March 2014

Media attention puts spotlight on guns, Jesus

March 19 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

An evangelism strategy that involves giving away guns to attract unchurched men to wild game dinners has drawn criticism from gun control advocates in an array of national media outlets this month, including TIME, USA Today, MSNBC, Fox News and the Huffington Post.
 
But Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders say God is using KBC’s controversial ministry effort and the flurry of media attention to increase attendance and salvation decisions at the events. Sixty-eight people professed faith in Christ at a wild game dinner last weekend, and nearly 500 attendees have done so in Kentucky churches since Jan. 1.
 
“The recent reports regarding the giving away of guns at wild game dinners have, by and large, missed the essence of the story,” KBC Evangelism and Church Planting Team Leader Chuck McAlister told Baptist Press in written comments.
 
“There is a basic misunderstanding of evangelism and what compels us to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.... The offense that many have regarding the guns themselves also causes the greater story to be ignored.”
 
The wild game dinners, which some churches refer to as “Second Amendment Celebrations,” feature a free meal and a message from McAlister about the outdoors, hunting and how to know the God who created nature through His Son Jesus.
 
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BP photo
Chuck McAlister uses a shotgun as a prop while speaking to about 700 people at Buck Creek Baptist Church near Calhoun, Ky.

The number of unchurched men in attendance is directly proportional to the number of firearms given away, said McAlister, former host of the Outdoor Channel’sAdventure Bound Outdoors.”
 
The Second Amendment Celebrations are part of the KBC’s larger “affinity evangelism” strategy, a method of sharing Jesus by bringing people together based on common needs or interests – including hunting, quilting, archery and dozens of other possibilities.
 
Local businesses and individuals donate guns to be given away during the events as door prizes. Gun winners are photographed with their prizes but can only claim them at local gun dealers after passing background checks.
 
McAlister told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he does not “advocate violence” and that the guns are intended “for hunting and protection only.” But that hasn’t silenced critics.
 
“Most churches would be appalled. It is an appalling form of outreach of evangelicalism that is an offense to the gospel of Jesus,” Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., told MSNBC. She said “Jesus would puke” in response to Kentucky laws that allow clergy and laypeople to carry concealed weapons on church property.
 
Joe Phelps, pastor of Louisville’s Highland Baptist Church, which separated from the KBC in 2012 after the congregation ordained an open homosexual, told the Courier-Journal that it is inconsistent to give away guns at an event where people hear a message about Jesus, who said, “Put away the sword.” Phelps went on to take issue with all “giveaways for God.”
 
“Can you picture Jesus giving away guns, or toasters or raffle tickets?” Phelps said. “.... He gave away bread once, but that was as a sign, not a sales pitch.”
 
McAlister has participated in outreach events featuring gun giveaways for more than 20 years, he said, but “only recently have these events been called into question.”
 
“This is largely due to the explosion of violence that we are seeing in our nation, particularly on our school campuses,” McAlister said. “Many in our culture would point to guns and access to guns as the culprit in this escalating violence. They have chosen to view guns as something evil. Anyone who dares associate with a gun is therefore doing something terribly wrong in their minds. However, the people to whom we target our gospel message do not share this mindset. They see guns as a part of their everyday life.”
 
Giving gifts to draw people to Jesus follows the example of God Himself, who gives creation, conscience and the cross in attempt to woo sinners, McAlister said.
 
“I believe the giving away of guns draws the men to hear [the gospel] message,” McAlister said. “If giving away toasters would accomplish the same purpose, I would be glad to give them away. It would be much less controversial. The giving way of guns helps us be incarnational with our audience and to present the message that God became incarnate to share with us.”
 
KBC executive director Paul Chitwood told Baptist Press that neither giveaways nor guns are new to Kentucky Baptists.
 
“While gun control advocates may bristle at the approach, personally, I find nothing about these events to be sinful,” Chitwood said. “To the contrary, at events like these in Kentucky and beyond, Southern Baptists are seeing thousands of people won to Christ each year.”
 
Southern Baptists have long practiced “attractional evangelism” said Chitwood, “from the Power Team to ‘Judgment Houses’ to Upward Basketball and Easter egg hunts.”
 
Although the KBC did not attempt to incite the recent blitz of media coverage surrounding Second Amendment Celebrations, the convention welcomes the opportunity for evangelism.
 
“During this brief time in the media spotlight, I have seen Chuck McAlister have opportunities to share the gospel with more reporters and talk show hosts than we would have ever imagined,” Chitwood said. “While we have not sought this attention, we are praying that God will find us good stewards of it.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky.)
3/19/2014 12:03:02 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Link between speaking, spiritual gifts explored

March 19 2014 by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press

An idea that began with a simple joke set Rhonda Harrington Kelley on a journey to explore the connection between verbal communication and spiritual gifts.
 
About 10 years ago, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary president Chuck Kelley introduced his wife Rhonda at an event. He quipped to the crowd that she had three spiritual gifts not listed in the Bible: sleeping, shopping and talking. The joke was well-received by the crowd, and Rhonda Kelley found herself drawn to the relationship between talking and many of the spiritual gifts addressed in scripture.
 
