March 2018

Billy Graham’s back – on the radio

March 22 2018 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

Billy Graham may be gone from this world, but you can hear his voice on the radio – at least for the next few days.
A Billy Graham tribute channel on SiriusXM will broadcast Graham’s sermons around the clock at least through Easter.

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows recording The Hour of Decision for the radio in 1959.

The channel is a collaboration between SiriusXM and the Charlotte, N.C.-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, according to the Charlotte Observer.
It will feature Graham’s sermons, interspersed with recollections from his son Franklin and remarks from former U.S. presidents from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, according to the channel description on SiriusXM.
A previous version of the channel was broadcast last fall, in honor of Graham’s 99th birthday. The channel was also revived after Graham’s death.
The newest incarnation of the channel is set to run until April 3 but might be extended, Franklin Graham told the Observer. “We hope (SiriusXM) will decide to keep the Billy Graham channel on the air,” he said.
An archive of more than 1,600 of Graham’s radio sermons is also available online at
Graham’s not the only legendary preacher whose radio ministry lives on, according to Religion News Service (RNS). Some have continued for decades after their deaths.
Among them:

  • Adrian Rogers, longtime pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., who died in 2005. His “Love Worth Finding” radio program, launched in 1987, is still broadcast on the radio and online.
  • James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, who died in 2007. His “Truths That Transform” program aired for years on the radio after his death and is still broadcast online.
  • Charles Fuller, founder of Fuller Theological Seminary, who died in 1968. He hosted the Old Fashioned Revival Hour from 1937 to 1968. The show is still broadcast by Alive in Christ Radio.
  • Vernon McGee, former pastor of Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, who died in 1988. McGee founded several radio broadcasts, including “Thru the Bible,” which continues.

The late Bill Skelton, who ran “Love Worth Finding” after Rogers’ death, told RNS it’s no surprise some long-dead preachers still connect with a large audience.
“I think as long as people turn on their radio and turn on their television sets and hear somebody teaching and preaching truths that are relevant to this life, the fact that He is alive or not is really not the important thing.”
Skelton, a former board chair of the National Religious Broadcasters, died in 2012.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources.)

3/22/2018 11:26:39 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

American pastor charged with ‘terrorism’ in Turkey

March 22 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

American pastor Andrew Brunson has been indicted in Turkey on charges of terrorism. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) claims the charges amount to an admission “that Turkey considers sharing the gospel an ‘act of terrorism.’”

Andrew Brunson

“The 62-page indictment, wholly lacking merit, provides no evidence regarding criminal action by Pastor Andrew, which comes as no surprise,” the ACLJ stated in a March 20 news release. “Pastor Andrew, who has lived in Turkey for 23 years, serving as Pastor of the Izmir Resurrection Church, has maintained his innocence and has reiterated that he has been in Turkey for only one reason, to tell about Jesus Christ. Incredibly, the indictment now admits that Turkey considers sharing the gospel an ‘act of terrorism.’”
A court date of April 16 has been set, the ACLJ reported. If convicted, Brunson, 50, could face 35 years in prison.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reported previously that the case against Brunson was “largely based on a purported ‘secret witness’ and secret evidence” which Turkish officials “refuse to make public.” With the indictment, however, the ACLJ stated, “the case file is now finally open, and by the end of the week, we should have access to all of the alleged evidence.”
Various media outlets had reported Brunson was indicted last week and charged with “leadership in a terrorist organization,” with prosecutors seeking a possible life sentence. The ACLJ issued an update March 15 implying the indictment may not, in fact, have been submitted in court. However, this week’s ACLJ update clarified that the indictment was submitted last week despite alleged statements by a Turkish prosecutor to the contrary.
When reports of the indictment first surfaced, the USCIRF said it “strongly condemns” the charges and asked the Donald Trump administration to “redouble their ongoing efforts to secure Pastor Brunson’s release.”
“No stone should be left unturned in our efforts on behalf of this unjustly imprisoned American,” USCIRF vice chairs Sandra Jolley and Kristina Arriaga said in a March 13 release. “We call again for his immediate release and, if this is not forthcoming, for the administration and Congress to impose targeted sanctions against those involved in this miscarriage of justice.”
Brunson has lived in Turkey 23 years, and his pastorate is a small evangelical Presbyterian church in Izmir, according to the USCIRF website. Both President Trump and members of Congress have called for Brunson’s release. Former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Turkey to release Brunson during a visit there in February, the USCIRF stated.
In a March 9 address to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Brunson’s daughter Jacqueline called the allegations against her father “absurd” and said her family “has suffered greatly” since Andrew Brunson was first detained in October 2016, the USCIRF reported.
David Curry, president of the religious liberty watchdog group Open Doors USA, said Brunson “essentially” is a “hostage” held by Turkey as part of its attempt to pressure the U.S. to extradite Muslim cleric Fethulla Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan believes is responsible for a failed coup attempt in 2016.
“There’s not a lot that can be diplomatically done by Christian churches here because we’re talking about a dictator who’s not going to respond to our pleas,” Curry said in a news release. “And in some cases, in some ways, it may be counterproductive. So we’re going to have to be prayerful about this.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/22/2018 11:21:49 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Diversity & churches: Progress being made, study says

