November 2016

Long walks & deep talks

November 30 2016 by Nate Adams

Like many couples, my wife Beth and I enjoy long walks together. We have a three-mile circuit that takes us from our house down to a nearby lake and back. Usually we walk it after dinner, but before dark, with our blind dog Willy.
It’s not so much the walk itself that I value, though. It’s what happens during it. By the time we head out into the neighborhood, Beth and I have usually had dinnertime to catch up with one another on the day’s events, and what arrived in the mail, and what we each heard from various friends or family that day.

Nate Adams

The walk is for deeper talk. That’s when we tend to discuss longer-term plans for the future, or longer-view reflections on where we’ve been. We talk not just about our kids’ activities, but about their well-being and their life decisions. We talk not just about short-term purchases, but about long-term investments. We talk not just about our church routines, but about our spiritual lives.
Sometimes our local son and his wife walk with us. Those are rich times. Often our daughter-in-law will walk alongside Beth and engage in one conversation, while our son and I will pair up a few steps behind them. Sometimes the two conversations will blend, and mix, and then separate again. Long walks give time for that.
But these conversations aren’t the 10- or 20-word texts we exchange with our kids during the day. These are often significant conversations about problems, and dreams, and life decisions, and dilemmas. Long walks encourage deeper talks.
And then there are the long walks I take by myself, to have deeper talks with God. Sometimes I make time for them during the regular routine of life. But often I need a vacation or a few days off or a different setting in order to pull away consistently.
During the regular rhythms and busyness of life, my prayer times can grow so brief, so repetitive, so lightweight. Like the chit chat of a dinner conversation or the insufficiency of a text, I can settle for such trivial communication with God. But when I walk for a while with Him, it’s easier to remember that He really knows and loves me in my deepest, innermost parts, and that He longs to meet me there too, and not just in the shallows of a busy life.
Over a few days of long walks and deep talks recently, I remembered again that it usually takes a while just to get past the perfunctory, obligatory prayers that I tend to settle for when time is short. I know there’s nothing wrong with those prayers, just like there’s nothing wrong with catching up over dinner on the day’s activities. It’s just that there are so many more significant things to talk about. But you only seem to get there when you take the time.
I walked and talked to places of deep confession, and pleading, and worship, and peace. Once the lighter weight stuff was off my chest, there were several minutes and miles of silence as I looked for the right words to tell God things that I then remembered He knows already. Yet when those words came, they were cathartic and soothing to my soul.
Long walks can lead to deep talks, with our spouses, our kids and, yes, our God. May you, too, find time for the long walks you need.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist newsjournal,

11/30/2016 12:11:02 PM by Nate Adams | with 0 comments

What is ethnocentrism?

November 28 2016 by Clinton West

I recently listened to a podcast that highlighted the ethnic tension that has increasingly been at the fore of our pluralistic culture in America. It specifically looked at how the growing population of Somali refugees in St. Cloud, Minn., has unsettled many of its local citizens. Some of their concerns regarding this influx of refugees are understandable. But many of their concerns seemed to be rooted in a fear of what’s different and a desire to maintain their cultural status quo. This kind of situation isn’t unique to St. Cloud. Such a response to the encroachment of others’ cultures is a common reaction among all people.
Human beings tend to look apprehensively upon foreign cultures because they perceive their own culture as both right and normative. The word for this is ethnocentrism – the belief that your own group or culture is superior to others.

• Ethnocentrism displayed

We display ethnocentrism in a variety of ways. In some cases, our ethnocentric attitudes display themselves in relatively harmless ways. For example, we may see an Indian family eating a meal with their hands and think, “They aren’t eating the right way.” That thought is ethnocentric because it assumes that the way we eat food in America – with forks and knives – is the definitive way to properly eat food.
In assuming that our own cultural practices are right, we end up equating what is different to what is wrong. The end result in this scenario is: “Indians eat food the wrong way.”
We also display ethnocentrism in more serious ways. Racism, for example, is a clear and serious manifestation of ethnocentric thought. It claims the people and culture of one ethnic group are superior to those of another. The desire to keep one’s neighborhood as ethnically homogenous as possible is also a manifestation of ethnocentrism, for it betrays an underlying suspicion toward people and cultures that are different than one’s own.

