May 2009

N.C. Baptists nominated for SBC committees, boards

May 13 2009 by From wire reports

Fourteen North Carolina Baptists, including two from the same church, have been appointed or nominated to serve on Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) committees or boards.

Cindy Stevens of Cross Culture Church in Raleigh and Kenny Chinn of Northside Church in Wilmington were appointed to the SBC Committee on Committees by SBC President Johnny Hunt. The committee has 70 members, two from each of the 35 state or regional conventions qualified for representation on boards of SBC entities. Stevens is vice president of the Baptist State Convention's Board of Directors.

The Committee on Committees will meet in Louisville, Ky., just prior to the SBC’s June 23-24 annual meeting. The committee will nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who, in turn, nominate trustees to serve on boards of the various entities of the SBC. SBC Bylaw 19 also provides that the Committee on Committees “shall nominate all special committees authorized during the sessions of the Convention not otherwise provided for.”

Nine members of N.C. Baptist churches, including two from Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, are being nominated by this year’s Committee on Nominations to serve on various boards.

The nominees will serve if elected by the messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, June 23-24 in Louisville, Ky.

Jeff Watson, a layperson and member of Center Grove Baptist Church, Clemmons, has been nominated for a four-year term on the SBC Executive Committee. He will replace Eddie Ferguson of Henderson, who is ineligible for re-election.

Also nominated to the Executive Committee for a term to expire in 2013 is Bryan (Scott) Davis, pastor of Pitts Baptist Church in Concord. He will replace Paul Stam of Apex, who declined a second term. Stam is House minority leader in the N.C. legislature.

George Walker of Greensboro is being nominated for a second term on the Guidestone Financial Resources board.

Jeff Long, pastor at Parkwood, is nominated for a four-year term on the International Mission Board (IMB). He would replace Bill Sanderson of Wendell, who is ineligible for re-election.

Rick Byrd of Summerfield has been nominated for a second term on the IMB board.

David Horner, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, has been nominated to replace John Biggs of Raleigh on the LifeWay Christian Resources board. His term will expire in 2013.

Charles Jacumin, pastor of Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, is nominated for a five-year term on the Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary board. He will replace Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church, Charlotte, who is ineligible for re-election.

Don Warren, a member of Parkwood, has been nominated to replace Jack Fallaw of Charlotte on Southeastern’s board. His term will expire in 2014.

R. Shawn Dobbs, pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, has been nominated for a five-year term at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. He would replace Clarence Johnson, Matthews who is ineligible for re-election.

Three N.C. Baptists have been named by Hunt to serve on two other committees during the SBC meeting.

Homer Murdock of Hopewell Baptist Church in Morganton will serve on the Credentials Committee.

Marcus Redding of Hull’s Grove Baptist in Vale and Scott Eanes of Fairview Baptist in Statesville were named to the Tellers Committee.

5/13/2009 7:21:00 AM by From wire reports | with 0 comments

Blackaby: Relationships will fuel ‘Resurgence’

May 13 2009 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

ATLANTA — If Southern Baptists want to see a “Great Commission Resurgence,” Henry Blackaby believes they need to focus on the relationship between disciples and the living Lord Jesus, not launch a new emphasis on evangelism.

“I have felt for a long time that Southern Baptists have focused on evangelism and missed discipleship,” Blackaby told Baptist Press May 11. “The most important part of the Great Commission is ‘teach them to practice everything I have commanded you.’ That’s discipleship and that’s the heart of the Great Commission. If we want to have a resurgence in the Great Commission, there’s got to be a refocusing on the priorities of Christ for discipleship.”

BP file photo

Henry Blackaby

Blackaby, a longtime pastor, college president and coauthor of the “Experiencing God” series of Bible study materials, said declining baptism and membership statistics in the Southern Baptist Convention reflect not so much a lack of passion for Christ’s command to make disciples as a lack of relationship with Jesus Christ.

“When you hear the Southern Baptist leadership being concerned about baptisms and all that, those are a byproduct of discipleship,” Blackaby said. “When you lead a person ... into a relationship where Christ is Lord, everything else follows. You don’t have to convince them they need to spend time in God’s Word or prayer or in the fellowship or on mission. That’s a spontaneous response to a relationship to the living Lord.”

Issuing a call for a resurgence of commitment to the Great Commission triggers the wrong response in Christians who are focused on religious activity, rather than a relationship with Christ, Blackaby added.

