Briefing

Study: 66% of young adults drop out of church for at least a year
In a 2017 LifeWay Research survey released on January 15, 66 percent of Americans between 23 and 30 years old said they stopped attending church on a regular basis for at least a year after turning 18. Moving for college was the top reason young people said they stopped attending church. Other popular reasons to include: a perception that church members were hypocritical (32%), disconnect with church life (29%), disagreement with the church’s stance on political/social issues, and the inability to attend due to work responsibilities (24%).

Harvest Church pastor takes ‘indefinite sabbatical’
On January 16, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced that pastor James MacDonald would take an “indefinite sabbatical” from preaching and leadership at the Chicago megachurch while it works to reconcile with past critics. The announcement follows recent reports of criticism of the church’s financial and management practices. The elders said MacDonald has permission to continue preaching at the Harvest location in Naples, Fla., this winter but he has recused himself from having any leadership role in the reconciliation process and will participate only when asked. 

Abortion defunding bill fails in Senate
An effort to remove the federal government from the abortion business failed January 17 in the U.S. Senate. Senators voted 48-47 to bring the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act to the floor for a vote on final passage. But the roll call fell short of the votes needed to succeed in the procedural move. The proposal, S. 109, would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on funds for abortions by standardizing the prohibitions that now exist in various federal programs. The bill also would block federal money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law and guarantee full disclosure of abortion funding by health insurance plans that are part of the controversial arrangement.

N. Korea again tops list of countries with highest persecution
Open Doors USA has published its 2019 World Watch List of the top 50 countries in the world where Christians face the most extreme persecution for their faith. North Korea was listed at the very top of the World Watch List for the 17th-consecutive year, with Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, and India rounding up the top 10. Additionally, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 to 27. As many as 4,136 Christians were murdered last year because of their faith, while 1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.

Some LifeWay stores to close
In light of “an accelerated rate of erosion” at “brick-and-mortar” stores, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer has announced that some LifeWay stores will be closing. “We will be transitioning many resources from our LifeWay stores to digital channels.” Rainer wrote in a January 15 email to LifeWay employees. “The good news is that we will be better prepared to meet the future. The challenging news is that some of our stores will have to close.” The number of stores to close and the timing of those closures has not been announced.

Sources: Christianity Today, BP News (3), Christian Post

 

By J.D. Greear

mlk day 2019

Our Declaration of Independence put forth a lofty ideal about the equality of races, one of the most eloquent and profound any government had ever made: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Yet many of the framers would return home to their slaves.

Our country has always had high aspirations of equality, but we’ve never been able to achieve them. Not during the century of our birth, when imported African slaves were bought and sold as subhuman property. Not after the Civil War, when Jim Crow laws kept newly liberated African Americans from the full rights of citizenship. Not today, when there are still disparities between the black experience of America and the white experience.

Sometimes I get discouraged with our lack of progress. But when I listen to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I don’t hear the voice of defeat or discouragement. I hear the voice of someone who has seen something — something that, in God’s power, is possible; something God wants to give.

The mountaintop is where we see the world as God meant it to be, the world that Jesus died to recreate.

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” Dr. King said. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

The mountaintop is where we see the world as God meant it to be, the world that Jesus died to recreate. Multi-racial harmony is a preview of God’s eternal Kingdom, and God wants to display it first through His church. What our society has been unable to produce through its laws, God creates through the Gospel.

The Gospel teaches us that all men are created equal because they are each alike, made in the image of God. All races suffer from a common problem of sin and look toward a common hope in Jesus. The Gospel creates a new humanity, a redeemed race made up of all colors, in Christ’s image. God created the races to display His glory like a multi-splendored diamond, and we ought to see that glory first reflected in the church.

Dr. King looked ahead and boldly declared that God’s desire for racial harmony was possible. As we look to our future, would you join me in asking God to give us the courage to speak — and live — a similar word of counter-cultural, racially diverse, bold and unified faith?

I believe that God has appointed this moment in the world for the church to rise up and demonstrate the unity that the world searches for in vain. From that mountaintop we continue to dream; toward that promised land we continue to strive.

J.D. Greear is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. This article first appeared at BPNews.net.

The generation that changed everything is changing its mind. Growing numbers of Boomers are interested in church again.

By Meredith Flynn

boomerang

The Boomers are coming! The Boomers are coming! Thom Rainer exclaimed as he reported new research showing that one-in-five Baby Boomers are more interested in spiritual things than they were earlier in their lives. One-in-five Baby Boomers represents about 19 million people, the president of LifeWay Christian Resources noted—presenting the church with a huge opportunity for growth and new ministry.

