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Judge Neil Gorsuch

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch

New Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch continued his first week on the bench with what many Court watchers have said could be the most important case of this term. The justices heard oral arguments April 19 on “the Playground Case,” which involves a church-owned preschool’s fight to participate in a state grant program.

Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., sued the state after its preschool was denied participation in a program that funds safer recreation spaces for kids. (Trinity’s playground is gravel, but operators wanted to replace it with a rubberized surface made from recycled tires.)

The preschool was denied funding, even though it ranked fifth out of 44 applicants, and 14 of those applicants received grants the year the school applied, USA Today reported. At issue is a Missouri provision that prohibits religious institutions from receiving public money.

But multiple media outlets reported that opening arguments before the Supreme Court favored the Missouri church, with even some liberal-leaning justices appearing to side with the preschool’s right to participate in the program.

According to USA Today, concerns raised by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer during the oral arguments could result in a 7-2 decision (should conservatives John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch move in the expected direction). However, the newspaper reported, the Court will perhaps rule “on narrow grounds, so as not to set a broad, nationwide precedent on public funding for religious institutions.”

It’s also possible that the Court could rule the case moot, since Missouri Governor Eric Greitens recently instructed the state’s Department of Natural Resources to allow churches to apply for and receive funding from state grant programs.

Prior to Tuesday’s arguments, the case was thought to be an issue on which Gorsuch would help shift the Court toward the school’s side. The former appellate judge previously ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in the company’s fight over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that corporations cover birth control—including drugs such as Plan B and Ella—in their employee health care plans.

The Playground Case has been in a holding pattern for more than a year since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and a subsequent Senate hold on former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, left the Court with only eight justices.

Judge suspended in same-sex marriage case
The Alabama Chief Justice who instructed the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples has been suspended without pay for the rest of his term. Judge Roy Moore told 68 probate judges in January that they had a duty not to issue the licenses until the Alabama Supreme Court could clarify the relationship between state law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage.

A 9-judge panel didn’t get the unanimous vote needed to remove Moore from office, but the suspension has the same result, Moore’s attorney, Mat Staver, said. They plan to appeal the ruling.

Some fear Internet change could threaten religious liberty
As of Oct. 1, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit organization that oversees domain names, is now governed by an independent board rather than the U.S. Department of Commerce. The shift has been seen by some as dangerous to religious liberty.

But while the change likely doesn’t pose a big threat to religious liberty, says a Baptist software engineering professor, it could allow people with an anti-religion agenda to block some websites with Christian content.

‘Free Speech’ act would loosen guidelines for churches
Two Republican Congressmen have introduced legislation that would make it easier for churches and non-profits to speak in favor of political candidates. The Free Speech Fairness Act is designed to counteract the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which limits political speech by churches and other organizations that receive tax-exempt status. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has promised to repeal the Johnson Amendment if he’s elected.

Split down the middle
Americans are evenly divided on two key religious liberty issues, according to a new study by Pew Research. 48% of Americans say businesses that provide wedding services should be able to refuse to provide those services to same-sex couples based on religious conviction, while 49% disagree. Americans are similarly divided on whether transgender individuals should be allowed to use the bathroom of the gender with which they currently identify.

Publisher changes its mind on ESV
A Bible publisher has reversed its decision to make the text of the ESV Bible permanent. Crossway had previously announced that after tweaks on 29 verses, the ESV translation would “remain unchanged in all future editions.”

“We have become convinced that this decision was a mistake,” President and CEO Lane Dennis said in a Sept. 28 release. “Our desire, above all, is to do what is right before the Lord.”

 

Charlotte churches pray for peace
“Now is the time for heartfelt and sincere prayers, not political and personal-agenda driven rhetoric,” Pastor Phillip R.J. Davis posted on his church’s website in the wake of violence and protests in Charlotte, N.C.

His Southern Baptist congregation, Nations Ford Community Church, and others in the community held prayer meetings as their city continued to feel the aftermath of the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, and subsequent protests that turned violent, resulting in the death of another man, Justin Carr.

