June 2016

Modesty – beyond the fig leaves

June 30 2016 by Jessica Pigg

Modesty is an out-of-style word that makes lots of people cringe, even in the church. Debates about modesty have divided believers for years.

No matter how long you search, the Bible has no list of do’s and don’ts pertaining to modesty. There isn’t a skirt length or style listed for all Christian women to wear. Modesty isn’t a list of rules; it is a reflection of our hearts.
Fig leaves were the first clothing ever worn by man and woman. These were a sad attempt by Adam and Eve to cover their sin and feeling of shame and guilt (Genesis 3). But God, in His great mercy and grace, killed an innocent animal to provide them with durable, more suitable clothing.
Like Adam and Eve, we have all tried to hide behind “fig leaves” – whether it be our clothing, our appearance, our titles, our family or our good deeds. When we, as women, wear clothing that barely covers our bodies, we are covering up insecurity or a need for affirmation or we are engaging in self-gratification.
Dressing modestly, however, acknowledges the beauty and power of femininity. It doesn’t mean you’re ashamed of your body. Modesty is simply valuing what has value.
As Christian women who are ambassadors for Christ and “citizens of heaven,” which kingdom are we representing through our clothing and dress? The attitudes of our hearts directly affect the way we dress and the message our outfits send to the world around us.
Do we point others to Jesus? Or do we distract them from the gospel? Our dress should be a reflection of whom we worship. Since Christ purchased my body on the cross, I am to steward it for His glory.
As a Christian woman, your body is the temple of the living God. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 and 6:19-20 state:
Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”
Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.
In the Old Testament, the Temple was cared for with great attention to detail. In Exodus, there are chapters of instructions given by God for how the Temple was to be set up and cared for. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the Temple was torn in two. This veil originally separated the people from God’s holy presence. His sacrifice opened the door for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. We are now the temple of the living God.
Questions to ask yourself before getting dressed each day:

  • Does this display the gospel or distract from the gospel?

  • Is what I am wearing going to bring someone down, make someone envious, or cause them to struggle?

  • Am I dressing to make myself known or to make Christ known?

  • Do I find my worth in my outfit or in my identity in Jesus?

Our clothing reveals where we find our worth. 1 Peter 3:3-4 states, “Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.
Modesty is more than we have deemed it. When people look at me, I want them to see Christ. I want them to see someone who has been changed by the gospel and looks different from the world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jessica Pigg is the director of women’s ministry at First Baptist Church Immokalee in southwest Florida, where her husband Timothy is senior pastor. This column first appeared at the Biblical Woman website biblicalwoman.com of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)


6/30/2016 8:17:37 AM by Jessica Pigg | with 0 comments

‘Big tent’ conservative cooperation

June 29 2016 by Andrew Hebert

A moment of tremendous humility that led to great unity occurred at the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) when J.D. Greear withdrew his name from the SBC presidential race and asked messengers to elect Steve Gaines.
J.D. showed Southern Baptists the path forward: putting aside differences and exercising humility toward one another for the purpose of our unity and cooperation. Steve had been praying overnight about doing the same.

Southern Baptist unity is unique. We consist of many theological persuasions, differing on such issues as Calvinism, the end times and, in some instances, charismatic gifts and the use of alcohol. Between the opposite poles is a vast array of moderated positions. Many Southern Baptists find themselves caught in the middle without a “dog in the fight.”
We also have old and young in our midst. We have suits and skinny jeans. We have different styles of worship. We are red and yellow, black and white, all precious in His sight.
In his book “A Hill on Which to Die,” Judge Paul Pressler notes that “the presence of such persuasions as Calvinist and charismatic in the conservative ranks merely shows that conservatives never sought to have all Southern Baptists think exactly alike. All we wanted was for people to base what they believe on an intelligent study of what the Bible says.”
In a meeting a couple of years ago, I heard Jimmy Draper warn a group of pastors that if we preserve doctrinal integrity but fail to maintain unity, we will give away the Southern Baptist ship. In the words of Joel Gregory’s 1988 convention sermon, we will lose the castle while we build the wall.
Ronnie Floyd has urged our convention for two years to lock arms in agreement, unity and prayer for the sake of the Great Commission. It is possible Southern Baptists could see a Third Great Awakening in our lifetimes if we catch on to that vision.
This sparks my yearning for Southern Baptists to embrace “‘big tent’ conservative cooperation.”
Certainly the Southern Baptist Convention is conservative. The “battle for the Bible” has been won. Our seminaries and other entities are led by men and women committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. Our missionaries affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, an explicitly conservative statement of faith that serves as a measure of doctrinal accountability for our cooperation together. Our common belief that Scripture is “truth without any mixture of error” ensures that while we are a big tent convention, we are a big tent committed to conservative theology.
And the Southern Baptist Convention is cooperative. We cooperate together because of our common doctrinal and missional commitments. That which unites us is greater than that which divides us.
In my view, there are five major commitments around which we are united:

  1. Christ. Above all else, our convention exists to glorify Christ and make Him known to the ends of the earth. We are a “Jesus people.” Our common love for Christ allows us to relate charitably with one another despite our differences. We can unite around our commitment to Christ.

  2. The church. The Southern Baptist Convention is the greatest engine for accomplishing the Great Commission because it is a convention of local churches. Our seminaries, mission boards and other entities exist to serve local churches and help them accomplish their God-given mission. We can unite around our commitment to the church.

  3. The Great Commission. The Great Commission Task Force reminded us in 2010 that “as a convention of churches, our missional vision is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations.” Southern Baptists of every stripe come together for the sake of accomplishing the Great Commission. This is our God-given directive. We can unite around our commitment to the Great Commission.

  4. Cooperation. What makes us unique as Southern Baptists is our ability, in working to accomplish the Great Commission, to cooperate. I came into SBC life after spending a few of my teenage years in the independent Baptist movement, so cooperation is precious to me. The Cooperative Program is the envy of evangelical denominations around the world. We can unite around our commitment to cooperation.

  5. Our Confession. We are a confessional people. Though no confessional statement is infallible or inerrant, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M 2000) is a statement of our common beliefs that provides appropriate doctrinal boundaries within which we can cooperate. These doctrinal parameters are appropriate both in their specificity and their generality. The BF&M 2000 is specific on which it must be specific, such as the nature of Scripture, the person and work of Christ, and the exclusivity of the gospel. It simultaneously deals generally with what must be dealt with generally, such as the timing of Christ’s return. The BF&M 2000 is a statement of faith for which we can be thankful. We can unite around our commitment to our common theological confession.

May the unity we saw displayed from J.D. Greear and Steve Gaines extend to the way we cooperate together for the Great Commission in future days. May we remember Augustine’s dictum, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church in Hobbs, N.M., and a member of the SBC Committee on Order of Business.)

6/29/2016 9:01:37 AM by Andrew Hebert | with 0 comments

Back alleys & coat hangers

June 29 2016 by Kevin D. Kennedy

Advocates of abortion have succeeded – perhaps unknowingly – in a return, in essence, to “back alley abortions” and “rusty coat hangers.”
Today’s Supreme Court decision striking down state regulations for abortion doctors and abortion clinics reflects a striking relationship to the long rhetorical history of the abortion debate.

