Archives For June 2016

High stakes higher calling

Facing cultural decline and denominational woes, Southern Baptists leave St. Louis amazed by grace.

St. Louis | The stakes are high, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd declared to Southern Baptists gathered in St. Louis. And perhaps they’ve never been higher.

Christians are being martyred around the world. Refugees are fleeing for their lives. There are still thousands of people groups unreached with the gospel, but limited funds required the SBC this year to reduce its missions force by more than 1,000.

“As followers of Jesus Christ, everything we believe in and place in high value is at stake,” said Floyd, an Arkansas pastor who finished his second one-year term as SBC president.

At home, spiritual lostness is growing. Religious freedom is under fire. And the threat of domestic terrorism looms large, exhibited in Orlando just hours before Southern Baptists convened in St. Louis.

The attack on a gay nightclub early June 12 that left 50 people dead cast a shadow on the St. Louis meeting, and sent Southern Baptists to their knees in prayer. Because all human beings are made in the image of God, Floyd said, the attack “is against each of us.”

Every pastor or leader who prayed from the platform during the meeting included Orlando in his prayer.

Baptists’ commitment to missions and evangelism also were on display in St. Louis, in messages preached at the Pastors’ Conference and through a joint presentation by the SBC’s two mission agencies that highlighted the role of the local church and individual Christians in taking the gospel to unreached communities.

And at the heart of the meeting was a show of humility by SBC leaders, as two men vying for the denomination’s presidency met before their run-off election, each telling the other one to take the post.

When Baptists dispersed from St. Louis, they left having unified around a new president, and having heard a call to urgency for and commitment to the gospel of Christ.

Good thing, because the stakes are historically high.

Grassroots participation

As pastors and churches struggle to navigate social change and growing lostness, the stakes are high for people in the pew as well, Floyd said.

“Our pastors and churches need you to be engaged more on Sundays than ever before,” he preached in his president’s address Tuesday morning. “But we also need you to intentionally integrate your faith on the front lines of culture.” In everything you do, no matter where you are.

At the St. Louis meeting, everyday Baptists were urged to take the gospel to the communities as they live their everyday lives, and were shown examples of regular people who are doing just that.

During his agency’s presentation, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell interviewed a group of church planters who have started new congregations in Iowa college towns and are moving next to Columbia, Missouri. On large video screens, meeting attenders heard from a college student planning to pay out-of-state tuition so she can be part of the new church in the state next door, and share the gospel with people who don’t know Christ.

“When you really get to it, we talk about the gospel more than we actually advance the gospel,” Floyd preached.

If we had just one-fourth of the passion for evangelism that we have for American politics, SBC politics, theological discourse, blogging, and a whole host of things, we could change the world for Christ, Floyd said before adding, “I can’t be president again, so I might as well be honest.”

We must recapture a vision for evangelism, Floyd preached, starting in our own towns. “This is where it begins.”

Class action

Many thought the election of a new SBC President would signal whether it was time for a generation of older pastors to pass the baton. There were theological issues at play too: Two of the candidates for president—Steve Gaines, 58, and J.D. Greear, 43—are established leaders of different theological streams within the SBC.

In the end, age and theology differences gave way to the greater good. A first vote between Gaines, Greear, and third candidate David Crosby of New Orleans forced a run-off between Gaines and Greear. A second vote was still too close to call, with Gaines narrowly edging Greear but not receiving the needed majority due to 108 disallowed votes. Greear announced Wednesday morning there was no need for another vote, because he was withdrawing his name from contention.

“Through this whole process, I’ve been praying for unity,” Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, posted on his website. “…If we go to a third vote, and one of us wins by one-half of one percent, it doesn’t matter which of us it is—it’s hard to see how that makes us a united body.”

After announcing his intention to withdraw, Greear received a long standing ovation from those in the convention hall. Floyd asked Greear to pray for Gaines and for the denomination, and messengers elected Gaines president by acclamation.

“I think it was a transcendent moment for the Convention because it embodies the spirit of humility that we as Christians are called to have,” said Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association. “I think it was well-timed. I think it was a God thing. So, I’m excited about moving ahead, and admire both men and respect their decisions, both willing to step aside for the sake of something bigger than them.”

