October 2017

San Juan pastor serves meals, gospel after Maria

October 10 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Hungry and thirsty two weeks after Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, the teenage girl approached as Southern Baptist church planter Johnny Baez was serving beans, rice and filtered water.

Submitted photo
Two boys enjoyed a meal Oct. 1 at the Baptist Church of the Family in Santurce, a community in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

“I’m hungry and I don’t have nothing at home,” she told Baez, “and I just start walking to see if I find something to eat.”
Baez shared the girl’s story with Baptist Press (BP) by telephone Oct. 6, recounting that he persuaded her to accept a meal at his church plant, Iglesia Bautista de la Familia Santurce – the Baptist Church of the Family in Santurce. Baez said the girl thought she was poorly dressed and had been too “embarrassed … to go inside a church.”
Her story is only one in the community of Santurce, one of San Juan’s poorest. The island remains devastated after Hurricane Maria struck Sept. 20 with a wind force just shy of the 157-mph Category 5 storm ranking. While the official death toll from Maria is 36, funeral directors there say the death count might include dozens more, TheWeek.com reported today.
Southern Baptist pastor Felix Cabrera, a member of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance (HBPA) leadership council, has been in San Juan since Sept. 30 to help. North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Relief leaders and volunteers began arriving Sunday, Oct. 8.
“I know they are trying to do their best to help,” Cabrera said of Send Relief. “At the same time, our efforts as HBPA pastors and churches in the mainland [are] helping pastors and churches in the island. We are desperate to have food in our churches to start serving hot food in the communities.”
In cooperation with the Hollywood, Fla.-based Come Over Ministry, an international church planting outreach led by Colombian native Martin Vargas, the HBPA helped supply 12 power generators for churches. Vargas recruited Banyan Air Service and other private jet companies to transport the generators, Cabrera said.
“Unfortunately, right now we have other generators for churches, elderly homes and food and water stuck in Ft. Lauderdale,” Cabrera said, “but we [haven’t] found jets to transport these to Puerto Rico.”
Cabrera estimates Oct. 9 that electricity has been restored for only 12 percent of the population.
“We have two [types of] Puerto Rico – area metro and the rest of the island,” he told BP today by Facebook messenger. “Area metro is returning to … normal but the rest of the island is without electricity, water, food, medicines, etc. People are trying, they are working hard to move forward,” said Cabrera, who pastors Iglesia Bautista Central (Central Baptist Church) in Oklahoma City, Okla. The church’s Red 1:8 church planting network has birthed two churches in Puerto Rico among 30 internationally, according to RED18.org.
“After Hurricane Maria, my people are like the people of Israel,” Cabrera said. “The remnant there in the province who had survived,” he quoted Nehemiah 1:3, “is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
Cabrera, working with Vargas and Southern Baptist churches there, hopes to open temporary “Help and Hope Centers” in 12 churches, he said, to serve hot dinners.
“Many of our churches suffered damage. Many of our pastors lost or have damages at their homes,” Cabrera said. “Their church members are in great need and many in our communities are waiting to see the church to rise up and serve those in need.”
Today, Baez’s church plant in Santruce was the only Southern Baptist church offering hot meals. Open since Oct. 1, the church hoped to serve 500 meals in its first week, Baez told BP Oct. 12.
Residents are skilled in adapting to adversity, Baez said, and feel blessed to eat one meal a day.
“They feel blessings because you know at least they are alive, and remember this was a hurricane that hit the whole island. It’s not a corner of this island that is not destroyed or affected,” he said, his sentence stopped by his own sudden tears. “But we are alive, we are alive. God protected lives. They (survivors) say we don’t have food, but at least we are alive.”
Working without government assistance, Baez said, he receives small donations of beans and rice from survivors. A donated two-gallon water filter makes hydrant water potable.
Baez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, noted, “Everybody’s waiting on the donations that come from the United States, but we don’t receive it yet.”
“But people in Santurce [are] not eating, eating bread one time a day and no water,” Baez told BP.
To buy food at the few supermarkets that have reopened, residents must stand in line as long as four hours to make purchases limited to small portions, Baez said. Waiting in the supermarket lines takes Baez away from the feeding ministry, where he is also able to offer the hope of the gospel.
“I think the best way to [provide food], was asking everybody to give a little bit, a little bit and that’s the way we do it,” said Baez, working with a multidenominational group of area pastors. “And we get people from everywhere. Pastors … come from far away to bring me rice, three pounds, five pounds and that’s how we are doing now. They go to the supermarket, they buy a little bit, then they bring it and we cook it.”
“Little by little,” Baez noted, communities will get the help they need.
Maria is the fourth named storm and the third Category 4 hurricane to hit the U.S. and its territories this year. The latest storm, a Category 1 named Nate, struck the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coasts Oct. 7 and 8, unleashing heavy rain and strong winds. Losses for the 2017 hurricane season will total more than $350 billion, 11 times the average of the past five years, Accuweather.com President Joel N. Myers estimated.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

10/10/2017 9:43:32 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Social-media coaching now available from LifeWay

October 10 2017 by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources

LifeWay Christian Resources recently launched an online coaching service to help Christians manage social media and other digital platforms from a biblical perspective.

