September 2011

NY/NJ/Pa. relief: Resolve high, vols limited

September 23 2011 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – The Baptist Convention of New York (BCNY) is mobilizing more than 100 Virginia college students to clean out flooded homes in recovery efforts that will likely continue through October, Mike Flannery, BCNY disaster relief director, reported.

Students from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., will arrive today to work with other volunteers through Tuesday, Sept. 27, in cleaning up after the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee that struck within days of one another in late August and early September.

Flannery, who is working to mobilize additional volunteers to help, noted, “We have about 300 (homes) that we feel we can accomplish. We need 10 teams every day to accomplish that goal, but we don’t have that.”

Students at Davis College in Johnson City, N.Y., are manning a feeding unit on campus, preparing up to 1,500 meals a day.

The college students are an answer to prayer, Flannery said. With Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams responding to several concurrent disasters across the country, the Baptist convention appealed to college students to help.

A Baptist disaster relief kitchen at Davis College in New York is cooking 1,500 meals a day for flood victims and relief workers.

“What we owe it to is good prayer support,” Flannery said of the students’ help.

Flannery sees an opportunity for the students “to show their love for Jesus Christ and to witness” and thus grow in their faith.

“Most of them are Christians,” Flannery said. “But we expect some of them will come to know Christ Jesus through the experience.”

In the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, volunteers have led a homeowner to Christ, disaster relief director Karlene Campbell said. Some 120 volunteers have prepared nearly 75,000 meals over the past 12 days in Hazleton, Pa., with help from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the Virginia Baptist Missions Board, Campbell said.

While the need for meals is declining, requests for clean-up assistance continue to come in, especially in hard-hit Bloomsburg, Pa., where students from Juniata Mennonite School were helping mud-out teams from Thompsontown Baptist Church clean up a home on Sept. 21.

“At least several hundred homes were affected by the flood, with around 40 homeowners requesting assistance,” Campbell said. “We are sure that this number will increase. Since our resources are limited, we are focusing on priority-one requests.”

Meanwhile, the BCNY’s North Jersey Network association is working with a limited crew in cleaning up perhaps hundreds of homes in the state, said Dennis O’Neill, who along with his wife Elaine are newly appointed NJNet disaster relief coordinators. Hampered in getting equipment and working with a handful of trained volunteers in the association, O’Neill said he is prepared to buy equipment and supplies to begin work immediately. Only four of some 20 trained NJNet volunteers are currently available.

“There’s an excitement for helping the people. We’re here to meet the need and help in the crisis” O’Neill said. “We haven’t been able to get teams in because they’re everywhere else. Our situation is we don’t have the equipment.”

NJ Net is aiming to buy such big-ticket items as a trailer, generator and power washer, along with less-expensive shovels, saws and other equipment to get the job done, O’Neill said.

“We’re ready to roll,” he said. “Somehow, someway, we’re going to get the work done. We’re trusting in the Lord to supply the needs and He’ll come through somehow.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans.)

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9/23/2011 7:17:00 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

More Americans are designing own religion

September 22 2011 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today

(RNS) If World War II-era warbler Kate Smith sang today, her anthem could be “Gods Bless America.”

That’s one of the key findings in newly released research that reveals America’s drift from clearly defined religious denominations to faiths cut to fit personal preferences.

The folks who make up God as they go are side by side with self-proclaimed believers who claim the Christian label but shed their ties to traditional beliefs and practices. Religion statistics expert George Barna says, with a wry hint of exaggeration, America is headed for “310 million people with 310 million religions.”

“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs – our clothing, our food, our education,” he said. Now it’s our religion.

Barna’s new book on U.S. Christians, Futurecast, tracks changes from 1991 to 2011, in annual national surveys of 1,000 to 1,600 U.S. adults. All the major trend lines of religious belief and behavior he measured ran downward – except two:
  • More people claim they have accepted Jesus as their Savior and expect to go to heaven.
  • And more say they haven’t been to church in the past six months except for special occasions such as weddings or funerals. In 1991, 24 percent were “unchurched.” Today, it’s 37 percent.
Barna blames pastors for those oddly contradictory findings.

Everyone hears, “Jesus is the answer. Embrace Him. Say this little Sinner’s Prayer and keep coming back. It doesn’t work. People end up bored, burned out and empty,” he said. “They look at church and wonder, ‘Jesus died for this?’”

The consequence, Barna said, is that, for every subgroup of religion, race, gender, age and region of the country, the important markers of religious connection are fracturing.

When he measures people by their belief in seven essential doctrines, defined by the National Association of Evangelicals’ statement of faith, only 7 percent of those surveyed qualified.

“People say, ‘I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want,’” he lamented. Southern Baptist-affiliated LifeWay Research reinforces those findings: A new survey of 900 U.S. Protestant pastors finds 62 percent predict the importance of being identified with a denomination will diminish over the next 10 years.