March 22 2018 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

Protestant churches may be a little more diverse these days. And that’s a good thing, their pastors say in a new study released March 20.

Eighty-one percent of Protestant pastors say their congregation is predominantly made up of one racial or ethnic group. That’s down from 86 percent four years ago, according to the study conducted this past Aug. 30-Sept. 18 by LifeWay Research.
It’s a small but significant step, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, in a nation where Sunday mornings often remain segregated.
“Protestant churches are still mostly divided by race,” McConnell said. “But they’re heading in the right direction.”

Pastors want to see diversity

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors last fall about racial diversity in their congregations – and then compared the results to a similar survey in 2013.
In the most recent survey, 93 percent of pastors – including 80 percent who strongly agree – say every church should strive to achieve racial diversity. Four percent disagree. Three percent are not sure.
Four years earlier, 85 percent of pastors agreed churches should strive for diversity. That included 66 percent who strongly agreed, while 12 percent disagreed and 3 percent weren’t sure.
Pastors in the South (96 percent) are more likely than pastors in other regions to say churches should strive for diversity. White pastors (94 percent) are more likely to agree than pastors from other ethnic backgrounds (86 percent), while 88 percent of African American pastors agree churches should strive for diversity. Lutheran pastors are least likely (82 percent) to agree compared to pastors in other denominations.
When it comes to congregation diversity, 81 percent of pastors in the latest survey say their church mostly consists of one racial group. Sixteen percent disagree. Three percent are not sure.
Pastors of larger churches – those with 250 or more attenders – were least likely (74 percent) to say their church is made up mostly of one ethnicity. That jumps to 81 percent for churches with 249 or fewer attenders.
Based on denominational affiliation, Lutheran pastors (89 percent) are most likely to say their church is made up of predominantly one ethnic group. Baptist (81 percent), Presbyterian/Reformed (77 percent) and Pentecostal pastors (68 percent) are less likely.

Not afraid to talk about race

Racial reconciliation is a fairly common topic for pastors to address, LifeWay Research reports.
About two-thirds of pastors (63 percent) say they speak about racial reconciliation in sermons or large group messages at least a few times in a year. Thirty-nine percent talk about it several times a year. Nine percent discuss racial reconciliation several times a month, while 14 percent do so about once a month.
For a significant number of Protestant pastors (37 percent), addressing racial reconciliation is not a high priority. Twelve percent address the topic about once a year. About a quarter either rarely (17 percent) or never (4 percent) address racial reconciliation or don’t know (4 percent).
Pastors are likely working on reconciliation in their personal lives, McConnell said. He pointed to a 2016 LifeWay Research survey, which showed most Protestant pastors (57 percent) spent time socializing with neighbors of other ethnicities. More than 7 in 10 (72 percent) had a meal in the previous month with someone of another ethnicity.
But McConnell said it’s not clear that people in the pew will embrace racial reconciliation.
A 2014 LifeWay Research study found two-thirds of American churchgoers felt their church had done enough to become diverse. And fewer than half (40 percent) said their church needed to become more diverse.
More than half of churchgoers disagreed when asked if their church needed to become more ethnically diverse. That included a third who strongly disagreed.
Evangelical churchgoers (71 percent) were most likely to say their church is diverse enough. White churchgoers (37 percent) were least likely to say their church should become more diverse. African Americans (51 percent) and Hispanic-Americans (47 percent) were more likely to say their church needs to be more diverse.
The question of diversity will likely become more pressing for churches in the future, McConnell said. About half of the children under 10 in the United States are ethnic minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Pastors want their congregations to be more diverse – because their communities are more diverse,” McConnell said. “But people in the pews aren’t there yet. There are hard cultural divides to overcome.”


The phone survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors was conducted Aug. 30 to Sept. 18, 2017. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. Comparisons are also made to a telephone survey of 1,007 pastors using the same methodology Sept. 4-19, 2013 and 1000 pastors Sept. 11-18, 2014.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources.)

