The Briefing

‘Great Commission’ lacks great understanding among churchgoers
51% of churchgoers say they haven’t heard of the Great Commission, according to new research from Barna that also shows only 17% say they know the meaning of the Scripture passage where Jesus tells his followers to make disciples of all nations. But the data doesn’t necessarily mean people aren’t sharing their faith, say the researchers.

“The data indicates that churches are using the phrase less, which may reveal a lack of prioritizing or focusing on the work of the Great Commission, but may also indicate that the phrase, rather than the scriptures or the labor, has simply fallen out of favor with some.”

FBC Sutherland Springs set to rebuild
The church massacred by a gunman’s attack last November will launch a new building project in May with the “primary goal…to lift Jesus up in the community,” said Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The North American Mission Board, a missions agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, will accept donations for the project and cover any remaining costs for the construction of the church’s new worship center and education building, Baptist Press reports.

SBC Executive Committee calls meeting to address leadership transition
Following Frank Page’s exit as president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, Baptist Press reports the entity’s chairman has called a special meeting April 17 whereExecutive Committee members will have the opportunity to discuss interim leadership matters and elect a presidential search committee. Page announced his retirement from active ministry March 27, citing a “personal failure.”

University event aims to combat ‘Christian Privilege’
Just four days after Easter, George Washington University will host a training session for students and faculty that teaches that Christians — especially white ones — “receive unmerited perks from institutions and systems all across our country.” The April 5 diversity workshop is titled “Christian Privilege: But Our Founding Fathers Were All Christian, Right?!”

Churches trending—slowly—toward diversity
The vast majority of Protestant pastors say their churches are still composed predominantly of one racial or ethnic group, according to data from LifeWay Research. But the percentage is lower than four years ago.

Sources: Barna Research, Baptist Press (2), The College Fix, LifeWay Research

 

 

 

Thank you

ib2newseditor —  April 2, 2018

Cooperative ProgramRecently I attended a meeting of state Baptist executive directors, like myself, from across the country. The format of the meeting included several panel discussions on topics ranging from missions giving to working with local associations, and from disaster relief ministry to ways Baptist state conventions can help one another.

One of the panels was comprised of four experienced leaders, and they were asked the question, “What have you discovered that encourages generous missions giving from churches through the Cooperative Program?”

It was a question that certainly got my attention. While Cooperative Program giving is up in Illinois so far this year, last year it dipped below the $6 million mark for the first time since 1998. Many churches understand and appreciate Cooperative Program missions and ministries, and are giving sacrificially. But many are giving nominally, or at a rate lower than in the past. That affects missions and ministries not only in Illinois, but throughout America and around the world.

Your missions giving is making a difference here in Illinois and around the world.

By the way, if you want to know how strong your church’s CP missions giving is, simply divide the amount your church gave through the Cooperative Program last year by the number of church members. Across all IBSA churches, that average is about $50 per member. The top 100 CP missions giving churches in Illinois give at least $100 per member. My home church here in Springfield isn’t large, but it gave about $200 per member last year. This “per capita” giving is really the most accurate way to compare churches of all sizes.

Anyway, so when I heard the panel discussion question about CP missions giving, I sat up straight and poised myself to take notes on whatever my colleagues might say about this important need. The first to speak was one of the most experienced and respected of all the executive directors.

“The first and most important thing is this,” he began. “Whenever I am in a church, whenever our staff is in a church, in fact whenever I have an opportunity to speak or write to pastors or churches in any setting, I always start with thank you. Thank you for prioritizing the Cooperative Program in your missions giving.”

I didn’t bother writing anything down. “I can remember that,” I thought. “What else will he suggest?” But he kept talking about gratitude.

“We all need to remember that churches, like church members, have a lot of demands on their resources. There are lots of ways they could spend their church’s offerings at home. Whatever they choose to send beyond their church field to the mission field and ministries of our state, nation, and world, deserves our humble gratitude. I always focus on saying thank you.”

