April 2016

Finding refuge in Central Asia, North Africa

April 15 2016 by Jason G. Duesing, MBTS

Something akin to the Old Testament cities of refuge still exists in the world and people are fleeing to them. Those cities were once set apart for those in need of protection or at least a fair hearing so that one may “flee to one of these cities and save his life” (Deuteronomy 4:42).
In the 2016 version, many still are coming to them to save their life and, yet, they also are finding life. I observed this just weeks ago in two major global cities, both having been in the news in recent months for acts of terror and political instability.


Submitted photo
In one of Central Asia’s megacities, young professionals and university students live much as their counterparts in the West. A team from Midwestern College’s Fusion program is spending their spring semester in the city seeking to share the Gospel’s transcendent message.

The first in Central Asia was teeming with young professionals and, though centered in a Muslim culture, there were signs that the younger generation in this city were not much different than many in the West in terms of their tenuous devotion to their historic and national religion. At prescribed times throughout the day, prominent mosques would erupt in amplified calls to prayer. Yet, just as in some of our Western cities where church bells ring out from massive and mostly vacant cathedrals, the normal course of business is for the people not to pause for genuflection, but to carry on with head bowed toward their smartphone.
Yet, in midst of this bustling and burgeoning scene of a transient humanity, there is an underlying great work of God.
In that city, I was visiting a team of Midwestern College students spending their spring semester serving with the International Mission Board (IMB) as part of Midwestern’s Fusion program. The students live and work every day among the people and specifically are working with university students.
There they are joining the IMB’s effort to reach these urban citizens through a variety of college-focused activities. On the last night I was there, they had an event in the basement of a community center where they regularly invite new friends to meet and practice their English.
In this center, several churches also have their meetings and it was the event that night that prompted me to think of the Old Testament cities of refuge. For here beneath this massive city with its clamorous calls to prayer resides a quiet center of refuge – a place where any can come, make friends, improve their English, and learn and hear about the gospel of Christ. There students are coming and there they are finding life.


 Submitted photo
Away from the snarled traffic of a North African metropolis, a displaced people from a neighboring war-torn country find refuge – and fellowship with a cadre of students serving in Midwestern College’s Fusion program.

The second city I visited was in North Africa. Here too, the city never sleeps or stops. Indeed, there are few traffic lights as none are needed for the flow of cars and people lilt like tidal waves at every hour of the day and there is no rest from the tumult.
Here there are two teams of Midwestern students enduring dust and the press and noise of the people and traffic as they make a daily trek to their place of service. Taking a combination of metro rail and a 1.5-mile hike over bridges and under overpasses along streets without sidewalks, these students are in a daily battle for survival. Yet, they joyfully take on the challenge, for at the end of their trek is another city of refuge.
In this metropolis, a displaced people from a neighboring war-torn country has sought a home. At a center for refugees, our students have admirably joined a long history of Southern Baptist work. Here they daily seek to serve the refugees by lending them aid of all kinds and particularly by teaching them English. After their formal classes, they spend extra time inquiring after their students and give them lasting words of life. At the time I visited, they had seen two men trust Christ and our students were now meeting with them on a regular basis for discipleship.
Oddly, from these perilous and unstable cities I came home encouraged for, I too, found refuge. In these cities of great darkness and danger, God is still providing pockets of light and safety for peoples who have limited or no knowledge of the Gospel. For every act of terror in the world today, there are multiplied a thousand times over acts of sacrificial service and gospel proclamation.
Often, we are much like the psalmist in Psalm 73 who was discouraged and despairing at the seemingly successful state of the wicked around him to the point that he almost stumbled in disbelief. The wicked were prospering, living a life of excess and ease. They were like reckless bulldozers steamrolling over their culture with threats, violence and bombastic speech, with apparently nothing or no one to stop them.
The people of God were faltering, questioning God’s omniscience given that such men were achieving every end to which they set their desires –and thus many started turning to follow the wicked. At this point of deep darkness, the burdened psalmist finds new eyes to see. Seeking God, he finds the truth that God still sees and knows, that God will one day act and judge – that in the end He will set all things right. This knowledge drives the psalmist back to God where he resolves, “I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (73:28).
In one sense, all of humanity are refugees in search of cities of refuge. All are like sheep gone astray (Isaiah 53:6) from our Creator and deserving of judgment. Yet, instead, God judged His Son so that we could no longer flee from Him, but return home to Him (Luke 15: 20). Jesus Christ is the true City for those “who have fled for refuge” (Hebrews 6:18). Thus, the call now is for all to take refuge in God and not fear the temporal evils of man.
These students in our Midwestern College Fusion program will tell you that the sole reason for their willingness to brave spiritual attack, daunting cultures and climates, and physical danger is that “so others may hear and live.” This Christ-like motivation and action modeled so well by our International Mission Board partners throughout the world is serving to create cities of refuge for refugees of all kinds.
Whether secularized university students in Central Asia or actual displaced peoples in North Africa, I take courage; for as I saw in the very places that the world would tell us to abandon, people are finding gospel hope. As the old hymn says, in these cities full of terror and trial, our students are seeing the nations “for refuge to Jesus have fled.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason G. Duesing is provost and associate professor of historical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., and author of the new book “Seven Summits in Church History.”)

4/15/2016 11:57:41 AM by Jason G. Duesing, MBTS | with 0 comments

Search committees & the challenges they face

April 14 2016 by Chuck Lawless, chucklawless.com

I’ve worked with a number of pastor and staff search teams as they vet possible candidates for their open positions. These folks typically are God-seeking believers who want nothing but God’s will to be done.
Churches and their search committees face an array of challenges. Among them:

  1. Making wise choices for committee members. Just because a person is viewed as a leader doesn’t necessarily make him or her a good search team member. These ought to be godly, prayerful, trustworthy believers and good team members.

