June 2019

Southern Baptists affirm stances on sex abuse, racism

June 12 2019 by Baptist Press Staff

By overwhelming votes, Southern Baptists strengthened their stances against sexual abuse and racism during the opening day of their June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

Photo by Van Payne
By overwhelming votes, Southern Baptists strengthened their stances against sexual abuse and racism during the opening day of their June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, told messengers after their votes, “I believe this is a very significant moment in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. And I believe that every one of us needs to thank God for this moment.”
Messengers cast their votes – raising booklets that contained their printed ballots – for amendments to the SBC constitution to specifically state that sexual abuse and discrimination based on ethnicity are grounds for a church to be deemed as “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention.
Messengers likewise voted to amend the SBC’s bylaws to repurpose the SBC’s Credentials Committee into a standing committee to make inquiries and recommendations for action regarding instances of sexual abuse, racism or other issues that call a church’s relationship with the SBC into question.
“May this world know that the Southern Baptist Convention stands against all forms of sexual abuse,” Floyd said. “May this world know that this convention of churches – 47,000 churches, plus a few thousand congregations, just under 52,000 churches and congregations – has given a clear signal not only about what we believe about sexual abuse, but we also stand against all ethnic discrimination in the United States and around the world.”
Repurposing the Credentials Committee, which formerly dealt with the messenger registration process, “is an incredible move for the future of this convention,” Floyd said. “While we may not understand it all and how it’s all going to work, we have done our very best to present to you a process.”
The constitutional amendments will require a second two-thirds messenger vote at next year’s SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. The repurposing of the Credentials Commission required only a two-thirds vote this year as an amendment to the convention’s bylaws.
The Credentials Committee will consist of nine members: the chairman of the Executive Committee; the SBC registration secretary; three members nominated by the Executive Committee; and four members nominated by the SBC Committee on Nominations.
The changes to the bylaws included the creation of a Registration Committee to handle the duties of the former Credentials Committee.
Floyd acknowledged to messengers that the bylaws can be changed as may be needed for optimal functioning of the Credentials Committee.
“If it’s not working the right way in our minds, we can always change it,” he said. “But thank God we have today, once again, sent a clear signal, a concrete statement, that it’s not only about what we say, but it’s about what we do” in calling Southern Baptist churches to be “faithful to the things of God and to the ways we treat one another.”
“And to God be the glory for what He has done this day,” Floyd said.
Recommendations for the constitutional amendments and repurposed Credentials Committee were placed before messengers by the Executive Committee, which approved the proposals during their June 10 session preceding the annual meeting.
Messenger deliberation over the constitutional amendment on sexual abuse spanned nearly 20 minutes; there was no discussion of the racism amendment or the Credentials Committee.
An amendment to the sex abuse wording was proposed by Ryan Hutchinson, a messenger from Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., who proposed replacing “Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse” with “Does not condone or dismiss or leave unaddressed sexual abuse within their church.”
Hutchison voiced concern for greater clarity for the constitutional amendment, stating that the only official statement of the convention’s beliefs regarding abuse is a brief mention in Article 15 of the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement of beliefs.
EC chairman Mike Stone spoke in opposition to the amendment, citing the many hours the Executive Committee had spent on crafting the wording. The proposed amendment did not “afford the proposed clarity” the messenger sought, Stone, a Georgia pastor, said. In addition to the Baptist Faith and Message, he said the convention’s beliefs on sexual abuse also are lodged in the Word of God, which the convention believes is “inspired, inerrant, authoritative and completely sufficient.”
Hutchison’s amendment failed to draw a majority of messengers’ raised ballots.

Other business

Messengers approved:

- an addition to the Southern Baptist Convention Organization Manual regarding trustee training, stating, “Entity administrators should reinforce with their trustees the principle that entity trustees are to represent the interests of the entire Convention as well as those of the entity.” The action stemmed from a messenger’s motion at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

- a 2019-2020 Cooperative Program Allocation Budget of $196,500,000, up from the SBC’s current $194,000,000 budget. The budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50.41 percent of receipts to the IMB and 22.79 percent to NAMB. The convention’s six seminaries and the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives will receive 22.16 percent; the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, 1.65 percent; and the SBC Operating Budget, encompassing the work of the Executive Committee and SBC annual meeting costs, 2.99 percent.

- a 2019-2020 Executive Committee and SBC Operating Budget of $5,874,350.

- resolutions of appreciation for two SBC entity presidents, Chuck Kelley of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, who retires July 31, and Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources, who retired on Feb. 28.

6/12/2019 12:31:26 PM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

Greear reelected as SBC president, leads diverse slate of officers

June 12 2019 by Margaret Colson, Baptist Press

North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear was reelected by acclamation to a second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) during the June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

Left to right: J.D. Greear, Marshal Ausberry and Noe Garcia

He will lead a diverse slate of officers, including: Marshal Ausberry, senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax, Va., first vice president; Noe Garcia, senior pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church, second vice president; John Yeats executive director of Missouri Baptist Convention, recording secretary; and Kathy Litton, director of planter spouse development for North American Mission Board, registration secretary.
Litton is the first woman to serve as SBC registration secretary, edging out incumbent SBC registration secretary Don Currence by 44 votes. Of 3,571 votes cast, Litton received 1,803 votes, or 50.49 percent of the ballots cast. Currence received 1,759 votes, or 49.26 percent of the ballots cast.
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area, was nominated by K. Marshall Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia. No other candidates were nominated as president.
Southern Baptists “need a pastor-preacher-prophet that will continue to stand in the gap with consistent … clarity, one who is strong as steel but soft as velvet,” said Williams, who described Greear as “a man after God’s own heart with the Lord’s anointing upon him, hastening to hear and instantaneously and radically heed the principles and practices of the holy. This has enabled him to love and lead … his family, his flock and this convention.

