and his wife Paige give a testimony during the SBC Executive Committee report June 13 at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in the Phoenix Convention Center. The couple shared how God has been multiplying their ministry. The church now has sites at Washington State University, the University of Idaho, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, and the University of Oregon.

“Truth is, our vision was a stadium full of saved people, but God saw a stadium full of sent people. We just wanted to start a college church, but God desired to start a movement of collegiate churches,” Wieser said in a video during the Executive Committee’s morning report at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) June 13.
In 2007, Wieser and his wife Paige moved from Texas to plant a church in Pullman, Wash., “a part of the country where churches are few and college students in those churches are even fewer.” They launched Resonate on the campus of Washington State University (WSU). Within a year, they planted again at the University of Idaho.
“In 2012, we started our third site at the heart of WSU’s campus, and it immediately became our largest Sunday gathering,” Wieser reported. “Five years after launching Resonate, we were a church of 600 people, 20 staff and three sites.”
The Wiesers are among those Frank S. Page, president of the Executive Committee, wanted messengers to see as the face of the Cooperative Program, a visible example of the fruit that comes when Southern Baptists give sacrificially.
Resonate sent out two of their best, Jacob and Jessica Dahl, to plant a church on the campus of Central Washington University, and in 2013 Page featured them in his EC report in Houston.
“Since 2007, we’ve sent out 1,200 students on mission trips,” Dahl said in the video. “We’ve sent a long-term team to East Asia to reach college students. Over 350 students have committed to church planting. Since 2007, we’ve seen over 700 college students baptized.
“The story doesn’t end with the campus. It begins with the campus. Students graduate and move to cities as leaders,” Dahl said. “We are giving them a gospel worldview so they can shape and influence culture. If we win the campus, we win the world.”
During the Executive Committee’s afternoon report, Page had the Wieslers, the Dahls and others join him on stage.

Photo by Matt Miller
Jacob Dahl, center, and his wife Jessica, right, share how they reach college students on the campus of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Wash., through Resonate Church during the SBC Executive Committee report in the evening session of the June 13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center. Keith Weiser, pastor of Resonate Church, second left, and his wife, Paige, left, look on.

“Southern Baptist family, I don’t have strong enough words to express my appreciation for your investment in our lives. One of the things that I love most about being Southern Baptist is we are a group of people who will do whatever it takes to reach people who are far from Jesus, even if
that means planting churches in unconventional ways and in unconventional places,” Keith Wiesler said.
“The Resonate family exists because Southern Baptists invested in Paige and me when we were college students and it gave us a pathway to plant churches across the Northwest.”
The collegiate church at Central Washington University has grown from 12 to more than 250 people, Paige Wiesler said. They’ve baptized more than 100 people and made disciples.
Jacob Dahl said he’s “seen God do some pretty amazing things at our church in the last four years.”
“One is that He has trained up and called one of our original church planting team members to plant a church on a different college campus,” he said. “We had a goal to not just start a church but to start a church planting church. We knew the lostness on college campuses demanded in us a multiplication mindset from the very start.”
Jessica Dahl introduced Colin Luoma and Jessi Strecker, who will be married June 17 and this fall will plant a Resonate church on the campus of Western Oregon University.
“The most important thing we want you to hear today is this: Southern Baptist family, when you invest in college students through the Cooperative Program, you accelerate missions and church planting for generations,” Luoma said.
A group of college students stood with Luoma on the stage.
“This group behind me continues to tell the story. This is just a few people that are being prepared to plant churches in the future,” he said.
“So Dr. Page and messengers of the SBC, on behalf of Resonate Church, other collegiate churches and every college student yet to hear the gospel and be mobilized, thank you for your continued sacrifice in accelerating missions through the Cooperative Program,” Luoma said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

6/15/2017 9:37:41 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LGBT protesters few, use SBC logo on flyers

June 15 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A protest that a LGBT advocacy group had billed as “historic” was hardly noticeable on the opening day of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix, bystanders said. But flyers distributed by the group included the SBC 2017 logo and theme.

Photo by Bob Carey
A messenger talks to a protester with Faith In America on June 13 outside the Phoenix Convention Center.

About 50 people appeared to join in Faith in America’s (FIA) protest asking the SBC to remove homosexuality and transgenderism from the “sin list.” They distributed flyers and engaged messengers in conversation outside the Phoenix Convention Center before disbanding around 1 p.m., bystanders told Baptist Press (BP). The exact number of protesters was difficult to judge, separated in groups of two or so and blended in with passersby, witnesses said.
Former SBC President James Merritt, approached by a protester he described as “respectful,” told BP the group’s presence was a blessing.
“I don’t believe they came on their own. They may think they did,” Merritt said. “I think God brought them here, and God did us a favor by bringing them here so we can extend to them the love of Christ and the kindness of the Holy Spirit.”
Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church near Atlanta and host of the Touching Lives international television and media ministry, said he petitioned God in his morning prayers for all protesters to see the love of Christ in any messengers they meet.
“There was an older gentleman here who was from some church he said, who tried to give me a booklet,” Merritt said. “I just smiled at him and didn’t say anything. ... They really were respectful. They have a right to be here.”
FIA flyers incorporated the SBC 2017 logo and language, reading “For such a time as this: Save yOur Kids!” followed by the “Pray for Such a Time as This” annual meeting logo. The annual meeting Scriptures Luke 11:1 and Esther 4:14 were clearly visible.
In addition to protesters, an FIA mobile billboard continued to quietly circle the block adjacent to the convention center’s North Hall, where the annual meeting was held. The billboard cited a statistic that 40 percent of homeless teens in the U.S. are LGBT, and invited messengers to a free meal a 6:30 p.m. at the nearby Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Merritt recalled the 2002 annual meeting in St. Louis during his presidency when pro- and anti-LGBT groups lined the sidewalks outside the St. Louis convention center. That year, about 50 homosexual protesters were arrested, BP reported.
SBC messenger Joe Sims, a member of First Baptist Church of Bremen, Ga., said he and his pastor spoke with a protester only briefly during the lunch hour. Around noon, he only saw about eight protesters.
“They handed us a flyer,” he said, “and of course the first thing I noticed on the flyer was they used our logo. I thought that was unusual for them to use our logo on the front, but I guess it was a way to get it handed out.”
The protesters wanted to talk, Sims said.
“My pastor, Herman Parker, he just made a statement,” Sims said. “We Christians are not the ones that called homosexuality a sin. We didn’t put it on the list; it was God. Therefore we can’t take it off the list. But we still love you.”
FIA markets itself as a non-profit group founded in 2006 “to end decades and centuries of using religious teachings to justify marginalizing and discriminating against others,” and is “dedicated to influencing media and faith community narratives on religion and sexuality.”
In a May 31 press release announcing the protest, FIA Co-founder and Co-chair Mitchell Gold said it would be a “historic moment.”
“This is not about conflict and division. It is about speaking the truth and standing up for our kids and teens being hurt,” he said in May. “It is also about finding common ground around our children and youth.”
See previous story here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

