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Russell_Moore

Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

I think I’ll count the number of times people say, “It’s a dry heat.” 101 degrees is still 101 degrees, as far as I’m concerned. But some of the folks here in Phoenix take solace in the low humidity.

But will the relative comfort outside temper the actions inside the Phoenix Convention Center over the next four days?

A Wall Street Journal article published on Friday predicted some time in the hot seat for Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, but recent developments that may (underline that word, may) dissuade some unhappy messengers from bringing action from the floor. The journal’s article paints a dark picture for Moore and the ERLC, and one of generational discontent. Coming into Phoenix today, the forecast seems too dark.

The Journal article recounted the foment surrounding Moore’s criticism of Donald Trump during the presidential election, the dissatisfaction expressed by a few Southern Baptist pastors, and the withholding of Cooperative Program dollars by Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood.

The article pointed out that Moore was not invited to White House functions after the election, including the recent Rose Garden ceremony where President Trump signed an executive order aiming at protecting religious liberty. (Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham was present, but that was not mentioned in the article.)

And the article said that Moore’s team has seemed to be excluded from other meaningful contact with the new administration on behalf of evangelicals, Southern Baptists in particular.

The Journal article did not reference some of the internal workings of the SBC concerning the ERLC, including efforts by top leaders at reconciliation between Moore and more Trump-friendly SBC pastors. Nor did it point out that SBC President Steve Gaines has said publically that he hopes Moore will stay in his position.

The article did not mention that Prestonwood restored its CP giving after a month-long examination of the issues, which, included the ERLC’s participation in a religious liberty lawsuit as a “friend of the court” where a New Jersey Islamic group was suiting the local government for preventing their construction of a mosque.

And the article did not mention that, following a probe, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s executive board will recommend churches continue their CP support, including the ERLC, to its messengers at their fall meeting.

The Journal focused on perceived generational differences in the SBC that were typified by the disagreements over the ERLC. Moore, it says, is more supported by younger Southern Baptists, and less so by older, more traditional leaders and people in the pews.

We’ll see how this plays out, starting on Tuesday.

The ERLC report to the Convention is the last item on the agenda Wednesday, when the time for new business will already have passed.

–Eric Reed in Phoenix

Billed as the small church pastor’s conference, the annual meeting-before-the-meeting starts Sunday evening with Chicago church planter David Choi, pastor of Church of the Beloved in the city’s University District. He will be followed on Monday by Uptown Baptist Church Pastor Michael Allen.

Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller ran for president of the SBC Pastors Conference on an “average-church” platform. He promised to bring speakers from regular-size churches, instead of the usual slate of megachurch pastors and parachurch preachers. He also planned to focus on a single book of the Bible, with the preachers taking successive passages, rather than letting speakers take their best shot at a theme.

The book is Philippians.

Choi will start with chapter 1, the first eleven verses. Allen will preach Philippians 3:17-21 on Monday evening. They are among 12 preachers from regular-size churches.

Filling the bill may have been a challenge. Often megachurch pastors who serve as president of the conference have their churches to fill that role, and their megachurch colleagues help fund it. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary came alongside Miller to plan and execute the event.

With NOBTS’ assistance, four pastors of larger churches were invited to bring “testimonies”: Johnny Hunt, J.D. Greear, Fred Luter, and Steve Gaines, current SBC President. Music is by Keith and Kristyn Getty, famed composers of “In Christ Alone.”

With an SBC Annual Meeting located as far west as Phoenix, attendance may not be as high as it is when the SBC meets in the Bible Belt. And there’s another big event in town Sunday night, the “Harvest” crusade featuring evangelist Greg Laurie. That preaching event is being simulcast to churches across the nation. This 2017 outing, which was a late addition to the schedule of convention-related events, will the replace “Crossover” evangelistic outreach next year, when the SBC meets in Houston.

Look for reports on Choi and Allen’s sermon later.

Watch it live at http://sbcpc.net/.

