June 2012

How were the books of the New Testament chosen?

June 8 2012 by Timothy Paul Jones, Guest Column

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Suppose that you became a Christian in the second century A.D. You’ve heard the story of a divine being who died on a cross and rose from the dead. Through baptism, you’ve openly identified yourself with His followers. Now, you want to learn more about this deity. Yet you quickly realize that some people who call themselves Christians” understand Jesus very differently from the Christians in your congregation. In fact, one nearby group that claims the name “Christian” also says that Jesus wasn’t actually a human being – he was a spirit that only seemed human!

How would you decide who was right?

As a 21st century Christian, the most reasonable reply seems to be, “Read your New Testament!” The problem is, most Christians in the second century couldn’t read. Even if you were one of the privileged few who possessed the capacity to read and write, you wouldn’t personally own a Bible. Your only “Bible” would have been found in an armarion – a specially constructed cabinet with niched shelves for scrolls and codices – that stayed in the house where your congregation most often gathered. The armarion would likely have sheltered a copy of the Greek Old Testament and perhaps a couple dozen other sacred scrolls or codices.

But it’s possible that not all of these texts would have been identical to the 27 books that you find in New Testaments today.

To be sure, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s letters, and probably John’s first letter would have had a place in the armarion. But the cabinet could lack a few writings that your New Testament includes – the letter to the Hebrews and maybe Peter’s second epistle, for example, or a couple of John’s letters. A quirky allegory entitled The Shepherd might have made an appearance in your armarion. You might even find a letter or two from a Roman pastor named Clement.

Do you sense the dilemma that faced first- and second-century Christians? How did they maintain a clear and consistent faith in the shadow of so many competing claims? And who decided on the texts that we call the New Testament today?

The question isn’t whether God had any part in choosing the books; the question is, “By what human means did these texts come to be viewed as authoritative?”

Conspiracy theorists and skeptical scholars claim that no definite set of texts existed until the fourth or fifth centuries A.D. Agnostic professor Bart Ehrman claims:

“We are able to pinpoint the first time that any Christian of record listed the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as the books of the New Testament – neither more nor fewer. Surprising as it may seem, this Christian was writing in the second half of the fourth century, nearly three hundred years after the books of the New Testament had themselves been written. The author was the powerful bishop of Alexandria named Athanasius. In the year 367 A.D., Athanasius wrote his annual pastoral letter to the Egyptian churches under his jurisdiction, and in it he included advice concerning which books should be read as Scripture in the churches. He lists our twenty-seven books, excluding all others. This is the first surviving instance of anyone affirming our set of books as the New Testament. And even Athanasius did not settle the matter.”

Unfortunately, this summary spins the facts and leaves readers with several impressions that aren’t quite accurate – impressions such as that, until the late fourth century, there was no consensus at all about which Christian writings were authoritative, and that the church’s standard even then was the word of a powerful bishop.

So what’s the complete story? When and how did Christians agree on which writings were authoritative in their congregations? And was there any standard for these discussions beyond the decree of a respected leader?

The standard of who saw it firsthand
The primary standard for deciding which books were authoritative emerged long before the fourth century – and this standard was not the word of a powerful bishop. Hints of this standard can, in fact, be found in first-century Christian writings.

Long before Athanasius was even born, testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of the risen Lord was uniquely authoritative among early Christians.

Even while the New Testament books were being written in the first century A.D., the words of people who had actually seen Jesus – especially the words and writings of the apostles – carried special authority in the churches (see Acts 1:21-26; 15:6—16:5; 1 Corinthians 4—5; 9:1-12; Galatians 1:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26-27). After the apostles’ deaths, Christians continued to value the testimony of eyewitnesses and their associates. In the first decade of the second century, Papias of Hierapolis put it this way:

“I did not … take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who … recited the commandments given by the Lord. … So, if anyone who had served the elders came, I asked about their sayings in detail – what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s followers.”

About the same time, a church leader named Polycarp cited the words of the Apostle Paul as “Scripture.”

A generation later, when someone in the Roman church wondered which Christian writings should be considered authoritative, this emphasis on the eyewitnesses persisted. After listing the books that he viewed as authoritative, here’s what one Christian leader wrote regarding a popular book known as The Shepherd that was circulating in the churches:

“Hermas composed The Shepherd quite recently – in our times, in the city of Rome, while his brother Pius the overseer served as overseer of the city of Rome. So, while it should indeed be read, it cannot be read publicly for the people of the church – it is counted neither among the prophets (for their number has been completed) nor among the apostles (for it is after their time).”

