June 2017

How to involve more women in SBC life

June 6 2017 by Dean Inserra & Ashlyn Portero

Over the past several years, the culture of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has begun to shift as more pastors and leaders desire to see the convention grow in diversity. This is encouraging, as the SBC should not be known as a club for white male pastors, but rather a united body, which reflects the kingdom of God.
 
Intentional steps are being taken to move the convention forward, though to be sure, there is much work left to do. As the SBC continues to focus efforts and leadership influence toward racial reconciliation and increasing diversity in other ways, another challenge has emerged: how to better engage female leaders in the life of the SBC.

Dean Inserra and Ashlyn Portero


The convention traditionally provides community and support for women in several different contexts. The annual meeting, along with state convention and local associational gatherings, host various luncheons and breakouts for women, the majority of which are designed for pastors’ wives.
 
The SBC often reaches and connects this segment of women effectively through traditional methods. However, in the midst of a changing culture, where women occupy many roles beyond that of a pastor’s wife or children’s ministry leader, we must ask how the SBC is going to involve other women more fully.
 
We should not discount the efforts that have already been made – it is good to support and connect ministry wives and offer networks for women living on mission. These circles are filled with women who benefit from the resources and the fellowship. Yet there are many women leading in today’s SBC churches in other ways.
 
Female leaders are now sitting at tables in strategic meetings, heading ministry departments and occupying high capacity positions in SBC churches and entities.
 
Many of these roles are traditionally thought to be roles for men, but a quick survey of growing SBC churches reveals that women too are stepping into new director and executive-level leadership. They are excelling alongside their male counterparts.
 
So how will the SBC engage these women?
 
The days of limiting women to a “Ladies Tea” and narrow-focused small-group gatherings are no longer sufficient.
 
Creating social networks are important, but most women today want not only to be brought into the social aspects of the SBC, but into the work of the convention as well.
 
As women serve as strong leaders in their local church contexts, we should be working to see them represented in the SBC, both at the annual meeting and other gatherings.
 
Some may question the increase in female leadership, but this is primarily an issue of culture, not theology. No one is talking about challenging complementarian views, and women are not demanding to be elected elders or seeking to fill the pulpit.
 
Most women in SBC churches are simply seeking to serve alongside men in their respective, God-designed roles.
 
For women, these roles are not limited to women’s ministry alone – though we certainly value female discipleship and should work even harder to equip women leading in this ministry area. Especially in non-traditional SBC churches, women may occupy roles such as “Connections Director” or “Membership & Assimilation.” The duties of these roles may be similar to what another church would call a “Discipleship Pastor.”
 
Does this mean that those two people, both leading at high levels, can’t take part in the same kinds of networks and gatherings? Certainly not.
 
Outside of programming designed specifically for senior pastors, the SBC should work to involve more women through its messaging, networks and events. When the majority of content is directed toward pastors alone, many think that in order to engage women, we must create special, accessory events.
 
Many women are already working alongside men in their churches, so to neglect them in SBC life is to do a disservice to both genders and the convention.
 
What is the simple answer to engaging women more in SBC life? Just ask them.
 
Many are eager to be a part of the work of the convention in more active, hands-on ways. We should see more women on the platform at the annual meeting, encouraging their presence on committees and in panel conversations.
 
We must involve the women who also care about the future of SBC seminaries, entities and initiatives, and educate more women to do the same.
 
To be sure, women have a long history of ministry service in the SBC to be acknowledged, but perhaps there has never been such a contingent of theologically conservative female leaders serving in local churches as exists today. As a result, the leadership and activity of the SBC should reflect this reality by equipping and empowering more women to engage with SBC polity.
 
As we prepare for the annual gathering of Southern Baptists, there is an opportunity before us to display the many possibilities for women to connect to SBC life.
 
Many women play the critical supportive role of ministry wife, but there are many others who play different roles. The need for women’s involvement does not stop there.
 
A healthy convention will be one that values the flourishing of female leaders in the church. Within our complementarianism there should exist a common delight and mutual support.
 
In the past, a seat at the table may have earned women a cup of tea. Now it is time to invite them to the main course.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dean Inserra is lead pastor at City Church in Tallahassee, Fla. Ashlyn Portero serves City Church as executive director.)
 

