May 2019

My ministry ‘failure’

May 21 2019 by Randy L. Bennett

I have begun to sort through my books, give away materials collected over the years and empty out files in view of my retirement in the next few years.

I came across a file from back in the late 1970s when I served as a “mission pastor” in Northern California while attending Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. (now Gateway Seminary in Ontario, Calif.).
At the time, we were called mission pastors rather than church planters. After two years of hard work, our ministry there ended when our core group disintegrated in a matter of days and our sponsoring church decided to shut down the work.
We left town broken and defeated.
Fortunately, I had the sense to write a thorough summary of what we did accomplish, which was in my mission pastor file.
I have carried the guilt of that ministry “failure” in my heart and mind for 40-plus years. What did we do wrong? How could we have done things differently? Did we walk in the Spirit of God or in the flesh?
Reading the summary, I was shocked at what I had written.
In two years, we discipled over 60 people and led 75 to Christ. What seemed like a huge failure had been an incredible evangelistic success. Having led most of the 75 people to the Lord, I do not think I’ve led that many people to Christ in such a short period at any other time in my life. It is true that we were not able to establish a lasting church, but we did see God change many people’s lives.
Isaiah received a wonderful promise: “The Word of God will not come back void.”
Listen to Isaiah 55:11: “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth; It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
I first discovered that promise as a college student preaching revivals across California. It was never going to be about me – it was going to be about the Word of God. Preach the powerful and life-changing Word of God and be amazed at what God will do. I certainly wish that the church we intended to start was still going strong, but I am grateful that 75 people came to know the Lord and many were trained to be followers of Christ.
Are you carrying a ministry “failure” in your heart? Is it possible that you have forgotten the amazing things God did as you presented, taught and preached God’s Word?
His Word does not come back void. When it is sent out, it changes the lives of those who hear it. The Word will accomplish the pleasures of God, not our pleasures and desires even if they are great and godly. I can’t wait to get to heaven and find out how God used those new believers and new disciples.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy L. Bennett is director of missions for the Kern County Southern Baptist Association in Bakersfield, Calif., and a former president of the California Southern Baptist Convention.)

5/21/2019 9:54:00 AM by Randy L. Bennett | with 0 comments

‘Hope-givers’ reaching refugees on brink of despair

May 20 2019 by Paul Chitwood

With tears streaming down her face, an elderly woman stood before me half way across the Simon Bolivar International Bridge between Colombia and Venezuela. She was one of thousands to cross the bridge on foot that day. Most carried food, medicine, and other essential items. They came to Colombia to secure whatever they could carry in their hands or on their backs before making the long journey back home.

Photo by Chris Carter, IMB
Thousands of people from Venezuela cross into Colombia. Venezuela has lost electricity and gas, the currency has been devalued to the point of being completely useless, food isn’t easily available and health care is nonexistent. Many are crossing into Colombia, leaving behind the only home they have ever known.

Others had no plans to return. Instead, they were already miles deep in the Colombian mountains with hopes of making their way to other South American countries. They had heard there were places where refugees are welcome, jobs are available, and a better life awaits.
As I listened to the woman and many others on the bridge share their stories, their faces were marked by pain and fear. Electricity has been shut off in much of their country. Schools in some communities are closed. One person told of hospital rooms where bags of trash cover the floor.
In the wake of a collapsed economy, bartering goods has become the only way to obtain basic necessities. Venezuelan currency is more valuable as notepaper than as money to make purchases. One traveler held out a handbag that I realized, on closer inspection, was constructed entirely from Venezuelan bills.
Millions have fled the country. But many of the poor who take flight find survival outside of Venezuela every bit as challenging as life inside Venezuela.

At a roadside shelter where Southern Baptists partner with relief agencies to provide meals, showers, and warm clothing, we met a man, a construction worker by trade, on his way back to Venezuela. He had crossed Berlin Mountain twice.

Photo by Chris Carter, IMB
Using worthless currency as notepaper at a roadside stand in Colombia, displaced people from Venezuela leave notes and prayers to friends and family who will come behind them on the long journey, on foot, through the Colombia mountains.

At an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, Berlin Mountain is one of the many perils that await the refugees. After his first crossing, this man had traveled for weeks to a place he was sure he could earn money to send to his wife and children back home. But he soon learned the job market was already flooded by those who had arrived before him. Without paperwork, he was sure to starve. What few possessions he carried on his hopeful journey out of Venezuela had been stolen. His only option was to go back.
He had nothing in his hands, but the weight of his failure was crushing him. The man’s ragged clothes and quivering lip told the story: “There’s no hope! There’s no life! We have no hope!”
At another roadside stop, I met a woman who had deserted the Venezuelan army. She did not have the heart to do what soldiers were directed to do in response to the conflict. But now, with her children stuck in Venezuela in the care of her mother, her pain and grief seemed more than she could bear. She volunteered in a little market to serve other refugees. Above her head and on the walls were hundreds of notes, each telling a part of the painful story of those who journeyed through: “There’s no hope! There’s no life! We have no hope!” the notes read.

