Month: September 2004

Safe and secure from all alarms?

The images from a natural disaster are startling; they look anything but natural. I’ve driven through flooded neighborhoods in Sioux Falls, N.D., and Houston and St. Louis, where the curbs were lined with ruined possessions and soggy building materials. When Lancaster, Texas was devastated by a tornado a few years back, friends showed me an enormous pile of rubble out by the airport?all that remained of pretty homes I’d walked past a hundred times. The continuing reports of Florida’s suffering are exactly the same. We should consider the meaning of natural catastrophes.

I don’t mean that we should try to figure out why these things happen so much as what they should teach us about our lives and our God. Hurricanes and their fellow travelers are no respecters of persons. Trailers, apartments, tract homes, and custom-built estates are all brought low when attacked by enough wind, water or earthquake. It reduces residents to bleary-eyed refugees. The degree to which they trusted in their possessions is the degree to which they have been made suddenly hopeless. Hopelessness can be a pretty effective attention-getter.

It is sobering to think of how quickly our priorities can be changed. Guys that didn’t have time for their kids suddenly have lots of time when a wildfire takes the house and leaves only the family safe. People who have no time for God flock to churches or Baptist disaster relief teams when reduced to their basic needs by wild weather. Of course, they will learn something important from the experience. What about the rest of us, safely separated from the danger by miles and time? Can we brace ourselves for the storm in a way that doesn’t involve plywood and sandbags? The first step in doing so is to consider some hard facts.

None of us is immune to disaster.

Our family lived for five years in a house where two of our neighbors lost their homes to a tornado shortly after we left. Whether it is fire, wind, water, blizzard or space debris, we are vulnerable to the kind of life-changing experience we see our brothers in Florida facing today. A health catastrophe may also be as near as a minor change in your heart rate or blood chemistry. Humility before our God is a sane response to reality. Instead of clucking our tongues or knocking wood when we see trouble in other places, imagine how we would respond to suddenly losing all but our lives. Does your likely response imply any change in priorities?

Our safety is in God’s hands.

No insurance is adequate to restore your status quo. Each year, many of our fellows find they have chinks in their protection that insurance will not even address. They not only hoped in something inadequate but also something careless of their particular need. This is more scary if we think we can control our risk. My control of my circumstances is an arrogant illusion. Of course, God can protect us but when he has another plan for us, we will experience all that he allows.

Safety is as God defines it.

This can be frightening to a believer. God’s priorities might not be focused on our comfort to the degree we hope. Romans 5:3-5 tells us of the relationship between tribulation and patience and character and hope. Three of those four we would aspire to, but that fourth thing is the first in the progression. Jesus also tells us that our eternity is more important than our present state in Matthew 18:7-9 (“… if your hand or foot ? eye causes you to stumble …”). Jesus is using hyperbole to make the point that we were made for eternal life. These passages alone tell me to be careful not to spend all my attention on things I cannot keep, even my precious flesh. This lesson should put great losses into perspective whether in my life or in the lives of others.

Most of us can also testify to the temptations of comfort. Like Israel did, we take God for granted during times of blessing. We take credit for things only he can provide. The digression from ingratitude through destruction threatens us when we are too self-assured. We aren’t meant to live that way because it is not the truth. Our assurance does not come from withi

Reproducing churches show selflessness in planting new works, sending out laborers

Every year 3,500 to 4,000 churches in the United States close their doors. Eighty percent of existing churches are stagnant or declining, according to church planting surveys.

Those statistics are the catalyst for churches that reproduce by planting new works, such as Lakeland Baptist Church in Lewisville, which has started congregations in the north Texas area for more than two decades. Pastor Ben Smith said it is part of the church’s heritage.

“We’re the daughter that has 18 grandchildren and 7 stepchildren,” Smith said, referring to the 25 church plants Lakeland helped start after its own start as a mission church of First Baptist Lewisville in 1962.

Smith, who has been the pastor at Lakeland for 30 years, said the idea to church plant started because of inflation.

“Interest rates were running about 13 to 14 percent,” Smith said. “We couldn’t afford to build.”

So Smith and church leaders began talking with Southern Baptist leaders about planting a church. Smith said he was told a church didn’t have to build to grow.

“We took that as a word from the Lord.”

Smith said deciding where to plant a church is based on two criteria: demographics, and a pastor to match the demographics.

“We are going to win or lose Texas not based on our theology but our sociology,” Smith said.

