May 2009

Churches respond to mental illness

May 29 2009 by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School.

“It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days.

Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful.

“When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said.

“It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.”

When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful.

“When dealing with people in the church ... some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists.

Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives.

“Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,” Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted.

“The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.”

As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion.

“When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority. But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality.

Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness.

“Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted.

“It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said.

Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees.

“The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted.

Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed.

“Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted.

Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders.

Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed.

“Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said. Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope.

“The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said.

They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed.

“There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said.

She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time. People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted.

“Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said.

Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted.

“Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)

For more information:
National Alliance on Mental Illness
(800) 950-6264

Anxiety Disorders Association of America
(240) 485-1001

Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance
(800) 826-3632

American Association of Christian Counselors
(800) 526-8673
Stephen Ministries
(314) 428-2600
5/29/2009 10:02:00 AM by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Pastors often need help with own mental health

May 29 2009 by Jennifer Harris, Associated Baptist Press

Congregations often view their pastors as strong, stable shepherds, but many ministers experience a disconnect between the image they project and the mental and emotional battles to which they are subject.

“I have never met a clergy person, either in therapy or out, who did not suffer some type of wound to their self,” said clinical psychologist Robert Randall, who spent 37 years as minister of counseling at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Elmhurst, Ill.

Clergy are not very good at taking care of their health, he said. “The common excuse is ‘not enough time,’ but the underlying problem has more to do with narcissistic issues.”

Clergy want to be seen as unshakeable and don’t allow anyone to see what they are going through. Instead, they keep “working and working” to be seen as productive and indispensable, Randall said.

“For some clergy, there is a long history of struggles to maintain firm self-cohesion and self-esteem,” he said. “But even pastors with a firm sense of self are always vulnerable to having their self shaken.”

Cliff Caton, pastor of First Christian Church in Blue Springs, Mo., and a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Kansas City, Kan., speaks about his history of depression from the pulpit.

Caton’s experience with depression came before he was a pastor. He lost his job at a bank, faced the foreclosure of his home and was divorced — all in a 90-day period. “I just sat in my apartment for a year, leaving to go to the gym and buy groceries,” he said.

Sharing his experience from the pulpit gives his congregation permission to not be perfect themselves, he said. Several have come forward to seek help for their own struggles.

Speaking about depression and other mental health issues can help remove the stigma, he said. “A number of clergy still view it [depression] as a weakness, but it’s a disease. Is there shame in having mumps?”

Randall recommends four steps for pastors facing depression:
  • “Admit you are depressed and need help. Understand that this admission is a sign of strength, not of weakness — you care enough about yourself, and about those whose lives you touch, to reclaim your life.
  • “Get into psychotherapy with a good therapist, one who not only understands depression but also understands the life of ministry. Stick with the therapy!
  • “Consult your M.D. or a psychiatrist who your therapist might know to discuss the possible need for antidepressants. Stick with the medication!
  • “Keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if you don’t feel like it. Maintain your routine.”
While Caton had good experience speaking to his congregation about his depression, Randall cautions against sharing while in the midst of the struggles. “If a depressed pastor is still functioning fairly well, then the pastor should treat his/her depression as his own personal issue, shared with family and select friends, but not made a congregational issue.”

If the pastor’s work is impaired, he or she needs to inform the elected leaders of the church. The pastor and the leaders can discuss the best way to inform the congregation and the path that needs to be taken, Randall said.

“At all times the pastor wants to avoid trying to attract sympathy to him- or herself. The pastor and church leaders should lift up the situation of the pastor’s depression as a normal human predicament that commonly arises in individuals, that can be overcome and that will be dealt with common sense and caring skill.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Harris is a news writer for Word & Way, the historic newspaper of Missouri Baptists.)

5/29/2009 10:00:00 AM by Jennifer Harris, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Do new buildings, services lead to growth?

May 28 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With two-thirds of all Protestant churches having expanded their ministry space or outlets in the past five years, a new study by LifeWay Research shows:
  • Two of these types of expansion corresponding to higher levels of growth in church attendance: adding a worship service and building new space on site.
  • Five other types tested reflecting no significant relationship with growth.
Pastors, meanwhile, estimate that only 1 in 3 newcomers to their churches are actually newcomers to church in general, according to the research conducted for Cornerstone Knowledge Network, a network of firms founded by Cogun Inc. and the Aspen Group focused on developing building and leadership solutions for churches. LifeWay Research is a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The study, “Effects of Ministry Space and Outlet Expansion,” was conducted Feb. 16-23, 2009, through a telephone survey of 1,000 pastors of randomly selected Protestant churches. The sample size of 1,000 pastors, according to LifeWay Research, provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent.

