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WELCOME TO MARS HILL – ERLC President Russell Moore joined a panel discussion on Face the Nation.

Russell Moore has the hardest job in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is required to speak on behalf of a people who take great pride in speaking for themselves, even (or especially) with the Almighty. It’s in our theology (priesthood of all believers). It’s in our polity (autonomy of the local congregation). It’s in our DNA (we’re preachers).

So when someone dares to speak for all of us, and says something we might disagree with, we bristle.

Some are bristling over Moore’s anti-Trump stance during the election. And, as the Wall Street Journal and NPR reported a month ago, some churches are considering withdrawing support for the Southern Baptist agency Moore heads, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore apologized for any ill will he caused, but has that settled the conflict?

Moore is two years into his presidency, succeeding Richard Land who served 25 years in the role. Land was brusque, but his views matched the vast majority of Southern Baptists’ on issues of religious liberty and sanctity of life, and we mostly agreed with him when he spoke for us.

But times have changed. As evidenced by Moore, a new generation is rising to SBC leadership, and they focus on different issues than their predecessors did. Moore has spoken to the church’s handling of refugees and the theology of adoption and gender issues—and politics.

Several questions arise from the murmurings about the ERLC:

Is the ERLC really out of touch with mainstream Southern Baptist opinion? Or are we finding, especially in this election cycle, that the world is more complex and even once-monolithic Southern Baptists have varying opinions on some issues—especially political issues?

Is this a squall that will subside as Moore finds a more modulated approach to his “spokesman-ship”? Or is there really a storm brewing?

Will older leaders assume the statesman role, and let younger leaders lead? Or, is there truly a divide among Southern Baptists among generational, geographical, educational, economic, or political divides that will not be bridged.

Time will tell, we suppose. But in the meantime—

We need the ERLC, and it shouldn’t be muzzled. The ERLC should still represent Southern Baptists in the public discourse on religious liberty, the church, and sanctity of life. True, some ERLC staff posted political opinions on their personal blogs and Twitter feeds during the election cycle. Their views might have been too easily mistaken for Southern Baptists’ as a whole. Only Moore should address the SBC’s core issues in the blogosphere or Twitterverse.

Stop the habitual tweeting. The tweet may be the lingua franca, but the 140-character debate hasn’t served the ERLC well lately. At times in 2016, we wondered if the ERLC really needed to express opinions on so many topics. Those who speak for Southern Baptists should not be reactionary, but instead offer considered opinions and measured words.

Finally, we should acknowledge generational differences and allow the hand-off to proceed. This is no longer the Land era. Younger Baptists may have a different perspective on some things, but, so long as their views are biblical, we must let them speak to their times—and ours.

-Eric Reed

Read more about this story, “Baptists debate politics, religious liberty, missions funding”

Forward thinkingNEWS | Jason Allen is the youngest by far of the group he has called together. And in this gathering of seminary presidents and convention leaders, there is a sense that a passing of the baton is happening before our eyes. In fact, that is one topic Allen has asked his illustrious guests to address in this symposium on “The SBC in the 21st Century.”

Their reports will be gathered and published in a book for wider distribution, but for now—at this late September gathering on the campus of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—the task is to listen and learn what their listy observations hold in common.

Midwestern Seminary’s “miraculous transformation” is not the subject of this meeting, although most every speaker references it in his opening remarks. They speak of Allen’s impact, engendering confidence in a once-struggling institution. They take note of the new chapel that rises above a green slope at the entrance to the Kansas City campus. The building in a clean prairie style was completed just as Allen assumed the presidency of the school two years ago. A couple of speakers reference the rise in enrollment. And there’s some discussion of the just-announced $7-million gift to build a much-needed student center and dining complex.

Among the notables here is an unnamed presence, Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century British preacher and evangelist. Midwestern recently acquired much of Spurgeon’s personal library collection and has converted the former chapel space to house it. There’s a lot of informal conversation about Spurgeon. Most attenders take the tour.

But amid obvious historical footings and with the insight of SBC heads, the subject is the future. At 38, fresh in his seminary presidency, Allen draws experienced leaders and thinkers to look forward—and tell us what they see.

Who are we now?

