COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Chase_Abner_calloutI’ve been around collegiate ministry for about eleven years. In those years, I’ve been witness to all sorts of public hubbub on the world stage of evangelicalism. At first, there was the challenge posed by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Then there was a lot of back-and-forth about the Emergent Church and how post-modernism was going to erode all of Christendom. And that was just a precursor to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and the battle for the doctrine of hell. And Mark Driscoll has been the subject of his fair share of controversies. Throw “The Shack” and Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got yourself enough blog fodder to last you until the other side of eternity.

Early on, I somehow got the impression that a big part of my job as a campus minister was to help students be on the “right side” of all these public controversies. I read a lot of blogs and way too many blog comments. I sought out what side my heroes were on. I studied the Bible hard and I tried to provide my students with all the right answers.

However, there was one big problem.

They weren’t even asking the questions. Most of them didn’t even know who Brown or Driscoll or Bell or Calvin was. They were more concerned about passing their biology test or paying tuition in the spring or what they were going to say to their roommate struggling with depression.

So I gave up. I stopped trying to be up-to-date on the controversy of the day. I decided that if it wasn’t something that was directly impacting my students, then I wouldn’t bother with it.

And guess what? I found that I had a lot more time to hear from God, rather than about Him from someone on a podcast. I found that I was freer to hear the questions the students actually had, rather than the ones I forced on them. And I found that it’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when you’re not fighting over Jesus.

So last week, a video of Victoria Osteen made the rounds. If you didn’t know, she is the wife of America’s most famous mega-pastor Joel Osteen. The clip is from a sermon in August wherein Victoria makes some…how do you say…provocative claims about proper motivation for obeying God. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then count yourself blessed and forget I mentioned it.)

Here’s what naïve Chase would’ve probably done in response to this clip if it had come along in my early days of ministry: I would’ve torn the thing to bits, shared all the parody videos, and read every blog that critiques the Osteens’ errant theology. I might’ve even used one of the parody videos in our weekly gathering or taught an entire lesson in response. In other words, I would’ve wasted a lot of time doing battle against something that had virtually zero influence on the people in my care.

Let me suggest this template for responding to public Christian controversies in your collegiate ministry context.

  1. Pray for the individuals caught in sin or espousing false teaching.
    • Example: Pray for the Osteens and those influenced by their teaching ministry.
  2. Examine yourself in light of Scripture.
    • Example: Ask God to show you where you have selfish motives in your obedience to him. Repent as necessary.
  3. Listen to your students. Respond when necessary.
    • Example: If your students aren’t being influenced by the controversy, then press on in your disciple-making as if nothing has happened. If they have questions about it, then address the controversy.

You see, as you focus your energy on developing mature Christians who believe and apply the gospel to all of life, they will be equipped to address the counterfeits on their own. If at times, the controversies catch their attention and your students have questions, then embrace those as teachable moments. But remember, they are just that—moments—and not the normal pattern for your ministry.

Most of all, avoid the temptation to define yourself and your ministry by what you’re against. Is the gospel exclusive? Yes. Does God draw some hard lines in Scripture? Yes. But most clearly, he reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ who gave most of his energy on earth to proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

Chase Abner is Collegiate Evangelism Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

An op-ed piece on Time.com last week announced the launch of “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality,” an effort “to change the hearts and minds of evangelicals about civil marriage equality,” according to spokesperson Brandan Robertson.

“…I represent a growing number of millennial evangelicals that believes it’s possible to be a faithful Christian with a high regard for the authority of the Bible and a faithful supporter of civil marriage equality,” Robertson wrote in the column.

The_BriefingQuoting statistics that report younger evangelicals are more likely than older Christians to support same-sex marriage, Robertson made a case for a “middle path” that “both compels evangelicals to stand for civil marriage equality as an overflow of our love for our lesbian and gay neighbors, while allowing us to have space to wrestle with and remain faithful to our beliefs.”

Andrew Walker of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission responded to Robertson’s piece in his own op-ed on Time.com the next day.

“In 800 words, there’s not a coherent argument about the nature of marriage,” Walker wrote about Robertson’s column. “And that’s what this debate Americans are having is about, isn’t it? It’s about one question: What is marriage? This isn’t just about Christianity’s teaching on marriage. It’s about the definition of marriage for society.

