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Ronnie Floyd, president-elect of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, is the current president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. This year’s National Day of Prayer is Thursday, May 2.

Many Christians are so disappointed and fed up with matters about America that they struggle even to pray for our nation. Is this right? Is this justified?

Absolutely not!

And many Christians struggle to truly love one another, while many are uncertain about our future as a nation and even the future of our churches.

On the National Day of Prayer this Thursday, May 2, let’s be sure to join together in fervent prayer because:

#1: Christians need to pray for America

Where America is today is the reason we need to pray. If all was perfect and unity abounded across our nation, we may enjoy praying for America more regularly, but whether we enjoy it or not, it is needed.

Praying for America should be our first choice, not our last choice.

God is our hope — our last, great and only hope. Therefore, we need to pray like we believe this with all we are.

The alarm clock is going off in our nation and this is not the time to push the snooze button. America needs to experience the next great move of God.

That is why we pray. That is why we will prioritize praying for America on our upcoming National Day of Prayer. Will you join us?

Prayer precedes every great movement of God biblically and historically. Therefore, we need to pray and ask God for a mighty, great spiritual awakening across America. That is why the National Day of Prayer is a nationwide movement of prayer for America.

#2: Christians need to love one another

Christians need to follow Jesus’ teaching of loving one another, in obedience to Christ’s command: “Love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This what we are calling our nation to do on Thursday, May 2.

We need a Love One Another movement that begins in the church of Jesus Christ. Christians should never take pride in being filled with skepticism or criticism of other people. We should love all people just like Jesus did and does: willfully, sacrificially and unconditionally.

Love One Another needs to become a movement that also infiltrates every part of American life when the church is experiencing this movement within their own fellowship.

Followers of Christ need each other more than ever before. While certain secondary doctrinal differences will exist, we need to unite around our belief that:

— The Bible is God’s infallible Word; it is truth without any mixture of error.

— Jesus is the Son of God and the hope of the world; therefore, salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone.

— We must focus our lives, churches and futures on taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in America and across the world.

In our confessional statement, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, we as Southern Baptists believe, “Christian unity in the New Testament sense is spiritual harmony and voluntary cooperation for common ends by various groups of Christ’s people. Cooperation is desirable between the various Christian denominations, when the end to be attained is itself justified, and when such cooperation involves no violation of conscience or compromise of loyalty to Christ and His Word as revealed in the New Testament” (Article 14).

We need to stop fighting over secondary issues and rise up together to become the spiritual light in this darkening America and world. The church needs to model loving one another or we forfeit our right to speak into the future of our nation. It is time to come together in unity.

#3: Prepare for the future

What will the church become in the future of America? Will we lose our freedom or have it affirmed?

We need to prepare for the future realistically, but also with great hope. Regardless of the present cultural tide that is rising in direct opposition to the ways of God, we are a Gospel people committed to Christ alone.

Our future is not in the hands of the United States government; our future is in the hands of our sovereign God. Yes, our times are in His hands!

We need to prepare future generations spiritually and vocationally for what God wants them to be and how He wants them to live for Him.

That is why I believe our greatest hope lies only in Jesus Christ, His Gospel and the advancement of this Good News message reaching every corner of America and across this world.

While we call out to God for His church to be revived by the Spirit and to love one another, resulting in coming together in unity, we need to simultaneously pray extraordinarily for the next great spiritual awakening in America, which is our greatest hope.

– Ronnie Floyd, reposted from Baptist Press

Briefing

‘Gospel above all’ as theme for SBC Birmingham
Keeping the “Gospel Above All” is Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear’s main goal going into SBC’s annual meeting. Greear noted there will be other issues demanding attention – among them, confronting sexual abuse. Greear also will be promoting the “Who’s Your One?” evangelism campaign in partnership with the North American Mission Board. Other meeting highlights will include racial reconciliation panel discussions and “The Value of Women in God’s Mission.” The annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama is set for June 11-12.

One GRAND April: churches report baptisms
IBSA churches baptized nearly 500 people during the first three weeks of April, according to reports from congregations around the state. The number is expected to increase as churches share their stories from One GRAND Month, a month-long, statewide emphasis on evangelism and baptisms. Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, encouraged churches to share their baptism reports and add to the statewide celebration.

Churches eager to evangelize, but distractions abound
A 2019 LifeWay Research survey found that despite Protestant churchgoers’ excitement and eagerness about the idea of evangelism, few actually engage in the practice on a regular basis. More than half of churchgoers (55 percent) say they have not shared with someone how to become a Christian in the past six months. A majority (56 percent), however, say they pray for opportunities to tell others about Jesus. In the study, Hispanics (36 percent) and African Americans (29 percent) were more likely to offer those prayers compared to whites (20 percent) or other ethnicities (17 percent).

