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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.

The IBSA staff, led by Executive Director Nate Adams, gathered this morning to pray for marriage.

The IBSA staff, led by Executive Director Nate Adams, gathered this morning to pray for marriage.

Christians in the U.S. have been asked to pray for marriage today as the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case which could decide if same-sex marriage will be made legal in all 50 states. The outcome could also have far-reaching consequences for churches, military chaplains, Christian business owners, and others.

Many have warned that the case being presented today is of paramount importance comparing it to the Court’s 1972 decision in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion in the U.S. SBC President Ronnie Floyd wrote on his blog, “What is at stake is great. This is undeniable. We do not control the Supreme Court. At this point, our number one role must be to pray. Regardless of the outcome, may God have mercy on America and teach us how to live daily.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), stood outside the Court this morning and described the scene as “circus-like.” He wrote on his blog, “Rainbow flags were waving, as protesters on either side lifted aloft contesting signs. A man screamed through a megaphone about how ‘God hates queers’ right next to men in stiletto heels and nun’s habits. The whole scene drove me to pray, and almost to tears.”

The IBSA staff gathered this morning to pray for marriage. Executive Director Nate Adams led in prayer for attorneys arguing both sides of the case, for the justices, for those involved in homosexuality, for our nation to turn to God, and for Christians and pastors to share Christ in love, not condemnation.

Adams likened what is happening today to how the “Israelites must have felt facing the Red Sea as they heard the pharaoh’s chariots pounding behind them” and noted that God provided a way. No matter the outcome, he reminded, “God is still sovereign and on His throne.”

Regardless of the court’s decision, which is expected to come in June, Moore recognized, “We then must have enough confidence in our gospel to stand with conviction, even when the world thinks we’re crazy. And we must have enough confidence in our gospel to stand with kindness toward those who disagree with us.”

What are the facts in today’s case?

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which is consolidated with three other cases from Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. The case challenges the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution regarding same-sex marriage and state’s rights.

According the ERLC, the court’s decision will determine:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Read the full explanation from the ERLC.

Fred_Luter_revivalCOMMENTARY | Eric Reed

I’ve never been prouder – of Fred Luter or of the Southern Baptist Convention – than when, on the second day of the annual meeting in Baltimore, they suspended the agenda and spent most of an hour in prayer.

Will this be Bro. Fred’s lasting contribution to the SBC, I thought to myself, that he was willing to lay aside the fixed orders of business, to call us all to our knees, and to take our deep needs to the Lord?

Two years earlier, I sat on a bench in the cavernous lobby of the New Orleans Convention Center talking with a pastor-friend of mine. He’s African American. I seemed more excited by Luter’s election that day than he did. I posed a question about the new president’s lasting impact.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” was his response. “Will this be a one-time thing, or has the Convention really changed? Is there room for me in leadership?”

That has been the response of several people I’ve asked since then, even Luter himself. Many people, especially African American pastors, said they wanted to see what happened after Luter’s term. Would he really be able to increase the ethnic diversity on SBC boards and in leadership? Would there be a lasting place at the table for black, Hispanic, and Asian leaders?

Under Luter’s direction, the committees responsible for manning those boards have attempted to broaden representation. In fact, messengers at the Phoenix convention in 2011 had ordered the start of such a concentrated effort even before Luter’s election as the SBC’s first African American president.

It was good to see several African American pastors on the platform in 2014: Southern Seminary Professor Kevin Smith spoke for the Resolutions Committee. Chicago’s very own Marvin Parker of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church served with the Committee on Order of Business and Michael Allen of Uptown Baptist Church was elected “back-up preacher” for the 2015 annual meeting.

But it took a messenger from the floor to confirm what those watching the live video stream had noticed. There was not a lot cultural diversity on the worship platform. The messenger moved that the music teams next year be more diverse, because, he noted, while the choirs and bands were almost all white, the Convention isn’t anymore – and heaven won’t be either.

I saw a similar message in the official photograph of the incoming SBC officers: five middle-aged white guys in dark suits. Except for one goatee, that photograph could have been snapped in 1974.

Or 1954.

We missed an opportunity to extend Bro. Fred’s impact. Korean-American pastor Daniel Kim ran for president, and his showing as a late-entry against winner Ronnie Floyd was respectable. But both first and second vice-presidents ran unopposed. Why? Because no one else stepped up.

Fred Luter’s lasting impact may not be that he radically altered the composition of committees or platform personnel. Instead, he demonstrated the door is open and there’s room at the table. And he was willing to take the risk.

As a pastor in New Orleans, Luter suffered jeers for his embrace of the historically white denomination. And before he agreed to run for SBC president in 2012, one advisor warned, “Look at the racial make-up of the Convention, Fred. You might lose.”

But he won. In a big way. Unopposed. Twice. To cheers and tears and shouts of joy from a whole lot of people glad that a new day had arrived for Southern Baptists.

Successor Floyd called him “the most beloved president” in recent SBC history. Luter traveled widely and preached in churches of all sizes and ethnicities. He embodied the new spirit of the SBC, and he did it with characteristic joy and grace. For all that, he is deservedly and deeply appreciated.

But, for me, Fred Luter’s lasting impact is that he was willing to step up.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Nate_Adams_blog_callout_JuneHEARTLAND | Nate Adams

One big event that pulls many of us together each June is the annual Southern Baptist Convention. This year’s gathering in Baltimore was filled with inspirational music, messages and reports. But at its core, the annual SBC is a business meeting where messengers from autonomous churches gather to affirm or determine how they will cooperate.

