June 2018

Connecticut ‘surprised by grace’ of DR response to storms

June 28 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Hundreds of Southern Baptists from 13 states are helping Connecticut residents after tornadoes destroyed 300 homes there in May, disaster relief (DR) leader Tim Buehner told Baptist Press.

Baptist Convention of New England photo
A Southern Baptist volunteer removes one of many trees felled when tornadoes and wind storms struck several communities in Connecticut May 15.

Chaplaincy has been at the forefront of DR work slated to continue through mid-July in at least five communities where an estimated 98 percent of residents don’t recognize Jesus as Savior, said Buehner, mobilization and ministry evangelism coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE).
“They’re just completely surprised by grace,” Buehner said of nearly 170 homeowners whom volunteers have helped since May 17. “That’s exactly what we aim for in this ministry.
“So we praise God for this, because with all of the teams that have been involved and the crews, coming from all across the country on their own dime,” Buehner said, “homeowners are just completely amazed by this, and of course that opens the doors ... for us to be able to talk about the Lord who surprised us by grace. And it’s just been marvelous.”
Four tornadoes with wind speeds of up to 95 mph (EF1), and several “macrobursts” with wind speeds up to 110 mph, struck Connecticut communities May 15, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported. Macrobursts, thunderstorm downdrafts that move in opposite directions compared to tornadoes, killed two people Connecticut, the NWS said.
Six people have made professions of faith, and volunteers have distributed more than 130 Bibles while conducting repairs and removing large downed trees that destroyed 300 homes across 50 miles, Buehner said.
Christ the Redeemer Church in Southbury is the host church for DR volunteers and equipment. At any given time, 70 to 90 volunteers have stayed at the church, and 300 are slated to help through July 14. Christ Redeemer is following up with new believers and those who’ve expressed an interest, Pastor Bryan Sims told BP.
“This is a great opportunity for folks to see that God is real and He does transform lives,” Sims said, “when they see people coming from all over the country who are willing to sacrifice their time and their resources to come serve people they’ve never met. That definitely has been a great conversation starter as to the reality of the gospel.”
In addition to visits, Sims will follow up with letters and phone calls to homeowners receiving DR help.
“Ultimately, we want them to feel loved and encouraged by the disaster relief ministry, our church’s ministry, but we also hope that it will lead to deeper spiritual questions and searching,” Sims said. “And ultimately we hope they find the hope of the gospel.”
Among volunteers was Patrick Ryan, a chaplain and director of mission from Missouri. In Connecticut, where Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts are relatively unknown, Ryan views the work as unparalleled in opening doors to the gospel.
“I honestly think that in the long run, this mission trip might be one of the ones that opens (gospel) doors the most,” said Ryan, a chaplaincy trainer with the Missouri Valley Baptist Association in Slater, Mo.
“They could not understand why we were willing to do this for free, without having any reimbursements or anything else,” Ryan told BP. “This community here had to be opened up to the fact that we cared about them, no matter what they did. And that’s really more of the essence of the Christian life, is that the world needs to understand that God cares for them, and as an extension we care for them.
“Whether we’re hated or persecuted, we still care for them,” Ryan said. “Disaster relief is one of the few times we actually get to show God’s love.”
In the hilly, wooded residential areas of Southbury, Brookfield, New Fairfield, Oxford and others that sustained damage, homeowners might typically have 20 downed trees on their property. The physical work has been strenuous and vigorous, Buehner said. Many were surprised and thankful that the casualties did not exceed two in Connecticut.
“Even people who do not know Jesus, but have a sense of God, were able to say, ‘We thank God that more people didn’t get killed and we wondered that that didn’t happen, because this thing was bad,’” he said. “And they look at the damage and wonder about that, and of course we’re going to speak to God’s preservation of life, His love for people and His wonderful Son our Savior, who continues to want to reach people with the Good News of what He has done for their lives.”
In addition to Missouri and Connecticut, volunteers from 11 states responded to the outreach, Buehner said, including Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire in the BCNE; the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Southern Baptist conventions in Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina donated resources, Buehner said.
“I am extremely thankful for the many Southern Baptists that have come here and poured out their lives,” Buehner said. “It’s a tremendous investment, it’s a wonderful ministry, and I pray more Southern Baptists get involved in this, because sooner or later, disaster will strike a community.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/28/2018 9:00:55 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Churchgoers stick around for theology, not music or preachers

June 27 2018 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.
But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.
Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.
Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.
“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers – those who attend services at least once a month – to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.
Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.
Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.
Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.
“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.
More than half (57 percent) of churchgoers say they are completely committed to continuing to attend their current church. About a quarter (28 percent) are “very much” committed, while 11 percent are moderately committed. Two percent are slightly committed, while 1 percent are not committed at all.
The more people go to church, the more committed they are to attending their same church in the future. Those who attend at least once a week are twice as likely to be completely committed to attending their church (62 percent) than people who go once or twice a month (31 percent). Those who attend once or twice a month are more likely to be moderately committed (36 percent) than those who go at least once a week (7 percent).
Churchgoers with evangelical beliefs are more likely to be completely committed (67 percent) than those who don’t have evangelical beliefs (45 percent). Baptists (60 percent) are more likely to be completely committed than Lutherans (47 percent).
About two-thirds (63 percent) of churchgoers who are 65 or older are completely committed to attending their same church in the future. That drops to 50 percent for those younger than 35.
Older churchgoers are also least likely to want to leave their church. When asked if they’ve thought about going to another church in their area, 92 percent of those 65 or older say no.
Overall, 15 percent of churchgoers say they have thought about going to another church in the past six months. Eighty-five percent say they have not.
Of those thinking about going to another church, about half (54 percent) have already visited another church. Forty-six percent have not.
“If people are thinking about leaving your church, chances are they’ve already started looking,” said McConnell. “So they’re probably halfway out the door.”