John Yeats and Kathy Litton

“His ministerial resume is stupendous,” said Williams, who added that Greear’s appointments in his first year as SBC president are the most diverse in Southern Baptist history, including “48 non-white, 38 percent female, over 70 percent have never served on a national board before.”
Also, in his first year as SBC president, Greear, he said, “without hesitation addressed the issues of sexual abuse.  
“He is passionate in his pursuit of inexplicable unity among Kingdom citizens of all ethnicities so we can demonstrate a collective incarnation, a redemptive healing presence, that pushes back darkness and stands up with moral authority to call our nation to repentance and manifest fruits of repentance, as a catalyst to usher in revival in the church and a spiritual awakening in the land.”
In his first year as SBC president, Greear focused on the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism initiative, which calls on believers to pray for and focus their evangelistic efforts on one individual over the course of a year in hope that person may come to know Christ. He also announced a Sexual Abuse Advisory Study, which will present its report to annual meeting attendees on Wednesday, June 12. Greear also has championed gender and ethnic diversity in his presidential appointments of SBC leaders.

During the 17 years Greear has pastored The Summit Church, worship attendance has increased from 60 in 2002 to nearly 10,000, according to statistics available through the SBC’s Annual Church Profile. Baptisms have increased from 19 in 2002 to 616 in 2018 at the church’s nine campuses.
The Summit Church has given close to $1 million over the past two years through the Cooperative Program (CP), Southern Baptists’ unified program of funding state- and national-level ministries, according to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The church has been the top CP-contributing church in terms of dollars given each year from 2016-18.
Summit’s Great Commission Giving, which comprises CP gifts as well as direct gifts to SBC entities, associational giving and giving to state convention ministries, totaled nearly $4 million (close to 20 percent of undesignated receipts) in 2018.
The Summit Church has planted 292 churches to date, including 244 outside the U.S., with a goal of planting 1,000 churches in 50 years. Close to 200 Summit members are serving as International Mission Board missionaries.
Prior to the SBC annual meeting, in written comments to Baptist Press, Greear said, “I believe our best days of cooperative mission are ahead of us if we refocus to keep the gospel above all our preferences, styles, theological leanings and cultural differences.”

6/12/2019 12:31:10 PM by Margaret Colson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

WMU celebrates with 131 missions, learning activities

June 12 2019 by Marcia Knox, Baptist Press

Nathan Bailey, 14, enjoyed the knot-tying the most, and his 12-year-old sister Naomi had fun learning the Hawaiian hula dance.

Photo by Van Payne

The brother and sister from First Baptist Church in Winterville, Ga., were among the more than 750 people at the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) headquarters Monday, June 10. There, they decided among more than 131 mission and learning activities, which correlated with WMU’s 131st anniversary.
Nathan and Naomi joined in the WMU activities because their mother Jennifer Bailey wanted them to experience missions learning and a love of missions like she grew up with at church. 
Nathan noted, “I learned a lot of mission things ... and the history of the Baptist church and evangelizing. I learned about missions in the activities and not from the pages of a notebook.” For Naomi, the Hawaiian Hula taught her movements that said, “Jesus loves me.” “The teacher used a lot of moves to worship the one true God,” she added.
Some of the other mission projects featured packing and stuffing items into boxes and backpacks. Families packed 500 hygiene relief kits for Baptist Global Response (BGR) and meals for children in need for the Florida Baptist Children’s Home in Jacksonville, Fla., with its campaign called “One More Child.” Others made cards for backpacks to be given out by the New Orleans Baptist Friendship House.
The Underground Church experience with the Arkansas WMU led participants down different routes through the WMU building into the basement. There, attendees experienced a lifelike simulation of an underground church in a restricted country.
In addition to the knot-tying, other activities geared to church children’s groups included baking Lottie Moon cookies and painting rice bowls, which are used for traditional Greek food, as a learning tool about refugees with IMB missionaries.

Photo by Van Payne

Breakout sessions on Monday featured the “Refugee Experience” with IMB staff, “The Persecuted Church” with retiring missionaries Nik and Ruth Ripken, and “Ministering in Minneapolis” with NAMB church planters Philip and Jummai Nache.
Julie Walters, WMU Communications manager, noted this year’s event in Birmingham provided “the perfect opportunity to welcome all ages to national WMU.”
“We planned 131 activities ... in recognition of 131 years of missions through WMU,” Walters said. “With the goal of appealing to more ages and different learning styles, we planned a variety of experiences that included ... much more. Some options are just plain fun.”
Walters credited the vision behind this year’s event to Sandy Wisdom-Martin, WMU executive director-treasurer.
Wisdom-Martin noted, “We knew it was going to be huge to have people to come to Birmingham.”
“Women for years across the states have invested in this place,” she said. “We wanted in a fun way to welcome them home. In May we had our 131st anniversary.... We decided it might be fun to have 131 activities on the campus, ... and to think of 131 things… It’s not the place, it’s what the place represents – our connection to share the gospel around the world … and to tread where the giants have tread.” 