3/22/2018 11:14:59 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

After bridge collapse, Baptists dispatched to help

March 21 2018 by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Convention

Classes resumed March 19 after the collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami left six people dead.
The 950-ton structure was undergoing final safety testing and repairs when it plummeted to the ground, crushing cars that were traveling busy SW 8th Street, also known locally as Calle Ocho. One FIU student and a construction worker were among the dead.

Screen capture from CNN
Baptist collegiate leader rallies campus ministers and Miami-area pastors to ministry at Florida International University after the collapse of a pedestrian bridge.

The $14.2 million bridge was to connect the campus with the neighboring Sweetwater community, home to thousands of FIU students. One student was struck last year and killed crossing the street.
Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, noted the important role Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) on college campuses can play when tragedy strikes.
“Our Miami-area BCM director Ricky Bailey was contacted to serve as a chaplain to hurting and grieving families,” Green said. “He is a trusted spiritual voice on campus through consistent demonstrated ministry to the students.”
As part of his ministry role at FIU, Bailey currently is president of the university’s multi-faith council, a body encompassing representatives of various denominations and faiths represented on campus. After the bridge collapsed, Bailey was asked to bring together a group of chaplains from as many faiths as were available to respond to the scene.
Bailey said that within two hours of the collapse, chaplains were there to pray with and comfort injured victims and witnesses.
Bailey also enlisted the help of area Florida Baptist pastors, one of whom was Tommy Parke, pastor of City Church in Miami, a church plant set to launch later this spring.
It was no accident Parke was someone Bailey reached out to. When Parke arrived at the location where families were gathering for information, he encountered an old friend, Carlos Rios, who was already comforting the family of victim Alberto Arias. Through that connection, Parke was able to meet and minister to a family who had lost a loved one in the bridge’s collapse.
“It was a reminder there are no accidents only divine appointments,” Parke said. “When your heart is to care for those in need, be willing to go – you never know what God is lining up for you.”
As students returned to campus and entered their new normal, there will be additional ways FIU’s BCM to comfort hurting students and point them to the only true source of comfort.
“I am thankful for Ricky and our campus ministers who have a gospel presence on our college campuses,” said Billy Young, the state convention’s next generation catalyst. “They represent Florida Baptists well and facilitate opportunities for our churches to engage on campus.”
Noel Lozano, pastor of Turning Point Baptist Church near the FIU campus, was one of those who responded when Bailey reached out for help. Lozano, whose church has services in English and Spanish, was able to minister to Hispanic families in their heart language.
Green appreciates the ability of the Florida Baptist family of churches to come together when disaster strikes.
“I am grateful to Florida Baptists for your commitment through the Cooperative Program to support Baptist Collegiate Ministry across our state,” he said. “Your giving enabled us to be ‘right beside’ a grieving university community.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Kalil writes for the Florida Baptist Convention.)

3/21/2018 9:19:01 AM by Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Convention | with 0 comments

High court leaves pro-life center supporters ‘hopeful’

