Archives For church

O’Rourke: Opposing same-sex marriage should mean losing tax-exempt status
“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for any institution or organization in America that denies the full human rights and full civil rights of every single one of us,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said at a forum hosted by CNN and gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. O’Rourke’s controversial position has been rejected by some of his fellow candidates, but Religion News Service reports the candidates’ liberal theology on orientation and gender is now the norm for most of the country.

Conflict in Syria endangers Christianity in the Middle East
The United States’ decision to withdraw troops from a Kurdish-controlled region of Syria “could lead to the extinction of Christianity from the region,” said one evangelical leader. President Donald Trump announced last week he would hand over control to the Turkish government, a move many say will allow ISIS to continue their assault on religious minorities, including Christians.

Brunson’s book details discouragement, suicidal thoughts in prison
Missionary Andrew Brunson contemplated taking his own life while imprisoned in Turkey, he writes in a new book released Oct. 14. In “God’s Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance,” Brunson writes at one point, all he heard from God was silence. He was released last October after more than two years in prison. Since his release, he and his wife, Norine, have shared their story at various events, including at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

Man baptized after Arkansas church offers forgiveness
Brenton Winn destroyed $100,000 of property at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., in February 2019. Six months later, Winn was baptized after accepting Christ through a recovery program the church helped him enter. “As I’m starting to understand how God works, I’ve realized I didn’t pick the church that night. God picked me,” he said. “If it had been any other church, I think I’d be sitting in prison right now.”

Are our pastors our friends?
One-fifth of Christians say they regularly meet with or talk to the lead pastor of their church outside of weekly church services and events, according to Barna Research. Still, “friend” leads the list of words that best describe a Christian’s relationship with his or her pastor, followed by mentor, counselor, and teacher.

Sources: Religion News Service, Christianity Today, ERLC.com, Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna Research

Pastor’s death by suicide renews calls for help for hurting leaders
California pastor Jarrid Wilson died by suicide Sept. 9 after preaching that day at the funeral of a woman who had taken her own life. Wilson was an advocate for mental health and had encouraged the Church to care for people who are struggling. The news of his death started numerous conversations about the depression and isolation often connected to church leadership.

“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” wrote Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship where Wilson served as associate pastor. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”

Related: Depression often goes unshared in isolating vocation

Liberty students protest after Falwell aides speak out
A recent Politico story on Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. resulted in a protest attended by around 200 students Sept. 13. Around 60 of those were there to demand an investigation of the president, Religion News Service reported. Falwell’s leadership and management of the Virginia university founded by his father were called into question by the Politico article, which relied on information from several current and former staffers.

Duke rejects ministry over policy on sexuality
Young Life was denied official status as a student organization on campus at Duke University after the student senate unanimously rejected the ministry for its policy on LGBTQ volunteers and staff. “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ,” Young Life’s policy states. “We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

California lawmakers call on pastors to change treatment of LGBTQ people
The California Legislature passed a non-binding resolution Sept. 4 blaming religious groups and others for “disproportionately high rates of suicide, attempted suicide, depression, rejection, and isolation amongst LGBTQ and questioning individuals.” The resolution calls religious leaders to “counsel on LGBTQ matters from a place of love, compassion, and knowledge of the psychological and other harms of conversion therapy.”

Wednesday night is still a church night for most
An overwhelming majority of Protestant pastors say their churches host some type of activity on Wednesday evening, with adult small group Bible study and gatherings for youth and kids atop the list. “Church leaders frequently discuss the difficulty of getting people to participate in church activities multiple days each week,” said Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research. “Yet the vast majority of churches are still open and active on Wednesday nights.”

Sources: Christianity Today, USA Today, Illinois Baptist, Religion News Service, Christian Post, LifeWay Research

Relief agencies respond to urgent needs after storm
Hundreds of people are still missing in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which did massive damage in the island nation as it crawled toward the U.S. coast. At least 44 people died in the storm, local officials have said. Samaritan’s Purse is among the ministry organizations on the scene, assisting with medical care, emergency shelters, and water filtration, The Christian Post reports.

Baptist Global Response also is coordinating aid in the Bahamas, supplying food, blankets, and hygiene kits to families in need.

Newspaper reports on Baptist church autonomy
The Houston Chronicle continues its coverage of Southern Baptist response to sexual abuse in the denomination with a new story on the doctrine of church autonomy. A new lawsuit filed in Virginia claims local, state, and national Southern Baptist leaders were negligent after eight boys were abused by a youth minister. The suit, the Chronicle reports, is rare in that it names the SBC as a defendant. And some leaders new policies adopted by the SBC could make the denomination vulnerable to future lawsuits.

