Archives For April 2015

Raymond and Betty Kramer hug each other after being interviewed by the media about their experience in a Rochelle, IL restaurant's storm cellar while a tornado was on the ground above them. This photo was taken during and interview  in the town of Fairdale, IL, which was completely destroyed by tornado April 9.

Raymond and Betty Kramer hug each other after being interviewed by the media about their experience in a Rochelle, IL restaurant’s storm cellar while a tornado was on the ground above them. This photo was taken n the town of Fairdale, IL, which was completely destroyed by tornado April 9.

HEARTLAND | Lisa Sergent

Raymond Kramer and his wife, Betty, were driving home from Rockford, Ill.,

when it started to hail. As the icy stones got larger and came down harder, they started to look for shelter. Then, to his west, Kramer saw a funnel cloud on the ground.

The funnel cloud was part of a tornado outbreak that hit northern Illinois April 9. It caused destruction in town of Rochelle and completely destroyed the small community of Fairdale, where two people died.

The Kramers, members of Grace Fellowship in Ashton, took shelter in Grubsteakers Restaurant, where “the owner herded us through the kitchen, out the door, and we made a u-turn down into a good old-fashioned storm cellar,” Kramer told the Illinois Baptist.

When the tornado had passed, they tried to open the cellar doors, but found them blocked by debris. The back dining room and pantry walls had fallen on top of the doors. And the restaurant owner’s SUV had been lifted up by the tornado and was sitting on top of the walls.

Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief workers survey damage after a tornado outbreak in northern Illinois April 9.

Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw teams were on the scene two days after a tornado outbreak in northern Illinois April 9.

The Kramers prayed with 10 fellow survivors as they waited for first responders to arrive, which they did in 30 minutes. However, it took two hours for responders to free them. Sitting in the dark with only cellphone flash lights and, later, a light passed down by the responders, the Kramers prayed with the group.

One woman was crying, and as his wife comforted her, Kramer prayed. “I pray aloud in situations like this,” he said.

To help everyone relax, Kramer said he started singing, “’I’ll be there to pick you up in the wheel barrow honey, after about a quarter past eight….’ Then, I sang, ‘Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be will be…’”

Since the tornado, Kramer has been interviewed by local and national media who have called the 81-year-old and his wife heroes. “We’re not heroes,” he said. “We’re just servants of the Lord Jesus Christ…I had the joy of the Lord down there. I prayed to my God and I knew He would protect us.”

IBSA Disaster Relief participated in clean-up efforts after the tornado outbreak. Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked at three homes in Rochelle.

Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief Coordinator said the callout “was a good opportunity for northern teams to work in their own backyard.”

To learn more about Disaster Relief ministry, go to www.IBSA.org/dr or call (217) 391-3142.

Starting July 1, the IRS will implement a $100-per-day per employ excise tax on some churches, depending on the number of full-time employees they have, and how they cover health care premiums (IRS Notice 2015-17).

Churches with one full-time employee, and churches with two or more full-time employees in a qualifying group plan will still be allowed to provide pre-tax reimbursement for health care benefits. But churches with two or more full-time employees who have individual policies (or where one or more employees are on their spouse’s insurance plan), will not be allowed to provide pre-tax reimbursement. Those churches may be penalized.

Most pastors who have health insurance through GuideStone will not be penalized, because GuideStone coverage is considered a group plan.

For those who have individual policies and serve churches with two or more full-time employees that would be penalized, IBSA is exploring the option of providing an IBSA Group Associational Plan through GuideStone, which would meet the group policy requirement and protect the church from the excise tax. Pastors interested in this plan should contact IBSA by April 30, as IBSA will only pursue this option is there is sufficient interest.

Additional information is available at IBSA.org.

Contact SylvanKnobloch@IBSA.org or call (217) 391-3133.

Editor’s note: The following Trevin Wax column from BPNews.net first appeared on his Kingdom People blog, hosted at thegospelcoalition.org.

COMMENTARY | Trevin Wax

Summer is for vacations and, for many pastors, denominational gatherings. The Southern Baptist Convention is no exception. This year, we’re meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the 15th largest city in the U.S., one that is well outside of the Southeast where most of our churches are based.

