May 2010

SBC baptisms up, membership down in 2009

May 18 2010 by Rob Phillips, LifeWay Communications

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Southern Baptists reported a 2.2 percent increase in baptisms in 2009, stemming a four-year decline, but membership in the denomination fell and the sagging economy led to a drop in missions giving, according to the Annual Church Profile (ACP) compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in conjunction with Baptist state conventions.

Baptisms last year totaled 349,737, up from 342,198 in 2008, a year in which Southern Baptists recorded the fewest baptisms since 1987. Total membership fell 0.42 percent to 16.16 million, and Sunday School enrollment dropped 0.04 percent to 7.75 million.

While the baptism numbers are encouraging, they do not necessarily signal a reversal of fortune for the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, said Thom Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO.

“Every baptism is a celebration of another person finding new life in Jesus Christ,” Rainer said. “The fact that more people were baptized this year than last year gives us a reason to hope we’re on the right path. At the same time, we as Southern Baptists continue to show signs of drifting from our historic commitment to evangelism, as reflected in the fact that it still takes 46 Southern Baptists to lead one person to faith in Christ.”

Rainer continued, “The decline in membership across our denomination, along with the drop in Sunday School enrollment, indicate that Southern Baptists continue to be distracted from — or indifferent toward — the command of Jesus to make disciples. I pray that these discouraging numbers sound a wake-up call to all of us.”

ACP data revealed a slight rise (0.36 percent) in the number of Southern Baptist churches, to 45,010, and an increase of 0.37 percent in primary worship attendance, to 6.21 million.

Giving to missions totaled $1.33 billion in 2009, a decline of 1.8 percent, reflecting the economic downturn. Through the denomination’s Cooperative Program (CP) and special mission offerings, local churches voluntarily pool funds to support mission efforts in their states, throughout the nation and around the world. For example, Southern Baptists support more than 10,500 missionaries who engage nearly 1,200 people groups throughout North America and around the world.

In addition, CP funds support six seminaries, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and other SBC entities (except for LifeWay and GuideStone Financial Resources, which are self-funding). At the state level, CP funds support a variety of ministries including church health ministries, children’s homes, disaster relief efforts, colleges and universities and much more.

To view a summary of statistical information for the SBC, go to

To view a summary of statistical information state by state, go to

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
5/18/2010 2:22:00 AM by Rob Phillips, LifeWay Communications | with 2 comments

Silsby released after verdict

May 18 2010 by Baptist Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Baptist volunteer Laura Silsby has been released by Haitian authorities after a court conviction May 17.

According to The Associated Press (AP), Silsby was convicted May 17 of arranging to transport 33 children out of Haiti in late January, following the Jan. 12 earthquake that ravaged the Caribbean country.

Laura Silsby

Silsby was leading a group of 10 Baptist volunteers who were detained by authorities for allegedly failing to obtain the needed documentation to transport the children to an orphanage that was being started in the Dominican Republic.

Silsby, who had completed 15 full weeks in prison, was released for the time she had served, AP reported, and was free to leave the country. Eight others in the group were freed in mid-February and the ninth was released in early March.

“We’re thrilled. We’re thanking the Lord. We’re humbled, and at the same time very thankful she’s out of there. We’re very thankful to the Haitian church because they took care of her as well,” Paul Thompson, pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Twin Falls, Idaho, told Baptist Press.

Thompson was among those released in February, and though he hadn’t spoken directly to Silsby since then, he received regular updates from Haitian Christians who were able to minister to her during her days in prison. Child kidnapping charges were dropped against all 10, but Silsby remained in jail facing an ill-defined charge of “irregular travel.”

Thompson asked for continued prayer for Silsby upon hearing of her release.

“Pray for her adjustment at home. She still obviously has a lot of adjustments to come home to, being in jail for such a long time. Pray for her family, for her children,” he said.

Also, Thompson was reminded of others apart from the Idaho group who face similar challenges.

