Month: March 2004

SBTC holds first creative arts training event

FORT WORTH?Bruce Edwards, SBTC creative arts specialist, coordinated the first creative arts training event in SBTC history Feb. 13-14 at Southwestern Seminary. The meeting emphasized gaining skills and tools for use in worship, for building the church, missions, and evangelism.

Breakout sessions at the retreat taught numerous evangelism methods. Bruce Chadwick, an illusionist, led several sessions on using sleight of hand to share the gospel, educating church members about God’s character and works.

Faith Brady, a clown, helped show how clowning can attract people to the message of a loving God. Brady demonstrated the skill of using make-up and props to assist in the development of an effective character; she also taught ministry methods and ideas for using this form of outreach. Ferrell Marr, a puppet ministry expert, shared innovative ways to make puppets and use them in ministry.

The Company, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary drama team, led various breakout sessions and the full drama team led in a dinner theater. The drama team demonstrated how to use a dinner theater ministry in a local church for sharing the gospel.

Edwards is the education and children’s minister at First Baptist Church of Lakeside near Fort Worth. He has long recognized the potential for using creative arts in ministry in the places he has served and leads creative arts ministry conferences for LifeWay Christian Resources, said Ken Lasater, SBTC church ministry support associate.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Bruce’s caliber, with his expertise and desire, to help coordinate areas of this ministry,” Lasater said. “He is a gifted man. He loves the Lord and loves people, and wants to encourage churches to develop a wide range of methods to reach the lost and build the church.”

Lasater said more Creative Arts Retreats in Worship and Missions are planned. For information about next year’s event, call Ken Lasater at the SBTC office, 972-953-0878, or e-mail him at kenl@sbtexas.com.

Bryan church models collegiate outreach

BRYAN?Can a church small in numbers impact college students in a big way? Mike Curry, pastor of Christ’s Way Baptist Church in Bryan, thinks so.

Though only four years old and surrounded by much larger churches ministering to students at Texas A&M University and Blinn College, the church still felt God’s call to begin a ministry to collegians. “We basically had nothing in the way of programs to offer to university students, yet God was sending a small group of six to eight to worship with us,” Curry said. “God began to burden my heart for this group.”

Curry began teaching a college Sunday school class himself, which sometimes had only two or three in attendance. “The greatest difficulty of [a new collegiate ministry] is in the beginning numbers,” Curry said. “When you have a small group and a part of them go home for the weekend or on break at Christmas, it leaves a hole. During those times, it is important to stay focused and to keep others focused on the fact that God is laying the foundation first.”

After contacting the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s collegiate ministry consultant, Kevin Ueckert, Christ’s Way received a collegiate intern, Jeff Herrington. Herrington spent the first semester teaching basic spiritual truths to the group. Through Herrington’s ministry, the college group has grown to about 20.

Curry said a small church like Christ’s Way can reach students effectively.

“Not every student is looking for a large church with an abundance of programs,” he said. “Some need a smaller family setting and an opportunity to serve. Therein, God opens the door of opportunity for small churches like Christ’s Way. We are averaging about 100 [church members] in Sunday school, yet we have begun a university ministry.”

“Several [students] have told us how blessed they are because they have been received as a part of a family,” Curry continued. “They are welcomed and given the opportunity to use the gifts and talents that God has given them. They need that opportunity for their own growth.” Furthermore, the church has become a “home away from home” for the college students it reaches. “Sometimes the students will say, ‘I just needed a hug,'” Curry said. “Now that might sound mighty simple, but if you’ve ever been away from your family, you know the time comes when you need that kind of family interaction.”

Meanwhile, Christ’s Way has not only reached students, but the students have impacted the church in a very meaningful way. “We receive the blessing of their youth, vision, excitement, talents and willingness to serve, just to mention a few of the blessings,” Curry said. “And God uses them to stretch us in our vision, in our willingness to minister.”

