Month: June 2004

PBS enables SBTC pastor to give worldwide witness

Benevolent church gave time off for pastor, family to seize opportunity for TV special.


WACO–Jeff Wyers, playing the role of a 17-century autocratic governor in the PBS series “Colonial House,” faced the challenge by turning to prayer.

In addition to trying to communicate the concepts of religious authority alongside the love and grace of Jesus Christ, Wyers–a Southern Baptist pastor–and his family suffered a very public tragedy when the young man who was to become their son-in-law was killed in an auto accident back home.

Even so, God’s timing proved perfect and purposeful for the struggles the family from Waco faced during the filming of the series.

Colonial House, which aired May 17 and again May 24-25, followed the footsteps of three hugely popular PBS series, each placing 21st-century people in an environment unique to a specific time period. The last series, “Frontier House,” which aired in 2002, had three families living for three months in 19-century western United States. The show aired repeatedly on U.S. PBS affiliates and in markets worldwide.

Millions of people viewed “Colonial House,” and that, the Wyerses said, is why God allowed them to participate in the series and why, amid filming the five-month-long project, they faced tests to their faith.

It was on a lark that Jeff and Tammy Wyers filled out the online form for the production in the fall of 2002. They had watched portions of Frontier House and laughed at the complaining done by the participants. “We could so do that,” Tammy recalled saying. “Those people are such crybabies!” It was while she was on the PBS website looking for the next airing of Frontier House that she came across the application form for the Colonial House experiment. The new project would have an entire colony of up to 26 people living in 1628 Maine under Puritan law and struggling not only to survive but also to turn a profit for their sponsoring company back in England.

Not long after filing the application, it became apparent that the producers were seriously considering her family for the series.

“Then it became a serious matter of prayer. … We laid out many fleeces before the Lord,” Tammy said, referencing Gideon’s requests to the Lord for assurances (Judges 6:36-40). The couple knew that the project “was just too big a deal to be a crazy family adventure…Potentially, millions and millions of people would see this.”

What they would see, the Wyerses hoped, would be a family not just talking about faith in Jesus Christ but living it out, seeking to be ambassadors for Christ. Jeff, 47, is pastor of Community Baptist Church in Waco—a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention affiliate—and teaches history, health and Bible at Texas Christian Academy where his children attend school. He also conducts creation science seminars.

Tammy, 44, is a homemaker. Their oldest son, Jeff Jr., 24 could not join the family for the production. Their oldest daughter, Bethany, 20 is a student at Mary-Hardin Baylor University, studying business and religion. Amy, 17, celebrated her graduation from Texas Christian Academy the weekend of May 22 and also will attend Mary-Hardin Baylor. David, who celebrated his 10th birthday while filming Colonial House, just completed fourth grade at the academy.

When it was finally confirmed that the Wyers family would be a part of the colonial House project, it was time to ask their church family for their blessing. The response was overwhelming. Tammy said 99 percent of the people responded with such encouragement as, “Brother Jeff, you just have to do this. How do you say ‘No’ when God gives you this kind of opportunity?”

The Wyerses told the producers, in no uncertain terms, that their Christian faith was a part of their everyday life. Tammy recalled saying, “It is not our intent to brow beat. But you have to know God is not reserved for Sundays. …Jesus Christ is the center of our lives. That’s who we are.”

In compiling their “citizens” for the colony, the producers sought out Americans and Britons of varying social, cultural, religious and political persuasions. In the first episodes aired May 17 and 18, viewers were introduced to the Wyerses; Don Heinz, a professor of religious studies and liberal theologian and his wife, Carolyn, a professor of anthropology; John & Michelle Vorhees, who are openly agnostic; and Jonathan Allen, a graduate student who announced to the colony during a Sabbath meeting that he is a homosexual (he was inspired to “come out” upon the arrival to the colony of another openly homosexual man, Craig Tuminaro).

Jeff Wyers knew the potential for conflict was very real and the way he, as the appointed governor of the colony, dealt with it as a Christian was going to be viewed around the world, perhaps with eternal consequences for some viewers.

As Christians, the Wyerses believed it would not be a spiritual stretch to live under Puritan rule. Though the laws of 400 years ago contained what people today would deem as sexist, racist and unyielding, for the most part they were founded on basic scriptural laws by which the Wyerses already lived.