“We wanted to explore the various ways churches are expanding their ministry space as well as measure growth rate and type, costs and staffing,” said Jim Couchenour, director of marketing and ministry services at Cogun Inc. “We can now clarify the expansion options and how they might fit into a particular church’s DNA and vision for more effective ministry.”

Seven types of expansion were included in the survey:
  • Building new or additional ministry space at the same site of an existing church.
  • Building a new facility at a new site.
  • Adding an additional worship service or venue on site.
  • Adding an additional worship service or venue off site.
  • Beginning to offer streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet.
  • Directly participating in helping start a new church or churches.
  • Merging with another church.
Of these seven types of ministry expansion, the pastors surveyed indicated that adding an additional worship service or venue on site is most closely related to higher growth in attendance, followed by building new or additional ministry space at the same site where the church is located. Churches that expanded in those two ways experienced significantly higher levels of growth in average worship attendance over a five-year period, according to the pastors surveyed.

The pastors were asked whether each of these types of expansion leads to growth. More than two-thirds agreed (strongly or somewhat) that five of the types of expansion lead to growth. Forty-two (42) percent agreed that merging with another church leads to growth beyond the attendance of the two merged churches, while 39 percent agreed that offering online streaming video leads to additional in-person attendees. One in 4 pastors strongly agreed that building additional space leads to growth, while 15 percent strongly agreed that relocating to a new or different facility leads to growth.

Pastors in churches that have implemented a particular type of expansion were more likely to strongly agree that it leads to growth.

No expansion, less growth
Overall, 44 percent of Protestant pastors estimated that their worship attendance has grown by at least 10 percent during the previous five years, 23 percent said their attendance has declined at least 10 percent and 33 percent reported stable attendance.

Among pastors of churches that have not engaged in ministry expansion during the last five years, a far smaller percentage (34 percent) reported growth in attendance; 37 percent reported stable average worship attendance; and 29 percent reported declining attendance.

“Many churches who do not take steps to expand are struggling,” said Scott McConnell, associate director of LifeWay Research. “Pastors of churches who take the same message to more people through new methods and new media are expressing the positive impact of these steps of faith.”

On average, the Protestant pastors estimated that 49 percent of their new attendees during the last five years had transferred from other congregations, while 32 percent were unchurched and 19 percent were children born to adults attending the church.

Among pastors of churches that have expanded their ministry, the estimate of new attendees who were previously unchurched does not vary significantly by type of expansion. According to the pastor survey data, the percentage of unchurched ranged from a low of 31 percent among churches that built a new facility at a new site to a high of 36 percent among churches that began streaming video of worship services and those that merged with another church.

Sixty-five percent of Protestant churches have expanded their ministries within the last five years in at least one of the seven ways surveyed. The specific types of expansion involved:
  • 28 percent adding an additional worship service or venue on site.
  • 28 percent directly participating in helping start a new church or churches.
  • 27 percent building new or additional ministry space at the same site.
  • 14 percent beginning to offer streaming video of worship services or teaching on the Internet.
  • 10 percent adding an additional worship service or venue off site.
  • 4 percent building a new facility at a new site.
  • 3 percent merging with another church.
Among the study’s other findings:

Churches that have expanded their ministries in any of these ways hired an average of 0.6 full-time and 1.1 part-time employees related to this expansion.

The relative cost of each type of expansion varies widely, with the most expensive option being a new facility at a new site, followed by additional ministry space on site. The least expensive expansion option is adding virtual space such as utilizing the Internet for worship services and/or teaching.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.)

5/28/2009 6:06:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pakistan-Taliban fighting creates 2.2 million refugees

May 28 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An estimated 2.2 million people have been driven from their homes by fighting in Pakistan’s Swat Valley — raising the specter of a humanitarian crisis rivaling the refugee exodus during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, relief workers on the ground in Pakistan say.

On-site assessments and media reports on the needs of internally displaced people indicate a lack of food staples, cooking utensils, bedding and shelter, reported Francis Horton, who directs work in southern Asia for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

Southern Baptists have begun a relief effort to provide 1,000 families with desperately needed food, blankets and cooking utensils through World Hunger and General Relief funds. This follows another initiative that addressed the needs of 75 families.

