July 2014

Strength & weakness in gospel community

July 30 2014 by David E. Prince, Baptist Press

As followers of the crucified Messiah, our eternal hope is bound up in strength displayed through weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4), and followers of the risen Jesus are commanded to take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

Consequently, gospel community is formed by and nourished by strength through weakness. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to be the one place in the cosmos where weakness is rightly valued and where we know that physical and mental strength is not wellness. The church is not a gathering place for the cultural elite but a sovereignly designed community of the ignoble, weak and low (1 Corinthians 1:24-31).

This is never clearer than in the physically and mentally challenged people who are followers of Jesus Christ. They are a gift to the church because they do not have the mirage of strength in which many of us trust.

A triumphalist version of evangelical Christianity often assumes one-way discipleship – the strong help the weak. Its followers worship before the "golden calf" of their own strength, ability, intellect and giftedness (see Exodus 32:1-6). However, the church desperately needs to learn that we do not simply need to help people with physical and mental challenges, but we need them to help us become more faithful followers of Jesus.

We distort the gospel message and have malformed Christian community when we fail to understand the power of weakness in Christ. We must not only use our advantages for the advantage of others, but we must also use our disadvantages for the advantage of others. The physically and mentally weak have a vital role in the church by teaching those with self-deceptive outward strength how to display genuine spiritual power by being "content in weaknesses" for the sake of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:5).

I once heard Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for almost five decades, say people often ask her if they can pray for her healing to which she replies, "Yes! Would you please ask God to get rid of my peevish attitude in the morning when I wake up, and please, I have such a sour disposition when there’s too much work on my desk. And, you know, I really am a workaholic so I wish you would pray about that." Tada concluded her testimony by thanking Jesus for not physically healing her because her weakness had made her strong.

Successful NFL and college football coach Gene Stallings’ son, Johnny, was born with Down syndrome and doctors said he would only live a year or two. He lived 46 years, and Stallings said, "When he was younger I prayed to God that he would change Johnny. That he would make him right. But you know what God did? He changed me." Stallings repeatedly says, "If the good Lord asked if He could give me a perfectly normal child or Johnny, I’d pick Johnny every time. No doubt about it." I once heard one of Stallings’ daughters say in an interview that she prayed God would give her a Down syndrome child, and then she added, If that sounds strange, you must not have known Johnny.

Millie Hunt was baptized earlier this year at the church I pastor, giving a powerful testimony of her salvation. Her testimony moved the congregation in a compelling and palpable way. Millie’s baptism was slightly different. Most in our church provide a verbal testimony from the baptistery, but Millie is nonverbal – she has autism. When Millie received an iPad, however, she began to communicate with amazing clarity. As she studied the Gospel of John with her parents, it became clear that she understood the gospel of Jesus Christ, and on her iPad one day she typed, "Dear God, this is Millie, please, please, I need you to love me and forgive my sins. I love you. I want to live for you." Then she typed, "I know God is with me now. Mom, please give me a hug."

In the testimony Millie shared with the church prior to her baptism, she wrote, "I love Jesus because He loves me and gave Himself up for me. God made me an autistic woman to display the works of God in my life. Hallelujah!" (John 9:1-3).

When Millie came out to be baptized, aided by her father, I told her that in Christ she had all of the strength she would ever need. As a church family we have tried to help Millie and the Hunt family in every way we can, but Millie has helped us far more than we have helped her. There are gospel lessons that we can only learn from Christians who are self-evidently weak.

When Jesus was in Capernaum, a huge crowd gathered at a home after hearing about His healings. Four men carrying a paralytic could not get near Jesus through the crowd, so they climbed on the roof and let the man down through the roof. Jesus spoke to the paralytic’s deepest need, saying, "Son, your sins are forgiven" (Mark 2:5) and when scribes complained He was blaspheming, Jesus physically healed the man as well (Mark 2:11). The account concludes by noting that "they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’" The four men had helped the paralytic, but they were forever helped through being witnesses of sufficient grace.

Jesus is not a sub-contractor in our project to live our dreams. Our dreams are pathetically small and empty. In Christ, we abandon our dreams and are swept into the reality of Jesus and His Kingdom. In the Kingdom of Christ, our self-acknowledged weakness is a foundational credential (2 Corinthians 10:17-18). He delights in choosing and using "the weak to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27), and He will not be domesticated by the self-referential wisdom of the world.

Often the physically and mentally disabled are the most well among us, but it is hard to notice while we are staring at the golden calf of our strength, ability, intellect and giftedness. If all of this sounds strange to you, then you must not know Millie or someone like her, but for the sake of the gospel, I pray you will.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – To view a video about Millie Hunt’s baptism, go to www.ashlandlex.org/2014/04/millie-hunts-baptism-video. David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., and assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s www.erlc.com website.)