• Ethnocentrism exploded

The Bible opposes the notion of ethnocentrism. It does not allow us to look negatively upon people who are different than us. We find a clear example of this in the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter was a Jew. Cornelius was Gentile (non-Jewish). And in those days, there existed a deep-seated animosity between Jews and Gentiles. The two groups comprised a bitter rivalry! Jews would never associate with Gentiles because they perceived them as unclean. In other words, the Jewish people remained very ethnocentric – they believed their own people and culture were superior to Gentiles.
In this passage, we see how God remarkably intervened to strip Peter of his superiority complex. God gave Peter a vision indicating that he was not pleased with the animosity that Jewish Christians were harboring toward other races.
Despite being initially confused about the meaning of the vision, Peter followed God’s command and ended up in the house of Cornelius, alongside a slew of other Gentiles! It was then and there that Peter’s ethnocentrism began to crumble.
After Cornelius explained the series of events that led them to that gathering, Peter made a breakthrough discovery: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35).
Don’t miss the magnitude of this shift! God sovereignly worked in Peter’s life to dismantle any notion that Jews are somehow superior to Gentiles. In fact, the story reveals God’s desire for Gentiles to be included in His Kingdom plan. That was a paradigm shift for the early Jewish Christians!
God, in his love, actually desires to gather people from every tribe, tongue and nation into his Kingdom. It is a cosmic plan to unite people of all ethnicities together in Christ.

• Ethnocentrism rejected

When dealing with the realities of living in a pluralistic culture, we must bear in mind God’s heart for all ethnic groups. Biblically, we are not permitted to remain ethnocentric in our attitude toward those who are unlike us.
Rather than disdaining the encroachment of other cultures in your city or neighborhood, consider it an opportunity to extend the love of Christ across cultural boundaries. In our American culture that has been fractured and marred by racism and ethnic tension, such cross-cultural love from the body of Christ can be a powerful testimony to the gospel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was first published by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Great Commission Studies on its website, Used by permission. Clinton West is a Raleigh native and graduate of Appalachian State University and Southeastern.)

11/28/2016 5:36:58 PM by Clinton West | with 0 comments

5 ways a small church can make a big impact

November 23 2016 by Mike Smith

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, right in the middle of apple-growing country, one small church has embraced mission in a big way. On any given Sunday, about 250 people fill the pews of Fruitland Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C. Evidently, those people are busy.
In 2015, Fruitland counted 422 participants in local, state, national, and international mission outreach efforts, indicating that many members served on multiple teams throughout the year. The small church sent four teams to a challenging environment in Central Asia, the result of a long-term relationship with International Mission Board (IMB) personnel. Meanwhile, the church continued to give sacrificially to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. They often set percentage giving records for the state of North Carolina.
The IMB asked Mike Smith, the pastor of Fruitland Baptist for twenty-five years, to share some lessons learned from his experience leading a small church to greater mission engagement.

When Giving Meets Going

When I arrived at Fruitland, the congregation was giving generously, often sacrificially, to missions through gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program. But there was one thing lacking: Fruitland was not known as a “going” church.
Like many other churches, Fruitland was happy to join other Southern Baptist churches in supporting missions across the state, nation, and world by giving. In a sense, we were paying so that someone else could go.
In my early years at Fruitland, we became involved in mission trips within the United States. These trips grew in size and scope, but we didn’t reach those outside our borders. God was preparing us for more.
After several years of domestic mission trips, two women in our church went on a vision trip to Central Asia. Upon returning, they asked our fellowship to consider becoming involved with the work there. After a couple of trips, our fellowship adopted an unengaged, unreached people group in Central Asia. We began to work consistently with a team on the ground in the region. All of those years of preparation for and application of missions on our home soil had produced a desire to reach the world with the gospel.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned as our church began matching our giving with going.

1. Lead by example

My first overseas mission experience was in 1992 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 2009 when our fellowship was praying about getting involved in Central Asia, I went on a trip there with our team. I’ve been back nearly every year since. When I had the opportunity to take a two-month sabbatical, I spent it serving with a team in Central Asia. I gained insights that I never could have gleaned on a week-long trip.
Many have said that the gospel is “caught” rather than “taught.” The same is true with mission. As a pastor, if you’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be involved in international missions, you’re not likely see a missional attitude in your congregation. The congregation needs to see a sermon in the flesh.