Exactly, said Carol Christoffel of Zion, Ill. She drifted through a few mainline Protestant denominations in her youth, found a home in the peace and unity message of the Baha’i tradition for several years, and then was drawn deeply into Native American traditional healing practices.

Yet, she also still calls herself Christian.

“I’m a kind of bridge person between cultures. I agree with the teachings of Jesus and ... I know many Christians like me who keep the Bible’s social teachings and who care for the earth and for each other,” Christoffel said. “I support people who do good wherever they are.”

And it’s not only Christians sampling hopscotch spirituality. The Jewish magazine Moment has an “Ask the Rabbis” feature that consults 14 variations of Judaism, “and there are many,” said editor and publisher Nadine Epstein.

“The September edition of Moment asks ‘Can there be Judaism without God?’ And most say yes. It’s incredibly exciting. We live in an era where you pick and choose the part of the religion that makes sense to you. And you can connect through culture and history in a meaningful way without necessarily religiously practicing,” Epstein said.

Sociologist Robert Bellah first saw this phenomenon emerging in the 1980s. He sees two sides to the one-person-one-religion trend. On the positive: It’s harder to hold on to prejudices against groups – by religion or race or gender or sexuality – if everyone wants to be seen individually.

“The bad news is you lose the capacity to make connections. Everyone is pretty much on their own,” he said. And all this rampant individualism also fosters “hostility toward organized groups – government, industry, even organized religion.”

Paul Morris, an Army medic at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and veteran of six tours in the Middle East, said he has seen Christianity, Judaism and Islam in action, for better and for worse, and, frankly, he’ll pass.

Morris grew up “old-style Italian Catholic,” but said he never felt like his spiritual questions were answered. So, “I just wiped the slate clean. I studied every major religion on the face of the planet. Every one had parts that made sense, but there was no one specific dogma or tenet I could really follow,” Morris said.

“So now, I call myself an agnostic – one who just doesn’t know. What I believe is that if you can just do the right thing, it works everywhere.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today.)
9/22/2011 9:21:00 AM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today | with 0 comments

Kennemur helps children Read the Bible for Life

September 22 2011 by Keith Collier, SWBTS Communications

EULESS, Texas ­– Karen Kennemur knows the value of planting God’s Word deep into the life of the child and watching it grow to fruition. As a mom, a pre-K teacher, children’s minister, and now as assistant professor of children’s ministry at Southwestern Seminary, Kennemur has seen the Bible’s impact on children’s foundational years as well as its influence throughout their lives.

So, when asked to help write a supplemental resource for the Read the Bible for Life Conference put on by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), Kennemur jumped at the opportunity. The conference, held Sept. 9 at First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, helped pastors and educational ministers understand how they could implement in their churches the principles found in Union University professor George Guthrie’s new book, Read the Bible for Life. Kennemur wrote the section in the resource manual for children’s ministers and lead a breakout session during the conference.

SWBTS Photo/Matt Miller

Southwestern Seminary professor Karen Kennemur trains children’s ministers how to help children Read the Bible for Life.

Citing recent research indicating the epidemic of biblical illiteracy in U.S. churches, Kennemur asked conference participants, “Have we not done a good job of helping kids fall in love with reading the Bible?”

Foundational to Guthrie’s plea to see individuals, families and churches return to an anchoring in God’s Word is the biblical mandate for parents to instill the value of Scripture into their children by both instruction and example. Kennemur believes churches stand poised to aid parents in bringing up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In the breakout session, Kennemur shared strategies and resources with children’s ministers to equip them for the task.

“Why read the Bible?” Kennemur asked. This central question should guide ministers and parents as they point children to treasure Scripture.

Kennemur noted that most children today experience the busyness of life even at very early ages. School, sports and other extra-curricular activities vie for their attention, and they must be shown the benefits of the Bible, such as knowing God, understanding His eternal plan, and experiencing the freedom, grace, peace and hope His Word offers. If children build a strong framework on a solid foundation at an early age, they will be more likely to weather the future storms of life with a strong faith.

“We’re preparing kids before the train wreck happens,” Kennemur said. It is not enough for children simply to read the Bible, but they must understand what it says and how it applies to their life in order for it to take root and bear lasting fruit. “Kids need help interpreting the Scriptures just like we do,” Kennemur said. For this reason, Kennemur said, churches must teach parents how to have a quiet time and study the Bible so they can, in turn, teach their children.