Trevin_WaxIn the past decade, though the attendance at the annual meeting has risen and fallen in conjunction with the location and the major topic of conversation (or controversy), the overall trend has been a dwindling of messengers. This isn’t surprising, considering the loosening of denominational loyalty and the variety of good conferences a pastor can attend.

But Columbus might buck the decline. Here are three reasons I’m particularly excited about this year’s annual meeting.

1. The annual meeting is trending younger.

In Baltimore last year, we saw a 10-year high of younger messengers involved in the convention proceedings. Baptist Press has reported that “nearly one-fourth (24.68 percent) of attendees were younger than age 40. That surpassed by more than 4 percentage points the previous best for the age group, recorded in 2013.”

My first visit to a Southern Baptist Convention was in San Antonio in 2007 as a 25-year-old associate pastor. I remember my initial shock at the small number of young people present. Recent years have seen an upswing in younger Southern Baptist engagement, a reality that is especially surprising when considered alongside the millennial generation’s diminishing enthusiasm for institutions in general. What this tells me is that the annual meeting is beginning to show signs of becoming a vibrant network, not just a report on denominational infrastructure.

2. The schedule of the annual meeting has been reworked in order to highlight the things we are most passionate about.

Few people get excited about a business meeting. Most messengers admit they come to network and see friends, not sit through every session of the SBC. But this year will be different, thanks to a reworking of the schedule under the leadership of the SBC’s president, Ronnie Floyd. For example, all the missions entities will present on Wednesday morning, and it won’t just be a time of reports, but also commissioning of missionaries.

The Send North America conference, slated by the North American Mission Board for this summer in Nashville, already has drawn more than 7,000 registrants, a staggering figure when you consider the fact that only one Convention since 2010 has come close to that number.

What does this tell us? Southern Baptists are hungry for a meeting that casts vision and rallies our people around a great cause. They’re not necessarily there, first and foremost, to vote on resolutions.

But resolutions matter. And so does our business. As Southern Baptists, we should care about the annual meeting, and we should care about this meeting because we care about the Kingdom of God. Business meetings come and go, with their moments of boredom and hilarity, awkwardness and quiet power, and yet in these moments, decisions are made, courses are set that define our cooperative work the rest of the year. It’s not glamorous, but the work of the Kingdom rarely is. This year, however, features a streamlined schedule that emphasizes what we’re there for.

3. We will pray for God to awaken His church to the opportunities before us.

The Tuesday evening meeting will be time of prayer and worship, a pleading with God to revive His people and empower our witness. It is easy to bemoan the moral decay of our culture, the encroaching limits to religious liberties and the difficulty of evangelism in a relativistic society.

But we shouldn’t miss the opportunity here. By cherishing once-common things, such as marriage between a man and woman for life, and core Christian doctrines, such as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, we have the opportunity for our ordinary obedience to shine even brighter in a pluralistic world that bows to Aphrodite. The annual meeting gives us the opportunity to lay aside our differences, unite around our common confession and lock arms for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.

Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a Gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

After an unarmed man was shot and killed by a South Carolina police officer, urban ministry strategist D.A. Horton advocated “radical righteousness” instead of retaliation.

The_Briefing“Radical righteousness is lived out when we work to see a criminal receive proper punishment, instead of private revenge; public order instead of personal retaliation; and respond with practical righteousness in place of our personal rights,” said Horton during a chapel service at Charleston Southern University April 8. The North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions said the church must pursue the “radical righteousness” Jesus prescribed in Matthew 5:38-42, according to Diana Chandler’s report for Baptist Press.

“I was not present for Mike Brown [in Ferguson, Mo.], for Tamir Rice [in Cleveland, Ohio], for Eric Garner [in New York City], for Ezell Ford [in Los Angeles] and for the multitude of names that have been going down. I wasn’t there when the officers got gunned down in Brooklyn,” Horton said.

“… But what I do know as a believer, there was a real world with real hurt. There [are] real issues going on out there. And if believers cannot look to the words of Christ, and be words of comfort and clarity to our culture, then we don’t need to be claiming to be the church.”


The American Humanist Association has dropped its lawsuit against a New Jersey school district, allowing students to continue saying “under God” during the Pledge of Allegiance. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.


A prayer written by Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham will be read around the country on May 7, the National Day of Prayer. Graham is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and current pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas metro area.