2. Stick to your commitments

Make up your mind that you’re committed to mission for the long haul. If the fellowship you serve hasn’t been involved in reaching out across the world, it may take some time to get them to that point. One or two sermons on Acts 1:8 isn’t likely to do the job. Preach, teach, pray, and lead by example. Trust God to do the work in their hearts.

3. Give with an open hand

Don’t be afraid that money and effort going toward mission efforts will hurt your church’s finances. In my experience, the opposite is true. Over the years we have spent tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours on mission trips. Instead of taking away from other efforts, people in our fellowship have been inspired to give more sacrificially of their time and financial resources. A lot of money has come through our fellowship for missions, but the giving hasn’t taken away from anything we are called to do locally. In fact, I think it has added to it. We call it the “open hand principle.” We strive to live with our hands open to give. I believe it’s a posture that the Lord honors.

4. Bring other fellowships along

Be open to involving other fellowships in mission trips. As God began to work in our fellowship, he also began to influence other fellowships through us. Members of our church received training on how to train others to minister in Central Asia. Then we used our training to prepare other fellowships to go, and we invited them to go along on trips with our teams. At least five other congregations have now become part of the effort in Central Asia, without any sense of competition. All this has been used by God to promote a focus on his kingdom.

5. Expect mission to change your church

Your involvement in overseas work will have an effect on your work at home. When you go on a trip overseas, you’re never the same. No one can be a part of a mission experience and come home unchanged. You begin to see needs in your community in a different way. People tend to have their eyes opened to what is going on around them in their Jerusalem. Many of our local ministry efforts have expanded because of our international mission work.
Acts 1:8 informs us, inspires us, and challenges us. In order to reach our world, it will take more than a few thousand personnel sent out through IMB. It will take more than what megachurches are able to do. It will take all of us, sending our people to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world.
Small-church pastor, you are part of all of this. May God use us to lead our congregations to be the witnesses God has called us to be in the days ahead.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – As a pastor for 32 years, Mike Smith now serves as the director of missions for the Carolina Baptist Association. He continues to teach at Fruitland Baptist Bible College where he has been a professor for more than twenty years. You can find him on Twitter @CarolinBaptAssoc. This blog first appeared at Used by permission.)

11/23/2016 11:01:04 AM by Mike Smith | with 0 comments

Bring your wounds to Jesus

November 22 2016 by Doug Munton

We are all wounded to some extent.
We are wounded by living in this sinful and fallen world. We are wounded by the sins of others. We even carry wounds as a result of our own sins.
All of us know pain and all of us need healing. Your pastor, your parents, your spouse, your neighbors – all of us.
The question is not really who wounded you or how many scars you carry or how deep the cut is. The really important question is: What do you do with those wounds?

Doug Munton

Do you ignore them? Try to drink them into oblivion? Use them as rationalization to lash out at others?
We can bring our wounds to Jesus. He can forgive and He can heal. He knows and He cares and He binds our brokenness. By His mercy we can find new life and new meaning. We can be forgiven and we can forgive – really forgive. And through that forgiveness we can find a balm for our sin-scarred souls.
Jesus said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Some pretend they don’t need any help. The truth is we are all sinners who need a doctor. The Doctor. The one who died in our place to take our sin upon Himself. The One who loves, forgives and heals.
Come to Jesus as you are. Broken and wounded and needy. Bring your past and your pain. Bring your sorrows and hurts. Bring your anger and disappointment and questions. Surrender your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior for salvation and abundant life in His loving arms.
The Great Physician heals.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Doug Munton, online at, is first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill. His latest book is titled 30 Days to Acts.)