  2. Consistent prayer. I’ve seen some committees that prayed a lot when their work started, a little during the actual search process, and a lot more once they’d narrowed their search to one person. Significant prayer is essential during the entire process.

  3. Checking accuracy of resumes. You’d hope that all Christian candidates have only truth on their resume, but that’s not always the case.

  4. Doing background and credit checks. Again, I wish neither of these reviews was necessary, but we live in a fallen world.

  5. Asking theological questions. I’m amazed by the number of candidates I know who are asked only one or two (or zero) questions about what they believe. A general, “Do you believe the Bible?” is not sufficient. And these questions should be asked early in the process; otherwise, if strong relationships have begun to develop, it’s too easy to let debatable responses pass.

  6. Checking references. While few people include negative references on their resume, you can still learn about a candidate from others.

  7. Patience. In my experience, it’s taking longer and longer to find pastors and staff members. The longer it takes, the likelier it is that the committee will want to settle. That’s dangerous.

  8. Being honest with the candidate. Most churches as not as healthy as search teams seem to think they are. Withholding significant information in the search process will only breed frustration later.

  9. Spending ample time with the candidate. Sometimes this issue is the result of an overall faulty process, but the more time the search team spends with the candidate, the better.

  10. Involving the candidate’s family in the process. The candidate may become the church’s leader, but he likely comes with a family. To ignore them in the process is to send the wrong signal to them from the beginning.

  11. Keeping the church informed. The work of the committee is to be confidential, but the committee should still keep the congregation in the loop. At a minimum, they can then pray more pointedly.

  12. Keeping the candidates informed. Even if the committee decides not to pursue a particular candidate, they still owe the candidate a response. Leaving people hanging is unkind.

  13. Guarding against overreacting to the previous leader. If, for example, a church has had a positive experience with a leader, or a negative one, they must be careful in setting realistic expectations.

  14. Expanding the search beyond those who’ve submitted a resume. God might be working in someone whose resume is not yet available. Committees that don’t consider asking someone whose name has not been submitted might miss an opportunity.

Calling a new spiritual leader is one of the most significant decisions a local congregation makes. I don’t know any churches that take that process lightly, but I do know churches that don’t do that process well. Don’t be one of those churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is on the Web at chucklawless.com where this column first appeared. He is a vice president and missions and evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Used with permission.)

4/14/2016 11:09:57 AM by Chuck Lawless, chucklawless.com | with 0 comments

The network advantage ... and what denominations can learn from them

April 13 2016 by Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today

There’s no denying the power, pervasiveness and efficacy of Christian networks in recent Christian history. This shift continues to gather people and gain momentum globally and I’ve written and given more context to networks in previous articles. These networks are a frequent topic of conversation today.
In short, networks are reinventing how Evangelicals and others cooperate and shaping ministry in many contexts and across various denominational barriers. For those seeking to better understand this new reality, here are five observations about the trend that may prove helpful.

People are attracted to fire, not fences.

Denominations are often built inside fences. “You’re in or you’re out” is how they view participation.
Networks are built on fire and energy: “We’re doing this together and we’re in this together.” This can often mean the difference between momentum and stagnation in ministry. When you get together in these networks, you see the energy that’s the fire at the center drawing people together and impacting ministries.
In contrast, you go to denominational meetings and spend most of the time debating the fences. Denominations can lose energy due to defining and debating of non-essentials. If they do not spend time discussing what draws them together and motivates them, people will go to where the fire is.
(Let me add that I believe deeply in denominations, and wrote the cover story in Christianity Today on the value of denominations. I am also a believer in the importance of doctrinal statements. I’m providing observations about why people are attracted to network partnerships.)

People like partnerships, not taxation.

Too often denominational giving feels like a tax while network finances seem like a partnership. If you sell your giving as a taxation plan, you can expect the Boston Tea Party. On the other hand, when I’m giving to network functions I can often see the faces of those who receive the money. Network giving feels closer to me. It’s going to church plants rather than a perceived bureaucracy.
If denominations are going to be more network-like, we have to ask the question, “How do we make this feel more like a partnership and less like taxation?” We have to find a way to cast a compelling vision of partnership that will compel giving in relationship.

People care about ethos, not tribe.

Very early on in my ministry, I started to get invited to speak in other denominational traditions. Some from my own denomination were offended. Practically speaking, if you’re basing the future livelihood of your denomination on your people maintaining a sense of tribal identity, you will be sorely disappointed. For good or for bad, the next generation doesn’t care too much about commitment to a denomination compared to the cause of the kingdom.
Ultimately it’s the ethos: “I want to be here cause we’re in this together.” In this growing network-oriented world, we have to strive to replace tribalism with ethos and a kingdom-mindedness. I’ve said before, “My denomination should be my home, not my prison.” We are in this together.

People respond to near, not distant.

I understand there is a great efficiency in giving to a cooperative funding strategy than there is to directly supporting a church planter. I agree with cooperative giving and have said so repeatedly. But that is not the way most people think and that’s definitely not the way Millennials think.
What people have in networks that they don’t have in denomination is a nearness to the mission. Denominations often maintain a distance from the mission. But the best denominations are helping churches better understand the missionary’s nearness.
With the advent of technology and the internet, it’s no longer that difficult. Nearness is the call of the day. If denominations don’t address this effectively enough, people will continue to migrate to networks that provide greater nearness.

People want digital, not analog.

