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Sad truth: Pastors are sinners tooCOMMENTARY | John Gibson was fun and funny. He was smart and caring. He was a good teacher and a fine preacher. He was also troubled. He wrestled with depression for many years, and recently we learned he struggled with pornography.

That came to light because John confessed it in his suicide note.

I said “no way” when LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer predicted 400 pastors might resign on the Sunday after 32 million names were revealed in the hacking of adulterous hook-up site Ashley Madison. Again I said “no way” when others predicted a wave of suicides among those outed in August.

In the end, Patheos blog reports, three Christian leaders resigned and one died.

I knew the man who died.

John Gibson was a few years ahead of me at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. If memory serves, he was working on a doctorate and served as grader for my evangelism professor. He left to pastor a church, and some years later returned to New Orleans to serve on staff and eventually to teach. Some people knew of his struggle with depression. There aren’t many secrets on a seminary campus.

But apparently his wrestling with sexual addiction was not widely known. Gibson’s wife, Christi, said her husband knew he would lose his job when his name appeared on the hacked list, and he couldn’t face the humiliation.

Christi found his body in their seminary campus home on August 24. Then she had to tell their two children.

“There is brokenness in every single one of us. We all have things that we struggle with,” she told CNN last week. “It wasn’t so bad that we wouldn’t have forgiven it, and so many people have said that to us, but for John, it carried…such shame.”

Gibson’s family shared some of his story in a service at the seminary chapel. “My dad was a great man,” son Trey, 24, said. “He was a great man with struggles. My dad reached a point of such hopelessness and despair that he took his own life.”

“I still believe it could have been fixed,” Gibson’s wife said to cable news viewers. “It could have been healed.”

As a newsman, not much surprises me anymore. As a pastor, not much disappoints me, except the lack of grace when people need it most. To the sad truth that pastors are sinners, we offer this good news: Jesus died to save sinners.

Including pastors.

DER

Keeping Sheep
By Nick Rynerson

Springfield | The question is a familiar one. Most pastors and church leaders have asked it at some point: Why are people leaving the church? Every denomination has felt the effects of decline, even Southern Baptists who had maintained growth overall until recently.

To find out why people are really leaving the church, Rodney Harrison set out to interview former Southern Baptist church members and get the real story. He rode his motorcycle all over the country and visited more than 500 former church members in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Washington, and California.

The Dean of Online Education and Director of Doctoral Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Harrison explained his findings at the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield.

Harrison observed that not all churches are losing members, but churches in decline have some characteristics in common. Here’s his summary of what the 500 former members told him.

1. People left churches where they didn’t feel the presence of God.

What Harrison said he most often heard in his research was “I just didn’t feel the presence of God [in that church] anymore.” Former members often described their former churches as nice places, but lacking, as Harrison put it, “the manifest presence of God.” People left churches “where they don’t feel like God was showing up” more than for any other reason during his qualitative study.

“God’s manifest presence is conditional,” Harrison said. “Rampant sin hinders God’s manifest presence. Often times we invite people to a church that has ‘the flu’—it’s spiritually sick—and we wonder why people come and don’t stay.”

2. People left churches that didn’t value women.

The second most common reason cited for departures among the 500 people Harrison interviewed was disagreement over the roles of women in church life. Some reported feeling that women didn’t have the opportunity to exercise their gifts in fulfilling ways in the churches they attended.

According to him, this does not mean people left because they rejected the complementarian view of men and women. Instead, he said the former SBC church members felt women were under-valued and their contributions weren’t meaningful at the churches they had attended.

Harrison argued there is a biblical precedent for women serving in meaningful ways in the church, citing the examples of Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lydia. His research shows, however, that in our time, the roles of women in the church deserves further study before it becomes even more divisive.

3. People left churches that focused on debatable issues.

Specifically, in Harrison’s research, disagreement over alcohol use was an issue for some who left. Harrison heard stories of people who chose to leave after they began to serve in leadership, but were asked to sign a covenant forbidding alcohol use.