11/22/2016 9:23:41 AM by Doug Munton | with 0 comments

Keeping evangelism a priority

November 21 2016 by Ernest L. Easley

A busy pastor recently asked me how to keep the main focus on evangelism while meeting all the other demands and distractions of church life.
Having served as a lead pastor for over 30 years, I too know that frustration. I sometimes struggled to have any energy or drive left for evangelism after seemingly giving it all toward shepherding the flock.
So how do busy pastors and church leaders keep evangelism a priority with all the challenges and distractions? I have found these four ways helpful:

Ernest Easley


1) Priority

Sharing the gospel must be a priority in your life. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “[F]or the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost,” and then in Matthew 4.19, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
As we follow Him, we will fish for men. Men can fish without following Him, but Christians we cannot follow Him without fishing. I recently saw a man wearing a T-shirt that said, “The best way to catch fish is to fish where they are.” Following Jesus increases our sensitivity and desire to go where the fish are, so that we might see them caught, so to speak, for the glories of new birth.
I have found that the closer I walk with Jesus, the more like Jesus I become and that includes witnessing. When evangelism is a priority in your life, that will transfer into the lives of your members.

2) Practice

Sharing Jesus should become a part of your lifestyle. That’s what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 28:19 when He said, “Go therefore and make disciples.” We must be sharing Jesus as we go.
One day I was having lunch alone and, as is my practice, I prayed with the server and later shared the gospel with her. I didn’t think much about it until Sunday during our deacons meeting. One of our deacons stood and shared how he saw me having lunch alone that day and admitted that he was watching to see if I really did that. After sharing with them what he saw, he said, “I’m glad that Ernest is our pastor. He practices what he preaches.” That will go a long way in keeping evangelism a high priority while being pulled in different directions.

3) Planning

Evangelism should be on the church calendar if it’s going to be a priority in the life of the church. If it’s not on the calendar, it probably will not happen. We calendar what we prioritize. What does your church calendar say about the importance of evangelism?
Included in your church calendar should be periodic witness training opportunities. This could be one night, one morning, two days, one weekend or more to continue fanning the flame of evangelism and for the equipping of your leadership, membership and new believers in evangelism.
Evangelism should be budgeted. The church budget should reflect a priority for evangelism. What is your church budget saying to the membership about the priority of evangelism?

4) Promotion

Keep evangelism in front of your membership. That can be accomplished through witnessing testimonies during worship gatherings, during baptisms as their story is told how they came to know Jesus, Backyard Bible Clubs, block parties, mission trip reports and more.
Promoting evangelism shows it’s a priority of the church and encourages the members to get involved with sharing Jesus. Promoting evangelism also lets guests know that if they join your church, they are joining a church that is committed to sharing the gospel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ernest L. Easley, professor of evangelism at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., led churches in Georgia and Texas during more than 30 years as a pastor.)

11/21/2016 12:34:14 PM by Ernest L. Easley | with 1 comments

Staring at the persecuted church

November 18 2016 by Robert Jackson

About 10 Indian pastors sat in front of me. I stared at them and they stared at me in a crowded, little room in northeastern India. In a few short days I would grow to love these men as I ministered to them physically (as a physician) and spiritually (through Bible teaching).
Prompted by the leader of our trip, they shared their stories one by one of being persecuted by the Hindu majority.

Robert Jackson

Suddenly, I realized I didn’t deserve to be in that crowded, little room. I didn’t deserve to rub shoulders with men who had been beaten, imprisoned and tortured for advancing the Kingdom of Christ. I wasn’t reading about Paul and Silas. I wasn’t reading about Peter and Stephen. I wasn’t reading about medieval Christians being stretched on a rack. I was staring at the present-day persecuted church. The faces are real.
Arrested and thrown in prison for three days, Durgesh knew this day would eventually come, taken from his home, leaving his wife and children weeping and afraid. The Indian authorities gave no explanation for his arrest, but as a Christian pastor and evangelist who had started 17 churches, Durgesh understood the reasons.
He became a believer in Christ at age 17 when he saw the JESUS film in his small village in India. One exposure to the gospel message was all it took. In his heart he knew the message about Jesus was true so he prayed to the one true God, rejecting the thousands of false gods worshipped by his family and friends and accepting Jesus as his personal Savior. He later completed a bachelor in theology degree before returning to plant churches in his village and many surrounding towns. He became quite adept at church planting.
However, he happened to live close to a political leader in his village who became disturbed by his success in evangelism and church planting. This political leader complained to the authorities, who promptly arrested Durgesh on trumped-up charges. He spent three days in jail, but thankfully was not harmed. The Christian community ministered to his wife and children, as the church should do.
On my mission trips to India, I have met many courageous pastors and laymen like Durgesh who have been brutalized, imprisoned or subsequently killed by family or authorities because of their Christian faith. It is not considered a crime in India for Hindu families to punish or kill family members who convert to Christianity. Official laws exist against such behavior, but no one enforces them at any level.
I met one pastor whose father strangled him after he converted to Christianity as a teenager. Presumed dead, he was resuscitated later by his mother and hidden by Christian friends. Mentally confused, he could not speak for weeks, but he ultimately recovered fully and became a pastor and church planter. Although he tried, he has never been able to reconcile with his father.
This type of story is not unique to India. The church – our brothers and sisters in Christ – experiences various forms of persecution daily all over the world. In America we live in relative peace and prosperity and are virtually unaware of persecution that faces our extended church family around the world.
There is no excuse for being ignorant in this information age. They say that knowledge is power. Knowledge coupled with your prayers is real power. When I go to India and tell persecuted pastors that church people in America pray for them, it excites and encourages them. They light up with joy. Can they count on you?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robert Jackson is a family practice physician in Spartanburg, S.C., who maintains awareness of the persecuted church through such organizations as Voice of the Martyrs, or The Voice of the Martyrs-VSA on Facebook, and participates in outreach in India through AIM,

