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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

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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

Almost a thousand evangelical Christian leaders gathered in New York City Tuesday to meet with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Among them were a number of prominent Southern Baptists. Eight were among the 25 leaders appointed to Trump’s evangelical advisory panel.

They are: Ronnie Floyd, immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in northwestern Arkansas; Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University; Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a former SBC president; Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas; David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and former Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president; James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, which only recently joined the SBC; and Jay Strack, motivational speaker and founder and president of Student Leadership University.

Being on the advisory board does not amount to a full public endorsement (Falwell, Jr. is the only one who has publicly endorsed Trump) , however to many it does imply a tacit endorsement. Some have been critical of the leaders’ action, to which Land replied via an editorial in the Christian Post. “What would our critics have us do?,” he asked. “Would they really have us spurn the opportunity to give spiritual counsel and advice to Mr. Trump and his team? How would that be obedience to our Savior’s command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? (Matthew 5:13-16). After all, as Evangelicals we all believe that the heart of the king “is in the hand of the Lord . . . He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Proverbs 21:1).”

Current ERLC president, Russell Moore, has been a vocal opponent of Trump, tweeting Tuesday afternoon, “If you wondered why younger, theological, gospel-centered evangelicals reacted neg to the old guard Religious Right, well, now you know.”

And, a few minutes later, “Forget the politics. Forget the country. An unrepentant lost person pronounces himself to be a believer. And you stand there and applaud?”

At last week’s Southern Baptist Convention, in the President’s message, Floyd stated, “Our nation is divided. We are known more for being the divided states of America than the United States of America. The national political races we have observed over this past year personify the fractured, dysfunctional condition in America relationally.”

Floyd also led a panel on Pastor’s and Politics at the convention. He introduced the panel saying, “Disagreement doesn’t have to result in a strained relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ…This presidential panel is an attempt to address this conversation.”

Graham, who was one of the panelists urged Southern Baptists not to sit at home but to get involved in the process. “One concern we should all have 30-40 million stayed home and did not participate…This is a critical election for the future of America,” he said.

He pointed to three primary issues Christians should be looking at when voting for a presidential. They are choosing Supreme Court justices, belief in the sanctity of life, and maintaining religious liberty. Graham noted, “We must not abdicate our responsibility to pray and to vote.”

There words appeared to be at odds with other convention leaders. At the B21 Luncheon during the convention, Moore and Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were among the panelists speaking. Replying to a question about the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, Mohler said, “I find myself in a situation I’ve never found myself in as a Christian. I’m going to find myself unable to vote for either candidate.”

Moore agreed and said he plans to write in a name on his ballot.

One thing is certain, there will be continued disagreement regarding the presidential election. Another thing is also certain, many in the U.S. appear to be having flashbacks to 1976 and having their own Howard Beale, “Network” moments in this election cycle.

– Lisa Misner Sergent

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SBC President Ronnie Floyd at the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

When Ronnie Floyd was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination was coming to grips with the truth. After several years of describing many churches as “plateaued or declining,” leaders started speaking in frank terms about why, year after year, key measures like church membership, worship attendance, and baptisms were down denomination-wide.

“We are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness,” one Baptist leader said in 2014, the year Floyd was elected to his first term.

Things looked bleak, and for the first time in a while, the pressure wasn’t coming from outside opposition or controversy. Rather, the SBC seemed to be at an impasse.

Before his presidency, Floyd was already established as someone who could provide direction. As the pastor of a Southern megachurch, he led his congregation to a regional, multi-campus strategy and a new name—from First Baptist, Springdale, to Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas.

That is perhaps Floyd’s greatest legacy: He has reminded us that revival starts with prayer, and prayer starts with humility.

As chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, Floyd helped lead Baptists to renewed commitment to a unified purpose—albeit with some difficult adjustments and plenty of debate over proposed funding changes between national agencies and state conventions.

But when Floyd was elected as SBC president, he looked not to drastic measures or sweeping changes—but to prayer. Unified, solidified, corporate prayer. Prayer that asked Baptists of all stripes to set aside differences for something greater than themselves: pleading with God for a great spiritual awakening.

Putting greater emphasis on the SBC annual meeting, Floyd called Baptists to Columbus, Ohio, in June of 2015 for a special prayer meeting to together confess sin—like racism and evangelism apathy—and to move forward as a humbled Convention that prioritized the work and mission of God.