But there is hope.

Photo by Chris Carter, IMB
IMB President Paul Chitwood and missionary leader Charles Clark pray for a Venezuelan woman halfway across the Simon Bolivar International Bridge between Colombia and Venezuela as people pass by carrying food. The woman had crossed into Colombia to buy basic necessities that are no longer available in Venezuela.

Standing alongside me on the bridge were hope-givers. At the roadside shelter where we partner with relief agencies were hope-givers. And at the little market where we stopped were hope-givers. Some were your Southern Baptist missionaries. Others were Colombian and Venezuelan Baptist pastors and missionaries – the spiritual children and grandchildren of those who heard the gospel as a result of Southern Baptist mission work in Colombia and Venezuela dating back to the 1940s and 1950s. Some were the next generation of Venezuelan church planters in one-year training, much of it revolving around ministry to refugees.

All of these hope-givers have heard and believed the gospel and committed their lives to sharing it. The impact they are having upon those left hopeless by the circumstances of their life and country is powerful and instantaneous.
On the bridge, a smile broke across the weary, tear-stained face of the elderly woman as her arms opened for an embrace. The construction worker’s burden of failure seemed to lighten. He, too, leaned forward for an embrace. The military deserter wiped away her tears and smiled as she hugged each of us. Only a few of their immediate problems were solved as they received a sandwich, a shower, a sweater. But they had been given hope.
And they heard that in Christ, there is always hope, always life, always hope. Thank you, Southern Baptists, for sharing life-giving hope with the hurting of Venezuela.

5/20/2019 10:46:12 AM by Paul Chitwood | with 0 comments

Multiplying missions efforts: Training short-term trip leaders

May 20 2019 by Joel Williams, IMB

Leading a short-term mission trip is both exciting and intimidating, but in the midst of it all, mission leaders should seize the opportunity to prepare their teams for more than just the trip at hand. Short-term mission trips provide an opportunity and a training ground for raising up new mission leaders, which should multiply a church’s mission efforts for a lifetime.

Excitement, intimidation and focus

The work of leading a short-term mission team is full of many exciting moments as mission leaders see God’s people set afire for his mission to the nations. Mission leaders experience and share in the joy of seeing God prepare and use his people for his work among the nations. But leading a short-term mission trip is not just exciting work.

Leading a short-term mission team is also intimidating. A short-term mission leader can quickly become overwhelmed by all of the roles that are required in leading a team to a foreign country. The leader may serve as a fundraiser, a travel agent, a logistics coordinator, a counselor, a manager, an accountant, a mediator, a negotiator, a teacher, and so much more. All of these roles and needs can be overwhelming.
However, the roles that must be filled in leading a short-term mission trip must never take precedence over one of the essential roles of the mission leader: multiplying new leaders for the mission. Mission trips are great “on-the-job training” for the work of the gospel among the nations, and leaders focused on multiplication should leverage every mission trip for multiplying mission leaders.

Jesus, Paul and you

Multiplying mission leaders is not just practical; it’s biblical. When Jesus called his first disciples, He said, “Follow me . . . and I will make you fish for people” (Matthew 4:19 CSB). His strategy for multiplying mission leaders began with the simple call to follow Him. These new followers started their training by watching, listening and learning from Jesus’s words and actions. They knew they were being trained for a purpose, which was to fish for people.
After their initial training, Jesus commissioned his disciples, sending them out into the world to practice what they had been taught. This progression from learning to leading prepared them to become disciple makers, and as disciple makers, these men would call others to follow Jesus. They repeated this training process – calling, cultivating and commissioning – in order to raise up others to fish for men in the future.
This pattern is also seen vividly in Paul’s general practice of discipling. Speaking of himself, he told the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 CSB). Likewise, he told the church in Philippi, “Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me . . .” (Philippians 4:9 CSB).
Paul continually emphasized this pattern of discipling in his second letter to Timothy, a man whom he was raising up to be a mission leader. He told Timothy to “hold onto the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13 CSB). Regarding Timothy’s own work of multiplying mission leaders, Paul wrote the following: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2 CSB).

