Grilled, not toasted

Lisa Misner —  June 6, 2019

By Eric Reed

toastTwo things surprised me about my ordination: the interview was not nearly as painful as I anticipated, and it was scheduled 90 minutes prior to the evening service where I was to be set apart for God’s use.

What if I fail the test? I thought. My mother drove 10 hours to attend the service. And there’s an ice cream social afterward. What will happen to all that ice cream if I give the wrong answers?

I passed.

A dozen of the church’s finest gathered in the church library and asked me to share my testimony and my calling. (As I had recently written at length about that for my seminary application, the telling of it was easy and lasted about 40 minutes of the hour they reserved for the meeting.) Had I read The Baptist Faith & Message? (I had. In fact, the previous pastor had required it as part of a church membership class.) Did I disagree with any basic Baptist doctrines? (I did not.)

Their vote was unanimous. Half an hour later the church body approved. It seemed right that my little local congregation was doing the ordaining; after all, they knew me. I had served as their youth minister for two years.

I still remember a few prayers of those men as they laid hands on my head and whispered over me. Then came their wives and other members of the church. The praying lasted longer than the quizzing as the line to affirm God’s call wound around the inside walls of the sanctuary and Norma Lassiter played hymn after hymn on the Hammond.

Those men were serious, and they took their responsibility seriously. I recall with appreciation those who signed my ordination certificate: Leslie Rooks and Stephen Young and Marion Oldham and Luther Barker and more.

Anyone ordained in a Southern Baptist church might tell a similar story. They might also tell this one, as a friend described his own ordaining council: “I expected to be grilled, and instead I was toasted”—as if they had raised a glass in his honor.

In retrospect, I respect those men and the process. But times have changed and the call for more stringent screening is appropriate. The questions I have asked in ordaining councils have gotten tougher across the years, and yes, even a bit embarrassing, but it’s necessary. And ordaining councils would be well advised to bring directors of missions and pastors, a theologian, and men who aren’t so close to the candidate into the process to beef it up.

For the safety and well-being of the church, the pastorate, and the faith, we need to do more grilling and less toasting.

– Eric Reed

gallery

The abortion debate has always been emotional, but in our culture today, emotion has overtaken fact. This was on display when the Illinois House debated SB 25, what its sponsors named the Reproductive Health Act, a bill which removes limits on late-term abortions, allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions, and requires insurance companies to cover the costs of abortions. I watched debate, and ultimately the vote, from the House gallery.

In the gallery one is told to remain silent, that photography is forbidden, and not to react after votes are taken. Across from me sat protestors dressed in scarlet costumes based on the book-turned-TV series “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. On the floor, one state representative who also boasted his title of pastor, spoke for the bill and the “rights” of women including his young daughters to “choose” what they will do with their bodies. Women in the gallery nodded their heads, and quietly said, “Yes.” An elderly lady sitting next to me whispered, “I’m so tired of those men telling us what to do with our bodies.”

Another representative shared a story about a woman who already had seven children and was so desperate that she resorted to a coat hanger abortion. That was in 1948. Did we want to return to those days? she asked rhetorically. “That’s right,” women in the gallery nodded quietly. No one would have considered my argument that birth control would prevent such extreme measures. Or abstinence. Or adoption.

Debate continued with more of the same. More “yes’s” and “that’s right’s” from the gallery until I heard myself quietly say, “No.” All heads in my little section quickly turned my way. The elderly lady sitting next to me got up and left. I could take it no more and had spoken. No one in the gallery near me commented on anything after that. Soon the vote was taken. Of course, the bill passed, and the gallery erupted into applause. The steward came rushing through telling everyone the gallery was not to express emotion at the result of the vote and it was over.

Ahead of Birmingham meeting, Executive Committee may also reword proposed amendment
The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee will meet prior to the denomination’s annual meeting this month to consider new measures to combat sexual abuse. One potential option: A standing committee to assess claims of church misconduct brought at annual meetings and at other times during the year for alleged departures from Southern Baptist polity, doctrine, or practice.

“Over the last year,” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press, “it has become clear the SBC needs a clearer process for responding to abuse, as well as qualified individuals speaking into the process who ensure that we are a convention of churches who adhere to the legal standards of reporting abuse.

“This standing credentials committee is an important step in that direction.”