Then, one by one, each of the experienced panelists began their remarks by affirming this foundational principle. “I agree, the most important thing you can do is say thank you.” “Yes, we must always remember to say thank you.” “We can never take a church’s missions giving for granted.”

Whatever else my colleagues said that morning, I came away with this note in my head. “The next time you write to Illinois Baptists, say thank you for their giving to Baptist missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program.”

So, thank you. Whatever your church is giving, it is making a difference here in Illinois and around the world, and it is deeply appreciated. In fact, I would love to come to your church and thank you personally, if you will invite me. Whether I deliver the morning message, or just share a brief word about Cooperative Program missions, you can be assured that my first words will be thank you.

Cooperative Program (CP) Sunday is April 8. Downloadable CP materials are available at IBSA.org/CP.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Scared to share?

ib2newseditor —  March 29, 2018
Dr. Doug Munton, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of O’Fallon, Illinois

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

Though I have shared the gospel message many times, I can still be afraid to share my faith with others. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. I’ve heard many others express that same anxiety. Here are some reasons we might be afraid to share our faith and what to do about it.

We worry it won’t be well-received. I’ve actually had very few people who were offended that I tried to share the gospel with them. That doesn’t mean they all trust the Lord when I witness. It just means that people are frequently more interested than you might think.

Often, I ask for permission to share the gospel by saying something like, “Can I tell what the Bible says about how you can have a relationship with God?” or something like that. A few say “no” to that question. But many people are willing to at least hear the message.

We worry we won’t be able to answer their questions. It is true that we can’t always answer all the questions people ask about faith. Sometimes we have to say, “I don’t know” or “Let me find out more about that.” But we don’t have to know everything about everything to be able to share what we know.

And, all questions are not the same. Some questions people ask are more theoretical. Some are excuses. Some are genuine questions that need to be dealt with carefully. Often I find myself saying, “I don’t know the answer to that fully and will need to get back with you on it. But can I tell you what the Bible says about how you can know Jesus?” If possible, I want people to be able to hear the basic gospel message fully, even if I can’t fully answer every question they might ask.

We worry about what others will think of us. Let’s face it. This one can be a big part of our fear of sharing the gospel. After all, like many of you, I can be something of a people pleaser. But God reminds us that he wants to use us to be his ambassadors. In other words, our primary thought should be on what he thinks and not on what someone else thinks.

Remember that telling others is the natural result of what we believe. We are beggars who have found the bread of life. It is only natural that we want other beggars to find that same bread. While we can’t make them eat, it is our compassion that leads us to tell them about this life-giving bread. We should be kind and caring and loving in our sharing, but our primary focus should be on doing what the Lord wants us to do.

We worry we might mess up and are unsure how to make the gospel clear to them. I don’t want to add confusion to those already living in spiritual confusion. This is one of the reasons why a sound method of sharing the gospel is helpful and healthy. Learning a solid method can keep us on track and help us avoid confusing those who are hearing the gospel.

There are dozens of great tools for sharing the gospel. Whether it is the Romans Road or 3 Circles or Can We Talk or any other biblically sound method, these tools can help you to share the gospel in an understandable way. A solid methodology can help us overcome the fear of not knowing how to share.

If you have had any of these fears, or others, you are not alone. But, with God’s help, you can be a witness of God’s grace to others. Don’t let fear keep you from following the Lord’s command to share the gospel. And don’t let it keep you from the joy of learning that God uses people like us—fears and all—to accomplish his purposes.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. This column first appeared at BPNews.net.

The Briefing

EC’s Frank Page resigns over ‘personal failing’
Frank S. Page has resigned as president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, effective March 27 over what is described as “a morally inappropriate relationship in the recent past.”

Southern Baptists face tricky election—again
The 2018 election for president of the Southern Baptist Convention looks a lot like what happened in St. Louis two years ago. But one thing is different about the race between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill—public campaigning is making a comeback.

