June 19, 2014 • ISSUE 32
THE RUNNING MAN For 96-year-old Dallas deacon, running the race is more than just a biblical metaphor
+PASTORS MUST ‘GET IN
PUTS FOCUS ON THE FIELD’ TO EVANGELIZE, SPIRITUAL AWAKENING MEADOR URGES
SBC 2014: A few observations
n the vein of legendary Texas sports writer Blackie Sherrod, allow me to scattershoot a bit on the 2014 SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, which concluded June 11: 4Ronnie Floyd won the SBC presidency in a threeman race, but narrowly avoided a runoff, gaining 51.6 percent of messenger votes over second-place Dennis Manpoong Kim (40.7 percent), a Maryland pastor, and Kentucky pastor Jared Moore (5.91 percent). Floyd’s victory margin shows two things: Maryland showed up big with 429 messengers, second only to Virginia’s 497 messengers. But perhaps more important and a cautionary note for those who aspire to lead: Convention messengers have minds of their own. Never assume anything at the SBC except the Bible being held high. That said, Floyd was very well received. His message to the Pastors’ Conference summed up a vital discipline for Christian leaders: Moses regularly practiced going up on the mountain to hear from God and led the people out of the abundance of God’s glory on his life. “There is only one thing that distinguishes you from other people: the presence and the glory of God being all over you,” Floyd told pastors in a message that should resonate with every disciple. After his election, Floyd told the media he would work toward three things among Southern Baptists: “Explicit agreement” on common beliefs and mission, “visible unity” and “extraordinary prayer.” More than ever, that last one is needed. God, please move us. 4The Baptist21 meeting, now a staple at the convention, is one of the biggest draws for pastors, especially, but not limited to, younger pastors. Younger is a relative term here. I’ve seen many a 50-something sitting there, next to a young seminarian, with a Jason’s Deli sandwich and a dill pickle spear listening with curiosity to some of the usual suspects. Good stuff, and a bag full of free books to boot. 4Speaking of usual suspects … I have benefited from many of the speakers on the lineup for
the Pastors’ Conference, B21 and other such events. But it seems the mistakes of the past are repeated in every generation. That is, it’s too easy to go straight to your reliable “go-to” guys as speakers and platform guests almost yearly. There are more than a few articulate and careful leaders in our seminaries and even, thank God, in local churches. Dig a little harder to find some new diamonds as well as old ones. 4SEBTS President Danny Akin arguably had the best advice doled out at Baptist21: If you are complaining about the SBC but aren’t willing to be involved in making it better, “Then shut up! You have forfeited your right” to throw stones. Feisty, yes, but true words there. The constructive way is to be involved. 4If nothing else, pastors were challenged directly in Baltimore to lead by example. Euless pastor John Meador’s convention sermon hit that note loudly and clearly. Loved his evangelism analogy, taken from a summer job he held as a teenager on an Oklahoma peanut farm. “Grab a hoe. Pick a row. It’s that simple.” Every believer has a story of how God saved him. Tell somebody your story. 4Meador’s plea for evangelistic leadership and Floyd’s call for “extraordinary prayer” reminded me of my debt to Southern Baptists. Seems my mom, spring 1960, was taking turns with my dad dropping my two older sisters off for Sunday School at First Baptist Church, Tishomingo, Okla., where my dad was attending college on the G.I. bill. My mom didn’t know it then, but a group of church women were praying for our family and especially my mother, who resisted meeting some ladies who came by for visitation one evening, using her cooking as an excuse. One Sunday morning a few weeks later my mother awoke with no intention of going to church. (My dad, whose idea it was to get my sisters in Sunday School, planned a Sunday morning at the drag races.) But “something compelled me to get dressed and go,” she told me recently, rather than simply dropping my sisters off. That morning when the invitation was given, my mother walked the aisle and placed her faith in Christ. Later on she put the spiritual pieces together: Those women had been praying for her salvation. My siblings came to saving faith at Southern Baptist churches. My dad, who was an occasional churchgoer before his conversion, was saved the same week I was in 1973 at a Southern Baptist church in Kansas. A group of women (and the few men in our little church at the time) had been praying for him. We were baptized on the same Sunday night. Thank God for praying, gospel-burdened Southern Baptists.
Criswell founding dean dies at 77 James Bryant, founding dean of Criswell College and author of “The New Guidebook for Pastors,” died June 11. A service celebrating his life was held June 16 at First Baptist Church of Dallas.
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GuideStone announces new enrollment for medical Personal Plans GuideStone has new guidelines for enrollment in its medical Personal Plans, effective July 1. Churches and ministries eligible to offer GuideStone’s medical Personal Plans will be able to add new employees and their families to those plans within 60 days of employment.
New president puts focus on spiritual awakening
At 96, hanging it up is not Orville Rogers’ style Forty-six years ago, Army Air Corps veteran Orville Rogers read the then-controversial book “Aerobics” by medical doctor Kenneth Cooper. So motivated by Cooper, Rogers started running the next day and hasn’t stopped.
Ronnie Floyd has his heart set on seeing Southern Baptists come together in “explicit agreement, visible union and extraordinary prayer” for the next Great Awakening in the United States.
‘Get in the field,’ Euless pastor tells convention
It begins with a man, and pastors must be that man who will “get in the field” and evangelize by example among hurting people who need the gospel, Texas pastor John Meador urged SBC messengers.
Be wary of graduation speakers
Graduation ceremonies are a time for pithy quotations. But the greatest wisdom for a life well lived comes from the One who walked among us.