The modes and methods of communication have changed dramatically. Gone are the days when information and communication took weeks or months to flow from the denominational headquarters through the various leadership structures and out to the grassroots. Too many denominations act as if they can communicate in the way they did 50 years ago. To become more like a network, denominations need to develop a better digital communication plan.
Compare network websites to denominational ones. What’s the mission? What’s it pointing to? How do I get involved? For virtually every network, those answers are easily visible on an attractive, engaging site. For denominations, that is rarely the case. To keep and reach the next generation of leaders, denominations must develop better digital communication.

Denominations and Networks.

Ultimately, networks are growing because people are being drawn to them. That’s just the facts.
Denominations need to ask what they need to be doing to be more like networks when appropriate.
Denominations need to be driven by the fire has to be what drives us, the partnership has to be what gathers us, the ethos has to be what excites us, the nearness has to be what enables us and the digital tool has to be what equips us.
That’s what networks appear to be doing better than denominations (or at least that is people’s perceptions), and that’s what denominations have to improve if they want to continue existing in the new religious culture.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Last year a group of denominational leaders asked me to share with them why people were more attracted to networks than denominations. They asked about some ways denominations could become more like networks. Here’s what I shared with them, edited, and made into article form. This post first appeared at ChristianityToday.com)

4/13/2016 2:10:25 PM by Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today | with 0 comments

Bringing prayer back

April 12 2016 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

Do our churches and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) talk more about evangelism and prayer than practice evangelism and prayer? Our annual statistics show this is definitely true about evangelism. Yet, prayer itself does not have the same type of visible scoreboard of evaluation as evangelism.
The Bible says this about Jesus Christ: “… He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:23) If Jesus Himself sensed the deep need to pray and fellowship with God, how much more we need to pray!

A nod or a necessity

Our churches and SBC give an acknowledging nod regarding prayer. It is rare to see a meeting begin without a brief prayer. We believe in it, yet our convictions regarding prayer seem to deepen in actual priority and practice only when the diagnosis is bad, the problem is overwhelming, or the crisis seems to lead to great loss.
Prayer deserves much more than a simple nod because prayer is an absolute necessity. Not just in our personal lives and church worship services, but also in our SBC. The greatest action we can take is to pray.
Prayer does not eliminate other actions. If a person needs a job, we do not simply pray for a job, we also take the action of trying to find a job. But prayer must become a matter of priority and prominence in your life, your church and in our SBC.

Bringing prayer back into our churches and our Southern Baptist Convention

Christians want prayer back in the schools; however, we ought to first bring prayer back into the worship services of our churches and into our SBC! Most churches spend more time promoting the ministries of the church than praying in their worship services. Many Baptist gatherings I have been involved in follow this same pattern. It injects a sense of “let’s move on to more important things” rather than taking prayer seriously like it is the necessary air we breathe in order to live and thrive.
Yet, Jesus wants His church to be a house of prayer for all the nations! When is the last time you experienced an entire Sunday morning worship service dedicated to prayer? Has this ever occurred? Has prayer received more than a small focus in any worship service you have attended recently?
If not, why? If we are not filling God’s churches with passionate prayers that are focused with purpose, what are we filling our worship services with? Could it be that we are not seeing that our greatest need is for the power of God to intervene in our lives, our church, our convention and our nation? Could it be that we do not connect the deep need for prayer with the church’s greatest mission – to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations?

Four characteristics of building prayer into churches and our Southern Baptist Convention

Some churches are committing an entire worship service to the ministry of prayer. Will your church do this soon? At least a decade ago, I remember leading the entire staff of one of our national entities of our Southern Baptist Convention in an entire day of focused prayer.
America is falling apart. The world is becoming more dangerous daily. The church is way too content to keep on doing ministry without the power of God. Now is the time to pray! When we set aside special times to pray, implement these four characteristics:

  1. Teaching - Each prayer time needs to be based on a teaching time from God’s Word. We stand on His Word, not on our words or passions.

  2. Principles - Each prayer time should be focused on principles like repentance, revival, surrender to the Lordship of Christ, the filling of the Spirit, spiritual awakening, or reaching the world for Christ beginning in your own community. Additionally, include specific principles that relate to your specific needs contextually.

  3. Led by the Spirit - Worship and prayer moments should be led as God’s Spirit leads, not necessarily according to the order of service. We plan specifically, but always leaving latitude to follow God’s leadership spontaneously.

  4. Expression - Hymns and worship songs are given to us to express our worship of Jesus Christ as our Lord. These can be powerful expressions as transition moments, moving from one prayer time to the other. We see David model this in the Psalms.

Just imagine

What could happen in your church if an entire Sunday morning service was turned into a prayer service? You could experience God moving in ways unlike you have seen in a long time, perhaps ever. People could come to Christ. Personal repentance could result in a releasing of the Spirit upon your church, unleashing the church to greater worship and ministry that is on mission with God.
Here is what I know: If we do not plan to pray, we will not pray!
It is past time for us to prioritize prayer, both personally and in the church, as well as in our SBC. For far too long, we have seen what we can do; it is time for us to see what God can do. This can only happen when we pray.
Acts 4:31, “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God’s message with boldness.”
This is why the entire evening session on Tuesday, June 14 at the SBC in St. Louis will be committed to prayer. We will begin at 6:30 p.m. This prayer gathering is far more important than eating with friends, conducting secondary meetings, or attending a Cardinals baseball game. Please make plans now to attend.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. This column first appeared on Ronnie Floyd’s website, ronniefloyd.com.)

