Archives For Ronnie Floyd

supreme-court-buildingImmediately following the election, Pew Research found 81% of white evangelicals said they for voted for Donald Trump. Many have said they did so because, with one vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court and the potential for others, they believed Trump would choose conservative nominees who would reflect their values. In naming Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, President Trump did exactly that.

Following the Gorsuch announcement, Southern Baptist culture watcher Ed Stetzer recalled that Pew poll and wrote on his blog at Christianity Today, “Evangelical Trump voters made a choice and many of them saw today, with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, that their choice was validated. They voted for the sanctity of life and for religious liberty.” Stetzer is the former head LifeWay Research who now leads the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.

Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Episcopalian from Denver, Colorado, appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006. His mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the first woman to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gorsuch is a proponent of originalism. According to the Washington Post court reporter, Robert Barnes, this means “judges should attempt to interpret the words of the Constitution as they were understood at the time they were written — and a textualist who considers only the words of the law being reviewed, not legislators’ intent or the consequences of the decision.”

In a Jan. 27 interview with CBN, Trump said, “I think evangelicals, Christians will love my pick. And will be represented very fairly.” Gorsuch was the judge who had sided with Christian employers and religious organizations in the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor Supreme Court cases. Suits were filed because the Affordable Care Act had imposed rules requiring them to violate their religious beliefs and provide abortion causing contraceptives to employees.

After the announcement, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler expressed thanks for Trump and supporting the nomination: “Judge Gorsuch is committed to textualism and will uphold the Constitution of the United States. His academic credentials are impeccable and his experience as a clerk for two Supreme Court justices and his own distinguished tenure as an appeals court judge qualify him for this nomination without question.”

Russell Moore, President of the SBC’S Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) released a similar statement, calling Gorsuch, “an exceptional choice for Supreme Court justice. He is a brilliant and articulate defender of Constitutional originalism in the mold of the man he will replace: Justice Antonin Scalia.…I heartily support President Trump’s excellent appointment.”

The Gorsuch nomination follows several others of interest to evangelicals. Former SBC president Ronnie Floyd, who attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 2., pointed out other Trump nominees whom he called “followers of Christ”: Education Secretary nominee Betsy Devos, Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary, Rick Perry for Energy Department head, Tom Price to head Health and Human Services, Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General.

–with info from Pew Research, ChristianityToday.com, and the Washington Post

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include a blog post/podcast from Albert Mohler.

Four  prominent Southern Baptists are taking public—and differing—positions on President Trump’s executive order that restricts immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends entrance of all refugees for 120 days, and prevents all Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely.  Commentary from both Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer was published in the Washington Post, while Ronnie Floyd and Albert Mohler are speaking out on their blogs.

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has begun commenting on actions by the new administration, after a relatively quiet December. He wrote a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell responding to the president’s order on refugees that the Post has exclusively on its opinion page.  In the Jan. 30 letter, Moore references the Resolution on Refugee Ministry passed by messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “’Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner.’ Southern Baptist churches throughout the United States lead the way in carrying out this calling,” Moore wrote.

Moore also expressed concern for the safety of Southern Baptists who, “are among the many Americans living in majority-Muslim countries to carry out the biblical call to love their neighbors.” He also called on the president to reaffirm his administration’s “commitment to religious freedom” and “adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, the former Executive Director of LifeWay Research who now serves as the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, had his own op-ed published by the Post Jan. 26, “Evangelicals, we cannot let alternative facts drive U.S. refugee policy.” Stetzer agreed with the president on a need for a greater focus on national security however, he said, “I’m concerned that the president is operating on generated fear rather than facts. We need a better way.”

Stetzer’s better way is to “reject false facts,” “recapture a vision of what it means that all are made in God’s image,” and to “fight for those without a voice.”

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Ronnie Floyd

Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church and immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published, “Navigating through the refugee issue from a biblical perspective,” to his blog, RonnieFloyd.com. In his post Floyd declared, “If we do not look at it biblically, we enter into dialogue without authority and clarity.” He advised: Love the refugee, fix the immigration system, and pray diligently.

He too referenced the 2016 Resolution on Refugee Ministry, “…one line in this resolution that realized the biblical responsibility of government: ‘RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm…’”

Floyd, who served on Trump’s religious advisory board during the election, wrote, “This line was included in the resolution because as followers of Christ, we must understand the tension that occurs because our government has a responsibility it is mandated to fulfill.”