But the trend also means an increase in needs—for evangelism, discipleship, and intentional relationship-building. Many Boomers aren’t coming back to church as fully-formed Christians ready to participate in outreach ministries. They have questions. They can be skeptical.

Chaplain Matt Crain led a multi-generational church in southern Illinois before becoming a chaplain at Shawnee Christian Village in Herrin. At his church, Crain said, it was the Boomers who acknowledged, “I’ve been out of church for 20 years. And I’ve got a friend that said I really ought to try this.

“But I want you to know, pastor, I may not be back.”

Boomers may not be coming back to church in big waves yet, Crain said, but they have renewed interest and “they want to see if anything’s changed.”

The children of the 60s who fought hard for social change are also held responsible for the  ballooning the national debt. They’re “tanned and healthy and living way past average life expectancy,” Philadelphia Magazine reported. They also face financial and health crises avoided by the generation before them, Crain said.

“There is just under the surface an undertow current of ‘Wow, I see my own mortality now, and my health is beginning to fade,’” Crain said. “Am I going to have any legacy? Will it matter that I was here?”

Helping Boomers answer those questions is the church’s challenge—and an historic opportunity.

Prodigal generation
Boomers fill an interesting middle ground in American culture. Most were raised with a foundation of values straight out of Mayberry. But the tumult of their formative years took them far away from the comfort of Aunt Bea’s kitchen. In ways physical and spiritual, they moved away from what they knew as children, and raised their own families (which many started later in life than their predecessors) with new values.

But as they reach the later stages of their lives (the first Boomers turned 65 in 2011), they’re thinking about what really matters. And in some cases, they’re returning to a form of the faith they were raised with—although it may be more about personal spirituality than organized religion.

“We have seen some Boomers thinking more about eternity and about what really matters most in life,” said Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. Boomers have the same spiritual needs as other generations, he said—a personal relationship with God through Christ, forgiveness of their sin, and meaning and purpose for their lives.

“They want to know what matters most deeply and how they can find that,” Munton said.
The research that showed Baby Boomers might be returning to their spiritual roots highlighted three reasons for the shift: more time on their hands, a realization of the brevity of life, and an awareness of life’s fragile nature. There are currently more than 70 million Baby Boomers, but data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the group will shrink to 16.6 million by 2050.

It’s in this environment that the church can help meet practical needs of Boomers, as well as spiritual ones, Crain said. The simple things a church does to help a Boomer improve his or her quality of life can build relationships that can lead to gospel conversations. Encourage physical health, diet, and exercise, Crain suggested, or offer to take someone to a doctor’s appointment.

And when Boomers do come to your church, he added, they may be surprisingly nostalgic. “They are OK with singing some hymns,” Crain said. “They might put it to a new beat and add a couple of instruments…remember, they are children of the 60s.” In other words, don’t forsake “The Old Rugged Cross,” but jazz it up.

Ready to invest
At 62, Pastor Bob Dickerson is on the younger end of the Baby Boomer spectrum. But he identifies with a generation closer to the end of their lives than the beginning, and wanting to use their time well.

“I want to finish well,” said Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marion. “I’m not going to accept just ‘doing stuff,’ because I don’t have enough time left to just do stuff.” Dickerson, and many fellow Boomers, want to see results from the things they do. They want what they undertake to matter.

At FBC Marion, retirees minister at the local homeless shelter. They’re involved in Disaster Relief. The church’s JOY choir of 70-80 older adults put on their first Christmas concert this year for an audience of more than 400. (JOY stands for “Just Older Youth.”)

Crain cited North American Mission Board church planting specialists who have noted the similarities between Boomers and their children. “Baby Boomers and Millennials are alike in the sense that they’re concerned with acts of love, kindness, justice, and mercy,” he said. “They want to know: What are you doing for our community? What are you doing for someone who can’t repay you?”

Even before they’re believers in Christ, Crain said, “they will jump into an opportunity to bless someone.” And once they’re in the church, their need for meaningful action is a warning for church leaders. “I can’t just make them ushers,” Crain said. “That’s not going to scratch that itch. They want to know, ‘When are we going to help somebody?’ That’s really important to them.”

My generation, and yours
The sheer number of Baby Boomers makes them a force to be reckoned with, especially for churches tasked with the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (and ages within them). But they’re not the only generation in need of Jesus. Reaching them may provide churches with new potential for multi-generational worship and discipleship.

