Archives For denomination

SBC workgroup clears 6 churches, says 3 warrant further inquiry
During a Feb. 18 report in Nashville, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear named 10 Southern Baptist churches mentioned in a recent newspaper report on sexual abuse, asking the SBC Executive Committee’s bylaws workgroup to determine whether the churches have operated with a faith and practice closely aligned to the SBC’s adopted statement of faith.

The workgroup responded Feb. 23, reporting that while three of the churches warrant further inquiry, six do not. The response was met with dismay and outrage by victims and advocates, including Rachael Denhollander, a member of Greear’s Presidential Study Group on Sexual Abuse.

“J.D. Greear and some leaders have been seeking expert/survivor help and moving forward with firm first steps to change,” Denhollander tweeted. “The EC has undermined and destroyed that effort. I hope these mistakes are due to lack of learning and that they will withdraw, seek help and remedy these errors.”

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteer childcare room brings peace after shooting
Three days after a gunman killed five people at an Aurora manufacturing plant, Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were on the scene to minister to grieving families.

Methodists vote to uphold Biblical sexuality
The United Methodist Church on Tuesday voted at its international conference in St. Louis, Mo., to apply its standards on Biblical marriage and sexuality more consistently throughout the denomination, according to World Magazine.

Executive Committee: Presidential nomination coming ‘very soon’
Illinois Baptist pastor Adron Robinson said the SBC’s Executive Committee has identified “God’s candidate” for their presidential vacancy. Robinson, search committee vice chairman and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, said Feb. 19 the search committee cannot announce the candidate’s name yet because they have not officially notified the person of their intent to nominate him.

10-year-old advises SBC leaders on value of kids in ministry
Ten-year-old Zak McCullar brightened the Executive Committee’s February meeting with his presentation in favor of a Children’s Ministry Day across the Southern Baptist Convention. McCullar, who made a motion supporting the idea during last summer’s SBC annual meeting, spoke to the EC during their final session Feb. 19.

Editor’s note: The following Trevin Wax column from BPNews.net first appeared on his Kingdom People blog, hosted at thegospelcoalition.org.

COMMENTARY | Trevin Wax

Summer is for vacations and, for many pastors, denominational gatherings. The Southern Baptist Convention is no exception. This year, we’re meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the 15th largest city in the U.S., one that is well outside of the Southeast where most of our churches are based.

Trevin_WaxIn the past decade, though the attendance at the annual meeting has risen and fallen in conjunction with the location and the major topic of conversation (or controversy), the overall trend has been a dwindling of messengers. This isn’t surprising, considering the loosening of denominational loyalty and the variety of good conferences a pastor can attend.

But Columbus might buck the decline. Here are three reasons I’m particularly excited about this year’s annual meeting.

1. The annual meeting is trending younger.

In Baltimore last year, we saw a 10-year high of younger messengers involved in the convention proceedings. Baptist Press has reported that “nearly one-fourth (24.68 percent) of attendees were younger than age 40. That surpassed by more than 4 percentage points the previous best for the age group, recorded in 2013.”

My first visit to a Southern Baptist Convention was in San Antonio in 2007 as a 25-year-old associate pastor. I remember my initial shock at the small number of young people present. Recent years have seen an upswing in younger Southern Baptist engagement, a reality that is especially surprising when considered alongside the millennial generation’s diminishing enthusiasm for institutions in general. What this tells me is that the annual meeting is beginning to show signs of becoming a vibrant network, not just a report on denominational infrastructure.

2. The schedule of the annual meeting has been reworked in order to highlight the things we are most passionate about.

Few people get excited about a business meeting. Most messengers admit they come to network and see friends, not sit through every session of the SBC. But this year will be different, thanks to a reworking of the schedule under the leadership of the SBC’s president, Ronnie Floyd. For example, all the missions entities will present on Wednesday morning, and it won’t just be a time of reports, but also commissioning of missionaries.

The Send North America conference, slated by the North American Mission Board for this summer in Nashville, already has drawn more than 7,000 registrants, a staggering figure when you consider the fact that only one Convention since 2010 has come close to that number.

What does this tell us? Southern Baptists are hungry for a meeting that casts vision and rallies our people around a great cause. They’re not necessarily there, first and foremost, to vote on resolutions.

But resolutions matter. And so does our business. As Southern Baptists, we should care about the annual meeting, and we should care about this meeting because we care about the Kingdom of God. Business meetings come and go, with their moments of boredom and hilarity, awkwardness and quiet power, and yet in these moments, decisions are made, courses are set that define our cooperative work the rest of the year. It’s not glamorous, but the work of the Kingdom rarely is. This year, however, features a streamlined schedule that emphasizes what we’re there for.