Southern Baptists celebrate ‘Baptism Sunday’
Churches across the Southern Baptist Convention held baptism services Sept. 8 as part of a denomination-wide focus on the ordinance. “I was encouraged to see so many churches issue an intentional call to embrace the Lordship of Christ and express that through baptism!” SBC President J.D. Greear told Baptist Press. “May God give these churches grace to ensure these are not just converts but disciples.”

Read stories from Baptism Sunday here.

College’s social media policy sparks free speech debate
Lousiana College’s social media policy requires certain students to give administrators access to their personal accounts and requires all students to report inappropriate information posted by classmates, Christianity Today reports. A former professor says the policy “seems designed to silence criticism from students, faculty, and staff,” but the Southern Baptist school says it’s meant to protect the institution and its students.

Church exodus continues, but Barna finds ‘resilient disciples’
Barna says 64% of people 18-29 years old who grew up in church have withdrawn as an adult after having been active as a child or teen. About one-in-ten young Christians, though, run counter to the trends, Barna reports. Among several markers, these “resilient disciples” are involved in a faith community beyond worship attendance and strongly affirm the Bible is inspired by God and contains truth about the world.

Sources: Christian Post, Baptist Global Response, Houston Chronicle, Baptist Press, Christianity Today, Barna Research

Photo: Baptist Global Response

Pritzker signs curriculum bill set to take effect in July 2020
Public school students in Illinois will study the roles and contributions of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s approval of a bill passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May. Four other states have enacted similar legislation: California, New Jersey, Colorado, and New York.

Baylor students request review of school’s LGBT policies
Students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, have asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Big 12 Conference to investigate the Baptist school’s treatment of LGBT students and compliance with Title XI civil rights law. The student group includes members of gay club Gamma Alpha Upsilon, which has sought recognition as an official on-campus student group since 2011, The Christian Post reported.

Baylor, the country’s largest Baptist university, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Seminary denies liability in sex abuse lawsuit
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit claiming the school has a responsibility to protect students from sexual assault, and to train them to avoid such a risk. The suit was filed by “Jane Roe,” a former student who claims she was raped on campus at gunpoint by a student the seminary employed.

Hillsong songwriter renounces faith
“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me,” songwriter Marty Sampson wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post. The Australian writer of dozens of worship songs continued, “Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.” Sampson’s announcement followed a similar statement by Joshua Harris, the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” who announced last month he’s no longer a Christian.

Christians differ on the church’s role in racial reconciliation
Four hundred years after slavery began in the U.S., age and ethnicity factor into how practicing Christians think the church should respond to the African American community now. One-third of white Christians say there’s nothing the church should do, compared to 15% of black Christians. And 35% of Millennials say the church should try to repair the damage done by slavery, compared to 17% of Elders.

Sources: The Hill, Freeport News Network, The Christian Post, Baptist Press, Barna

Christian leaders decry ‘system of hatred’ after weekend shootings
After a gunman killed 22 people in a Texas border town Aug. 3, evangelical pastors and ministry leaders spoke from their pulpits and on social media against the racism and white supremacy that motivated him, according to an online manifesto.

“When these manifestos outline the motive as #WhiteSupremacy, the Church CAN’T be silent in calling this out!” tweeted D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, Ca. “This doesn’t mean everyone of European descent is a White Supremacist. But it does identify the system of hatred that is rooted in evil.”

In the early hours of Aug. 4, another shooting took nine lives in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

>Related: While President Donald Trump said Monday the country “must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” USA Today reported the President’s remarks signal a focus on mental health and cultural issues, rather than gun control.

How to pray for shooting victims
Shooting survivor Taylor Schumann shares 11 specific suggestions for praying for people in the aftermath of a shooting. “I know firsthand what living through a shooting does to a mind and what a bullet does to a body,” she writes at Christianity Today online, “and I believe that my recovery and healing is a direct result of prayers that were prayed for me.”

>Related: “Welcome Jesus into the midst of this turbulent time,” author Max Lucado urged after the shootings. “Don’t let the storm turn you inward. Let it turn you upward.”

Movie trailer leads to board resignations
Founders Ministries, a Calvinist group with roots in the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the resignations of three board members following the release of a controversial promo video for an upcoming documentary about liberal drift within the denomination. The trailer for “By What Standard” features interviews with prominent Southern Baptist leaders, some who have since distanced themselves from the project.

 -Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

By Michael Kramer

Michael-Kramer

Michael Kramer

Three years ago, my job title was changed from adult education pastor to discipleship pastor. I was happy. Discipleship is a trendy term, but no one quite knows how to define discipleship. I realized this a couple months ago at an education conference put on by LifeWay. The presenter made the off-hand comment that discipleship seems to be the fad in evangelicalism. He had my attention.