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Briefly /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// CRISWELL FOUNDING DEAN DIES AT 77 James Bryant, founding dean of Criswell College and author of “The New Guidebook for Pastors,” died June 11. A service celebrating his life was held June 16 at First Baptist Church of Dallas. Bryant was an alumnus of Wheaton College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of divinity and a doctor of theology. He had also received an honorary doctorate from Criswell College in 1999. Along with his service to Criswell College, for which he served as the founding academic dean, Bryant served as pastor at churches in Texas, New Mexico and Arkansas and as associate pastor at a church in Georgia. He spent three years serving as executive vice president and then president of Luther Rice Bible College and Seminary in Atlanta, Ga. and then served as professor of religion at the University of Mobile in Alabama before returning to Texas to serve Criswell College as vice president for academic affairs for two years. His most recent role at Criswell was that of distinguished senior professor of pastoral theology. Ten seminaries and colleges currently use Bryant’s book “The New Guidebook for Pastors” as a textbook. Bryant taught a weekly Bible class at FBC Dallas and served as a trustee on multiple denominational boards. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Ruby; two sons, Scott and Kurt; two grandchildren; and one sister. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to FBC Dallas or Criswell College. —Sharayah Colter, Texan Digital
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CHRISTIANS FLEE AS VIOLENCE SPREADS TO NORTHERN IRAQ Iraqi Christians came under fire again as the bloody campaign of Islamic militants spilled over from Syria into Iraq’s northern cities last week. An estimated 10,000 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant), also known as ISIS and ISIL, advanced rapidly on Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, such as Tikrit and Kirkuk, leaving a wave of destruction in their path and sending the Iraqi army reeling in panic. By June 15, ISIS terrorists had begun to approach Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers, policemen and government officials captured by ISIS have been summarily executed, as have some Chaldean Catholics, according to reports from sources inside the besieged region. Those same sources claim nearly all of the remaining Catholics have fled Mosul. “All the faithful have left the city,” Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona told the Catholic World Report. “Who knows whether they will ever be able
to return.” Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, nearly 1 million Christians have left the country. An estimated 500,000 remained in the northern portion of the country among the Chaldean Catholic community, which has existed there for 2,000 years. Nona said there were “35,000 faithful living in Mosul” in 2003. “Three thousand were still there in early 2014,” Nona said. “Now, probably no one is left there, and that is tragic.” Haitham Jazrawi, pastor of Kirkuk Evangelical Church, confirmed the report. “Ninety nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” Jazrawi told World Magazine June 10. —Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press
COURT BACKS PRO-LIFE ADS AS FREE SPEECH A national pro-life organization has gained a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in its challenge to a state law it says restricts free speech. The justices unanimously ruled Monday (June 16) the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) had demonstrated that an Ohio prohibition on “false statement[s]” during an election campaign injured the pro-life organization. The SBA List and another organization thereby can go forward with their lawsuit, they said. The high court returned the combined case to a federal judge for a ruling in keeping with its opinion. The SBA List ran ads during the 2010 election campaign asserting Rep. Steve Driehaus, a Democrat, voted
for “taxpayer-funded abortion” when he supported the health-care reform law enacted earlier in the year. It also sought to rent billboards in his Ohio district to communicate that message. Driehaus, who described himself as pro-life, denied the measure funded abortions and filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. Before the November election, the panel found probable cause that the SBA List had violated the “false statement[s]” prohibition. The SBA List and the country’s other major pro-life organizations sharply disagreed with Driehaus, contending the new law authorized federal funding of abortion and/or federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion.
GOOGLE RESTRICTS PORN IN ADS, APPS
Google is cracking down on sexually graphic content with two recent policy changes, one implemented in March and one that started in June. The new rules take steps to eliminate explicit material in Google’s advertisements and apps. Google will no longer accept advertisements through Google AdWords that promote graphic depictions of sexual acts, according to an email the company sent to advertising accounts in early June. Morality in Media, a national organization opposing pornography, published the letter. The new policy will restrict ads containing or linking to explicit content. The policy revision came after a May meeting in Washington, D.C., between Google and anti-pornography advocates including Morality in Media, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. “We are grateful that they are realizing that their profits from porn are not worth the devastation to children and families,” Morality in
Media said in a statement. The group said other organizations like Facebook and Comcast also have taken steps to clean up explicit content on the Internet. Google’s advertising approval process includes three status labels: approved; approved (non-family); and approved (adult). Non-family and adult ads don’t appear if someone has the Google SafeSearch filter activated. Under Google’s new policies, more ads will be given a non-family or adult label or be disapproved. Google says the change will affect all countries. In March, Google beefed up its policies for apps sold through Google Play, prohibiting those containing or promoting sexually explicit or erotic content, icons, titles or descriptions. Since the announcement, Google has taken down several apps that violate the new policies. Anti-pornography activists still encourage Google to eliminate graphic content from Google Search, Google Images and YouTube. —Kiley Crossland/WNS
GUIDESTONE ANNOUNCES NEW ENROLLMENT FOR MEDICAL PERSONAL PLANS GuideStone has new guidelines for enrollment in its medical Personal Plans, effective July 1. Churches and ministries eligible to offer GuideStone’s medical Personal Plans will be able to add new employees and their families to those plans within 60 days of employment. For the first half of 2014, due to uncertainties in the health-care market as a result of the Affordable Care Act, GuideStone imposed temporary guidelines that limited enrollment to participants going through such things as marriage, birth, adoption or loss of coverage. Under the new guidelines, new employees of an eligible Personal Plan church or ministry can enter the health plan within 60 days of employment or federally recognized special enrollment event in keeping with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Further, covered individuals may continue to add dependents to the health plan due to such events.
Church employees who begin their employment between Jan. 1 and July 1 may enroll themselves and eligible family members through Aug. 1. “The Affordable Care Act has created unprecedented changes and challenges for all health plans, including church health plans,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “GuideStone has been diligently seeking legislative, regulatory and judicial recognition of the unique nature and needs of church plans, with the continued goal of keeping the plan strong and stable. At the same time, GuideStone continues to explore ways of providing coverage to new enrollees in a manner consistent with that goal. GuideStone has determined that this change will enable us to balance ministry objectives with good stewardship.” —Roy Hayhurst, Baptist Press
BOKO HARAM KILLS 100S; MILITARY IMPLICATED Boko Haram terrorists posing as soldiers and preachers have killed hundreds of civilians since kidnapping more than 200 Christian school girls in April, amid unsubstantiated reports that 15 Nigerian military officers have been court-martialed for aiding the terrorists. In the attack June 4, Boko Haram terrorists posing as preachers killed an estimated 45 people in Barderi village near Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, BBC News reported. Boko Haram members told civilians they had come to preach, then opened fire on a crowd that gathered to hear, according to BBC. June 2, Boko Haram militants dressed as soldiers and driving military-style vehicles attacked three villages in northeastern Nigeria, gunning down at least 200 civilians who gathered, the
—Briefly section compiled from Baptist Press, World News Service and staff reports
Associated Press reported. The militants claimed to be soldiers protecting civilians from impending attacks there, in Danjara, Agapalwa and Antagara villages. Boko Haram has raided additional villages in northeastern Nigeria, which has been under near constant attack since mid-May, Morning Star News reported. Assaults on Attagara, Gwoshe, Hawul and other Gwoza villages have destroyed 36 churches, sources told Morning Star News. “The Boko Haram Islamists have destroyed 36 churches in Gwoza area, including that of Attagara attacked on June 1,” Morning Star News quoted Rebecca Dali, whose husband is president of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. “We now have only two churches that have not been affected.”