“I think Southern Baptists should use this moment to be reminded of the unknown numbers of believers around the world who are in jail right now for the cause of the gospel, and we need to be constantly in prayer for them,” he said.

Silsby is a member of Central Valley Baptist Church in Meridian, Idaho. Four of the other volunteers also are members of Central Valley and another four are members of other Southern Baptist churches.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston and staff writer Erin Roach.)
5/18/2010 2:11:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Operation Inasmuch blitzes Wendell

May 17 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

On a hot Saturday morning May 1 Rhonda and Kent Lambert made their way down the street in a neighborhood not too far from Central Baptist Church.

They left a flyer about the church at each home, prayed for the families in that neighborhood and talked to those they met on the street.

The Lamberts are hoping to join other members of their Sunday School class and begin a Bible study in the neighborhood.

“This is the greatest opportunity for us to do what we say we want to do,” Rhonda said. That’s what Operation Inasmuch is all about — local churches getting out in the community and serving others.

As many as 1,000 North Carolina Baptist churches participated in Operation Inasmuch April 24 and May 1, joining hands in a one-day missions blitz.

From children to senior adults, Central Baptist volunteers met for prayer at 8 a.m. before heading out to their various project sites in Wendell.

Members of Central Baptist Church of Wendell work on a project for Operation Inasmuch May 1, one of the days set aside for statewide mission projects. See photo gallery (including other links to related stories) for more pictures from Central Baptist and other churches.

Tammy Johnson and her daughter Lauren, who is in elementary school, served at two local assisted living facilities.

Tammy and Lauren visit assisted living facilities several times throughout the year. Tammy hopes that by involving Lauren in such a ministry at a young age will “instill in her that this is what we’re here for.”

Tammy knows that with her busy schedule it would be easy to forget that serving others needs to be a priority in life — and so she must be intentional in teaching that to her daughter.

At the assisted living facility church members passed out pillows and walker aprons they made earlier. One team visited a couple no longer able to attend services at Central.

Within a few minutes of the team arriving the couple was reminiscing about time spent with people at the church and sharing how much they missed being able to attend services. Other Operation Inasmuch projects included construction and roofing on a facility at a local park and packing boxes of food to give to families in need. Central’s youth took the lead in adopt-a-highway clean up in front of the church.

Pastor Ed Rose spent most of his time helping with construction and yard work at the home of a single mother, a woman who is the friend of a church member, but antagonistic to Christian faith.

Rose wants Operation Inasmuch to be the “springboard” for other opportunities of community outreach. “We want our identity to be missions and evangelism,” he said. In a day when churches are not always known for these two things, Rose wants Central to be a noticeable presence in the community. “If the church left in some communities, no one would miss it,” he said.

Operation Inasmuch is a chance for churches across the state to “go beyond missions giving to missions going,” Rose said. “And that starts here. We want to be a people who are constantly looking and planning to serve the community.” For a longer version of this story, click here.
5/17/2010 7:36:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Southeastern VP resigns; trustees OK budget

May 17 2010 by press, staff and wire reports

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is losing one of its vice presidents in June.

In an e-mail sent to students April 28 Danny Akin president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest announced that Allan Moseley is resigning as vice president for student services and dean of students effective June 1. 

“Moseley has served with distinction in this position for 14 years and will be greatly missed from our Executive team,” Akin wrote.

Moseley will stay on as a full-time professor of Old Testament and Hebrew. He is pastor at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh. 

Moseley was not the only administrator to resign recently.

David Nelson, dean of the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, announced his resignation Feb. 3, citing health reasons as his primary concern. Nelson, who also held the title of senior vice president of academic administration, has served on the faculty at Southeastern for more than a decade. He had served in the dean’s role for the past four years.

Trustees approve budget
Trustees of Southeastern elected four professors, added a degree program and approved a modest budget increase at their spring meeting April 12-13.

