For some Texas churches, collegiate ministry has been a focus for decades. Other churches have never strategically sought to minister to college-age people. Regardless of a church’s collegiate ministry involvement, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is prepared to help them reach college-age students, says Lance Crowell, Church Ministries associate for collegiate and singles ministry.
Crowell points to Anderson Mill Baptist Church in Austin as one example of what God can do in a congregation with only a handful of college students and church members devoted to reaching them.
Steve and Karen Fullam began leading the church’s college ministry soon after joining the church four years ago. Both work full-time outside the church but lead a Sunday School class, Wednesday Bible study and other events for the church’s college students.
“I am very excited” about this ministry, Crowell said, “because I think [Anderson Mill] typifies who we’re trying to help. The average church in our convention is not the ‘mega-church’ that has a full-time staff person for collegiate ministry.”
He notes that while most churches have students available and in need of ministry, they often don’t believe they have enough resources?including staff members?to meet that need.
But the Fullams, Crowell said, expose the myth that paid staff or great resources are needed to serve college students in a congregational setting. Crowell said he believes it is possible for nearly every church “to meet the needs of college students in their church?and eventually beyond their church. The Fullams are an example of a great couple that has a heart for collegiate ministry. They’re not paid at all on staff, and yet they have that heartbeat.”
After having seen a college ministry begin in their own collegiate church in Colorado, the Fullams decided to help grow their new Texas church’s group as well. They believe students are at a critical time in their lives and that they have much to offer the church.
“College students are an often-untapped resource of energy and excitement for Christ,” Karen Fullam said. “Working with college students is an exciting opportunity to help train young people and see how the Lord can use them. We can’t be afraid to speak truth and hold students accountable; they need to hear it and they respond to the challenge. Also, students have so much energy they keep us tired. When our Wednesday Night Bible Study ends near our bedtime, the students are just getting started for the night.” “But,” she continued, “seeing students ‘graduate’ to serving in other areas of the church, or embark on a Christ-centered marriage, or move away after having grown spiritually during their time with us is invaluable.”
Along the way in their journey of ministering to Austin college-age students, the Fullams said they have received great help from the SBTC?including Crowell, the first full-time convention staff member focused on college ministry.
One such instance of help came by surprise, when one of the Fullams’ pastors signed them up for a SBTC training event.
“Steve and I were so busy that we figured we had no time to sign up for the SBTC’s first collegiate ministers’ conference,” Karen remembered.
But after an associate pastor registered the couple, they decided to take the time to attend the two-day retreat at T-Bar-M Resort and Conference Center in New Braunfels.
“The retreat was such a blessing,” Karen said. “We could tell that the SBTC leadership had worked hard to make it a special time for revitalizing college ministry workers. Steve and I came away with so many new ideas?but more importantly, with new energy to invest in our students.”
The Fullams said that because they serve in a smaller college group, the makeup of the group changes often. This semester, for example, they have been able to reach many special-needs individuals in their congregation. And yet the group has grown numerically through the years, Steve said, “both with students who are in our ministry regularly and students we keep track of while they’re away at school [outside Austin].”
Crowell said that these two ministry possibilities?reaching students on an individual basis who are already attending the church and ministering to former “youth group” members?can be two fundamentals of even the smallest of churches’ collegiate ministry.
Crowell’s reply to a pastor who doubts what his church can do with only a handful of collegians is simply, “You can change the world.”
Crowell said the important thing is being faithful with the students God has provided.
“If I have five students who come to my church and I can train them to be gospel-sharers, to be active on their campus, to begin investing on their campus, I’m going to be much more effective in ministering to that campus than I would be by myself,” he said.
He also contends that in a group of any size, one of the greatest joys is seeing students go on to become Christian leaders as they mature through life.
As for students who have graduated from a church’s youth group and gone elsewhere for college, Crowell urges churches to follow the Fullams’ example and consider these students still part of that church’s outreach to collegians.
“On several different fronts, I think it’s essential” that a “home church” stays involved in the lives of those students who go away to college, Crowell said. He suggests that the students’ original church encourage them to plug into another congregation while at school and then help them during the semester and nurture them when they return.
“It’s about having the mindset that these are students our church is sending off to wherever God has called them?to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, wherever.”
Two groups of college-age people?those who are attending the church and students the church has cared for in the past?can become the building blocks for any church’s collegiate ministry, Crowell said. Such ministry will vary some among churches too, Crowell said.
“How you go about it is as different as the town you’re in, the culture and makeup of your church, and the culture and makeup of your students,” he said. “All those things make it a dynamic process. Ministry is not cookie-cutter.” And Crowell said that many “college groups” even turn out to be simply “college-age” groups, with a variety of both students and others in this stage of life who are not attending school. Crowell said he wishes to hear from churches, regardless of their level of collegiate ministry involvement, to offer them help and to measure the prevalence of such ministry in Texas Southern Baptist churches. Through consultation, connection with other ministries, events, and other means, he said that the convention is poised to help churches of any size implement or improve their ministry to the collegiate age group.
There is no magic formula for establishing or maintaining an ethnically diverse congregation, but three Texas pastors agree prayer and a membership willing to accept people of differing ethnicity are key elements to the success of such a church.
Even with a population that is 80 percent Hispanic, El Paso churches still have the potential for being ethnically diverse. Fort Bliss Army Base, with its diversity, an influx of Filipino teachers, and a few blacks and whites can make an El Paso church anything but homogeneous.
But that is not what Rix Tillman found when he accepted the pastorate at Immanuel Baptist Church in December 1994. The congregation, he said, had an average age of 66 years, was predominantly white, with a “scattering” of black retired military people; it looked nothing like the Hispanic and black neighborhood around it.
“It was definitely a blue-hair church,” said Tillman, recalling his first impressions of the 500-member congregation. “They had a reputation around town as an ‘old people’s church.’ “
That same year, Pastor Terry Blankenship found himself in a similar situation when he became pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Dallas. The neighborhood around the church had been changing for 20-30 years from white, suburban middle class to black and Hispanic middle class. But the faces within the area’s churches did not reflect those changes, Blankenship said.
Bethany Baptist was majority Anglo, with a few black members. It had once run 750 in membership but was down to a fraction of that when Blankenship came on as senior pastor.
From the outset of their new pastorates, Tillman and Blankenship knew there would be forces to contend with if they were to succeed in making their respective churches representative of the communities. Tillman said the Immanuel congregation was deacon led, “with a select group of about 12 people that ran everything.”
Before accepting the job at Bethany, Blankenship had been warned he would have a difficult challenge getting the church to change. Shortly after arriving, Blankenship said he realized about five to six families would have to leave Bethany before the church’s neighbors would be made welcome.
He arrived in July and by December those families were gone. Blankenship’s goal was not to see members leave, but to draw new ones in. But, he admitted, “Sometimes you have to subtract in order to add.”
Change came gradually for both churches. Blankenship noted that it took 10-20 years before Gentile and Jewish believers of the first church began to accept each other as social and spiritual equals. “Church is changed by increments ? it doesn’t happen over night,” he said.