6/15/2017 9:37:02 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

$3.1M Cooperative Program gift featured in EC report

June 14 2017 by Barbara Denman, Art Toalston & Erin Roach

Flanked by more than two dozen Florida pastors, Tommy Green of the Florida Baptist Convention presented a gift of $3,136,500 to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during the Executive Committee (EC) report June 13 in Phoenix.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Frank S. Page, left, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, receives a check from Tommy Green, left, Florida Baptist Convention executive director, from the proceeds of the sale of the FBC’s building while about two dozen Florida pastors stand with them. The presentation was given during Page’s Executive Committee report on June 13 during the SBC annual meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The Cooperative Program (CP) gift, from the sale of the Florida convention’s former building, was among numerous facets of the Executive Committee’s report to messengers during the convention’s 160th session since the SBC’s founding in 1845.
Executive Committee recommendations adopted by messengers included appreciation for Jim Wells, the SBC’s outgoing registration secretary who is battling cancer, and establishing a process for selling the SBC Building in Nashville in the event of a significant offer.
The Executive Committee also highlighted the report of the Women’s Advisory Council appointed by EC President Frank S. Page in January 2016.

Florida CP gift

The Florida convention’s gift to the Cooperative Program was 51 percent of $6.15 million received from the sale of the former Baptist Building in downtown Jacksonville, which was completed June 7.
The 51 percent allocation is in keeping with the convention’s CP budget that sends 51 percent to the Cooperative Program and retains 49 percent for Florida Baptist ministries.
“This gift is over and above our regular CP giving and specific to the sale of this property,” Green, the Florida convention’s executive director, said to the applause of messengers.
Green noted that the pastors on the platform “represent our Florida Baptist family, among many who are seated in the convention center. Florida Baptists enthusiastically in 2015 made a strategic decision concerning the division of Cooperative Program dollars given in our state.”
Prior to 2015, Florida had retained 59 percent of CP gifts in the state. The 2015 decision “led to a paradigm shift which changed our CP formula to releasing 51 percent to the SBC CP and retaining 49 percent of CP dollars in Florida.”
Green was named as Florida’s state exec in 2015 and immediately began the process of shifting more funds to the SBC.
“This decision of sending more than we keep of CP dollars from our churches has resulted in a reversal of a decade-long decline in CP dollars in Florida,” Green told messengers.
“We are now trending upward and rejoice in a $3 million increase from Florida Baptist churches to the SBC CP this past year,” he said. “Florida Baptist ministries continue at a high level, and we are grateful to report a 4.5 percent increase in baptisms through Florida Baptist churches this past year.
“Our prayer is that God will multiply these dollars in taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.”
Acknowledging the gift, Page said the funds will “go straight into the mission field” and expressed appreciation to Florida Baptists on “behalf of all Southern Baptists and the sake of the gospel.”
The money retained in Florida provided $2.3 million for the purchase of a 28,568-square-foot convention building in south Jacksonville; $700,000 to endow the John Sullivan Chair of Baptist History at the Baptist College of Florida; and $13,500 for ministry in the state.

Jim Wells recognition

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, gives the EC report to messengers June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Wells, who was unable to attend the convention, was honored by messengers with a resolution of appreciation for his 15 years of service.
“He had hoped against hope to be here to conclude his service in Phoenix,” Page told messengers, noting that the 2003 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix marked Wells’ first year in the position.
Page read one of the resolution’s clauses to messengers: that Wells “has fought a long and courageous battle with cancer ... that though the doctor has said he had only a few days left on this earth, he was ‘confident in these final hours that God is in control,’ that he is ‘looking forward to a day when we will worship at the feet of Jesus together’ and that he intends to devote his time remaining to ‘praying for the lost.’”
Wells most recently had been the Missouri Baptist Convention’s strategic partners catalyst after serving as director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association and pastor of nine churches in nearly 50 years of ministry.
Page, in a prayer, said, “... we plead Your mercy upon our brother in Christ and his dear wife Judy. Thank You for their service over these years. We pray in Jesus’ name that as the master physician You would visit him powerfully and closely. We love him and Judy. We lift them to your throne today.”

Building sale process

Messengers approved a process for the sale of the SBC Building in Nashville in the event of a favorable offer being received. Acting on a recommendation by the Executive Committee, messengers authorized it “to continue studying the advisability of a sale of the SBC Building, and to sell the property upon such terms and conditions, and at such a time, if any, as the Executive Committee may hereafter approve.”
Should a sale occur, various costs such as the current feasibility study would be deducted from the proceeds, which would then be distributed according to agreed-upon percentages based on those in place when the building opened in the mid-1980s:

  • The EC would have a 56 percent share, including the original interests of the former Education Commission and Stewardship Commission which were closed as part of the 1990s Covenant for a New Century SBC reorganization.
  • The Council of Seminary Presidents would have a 26 percent share, encompassing the original interests of the former Historical Commission, which also was closed in the SBC reorganization, and Seminary Extension. The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is now operated by the seminary presidents council.
  • The ERLC would have a 14 percent share, reflecting the original interest of the former Christian Life Commission.
  • The Southern Baptist Foundation would have a 4 percent share.