7/30/2014 8:18:17 AM by David E. Prince, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Multiple colleges in one community

July 30 2014 by Steven Ackley, Guest Column

Over the last three decades college campuses and cultures have changed more than nearly any other sub-culture in America. Schools offer more, enroll more, and cost more, while lowering the standards for students in most areas outside of the classroom. Through all of this change what remains true is the cultural variations from one campus to the next.
In our community we have six colleges and universities with extremely diverse cultures: a nationally recognized private university, a historically black university, a women’s college, a nationally known arts school, a small Christian college and a technical college. Making a list of the differences between these schools – all within 10 minutes of our church’s central campus – would take much longer than visiting all six in a single drive. So, with many unique demographics, how is it possible to reach the lost and mobilize ministry?
This dynamic keeps countless college ministry leaders like myself up at night. Do you target one school, hire staff to reflect the needs of each, or simply ignore the needs of all the campuses hoping someone shows up at your church?
Gospel ministry isn’t marketing, so why limit ourselves to one demographic on one campus? Your church budget is probably like ours – tight. Hiring more staff is certainly out of the question.
The average college student won’t happen upon our church campus. The question becomes, “What is an effective college ministry to do?”
Determining our efforts requires careful consideration of our purpose. Only then can we establish the appropriate steps forward in our context to maximize our effectiveness. What then, is the purpose for your college ministry?
Reach the lost. The Bible demands it, and the growth of the church hinges on it. Everyone must be sharing the gospel. This requires us to provide a place where lost students can come and to be where lost students are.
Don’t worry college pastors, this doesn’t mean you need to go to frat parties. But it does mean you might need to buy a parking pass, stay up until 1 a.m. or cheer against your favorite school as you discover intentional ways and reasonable environments to engage.
Equip the saints. Ephesians 4:12 clarifies our role as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” That means investing, counseling, guiding, challenging, teaching and modeling what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ – no matter the environment or vocation.
Sometimes this will be the difficult rebuke of a student walking in open sin, and sometimes it means the vulnerability of allowing a college student to be the teacher. This won’t be a program with a date of completion, either. This will be needed until the day we enter eternity, for as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, this continues, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ …
Honestly, this is harder than reaching the lost, but it seems to be one of the most widely missing elements among struggling churches.
Celebrate sending. There are times I wish I could stand as Moses did before Pharaoh with a message from God and say to pastors, “Let My people go!” Too many tears have been cried, hearts been broken and feelings been hurt over the natural transitions that come in life.
What if we began celebrating sending students to graduate programs in different parts of the country or the world? What if we began celebrating students transferring to another school or spending a summer, semester or year studying abroad?
What if we understood our white-knuckled grip on “our” students caused them and us tremendous heartache, when God intends for us to not only expect them to leave, but to actually encourage them to go?
Let’s face it, rarely does anyone under the age of 30 stay in the same place for an extended period of time. Recent reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest the average length of time an American holds a particular job is 4.4 years and the number cuts in half when looking at an organization’s youngest employees.
To not encourage and celebrate sending is to miss both the reality of our culture and the mandate of scripture.
If there is any hope of having effective college ministries in our churches – no matter how many schools are in your community or demographics are represented at each school – we must begin with what our purpose is and continue to revisit it often in order to measure what we are doing.
Out of the mandates for the church, we learn ministry. Learn your cultures and activate this mission mandate for all ministry.
From these intentional efforts our college ministries will experience the flourishing He desires for His Kingdom.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Steven Ackley is associate pastor of college & young adults at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.) 

7/30/2014 8:12:36 AM by Steven Ackley, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Prayer and revival: yesterday and today

July 29 2014 by Nathan Finn, Guest Column

Prayer and revival always go together, whether in the scriptures or in church history. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, a verse that has inspired countless Christians to pray for revival, the Lord says to King Solomon, if “My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.”
When God’s people humble themselves, repent of their sins and seek greater intimacy with Him, He brings renewal to individuals, families, churches and even nations. We see this pattern play out over and over again in church history. In this post, I want to recount two of those revivals.


The Teschen Revival

In the 1700s, Central Europe was divided between Catholic states and Lutheran states. As a general rule, the religion of the ruler was the religion of the people. But in Silesia, which is now mostly part of Poland, a Catholic dynasty was forcing all of the Lutheran Pietists in their kingdom to convert to Roman Catholicism.
In 1708, Pietist children in southern Silesia began holding large outdoor prayer and song services. The phenomenon soon spread all over Silesia and included adults as well as children. The children called their prayer services “camp meetings,” a term that was famously adopted by Methodists in America about a century later.
With some military help from Sweden, the Pietists gained religious freedom from their Catholic rulers and planted the Jesus Church in the village of Teschen, which had become the center of the prayer revival. The Jesus Church had between 5,000 and 10,000 worshipers every week and conducted services in German, Polish and Czech.
The Teschen Revival spread to other newly formed Pietist churches in Silesia and then to other parts of Central Europe. John Wesley in England and Jonathan Edwards in New England followed the Teschen Revival and began to pray for similar outpourings of the Spirit in their lands. Today, most historians consider the Teschen Revival to be the beginning of the transatlantic awakening that swept across Europe, the British Isles and North America off and on during the 18th century. We call the American version the First Great Awakening.