He and Tillman said it was vital for attitudes to change within their congregations. Tillman started by “outlawing the ‘C’ word.” He changed “committee” to “ministry team.” Then he began peppering his sermons with the word “exciting” because, he admitted, the church was “far from exciting.”
“It went over like a lead balloon,” he said with a laugh. Some elderly women in the congregation even feared he was trying to make the church charismatic. The pastor said he was simply trying to get people enthusiastic about their faith so they might be a dynamic witness to the younger people he hoped to draw into the church. Eventually, Tillman got the moniker to stick, even changing the name of the church to Exciting Immanuel Baptist Church.
GARLAND?Let the leadership catch the vision. Then let it trickle down to the congregation. Don’t force it. And bathe it in prayer.
That’s the advice Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, has for pastors who sense God leading their churches toward ethnic diversity.
“Of course, it would be different if one is planting a church. But in an existing church, a pastor must meet initially with his leadership. Let the leadership catch that vision. ? Do it in a strategic, systematic way,” said Mathews, author of the book “There’s More Than One Color in the Pew” and vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Pastors’ Conference.
Mathews’ has shepherded North Garland for 14 years. He is black; his associate pastor is white. The assistant minister is black. The missionary-in-residence is from India. The music team and the deacons are ethnically diverse.
North Garland is surrounded by mostly white neighborhoods, yet Mathews senses a biblical imperative, he said, to reflect the body of Christ in all ways, including ethnic diversity. His church members travel there from about 10 Dallas-area cities, he said.
“From a biblical perspective, a multicultural church reflects the heart of God,” Mathews said. “The Lord has made all of us in his image and when we as a church reflect that, we are demonstrating the common fatherhood we have in God.”
Scripture passages such as John 4, which tells of Jesus revealing himself to the Samaritan woman at the well, teach the importance of being “inclusive in a very responsible way,” Mathews said.
Transitioning a church is no small or quick task. Leadership and music are the two most critical issues in a multicultural context, Mathews contends.
In fact, “The number-one priority is to diversify the staff,” Mathews said.
Also, he said, how music is presented must reflect the congregation.
Not all churches will be ethnically diverse because of location or demographics, but even those congregations can intentionally bridge ethnic divides, Mathews explained.
For example, pastors can intentionally seek out friendships from among pastors who serve in other cultural settings. A white, suburban church might occasionally “exchange” worship services with an urban African-American church, Mathews suggested.
Also, Mathews said, such churches could host diversity banquets during which the various cultures represented are celebrated and respected.
“It’s a way to increase cultural competence,” Mathews noted.
Furthermore, churches from different cultures can partner for quarterly or annual ministry projects.
Whatever the context, “If we just love people and meet their needs, the Lord will bring people to us. Diversity will happen,” Mathews said. “It’s the loving people and touching people where they are wounded that is essential, because hurt has no barriers.”
The cataclysm of recent hurricanes opened the doors of Southern Baptist churches to thousands of evacuees who might otherwise have escaped their attention. In offering food, clothing, transportation or jobs, church members interacted with people in desperate need of help. In doing so, racial and ethnic barriers that might have existed before were overcome by simple compassion.
“One of great things about disasters like this is that it allows Southern Baptists to do what they’re the very best at–serving and caring for others,” stated Joe Hernandez, mentoring team director for the Church Planting Group of the North American Mission Board. “Our lay people demonstrated day in and day out a capacity to love and care for folks. When the world looks at us, our behavior matches what our mouths say about saving grace.”
Pastors of every size of church can relate to the way megachurch pastor Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist in Plano described the effect of ministry to hundreds of hurricane victims. Speaking to a recent Pastors’ Conference in Amarillo, Graham said, “Guess what’s happening? Those folks who have seen the love of our church are pouring in and our church is looking a lot more like heaven than it used to in terms of the way we look and respond.”
Shortly after assessing the devastation caused by flooding at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, President Chuck Kelley told the TEXAN, “People are hurting and we’re looking past skin color, socio-economic class to the needs of people. You can’t do that in the church without a pastor first teaching his people from the Bible that this is a biblical model of what a church is. The mission God has given us includes sharing of the gospel while also doing ministry. It has to be taught from a pulpit,” he insisted. With so many Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches describing the joy their members have found through ministry in the wake of such a disaster, questions are being asked about how the experience could lead churches to be more ethnically diverse. Recent studies reveal the long-standing belief that homogenous congregations grow fastest is no longer true.
Christianity Today reporter Amy Green wrote last year, “Southern Baptists are reaching out to all racial and ethnic groups like never before. They say minorities are drawn to the SBC’s conservative Christian traditions and strong family values. At the same time, church leaders recognize that as the nation grows more diverse, they are obligated to do the same.”
In his book “One Body, One Spirit,” sociology professor George Yancey of the University of North Texas pays particular atntion to multiracial diversity though much of his analysis applies to recognition of ethnic and cultural differences. He hesitates to use multiculturalism, finding it a less accurate term that is often used to enunciate dimensions such as gender, age, sexual preference and regional differences. Yancey defines a multiracial church as one in which no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the attendees of at least one of the major worship services. According to a 1999 study of congregations across America, only 8 percent of all American churches are multiracial by this standard. Through analysis of a 1999-2001 Lilly-endowed research project on “Multiracial Congregations and Their People,”
Yancey identified seven principles of successful multiracial churches: inclusive worship, diverse leadership, an overarching goal, intentionality, personal skills, location and adaptability.
Though the author deals with racial diversity, he noted that multiethnicity has a sounder scriptural basis since different ethnic, but not racial, groups are discussed in the Bible. “Multiethnic congregations of that time likely engendered the same types of difficulties as multiracial congregations face today,” he wrote. He believes racial differences carry more social significance than ethnic differences in today’s society.
“While ethnicity can be a barrier to understanding between diverse groups, especially if we are dealing with first-generation immigrants, usually racial distinctions create the most problems in our society.” Southern Baptists draw praise from writers like Green who noted that improved ethnic relations is a clear emphasis of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. She also quoted North American Mission Board President Robert E. Reccord as stating, “If you’re going to impact your nation, you’ve got to be multicultural.”
One benefit of the restructuring that led to NAMB’s formation in 1996 was greater attention to reaching minorities. Kelley lauded NAMB for recognizing that ministry and evangelism go together, moving away from an old model of separating evangelism as proclamation from ministry and missions. Missions was once viewed as some type of social gospel whereby liberalism often crept in; Kelley said the integrity of the Bible was at stake and Southern Baptists became nervous.
“I think what God is doing in several different ways is to begin to get that connection between ministry and evangelism back together again. That’s a very healthy thing and if we can take that kind of thinking and shift it all the way down to the local church, it will take some of those attitudes and hostility towards those of different socio-economic levels away and deal with that.”
