September 2009

ERLC board commits to pray for SBC task force

September 21 2009 by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Trustees of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) noted the establishment of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force and committed to pray for its work during their Sept. 15-16 annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Trustees offered themselves as “prayer warriors” for the task force as it addresses “critically important issues.”

The task force was established by a vote of messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Louisville in June to study how Southern Baptists can work “more faithfully and effectively together in serving Christ through the Great Commission.”

In the motion adopted by ERLC trustees, they asked God to “guide every discussion and every decision (of the task force) in such a way that He alone will receive glory.”

In affirming the ERLC’s ministry assignment, trustees expressed a deep commitment to the “protection of religious freedom in the United States and around the world.” The motion commits trustees to pray that God will use the ERLC’s influence “to help open doors that have been closed to the Gospel and keep doors open among people that have been historically free.”

Trustees also pledged their support and the assistance of the ERLC staff to the task force as the need arises.

Looming life questions
America faces a “gathering storm” related to the value of human life, ERLC President Richard Land said in an address to trustees.

Land warned of the institutionalization of a quality of life ethic in American society. “Actions in our legislative and judicial systems are symptomatic of a moral and spiritual disease,” he said, reminding the trustees of Moses’ call to the Israelites to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

“Unfortunately for about half my life we have far too often chosen the path of death and cursing rather than the path of life and blessing,” Land said, warning of the danger of a quality of life ethic totally supplanting a sanctity of human life ethic.

“We need to combat the systems like any good doctor,” Land said, “but we need to be treating the source of the disease as well.”

The Bible teaches essentialism, that our Creator has conferred on every human being a right to life from conception to natural death, Land said.

This biblical perspective is increasingly being replaced by what ethicists call biographicalism, Land explained, which holds that individuals are defined by their biography. According to this view, he said, individuals forfeit their personhood and value as they lose quality of life, to the degree that they become less productive and less able to care for themselves.

“This storm has been gathering for a long time,” Land said, suggesting a quality of life ethic is reflected in much of the machinations behind the proposals related to health care reform.

“Human life is sacred by God’s involvement and declaration,” Land said. “We are different in nature and design and kind from all the rest of creation. The differences are not differences of degree; they are differences of kind,” he continued.

“We are not merely the most advanced life in the animal kingdom; we are the unique creation of God.”

This reality should have an impact on all of human life, including ethical, medical, moral and legislative decisions, he insisted.

“We have a biblically appointed task to call Southern Baptists and all people of faith to be the watchmen on the wall in the face of this gathering storm,” Land said, citing Ezekiel 3.

“Silence is complicity,” he said. “We must speak the Word.”

Religious liberty champion honored
ERLC trustees recognized Fan Yafeng as the recipient of the John Leland Religious Liberty Award. Fan, a leading advocate for constitutional democracy and religious liberty in China, is a senior researcher at the Official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a founding member of the Association of Human Rights Attorneys for Chinese Christians.

Land told trustees their decision to honor Fan “puts a spotlight on our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in China” and that the Chinese government will become aware of the resolution honoring Fan.

Land noted that while a growing number of Chinese are confessing Christians, religious expression is still repressed in the communist nation.

In a Dec. 14, 2006, Christianity Today article, Fan noted, “More and more Christian public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”

Land said Fan’s authorship of the “Taishi Village Incident Memorandum” is credited with contributing to the Chinese government’s decision to allow direct elections for village leaders in the nation.

Trustees also voted to honor Rep. Joseph Pitts. R.-Pa., with the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award for 2009. Pitts, in his seventh term as a representative for the Lancaster, Pa., area, is chairman of the House Values Action Team.

Land said Pitts, a staunch defender of traditional values and fiscal conservatism, is “strongly pro-life and strongly pro-marriage” and has distinguished himself in championing human rights and humanitarian efforts around the world.

Other business
Trustees also:
  • elected Ronnie Wilburn, senior pastor at Meridian Baptist Church in Jackson, Tenn., as trustee chairman; Don Mason of Locust Grove, Ga., as vice chairman; and Gene Kendrick, pastor of Mims Baptist Church in Conroe, Texas, as secretary.
  • responded to five motions referred from the 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, including one motion addressing PepsiCo’s apparent support of the homosexual agenda. In acknowledging efforts by some to portray the homosexual lifestyle as normative, trustees affirmed the ERLC’s call to Southern Baptists and others to “take their faith into the marketplace, seasoning the culture, including corporate America, and allowing the Light of the gospel to permeate the darkness.”
  • were briefed on the commission’s Internet initiative for spiritual development among students, josiahroad.com. Trustees learned that a downloadable multi-part student Bible study focusing on the life of King Josiah is now available online.
  • were reminded of the commission’s work in Washington, D.C. ERLC staff celebrated the passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008 and Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, but recounted their opposition to federal legislation that devalued human life and threatened both freedom of speech and religious liberty.
  • were introduced to the ERLC’s new Issues at a Glance web pages. Each of these new Internet-based resources focus on one moral or ethical issue, providing downloadable materials in addition to a focused scripture index and related SBC resolutions. The web pages also feature a full-color bulletin insert on each issue that can be printed and distributed.
  • approved a $3.246 million budget for the ERLC’s 2009-10 fiscal year, a 6.1 percent decrease from the previous year’s budget. Land said the entity’s budget was trimmed primarily to account for recent Cooperative Program trends. The ERLC receives 1.65 percent of CP funds received at the national level.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.)