3. We will pray for God to awaken His church to the opportunities before us.

The Tuesday evening meeting will be time of prayer and worship, a pleading with God to revive His people and empower our witness. It is easy to bemoan the moral decay of our culture, the encroaching limits to religious liberties and the difficulty of evangelism in a relativistic society.

But we shouldn’t miss the opportunity here. By cherishing once-common things, such as marriage between a man and woman for life, and core Christian doctrines, such as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, we have the opportunity for our ordinary obedience to shine even brighter in a pluralistic world that bows to Aphrodite. The annual meeting gives us the opportunity to lay aside our differences, unite around our common confession and lock arms for the cause of Christ and His Kingdom.

Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a Gospel-centered small group curriculum for all ages published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

In two out of three Southern Baptist congregations, fewer than 100 people gather for worship on Sunday morning. Megachurches may get more attention, but small churches are the backbone of the SBC, Frank Page has said.

Illinois pastor Cliff Woodman is part of a new advisory council on small and bivocational churches.

Illinois pastor Cliff Woodman is part of a new advisory council on small and bivocational churches.

Still, small church pastors often feel overlooked and marginalized, left out and under-resourced. A new advisory council assembled by Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, exists to communicate the unique needs of these categories of churches with denominational leaders.

“I will not allow the Southern Baptist Convention to forget who we are,” said Page during the first meeting of the Bivocational and Small Church Advisory Council. “Part of my goal in this is to elevate the role of the small church pastor and the bivocational pastor, period. And that’s going to happen.”

Illinois pastor Cliff Woodman is part of the 21-member council, which will work over the next three years to develop a report on the statistics that define Southern Baptist churches. The group, one of several Page has brought together in his first four years as Executive Committee president, represents a large majority of Southern Baptist churches.

“Some would say 35,000 of our 46,000 churches, maybe more than that, are in the two categories of small church or bivocational,” Page said at the Sept. 11-12 meeting in Atlanta. For the council’s purposes, he defined a small church as one with 125 people or fewer in Sunday school attendance. The group also looked at research on the percentages of SBC churches by worship attendance. According to 2013 data, 68% of Southern Baptist churches have 100 or fewer people in worship, compared to 78% of IBSA churches and missions.

Woodman, now pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville, spent more than 25 years as a bivocational pastor at Harmony Baptist Church in
Medora. He told the Illinois Baptist small church and bivocational pastors (most who also work a second job) often feel out-of-the-loop. Sunday school curriculum may feel tailored to larger churches with more people and more classroom space, for example, and large church pastors often are the ones invited to speak at meetings or conferences.

But non-megachurches can be effective churches. Woodman, whose Carlinville church reported an average worship attendance of 145 in their 2013 Annual Church Profile, is leading Emmanuel to look closely at what makes a congregation healthy. He referenced LifeWay President Thom Rainer’s 2013 book “I Am A Church Member,” which outlines members’ responsibilities to their congregation.

“If a church member’s not supposed to look at ‘what’s in it for me,’ then maybe churches ought to stop looking at ‘what’s in it for me,’” Woodman said. The better question is, “What can I do for the bigger body?”

Major shift toward bivocational
Page has used a “fault lines” analogy to describes areas of SBC life where there are rifts between different groups. One of those fault lines, he said in the Atlanta meeting, is related to church methodology, or how churches do church. The discussion centered on bivocational ministry, a strategy Page called “the wave of the future.” It’s also the wave of the past.

Southern Baptist churches have long relied on bivocational pastors to lead churches. Decades ago, many pastors were farmers; today, they also drive school buses, deliver the mail, and run small businesses.

“I’m convinced that in the 21st Century, the best stewardship model is bivocational,” Page said. “We’ve got a lot of students coming out of seminary now who have no intention of being full support.” In other words, they’re prepared to work more than one job to make ends meet.

That news was encouraging to Woodman. There was a day, he said, when “the underlying current was that the bivocational guy wasn’t good enough to have a full-time church.” Page shared with the group that some Christian universities are now training students to be pastors along with learning another vocation.

While there will always be churches that want their pastor to be full-time, Woodman said, bivocational ministry is imperative if Southern Baptists want to extend the reach of churches into more communities. “And we’re going to have to do a better job at it,” he said, and at preparing future leaders for it. Because bivocational pastoring is “a different game.”

Quit the comparison game
Small church pastor Job Dalomba posed a pointed question in an April blog post: “We have to ask ourselves an honest question: Do we want to see the glory of God shining from larger churches or do we just want their numbers, resources and notoriety to be our numbers, resources and notoriety?”

The SBC Voices post by Dalomba, pastor of a new, small church in Southaven, Mississippi, called for small church pastors to stop comparing themselves to men who lead larger congregations, and to pray for those big churches too.

It’s a strategy the congregation at Emmanuel has utilized this year. A church’s prayer requests are a good measure of its health, Pastor Woodman said. “Throw them up on the wall, and see what your prayer requests do. And when you get done, you begin to think about what does that tell you your view of God is.