Women’s Advisory Council

Photo by Daniel Woodman
Rhonda Kelley, left center, professor of Women’s Ministry at Leavell College and director of Women’s Ministry Programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, presents the Women’s Advisory Council Report to Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. Kelley served as the chair of the council composed of 18 women from 14 states representing different age groups, stages of life, ethnic backgrounds and ministry positions. The report contains specific recommendations on ministries, training, and resources provided for Southern Baptist women.

Page recognized the work of the Women’s Advisory Council, which he appointed two years ago to address his conviction that women were under-involved in SBC processes. Women, Page said, make up 52-53 percent of the entire Southern Baptist population.
“God gifts women according to His biblical roles, but those gifts that He has given them must be utilized in His Kingdom,” Page said. “We know women can minister so beautifully to each other, and we wanted to find a way to find out what were the best practices and just encourage women in their involvement of ministry to each other and in the Kingdom of God.”
The Women’s Advisory Council, chaired by Rhonda Kelley of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, presented its report to Page June 12 at the Many Faces of the SBC booth in the exhibit hall. Page said the report, which includes the council’s findings, suggestions and action steps, would be posted online at sbc.net for all Southern Baptists to read and “to hold us accountable for the implementation of these suggestions.”
Page noted that the Women’s Advisory Council is one of several councils he began appointing on his second day in his role as EC president, each one representing a subset of people in the convention who may not have been “as involved and connected as we would wish.”
These groups “have been precious persons with whom to work,” Page said, adding that he had met with Native American, African American, Asian American, Hispanic and Latino leaders since he has been in Phoenix for the annual meeting.

Cooperative Program allocation

Messengers also approved a 2017-2018 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $192,000,000.
The budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the International Mission Board (IMB) and 22.79 percent to the North American Mission Board, for a total of 73.20 percent allocated for world missions ministries.
The convention’s six seminaries will receive 22.16 percent. The seminary enrollment formula for funding will be: Gateway Seminary, 2.11 percent; Midwestern Seminary, 2.93 percent; New Orleans Seminary, 3.72 percent; Southeastern Seminary, 4.03 percent; Southern Seminary, 5.17 percent; Southwestern Seminary, 3.96 percent; and .24 percent to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, a ministry overseen by the seminary presidents. (Cumulative numbers may not match the sum of individual seminary percentages due to rounding.)
The budget designates 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The SBC Operating Budget, the only CP-funded facilitating ministry, encompassing SBC annual meeting costs and the work of the Executive Committee, will receive 2.99 percent of the budget.
Additionally, messengers amended the formula for distributing any overage of gifts above the CP Allocation Budget to increase the IMB’s portion from 51 percent to 53.4 percent and decrease the SBC Operating Budget portion from 2.4 percent to 0 percent.
An SBC Operating Budget of $7,450,000 for the 2017-2018 fiscal year also was approved by messengers.

Executive Committee recommendations

Messengers approved several additional recommendations from the Executive Committee, including:
– providing representation to four states or territories on the Executive Committee.
The four areas were granted EC representation although they do not have the number of church members stipulated by SBC Bylaw 30.
The recommendation amended Bylaw 18 to list the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Montana as each being entitled to a single representative on the Executive Committee. All other states and defined territories have EC representation.
– selection of three cities for upcoming SBC annual meetings – Salt Lake City in 2025, which was the site of the SBC’s 1998 meeting; Orlando, Fla., site of the 1994 and 2000 annual meetings; and Indianapolis, site of the 1992, 2004 and 2008 annual meetings.
– streamlining the SBC Business and Financial Plan’s Section XIX, now titled “Publishing and Merchandising Policy,” to read in part: “All entities of the Convention should give priority to using the services of LifeWay Christian Resources for editing, publishing and distributing published materials that are to be sold. Entities may publish their own materials in print or digital form promoting their assigned ministries.”
– authorizing the International Mission Board to move to an Oct. 1-Sept. 30 fiscal year, responding to an IMB trustee request that would enable the mission board “to conduct their finances more efficiently and more effectively evaluate and project the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.” The Executive Committee, LifeWay Christian Resources and North American Mission Board utilize an Oct. 1-Sept. 30 fiscal year, while GuideStone Financial Resources utilizes the calendar year and the six SBC seminaries utilize an Aug. 1-July 31 fiscal year.
– adopted a 2021-2022 SBC Calendar of Activities along with several amendments to the calendars from 2017-2018 through 2020-2021.
When all of the recommendations had been presented, a messenger asked the Executive Committee to consider providing “some form of explanation on each of them ... so that the messengers would be better informed on making the decisions to approve or disapprove.”
SBC President Steve Gaines responded, “We will receive that as a recommendation to the Executive Committee, as a request.”
EC President Frank Page also addressed the messenger’s request, saying to the convention, “As you’ve dealt with these issues, please remember that we hold your trust tightly and we cherish it. This is a deliberative body, the largest openly deliberative body that still exists. But know that the Executive Committee also deliberates carefully at multiple levels dealing with each of the issues before they’re ever presented to you, from small groups to medium size [groups] to the large plenary sessions. Our Executive Committee members are not rubber-stampers. They ask questions, they deliberate, they discuss and sometimes disagree. So know that we hold your trust carefully and we count it to be precious.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention; Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press; Erin Roach is a writer based in Nashville.)

6/14/2017 8:32:43 AM by Barbara Denman, Art Toalston & Erin Roach | with 0 comments

Pastors’ Conference: H.B. Charles Jr. elected president

June 14 2017 by SBC writing team

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference proved historic on many levels including the unanimous election of H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., as the conference’s first black president.
The election took place during the afternoon session of the conference at the Phoenix Convention Center, June 12. In addition to the historic nature of the officer elections, this year’s lineup of speakers included pastors of smaller to average-size Southern Baptist churches preaching through the book of Philippians.
Charles was nominated by Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla., who said, “I want to be real clear about one thing – I am not nominating H.B. Charles because of the color of his skin. I’m suggesting that he be the conference president because of the character of his soul and the convictions of his spirit.”
Whitten shared about Charles’ pastoral ministry experience and commitments to the inerrancy of scripture and expositional preaching, adding, “All of this has given H.B. a vision of what every Southern Baptist pulpit can look like, when we make Jesus Christ the central figure of our preaching and the cross the central factor of our preaching.”
There were no other nominees, so current conference president Dave Miller asked the crowd to vote by standing and cheering, and the entire auditorium erupted in applause.
Steve Swofford, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockwall, Texas, was nominated by Bart Barber of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, vice president for the 2018 Pastors’ Conference, and was elected unopposed. There were no nominees for secretary, so Miller explained that per the rules of the conference, Charles would be able to appoint one.
Monday afternoon and evening Pastors’ Conference sermons follow:

Jamar Andrews

Speaking on Philippians 2:19-30, Jamar Andrews, lead pastor of Word Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., highlighted Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of Christians who lived lives worthy of the gospel.
Andrews said that in the passage that the apostle Paul uses the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus as illustrations of how followers of Christ should live.
“When we think about what Christ has called us to, we must make sure that our agendas match His and that our interests match His,” Andrews said.
“Timothy had a mind, attitude and disposition that kept Jesus Christ and His interests first.”
Andrews said character is “one of the most important assets we have as a messenger of the gospel. ... We want people to see that the message that we share is also the message that we live.”
Every person has three tongues, Andrews said – one in our mouth and one on each foot.
“The reality is that when we think about character, the one that’s in our mouth must be saying the same thing as the ones that are on our shoes,” Andrews said.
“Whenever we preach the gospel we want to make sure that we don’t unsay with our lives what we say with our lips,” he said.
Andrews said the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus shows that God remembers even small things done in His name. It also shows us that ministry can be costly, as it almost cost Epaphroditus his life.
“Even though ministry is costly and ministry is difficult, God’s mercies are new every day,” Andrews said.

Jose Abella

Photo by Jeremy Scott
Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami, preaches during the afternoon session June 12 of the Pastors’ Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. He preached from the text of Philippians 3:1-11. This year’s Pastors’ Conference theme of “Above Every Name” walks through the book of Philippians during sermons from 12 small- to medium-sized-church pastors. Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Church in Miami, preaches during the afternoon session June 12 of the Pastors’ Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. He preached from the text of Philippians 3:1-11.

Preaching from Philippians 3:1-11, Jose Abella, pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Miami, exhorted attendees, saying, “We must be a people that pursue gospel clarity.”
The son of Cuban immigrants, Abella described the first time he visited Cuba in 2013 and saw a river that flowed through the rural farming community where his parents had lived.
“What I saw amazed me. The clarity of the water,” he said, “was truly a sight to see.” Three years later when he returned with his wife, however, the water was “murky and full of debris.”
“I wonder if the river of the gospel that runs through our churches and convention flows with such beauty and clarity,” Abella said. “I wonder if there’s any debris of legalism, antinomianism and everything in between blurring gospel waters.”
We are always one generation away from losing the gospel, he warned. Therefore, “it is of vital importance that we get the gospel right,” Abella said.
“If we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of assuming the gospel instead of pursuing the gospel,” Abella preached.
“If the gospel is not before us, it most definitely will be behind us,” he said. “And if it ends up behind us, we will end up with a diluted gospel that is no gospel at all. If the gospel loses its clarity, it will lose its redemptive beauty and power.”
Gospel clarity, he said, “protects us against heresy, grounds our confidence in Christ alone and saves sinners and exalts the Savior.”

Spencer Plumlee

Photo by Jeremy Scott
Spencer Plumlee, pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, Mo., preaches at the Pastors’ Conference June 12 on the text of Philippians 3:12-18. This year’s theme of “Above Every Name” walks through the book of Philippians with 12 pastors at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Spencer Plumlee, pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, Mo., continued in Philippians 3, working through verses 12-16, where Paul discusses striving toward the ultimate goal of eternal fellowship with God in Heaven: “forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
“Conversion is not the finish line,” Plumlee said. “Conversion is the starting line in this race.”
Plumlee said the passage calls believers to an urgency in their work, an urgency to live each day as if it is their last.
“Pastor, is that the gospel you’re presenting to your church?” he asked.
“Are you presenting a gospel that calls them to victorious urgency? My fear is that we stop at conversion and talk about people’s future without addressing the present life God has called us to live now. This victorious urgency is not just for the super spiritual; it’s not just for the pastor or missionary; it’s for each and every one of us.”

Michael Allen

Photo by Matt Miller
Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, gives a message June 12 during the last session of the SBC Pastors’ Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. Allen preached from Philippians 3:17-21.

“There is an obsession these days with leadership and not followership,” said Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill.
“Yet, there are at least twice as many scriptural references to followership than there are to leadership.”
Preaching from Philippians 3:17-4:1, Allen said those verses show that there are two imperatives to followership: 1) In verse 17, Paul exhorts the people to join in – to become like him as he follows Christ. 2) In the same verse, Paul says to pay attention, or to scope out other saints who are already living according to the example of other saints.
“Paul is not talking about a program for your church,” he said. “He’s talking about following godly people. It’s not about borrowing a sermon or a song you got at a conference but by being influenced by those who are worthy of being imitated.”
Allen said that when he was called to preach 27 years ago, he was part of the college and career class taught by Susie Hawkins at First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. He asked the pastor, O.S. Hawkins, how he knew he was called to preach.
Hawkins looked him in the eye and said “Michael, if you can do anything else in the world and be happy, then do it. But if you can’t be happy unless you’re preaching, then it may very well be that God has called you to preach.”
Allen, who at the time worked as a field service computer technician, said he had listened to Hawkins for years exposit whole chapters of the Bible. He watched O.S. and Susie relate to each other, and he watched as they raised their daughters to be fine wives and mothers.
“He’s always left me with some kind of personal encouragement,” he said.
“So now, I always try to give a word or a touch of encouragement to others. ... Be a Paul to someone else. No one becomes a great leader without first being a great follower.”

Bart Barber

Photo by Matt Miller
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, preaches during the final session of the Pastors’ Conference June 12 at the Phoenix Convention Center. He spoke on Philippians 4:1-9.

Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, delivered a message from Philippians 4:2-9, calling for God to raise up more peacemakers in Southern Baptist Churches.
Noting that the entire letter to the Philippians speaks to the value of gospel partnerships, Barber said, “There are two ways that you can lose partnership in the gospel. One way is to lose the gospel. ... But even if you retain the truth of scripture and the authority of scripture and the reality of the gospel, you can still lose a partnership for the gospel if you fail to protect the spirit of partnership that enables people to cooperate for the cause of the gospel.”
In this passage, Paul names people in the church who were causing problems, and he calls out the peacemakers in the church to bring reconciliation.
He explained that much of the conflict in Southern Baptist churches is not simply because of the presence of conflict but rather because of the absence of peacemakers.
Barber said if pastors are going to call people to be peacemakers in the church, then they are going to have to teach them how to do it effectively by training their manners, emotions and thinking.
“The lie straight from hell that plagues our churches is that we think if we’re going to be mannerly, we can’t make anybody’s business ours,” Barber said. “We see trouble in church, and we say, ‘Y’all take care of that. Good luck.’” But, he said, Paul challenges the church in Philippi to step in and help bring harmony in the body of Christ.
Peacemakers must also be prepared for the emotional difficulties that come with peacemaking, choosing to rejoice in the face of conflict, and to think well of all the parties involved.
Ultimately, Barber said, pastors must set the example of peacemaking.
“Oh, friends, our churches perish for a lack of peacemakers,” Barber pleaded. “Our marriages fall apart because Christians gather around, and instead of telling us to work things out, they tell us that we can just bust things up. Institutions struggle because of the problems we have with conflict.
“But the beauty of peacemaking is that it’s something that Christ has promised will receive a blessing – blessed are the peacemakers.”

Shane Hall

Photo by Matt Miller
Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, preaches on Philippians 4:10-23 during the final session of the Pastors’ Conference June 12 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The conference came to an emotional end as conference leaders gathered in prayer around Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla. Hall, who suffers from the relapse of an incurable strain of stomach cancer, closed the two-day study of Philippians from the benediction of Paul’s letter with the simple message, “All we need is Jesus.”
Hall said this closing passage contains one of the most often misused and misapplied verses of scripture – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). But the driving theme of this letter, and of Paul’s life, was a total reliance on the person and Godhood of Jesus, who makes everything in life, the good times and the bad, bearable. “For Paul, all he needed was Jesus.”
But the cancer-embattled pastor emphasized Paul’s contentment and total reliance in Jesus did not come without a price.
“How did Paul get there? How did he get to the place that Christ is enough?” Hall asked. The answer, he said, is found in the iconic verse 13.
“Paul learned it in the school of contentment,” he said. “That is not a school that we want. Why? Because in the school of contentment we learn that Christ is all we need – not when we have much, but when we have little. Not when we have everything, but when we have nothing. When things have been stripped from us and we are at life’s worst circumstances, that is when we learn to be content in Christ alone.”
“I don’t want to be in the school of contentment. I don’t like it,” Hall said. “I have to ask every day, is Christ enough for me? Can I truly say that all I need is Jesus?”
“My plans have been brought to utter ruin. What I thought I was going to do for His Kingdom are all gone at this point. I feel like all I am doing is trying to stay alive and survive so I don’t leave my wife and daughters.
“When God brings these things into your life – it is not coincidence, but providence. Life gets real simple real quick. It becomes Christ and Christ alone. The reality is this, all we need is Jesus.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Keith Collier, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN. With reporting by Caleb Yarbrough, associate editor for the Arkansas Baptist News; Margaret Colson, executive director of Baptist Communicators Association; Brian Koonce, assistant editor for The Pathway; Katharine Chute, director of communications at Gateway Seminary; and Marc Ira Hooks, associate director of missions and director of communications of the Collin Baptist Association in Fairview, Texas.)

6/14/2017 8:12:38 AM by SBC writing team | with 0 comments

Common Ground: Pastors share testimonies, advice

June 14 2017 by SBC writing team

Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, said he began his ministry as a street preacher who didn’t know anything about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Photo by Jeremy Scott
Fred Luter, senior minister of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives a Common Ground Testimony during the opening session of the SBC Pastors’ Conference June 11 at the Phoenix Convention Center. A Common Ground Testimony was shared at the end of each session to provide encouraging insights for churches of all sizes.

Luter, a former SBC president, was one of four pastors who gave a “Common Ground Testimony” to encourage those in ministry during the SBC Pastors’ Conference meeting in Phoenix June 11-12.
“I was raised as a National Baptist,” he said. “Someone asked me if I would be interested in submitting my resume to Franklin Avenue Baptist Church. I put in my resume, but I was scared. I had never pastored; I wasn’t ordained; I hadn’t been to seminary yet. But a congregation of 50 people asked me to be their pastor.”
Luter told the audience that he was convinced that if they were faithful in four areas, God would bless their ministries. “First, be faithful to God,” he said. “God called you to ministry. Whatever you do in life, make certain you are faithful to God. When you stand in the pulpit, be faithful to God who called you.”
Second, Luter said, pastors should be faithful to God’s Word. “Preach it, teach it and live the word of God. If people are saved, it will be because of the Word of God. If your church will be evangelized, it will be because of the Word of God.”
Third, he said it was important that pastors be faithful to their wife and their family. “Brothers, pastors, your family is your first priority, not the church. The church is God’s church – it will go on with or without you. Be faithful to your family. Let the leadership know that your family is your priority. I promise it will make all the difference in the world.”
Finally, Luter advised pastors to be faithful to the church that called them. “When I went to Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, those people didn’t know how to pronounce my name, but I wanted to be faithful because they gave me a chance. Don’t go somewhere and say that you’re only going to be there a short while until something bigger comes along.”
Luter said he had no idea that one day his church would lead the state in baptisms, or that he would be elected the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012. “I am a living testimony,” he said. “Be faithful to God, and He will be faithful to you.”

J.D. Greear

Photo by Bill Bangham
J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., gives a Common Ground Testimony during the morning session of the June 12 Pastors’ Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. He explained, “The future of the church lies with small churches.”