Harrison recalled a story of a man that was involved at a Southern Baptist church for a while and began serving in leadership roles as a layperson. When he was asked to sign a covenant, the man had to make the difficult decision to leave the church because he was employed in the wine industry.

Churches certainly have the option to ask members to abstain from certain things, even if the Bible does not expressly forbid them. But Harrison said many ex-church members they did not feel that this issue was properly handled in their former churches. Doubts raised in one theological debate raised questions over other issues and caused growing distrust of their leaders.

4. People left churches in conflict.

When strife breaks out in a church that has nothing to do with matters of orthodoxy or faithfulness, people get burned and leave, Harrison said. Many of the churches people left did not have plans in place to deal with church discipline and conflict.

Without a process in place, conflicts often escalated and became antagonistic. Harrison found that conflict came from both the pulpit and the pews. Anecdotally, his interviewees reported that antagonistic members were rarely dealt with in a healthy manner, and pastors often felt unequipped to deal with conflicts.

5. People left uncaring churches.

Ultimately, if a church doesn’t care for its people, people don’t end up caring much for it. Ex-members interviewed told stories of feeling neglected. One of Harrison’s anecdotes told of an elderly woman who spent six months in the hospital without a single visitor from her church.

“Are we ministering to our members?” asked Harrison. “If the answer is ‘no,’ be prepared for diminishing numbers.”

Fear and worry in St. Louis

Lisa Sergent —  December 18, 2014

COMMENTARY | Growing up in a small rural Missouri community just 90 miles north of St. Louis gave me the opportunity to experience some of the best the city and its surrounding communities had to offer. My family made frequent trips to the St. Louis Zoo, the Museums of Art and Natural History, Six Flags, Cardinals baseball games, the Fox Theatre, and, of course, the numerous malls and shops.

I looked forward to any and all trips into the city. St. Louis seemed so fast and exciting compared to my sleepy little farming community. I still love St. Louis and look forward to any visits I can make there. It’s because of my heart for the city and the connections I have there that the recent events in Ferguson have particularly saddened me.

I’m Facebook friends with former classmates who now live in the metro area. I’ve been following one of my classmate’s posts in particular since the evening of August 29, when a white police officer shot and killed a young black man. She and her family live in a town adjacent to Ferguson and have experienced first-hand the events that have captured the nation’s attention.

She has chronicled the fear and frustration felt by many in the community. She has also shared about being a parent of four young children and how the unrest has affected them. Some nights they could hear the sounds of the protestors from their home.

My classmate has struggled to explain to them what happened, why people are angry, why school has been cancelled, and many other related things. Along with her husband, their top priority has been keeping their children safe and also making them feel safe.

I’ve read with joy when she’s written about her faith in the Lord and knowing He would keep them safe. I’ve read with sadness when she has expressed fears for her family. When the announcement was made that the grand jury had come to a verdict, she wrote that a friend in another town had offered to let them stay in her home if they felt unsafe in their own. She jokingly posted that she hoped they didn’t have to have a “slumber party” that night.

When the school reopened following the grand jury announcement, she wrote about walking her children in and reassuring them of their safety. She also shared about barely making it out the school’s front door before collapsing into tears from stress and worry.

What my friend and her family are experiencing doesn’t have anything to do with whether you agree with the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. It’s about the sin that is in this world and our failure as a society to seek God.

May we turn to Him to ask for healing and understanding between all races in our nation, and for Him to be glorified through our words and actions.

COMMENTARY | Josh Laxton

Last spring, my wife and I bought a used minivan. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of minivans, nor am I a fan of buying a much-older car. (I didn’t learn auto repair in seminary.) However, I am a big fan of making my wife happy.

Not long after purchasing the van, I was driving with our three small children when, suddenly, after a few mildly intense sputtering episodes, the van died. There I was, with a broken down car, stranded in the middle of the road, with no shoulder to move the vehicle to safety. As I tried to decide what to do, my 4-year-old daughter had her own breakdown. Her piercing cries of, “Daddy, Daddy!” were accompanied by heavy sobbing and huge tears. Ellie broke down because of our van’s condition.