9/21/2009 7:50:00 AM by Dwayne Hastings, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



IMB appoints 60 new missionaries

September 21 2009 by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Does God know sign language?

Since their earthly fathers cannot speak to them in their heart language, can their heavenly Father understand them?

Emma Zondervan* says yes: “When God speaks to you, He speaks to your heart. He doesn’t speak to your ears,” said the Huntsville, Texas, native, who is hearing. “Your deafness does not prevent you from going to heaven.”

Zondervan was among 60 new missionaries appointed by the International Mission Board (IMB) Sept. 16 at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. The appointees are being sent to four continents — 35 to Asia, 12 to Europe, 12 to Africa and one to the Americas, bringing the total number of Southern Baptist missionaries to 5,562.

While in college, Zondervan called the IMB almost every week for two years to keep informed of opportunities to serve the deaf. While still a student, she raised her own support and worked with Southern Baptist missionaries in Europe ministering to the deaf in the summer of 2006. After graduation, she spent several months in Asia working with the deaf — once again, paying her own way.

BP photo

James and Sonya Herron both felt God call them to international missions at a young age. Fourteen jobs, 10 degrees and 27 years of ministry later, the Herrons are fulfilling their missions calling: The Illinois natives have been appointed as Southern Baptist missionaries to Uganda.


The trips confirmed her calling and now Zondervan is going to Asia to minister to the deaf.

Rick Eckhart* and his wife Lena* likewise have a message to share. When Rick was in high school in Maryville, Tenn., a missionary invited him to serve in Papua New Guinea one summer. “As a teenager I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to New Guinea,’“ Eckhart recounted, concerned at the time about “all the ... things that I was going to miss out on.”

But God started working in Eckhart’s heart, and he realized he didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

“In Papua New Guinea, I shared my testimony with a tribal group in the jungle. A tribal leader, after hearing my words, stood up and asked me to come and teach them the Scriptures,” Eckhart said. “His request, along with the prompting of the Spirit, solidified my call to missions.”

During that trip Eckhart knew he wanted to be a missionary. The thought of people, like the Papuan tribal leader, perishing without hearing the gospel broke his heart.

“I walked away from that trip totally and completely changed. From that point forward, I’ve geared my life toward missions and God has just continued to give me confirmation ... that He wanted me to be on the mission field,” Eckhart said.

The Eckharts are going to work in southern Asia in a city that is largely unreached with the gospel.

“There are others who would like to be here, who anticipated being here,” IMB President Jerry Rankin told the new appointees, “but because of financial limitations, the number of missionaries that we are now able to send out is having to be restricted.

“It is indeed a privilege in the providence of God that you’re among those who ... can go to the ends of the earth and share the gospel,” Rankin said.

Southern Baptist missionaries are experiencing unprecedented victories in sharing the gospel around the world, said Gordon Fort, vice president of the IMB’s office of global strategy. Fort reported that in the past five years, thousands of people from Muslim backgrounds in south Asia have accepted the message of salvation.

But there are still millions who have not heard, Rankin reminded those attending the appointment service. In Central Asia, only about 80 of its 500 people groups have access to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“By what criteria should any people be deprived of hearing the gospel when God has blessed us so richly in numbers and resources as Southern Baptists?” Rankin asked.

“You’ve been confronted tonight with a world that is dying without Jesus Christ,” he said, underscoring the responsibility of Christians to respond to the Great Commission call to take the gospel to a lost world.

*Names changed.

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

9/21/2009 7:47:00 AM by Caroline Anderson, Baptist Press | with 3 comments



Clarkton stretches to start new class

September 21 2009 by BR Staff

When First Baptist Church Clarkton decided to offer something to members who were not attending Sunday School, the church did not just say, “You ought to come.”

They designed a class that looked different from the classes those members already had decided not to attend.

They named the class “Follow Me” from John 10:27 where Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me.”

Each member receives a bracelet that has this scripture and the footprints of Jesus on it.

“These bracelets are a great conversation starter,“ said pastor Larry Pittman.

Each class begins with a continental breakfast and includes praise and worship time with contemporary Christian music videos. Video teaching from persons like Andy Stanley, Ken Hemphill and Henry Blackaby is followed by discussion.

The class is co-ed and intergenerational. It started with three people and averages 15 nine months later.

“We have fellowship times outside of class and recently began to do local missions in our community,” Pittman said.

9/21/2009 7:46:00 AM by BR Staff | with 0 comments



Hammett to work with CBF of North Carolina

September 18 2009 by BR staff

Eddie Hammett, who was laid off in August from the staff of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) in a cost cutting move, will begin a part-time role with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (CBFNC) Nov. 1.

Hammett, a popular speaker, seminar leader, coach trainer and author, was elected as CBFNC church and clergy coach during a Coordinating Council meeting Sept. 17.

Hammett served 19 years with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, most recently as western regional discipleship and leadership consultant.

