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Phoenix map 1

It’s going to be hot enough in Phoenix without a squabble. Maybe we won’t see motions from the floor at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention to defund the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission or dismiss its president, Russell Moore.

There are several reasons for this new hope. First, both sides in the election-year dust up have offered conciliatory statements. Jack Graham, pastor of Dallas-area megachurch Prestonwood, announced his congregation would restore their Cooperative Program giving in April. The church had “escrowed” its SBC missions contributions while they examined complaints that Moore had criticized presidential candidate Donald Trump and those who planned to vote for him.

The complaints from the Texas church and others exposed some theological and political distance between ERLC leadership responsible for articulating Southern Baptist views in Washington and those Southern Baptists back home who fund them.

Similarly, the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s Executive Board studied “issues of concern” related to the ERLC. But recently, the board said “it has evaluated the complaints lodged against the ERLC, that its leadership has met with Dr. Moore and has sent a letter to the trustees of the ERLC and encourages the churches to continue their generous financial support for all our convention work.”

And there’s the action by Moore himself.

His tone toward Graham and Prestonwood Church may have helped. Moore explained that his comments about the election were never aimed at the Southern Baptist rank-and-file; and in explaining his actions, Moore never sought to defend himself.

More important, there’s word to this editorial team and others that the ERLC staff is making new efforts to connect with the grassroots. For example, Vice President for Communications Dan Darling appeared at the Illinois Baptist Women’s Priority Conference. (He addressed family issues in a declining culture.) The ERLC, fond of sending videos to state and regional events, is more likely to appear in person in the future. Now three years into their tenure, the ERLC leadership is learning that it should not get too far ahead of the people who sent them.

And, with the placement of the ERLC’s report last on the convention agenda, rather than on the first day as in years past, there may only be time to accept their mea culpa and move forward.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Steve GainesIt seems a fair question, especially following the loquacious and public presidency of Ronnie Floyd. Steve Gaines, by comparison, is almost invisible. This is not a criticism of Gaines, that he would have a different style as Southern Baptist Convention president. That is to be expected. Each president makes his own way and leads from his own strengths. But Gaines’s style, working in a less public way that his immediate predecessors, leaves us wondering: What is Steve Gaines doing?

And we find ourselves hoping that he’s focusing on issues that we just haven’t heard about yet.

Floyd wrote. Floyd spoke. A lot. Almost every week Floyd published on his blog and in Baptist Press his thoughts on righting the denomination and meeting the culture conflict head on. He quickly assumed a statesman position for his two years in office, urging support for missions and the Cooperative Program. We in the local Baptist news media came to rely on his thoughtful, well-reasoned analysis of current events.

Gaines, on the other hand, has spoken for publication rarely. He offered a few comments in the election season and after the January inauguration, mostly encouraging Southern Baptists to pray for the Trump Administration. And in February he addressed Baptist newspaper editors and state convention executive directors in Los Angeles. Gaines spoke on Trump’s election, appointments, and early actions as president. And he urged prayer for revival in America. Gaines has themed the 2017 SBC Annual Meeting “Pray: For Such a Time as This,” following Floyd and his predecessor, Fred Luter, in bringing Southern Baptists to our knees for spiritual awakening.

But it’s his comment on the complaints about the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and its president Russell Moore that, we hope, gives a glimpse at Gaines’s work behind the curtain.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” Gaines said in Los Angeles. His comment came almost simultaneously with the announcement by Dallas-area pastor Jack Graham that his megachurch, Prestonwood Baptist, would be holding in escrow its $1-million offering through the Cooperative Program. Graham expressed concerns about the direction of the SBC and the ERLC, in particular, after an election cycle marked by anti-Trump tweets, Moore’s ongoing concern for refugees, and the “friend of the court” support of a freedom of religion case, in which both the ERLC and the International Mission Board (IMB) opposed onerous government regulations placed on a New Jersey mosque.

Southern Baptists do not need another era of suspicion, doubt, and sometime demagoguery. Our mission cause is too important to withhold funding over ancillary anxieties. The reconciliation that Gaines spoke about requires behind-the-scenes diplomacy and skillful mediation. That’s what we might hope Gaines is doing, even if we never hear about it publicly.

-Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

State Baptist paper editors met for their annual meeting Feb. 14-16 in Ontario, Calif. and heard controversial issues addressed by Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and International Mission Board President David Platt. As the meeting was taking place Prestonwood Baptist Church, pastored by former SBC President Jack Graham, announced its decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support the Cooperative Program while it discusses concerns about the direction of the Convention.

steve-gaines-with-editors

Steve Gaines

Gaines on Trump, ERLC, IMB
In a question-and-answer session Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, told editors he voted for Trump as president because of his pro-life stance.

Referencing Trump’s campaign slogan, Gaines noted that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.

Discussing the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s executive order on immigration, Gaines said, “At some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.

“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country,” Gaines said.

“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.

Concerning controversy involving Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore’s political comments during the election, Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the ERLC.

