May 2019

A guide to understanding the Credentials Committee proposal

May 31 2019 by Phillip Bethancourt

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) will consider a significant proposal on June 10 to establish a standing Credentials Committee. This committee will be tasked with handling disputes that arise related to whether churches are in friendly cooperation with the SBC, including concerns with churches over their handling of sexual abuse.

If this proposal is approved by the Executive Committee and then passed by a two-thirds vote at the annual meeting, the Credentials Committee will immediately become the Southern Baptist denominational body responsible for this process.
The intention of this article is to serve as a guide to help Southern Baptists and others understand the purpose and process of this proposal so that everyone can have a clearer picture as it comes up for consideration at the annual meeting.
The proposal would make substantive additions and alterations to several SBC bylaws in order to codify the changes. The proposal may be hard for some to understand because it is lengthy and uses technical language to address a variety of questions related to the process involving legal, administrative or denominational matters.

What is the proposal?

This proposal would establish a standing Credentials Committee that would be empowered to “make inquiries of a church” in instances where a dispute regarding friendly cooperation arises. This committee would now be responsible for handling issues arising from churches that act in a manner that is inconsistent with the convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse. The committee would not just address issues of abuse but other subjects such as homosexuality or racism, in accordance with Article 3 of the SBC Constitution.
The Credentials Committee can conduct an inquiry process in which it would “consider the matter and review any information available to it” to assess if a church is in friendly cooperation with the convention, as established in Article 3 of the SBC Constitution.
If an inquiry process is completed between annual meetings, the Credentials Committee could make a recommendation to the Executive Committee who would then “determine whether the church is in cooperation with the Convention.” While the convention and the Executive Committee retain their authority to make final determinations regarding whether a church is in cooperation with the convention, this committee is authorized to assess and recommend action to the larger body.

What is the purpose of the proposal?

The purpose of this proposal is to establish a stand-alone committee that is empowered to assess and address issues that could warrant disfellowshipping a church. It attempts to comprehensively address the composition and purpose of this committee.
As J.D. Greear described in comments to Baptist Press, “This committee would be charged with handling any issues that may arise as to whether a church is in cooperation with the SBC, including (but not limited to) complaints of sexual abuse.” Greear is the SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
The proposal is a proactive step taken by the Executive Committee to position the convention to more effectively address the abuse crisis. The Credentials Committee would carry out responsibilities currently handled by the bylaws workgroup of the Executive Committee.

Is this proposal a good idea?

Yes, it is an encouraging next step to address the Southern Baptist abuse crisis. The Executive Committee has sought to establish a process that fosters transparency and accountability while operating within the unique polity of the SBC. This decision places the convention in line with approximately half of all state conventions that have some type of standing credentials committee.
Survivors, advocates and all Southern Baptists should be heartened by this initial step, even as they await clarity about the committee’s inquiry process. It would fulfill one of Greear’s 10 calls to action on abuse and aligns well with the ongoing work of the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group.

What are the main concepts in the proposal?

The proposal includes the following primary concepts:

  • Responsibilities: This committee will “make inquiries of a church” and issue recommendations regarding friendly cooperation, in accordance with specific processes.

  • Standing committee: In contrast to the current iteration of the Credentials Committee that focuses on issues of messenger registration at the annual meeting, this standing committee would operate throughout the year and focus on disputes regarding friendly cooperation.

  • Composition: This committee would consist of nine members “composed of the registration secretary, the chair of the Executive Committee, three members nominated by the Executive Committee, and four members nominated by the Committee on Nominations.”

  • Term: Committee members other than the registration secretary and chair of the Executive Committee would serve a term of three years and not be eligible for re-election until one year elapsed.

  • Messenger approval of members: All committee members would be elected at some point by the messengers.

  • Appeals process: The proposal creates an appeals process for churches to the SBC while in session at an annual meeting.

  • Autonomy: The proposal respects the autonomy of churches while empowering the committee to conduct an inquiry process.