“Southern Baptists are program-oriented. We are missing the relationship,” Blackaby said. “When you make a statement like (that), the first thing most pastors look for is, ‘What program’s going to come down the pike to help me do that?’ You don’t need a program to help you do that. You just need the relationship to the living Lord. The reason we are not effective is because we have moved from the relationship to a program activity.”

Reason for decline

Substituting activities for relationship also is why many churches are in decline or on a plateau, Blackaby said.

“We are not leading people into that immediate relationship with the living Lord. If you listen to most sermons, that intimate personal relationship is missing,” Blackaby said. “If you talk to many church members, they feel they are in the right relationship to God when they attend all the worship services, they tithe, they go on a mission trip. And many a pastor would evaluate a member, not from the intimate relationship with the Lord, but for how faithful he is in all the activities of the church. And does he tithe?

“It’s activity. Many of God’s people have moved from the relationship to religious activity,” Blackaby added. “We are content to live without the manifest presence, power and activity of God.”

The place many churches need to begin is not with a call to commitment and activity, but with a call to repentance, Blackaby explained.

“We don’t talk about repentance,” Blackaby said. “Repentance is the essence of what God says throughout the Bible: ‘You have lost the relationship. Return to Me and then you will experience Me returning to you.’ When that happens, the manifest presence and power and activity of God is very real.”

Attempts at evangelism without relationship are artificial and yield artificial fruit, Blackaby noted.

“If you try to bypass (relationship) and give them a program, the Roman Road or another pattern for evangelism, you are creating an artificial approach to evangelism. And of course it has that same kind of fruit,” Blackaby explained. “Those who have been led to the Lord on a program are very reluctant to respond to the lordship of Christ.”

Witnessing to the lost is supposed to be a spontaneous response to a relationship with Christ, not an activity, Blackaby added.

“(The Bible) doesn’t say, ‘You are to do witnessing.’ It says, ‘You are witnesses unto Me,’” Blackaby said. “‘Out of the relationship with Me, you will have an enormous witness unto Me.’ If you’re not doing it now just out of relationship to the Lord, don’t look for a program that would help you do what you ought to be doing spontaneously.”

‘The greatest single need’

What would most help Southern Baptists experience renewed passion for the Great Commission is solid biblical teaching about Christ as head of the church, Blackaby contended.

“The reaching of the lost is a spontaneous response to the lordship of Christ. If you bypass the lordship of Christ and you get God’s people in a mode to take the gospel to a lost world ... you’re going to have a tough time,” he said. “I have talked to many, many people in the churches. They have never had one message on the nature of the church. Not one. So they are practicing religious activity and looking for a program, but the headship of Christ, what that means and what it will look like and how we respond when Christ exercises His headship, that’s just not being taught.

“I would say the greatest single need is to return to the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ and all of the implications that come from that,” Blackaby said. “If a church is in a spiritual mess, the only thing that can get them out of that is a good, solid biblical exposition that leads them into the deepest and most profound relationship with the living Lord.”

Ironically, calling on pastors to focus on evangelism ultimately results in less evangelism if it causes a loss in focus on the lordship of Christ, Blackaby noted.

“There’s a huge gap in the teaching ministry of pastors. We have put on them a huge sense of the priority of evangelism. We had an evangelist in our church not long ago. He said the thing I thought he would say: that the No. 1 priority above everything else is to reach out to the lost,” Blackaby said. “I would say that’s not true. The priority of every congregation is the lordship of Christ and everything else will come out of that. Many a pastor would not know how in the world to guide their church under the lordship of Christ ... because His life doesn’t function out of that mindset.”

When church members begin living in a vital relationship with Christ under His lordship, baptisms and membership growth will take care of themselves, Blackaby said.

“Anybody coming under the lordship of Christ automatically has a God-given DNA to be on mission with their Lord to touch a lost world,” Blackaby said. “It’s not a matter of trying to get our churches back on the program of the Great Commission, but rather into the relationship with the living Lord who is on mission in our world.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Henry Blackaby is located on the Internet at

5/13/2009 7:18:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hendersonville church calls second woman pastor

May 12 2009 by Associated Baptist Press

HENDERSONVILLE — Providence Baptist Church in Hendersonville has called Julie Merritt Lee as pastor, succeeding its first pastor Gail Coulter, also female.   

