March 2009

VBS can be ‘most rewarding week’

March 24 2009 by Polly House, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The potential of Vacation Bible School (VBS) reaches beyond even the professions of faith registered during the week, a specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources told participants at a recent VBS Preview event in Nashville, Tenn.

Photo by Kent Harville

Ruby Schlandt, left, and Betty Waters, long-time friends with about 80 years combined experience working Vacation Bible School, try out some of this year’s craft activities during the VBS 2009 Preview.

Jerry Wooley, a Vacation Bible School specialist, said VBS, of course, is fun and that children learn and make professions of faith during the week, but that’s only part of the potential.

“We have the numbers from 2007’s VBS that tell us more than 88,000 people attending VBS made professions of faith,” Wooley said. “What we don’t have numbers for, but know to be true, is that in many cases moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents and friends of children came to know Jesus because of the child’s participation in Bible School and the home visits that followed.”

Plan ahead to follow up
Effective follow-up happens only with a plan, said LifeWay network partnership specialist Ken Marler, who led a session during the preview events.

“Involve the whole church in getting ready for VBS,” he said. “Most churches will use just about every inch of space for VBS, and, yes, some of the classrooms will get messed up and something will get broken. But, if you let the old folks know that a group of first-graders will be using their room for Bible School, and you give them the teachers’ names and the names of each of the students and you ask these folks to pray for every one of those teachers and children by name, you’ll be surprised how much buy-in they’ll have.”

It is not too early to start talking up VBS, Marler said.

“I know one church that brings out people in last year’s VBS T-shirts and they sing one of the songs. Then, they switch into this year’s T-shirts and do one of the new songs,” Marler said.

“That’s exciting! At least once a month, do something to promote the upcoming VBS during the Sunday morning worship service.

“If you promote VBS you’ll have a good crowd.”

Be responsible afterward

Planning and promotion will all be in vain, however, if you don’t finish the race with good follow-up, Marler said.

Looking at the numbers requires Vacation Bible School leaders to   take the responsibility to keep up with the children following the week’s event.

Marler offered the following suggestions:
  1. Set goals. Plan to follow up quickly. At each visit, have information about the church and Sunday School ready to offer.
  2. Include adult class leaders and children’s department leaders. Before VBS even begins, enlist leaders to visit each child’s home after VBS. Bring along adults from an appropriate class to visit with the parents.
  3. Registration must be correct. Start pre-registration early. Fill out an information card for every child who comes to Vacation Bible School, even those who are regular in church.
  4. Consider naming a follow-up director. The follow-up director should be someone who is not heavily involved in the VBS week activities so he or she will be fresh when the week is over. He or she needs to enlist team members. Their job is to coordinate VBS family visits.
  5. Report follow-up efforts to the congregation. From the pulpit, enthusiastically remind the congregation that Vacation Bible School was a big success. Tell them how many children participated and how many families benefited from the follow-up.
  6. Establish a prayer ministry that can be active all year long.
  7. Have a “VBS never ends” emphasis. Throughout the year, remind people of the upcoming theme. When the director is selected, introduce him or her to the congregation and let that person remind church members of the VBS date.
  8. Testimonies and interviews. Throughout the year, let people who have been touched by Vacation Bible School give brief testimonies of how they were changed, especially those who received Christ.
  9. VBS Day in Sunday School. Put fliers in the information boxes that remind classes of the theme. Have theme-appropriate decorations in the hallways.
Begin Vacation Bible School enrollment in the Sunday School classes where parents can register their children.

Vacation Bible School continues to be Southern Baptists’ most impressive form of evangelism.

According to figures from 2007, one in 16 children ages 5-12 in America enrolled in a Southern Baptist Vacation Bible School.

VBS typically accounts for about 25 percent of the professions of faith leading to baptisms in Southern Baptist churches.

“The bottom line is this: VBS is inconvenient, it’s hard work and it costs money,” Marler said.
“I don’t think there is any person in this room who would say otherwise. It is hard, but I believe it is absolutely the most rewarding week in the church year.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — House is corporate communications specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For 2009, LifeWay offers two lines of Vacation Bible School curriculum. The main line is Boomerang Express: It All Comes Back to Jesus, set in the Outback of Australia. The second line is Club VBS: Truth Trek, set at an archaeological dig site. For more information on both lines, go to and check out LifeWay VBS on Facebook.)