Most feel their beliefs line up with the church

For the most part, churchgoers say they agree with their church’s teaching. About half (52 percent) say their beliefs are completely aligned with those of the church. Forty-two percent say their beliefs are mostly aligned. Fewer than 3 percent say their beliefs are slightly aligned, not aligned or they don’t know their church’s beliefs.
Education plays some role in how churchgoers view their church’s theology. Churchgoers who have graduate degrees are less likely to accept all their church’s teachings. Only a third (35 percent) say their beliefs are completely aligned with those of the church. Sixty percent say their beliefs are mostly aligned.
Two-thirds (62 percent) of churchgoers who have evangelical beliefs say they are completely aligned with their church’s theology, while a third are mostly aligned. By contrast, 39 percent of churchgoers who don’t have evangelical beliefs say they are completely aligned, and about half (53 percent) are mostly aligned.
Sixty percent of churchgoers at big churches – those with more than 1,000 attenders – say they are completely aligned with their church’s theology. That drops to 46 percent at churches with fewer than 50 attenders.
Baptists (57 percent) and nondenominational churchgoers (61 percent) are more likely to say they are completely aligned with their church’s theology than Lutherans (43 percent) or Methodists (25 percent).
Still, churchgoers don’t like to see changes in their church’s doctrine. More than half (54 percent) say they’d seriously consider leaving if church doctrine changed.
Researchers asked about other factors that might cause churchgoers to switch churches. Nearly half (48 percent) would change churches if the churchgoer moved to a new home.
Some churchgoers would leave if the preaching style changed (19 percent), if the pastor left (12 percent) or if a family member wanted a new church (10 percent). Nine percent say they would leave over politics. Fewer would leave if they didn’t feel needed (6 percent), if the music style changed (5 percent), if they had a conflict (4 percent) or if a friend stopped attending (3 percent).
The survey shows churchgoers care about doctrine, said McConnell.
“Still, pastors can’t assume everyone in the pews agrees with their preaching,” McConnell said. “Overall, 94 percent believe most or all of their church’s teaching. But there’s still substantial wiggle room.

“Every time a pastor gets up to preach, there’s a good chance more than a few people in the pews are going to disagree,” he said.

Most find church programs helpful

Researchers also looked at how effective churches are in helping people grow spiritually.
Most churchgoers think their church is doing a good job. Three-quarters (76 percent) think their church has been either extremely helpful (36 percent) or very helpful (40 percent) in their spiritual growth. Sixteen percent say the church is moderately helpful.
Relatively few say the church has not been helpful (1 percent) in their spiritual growth or are not sure (2 percent).
Churchgoers did have some suggestions on ways churches can help them grow. Among them:

  • 27 percent want their church to help them understand more about God and the Bible.

  • 20 percent want their church to help them find new ways to serve.

  • 19 percent want their church to provide more Bible study groups.

  • 16 percent want their church to help them get to know more people in church.

  • 14 percent say their church could provide forums to answer their spiritual questions.

  • 13 percent want their church to give them more chances to serve.

  • 13 percent want their church to provide worship experiences that fit their needs.

  • 9 percent want their church to provide more interaction with the pastor.

  • 8 percent want their church to provide them with a mentor.

Even though most churchgoers are staying put and are relatively happy, there’s some reason for concern, McConnell said.
At any given church, about 15 percent of the congregation is thinking about leaving. If they go, the church could suffer.
“The average church in the United States has less than 100 attenders,” McConnell said. “Losing 10 or 15 people could make a huge impact.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends. LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.)

6/27/2018 8:23:44 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Criswell College receives $5 million ‘game-changer’

June 27 2018 by Rob Collingsworth, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Criswell College President Barry Creamer has announced the receipt of a $5 million commitment that will serve as the lead gift for the college’s first-ever residence hall, tentatively set to break ground in the spring of 2019.

