Month: March 2005

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 2: Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Among Southern Baptist churches in Texas, 85 pastors were reported fired by their congregations in 2003?a number lower than actual figures because of limited reporting yet



much higher than what should be, said Deron Biles, SBTC Minister-Church Relations director.

Biles laments what he views as a near epidemic of pastor firings?a trend fueled by many factors, most notably poor communication between church members and staff and an unwillingness among contentious parties to resolve differences, he said.

Biles is aiming to help churches and their leaders resolve differences humbly and biblically in a book he is writing?due out later this year?titled “Before You Terminate.”

“It’s rare that we don’t hear about some kind of church conflict every week in our office,” Biles reported. “Here’s my basic assumption in the book. My conviction is every forced termination is sin. It may be sin on the part of the pastor, it may be sin on the part of the church, or both. But it may also be sin on the part of the pastor search committee that didn’t do a good job as they were bringing that pastor on the field. It may be the sin of the interim pastor who didn’t prepare the church to call its next pastor. But I believe any time that relationship is broken by forced termination, it is sin.”

Biles argues that church conflicts usually mirror conflicts found in the New Testament and there are scriptural principles that must be followed before termination should be considered. In his book Biles lists five questions that must be addressed by all involved parties.

>1. Do we fully understand the root issues of the problem?

“I’m convinced a lot of the struggles and battles that we have in the church or conflict we have in the church is unresolved because we never get to the root cause of the problem,” Biles told the TEXAN. “We’re fighting over superficial issues but we’re not at the heart of it. And you can’t solve a problem when you’re only putting out fires that are indirect causes of the problem. In some churches that may go back years, but until you get to the heart of the problem you’re not going to be able to resolve it.”

>2. Have  we addressed our problem with ALL the people involved?

>3.  Have we sought the Holy Spirit’s leadership in our problem?

>4. Have we sought outside wise counsel in our problem?

>5. Have we tried every other alternative?

In addition, Biles lists eight steps churches should take before even considering termination, among them biblical confrontation, repentance, forgiveness, listening, mediation and, if necessary, possible re-training, separation or church discipline.

Biles said conflicts may be related to members who are habitually contentious and in such cases church discipline could be warranted.

Too often, churches adopt a football coach mentality towards the pastor; if a “winning season” is not attained, they fire him. “I’m not saying termination should never be considered, but I am saying a measure of grace should be exercised,” Biles contended.

He said one aim of the book is to help churches understand the value of supporting their pastor and his family.

“A pastor who feels loved in his church is a pastor who can deal with conflict.”

Pastor terminations are comparable to divorces, Biles said, “and in many cases just as painful. The difficulty is perpetuated by the fact that the church is going to keep calling pastors.”  Thus, some churches become known as “pastor killers.”

The average Southern Baptist pastor’s tenure is three years, though a pastor’s most effective years occur after five years, Biles noted.

“To the same degree that the enemy attacks marriages, I’m sure that the enemy loves and would love to see break-up in churches,” Biles said.

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 2: LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

Churches from 26 reporting state Baptist conventions fired 913 full-time or bivocational pastors in 2003, said Brooks Faulkner, senior pastoral ministry specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources. Five of the top eight causes of termination listed in Faulkner’s reports relate to control and leadership, with the most frequently named problem being



Congregationalism takes multiple forms within Baptist context

Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

What constitutes a local church?


Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

control issues related to who would run the church.

How do these power struggles intensify to so frequently create an impasse between factions? Mostly, multiple dynamics combine for an explosive mix in which the conflict cannot?or will not?be resolved apart from severing ties between a pastor and some, or all, of the congregation.

One Texas church member cited several factors she believes contributed to forcing out her church’s new pastor: bad hiring practices of the former pastor, a small group of power-hungry deacons and lack of member initiative to stop them, and a congregation-led governance clashing with the pastor-led style of the new pastor.

Her story began in the time of the previous pastor, whom she appreciated fo

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 2: Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Ask any Southern Baptist pastor about church governance, and if he’s been in the ministry for very long he will invariably have horror stories to tell. And he will also have success stories, telling how he as “captain” of the church navigated the waters of congregationalism with a deacon board for a crew, and finally landed in what he believed



Congregationalism takes multiple forms within Baptist context

Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

What constitutes a local church?


Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

to be a God-blessed port. That is essentially how most SBC churches have operated since the convention’s inception in 1845.