He believes the new churches are going to be successful by finding ways to minister to neighbors. Lakeland works diligently trying to find out the makeup of a neighborhood by commissioning studies on demographics and the socioeconomic levels in an area. Lakeland‘s church starts have crossed all ethnic lines from black to Korean to Anglo.

After the church discovers the needs of an area, the focus then turns to finding God’s man to reach the people of that area.

Sometimes the church actively seeks that man and sometimes that man just happens along, Smith said.

Later, the church begins assessing and training a prospective pastor. Smith believes assessment and training are vital to church plants. Smith and his congregation want to ensure the person selected as pastor will be able to shepherd the new flock. Because of this philosophy, Lakeland has a 50 percent success rate in its church starts.

Smith said he believes new churches that fail do so often because the pastor didn’t fit the congregation.

CHURCH AND SPORTS: Done well, adult church league bearing fruit

This isn’t your father’s church league.

That might be a good thing.

Most who ever witnessed an adult church basketball league remember the episode when the flesh won out over the Spirit: the flustered deacon who cursed a blue streak at the ref, the beloved RA leader whose left hook connected like a Zell Miller speech. Anecdotal testimony is compelling: sports and church can make a toxic brew.

But for regenerate sports lovers, hope abounds.

Fellowship Church in Grapevine is proof of it.

In 2001, it had 3,500 people participating in at least one organized weekly sports endeavor through the church, but increased aggression and ugliness was triumphing over sportsmanship and ministry, said Athletics Pastor Barry Ford.

After the 2001 flag football season, when 32 people required medical treatment for injuries, Ford and Pastor Ed Young decided it was time for a sports ministry makeover.

The next year, participation plummeted?to about 1,700 people.

Many people not interested in the spiritual focus of the new approach went elsewhere. Yet the result has been one of the most successful purpose-driven sports ministries in existence. Participation is back up?to around 2,500 participants a week.

“As we allowed (our leagues) to grow without a strong leadership purpose, people were basically using the sports leagues as an outlet for every sports frustration they’d ever had,” Ford recalled.

Of the 32 doctor visits from flag football players, two were emergency room injuries. Young and Ford decided that growing the sports ministry might best be done by growing smaller.

“We completely cut the knees out, gutted it and started over,” Ford said.

The next year, new standards were implemented. Post-game devotionals with clear gospel presentations became mandatory. “Team captains” approved by Ford were required to complete in-depth player profile cards of every participant describing his or her spiritual beliefs and personal interests.

The focus became outreach and evangelism so that every participant heard a clear gospel message and were approached individually about where he or she stood with Christ.

In the revamped “FC Sports,” as it’s termed, after the fourth game of every league “season,” team captains share their conversion testimony with teammates, telling “(a) what made you realize you needed Christ in your life, (b) what you did to ask him into your life (i.e., what you said, where you said it and to whom), (c) what you did in response to that decision (i.e., baptized by immersion), and (d) what your life has been like since you made Christ the center of your life.”

Devotionals, which last 10-20 minutes and include group discussion using a curriculum mostly developed by Ford called “Huddle Talk,” are mandatory with few exceptions. If a player must miss the post-game devotional, he departs 10 minutes before the game is over. If a player skips three devotionals, he is suspended for the season with no refund.

Ford said players know the requirements. Though some former players have chosen more garden-variety rec leagues, participation has risen to about 2,500 athletes.

Last year, 18 people were baptized directly resulting from sports-related outreach; one of the eight devotional topics is about believer’s baptism. Hundreds of others who have been converted or followed in baptism have had sports ministry contact as an entry point into the church. Fellowship baptized 2,285 people in 2003?a record in the Southern Baptist Convention.

With multiple weekend services drawing as many as 18,000 people, facilities don’t allow for traditional Sunday school. Home Teams?small group Bible studies?carry a heavy evangelism and discipleship burden instead.

Ford said the pastoral staff considers weekend services a “front door” entry into Fellowship Church and Home Teams and sports ministry the “back door” entry point. In fact, Home Teams play an integral role in the sports ministry.

Team captains must demonstrate active participation in Home Teams before Ford considers them, and the sports ministry is itself modeled after much of what Home Teams do?outreach, evangelism, discipleship and fellowship. The Home Teams feed peaker for the awards ceremony, which includes a video highlighting the kids playing throughout the season. “You get a lot of people to come to the ceremony. The gym was wall-to-wall people last year.”

