March 2011

New IMB leader makes bold challenge

March 28 2011 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

The new president of the International Mission Board (IMB) says it’s time to “cowboy up” to the task of reaching the nations.

Tom Elliff, unanimously (76-0) approved March 16, plans to challenge Southern Baptists at its annual convention in Phoenix in June to prayerfully and boldly reach the unreached and unengaged people groups of the world.

“I think it is a noble challenge,” said Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC). “It will only be through the power of God that we will be able to accomplish this.”

Hollifield said Elliff’s experience as a former missionary and IMB vice president as well as his years pastoring churches will be a great help to those he will be serving. “He is a person who has a great heart for getting the gospel to the nations, and he is also a person who has great love and appreciation for the missionaries who serve as the Southern Baptist force,” Hollifield said. “I believe he will do all he can to provide the missionaries with the resources they need to get the gospel to the nations.”

Elliff was initially not a candidate for IMB’s top spot. He actually had made recommendations but the search committee “did not have peace as a committee,” on any of the prospects, said Robert Jackson, pastor of Peninsula Baptist Church in Mooresville.

IMB photo

IMB president Tom Elliff, center, celebrates with IMB trustee chairman Jimmy Pritchard, right, and Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee president Frank Page following the appointment of 67 new missionaries March 16 at First Baptist Church in Dallas. See Video.

“Throughout our search process we talked to some mighty fine people,” Jackson said, but none seemed to unify the group.

One of the committee members suggested Elliff’s name later in the process.

Jackson, who is on his second term as an IMB board member, said his confirmation came when the committee wanted to pray for the Elliffs.

“They both knelt down,” Jackson said.

“It was very clear that they were not strangers to that form of prayer.”

Jackson was one of three North Carolina Baptists to serve on the 15-person search committee.

Jimmy Prichard, chairman of the board and search committee as well as pastor of First Baptist Church in Forney, Texas, said the search committee received about 80 names of candidates from about 300 individuals. Four men were interviewed more than once.

But on a Dec. 13 conference call one member mentioned Elliff’s name and within the next five minutes, Prichard said there was a sense that God spoke.

“At that moment there was a peace that came over every one of us,” Prichard said.

Elliff claims the board ruined his Christmas with their call asking him to consider, but he and his wife, Jean, approached the matter prayerfully.

“We prayed about whether to pray about it,” Elliff said.

Elliff met with the search committee Jan. 14 but even with a unanimous secret ballot vote, he and Jean had questions about whether God was calling them to serve.

Elliff, 67, is a long-time Oklahoma pastor, former missionary, denominational leader as well as author and speaker.

Clyde Meador, an IMB vice president, had been serving as interim president since Jerry Ranking retired last year.

At age 67, Elliff’s age has raised some questions about the longevity of his presidency.

“It’s unfortunate that some people’s vision for their lives stop at 65,” Elliff said.

“I’ve hardly started. I have work to do.

“When studying the Bible the issue was never age. It’s always obedience.”

Elliff said the IMB needs to be good stewards of what Southern Baptists have given.

“The biggest issue is we need … to be doing God’s work God’s way,” he said.

A firm believer in the Cooperative Program, Elliff stressed that Southern Baptists can do better to serve God collectively than as individuals or churches.

Making a commitment

The effort to reach the unreached will take “major adjustments to the real commitment of Southern Baptist people to prayerfully and financially support reaching the unreached peoples,” Hollifield said. This effort will take a significant shift — a “radical, sacrificial obedience” — Hollifield stressed, of time, resources, etc., but he wants “to have the joy of being a part in what God is doing.”

Jackson said his church had not taken on this challenge before but plans to prayerfully approach adopting a people group in the coming year.

To find out more about adopting a people group, visit There are also other stories about Elliff.

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

3/28/2011 8:24:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Moldovan pastor continues grandfather’s legacy

March 28 2011 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

CHISINAU, MOLDOVA — There they sat, the people he loved most in the world, staring at him with no idea who he was or why he knocked on the door and wanted to come into their home.

It’s hard to blame them for not recognizing him. Ten years had gone by since they last saw or heard from him. Ten years ago he sent a friend racing to his home to give his family his Bible and to warn the family that they must hide the Bible and any other books or literature that talked about God. They had to act quickly because soldiers were on the way.

The soldiers did come and they found everything — except the Bible. That Bible is the very one he bought at age 20 and used as he preached the gospel among villages in Ukraine.

The police eventually put an end to his village preaching and sentenced him to 10 years in a Serbian prison. This was during the time when Ukraine was part of the former Soviet Union and such preaching was not allowed.

While in prison he became physically weak and unable to work. One day he found himself on death row, literally in a line of men about to meet death. He cried out, “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you can save me!” He’s not sure exactly how it happened, or how it was even possible that it could happen, but as he walked in that line of men he felt someone grab his hand and pull him out of line.

The man was a doctor who took care of him and hid him for one month until he was ready to work again. God saved him and brought him out of that prison alive.

None of the letters he wrote from prison ever made it back home. His family assumed he was dead. He looked around the room and there was his wife, his two sons, his daughter born shortly after he went to prison, and his mother. “Don’t you recognize me?” he asked again. The lump in his throat now prevented him from saying much else, and he told them who he was.

“She shouted, ‘Children, your father is here,’” Alexander said as he told the story to the team from North Carolina gathered around the lunch table.

Alexander couldn’t hide his excitement as he told the story of how God saved his grandfather’s life and reunited him with his family: the daughter his grandfather had never met — Alexander’s mother. The Bible his grandfather so desperately wanted to keep safe — it’s now 110 years old and Alexander held it in his hands as he told his grandfather’s story.