This interest eventually culminated into a new book, Talking is a Gift: Communication Skills for Women. The book, co-written by Monica Rose Brennan, serves as a communication tool for women seeking to minister to other women. B&H Academics released the book Feb. 1.
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After that humorous introduction, Kelly later began reading 1 Peter 4. She focused on the words “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.” They helped compel her study of the link between verbal communication and many of the spiritual gifts.
 
“So many of the spiritual gifts like teaching, administration, exhortation and mercy must use words to minister to others,” Kelley said. “That resonated in my heart and mind. Talking is a gift. It is a gift that God gives us to minister to others.”
 
Based on her teaching experience in the women’s ministry program at the seminary, Kelley had found that a textbook for women’s public speaking courses was needed at seminaries and Christian colleges. For years most of the public speaking textbooks specifically targeting women have been written from a secular perspective. Most of the “speaking” books from a Christian perspective targeted men and focused on preaching, she said.
 
“One of the reasons I felt it was so important to have a public speaking book written by a woman for women is because men and women are different and we communicate differently,” Kelley said.
 
When B&H Academic published its first academic book for women’s ministry in 2008 – Women Leading Women by Jaye Martin and Terri Stovall – Kelley wrote a proposal for Talking is a Gift and ultimately secured a publishing deal. Talking is a Gift is the second women-focused publication by B&H Academic.
 
As Kelley fleshed out the details of the book, she began to think about the advantages a co-author could bring to the project. She immediately thought of Brennan, who teaches women’s ministry at Liberty University. Kelley knew that Brennan would bring a unique perspective to the project. Not only is she from a younger generation, she also teaches on the collegiate level.
 
Kelley and Brennan help provide a general foundation for communication and discuss the gender dynamics of communication. B&H Academics supplemented the book with QR codes and links to online bonus material. The web-based material gives readers access to videos of Kelley and Brennan explaining key communication issues related to women.
 
“The book has some technical information, because it is an academic textbook,” Kelley said. “But our desire is that it would also be helpful to lay leaders. Many women in the church are having opportunities to teach and speak in different ways.”
 
Women’s ministry classes at The Baptist College of Florida, the University of Mobile, Ouachita Baptist University and Liberty University have begun using the book this semester. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will begin using the book during March workshops.
 
Talking is a Gift is available for purchase through LifeWay Christian Stores and Amazon in hardback and electronic form. For more information, visit www.talkingisagift.com or “like” the “Talking is a Gift” page on Facebook.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)
3/19/2014 11:54:32 AM by Gary D. Myers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Family’s faith grows while launching church in Vancouver

March 18 2014 by Keith Collier, Baptist Press

Billed as North America’s most diversity-dense city, Vancouver, British Columbia, boasts 200 language groups among its population of 2.3 million. Naturally, this Canadian region, which includes nearby Vancouver Island, has become a strategic city for the North American Mission Board’s Send North America church planting initiative.
 
In the shadow of this towering urban melting pot, across the Strait of Georgia, sits the picturesque seaside town of Sidney, a year-round tourist destination known for its fishing and natural scenery.
 
“Most people here are enamored by the natural beauty of creation but reject the Creator. We are working hard to help people connect the Creator with His creation,” says North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter Matthew Bond.
 
Less than 2 percent of Vancouver Island claimed Christianity on a 2011 census, and 40 percent claimed “no religion.”
 
Bond and his wife Heather and their two teenage sons Ethan and Joseph landed in Sidney in 2012 to plant Ekklesia Church. In less than a year, they established a thriving congregation and have branched out to planting additional churches across the island, which claims a population of 770,000.
 
“We have wonderful conversations beginning with God,” Bond, an alumnus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, says, “but when the conversation turns to Jesus the people become defensive and turn away. We are definitely not in the Bible Belt anymore!
 
“Another challenge is the beauty of the island and the lifestyle of islanders. It’s hard to convince people that they need God when life seems so good.”
 
The Bonds’ church planting journey began in their home state of Tennessee, where Bond taught at a local junior high school as well as in a Sunday school class at their church.
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SWBTS photo by Matt Miller
Matthew Bond and his `wife Heather and their two teenage sons Ethan and Joseph landed in Sidney in 2012 to plant Ekklesia Church.

 
“As I grew spiritually,” Bond says, “a friend challenged me to open my Christian worldview to actually include the world. This process led my wife and [me] to sell everything and move our family to Fort Worth, Texas, to attend Southwestern.”
 
Soon after, a professor informed Bond of a seminary evangelism course that would take place in Vancouver, so he signed up.
 
“When I returned from Vancouver,” Bond recalls, “I could not stop thinking and talking about Vancouver and the trip.”
 
As he and Heather talked and prayed about God’s leading, they decided to take a family trip to explore the region and discuss opportunities with other church planters.
 
As time passed, the Bonds were convinced God was calling them to Vancouver.
 
“One important point about our church planting adventure is that our whole family is called to this wonderful adventure with God. This is our family mission calling, not just mine,” Bond says.
 
“My prayer was for God to call us as a family and for each of us to find a special place within God’s plan to serve. God affirmed this when Ethan, my 15-year-old, came home and announced he had signed me up to coach volleyball and soccer at his new school. He understands the value of building relationships through building community with others.
 
