June 2019

China abuses underscored in religious freedom report

June 26 2019 by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press

Despite “glimmers of progress” in religious freedom globally last year, key concerns were noted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in releasing the 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF).

Screen capture from YouTube
Despite “glimmers of progress” in religious freedom globally last year, key concerns in China and elsewhere were noted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in releasing the 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

Travis Wussow of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said he looks forward to the report’s release each year “because I know how critical American leadership is to advance religious liberty abroad.”
Abuses in China warranted a special section in the IRF report, Pompeo said in a news conference following the report’s release June 21.
Among the concerns: the plight of at least 800,000 and up to possibly more than 2 million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and members of other Muslim groups – mostly Chinese citizens – held in detention facilities in Xinjiang.
Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said the Chinese camps are “designed to strip away the culture, identity and faith of these religious communities.”
In addition, Brownback said his staff has seen “increasing Chinese government abuse of believers of nearly all faiths and from all parts of the mainland,” including reports of forcible organ harvesting.
“This should shock everyone’s conscience,” Brownback said, describing what is occurring in China as a “war on faith” of all kinds.
The report included noteworthy improvements in Uzbekistan and the release of two high-profile prisoners in Pakistan and Turkey, Pompeo said.
But, in addition to China, he said the report still exposed “a chilling array of abuses committed last year by oppressive regimes, violent extremist groups and individual citizens” around the world.
The report covers countries and non-state organizations such as Islamic terrorist groups that violate the fundamental human right of religious freedom by repression, imprisonment or torture.
Pakistan, for one – the country praised for acquitting Asia Bibi, a Christian mother on death row for blasphemy – remained a concern in 2018 for its ongoing religious freedom violations.
In that country, “more than 40 others remained jailed for life or face execution on that very same charge,” Pompeo said. “We continue to call for their release and encourage the government to appoint an envoy to address the various religious freedom concerns.”
Brownback noted that even in the face of those gross violations, a “grassroots movement” for religious freedom is taking hold around the world.
Pompeo cited Uzbekistan as a place where progress has been made. In 2018 the Uzbek government passed a religious freedom roadmap, released 1,500 religious prisoners and cleared 16,000 people who were blacklisted from travel because of their religious affiliations.
And in Turkey, pastor Andrew Brunson was released after two years in prison.
Meanwhile, Iran, Russia and Burma remain examples of continuing offenders of religious freedom, Pompeo said.
Wussow, in comments to Baptist Press, said the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is “particularly focused on the State Department’s reporting on the abuses in China and North Korea,” reflecting the resolution passed at the SBC annual meeting in June condemning the Communist Party of China and the Kim Jong-un dynasty for their extreme religious persecution and resolving to pray and advocate for the abuses to end.
“In the spirit of that resolution,” Wussow said, “we are working with a broad coalition of advocates, Chinese Christians and North Korean defectors in calling for liberty for those whose consciences are held captive and human rights denied.”
Pompeo, in the news conference, announced that the State Department is elevating the Office of International Religious Freedom along with the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism to report directly to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights.
This July, Pompeo also will convene the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which will welcome up to 1,000 people from around the world. The success of last year’s inaugural conference prompted Pompeo to repeat it.
“We brought together representatives and activists and religious leaders from virtually every corner of the world,” Pompeo said, noting that the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan subsequently held their own local conferences. “It was truly a stunning show of unity – people of all faiths standing up for the most basic of all human rights,” he said.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, thanked the State Department’s International Religious Freedom staff for keeping the plight of persecuted faith groups at the forefront.
“This data should be cited over and over again,” Smith said in a news release, “as we work to push governments to respect the rights of their own people instead of persecuting citizens because of their religious beliefs.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) – a bipartisan nine-member panel that researches and makes recommendations on religious liberty conditions overseas – also commented on the report.
“We are pleased that the State Department is committed to improving religious freedom conditions throughout the world,” said Tony Perkins, who was elected USCIRF chair June 17.
Perkins said USCIRF looks forward to learning in the next three months which countries will be designated as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) by the State Department, which will be put on the Special Watch list and which non-state actors will be designated as entities of concern.
“We encourage the State Department to refrain from using preexisting sanctions or indefinite waivers that provide little or no incentive for governments of CPC-designated countries to reduce or halt egregious religious freedom violations,” Perkins said.
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., who chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a government agency that also monitors religious freedom, said of the report, “Robust reporting on the full range of human rights – including full respect for religious liberties – is critical to the preservation of democratic institutions.”
Hastings took note of concerns relating to Hungary and Turkey.
“In Hungary, government officials have engaged in anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic rhetoric and publicly venerated World War II-era anti-Semites and Hitler allies,” Hastings said in a news release. "Amendments to Hungary’s controversial 2011 religion law came into effect in April, but it is not yet clear if the new and more complicated law will end discrimination against the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship and other faiths.
“In Turkey, long-standing concerns persist about respect for the rights of Alevis [a Muslim sect] and non-Muslim minorities to freely manage their religious activities and internal affairs.
“These violations of religious freedom are extremely troubling, especially since Hungary and Turkey – like all participating States of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] – have committed to protecting freedom of religion or belief and preventing intolerance and discrimination based on religious grounds.”
To read the full State Department report, visit state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Grace Thornton is a writer based in Birmingham, Ala.)