11/18/2016 10:23:39 AM by Robert Jackson | with 0 comments

When good guys fight each other

November 17 2016 by Randy L. Bennett

Why do the good guys fight each other?
I wonder if non-Christians are honestly confused whenever Christians fight each other. I know I am. Every time I learn of conflict in a church I am surprised that the good guys couldn’t get along.
There are many answers to this question but I would suggest a primary one: We have an enemy who does his best to pit good guys against good guys.

Randy L. Bennett

His motive is clear: While the good guys are fighting each other he is attacking lives throughout town. Satan cannot destroy lives when the good guys work together against his schemes, so he knows that he must keep them fighting each other.
As the Scripture says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
So while the good guys fight flesh and blood, the enemy has a free-for-all where he can seek to hurt and destroy people without the interference of God’s good guys.
What is distracting you from carrying out the Great Commission? Are you involved in a fight against flesh and blood opponents while Satan is having a field day?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Randy L. Bennett is director of missions for the Kern County Southern Baptist Association in Bakersfield, Calif., and immediate past president of the California Southern Baptist Convention.)

11/17/2016 10:05:09 AM by Randy L. Bennett | with 0 comments

The urban/rural divide

November 16 2016 by Barry E. Fields

If the Nov. 8 election has taught us anything, it is the antithesis of Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that catapulted the then-Illinois state senator to the national radar: The dividing lines are not between Red State and Blue State America, but between urban and rural America.
So many from the working class went relatively unaccounted for in both national and state polling, so much so that we’ve arguably experienced the biggest presidential upset since the infamous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline of 1948.

