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Improving ordination

Lisa Misner —  June 3, 2019

More careful interview process needed to protect churches

By Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

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The ordination process of Southern Baptist churches is a weak spot when it comes to protecting congregations from sexual predators, according to a report released May 9.

The report, “Above Reproach: A Study of the Ordination Practices of SBC Churches,” was conducted by Jason A. Lowe, an associational mission strategist in Kentucky, in response to a Feb. 10 Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches.

Lowe began polling pastors and other Baptist leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention on Feb. 20, two days after SBC President J.D. Greear presented 10 calls to action from the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study, one of which was to enhance the ordination screening process.

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said the survey is helpful because it inquired about familiar aspects of ordination, but also some that are less often considered. “For example, it asked about various types of background checks as part of the ordination process, and also about how ordination councils can provide follow-up and accountability,” Adams said.

The screening process is a “sacred responsibility” that needs to be taken seriously, Greear said at a February meeting of Baptist newspaper editors. He explained that ordination candidates should have no hint of sexual abuse or cover up in their past. Greear asked why background checks are often more rigorous for children’s ministry volunteers than for people being ordained to lead.

Fewer than 1/3 of ordination candidates were required to have a background check.

Ordination, a process that sets a person aside for ministerial service, is left up to each individual Southern Baptist congregation in keeping with the SBC’s policy of church autonomy. Churches may review a person’s salvation experience, pastoral call, qualifications, and potentially his experience or seminary training to determine if he’s an appropriate candidate, according to the SBC’s website, sbc.net.

But Lowe wrote in his article that up until now, no one had a good snapshot of what was actually happening across the SBC when it came to ordination practices. “Very little study” has been done on this topic, he said.

“No one knows how thoroughly candidates for ordination are being examined,”
wrote Lowe, who serves as associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists in southeastern Kentucky, as well as executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Pikeville.

“No one knows how many ordination councils require candidates to complete a background check,” he wrote. “No one knows how many ordination councils examine a candidate’s sexual purity.”

In late February and early March, Lowe gathered 555 survey responses. He compiled his findings in a 42-page report and noted five significant points of interest:

1. SBC ordination practices have significant room for improvement. In addition to Greear, other SBC leaders had spoken out about weaknesses in the ordination process ahead of Lowe’s report.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in February that “lackadaisical ordination will produce doctrinally dubious and morally corrupt pastors.” That kind of trend “must end and churches must take responsibility for those men they ordain for ministry,” he wrote.

Thom Rainer, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources, also wrote that because of the weak process, “we ‘bless’ new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at worst.”

Lowe said his report confirmed their observations. “While there are some encouraging trends, [Southern Baptist] churches need to improve our current ordination practices in a number of ways,” he said. For example, only 30.2% of ordained ministers were required to have a background check and only 29.4% were asked about their sexual purity. Also, in roughly 60% of cases, the ordination service was publicized before screening took place and the screening council happened on the same day as the service.

“Ordination is too important and consequential to be handled casually or quickly,” Adams said. “I would start by inviting local associational leadership into the process, and developing a plan for the ordination that allows sufficient time, and that can be thorough and involve as many ordained men as reasonable.” He also suggested churches obtain a guide or checklist of ordination best practices that would include steps of preparation for the candidate and the ordination council.

2. Discussions regarding a candidate’s sexual purity are sparse, but on the rise. Even though sexual purity is not discussed most of the time, the report found that there has been a “significant uptick (40.5%) since 2010.”

During the ordination process, Adams said, questions of an extremely personal nature should be tempered with a sense of appropriateness, respect for the candidate’s privacy, and recognition that past mistakes and especially pre-conversion behavior are not necessarily disqualifiers.

“That being said,” he added, “in today’s world especially, ordination councils—and pastor search teams too, for that matter—are wise to include in their processes background checks, reference checks, and secondary reference checks, and even a loving line of questioning about personal purity.”

Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, suggested a standard questionnaire about sexual purity and other moral issues could be helpful for ordination councils.

3. SBC ordination practices are changing in both positive and negative ways. Lowe’s survey garnered information on ordinations spanning every decade since the 1960s, and across the years, a number of trends emerged. Some were positive—for instance, more churches are requiring theological training, and more are conducting background checks and asking candidates about sexual purity.

But on the other hand, the role of the ordination council seems to be decreasing in importance. Screening periods have gotten shorter as a whole, and councils involve fewer ordained pastors.