6/6/2017 2:01:00 PM by Dean Inserra & Ashlyn Portero | with 0 comments



The paradox of surrender

June 6 2017 by Mike Goeke

Twenty years ago I surrendered my sexuality to God. After days of wrestling with Him, I knocked on my wife’s door and asked her if I could come home. She said yes, and we began, inch by inch, the journey of surrender, restoration, redemption and rebuilding that we remain on today.
 
I had left her months earlier after having surrendered myself to my sexuality. For most of my life I had fought feelings and desires I did not want. When I finally gave up the fight, I felt liberated.

Mike Goeke


The inner tension that had defined so much of my life seemed to disappear. I felt free from the confines of my traditional sexual boundaries, free of the urge to hide myself and free of secrets.
 
Yet something was “off” inside me. Over time, I felt less free and began to feel unsafe. Everything I read said I should embrace it, learn to love it and live with it. Escape was described as an exercise in futility. So I pressed on.
 
On Easter weekend 1997, through a testimony of a man who struggled as I did, I reconnected with Jesus. But it was not the Jesus I thought I had known. It was a very real, very strong, very powerful Jesus. I realized that He was offering me the freedom that I thought surrendering to my sexuality would give me.
 
He offered me love – a love that loved me where I was and loved me too much to leave me there. And so, on April 17, 1997, I held up a white flag and surrendered myself to Jesus.
 
For years I had made demands of God under the guise of prayer, and when He failed to meet my demands, I decided that He either lacked the power to meet my demands or that He simply didn’t care. But on that day in 1997, I had no expectations or demands. I knew without a doubt that He was calling me back to Himself and to give up the fight.
 
Instead of demanding of God the result I wanted, I simply said, “God, I give this all to You. Do with it what You will.” He accepted my surrender, and nothing looks like I anything I could have imagined.
 
Over the years, people have often asked me about the current state of my sexuality, and about specific changes that might or might have happened in my desires. When I admit the existence of lingering struggles or the reality of ongoing issues, there is often this unspoken (and sometimes spoken) thought that surrendering my sexuality to God might not have been worth it. Other strugglers often seem to want proof that God will do certain things as they tally the pros and cons of surrender.
 
But surrender is not an act of assessing pros and cons. We often forget that we are not in a position to bargain when we surrender, coming to some sort of terms as to what we will keep and what we will give up.
 
We simply surrender all.
 
In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul says that Christ died for all, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Two verses later Paul ties the idea of living for Christ with the idea of becoming a new creation. Ceding control of our lives to Jesus is the essence of what it means to be “new.”
 
There have been times when I have wanted to retract my surrender. While Paul says that we don’t regard “new creations” according to flesh, our flesh still exerts itself. I have been blessed with an amazing wife and many good friends who have reminded me of truth when I was tempted by the lie that what I walked away from was better than what I now have.
 
When I first began this journey, I was afraid of what I might look like when God was finished with me. But God has been faithful to reveal things to me as I am ready for them, and to prepare me for each new and exciting part of the redeemed and transformed life I have in Him.
 
Now, 20 years later, I feel safer and freer than I did 20 years ago. God-willing, 20 years from now I will look back on today and be equally amazed at how my life, under His care, love, leadership and ownership, has changed for the better.
 
The paradox of surrender is that in it we find freedom. In surrender, I found joy and purpose and security and abundant life. I have also discovered that I assert control and fight against God in many other areas of my life, areas like money and relationships and affirmation and acceptance.
 
As we live surrendered lives, we all have things that fight against the freedom God has for us, and in all of those things we are called to surrender. And as was true when I surrendered my sexuality 20 years ago, when we hand those things over to God, He does not leave us empty.
 
Instead, we get Jesus. We get the great liberator who lives inside of us – empowering, enlightening, encouraging and embracing us just as we are, yet destined for so much more.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Goeke, @MikeGoeke, is associate pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco.)
 

6/6/2017 2:00:25 PM by Mike Goeke | with 0 comments



What is Ramadan? Why should Christians care?

June 5 2017 by Mike Edens

Imagine not taking in food or drink during daylight hours for 28 days straight. Envision what it would be like for that practice to be directly linked to your standing in society or your stature with God.
 