Film recounts race to save missionaries
Samaritan’s Purse and Executive Producer Franklin Graham will release “Facing Darkness” next spring, a documentary recounting the race to save missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol after they contracted the Ebola virus during a 2014 epidemic that killed 11,000 people. The film, which includes interviews with those on the frontlines of fighting the virus, will be shown in select cities for one night only on Thursday, March 30, 2017.

Most not hopeful about election outcome
With the presidential election just over a month away, only a small percentage of Americans say Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton would make a “great” or “good” president, according to new polling from Gallup.

Up from the grave
Christian in Southeast Asia witnessed a seemingly miraculous event when a village leader believed to be dead came back to life as they prayed over him. International Mission Board President David Platt recently recounted the story to Southern Baptist Convention leaders, adding that God’s work in the region has continued, as people have come to know Christ and have burned their idols.

Creature comfort
Mourners at a New York funeral home receive an extra measure of comfort from Lulu, a therapy dog who “prays” with grievers by putting her paws on them and tilting her head down. The goldendoodle is an “added source of comfort” and “a calming presence” to people who are grieving, says her owner, Matthew Fiorillo.

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.

debate 2There aren’t many aspects of the current national election that should be emulated at the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention. But here’s one: Messengers in St. Louis would be well served by a candidates’ debate of sorts—a public discussion among those running for SBC president.

There are several reasons to add this kind of discussion to the Convention schedule, starting with the issues poised to be central to the 2016 meeting. The key topics Baptists are beginning to talk about now will be very significant in how the SBC moves forward on matters like supporting missionaries, doing evangelism well, and shaping the denomination’s identity in a post-Christian culture.

Last year’s Convention used panel discussions to offer various perspectives on pressing issues. The format could translate easily to a conversation about what each candidate sees as the key issues facing the SBC, and why they feel they’re qualified for the job.

Furthermore, each of the announced candidates has proven they’re willing to work with the larger Baptist family to accomplish shared goals. David Crosby worked with other pastors in New Orleans to help rebuild the city following Hurricane Katrina. Steve Gaines was part of the committee that revised The Baptist Faith and Message in 2000. J.D. Greear has shared platforms and panels with a variety of thinkers from across the Convention.

Surely they’d be willing to share their ideas about the SBC and its future if it meant more messengers (voters) would have a clearer picture of who they believe can lead it best.

Blogger and pastor Dave Miller recently noted what is perhaps the most practical reason for a debate: Everybody’s talking about this stuff already.

Miller advocated in a March post on SBC Voices that Baptists break with tradition and encourage campaigning for the office of SBC president, with one of his main reasons being that “politicking” has always been a part of the process, just a behind-the-scenes part. With the rise of social media, Miller wrote, “we have the opportunity to hear from our candidates.”

Yes, prior to the Convention, we can hear from the candidates through one-on-one interviews and podcasts. But let’s go one step further. Let’s have a civil, helpful discourse in St. Louis on the state of the SBC, its current challenges, and how each candidate would direct the denomination toward fulfilling God’s Great Commission to make disciples.

Grappling with leadership

Lisa Sergent —  February 15, 2016

A better grip

It may be hardest part of ministry, but the local church’s future depends on leaders who understand who—and how—they lead.

Michael Kanai came to the Illinois Leadership Summit excited about recent happenings at his church. “We had a retreat and we made many plans and casted our vision,” the pastor of Orchard Valley Baptist Church in Aurora said. “Now,” he continued, “we need to implement and execute the plans.”

For many pastors and church leaders, that’s the hard part: turning plans into action and leading the congregation to achieve the goals. A stumble or two at this stage can stall the work and cause the people to wonder about the abilities of the leader.

But, don’t be mistaken, this article is not about goals and action plans. It’s about what happens in the heart of the leader who realizes he can’t do the ministry alone. He needs a team, and more important, he needs a team of leaders.

“We are at a point where we are needing to lead leaders,” Kanai said. “It’s really helpful learning the difference between leading followers and leading leaders. The ‘collective’ we just attended just told us there is a steep step between those two types of leadership—it’s a pivotal shift in the way you lead.”

