July 2017

Why I’m staying in the Southern Baptist Convention

July 31 2017 by Gabriel C. Stovall, Baptist Press

Almost 24 hours after the back-to-back deaths of Alton Sterling and then Philando Castile by the trigger hand of police officers last summer, my Facebook inbox lit up.

Nearly a dozen people, who I called brothers in Christ, were saying they had had enough.
They were tired of watching black men get cut down by policemen’s bullets. They were nauseous, they said, of seeing white people scratch their collective heads trying to figure out why people of color were so traumatized by these deaths. And, equally so, they were confused why blacks weren’t seeing the side of the police in these matters – or at least giving those pledged to protect and serve the benefit of the doubt.

Gabriel Stovall

These inbox brothers were fed up. They were ready to take action. They didn’t care what it cost them.
These brothers were white Southern Baptists.
I met with one of these men, at his behest, at a Starbucks in downtown Atlanta, nestled closely between where both of us lead small congregations – mine, an historic, predominantly African American church in need of revitalization in a section of the city called the “Old Fourth Ward,” and his, an ethnically diverse church plant.
I spoke to him and he listened. He lamented to me and I listened. We both decided on an audacious goal: to find a way to pull out racism of all kinds by its roots, and to do it through the body of Christ.
We ended that conversation that day, equal parts heartbroken over the re-emerging racial tension in our nation and hopeful that even though we didn’t really know the answers to all of these matters, we knew of One who did.
We agreed to pray about next steps in starting a movement that didn’t seek to be “color blind,” but color-inclusive and color-embracing, at the foot of Christ’s cross. Several weeks later, my Facebook friend and I were joined by six other Southern Baptist pastors and leaders in the fellowship hall of my church, half black and half white.
There we ate together, discussed, vented, shouted, reasoned, agreed, disagreed, acknowledged our biases and what we perceived to be the biases of those whose skin and upbringing were not like ours.
It was uncomfortably productive to the point where we desired to do it again. And again. Our most recent meeting took place in the largest prison in Georgia after a tour we received from the prison’s director of chaplaincy – a black Southern Baptist who, several years earlier, became the first black associational missionary in Georgia and one of just a small handful of black directors of missions in Southern Baptist life.
We invited several others to the table, and when we told others of what we were doing, some expressed interest as well. Since our last meeting, while I’ve witnessed some extremely troubling mindsets and justifications over a myriad of issues, including racism, our current president, etc., I’ve also seen another side of the coin – a side that gives me hope.
It’s a side that causes me to daily dual with the inner dichotomy of empathizing with, and fighting for, continued civil progression of black people and people of color, while also reaching across the aisle to engage more people who believe like my Southern Baptist inbox friends.
What I’ve found is proof that old habits and mentalities die hard, whether you’re intentionally trying to eradicate them or not, and that the truth is often neither to the far left or right, but somewhere smack in the middle.
But I’ve also discovered that there are more than a few truly Christ-loving, white Southern Baptists who want to make full separation from the convention’s racist past and from what I call “political Christianity” – identifying your faith primarily through your political party, no matter what it is.
I’ve also found many who are humble enough to say, “Gabriel, I want to help pull down this nation’s racist stronghold, but I don’t know how. Can you help me?”
A black brother’s struggle
In mid-July I read an article published in The New York Times by a black brother in the gospel named Lawrence Ware, titled, “Why I’m leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.”
As I read it, I recognized many of his feelings of frustration, angst and disgust, particularly at what I considered to be needless semantical gymnastics around that much-publicized resolution at the SBC annual meeting against the racist Alt-Right movement.
I identified with his struggle to walk away from the convention. I’ve been a part of Southern Baptist life for almost eight years now. I serve as a part-time state missionary in Georgia for church planting and as a part-time campus ministries pastor for one of the most ethnically diverse universities in the state. I planted a church as a Southern Baptist pastor and have recently led my new congregation to connect with the convention.
But I’ll admit that the way some white evangelicals caped for President Donald Trump – despite so many reasons to leave his candidacy in the dust, as they would’ve done for a Democratic candidate with some of the same issues hovering over his/her head – and the selective, loud silence some have given to issues important to me as a black believer, black Southern Baptist and black father raising a black son, I have spent much time in prayer asking God to show me if I’m truly in the right place.
I was drawn to the convention because of its emphasis on ministry and missions. The substance over style approach to ministry was, and still is, refreshing.
And even despite its still predominantly white makeup, I saw and worked with diversity that I’d never had the privilege of working with before.
Like the Egyptian couple I consulted who were planting a church in a primarily Arabic-speaking part of metro Atlanta. Or a Hispanic mission that wanted to partner with my church plant to help us reach Spanish-speaking people in our context.
Or even the white pastor who opened his doors for my church plant, free of charge, and invited me to the table with a Vietnamese and Hispanic congregation, along with his own ethnically mixed membership, to create a Vacation Bible School-style sports camp that reached a rainbow of ethnicities in a culturally diverse Atlanta suburb.
Every time I was tempted to make that call and say, “I’m done,” or to just walk away quietly, it was those images – and more – that crept into my spirit, speaking what I believe to be the words of God in answer to my inquisitive prayers, telling me, “You can’t go. I’ve got more work for you here.”
‘Stay where you are’