Tabernacle Baptist web site

Julie Merritt Lee

Many female ministers run into what they term a “stained-glass ceiling” that blocks them from achieving the role of senior pastor.

Coulter was assistant pastor at First Baptist Church in Asheville before becoming Providence’s first pastor in 2002. Providence sought membership in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), but determined to affiliate nationally with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) instead of the Southern Baptist Convention.

That decision, coupled with calling a female pastor, prompted two Baptist associations to refuse to accept the church, making it ineligible to receive church-starting funds from the state convention.  

The CBF-NC and five CBF-related churches sponsored the new congregation.

No record of contribution to the work of the BSC has been recorded from Providence since at least 2005, according to BSC offices.

Lee, a 2005 graduate of Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, currently is a pastoral resident at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.  

George Mason, Wilshire’s senior pastor, said Providence Baptist Church is making a good choice.  

“Julie is a gifted and capable pastor,” Mason said. “Whether preaching, teaching, counseling, leading worship, raising and managing a budget, or casting a vision for the church, Julie knows the work and is ready for the challenge. Our church heartily acknowledges and recommends her pastoral gifts and graces.”

5/12/2009 6:31:00 AM by Associated Baptist Press | with 4 comments

Oilfield ministry booming in Wyoming

May 12 2009 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

CASPER, Wyo. — A boom in the natural gas and oil industry in states like Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico has led to a similar surge in Southern Baptist ministry among the men and women who drill for those natural resources.

Contributed photo

Carl Felts, an oilrig worker in the Jonah field in Wyoming, received a new Bible from Drew and Pam Crabtree, Mission Service Corps missionaries who run a mobile ministry unit purchased by the North American Mission Board.

Don Whalen, a church planting and evangelism strategist for the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention in Casper, was serving as a director of missions in the southwestern part of the state a few years ago when he noticed a large influx of people into the area as oil companies set up new drilling rigs.

“The population just began to explode, and we saw obviously that God was opening a door to ministry among folks that were coming into the area,” Whalen told Baptist Press (BP). “Many of our churches are not real large, and yet they had a great heart for reaching some of these people. They came to me as the director of missions looking for some advice as to how to make this all happen.”

The churches began developing a strategy to reach the oil rig workers in an unconventional way.

“We realized that they weren’t going to come to us,” Whalen said. “We had already tried to invite them to church and include them in our established works, but they were not very responsive.

“Every once in a while, one or two would stop in for a Sunday and visit, but no real connection was made and we realized that we were really going to have to go to them,” he said. “So we began praying and seeking the Lord’s direction, and one of our ladies saw an oilfield Bible put out by the Oilfield Christian Fellowship.”

The Oilfield Christian Fellowship is a ministry that started with a breakfast for oilfield workers at First Baptist Church in Houston in 1991, and they distribute compact copies of the Bible that include testimonies of oilfield workers. Whalen and the Wyoming churches ordered some of the Bibles, and in the process he developed a relationship with John Bird, the fellowship’s cofounder.

“He and I were thinking and kind of dreaming and came up with the idea of putting a chapel in one of the man camps out here,” said Whalen, who joined the state convention staff about a year and a half ago. “These men come and they’ll work 12 hours on and 12 hours off, and while one crew sleeps, the other crew will work. They’re just kind of stacked in there like corkwood in these trailers.

“It’s kind of a difficult situation. They’re away from their families. There’s a lot of alcoholism, drug addiction,” Whalen said. “There’s just not a lot of good, positive influence for them in these man camps. So we thought if we could put together a chapel and get it into the man camps, it might have an impact on these folks spiritually.”

Contributed photo

An aerial view of the Jonah oilfield located in the northwestern Green River basin of Wyoming shows the isolation the oilrig workers feel from their families and the rest of the world.

Soon an oilfield company in Texas donated a building and installed it in the Big Piney man camp, where it would serve as a chapel operated by Mission Service Corps (MSC) missionaries from the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

“Folks come in, there’s a large screen TV, they can watch sporting events together. There are computers that they can connect through e-mail and whatnot with their families,” Whalen said. “It’s just a place for them to come and relax in a good environment. While they’re there, we’re able to share the Lord with them.”

Many of the larger gatherings involve food, Whalen said, such as when an invitation goes out inviting men to the chapel for free pizza.