J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., called the debt he owed small churches “enormous.” Greear spoke of the impact a small church pastor had on his parents’ lives when, as adults, they came to faith in Christ. He said a small congregation allowed the pastor to provide his parents “life-on-life discipleship.”
“The pastor brought them personally into his life,” Greear explained, adding that the pastor modeled faithfulness in prayer and a heart for evangelism. “He poured his life into theirs.”
Greear said The Summit Church grew from a church plant that dreamed of reaching the world for Christ. Founded by a missionary waiting to go to the mission field, the small congregation’s dream appeared unmet for 40 years, he said. But he said God “grew the dream in his own time,” noting that his congregation marked its 227th church plant this year and is working toward a goal of planting 1,000 churches.
“Brothers, it is big faith – not big churches – that is God’s instrument to change the world,” Greear said.
He pointed to the small New Testament churches that made a big impact for the Great Commission. “They turned the world upside down,” Greear said.
He urged listeners to remember that “tomorrow’s champions” of the faith most likely are seated today in the pews of small churches.
“So, be faithful brothers,” Greear said. “Do the one thing we were all appointed by God to do and that is preach the Bible, God’s inerrant word, and make sure every man, woman, boy and girl in your town has a chance to hear and respond to the gospel. And dream big dreams about how God can use your seeds of faith sown in tears and weakness and watered by faithfulness to transform the world.”

Johnny Hunt

Photo by Jeremy Scott
Johnny Hunt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., gives a Common Ground Testimony during the afternoon session June 12 of the Pastors’ Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. A Common Ground Testimony was presented at each of the four sessions of the Pastors’ Conference to encourage pastors of all church sizes.

Pastors are called to be models of evangelistic witness for their church members, said Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga. His pastoral experience has taught him that “whatever is important to the pastor is important to the people” so pastors should “model the ministry” they want their people to embrace.
Hunt described the third church he served as pastor and also the church where he was converted to the Christian faith: Longleaf Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C. When he was called to pastor there, the church was running approximately 90 people on Sunday morning. He quickly decided to spend “most of his time on the field.”
Each morning in Longleaf, Hunt went into town, knocking on doors and asking people if he could pray for them. “As I sensed that God was opening doors, I would share the gospel,” he said.
The church also rented space at a local skating rink for a Sunday morning Bible study.
Soon, Longleaf Baptist Church became the fastest-growing church in North Carolina and the first church in the state to baptize 200 people in one year.
“The greatest call on my life is not to be a pastor,” he said. “The greatest call on my life is to be a Christian. My relationship with Jesus propelled me to be a witness for Christ.”
Hunt described “a great need [for] Southern Baptists to get back to just bona fide soul-winning – to sharing the gospel and knowing that the Spirit of God will honor the witness and proclamation of the gospel in bringing people to Himself.
“May God bless Southern Baptists to once again become a soul-winning denomination,” he said.

Steve Gaines

Photo by Matt Miller
Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives a Common Ground Testimony during the June 12 Pastors’ Conference at the Phoenix Convention Center. Each session of the conference featured a testimony by a well-known pastor to give encouragement and insight to churches of all sizes.

As pastors worked their way through the book of Philippians during the 2017 Pastor’s Conference, SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., said the study has special meaning for him because his first sermon series as a pastor in Lake Dallas, Texas, came from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.
Gaines brought a short message of encouragement to pastors based on his personal experiences in ministry. “Do whatever the Lord wants you to do,” Gaines shared. “Stay close and walk with Him.”
He urged pastors to be committed to their times of prayer, “If you really love the Lord, then you will talk to Him,” Gaines said. “Don’t talk about Christ until you talk to Christ!”
He also urged pastors to rediscover their own love for personal evangelism.
“The gospel is not just for studying, it is for sharing,” he said. “We must encourage people and persuade them toward the repentance of their sins.”
He concluded with a few simple words of advice for pastors. “Be a soul winner, be a prayer warrior, love your wife, love your children and stay in love with your wife ... because you get her back once the kids finally move out!” And, he added with a smile, “If I were you, I would not take Monday off. Don’t feel that bad on your own time. Take Friday off, you’ll feel better by then.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Katherine Chute, director of communications for Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. With reporting by Marilyn Stewart, assistant director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Margaret Colson, executive director of Baptist Communicators Association; and Marc Ira Hooks, associate director of missions/director of communication for the Collin Baptist Association in McKinney, Texas.)

6/14/2017 8:05:13 AM by SBC writing team | with 0 comments

Send Luncheon: ‘Evangelize or fossilize’

June 14 2017 by Daryn Sinclair, NAMB

A full-capacity audience gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center June 12 for a discussion about evangelism at the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) 2017 Send Luncheon which coincided with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference.

Photo by Marc Hooks
Las Vegas church planter Vance Pittman, right, encourages pastors toward evangelism and to be disciple-making churches during the NAMB Send Luncheon June 12. Pastors Greg Laurie, second from left, and James Merritt added examples from their experience while NAMB President Kevin Ezell, left, moderated the discussion at the Phoenix Convention Center.

“NAMB exists to come alongside churches and help them be on mission,” NAMB president Kevin Ezell told pastors. “The mission of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. To push back lostness in North America. To see that every man, woman, boy and girl can hear the gospel. Everything we do is about evangelism. We as a convention need to focus on having gospel conversations.”
Ezell shared some sobering statistics based on an analysis of 2015 Annual Church Profile numbers. Eight percent of SBC churches, he said, baptized nine people or fewer. Fifty percent of churches baptized two or fewer, and 25 percent baptized none.
Ezell then invited pastors Vance Pitman, Greg Laurie and James Merritt to the stage to discuss their experience sharing the gospel and leading others to do the same. Each man stressed how crucial evangelism is to the survival of the church, and they challenged pastors to lead by example in their own lives by intentionally and regularly having gospel conversations.
Greg Laurie, senior Pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., began the conversation by explaining how he motivates his church staff and members to share their faith.
“If you want to start a fire in the pews, it has to start in the pulpit,” Laurie said. “Evangelize or fossilize. New believers are the lifeblood of the church. If you show me a church that does not have a constant flow of new believers coming in, then I will show you a church that’s stagnant.”
Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga., added, “Unless you are a pastor in the Sahara Desert, by yourself, there is no excuse for baptizing nobody. The gospel is still a fire that can melt the coldest heart. It is still a rock that can break the hardest heart.”
Vance Pitman, NAMB ambassador and pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, shared his experience with evangelism as a church planter.
“What changed for me in the arena of evangelism was moving to Las Vegas to plant a church,” Pitman shared. “When I moved to Las Vegas, there was no church. I didn’t have a choice but to build relationships with people in the city.”
Pitman said it was then that he became more active in meeting lost people, cultivating gospel conversations with them and building relationships with people in the city. He addressed a problem he said is common among Baptist churches today: Members are only surrounding themselves with fellow church members. He suggested restructuring the ministry to allow more time and opportunities for members to build relationships with people outside the walls of their congregation.
Pitman then introduced a video of Martin Haghani, a church planter from his church who excels in evangelistic work. A former Muslim, Haghani has devoted his life to reaching out to the Islamic community in Las Vegas in order to share the gospel and the hope of Jesus. In 2015, he led 26 Muslims to Christ, and in 2016, his church baptized 54 more.