“Another great example is when Joseph, my 13-year-old son, shared the gospel with a kid at school after the kid told Joseph he was going to hell. … These are the moments plus many others that God affirms our calling, and these are the stories we hold on to when we face spiritual warfare and discouragement. We are here for God’s glory and not our own.”
 
From the beginning, Bond says they saw God’s hand in planting Ekklesia Church.
 
“We planted Ekklesia in a very unique way that brought with it different rewards and challenges,” Bond says.
 
A group of about 40 Christians, who had been displaced from a church that closed its doors, contacted a NAMB representative for help in planting a new church. Bond accepted the challenge from NAMB and began planting Ekklesia. It was a challenge they took on “without following any of the church planting models found in the textbooks,” Bond says.
 
“We began meeting with this group of 40, teaching them about church planting, the vision God gave me, the Baptist Faith and Message, and our views on doctrine, evangelism, and missions,” Bond says. “We spent three and a half months meeting, teaching, worshipping and fellowshipping.
 
“During this time, we lost some of that original 40, and we gathered new people. In December 2012, we held a commitment service when 37 people chose to commit to being a part of Ekklesia and spreading the gospel in Sidney.”
 
Since then, Ekklesia has grown to a regular attendance of 50-60 people. They added children’s Sunday school and an active youth group with about 10 teenagers. They also have six home Bible study groups.
 
Recently, sparks of revival and awakening have caught fire, Bond says. The congregation has seen three people place their faith in Christ along with “seeing a spiritual awakening among many senior adult Christians in the church, many that are praying aloud and sharing their faith with others for the first time.”
 
As part of their church planting strategy, Bond challenges church members to give themselves away, noting that they want “to send people out to plant new works where the gospel is not being proclaimed. We are currently working diligently toward creating a strong core church in order to celebrate the sending of people to reach people with the gospel in communities where truth is not proclaimed.”
 
The church has started a home discipleship group in a community 20 minutes South of Sidney, where church members who live in the area are building relationships and studying the Bible with non-Christians.
 
“We are praying that that God will take this group and build our first daughter church in Brentwood Bay,” Bond says, adding, “… and then keep moving down the peninsula, planting new groups in communities until we work all the way down and then all the way up the island.”
 
Bond points to his training at Southwestern as a “launching pad” for their ministry in Canada.
 
“God used the move from Tennessee to Texas as a point of separation of everything we knew in order to prepare us for a much bigger step to Vancouver Island,” Bond says.
 
“I consider my seminary training as an invaluable tool to my ministry of planting churches and reaching the lost with the gospel. It provided a biblical foundation, sound doctrinal training, and crucial lessons of faith for myself and our family.”
 
Heather, likewise, sees the impact of their time at Southwestern. While Matthew was taking classes, Heather served in the seminary’s institutional advancement office.
 
“Working with, and being mentored by, women such as Mrs. Patterson, Dr. Stovall, and Karen Collett taught me the ministry of hospitality, service, and of grace,” Heather says.
 
“They taught me how to be a better wife and helpmate for my husband and how to manage the busyness of marriage, children, home and ministry. They taught me how to use my home as a safe haven for my family and a place of ministry for our church.”
 
As their family continues to serve in Vancouver, they remain anchored in the God who called them to this geographically beautiful but spiritually dark region.
 
“I love church planting because there are no safety nets to catch us,” Matthew says.
 
“Our dependence, faith, and trust in God has grown exponentially ….”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
3/18/2014 12:01:54 PM by Keith Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Inerrancy debate never goes away, Mohler says

March 18 2014 by RuthAnne Irvin & Matt Damico

Inerrancy is never a settled issue. The debate will never go away, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
“It comes part-and-parcel with the modern world. Modernity itself presents a set of issues that are going to have to be answered one way or another,” Mohler said. “Thus, we’ll land either in the affirmation of inerrancy or in some other place. I think inerrancy continues to be a defining issue for what evangelical integrity requires.”
 
Mohler, as a contributor to a new book, Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, defines and defends the doctrine of inerrancy as articulated in the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI).
 
The Chicago Statement is the preeminent evangelical explanation and affirmation of the doctrine of inerrancy of the scriptures. Nearly 300 evangelical scholars, including Carl F. H. Henry, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, James Montgomery Boice and others signed the statement in 1978.
 
In his contribution to Five Views, Mohler asserts inerrancy means “the Bible, as a whole, and in its part, contains nothing but God-breathed truth,” Mohler said in an interview about the book. “When the Bible speaks, God speaks.”
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Published by Zondervan, the book addresses the question of the “doctrinal rationale ... and scriptural warrant” of the term “inerrancy” as a way to define the Bible’s truthfulness.
 
The book features five writers, each articulating different views: Mohler, Peter Enns, Michael F. Bird, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and John R. Franke. The assignment for each contributor was to discuss inerrancy – along with corollary topics like the doctrine of inspiration and the nature of truth – in direct reference to the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. After each chapter, the four other contributors offer a brief response.
 