Pajak recommended councils seek help from others. “Few church members may feel qualified to ask theological questions,” he said. “That is why the practice of church councils inviting associational mission strategists and other pastors to sit in on the questioning is necessary, but unfortunately, rarely done.”

Adams suggested every Baptist ordination council should have at least one, and hopefully several, members who have studied The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Southern Baptists’ statement of faith) thoroughly enough to question the candidate through its articles. “That’s why it can be valuable to have multiple pastors involved in ordination processes, as well as local association or state convention staff that are usually available to help when needed.”

4. Ordaining churches in more populated areas set higher standards for their ordination candidates. The report data showed urban and suburban churches handling the process differently than churches in less-populated areas. City churches more often check on candidates both before and after ordination and require training more often. Rural churches are more likely to publicize the ordination service before a candidate is approved, then conduct the screening on the same day as the service.

Joe Lawson is associational mission strategist in Rehoboth and Louisville Baptist Associations. He agreed with Lowe that interview questions are important, but said they should be part of a longer-term mentoring relationship that starts well before the ordination process. “By the time a person is ordained, they have very likely been in a position of leadership teaching children, youth, and/or coed adults in church. They have also preached,” Lawson said. “A candidate desiring to pursue a call to ministry should have a pastor/mentor who will ask the questions about debt, sexual purity, and other behaviors, i.e. drugs and alcohol. It is easy to hide and not be transparent about the sin in our lives. Yet, leadership demands that we hold each other accountable.”

5. Larger churches are more thorough in their examination of ordination candidates. Churches with a larger membership are more likely to cover more topics during the screening process, require a background check, and require training.

Lawson cautioned against creating too rigid a barrier between ordination and theological education, though. “Personally, I am a little concerned we could establish a hierarchy of clergy and lose the power of the Spirit of God and the call of God in people’s lives,” he said. “Many of our churches are served by folks who are well-read, articulate, and theologically sound, but not formally educated. They are effective pastors serving in small places.”

Lowe didn’t make any specific recommendations for improvements, but he wrote that he shared the findings “with the hope of generating productive conversations among Southern Baptists as we seek ways to improve our ordination practices in the days ahead.”

“Ordination by local churches is one of the grassroots practices that has for generations allowed Baptist churches to recognize and develop leaders, accelerate proclamation of the gospel, and establish new churches more rapidly and expansively than other groups,” Adams said. “That’s why it’s imperative that ordination by local churches be administered responsibly and thoroughly, whether its result is to qualify or to disqualify.”

The full report is available at https://jasonalowe.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/sbc-ordination-practices-report.pdf.

– Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

It’s been 10 years since the murder of Maryville First Baptist’s Pastor Fred Winters. Illinois Baptists were shocked when the beloved pastor was gunned down while preaching the Sunday morning message from the pulpit.

Serving on the IBSA staff, I first got to know Pastor Fred when he served two terms as IBSA vice president and then another two as president. He was always easy going and willing to answer questions for articles in the Illinois Baptist. I remember running into him and his wife, Cindy, one year at the Southern Baptist Convention where they were planning to hand out water to gay rights supporters protesting the convention. He talked about how it would be a good way to show Christ’s love.

First Baptist Maryville recently held a memorial service to mark the anniversary of his death. I was among the hundreds who attended the service, looking on as old friends came together to remember the pastor who grew the church from 35 to over 1,200. Illinois pastors have often said how Pastor Fred’s teaching from his experience “breaking the barriers” enabled them to grow stronger churches. Fred was always willing to share of his experience and himself.

In video testimonies, friends, church members, and former staff bore witness to the difference Pastor Fred had made in their lives, how his burden for the lost became their burden for the lost, how his vision became their vision.

The most poignant moment of the evening came when Cindy addressed the assembly. She shared how she and her daughters, with God’s help, journeyed through their grief and continue to do so. Their faith has been made stronger having learned not to give up.

Still, she likened the evening to biting into a chocolate tomato—“sweet at first on the outside and kind of sour and bitter on the inside.” Such a strange comparison and yet, such a truism. Isn’t that how we all feel in some way? Not only about Pastor Fred, but our own lost loved ones remembered? Whether through death, divorce, separation, or other kinds of loss, what a taste remembrance can leave in your mouth.

Winters’s life and legacy of faith was worthy of celebration. At the end of the service, it was easy to imagine Pastor Fred among the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, cheering Illinois Baptists on as they run the race sharing Christ with their friends and neighbors just like he did.

