March 2012

Find It Here: Expanding the kingdom, impacting lostness

March 26 2012 by BSC Communications

The statistics can be daunting: 5.6 million, 258 million and 6 billion. But those are more than statistics; they represent the number of people across North Carolina, North America and around the world who desperately need to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) has designed the Find it Here 2012: Expanding the Kingdom initiative to help North Carolina Baptists maximize their efforts to reach the world with the gospel.
 
This year’s emphasis is the third year in a three-year emphasis on intentional evangelism, transformational discipleship and mission mobilization.
 
To help North Carolina Baptists engage in God’s mission of sharing the gospel message, Find it Here 2012 is built on the foundation of Acts 1:8 and seeks to help churches develop a strategy for reaching their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and ends of the earth with the gospel.
 
Find it Here includes four strategic phases: discover, develop, implement and evaluate. As churches move through the phases they will assess their current mission strategy, create the framework for a comprehensive mission strategy, implement that strategy and then evaluate the effectiveness of that strategy.
 
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Joel Stephens, pastor of Westfield Baptist Church in Westfield, is leading the congregation through this year’s mobilization initiative. The church recently completed the discover phase and is working toward developing a missions strategy.
 
Stephens liked how the Find it Here process led the church to evaluate their previous mission efforts. “The greatest benefit is it’s forced us to sit down and do the painful work of honestly analyzing our missional effectiveness,” he said. “I really thought we were a lot more on top of things.”
 
Before incorporating Find it Here, Westfield lacked a central focus on missions. Instead, the church had a variety of mission activities. Now, Stephens believes Westfield is learning how to bring those efforts together under a streamlined approach that fits the collective strengths of its members.
 
He compared the first phase of Find it Here to going to the doctor for a checkup. But in the end he is pleased with the results. “We’re glad we went for that checkup,” Stephens said. “It’s been priceless.”
 
His experience has taught him how easy it can be to lose focus on being mission oriented. He encourages other pastors to use Find it Here as a way to evaluate and reprioritize their mission strategy.
 
“It is so easy in a local congregation setting to just get stuck in the rut of doing church on Sunday and Wednesday,” Stephens said. “If you’re not careful, you end up being keepers of the aquarium.”

Free resources to help churches carry out the Find it Here emphasis are available for download at finditherenc.org. This site features videos, sermon outlines, Bible study lessons and other guides.
 
Easter evangelism
North Carolina Baptists are also encouraged to participate once again in the Find it Here Easter evangelism emphasis. Hundreds of churches across the state have participated in the Easter emphasis during the past two years. If your church has not been involved in previous years it’s not too late to join this year’s effort.
 
As in the previous two years, pastors and church leaders are encouraged to lead their churches to do the following:
 
•  Pray for non-believers (family members, friends, neighbors and work associates) by name.
Invite those non-believers to attend the Easter Sunday morning worship service.
Preach an evangelistic sermon and extend an evangelistic invitation.
Baptist new converts on Easter Sunday or the Sunday following.
 
A variety of evangelism resources - such as the EvangeCube - are also available on the Find it Here website. The North American Mission Board provided funds to the Baptist State Convention to purchase EvangeCubes for the Easter Evangelism Emphasis. Churches under 125 in membership can receive free EvangeCubes to hand out to their members. Larger churches can purchase them for a discounted price of $3.50. Pastors and church planters are encouraged to share the EvangeCube during Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday. For more information, please call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5563. 
 
C.J. Bordeaux, pastor of Gorman Baptist Church in Durham, participated in last year’s Find it Here Easter evangelism emphasis and baptized 16 people on Palm Sunday. This year he is planning to baptize a father and his stepdaughter together at the end of the Easter service.
 
He believes that Find it Here is an effective tool and should become a yearly process and focus for North Carolina Baptists.
 
“The house will not be built by itself. The man must put his hand on the hammer,” Bordeaux said. “Find it Here is just words on paper or a banner that is hung until we use it. We’ve got to utilize the tools we’ve been given.”
 
Visit finditherenc.org, email findithere@ncbaptist.org or call (800) 395-5102, ext. 5648.
3/26/2012 3:05:32 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Churches lost $1.2 billion in recession

March 23 2012 by Annalisa Musarra, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – Even as membership remains relatively stable in U.S. churches, the effects of the recession have caused contributions to drop by $1.2 billion.
 
According to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, the almost $29 billion contributed by church members represented a 2.2 percent decrease in terms of per capita giving.
 
The $1.2 billion decline in 2010 was nearly three times as large as the $431 million in losses reported in 2009, and “provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period,” the Yearbook’s editor, Eileen Lindner, wrote.
 