Elected to the faculty were: Nathan Finn, assistant professor of church history and Baptist studies; Ed Gravely, assistant professor of biblical studies and history of ideas; George Robinson, assistant professor of missions and evangelism; and Heath Thomas, assistant professor of Old Testament and Hebrew.

Trustees unanimously agreed to add a new Master of Arts in Philosophy of Religion to the school’s graduate curriculum.

The 36-hour program will prepare students for doctoral work in philosophy, theology or missions.

The program is designed for those who feel called to teach and write in a college, university or seminary setting.

In his report, Akin told the board that Southeastern had the largest new student spring enrollment in the school’s history in 2010, with 290 new students coming to campus, and shared about recent mission trips.

Trustees also approved a 2010-2011 budget of $20.7 million, a 2.7 percent increase from the previous year.

Though poor economic conditions played a role in budget preparation, Ryan Hutchinson, senior vice president of business administration, reported that Southeastern avoided budget-related layoffs or salary cuts.
5/17/2010 7:33:00 AM by press, staff and wire reports | with 1 comments

Healthy leaders mark healthy churches

May 17 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

In his book Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer writes that 3,500-4,000 churches close each year in the United States and 70-80 percent of churches in North America are stagnant or declining.

“Millions of Christians attend churches that demonstrate little concern for the lost around them,” writes Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. Many of these stagnant churches have the resources to make a difference if they committed to becoming “more than museums of past glory days.”

While more church plants are desperately needed, existing churches also need to get back on track if nearly 1.6 billion people in the world are going to hear the gospel for the first time. The foundation for doing both and seeing any measure of success is really the same: spiritually healthy leaders. Pastors and church leaders can’t expect the congregation to be healthy if they themselves are not healthy.

Returning spiritually mature leaders to the pulpit is the focus of one-day Church Health Institutes being held across the state. Neal Eller, church health team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), began the May 4 Church Health Institute in Cary by asking pastors, church leaders and directors of missions to consider the state of congregations they serve. Are they barren, with no fruit for the Kingdom of God? Do they look healthy only from the outside? Are they producing disciples who are producing disciples?

Russ Conley, BSC leadership consultant, says “We often don’t give a lot of thought to why we’re doing the things we’re doing.”

Eller reminded leaders of Revelation 2:2-5 and how the church in Ephesus “abandoned the love” they once had for God. Leaders must anchor their lives on love for God and the gospel or they will never be healthy leaders with healthy congregations.  

Who are you?
Church leaders sometimes give in to the unhealthy habit of trying to please everyone around them. When that happens, their vision for the church can get sidetracked by other priorities. David Moore, BSC pastoral ministries consultant, asked attendees to think about the people they listen to. “Ministers lose their joy because they feel like they are subject to other people’s voices,” Moore said.

John 10 describes Jesus as the Good Shepherd and believers as those who hear His voice and follow Him.

“Who you are and what you value will determine what you do,” Moore said. Who a leader is depends on whether or not the leader truly believes that self-worth and value are validated in a relationship with Jesus Christ and not in trying to please everyone.

Church leaders, especially ministers, can fall into the trap of saying “yes” to everything and before long have no time for family or even themselves. “What are you saying yes to that you really don’t have to?,” Moore asked.  

Values first
Most are familiar with the Proverbs 29:18 text: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” But a vision statement “doesn’t automatically mean a shared understanding and commitment,” said Russ Conley, BSC leadership consultant. Nor does it automatically mean a healthy church.

Values drive vision. If a leader’s values are not aligned with scripture the most eloquent church vision statement means nothing. Conley said pastors must face the reality that often a gap exists between the stated values of a congregation and their actual values. Pastors must help their congregations understand who they actually are.

With values in place, churches can move forward in the process of re-thinking structure and strategy. “We often don’t give a lot of thought to why we’re doing the things we’re doing,” Conley said. “A busy church is a happy church. We lose sight of the bigger picture.”  

The Great Commandment
In Matthew 22:20 Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Healthy churches do both. Healthy churches understand that a shared sense of values among the people is fostered when leaders put a high value on making disciples committed to Matthew 22:20.