Josh_Laxton_July31For many of us, our churches are like my minivan. Depending on the source, 80-90% of churches are in a state of plateau or decline. They were running fine, but something happened along the way, and now the church is not functioning and operating the way Jesus intended—as a God-glorifying, gospel-centered, mission-oriented, disciple-making, church-planting vehicle. Sure, the flashers, radio, horn, and air still work (worship and programs are still going, committees are still meeting). But there is a breakdown in the primary reason for the church’s existence—it’s literally not moving, not going anywhere.

The question is not whether our churches need a breakout to the next level of growth or ministry. Rather, it’s how we as leaders can get them there. To do so, like Ellie, we need to have a breakdown over the condition of the church.

Nehemiah is an excellent example of a leader who identified the need for breakout, and in doing so, had a breakdown. Although he had never been to Jerusalem, he had great affection and concern for his homeland; therefore, when his brothers came to visit, he asked how his countrymen were faring. The news he received was bad; the people and the city were broken. The Bible says that upon hearing this, Nehemiah “wept and mourned” for days. In addition, he “continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

What led to Nehemiah’s breakdown? Two key truths stand out:

First, he knew the truth about God and what God had called His people to be and do (Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:4-6). When Nehemiah learned that the wall was in ruins and the people lived in great trouble and shame, he recognized that they were not where they were supposed to be. That has implications for our ministry today: Do we know with certainty the honest, transparent conditions of our church in relation to God’s intended reality, rather than our own presuppositions, preferences, or traditions?

Second, not only did Nehemiah know the truth about God’s intended reality for his people, he also knew the heart of God. In other words, he not only knew about God and His plan, but he also knew God. Thus, when he heard about the condition of the city and the people, he went immediately to the Father, weeping, morning, fasting, and praying.

He was broken over their condition because God was broken over their condition. As a result, the Bible tells us, Nehemiah “continued” going to the Father.

Nehemiah led in a way that reflected the heart of God and how He viewed the condition of the people. As leaders, are we leading in a way that reflects the heart of God towards the people in our churches?

Breakout in Jerusalem didn’t happen until Nehemiah broke down. The good news is that God still works in our brokenness to lead his people to breakout.

Josh Laxton is lead pastor of Western Oaks Baptist Church in Springfield. His second column on Nehemiah will appear in the August 18 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

Nate_AdamsCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

Just a few days ago, my wife, Beth, and I finally got around to doing something we had promised ourselves we would do for years. We updated our wills.

It’s only the second time in our married life that we have drawn up wills, and this time around it was quite different. For one thing, our young adult sons are now old enough to play significant, legal roles in matters such as our future healthcare decisions and finances. Frankly, it felt a little sobering this time around to assign those responsibilities to our children rather than our parents.

We also discovered that the people and causes to which we wish to entrust our earthly possessions at life’s end have, at least in some cases, evolved. Our confidence in the effectiveness of some ministries has increased, while in others it has decreased. Even within the ministries we have always planned to support with our estate, we now have more specific causes we want to empower.

But by far the biggest difference in updating our estate plan this time around was in the help we had doing it. This time we had a wonderful tool from the Baptist Foundation of Illinois called the “Life Stewardship Navigator.” And we had the expert help of our friend and BFI Executive Director Doug Morrow.

The Life Stewardship Navigator is simply a do-ityourself document that walks you through the different types of assets and decisions you need to consider as you form your estate plan. It helped us pull together our records and documents, and talk through key decisions we needed to make as a couple.

With that information in hand, we were ready to sit down with Doug and discuss the best ways to both
take care of our family and invest in Christian causes well beyond our lifetimes. Doug called it “taking
care of both the kids and the Kingdom.”

With Doug’s office here in Springfield where we live, having that conversation with him personally was easiest for us. But the Foundation also has qualified attorneys all over the state who make it relatively
easy for any Illinois Baptist to have that same helpful conversation.

Frankly, the hardest part of the entire process was not filling out the Life Stewardship Navigator, or
walking through the paperwork with Doug. The hardest part was simply sitting down as a couple and
making some of the biggest decisions of our lives about our life stewardship as disciples of Jesus
Christ.