The Businessman’s Revival

In 1857, America went through its worst depression prior to the Great Depression of the early 20th century. Millions of Americans were without work and seemingly without hope; things were especially bad in big cities.
Jeremiah Lanphier was a lay missionary who worked for the North Dutch Reformed Church in New York City. In September 1857, Lanphier invited businessmen all over New York to come to the North Dutch Church for one hour during their lunch break every Wednesday to do nothing but pray for revival. The lunch prayer meetings were a smashing success. By January 1858, similar prayer meetings were being held at churches all over New York City. Some churches were even hosting daily prayer meetings during the lunch hour.
The New York prayer meetings inspired similar prayer movements in other cities such as Philadelphia, Penn., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Charleston, S.C. By the time the revival ebbed in the fall of 1858, around 1 million Americans had converted and joined churches—almost all of them lived in cities.
Between 1859 and 1861, the prayer revival spread to the British Isles, where it is estimated another 1 million people were converted. Because of the rise of the modern missions movement in the previous two generations, the prayer revival also spread to parts of Africa, the Pacific islands and the East Indies – it was a global revival. The famous evangelist D. L. Moody and Hudson Taylor, the pioneering missionary to China, each began their ministries during the prayer revival.


Prayer and Revival Today

The Teschen Revival began when God answered the prayers of Pietist children. The Businessman’s Revival began when He answered the prayers of urban businessmen. While pastors became leaders in each of these revivals, they began when everyday Christians prayed for the Lord to move in mighty ways. Before they ended, each of these revivals “went viral” and affected several nations. I strongly believe we should pray for revival more than we do. We should humble ourselves, seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways. We should pray for revival in our personal lives, in our families, in our local churches, in our communities, in our nation and, ultimately, among every tribe, tongue and people.
When is the last time you prayed, earnestly and intentionally, that the Lord would bring a revival? Why not pray that way today? The same God who shook the world in 1708 and 1857 can bring a spiritual awakening in our own day.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nathan Finn is associate professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as a fellow of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture. He is now a featured contributor at Facts & Trends, where this blog first appeared. He is also on the Biblical Recorder Board of Directors.)

7/29/2014 9:16:56 AM by Nathan Finn, Guest Column | with 0 comments

A call for reasoned debate

July 28 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

The art of debate in American public discourse has, it seems, gone the way of the dodo bird. Insults and accusations have replaced the reasoned presentation of ideas buttressed by points of fact.

Take, for instance, the subject of homosexual marriage. Those who oppose same-sex marriage are accused frequently of being bigoted homophobes, end of discussion. As a result, real public debate on the issue has been squelched. The average American, who must sort through media portrayals of the debate to arrive at a conclusion, is thus vulnerable to manipulation.

A case in point is the disparity between the percentage of Americans who identify as homosexual or bi-sexual and the public perception of that percentage.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study this month which found that slightly more than 2 percent of Americans identify as homosexual or bisexual.

However, a 2011 Gallup poll found that “U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.” Among young adults ages 18-26, the estimate jumps to 29.9 percent.

When you juxtapose the CDC study with the Gallup poll, you see just how far removed perception can be from reality. When reasoned debate disappears, manipulation of the masses is likely to follow.

Pick almost any controversial subject and the scenario is the same. Whether the issue is abortion, illegal immigration, evolution or any other hot topic, the absence of reasoned debate leads to manipulation.

This is why dictatorships, whatever governmental form they may take, go to great lengths to control the information to which their citizens have access. So long as they control the information, they can manipulate their citizens into believing what they want.

While any political and philosophical persuasion can substitute insults and accusation for reasoned debate, it seems liberals in America have used that tactic frequently.

On abortion liberals accuse their opponents of being anti-choice and anti-women. Those against illegal immigration are labeled uncaring and lacking compassion. If you question the validity of evolution, you are accused of not only being anti-intellectual but also woefully ignorant.

America is currently as divided as it has ever been. There are myriad controversial issues that must be addressed. Americans of every political stripe must insist that reasoned debate take place in order for citizens to be fully informed.

To see the importance of reasoned debate, we need only look back to another time when our country was divided over a very controversial issue.

In 1858, America was sharply divided over the issue of slavery. During the late summer and early fall of that year, two men vying for an Illinois senate seat debated each other seven times over the thorny issue.

From mid-August to mid-October Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas met throughout the Prairie State and meticulously dissected the issue of slavery in the United States.

There was no love lost between Douglas and Lincoln. However, a sense of decorum caused the pair to duel via argument. They were passionate about their positions, but treated each other with dignity and respect.