Barry E. Fields

Therein is a lesson for the church as well. I grew up 1.5 miles outside the city limits of Bowling Green, Ky., a city/county/university region of roughly 100,000 people at the time. But I’ve spent the last nine years pastoring in rural areas, first in agricultural Larue County, Ky. (population 14,000) and currently in industrial Hancock County, Ky., and Perry County, Ind., where we have church campuses (combined population of 27,500).
I’ve met some great people in these settings, folks I consider to be “salt of the earth,” but I’ve also had to adapt much of the city-oriented methodology I’ve been taught over the years to the context where God has placed me.
My situation is not unique. In fact, of the roughly 50,000 churches and missions in the Southern Baptist Convention, the vast majority are in rural areas. Even as people continue to migrate toward the cities at one of the greatest rates in recorded history, the “backbone” of our denomination, including Cooperative Program giving and on-the-ground resources, continue to reside in town and country rather than metros and suburbs. Most of the aspiring pastors graduating from our seminaries likely will spend a significant amount (it not all) of their ministry in these secluded settings.
Yet, the availability of educational resources to rural pastors is relatively low.
Take a trip to a Lifeway bookstore or browse through Amazon and see how many books or studies offer assistance to the country or county seat church. Pastors’ conferences, frequently advertised as “How to Turn Around Your Congregation” or “Ministering Within Your Community,” address the needs of urbanites and hipsters while neglecting those serving the rural South and the Rust Belt. While I am incredibly thankful our mission boards are making a major push to infiltrate our cities with a gospel witness, I’m also concerned that many of the 8 out of 10 churches that are stagnant or in decline in our denomination will be left behind because the tools offered to them don’t fit within their respective mission fields.
I want to call our pastors, seminary professors and denominational leaders to consider marshaling resources for churches in communities outside the freeways and beltways where there is much untapped potential.
Seminary students who are aspiring to move to a church next to a Starbucks (and I get it): Consider the regional impact you can have on a church off the beaten path. If the congregation you pastor can by God’s grace experience revitalization, could you not offer assistance to other churches within your association, churches that may not otherwise merit attention? What if God used you to not only shepherd your own congregation, but to offer life support to churches about to close their doors nearby?
That’s what happened within our context along the Ohio River. A sister Southern Baptist congregation in Perry County, Ind., was about to fold, but the Lord graciously worked a partnership between us so that we were able to relaunch it as the Indiana campus of our Kentucky congregation. We’ve gone from 12 to 70 in about a year in a county where that church was the only Southern Baptist presence for 19,000 people. There’s work like this to be done across our country.
Believe me, I understand the appeal of the glamorous lights of the city and the convenience of the suburbs, and there are times when I strongly miss living in that type of setting. When I look to the ministry of Christ in the Gospels, though, most of his shepherding took place in the out of the way, backwoods paths of Galilee. Yet out of those communities disciples were reached who carried the salvific luster of salt and light to the regions beyond.
I don’t know if there’s another Billy Graham out here, waiting to hear that message, but if he is, I intend to find him. God uses people like that to turn the world upside down.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barry E. Fields is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hawesville, Ky.)

11/16/2016 1:27:25 PM by Barry E. Fields | with 0 comments

It’s Trump: A post-election blueprint for evangelical conservatives

November 15 2016 by Bruce Ashford & D.A. Horton

The long road to Election Day is over. Donald J. Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States. Evangelical reaction is mixed. On the one hand, many evangelicals (including the authors of this column) opposed Trump’s nomination. On the other hand, many white evangelicals supported his campaign.
Regardless, there are two things upon which evangelicals can agree.
First, we can agree that in recent decades, evangelicals have been decentered socially and culturally. Although we have seen incremental progress in our advocacy for the pro-life cause, we are experiencing consistent setbacks on other significant concerns such as religious liberty, race relations and marriage and family. More to the point, many Americans consider our stance on moral issues to be not only wrong but bad and view us as little more than the hypocritical and bigoted special interest arm of the Republican Party.
Second, for the next four years, our evangelical witness and action will take place in the context of a Trump presidency. That fact should not alter our political vision and mission. Administrations come and go; the Christian mission remains the same. Therefore, we should be able to unify our public witness around four directives: reassessing our priorities, reframing political issues, reinvigorating our commitment to social causes and persevering even if the decks are stacked against us.

Reassessing our priorities

The Christian “gospel” is the announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord; that he suffered and died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins; that he rose from the dead and appeared publicly to many people; and that he will return one day as King to institute a world order characterized by love, peace and justice. As evangelicals, we must ensure that our political initiatives serve as a preview of that world order.
One way to do that is to continue our commitment to the causes we are known for, such as demanding justice and equality for unborn babies and protecting religious liberty for all citizens.
But there are other ways too. We must find compelling ways to show that the Bible’s narrative – rather than the political narrative of a cable news network – is the true story of the whole world. We must be quick to identify the false gods and saviors offered up by every modern political ideology, including liberalism, conservatism and progressivism, nationalism and socialism. We must find ways to make clear that our allegiance to Jesus Christ takes precedence over our allegiance to any particular political ideology, party or platform.

Reframing political issues

The United States is as divided as it has ever been. Our political discourse is toxic. Our trust in public institutions is at an all-time low. Our differences on political issues are so great that we’ve demonized each other. But evangelicals, because of our commitment to the gospel, are poised to speak a good word into a bad situation.
Our commitment to the gospel means that we can “reframe” political issues so that they can be seen in a new light. For example, the gospel reframes our approach to wealth by revealing that wealth is neither our savior nor our ultimate security and by causing us to be radically generous to the economically disadvantaged.
Similarly, it reframes our approach to power by causing us – counterintuitively – to lovingly serve and empower others by decentering ourselves.
This type of “reframing” of political issues will break the ability of American society to dismiss evangelicals by classifying us as the special interest arm of any one political party. It does not mean that we should renounce our membership within a political party; it means that we can work for the betterment of our party.