This is the reality for Muslims during the month of Ramadan, a time when every follower of Islam is encouraged (and in some cases required) to spend the month exercising many forms of self-restraint, seeking to be aware of God and thinking about how they should best worship Him.

IMB photo
Muslims pray at a mosque in Abidjan’s Koumassi quartier before breaking a fast during the holy month of Ramadan.


If you were to visit an observant Muslim country during this time, you would find restaurants closed during daylight hours. Refrigerated boxes of soft drinks found on the sidewalk on most streets are padlocked. Cigarette vendors are missing from the daily street traffic. Until sunset approaches and dinner preparations can finally be made, many normal patterns of life are completely halted.
 
The yearly Ramadan fast, which runs this year from May 26-June 25, is one of five orthodox practices that define Islamic culture and religion. Muslims who do not observe the fast are marked out as those who are not serious about their religion. The focus of this month is not primarily abstinence or fasting but a concentration of a Muslim’s energy and mind on an awareness of God and on the life of pious worship.
 
Taqwa – awareness of God – is cultivated in several ways during Ramadan.
 
First, by fasting. When the thought of food, drink or cigarettes comes to mind, people are directed to think on God and to meditate on their responsibility to please Him.
 
A second form of taqwa is by taking the finances that would have been used during the day to buy food and giving that money to the poor. Some Muslims provide meals after the sun sets for a larger group than just their own family. Frequently in Muslim communities there will be public tables set, and at sunset passersby are invited to the fitir, which is the breaking of the daily fast.
 
A third way in which Muslims seek to experience heightened God-consciousness is through public readings and recitations of the Qur’an (or Koran) during the late evening hours when families are together.
 

A strategic time to pray

The month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims are very aware of dreams and visions. They believe dreams are a direct way that God chooses to reveal himself to people. During this time of heightened spiritual focus, Muslims are often seeking a special message or revelation from God.
 
As Christians have prayed earnestly for their Muslim neighbors and friends during this season, they hear reports of dreams and visions in which Jesus appears to these friends and draws them to himself. In fact, it is rare to meet Muslim-background believers who have come to Christ without an experience of this nature.
 
During this time when Muslims are particularly aware of their spiritual hunger, barriers to the gospel seem to be most effectively breached when Muslims dream of Jesus or dream of a Christian who has a life-giving message to give to them.
 
The reality is that every day, Muslims are dying without Jesus. Some have been presented with the truth of the gospel and have rejected it, while others have never once had the opportunity to respond to the good news.
 
Christians should grasp this sobering truth and view this month of Muslims’ heightened spiritual awareness as a time to earnestly entreat our heavenly Father to soften their hearts to the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Christians should also pray for an increase in Christian evangelical presence in Muslim communities across the globe.
 

A strategic time to engage

A Muslim’s elevated sensitivity to spiritual matters during Ramadan usually creates an open atmosphere for discussions with Christian friends. During this season Christians are often invited to share an evening meal, an iftar, with their Muslim friends. In this setting, spiritual discussions are frequently welcomed and encouraged by the Muslim hosts. The month of Ramadan is also an excellent opportunity for Christians to invite their Muslim friends to an evening meal, to give return hospitality, and to have dialogues on spiritual things.
 
Here are a couple questions believers could use to kick-start a spiritual conversation with one of their Muslim friends during Ramadan:

  • Fasting during Ramadan seems to be both a personal and corporate experience. Can you help me understand some of the most meaningful aspects of this month for you and your community?
  • As a Muslim, what do you mean by taqwa?

 
Questions like these aim to move beyond the physical aspects of the fast to discover how our Muslim friends respond to God in daily life.
 
Listening carefully and prayerfully to their answer will often encourage them to be more open to hear how Christians seek to walk with God daily in the Word and the Spirit.
 
For most Muslim groups, the lunar calendar dictates that Ramadan began Friday, May 26 this year and continues until Sunday, June 25. Christians can use this time to earnestly seek God on behalf of the more than 1.6 billion followers of Islam around the world. Ask God to soften their hearts to the gospel and that He send more laborers into the field to engage them with the truth of Christ.
 