Dewayne Yates, recreation minister at First Baptist of Henderson, said his church’s program runs about 260 to 280 children, of which about half are from outside the congregation. “Every year we see 20 to 30 decisions that we follow up on,” Yates said, adding, “We have also had families who have joined our church because of the program.”

Despite the success, when the Upward program first started, there were some questions on whether it would work and if the parents or children would come just for the basketball and balk at the devotional and spiritual elements. Those fears have proven to not be true.

“It’s Christ first,” Yates said. “Every year we tell them (the players and the leaders) in the first week’s devotional that our main goal is teach boys and girls about Jesus Christ. We always have the devotionals at every halftime and at the end of the season we have between 800 and 1,000 people in attendance at the closing ceremonies.”

Considering that the church’s entire Sunday School program runs just about that many, Yates feels like the program is a great success.

In addition to the regular eight-week season, Henderson also offers a one-week camp, which works especially well for the younger players to learn the basics. It too has a Bible emphasis and goes from 8 a.m. to noon.

Damon Berry, sports and recreation minister at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen, also agreed that its two-year involvement with Upward has been very successful. He said that about 75 children have received Christ through the program, which has had 500 participants in the basketball and cheerleading events.

Also, Berry said that some families searched the Internet looking for a church that had an Upward program and ended up joining the church.

“Next year, we plan on adding Upward Soccer to the schedule,” Berry said. Soccer is the latest addition to the Upward sports family.

Tom Grubbs, minister of singles and recreation at First Baptist Church, Corinth, said Upward has reached their expectations of teaching children basketball skills and also reaching people outside the church. While difficult to nail down exactly how many people have been saved through the program, Grubbs said more than 100 people who have been baptized have been a part of the Upward program.

The Corinth program runs 250-plus children and Grubbs said more than 800 came to its awards night. Grubbs said he has 212 volunteers involved with Upward.

Despite the big response and the number of volunteers needed, all of those interviewed said the Upward program is well planned, and that it is an easy program to administer.

Thorn said the Upward national organization does a lot of the administration, but “you’ve got to do a lot of it too.”

The Upward organization provides the training materials, practice drills and even the suggested devotionals for the coaches to teach spiritual truths and fundamentals of basketball. For the younger children, score is not kept and care is made to make sure every player plays and competition is handled properly.

“The kids learn basketball skills, but the emphasis is not winning?it is really for the kids to enjoy the sport in a Christian environment. We give them a Bible, learn memory verses, and year after year you have an opportunity to minister to the family,” Thorn said.

Children get awards immediately following the game, inclu

CHURCH AND SPORTS: Sports ministry attracts many in Plano area

PLANO  Ed Hancock grew up in a small Southern Baptist church just outside of Tampa, Fla. He accepted Christ at the age of 12, but for reasons he can’t explain, his family stopped going to church shortly after he was baptized. During the most crucial years of his life as a teenager and into adulthood, Hancock doesn’t remember stepping foot in the church he once loved.

Little did he know that more than 20 years later, he would come back to his first love?Jesus Christ?through his second love?football. At age 27, Hancock met and married his wife, who had also grown up the same way he did. She also went to a Southern Baptist church as a child and had given up on going when she grew older. “Throughout the course of our marriage, she never pushed me to go to church?she just prayed,” Hancock said.

In 1997, with two small children, the Hancocks moved to the Dallas area because of a job change. “My son was five years old at the time and the first thing I did was sign him up for football.”
Hancock began as a coach for the City of Carrollton football league, which was often not the most wholesome environment. After two years of coaching, he met someone who would help change his life?Monty Roberts, a fellow coach and member of a nearby church.

One thing led to another and Roberts invited Hancock and his family to Prestonwood Baptist Church one Sunday. They accepted, attended, and later agreed to return, although they only went sporadically thereafter.

The following year, before football season, Hancock began communicating with Roberts, who had been coaching a league at Prestonwood, about working together again. Over lunch and after several meetings with sports ministry leadership, Joe Perry, minister of sports outreach at Prestonwood, asked Hancock to be a football division director.

“I thought he was insane because he didn’t know anything about me,” Hancock said. “But for someone to show that kind of faith, trust, and later what I recognized as love was what became the pivotal moment in rededicating my life to Christ.”

Today, Hancock is the director of the football program through the Prestonwood Sports & Fitness Center and his family is active in the church. “This is more than coaching football ? this is an outreach program,” Hancock said. “This is a chance to affect the lives of young men. Last year, five young men on my team accepted Christ as their Savior.”