6/26/2019 11:25:41 AM by Grace Thornton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SWBTS responds to sexual abuse lawsuit

June 26 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) is committed to protecting survivors of abuse and being a safe place for the vulnerable, SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway said in response to a lawsuit filed by a former student who alleges being raped by a fellow student.
“While we cannot address issues in ongoing litigation, it is important that the Southwestern Seminary community knows that we take these matters seriously and are committed to our campus being a safe place for the vulnerable and for survivors of abuse,” Greenway told Baptist Press (BP) June 24. Both Southwestern Seminary and former SWBTS President Paige Patterson are named as defendants.
“As I said in my report at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, I realize in a Genesis 3 world that there may be times when our seminary may fall short of expectations,” Greenway told BP. “In any and every area where this has been the case, I am sorry. It is my resolve for our seminary to do better.”
Greenway responded to a personal injury lawsuit that alleges “Jane Roe” was forcibly raped at gunpoint on at least three occasions from October 2014 through April 2015 by a fellow student with an extensive criminal history who also was employed as an SWBTS plumber.
Roe alleges neither Patterson nor SWBTS sought to protect her when she reported her abuse. Instead, the suit claims, Patterson in particular intimidated Roe, disparaged her and told her being raped was “a good thing,” “because the right man would not care if she was a virgin or not.” Also, the lawsuit claims, SWBTS had no system in place to prevent and address the sexual assault of students.
The lawsuit was unsealed June 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Sherman.
Roe’s attorney Sheila P. Haddock of San Diego, Calif., told BP the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct constrain all parties involved from commenting on the case. Her client hopes to avoid further traumatization and to maintain privacy by pursuing the case as “Jane Roe,” Haddock said.
“What I can say is this: Jane Roe is an extremely courageous young woman who is still struggling to put the pieces of her life together,” Haddock told BP, “to build a future for herself and to find her voice. This case is a step forward for her on this journey.” Roe is seeking a jury trial and monetary damages currently unspecified.
Baptist Press was unable to reach Patterson for comment by deadline. Attorney Shelby Sharpe, who has represented Patterson in the past, said Patterson has been out of the country and likely has not been served the summons. In previous statements, Patterson has denied accusations related to mishandling reports of abuse.
The SWBTS Board of Trustees fired Patterson in May 2018 “regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”
The case was originally filed March 11 under the plaintiff’s official name, but was refiled May 22 after the court granted use of the pseudonym Jane Roe, according to court documents available online. Summonses to SWBTS and Patterson to inform them of the lawsuit are dated June 18 and allow 21 days from the date of service for replies.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)

6/26/2019 11:22:14 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Some states expand abortion rights

June 25 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Pro-choice legislatures and governors in at least four states have responded to the wave of pro-life state laws this year with expansions of abortion rights.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law June 19 a bill that protects the right to abortion until the moment of birth. Her action followed the enactment of other laws striking down abortion restrictions in Illinois, Maine and Vermont.
A Southern Baptist pro-life leader expressed grief over the new abortion laws.
“Abortion is a tragedy, and the new laws in Illinois, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont are lamentable,” said Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, policy director for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The abortion industry marches on to change the narrative from safe, legal and rare to easy, anytime and taxpayer-funded.
“As Christians, we should be characterized by compassion, humility and love even in the face of a confused culture that advances death by claiming choice,” Sobolik told Baptist Press in written comments. “In fact, we should be the most hopeful people because we know that the story of history ends with Jesus on the throne. Until then, however, we will continue working toward that day where abortion is unthinkable because women have every type of resource they need and all children are cherished.”
The state measures to expand abortion rights came after several states enacted bans in 2019 on abortion early in pregnancy.
Alabama’s ban on abortion throughout pregnancy except in the case of “a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother” became law in mid-May. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted bans on abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six to eight weeks. Missouri has approved a prohibition on abortion after eight weeks of gestation. Arkansas and Utah have enacted abortion bans after 18 weeks.
The flurry of abortion-related legislation in the states comes as abortion rights advocates issue warnings about a U.S. Supreme Court that has apparently become more conservative with the confirmation of two nominees by President Trump. They fear the current court could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which struck down all state abortion bans and legalized the procedure throughout the country.
Meanwhile, pro-life legislators are seeking to enact further protections for unborn children and women considering abortion that will be found acceptable by the high court and possibly lead to Roe’s reversal.
New York started the state efforts this year to expand abortion rights by enacting a law in January that not only legalizes abortion until the moment of birth but permits the death of babies who survive the procedure, according to Americans United for Life (AUL).
Some of the states that have approved abortion-expansive measures recently have appeared to be in competition to have the most extreme law in the country, pro-life leaders said.
Illinois’ legislation – signed June 12 by Gov. JB Pritzker – is more radical even than New York’s law, said Jill Stanek, the Susan B. Anthony List’s national campaign chair. Vermont’s measure, signed June 10 by Gov. Phil Scott, “may well be the most radical anti-life law in the nation,” said Sharon Toborg, policy analyst for Vermont Right to Life (VRL). 
Among the provisions in the new abortion rights laws:

  • Rhode Island’s law not only extends the right to abortion to the time of birth but rescinds the state’s ban on the gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion, according to AUL.

  • Illinois’ measure makes abortion a “fundamental right,” legalizes dismemberment abortions, eliminates licensing requirements for clinics and halts health and safety inspections, the Thomas More Society said.

  • Vermont’s law essentially expands the right to abortion until the moment of birth, AUL has said, and empowers abortion providers to sue the state if they are not permitted to open a practice, according to VRL.

  • Maine’s measure, signed into law June 10 by Gov. Janet Mills, enables non-doctors – including nurse practitioners and physician assistants – to perform abortions.

Raimondo, Pritzker and Mills are Democrats. Scott is a Republican.
Pritzker addressed the preventive nature of Illinois’ new law in his defense of signing it.
“The Reproductive Health Act ensures that women’s rights in Illinois do not hinge on the fate of Roe v. Wade, or the whims of an increasingly conservative Supreme Court,” he said in a written statement.
Other states to enact pro-life laws in 2019 include Indiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The Supreme Court affirmed Roe v. Wade in a 1992 opinion but also ruled states may regulate abortion to protect the lives and health of women.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

6/25/2019 12:22:30 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LifeWay leaders report VBS successes in Birmingham

June 25 2019 by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

Is Vacation Bible School (VBS) worth it?

Photo by Aaron Earls
Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids, explains “VBS is worth it” during a LifeWay breakfast June 11.

This is the question church leaders around the country ask themselves every year. And it was the theme of the LifeWay Christian Resources breakfast at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Jana Magruder, LifeWay Kids director. “There are months and months of planning and lots of volunteer recruitment effort. It’s an all-hands-on-deck project.
“But I want to challenge you as leaders to think about VBS not as a theme, not as the attractional part, but truly the heart and the why behind VBS.”
One reason why VBS is crucial, said Magruder, is because it’s an “essential tool for evangelism.” Last year, nearly 2.5 million people attended VBS, and there were more than 65,000 reported professions of faith, she said, citing data from the Southern Baptists’ Annual Church Profile (ACP).
Another reason VBS matters, said Magruder, citing approximately 160,000 reported church membership prospects resulting from VBS last year, is because it’s an effective community outreach. 
“The community outreach of VBS is essential as we’re spreading the gospel,” she said. “It’s a great way to throw open the doors of our churches or go out into the community and do VBS. And there’s not one right way to do VBS.”

Photo by Abbey Sprinkle
Brad Waggoner, acting president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, speaks during a breakfast gathering June 11.

Breakfast attendees Frank and Sherri Pomeroy of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, have been reaching their community through VBS for nearly two decades.
But in November 2017, when a gunman took the lives of 26 of their church members – many of them on the core VBS leadership team each year – they questioned whether they would even host a VBS in 2018.
In the end, they realized they had to do it. They needed to reach their community more than ever. And they needed to help them heal.
“You could feel the Spirit moving in these kids,” said Frank Pomeroy in a video presented during the breakfast. “But I would even venture to say [the 2018] VBS was more for the adults of Sutherland Springs than for the kids.”
Another reason LifeWay leaders say VBS is essential is because it’s a means to reach the nations with the gospel.
Craig Featherstone, director of LifeWay’s global ministry, said more than 160 countries – including Mexico, Venezuela and India – have been reached with LifeWay VBS curriculum. And in India alone, LifeWay is on target to reach more than 10,000 churches
“It’s amazing what the Lord is doing,” Featherstone said.
“As we travel around the world, we see the Lord bringing His hand of favor in Kingdom friendship with places around the globe. And VBS is at the center of so much of His blessing of our global work.”
Featherstone added that LifeWay’s global ministry is on pace to reach more than 1 million children with biblical content around the world.
But in any context, would kids still show up for VBS? LifeWay Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said the numbers from a recent study on VBS’ influence on Americans speak for themselves. (See related Baptist Press story.)
Some of the findings include:

  • Half the kids who attend VBS in the average church don’t even attend that church.