According to abortion advocates, if abortions are no longer “safe and legal” (to borrow one of their favorite phrases), then women will have no recourse but to seek abortions in “back alleys” where the only available surgical device is a “rusty coat hanger.” However, those who were objecting to the regulations at issue in Texas House Bill No. 2 and other similar statutes actually were advocating for a return to such days.
How so?
Requiring that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a local hospital ensures that a doctor who has an emergency (in this case, a woman experiencing complications as the result of an abortion) can admit a patient immediately to a hospital, without any delay. This provision of HB 2 actually took abortions out of the back alley because it required that all doctors who perform abortions be of such standing in the medical community that they can call a hospital and have a woman admitted immediately in case of an emergency.
Those who objected to HB 2 actually were advocating for less safety for women – they are, in effect, asking that abortions remain in “back alleys.”
Ambulatory surgical center regulations, meanwhile, govern such things as the width of hallways so that emergency personnel can easily reach patients when transporting them to a hospital. By requiring that abortion clinics meet all requirements normally imposed on ambulatory surgical centers, HB 2 was ensuring that women were no longer subjected to “rusty coat hanger” abortions. Those who objected to the law’s ambulatory surgical center requirements were advocating that less care be given to women during the actual surgery involved in the procedure.
Abortion advocates objected to these two provisions of the law because, as they claimed, an undue burden was imposed on women seeking to end their pregnancies. However, those who are truly interested in the welfare of women should have no objections to such provisions since they are clearly aimed at ensuring the health of women.
Finally, abortion advocates frequently accuse those of us who want to protect the lives of unborn children of having little or no concern for the welfare of the woman who is pregnant. However, opposition to HB 2 – the Texas bill now rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court – demonstrated the opposite case. When one considers the reasonableness of the Texas law, it is easy to see that the abortion advocate is the one who is not concerned with the life and health of the woman because the law was clearly aimed at protection of the woman.
Therefore, despite all of the rhetoric, the facts demonstrate that the supporters of HB 2 actually had greater concern for the health of women than did opponents of the law.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin D. Kennedy is a research scholar in Louisville, Ky., formerly associate professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

6/29/2016 8:57:48 AM by Kevin D. Kennedy | with 0 comments

The danger of plenty

June 24 2016 by Kathy Howard

Few of us in the average evangelical church in America have real need. Yes, I know some do go hungry and some have no roof over their heads. But that is the exception. The vast majority of us have all that we need. In fact, many of us have far more than we need. We have plenty.
And that in itself is a problem. Plenty can bring more serious trouble than need.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warned the children of Israel about the danger of plenty before they entered the Promised Land:
But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NLT)


After 40 years wandering in the wilderness and depending on God for every bite of food and drink of water, the Israelites were about to settle into a land of abundance. Yes, the wilderness had been a physically difficult place, but this land of plenty would bring unique spiritual dangers. Moses points out four specific dangers in Deuteronomy 8:11-19:
1. Forgetfulness – When we aren’t forced to depend on God for our daily physical sustenance, we tend to forget Him. We fail to remember that God provides everything, even our ability to work and make money to purchase all the things we have.
2. Pride – Not only do we forget God’s provision, we begin to think we have done it all ourselves. We become puffed up and prideful in our plenty.
3. Disobedience – When we have forgotten God and become full of ourselves we begin to do anything and everything we want. We do it our way and give no heed to God’s commands.
All this leads to idolatry. Once we have forgotten God, something else will assume His rightful place in our lives. Whether money, job, recreation, another person, or ourselves, we will worship something.
How can we avoid the danger of plenty? Moses tells us that too. In one word, we must “remember.”
Remember God’s past provision. Remember God’s equipping for work. Remember God’s rightful place as the one true God who deserves our worship.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Howard is the author of seven books, including Lavish Grace, slated for release by New Hope Publishers in August. She has a master’s degree in Christian education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and has been teaching the Bible for over 25 years. Find out about Kathy’s books and speaking ministry and get discipleship tools and leader helps at kathyhoward.org)

6/24/2016 12:12:30 PM by Kathy Howard | with 0 comments

The invited become the inviters

June 23 2016 by Ernest L. Easley

There was a lot of talk on the topic of evangelism during the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in St. Louis.
The sermons that were preached, the panel discussions that were presented and our mission boards’ reports all made reference to the 15-year decrease in baptisms in our Southern Baptist churches.