Kelley doesn’t see a need to change an entire philosophy toward ministry in order to reach the diverse people in a community surrounding a local church. “Just take some small bites. Be involved in disaster relief. There’s this enormous release of energy and a genuine freshness of vision, not by changing or compromising our evangelistic witness.”
He appealed to churches to “recover the conviction that lost people go to hell, saved people go to heaven and Jesus is the only way to salvation.” With that priority, churches will minister to the needs of people and “find their potential audience is a lot larger than people like me.”
The audience that Texas churches are striving to reach is undergoing rapid change, according to census reporting. Data gathered from census reporting for the County Information Project of Texas Association of Counties shows 23 percent of growth between 1990 and 2000 resulted from international migration, 19 percent from domestic migration and 58 percent from natural increase. Over a fourth of the international immigrants are located in Harris County (Houston) while 15.5 percent live in Dallas County.
Examination of the data reveals increased urbanization and ethnic diversity. In 18 counties over 80 percent of residents are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. The portion of Hispanic residents grew from 25.5 to 31 percent from 1990 to 2000 while whites declined from 60.7 to 54.6 percent and blacks declined slightly from 11.7 to 11.4 percent. The Texas State Data Center projected that by the year 2030, 46.2 percent of the population will be Hispanic, 36.4 percent white and 9.5 percent black.
The reality of demographic change has forced churches in America to make important decisions about whether they will choose to reach out to the people in their community, said Ken Fentress, dean of intercultural programs and assistant professor of Old Testament at Southern Seminary. In the spring 2005 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine he and other professors and pastors serving churches of various ethnicities offered ideas for reaching diverse communities.
Yet that challenge is as old as the first-century church, Fentress concluded, describing Antioch as a biblical model for Christian racial diversity.
“Churches should seek to make new disciples of the people whom God has placed within their reach, even if they are of a different racial background,” he stated in a sermon published in the spring periodical. Otherwise, churches become isolated enclaves unto themselves, he warned, as they ignore the biblical mandate to spread the gospel to all people.
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus did not come for a weekend mission trip,” added Charles Lyons, pastor of Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago where the congregation represents 40 nationalities. Just as Christ did not commute to his place of ministry, Lyons said, “When the pastor lives some distance away and the neighbors see strangers drive in to the church every Sunday morning, the church is doing negative advertising routinely. In some settings, geography and proximity become very important.”
Lyons added that a church that meets real needs will build real relationships and will, in time, see real life transformation, and those transformed people will become part of that body.”
For Acts 11:19-26, Fentress found Barnabas and Saul to be examples for those ministering today. “The men of Cyprus and Cyrene along with Barnabas and Saul were willing to overcome all barriers n order to spread the gospel. They intentionally made disciples of Gentiles and Jews. They crossed racial boundaries in order to reach people whom the Jews considered off limits. They correctly understood the nature of the grace of God as extending to all people, not only to Jews.
The stakes are high, he said. “Nothing less than the integrity of the gospel and the credibility of the church are at stake in this issue.” Non-Christians take notice when they see Christians reaching out and reconciling with one another on the basis of the gospel of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, he said.
For many churches in Texas the model for reaching other races and ethnicities has involved staring separate missions.
“The Home Mission Board [which preceded NAMB] and state conventions were strong on the philosophy that came out of church growth leader Donald McGavren’s school of thought. It was the idea of the homogenous unit—that birds of a feather flock together,” Hernandez explained, noting the dependence on sociological arguments instead of what he regards as a more theological premise that focuses on reaching people—no matter what race or ethnicity.
“Church growth experts argue that to spend energy putting together a church of many different racial groups detracts from the church’s main duty—to win as many souls as possible,” explained Yancey in noting objections to pursuing racial diversity. Others citing cultural pluralism fear the dominant group will overwhelm the integrity of minority cultures when integration becomes a goal, he added.
“Advocates [of homogeneity] would say if it enables us to reach more people with the gospel, allowing them to experience salvation within their culture, then it’s right thing to do,” Hernandez explained. “As Southern Baptists we did it and did it well. I don’t know of any other denomination as effective in focusing on individual cultural groups,” he said, describing what are primarily ethnic and affinity groups as diverse as cowboy churches.
Twenty-five years ago Hernandez developed the HMB’s Ethnic Leadership Development program, an integral part of NAMB’s church planting and church growth strategy. As assistant vice president for Church Extension he developed what is now called Church Planting Process and continues to manage these systems.
“We still have a strong record of starting churches among affinity and people groups—groups of sameness—and it works,” Hernandez admits. Nonetheless, NAMB encourages churches to pursue those in their immediate neighborhood who may differ in race or ethnicity.
“If we follow the logic of the church growth specialist, then we also need churches of only Democrats or Republicans, rich or poor, suburbanites or city dwellers, sports enthusiasts or fine arts lovers, computer nerds or nature lovers, fans of Westerns or science fiction,” Yancey added.
He challenged such thinking, stating, “If creating a comfortable environment is what is important to church growth, then multiracial churches are better suited for twenty-first century Americans that monoracial churches.” Furthermore, he said, new evidence finds multiracial churches are more likely to grow, with 66.1 percent of those in his study reporting growth compared to 57.1 percent of monoracial churches.
“So for the first time it can clearly be said that there is no evidence that monoracial churches grown faster than multiracial churches,” Yancey declared. Reaching multiracial communities, encouraging racial reconciliation and demonstrating racial unity as a Christian witness are among the advantages Yancey cited in multiracial churches. He also argued that multiracial churches reflect a level of acceptance to all people groups, showing the supreme position that loyalty to Christ had among the early Christians.
“Language churches” aimed at offering the gospel in a group’s heart language have also proven to be effective. In his doctor of ministry project on evangelizing among Chinese, former Texas Douglas Falknor found it is difficult to assimilate students who are attached to their homeland culture and feel more comfortable remaining with other Chinese.
Sociologist Yancey’s book makes a similar claim: “First-generation immigrants are unlikely to attend integrated churches because they have a strong need to maintain the culture of their native countries. Some evidence indicates that second-generation Asian-American immigrants prefer English-speaking services but still desire churches made up of their own race,” he added.
Falknor’s church allowed a separate Chinese congregation to use its facilities, successfully expanding its witness to the international community in the college town. “We should be active at working with the Chinese seeker, developing positive relationships, presenting the gospel, and being patient as the Holy Spirit woos them to Christ,” Falknor said. “We should also be actively developing an autonomous core of Chinese—whether it is a Bible study class within a church or by forming their own church.”
Jonathan Kim, associate dean of the College at Southwestern added that Anglo churches with Asians living in the area where they minister might consider employing an Asian minister who can contribute to the life of the church, and organize and lead Asian groups in worship and fellowship.
Even if such a minister is part-time, Kim said, “Asians will respond more readily when there is someone they can relate to. A blanket invitation to join an Anglo church and fellowship with Anglos might not touch the hearts of Asians.”
Kim has found that younger Asians feel more comfortable with other races in comparison to older ones. “The language barrier has a lot to do with the level of comfort, but the cultural difference in general causes reluctance in Asians.”