“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” he said.

Regarding the amicus brief involving a New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board in controversy, Gaines said he believes IMB President David Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case.

“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.

Platt’s apology
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said when he met later with Baptist state paper editors.

“I can say with full confidence that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.

In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.

Gaines on CP, state conventions, revival
Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical imperative for churches to tithe 10% of their receipts to CP, regardless of how good the SBC missions support program is. Churches today have a number of their own ministries for reaching their communities for Christ.

While Bellevue Baptist doesn’t give 10% through CP, Gaines his wife Donna are motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.

Gaines urged, “State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them [young pastors and leaders], cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”

Looking to the future of the nation, Gaines spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. “The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”

Prestonwood escrows CP
Prestonwood Baptist Church’s decision to escrow gifts previously forwarded to support Southern Baptist cooperative missions and ministries was announced Feb. 16.

Mike Buster, executive pastor for the Plano, Texas, church, provided a statement to the Baptist Message explaining that the action had been taken because of “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention” and that it is a temporary move.

The decision impacts $1 million the 41,000-member congregation would otherwise contribute through the Cooperative Program.

But Graham subsequently explained to the Baptist Message that his congregation’s concerns are broader than just one personality.

Instead, he described an “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”

“I’m not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people,” Graham said, “and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.

“This is a difficult decision for me, personally,” he added. “I love Southern Baptists, and still want to be a cooperating partner as we have been for many years.

“We’re just concerned about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention, and feel the need to make some changes in the way we give.”

Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”

– Reporting by Baptist Press, Georgia Christian Index, and Louisiana Baptist Message

The power of one

ib2newseditor —  February 13, 2017

red leaves church steeple

This is a time of year when we at IBSA do a lot of evaluating, not only of our staff’s efforts, but also of the overall health dynamics of churches. An outstanding 95% of IBSA churches completed annual church profile reports for 2016, and this gives us a wealth of information to study.

Like every year, some churches thrived last year and others struggled, so it’s possible to overgeneralize. But looking at the broad stroke data for 964 churches and missions (up seven from the previous year), it’s reasonable to say that some ministry areas such as leadership development and Sunday School participation were up, while others such as church planting and missions giving were down, at least compared to the previous year.

Of all the “down” areas, though, none concern me more than our churches’ overall baptism number, which dropped more than 11% in 2016, to 3,953. The number of churches reporting zero baptisms increased by over 10%, to 352, meaning that more than a third of IBSA churches did not baptize anyone last year.

Just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith can turn things around.

A few days ago, one pastor asked me how things were going, and the first burden I found spilling out of my heart was the decline in church baptisms. He nodded his head in empathy and agreement. “I know we were down in our church last year,” he acknowledged.

But what he said next truly encouraged me. “So we are really getting after that this year. We have set a baptism goal, and we have evangelism training planned. But we also have set goals as a church for the number of gospel presentations we will make, and the number of spiritual conversations we will seek to have, believing that those will then lead to gospel presentations.”

He went on to tell me how each leader and church member was being challenged to look for these opportunities, and that they were reporting them through Sunday school classes and other ways.

That same week, a young pastor wrote me an e-mail, thanking me for how two of our IBSA staff members had specifically helped and encouraged his small church. He admitted that in the past he had questioned how much his church’s Cooperative Program giving helped struggling churches, compared with church plants. Now, in his first senior pastorate, he had experienced firsthand the practical ministry support that state staff provide. Others in his association felt the same, he said, and were planning to join him in increasing their Cooperative Program giving this next year.

What struck me about both these conversations, and both these pastors, was the positive power of one voice, one commitment. One pastor looked at a lower baptism number and said, “We will not be satisfied with that. Here’s what we’re going to do.” Another pastor took a fresh look at the value of cooperative missions giving and said, “We can do more.”

So often it just takes just one voice, one commitment, one resolution of faith to turn things around. I think of Noah, and David, and Elijah, and Nehemiah, and other Old Testament heroes. I think of Peter’s boldness and Paul’s resilience in the New Testament. And of course I think of Jesus, not only on the cross, but also in eternity past, saying to the Father, “This shall not stand. I will do what it takes to make this right.”

Today, each of those pastors is using his own power of one to lead and inspire his church to a better place, regardless of the past, or what happened last year. In doing so, they reminded me how much can change when one person simply refuses to accept the status quo.

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

The Faith Frontier

ib2newseditor —  October 24, 2016

Illinois has come a long way, but we still have a way to go

Illinois IL State United States of America 3d Animated State Map

When Illinois became a state in 1818, fewer than 100 people lived in Chicago, and less than that at Calhoun. The hubs of activity were places such as Kaskaskia, on the banks of the Mississippi River. The town swelled to 7,000 when it became the first state capital for one year. Then bustling Vandalia was the capital for 20 years, until Abraham Lincoln and a few others had the capital moved to Calhoun in 1839. Calhoun had been renamed after Springfield, Massachusetts, a center of trade, creativity, and innovation. They had high hopes for their new Springfield—and for all of Illinois.