“This is the most significant thing to happen since Dr. Criswell announced his vision to start this school almost 50 years ago,” Creamer said June 18. “It’s a complete game-changer not only financially, but in what it means for us going forward.”
Since his installment as president in 2014, Creamer says he has been intentional to cultivate an environment that is conducive for traditional students. One of his top priorities for creating that atmosphere has been establishing on-campus housing options.
“We have prayed for several years that God would send the right person to Criswell, then move in their heart to provide a lead gift for our first residence hall,” Creamer said. “And he did exactly that with this brand-new friend.”
The anonymous donor had no previous ties to Criswell and had never made a financial gift of any kind to the college.
“There’s no doubt it was a work of God from beginning to end,” said Michael Clayton, vice president for advancement at Criswell. 
The $5 million commitment is the largest financial gift to the college in its nearly 50-year history. According to Kevin Stilley, vice president for business administration and chief business officer, it also follows on the heels of one of the college’s most fiscally successful periods.
“Over the last three years we have paid off all institutional debt, invested significant funds in the improvement of facilities and infrastructure, and increased our endowments by more than 30 percent,” Stilley said. “This gift continues the trend of increasing assets for the campus.”
One advantage of this gift, he said, is the ongoing financial benefit it provides to the college.
“Because the dorm will be paid for up front, the proceeds from the leases will funnel back into the college so we can continue providing stronger programming for our students rather than being forced to pay off debt from construction,” he said.
Clayton noted that a number of individuals have indicated their willingness to donate toward construction of the residence hall once a lead gift is secured.
“This will be a catalyst and motivating factor to others who have been waiting for someone else to take the lead,” he said. “It’s a message that God’s hand of favor is on the school.”
Criswell alum Gary Ledbetter said the gift has the potential to take the college to a whole new level of effective ministry.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to think that Criswell’s campus development plan is going forward,” Ledbetter said. “It’s the answer to many prayers, including my own.”
Since its founding in 1970, Criswell has primarily been a commuter college. Although partnerships have been established with Dallas Theological Seminary and neighboring apartment complexes to provide local housing options, only about 10 percent of the student body currently takes advantage of these.
Russell Marriott, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said he is excited about the impact this gift will have on current and future students.
“This gives us the ability to recruit an entirely new demographic of students and help fill out some of our newer programs, such as the B.S. in Education and the B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics,” he said. “But more importantly it allows us to attract students who traditionally wouldn’t consider Criswell, because residential housing is such a high priority for both students and parents.”
One of the challenges the school has faced in the past, he said, is parents who wanted to send their student to Criswell, but had reservations about the lack of housing options on campus.
“Criswell has an urban campus, and we get to take advantage of all the benefits that come with that,” Marriott said. “We have rigorous academic programs, a stellar faculty and a learning environment, nestled in the middle of one of the nation’s most vibrant cities. But the one downside has been the absence of residential dorms on our campus.
“We’re just excited that the Lord has provided in such a way to eliminate a significant barrier for students who want to take advantage of all we have to offer.”
Although the donor will remain anonymous throughout construction, the college has committed to naming the residence hall in their honor.
 “We’re beyond grateful for this gift, and we want to bend over backwards to accommodate our donor,” Creamer said. “We look forward to the time when we can publicly acknowledge their God-honoring display of generosity.”
Clayton, who has been at the helm of the school’s capital campaign since he arrived at Criswell two years ago, said the significance is about much more than on-campus housing.
“This gift goes far beyond the ability to build a residence hall, which communicates a lot to the community and provides us an opportunity to reach students we previously weren’t able to,” he said. “It says to people that, while Criswell has a great past, it has an even greater future.”
Creamer’s prayer has been that the Lord would provide a gift that would not only be transformational for the college, but also for the donor, he said.
“The Lord answered that prayer on a scale beyond anything I could have ever expected,” he said. “We’re excited to see how God will use this gift as Criswell College continues in its mission of equipping men and women to know and love scripture and go to the ends of the earth, in every vocation, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Criswell College is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rob Collingsworth writes for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, www.sbtexas.com. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/27/2018 8:18:18 AM by Rob Collingsworth, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

High court annuls ruling against florist

June 27 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court provided a promising directive June 25 in the ongoing effort by business owners to practice their faith convictions.

The justices issued an order that annulled a lower-court ruling against Washington state florist Barronelle Stutzman, a Southern Baptist who declined to design flowers for a same-sex wedding. The order also instructed the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider its previous decision in light of the justices’ June 4 opinion in favor of a Colorado cake artist who refused to design and decorate a cake in celebration of the wedding of two men.
In that 7-2 decision, the high court ruled the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated the religious free exercise clause of the First Amendment and demonstrated in its action “religious hostility” toward Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) applauded the Supreme Court’s order.
“We’re encouraged that the Supreme Court decided to give Barronelle a new day in court,” said Travis Wussow, vice president of public policy and general counsel for the ERLC.
“Throughout the process in Washington state court, Barronelle’s sincerely held religious beliefs were treated with neither respect nor dignity,” Wussow told Baptist Press in written comments. “No one should be punished by the court for his or her religious beliefs, and we look forward to continuing to support Barronelle in her case.”
Supporters and opponents of Stutzman’s appeal offered vastly different views of the high court’s order.
Kristen Waggoner of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) said the high court “rightly asked” Washington’s Supreme Court to re-evaluate its ruling against Stutzman in light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop opinion.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s efforts “to punish her because he dislikes her beliefs about marriage are as impermissible as Colorado’s efforts to punish Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop,” Waggoner said in a June 25 telephone news conference. The Washington court should recognize in keeping with the Masterpiece decision “that hostility toward people of faith has no place in our society,” she said.
Waggoner, senior vice president of ADF’s U.S. legal division, argued on behalf of Phillips and his shop before the Supreme Court.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), meanwhile, downplayed the effect of the order.
The Supreme Court “did not indicate there was anything wrong” with the Washington court’s decision, HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a written statement. “[T]here is no indication that there were flaws in the application of civil rights law in [Stutzman’s case]. We view this decision as encouraging news that justice will prevail” and the Washington Supreme Court will again uphold the state’s laws.
ADF, which represents Stutzman, expects the Washington Supreme Court “to follow the law,” Waggoner said. If it does not, ADF will return to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final ruling, she said.
State laws and court rulings – and especially the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 legalization of gay marriage – have brought intense pressure on Christians and other people of faith who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman. This has been especially true in the wedding business, where florists, cake designers, photographers and others have been sued for declining to use their talents for same-sex weddings.
In Stutzman’s case, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed in 2017 a lower-court decision, finding the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling that legalized gay marriage means discrimination “based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”
Stutzman, 73, however, had served Robert Ingersoll, a gay man, for nearly 10 years and had become friends with him. She also had hired gay employees at her shop, Arlene’s Flowers, in Richland, Wash. When Ingersoll asked her to design the flowers for his 2013 wedding to Curt Freed, Stutzman told him she could not because using her artistic ability to take part in the ceremony would violate her beliefs. She referred him to other florists in the area who would provide flowers for the wedding, but Ferguson, as well as the ACLU on behalf of Ingersoll and Freed, sued Stutzman.
Stutzman told reporters on the news conference call she is “very thankful and grateful” the high court has allowed her case to continue.
“This just isn’t about my freedom,” she said. “It’s about everyone’s freedom. If the government can tell you what events you must celebrate or take away all you own if you decline to violate your faith, then we don’t live in a free America.”
Ferguson has shown hostility “to my religious beliefs,” Stutzman said. The nature of the suit could cost her not only her business but her home as well.
The ERLC and other religious organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief last August in support of Stutzman’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief argued the high court should accept the case to reaffirm that the practice of faith “does not end when a religious believer leaves her home or place of worship.”
In their brief, the ERLC and its allies said the lower-court rulings mean Stutzman “will be forced to express the government’s message or lose her business and personal assets. That is a stunning result for the millions of business owners and workers who believe they have the responsibility to practice their faith in their business vocation by refraining from activities that violate their religious beliefs.”
ERLC President Russell Moore introduced Stutzman at the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting during the entity’s report, and she received a standing ovation from messengers.
The case is Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/27/2018 8:12:51 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Social media & teens: a way ‘to see what is happening’