“Most of your Baby Boomers long for cross-generational experience,” Crain said. “They may not have learned how to do it, but they want to do it.” He encouraged churches to look for ways to connect people of different generations that are less about programming and more about building friendships.

Boomers are worried about their children and grandchildren, Dickerson noted. FBC Marion encourages opportunities for older adults to interact with youth, and to serve as surrogate grandparents to kids in need of them.

Amy Hanson is the author of “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over 50.” She noted the similarities between Boomers and Millennials (generally, adults born 1981-1996) in an 2017 interview with the National Association of Evangelicals.

“They both care about social justice issues and making a difference with their lives,” Hanson said. “Both have an entrepreneurial spirit and are not afraid to try new things. Both groups are technologically savvy, and both are interested in strong friendships that cross generational lines.

“Focus on these things. Don’t be afraid to put people together and see what happens.”
The potential of a Baby Boomer boom in churches is a reminder of the call to reach all people with the gospel, regardless of age. Especially when presented with so great an opportunity, Thom Rainer urged leaders.

“Please, church leaders, don’t take this information lightly,” he wrote. “I can’t recall a generation in my lifetime potentially returning to church in such numbers.” The opportunities are incredible, Rainer said, “maybe they are groovy.”

By Leah Honnen

Editor’s note: January 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

I never thought I would be so moved while attending my first IBSA Annual Meeting, but when we voted as the church to be compassionate toward those experiencing infertility, I melted.

Messengers to the meeting in Maryville last November voted to acknowledge the many trying aspects of infertility for couples, and the church’s appropriate response to such a struggle. They recognized that infertility is a result of the first sin, and that the medical routes couples take to overcome it do not go against God, based on Scripture.

The resolution encourages the church to do all they can so these couples are not left out of church life because of their infertility, and urges churches to help those who yearn to be parents through the struggles, decisions, and heartbreaks they will undoubtedly encounter. Finally, the resolution asks the church to surround these couples as the family of God, reminding them that all of these problems can be overcome through Christ.

They need to know they’re not alone.

As a woman, wife, and hopeful mother who has struggled with infertility for the past two years, this resolution did my heart good. At last! The most pressing problems my husband and I have faced in our marriage had been acknowledged in a public forum…in the one place I struggled to find clear support for us as a couple.

Please don’t misunderstand me—our church family has loved us through our problems, but in many ways, the church is lacking empathy for those living the childless-not-by-choice life. It’s not necessarily the regular churchgoer’s fault. I believe our biggest issue in searching for support through our infertility has been educating those around us.

If people have never faced trouble growing their family, they simply don’t know what to think, so they say whatever platitude comes to mind, unintentionally resulting in deeper emotional wounds for those building their family non-traditionally, rather than tenderly nursing those wounds as Jesus did.

I’m not here to bash the church. I grew up in the church. I’m a pastor’s kid who looks at her time in ministry as a blessing, and I love my past and current church family dearly. They have blessed me in ways I never saw coming—and I only hope I can serve my church family in kind through our time together. Instead, could I share some ways the church can learn to care for those in the infertile world?

1. Listen. Many couples struggle privately—which is their choice and right. But I believe many couples would choose not to struggle alone if they felt their church family would be receptive listeners, rather than inexperienced advice-givers.

2. Don’t give advice. Unless you have lived through infertility, and even sometimes if you have, please do not make suggestions to couples struggling to grow their family. The endless replies of “just relax” and “why don’t you just adopt?” are not helpful when someone is in this stressful place. More often than not, these couples will be up to their ears learning new medical jargon, procedures, and options—both traditional and unconventional. Believe me, they are informed.

3. Educate yourself. Maybe this includes hosting a class for your church leadership. If a couple is open about their infertility experience, perhaps they would like to share their personal story in order to help others understand. If no couple is available, you could reach out to a nearby infertility specialist or infertility counselor and ask them to give a presentation at your church. Either way, search online; there are plenty of resources, including Moms in the Making and Sarah’s Laughter, both of which have given me hope over the years.

4. Offer support. Similar to the way your church family would support a member who is grieving the death of a loved one, support those struggling through infertility. They are mourning the picture of life they dreamed of for years. They are floundering through so many hard decisions they must make to pursue a family, whether biological or adoptive. They need your love. They need your care. They need to know they are not alone.
Not every couple that experiences infertility chooses to pursue treatment. These couples need support too. Don’t forget them.