The vast majority of the people fleeing Pakistan’s Swat Valley and two adjoining districts in northwest Pakistan are staying with relatives or renting a place to live, rather than entering government camps, Horton said. The largest percentage of refugees appears to be women and children.

The exodus began April 26, when government troops launched an assault on Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley. The government had signed an agreement with the Taliban in February allowing the Taliban to implement Sharia law in the Swat Valley in return for ending their year-long insurgency. Taliban militants, however, quickly moved into surrounding districts as close to 60 miles from the capital and even made shows of force in the Karachi area, some 700 miles away. The government responded with an offensive that it says has killed an estimated 1,190 Taliban, with the loss of 75 government soldiers.

Pakistan faces a humanitarian crisis on a level the world has not seen since millions of Rwandans fled the 1994 genocide in that country, said one relief worker in the area. Many are arriving in destitution after a dangerous journey.

“Men, women and children fled the violence in buses, taxis, trucks, carts and on foot,” the worker said. “Few people were afforded the luxury of bringing their belongings with them. Most escaped with only the clothes they were wearing and possessions they could carry in their hands.

“Upon reaching ‘safety,’ these refugees stumbled into hastily established tent camps, which were inadequately prepared to deal with the barrage of refugees who arrive in greater numbers every day,” the worker said. “Food supplies are inadequate. The lack of sanitation facilities and crowded conditions proliferate infections and disease. In an effort to avoid these conditions, families seek shelter in apartments with relatives, with 20 or 30 people vying for space in small rented rooms.”

Besides needing the bare necessities of daily survival, women are struggling in the crowded conditions, the worker noted. “Many of these women have spent their entire lives observing ‘purdah,’ the practice of seclusion from men who aren’t close relatives through wearing a ‘burqa’ or remaining inside the confines of one’s home,” he said.

“I have remained within the four walls of our house since the day I was married, 35 years ago,” one woman told a relief worker. “I have left it and our small courtyard on only a few occasions.”

“These women have never shopped or used local transportation on their own,” the relief worker said. “This is the first time many of them have left their village. These women face tremendous difficulty even in simple tasks such as shopping and transportation. They do not speak the national language and they have very little money left to buy food.”

The Southern Baptist relief initiative is being conducted in partnership with national partners, including Christians and a team of men who were helped by Southern Baptists after an earthquake devastated their homes in 2005 and now are helping in the assessment effort at their own expense, Horton said.

The relief supplies being distributed involve food rations — including rice, flour, salt, sugar, powdered milk and cooking oil — as well as cooking and eating utensils. The project also will address the need for clean water and will provide tents, sleeping mats and blankets where those needs exist.

The initiative is being funded with $56,500 from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund and $43,000 from the General Relief Fund, Horton said. The cost per beneficiary is approximately $16.50. The earlier project was funded with $3,000 from the World Hunger Fund and $2,000 from the General Relief Fund.

Reaching out to people in this crisis will help them experience God’s love and could open the door for future community development initiatives that would help them improve the quality of their lives once they are able to return home, Horton said.

“These people will have the opportunity to meet Christians who care about the crisis they are experiencing,” Horton said. “Experiencing God’s love firsthand through this outreach will give them an opportunity to understand God’s love and His desire for them to have meaningful lives filled with purpose and hope.”

Christians involved in the relief effort asked other believers to specifically pray that:
  • The government of Pakistan will respond quickly and with integrity during this crisis and that God would raise up faithful leaders who will act righteously toward the people.
  • Adequate provisions will reach the needy, medicine will reach the sick and justice will be administered to those who take advantage of the poor.
  • Opportunities would arise for ministering through distribution and education and that national partners would come alongside to help with the effort.
“Please pray for our teams as we have an opportunity to share the love of Christ and be His hands and feet here,” one relief worker said. “As we supply food, water, bedding, cooking items and educational support, pray that we would be Christ to these people.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at Information about giving to the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund is available at

5/28/2009 6:03:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Laid-off religious workers denied jobless benefits

May 27 2009 by Steven G. Vegh, Religion News Service

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — God may provide, but the state may not when it comes to unemployment benefits for employees laid off by churches, synagogues and other religious groups.

Carol Bronson discovered that a few months ago after she lost her secretarial job at Temple Emanuel synagogue in Virginia Beach. Bronson assumed she could draw unemployment benefits, but when she filed a claim, she was denied.    