June 27 2018 by Morgan Collier, Baptist Press

While social media often is seen as a bad thing, what if Instagram and YouTube could be used to reach the lost, nurture spiritual maturity and expand congregations?

A pivotal outreach to today’s youth may start with an LED screen, with 95 percent of teenagers reportedly having a smartphone or access to one – and 45 percent saying they are online on a near-constant basis – according to a recent Pew Research Center for Internet & Technology survey.
Eliza Huie, biblical counselor, speaker and author of a new book titled Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World, says parents and people in ministry should familiarize themselves with social media platforms: “Don’t hate it, engage it.”
“Engaging it simply means to be familiar with the platform, to be on the platform,” Huie says. “Be aware of the dangers but don’t assume that just because there are dangers that [your child] is actually participating in them. ... Recognize the good.”
The Pew survey found 13 to 17-year-olds are much more likely to use YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat than Facebook, with 85 percent of teens on YouTube, 72 percent on Instagram, 69 percent on Snapchat but only 51 percent on Facebook.
“A lot of Facebook isn’t personal anymore, it’s shared political articles or random videos,” says Mike Brake, pastor of Freedom Church in Los Alamos, N.M., and former youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Los Alamos. “If I really want to see what is happening in my friends’ lives, I go to Instagram because that is where they post the real stuff going on in their life.”
For most people, it helps in keeping up with people, such as friends and family, says Lakin Adkins, a high school sophomore and member of First Baptist Church in Orange, Texas. “It also shows other people’s journeys in their Christian walk, and others are able to learn from those journeys.”
With social media on the rise, students have found ways to seek encouragement and biblical inspiration through the platforms.
“Youtubers like Emma Mae Jenkins, FarAwayDistance and Sadie Robertson post encouraging videos and devotionals,” says Chrisleigh Longlois, a high school junior and member of First Baptist Church in Mauriceville, Texas. “You can grow in your faith through social media by reading blogs and following other Christians. It can be used to hold each other accountable. And your page can set an example for other believers.”
It is important to allow social media to be an avenue of connection and not an avenue of identity, Huie says. “Be aware that you have to really stay rooted to who you are in Christ.”
Social media, she notes, “shows who you are when people look at your page and see what you’re posting. It says a lot about who you are.”
“The beauty of social media,” Brake says, “is that you can do your research on people, churches, businesses, etc. within seconds and figure out who that person, church or business is and what they stand for.”
With the 45 percent of teens who are “almost always” on their phone and social media, youth pastors can have a big influence in their outreach through these platforms.
“I think that youth pastors and people in ministry have an angle into engaging because the teens are already looking to them for leadership and direction,” Huie says.
She encourages youth ministers to look for ways to bring in the whole youth group rather than the students who are more engaged through social media. “You can reach teens by tagging them in a post, posting one of their pictures, retweeting one of their tweets, or by liking one of their posts,” she suggests.
Brake admits to not being a big fan of social media but uses it as his mission field.
“One of the biggest benefits is engagement,” he says. “In a typical youth or church setting, you have about an hour a week with this group of people, but through social media, you have a chance to keep them connected and engaged.”
From a physiological stand point, Huie notes, viewing social media parallels a treasure hunt, with endorphins released in the brain as a reward.
“When you are scrolling through your feed, you are hunting for something that you like, something that you will connect or identify with, and when you find it, it’s actually an endorphin hit,” she says.
With the addictive nature of social media, newsfeeds and time lines become a highly viewed platform by millions around the world each day.
“You can get the gospel out there for free and let it spread,” Brake says. “[Post] a photograph with scripture or a 30-second clip from a sermon. You never know how God is going to use that in somebody’s life.”
On social media, Brake says, “There is so much potential to spark the conversations and engage people with the gospel. So, go there and put it out in front of them. Keep them engaged, keep them connected.”
Eliza Huie’s book Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World will be available Aug. 6 but can be pre-ordered at 10ofthose.us/products/24001/raising-kids-in-a-screen.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morgan Collier, who will be a senior at Lamar University, is a summer intern with Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/27/2018 8:07:53 AM by Morgan Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘I Can Only Imagine’ to reach 75 countries

June 27 2018 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

A 75-country mission trip would be unfeasible for most Christians, but for filmmaker Jon Erwin, reaching that many countries with the gospel doesn’t require a passport or an overseas flight.