Enns writes that the CSBI obstructs “critical dialogue” within evangelicalism and, instead, advocates for an “incarnational model of Scripture” that views Scripture as “a collection of a variety of writings that ... reflects the worlds in which those writings were produced.”
 
Bird expresses appreciation of the CSBI but has significant hesitations regarding its so-called “hermeneutical assumptions,” and the lack of global representation among its framers. Bird, then, argues for a more international view of scripture that affirms its infallibility and is less exclusive than inerrancy.
 
Franke, who thinks inerrancy is an unhelpful way to articulate “the core idea of the authority of scripture as a witness to the mission of God,” posits a “fallibilist perspective” on inerrancy that is “wed to the plurality of truth.”
 
In his defense of classic inerrancy, Mohler asserts that the Bible is God-breathed truth. His argument for the total inerrancy of scripture “flows from three major sources – the Bible itself, the tradition of the church and the function of the Bible within the church.” Mohler argues not only for the validity of inerrancy – particularly as the Chicago Statement articulates it – but that “the affirmation of the Bible’s inerrancy has never been more essential to evangelicalism.”
 
In the interview, Mohler discussed the differences specifically between his and Vanhoozer’s views about inerrancy. Vanhoozer, a research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, differs from Mohler on the Chicago statement, but only in hard-to-define ways, Mohler said.
 
“It seems to me that Professor Vanhoozer wants to critique the Chicago Statement for failing to say some things that, upon reflection and reading, the Chicago Statement actually said,” Mohler said. “Perhaps they could have been said more clearly. Perhaps they need to be said more loudly. But virtually all the qualifications he demands of the Chicago Statement are actually in the Chicago Statement.”
 
Vanhoozer argues for a “well-versed” or “Augustinian” inerrancy that recognizes that scripture is “comprised of language and literature” and asks of the text, “What is the author doing in his discourse, and what is the discourse about?” While he has some reservations about the Chicago Statement, Vanhoozer claims that, “while the term ‘inerrant’ or the concept of inerrancy may be new, the underlying judgment is not.”
 
Because the debate about inerrancy will never go away, this discussion “makes all the difference in the world” for pastors and their preaching ministry, Mohler said. A pastor’s conviction about biblical inerrancy will inevitably spill over into the pulpit.
 
“The question is not whether the preacher has something to say but whether God is going to say something through the preacher and through His Word,” Mohler said. “And if the preacher has any question whatsoever about the truth status of the Word of God, it will inevitably shift to the preaching.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – RuthAnne Irvin & Matt Damico write for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The interview with Mohler is available online at www.sbts.edu/blogs/2014/03/05/inerrancy-a-modern-definition-of-an-historic-view. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy is available on Amazon.com and at the LifeWay Christian Store on the Southern Seminary campus.)
3/18/2014 11:53:09 AM by RuthAnne Irvin & Matt Damico | with 0 comments



Driscoll apologizes for missteps, quits social media

March 18 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has written a letter to his congregation to explain recent controversies, including the marketing campaign intended to place the book, Real Marriage, on The New York Times best-seller list.
 
Driscoll has been an influential pastor within Reformed evangelical circles for several years, helping to found a church planting network called Acts 29. His own Mars Hill Church attracts some 14,000 people at 15 locations in five states each Sunday.
 
In recent months, however, reports have emerged that Driscoll plagiarized some of the material in his books. And earlier this month, World Magazine reported that Driscoll hired a firm to buy copies of the book he penned with his wife, Grace, so that it would top the best-seller lists.
 
In a letter posted on Reddit on Saturday (March 15), Driscoll apologized for using the marketing strategy.
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Photo courtesy of Mars Hill Church via Wikimedia.
Mark Driscoll

 
“I am sorry that I used this strategy, and will never use it again,” he wrote. “I have also asked my publisher to not use the ‘#1 New York Times bestseller’ status in future publications, and am working to remove this from past publications as well.”
 
The church’s spokesman, Justin Dean, confirmed that a letter from Driscoll to Mars Hill Church was posted to the church’s internal network as “a private family communication.”
 
“At this time we have chosen not to publicly release the letter,” Dean said, adding that the pastor was not available for interviews.
 
Driscoll also apologized to his church in 2007 for lacking humility.
 
In the new letter, Driscoll said he would quit social media for the rest of 2014 to “reset” his life. ”The distractions it can cause for my family and our church family are not fruitful or helpful at this time,” he said.
 
Driscoll also wrote that “my angry-young-prophet days are over.”
 
“I understand that people who saw or experienced my sin during this season are hurt and in some cases have not yet come to a place of peace or resolution,” he wrote. “I have been burdened by this for the past year and have had private meetings one at a time to learn from, apologize to, and reconcile with people.”
 
He said that he will not do as many speaking engagements in the future. “I don’t see how I can be both a celebrity and a pastor, and so I am happy to give up the former so that I can focus on the latter,” he wrote.
 
Driscoll also apologized for how recent staff turnover has been handled.
 
“I am deeply grieved and even depressed by the pain we have caused,” he said. “Many have chosen to air their concerns online, and I apologize for any burden this may have brought on you, and I will do my best to clarify a few things without, I hope, being angry or defensive.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined Religion News Service as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)
3/18/2014 11:36:12 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Religious ‘nones’ may not be who you think they are

March 18 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

In recent surveys, the religious “nones” – as in, “none of the above” – appear to lead in the faith marketplace. In fact, “none” could soon be the dominant label U.S. adults pick when asked to describe their religious identity.
 