For more on reaching Muslims with the gospel, visit here and here. To explore ways to go short-term and long-term to engage Muslims, visit IMB’s opportunities page.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Edens is dean of graduate studies, assistant director of the Institute of Christian Apologetics, and Professor of Theology and Islamic Studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Madelyn retired after 27 years of International Mission Board service among Muslims of the Middle East.)
 

6/5/2017 11:35:19 AM by Mike Edens | with 0 comments



‘You ain’t seen nothing like those Baptists’

June 2 2017 by Brian Koonce, Missouri Pathway

It was cold, wet and windy somewhere between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. as I watched the waters of the Osage River creep ever closer.

When the Cole County Sheriff activated his posse (a ready-to-go group of trained civilian volunteers and, no, we don’t chase after cattle rustlers) for flood duty, I changed into my uniform and immediately confirmed my availability. I thought I might spend the afternoon helping stranded citizens trapped in their homes during widespread flooding in southern Missouri in late April and early May.

Photo by Brian Koonce
Brian Koonce, a chaplain in Baptist disaster relief and for a local sheriff’s office, hears a fellow sheriff’s volunteer enthuse over the intensity and scope of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief ministry.


Instead, I was placed with another volunteer and a deputy working the 2-5 a.m. shift, ensuring that no one dared enter Engineers Road in Osage City, which was at least five feet under water from the Osage River.
 
No one even came close to our road block, so we amused ourselves and stayed alert telling stories. Since I had a bit of a cold, I let the other two do most of the talking. Naturally, the conversation turned toward the flood and disasters in general. The other posse volunteer, an older gentleman, began telling stories of his time working with the Red Cross during Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.
 
He began talking about the rows of ambulance-like vehicles they’d fill with food to deliver to folks. I was ready to jump in with “You know who cooks that food, don’t you?” but the deputy was quick with a question.
 
“So where do you get the food?” he asked.
 
“It’s the Baptists,” the volunteer said. “Oh man, let me tell you. You ain’t seen nothing like those Baptists. They come roaring in with all kinds of trucks and trailers. They set up these huge kitchens, start cooking and they don’t stop until we tell them we don’t need any more. See, we have these big containers – I forget what we call them ... sort of like a large ice chest. ...”
 
“Cambros,” I said.

Photo by Brian Koonce
Baptist disaster relief volunteer Bill Adams from Bethany Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau stacks paneling and flooring stripped from a home flooded by the Current River in southern Missouri this spring.


He looked at me in surprise. “Yeah, cambros! And they just keep filling them up with thousands of hot meals until no one within 100 miles is hungry.”
 
“They must have some big Baptist parishes down there” – churches we call them – “to have that kind of operation,” the deputy said.
 
Again, I tried to jump in and clarify.
 
“That’s the cool part!” my fellow posse member said. “They weren’t just local. There were trucks from Baptists all over the country. I even saw some from Missouri. You can tell where they’re from because they all wear these hats. Man, they’re really big on their hats. Some are white, some are pink and some are blue. Their whole operation is color-coded and they work like nothing you’ve ever seen and it’s all for free. And clean, boy, they kept that outdoor kitchen spotless. They were the hardest working group I’ve ever seen.”
 
I didn’t bother correcting him on the hat colors since he was doing such a great job telling the Baptist disaster relief story.
 
“You don’t bother the workers in the one color of hat because they’re locked in on their job like a laser. You have to go find someone in a blue hat to talk to the leader.”
 
“Wow,” the deputy said, genuinely impressed.
 
My fellow volunteer continued, “I’d been in Florida that summer for Hurricane Dennis with the Red Cross and they were there too. They’re everywhere.”
 
I finally got to join the conversation in earnest, saying that I happen to have one those, ahem, yellow hats sitting on the desk at home. Not only am I the posse’s chaplain, I’m a Baptist disaster relief chaplain as well. I noted that even as we spoke during that April 30 graveyard shift, Missouri Baptist disaster relief (DR) volunteers were preparing to go to Neosho in southeast Missouri and wherever else they were needed to bring help, hope and healing.
 
I explained all the different things DR does in Missouri, the U.S. and even overseas – not just feeding, but child care, mud-out, chain saw, assessment, communication, showers, laundry, chaplaincy and more.
 