San Francisco pastor David Gill, a Korean-American, proposed exchanging pulpits, having joint fellowships and combined mission trips, when interviewed by the Southern Seminary magazine. At Concord Korean Baptist Church in San Francisco the sermon is offered in other languages through manuscript and translation. “I preach in Korean at our church, but we offer a listening device with which people can hear in their language—in this case English. This offers not only an audio tool, but it also expresses the preacher’s heart as he tries to reach and embrace other kinds of people,” he said.
Hernandez agrees that younger generations will change the composition of churches as they view the world with less attention to color and culture. “When I talk to some of our radical young Christians and let them express what they see church as, they don’t describe it in terms of color other that inclusiveness.
“If you look toward the higher plane of the church being the body of Christ, ministering within its community or geographical area, and if that community is a blended one, should that church make every effort to reflect it?” Hernandez asked. “Yes, of course,” he answered. “You can’t say a church has no responsibility where God ha placed them.
Instead of finding ways to better reach its neighborhood, churches are often tempted to move out beyond the problems of a transitional community. “What does the typical church do?” asks Harvey Kneisel in his book “New Life for Declining Churches.” “When the mission field moves in, the church moves out.” He offers multiple strategies for turning declining churches around in neighborhoods where the race, ethnicity and culture changed dramatically since the church was founded.
Those churches that remain in the same neighborhood without considering how they are viewed by a new demographic ask other questions: What do we need to do to secure what we have? How do we see that our facilities are kept up? How long can we maintain this? Can we still keep good pastoral leaders and afford them? It soon becomes more that a maintenance mode as unchanging and soon declining congregations question their own survival.
In many small Texas towns, churches have little opportunity for diversity. The majority of Texas counties remain predominantly white with a growing diversity concentrated in metropolitan areas. Yancey cautions church leaders: Don’t be too quick to give up on finding members of different ethnicities to whom you can minister. “There are other cultural dimensions (class, ethnicity, political orientation) in which such a church might introduce diversity into its congregation.”
“While diversity within local congregations is pleasing to God, churches should not seek to diversify their memberships by forcing people of other cultures to adapt to the established church culture,” said Danny Hatfield, vice president for Southern Seminary’s student services and former IMB missionary to Panama. “Instead, believers must move out of their comfort zones and worship in ways that are familiar and inviting to people of different cultural backgrounds,” he explained in Southern’s magazine.
“What’s useful is when believers become mobile and can leave their host culture and can be comfortable in somebody else’s culture and share the worship,” Hatfield said. “I think that’s where the greatest joy occurs. It’s not when I, as a recipient, welcome someone from another culture into my group, but rather when I go to the other culture and participate with them united in Christ.”
Maryland pastor Robert Anderson, a member of the SBC Executive Committee, finds it ironic that people want to reach people of different ethnic groups but often don’t fully accept them.
“If you are in a community or neighborhood that is thoroughly mixed, I think it almost becomes incumbent upon you that you help create a vision within your church that is an ‘all peoples’ vision. Then, you try to do some of the things that you need to do: bringing diversity to your staff, having diversity in your worship or your preaching or your music,” he suggested in the Southern Seminary Journal article.
SBCT church planting senior associate Terry Coy added that churches seeking a ministry to people from diverse ethnicities and cultures should ask what has to change in terms of service structure, decision-making, handling conflict and even the kind of food offered at shared meals. “How do you avoid having a dominant culture, which is almost always the case?”
Hatfield added that age and gender diversity are also important—racial and cultural diversity are not the only means of enhancing a congregation, he said.
An anthropological understanding of other cultures is important to Hatfield, but clearly secondary. “The reason we want to understand them is so that they might understand the gospel.”
Whatever the cultural context, remaining faithful to the gospel message and biblical doctrine is essential. Anderson said that priority is made clear through expository preaching. “When you preach expository sermons, the people understand that the Word of God is larger, bigger than any of our cultures. That’s where we find the common ground. That’s where expository preaching lifts us above our culture and says, ‘We are all one in Christ.’”
HUNTSVILLE, Ala.–The practice of tongues and so-called prayer languages, as well as baptism from fellowships that are not of like doctrine with Southern Baptists, will likely disqualify missionary candidates applying to the International Mission Board, according to new IMB policies and guidelines.
In addition to the new personnel criteria, the IMB trustees, meeting in Huntsville, Ala., Nov. 14-15, also appointed 89 new overseas missionaries and approved a slightly reduced budget described as an exercise in “good stewardship.”
The IMB trustees adopted the personnel criteria after over two years of extensive study of how missionary candidates are evaluated regarding the practice of tongues and baptism. The debate ended Nov. 15 with the majority of trustees approving measures to assist staff in assessing missionary candidates.
While a few trustees appealed to the board for latitude regarding claims to a private prayer language and the use of tongues–what theologians term glossolalia–the majority voted by a 50-15 margin to regard those practicing a prayer language or tongues as unqualified for missionary service with the IMB.
One trustee cautioned against a ruling that would appear to judge the legitimacy of private prayer language while another insisted that defending subjective, “non-verbal, conceptual” prayer falls outside biblical parameters.
The call to examine a candidate’s baptismal experience resulted from concerns that some candidates might be commissioned without ever having been immersed in what Southern Baptists and other like-minded congregations view as “believer’s baptism.”
Two-thirds of the trustee body voted in favor of requiring greater scrutiny of a candidate’s baptism, allowing more flexibility by calling them “guidelines,” while the board’s action regarding prayer language and tongues is considered “policy.”
Both measures include an exception clause so that staff and trustees can review appeals.
TIGHTER ’06 BUDGET Trustees unanimously approved a $282.5 million budget for 2006, representing a decrease of $600,000 over 2005 and “good stewardship” in the words of trustee Ken Whitten of Tampa, Fla.
Included is an additional $1.1 million to bring hourly employees in line with market wages, and merit pay for some salaried employees. Raises for executive administrators were discussed and approved in a brief closed session. The IMB in unique among SBC entities in disclosing its salary structure to Southern Baptists, a policy that drew praise from trustees during the Administration Committee meeting. Finance committee vice-chairman A. C. Halsell of Plano said, “Baptists get more spirited when we talk about money,” offering an overview of anticipated IMB budget expenditures. He explained that the Cooperative Program accounts for 35.47 percent of next year’s budget, anticipating a slight increase in the undesignated funds allocated from Southern Baptist churches according to a formula approved by SBC messengers that gives the IMB half of those receipts.
Reiterating a concern expressed by IMB Vice President David Steverson, Halsell told the board, “I think we need to realize there is a possibility that both the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering could be less this year because of [contributions to] hurricane relief.”
He added, “We’ve actually lost churches [due to the hurricane] that would contribute to this offering, had some CP funds that were overage diverted by SBC [Executive Committee] for hurricane relief, as well as donor fatigue.”