Kempton Turner

Former East St. Louis resident returns to plant a new church

Editor’s note: Kempton and Caryn Turner are two of the missionaries featured in the 2018 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer for North American Missions. The annual offering, collected in many IBSA churches this spring, supports missionaries appointed by the North American Mission Board.

East St. Louis | Kempton Turner grew up on the same streets where he now serves as a church planting missionary and pastor.

“Because I was raised here, I’ve got a real heart for the people,” says Turner (pictured above left, with youth director Zach Chike). He launched City of Joy Fellowship in East St. Louis in September 2016. “It’s a small city. It’s a dangerous, poor place, 85% fatherlessness. The houses, the buildings, and the roads show the desperate place that East St. Louis is in. The people know struggle.”

In East St. Louis, buildings sit abandoned. The public library, the McDonald’s Turner visited as a child, family-owned restaurants—all closed now. Though the decline in population started more than 100 years ago with an infamous race riot, recent years have seen the numbers dwindle from around 60,000 to 26,000.

“Jobs and police officers have left this city,” says Turner. “Downtown is kind of like a ghost town, but it’s ripe for the gospel. The Lord hasn’t forgotten this city.”

Faith on the rise
It is 6 a.m. and a group of men from City of Joy Fellowship are up before the sun, worshiping with an acoustic guitar. Says Turner, “As the psalmist looked around at the tragic condition of the people in his city, it appeared as though God was unaware, inactive, or asleep. So, he prays, ‘Arise, O Lord.’  “Likewise, we cry out in one way or another every Wednesday morning.”

The prayers ring out over a people facing poverty, gang violence, environmental contamination, and continued decline. Turner, his wife, Caryn, and their five children believe that change is possible. They are working side by side with other believers to show their neighbors that love is real and hope is alive.

Recognizing that teenagers here are in need of community and a safe place to gather, Turner and the team at City of Joy host a youth night on Tuesdays where they train young people how to serve others and hold down a job. The church also goes to the places where youth already gather during the week—schools and community centers—to establish consistency. Their desire is to show teens that they care and are invested in their well-being and future.

Turner names a long list of men and women who have moved to the area to help with the youth: Matt and Hannah, who moved their young family from Missouri; Staricia, who came from Indiana to work in the school system; Lydia, a nurse who has a heart for young people; Joel, a skilled basketball player and coach who uses the sport to connect with the youth; and Zach, who started a Bible study for the youth in his home that has already outgrown the space. The list goes on and on.

“These precious believers are a picture of Jesus, coming out of comfortable suburbs, moving into the heart of a 99.9% African-American city with danger, poverty, and fatherlessness,” Turner says. “They’re moving because Jesus is sending them as a reflection of his heart for this city, and God is blessing their efforts. It’s amazing.”

Building the future
Home renovation is another practical way City of Joy is connecting with their community. Hammers and nails, primer and paint—these are the tools that are allowing believers to build a relationship with people who live near the church.

“All we need is a way to start a conversation,” says Turner. He is training the members to intersect with nonbelievers, meet needs, and share their personal stories of redemption.
Dubbed R3, the outreach ministry is focused on community development, house restoration, business restoration, and employment. The goal is to work corner by corner and house by house throughout the city until each square foot has been covered in both repairs and improvements, as well as prayer.

In their business revitalization program, they work on providing local businesses with the resources to launch or relaunch. They also strive to connect young men and women from the youth program with job opportunities in these local businesses as a way to benefit the local economy and foster a sense of community.

As more people come to know Christ, City of Joy is celebrating more baptisms. And it all started with a very special one that healed a broken relationship from the past. Turner says, “The first baptism at the church was my birth mother who did not raise me. Praise the Lord!”

Indeed, the church is appropriately named. With prayers, planning, and consistent efforts, they are working toward bringing that same kind of joy into every home in East St. Louis. They want people to not only remember this place but to invest in it.

“Some of the neediest places in America are in the inner city,” Turner says. “We’re excited to join the momentum of what God is already doing in this city with so much potential. Acts 8:8—that’s our hope and prayer for East St. Louis: that the Lord will fill the city with joy.”

Turner explains that they are praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers. The vision for change is great—and so is the need for ministry partners.

“Psalm 127 says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,’” Turner noted. “And so, the Lord is the builder. The church is not about bricks and mortar and boards. He redeems his people and puts them in front of others in houses, on street corners, in Sunday school classes and in large- and small-group gatherings.