Thanks to his surprise hit film “I Can Only Imagine,” Erwin will reach 75 countries and six continents with the message of Christ by the end of the year – and he hasn’t had to leave his home state of Alabama.  
The film released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital platforms in the U.S. in June but is still playing in theaters elsewhere. Theaters in Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay and South Korea showed it in June, and it’s scheduled to open in Germany in September. It previously played in Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa and Russia. All totaled, theaters in 75 countries either have released it or have future plans to do so. The film opened at No. 1 in the U.S. in DVD sales and rentals during its first week of release this month.
Erwin, along with his brother Andrew directed “I Can Only Imagine” (PG), which tells the story behind the famous MercyMe song and details how lead singer Bart Millard’s abusive father came to Christ late in life. 
“Many people who are hostile to the worldview of the movie are paying for the right to distribute it in other countries, which is amazing,” Jon Erwin told Baptist Press. “But that’s the power of mass entertainment.”

Their first big hit

It’s also the power of hit movies. Erwin’s two previous films – 2014’s “Mom’s Night Out” and 2016’s “Woodlawn” – finished below expectations at the box office and, subsequently, had limited reach internationally. “Woodlawn” played in only one other country (South African) while “Mom’s Night Out” reached three (Australia, South Africa and Sweden), according to data at BoxOfficeMojo.com.
But “I Can Only Imagine” over-performed at the box office, finishing in the top five in total gross in its first three weekends and, so far, is the No. 1 independent film of 2018. As of mid-June it had grossed $83 million domestically, making it the sixth highest-grossing faith film of all time, following “The Passion of The Christ,” the three “Narnia” films, and “Heaven is for Real,” according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. 
In fact, “I Can Only Imagine” made more money in its first weekend in March than “Woodlawn” did in its entire run. It also did better than big-money Hollywood films. Warner Brothers’ “Tomb Raider” had a production budget of $94 million and was released the same weekend as “I Can Only Imagine” but ended its run grossing $57 million – less than the $83 million of “Imagine,” which had a $7 million budget. Similarly, Universal’s “Pacific Rim Uprising” had a budget of $150 million and was released around the same time but finished its run with only $59 million.
It is but the latest faith-based hit to get international attention. For example, “Miracles From Heaven” (2016) played in nearly 30 countries, while “War Room” (2015) reached 15 countries.
The success of “I Can Only Imagine” was a welcome surprise for the Erwin brothers, who had received positive feedback from moviegoers on “Woodlawn” and “Mom’s Night Out” only to watch those films disappoint at the box office.
“It was fun to see the audience shock the industry,” Erwin told BP. “There’s really no way to explain it except God’s hand of blessing. It was poured out on the film in a way that none of us can really describe.”

The ‘Air Force’ for churches

Yet unlike many filmmakers in the movie industry, the Erwins aren’t chasing money and riches. Their films have a higher purpose.
“We tell people that what we do is make movies, but we do it to spread the gospel and support the local church,” Erwin said. “I think the local church is the hope of the world, and we believe our role is as its Air Force. We want to support people on the ground with stories and tools that they can use. A movie theater is an incredible neutral site to reach your community and then get them to church. It’s exciting to hear stories of how that’s working.”
Andrew Erwin agreed, asserting that if a movie “doesn’t impact and change lives,” then he’d rather find a different job.
“There are a lot easier jobs to go do,” he said. “… [Movies are] a tool that, as hearts are pricked and people are turned and they say, ‘I want to know more about this Jesus,’ – then you can step in and engage”
Moviegoers in March filled their social media accounts with testimonies of the movie’s impact. One woman, a Christian named Sharon L. Stone, wrote on her Twitter feed how she and her son were leaving the theater when a lady asked, “Do you know Jesus?” Although Stone is a Christian, the woman – a stranger – wasn’t. She gave her life to Christ.
“We prayed, cried, hugged and welcomed her home. This movie was just for her!” Stone wrote.
Jon Erwin told the story of a moviegoer in South Dakota who harbored feelings of bitterness and anger toward his long-lost dad, but after watching the movie refused to leave the theater until he found his father through Facebook. They met the next day and reconciled.
“It’s just incredible,” Erwin said, “to see the ways that people use the film as a tool to help change lives.”

The power of story

Jon Erwin calls entertainment “America’s second largest export,” and he believes the church should take advantage of the popularity of films because – as he says – people are naturally “wired” for stories.
“Jesus gave us the model for how [a movie] should be used. He told really relatable, simple, emotionally powerful stories. And then He explained the truth of them,” Erwin said. “And there’s the model. A movie is a modern-day parable. The motion picture is a new way – and an exponentially powerful way – to do a very old thing, which is to tell a story. I heard someone say stories are the language of our hearts and mass entertainment is the language of our time.”
Because of the power of a good story, movies naturally lead to conversations, Erwin said.
“People identify with it,” Erwin said. “People want to talk about it. People want to talk about their own life. It gives permission to talk about things that the movie deals with and it creates an opportunity.”
Erwin, though, is quick to say a movie can’t fill every role in a gospel conversation. He likens it to a volleyball game. He and the film can “set” the ball, but someone else – that is, people in the local church – have to “spike it.”

The next Erwin movie?