All participants signed contracts stating, for example, that they would live under the laws of Puritan Main in 1628. But even before the colonists completed their training at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts in May 2003, there was an undercurrent of dissension among the colonists. Jeff knew that viewers would have difficulty separating his role as governor and sole authority over the colony with his true-life roll as Christian and pastor. Meting out discipline, he said, could be seen as “Oh, yah. The Christians are in control and see what happens?”

On June 4, 2003, the colonists arrived, via tall ship, on the shores of 1,000 acres of Passamaquoddy Tribal land in Maine. At the outset, Jeff did not have the time or energy to deal with dissenters as the colonists concentrated their energies on a key element of colonial life—starting and maintaining a fire. The wood on the misty, foggy, bitterly cold coast of Maine was soft and wet, yet a good fire was essential for accomplishing many of the daily chores. It took almost a week for the group to establish a routine of work and survival.

The first test of Puritan law came from Michelle Vorhees. Although colonists in 17-century America were required by law to attend Sabbath meetings, she begin to balk before the first service. She would give it a try, she conceded, but if it became an affront to her own religious beliefs, she would not continue to attend. Her husband, John, said he would attend for the sake of the unity of the community, but if his wife refused, he would stand with her.

In contrast, Bethany Wyers, then 19, was shown pining for her church back home. Unable to hold back tears, she spoke of the fellowship and worship that were so dear to her. Because of her out-spoken convictions and strength of spirit, Bethany was nicknamed “The Rock.” And this, Tammy said later, was by people who had little understanding of Scripture or to whom they were unknowingly comparing her.

Tammy said the family often was able to share their faith off-camera and even lead a small Bible study with Dominic Muir, a 26-year-old private tutor from England who had become a Christian weeks before the project began and has since applied to seminary.

Little did the Wyers know that the very foundation of the faith they exhibited was about to be shaken to the core and the world would witness their response.

In what would later be seen by her mother as a prophetic statement, Bethany told some of the colonists that no matter what might happen in her life she knew she could get through it with the help of Christ. Four days later the test of that testimony came, when one of the produces relayed the news that Bethany’s fiance’, 19-year-old Caleb Morgan, had been killed in a traffic accident and the Wyerses’ son, Jeff Jr., was seriously injured. Amy’s boyfriend, Noah, had been in then vehicle as well but was not hurt.

In her grief, Bethany ran from the family’s hut, heading for the woods. Her family followed and, at the edge of the trees, poured out their hearts.

The other colonists were told what happened. As the family walked back up the road to the small row of huts, they were met in the street by their neighbors who, by now, had become their friends. In spite of the differences that separated them, there was love and caring among the group that crossed all boundaries, Tammy said.

The Wyerses had to go home. Jeff said the production staff was extremely gracious and helpful. But as he was walking away from the village to a waiting car, he recounted, “There was a Scripture going through my mind: ‘A righteous man swears to his own heart and keeps his word.’” Jeff knew he would have to come back to 1628 Maine.

The Wyerses returned to the 21st century to grieve and say goodbye to the young man they considered a son. As for their son, Jeff Jr., he would need special for hearing loss—which has since partially healed—sustained in the June 18 accident. While the Wyerses were in Waco, the colonists 3,000 miles and 400 years away were allowed to write—on parchment with quill pens—letters to their governor and his family.

“They were words of love and encouragement,” Jeff said. “They just loved on us.” Tammy said she wept over each letter, some of which mentioned the family’s faith and how they lived it out in ways people did not expect. Those letters, Tammy said, stirred in her the notion of returning to their colonial home. Amy agreed to stay behind to tend to Jeff Jr. Although Tammy hated leaving two children behind this time, she knew god had work for them to complete.

Jeff was not aware of Tammy’s decision as he returned to the colony 10 days after departing. The loss of Caleb Morgan brought the realities of colonial life crashing in on the Wyers family in a way they had not anticipated.

Seen walking alone toward the colony, Jeff speaks in a voice-over: “My perspective has deepened. I’m taken to a new level of the sacrifice [the colonists] made. …They would have gotten messages that loved ones would have died and it’s very real.”

Jeff was now determined to make the project what it was intended to be—a test of physical, mental and spiritual endurance. As governor, he would soon become torn between meting out Puritan law as governor and bestowing grace as a pastor.