In advance of the prayer meeting, which will happen again this summer in St. Louis, Floyd kept everyone in the loop through regular blog posts and columns distributed via Baptist Press and state Baptist newspapers. Throughout his presidency, he hasn’t hesitated to use the power of the pen (and keyboard) to inform, encourage, and challenge Baptists about the state of the SBC and our desperate need for spiritual awakening.

At the Southern Baptist Convention next weeek in St. Louis, the Tuesday evening session of the meeting will again be devoted to prayer. That is perhaps Floyd’s greatest legacy: He has reminded us that revival starts with prayer, and prayer starts with humility. For calling us together for that purpose, he deserves our thanks.

Metro St. Louis leaders ready for Crossover partners

Crossover-Banner-smallSt. Louis | As Southern Baptists across the country turn their eyes to St. Louis, Ronny Carroll is more than ready to receive a few thousand extra laborers in order to achieve a great harvest.

“With the manpower coming, our churches can really pull off something God-sized,” said Carroll, executive director of missions for the Metro East Baptist Association, which serves the Illinois side of the St. Louis area. “The preparation alone has already given our churches a boost of energy and excitement in anticipation of what God’s going to do.”

Crossover St. Louis will take place on June 11, just before the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, which will be held June 14-15 at the city’s America’s Center. Crossover will include more than 70 service and outreach projects throughout five counties in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

Prior to the 2015 SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, thousands of seeds were planted resulting in at least 345 people who made professions of faith. Carroll is hoping to double that this year.

“We are praying for 1,000 souls to come to Jesus and for 27 new churches to be established,” he said. “I believe God is going to do his job, we just need to be ready for his movement.”

Carroll said that during the last few months and even years, God has been paving the way for an epic revival of hope and healing to break out in St. Louis. And he said God has used Southern Baptists every step of the way.

“Look at all that has happened, in particular the flooding that occurred around Christmas, where Southern Baptists have been the hands and feet of Jesus,” Carroll said, referring to SBC Disaster Relief efforts in St. Louis just a few months ago. “At one level, Crossover will tie into the work that has already been done and add one more dimension to the truth that Southern Baptists, as individuals and as churches, really care about the people and the communities and quality of life they have. They are primed and ready to receive the eternal hope and salvation that Christ offers.”

And to do that, Carroll said the plan for Crossover St. Louis is to “keep it small, but make it huge.”

Crossover will impact churches in six different associations in both Missouri and Illinois. But, because of the unique needs within each association and community, the projects are indigenous to what will make the biggest impact in a given neighborhood.

“Each church has its own local vision and the 21 projects on our side of the river reflect the unique flavor of our communities,” Carroll said. “We are working with city officials and mayors for some of our cleanup projects and planning block parties, or fiestas, in some of our growing Hispanic neighborhoods.”

Tom Firasek, ministry and partnership coordinator for the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, said organization-wise they are already miles ahead of where past Crossover events were at this stage of the preparation process.

“We met with Rich Halcombe (director of missions in Columbus) and other Columbus Southern Baptist leadership and spent the day learning what works, what doesn’t and what logistical needs might come up,” Firasek said.

“When you are about to support and rally behind 75 or so highly visible events at the same time, you want to be sure to orchestrate everything with excellence, while at the same time pointing to Jesus and proclaiming the gospel every step of the way.”

In addition, Firasek said between 100-150 seminary students will be joining the effort in St. Louis during the week leading up to Crossover.

“We would love to see God open up the needs and challenges of St. Louis so that some of these folks would consider planting their lives here or making ongoing partnerships here,” Firasek said. “In the metro area we have one church for every 7,500 people. We need more church starts.”

With Crossover St. Louis just a couple months away, Carroll said their biggest need is for more volunteers to commit to join them.

“If God’s leading you to be a part of Crossover, please commit to join us soon so we can get you partnered with a project,” he said. “Also, we would love for you to join us in prayer. We are praying God will flood us with his mercy and grace and that He will prepare the lost people to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.”

Carroll said they are also praying for churches to be ready to plug new Christians into their ministries and for church plants to grow quickly from the influx of new believers across St. Louis.

“God has already opened so many doors for the gospel to be presented in a mighty way here,” he said. “Pray that we will be faithful with the doors he’s opened.”

For more information on projects taking place during Crossover St. Louis visit the Metro East Baptist Association website at meba.org or visit namb.net/crossover.

Kayla Rinker is a freelance journalist in Missouri.