Though we are lifelong tithers and seek to be generous with Kingdom causes beyond our tithe, we realized during this process that our estate plan would far exceed even our lifetimes of weekly giving
through our church. What we chose to do with the accumulated wealth of our lives, however large or
small that might be, would be our largest single opportunity ever to contribute financially to God’s
Kingdom on earth. So prayerfully, thoughtfully, we wrote out a plan that will care for our family, and that will support ministries that advance the Gospel and support Baptist churches and ministries, especially here in our Illinois mission field.

I realize now that the day I sat down with my spouse to outline our estate plan was, in effect, my own personal Memorial Day. It was the day I was able to intentionally choose the values that I want to
memorialize my life, and to stand the tests of time and eternity.

I know that my life is about far more than my material possessions. But I also know that where my
treasure is, there my heart is also. So I chose to communicate to God that the biggest giving opportunity of my life places His Kingdom as the top priority. We can all do that. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Mark_Coppenger_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Mark Coppenger

You know the scene: A troubled family member arrives at home only to find various loved ones seated in the living room. They ask him or her to sit down and hear what they have to say. One by one, they read prepared statements of love and admonition. The subject, eyes brimming with tears or flashing with indignation, endures as much as possible before caving in, pushing back or storming out.

The poor soul has bottles hidden around the house and in the flowerbed, and she can find another pint as soon as her prime stashes are blown.

Or there’s the trash addict who can’t throw anything away, even dead animals. (I was called in on a cleanup with some church members in my seminary days; we found a dead, dried out cat under matted stained clothes under stacks of newspapers in one of the closets.)

An intervention is very uncomfortable but worth it, whether the addiction is drugs or drink, clutter or cussedness. They’re ruining themselves, as those around them are grieving if not outright harmed. And they don’t much appreciate your suggestion that something is out of whack.

I know that people can come to Christ in a lot of tender ways. An immigrant wife is touched by her Christian neighbor’s shopping and language tips. A lost welder is disarmed by the warmth of a church softball team he’s been asked to join. A “singing Christmas tree” rendition of Joy to the World brings tears to the eyes of a cranky, unchurched parent who shows up to watch his high school senior perform.

But the Lord has also used Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and the chaste slap of a godly college girl knocking some sense into a unbelieving suitor, whose advances were unseemly, a jolt which caused him to reassess his secular worldview. Or how about Mordecai Ham’s scathing anti-alcohol parades, which salvifically grieved some drunks standing outside bars on the roadside?

God may well use a sequence of happy and scary events and items to lead an individual to Himself. (I think I once heard the late evangelism professor Roy Fish say the average was seven Gospel touches before conversion.)

So Bob may have been providentially prepped for salvation by, in order, a Vacation Bible School lesson he heard at age 8; a highway sign reading, “Prepare to Meet God”; a Jack Chick tract named Holy Joe; the stellar performance of a homeschooled spelling bee champ who thanked Jesus for helping her; five minutes of a Joel Osteen sermon; and a friend who repeated something he heard in an Alistair Begg broadcast.

Truth is, we risk looking silly when we declare, well beyond our competency and theological warrant, that all evangelistic approaches other than our own are tacky, pompous, dated, specious, trendy, dopey, sleepy, grumpy, sneezy and bashful.

That being said, there is an irreducible kernel of awkwardness and agony in conversion — repentance. I compare it to throwing up. I hate it. I fight it. (On a bucking airplane I close my eyes, turn the air full blast on my face, breathe deeply and sit very still.) I suppress it with every fiber of my being. But when it comes, oh, the relief — the blessed cooling of a sweaty brow, the relaxation of suppressed muscles.

Yes, it’s that gross, as is repentance, as we hurl up and out the poison and rot of self and sin and damnable, willful stupidity — the sort of thing you find in James 4:8-10: “Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

Sometimes we hear and say that a witnessing Christian is “just one beggar telling another one where to find bread.” I’d suggest it’s more like a formerly-suicidal fellow who was talked off the ledge trying to talk a currently-suicidal fellow off the ledge. Or it is like a repentant Taliban terrorist in Gitmo going on TV to dissuade current Taliban terrorists to cut it out.