“That was a real problem for me. You can’t force somebody to believe. … Your pressure becomes the issue and not the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Every decision was made in “a constant state of prayer,” Jeff said, joking of its mix amid otherwise mindless manual labor: “Chop. Chop. Pray. Pray. Chop. Chop. Pray. Pray.”

Enforcing the law requiring Sabbath meeting attendance was the most difficult act he had to take as governor and pastor. During the episode “City of God,” scarlet letters were passed out for violations of the civil laws, such as profanity, blasphemy (taking the Lord’s name in vain) and for not attending the Sabbath meeting. Jeff recounted he had spoken with the Vorheeses off-camera about having to give the letters from missing services and they said they understood. They seemed willing to separate Gov. Wyers from their friend, Jeff. But when the time came to give the letters, Jeff recalled, things changed. People were no longer just playing parts.

Before giving the letters to the Vorheeses, Jeff is shown reading a prepared statement: “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not to be spread by force of arms nor coercion. Yet, at the same time, we have placed ourselves in a setting in which the civil law requires mandatory assembly together for devotional meeting on the Sabbath. Therefore, any who fail to gather for the meetings have broken the law and without law there can be no society, only anarchy.” The punishment for “disassembles” was wearing the letter ‘D’ and two hours of expulsion from the colony.

Applying punishment for lack of faith or not wanting to go to church forced Jeff to consider whether enforcing such a law—even in a contrived setting—would push someone farther away from God. In a moment of reflection, before a lone camera, Jeff said, “If I, as a man, am a wall between people and belief in Jesus Christ, then I have caused them eternal harm and eternal damage … heaven or hell.”

When half of the colony stopped coming to Sabbath meetings, Jeff was forced to suspend that law; its enforcement was depleting the workforce and was becoming a heightened source of contention among the colonists. With one civil fire seemingly tapped out, another one was about to flare up.

But not before reinforcements arrived. It had been almost four weeks since Jeff had returned alone to the colony, but he was about to be reunited with part of this family. Tammy was struck by Bethany’s conviction to return to Maine. Her daugther had told her colony friends before the accident that Christ was everything to her—a statement easily made when life is going well, Bethany later admitted. She now had the opportunity to prove her faith. Tammy recalled her daughter saying, “I’ve said it, but now I’ve got to live it.”

And with that they returned to the colony with other new arrivals. Jeff was unaware of their returning and, in an extremely touching moment, is caught on camera as he is reunited with Bethany and then Tammy and son David.

With Tammy and her two children were nine new members of the colony: three more indentured servants, a merchant/treasurer sent to oversee the economics of the colony and a freeman with his wife and three children. The founding members of the colony are pleased to have the new arrivals.

But the arrival of one of the new colonists was the impetus for a new wave of controversy that crashed through the group and put on trial the Wyerses’ conviction to uphold the truth of Scripture.

During a Sabbath meeting, Jonathan Allen, acting as indentured servant to the Heinz family, revealed that he is a homosexual. Jeff, Tammy Bethany and David said and did nothing as a smattering of applause followed Allen’s announcement. Allen had earlier confessed his secret to the Heinz family; they embraced him and let it be known there was no condemnation on their par. So following the Sabbath meeting, it was time to get the response from the governor/Southern Baptist pastor.

Quoting Scripture, Jeff simply stated that all have sinned. Instead of embracing people in their sinfulness, he added, the individual should be encouraged, through the power of God, to confront his sin and defeat it.

“I was very concerned that we present the gospel,” Jeff reflected. But if it wasn’t presented “just right,” he knew viewers would see him—and, by associations, all Christians—as a “jerk” and God’s message would be compromised.

“I was very proud of him,” Tammy said of her husband’s response, admitting that her own feelings had not been as gracious toward Allen. “I was angry that he chose that time to do it,” she said of his revelation during a worship service where children were present. This was not a subject she wanted introduced to David, her o-year-old son, nor the manner in which she wanted it done. A more appropriate venue for the declaration, Tammy suggested, would have been before the colony counsel.

Eventually, Tammy said the stress back home in Waco had become too much for their daughter, Amy, to bear. Suffering from a recurring illness that threatened to hospitalize her, the Wyerses were once again forced to put family first and end their stay in the year 1628. The family had been reunited on site July 22, 2003, and it was now October and time to go home to stay.