  • Six in 10 American adults attended VBS when they were growing up.

  • Of the adults who attended VBS, 55 percent attended multiple times, sometimes in the same year.

  • Nine in 10 have positive memories of VBS.

  • Eight in 10 of those who attended VBS say attending VBS was a highlight of their childhood.

  • Of the 4 in 10 who didn’t attend VBS as a child, a majority have a positive view of VBS.

  • Sixty-nine percent of parents – regardless of religion – said they would encourage their child to attend VBS at church if they were invited by a friend.

“Even if you have only a few kids, if you look like the average church, you’ll likely have twice as many kids at VBS as you do in the congregation,” McConnell said.

Photo by Abbey Sprinkle
Ralph W. Neighbour Jr., author of The Survival Kit for New Christians, was presented with a gift from LifeWay Christian Resources during a breakfast gathering June 11.

“Are other churches in your area reaching all the kids in the community? If, by God’s grace, they are, join them in that effort.”

LifeWay also recognized Ralph Neighbour Jr., author of Survival Kit for New Believers on the 40th anniversary of its publication.

Acting LifeWay CEO Brad Waggoner shared an update on the future of the LifeWay. He also pointed to the importance of providing a safe place for children to hear the gospel. “The more we have our churches and leaders get on the front side of this,” Waggoner said, “the more momentum we can gain.”
LifeWay has partnered with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Study to provide the “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused” available at ChurchCares.com.
“We’re here to come alongside of you and assist you in your mission of making disciples,” Waggoner said. “And we want to do that in every way possible.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joy Allmond is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

6/25/2019 12:14:01 PM by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Norine Brunson grateful for prayer amid Turkey ordeal

June 25 2019 by Shannon Baker, Baptist Resource Network

Before recounting her experience in Turkey where she and her husband, pastor Andrew Brunson, were imprisoned, Norine Brunson expressed gratitude.