6/12/2019 11:19:45 AM by Marcia Knox, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Send Luncheon celebrates pastors and SBC leaders

June 12 2019 by K. Faith Morgan, NAMB

It was an hour of laughter and tears as the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Luncheon celebrated the complex and rewarding journey of life in ministry.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Kevin Ezell, left, president of NAMB, plays a game called “Taylor Swift or Lamentations” with four new Southern Baptist entity leaders during the June 10 NAMB Send. Other participants included, left to right: James Dew, president of NOBTS; Adam Greenway, president of SWBTS; Paul Chitwood, president of the IMB; and Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC EC.

“We just want to say thank you for all that you do and how you lead your churches,” said Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB, to a sold-out crowd of more than 3,700 pastors and their families. The event was held June 10 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in conjunction with this week’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.
During the event, Ezell welcomed the newest class of SBC entity heads. The group included Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee; Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board (IMB); Jamie Dew, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Adam Greenway, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. All of them came to the stage wearing sweater vests – a humorous nod to Ezell’s own signature accessory. Ezell quizzed the leaders on personal trivia, and the group of five catered to the home-town crowd in Birmingham, Ala., with a karaoke rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama,” complete with hats, wigs and electric guitars.

New starts and relief efforts

The program featured Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Scott Gurosky of Birmingham. Ezell shared an update from Pomeroy’s church where a gunman killed 26 worshipers on Nov. 5, 2017. NAMB partnered with Gurosky’s design and construction company, Myrick, Gurosky and Associates, to build the congregation a new worship and education facility that opened in May.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
Kevin Ezell, president of NAMB, speaks at the NAMB Send Luncheon June 10 in Birmingham, Ala. The event was standing room only with an overflow room that was also full.

Ezell also introduced Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Missions and Rusty Sowell, a pastor from Beauregard, Ala. Sowell’s church, Providence Baptist Church, responded heroically to a March 3 tornado in their area that took 23 lives in the small community. Sowell led his congregation to step up in ways that each volunteer was uniquely qualified to serve – a caterer leading food distribution, a retired principal organizing volunteers, retail workers organizing clothing donations and many more.
“It was a tremendous effort on everyone’s part to get to the epicenter and come together to serve the families and churches,” Sowell said. “What a tremendous witness it was to see all the people from the faith community come together to provide relief.”
Out of gratitude for Sowell’s leadership, Ezell gifted him and his wife with a scholarship to a Timonthy+Barnabas retreat in Palm Springs, Calif. Timothy+Barnabas retreats are hosted by Johnny Hunt, NAMB’s vice president of evangelism and leadership, as a time of equipping, refreshment and encouragement for pastors and their wives. Ezell also announced that private donors were donating $20,000 toward the church’s efforts to build a memorial to those who died as a result of the devastating tornado.

Photo by Marc Ira Hooks
NAMB President Kevin Ezell, left, informs Mike Perrigin, a bivocational pastor at Chapel Hill Baptist Church in rural Fayette County in Alabama and his wife, Kim, that their June mortgage payment was their last. The announcement that a donor had paid off their home was made at the June 10 NAMB Send luncheon in Birmingham, Ala.

Ezell then introduced the story of Pastor Mike Perrigin, a bivocational pastor serving in rural Alabama. The majority of pastors in Alabama (55 percent) are bivocational. Perrigin came to faith in Christ at a fishing tournament sponsored by a local church. Later, he became not just a fisherman but also a fisher of men when he answered the call to ministry. He and his wife Kim are parents to two special-needs children, and while that assignment is challenging, the couple is quick to assert that parenting their children is one of the greatest joys of their life.
“Your normal and our normal are different,” Kim said. “We are truly blessed to have our babies that we have, and they bless others with their smiles. If that is the only reason why they’re here, we are blessed and up to the challenge to help them fill that need.”
After the couple shared the joys and struggles of their story, Ezell told them that the last payment they made on their mortgage was indeed their last mortgage payment, as generous donors had stepped up to pay off the remaining balance. The luncheon closed as the Perrigins received a standing ovation from the attendees – several thousand ministry families recognizing and sharing their appreciation for one of their own.

6/12/2019 11:14:09 AM by K. Faith Morgan, NAMB | with 0 comments

Panelists assess SBC on sexual abuse

June 11 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Speakers at a panel on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches shared June 10 their assessment of where the convention and its cooperating congregations stand regarding an increasingly obvious problem in the country’s largest Protestant denomination.
More than 1,250 people registered for “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention,” a conversation co-hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study at an exhibit hall in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

Photo by Van Payne
Beth Moore, left, participates in a panel discussion hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Commission called "Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention" June 10 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, the night before the start of the two-day SBC annual meeting.