Notice carefully this second-century writer’s reasons for not allowing The Shepherd of Hermas to serve as an authoritative text in the churches: This writing could not be added to the Old Testament prophets because the time of the Hebrew prophets had passed (“their number has been completed”), and – with the deaths of the apostles – the time of the apostolic eyewitnesses had also ended (“it is after their time”). This teacher didn’t forbid believers to read The Shepherd; he simply pointed out that the book should not serve as an authoritative text for Christian congregations (“it cannot be read publicly for the people of the church”).

Later church leaders such as Tertullian of Carthage and Serapion of Antioch echoed these sorts of standards, with Serapion clearly stating, “We, brothers and sisters, receive Peter and the rest of the apostles as we would receive Christ himself. But those writings that are falsely ascribed with their names, we carefully reject, knowing that no such writings have ever been handed down to us.” Again, Christians rooted their standard for determining which writings were authoritative in the testimony of eyewitnesses.

So, from the first century onward, Christians viewed testimony that could be connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus as uniquely authoritative. The logic of this standard was simple: The people most likely to know the truth about Jesus were either eyewitnesses who had encountered Jesus personally or close associates of these witnesses. So, although Christians wrangled for some time about the authority of certain writings, it was something far greater than political machinations that drove these decisions. Their goal was to determine which books could be clearly connected to eyewitnesses of Jesus.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column first appeared at www.timothypauljones.com, the website of Timothy Paul Jones. Jones is associate professor of leadership and church ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Jones is the author or co-author of several books, including “Christian History Made Easy” and “Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus.’”)
6/8/2012 12:44:46 PM by Timothy Paul Jones, Guest Column | with 0 comments

6 ways NAMB can help your church in evangelism

June 7 2012 by Larry Wynn, Guest Column

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) – There’s really no better sign of a church’s spiritual health than the evangelistic activity of its people. It always excites me to see Southern Baptists embrace their calling to make Christ known.

We’re fast approaching a season of intense, concentrated engagement in reaching communities for Christ. Crossover 2012 in New Orleans will provide citywide evangelism efforts as Southern Baptists engage in outreach leading up to the annual meeting in the Crescent City.

As summer moves in, SBC churches across North America will fan out into cities, suburbs and countrysides to reach this continent and other continents with the Good News.

Evangelism is the key component of any missions endeavor. This is why the North American Mission Board (NAMB) is committing even more resources toward evangelism efforts in 2012 ($4.1 million) than in 2009 ($3.5 million). Whether you’re planting a church or assisting someone in crisis, our driving motivation is to reach the whole person with the gospel so that communities are made whole in Him.

There are six key components of NAMB’s evangelism strategy with which every church can connect:

1. GPS: God’s Plan for Sharing.

2. LoveLoud ministry evangelism.

3. Disaster Relief.

4. Chaplaincy.

5. Church revitalization.

6. Collegiate ministry.

Let me take a moment to explain each.
This year God’s Plan for Sharing is focused on helping churches intentionally engage the community through attractional events. Facilitated by Ken Ellis, NAMB’s GPS team leader, GPS 2012 will emphasize the catalytic effect an evangelistic event can have on a community. Events like these provide a non-threatening way to engage people in friendship and with truth. Many churches will demonstrate the effectiveness of attractional events during Crossover 2012 and throughout the year as churches draw their communities to opportunities to hear the gospel.

Al Gilbert, executive director for NAMB’s LoveLoud emphasis, is casting a biblical vision for loving neglected neighbors, neglected children and communities and cities in North America through ministry evangelism. Al is leading LoveLoud with the understanding that if we offer the truth of the gospel without ministering to the needs of the whole person, we are only offering half of the truth.

Through LoveLoud ministries, Southern Baptists will join together to meet the felt needs of their communities through opportunities such as pregnancy care, ministry to children, standing up against human trafficking and other injustices, and a list of other urgent needs faced in many North American communities.