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CHRISTIAN MOTHER’S DEATH SENTENCE CONDEMNED The U.S. Senate has unanimously condemned the death sentence of a Sudanese Christian woman and called for the immediate release from prison of her children and her. Senators voted by unanimous consent June 3 for a resolution in support of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, who was convicted under Sharia law for “apostasy” (leaving Islam) by refusing to renounce her Christian faith. A Khartoum court sentenced her to death by hanging. She also received a sentence of 100 lashes for adultery on the basis of her marriage to a Christian, Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese-born citizen of the United States. The Senate resolution gained approval a week after Ibrahim gave birth to the couple’s second child, a daughter, Maya, in the Omdurman Federal Prison for Women. Martin, their 20-month-old son, also is imprisoned with his mother. Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., has introduced a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, but a floor vote has yet to take place. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the Senate action and called Ibrahim “a living picture of Jesus keeping his promise, made to us at Caesarea Philippi.” “Jesus said that he would build his church, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it,” Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press. “As we thank God for the gospel to which she clings, let’s continue to pray that these actions by our officials will be the catalyst for [her] release.” The Senate’s resolution not only condemned the sentencing and called for Ibrahim’s release but urged the U.S. government to refuse to normalize relations with or lift sanctions against Sudan until the Eastern African country abides by “international standards of freedom of religion or belief.” —Tom Strode, Baptist Press
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MOVIEGOERS WANT MORE FAITH-BASED FILMS
Hollywood’s “year of the Bible movie” continues to drive sales at the box office in 2014, according to a study by LifeWay Research. Four faith-based films have already earned more than $50 million each in ticket sales, according to Boxofficemojo.com. Those films— ”Noah,” “Heaven is for Real,” “Son of God,” and “God’s Not Dead”—are among the top 20 grossing films of 2014. And movie audiences may want more, a survey of 1,054 Americans from Nashville-based LifeWay Research revealed. Researchers found that half of Americans (56 percent) say they wish there were more movies with Christian values. “Faith-based movies are no longer a niche,” Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research, said. “It’s smart economics—if you make a film that appeals to that audience, they will show up.” Movies with an explicitly Christian message—like “God’s Not Dead”— have done especially well. The independent film was made for $2 million and has earned more than $59 million at the box office. That’s more than high-budget projects like “Muppets Most Wanted” or the critically acclaimed “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Kris Fuhr, founder of Moviegal Marketing, said Christian movie fans
“Faith-based movies are no longer a niche. It’s smart economics—if you make a film that appeals to that audience, they will show up.” —SCOTT MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF LIFEWAY RESEARCH
want films with a clear presentation of faith. That’s been true in the past for films like “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” as well as more recent movies like “Son of God.” “When you have a movie where the title is almost a doctrinal statement—the audience will come out,” she said. “People want their faith to be affirmed.” Films with a more subtle faith message may not do as well, Fuhr said. Two other major films with Christian themes, “Left Behind” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” are due out later this year. —Bob Smietana, Baptist Press
SBC Briefly ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// RONNIE FLOYD PUTS FOCUS ON SPIRITUAL AWAKENING Ronnie Floyd has his heart set on seeing Southern Baptists come together in “explicit agreement, visible union and extraordinary prayer” for the next Great Awakening in America. As the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the pastor of the multi-campus Cross Church in northwest Arkansas voiced his conviction in a news conference June 10 that the nation is overdue for “a great movement of the Lord.” A key focus for Floyd in the past year has been leading gatherings of pastors to pray for spiritual awakening. “I want to see revival come to the church of Jesus Christ,” he said, “so that America would be awakened with a powerful God consciousness where great numbers come to faith and trust in Jesus
OTHER SBC OFFICERS ELECTED UNOPPOSED New SBC President Ronnie Floyd was the only officer to draw challengers. Other SBC officers, elected unopposed, are: 4Clint Pressley, pastor of the Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., elected as first vice president, nominated by Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. 4Hance Dilbeck, pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, elected second vice president. He was nominated by James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga. 4John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, re-elected recording secretary, a role he has served in since 1997. He was nominated by Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. 4Jim Wells, strategic partners team leader, Missouri Baptist Convention, re-elected registration secretary, a role he has served in since 2002.
Christ as Savior.” Floyd said he will speak to Southern Baptists each Monday through a weekly blog and recount his travels on Twitter and Instagram. “Wherever I go I want to help tell the story of what God is doing across North America and the world,” Floyd said. Through a Web-based relationship, he said he would call the entire denomination to pray for spiritual awakening. More than 100 years have passed since the country has had such an experience, he noted. In addition to praying for thousands to come to faith in Jesus Christ, Floyd said he believes the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 will be “accelerated to completion in this generation.” Floyd topped fellow nominees Mary-
land pastor Dennis Manpoong Kim and Kentucky pastor Jared Moore to win the presidency. Floyd succeeds New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, who finished his second term. —Tammi Reed Ledbetter
Dustin Guidry, pastor of Ridgewood Church in Port Arthur, and his wife Kerri listen intently at the Baptist21 luncheon during the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore. One of the many fellowships that gather around the SBC events, B21 has become one of the main draws of the convention. A packed room of people heard from panelists such as Southeastern Seminary President Daniel Akin and pastors such as Flower Mound’s Matt Chandler. PHOTO BY ADAM COVINGTON
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HAWKINS UPDATES SBC ON HEALTHCARE BATTLE
O.S. Hawkins, president of Dallas-based GuideStone Financial Resources told Southern Baptist Convention messengers that GuideStone is fighting the federal Affordable Care Act on multiple fronts in addition to recognizing the spiritual warfare that envelopes the issue. Hawkins, who lamented the ACA’s infringements on religious liberty, said upcoming bills in the Senate and the House will attempt to address problems with the act, also known as Obamacare. Meanwhile, GuideStone will continue to fight the legislation through the courts, having filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and having received a temporary injunction, he said. “Our own government is trying to force us to choose between longheld biblical convictions and health coverage,” Hawkins said. “These are religious liberty issues that are at stake, and we are determined to not let this administration or any tell us that we have to provide abortifacients to people and to do it freely, on top of that.”