The SBTC’s Ueckert said bearing this kind of fruit is not unusual for any church dedicated to reaching college students, and he recognizes Christ’s Way in Bryan as a great example of this simple truth. “If a church shows any iota of concern for students and gives them a little bit of opportunity,” Ueckert noted, “there’s going to be some level of students that jump in with both feet, and they will impact a church.”

Ueckert also lists several other reasons to reach out to students, as Christ’s Way has. These include the great need for students to learn from the church about marriage, family, discipleship, and other vital topics at this crucial time in their lives. “Students want to be shaped into who they want to be by people who are getting there,” he said.

Another reason to minister in this way is the need of students to understand living as part of a church body, so that they will be significant members of their future churches after graduation. And Ueckert noted that even during their college years, students’ opportunity to serve can be as great as any other portion of the church.

Even if it is primarily to students returning home for the summer or to only a small group of collegians, nearly every church has the potential to reach college students?and should attempt to do so, Ueckert said. “College students are in a position in life where they are making the biggest decisions of their lives. If we as a church of God do not proactively help them follow Christ in those moments, they are not going to connect with the church in the future.”

While some churches may fear their size, style, or lack of resources will discourage student attendance, Ueckert believes collegians are looking foremost for authenticity. Christ’s Way’s staff often connects with students at Sweet Eugene’s, a coffee shop near to the Texas A&M campus.

“They like real, genuine, sincere people,” he observed. “They want to feel like they enter a place that is genuine. From the preaching, to the music leading, to [everything else], they’re more concerned with how genuine this place feels than with whether or not this place is perfectly their ‘style.'”

SBTC, TBM formalize disaster relief agreement

AQUILLA?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and Texas Baptist Men (TBM) signed a statement of cooperation Feb. 27 that spells out how the two groups will work together during disaster relief operations.

Texas Baptist Men entered into a fraternal relationship with the SBTC last spring to facilitate cooperation in responding to disasters and other related endeavors. TBM receives budgeted funds from the Baptist General Convention of Texas as a BGCT affiliate ministry but is independently governed.

The SBTC-TBM agreement includes no budgeted SBTC funding. A majority of TBM members are in SBTC-affiliated churches, which makes it prudent for the SBTC and TBM to work together, said E. Gibbie McMillan, SBTC mission services associate.

“This is a very important first step in the process of cooperation and in fulfilling the fraternal partnership we have with Texas Baptist Men,” McMillan said.

During a disaster situation, Baptist men’s groups nationwide typically operate under an incident commander appointed by the North American Mission Board and in cooperation with the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

McMillan said about two-thirds of the TBM roster represent SBTC church members.

The agreement, signed by McMillan and Leo Smith, newly elected TBM executive director, was formalized during TBM’s annual meeting at Latham Springs Baptist Encampment in central Texas.

McMillan said the meeting drew more than 100 men and is an annual retreat for TBM business, training and leadership development.

The SBTC’s mission services department oversees the recently formed Texas Baptist Builders ministry, one cooking unit and three chainsaw crews with three or four more planned, McMillan said.

“What we’re trying to do is complement what TBM does and not duplicate what they do,” McMillan noted.

The agreement states each entity has full authority to decide what disaster relief work it will engage in and each will keep the other informed of disaster relief activities, including training, promotions, and availability and deployment of units. Additionally, each will work within uniform disaster relief guidelines outlined in SBC and NAMB materials.

McMillan said the SBTC has planned a disaster relief “basic orientation” course March 29 at Crossroads Baptist Church in Azle. For more information, call McMillan at the SBTC office, 972-953-0878.

Baylor students, others, weigh in on gay marriage

While views on same-sex “marriage” have appeared in the editorial pages of many secular newspapers in recent weeks, only a few Baptist college papers have dared an opinion. In at least one instance, the perspectives of student journalists and college administrators clashed over whether homosexual couples should be allowed to marry.