He concluded by asking Christians to stress balance in their reactions to what is taking place. “Believing and operating with biblical balance, we know the Church must realize biblically that the government’s duty is to protect its citizens. Simultaneously, we must affirm the responsibility of the Church to minister to refugees who are brought inside the borders of America.”

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Albert Moher

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, devoted the January 30 edition of The Briefing to the controversy. He sought to clarify misconceptions many have concerning the executive order by pointing out the seven countries on the identified in the order are known terrorist threats. He noted several other countries have much larger Muslim populations and do not appear on the list.

“The entire system of laws in this country concerning our borders and entry into the country is a part of the government’s responsibility to keep the nation secure,” Mohler said.

Mohler compared previous immigrants who came not just to live in America but to be American, to the teachings of classical Islam. “It is not just what is often called radical Islam, it is classical Islam, it is the Islam believed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world that requires that every Muslim seek to bring every nation under the law of the Quran, under Sharia law.”

He cautioned, “The significant issue to observe here is that even though some who are coming in terms of these waves of Muslim immigration intend to join these communities and these cultures, the reality is that the majority of these immigrants and Muslims have not been assimilated into the cultures. To put it in terms of the American experiment, we have to be very careful that we do not reshape America by creating a population that does not intend, even though they are resident in this country, to be a part of the American project.” He pointed to the situation in Europe as an example of this reshaping.

Floyd calls Trump prexy ‘our moment’

National Prayer Service in Washington DC

SBC Pastors Ronnie Floyd (center left) and David Jeremiah (center right) exit the platform and prepare to greet President Trump at the conclusion of the National Prayer Service Jan. 21 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. Fox Phoenix screen capture

“Right now we’ve got a shot to really make a difference,” Ronnie Floyd told his congregation on Sunday. “God has given us a moment. It’s time to pray more than we’ve ever prayed in our country…to pray more with stronger conviction that every life matters to God.”

Floyd was just one of the notable Southern Baptist pastors participating in inaugural ceremonies for incoming President, Donald Trump. The pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas was one of the evangelical advisors to Trump.

Noting the current discord in the nation, Floyd said, “This is not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about spiritual warfare; right and wrong. It’s not about what it appears to be about, it’s not about flesh and blood.

“You don’t announce you’re going to put pro-life judges on the Supreme Court and expect the world to receive it,” Floyd said in a video posted at his website.

Southern Baptists were prominent at the National Prayer gathering on Saturday following the inauguration, both in their placement in the program and on the platform among the 26 religious leaders invited to participate in the event.

Floyd and David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., sat on the dais of the National Cathedral, just behind the Episcopal celebrants who were leading the service and in front of the choir loft. Jeremiah read from Romans 5, the passage about character, endurance, patience, and hope. And Floyd read Psalm 23 from the King James Version.

Prestonwood Baptist Church pastor Jack Graham was one of the speakers in the “prayers of the people,” reading a scripted prayer on behalf of “those who serve.” And a granddaughter of Billy Graham, Franklin’s daughter Cissie Graham Lynch, read a similar prayer in a procession that included a rabbi, representatives of several Protestant denominations, and several Eastern religions.

Ramiro Peña, pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, wrapped up the litany of prayers with The Lord’s Prayer. In an unofficial count, Southern Baptists outnumbered other faiths among clergy participating in the inauguration and prayer service. The interfaith service held an an Anglical cathedral had distinctly evangelical touches. Melania Trump led a standing ovation for the solo singer of “How Great Thou Art,” and the service concluded with “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, sang from memory.

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

He instructed them, “God says in Psalm 50:15 ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble I shall rescue you and you will honor Me.’”

– Staff Report, with info from Baptist Press, RonnieFloyd.com, FirstDallas.org, and C-SPAN.

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We live by God’s surprises,” said Helmut Thielicke. The German pastor was speaking in times more trying than ours, but in the darkest days of WW2, he could see the hand of God at work—and was amazed by it.

Dare we say the same of the year just past?

We were surprised by events we witnessed. In their unfolding, we sought the reassurance of God’s sovereignty. Here are some noteworthy moments for Baptists in Illinois—some heavy, some light—and what they may say about the year before us.

– The Editors

SBC candidates: Unity matters

What the U.S. presidential election may have lacked in civility, the 2016 election for Southern Baptist Convention President more than made up for in grace. When a close vote forced a run-off between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear, the election seemed poised to divide Baptists over matters of theology and generation.