March 21 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court appeared receptive March 20 to arguments by pro-life pregnancy centers that a state law requiring them essentially to publicize abortion services violates their free speech.
The justices’ decision in the case – expected before they end their term this summer – will likely have major repercussions for hundreds of pregnancy care centers in numerous states. The California law at issue is part of an ongoing effort by abortion-rights advocates and their law making allies in cities and states to limit the impact of pro-life centers that provide free services to pregnant women.
Today’s oral arguments gave the pregnancy centers’ advocates reason to hope the high court will rule in their favor. Justices from both the ideological middle and left of the court expressed strong reservations about the law.
California’s 2015 Reproductive FACT Act requires licensed pregnancy centers to post a notice for or otherwise inform clients in writing of the state’s free or low-cost access to abortion and other family planning services. The law also mandates unlicensed centers provide a notice they are not licensed medically and do not have a licensed medical professional.
With the oral arguments, “we see once again the outrageous demands being made in this case, ones that strike at the very heart of the freedom this nation has always sought to uphold and protect,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“Time and again, we see the abortion industry maneuvering to silence any and all dissent that would threaten their industry of death,” Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “I’m hopeful the Supreme Court will rule against these efforts that aim to steamroll groups serving vulnerable women.”
Pro-life advocates and organizations have established thousands of pregnancy centers to assist women in need since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973. Many provide free ultrasound scans that demonstrate the humanity of the unborn child and often help women decide to give birth. The centers’ services also include medical consultations, baby clothing and diapers, job training, mentoring programs and prenatal and parenting classes.
If the California law survives the legal challenge, pro-life centers would face fines of as much as $1,000 a day for defiance of its requirements. Other states with pro-choice legislatures and governors could follow California’s example. Illinois and Hawaii already have enacted similar laws.
The Reproductive FACT Act requires licensed pregnancy centers to post a notice for clients that says, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”
In the oral arguments, some justices appeared uncomfortable as they received answers from lawyers about the law’s effect. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy – often the court’s swing vote – said at one point the signage requirement seemed like an “undue burden” that would invalidate the law. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal, indicated near the end of the arguments the measure appeared burdensome and wrong.
Michael Farris – representing the pregnancy centers – told the court California “took aim” at pro-life enters with a law directed at “disfavored” speech by “disfavored” speakers. As a result, “only non-profit, pro-life” centers are affected, said Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom.
Joshua Klein, California’s deputy solicitor general, told the justices the state approved the law to make poor women aware of the public services available to them when they are pregnant.
Mark Rienzi, president of Becket who attended the arguments, told BP afterward many justices “seemed to understand that the state looks like it has targeted pro-life speakers for special speech restrictions.”
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) – a nationwide network of more than 1,400 pregnancy care centers – and two pro-life centers challenged the law. More than 100 of the pregnancy centers NIFLA provides legal counsel, education and training to are in California.
The ERLC joined the National Association of Evangelicals, Concerned Women for America, National Legal Foundation and Samaritan’s Purse in a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the pregnancy centers. The brief contended the California law unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.
In October 2016, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco – like a federal judge before it – refused to grant an injunction blocking the California law. In its opinion, the Ninth Circuit panel said the law does not violate the First Amendment’s protections for free speech or free exercise of religion. The law “does not discriminate based on viewpoint,” the three-judge panel said.
Local governments also have placed speech requirements on pro-life pregnancy centers, mandating they post signs, for instance, that say they do not provide abortions or contraceptives or make referrals for the services. Courts have invalidated all or most of such mandates in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Montgomery County, Md.; and New York City.
The case is NIFLA v. Becerra.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/21/2018 9:12:12 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastors, planters and volunteers: Come to Vermont

March 21 2018 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Final in a series
Talk to N.C. Baptists who serve in Vermont and sooner or later you’ll hear a plea for help:

  • Come plant a church.
  • Come pastor a church.
  • Come for a time and help churches reach out.
  • Send money.
  • Pray.

“If you feel the Lord is leading you here and you’re too scared to take that step, trust the Lord and come,” urges North Carolina native Chris Autry, serving in Barre, Vt. “Yes, it will be hard. Yes, the winters are brutal. But you see one person saved, and you will forget about how hard winter is. You will forget how hard the cultural things are.”

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Chris Autry, a North Carolina native, serves Faith Community Church in Barre, Vt. He is among several North Carolina Baptists who have made a move to pastor or help plant churches there. Just like in North Carolina, Autry focuses on disciple-making.

“Volunteer teams are blessed, because they get to see God at work in a different place,” said Mark Abernathy, who coordinates partnerships for N.C. Baptists on Mission, also known as Baptist Men. “Though Vermont is part of the United States, it’s not like North Carolina.”
“We had four church plants that either have launched in 2017 or [were planned to] launch by the end of the year,” said Lyandon Warren, Vermont church planting catalyst for the the North American Mission Board (NAMB).
“We are praying that God will continue to raise up church planters within Vermont and also to send in more from outside the state. God is continuing to do miraculous things.”
Warren said there are many ways to help the work in Vermont.
“I dream of seeing teams of North Carolina believers come plant a self-sustaining, multiplying, multi-site church, using all sorts of methods to reach people,” Warren said. “At the end of the day, that is the goal: To reach people for Christ, to make disciples who make disciples and to see churches planted.
“If we had enough planters, we could do eight or 16 new churches a year. We’re just praying Luke 10:2, that the Lord will send out the laborers to bring in the harvest.”
North Carolina churches can help with this “calling out of the called,” Warren said.
“If churches could just get a vision for continually putting out the call for people to surrender to ministry, to seek out individuals that leaders think could be church planters,” Warren said. “I’m not saying they have to abandon their vocations, but that they can simply choose to do what they’re currently doing in a different context that is unchurched. That’s what New England is – it’s an unreached people group.
“Reaching New England will require that many more people tell God that they’re willing to quit their current jobs and move to new work in New England – and commit to share their Christian faith with co-workers and circles of influence, to say, ‘I’d be willing to be part of a church planting team. I may not be the lead pastor, but I can lead a small group. I can do outreach. I can certainly serve my church, and I’d be willing to do that.’   
“When numbers of people start doing this, it will be a game changer,” Warren promised.
NAMB now has a trainer whose mission is to train bivocational church planters.
“This is huge!” Warren said. “This opens the door for so many more people, not to quit work and go to seminary for five years, but they can get training and then go plant a church.”
Some rural areas of Vermont, for example, likely will require pastors who can also hold down a secular job to support themselves.
“We need hundreds of teams serving across New England in both cities and rural areas, Warren said. “It will take urban hub churches, multiplying churches as well as small, rural churches to get the gospel where it needs to go.”
Related articles:
N.C. roots part of Vermont church plant
Chris Autry carries the gospel to Barre, Vermont
Battling darkness in southeastern Vermont
N.C. Baptists make a difference in Vermont
A ‘strong and healthy church’ in Pownal, Vt.
Men with N.C. roots bond in Vermont
(EDITOR’S NOTE – If you or your church are interested in learning more about opportunities to serve in Vermont, contact Mark Abernathy with at or 919-459-5607.)