Call, cultivate, commission

The pattern of disciple making that Jesus demonstrated and the early disciples duplicated is the pattern of discipling for us today as we multiply mission leaders in the church. As you seize the opportunity to leverage short-term mission trips to raise up mission leaders, begin with the end in mind. Here’s a simple three-step process to help you multiply mission leaders for the future through short-term mission trips.
Just as Jesus and Paul identified specific people and called them to a discipling process with a specific end in mind, the mission leader must do the same in cultivating new mission leaders. Prayerfully identify individuals on the team who display the gifting and the calling of leadership in the mission. Personally call them into a discipling process, recognizing their gifts and talking to them about the end goal – developing them into future mission leaders.
Intentionally cultivate the entire short-term team by training them to multiply the mission in the future. Utilize IMB’s Explore Missions course or Foundations document to help cultivate mission-focus and spiritual growth on your team. Make sure to invite the future leader(s) you’ve called out to come alongside and observe you in specific leadership roles as you lead the mission team. Allow the future leader(s) to see what’s involved in every step of the process, from planning and preparation to implementation.
Finally, when the new mission leaders have gone through the process of being cultivated, commission them to lead in the mission. Empower them to lead a mission trip, but be around to watch and support as they continue to grow and to learn. Most importantly, encourage them to continue the discipling process with their teams in order to keep multiplying mission leaders for the future.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dr. Joel Williams is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in St. Francisville, Louisiana. He also serves as adjunct faculty for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared in Used by permission.)

5/20/2019 10:20:37 AM by Joel Williams, IMB | with 0 comments

Evaluating Kingdom partnerships

May 17 2019 by Tony Wolfe

The Great Commission is the responsibility of the local church, where God expects each Christian to leverage his or her resources most effectively toward its fulfillment.
In this stewardship, churches must constantly evaluate their Kingdom partnerships.

Whether this partnership is with a local Baptist association, a state convention, a national entity, an individual missionary, community benevolence programs or any number of other good causes, it needs to be evaluated regularly. Every penny given through the local church deserves to be stewarded toward its maximization in Kingdom impact.
Here are four questions to ask when evaluating your Kingdom partnerships:

1) What do they believe about the Bible?

In Amos 3:3 God asks, “How can two walk together unless they agree?” Total agreement on every scriptural point is not likely, but the fundamental doctrines of the local church should be in harmony with those of her Kingdom partners.
Every congregation must decide which issues are peripheral and which are essential. Southern Baptists work together under the banner of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 in which essential doctrines are agreed upon such as biblical inerrancy, ecclesiological offices, the natures of God and of man, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, God’s design for human sexuality, and more.
If the Kingdom partner does not share your core convictions about the Bible, you will often find yourself misrepresented and frustrated. At least once each year, evaluate your Kingdom partnerships by asking the question, “What do they believe about the Bible?”

2) What, exactly, do they do with the funds?

The Lord Jesus asks in Luke 16:11, “If you have not been faithful with worldly wealth, who will trust you with what is genuine? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to someone else, who will give you what is your own?
Your church, as a matter of good management, should know where her Kingdom dollars are being spent. Of the funds your church invests in this organization, what percentage goes to overhead or administrative costs? What percentage goes to state, national and international gospel-centered mission work? What percentage is directed toward ministries that complement or supplement your church’s areas of ministry need?
Too often churches give to Kingdom partners because that’s what they have always done, yet this is not a wise practice in the Kingdom of God. Every year, ask your Kingdom partners where, exactly, the money is spent.

3) With what other groups do they partner?

Often, when churches support an outside group they do not do the diligence of investigating that group’s other partnerships. When this happens, an unequal yoke can be formed between the local church and a group that does not share her core doctrinal beliefs.
If the Kingdom partner you are supporting is joined with a third party group that does not agree on the fundamentals, the Bible would ask, “What partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Belial?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
As you evaluate your Kingdom partnerships, ask about their third party affiliates. With whom do they partner to do the work of ministry?

4) How does this partnership extend and enlarge our Great Commission footprint?

Your church has only one financial pie, and it can only be sliced in so many ways.
There are a number of good organizations worth supporting. The difficult question is: Which giving channels maximize our dollars for Kingdom impact?
The apostle Paul carefully evaluated the church’s partners in the gospel: “Indeed, we are giving careful thought to do what is right, not only before the Lord but also before people ... as for our brothers, they are the messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 8:21-23).
Jesus has empowered, equipped and commissioned His local church to propagate the gospel in her community and around the world. Every penny given must be maximized to this purpose and deserves careful discretion.
Choose a missional giving channel that best affords your church the privilege of seeing worldwide gospel impact. Ask regularly how this Kingdom partnership is extending and enlarging the local church’s Great Commission footprint.
I have the honor of working with thousands of churches in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention through the Cooperative Program – Southern Baptists’ channel of supporting missions and ministries in their states, in North America and throughout the world. I believe it is the most effective Great Commission funding and sending mechanism of our day.
The SBTC is a confessional fellowship of likeminded churches, grounded in the inerrancy of God’s Word, maximizing the Kingdom impact of every dollar, holding hands with likeminded partners and working hard to extend and enlarge the Great Commission footprint of the churches we serve.
With what organizations does your church partner in taking the gospel of Jesus Christ around the corner and across the globe? Are you evaluating those partnerships regularly for doctrinal agreement, financial accountability, third party affiliates and Great Commission impact?