The Lord builds his people through the Word. And our vision is that the Word of God would so transform East St. Louis that multitudes of souls are saved and established in faith, families are restored, children can have a mom and dad in their house again, prevailing cultural brokenness—like drug addiction and gang violence—would be healed, and churches would be started near and far.

“Our house renovation ministry is just a small echo of the thunderclap of spiritual renovation that we see God doing,” Turner said, “one soul, one house, one block at a time in my hometown.”

– North American Mission Board

The official date for the annual Week of Prayer is the first Sunday in March through the second Sunday in March. Your church can choose this date or another time during the Easter season to participate. Learn more at www.AnnieArmstrong.com.

The Briefing

Details on Billy Graham Memorial events
Watch the live stream of all major events from the Billy Graham memorial website. In the meantime, viewers can watch classic Billy Graham sermons, along with live commentary from his ministry headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Related:

Graham’s indelible impact on global missions
Not only did Billy Graham preach in person to large gatherings in more than 180 countries, but for 40 years he led in organizing international conferences on missions and evangelism that introduced the concept of “unreached people groups” that today lies at the heart of global strategy. And the simple fact those meetings solicited representation from many countries — not just traditional mission senders in the West — drew Christian groups from less-developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America into their own global mission undertakings.

Billy Graham’s 5 greatest sermons
Watch five of Graham’s greatest sermons, from the spiritual revival that made him a household name to the last address he ever gave, on his 95th birthday in 2013.

Study shows far-reaching impact of Billy Graham
About 80 years after he began his ministry, Billy Graham continued to impact the faith of millions with nearly half of all Protestant churchgoers saying they have watched one of his sermons on television. Only 4% of churchgoers said they “have no idea who Billy Graham is.”

Related:

Graham had pride and regret on civil rights issues
The Rev. Billy Graham was single-minded when he preached about God, prefacing sermon points with the phrase “The Bible says …” Yet he had a complicated role in race relations, particularly when confronting segregation in his native South. “Ultimately, what Graham put forth was what we might now call a colorblind gospel,” Steven P. Miller, a scholar who has written about Graham, told Fox News.

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Sources: Facts & Trends, Baptist Press, Time, Christianity Today, Fox News, Illinois Review

Blue abstract background with white spot light, abstract tropica

With less than one-sixth left of 2017, unless there’s a drastic turnaround, the year likely won’t be remembered as one of the country’s best. Devastating hurricanes. Political gridlock. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The headlines have only gotten bleaker as the year has worn on. And the year’s not over yet.

A new survey on what Americans fear the most paints a picture of how the year has taken a toll on lots of people. Almost 75% of Americans are afraid or very afraid of corrupt government officials, according to Chapman University’s annual survey. That topped the list last year too, but was the only fear expressed by more than half of respondents. This year, five fears were held by a majority, including the new healthcare plan, pollution, and not having enough money for the future.

Things are difficult, and people are scared. Scanning the headlines or, more likely, scrolling through a news feed, doesn’t help either. The current climate is such that as our team brainstormed how to write about Thanksgiving this year, we couldn’t come up with much of a fresh angle. Certainly, we have a lot to be thankful for; as Americans, we know that’s true. But with the din of the constant news cycle perpetually in our ears, it can be difficult to pinpoint the bright spots in an otherwise dreary year.

Perhaps that’s why a Friday conversation with an Illinois pastor’s wife was so refreshing. Jane Miller and her husband, Larry, have been part of Shiloh Baptist Church in Villa Ridge for nearly 33 years. Jane answered our call that Friday afternoon for information about the church’s recent 200th anniversary, but ended up sharing some unexpected hope too.

She talked about how she and Larry have developed deep friendships with the people in their church over the years. How he has mowed yards when some of their church members haven’t been able to do it themselves. That he keeps the church refrigerator stocked with eggs from the chickens he keeps. Every off-hand reference she made to their church and their ministry told the story of people who have put down roots in a community and are committed to each other.

That’s hopeful.

So, too, is a group of kids waiting—beach towels over their arms—to be baptized at Stonefort Missionary Baptist Church.

Perhaps it’s because the year has been so murky that these bright spots, which might have been overlooked in the past, shine even brighter. As we approach a season focused on giving thanks, may we be grateful for the little things that remind us of God’s goodness and provision, in this year and every other.

-MDF

Andreson-Ponce

Chicago pastor Dave Andreson (left) met Puerto Rican church planters while serving on the island in October, including Jose Ponce, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Resurrección in Isabela.