  • Inception: The committee would be created immediately after 2019 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala.

  • Registration committee: The proposal would also rename and repurpose the existing credentials committee in a separate registration committee to handle issues of messenger registration at the annual meeting.


What does this proposal not do?

While this proposal would address a number of key issues, there are several things it does not do:

  • The proposal does not authorize the Credentials Committee to “clear” churches. The purpose of the committee is to assess disputes over a church’s friendly cooperation with the convention. It is not tasked with certifying or clearing churches to affirm that they are in friendly cooperation.

  • The proposal does not address how to handle any SBC entities other than cooperating churches. Other Southern Baptist organizations such as entities, state conventions, etc., have their own trustee boards who are responsible for handling this issue.

  • The proposal does not address pending inquiries. The proposal is not intended to address any inquiries of churches that have occurred or are currently pending. Instead, it would establish that any inquiries would now be handled by the Credentials Committee instead of the Bylaws Workgroup of the Executive Committee.

  • The proposal does not establish the committee’s inquiry process. While the proposal provides extensive detail about many key elements, it does not prescribe how the committee will conduct its inquiry process. This likely means that, once the committee is constituted, one of its top priorities will be to establish its inquiry process.


Are there any areas of potential confusion in the proposal?

Because this is a long, complex proposal, there are a few spots that could create confusion:

  • Does the proposal authorize secrecy to minimize transparency? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.1 that states, “Meetings and reports of the committee may be private or public in order to maintain the degree of confidentiality which is appropriate under the circumstances…” The purpose of this provision is not to create a shroud of secrecy to minimize transparency. Instead, it is to protect confidentiality that is fitting for the best interests of the convention, churches, and others involved in the process, such as survivors in the case of an inquiry related to sexual abuse.  

  • Does the proposal create a fair appeals process where people on all sides can speak into the debate? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.2 that states, “One representative of the church under consideration and one representative of the Credentials Committee shall be permitted to speak to the question, subject to the normal rules of debate.” The purpose of this provision is to ensure that messengers will hear from the church and from the committee, but it does not foreclose the possibility of additional messengers speaking for or against the issue in accordance with the normal rules of debate.

  • Does the proposal limit the scope of the committee’s inquiry process? Some may be concerned by the language in section 8.C.5 that states, “The committee may make inquiries of a church, but shall never attempt to exercise any authority over a church through an investigation or other process that would violate Article IV of the Constitution.” This provision does not limit the scope of how the committee can conduct its inquiry process; nor does it prevent or discourage law enforcement investigations from occurring. Instead, it conveys that, by nature, this committee is not an investigative body while also ensuring that the committee will respect local church autonomy while conducting its inquiry process.


What happens from here?

This proposal will be taken up by the Executive Committee at its meetings in Birmingham and then be presented to the messengers for deliberation and a vote at the annual meeting. This proposal would require approval from the Administrative Committee of the Executive Committee before coming before the full board for approval on Monday, June 10. Upon approval, it would be presented to the messengers on Tuesday, June 11, for deliberation and a vote.
As a bylaw amendment, this proposal would require a two-thirds vote from the messengers to pass. If it passes, the credentials committee would be immediately constituted at the adjournment of the annual meeting. Then, the Credentials Committee would be responsible for developing its own inquiry and administrative processes as it begins to carry out its responsibilities.

What else is happening related to abuse in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting?

In addition to this important Credentials Committee proposal, there are several other significant things happening related to abuse in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting.

  • A proposal for a simplified constitutional amendment: A recent Baptist Press report also explains that the Executive Committee will consider and present a simplified version of the constitutional amendment it voted on in February. The updated version eliminates the four criteria specified in the original amendment in order to allow for broader application of the amendment language. The new language states: “The Convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, and sympathetic with its purposes and work (i.e., a ‘cooperating’ church as that term is used in the Convention’s governing documents) which: (4) Does not act in a manner inconsistent with the Convention’s beliefs regarding sexual abuse,” and “(5) Does not act to affirm, approve or endorse discriminatory behavior on the basis of ethnicity.” A constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds approval of messengers at both the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings.