Many questions about Baptist identity seem to have been answered in the past 30 years. Starting with the Conservative Resurgence in 1979, Southern Baptists have affirmed biblical inerrancy and ended a lean toward mainline Protestant liberalism. That shift also ended whatever tendency Southern Baptists would have had toward cultural accommodation. We aren’t mainline or mainstream, and as the culture moves farther left, we don’t want to be.

We know who we aren’t, but who are we?

The more recent issue for Southern Baptists is that of Reformed theology: Just how Calvinistic are we. Trinity University President David Dockery calls Southern Baptists “modified Calvinists” because we are not consistent in all five points.

Three of our seminaries are more strongly Reformed, products and by-products of Al Mohler’s 22-year presidency at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At this conference, only Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was clearly not Calvinist. He raised the issue of evangelistic zeal, and questioned whether the growth of Calvinist adherents will cool the baptismal waters further.

“Evangelism will have to be reestablished as the majority of the Great Commission,” Patterson said. He criticized church planting that does not produce new believers. Talking about the gospel is as far removed from effective witnessing as talking about race cars is from driving in NASCAR, Patterson said in a pithy list of analogies.

The more current “ecclesial crisis” is that of regenerate church membership. In the quest to reach seekers and postmoderns and millennials, church membership has been devalued, and more specifically, the certainty that people who join our churches are in fact believers in Christ as evidenced by baptism.

The SagesConfessional conviction

Will Southern Baptists embrace an identity that is more theological than tribal?” Mohler asked in his list of “10 unavoidable questions.”

The sages are almost uniform in their desire for Southern Baptists to have stronger theology and firmer confessional expressions of those beliefs. Too many people are members of SBC churches because it’s the family church, their friends go there, or they like the music—not because they hold strongly to the church’s theology.

Not to devalue our “tribal identity,” Mohler said, but “the tribe is not enough.” Tribalism—this informal gathering based on traditions and relationships—will give way to cultural accommodation, he warned, whereas confessional conviction will give believers (and thereby the denomination) theological moorings to withstand societal pressures to surrender to sexual redefinitions and moral decline.

Mohler asked whether today’s generation will “summon the courage” to face these issues which will require of them vigilance.

The current era is one of warm evangelicalism whose backbone is softening, to summarize several speakers. That makes this “the Baptist moment” according to Mohler. Among evangelicals, Baptists are best positioned to give the issues of “late modernity” a solid biblical, theological response.

Generational handoff

The discussion among panelists on “passing the baton” was playful at points with elder Patterson describing youthful Allen as “a man not yet dry behind the ears.” At another time Patterson, turning, 73 this month, commented, “I came on the scene right after Polycarp was martyred.” (That’s 155 A.D.) In these moments, it’s clear the baton is passing.

Mohler framed the handoff this way: “We have to ensure that there is healthy, courageous generational transition” in such a way that there is a Southern Baptist Convention in the future.

For Dockery, the handoff is more than from one generation to the next. It must be intergenerational. “Most Southern Baptists (and most Americans) do not find our identity in generations; our identity is in Christ.” Dockery says the handoff is also international and global, given the growth of evangelicalism in Africa and Asia.

Collaborative ministry

In a time when there is much discussion about “cooperation” as a denominational distinctive, SBC Executive Committee CEO Frank Page injected a new term, one that may have more weight with Millennials. “Collaborative ministry is biblical,” Page said. And for a generation accustomed to frequent electronic communication on every aspect of daily life, “collaborative” may be an easier sell than “cooperative.”

Cooperation indicates compliance with a mindset and participation in a program, whereas collaboration implies partnership and full participation by all parties involved.

As a denomination comprised mostly of smaller congregations, collaborative ministry “gives everyone a seat at the table,” Page said, including the SBC’s over 10,000 ethnic churches. But there’s education to be done. And it’s not only younger leaders who need the crash course. “We find there is a lack of understanding among ethnic churches of collaborative missions,” Page said.

But it was Dockery who pointed out that while the SBC has made strides in righting the sin of prejudice (the “one stain” on our record, he said), greater effort is required to bring minorities into leadership.

What about associations?

“This is no time to fly solo in the culture,” SBC President Ronnie Floyd said, “and no time for a church to fly alone.” Floyd’s presentation had the same listy character of the other speeches, but as a pastor, his list was most practical.

Floyd in particular called for a reduction in duplication (“and triplication”) of ministries and services by local, state, and national entities.