BSC photo

Alexander Goncearuc holds the Bible his grandfather used 110 years ago. Goncearuc’s family has protected it through much political upheaval and religious persecution.

Alexander Goncearuc is pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church in Chisinau and vice president of the Baptist Union of Moldova. His grandfather’s story is really his story, and the story of his children and will be the story of his grandchildren. His grandfather’s example of faith, and God’s protective, redeeming work in his life, is making it possible for more generations to know about God.

Using that Bible, Alexander’s grandfather taught his children and grandchildren about God. Alexander remembers as his grandfather got older that his hands shook as he tried to hold the Bible. The day came when he needed help from a magnifying glass to read the print. His grandfather eventually had to let someone else do the reading. Alexander read scripture as his siblings listened.

“Now, I can teach,” Alexander said as he pointed to his baby grandson.

Alexander is not only bringing his family up in the ways of God, but he is pastoring other Moldovan believers. In 1992, Alexander helped start Gethsemane Baptist Church where he still pastors today. The church is a plant of Bethel Baptist Church.

Alexander served as a deacon in Bethel before coming to Gethsemane and had no intention of leaving Bethel. “I was comfortable,” he said. Yet, the church leadership kept insisting, and Alexander knew he had to be obedient.

One of Alexander’s friends knew the principal of a Russian public elementary school who agreed to let the church meet in the school building. Before long the Communists in that area began meeting at the school and wanted nothing to do with the church. The Baptists and the Communists even came and went through different entrances in the school.

Week after week Communists tore down the poster on the building advertising information about the church and when the church met.

Finally, the church moved the poster inside a window and the Communists left it alone. “It’s still there,” Alexander said as he pointed at the window. On this Sunday morning Alexander took a few minutes before worship started to share about the church.

Alexander said the congregation never backed down. They committed to serve the school and the community. On the church’s fifth anniversary the assistant principal, who had not wanted the church meeting at the school, got up on stage and said he wanted the church to stay. He had seen the difference the church made in peoples’ lives.

The worship service that morning lasted nearly three hours, but it did not feel as though that much time had passed.

From singing to prayer to preaching, this Russian-speaking congregation truly worshiped God. This congregation, and its pastor, remembers the day when such public worship was not allowed. And it seems they will not soon forget.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — This article is the first in a series about the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s new partnership with the Baptist Union of Moldova. The Convention recently sent a team to Moldova to kick off the partnership and to lead in conferences for pastors, women and youth. Stories and pictures will be available soon at the BSC website,, and in the Biblical Recorder.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

Related stories
N.C. Baptists begin partnership with Moldova
Conference encourages church leaders with flocks
Moldovan women hungry for spiritual growth
Ready to impact the next generation
3/28/2011 8:16:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Themes begin to emerge in Vision forums

March 28 2011 by Traci DeVette Griggs, BSC Communications

North Carolina Baptists need to work to reclaim the younger generation; churches need encouragement and training to reach out to internationals; and while church planting is arguably a priority for North Carolina Baptists, there is concern that not enough emphasis is being placed on shoring up existing churches. So far, in the first five of 14 Vision Fulfillment forums, these are the main themes emerging. However as expected, a different set of priorities surface each week as the committee moves from region to region.

The Vision Fulfillment (VF) forums are designed to allow the VF Committee and Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) staff to hear the heart and desires of North Carolina Baptists. During the meetings, the committee makes a brief introduction and asks a few questions to get the conversation going, but the goal is to hear from pastors and church leaders about how the Convention is doing in its job of serving churches.

Younger generations

The forums have been a good source of education for people who might not know what the BSC can offer churches. Tadd Grandstaff, pastor of Pine Ridge Church in Haw River and member of the VF Committee, is a younger generation pastor who has seen value in these sessions. “I think it’s important to be part of these forums because I have been someone that has felt disengaged from the (Convention) in the past.” Grandstaff said he’s learned more in the last few weeks than he has in the last few years about how things operate in the Convention.

“I really believe in the changes that the (Convention) is willing to make for the future,” Grandstaff said. “They realize that there has been a disconnect for a lot of people and they’re proactively trying to bridge that gap.”

Speaking at the Forum in Elizabeth City, Mark Purdy with Fellowship Baptist Church said reaching younger Baptists may require that both sides work to find common ground. “It’s a change in mindset in a younger generation and how we get them to come back to where we’re at, or us change to go with them. They don’t want to sit in meetings and listen to committee reports. They want to go out and put their hands on something and see results.”

Reaching internationals

The importance of reaching out to internationals is a topic that often emerges in the forums. Corinth Baptist Church in Elizabeth City received assistance from the Convention to launch an outreach to an Asian population in their community. Lee Johnson with Corinth said the outreach is yielding fruit. “Six or seven months ago, we started an Asian outreach and we contacted the State Convention. Ralph Garay has been a big help. He hooked us up with some folks that helped us get it started. And we’ve had one person actually surrender his life to Jesus Christ, and they found three believers, and we look at a baptism in May here of these Chinese believers.”

Greg Barefoot, pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church in Statesville, shared his congregation’s efforts to establish ministry to Hispanics, not as a separate ministry but as part of the congregation’s existing ministries. He would like to see the Convention assisting other churches in these kinds of efforts. “We spend a lot of time and effort planting churches to reach other people groups, and I’m not against that, but we need to invest more in incorporating other people groups into existing churches.”

Phil Addison, pastor of Stony Point Baptist Church, spoke at the forum in Winston-Salem and suggested that some current Convention ministries seem to compete with one another.