The Yearbook is produced annually by the National Council of Churches and is considered one of the most authoritative sources of church membership. The 2010 figures, released March 20, were collected from 228 U.S. denominations in 2011.
 
The Roman Catholic Church (No. 1) and the Southern Baptist Convention (No. 2) continued as the nation’s largest churches in 2010, and both posted a decrease of less than 1 percent, the fourth year in a row of declining membership for Southern Baptists.
 
Overall, total membership in the top 25 largest churches declined 1.15 percent, to 145.7 million.
 
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, though still in the top 10, reported the sharpest decline in membership, dropping 5.9 percent to 4.3 million members.
 
Four Pentecostal churches out of the top 25 showed a continuing increase in membership, with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. jumping up 20 percent, the highest out of all reporting churches.
 
Only six out of the top 25 increased in membership, according to the Yearbook. Some of those growing denominations include Jehovah’s Witnesses (up 1.85 percent), Seventh-day Adventist Church (up 1.61 percent) and the National Baptist Convention, USA (up 3.95 percent).
 
The 10 largest U.S. Christian bodies reported in the 2012 yearbook are:
 
1. The Catholic Church: 68.2 million, down 0.44 percent.
2. Southern Baptist Convention: 16.1 million, down 0.15 percent.
3. The United Methodist Church: 7.7 million, down 1.22 percent.
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: 6.2 million, up 1.62 percent.
5. The Church of God in Christ: 5.5 million, no membership updates reported.
6. National Baptist Convention, USA: 5.2 million, up 3.95 percent.
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 4.3 million, down 5.9 percent.
8. National Baptist Convention of America, 3.5 million, no membership updates reported.
9. Assemblies of God: 3.03 million, up 3.99 percent.
10. Presbyterian Church (USA): 2.7 million, down 3.42 percent.
3/23/2012 10:09:23 AM by Annalisa Musarra, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Film traces real-life story of abortion ‘survivor’

March 23 2012 by Annalisa Musarra, Religion News Service

A new movie confronts a controversial topic by highlighting two words that don’t typically go together: “abortion” and “survivor.”
 
“We didn’t know there was such a thing,” said Jon Erwin, who wrote and co-directed “October Baby” with his brother, Andrew.
 
The film, the latest in a recent string of Christian-themed movies, opens March 23 and has broken into Hollywood despite rejection at first by many studios.
 
The movie tells the story of Hannah, a 19-year-old college student who finds out that she not only is adopted, but she is a survivor of a failed abortion attempt, which explains why she has been suffering from health problems all her life.
 
Hannah, played by newcomer Rachel Hendrix, journeys to find her birth mother and explore her own identity as she learns the power of forgiveness and love.
 
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The inspiration for the movie came when the Christian filmmakers heard an abortion survivor named Gianna Jessen speak at an event. “We were just moved and inspired by her story. We knew we needed to do something,” Erwin said.
 
The film, shot in four weeks on a tight budget in the producer’s home state of Alabama, includes lessons of honor, sacrifice, love – and some humor, too, said Erwin.
 
“People respond to these virtues no matter what,” he added. “They ultimately come from Jesus, but we display them for what they are, which we hope is appealing to people.”
 
Erwin, who was raised in the anti-abortion movement, hopes the faith virtues built into the film do not “alienate anybody.”
 
Since most Hollywood studios rejected the film, anti-abortion and Christian organizations stepped in to fund it – something the director hopes “makes a loud statement and makes others notice.”
 
Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based Christian ministry, is one of the film’s supporters.
 
“The movie does a beautiful job of revealing two things: The dignity and value of every human life and the beauty of adoption,” said Kelly Rosati, the group’s vice president of community outreach. “We think it will be worthwhile to viewers.”
 
The Erwin brothers started out their careers as cameramen for ESPN and the NFL and then switched to directing music videos and working with Christian artists such as Amy Grant, Switchfoot and Casting Crowns. They credit their motivation to produce “October Baby” to the Kendrick brothers, the pioneers of church-based filmmaking with “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.”
 
The brothers’ movie was made “out of respect” and as a way to “honor” what the Kendricks have done in the industry, said the director.
 
“There’s a way we can make movies representing what we believe that also have a mass appeal,” Erwin added.
 
The movie, rated PG-13, also stars John Schneider (“Dukes of Hazzard”), Jasmine Guy (“A Different World”) and Shari Rigby (“The Young and the Restless”).
 
“God’s really on the move in Christian filmmaking,” said Erwin.