Instead, the candidates talked the night before the third vote was to be taken, and one bowed out, urging his supporters to vote for his opponent.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us,” North Carolina pastor Greear posted in support of Tennessee pastor Gaines. “It’s time to look at what unites us.”

On paper, this decade’s SBC presidents are a diverse bunch, not united by much in terms of their backgrounds and interests:

  • Atlanta-area pastor Bryant Wright (2010-2012), who recently spoke out in favor of ministering to refugees
  • Dynamic New Orleans preacher Fred Luter (2012-2014), elected as the SBC’s first ever African American president
  • Ronnie Floyd (2014-2016), pastor of a multi-site church in Arkansas and a prolific blogger who led the denomination toward a laser-like focus on prayer
  • And Gaines, elected in 2016, who has espoused traditional Baptist theology and his own intense focus on evangelism.

What does unite them is a logical progression in the things they have called Baptists toward: For Wright, it was a return to Great Commission principles. Luter’s presidency was marked by impassioned pleas for spiritual awakening and revival. And Floyd called Southern Baptists to their knees—for themselves, their churches, the denomination, the nation, and the world.

Gaines announced he will continue the emphasis on prayer at the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix. It may be a sign that the desire for unity, despite differences in age, theological perspective, and communication style, is actually, in Greear’s words, “what unites us.”

A new missions paradigm

After a season in which budget shortfalls and personnel cuts seemed to limit the future potential for Baptist missions engagement around the world, International Mission Board President David Platt continued to preach a message to the contrary.

“Limitless” is the word Platt has used to describe the mission force needed to take the gospel to places without it. To achieve that goal, he has said, the SBC has to think differently about missions and missionaries than we have in the past.

“Let me be crystal clear: the IMB is still going to send full-time, fully-funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent,” Platt said during his report at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. “They are the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force.”

But the IMB’s emerging strategy is to put around those missionaries a “limitless” force of students, retirees, and professionals—people who, to borrow Platt’s words, are willing to leverage their jobs and lives so that more might hear and respond to the gospel.

The newly redesigned IMB website reflects the strategy, with buttons for people in a variety of categories to search for opportunities overseas. There are needs for business consultants, healthcare professionals, construction engineers, and more. The IMB also offers training resources for churches to equip and mobilize members for missions, both short-term and longer.

Global mission “is not just for a select few people in the church, but for multitudes of Spirit-filled men and women across the church,” Platt said in St. Louis.

A year ago, when hundreds of IMB missionaries moved back home, the chances of getting the gospel to some of the world’s darkest places seemed dimmer. Now, with a strategy focused on everyday people like the ones who sparked a gospel fire in the New Testament, the opportunities seem endless. Or, limitless.

If I had a hammer

We’ll hear it a lot in the new year. On Halloween night in 1517, disgruntled priest Martin Luther nailed his 95 complaints on the church door in Wittenberg and started an ecclesial revolution. We’re likely to hear about it from all corners, including events at our seminaries, panels at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, and bus tours of Germany. And we may have a few serious discussions about the theological direction of the SBC. Look for Reformation@500 in the pages of the Illinois Baptist throughout 2017.

Read Cloudy with a chance of surprises, pt. 1

Platt surprised by number, but financial position called ‘much healthier’

Richmond, Va. | David Platt’s report to the International Mission Board’s Board (IMB) of Trustees was the culmination of six month’s worth of efforts to undo the six year’s worth of overspending.

The IMB president, told trustees 1,132 total IMB personnel had accepted the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) or Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO).  The numbers broke down to 702 missionaries and 109 staff personnel accepting the VRI, and 281 missionaries and 40 staff accepting the HRO. The positions of 30 personnel in IMB’s Richmond communications office were eliminated in its mobilization restructure.

The total was nearly twice the minimum number the mission board needed to depart to balance its budget. As a result, the number of missionaries on the field are down to around 3,800, a number not seen 1992 when, according to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual reports, the year ended with 3,893 international missionaries were serving.

Platt told reporters participating in a press conference via telephone February 24, “The numbers surprised me, for which I don’t have an explanation. We’ve put it in the hands of missionaries as much as possible… This a larger number than I or anyone else was anticipating. We called on people to pray so we’re going to trust in the Lord and his decision.”