The Prestonwood Sports Organization (PSO) began as a far-fetched vision for Joe Perry. Perry said that after attending a football event in Louisiana, he realized that sports leagues were where crowds of people gathered. Upon his arrival at Prestonwood, he presented his dream to the pastor, Jack Graham, and they set off to make it happen.

Today, more than 6,000 children participate in leagues and camps at Prestonwood each year, and more than 60 percent of the children and their families do not attend church. There are six children’s leagues including basketball, soccer, football, cheerleading, volleyball, and baseball/softball, and three adult leagues. This ministry also sees hundreds of children trust Christ each year through sports programs, with many of their families becoming involved in the church.

“Every year, we see young people step up and accept Christ at the awards banquets,” Hancock said. “There are parents that have said, ‘I’m here because my kids came first.’ Parents are there with their kids when we pray with them before a game, and at the awards ceremonies when people share their testimonies and others are accepting Christ.”

Many of the lay leaders involved in PSO have come to faith through various sports programs. Volunteers and ministers active in PSO not only make their faith evident in church on Sunday, but they are integrating it into basketball games on Tuesday, football practice on Thursday, and cheerleading practice on Saturday.

Mike Boate, director of the Mavericks basketball program for children, is just another example. Boate grew up Catholic and never really attended church. In 1999, he accepted Christ, and began attending Prestonwood off and on. Though his heart had changed, Boate was still very leery of his new church because of the rules and guidelines he thought might be similar to the Catholic church.

Not wanting to become overly involved in church activities, Boate decided to sign up for a basketball league through PSO. “I just wanted to enjoy myself,” he recalled. “I didn’t expect anything else, but the very first basketball league I was a part of soon became my Bible Fellowship class.”

The devotional and prayer time before his team’s games became very important to Boate, and he found himself excited about going to experience the fellowship. Boate said the experience he had through the basketball program was immeasurable, and it helped him see the value in walking with Christ.

“My wife and kids began to see a change and how important it was to me, and that transferred over to them.”

During awards banquets for the kids, Boate said he and other leaders have seen children and parents raise their hands when the gospel was presented. People from many backgrounds pass through the doors of the Sports & Fitness Center or onto the playing fields daily.

“Sports and games present life challenges,” Boate said. “With every child coming through the doors, there comes a mom, dad, grandparents, and siblings.” This sports ministry is now a method of reaching out to a large number of people in the community with the message of Jesus Christ.”

“I took my experience when I accepted Christ and how important it was knowing the effect that the sports ministry had on my life, and put that into sports outreach,” Boate said. “Through the use of sports outreach you can share the love of Christ with them by the use of a simple basketball, soccer, or football game. We don’t know all those we’re touching with our words and actions at each game, but we make sure we do it consistently with Christ’s love. “

SBTC Annual Meeting: ‘Stronger Together’

PLANO?The 2004 Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Annual Meeting will be Oct. 25-26 at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, marking the convention’s sixth year after its beginning in 1998.

The SBTC Pastors’ Conference (see schedule on Page 7), also at Prestonwood, precedes the annual meeting, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and continuing through the following afternoon.

The SBTC Annual Meeting theme is “Stronger Together,” taken from Ecclesiastes 4:12, and will include notable guest preachers, platform guests and musicians. Prestonwood is co-sponsoring with the SBTC the Tuesday night service?a special patriotic emphasis with a guest sermon from Jerry Falwell, pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and president of Liberty University. Falwell, who founded The Moral Majority in the late 1970s, is well known for his political activism.

The President’s Luncheon is scheduled for Oct. 26 and will feature Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and founder and president of The Urban Alternative. Evans is a prolific author and well-known speaker.

The Women’s Luncheon is Oct. 25 and features Jennifer Rothschild, a musician and speaker who lost her eyesight in her teenage years due to a degenerative eye disease.

Advance tickets are required for both luncheons. Cost is $8 for the President’s Luncheon (call Judy Van Hooser at 817-552-2500) and $10 for the Women’s Luncheon (call Gloria Corbitt at 817-552-2500).

Chris Osborne, SBTC president and pastor of Central Baptist Church in Bryan, will call the convention to order at 6:35 p.m. Oct. 25 following pre-session music and prayer.