When the debate dust settled, Douglas won the senate seat. However, the public had been exposed to Lincoln’s arguments against slavery in America. As a result, he became the Republican nominee for president during the election of 1860 and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was ideas, points of fact and information that persuaded the public to Lincoln’s point of view, not his personality. He had no need to hurl insults and accusations at his opponent. He had the truth.

Like never before America needs reasoned debate surrounding the controversial issues of the day. Christians can, and should, lead the way as examples in how to debate with decorum.

The Bible is replete with admonitions on how we should treat one another, the most famous of which was uttered by Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If you wouldn’t want someone hurling accusations or snide insinuations at you, then refrain from doing the same.

The biblical principle is that people are to be treated with dignity and respect, even those who might perceive themselves as our enemies. “Love your enemies,” Jesus taught, “and pray for those who persecute you.”

Positions on any controversial subject can be presented without compromise while at the same time “opponents” can be treated with respect.

One of my favorite books is titled The Velvet Covered Brick. Published in 1973, it was written by Howard E. Butt who at the time was vice chairman of the board of H.E.B. grocery stores, based in Texas.

Butt’s book addressed servant leadership before the topic was in vogue. The title sums up the book’s theme: Christians, leaders in particular, should be like velvet-covered bricks – steadfast and immovable on issues of truth yet tender and kind toward individuals.

Christians need to lead the way in reviving reasoned debate. In so doing followers of Christ should be velvet-covered bricks, unyielding in reference to the truth, but careful to not unnecessarily bruise people in the process of making a case.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

7/28/2014 12:53:02 PM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fighting the real enemy

July 25 2014 by Allen Raynor, Baptist Press

Much of the language in the New Testament is of a militant nature. Believers are often referenced as soldiers. Warfare is a common theme and words like battle, fight and defeat are used regularly. The real enemy is Satan and this worldly system he superintends.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Throughout the passing decades of the last half-century the church has, quite ironically, battled itself as much or more than it has battled the world. Frequently, rather than engaging the world and confronting the world, the church has instead taken up arms against itself. Strong opinions about a variety of issues have led to deep divisions, animosity and even church splits. This effectual “turning against one another” has been cause for Satan to break out the celebratory champagne.

Petty battles, however, albeit defending deeply held convictions, may have felt like spiritual warfare to those involved, but frequently these engagements have served to drain the church of its spiritual, emotional and physical energy and sometimes its monetary resources.

And these battles certainly have been cause for delight to the enemy of our souls. Quite simply, believers in recent decades in particular have struggled to identify the real enemy and the real battlefield worthy of their attention.

Believers are called to be warriors in this conflict – not spectators. They are expected to properly identify the true enemy and his tactics. A warrior has been defined as “a brave or experienced soldier or fighter.” It takes skill, resolve and determination to defeat any enemy. Our opponent is formidable and should never be taken lightly by the church of the Lord Jesus.

Sabine Baring-Gould wrote the great hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” in 1865. The hymn has served as something of a “call to arms” for Christians engaged in the battle for Christ in this world. Debates raged in the 1980s within some denominations as to whether to include it in new editions of hymnals because of its militaristic tone.

When Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met in August 1941 on the battleship HMS Prince of Wales to agree on the Atlantic Charter, a church service was held for which Churchill chose the hymns. He chose “Onward Christian Soldiers” and afterward explained his choice in a radio broadcast. “We sang ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ indeed,” Churchill said, “and I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we were serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high. When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals ... it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.”

While the hymn may have been highly appropriate for this occasion, the ultimate cause of freedom and of nations is not as great as the cause of Christ. Churchill and Roosevelt primarily were concerned with earthly battles and earthly victories, but Christians have a much greater cause for which to fight.

Warfare is never as glamorous as some of its romanticized depictions. Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). A soldier’s life entails plenty of hardships, but Paul admonished Timothy that he must endure.

Unfortunately, to look at the attitude and approach of many professing believers, one might easily get the impression the war has long since ended. Charles Thomas “C.T.” Studd (1860-1931), the great British missionary who served in the Belgian Congo, captured somewhat of the urgency when he famously wrote, “Some want to live within the sound of a church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” Studd also wrote a ditty that gave, rather tongue and cheek, a depiction of how some so casually approached the great daily battles. With words to be sung to the tune of the famous hymn “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” he wrote, “Get up, get up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the Cross, a lazy Sunday morning surely means harm and loss; the Church of God is calling; in duty be not slack; you cannot fight the good fight while lying on your back.”

Many Christians today have lost sight of who the real enemy is and are not keenly aware of what he is actually doing. The second stanza of “Onward Christian Soldiers” optimistically states, “We are not divided; all one body we; one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.” Sadly, we could only wish those words were true in our times.

Throughout the passing decades of the last half-century the church has, quite ironically, battled itself as much or more than it has battled the world. Frequently, rather than engaging the world and confronting the world, the church has instead taken up arms against itself. Strong opinions about a variety of issues have led to deep divisions, animosity and even church splits. This effectual “turning against one another” has been cause for Satan to break out the celebratory champagne.