“You can’t change the values in your church without discipling people,” said Rick Hughes, BSC discipleship consultant.

Hughes explained that healthy churches do not see church as something just for them; healthy churches engage in gospel-centered worship and engage others with the gospel. Hughes encourages churches to begin Acts 2 disciple-making groups. Groups of about 8 or 10 meet weekly and focus on four areas: learning biblical truths, building relationships, community missions and spiritual growth.

Remaining Church Health Institutes are June 1 in Concord, Sept. 9 in Greensboro and Oct. 19 in Hendersonville.
5/17/2010 7:29:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Leo Endel up for SBC presidency

May 14 2010 by David Williams, Editor, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist

MILWAUKEE — Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention (MWBC), will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at the June 15-16 meeting in Orlando.

Speaking at the Kingdom Growth Conference in Milwaukee May 13, Endel said a group of associational missionaries, pastors, and lay people from western Iowa and eastern Nebraska had asked him to consider the nomination.

“After much prayer and counsel, I do believe the Lord wants me to allow the nomination,” he said. ”I am much less certain of the outcome. It will be in His hands, and, of course, I'm comfortable with that.” 

Endel said he hopes a candidate from a pioneer area of the convention “will add a new work perspective to the SBC conversation.”

The nomination will be made by Wes Jones, area missionary/church starter strategist for the Northwest and Southwest Iowa Southern Baptist Associations.

Photo by Matt Miller

Minnesota-Wisconsin executive director Leo Endel will be one of four nominated for SBC president June 15.

“In March of this year, God began to lay on my heart that Leo would be a good candidate for president of the SBC,” Jones said, calling Endel “a man of God, respected by those he works with, able to work with a diversity of people, and having a willingness to help others succeed.”

Jones said that Endel did not take the suggestion seriously at first, but when he contacted him again in early May, Endel promised to pray about the possibility.

Endel is the fourth announced nominee for SBC president, joining Georgia pastor Bryant Wright, Alabama pastor Jimmy Jackson, and Florida pastor Ted Traylor.

Both Endel and Jones compared his candidacy in a field of prominent pastors from Southern states to David taking on Goliath. Endel also identified himself with another biblical warrior who won the battle against great odds by depending on God: Gideon.

“My conviction for moving forward with this comes largely from the sermon God was writing in me for the Kingdom Growth Conference, a message about Gideon, titled, ‘From Faithlessness to Fearlessness,’” he said.

The Kingdom Growth Conference is an annual preaching and teaching event sponsored jointly by Lakeland Baptist Association of Milwaukee and MWBC, in partnership with the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources.

As he preached his sermon at the 11:30 a.m. session of the conference, Endel said that during preparation for the message, “I was overcome by a flash of the obvious: this sermon wasn't just for you; it was primarily for me.

“For many reasons I was reluctant to allow the nomination; I did not see myself in that kind of role and doubted my ability to be a strong voice in a conflicted and confused convention. It would be a David and Goliath style miracle for a new work leader, especially a state convention executive director, to be elected to this role,” he said. 

Mark Elliott, director of missions for the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association, Omaha, Neb., called Endel “a man of deep faith and unquestioned integrity.”

“The Southern Baptist Convention is at a crossroads,” Elliott said. ”A strong visionary leader who has demonstrated a lifestyle of cooperation will be required for us to choose the right path for the future. Leo is a man of God who is willing to approach others with genuine humility, listen to others with a desire to understand, and speak to others with heartfelt graciousness.”

Endel became MWBC’s third executive director in May 2002, leaving an 11-year pastorate at Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, which had grown in attendance from 35 to around 500, sponsored three new churches, and increased missions giving while undergoing two building programs.

When he left, Southern Hills was giving 13 per cent through the Cooperative Program, 3.5 per cent to the association, and 2 per cent to local missions, primarily for church planting in Northwest Iowa. 