Monday night includes reports from Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, on behalf of the Council of Seminary Presidents; O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone Financial Resources (Annuity Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention; Ethics & Religious Liberty President Richard Land; Gerald Edwards, director of East Texas Baptist Family Ministry; and Doug Hodo, president of Houston Baptist University.

Also on Monday evening, Dale Perry, pastor of Friendly Baptist Church in Tyler and a liver transplant survivor, will preach an interpretation of the theme “Stronger Together Around the Word of God,” (t1:time Hour=”19″ Minute=”35″>7:35 p.m.) and Osborne will deliver the president’s message at 8:20 p.m.

Tuesday morning’s session will begin at 9:05 a.m. and include a report from the Committee on Order of Business, introduction of motions and election of officers.

Michael Lewis, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, will preach an interpretation of “Stronger Together in Ministry” (t1:time Hour=”9″ Minute=”35″>9:35 a.m.). followed by reports from Leo Smith, executive director of Texas Baptist Men; the Committee on Committees; LifeWay Christian Resources (Mike Arrington, vice president, corporate affairs), Committee on Nominations; The Criswell College President Jerry Johnson; Executive Board, and Jacksonville College President Edwin Crank.

Sal Sberna, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Houston, will preach the convention sermon at 11:05 a.m.

Tuesday afternoon begins at 1:45 p.m. and includes a theme interpretation sermon of “Stronger Together in Giving” at 2:15 p.m. from David Turner, pastor, Little Cypress Baptist Church in Orange.

Scheduled reporters include International Mission Board trustee chairman Thomas Hatley; Hyoung Min Kim, Korean Baptist Fellowship of Texas; David Hankins, SBC Executive Committee; SBTC staff; and Harry Lewis, North American Mission Board. SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards delivers the Executive Board report at 3:40 p.m.

Also Tuesday afternoon, officer elections continue and the Committee on Order of Business issues a second report.

The Tuesday night session begins at 6 p.m. and includes a Resolutions Committee report, further officer elections and a final report from the Committee on Order of Business, recognition of outgoing officers and presentation of new officers.

At 7 p.m., Ben Smith, pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church in Lewisville, will deliver a theme interpretation sermon of “Stronger Together for Jesus’ Sake” followed by a guest message from Jerry Falwell at 7:40 p.m.

M

CHURCH AND SPORTS: ‘Upward Basketball’ effective family outreach

When the Apostle Paul penned the words, “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” in Philippians 3:14, he wasn’t thinking of basketball, as the sport wasn’t invented until 18 centuries later.

That hasn’t stopped a wave of churches from using the “Upward Basketball” ministry to help meet their goal of reaching boys and girls for Christ and teaching them a few sports skills along the way.
According to its promotional material, Upward Basketball is “an evangelistic sports ministry designed to promote community outreach, develop volunteer leadership, and share the love of Christ with children and their families, using something as simple as a basketball.”

And judging from the churches that have used the sports ministry, Upward is reaching its goal. The program is designed for kindergarten through sixth-grade boys and girls, and in addition to the games and practices, it also includes Bible studies, memory verses, character development, self-esteem, and most important, the presentation of the gospel to players and their parents.

Brent Thorn, minister of education and recreation at First Baptist, Lindale, said the church began its Upward program in 1999, and has about 270 children each year. “About one fourth are ours, half are churched elsewhere, and a fourth are not churched at all.”

Thorn said parents and players appreciate the family Christian atmosphere of Upward, which, unfortunately, is not the norm in kids’ sports leagues.

“I think it is a great outreach for the church. You get non-church attenders to come, everyone gets a Bible and everyone gets a devotional for eight weeks.”

Thorn said most of the Upward workers are people within the church who weren’t serving anywhere else and Upward provided a niche for them.

One key attribute to the program’s success, Thorn said, is the prayer emphasis. “We had 100 prayer pins to give out to the people of the church. I gave them to our watchman prayer ministry.”

The program runs eight weeks, beginning in January, Thorn said. At the end of the season, First Baptist Lindale brings in a peaker for the awards ceremony, which includes a video highlighting the kids playing throughout the season. “You get a lot of people to come to the ceremony. The gym was wall-to-wall people last year.”

Dewayne Yates, recreation minister at First Baptist of Henderson, said his church’s program runs about 260 to 280 children, of which about half are from outside the congregation. “Every year we see 20 to 30 decisions that we follow up on,” Yates said, adding, “We have also had families who have joined our church because of the program.”

Despite the success, when the Upward program first started, there were some questions on whether it would work and if the parents or children would come just for the basketball and balk at the devotional and spiritual elements. Those fears have proven to not be true.