Trump makes impromptu visit to Virginia church
President Donald Trump was prayed for by Pastor David Platt Sunday during a surprise visit to McLean Bible Church. The visit coincided with evangelist Franklin Graham’s call to pray for the President on Sunday, June 2. After criticism, Platt shed light on the President’s visit and the prayer in a letter to his congregation.

Illinois lawmakers approve expanded abortion, legal pot, and sports betting
Over the last few days of their spring session, the Illinois legislature moved forward on several high-profile issues of concern to conservative and Christian voters, including the Reproductive Health Acts, which pro-life advocates have called one of the nation’s most extreme abortion laws.

More state leaders sign laws to restrict abortion
Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed legislation last week to ban abortion early in pregnancy, joining five other states who approved similar laws this year.

Millennial non-Christians show more spiritual curiosity than older adults
Barna reports that young non-Christians have more conversations about faith than do older non-believers, and they are more interested in learning what Christianity could mean for their lives.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, McLean Bible Church, Illinois Baptist, Barna Research

Improving ordination

Lisa Misner —  June 3, 2019

More careful interview process needed to protect churches

By Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Ordination_web

The ordination process of Southern Baptist churches is a weak spot when it comes to protecting congregations from sexual predators, according to a report released May 9.

The report, “Above Reproach: A Study of the Ordination Practices of SBC Churches,” was conducted by Jason A. Lowe, an associational mission strategist in Kentucky, in response to a Feb. 10 Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches.

Lowe began polling pastors and other Baptist leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention on Feb. 20, two days after SBC President J.D. Greear presented 10 calls to action from the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study, one of which was to enhance the ordination screening process.

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said the survey is helpful because it inquired about familiar aspects of ordination, but also some that are less often considered. “For example, it asked about various types of background checks as part of the ordination process, and also about how ordination councils can provide follow-up and accountability,” Adams said.

The screening process is a “sacred responsibility” that needs to be taken seriously, Greear said at a February meeting of Baptist newspaper editors. He explained that ordination candidates should have no hint of sexual abuse or cover up in their past. Greear asked why background checks are often more rigorous for children’s ministry volunteers than for people being ordained to lead.

Fewer than 1/3 of ordination candidates were required to have a background check.

Ordination, a process that sets a person aside for ministerial service, is left up to each individual Southern Baptist congregation in keeping with the SBC’s policy of church autonomy. Churches may review a person’s salvation experience, pastoral call, qualifications, and potentially his experience or seminary training to determine if he’s an appropriate candidate, according to the SBC’s website, sbc.net.

But Lowe wrote in his article that up until now, no one had a good snapshot of what was actually happening across the SBC when it came to ordination practices. “Very little study” has been done on this topic, he said.

“No one knows how thoroughly candidates for ordination are being examined,”
wrote Lowe, who serves as associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists in southeastern Kentucky, as well as executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Pikeville.

“No one knows how many ordination councils require candidates to complete a background check,” he wrote. “No one knows how many ordination councils examine a candidate’s sexual purity.”

In late February and early March, Lowe gathered 555 survey responses. He compiled his findings in a 42-page report and noted five significant points of interest:

1. SBC ordination practices have significant room for improvement. In addition to Greear, other SBC leaders had spoken out about weaknesses in the ordination process ahead of Lowe’s report.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in February that “lackadaisical ordination will produce doctrinally dubious and morally corrupt pastors.” That kind of trend “must end and churches must take responsibility for those men they ordain for ministry,” he wrote.

Thom Rainer, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources, also wrote that because of the weak process, “we ‘bless’ new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at worst.”

Lowe said his report confirmed their observations. “While there are some encouraging trends, [Southern Baptist] churches need to improve our current ordination practices in a number of ways,” he said. For example, only 30.2% of ordained ministers were required to have a background check and only 29.4% were asked about their sexual purity. Also, in roughly 60% of cases, the ordination service was publicized before screening took place and the screening council happened on the same day as the service.

“Ordination is too important and consequential to be handled casually or quickly,” Adams said. “I would start by inviting local associational leadership into the process, and developing a plan for the ordination that allows sufficient time, and that can be thorough and involve as many ordained men as reasonable.” He also suggested churches obtain a guide or checklist of ordination best practices that would include steps of preparation for the candidate and the ordination council.

2. Discussions regarding a candidate’s sexual purity are sparse, but on the rise. Even though sexual purity is not discussed most of the time, the report found that there has been a “significant uptick (40.5%) since 2010.”