Photo by Kathleen Murray
Norine Brunson

“First of all, I just really need to thank you,” she told the SBC Women’s Session on June 10 preceding the SBC’s annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
“You need to hear it from my mouth. We’d love to thank the thousands, I don’t know how many, tens of thousands, maybe a hundred thousand people, who prayed for us” when her husband was arrested after 25 years of ministry in Turkey, imprisoned for over two years and finally released last fall.
She also spent 13 days in a Turkish detention center.
In an interview with Donna Gaines during the SBC Women’s Session at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, Brunson recounted how she met her husband Andrew at Wheaton College, married and later joined him as missionaries to Turkey with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a move she admits she resisted.
“I got on the plane and I cried. My life was done,” she remembered thinking, though knowing that God wanted her to go “joyfully and expectantly.”
But within four years, Brunson realized the Lord had worked in her heart.
“This was a huge grace, because He tied my heart there,” she said. “So, when there were hard things that came, we knew we were supposed to be there.”
And there were joyful moments as well, she said.
“The joy of being the first one to share the gospel with somebody, to pray with them – they’ve never prayed with a Christian, they’ve never heard how we just talk to God,” she said. “These kind of things, you can’t beat them.”
Expressing gratitude to see God’s miraculous work among the Muslims in Turkey, she said, “This is the time for the Muslim world,” when many Muslims are “having dreams” and “supernatural encounters out of the grace of God.”
But with the miracles came major challenges.
The Syrian war caused a flood of refugees into Turkey, including the Kurds, whom even the Turkish believers disdained and did not want to reach with the gospel.
Albeit a sensitive issue, the Brunsons’ Turkish church ministered to the refugees, which likely led to complaints and the subsequent attention of Turkish authorities. The Brunsons ministered in a police state, so it was normal to have secret police frequent their church.
“It’s just the way it is. It’s part of life. You don’t know exactly who is who,” with the risk for deportation always prevalent, she said.
One day, the Brunsons received phone calls indicating they needed to go to the police station. Initially thinking they were to receive their long-term residence permits, they “happily went.”
But upon arrival, “we were told that, no, we were not getting a visa; we were not getting a residence permit. In fact, we were being deported. In fact, we were being arrested,” she recounted. Normally, she said, expatriates are given 15 days to pack up their things, put their affairs in order and leave the country.
“It was a real shock to go from expecting to stay to all of a sudden we’re leaving,” Brunson continued.
“And it was clear that there was a situation that was developing even that day.”
Upon arriving at the police station, both Brunsons were arrested and placed in “not a nice” detention center, where ISIS fighters and others were detained.
“Praise God, they put the two of us together in one room, so we were apart from the others. That was good,” she said.
But with no access to a lawyer, they were forced to sign papers saying they were “a threat to national security.”
Moreover, after receiving a phone call, an official “circled the terrorism box” on the form.
“I felt there that something is really not right. This is not a normal ‘OK, we’re going to deport these people and get rid of them,’” Brunson said. “I think that it started with them being unhappy with the refugee ministry, wanting to get rid of us, and then someone higher up said, ‘Wait a minute, don’t deport them. We can use this somehow.’”
She added, “We had no contact. We couldn’t see a lawyer. We saw the U.S. consulates approaching; they were turned back. We couldn’t be in touch with our kids. So, it was difficult.”
Brunson was suddenly released 13 days later, without explanation. She remembered wondering if God was preparing a spiritual harvest in Turkey, especially in light of the tens of thousands of people who were arrested during a coup attempt in 2016.
“I thought, ‘Wow, these people’s lives are being turned upside down, and maybe God wants us among them in prison to share the gospel, and maybe the harvest is going to start in prison.’”
Her husband, however, was imprisoned for two years.
“So how can you be prepared for something like that? … It wasn’t one of the costs that we had counted. We counted up, ‘OK, deportation,’ but not imprisonment. And it was difficult,” she said.
Brunson said she had to cast herself on God and spend long periods of time with Him.
“And when you’ve prayed everything you know how to pray, you just sit in His presence and just say, ‘Lord, strengthen me.’ I would not get out of bed in morning without literally taking His hand and saying, ‘Lord, You take me through this day.’”
Her husband was finally sentenced to time served and released in October 2018, which Brunson credited, on the human level, to “unprecedented engagement by President Trump” but, even more on the spiritual level, to the “unprecedented supernatural prayer movement” from the prayers of God’s people all over the world.
Upon her husband’s release, the family immediately was forced to leave the country.
“We never wanted to leave Turkey. Our books are there, my grandmother’s china. This is where we were living 25 years, so we had no plans to leave Turkey whatsoever. So there’s loss of all that, of our church. We’re watching what they’re going through now as Turkey goes into really dark times.
“But I will say, it was such a relief to leave Turkish airspace and to feel like “we’re out of this now, we’re really out of it.”
Her daughter and sons also were impacted.
“You don’t go through this without feeling some of it,” she said, noting God had prepared her daughter before this happened to be the “face of the family” who did media interviews and testified before Congress and the United Nations.
Both of her sons were admittedly angry. Trying to give them the right perspective, she remembered urging them, “We have to move towards forgiveness. It’s a process sometimes, but we don’t have an option.”
She has prayed for God to reward her kids for all they have endured.
After the ordeal, the Brunsons were invited to the White House, “which was just amazing” and have shared their story to multiple outlets.
A book about the ordeal, God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance, will be released this October.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shannon Baker is the director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey.)

6/25/2019 12:10:12 PM by Shannon Baker, Baptist Resource Network | with 0 comments

What’s the link between worship and discipleship?

June 24 2019 by BSC Communications

Mike Harland has served as the director of worship at LifeWay Christian Resources since 2005. He is a Dove Award winning songwriter, a published author and a worship leader who sings and speaks nationally and internationally.

Contributed photo
Mike Harland, director of worship at LifeWay Christian Resources, will provide equipping and encouragement for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Renewing Worship Expo Aug. 2-3 in Advance, N.C.