David Crosby

David Crosby

New Orleans pastor David Crosby is the third candidate to be named as a nominee for Southern Baptist Convention president. On March 24, former SBC President Fred Luter announced he will nominate Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, to the post during the SBC Annual Meeting in St. Louis.

“I have watched David the last 10 years here in New Orleans as he has taken the leadership of all the churches and pastors of our city in helping to rebuild New Orleans, which everybody knows was totally destroyed [in 2005] in Hurricane Katrina,” Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, told Baptist Press.

Crosby joins previously announced candidates — J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

In contrast to Greear and Gaines, Crosby has lead his church to a higher percentage in Cooperative Program giving. According to Luter, during the 20 years Crosby has pastored First Baptist, the congregation has given between 7-15% of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program. Annual Church Profile reports show First Baptist’s total missions giving to be at least 22% of its undesignated receipts annually over the past five years.

Greear’s church gives 2.4% of undesignated receipts to CP, while Gaines’ gives approximately 4.6% of undesignated receipts to CP.

First Baptist has averaged 658 people in Sunday morning worship services and 24 baptisms between 2011 and 2015. The Summit’s baptisms increased from 19 in 2002, when Greear arrived, to 928 in 2014. Bellevue has averaged 481 baptisms annually during Gaines’ tenure.

Crosby is married and has three children and eight grandchildren. He earned a master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of philosophy from Baylor University.

March 2 Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., announced he will nominate Greear, and March 9 Johnny Hunt, former SBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., said he will nominate Gaines.

The 2016 Southern Baptist Convention will take place June 14-15 in St. Louis, MO. Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd is finishing his second term in the post. Floyd is pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas.

Nathan CarterCOMMENTARY | You are probably familiar with the term “multi-site” by now. Maybe your church has already gone to the model, or is considering it. Very simply put, multi-site refers to the concept of one church that meets in multiple locations. Twenty-five years ago, there were fewer than 25 such multi-site churches in North America. Today there are over 5,000! It is a relatively recent phenomenon, yet an increasingly popular strategy for reaching more people with the gospel.

Opening up another campus allows for growth that is usually quicker and more cost-effective than building bigger or sending people out to start something new. It is in many ways simpler and more streamlined. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can keep the same name, logo, website, 501(c)3 status, support staff, etc. Resources can be shared more readily. You can be more certain that your own “DNA” is being replicated.

I understand the appeal and practical benefits. There are many Baptists whom I respect that have gladly joined the multi-site movement, motivated by a genuine desire to penetrate lostness. But I’ve always had a lingering doubt about whether this method is entirely consistent with our Baptist principles, particularly that of local church autonomy.

Now you may be wondering why I don’t pose the question as, “Is it biblical to be multi-site?” It is because I don’t have space to make a full argument from Scripture. I am assuming that we are all Baptists here. And I am assuming that we are Baptists because we believe it is biblical. We are solidly convinced the Bible teaches that baptism is to be administered to believers only. And we believe that “a New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers” (The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article VI). Our views about credobaptism and congregational ecclesiology are the principal reasons why we are Baptist, and not Methodist or Presbyterian.

But while they may remain firm on the practice of baptism, Baptist practitioners of the multi-site model appear willing to compromise the autonomy of the local assembly. Each distinct location is not allowed the responsibility to receive and dismiss its own pastors and members. There is limited leeway given to determine the best programs and strategies for evangelism and discipleship. In many ways, the satellite congregations are bound by the decisions coming out of central headquarters.

When it comes to organizational structure and leadership in a multi-site operation, there may be one single pastor over all the campuses, in which case you have a hierarchy. How is this different than having a bishop? Or there might be a representative group of elders overseeing all the campuses, in which case you then have a presbytery. It seems to me that while the language may be “one church in multiple locations,” what you really have is a small denomination.

There are potential dangers in any system, but with multi-site, the pull towards empire-building and a cult of personality is extremely strong. There is also a temptation to trust in a franchise brand instead of the power of the Word and Spirit.

I can see how in true revival circumstances where massive amounts of people are being converted at once, a temporary multi-site solution might be needed. But I would rather see this as church planting in slow motion.

What all this means is that the task of pastors is not just to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5), but also to commit what we know to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). We must be committed to raising up leaders from within our churches who could do what we do and be released from our authority to start other churches as the need arises. Hopefully these churches would retain a similarity and organic connection, without control or formal structural unity.

A growing number of like-minded yet independent congregations freely choosing to associate and cooperate together in mission…that sounds more Baptist (and biblical) to me.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist. Read the latest issue online.