Month: March 2006

Trustee guidelines not intended to stifle debate, Texas trustee says

Related Story: IMB trustees rescind action to remove trustee

A formal document regulating International Mission Board trustee conduct and relationships is not intended to stifle honest differences among board members, a Texas trustee said after the IMB’s meeting in Tampa, Fla., March 20-22.

Mike Smith, director of missions in the Dogwood Trails Association and chairman of the IMB’s orientation subcommittee, presented to the trustees the new policy, which passed with three dissents. The new, four-page guideline includes five areas: general responsibilities, specific responsibilities, legal status and duty, standards of conduct and disciplinary action.

The document says trustees “are to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees” and that trustees “must refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions.”

“We really got started on this two years ago, way before Wade Burleson or anything like that,” Smith told the Southern Baptist TEXAN in a phone interview March 23, referring to the Oklahoma trustee whose board status was in question until the board’s vote March 22 to rescind an earlier action requesting his removal. “We ourselves said we need something (drafted) in a concise way for being accountable when attending meetings and being faithful (as trustees).”

IMB board chairman Tom Hatley said March 22 the policy governing trustee expression is a “very healthy guideline” which gives clarity to Burleson’s case. Burleson is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

The trustees’ action on Burleson came after a dispute over Burleson’s posting on his blog––during the board’s Jan. 9-11 meeting in Richmond, Va.

The trustees claimed Burleson’s removal was necessary because of “issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability, not Burleson’s opposition to policies recently enacted by the board,” Hatley stated in January.

The board’s attempt to remove Burleson was apparently unprecedented among SBC agencies. He was elected to his first four-year term on the IMB in 2005. 

Burleson’s blog characterized the meeting and stated opposition to missionary personnel guidelines and policies which the trustees adopted during their Nov. 4-17 meeting in Huntsville, Ala. Trustees approved a guideline for IMB counselors to evaluate candidates’ baptism testimonies, and enacted a policy preventing appointment of those who practice “a private prayer language” which was described as “glossolalia (speaking in tongues).”

Burleson, on his blog, contended the November actions were overly restrictive, even among some Baptists who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. He voted against the measure.

Hatley told the Florida Baptist Witness he believed the board’s new trustee guideline stops short of prohibiting disagreement among board members before a policy is enacted, but addresses the dissemination of information regarding the disagreement to the public.

“To take … something [after it] has been voted in and then to go public and try in impugn the motives of the ones who passed it or criticize the document itself is going to undermine the ability of the organization to get its work done,” Hatley said.

Smith told the TEXAN the adoption of the new guideline “is a learning process for a lot of us” and provides some needed in-house accountability for trustees.

“It’s the same thing I’ve said for 17 years as a pastor and 18 as a DOM: Certainly there’s room for disagreement that’s healthy and any kind of debate when you are in the family,” Smith said.  “When you are in that arena, when you are in the board room, have the discussion then.  But once the decision has been made by the body as a whole, we ought to go out with a supportive front before the people.”

“It’s the same thing I used to tell my people. There’s nothing wrong with us disagreeing in here in the business meeting.  But when we go out to the world and everywhere else, though I may not agree with this or I may not think that way, I want to support the body,” Smith continued.

“No, we’re not saying no one can disagree or even express that they do no go along with (a decision), we just do not want continuous open criticism.”

Smith said the new guideline provides an accountability framework that might have helped trustees avoid the Burleson controversy.

During trustee debate March 22, Oklahoma trustee Rick Thompson asked: “Can you ever imagine a scenario that the board approves something that you believe wholeheartedly is outside of the parameters of Scripture and even though you have argued against that board approved policy, you feel in your heart that it is outside Scripture, do you then feel as if this policy would be overly assertive on your ability to communicate to others your personal feelings to what you had a conviction about based on Scripture?”

Florida trustee Ken Whitten responded that he would either support the policy or have a “personal choice to make rather than being critical or slandering” anyone. He later cited Matthew 18 as the biblical way to handle disagreement.

Trustee Jerry Corbaley of California, reminded trustees that once a policy is approved, although trustees may not publicity criticize it outside of the board, there is a process within the board to reconsider policies.

“I think that that is sufficient to deal with all of our doctrinal concerns,” Corbaley said. “Whatever the board has done in one session can be at that next session improved.”