Larger state conventions, especially in the South, often offer their own versions of education, missions, and church planting; but since the implementation of the Great Commission Resurgence five years ago, those conventions have shifted funds to the national SBC in an effort to more effectively share the gospel in “new work” or frontier areas. And state convention staffs have been reduced by one-third, from 1,750 nationally to 1,350.

Making the denomination leaner is part of the thrust toward more effective collaboration. Floyd raised the issue of mergers, naming the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board as one possibility.

Local associations are another example where “regionalization” may make the SBC more effective. It’s a question that should be answered “honestly and boldly,” Floyd said, rather than trying to “preserve our old wineskins.”

“How can we leverage where we are and what we have and who we are to reach forward in a unprecedented manner” to advance the gospel?

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist. Read the latest issue online.

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

COMMENTARY | Trevin Wax

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

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

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

1. The annual meeting is trending younger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

As the crowd thinned and the reception neared an end, one voice could be heard from a table near the chocolate fountain: “Come over here and take my picture so I can go home.”

Thurman Stewart was kidding; he wasn’t looking for press, just laughs. Surrounded by other volunteers in yellow hats and shirts, he and his wife, Carol, marked the end of another day watching kids while their parents attended the IBSA Annual Meeting.

The Stewarts are part of a group of Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who provide free childcare every year. Several of them also travel in the summer to the national Southern Baptist Convention to serve families there. And they have a mobile Disaster Relief childcare unit, so they can help kids and parents in crisis across the country.

At the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, their classrooms were stationed on the third floor, one level above the ballroom where the business meeting took place. Downstairs, messengers to the 2014 Annual Meeting adopted several resolutions, including one on including younger leaders in church and denominational life. Among several “resolved” statements, the document encouraged IBSA churches to pray for, identify and train young leaders, “and to release joyfully
young leaders into ministry.”

Callout_1113_edited-1But when they’re released, what kinds of ministries will these young leaders be looking for? Certainly, some will be pastors. Some will serve on committees and trustee boards. Some will lead mission teams to the other side of the world. And some, hopefully, will join the Stewarts’ ranks on the third floor. Or look for similarly vital roles that happen behind the scenes.

George Jones sang, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes,” about country music legends who are hard to replace. No one’s ever going to be like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, Jones sings. But who’s next? “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asks in the chorus.

The Stewarts and their fellow volunteers are the Illinois Baptist version of those country music superstars. Giving their hearts to work that isn’t front and center, ministering to kids and families and underserved communities. Perhaps young leaders can make the greatest contribution to church and denominational life by emulating the example set by the Stewarts and so many others.

Theirs are big shoes to fill.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

A new Barna study explores what kinds of worship spaces are most attractive to Millennials, and what words describe their ideal church. Not surprisingly, not every answer matches up: 77% chose “sanctuary” compared to 23% who answered “auditorium.” And 67% of Millennials chose “classic” over “trendy” to describe their idea church. But modern and casual also won out over traditional and dignified.

Barna points out this “cognitive dissonance” evident in the survey: “Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”


After the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first such court to uphold states’ rights to ban same-sex marriage, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said it’s now up to the Supreme Court to take up the issue, The Christian Post reported.


From ChristianityToday.com: “The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said after a Christian couple was beaten and burned to death one week ago. A mob attacked Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, who was five months pregnant, over accusations that Bibi had burned the Qur’an.


Christian Kenneth Bae returned to the U.S. over the weekend after two years of imprisonment in North Korea, CNN reported. “Kenneth has been in God’s care all this time, and we are thankful that he brought him home,” Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told reporters. “He only has the best wishes and intentions for that country, still.”


The organizers of International Day of the Bible are calling for people around the world to read Scripture out loud at noon on November 24.


Baptist Press reports Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has finalized the purchase of its new, larger campus in Southern California and is on schedule to relocate its main campus from the Bay Area by June of 2016. The seminary will request a name change—to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention—during the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio.


International Mission Board President David Platt launched his new podcast series, Radical Together, on Nov. 3. “Every 2 weeks, 30 minutes of Word to exhort you to pray, give, & go however God leads in the world,” he tweeted.


Things are looking up for church giving, according to survey by LifeWay Research. More than half of the Protestant churches surveyed reported still feeling the negative impact of the economy, but two-thirds are meeting or exceeding their budgets for 2014. And 74% report offerings at or above 2013 levels.