3/21/2018 9:08:54 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Mike Cummings retires after 30 years

March 21 2018 by Laura Crowther, BR staff

Mike Cummings retired Feb. 28 as director of missions for the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, but his long history of ministry among his community and fellow Native Americans is not finished.
“He has been a pastor to the pastors,” said Steve Strickland, who now holds Cummings’ former position. “I’ve come in many times to talk, get advice, wisdom and insight.”

Contributed photo
Mike and Quae Cummings are looking forward to retirement and future ministry opportunities.

Strickland said Cummings’ retirement will not stop him from serving the community.
Cummings was born one of 12 children in the Saint Anna section of Pembroke, a rural Lumbee farming community. In college, he realized he had not received Christ personally, although he had grown up in an active church background. He became involved in Bible studies with Campus Crusade for Christ and, not long after, submitted his life to Christ. Soon, he felt the call of God to gospel ministry.
Cummings became pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Clinton, N.C., at 19 years old. He was in college at the time and did not have a way to commute, so the church sold “fried chicken plates” as a fundraiser to buy a car, Cummings said. During this time, he met and married his wife, Quae, of the Coharie people.
He went on to graduate from Campbell University in 1974 and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1977. After 10 years in Clinton, he accepted a call to go back to his home community and serve as pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Pembroke. Then, after a decade at Mt. Airy, he was called as director of missions at the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association in 1988.
Burnt Swamp is a unique association that is not limited by geographic boundaries, but is comprised of churches that are historically Native American. While the Lumbee people make up the largest share of Native Americans in the association, there are at least five other tribal peoples.
The association includes mainly North Carolina churches, but also includes one church in Baltimore, Md. When Cummings began the associational leadership role, he saw a great need for theological training among ministers. Cummings estimates that 80 percent of Burnt Swamp pastors are bivocational, so many do not have the resources, time or money to receive a seminary education. Cummings started offering more seminary extension classes so they could have “better access to good training” and be “better equipped to lead.”
Another highlight of Cummings’ days with the association was his push to involve churches in missions. He was instrumental in helping churches to better engage in “missions outside of themselves.” Cummings is particularly interested in reaching other Native American tribes across America.
Cummings came to realize that, “if Indians are reached with the gospel, Indians must go reach them.” He stated that while the Lumbee people and other tribes in the Carolinas have been exposed to and embraced Christianity for many years, most of the Native American population in the U.S. is “largely unchristian.”
“In some of the traditional reservation communities there is a resistance to the gospel,” he said, due to historically bad experiences with white Christian culture.
Due to the ethnic connection of the Native American community, the churches in Burnt Swamp Association have been able to engage other Native American communities, even starting churches on reservations that previously had no church presence.
“It’s not as hard to raise concern [for missions],” he said, “when you tell the story of some of their own people that are in great need.”
Another change that Cummings helped initiate was the increase of involvement and acceptance of native tribes into broader N.C. Baptist life.
As a minority group, Burnt Swamp churches felt marginalized in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). That began to change when Cummings was elected as first vice-president and then president of the BSC from 1999-2001. He holds the distinction of being the first minority president of the BSC. Cummings later served as interim executive director-treasurer of the BSC.
Cummings said the presidency “was like a crowning event” to him and the association.
They were very supportive of his involvement with the BSC and took it not only as a compliment to the association, but also as a point of pride. Slowly the people in the association began to feel a greater sense of acceptance and involvement in Baptist life and missions.
Throughout his ministry, Cummings has had the strong support of his wife. Quae, who is also retiring, served as associational secretary for 40 years, beginning 10 years before her husband.
Cummings said not only has his wife done an excellent job welcoming people to the association, but she “has kept me on track in the sense of putting my best foot forward. ... She’s been a major foundation for all my ministry.”
Strickland agrees, “Together [he and his wife] have been a great team; it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other. Both of them have set a great example of leadership and ministry for us to follow.”
While the association is sad to see the couple leave, Cummings said his retirement will not end his involvement with his community or his people. He has already taken an interim pastor role, beginning the first Sunday of his retirement. In addition to spending more time with their three children and three grandchildren, Cummings and his wife are looking forward to continued ministry together.