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tony Wolfe is director of pastor/church relations for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

5/17/2019 1:00:50 PM by Tony Wolfe | with 0 comments

The church’s mission to make culture

May 16 2019 by Dayton Hartman

The late founder of one of my alma maters was fond of saying, “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.” This wasn’t an arrogant claim that Christians possess superior talents or abilities. It was just his way of saying that faith in Jesus should make a positive difference in how we live.

After all, the gospel is not a message that rescues sinners from the world yet fails to change the world sinners live in (Acts 17:6). No, Jesus does indeed bring positive change, both personally and culturally. The earliest Christians understood this well.

Learning from the early church

Though they were a persecuted minority for much of the first three centuries, the early church did not abandon the call to engage the culture. Indeed, they viewed themselves as subjects of a king whose kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36 CSB) while being very much in the world (Luke 17:21). This makes every church an outpost of an otherworldly kingdom that will one day replace all the kingdoms on the earth (Revelation 11:15).
In view of these truths, early Christians knew they could not withdraw from the world around them. Yet neither could they imitate the world’s way of life. There were elements of their societies that needed to be countered while other things were waiting to be created by people who had an entirely different vision for life.
In other words, early Christians were neither culturally derivative nor exclusively defensive. Instead, they were culturally creative. They built hospitals because of their belief in the dignity of humanity. They cared for the poor because of their desire to imitate Christ. And they revered God in their private and public lives, often enduring ridicule and persecution because of it.

Making culture and the church’s mission

The idea that Christians ought to “redeem” and create culture can be controversial. When so many people still haven’t heard about Christ, why bother with engaging the culture? Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse?
In fact, Christ-honoring culture benefits society as a whole, including the people who have not heard the good news about Jesus. Furthermore, scripture tells us that God commanded human beings to exercise dominion over all creation (Genesis 1:26–28). Thus, creating culture is one of the tasks we were made for. It is one of the main ways we reflect our Creator, who brought order from chaos (Genesis 1:2).
Theologians call this “the creation mandate.” It’s a commission that necessitates both a whole-life education – what the Greeks called paideia (cf. Ephesians 6:4) – and social action that is rooted in biblical ethics. To ignore this aspect of the church’s mission would be a detriment to all.

The modern struggle to engage

Unfortunately, evangelicals have often struggled to engage, reform, and create culture. Some have settled for a gospel that redeems worldly people yet fails to redeem the world itself. This relegates the pursuit of peace and prosperity to the personal realm instead of seeing it as a public facet of loving God and loving our neighbor (Jeremiah 29:7; Mark 12:30–31).
Globally, this oversight has contributed to economic hardships, threats to natural resources, and various forms of injustice and oppression. At times it has even hindered the mission of God’s people. We simply can’t ignore the state of the world and expect things to turn out fine for the church. Whether as a beneficiary or a casualty, the church is never insulated from the consequences of cultural reformation or cultural collapse.
That is why throughout history some of the most culturally influential Christians have been pastors, planters, and missionaries. They saw that the church is critical in redeeming and creating culture that honors God and blesses the world. For the same reasons, planters and missionaries today must understand the culture around them, promote efforts in cultural renewal, and teach national believers to do the same. To do this, church planters must be three things.
1. Planters must be exegetes of culture
Because the gospel is not tied to any earthly culture, it can find a home in any cultural context. Nevertheless, every culture retains elements that the gospel will challenge, transform, or perfect. It is the planter’s job to know which is which.
To be an effective missionary, therefore, church planters must understand both the gospel and the cultural values of their context. That is why they dedicate much of their time to learning a new language as well as a new way of life. The goal is not only to understand the people they hope to evangelize, but also to discern what discipleship looks like in this particular context.
2. Planters must be experts of culture
A little over a century ago, pastors were recognized writers, artists, and societal experts. When people sought to understand a particular political philosophy or the underlying message of a specific piece of artwork, most knew they could look to their pastors. The same proved true for many of history’s great missionaries. Missionaries like William Carey were church planters, pastors, translators, anthropologists, and social reformers.
Today, however, missionaries and planters are saddled with accusations of cultural ignorance, at best, and cultural imperialism, at worst. To change all this, pastors and planters must again read widely and deeply. They must listen well and observe closely. But above all, they must learn to love the people they are called to serve. To be an expert in culture really is to be an expert in the people who live in a certain time and place.
3. Planters must be enthusiasts for culture
Christians think of themselves as “truth people.” We are, of course, but God also cares about justice and beauty. Planters must, therefore, help their churches to see the necessity of all three, showing that we have been commissioned to make culture that displays the multifaceted goodness of God.
As they do so, planters should never encourage international Christians to abandon all their cultural expressions to adopt American tastes and preferences. They must also teach against the common misconception that God only wants Christians to make cultural artifacts with explicitly biblical content. The whole world is a theater for the glory of God, and we should treat it as such.