Christian adoption agency to accommodate LGBT community as part of settlement
The largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the United States, Bethany Christian Services, will begin placing foster children with same-sex couples for the first time after a legal battle in its home state of Michigan. This comes after the agency was sued for refusing to work with same-sex couples. The agency insists that its mission and Christian beliefs have not changed but did announce it will start placing children with LGBT families as part of a settlement with the state, opting to change its longstanding policy rather than lose the opportunity to help find homes for the thousands of vulnerable children who live in the state.

NC governor vetoes ‘born alive’ abortion bill
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required doctors to try to preserve the life of any infant born alive during an attempted abortion‘G. Under the proposed law, health care practitioner would be required to preserve the life and health of a child born alive during an abortion attempt. The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act” bill was passed by the state April 22. Cooper vetoed the bill for reasons that laws “already protect newborn babies.”

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Illinois Baptist, Christianity Today, CNN

Why preach on money?

Lisa Misner —  April 29, 2019

By Nate Adams

A pastor friend of mine recently told his congregation that he has preached on money, either an individual message or an entire series, at least once a year throughout his 30 years of ministry. When asked if he could tell whether it made a difference in giving to the church or not, he had to admit he didn’t really know. After all, that’s not why he did it.

Why does this pastor, and why do many effective pastors, speak regularly on the subject of money? Because money, and the effect it can have on people, is one of the most prominent subjects in the Bible, and one of the most important topics a true disciple of Jesus must consider.

Jesus talked more about stewardship, or the management of resources that God entrusts to us, more than heaven, or hell, or faith, or prayer, or a lot of other things. Over half of Jesus’ parables are about stewardship, and one out of every six verses in the Gospels has to do with stewardship.

Understanding stewardship is one of the keys to understanding the Christian life. If we don’t understand that God owns everything, that we are uniquely created in God’s image to be stewards of his creation, and that how we manage the resources God entrusts to us personally is a test of our faith in him, we will allow those very resources to tempt us into selfishness and even self-destruction. Money and possessions can quickly become the focus and goal of our lives. In fact, as the Bible says, the love of money is the root of all evil.

Generosity is the antidote to materialism.

No wonder The Baptist Faith and Message (2000) speaks so clearly to the biblical doctrine of stewardship in its Article 13:

“God is the source of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; all that we have and are we owe to him. Christians have a spiritual debtorship to the whole world, a holy trusteeship in the gospel, and a binding stewardship in their possessions. They are therefore under obligation to serve him with their time, talents, and material possessions; and should recognize all these as entrusted to them to use for the glory of God and for helping others. According to the Scriptures, Christians should contribute of their means cheerfully, regularly, systematically, proportionately, and liberally for the advancement of the Redeemer’s cause on earth.”

When our boys were young, my wife, Beth, always gave them their weekly allowance on Sunday mornings, along with their church offering envelope. She made sure to give them dollar bills and some loose change, making it easier to calculate a tithe of 10%. As our own parents modeled for us, tithing is best taught at an early age.

One Sunday morning we noticed our youngest son, Ethan, placing all five dollars of his allowance in his offering envelope. “Son, you don’t need to give your entire allowance to the offering,” his mom assured him.

Ethan smiled and said, “I know. But you and Dad always give me everything I need. So this week I thought I’d just give it all.”

Generosity is the antidote to materialism. I think that’s why my pastor friend, and many effective pastors, choose to preach about money regularly. Some people will misunderstand and feel those pastors are simply seeking more money for the church. But avoiding sermons on money for fear of that perception would be a disservice to the congregation. Disciples that are growing to be more and more like Jesus are learning to loosen their grip on money, and thereby money’s grip on them. They are finding in generosity the true freedom from materialism that God desires for his people.

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

Divine disobedience

Lisa Misner —  March 21, 2019

By Adron Robinson

Read: Acts 4:13-22

What do you do when obeying the Word of God means disobeying human governments and authorities? That is the question Peter and John faced. When commanded by the Sanhedrin, the religious and cultural leaders of their day, to disobey the Word of God, they responded with divine disobedience. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20 ESV).

Like Peter and John, the church is called to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, to stand up and speak truth to a culture that seeks to quiet the voice of God and impede the Kingdom of God. We must follow in the countercultural footsteps of Jesus and transform our culture for the glory of God. When the world commands us to keep quiet, we are to stand on the Word of God and be a witness to a watching world.

This divine disobedience is not a 21st- century idea or a first-century idea. It is part of the character and calling of the children of God. When the Hebrew midwives defied Pharaoh’s order to abort the Hebrew babies, that was divine disobedience. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and were tossed into the fiery furnace, that was divine disobedience.