At a press conference after the election, Gaines said he and Greear “both were sensing the Holy Spirit moving in the same direction.” As both men considered dropping out of the race, they met together with SBC leaders the evening before the third vote was to be taken.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Man, you can have it,’” recounted Gaines, who pastors Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. “He said, ‘No, I want you to have it.’” The meeting prompted Gaines to remember Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

“When the leaders are unified in the Lord Jesus Christ, it brings unity to the body,” Gaines said. As president, he plans to emphasize spiritual awakening, soul winning, and stewardship.

Greear encouraged his supporters also to exhibit a unified spirit. “The task for those of you who voted for me is not to complain that things didn’t go our way,” he posted the morning of his announcement. “It’s to follow the example of our Savior, who came not to be served, but to serve.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us. It’s time to look at what unites us.”

Munton elected

It took a little longer than expected for messengers to elect Illinois’ Doug Munton as First Vice President. Because Tuesday’s business proceedings ran over time, Munton’s election didn’t happen until Wednesday afternoon. The pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, who ran unopposed, told the Illinois Baptist the St. Louis convention was in some ways the most unusual one he’s been to, but also encouraging.

“God brought some unity, much-needed unity, to our Convention. That’s encouraging for our future. I’m grateful for it, and hopeful because of it,” Munton said. “The Lord is obviously at work. He is not done with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Also elected as officers were Malachi O’Brien, pastor of The Church at Pleasant Ridge in Harrisonville, Mo., as second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, to his 20th term as recording secretary; and Jim Wells, retired member of the Missouri Baptist Convention staff, to a 15th term as registration secretary.

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Phoenix June 13-14.

– Meredith Flynn

Greear Floyd Gaines2

JD Greear, Ronnie Floyd, and Steve Gaines.

There are three winners at the conclusion of the SBC presidential race: Steve Gaines takes the position and the responsibility; J.D. Greear takes the mantel as most Christ-like, and Southern Baptists leave St. Louis unified behind a single presidential candidate.

Greear’s action, withdrawing his name from the race after two ballots failed to produce a winner, was a first for longtime observers of the convention. Greear guaranteed two things: many of his supporters who are young and are new to SBC life are more likely stay engaged if they do not feel pushed out by the older, traditional constituency Gaines represents. And Greear guaranteed himself a place in SBC leadership for decades to come.

Would anyone be surprised if Greear ran unopposed in 2018? The 50% of SBC messengers who had backed Gaines could easily support in the next election the young man who did the very mature thing.

Deferring to the older candidate is indeed a mature move. And, in this case, it’s wise.

Both Greear and Gaines cited the need for unity in the denomination in this decision. “For the sake of our convention and our mission, we need to leave St. Louis united,” Greear said.

Gaines said he, too, had considered withdrawing. He quoted a close friend who said to him after the first day of the annual meeting, “We’re in a mess, aren’t we.” After two ballots, Gaines was still four votes short of a majority, because 108 ballots were disqualified by improper markings. Messengers at the best-attended convention in a decade or more were split right down the middle.

“It’s tricky,” Greear joked as he stepped to the podium to make his announcement, referring to a rap music video produced by a member of his church that some had construed as endorsements by several SBC-entity heads. The crowd laughed.

But it would be tricky to lead the denomination with the membership divided into two camps: established and traditional epitomized by Gaines, and younger and Reformed led by Greear.

For the sake of unity, Greear withdrew.

Gaines had offered to make the same move.

At 43, Greear will likely have another opportunity to be SBC president. Perhaps at 58, it is Gaines’s turn. With his mid-South megachurch platform, Gaines is likely to lead the convention in renewed evangelism, which Floyd and others have said is so vital.

And Greear has a little longer to bring his half of the SBC populace into leadership to form a new mainstream and identity, rather engage in a tug of war with the old guard over theology and tactics. “We are united by a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to let any lesser thing stand in our way,” Greear said.

The two men hugged on the platform, as Gaines was declared the winner by outgoing president Ronnie Floyd.

He could have as easily said, We all win.

– Eric Reed

Jimmy Scroggins

Jimmy Scroggins

St. Louis | Speakers at the SBC Pastors’ Conference preached on one passage during the 2016 meeting in the Gateway City, diving deep into the apostle Paul’s instruction to younger church leader Timothy.

“Live This,” the theme of this year’s Pastors’ Conference, was taken from 2 Timothy 4:5-6, when Paul urges Timothy to “be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Ten preachers unpacked the Scripture passage, using their messages to urge leaders toward greater obedience, particularly the area of evangelism, and to be mindful of the legacy they’re leaving.