Plenty of people are attempting to explain the decline. Some say it’s because so many of our churches are not filing their annual report, thus skewing the numbers. Others say the decline is theologically based while still others say it’s methodological.
One thing is for sure: It’s time we get back to inviting people to come to Jesus.
When God said to Noah in Genesis 7:1, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation,” God extended a public invitation to Him.
When Jesus encountered the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21, He said, “... and come, follow Me.” Jesus extended a public invitation to follow Him.
C.E. Autrey in his book, The Theology of Evangelism, wrote, “The primary purpose of the message of evangelism is to call men to a personal relationship with God.” Autrey, a former SBC leader in evangelism, went on to say, “If the church quits calling on people to decide, then death is certain. The church must never turn from inviting men to an encounter with Christ. The people of God have no choice but to keep a strong emphasis on confronting the lost, privately and publically, with the gospel and calling on them to decide.”
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:32: “Therefore, whoever confesses [acknowledges] Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” That certainly describes what takes place during a public invitation.
As the apostle Peter wrapped up his sermon in Acts 2, we read in verse 37, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” Peter then told them to repent and be baptized, and we read in verse 41, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
How did that happen without a public invitation? How are we to move forward in fulfilling the Great Commission without inviting the lost to Jesus? The God who initiates a relationship with us and then invites us into that relationship has commissioned us to become the inviters, as we invite the lost to Christ.
The invited are now the inviters!
Regarding the public invitation:
First, give it consistently. When your members bring a friend to worship, they should know that a public invitation will be given. Be consistent!
Second, give it creatively. There are various ways to give a public invitation. Be creative!
Third, give it clearly. Explain in simple terms what you’re asking people to do. Be clear!
Southern Baptists: Let’s get back to inviting people to come to Jesus!

6/23/2016 11:17:38 AM by Ernest L. Easley | with 0 comments

Lebron James’ theology

June 22 2016 by David Gray

Being a resident of northeast Ohio, I’ve had a lot of fun watching Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as they clawed their way to an NBA title. At times I have lamented as the star basketball player has been lionized and other times vilified for his views on life.
James’ passion for playing and winning basketball games has been analyzed, questioned and even challenged over the years. He has proven he can take on a seemingly larger-than-life goal and achieve it.
My question is, What can we learn from his single-minded pursuit of sports greatness?
In an interview seen on television and quoted at ESPN.com, we get a brief if unintended theology from Lebron as reflected in Cleveland’s historic victory:
“I don’t know why the man above give me the hardest road, but ... the man above don’t put you in situations that you can’t handle,” James said after the final buzzer on Sunday. “I just kept that same positive attitude. Instead of saying, ‘Why me?’ I said, ‘This is what He wants me to do.’ And Cleveland, this is for you.”
Is there anything of value a man or woman of God can learn from this or is it just more worldly wisdom to be discarded? Is this what we teach our children? Can you really have anything you want if you set your mind to it and develop the physical attributes to carry it out, especially if that goal is somehow deemed honorable?
Looking at the obvious, this is not the hardest road. Lebron James is a grown man making millions of dollars to play a kids’ game. He has not toiled in obscurity and has won multiple honors even as he has taken flak from sportswriters and fans at times.
Yet there is something noble in both James’ words and actions that we Southern Baptists and other Christians might well consider: It is time to stop complaining about the situation in which we find ourselves in the world and to pursue our calling.
This is a time of great need in our nation and around the world. It often seems the forces of evil have hemmed us in. Our good is maligned and in some ways there seem to be historic losses in the face of the ever-present culture wars.
It seems hard. So what? It is time for us to take our eyes off the people and situations that would inhibit us and focus on our understanding of our great God. If He has chosen us to live in such a time as this, then our response should not be “Why me?” but “What would you have me do, Lord?” If a young man from a poor community in northeast Ohio can rise to the top of his craft by believing he is called and then living his life accordingly, what about us? Are we not the called of God? Isn’t our mission greater than ending a sports championship drought?
Men, women, boys and girls are going to hell because many who have been chosen by God to teach, preach and heal have often settled for the distractions of seeking their own comfort rather than developing the gritty determination to follow the will of our God.
Frankly I am not too sure about Lebron James’ overall theological stance. But it sure seems right for us to be able to live our lives in such a way that we can confidently say, “This is what He wants me to do.” When that happens, there will be even more joy in heaven for eternity than is being expressed in northeast Ohio for this brief season.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Gray is pastor of First Baptist Church in Garrettsville, Ohio, and a former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.)