“We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us,” says Graham’s prayer, which will be read at Day of Prayer celebrations. “Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.”


The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is urging Christians to promote an April prayer emphasis with the hashtag #PrayforMarriage. Last week, the Southern Baptist ethics entity issued a challenge to pray at 10 a.m. (Eastern time) on April 28, the morning the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in several same-sex marriage cases. The web page ERLC.com/article/prayformarriage includes a sample prayer guide.


A majority of Americans believe politics would be more civil and effective if politicians read the Bible more. Read more in Christianity Today’s report on the 2015 State of the Bible study from the American BIble Society.


More news from the State of Bible report: Of the nearly 7,000 languages used as first languages, more than half lack a completed Bible translation. At the same time, 72% of Americans believe the Bible is available in all the world’s languages. Read more at Barna.com.


By the year 2050, Pew Research has forecasted, 38% of the world’s Christians will live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, Europe’s share of the global Christian population will continue to decline, from 66% in 1910, to 26% in 2010, to 16% projected for 2050.

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Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers worked over the weekend at three homes in Rochelle, Ill., one of the northern Illinois communities hit by a tornado April 9.

By Lisa Sergent

Rochelle, Ill. | Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were busy Saturday removing trees and limbs downed by last week’s tornadoes in northern Illinois.

Chainsaw teams from four associations of churches—Fox Valley, Quad Cities, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers—worked at three homes in the town of Rochelle, where 45-50 homes were damaged April 9.

Rex Alexander, Disaster Relief Coordinator for the Illinois Baptist State Association, said the response to the disaster was “almost overwhelming.”

“Streets were clogged with the cars of volunteers and the owners of damaged homes were inundated with volunteers and disaster relief teams from all over the state, as well as from other states. One home across the street from our team had over 50 volunteers working with them,” he noted.

Alexander said the town of Fairdale has not yet been opened to volunteers, but he is continuing to monitor the situation for future opportunities. However, he doesn’t expect there to be much work for IBSA volunteers to do. “If your house has been downed and is gone, you don’t go cut up trees.” The EF-4 tornado that hit Fairdale reportedly affected every home or structure in the unincorporated community—40 to 50 buildings. Two people were killed during the storm.

Rochelle_recovery_2For the response in Rochelle, Alexander wanted to publicly acknowledge the assistance of Brad Pittman, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Davis Junction. “He gave us most of his day on Friday and introduced us to homeowners he knows in the area that we were able to go in and help.”

Many recent disaster relief callouts have been in the southern part of the state. Alexander said this callout “was a good opportunity for northern teams to work in their own backyard.”

The Illinois teams finished their work Saturday afternoon.

A disaster relief training weekend is scheduled this Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, at Streator Baptist Camp. Online registration is closed, but anyone interested in participating can call Alexander’s ministry assistant, Alexis Dumire, to register over at (217) 391-3142.

The Illinois Baptist State Association has nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist member churches and missions in Illinois. IBSA’s main office is in Springfield and it was established in 1907. Southern Baptists operate the nation’s third-largest disaster relief organization, behind only the Red Cross and Salvation Army. To learn more about IBSA Disaster Relief, visit http://www.IBSA.org/dr.

Rochelle_recovery_3

Diana_Davis_blog_calloutEditor’s note: Diana Davis is an author, columnist and minister’s wife. This column appeared in the April 6 Illinois Baptist. Visit Diana’s website at http://www.dianadavis.org.

HEARTLAND | Diana Davis

When a first-time guest completes a guest registration card at your church, what happens next? The most common answer to that question: absolutely nothing. No, it’s not an intentional oversight, but without an ongoing, immediate follow-up plan, your church may miss the opportunity to reach guests for Christ and include them in your church family.

Need fresh ideas? Tweak some of these to fit your unique church:

First-time guest online survey. People love to give an opinion! Create a brief survey on your church’s website. (See a sample survey at dianadavis.org) Carefully study survey responses.

Same-day contact. A specially trained volunteer makes a brief phone call to each guest on Sunday afternoon after they visit your church.

E-mail and/or snail mail. Assign volunteers to send a swift, personal email or card to each first-time guest.

Small group personal invitation. Provide contact info to an appropriate small group or Sunday School class for each family member. A member of that small group may offer to meet the guest at a specific door to escort them to class the next time they visit.