It was a hard way to learn that under Virginia law, as in many states, tax exemptions for religious organizations include freedom from paying unemployment taxes, though the IRS requires they pay Social Security and withholding taxes.

“I had no idea that there would not be any benefits for me after leaving my job,” said Bronson, who worked at the synagogue for two years. She’s since found a job with a wholesale flower market.

Neither did Rabbi Howard Mandell of Temple Emanuel. The synagogue had no knowledge of Virginia tax law when it decided on a layoff, he wrote in an e-mail.

Budget cuts, including layoffs, are one way religious congregations are coping with a recession that has slashed their income from investments or contributions.    

Unemployment benefits are not available for most who lose church jobs.

Earlier this year, a survey by the National Association of Church Business Administration showed that 32 percent of responding U.S. churches were having economy-related difficulties, up from 14 percent in August. Twenty percent said they had laid off staff.

For workers who are left jobless, unemployment benefits are a big piece of the social safety net. In Virginia, payments range from $54 to $378 weekly. Benefits are available only to people whose employers paid the unemployment tax.

Not every state bars unemployment compensation to employees of religious groups.

In New York, for example, employees whose work is not religious in nature, such as a cook or a secretary, are entitled to benefits, and their employer must pay the state unemployment tax, said Karen Williamson of the New York Department of Labor.

But in Virginia, the lack of state unemployment benefits surprised Jane Dembert, who was laid off by Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk earlier this year.

Dembert was the church’s director of communications and had worked there 17 years when she lost her job. She filed for state unemployment benefits and was denied.

C. Berkley Ford of Christ and St. Luke’s said the cutback was a painful choice. He said the church was grappling with lower revenue and higher demand for services such as its soup kitchen. He gave his own cost-of-living pay raise back to the church.    

“We have no say over whether or not an employee who loses their job for economic reasons is entitled to collect unemployment insurance,” he said. “That’s determined by the state agency.”

Dembert is allowed to stay on the church’s health insurance policy for 18 months, though she must pay 100 percent of the premiums.    

Coleman Walsh, chief administrative law judge with the state’s employment commission, said his experience is that most people don’t know faith-based groups are exempt from unemployment taxes.

Sarah Scott Thomas, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, said that’s true in her faith community, which announced on May 15 the layoffs of three employees at the diocese’s headquarters in Norfolk. She said people mistakenly view churches as nonprofit organizations, subject to the same tax regulations covering secular nonprofit groups that pay into unemployment.    

Despite their tax exemption, religious groups in Virginia can voluntarily pay unemployment benefits. That’s what the Catholic Diocese of Richmond has done with a self-insurance fund rather than paying into the state fund.

The arrangement allows a laid-off parish staffer, parochial school employee or diocesan worker to file a claim with the unemployment commission. If the commission approves the claim, it bills the diocese for the total amount of benefits the worker will receive.

The diocese reimburses the state and then recovers that sum from the school, parish or Catholic entity where the employee formerly worked. The diocese adopted the self-insurance model in 1981 to match working conditions of secular nonprofits, said John Barrett, the diocese’s finance director.    

Rex Frieze, an Orlando, Fla.-based expert on church accounting and taxes, said religious groups should tell workers during hiring that they won’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

“If they leave the church, they won’t be covered, and that is a shock for many churches,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Vegh is a writer for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.)

5/27/2009 7:52:00 AM by Steven G. Vegh, Religion News Service | with 3 comments

The gospel according to Twitter

May 27 2009 by Amy Green, Religion News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — Do you tweet during church? Isn’t it rude?

David Loveless doesn’t think so. Loveless is lead pastor of Discovery Church, a nondenominational congregation that draws some 4,000 on Sundays to three locations in Orlando. The congregation has always thrived on the cutting edge, becoming among the first to embrace contemporary music and remove its steeple from its building.

Now the congregation is tweeting — using 21st-century technology to discuss the gospel in 140-character cell-phone text updates sent via Twitter.

The technology emerged naturally here, as something parishioners brought with them to Sundays from the rest of their week. Loveless recognized it as a new way to communicate, and he began posing questions during his sermons and asking parishioners to “tweet” back by texting their responses. Those responses were then woven into his sermons, creating an instantaneous dialogue between pulpit and pew.

“In John 1, when Jesus was referred to as ‘the Word that became flesh,’ God knew exactly what was the most relevant form of communication for the first century,” Loveless said. “It made people feel like, ‘My gosh, he talks my language.’ That would be people’s responses these days, in going, ‘My gosh, my pastor tweets.’”