Because they were leaving the production four weeks before its conclusion, the Wyerses had the opportunity to gather all the colonists to say goodbye. Jeff said he was able to give a clear presentation of the gospel before they left.

The fall of 2003 was spent grieving and healing, Tammy said, noting, “We just had the sweetest time as a family.”

Since the airing of Colonial House in May, the Wyerses have received phone calls and e-mails from across the country from people they do not know thanking them for their Christian witness.

TCC board approves Jewish studies institute

Program will prepare leaders to take gospel to ‘the Jew first.’

DALLAS?Creation of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies will position The Criswell College (TCC) at the forefront of “preparing kingdom leaders for Jewish ministry,” said Jim Sibley and Todd Bradley, organizers of the new educational venture. At their June 4 meeting TCC trustees unanimously approved the Institute that is named for the late Albert and Dorothy Pasche of Dallas, early supporters of Criswell Bible Institute and Jewish ministries.

“I believe this is the right initiative at the right time for all the right reasons,” said TCC President Jerry Johnson after making the recommendation. “It’s biblical, strategic and gives us a unique voice out there. The Criswell College has been doing a lot of this already, but this puts shape to it and a worthy name to it?the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies.”

Sibley, a national missionary for Jewish ministry appointed by the North American Mission Board and for 14 years a missionary to Israel, teaches missions and evangelism adjunctively at TCC. Bradley is a missions professor at the college and whose doctoral dissertation is related to Jewish studies. Over the last year they have examined how educational opportunities can be improved for Christians called to Jewish ministry. An advisory board formed in April began providing prayer support and counsel on the Institute’s format.

The Criswell College has emphasized evangelism and missions throughout the school’s 34-year history. The Pasche Institute picks up on the mandate to prepare “God-called laborers who will take the gospel ‘to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,'” Sibley said, quoting Romans 1:16.

The advisory board observed that several parachurch organizations are doing great work, but few local churches, denominations and affiliated schools have made Jewish ministry the priority that it is in the New Testament. While commending Moody Bible Institute’s undergraduate studies and Philadelphia Bible University’s certificate program, the board concluded that no reputable graduate degree for Jewish studies is available from a conservative, evangelical institution.

Initially, the Pasche Institute will offer training seminars for local churches to facilitate ministries for outreach and evangelism among Jewish people.

The educational curriculum will begin this fall with courses in Jewish studies taught by nationally known adjuncts in an intensive format that will attract students beyond the Dallas area. From a Jewish studies concentration under TCC’s Master of Arts in Ministry degree program, the board anticipates the institution of a master’s program wholly dedicated to Jewish ministry.

The Pasche Institute will seek input from the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to identify a candidate for a missionary-in-residence who will teach classes and conduct seminars and research. Eventually, scholarships and a research fellowship will be offered to attract educators, missionaries and students.

Organizers indicated that the Pasche Institute would be fully self-supporting through gifts of individual and institutional donors.

Members of the Board of Advisors for the Institute include Bill Borinstein, minister of men’s ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano; Kay Cherry, a conference speaker on marriage and family from Plano; Michael Deahl, a Dallas attorney; Gary Hedrick, president of a Jewish mission organization, CJF Ministries in San Antonio; Tammi Ledbetter, a freelance writer from Grand Prairie; John Pollard, pastor of Richland Baptist Church of Richardson; Ken Sibley, head of a Dallas accounting firm; and Rod Vestal, minister of missions at Lake Pointe Church of Rockwall.

“This proposal is in keeping with Dr. W. A. Criswell’s abiding love for the Jewish people,” Sibley stated, referring to the founder of TCC and longtime pastor of First Baptist Dallas. “Also, it honors the memory of Albert and Dorothy Pasche’s untiring efforts to reach the Jewish people with the gospel.”

In other business, TCC trustees unanimously:

?voted to reactivate the master of divinity degree program as soon as possible;

?elected four new faculty members, including Joseph Wooddell as assistant professor of philosophy, Denny Burk as assistant professor of New Testament, Everett Berry as assistant professor of theology and Barry Creamer as associate professor of humanities;

?confirmed Mark Overstreet as assistant vice president for development and received a report that the board’s executive committee had confirmed the appointment of Kate Finley as assistant vice president for enrollment services.

Prestonwood member raising prison chapels

Prison ministry veteran had ‘Nehemiah’ calling

to build where state prisons cut back.