“When I was a church planter it was ‘target group, target group, target group’ but then I go to multicultural evangelism conferences and hear, ‘everybody, everybody, everybody.’ How does the Convention really want to do it?” Addison also shared concerns about church planting efforts for both ethnic church plants and Anglo church plants appearing to be driven by numbers more than by disciple making. “It’s got to be healthy churches begetting healthy churches. And that is not what’s taking place in the Southern Baptist Convention, much less in my community,” Addison said.  

Strengthening churches

During the VF Forum in Elizabeth City, Boyce Porter, pastor of Geneva Baptist Church in Camden, emphasized the importance of strengthening existing churches. “All around me, I see churches that are dying. They’re churches with great histories. They’re churches that support and give to missions through the Cooperative Program, and I’ve been placed in one of those churches. I went there four years ago. I think we had 18 people, and praise the Lord we’re running 60 and 70 now. And God has seen fit to send us some children and some youth. But, I see churches all around me that are dying. And most of the pastors are bi-vocational and they don’t have the time required of them. And I just wonder if there’s not some way that, as a Convention, we can develop teams, similar to new church plant teams, to go to these churches, to come alongside the pastor and to work to reach out into the field around them.”

BSC photo by Traci DeVette Griggs

Rick Speas, left, pastor of Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, Phil Ortego, pastor of Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington, and Bobby Blanton, pastor of Lake Norman Baptist Church, Huntersville, and president of the Board of Directors for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, chat at the first Vision Fulfillment Forum Feb. 10.

Speaking at the Winston-Salem forum, John Small, a member of Parkway Baptist Church in Greensboro who also serves as Convention legal counsel said, “If we’re going to talk about strengthening existing churches, the only way to do that is to strengthen the families that make up the churches.” Small continued that his work puts him in contact with individuals from numerous religious and non-religious backgrounds on a daily basis. As a result, he believes that some of these groups are actually doing more to strengthen families than we are as Southern Baptists. He concluded his remarks by saying, “These groups are doing it (strengthening families) without Jesus Christ. We can do it and should be doing it with Jesus Christ.”


Those speaking at the VF Forums have had the opportunity to voice their concerns and feedback directly to those people who are in positions to make decisions on how Cooperative Program dollars are spent in North Carolina. Participating in most of the forums are the pastors who have been elected as officers of the Convention (see for committee members) as well as top-level staff, including Milton Hollifield, executive director-treasurer and BSC executive leaders. The forums are designed to discuss how well the Convention is implementing The Seven Pillars vision statement, but discussion can take any direction.

When the forums are held in the extreme east or west of our state, there are invariably comments on a perception that these parts of the state are largely ignored by the BSC. Gerald Morris, director of missions for Tuckaseigee Association, said he feels small churches in the Convention are not given enough consideration, especially in the far Western part of the state. “North Carolina does not stop at Asheville. I think often the small churches are forgotten. In our association, we have five to six full-time pastors out of 36 pastors in our association.” The rest are bi-vocational. Morris said he feels that only large churches are considered successful churches.

VF Committee Chairman Allan Blume said, “I guarantee you that none of the staff and Convention officers here tonight think that.” Blume suggested that much of the reputation of the BSC may be 10 to 15 years old.

“This is a new day — a new Convention. It’s an exciting day,” Blume said.

Lynn Sasser, executive leader of congregational services responded that the BSC’s emphasis is on church health and discipleship and not church growth. Approximately 90 percent of North Carolina churches have fewer than 400 in attendance in Sunday School. 

Rob Roberts, associational missionary at Chowan Baptist Association said, “I just wanted to say, on behalf of this association, one of the things I was told when I came here two and a half years ago, is that once you cross 95, you don’t see anything from the Baptist State Convention. And I’ve discovered that not to be the case. I discovered that it’s kind of a reciprocal thing; we make an effort, y’all make an effort. And everything that I have asked the State Convention to participate in, I mean you guys have always been there to help, and I just want to say thank you on behalf of our association for the willingness of you guys to give us the resources and to provide that expertise as well.”

In response to a question at the Franklin Forum on March 24 about requirements for new church planters, Bryon Lamb, pastor at LifeSpring Community Church in Franklin said, “They do give you an assessment (before you are qualified as a church planter) and I have never been drilled like that before. I got challenged and I challenged them back. I got trained and didn’t have to pay anything for it.”

LifeSpring was planted in December 2010. All church planters must sign off on the Baptist Faith and Message and receive funding and oversight by a church planting consultant for two years after inception. Lamb appreciates the help. “We are forever indebted to the Cooperative Program,” he said.   There are nine more Vision Fulfillment Forums on the schedule. You can find one nearest to you by going to If you are unable to attend a forum but would like to have an opportunity to provide feedback, please contact members of the committee or send an email to

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/28/2011 6:14:00 AM by Traci DeVette Griggs, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Chaplains offered exit plan as gay training starts

March 28 2011 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — The Army has started training chaplains on the repeal of the ban on openly gay military members, saying those who are unable to follow the forthcoming policy can seek a voluntary departure.

“The Chaplains Corps’ First Amendment freedoms and its duty to care for all will not change,” reads a slide in the PowerPoint presentation, released to Religion News Service March 24. “Soldiers will continue to respect and serve with others who may hold different views and beliefs.”

Critics familiar with the Army presentation, however, say the military is essentially telling chaplains who are theologically conservative that they are not welcome. “U.S. Army now warning chaplains: If you don’t like the homosexual agenda, get out!” reads a headline on the website of Mass Resistance, an anti-gay group based in Waltham, Mass.

President Obama signed a law repealing Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell last December, but the new policy will not take effect until 60 days after Obama and military leaders are assured that it will not harm military readiness.

Lt. Col. Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army chief of chaplains, said about half of the military service’s 2,900 chaplains have received the training, which started in February and is likely to conclude in April.