LUTER: REPENT FOR NOT SHARING HOPE Preaching from Psalm 80:18-19, the passage for this year’s “Restoration and Revival through Prayer” theme, Luter said Southern Baptists must repent of their failure to share the gospel with lost men and women. “As your president for the past two years, my heart’s desire has been that God would make us one and that God would send revival and renewal through the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Luter, the SBC’s first African American president, said. “Brothers and sisters, the only way that will happen in this nation, the only way that will happen in this convention, the only way that will happen in our churches is if the
people of God cry out to God in prayer, if there is genuine repentance, if there is genuine remorse, and if we call on the name which is above every name,” Luter said.
SEMINARY PRESIDENTS REPORT PROGRESS TO MESSENGERS Presidents of Southern Baptist Convention seminaries noted growth in enrollment and financial support in their reports to messengers June 11 at the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is enjoying record enrollment, major financial gifts and academic expansion, President Jason Allen announced in his report to the SBC. Midwestern has avoided crises of resources, identity and mission common at other theological institutions in America, Allen said, thanking Southern Baptist churches for their support through the Cooperative Program. “Vast shifts” in American culture present an “unmistakably huge” task to future generations of pastors, missionaries and evangelists, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said in his report. “We can no longer live with the illusion of what sociologists used to call ‘American exceptionalism,’” said Mohler, who this summer begins the 22nd year of his presidency. “America, as it turns out, was not the exception to the trend of secularization; we were just behind Europe. And we are fast catching up.” With New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s centennial just three years away, President Chuck Kelley opened his SBC report with a glimpse of history. “In 1917, Southern Baptists did something they’d never done before in their history: they decided to give birth to a seminary,” Kelley said. Today, New Orleans is consistently ranked a top city for entrepreneurs and
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business. The movie industry is booming in New Orleans, which ranks behind only Hollywood and New York in movie production. Millennials, underrepresented in Southern Baptist churches, are moving to New Orleans in droves, Kelley noted. In his report to the convention, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson praised students and faculty members for their evangelistic zeal and answered a messenger’s question regarding admission of a Muslim into the school’s archaeology program by apologizing for the hurt he had caused. “I’m very grateful for the enthusiasm of our faculty and our students for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Patterson said. On the admission of a Muslim archaeology student in violation of the school’s bylaws, Patterson explained his evangelistic intent and said: “I owe the convention an apology, particularly to all of you that I have caused sorrow, heartache, disillusionment or any other kind of sorrow. Golden Gate Theological Seminary’s imminent campus relocation was the primary topic of President Jeff Iorg’s report, as he explained the rationale behind the sale and move. “We are positioning ourselves strategically, geographically, and financially to impact the Western United States and world like never before,” he said. “We are changing locations, not abandoning our mission.” Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary met its 10-year, $50 million campaign goal and is anticipating this fall its sixth year of record enrollment, seminary
President Daniel Akin reported. “Today we have a little over 3,200 students,” Akin said, “students that are on mission for the Lord Jesus Christ taking the gospel to North America and around the world.” The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., has committed to give SEBTS $500,000 over the next five years, the church’s lead pastor J.D. Greear announced at the seminary’s June 11 alumni meeting, Akin reported. Akin celebrated his 10th anniversary this year as Southeastern’s president. In honor of Akin’s years of service, the seminary established a $300,000 scholarship fund to provide financial support to minorities. The funding is committed to realize Akin’s goal of training students from every tribe, tongue and nation to build strong churches.
‘CONVERSATION GUIDE’ TO ENHANCE EVANGELISM
Florida pastor Jimmy Scroggins shared with NAMB trustees a new tool to help Southern Baptists be evangelistic though gospel-starting conversations. First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach developed “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide” to share Christ with people regardless of their background.
RESOLUTIONS INCLUDE ONE ON TRANSGENDER IDENTITY Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution on transgender identity for the first time while returning to such issues as civil rights, gambling and world hunger for further statements. All nine resolutions offered June 10 at the SBC’s 2014 meeting gained approval by unanimous or overwhelming votes. The resolution on transgender identity came in response to recent gains in state legislatures, the federal executive branch, public schools and the wider culture by advocates for recognizing a distinction between gender and biology. “The cultural mindset is that gender is something that is constructed by the individual,” Russell Moore, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president, said at a news
Jacob Watts, a student at Lousiana State University, thanks Southern Baptists June 10 during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, for the opportunity to help plant a church with Brian and Hannah Crane, behind him, on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Watts spoke during the Executive Committee report at the Baltimore Convention Center. PHOTO BY VAN PAYNE
conference after the vote. “So it’s disconnected from how the person is created. “And that’s one of the reasons why I think this resolution ... was so wise, because it spoke to what the Bible teaches about what gender
means in the first place, about how God’s design is good,” Moore said, “and then talked about the fact that we’re living in a world that is fallen, in which there is a great deal of confusion in what it means to address that.”
SBC ADVANCING, NOT RETREATING, PAGE SAYS Southern Baptists are advancing, not retreating, as they rally to give more through the Cooperative Program to fuel the Great Commission task, Executive Committee President Frank Page told messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Baltimore June 10. “We thank God that two years ago the Cooperative
Program stopped its declination at 5.41 percent and last year rose for the first time in two decades to 5.50 percent,” Page said. The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ way of combining resources to finance ministry worldwide. “I like to say to pastors young and old, ‘If you know a better way, let me know.