Endel’s father was in the Air Force and his family moved from his birthplace of Tampa, Fla., to Anchorage, Alaska, when he was six months old, and then moved 11 more times before his high school graduation. Most of those years the family attended small Southern Baptist churches near air bases in the upper Midwest, Alaska and the Philippines.

He is a graduate of Central Missouri State University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently a doctoral student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
5/14/2010 8:33:00 AM by David Williams, Editor, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist | with 1 comments

Update: EC search team recommends Frank Page

May 14 2010 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Frank Page, vice president of evangelization for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), will be nominated as the next president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee, the chairman of that group has announced.

Randall James, assistant pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., said he was thankful for strength and guidance from God in the completion of the assignment. “Our search team of committed servants of the Lord, which includes 6 men and 1 woman, has worked and traveled many long hours since last September in search of God’s man for the job,” James told Baptist Press. “In the face of much lobbying, yet striving to be still and listen to the Holy Spirit, we are unified in our belief that God has indeed revealed to us His man to replace Dr. (Morris H.) Chapman.”

A vote on Page’s nomination will be held June 14. If elected, he will succeed Chapman, who will retire Sept. 30 after 18 years in the post.

Page told BP he was humbled to be named, and praying about his possible new role.

BP photo

Frank Page

“I’m honored to be considered for such an important position,” he said. “My prayer is that in some small way I might help in bringing unity to our convention.

“My prayer is based on John 17:21, which tells us that our unity affects our evangelism, and we desperately need unity at such a crucial time with many competing opinions and agendas being expressed.”

Page, who was elected to the North American Mission Board position in October 2009, is a former Southern Baptist Convention president and was pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., for nine years before joining NAMB. He is a member of the SBC’s Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and was named to President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February 2009.

It was during his 2006-2008 tenure as SBC president that Page called upon NAMB to lead the convention in a new evangelism initiative that would involve all Southern Baptists in an effort to sweep the continent with the gospel. That initiative became GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing, which launched in the United States and Canada this spring.

In the recently released 2009 ACP data, Taylor’s First Baptist Church reported 145 baptisms and primary worship service attendance of 2,310. The congregation gave $652,014, or 10.8 percent, through the Cooperative Program from total undesignated receipts of $6,052,088. According to the ACP, the church’s total mission expenditures were $1,349,600, with $185,623 given for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and $78,730 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions.

A native of Robbins, N.C., Page holds a Ph.D. in Christian ethics focusing on moral, social and ethical issues from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, along with a master of divinity degree from Southwestern. He earned a bachelor of science degree with honors from Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, majoring in psychology with minors in sociology and Greek.

Page is the author of several books, including Trouble with the Tulip, an examination of the five points of Calvinism, and commentaries on the biblical books of Jonah and Mark.

He also contributed as lead writer for the Advanced Continuing Witness Training material.

James said he would encourage Executive Committee members to continue to pray and he expressed deep appreciation for the work of those with him on the search committee.

“I challenge the EC members over the next 30 days to diligently seek God’s face on this matter and respond ONLY according to the leading of His Spirit,” James said. “I extend my humble thanks to (search committee members) Martha Lawley, Doug Melton, Clarence Cooper, David Dykes, Jay Shell, and Danny Sinquefield for a ‘job well done.’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press assistant editor, and Will Hall, BP executive editor.)
5/14/2010 8:02:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 3 comments

Ripples of prayer make waves in Udmurtia

May 13 2010 by Blake Williams, Baptist Press

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptists will observe the 2010 Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization May 23.)

IZHEVSK, Udmurtia — During one of his mission trips to Udmurtia, Jack Gilliland, pastor of Rea Valley Baptist Church in Flippin, Ark., asked a local believer, “Are we making any difference? Are we just coming and entertaining you, or is this helping?”

“Every time you come,” the man responded, “it’s like you drop a rock in a pool and whatever foggy, murky stuff that’s on the top brushes away a little bit — and we see a little more clearly.”