Related stories
New film spotlights abortion, power of forgiveness
Go see 'October Baby'
3/23/2012 9:59:48 AM by Annalisa Musarra, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Harsh winter countered by Baptists’ aid & love

March 23 2012 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

BUCHAREST, Romania – An unusually harsh winter across Europe and Central Asia has caused suffering and hardship for millions of people. But it also has created opportunities to demonstrate God’s love for people in need through such efforts as hand-digging tunnels through deep snow and shoveling out remote mountain passes.
 
Brutal cold and heavy snowfall across the vast region killed scores of people and trapped thousands in remote mountain areas, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response (BGR), an international relief and development organization.

“From Ireland to Tajikistan, people struggled to cope with the weather,” Palmer said. “Power outages were common; roads and airports were closed; and families in remote areas were unable to get food. Fortunately, Southern Baptists already had provided hunger and disaster relief funds to meet many needs.”
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BGR photo

Some 600 men joined forces to dig out miles of snowbound roads by hand to open the way for a city and outlying towns to receive food aid in one country of Central Asia. Baptist Global Response helped facilitate the effort.


In Romania, a group partnering with BGR used Facebook to assemble a team of 16 people to help residents of a village that had been completely buried in snow.

“The team took shovels and food packets purchased with Southern Baptist disaster relief funds and set out for the village,” said Abraham Shepherd, who with his wife Grace directs BGR work in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. “The villagers were old and unable to remove the snow by themselves. Team members, in addition to providing some basic necessities, dug tunnels in the snow to give village residents access to outbuildings and livestock barns.

“Southern Baptists need to know their giving makes a significant impact, helping many communities experience God’s love in a time of need,” Shepherd said.

In Tajikistan, a BGR partner used $2,000 from Southern Baptists’ World Hunger Fund to help a tiny mountain village cut off from food supplies by an avalanche.

“Life in this village already was hard in the winter,” said Francis Horton, who with his wife Angie directs BGR work in Central and South Asia. “The windows in the houses don’t have glass in them. Deep snow cuts off access to the outside world and, by the end of the winter, families are living on the edge of starvation. Then an avalanche roars down off the mountain and flattens several homes.”

Nineteen households – about 150 people – received immediate food assistance of flour, rice and cooking oil delivered with the assistance of local police, Horton reported. When warmer spring temperatures melt off the snow mass, BGR partners will assess the need for help repairing ruined buildings.

In another country of Central Asia, about 600 men dug out miles of snowbound roads by hand to open the way for a city and outlying towns to receive food aid.

“This is one of the most rugged, isolated and impoverished areas in Central Asia,” Horton said. “Every year, the people are cut off from the outside world by heavy snow in the mountain passes. Many people suffer and die because they are unable to get food or medical care.”

This winter was even more severe than usual, Horton added, noting, “Widows, disabled people and the elderly were in desperate need of food and medical aid. The crisis was complicated by the fact that a severe drought this past year had ruined crops families needed to get through the winter.”

Using about $70,000 from the World Hunger Fund, men from four villages walked three miles through the snow to get to the mountain passes, where they shoveled snow by hand so supplies could get into the city, Horton said. Opening the way for medical care meant a small clinic in one village could replace its completely depleted supply of antibiotics and that women experiencing complications with their pregnancies were able to get help that likely saved their babies lives.

“This project allowed men to feel a sense of dignity and self-worth because they were working to provide for their families and help their communities,” Horton said. “People in the area also realized that followers of Jesus loved them and cared for their well-being.

“We are very grateful to the churches and individuals that contribute to the World Hunger Fund,” Horton said. “They can be assured that this project was performed prayerfully and with careful stewardship of each dollar spent. Many people have experienced the love of God and had their hearts softened toward people they previously believed were not their friends.”

BGR partners across the region asked followers of Jesus to pray for the health and peace of those who have received the assistance and to ask God to work through these projects to help them find the abundant, meaningful life He created them to enjoy.

(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Internet at www.gobgr.org. You can help with relief efforts like these by donating to the World Hunger Fund through your local Southern Baptist church, association or state convention.)
3/23/2012 9:53:24 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Manila’s squatter communities receive hope

March 23 2012 by Ivy O’Neill, Baptist Press

MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES – “Come on,” a young man calls as he and a group of teenagers trek to a squatter village to teach the Bible.

As they pass an open field where several children are kicking a partially deflated soccer ball, he again calls, “Come on.”
 
The children stop and smile when they see who is calling them. Abandoning the ball, they follow, bare feet splashing mud. As the group crosses a concrete bridge over a drainage ditch filled with gray water and trash, the children chatter with their teachers. Filipino pastor Romy Albinius and IMB (International Mission Board) worker Dwight Fern follow.

As the group reaches the village, some young mothers carrying infants and other women drag benches under a tree and settle down on the creaky seats. The young people unfurl their song sheets, Christian lyrics carefully printed on the back of old alcohol advertising posters.
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Photo by J.B. Shark

A house group in Manila prays for one another.