4/12/2016 11:28:57 AM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President | with 0 comments

Missions, evangelism, service & risk in SBC DNA

April 11 2016 by Roger S. Oldham, SBC LIFE

It used to be heard everywhere, whether at Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meetings, pastors’ conferences, evangelism rallies, training events, or other venues where Baptists gathered during the latter half of the 20th century – “If you cut a Southern Baptist, he (or she) bleeds evangelism and missions.”
It was simply who we were as a people. It was hard-wired into our DNA. Whether “A Million More in 54” in the 1950s or “Bold Mission Thrust” in the 1980s and 1990s, Southern Baptists’ collective heart’s desire was to win the world to faith in Jesus Christ in our generation – no matter the cost.
Presenting the gospel and ministering to displaced persons, immigrants and other downtrodden peoples, both internationally and in the United States, has been a significant piece of this evangelistic passion in the seven decades since World War II.


BP file photo
Southern Baptists, Jordanian Baptists, and other evangelical Christians ministered in refugee camps along the Iraqi border in September of 1990, sharing God’s love with people who were fleeing hostilities, much as Southern Baptists continue to do for Syrians made refugees as a result of the current Syrian civil war.

Expanding the vision

When the SBC was organized in 1845, its primary purpose was “to promote Foreign and Domestic Missions, and other important objects connected with the Redeemer’s kingdom” (SBC Constitution, 1845, Article II).
The following year (1846), the convention established priorities to minister to Native American and African American populations with the gospel. The convention also adopted a resolution that addressed the “mighty tide” of “an emigrant population” that “should be regarded with solemn interest, as augmenting the responsibilities of the Southern churches.”
In highly stylized language, the resolution noted that “the condition and circumstances of such a population render them peculiarly susceptible of deep moral impressions” which “should be made by a holy, zealous, and intelligent ministry.”


Serving the displaced

One hundred years later, the convention encouraged the U.S. government to admit “its fair share” of displaced persons from war-ravaged Europe, specifically asking Congress to admit 400,000 displaced persons over a four-year period (1947), and called on Congress two years later to remove “discriminatory clauses hampering the main purpose” of such legislation (1949).
Of note, the convention’s 1949 resolution charged the government as follows: “Due care should be maintained in selecting individuals friendly to our form of government and likely to become good citizens.”
In the years since, Southern Baptists have continued to express compassion for displaced persons through the convention’s resolution process (see additional details below this article).


Reaching the nations among us

For the past 70 years, Southern Baptists have celebrated in their annual Book of Reports ministry they have done to, for, and with refugees, displaced persons and immigrant populations.


Photo by Lyle Ratliff
Following their immigration to the United States, a couple shares a meal with a host family in Mobile, Alabama.

This ministry has been conducted through partnerships with churches too numerous to mention and in concert with nearly every SBC entity or agency, including the International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), LifeWay Christian Resources, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, GuideStone Financial Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union, and the former Brotherhood, Stewardship, Education, Historical and Radio and Television Commissions.
The SBC Executive Committee also helped set Bold Mission Thrust goals and recommended ministry assignment adjustments for SBC entities that pertain to this area of ministry.
Some of the immigrant populations that have been specifically referenced in the annual SBC Book of Reports for specialized ministry over the decades include refugees, displaced persons, and immigrants from scores of countries (also noted below).
Currently, more than 30 immigrant, as well as Native American and African American, fellowships cooperate with the SBC across the United States.
More than 10,000 of our 51,000 congregations (churches and church-type missions) are non-Anglo. The gospel is preached and the Lord is worshiped in more than 100 languages on any given Sunday through Southern Baptist churches.


The changing face of America

Two resolutions on immigration over the past decade and two ministry assignment changes during the past five years illustrate Southern Baptists’ consistent perspectives on immigration.
As the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. increased during the opening decade of the 21st century, Southern Baptists responded by calling on the government to secure its borders from illegal immigration (resolutions adopted in 2006 and 2011) and to reduce the immigration crisis (2006).
The Convention’s messengers simultaneously called on churches and individuals to act redemptively to all immigrants, striving to meet their “physical, emotional, and spiritual needs” (2006) and seeking to “demonstrate the reconciliation of the Kingdom both in the verbal witness of our gospel and in the visible make-up of our congregations” (2011).
Acknowledging that the nations have come to the United States, the convention amended the ministry statements for IMB in 2011 and NAMB in 2015.
In 2011, messengers approved adding the italicized language below to IMB’s first ministry assignment: “Assist churches by evangelizing persons, planting Baptist churches, and nurturing church planting movements among all people groups outside the United States and Canada; and, provide specialized, defined and agreed upon assistance to the North American Mission Board in assisting churches to reach unreached and underserved people groups within the United States and Canada.”
Four years later, in 2015, the Convention approved reciprocal language to NAMB’s first ministry assignment – to “provide specialized, defined and agreed upon assistance to the International Mission Board in assisting churches to plant churches for specific groups outside the United States and Canada.”

To seek and to save

Reaching the nation – and the nations – with the gospel of Jesus Christ is the heart of who Southern Baptists are. Even as our Baptist forebears sought a place where they could experience and exercise religious liberty, free of governmental tyranny or oppressive restraint, Southern Baptists long for other “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” to find refuge at the foot of the Cross, whether Iraqis in Michigan, Kurds, Sudanese, and Hispanics in Tennessee, Chinese in California, Cubans in Kentucky, or Syrians in Georgia and Texas and beyond.
Southern Baptists will minister in the Name of Jesus Christ even while calling on the government to secure our borders, enforce current immigration laws, deal compassionately but definitively with the current immigration crisis, and exercise “due care in selecting individuals friendly to our form of government and likely to become good citizens.”
As the convention’s 2006 resolution stated, we will continue to “encourage all Southern Baptists to make the most of the tremendous opportunity for evangelism and join our Master on His mission to seek and save those who are lost among the immigrant populations to the end that these individuals might become ... loyal citizens of the Kingdom of God,” even as they seek to become legal residents of this great nation.
Evangelism and missions: it’s still in the DNA of the SBC.
See additional information below.