“One of the things that I feel is relief that we really are talking about it,” Bible teacher Beth Moore said. “And I can tell you that we do have some things happening right now that I have never seen happen. I feel relief that it’s on paper.... I feel hope because we are speaking plainly about it, and I feel a tremendous sense of resolve.”
Rachael Denhollander – lawyer, advocate and abuse survivor – told the audience there is a wide range of emotions in the survivor community. “By and large the survivor community loves the church; they love Jesus; they love the gospel,” she said. “And our desire is to see the church do this better so that it becomes the refuge it was intended to be.
“There is a lot of skepticism, and I think some of it is justified, because the survivor community is used to hearing a lot of words,” Denhollander said “What we’re not used to seeing is action.”
SBC President J.D. Greear has made sexual abuse a focus of his first year in office. One of the reasons, he said, is: “The credibility of what we actually believe about the gospel is at stake.”
He has learned from the survivor community, “[T]he strongest words without actions that follow up those words are worse than not saying words at all.”
ERLC President Russell Moore said, “God is uncovering some awful things, but at the same time God is raising up some really amazing and encouraging things as well. And one of those things is listening to the voices of survivors” and those who minister to them.
Susan Codone, senior associate dean of academic affairs at Mercer University School of Medicine, shared her personal story of being abused by two pastors as a girl at a Birmingham-area church.
The panel discussion on the eve of the SBC’s 2019 meeting followed a year of growing awareness of and attention to sexual abuse. Greear formed the Sexual Abuse Advisory Study in July 2018 to work in collaboration with the ERLC. The fluid study group’s purpose was to assess the current Southern Baptist handling of sexual abuse and to offer recommendations to churches in caring for survivors and providing protection from predators.
In February, the Houston Chronicle – joined by the San Antonio Express-News – began what is now an ongoing series on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The initial articles in the series found 220 pastors and other leaders in Southern Baptist churches who had been convicted of or taken plea deals in sex crimes involving more than 700 victims. The series has since reported on more abusers in churches, as well as some who served as missionaries with the International Mission Board.
The Sexual Abuse Advisory Study issued a 52-page report June 8 in which it expressed lament for every victim and acknowledged some churches and pastors have been more concerned with the reputation of their ministries than the protection of the vulnerable and prevention of future abuse. It recommended several steps of action intended to help thwart abuse and to care for survivors.
The report followed interviews with hundreds of sexual abuse survivors, as well as church leaders and national experts in the field.
The Advisory Study will make a presentation at the SBC meeting Wednesday afternoon, June 12.
Earlier June 10, the SBC Executive Committee approved a constitutional amendment specifying that churches which harbor either sexual abuse or ethnic discrimination are not in harmony with the SBC, as well as a bylaws amendment to establish a standing Credentials Committee to evaluate claims of church misconduct regarding sexual abuse and racism or any other matter that would call a church’s continued relationship with the SBC into question.
The report came out the same week two initiatives to help churches address sexual abuse were released:

The Advisory Study and the ERLC collaborated with LifeWay Christian Resources to produce “Becoming a Church That Cares Well for the Abused,” a comprehensive training curriculum that consists of a handbook with 12 video lessons from experts in a variety of areas.

The two entities also launched the “Caring Well Challenge,” a call for SBC churches to participate in a year-long initiative to become equipped to prevent predatory behavior and to care for survivors.

6/11/2019 5:16:09 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastors’ Conference a call to character ‘from above’

June 11 2019 by Baptist Press Staff

Whether in suffering or dealing with a social media firestorm, lean into the godly character that the Holy Spirit is fashioning in your heart – that was the core challenge of the first two sessions of the 2019 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference June 9-10 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala.
The first seven speakers began working their way through the Beatitudes – found in Matthew 5:1-12 – challenging church leaders to live out the theme of “Kingdom Character.”

Robert Smith Jr.

Robert Smith Jr. began session one by preaching an overview of the Beatitudes.

Photo by Matt Miller
Robert Smith, Jr., the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair in Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, gives an overview of the Beatitudes during the opening session of the two-day 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference.

Smith, the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, explained that the Beatitudes were paradoxical statements made by Jesus.
“A paradox occurs when two mutually exclusive statements meet at the intersection of apparent contradiction only to produce truth,” Smith said.
The Beatitudes address nine “cause” statements and then leave the rest of the Sermon on the Mount to address the effect, he said. “They address the root while the sermon addresses the fruit. The Beatitudes address the motive, why you do what you do, leaving the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount to address the action.”
Smith concluded his message by explaining that Christians will not be able to live out the Beatitudes without the power of the Holy Spirit and will not be able to embody them fully until they are glorified in Heaven.
“The Holy Spirit is not a luxury, He is a necessity,” Smith said. “It’s like you can’t even be a Christian without the Spirit. God is working to develop from the inside what He has already put in you. In other words, you don’t have seven of these blessings, you have all nine of them. The question is not how much of the Spirit do you have, but how much of you does the Spirit have?”

Jay and Katherine Wolf

Evangelists Jay and Katherine Wolf of Hope Heals in Atlanta displayed Christ’s power in suffering by telling how Katherine nearly died from a massive brain stem stroke at age 26. From a wheelchair on stage, Katherine, now severely disabled, said all people “have invisible wheelchairs of so many different kinds.”

Photo by Matt Miller
Jay Wolf and his wife, Katherine, speak on the beatitude ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ during the 2019 SBC Pastor's Conference. The couple are evangelists and advocates for disabled people.

“We’ve all been through various types of suffering – hard things, past trauma, pain, the sin that’s hurt us, how we’ve hurt others,” Katherine said during the Sunday night session.
“... We’re just a testament to the power of Jesus taking some really hard, bad suffering and using it. I want to encourage you to listen to us share with that perspective, seeing yourself in this story because it is in fact your story, too,” she said. “The specifics may be different ... but I guarantee you’ve had hard stuff in your story.”
Jay, whose father is the longtime pastor Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., said the body of Christ “forever has changed our story and our life, and I know we wouldn’t be here today were it not for the church coming around us and uplifting our life and our story when everything fell apart.”
In the hours after the stroke, Katherine’s doctor did not expect her to live but decided to risk a lengthy surgery to give her a slight chance at survival. During that surgery, he had to make decisions about which parts of her would become disabled in order to sustain her life.
“In the wounding of Katherine came the healing of Katherine,” she said. “I think that is true in all of our stories. In our terrible woundings, a beautiful healing can come, and that is the Christian life.”
Katherine encouraged believers to accept that there is pain that is “lifelong that we will not understand or that will not be healed, taken away, until heaven.”
“We need to be OK with the tension that everything is not healed and restored on earth and that there is a tenor of sadness to things in life for sure, and that that’s OK, that God is absolutely present and at work even in the hard, sad things where there is ultimately such beauty,” Katherine said.