In his report to the board and in addressing new personnel, IMB President Jerry Rankin celebrated the additional 137 people groups that IMB missionaries engaged with the gospel last year. Even with that increase, Rankin said the number of unreached groups of more than 100,000 people is increasing as world population grows.
He praised the example of the Alabama Baptist Convention as one of the strongest supporters of the Cooperative Program and thanked Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director Wanda Lee of Birmingham for her presence. The state convention’s annual meeting was held concurrently with the IMB missionary appointment services Nov. 15 in Huntsville.
“This is one of the largest states in terms of sending missionaries and volunteers in partnership,” Rankin stated.
He commended other state conventions, including the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, for partnering with the IMB to embrace an Acts 1:8 strategy for reaching the world.
MISSIONARIES APPOINTED The board approved 89 missionary candidates for appointment, including Laurelle and Alan Stoudenmire of Alabama, who will serve overseas in their retirement years. She ended her tenure as a trustee, expressing appreciation for the program whereby they “don’t have to be put on the shelf after 50 or 60 years.” Thirty-four of the new missionaries have Texas ties.
A March 20-22 appointment service at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa will serve as a prototype for planned “Global Impact Celebration” services, which aim to increase churches’ understanding and participation in Southern Baptist missions, Rankin said. Similar combined events are planned in Spartanburg, S.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Southern California.
Trustees collectively pledged $114,016 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, with participation from the entire board.
TONGUES/PRAYER LANGUAGE After more than half an hour of discussion on prayer language, tongues and baptism, the board approved as policy a memorandum titled “Guidelines Regarding Tongues and Prayer Language for Candidates,” which the trustees’ Personnel Committee passed last May.
The committee’s action in May was to help those who consult missionary candidates assess their doctrinal qualifications. Previously, the board determined that clarification was needed because candidates were being evaluated inconsistently.
After trustee Jerry Corbaley of California presented a paper titled “Regarding Speaking in Tongues, the Interpretation of Such and ‘Prayer Language,'” the Mission Personnel Committee assigned the task of studying the issue to the six-member Process Review Committee.
PRC chairman John Floyd of Tennessee assigned two-member groups to each study particular issues–namely, baptism, private prayer language and missionary qualifications.
Floyd said the group drew information from the IMB president, staff and Personnel Committee members, in addition to soliciting advice from the Southern Baptist Council of Seminary Presidents and reviewing the North American Mission Board’s personnel policy relating to charismatic practices.
Before introducing Floyd, IMB trustee chairman Thomas Hatley of Arkansas explained that when the guidelines were passed last May he assumed the Personnel Committee had the authority to implement the guidelines. He noted, however, that the IMB’s lawyer determined that the trustees had never delegated that responsibility.
In an overview distributed in advance to acquaint new trustees with background on the proposal, Floyd said Rankin related at the July meeting that he preferred the guidelines be treated as policies and that the whole board make the decision rather than the Personnel Committee alone.
Interviewed by the TEXAN after the recent meeting, Rankin said the concern he expressed in July was that if the newly adopted guidelines were to be used with missionary candidates, then he felt the full board ought to express that through formal action.
“The heart of these issues is the candidate qualification known as ‘Southern Baptist Identity,'” according to a preface statement to the guidelines obtained by the TEXAN.
Candidates were already required to be committed to and identified with Southern Baptist, convictionally hold to the Baptist Faith and Message and have current membership in an SBC church. Other elements of candidate qualifications address Southern Baptist identity with reference to views held by “the majority of Southern Baptist churches.”
The preface statement further clarified that IMB policies and guidelines are based on God’s Word, the SBC constitution and specific job descriptions for personnel, and reflect the practice of the vast majority of Southern Baptists.
“Charismatic practices are discouraged in the vast majority of our Southern Baptist churches because of the confusion they generate,” the statement concluded.
Trustee Allen McWhite of South Carolina spoke against the recommendation, stating, “Among our Southern Baptist constituency, not to mention the larger evangelical community, I think there are very honest differences of opinion on the issue of a private prayer language.”
While familiar with the material distributed by Floyd that made the case for a private prayer language being unscriptural, McWhite said the writings of others offer a different interpretation.
“We’re going to make a mistake in making a determination that one interpretation is absolutely correct while not allowing for differences. I do think this will have an impact on our candidates coming through,” he added, noting that it may not be a large number who fall into the category of practicing a private prayer language, “but there are some who would otherwise be very qualified.”
McWhite further stated that “a very clear policy” is in place “to deal with abuses of any of the charismatic gifts” that would result in termination, including tongues, healing or “any other doctrine elevated as normative or projected as evidence of a greater degree of spirituality, he said. “I just want to recognize the diversity on the part of honest conservative interpreters of Scripture who would differ on this and caution against making a ruling that would say some interpretation was invalid.”
The newly implemented policy affecting future candidates notes that the New Testament speaks of a gift of glossolalia generally considered to be a legitimate language of some people group, noting specific uses and conditions for its exercise in public worship.
“In terms of worship practices, the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice glossolalia,” the statement reads.
A prayer language as commonly expressed by practitioners is not the same as the biblical use of glossolalia, it further states.
Noting Paul’s teaching that prayer is to be made with understanding, any spiritual experience is to be tested by the Scriptures, the statement says. And since the majority of Southern Baptists do not accept “private prayer language,” candidates espousing such eliminate themselves from consideration for appointment, according to the statement.
Turstee Kevin King of Colorado encouraged trustees to hear the counsel of seminary presidents, who had advised on the matter, to regard a private prayer language as outside a normal understanding of relevant passages. King thanked Rankin for explaining his own views through e-mail, correspondence and phone conversations.
“I don’t say this to be inflammatory or as a breach of peace, but the position that a non-rational, non-verbal, conceptual mode of communication is biblically normative I find to be outside of Scripture and would welcome an explanation on how that would fit in with biblical parameters.”
Trustee Rick Thompson of Oklahoma asked what seminary presidents had said about the other discussion on baptism, adding that greater division had occurred in the Personnel Committee over that guideline.
“Our committee was not fully in agreement about what this meant,” he added, appealing for more thought and prayer even though some “are probably sick of hearing about it and want to get on with it.” Thompson, a first-year trustee, felt new trustees needed more time to “digest the information” and expressed surprise ove the possibility of including an exception clause.
“This was a new thing for me to learn within the verbiage of a policy that we could have more flexibility,” Thompson said. “I would like us to think through how that exception can work in this situation. I just found out about that this morning.”
Corbaley objected, stating, “Two years of in-depth investigation and weighing the issues and bringing the largest committee of our trustee board along is adequate for Southern Baptists to trust.”
After Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson received confirmation that the exception clause was included in both recommendations, Hatley explained, “Instead of them just granting that as they have in the past, they (staff) will send it on for review by the larger Process Review Committee or by staff and PRC together.”
Trustee Bob Pearle of Texas praised the diligence of the committee over a long period of time, adding that staff preferred the passage of guidelines rather than policies in order to provide “more wiggle room.”
