March 2018

A win-win: church plants & sponsoring churches

March 16 2018 by Tobin Perry, NAMB

At 30,000 people, Cleburne is not a big city – nor a small town – on the fringes of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
It’s a community full of young families with a large contingency of older citizens who have called it home for decades. But when church planter John Turner looks at Cleburne, he sees a city desperate for more gospel-preaching local churches.

Submitted photo
John Turner (left), planter of The Hill Church, and Aaron Scarbrough, pastor of Graceview Baptist Church, have built a friendship – and a close relationship between their Texas congregations – through help The Hill Church has received from Graceview as its sponsoring congregation.

Turner, who is planting The Hill Church, said people were “either traveling out of town to find a church that meets the needs of the family or people who were in town but hadn’t found a church that was for them.”
In its first 12 months of life, The Hill Church has doubled in attendance from 30 to 60, and Turner believes the congregation is on the cusp of even greater growth in 2018.
But it’s only possible because of partner churches like Graceview Baptist Church in Burleson. Turner says Graceview’s partnership, and in particular his relationship with the church’s pastor, Aaron Scarbrough, has helped him have a sense of community and support during an intense first year of the church.
“Having community with other men doing ministry who are open to dialogue, open to share their experiences, open to sharing their resources, that’s a big deal when you’re starting a church,” Turner said.
Graceview is one of 25 churches that the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) honored in 2017 with its Antioch award as a partnering church to a new church plant. David Alexander, SBTC church planting director, said the award brings to the forefront the sacrifices partners make. Partners like Graceview play a key role in the convention’s efforts to start churches throughout the state.
“Partnering with a new church plant is a significant investment of time and resources,” Alexander said. “We wanted to acknowledge that. ... Church planters couldn’t do it without the investment from primary sponsoring churches.”
Alexander noted that when people talk about supporting church plants they tend to think first about finances. Although it’s critical to a planter’s ability to get a new work started, he said it may be the least important kind of support that partnering churches provide for new church starts. Both prayer support and mentoring play key roles in the development of new churches. The mentoring relationship doesn’t just develop between the partnering pastor and the church planter but also extends to the lay leadership efforts of the two churches, such as the deacons and the finance teams.
“This [new church plant] is their child,” Alexander said of a sponsoring church. “The convention is not planting this church. We are facilitating this SBTC church that has decided to become the primary sponsor. We are helping them give birth to this new church. We want partnering churches to take primary ownership of this church plant.”
Graceview got involved in church planting partnerships after Scarbrough led the church through a replanting process in 2011. He said he wanted to help other church planters learn the lessons he and his team learned the hard way. Graceview became an SBTC church planting center, where prospective church planters could come and learn and then be sent out. Graceview worked with two different SBTC church plants in 2017 and is beginning the process of partnering with a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student moving to Boston to plant a new church.
As Graceview prepares to send out new church planters, Scarbrough meets weekly with them as a group and one or two times a month. The church planters also participate in elder meetings, lead one of the church’s small groups and attend the church’s yearly planning meetings.
“It’s more of an immersion into the church than it is a program,” Scarbrough said. “That’s really the only way guys can learn the things we know. You can sit in a classroom and you can tell them all of those things, but until you have to interact with someone in a small group who might not like their teaching or get up in the pulpit and preach through a passage they had to struggle through because they are not used to that genre yet, you haven’t properly prepared them. Those are the kind of things I try to walk through with them.”
Scarbrough said the benefits of supporting a new church plant aren’t just felt by the planter or the planting church. The sending church is blessed as well.
“It’s definitely good for Graceview because [our congregation] recognizes that the Gospel isn’t just important for our church but for other churches too,” Scarbrough said.
“That’s something church planting does that no other thing really can do. When you have a foreign mission focus, you say, ‘The gospel is good over there.’ When you have a local missions focus, you say, ‘The gospel is good down the street.’ But very rarely do we think of the towns surrounding us, because we tend to think that other churches are taking care of that. Church planting says, ‘No, we have to be intentional everywhere.’”
Scarbrough added that his own personal ministry has been stretched through his relationship with church planters.
“It keeps me out of a rut,” he said. “When I work with these guys, I am constantly having to examine my life. I have to examine my convictions and ask myself if I have fallen into a pattern of the ‘same old, same old.’”
To learn more about the church planting ministry of the SBTC, visit

3/16/2018 2:54:10 PM by Tobin Perry, NAMB | with 0 comments

Greeters and gifts: How churches welcome guests

March 15 2018 by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Research

If the average pastor has anything to do with it, church guests can expect multiple greetings and may even leave with a gift, a new study released March 14 shows.