“They’ve been able to build relationships with these men, and we’ve been able to see some of them come to know the Lord,” Whalen said. “Some of them were believers but were very disconnected. They don’t have a local church that they’re a part of, but they really are believers. But the environment is so negative that they don’t often know that there’s a believer just right down the road from them. They think they’re all alone out there.

“But through this ministry, they’ve been able to connect and build relationships amongst each other. We’ve been discipling them and they’re growing spiritually,” he added.

In addition to focusing on the man camps, the MSC workers connect the men’s families with local Southern Baptist churches in their hometowns.

“These men come from all over the country, sometimes from all over the world and certainly all over Wyoming, and whenever we have the opportunity, if we can minister to Dad at the oilfield, we try to connect the family, wherever they might be, with a local Southern Baptist church so that the family can be ministered to as well,” Whalen said.

Following the success of the Big Piney chapel, NAMB helped purchase a mobile ministry unit consisting of a truck and Toy Hauler trailer that can travel to the heart of the oilfields in Wyoming. Later the oilfield fellowship helped purchase another. The mobile ministry units also are manned by MSC missionaries and now are being utilized in the Jonah field and the Wamsutter field, Whalen said.

“They’ll set up alongside of the road and put out a sign that says ‘free biscuits and gravy,’ and folks stop in and in the process of having a meal together or a cup of coffee, they’ll share the Lord with them and build relationships and witness,” Whalen said.

“They’ve discovered several believers out in the oilfield that they’re now able to disciple. One MSC worker puts together dcripture cards, and the men in the trucks will stop by to pick up their dcripture card for the day,” he said. “They’ll stop for a few minutes, have a cup of coffee, get their dcripture card and head out the door. It’s just a way of connecting with other believers and providing a discipling opportunity. We’ve seen some neat things happen as a result of it.”

Contributed photo

Trailers upon trailers make up the Big Piney man camp in Wyoming, where Southern Baptists are ministering to men and women who have left home to drill for oil and natural gas.

Last July, an oilfield worker named Carl Felts stopped by the mobile unit after being out of prison only three weeks. He was gone a while after that and then returned in December. Felts told Drew and Pam Crabtree, the MSC workers in the unit, he didn’t have time to come in but wanted to give them a message.

Since his first stop at the unit, Felts had married his girlfriend who was a new Christian, and the two of them were reading the Bible. The pages were falling out of his oilfield Bible, and he asked the Crabtrees for a new copy.

“You don’t know how many people you influence just by coming out here each day,” Felts said, according to a paraphrase by Drew Crabtree. “I have seen you out here many days since that first time and not stopped, but just seeing the mobile chapel here reminds me to pray, and sometimes I start praying after I drive by.

“Sometimes I fall of the wagon and don’t do things as I should, but when I see this chapel out here it is a reminder to me and I climb back on the wagon. I know other people are like me, so you need to know that just being here in the oilfield helps a lot of us even if we don’t stop.”

Felts also said he was attempting to visit the men he was imprisoned with in order to share the gospel with them.

Oilfield ministry, Whalen said, is “just one of those missional ministries that we recognized that there are people groups out there we were not reaching, and the only way to reach them was to go to where they were — just to obey the Great Commission and go.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Roach is a BP staff writer. To access a video called “Drill Here, Drill Now” highlighting the Wyoming oilfield ministry, visit and click on the video gallery.)


5/12/2009 6:24:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Chaplain, band create harmony in war zone

May 11 2009 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

BAGHDAD — The sound of a banjo bounces out the door of the coffee shop at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq. Before you know it, the familiar tune of “Rocky Top” fills the air.

Every Sunday morning soldiers, airmen and marines make their way to Green Beans Cafe for a cup of joe and a chance to escape the chaos of living in a combat zone.

Photo by Carol Pipes

From left, Chaplain Mike Charles, Maj. Steve Howell, Chaplain Jeff Houston and Lt. Col. Greg Rawlings make up The Righteous Arm of the Baghdad Bad Boys at Camp Victory’s Hope Chapel. For more than a year the soothing sounds of guitar, banjo and mandolin have lifted spirits among soldiers at the U.S. base. 

A little more than a year ago, Southern Baptist chaplain Jeff Houston and Lt. Col. Greg Rawlings, both with the XVIII Airborne from Fort Bragg, N.C., discovered a mutual love for bluegrass and decided to start a band. One by one they added instruments — first a banjo, then a mandolin, next a bass and finally a fiddle. The Baghdad Bad Boys were born.