Halfway through the Summit, Kanai was clearly “getting it.”

Setting the (grappling) hook

For two days in January, pastors, staff, and church leaders convened at the Springfield facilities of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Last year at the same time, almost 1,300 leaders from 10 Baptist state conventions across 13 states gathered for the Midwest Leadership Summit at the nearby Crowne Plaza.

Previously called the North Central States Rally, the triennial event schooled ministry leaders in programming and skills to help grow their churches and fulfill their callings in their Upper Midwest mission fields. But this meeting was different: First, it was an Illinois-only event. With the two-year break between conferences, IBSA sought to build on the momentum from the 2015 event by bringing Illinoisans together to address the leadership issues we face here. And second, this event was not so much about skills, but about the heart and character of the leader.

“When most pastors think about leadership in ministry, they view it as administrative duties, supervisory oversight, or managing some new project,” said associate executive director Pat Pajak. “Until a pastor discovers the necessity of leading himself, especially in the areas of spiritual disciplines and character development, he will never be able to lead followers, lead leaders, or lead an organization in the way God intended.”

That’s why this Summit was different.

“IBSA frequently offers ministry skill training, but we made it clear from the outset that the Summit would focus on one’s personal growth as a leader,” said executive director Nate Adams. “That shift appears to have both met a felt need, and also created an itch among leaders that IBSA hopes to help scratch in the days ahead.”

ILS16 Bumgarner_Tuesday

Bob Bumgarner

The centerpiece for the event was the new leadership development process that the IBSA team has been crafting for more than a year. The main speaker for the event was Bob Bumgarner, a leadership expert who has contributed to the creative process. He was joined by four Illinois pastors in the main sessions (called “collectives”), and by 28 other pastors and ministry leaders in breakout sessions (called “intensives”).

“I think we would all agree that leadership development is forefront and needed in Southern Baptist life,” Bumgarner said. “And I also think we all would agree that it’s not as easy as it sounds.” Bumgarner (pictured above) headed leadership development for the Florida Baptist Convention and currently serves as executive pastor of Chets Creek Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a large, multi-campus congregation.

Bumgarner sought to dispel the myth that all leadership is alike no matter the group or setting; and that leadership is innate and there’s nothing that can be done to improve it.

Not true.

IBSA’s four-part plan

Leading self is about growing your capacity to be on Jesus’ mission as a person of influence.

“The hardest person I ever lead is me,” Bumgarner said, as he began to unpack the four phases in IBSA’s leadership process. “We have to understand that before we can lead others well, we have to learn to lead ourselves.”

Bumgarner pointed to the iceberg as a good illustration of the issues in self-leadership. Most of it is under the surface. That’s why character is so important. “You can get so successful that your character can’t support (your ministry)….If you want to be a better self-leader, figure out how you can hunger for God’s wisdom.”

He recommended spending five hours per week developing character and 50-60 hours developing ministry.

“Ministry is a place where you can be completely busy or completely lazy, and people won’t know,” said Heath Tibbetts, pastor of First Baptist Church of Machesney Park. He brought some personal applications for pastors. “I’ve realized strong self-leading means that even if no one else is looking, the Holy Spirit is keeping me accountable.”

Table_fellowship

Eric Trout, Ashby Tillery, and Mark Mohler, all from Marion, were among Summit attenders who watched the large-group collective session in the room adjacent to IBSA’s auditorium.


Leading followers
is about leading individual contributors, people who are not leading others, often serving as a ministry head or teacher in small groups or classes.

There are official followers, such as deacons or committee members, but there are also unofficial followers, the people who like or respect the leader, who have bought into the vision and want to be part of making it happen.

Bumgarner said at this stage, the objective is to identify your followers, inspire them by giving them a leader worth following, initiate followers by casting vision, and invest in their personal development. Make a goal, he advised: “By the end of next year, I want to have invested this amount of time into this number of people.”

“Our church grew when I stopped trying to lead big and started trying to lead through small groups,” said Mark Mohler, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Marion. He described bringing his congregation into a new vision for the church that found its most vital point of connection at the level of Sunday school classes.