A study from LifeWay Research, which was conducted Aug. 30-Sept. 18, asked 1,000 Protestant pastors what their churches do to welcome guests.
“The Bible is full of verses on hospitality, so churches should be full of hospitality as well,” said President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources Thom S. Rainer. “Congregations should strive to create environments where guests are fully welcomed.”
According to the study, the average pastor says their church does six different things to welcome guests.
“Pastors are eager to say their churches are actively welcoming visitors to their services,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.
Virtually every church does something, the study shows. Fewer than 1 percent admit making no effort to welcome guests.
More than 9 in 10 churches provide an opportunity to meet the pastor (96 percent) and have greeters at the entrance of their building (95 percent).
A majority ask guests to complete cards (83 percent), have a central location where guests can learn about the church (78 percent), set aside time during the service for regular attenders to welcome guests (69 percent) and periodically host information sessions for new people to learn more about the church (65 percent).
Fewer pastors say their church has books in the pew for all attenders to indicate their presence (44 percent), have greeters in the parking lot (24 percent) or ask guests to stand in the worship service (17 percent).
Around two in five churches (42 percent) say they offer a gift to visitors. Of those who use gifts, the most popular are a mug or cup (38 percent), food (25 percent), a welcome packet about the church (25 percent) or a pen (23 percent).

Less popular gift items include a bag (18 percent), a book (14 percent), a bookmark (5 percent), a gift card (5 percent) or a Bible (4 percent).
One in 10 churches say they do something else to welcome guests, such as following up by mail (2 percent), with a personal visit (2 percent), with a phone call (1 percent) or with an email (1 percent).
Despite the numerous ways churches say they reach out to guests, Rainer, author of “Becoming a Welcoming Church,” said congregations should ask tough questions about themselves.
“Churches often believe they are a friendly church because the members are friendly to one another. But they don’t think about walking in the shoes of first-time guests,” Rainer said. “Welcoming those new to the church has to be the constant and intentional posture of the entire congregation.”
Big and small welcomes
Larger churches tend to welcome guests in different ways than smaller churches.
Those with an attendance of fewer than 50 are the most likely to say they have an opportunity for guests to meet the pastor after the service (98 percent) and ask guests to stand during the worship service (22 percent).
Meanwhile, pastors of churches with an attendance of more than 250 are the most likely to say they have cards for guests to complete (96 percent), have a central location for guests to learn more about the church (88 percent), periodically host information sessions for new people (85 percent), set aside a time for regular attenders to welcome guests (76 percent), have greeters in the parking lot (57 percent) and offer gifts to visitors (59 percent).
“In many ways, larger churches have developed systems to accomplish what may come more naturally in smaller churches,” McConnell said. “Because of their size, bigger churches have to enact plans that may happen spontaneously elsewhere.”
To stand or not to stand
In his years of church consulting, Rainer found specific times of greeting during the worship service to be one of the most polarizing methods of welcoming guests. If not done extremely well, those moments can often be awkward for the people churches are trying to welcome, he said.
“Stand-and-greet times could be part of a welcoming experience for guests, but church members would need clear and firm guidance on being friendly to guests before and after the service,” he said. “Friendliness only during stand-and-greet times can do more harm than good.”
Overall, only 17 percent of churches ask guests to stand during the worship service, but certain churches are more likely to do so than others.
More than three-quarters of African-American pastors (77 percent) say their church asks guests to stand.
Pastors in the West are more likely to ask guests to stand (23 percent) than those in the South (15 percent) or Midwest (14 percent).
Large churches, with more than 250 in attendance, are the least likely to ask guests to stand. Only 9 percent of those pastors say they do, but churches with attendance of fewer than 50 (22 percent) and attendance between 50 and 99 (18 percent) are more likely.
“Large churches often assume guests will make themselves known,” McConnell said. “There’s no real place for a visitor to hide in a small church.”
Regardless of church size, McConnell said pastors recognize the importance of being welcoming. “Churches want to make the most of the opportunity with a guest when it comes,” he said.
“With all churches say they do for visitors, the bar is set high for being a welcoming church.”
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.
For more information on this study, visit

3/15/2018 11:36:52 AM by Aaron Earls, LifeWay Christian Research | with 0 comments