Under the trustee “Standards of Conduct” approved in the policy, individual trustees are to “refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions.” The policy says:  “[I]t is not possible to draw fine lines in this area.   Freedom of expression must give way to the imperative that the work of the Kingdom not be placed at risk by publicly airing differences with the board.”

Trustee Allen McWhite from South Carolina in the morning meeting March 22 spoke against the recommendation of the final policy related to the “Standards of Conduct.”

“My concern is understanding that we must trust each other as trustees,” McWhite said. “My position of trust is to the [Southern Baptist] Convention.”

John Schaefer, a trustee from Georgia, said he believes there are numerous opportunities for board members to disagree and suggested once a policy has been voted in a trustee’s “personal opinion or preference or concern does not go to the head of the line” and trustees should count the cost of their disagreement to the 5,000 missionaries in the field.

Burleson affirmed March 22 that he was one of the three trustees who voted against the new policy.

Though Burleson did not participate in the open discussion of the policy during the plenary sessions, he told the Witness later he did make immediate changes to his blog.

“In full compliance with new policies there we be no criticism of any board decision and I’ve disabled the comment section [of the blog],” Burleson said. “No feedback.”

As to whether he will resign from the board given the new policy, Burleson said he would reserve an opinion until hearing from IMB missionaries.


IMB trustees rescind action to remove trustee

Related Story: Trustee guidelines not intended to stifle debate, Texas trustee says

TAMPA, Fla.–International Mission Board trustees meeting in Tampa March 20-22 rescinded without opposition an earlier call for Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson’s removal.

The board also adopted a formal document explaining trustee responsibilities and how trustees are to relate to each other. Further, the new standards regulate what trustees may say publicly about board policies and personnel once the board has acted.

The vote on Burleson, which was unanimous, rescinds the earlier vote asking convention messengers to remove Burleson during the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June.

The trustees voted on Burleson in executive session. When the meeting reopened, trustee Lonnie Wascom of Louisiana read the trustees’ decision into the official record. Wascom made the motion to rescind the previous vote on behalf of the board’s executive committee.

In January, IMB trustees said Burleson’s removal was needed due to “issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability.” Burleson had posted comments on his weblog–an Internet diary–disagreeing with recently passed missionary policies concerning baptism and private prayer language.

“The wisdom of the board is evident in this action,” Burleson said after the decision. “I also reiterate that I stand by every word, sentence and paragraph of that which I have blogged. If I am ever shown something I said that someone thinks is not true, I will immediately defend it or [if proved wrong,] change it and apologize.

“I am grateful that the ‘Wade Burleson issue’ may be put behind us in order that our focus and attention can be where it should be at all times: the fulfilling of our mission to reach the nations for Christ. That is what we’re about and side issues should never distract us.”

Board chairman Tom Hatley of Arkansas said trustees understand that processes are now in place for dealing with trustee interpersonal relationships that were not previously established. Those new processes were included in a recommendation trustees passed during the meeting.

“By dealing with this under the new guidelines for trustee relationships,” Hatley said, “we have now led our board and Southern Baptists at large to refocus our attention on the needs of reaching this world through our mission force. We want the attention back on the task.”

While the earlier board action was rescinded, Hatley said he would continue not allowing Burleson to serve on Trustee committees. The concern of trustees, he said, was that trustee relationships with Burleson would be built over a period of time and he could be brought back into committee involvement.

“As chairman, I gave the board my assurance that I would extend the exclusion of his participation in committees through the May meeting,” Hatley said, “which would allow a new process time to bring its sway over the current situation and, hopefully, to resolve it.”

Citing the Internet and weblogs, Hatley said March 22 the policy governing trustee expression is a “very healthy guideline”—especially in light of recent controversy over trustees’ attempts to remove Burleson from the board.

Although the new, four-page guideline for trustees was crafted over several years, Hatley told the Florida Baptist Witness that it does give clarity to Burleson’s case. Burleson is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

“It would be wrong to say [the policy] is unrelated to him,” said Hately, who is also pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark. “It was not generated just for his situation, but definitely in the future it will relate to him because it’s the guideline under which now all trustees will proceed to deal with interpersonal relationships, and he is going to be one of those as a trustee that will fall to its scrutiny.”

After the meeting Burleson said he would follow the new policy. He voted against it.

“I affirm the decision of the board…and will faithfully abide by the new policy,” he said. “In full compliance with new policies there will be no criticism of any board decision and I’ve disabled the comment section [of the weblog].”