“And in essence, you’ll find in most churches that he’s healer, a physician; he’s an employment agency; he’s Triple A. But what’s lacking is that he’s a savior.”

Woodman’s congregation was already praying by name for people who don’t know Christ when he arrived as pastor last year. To that focus, they’ve added regular prayer for sister churches in Macoupin Baptist Association. The prayers are scripted, with a focus on reaching people who don’t know Christ. Woodman is hopeful the strategy will help build a spirit of teamwork between his church and others in the community, he told SBC Life earlier this year.

“When we started praying for our sister churches, that helped us be healthier. If we as pastors and churches would take the same attitude, then we’d stop looking at what others were doing for us, and we’d start doing for others.”

With reporting by Baptist Press and SBC Life. Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

Sonja Conrad was baptized during a spring crusade at First Baptist Church, O'Fallon, Ill.

Sonja Conrad was baptized during a spring crusade at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, Ill.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

A task force appointed to study declining baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention released its report May 12, detailing five problems they believe have contributed to the recent downward trend. The task force, appointed last year by the North American Mission Board and comprised mostly of pastors, also suggested five solutions focused on prayer, evangelism and discipleship.

When it was published in June 2013, the Annual Church Profile (ACP) report showing the previous year’s facts and figures sounded several alarm bells: 25% of Southern Baptist churches reported zero baptisms. And 60% of churches baptized no one in the 12-17 age bracket.

“We have a spiritual problem,” the task force acknowledged in its report. “Many of our SBC pastors and churches are not effectively engaged in sharing the gospel and yet continue business as usual. We need a sense of brokenness and repentance over the spiritual climate of our churches and our nation.”

Churches also need to get back to celebrating baptisms, the group said. “Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as a measure of their success rather than new believers following Christ in baptism. We have drifted into a loss of expectation.”

To address the decline, the task force suggested five focus areas for pastors that correlate to five problem areas (spiritual, leadership, discipleship, next generation, and celebration):

1. Pray for spiritual awakening.

2. Model personal evangelism and provide pathways. (NAMB has introduced a new evangelism tool called “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide.)

3. Create a disciple-making culture.

4. Serve the next generation.

5. Celebrate evangelism and baptism.

“…We encourage our fellow SBC pastors to join us in owning this problem,” the task force said. “Together, we can seize this opportunity to lead our churches and be part of the solution.”

For more on the task force’s report, evangelism tools, and a new video challenge, go to www.namb.net/baptismtaskforce.

Boko Haram offer to release kidnapped girls may be ploy, Nigerian Southern Baptist says
Terrorist group Boko Haram released a video Monday offering to release about 100 of the Christian girls they’ve kidnapped, in exchange for the release of Boko Haram prisoners in Nigeria. But the offer could be a tactic to buy time to strategize, Adeniyi Ojutiku told Baptist Press. Ojutiku is a Southern Baptist and co-founder of Lift Up Now, a Christian-based grassroots organization addressing political, economic and social challenges in his homeland Nigeria.

“They have wiped out families. They have killed generations of people, even infants,” Ojutiku said of Boko Haram. “They have maimed people for life. They have killed hundreds and thousands of people. And then to conceive that you would negotiate with such very, very despicable … people who commit such heinous crimes, it is unthinkable to me.

“These people must be prosecuted,” he said. “There cannot be sustainable peace without justice.” Read the full story at BPNews.net.

Arkansas becomes first southern state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples
County clerks in Arkansas were thrown into a state of confusion by Judge Chris Piazza’s decision to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on Friday, May 8. By Monday, clerks in some counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while others had decided not to. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed paperwork to temporarily extend the ban Monday, the Associated Press reported, but clerks can continue to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the state’s Supreme Court processes documents from both sides on Tuesday.

Translators work to get Bible into dangerous territory
Ten million landmines may still be buried in Angola, left over from a 27-year civil war that ended in 2002. But Wycliffe Associates, known for their efforts to translate the Bible into every language, is working to take God’s Word to the southern African nation, The Christian Post reports. “These people have been ravaged by brutality and poverty,” said Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe Associates. “They live in daily danger of stumbling onto hidden land mines. But worst of all, many have never even heard a word of scripture in their own language.” Read more about Wycliffe’s Angola project at ChristianPost.com.

HGTV stops production on show starring Christian brothers
A reality show in the works about two house-flipping brothers was shelved after the group Right Wing Watch posted about David and Jason Benham’s beliefs about marriage, homosexuality and abortion. “Flip it Forward” would have followed the Benham brothers as they helped six families renovate homes, reports ChristianityToday.com. “We promised we would give Jesus glory whether in victory or defeat,” David Benham said after the show’s cancelation. “Sure seems like we’ve been defeated lately. But you know what? God is bigger than all of this.”