Hammett will work with CBFNC staff, churches and elected leadership in the areas of clergy coach training, lay leadership and church staff team development, spiritual formation, transitioning issues for churches, discipleship and deacon ministry.

“Eddie brings to the table a unique awareness of the challenges and needs of congregational life in the 21st century,” said Larry Hovis, CBFNC executive coordinator. “His background as a staff minister in local churches, coupled with his experience and expertise in coaching and consulting, will be an invaluable asset.”

Hammett, a founding partner of The Columbia Partnership whose purpose is to help churches “pursue and sustain vital Christ-centered ministry,” said he looks forward “with excitement and openness” to serving among “very capable CBFNC leaders and congregations.”

He wrote following his layoff from the BSC that he felt less a victim than “one being launched into new aspects of ministry to churches, leaders, conventions/conferences and judicatories of many denominations.”

Hammett, a graduate of North Greenville College, Furman University, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a professional certified coach and national conference leader and has written six books. His Reaching People Under 40 while Keeping People Over 60 is a part of the TCP Leadership Series and is the best selling book published by Chalice Press.

His newest book, Making Shifts Without Making Waves: A Coach Approach to Soulful Leadership written with Randy Pierce and Steve DeVane, will be released in November.

9/18/2009 10:21:00 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments



Two from Florida school not guilty of contempt

September 18 2009 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A federal judge in Florida ruled Sept. 17 that a blessing at an athletic banquet did not violate her court order telling a school district’s leaders to refrain from promoting religious activity at school events.

Following a day-long hearing, U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers acquitted Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman of criminal contempt of court. If convicted, the two men could have faced up to $5,000 in fines and six months in jail.

In January Rodgers ordered school officials of the Santa Rosa County, Fla., school to discontinue practices promoting prayer at school-sponsored events, including commencement exercises; planning or financing religious baccalaureate services; promoting religious beliefs to students in class or during school-sponsored events and activities and holding school-sponsored events at churches.

The injunction stemmed from a lawsuit filed in August 2008 on behalf of two Pace students by the American Civil Liberties Union. It accused school officials, including Lay and school-board members, of using their governmental positions to promote their personal religious beliefs in public schools in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Nine days after Rodgers’ injunction, Frank asked Freeman to lead a blessing of the food at a banquet honoring people who contributed to the school’s new athletic fieldhouse. The ACLU alerted the judge, and she ordered the two men to face criminal contempt proceedings.

The case is the latest battleground in the culture war over school prayer. In June about 400 seniors at Pace High School stood up in protest of the ACLU at their graduation ceremony and recited the Lord’s Prayer. In May Lay spoke during a Sunday-night service at Olive Baptist Church in nearby Pensacola, where he is a member and deacon, proclaiming that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and saying that every day he walks school hallways and sees kids who “need Jesus.”

During their Sept. 17 hearing, however, both Lay and Freeman testified that they had merely acted out of habit in invoking God’s blessing at the athletic banquet. After the hearing Rodgers ruled the two did not intentionally violate her temporary injunction banning school prayer.

Afterward, Lay spoke to about 1,000 supporters who held vigil outside the courthouse throughout the rainy day. “Above all I want to thank chief counsel, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,” Lay told the cheering crowd, according to the Pensacola News-Journal.

ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson told the newspaper that despite the ruling in Lay and Freeman’s favor, Judge Rodgers made it clear that “the unconstitutional promoting of religion by public school officials will not be tolerated.”

The lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleged a repeated pattern by school officials of “promoting and endorsing prayers at graduation ceremonies and other school events, of sponsoring religious ceremonies and holding official school events at churches.”

A Pace High employee handbook introduced as evidence said all school personnel are expected to “embrace every opportunity to inculcate, by precept and example, the principles of truth, honesty and patriotism and the practice of every Christian virtue.”

“Parents, not the public schools, should be responsible for deciding whether their children receive religious education,” Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida’s Northwest Region office, said in a press release. “Religious freedom is eroded when the government endorses any particular religious viewpoint.”

A supporter of Lay and Freeman, Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, said the goal of the ACLU was to create a Jesus-free zone on public-school campuses. Traylor, a former president of the Florida Baptist Convention and first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, helped raise money for a defense fund for the two men, which totaled nearly $70,000.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)

9/18/2009 10:19:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 1 comments



‘See You At the Pole’ Sept. 23

September 18 2009 by Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — More than 3 million teenagers in 20 countries are expected to participate Sept. 23 in the 19th annual “See You At the Pole” school prayer rally.

This year’s event also marks the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, when a gunman sprayed bullets across a sanctuary where students were gathered for a rally celebrating that morning’s See You At the Pole rally, held that year on Sept. 15. Four teens attending the rally were among the seven people killed by the gunman.

See You At the Pole, which originated in early 1990 among a small group of teenagers in Burleson, Texas, “is a student-initiated, student organized, and student-led event” that calls on students to pray for their schools, friends teachers, government and nation, asking God to bring moral and spiritual awakening to their campuses and countries, according to a statement on the event website.

“See You At the Pole is not a demonstration, political rally, nor a stand for or against anything,” the statement said. “See You At the Pole is all about prayer. It’s about (students) coming together and laying aside all of the labels and groups for one day, to simply engage with God in prayer and connect with fellow Christians in unity around the flag pole.”