Disaster relief
A recent change in NAMB’s organizational structure brought Southern Baptist Disaster Relief into the Evangelism Group, and I think that’s right where it belongs. We are committed to resourcing and serving our state partners in a way that will continue to allow Southern Baptists to provide timely, top-quality assistance to victims of disaster.

In addition, we want to give our disaster relief volunteers top quality resources and training that will allow them to offer the hope of Christ while they are giving the physical help so urgently needed in times of crisis.

I am thrilled to have retired Maj. Gen. Doug Carver leading our Southern Baptist chaplaincy ministries. NAMB undergirds chaplains serving in health care, correctional facilities, public safety, disaster relief and corporate environments as well as the U.S. military. His aim is to strengthen our chaplain base as well as find ways to connect chaplain ministry to local churches.

The need for ministry to chaplains and armed service personnel is a growing opportunity for Southern Baptist churches. As returning servicemen and servicewomen re-enter their stateside lives, we want churches to be positioned to meet critical emotional, spiritual and other needs of military families. Local church involvement and military base church plants are among the many new long-term ventures NAMB’s chaplaincy team is exploring.

Church revitalization
Plateaued, declining and dying churches are a growing reality for Southern Baptists. Some 880 SBC churches die every year. And 70 percent of our churches are either plateaued or declining. Churches do have an inevitable life cycle but we don’t want to any of them die without a fight. This is why NAMB is developing a variety of approaches for bringing churches back from the brink of death.

For churches that are in a slump, we want to assist them getting healthy again and reengaging with their community.

If the decline is deeper, we want to help churches come under the care of a healthy church in hopes of bringing new life to the congregation.

Other churches might need a re-plant – a fresh start and new effort in connecting with the community around them. For others, it might be best to merge with a healthy congregation. For some there is no other option than closure, but we want to help be sure their property ends up with a new congregation that will shine the light of the gospel in the community.

Collegiate ministry
Collegiate ministry is an investment in our future. If we can play a role in a student coming to Christ and being discipled, then we are developing the future leadership of the church. NAMB knows this needs to be a key area of focus and we are currently taking a close look at what role is best for us to play.

I truly believe we are on the brink of something big as Southern Baptists. My heart’s desire is that we would be found faithful in our call to introduce the lost in our lives to the life-giving truth of the gospel. God has given us an opportunity, in our time, to see a world worshipping Him. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of that heritage.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Larry Wynn is vice president of evangelism at the North American Mission Board. To view a video with Kevin Ezell and Larry Wynn about NAMB’s revitalization strategy, visit namb.net/podcast-church-revitalization/.)
6/7/2012 1:28:07 PM by Larry Wynn, Guest Column | with 0 comments

Southern Baptists, we’re not in Zion anymore

June 6 2012 by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – My grandparents remember the day when “religious diversity” in the South referred to the presence of multiple Christian denominations.

– Pentecostals debating spiritual gifts with Baptists.

– Presbyterians promoting perseverance of the saints over against the Methodists.

– Episcopalians choosing high liturgy as opposed to evangelical expressions of low church piety.

Of the various Protestant denominations that have yielded influence in the South in the past 60 years, the churches belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention have been most dominant. Even today, the SBC still stands as the largest Protestant religious group in the United States. And yet the cultural rivers have shifted away from the quiet waters of a “Southern Baptist Zion” to the rushing rapids of accelerating cultural changes.

My hometown of Murfreesboro, Tenn., is a case in point. Once a sleepy suburb well outside Nashville, Murfreesboro boasted of dozens of Southern Baptist churches. Twenty years ago, there were 46,000 residents. Today, there are 110,000. Though the number of Southern Baptist churches remains almost the same, Murfreesboro is, in many ways, a very different city. Recently, there was controversy surrounding the development of a Muslim mosque and community center. The dominance of evangelical Christianity in this city has been dwarfed by multi-culturalism, religious diversity and an exploding population that our church plants aren’t able to keep up with. Murfreesboro is a microcosm of the population explosion throughout the country and the new cultural setting we find ourselves in.

It won’t do for us to bemoan the disappearance of cultural Christianity. There were dangers then, too, including an often watered-down gospel as well as cultural respectability that masked unregenerate hearts. Each generation faces its own challenges.