Related story
Tips for smaller churches

3/24/2009 4:44:00 AM by Polly House, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB trustee chairman: No time to say ‘Enough!’

March 23 2009 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Have Southern Baptists said, “Enough!”? Have they reached their potential in reaching a lost world for Christ? Is their work done?
“I will not accept that Southern Baptists have said, ‘Enough!’” said Paul Chitwood, chairman of the International Mission Board’s (IMB) trustees. During the March 17-18 trustee meeting in Greenville, S.C., the Kentucky pastor challenged fellow trustees to encourage Southern Baptists to dig deeper and give sacrificially to missions during these difficult economic times.
Until giving increases, the IMB’s missionary count will remain in the mid-5,000s, said Chitwood, pastor of First Baptist Church in Mt. Washington, Ky. More will be needed to help reach 1.6 billion people who have little to no access to the gospel, he said.
“We must shout from the rooftops and the mountaintops the news that we cannot grow our missionary force because we do not have the money to do so.... (T)he possibility has now become a reality.”
Trustees appointed 89 new missionaries for a total missionary count of 5,569 during their meeting. Fourteen more missionaries have been delayed in being appointed because their stateside houses have not sold. The March appointment service would have been the IMB’s fourth-largest group of appointees had the 14 missionaries been able to participate.

Offering update

IMB treasurer David Steverson cautioned trustees to be ready for a sobering financial report later this year, as Cooperative Program giving remains down by about 3 percent and the economy and financial markets continue to struggle.
Steverson also remained cautious in making projections for the 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
The goal for the 2008 offering is $170 million. The 2007 annual offering totaled $150,409,653.86 but fell short of the $165 million goal.
In other business, trustees approved the appropriation of $503,868.51 for 27 human needs projects.

Honored service

Trustees were reminded of the hard work and sacrifice missionaries make in honoring 43 who died last year.
With his voice breaking several times with emotion, Clyde Meador, the IMB’s executive vice president, read the names of seven active missionaries, one volunteer, three missionary kids (MKs) and 32 retired missionaries.
“These (retired) missionaries served 1,015 years, for an average of 32 years each,” Meador said.

‘Amazing’ Cuba

Following a recent trip to Cuba to celebrate the centennial of the country’s Western Cuban Baptist Convention, Meador reported, “God is working in Cuba in amazing ways.”
According to reports from Cuban Baptists, 70 percent of Cuba’s 11 million people have received a copy of the “JESUS” film, received a gospel tract or heard a personal witness.
“Don’t you wish that was true in the United States?” Meador asked.
Cuban Baptists have a vision to start 100,000 new house churches and see 1 million Cubans give their lives to Christ by the end of 2010.
“Cubans have no doubt that the Lord is going to do this vision that He has laid upon their heart,” Meador said.
One local believer told Meador, “I am willing to sacrifice anything in order that others might know the true freedom that I know in Christ.”
The next trustee meeting will be May 19-20 in Denver. The appointment service will be held at Riverside Baptist Church on May 20.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hendricks is a writer with the International Mission Board.)

3/23/2009 9:49:00 AM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ceiling collapses at Ridgecrest (updated 3/24)

March 20 2009 by BR staff

The ceiling of the outdoor covering of the front of a main building a Ridgecrest Conference Center collapsed March 20 at 4:45 p.m.

No one was seriously injured.

Registration had been taking place in the building, named Pritchell Hall, since 1 p.m. for the annual Woman’s Missionary Union of North Carolina Missions Extravaganza.

Workers quickly brought in machinery to move debris to search for possible injured persons. The local fire department used a thermal imaging device as well.

Bill Bowman, director at Ridgecrest, addressed the women that night during the group’s evening session, letting them know the building inspector had cleared the building but they were leaving the entrance closed for the remainder of the weekend.

Bowman said Ridgecrest staff routinely pray for its conferences and the people involved.

"We believe the Lord hears our prayers," Bowman said in a March 24 interview.

On March 24, workers were out on lifts removing pieces that were still hanging from the ceiling. Bowman said the national insurance company has been contacted and that the main entrance was expected to be open later today (March 24) or Wednesday (March 25).

"Right now, we're just trying to get risk factors removed," Bowman said.

When Bowman talked to the building inspector Friday, the inspector confirmed the roof to be a solid structure. Bowman said they have not determined what they will do to re-cover that area. He said the ceiling was "all one big piece" and that they are considering either painting the area or covering it with lighter material, "something more modern."