Rawlings, chief of Multi-National Corps-Iraq C3 Force Management Division, said it all started with an opportunity to sit down with other musicians and create music together. The group began meeting on Friday evenings for a couple of hours in the mini-chapel at the MNC-I (Multi-National Corps — Iraq) chaplain’s office.

The next thing they knew they were invited to entertain patrons of Green Beans Cafe, the military’s version of Starbucks. Every Sunday, they entertain the troops as they sip their lattés and cappuccinos with bluegrass standards — “Rocky Top,” “Seven Bridges Road” and “Salty Dog Blues.”

For a couple of hours each week, the band and those around them are transported out of the desert to a simpler time and place. Sitting in the coffee shop, you’d never know that a combat zone is just 800 meters away, where the enemy reminds the troops of their presence with an occasional mortar round.

“This is our therapy,” Rawlings said, only half-joking. “The object is to knock the dust off our boots and go back to North Carolina for a couple of hours.”

Houston calls it “a great time of fellowship. The few hours we play together helps us get through the week.”

The group is always changing as individual deployments end and new ones begin, the chaplain said. And new players are always welcome, from beginners to virtuosos.

Photo by Carol Pipes

Lt. Col. Greg Rawlings, right, banjo picker and co-founder of the Baghdad Bad Boys, first heard harmonica player Staff Sgt. Johnny Alvarez playing to the ducks around the lake at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq.

Houston started playing bluegrass at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., where he studied music and religion. Before he became a chaplain, Houston served 15 years as minister of music in several Southern Baptist churches in Missouri.

“Every tour is different,” he said. “Some tours I may do a lot of counseling sessions with soldiers. This tour I’ve been able to use music as a ministry. The role God has guided me to is leading worship at our Protestant chapel service.”

When Houston arrived at Camp Victory, the service had no music, except for the occasional a cappella hymn. He was able to pull together musicians and singers to help lead that congregation in worship.

Those four musicians, Chaplain Houston, Lt. Col. Rawlings, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Mike Charles and Maj. Steve Howell, make up The Righteous Arm of the Baghdad Bad Boys. For more than a year the soothing sounds of guitar, banjo and mandolin and familiar tunes have lifted spirits at Hope Chapel.

A soldier recently stopped Houston in the chow hall and said, “I’ve really been blessed each week to come and worship at Mayberry” — a fitting reference to their distinct musical style.

“It’s been a great ministry experience,” Houston said. “The stress of deployment puts you in a situation that taxes all of your resources — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. The challenge for soldiers is to keep going through that long deployment.”

One of the chaplains’ roles is to help soldiers find avenues to help focus their energy somewhere besides the war, like playing music.

“Meeting Lt. Col. Rawlings and playing music with him has been a blessing to me,” Houston said. “Here’s a Southern Baptist layperson who’s using his gifts to serve God during his deployment.”

Photo by Carol Pipes

Every Sunday, the Baghdad Bad Boys entertain the troops as they sip their lattés and cappuccinos listening to bluegrass standards such as “Rocky Top” and “Salty Dog Blues” at the Green Beans Coffee Shop at Camp Victory in Iraq. 

Rawlings, a member of Beulah Hill Baptist Church in West End, N.C., also studied music in college. “At 18, I thought I wanted to be a minister of music,” Rawlings said.

But God had other plans. Rawlings entered the ROTC program at Truett-McConnell College as a means to pay for school. The military training stuck, and so did the music.

As the military moved Rawlings and his family from base to base, God allowed him to use his gifts filling in as an assistant or minister of music at churches without a full-time music minister. “God still gets it out of me.”

Back at the coffee shop, Staff Sgt. Johnny Alvarez switches out harmonicas for the next tune. Rawlings, who plays guitar, banjo and mandolin, was the one who discovered the young harmonica player.

“I walked out of my CHU (combat housing unit) one day and heard a harmonica,” Rawlings said. “I looked over and there was Johnny playing to the ducks.”

A quick study in bluegrass, Alvarez no longer plays for waterfowl. He’s a full-fledged member of the B3.

Like most bluegrass musicians, their dream is to play at the Grand Ole Opry someday.

Around the room, worn, dusty combat boots tap to the beat. It might not be the Opry, but the audience at Camp Victory couldn’t be more appreciative of their performance.