Long before you plant a church

Don’t wait until you feel called to plant a church to embrace this vision that leads you to the frontlines of cultural engagement. You will find it difficult to live as a culturally engaged missionary overseas if you are not already living like one now. For God has not called us to plant churches that isolate us from the world. Nor has he called us to become purveyors of poorly imitative subcultures. Rather, we are citizens of a better kingdom with a better culture that flows from a better King. Let us all live like this as we plant more outposts of that Kingdom around God’s world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Dayton Hartman is the lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, N.C. He also serves as an adjunct professor of church history for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. This article first appeared at Used by permission.)

5/16/2019 9:56:33 AM by Dayton Hartman | with 0 comments

God was calling

May 14 2019 by Paul Kim

It’s a fact of life that the choices we make are important. We choose our schools, jobs, marriage partners and so forth.

Out of the 33 seminaries I looked into during my senior year at the University of Hawaii in Hilo, I ended up choosing a Southern Baptist seminary.
And I believe it was truly a Spirit-led choice.
After becoming a Christian at the age of 20, I longed to be equipped as a disciple, to become a spiritually mature Christian, but I didn’t know how to go about it.
In college, I disciplined myself to read the daily Bible readings and to pray every morning before my first class at 8 a.m. I shared my personal testimony of how God worked in my life to my friends on campus. I attended the student-led “Eklessia” Bible studies at the Baptist Student Union building. On Friday evenings, a dozen or so college students gathered together at a local church for “Coffee House Ministries” where we enjoyed a time of praise and fellowship. On Saturday mornings I usually cleaned up the small church building in preparation of the Lord’s Day. At Sunday worship services, I served as an usher in greeting church members, who numbered around 100 on average.
Although I kept myself busy in serving the Lord, I felt that God was calling me to a life in full-time ministry.
Although I had been accepted into a number of seminaries, when I received their financial aid packages, I discovered I could not afford the tuition and living expenses, even with my GI Bill. As I prayed about my future, I sought out the advice of our church organist and Baptist Student Union director, Josephine Harris, who I found out was a Foreign Mission Board (today, International Mission Board) missionary to Hawaii for 27 years and a SWBTS alum who majored in music. Her older brother, Dr. James Harris, was senior pastor of University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and an FMB trustee.
As I was seeking her guidance, I received the answer to my prayers when she told me to apply to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas. I had never heard of the seminary before. Through her help, I applied and God opened the door for me to enroll as a master of divinity student in the school of theology in August 1973.
Over 45 years ago, I experienced the abundant blessings of God’s providence in guiding me to choose SWBTS. God took care of every detail, including finances, as in those days SWBTS was tuition-free and the $100 matriculation fee per semester was covered by my GI Bill.
To this day I am grateful to my professors, like Dr. David Garland, the Old Testament professor with whom I took my first seminary class. He shared about his first day at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky and how he was in tears as his mother dropped him off on campus. When he opened the class in prayer, his gracious voice and earnest words moved me so much that I found myself in tears!
Another mentor was my beloved professor, the late Dr. Huber Drumwright, who was dean of the school of theology and New Testament professor. He was so gentle, yet he gave me the biggest bear hug at my graduation. He was the one who introduced me to First Baptist Church in Dallas and to his sister, Ruby Pulley, a member there. Her husband, Ralph Pulley, was a well-known lawyer and chairman of deacons and a trustee at SWBTS. The Pulley family helped me so much while I was at the church, and I’m so thankful that I was able to build lifelong relationships with them. What a wonderful family they are in Christ!
As I look back to when as a young Christian in college looking for a clear direction for my seminary education, I could see that God answered my prayer by preparing each precious soul in my life so that I could enter the gospel ministry through SWBTS and FBC-Dallas.
I was eventually ordained at First Baptist and I returned to Hawaii in 1976 to start two house churches. I could have never imagined then that one day I would become a trustee of SWBTS, seeking to open up opportunities for a new generation of future SBC leaders.
Our God is sovereign over us and I praise and exult the matchless name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Paul Kim is the Asian-American relations consultant with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee and pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass.)