Photo by Marc Hooks
Justin Haynes tells NAMB President Kevin Ezell, far right, about the hardships of church planting in the city of New Orleans during NAMB’s Send Luncheon June 12 at the Phoenix Convention Center. In addition to the expected spiritual warfare, Haynes has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Ezell surprised Haynes and his wife, Brittany, by announcing that private donors not only will provide assistance with the family’s medical expenses, but are sending the family on a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando.

To conclude the event, Ezell explained that the purpose for planting churches is evangelism, and he introduced a video featuring Justin Haynes as the embodiment of this mission. Haynes is a church planter that moved to New Orleans to start a church in a community there.
“I believe that prayer is one of our most powerful tools that we have,” Haynes stated in the video. About six months ago, NAMB contacted Haynes and asked him if he would be willing to be featured in its annual missionary prayer calendar, which is distributed through SBC churches.
Four months later, Haynes was diagnosed with cancer on the same week he appeared on the prayer calendar.
“Knowing that there are thousands praying for the mission to move forward just makes me keep going,” Haynes explained. “We are in a broken world, and I only know one person that can fix that, and it’s the one that’s fixing me.”
After the video, Haynes, his wife and four children joined Ezell on stage and were met with a standing ovation from the audience. Once again, they stressed how much they have appreciated the SBC’s support and prayer through the challenges they have encountered.
The luncheon’s conclusion came when Ezell told the Haynes family that through private donations, NAMB would be covering the out-of-pocket medical expenses the Haynes family has incurred during his cancer treatments. For the closing benediction, Ezell invited Merritt back to the stage to pray for Haynes and his family.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daryn Sinclair writes for the North American Mission Board.)

6/14/2017 7:53:05 AM by Daryn Sinclair, NAMB | with 0 comments

Sumrall receives top award for women’s leadership

June 14 2017 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

Becky Sumrall, a Tennessee Baptist who has spent the past 40 years mentoring women from all walks of life, is the recipient of this year’s Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development.

Photo by Van Payne
Becky Sumrall, right, a Tennessee Baptist who has spent the past 40 years mentoring women from all walks of life, receives this year’s Dellanna West O’Brien Award for Women’s Leadership Development from Vickie Anderson, executive director of the Tennessee Woman’s Missionary Union, at the morning session of the national Woman’s Missionary Union annual meeting in Phoenix June 12.

The award, presented annually by Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) since 1998, comes with a $2,500 grant from WMU Foundation that will go to further Sumrall’s ministry at Begin Anew, Middle Tennessee’s branch of Christian Women’s Job Corps and Christian Men’s Job Corps.
Sumrall, a member of First Baptist Church in Nashville, has served for 15 years as Begin Anew’s executive director.
“Her ministry has empowered women of all social classes and has led to not only changes in individual lives but also communities as a whole,” said Vickie Anderson, executive director of Tennessee WMU. “She has shown her selfless ability as a servant leader to influence other women to become leaders, all the while leading with personal integrity.”
Born and raised in Georgia, Sumrall grew up in Sunbeams, Girls in Action and Acteens. She answered a call to full-time ministry at 16, not knowing where that call would take her.
“Because of all that experience (in WMU programs), I was receptive to that call, and it was powerful enough that it’s driven the rest of my life,” Sumrall said.
In the years since, she has served as a North American Mission Board missionary, a social worker for the Kentucky Baptist Children’s Home and a leader of inner-city ministries and in several church and associational staff positions. She served as adult missions and ministry specialist on the Tennessee WMU staff before leaving to lead Begin Anew.
“Working on that staff developed some of the leadership and organizational skills that really prepared me to step out of there and lead at Begin Anew,” Sumrall said.
She has been married for 41 years to Rusty, who serves as executive director of the Nashville Baptist Association. They have two daughters, both of whom have been involved in cross-cultural missions for more than a decade.
Sumrall said she is grateful to still be fulfilling the call she heard as a teen.
“WMU feels like home to me,” she said. “I think that’s why this award means so much – it’s who I am and who developed me.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Ala., and author of I Don’t Wait Anymore, a 2016 release from Zondervan.)

6/14/2017 7:49:37 AM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

At the loading docks, Phil Baker brings the Word

June 14 2017 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Just to the right of a heart defibrillator and fire extinguisher, Phil Baker has set up a plastic-top folding table in the cavernous loading dock at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Photo by Art Toalston
Phil Baker brings a witness to loading dock workers in each city where the SBC holds its annual meetings.

Baker has placed a plastic box there labeled “Prayer Requests,” along with a supply of blank index cards and pencils and a couple dozen devotional booklets.
Another small stack of cards explains what Baker, the building superintendent at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) building back in Nashville, is up to in Phoenix and every other city where the SBC holds its annual meetings.
“Thank you for sharing your prayer requests with us,” the dock workers are told, along with word that they’re being prayed for “that God would give you comfort, strength and peace.”
“We would love to share with you about how you can have a personal relationship and deeper walk with Jesus. Look for anyone wearing an SBC Staff badge, they would be happy to talk and pray with you.”
The card’s third paragraph is simply John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Baker’s work on the dock, however, encompasses more than prayer.
Dock superintendents have been gracious to let him bring several dozen donuts and then speak a few minutes before their “call to work” and safety reminders at 7 or 8 a.m. depending on the city.

Photo by Art Toalston
A dock worker at the Phoenix Convention Center, asks prayer “for my niece who is on drugs, that she may be clean from them to get her kids back, and pray for her husband to stop the abuse he does to her.”