“It’s Christ first,” Yates said. “Every year we tell them (the players and the leaders) in the first week’s devotional that our main goal is teach boys and girls about Jesus Christ. We always have the devotionals at every halftime and at the end of the season we have between 800 and 1,000 people in attendance at the closing ceremonies.”

Considering that the church’s entire Sunday School program runs just about that many, Yates feels like the program is a great success.

In addition to the regular eight-week season, Henderson also offers a one-week camp, which works especially well for the younger players to learn the basics. It too has a Bible emphasis and goes from 8 a.m. to noon.

Damon Berry, sports and recreation minister at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen, also agreed that its two-year involvement with Upward has been very successful. He said that about 75 children have received Christ through the program, which has had 500 participants in the basketball and cheerleading events.

Also, Berry said that some families searched the Internet looking for a church that had an Upward program and ended up joining the church.

“Next year, we plan on adding Upward Soccer to the schedule,” Berry said. Soccer is the latest addition to the Upward sports family.

Tom Grubbs, minister of singles and recreation at First Baptist Church, Corinth, said Upward has reached their expectations of teaching children basketball skills and also reaching people outside the church. While difficult to nail down exactly how many people have been saved through the program, Grubbs said more than 100 people who have been baptized have been a part of the Upward program.

The Corinth program runs 250-plus children and Grubbs said more than 800 came to its awards night. Grubbs said he has 212 volunteers involved with Upward.

Despite the big response and the number of volunteers needed, all of those interviewed said the Upward program is well planned, and that it is an easy program to administer.

Thorn said the Upward national organization does a lot of the administration, but “you’ve got to do a lot of it too.”

The Upward organization provides the training materials, practice drills and even the suggested devotionals for the coaches to teach spiritual truths and fundamentals of basketball. For the younger children, score is not kept and care is made to make sure every player plays and competition is handled properly.

“The kids learn basketball skills, but the emphasis is not winning?it is really for the kids to enjoy the sport in a Christian environment. We give them a Bible, learn memory verses, and year after year you have an opportunity to minister to the family,” Thorn said.

Children get awards immediately following the game, including a white star for the most Christ-like attitude and a green star for learning the memory verse.

“It’s a very efficient organization,” Thorn said. “You never have to wonder whether you’ll be getting uniforms or the materials. It’s a lot of work even with as much as they do for you. But it is a huge outreach to the church.”

Yates said that with all the positives, “our biggest problem is getting referees,” but other than that, Upward succeeds in its mission.

Grubbs said that despite the work, the best benefit from Upward is the tremendous ministry it has been able to have to families. So much so that this year, the program at Corinth is expanding to include Upward cheerleading, which should increase the church’s ministry opportunities, Grubbs said.

For more information or to find a church with a ministry near you, go to www.upward.org.

CHURCHES AND SPORTS: Churches using sports to hook sports fans

Looking for an outreach tool that connects with 90 percent of Americans in a language most of the world understands? A recreation and sports ministry could be it. In a leisure-oriented, sports-obsessed culture, churches are offering diverse ministries that tap into this widespread interest.

“Leisure hours have become the most important time in a person’s life. And sports accounts for a large part of that leisure,” said John Garner of LifeWay Christian Resources.

He cited a study indicating 90 percent of Americans watch, read about or participate in sports once a month and 70 percent have a weekly connection to sports.

As recreation and sports ministry specialist at LifeWay, Garner noted several advantages to ministry-based recreation and sporting events.

They are gathering places for people.

They can bridge cultural and ethnic barriers.

They provide an opportunity for church members to use their gifts and talents for the sake of the kingdom.

They increase a church’s visibility.

“We can offer activities to win the skateboarder, aerobics and nutrition classes to reach the fitness minded and basketball in a participatory way to reach every player, young and old,” Garner asserted.

Some church members have difficulty believing such unorthodox methods can be used for the gospel’s sake. But Garner contends Southern Baptists must use every tool available to capture a “leisure-oriented, unseeded and sports-crazy culture.” Traditional approaches such as revivals, crusades and Bible studies don’t work for everyone, he cautioned, while a sports and recreation ministry often hooks them.

Garner is quick to insist that a church-based sports and recreation ministry must be deliberate with a calculated plan to win people to Christ.

Otherwise, he warned, “We become like any other recreation and sports activity supplier.” Unchurched people may be more willing to attend a recreation event at a church than walk into a worship service.