There are recent examples. When Harriet Tubman launched the Underground Railroad to free slaves, that was divine disobedience. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, that was divine disobedience.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Throughout history, the people of God have practiced divine disobedience, because we are called to obey the laws of God, even if it means disobeying the laws of man.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, you have called the church to be your witness to the world. Give us holy boldness to stand on your Word, when the world tries to pressure us into disobedience. Help us Father to fight against abortion, racism, injustice, and every evil of this culture by living out the gospel to a dying world that needs the good news of Jesus Christ.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

Our neverending task

Lisa Misner —  March 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

In addition to a great faculty of Illinois pastors and church leaders, last month’s 2019 Illinois Leadership Summit welcomed Mark Clifton as its primary speaker. Mark has been a pastor, a church planter and replanter, and a director of missions for decades. He now serves churches through the North American Mission Board in the area of church replanting.

The theme of our conference was “Reimagine.” I was hoping that leaders in general, not just church replanters and revitalizers, would benefit from Mark’s teaching. I was not disappointed.

As Mark began describing churches that should consider replanting, he clarified that he was talking about churches that, presuming they remain on their current trajectories, would probably need to close their doors in the next three to five years. And yet as he described the characteristics and needs of those declining or dying churches, I saw many, many pastors and leaders in the room nodding in empathy and agreement. Their churches may not have been five years from closing, but it was clear they recognized some of the same danger signs in their own settings. In a sense, all pastors must be revitalizers or replanters.

Churches that die, Mark asserted, tend to value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached. They cease, perhaps gradually, to be part of the fabric of the community. In fact, what was once a community church often becomes a commuter church.

On today’s ministry landscape, all pastors must be ‘vitalizers.’

As the church declines, some members tend to resent the community for not responding the way they once did. They may work harder and harder on church programs or activities, but these tend to be for insiders, and have little impact on the unchurched, or little relevance to the community.

Dying churches, Mark observed, also seem to have an inability to pass meaningful leadership on to the next generation, and they can often confuse caring for the church building with caring for the church and community. Dying churches value the process of decision-making more than the outcomes of those decisions. And a few strong personalities tend to drive those decisions, while others remain silent or simply drift away.

Of course, it’s much easier to recognize those kinds of traits in churches other than your own. That’s why an outside perspective or consultant is often helpful. And as this experienced leader from outside Illinois described the churches with which he had worked over the years, it was as if he was holding up a mirror in which we could also see ourselves.

One thing I really appreciate about Mark’s background and experience is that he had invested 10 years in a Midwest, urban church that had declined to 18 people when he arrived and grew back to about 120 by the time he left. He spoke personally and lovingly, not of “small” churches, but of “normative” size churches, reminding us that 63% of SBC churches in America have less than 100 in worship, and 83% have less than 200. If we are going to penetrate the lostness of our nation, he reminded us, it will not just be through large churches, but through thousands of normative-size churches, both revitalized and newly planted.

My greatest personal takeaway from the conference was simply this. Especially in the normative-size churches of Illinois, the primary focus of a pastor or church leader must be to bring vitality to a church by leading it proactively out into its community. Replanting is only necessary when revitalization doesn’t happen in time. And revitalization is only necessary if we allow the church’s intended vitality to fade.

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

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

The generation that changed everything is changing its mind. Growing numbers of Boomers are interested in church again.

By Meredith Flynn

boomerang

The Boomers are coming! The Boomers are coming! Thom Rainer exclaimed as he reported new research showing that one-in-five Baby Boomers are more interested in spiritual things than they were earlier in their lives. One-in-five Baby Boomers represents about 19 million people, the president of LifeWay Christian Resources noted—presenting the church with a huge opportunity for growth and new ministry.

But the trend also means an increase in needs—for evangelism, discipleship, and intentional relationship-building. Many Boomers aren’t coming back to church as fully-formed Christians ready to participate in outreach ministries. They have questions. They can be skeptical.

Chaplain Matt Crain led a multi-generational church in southern Illinois before becoming a chaplain at Shawnee Christian Village in Herrin. At his church, Crain said, it was the Boomers who acknowledged, “I’ve been out of church for 20 years. And I’ve got a friend that said I really ought to try this.

“But I want you to know, pastor, I may not be back.”

Boomers may not be coming back to church in big waves yet, Crain said, but they have renewed interest and “they want to see if anything’s changed.”

The children of the 60s who fought hard for social change are also held responsible for the  ballooning the national debt. They’re “tanned and healthy and living way past average life expectancy,” Philadelphia Magazine reported. They also face financial and health crises avoided by the generation before them, Crain said.