Free church security training offered through May 1

March 15 2018 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

As public shootings continue to make headlines, many churches are evaluating where their facilities stand on security. LifeWay Christian Resources is helping churches make safety a priority by providing free security training through its Ministry Grid platform.
“In light of current circumstances, we’ve offered this training to churches to make sure they’re prepared for the unexpected before it happens,” said Chandler Vannoy, brand manager for Ministry Grid.
LifeWay’s free training first became available on Feb. 16 – two days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead and 14 injured. Since then, more than 2,000 people have registered for the security training.
“With so many churches expressing interest in this free training offer, we’ve decided to extend the offer to May 1, 2018,” Vannoy said.
The free training was created by Brooks Security Consulting and includes such topics as:

  • Church safety and security

  • Church security team

  • Emergency response planning

  • Lockdown procedures

  • Responding to an active shooting

Dale Brooks, who is featured in the training, has recorded more than 20 videos with LifeWay on safety and security topics for churches. Brooks has served as a professional firefighter, has experience in counterterrorism, and currently serves as director of security at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“Church security has some of the most difficult challenges compared to the security operations of businesses, schools and government campuses,” Brooks said. “The goal is to have an open campus to share the Gospel of Jesus while ensuring the campus is safe and secure.”
To access the free training, log into with your LifeWay ID or register for a free account; then click the “Add to My Tasks” button in the description to get started.

3/15/2018 11:33:23 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Child marriage on chopping block in some U.S. states

March 15 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

An 11-year-old rape victim in Florida, a 14-year-old ninth-grader in Texas, a sexually abused 16-year-old in Kentucky. They are among thousands of girls forced to marry adult men in the past 50 years under laws permitting such unions in most U.S. states.
“This is not about me. I survived,” 58-year-old Sherry Johnson told CBS news when Florida passed a bill March 9 limiting marriage to those 17 and older. Raped at age 9 and a biological mother at age 10, she was 11 when her own birth mother forced her to marry a man in his 20s, simply by getting a judge’s approval.
Most U.S. states permit marriage before age 18 under certain circumstances, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in 2017, when 27 states had no age limits stipulating how young a child could marry. But a growing number of legislatures are changing the laws, helped by the advocacy of victims like Johnson who have survived their abuse, divorced their husbands and learned to thrive.
Christians should work to protect children from such abuses by teaching the truth of the value of women found in God’s word, said Terri Stovall, dean of Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“The days of the church sticking its head in the sand [are] long past,” Stovall told Baptist Press in written comments March 14. “Churches should embrace, reinforce, and actively teach the purpose and plan God intends for marriage reflected from His word.
“The church must vocally declare that marriage was created by God as a covenant between one man and one woman for the purpose of communicating the relationship between Him and His people,” she said. “From that foundation, the church can be engaged with its people and community to be aware of what is happening around them and to come to the defense and aid of those who are being harmed.”
Raleigh Sadler, a Southern Baptist who fights sex trafficking and human slavery, is among many freedom advocates who equate child marriage with sex trafficking.
“The [federal] Trafficking Victims Protection Act explains that if someone is engaging in sexual activity while being under the age of 18, federal prosecutors do not have to prove that they were manipulated into the act,” Sadler emailed BP March 13. “By virtue of their age, they have been trafficked.
“With that said, as you can see the child marriage discussion is linked to the human trafficking conversation. If someone is under 18, they can be under the coercive influence of another, whether this be a parent or a boyfriend,” said Sadler, who equips churches to fight sex trafficking through his New York-based ministry Let My People Go. “We as the church should be concerned with child marriage. This isn’t just something happening overseas but something happening in our communities, even in our churches.”
According to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau Annual Social and Economic Supplement survey, married people ages 15-17 totaled 132,000 in the U.S. While many states don’t track child marriage statistics, between 2001 and 2010 at least 3,850 children under the age of 18 married in New York, HRW said in 2017. Between 2000 and 2015 in Florida, HRW counted 16,400 children under age 18 who were married there, 80 percent of them girls.
Florida is the latest state to pass legislation aimed at limiting child marriages. Virginia led the way in passing a law to limit child marriages in 2016, followed in 2017 by California, New York, Texas and Connecticut, although Connecticut still allows marriage for those as young as 16.
Maryland, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Missouri are among states where bills limiting child marriage are active in the 2018 legislatures and general assemblies.
The laws have not gone without challenges. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill in March 2017 that would have restricted marriage to those 18 and above, citing religious customs he did not specify, according to news reports. A similar law died in the Missouri legislature in 2017, but a new Missouri bill would limit marriage to those at least 16 years old.
Girls are disproportionately harmed by child marriage, Stovall told BP.
“The reality is even in the U.S., the vast majority of child marriages are not between teenagers, but rather are adults marrying children,” Stovall said. “Further still, many are coerced, forced, manipulated or trafficked. Even those that appear to be consensual, when one looks deeper, the picture painted often reflects more of an adult grooming or taking advantage of a young person.
“As Christians, we have the responsibility to protect the children and not turn a blind eye to anything that harms the children,” she said.