The high roof over the famous “rocking chair porch” where generations of Baptists have enjoyed the North Carolina mountains simple collapsed onto the porch, with concrete and pieces of the roof spilling down the steps in front of the building.

At some points during the Friday afternoon registration, lines filled the lobby and people lounged in the porch’s rocking chairs and benches, gathering to catch up with friends and enjoy the beautiful day. There was little wind and the skies were clear at the time of the incident.

Biblical Recorder assistant managing editor Dianna Cagle was on site to cover Missions Extravaganza. She was in the lobby of Pritchell Hall when she heard a rumbling noise. Looking up, she saw pieces of the ceiling falling in front of the building.

She and North American Mission Board missionary Gary Mathis rushed out into the white powder to check for people. Some people were shouting “There was someone up there.” Mathis and Cagle scrambled around rumble looking in crevices and crawling on hands and knees to look. No one was found. Large chunks of rubble were too heavy to be moved.

Pritchell Hall is Ridgecrest’s registration building and contains some hotel rooms where speakers to the national conferences often stay. It was built in 1964.

Ruby Denton and Debbie Cramer of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton had been sitting in the rocking chairs on one end of the porch when the collapse began. They were covered with white powder from the concrete.
They had been waiting for eight or nine others from their church, who were to meet them in front of the building. They saw one woman start up the steps but turn to get the water bottle she forgot just as the roof collapsed.

“God always had a plan,” Cramer said. “Our plan was just to be amazed.

“How much does my Lord love me?” she asked pointing to the pile of debris.

Cramer said the ceiling peeled back from the building.

“It was all in a wave,” she said.

3/20/2009 11:17:00 AM by BR staff | with 3 comments

Carson calls for return to biblical prayer

March 19 2009 by Margaret Hebda, BSC Communications

Alongside D.A. Carson’s undeniable sagacity is humility.

He has an unassuming air, as if consciously aware that his knowledge is a gift from God for the purpose of winning people to the Kingdom. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., is passionate about upholding the word of God as the Christian’s final authority and wields his knowledge to this purpose. During the “Revive Us Again” prayer conference at Biltmore Baptist Church March 13-14, Carson spoke about how the word of God should reform every area in a Christian’s life, especially prayer.

As Paul did in Ephesians 3, Christians should pray for the life-transforming power of Christ and a better understanding of the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love. In returning to a biblical standard of prayer, Christians must pray for Christ’s power to strengthen and transform. The Christian must cry out for “a demonstration of God’s power” to work in him, making him “the habitation of the almighty God,” Carson said.

Paul desired for the Ephesians to be established in the Savior’s transforming love and to know God’s love in such a way that “knowing it might surpass all that could be known.” Carson directed his audience to ask God “to show you the ugliness of sin and the spectacular love of Christ that deals with it.” Then “you will see how wide, long, high and deep is this love of Jesus that surpasses knowledge,” he said.

The church needs intercessors and Christians must beg God, as Moses did during the account of the golden calf, for mercy. Christians must beg God not to pour out upon His church the judgment it deserves. “Moses seeks the favor of God and asks Him to relent and not bring disaster,” Carson said. Moses pleads upon God’s mercy and God relents. God does not drift through interactions with His people but “He expects this unrelenting intercession, this dynamic experience,” Carson said.

Carson urged believers to acquire a vision of God’s holiness, the awfulness of sin and empathy for fellow believers that would “lead you to stand in the gap” as Moses did for the Israelites. He asked God to “blot out” his life if He would not forgive the Israelites. Moses stood in the gap, willing to take the punishment. Carson admitted, “It is rare I find myself thinking of things like that.” Yet, Christians must think and pray like that, he said.

In response to Moses’ plea, God unpacks His character, showing He is compassionate and gracious but cannot let the guilty go unpunished. Moses begs God to go with the Israelites, whether he shows compassion or justly punishes them. He knew the Israelites were nothing without God. Believers must recognize, as did Moses, that without God, “everything else is a disaster.” There is no one to whom Christians can go except God. Therefore, pray and beg for God’s presence, regardless of what it brings, Carson said.