LifeWay graphic

This subscription-based service, known as LifeWay Social, is designed for churches, nonprofits and individuals who want to discover more effective ways of using social media to grow God’s kingdom. Registration opens Oct. 23.
Chris Martin, author development specialist for LifeWay, sees social media as more than just a means to accumulate clicks, new followers and sales. Instead, Martin believes digital platforms are tools Christians can use to serve the church.
“Some Christians have gifts of writing, speaking or similar abilities that translate well into social media, blogs, podcasts and other digital avenues,” Martin said. “LifeWay Social isn’t primarily about building an email list or getting a book on a best-seller list. Our goal is foremost to help believers use their gifts for the service of others and, ultimately, the Kingdom.”
People who are interested in joining LifeWay Social can sign up for a three-month or yearly membership offered at three tier levels. The basic tier will offer exclusive blog content and access to a private Facebook group. It will also provide weekly emails containing digital strategy tips, timely content ideas and information on social media platform changes. Higher tiers will involve one-on-one coaching, monthly video calls and website evaluations.
“LifeWay Social will be invaluable for those looking to use their gifts to make a Kingdom impact online,” said Jonathan Howe, LifeWay’s director of strategic initiatives. “With the pace of change in social media, it’s extremely helpful to have a guide to the most effective platforms and tools.”
LifeWay Social will also help Christian communicators understand the holistic nature of managing digital platforms. Martin compares this to overseeing a restaurant in which a website is the building, the content is the food, and the content delivery method (such as an email distribution list) is the staff.
“Someone may be creating great content, but if the roof of their website is falling in, the guests aren’t going to come back,” Martin said. “Or, if their food is great, but the waiters keep fumbling it on the way to the table, it doesn’t matter.”
LifeWay Social will coach users on how to excel in each aspect of social media management, so audiences will have a great experience and keep coming back, Martin said.
He also hopes to dispel the false perceptions Christians may bring to social media.
“Some people see social media as self-promotional and sinful, so they avoid it altogether,” he said. “Other people love social media  but only use it to talk about how great their books or speaking engagements are.
“We want to help Christians find the balance so they can steward an online presence to serve others,” Martin said. “That’s why LifeWay Social exists.”
For more information on LifeWay Social, visit LifewaySocial.com. Follow on Twitter and Facebook: @LifeWaySocial.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Wilson is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

10/10/2017 9:37:40 AM by Aaron Wilson, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Pitman to Las Vegas: ‘Run to God’ in midst of tragedy

October 10 2017 by Joe Westbury, The Christian Index

When Vance Pitman stood before the Hope Church congregation in Las Vegas Sunday morning, he looked over a group of people who had been forever changed in a matter of days.

Hope Church photo
Hope Church in Las Vegas meets for worship one week after a gunman’s massacre killed 58 people and wounded some 500 others.

Everyone in the service could recount exactly where they were in the late evening hours of Sunday, Oct. 1, when the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history unfolded just seven miles across town.
Fifty-eight dead, not counting the shooter. Some 500 wounded. At least 20,000 lives at the concert changed for the worse. Millions stunned.
That was the stark reality as Pitman rose to deliver his sermon Oct. 8 titled “Where is God in the Midst of Tragedy?” His subtitle fleshed out the time and place: “Weekend after Las Vegas Massacre 2017.”

Heartbroken, yet proud

In 2000 Pitman came with his and two other families to Las Vegas to plant a church. Sent out by First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., they began with 18 adults meeting in his living room. He was also serving as a church planter through the North American Mission Board.
The past 17 years have entailed making new friends and establishing a fresh Christian presence in the community. The church has grown to nearly 3,100 in attendance in four services – 8:15 a.m. having just been added four weeks earlier.
Then the bullets rained down from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s 32nd floor onto a country music concert across the street.
“Sunday night and Monday were the darkest days in our city’s history,” Pitman told The Christian Index in an interview published Oct. 7. However, he added, “but I have never been prouder to call Las Vegas my home.”

One question

As heartbroken as most Las Vegans were, Pitman came bearing a message of hope and encouragement that God was not hiding following the tragedy. In fact, God was a refuge for those seeking peace and comfort out of the madness.

Hope Church photo
Vance Pitman addressed Hope Church in Las Vegas for the first time Sunday morning since the mass shooting, beginning with the question “If you could ask God one question and you know He would give you an answer, what would you ask?”

“If you could ask God one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask?” Pitman began.
After a pause to let it sink in, he replied, based on the findings from a Barna Research Group poll question: “The most common response is ‘Why is there pain and suffering in the world?’
“If we are going to be honest this weekend, there have been moments like this week when we’ve all wrestled with questions like that. One of the first people I talked to on Monday morning asked me this question: ‘Where is God in all this?’”

‘A rock for me’