During a main conference session, Guthrie described the cultural landscape, which sadly shows a profound lack of even elementary knowledge about the Bible, even by regular church attenders. While studies show that the number one predictor of spiritual maturity among regular church attenders is reading the Bible on a daily basis, Guthrie said, 52 percent of them read the Bible less than three times a month, and half of those do not read the Bible at all.   LifeWay Christian Resources has partnered with Guthrie to create workbooks, DVD curriculum, Bible reading plans, and other resources for individuals and local churches. To find out more information, visit

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
9/22/2011 9:11:00 AM by Keith Collier, SWBTS Communications | with 0 comments

Christian stores try to gain off Borders’ loss

September 22 2011 by Piet Levy, Religion News Service

The saying goes that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

So when the Borders bookstore chain – the nation’s second-largest – finishes closing all of its stores this month, Christian retailers see a window of opportunity in the death of a mega-competitor that once threatened to put them out of business.

With 70 percent of Christian retailers reporting flat or declining sales last year, and overall sales dropping 3 percent according to the Christian retail association CBA, proactive Christian booksellers, marketing agencies and the 1,200-member CBA are taking any opportunities they can.

After Borders announced its liquidation in July, Colorado Springs, Colo.-based CBA sent an alert to member stores: “Post Borders Growth Strategy: As Borders Shuts its Doors, Christian Booksellers Should Open Theirs Wider.”

“Today, Borders is irrelevant in the world of bookselling,” the document states. “If we do not adapt to the changing marketplace and new technologies, our influence will diminish or disappear altogether.” The letter offers suggestions for retailers including discounts for customers with Borders loyalty cards and trying to lure former Borders customers into Christian stores.

“It is always sad when a bookstore that makes Christian materials available to the public can no longer do that,” said Curtis Riskey, CBA executive director. “However, the chain’s demise does create more opportunities for independent local Christian stores to fill the gap.”

Last month, the Munce Group, an agency in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., that provides marketing and business solutions for 498 independently owned Christian bookstores, analyzed where the remaining Borders stores were located against a map of Munce-affiliated stores in those markets.

“We sent (the analysis) to all the Christian publishers we deal with and reminded them there were stores still in these markets, and it was a great time to send an encouraging word or send a sales representative in,” said company president Kirk Blank.

It wasn’t the first time Munce spotted an opening – the company executed a similar strategy last February when Borders filed for bankruptcy and announced it would close about 30 percent of its stores.

According to Munce, their retailers saw a slight uptick in foot traffic.

Blank said additional marketing materials will be available for stores trying to capitalize on Borders closings, and some stores matched Borders’ everything-must-go sales with their own sales.

The Parable Group in San Luis Obispo, Calif., which provides marketing for 109 Christian retailers, including 40 Parable franchise stores, is doing more online advertising to attract new customers while Borders liquidates, said CEO Steve Potratz. Some stores are offering more gifts, and by year’s end, e-books to accommodate demand. Christian retailers have experienced immense upheaval the past seven or eight years competing with Amazon, e-books and big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Costco, said Andy Butcher, editor for Christian Retailing magazine in Lake Mary, Fla. One advantage that can help them stay alive is serving a niche audience that shares the same passionate beliefs.

“We know where most of our customers are on Sunday morning,” Potratz said. “The opportunity to work with a church, and partner with a church, is critical, and I am seeing more and more of our stores looking for and gaining opportunity to help and resource the church.”

While some observers may find it distasteful to find business opportunities at the expense of a retail chain’s demise, Butcher said he doesn’t see the CBA’s or Munce’s efforts as predatory.

“At the end of the day they’re looking to serve people with Christian resources,” Butcher said. “I don’t think they are so much rubbing their hands as far as holding their hands out.”
9/22/2011 9:08:00 AM by Piet Levy, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

SBC name change study sparks lively debate

September 21 2011 by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The announcement from Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the convention’s name sparked a lively debate during the SBC Executive Committee meeting Sept. 19 in Nashville, Tenn.

Executive Committee member Darrell P. Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., offered a motion that convention attorneys study the issue for one year “before we take any action” on possibly changing the name. The motion later failed on a 39-20 vote. “Every man here wants to do something significant in his life for Christ and His Kingdom,” Orman said. “A name change could be a future necessity for our convention but it should start from the bottom up, not the top down.”

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force’s 2010 proposals for dramatically reorganizing the Southern Baptist Convention and reallocating missions dollars had caused a “tug of war” and left “a lot of conflicted feelings ... across our nation,” Orman said. “We don’t need another wedge issue at this time.”

An Executive Committee member from Ohio echoed Orman’s concerns.

Photo by Morris Abernathy

SBC Executive Committee member Darrell P. Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., offers a motion Sept. 19 that convention attorneys study the issue of an SBC name change for one year before any action is taken.

“If you get outside of Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, GCR is still very, very divisive among Southern Baptists,” said Charles Chambers, a layman from Toledo, Ohio. “Don’t divide us again.”

Another Executive Committee member suggested a better approach would be to let messengers to the SBC annual meeting bring up the subject themselves.