Coffee, anyone? An Indiana church delivers three coupons for a free drink in their coffee area, encouraging the guest to return for three consecutive Sundays. In a different church, volunteers deliver a church coffee mug to the guest’s door before they get home from church.

Pastor’s letter. Many pastors prepare a warm letter or e-mail to welcome first-time guests; some even jot a handwritten note. Pastor Ted Traylor at Olive Baptist, Pensacola, often texts or phones first-time guests on Saturdays, inviting them to come back on Sunday.

Notice that church members—not just ministry staff—accomplish the majority of follow-up. Newcomers want to hear what you love about your church. They desire relationships, and relationships provide evangelistic opportunities.

When God brings a first-time guest to your church this Sunday and they complete a guest registration card, what will happen next?

“The harvest is abundant…pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).

IBSA Disaster ReliefSpringfield, Ill.  | IBSA Disaster Relief Coordinator Rex Alexander and other disaster relief leaders are in the Fairdale, IL area this morning assessing tornado damage. A deadly tornado hit the small town in northwestern Illinois at sunset Thursday night. Two people were killed and several others were injured. Tornadoes and severe storms also caused major damage in the nearby towns of Ashton, Belvidere, Kirkland, and Rochelle.

The Illinois Baptist State Association has nine churches and 15 missions and church plants in the storm damaged areas. None have reported any damage at this time.

Chainsaw teams from Metro Peoria, Sinnissippi, and Three Rivers Baptist Associations have been put on alert. “As soon as we are able to respond to the needs in the damaged areas, these three teams and available disaster relief volunteers from Region 1 (northern Illinois) will be the first ‘wave of response,’” Alexander stated.

Brad Pittman, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Ashton, is guiding Alexander and his team through the area to assess the initial damage.  “We will determine how accessible the damaged areas are which helps us to determine how quickly our volunteer teams will be able to respond,” shared Alexander. “If law enforcement agencies are keeping everyone out of the damaged areas, then we must wait until the areas are open to volunteers.”

Alexander asked Illinois Baptists to, “Pray for the people who have been impacted by the storms and that God will open doors for ministry and sharing help, healing, and hope in Jesus name.”

The Illinois Baptist State Association has nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist member churches and missions in Illinois. IBSA’s main office is in Springfield and it was established in 1907. Southern Baptists operate the nation’s third-largest disaster relief organization, behind only the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

COMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

Mark_CoppengerIn late February, I was in St. Louis for a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, a trip connected with my work as an apologetics prof at Southern Seminary. I figured that since I was in the area, I would visit the suburb of Ferguson, recently aflame on international news.

I was surprised at a number of things: that the city had not been reduced to Beirut, but that the vast majority of buildings were unscathed, and business alive; that the Indians who ran the store Michael Brown robbed would speak freely of the incident; that a chain fence with hundreds of inscribed streamers spoke promise more than anger, e.g., “The sky’s the limit.”

But my big Ferguson moment came at the downtown meeting, where the philosophers devoted a three-hour session to the riots. After attending presentations of other papers, I was able to make the last hour of the panel discussion. There I heard unrelenting disdain for the city and police and an unbroken strain of lament for the victimhood of Brown. And the moderator was fielding audience jeremiads without rebuttal.

When one of the panelists asked what philosophers might bring to the table, I raised my hand to suggest that we could use more Socratic give-and-take instead of the “groupthink” I was hearing. I also said that I could tell my grandson (who is white) in an affluent suburb of Nashville to expect very bad things to happen to him if he ever shoplifted, manhandled the clerk, or menaced a policeman who confronted him. My comments were not well received.

Look, anybody whose been the victim of a speed trap or addressed with gratuitous surliness by a cop has had at least a small taste of what blacks were protesting in Ferguson. The Department of Justice report pictured a sorry system of fine-doubling and a virtual debtor’s prison for some, policies that fell particularly hard upon poor blacks.

Of course, there’s a school of thought that says I have no right to speak a word of judgment on Brown or the rioters since I’ve not suffered the indignities of systemic racism, etc. But we face that sort of argument all the time in ethics. During the Vietnam War, they told us we had no right to judge Lt. Calley for the My Lai massacre since we hadn’t shared the horrors of infantry combat in Quang Ngai Province.