This is one of thousands of squatter communities in metro Manila, filled with people who moved to the city from rural provinces in search of a better life. Instead, they became part of a mass of urban poor, building shelters from whatever they can find.

Housing once meant to be temporary has been standing here more than 20 years. Work intended to be a steppingstone toward better employment has become a career. Hope for a prosperous future has faded; survival has become the daily goal.
 
Despite the bleak outlook they face, hope has not abandoned the urban poor. “God wants 104 million Filipinos in His Kingdom,” Fern says to a group of pastors he’s teaching.

Pastors nod thoughtfully as Fern speaks. For the past 10 years, Fern has been training pastors among the urban poor to start small house groups focused on fellowship and Bible study. More than 300 pastors now attend the training sessions he conducts every month.

“Filipinos love to study the Bible,” Fern says. “It’s the idea of church that scares people away,” although many attend mass at local Catholic churches.

Life in the Philippines is steeped in religious traditions. Nuns serve as teachers in most schools, so religious training is nothing new to Filipinos. But the idea of offering poor pastors a sense of value is nothing short of revolutionary.

As pastors study with Fern – many from homes in squatter communities – they carry back with them the hope they are finding in Christ.

“There is a hope of tomorrow being better,” Fern says. “The poor respond to Christ as they look to the promise of heaven. ... This life is hard, but heaven will be better.”

Cultural norms and lack of material possessions and social status often discourage the urban poor from seeking a better life. Simple jobs require a college education, which many cannot afford; they are too busy forging a living. However, as they latch onto the training their pastors provide, they begin to understand the gospel and share the hope they receive. As they begin forming house groups, they develop a new sense of purpose.

Albinias, who has been part of Fern’s training for three years, has taken the training to heart and begun to train the young people of his church to lead house groups.

“They are the future,” he says.

Every week, a half-dozen young people parade into nearby squatter communities. Dividing up, they lead small groups of adults and children in studying the Bible and fellowshipping together.

As other villagers swig cheap alcohol and gamble a few pesos at a card game, they watch their neighbors join the Bible study and listen with mild interest to the discussion. It is a small village, after all. Everyone knows everything that happens there.

Abinius and Fern watch the squatter children’s faces, wreathed in smiles, as they sing songs about the love of Jesus. They wear faded, dirty clothes; their hair is streaked from malnutrition and teeth are black with rot.

“Nobody wants them or cares about them. Thing is, they’re just as special as anyone else.” Fern muses.

When the study ends, the children follow the teenagers down the narrow, polluted street. “Bye bye,” they shout repeatedly, waving until they cannot see the group anymore.

Albinius’ young people don’t just teach children. Their next stop is a small house where nearly a dozen adults stuff in. They spill over into the alleyway, pressing close to hear.

Rachelle Albinias, one of the young people, tells the adults how they can share the truth they have found. Using a bookmark tool created for witnessing, she reviews the plan of salvation and how they can share their faith with others. On the back are 10 blank spaces.

“This week, who will you share the love of Christ with?” she asks.

Her words hang in the air as each person considers the question. They carefully print 10 names on the back of the business-card-sized bookmark. The next week, when they meet again, they will review the names they have written and say how they told those people about Christ.

Fern estimates that through these small house groups, more than a million of Manila’s squatters have heard of Christ. Each month, when the pastors share ministry reports, countless people have heard of Christ, joined the church or been baptized.

“The day of a man just sitting in his chair in church is over,” Fern says. “We’re out to make disciples.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ivy O’Neill is a writer with the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia. For more stories specific to Asia, visit www.asiastories.com.)

3/23/2012 9:20:38 AM by Ivy O’Neill, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



In Sudan, more ethnic cleansing of Christians is alleged

March 22 2012 by Simba Tian/Compass Direct News

JUBA, South Sudan (BP) – Alleged ethnic cleansing that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has undertaken against black Africans in the Nuba Mountains also is aimed at ridding the area of Christianity, according to humanitarian workers.
 
By targeting Christians in the Nuba Mountains, which also is populated by adherents of Islam and other faiths, military force helps the predominantly Arab regime in Khartoum to portray the violence as “jihad” to Muslims abroad and thus raise support from Islamic nations, one humanitarian worker said on condition of anonymity.

In South Kordofan state – on Sudans border with the newly created nation of South Sudan and home to sympathizers of the southern military that fought in Sudan’s long civil war – Bashir’s military strikes are directed at Muslims as well as Christians, but churches and Christians are especially targeted, the worker said.