As a student-initiated, student-led event, See You At the Pole has challenged young people to create unity and exercise higher levels of leadership in school, said Paul Fleischmann, president of the National Network of Youth Ministries, which promotes the event.

“Every year, we have seen this day serve as a springboard for unity among teenagers on their campuses. See You At the Pole unites students in prayer at the beginning of the semester,” Fleischmann said. “Young people have taken unprecedented leadership through this to have a positive impact at their schools.”

This year’s event is being organized under the theme “Engage: Go and pray ...,” based on 2 Kings 22:13. Many congregations will demonstrate support for See You At the Pole by conducting “Campus Challenge Sunday” commissioning services the weekend prior to the school rallies. Resources for planning and conducting both emphases are available on the event’s web site at www.syatp.com/resources.

9/18/2009 9:23:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Rankin: SBC future hinges on direct involvement

September 18 2009 by Robert Dilday, Associated Baptist Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Baptist congregations will increasingly take on more direct responsibility for international missions, freeing full-time missionaries to focus their energies in countries that restrict Christian evangelism, says the retiring executive of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) International Mission Board (IMB).

Jerry Rankin reflected on the future of Southern Baptist mission in a conference call interview the day after his Sept. 16 announcement that he will retire as the IMB’s president next July.

Rankin, whose 17-year tenure as president is the second-longest of any executive of that agency in the past century, also discussed the implications of a “Great Commission” task force examining the way the SBC distributes funding for mission work; responded to speculation that the task force will recommend a merger of the IMB and the SBC’s domestic missionary agency; identified characteristics he’d like to see in his successor; and reflected on his occasional disagreements with trustees over mission strategy and focus.

Historic shift in methodology
Increased reliance on local churches to carry out the mission task is one of the most significant accomplishments of his tenure, Rankin told reporters in the Sept. 17 conference call.

He has encouraged the IMB to make “an intentional effort not to do missions on behalf of Southern Baptists but seeking to multiply the resources and the people by mobilizing our churches, by personalizing their involvement, and getting churches, associations and state conventions to truly partner with us in the task of global missions,” he said.

Currently, as many as 8,000 Southern Baptist churches are engaged in direct, long-term mission partnerships overseas, said Rankin — a dramatic strategic shift in a denomination that traditionally relied exclusively on a large force of full-time missionaries to carry out that task.

“We recognize that you don’t have healthy Bible-based churches seeking to reach the lost that don’t also have a vision for reaching the nations,” said Rankin. “The churches that are involved in overseas missions — God is blessing their outreach locally, as well.”

The strategic shift has had the practical effect of enabling Southern Baptists to maintain mission involvement in the midst of an economic crisis, Rankin said. Earlier this year, revenue shortfalls led IMB trustees to place a cap on the number of missionaries they could appoint — and forced them to consider a long-term restriction if contributions remained low. Currently the IMB employs about 5,600 missionaries.

But the shift also is altering missiological assumptions — and that’s a good thing, said Rankin.

“Already the role of the missionary has significantly changed,” he said. “Their role now is engagement in discipleship and leadership training. They’re not the primary church planter doing the work. It’s what they do in partnership with national believers and churches and conventions. That’s going to be even more part of the strategy in the future.

“More than half of (the IMB’s) missionaries are serving in restricted countries where they can’t be identified as missionaries, pushing back the frontiers of lostness,” he noted. “I think that will be the primary focus of — for want of a better phrase — the professional, God-called, full-time missionary. I think we will relinquish those partnerships in countries where there are established churches (and move to) facilitating Southern Baptist churches and state conventions to work there.

“I think it will be a synergy that will explode our impact on a lost world, as we facilitate and challenge our churches in working (in countries) with established work to continue to reach the lost, while the missionary force focuses on engaging the unreached people.”

‘Great Commission’ study
That approach could be enhanced as a result of an intensive self-examination undertaken by the SBC, said Rankin. Last June the SBC appointed a “Great Commission” task force to study its organizational and funding mechanisms.

“I will say I’m excited and positive as never before about the SBC because of the overwhelming approval (by messengers to the last annual meeting) of the task force to study this,” he said. “Because I feel like our denominational structure — and that is not to be seen as criticism of anything any entity is doing — but it’s just become so extensive that it has diluted our focus on fulfilling the Great Commission. I hope that we can regain a focus that will revitalize our churches.... We have had a deliberate focus on engaging churches....  I think that’s the direction the whole denomination is moving.

“There is nothing that our denomination is doing that I do not commend or see as valid,” he added. “I can’t throw stones at anything. It’s all good, but it’s imperative that we examine the priority. It’s not a question of what the state conventions are doing — effectiveness or needs is not the question. The question is, are we doing all we should be doing to fulfill God’s mission to reach every nation and people with the gospel? When you look at the distribution of resources, yes, I think some adjustments need to be made. But let’s not ask the wrong questions in getting there.”

Merger with NAMB?
Rankin expressed little enthusiasm for one proposal being given wide currency — that the mission priority could be accomplished more effectively through a merger of the IMB and the denomination’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), whose top executive recently resigned. But a new entity that replaced both the IMB and NAMB might have merit, he added.