Frank Graham considers his a Nehemiah story: Things were so bad back in Jerusalem, he, like the old prophet, could no longer sit and do nothing.

His Jerusalem is Texas, and Graham, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who had been involved in discipleship ministry for prisoners in the 1980s and early 90s, was increasingly burdened with the lack of chapel space in newly built state prisons.

Texas has 145,000 inmates and more prisons, 112, than any state.

The need for worship space in Texas prisons is great, Graham contends, because prisons the state built in the 1980s designated one relatively small room for religious activity. In the 1990s, new prisons allotted no religious program space, he said.

So Graham, like Nehemiah, was moved to act.

He has raised funds for seven chapels built in Texas prisons since 1997. It took him three years of selling his vision to raise money for the first one. Since then, six more have gone up.

His Chapel of Hope Ministries, a work he began in 1994, hopes to build its eighth chapel?a simple, 8,450-square-foot building?at the Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, the processing station for 8,000 women sent to Texas state prisons.

To do it, he’s selling commemorative bricks, at $75, $150, $300 and $1,200 a pop, each with an engraved, customized message of the donor’s choosing.

Once built, the chapels are owned and maintained by the state.

“I saw men being turned away?no room,” Graham lamented. “I knew somehow, some way, God was calling me to a very unique ministry.”

Graham, a member of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, got involved in prison ministry through a Baptist layman, Jack Wilcox, whom he helped in teaching the Masterlife discipleship curriculum to inmates. Soon, Graham was going to the prisons on his own and ministering, “then God led me to the need of chapels in prisons.”

“In the ’40s and ’50s, all our prisons had chapels with crosses on top of the buildings. In the ’80s we built prisons with only one room that would seat 60 people for prisons housing 2,500-3,000 inmates. In the ’90s, we had the largest expansion of prisons in history, with almost 80 built” but with no space for religious activities.

In 1994, with a sense of God’s call and not much else but a burden, Chapel of Hope Ministries incorporated.

“We went two years and did not have one supporter nor any funding to build any chapels. I lived off whatever savings we had,” Graham recalled. Not long after the ministry began Graham and his wife, (name ?), completed the “Experiencing God” study by Henry Blackaby.

Where Blackaby discusses obedience to God being preceded by a crisis of belief, the Grahams can relate.

They had two kids in college plus car and house payments.

“No help, no supporters, but we just knew God had called us to that ministry,” Graham said.

“She saw it, she felt it and we trusted God. Just like Nehemiah, I couldn’t turn back.</

Gay rights,’ civil rights not the same

Several hundred attend Arlington “Not On My Watch Rally”; oppose homosexual “marriage.”

ARLINGTON?Several hundred black Christians gathered on the steps of Arlington city hall on Saturday to show their opposition to “gay marriages” in this country and to protest the comparisons between the so-called gay rights movement to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Rally organizers also encouraged support for the Federal Marriage Amendment before Congress.

The rally attracted people from all across the DallasFort Worth area and beyond?one Houston man was there to show his support. Two representatives from Promise Keepers traveled from Colorado to attend.

Leaders of the “Not On My Watch Rally” compared their mission to that of a story in Ezekiel 3, where God made Ezekiel the watchman for the people of Israel, to sound the alarm of coming judgment. It was his responsibility to take the message to the people.

“May God’s recording angels of eternity record that on this date, May 22, 2004, some watchmen stood and declared God’s desire to bless the obedient and God’s warning of judgment on the disobedient,” said Howard Caver, one of the three founders of the Not On My Watch Coalition.

Caver said the three founders began meeting about six weeks ago and sharing that they and some of their congregation were concerned about the direction of the country and the push for same-sex marriage. Terrance Autrey, a Dallas-area pastor and Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Pastors’ Conference, were the other two pastors involved from the beginning. They believed the alarm had to be sounded.

Caver said this rally was that alarm.

Six different pastors and leaders?from different denominations?took the stage to explain the group’s reasoning for opposing homosexual marriage.

Bryan Carter, pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, gave a biblical response to the movement, saying that God is “pro-family.”

“Marriage was defined to be a relationship, a lifelong relationship, between a man and a woman,” Carter said. “It is a lifelong relationship between a man, a woman and God.” He said that it was God who created marriage, it was not an idea created in the minds of men.