Today Gilliland volunteers from his Arkansas home as an International Mission Board (IMB) virtual strategy coordinator, which he describes as “filling in where the missionaries can’t go or live.”

Photo by Matthew Miller

Arkansas pastor Jack Gilliland meets with local pastors and evangelists to discuss ministry in the Udmurtia region of western Russia. Gilliland serves as an International Mission Board virtual strategy coordinator, which he describes as “filling in where the missionaries can’t go or live.”

The Udmurts, an unreached people group in Russia, were the focus of Southern Baptists’ Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization emphasis in 2007. Since then, answers to those prayers are bringing Living Water to the spiritually thirsty in the Republic of Udmurtia.

Around the world people have come to Christ, doors have opened to allow witness in places where missionaries cannot go, the faith of believers has strengthened. The common thread? Prayer — focused on one people group at a time for nearly 20 years of Day of Prayer and Fasting emphases.

In 1995 prayers were lifted for Mongolia. Now more than 400 churches and about 45,000 believers call Him Savior. Tibet had no churches in 1996 when the Day of Prayer focused on that Buddhist country. Today there are 19 churches and more than 600 believers. And the stories continue for each group that received the benefit of targeted prayer.

One of the 2007 prayer requests asked Southern Baptists to pray that God would call an individual to coordinate efforts among the Udmurts. Shortly afterward, the Lord burdened Gilliland’s heart.

He began to pray with believers around the world for God to send someone to Udmurtia to live full time and serve as a catalyst among the churches. Through word of mouth, e-mails and the Internet, Gilliland amassed a prayer network of more than 1,000 people who regularly intercede for Udmurtia.

During the past three years, Gilliland also led multiple short-term volunteer teams to serve as “virtual missionaries” in the absence of full-time missionaries. Volunteers work alongside and encourage the seven small Baptist churches in Udmurtia and help approximately 200 indigenous believers minister to and present the gospel to villagers. Less than 0.3 percent of Udmurtia’s population is considered evangelical Christian.

“You go in and you build relationships,” Gilliland said. “You live there like you would at home, just like a missionary does, and you share the Lord.”

Gilliland and his prayer network recently saw their prayers answered by two American couples. Charlie and Heather Murphy*, originally from Searcy, Ark., and Joplin, Mo., respectively, first met Will and Marie Thompson*, whose hometowns are Cordell, Okla., and Clinton, Okla., while attending school together in Texas. Their journey began when Charlie read the IMB prayer guide for the Udmurts.

“The Holy Spirit moved in me that day when I read that article,” Charlie says. At that moment he felt the Lord say to him, “I love these people, and that’s where I want you to go.”

About that same time, Will heard in class about the great need for people groups in Central and Eastern Europe to hear the gospel. As Charlie and Will shared these experiences with one another, they realized it was not coincidence but the providence of God. They began to pray for and research the Udmurts, and God kindled their hearts for the people group.

The Murphys and Thompsons are now Russian-language students living in Izhevsk, the capital city of Udmurtia. They have learned to rely on the Lord through prayer as they transition to the new culture and language.

“The most difficult thing is wanting so badly to be able to explain the gospel to people but not having the vocabulary to do it,” Charlie says.

“I don’t just want to be a language student. I want to be able to share God’s love with people, and right now I don’t have the vocabulary to do that. That causes a lot of tears some days, just weeping over the lostness and feeling like there’s nothing you can really do about it, and then hearing God’s still, small voice saying, ‘You can pray.’ That will forever be the most powerful weapon you have, even when you can speak the language fluently.”

The couples pray for the day when more Udmurts will put their trust in Christ and boldly share their faith.

A local pastor believes Charlie and Will can be an encouragement to Udmurt believers, inspiring them to evangelize their friends and families.

Gilliland agrees. “The trails have been blazed, and we’ve laid some good groundwork,” he says. “We’ve built a trust relationship with the people so that now it’s a matter of them catching the vision.”