This past Sunday I preached to my congregation a message out of Mark chapter 5 titled, “Tell Your Testimony.” In it, I told the story of a demon-possessed man whom everyone in town had left for dead because of the severity of his demonic condition.
As I walked through the discussion of the text, I noted several points the text showed me about testimonies, about telling people what Christ has done for us and can do for others.
The first thing I told them was that testimonies can get you in trouble, as evidenced by how the people in the area of the Gadarenes sought to run Jesus out of town because of how He permitted the demons in the man to exit his body and jump into a herd of pigs, causing the pigs to run off a cliff and drown.
The people were upset at what Jesus did because the death of the pigs caused a dent in their income. In the end, they were more concerned about keeping their financial security and comfort zones intact than they were seeing an authentic move of God.
But that wasn’t the most powerful part of the text for me.
Next, I shared how sometimes testimonies can change your plans. And this is the part that, I believe, speaks directly to me regarding my place in Southern Baptist life.
After the man was healed and released from demon possession, he had a new lease on life – a new and exciting testimony about how Jesus can heal anyone because of how He healed him! He wanted to go on the road with this itinerant Nazarene and be his hype man, corroborating every word Jesus spoke and every miracle He wrought with personal experience.
But Jesus’ words halted the man’s steps and changed his plans. Jesus said, in essence, “No, you can’t go with Me. I want you to stay where you are and tell your testimony, and be a reminder of what I want to do in this region for those who believe in Me.”
Keep in mind, this is the same region that was mad with what Christ did to heal this man. It’s the same region where people who knew this man’s past condition were already afraid of him and probably weren’t too receptive to hearing any more about the exploits of this pig-killing Jesus.
Yet Jesus said, “stay.” He said go to the places where it may be uncomfortable, where some will not like what you have to say and where some may try to ostracize you for saying it, and give your testimony that if I can change your heart, I can change anyone’s heart if they let Me.
So here’s my testimony.
Once upon a time, I knew nothing about the Southern Baptist Convention except that it was founded in 1845 by white men who didn’t want much to do with anyone who looked like me. That’s all I knew, and it was enough for me to stay away. In my mind, no good could come from being a part of such an organization.
But then, one by one and person by person, God brought people into my life who began to change my heart. I met spiritually ambidextrous black men in the convention who knew how to preserve their own culture even while engaging another.
I met white men who some would consider part of the “old guard,” who didn’t just see me as a black face to potentially meet a “See, we aren’t racist. We hired this guy” quota. They saw me as a truly anointed vessel for Christ, different in many ways from themselves, except the way that mattered most.
I met a room full of college students through my campus ministry who wanted to find out how to apply the truth of the true Christ – not Democratic Jesus or Republican Jesus – to our nation’s maladies, starting at our own campus.
I met millennial Southern Baptists of all ethnicities, who some would consider an emerging “new guard,” who don’t want to see business as usual. Some of each – the old guard and the new – have allowed me to preach in their churches, consult with their leaders, stay in their homes and eat their food.
Others, predominantly white congregations, have come to help our mostly black church with an aging building, with the only expected reciprocity being that we come to their city and help them reach their ever-diversifying community for Christ.
And there’s more, but I don’t have space to tell it all. I can say this, though: Every time I get the itch to walk away, I think of the hearts who have been changed by dialogue with others who are different and shown true, tangible love even while struggling to understand – starting with my own heart.
It’s nowhere near perfect. But then, what group of people – Christians or otherwise – is?
So while I fully understand Bro. Lawrence’s decision and the reasons behind it, I also understand why I sense the voice of Jesus telling me the same thing He told that formerly demon possessed man: Stay put and tell your testimony. Stay put and share with others what you’ve already seen me do in your heart and in the hearts of others as a signpost of what I shall do in the hearts of those who will allow Me.
Staying doesn’t mean 100 percent agreement. Staying is not the same as placating to that which may be wrong. Staying doesn’t mean indifference to the injustices that still plague people of color. Staying doesn’t mean siding with one of our two corrupt political parties. And staying doesn’t mean turning my back on who I am as a black man. Only a short sighted person could think that.
For me, staying put can be boiled down to one concept: my trust in the fact that Jesus knows more than I do about the power of my testimony. You can’t always run from everything and everyone that you deem problematic – not if you are to follow Christ’s example. And that’s what it comes down to for me. Sometimes the best way to work for change is from within.
In the end, I love black people. But I also love white people. And Hispanic people and Asian people and people whose ethnicity I can’t quite pinpoint. I love the church, both local and universal, and yes, I’ve grown to love the Southern Baptist Convention. But I can’t rank any love that I have over my love for Christ and the work of promoting unity in His body.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Atlanta pastor Gabriel C. Stovall, having read a much-publicized black minister’s decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, recounts the dialogue and changes of heart he has experienced in the SBC that stir him to remain in the convention. Gabriel Stovall, online at GabrielCStovall.com, is senior pastor of Butler Street Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward community and a state missionary for church planting and church revitalization in the metro Atlanta area through the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He also serves as the mission board’s Baptist campus ministries pastor at Clayton State University in Morrow, Ga.)