Reinvigorating social action

The late great evangelical Francis Schaeffer argued, in his book The Great Evangelical Disaster, that American evangelicals have been beset by deficiency in response to two realities: racism and poverty. Schaeffer is right: we must do better. The gospel demands it and our nation needs it.
In regard to race and poverty, evangelical conservatives should take the reins in our own political party. We should demand that our political candidates speak openly and consistently about racial prejudices and injustices, whether the victims be black, white, Hispanic or other. In regard to wealth, we should place poverty at the top of the list of our talking points and agendas for action. As evangelical conservatives, we cannot ignore our brothers and sisters who are persons of color and we cannot look the other way when our fellow citizens are desperately poor.
We must disprove the reigning political narrative that says evangelicals do not care about persons who are financially disadvantaged, ethnically downtrodden or socially marginalized. We must find evangelical conservative ways of working on their behalf.

Embracing our position of weakness

Evangelicals must embrace the era in which the Lord has placed us, an era in which we and our concerns have been decentered. Instead of resenting the moment, slouching into bitter withdrawal, or charging into angry activism, we embrace the challenge to work for evangelical causes, even from a position of cultural weakness.
After all, our Lord reigned from a tree. And if he reigned from a tree, evangelical conservatives can also serve our great nation even – and especially – from a position of cultural weakness.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bruce Ashford is the provost and dean of faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as professor of theology and culture. D.A. Horton is a pastor at Reach Fellowship in North Long Beach, Calif., and serves on staff at the Urban Youth Workers Institute. This column first appeared at Used with permission.)

11/15/2016 10:03:43 AM by Bruce Ashford & D.A. Horton | with 0 comments

How should churches respond to new wage rules?

November 15 2016 by Brian Davis

The Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) has been amended by the Department of Labor. Its changes may impact your ministry and your congregation. The FLSA has a simple purpose: to ensure employees that qualify for overtime pay are compensated for their labor. While lawsuits have been filed to challenge the new rules and bills have even been introduced in Congress seeking to overturn the new rules, changes to FLSA are scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1, 2016. The new rules have raised numerous questions for churches and for good reason.
What follows should not be construed as legal or financial advice. Church leaders should consult a lawyer and accountant to ensure compliance with the law.
The FLSA does not provide a stated exemption for churches as employers, or ministers as exempt employees, however there are court-created exceptions for religious workers.
Previously, FLSA rules mandated that an employee whose annual salary fell below $23,660 was automatically considered an hourly employee and must be paid overtime when they exceed 40 hours in a work week – regardless of the pay period (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly). As of Dec. 1, employees whose annual salary is below $47,476 are automatically eligible for overtime and when they exceed 40 hours in a workweek, the employer is expected to pay them time and a half for those hours worked in excess of 40 hours.
Immediately, several questions come to mind for churches:

  1. Does this apply to ordained ministers?
  2. Does this apply to non-ordained individuals serving in ministerial positions?
  3. Does this apply teachers in a church-operated pre-school, elementary school and high school?