Erwin isn’t ready to announce his next project, but he acknowledges that the success of “I Can Only Imagine” has expanded what is possible.
“To quote Disney, we don’t make movies to make money,” Erwin said. “We make money so that we can make more movies. That’s gonna happen here. … My dad, when he bought us our first camera when I was 16 years old, said, ‘Dream bold, dream big, dream the impossible.’ The success of ‘I Can Only Imagine’ is allowing us to dream bigger.
“We’ve just begun to see what Christian films can be.”
To see a list of countries where I Can Only Imagine is playing, visit icanonlyimagine.com/international.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story was updated June 25 with new data in first, second and third paragraphs. Michael Foust is a writer in Albany, Ill. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/27/2018 7:58:27 AM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Lori McDaniel hopes to convey message of being chosen

June 26 2018 by BSC Communications

Lori McDaniel is a mom of three children, a pastor’s wife, speaker and a church initiatives leader with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). She has previously served with her family as a missionary in Africa before returning to plant Grace Point Church in Bentonville, Ark., where her husband, Mike is the senior pastor. She started and led the church’s women’s ministry for 12 years. 

Lori McDaniel

Lori will be a worship speaker at the 2018 N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat on Oct. 26-27 at Caraway Conference Center in Sophia. She recently took some time to answer the following questions about her walk with God and what she plans to share at this year’s retreat.
Q: Why do you think it is important for Christian women to understand that God views them as “holy, chosen, and beloved?”

A: What a great worth and undeserved value has been attributed to us as Christ-followers! If we don’t get this down clearly, we will miss completely the purpose of being chosen, loved and set apart. God in His goodness chooses for His glory, people that He treasures as His possession and for His purpose. I know that my human experiences too often discount what it means to be chosen by God.
Because worth, value and identity are incredibly important, we exhaust ourselves attempting to untangle our feet from the trap of feeling unseen, unchosen, or unloved. If we are honest, we are really not OK with being small.
Yet, in Deuteronomy, it’s quite clear that God didn’t choose people because of their greatness, He chose them in their smallness because He loved them; when we rightly attribute value as being chosen by God, then it’s no longer about me and being chosen, rather it’s rightly about the One who in all His love and for His glory did the choosing.  
Q: How do you remind yourself of your identity in Christ? How does this affect you every day? 

A: I love this question because it assumes proactivity. I can tell you that without being intentional with this, it doesn’t just magically happen. I have to be incredibly practical with it, too. If I don’t intentionally and daily get into God’s Word, I find myself spiritually dehydrated. And it’s not complicated. Every morning, I’m digging into God’s Word and journaling what He’s teaching me.
I spend time in prayer each morning, but I also utilize my phone throughout the day to remind me to stop and pray. I have preset alarms on my phone that go off reminding me to set my mind on the Spirit and not on the flesh. If I don’t, my mind is too easily swallowed up in anxiety. That may sound a bit crazy, but I’m aware that my day will spin out of control, and I’ll lose those powerful moments of breathing in God and then breathing out His work.
I know that God in His sovereignty chose me before the foundation of the world to be “holy and blameless,” yet there is still continual human responsibility required to put off the old and put on the new. 
Q: This year’s N.C. Baptist Women’s Retreat theme is focused on “Holy. Chosen. Beloved.” from Colossians 3:12-14. How do you plan to unpack this for the women who will attend the retreat?

A: We are in good company. Throughout all of scripture, we see people whom God loved, chose and set apart for His glory. We could nearly close our eyes, open the Bible, place our finger on a page and land on a story of God choosing people to do something great for His name. Together we will allow the Word of God to dwell in us richly as we unpack what being chosen means and relook at the One who does the choosing. 
Q: Why should women attend this retreat? What do you hope they will take away?

A: Who doesn’t need time to reset and recalibrate? Me, me, me! Retreats are purposeful opportunities to withdraw, reset and realign. Peter and John, who shared the gospel, were put on trial, stood firm and then released. (That’s a really fast summary of Acts 3-4.) I’m completely fascinated that once they were released, they “retreated” and gathered with believers to worship and celebrate and then prayed that they would go back out and “continue to speak with boldness” about Jesus Christ.
They gathered to go back out. They retreated to re-center and then re-enter the places in which God had called them to be. 
I’m already praying that this time would be a great gathering of women who retreat to recenter and then go purposefully re-enter the places where they live, work, learn and play for one purpose – to make His glory and His name known. 
Visit embracenc.org/womensretreat18.

6/26/2018 11:26:57 AM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Asian Americans can be ‘missionary forces’ in SBC

June 26 2018 by Morgan Collier, Baptist Press

“We have a citizenship in heaven and we are true brothers and sisters in Christ,” D. August Boto told attendees at the National Asian American Fellowship’s June 11 meeting in Dallas.

Photo by Kathleen Murray
Paul Kim, Asian American relations consultant for convention advancement for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, speaks during the June 12 National Asian American Fellowship dinner.

Boto, interim president of the SBC Executive Committee (EC), said the EC is “available to enhance the way God has gifted you in and through the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Paul Kim, the EC’s Asian American relations consultant, presented Roger S. Oldham, EC vice president for convention communications and relations, and Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement, with awards of appreciation for their continued support for the National Asian American Fellowship.
Oldham, in addressing the fellowship’s 70 attendees, said, [W]e ought to reflect what heaven is going to look like and what we in the United States already do look like – and that is people from every nation, language and tribe coming together to worship before the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Oldham described the redesign and relaunch of SBC LIFE, a publication of the EC, and various articles that have been published about multi-ethnic churches and ministries in the SBC.
“Our goal is to tell the stories of what God is doing in and among you as a people group as you seek to reach others with the gospel of Christ,” he said.
As Weathersby accepted his award, he thanked the work being done through the fellowship.
“I want to thank you for your heart to reach those who are lost not only among Asian Americans but among others and the work that you not only do here in this country but the work you do around the world,” Weathersby said.
“Because of what you do and your work together, I have seen a tremendous impact in giving from our Asian Americas churches, because of your heart to leading others to Christ.”