7/31/2017 9:22:43 AM by Gabriel C. Stovall, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Spirit and truth in worship

July 28 2017 by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press

In the Christian life, balance can be difficult to achieve.
Whether it’s reconciling God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, conceptualizing the divine and human natures of Christ or trusting God without slipping into personal complacency, the one who finds balance finds a good thing.

Jason K. Allen

Similarly, the 21st-century church would do well to find balance in its worship of Christ. Survey the Christian landscape in North America and you often find churches leaning too heavily in one of two directions.
Some churches are inclined toward truth, emphasizing doctrinal straightness, in-depth preaching and rigorous Bible study. These disciplines are good, but not enough. As A.W. Tozer said, “You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically, and as empty as one spiritually.”
Conversely, other churches tend toward the emotive and affective. Careful Bible study and biblical, expository preaching are displaced by emotional impulses.
Either of these overreaches can tilt the worship service in an unhealthy direction, hindering the growth of God’s people and leaving the worship service in want.
Yet, what Christ has joined together – worship in spirit and truth – no man should separate. Rightly understood, biblical truth and heartfelt worship complement each other. Indeed, theology does inspire doxology.
This balance is precisely what Jesus expressed in John 4 in His encounter with the woman at the well. At first glance, this lady looks ill-equipped to worship God. A Samaritan by birth and an adulteress by choice, she’s unlikely to be on the short list for any first-century church’s worship committee.
Though the Samaritan woman inquired of Jesus as to the proper location of worship, Jesus points her to the real components of worship, saying, “An hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).
“In spirit” is a call to worship the Lord from one’s inner person, from the heart, so to speak. Though not necessarily emotional, such worship touches the emotion and impacts the affection. Having been converted and filled with the Holy Spirit does not ensure that one worships in spirit, but it does mean one is capable of worshiping in spirit.
“In truth” means faithful worship is done in accordance with and in light of God’s revelation, His holy Word. The public reading of scripture and the preaching of God’s Word bring the truth to bear on the gathered congregation, thus informing and inspiring worship. Like two wings on an aircraft, both spirit and truth are essential for biblical, Christ-honoring worship to occur.
Worship is not a condiment, meant merely to flavor the Christian life. The worship of Christ is at the heart of the Christian life. As followers of Jesus Christ, we await the final worship scene, when for all eternity the redeemed will declare, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
In the meantime, let’s be found faithful to worship – in spirit and in truth – and to be about extending the number of redeemed, thus enhancing the worship of Christ for time and eternity.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason K. Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at his website, jasonkallen.com.)

7/28/2017 8:27:29 AM by Jason K. Allen, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Humanitarian aid: Making sure it reaches needy souls

July 27 2017 by Pat Melancon, Baptist Press

It was not how things were supposed to happen. We were responding to a disastrous earthquake that hit a remote area of Central Asia and killed thousands of men, women and children. Our three trucks loaded with provisions had just rounded a treacherous bend in the mountain road, skirting the precipice of a canyon.

BGR photo
A young boy carries a food packet for his family in Central Asia displaced by armed conflict. Southern Baptists provided the aid through their gifts to Global Hunger Relief.

Suddenly, the two trucks in front of me began slowing down. As I slowed, I watched as a boulder rolled down the mountain toward the front of the first truck. The driver opened his door and ran from the still-moving vehicle. The driver of the second truck did the same. Both trucks puttered to a stop.
Within a matter of seconds, a multitude was running down the slope toward the abandoned trucks. It was an ambush.
I jumped out of my vehicle and yelled to the drivers, “Just let them take it!” The attackers smothered the trucks, grabbing anything they could carry. Young children in the mob joined the fray, only to have their items stolen by stronger looters. Within minutes everything was gone. The vandals were back over the mountain and, again, in hiding.
Catastrophic relief attempts like this incident not only are heartbreaking; they occur simply because of a lack of good planning. The result is that resources are squandered and good opportunities are lost to truly help people in need.
When things go wrong, it’s certainly good to take a step back and evaluate. But an even better approach is to seek training first and, thereby, avoid preventable missteps.
After seeing this happen time and again, it would be easy to get discouraged. But in the face of our struggles, my organization – Baptist Global Response – has labored over the years to figure out how to strategically provide aid to people in a way that actually helps. Our aim is to model and train others how to give a cup of water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42, Mark 9:41) in a way that shows His heart for the world and also recognizes the world’s need for Christ.
Many of the common reasons that aid efforts fail to accomplish their goals result from poor planning:

  • A predistribution assessment of the situation is not done.
  • A preselected list of the most vulnerable victims and recipients of aid is not created.
  • A predetermined security plan with the community is not agreed upon.
  • A restricted access distribution point is not utilized.

That said, a bit of good strategy planning can facilitate a smooth process for aid efforts:

  • Assess the need with both national partners and the affected community.
  • Allow them to tell you what is needed and who should receive the aid.
  • Predistribute coupons to the recipients for them to redeem the day of the distribution.
  • Have the recipients line up and check in before things start.
  • Place the check-in point a good distance from the distribution point.
  • Distribute the items in a restricted access location (not the back of a truck).
  • Plan to distribute everything within one to two hours.