Billy Graham’s death leads 10,000 to pray for salvation
More than 1.2 million have visited BillyGrahamMemorial.org in just a month, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). The online memorial features a link to a site with a clip of Graham inviting crowds at his crusades to make a decision for Christ, followed by a list of steps to pray to accept Jesus as their Savior. More than 113,000 have visited that site, StepstoPeace.org, in the month since Graham’s death, and 10,500 indicated they prayed to either profess faith for the first time or to renew lapsed faith.

Congress passes online, anti-trafficking bill
Congress has approved legislation designed to thwart sex trafficking by holding accountable online sites that facilitate the crime. The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) would amend a 1996 anti-obscenity federal law to authorize the prosecution of websites that support the sale of people in the sex trade. The proposal would clarify trafficking victims have the right to bring civil action against online sites.

America falls in world happiness rankings
According to a recent World Happiness Report, the United States dropped four spots from last year—moving from 14th place to 18th in a survey of 156 countries taken from 2015 to 2017. The rankings are based on six key areas of well-being: healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, income, and generosity. Finland took first place, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland.

Sources: Baptist Press, IB2news, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Facts and Trends

Greear and Hemphill

J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill will be nominated for SBC President when the denomination convenes in Dallas.

 

The 2018 election for president of the Southern Baptist Convention looks a lot like what happened in St. Louis two years ago. But one thing is different about the race between J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill—public campaigning is making a comeback.

Hemphill in particular has received support from some Baptist state executives, including Missouri’s John Yeats and Louisiana’s David Hankins, the latter who was part of the group that appealed to Hemphill to throw his hat in the ring. In a statement on his personal website, Hankins called Hemphill “thoroughly Southern Baptist” and noted his commitment to the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified method of support for missions and ministry.

“Dr. Hemphill values and promotes the work of the LBC and the other state conventions and has been a lifetime advocate in word and deed of the CP, without which we cannot carry out our ministries,” Hankins wrote.

In announcing he would nominate Greear, Florida pastor Ken Whitten noted Greear’s own commitment to missions, while pointing to the 44-year-old’s ability to bridge the SBC’s generation gap.

“We bleed missions. We bleed evangelism, and we bleed the Gospel of Jesus Christ…J.D. Greear will give us the opportunity to impact another generation while continuing to honor the former generation of Southern Baptists.”

While endorsement statements, especially from nominators, aren’t out of the ordinary, more public forms of campaigning have been largely absent during the past several SBC elections. This year, however, some leaders are speaking more openly about which candidate they endorse, and the conversation has shifted to debating the propriety of SBC electioneering.

The Louisiana Baptist Convention drew fire from Greear supporters and others when it was reported that the convention initially hosted Hemphill’s campaign website, kenhemphill2018.com. After posts on some Baptist blogs expressed concern about the perceived use of Cooperative Program funds to facilitate a website for one candidate, Hemphill told Baptist Press the site wasn’t funded by CP dollars, but that it would be moved to an independent server to avoid “any impression that it was inappropriate.”

“If anyone got the impression the website was funded with CP money,” the candidate said, “I’m sorry, because I would never do anything to erode confidence in CP giving.”

Campaigning was also an issue during the lead-up to the 2016 election between Greear and Memphis pastor Steve Gaines. That spring, a member of Greear’s church produced a rap video parody to Run D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky.” Ashley Unzicker’s video about the intricacies of leading the SBC featured several SBC leaders, including International Mission Board President David Platt and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, rapping the song’s repeated refrain, “It’s tricky.”

North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder newspaper reported critics of the video said it functioned like a campaign ad, and the leaders who appeared in it were endorsing Greear for the presidency.

The buzz around the issue of campaigning could serve as a new way to operate when it comes to SBC elections, said one Baptist blogger. Iowa pastor Dave Miller, who edits SBC Voices, put forth some guidelines for “limited campaigning” in a recent blog post. In it, he wrote Baptists need to be honest about the convention’s political nature.

“There are actually people who will get upset if you say that the SBC is a political organization, as if that is somehow antithetical to being spiritual. But we get together and have meetings where we make motions and vote and hold elections. That, my friend, is called politics. Hopefully, those politics can be done by the fruit of the Spirit not the works of the flesh, but it’s still politics.”