Pitman acknowledged that even as a follower of Jesus since 1989 and a pastor for more than 27 years, he wrestled with that very question when he heard the news of the massacre.
“Anyone who didn’t simply isn’t human. It’s OK to ask God some hard questions. ... He can handle it,” Pitman said, noting that God led him to Psalm 46 as he wrestled with the massacre.
“It’s been a rock for me this week,” he said of the passage that, contextually, was written to the nation of Israel during a time of national tragedy, and in response to that tragedy are the words of the Psalm.
In the midst of all the questions, “some of which we simply cannot answer, there are things that we do know,” Pittman said.
“The temptation of our humanness is to run from God in moments of tragedy, but the psalmist reminds us that those are the moments we should run to God.”
Pitman then recounted stories from the week that reminded him of the reality of God’s presence in the midst of tragedy.
Two police officers, for example, remarked to him, “It’s nothing short of a miracle that more people were not killed. It’s almost like someone spread their wings over that crowd and protected them.”
Pitman noted, “Where is God in the midst of tragedy? He’s right there in the midst of it with us,” and spoke of several ways God is present.
First, God is our refuge – a place of safety and protection, a place of security, Pitman said, citing the instruction in Psalm 62:8 to “Trust Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”
“Because God is my refuge,” Pitman said, “I can be honest with Him about all things. C.H. Spurgeon once said, ‘Turn the vessel of your soul upside down in His secret presence and let your inmost thoughts, desires, sorrows and sins be poured out like water. Hide nothing from Him, for you can hide nothing.’”
Pitman challenged the congregation, “If you’re hurting, tell Him. If you’ve got questions, ask Him. If you’re angry or upset, cry to Him. He is your refuge.”
Next, he spoke of God as our strength.
“All week I’ve heard ’I don’t think I can handle this!’ You are right … but He can because in 2 Corinthians 12:9 we read, ’My grace is sufficient for you and My power is made perfect in weakness.’”
And God is our help, Pitman said.
“When you and I do not have the strength, we can run to Him. He’s always abundantly available to meet whatever need we have. What do you need from Him today? He’s available!”

The reality of evil

“Why did God create evil? He didn’t,” Pitman continued. “The world we know is not the world He initially made. What, you may ask, do I mean?”
He then cited evangelist Greg Laurie’s observation that mankind was not created evil and that “in their original state, Adam and Eve were innocent, ageless and immortal. But mankind was given the ability to choose between right or wrong. He made his choice and then the choice made him.
Pitman stated that human beings, not God, are responsible for the introduction of evil into the world, yet in His grace He is still our refuge, strength and help in the midst of tragedy.
“There are two things we know even when evil is on display: that God is present … our refuge, strength and help, and God has a purpose as seen in Romans 8:28.
“This is nowhere seen more clearly than looking at the cross,” Pitman said. “The cross of Jesus is the single greatest act of evil and injustice this world has ever seen, and yet God – in His sovereignty – has caused it to be now seen as the greatest demonstration of love and goodness the world has ever experienced.”
Pitman directed the congregation to Revelation 21 where a city is described in verses 1-4 – “a city where God dwells … that can never be destroyed,” one that “He is constantly protecting and where no evil dwells. And one glorious day that city will come down from heaven and dwell here on earth.”
Pitman concluded the sermon by asking “Why doesn’t God just do it now?”
He then read from 2 Peter 3:9 which states, “The Lord is not slow about His promises, as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Turning from the scripture to the audience, Pitman used an observation from author Lee Strobel, saying, “So, what’s holding God up? One answer is that He’s actually delaying the consummation of history in anticipation that more people will put their trust in Him and spend eternity in heaven. He’s delaying everything out of His love for humanity.”

Billboards & marquees

Pitman, in an interview on Oct. 7, said he had been speaking of running to God throughout the week in various platforms he had for sharing his faith. As he drove across town to an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, he reflected on how the city’s own message has changed.
Various billboards and casino marquees that previously had been drawing attention to their gambling enticements prior to the massacre now are broadcasting a more somber message, pointing people to God: “Pray for Las Vegas … Pray For Our City … Pray for The Survivors.”
One after another they send a totally different message, uniting in a strange, temporary way with the churches whose message is more typically buried beneath the glaring lights of the Strip.
“All of the hotels are putting these prayer requests up,” Pitman said as his car headed down the Strip, passing the sprawling Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Pitman knew nothing of the extent of the shooting when he went to bed on Sunday night. The first shots were fired from the casino’s 32nd floor around 10 p.m. and the initial news reports were sketchy.
It wasn’t until the next morning when he awoke – on his birthday – that his phone was filled with what he thought were an unusual number of birthday wishes.
“Pastors were calling and telling me they were praying for me in the midst of the tragedy and I had no idea what they were referring to. I turned on the news and could not believe what I saw and heard,” he recounted.
That news threw Hope Church into an extended ministry mode which continues to this day. On Monday, it opened its doors as a safe place for those who wanted to come and pray about those who had died and for those who were still in surgery. Some just wanted to talk and try to understand the night of tears.
The church’s staff of 15 pastors was dispatched to the sanctuary as well as across town as grief counselors, working closely with local government.
“The way this city has rallied has been incredible. We are largely a city of transients, but this has brought all of us together as a unified community,” Pitman said.
On Monday night the church hosted a prayer meeting attended by hundreds, with many coming to faith. One young man, Pitman related, had never been to church but said he had never felt the sense of calm he experienced that evening. Staff members counseled with him and he accepted Christ.
The church did not have any members who were injured at the shooting. It continues to offer counseling and has also been encouraging its members to donate blood, even though some of those clinics have reported eight-hour waits. The church is now working with the Red Cross to try to have a mobile blood unit on site to take the pressure off of the hospitals.
The church has established a fund to minister to families of the victims as they work to put their lives back together. Surgical bills alone are expected to cost millions of dollars.
Listing several prayer requests, Pitman said:

  • “Pray for law enforcement, first responders, the medical community as they deal with and heal from what they experienced that night. Those who were not trained in combat medicine were not prepared for the bloodshed which they encountered.
  • “Pray for and give to the victims’ funds. One-hundred percent of funds we receive at Hope Church go fully to help those who are dealing firsthand with the tragedy.
  • “Pray for God to continue to work among the people of Las Vegas so they will run to Him as their refuge and strength, their ever-present help in trouble.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, christianindex.org, news journal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

10/10/2017 8:00:40 AM by Joe Westbury, The Christian Index | with 0 comments

More volunteer doors opening in Puerto Rico

October 9 2017 by Brandon Elrod, NAMB

This weekend, nearly 70 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers began arriving in Puerto Rico to aid in recovery efforts on the island.