You would be hard-pressed to find a leader in the New Testament who did not support meeting needs, yet they never lost the emphasis on the greater spiritual need. The Gospels abound with instances in which truth was shared and needs were met. Numerous people came to Christ because of some sort of need. In the Gospels, Jesus shared the truth about Himself 150-plus times. In nearly 100 of those times, He also brought physical healing and/or relief from hunger.
Luke wrote in Acts that the church held all things in common to assist those in need (Acts 2:43-47). The result of such concern in the church was the conversion of many. Regional groups of Christians contributed to assist those in need from famine, such as Macedonia and Achaia (Romans 15:6). Paul connected the physical and spiritual needs of people (Romans 15:27). He and Barnabas – following the instructions of the Jerusalem Council and its leaders, James, Peter and John – saw assisting the poor as important (Galatians 2:7-10).
Baptist Global Response equips responders to plan for the safe distribution of aid because well-planned training helps maximize “cup-of-water” opportunities to aid limitless Kingdom expansion. Humanitarian crises are indeed tragic, but attempts to bring relief in their wake should not be. Opportunities to deliver aid are also opportunities to reveal Kingdom principles of truth, grace and wisdom to people whose needs are physical but also critically spiritual.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Pat Melancon, who has served in international disasters for more than 25 years, is the Asia Rim area director for Baptist Global Response, online at gobgr.org.)

7/27/2017 9:31:07 AM by Pat Melancon, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Navigating Mexico’s pre- and post-Hispanic identity

July 26 2017 by Jennifer May, Baptist Press

For half an hour, I had enjoyed hearing a jewelry maker describe how she creates unique pieces to sell. I prayed with her and for her, and she responded by giving me several hugs as we walked out of her store. I hoped our visit would help lay the foundation for sharing the gospel with her.
And then she left me speechless by explaining that her store is a temple to Tezcatlipoca, the ancient god of darkness. She bowed and told me that, on closing every day, she gives thanks to all her gods for their grace to her.

IMB photo
Candles illuminate a shrine to “La Santa Muerte,” or “the holy death” – one of the many manifestations of syncretism stemming from Mexico’s pre- and post-Hispanic identity.

The shock at casual polytheism showed in my face, and she tried to explain that of course she believes in the old gods. These are her religious roots.
My visit to this Mexican city had already stunned me a few days earlier. During lunch, one of my coworkers observed a group of people in the town square, dressed in indigenous costumes and dancing enthusiastically to the beat of insistent drumming. I asked the waiter what was happening, and he replied that they were dancing to honor the snake god of the moon. For the waiter, this form of dance was a lively celebration of his heritage and a form of respect to his ancestors – a way to remember and connect with his true Mexican self.
Mexico lives in the tension between its pre- and post-Hispanic identities. Its pre-Hispanic cultures lived in large, warring city-states, with complex religions and sophisticated worldviews. The Spanish arrived, conquered, intermarried and left their mark in a caste system based on percentage of European blood. Even today, light skin, light eyes and European features are generally favored over an indigenous appearance.
In their haste to convert the indigenous peoples, they overlaid native religions with Roman Catholicism. They built churches on top of sacred sites, incorporated Mexican customs into Catholic rituals and developed Mexican expressions of Catholicism attempting to force conversion while lessening its sting.
With a predominantly Catholic influence, many living in Mexico City and elsewhere are involved in syncretistic worship. Throughout the town of Tepito, believers in “La Santa Muerte” or “the holy death” frequent the chapels of this skeletal figure, which is often depicted holding the world in one hand and a scythe in the other. Candles illuminate the shrine in honor of the idol.
In some ways the Catholic advance succeeded. The Virgin of Guadalupe – the “Queen of Heaven” and “Empress of Mexico” – unquestionably represents the greatest attempt to bridge pre-Hispanic and Catholic identities. The Templo Expiatorio in Leon, Mexico, features a picture of Juan Diego, the indigenous man who saw visions of Guadalupe. Beneath his image is the inscription, “Beloved Juan Diego ... Teach us the way that leads to the Brown Virgin, so that she may receive us into the intimate part of her heart.”
Pope John Paul II, author of that quote, recognized that the “Brown Virgin” met the need for a compassionate, heavenly figure who didn’t look like the conquerors, but the conquered. This tender, feminine, Catholic and, above all, Mexican presence has attracted millions of devoted followers – guadalupanos – who love her like a mother and look to her for intercession, care and protection.
Saints and other apparitions of Mary attract followers as well. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims journey to see the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos in her basilica every January. At other times of the year, her followers come for mandas, or required acts of humility for saving them or helping them in some way. Many men enter the basilica on their knees, traversing the entire building to kneel at her altar – unusual in a country where religion is often the women’s domain.
Beneath the veneer of Catholicism, though, the original religions are alive and well. In every important celebration, groups arrive with ancient, indigenous dances and costumes to honor their virgin or saint. The late Tlamatini Andres Segura Granados, an honored leader and teacher of Aztec philosophy and dance, argued that the Mexican people subverted Catholic images to preserve their heritage and beliefs. He believes that the Virgin of Guadalupe actually represents Tonantzin, the earth and water mother, wearing her colors and symbols. Indigenous people who make that connection dance to Tonantzin, not Mary.
It should be no surprise that young people, artists and others dissatisfied with Catholic traditions search for an unconquered Mexicanness by reaching back to gods like Tezcatlipoca. Like my acquaintance in the jewelry shop, they’re digging for their roots.
Churches, in seeking to reach people of Mexican heritage with the gospel, can be sensitive to this broken identity in several ways:

  • Educate your mission teams. Be amateur anthropologists and research the culture before you come. Use what you learn to pray with discernment.
  • Get to know your local Hispanic community and be on the lookout for images of Guadalupe or other virgins, candles with saints on them, etc. Ask questions to understand these things.
  • Listen attentively and find out what people really believe, not just what they say that might divert you from sharing the gospel.
  • Be willing to invest your time. I take people through the book of Genesis because it gives us the roots of all humanity. It reflects the gospel and deals with God’s mercy and communication with individuals, along with man’s polytheism, syncretism and attempts to manipulate God through religious acts. These topics all speak to the Mexican heart.
  • Stick to the Bible and be patient with people encouraging them as they make their own observations. Help them gain confidence in their ability to understand the Bible. The Bible itself is sufficient to dismantle false doctrines they’ve learned.
  • Learn to point to Jesus from anywhere in the Bible. Many of my Catholic friends want to be able to trust in the Bible, but don’t know it’s trustworthy. The prophecies about Jesus from beginning to end help them have confidence in God’s Word.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jennifer May, who describes herself as an amateur anthropologist, is currently living in her fourth country. This article first appeared at the International Mission Board’s img.org website.)

7/26/2017 9:50:42 AM by Jennifer May, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastor’s wife thankful for opportunities

July 24 2017 by Beth Harris, Guest Column

One of the greatest struggles for a pastor’s family is the church’s dual role, somewhat unique to the United States, as a leading non-profit institution as well as a Kingdom body of believers. I spoke about this topic last year to a group of ministry wives. It is stressful to be expected to attend every other non-profit fund-raiser in your town. It is stressful to add additional demands to an already overcrowded schedule. It is stressful to take public positions that bring media condemnation. As a wife, the stability and calm I crave is disrupted by all of the above. I just want to be able to go to the YMCA on Thursday night in peace!

Mark and Beth Harris

Recent events, however, have given me pause and caused me to consider the question: What if it weren’t so? What would my community look like if its pastors were marginalized?
How would my life be different today had my husband, Mark Harris, senior pastor of Charlotte First Baptist Church, said no in 2012 when North Carolina Values Coalition Executive Director Tammy Fitzgerald approached him about spearheading the work to pass the Marriage Amendment to the N.C. Constitution?
First, I would have missed the opportunity to be salt and light to young people in the hard-charging world of professional politics. There were times I failed at this, but God took my heart’s desire and prayer to be a Christ-like influence and blessed it nonetheless.
On a recent weekend, a young staffer from Mark’s congressional campaign caught me at the N.C. GOP State Convention and shared with me how the opportunity to be part of our campaign had blessed him. I got to read another staff member’s email stating his tremendous respect for Mark, and I got to hear his appreciation expressed to me just for knowing his name and taking time to personally thank him.
One of these young people had begun visiting our church prior to his move out of Charlotte for another job.
Second, I would have missed the opportunity to know and pray for our elected officials. Scripture admonishes us to pray for those in authority over us, but I confess I obeyed this admonition erratically.
Now that I have had an opportunity to meet many of our elected officials at various events, I pray for them regularly. During the campaign to destroy our state’s economy over House Bill 2, it was heart breaking to hear from a legislator about attacks his son endured at a large public high school in Charlotte.
I was able to keep my small group, my Sunday School class and others informed and to remind us to pray specifically by name for our elected officials, along with their wives and children. I’ve been able to send a quick note or give a word of thanks or encouragement to people who usually hear from their constituents only when there is a problem to be addressed.
Finally, and most significantly, the public square would have missed my husband’s leadership skills, honed by 30 years of ministry. Today, when anyone can be ordained online, there is vast ignorance of the scope of a pastor’s job.
There is the arduous budget process, which has to operate by consensus and receive a vote of the members. There is the facility, the technology, the volunteer management, the committees and the programs. But beyond all of that, there is the heart of a pastor. While a pastor carries a huge administrative load, he is not primarily a businessman. The goal of a businessman is to make a profit. The goal of government is to secure the God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who better than a pastor, whose goal is to shepherd people, to lead the fight to secure those rights? Who better than a pastor to prod those in power to remember the people they represent? Who better than a pastor to build relationships that lead to productive conversations around the issues of our day?
If you serve in ministry, my prayer would be that you will find your place in the larger community and that God will give you the fortitude to maintain it. If you are a member of a congregation, I would ask that you embrace the benefit to the Kingdom when your pastor is allowed out of the bubble of the church, whatever that may look like. Much has been given to us in ministry in the United States in terms of respect in our communities. Let us embrace that boldly.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Harris announced recently that he is resigning as pastor of Charlotte FBC while he considers another congressional race. His last day will be Sept. 30, and he will be interim pastor until a new pastor is found or Dec. 31.)