I’ll support it. 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. Show it to me, and I’ll support it. I’ll drop Cooperative Program,’” Page said. “But I haven’t found it yet.”
UNOFFICIAL BALTIMORE ATTENDANCE: 5,294 The Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, June 10-11, drew 5,294 messengers to Baltimore from the nation’s 45,000 Southern Baptist churches. The unofficial total is a 3 percent bump from last year’s meeting in Houston, which drew 5,103 messengers. Official numbers will be released later in
June and the numbers do not include guests or children. Messengers have not gathered in Baltimore in 74 years, when 3,776 met here in 1940. SBC Registration Secretary Jim Wells said the results were encouraging after the attendance in Houston was “way, way down.”
The state with the largest delegation was Virginia at 497. Guam, which had not been represented in recent years, joined Maine in sending only one messenger. Next year, with the convention headed to Columbus, Wells said he is reluctant to project an estimate of 2015’s attendance.
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Pastors must ‘get in the field’ to evangelize, Meador urges By Jerry Pierce BALTIMORE
It begins with a man, and pastors must be that man who will “get in the field” and evangelize by example among hurting people who need the gospel, Texas pastor John Meador urged in the convention sermon during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. Noting the poverty of pastors he met last year in India who were being faithful amid persecution, Meador pleaded with pastors not to squander their usefulness in God’s kingdom amid a culture where Christian influence has waned with a lack of gospel proclamation. Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, addressed messengers June 11 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Citing the 1 Chronicles 11:11-14 account of David’s three mighty men who were peerless in their courage against the Philistines, Meador said their faithfulness came in a “small, obscure field.” “The field was of little value materially. This was more a matter of principle for these men, because this was God’s field and the enemy was encroaching upon it. ... To abandon this field was to abandon more than a field; it was to abandon a nation and a kingdom.” The Old Testament battlefields parallel the New Testament fields of harvest that inspired the apostles to “turn the world upside down,” Meador said, noting “there is a high-stakes battle” for souls. The men recognized three things: their responsibility, the encroachment of evil by the Philistines, and that God was on their side, Meador pointed out. “It’s not unlike the storyline that we read all the way through the Bible. This is the story of Abraham, Moses and Joshua. It’s the story of Gideon and Joseph and Daniel, David as he faced Goliath. … In Hebrews chapter 11 it is those few who have recognized their responsibility.” The three men knew that if they left, the battle was lost, Meador said. “The application for the present day is 8 TEXANONLINE.NET JUNE 19, 2014
John Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, preaches the convention sermon during the last session of the two-day Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center. Meador said Southern Baptists must fulfill “the impossible quest” to win lost people to faith in Christ. Photo by Van Payne.
going to be about the gospel, because that’s the war we’re in, that’s the battle we face.” Meador recounted how his dad got him a job working on a peanut farm in Oklahoma as a teenager. Looking over the long rows of overturned dirt and a pile of hoes on his first day, Meador asked the foreman what he should do. “‘Grab a hoe. Pick a row. It’s that simple,’” the foreman told him. “It’s about the fields,” Meador said. Yet some fail to share the gospel because they simply don’t want to or they don’t really believe it is the cure for sin, Meador said. Others are ashamed of Christ in an unfriendly culture. Some church members simply have never been taught how. As gospel-sharing churches have waned, sin has become unrestrained in the culture, Meador said, noting, “When the gospel is absent from society, God-consciousness is diminished and depravity runs bold and free, and it is today.” People are asking, “What will change this?” but “the right question is this one: ‘Who will change this?’” Meador emphasized that his sermon was not primarily about a convention of 45,000 churches or an organization, but about pastoral leadership. “It’s about the man. And not just any man but the specific man God has called to be a strong soldier.” The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:5 urges Timothy to endure hardship, be sober-minded and “do the work of an evangelist,” Meador reminded the
messengers. The three mighty men in 1 Chronicles 11 also recognized the encroachment of evil and took on God’s righteous anger—something pastors must assume at the lostness around them. If pastors won’t speak for those headed to hell, who will? Meador asked. “If I won’t share the gospel with my unreached neighbors, no one will. ... You and I have to come to a place where we just can’t take it anymore,” to be moved enough “to apply the solution. And the solution is to sow the gospel into the fields.” Finally, the mighty men recognized God was on their side and were prepared to die on principle. Saying that he sensed God telling him he could preach only what he lived this year, Meador told of First Baptist Euless beginning a weekly evangelistic training and outreach called “Can We Talk?” with him leading the way and more than 300 adults trained and actively witnessing to people each week. “That report session [on Wednesday nights at church] is like a revival service with testimonies,” Meador said. “... You can imagine what that does for the individual believer who knows he’s been empowered by the Holy Spirit.” Meador closed by calling pastors to “die on that hill now, get in that field now,” and in calling people to the platform in prayer seeking a movement of God. “Give us the revival that obedience brings,” Meador prayed.