Carter read the Genesis 1 account of God creating man (both male and female), giving them dominion over the earth and telling them to be fruitful and multiply. He told about God creating woman to be a suitable helper for man, about how a man should leave his mother and father and should become one flesh with his wife.

While the attendees shouted, “Amen” and clapped, Carter shared the analogy about the church

New SBTC evangelism director shares vision


Great Commandment and Great Commission work together, Cass says.

Don Cass became evangelism director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in March. In the following interview with the TEXAN, he discussed evangelism ministry and his vision for the SBTC’s role in strengthening evangelistic work among Texas Baptists.

Q. Baptisms among Southern Baptist churches have been flat in real growth for many years. Do you believe the culture is harder to penetrate or is the church apathetic, or both?

A. I really think that the big problem is the apathy of the church. I think the culture in places is harder to reach, but I do not think that is the case in Texas. I’m finding more people are open to the gospel today than ever in my lifetime. The problem is we’ve been convinced it’s not good to confront people intentionally with the gospel, that you have to build long-term relationships. I believe all evangelism, ultimately, is both relational and intentional. But relationships can be built in a few minutes, sometimes. And other times it takes months to build a relationship. But all evangelism must be intentional for it to be Great Commission evangelism.

Jesus confronted people about himself and he instructed his disciples to do the same. So we’ve got to do that. Our problem today is we listen to too many other voices rather than the New Testament.

Q. For churches that wish to recapture a passion for souls, what must that church do?

A. I think what we need today more than anything else is to fall in love with Jesus. When you’re in love with a person you’re not ashamed of them. For example, I love my wife. I love my daughter, my son-in-law and our grandchildren. If you want to talk to me about them any place, anytime, before any person, I will do it. The reason, of course: I have a passion for them. I love them passionately. And I think there is a real need today for the church to fall head over heels in love with Jesus again. Jesus said, “The ones who love me obey what I tell them to do.” And so, there’s a need to love Jesus.

Also, there needs to be an emphasis on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. And the reason I say that is, when you love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, then telling people about him is not going to be a problem. The issue today is we need a passion for Jesus.

The second thing is we need a brokenness for the lost. I think universalism has creeped into our churches, even the strongest conservative churches struggle with this. If they don’t struggle with it verbally they struggle with it in practicality, in that they somehow believe that someday, some way, everyone will end up in Heaven, and that’s completely foreign to the New Testament. We need people who believe in Hell again, that those who are lost have no hope in this life nor in the life to come. We need to be broken for their soul. Paul was so broken he said, “I would be willing to be severed from my relationship with Jesus if by my being cut off from Jesus Christ, my kinsmen would come to know him.” When he spoke to the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 17, he said, “I came to you in tears, I was broken for the lost.” It’s been too long since we had people who were broken, who wept for those who are lost. The Bible says, “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” And so, we need a brokenness for the lost.

Q. What is the correlation between brokenness and God’s moving among his people?

A. I don’t understand it completely, but I will tell you this: It’s been my experience when I see people weeping for a lost person, generally, that lost person gets saved. If they’re broken for a husband, if they’re broken for a wife, if they’re broken over their child’s lost condition or they’re broken over their brother or sister, generally, that brokenness leads to that person’s conversion.

Q.  You have mentioned the SBTC evangelism ministry beign one that will address various types of evangelism.  What does that vision include?

A.  Of course, I’m a strong believer in personal evangelism.  I think that’s the key to reaching our world–one on one, face to face, eye to eye–sharing the gospel with neighbors, friends, work associates, relatives, so forth.  But we also need great events that attract people who normally would not come to church but would come to an event and through that event hear the gospel of Christ.  For example, in Tyler, on the fourth of July, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church has a fireworks display that’s second to none.  And they have a singer come in.  Last year over 2,000 people came to that fireworks display and had great music and then I got up and presented the gospel, about a 10-minute presentation, gave an invitation.  Several people gave their lives to Christ and wer were able to do follow up with them.  So there are great events that will attaract lost people that might not normally come to a Sunday morning service.

We need ministry evangelism, where we minister to the needs of lost people.  We respond to their needs and through that ministry they ask, “Why are you doing this?” And we have the opportunity to share the gospel.

I still believe strongly in revival evangelism, crusade evangelism, I believe they work very, very well today.  You may have to call them something else.  Even Billy Graham has changed the name of his crusades I’m told, to the Billy Graham Mission.  Changing the name is fine, but we still need to have the emphasis.  That’s another road to the harvest.