6/22/2016 1:58:38 PM by David Gray | with 0 comments

Headline prayers

June 21 2016 by Nate Adams

Today’s headlines are driving me frequently to deeper and more desperate prayer.
Many of us probably whisper something like “God help them” when we see a tragedy reported on the news. But I’m not primarily referring to headlines about a natural disaster or a rare, heinous crime by an isolated evil person.

The headlines driving me to deeper prayer are those that reveal a declining morality in our culture that seems more and more widely accepted.
My main dose of these headlines usually comes in the early morning while I’m exercising in front of the TV. As I flip from one news channel to another, I more and more regularly see behaviors, lifestyles and decisions that would have been considered shameful or scandalous a generation ago. Now they are reported as progressive, or even normal. And the proud spokespeople for many of these decadent trends are interviewed by often-adoring news anchors as if they were the civil rights voices of today.
I often find myself asking “Help them, help us, help me.”
Unrestricted freedom of individual choice, preference and expression seem to have become idols in American culture today. Just the other day, a story and its follow-up interview so shocked and deflated me that I moaned out loud, “Oh God, help them!”
“Help them to see the deception they have bought into, and the damage they are doing, and the long-term consequences of the sinful lifestyle they are advocating, both to themselves and to others. Convict them of sin, God, and show them the same mercy and grace that You show me when You convict me of my sin.”
But as the disturbing interview went on, I also found my prayer deepening.
“Yes, God, help them, but also help us! Your gospel had no voice in that headline, and your church had no spokesperson in that panel discussion. Interviewer and interviewee alike just presented that issue totally void of biblical perspective or truth. God, don’t let that happen! Don’t let millions of viewers gradually learn to accept that position as true and normative. Give Your truth a voice through Your people!”
The story passed, and I don’t know what was on the screen next because my prayer was driven even deeper.
“Yes God, help them, and help us. But oh God, help me too! My efforts to carry the truth of Your Word and the power of Your gospel are so weak. I’m going to go to the office in a few minutes to answer some emails, sit in some meetings, and move some projects along. But what will I have personally done to make any difference in the cultural decline I have just witnessed?”
My feeling of powerlessness was frustrating. And that frustration made me angry, as I found myself wanting to pray for God’s righteous judgment to simply fall upon these people, and upon our land if necessary, to make it all right again.
But I’ve learned to be careful, even fearful, about calling for God’s judgment. I am too often deserving of it myself. And when I was most deserving of it, when I was still a sinner by lifestyle and choice, when I was just as far from God as the frustrating people in the headlines, that’s when God in Christ reached out to me in mercy, and with conviction and grace and forgiveness. And He still does that today.
So I am meeting the morning headlines these days with these three prayers: God, help them. Help us. Help me. I invite you to join me in these prayers.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. This column first appeared at the Illinois Baptist, ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.)

6/21/2016 12:09:38 PM by Nate Adams | with 0 comments

An appeal to young Southern Baptists

June 20 2016 by Keelan Cook

Last week was the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was held in St. Louis this year and over 7,000 messengers attended. That is quite a bit larger than recent years, and I have to say, the event impacted me in a couple of significant ways. That is the reason for this appeal. I write to ask you, young Southern Baptist, to consider your involvement in our convention. Does your church send representatives to the convention? Have you ever been?
In my estimation, this year’s convention was deeply significant. Some pretty important issues were discussed on the floor of the convention, some sharp rebukes were delivered, and some magnificent displays of unity occurred. It was more than a convention. It was a defining moment in the direction of our giant cooperation of churches, and there is a chance history will remember it that way. What is more, I was there and I did not just watch it happen, I helped make it happen.