“It’s about whether marriage is malleable, or whether marriage has a fixed social purpose that’s been recognized throughout all of human history as something distinct from other relationships.”

Walker will appear at the “Elevate Marriage” conference Oct. 16 in Springfield, Ill. Register now at www.IBSA.org/Marriage.

Other news:

‘Third way’ church expelled from CA Baptist Convention
The California Southern Baptist Convention Executive Board voted Sept. 11 to withdraw fellowship from a church that had decided to pursue a “third way” in dealing with same-sex lifestyles in the church, Baptist Press reports. After Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Ca., announced he no longer believed same-sex relationships are sinful, his church reportedly voted to become a “third way” church that wouldn’t condemn or condone homosexuality. A former elder later told Baptist Press the church didn’t officially vote to accept the “third way,” but peacefully separated amid deadlock.

Warren: ‘People are looking for mercy’
The church must deal with mental illness with a spirit of compassion, California pastor Rick Warren says in a video posted at www.erlc.com. The video, posted in July, also features Tony Rose, chairman of the Mental Health Advisory Group formed by Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Frank Page in response to a motion made at the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting. “If the church could be a church of mercy, we would have no evangelism problem, because people are looking for mercy,” said Warren, whose son committed suicide in 2013 after a lengthy battle with mental illness. Read more about the advisory group, who held their inaugural meeting in May, at BPNews.net.

Pew research measures American concern about extremism
As ISIS continues to terrorize groups in the Middle East, Pew Research released new data that shows Americans are increasingly concerned about Islamic extremism. 62% are very concerned about its rise around the world, Pew reported, and 53% are very concerned about the possibility of rising Islamic extremism in the U.S. Not surprisingly, more Americans now also say they are concerned the government has not gone far enough to protect the country.

Illinois volunteers assist with flood recovery near Detroit
Four Disaster Relief teams from Illinois will serve in Warren, Michigan, this month, after slow-moving storms dumped several inches of rain on the area in August and damaged tens of thousands of homes. Read the story here.

An Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief is cheered by a job well done in Warren, Michigan. Volunteers traveled north to assist with flood recovery in August and September.

An Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief team is cheered by a job well done in Warren, Michigan. Volunteers traveled north to assist with flood recovery in August and September. Photo submitted by Butch Porter

NEWS | Lisa Sergent

The Detroit suburb of Warren, Mich., is the destination for four Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief teams in September. Three additional teams served there last month, after slow-moving storms dumped several inches of rain on the area Aug. 11.

“There are 40,000 affected homes in Oakland County alone,” Baptist State Convention of Michigan Disaster Relief director Wynn Williams told Baptist Press. “There are another 30,000 to 40,000 damaged homes in Wayne County and then all the work in McComb County. There was as much as 15 feet of water over some of the expressways. Homes have damage anywhere from a few inches to several feet of floodwater.”

The flooding went largely uncovered by national media, and few outside of Michigan were aware of the need for recovery assistance. Teams from First Baptist in Galatia, Sullivan Southern Baptist, and Capital City Baptist Association were the first Illinois volunteers to arrive, followed by four teams from Williamson Baptist Association scheduled to serve this month. Each team works five or six days, not including travel time.

“The majority of the homes belong to senior adults who are not able to do the necessary work to clean up and sanitize their homes,” said Rex Alexander, IBSA State Disaster Relief Coordinator. “The good news is that because the water entered homes through the basements, there is not much actual ‘mud’ present in the homes, only water damage.”

Teams removed furniture and appliances from basements, cut out walls, and sanitized surfaces. When they completed the jobs, they presented the homeowners with a Bible signed by them and then all prayed together. Bob Jackson, leader of the Sullivan Southern team, talked about the team’s experience at one home.

“We prayed with one couple where he was a Lutheran and she was Romanian Orthodox. They told us about growing up and being active in church as youths, but not anymore. We had just finished working on his man-cave in the basement. I told him they needed to remember the God of their youth. I like to make people think and to plant a seed.”

The teams also worked in neighborhoods with significant Muslim populations. David Howard, director of missions for Capital City Association, said one evening the volunteers were treated to a catered meal of traditional Middle Eastern food by a local imam.

Howard also noted the team had an opportunity to work in the home of a woman who was a new Christian. “She had recently received the Lord and been baptized. She was so excited to share with us about her newfound faith.”