The Baghdad Bad Boys wind down their set with a rousing version of “Rocky Top.” Folks join in on the chorus whether they’re from Tennessee or not, each thinking of a place back home.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Pipes is editor of On Mission. The Baghdad Bad Boys performed together for the last time in Iraq on March 15. The group’s members began heading home in April. A reunion concert is planned for June 6 in Fayetteville.)

5/11/2009 6:16:00 AM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New Life at center of church planting movement

May 8 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

When Steve Harris started New Life Community Church in Asheville, he envisioned a congregation that would be a “headquarters” to start other new churches.

As the church gets ready to celebrate its 12th anniversary, it has helped launch more than 100 others through pastoral training, financial support, prayer and encouragement.

“We decided that we were going to set that as a core value at New Life,” he said.
Harris became interested in church planting while working on a doctor of ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

His “entrepreneur spirit” was captured by stories about how newer churches were growing, but his calling became clear when he heard church growth professor C. Peter Wagner talking about starting churches.

Contributed photo

Steve Harris, right, pastor of New Life Community Church in Asheville, mentors Sabas and Mely Amador. New Life helped plant a new Hispanic church in the area. See photo gallery.

Wagner said church planting is the most effective form of evangelism, that new churches baptize more people per capita than existing churches and that new churches serve as a “warm incubator” for new believers.

“When he said that I knew,” Harris said. “I said, ‘I have to do this.’”

Harris believes he was called to help start a “church planting movement.” To be credible as the leader of such an effort, he had to start a church.

When New Life began, it included an initiative called “Mission 20:20,” based on Acts 20:20, where Paul tells church leaders at Ephesus that he did not shrink from helping them, but taught them publicly and from house to house.

Harris was still training to be a church planter and New Life was still meeting in a school when Harris met the first church planter he’d help. He and Mike Madding met during a “church planter boot camp” and became friends.

New Life’s offer of support helped convince Madding that God wanted him to start a church.

“They became the first church to say, ‘We’ll support what you’re doing,’” Madding said.

The congregation Madding started, The Cove Church in Mooresville near Lake Norman, now has an average attendance of about 3,400 each Sunday, including about 400 at a satellite location in Statesville.

Based on Acts 1:8, New Life seeks to help new churches in its area and across the state, nation and world.

Currently, Harris is mentoring a Hispanic pastor who is starting a church in New Life’s building.

New Life is also helping church planters in Asheville, Hendersonville, Mooresville, India, Uganda, Ukraine and Honduras.

Harris often serves as mentor for the church planters.

He also trains pastors who are involved in other church planting movements.

Harris also leads the church planting team in Buncombe Baptist Association, which is currently starting eight new churches.

Craig Bailey, Buncombe Association director of missions, appreciates Harris’ work. It is important “to have guys on the cutting edge” to reach the “strange mix of people in Asheville,” Bailey said.

To have a leader like Harris helping is “invaluable.”

Because Asheville is an attractive city, Bailey fields inquiries every week from men interested in planting a church there.

“The first thing I try to do is discourage them,” Bailey said. “If they’re serious, they won’t be deterred.”

Harris said one of the biggest factors in starting a church is whether the pastor is gifted and called.

With training, support and encouragement the church planter is free to do what God is calling him to do.

“We’re not into building buildings,” he said. “We’re into training pastors.”

Harris said that a conservative estimate of more than 10,000 people worship at churches helped to their start by New Life, which has 265 members and about 360 in attendance.

“From the beginning, we always said that our concern is not just addition, but multiplication,” he said.

See related church planting stories:

5/8/2009 5:33:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

‘New Wineskins’ helps church planters make disciples

May 8 2009 by Steve Devane, BR Managing Editor

The Baptist State Convention (BSC) has launched an effort to help church planters make disciples.

The endeavor, called “New Wineskins,” started in August 2008. It includes a web site, a monthly e-mail magazine, podcasts and conference calls. BSC officials say on the web site that while “church plants can have varied theology and methodology,” discipleship remains vital in all.

Rick Hughes, senior consultant for discipleship, helps church planters as they try to be disciples and to make disciples.

“Jesus said, ‘Come follow me,’” Hughes said. “We talk about what that looks like.”

New Wineskins events often feature former successful church planters who continue to work with new churches across the nation.

These interviews give church planters the opportunity for feedback and extended discussion.