Do the work

“The last thing the nations need is the exportation of nominal Christianity from North America,” International Mission Board David Platt preached in a message on “do the work of an evangelist.”

In his post at the IMB, Platt says he sees much of the broader missions world that is “gospel-less and gospel-lite.” Debates about whether or not to call Jesus the Son of God when conversing with Muslims. Practices that minimize the call to Christ in the gospel, assuring people that they can be both Christian and Muslim.

Platt asked, What does that have to do with us? “Missionaries are reflections of the pastors who train them and the churches who send them,” he said.

“If we preach a small view of God, people will have a small view of the gospel. If we preach a glorious view of God, people will have a glorious view of the gospel.”

Jimmy Scroggins preached on Paul’s proclamation that he had “poured himself out” for the task of evangelism. The West Palm Beach, Fla., pastor opened his message by describing his diverse community. His congregation, Family Church, was named the 9th fastest growing church by a magazine, Scroggins said, which is the way it ought to be, because they live in an area with a lot of people who are far from God.

But even with their fast growth, “we are not making a dent in the millions of lost people right there within a few miles of our church,” he said.

Looking at recent statistics from LifeWay Christian Resources, it’s apparent churches across the SBC are facing similar challenges, Scroggins added. He gave conference attenders four steps churches and leaders can pour themselves out for the task of evangelism, starting with investing in far-from-God people.

Scroggins told the audience how, as a pastor in Kentucky, his church had been winning people to the Lord, but they were “nearly saved” people. In West Palm Beach, it was a different story. Some people may say evangelism just isn’t their lane, he said.

“If your lane does not take you and your church to far-from-God people, change lanes.”

Read the June 20 issue of the Illinois Baptist for additional coverage of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.

– Meredith Flynn

Graham and Lincoln

Franklin Graham speaks at the Illinois Capitol. Photo courtesy Micheal Henderson

Springfield | On Tuesday, June 14, thousands gathered in Springfield to hear Franklin Graham, oldest son of evangelist Billy Graham, as he stopped in Illinois for his 50 state, Decision America Tour. Many braved the 90-degree weather and lined the streets and lawns surrounding the Illinois state capitol, as Graham challenged Christians to pray for the country and take a stand for their faith.

Churches from across the state were represented with many bringing vans of supporters. The crowd enthusiastically sang “How Great Thou Art” preceding the rally.

When Graham arrived, he began the time leading everyone in prayer for the people affected by the Orlando shooting. Using the tragedy as an example of our country’s sinfulness, Graham plainly stated that he has no hope in either the Democratic or Republican Party to turn things around.

“The only hope for the United States of America is the Almighty God,” Graham proclaimed, stating that God’s truth and righteousness should be the utmost focus of every evangelical Christian who calls this country home.

Graham went on that Christians must make their voices heard if America is to be preserved, and the Christian heritage restored that has given us the liberties we now enjoy.

Without telling people who to vote for, Graham simply asked those in attendance to consider pledging to: daily live out biblical principles, honor God in public, vote for political candidates if at all possible who uphold biblical standards, pray for our country, and lastly, consider if God so leads, to run for office.

Graham’s parting words: “Our job as Christians is to make the impact of Christ felt in every [area] of life – religious, social, economic, political… But we can only do [this] as we surrender ourselves completely to God, allowing Him to work through us… Let’s elect men and women to office who will lead this nation back to really being one nation under God.”

– Morgan Jackson

Dave Miller copyIowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller has been elected president of next year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference. Prior to the meeting here in St. Louis, Miller had blogged about his proposed direction for the Pastors’ Conference, with a focus on inviting pastors of small and medium-sized churches to preach.

“I am both excited and I’m terrified,” Miller posted on SBC Voices following the election. “Brutally terrified. The budget of this two day event is pretty much the annual budget of my church. The logistics are a little bit more complicated than putting together a church potluck back home. But we are in this together and we are going to be looking to expand our circle. I believe we can do something that will be different. And in a good way.”

Announcing Miller’s nomination May 9,  Indiana pastor Todd Benkert told Baptist Press he wants “to nominate a small church guy and do a different kind of Pastors’ Conference [next] year.”