After the first few Illinois teams had returned home, Alexander got a thank-you email from Tony Lynn, a pastor in Monroe, Mich. “Volunteers from our church worked alongside your teams,” Lynn wrote. “We saw firsthand, your teams share the good news of Christ with compassion and devotion. We saw discouraged residents beam with hope after your teams started their work….Residents’ sorrows were replaced with smiles because you showed them that there are more important things than possessions.”

The national Disaster Relief response in Michigan is expected to end by the second week of October. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief, go to http://www.IBSA.org/dr.

The Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer, marked this week in churches across the state, focuses on ministry to kids and families. The crucial “4-14 window” is the best opportunity for churches to effectively share the gospel with the next generation. Use this daily devotion guide, and go to http://www.IBSA.org/mio for videos, stories, mission study teaching plans, and ideas for prayer and worship.

oneDay 1: Scott Kelly, Pastor, Campus Minister
A century-old house in Evanston, Ill., is a home base for ministry to students at Northwestern University. Scott and Megan Kelly and their three kids open their home on a regular basis to students who come for parties, prayer meetings, or just dinner. “The students I meet are open to speaking with me about Jesus and what the Bible says, as we meet in the dorm or over Dunkin coffee at the student center,” said Scott, who also pastors Evanston Baptist Church. “But the best conversations I have with students are when they are around my family.” Pray for Pastor Scott as he leads his church and the campus ministry at Northwestern University.

twoDay 2: Tim Sadler, IBSA Evangelism Director
IBSA churches baptized just over 5,000 people last year, but more than 400 of our churches baptized no one. Tim says, “Generous giving through the Mission Illinois Offering allows me to assist churches taking the Gospel to their mission fields. I can provide resources such as Gospel tracts and training to churches who want to reach their communities for Christ. It allows me to do customized training and strategy development for IBSA churches.” Pray for Tim and for renewed evangelism in IBSA’s 1,000 member churches.

threeDay 3: Chet Cantrell, Christian Activity Center Director
Every day after school at the Christian Activity Center, kids in East St. Louis get a healthy snack and help with their homework. They learn Bible stories and songs, play in the gym, and spend time in the computer lab. It’s a world far removed from how this street—known as a center of prostitution—used to operate. “In the early days our mission was to keep our kids alive,” said Chet Cantrell, who directs the CAC, “but our mandate was bigger than that. We want to help them thrive, so they can be what God intends them to be.Pray for Chet, the ministry team at the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, and the hundreds of young lives they touch each year.

fourDay 4: Carmen Halsey, Mission Mobilization Director
There are 13 million people in Illinois, and at least 8 million of them do not know Christ. Carmen sees tremendous opportunity for the Gospel. “Our lives begin to make sense when we realize that they are a platform for God’s word to be demonstrated to others. Illinois Baptist Women are embedded into society all across our state. With our resources, we are developing women to recognize and seize everyday opportunities to share the gospel.” Pray for Carmen and Illinois Baptist Women who are mobilized to share Christ. Pray for spiritual awakening in Illinois.

fiveDay 5: Brad Pittman, Church Planter
Davis Junction in Northwest Illinois was a community of more than 3,000 people, but only one church. Until recently. In this town 15 miles south of Rockford, Brad Pittman and his family are planting Grace Fellowship Church. It’s the third location for a multi-site church that started in Ashton and also meets in Amboy.

Brad was a member of the Ashton location for 13 years before joining the staff with pastors Jeremy Horton and Brian McWethy. “We want to be an Acts 1:8 church that not only plants here locally,” he said, “but we’re going into our state, that we’re going into our nation, we’re also going into our world.” Pray for The Pittman family and all church planters in Illinois. Pray for the 322 places and people groups where new churches are needed.

sixDay 6: Chase Abner, Collegiate Evangelism Strategist
“God changed my life through a college ministry supported by IBSA,” Chase says. His salvation as a young adult at SIU Carbondale urges him forward. “Generous giving by Illinois Baptists helps me to assist churches as they reach out to students on campuses across Illinois. These campuses are home to nearly one million students. Before they leave school, we must share Christ with them.” Pray for Chase and the campus ministries he helps start and facilitate.