“I understand that with NAMB (presidency) vacant, it seems to be an opportune moment if that (a merger) is going to happen,” he said. “There is no personal leadership at stake. We were well aware that this announcement would enhance the speculation in that regard.

“Certainly in terms of our denominational structure and the way things are done, I personally would not see this as advisable or desirable,” he said. “Most people do not comprehend how radically different the two boards are. The only thing we have in common are the words ‘mission’ and ‘board’ in our names. Our focus, our structure, our nature — there’s no similarity whatever. To try to merge two entities with such a different focus would create an even greater bureaucracy that would dilute any effectiveness we have with the IMB and NAMB in their unique assignments.”

The main problem with a merger is the large number of program assignments given to NAMB. “They’re really in a dilemma in fulfilling all of them.”

Any merger that simply combined all responsibilities currently assigned to both the IMB and NAMB would be cumbersome, said Rankin.

“That is not to say that it’s not valid to explore a common mission effort of a new entity that is neither the IMB nor the NAMB,” he added. “Certainly the geographic distinctions are really rather artificial. All the unreached people groups we are trying to reach are found in North America and Canada. So perhaps there would be an open door to explore that possibility. It would not involve a merger of the two boards as they exist now.”

But, he warned, any “global mission board” would need to be narrowly focused, “rather than trying to do anything and everything that Southern Baptists interpret as missions.”

“That would be one of the challenges — whether they would be willing to be as focused as we are trying to be,” he said.

Qualifications for successor
In the meantime, Rankin said he hopes a new president of the IMB will have vision, focus and passion.

“We’ve got to have a leader who is a visionary, who can see the future, what can be, what is beyond the current reality, where we need to go to complete the Great Commission and reach all people with the gospel,” he said. “But we also need a leader who has the discipline to stay focused and keep the organization focused. There is a natural tendency to become too broad and lose focus on the goal. And the leader has to have a heart and a passion for the task. There can’t be a pretense in this. Passion communicates to and influences others that you are seeking to lead.”

Must the new president have career missionary experience?

“I would equivocate a little there,” said Rankin. “That would be my preference and that of most of our missionaries. It would be very difficult for even an outstanding leader to come in and lead a staff and a missionary force without having some element of experience of where (the missionaries) are coming from, what they have experienced. It can be done. But it would take some time and there would be some loss of momentum in building credibility. But we want God’s person and God has the ability to equip someone without experience who has a vision and passion for the missionary task. But that experience would count for a lot with those who that person is leading.”

Continued conflict among IMB leaders?
Rankin said the president will benefit from a board of trustees that “has never been more unified.” His disagreements with trustees — which culminated in policy and personnel changes that some observers saw as direct slaps at Rankin — have tempered, he said.

“All of you know my tenure has been fraught with controversy and criticism and lots of personal attacks,” he acknowledged. “I won’t elaborate on that. It’s been obvious that people did not appreciate or support my leadership and would have relished and maybe even tried to influence getting rid of me.

“The only thing I can say is that God’s grace enabled us to persevere and stay focused on the task and not be distracted by political considerations or personal attacks. Especially a few years ago, I think a lot of the criticism and controversy that was stirred up over personnel policy and the demeanor and actions of our board, was kind of a wake-up call that God used for ... a real spiritual revival on our board.

“It’s amazing the last couple of years our board meetings have been inspirational — a spiritual experience of seeking the Lord, praising the Lord. I have never felt more unity and support.... That’s a good time to relinquish the role, when you’re riding the wave.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Dilday is managing editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald.)

9/18/2009 9:21:00 AM by Robert Dilday, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Page praises GPS progress

September 18 2009 by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Two years after then-SBC President Frank Page issued a challenge to the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) leadership for a national evangelistic initiative, Page is happy with the development so far of GPS, God’s Plan for Sharing. But not yet satisfied, he notes there’s much more work to do.

NAMB’s interim acting president, Richard Harris, agreed, saying that the mission board continues to be fully committed to spending the $1.2 million already earmarked for GPS.

“Nothing on GPS has changed,” said Harris, referring to the recent leadership change at NAMB. “In fact, I can’t comment on final figures but in addition to the $1.2 million media buy, we are proposing to add many additional dollars for GPS. But we cannot release the figures until our budget is approved by the NAMB board of trustees at their October meeting.

“I hope this sends a strong signal to our partners in the state conventions and local associations that as a (mission board), NAMB is still giving top priority to GPS. All of our leadership is of one heart on this. This is our lead emphasis for 2010, supporting our three priorities — sharing Christ, starting churches and sending missionaries.”

Harris said NAMB staff is working on five- and 10-year budget plans that would project yet additional financial support for GPS for the next 10 years.

“This will enable us to know where we’re going, and it will allow our partners in the states to know we’re committed to GPS so we won’t have to have discussions about what we plan to do. We’re committed in the long run.”

It was NAMB’s evangelization group that worked in conjunction with 120 leaders from 43 state conventions to develop GPS. “This is why GPS has 100 percent buy-in from our state convention and association partners,” Harris said.