Ultimately, he said, “That did not seem to satisfy. At the request and insistence of our president who wanted it as a policy, it’s coming back as a policy for the entire body to vote on.”
In supporting the recommendation regarding a private prayer language, Pearle said, “Southern Baptists, as a rule, are going to say we are opposed to speaking in tongues.” He called the reference to “a private prayer language” a politically correct way to avoid using the term glossolalia. Regardless of the label, he said, “It is, in fact, speaking in tongues and that is not what we historically as Southern Baptists have stood for. This policy will put us in sync with the other mission-sending agency of the Southern Baptist Convention—the North American Mission Board.”
Quoting from NAMB’s personnel policy, Pearle read, “No person who is actively participating in or promoting glossolalia shall be appointed, approved or endorsed by NAMB. This includes having a private prayer language.”
“If this is rejected, Pearle argued, “I fear this board then would be rightly or wrongly perceived by the people who sent us here as endorsing tongues. I fear that it could possibly come up at the Southern Baptist Convention that we have a board that is endorsing tongues.”
Instead of risking such a response next June at the annual meeting, Pearle urged adoption of the glossolalia recommendation in order to state the IMB position “in clear language.”
Trustee Wayne Marshall of Mississippi called for a vote, stating, “We’ve had two months and were encouraged to look through this theologically and every other way as individuals. Even new people, if they took it seriously, went home and did their homework. We should all have done that,” he insisted.
Trustee Bill Sutton sought a roll call vote, gaining support from several fellow Texans who felt board members should state their opinion on the record. After the effort failed, Texas trustee Louis Moore asked for the option of recording how he voted.
“If the convention gets involved in this, I want it clearly stated that I’m going to vote ‘Yes.’”
While the vote to approve the previously offered guidelines on baptism prompted less debate, speakers firmly stated their opinions. Trustee Winston Curtis of Oklahoma said the division that occurred in committee involved whether a guideline or a policy would be the best approach.
“It may have appeared to be divisive, but was not divisive concerning the issues themselves. I believe it is the right thing to do for us as Southern Baptists.”
Burleson said he found the language on baptism “unconscionable” because it puts the IMB in a position of telling a candidate he is not qualified to be a missionary even if his church approved him for membership, requiring re-baptism. He cited the example of a converted Muslim who was baptized in the Jordan River and was accepted for membership after being examined by the church. “He affirmed our doctrinal statement of the Baptist Faith and Message,” Burleson related, and is applying with the IMB to be a missionary.
“It is unconscionable to me that as a member of my church, with his baptism examined and scripturally baptized that this board may take the position that he is not and he must come back to me and baptized in my church. To me that violates every principle of the autonomy of the local church and what we believe to be biblical, scriptural baptism.”
Corbaley responded, “There is the repeated misunderstanding that the board would be imposing its will on other Christian organizations such as the local church.”
He said Christians who affiliate with a church must abide by the congregation’s perspective on baptism even if it is different from the last church.
“It does not go retroactive to the previous church and require that they agree. We are simply attempting to set a policy that must be set somewhere for the International Mission Board. It does not require any local church to comply. It does require Christians who wish to affiliate with this organization to cooperate with this organization.”
Candidates are to examined in light of the BF&M statement, discussing whether baptism was by immersion following salvation; a symbolic picture of the experience of the believer’s death to sin and resurrection to a new life in Christ; and not meritorious in any way for salvation.
According to the guidelines, baptism should take place in a church that holds to these views and embraces eternal security of believers.
A candidate who has not been baptized in a Southern Baptist church or a church that meets these doctrinal standards is expected to request baptism in his or her Southern Baptist church as testimony of identifying with such beliefs.
After the recommendations passed, Hatley asked trustees to bathe their actions in humility.
“There is no need in leaving with any kind of spirit of pride. It’s been a humiliating process to go through, but I’m grateful to the Lord for finally reaching conclusion on some things.”
The January trustee meeting will be held in Richmond, Va.
FORT WORTH?The members at New Life Complete in Christ Baptist Church in Fort Worth are only passing on the gifts they’ve been given.
The mostly African-American congregation, led by Pastor Rainey Matthews, began in 1998 with help from the mostly white First Baptist Church of Malakoff, a church 100 miles away in distance and half-a-world away in culture.
Last summer, New Life, which has grown from 14 members to 600, sent a team of men to rural LaRue Baptist Church in LaRue?an Anglo congregation in East Texas that had dwindled to about 15 attendees?to do some much-needed electrical, plumbing and carpentry work.
Matthews and three of his members spent a week in nearby Athens, laboring on the physical structure of the LaRue church, which at the time was without a pastor.
Matthews said his friend and fellow Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Minister-Church Relations consultant, Casey Perry, suggested the New Life team travel to LaRue to help the congregation. In the process, LaRue sold a van it was struggling to pay for to New Life, which needed a van, Matthews said.
“During the process, we met a 21-year-old student from Criswell College, Josh McDonald,” Matthews said. “He was taken there to preach and they fell in love with him and called him as their pastor. And New Life Complete in Christ has become a sister church to LaRue Baptist.”
Matthews and Perry have been friends since the mid-1990s, and the friendship has paid dividends for black city folk and white country folk alike.
Perry is a son of rural East Texas and a Southern Baptist from the soles of his cowboy boots to the top of his head. Formerly the pastor at First Baptist Church of Malakoff, Perry, still a member there, helped spur the church to start New Life.
Matthews, meanwhile, is a product of Detroit, a 6-foot-4 former heavyweight boxer with a warm, enveloping handshake and a gentle, pastoral demeanor. He considers Robert Webb, FBC Malakoff’s current pastor, his own pastor.
Meanwhile, both Perry and Matthews consider the young McDonald, LaRue’s pastor, a spiritual son. Under McDonald, LaRue Baptist is averaging about 60 people in Sunday morning worship services.
“Casey Perry has adopted him as his spiritual son, but so has Rainey Matthews,” Matthews said. “Josh has two spiritual dads now.”
It has been a month since the annual meeting in Amarillo, but I am still being blessed. The Church at Quail Creek (San Jacinto Baptist) was a gracious host. Pastor Stan Coffey and the staff did yeoman’s work to make the logistics run smoothly.
The first SBTC Crossover evangelism effort was a tremendous success. Seeing people saved and helping churches focus on evangelism is always a thrill. The pastors who participated have committed to keep the effort going until every door is knocked on in Amarillo.
Someone wanted to know what I thought about the attendance. I told them it was the largest convention we have ever had in West Texas. Of course, it was the first convention we have ever had in West Texas. Seeing well over 1,000 people worshiping on Monday and Tuesday nights was a joy.
Baptists in West Texas are great folks and turned out for the event. I think the SBTC may be going west again in the not-too-distant future.
The SBTC staff thanks all those who made the annual meeting possible. The messengers, participants and program personalities provided a revival atmosphere. The Spirit of God visited us as has been the case for eight years now.
The next opportunity for ministry is the Empower Evangelism Conference, Feb. 6-8, at FBC of Euless. There is no greater gathering west of the Mississippi for preaching, singing, praying and fellowship than the SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference.