sevenDay 7: John Mattingly, Church Planting Catalyst
24 new churches were started in Illinois last year. And 13 are in progress in the northwestern region. “Our new church plants in northwest Illinois are building relationships that help bridge the gap of misunderstanding of who Southern Baptists are in the North,” John says. “They are also enjoying a harvest of souls that is due to the on-going relationships between planters and our established rural churches. It is a testimony of the power behind steady giving and praying.” Pray for new ministries to reach the 4 million people who live in non-urban settings in Illinois.

eightDay 8: Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief Coordinator
Rex is one of 85 IBSA missionaries, ministry staff, and church planters. This offering makes it possible for all the team to represent Christ wherever and whenever needed. “We provide opportunities for Disaster Relief workers to bring help, healing, and hope to victims of natural disasters in Illinois and North America,” Rex says. “God uses their skills, and the additional training IBSA provides, to help people physically and spiritually as they attempt to rebuild their lives.” Pray for all the IBSA team, including staff and volunteers. Pray that we will reach the $475,000 goal to keep them serving on our Illinois mission field.

David Platt, 36, was elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board on Aug. 27.

David Platt, 36, was elected president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board on Aug. 27.

COMMENTARY | Eric Reed and Meredith Flynn

one_blogThe first time I saw David Platt was at the SBC pastors conference in 2012, explaining fervently why he questions use of the sinner’s prayer. In his preaching, Platt marries Reformed theology with a passion for missions.

The first time I heard of David Platt, he had just been called to pastor a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama—at age 26. Leaders of the church were promising they would surround their new pastor and guide him through a ministry that would challenge a man with three times his experience. Platt had completed three degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and served as assistant professor and dean of the chapel. Truly, he was a wunderkind.

He still is.

But at 36, it’s fair to ask if he’s ready for the enormous responsibility of leading a $300-million-dollar-a-year missions enterprise with 5,000 employees. His church’s record of bypassing the Cooperative Program for most of its giving to IMB and international missions has been reported. And Platt comes to office with many mission trips to his credit, but this position will be his first as a career missionary.

Still, we could be seeing the start of a long and remarkable tenure such as those of the giants who helmed our missions endeavors in the days of our greatest Gospel advance.

Let us pray so.

-Eric Reed

two_blogThe first words I ever heard David Platt speak weren’t his own. At a collegiate conference several years ago, he walked on stage and started preaching through the first half of Romans. Paul’s actual words.

After the audience frantically paged through their Bibles to find where he was, they sat in rapt attention. It was an urgent message, one that clearly challenged these early 20-somethings to listen, respect the Word, and understand it in a new way.

The most exciting news about David Platt’s election as the new president of the International Mission Board may well be his ability to challenge young people to a deeper understanding of Scripture, and a more intentional following of God’s will for believers.

Several years later on a Good Friday, a slightly older group gathered for several hours of teaching during one of Platt’s “Secret Church” simulcasts. As they scrambled to fill in hundreds of outline blanks during his rapid-fire message, the challenge again was clear: focus, listen, learn. And, let’s all do whatever it takes to get the gospel to more people around the world.

Right after IMB trustees elected Platt last month, a group of young missionaries reportedly gathered around to congratulate him and thank him for the influence his messages and the book “Radical” have had on their lives. These newly appointed missionaries have followed God’s call to the ends of the earth.

Let’s pray many, many more will accept the challenge.

-Meredith Flynn

THE BRIEFING | InterVarsity Christian Fellowship will lose its current access to all 23 schools in the California State University system because the ministry requires their leaders to affirm Christian doctrines, reports Christianity Today. IVCF’s policy is in violation of a university rule, adopted in 2012, that requires recognized groups to accept all students as potential leaders.

The_Briefing“While we applaud inclusivity, we believe that faith-based communities like ours can only be led by people who clearly affirm historic Christian doctrine,” reads a statement on IVCF’s website.

The ministry received a one-year exemption from the policy for the 2013-14 school year, but will now lose privileges including free meeting space and access to campus activity fairs.

On his blog, LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer examines the ramifications: “The bigger, and ongoing, issue is the continual sanitization of unacceptable religious voices from universities.”

State marriage cases likely to land in high court
Recent rulings on marriage by federal judges and circuit courts have advocates on both sides of the debate looking toward the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue. On Sept. 4, 32 states—15 that allow same-sex marriage and 17 that don’t—asked the high court to settle it once and for all, reported the Associated Press.

Same-sex marriages in Illinois officially began June 1, although some counties issued licenses earlier. The state’s General Assembly approved “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” last fall.