That is the beauty of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are America’s largest protestant denomination and we are not run by some elite board of decision makers. We are run by a room full of church members from across the United States and Canada. Our decisions are made by small church pastors, bi-vocational church planters, scholars, and automobile mechanics. Technically, our denomination only exists for two days a year, when all of our churches have the opportunity to send people to speak on matters concerning this cooperation we have created. It is powerful and it is beautiful. Unfortunately, I am afraid our generation knows little of that.
I struggle with this myself. I remember growing up in church, sitting through business meetings, and thinking that we were wasting God’s time. I can remember arguments over pastoral benefits and carpet color. Our generation does not like that. In fact, most of us are fed up with that, and rightly so. However, I fear we can make an error that is at least as egregious when we think the solution is avoiding the business meeting altogether. The solution to bad business meetings is not to avoid them, it is to change them. That takes participation.
I believe most young Southern Baptists know little about their denomination and the way it works. That is a shame, too. Tens of thousands of churches work together, often in the midst of disagreement, to demonstrate unity and share resources for the Great Commission. After all, that is why our denomination was started in the first place, to send missionaries, and that is really the only thing that has held it together. Our convention has a missions legacy that is unprecedented. I wish more young Southern Baptists could experience that.
This is a Stewardship Issue
In the end, it is not about a bunch of people wasting time but about figuring out how to use our resources (and we have a lot) for the Great Commission. We have two giant missions agencies that send thousands of church planters and missionaries the world over. We have six seminaries that together are training the lion-share of pastors, church planters, and missionaries in the United States. Generally speaking, they are the biggest seminaries in the country. We have a commission on religious liberty and ethics that intercedes with the government on behalf of kingdom principles and LifeWay creates biblical resources and curriculum for churches far outside the reach of our denomination.
Every year, our convention gathers messengers in order to decide how we use these great resources for the spread of the gospel and making disciples. The convention is not simply a business meeting; it is a weighty stewardship. It is the chance for our churches to guide our cooperative resources. As with anything, they can be steered in a way that is ineffective, or they can be harnessed and used for God’s glory among the nations. But the ability to steward only comes to those who participate.
Perhaps we do not see ourselves as the ones who should wield such stewardship. After all, our parents have been the ones who made these decisions for the longest time. On average, our generation is far more interested in attending a Passion conference than our annual business meeting as Southern Baptists. Maybe we have taken the posture of the recipient for so long that we do not know what it means to make the decisions about how it is done. Nevertheless, there is a point where the children become the leaders. For us young Southern Baptists, that time quickly approaches. We have an inheritance of cooperation and Great Commission partnership that has lasted 171 years, and maybe it is time we see it as such.
J.D. Greear’s candidacy for president was a lesson for many this year. The grace and humility with which he withdrew galvanized a divided room. J.D. was right; we can do more together. There were a lot of different opinions in that room, but despite those differences, the unity that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than enough to foster cooperation.
And for us younger folk, J.D. provides another lesson. He ran. Instead of avoiding “convention politics” or dismissing this great stewardship, he placed his hat in the ring. He chose to get involved and pick up the responsibility that comes with an inheritance. He did not do so with an attitude of conquest or division. That was clearly demonstrated when he withdrew and cast his vote for Steve Gaines, encouraging his supporters to do so. After all, together we can do more.
Get Involved
So my appeal to you is simple: get involved. I know the concerns and things that disappoint friends my age about our denomination. These things do not change when we avoid responsibility. We need to participate in the right way, in a biblical way, with grace, humility, and thanksgiving for the cloud of witnesses before us. We need to be the kind of generation that makes the previous generation proud to pass the baton. We need to remember that one of our greatest strengths is our diversity, methodological and theological diversity. It sharpens us and constantly calls us from drifting too far afield.
Make sure your church sends a delegation. So many decisions are made over those two days, and your church has the very real ability to affect those decisions. Every, single messenger can approach the microphone and have their voice heard, and every, single church has the opportunity to send messengers. Several resolutions this year passed or failed on the passionate appeal of a messenger from the floor.
Furthermore, consider being a messenger yourself. Perhaps you did not like one of those decisions. Every vote this year did not go the way I wanted it to, but the only way to speak into those is by being there. That takes a lot for someone our age, I believe. It takes a change in posture. Personally, I want to go to a conference to “learn something” or “be edified” or whatever other term you attach to sitting passively while others are doing stuff. We need to see the real opportunity to advance the gospel through our actions at the Southern Baptist Convention, and we need to grab that inheritance while we can still learn from those before us.
Let us take a cue from J.D. and roll up our sleeves as well. As I watched our convention this year, I was thankful to God for all that he has done to bring together such an interesting group of churches. The fact that our convention exists is an act of the Spirit and God’s great grace. I felt a responsibility for it, and I pray that more people my age will do the same. Avoidance is not the answer, stewardship is. This is not conquest, it is not a generational war for control, but a great cooperative effort.
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– This article was originally published on blog.keelancook.com. Used by permission.)