Motion for persecuted church gets SBC prayer By Meredith Flynn BALTIMORE
Messengers proposed 17 motions during the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 10-11 annual meeting, six of which were referred to SBC entities for consideration. The only motion acted on by the convention, adopted by unanimous consent, challenged churches to “pray passionately and regularly for persecuted Christians.” The motion, brought by Victor Vaughn, a messenger from Agape Community Baptist Church in Poway, Calif., also urged churches to remember the 200-300 Nigerian girls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Vaughn moved “that we pray for them as our sisters and that we also remember their persecutors to see the light.” In the spirit of the motion, David Smith, chairman of the SBC Committee on Order of Business, led the convention in prayer. Two motions were referred to the six Southern Baptist seminaries: 4that fees associated with online seminary classes be removed for students enrolled online, brought by Jerome Taylor of Eastgate Baptist Church in Burton, Mich. 4that seminaries survey the views of their faculties and students on tithing and “ensure that our future leaders are taught that the tithe belongs to the Lord,” brought by Tim Overton of Halteman Village Baptist Church in
Muncie, Ind. One motion was referred to the North American Mission Board for study: 4that the SBC Executive Committee and Southern Baptist entities study how churches can be revitalized from plateau or decline, brought by Steven Owensby of First Baptist Church in Enoree, S.C. One motion was referred to LifeWay Christian Resources: 4that LifeWay reconsider its decision to use the 2011 NIV translation of the Bible in its Sunday School curriculum, brought by Bob Lilly of First Baptist Church in Richland, Mo. One motion was referred to the SBC Committee on Order of Business: 4that music leadership, style and song selection at future SBC annual meetings express the convention’s ethnic diversity, brought by Kristopher Burns of Immanuel Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. One motion was referred to the Southern Baptist Executive Committee: 4that the SBC president appoint a task force to report on the convention’s progress in pursuing biblical racial reconciliation, and recommend how Southern Baptists “may better reach, make disciples, and raise up leadership from and among diverse racial and ethnic groups in North America,” brought by Alan Cross of Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. JUNE 19, 2014 TEXANONLINE.NET 9
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
At 96, Orville Rogers could hang up his red pair of New Balance runners. But hanging things up is not his style. By Sharayah Colter
orty-six years ago, Army Air Corps veteran Orville Rogers picked up and read a copy of the then-controversial book “Aerobics” by medical doctor Kenneth Cooper. So motivated by Cooper, Rogers started running the next day and hasn’t stopped. 10 TEXANONLINE.NET JUNE 19, 2014
Now 96, he averages 10 miles of roadwork a week. Rogers said he is an example of Cooper’s adage that as people age they don’t wear out; they rust out. Nearly half a century of running and maintaining a steady level of physical activity has him all the more convinced that people “don’t stop running because they get old; they get old because they stop running.” Needless to say, he has no plans to stop—taking his fellow University of Oklahoma graduate Cooper’s advice as a lifelong habit. Having already set nine world records in track and field events, Rogers will travel from his Dallas home to Winston Salem, N.C. this July to compete in the National Outdoor Masters Championship.
“‘If I can’t serve God well, if I cannot finish strong, then all of these achievements are worth nothing,’ I told them. And I dropped the medals on the floor.” Yet it’s all worthless to him, he said, unless he can glorify the Lord in his efforts. He told as much to a church group of about 500 people recently as he held eight of his medals in his outstretched hands. The most important race “‘If I can’t serve God well, if I cannot finish strong, then all of these achievements are worth nothing,’ I told them. And I dropped the medals on the floor,” Rogers said. Serving the Lord is Rogers’ bottom line. Saved at age 10, Rogers said he got serious about his faith as a senior at the University of Oklahoma. He had a love for airplanes and said he had wanted to be a pilot ever since he learned what an airplane was, but he also felt drawn to ministry. So in the fall of 1940, after earning his degree in mechanical engineering from OU, Rogers enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Three weeks in, Rogers received a draft notice. “I enrolled in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served four-and-a-half years in World War II, almost all of it as an instructor,” Rogers said. “I figured that was God’s way of telling me I didn’t need to be in vocational ministry.” Prepared for God’s plans But God’s placing a heart for ministry in Rogers was not misplaced, nor was it an accident, the pilot said. Instead, the Lord used the training Rogers received in the Air Corps to allow him to serve in ways he otherwise would never have been able to. During his 31-year-career with Braniff Airways, Rogers would often use vacation time to fly airplanes for Wycliffe Bible Translators and for Southern Baptists to locations around the world, facilitating the spread of the gospel. He also volunteered to fill in for other missionary pilots while they went home on furlough. Rogers said he thinks the Lord may have been able to use him more as a ministry-minded pilot than if he had become a vocational
minister—a message he shares with fellow retirees and veterans. “There is a place to fit in,” Rogers said. “That’s particularly true of veterans. They can use their job skills in mission work somewhere in the world either on a short-term basis or for a year or more.” Rogers, who has served as a deacon at First Baptist Dallas since 1953, started the church’s first young marrieds Sunday School class one month after he and his late wife Esther Beth joined the church in 1946—three years into their marriage. Rogers didn’t miss a beat in answering just how long he and Esther Beth were married before her death: 64 years, nine months and five days, he said with a serene smile. That same smile returned when, standing in the parking lot beside his red Camaro, Rogers explained the significance of the “10” on the license plate, which reads “BETH 10.” “My wife asked me that,” he said, chuckling. “’What’s the 10 for?’ she wanted to know. I told her I picked 10 because she’s a ‘10.’” Rogers’ commitment to gospel expansion stretches beyond his local church and his missionary service. A library in the MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center on the campus of JUNE 19, 2014 TEXANONLINE.NET 11
“I intend to run as long as the Lord gives me the ability. I’m looking forward to 100 so that I can enter a new age bracket, God willing.”
Southwestern Seminary bears Orville’s and Esther Beth’s name and honors their missionary service and support of the institution, especially highlighting the way flying boosted the ability to get the Bible to other nations. Rogers said he and Esther Beth gladly chose to support and partner with Southwestern because the school consistently turns out graduates who are firmly rooted in the “effective, inerrant Word of God.” Rogers serves on the Board of Visitors at the seminary. He also served on the Criswell College board when it selected Paige Patterson as its president in 1975. A bomb, the gospel and Moscow Rogers’ flying career and lifelong ministry service collided in 2004 in a palpable moment of gravity, for which the pilot says he simply has no words. In 1951, Rogers was called out of the reserves to fly in Europe after tension and conflict had risen in Korea and Russia. For 21 months, Rogers flew a B-36—the largest and 12 TEXANONLINE.NET JUNE 19, 2014
most advanced aircraft in the military at the time—out of Fort Worth and over a target in Russia, armed with an atom bomb comparable to the one dropped in Japan just six years earlier. “I was on a select crew with an assigned target in Moscow,” Rogers recalled, going on to talk about his great relief at never having to drop the bomb his plane carried. The bomb his plane was prepared to drop, he said, would have decimated an area of about 10 miles. Fifty-two years later in 2004, Rogers found himself on a mission trip to Russia where he and about 230 other people traveling by ship stopped and witnessed on the streets in three cities on the way to Moscow, handing out English and Russian Bibles. When they docked in Moscow where they set up a medical clinic inside a school building, Rogers realized with great heaviness that he had come fullcircle—back to the very location he had flown over in a bomber half a century earlier. “We were within five miles of
where my target was in 1952,” Rogers said. Staring off into the distance for a moment, he said there was just no way to express the emotion he felt that day when his mission trip brought him to an unobliterated Moscow. “Instead of bringing death and destruction from above, we were bringing the Word of God which promises abundant life and eternal life on the horizontal plane,” Rogers said. Rogers said he logged more than 38,000 hours flying millions of miles. Recently, he rolled over 40,000 miles in running. Both have given him opportunities to serve the Lord and share the gospel, he said. Though he retired from flying at age 79, Rogers said he has no plans to stop running or even days when he’d like to give up. He said he encourages others to “finish strong” and wants to do the same. “I intend to run as long as the Lord gives me the ability,” Rogers said. “I’m looking forward to 100 so that I can enter a new age bracket, God willing.”