Ed Litton

When Ed Litton’s wife Tammy passed away in a tragic car accident in 2007, he wanted to “helicopter over” the Valley of the Shadow of Death and get through it as quickly as possible. But God invited him to walk through it instead, he told those present at the Sunday night session.

Photo by Matt Miller
Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Ala., preaches on the beatitude ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ during the 2019 SBC Pastor's Conference. Litton and his wife both experienced the loss of previous spouses in car accidents.

“When I was standing at the trailhead of the Valley of the Shadow of Death I was frightened; I was terribly afraid,” said Litton, pastor of Redemption Church, Mobile.
He asked, “Lord, how long is this going to take?” But God didn’t answer him, Litton said.
“The more I traveled with Him, I discovered He is utterly faithful to us,” he said. “He draws near to those who are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.”
If you skip the walk, “the reality is you miss the beauty that is hidden in that dark trail of tears,” Litton said. “We miss the beauty and the God who says I will never leave you or forsake you.”
This “blessed condition” for those in grief and sorrow is “only possible because of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said as he spoke on Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn.” But mourning in the Beatitudes doesn’t just mean grief because of the loss of a loved one or an ability or ministry, he explained.
“I’m talking about a greater kind of loss, the kind of loss when we drift from the Lord or depart from the Lord,” he said. When Christians see their sin the way God sees it, it leads to mourning.
“There’s a hole in our repentance,” Litton said. “We tend not to mourn; we helicopter over it and go straight to (God’s) forgiveness.”
True godly sorrow in repentance is not a quick fix, he said – it’s a blacksmith in Christians’ hearts beating out the sin that keeps them from God, sins like racism and indifference toward their neighbors. It’s this kind of repentance that can truly bring revival, Litton said.
“We need to stop just saying we want revival, and we’ve got to start filling the hole in our repentance which brings what we long for,” he said.

David Platt

In a social media landscape that can drive people to jump to conclusions and stokes the fires of online outrage, Christians should heed the words of Jesus to pursue meekness, said David Platt as he kicked off the Monday morning session of the conference.

Photo by Adam Covington
David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church near Washington, D.C., and founder of Radical, a resource ministry that serves churches, preaches during the second session of the two-day 2019 Pastors' Conference.

Platt, pastor-teacher of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., spoke at the Pastors’ Conference only eight days removed from a public prayer for President Donald Trump during his church’s Sunday worship service. Platt’s prayer was the subject of much social media conversation. But more concerning for Platt was the divided response of his own congregation, he said.
Some members of Platt’s church were overjoyed about the president’s impromptu visit, Platt said, while others were hurt and discouraged. The church should be the place where believers can have different political opinions and remain unified in the gospel, he said.
Preaching from the third Beatitude – “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) – Platt said Christians should spend more time listening humbly in face-to-face conversations with fellow Christians instead of speaking boldly on the internet. In a politically polarized secular environment, Jesus’ teaching about meekness – something Platt called calmness and joy “from above” – is a powerful antidote.
“We live in a culture that entices us at every moment to speak our thoughts from behind a screen instead of looking in the eyes of our brother and sister in love and listening to them,” Platt said. “Let us not get caught up in this – where we jump to erroneous conclusions and ignore honest convictions of brothers and sisters in Christ who may have different views from us.”

Russell Moore

God’s definition of blessing means a follower of Jesus “can be blessed and be hungering and thirsting at the same time,” Russell Moore told the Pastors’ Conference Monday morning.

Photo by Adam Covington
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks during the second session of the two-day 2019 SBC Pastors' Conference. He spoke about the beatitude ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.’

Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spoke on Matthew 5:6 – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
In this verse, Jesus says the ones who are blessed are blessed by God in a way that God defines it, Moore said – “not a life free of suffering, not a life that is free of carrying the cross, but a life in which someone is in right relationship with a God who loves them and is for them and a God who is putting them in right relationship with one another, a God who has blessed them with the gospel of Jesus Christ and a God who is enabling them to be a blessing to the nations.”
“The hungering that God creates is the hungering He also fills,” Moore said. “[W]hen we hunger and when we thirst for righteousness, what we inevitably say is: ‘God have mercy on me.’ We then are the people who recognize that we can only seek after righteousness when we understand and know that we are sinners in need of mercy.”
Followers of Jesus must set themselves apart for holiness, Moore said.
“We do that by repenting of sin,” he said. “We do that by coming into the light. We do that by holding up one another and bearing one another’s burdens. We do that by feeling the weight of our own sin but not in despair, feeling the weight of our own sin as those who have believed the gospel and who are walking toward the kingdom.
“But we’re also the kind of people who make it very clear that the gospel is not for the righteous but for sinners like us,” Moore said. “We hunger and we thirst for the righteousness we have been called to but the righteousness that we in and of ourselves have not obtained.”

Martin Young

Martin Young, senior minister of Rising Brook Community Church – a church plant in Staffordshire, north of Birmingham, England – explained to the Monday morning audience that living mercifully is living beautifully.

Photo by Adam Covington
Martin Young, senior minister of Rising Brook Community Church in Staffordshire, England, speaks during the second session of the two-day 2019 Pastors' Conference. He spoke on the beatitude ‘Blessed are the merciful.’