6/20/2016 12:42:59 PM by Keelan Cook | with 0 comments

A Crossover of generations

June 15 2016 by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press

This weekend I witnessed multiple generations unite to impact the city of St. Louis at Crossover, a series of evangelistic events around the city. A diverse city was reached by a diverse group of Southern Baptists.
At one location, a church hosted a free rap concert at a nearby park that was deeded to it at no cost - not because of any act of generosity but simply by the fact the park was so drug-ridden that no one else wanted it. A rapper, Thi’sl, with tens of thousands of fans spanning the globe came back to his community and poured into the people he grew up with. I expected to see exclusively young faces at the concert but older faces were working in unison with my generation to reach a community in desperate need of the gospel. The concert truly brought together the whole community, and if that is not a worthy goal, then what is?
At another location, a church ministered to cyclists on an upscale bike trail in its neighborhood.The church handed out water to the adults navigating the trail in record-setting heat - and they had a balloon artist for children as well. Leaders of the church expressed their desire to reach multiple generations and they did so by realizing that it takes more than one approach - while working together as fellow members of the body of Christ.
If there was one word to describe Crossover, perhaps it would be “unified.”
Believers unified to spread the gospel to lost souls with hearts that did not recognize the “wrong” or “right” side of a neighborhood. Believers unified despite coming from various ethnic backgrounds and talents to share their unique perspectives and stories to impact a diverse city. They converged together to bring a gift that can be shared by all generations - the salvation of Jesus Christ.
In Joel, God lays out a vision where generations come together to spread the gospel not as a divided body, but as one unified body: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).
Too often we are caught in the trap of segmenting and compartmentalizing generations in efforts to share the gospel. It is easy to see age as a barrier in outreach and not as a tool. However, some of the most beautiful work in missions comes when generations unite to spread the gospel, and Crossover is a fine example.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Woodman, who will be a junior journalism major at the University of Missouri, is a summer intern with Baptist Press.)
6/15/2016 11:49:59 AM by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Reflections of the stats guy

June 14 2016 by Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research

My upcoming career change means – for the first time in a long time – I won’t be employed by a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity (although I’m still a Southern Baptist). In other words, my long history of being the bearer of bad news as the denominational stats guy is coming to a close.
But, facts are still our friends. And, the SBC Annual Church Profile has been a bearer of unwelcome facts for a long time.

As I look back over my years of tracking SBC statistics, a few things are worth saying on the way out.

Dispelling the myth

Several years ago, our team brought attention to the fact that the SBC was in a long-term trend that would involve long-term decline. It was – and remains – a multi-decade decline, and it is accelerating. I wrote about it in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. As I had noted, “The membership decline of the SBC is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of math.”
I had to write that (and I used that exact phrase at the SBC Pastors’ Conference at that time) because some in the SBC claimed the decline wasn’t real. Articles were written to demonstrate there was no decline, as if math has some nefarious motive. But there was a decline that is continuing.
Although the number of congregations in cooperation with the SBC increased last year, membership declined more than 200,000, down 1.32 percent to 15.3 million members. Additionally, average weekly worship attendance declined by 1.72 percent to 5.6 million worshippers.
We also experienced a decline in baptisms, down 3.3 percent to 295,212. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years.
So, even though the number of churches continues to increase, the number of people attending SBC churches continues to decline, and the number of people baptized in SBC churches continues to decline.
It isn’t a pretty picture.
Now that the decline is unmistakable, some are blaming the percentage of churches reporting their Annual Church Profile (ACP) numbers. Doing so is just another way to refuse to face reality.
The reporting percentage this year is about the same as last - and the numbers continue to decline. SBC President Ronnie Floyd is correct in his analysis and warning, “Be careful in your assessments, evaluations and statements. Yet, let’s be honest with ourselves; these trends are unhealthy and undeniable, demanding immediate action.”
And, now, as Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, predicted a few years ago, Southern Baptists are shrinking faster than United Methodists.
Change is needed. And praying for an awakening without making the needed change, and engaging in the needed work, is basically asking God to do what He called us to do.
There are issues that still must be addressed.