Dissatisfied with the traditional model, some Southern Baptist pastors, many of these under age 40, have considered other models of ecclesiology akin to Saddleback Church (SBC) in Lake Forest, Calif., Chicago-area Willow Creek Community Church, and even toward the Presbyterian version of an elder-led church. They favor the apparent freedom in ministry, as well as freer and more creative approaches to the total worship experience. Some say the elder-led model puts the pastor and deacons on the same team and helps to minimize confrontation. Another attraction is the cultural relevancy non-traditional models seem to have. Regardless of methodology, however, there are success and failure stories with both models.

“I think I would have left the ministry long ago if I had to pastor a committee-led or deacon-led church,” said Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in G

CP reaches Texas and world

April 10 is Cooperative Program Sunday. Birthed 80 years ago by Southern Baptists, the giving plan replaced an inefficient and ineffective funding method known as “societal giving.” The Cooperative Program has produced the greatest missionary and educational system in the history of evangelical Christianity. State conventions were invited to partner with the Southern Baptist Convention in this awesome enterprise. State conventions were to be collection agents and promoters of the Cooperative Program. The states were to retain a portion and send a portion on to SBC causes. Although there is some disagreement about the original intent of the balance, generally it is understood that the partitioning of funds was to be 50-50. While state conventions have rarely lived up to this ideal, until the 1990s churches gave incredibly through the CP. The last decade has seen a precipitous drop in church contributions as a percentage of receipts. At this rate of decline the SBC giving channel will become inadequate to fund current ministries.

I believe there are two strategies that may bring a reversal. One is to launch a massive educational campaign on tithing. Whether this is called a “Stewardship Emphasis” or clothed in more contemporary nomenclature such as “God’s Financial Plan,” the effort must produce more tithers and givers. If worthy ministries need more money, they will have to create more givers.

Secondly, state conventions must adopt a new paradigm for ministry. Pastors and churches will have more confidence that the money is going where they want it to go if the bureaucracy is trimmed. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has the lowest church-to-staff ratio in the SBC. We give Mom and Pop Baptist a reason to have confidence in the SBTC mission and ministry delivery system.

Reaching North America and touching the world will only be accomplished as we allocate more resources for that purpose. The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the six seminaries recently started an effort to more intentionally teach the emerging generation of leaders Baptist polity and the Cooperative Program. Pastor advocates and elected leaders who model Cooperative Program giving are essential for continued success. With all of the above, I am optimistic that the CP will continue as a viable tool to Reach Texas and Touch the World.

The Huckster State?

Texas’ 79th Legislature needs to find several billion dollars to the make the budget balance. For this reason some believe that expanded gambling has some chance of passing during this session. One gambling lobbyist gleefully estimates they’ll be $3 billion to $5 billion short. And you can bet he has a solution for us.

Other sources of revenue have something to recommend them. They are either reasonably predictable or grow with the economy or tax the people who use a particular service or have some understandable connection with the proposed use for the money. Gambling has none of these virtues. It only sounds like something for nothing?both to the gamblers and to lawmakers who fear having their names attached to tax increases.

We should have some reason for the things we initiate. Once we expand gambling in Texas, we’ll add just enough jobs and infrastructure to intimidate any unringing of the bell. Regardless of the fallout, we are unlikely to ban gambling once we’ve started. Consider the emotional hooks already used by those who want to put video slots at existing horse and dog tracks in the state. Now we are supposed to put thousands of slots in these facilities to prop up the horse and dog breeding industry. These tracks, by the way, were the easy fix of another budget cycle. Once we commit we’ll have to live with the results. This issue has a lot of faces, most of them ugly.

* Morality — The focus on money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some will scoff at this idea but it is observable. Those who can’t handle a few thousand dollars responsibly are not usually better at handling millions. Greed, immaturity, and materialism are only magnified when the stakes are raised. Stories abound of those who started poor, though married and employed, before winning big jackpots. A few (very few) years later, they’re alone, jobless, and worse off financially than before the big score. It’s hard to imagine a positive character trait encouraged by getting a big pile of cash you didn’t earn.

* Compassion — As a winner, your wealth must be built on the backs of those who didn’t win. Gambling is not based on the production of something or tied to the growth of our economy, it is parasitical. Demographically, gamblers are the poorest and least-educated of your neighbors. If you win, you’re the beneficiary of a system that preys on the least competent among us. Odds are this includes you. As a state, we would be forced to root against our fellow citizens so we won’t have to pay as much for state services.

* Jobs — The experience of other states is that the jobs created by gambling establishments are low-paying jobs that run out the better jobs. This creates more problems than it solves. Families that might have otherwise had a decent manufacturing job now work in the service industry, and thus need various types of public assistance to get by.