“The ongoing war against Christians and African indigenous people is more of an ethnic cleansing in that they kill all black people, including Muslims,” the worker said.
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“But they give specific connotation to the war in targeting Christians to secure funding and support from the Arab and Islamic world by saying this war is a religious war,” he said. “And in so doing, they get huge support from those countries.”

The government in Khartoum is using Antonov airplanes to drop bombs, “coupled with state-sponsored militia targeting churches and Christian families,” the worker said, noting that the militias are moving in brutal fashion “from house to house searching for Christian and African indigenous homes as the government continues with air strikes.”

The Satellite Sentinel Project (co-founded by actor George Clooney to provide satellite monitoring of abuses in Sudan) has gathered evidence that Antonov aircraft have indiscriminately bombed civilian populations in South Kordofan, although after a recent crash the government has said it will no longer use the planes.

Aerial bombardment in the Nuba Mountains, for example, killed the five members of the Asaja Dalami Kuku family who belonged to the Episcopal Church of Sudan on Feb. 25, the humanitarian worker said.

In Kadugli, capital of South Kordofan, at least four church buildings have been razed and more than 20 Christians killed, the worker said.

“The Islamic north sees Nuba Christians as infidels who need to be Islamized through jihad,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is this war is ethnic cleansing – a religious as well as political war, indeed a complex situation.”

Another humanitarian worker said four church buildings were destroyed between June 2011 and March 2012 in the region; the congregations were affiliated with Episcopal Church of Sudan, the Roman Catholic Church, the Sudanese Church of Christ and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

On June 7 of last year, state-sponsored militia destroyed the office of the Sudan Council of Churches at Kadugli along with its vehicle, sources also told Compass Direct News.

On Feb. 26, three church leaders visited the devastated areas of Kadugli, led by Bishop Daniel Deng of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, and then presented grievances to the government. They were surprised that the government denied the attack on the church buildings.

“A government official said [southern and other] militia groups were the ones destroying the churches, and not the government,” one aid worker said.

Fighting in South Kordofan, a major battleground during Sudan’s 1983-2005 civil war, broke out again in June 2011 as Khartoum moved to assert its authority against gunmen formerly allied to the now-independent South Sudan. The conflict between Bashir’s forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) spread from South Kordofan to Sudan’s Blue Nile state last September.

The United Nations estimates the conflict has displaced 400,000 people, with 300,000 in danger of starving within a month. Additionally, the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are 185,000 refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile in South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Sudan’s Interim National Constitution regards sharia (Islamic law) as a source of legislation, and the laws and policies of the government favor Islam, according to the U.S. Department of State. On several occasions in the past year, Bashir has stated that Sudan’s constitution will become more firmly entrenched in sharia.

When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, the people of South Kordofan were to decide whether to join Sudan in the north or South Sudan, but the state governor, wanted for war crimes himself, suspended the process, and Khartoum instead decided to disarm the SPLM-N by force.

“The church and enfeebled women and children have become victims of this fight,” one humanitarian worker said. “We as the church have a moral and spiritual obligation to stand with our brothers and sisters who are suffering in the Nuba Mountains.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Simba Tian writes for Compass Direct News. Based in Santa Ana, Calif., Compass focuses on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Used by permission.)
3/22/2012 3:37:33 PM by Simba Tian/Compass Direct News | with 0 comments



Q&A: Researcher Kara Powell on why teens leave the faith

March 22 2012 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A 2007 LifeWay Research study found that 70 percent of young adults who attended church in high school subsequently stopped attending church for at least a year during their college years.

Perhaps just as alarming, only 20 percent of those who left the church had planned on doing so while in high school. For most, the decision was not considered far in advance.
 
LifeWay’s data is not unique. Surveys by Barna and Gallup have found similar dropout rates, leaving youth and teens experts wondering: What can be done?

A new longitudinal study of 500 youth group graduates may provide some answers. Conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary, the study followed the graduates through their years in college or vocational school. The results are compiled in a book, “Sticky Faith: Everyday ideas to build lasting faith in your kids” (Zondervan).
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Some of the suggestions aren’t surprising (for instance, the level of church involvement by parents plays a key role in a teen maintaining their faith walk). Other suggestions, though, may surprise Christian leaders.

Baptist Press (BP) asked Sticky Faith co-author Kara E. Powell – executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute – about the research. Following is a transcript:

BP: What do you mean by “sticky faith”?

POWELL: Sticky faith, in our context, is faith that lasts beyond high school – a vibrant relationship with God as well as with the faith community.

BP: Your book includes multiple reasons why teens leave the church when they move out or go off to college. What would you say are the top two or three?