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

New IMB strategy targets cities and self-funded volunteers

london-table

This model of London fills a room at the New London Architecture Museum. The areas marked by white circles are near Underground (subway) stations. They are the focal points of church planting, making participation in worship and Bible study groups easily accessible to the city’s highly mobile population.

(Editor’s Note: The Week of Prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and International Missions is Dec. 4-11.) Tourists from around the world flock to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, The Tower Bridge, and other iconic English landmarks. Getting around via the Tube, red doubledecker buses, or those famous London black cabs is simple, and very British. It’s very easy to lose oneself in the surroundings. But the world is moving to London, and sharing its culture with it.

Across the street from the Royal London Hospital are rows of shops featuring Middle Eastern goods including halal meats, and just a few blocks away is the largest mosque in London. Other parts of the city are home to large Indian populations and curry has become a staple of the British diet.

Some 300 languages are spoken by its 8.3 million people within its 607 square miles. According to the International Mission Board, 37% of its residents come from outside the United Kingdom and one-quarter of its population arrived within the last five years. Forbes magazine named it “#1 City of Influence.”

London by the numbers

300 languages spoken

37% of population from outside the UK

¼ population arrived within the last 5 years

50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000+

34 average age in London

44.7% profess no religion, “nones”

20 average church attendance

This diversity is why London was chosen as one of five cities the International Mission Board (IMB) has selected to be part of its Global Cities Initiative (GCI). In previous centuries most of the world’s population lived in rural areas. In this century, 54% of world’s population lives in urban areas and the Southern Baptist Convention’s missions sending agency has taken notice. The cities represent life-altering, world-changing, gospel-planting opportunities that can’t be missed.

The four other GCI cities are Dubai, where 80% of the population is foreign-born with more than 2 million residents from more than 200 nationalities; Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, home to 8 million people with 62% following Islam and 20% Buddhism; Shanghai, the largest city in China with a population of more than 24 million people, most of whom claim to be nonreligious or atheist; and an unnamed Southeast Asian city that’s home to nearly 17 million people with large populations of Hindus and Muslims and very few Christians.

“Every people group is represented in London. This is what heaven will look like,” said James Roberts, the IMB London city manager.

He described the economic conditions of the people living in the city, “There’s a wide gap financially, the poorest of the poor and the super wealthy, very little middle class. We’re trying to work together more across affinity groups.”

london-bridge-station

Exit signs in the London subway system read “Way Out.” For Southern Baptists sharing Christ in this bustling multi-cultural melting pot, the phrase speaks of opportunity the gospel offers for more than half of Londoners who claim a non-Christian religion or no religion at all.

Where do you even begin to start in such a large city?

Victoria. Paddington. White Chapel. They’re all stations in the London Underground subway system where up to 4.8 million passenger journeys take place each day, according to Transport for London. There are 280 stations along the 11 lines of the Tube, as it’s commonly called. The stations are the key to IMB’s outreach here.

“The goal is to have a missional community in each area,” Roberts said, describing a map-driven analysis of the entire city. “A missional community is a group that discerns how God is moving and tries to gather to share community—mom’s groups, small groups, men’s groups.”

The team in London knows it won’t be easy. “It’s a lot of networking, coffee, work, limitless streams of people coming in,” Roberts said. “We try to connect, catch people as they come with the goal of starting new groups and church work. It takes a village to pull this thing off and courage to pull this together.”

Shane Mikeska is a student mobilizer on the London team. Before coming to England, he and his family lived in Asia, but illness forced a move from the tropics. “Western Europe is the hardest place to engage the population. In Asia it’s easier to have a spirited conversation. Here in this context most (people) are apathetic.”

On campuses, he said, “the students most open to new things are internationals. There are opportunities to connect to hold worship and Bible study.” Reaching them is a focal point in the cities initiative. “They can go home and go into their culture and share boldly.”

About 50,000 Americans study abroad each year and many are Christians. “We want them to come and plug into the local church and ministry, not just travel and experience things.”