* Regressive taxation — No funding problems are solved in Texas if people don’t lose a lot of money. The people who need to keep their money are the ones who are more likely to lose it. People make their own decisions but it is wicked for our state to encourage self-destructive behavior.

* Precedent — Currently there are three federally recognized Indian tribes in Texas. Many others wait in wings to establish a claim to lands their ancestors occupied.

Twenty states are facing this very challenge and many claims have establishing a casino as their real goal. If expanded forms of gambling are legalized in Texas, they will also be legal on the land owned by Indian tribes (including those who may make future claims). These casinos will have all the negatives of other forms of gambling but may also be exempt from state taxation. So we could be living next door to one of these cultural oases without even the imagined benefits to our community.

* Social costs — By one estimate the strain on public services will at least match any new revenue. Ten percent of gamblers do more than half the gambling. Those people have jobs, families, obligations, and so on. If Texas needs these unhappy few to cover half our budget shortfall, we’re going to have to provide for their families. We’re going to have to live with their shoddy performance at work. We’ll need to send the police to answer domestic disturbances at their homes. Our courts will need to help them with their personal bankruptcies. Their creditors will need to eat the losses from unpaid debt. As a bonus, we also get to deal with increased community infrastructure needs, the cost of litigation when the gambling industry tries to expand its holdings or avoid paying taxes, and the declining revenue available to already existing businesses. I don’t see any of these predictable costs included in blue sky projections of state revenue from gambling. How naïve to expect we’ll get something for nothing.

* Poor return — I’m no fan of the state lottery but the money our state would realize from slots will be more hard-won than that from the lottery. One projection is that our citizens need to lose seven times more money to slots than they do to lottery tickets for the state to realize the same revenue.

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 2: Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Two words that pique a Southern Baptist pastor’s interest these days are forced termination. Despite the rumor mill’s usual grist, surveys of Southern Baptist churches and local association directors of missions reveal that two



Congregationalism takes multiple forms within Baptist context

Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

What constitutes a local church?


Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

factors account for the majority of pastor firings?conflict over who runs the church and pastoral leadership perceived as too strong. A consultant for a state Baptist convention put it this way: “One of the things today that’s impacting forced terminations is pastors listening to some of the wrong voices about how to be a pastor.”

In his opinion the “wrong voices” are pastors of megachurches who present a model of leadership that tells pastors that because God has called them to be pastor of the church that they should lead without congregational oversight. Taking that approach with the typical, small congregation won’t work, he warned.

And yet even among small churches, pastoral search committees relate a desire to find a strong leader who will cast a vision that will result in growth and effectiveness. “We have definitely seen that faster-growing churches are more likely to have a pastor with a strong leadership

CHURCH GOVERNANCE 2: Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

“The moderate emphasis on the priesthood of all believers was little more than a veiled attempt to undercut the leadership role of pastors, especially conservative pastors, in the Southern Baptist Convention’s Conservative Resurgence,” asserted Baptist historian Jerry Sutton in his book, “The Baptist Reformation.” Pastors of Southern Baptist churches continue to deal with the misapplication of the biblical concept of believer-priests as local



Congregationalism takes multiple forms within Baptist context

Once a church staple, discipline cases rare

What constitutes a local church?


Successes and failures come in all church governance shapes and sizes

Tug of war over authority often fuels conflict

Pastor firings always sin on someone’s part, SBTC ministry leader argues

Misuse of ‘priesthood of believers’ challenged pastor leadership

LifeWay reports 913 pastors fired in 2003

congregations cling to the idea that every member’s perspective is of equal value.

“The problem with the distorted priesthood of all believers and the argument for a purely egalitarian congregationalism which insisted that all believers have equal rights and responsibilities in the church, is that it makes no latitude for immaturity or carnality in the church,” Sutton wrote. In seminary classrooms, the doctrine was used as an alleged biblical defense of academic freedom. “Cecil Sherman argued that if a seminary professor came to the conclusion, based on his study, that the virgin birth was a myth, then that professor should have the right to teach that doctrine in his or her seminary class,” Sutton noted.

“It is dangerous to make a doctrine say more than is biblically warranted,” he stated, having authored a 1988 resolution on priesthood of believers that was approved by a two-to-one margin by Southern Baptist Convention messengers meeting in San Antonio. The statement noted that “the high-profile emphasis” on the doctrine was a recent historical development, adding that none of the five major systematic theologies used by Southern Baptists gave more than a passing reference to it.

Sutton wrote, “The primary emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, both the biblical, historical, and even Baptist material, is that a Christian does have direct access to God. It is a privilege that one does not have to go through a priest other than our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that we have the right to read the Word of God for ourselves.”