It is the newest technology arriving in contemporary church services. In fact, it’s so new, and growing so fast, that there’s no data to say just how many churches have embraced it.

No longer is the cell phone such a pariah — only ringing cell phones are. Instead, church leaders are inviting worshippers to tweet and text their way through services as a way to share their prayers and reflections with neighbors in the pews, or their family, friends and
“followers” on Twitter.

“It’s a hot-bed issue right now, and people are on two sides of the fence about it,” said Matt Carlisle, a Nashville, Tenn.-based technology and new media consultant for faith-based groups and nonprofits.  

“As Christians, we are to witness, we are to make disciples for Jesus Christ. And if we can embrace new technology to do that, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t embrace Twitter, why we shouldn’t embrace Facebook.”

Many church leaders embraced new media such as Twitter and Facebook long ago as a way to create an online gathering place and promote upcoming events. Now some are taking it further, encouraging tweeting and texting during services as a way to create dialogue and strengthen a sense of community.

Michael Campbell, the 30-year-old pastor of the 230-member Montrose Seventh-day Adventist Church in Montrose, Colo., poses questions during his sermons and asks worshippers to text their responses, which are displayed on a screen. Like Loveless, Campbell then discusses the responses.

In other congregations, Twitter has emerged quietly and organically, with parishioners tweeting their reflections during services in the same way they tweet their thoughts or activities throughout the week. The dialogue also allows real-time discussion and gives those who couldn’t make it a chance to monitor services from afar.

“I’m a younger pastor,” Campbell said. “You’re just building that sense of community, and people are interested in that because now they are part of the sermon.”

But isn’t it distracting? Doesn’t it detract from the contemplative and meditative nature of spirituality? Carlisle points out that parishioners long have been taking notes during services, and that never has been distracting to others.

“I don’t think the etiquette has been established yet,” he said. “Literally, within a year’s time, this thing has been happening at a handful of congregations.”

At Mars Hill Church in Seattle, leaders never decided to add Twitter to services. It just happened, said Ian Sanderson, a church spokesman.

The nondenominational congregation draws some 8,000 worshippers at nine locations, including a new one in Albuquerque, N.M. Seattle is a tech-savvy place, and the average member at Mars Hill is in his or her 20s. Tweeting and texting encourages dialogue across the congregation’s multiple locations, and it helps church staff keep up with what
parishioners are thinking and feeling, Sanderson said.

“I would say probably 80 or 90 percent of the church staff is on Twitter,” he said. “If the old rules aren’t helping anyone in their walk and their relationship with Jesus, if you can pull out your iPhone and Twitter something about the sermon and that helps your whole group of friends, we’re not going to frown on that at all.”

5/27/2009 7:50:00 AM by Amy Green, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

N.C. Baptists help West Virginia flood victims

May 26 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

N.C. Baptists are learning to help people who usually shy away from outside influences.

The area of West Virginia hit by floods after heavy rainfall May 10-11 is particularly family oriented, said Tommy Styers, who is overseeing N.C. Baptist disaster relief efforts in Mingo County. Folks who usually don’t want help from anyone other than family are letting volunteers come in and clean out their homes, he said.

Styers said that the workers are witnessing and sharing the gospel with the flood victims.

“And they’re receptive,” he said.

The pastor at Freedom Full Gospel Assembly House of Prayer, where the N.C. Baptist volunteers are based, told them about the difference they are making. The minister said he’d been talking to one man for three years. After the volunteers worked at his house one day, the man was talking about going to church, Styers said.

“It’s opening up avenues to help (the church) reach people after we’re done,” he said.

Many of the 2,500 structures reportedly destroyed or severely damaged by floodwaters are in Mingo County. Gov. Joe Manchin told the Charleston Daily Mail that 80 percent of the businesses in Gilbert, where N.C. Baptists are concentrating their efforts, were “wiped out.”

Styers arrived in West Virginia May 21 for an 8-day stay. In addition to being in charge of the relief efforts, he’s been cooking breakfast for team members.

“When I get a break, I clean the bathrooms and carry the trash out,” he said.

Ten N.C. Baptist workers were in West Virginia on May 26 with six others on the way.

Gaylon Moss, who oversees N.C. Baptist disaster relief efforts for N.C. Baptist Men, said about 30 N.C. Baptists from all over the state have worked about 200 volunteer days in West Virginia. Volunteers are expected to continue to work in Gilbert, W.Va., for a couple weeks more, he said.