Of course, most don’t think that a law-abiding, philanthropic citizen — working the NYT crossword in Starbucks on Sunday morning, sitting across from his wife Khloe enjoying a half double decaffeinated half-caf with a twist of lemon, beside their jogger stroller bearing little Nash — is a suicidal terrorist. But he is just as we were. He’s bound for a well-deserved sinner’s hell, indifferent to the godly stewardship of his life, harming innocents along the way by his passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive defiance of the Kingdom and its gospel of grace, Khloe and Nash being his prime victims as his “spiritual leadership in the home” couples them to his downgrading train.

And so we intervene. If, that is, we love the person, are convinced of his plight and are willing to risk the alienation of affection. It doesn’t take licenses or programs or eloquence, though those can help. It simply demands compassion, courage, a firm grasp of the hard truth and, yes, a life which reflects a better way.

Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at BPNews.net.

Mothers Day Offering 2014COMMENTARY | Nate Adams

I remember my dad writing once about an Easter Sunday that came long after we kids were grown and gone. None of us were going to be home for the holiday weekend that year, so my mom suggested that she and my dad volunteer to work in the nursery that Sunday.

In case my dad had doubts, my mom was ready with her reasons. “There are likely to be several young families visiting our church that day. Those who work in the nursery all the time deserve a break. We’re available, and able. Oh, and by the way, others took care of our kids on Easter for years. Even this Easter, others will be taking care of our grandchildren.”

And so those two grandparents who hadn’t needed a nursery nor worked in one for quite a while sat and rocked babies that Easter Sunday. As they did so, they prayed for the families of those babies, and for their own family. I remember my dad saying it was one of the most memorable Easter Sundays he ever experienced.

There is something especially sacred it seems, about giving to others out of gratitude for the way that you have received yourself. In fact, as Mother’s Day now approaches, I think of the countless ways I have benefited from a godly, sacrificing mother. And I think of how blessed our own children have been by my wife’s investment in their lives.

One way to “pay it forward” to others in gratitude for the mothers who have blessed our lives is to give generously to the Mother’s Day Offering for the Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services (BCHFS). Last year, BCHFS provided Christ-centered services to 1,417 individuals – 23% more than the previous year. Through residential care at the Baptist Children’s Home in Carmi, maternity services at Angels’ Cove, multiple Pathways Counseling offices, the Safe Families for Children program, and ministry to orphans in Uganda, BCHFS lives out this year’s Offering theme, “Families are Worth Fighting For!”

Sharing Christ is the central motivation for the services BCHFS provides. Of course they provide ministry and healing that help families through troubled times. But in doing so, the BCHFS staff also unashamedly shares the Gospel of Jesus with those they serve, and seeks to model His love daily to them. Last year alone, 16 children from the Residential Care program and from Safe Families made professions of faith in Christ.

The BCHFS does not receive state or federal contract for care funding, and does not receive funding through the Cooperative Program. Their ministry is completely reliant on the generosity of Illinois Baptist churches and individuals who invest in the lives of those they serve. That’s why the Mother’s Day Offering is so important.

From the BCHFS web site (www.bchfs.com) your church can download information and materials to help you promote this year’s Mother’s Day Offering. And if your church doesn’t receive an offering that particular Sunday, you can still use the web site to donate directly to BCHFS’s important ministries.

If you appreciate your own family, and especially your mom this Mother’s Day, I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate your gratitude to God and “pay it forward” than to support this important ministry to hundreds of hurting families. And remember, if your own family is facing challenges right now, the Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services is there for you too.

Our family will be supporting the ministries of BCHFS this year, and I pray yours will too. Whether it’s thanking our children’s workers with a turn in the nursery, or thanking our mothers by giving to help hurting families, it’s a good, good thing to “pay it forward.” As Jesus said in Matthew 10:8 “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.