3/15/2018 11:23:50 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

California pastor A.B. Vines to be 1st VP nominee

March 14 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

California pastor A.B. Vines will be nominated for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), former SBC President Johnny Hunt announced March 13.
Vines “is a close personal friend that has a deep love for our convention,” Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., told Baptist Press (BP) via email. “In our time together he so often speaks of his passion to serve and make us better together as a convention.”

A.B. Vines

Pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego for the past 13 years, Vines has shepherded the church from being an African American congregation of 67 members to becoming a multiethnic church of 1,800 members with five campuses, including Arabic- and Spanish-language campuses, according to information provided by Hunt and the church.
Vines currently serves as president of the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) and a trustee at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). A former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, Vines has chaired the SBC’s Credentials Committee and served on the Committee on Committees.
In 2017, New Seasons recorded 14 baptisms and an average worship attendance of 578 at its primary campus, according to the church.
For 2016 – the last year for which data is available from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile (ACP) – New Seasons classified $127,737 as Great Commission Giving, 16.5 percent of the church’s undesignated receipts. Included in that figure are community feeding and clothing ministries, at least two church plants, mission work in Africa and support of a school in the Philippines, the church said.
By convention action in 2011, the SBC defined Great Commission Giving as comprising “contributions to any Baptist association, Baptist state convention, and causes and entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
New Seasons told BP it gave $6,000 through the Cooperative Program (CP) in 2017, approximately .8 percent of its undesignated receipts. It reported an additional $2,500 in giving to its local Baptist association and nearly $80,000 in total missions giving amid a building program that increased designated receipts.
Prior to the building program, the church had given $32,170 through CP in 2014, according to the California convention and ACP data.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ unified channel for supporting missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.
Vines told BP he “would love to support” SBC causes with larger monetary gifts, “but due to the fact that a lot of the SBC entities do not have a clear sense of the African American context and our African American experiences, I have to go and develop my own [ministries] so I can support those that are important to our community and to our culture.”
If elected, Vines said, “I’m going to encourage” the convention to “bring excluded groups to the table” and “realize that different cultures have different needs and situations, and you can’t pigeonhole everybody into one box.”
If Southern Baptists “ever get the racial issue together and how we should work together better,” Vines said, “I think we’re positioned to be the greatest evangelistic organization in the world.”
Vines serves on advisory boards for the ERLC and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching. He was a member of SBC Executive Committee (EC) President Frank S. Page’s African American Advisory Council and serves on the EC’s permanent Convention Advancement Advisory Council.
Vines established a global church planting ministry in 2016 called the New Seasons Church Global Network.
He holds a doctor of ministry degree and a master’s degree from Andersonville Theological Seminary in Camilla, Ga., and an undergraduate degree from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.
Vines and his wife Karen have four children and 13 grandchildren.
He is the first announced nominee for first vice president. Announced presidential nominees are J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/14/2018 9:52:26 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Embargoed Billy Graham documents to be released

March 14 2018 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Christian Resources

Known as “America’s pastor,” evangelist Billy Graham also had personal relationships with leaders around the world – in the Vatican, in Buckingham Palace, and in nations stretching from Argentina to Yugoslavia.

Photo courtesy of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Billy Graham meets with President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House in 1962.