Baylor University’s Lariat editorial board expressed support for the City of San Francisco’s lawsuit against the State of California, agreeing by a vote of 5-2 that “homosexual couples should be granted the same equal rights to marriage as heterosexual couples.”

Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. quickly issued a response stating the view of the five student journalists does not reflect the views of the administration, faculty, staff, Board of Regents or Student Publications Board that oversees the Lariat. Sloan also speculated that the Lariat’s stance runs counter to the majority of Baylor’s 14,000 students and 100,000 alumni.

“Espousing in a Baylor publication a view that is so out of touch with traditional Christian teachings is not only unwelcome, it comes dangerously close to violating University policy,” Sloan said, referring to the prohibition against “advocating understandings of sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching.”

The staff editorial favoring the right of homosexuals to marry was based on the concept of equal protection under the law. “Without such recognition, gay couples, even those who have co-habitated long enough to qualify as common law spouses under many state laws, often aren’t granted the same protection when it comes to shared finances, health insurance and other employee benefits, and property or power of attorney rights.”

The students further argued, “Like many heterosexual couples, many gay couples share deep bonds of love, some so strong they’ve persevered years of discrimination for their choice to co-habitate with and date one another. Just as it isn’t fair to discriminate against someone for their skin color, heritage or religious beliefs, it isn’t fair to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation.” The editorial writers closed with the question: “Shouldn’t gay couples be allowed to enjoy the benefits and happiness of marriage, too?”

The Student Publications Board released a statement March 2 after determining the Lariat editorial violated university policy as defined in the Student Handbook as well as student publications policy. According to the publications policy, “Since Baylor University was established and is still supported by Texas Baptists to conduct a program of higher education in a Christian context, no editorial stance of Student Publications should attack the basic tenets of Christian theology or of Christian morality.”

The board statement concluded, “Clearly, the editorial published on Feb. 27 is inconsistent with this policy. The guidelines have been reviewed with the Lariat staff, so that they will be able to avoid this error in the future.”

Sloan provided an assurance to Baylor constituents, stating, “While we respect the right of students to hold and express divergent viewpoints, we do not support the use of publications such as the Lariat, which is published by the University, to advocate positions that undermine foundational Christian principles” by which Baylor operates.

Letters to the Lariat’s March 2 issue offered diverse reactions, including one student questioning “this paranoid fear of opposing views” which he suggests is “another instance of the somewhat stultifying atmosphere of Baylor in which deep questions concerning faith and the secular world are often brushed aside with the ‘correct’ Christian answer.” A letter from Michael McCarty praised the Lariat’s “rare act of journalistic independence” though “brow-beaten into acquiescence.”

Another student disagreed with the editorial while questioning the “license for censorship.”

Baylor alum Keith Janes expressed disappointment toward students who wrote the editorial, adding, “There are plenty of liberal schools for you all to go to, maybe it’s time you left so our Baptist heritage can stand.”

Louis Moore of Hannibal Books in Garland believes the Baylor newspaper’s editorial was “totally inappropriate because of the context of what the school stands for and its Baptist heritage.” Moore, who served as Lariat editor from 1968 to 1969 and later worked as a Houston Chronicle reporter and denominational editor, said the experience prepared him for the realities of working in a professional world as a journalist.

“I understood the freedom of journalists, but I also understood the limitations due to context. I did not have the freedom to run wild and do whatever I felt I needed to say.” Because he was expected to be measured in his editorials, Moore said, “It taught me and others to think beyond just reacting emotionally and running an opinion. The Lariat went way beyond where it needed to be. I was stunned to read about it in the Dallas Morning News.”