During the ordination process, Adams said, questions of an extremely personal nature should be tempered with a sense of appropriateness, respect for the candidate’s privacy, and recognition that past mistakes and especially pre-conversion behavior are not necessarily disqualifiers.

“That being said,” he added, “in today’s world especially, ordination councils—and pastor search teams too, for that matter—are wise to include in their processes background checks, reference checks, and secondary reference checks, and even a loving line of questioning about personal purity.”

Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, suggested a standard questionnaire about sexual purity and other moral issues could be helpful for ordination councils.

3. SBC ordination practices are changing in both positive and negative ways. Lowe’s survey garnered information on ordinations spanning every decade since the 1960s, and across the years, a number of trends emerged. Some were positive—for instance, more churches are requiring theological training, and more are conducting background checks and asking candidates about sexual purity.

But on the other hand, the role of the ordination council seems to be decreasing in importance. Screening periods have gotten shorter as a whole, and councils involve fewer ordained pastors.

Pajak recommended councils seek help from others. “Few church members may feel qualified to ask theological questions,” he said. “That is why the practice of church councils inviting associational mission strategists and other pastors to sit in on the questioning is necessary, but unfortunately, rarely done.”

Adams suggested every Baptist ordination council should have at least one, and hopefully several, members who have studied The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Southern Baptists’ statement of faith) thoroughly enough to question the candidate through its articles. “That’s why it can be valuable to have multiple pastors involved in ordination processes, as well as local association or state convention staff that are usually available to help when needed.”

4. Ordaining churches in more populated areas set higher standards for their ordination candidates. The report data showed urban and suburban churches handling the process differently than churches in less-populated areas. City churches more often check on candidates both before and after ordination and require training more often. Rural churches are more likely to publicize the ordination service before a candidate is approved, then conduct the screening on the same day as the service.

Joe Lawson is associational mission strategist in Rehoboth and Louisville Baptist Associations. He agreed with Lowe that interview questions are important, but said they should be part of a longer-term mentoring relationship that starts well before the ordination process. “By the time a person is ordained, they have very likely been in a position of leadership teaching children, youth, and/or coed adults in church. They have also preached,” Lawson said. “A candidate desiring to pursue a call to ministry should have a pastor/mentor who will ask the questions about debt, sexual purity, and other behaviors, i.e. drugs and alcohol. It is easy to hide and not be transparent about the sin in our lives. Yet, leadership demands that we hold each other accountable.”

5. Larger churches are more thorough in their examination of ordination candidates. Churches with a larger membership are more likely to cover more topics during the screening process, require a background check, and require training.

Lawson cautioned against creating too rigid a barrier between ordination and theological education, though. “Personally, I am a little concerned we could establish a hierarchy of clergy and lose the power of the Spirit of God and the call of God in people’s lives,” he said. “Many of our churches are served by folks who are well-read, articulate, and theologically sound, but not formally educated. They are effective pastors serving in small places.”

Lowe didn’t make any specific recommendations for improvements, but he wrote that he shared the findings “with the hope of generating productive conversations among Southern Baptists as we seek ways to improve our ordination practices in the days ahead.”

“Ordination by local churches is one of the grassroots practices that has for generations allowed Baptist churches to recognize and develop leaders, accelerate proclamation of the gospel, and establish new churches more rapidly and expansively than other groups,” Adams said. “That’s why it’s imperative that ordination by local churches be administered responsibly and thoroughly, whether its result is to qualify or to disqualify.”

The full report is available at https://jasonalowe.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/sbc-ordination-practices-report.pdf.

– Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Giving is up amid declines in baptisms, membership, and worship attendance
The most recent Annual Church Profile reports collected by the Southern Baptist Convention show continued decline in key markers, including a 3% decrease in baptisms from the previous year. And Christianity Today noted membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018, the lowest since 1987.

“As we look forward, it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd. “Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city and county in America, as well to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church.”

>Related: New data from the General Social Survey says just over half of people who were Southern Baptists at 16 still are as adults.

Churchgoers split on existence of undiscovered sexual abuse by pastors
Nearly all churchgoers say their church is a safe place where children and teenagers are protected from sexual abuse, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. But almost one-third (32%) also believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than we have heard about, while 37% disagree and 31% say they don’t know.