“I would counsel us to be very thoughtful and prayerful before we open a can of worms that the convention has not said on the front end they want to open. (Messengers) have said in years past that this is not something we want to do,” said Ron Madison, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala. “It may be time to consider it again, but if it is time to consider it again, isn’t there wisdom in letting the messengers generate that request, rather than putting something out here ... that is almost guaranteed to become a focus of, at very best, a spirited discussion?”

Executive Committee chairman Roger Spradlin reminded the group that the wisdom of discussing a name change was not the issue before them.

“If this is a can of worms – (if) that’s how you would want to characterize it – we, meaning the Executive Committee, are not opening that,” said Spradlin, co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., and a member of Wright’s task force. “The president has made an announcement.... We can’t take action on whether a group of volunteers is appointed by the president. That’s under his purview.”

After Orman’s motion was defeated, Executive Committee member Bill Whittaker, a retired pastor from Glasgow, Ky., offered a motion “that the Executive Committee respectfully request President Wright to share his concerns for a convention name change with the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention meeting and request the convention approve the task force.” That motion was defeated by a large margin on a show of hands.

In a news conference later, Wright said it is not a “foregone conclusion” the task force would recommend a name change.

“I think there would be a good number of members of the task force that would certainly, if they were to speak for themselves tonight, would be able to share they do not know what their conclusion would be,” Wright said. While some members favor the prospect, “not everybody on the task force by any means has come to this with a foregone conclusion. I think everybody, most especially the chairman of the task force, Dr. (Jimmy) Draper, sees the importance of a study and just letting the study guide us and direct whatever recommendation might eventually come to the convention.”

While the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force’s recommendations had been controversial, they opened the door for Southern Baptists to be more effective in fulfilling the Great Commission, Wright added. Significant change can be risky, he acknowledged, but noted that the GCR study led to Southern Baptists publicly dealing with how “we were really not fulfilling the commission Christ has given us as fruitfully as we have done in the past and as fruitfully as we would love to see happening today,” Wright said.

“Even though that was a difficult study, ... it was a very, very valuable study.... I just feel like God worked in a powerful way,” Wright said. “I feel their work was a very valuable work ... and the Lord used that to prepare the way for some important steps in our convention.... This is just another possible step to help us as a convention be better poised to be a more fruitful convention in reaching our world for Christ, especially in North America.”

Asked if LifeWay Research might be enlisted to survey Southern Baptists about a possible name change, Wright said he had discussed that possibility with Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, but that no decision on that possibility had been made.

Wright also noted the convention’s name is geographically regional, which he said could be a barrier to starting new churches outside the South. He added he has received “continual feedback” from church planters outside of the South and Southwest regarding the “regional nature of our name.”

“In New York and Boston and Minneapolis and out West, it’s just a big barrier that they are continually dealing with,” Wright said. “... Part of the study is to consider a name change as a possibility of removing a barrier to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are so many people that are unreached, that it’s a barrier to even have communication with them, or for them to even consider coming to a new church plant that is a Southern Baptist church.  

Hearing that feedback in (my) travels around the nation was definitely influential in me praying about this possibility.”

In his announcement, Wright said he believes Southern Baptists would benefit from another look at the question and noted four questions he was going to ask task force to consider: “1) Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change? 2) If so, what would be a good name to suggest? 3) What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? 4) What would be the potential financial implications?”

Motions to study a name change have been presented to the convention on numerous occasions – for example, 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1998. More recently, the convention was asked in its 1999 annual session in Atlanta to conduct a “straw poll” to consider a name change. The “straw poll” was defeated on a floor vote. A motion at the 2004 annual meeting in Indianapolis to authorize the SBC president to appoint a committee to study a name change was defeated on a ballot vote (44.6 percent yes; 55.4 percent no).

Wright said he hopes the task force will be able to provide an interim report he can share with the SBC Executive Committee during its Feb. 20-21 meeting, with the possibility of a final report in time for the SBC annual meeting June 19-20, 2012, in New Orleans. Any proposed name change, as well as other legal implications involved in a name change, would have to be approved by a majority of messengers at two consecutive SBC annual meetings, according to the convention’s constitution.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Kelly is senior writer and an assistant editor with Baptist Press.)
9/21/2011 9:17:00 AM by Mark Kelly, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Page announces Hispanic Advisory Council

September 21 2011 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, announced the formation of a Hispanic Advisory Council with a goal of “more fully integrating Hispanic Baptist churches into the total fabric of Southern Baptist life and ministry.”

The three-year ministry initiative was launched by Page and North American Mission Board (NAMB) President Kevin Ezell in response to a request by Hispanic leaders and could be followed by additional ethnically-oriented advisory groups.

Page announced the creation of the council during his address to the Executive Committee (EC) Sept. 19 in Nashville, Tenn., noting that it would be chaired by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Daniel Sanchez and retired North American Mission Board staff member Bob Sena.