You are here
The Global Cities Initiative allows people who feel called to go—but not in the traditional career-missionary way.

D. Ray Davis is part of the IMB mobilization team. “We used to say God is calling and people aren’t listening. Now we’re saying God is calling and more people are listening than we can send.”

IMB President David Platt uses the word “limitless” to describe his vision for reaching the world: limitless numbers of missionaries utilizing “multiple pathways” to the mission field. GCI is one of those pathways to “send limitless missionaries to engage lostness all over the world,” Roberts said. “Business professionals, students, retirees—a GCI person raises their own support.” Groups and individuals are also invited to come serve on short-term projects. “There’s no language barrier to overcome,” Roberts said of his London mission field.

After getting to know the city, Mikeska has grown to love London and thinks others will too. “Now, I look at this vast city and wail over it and cry over it, like in the Bible. God’s done a transformational work in my heart,” the young missionary said. Even as he weeps for the lost, Mikeska concludes, “We’re excited about the future, being part of this team.”

To learn more, visit IMB.org. All statistics, unless otherwise noted, are from the International Mission Board.

– Lisa Sergent recently traveled to London to meet with members of the International Mission Board’s communications team. With staffing changes abroad and at the Richmond, Virginia headquarters, IMB is implementing new mission strategies. The goal is to multiply the number of missionaries on the field, especially short-term and volunteer workers who will practice their professions and their faith among the world’s lost people. Targeting huge cities in five regions of the world is one of those strategies.

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Ill., announced April 26 he will be nominated for First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Media release — Illinois Pastor Doug Munton to be Nominated for First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention 

“I am excited to hear that Doug will be nominated for this national role, after experiencing his strong leadership here in Illinois as our state convention president and as longtime pastor of one of our leading churches,” said Illinois Baptist State Association Executive Director Nate Adams. “Doug has all the qualities I would hope for in SBC leadership. He is a conservative, cooperative, humble, thoughtful, missions-hearted pastor who will lead both as statesman and by personal example.”

The nomination will be made by John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo., during the SBC’s annual meeting in St. Louis June 14-15.

Munton, 56, has pastored FBC O’Fallon for more than 20 years, during which time the church has grown from 550 to over 1,600 people in average attendance and has baptized about 2,000 people. In the 2014-15 reporting year, the church gave just over 8% of budget receipts through the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists unified method of supporting missions and ministry.

He served as president of the Illinois Baptist State Association for two years, and is currently on the SBC’s Committee on Committees. His wife, Vickie, is the president of the Ministers’ Wives Conference this year at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. The Muntons have four adult children and will soon have their seventh grandchild.

Asked about his reasons for allowing his name to be submitted in nomination, Munton said, “I want to see a continued move in our Convention towards racial diversity and unity. I want to encourage our churches to participate in missions through support of the Cooperative Program. I hope to encourage prayer for a spiritual awakening in our convention and nation.”

The 2016 Southern Baptist Convention will be held at the America’s Center in St. Louis June 14-15. The election for First Vice President is slated for the Wednesday afternoon business session.

Statements from and about Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

International Mission Board President David Platt says he wasn’t aware he would appear on a campaign video for Southern Baptist Convention President nominee J.D. Greear, according to a report by the Louisiana Baptist Message.

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International Mission Board President David Platt (BP photo)

The video, posted on YouTube shortly after Greear’s nomination was announced in March, was created by Ashley Unzicker, whose 2014 rap pardoy schooled Baptists on their own history (set to the theme song from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”) Unzicker’s new rap about Greear’s candidacy features cameos by SBC leaders, including Platt, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, and Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin, saying the line “It’s tricky.” (The rap is set to Run-D.M.C.’s 1986 song of the same name.)

In response to the video, some outlets (including this blog) have questioned whether SBC leaders should be seen as endorsing one candidate over another.