Texas lawmakers pass ‘Save Chick-Fil-A’ bill
A so-called “Save Chick-Fil-A” bill was approved May 22 by Texas lawmakers, prohibiting government entities from acting against businesses and people because of their associations with religious organizations. The bill is connected to the chicken chain following the San Antonio airport’s decision to deny space to Chick-Fil-A based on its support for traditional marriage. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.

Younger Americans find more meaning in work than religion
Americans under 40—less likely to say religion is important to them—are finding more meaning and identity in the companies they work for and the jobs they do, Fast Company reports.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today, LifeWay Research, Fast Company

Today’s Christian college students are challenging a common misconception

By Meredith Flynn

Bubble

Spend any time on a Christian college campus and students there will probably fill you in on the major knock against their chosen school: it’s a bubble. The term is used to describe the sheltered environment that nurtures them while they’re in school, but may not prepare them for the real world once they graduate.

The commonly told tale isn’t merely an urban legend, said college senior Drew McKay.

“It very easily could be a bubble,” said McKay, in his fifth year at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. The theology student from Medaryville, Ind., is in Boyce’s seminary track, meaning he’ll earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

“Part of going to a Christian university is a safe place to learn about the doctrines of the Bible without necessarily being challenged outright by faculty members and fellow students,” said McKay.

A 2017 analysis of data by Pew Research Center indicates a college education can bolster the faith of Christian students, particularly among evangelicals. Those who are college graduates are slightly more likely to attend weekly services and pray daily than those with some or no college. They’re also more likely to say religion is very important, and to believe in God with absolute certainty.

Taking that faith to the real world after college, though, is a different matter. McKay looked for an off-campus job where he could put into practice the things he was learning at Boyce. The school, which is the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, requires the same core curriculum of every student, whether they’re majoring in Bible or business administration. That means courses in world religions or apologetics—defending your Christian faith—help students understand how beliefs influence how other people think and act.

For McKay, who’s planning to be a youth minister, another way out of the bubble is through time spent with experienced leaders and fellow students.

“The education I’m getting is wonderful,” he said. “It’s great that I’ve got a theological base and a way to study the Bible. But that’s really half of what I need for ministry.

“Being able to spend time with professors in class and out of class, even to be able to see how to be a good father, husband, pastor, leader, has been one of the huge takeaways for me.” And while he may not share the same specific calling—youth ministry—with every Boyce student, they are all pursuing gospel service, McKay said.

“As ministry gets hard, because it will, I’ll have people to lean on.”

Sacred spaces
At Judson University in Elgin, Ill., Professor Stacie Burtelson’s students are learning how to approach their future vocation through a Christian lens. For the future architects, that means learning to create environments that communicate the value and dignity of human life. Judson was the first Christian university with an accredited architecture program, Burtelson said, because there was a need for Christians in the field to have a place to come together and think about the intersection of vocation and faith.

The next generation of architects is aware of what’s going on in the world, said the professor, who is in her 16th year at Judson. And they want to help. Her undergraduate students focus on humanitarian architecture, the part of the field dedicated to helping people displaced by war, natural disasters, and poverty.

Instruction is still focused on code and the proper structures, Burtelson said, but there is also a focus on how the Christian architect can enter the conversation about what is happening in the world.

Her students are working to answer this question: What does Scripture say about how Christians can use their vocational skills to engage social issues and public need? This spring, sophomore architecture students designed models of emergency shelters. The exercise is based on a national competition sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse.

Students in Judson’s graduate program focus more on community-based architecture, thinking through how the Christian architect should approach each project with the goal of helping people thrive in the spaces they create.

“Looking at it from the Christian worldview lens, the ultimate goal isn’t about self or even about being thanked for the work you’ve done. It’s not about notoriety and getting published in this journal or that journal, but it’s about answering the call and really glorifying God,” Burtelson said. The work of a Christian architect might look similar to that of a non-Christian, she added, but the Christian’s work is kingdom work.

That work can build bridges—sometimes literally—to the gospel, Burtelson said, “when you show Christ caring through what you do for those in need.”

– Meredith Flynn

By Meredith Flynn

Baptism

Romanian Baptist Church of Chicago and Pastor Adrian Neiconi (center) celebrated baptisms in April, joining a statewide, month-long focus on evangelism. More than 700 people were baptized in April, including 271 on Easter Sunday alone.