Web inspires new way to share ‘Old, Old Story’ TrueLife.org creates church invitation cards pointing to video answers for life’s toughest questions By Sharayah Colter The gospel is simple: The Son of God died on the cross to forgive the sins of anyone who would trust and follow him. But life is complicated. How can people know the Bible is reliable? Why does God allow evil? Is evolution rational? Is abortion ever OK? Does God love gay people? Could the events described in “The Da Vinci Code” novel be true? Did a flood really cover the whole earth? What is the difference between Mormonism and Christianity? It may seem at times that the questions outnumber the answers, and a fear of not being able to answer those questions might be what keeps many Christians from opening their mouths to share their faith. TrueLife.org founder Jesse Connors has created a tool to help displace that fear by loading videos that answer life’s toughest questions onto his website. A myriad of categories contains video explanations from experts on topics from marriage to evolution to archaeology, all available free of charge. TrueLife also partners with churches nationwide, offering them a database of answers acces-
sible at their church website so that visitors can tie their truth seeking to a local congregation. Churches that partner with TrueLife receive a webpage address and personalized invitation cards for members to hand out. On one side of the invitation cards is information about the church. On the other side is “truelife.org—free video answers to life’s hard questions.” Richard Land Jr. works in pastor relations with TrueLife and said the video answers, gospel presentation and local church emphasis help congregations connect with lost people in their own communities. “Our goal is to expose those with hard questions to biblical truth [and] then connect them with a local church using our online location system,” Land explained. The site and the cards are devised primarily as an evangelistic tool, but some churches have seen the
ministry as helpful even to their own members’ spiritual growth. Ed Gatlin serves as pastor of New Life First Baptist Church of Krum and says TrueLife has been helpful in his church even in the four months they’ve been using it. “The videos are excellent, and our people are going to the site and getting a lot of good out of it,” Gatlin said. “That makes it worthwhile. Several of our people have gone to it when they have questions about different things or have gotten into discussions about different issues. It gives them a good, solid, biblical perspective of the different issues.” Tony Rogers, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Bowie, said his church’s partnership with TrueLife has given members more confidence as they share the gospel in their community. “I thought it was an easy way to get my people more involved in JUNE 19, 2014 TEXANONLINE.NET 13
evangelism because it cuts down on them having the fear of answering unanswerable questions,” Rogers said. “We put the website on the back of our business cards, and they take the business cards and pass them out around the community. It takes all the fear out of giving a personal witness, because you can refer them to the video page or church page.” Land said TrueLife has seen tremendous results in mobilizing church members to engage in evangelism and invite people to church. “Eighty percent of evangelical Christians that attend church more than one time a month feel a personal responsibility to share their faith,” but only a small percentage do so on a regular basis, Land told the TEXAN, citing a LifeWay study. “When you combine this with the fact that 84 percent of the unchurched responded that they were at least somewhat likely to
attend a church if someone they knew invited them, we have a big, big problem. With our implementation strategy, after just one week’s introduction of TrueLife.org, we are seeing, routinely, 70-80 percent get involved in sharing their faith in our churches.” Rogers said the simplicity of the website and the partnership process has been a key factor in the smooth incorporation of TrueLife into his church’s ministry in North Texas. “It’s very easy to get linked up to it, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,” Rogers said. “I see it as very worthwhile and would highly recommend it.” Land says TrueLife cards are incredibly helpful in providing something to hand out throughout the day even in situations where a long, sit-down gospel conversation is not feasible. The response, he said, has been consistently positive. “I can tell you as someone who
hands out these cards all the time, they are super well received,” Land said. “You don’t always have the opportunity to have long conversations with someone, but every time you are at a drive-through window, a bank teller window, at any cash register, getting gas, you have the time to hand someone a card. The incredible thing is that once you get used to doing this, you become aware of how many lost people are all around you all the time, and once you see it, you can’t un-see it.” TrueLife has been endorsed by widely recognized leaders such as Woodstock Baptist Church Pastor Johnny Hunt, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Daniel Akin and Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham, among others. The ministry offers partnership plans tailored for churches of all sizes at truelife.org./join.
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Church revitalization growing focus of state conventions By Karen Cole Most Southern Baptists meet the denominational declines reported in the Annual Church Profile with a grimace and the thought that perhaps they, or surely their church— and absolutely their pastor and church staff—should be doing a better job of sharing Christ. But for the 15 church health and revitalization specialists from 10 state conventions and the North American Mission Board who met in Grapevine in April, the annually reported trends of stagnant or dying churches bring more than a yearly twinge of the conscience. Declining numbers represent shuttered church buildings and lost opportunities for evangelism and discipleship. The state conventions are working strategically to motivate and train pastors, church staff and also laypeople to be Spirit-led catalysts who will help keep a church healthy or reverse its decline. Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, knew with LifeWay Research showing 72.8 percent of SBC churches plateaued or declining, and 71.9 percent of SBTC churches falling into that category, the numbers for other state conventions were probably similar. He thought the time was right for state convention leaders with this challenging ministry focus to meet in order to encourage each other and compare notes.
A group of state convention specialists from across the country gathered in April for the first time to talk strategy and share ideas for reinvigorating stagnant churches.