Photo by Bradley Williams, lead pastor of Grace Church PR
Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Southern Baptists have been scouring every avenue to get into Puerto Rico as quickly as possible. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders are now in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and more are on the way to set up a strategic, long-term plan for bringing aid to the people there.

Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) national director for disaster relief, will reach Puerto Rico on Sunday, Oct. 8 to further develop plans for serving those affected by Hurricane Maria.
Teams from North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia will be joined by individuals and smaller groups from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Vermont. Conditions for the volunteers will be rough, and they will be prepared to serve whatever needs await them.
In San Juan, 70 percent of the city is without cell service, and outside the city, cell service is even more scarce. Only around five percent of Puerto Rico has electricity. In these early stages, Southern Baptists who serve in Puerto Rico will be trained disaster relief volunteers.
In the long-term, NAMB will, through Send Relief, facilitate partnerships between mainland Southern Baptist churches and churches in Puerto Rico. The goal is to help Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico become hubs of relief ministry in their communities so they can bring the gospel to their communities.
“I will be on the island [this] week to help determine ways that Send Relief can involve untrained volunteers in Puerto Rico,” said David Melber, vice president of Send Relief, “We want to open up every lane possible to send Southern Baptists as well as others into the field to help in Puerto Rico’s time of dire need.”
In the Virgin Islands, the Alabama disaster relief kitchen that had been set to arrive is still in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., awaiting shipment. SBDR has been told that the kitchen will be shipped to arrive as soon as possible.
Southern Baptist leaders from the states Alabama and Florida have been working in the Virgin Islands to put their disaster relief plan into action despite the setbacks.
This hurricane season has been stretching Southern Baptist resources and volunteers thin, but Sam Porter expressed confidence in SBDR teams.
“Our SBDR teams are pretty deep on the bench,” Porter said. “When others are down and cannot go anymore, someone is able and willing to step up and say, ‘put me in coach.’”
Meanwhile Southern Baptist responses to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey continue. As of Oct. 5, SBDR has seen nearly 400 professions of faith in the weeks since volunteers moved in to serve those affected by Harvey, then Irma. Southern Baptists have served nearly 2.5 million meals and completed more than 48,000 clean-up and recovery related jobs.
Despite the progress, volunteers are still needed in Texas and Florida. Texas in particular still has plenty of flood recovery jobs to be done. NAMB, through Send Relief, has been facilitating church-to-church partnerships and connecting volunteers with service opportunities, and state SBDR crews have still been gathering and sending teams to assist the Southern Baptist teams in Texas.
For more information on how to help, go to sendrelief.net. Or, contact your state convention disaster relief team: baptistsonmission.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.)

10/9/2017 9:31:50 AM by Brandon Elrod, NAMB | with 0 comments

New rules grant conscience win over abortion mandate

October 9 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Trump administration delivered a major victory for freedom of conscience Oct. 6 by issuing new rules to protect objectors to the abortion/contraception mandate instituted under President Barack Obama.
One of the two companion rules announced exempts entities from the requirement based on their religious beliefs, while the other regulation protects organizations and small businesses on the basis of a moral conviction apart from a specific religious belief, according to a news release from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The win for objectors comes after a six-year battle against an HHS mandate that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions. The 2011 rule, which helped implement the controversial health-care law enacted the previous year, resulted in legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and four Baptist universities.
Southern Baptist and other religious freedom advocates praised the new rules.
Ethicist Russell Moore expressed his gratitude and described the action as “a crucial achievement in the preservation of religious liberty.”
“The government has no business whatsoever forcing citizens to subsidize the destruction of human life and the exploitation of families and communities,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a written release. “More still, the contraceptive mandate revealed the audacity of a state that believed it could annex the human conscience, which is why I have long opposed it as an unlawful overreach asking citizens to choose between obedience to God and compliance with the regulatory state. A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere.”
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said in a written statement for Baptist Press he continues to be grateful to the president “for his stance regarding religious liberty. For a country which treasures freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, it is good to finally have a president who will actually stand up for these principles and do more than give lip service. Thank you, Mr. President!”
GuideStone welcomed the new rules, while acknowledging it awaits a final, positive judgment in court that hopefully will be supported by the government.
GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a written release, “We are grateful to God, first and foremost, for this outcome. This has been a matter of continued prayer as we petitioned the throne of grace and the seat of government for redress of our grievances. Today is indeed a good day as we give thanks for the outcome we believe honors the Lord.”
Hawkins also described it as “good news for all Americans who value the important role of religious liberty in our nation.”
Harold Loftin, GuideStone’s general counsel, said the action “validates the claims asserted in our lawsuit. The interim final rule published today in essence acknowledges that the government violated the law in proposing the original [mandate].”
Mark Rienzi, general counsel with Becket, called it “a victory for common sense.”
“HHS has issued a balanced rule that respects all sides – it keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for most employers and now provides a religious exemption,” Rienzi said in written comments.
Gregory Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said in a written release, “Although organizations that filed civil rights lawsuits will still need final relief from the courts, it is encouraging to see the Trump Administration affirm the principle that all Americans should be free to peacefully live and work according to their faith and conscience without threat of government punishment.”
Becket and ADF are both representing institutions that have challenged the HHS mandate’s failure to provide an adequate accommodation for their religious beliefs.
The issuance of what are described as “interim final” rules came five months after an executive order from President Trump directed the secretaries of three federal departments to consider revising rules to protect the religious freedom of the mandate’s objectors. Trump issued his executive order – which also addressed other religious freedom issues – on National Day of Prayer, May 4, in a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden.
In its release, HHS said the new rules will have no effect on government programs that offer free or subsidized contraceptive coverage to low-income women. The rules will not impact more than 99.9 percent of American women, it said.
In May 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against the religious institutions and blocked the Obama administration from imposing fines on them. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” No agreement was reached before Obama left office in January.
When it issued the controversial rule in August 2011, HHS provided an exemption for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object. HHS proposed nearly 10 accommodations for the objecting institutions, but none proved satisfactory to their conscience concerns.
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required by the mandate include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
GuideStone, the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity, is exempt from the mandate, but it serves ministries that are required to obey the requirement. The Baptist universities that are parties in lawsuits challenging the mandate’s failure to provide an adequate accommodation are East Texas Baptist, Houston Baptist, Oklahoma Baptist and Truett McConnell.
The ERLC and two other SBC entities – the International Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), as well as SBTS’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. – filed a friend-of-the-court brief in 2016 that urged the Supreme Court to rule the HHS accommodation violates religious freedom.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate. In its 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses.
Messengers to the 2012 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for an exemption from the mandate for “all religious organizations and people of faith ... who declare a religious objection to such coverage.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/9/2017 9:31:23 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