POWELL: Our research didn’t rank reasons, so it’s challenging for me to choose the top two or three from a research perspective. Having said that, as we’ve shared our research with students and gotten their feedback, the top two or three are, No. 1, their view of the gospel is a very truncated view of the gospel. It’s very similar to what Dallas Willard calls the gospel of sin management, where the gospel has been distilled to a list of do’s and don’ts. Part of what we need to do is reframe the gospel as God’s transforming us from the inside out. No. 2, as youth ministries become more professionalized – which is a step I applaud on many levels – it has become separated from the rest of the church. And so the typical youth group graduate leaves high school and they know their youth leader but they don’t know the overall church, they don’t know adults in that church. We’ve done ourselves a disservice by having youth ministries so silo-ized from the rest of the congregation. We need to create more inter-generational worship and relationships. And No. 3, their families are not vibrant hubs of faith. A lot of parents these days are what we call dry cleaner parents – parents who think they can bring their kids all dirty to church Sunday morning, and then pick them up 75 minutes later all clean. A lot of parents are thinking they can outsource the spiritual formation of their kids to the church. And the reality is, the best combination is a family and church working in partnership for the long-term benefit of the faith of the child.

BP: You say that teens who feel the freedom to express doubts about their faith tend to keep their faith. How can parents and churches help facilitate that?
 
POWELL: Some of the parents and leaders who are most effective at engaging students in discussion about doubts share their own doubts – they don’t understand why God would allow this natural disaster or why God would allow a divorce in the family next door. As parents and leaders share their own big questions about God, that tends to create a climate where that’s more OK. I think the other thing that comes to mind is for parents and leaders to be OK not having a definitive answer [to every question], because we can’t understand everything about God. God is beyond our intellect and our ways. It’s good for a parent or leader to say, “That’s a good question and I don’t know. Here’s what I do know about God.”

BP: Would you say, though, that there are questions that do have legitimate answers, and teens just don’t feel comfortable asking them?

POWELL: Sure. Absolutely. There are some questions that we can, using scripture and reason and the help of good apologists, we certainly can have well-reasoned answers for students.

BP: In one chapter of the book you say that it benefits a teen’s faith to have adult mentors other than their parents. How does that help?

POWELL: As powerful as a parent is, there are just some life truths that a young person is going to absorb or hear better from somebody else other than their parent. The ideal is to form a constellation of caring adults around a kid, with other small group members, neighbors, church members, coaches, boy and girl scout leaders, teachers, etc., who are all caring for kids and praying for them and showing an interest in their life. In the book we tell a story that I love about Tony Dungy. He was trying to encourage his son, who was a high school student playing football, to have a bigger breakfast. Dungy told his son this week after week, and his son kept saying, “No, Dad, I’m OK.” Well, finally the son starts eating breakfast, and he’s making himself some toast and some eggs. Tony said, “I see you’re making a bigger breakfast.” And his son says, “Yeah, my coach at the high school said that I should.” Here this son is living with an amazing NFL coach, but it’s the high school coach down the street that he listens to about breakfast. God has designed us to live in community, and God has designed our families to live in community. So ideally we have multiple voices reinforcing the messages to our students.

BP: How do parents have a role in choosing these mentors?

POWELL: I think it depends on the age of your child. For younger children, you can be pretty strategic in whom you invite over to dinner or whom you invite to your kid’s soccer game, etc. As kids get older, I think they need to be more involved in this process. Parents of teenagers can ask their kids, “What adults do you look up to? Whom would you want to spend time with? What adults do you like?” The kids answer those questions, and the parents have a mental list of adults to try to connect with. This is not something we need to keep secret from our kids. My kids are 11, 9 and 5, and I asked them, “Who were the adults you feel like you could go to for support?” Our kids had a great time listing off the friends and the neighbors and the family members and the church members.

BP: How can churches that are located near churches help facilitate the transition from high school to college and help teens stay in their faith?

POWELL: I think it’s really simple things. If you see a college student who shows up at your church, introduce yourself to them. Find out if there’s anything they need help with in their community – do they have a way to do laundry? Have they found the right grocery store? Do they have a way to come back to church? – because a lot of students don’t have a car. An adult could offer to be a vocational mentor. If a college student walks into your church and you find out that she’s studying to be an engineer, how wonderful would it be if you could pair her or introduce her to another adult in the church who is an engineer, and talk about how faith informs the engineering work they do? Vocation is a real avenue for connecting college students with specific adults.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)
3/22/2012 3:27:50 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Southeastern Seminary to host marriage amendment forum

March 21 2012 by SEBTS

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest will host the Marriage Amendment Forum March 28 beginning at 10 a.m. in Binkley Chapel.