Similarly, we’re told we guys have no business telling a woman she has to carry a child to term since we never have to endure unwanted pregnancy. On it goes, whether you’re trying to bring a biblical word to bear on divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, or tithing. Of course, this makes ethics a joke, since feelings and testimonies of victimhood can trump standards at every turn.

One side says you really can’t make the call until you’re in their shoes. The other side says that “in their shoes” is often a bad place to make the call, since you may well be addled by the hurly burley of trials and emotions. This turns into a game of self-serving story telling, a war of anecdotes, when what we need is dispassionate moral clarity.

It is far better to sort things out, Bible in hand in your armchair or prayer closet, before descending into the chaos.

Reflecting on Ferguson, I’ve returned to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is essentially a salvation passage, one that feminists have tried to press into service against male leadership in the church and home. I hope I’m not joining the ranks of Scripture twisters in quoting it to stand up for universal standards of Christian morality, where all are subject to biblical guidelines, no matter how exalted or degraded their circumstances may be.

In Amos 7, God hangs moral plumb line beside the culture, and I think that color-blind Galatians 3:28 does the same thing.

Mark Coppenger is professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was formerly president of Midwestern Seminary in Kansas City, and founding pastor of Evanston (IL) Baptist Church.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The uproar over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act continued as lawmakers introduced changes to the bill that opponents say put business owners at risk to be forced to compromise their beliefs.

The original RFRA, signed into law March 26 by Gov. Mike Pence, came under national fire from corporations, celebrities, and others who said it would allow discrimination against gay people. Supporters of the law said it would protect the religious liberty of business owners by shielding them from government action if they refused to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The_BriefingThe changes to the law, signed by Pence one week after he approved the original RFRA, say “no member of the public may be refused services by a private business based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” Baptist Press reports.

The controversy, wrote Philip Bethancourt of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has served to make religious liberty “a new culture war wedge issue.”

“One indication of this change is the frequent use of ‘religious freedom’ in scare quotes, suggesting that it is merely a cover for something more malicious,” Bethancourt wrote on ERLC.com. “Danger arises when our first freedom becomes a second-class culture war issue.”


Christians in Kenya grieved on Easter Sunday for 148 people killed at a university last week by terror group al-Shabaab. The Associated Press reported on the Easter service at Our Lady of Consolation Church in Garissa, where Bishop Joseph Allessandro said, “We join the sufferings of the relatives and the victims with the sufferings of Jesus. The victims will rise again with Christ.”

During the April 2 terror attack at Garissa University College, the shooters separated Christian students from Muslims and killed the Christians, AP reported.


What do Americans believe about Jesus? According to new research by Barna, most say he was a real person, a little over half believe he was God, and 62% say they have made a personal commitment to him that is still important in their life today.


And what about the church? LifeWay Research found that while 55% of Americans say the church in America is declining, 65% believe attendance is admirable.


More interesting research: Pew says current trends forecast that Muslims will almost equal Christians in number by 2050, and the global percentage of “nones” who have no religious affiliation will actually decrease.


“We’ve got a long way to go” on race relations, said Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore at a March summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel. “Our sin keeps wanting us to divide up. But to the faithful, Jesus promises, ‘You will be called overcomers.’” Read the Illinois Baptist‘s coverage of the summit here at ib2news.org.


Did you catch the premiere episode of “A.D.: The Bible Continues” on Sunday? Christianity Today is recapping each installment of the new miniseries produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, which details the history of the early church following Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of the Illinois Baptist’s coverage of a recent summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. Read part 1 here.

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Read the April 6 edition of the Illinois Baptist at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

NEWS | If Southern Baptists are to be serious about Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all peoples, said historian Matt Hall, they need to honestly think through where they’ve come from. Hall, Southern Seminary’s vice president for academic services, spoke in a video message about the SBC’s history with slavery, racism, and segregation during a March summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on racial reconciliation and the gospel. (The Convention was formed over a divide between Baptists in the North and those in the South who wanted to continue owning slaves.)

Hall also led one of the summit’s panel discussions, joined onstage by Moore, Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page, and past SBC President Fred Luter.

Understanding the SBC’s past ought to inform how we address racial issues now, Moore said. The divide over slavery “really was a justification for evil and for wickedness,” he said.