In a statement released to Baptist Press, Page said the council will assist the Executive Committee, NAMB and other SBC entity leaders in understanding and appreciating the perspectives Hispanic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching the nation and the world with the gospel.

“The council is representative of the regions of the country and reflects the cultural diversity of the Hispanic population,” Page said. “Its purpose is that of consultation, communication and cooperation. It will neither launch nor execute ministries. Its role is to provide information, insight and counsel to NAMB and EC staff relative to the special needs and concerns of Hispanic churches and church leaders in the Southern Baptist family of churches.”

The Hispanic Advisory Council, which is set to begin its work in October once members are finalized, will use surveys, phone conferences, online communication and personal meetings to gather and communicate information from Hispanic groups such as the presidents of state Hispanic fellowships, the National Hispanic Fellowship of Southern Baptist churches, Hispanic leaders on state convention staffs, Hispanic pastors and laymen as well as the Hispanic Consortium, which is an annual gathering of Hispanic leaders serving on SBC entity staffs.

Photo by Morris Abernathy

Executive Committee President Frank Page, during his EC report Sept. 19 in Nashville, Tenn., cited the example of Jesus in John 4 for cross-cultural ministry. Page included the announcement a Hispanic Advisory Council in his report to more fully integrate Hispanic churches into the Southern Baptist Convention.

During his address, Page also introduced Ken Weathersby, who has been tapped to serve as presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations, working alongside Ezell at NAMB and Page at the Executive Committee.

“I worked with Ken Weathersby at the North American Mission Board and I can speak of his integrity, his passion, his deep connection across this entire convention, and I welcome the opportunity to work with him,” Page said.

In his first year as president of the Executive Committee, Page said he has placed an emphasis on building relationships and, by year’s end, will have visited with every state convention executive in their particular states – except Hawaii. And don’t worry. My wife feels led of God to go with me to that one and I’ll do that as soon as I can.”

This fall, Page will travel to 22 of the 42 state convention annual meetings, and next year he and Weathersby will visit the presidents of every ethnic fellowship within the SBC, he told Executive Committee members.

Page placed his message to EC members in the context of the account of the woman at the well in John 4 as an example of Jesus engaging in cross-cultural ministry. The Samaritan woman, Page said, pointed out the obvious gender and ethnic differences between her and Jesus, but Jesus wasn’t bothered by the differences.

“Jesus lived by the heart of God and not by the traditions of men,” Page said. “He didn’t bypass Samaria like others did. He just walked right through. He not only walked right through, He would stop and talk to people, even women.

“Fascinating. Jesus gives us an example here of cross-cultural evangelism and missions. He crosses all the lines. Friends, that’s exciting to me. I love the way Jesus related to men and women. I love His honesty,” Page said.

In the passage, Jesus did not respond to the woman’s question about how He could associate with a person of her ethnicity and gender.

“It was silly. We waste a lot of time on silly things. Jesus didn’t even deal with it,” Page said. “He began a cross-cultural bridge with something that crossed all barriers, and that was the need for water.”

Much has been said about Southern Baptists reaching across cultural boundaries, but Jesus demonstrated in the passage that it’s time to stop talking about it and start doing it, Page said.

“People of all races, groups, cultures and genders respond when a person speaks the truth and does it in love. He spoke, some would say, harshly to this woman, but she was not repulsed by His censorious spirit. She was drawn to His loving heart,” Page said. “Even though He knew everything and brought it up, she was still drawn to Him. Why? Because there was a motive in His heart that she responded to.”

At the outset of his remarks, Page said John 4 leads him to believe that if Southern Baptists are going to “be a Jesus convention, we’re going to be a theologically correct people.” Jesus communicates to the Samaritan woman the eternal security of the believer – that anyone who drinks of the water He provides will never thirst again – and the exclusivity of salvation – that He is the only way to God.

“In a 21st century world, such views are woefully politically incorrect, described as intolerant in every way,” Page said. “I believe we need to continue to be a Jesus people who speak the truth that the world needs living water and the only way they can find it is in Jesus.

“When culture pulls us in directions which call for compromise, let us always remember that theological correctness is not an option to be cherished only when culture approves. Let us continue to be a body of believers whose adherence to the inerrant Word of God is without question.”

Page said the John 4 passage also indicates that followers of Christ should be a worshiping body. Jesus conveyed a powerful lesson about legitimate worship, Page said, telling the woman, “It’s not about where you worship. It’s about who and how you worship.” God is seeking those who will worship in spirit and in truth, Page said.

Also, Southern Baptists must be a sharing convention, he said.

“A woman who had been the talk of the town – you know she had – now gets the town to talk about Jesus. A woman who had been a symbol of defeat now gets the town to see where they can find victory,” Page said.