Hughes said in a BSC news release that New Wineskins tries to assist church planters by providing them resources which will help them love God and one another while their churches are young.

“Rather than providing these pastors with gimmicks or tricks, we sought to provide them with sound reading and opportunities to interact with one another in ways that would deeply root them in the Bible’s requirements for them as pastors and for their churches,” he said.

See related church planting stories:

5/8/2009 5:32:00 AM by Steve Devane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

Church planters help each other

May 8 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

Church planters often have questions that can best be answered only by other church planters.

An informal network is meeting that need for about 40 church planters who gather each month at Pine Ridge Church in Graham to discuss the unique issues related to planting, nurturing and growing a new congregation.

“I think the only people who understand church planters are church planters,” said Tadd Grandstaff, a leader of the network and pastor at Pine Ridge, one of the new churches started the week of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2006 meeting in Greensboro.

Contributed photo

Tadd Grandstaff, lead pastor at Pine Ridge Church, works with a network of church planters to share ideas. See photo gallery.

Grandstaff, who had been involved in a similar network in Atlanta, said the group started about eight months ago when about 10 church planters met for lunch.

The group grew as those attending invited friends who are starting churches.

“It’s a time to connect and form relationships,” said Grandstaff.

Church planters register to attend the meeting on the Pine Ridge web site. Registration includes an opportunity to post questions for discussion. Each month, participants discuss about 10 of the questions on topics ranging from how to form a core team to how best to follow up with visitors.

The network might become more formal, and the church planters are even talking about working together to start more churches, Grandstaff said.

While the Raleigh and Greensboro areas are most represented in the group, others have come from the coastal region, Kentucky and Virginia.

Many of the church planters are associated with the Baptist State Convention, but others are affiliated with other groups.

“You get different perspectives from different churches,” Grandstaff said.

See related church planting stories:

5/8/2009 5:28:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments

National Day of Prayer gets political makeover

May 7 2009 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Evangelical leaders gathered for the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer May 7 prayed for President Obama but criticized his decisions to not mark the day with a White House event or send a representative to their annual gathering on Capitol Hill.

Observers say the change of plans from previous years demonstrates that conservative Christians have less influence in the halls of Washington with a new Democratic administration. The Obama administration issued a proclamation instead of holding a public event.

"I am sad to say this morning that this is the first time since the year 2000 that there has not been a prayer service in the White House," said Shirley Dobson, leader of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, at the Cannon House Office Building.

"I feel a void that the executive branch is not represented here."

In his (prayer-day) proclamation, Obama said that American leaders like President Lincoln have long called the country to prayer.

"Throughout our nation's history, Americans have come together in moments of great challenge and uncertainty to humble themselves in prayer," he said.

"Let us also use this day to come together in a moment of peace and good will."

At a news conference on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that while the president has chosen to publicly observe the day solely with the proclamation, "privately he'll pray as he does every day."

For the last eight years, President Bush had welcomed the Dobsons and other supporters to the East Room for a ceremony marking the day.

When the task force didn't hear from the White House this year, they moved their Capitol Hill event, traditionally held in the afternoon, to a morning time slot.

"In many ways, it validates an assumption that a lot of evangelicals have felt over the last few months, which is they are not going to have as easy an entre to the halls of power in Washington as they have over the last eight years," said Michael Lindsay, assistant professor of sociology of Rice University.

While the change in prayer plans may reflect the ebb and flow that occurs when the White House changes political parties, it also may show that "culture warrior" evangelicals may be losing prominence while other religious groups may be gaining it.

"It might have been the most politically smart move for him not to ... host the event," said Lindsay of Obama. "Because this is not the constituency that voted for him in November and there are other religious groups who have some strong opposition to the way that the National Day of Prayer Task Force has tended to focus on the Christian-Jewish community."

Michael Cromartie, director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Evangelicals in Civic Life program, said he thinks evangelicals still have significant influence outside the Washington buildings equated with power.

"It's not declining influence as much as it is lack of access to the halls of power," he said. "Their numbers haven't gone down. It's just their access has gone down."

Far from leaving the scene, he predicted that evangelicals will regroup and continue to speak out on issues ranging from same-sex marriage to the next Supreme Court justice nominee.

As the three-hour prayer event concluded on the Hill, conservative Christian leaders -- including the Dobsons -- joined about a dozen members of Congress at a news conference to affirm a House resolution on "America's religious heritage."