We have been divided across denominations, within our own denomination and even within our own local churches. An army battling within its own ranks is music to the ears of the enemy. While many argue over issues, preferences and other minutia that will not even exist in a few years, the enemy is advancing and the church is often in retreat. Before we are going to be effective soldiers we must first realize there is a war raging and too many believers are not carrying out, or even aware of, their assignments.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Allen Raynor is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Rogers, Texas.)

7/25/2014 11:02:52 AM by Allen Raynor, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

LeBron’s homecoming – will it be enough?

July 24 2014 by David Gray, Baptist Press

It has been four years since LeBron James broke the hearts of northeast Ohio sports fans. The “King” pursued his desire for basketball championships by joining the Miami Heat. In many ways, James got everything he was looking for.

The question I asked then and the question I ask now is, What win or honor or achievement will be enough? What will satisfy? Is it possible there is a nobler goal for which we should strive?
It is clear LeBron has matured in his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has demonstrated a great desire to be a blessing to the people of northeast Ohio through charitable giving and as a role model. He has been forgiving to those who called him names and burned his former Cavaliers jersey. The young man wants to mentor others and leave a positive legacy.

Yet, does this admirable maturity alone translate into something of eternal value?

Let us be fair. LeBron James is a poster child for the value of natural ability mixed with hard work and discipline. His strong will and dogged determination can be a wonder to behold. But are these goals by themselves what we should teach people to desire? Success and good qualities can mask the potential emptiness of such a pursuit.

It is easy to get caught up in running really hard for things that won’t matter in eternity. Money can be very useful but it can’t get anyone to heaven. Fame can be nice but it will not save anyone’s soul. Charitable acts and giving back to the community are commendable and to be practiced. Yet those things won’t please God unless they are performed by someone who has been redeemed by Jesus. How sad it is if any man might gain all the world has to offer and lose his soul?

After all these years I find the desire for worldly success nibbling at the corners of my heart. Would northeast Ohio care if I made a “decision” to leave in order to pursue fulfillment? Would they clamor to get me back and celebrate in the streets at my return? No, but the difference people like you and I make can only be accurately measured in eternity.

Just recently I walked my daughter down the aisle and then performed her wedding. I reminded her and her fiancé of the amazing value of marriage, family and fidelity. I talked about the purpose of God and hopefully encouraged them to live for the glory of God. It did not make the front page of the paper. But it is possible that what they have learned from God through me and through others who know Jesus will help them join with the true “King” in an everlasting victory.

I hope LeBron brings a championship or two to the Cleveland Cavaliers. I am glad there are hundreds of children who will be educated and cared for through his foundation and other charitable work. But I pray that one day we will see the dogged determination James has for the pursuit of earthly crowns be matched by a desire for souls to be brought into the Kingdom of God. Then we will celebrate with LeBron victories that truly satisfy.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Gray, a former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, is pastor of First Baptist Church in Garrettsville, located about 35 miles from Akron, LeBron’s hometown, and 45 miles from Cleveland.)

7/24/2014 11:20:50 AM by David Gray, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New wind in ‘House of Islam’

July 23 2014 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

The Arab Spring movement for freedom, which brought so much hope and expectation to the Middle East just three years ago, is stone-cold dead – hijacked by Islamic extremists, brutalized by repressive governments, trampled into the dust by factional power struggles.

That’s the consensus in the Arab world, now torn apart by civil war, insurgencies, chaos, political crackdowns and a widening confrontation between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
The Syrian war has produced unimaginable suffering and millions of refugees. Iraq might be on the verge of breaking into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish pieces. A well-armed – and murderous – Islamist “caliphate” has emerged, straddling the crumbling borders between Syria and Iraq and threatening both. Egypt has returned to autocracy after rejecting the brief and disastrous rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Next door, another round of fighting between Palestinians and Israelis is crushing the already-fading hopes for peace.

Tunisia, where the protests for freedom that led to the Arab Spring began in late 2010, is the only Arab country where real political reforms have taken hold. The more than 400 million mostly Muslim people living elsewhere in the region will have to wait until the desire for change once again overcomes the forces arrayed against change. Like sheep without a shepherd, they wonder if a better future will ever come.

Meanwhile, wave after wave of attacks on Christians appear to threaten the very existence of the church in the Middle East. Prospects for expansion of the gospel among Arabs would seem bleak at best.

Or are they?

“Could there be more to this current mess than meets the eye?” asks global mission strategist David Garrison. “Could the Muslim world’s agonizing labor pains be leading to some new expression of life that is yet to be revealed?”

The Arab region is only one of nine “rooms” in the Dar al-Islam – the global “House of Islam” that encompasses 1.6 billion Muslims, Garrison writes in his new book, A Wind in the House of Islam (WIGTake Resources, www.WindintheHouse.org). The IMB strategist’s earlier book, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World, helped revolutionize how evangelicals spread the gospel among unreached peoples.