I think prayer, evangelistic prayer ministry in the church, is very important.  People learning that their spiritual gifts are to be used in fulfilling the Great Commission of our Lord, all kinds of evangelistic approaches need to be used.  We need to drop every hook in the water we can to fish for those who are lost.

I also believe that visionary planning for evangelism is essential for every church.  The brand new church especially needs that so that evangelism is in their DNA.  And then the older churches must have it for an ongoing evangelistic ministry.  One of the reasons churches plateau in evangelism is that they don’t plan to do evangelism.  There needs to be a visionary plan and people put together so they know where they’re going, how they’re going to get there, who’s responsible, when this will start, when it will be finished, what will we look like five years from now in evangelism, that kind of thing.

Q.  What are some things churches can do to reach children and teens?

A  Well, older children are some of our most fertile harvest potential.  We must focus on helping parents, grandparents, reach older children.  Pastors, for example, need to go into older children’s departments at least twice a year, sit down with those kids and share the gospel with them.  He needs to be acquainted with the children so that they feel comfortable talking to him.  We need to do events that will attract children to the church.  The children today, their parents do not bring them to church.  There was a time parents brought them to church, then there was a time parents brought them to church and dropped them off, and now neither of those things seems to be happening and we must do what we can to gather up children.  There are, of course, some families that bring their children and we’re thankful for that.  But we must focus on reaching children.  We cannot afford to lose the young generation of children.  Jesus said, “Suffer the children to come to me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.”  We often say to children, “Wait until you are an adult.”  Jesus said to adults, “You have to become like children to be saved.”  Children are very, very open and we need to do what we can from this evangelism division to equip churches to reach children.

Then, of course, today’s teenagers are wonderful.  Whatever they get sold on they’re sold out to.  And they’re stronger kids that when I was a teenager.  And so, when they get sold out on Jesus, man, they’re sold out.  They’re on fire.  And I want to see us focus on reaching teenagers for Christ.  I love teens.

I want to see our Youth Evangelism conference become, eventually, the strongest youth evangelism conference in the nation.  And we’re going to be working to that end.  Everything we can do we need to do to reach these teenagers with the gospel.  Large portions of our kids, when they leave our churches to go to college, never come back to church again.  And, we’ve got to stop that.  We’ve got to disciple them where they become disciple-makers; I’m told that if parents of teenagers are involved in making disciples, the statistics that indicate a huge number of young people leaving the church goes down to an extremely low percentage.  That’s a phenomenal thing.  We’ve got to help parents see how they’re a role model for their kids.

Q.  What is your vision for emPOWER Evangelism conference?

A.  My hope for this is that it too will become the strongest adult evangelism conference in the nation.  We have great goals and vision for this.  I was talking with Dr. Roy Fish (longtime SWBTS evangelism professor) and he said, “Don, whatever you do, do not lose your vision for what God can do through evangelism and these conferences.  There is a need for the conference desperately today.  The conference serves, in my opinion, as a catalyst to ignite evangelism for the rest of the year.

I am convinced that this year we can have, and I pray we will have, 3,500 people at our evangelism conference.  If we have 3,500 this year, I believe in three years we can have 5,000.  We try to challenge pastors and staff people to bring laity to the conference.  If you want your church to be set on fire, one of the ways to do that is to bring laity to the conference.  I used to say to the laity in New Mexico, “If you’ll give three days of your vacation to come to this conference, I’ll give three days of my vacation voluntarily.”  Now I never had a layman challenge me on that, but laity started coming.  I promised them if you come one time you won’t want to miss it.  And that’s exactly what happened.  I believe that’s true for the Texas conference.  If we can get them there one time, they won’t want to miss it.  It’ll transform their lives.  Same thing for pastors and staff members–if they’ll come, God will use it to bless them in evangelism for the remainder of the year.  We want it to be a catalyst to help individuals, churches and ministries across the state in evangelism.

NOTE:  The 2005 emPOWER Evangelism Conference is scheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at First Baptist Church of Euless.  See a future issue of the TEXAN for more details.