But they may not be who you think they are. Today, “nones” include many more unbranded believers than atheists, and an increasingly diverse racial and ethnic mix.
 
And, researchers say, this is already making nones’ attitudes and opinions less predictably liberal on social issues.
 
A February survey by the Public Religion Research Institute of Americans (PRRI) found:
  • 21 percent are “unaffiliated” (PRRI’s umbrella term for a diverse group including atheists, seculars and people who still say they believe in God).
  • 20 percent are Catholic.
  • 19 percent are white evangelical.
“Nones are dancing on the razor’s edge of leading,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.
 
Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center’s cumulative findings, based on 16,000 interviews in numerous 2013 surveys, found a slightly different split:
  • 22 percent Catholic
  • 20 percent nones (a mix of people who say they believe “nothing in particular,” unaffiliated believers and unbelievers)
  • 18 percent white evangelicals
However, both Jones and Greg Smith, director of U.S. religion surveys for Pew, caution this is really a statistical three-way tie for both research firms once the critical margin of error for each survey is considered.
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RNS photo by Tyrone Turner
Thousands of atheists and unbelievers, including Alberto Valdez from Del Rio, Texas, gathered on the National Mall for the Reason Rally.

 
Meanwhile, all the subcategories of Protestants – white and black evangelicals, plus the mainline faithful – still add up to a plurality (48 percent), although each has “distinctive social and political beliefs, attitudes and opinions,” said Smith.
 
“The nones are clearly growing as a share of the population. It’s a big, important, fundamental change in U.S. society, regardless of what’s causing it and whatever else is happening,” Smith said. “But does it necessarily mean that other religious groups are less healthy than they might have been? It may be that they are but there are other forces that are at play.”
 
Those forces include immigration rates and religious switching. About half of Americans switch their religion, leave one or find one at least once in their lifetime.
 
Today’s young adults are starting out more unaffiliated than any prior generation of 20-year-olds. So, even if some millennials do find a faith, Jones said, “they will still be the most unaffiliated generation in history.”
 
Jones identified another force in shifting religious demography: “There are fewer white evangelicals among millennials (ages 18 to 33) because younger Americans today are more racially and ethnically diverse.”
 
A PRRI survey found that second- and third-generation Hispanics are less likely to be Catholic than their parents or grandparents. Some move to evangelical, charismatic and politically conservative Protestant groups, but equal numbers are becoming simply unaffiliated, said Jones.
 
PRRI’s 2012 American Values Survey broke the nones into three groups.
 
Atheists and agnostics (36 percent) are “overwhelmingly white,” said Jones; only 12 percent are Hispanic or African-American. The second group, those who say they are “not religious” (39 percent), are 64 percent white and the remainder are racial or ethnic minorities.
 
However, there has been a surge in the third group, the “unattached believers,” who believe in God but reject a religious brand (23 percent), Jones said. That group is also significantly more likely to include minorities:  It’s 56 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African-American and 7 percent other.
 
“These are people who, by many traditional measures of belief in God and the Bible, look like people who are affiliated. But in the survey they say they are not attached to a formal religious tradition and do not even identify with a nondenominational Christian church,” said Jones.
 
These “unattached believers” likely contributed to a surprising finding in the recent PRRI survey on attitudes toward lesbians and gays. While every religious group moved toward more acceptance of gay marriage in the last decade, 26 percent of the unaffiliated said “gay marriage goes against their religious beliefs,” up from 18 percent in 2003.
 
Put another way, atheists, agnostics and secularists did not shift toward religion or opposition to gay marriage, but that third group now contains more “unattached believers” who bring with them their more traditional notions of sexuality, and they’re now standing under the same umbrella.
 
No matter what you call them –  “nones,” “unaffiliated” or “unattached” to “unbranded” – they may be perhaps unreachable for the church, said Ed Stetzer, president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
 
“Most people in the past identified as Christians even if they didn’t practice as Christians. Now that secularism is one of the biggest forces in our culture,” said Stetzer, “they don’t look to God, sacred texts or institutional religion as their prime frame of reference or authority for their values.”
 
That alarms Bishop Emery Lindsay, presiding bishop of the small black Protestant denomination Church of Christ (Holiness) U.S.A.
 
After decades in the pulpit, first in Chicago and for five years as pastor at Christ Temple in Los Angeles, Lindsay said he sees more young African-Americans drawn away from church life than ever before.
 
“I meet people all the time who say ‘I am spiritual, I believe in God, but I’m not connected or committed anywhere,’” said Lindsay.
 
Lindsay said “we don’t have any optimum answers” on retaining young people but his church has brought in a young minister to “build some bridges” to youth.
 
Will they stay? The PRRI survey found that a significant number of young adults say a negative attitude toward LGBT people was one of the factors that prompted them to leave church.
 
Lindsay acknowledges that his denomination definitely opposes gay marriage. However, he said, the day has passed when pastors preached that “if you were in that lifestyle, you were definitely going to hell.”
 