Gilliland’s next project is raising more prayer support for the Murphys and Thompsons and for a church-planting movement to start among the Udmurts. Having acquired the names of every village in Udmurtia, Gilliland is enlisting local prayer warriors to commit to praying for a specific village. His prayer is to see at least one Bible study group form in each of those villages.

Southern Baptists will unite again this May 23 on the Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization to celebrate answered prayers over the years and to continue to pray for God’s intervention among the peoples who still need to hear the Good News. To learn more about the Day of Prayer, visit The web site features resources to help churches, small groups and Sunday School classes pray for peoples who have yet to hear the gospel, including a downloadable poster and video, planning helps and other materials. To order the Day of Prayer and Fasting DVD, go to or call (800) 999-3113.

*Names changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Williams wrote this story on behalf of the International Mission Board.)

How to pray for the lost in Udmurtia
  • Pray for spiritual darkness to be lifted and for the Udmurt people to see the light of Jesus Christ.
  • Pray that they will receive and worship Him.
  • Pray for the Udmurts who struggle with alcoholism and depression that the Lord will bring them hope and purpose.
  • Pray for men to come to Christ and become leaders in their homes and churches.
  • Pray for new Bible study groups to be formed and new churches to be planted.
  • Pray for people of peace who will open their homes for evangelistic Bible studies.
  • Pray that the Russian government will not restrict missionary and evangelistic efforts.
  • Pray for volunteer mission teams from the United States that will be traveling to Udmurtia.
  • Pray that the Lord will give you a love for the Udmurt people.
How to pray for Udmurt believers and churches
  • Pray that the seven Baptist churches in Udmurtia will be bold in reaching out to the villages and sharing their faith.
  • Pray for the churches that have no pastor.
  • Pray that the Lord will raise up men of faith and equip them to be leaders in the churches.
  • Pray for the two couples who are Russian-language students in Udmurtia.
  • Pray that they will become fluent in the language.
  • Pray that they will be an encouragement and support to local believers and churches.
  • Pray for at least 25 churches to be planted during the next 10 years.
5/13/2010 4:08:00 PM by Blake Williams, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Unbelieving’ pastors?

May 13 2010 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A study by Tufts University has called attention to the presence of Protestant pastors who do not believe what they preach, something the authors describe as a nearly “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy.”

Ambiguity regarding who is a believer in Jesus and who is a nonbeliever, the report said, is a result of the pluralism that has been fostered by many religious leaders for at least a century.

“God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all,” the authors wrote in summarizing the pluralistic view.

Rather than relying on statistical evidence to point to a conclusion, the study employs anecdotal stories of five ministers whose identities have been obscured. Even the authors admit they couldn’t draw any reliable generalizations from such a small sample of clergy, but what they found, they said, does deserve a closer look.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don’t even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a virgin.

Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn’t even believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it’s the way of life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite losing all theological confidence.

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing,” the pastor said.

He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone would offer him $200,000, he said, he’d leave the ministry right away.

“‘Preachers Who Are Not Believers’ is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy that staggers the mind,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in March.

“In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, ‘On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.’ In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. ‘These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.’

“If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them,” Mohler wrote at

“If they will not ‘out’ themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to ‘out’ them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?”
5/13/2010 4:06:00 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments

Among Congo’s hardened rebels: 500-plus baptisms

May 13 2010 by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — “We need to clear the room,” a translator announces. Then, he says quietly, “This woman was raped by rebel soldiers, and she’s never told anyone before. She’s been too embarrassed and too ashamed to let anyone know.”

Among those sitting on the rickety, handmade benches of Mizeituni Baptist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a church member in her 70s. She uses a wooden staff to support herself. As others go outside, she remains.

The doors close, the windows are shuttered. In the darkness of the rustic building, the woman’s story slowly unfolds, her face etched in pain at the memory of what she is about to tell.

“When the soldiers came, many people began to run,” she tells a Christian journalist, “but I stayed at my house. I was not able to run away ... so I hid under the bed.