Islam’s wider “house” includes “rooms” throughout Africa, the Persian world, greater Turkestan (Central Asia), South Asia and Indo-Malaysia. Over a period of three years, Garrison traveled a quarter of a million miles throughout the Islamic world, conducting interviews with more than 1,000 Muslims who have decided to follow Christ as Lord and Savior.

“Today, in more than 70 separate locations in 29 nations, new movements of Muslim-background followers of Christ are taking place,” he reports. “Each of these movements has crossed the threshold of at least 100 new church starts or 1,000 baptized believers, all of whom have come to Christ over the past two decades. In some countries the numbers within these movements have grown to tens of thousands.

“Though the total number of new Christ followers, between 2 million to 7 million, may be a statistically small drop in the vast sea of Islam, they are not insignificant,” Garrison continues. “Not limited to a remote corner of the Muslim world, these new communities of believers are widespread, from West Africa’s Sahel to the teeming islands of Indonesia – and everywhere in between. ... And these religious renegades are paying an incalculable price [in persecution and rejection] for their spiritual migration to Christ.

“Yet they continue to come. What began as a few scattered expressions of dissent is now growing more substantial. Historically unprecedented numbers of Muslim men and women are wading against the current of their societies to follow Jesus Christ. And it is only beginning.”

Why historically unprecedented? Because very few such movements occurred during the first 14 centuries of Muslim-Christian interaction. In his research, Garrison identifies 82 instances throughout history of Muslim movements to Christ (defined as 1,000 or more voluntary Muslim baptisms into the Christian faith over a two-decade span). Of these 82 movements, 69 are occurring today – and began within the past 20 years.

“These 21st-century movements are not isolated to one or two corners of the world,” Garrison says. “They are taking place across the Muslim world, including sub-Saharan Africa, the Persian world, the Arab world, in Turkestan, in South Asia and in Southeast Asia.”

Specific locations include Iran, heart of the Shiite revival; Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world; Algeria, where a struggle between Islamists and the military saw more than 100,000 civilians killed in the 1990s; Central Asia, ruled for generations by Soviet communism and, for centuries before that, by rigid forms of Islam; and Bangladesh, born in the blood of a war for independence from Pakistan in 1971, ravaged by poverty and natural disasters. Garrison includes actual testimonies from Muslim-background Christ followers – Islamic sheikhs and imams in the Horn of Africa, jihadi warriors from the Afghan frontier, Sufi mullahs from Bengali villages.

One of them, a 50-year-old Arab Muslim named Sabri*, became a follower of Christ after hearing the gospel from Nasr*, another Muslim-background believer. Raised in a strong Islamic environment, Sabri says he “began to see the truth from a lie, and I wanted to follow the truth.” He led his family to faith and now leads a network of 400 believers in his area, including 25 disciple group leaders.

“We keep the groups really small because it causes a problem when the groups get large,” he explains. They also use caution in their contacts with traditional Arab Christian churches, which often fear self-identified Muslim converts to Christ will bring persecution – or suspect they might be agents of the secret police. Still, Muslim-background believer groups are growing in the area.

“There are a large number of secret believers,” Nasr says. “We need to say to the masses, ‘Come.’”

If Garrison’s findings are accurate, many more will come.

“Something is happening – something historic, something unprecedented,” he writes. “A wind is blowing through the House of Islam.”

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent.)

7/23/2014 9:40:00 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Awaiting the new pastor

July 22 2014 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

The entire church is waiting expectantly. When your church is in transition – seeking a new pastor or other ministry staff member – there are a few things any member can do:

Help church leaders

  • In any size church, the added workload on ministry staff members, volunteer staff, office assistants and other church leaders is very heavy during transition. Pray for God to give them wisdom and strength.

  • Watch for ways to help and encourage them. Stop by the office and pray with them. If you see a need, do your best to help meet it. Volunteer readily. Consider doing something tangible to thank them. One church sent their associate minister and his wife on a weeklong cruise to express appreciation for extra efforts during transition time.

Encourage the pastor search team

  • Show great support for the search team, but don’t slow their progress by probing for information. They are very aware of the urgency and gravity of their assignment and will provide periodic updates to the entire church.

  • Consider ways you can personally help individual team members when they meet or travel. Babysit. Mow their lawn. Help as a substitute for their regular church responsibility. Provide snacks for their extended meetings or travel.

  • Appreciate their sacrifice. Many search teams meet weekly and spend additional hours doing research. As they work diligently, say thank you.

  • Most importantly, pray faithfully for the team. Tape a note to your computer screen or car visor to remind you to pray. Mail an occasional prayer note to them.


  • Be positive. Your personal attitude helps set the pace for a successful transition period. Every word you speak about your church and pastor search team must be positive.