1975 – Following U.S disengagement from the Vietnam war, the SBC expressed concern for about 100,000 refugees under U.S. care in refugee centers around the world. The resolution urged Southern Baptist churches and families to pray for them and to “aid in their resettlement throughout our country.”
1979 – The convention called on churches to minister to migrant farm workers “in ways that reflect the love and concern” of our Lord.
1980 – The convention called on churches to help Cuban refugees resettle in America, and in a separate resolution, sought to “do all within our power to affect public opinion in raising national and denominational consciousness as to the critical plight of the Cambodians,” encouraging churches to give sacrificially to their human needs and to minister to those who had immigrated to our country.
1985 – In a resolution, the convention celebrated 10 years of ministry during which more than 12,000 Vietnamese and other Indo-Chinese immigrants had been helped by Southern Baptists, with 281 new churches planted among immigrants from those countries.
2006 – SBC messengers called on the U.S. government to receive North Korean refugees fleeing the “brutal tyranny” of that country’s oppressive regime.
2015 – SBC messengers called on Southern Baptists to pray for the Lord to “turn the heart” of North Korea’s leaders to relieve the severe oppression and violation of human rights and religious liberty that grips that country.
Countries of origin mentioned specifically in annual SBC Book of Reports include the following:

  • Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Austrian, Hungarian and other Eastern Europeans prior to, during, and following World War II;

  • Germans, Austrians, Italians, Chinese and Filipinos during and following World War II;

  • Koreans, beginning in the 1950s and since;

  • Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and other Indo-Chinese groups beginning in the 1970s;

  • Cubans, Panamanians, and Nicaraguans fleeing civil wars and Communist governments;

  • Numerous ethnic groups affected by the breakup of the former Yugoslavia;

  • Rhodesians (now Zimbabwe), Ghanaians, Burundians, Congolese, Angolans, Somalians, Ethiopians and other African peoples; and,

  • More recently, Haitians, Kurds, Sudanese, and now Syrian refugees.

Ministries provided by SBC entities include the following:

  • Raising awareness about the plight of numerous refugee populations, advocating for their protection overseas and/or admission into the U.S. with immigrant status;

  • Offering services to meet basic needs of food, clothing and shelter;

  • Urging churches and families to aid in the resettlement process;

  • Producing language resources;

  • Helping associations and state conventions discover needs and develop plans for the relocation of refugees and immigrants; and

  • Helping launch language-specific churches for a multitude of immigrant populations.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger S. Oldham is vice president for Convention communications and relations for the SBC Executive Committee. This article first appeared in SBC LIFE.)

4/11/2016 10:59:48 AM by Roger S. Oldham, SBC LIFE | with 0 comments

Terror attacks no one is talking about

April 8 2016 by Travis Wussow, ERLC

Chances are, the attack in Brussels caught your attention.
But you might have missed the fact that there was another major bombing in Istanbul, Turkey, just 24 hours earlier on March 21 claimed by the so-called Islamic State. And you might have missed the horrific attack in Pakistan on March 27 that killed 74 people and wounded 362, almost double the death toll of the Brussels attack.
It’s true for me, too: I hadn’t cared as much about the attacks in Istanbul and Lahore as I had the Brussels attack. Only when I found out that the attack in Pakistan was specifically targeting Christians on Easter Sunday did it really garner my interest.
Part of the issue, undoubtedly, is that there has been much more coverage of the Brussels attack than the Easter attack in Lahore. The New York Times has published several in-memoriam Brussels pieces (and rightly so). But this sort of empathy-driven coverage has been notably lacking for the attacks in Lahore and Istanbul.
Martin Belam, with London’s Guardian, laments the lack of coverage but goes on to say “it is also regretfully true that there seems to be less of an audience.” In other words, the reason why there are so few articles on the Lahore attack is that not as many Westerners read them.
There are lots of reasons why we don’t seem to care about terror attacks in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. We probably don’t have many (or any) Pakistani or Turkish friends. And even if we do, our conversations with them probably haven’t helped us get a sense of what life is like in their home countries or develop a sense of empathy for the people who live there.
Further, most of us have never been there and have no memories associated with those places. Because we don’t have vacation pictures from these lands (and likely don’t know anyone who does), it’s hard to get a mental image of the neighborhood park in Lahore where the Easter explosions occurred or the central shopping district in Istanbul that was targeted.
Lastly, we’re inoculated against the impact of these stories because terror attacks seem to happen all the time in distant lands. Whether it is polite to admit it or not, many of us subconsciously believe that these things are supposed to happen there. The reason the Brussels attack hit us so hard is that it was out of the ordinary.

Empathy & prayer

For Christians, our response to this situation can’t just be to shrug and accept that it is just the way things are. In the apostle Paul’s discourse on the “ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5, he tells us, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” What this means for us is that the way we naturally view others – through the lenses of tribe, ethnicity, proximity – isn’t the way we view people anymore in Christ.
The gospel transforms all of us, including our ability and capacity to empathize with those who are not like us.
How can we empathize and pray more effectively? Here are three ways:

  1. Build relationships with immigrants, refugees and those from other cultures. These relationships will expand our ability to care about the places where these friends are from – having a friend from China, for instance, will help us care about China and the Chinese people. But these relationships also open our eyes to differences in culture and make us more sensitive to the hopes and struggles of people who are not like us.

  2. Pray through the international section of the newspaper. Pick up a physical copy of the paper and open it to the international briefs section. Spend a few minutes to read the stories and pray for those affected by the story. I know of pastors who lead their churches in corporate prayer using this or a similar method.