The result: State conventions are facing the challenges of church revitalization with increased staffing, enthusiasm and hearts for pastors and churches. Priest says the SBTC’s Ezekiel Project debuted in 2007 and was one of the earliest state convention programs to directly address the renewal of plateaued or declining churches. “The project includes five tracks” that vary depending on the stage the church is in, he explained, citing renewal, revitalization, re-engineering, and re-starting as the tracks. There is also a resource track for churches that want to partner with the convention to offer assistance to other churches. “The SBTC also offers a sermon-
“The SBTC also offers a sermon-based approach that helps pastors discover and adjust their leadership style as well as online courses in leadership development, a strategic growth forum that includes an orientation to our revitalization methodology, and an annual revitalization retreat.” based approach that helps pastors discover and adjust their leadership style as well as online courses in leadership development, a strategic growth forum that includes an orientation to our revitalization methodology, and an annual reviJUNE 19, 2014 TEXANONLINE.NET 15
talization retreat.” The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Stephen Rice is leader of the 21-member church consulting and revitalization team and notes the KBC has restructured a large segment of the convention staff to that end. They are engaged with several hundred churches and are beginning to see pockets of renewal. “Recently, a small church of about 40 in attendance held a special event around the Easter holiday after being coached to do so. The congregation felt defeated because of their size, and they weren’t sure if anyone would come. They set a goal of 75, worked hard, prayed, and tried to believe God for success. God blessed their efforts and 210 people attended. The gospel was presented at the event and several prayed to receive Christ. Their Sunday morning attendance spiked significantly after the event, and they are working toward their next effort.” Joe Youngblood, church health group director for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, says the SCBC devotes one-third of its staff to the work and four years ago moved away from the term “church revitalization” to focus on “church health” and “church strengthening.” The SCBC’s associate director of church health, Jerry Sosebee, notes, “About one-third of the churches make significant steps in leadership. They clarify their vision, set goals and strategies and develop ministries outside their four walls but in their communities. These range from new church starts to equestrian ministries. “Another third show significant increases in measurable data—bap16 TEXANONLINE.NET JUNE 19, 2014
SBC MEMBERSHIP, BAPTISMS SHOW DECLINE 2013 2012 4Total membership 15,735,640 15,872,404 4Baptisms 310,368 314,956 Statistics from LifeWay Christian Resources
“Don’t become a ‘Field of Dreams’ church, thinking, ‘We’ve built it, now they will come.’ We must go into the fields and offer the hope of Jesus to people with real hurts and needs. Then we need to walk alongside the new believers and help them become committed followers of Christ who look for others who are hurting and offer the same hope they found.”
tisms, attendance, multiplication of small groups, etc. The last third don’t get very far because the pastor simply is not a leader. We are developing a leadership pipeline to help these pastors develop the skills needed to lead a turnaround church.” Gary Mathes, pastoral ministries specialist with the Missouri Baptist Convention’s church strengthening team, says the focus on “church revitalization” has brought new attention to the reality of plateaued or declining churches. Mathes says the MBC is currently sponsoring conferences and working with churches on assessment and strategic planning. They are using the SBTC’s Ezekiel Project model but hope to have their own materials in place by 2015. “Churches must find the balance between correcting internal problems and focusing on the needs and opportunities in their communities,” said Keith Manuel, evangelism associate with the Louisiana
Baptist Convention. “Don’t become a ‘Field of Dreams’ church, thinking, ‘We’ve built it, now they will come.’ We must go into the fields and offer the hope of Jesus to people with real hurts and needs. Then we need to walk alongside the new believers and help them become committed followers of Christ who look for others who are hurting and offer the same hope they found. For many churches in decline, 5-10 new families could reenergize the congregation to start moving in the right direction again.” Priest added: “Ultimately revitalization is about leadership. A pastor must take risks to see the turnaround that will breathe new life into what was once dying. And church revitalization takes time. The decline didn’t happen overnight, and it is unrealistic to think growth will.” For more information on SBTC church revitalization, visit sbtexas. com/leadership.
WORLDVIEW: Be wary of graduation speakers
raduation ceremonies are a time for pithy quotations. Here are three of my favorites: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” —Mark Twain “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” —Winston Churchill “If at first you don’t succeed, do it like your mother told you.” —author unknown I especially like that last one. But doing it your way is better no matter what, many commencement speakers say. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” the late Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, told the 2005 graduating class at Stanford University. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Be your own person, in other words. Blaze your own trail. Break all the rules. Ironic, since “a graduation ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success,” humorist Robert Orben once observed. If you really want to break the rules in our culture of hyper-individualism, surrender your future to the will of another—God’s will, to be specific. “What is the Lord’s invitation?” IMB President Tom Elliff asked a group of recent “graduates”—59 new missionaries appointed in May to serve around the world. “We read in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 11, beginning in verse 28, ‘Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’” Of the three commands in the passage—come, take and learn—the second one might be the hardest for us, because it involves voluntary
submission. For folks unfamiliar with farm life, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece laid over the necks of oxen or other work animals to haul a heavy load. God’s yoke is light, but it is still a yoke, and we must willingly submit to wearing it. As modern free agents, we like options, choices, negotiating the best deal, haggling for the best salary or price. There is no negotiation with God. He is gentle, but he is Lord. You obey him or reject him. Jesus’ offer is “an invitation to surrender,” Elliff said. “Sometimes we talk about the importance of the fear of God. It doesn’t mean to cower before him as a slave would cower before a master. What does it mean? It means to have such a big idea of God that you just surrender. … Jesus is saying, ‘Surrender. Give up. My way is best. Just surrender to me.’” And it’s not a one-time thing. You must surrender daily to follow him. But joy comes in obedience. One of the new missionaries appointed in May, a physician, could barely contain his exuberance. “When I was in high school, God instilled in me two desires: to preach his Word where it has never been heard and to pursue a career in medicine,” he said. “After many years of training and preparation, now is the time! I’m excited to be ‘his hands,’ bringing physical healing and spreading seeds of the gospel.” When you surrender to God, others see Jesus in you. They begin to surrender to him, too. Lives change. Communities change. The world changes. Graduates, that’s an infinitely better way to live your life than doing it your way. —Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent. Explore the possibilities for surrendering to God in missions at going.imb.org.
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