Starting March 19, two new collections about his ministry, including notebooks documenting Graham’s personal relationship with each U.S. president from Harry S. Truman to Barack Obama, will be opened to the public. Maintained by the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College in Illinois, the collections also cover Graham’s interactions with other world leaders, his evangelistic campaigns, his work with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), and a wide range of other topics.
“These collections are a treasure house for anyone interested in Rev. Graham, American evangelicalism, or global Christianity, among many other possible subjects,” said Wheaton archivist Bob Shuster in a statement.
“People will benefit from Rev. Graham’s generosity in making them available for many years to come.”
Graham and the BGEA had embargoed the two collections until after his death, and documents within the collections remain closed until they are 30 years old. Some documents have additional restrictions.
The collections include letters, sermons, photos, audio and video files and other materials.
Graham died Feb. 21 at his home in Montreat, N.C. During his lifetime, an estimated 2.2 billion people heard him preach. See link to the Billy Graham Center Archives at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources and for LifeWay’s Facts&Trends,

3/14/2018 9:49:47 AM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Loneliness: Pastors highlight need for community

March 14 2018 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

Las Vegas, Washington, D.C. and Denver were named America’s loneliest cities in a recent study, but pastors in those cities are not surprised. They say the transient nature of modern life, along with selfishness and technology contribute to people feeling alone despite being surrounded by people.
Various reports indicate a rise in the number of people who report feeling lonely, and in Great Britain earlier this year Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a minister for loneliness. CV Outreach, an organization urging churches to use technology to reach people far from God, conducted the study identifying American cities where people are most likely to feel lonely.
Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, cited a combination of issues that could have led to “Sin City” topping the list released in February. “Over 90 percent of Las Vegans do not have a relationship with Jesus, and this leaves them with a spiritual emptiness which often leads to real loneliness,” Pitman told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.
More than 1 million people have moved to Las Vegas in the past decade, leaving people to start over building community and meaningful relationships, he said. Also, Las Vegas is an extremely fast-paced city. “The rhythm of Las Vegas life makes building meaningful relationships challenging, and it really only happens with real intentionality,” Pitman said.
Dave Howeth, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send City missionary in Denver, also cited a vast influx of people as a reason for feelings of loneliness. Seventy percent of the people who move to Denver are domestic immigrants, he said, referring to people who move from other states.
“We are a place of escape and adventure with all of the skiing, hiking, biking, mountains, etc.,” Howeth told BP in written comments. “Our No. 1 idol is the outdoors. … People move here to get away from family to live the life, but they find it costs more than they ever imagined and so they work more than planned and they are lonely because they don’t have family or relationships.”
Skylar Anderson, pastor of Cypress Community Church in Denver, told of meeting a millennial who had moved to Denver from the South and didn’t really know anyone. He was “living in a really cool neighborhood, surrounded by people” – thousands of people within about a mile of him – but he “basically knew nobody and wasn’t even sure how to connect with them.”
Anderson told the man that if he ever just wanted to watch Netflix on somebody else’s couch, he could come over to his house. “For him, that was the gospel connection,” Anderson told BP. “He had never had that offer, somebody just saying, ‘Hey, why don’t you just come to my place and watch Netflix?’”
A couple Anderson encountered had lived in Denver about six months and were talking about their work. She was in the marijuana industry and he was in the tech industry, Anderson noted, and they said, “Everyone is really nice, but it’s really hard to make friends.”
“People don’t necessarily say they’re really lonely, but the experience is, ‘I’m surrounded by people and yet I don’t feel like anybody knows me, nobody cares what’s going on in my life, nobody would know if I moved back home,’ which is what a lot of people do after two or three years,” Anderson said.
Garrett Kell, pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., told BP one factor in D.C.’s ranking on the list is that people who work in the city drive from suburbs all around and are stuck in some of the nation’s worst traffic for hours each day. Also, they’re working high stress jobs, and when they finally get home at night they just want to relax, he said.
Because of traffic, going to a friend’s house can take 25 minutes or more, Kell said, and many people lack the desire to overcome that obstacle to establish strong relationships.
Bryan Barley, pastor of Summit Church, a NAMB church plant in Denver, told BP, “Denver is a place where people live close to one another in terms of proximity, but they don’t feel close relationally.”
As a pastor, Barley helps people identify their problems and navigate them. And the reason people often feel lonely, he noted, is they are not operating in accordance to their design.
“You long for community because you were created in the image of a communal God,” Barley tells people, adding that it’s not a problem they should dismiss or distract from with social media or fun experiences.
Often when people want community, they’re looking for what they can take, but at the heart of community is a posture of commitment and sacrifice, Barley said. So he counsels people to stay in one place for a long time instead of jumping from group to group and to have a posture of giving.
Pitman in Las Vegas said the demographic of lonely people creates a massive opportunity for the gospel. “Through the gospel, we are reconciled to God but also to each other in authentic, transparent community,” Pitman said. “Real gospel transformation leads to life-changing community and doing life with others.”
One of the greatest things the church can offer places like Denver, Anderson said, is a sense of community.
“We’re in a city where [people have] everything they need except deep, meaningful relationships,” Anderson said. “The good news is that God saves you not just from your sins but into a family. Practically, that looks like a lot of cookouts, a lot of barbeque, a lot of gluten free hotdog buns.”
Kell said, “Certainly the foundation of our refuge for whatever it may be – loneliness or anxiety or fear – is knowing that we’re never alone. [God] always knows us. David boasted of this in Psalm 139, saying ‘Where can I go from Your Spirit?’
“… The Father always cares for us. We see that supremely in Jesus and the fact that He entered into our empty, broken world where we were ostracized in our sin, and He brought us near,” Kell said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