In his article, “The Priesthood of All Believers,” for the book “The Believer’s Church,” Beeson Divinity School President Timothy George explained that the doctrine focuses on community rather than the individual. “The issue is not the right of any individual to worship and interpret Scripture acc

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has mailed a letter to pastors of SBTC churches with a double challenge.

SBTC Director of Evangelism, Don Cass, mailed the letters Feb. 7 and has received more than 90 commitments from churches wishing to “do all that is humanly possible to lead the church to double its baptisms in 2005.” The letter also asks pastors to lead their churches to increase Sunday School or Bible study units for evangelization.

The SBTC has dubbed 2005 “Year of the Double Harvest,” a challenge relayed from LifeWay Christian Resources President James T. Draper in 2004 to all Southern Baptists. Draper’s challenge resulted from baptism numbers that have remained flat for decades as the population has increased.

“I believe that Paul’s admonition that we be all things to all men that we might save some should apply to Year of the Double Harvest,” Cass said. “Every effective means we have needs to be used.”

“There are no promises,” Cass noted in his letter. “God alone gives the harvest. However, He uses us as human instruments to plant the seed of the gospel and water that which is planted.”

Cass suggests 10 action plans to help SBTC churches double baptisms to at least 47,036 in 2005. Most notable is the challenge to develop new Sunday school/Bible study units that are evangelistic.

SBTC conferences, seminars and workshops will include “How to Start New Bible Study Units” classes and incorporate other helpful tools. A card is included in the letter to pastors for ordering a CD and newsletter on starting new units.

The other action plans encourage churches to implement:

4 two 30-day witnessing efforts;

4 church planting;

4 VBS and backyard Bible clubs;

4 simultaneous revivals;

4 baptism emphasis Sundays;

4 regional evangelistic events;

4 quarterly witness training;

4 discipleship strategy (“Making Disciples: A Visionary Plan for Smaller Membership Churches”);

4 30-day evangelistic prayer emphases.

Jim Wolfe, SBTC Church Ministry Support director, commented: “In the past, Sunday school was always outreach-oriented. It was the evangelical arm of the church. It provided not only an experience of Bible Study, but of fellowship and discipleship. This mindset needs to be relearned. Whether we call it Sunday School, Bible study, connection groups, fellowship groups or whatever, our small group ministries must capture a mindset of duplication.”

Wolfe said the SBTC Church Ministry Support team and the SBC’s LifeWay offer resources and training to assist churches in developing evangelistic Sunday Schools.

Through VBS, Wolfe noted, “the opportunity to share with moms, dads, sisters, and brothers, friends, neighbors, and extended family readily presents itself. In addition to this, a tremendous list of prospects becomes available because VBS will reach children and families throughout the local church community.”

The church planting initiative of “Year of the Double Harvest” calls for 50 funded church-start covenants with plans to assist planters and partners with the church planting process using a culturally contextualized approach.

“All churches have a natural affinity with certain people groups in their community,” said Robby Partain, SBTC missions director. “They ought to do everything they can to reach them for Christ, enfold them into the church bo

Taking every thought into captivity

Click the logo for more articles from the
Captive Thoughts series

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

“The most serious divide at Baylor is not about buildings, debt, tuition, or even presidential style. It’s about the relationship between faith and learning.” In this month’s Christianity Today, Wheaton College President Duane Litfin thus summed up the battle at Baylor which resulted in the resignation of Baylor President Robert Sloan. In support of his appraisal, Dr. Litfin offers contrasting quotes: one from a former Baylor president saying that the “Faculty are not here to engage in religiosity,” and one from Dr. Sloan saying that the “all-inclusive claims of the lordship of Jesus Christ” must be integrated into the full range of educational disciplines.

I’m not writing so much about Baylor as about the apparent battle between our minds and souls. “Knowledge puffs up,” Paul says, and we have experienced the arrogance that follows a little knowledge. In stereotype, evangelical Christians retreat into Bible colleges and reject the arts and sciences as worthy of godly pursuit. We’d rather risk being proud of our biblical knowledge than about knowing geology, it seems. In stereotype, respected research universities become fortresses of humanistic pride. They’d rather be dogmatic about secular faith than religious faith, it seems. The stereotypes are not unfair. Insofar as they contain truth, both responses are unbiblical.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 Paul speaks of waging spiritual warfare on behalf of that church. In the first century, Judaizers (who would force gentile Christians to convert to Judaism), Gnostics (who denied the dual nature of Christ), as well as the merely worldly and selfish all occupied their respective strongholds against the lordship of Christ. Instead of retreat Paul promises engagement. While he determined to pull down imaginings and strongholds set up against the knowledge of God, he set out to capture (not destroy) the ideas that occupy the wrecked defenses.