“We have taken the position that the more hooks we have in the water, the more opportunities we have to lead people to Christ,” said Gregg Simmons, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Grapevine. “Each year we plan specific events that will offer a person a hearing of the gospel or at least build a relationship with them that will give us a later opportunity to share the gospel.”

Last spring the church hosted a Team Impact Crusade featuring committed Christian athletes doing feats of strength. “They were constantly sharing their testimonies and preaching the gospel,” Simmons recalled. Aimed at children and youth, Simmons said the event drew more people than would have ever attended a worship service. By following up on those new contacts, the church baptized a dozen people who heard the gospel presented at the event.

The Grapevine church has utilized other opportunities to reach the non-churched, including distribution of tickets to 200 guests who attended “The Passion” movie and hosting a classic car show and family carnival at their campus, drawing 800 people.

“Last Sunday night we bought out a water park in Bedford and encouraged members to bring their friends free of charge.”

Such events and ongoing programs draw participants from many cultures and races. At Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, a predominantly Anglo church, recreation events such as the annual “Festival 31” held on Oct. 31 provide such opportunity.

“We have people of different races and cultures stand

Keep kingdom focus, engage culture through relationships, conference told

EULESS?The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual Church Growth Conference Aug. 28 at First Baptist Church of Euless drew nearly 700 people for a series of wide-ranging seminars that encouraged kingdom-oriented thinking and relationship approaches to outreach.

Mike Miller, author of “The Kingdom-Focused Leader” and director of church relations for LifeWay Christian Resources’ church resources division, led one of several dozen “breakout sessions,” which covered topics ranging from reaching post-moderns through small groups to building strong Sunday school programs.

During his morning breakout session, Miller told attendees to build a focus on God’s kingdom using their God-given strengths and opportunities for witnessing. Miller challenged the audience of mostly pastors and church leaders to seek witnessing opportunities above all else. “Whether you think about it or not ? you’re a kingdom leader,” Miller said. “Everyone has distractions in their ministries, but staying focused on your calling is important.”

Leadership, Miller said, is a position of stewardship under God where preachers and ministers lead the local church by example.

“If you keep your focus and stay where God wants you to be, there is no telling what can happen through your ministry,” Miller said.

Miller said the people whom many believers are afraid to talk with about Christ are also those who are typically most afraid of hell and dying. He challenged those in leadership to seek afresh how God might want to use them in their ministry. Also quoting snippets from his book, “The Kingdom-Focused Leader: Seeking God at Work in You, Through You, & Around You,” Miller said his passion for helping ministers and church leaders find their focus began with a friend of his.

Bob, who was involved in a church where Miller was pastor, also owned a booming oil business. He told of Bob’s heart for God, and of his connections with prominent businessmen.

“Through his Christian walk, he has led several key people to the Lord,” Miller said. “But Bob came to me one day and said, ‘There’s got to be more for me in my life with all of my skills, my background, and all of the people I know, than what I’m doing in church.’ I began thinking about that and realized that God calls all of us to kingdom leadership for his sake. If you are a kingdom leader, God has put you where you are for a purpose and in a time such as this.”

Steve Pate of Denton Baptist Association told the 15 or so people gathered for his session of “Small Groups: Reaching & Ministering to Our Postmodern Culture” that increasingly, relationships must be built before believers can gain the ear of unbelievers.

Pate, who helped build a church in Colorado that is successfully reaching a postmodern society, defined by loosening beliefs in absolutes and cultural norms that are always in flux, said thousands of churches close their doors every year as evangelicals begin 2,000 churches a year, attempting to keep up.

Meanwhile, postmodern people, who are reacting to the failure of modernism to solve man’s problems, thrive on relationships and things real and tangible.

Pate said unless Southern Baptists establish ways to bridge relational boundaries with unbelievers, more churches will shut down in the coming years. He said home-based small groups hook people where church meetings cannot because relationships and trust are more easily established through daily contact with neighbors and associates.

Years ago, a typical Southern Baptist Sunday school class consisted of perhaps 20 percent unbelievers, Pate said. Today, unbelievers rarely grace a Sunday school gathering.

Small group settings in households are where unbelievers are most likely to visit, he asserted. For example, Pate said his home group in Denton County consists of about four or five families, including his neighbors, whom he led to Christ, other families from his church and a male neighbor who is not a Christian but who has been coming to the group’s meetings every other week.