Instead of a “heavy message of condemnation,” said Lindsay, “today’s young people want us to affirm that these are people who struggle with a different sin, but we all have challenges with being a moral person.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)
3/18/2014 11:21:16 AM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Spring breakers find Jesus ‘by surprise’

March 17 2014 by Amy Jacobs, Baptist Press

The land of bright sunshine and snow-white sand can be a spiritual dark spot each and every spring break. Rowdy weeks of partying often bring with them a spirit of recklessness and outright rebellion into Panama City Beach, Fla.
 
While locals brace for the invasion and disruption they’ve come to expect with spring, quiet forces determined to share the hope of Jesus Christ make their way south. Retirees who serve with the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Team link arms with college students from churches and collegiate ministries across the country for BeachReach.
 
BeachReach is a mission trip experience in the heart of Panama City Beach. Servant evangelism takes the form of free van rides and free pancake breakfasts. College students provide simple acts of service that open the door to life-changing conversations about the hope and love of Jesus Christ.
 

Here’s how it happens:

Each evening a team of students takes their place in a call center, where they receive inbound calls from spring breakers who need rides. An entourage of white passenger vans, church vans and the occasional minivan are dispatched to the Panama City Beach strip where they offer free and safe van rides in hopes of sharing their faith.
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BP photo by Russ Rankin
BeachReach students point the way to free pancakes. 

 
Each morning, armed with pancake mix and truckloads of syrup, the Georgia team sets up a mobile kitchen in a nearby strip mall parking lot. Hungry spring breakers trickle in and are greeted with pancakes – pancakes that lead to conversations.
 
“BeachReach is often the experience that causes my students to share their faith for the first time,” Austin Wadlow, college pastor at First Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, said. “When they start a conversation, on the van or over pancakes, it opens a door in their walk with Christ. They go from not sharing their faith at all, to sharing it on the strip or in a bowling alley, to realizing they can do that anywhere. What they learn to do at BeachReach is so transferrable to what they should be doing on campus.”
 
Prior to joining LifeWay Christian Resources as the BeachReach event coordinator, Bill Noe spent twelve years in Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) on the University of Louisville campus and participated in BeachReach year after year.
 
“I brought students to BeachReach and did so every year because there was no other experience I’d offered my students that created that kind of change in them, one that lasted beyond the week and came back to the campus,” Noe said. “BeachReach really seeks to help believers develop a passion and heart for lost students. That doesn’t just stay in Panama City Beach; it transfers back to the local campus.”
 
If Panama City Beach is the schoolroom for learning to share faith, it’s a rough one. BeachReachers are stretched and challenged by what they see and hear and, as they learn to share their faith, they learn to extend grace to their peers.
 
“One of the things that overwhelms me about BeachReach every year is how it takes spring breakers by surprise,” Noe said. “They expect one thing from us and they get something that’s so much more genuine, loving and gracious than they expect. There is a temptation to be overwhelmed by the behavior and think we have to correct behavior. That’s not the heart of BeachReach. BeachReach is offering the hope of Jesus through service.”
 
LifeWay continues to offer BeachReach as a ministry opportunity each spring break.
 
“BeachReach is one of the most important ministries we do. We see both souls and lives saved each week,” Faith Whatley, LifeWay’s director of adult ministry, said. “As we mobilize college students to share their faith boldly, those van rides and conversations often save young women from dangerous and destructive evenings. The ministry our BeachReachers extend is life-saving.”
 
Last year, after two weeks of ministry, 11,186 van rides were given. Seventy-eight students accepted Christ. The 767 BeachReach participants served 9,473 plates of pancakes. At three pancakes per plate, that stacks up to 28,419 pancakes all prepared by the hands of the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Team.
 
“The Georgia team is made up of retired senior adults who know that Jesus loves these spring breakers, and at some level they may feel unequipped to reach them. But they’ve found this unique way to impact these students,” Noe said. “The pancake volunteers know the students are better equipped to have those conversations. They want to see that happen and they set them up to have those conversations over a hot plate of pancakes.”
 
It’s a collaboration of college students and an older generation who believe service and friendship will make a difference.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Amy Jacobs is marketing strategist for young adult ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources. This story originally ran in the Winter 2013/2014 issue of SBC Life. The next BeachReach 2014 takes place in Panama City Beach March 15-21. For more information about BeachReach visit www.lifeway.com.)
3/17/2014 11:08:18 AM by Amy Jacobs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CP ministry reports now available online

March 17 2014 by Baptist Press

In an effort to give more visibility to the work of SBC entities, the Cooperative Program 2014 Ministry Reports are now available to all Southern Baptists in an easily-accessible, online format, viewable at SBC.net.
 
The Executive Committee had previously made these reports available to Executive Committee members and state Baptist paper editors in a printed format. Now these reports are being made available to the general public online in a digital format.
 
“This new platform gives every Southern Baptist an opportunity to see firsthand the good work our SBC entities are doing,” Ashley Clayton, vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship, said. “It brings to life ministry reports that the Executive Committee was already compiling as part of its own ministry assignment.”
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The Executive Committee, under the leadership of Frank S. Page, has emphasized the importance of the Cooperative Program as the best way to fuel and support what God is doing at home and around the world through Southern Baptists.
 