  3. Intentionally seek out international news. Sign up for an international digest from your favorite newspaper. All of our Facebook and Twitter feeds are populated with news and information from people who are like us – they are our friends after all. Intentionality is required if we are going to get out of our echo chamber.

The international news can be overwhelming; much of it is depressing and about faraway places that we don’t really understand. But let us push through these challenges and lift up the poor, marginalized and oppressed around the world in prayer for justice and for mercy.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Travis Wussow is director of international justice and religious freedom for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Each Friday, Wussow posts “Top Five International Stories of the Week” at the ERLC’s website, erlc.com.)

4/8/2016 10:40:54 AM by Travis Wussow, ERLC | with 0 comments

Do the work of an evangelist

April 7 2016 by Jason K. Allen, MBTS

Gospel ministers, myself included, tend to identify most readily with the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “preach the Word” in his parting words to his understudy Timothy.
The scriptural emphasis on preaching, and the romance of God’s call to preach, prompts most pastors to conceptualize themselves fundamentally as a preacher, and their most urgent responsibility, to preach.
Paul’s series of exhortations in 2 Timothy, as he faced death and Timothy faced discouragement, not only strengthened the letter’s namesake but also have instructed and fortified gospel servants throughout the centuries. Second Timothy drips with application for every minister.
While not minimizing Paul’s exhortation to preach the Word, a different one of his charges has held my attention most recently – “do the work of an evangelist.” Doing the work of an evangelist is a charge every pastor must hold fast, and every church must expect of its ministers. This is especially true in my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.
As reports have consistently indicated, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have reported declining baptism rates for years. While such statistics don’t tell the whole story, they do tell enough of the story to be concerned.
Shockingly, last year 25 percent of our churches reported baptizing no one. Of those who are baptized, a high number are of young children who may fail to grasp the gospel and may fail to experience true repentance and saving faith.
The solution is not programmatic, nor should we encourage rushing more people into the baptistery in order to prop up soft denominational numbers. Sloshing the unconverted in water does not a baptism make. But we ought to be burdened, and ought not be afraid of numerical goals.
For example, what if every Southern Baptist pastor sought to lead to Christ, baptize, and disciple one more person each year? What if, by God’s grace, every Southern Baptist pastor did this once a month? The results would be staggering; the effects on our churches – and the lost – would me massive.

A personal burden

In nearly 20 years of ministry, my highest points have not been preaching in large settings, meeting distinguished individuals or even leading a seminary. I can truly say that my most memorable moments have been in living rooms, around kitchen tables, sitting in a pastor’s study, or on an airplane leading someone to Christ.
But I must confess, doing the work of an evangelist is harder for me these days. As a seminary president, I live life mostly surrounded by believers, with little marginal time. Over the past year, I have been burdened by my personal lack of evangelism and have had to learn the key of intentionality in my personal witness, like every other area of life.
In any organization, the maxim, “When everyone does it, no one does it” is usually true. General responsibilities, initiatives and goals usually fail because there is no built-in expectation or accountability. The same can be true with our witness. When we intend to witness to everyone, sometimes we witness to no one.
When I intentionally pray for certain people, I find myself more intentional about witnessing to them. When I intentionally engage attendants at the barbershop, gas station or restaurant, I find myself more intentionally witnessing to them. When I intentionally set personal evangelistic goals and hold myself accountable, I find myself, well, doing the work of an evangelist.
In every church, God blesses certain people with exceptional financial resources and a generous spirit. They give generously and bless the church. But that does not absolve every other Christian from their stewardship responsibilities.
Likewise, God calls and gifts certain men as evangelists, as referenced in Ephesians 4, to draw the net, plant churches and serve as missionaries. The fact that God calls and gifts some in extra measure, however, does not absolve every Christian, and especially every minister, from doing the work of an evangelist.
Evangelism is not primarily about a gift, or even one’s gifting, it is about being a faithful Christian – and a faithful minister. Brother pastors, let us do the work of an evangelist.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason K. Allen, on the Web at jasonkallen.com, is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.)

4/7/2016 12:12:23 PM by Jason K. Allen, MBTS | with 0 comments

Reporting on the SBC

April 7 2016 by Gary Ledbetter, Guest Column

In 1994, right before the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met in Orlando, the little paper I edited ran an investigative piece about a far-reaching policy at one of our SBC agencies. It was an embarrassment to the president of that agency, and he responded by calling our executive director as he was packing for the trip and asking in a loud voice, “Can’t you control those people?” The exec backed us (those people) up in that case, and the agency president took his lumps. It doesn’t happen every year, but I’ve seen a version of this struggle between reporters and administrators for how the news is told many times and at all denominational levels.