Several Baptist colleges offered students the opportunity to take opposing points of view on the subject of same-sex marriage, including Georgetown Coll

Time to climb the ‘wall of separation’

No country in the world has been more agreeable to religious liberty than the United States. This can be fairly called a Baptist legacy, one of the most important things we added to the founding years of our nation. Some of the most horrible things in history have been done in the name of an official state religion. In it you have the compulsion of conscience toward one faith as well as the persecution of other faiths. The simple language of the Bill of Rights is intended to keep that from happening here. Our government is restrained from establishing or hindering a religious faith. That’s it. An amazing array of silly ideas spring from misuse of this plain language. Some of those notions threaten our freedom.

Silly idea one: Churches should have no voice in public policy. When President Thomas Jefferson paraphrased the first amendment commitment to religious liberty with the words “a wall of separation between church and state,” his original draft of the letter followed it by pointing out constitutional limits placed on government, not on churches. The problem with his metaphor is that a wall has two sides. This wall keeps government from meddling in the establishment or prohibition of religious exercise, but has also been used by some to limit the voice of Christians to affect government. Current IRS regulations, for example, allow a church’s tax exempt status to be threatened based on the content of a pastor’s sermon. HR 235 has been introduced, by the way, to restore free speech from the pulpit. My point is that we’ve gotten something badly wrong if we need to restore a pastor’s freedom to address public issues.

Silly idea two: Morality is the stuff of religion and not law. Some phrases have been more scornfully used than “legislating morality,” but not many. Some will say marriage is a religious issue and thus the state should not attempt to define it. Others say that it is a civil issue religious people should stay out of. This false dichotomy illustrates our problem. The state speaks to many things that are also religious. Neither should people of faith be told to store their convictions in the church house. Of course we legislate morality. Offending legislated morality is what puts people in prison.

I recently wrote an incumbent leader to express an opinion about a timely issue. The polite and affirmative response implied that the issue was a distraction from other issues of the day?issues more debatable and less sure. I need a clear note on subjects I do know about if I am to trust my leaders on subjects I do not know. Their impatience regarding these issues is mistaken. National security and financial prosperity will never make up for devastated institutions.

Silly idea three: A politician’s faith is no integral part of who he is. Some politicians duck controversial issues by stating their own views and then adding that they would not dream of forcing their views on someone else. A few have taken this “stand” on abortion; several are trying it on same-sex (it’s anything but gay) marriage. It’s scary that so many of us find these self-contradictory responses acceptable. When an elected official claims to believe one thing and then pursues policies contradictory to those stated convictions, there is no doubt what he really believes. A “devout,” pro-abortion Catholic, for example, falls short of any definition of “devout” as related to Catholic teaching. He is either the one thing or the other.

Silly idea four: An interest in public policy is unworthy of pastors and churches. Not usually stating it so baldly, preachers tend to think of Christian citizenship as less important than just about anything else we preach. Churches don’t give citizenship the prominence it deserves. Jesus speaks of us as “salt” and “light” in a declarative way. We are these things. The exhortation he gives is for us to project our new nature into our world. In our nation and in this time, we can influence the people who lead our nation. This rare gift implies that we must use it to express our distinctive and reborn worldview. We should be active citizens and intentionally Christian ones. In community, our churches, we should encourage one another to this good work as to any other. There is no reason churches shouldn’t help their members register to vote, teach them about issues, and encourage them to vote according to biblical convictions. Pastors should lead in this area as in other matters of discipleship.PAN>

Silly idea five: A voter’s faith is no integral part of who he is. I was raised in a Republican corner of a Democrat state. Northwest Arkansas was Republican for the same reason that the rest of the state was Democrat?because Mr. Lincoln won the War. I was surrounded by those who claimed they would vote for a yellow dog if he was of the right party. No reason was needed, no decision. This traditional view becomes insidious in the present day.

This is important. Some things a candidate promises, while sincerely intended, are beyond his power. Others are priorities that all candidates will honor but address with different action plans. No one, for example, is in favor of job loss, economic recession, weak national defense, or ineffective public education. The debate comes from the various ways we might achieve these laudable goals. It’s hard to choose between them because: A. Unforeseeable events often make the results of a policy unpredictable and unavoidable; B. Those who understand economics, diplomacy, and law better than me (or the candidates) will argue forever and still offer contradicting plans; C. My eschatology discourages the level of optimism that characterizes all political candidates (except Ralph Nader, perhaps). How should we then vote?