  • Pray for your church’s future leader, even before God calls him. God already knows. Prepare yourself to accept and support him.

  • Remember that Christ is still in complete control of His church. You can trust Him to direct the search and to know what your church needs in this season. Your church bylaws describe the process for selecting a pastor.

  • If the search is for a support ministry staff member, it may be your pastor’s responsibility to find that person. If so, use these same ideas to help him as he carries an extra load.

Get busy about God’s work

  • Personally demonstrate faithfulness. This is not a time to relinquish church responsibilities or slack off in tithing or attendance. Your commitment is to God, not to a pastor.

  • Some churches grow during a transition time! Invite friends. Share your faith often. (Try NAMB’s free phone app, Life Conversations Guide.) Plan the largest, most evangelistic Vacation Bible School ever. Grow your small group. Your future pastor will be impressed.

  • Every member of the body of Christ, working together, is God’s plan for His church. God’s call on your life and your church isn’t on hold. If you’ve become complacent, find a place of service.

  • Be patient. Avoid initiating major changes. Wait for your new pastor’s leadership and guidance.

Spruce it up

  • Take a fresh look at church facilities. Plan some aggressive workdays during this interim period. Update paint and landscape. Make needed repairs. Clean meticulously. Purge every closet and office and room. De-clutter relentlessly. Dispose of outdated decor and furniture. A well-kept, updated building reflects a church’s love for God and will make a good first impression for a potential pastor.

  • Perk up the pastor’s office. Make a plan for intense cleaning and updates to provide a professional, appealing workspace for God’s chosen leader for your church. Provide a generous budget and a professional decorator to consult with the new pastor to update colors, furniture and technical equipment.

Transition can be terrifying. And exhilarating. Isn’t it great to know that God cares about His church even more than you do?

“And He personally gave some to be…pastors…” Ephesians 4:11

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis, on the Web at www.dianadavis.org, is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola Fla. She is the author of Fresh Ideas and Deacon Wives (B&H Publishing); her newest book, Six Simple Steps - Finding Contentment and Joy as a Ministry Wife, releases next spring.)

7/22/2014 10:15:17 AM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Disposable individuals

July 21 2014 by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press

Pornographers do it. Politicians do it. Sports franchises and marketing companies do it. These and many others do it – the objectification of individuals.

Objectification occurs when a person's well-being is ignored, even sacrificed, to use him or her for someone's gain or gratification. Individual worth, dignity and personality are irrelevant.

As long as the object – the person – fulfills its purpose, it is useful. However, once the gain or gratification has been realized, the object is disposable.

The most egregious example of objectification is found in pornography. Women and men are presented as nothing more than objects of sexual gratification. They are used by the porn producer for gain or the consumer for gratification and then tossed aside.

Politicians have honed objectification to a science. Individuals are votes. They are a means to the end of getting elected. People are further objectified by being assigned to demographic groups categorized by race, gender, age, philosophical leanings and even sexual behavior. Promises are made based on catering to the special interests of the categories.

However, once elected, too many politicians abandon the welfare of those who elected them to pursue an agenda all their own.

Professional athletes often are reduced to objects that produce profits for owners and amusement for fans. As long as they produce, they are loved. However, let injury or age set in and the average player is pushed out and largely forgotten.

Marketing companies objectify individuals by reducing them to nothing more than consumers. Buying habits are tracked, preferences catalogued and annual income noted in order to help their clients separate the consumer from his or her hard-earned money.

On and on we could go citing examples of individuals, institutions and organizations that succumb to the temptation to objectify individuals for their own gain and/or gratification. Ours, it seems, is an age of objectification.

Jesus' modus operandi was wholly opposite from those who would reduce individuals to objects. He valued the individual.

While it is true that Jesus addressed crowds, the Gospel accounts of His life indicate He consistently gave His time and attention to individuals in affirming both their dignity and individual worth.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of Jesus' emphasis on the individual came in the form of a parable He told concerning a man with a lost sheep.

Found in Luke's Gospel, Jesus begins the story as follows: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?”

From a business standpoint it does not seem very practical to leave 99 sheep alone and vulnerable to go and retrieve only one that has strayed. Wouldn't it be more prudent to stay and protect the bulk of your investment? What's one sheep compared to 99?

Jesus begins His parable by revealing He does not objectify individuals. One person is as precious to the Lord as is a crowd. Jesus recognizes something those who objectify do not; the crowd is made up of individuals who are of great worth.

Jesus' focus on the individual resulted in the crowds clamoring to hear what He had to say. He lived out the adage that people do not really care what you know until they know that you care.

Those who objectify individuals are like the person who says, “I am enthralled by the sight of a lush forest, but I am not too taken with a single tree.”