3/21/2018 9:04:45 AM by Laura Crowther, BR staff | with 1 comments

Association leader discovers God had different plan

March 21 2018 by Gardner-Webb University Communications

Wesley Smith thought he was following God’s will for his life in 2001 when he received his bachelor’s in criminal justice from Gardner-Webb University (GWU). However, he became discouraged when he didn’t find a job in juvenile probation and parole and wasn’t sure what to do. Direction came during a church revival service. “For the first time in my life, I heard God to speak to me,” Smith recalled. “I heard God tell me that He wanted me to serve His church.”

Contributed photo
Wesley Smith serves as association missionary for Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association.

God was calling him to a life of ministry. He sought advice from his pastor, who was also his grandfather. “He told me if I could do anything else in life and be happy, that I should do it,” Smith said in a press release from the university. “I wrestled with this over the next six months, and could not get away from it. So I went back to my grandpa and told him that I could not be happy doing anything else. He encouraged me to get some biblical training, so I called the divinity school that week.”
Smith liked the GWU School of Divinity’s sense of community and the opportunity to interact with other students. He appreciated all of his professors, but Doug Dickens and the late Dan Goodman became his mentors and friends. Goodman gave him extra assistance with the Greek language, which enhanced his interpretation of the scriptures.
Dickens taught several of the pastoral care and counseling classes and challenged students to self-examination. “Self-discovery and developing our identity in Christ is extremely important,” Smith assessed. “My pastoral care and counseling classes helped me to better understand myself and how to help others. Other classes helped me to handle the biblical text with more confidence.”
Smith also believes his criminal justice studies help as he seeks to serve people. “I have benefited greatly in my ministry by having an undergraduate degree in an area outside of religious studies,” he asserted. “The psychology and sociology classes have helped me tremendously in ministering to people.”
Smith received his master of divinity in pastoral care and counseling in 2008. While he was in school, he served two churches. He began his ministry in 2003 at Sandy Run Baptist Church in Mooresboro, N.C., and served at Boiling Springs (N.C.) Baptist Church from 2007 to 2016. He found his classes to be manageable and appreciated the support and understanding he received from church members and his professors.
In April 2016, Smith accepted the position of associational missionary for the Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association. Based in Shelby, N.C., the association is made up of 88 churches.
“I love Cleveland County and feel honored that God has called me to serve the Baptist churches here,” Smith affirmed. “I serve pastors, staff and church leaders. Our office is a resource for the churches and the community. We exist to unite congregations in effective missions and ministries. Along with providing resources, training and support for the churches, we also create mission partnerships for short-term mission projects, and have a community assistance officer.”

3/21/2018 8:58:01 AM by Gardner-Webb University Communications | with 0 comments

MercyMe saga opens big with two more faith films due

March 20 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

“I Can Only Imagine” opened third at the U.S. box office this past weekend as the Easter season heralds two more faith-based films.

Wikipedia photo

The saga of forgiveness and triumph based on the hit MercyMe ballad brought in $17 million from just over 1,600 locations March 16-18, based on Box Office Mojo statistics, far exceeding industry insiders’ advance projections of $12 million. It was the best opening of a faith-based film since “Heaven is for Real” opened at $22 million in 2014.
Affirm Film’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ” opens March 23, followed March 30 by Pure Flix’s “God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness.” The latter is the third installment of the “God’s Not Dead” series highlighting freedom of speech and religion, which debuted in 2014 as the highest grossing faith film that year at $60 million, according to Pure Flix Studio.
I Can Only Imagine, the fourth feature film of co-directors and brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, has already more than recouped its $7 million budget, Box Office Mojo said. Word of mouth, media attention, grassroots marketing and social media sharing helped buoy the film, Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions said in a March 18 press release.
“This is Roadside’s highest grossing opening ever,” Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen said. “When we first saw this incredibly well-crafted, emotional and moving film, we jumped on the opportunity to work with the Erwins and their team and our partners at Lionsgate. … And we were not disappointed. With an A+ Cinemascore, we expect I Can Only Imagine will continue to play solidly through the Easter holiday and well into spring.”
Disney’s and Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fantasy “The Black Panther” was first at the box office for the fifth consecutive week, followed in second spot by the Warner Bros.’ new release “The Tomb Raider,” according to industry statistics.