Revival is God-given, but Christians must reform their prayers so that they seek God and not an event. Prayer for revival must not simply be prayer for an experience. Rather, it must be that God’s people be holy and delight in Him rather than self-made pursuits of “religiosity,” Carson said. Christians must return to a biblical standard of prayer and not any other man-made measure. This is why Carson urged believers to pray scripturally and “find life, purpose, and hope” in Christ through His word.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hebda is a freelance writer for the BSC.)

3/19/2009 6:11:00 AM by Margaret Hebda, BSC Communications | with 2 comments

Blackaby: Simplistic out, authentic encounters in

March 18 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

People are tired of “clichéd, simplistic answers” and are less likely to attend conferences that present them, says frequent conference speaker Richard Blackaby.

Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International that sprung from the influential “Experiencing God” materials developed by his father, Henry Blackaby, addressed more than 250 who registered for the Baptist State Convention’s “Revive Us Again” prayer conference at Biltmore Baptist Church March 13-14.

What people truly seek, Blackaby said in an interview between speaking assignments, is an “encounter with almighty God.”

They have not been getting that, he said, because if they had, “God would have changed them.”

Attending conferences as a younger man, said Blackaby, 47, “the answers all seemed fairly straight forward. Conferences seemed the same. You were told the same thing over and over again. I find a certain disillusionment now. People are tired of clichéd, simplistic answers.”
Young leaders of “the most dynamic churches across the land” are “disillusioned” and “they don’t waste their time going to a lot of conferences that satisfied my generation,” he said.

The great temptation for conference speakers, Blackaby said, is to be “clever or entertaining, not prophetic.”

Blackaby, at age 31, became president of the Canadian Baptist Seminary. He also grew into a heavy travel and speaking schedule until after 13 years he was worn out.  Three years ago he gave up the seminary presidency in favor of leading Blackaby Ministries International, with headquarters in Atlanta and staff in several other cities. He lives in Greenville, S.C. Henry Blackaby, 74, is still involved and they write together.

Hot topics

Answering questions on several topics of current concern, Blackaby said while Christians want to change the world, those in the world see Christians as “angry, judgmental and unloving people.”

He said Christians ought to be “broken hearted at the church” more than being upset with society or culture, because the “church has not been salty or light.”

“You never get upset at the darkness,” Blackaby said. “Dark does what dark is. The problem is always with the light not dispelling the darkness.”

He called “unBaptist” efforts to secure in the public forum privileges due the majority, such as the push for prayer in schools. He noted how Baptists “were in the vanguard” opposing the state church in Europe which insisted that school children must know the articles of Anglican faith.

“Historically Baptists have never pushed things like prayer in school until recent days when Baptists were in the majority,” Blackaby said. In the majority, Baptists assumed prayers in school would be led by Baptist teachers.

It is the family’s responsibility to teach a child to pray, and the school’s to teach math and science, he said.

He said the same Christians willing to take religious issues to the Supreme Court won’t walk across the street to witness to their neighbor. Christians interested in engaging culture must fight those battles “door to door, relationship to relationship, neighbor to neighbor where believers actually act like salt and light,” he said. If the only defense is the courts, “you’re going to lose the war.”

“We can’t convince our own children to follow our God but we want to legislate our views on our nation,” he said.

Being fairly knew to living in the States, Blackaby has observed that “Americans think you can really push your faith onto each other.”

With conservative Christian numbers in decline, he says logic shows that if you try to legislate beliefs onto others, “you’re going to discover at some point those same folks are going to start legislating against you and you’re going to lose.”

“We have to operate like the minority,” he said, and not assume the great majority of the population sees things like we do, even if they’re not Christian.

The “worship war” of recent years is a costly mistake, Blackaby said. When the worship service became the primary evangelistic tool of most churches, instead of developing Christians to be “dynamic witnesses to their neighbors,” they have been trained by neglect or intent to say “come to church” instead of come to Christ.

“So week after week you have services aimed at unbelievers,” he said, which will eventually starve believers who are not receiving instruction in the foundational truths for growth.

He also prefers a presentation of God more similar to that in Jeremiah—“will you not tremble in my presence?”—to that of modern services that present God as “our best friend” with whom we are “kind of chummy.”

“I love rock and roll,” he said, “but that’s not worship. People want to encounter God, and they come week after week encountering a rock band or a slick sermon instead.”

While “people of my generation” shake their heads at the music and tattoos of the young, he said we should apologize for the condition of the nation and of the Church which are in worse shape than what his generation inherited.