3/14/2018 9:44:02 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Oklahoma Senate votes for adoption protection

March 14 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Legislation to preserve the religious freedom of faith-based adoption agencies in Oklahoma took an important step toward becoming law March 13 with the support of national and state Baptist leaders.
The Oklahoma Senate voted 35-9 for Senate Bill 1140, a proposal that would protect private organizations from being required to take part in the placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the action would violate their “written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The bill would permit faith-based adoption agencies to abide by their religious convictions in refusing to place children with same-sex couples.
If the measure becomes law, Oklahoma will join seven other states in providing such protections for faith-based agencies. The House of Representatives must pass the bill before it goes to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin.
The proposal’s supporters are seeking to protect faith-based agencies in Oklahoma from suffering the fate of foster and adoption entities in such states as Massachusetts, where religious organizations halted their services rather than breach their beliefs by placing children with same-sex couples.
The president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the new and recently retired executive director-treasurers of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) sent letters in support of the bill before the vote.
“Faith-based adoption and foster care agencies ought not have to choose between providing children with loving families and following their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage and family,” said Russell Moore, the ERLC’s president, in a March 12 letter to Senate leaders.
“Forcing adoption and foster care providers to compromise their sincerely held beliefs in order to serve children is unconscionable,” Moore said. Such coercion not only violates religious freedom, but it is “a tragedy” for more than 440,0000 American children in foster care and 110,000 waiting for adoption, he said. Of those, Moore said, 11,000 in foster care and 4,000 awaiting adoption are in the state, according to the Oklahoma Fosters Institute.
“Until every child is welcomed into a home, we ought to make every effort to remove barriers between waiting children and loving families,” Moore wrote. “A diversity of adoption and foster care providers increases the number of children placed in forever families.”
Hance Dilbeck, the new BGCO executive director-treasurer, and Anthony Jordan, who will officially retire in April, wrote the state’s lawmakers to express their backing of the legislation.
“We have been alarmed and outraged to learn of threats to the religious liberty and moral convictions of faith-based agencies in other parts of the country, such as Massachusetts,” Dilbeck and Jordan said in their letter, according to The Baptist Messenger, the BGCO’s newspaper. “In Oklahoma, now is the time to ensure equal opportunity and protection for individuals and groups involved in foster care and adoption. Indeed the very survival and future of such organizations depends upon it.
“Southern Baptists in Oklahoma have a long history of involvement in adoption and caring for children in need of homes.”
Advocates for SB 1140 are hopeful it will become law.
This bill would “ensure a Massachusetts scenario wouldn’t happen in Oklahoma,” BGCO Communications Director Brian Hobbs told Baptist Press. “We’re very optimistic that we will be able to take a positive step toward ensuring religious liberty” in Oklahoma.
Hobbs also is staff liaison to the BGCO’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee and editor of The Baptist Messenger.
The Catholic Conference of Oklahoma has been a leader in the campaign to enact SB 1140. The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops and the Oklahoma District Council of the Assemblies of God have given public support to the legislation.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates are primary opponents of the proposal, charging it constitutes unlawful discrimination.
“We will continue to fight SB 1140 in the House, we will fight it in the court of public opinion, and we will fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if we have to,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of pro-LGBT Freedom Oklahoma, in a written release. “Discrimination is not the Oklahoma Standard, and we will not let it become so.”
The states that have provided protections for the religious liberty of faith-based organizations are Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
In addition to Massachusetts, California, Illinois and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that require faith-based agencies to place children in same-sex households, according to The Heritage Foundation.
Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat is the sponsor of the bill. Senate Republicans unanimously elected Treat as pro tem designate March 12. He will become Senate pro tem next year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/14/2018 9:39:37 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Exorcists in demand? Baptists discuss demonic activity