“Our training is an opportunity for our senior chaplains to have an honest and open conversation about the repeal policy, its effects on them and their ministry,” Birch said. “And it’s going very well. ... In no way are we giving the message, shape up or ship out.”

Birch said only one Army chaplain has left the service over the pending repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, an independent group that strongly opposes gays serving openly in the military, predicts more departures when the policy is lifted.

“The training is engaging in a form of strategic deception,” she said. “I think active-duty people are being reassured nothing will change. That is an unrealistic expectation.”

Donnelly, whose center received the presentation from a source and has distributed it among supporters, hopes an upcoming House subcommittee hearing will address questions about the effects of the policy change on chaplains.

“Many may be saying that now they will not leave voluntarily,” she said, “but that doesn’t account for those who would be forced out involuntarily when all of these conflicts become more apparent.”

The Army slides include various vignettes, including a soldier who complains after a chaplain calls homosexuality a sin during a chapel service. Notes that accompany the presentation specify that sermons cannot be restricted “even with regard to socially controversial topics.”

Birch said the vignette does not represent any change in policy.

“In my 23 years as a soldier in the Army, I’ve never heard a sermon specifically on homosexuality,” he said. “So even though they have the right to do that, that doesn’t mean that it’s going on every Sunday in our chapels.”

The other military services also have begun training of chaplains, with the Navy starting in February and planning to complete it by June. The Air Force started its training in March and hopes to finish by May.

Maj. Joel Harper, a spokesman for the Air Force, said none of that military service’s 520 active-duty chaplains has asked to leave over the expected repeal. He called the training “informative in nature” about how the policy changes will affect them. “It is not an attempt to change anyone’s opinion about the subject,” he said.

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/28/2011 5:59:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Poll: Most Americans don’t blame God for disasters

March 25 2011 by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service

We may never know why bad things happen to good people, but most Americans — except evangelicals — reject the idea that natural disasters are divine punishment, a test of faith or some other sign from God, according to a new poll.

The poll released March 24, by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, was conducted a week after a March 11 earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.

Nearly six in 10 evangelicals believe God can use natural disasters to send messages — nearly twice the number of Catholics (31 percent) or mainline Protestants (34 percent). Evangelicals (53 percent) are also more than twice as likely as the one in five Catholics or mainline Protestants to believe God punishes nations for the sins of some citizens.

The poll found that a majority (56 percent) of Americans believe God is in control of the earth, but the idea of God employing Mother Nature to dispense judgment (38 percent of all Americans) or God punishing entire nations for the sins of a few (29 percent) has less support.

From Noah’s fabled flood to 21st-century disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, some people blame incomprehensible calamities on human sinfulness.

Such interpretations often offend victims, however. Public outcry prompted Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara to apologize for calling the disaster a “divine punishment” for Japanese egoism.

“It’s interesting that most Americans believe in a personal God and that God is in control of everything that happens in the world ... but then resist drawing a straight line from those beliefs to God’s direct role or judgment in natural disasters,” noted Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll found that most racial and ethnic minority Christians (61 percent) believe natural disasters are God’s way of testing our faith — an idea that resonates with African-Americans’ history of surviving through slavery and racial discrimination.

(Japan’s population is predominantly Shinto or Buddhist — religions that view nature as a force beyond our control or understanding — but the poll could not get a representative sample of those groups in the United States.)

In other findings:
  • Most white evangelicals (84 percent) and minority Christians (76 percent) believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world, compared to slimmer majorities of white mainline Protestants (55 percent) and Catholics (52 percent).
  • Nearly half of Americans (44 percent) say the increased severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of biblical “end times,” but a larger share (58 percent) believe it is evidence of climate change. The only religious group more likely to see natural disasters as evidence of “end times” (67 percent) than climate change (52 percent) is white evangelicals.
  • Across political and religious lines, roughly eight in 10 Americans say government relief aid to Japan is very important (42 percent) or somewhat important (41 percent), despite our current economic problems.

“After one of these disasters, people turn to their clergy and their theologians and they look for answers, and there are no great answers,” said Gary Stern, author of Can God Intervene? How Religion Explains Natural Disasters.

“But almost every group believes you have to help people who are suffering.”

The question of God’s role in, and humans’ response to, disasters has long vexed the world’s major religious traditions, Stern said, even as answers often remain elusive.

Prompted by the 2004 tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, Stern interviewed dozens of American ministers, priests, imams, rabbis, monks, professors and nonbelievers about their theories. They offered disparate views, sometimes at the same time: forces of nature are impersonal; God is all-knowing but not all-powerful; nature is destructive because of original sin or collective karma; victims are sinners; suffering helps test our faith and purify us.

“The evangelical world is definitely focused on original sin and on the general sinfulness of our world ... and it won’t end until Christ returns,” Stern said. “In the mainline world, their theology is not well-suited to why God allows these things to happen, so their emphasis is on looking for God in the rescue efforts. And Catholics feel that suffering makes us holy, and there are mysteries that we can’t answer in this life, and we’ll find the answers in the next life.”

But among evangelicals, there’s a wide gulf between the fundamentalist perspective that sees disasters as proof of God’s wrath and the moderate view that sees “a distinction between an earthquake as part of God’s plan and God causing that earthquake,” said R. Douglas Geivett, a religion professor at Biola University in California.

“There are a lot of things that I wouldn’t cause to happen to my children to teach them certain lessons, but I might allow them to happen, so they might learn the lesson,” said Geivett, a former president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. “This is tragic, but if you ask (why God allows) earthquakes, you have to ask it anytime that people die. We would have to be prophets of God to know that.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll was based on telephone interviews of 1,008 U.S. adults between March 17 and 20. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/25/2011 10:06:00 AM by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Stetzer: Make church planters heroes

March 25 2011 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources, exhorted about 180 North American Mission Board employees to “be known as the entity that stands with young church planters, even when they make stupid mistakes.”