“What was handed to us was much better than what we’re handing to you,” he said.

3/18/2009 5:37:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Poll: Parental success not based on faith

March 18 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The vast majority of parents hope their children grow up to live good lives but, for many, parental success does not include faith in God — even among parents who are evangelical Christians, according to a new study from LifeWay Research, the research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources.

The national survey of 1,200 adults with children under 18 at home found the most common definitions of successful parenting include children having good values (25 percent), being happy adults (25 percent), finding success in life (22 percent), being a good person (19 percent), graduating from college (17 percent) and living independently (15 percent). Being godly or having faith in God is mentioned by 9 percent of respondents.

Parents who attend religious services weekly are particularly likely to emphasize faith in God, but only 24 percent of them identify that as a mark of parenting success, the research found.

“We are seeing an ever-widening gulf in American believers between private faith and a faith that is passed on,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “Instead, we too often see an emphasis on guiding children to a social morality and toward an as-yet undefined ‘happy’ life.”

Influences and goals
While the vast majority (83 percent) believes parents should be most responsible for a child’s spiritual development, only 35 percent say their religious faith is one of the most important influences on their parenting, according to the study. This leaves nearly half (48 percent) who acknowledge their role in their child’s spiritual development, but fail to consider their own religious faith among the most important influences on their parenting.

Pushing out to either end of the religious spectrum, the study found that almost a third of all parents either have no religious faith or say religious faith has little or no influence on their parenting. Conversely, among born-again Christians, 29 percent say faith is not among the most important influences on their parenting.

“When self-identifying Christians are not able to say that faith is a priority for parenting, we should not be surprised at the prevalence of church drop outs in the younger generation,” said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research.

Asked if they have a written plan or goal for what they want to accomplish as parents, a full 33 percent say they have no plan or goal at all. Among those who attend religious services weekly and evangelicals, 76 percent say they have a plan, either written or unwritten.

Fears and regrets
In contrast to visions of success, many parents are fearful for their children’s futures and some harbor regrets about their parenting, according to the research. A full 82 percent agree they feel fearful when they think about what kind of world their children will face as adults. Asked if they feel a lot of regret about what they’ve done as parents, 28 percent of parents agree, although only 5 percent feel strongly about it.

Almost six in 10 parents (59 percent) indicate they want their children to experience pain and disappointment so they can learn from it, but about three in four parents (74 percent) say they try to keep their own pain hidden from their children. More than one in three parents (34 percent) say they worry when they think about their children ‘leaving the nest.’ A full 15 percent say the prospect of their children growing up and leaving home is simply too painful to think about.

Only 14 percent of all parents say they feel they are very familiar with what the Bible has to say about parenting, even though 77 percent identify themselves as Christians. Among those who attend religious services weekly, that number rises to 36 percent.

“One of parents’ ultimate responsibilities is to prepare their children for adulthood,” McConnell said. “This study may hint at why many young adults are spiritually underdeveloped — their parents have given little focus to matters of faith.”

The survey was conducted by LifeWay Research for a new book, The Parent Adventure: Preparing your children for a lifetime with God, by Rodney and Selma Wilson and Scott McConnell.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly writes for LifeWay Research.)

3/18/2009 5:36:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

True Love Waits impacts Philippines

March 18 2009 by Don Beehler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Seeing the work of True Love Waits (TLW) in the Philippines “once again demonstrated God’s continued awesome work” through the abstinence-until-marriage outreach, TLW co-founder Jimmy Hester said after a two-week trip to the country.
Among the highlights Hester noted during the Philippines visit was meeting a man named Joerex from a region of the country that is predominately Muslim and dangerous to live in due to terrorist threats. Joerex quit his job to devote his time to training True Love Waits leaders. He also gets into local schools to present the message and has a one-hour daily True Love Waits radio program.

“Joerex has great passion for reaching young people,” Hester said, “and carries out all these activities with minimal resources and at great personal risk.”

Joining Hester for the trip were his wife Kim and fellow LifeWay Christian Resources employees Bob Bunn, Mike Wakefield, Rick Prall and Patti Baker, along with Sharon Pumpelly, lead consultant for True Love Waits International.

The team reached 1,705 Filipino students through TLW presentations and recorded 432 professions of faith in Jesus Christ.