7/24/2017 2:08:49 PM by Beth Harris, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Missionary practice

July 21 2017 by Mark Snowden, Baptist Press

I keep wondering about the role of mission education for equipping more workers in the harvest.
What if, say, Peyton Manning reached 24 years of age before deciding to become a National Football League (NFL) quarterback? Yet, we have well-meaning people surrendering to vocational missions sometimes with little more than a couple of volunteer mission trips under their belts.

Mark Snowden

What if every church member were trained as a missionary? What if parents ran drills to witness to the lost and serve the needy and talked up how to make disciple-makers every Saturday afternoon for five hours? Maybe we need to call mission education by the name “missionary practice.”
There is a need for mission education that is not about missions, but equips all church members for mission. It was a joy to meet with our state’s missions leaders earlier this month. We met to pray and talk over a new day of mission education, one that would draw from orientation guides that both prepare and send teams of adults, teens and children into God’s mission.
And mission education must be tracked and held accountable for working to bring spiritual transformation. If every believer is a missionary, then churches must start using different ways to measure success. Right now, we keep track of baptisms, Sunday morning worship attendance, Sunday School attendance and giving to the church. These, however, are all attractional not missional measurements.
Let me propose that we track spiritual conversations engaged in, new believers who lead someone else to Christ, money invested in evangelizing and missions support, new small groups begun, new small group leaders trained, new pastors trained to shepherd new churches and multiple new churches started each year by church members.
God uses many things to call us to join His mission. I once surveyed International Mission Board career missionaries to get a timeline of their missions education and influences. Each of them, when in their early 20s, had heard a sermon on Isaiah 6. Almost all of them had been Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action too. They took at least one seminary class on missions. And they had all taken at least one volunteer mission trip. Churches would do well to look at opportunities to disciple their members in missions so that when God invites them, they are well-prepared.
Peyton Manning’s father was and his younger brother still is an NFL quarterback. Archie Manning practiced and practiced with his boys. He was their unofficial coach for years of football experiences from youth leagues to high school, college and into the pros. What does that look like in your family? In your church? It’s not too late to get started equipping members as missionaries.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Snowden serves as director of missional leadership for the Cincinnati Area Baptist Association. He also trains church members as missionaries in what is called Workers in the Harvest.)

7/21/2017 10:44:36 AM by Mark Snowden, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Is your pastor able to retire?

July 20 2017 by Randy Bennett, Baptist Press

A few years ago my daughter, Sandy, and I decided to learn more about the stock market. We kept hearing about a well-publicized seminar on the subject that was coming to town. After thinking and praying about it for a few months, we decided to sign up.

Randy Bennett

We hoped to learn how to invest small amounts of money in the stock market, since neither of us had much money to invest. We received a tiny little silver bar worth a few dollars for signing up. We excitedly entered the conference room area. The next two days were a blur.
Initially, we were given an incredibly fast and unhelpful presentation on how to invest in stocks. The rest of the time, we were being sold a life-changing $30,000 training program that would give us the actual details on how to invest in the market. I kept thinking, “If you can make so much money investing in the stock market, why do you need to sell an expensive training program? Just go make more money and forget the seminars.”
At one point in the seminar Sandy and I looked at each other with a “knowing” look. Interpretation: This whole thing is a waste of time. We got up and left. After getting about 10 feet from the exit door we both started laughing. What a crazy seminar!
We did come away learning something very important about retirement plans from the textbook we were told to read:
There was a time when a worker would commit to working for one employer for a lifetime. In exchange the company would provide a retirement for the worker. This was called “defined benefit.” The amount of the retirement was based on the number of years worked and an average of his last three years’ income. Government employees and a limited number of union jobs are just about the only current workers who are part of a Defined Benefit program.
Several decades ago, a different retirement program was put in place for most Americans: “Defined Contribution.” This means that a company no longer provided a defined or promised retirement. Instead, a company would invest money into the employee’s retirement program based on how much money the employee invested in the program. If, for example, an employee invested five percent of his/her income in an employer-sponsored retirement account like a 403(b) or 401(k), the company would match it. If the employee invested zero percent of his/her income in a retirement account, the company would not contribute either. So, the burden rests on the employee, not the employer.
What does that have to do with pastors and church staff? Your pastor and staff only have whatever they have invested in their retirement account and what the church, as their employer, invests into the retirement account. There is no denominational pension plan for your pastor or staff person.
So, if your pastor serves for 30 years, the only retirement he has to live on is what he and you have invested in a retirement account. There is no long-term defined benefit.
As Baby Boomer pastors enter into their retirement years, many will live in severe poverty. Many will have Social Security, except for those who chose to opt out back in the 1980s. Unless they personally invested in a retirement account – along with the church – they will have little to live on.
You may even get frustrated when your pastor doesn’t retire when he approaches age 70. Many pastors are fully aware that they can never afford to retire so they keep working long past their prime.
As Southern Baptists, we should be doing our part to take care of our own. And the good news is that we do offer a strong retirement plan option for our ministers to utilize with GuideStone Financial Resources. Their Church Retirement Plan, a defined contribution plan, was designed exclusively for pastors and other church staff members.
Additionally, GuideStone is committed to helping our ministers and staff prepare for retirement by offering services at no additional cost to pastors and employees, including assistance with minister’s housing allowance and investment decisions.
But it’s not enough just to give them access to a GuideStone retirement plan – we need to help them contribute as well.
Has your church been generous to your pastor and his wife? Has your church consistently invested in your pastor’s retirement with GuideStone? It is important to know that if your church doesn’t do so, your pastor may enter into retirement with little money to live on.
Jesus’ admonition comes to mind: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Be generous. Don’t be greedy. God will bless you and provide for the needs of the church as you provide for the needs of your pastor and staff.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy L. Bennett is director of missions for the Kern County Southern Baptist Association in Bakersfield, Calif., and immediate past president of the California Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/20/2017 10:44:31 AM by Randy Bennett, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Missionary will remember ‘those who are praying’