Harland will provide equipping and encouragement for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Renewing Worship Expo (renewingworshipexpo.com), scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2-3 at Calvary Baptist Church’s West Campus in Advance, N.C. The expo will feature training for anyone involved in any aspect of worship ministry all in one place.
Harland recently took time to answer some questions about worship in the local church, why worship leaders should view themselves as disciple-makers, and what he plans to share at the expo.
Q: You’ve spent a lot of time around worship ministries in churches of different backgrounds, contexts and sizes. What are some things you’ve learned about worship in the local church over the course of your 30-plus years in ministry?
A: One size doesn’t fit all; each context has its own challenges and opportunities. And because that is true, what works down the street or in your last church, or what worked 10 years ago may not be what you should do now. Worship leadership is spiritual in nature – the music piece is a significant part of the work, but does not encompass it. The role is one of a shepherd – an artistic one for sure, but the leader has to be far more than an artist.
Q: You’ve noted that perhaps no subject in the local church produces more opinions and passions than the subject of worship. Why is that so?
A: My mother used to say, ‘Opinions are like noses – everybody has one, and they are all different.’ Music is a subjective art form with a wide range of nuances and styles.
As the centuries have rolled on, more and more diversity in the art form has developed, and that diversity is certainly present in our churches. When you combine that with the wide range of spiritual maturity present in our congregations, it fosters opinion and passion over styles in churches.
We should never be surprised when this happens. This reality is why it is so vital that we lead spiritually around principles that transcend the stylistic preferences of the people we lead.
Q: In your recent book Worship Essentials, you discuss the role of a worship leader as one who doesn’t just make music, but makes disciples. How are worship and discipleship intertwined?
A: The commission Jesus gave us was to ‘go and make disciples.’ As far as I can tell, the music ministries of our churches are not exempt from this directive.
That means the music ministry leader needs to constantly ask the question, ‘How is what we are doing in worship contributing to the mission of the church?’ 
Worship and discipleship link up in at least three ways – organizationally, instructionally and inspirationally. The organization we lead (choirs, bands, teams) give us direct access to people in a ministry setting. We contribute to disciple-making when we lead those people spiritually through teaching God’s Word, praying together, practicing spiritual disciplines as a group and by modeling those disciplines as we grow ourselves.
The content of the songs we sing and lead instruct the congregant in biblical truth, doctrines and confessions, while at the same time, equipping the person to carry out a vital spiritual discipline – praise. Finally, the worship ministry inspires the believer by fostering a community experience of worship that emboldens the heart, holds each one accountable to our beliefs and encourages the spirit of the worshipper.
Q: We’re looking forward to having you join us at our upcoming Renewing Worship Expo training event. This event is designed to offer comprehensive training for anyone involved in any capacity of their church’s worship ministry. What would you say to those who might be thinking about attending a training event such as this one?
A: Conferences like this are an important aspect of any leader’s experience in ministry. Jesus modeled the discipline of pulling aside with His leaders to equip, encourage and refresh their spirits. Conferences like this inform, but they also inspire and refresh the leader.
When we gather with other leaders, we learn from each other and encourage each other in the race. I love a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln – ‘If I had four hours to cut wood, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.’ That’s what conferences like this do – they help us sharpen our ax.
Q: What do you plan to share in order to encourage and equip attendees, and what do you hope they will take away from the event?
A: I love to spend time with people who lead and serve in worship ministry. They are my favorite people! It would be my hope that our time together will help each one look deeply at their work and gain a fresh perspective of what God has called us to do and how we can be more effective in our leadership. I want the Word of God to challenge all of us as we look at the essentials of worship together.

6/24/2019 1:43:13 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Sudan Christians fearful amid deadly revolution

June 24 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Persecuted Christians in Sudan are discouraged and fearful after the military massacre of protesters seeking civilian rule that, amid Sharia law, could protect religious freedom.

Screen capture from France TV May 31
Civilian protest leaders in Sudan renewed calls for nighttime rallies this week after Sudan’s military killed an estimated 128 protesters June 3, discouraging Christians hoping for religious freedom.