March 14 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Amid reports of increased demand for exorcisms among some Roman Catholics, resources by Southern Baptists are helping to clarify the Bible’s teaching on demonic activity.
“Can a Christian be demon possessed? No,” The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) theology professor Stephen Wellum said in a video posted on the seminary’s website Feb. 28. “To be demon possessed would mean one is outside of Christ, one is dead in their sins, one is under the power of the evil one.
“Can Christians though battle against principalities and powers? Is Satan a roaring lion who’s trying to deceive and lead us astray? Yes. But that’s quite different than possession,” Wellum said, noting believers “have power over” Satan.
The 13th annual course on “exorcism and the prayer of liberation” – a Catholic class on casting out “impure spirits” among other topics – is scheduled for April 16-21 at the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome, according to a press release. This year’s course has drawn some media attention in light of a February Vatican Radio report – summarized in English by USA Today – of a threefold increase in demand for Catholic exorcists in Italy alone.
Italian priest Benigno Palilla told Vatican Radio, “We priests, very often, do not know how to deal with the concrete cases presented to us,” according to USA Today’s translation. He added, “A self-taught exorcist certainly meets errors.”
The Catholic News Agency has reported on exorcism at least three times thus far in 2018, including a January report that demand for exorcisms in Ireland “has risen exponentially.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official statement of Catholic doctrine, claims, “The solemn exorcism, called ‘a major exorcism,’ can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church.”
The Catholic Church’s teachings on demonic activity and the priest’s role in fighting it appear to differ from the doctrine articulated by Wellum in SBTS’s “honest answers” video series.
Nonbelievers can be “controlled” or “possessed” by demons, Wellum said, citing Ephesians 2:2. Yet all believers “can resist [Satan]. We have power over him. Satan’s power has been defeated at the cross and in the resurrection.
“He no longer can hold death over our heads. He can no longer hold sin over our heads,” Wellum said.
The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook, published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, recommends several biblical strategies by which all followers of Christ can resist Satan’s attacks and temptations to sin:

  • “Confess all known sin (1 John 1:9) with the understanding that the sin is to be abandoned.”
  • Be alert “to Satan’s designs and intentions” (1 Peter 5:8).
  • “Put Satan in his place,” as when Jesus rebuked him verbally in Matthew 16:23.
  • “Use scripture” (Matthew 4:1-11).
  • Prioritize “intimate, daily devotional time with the Lord,” which “will help us resist Satan and result in his fleeing” (James 4:7-8).

“Satan will have no power or influence over the Christian who submits constantly to the dominion of Christ, to the authority and illumination of the Word of God, to the discipline of prayer and to involvement with a dynamic group of Christian believers. This is what is meant by putting on the ‘whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’ (Ephesians 6:11),” according to the Graham handbook.
Following a 2010 meeting on exorcism organized by Catholic bishops in Baltimore, SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. explained why evangelicals “do not have a rite of exorcism, like those prescribed by the Catholic Church, in which clergy members recite prescribed words to supposedly drive away a demon.
“To adopt such an invention would be to surrender the high ground of the gospel,” Mohler wrote in a commentary. “We are engaged in spiritual warfare every minute of every day, whether we recognize it or not.”
Proclamation of the gospel, Mohler said, is the church’s greatest weapon against demon possession.
“There is nothing the demons fear or hate more than evangelism and missions, where the gospel pushes back with supernatural power against their possessions, rendering them impotent and powerless,” Mohler wrote. “Every time a believer shares the gospel and declares the name of Jesus, the demons and the devil lose their power.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

3/14/2018 9:36:52 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tony Floyd named next president of Mars Hill University

March 13 2018 by BR Staff

John Anthony “Tony” Floyd will become president of Mars Hill University at the end of the current academic calendar, the board of trustees announced March 9. Floyd comes from a post at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, as executive vice president, and will succeed Dan Lunsford, who is set to retire later this year.
“I can’t wait to get here and work with you to turn out these young people, citizens of the world – citizens who can be responsible and be a solution to what our world faces,” he said before an assembly of students after being introduced by trustees, according to a press release. The meeting took place in Broyhill Chapel on the university's campus in Mars Hill, N.C., approximately 20 miles north of Asheville.

Tony Floyd, next president of Mars Hill University, speaks to students March 9.

MHU photo
Tony Floyd speaks to the Mars Hill University community after being introduced as the next president of the university.