At the invitation of NAMB President Kevin Ezell, Stetzer spoke at the mission board in mid-March, drawing from his most recent book, Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers, coauthored with Warren Bird, research director at the Dallas-based Leadership Network.

Stetzer used Ephesians 3:10 as his scriptural base in his three-hour presentation. He noted that “while there’s no verse in the Bible that says, ‘Thou shall plant churches,’ the New Testament church was a church-planting church. It was their practice. Asking the early Christians to plant churches is like asking water to be wet.

“God didn’t choose art or music or even mission agencies to plant churches. He chose the church. Churches planting churches – through multiplication, not addition – is the key.”

Stetzer said church planting has become trendy. Last year, 4,000 new Protestant churches were planted across the U.S. while 3,500 closed. So in a shift from the past, more Protestant churches are being planted than are closing. The commonly quoted statistic that 80 percent of all new church starts fail is a myth, Stetzer said, citing a NAMB research project reported in Viral Churches involving planters from several denominations.

Photo by John Swain

Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources, discussed his new book Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers, coauthored with Warren Bird, with about 180 North American Mission Board employees in Alpharetta, Ga. Stetzer exhorted the group to love young church planters and make them heroes in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Comparing church planting to childbirth, Stetzer called church planting messy.

“Both are wonderful things, but they are bloody, painful, messy, and there can be a lot of yelling,” he said. “But you’re ready to have another one because it’s such a wonderful experience.

“Some Baptists have forgotten the joy of childbirth when it comes to new churches. Unfortunately, some traditional church members of the Southern Baptist Convention see young church planters as the competition.”

Stetzer said Southern Baptists choose church planters who are atypical, self-starting mavericks and then wonder why they can be challenging at times.

“If you at NAMB want to be known as the agency that loves young church planters, love them differently than you love pastors because they are different than pastors. Church planters have a different constitution, a different wiring than the rest of us,” Stetzer said. “That’s why they’re church planters.”

Saying that more Protestant churches as a whole need to be engaged in church planting, Stetzer noted that only 3 percent of them are involved in church planting, which is commonly accepted as the best way to share the Gospel and win the world for Christ. Stetzer said church planting and evangelism go hand in hand.

“Church planting should be promoted as a normal activity of Christians. Disciples, groups, ministries and churches must reproduce. But church planting is an abnormal experience to most of our churches,” Stetzer said. “So why should we not be surprised that there’s not a lot of church reproduction going on?

“All healthy things reproduce. But we have a lot of churches that have allowed themselves to be the cul de sac on the Great Commission Highway. I don’t want my church or yours to be that.”

Stetzer said NAMB and other SBC leaders must re-instill a culture of reproduction in churches, adding that over time, churches become more inward-focused unless there’s some provoking from the outside.

“We have had the expectation of church reproduction before, but we have lost it. One reason we lost it is that we have taught our churches too often that missions is a function that we outsource to somebody else.

“We have taught the churches that their job is to ‘Pray, pay and get out of the way.’ What we end up with is they become convinced that their role is to be funders of missions, not participants in missions. Half of our churches become spenders for missions rather than engaged in missions. Baptists can be missions-minded without being missionally engaged.”

And while SBC funding for church planting is “embarrassingly low,” Stetzer said funding ultimately has no correlation to church planting success or survivability.

“You can’t buy your way into church multiplication,” Stetzer said. “I’m a believer in funding church planters well. And while funding assists and catalyzes church planting, it’s not the total fix but only one of the factors we need to confront. When you don’t have the systems of church multiplication in place, you can throw money away.”

Stetzer concluded by calling on NAMB to celebrate church planters as heroes.

“What we celebrate we become. We need to talk about how many we send out, not how many we got in. Help Southern Baptists to fall in love with their church planters. For too long, people have looked down on bi-vocational pastors, unpaid pastors and on non-seminary-trained pastors. NAMB needs to be one of those places that says, ‘We’re going to bless all kinds of church planters.’

“I know it’s been tough ... at NAMB,” Stetzer said. “But in the fullness of His sovereignty, God has prepared the Southern Baptist Convention to now say, ‘We’re going to value church planting.’ What NAMB now needs to do is ask how it can seize this moment. Let NAMB be the one to get behind significant church planting leaders and networks.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)
3/25/2011 9:22:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Soccer pulls church into community ministry

March 24 2011 by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press

The famous towel producer Charles Cannon built First Baptist Church in Kannapolis when Cannon Mills provided both engine and fuel for the aging textile town 27 miles north of Charlotte. He wanted a good church for his workers, so he had First Baptist constructed on the edge of the mill property.

First Baptist celebrated its centennial in 2008 and has enjoyed its current red brick, columned building for 75 years. It is imposing and regal, but because of how Cannon provided the building, the church doesn’t own an inch of land outside the building’s footprint; not a single parking space.  

The textile industry has fled North Carolina like water falls over Niagara, and in the past few years Cannon’s massive mills were converted to Pillowtex, then that company and 2,400 local jobs were erased as if they never existed.

Billionaire buyer David Murdock rubbed out whole blocks of Kannapolis and on that clean sheet is building a futuristic research facility of Georgian-style red brick buildings. The buildings and the international workforce that is beginning to occupy them are changing the face of this small southern town.

Tom Cabaniss, with 14 years in the pulpit of First Baptist Church, wanted to change the public face of his church, too. The church owns 11.5 acres of land a half mile away, on a main drag in town, and had architectural drawings in hand for a $20 million complex to be built in phases, including a new sanctuary. Then, at a staff retreat in the midst of an expository journey through the book of Romans, Cabaniss asked: “What if we became the place that people thought of when they thought of ministry in Kannapolis?” That question began to drive deacon meetings, staff prayer time, small groups and committee meetings within the church.