Baptist Message editor Will Hall informed fellow editors in an email April 4 that Platt “denies he knowingly endorsed J.D. Greear for president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stating he was not aware Greear’s request for a video clip was for the purpose of creating a campaign ad.”

In an email response to an IMB trustee March 23, Platt said he was overseas when Greear asked him to shoot the 2-second video clip, but he wasn’t aware how it would be used.

“Please be assured (and please assure anyone who asks you about it) that I am not personally (and we are certainly not organizationally) endorsing anyone for SBC president,” Platt wrote. He said he would “be thrilled” to serve alongside Greear or Steve Gaines, the pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., who was announced as a candidate March 9, or “any other faithful Southern Baptist pastor who might be nominated to serve in this important role.”

Platt added that he had called Gaines “to assure him that I was not in any way ‘endorsing’ J.D., and I expressed my delight in the prospect of Steve potentially being in that role. We had a great conversation about his vision for the SBC, and I am completely confident in the Lord’s leadership in whoever serves in this role for the next couple of years.”

David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, was announced on March 24 as a third nominee for the denomination’s top elected post. Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis will vote for the office of president on Tuesday, June 14.

 

 

Six missionary families who have accepted God’s call are featured during the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering Week of Prayer for North American Missions, set for March 6-13. The goal for the 2016 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $70 million.

The Rager family

The Rager family

Three years ago Barry Rager was the pastor of a small Kentucky church. Most of his days were centered on important church business. He prepared sermons, visited sick members and mediated church disputes. All good work. All important work. All kingdom work.

“I was kind of like the coach saying, ‘Hey, reach the people you are with,’ but I wasn’t actually the one doing it,” Rager says.

Three years later, and his life couldn’t be more different. Living in the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood of Indianapolis’ core, his mission field is everywhere.

A trip to Indianapolis for the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention first opened Rager’s eyes to the needs of the city. It wasn’t until 2012 that James Edwards came to him with an offer: “We want to plant a church in a major U.S. city, and we want you to be the planter.” Rager didn’t have to think hard about which city.

Edwards, pastor of Pleasant Valley Community Church, and the congregation felt the call to plant a church in an urban city, which eventually led to a strong calling for a church plant in Indianapolis. Edwards had met the Ragers on a playground where a strong friendship was formed. For years, the Ragers and Edwards encouraged and supported each other and their ministries. When Pleasant Valley felt God tell them to plant a church, they prayerfully considered who would lead the church plant.

“Barry Rager’s name continued to surface,” said Edwards. Pleasant Valley asked the Ragers to pray about planting a church in Indianapolis. “It was clear to Barry and Amy that God was calling them to plant a church in the heart of Indianapolis,” said Edwards. “Our strong inclination to partner with Barry and Amy came primarily through the leadership of the Holy Spirit.”

A once thriving city in the 1920s, by the 1960s many residents had moved to the suburbs.

Today, 41.5% of residents do not have a high school diploma. A 2013 NeighborhoodScout.com article called the northern half of the area the 17th most dangerous neighborhood in the U.S.

Indianapolis church planter Barry Rager (left) and New Circle Church use events like S’mores and Snow in the Park to reach a neighborhood many describe as dangerous.

Indianapolis church planter Barry Rager (left) and New Circle Church use events like S’mores and Snow in the Park to reach a neighborhood many describe as dangerous. The Ragers are North American Mission Board 2016 Week of Prayer Missionaries. NAMB photo by John Swain

Once the Ragers relocated to Indianapolis, they were told it would likely take them years to connect with their neighbors and build disciple-making relationships.

“When we moved in, we decided that we were going to be as open and positive as we possibly could be,” Amy Rager says. “Most of the people around here keep their blinds shut 24-7. They’re very closed. So we thought, you know what? Our blinds are going to be open. We’re going to act like we trust these people. We’re going to do anything we can to initiate that relationship.”

Before their boxes were even unpacked, the family showed up on their neighbors’ doorsteps with freshly-baked homemade cookies. They also invited their neighbors into their home for dinner.