Photo by Kathleen Murray
Paul Kim, left, Asian American relations consultant for convention advancement for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, presents Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement with the Executive Committee, with an appreciation award during the June 12 National Asian American Fellowship dinner.

Kim reported on advancements in the previous year through a partnership with the International Mission Board (IMB) and how Asian Americans can grow their impact for the gospel in the future.
Asian Americans, in their various fellowships, can be “missionary forces ... because we are sending out pastors, Asian American churches and family members frequently to Asian countries [where] we understand and speak the language,” Kim said. “We have effectively molded a partnership with these people and IMB so that we can bring others to the gospel.”
Thomas Wong, president of the 2nd-Generation Pastors and Planters Fellowship, quoted researcher/author Ed Stetzer from the 2016 SBC annual meeting as saying that “the future of the SBC is not white.”
“When I look around at the convention, I don’t know if I believe that to be true or not,” Wong said. “One of my desires as a second generation leader is to create a platform for partnership, mentoring, coaching and support toward the next generation leaders in the Asian American community who would like to have more voice and more presence in the denomination.”
Minwoo Jang, coordinator of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s East Asian Leadership Initiative, encouraged Asian Americans to look past the generation gaps and cultural differences.
“A lot of people think that is a hindrance for our ministry,” Jang said. “At Southeastern Seminary, we are reaching out to those who are currently leaders of East Asian churches and institutions so that they can impact their own people within their community.”
Jang said Southeastern is working to create programs to train leaders and equip God’s people to take the gospel back to their people.
Daniel Im, founder and director of the NewChurches.com church multiplication initiative at LifeWay Christian Resources and teaching pastor at The Fellowship in Nashville, spoke of the range of opportunities in advancing the gospel.
“We are starting churches in North America,” Im said. “Either you can be a supporting church, a sending church or, what we would like to see, a multiplying church, where you are raising your own church planters from your own church. We want to make an impact, especially when communities are in need.”
Sammy Joo, senior consultant in Asian ministries for the church strengthening team with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, discussed the resources and networking opportunities through his work.
“My primary responsibility is to help churches deploy an ABCD method,” Joo said. “’A’ is for advance the gospel proclamation from the pulpit, ‘B’ is for building supplements and strategies, ‘C’ is for connecting generations and ‘D’ is for development. Many Asian churches are wondering about the future of the church, so we would like to connect and network with you.”
Kim, voicing gratitude for the Southern Baptist entities and leaders, told attendees that “they open the door for us to get involved and know what we need in order to make partnerships.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morgan Collier, who will be a senior at Lamar University in Texas, is a summer intern with Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/26/2018 11:22:43 AM by Morgan Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Messianics voice concerns, finalize restructure

June 26 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship (SBMF) has expressed concern that a group some SBMF members claim opposes Jewish evangelism was among exhibitors at this year’s June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Dallas.

Photo by Van Payne
Ric Worshill, executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, explains to exhibitor hall visitors what the Hebrew says on the yarmulkes he was giving away at the SBC's "The Many Faces of the Southern Baptist Convention" booth.

During its June 10 annual meeting, the SBMF – which comprises largely Messianic Jews (Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah) – also finalized an organizational restructuring plan, heard ministry reports and discussed apparent spiritual warfare surrounding efforts to win Jewish people to faith in Christ.
Nearly 30 Messianic believers and friends attended the meeting, held at a restaurant in Dallas.
A resolution adopted by the SBMF without opposition stated, “We express our concern that any group which repudiates evangelism to the Jewish people has a booth at the SBC.”
At issue was the group Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which had a booth in the SBC exhibit hall and focuses, according to a brochure given to SBC messengers at registration, on “making Israel strong and her people safer by educating and activating Christians to stand with Israel in churches, classrooms and communities across the United States.”
The original resolution proposed by SBMF member Amy Downey of Texas expressed concern specifically about CUFI, and discussion of the proposal centered on CUFI. Downey’s motion was amended, however, to express concern more broadly about any group that rejects Jewish evangelism.
SBMF critics of CUFI noted that televangelist John Hagee – who revived the organization in 2006 and serves as its national chairman – has been accused of teaching that Jews need not embrace the gospel to be saved.
Hagee has denied that charge repeatedly, but his critics within and outside the SBMF cite statements by Hagee they interpret as undermining Jewish evangelism – including passages in his 2007 book In Defense of Israel and a 1988 comment to the Houston Chronicle that “everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha’i, needs to believe in Jesus, but not Jews.”
In 2008, Hagee told a group of Christian leaders Jesus is the only way of salvation for Jews and Gentiles and that believers have a responsibility to share the gospel with both groups, Michael Brown, a Christian author and radio host who was present at the 2008 gathering, told Baptist Press via email.
CUFI told BP in a statement, “CUFI is a single issue organization dedicated to educating Christians about Israel, strengthening the US-Israel relationship and stamping out anti-Semitism in all its forms; it does not engage in evangelism.”
The SBC’s convention manager Bill Townes told BP via email, “We gladly receive concerns any member of our Southern Baptist family may raise about vendors who have gone through our application process to exhibit at the SBC annual meeting in compliance with our exhibitor policy detailed at sbcannualmeeting.net. If, in fact, a question is raised that a vendor does not meet the criteria we have established, a call to our office will alert us to examine the vendor request more deeply. This is something we will do in response to the concern raised by the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.”
SBMF President Bruce Stokes told BP “the SBC is primarily about two agenda items: evangelism and missions. CUFI is at the least about neither of these.” Additionally, “there are members of the SBMF and other messianic organizations that have real concerns, and I think that warrants a closer look before allowing them to have a booth at the convention.”
In other business, the SBMF took the second of two required votes to establish the office of executive director and shift former president Ric Worshill to the newly established role. The executive director will serve as a liaison to the SBC and work to maintain and strengthen relationships within the fellowship.
Stokes, an anthropology and behavioral sciences professor at California Baptist University, was elected president after Worshill was installed as executive director. The new slate of officers also included Mike Saffle of Alaska as vice president.
Among ministry reports delivered to the fellowship were updates on efforts to reach Jews for Christ in Japan, Alaska, Canada, Dallas and New York. The SBMF also received word some of its members are becoming more active in the SBC and state Baptist conventions and promoting messianic ministry in the process.
Worshill told the group about various instances of apparent spiritual warfare surrounding messianic ministry. Examples included attacks against the SBMF website and his SBMF email account by Jewish groups that oppose efforts to share the gospel with Jews. Anti-missionary Jewish groups, Worshill said, “are terrified of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.”
The attack against Worshill’s email is under investigation by the federal government, he said.
“The more effective we have gotten in the ministry of gospel to the Jewish people,” Worshill told BP, “the more the spiritual warfare has happened.”
Following the SBMF annual meeting, fellowship members helped staff the Many Faces of the SBC booth in the SBC exhibit hall, highlighting the various ethnic fellowships within the convention.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/26/2018 11:18:34 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2nd-gen pastors explore cross-cultural ministry