9Marks conference at SEBTS focuses on church leadership

October 9 2017 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) hosted the ninth year of its 9Marks conference, Sept. 29-30, attended by 747 pastors, ministry leaders and students and viewed by more than 900 live online via Facebook.

SEBTS photo
Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, addresses conference attendees at the 9Marks conference Sept. 29-30.

Focusing on the topic of church leadership, featured speakers were Mark Dever, Jeramie Rinne, Danny Akin, Thabiti Anyabwile, Burk Parsons and H.B. Charles Jr.
Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of the 9Marks church ministry, spoke on the process of pastoral transition within a church, such as the need for prayerfulness in considering the next pastor; the importance of relying on the leadership of church elders; and being open to pastors with varying educational backgrounds.
Dever noted that Christians should desire that their pastor exemplify “a self-givingness” in the “good authority” he exercises in the local church.
Rinne, senior pastor of Evangelical Community Church in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, spoke on the importance of humility in church leadership and the dangers of pride that come from success. Drawing from the rise and fall of King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26, Rinne noted that success ultimately comes from the Lord, which should enable pastors to be humble in ministry.
“That means that for us as pastors that one of the most important character qualities for leadership is that we be humble men, humble men who are dependent upon God,” Rinne said.
Akin, president of SEBTS, spoke Friday afternoon on the marks of trustworthy leadership from Psalm 101.
“A cynical, skeptical world is watching us and watching us very carefully,” Akin said. “Let them see men of integrity. Let them see wise and trustworthy leaders. Let them see men who faithfully follow in the footsteps of the Master.”
Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., spoke Friday night on Colossians 4 and how “spreading the gospel is a multi-ethnic team sport.” He outlined what he called the “four D’s of gospel ministry” – dedication, devotion, diversity and direction.
“You will know a healthy partnership [within a church] when you see one,” Anyabwile said. “It will be focused on the task of spreading the gospel with all the warmth of true friendship.”
Parsons, co-pastor of St. Andrews Chapel in Sanford, Fla., began the Saturday morning session with a message on how a pastor leads by example from 1 Peter 5.
“If you’re not being a shepherd, you’re not being faithful to what God has called you to be,” Parsons said.
In giving the example of Jesus, Parsons said, “Jesus didn’t just come and die for us, but He came and lived for us.”
Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., closed out the Saturday morning session speaking on Ephesians 4:11-16 and how a church grows and matures in the faith.
“You cannot have a high view of Christ and a low view of the church at the same time,” said Charles, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.
Throughout the conference, speakers participated in panel discussions moderated by Jonathan Leeman, editor of 9Marks.
To view photos from the conference, click here and to view the messages from the conference speakers, click here.
Southeastern will host next year’s 9Marks conference, Sept. 28-29, focusing on missions. For more information about 9Marks, visit 9marks.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Lauren Pratt of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

10/9/2017 9:16:05 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

Multisite Texas church’s decision spurs talk of trends

October 9 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The decision of a Dallas megachurch to transition its six campuses into autonomous churches illustrates what some see as a trend in the multisite model.
Still, those who study multisite ministry say it remains a viable missions and evangelism strategy for healthy churches.

Screen capture from The Village Church
Pastor Matt Chandler said the Dallas-area Village Church will transition its five remaining satellite campuses to autonomous churches “to contextually reach the city of Dallas with the gospel.”