5/14/2019 11:38:16 AM by Paul Kim | with 0 comments

#SBC19: A year’s vision recapped

May 10 2019 by J.D. Greear

Last year, after accepting the nomination for presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), I laid out my prayers for our convention. One year in, as we prepare again for our annual meeting, I am just as excited to see God moving in every one of these areas:

BP file photo
J.D. Greear sets forth his vision in leading Southern Baptists after his election as SBC president in Dallas last year.

1. Gospel above all

The basis of our unity as Southern Baptists is the gospel. As a convention, we should be neither defined nor characterized by a certain church style, method of ministry, political affiliation or cultural and racial distinctive. We are a gospel people; the gospel is, as the apostle Paul said, “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3).
We must avoid the temptation to let smaller doctrinal issues or any personal preferences replace the centrality of the gospel as our unifying standard. The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) is narrow enough to unite us on the essentials and broad enough to allow freedom in the peripherals.

2. Ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation

The church is supposed to declare the diversity of the Kingdom and reflect the diversity of the community. We have made significant strides in embracing the leadership gifts of brothers and sisters of color that God has placed in our midst. I am praying that this is just the beginning.

3. Intentional, personal evangelism

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Soul-winning was Jesus’ main thing. That means if we are really following Him, it will be ours as well.
Our enemy will do anything to distract us from that. He loves nothing more than for us to spend our energy on institutional maintenance, personality conflicts, secondary doctrinal issues, church programs, even mission ventures – so long as they don’t involve actual evangelism.
Soul-winning has always been a Southern Baptist essential, and it should form the core of our mission strategy for the future. And by “evangelism” I mean not only sharing the truth that Jesus Christ took our place on the cross, but calling hearers to repentance and faith.
I have been encouraged beyond measure to see how “Who’s Your One?” has taken off across the convention. Through “Who’s Your One?”, thousands upon thousands of Southern Baptist believers are taking ownership for evangelism, asking, “Who is the one person God has placed in my life to pray for, invite to church, share the gospel with, and display the love of God to?”

4. Church planting

The recovery of church planting among Southern Baptists in recent years has been amazing. Church planting must remain the organizing principle of our mission strategy. Can you imagine what it would look like if every Southern Baptist church committed to help in the planting of one domestic church next year and got involved reaching one unreached or underserved people group overseas?

5. College mobilization

I have been encouraged to see the “Go2 Initiative” gain traction over the past year. This is an initiative encouraging college students from every Southern Baptist church to invest the first two years of their post-graduation lives in the work of church planting. Some will join domestic church plants. Some will go overseas. Either way, I am praying that we would flood the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board with young and eager candidates for mission.

6. Engaging the next generation in cooperative mission

Cooperation between churches for the sake of mission is a key component of New Testament evangelistic strategy. Southern Baptists continue to produce more church planters, more missionaries and more seminary graduates than any other group in America, and we need to do everything we can to get the next generation engaged in cooperative mission.
This is what the annual meeting is all about. It may be a two-day business meeting, but this business meeting is the vehicle that drives our convention’s action.
But if the meeting is the vehicle, the fuel is still the gospel. Everything we do and everything we say must be saturated in the life-transforming power of what God has done for us. The gospel is a well of endless depth. We need not look elsewhere for power or life. We need only look deeper and deeper into this beautiful mystery.
I’ll see you in Birmingham!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area.)

5/10/2019 12:11:43 PM by J.D. Greear | with 0 comments

Realistic expectations: Helping students prepare for a short-term mission trip

May 9 2019 by Mary Ann McMillan, IMB

I went on my first short-term mission trip to Cancun, Mexico. While many of you may be thinking “that wasn’t a mission trip, that was a vacation,” let me assure you that it wasn’t. In fact, we didn’t see the ocean or the beach until the last day. This trip to Mexico changed my life. 

I became a believer three months before this trip. I was growing in my faith. I wanted to serve the Lord, but I wasn’t sure how or what that would look like. I told the Lord that I would serve him anywhere in the world to spread the gospel, and the next Spring Break the Lord provided an opportunity for me to go. I attended trainings beforehand, learned how to share my testimony and the gospel, raised support, and traveled to Mexico. 
I expected our work to look very different than it did. At twenty years old, I thought I would come in wearing my superhero cape and fix all of the problems. I even thought that I would be able to share the gospel with thousands of people and those people would come to know the Lord on the spot.