“There is just under the surface an undertow current of ‘Wow, I see my own mortality now, and my health is beginning to fade,’” Crain said. “Am I going to have any legacy? Will it matter that I was here?”

Helping Boomers answer those questions is the church’s challenge—and an historic opportunity.

Prodigal generation
Boomers fill an interesting middle ground in American culture. Most were raised with a foundation of values straight out of Mayberry. But the tumult of their formative years took them far away from the comfort of Aunt Bea’s kitchen. In ways physical and spiritual, they moved away from what they knew as children, and raised their own families (which many started later in life than their predecessors) with new values.

But as they reach the later stages of their lives (the first Boomers turned 65 in 2011), they’re thinking about what really matters. And in some cases, they’re returning to a form of the faith they were raised with—although it may be more about personal spirituality than organized religion.

“We have seen some Boomers thinking more about eternity and about what really matters most in life,” said Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. Boomers have the same spiritual needs as other generations, he said—a personal relationship with God through Christ, forgiveness of their sin, and meaning and purpose for their lives.

“They want to know what matters most deeply and how they can find that,” Munton said.
The research that showed Baby Boomers might be returning to their spiritual roots highlighted three reasons for the shift: more time on their hands, a realization of the brevity of life, and an awareness of life’s fragile nature. There are currently more than 70 million Baby Boomers, but data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the group will shrink to 16.6 million by 2050.

It’s in this environment that the church can help meet practical needs of Boomers, as well as spiritual ones, Crain said. The simple things a church does to help a Boomer improve his or her quality of life can build relationships that can lead to gospel conversations. Encourage physical health, diet, and exercise, Crain suggested, or offer to take someone to a doctor’s appointment.

And when Boomers do come to your church, he added, they may be surprisingly nostalgic. “They are OK with singing some hymns,” Crain said. “They might put it to a new beat and add a couple of instruments…remember, they are children of the 60s.” In other words, don’t forsake “The Old Rugged Cross,” but jazz it up.

Ready to invest
At 62, Pastor Bob Dickerson is on the younger end of the Baby Boomer spectrum. But he identifies with a generation closer to the end of their lives than the beginning, and wanting to use their time well.

“I want to finish well,” said Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marion. “I’m not going to accept just ‘doing stuff,’ because I don’t have enough time left to just do stuff.” Dickerson, and many fellow Boomers, want to see results from the things they do. They want what they undertake to matter.

At FBC Marion, retirees minister at the local homeless shelter. They’re involved in Disaster Relief. The church’s JOY choir of 70-80 older adults put on their first Christmas concert this year for an audience of more than 400. (JOY stands for “Just Older Youth.”)

Crain cited North American Mission Board church planting specialists who have noted the similarities between Boomers and their children. “Baby Boomers and Millennials are alike in the sense that they’re concerned with acts of love, kindness, justice, and mercy,” he said. “They want to know: What are you doing for our community? What are you doing for someone who can’t repay you?”

Even before they’re believers in Christ, Crain said, “they will jump into an opportunity to bless someone.” And once they’re in the church, their need for meaningful action is a warning for church leaders. “I can’t just make them ushers,” Crain said. “That’s not going to scratch that itch. They want to know, ‘When are we going to help somebody?’ That’s really important to them.”

My generation, and yours
The sheer number of Baby Boomers makes them a force to be reckoned with, especially for churches tasked with the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (and ages within them). But they’re not the only generation in need of Jesus. Reaching them may provide churches with new potential for multi-generational worship and discipleship.

“Most of your Baby Boomers long for cross-generational experience,” Crain said. “They may not have learned how to do it, but they want to do it.” He encouraged churches to look for ways to connect people of different generations that are less about programming and more about building friendships.

Boomers are worried about their children and grandchildren, Dickerson noted. FBC Marion encourages opportunities for older adults to interact with youth, and to serve as surrogate grandparents to kids in need of them.

Amy Hanson is the author of “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over 50.” She noted the similarities between Boomers and Millennials (generally, adults born 1981-1996) in an 2017 interview with the National Association of Evangelicals.

“They both care about social justice issues and making a difference with their lives,” Hanson said. “Both have an entrepreneurial spirit and are not afraid to try new things. Both groups are technologically savvy, and both are interested in strong friendships that cross generational lines.

“Focus on these things. Don’t be afraid to put people together and see what happens.”
The potential of a Baby Boomer boom in churches is a reminder of the call to reach all people with the gospel, regardless of age. Especially when presented with so great an opportunity, Thom Rainer urged leaders.

“Please, church leaders, don’t take this information lightly,” he wrote. “I can’t recall a generation in my lifetime potentially returning to church in such numbers.” The opportunities are incredible, Rainer said, “maybe they are groovy.”