Matt Chandler, pastor of the Dallas-area Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, announced Sept. 24 that the church’s five remaining campuses will all become autonomous churches by 2022 to maximize the “capacity to contextually reach the city of Dallas with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The 11,400-attendee Southern Baptist church previously transitioned one campus to an independent congregation in 2015, Christianity Today (CT) reported.
“We’re all a bit anxious right now ... because [the church’s current ministry model] really is beautiful, and God has done some stunning and spectacular things,” Chandler, president of the Acts 29 church planting network, said in a video. “We’re just compelled that there are better days ahead.”
In addition to congregational autonomy, the transition will entail moving to onsite preaching all the time at former satellite campuses rather than video messages by Chandler 38-40 Sundays per year. The transition is driven, according to CT, by The Village Church’s commitment to “local ministry and church planting.”
Multisite churches in Nashville and Kansas City have adopted a similar strategy.
Over the past year, Nashville-area Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., has transitioned three of its four satellite campuses to autonomous churches. Pastor Robby Gallaty cited a desire to “develop and deploy” localized pastors as a motivation for the transition.
Previously the sermon was delivered at satellite campuses by Gallaty via video while other elements of the service were conducted onsite.
The “discipleship model” at Long Hollow “is [to] develop and deploy people to be disciples who make disciples,” Gallaty told Baptist Press (BP). “I felt like we were replicating every position but the senior pastor, the preaching pastor at the church” and therefore not fully executing the discipleship strategy.
Each campus pastor, Gallaty said, needed the freedom to lead through his preaching and cast a vision for contextualized local ministry.
Long Hollow still has one satellite campus 15 minutes from its main campus, Gallaty said, “and ultimately I’m going to rotate back and forth between the campuses and preach live.”
Gallaty noted, “I’m hearing more and more pastors” speak of converting satellite campuses into autonomous churches.
In Kansas City, Mo., Lenexa Baptist Church announced in August plans to transition three campuses to autonomous churches. Pastor Chad McDonald told the congregation in a sermon, “We’re at a fork in the road. We can hold” and “control” the campuses, “or we can release them and unleash them for the glory of God.”
Lenexa’s campuses, McDonald explained, were birthed from a desire to help struggling churches revitalize. Now that three campuses, which began as partnerships with declining congregations, are able to sustain themselves financially and in terms of leadership, it makes sense to commission them as independent churches.
A fourth campus will become a church plant, with continuing financial and leadership help from Lenexa, said McDonald, who is conducting a doctor of ministry research project at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on the multisite model as a means of church revitalization and church planting.
McDonald told BP he hopes unleashing thriving satellite campuses as autonomous churches “will become a trend.”
“Certainly, what The Village Church and Matt Chandler are doing will go a long way in driving this as a trend, and I praise God for their faithfulness and example,” McDonald said via email. “I believe that this method of bringing churches in and unleashing them back out is one of the best methods for church planting and revitalization, and I pray it grows in popularity and pervasiveness in our denomination.”
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research and author of a 2009 book on multisite churches, said while “there have been several examples of multisite churches making campuses independent churches ... overall, we do not see this as a trend.” The number of multisite churches in America is not declining, he said.
“Multisite is a tool,” McConnell told BP in an email. “It is not a goal or a destination. It is still an effective tool for healthy churches to use to reach more people in more places. When factors that made multisite make sense change (such as leadership changes), then it is something the church should reevaluate.
“Many multisite churches start campuses and help plant churches. So it is not an either/or decision,” McConnell said.
Rick Wheeler, lead missional strategist for the Jacksonville (Fla.) Baptist Association, told BP he has advised about half a dozen churches considering the multisite model. Among them was Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, a predominantly African American congregation pastored by Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference President H.B. Charles, which adopted a struggling, predominantly white church as a satellite campus in 2015.
“Multisite is going to be one of many church multiplication strategies that churches are going to continue to use to extend their reach in a community or across a region,” Wheeler said.
The multisite model is “not a good idea” when “you’re just trying to grow,” Wheeler, a member of the SBC Executive Committee, said. “You have to have a sense of calling to a particular community, a particular people group that you’re trying to reach. All of the churches I know that have gone multisite successfully made a considerable effort to understand from a missionary standpoint the people that they were trying to reach in this new community where they were entering.”
Interest in the multisite model remains high, Wheeler said, noting representatives of about 20 churches in the Jacksonville Association attended a luncheon on the topic earlier this year.
The multisite model, Wheeler said, “is something that’s not going to go away.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

10/9/2017 9:11:31 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

TRUSTEES: Montreal’s need, progress highlight NAMB meeting

October 9 2017 by Mike Ebert, NAMB

North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustees gathered Oct. 2-4 in Montreal to hear reports of the progress new church plants are making there and to witness the reality of the deep lostness that is believed to make this Canadian city the least-reached part of North America.

Photo by Hayley Catt
North American Mission Board (NAMB) trustee Eric Thomas, left, pastor of First Baptist Church Norfolk, Va., leads NAMB trustees in prayer for church planting missionary James Copeland, center, along with Montréal Send City Missionary Chad Vandiver. Renaissance Church recently had its official launch. Copeland and his family moved to Montréal from Springfield, Mo. to become pastor of the plant that his sending church, Ridgecrest Baptist Church, has been supporting. NAMB trustees visited missionaries during their Board meetings in Montreal Oct. 2-4.