Gary Ledbetter, editor in chief of the Southern Baptist Texan

What is the legitimate role of the denominational press, the Baptist state publications, as the leaders of our work and the constituent churches attempt to communicate with one another? A bit of the answer is presupposed in my question – the publications pass information to and from both parties in various ways. Because state papers are positioned to know the churches of our state conventions better than national leaders, we ask questions or seek information we believe will be beneficial to our churches’ stewardship of SBC work. These questions, and some editorial content, help alert leaders to how churches in different parts of the country understand their ministries.
Because journalists have opportunities to observe the work of our SBC leaders, we can interpret their work to our churches in a way that makes sense and usually encourages them. This interpretation is more crucial and difficult when the news is less encouraging.
Most recently, for example, the “less encouraging” news came from the International Mission Board (IMB) as it completed the hard work of cutting personnel in order to balance the budget. Something had to be done, and it was a challenging way for President David Platt to begin his tenure at IMB. In the midst of conference calls, press conferences and other contacts between IMB leadership and the denominational press, there was a bit of a struggle over the message. Is the headline “IMB brings expenses into line” or “IMB cuts 1,132 missionaries and staff”? That’s the struggle. It’s nearly always a disagreement made inevitable by the differences between the role of news writers and that of visionary leaders. Though passions may run high, it’s rarely a matter of good guys versus bad guys. But someone will almost always speak as if it is.
Here are some thoughts on the responsibilities of the denominational press telling difficult stories and a couple of ideas for those who find us frustrating.
Journalists should ask about issues or decisions we don’t understand or that should be more completely told. Sometimes asking questions is seen as malicious or an effort to trip up a spokesman. This happens and probably explains why some folks won’t talk to reporters.
But asking is not by definition contrarian, although it may turn that way when a reporter is biased or when a leader keeps too many secrets.
Baptist papers should provide information and examples that spur churches to support Southern Baptist work worldwide. These stories are crucial and gathering them requires full cooperation from our leaders. I add here that the IMB has been exemplary in cooperation with the denominational press as we seek missions stories.
Baptist journalists must give churches a clear understanding of why things are not going according to plan and what is being done about it. This is tricky for both parties, but if we don’t do it, church leaders become cynical or immune to our calls for support. That has happened over the past 40 years.
Journalists should not, however, be recreationally suspicious of those who lead ministries broader than our own. It can become a habit or a lazy man’s version of “objectivity,” but suspicion, snark and insinuation are death to our work. Neither should we be an uncritical extension of someone’s public relations team. We do wish our leaders well but cannot become habitual boosters of every plan or leader.
Leaders, tell it all, unless you can share a good reason to keep something secret. Confidentiality should be the exception rather than just the easy option. When a reporter seeks access to your business, see her as representing thousands of readers with whom you’ll never have any other contact. She does. Would you treat hundreds or thousands of Southern Baptists attending your meeting as intruders? 
When a leader shares a vision or plan at a press conference, he must remember that he is not the only person in the conversation who talks to God. Someone who asks, “How will this work?” or “What will this cost?” is seeking information, not trying to undermine God’s Kingdom.
Similarly, leaders are not the only people in the room who want the mission of the SBC to succeed. Baptist editors and reporters are committed to the prospering of God’s work through Southern Baptists. Unity in purpose does not mean we ignore hard questions.
“Good journalism” is not necessarily telling the story a reader wants told in the way he wants it told.
Of course it follows that “poor journalism” is not simply defined as a story we wish was not true. Poor journalism exists, of course, but it’s sloppy, even sinful, to slander a writer just because his perspective or the news he tells annoys us. 
This tense interplay between newsmakers and those who tell and explain the news is not a recent phenomenon, and it will not end. When Christian brothers are on both ends of the communications process, we are obligated to treat one another with the kind of respect we don’t always see in the culture at large.
“Respect” does not mean we must agree. It does require news people to think carefully about what is edifying as well as what is true. It requires that both parties develop thick skin and a bit of grace. We will not always agree on what’s true, much less on what is edifying to the Kingdom.
I believe newsmakers and news reporters have distinct and important roles within the Kingdom of God. We each have responsibilities, and we can provoke one another to fully live up to our Great Commission ideals. Perhaps it can be a mutually edifying relationship if all parties approach it that way.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Ledbetter is editor in chief of the Southern Baptist Texan, where this column originally appeared. It is reprinted with permission.)

4/7/2016 11:08:01 AM by Gary Ledbetter, Guest Column | with 0 comments

A talebearing press

April 4 2016 by Mark Creech, Guest Column

The very concept of a free press was first introduced to the world in the scriptures.
J. Lee Grady in Journalism and the Gospel contends that when Nathan, the prophet, stood before King David, pointing his finger at the ruler, declaring, “You are the man!” – He dramatically demonstrated that all men are accountable for their deeds. Nathan, says Grady, is an excellent example of the role of journalism. Its primary purpose is to expose darkness and remind rulers they are accountable to both God and their subjects.
Grady credits John Foxe as one of the first English-language journalists because he pointed his finger at the sins of the Catholic Church. Recording the abuses of priests and popes in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Foxe provided what was certainly one of the first cases of eyewitness reporting.
Grady writes, “England was stubbornly resistant to the concept of freedom of the press. The British Crown suppressed all published dissent on the principle that this would secure peace and public safety. The Christian poet John Milton, however, made an early appeal for freedom of the press in his famous Aereopagitica, published in 1644. He summarized a truly Christian idea when he wrote:
“…though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth is in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her [truth] and falsehood grapple; whoever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
The founders of our nation believed a free press was necessary to maintaining liberty. That’s why they gave us the First Amendment, which reads: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or the press.”
But what happens when news reporting becomes driven by prejudice, partiality, predisposition, preconception, and preference? I suggest it becomes nothing more than a rotten talebearer.
Leviticus 19:16 instructs, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.” A talebearer is someone who presents a story or an account without all the facts – someone who shares a one-sided narrative.
There has never been a more glaring example of talebearing than the recent reporting by both national and state media concerning North Carolina’s passage of HB 2 – a simple common sense measure that overturned a dangerous Charlotte ordinance. The ordinance was an unconstitutional overreach by the City that would have allowed men into women’s restrooms, showers, and locker rooms, creating a loophole for sexual predators to exploit. The ordinance would have also forced private businesses and churches into promoting ideas and participating in events that conflict with their peacefully expressed beliefs.
Yet the unscrupulous story line in nearly every story was something about HB 2 being an outrageous “Anti-LGBT” bill that discriminates.
N.C Gov. Pat McCrory has been unjustly hammered for signing the bill. Leftist reporting has generated a firestorm of opposition allied with big corporations, Hollywood figures, major sports organizations, and political demagoguery. The fact of the matter, however, is the press on the bill has been patently false – talebearers running up and down among the people.
To address the many misrepresentations, McCrory released a document that addressed eighteen erroneous allegations against the measure – eighteen! The governor and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, as well as Rep. Dan Bishop, the bill’s primary sponsor, have marvelously defended HB 2. But the lies linger while the talebearers eagerly look to stoke the fires at the first chance they get.
There is an old story about a parishioner, heavy with guilt, who shared with his priest about the unprincipled way he had spoken of his neighbor. He asked the priest what harm was done exactly. The priest took a feather pillow and a knife and gave them to the parishioner. He instructed him to hold the pillow outside a window and slash it open. As he did, the wind caught the feathers and spread them far and near. The priest then instructed the parishioner to retrieve each and every feather that escaped the pillow.
Like feathers strewn by the wind that can never be retrieved, so is the work of the talebearers. Nevertheless, there is a word of hope here. I think it’s providential, even a veiled message for the governor and N.C. legislators, that the media attack concerning HB 2 started during the same week as Easter.
Christ was the personification of truth. Though the truth was misrepresented, suppressed and buried away in a grave, it rose again to stand.
No matter how often the truth is beaten down, it always rises again. If the governor and state lawmakers stay the course, the truth will ultimately prevail. That’s not just wishful thinking; it is one of the great lessons of the resurrection.
A talebearing press should beware. A free press should indeed expose darkness and hold leaders accountable, but not tell damnable lies about them.
Information and quotes on J. Lee Grady from McDowell, Stephen K., and Mark A. Beliles. Liberating the Nations: Biblical Principles of Government, Education, Economics, & Politics. Charlottesville, VA.: Providence Foundation, 1995.