June 26 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Struggles and opportunities unique to second-generation Americans pastoring beyond their cultural heritage are a new focus of the 2nd Generation Asian-American Fellowship.

Photo by Samuelle Grove
A.J. Camota, left to right, pastor of International Christian Fellowship, Suffern, N.Y.; Thomas Wong, lead planter and pastor of Point Community Church, East Brunswick, N.J.; Won Kwok, lead pastor of Maranatha Grace Church, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; and James Choi, church planting catalyst for Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware serve on an information panel at the Second Generation Asian American Pastors and Planters Fellowship gathering June 12.

The Southern Baptist fellowship drew about 20 pastors to a noon panel discussion June 12 in Dallas, kicking off a mentoring initiative to help second – and even third – generation pastors successfully navigate cross-cultural church planting and pastoral ministry. The event was held in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting.
“Oftentimes it has been a lonely, very isolating typical journey for us as we’ve gone down this road,” fellowship president and cross-cultural pastor Thomas Wong told those gathered at the event.
“We didn’t know who were the role models that were ahead of us,” Wong said, “and certainly looking from our immigrant church background, we didn’t always receive the blessing and the support to go, to be released to go.”
Panelists with Wong were Won Kwok, lead pastor of Maranatha Grace Church in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; fellowship vice president A.J. Camota, pastor of International Christian Fellowship in Suffern, N.Y.; and James Choi, church planting catalyst for the Baptist Convention Maryland/Delaware.
“Our desire is really to create a catalyst where there would be a fellowship of second-generation leaders that are maybe five, 10 years ahead, emerging leaders that we can share our stories with,” Wong said. Emerging leaders, already becoming prominent, would be equipped to listen to, mentor and coach those just beginning the journey.
Among more than 2,000 Asian American Southern Baptist churches in the U.S., Wong has estimated perhaps a few hundred are led by second-generation pastors. The National Asian American Fellowship of the SBC launched the second generation group at the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix.
Of Chinese heritage, Wong is the lead pastor and planter of the two-year-old Point Community Church in East Brunswick, N.J., a fellowship of 50-70 worshipers including Chinese, Korean, Egyptian, Latino, African American, Indian, Jamaican and other ethnicities. He achieved diversity at Point Community by launching the church with a multiethnic ministry team.
He describes Point Community Church as looking “a little like the Kingdom of God,” and expressed a desire to share his experiences and struggles to help the next generation of leaders.
Filipino American panelist Camota is associate pastor of a formerly majority Filipino church that has merged with an older Anglo congregation, Camota said. The church is seeking to be multiethnic and multigenerational.
“You can consider the discomfort from all of these different people across different ethnic backgrounds, across different worship [traditions],” Camota said, “wondering how they can do church in a way that reaches more people, but struggles to get out of its comfort zone.”
Among challenges panelists discussed are:

  • the necessity of sacrificing culturally-based relationships to fellowship outside one’s first culture;

  • overcoming cultural barriers that aren’t readily perceived, such as the tendency to prepare fellowship meals including only the favored cuisine of one culture;

  • resistance to change from members of an established church’s historical culture;

  • and the tendency of residents in the churches’ neighborhood to drive miles out of their way to avoid attending the closer church of an ethnicity other than their own.

Among those in attendance was North American Mission Board church planting catalyst Steve Allen, an Anglo who volunteers as an associate pastor at a majority Filipino, but multiethnic, multigenerational church in New York. It’s necessary to develop a “cultural agility,” Allen said, to thrive in multiethnic congregations.
Panelists pointed to hospitality, discipleship, self-denial, self-control and cross-cultural learning as necessities as well. The church ought to be where everyone feels equal, panelists said.
Interest in the panel discussion was greater than expected, Wong said, noting first-generation immigrant pastors, second-generation Asian Americans and Anglos attended.
“This is a conversation that has to happen with all generations and ethnic groups,” Wong said. “In order for this multiethnic, multigenerational reality to actually happen in the SBC, it’s going to require every voice and every person at the table.”
Panelists exchanged contact information with those in attendance, expressing hopes of continued discussions and mentorships.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/26/2018 11:13:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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