Not, I suggest, according to selfish interest (which is also largely unpredictable) or our guesses about whose plan will prosper America. Let’s vote according to what we do know this time.

We know that God has spoken on the subjects that challenge our society today?issues of justice, mercy, righteousness, and holiness. We know that life is holy, set apart as God’s sole prerogative to give and take. We know that families are the first and foundational elements of all human institutions. “Family” has a meaning that cannot be altered without catastrophi

Fifty year old law limits political activity,

Christian laymen and church leaders are more aware of what they cannot do than what they can do regarding political issues. Consequently, critics say, such ignorance stymies those who are most intimately associated with the truth regarding moral issues and bear the greatest responsibility for seeing it propagated.

What has silenced many pastors in the pulpit over the past 40 years regarding issues political was a last-minute amendment to the 1954 Internal Revenue Service Tax Code revision. Lyndon B. Johnson, then a U.S. Senator from Texas, tacked on the rider barring 501(c)(3) organizations from campaigning for or against candidates vying for political office.

The amendment was passed with no debate on a voice vote. It was later speculated Johnson made the move to silence two non-profit organizations that threatened to campaign against him. It is not known if Johnson realized how far-reaching his measure would be and whom it would ultimately silence.

Regardless of intent, the code regulates speech for 501(c)(3) organizations, barring them from endorsing candidates under threat of losing their tax-exempt status. Few churches have been taken to task in the past four decades by the IRS, but the fear of big government?not the fear of God?has had a significant impact on what is preached from America’s pulpits.

There are exceptions. For example, a Buddhist temple was the site of politicking and fund-raising for Al Gore during the 2000 president election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan joined several prominent evangelical leaders on the platform at Dallas’ Reunion Arena during a political rally.

Mostly, however, mere discussion of moral and ethical issues is sometimes averted in the pulpit so as not to be seen as endorsing one candidate and rejecting the other based on the views they hold.

THE CHURCH AS PROPHET

“In days gone by the pulpit and God’s prophets have voiced concerns. ? We don’t hear these voices anymore,” said Jim Bolton, retired investment banker and First Baptist Church of Dallas member. Bolton served on the SBTC’s Texas Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee (TERLC). The role of the committee has been to relay information regarding issues of concern to SBTC churches.

Bolton noted, “When the pastor doesn’t lead, the people aren’t interested. If doing the right thing politically is not going to be proclaimed, then why should we be interested?”

There remains much that pastors and lay people can address in church without violating IRS codes. Although the code precludes endorsing candidates, the church may address issues. The church can, and should, take a stand on moral and social issues explicitly addressed in the Bible, said Keet Lewis, a representative of Heritage Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping grassroots conservative movements.

One project Lewis has nurtured is the Christian Citizenship Committee, traveling the state helping churches organize such committees which then act as conduits of information from the state and national levels to their congregations. Being politically involved, Lewis said, is part of being a good citizen. And being an informed voter “is the beginning of taking citizenship seriously.”

These committees keep congregations informed of social and cultural issues within their own communities also, Lewis said.

“We need to be salt and light. We need to clearly articulate biblical issues,” he added.

William Nix concurred, using salt and light to illustrate how Christians can preserve society. Salt, he explained is a curative while light acts to shed light on the blemish that needs treating. Voting with biblical principles in mind is only a small part of the duties of a responsible Christian citizen.

Nix, who has taught in several universities and seminaries across the country, earned a doctor of philosophy in intellectual history. Such a degree, he explained, is a study of the history of ideas within their cultural, social, and economic environment. Nix is a member and 30-year deacon at First Baptist Dallas and a former member of the TERLC.