It also ate like a boll weevil through the extravagant plans for a new facility and instead, prompted the church to ask the local Christian community ministries organization what it would build for its ministry to the area’s homeless and hungry.

First Baptist has always sent money and people to distant lands, but they began to ask, “What if our mission field is Midway?” — that 11.5 acres of sports fields and bare ground the church bought in 2002. “What if God actually wanted us to ‘burst through the bricks’ and make a difference here?” said Haven Parrott, minister of spiritual formation.

When they considered ways to engage the community, everything seemed to start with Midway. The fields are surrounded by easy access highway and a transitional neighborhood of modest houses once occupied by mill workers.

The church bought the land strictly on the basis of opportunity and potential. They paid it off quickly and gathered their plans to build. Then the economy hit a brick wall and the answer to their prayers was, “Wait.”

But “wait” didn’t mean “stand still,” and the compelling question of ministry continued to motivate the church. For several years they had sponsored a soccer league that developed into a comfortable, friendly, weekly get together at the soccer field for about 85 Christian children and their families.

“That’s not outreach,” said Cabaniss. When the coordinator had to drop out the church went a different direction. They passed out flyers in each elementary school — all of which are Title 1 schools with a high percentage of poor students. The church “charged” just $5 but easily overlooked even that “dignity fee,” and 200 rambunctious, excited children flooded the field.   About three dozen church members volunteered as coaches and organizers, and other members came as cheerleaders for whatever team needed some that day.

Long after the church had decided to scholarship the entire program if necessary the Cannon Foundation responded with a $15,000 grant because the six-week effort would contribute to healthy habits of children and their families.

Participants 4 years old through fourth grade had one practice during the week and games on Saturdays. Families received information about the church and church members led devotions for the families. Coaches led devotions for their teams.

A big season-ending carnival followed a recognition service in the sanctuary. Parrott said families had to attend the service to participate in the carnival, but the purpose was to break the barrier of intimidation that often keeps strangers from braving entry into a large, imposing, traditional church building.

Cabaniss said the soccer ministry gave his members a chance to do something bigger than themselves. It connected them with people different from themselves, gave them a chance to serve their community and helped them grow in their own faith as they saw God at work and prayers answered in a neglected part of town. They saw seeds planted that they intend to nurture and to see God harvest “in His time.”

“What we do is relational,” Parrott said. “We didn’t go into it thinking we’re doing this to get new members. We did it to be a presence in that community, whatever that meant, but we knew it meant getting in their back yard.”

Now Parrott is the “soccer lady” in the local grocery store and the church gets calls all the time about a new soccer season. The church is holding three Saturday skills and devotion clinics in April.

If things progress on their current track, future soccer teams will play in the shadow of an 11,000-sqare-foot, $1.6 million ministries building that will serve the homeless and hungry in Kannapolis. It will be the simple, functional building First Baptist Church builds for others rather than the new complex for itself it was considering. It will have a basketball court, kitchen, a sleeping area and space for feeding and a clothes closet.

First Baptist will hold Bible school there and have activities, “but it is such a far cry from the really pretty building we were going to build,” Parrott said. “We will build it for others, not for ourselves.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

Related story
League opens church door for family
3/24/2011 8:48:00 AM by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

League opens church door for family

March 24 2011 by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press

KANNAPOLIS — When the soccer season sponsored and funded by First Baptist Church in Kannapolis began to wind down, Chris and Jennifer Roman realized they were going to miss the new friends they found while mingling with church families at the soccer field.

So they agreed to start visiting the church. They had talked often about their desire to find a church home during their five years of marriage. Both were what they call “God conscious” but not professed Christians.

Within a month they joined the church by baptism. Jennifer said it “felt right” from the first. “We’re supposed to be here,” she said. “If not for the soccer ministry I don’t think we’d be born-again Christians.” Before what discipleship minister Haven Parrott calls a “kairos” moment turning the church toward community outreach, the Romans might not have felt immediate acceptance there.

Both sport piercings in their face and Chris’ arms are heavily tattooed with designs and the names of his sons.

But Chris said First Baptist, which already enjoyed a “really good” reputation in town, has been like family. He found instant camaraderie among people who “will do anything for you. They will give you the shirt off their backs.”

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Chris and Jennifer Roman started attending First Baptist Church in Kannapolis after one of their son’s soccer league season ended. The church runs the league on land originally purchased for a new building.

“Our family told us Chris would probably scare people at First Baptist with his tattoos,” Jennifer said. “But nobody here judges him. It’s so nice.”

Chris played some high school soccer, and — despite working two jobs so Jennifer can be a stay-at-home mom — he jumped in and helped his son Aidan’s soccer coach, deacon chair Patti Miller.

It was Aidan’s first organized activity, and the family learned about it through a flyer he brought home in his book bag from a special school where he receives help for a speech disability.

It was when Parrott showed up to sit with her during a surgical procedure for Aidan that Jennifer first thought: “Wow. This stranger who doesn’t even know us wants to be there for us.”

Life is getting better for the Romans. Chris is working two jobs after being laid off as an auto mechanic and almost losing their house.

“I have a new attitude toward life,” he said, sitting in the church parlor with a red knit cap pulled over his ears. “You look at things different. You appreciate the little things. It’s the whole package. I have a new appreciation for things I didn’t see before.”

“God has opened our eyes,” Jennifer said.

All because an old church tried a new game — and scored.