The forum will address whether it is biblical and proper for Christians to seek to amend a state constitution in order to protect the institution of marriage. The forum will also highlight arguments in favor of "traditional" marriage as well as consider and rebut the most common arguments given in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The main speaker will focus on the appropriateness of Christian involvement in the political sphere, and the panel will look more closely at the arguments for and against the marriage amendment.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be the speaker. Panelists include: Mark Harris, president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte; Paul "Skip" Stam, majority leader of the N.C. House of Representatives; Kenyn Cureton, vice president for church ministries at The Family Research Council; Jim Jacumin, former N.C. senator; Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of North Carolina Values Coalition; Tim Wilkins, executive director of Cross Ministries; and Daniel Heimback, senior professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern.

Contact Kenneth Bonnett, director of communications, at (919) 761-2273 or kbonnett@sebts.edu.
3/21/2012 3:35:28 PM by SEBTS | with 0 comments



Is the CBF poised for a shift on homosexuality?

March 21 2012 by Andrew Walker, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – An upcoming conference and hiring policy point to a potential paradigm shift on homosexuality for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The conference is already making waves as the event draws near.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is co-sponsoring what is being called “A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant” April 19-21 at the historic First Baptist Church Decatur, Ga. CBF is an association of Baptist churches organized nearly 20 years ago in protest of the Southern Baptist Convention’s return to orthodox theology.
 
David Gushee, a noted ethicist at Mercer University, is one of the conference’s chief organizers. Gushee stated that the changing face of sexual identity and practice across the American landscape is requiring the church to address its long-held positions on sexual relationships.

Said Gushee, in an Associated Baptist Press story, “We are trying to say that we believe many Baptists, Christians and churches have been avoiding a serious conversation about sexuality and what norms ought to govern the Christian expression of sexuality in our contemporary context. ... We are trying to say that Baptist Christians need a context for ‘faithful listening’ in a quest to hear what God would say to us today about how disciples of Jesus Christ live in responsible sexuality.”

Co-sponsored by the Mercer Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, the conference is being billed, according to Gushee, with five purposes:

– “responding to a pressing need in Baptist churches for resourcing churches and their leaders.”

– “providing information, narratives, resources and a model for dialogue in churches.”

– addressing “how the biblical moral norm of covenant fidelity applies in our confused and confusing contemporary context.”

– exploring “the most significant issues in contemporary sexual ethics, including but not limited to homosexuality.”

– “discovering whether the Baptist family (or any contemporary Christian group) is capable of respectful and meaningful engagement of diverse people and perspectives in a discussion of sexuality.”

Conference lectures and discussions include: “While We Were Avoiding the Subject: What’s Going on in the World (and the Church)?”; “Faithful Listening in Challenging Times: How Do We Discern God’s Voice?”; “Ancient & Contemporary Voices: What Do Christians Think God Thinks About Sex?”; “Covenant 101: What Are the Ties that Bind?”; “Covenant 201: What Are the Boundaries of Covenant?”; “From Fear to Joy: How Might Congregations Lead the Way?”; and “Celebrating God’s Gifts: Seeking and Acknowledging Christ in One Another.”

According to an article in Associated Baptist Press (ABP), the need for the conference grew out of a 2010 CBF General Assembly breakout session on same-sex orientation. The high-volume attention of the workshop indicated to leaders that a broader discussion was needed.

Jennifer Knapp, a popular Christian music artist who made headlines in 2010 when she admitted to being a lesbian, is scheduled to perform at the conference.

Gushee insists that the conference is not about politics or policymaking.

The conference is not without its critics. Luke Smith, a pastor whose church partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, critiqued the conference as “misguided” in a recent ABP column.

Smith sees the conference as a veiled attempt to invite sexual immorality into official church policy by “merely expanding licit sexual intercourse beyond marriage. My concern is that this is a perversion of the scriptural witness to sexual intimacy.”

Smith continued, “Rather than modeling dialogue on important issues of the day, I fear we as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are modeling how to allow a few loud and persistent voices to derail cooperative alliances. ... So long as individuals are allowed to set the parameters of such discussions framed principally from their own assumptions not born out of the local covenanted communities of which they are members, then inevitably the dialogue will be disconnected from the local church.”

The conference comes in the midst of a debate on whether the CBF should reconsider its ban on hiring homosexuals. CBF Moderator Colleen Burroughs has questioned the CBF’s policy on refusing to hire gays and lesbians, which the CBF adopted in 2000.

Outgoing CBF executive director Daniel Vestal is on record defending the CBF’s 12 year-old hiring policy. Vestal told the Associated Baptist Press, “Except for a small handful of Baptist churches, the vast majority of churches that partner within CBF will not call/hire/ordain a practicing gay/lesbian Christian as pastor or ministering staff member.”