Teaching on the Beatitude “blessed are the merciful” from Matthew 5:7, and pulling from 2 Kings 6:14-23, Young explained that believers should show mercy to the poor, to those different than them and to those closest to them.
“When we act mercifully, a flow begins because the kingdom of heaven is about flow. It’s an ecology.... the mercy that was extended to us extends to other people.... We find ourselves in a flow, and mercy then flows through our hearts to other people’s hearts. This is the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven,” he said.
The bottom line, according to Young, is that both the one offering mercy and the one receiving mercy gain from the act.
In the end, he said, “Increasingly, people are finding Jesus. Increasingly, people’s minds are being mended and relationships restored. This is the gospel. This is the kingdom of heaven. This is eternal life being expressed and enjoyed.”
Young also encouraged attendees to be particularly full of mercy when dealing with others who think or act differently than they do.
Mercy addresses difference, Young said. These differences can be racial, social or theological. It can be really hard to love people who are different than us, he said, but when people show mercy in given situations, those acts can be lovely and beautiful.
Mercy can be our “most powerful weapon against anger, sin, resentment, competition, bitterness,” he said.
Young encouraged attendees to be on the lookout for the people around them in need of a merciful encounter.
“Mercy ... is the flowing of the Holy Spirit pouring out of a merciful heart and pouring into a merciful heart,” he said. “Look for these moments ... and let us overcome evil by doing good.”

6/11/2019 5:08:10 PM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

Couple establishes GWU scholarship with $4-million gift

June 11 2019 by Gardner-Webb University

A couple known for their generosity is once again making an historic contribution to Gardner-Webb University. Carolyn and Robert Tucker have given a $4 million scholarship endowment to establish the “Tucker Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength Scholarship.”

Photo by student photographer Lisa Martinat
Carolyn and Robert Tucker bow their heads during the closing prayer given by Tracy Jessup, GWU Vice President for Christian Life and Service and Senior Minister to the University.

Retired GWU President Dr. Frank Bonner worked with the Tucker family for several years in the formation of this gift. The scholarship name is based on Mark 12:29-31, a scripture in which Jesus gives the two most important commandments. The first one is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“This full scholarship, which will designate the recipients as Tucker Scholars, will be transformational for these students,” Bonner explained. “The cost of a student’s four-year education at GWU will be covered, including tuition, room and board.”
In 2010, the Tuckers announced the largest donation in school history, a $5 million gift, which helped to make a new student center a reality. At the dedication ceremony, Robert Tucker gave another half million donation in honor of former Vice President of Student Development Dr. Dee Hunt. The Tucker Student Center has quickly become the heart of campus life.
The Tuckers are the owners of Shoe Show, Inc. Founded in 1960 in Kannapolis, N.C., Shoe Show’s success has been based on a simple formula of providing quality products, service and value. The Tuckers’ daughter, Lisa, is a 1989 graduate and former volleyball player for Gardner-Webb. She has remained committed to the University for three decades and currently serves as a trustee. She serves the family business as president.

Photo by student photographer Lisa Martinat
From left, Lisa, Carolyn and Robert Tucker greet a guest at the ceremony to announce the Tuckers’ gift to establish a prestigious scholarship program at Gardner-Webb University.

“Gardner-Webb is a unique and wonderful place,” says Tucker. “The faculty and staff have dedicated their lives to teaching and being role models and mentors. Their love for their profession is evident in the way they care about the students. They always place them at the center of the University. I experienced that myself and I know how valuable that is.” 
When fully in place, the fund will provide for four Tucker Scholars, one in each class, every year in perpetuity. The first Tucker Scholar will be awarded Fall Semester 2020. The Tucker Scholars will be students with exceptional academic experience and drive, strong character and leadership potential, and a dedication to Christian faith and service.
“This vision is far more than exciting – it’s revolutionary,” affirmed Woody Fish, vice president for external affairs and advancement. “Only a few of the most elite institutions have scholarship programs of this magnitude. For the nation’s very top students our name will be competitive with the most prestigious schools the country has to offer.

6/11/2019 5:01:22 PM by Gardner-Webb University | with 0 comments

Abuse aftercare resource available for churches

June 10 2019 by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources

As more stories of sexual abuse involving evangelical churches and pastors – including the Southern Baptist Convention – come to light, SBC leaders have recognized the need to be responsive and educated in caring for those within their ministries who disclose abuse experiences.

LifeWay photo

LifeWay Christian Resources, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and those working with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Study have collaborated to do both – respond and educate – to produce “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused,” a free multimedia resource geared toward church staff members, lay leaders and volunteers.
Now available at ChurchCares.com, the new resource is a comprehensive training curriculum that combines a handbook with 12 video lessons from experts in the areas of social work, law enforcement, trauma counseling, abuse counseling, legal services and pastoral care.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the release of this crucial resource,” said SBC President J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area.
“I’m so proud of the work our [Sexual Abuse Advisory Study] group has done in an effort to make our churches a safer place. We need to learn from their expertise in this area, and this material is a fantastic place to start,” Greear said. “We have commitments from national entities, all six seminaries, all state conventions and our associational leadership fellowship that they will integrate these teachings. While education is not the answer to this problem, we want to eliminate ignorance as an excuse.” 
LifeWay’s B&H Publishing Group developed the handbook, which is intended for participants to use in tandem with the training videos. The handbook is offered as a free download or can be ordered as a printed copy.
“We’re honored to partner with the SBC Executive Committee, The Summit Church, the [Sexual Abuse Advisory Study] group and the ERLC to help develop the video curriculum, website and book for ‘Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused,’” said Jennifer Lyell, LifeWay’s director and publisher for the books ministry area.
“We look forward with prayerful expectancy to how God is going to use these resources to help churches fulfill their crucial restorative responsibility to biblically address sexual abuse and represent the heart of God to care for those who have been victimized,” she noted.
The video sessions are offered through Ministry Grid, LifeWay’s online leadership and volunteer training tool. Some of the experts featured in the videos include:

  • Rachael Denhollander: Sexual abuse survivor, attorney and advocate

  • Mika Edmonson: Pastor and church planter

  • Diane Langberg: Psychologist, trauma and abuse expert

  • Leslie Vernick: Licensed clinical social worker who specializes in destructive and abusive relationships

  • Brad Hambrick: Pastor and counselor

“We are grateful for the opportunity to help distribute this free training on Ministry Grid,” said Todd Adkins, director of LifeWay Leadership.
“Ministry Grid allows church leaders to assign this training to volunteers, track their progress and receive a certificate of completion, providing accountability and practical steps on how to prevent, respond and minister in the context of abuse.”
Video lesson topics include:

  • Gospel implications of a church’s response to abuse

  • Ministry responsibilities when the abuse is against a minor, versus when the abuse is against an adult

  • Pastoral care after reporting

Brad Hambrick, who has been a pastor of counseling for more than 15 years and has counseled more than 100 abuse cases, served as general editor for “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused.”
He believes this resource can not only help church leaders care well for abuse victims, but it can give a sense of safety to anyone who reveals to church leadership they have been abused.
“There’s nothing more devastating than going to a place of trust expecting to get help in the aftermath of abuse and to have that mishandled – or worse yet, to be harmed in the process of reaching out for help,” said Hambrick, pastor of counseling at The Summit Church.
“If we are going to be faithful shepherds – if we’re going to care well for the people God has brought to our churches – then being a good steward of their trust means knowing what to do and how to respond to represent Christ well in those moments when abuse is disclosed.”
Later this year the ERLC will host their annual conference, which will focus on the topic of caring well for abuse survivors.
“This curriculum is only one step in the process to address the crisis of church sexual abuse,” said ERLC President Russell Moore.
“But it is critically important, and I’m grateful for the faithful and diligent labor of so many experts, survivors and Christian leaders that went into producing this excellent resource. My prayer is that this will serve our churches well as they seek to minister to survivors and protect their churches from the wickedness of abuse.”
Visit ChurchCares.com to access the free handbook and videos, and to learn more about the curriculum contributors.

6/10/2019 11:33:47 AM by Joy Allmond, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Southwestern expands women’s support initiatives

June 10 2019 by Julie Owens and Alex Sibley, SWBTS

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) has launched multiple initiatives to further its equipping and empowering of women to answer the call to serve the Lord, President Adam W. Greenway announced June 6.

SWBTS photo

The initiatives include the establishment of the Southwestern Women’s Center, new faculty titles and roles and an update and revision of the women’s studies and women’s ministry curricula.
“Our seminary has been at the forefront of Southern Baptist efforts to provide the highest quality ministry training for God-called women since our earliest days, led by such trailblazers as Neppie Scarborough and Floy Barnard,” Greenway stated.
“The personnel and programmatic changes our administration is making across the institution,” he said, “are designed with an overarching purpose in mind: making sure Southwestern Seminary is maximizing the gifts and talents of all members of our seminary family, especially our female faculty, staff and students.
“While programs have their place, our seminary is first and foremost about people, and I am thankful for what our Lord is doing on Seminary Hill to expand opportunities for women to flourish on our campus and in their callings,” Greenway said.

Southwestern Women’s Center

The Southwestern Women’s Center, to be housed in the Horner House, will provide a central location for any female member of the Southwestern family to seek resources, connection, practical training and mentoring as a catalyst for professional, academic and leadership development.
The Women’s Center also will host events to promote a robust and positive climate for women on campus through discussion groups, mentoring, networking and advising.
Randy L. Stinson, provost and vice president for academic administration, said the Horner House, in expanding its role in serving and creating community among women at Southwestern, will be “the hub for academic and social opportunities specifically for women.”
To lead the initiative, Terri Stovall, formerly dean of women’s programs, has been named dean of women.
Her office – along with that of Katie McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies – will be located in the Women’s Center, providing a designated, confidential place where women can express needs or concerns.
Stovall’s new title reflects a wider scope of her responsibilities.
The previous title was an academic dean who had oversight over the seminary’s varied women-focused programs, Stovall said. “I still will be responsible for those programs, but beyond the academics, I am also here to serve all Southwestern women, be they students, spouses, faculty or staff. Particularly, this change indicates the administration’s desire to have a woman, who has some authority, to be a safe person for a woman to come should she need to express a concern or need. This was one of Dr. Greenway’s first priorities and changes he made for women at Southwestern.
“As a woman who has been in ministry in the local church and academia now for 35 years, I know that being a woman in ministry is not always easy,” Stovall said. “And sometimes, you just need someone to be your advocate in difficult, often painful times. I am grateful that Dr. Greenway, Dr. Stinson and the administration recognize the value of having a woman who can be that advocate.”
Stinson said Stovall is “the ideal woman to give additional strategic care to all of the women on the Southwestern Seminary campus. She is already a respected colleague, and her new role as dean of women will expand her influence to the entire student body.”
Though the title “dean of women” is new for Stovall, Greenway noted that it “connects well with our heritage,” as the title was inaugurated by Floy Barnard in 1933, who served in the role for 27 years and for whom Barnard Hall is named.
“We already do a lot for women at Southwestern but wanted to be more intentional, more available and more focused to serve women and to influence the culture here at Southwestern,” Stovall said. “In addition to our regular open hours, we will be planning specific opportunities for professional and ministry development, hands-on leadership skills enhancement, colloquiums for our female doctoral students and other activities that will serve the Southwestern woman as she prepares for the next ministry the Lord has for her.”