SBC President Bobby Welch, evangelist Kelly Green, and author Tim LaHaye are just three of the guests. Greater Vision, One Hope and others will lead us in worship through music. Nationally known sports broadcaster Pat Summerall will share his testimony. Pray for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit. Plan to attend. Get others to come with you. This can be a catalyst for revival in Texas.
Year round, churches are being started. Struggling churches are being helped. Ministers are assisted. We seek to please the Lord and serve Texas Baptists. All of these ministries are possible through the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention because of your gifts through the Cooperative Program. Thank you for another great year together.
Late in the 17th century, a controversy arose over who invented calculus. Both Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz of Germany, and Isaac Newton of England argued for precedence in what they saw as a pinnacle of human achievement. In that era, Leibniz and others believed that “the calculus” would allow them to predict future events, even human behavior. So forewarned we might change reality by avoiding the mistakes of blindly blundering into the future. Useful as calculus might be, it didn’t turn out to explain or replace God. Man’s search for formulaic answers to life’s challenges had to continue.
It’s appealing isn’t it? Possession of a formula that guarantees success for all the important things we attempt would make life so much neater. We could just push the right buttons and all creation would respond according to our will.
Perhaps it’s not such a good instinct after all. Hoping to find a scientific means of controlling the future is a bit like hoping sentient computers might one day meet our every need. Read a little Asimov and you’ll see that tools which surpass their creators are as likely to become monsters as servants.
That’s why I’m a little uncomfortable with outreach, evangelism, church planting, or church growth schemes that claim to be (or are interpreted by adherents to be) “the way.” I intend this idea to be broad in application but in the context of our special report, there is more than one right way to do church in a multi-racial/ethnic context.
No one has developed a formula that ensures success. No one has found a way to bypass hard work and dependence on God to prosper the work.
Many of the ways we deal with people according to the mostly external ways we differ from one another are formulaic. Sure, racial differences have ramifications that are more than skin deep and so do generational and economic differences. Do they justify the scores of books, seminars, listening sessions, and consultations dedicated to these differences? Only in America, I’d say.
Sometimes a focus on a person’s or group’s distinctives is necessary. Even so, there is no cookie cutter way of predicting what will work in each case.
Evangelism requires us to approach people in their own language. We have much in common with our neighbors, externally. A neighbor is more likely to see you as a fellow struggler if you first show interest in his family or if you help him fix his mower. Kids and broken mowers are part of the reality Christians and non-Christians share. Paul’s testimony of being all things to all people was in the cause of evangelism. We begin with what we perceive we have in common with a person, or even a group of people, and then go on to explain more significant things. In evangelism we should deal with people according to their distinctives so they can hear the gospel. Evangelism is not the only work of the church, though.
Another reasonable and necessary way we must focus on distinctives has to do with language groups. Simply, Christians who don’t speak the majority language should have a church where ministry and worship are conducted in their own tongue. Diversity among Southern Baptist churches goes way beyond language.
Ideally, and biblically, relations within the body of Christ (corporate worship, discipleship, etc.) should focus on what we hold in common?one body and one spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Our diversity is evident in our gifts and in the experiences God brings to bear on our edifying service to other members of this one body. This perspective is apparently superior to the fragmenting of churches according to more temporary distinctives.
The reality is that we are more comfortable worshipping with those who are like us in as many ways as possible. Thus we start churches based on cultural distinctives, cowboy churches, trucker chapels, hip-hop fellowships, youth worship hours, contemporary music services, traditional music services (I assume they still exist somewhere), and many others yet outside my experience. Again, this is only in America. In places where we have options, we exercise our freedom of choice to the maximum. My family drives past at least one SBTC church on the way to our own church. We had an option we preferred and we took it. Is there anything wrong with that?
Maybe so. The fact that we have options is not a blessing on our pickiness. My impatience with the details of an otherwise sound ministry might be impatience with the discipline of God. A place that is too comfortable has a soporific effect on all the comforted. We’re going to be in Heaven with preachers who preached too long each Sunday and with those who danced in church. We’ll stand before the throne beside those lived well into physical infirmity as well with those who were still strong and beautiful when they heard the trumpet. The fact that we challenge each other is not a thing to flee but an opportunity to gain wisdom, or maybe just patience.
How would we do church if we lived in a place where only one evangelical church was in a twenty mile radius? Some might say, “Start a new one,” and maybe that’s an answer but we’d still worship with those of like faith and practice?regardless or our cultural preferences. Many in the most populous places in our country face that very situation. Maybe they’re better for it. The luxury of our church choices might be spoiling us in the usual manner of luxury.
Maybe nothing this side of persecution (and the resulting loss of choices) will drive us to lay aside our preferences. In the mean time, we should listen to true and useful things that those we perceive as different might offer. We could also stop working so hard to build a fragmented array of individually homogenous churches where no one is vexed by the personal style of another. As we see pastors sincerely working to make their churches look more like Heaven racially and ethnically, we see others who devalue more subtle kinds of cultural diversity. The result is angst over and a small degree of contempt for those who “don’t get it” the way we do.
It’s an equal opportunity temptation with plenty of self-important huffiness to go around. No comfort there. Let’s reach our neighbors with the good news of Christ. Then let’s build them into our own churches. Creative methods are great but this is enough formula for the job. People who live together and who can stand together on the sidelines while their kids play basketball for opposing teams can surely worship the God they both love in the same auditorium.
AMARILLO, Texas?Despite the hardship of pastoral ministry, enduring faithfulness will pay its dividends, Jimmy Draper told those attending the President’s Luncheon during the SBTC annual meeting Oct. 25 in Amarillo.
Draper, a former Texas pastor who plans to retire as president of LifeWay Christian Resources early next year, said he looks forward to returning to Texas to live and is “happy to be a part of the Southern Baptists of Texas” in partnering with the SBTC through LifeWay.
Ministry is a wonderful calling, Draper told the luncheon crowd, but “the pastor doesn’t get bonuses for 2 a.m. hospital calls or for taking two hours away from his family to help a transient.”
“I have to admit: I get tired of it. I get weary, discouraged,” he related. Such was the state of the Jews described in Malachi 3:14-15, who had returned from Babylonian exile and had asked the question, “Does it really pay to serve God?”
Draper noted. After all, Draper explained, the wicked were prospering as they tested God without immediate consequences. Yet God heard those who feared him and promised help and blessing, the passage reads.
Draper said there are at least three reasons why serving God is worthwhile.
4First, he said, “It’s worth serving God if you’d rather have God’s attention than anyone else’s.”
Draper pointed to the passage, noting, “first of all he heard their complaints ? This is not the cry of ? piety, it’s the cry of anguished truth.”
God, above all others, hears the cries of the faithful, Draper said, citing Martin Luther’s imprisonment and discouragement and Charles Spurgeon’s bouts with despair and depression. It’s worth remembering, Draper said, that “God doesn’t use any of us because of us. He uses us in spite of us.”