Paul, Apostle of Christ

Shot on location in Malta, the movie looks at the last years of Paul’s life and the perseverance of fellow Christians such as Luke under the religious persecution of Emperor Nero in Rome. Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” stars as Luke, joined by Downton Abbey’s James Faulkner in the title role.
The movie “brings to life on screen the powerful story of a man who changed the course of history through his committed faith, yet at great cost to himself,” director and screenwriter Andrew Hyatt said in a press release at “The film shows what a deadly dangerous place the Roman world was for the early Christian church, and it shows how Paul prepared the faithful to continue living out their beliefs in the face of it.”
Producer T.J. Berden said movie makers were “committed to create a film true to the biblical account of Paul’s life but also one that is dramatic and engaging. The trials faced by early Christians and their faith and bravery in spite of them will amaze audiences.”
Joining Berden as producer is David Zelon, who produced the 2011 faith-centered “Soul Surfer.”
Promotional resources for churches are available at

God’s Not Dead

Reprising his role as “Pastor Dave” from the first installment, David A.R. White witnesses the church he leads, St. James Church, destroyed by fire amid contention over its location on the campus of a public university.
Enter his estranged brother and atheist lawyer “Pearce,” portrayed by Golden Globe nominee John Corbett of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” to defend the church’s right to exist on campus. The resulting drama tests the pastor’s mantra that “God is good all the time.” Joining White from the first installment are Shane Harper, who played college freshman Josh Wheaten, and Benjamin Onyango as Reverend Jude. Academy Award winner Tatum O’Neal is also featured.
The film will hopefully entertain while encouraging Christians to share their faith, Pure Flix founding partner Michael Scott said in a press release at God’
“Audiences have continued to show support and interest in the God’s Not Dead films and their relatable characters who endure similar challenges in their personal faith and lives,” Scott said. “Our hope is that these films offer entertainment and encouragement, with a starting point for sharing faith in a respectable and compassionate manner.”
Pastor Dave represents good people everywhere who struggle with bad things, even those of their own making, White said in movie production notes.
“There are many times life doesn’t go like we think it should or we want it to,” White said. “Rev. Dave goes through a lot in this movie – but that’s life. What is endearing about this film is that this character is just an everyday man [whom] hopefully everyone can relate to.”
Michael Mason is the film’s writer and director.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

3/20/2018 1:13:46 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hemphill: No CP funds used for SBC candidate website

March 20 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Louisiana Baptist Convention-hosted website promoting Kenneth Hemphill’s candidacy for Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president was not funded by any Cooperative Program money, Hemphill told Baptist Press (BP) March 19. Nonetheless, the site is being moved to an independent server this week to avoid “any impression that it was inappropriate.”