A Southern Baptist eyewitness to protests in Khartoum ahead of the June 3 massacre, who requested anonymity, updated Baptist Press on the Christian minority in the mostly Sunni Muslim country. The military took control of the country following the April ouster of dictatorial President Omar al-Bashir, and protests for civilian rule continue.
“Christians inside Sudan were hoping for more freedom of religion when the change in government happened on April 11th,” the source said, “but the crackdown by the government on June 3rd with the massacre of 118 unarmed civilians and the rape of 70 women and three men has left them discouraged and fearful of the future.”
The death toll had risen to at least 128 by June 18 in continued attacks by the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the Associated Press (AP) reported. The TMC puts the death toll at 61, including three military members, the New York Times reported June 9.
The U.S. Department of State, in a June 12 press briefing, announced the appointment of Donald E. Booth as special envoy to Sudan, and said Booth was already in Sudan advocating for human rights. Booth, a retired ambassador and former special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, travelled to Khartoum with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy.
“His appointment demonstrates that the United States has a firm commitment to the Sudanese people and efforts to advance a peaceful, political solution,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said.
Christian persecution is high in the country that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has described as a “country of particular concern” since 1999 under the International Religious Freedom Act.
USCIRF, under the leadership of Southern Baptist layman Tony Perkins since June 17, praised Booth’s appointment.
“We are encouraged by the appointment of an experienced diplomat like Ambassador Booth to help support Sudan through this very tumultuous period as it transitions to a civilian-led government,” Perkins said in a June 18 press release. “During this fragile time, it is critical that the U.S. government press the Sudanese government to respect the human rights, including religious freedom, of the Sudanese people.”
USCIRF recommended the appointment of a special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan in its 2019 annual report released months after protests initially began in December 2018.
“Human rights remain largely unprotected in Sudan,” USCIRF said in its report, “freedoms of assembly and expression are repressed, and that repression is closely interlinked with the repression of freedom of religion or belief.”
Some of the 1.3 million Christians in the country had resorted to living in caves and gathering under trees for worship under al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, according to the Voice of the Martyrs persecution watchdog organization, because al-Bashir’s regime frequently bombed Christian huts and churches in seeking to eradicate Sudanese Christians and non-Arab Muslims.
Sudan’s 43.1 million population is 97 percent Muslim, primarily Sunni, with a range of Muslim minority groups and Sufi orders, according to State Department figures. Evangelicals are included among Christians that comprise 3 percent of the population, including Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox; Roman Catholic; Anglican; Presbyterian; Pentecostal; Seventh-day Adventist; and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Civilian protests

“While the protests arose in large part due to the economic crisis and steep rise in costs of basic items, they have also been fueled by popular discontent with the repressive government, including with its severe restrictions on religious freedom and other human rights,” USCIRF said in its 2019 report. “The 2018–2019 protests led to stronger and more sustained civic mobilization against the government than in past years and gave many Sudanese new hopes for a transition of government.”
The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) leading the protests began night rallies June 17 to allow more civilian engagement, AP reported.
The June 3 massacre occurred when negotiations between TMI and the SPA deteriorated in the SPA’s attempt to establish civilian rule. The TMI blocked internet access and cellphone service in the country after the massacre. But the SPA has continued to fight for control through such measures as a consumer strike that paralyzed Khartoum and other major cities as recently as June 9, the New York Times reported.
The TMC has pledged a two-year “transitional period” with free presidential elections, but the SPA continues to fight for civilian rule while discouraging intervention from the international community, according to news reports.
(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.)

6/24/2019 1:39:17 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mission:Dignity: Pastor rallies church’s giving

June 24 2019 by Susan Ervien, GuideStone Financial Resources

Bethel Baptist Church (BBC) in Yorktown, Va., has long been missions-oriented, but a trip to the Southern Baptist Convention put Mission:Dignity on their radar.

Submitted photo
Doug Echols, stirred by Mission:Dignity videos at the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, has led Bethel Baptist Church to add its support for retired Southern Baptist workers and their widows in financial need.

With a 179-year history of serving one of Virginia’s most historic areas, Bethel Baptist’s 700-plus members come from all walks of life. Many serve at nearby military outposts like Langley Air Force Base and the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center. Bethel also partners with the SBC of Virginia convention in serving the needs of churches across Virginia.
Upon hearing about Mission:Dignity from O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, at the 2017 SBC annual meeting in Phoenix, BBC pastor Doug Echols made a commitment to support retired Southern Baptist ministers, workers and their widows in financial need.
To get the church involved, he immediately ordered materials when he returned to Yorktown.
The stories on Mission:Dignity videos shown at the SBC prompted Echols to realize he was blessed to serve in a church that could provide a comfortable salary and benefits. He was convinced that Bethel needed to be involved in giving back.
In its first year assisting Mission:Dignity, Bethel Baptist collected more than $10,000.
“I was overwhelmed by the response of our people,” Echols said. “We simply share the videos that are provided and try to tell the stories of how the offering is benefiting retired pastors. We do not set a church goal for this offering. We just ask our people to give sacrificially, and they have responded.”
The church has a large senior adult population who can relate to living on a fixed income, Echols noted. The Mission:Dignity stories have resonated with many of BBC’s senior adults and inspired them to give.
“We have seen people really get behind the Mission:Dignity emphasis,” he said. “We have people that give once a year and others that have made this a part of their regular giving. I believe that showing the videos and telling the stories have made the greatest impact on our people.”
This year, Mission:Dignity Sunday was June 23. GuideStone provides promotional posters, flyers and videos available to download for free at MDSunday.org. Crowdfunding opportunities also are available to pick a fundraising goal for a church, Sunday School class or Bible study and give together for Mission:Dignity.
Churches may hold their Mission:Dignity Sunday at any time during the year. All materials are undated to allow for flexibility in timing. Every dollar given goes directly to retired ministers, workers and their widows thanks to an endowment that covers all administrative costs.
Follow @MissionDignity on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) for up-to-date information and testimonies of people assisted by Mission:Dignity.
Individuals wishing to donate or refer potential recipients can do so through MissionDignity.org. In addition, all proceeds of the sale of Hawkins’ Code books go to support the ministry. Visit oshawkins.com/books for more information.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan Ervien is a marketing strategist for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/24/2019 1:34:26 PM by Susan Ervien, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