Harris has named longtime NAMB evangelism team leader Thomas Hammond as interim group coordinator of evangelization to give leadership to developing a comprehensive NAMB evangelism strategy built around GPS.

All this is music to the ears of Frank Page.

“The evangelism group at NAMB has done a fantastic job on GPS thus far,” said Page, president of the convention in 2006 and 2007 and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. “It has the elements we need for a 10-year strategy. GPS must be flexible, multifaceted, intentional and involve other entities like LifeWay (Christian Resources). We just need to flesh it out and develop it more. The process isn’t completed yet, but is well on the way. I’m excited about it, and I appreciate being kept in the loop.”

Page said GPS will extend until 2020 with new themes every two years, encompassing nationwide calls to revival, neighborhood outreach events, more tools and broader training.

“Flexibility is key because some things will work in some places and won’t work in others,” Page said. “We also need heavy involvement among ethnic groups.”

GPS is even more important today than in 2007, Page said, because “there are more lost people now than there was then. This is the third largest lost country in the world, behind China and India. We’re not reaching the cities. The sheer numbers say you need to do something.

“This is the nation that provides the lion’s share of the money for international missions,” Page said. “We’re the base of support for the ministry to the world and if we lose the base, we’ve lost the battle.”

Page said he first issued the call for a national evangelism initiative in 2006 although he had worked with NAMB for several years in evangelism. He said he was aware of the strategies already in place that had worked in the past.

“But I saw the lack of a cogent plan for reaching the nation. There had been some attempts but they would start and stop. I was aware of a large void when it came to a nationwide evangelistic strategy.

“Baptisms continue to decline and many of the factors are frightening,” Page continued. “Why not have something that will pull us Southern Baptists together? We have great state conventions, associations and churches that desperately want someone to sound the charge, rise up, move on and lead the way. Baptists out there want someone to lead and if there is a leader, they will follow.”

Page believes GPS will benefit Southern Baptists by providing clarity, direction and unity.

“We need a unified force. If there’s anything that has unified Southern Baptists in the past, it was evangelistic ministry. We know that’s the Great Commission.”

According to NAMB, the goal of GPS is to fulfill the Great Commission in North America by working to ensure that “every believer shares and every person hears by 2020.”

Under GPS, NAMB and its state partners will launch a special evangelism campaign every two years beginning in 2010. The 2010 theme will be “Across North America.” Subsequent themes: “Reaching Across North America,” 2012; “Serving Across North America,” 2014; “Sharing Across North America,” 2016; “Start Something Across North America,” 2018; and “Celebrating Across North America,” 2020.

Running through Easter Sunday (April 4, 2010), the 2010 GPS campaign will include:
  • a three-week targeted media saturation prior to Easter (TV, radio, billboards, newspapers, etc.); NAMB is contributing $1.2 million to the media buys while many state conventions are adding their own funding as well.
  • prayerwalking by participating SBC churches.
  • church saturation of a community using a clear plastic “door-hanger” containing a “Find It Here” gospel tract, a church brochure and an invitation to Easter services.
  • a five-week follow-up by participating churches.
“GPS will have a great impact on lostness in North America,” Page said, “as we see 44,000 Baptist churches, 43 state conventions and hundreds of local associations truly mobilize — getting the people out and sharing the Good News. I think thousands, if not millions, will come to Christ as a result of GPS.”

SBC churches that want to sample NAMB’s GPS resources can go to the web site. The GPS media campaign is geared toward driving non-believers to an external web site, www.gps2020.netwww.findithere.com. Both sites are up and running.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)

9/18/2009 9:18:00 AM by Mickey Noah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



LifeWay sees ‘good’ ’09

September 17 2009 by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press

RIDGECREST — 2009 can be an uncommonly good year in ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources, but the economic downturn will continue to challenge the organization in 2010, according to executives of the Southern Baptist entity in their reports at the Sept. 14-15 semiannual trustee meeting.

BP photo by Kent Harville

Tom Hellams, standing left, vice president for executive communications and relations, visits with trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources and their spouses during a barbeque dinner at Camp Ridgecrest in North Carolina.


LifeWay President Thom S. Rainer told trustees that despite widespread despair across the country, the people of God have great hope and should seize this opportunity to move forward in ministry. Drawing from Jeremiah 29, in which the exiles of Judah had lost hope of returning home, Rainer said there is always hope for God’s people. “There is no such thing as no hope when your hope is in God,” he told trustees at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville.

Chief Financial Officer Jerry Rhyne provided a candid appraisal of the business outlook: “The economy is a mess, and 38 percent of the nation’s chief financial officers do not expect the recovery to begin until at least April of 2010.” He added that consumer confidence continues to wane and U.S. executives worry most about being able to forecast financial trends.

Despite that gloomy outlook, Rhyne said LifeWay’s financial health is good, citing a strong balance sheet, no debt, a strong and diverse customer base and other key factors.

“LifeWay is a ministry funded by a business model,” Rhyne said, “but that model needs to be adjusted from time to time.” For example, LifeWay has budgeted no salary increases for 2010 and is holding the line on prices for most literature to help struggling churches.