“God gives me what to say,” Baker reflects on the mini-devotionals from Wednesday through Saturdays before the noise erupts from 40-50 dock workers unloading pallets, crates and boxes from tractor-trailer rigs onto fork lifts to deliver into the exhibit hall through a 20-by-18-foot passageway.
“I’ve never had a lack of anything to say about Jesus,” Baker recounts.
And he invites the workers to a Bible study on Sunday morning, a half-hour before their start time. “Most of the folks are unchurched,” he says. “Their work is on Sundays a lot of times.” Yet few attend the Bible study since they typically arrive just in time to begin work.
The Sunday attendance has ranged from one to four, except for the 2007 SBC annual meeting in San Antonio when seven attended, including a dock supervisor who had been diagnosed with cancer a few weeks earlier.
As Baker labors alongside a dock worker during the convention set-up, he tells the individual “who my hero is. It seems to be the shortest and most direct way to get their attention.”
“My hero,” he says, “is Jesus.”
And he then likes to cite the Golden Rule, “to treat people the way they want to be treated” to note that “we’re going to be different. And if we’re not, you let me know.
“We’re a caring people, a praying people, a people of the Bible.”

Photo by Art Toalston
Dock workers’ yearnings are ready for prayer by SBC Executive Committee staff and volunteers at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Baker first began the loading dock outreach at the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville with guidance from a convention decorating company rep.
“I continually noticed there was something missing on the dock,” he says. “It’s easy to just say, ‘How are you doing today? We’re praying for you.’ What I felt a burden for was to speak to them about what I believe.”
To the dock workers, it’s just another “show,” as they call each incoming convention, until Baker’s demeanor begins to take root. “Opportunities,” he says, “are always there.”
Baker, who has directed the SBC Building’s maintenance since 1999, also is has been the construction coordinator for the World Changers initiative the past two years in mid-July in Nashville, encompassing about 150 teens from across the country.
As to the prayer requests, Baker takes them to the convention office staffed by the SBC Executive Committee.
“Please take time to pray for these requests received from convention dock workers,” a notice says atop a tray with a handful of yearnings.
Among them:

  • “Pray for my niece who is on drugs, that she may be clean from them to get her kids back, and pray for her husband to stop the abuse he does to her.”
  • “I’m looking for guidance, as I try to move into a new line of work. I want to help others more. It doesn’t have to pay as good. ... I have a family to support. ... Much love and appreciation. Please also ... pray for our neighbors. The mother was killed in an accident. She leaves behind a husband and 4 young children.”
  • “First, thanks so much 4 taking the time & caring enough/at all to pray 4 a stranger. ... Prayer requests: For my friend Donald that the Lord may show Himself in an undeniable way & deliver him from the alcoholism & hurt that’s slowly killing him. Also, that Donald’s dad come 2 know the Lord b4 he passes because he’s getting way up there in age.”
  • “Please pray for my wife. She travels constantly to dangerous areas.”
  • “Please pray for all the men and women that are serving our country so that they may come home safely to their families.”

The devotional booklet available to the dock workers contains 50 entries penned by Van Richmond, a Nashville pastor.
“A lot of seeds have been sown,” Baker says of the loading dock ministry over the years which he hopes someday also will have a volunteer chaplain.
“It’s wonderful to see people nodding their heads when you’re talking about something that hits home. I get that most of the time when we’re talking about the Lord.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/14/2017 7:39:38 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Panel: Pastors key to evangelistic efforts in local churches

June 13 2017 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Pastors must lead their local congregations to be more evangelistic by personally modeling evangelism and discipleship in their own lives.

Photo by Whitney Clayton
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, fourth from left, makes a point during a panel on evangelism and declining baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix. The panel included: Jonathan Akin, moderator and director of Young Leader Engagement for the North American Mission Board; Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC's Executive Committee; Milton A. Hollifield Jr.; and Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.

That was a common theme among Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders who took part in a panel discussion on evangelism and declining baptisms in the SBC held Monday morning as part of the SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
“The pastor is the key,” said Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis and president of the SBC. “He doesn’t do all of the evangelism, but he’s got to be the sparkplug.
“If the pastor of a church is not evangelistic, the church is not going to be evangelistic.”
Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), added that a lack of personal disciple-making in the local church has also resulted in a lack of personal evangelism.
“One of the very basic things of making disciples is to help people understand the need to share the gospel with other people and to be obedient to what the Lord has commanded us to do,” Hollifield said.
The panelists addressed the recent Annual Church Profile (ACP) that showed declines in baptism, membership, worship attendance and total giving among churches that cooperate with the SBC.
The ACP showed the number of baptisms in SBC churches declined by nearly 5 percent from 2015 to 2016.
“It’s probably worse than it looks, in all honesty,” said Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC’s Executive Committee.
Kevin Ezell, president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, encouraged pastors to be more intentional about sharing their faith.
“We have to have more gospel conversations,” Ezell said.
Ezell said that if every pastor of the approximately 47,000 SBC churches had at least one gospel conversation a week, that would result in more than 2 million evangelistic encounters in a year.
Hollifield also said pastors should include stories of opportunities they have to share their faith and lead people to the Lord as illustrations in their sermons as a way to encourage their congregations in sharing their faith.
Panelists also addressed some of the fears that pastors may have in being cautious about who they baptize to avoid false assurance of salvation based upon evangelistic techniques that could be described as manipulative, particularly among children.
“I saw some of those abuses,” Page said, speaking of his early days in ministry. “It made me realize the need to be more careful.”
Gaines also stressed the importance of personal discipleship, sharing part of his own testimony of not being discipled or mentored when he first trusted Christ as a 7-year-old boy.
Gaines said he struggled in his faith for about 10 years until he was discipled and mentored as a college student. Gaines said he believes that if had been discipled at age 7, he would have never doubted his salvation for so long.
“I believe a lot of it is discipling those young people,” Gaines said. “I believe a lot of those children get saved, but they’ve never been mentored, and then when they get older they don’t know what they’re talking about so (they think) ‘I guess I’ve never been saved.’
“I think a lot of them were saved, they’ve just never been discipled.”

6/13/2017 1:27:14 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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