Ken Hemphill

“I’m working for the Cooperative Program and certainly wouldn’t do anything to abuse it,” said Hemphill, former president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Cooperative Program (CP) is Southern Baptists’ unified effort to fund missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
The website – – has been the subject of criticism on blogs and was classified by North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder news journal as part of an “organized campaign” for Hemphill “backed by the Louisiana Baptist Convention.”
Hemphill said the website, launched late last week, is simply a platform to share his ideas on cooperation and partnerships within the SBC.
Louisiana Baptist Convention (LBC) executive director David Hankins offered to help Hemphill build the website, Hemphill said. “I don’t know how to build a website, so I took his offer and told him I would pay for it ... Once he gave me what the costs were, I sent him a check right away,” Hemphill noted. “And I will send him an additional one when we find out what it costs to change it to another server.”
Hankins told North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder news journal last week, “Our communications team gave counsel” regarding the website. “We have a lot of people writing articles, a wide ranging group of people.”
“We are glad to host the website,” Hankins said, “because we believe it is in the best interest of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and we are excited about the opportunity for people to know Ken Hemphill and how he can lead us as the next president.”
Critics, however, raised questions about the website’s connection to a state convention.
On the Baptist 21 blog, North Carolina pastor Ronnie Parrott wrote March 16, “It would appear that Cooperative Program dollars from the 1600+ churches & missions in [Louisiana] are being used to support one of the two candidates for the next President of the SBC.”
Parrott later posted an update stating “someone close to Hemphill” told him Hemphill paid for the website, but Parrott maintained it is “unsettling” that a state convention appears to be “using its apparatus to throw support behind a particular candidate.”
In a March 16 blog post on the SBC Voices website, Louisiana pastor Jay Adkins called the LBC’s hosting of Hemphill’s website “unheard of” and “inappropriate.”
Alabama pastor Rick Patrick wrote in the comments section following Adkins’ post that he is “sympathetic” to Hemphill’s candidacy and has felt “for quite some time ... like my Cooperative Program funds are being used to promote ideas I oppose by the leaders of the other denominational wing.”
Patrick – executive director of Connect316, a coalition of Southern Baptists who identify as “traditionalists” in regard to God’s plan of Salvation – seemed to be referencing tweets by SBC entity presidents supportive of Greear and a 2016 parody rap video titled “J.D. Greear for SBC President” in which three SBC entity presidents made cameo appearances.
That year, Greear withdrew from the SBC presidential election after the second ballot and moved that the convention elect Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines by acclamation.
“In my opinion,” Patrick wrote, “there is no significant difference between a national entity leader appearing in a video released to the public, sending a tweet, writing an endorsement letter, making a phone call, sending out emails, or otherwise using their CP-funded equipment, time, office, and platform to promote their preferred candidate, and a state entity leader using their CP-provided equipment, time, office, and platform to promote their preferred candidate.”
Other individuals in the comments thread disagreed with Patrick, drawing a distinction between individual leaders using their social media platforms to demonstrate support for individual SBC candidates and a Baptist body using its website as a platform to promote only one perspective.
Greg Wills, a dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) who directs the seminary’s Center for the Study of the SBC, told BP, “Probably for as long as the convention has existed, convention leaders have discussed and consulted among themselves as to who they think would be good candidates to serve as president of the convention.”
Such activity is “natural” and “what you would expect from concerned leaders,” said Wills, dean of SBTS’s School of Theology.
Yet “convention leaders historically have expressed concern about any evidence of public campaigning,” Wills said, noting “it’s difficult, of course, to form a precise definition of what the difference [is] between making recommendations and taking mutual counsel on one hand, and actually engaging in a campaign.”
Among past occasions when the topic of campaigning for the SBC presidency surfaced:
– In 2016, an article by the Association of State Baptist Publications claimed the three SBC entity presidents in the parody rap video supporting Greear – David Platt of the International Mission Board, Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – “appear to be endorsing Greear’s election.”
– In 2010, a grassroots organization called the SBC Majority Initiative backed the nomination of two SBC vice presidential nominees and endorsed Alabama pastor Jimmy Jackson for SBC president, BP reported at the time.
– In 1987, the SBC Peace Committee reported that “historically, informal political groups or coalitions have emerged in Southern Baptist life. Prior to the last decade, most of these groups operated informally by word-of-mouth among mutual acquaintances interested in selecting the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. More recently, these groups have developed organized coalitions centered on theological perceptions and individual leaders committed to a defined viewpoint. These coalitions have adopted the political strategies for electing officers of the Convention” among other endeavors.
The Peace Committee added, “But, we believe that the time has come for the Convention to move beyond this kind of politics. We find that the extent of political activity within the Southern Baptist Convention at the present time promotes a party spirit, creates discord, division and distrust, diminishes our ability to do missions and evangelism, is detrimental to our influence and impedes our ability to serve our Lord.”
– In 1968, SBC Education Commission staff member Howard Bramlette, lamented in an op-ed piece for Kentucky’s Western Recorder news journal that “a handful of the politically-astute hold tenaciously to ‘denominational power.’”
“In due time,” Bramlette wrote, “perhaps we will no longer have men seeking the office, but the office seeking the men.”
– In 1948, Alabama Baptist editor L.L. Gwaltney noted what he perceived as a political campaign to elect Memphis pastor R.G. Lee as SBC president.
“The writer thinks it a mistake for religious people to put on such a campaign for the presidency of a general body as was put on for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis,” Gwaltney wrote. “The man, whoever he is, to whom we are most opposed being elected to the presidency of the Convention is the man who wants it most and who would make the greatest personal effort to get it.”
This year, Hemphill said, Southern Baptists should not feel like the convention is divided between his supporters and Greear’s.
“There are usually two or more candidates every year,” Hemphill said, and the multiplicity of candidates has not necessarily hampered SBC unity. His website is simply an attempt to discuss “some specific issues” with “my Southern Baptist family.”
“If anyone got the impression the website was funded with CP money,” Hemphill said, “I’m sorry, because I would never do anything to erode confidence in CP giving.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/20/2018 10:37:26 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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