Bivocational pastors encouraged to persevere

June 24 2019 by Shar Walker, NAMB

Featured guest speaker, cartoonist and preacher Joe McKeever encouraged bivocational pastors in the rewarding and challenging work to which God has called them during a luncheon in Birmingham, Ala.

Submitted photo
Featured guest speaker, cartoonist and preacher Joe McKeever encouraged bivocational pastors in the rewarding and challenging work to which God has called them during a luncheon in Birmingham, Ala., June 12.

The Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network hosted the Bivocational Pastor’s Luncheon, held June 12 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting.
McKeever, a pastor for more than 42 years, stressed valuable lessons he gleaned during his time as a bivocational pastor, including the importance of continued faithfulness in service to God, developing relationships with other pastors, delegation, and the hard work of bivocational ministry.
“I am one of those people, who the Lord has to keep sending the same lesson again and again. I’ve learned that in the kingdom of God, size has nothing to do with anything,” said McKeever, a cartoonist for Baptist Press and other Christian publications.
“It’s all about faithfulness. I’ve learned that pastors need friends among other pastors, and if possible, with pastors from other denominations,” McKeever added. “I’ve learned that God does not send us to do all these jobs ourselves, but to train others to do them and that the ministry to which God has called us is the hardest and best job in the world.”
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, expressed his gratitude to pastors and their wives, and he shared the personal impact bivocational pastors have had in his own life.
“My entire life as a child and teenager, I had a bivocational pastor,” Floyd said. “Some were school teachers, some were doing other things and others were painting homes ... but that’s who poured into me. That’s who really taught me the importance of the inerrancy of the Word, how to witness and share my faith. On behalf of the Ronnie Floyds in life, thank you for what you have done to help people like me.”
Mike Perrigin, bivocational pastor of Chapel Hill Baptist Church in Gordo, Ala., was recognized during the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Luncheon earlier in the week. NAMB honored Perrigin and his wife for their steadfast devotion to God, their family and the congregation. (See related story.)
Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement at the SBC Executive Committee, closed the luncheon.
“You never know the impact you are making on a person regardless of the size of the congregation,” he said. “You never know the impact of what God could do in your ministry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shar Walker writes for the North American Mission Board. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

6/24/2019 1:21:14 PM by Shar Walker, NAMB | with 0 comments

Ben Mandrell nominated to lead LifeWay

June 21 2019 by Biblical Recorder Staff

Updated June 24, 2019 9:38 a.m.

The presidential search team for LifeWay Christian Resources announced today that it is recommending Ben Mandrell as the new president and CEO. Mandrell, 42, is currently the lead pastor at Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, Colo. 

He would succeed Thom Rainer, who retired earlier this year. Brad Waggoner has been the acting president and CEO since March 1. LifeWay’s board of trustees is scheduled to meet on June 28, when they will vote on Mandrell’s nomination.

Ben Mandrell

“I am so humbled by this incredible opportunity and grateful to be joining the amazing team of creatives at LifeWay,” Mandrell said in a press release. “I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for these coming years.”

Kent Dacus, chairman of the presidential search committee, said the unanimous recommendation followed a 10-month search, during which the team considered a diverse group of candidates. 

Dacus said Mandrell “has an incredible passion for the local church and for how LifeWay can help meet its needs. We found a leader who has a focused and compelling vision for the future of LifeWay.”

Mandrell previously served as a collegiate minister and senior pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn. He moved to Colorado in 2014 to start Storyline Fellowship in partnership with Englewood and First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla. He was featured as a church planter in the North American Mission Board’s 2017 week of prayer, which coincides with the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions.

Chuck Lawless, vice president for spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Ben loves the lord, his family and the local church. He understands the importance of both strong theology and practical relevance. I see him as one of God’s gifts to the SBC, and I could not be more thrilled for the future of LifeWay.”

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., said Mandrell “is the kind of visionary, disruptive leader that LifeWay needs just at this moment.”

Mandrell received a bachelor's degree from Anderson University in Indiana, a master’s degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a doctoral degree from Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He and his wife, Lynley, have four children.
6/21/2019 4:54:26 PM by Biblical Recorder Staff | with 0 comments

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