Ordained ministers employed in ministerial roles by a church appear to remain exempt from overtime after Dec. 1. This means that churches may continue to compensate them as salaried employees and the ministers are not entitled to overtime.
The key point is that ordained ministers must be employed in ministerial positions. A church cannot ordain an individual in a non-ministerial position (such as a custodian or secretary), give that position ministerial responsibilities and then declare the position is exempt from overtime. Furthermore, a church cannot simply change the job title of an employee by adding the title “minister” to the position and claim the employee is exempt from overtime. Ministerial duties must not be a small part of what an employee does, but rather the overarching focus of what an employee does to be considered exempt from overtime.
Non-ordained employees earning an annual salary less than $47,476 must be considered eligible for overtime, even if their duties are ministerial in nature. In addition, non-ministerial employees earning a salary below the threshold must also be considered eligible for overtime, even if some of their duties appear ministerial in nature. This means it becomes important for non-ordained and non-ministerial employees to keep a record of hours worked each week to meet the requirements of FLSA.
Many churches employ part-time youth ministers, music ministers, interns and others that have not been ordained. Careful attention should be paid to the expectations of these employees when they take mission trips, attend summer youth camps, lead weekend retreats and so on. Churches should prepare an agreement prior to such events where both the employee and employer identify which hours are considered work hours for that event. While the church may pay the non-ordained employee a flat salary for a specified number of hours per week, the church must also calculate an hourly rate that can be used for overtime calculations.
The FLSA provides an exemption for teachers, but not all teachers.
The act does not specifically identify pre-school teachers as exempt. For churches that employ elementary, middle school and high school teachers these positions may fit the definition of “bona fide” which is as follows: “A bona fide teacher has a primary duty of teaching, tutoring, instructing, or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge, and is employed and engaged in this activity as a teacher in an educational establishment.
An ‘educational establishment’ means an elementary or secondary system, an institution of higher education or other educational institution.”
What can a church do if a position falls short of the new annual salary threshold? The Church Law Group makes the following suggestions:
1. Pay the overtime. Implement a system where employees track their hours and when they exceed 40 hours in a week, simply pay the overtime.
2. Raise salaries. Where practical, the church that has an employee that meets one of the three exemption tests and is very near the $47,476 threshold may simply wish to give that employee a raise. Please note that a one-time bonus is not considered an addition to annual salary. In addition, the Department of Labor has indicated that the current threshold will be reviewed and increased within the next three years.
3. Adjust work schedules. Is it necessary for an employee to work in excess of 40 hours per week?
In addition, Davis Blount, a Certified Public Accountant that serves on our staff as the GuideStone Representative, notes that churches may wish to change the compensation of all overtime eligible employees (non-exempt employees) from salary to hourly pay so that work hours are regularly recorded.
Some church leaders may be tempted to intentionally ignore these changes to FSLA. Be advised that the fines for failing to pay overtime to employees that are eligible begin at $10,000 for each intentional violation.
The attached chart calls attention to “enterprise coverage” which will apply to few churches as this is an exemption for religious non-profits that are engaged in interstate sales and commerce.  If you feel your church may be identified as an enterprise, please consult an accountant.
As you have questions, I hope that you will feel free to contact me at (800) 395-5102 or There are three other well qualified individuals on our staff that will be happy to assist congregations as well: Pamela Bills, director of human resources, Davis Blount, GuideStone Representative:, and John Butler, executive leader for business services:
Examples of exempt, non-exempt employees
Example 1: Non-exempt youth minister
A part-time youth minister is not ordained. This employee’s annual salary is $25,000. Previously, this employee earned more than the threshold amount of $23,660 annually and was exempt from overtime. However, because the annual salary is below the new threshold of $47,476, this part-time minister is eligible for overtime.
When the part-time youth minister takes youth to a seven-day youth summer camp, this employee will potentially exceed 40 hours for that week. This means that the part-time youth minister’s supervisor will need to identify the working hours for the youth minister before the group leaves for camp. If the part-time youth minister exceeds 40 hours for the week they must be paid overtime for that week.
Example 2: Exempt music minister
Let’s consider another example: a senior music minister in a large congregation is not ordained. This minister’s annual salary is $48,000 (just above the threshold established by FLSA). However, simply meeting the salary test is not enough. Three other tests, (called “Duties Tests”) outlined on the attached chart, are taken into consideration following the annual salary test.
1. If the church also employs an associate minister and a secretary to whom the senior music minister gives oversight, the “executive test” is met because the senior music minister is supervising two or more employees.
2. If the senior music minister is authorized to exercise “discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance” – and the planning of worship and oversight of the overarching musical ministries of the church is a matter of significance – then the “professional test” has been met.
3. If the senior music minister holds “advance knowledge” and “talent in a recognized field of artistic endeavor” then “administrative test” has been met. Because the salary test has been met and one of the additional tests (executive, professional or administrative) has been met, this employee is exempt from overtime.

11/15/2016 9:58:56 AM by Brian Davis | with 0 comments

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