Those messengers elect board and committee members. They agree on how to invest shared resources in missions and ministry. And they declare to one another and to many onlookers the biblical truths on which they will continue to stand.

It’s a big event with big consequences. But the reality is that there are relatively few messengers at the annual meeting compared to the number of churches and church members that cooperate as the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of us trust a few of us to determine which leaders, strategies, and priorities should direct the resources that we all have shared.

That’s why I would argue that the real big event for Southern Baptists does not take place in a convention center, or in a single city, or even on the same day. The real big event that determines at least the financial strength of our Great Commission cooperation happens in multiple locations at multiple times. It’s called the local church business meeting. That is where each church determines the percentage of its budget that will go through the Cooperative Program to support Southern Baptist missions and ministries. And that is the “big event” that really determines the degree to which we will cooperate in fulfilling our shared, Great Commission purpose.

For more than 20 years now, the percentage given by all SBC churches through the Cooperative Program as a percentage of undesignated giving has ever so slowly declined. It’s only been a fraction of a percent each year. But over time, national CP giving as a percentage of churches’ undesignated giving has declined to 5.4%, when it used to be almost 11%.

Here in Illinois, our churches are doing a little better than the national average. IBSA churches’ CP giving is about 7% of their undesignated gifts. But that is still well below the level being given 20 years ago.

There are some indications, however, that the trend in CP giving may be on the verge of a reversal. Annual Church Profile data for 2013 was recently released, revealing a second consecutive year of uptick rather than decline in national CP giving. The “One Percent Challenge” that Dr. Frank Page has been championing for 2-3 years now appears to be gaining traction, and numerous churches are accepting that challenge to intentionally increase the percentage of their CP giving.

Other churches are starting to give a percentage of their offerings, rather than a flat amount. It’s only two years, but it’s enough to encourage optimism that churches may be recapturing their vision for the power and effectiveness of cooperative missions giving.

So whether you were able to attend the big event of the Southern Baptist Convention this year or not, I hope you will consider attending the big event of your church’s business meetings, especially the one where the annual budget is discussed. Challenge your church to be one that’s helping reverse the trend by increasing your commitment to SBC missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program.

The Big Event of all history, of course, will be that day when Jesus returns and our Great Commission task as His church draws to a close. All our churches’ big events should anticipate and point to that one. And our churches’ business meetings are a good place to start, because that’s where we can choose priorities that demonstrate we believe He’s coming back soon.

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

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Ronnie Floyd, elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention last week in Baltimore, is calling on Baptists to rally in Columbus, Ohio, next summer to pray together for spiritual awakening.

“As I work with our Order of Business Committee as well as other leaders, I will respectfully request that we dedicate as much time as possible in next year’s convention to pray extraordinarily for the next Great Awakening,” Floyd wrote in a June 16 column for Baptist Press. “I want to call you to Columbus to what could be one of the most significant prayer gatherings in our history.

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said in Baltimore that America’s greatest need is a great awakening. Prior to the convention, he organized two national gatherings for Baptist pastors to pray together.

“Our convention has bemoaned our decline in baptisms, membership, attendance and giving far too long,” Floyd wrote. “Now is the time for us to take aggressive action by calling out to God together in prayer.

“At the same time, we must take the needed strategic actions to change our trajectory as a convention of churches. While we face these critical times, we know God is doing some amazing things right now through Southern Baptists. As we celebrate those to the glory of God in Columbus, we will also call out to God in urgent desperation.”

Read Floyd’s column at BPNews.net, and click here to read more of the Illinois Baptist’s coverage from Baltimore.

Stanley explains tweets during SBC meeting
Georgia pastor Andy Stanley sparked a long online conversation when he tweeted during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, according to a Christian Post report. The Baltimore meeting focused heavily on revival and spiritual awakening. Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, was not at the meeting but tweeted on the topic several times, including, “Instead of praying for revival leaders of the SBC should go spend three weeks with @perrynoble Why pray for one when you can go watch one.”

Stanley was referring to Pastor Perry Noble of New Spring Church in South Carolina. He told The Christian Post that in the tweet and others during the meeting, he was referring to revival in the local church, rather than in a great awakening sense. “I can understand the confusion and I definitely contributed to it,” said Stanley, who still exhorted the local church to take actions that can lead to spiritual awakening.

“I love the local church. And I’ll admit I get a bit stirred up when I hear church leaders talk about the need to reach more people while refusing to make the changes necessary to actually get the job done.” Read more at ChristianPost.com.

Millenials tell Barna: Top 5 things to do before 30
Barna’s recent study of Millenials – “20 and Something” – delves into what the generation believes about life and work. Including the five things they most want to accomplish before they turn 30: gain financial independence (59%), finish their education (52%), start a career (51%), find out who they really are (40%), and follow their dreams (31%). Read more at Barna.org.

Be fruitful, says Pope
After celebrating Mass with 15 married couples at the Vatican, Pope Francis warned against childlessness. “It might be better – more comfortable – to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog,” he said, according to a report by Religion News Service. “Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.”

The pope’s remarks came on the heels of a report that Italy’s birth rate fell to a record low in 2013. The U.S. birth rate hit a record low in 2012, but about 4,700 more babies were born in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

List locates world’s most persecuted countries
Christians face the worst persecution in North Korea and Somalia, according to the 2014 World Watch List. For 12 years, North Korea has topped the list released by non-profit organization Open Doors. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen also are in this year’s top 10, along with the Maldives, a chain of islands off the coast of India.