July 19 2017 by Kevin Singerman, Baptist Press

My heart was racing as my wife and I stood and waited.
Memories from the past several years shot through my mind. Time after time I had heard the cry, “They are perishing without the gospel! Who will go?” And time after time I had responded. But God’s quiet reply to my soul was simply, “Wait on the Lord.”

Photo by Matt Jones
Sent by FBC Fairborn, Ohio, the Singermans will take the gospel to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Now, in this moment, David Platt was urging the audience to consider how God could use them – and my response could finally be, “I am going!”
During the Sending Celebration at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in Phoenix, the air was thick with a passion for the glory of God. Then the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) introduced Southern Baptists’ newest missionaries, and my name was one of 31 called. The lights came to life on stage, illuminating our faces, but it was our hearts that nearly burst within us as we stepped forward.
We were being sent out.
All at once the emotion of the long journey to this moment, the feelings of complete unworthiness and the joy of being able to take the love of Christ to unreached peoples cascaded over me.
Then, as the Sending Celebration came to a close, each missionary was surrounded by a sea of people praying for God’s blessing on their future ministries. It was an incredible and tangible picture of God supporting us through His people.
Person after person hugged us tightly and promised to pray for us and our children. As they returned to their seats, and we worked our way out of the auditorium, I was struck by the fact that they may never know the impact they had on our hearts in those few moments. The experience that night affirmed three truths for me in regard to Southern Baptists and sending that I’d like to share.
The SBC needs cooperation to send more missionaries.
It is abundantly clear that Southern Baptists love their missionaries. During the Sending Celebration, my wife and I had to pause in order to allow the thunderous applause to abate before beginning our short testimony. Each missionary stood and shared before thousands of people who each represented one of our 47,000-plus Southern Baptist churches. All of those congregations have united in order to cooperate together in the sending of missionaries, and I experienced it firsthand. It’s why the SBC exists, and we must maintain our focus in sending increasing numbers of missionaries to unreached peoples and places around the world.
Southern Baptist churches must provide our missionaries.
There is a common misconception that it is the IMB that sends missionaries to the unreached peoples of the world. The truth is that it’s our local churches that send us in partnership with the IMB, and that’s an important distinction. Each missionary is prayed for and commissioned by his or her local church because those churches are made up of the people who know and love them best. They have watched them mature spiritually and put their gifts into action. They have encouraged them, cried with them, discipled them and given financially to help them get to the field. Though I will be working with the IMB, it is First Baptist Church in Fairborn, Ohio, that is sending my family out. And our hearts surge with thankfulness for the incredible church family they continue to be for us!
Southern Baptists must pray continually for their missionaries.
Having grown up on the mission field, I have unique insight into ministry overseas. Granted, I was young when we lived internationally, so I was not involved in every detail of ministry. But we encountered trials and difficulties together as a family. Thankfully, my parents worked incredibly hard to forge relationships with believers in the States who would hold us up in prayer. No matter the opposition or frustration, we knew we had people who, not only cared for us, but were actively before the throne of God on our behalf.
Now, as I am preparing to start my own missionary journey alongside my wife and three children, securing prayer partners is of utmost importance. Without the support of praying people and churches here in the United States, our ministry in Sub-Saharan Africa will fall short. Our task is an impossible one unless God goes before us and sustains us.
Being a part of the Sending Celebration at the SBC in Phoenix will be a memory cemented in the story of my life. When ministry becomes difficult, when sickness attacks, when we are tempted to shrink back instead of standing boldly as representatives of the gospel sent by our Southern Baptist brethren, we will remember the faces of those who are praying. Their words will echo in our minds and God will give us the strength to carry on in our work.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin, his wife, Victoria, and their three children have been appointed to serve as International Mission Board missionaries in Sub-Saharan Africa. They spent seven years in youth ministry at First Baptist Church in Fairborn, Ohio, before following God’s call to church planting. Kevin also was active with the Greater Dayton Association of Baptists, helping to organize outreach events to help grow teenagers and adults in evangelism.)

7/19/2017 10:10:46 AM by Kevin Singerman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Seat belts for your soul

July 18 2017 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

I have a friend, near my age, whose father (I’ll call him “Bob”) was a World War II fighter pilot who survived being shot down. He also spent 12 hours adrift in the Mediterranean as one of the few survivors when the Germans torpedoed the transport ship he was on.