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

Related Story
Soccer pulls church into community ministry
3/24/2011 8:35:00 AM by Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mideast’s Christian workers move forward amid tumult

March 24 2011 by Alan James, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Being ready at a moment’s notice to board a plane and evacuate a country is a reality for many Christian workers in North Africa and the Middle East.

Trying to share the Gospel in nations with unstable governments is difficult in the best of circumstances. But as refugees flee the crisis in Libya, and other nations such as Yemen, Egypt and Syria continue to struggle with political unrest, the task is increasingly challenging. Though people are turning to Jesus during this time of conflict, Christian workers say the environment is far from ideal for ministry.

“It really is challenging trying to minister in this climate,” Christian worker Sam Morgan* said. He and his family have served among Shia Muslims in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf since 2005.

In recent weeks, the Morgans have seen an increase in political protests.

“There are news cameras everywhere,” Morgan said. “If you go to downtown where everybody is protesting, and you’re the only American, immediately people are attracted to you because they feel like you’re there to stand behind their cause.”

BP Photo

As unrest across North Africa and the Middle East continues, Christian workers go about their daily lives, building relationships and showing the love of Christ. Many in the Arab world, they believe, are open to hearing about Jesus.

Some of the people Morgan meets with and ministers to have pleaded with him to join the protests in their country. But Morgan always declines.

“We’re not here to fight for [that] cause,” he said. “We’re here to fight for the cause of Christ.”

Morgan said his biggest concern is whether he and his family may have to evacuate and leave behind years of ministry at the ring of a telephone.

“There have been moments ... where I wonder if we’re going to be on a plane tomorrow morning,” he said. “One day you’re in a country, the next day you’re not. All those friends and that whole life you had, it’s gone.

“It’s hard.”

While tensions in the Middle East have been front page news in recent weeks, Morgan said political protests and conflict often are a way of life among his people group.

“In our country, they burn tires every Friday, and they have since we [moved] here,” he said.

“Then it’s over, and Saturday goes on and everybody is with their families and we move on and do our ministry.”

Avoiding awkward political conversations can, at times, be nearly impossible, said Marshall Jackson*, who has ministered to people in the Middle East for the past six years.

“Their questions are often fairly pointed and opinionated,” Jackson said. “Most of the time, they’re not asking you to find [an answer]; they’re asking you to let you know what they think.

“If you feel someone really pushing your buttons or you’re getting hot under the collar, just walk away.”

When groups from the U.S. volunteer a Mideast outreach, Christian workers advise them to avoid wearing clothing and hats with American flags or political statements on them. And above all else, don’t start a political discussion.

“We’re not there to convince people that American foreign policy is correct,” Jackson said.

“Usually [volunteers] don’t have enough cultural background to handle disagreements in that culture and to do it appropriately without being overly defensive or giving someone the impression you agree with them when you don’t.”

The best – and typically most successful – way to handle difficult questions or discussions is handling them in a loving way.

“Just simply say, ‘but you know Americans love [the people in that country],’” Jackson said.

Ultimately, Jesus is the best example of how to handle difficult questions, he added, saying, “None of us would be as good as Jesus [with tough questions].”

Amy Jones* has found that the Middle Eastern women she ministers to are open to hearing about the hope Jesus can offer them. She and her husband Justin* have worked among Middle Eastern people for more than six years.

Jones befriended a single mother, Amal*, and her 11-year-old son. Jones met Amal in 2004 through the help of Christian volunteers from the States. Amal, who is an Arab Muslim, eventually became a believer in Christ.

But life for her has been difficult. Others often look down on single mothers in that part of the world.

“She has a horror story a mile long,” Jones said. “She’s been beaten by her brothers. She’s been held at gunpoint by her neighbor. She had to evacuate during two separate times of war. She’s been without a job, just barely making ends meet.”

Though relating to Amal’s challenges has been difficult, Jones said the two have remained friends through the years. The Joneses gave her a Bible; they’ve studied Scripture with her; and they occasionally have bought her groceries. Amal, in turn, taught the Joneses how to share their faith in Arabic.

Despite times of uncertainty, people’s hearts throughout North Africa and the Middle East are more open to the Gospel than ever before, Jones noted.

“People are hopeless, and the things ... that they’ve put their faith in are kind of falling apart around them,” she said. “It makes them more prone to ask questions and to seek a deeper kind of hope.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – *Names changed. James is a writer for the International Mission Board.)

(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.) 
3/24/2011 7:46:00 AM by Alan James, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baptist relief efforts still touching Chileans’ hearts

March 24 2011 by Maria Elena Baseler, Baptist Press

A little more than a year ago, one of the most powerful earthquakes on record rocked Chile. Since then, working in Baptist quake relief efforts has led missionary Alfredo Valencia to many suffering families. But he’ll never forget one family in particular. Valencia found them living in a partially collapsed home on a hillside in Cartagena, Chile, a coastal town hit hard by the 8.8-magnitude quake that shattered central Chile early Feb. 27, 2010.

The family with eight children — ranging from ages two months to 17 years — “were living in really, really bad conditions,” recalls Valencia, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary in Santiago, Chile.

It was months after the disaster had struck, and Baptist quake relief efforts were drawing to a close. By then local officials had deemed the family’s house uninhabitable and had asked them to move out. But the family had nowhere else to go.

When Valencia saw their urgent need, “I said, ‘God, You’ve got to provide for us to be able to help this family.’”

God’s answer came when Valencia’s cell phone rang. It was a member of a team of California Baptist volunteers heading to Chile to build “mediaguas” — prefab temporary shelters — for quake victims. Valencia told the volunteer about the family.