Other highlights of the Feb. 13-26 trip included:

  • Meetings and speaking engagements with the president, Christian campus minister and students at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, which has 30,000 students, and with pastors, Bible students, guidance counselors, administrators and students at churches and schools, including the main campus of Dasmarinas National High School, which has 10,000 students.

  • Consultation on True Love Waits and student ministry with the student pastor and his nine-member staff at Conservative Christian Fellowship, a mega-church with 15,000 worshippers each Sunday.

  • Speaking with counselors, staff and youth at The Highlands camp, which has 1,200-1,500 students at each camp for a total of 70,000 campers over a several-month period.

  • Interaction during home fellowships with national celebrities (recording artists, songwriters, models and community leaders) and representatives from other ministries (Youth With A Mission, Conservative Baptists and Youth for Christ).

  • Participating in “Unashamed,” a day-long event in which nearly 900 student and adult leaders were trained to take True Love Waits to students in churches and schools in their parts of the Philippines. The event also was audio taped and will be used in future Unashamed conferences in the Philippines. LifeWay team members led workshops for adult and student leaders dealing with issues such as purity; pornography; lust and love; and homosexuality.

  • A 45-minute interview with a radio station that broadcasts throughout metro Manila.

“The True Love Waits team in the Philippines, led by Derek Ross, is doing a great work among Filipino students,” Hester said, “and I know their best days of ministry are ahead.”
Ross originally came to the Philippines as an International Mission Board missionary. Today, through Commission To Every Nation, a Texas-based mission organization, Ross oversees a national ministry in which someone is providing True Love Waits small-group training nearly every day.

Rick Prall, content editor for LifeWay’s student ministry publishing, describing TLW work in the Philippines as “well-planned and right on target,” said they are “able to do so many things in the Philippines that we could not do here in the U.S., such as open evangelism and purity training in public schools. The Philippines’ team has trained high school and collegiate students in leading small groups to focus on the purity lessons and lead students to come to Christ.”

Bob Bunn, content editor for LifeWay’s Living with Teenagers magazine, noted, “God has opened so many doors for (the TLW team in the Philippines) and has given them so many great connections within the culture. They are doing a wonderful job of taking advantage of joining God where He is at work, and I think they are seeing blessings because of it.”

True Love Waits, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, is designed to encourage moral purity by adhering to biblical principles. More than 100 organizations and thousands of churches have adopted the use of True Love Waits throughout the world, challenging young people to make a commitment to sexual abstinence until marriage.

The first True Love Waits national celebration took place in July 1994, when more than 210,000 covenant cards were displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Today, an estimated 2.5 to 3 million youth have signed commitment cards pledging sexual purity until their wedding day, and that number continues to grow worldwide.

For more information, visit

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Beehler is a freelance writer in Franklin, Tenn.)

3/18/2009 5:31:00 AM by Don Beehler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Graham grandson to lead Coral Ridge

March 17 2009 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham, has been formally chosen to succeed the late D. James Kennedy as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Tchividjian, 36, founded New City Church in nearby Coconut Creek 5 1/2 years ago. That congregation will merge with Coral Ridge and joint worship should begin there on Easter Sunday, he said.

Tchividjian called Kennedy, a broadcaster who used the airwaves to get fellow conservatives to be active in faith and politics, “a giant in the faith” whose footsteps he is pleased to follow.

“As different as some may think Dr. Kennedy and I are, our theological commitments are the same and our hearts beat with the same driving passion,” Tchividjian said in a statement. “Indeed, what he came to do in the 1950s — reach the people of South Florida with the gospel and transform the world — is exactly what I have been seeking to do ever since I moved back home to start New City in 2003.”

Tchividjian is one of the seven children of Gigi Graham, who is divorced from his father, Stephan Tchividjian. He was a toddler when his grandfather spoke at a dedication ceremony for Coral Ridge’s sanctuary in 1974. Tullian Tchividjian dropped out of the church’s Westminster Academy when he was 16, but later graduated from college and seminary and went on to lead a church in Tennessee for two years before founding New City.

Coral Ridge, which currently has 2,200 members, is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America. New City, with 650 members, will change its affiliation from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to the PCA. Both denominations are theologically conservative.

In his statement, Tchividjian said his grandfather “couldn’t be more excited” about the new position.