As I write this, our struggle to conceive has ended for now. My husband and I are due to have our baby in June 2019. Praise the Lord! This is not our first pregnancy, though. We lost our first child to miscarriage on Dec. 3, 2017. Please pray that we may still find joy throughout this pregnancy, and that we can trust God no matter what tomorrow brings.

Leah Honnen is the administrative assistant for IBSA’s Church Communications Team and an active member of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church. She and her husband, John, live in Jacksonville.

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

Dutch Christians face opposition over statement on biblical sexuality
Christian leaders in the Netherlands are facing backlash over a statement affirming biblical sexuality, Baptist Press reported late last week. The Nashville Statement, released in 2017 by U.S. evangelicals including the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in part affirms “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

In the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage was legalized in 2001, signers of the statement have been threatened with criminal prosecution, BP reported.

Harvest Church to drop lawsuit
Harvest Bible Chapel announced plans to drop a lawsuit against a reporter and a group of bloggers who released reports of mismanagement and poor leadership at the Chicagoland megachurch. Harvest and Pastor James MacDonald claimed defamation when they sued reporter Julie Roys and the team behind “The Elephant’s Debt” last October. Earlier this month, a judge denied the church’s attempt to keep subpoenaed documents private, Christianity Today reported.

MacDonald was scheduled to preach at the 2019 SBC Pastors’ Conference this June, but withdrew in December.

Dockery to lead Missouri university’s theology evaluation
A Southern Baptist university in Missouri will undergo an evaluation to ensure its “theological integrity is intact,” The Christian Post reported Jan. 11. Students at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar have protested the dismissal of Professor Clint Bass, who was fired after expressing concern over some faculty members’ theological views. SBU told The Christian Post it had intended to have conversations on theology in fall of 2019, but Bass’s dismissal and the public fallout moved up the timeline.

The theology review at the university, which is affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, will be led by David Dockery, president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill.

Hurricane relief continues in new year
Disaster Relief efforts in Florida and North Carolina are ongoing, Baptist Press reported Jan. 8, in response to 2018’s Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Teams are continuing to serve in affected areas, and plans are underway for college students to join the response during spring break. More information is available at SendRelief.org/GenSend.

Barna releases new insights on pastors and their work
Almost three-fourths of pastors feel content with their role, Barna reports, but more than half had another career before going into ministry. And a quarter another job in addition to their work as a pastor.

Governor J.B. Pritzker and a slate of other leaders were sworn in today in Springfield, signaling what many supporters have called “a new day” for Illinois. At a prayer service at historic First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln and his family once worshiped, Pritzker and five other constitutional officers were prayed over by their own spiritual leaders to start their terms of service in Illinois.

Under the church’s towering stained glass windows, faith leaders also read passages from the Bible and the Quran, and talked about the principles held closest by people who practice their faith traditions. They spoke of justice and mercy, ideals Pritzker talked about when discussing his own Jewish faith and upbringing in an interview last summer.

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Rabbi Seth M. Limmer prays for Gov. J.B. Pritzker (right) at a service prior to his inauguration.

They celebrated the leaders who were elected in November, and spoke hopefully of how their service will benefit the people of Illinois. The crowd packed into wooden pews cheered Springfield pastor T. Ray McJunkins’ optimistic message with its refrain of “the best is yet to come.” The prayer service was a good way to start inauguration day, many would say later.

As I sat in the sanctuary, my thoughts turned to people of faith who weren’t represented on the platform. How should members of our Illinois Baptist churches engage with an administration whose views on many issues undoubtedly run counter to their own? We’ll cover that topic in a longer story in the Jan. 21 issue of the Illinois Baptist, but for now, I can say I left the prayer meeting hopeful.

My hope isn’t based on political agendas or the current administration’s position on specific issues—indeed, I disagree with more than I agree with in those areas. Rather, my hope stems from wisdom I heard while reporting on Gov. Pritzker’s inauguration: Real victory doesn’t rely on political victory. As Southeastern Seminary’s Bruce Ashford told me, “We do what we do out of witness and obedience, and not because we have to win.”

pritzker_inauguration_web

Gov. Pritzker and his family are introduced at the inauguration ceremony in Springfield.

Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton said something similar after her swearing-in today. Community building is done when we put our own self-interests on hold, she said, and commit to working side-by-side. Even when it’s hard.

While I wasn’t necessarily represented on the platform today, I did hear the call to engage the process even when my side isn’t winning. That reminder was a good way to start inauguration day.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.