‘Elevate Marriage’ scheduled for Oct. 16
The Illinois Baptist State Association will host an “Issues & Answers” event in Springfield, Ill., to help churches address cultural shifts on marriage. The Oct. 16 conference for pastors and church leaders will feature Kevin Smith, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Andrew Walker, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Jill Finley, Bethel Baptist Church, Troy, Ill. Lunch is included, and registration is required; go to www.IBSA.org/Marriage.

Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy dies at age 93
Christian leaders and fans of Chick-Fil-A mourned the loss of S. Truett Cathy, who died early Monday morning. Cathy built the chain—known for its chicken sandwiches—from one store in 1946 to more than 1,800 restaurants currently operating in 40 states and Washington, D.C. He was known for his Christian faith and Chick-Fil-A’s “closed on Sundays” policy. Read more at BPNews.net.

Osteen answers criticism
Megachurch co-pastor Victoria Osteen said that church-goers at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, understood her recent controversial comments about why people ought to obey God. “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really,” Osteen said during a Lakewood service Aug. 31. “You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.” The video went viral, garnering much criticism on social media. Osteen told The Blaze she could have been more articulate, but she stands by her point. “I did not mean to imply that we don’t worship God; that’s ridiculous, and only the critics and cynics are interpreting my remarks that way.”

Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, blogged that the message preached by Osteen and her husband, Joel, “is the latest and slickest version of Prosperity Theology.” Read Mohler’s commentary here.

Our Midwest state

Meredith Flynn —  September 8, 2014 — Leave a comment

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently, IBSA hosted a Midwest regional meeting that included the state executive directors, missions directors, evangelism directors, and church health directors from ten Baptist state conventions. Our main purpose was to finalize plans for the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit that will be hosted here in Springfield next January. 

But it was also an interesting time to compare notes on Baptist work throughout our Midwest region. Here are four observations about what “all” Midwest state conventions seem to be experiencing, and then also about where we in Illinois find ourselves these days.

Nate_Adams_Sept8First, there was a shared desire to keep fewer ministry resources within our churches and region, and to share more with the vast mission fields outside our states, especially internationally.  

Here in Illinois, our Cooperative Program giving that goes beyond the state is the fifth highest percentage among all 42 state conventions. The past two years, we have sent extra year-end gifts that made those CP percentages the highest in IBSA’s history.  

A second observation is that most Midwest state conventions are feeling a tight “squeeze” between the North American Mission Board’s lower and more designated funding (for church planting exclusively), and generally flat to lower giving from churches through the Cooperative Program.  

Here in Illinois, NAMB funding shifts have necessitated that we absorb full responsibility for our state WMU and Women’s Ministry Director, for other missions positions and initiatives that are not specifically church planting, and for funding that assists local associations. We have also received notice that areas such as collegiate ministry, urban ministry centers, and disaster relief coordination will not be funded by NAMB in future budget years.  

A third observation is that among our group of Midwest Baptist leaders we are experiencing a noticeable amount of transition and turnover. My personal sense is that the combination of financial pressures and feelings of not being appreciated are taking their toll on a lot of good people that help a lot of small to medium-sized churches, especially.  

Here in Illinois, we have been seeking to manage a gradual downsizing and restructuring of our IBSA staff without necessitating traumatic changes for either personnel or ministries. However, I sense among some of our staff the same uneasiness about the future security of existing ministries.  

Finally, even in the midst of these challenges, I observed state convention leaders that continue to believe strongly in their ministries of strengthening and starting local churches in their Midwest contexts. They—we—are trusting the Lord into the future, but also appealing more and more intentionally and urgently to the faithful churches in our respective states to validate, value, and directly support state missions.  

MIO_blogHere in Illinois, the most direct and supportive way your church can do that is through the Mission Illinois Offering. Most churches receive that offering in September, but you can contribute through the MIO any time in the year, and 100% of that offering goes to support our state missionaries and state missions efforts among churches right here in Illinois.  

Across the Midwest, Baptist state conventions, most of which are smaller than Illinois, are facing pressures and decisions that may soon be ours, at a time when our culture needs the Gospel more than ever, and our churches need assistance more than ever. If we want our Midwest state of Illinois and its churches to remain strong and advance the Gospel here, we must all take responsibility for our Illinois mission field, and give our most generous offerings to the Mission Illinois Offering this year.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.