My point is that the cultural setting we are called to be faithful in today will be very different than the one our parents and grandparents knew. Christians will need to be equipped for a new day – a day when the offensiveness of the gospel spreads not only from the core of our message (Christ crucified and raised) but to its implications for Christian morality. A day when Christian morality is no longer seen as decent but repressive, bigoted and intolerant. A day when beliefs in traditional tenets of the Christian faith – the exclusivity of Christ, the reality of hell, Jesus’ resurrection – are openly mocked in ways that the tenets of other religions are not.

Two ways to respond
How will Southern Baptists cope with the disappearance of “Zion”?

We could just choose to blend in, as some Catholics have. For years, Roman Catholic leaders have expressed concern over parishioners who attend Mass as upstanding citizens, wear the badge of their religious faith with honor, but all the while distance themselves from their Church’s views on birth control, abortion, homosexuality, etc.

A few months ago, I had lunch with a retired pastor of a large, respected evangelical church. He commented about how the culturally prominent members of his congregation, whenever questioned about the church’s unpopular views on morality, would simply state their disagreement with their church’s doctrine and move on. “I don’t agree with my church on that.” In other words, people belong to a church without subscribing to its beliefs. As a convictional Baptist, I hope we avoid a future that leaves us with only the cultural shell of Christianity and not its substance.

Another response to the disappearance of “Zion” is to become increasingly inward focused and insulated. Blinded by the cultural dominance we once had and banking on the social capital that belonged to our grandparents, we could fail to see the urgency of this hour and the utter lostness of those around us.

We might choose to expend too much energy debating over how to allocate shrinking funds or maintain the structures of yesteryear. Blogs and newspapers would provide space for endless conversations about the finer points of soteriology and the pros and cons of adopting a descriptor. Meanwhile, as we talk amongst ourselves, we lose perspective, blow our differences out of proportion and become increasingly deaf to our new cultural setting. Sometimes it feels like we’re medieval knights debating the advantages of feudalism even though the French Revolution has just taken place.

A third way
But there is a third way. To make the most of the opportunity before us.

Over against the first option that maintains numbers at the expense of convictions, we ought to take advantage of the opportunity for the light of true Zion to shine forth ever brighter in the darkness of Babylon. Just think! In a day and age where cohabitation is normal, the president affirms same-sex marriage and the pressure is on to celebrate all kinds of sexual expression, Christians can seem extraordinary by simply living what was once ordinary Christian morality. By cherishing once-common things, such as marriage between a man and woman for life, and core Christian doctrines, such as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, Christians have the opportunity for our ordinary obedience to shine even brighter in a pluralistic world that bows to Aphrodite.

Over against the second option that turns inward and insular, we have the opportunity to lay aside our differences, unite around our common confession and lock arms for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom. When we look inward, we see all the things that divide us. When we look outward to an increasingly hostile culture, we see all the things that unite us – our belief in the gospel, our Baptist distinctives and our submission to the authority of God’s inerrant Word.

Time is short. The Evil One’s specialty is to sow seeds of division, spread discord and create enmity between brothers. The only way to push back is to display open friendship and trust, to unite on the gospel and its power to save. When we do engage in debates about theology and strategy (and doubtless, we should), we will keep them in perspective as we seek to be ever faithful to our higher calling of fulfilling the Great Commission.

This is no time for us to be like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, cowering in the corner convinced we are alone and need to retreat. Our God is the God of Mount Carmel. He will not be forever upstaged by idols.

The good news is all evangelicals have something to gain from Southern Baptist faithfulness. As we move among the crumbling remains of Christendom, we can smile. After all, we’re used to being on the outs with the state. Even more, we’re used to being on the outs with the church-state too! We’re Baptists. Like that of the early church, our identity has been forged in the midst of cultural alienation and exile.

Baptists in other parts of the world (my family and friends in Romania, for example) know firsthand what social ostracism looks like. The more you get to know Baptists in other parts of the country, the more you realize that the cultural dominance we have enjoyed in the South is the exception, not the rule.

The tributaries that have come together to form the rushing river of Baptists today (Anabaptists, general Baptists, particular Baptists) all knew something of persecution. We’ve been belittled and mocked before, sometimes by other Christians. Why not again, this time by secularists? And what if, at this very hour, we will be the ones to help other evangelicals learn how to thrive in lean times?