While the press conference was taking place, Platt told reporters a severe storm was passing through and noted the lights were flickering on and off. A few minutes later the lights went out and a Tornado Warning Alert could be heard. The press conference was stopped for a half hour until the storm passed.

After discussing the numbers, Platt told the gathered media, “I want to talk about the number of missionaries who are left. Thousands of missionaries remain on the field, with thousands of years of collective experience. Everyone of them on the field has been placed there by God.”

IMB reported it had “consistently spent more money than it has received — a combined $210 million more since 2010…Because 80 percent of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel salary, benefits and support expenses, leaders determined a need to reduce the total number of personnel by approximately 600-800 people to get to a healthy financial place in the present for sustained growth and engagement in the future.”

The Illinois Baptist asked what his reaction was to receiving almost double the number of resignations needed? “My heart is heavy but hopeful,” he answered. “Heavy in a sense that my heart is not to see less people on the field. My heart is heavy seeing the effects…It’s a hopeful confidence mingled with that heaviness.”

“What does this say about the confidence the missions force has in the new leadership?” the Illinois Baptist asked in a follow-up. Platt replied, “I’m very encouraged to see God working in the middle of all this. I have a hopeful confidence in what the IMB will be able to do in the future.

“I hope Southern Baptists see a serious desire to love and lead the IMB well…This is in no way a commentary on past leadership. Past leadership made a bold decision to put people on the field.”

Platt also addressed a question he said people have been asking, “How can you send thousands more when you just sent a thousand off the field?” His answer focused on what some would describe as marketplace missions, “limitless opportunities for people to work overseas and retire overseas.” In turn they would be funded by their paychecks and pensions. He also noted mission opportunities for students studying abroad.

One reporter expressed concerns from churches about the departure of so many missionaries leaving a “brain drain” on the field. Platt responded, “We encouraged missionaries returning to take their last days on the field to pour into our national partners and other IMB missionaries that were still there.”

Another reporter asked Platt if he saw this proposed use of self-funded missionaries as the IMB taking a societal approach to missions.

In his answer Platt noted, people who get jobs overseas and are paid by their businesses, universities provide scholarships to students, and countries in southeast Asia are seeking Westerners to retire there “rolling out the red carpet.” With these opportunities, he asked, “How can we not support the core paid missionaries with those around them that can help?”

He continued, “I can’t pray Matthew 7:9 and then tell people who want to serve with the IMB, ‘no.’ God’s created these other avenues…”

Platt also responded to a question regarding what kind of response he has heard from Southern Baptists. “I’ve not been surprised by the feedback from Southern Baptist pastors and church leaders,” he shared. “They’re thankful we’ve chosen to stewardship resources in the way we have…They’ve been very encouraging. Once they hear the big picture they say that makes sense, thank you for making that decision.”

He went on to say, “People aren’t happy about it. I’m not happy about it. It’s a hard reality for Southern Baptists to face that we don’t have the resources to keep more people on the field….I expect people to be upset that people are leaving the field but God’s leading us to greater financial stewardship.”

SBC President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press, “This reset is not regress or retreat. Southern Baptist churches must see this as a fresh calling to reaching the world for Christ. Now is the time to go forward with a clear vision and an aggressive strategy to make disciples of all the nations for Christ.”

Twenty-six new missionaries were appointed to the International Mission Board Feb. 23, in a service that was the first to be live-streamed.

The IMB Board of Trustees met February 22-24 in Richmond, Virginia.

IMB will host a livestream focused on “The Future of the IMB” Thursday, March 3, at 11 a.m. EST. For more information, visit IMB.org/live.

The BriefingWho’s next for National WMU?
Wanda Lee, National WMU Executive Director, announced her retirement Monday (Jan. 11) at the annual January Board Meeting of the Woman’s Missionary Union. Lee has been at the helm of the National WMU since 2000 when she replaced Dellana O’Brien. Among those speculated on as her possible replacement is Sandy Wisdom-Martin, former Illinois WMU Executive Director and current Executive Director of Texas WMU. http://www.sbcthisweek.com/national-wmu-facing-pivotal-moment-with-lees-retirement/


SBC President on the ‘spiritual’ state of the union
As President Obama prepares to give his final State of the Union address tonight (Jan. 12), the President of the Southern Baptist Convention issued his own spiritual state of our union. Floyd shared on his blog, “What’s especially alarming to me, serving as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, is that we fail to realize how the spiritual health of our nation affects the state of our union. As our spiritual lives go, so goes the nation.” http://www.ronniefloyd.com/blog/10027/