“It’s important for Southern Baptists to know that LifeWay has never received Cooperative Program dollars,” Rhyne said. “In addition, LifeWay is self-supporting, and we invest a significant amount in ministries at home and around the world.”

LifeWay’s executive leaders updated trustees on the following ministries:

Church Resources
Vice President John Kramp said his division’s ministry is to know churches, love churches by being their advocates and help people through local church ministries. In this pursuit, the division continues to develop research-based ministry strategies, such as Threads, Connect Conferences and Beach Reach for young adults.

LifeWay has continued to expand LifeWay Worship by launching WorshipMap Pro, an online tool for planning worship services that integrates with LifeWayWorship.com, the new Baptist Hymnal and other recently launched resources. Kramp also highlighted “The Seven Words of Worship,” a new study by Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, to help churches develop a biblical understanding of worship.

At the same time, the church resources division continues to provide how-to instruction in Sunday School and small-group ministry through the launch of Life Truths, a new curriculum for parents, and Small Group Life, a new quarterly resource for small group ministry.

“LifeWay adds value to churches by helping them build strong families,” Kramp said, “through resources like ‘The Love Dare Bible Study’ and events such as Festivals of Marriage.”

In addition, the division is expanding its ministry to African American churches through the YOU curriculum and Be The Man conferences. Increased ministry continues with Hispanic churches as the division completes a year-long research project that has resulted in Vacation Bible School resources in Spanish and an expanded line of dated and undated resources for all age groups.

LifeWay Christian Stores
“By God’s grace and the hard work of our team members, we’ve seen wonderful ministry results in 2009,” Vice President Mark Scott said. “These results were accomplished during a very difficult period in the American economy, so we know the Lord has sustained us through what’s become known as the Great Recession.”

Scott said his division has responded strategically to national economic realities. First, the stores have emphasized Christian resources that address people’s felt needs. Second, they have responded to tighter consumer and church spending with strong offers that create value for customers. Third, they have responded to retail customers by offering strong and frequent promotional events.

“LifeWay Christian Stores continue to support our partners in ministry through the Minister’s Discount,” said Scott, who reminded trustees that LifeWay Christian Stores primarily carry out an equipping ministry for believers. There are now 152 LifeWay Christian Stores across the nation.

B&H Publishing Group

Vice President Brad Waggoner updated trustees on the phenomenal success of The Love Dare, the trade book featured in the movie “Fireproof.” Far exceeding expectations, The Love Dare became a runaway New York Times best-seller, spending 52 weeks at the No. 2 spot. More importantly, Waggoner said, the book has resulted in countless saved marriages.

Waggoner also highlighted the continued success of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, distinguished for its accuracy and readability. B&H is working toward a fall 2010 release of the HCSB Study Bible and is developing other HCSB resources.

In recent months, B&H has launched a new faith, family and freedom imprint called Fidelis featuring books by such prominent figures as Oliver North and Sen. Jim DeMint.

Executive Communications and Relations

Vice President Tom Hellams highlighted several “touchpoints” — ways in which the division is engaging people in ministry. “We should be greatly encouraged by ministry at LifeWay as our people go to the very ends of the earth,” Hellams said in reference to LifeWay’s employee-led mission trips — seven of them this year, including participation in the national motorcycle rally at Sturgis, N.D. Partnering with the Dakota Baptist Convention, a LifeWay team of 15 shared testimonies with bikers and led 115 to faith in Christ.

In Russia, members of a LifeWay mission team were led by an employee who doubles as an International Mission Board virtual strategy coordinator. Supporting the work of local churches in Siberia, they heard the testimony of Yelisavyeta Krukova, whose father was imprisoned three times for sharing Christ — and ultimately martyred. Krukova, now 82, continues her father’s ministry, faithfully sharing Christ and leading a weekly prayer vigil. Her faithfulness has reached across generational lines through her 10 children, 57 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren.

Holman Bible Outreach International continues to support the work of SBC entities, such as the North American Mission Board’s Evangelism Response Center, and supplies Bibles for soldiers deployed around the world, while also raising the visibility of the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Technology
Vice President Tim Vineyard reported the successful launch of a new warehouse management system that already has resulted in faster processing and more efficient service and cost savings for LifeWay and its customers.

Vineyard outlined innovations that are leading to new opportunities and solutions for LifeWay’s ministries, among them: LifeWayWorship.com, the groundbreaking digital music site; CrossBooks Publishing, a new print-on-demand venture that combines the best of traditional and self-publishing; Next Coaching Networks, a structured coach/team approach for lead pastors to address universal strategic principles of leadership, organization and implementation; and a variety of iPhone applications such as The Love Dare eBook.

“We are making significant investments with new technology that will enable LifeWay to better serve our customers,” Vineyard said. “At the same time, we are providing LifeWay’s divisions with enabling technologies that help them achieve their ministry and business goals.”

Finance and business

Vice President Jerry Rhyne reported that the economic slowdown has impacted the conference centers. Ministry groups are still coming but are bringing fewer people, he said. Even so, major renovations and new construction at Ridgecrest and Glorieta -– most recently the new Johnson Spring Convention Center at Ridgecrest -– have created high-value venues that are attracting new ministries.