Let’s not shrink back from the future that awaits us. We may be given the honor of suffering for the Name. So let’s willingly put ourselves at odds with the culture, expect the social ostracism we can see on the horizon and stand joyfully amidst the ruins of Christendom while we continue to proclaim the excellencies of the Risen One.

We may have to dig deeper and stand stronger than ever before. But no matter how mighty Babylon may seem or how dim the future looks, we must remember one thing.

There is an empty tomb in Jerusalem.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum line developed by LifeWay Christian Resources for all ages. This column first appeared at TrevinWax.com, a Gospel Coalition blog.)
6/6/2012 2:57:06 PM by Trevin Wax, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

June 5 2012 by Malcolm Yarnell, Guest Column

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments. As the dew of Hermon, that descended upon the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forevermore” (Psalm 133).

FORT WORTH, Texas – Commentators upon this passage note this psalm was likely used in the context of worship, probably as pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem for the festivals. No matter where in the diverse land of Israel the pilgrims originated, regardless of their birth or of the particular local religious tradition they had learned, they would find unity before God in their common worship as they gathered in the holy city. The image of a diverse people gathered as one is powerfully compelling.

Leslie Allen summarizes the psalm thus, “The family of God were gathered at the cultic place where fragrant grace flowed down.” On a personal level, I can still remember the first large Southern Baptist Convention that I attended. It was amazing to witness tens of thousands of people, from diverse churches all over the nation and the world, most of them carrying their holy Bibles, gathering to the same place. The Southern Baptists I saw were personally devoted to worshiping the same Lord, even as they diversely expressed their understanding of the faith. In Psalm 133, such unity of the people of God in worship is described with two liquid illustrations: oil and water.

It is theologically significant that the first illustration, that of ointment, is simultaneously Christological and Pneumatological. On the one hand, “anointed one” may be translated as “Messiah” or “Christ,” typifying that the Messiah Himself is the one who will bring the people into unity. Aaron as the high priest, who unites the people of Israel in worship, is merely a type or shadow who must give way to the New Testament antitype or reality, Jesus Christ, who unites the justified people of God before the divine throne. On the other hand, the process of anointing is also correlated in Scripture with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 61, the Messiah is described as anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel of freedom. In Luke 4, Jesus applied this passage to Himself at the beginning of His public ministry. In a Trinitarian vein, the Son and the Spirit are united by the mission of the Father to bring the gospel to human beings, who are in dire need of redemption and sanctification. The Trinity is united, not only in being, but in mission, as the Son and the Spirit work seamlessly together to fulfill the will of the Father in providing Himself a unified holy people. Ecclesial unity is based in such a divine unity.

It is geographically significant that the second illustration, that of water, draws upon two separate mountain ranges to indicate the nature of unity. First, Mount Hermon, at the southernmost limit of the Lebanon range, is in the far north of Israel. It is the rock where the Father revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Subsequently, Jesus Christ proclaimed that He would build the church upon the rock of Peter’s confession (Matthew 16). It was, moreover, on Mount Hermon, where Jesus Christ was miraculously transfigured before the eyes of His closest followers. For a moment, the light of heaven engulfed Peter, James and John as they glimpsed the magnificence of divine light pierce through the very human body of Jesus into their world (Matthew 17). Mount Hermon is capped by three high peaks, all fed with the dew of snow, which give fount to the Jordan River that waters the fertile lands of Israel. Isaiah had such fruitful grace in mind when he described the Word of God as falling from heaven like water and snow to bear fruit in the accomplishment of the Father’s will (Isaiah 55).

The second mountain range is that of Zion, where the city of Jerusalem was built as a fortress. The capital of Jerusalem united the diverse tribes of Israel not only politically but religiously, for the presence of God was formalized in the temple upon Mount Zion. The Spirit with the glory of the Lord was said to reside upon Jerusalem. So when the Spirit departed from Jerusalem, Ezekiel understood that a terrible judgment, the dispersion of the peoples into exile, was come upon the nation (Ezekiel 1, 10). Yet, Ezekiel also prophesied that the Spirit would return the scattered peoples into a united congregation by coming into and transforming the hearts of the people (Ezekiel 11). The promise of personal transformation resulting in communal unity, of course, was the result of the grace of God working through the Messiah and the Spirit. What is interesting here is that it is the “dew of Hermon,” in that other mountain range in the far north of Israel, which would “descend upon the mountains of Zion” in the center of the land. Such a miraculous movement of water would benefit the nation through a “blessing” that is nothing less profound than that of eternal life!