Curricula updates

Coinciding with the launch of the Southwestern Women’s Center, the women’s studies and women’s ministry concentrations have been revised and updated.
The revision to the women’s studies concentration aims to provide women a clear focus on reaching the world for Christ. Courses such as Feminism in Church and Culture, Contemporary Issues in Women and Gender Issues, and Women’s Dignity and Global Concern will build on foundational courses to equip women to respond to today’s culture from a biblical and theological foundation.
The women’s ministry concentration has been updated to enrich women’s unique gifts that enhance their approach to ministry and leadership, honing those skills and gifts to be used in the array of ministry opportunities for women. Courses such as Women in Leadership, Counseling Women, and Engaging Women in Missions and Ministry will enhance training in leadership, missions and ministry development.

New Scarborough associate dean

In addition to these women-focused initiatives, Sarah Spring has been appointed associate dean for student success in Scarborough College, a role that will see her investing in every member of the seminary’s undergraduate student body.
“With a background in student success at other institutions, Dr. Spring will focus her efforts on improving the overall student experience through academic advising, the Writing Center and other initiatives,” Greenway said. “I believe Dr. Spring’s new role will be a great asset in helping us see Scarborough College achieve its full potential.”
Spring has served as associate professor of English in Scarborough College since 2014 and also is director of the Writing Center. Teaching, she said, gives her the opportunity to pour her life into students and colleagues one-on-one, with many parallels to discipleship.
“With Dr. Greenway’s administration comes a renewed emphasis on retention,” Spring said. “One of our major goals is to create a student success center that will focus on a variety of needs: academic coaching, writing mentoring and language tutoring to name but a few. Ultimately, we desire to help every student successfully navigate his or her degree program, linking students who want assistance with the appropriate resources.”
Spring holds Ph.D. and master of arts degrees from Texas A&M University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Central Arkansas.
Before coming to Southwestern Seminary, she taught courses at Texas A&M and Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
Michael Wilkinson, dean of Scarborough College, said Spring “has distinguished herself as an outstanding professor who cares deeply about her students.”
“Student success is something that Dr. Spring has been passionate about since she began teaching here. She has consistently implemented ideas to help students overcome obstacles and strongly complete their coursework, also seeking to help them develop life skills beyond the classroom … [and] in their spiritual growth.”

6/10/2019 11:30:34 AM by Julie Owens and Alex Sibley, SWBTS | with 0 comments

2020 VBS helps kids build on the love of Jesus

June 10 2019 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

Next summer, kids will grab their hard hats and head to the construction site with “Concrete & Cranes,” the 2020 Vacation Bible School theme from LifeWay Christian Resources.

LifeWay graphic

In “Concrete & Cranes,” kids will discover how towering skyscrapers are carefully constructed on a rock solid foundation. And by studying five stories from the life of Jesus, kids will learn how they too can build their lives on a sure foundation – Christ and His gospel.
“As a self-proclaimed ‘power tool princess,’ I’m excited to have a theme of bulldozers and backhoes, rivets and rebar,” said Melita Thomas, VBS specialist for LifeWay. “This isn’t your typical ‘birthday party construction theme.’ It’s skyscrapers and cranes popping up all over an almost futuristic-looking urban landscape that’s colorful and whimsical.”
While preparing for the 2020 VBS theme, Thomas said she’s watched a city skyline undergo transformation outside of LifeWay’s downtown office windows.
“God led us to this theme long before Nashville exploded into ‘construction central,’” she said. “But it’s been great for our research. One of the most striking things we’ve noticed is how deep workers have to dig before anything can be built up.
“There are spiritual parallels there,” she noted. “Kids must establish strong spiritual foundations in order to keep from tumbling when the storms of life come.”
In “Concrete and Cranes,” kids will learn how to build their lives on the foundations of God’s love, forgiveness, declaration of worth and His promises. They’ll then tie these lessons together by exploring the parable of the wise and foolish builders to learn how a foundation in Christ changes one’s life trajectory.
But kids won’t walk out of VBS as independent contractors, thinking they have to make a go at the Christian life alone. Rather, they’ll learn God is intimately involved in the process of sanctification – a truth that comes from the 2020 VBS theme verse of Philippians 1:6.
“Our theme verse tells kids that when God starts a good work, He sees it through to completion,” Thomas said. “That’s incredibly freeing because it means we don’t have to work everything out ourselves or be perfect. God is the master builder and will never leave us to fend for ourselves.”
VBS remains one of the most popular church programs in the U.S., LifeWay Research shows. Six in 10 Americans say they went to VBS growing up, and 95 percent of parents whose child attended VBS say it provided a positive experience.
VBS also continues to be a leading outreach event for churches. “Last summer, more than 59,000 people made professions of faith as a direct result of VBS,” Thomas said.
“Concrete & Cranes” was revealed through a Facebook Live event on Wednesday (June 5). During the reveal, LifeWay also announced locations for 2020 VBS preview events:

  • Ridgecrest, N.C., Jan. 10-11

  • Houston, Texas, Jan. 17-18

  • Fort Worth, Texas, Jan. 24-25

  • Hendersonville, Tenn., Jan. 30 – Feb. 1

For more information, visit LifeWay.com/vbs2020.

6/10/2019 11:27:36 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

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