As they continued to build community, the Ragers eventually started worship services with 40 people attending in September 2014. That was the launch of New Circle Church, Indianapolis. A year later their worship attendance more than doubled and they had seen 22 people baptized.

Barry focuses the church on a simple-yet-comprehensive mission—introducing people to Jesus, developing gospel-centered community and commissioning them to reach people for Christ.

“What I get to do is brag on Jesus and what He has done,” Rager says. “It is such an honor to brag on Jesus.”

“I think if it is never our intention to live on mission, then we won’t live on mission,” Rager says. “We have to be intentional in the way we use our time, and in the meetings we have with people.

– By Tobin Perry on www.AnnieArmstrong.com

IMB President David Platt addresses staff and missionaries in a town hall meeting Thursday, August 27. Photo courtesy IMB

IMB President David Platt addresses staff and missionaries in a town hall meeting Thursday, August 27. Photo courtesy IMB

Richmond, Va. | The International Mission Board announced it will be eliminating 600-800 of its staff and missionaries in an effort to eliminate the board’s revenue shortfalls, which also includes a complete reset of the organization.

The plan was announced at an Aug. 27 town hall meeting that included senior leadership and missionaries and staff. Missionaries and non-field staff joined the meeting via digital media. Trustees were briefed on the plan at their Aug. 25-26 board meeting.

“With a really heavy heart, I announced to the staff this morning that the only viable way forward involves a great reduction of personnel and staff,” shared IMB Executive Director David Platt in a press conference following the town hall meeting. “We need a major adjustment in the number of personnel, to reduce the total number by 600-800 people.”

“These are not just figures. These are faces, brothers and sisters, who have spent their lives spreading the gospel to those who’ve never heard it,” he continued. The IMB currently has approximately 4,800 missionaries in the field and 450 staff which together equal 80 percent of its budget. The reduction represents up to 15% of the organization’s staff.

While giving through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased in the last few years, the IMB projects it will fall $21 million dollars short of its current budget this year. This follows several consecutive years of budget shortfalls and six years of expenditures totaling $210 million dollars more than has been given to the IMB.

In recent years, the organization has covered budget shortfalls through cash reserves and selling property. These measures along with plans set in place by previous leaders to reduce its staff and missionary size through attrition are “no longer viable in light of current reality,” stated Platt.

“We praise God for the reserves and property sales that made this possible and for leadership which chose to spend these resources for the spread of the gospel,” he said. “But we cannot continue to overspend. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability we must act.”

Phase one of the plan is the voluntary retirement or resignation of missionaries and staff. Platt stressed no one would be pressured to leave during this first phase.

Phase two is the conclusion of the reset where decisions will be made to work through how missionaries will be used. “We must hold each other accountable in higher standards in our work…We can’t employ everyone who wants to work for the International Mission Board,” said Platt. The goal is to finish the reset by early 2016.

Platt encouraged everyone to boldly ask God where he was calling them to move. “God is not sidelining anyone in this process,” he said, noting opportunities for Christians to move overseas for their professions, education and retirement while they can also share Christ and plant churches.

“These realities, while they are financial, are ultimately spiritual,” Platt said. “God is ultimately orchestrating everything for his glory.”

The reset will be completed on knowledge IMB senior personnel will gain in coming days and months, as they evaluate what is needed around the world in various fields. “I certainly don’t have a forecast for what all that looks like,” said Platt. In all this the IMB is “trusting God to lead and re-direct 600-800 people in the days to come.”

The goal of the reset is to “get to a healthy place in the present in order to be in a healthy position for the future,” Platt said. “We want to move forward with innovative vision, wise stewardship, and high accountability to the churches we serve, the peoples we reach, and the God we worship.”

The IMB has provided a FAQ sheet related to its organizational reset that is available on the IMB website.

The 170-year-old organization is the primary international missions sending agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By Lisa Sergent with additional reporting by Morgan Jackson.