Expectations versus reality

It didn’t quite work out like that. Our team worked alongside a long-term missionary doing various work. We handed out cookies at a church youth event, we cleaned out the churches’ storage area, and we handed out clothes and food in one of the slum areas.
I realized quickly that the only things I could offer these people were a smile, a hug, the gospel, and maybe a bottle of water. Instead of doing the work I wanted to do, I did the work the missionaries needed me to do – work that would benefit those who would be there long after I left. I came in as a know-it-all and left as a better learner and listener. I also left with many unanswered questions about how to do missions well.
When I took on the role as the director of missions for a university, one thing I wanted to do was to make sure my students were prepared for missions. I don’t want my students to approach a mission trip with unrealistic expectations. I want them to be prepared, to be flexible to do whatever the local missionaries need, and to remember who they were serving.
I work with many students who are going on mission trips. This is how I seek to prepare them.


Before any student makes the decision to go on an overseas trip, I always suggest that they spend time in prayer. Start by praying for their own heart, asking the Lord to help prepare them for the mission field. It is in prayer that we discern God’s will for them and for their team. Prayer helps each student build spiritual dependence on the Lord as they join Him on the mission field. Prayer helps break down barriers and strengthens each student to carry out His will. Prayer will also help prepare each student for opportunities to share about Christ.

Partner with your home church

Each student should partner with their home church before they are sent out. Why? Missionaries are not only ambassadors of Christ, but they also represent their sending church. Paul was a model missionary because he had church partnerships that helped fuel his faithfulness. Churches can pray with students and provide support as they serve.

Serve your local church and community first

I am hesitant to send students to serve globally if they are not already serving locally. Encourage your students to serve their church and local community. Most students think that in order to serve they must go overseas, but the truth is you can, and should, serve in your own backyard. Local missions helps fuel global missions.
Students must develop a spirit of service and become servant minded. Service is at the heart of every missionary’s daily life. The only way to gain any experience in this area is to serve. Help students learn to love those in their community before they travel internationally.

Training is key

Many students will be going on their very first international mission trip and may need training in some basics. Here are a few topics that are important for students to learn before they go.
How to share the gospel
Missionaries are sent to proclaim the message of hope to a world. Students must learn how to present the gospel to those who have never heard it.
How to share your testimony
Learn how to share your story of how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result.
Preparing for culture shock
What is it? How do you recognize it? How do you deal with it? Teach them the four stages of culture shock.
Spiritual warfare
Chuck Lawless wrote on the topic, “We face three enemies: the world, our flesh, and the devil” (Ephesians 2:1–3). Help students learn how to handle spiritual warfare, recognizing who is our enemy and who isn’t. Teach your students how to be steadfast in prayer, and prepare them to face the enemy.
Team conflict
Give students a chance to get to know their team well. Conflict can arise when a person’s needs or expectations are not met. Personality tests are very helpful for learning how to handle conflict with team members.
Safety and security
Students may be traveling to countries where it is illegal to share the gospel, where Christians are not welcome. Help them to expect the unexpected and teach them how to create a contingency plan – things they should do in an emergency. Research the country where students are going and learn about potential risks. Contact missionaries who are there and ask about best practices to minimize sticky situations.
Packing 101
Help students know how to pack and, more importantly, what not to pack. Help them understand the culture to which they are going and learn what clothes are appropriate to wear while there. Help them know how to pack minimally so they aren’t weighed down by too much luggage.


Life on the mission field is constantly changing and is filled with unexpected transitions. A student’s trip will not turn out like they had hoped or planned. Prepare your students now to be ok with the constant change. Remember that they are there to serve and to encourage the men and women with whom they are working.

Be a learner

Teach your student to be learners. Ask questions, and always listen to their field missionary. Don’t assume that what works in the States for ministry will work overseas. Honor those who live and work in that culture.

It’s not about you

Help students look outside of themselves. Yes, God will work in their life when they go, but make sure they don’t miss the growth that comes from forgetting about themselves.
Though the Lord allows us to be a part of His plan, He doesn’t need us. We can be thankful that we are part of God’s redemptive plan. Remember to focus on God’s greatness and His amazing mercy in the gospel. God deserves to be praised among the nations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mary Ann McMillan, EdD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is a former IMB missionary and serves as the Director of Missions at William Jessup University in Rocklin, CA. This article first appeared at Used by permission.)

5/9/2019 11:03:28 AM by Mary Ann McMillan, IMB | with 0 comments

It’s not 1997 anymore

May 8 2019 by Terry W. Dorsett

“Everyone has to have a job,” a church growth guru told our group.
Throughout the three-hour seminar, he repeated his advice in many different ways: Everyone in the church should have a position of some sort, even if it is only serving on a committee.