Miller “is a small church pastor,” Benkert said. “Dave has shown over the years both in his blogging and participating in convention life that he’s committed to unity in the SBC and he’s committed to broad participation among the various groups that make up the SBC. When we first spoke about a vision for the Pastors’ Conference, we were looking at [inviting speakers who were] diverse geographically [and in terms of] age, ethnicity, soteriology — all those things that make up who we are as Southern Baptists.”

Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, is an Iowa native and son of missionary parents.

Additional reporting by Baptist Press

 

 

Steve GainesFirst Baptist Church in O’Fallon had a guest pastor in its pulpit Sunday morning. Memphis pastor and candidate for Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines delivered the message at each of the church’s three morning worship services June 12.

The Bellevue Baptist Church pastor lamented Southern Baptist’s lack of focus on evangelism. “What’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention is a tragedy,” Gaines declared. “We’re in a 17-year nose dive. This is unprecedented, we have more SBC churches, but fewer baptisms. If the people in those churches we’re planting aren’t evangelistic and soul-winning, we’re not going to reach this nation.”

His primary sermon text was taken from Acts 2:40-47. Gaines used Christ’s instructions for the church to exhort churches today to be more evangelistic.

He urged Southern Baptists to invite God back into their churches. “When God comes to church people start getting saved and baptized.” When people walk into a church “it doesn’t need to be dead. It ought to be alive with the power of God.”

Gaines stressed, “We should never plan a worship service to attract people. Instead, we should plan worship services that will attract the manifest presence of God – He will in turn will attract the people.”

Sharing Christ isn’t difficult he noted. “If you knew enough to get saved, you know enough to tell someone how to get saved.”

Prior to the sermon O’Fallon’s Pastor Doug Munton, who will be nominated to serve as the convention’s First Vice President at tomorrow afternoon’s meeting, introduced Gaines as his good friend. He then endorsed Gaines for Southern Baptist Convention President saying, “I’m biased, I believe Steve is the right guy, at the right place, at the right time.”

Gaines is one of three candidates who will be nominated for the job of SBC President tomorrow afternoon. David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, LA, and JD Greear, pastor of the The Summit Church in Raleigh, NC, are also candidates.

 

 

 

Josef_Latham

Josef Latham, 16, serves at his church’s Crossover block party in Mascoutah on June 11.

Mascoutah | Three months ago, Josef Latham was a self-described agnostic struggling with difficulties he didn’t know how to handle. He asked a friend what he should do, and she advised him to pray, believing God would hear him.

Her advice eventually led him to First Baptist Church, Mascoutah, where he accepted Christ during the week after Palm Sunday and was baptized on Easter.

On Friday, June 10, Josef shared his testimony at a community worship service hosted by the church as part of Crossover, the evangelistic outreach held before the Southern Baptist Convention each year. Mascoutah’s youth group spent the week painting pavilions at a local park and starting conversations with pool-goers and walkers.

They had some 300 conversations during the week, said youth pastor Matt Burton.

“I know that the person I was before I was saved, I would have never ever had the courage to reach out to these people, to speak like I did last night,” Josef said Saturday at a block party culminating the week. “And I think there’s absolutely no way that it wasn’t Him.”

Burton started planning for the church’s Crossover project late last year. The youth group has participated in World Changers projects the past several summers, so Burton planned a mission week based on that model: community service projects in the morning and worship in the evening, with evangelism training—based on the “3 Circles” guide to starting gospel conversations—in the afternoon.

“It’s really exciting just to see the boldness of some of these kids,” Burton said. Like 11-year-old Gracie Wood, for whom Mascoutah Changers and Crossover was her first ever youth event. At the beginning of the week, Burton said, she was tentative and shy. But by the last day, she was approaching people to ask how she could pray for them.

“I have no doubt some of these kids, whether they’re in vocational ministry or not, are going want to do mission trips, are going to share the gospel.”

Josef Latham is already doing that. Taking time away to serve with his youth group all week strained some of his old relationships, he said, but he had the opportunity to encourage one of his friends to pray, just like someone told him once. And while he’s still working on how to start conversations that lead to the gospel, he was joyful for the opportunity to share his salvation story with his youth group.

It’s like youth leader Bonnie Bodiford told him: “You are the gospel now.” Jesus’s love for people made manifest in Mascoutah, and a story to tell there and beyond.