Grace is pictured as descending from heaven because all that is good comes down from the Father (James 1). This grace displays itself universally in the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, upon the cross, where the atonement of sin is accomplished perfectly (1 John 2). This grace displays itself particularly in the work of the Holy Spirit in granting believers regeneration, faith and repentance (John 3), indeed all the graces of salvation (Romans 8). One of the graces of God that comes through Christ in the Spirit is the grace of unity with the body of Christ. God intends for believers to manifest the unity of His Son, who reconciled humanity with humanity – Israel with the nations – through His cross, even as He thereby reconciled humanity with God (Ephesians 2). The prayer of Christ is thus for His people to manifest the unity that is integral to the Trinity itself (John 17).

Yet, and this is the critical part for us today, such unity occurs only through the grace of sanctification upon the basis of truth (John 17:13-21). The grace that falls from heaven like water falls upon different mountains of truth, mountains separated from one another by valleys, rivers and seas that we humans must traverse. So, how does the dew on the mountain of Hermon fall upon the mountain of Zion? Or, to apply that metaphor in our particular context to the Southern Baptist Convention today: How does the grace of God manifested in the doctrine of divine sovereignty, which is precious to Calvinist and Traditionalist alike, fall upon the responsible human being, who is precious to the Traditionalist and Calvinist alike? Alas, we, Calvinists and Traditionalists alike, often bring questions to the scripture that scripture doesn’t always answer in the particulars we would prefer.

Scripture does not tell us “how” the dew on Mount Hermon falls on Mount Zion; it simply remarks that it does. Likewise, because of certain silences in scripture, I cannot tell you how we can reconcile the doctrine of human responsibility with the doctrine of divine sovereignty in a manner that meets every theologian’s preference, at least not on the basis of revelation.

However, I can tell you that these two doctrines – divine sovereignty and human responsibility – are both true and both necessary to be affirmed, because they are both revealed in scripture.

My prayer is that we as Southern Baptists, whether we identify ourselves with the mountains of either Calvinism or Traditionalism, that we will seek our unity only in Christ by the Spirit before the Father. This unity is a gift of grace worked in us through sanctification on the basis of the truth of Scripture. It is a unity we desire. However, until we reach unity in how we bring the mountains of Zion and Hermon together, or, to put it cheekily, how we can successfully mix oil with water, we must trust that God will do it. Moreover, we must continue to come together as one to worship this God, this God who reveals to us His divine sovereignty, or grace, and our human responsibility to respond in faith, repent of our sins, and tell others how they too may be reconciled to the Trinity. Lord God, bring us unity in doctrine in Your time, but let our unity not be disrupted until then, for we wish to fulfill Your mission, and we know the world will believe and receive eternal life from You as they see us united in telling them of You.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Malcolm Yarnell is associate professor of systematic theology and director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. This column first appeared at http://baptisttheologians.blogspot.com.)
6/5/2012 1:30:58 PM by Malcolm Yarnell, Guest Column | with 1 comments

7 keys to preventing pastoral burnout

June 4 2012 by Thom S. Rainer, Guest Column

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) – I have the incredible opportunity to interact with pastors regularly. In recent conversations, I have asked two questions. First, have you ever experienced burnout in your ministry? Second, what do you do to prevent pastoral burnout?

Interestingly, every pastor with whom I spoke had experienced some level of burnout. So they spoke from the voice of experience when they shared with me what they do to prevent burnout. I aggregated their responses to seven keys to preventing pastoral burnout, not in any particular order or priority.

1. Remember your call. Ministry can be tough and dirty. It can be frustrating and confusing. But if we remember Who called us and Who sustains us, we are able to persevere. We understand we are not doing ministry in our own power.

2. Pray for your critics. Criticism is one of the most frequently mentioned causes of burnout. Pastors on the other side of burnout told me they have learned to pray for their critics almost every day. It has given the pastors a fresh perspective. A few pastors even noted significant change in their critics shortly after they started praying for them.

3. Wait a day before responding to critics. Somewhat related to number two above, some pastors shared that ministry began to take its toll when they engaged their critics negatively in writing, in person or by phone. Now these pastors wait a full day before responding, and they are amazed at how differently their responses take shape.