In his opinion, this would make everyone feel valued and help them take ownership in the church.
It sounded like a great idea. But it wasn’t.
In short order, our church of 70 members had 23 committees, and everyone was assigned to at least one. Some people were assigned to three or four. That small church was busy with lots of meetings and lots of activity but very little ministry actually got done. That was 1997.
Fast-forward to 2019, where a person who comes twice a month to church is considered a “regular attendee” and a growing number of attendees come from non-churched backgrounds. This whole committee idea falls apart. Giving everyone a title won’t work out very well.

Outdated infrastructure

In today’s world, local churches and ministry organizations like ours at the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE) must shed some committees. Despite their well-intentioned purpose, mostly unneeded committees just slow down the decision-making process and consume time and energy from actual ministry. I’m not suggesting that we should get rid of all committees, as we do need infrastructure to function. But a system that involves multiple committees with overlapping duties is a relic of the past.
This is why the BCNE has eliminated several committees, sometimes eliminating their roles altogether, other times assigning their tasks to other groups that have proven to be more effective. It is why various local Baptist associations in New England are merging with the BCNE organizationally, so focus and energy can be on mission and not on maintenance of an organizational structure from a bygone era.
What is the result? Healthy and sustainable growth numerically, spiritually and financially. To God be the glory!

Streamlining your infrastructure

Churches and mission organizations that streamline their structure and their decision-making processes spend more time accomplishing their purpose and goals.
Younger leaders, who have no interest in maintaining outdated organizational charts, begin to volunteer, lead and give. This is what is happening in the Baptist Convention of New England, where two of our last three board chairmen were under 40 and our “older” chairman was only 42. They have brought fresh ideas and new energy to the BCNE, which is producing healthy growth in our ministries.
If you find your church or ministry organization has a lot of great people but just can’t quite seem to get things accomplished, perhaps it is time to streamline the structure and eliminate some layers. All those layers probably are draining the energy out of your volunteers.
If you don’t do something soon, they might not be volunteering much longer. Or giving. Or even showing up at the table to let you know they are leaving.
It’s not 1997 anymore. Let’s be willing to change our leadership structures to better reflect what works in today’s world.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry W. Dorsett is executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England.)

5/8/2019 9:49:36 AM by Terry W. Dorsett | with 0 comments

Worship when you’re weary

May 7 2019 by Anna Schaeffer

I hit a rough patch a few weeks ago. Lots of things went wrong all at the same time.
I wasn’t walking through tragedy – just the heaviness of life. Yet I still felt so run-down by everything that was happening, it all made me want to stay home and take a lot of naps.

One night, I admitted my weariness to God: “I’m going to need You to help me through this because I’m just so tired.” In the past, my prayers have ended there. But this time, I truly wanted more out of my circumstances – I wanted to walk through them trusting that God is very intentional in everything He does and allows in my life. So I prayed, “God, please show me Your character in this. Use these things to bow my heart toward You and Your purpose for my life.”
My prayers didn’t make everything snap into place. Nothing about my circumstances changed overnight. But God began to help me see the wonder of who He is, as He walked with me through those challenging days and continues to walk with me now.
Here are five ways I’m learning to worship, even – and especially – when I’m weary:


Call to mind times God has shown Himself faithful before – those times He led you through something you couldn’t imagine yourself enduring. Read in His Word about how He walked with His people through difficult days in generations past.


Praise God for His faithfulness. Praise Him that, even if you can’t necessarily feel His presence, He’s with you in the middle of your mess. Why? Because He promised.


Whenever I’m overwhelmed by life, I zoom in on the small things. I look for evidence of God’s character in the everyday moments of life, like the beautiful sunset reminding me of His creativity, the warm smile of a friend reminding me of His gift of community, or the smell of dinner in the oven reminding me that God provides for my daily needs.


Write down your struggles in a prayer journal. Pour out your heart to God. Keep up this practice as you walk through your challenges. Then, the next time you face hardship, you’ll have a reminder – a memorial stone – of God’s steadfast love.


Tell of God’s faithfulness to others. When someone asks how you’re doing, be honest about your challenges, but also be quick to share those God-designed details you’ve been collecting. Not only can this encourage another struggler, but sometimes hearing ourselves say something out loud bolsters our own resolve as well.
I’m not a master of weathering difficult days. Far from it. At the end of the day though, Christ is my reward. Knowing that, I am able to worship in my weariness. What about you? How do you seek God when you’re weary?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anna Schaeffer, author of the young adult Christian novel All of This, is an administrative assistant at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where she earned a master's degree in ministry to women. She is online at and @aschaewrites.)

5/7/2019 10:01:09 AM by Anna Schaeffer | with 0 comments

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