3/17/2009 6:20:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

‘Bridge’ links volunteers to opportunities

March 17 2009 by Mickey Noah, NAMB

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The Bridge has made a believer out of Tom Cosat, pastor of tiny Mullen Baptist Church in Montrose, Ill.

Originally, Mullen Baptist Church was a one-room schoolhouse. A year ago, church members decided to step out on faith and add 7,000 square feet for a new auditorium, classrooms and bathrooms. Cosat’s local associational missions director told him about The Bridge, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) web site designed to link projects with volunteers around the country.

“I still shake my head and can’t believe it,” Cosat said. “A team of 42 people from three or four Southern states came up and framed the building in four days. A second team came up from Tennessee and did the inside framing for us. There’s no telling what the man-hours and materials donated were worth and the money we saved. It put us a light-year ahead of where we would have been had we tried to do it all ourselves. It made it affordable. All we had to do was put on the siding. Another team even volunteered to come back and do the drywall.

“Thank God for this program,” Cosat said. “It was amazing to see — a humbling and awesome experience. We can never thank the mission board and these volunteers enough.”

Launched in 1999, The Bridge web site recently underwent a major facelift. It now has a new look, is more functional and more user-friendly, said Mickey Caison, team leader for adult volunteer mobilization at the North American Mission Board.

NAMB’s mobilization team facilitates short-term mission projects/trips by Southern Baptists, usually those lasting one week to four months. Through The Bridge, information is exchanged between SBC missionaries, churches, campgrounds and ministries needing volunteer help and Southern Baptists and churches wanting to help.

“The Bridge web site may get 400,000 hits a month in wintertime,” said Rick Head, promotions coordinator at NAMB. “Now is the busy time because people are looking for projects for this coming summer.”
The Bridge has some 30,000 registered users, which Caison said could represent as many as 200,000 people since the users represent churches, families and other teams searching for volunteer projects.

While The Bridge web site is the clearinghouse for NAMB’s major adult volunteer initiatives — such as the Appalachian Regional Ministry, Baptist Builders, Campers on Mission, Disaster Relief, Families on Mission and Operation NOAH Rebuild in New Orleans — it’s not just for major projects.

“We probably have 1,000 different projects listed on The Bridge web site at any given time,” Caison said. Any entity can submit its project for The Bridge, whether the need involves church construction, clowning requests or prayerwalking. Each project has to be authenticated by a local association or state convention before it goes onto the site.

Users accessing The Bridge can search for projects by type of project, region of the U.S., time of year, etc.

“Last year we had 225,000 volunteers sign up for projects as part of NAMB’s adult volunteer mobilization, and 165,000 to 170,000 of them came through The Bridge,” Caison said. “But last year, only 300,000 people out of 16 million Southern Baptists reported mission trips in North America. So the reality is we should be having a million or more Baptists doing mission trips each year.”

Caison said NAMB’s goal is to have 500,000 Southern Baptists participating in annual mission trips by 2020.

“There are always more needs than we’re meeting,” Head said. “There are tons of needs and not enough volunteers to go around. So we need to add more and more projects to The Bridge so there are more opportunities.”

E-mail or call (800) 462-8657, ext. 6131 or 6132, to get more information about The Bridge.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

3/17/2009 6:14:00 AM by Mickey Noah, NAMB | with 0 comments

Shootings prompt uneasy church security talks

March 16 2009 by From wire and staff reports

Church security issues have become a fresh cause of concern in the wake of several deadly incidents, including a church shooting March 8 that left the pastor First Baptist Church of Maryville, Ill., dead.

In recent months:
  • A man stunned a group of tourists in February when he fatally shot himself at the foot of a cross at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.
  • In November, a gunman allegedly killed his estranged wife, and a worshipper who rushed to her aid, at a church in Clifton, N.J.
  • Last July, a man with an apparent grudge against liberals opened fire inside a Knoxville, Tenn., Unitarian Universalist congregation, killing two and wounding six.
These events, plus others from recent years, have churches large and small wondering what, if anything, they can and should do to ensure safe environments. It can be a tough question to answer, not just because of limited resources but also because most congregations strive to be welcoming, especially to strangers.

“There can be a tension between being an open, inviting church and being a secure one,” says Eric Spacek, senior risk manager for GuideOne Insurance, which insures about 40,000 congregations. “It’s a challenge that most churches are struggling with.”

Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network, said 75 percent of churches have no security plan, making them a “soft target” for attack. He said security isn’t only about preventing things from happening, but having a plan for dealing with catastrophic events after they occur.