More importantly, I got to share why these people in color-coded hats did all that work after Katrina and why they are doing it this very minute. “Because Jesus loves us, and He wants us to love others,” I said. From there, I got to share the complete gospel with both of them.
 
Neither man accepted Jesus there on the banks of the Osage River. It would have been amazing if they had, but almost just as amazing was the way the professionalism, sacrifice and testimony of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers – from Missouri and beyond – acted as a seed that lay dormant in this man’s memory for over a decade.
 
Their service became the living embodiment of Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Their “good works” were indeed seen, and glory was given to God by those who didn’t even know Him.
 
Who knows how many other seeds they’ve sown and who else has seen their good works? Who knows what seeds they’re sowing or who is watching this very minute?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce is a staff writer for The Pathway, mbcpathway.com, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
 

6/2/2017 9:51:08 AM by Brian Koonce, Missouri Pathway | with 0 comments



Those who became soldiers

June 1 2017 by Jake McCandless

Attendance numbers, professions of faith, baptisms and sexual purity commitment cards showed I was leading a successful student ministry years ago, yet I’m not sure I prepared my students for what was ahead.
 
In the process of planning a family outing over Memorial Day weekend last year, my mind went to the true purpose of Memorial Day – remembering those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. I thought back to the prior Veterans Day when my daughter had come home from school with a packet of song lyrics for a Veterans Day program.

Jake McCandless


Excitedly, she informed me what the word veteran meant – “someone who fought to keep us free.” I was proud to hear this being taught.
 
But I had just watched the movie Hacksaw Ridge, so simply referring to a veteran as one who had fought and served in the military didn’t seem strong enough. These were men and women who left the life they knew as a teenager, were thrust into grueling training and then faced one of the most challenging situations humans ever encounter.
 
At a young age, our military men and women have witnessed life-altering scenes. They have had to push their bodies and minds in ways the rest of us have been able to avoid.
 
My daughter snapped me out of my thoughts by asking about some veterans I knew. I began with my grandpa and uncles. Then I rattled off a list of senior adults in our church, picturing those who had stood when I had recognized them in the worship service prior to Veterans Day. I then listed a few younger people in our church who had served. Finally, I added personal friends I knew who had gone into the military.
 
I was about to stop when it dawned on me that a number of students from my time as a youth pastor were serving or had served. All of them had spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
The kids I once chased with Laser Tag guns and encouraged to stuff their mouths full of pickles during game times had faced the same unimaginable situations our senior adult war veterans had faced, with stories that are sadly similar.
 
My first youth pastor position began in 2000 and went well. The youth group grew in attendance and depth in the Lord. Several were saved. A few made commitments to missions and ministry. We even made an impact on their high school. I poured my life into those students.
 
But my efforts focused on the “then and there.” We decorated the youth room in a cool way and spent a lot of time discussing dating and waiting until marriage. Most of the youth night talks encouraged them to live out their faith at school, reach their friends and be unified.
 
Yet none of these helped those students go into the deserts of the Middle East.
 
I needed to have armed them with truth and biblical principles such as: God is still God when your friend gets blown away by an IED; God cares about your struggle with PTSD; and it is worthwhile to stay true to your convictions even when it seems like there is nothing to live for.
 
I had no idea that the war on terror was ahead of us, but that is no excuse because we are warned in scripture that there will always be challenges to our faith.
 
I’m so thankful, despite my shortsightedness, God has worked in and through those brave men and women. They have gone against the odds and returned to Him. But statistics tell us that many students who grow up in our churches soon leave the church, at least for a season. The reasons vary. For some, it’s the partying at college, the difficulty of making a living, an atheist professor or the challenges of serving our country.
 
Whatever causes the youth of our churches to depart from the faith, I wish I had looked beyond the youth room, ski trip and high school. I wish I hadn’t focused only on the temporal moment but, rather, had better prepared them with the tools to remain faithful to God amid the rigors of life that loomed ahead.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jake McCandless, former pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, Ark., now is executive director and speaker for Prophecy Simplified, prophecysimplified.com. and author of Spiritual Prepper: Tapping into Overlooked Prophecies to Prepare You for Doomsday.)
 

6/1/2017 9:38:56 AM by Jake McCandless | with 0 comments



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