“I want to encourage us to dream and to stretch,” Floyd said. “I’m going to push – I’m going to be here to nudge you forward, to ask you to stretch beyond what you think you can do, because that’s what I’m doing.”
Floyd holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of South Carolina and a doctor of law degree from Campbell University. He practiced law for more than 20 years before joining Coker College in 2012. He and his wife, Terry, have two daughters.
At his installation June 1, Floyd will be the sixth president of Mars Hill since its founding in 1897.
Read the full press release below:
The Mars Hill University board of trustees introduced John Anthony “Tony” Floyd, J.D., on Friday, March 9, 2018, as the next president of Mars Hill University. Floyd will succeed Dan G. Lunsford, who retires at the end of the academic year. Floyd currently is executive vice president of Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, where he also serves as coordinator of the political science major and coordinator of the pre-law specialization. He will begin his position at Mars Hill on June 1.
Speaking to a packed house in Broyhill Chapel, Floyd told the assembled students, staff, faculty, and community members that his “heart was pounding” with excitement over the opportunities the university presidency presents. “I want to encourage us to dream and to stretch,” he said. “I’m going to push – I’m going to be here to nudge you forward, to ask you to stretch beyond what you think you can do, because that’s what I’m doing.”
Floyd acknowledged the university’s commitment to the liberal arts, to its Christian heritage, and to offering to students a scholarly faculty from which to learn. “I can’t wait to get here and work with you to turn out these young people, citizens of the world – citizens who can be responsible and be a solution to what our world faces,” he said.
Floyd will be only the sixth president of Mars Hill University since 1897. He praised the university community’s commitment to upholding its traditions. “Traditions are powerful at Mars Hill,” he said. “One of the traditions you have is that you don’t do this very often, and I’d like for you to keep that tradition. This is only the sixth time in 121 years. I recognize the responsibility that comes with that.”
And he paid tribute to the strong work of his predecessor, promising to build on Lunsford’s 16 years at the helm: “I give you my pledge today that we’re going to honor what you’ve done here and we’re going to keep going.”
Lunsford promised to be of assistance in any way needed by the new president, but also promised to “stay out of his way,” saying he had “absolute confidence” in Floyd to be the next leader of the institution. “He can do the job,” Lunsford said, adding a self-deprecating follow-up, “If I could do it, there’s no question he can do it.”
Referencing remarks given by students at an event earlier in the day, in which they mentioned they’re 63 days away from graduation, Lunsford put his own timetable at 65 days, saying he’ll work through the university’s annual Lion Pride Day campus work day on the Monday after spring commencement and then take some well earned vacation time.
Floyd was joined by his wife, Terry, and daughters, Olivia and Sarah.
Floyd earned his bachelor of science degree in business management from the University of South Carolina, and his juris doctor from Campbell University. Following a 23-year career in private law practice, he joined Coker College in 2012 as vice president of administration and legal counsel, and was named executive vice president in 2015.
His duties include serving as legal counsel and chief financial officer. He is responsible for strategic planning, endowment management, compliance, campus dining, facilities and grounds, student success, student and residential life, campus safety, and human resources. Floyd describes his leadership style as “focused on shaping the college campus experience for multiple constituencies.”
The American Council on Education (ACE) named Floyd an ACE Fellow for 2014-15. The ACE Fellows Program provides an immersive leadership training experience to senior leaders to help prepare them for the challenges facing higher education.
Lunsford announced in January 2017 his plan to retire during the 2017-18 academic year, with the specific date dependent on the search for his successor. Lunsford became president on an interim basis in January 2002, following the resignation of the late Max Lennon. The board of trustees of what was then Mars Hill College made the position permanent in May 2003.
Lunsford’s tenure at Mars Hill University has been marked by growth in many areas, fitting the theme of his presidency: Preserving the Past, Assuring the Future. Under Lunsford the school transitioned from a college to a university in 2013; completed its first comprehensive capital campaign (and is in the final stages of its second); saw the largest building boom in campus facilities since the 1970s (with the addition of three new residence halls and three new classroom and laboratory buildings, as well as the building and renovation of several athletic facilities); established the Asheville Center for Adult and Graduate Studies in south Asheville; added a large portion of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places; strengthened and added academic programs (including an Honors Program, master’s degrees in elementary education and in management, and a nursing school); and increased funding for scholarships and other financial aid for students.

3/13/2018 2:51:40 PM by BR Staff | with 0 comments

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