4Second, “It’s worth serving God if you want to be remembered by God more than by anybody else.”
The creator of the universe “chooses of all things to remember his chosen ones,” Draper stated. “God has a special remembrance for those who reverence him.”
Draper said God is blessing the SBTC, for example, because it stands not over the Word of God, nor beside the Word of God, but under the Word of God.
4Third, “It’s worth serving God if you’d rather be a treasure than have a treasure.” Christians are God’s personal treasures, Draper reminded, and those he calls to ministry work foremost for him, not for the churches they serve.
“Churches don’t call pastors,” Draper said, noting that Southern Baptist churches fire about 100 pastors a month. “God calls pastors and if churches recognized that they would have fewer problems.”
“In ourselves we are not valuable,” Draper continued. “But we are valuable. We are valuable because he gives us value.”
AMARILLO?Reflecting on the Acts 1:8 challenge to be Jesus’ witnesses locally and globally, six preachers delivered brief “theme interpretation” sermons scheduled intermittently during the SBTC annual meeting Oct. 24-25 in Amarillo.
The sermons covered such topics as the lostness of the world, the lordship of Christ, and a call to cross-cultural gospel ministry. The following are capsules of each message.
Scott Maze Admitting that the word “lostness” would not earn him extra credit from the English teachers in the audience, Maze, pastor of First Baptist Church of Borger, said it best describes the condition under which the unsaved live. And, he added, he hoped to “put a compulsion” in the hearts of those listening to reach someone for Christ.
Being lost, he said, is not simply a description of the end state of the unsaved, but a current malady impacting the lives of those living in that condition. Lostness, Maze said, “is our barber, beautician, the person down the street.”
Knowing the burden under which such people live should spur Christians to action. “There should be tear-stained pillows because of lostness.”
It is because of the condition of lostness that Jesus came to seek and save.
The “Jerusalem” of today for the Christian is wherever they live. In Texas, it is a state with an increasing population projected to be 25 million by 2009. Most of those are unsaved, Maze said, which should give Christians a sense of urgency about reaching them.
Maze made a parallel between the Great Commission and the theme behind the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” In the film, a small band of soldiers, lead by Capt. John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, are searching for Private Ryan, who had been given orders to go home. They are charged with finding and saving Ryan before he is killed in battle.
“Someone was your John Miller,” Maze said, making comparison to the Acts 1:8 charge.
Christians should be compelled to share the gospel, not only out of a sense of compassion and desperation for the lost, but because Jesus commanded it. Sometimes, Maze added, believers get too busy “doing church” that they forget the basic mandate. Or they believe the lost will come to them in the churches. He quoted Charles Spurgeon, who questioned whether a person is truly saved if he has never told anyone of his faith.
He used the loss of life from the Titanic as an example of the condition between believers and the lost. Many of those who perished in the shipwreck did not drown, but died of hypothermia from exposure in the water. Many lifeboats were only half filled with passengers fleeing the scene but who refused to go back and retrieve those in the water for fear their small crafts would capsize in the course of a rescue effort.
“Those who were already saved,” Maze concluded, “did not go back for those who were dying.”
Nathan Lino A person cannot submit to the Acts 1:8 commission until he completely, in all areas of his life, submits to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The entire Bible hangs on this fact and the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, said Nathan Lino, pastor of Houston’s Northeast Baptist Church.
Lino recalled asking a woman in his church who was seeking a divorce if her husband had cheated on her, had physically harmed her or the children, or had neglected to provide for his family. The answer to each of the questions was no.
Lino, puzzled by her responses, reminded her of God’s opposition to divorce. The woman’s reply affirmed her knowledge of that fact.
“I simply don’t want to be married to him anymore,” the woman stated.
Lino told the convention, “It sickens me that that is not the exception (in churches). It makes me wonder what has happened to God’s lordship.”
Lino said he places much of the blame on those who stand at the pulpit. Using the passage from Matthew 22:36 where Jesus is confronted by the lawyer asking which commandment is the greatest, Lino said the Lord’s response of loving God is not about an emotional attraction to God, but a choice, a decision. He warned that pastors who consistently preach sermons on “warm, fuzzy” love “are going to have an experience-driven ministry.”
He asked, “Where are the sermons on the lordship of Christ? If this is the greatest commandment in the Bible then his lordship ought to be interwoven into every message.”
Lino admitted that such topics as lordship and submission are difficult to address so they are often avoided.
“You are asking (your congregation) to shove their will aside to take on the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.” With submission to the lordship of Christ “respect and dignity are restored to the bride of Christ” and personal holiness becomes an issue again with each individual. Lino said the call of the pastor is to make known the lordship of Jesus and to entreat and encourage believers to submit to that authority.
Jim Richards SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the convention the Acts 1:8 mandate comes with a promise of power, a plan to witness, the person, Jesus Christ, of whom we bear witness, and the places to which the witness should go.
That call applies individually and corporately to believers today, Richards explained.
Primary to the Acts 1:8 task is empowerment of the Holy Spirit, which that verse promises.
“These cowering disciples hiding behind locked doors all of the sudden (at Pentecost) became explosive proclaimers of the Word. And it is because they were endued with power from on high,” leading to 3,000 souls saved.
Richards noted that the Holy Spirit is present to produce holiness, calling believers to “a separate lifestyle, a difference.”
The Christian’s peculiarity, Richards said, “is that we cross-grain the culture.”
“The Holy Spirit purifies us and makes us more like Jesus” so that believers may run the race successfully. Acts 1:8 also states a plan for the disciples to be Jesus’ witnesses, Richards said.
“We are to be a witness of objective truth and subjective experience” through the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, as 1 John 5:13 and Romans 8:16 describe.
“The objective truth enables us to witness about Jesus Christ,” Richards said, adding; “There are those who would say that Jesus is my final authority. And that sounds so pious, but the only thing that we know about Jesus Christ of truth is found within the pages of God’s holy Word.
Acts 1:8 also points to a person?Christ, Richards said. While agreeing that denominational emphases such as Empowering Kingdom Growth have had positive results, “It’s really not about the kingdom, it’s about the king,” Richards said.
“We’re not about building our kingdoms and we’re not about building the kingdom of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. We’re not even about building the kingdom itself?because what we’re to do is we’re to lift up the king and he will build the kingdom.
“He said, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me.'”
Richards added, “When we’re Acts 1:8 challenge takers, we’re going to talk about Jesus and uplift him.”
Acts 1:8 also directs the places the witness will go: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world. Richards noted that previous to Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, he gave the same essential charge to his disciples four previous times during the 40 days after his resurrection (John 20, Mark 16, Matthew 28, Luke 24).
“In those 40 days he challenged them to be Acts 1:8 followers” and he is calling individual Christians and churches to reach their cities, state, nation and world as well.
“We know that over half of the people in our state do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior nor attend church,” Richards said, noting that among a 22-million person population there are numerous ethno-linguistic groups yet unreac
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