“This change in format for annual ministry reports, providing public access with up-to-date reporting, is consistent with Dr. Page’s efforts over the past three-and-a-half years to elevate and champion all SBC missions and ministries,” Clayton said, “as well as to promote long-held SBC values of missions, church planting, evangelism, church strengthening and revitalization, theological education, collegiate ministry, disaster relief, and moral advocacy, along with many other important ministries provided by our state conventions.”
 
Rather than having to hunt through multiple sources to find information, Southern Baptists can find ministry updates in one convenient spot, Clayton said. Reports are available from the SBC entities which receive Cooperative Program funds: International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, six SBC theological seminaries, and Council of Seminary Presidents. GuideStone Financial Resources does not receive Cooperative Program dollars, but also submits annual reports.
 
The 2014 Ministry Reports are compilations of SBC entity responses to questions and other related reports, presented in separate categories. Each category can be viewed by clicking its respective tab in the online interface: President’s Letter, Ministry Inquiries, Ministry Goals and Accomplishments, and Financial Management. Each seminary report also includes a Seminary Formula and ATS Report. The online format allows for the addition of visual elements like graphics, videos and color.
 
In addition to the written component of the reports, entity presidents are given the opportunity to share their own heart for ministry through a President’s Letter video message. These President’s Letter videos “allow the stories of the great things God is doing through our entities to be told in a fresh way, and from a personal perspective,” Clayton said. “They allow Southern Baptists to get face-to-face with our leaders, see their passion, and put a face to a name.”
 
The flexibility of the online format also allows for additional up-to-date information to be added through a mid-year update section. This update will be available in July.
 
The current 2014 Ministry Reports are available at www.sbc.net/cp/ministryreports.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of SBC Life.)
3/17/2014 10:54:56 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Community Day’ set to spread nationwide

March 17 2014 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

Redland Baptist Church’s attempts to share the love of Jesus were threatened when its 2008 trip to Mexico fizzled because of travel risks.
 
Instead the Valdosta, Ga., church may have started a movement when they decided that year to host their first-ever Community Day.
 
Six years later, close to 100 South Georgia Baptist churches launched an effort to help seven church planters throughout North America host similar events.
 
“Community Day is everything a family needs,” Jay Watkins, pastor of Redland Baptist, said. “We give [food, medical care, etc.] to families with the love of Christ. It opens doors for us to tell them what Christ has done in us and through us, with people we wouldn’t normally come into contact with.”
 
Watkins said 25,000 people attended the last Community Day in Valdosta in April 2013. More than 60 Valdosta-area churches participated in the event sponsored by the Valdosta Baptist Association. More than 70,000 local residents have been served through the event, and 1,000 people have come to Christ since the first Community Day in 2008.
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NAMB photo by John Swain
Toronto church planter Daniel Yang (left) shares his testimony and ministry opportunities in Toronto near the end of the Jan. 28 Community Day Celebration and Banquet in Valdosta, Ga. NAMB South Region Mobilizer Neal Hughes (right) gave the evening’s keynote address, where he commended Valdosta Baptists for their “whatever it takes” spirit.

 
In January, Watkins and Valdosta Baptists hosted a banquet attended by about 100 South Georgia churches – and the seven church planters with whom they’ll be partnering. Church members were challenged to help take Community Day to church plants in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Memphis, Tenn.
 
Watkins began spearheading the campaign shortly after attending his first meeting as a North American Mission Board trustee. It was there he first learned the extent of North America’s lostness.
 
“I came back and called all my pastor buddies,” Watkins said. “I asked them, ‘How many lost people do you think are in the U.S.?’ A couple of them made some good guesses. I told them, ‘There are 239 million lost people in the United States. Add Canada in and there’s 259 million lost people in North America. We have to do something.’”
 
And they did. Leaning on their experience with Community Days in Valdosta and elsewhere, the South Georgia pastors decided to launch partnerships with church planters from each of NAMB’s five regions.
 
A different South Georgia sending church – along with multiple supporting churches – will take responsibility for each of the seven Community Day events. The first of the seven scheduled Community Day events is March 22 in Memphis.
 
The Georgia Baptist Convention is supporting the events by lending a tractor-trailer to make supply transportation easier and more cost-effective.
 
Community Day events will play a key role in helping church planters connect with their communities and share the Gospel in underserved areas of North America.
 
“Community is valued in Canada,” Toronto church planter Daniel Yang said. “Canada is a very inclusive country – Toronto especially. When you, as a church, say we want to do this ‘for you,’ without any anything or any expectations in return, it will be very well received. Canada is very inclusive of all kinds of people and if we can make Community Day along those lines, it’s going to be very successful.”
 
The events won’t be uniform in all seven locations. Los Angeles-area planter Zach Drake said his Santa Monica community is affluent and concerned about physical health. The initial plans have the South Georgian teams focusing on putting together a community “Olympics,” with a specific focus on youth. Drake also hopes the team might bring in health food rather than the typical fare.
 