4/4/2016 12:46:35 PM by Mark Creech, Guest Column | with 0 comments

My parents didn’t let me choose my gender

April 1 2016 by Maggie Sandusky

There is a growing trend today that we see repeated in news headlines: Parents choosing to raise their child genderless or as the opposite gender due to the child’s preference. Simply put, if a little girl says she wishes she were a boy or a little boy prefers to play with dolls, the parents seek to grant their wish.
If I had been raised in a different time, by different parents, I fear I could have been one of them.
I had two older brothers who, from my 4-10-year-old tomboy perspective, got to do a lot of pretty great things that I didn’t. They didn’t have to wear a shirt when they were hot, they didn’t have to wear complicated dress clothes and they were in Boy Scouts. Everything about Boy Scouts seemed awesome to me – camping, learning about animals, racing little wooden cars. I had no desire to be a Girl Scout. Large groups of girls intimidated me, and much of what Girl Scouts seemed to do was sell cookies, have sleepovers and wear mud brown. I liked to run with the boys. I remember on multiple occasions as a little girl questioning why God had to make me a girl.
Now in our culture, one option for my dilemma would be for my parents to grant my desire and either raise me as a boy or genderless so I would have time to figure out “who I am” without the pressure of nurturing.
Amid this trend, we need to first and foremost look to scripture when engaging culture, when advising friends how to handle this or when dealing with our own children’s views about their gender.
First, we must remember that God created gender (Genesis 1:27) and He created our gender to be a blessing (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Ephesians 5:22-33 shows how God uses gender to teach us about Himself and to paint a picture of His love for the world. While there may be some aspects of being a woman that our carnal nature isn’t thrilled about, such as submission, we should also acknowledge that manhood brings its own set of challenges (Ephesians 5:25, 1 Peter 3:7). The grass isn’t greener on either side.
Second, we should understand that children need nurturing to understand their world and grow up to honor God (Proverbs 22:6). Any parent can think of examples of irrational requests or desires their child has expressed. When my husband was little, he would tell people he wanted to be a fire truck when he grew up. As silly as it seems, it is about as reasonable for his parents to start keeping him in the garage and paint him red as it would have been for my parents to raise me as a boy. Mothers and women in the church should help girls learn to be women of God. Men in the church and fathers, likewise, need to model and teach manhood to boys (Titus 2).
Third, we should acknowledge the wide spectrum of femininity and masculinity and not seek to force stereotypical preferences on our children. Dorcus was crafty (Acts 9:39) while Rachel was a shepherdess. David was a fierce warrior (1 Samuel 18:7) but he also liked poetry (Psalm 23). Ultimately, I’m glad my mom made me wear a shirt, taught me to dress like a lady, and didn’t fight to let me be a Boy Scout. I’m also glad my dad took time to show me outdoor skills and that my mom gave in to my begging to join the pole vault team, though she was sure I’d break my neck. My parents nurtured my femininity without forcing me into stereotypes.
I fear that many children raised counter to their God-given gender will, with age, question what their parents were thinking. Just like a parent who allows their child to play with matches, the excuse that it’s what they wanted, or it wasn’t culturally acceptable to tell them “no,” won’t cut it. As believers, we need to be loving enough to tell our children and our culture “no” when we see them destroying themselves.
Ultimately, a few years of perceived injustice in my life gave way to being very glad that I am not a boy and enjoying my God-given gender. I love Pinterest and I’m always up for a pedicure, but I still love being outdoors and doing physically challenging activities. I couldn’t claim to be a girly-girl, but I’ve come to realize and to love that it is simply not the kind of girl that God made me.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Maggie Sandusky is a master of divinity student, with a concentration in women’s studies, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This commentary first appeared at the seminary’s Biblical Woman website at biblicalwoman.com.)

4/1/2016 11:11:26 AM by Maggie Sandusky | with 0 comments

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