Nix said it was only 10-12 years ago that many churches within the Dallas metroplex did exactly what Lewis is encouraging congregations to do, coordinating efforts to assemble and disseminate information of a social and political nature. “A lot of people on the basis of fear are avoiding those things,” Nix said.

FREE CHURCH & FREE STATE

Aside from losing their tax-exempt status, churches and individual members use the excuse of “separation of church and state” as a reason for not being politically involved.

The oft-recited statement was discovered in a letter from Thomas Je

Young adults encouraged

PLANO?In less than eight months American voters will go to the polls to elect a president. A few questions worth asking might be:

• Why is electing a president such a big deal?

• Why would anyone want to be a part of politics?

• If politics is a dirty game, should Christians aspire to hold political office?

• Should Christians even vote?

On the last one, political strategist Ralph Reed says yes.

Reed, speaking in January at an Elevate 2004 Conference sponsored by Southern Baptists and hosted by Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, told the group of young Christians in attendance they have a responsibility to be involved.

“A lot of people ask, ‘How can you be involved in a business as dirty as politics?'”

Reed answered using the analogy of a house with broken water pipes. Our government is not completely corrupt, Reed contended, it just has some malfunctioning parts.

“That broken water pipe is threatening the foundation of that house,” Reed said. “If you don’t do something about it, it’s going to flood the foundation. It’s going to weaken the soil around it. And the whole house is going to come crumbling down.”

Believers have two options, Reed said. They can choose to stay in the house and not fix the pipes because they might get dirty under the house. Or, they can get under the house, repair the pipes and save the house.

“Don’t think for one minute as a Christian that you can stay cloistered in your own safe churches and schools and homes and not engage the broader culture, that you can be protected from the broken water pipe that is threatening the survival of our culture,” Reed said. “Eventually, it will find you.”

For Reed, politics is a calling.

He became involved in politics before he was a Christian. So, Reed said, he has played the game from both sides. As a political strategist before his salvation, Reed said he played to win at all costs. But since his conversion, he has had a chance to see and be a part of elections where people stood by their convictions.

“I have had the privilege and the honor ? to see people who got in touch with the talents and abilities they had been given and combined it with their faith in God and made a real difference in touching every life that they came in contact with through the love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ,” Reed said.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Reed and radio talk show host Janet Parshall explained to the audience the importance of getting involved in the “culture war” and how to become involved in the battle.

Huckabee, a former pastor, said Christians today should be “thermostats instead of thermometers.” Thermometers only check the temperature around them, Huckabee said, adding, “A lot of people?particularly in politics?are nothing more than thermometers.” These “thermometers” take an opinion poll to get the “pulse of the public” and based on the poll state the position they’re going to take, he explained.

Huckabee said God is calling more people to be thermostats instead of thermometers. Thermostats were made not just to read the temperature, but to move the temperature and make it what it ought to be.

He offered two suggestions in becoming a thermostat and changing the climate of the culture. First, Huckabee said, a Christian should stand by his convictions no matter the consequences

“Convictions are not your preferences or your likes versus your dislikes.” Huckabee said. “These are things that you so genuinely believe in ? you’re willing to be left alone and have your friends walk away because these are things you’re simply not going to compromise.”

For Christians, these convictions should be based on the word of God, Huckabee said. Some absolutes are unchanging. Huckabee listed some of his unchangeable convictions?sanctity of life, helping the poor, and honesty.

Second, Huckabee said Christians should “serve compassionately” to get ahead in this culture war. “Jesus did not come to be served, but he came to serve,” Huckabee told the group.

Huckabee told of his 12 years of pastoring churches before he became involved in public life. When he first made the decision to go into politics, some of those in the church questioned his decision. According to Huckabee, some of these people believed the only ministry options were pastors, song leaders (they didn’t have music leaders) or foreign missions. Everything else was considered secular work?not a calling.

“Where did that nonsense come from?” Huckabee asked. “Folks, you don’t have to get a payche