“Partnering with Valdosta Baptists has been a tremendous encouragement to us,” said Drake, lead pastor of Santa Monica Church. “We’re a very small church in Santa Monica. We’re in a city without a lot of Christian support. Gaining support from Christians outside of the city – and even across the country from us – has been super, super encouraging to us.”
 
Valdosta Baptists hope this movement will motivate other Southern Baptist associations to try similar efforts throughout North America. Watkins has shared the story of Community Day in various gatherings throughout the United States.
 
Drew Boswell, pastor of children and families at First Baptist Church in Valdosta, said, “We hope other SBC associations and churches will seek to do it in their contexts well.”
 
“They can take the model we’re developing and say, ‘We can have a banquet, bring our churches together, we can identify our six cities ourselves so that it becomes a multiplication effect,” he said. “It’ll begin this big ripple effect. Our prayer is that revival will spark.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about Community Day, visit communityday.us.)
3/17/2014 10:38:34 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christians beheaded by extremists in Somalia

March 17 2014 by Baptist Press/Morning Star News

NAIROBI, Kenya – Islamic extremists from the rebel Al Shabaab militia last week publicly beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin in southeastern Somalia after discovering they were Christians, Morning Star News reported from sources inside the country.
 
In the port town of Barawa, the extremists March 4 called residents to the town center to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, the sources said.
 
Before killing them, an Al Shabaab militant announced, “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya. We want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area,” according to an area resident whose name is undisclosed for security reasons.
 
Omar’s daughters, ages 8 and 15, witnessed the slaughter, sources said, with the younger girl screaming and shouting for someone to save her mother. A friend helped the girls, whose names are withheld, to relocate to another area.
 
“We are afraid that the Al Shabaab might continue monitoring these two children and eventually kill them just like their mother,” the area resident told Morning Star News.
 
The militants from Al Shabaab – which has vowed to rid the country of the Christian fellowships, which meet secretly as leaving Islam in Somalia is punishable by death – became suspicious of Omar and Moge because of their irregular attendance at Friday mosque prayers, sources said.
 
“The two people who were killed ... did not take Friday prayers seriously, especially Omar, who claimed that she was praying in her house,” another area resident said.
 
One source noted of Al Shabaab, “They have some spy everywhere in Somalia.”
 
Somalis who have lived in Christian-majority Kenya are especially suspect. The sources told Morning Star News Omar lived in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh for seven years. Her husband became ill in 2011 and returned to Somalia, where he died. Omar and her cousin Moge, who helped take care of her daughters, left Kenya for Somalia in January 2013.
 
Barawa reportedly came under Al Shabaab control in 2009. In October 2013, a U.S. Navy SEAL team raided a beachside house in the town in an unsuccessful search for Al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.
 
In the capital city of Mogadishu last October, gunmen who said they intended to kill a Christian for spreading his faith shot him to death, according to an area resident. Two men armed with pistols on Oct. 20, 2013 shot Abdikhani Hassan seven times as he approached his home after closing his pharmacy. Hassan was survived by a wife who was pregnant and five children ranging in age from 3 to 12.
 
The Somali cell of Al Qaida, Al Shabaab was suspected of killing Fatuma Isak Elmi, 35, on Sept. 1, 2013 inside her home in Beledweyne, in south-central Somalia. Her husband had received a threatening note that morning believed to be from the Islamic extremist group and was away at the time of the murder.
 
Al Shabaab’s attack on the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 21, 2013 killed at least 67 people, with dozens still unaccounted for.
 
On April 13, 2013, Al Shabaab militants shot Fartun Omar to death in Buulodbarde, 12 miles from Beledweyne. Omar was the widow of Mursal Isse Siad, killed for his faith on Dec. 8, 2012 in Beledweyne, 206 miles north of Mogadishu. He had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam.
 
Siad and his wife, who converted to Christianity in 2000, had moved to Beledweyne from Doolow eight months before. The area was under government control and there was no indication that the killers belonged to the Al Shabaab rebels, but the Islamic extremist insurgents were present in Buulodbarde, and Christians believed a few Al Shabaab rebels could have been hiding in Beledweyne.
 
On June 7, 2013 in Jamaame District in southern Somalia, insurgents from the group shot 28-year-old Hassan Hurshe to death after identifying him as a Christian, sources said. Al Shabaab members brought Hurshe to a public place in the town of Jilib and shot him in the head, they said.
 
On Feb. 18, 2013, suspected Islamic extremists shot Ahmed Ali Jimale, a 42-year-old father of four, on the outskirts of the coastal city of Kismayo.
 
In Barawa on Nov. 16, 2012, Al Shabaab militants killed a Christian after accusing him of being a spy and leaving Islam, Christian and Muslim witnesses said. The extremists beheaded 25-year-old Farhan Haji Mose after monitoring his movements for six months, sources told Morning Star News.
 
Mose drew suspicion when he returned to Barawa in December 2011 after spending time in Kenya, according to underground Christians in Somalia. Kenya’s population is nearly 83 percent Christian, according to Operation World, while Somalia’s is close to 100 percent Muslim.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared at Morning Star News (www.MorningStarNews.org), a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide.)
3/17/2014 10:24:30 AM by Baptist Press/Morning Star News | with 2 comments



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