“... That woman came to get some water that day but she found far more than water at the well. She met with the Son of God. I want people in this 21st century world, whether it’s here or over yonder, to hear about a Savior. Let’s be a Jesus convention. Let’s quit just talking about it and start doing it. I’m excited in these days ahead.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
9/21/2011 8:24:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Poll: pastors want IRS out of pulpit

September 21 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Protestant pastors overwhelmingly agree government should not attempt to regulate pastors’ sermons through re-evaluation of a church’s tax exemptions, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research.

The research, sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, followed a related study conducted by LifeWay Research in October 2010 that found Protestant pastors also largely believe candidates for public office should not be endorsed from the pulpit.

In the new study, conducted in August 2011, 79 percent of 1,000 Protestant pastors surveyed strongly disagreed – and another 7 percent somewhat disagreed – with the statement: “The government should regulate sermons by revoking a church’s tax exemption if its pastor approves of or criticizes candidates based on the church’s moral beliefs or theology.”

The earlier 2010 survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors found 84 percent disagree – 70 percent strongly and 14 percent somewhat – with the statement, “I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit.”

A June 2008 LifeWay Research survey also found 87 percent of American adults disagreed with the statement, “I believe it is appropriate for pastors to publicly endorse candidates for public office during a church service.” In an October 2008 study, less than 3 percent of Protestant pastors agreed that they had publicly endorsed candidates for public office during a church service that year.

Religion has emerged as a prominent issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. Reporters are asking candidates questions about their religious faith and how it relates to their approach to governance.

“Pastors and church people have strong feelings when it comes to moral issues that some consider political, and historically churches have played a significant role in shaping political opinions,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources. “Pastors, however, clearly don’t think the pulpit is the place for politics, nor do they think the church is the place for the IRS.”

Methodology of the survey: The August 2011 and October 2010 LifeWay Research studies reported in this article were conducted by telephone among Protestant pastors using the same methodology for both surveys. Churches were selected randomly and each interview was conducted with the church’s senior pastor, minister or priest. Size of church was controlled through interview quotas and church location through statistical weighting to represent all Protestant churches. The sample of 1,000 provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.2 percent for the total sample. Margins of error are higher in subgroups. The 2008 voting intentions survey was conducted by phone in October 2008 among 864 Protestant pastors and the June 2008 survey of Americans included 1,208 adults randomly selected throughout the country in proportion to population.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Submitted by the LifeWay bureau of Baptist Press.)
9/21/2011 8:22:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

200-year-old tract still brings Christ’s light

September 21 2011 by Benjamin Hawkins, SWBTS

FORT WORTH, Texas – In A.D. 1816, year 1178 of the Burmese calendar and day 967 “of the lord of the Saddan elephant,” Adoniram Judson, a legendary Baptist missionary to Burmese Buddhists, completed a tract that still brings Christ’s light to a dark world and challenges 21st-century missionaries to rethink their methods. This summer, Judson’s tract once again made it into the hands of Buddhists when professors and students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary proclaimed the gospel in the city of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

SWBTS Photo/Ben Peacock

A reprint of Judson’s 1816 tract that was used by Southwestern professors and students to share the gospel in Thailand in summer 2011.

“The tract was directly linked to Judson’s first Burmese convert,” Keith Eitel, dean of the seminary’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions, said. Eitel came across the tract during research for an essay on Judson and had it translated into the Thai language. Eitel had been studying Judson’s missions practices for a forthcoming book to be published by B&H in 2012 celebrating the bicentennial anniversary of Judson’s departure from America.

Judson, who became a Baptist soon after entering the mission field, originally wrote the tract in order to share the gospel with Theravada Buddhists in Burma (modern-day Myanmar). After reading the tract, Eitel thought it would have a great impact on the Theravada Buddhists in Chiang Mai as well. The responses of the native Thai Christians have confirmed his theory.

“They are intrigued by ‘how well it is written and especially its clear description of God in relation to the Trinity,’” Eitel said. They found this theologically informed tract useful both for discipleship and evangelism, and they have requested more copies of the tract to help them explain the gospel to Buddhist family members.

“It articulates the gospel better than they can,” Eitel said. “A brand new Buddhist believer who is just growing in the Lord, when bombarded by family members with questions – What is this change? Why have you done this? What is it that you actually believe? – find it very hard to turn around and explain their belief because they are just learning the Christian vocabulary, just learning the concepts.”

“This is probably the most valuable way this tool can be used,” Eitel said. But the tract also displays an evangelistic method that flies in the face of many 21st-century theories about how to communicate the gospel across cultures.

“In order to soften the apparent idea of Christ’s exclusivity, some missiologists have borrowed cultural anthropology’s techniques and employ a comparative model to communicate the biblical message cross-culturally,” Eitel said. “The intent is to build from points of apparent similarity to apparent points of contrast in order to communicate the gospel.”