Committed parents are crucial to our world

Whenever a writer or preacher goes on about the importance of fathers a certain number of us start to bristle. We all know of poignant cases where a widowed mom did an amazing job of raising her family. Statistics and anecdotes about the necessity of fathers don’t respect the exceptions, it might be said. OK, but they are exceptional cases, aren’t they? It reminds me of a story I heard about a small town that was evangelized by means of a short Bible fragment someone found. If true, this is an amazing testimony to the power or God and his word, but it should not define our missiology. Exceptions should keep us humble but policy should be based on solid principles.

In a day when few dare scoff at the idea of “new models of family,” it must be said that something in the hardwired needs of children requires a stable, lifelong, involved, preferably biological, father in the home. Single people can adopt or bear children; same-sex “domestic partners” have done the same in some cases. While these innovations have not had long to demonstrate their strengths, there is little reason to hope for a good outcome. It is callous to even speak of these things as though raising kids is an experiment. What will we do, look at this woebegone generation 20 years from now and say, “Whoops?”

A variety of mostly secular researchers have discovered that, absent a live-in biological father, the following things are more likely to happen:

  • Children will have depressed IQ scores.
  • Boys will have a worse relationship with their mothers.
  • Girls will have an accelerated onset of puberty, especially if there’s a step-dad.
  • Boys will be three times more likely to be jailed.
  • Abandoned boys will abandon their own children one day.
  • Children will have less resistance to negative peer influence.
  • Children will have a higher rate of drug abuse and pre-marital sex.
  • Children will gravitate toward lower preference jobs.

There is more but you get the picture. Most of these finding imply a positive corollary. A permanent father will decrease the likelihood of good things in the life of his children and restrain the more destructive things. Studies have also found that no one outside the family can do much to make up for an absentee father. This is sobering stuff and the trends are not going the right way.

According to a fact sheet provided by the North American Mission Board, 27 percent of children (20 million) live in single parent homes and 34 percent (24 million) live absent their biological father. The number of cohabiting couples with children is 1.7 million, double the number reported in 1990. These cohabiting couples are far less likely to stay together or provide a stable two-parent family for the children. The devastation will continue, it appears.

These findings shouldn’t surprise us. We instinctively and experientially know that kids need both fathers and mothers. When an unmarried couple has children and then splits, it’s the dad who leaves. Similarly, when a married couple divorces, the father is more often the absentee parent. The number of single father homes has increased in the last decade (that makes problems of its own) but the great number of single-parent homes are headed by the mother. We also know that these children are injured by any degree of abandonment. Let’s call it what it is. A couple that splits rarely does so for the benefit of the children. The result is abandonment by one parent or the other. Kids are right to be angry about that.

Maybe I’ll get letters for saying that but I challenge the writers to tell me something I’ve not heard from those contemplating divorce. The most common reasons I’ve heard turn out to be false almost every time. Those who think they’ll be better off don’t factor in the guilt, poverty, loneliness, and stress that nearly always follows. Those who think it will be better for the kids (less arguing, more stability, etc) are doubly wrong. The arguing and instability don’t end and a profound sense of insecurity enters the picture and affects everything in their lives. Divorce and abandonment make sad, wounded children who often grow into wounded adults with kids of their own.

What then? This cheery Fathers’ Day message should have a point. Simply this, fathers hang in there. My parents just celebrated their 50UP>th wedding anniversary and I know it wasn’t always easy for them. I don’t know if “for the sake of the kids” helped them through challenging days but I know it was to our benefit. As an adult with nearly grown children I still have a sense of stability from the family of my origin. I would be shaken in some ways if that changed, even now. They have kept the commitmen</

Richards expresses thanks during loss

Dear SBTC family,

Thank you for the incredible outpouring of prayer and support during my mother’s recent home-going. The many cards, e-mails, phone calls and flowers were overwhelming. Mother’s legacy will live on through her family.

Mother was a registered nurse. She invested 30 years of her life delivering babies. She worked on the maternity floor of Francis Hospital in Monroe, La. Throughout those years, she witnessed to the women who were under her care.

One of the most esteemed doctors in the city came to the funeral home and paid his respects. He sent a gift to the East Texas Baptist Family Ministry. Several others have done the same. Gerald Edwards, director of ETBFM, has agreed to dedicate a room at the Children’s Home in memory of Betty Lane Richards.

While I will desperately miss Mother, I have the peace and consolation that I will see her again. She prayed for and witnessed to me until I came to Christ. Be sure you have shared the saving power of Jesus with your family members.

Thank you again for your love and support.

Your servant in Christ,

Jim Richards