The presenter explained that there have been several church growth models over the last 50 years, and he thinks discipleship is the current trend. Yet, he lamented, everyone has a different take on discipleship. He then produced a two-page handout offering his own definition. This made me chuckle. Why is discipleship such a tricky term?

I once watched a ministry leader draw a pie chart depicting Sunday school. He then put discipleship as one-sixth of the pie alongside community, shepherding, evangelism, teaching, and service. Discipleship had been relegated to a narrow slice. If I were discipleship, I think I would be offended.

We wrestle with discipleship because it is a relatively new term that is, at best, tenable and, at worst, divisive. First coined over 150 years ago by a well-meaning church educator, the term has come to distinguish the “two wings of the plane” which give flight to evangelicalism. These two wings are evangelism and discipleship. Sadly, this has created a division within disciple making, and we have yet to recover from the schism.

It’s not about ‘me’
Fast forward a century or so, and attempts at wordsmithing are causing confusion. You may wonder if discipleship is a biblical term. Nope, it is not. Jesus made disciples and called us to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, but “discipleship” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. That’s just a little problematic when we seek to define discipleship in a consistent or biblical fashion.

Most church members will say they are involved in discipleship. After all, they participate in youth group, Bible study, women’s ministry, life group, or Sunday school. But this definition of discipleship is about personal growth or finding a niche within community. Reduced even simpler, discipleship is all about the participant. Discipleship at this level is designed to help “me” follow Jesus.

If a pastor refers to discipleship, most likely he has the spiritual maturity of church members in mind, relying generally on programs to foster maturity. Most pastors would say that the sermon, serving in the church, and going on mission trips are vital parts of the process. In some church cultures, discipleship may focus on spiritual disciplines coupled with some degree of intentional accountability. Again, the focus is on “me.”

My job title says it’s what I do, but do I?

At the leadership level, discipleship and disciple making are often used interchangeably, but the terms have dramatically different focuses or applications. While discipleship focuses on the participant, disciple making focuses on reproducing others. As leaders, we need to decide if we are calling people to invest in themselves or replicate others.

Words matter, especially when used by leaders.

So, is discipleship an evil term? No, not really, but it is unfortunate, because the term tends to not move beyond “me” and my walk with Jesus.

Discipleship places emphasis on the Great Commandment, me loving God and others, but misses the intentionality of the Great Commission, me making disciples. Ultimately discipleship is an unfortunate term because it fails to call people clearly to reproduce themselves in the lives of others.

While I doubt my title will change any time soon, as a leader who wants to communicate clearly, I have decided to call people to disciple making, which I believe carries a lot more weight. Disciple making begs the question, “Who or what am I reproducing?” I, for one, want to reproduce disciple makers.

While discipleship will continue to be a moving target, the term disciple making is biblical, offers a clearer vision, and is measured by reproducibility. Maybe we would save ourselves a lot of trouble if we focused less on the wings of the plane and more on the engine that makes the plane soar, disciple making.

Michael Kramer is discipleship pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. He recently completed a Ph.D. in leadership at Southern Seminary.

‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ writer announces ‘massive shift’ away from faith
A week after announcing his separation from his wife of 20 years, author Joshua Harris posted online that he’s no longer a Christian. “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian,” Harris wrote on Instagram July 26. “Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”

Harris wrote the pro-courtship book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in 1997, chronicling his relationship with his future wife.

Village Church sued for neglect in sexual assault case
A Southern Baptist church in Texas is facing a $1 million lawsuit that claims it hasn’t done enough to resolve sexual assault that occurred at a church camp in 2012. The suit against The Village Church says the church acted with “conscious indifference or reckless disregard” for a woman referred to as Jane Doe.

Former Village staff member Matthew Tonne was arrested in January on charges of indecency with a child and is awaiting trial, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Willow Creek struggles to move forward after Hybels
Christianity Today reports Willow Creek Community Church held a meeting in July to try to find closure more than a year after the resignation of founding pastor Bill Hybels, who stepped down in April 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The Chicago megachurch’s elder board also resigned, and the church has since seen declines in giving and attendance, according to CT.

Baptists travel to U.S. border on ‘fact-finding mission’
Marshall Ausberry and Todd Unzicker met with immigrants in Mexico and Baptist leaders on both sides of the border to find out how the SBC can minister there amid the growing crisis. Ausberry, the SBC’s first vice president, and Unzicker, an associate pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, will report their findings to SBC President J.D. Greear as he formulates ideas for Baptist ministry at the border.

Quiz sheds light on Americans’ religious knowledge
87% of Americans know an atheist is someone who doesn’t believe in God, but only 24% know Rosh Hashana is the Jewish New Year. And just under half think “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of the Ten Commandments. Those are among the findings of Pew’s quiz of American adults on a variety of religious topics.

Sources: The Christian Post, The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Pew Research Center