IMB photo by Cameron West

North Carolinians Charles and Karen Clark, left, International Mission Board missionaries in Chile, survey quake damage at a school in Botalcura, Chile. After the powerful earthquake that rocked Chile a year ago, local officials told Clark of a need for new classrooms so area schoolchildren could begin the new semester on time. Clark, who headed up Southern Baptists’ quake relief in Chile, arranged for a team of California Baptist volunteers to build 10 temporary shelters for use as classrooms.

The two discussed options for helping and agreed the family needed more than a 10-by-20-foot temporary shelter. The volunteer said his team was willing to rebuild the house.

The California Baptists spent seven days — working from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — reconstructing the house with the help of Marcos, the father of the family. When their work was completed, the group celebrated with a thanksgiving service. During that service, Marcos prayed to receive Christ. Today, he and his family are studying the Bible at a Baptist mission congregation in Cartagena.

“The eight kids in this family will grow up one day, and they will have a story to tell about how they survived the earthquake — and what God did with their house,” Valencia said. “They will remember us as those who came to their house with the gospel, because God allowed us the time and resources to rebuild.

“But what God really rebuilt for that family was their lives — their hope. And He used us to help them understand they truly mattered to God.”

Since the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that claimed the lives of 524 people in Chile, hundreds of Chileans have received that same message through Baptist relief efforts. Together Chilean Baptists, Southern Baptist volunteers and International Mission Board missionaries have met countless physical, spiritual and emotional needs in Jesus’ name.

A total of $722,000 in Southern Baptist disaster response funds helped finance the relief effort.  

“As we mark the anniversary of this powerful earthquake, we are eternally grateful to Southern Baptists for addressing the human needs of people around the world, particularly here in Chile in light of this disaster,” said IMB missionary Charles Clark, who headed up Southern Baptist quake relief in Chile. “We appreciate so much the many Southern Baptists who gave sacrificially of their time and money to meet the needs of Chileans. And we are equally thankful for our Chilean Baptist partners who we joined forces with to meet the immediate needs of those most affected by the quake.”

During the relief effort, Baptist volunteers shared the hope of Christ while building about 350 temporary shelters used for homes and schoolrooms and while serving at least 150,000 meals prepared in field kitchens. Besides financing these projects, Southern Baptist disaster relief contributions also funded the training of 3,000 Chileans in crisis counseling techniques to help survivors cope with post-quake trauma.

Baptist quake relief opened many other doors for sharing the gospel across the disaster zone. One of those was in the small town of Botalcura, where the public primary school was heavily damaged. When Clark heard about the need from local officials, he arranged for California Baptist volunteers to construct 10 temporary shelters for use as classrooms so students could begin the new semester on time. Several fathers of school children and some Chilean military personnel worked alongside the team in the construction.

Southern Baptists provided a Bible for each classroom and a Bible storybook for each child. Tennessee Baptist youth donated school supplies. Volunteers from Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Ala., delivered the items along with a gift of socks — with a verse tucked inside — for each student.

IMB photo by Cameron West

A Chilean primary school student reads a Bible storybook given by Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists also donated socks with a Bible verse tucked inside and school supplies for each student.

Clark and his wife Karen, who live about a three-hour drive away in Chile’s capital of Santiago, developed a relationship with one of the Botalcura school families who hosted volunteers in their home. They shared the gospel with them and gave them a Bible. “They are very open to the gospel and have even offered their home for a Bible study group to meet there,” Karen Clark reported.

Asking Southern Baptists to pray that God will lead some Chilean Baptists in the region to start a church in Botalcura and surrounding communities, she noted, “There’s a real hunger for the gospel there.”

Across the disaster zone, God also opened doors through the operation of Baptist feeding kitchens and the construction of mediaguas used for homes. In the town of Talca, for example, several Chilean families who received Baptist aid now are attending Iglesia Bautista El Sembrador (Baptist Church of the Sower), where a feeding kitchen was set up.

The relief project also paved the way for future cooperative ministry among Chilean Baptists and Southern Baptists.

Because of needs their volunteers saw in Chile, several Southern Baptist churches have formed partnerships with Chilean Baptist churches.

“We are exploring opportunities for closer partnerships and joint training to be able to respond more effectively together in future disaster relief and community development projects,” Clark said.  

Besides these results, the relief project brought opportunities for evangelism even beyond Chile. Before the quake, a team of Chilean Baptist young people from Santiago had been praying about how to share the gospel during an upcoming mission trip to Uruguay.

They told about their experiences serving as volunteers in the Baptist quake relief efforts and gave God the glory for how He had meet the needs of Chileans. They were interviewed by numerous Uruguayan media outlets and spoke in many schools.

“God used them in a mighty way,” Valencia said, adding, “It’s one of the many ways God used the tragedy of this earthquake for His purposes.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Baseler is an International Mission Board writer living in the Americas. Tristan Taylor, also an IMB writer in the Americas, contributed to this story.)

Pray for Chile
  • Pray for Chilean families who are still coping with the quake’s aftermath. Many Chileans still live in temporary shelters and don’t have work. Pray God will provide them the necessary resources for rebuilding their lives.
  • Ask the Lord to help several Chilean Baptist congregations who lost their church buildings in the quake. Pray God will help them find the means to rebuild while they continue to minister in their communities.
  • During quake relief, Baptists found a number of small towns where no evangelical church exists. Ask God to give Chilean Baptists a vision for reaching these towns.
  • Pray about the possibility of your church forming a partnership with a Chilean Baptist church. This three-to-five year commitment provides opportunities in evangelism and church planting in the quake zone and among unreached population segments of Chile. To learn more, contact IMB missionaries Jerry and Paula Bowling at
(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or issues with items we run, please contact or call 919-847-2127.)

3/24/2011 7:35:00 AM by Maria Elena Baseler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Displaying results 11-20 (of 73)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8  >  >|