Pate said the group meets almost daily?in the driveway and along the street?though they don’t come together in any organized way more than every other week.

No one in the group lives more than six houses away and the families practice an open door policy: If the wooden door behind the storm door is open, that means it’s safe to knock and come in. If it’s closed, it’s private family time.

Often, the boys in the group come to Pate’s house to watch sports on his big screen television. If the door’s open, they know it’s safe to come in. “Guys, I did my ministry too long without this. I did my life too long without this.”

“There’s a dynamic in small groups that you don’t get in Sunday schools,” Pate noted. “Am I anti-Sunday school? No.” But the two can complement each other, he said.

“Somehow we have got to get people who are far from God in Bible studies,” and Sunday school isn’t serving that purpose, he said.

Fasting and prayer for the right reasons

Oct. 13 is set aside as a Day of Fasting and Prayer for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Every year since our founding, the SBTC has observed such a day. Usually, it has been used to prepare for the annual meeting. We have asked God to bless us with His presence in a special way and give us a spirit of revival.

A few years back, fasting was a hot topic. People were going on 40-day fasts. Preachers wrote books on the subject. Even a Pastors’ Conference of the Southern Baptist Convention emphasized the practice. Yet, few believers actually practice fasting. There are some reasons for its absence in the American church.

When a person thinks he is humble, he isn’t. It is like writing a book about humility and titling it, “10 Ways I Know I’m Humble.” Humility is difficult to explain and practice while retaining it. Fasting is sort of like humility. It is a hard topic to address. However, we need to understand what fasting requires.

First, fasting is not a lot of things we think it is. Fasting is not trying to impress God. He cannot be impressed. Fasting is not bargaining with God. God will not make deals. Fasting is no magic path to spirituality. Many religions have fasting as a tenet but the adherents do not even know God.

Column space won’t allow me to write a doctrinal study about fasting, but briefly, here are some reasons to fast. Isaiah 58:1-7 is an excellent study about fasting. Verse six of that passage expresses my heart in the matter.

A fast is to “loose the bonds of wickedness.” Sin in our lives keeps us from God’s blessings. We become more aware of our sins and develop a desire to do something about it when we have a true fast. Fasting should produce holiness.

The world and even good personal interests often obscure a glimpse of glory. We allow the weight of the temporal to pull us down. By fasting we are able to “undo the heavy burdens.” Fasting helps us through difficult times.

Only Jesus can save. We know God wants to save people. If we get serious enough to let nothing come between us and seeing people saved, God will honor our fasting and prayer. Our cry will be to “let the oppressed go free.” Fasting places us in spiritual warfare for souls.

Holiness, life direction and soul winning can all be enhanced through fasting.

There are several types of fasting: Supernatural (no food or water for an extended time like Moses and Jesus), Scriptural (abstinence from food, but with liquid intake?the most common in Scripture), and Selective (“no pleasant bread” like Daniel, eating only sustenance amounts of food).

I remember seeing people weep at altars. I remember seeing Holy Spirit conviction fall upon unbelievers and believers alike. May we seek God as a convention of churches to see revival fire fall. It must start somewhere. I want it to start with me. Will you join me on Oct. 13? Fast and pray. Ask God to send a spiritual awakening. Ask for it personally, congregationally, and convention wide. Pray that we will see God show Himself mighty.

Your servant in Christ,

Jim Richards

President’s Luncheon featuring Dallas pastor Tony Evans

Tony Evans, pastor of 6,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and president/founder of The Urban Alternative, will speak during the President’s Luncheon of the SBTC Annual Meeting Oct. 26 at Prestonwood Baptist Church.

Evans is an internationally known preacher, Bible teacher and author known for his engaging style and prophetic preaching. Evans has served as chaplain of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. The Urban Alternative is a national organization seeking to bring about spiritual renewal in urban America through the church.

The Urban Alternative radio broadcast, “The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans” can be heard on more than 500 stations daily throughout the U.S. and in over 40 countries worldwide.

Evans is the author of more than 18 books including: “God’s Glorious Church,” “God is Up to Something Great,” “Totally Saved,” “Free At Last,” “Who is this King of Glory?” “The Perfect Christian” and “The Battle Is The Lord’s.”

He will also preach during the Oct. 25 afternoon session of the Pastors’ Conference. Cost is $8 per person.

For more information, call Gloria Corbitt in the SBTC office at 817-552-2500 or e-mail Gloria Corbitt.