  • “Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention”: The Sexual Abuse Advisory Group and the ERLC are partnering together to host over 1,000 attendees for a candid conversation about Sexual Abuse and the Southern Baptist Convention. This event, featuring Rachael Denhollander, Beth Moore, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, and Susan Codone, will cover wide-ranging issues related to the abuse crisis in the SBC.

  • Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum: The new, free video-based curriculum produced by the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group in partnership with LifeWay will debut at the annual meeting. This curriculum is designed to equip churches to care well for abuse survivors.

  • Sexual Abuse Advisory Group Report: On Wednesday afternoon, the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group will facilitate a time of prayer and lament as well as issue a report on the subject of Southern Baptist sexual abuse. This report will highlight the ongoing work of the advisory group and look ahead to the future.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phillip Bethancourt is executive vice president for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This article first appeared at Used by permission.)

5/31/2019 1:02:10 PM by Phillip Bethancourt | with 0 comments

Are your college-bound seniors ready?

May 29 2019 by Austin Gentry

Stepping onto the college campus is truly unlike anything else. For your graduates, everything will be new and unknown. It will be exciting, but it can also be nerve-racking, especially when it comes to matters of faith.

As Christian graduates look to their first fall semester on the college campus, they’ve probably already wrestled with questions like, what if a professor challenges my faith, what if I can’t find Christian community, or what if I lose my way?
While these are daunting thoughts, they’re far from uncommon. Truly, the college experience is one of most pivotal moments in one’s spiritual formation. It can either break or make one’s faith.
I want to highlight three of the most relevant issues every high school graduate will likely face on campus, whether they end up going to a Christian university or a secular one: doubt, community and identity.
Here’s some advice I’d like to share with church leaders and parents so they can equip students in these three important areas.

The reality of doubt

Graduates need to realize that doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. Doubt, unfortunately, is too readily looked down upon in Christian cultures, but it can simply represent a fundamental gap in understanding – trying to reconcile what you do know with what you don’t know. This means doubt is a neutral thing. How you deal with that doubt, however, can either be constructive or destructive.

Students typically gravitate toward polar extremes whenever they first encounter doubt:

  1. They blow their doubt out of proportion by immediately conceding to the doubt and holistically labeling everything they have believed prior to be wrong.

  2. They ignore their doubt – even though they don’t know how to respond to it – by simply trying not to think about the topic at hand.

Neither approach, of course, treats doubt for what it truly is, nor does it help your graduates grow.
Conversely, there’s two healthy ways your graduates can approach doubt:

  1. Consider it without conceding to it.

  2. Engage and leverage doubt – meaning, they should strive to use an episode of doubt as a launch pad into a greater reasoning and better understanding. They should look at doubt as “intellectual opportunities” to constructively fill in the gaps in their understanding so that their faith can become stronger and better founded.

As church leaders and parents, you can help by encouraging students to “play fair” in the game of doubt: namely, by taking their doubt with a grain of salt and by doubting their doubts, as much as their doubts cause them to doubt their beliefs. That’s the only fair approach. Encourage your students to be alert, but not alarmed.


The necessity of community

Perhaps the most important thing your graduates can do once they get to college is look for a Christian community. Exhort your graduates to reach out to others, plant seeds of intentionality, endure the loneliness even when it looks like there’s nothing relational sprouting to the surface and toil with the social awkwardness, knowing that there will be a harvest of community eventually.
One way you can encourage students to find good community is by advising them to search for local churches and campus ministries before they even move to campus.
As someone who works in a college and young adult ministry, it’d be impossible for me to not get excited to hear from a new high school graduate who’s seeking more information about a ministry and trying to get plugged in.
If students simply send an outreach email, any good church or campus ministry employee will take care of the rest, making sure they’re included right from day one.
For church leaders, I have two challenges for you to help graduates find good, Christian community.
First, if students have questions about churches, you need to be able to name a few reputable churches in their college town. Second, keep a working file that lists where your trustworthy, Christ-following alumni go to church while they are at college. Help create discipleship opportunities!