Check back here for more updates on the Southern Baptist Convention June 12-13 in Dallas. Read both candidates’ introductions on Baptist Press here: 

-J.D. Greear to be SBC president nominee again
-Ken Hemphill to be SBC president nominee

-Meredith Flynn

 

Engaging the lost requires a new level of commitment

At a recent evangelism workshop, one Southern Baptist pastor articulated a major struggle in many churches.

“I hear so many pastors say, ‘You’ve got to love the lost, you’ve got to win the lost.’ People in the pew think, ‘I should but I don’t know how.’”

One GRAND Sunday boxIBSA’s Pat Pajak equips pastors across Illinois to help the people in their pews answer that question: How do we share the gospel with the people around us? Pajak is leading an effort to see 1,000 baptisms in IBSA churches on April 8, the Sunday after Easter. In addition to the numerical goal, One GRAND Sunday is designed to help people begin thinking intentionally about evangelism.

“Who do they know that needs to hear the gospel?” asked Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism.

“Are they willing to step out of their comfort zone and share their faith with others?”

The call to renewed evangelistic commitment comes amid declining baptisms in IBSA churches—and the Southern Baptist Convention. In 2017, IBSA churches baptized 3,441 people, a 13% decrease from the previous year’s total of 3,953. And 352 churches reported zero baptisms. The national numbers for 2017 will be released this summer, but in 2016, baptisms in SBC churches declined nearly 5%. Despite the lower numbers, Pajak often notes there is much reason to rejoice when one person comes to faith in Christ.

Cliff Woodman is preparing his church for One GRAND Sunday with a strategy they’ve used before to boost personal evangelism. Woodman, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, asked church members to commit to share their faith with one person by the Sunday before Easter. They were invited to make their commitment public by placing a commitment card on the church altar.

Woodman prays daily for the people in his church who filled out the cards and will follow up with them after March 25 as a way to remind them of the commitment, and to hear their stories.

The pastor shared the idea with other churches in his association and with the IBSA Pastors’ Evangelism Network that Pajak facilitates. Nine other congregations are using the commitment strategy along with Emmanuel.

Gospel conversations
At an Engage 24 workshop in Las Vegas in February, a panel of Southern Baptist leaders shared real-life stories of how churches are reaching people with the gospel. The training session was one of a series of workshops sponsored by the North American Mission Board and designed to give leaders practical ways they can create and foster a culture of evangelism in their churches.

Speaking at the workshop, SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page encouraged pastors to intentionally cross borders, risk negativity, and create a loving environment without compromising truth.

Referencing Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan Woman in John 4, Page spoke about the responsibility and call of the church to be leaders in building and maintaining relationships with those who are currently a part of a congregation, as well as those who are not. He noted this requires proactive engagement and responding to the responsibility of the church.

“Christ was the great example of reaching across ethnic and gender boundaries, and so if we’re going to follow Christ, we have to be his hands and feet in doing that in the world,” Page said. “And what other organization is it? Is it education? Is it government? Who is it that should be leading the way? It ought to be the church, not following, not pulling up the rear, but leading in this.

“The church is duty-bound because of our allegiance to Christ to be like him in this world,” he said, “and that’s reaching across these barriers like Jesus did with the woman at the well.”

At Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton, people are learning specific tools to help overcome the barriers Page referenced. Every year, said Pastor Sammy Simmons, he and his staff focus on a tool people can use to share Christ. This year, they’re learning to share the gospel using their hand—a method they employ on mission trips to Africa.

Every Sunday between now and Easter, Simmons will explain the gospel-sharing strategy from the pulpit. He’s also using four consecutive Wednesday evening sessions to teach on gospel conversations, which he differentiates from religious conversations.

“A gospel conversation is when I am explicitly talking about the life of Christ, his death for our sins, his resurrection, and giving an invitation for them to turn from their sins and for Christ to be their savior,” Simmons said.