“It is one of the hardest hit areas,” he said.

Ron Gooden from Hebron Baptist Church in Statesville was overseeing the efforts from about May 13 to May 22, according to Moss.

The workers have completed 28 tasks out of the 76 requests they’ve received, Styers said.

The jobs are called “mud-outs” but Styers said many of them involve crawling under trailers to remove water-soaked insulation and ductwork. Others require the removal of sheetrock and flooring that was damaged by water.

“We’re all flexible,” Styers said. “We do what we need to do.”

Styers said he can see the Lord’s hand in the teams’ work.

“It works so good whenever the need is there and there’s somebody there that the Lord has put there who can do what needs to be done,” he said.


5/26/2009 12:19:00 PM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 1 comments

Hollifield supports aims of GCR declaration

May 26 2009 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

North Carolina Baptists’ top administrator stands with the originators of the Great Commission Resurgence document that calls for, among other things, an evaluation of “Convention structures and priorities.”

Although Milton A. Hollifield Jr., Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) executive director-treasurer, had not joined almost 2,800 others by May 26 who have signed the document, which would publicly endorse the 10 commitments it calls for, he said in his address to the BSC board May 20 that “I stand with the leaders of this great movement.”

Only two executives of Baptist state conventions have signed the document. The public statements of some indicate they feel singled out as part of the “bloated bureaucracy” mentioned in the sermon by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin from which the Great Commission Resurgence document was derived. They resent it and the document’s originators, Akin and SBC President Johnny Hunt, are meeting June 8 with many to assure them they are friends and supporters of state convention leaders.

As of May 26 the presidents of 14 Baptist state conventions have signed the document, including North Carolina’s Rick Speas and Allan Blume, BSC board president.

Hollifield said Akin and Hunt “acknowledge to me they don’t have all the answers but they want to see Southern Baptists become a stronger mission force … and I support their effort.”

Hollifield said Baptists at all levels of denominational life “must take a hard look at ourselves and be willing to change.”

In other points of his address, Hollifield said North Carolina Baptists have faced difficult economic times before and rebounded with strength. He noted historical accounts from the Biblical Recorder in 1923 and 1929 in which leadership said, “We must cut expenses during hard times.”

“People can be drawn to radical obedience” when they trust the providence of God, Hollifield said.

He recalled the “largest downsizing in our history” in 2003 when 24 positions were eliminated from the BSC staff, and 15 people lost their jobs. Since then a position evaluation committee must approve continuation of any newly vacant position before it can be refilled.

Seven new positions have been added to the Convention staff since 2003, Hollifield said. Ten approved positions remain unfilled.

He said Convention staff is managing the decline in Cooperative Program income by “scrutinizing the budget,” by prioritizing efforts and by challenging the staff to work “hard, smart and efficiently.”

He said he “painfully told staff,” that he “cannot promise you we will not have to cut any positions.” Currently, running on an internal budget significantly lower than the budget approved by messengers in 2007 for 2009, Convention revenue is $550,000 ahead of expenses, he said.

Hollifield reminded directors that just three years after the 2003 downsizing, the Convention realized its “largest Cooperative Program receipts in history.”

Gifts dipped in 2008 to nearly $4.8 million less than the budget approved by messengers in the 2007 annual meeting, he said. The only two areas of work receiving more funds than in previous years are church planting and Southern Baptists’ national and international work.

“The Baptist State Convention is healthy and doing well,” Hollifield said. “We have a tremendous, bright future before us.”

5/26/2009 4:40:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 0 comments

101 appointees include N.C. missionaries

May 26 2009 by Baptist Press

DENVER, Colo. — Twelve people with North Carolina ties were among 101 missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board (IMB) May 20 at Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colo.

Six appointees are considered code 3 by IMB standards and are unable to share their names with the general public.

Of the other six, all are considered apprentices and one is a N.C. native. Marissa Leigh Hess is a native of Charlotte. She and her husband, Kenneth Douglas Hess, will be taking their three-year-old daughter to South America. Most recently, they have been living in Kentucky.

The other two couples are connected with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. Steven Michael Gillum and his wife Emily Jean Gillum, will also be going to South America. They are members of First Baptist Church in Durham.

Brent Lewis Turner and Amanda Sue Turner will be living in Central, Eastern, Southern Africa where he will be a church planter and evangelist. They have a one-year-old daughter. The Turners are members of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh.