The importance of identity

The notion of “identity” or self-worth is not new in college; it’s just exacerbated. When students get to campus, they will immediately be tempted to find self-worth in a myriad of ways, including approval from others and academic achievement.
They must realize that the only life-giving source of self-worth is not found in their particular university, their GPA, their career path, their social media presence, their fraternity or sorority, their relationship status, their role at a church or even their own degree of Christian morality.
A self-worth based on personal performance or circumstance will always lead to destruction. Why? Because a self-worth based on performance and circumstance is unstable and unreliable.
If you teach graduates anything before they leave for college, they need to know that the only place where they can find a self-worth that is stable, reliable and satisfying is through the gospel.
Why? Because only in the gospel can you find a self-worth that is not based on performance or circumstance. It’s a self-worth based on Jesus’ grace and unconditional love for them.
Only in Christ can your students have the ultimate approval, security, acceptance and love of the One whose opinion truly matters most anyways.
How your graduates approach doubt, community and identity will dramatically shape their college experience. Exhort them to trust and obey Jesus. They will have nothing to fear if they simply fear Him. And He will be with them every step, making their growth something beautiful for His glory, His Kingdom and their joy.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Austin Gentry is young adults pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Visit This article has been adapted from his book, 10 Things Every Christian Should Know for College. Used by permission.)

5/29/2019 11:24:53 AM by Austin Gentry | with 0 comments

#MeToo: One year later

May 28 2019 by Megan Lively

When I came forward last year about a secret I had kept from everyone in my life, I had never heard of the #churchtoo movement or hashtag. Although I was vaguely familiar with the #metoo movement, I was not motivated by it to speak out.

With a career in social media, I spend a great deal of time online – including Twitter. Last April, I began to see headlines that concerned me. They piqued my curiosity. As I read more, I was flooded with memories from over a decade ago. Memories I had pushed away and forced myself not to think about. 

One evening, after our children were in bed, my husband noticed anger I had tried to suppress for days. I have always been good at suppressing emotions, but my whole being was consumed with what I read online. Could there be others hurting and feeling the shame I couldn’t bring myself to express in words to my husband?

I believe many men, pastors, and ministry leaders have a desire to know about sex abuse. They want to learn more about how to respond, and how not to respond, to a survivor when he or she reaches out for help. 

Men, too, have a part in the redeeming work of God and a role in what’s being done in the church in the area of church abuse. Here are a few of the men that walked with me through a difficult year.

My husband, Vincent – a believer, father and Southern Baptist. After I finally shared my story with Vincent, we met with our pastor that day. Vincent also met with him separately, desiring to seek godly counsel.

When Vincent woke up in the middle of the night to find me sobbing, he didn’t try to make things better, fix my problems or allow me to see his own anger about something that happened long before we met. He prayed for me, sometimes silently. He took me to my doctor. He took me to counseling. He left work early and took long lunches.

When I didn’t want to go to counseling, he gently reminded me of the medical and psychological needs I had. In my worst moments, he never mirrored the craziness evident inside of me. He was a constant, consistent support of love.

This was a new lesson for me as a child of divorce. In my mind, when things got difficult, people left. Those that were supposed to love me gave up or stopped showing up. He didn’t.

My pastor. As I shared my story with him, he didn’t hide the ache he felt. He never pretended to have all the answers. He wept with us. When he didn’t know what to say, he asked me to recall scripture that came to mind. When I was unable, he led me to verses and passages that have always been a balm to my soul.

Without sharing my story with anyone else, he contacted medical professionals for advice. He encouraged me to seek medical attention immediately. He checked on us to make sure we followed through. As a pastor, he knew he couldn’t meet the needs I had and was very quick to let me know I was susceptible to mental health issues, such as complex trauma and psychosis. He was also vocal about sharing one important message: my physical symptoms were not an indication of the healthiness of my relationship with God.