Such a method concerns Eitel, since it threatens the missionary’s ability to share the gospel with biblical integrity and clarity. In contrast to this method, Eitel suggests that missionaries should begin where religions differ, although always in a spirit of kindness and respect. Judson’s tract does exactly this. Even in the first sentence, he undercuts Buddhist teaching: “There is one Being who exists eternally; who is exempt from sickness, old age, and death; who was, and is, and will be, without beginning and without end. Besides this, the true God, there is no other God.”

On the other hand, Eitel said, Judson shows sensitivity to Buddhist culture and concerns. In the last paragraph of the tract, for example, Judson dates the tract, in Burmese style, as being written on day 967 “of the lord of the Saddan elephant and master of the Sakyah weapon, … the 12th day of the wane of the moon Wahgoung, after the double beat.”

Judson’s prayer at the end of the tract also appeals to the Buddhist desire for enlightenment. With Judson’s prayer on their lips, Eitel and the Southwestern Seminary missions team took this newly translated tract to the Buddhists of Thailand: “May the reader obtain light. Amen.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is senior writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas .)
9/21/2011 8:16:00 AM by Benjamin Hawkins, SWBTS | with 0 comments

At 10-years, GuideStone Funds rivals competitors

September 21 2011 by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press

DALLAS – GuideStone Funds, launched just 15 days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has prospered through a turbulent decade that included two recessions and a national financial crisis.

The nation’s largest Christian-based, socially screened registered mutual fund company, GuideStone Funds was launched as AB Funds Trust on Aug. 27, 2001, when GuideStone was still known officially as the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

A decade ago, GuideStone Funds offered 13 options; today, that number has doubled. Throughout GuideStone Funds’ first 10 years, third-party ranking firms such as fi360, Lipper and Morningstar have ranked the funds as rivaling competitors. For the quarter ending June 30 of this year, fi360 ranked the GuideStone Funds family second out of 222 fund families nationwide.

“The historic launch of GuideStone Funds paved the way to providing our participants with more flexibility and confidence in their portfolios through industry-standard product offerings,” John Jones, president of GuideStone Funds and chief operating officer of GuideStone Financial Resources, said in conjunction with a 10th anniversary celebration by employees at GuideStone’s offices in Dallas on Aug. 29.

“It heightened the level of service we provide our participants, as many of our employees have more advanced training, securities licenses and professional designations,” Jones noted. The launch of the registered mutual fund family also provided enhanced disclosures and transparency for GuideStone’s participants – today numbering more than 200,000 across all GuideStone product lines – to understand their investment choices.

“It also opened the door to expanded savings opportunities with IRAs and personal investment options as well as institutional investment opportunities for operating, building reserves and endowment assets,” Jones said.

“The GuideStone Funds are built on the investment philosophy developed by the funds adviser, GuideStone Capital Management,” Jones said. “The multi-manager, multi-style investment approach allows GuideStone Capital Management access to what they believe to be some of the best investment minds in the world.”

“Our investment structure is built for the long-term,” said Rodric E. Cummins, senior vice president and chief investment officer of GuideStone Capital Management. “It is designed to provide thoughtful, high-quality, strategic investment options to our participants and is executed by world-class investment management firms.”

In addition to the fi360 standings, Lipper noted 15 of 21 GuideStone funds performed above the median for the one-year period ending July 31 of this year; 19 of 20 funds performed above the median in the three-year period; and 11 of 14 funds performed above the median for the five-year period. Morningstar has ranked 17 of 19 funds GuideStone funds as either four- or three-star overall in the three-year period and 12 of 12 funds in the five-year period.

Noting the fund family’s track record, Cummins said the first decade for GuideStone Funds has been a story of sustainability through turmoil.

“Over the past 10 years we’ve been able to do more than stand strong,” Cummins said. “We’ve been able to expand our fund offerings for the benefit of our participants, implementing investment philosophies that we believe serve them best without forgoing our convictions.

“In short, GuideStone Funds holds to the exact same tenets today that we held to 10 years ago, and those will be the same tenets we hold to 10 or even 100 years from now,” Cummins said. “In addition, as the GuideStone Funds rankings demonstrate, we believe we have dispelled the myth that if you want your money to grow, you have to invest in things you might wish you didn’t have to.

“While past performance is no guarantee of future results, our participants can see for themselves by looking at our results and recognizing that performance and values-based investing do not have to be mutually exclusive,” Cummins said. “They can walk hand-in-hand.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is editorial services manager for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

GuideStone offers new investment option

by Brock Anderson  

GuideStone Financial Resources has announced a new investment fund intended to achieve long-term returns consistent with the equity (stock) market but with less short-term fluctuation.

The new Defensive Market Strategies Fund will be part of two GuideStone Asset Allocation Funds: the Conservative Allocation Fund and the Balanced Allocation Fund. It also will be part of the MyDestination Funds, which become more conservative as the target date approaches. At its launch, the Defensive Market Strategies Fund will be part of the MyDestination 2005, 2015 and 2025 funds.