“It is a bit hostile to the gospel,” Gerry Taillion, executive director of the Canadian National Baptist Convention, told NAMB trustees. “But slowly and surely, we will win them.”
Taillon credited his convention’s partnership with Southern Baptists as a key element to the growth Montreal and all of Canada has recently seen in Kingdom work.
During a presentation to trustees at dinner on Oct. 2, Taillon and NAMB president Kevin Ezell shared statistics showing the progress throughout Canada since 2010 in the areas of baptisms, church attendance, number of church plants, total number of churches and partnerships with churches in the United States.
Taillon noted, “I just want to say thank you so much North American Mission Board and Southern Baptists. Those figures would not be there and that would have not happened were it not for this partnership that we prize.”
Earlier in the day, trustees saw some of that work first-hand when they boarded buses and visited several sites where NAMB church planting missionaries have launched new churches in recent years.
At the plenary session on Oct. 4, trustees heard reports from several committees, reviewed financial statements and approved resolutions addressing a number of issues.
Matthew Smith, NAMB’s controller, shared a preliminary report showing that each of NAMB’s expense line items finished the fiscal year ending September 30 below budget. Cooperative Program revenue finished 2 percent higher than anticipated and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering finished just $84,000 below last year’s offering which was the second-highest ever given.
Also at the meeting trustees:

  • Approved a series of resolutions responding to motions that had been referred from the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting. See related story. The motions addressed how trustee contact information is published and state entities with which NAMB has Cooperative Agreements. In response to a motion regarding NAMB’s trustee board representation, NAMB trustees responded that they had previously established a subcommittee to study the issue and make recommendations at their June 2018 meeting.
  • Approved a new committee structure for the Board of Trustees that better reflects NAMB’s current ministry emphasis. Primary committees will now be Send Network, Send Relief, Chaplains and Financial Services. Each of those primary committees may form teams as needed in order to focus on specific areas of work.
  • Approved the sale of up to $50 million of NAMB’s church loan portfolio to Baptist Church Loan Corporation. Any church holding an affected loan will be informed about the transfer and can choose to keep its loan with NAMB if desired. NAMB has been in the process of selling many of its loans so it can focus primarily on financing the efforts of church plants.

Send Relief, Church Planting Pipeline & gospel conversations

In his report to trustees, Ezell focused on plans to expand the reach and services through NAMB’s Send Relief compassion ministry. Ezell thanked state convention partners and volunteers for all they have done in response to recent hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Photo by Hayley Catt
Tony Silveira speaks before a gathering of North American Mission Board trustees at his conference center. Silveira started a business called Le Studio that hosts business meetings and parties within his community. On weekends, he rents out the space to his church, Passion Centre, as well as to other churches in the community. Silveira is currently working to create a recording studio in the facility so he can continue to grow his business and his church.

Southern Baptists are considered among the “Big Three” in disaster relief entities, along with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, Ezell noted.
“We are very grateful for the funding that comes through Southern Baptists,” Ezell said, but “the greatest need we have in Send Relief is more resources to help the people on the field.”
Ezell shared that more than half of donations received since the beginning of Hurricane Harvey efforts have come from non-SBC sources, indicating a potential for donations beyond the Southern Baptist base. While Send Relief’s gospel focus will remain rock-solid, “We feel like there is incredible potential for donors and volunteers outside of the SBC,” Ezell said. “We just have to think bigger.”
Turning to church planting, Ezell said the launch of NAMB’s new Church Planting Pipeline has gone well and that hundreds of churches have already signed up to participate. The pipeline process helps churches discover, develop and deploy the next generation of church planters.
“The greatest need we have in Send Network are church planters,” he said.
Ezell closed with a focus on the new Gospel Conversation Challenge NAMB is leading along with LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC Executive Committee and state Baptist convention partners.
The gcchallenge.com web site includes the “Gospel Conversation Pledge” which pastors can sign, committing how many gospel conversations their church will have between now and June 2018. There is also a place to record and upload a “GC60” video, where people can share about their most recent gospel conversation. A prayer guide and additional resources are also available.
“The whole idea,” Ezell said, “is to get people thinking about it and talking about it consistently – having gospel conversations. When you do that I have found in my own life that I am much more accountable to doing it and taking advantage of every opportunity.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert is executive director of public relations for the North American Mission Board.)

10/9/2017 8:57:09 AM by Mike Ebert, NAMB | with 0 comments

Evangelical leaders call for help for Dreamers

October 6 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A coalition of evangelical leaders organized by Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has urged Congress to supply a remedy for undocumented immigrants brought by their parents to the United States.
In a statement released Oct. 5, the 51 signers called for a legislative solution for the approximately 800,000 people affected by the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement it would end a program that gave them relief from deportation. Today’s statement comes on the final day undocumented residents who were brought to the United States as children will be able to apply for deportation deferral.
In a 2012 order, President Obama established the program to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before their 16th birthday. The order to protect Dreamers, as they are known, came after Congress failed for more than a decade to pass proposals to address the issue.
Signers of the new statement said they endorse “the underlying policy aim” of the rescinded program – known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – “because we believe this is a special category of immigrants who are not legally culpable, who in most cases have no home other than the United States and who are a blessing to their communities and to their churches.”
They acknowledged many of them were skeptical about the wisdom of achieving the goal through a temporary order by the president. The recent reversal of the program demonstrates Congress needs to act, they said.
“It is long past time for Congress to work together to find a workable solution for our broken immigration system – especially for the hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to our country by their parents,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a written release. “Many of these Dreamers have stepped forward in good faith, and our government has a moral obligation to deliver on the promises made to these men and women and protect them from perpetual uncertainty.”
Moore described his cosigners as “convictional leaders from across the evangelical spectrum. We stand together united by many things, in this case the conviction Congress should provide a fair, compassionate and speedy solution.”
Among those who responded to invitations to sign were former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) presidents Ronnie Floyd, Bryant Wright, Jack Graham and James Merritt.
While the statement did not endorse a particular piece of legislation, it presented six principles for a congressional remedy:

  • “We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit.
  • “We believe America’s borders must be secure.
  • “We believe we should welcome Dreamers of good moral character and who are working hard to contribute to our country.
  • “We believe Dreamers deserve to be recognized as our fellow Americans.
  • “We believe our government should provide a pathway to permanent legal status and/or citizenship for eligible Dreamers.
  • “We believe a just government works to maintain the integrity of families.”