Over 5,000 to join Chicago’s March for Life
Pro-lifers in Illinois are expecting over 5,000 people to join the annual Chicago March for Life event ahead of the national march in Washington D.C. A local version of the march held every year in the nation’s capital on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, the Chicago march on Jan. 17 is expected to be the largest held in the entire Midwest. http://www.christianpost.com/news/chicago-march-for-life-5000-pro-lifers-attend-illinois-abortion-declining-parental-notification-154282/#CSgVFLGvvAWl5t93.99


Process begins to remove prof over ‘same God’ comments
A panel of Wheaton College faculty will meet within the next 30 days to consider whether to recommend termination for political science professor Larycia Hawkins. Administrators placed Hawkins on paid leave in December after she made comments on social media about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God. http://bpnews.net/46121/first-steps-taken-to-fire-prof-over-muslim-comments


Churches see need to screen volunteers
Almost half of the background checks requested by churches through LifeWay’s program with backgroundchecks.com reveal some type of criminal offense. Most of those are minor incidents such as speeding tickets, but 21 percent of inquiries discovered misdemeanors or more serious crimes. http://factsandtrends.net/2016/01/07/more-churches-recognizing-need-for-volunteer-screening/#.VpQoi3mhqUn

Sources: Baptist Press, Christian Post, Facts and Trends, RonnieFloyd.com, SBC this Week

And what the trends mean for your church

An Illinois Baptist team report

"Imagine if you could spend 10 focused minutes each Sunday morning in extraordinary prayer on two major needs locally, in your church, in America, or across the world.” SBC President Ronnie Floyd’s “Call to Prayer” that began at the Annual Meeting in Baltimore now turns to Sunday mornings, starting with one worship service in January.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd’s “Call to Prayer” that began at the Annual Meeting in Baltimore now turns to Sunday mornings, starting with one worship service in January.

1. Churches respond to “Call to Prayer”
“It is past time for us to prioritize prayer personally and in the church,” SBC President Ronnie Floyd wrote on his blog in early December. “For far too long, we have seen what we can do; it is time for us to see what God can do. This can only happen when we pray.”

Floyd’s continued call to prayer—leading to the June 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio—began about two years ago with a series of meetings for pastors and church leaders. Floyd began quoting famed Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards who called believers to “extraordinary prayer” for revival in America.

“God’s people will be given a spirit of prayer,” Edwards wrote in 1746, “inspiring them to come together and pray in an extraordinary manner, that He would help his Church, show mercy to mankind in general, pour out his Spirit, revive His work, and advance His kingdom in the world as He promised.”

Today’s growing urgency in prayer coincided with planning for the 2014 IBSA Annual Meeting in November. “We will either hunger for God’s righteousness out of desperation or…out of devastation,” IBSA President Odis Weaver told messengers. The November meeting peaked in a Concert of Prayer for Spiritual Awakening in Illinois and across the U.S.

“I believe we need to cry out to God for spiritual awakening, and for revival in our churches,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. He led more than 400 pastors and church leaders through a prayer cycle lamenting the lost condition of people in Illinois, repenting of apathy and ineffectiveness, interceding for spiritual awakening, and commiting to pursuit of revival in our churches.

Afterward, many pastors said they would lead similar prayer events when they returned home.

Now Floyd is asking churches to dedicate an entire Sunday morning service to prayer in January: “Just imagine if 100 churches, 500 churches, or several thousand Southern Baptist churches would turn a Sunday morning into insuring that Jesus’ House would be a genuine house of prayer for all the nations.
Just imagine what could happen if, from this point forward, you could spend 10 focused minutes each Sunday morning in extraordinary prayer on two major needs locally, in your church, in America, or across the world.”

Jonathan Edwards imagined the outcome. He called it the “revival of religion.” We would call it “advancement of the Gospel”—the salvation of lost souls, renewal of our churches, and restoration of moral sensibility to the nation.

In your church: SBC churches will likely give prayer a higher profile in 2015, but what are we praying for? How will we sustain prayer in our congregations as more than a once-in-a-while emphasis? Consider a Concert of Prayer in January. As Floyd wrote, “If we do not plan to pray, we will not pray!

2. Evangelicals cope with minority status
Say goodbye to Mayberry. The culture is shifting. What was once called good is now called evil, and vice versa, just as Isaiah said of his own times. The majority opinion in the U.S. approves of same-sex marriage, and many other sexual matters—once outside the norm—are being accepted by society at large. But, while the morals and mores are changing, Southern Baptists are not.