Arecibo, Puerto Rico | In October, Southern Baptist volunteers began relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the U.S. territory sustained devastating damage from the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

The volunteers are working through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Relief initiative, but their work is unlike other Disaster Relief projects.

“The circumstance is so unusual that we have to take the full responsibility of this response on our own,” said David Melber, president of Send Relief. “That means buying and shipping the food, renting warehouse space, sending the kitchen equipment, and then providing the volunteers to do the cooking. We are forging our entire response by ourselves.”

Chicago church planter Dave Andreson spent a week in Puerto Rico as a trained Disaster Relief chaplain. Andreson, a U.S. Army veteran, couldn’t shake the growing burden he felt for the island. “I had to get there,” said the pastor of Resurrection City Church in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

While plans to send volunteers to Puerto Rico were on hold immediately after the storms, Andreson attended a two-day Disaster Relief training at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in southern Illinois. One week later, with Baptist volunteers able to get into Puerto Rico, Andreson boarded a flight from Chicago to San Juan.

McKnight

Pastor George McKnight and his wife, Debbie, pause for a photo at Green Island Baptist Church in Puerto Rico, which lost its roof and was flooded during Hurricane Maria’s sweeping destruction.

He served with a Disaster Relief team from Virginia in Arecibo, a city 50 miles west of San Juan in northern Puerto Rico. The team stayed at First Baptist Church there and spent their days cleaning out homes and removing downed trees. Andreson said the teams are working under the leadership of local pastors who understand the people and needs in their communities.

Since the hurricanes, Andreson said, many people are leaving Puerto Rico. Their workplaces are still without power, most schools are still closed, and if you have running water, it’s not safe to drink. FBC Aricebo has already lost about 40 people. One church planter Andreson talked to is worried his young congregation won’t survive.

But the Chicago pastor said he believes Puerto Rico is primed for the gospel. “Physical suffering makes us aware of physical need, and those physical needs always open the door by which the word of God, the gospel proclaimed, makes us aware of our spiritual need,” Andreson said.

“This is a horrible thing that happened, but it’s a good gift from God by which the gospel will go forward. Now more than ever, the church in Puerto Rico, the church of Jesus Christ, has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.”

The punishing hurricane season has left its mark in other parts of the U.S., including Florida and in Texas, where Illinois teams have served in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. For more information about Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief opportunities and training, go to IBSA.org/dr. To learn more about opportunities in Puerto Rico through Send Relief, go to sendrelief.net.

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from NAMB

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

At the Vatican’s Humanum Colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage—happening this week—Pope Francis affirmed marriage as providing “unique, natural, and fundamental good for families, humanity, and societies,” according to a report by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“Pope Francis made clear that male/female complementarity is essential to marriage, and that this cannot be redefined by ideology or by the state,” said ERLC Executive Director Russell Moore, who is in Vatican City for the gathering of 300 religious leaders.

The_Briefing“I am glad to hear such a strong statement on this, and on how an eclipse of marriage hurts the poor and the vulnerable.”


Construction on the Washington D.C. Museum of the Bible is set to start by Dec. 1, reports Baptist Press. The museum will house the world’s largest private collection of biblical artifacts, owned by the Green family, who also own Hobby Lobby stores.

“We want to invite all people to engage with this book,” said museum board chairman Steve Green. “We think education is the first goal, for people to realize how this book has impacted their lives, and then consider the principles and apply them to their own lives because of the benefits that it brings.”

The eight-story museum, three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, is set to open in 2017.


Memphis pastor Michael Ellis was unanimously elected the first African American president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention during the convention’s annual meeting last week. “I just happen to be an African American,” said the pastor of Impact Baptist Church, who ran unopposed. “Race doesn’t matter,” Ellis told The Baptist & Reflector. “That’s what I love about our convention.”


With a sermon clocking in at 53 hours and 18 minutes, Pastor Zach Zehnder of Florida broke the Guinness world record for Longest Speech Marathon, The Christian Post reports. Zehnder’s message, preached from Friday to Sunday, raised money for a non-profit dedicated to drug and alcohol-addiction recovery.

The goal of the marathon message, he said, “was to talk about God’s ridiculous commitment to his people.”


One in every 30 U.S. children experienced homelessness last year, according to a report by the National Center on Family Homelessness. “America’s Youngest Outcasts” outlines the prevalence of the problem in every state and ranks them from best to worst. Illinois is in the middle at #25.


Baptists in Illinois joined in a “Concert of Prayer” at their Annual Meeting Nov. 5-6 in Springfield. Read a full report here.