Leading leaders is directed toward those who lead others. It requires a different skill set to keep those people who have leadership abilities of their own on your team.

Here is the pivotal point in the four phases of leadership. Adams described an image of stairs. In this case, not all the stairs are of equal height. Some have a short rise, others have a tall rise. The step between leading followers and leading leaders is the biggest jump for most people. And as Kanai described his own discovery at the Summit, it’s the most critical.

A leader who can only lead followers is limited by his own capacity; but a leader who can lead those who lead multiplies his capacity. But leading leaders is challenging and it’s risky. Other leaders have their own ideas, and they may set their own agendas.

“It can be one of the scariest moments of our life,” Bumgarner said, “nurturing your baby and then handing the baby to another person to raise….Regardless of the pain sharing a ministry can cause, something bigger and better can happen as a result.”

At this stage, empowerment of additional leaders must be balanced with clear, ongoing vision-casting: “85% of your success in leading leaders is wrapped up in common purpose and clear communication,” Bumgarner advised. “Do enough (communication) so that downstream from that work, we can see the fruit we’re looking for.”

Leading organizations is about leading leaders who lead other leaders. It’s about having a vision for the whole ministry and communicating that effectively to the whole organization.

In church life, this leader is usually the senior pastor, but not every pastor is actually leading at this level. He may be leading followers, or even leaders, but not effectively guiding the work of the whole ministry.

“Leading organizations requires working on the ministry versus in the ministry,” Bumgarner said. Many listeners in the room seemed to connect with this comment. He described a season when his ministry was consumed by the work of ministry rather than giving adequate attention to the purpose of the ministry, its vision and goals.

Leadership at this level requires strategic planning about how to do the ministry. “Your church needs you to facilitate the things that need to be done in order to share the gospel. If you find time to get the top 20% done, the other 80% will be done right.”

Bumgarner concluded, “The point of organizational functionality is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

– Coverage of the Illinois Leadership Summit by Meredith Flynn, Kris Kell, Kayla Rinker, Lisa Sergent, and Eric Reed

Editor’s note: After an often tearful year, the Christian’s counterattack is hope.  The enemy may use the events of last year to strike chords of fear, but in reporting them, we offer notes of hope for 2016. God is in control of this world, and whatever happens, this history being made before our eyes will turn people toward him. He is our hope.
This is our certainty as we anticipate the new year, our hope.

Missionaries-squareBy Meredith Flynn | The tone was set at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention: If we’re going to continue sending missionaries to people groups who haven’t heard the gospel, the missions paradigm has to change.

“Churches almost unknowingly begin to farm out missions to missions organizations,” International Mission Board President David Platt said during the missionary commissioning service that coincided with the Convention.

“But this is not how God designed it.”

Instead, said the leader of the world’s largest evangelical missions organization, local churches must play a greater role in sending missionaries to the ends of the earth, like the first-century church at Antioch did.

Two months later, Platt announced 600-800 missionaries and staff would end their service with the IMB through a voluntary retirement incentive and subsequent hand-raising opportunity. And the local church was still central to the conversation.

IMB released a list of ways churches can support returning missions personnel. Many, including Illinois pastor Doug Munton, publicly encouraged local congregations to consider hiring returning missionaries to fill vacant staff positions.

At their September meeting, the SBC Executive Committee adopting a resolution encouraging churches to give to the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists’ main method of funding missions—“more than ever before” in light of the IMB cuts.

Since Platt was named president in 2014, he has prioritized the responsibility of local churches and everyday Christians to leverage what they have so that more people around the world might hear and respond to the gospel. And not just through monetary gifts.

“Even if our income from churches were to double over the next year…we would still have a cap on our ability to send a certain number of full-time, fully supported church planters,” Platt said when he announced the personnel plan in August. The solution: “Consider all of the different avenues that God created in His sovereign grace for multitudes more people to go.”

What it means for churches: Those avenues may find business people, college students and retirees in your church leaving their lives in the U.S. to take the gospel to people who have never heard it. Local congregations have an opportunity to expand the ways they think about missions, and encourage “regular” people in the pews to do the same.