“Which, to me, ought to cause us not so much to look back and say, ‘Weren’t they evil and weren’t they wrong?’ as much as it ought to cause us to look back and to say, ‘Look at these people who knew their Bibles, and who were preaching their Bibles, and who were trying to gather up money for world missions, and yet were not able to see this glaring and wicked sin and unrighteousness and injustice that they were part of.’

“That ought to not give us a sense of our superiority to them; it ought to give us a sense of humility to say, ‘If these people who knew their Bibles like this, could get this that wrong on an issue that is so basic to what Scripture is teaching, then we need the mercy and the power of God.’”

IBSA African American Church Planting Strategist Ed Jones has faced the obstacle of the SBC’s history, he said. Some African Americans have told him, “I don’t necessarily want to be part of the Southern Baptist Convention because of its past,” he told the Illinois Baptist during the summit. The Nashville meeting was an opportunity to tackle those issues head-on and bring things into the open.

Luter said the Convention’s history resulted in one question asked by every person who interviewed him in the months before his election: Why would a black man want to be president of the SBC? Frankly, he didn’t know much about the Convention’s history when he went from street preacher to pastoring New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church almost 30 years ago. A couple of years into his pastorate, several of his older church members suggested Franklin Avenue leave the SBC.

“…There’s nothing we can do about our past,” was Luter’s response. “But there’s a whole lot we can do about our future.”

Luter was on the SBC Resolutions Committee that in 1995 proposed a resolution adopted by Convention messengers apologizing “to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime,” and repenting “of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The applause and tears that accompanied his election as SBC president made June 19, 2012, “one of the greatest hours in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Luter said as people in the Nashville auditorium clapped too. “My only concern is that hopefully it’s not the last time.”

“That’s where the real test is,” said Moore. “We’ve got the pictures of the presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention over there. Let’s come back in 20 years and if Fred Luter is an island in a sea of middle-aged white guys, that’s means that we have not been where we need to be.”

Can we keep the ‘beast feast’?
H.B. Charles was in the middle of a potential church merger when he was asked that question about a long-held tradition. Charles’ largely African-American church, Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist in Jacksonville, Fla., was considering combining with largely Anglo church across town. One member of that congregation was most concerned with whether Charles as pastor would let them keep their annual wild game dinner and evangelistic outreach, known as the “beast feast.”

“He looked at me and said, ‘Pastor, I know you’ll agree with me, that if one redneck comes to Jesus, it’s worth it all.’ And in that moment,” Charles said, “I just had a feeling everything was going to be all right.”

The summit’s lightest and most practical moments came when practitioners like Charles explained what racial reconciliation looks like in a church setting. Josh Smith, pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Tex., experienced a similar would-be culture clash when a woman at his increasingly diverse church brought a tambourine to play during worship, and during his sermon.

Smith and his team decided the next day they would allow the tambourine playing during the worship, but not during the message. He explained their thoughts to the woman, who’s still at the church six years later. “It was a lot of those hard conversations,” Smith said of the church’s transition to be more diverse, “and I just felt like it was not as much from the pulpit as interpersonal conversations.”

Sometimes, unity is a matter to preach about, as Adron Robinson found when he became pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills. Robinson, who attended the ERLC summit, said his first sermon series was on forgiveness, because the church had recently experienced a difficult time in its history when he arrived almost six years ago.

Hillcrest’s community is largely African American, Robinson said, and his church currently reflects their neighborhood. But during the summit, he said he was wrestling with one of the conversations happening onstage: Is it best for churches to reflect their communities, even if those communities are predominantly one ethnicity?

“I’m good with the fact that our church reflects our community, but I’m also wondering, Is that enough? Does a church need to look more like heaven?

“There’s some ease…some accomplishment in the fact that we look like our community, but I also think that there’s more for us to do, that the church needs to be more multi-cultural, more multi-ethnic,” Robinson said. He also sees a need for more unity between churches.

“We’re cordial and we speak, but there’s not really true fellowship,” Robinson said of some African-American and Anglo Southern Baptist congregations. “So, that’s been an issue, and I think it’s an issue on both sides. [I don’t think] that I’ve done everything that I can do to encourage that either.

“This conference has helped me see the need for communication, for us to sit down, share a meal, and actually build a better relationship, so that we can be the family that God has called us to be.”