We still stand on the Word.

“One of the biggest challenges for conservative Christians is moving beyond a Bible Belt mentality, or a moral majority mentality,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, “and seeing ourselves instead as in many cases a prophetic minority speaking to a larger culture about things that matter.”

Moore called on pastors and church leaders to “prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive.”

“The Bible Belt is collapsing,” Moore has concluded.

The main evidence of that in Illinois is same-sex marriage which became legal June 1. Churches, at one point concerned they would be forced to perform
gay weddings, instead began addressing their bylaws as means of protection.

Another response by evangelicals is to make the church a place of refuge, said John Stonestreet, commentator for Breakpoint Ministries. “People who are enslaved to porn and suffer different forms of brokenness need to be able to come to the church and find answers. The church needs to offer hope and solutions. We need to say, ‘Here’s an option. Here’s the hope; here’s the gospel; here’s the truth; here’s Jesus; and here’s the cross.’”

Moore concurs. “We must have a voice that speaks to the conscience, a voice that is splattered with blood. We are ministers…not of condemnation, the devil can do that, we are ministers of reconciliation, which means that we will speak hard words…truthful words to address the conscience, even when that costs us everything.”

In your church: Church leaders are ministering from a new vantage point, but with the same apologetic. The challenge will be to confront cultural ills in a way that is biblically faithful and yet winsome. The message hasn’t changed, but some in our society today need to hear the truth truly spoken in love.

At a meeting in Asia, young missionaries surround new IMB President David Platt to pray for him as he seeks to mobilize churches. Photo by Hugh Johnson/IMB

At a meeting in Asia, young missionaries surround new IMB President David Platt to pray for him as he seeks to mobilize churches. Photo by Hugh Johnson/IMB

3. Young leaders urge peers to “re-engage”
The evidence has been building for a few years now: young Baptists are back. Or on their way back, at least.

They’re more visible at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meetings, and, in 2014, at two meetings on the gospel and marriage hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. They’re also beginning to look remarkably similar in age to the leaders of several of the denomination’s entities. At the ERLC’s October national conference, 125 young leaders had dinner with President Russell Moore and the heads of the SBC’s two missions agencies, Kevin Ezell and David Platt. At four years, Ezell is the longest-tenured at his post; Moore took the ERLC reins in 2013, and Platt was elected in August.

“There’s never been a better time in my lifetime to re-engage as a Southern Baptist than right now,” Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, said at the meeting. “I really believe that God is up to something very special in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Many young Baptists likely would cite the election of Platt, 36, as one of the highlights of 2014. Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen, himself 38, blogged that when he announced Platt’s election during a September chapel service, students (and faculty and staff) broke into applause for the missiologist and author of bestseller “Radical.”

More than 1,000 miles away in Richmond, Va., young missionary appointees gathered around Platt shortly after his election to congratulate him and tell him how “Radical” and his messages on reaching the nations had helped lead them to the international mission field.

After Platt’s election, some Baptist leaders expressed concern that his Birmingham congregation, The Church at Brook Hills, gave a lower amount through traditional Cooperative Program channels, instead sending a large portion of their gifts directly to the SBC Executive Committee and International Mission Board.

But even with those concerns, established leaders affirmed Platt’s ability to mobilize young people to share the gospel to the ends of the earth. Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson noted it in a blog post published shortly after Platt’s election, calling for “thanksgiving to God for the presence of a young leader who has obviously garnered the hearts of the younger generation and who will have the opportunity to lead them to a commitment to the world mission enterprise.”

One blogger put it a little more plainly, noting Platt may be just the right voice to deliver tough love to would-be male missionaries outnumbered by female “Journeymen” appointed through the IMB.

“Lend your voice to addressing the issue of young males wimping out of Journeyman service,” William Thornton wrote at SBC Voices. “These guys think you walk on water, Mr. Radical. Give ‘em both barrels on this and see what happens.”

In your church: Look for increased excitement from your own young leaders now that the authors and speakers they’ve followed for several years are in prominent positions. Be prepared for them to want to go to the hard places for ministry and missions. “That’s where we hear young couples saying they want to go, that they want to be radically obedient to what God has called us to do for the nations,” said IMB trustee chairman David Uth. “The passion is there.”