While pornographers, politicians, professional sports and marketing companies do it, you and I don't have to. Choose to see people as individuals of worth who should to be treated with dignity and not as mere objects to be used as a means to an end.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)

7/21/2014 11:55:48 AM by Kelly Boggs, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Millennials, Part 3: Innovative leadership for the next generation

July 18 2014 by

Horizontal leadership, formally known as complex systems leadership, can energize your church by fostering a culture of generative thinking and innovation.
“Generative thinking” is the result of encouraging people to continually and actively consider new and refreshing ideas about how to accomplish the mission of the church or organization.

Fostering such a culture will allow your members (agents) to interact at all levels, learning from one another, offering change possibilities (innovation and adaptation) needed to stay in touch with your constantly changing environment, and assisting the development of emergent new approaches that allow a sustainable future. These actions are functions of what we know as a “complex adaptive system” or CAS – the home of what I call “horizontal leadership.”

Four key characteristics of horizontal leadership have been noted in the previous two articles along with four key core values of millennials. The two lists complement each other well – that is, the four key characteristics of horizontal leadership directly address the four key values of millennials.

But you may ask what “horizontal leadership” is all about. What makes it any different from the typical leadership used by churches for decades?

While there is a large and growing body of theoretical research (complex systems leadership theory) behind the approach, several easy to understand facets of horizontal leadership apply to a church or organization.

The first is organizational learning. Every member (agent) of the church has some knowledge that is critical to the effective, authentic and contextually relevant function of the organization. No one has all knowledge, but all likely have some knowledge. In church, this is why we are a connected “body” of believers – to share the mind of Christ with one another.

Second is interaction. As knowledge is shared among the members, a culture of learning develops. Such learning is critical to addressing issues the church faces in relevant and authentic ways.

Third is innovation and adaptation. As organizational learning is openly and broadly exchanged, innovative ideas and adaptive solutions are arrived at naturally in respect to lesser church issues.

Fourth is emergence. As adaptive solutions are implemented with respect to smaller issues, they shed light on potential changes in organizational policy in a broad sense – changes that can keep a church relevant and sustainable in today’s rapidly changing world.

So, how does horizontal leadership express itself horizontally? This approach works by taking the typical top-down perspective and turning it on its side. Usually, decisions are made by a few at the top who often are well separated – organizationally or by some other factor such as age, marital status, expertise, etc. – from the context of a decision. Horizontal leadership engages those in the decision-making process who are closest to the decision context and gives them opportunities for input and even the ability to create adaptive solutions.

Here’s the “kicker.” In churches, every believer is indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who is intent on communicating the mind of Christ. Each of these believers also is resident in some ministry context in which they have direct experience. Few, if any of them, have all the answers, but all likely have some part of the answer. Together they are capable of finding a godly solution to any ministry issue confronting them. Is this not the biblical mandate of equipping the saints for the work of ministry unto unity and maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13)? Is this not soul competency in its most practical expression?

So what does the leadership in “horizontal leadership” look like? The following is a summary of research by two of the leaders in this field, James Hazy and Mary Uhl-Bien.

Administrative leadership

Horizontal leadership involves “top-down” administrative leaders in the course-grain oversight of the church. These are the leaders who decide and communicate the vision, values and ethics of the organization. By doing so, they set the boundaries of the organization and determine the height and breadth of the “canvas” upon which the church leaders will paint. They also have the responsibility to adopt effective emergent lower-level adaptations and form them into church policy.

Generative leadership

Horizontal leadership also involves “bottom-up” leaders in the fine-grain functioning of church processes and procedures. This is where organizational learning is applied to the multitudes of daily operations that connect the church with its mission. Here innovative thinking and adaptation lead to relevance and authenticity. Generative leadership is every member, youngest to oldest, interacting with the understanding that they consistently have a strong positive impact upon the direction of the church, bringing about change and enhancing its sustainability for the future.

Community-building leadership

Horizontal leadership builds community through the actions of leaders in the middle who enable generative leadership to interface with administrative leadership. In so doing, community-building leaders create an inclusive, diverse, inter-generational team that directly impacts their work and that indirectly impacts the entire church. Such an organizational community is highly attractive to its members, especially those who may typically be pigeonholed in low-level volunteer positions with little perceived impact – in other words, the millennial.

Horizontal leadership can vitally involve everyone in the church at some point in the decision-making process. All hold the ability to achieve, to develop many diverse relationships, to make a positive impact in the world, and to enjoy the trust of superiors. All are extended the chance to apply what they know toward innovative, relevant solutions that can build a sustainable future. All can be part of an authentic community that truly works together to make a better world.

This is a future-oriented present that the next generation of believers would love to join. In this community framework, many of the inter-generational issues we face in our churches today can be settled in a positive, healthy manner, with all being valued in the process.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Lindsay is associate pastor of education at Shadowbrook Baptist Church in Suwanee, Ga.)

Related Stories:

Millennials: Reversing the departure of a generation
Millennials, Part 2: Engaging & empowering the coming generation

7/18/2014 11:40:09 AM by | with 0 comments

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