What are the fortified places of our enemy today? What thoughts or speculations defend those strongholds? It’s intriguing to imagine what it would look like to bring those defenders into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Take it a step further; can those belligerents be cleaned up, turned around, rearmed, and added to the army of light as we have been?

In his rejection of fleshly weapons such as intimidation and deceit, there is no sense that Paul is setting down effective weapons for the sake of nicer ones. He is using divinely powerful weapons to attack spiritual strongholds. What seemed to the Corinthians to be a contest of will and sophistication was in reality a spiritual fight.

The most important battles are spiritual, after all. A physical fight or an intellectual argument will have winners and losers, but it’s never as simple as that. A loser who is battered into submission will change his tactics instead of his mind. A changed heart is forever; he’s not a loser but rather a convert.

Maybe today we can see the strongholds as fields into which we have divided God’s truth. It seems that everything we learn can tempt us to be proud within ourselves. Fields of knowledge become strongholds, then, when we have a, “Since I know this, God is not necessary,” moment. We might think of biology and Darwinism as an example of this. I think we’ll find the tendency present in every type of human endeavor.

I read once of the 17th-century discovery of calculus. The ability to mathematically describe how factors affect one another and discern patterns (maybe to predict outcomes) led some to think we might discover a God-like foreknowledge in the numbers. Foreknowledge implies control of the future, again similar to God. It’s human to, in the excitement of discovery, imagine the impossible and that we can build a tower into the heavens?a stronghold. It is not the discovery or pursuit of truth that stands against the lordship of Christ. Our problem comes in imagining that we are the master and our command of ultimate truth will fortify us against the rightful King.

When you look at a college catalog you see schools, degree programs, and areas of specialization that suggest the whole gamut of human endeavor. For example the road being built in front of my office suggests the accumulated knowledge of engineers, architects, chemists, financiers, politicians, educators, and communications specialists at least. Many of the workers may not have advanced degrees but they are still the sharp end of well-planned intent on the part of a highl

SBTC partners with ‘Go Tell’ camps for summer student event in Nacogdoches

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is partnering for the first time with Rick Gage Ministries to offer an SBTC “Go Tell” Student Camp June 27-July 1 at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.

More than 50,000 students have attended “Go Tell” Student Camps since the camps began in 1989.

Last year, Go Tell Student Camps were held in Georgia, Virginia and at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, drawing a total of 4,000 students from 20 states. More than 600 of those students participated in community outreach during the camp, leading more than 100 people to Christ.

It’s that kind of experience Brad Bunting, SBTC youth evangelism associate, hopes to offer as well for SBTC students this summer.

“We were attracted to Rick Gages’ Go Tell camps because of their strong evangelistic emphasis. Every student that goes through that camp will hear the gospel repeatedly and will be given an opportunity to respond. And everyone will leave motivated and equipped to share their faith. I’m also very excited about the fact that the camp not only teaches students how to share their faith and why they need to share their faith, but also gives them opportunities to actually begin to do it.”

The Texas camp will include First Baptist Colleyville Pastor Frank Harber, Olympic swimming gold medalist Josh Davis, evangelists Ronnie Hill, and Gage, Austin pastor Kie Bowman and Liberty University professor Ergun Caner. The camp will also feature the Commonground Band plus Christian pop musician Tait of dc Talk.

The camp will include campus-wide services in the mornings and evenings, with breakout groups for both students and adults, Gage said.

During the week, students also participate in regional outreach, performing public services such as free car washes and other projects for a springboard to share the gospel.

“They get a taste of it at Go Tell, and then they get home to their towns and they want to continue it,” Gage remarked.

Go Tell Student Camps have hosted speakers such as Christian apologist Josh McDowell and Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt.

In a camp video on the ministry’s website, McDowell endorses the camp for its clear gospel presentation, “in-depth discipleship” and its vision for preparing students to reach their friends when they return home.

“I believe the youth of America need to hear from godly men, preachers, who are committed to reaching the younger generation,” Gage said in an interview with the TEXAN during the Empower Evangelism Conference in February. “We create an environment where adult leaders who come will be challenged, equipped and inspired as well. ? We hear of complacent churches where students and adults have returned to share their testimonies on Sunday night and revival breaks out.”

Each SBTC church should have received in February a camp information packet that included one adult and one student scholarship.

Registration is limited, Bunting said. For camp costs and registration information, visit