Pat Pajak gestures to a small piece of paper filled with neat script. Each line is the name of a different IBSA pastor or church that has called him to report baptisms in the month of April. On one car ride alone in the middle of the month, he talked to three leaders who were celebrating people who had come to faith in Christ and followed their decisions with baptism.

One GRAND Month, marked in churches around the state in April, was, in a word, grand. Churches reported more than 700 baptisms during the month, and Pajak is still getting reports. And churches are still baptizing. Several pastors have said the April emphasis on evangelism resulted in professions of faith and people wanting to be baptized.

“How in the world are we going to reach 8.5 million people?” Pajak knows the question is overwhelming, especially when estimates say the state has around a hundred times more people who don’t know Christ than Southern Baptists.

If One GRAND Month did anything, he says, it alerted church members to the fact that people all around them are living without a relationship with Christ. “It’s a daunting task if you allow Satan to convince you that it can’t be done. You just say, ‘Let’s give up. Let’s not try.’”

But hundreds of churches took up the challenge in April, baptizing 271 people on Easter Sunday and 443 the rest of the month, for a total of 714. Pajak notes that if IBSA churches baptized 700 people every month for a year, it would more than double the number of baptisms reported last year.

“It has alerted people to the necessity of sharing their faith, and that it’s not just the pastor. He’s one guy in a whole town. Think about what happens if 35 or 40 people decide, ‘You know what, I can do that.’

“It’s the only way we’re going to reach 8.5 million people in Illinois.”

Change of venue, change of hearts
On their first Sunday in a new building, Grace Church in Metropolis baptized two people in a donated cattle trough. A young man sitting in the congregation heard the invitation to respond to the gospel and did so. He was baptized two weeks later, along with four others.

“We had a big ole day,” said Pastor Chris Sielbeck, who started the church two years ago in the front room of his home.

Grace met at the Union Baptist Association office for more than a year, and had been praying about a building when Sielbeck began to focus on a place he passed every Sunday. On a day off from his job with the U.S. Postal Service, the pastor began to research the building he thought would be perfect for a church. A local CPA owned the building, and Sielbeck dropped in to ask whether the owner would consider allowing a church to meet there.

“We’re a small church, we don’t have any money, and I need it for free,” Sielbeck pitched. “And he said, ‘I can do that.’” The church baptized two people their first morning in the building, and one the next week. Plus five more on the first Sunday in May.

When Sielbeck went to a farm supply store to purchase a $300 trough for the baptism, he ran into a sales representative for the manufacturer in the parking lot. The rep followed him inside, where he gave Grace a generous gift. Standing at the register, Sielbeck remembered, the man said, “I’m going to buy that for that church.”

‘Jesus steps in’
At Marshall Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Paul Cooper baptized nine people in April. And five more on the first Sunday in May.

“It’s not normal for us,” said Cooper, whose church moved into a former Walmart building two years ago. “I think we had 15 baptisms for the year last year, and last year was higher than most years. Having 14 in basically a one-month period is pretty amazing.”

Marshall is the last stop on Interstate 70 before you cross into Indiana. There aren’t a lot of younger adults in the community, Marshall said, but several of the people baptized at his church the last few weeks are in their 20s. Michael Mattingly and Ranae Clements were baptized Easter Sunday. The engaged couple shared video of their baptisms on social media, celebrating their life transformation with family and friends.

Just weeks prior, Clements was a Christian who had moved away from the church and Mattingly doubted the existence of God. She attended a conference where her faith was reignited, and she also met a member of the Marshall church. Mattingly agreed to attend the church with his fiancé to be supportive. He arrived at church on the Sunday Cooper was set to preach “Jesus steps into your doubts.”

“My whole sermon was about how it’s okay to have doubts,” Cooper said. “God will speak into that, and Jesus will show up.”

When he gave the invitation at the end of the service, the pastor asked people who had prayed to receive Christ to raise their hands. Mattingly’s was one of the hands raised. A few weeks later, on Easter, he and Clements were baptized.

“There’s a sense of anticipation in the church,” Cooper said. “God’s doing things, and God’s reaching people, and people just want to share that. A lot of our new people have gotten really excited, and then they share it, and it keeps kind of multiplying right now.”
After he baptized Mattingly, Cooper asked if he wanted to say anything. The young man responded simply.

“Jesus is Lord.”