“They knocked down the door, dragged me from under the bed, took me into the bush, tied me up and raped me.”

To date, more than 500 rebel soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been baptized. Many of them share their faith and conduct Bible studies. Kangenga Banganyigabo, center, is now a government military chaplain.

Afterward she returned to her house and said nothing.

“Now I have found that I have a venereal disease. And I am very angry and sad.”

This story is repeated again and again across the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Millions of Congolese are now refugees, having fled the atrocities committed by both government soldiers and rebel fighters.

Government troops and rebels converge on a village, and the inhabitants are caught in the middle. Murder, looting and rape are the norm. The innocent become victims of stray bullets and deliberate atrocities.

These horrors trace back to 1994 and the Rwandan genocide. Estimates vary, but up to 1 million people were slaughtered over the course of about 100 days.

It pricked the world’s conscience. In the aftermath, however, the horrors have continued. Fighting spread into neighboring eastern Congo. In Rwanda, it was quick and deadly; in the Congo it is a slow burn. The world was shocked about Rwanda. It knows little about the Congo where an estimated 5.5 million people have died during the past 16 years.

It is the deadliest conflict since World War II.

“The war in Rwanda and the Congo has caused great stress on us,” says Athanace Habimana, pastor of Hekima Baptist Church in Goma. “But because we had a compassionate heart, we wanted to get out among the people. This included the rebels.”

Habimana is head of the Baptist Union of East Congo. The union consists of 90 churches with 12,000 members. Together with International Mission Board missionary Rusty Pugh, he developed a strategy to reach the rebels.

He went into their camps and witnessed to them.

“Later ... we did training with seven pastors using (Bible) storying,” Pugh recounts. The pastors went into the camps for two weeks at a time, sharing Christ through a series of Bible stories that explain man’s separation from God because of sin and the salvation offered in Jesus Christ.

Congolese pastor Pascal Ndiho coordinates this dangerous ministry. “Without the permission of the commanders, we are not allowed to go and reach the rebel soldiers,” Ndiho says. “We must identify ourselves as servants of God and that we are there to share the wonderful news of Jesus Christ.

“We show them the advantages of being in Christ.”

Their efforts have been striking.

“They have started small groups among the rebels,” Pugh reports, “and because the rebels are always moving, new groups have been formed by the rebels that were trained by the Goma pastors ... so the groups are multiplying.”

To date, more than 500 rebels have been baptized.

Eight of these men gather in a small compound to tell their stories. At first their tales are sketchy, almost rehearsed.

Members of Mizeituni Baptist Church, about 30 miles from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, gather to share their stories of being subject to stray bullets and deliberate atrocities committed by both rebel and government forces.

“I did bad things,” one says. A second echoes the same line.

They are quiet, then they begin to open up.

One nervously fidgets with his automatic weapon. “I murdered people and I raped women,” he says, “... and I enjoyed it.”

“I have even killed children,” another says.

Their faces bear evidence to the seriousness of what they have done. Their piercing gazes instill fear.

“I really didn’t think about what I was doing,” one says. “I was just doing what I thought I should do....”

The eight soldiers accepted Christ through the efforts of Habimana, Ndiho and the other pastors.

Their faces soften when they talk about the change in their lives.

“We try not to think about what we did — to remember — but it is hard,” one confesses. “We know that we have hurt many people and have a lot of sin. But it is very different now.”

“The difference is that before I did not know God,” another says. “What I did, I did for me. Now I know that I committed so many sins, and I feel very guilty. But the pastor said that God can forgive me ... now I know I can be forgiven because of Jesus.

“It was the happiest day of my life.”

The elderly woman who was raped by other soldiers in her village 30 miles from where the eight former rebels sit still struggles with what happened to her.

God might be able to forgive them, “but they are still very bad men,” she says. “If I was able to meet them, I could forgive them,” she continues, “but they should be put in jail for what they did to me.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Braddix wrote this story on behalf of the International Mission Board.)
5/13/2010 3:57:00 PM by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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