4. Growing persecution: From “the Nun” to “resurrection people”
Before Ebola dominated headlines, another one-word threat struck fear in the hearts of many around the world—and even here. The war of terror and persecution waged by ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was the story of the year earlier in 2014.

ISIS chased religious minorities high into the mountains of Iraq. They filmed beheadings and broadcast them as warnings to the rest of the world. And they stirred many in the Western world to stand with the persecuted church. The Arabic letter “Nun” was used on social media pages to symbolize solidarity with those persecuted for their faith in “the Nazarene,” or Jesus.

It’s not just a problem in the Middle East. In Nigeria, 1,505 Christians were killed for their faith in the first seven months of 2014, according to non-profit Jubilee Campaign. North Korea again topped Open Doors’ list of most persecuted countries, highlighted by the imprisonment of American Kenneth Bae, who was finally released in November. Others, including Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran, remain in prison.

Closer to home, Christians felt a different kind of persecution. Businesses and non-profits faced government fines for not providing abortion-causing contraceptives. The mayor of Houston, Texas, subpoenaed the sermons of pastors who were against the city’s pro-LGBT ordinance.

Christian leaders here urged believers to remember who they belong to. “The answer to the decline of religious freedom and the change in the moral climate is not found in waging incessant cultural wars, filled with rage at our changing culture,” said LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer. “Simply put, you can’t hate a people and reach a people at the same time.”

Instead, he urged Christians, “Let’s live like the resurrection people, adorning the gospel with lives of grace. Even in our passion to defend freedoms increasingly at risk, let’s remind ourselves this generation is desperately in need of the love of Christ, lived and shared.”

In your church: Be prepared to think globally about persecution. How can your church go beyond your normal prayer times to intercede for those under threat for their faith?

Be alert to what government bodies are doing. Speak out when religious liberties are threatened. The IRS prohibits churches from supporting candidates, but not from speaking on issues related to faith.

SBC’s Frank Page speaks frequently about the future of the Cooperative Program, painting a hopeful picture despite years of declining offerings. Photo by Morris Abernathy

SBC’s Frank Page speaks frequently about the future of the Cooperative Program, painting a hopeful picture despite years of declining offerings. Photo by Morris Abernathy

5. Cooperative missions for a new generation

Most Baptists agreed the Cooperative Program, the denomination’s chief method of funding missions and ministry, is the best way for churches together to pursue the Great Commission. But how to fix the CP, plateaued and trending slightly downward for years, is up for debate. The election of David Platt as IMB president revealed how his church and other large churches have bypassed their state conventions, even though CP gifts for national and international missions are supposed to be routed first through the state level.

“I have heard some people say, ‘The big problem is that the younger generation simply isn’t educated about CP,’” blogged pastor J.D. Greear after Platt’s election. “That may be true for a small percentage of people, but the bigger problem is probably that they are educated about it. The more they find out about CP giving, the less they are motivated to give.”

Meanwhile, blogger Bart Barber spoke up for the reliability of the system itself, calling those who disagree with the way CP funds are allocated to greater involvement in SBC life. “…Within the Cooperative Program approach you can pursue any ministry, reallocate any budget, or adopt any methodology that you can convince enough of your fellow churches and fellow pastors to adopt,” Barber posted at SBC Voices.

“Bring on the changes! Make your proposals! Go to the floor of the SBC Annual Meeting! Attend your state convention meeting! Advocate tirelessly and fearlessly for the improvements you’d like to see. Whatever they are and however much adaptation they would require, I’m betting that almost none of it would actually require any changes at all in the Cooperative Program.”

SBC Executive Committee CEO Frank Page continued his campaign for increased giving through the Cooperative Program, touring the nation (including Chicago) to talk with younger pastors and leaders. “I’ll drop the Cooperative Program if you can show me something else that long-term is effective and engages every church concurrently and consistently in an Acts 1:8 strategy,” Page has said on several occasions. “Show it to me, and I’ll support it….But I
haven’t found it yet.”

In your church: More conversation about CP in the national SBC could mean it’s time for a refresher course in your local church. A class for young or new Baptists is an opportunity to teach about why Baptists give cooperatively. One big reason: CP helps missionaries focus on their mission field, instead of fundraising. Another reason: CP helps the local church have a balanced missions strategy, supporting work on all their Acts 1:8 mission fields.

-With reporting from Baptist Press

Read all of the December 22 Illinois Baptist at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.