Catholic priests came to the area early, following French trappers and traders into St. Louis and later Chicago, building a few churches and converting a few Native Americans. The trappers were largely unconverted. Baptists and some Methodists were on scene by 1781, starting the first Protestant congregation in Illinois and building a Baptist meeting house at New Design, across from St. Louis on the river.

Illinois was a frontier state 200 years ago. Today, in many ways, it still is.

Almost 13 million people live in Illinois. But in terms of faith, the state is wild and untamed. At least 8 million residents do not know Jesus Christ. As the population grows, the percentage who identify with any religion at all continues to decline.

The state’s population hubs are our largest mission fields, especially metro Chicago and metro East St. Louis. Our cities are teeming centers of commerce and education, with growing populations of immigrant peoples.

The last census showed Hispanic and Asian populations are the fastest growing ethnic groups in the state. In fact, the Hispanic population grew in all but one of Illinois’ 102 counties.

In Illinois, nine people groups are unreached with the gospel because of language and cultural barriers, but literally millions of English-speaking and culturally mainstream people have never heard the message of salvation in a way they have understood and believed.

On our college campuses, for example, almost 900,000 students represent a mission field with enormous potential, and historically the lowest percentage of believers among young adults ever.

The cultural withdrawal from the Christian faith is felt all across Illinois—in cities and university settings, in small towns and crossroads communities. The northwest quadrant of Illinois is one of the least-Christian areas in the nation. And scattered across the state, there are nine counties that have no Southern Baptist congregation, 12 counties have only one, and many more have minimal evangelical presence.

In 40% of Illinois counties, less than 1% of the population identifies as Southern Baptist.

By faithful, regular, systematic giving to missions through the Cooperative Program, Baptists together serve as missions pioneers, in our frontier territory in Illinois and around the world, wherever the gospel is needed.

Editor’s note: Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, will be nominated for First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention when the SBC’s annual meeting convenes in St. Louis June 14.

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

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

Illinois Baptist: What lessons from your ministry in the Midwest do you think Southern Baptist pastors would benefit from, especially in transforming the prevailing culture?

Doug Munton: The power of the Holy Spirit is not limited geographically. We have found that loving God and loving people really matters. A church that is true to the Bible and that teaches that truth clearly, powerfully, and relevantly can impact the culture.

We have found that God can do things that some say can’t be done—“You can’t grow a church in the Midwest. You can’t reach old and young people. You can’t cross racial barriers.” These things are not too great for God and he is at work doing those things in churches across the Midwest.

IB: It appears that the SBC is fragmenting along lines of theology and philosophy of missions. Are you concerned about that?

Doug: I am concerned about our fragmentation. We can overcome differing views of soteriology, worship styles and other issues through love and respect. Unity in our fellowship can be a powerful tool for our mission.

I do hope we will be careful not to throw away the Cooperative Program and our cooperative mission approach. We can find ways to be more effective in our mission. But the Cooperative Program can be a great blessing to our mission work together. I want to encourage that cooperation.

IB: Are you concerned about the future of the Cooperative Program?

Doug: The effectiveness of the CP should not be taken lightly. It is why we have been able to send so many to the mission field in days gone by. It is a blessing to our seminarians. And, in Illinois, it has allowed us to cooperate together to do so much more than we could do separately here, nationally, and internationally.

IB: What about being a Southern Baptist in today’s culture challenges you and excites you?

Doug: These are the best of times, these are the worst of times. (I should use that line as the opening of a novel!) We are weaker in evangelism than ever in my lifetime. We have sent missionaries home from the IMB for lack of funds for the first time ever. But we also have young people who will sacrifice all for the cause of Christ. We are making strides in racial unity that give me encouragement for our future. And, our call for spiritual awakening is exactly what is needed at this time.

Perhaps we will see God move in our day as never before. May it be so and may our fellowship of churches seek God and his direction more fully than ever.

Munton is presently unopposed for First Vice President. The election will be held on Tuesday afternoon, June 14.

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

Doug Munton

Doug Munton, expected Southern Baptist Convention First Vice President nominee, is a featured guest on SBC This Week’s May 20 podcast. You can listen to the interview and learn more about his vision for the SBC and the Cooperative Program at sbcthisweek.com.

Munton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Ill., announced April 26 he will be nominated for First Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The nomination will be made by John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo., during the SBC’s annual meeting in St. Louis June 14-15.

Munton, 56, has pastored FBC O’Fallon for more than 20 years, during which time the church has grown from 550 to over 1,600 people in average attendance and has baptized about 2,000 people. In the 2014-15 reporting year, the church gave just over 8% of budget receipts through the Cooperative Program—Southern Baptists unified method of supporting missions and ministry.

He served as president of the Illinois Baptist State Association for two years, and is currently on the SBC’s Committee on Committees. His wife, Vickie, is the president of the Ministers’ Wives Conference this year at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. The Muntons have four adult children and will soon have their seventh grandchild.