Geron Gambill, church administrator at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, said four students studying corporate security in a master’s program at the Fort Bragg campus of Webster University are doing a complete security analysis for the church. They will look at a variety of issues, including the church preschool and childcare, the building doors and alarms and lighting outside the building.

“I’m awaiting the results of that,” he said.

Gambill said that statistically it’s unlikely for any particular church to face an attack.

“You’re more likely to get hit by a tornado or lightening,” he said.

Putting a policy in place to deal with armed intruders would be emotionally distressing for the church, Gambill said.

“I don’t have a plan for dealing with an armed person and I doubt most churches do,” he said.

Recent data on church violence is scarce because agencies generally don’t track violent crime by venue, but crime experts estimate that it remains extremely rare, even as it generates big headlines.

Carnegie Mellon University criminologist Jacqueline Cohen suspects church violence might even be less prevalent today than in generations past, in part because criminals have more alternatives if they’re seeking an audience or a reliable place to locate their victims.

Church violence appears to be increasing, Cohen says, because a shooting in church “distinguishes it from other murders, and it makes people afraid to be in a place where they otherwise feel safe, and those are the dynamics that (lead to widespread coverage) in the media.”

Even so, churches are concerned by incidents that capture attention, and a cottage industry has cropped up in recent years to advise them on security issues.

Dave Travis, managing director of the Leadership Network, told the Associated Press that most megachurches have coordinated security plans and undercover guards, but smaller congregations are often more vulnerable.

Experts recommend churches begin their security efforts by learning to spot their vulnerabilities.

That means conferring with a security consultant or local law enforcement, according to Rick Anderson, founder of Church Security Solutions in Salem, Ore.

From there, Anderson suggests assembling a team to look for “pre-incident indicators,” such as a stranger who appears nervous, avoids eye contact and cuts casual conversation short. Attention to the unordinary, coupled with strategic placement of team members around the sanctuary, can help reduce the risk of an incident by making it harder to pull off.

But such lessons aren’t always easy to learn when churchgoers strive to be accommodating in a house of worship. “If somebody looks at us crossways or we get an uneasy feeling, we tend to forgive them and go on about our business,” Anderson says. “We actually suppress our gut check, (but) we shouldn’t dismiss cues that in our gut tell us something is not right.”

Other consultants say thinking through worst-case scenarios can go a long way toward preventing them. Chuck Paris, a church security consultant in McLean, Va., encourages congregations to do exercises that simulate a terrorist attack. For some churches, just having a few unarmed people trained in tactics to protect their pastors may be sufficient, Paris said.

For churches considering whether to have an armed presence, the issues get more complex.

Anderson generally encourages congregations to enlist armed members who are law enforcement officers with access to firearms and emergency training. Having a uniformed security presence, he said, can be “a great deterrent.”

Others, however, aren’t so sure.

Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist with a specialty in violent criminal behavior at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, says would-be gunmen who feel victimized and want to extract high-profile revenge aren’t going to worry about running afoul of a uniformed officer.

“Most of these shooters aren’t intending to get away. They’re intending to die,” Ferguson said. “If a person thinks he’s going to die, (a uniformed officer) probably isn’t going to act as a deterrent in most of these cases because the shooter is suicidal.”

Spacek, from the GuideOne insurance company, recommends that churches consult with local police to determine an appropriate level of security. He noted that most church claims for violent crime are related to domestic disputes that spill over into the church.

In church, “the existence of a weapon can provide some additional security to deter certain acts or protect individuals,” Spacek said in an e-mail, adding that it doesn’t come without cost. “It can also increase the liability exposure for the organization.”

After the March 8 shooting, church security consultant Marc Brooks fielded calls from eight congregations eager to get firearms into the hands of worship staff or volunteers.

Those churches will first need to pass Brooks’ state-certified test to carry a concealed weapon.

But keeping a congregation safe from violent outbursts doesn’t always have to involve guns in the sanctuary, he said.

“If you need firearms training, then we do that,” says Brooks, a deputy sheriff and chief instructor for Protective Services Training & Consultants in Thornton, Colo. But sometimes church security “doesn’t require a firearm. It just requires that you’re alert and that you’re in shape and that you’re able to protect your pastor.”

3/16/2009 8:34:00 AM by From wire and staff reports | with 0 comments

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