Glorieta is preparing to implement its new operational model in October. The conference center will remain open year-round but will focus on smaller ministries and events during the winter months. “We think this new operational model will help ensure the continued year-round operation of the Glorieta ministry in a challenging economic environment,” Rhyne said.

The camps at Ridgecrest have defied the economic downturn, Rhyne noted, citing record camp attendance this year, resulting in the fifth consecutive year of camp revenue growth.

LifeWay Research
Director Ed Stetzer updated trustees on the organization’s recent research efforts and future plans. “At the heart of LifeWay Research is a desire to help churches understand and engage a lost world more effectively,” Stetzer said. He highlighted four strategic emphases: 1) strengthen the perceived value of LifeWay’s name with relevant research insights; 2) broaden the reach of LifeWay’s name; 3) strengthen strategic partnerships with the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board to create research synergy; and 4) provide fee-based services, tools and customized advice to assist church leaders and laity.

Stetzer said LifeWay Research is working to integrate solutions with research. Examples include books such as Lost and Found, The Parent Adventure, Multi-Site Churches and Simple Life, as well as events such as Connect Conferences.

Stetzer also provided an update on the Transformational Church Initiative, which will help LifeWay gain research-based insights into “church health” and missional church approaches. Stetzer and Rainer are developing a major trade book titled The Transformational Church.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Phillips is director of communications at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Related story

Rainer emphasizes hope, opportunities
9/17/2009 3:26:00 AM by Rob Phillips, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



Rainer emphasizes hope, opportunities

September 17 2009 by Micah Carter, Baptist Press

RIDGECREST — Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, brought a message of gratitude and hope to the trustee board during its first plenary session Sept. 14 at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center.

BP photo by Kent Harville

Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, delivers his report to trustees Sept. 14 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.


Rainer opened his report by recalling a phrase his father’s best friend would say during difficult and discouraging times: “Ain’t no such thing as no hope when your hope is in God.”

The Israelites also needed a message of hope in difficult times, Rainer said, referencing Jeremiah 29. In that passage, Jeremiah wrote an inspiring message of encouragement and hope to the Babylonian exiles. “Although there are certainly differences between our situation and theirs,” Rainer said, “there is always hope for those who hope in God, even when things are at their worst.”

Tough circumstances do not stop the work of God but actually provide opportunities to see the Lord work in significant ways, Rainer said.

“Our best ministry is where we are now,” he said. “We must do what we can do right now and not wait for things to get better. After all, God’s promises are always with us — promises to give us hope and a future, just as Jeremiah declared to God’s people long ago.”

Rainer then recapped various challenges and victories LifeWay has encountered in 2009.

Challenges
  • The economy. “We have not been exempt from the economic realities of our day,” Rainer said. “The fact is, LifeWay has experienced significant challenges as the result of the economic effects experienced in the churches across our convention.”
  • Segmentation in the Southern Baptist Convention. Church life has changed in the SBC, and a great deal of diversity exists in how church life is practiced today. Rainer said LifeWay is faced with the challenge — and opportunity — to provide biblical and practical solutions to an increasingly diverse SBC family.
  • Many unhealthy churches, often reflected in their evangelistic efforts. “In 1950, it took 20 Southern Baptists to reach one person for Christ,” Rainer said. “Today, it takes 47 of us to reach just one. We are reaching no more people today as 16 million Southern Baptists than we did as 6 million Southern Baptists years ago.”
Victories
  • Successful year of ministry and business. “It is important for people to know that we are a ministry supported by a business model,” Rainer said. “We receive no Cooperative Program dollars or outside funds for our operations, but I’m pleased to report, despite all the challenges, we had a very good year.”
Rainer cited “tremendous expense control” as a key reason. Additionally, the blessing of unexpected success from “The Love Dare,” a book central to the movie “Fireproof,” also contributed to a successful 2009.

The Love Dare is now the best all-time seller for the B&H Publishing Group, surpassing the late golfer Payne Stewart’s biography.

“The business side of this success excites me, but the ministry side does even more,” Rainer said. “It is phenomenal to see marriages healed, strengthened and renewed through The Love Dare. The Lord is using it in a mighty way.”
  • LifeWay support to SBC mission entities. Even in a poor economic climate, offerings collected during student camps totaled about $700,000. That amount was divided between the International Mission Board (70 percent) and the North American Mission Board (30 percent).
  • Positive response from constituency. Over the last year, LifeWay processed millions of transactions with consistently positive feedback, Rainer said.
  • Lives changed through LifeWay ministries. “God is blessing us, so we are trying to be a blessing to others, and lives are being changed,” Rainer told the trustees. “From our conference center events to church resources, God is using LifeWay to impact people’s lives with the gospel.”
Rainer said he expects 2010 to be another challenging year, but God’s grace remains evident.

“It doesn’t matter how bad the economy is, God is on His throne,” Rainer said. “Circumstances do not stop His work and He will never leave us or forsake us. Every promise in His inerrant, infallible word will come to pass, and we can be confident that ‘ain’t no such thing as no hope when your hope is in God.’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Carter is associate to the vice president of the executive communications and relations division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Related story
LifeWay sees ‘good’ ’09

9/17/2009 3:20:00 AM by Micah Carter, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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