Generational issues

Although generational division isn’t as evident nationally today, it still abounds in many places across the SBC. Join me at many state Baptist conventions and you’ll see.
Many younger believers have left the SBC, but they aren’t leaving the faith or becoming Wiccans. They are becoming nondenominational evangelicals who still believe like us but now want to go on without us.
We should continue to ask why.
The SBC needs to determine how to help all generations engage in the mission of God, together, before the Southern Baptist Convention grays even more.

Church planting

Any denomination that grows will increase in both church planting and evangelism. Currently, church planting is a bright spot in the SBC. As Carol Pipes wrote for Baptist Press, the number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 294 to 46,793, a 0.63 percent increase over 2014 – the 17th year in a row the number of Southern Baptist churches has grown.
However, generally denominations must plant 3 percent of the total number of churches just to maintain. That means the SBC needs 1,403 new churches in 2016, substantially more than the 800-plus in 2015, to maintain as other churches close or disaffiliate.
Yet, North American Mission Board’s church planting emphasis has received pushback, as if we are doing too much! We plant a substantially lower per capita number of churches than the Assemblies of God, for example – and they just celebrated 25 years of consecutive growth.
The SBC isn’t planting too many; in fact, it must plant more. It needs new churches that reach men and women in different communities, of different ethnicities, and across the generations.

Cultural challenges

A negative view of engaging culture, and being negatively viewed by culture, remains a thorn to SBC effectiveness. And, to be honest, some leaders have exacerbated this problem.
Many think being on the front line of the culture wars for decades is “fighting for the faith.” There are things worth a fight, but we’ve sure found a lot of fights to wage.
For many of our neighbors, our warring is interpreted as being against them. You can’t reach a people and war with a people at the same time.
As of yet, we’ve not made it to the point where we have, as SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page has suggested, become known for what we are for rather than what we are against.
Yet, we simply cannot continue building walls between ourselves and the culture, then castigate people on the other side for not climbing over.
That means our churches need to change, and part of that change has to be a renewed emphasis on evangelism.

Effective evangelism

The fact is, we seem to have lost our passion for evangelism. Baptists love evangelism as long as somebody else is doing it.

Baptists love baptisms so much that we named our denomination after them. Yet, there are fewer and fewer. Evangelism, and the baptisms that flow from gospel proclamation, must be our focus again or we need a new name that does not involve the waters of biblical baptism.
And, yes, that evangelism has to change in some ways, and innovation and change are just not bad things, Southern Baptists.
The gospel needs to be proclaimed, and Southern Baptists need to get more serious about proclaiming that same gospel in new ways.
As I leave denominational service, I’m a bit relieved to drop the role of statistical truth-telling to Southern Baptists. It’s not a fun job, I assure you, as telling the statistical truth is often controversial in our denomination.
And, some have a vested interest in saying things are fine, since they are (at times) the ones in charge.
But all is not well. Sure, there are other issues to address like how Southern Baptists treat one another, organizational challenges, character issues, and more.
However, at this point, might I suggest that we need the truth and we need change.
The truth is the SBC is declining, the decline is accelerating, and if something does not change, the denomination will depopulate itself in a matter of decades.
The change is more focus on sharing the gospel, planting churches, engaging the culture, and joining Jesus on mission.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, will join the faculty of Wheaton College beginning July 1 as The Billy Graham Distinguished Endowed Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism; executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism; and chair of the Wheaton Graduate School’s evangelism and leadership program.)

6/14/2016 10:19:55 AM by Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

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