They “hold a variety of opinions on how best to achieve satisfactory border security, but we all agree that border security is a necessary ingredient to reforming our immigration system,” the signers said in the statement.
Those who have taken part in DACA have pursued education, worked and paid taxes, served in the military and refused to become involved in crime, according to the statement. “A solution for Dreamers rightly excludes those convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors,” the signers said.
“While we feel the tension between our obligations to both Christian compassion and respect for the rule of law, we reject the idea that the two are irreconcilable,” they said.
When repeal of DACA was announced, the Trump administration specified its process would provide Congress with time to act before the program is shut down.
In 2001, members of Congress proposed for the first time the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act – hence the name Dreamers for those in this category of undocumented immigrants. The measure gained reintroduction several times thereafter without passing before Obama acted.
Included among the signers were:

  • SBC pastors such as Matt Chandler; Byron Day, also president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; J.D. Greear; D.A. Horton; Greg Laurie; A.B. Vines; and Afshin Ziafat.
  • Non-SBC evangelical leaders such as Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; D.A. Carson, president of The Gospel Coalition; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Rich Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.; and George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
  • Theological school heads such as Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; and Richard Mouw, president emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary.
  • Other signers included authors Randy Alcorn, Rosaria Butterfield, Thomas Kidd and Jen Wilkin; Nashville pastor Ray Ortlund; conservative editor Erick Erickson; hip-hop artist Shai Linne; and constitutional law expert Michael McConnell.

The statement may be read and signed at erlc.com/resource-library/statements/evangelical-leader-statement-of-principles-on-dreamers.
In 2011, messengers to the annual SBC meeting approved a resolution on immigration reform that called for the advancement of the gospel of Jesus while pursuing justice and compassion. The measure urged the government to make a priority of border security and hold businesses accountable in their hiring. It also requested public officials establish after securing the borders “a just and compassionate path to legal status, with appropriate restitutionary measures, for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.” It specified the resolution was not to be interpreted as supporting amnesty.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

Related articles:
White House rescinds Dreamers program, gives Congress time
Baptist leaders ask Trump to protect ‘Dreamers’
Baptists lend hand to ‘Dreamers’

10/6/2017 9:24:29 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Renewed focus on women’s discipleship at Southeastern

October 6 2017 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

“Our mission is to cultivate teachable, theological and missional women who are empowered to seek out and accomplish God’s calling on their lives, to faithfully make disciples and to fulfill the Great Commission.”

Missie Branch

This is the mission statement of Women Around Southeastern, the recently rebranded name of the former Women’s Life office.
Missie Branch has been named assistant dean of students to women at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) and will be leading this rebrand to help disciple and equip women for ministry.
“We believe God has brought to us the perfect person in Missie Branch to fill the role of assistant dean of students to women,” said Mark Liederbach, vice president for student life. “Not only does she have a fire and passion for Christ, but she has the vision and God-given gifts to rally our ladies to greater excellence.”
Liederbach expressed that while there is excitement for the renewed vision in Women Around Southeastern, there is also tremendous gratitude for the role that Denise O’Donoghue played as she led Women’s Life for many years.
“Denise led our Women’s Life program for the previous decade and did an outstanding job caring for our ladies, leading and teaching them as well as building the foundations for where we hope to go now that she has gone on to other ministry opportunities,” said Liederbach.
O’Donoghue formerly served at SEBTS as the director of Women’s Life and assistant professor for ministry to women. In July, O’Donoghue became the director of biblical womanhood and targeted learning at Academy 31, a Christian school for middle and high school girls that will open in Raleigh in 2018.
Branch initially began working at SEBTS in the summer as the student events coordinator before becoming the assistant dean of students to women. Her role will continue under the oversight of the student activities and discipleship office.
“It is my passion to see the women associated with this campus operating as a community, holding each other to a high biblical standard and being willing to go deep into each other’s lives to help see this accomplished,” said Branch.
Branch will also be working closely with Southeastern’s counseling office, a new service to promote emotional and spiritual wellbeing by providing counselors who can meet with students for 15 hours a week.
The new Women Around Southeastern website is already being constructed to help women at the school connect to all the resources available to them. The site will also include information about programs such as the Biblical Women’s Institute in certificate services coordinated by Laura Fylstra, discipleship of seminary women and seminary wives led by Cathy Horner, college discipleship led by Brittany Webb and Rebekah Callahan and mentorship to international women led by Chelsea West, according to Liederbach.
“As we look to move forward, it is our hope that the women who come to Southeastern will be equipped to lead Great Commission ministries in an increasingly diverse world,” said Liederbach.
Branch hopes to see Women Around Southeastern change the way female students connect by providing resources for them to be discipled and learn how to disciple others.
“This happens by equipping and empowering women to be leaders in their respective spheres of influence so that when they go, they do so prepared and excited to lead and serve as they represent Christ all over the globe,” said Branch.
Branch and her husband William, an assistant professor of preaching and Bible at The College at Southeastern, served as church planters for eight years in Philadelphia before moving to Wake Forest. They have five children and have lived in Wake Forest for four years. The Branch family attends Imago Dei Church in Raleigh.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is the news and information specialist for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
Related articles:
‘Remarkable’ number of women reported at SBC seminaries
Women’s academic society forms at Southeastern

10/6/2017 9:23:34 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

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