“My own conviction is that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness,” Vestal was quoted as saying. “However, there are those in CBF who have a different conviction, and I respect and love them as I hope they do me. I also believe it is possible for Baptists who have convictional differences to cooperate together in missions and ministry, as we honor the freedom of one another’s conscience.”

David Hardage, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), also has come out in support of maintaining the current policy on the hiring of homosexuals. He told the Baptist Standard that “Texas Baptists are opposed to homosexual behavior, and they love all people.” Hardage reaffirmed his support of a 1996 BGCT report which states that the Bible teaches “the ideal for sexual behavior is the marital union between husband and wife and that all other sexual relations – whether premarital, extramarital or homosexual – are contrary to God’s purpose and thus sinful.”

Tony Cartledge, a writer for BaptistsToday.org and the former editor of the Biblical Recorder newspaper in North Carolina, insists that the issue of removing the CBF hiring policy is long overdue. “The ban on hiring gays needs to be eliminated. Period. Of course, it’s not as if CBF has that many employees, and more have been laid off than hired lately, but it’s the principle of the thing,” Cartledge wrote.

The debate displays the generational divide amongst moderate Baptists, Cartledge wrote.

According to Cartledge, “Younger CBFer’s, who are typically much more accepting of persons with a same-gender orientation, have long cried for an open conversation on the subject. That led to a single, very tentatively approached breakout session in 2010, and to the upcoming conference, but it is not an issue that will go away. We have to talk, but we need to do more than talk.”

With positions emerging from both sides, some predict a theological fault line to emerge that will further divide.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., recently commented that the CBF’s willingness to “have a conversation” about its ban on hiring homosexuals is a strong predictor of the fellowship’s direction.

“The issue of homosexuality is not going to trouble, at least in a divisive way, those who have a clear and very principled stand on the subject,” Mohler said in his The Briefing podcast. “But if you try to stand in some kind of middle, some kind of artificial neutrality in which you have a policy that isn’t so clearly established upon biblical authority, well you’re going to find that it is a target of continual renegotiation and calls for change.”

The conference in April “is likely just to be a start, the public start, of a very divisive conversation,” Mohler said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew Walker writes for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, where a version of this story first appeared.)
3/21/2012 3:24:10 PM by Andrew Walker, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Fleeing Syrian refugees meet with God’s love

March 21 2012 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

ATHENS – Ongoing violence in Syria is driving refugees across borders into neighboring countries, where many of them are being met by Southern Baptists’ ministry partners with badly needed help and the love of Jesus.
 
Thousands of Syrians have poured across the country’s borders into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, most of them families with small children, carrying few possessions, according to news reports. The United Nations recently put the death toll for a year of violence in Syria at more than 8,000.

Abraham Shepherd, who with his wife, Grace, directs work in the Middle East for Baptist Global Response (BGR), is planning an assessment trip to determine how best to help refugees as the crisis intensifies.

“Our BGR trained partners and project directors say the need is increasing,” Shepherd said. “I’m planning a trip to the crisis zone to assess and plan the next phase of assistance and response as the crisis darkens and the plight of the people worsens.”

More than $165,000 has been disbursed from Southern Baptists’ World Hunger Fund to assist partners in Lebanon and Syria in meeting refugee needs, Shepherd said. Already, hunger and relief funds have helped more than 12,000 people in at least 49 communities, providing food and hygiene supplies as well as temporary shelter, bedding, heaters and some medicine.

The steady stream of displaced Syrians has spurred BGR and its partners to action throughout the Middle East, working on all Syrian border fronts to care for the fleeing refugees, Shepherd said.
03-21-12syria-(1).jpg

Thousands of Syrian refugees have poured across the country’s borders into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, most of them families with small children, carrying few possessions. Many of them are being met by Southern Baptists’ ministry partners with badly needed help and the love of Jesus.


“The crisis throughout the Middle East has been labeled by mainstream media as ‘the Arab Spring,’ but to the average Arab in the Middle East, it’s anything but spring,” Shepherd said. “What they are experiencing is more devastation, disillusionment, fear and scarce basic necessities of life.

“That is even more true of the minorities among them, like the Christian minority of the Middle East,” he noted.

Southern Baptist aid not only is helping the fleeing Syrians, but also Christians in neighboring countries by empowering them to be a blessing to their local communities – “showing true Christianity in word and in deed,” Shepherd added.

“We are deeply grateful for the generosity Southern Baptists show when they give to hunger and relief needs,” Shepherd said. “Your giving and your generosity, along with our trained responders, enable us to show God’s love to the suffering Syrian people in their time of need.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.)
3/21/2012 3:10:57 PM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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