Bruce Ashford, provost and professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), was the first leader I contacted at the seminary. He responded immediately. With no questions asked, he told me the school would support me if I wished to press charges.

SEBTS President Danny Akin was the next to respond with kindness, compassion, love, and support – consistently.

George Harvey, director of planned giving and general counsel at SEBTS, responded with protection. He locked up my file at SEBTS and has worked all year long to protect me, my records and my privacy.

Kevin Ueckert, board chairman for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, encouraged me with this wise statement that has remained with me all year long – “You were forced to show mercy at a time where there should have been justice.”

There are Southern Baptist men that have dealt with abuse in ministry, along with decades of cover up, in the worst ways possible. They have sinned against abuse victims and the church. There is no need to sugarcoat the wrong that has happened. However, in the last year, I experienced men in leadership that responded appropriately.

As we work to be more like Jesus, we need to give our brothers the opportunity to respond appropriately while we learn from the male leaders that have been wrong in the past. Whether it was out of ignorance, with intention, or for the sake of the church, we must do better.

Let me reiterate – family, medical doctors, immediate action, compassion, protection, and wisdom are just a few of the ways Southern Baptist men in leadership assisted me on my path towards healing.

May the brothers named above be an example for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention and the church.
5/28/2019 7:49:44 AM by Megan Lively | with 0 comments

More than a building

May 23 2019 by David Jeremiah

We all say it: “Let’s meet at the church.” Somewhere along the way we began referring to “the building where the church meets” as “the church.”

The early church started meeting in homes and in the temple court in Jerusalem (Acts 2:46). But today, the church convenes in a variety of locations. Some congregations meet in converted storefronts while others assemble in beautiful buildings.
But they all serve the same purpose:  They are a place for us to gather and worship the Lord.
Hopefully all Christian congregations will remember that the building is not “the” church. The first-century church proved beyond a doubt that buildings are not necessary for the church to grow and prosper and change the world.
Are buildings convenient? Yes. They provide a central place for the true church of Jesus Christ to meet for worship, instruction, celebration and ministry. Just as it’s nice to have a home in which to invite friends, so a church building should serve as a “home” to the community.

Church membership: An option or not?

Far too many Christians have decided that church affiliation is optional. That is not a biblical idea, but a worldly one. And it parallels the lack of commitment seen in other areas of life today.
Christians have confused going to a church building with being a member of a church. Granted, many churches today don’t keep a formal membership roll. But in any church it’s easy to see who the committed members are: They are the ones who are doing the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12).
Those who simply “go to church” on Sunday mornings may be participating in worship and in giving, but they are living on the edge of church membership by not getting intimately involved in the life of the church they attend church. The New Testament describes the necessity for every true Christian to be a healthy, contributing part of a local gathering of believers.

You: A part of the body

The concept of the body of Christ gives us the paradigm for why church membership is mandatory. The apostle Paul likens the spiritual church to the human body in 1 Corinthians 12 and suggests that just as every organ and limb in the body has a role to play, so every member of the body of Christ has a role to play as well.
We are reminded: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

You and your church

You should assume that if God led you to attend a church it is for the purpose of joining and serving. Because every healthy church is growing with expanding needs, you should look for an opportunity to serve that matches your spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11-13; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; 1 Peter 4:10-11).
If you are not sure where to begin serving in your church, think about who God has made you to be - how He has equipped you with gifts. Whatever your skill set, there is a place for you to serve.
As Paul notes: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4-6). It is very clear: You have a role to play in your local congregation.
You don’t have to attend church in a cathedral to draw closer to God. You only need to join with others in a Christian community to enjoy the deepest fellowship possible - the fellowship of the body of Christ with the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ Himself.
Stepping into a building built for Christ is a good thing. But stepping into the community of Christ as part of His body is far better.

5/23/2019 11:08:23 AM by David Jeremiah | with 0 comments

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

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