James Dobson said there that he disagrees with Obama's decision not to hold a White House prayer event.

"We will not be disrespectful of him because of the office and we do pray for him, but I do regret his lack of emphasis on the foundation of prayer on which this country was based," he said.

5/7/2009 11:20:00 AM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 3 comments

Evangelicals seem unfazed by torture. Why?

May 7 2009 by Greg Warner, Religion News Service

Does conservative Christianity encourage torture?

That debate has been reignited by new numbers from the Pew Research Center that show white evangelicals are more supportive of "torture to gain important information from suspected terrorists" than any other religious or political group in the survey.

Less than half of the general public (49 percent) say government-sponsored torture can "often" or "sometimes" be justified, compared to almost two-thirds of white evangelicals (62 percent).

That view is almost identical to the view of Republicans (64 percent), giving fuel to the charge that evangelicals' views on torture are rooted more in politics than their faith.

"Conservatives are living within their own moral universe," said Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from suburban Orlando, Fla.

"In the last few decades, we have kind of created our own moral terms -- more neoconservative than walking in sacrificial love."

The torture debate within evangelical circles is as complex and multi-layered as evangelicals themselves. First, do the Pew numbers matter, and how much? And second, if evangelicals are finding their way to an endorsement of torture, how are they getting there?

The Pew numbers have prompted a great deal of soul-searching among Hunter and other evangelical leaders. David Gushee, an ethicist at Mercer University who has worked with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is one of them.

"These answers reveal deep problems in the moral formation of evangelical Christians, especially in the South, our capitulation to utilitarianism and nationalism rather than submission to the lordship of Christ, and our weakness in developing and committing to a human-rights ethic," he said.

Richard Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and was a close ally of the Bush White House, is another torture critic.

"If the end justifies the means, then where do you draw the line?"

Land said in an interview. "It's a moveable line. It's in pencil, not in ink. I believe there are absolutes. There are some things we must never do."

Yet some say the Pew numbers, like all survey data, can be problematic. Researchers did not define "torture," and that's the problem, say defenders of the Bush administration policy of "enhanced interrogation techniques."

Two conservative Christian scholars insisted waterboarding is not torture, and can be morally defensible for Christians.

"Evangelicals, like everyone else, do not support any immoral use of force for any reason by anyone," said Daniel Heimbach, professor of ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. "And evangelicals, like everyone else, also believe that coercive methods of interrogation can be used within strict moral boundaries. There is, in fact, no moral disagreement on this."

Keith Pavlischek of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center agrees with Gushee and others that Christians are not properly informed about the torture issue. But he insists if they were, they would understand that torture is not inherently evil according to Christian principles, "classic natural law" and just-war theory.

Labeling certain techniques as torture without doing the hard work of applying consistent moral principles distorts the debate, said Pavlischek, a former Marine lieutenant in Iraq and now director of EPPC's Program to Protect America's Freedom.

Simple slogans don't help, either, he said, because the debate itself is not simple.

"If your first question is 'What would Jesus do?' you get a mess," said Pavlischek. "The reason evangelicals are confused (on torture) is because evangelical leaders are confused."

While many evangelical leaders say they were shocked and embarrassed by the latest Pew findings, they were equally troubled when survey data last October indicated evangelical views on torture are more often influenced by "common sense" and "life experiences" rather than Christian teachings or beliefs.

"The data in our survey points to many white evangelicals thinking first as partisans and second as people of faith," said researcher Robert Jones, whose firm, Public Religion Research, conducted the October study for Mercer University and the Washington-based group Faith in Public Life.

"When they engage their faith in thinking about the issue, support for torture drops."

Hunter, for his part, blames "a whole lot of evangelicals (who) are listening to a whole lot of talk radio" and seeing the debate solely through the lens of national security and homeland security.

"Many of them see patriotism in terms of protecting our country rather than remembering the admonition in Scripture that you don't overcome evil with evil but rather overcome evil with good," said Hunter, who holds an advisory seat on President Obama's faith-based office.

Support for torture can't be blamed on a lack of religious education; in fact, the Pew numbers showed that support for torture actually increased among those who attended church more frequently.

"It would be easy for casual news watchers to conclude that if you want to end torture in this country, the best thing to do would be to empty out the churches," Gushee wrote in a column for the Associated Baptist Press.

5/7/2009 10:01:00 AM by Greg Warner, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

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