David Jeremiah

Like many of “the Greatest Generation,” Bob was a tough cookie who didn’t need anybody telling him how to be “safe.”
In the early 1980s, long after the war, Bob retired from his job and treated himself and his wife to a new Cadillac to enjoy on trips. Much to his annoyance, Bob discovered that his Caddy came with the new-fangled, government-required seat belts. The dealer wouldn’t remove the seat belts (that was illegal) so, as soon as Bob got his new car home, he removed them himself.
Bob wasn’t the only person in that generation who didn’t take kindly to being told to wear seat belts. But time has proven them wrong. In 1977 federal law mandated that by 1983 all new cars (like Bob’s Cadillac) had to come equipped with seat belts. And since the use of seat belts became law, traffic fatalities have fallen steadily.
Obviously, we should always wear a seat belt. It’s smart, it’s safe and it’s the law (Romans 13:1).

Seat belts for your soul

What if I told you there’s a safety precaution for your soul? There are two prerequisites for serving Christ faithfully: being alive physically and being healthy spiritually. Auto seat belts can help us remain safe physically, but what about a seat belt for the soul?
Just like the dashboard bells, chimes and lights in our cars, the Bible is also filled with “alerts” – commands, exhortations, warnings and instructions for us to heed.
But I want to focus here on what may be the most effective but least employed safety belt in the Kingdom of God: mutual accountability. Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts us to “consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.”
Let me recommend three ways to assemble together to promote accountability and the safety of your soul. The standard auto seat belt is called a three-point system because it connects in three places: both sides of the car seat and over the shoulder. Likewise, there are three ways you and I must be connected to ensure safety for our soul:

  • Corporate accountability. By simply attending worship every Sunday you will see and converse with people who can affirm your health and well-being. In other words, by just attending worship you demonstrate that you are “alive and well.” That’s not a lot of accountability, but it’s a start.
  • Family accountability. Here, I’m referring to your spiritual family. Every Christian needs to be involved in an extended family-sized group – call it Sunday School, a fellowship class or a home-based group that meets weekly (or regularly). In this group you can do what you can’t do in a worship service: talk, interact, contribute, ask questions, get answers, participate in serving others, use your spiritual gifts and so on. Families are a natural source of accountability.
  • Personal accountability. There are some things that require a more intimate level of accountability. Every Christian needs a few soulmates – close, trusted and faithful friends who love unconditionally. These friends will pray, weep and even wound when needed (Proverbs 27:6); they will let you say, “I’m struggling and need your help.”

Do you have your three-point “soul belt” in place? Like the chiming of a seat belt reminder, accountability can be annoying. But remember: The life you save by being accountable may be your own.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder and host of “Turning Point for God.” For more information on Turning Point, visit DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers; for other reprint requests, contact Myrna Davis at mdavis@tursningpointonline.org.)

7/18/2017 11:23:20 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

A family of churches

July 17 2017 by Curtis Cook, Baptist Press

I’m regularly asked by younger ministers, seminary students and prospective members of our church, “Why would a church want to be a part of a denomination?”
(Yes, I know that the Southern Baptist Convention’s structure is unique and not technically a denomination.) There was a time when I asked the very same question. I think it is a good and reasonable question for a person to consider.

Curtis Cook

As I reflect on the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Phoenix, I am reminded again of the value that comes by being in a family of churches and encouraged on a number of fronts by what is happening in this family.
I was reminded again that we can do more together. There are certainly things that our local congregation can and should do on our own or with other churches in our community but there are also limitations to what we can do by ourselves. As I participated in the meeting and interacted with people from around the country representing so many different congregations, state conventions and entities, I was encouraged by the work of the gospel that we can do together that far exceeds what we could do if we all only worked individually.
I was encouraged again by the ministry that is being done through the various entities of our convention. When you hear the reports and observe the work of International Mission Board (IMB), North American Mission Board (NAMB), Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources and our seminaries, there is so much good Kingdom work that is being accomplished. We see a glimpse of this throughout the year as our local congregation works with some of these entities, but when we gather each year and hear the broader picture of what is being done, I am even more thankful for their faithful work. As one who planted a church in cooperation with NAMB several years ago, I was so thankful for the report of the excellent work that is being done and I was deeply moved as we were able to participate in the IMB Sending Celebration.
I was blessed by the increasing diversity among our family of churches. We still have significant work to do this in this area but I was encouraged by interactions with brothers and sisters from many different ethnic backgrounds and nations from around the world who are a part of local churches, and I was personally blessed by conversations with pastors and church planters from all over North America – from Alaska to Montreal, Florida, Montana, California and so many other states. I’m thankful for a family of churches that wants to take the gospel to every city and town and to every people group on this continent.
Of course, we are not, by any means, a family without our frustrations and flaws. There will always be challenges as we try to work together. We saw some of that in the situation with the resolution to denounce the anti-gospel movement of the alt-right. I won’t go into the details of that since it has been covered by so many, but I am truly thankful that in the end this family spoke overwhelming to our opposition to racism and our awareness that we still have work to do in this area.
As I left the heat of Phoenix for the cooler temperatures of New England, I was again thankful for the family that is able to lock arms together for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Curtis Cook is senior pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass., and the Cooperative Program catalyst for the Northeast region.)

7/17/2017 12:21:29 PM by Curtis Cook, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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