4. Be intentional about downtime. Pastors need it. Their families need it. Every week. Don’t skip vacations. Go on occasional retreats. Don’t lose your family by trying to save your church.

5. Find a friend to share your burden. For some pastors, it was another pastor. For others, it was a retired pastor. Some mentioned that key confidants in the church had become their best friends. Pastors need someone they trust to whom they can unload their burdens.

6. Do not neglect your prayer life. Pastors told me repeatedly that, as their prayer life waned, their burnout increased. For them, prayer was first an ongoing conversation with God, but it was also a time for spiritual refueling.

7. Do not neglect your time in the Word. We heard similar stories from pastors who began neglecting their time in the Bible. As that time waned, burnout increased. All the pastors noted that time in the Word was time beyond sermon preparation. It was a time of personal devotion and study.

Pastors are burning out every day. Many are leaving the ministry as a result. It is a real and immediate problem with many pastors and many churches.

Pastors and other staff: Do you have stories of burnout and recovery? What lessons can we learn from you?

Laypersons: What can you do to help pastors prevent burnout?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, ThomRainer.com.)
6/4/2012 2:46:29 PM by Thom S. Rainer, Guest Column | with 0 comments

No more giant apps – a browser is all you need

June 1 2012 by Aaron Linne, Guest Column

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On my bookshelf sits a copy of the B&H Publishing Group classic trade book from 1991, “Help, There’s a Computer in My Church!” Surprisingly, I have yet to be able to convince our leadership team to convert it into ePub so we can start selling it again on the Barnes & Noble Nook ... but I still have hope that this treasure won’t be lost to the days when things were only printed on paper.
Then again, a much more practical book to publish today would be “Help, There’s NOT a Computer in My Church!” As we’ve drifted from post offices to email and hymnals to ProPresenter, we rely more and more on our digital devices to facilitate communication and even connection between the pastorate and the layman. Relying on technology unfortunately means more and more money is needed to purchase the digital tools we need. And, of course, everyone wants the latest and greatest thing, right?
Announced the last week of May, Google has now released its ChromeBook and ChromeBox. The new computers run on the Google Chrome browser. That’s right ... the whole device is run from the Chrome browser. This means you can’t install giant apps you may be used to, such as Photoshop or Microsoft Office – but you can still do a lot. For someone on a budget, these devices might be perfect to fill out that fleet of computers your church needs. To be honest, as a technologist, the biggest concern I have with the device is the price: starting at only $299, they seem a bit too good to be true.
But, if you’re on a budget, here are three tools to help you switch to living life out of a browser, instead of having to install apps:
1) Google Docs
Google Docs is currently the king of online productivity tools. Replicating most, if not all, of the basic features of Microsoft Office suite, Google’s tools allow you to create sharable text documents, spreadsheets, and even presentations. Developed intentionally for collaborative work, using an online solution like Google Docs is perfect for a small leadership team to write and work together online. Learn more at www.docs.google.com.
2) Pxlr
Pxlr is an online photo editor that is both advanced and simple. The online tool will let you start an image from scratch, add layers to manipulate the image like other leading photo editing tools or simply add filters to your candid photos. When using Pxlr you can see how far the browser experience has come and how you can get great tools for free. Learn more at www.pixlr.com.
3) MyStudyBible
MyStudyBible is an only library for biblical study, featuring multiple translations, 20 free resources such as commentaries and the HCSB Study Bible notes and more than 1,500 teaching videos from Gene Getz, Ed Stetzer, David Platt and more. MyStudyBible uses the browser to create an integrated experience across the open resources, syncing Bible passages and resources together in order to facilitate deeper studies. Learn more at www.MyStudyBible.com.
We are entering a digital age where the power specs of a computer and the hard drive space you have almost don’t matter. More and more deep, in-depth computing is happening right on your browser. The fact that Google has released an entire operating system and its partners are releasing devices that do nothing more than run a browser is a stunning change in how we interact with our content and work. No longer do we need help if there’s a computer in a church or worry that there won’t be one. All we need is an Internet connection and anything that will run a browser. Welcome to the World Wide Web.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Linne is executive producer of digital marketing for the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes a monthly technology column for Baptist Press.)
6/1/2012 1:48:16 PM by Aaron Linne, Guest Column | with 0 comments

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