The Defensive Market Strategies Fund also is available for direct investment. Participants who want to determine if the fund is an appropriate part of their retirement investment portfolio can access GuideStone’s free financial advice tool, GPS: Guided Planning Services. Participants can access it by logging in to their accounts at or by setting up an appointment by calling 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).

“GuideStone is privileged to once again enhance our fund selection for the benefit of our valued participants,” said John Jones, chief operating officer of GuideStone Financial Resources and president of GuideStone Funds. “We’re excited to add this fund as an option to potentially help our participants further diversify their portfolios.”

Investors who want to learn more about the Defensive Market Strategies Fund can review its fact sheet at

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brock Anderson is senior editor of marketing development/retirement for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
9/21/2011 8:13:00 AM by Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Wright announces task force to study name change

September 20 2011 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright has announced the appointment of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the 166-year-old convention’s name.

Wright, who was re-elected to a second one-year term during the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix this past June, said he believes the study will be helpful for two main reasons. “First, the convention’s name is so regional,” he said. “With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”

Wright announced the task force during the opening session of the SBC Executive Committee’s Sept. 19-20 meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Wright said Jimmy Draper, retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former SBC president, has agreed to serve as chairman of the task force. Wright will serve as an ex officio member.

The Tuesday evening announcement led some Executive Committee members to express concern over the possibility of a name change and of the task force being asked to serve without convention approval. Some also said the issue could be divisive. Wright responded by saying any proposed name change must be approved by messengers.

Executive Committee member Darrell P. Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stuart, Fla., made a motion that convention attorneys study the issue for one year “before we take any action” on possibly changing the name. That motion failed, 39-20.

Photo by Morris Abernathy

Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright announced the appointment of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the 166-year-old convention’s name during a Sept. 19 meeting of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, Tenn.

Motions to study a name change have been presented to the convention on numerous occasions – for example, 1965, 1974, 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1998. More recently, the convention was asked in its 1999 annual session in Atlanta to conduct a “straw poll” to consider a name change. The “straw poll” was defeated on a floor vote. A motion at the 2004 annual meeting in Indianapolis to authorize the SBC president to appoint a committee to study a name change was defeated on a ballot vote (44.6 percent yes; 55.4 percent no).

Wright said he believes Southern Baptists would benefit from another look at the question, noting, “I am going to ask this task force to consider four questions: 1) Is it a good idea, that is, is there value in considering a name change? 2) If so, what would be a good name to suggest? 3) What would be the potential legal ramifications of a name change? 4) What would be the potential financial implications?”

Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., emphasized the task force’s role is to advise him on the questions he has given them to consider.

“Obviously, this is not an official committee empowered by a vote of messengers to an SBC annual meeting,” Wright said. “It is a task force I am asking to advise me as president on whether this is a matter we should bring forward for convention action.”

Wright said he is hoping the task force will be able to provide an interim report that he can share with the SBC Executive Committee during its Feb. 20-21 meeting, with the possibility of a final report in time for the SBC annual meeting June 19-20, 2012, in New Orleans.

Any proposed name change, as well as other legal implications involved in a name change, would have to be approved by a majority of messengers at two consecutive SBC annual meetings, according to the convention’s constitution.

Because the task force is not an official committee of the convention, its members have agreed to pay their own expenses, Wright said.

The other members of the task force are:
  • Michael Allen, senior pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago.
  • Marshall Blaylock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C.
  • David Dockery, president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
  • Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board.
  • Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
  • Ken Fentress, senior pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockwell, Md.
  • Micah Fries, senior pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo.
  • Aaron Harvie, lead pastor of Riverside Community Church in Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Susie Hawkins, speaker, Bible study teacher and missions volunteer from Dallas.
  • Fred Hewitt, executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention.
  • Cathy Horner, Bible teacher and pastor’s wife from Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh.
  • Benjamin Jo, pastor of Hana Korean Baptist Church in Las Vegas.
  • R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
  • Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Bob Sena, retired director of Hispanic resource development and equipping in the North American Mission Board’s church planting group.
  • Roger Spradlin, co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
  • John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.
  • Jay Wolf, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
Wright said he is eager for Southern Baptists to participate in the discussion about a possible name change.

“I want the task force to have the benefit of the best thoughts and ideas individual Southern Baptists have about a potential new name for the convention,” Wright said. “In that regard, I am having my web team create a place where Southern Baptists can give their input about what a possible new name might be.” That website at will go live Sept. 20. (A press statement handed out at the Executive Committee meeting had indicated the date would be Oct. 1.)

“It also is imperative that Southern Baptists participate in this process by prayer,” Wright said. “The members of the task force will need wisdom and discernment as they pursue this inquiry. We will need God’s guidance as we consider whether to move forward with a proposed name change.”
9/20/2011 8:53:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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