Church members are sharing about their gospel conversations in 60-second videos. One such testimony was from a stay-at-home mom who threw a Valentine’s Day party and connected it to God’s love, sharing the gospel with her friends.

IBSA and the North American Mission Board also are encouraging churches to focus on gospel conversations this year, with a goal of recording one million of them by the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas this June. At gcchallenge.com, gospel-sharers can view 60-second videos on real-life gospel conversations, and upload their own.

With at least 8 million people in Illinois who don’t know Christ, the time for talking about Jesus is now, Pajak said. “We need to pray for lost people by name, train people in how to share their faith, and commit to witness to at least one person between now and Easter Sunday.”

– Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting from Baptist Press

Rocking chair

A BIG REST – The world’s largest rocking chair beckons the weary in Casey, Ill., and beyond.

A USA Today article confirmed what I’ve been thinking: I’m tired. I’m tired of bad news, the 24-hour news cycle, shootings, Congress, Tweets, screens, talking heads, arguments, and politics. I’m tired of zealots, protests, terrorists, bombings, and assassinations. I’m tired of hurricanes, wildfires, blizzards with names, missile testing, election meddling, special investigations, and dictators. And it turns out I’m not alone. We’re all exhausted, according to that Jim Beckerman article, and it’s not getting any better.

Doctors report we’re losing sleep, gaining weight, and suffering anxiety in greater numbers. We toss and turn and fret and work up a sweat. “There is a sense of danger,” one therapist said, “that we’re living in very dangerous times.” And no one is predicting relief anytime soon. Which makes these words all the more important:

Come unto me.

If any period in biblical times seems to mirror our own, it’s the first century, especially in Israel. A massive empire is in charge, a foreign power ruling from a distance, but the Pax Romana seems a farce. The peace of Rome? What peace? Troops march in the streets of all the major cities to keep a lid on the boiling pot. And in Jerusalem, the local government is threatened by activists plotting political and religious takeover. Thinkers are searching for solutions, and regular people want deliverance. Not even their religion offers relief. If anything, it only adds to the weight they carry, piling rules upon rules, and making daily life harder.

In this environment, Jesus says, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden.” That is an address to an ample and ready audience. What he says next is especially nervy: “I will give you rest.”

The text in Matthew 11 is familiar and beloved. The rest Jesus offers is from the burden of religion. The Ten Commandments weren’t enough; the Jewish teachers had mounted up 613 rules for daily living that still couldn’t keep adherents in right relationship with God. The yoke Jesus offers is his own teaching, by comparison easy, like well-fitting shoulder gear, and lightweight.

But it’s not only a new teaching the itinerant rabbi offers. Jesus gives himself as a living example.

“Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.”

In The Message, Eugene Peterson phrases it this way: “Are you tired? Worn out?…Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Jesus offers a promise especially suited to our tiresome times.

In times like these, we need especially to keep company with Jesus. The answer for our trying times is not to add more strident voices to the cacophony, but to follow the example of Jesus, who, by his definition, is gentle and lowly. When we spend time with Jesus, learn more of Jesus, and live like Jesus, we find real rest.

As the writer of Hebrews points out, we’ve been seeking rest since God’s people fled Egypt.

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people…Let us then make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:8-9, 11 CSB).

For believers, there is rest in eternity, but in the spirit of “abundant life,” there is rest now as well. The key, I think, is “keeping company.”

This scene in Matthew isn’t the only time Jesus invited his followers to escape the fray. “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest awhile,” Mark recorded as Jesus’ response to a frantic season of ministry (Mark 6:31). His disciples were so busy tending and teaching that they didn’t have time to eat. Jesus, the rest-giver, declared a Sabbath.

Sounds good to me.

On a country road outside the small town where my mother grew up is a white wooden church on the flat top of a rise. It’s called Pilgrim’s Rest. Halfway to the next largest town, it seems a good place to pull the wagon off the road and give the horse a drink, before attempting the second half of the journey. Here, pilgrims rested. And a few learned to live there permanently.

Perhaps that’s what we need in these tiring times: to pull off the road, camp out with Jesus, and rest awhile.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.