This service was the fourth-largest appointment in the organization’s history. The appointees will join more than 5,600 others already on the field.

Jonah and the whale
The story of Jonah and the whale is at times overshadowed by its uniqueness, IMB President Jerry Rankin told the new appointees, noting that the story’s message is not about the whale swallowing Jonah, but rather of a “rejected call, a second chance and God’s compassion being revealed.”

IMB photo by Michael Logan

New missionaries pray with Bobbye Rankin, wife of International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin. They were among 101 missionaries appointed May 20 at Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colo.

The message of this Old Testament story is still relevant today, Rankin noted. And it is a challenge to those who go in obedience to God’s call. His urgent concern for Nineveh is the same He has for the cities of the world today, Rankin said.

Some people who sense God’s call to overseas missions try to bargain with God, saying they’ll serve Him in America by being faithful church members and witnesses, Rankin said.

“The only problem is, God was calling you to Nineveh,” he said. “Meanwhile multitudes of unreached people groups perished without anyone to tell them of the hope they would find in Jesus Christ.”

According to Romans 10:14-15, “But how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”

“That is why we are appointing you and sending you out -- to answer that call,” Rankin said. “Like Jonah, not to save the nations through your efforts, through anything that you can do or through your advice, but as Jonah, to proclaim the Word of the Lord.”

Future appointment services
Because of an anticipated shortfall in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and a decrease in Cooperative Program giving during the current economic downturn, the IMB will limit the number of new missionaries appointed for the rest of the year after a July appointment service in Lebanon, Ohio.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brandon is a writer for the International Mission Board.)

5/26/2009 3:51:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chaplain gives comfort, conveys hope

May 26 2009 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — It wasn’t by chance that Chaplain (Capt.) Kent Coffey arrived at the Combat Stress Center on Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq, just moments after a U.S. soldier opened fire, killing five soldiers and wounding three others May 11.

“It was the providence of God that I was even aware of what had happened,” Coffey said. He and his assistant (Pvt.) Russ Glover were walking back to the division chapel after lunch, 30 minutes later than normal, when they noticed emergency vehicle lights at the Combat Stress Center. Having served closely with combat stress team members, Coffey and Glover stopped to see if they could be of help.

They were the first chaplain team to arrive on the scene. Coffey sent Glover to the chapel to call for chaplain reinforcements while he talked to the soldiers on site to sort out what had happened.

NAMB photo by Carol Pipes

Chaplain (Capt.) Kent Coffey serves as battalion chaplain for the Division Special Troops Battalion, 1 Calvary Division from Fort Hood, Texas, serving at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, Iraq.

Once the division chaplain arrived to take over at the scene of the incident, Coffey and Glover headed to the Troop Medical Clinic where the wounded soldiers were being treated. They arrived just as the medical staff had “called” the death of one of the victims.

“The staff was still lingering in the treatment room, so I gathered them all, and we said a prayer for the soldier’s family,” Coffey recounted. The commander of the medical unit asked Coffey to stay and help with an After Action Review. “I said a prayer and spoke some words of encouragement, offering my praise for the work they do in times like these.”

In the meantime, the division chapel where Coffey serves had been turned into the center of operations for evaluating the soldiers who had been in the Combat Stress Center at the time of the shootings. Coffey soon learned that one of his battalion’s soldiers had witnessed the deadly incident.

“I was only able to speak to her briefly, but I told her that if she wanted to talk I was available day or night.”

Later that evening, Coffey and Glover went back to the clinic to offer further support. Again, God’s timing was evident. The team of first responders who had given life-saving measures to one of the soldiers had gathered for a gut check. They asked Coffey to join them.

“The captain who led the session was excellent. He got them talking and then turned it over to me,” Coffey said. He went on to conduct a mini-Critical Event Debrief, designed to allow soldiers to share their experiences with each other, to talk about thoughts and feelings in a safe environment and help them process the events.

“I was amazed at how well these soldiers were able to rally around each other and embrace their shared experience,” Coffey said. “It was good to see people sharing and see that others were experiencing the same thoughts and feelings as their fellow soldiers. I finished that time with prayer and stuck around a while in case anyone wanted to talk.”

The next day, Coffey and Glover attended the ramp ceremony at the Air Force base as the fallen soldiers were placed on an angel flight en route to their homes in the U.S.

“There were tons of people out there, paying tribute to these men,” Coffey said. “I was glad we went if for nothing else than to just lay my hand on the back of those who were openly weeping.”

Coffey, a member of the Division Special Troops Battalion, 1 Calvary Division from Fort Hood, Texas, is one of 1,200 Southern Baptist chaplains serving in the U.S. military — more than a third of the 3,078 chaplains endorsed by the North American Mission Board.

While military chaplains do not carry weapons or drive vehicles used as weaponry, they nevertheless serve alongside soldiers, airmen and marines, witnessing all the horrors of war. Since 9/11, chaplains have risen to the occasion, providing counseling and support.

“Military chaplaincy is an extremely important ministry in today’s world,” said Keith Travis, leader of NAMB’s chaplaincy team. “With the global war on terror, the role of a chaplain has become very important. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are looking to chaplains for a word of hope. Our SBC-endorsed chaplains are on the front of the battle ready to offer hope, words of encouragement and strength, and also point the way to the cross.”

On Wednesday following the incident, Chaplain Coffey was finally able to debrief with the private in his unit who was present during the shootings.

“My heart broke as she shared with me what had happened,” Coffey said. “I was glad I already had a relationship built with her, so she felt comfortable enough to talk.”

Coffey explained that it is imperative for chaplains to develop relationships with the soldiers in their unit, battalion and division. That involves visiting with them where they work, in the chow hall, even going on patrol with them.

“As chaplains we have to seek them out, build relationships with them, be real with them and then maybe, just maybe, when they have a need they will overcome their reluctance to seek us out for help,” Coffey said. “The more I build that relationship, when a crisis occurs in their life, then I’m free to share the message of Christ.”

Relational evangelism is the bedrock of chaplaincy ministry, Travis said.

“That is why chaplains run PT every day, why they are on the battlefield, leaving the green zone to go with soldiers, so that they can build a relationship that will offer them the right to lead them to the cross.”

Coffey is no stranger to tragedy, death and sorrow. During his first deployment to Iraq in 2006, he lost 13 men within 24 hours. He listened over a radio as one unit was ambushed by the enemy, hearing their cries of distress. The wound is still fresh as Coffey recalls the counseling sessions and memorial services in the days and weeks that followed.

Then and now, Coffey leaned on the support of the One who provides hope and everlasting life. And he relied on the training he has received as a military chaplain.

“I always ask myself the question, ‘What would I want said to me if I were in this situation?’ If the answer is nothing, then I just shut my mouth and am just there,” Coffey said. “The essence of a good chaplain is being where the need is the greatest, assessing where you can best be used and then moving out of the way and allowing God to use you as He sees fit.”

NAMB photo by Carol Pipes

Soldiers at Camp Liberty, Baghdad, Iraq, prepare to head out on an afternoon mission.

As division chaplain, Coffey is responsible for the spiritual support of some 2,000 soldiers. Coffey, who was called to active duty as a chaplain in 2005, acknowledges that a chaplain’s ministry can be very demanding.

“The need is great all across the Army. The news media is reporting all the time about multiple tours and the stress involved. Remember our chaplains face this as well,” Coffey said.

“It takes someone capable of experiencing those tours and yet have their own lives together enough to be able to endure under the worst conditions and still be able to minister to others.”

Part of Coffey’s role is to support other chaplains who have lost soldiers. Southern Baptist Chaplain (Capt.) Jerry Wagner lost one of his soldiers in the May 11 shootings and later led a memorial service for the fallen soldier.

“Chaplains have the tough job of ministering while hurting themselves,” Coffey said. “Speaking from experience, this is the hardest job of all.”

Coffey talked about the need for more men who are strong in their faith to answer the call of being a military chaplain.

“We need men who have a sense of calling to the hardest ministry they will ever face. Men who are capable of standing by the side of a fallen soldier and be able to look in the faces of the medical folks who tried to save his life and have a word from the Lord. Our most desperate need is for guys who have a passion for people and to see those people improve in every area of their life.”

Coffey also spoke of the importance of prayer from Southern Baptists.

“Knowing there’s folks back in the states that care, that are praying and will stick with you during the tough times makes all the difference in the world.”

Travis called for Baptists to pray that God would strengthen military chaplains for the days ahead.

“Our chaplains suffer the same tragedies and losses that our military personnel face,” Travis said. “Yet, in the face of tragedy, they need to be ready to offer hope.... Pray that God would give them courage and strength.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pipes is editor of On Mission magazine of the North American Mission Board.)

5/26/2009 3:48:00 AM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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