John Floyd of Tennessee reported that the mission personnel committee affirmed the process that resulted in the guideline on baptism and policy on private prayer language enacted last November. In addition, he said the committee would appoint an ad hoc committee to revisit these measures to clarify the board’s position. Hatley said he recommended the personnel committee “revisit the policy on glossolalia and the guideline on baptism.”

West Texans spend spring break helping struggling New Orleans church

NEW ORLEANS–Seventy-five West Texans worshipped at Grace Baptist Church in the Upper 9th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans known as the Bywater on Sunday morning, March 12. The team, representing 24 Baptist churches from two associations–Lamesa and the Southern Baptists of the Permian Basin–along with the Basin Baptist Network, gave a needed boost to the New Orleans church.

Last September, Hurricane Katrina displaced all five of the church’s deacons and about 75 percent of the congregation. The changes have been hard, but hope looms, the pastor said, thanks to a changing neighborhood and Southern Baptist missions volunteers like the Texans, many of whom spent their spring break laboring in the name of Jesus.

Bill Rogers has been the pastor of Grace for 29 years and his father-in-law, Leslie Scharfenstein, was the pastor before him for 36 years. During these two pastorates, the Bywater neighborhood, so named in the 1940s because of its proximity to the Mississippi River and the canal, has experienced many changes.

Before Hurricane Betsy destroyed the community in 1965, blue-collar whites lived there; after the storm, a majority of the white community moved to St. Bernard Parish and the homes became subsidized rental property for a poorer, mostly black community. In recent years, Bywater became a historic district, and interest rekindled in home ownership, but this brought another transition in the mid 1990s. The bohemian culture, known for attracting disenchanted people wanting to live alternative lifestyles, became a growing segment of the community, creating a proverbial gumbo with one of the poorest segments of New Orleans. The area is known for its art and homosexuality, and underperforming schools, drugs and multiple murders plague it.

Months after Katrina, the schools remain closed with little hope of reopening but murders no longer dominate the news. Rogers said the neighborhood was only about 6 percent children and youth before the storm. The church averaged approximately 70 attenders pre-Katrina, with the majority of the families coming from St. Bernard Parish and eastern New Orleans. Associate Pastor Charlie Dale said since the storm he is seeing more families with young children moving into the neighborhood.

Both pastors, with the support of the Texans and others, have a renewed sense of economic and spiritual hope for their community.

“This area, since most of it did not flood, is called the ‘Sliver on the River,'” Rogers said. “This is going to be a land of opportunity.”

While the Texans were painting, hanging sheetrock and wiring new air conditioning units, the mail arrived with more encouragement to Rogers in the form of a $1,500 check from an Arkansas church. Rogers is a retired parole officer, but his retirement checks have not arrived since the first of the year.

Not only did the team do manual labor during its week at Grace Baptist, but also they went door to door and invited people to the church for an evangelistic event that promised 200 pounds of boiled crawfish.

Team leader John Taylor, pastor at Kingston Avenue Baptist Church in Odessa, said prior to the event, “I hope a lot of people come because I don’t think many of us from Texas are going to eat a lot of crawfish.”

Josh Lomax, an Odessa teenager, said the trip “has reassured me of why I surrendered to the ministry this past year at church camp, to do [ministries] like this.”

“I was just so excited to get down here and get my hands dirty, then I found out I could go door to door and actually meet the people,” Texan Grant Kellar said. “I really wanted to do that and show the people of New Orleans that there are people who care about what’s happening to them.”

One of the people that the team met this week was Tracey, a roofer who professed faith in Christ, yet was struggling with smoking marijuana.

Kellar said, “He was trying to get his life together. We talked to him, gave him a tract and prayed for him. His church was destroyed, so he was looking for a place to go. We told him that Grace was open and that there were good people to talk to him and care for him.”

“This is an opportunity for our church to get a practical view of domestic missions,” said Ivy Shelton, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Odessa. “It is an opportunity for people to see in a very practical way how to serve others and to see what the gospel means. You can tell people about the gospel all day long, but this is a way to put hands and feet to it.”

Sibley named director of Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies

DALLAS?Criswell College has selected the leading Southern Baptist expert on Jewish ministry to direct the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies. In its March 4 meeting, the board welcomed President Jerry Johnson’s recommendation that Jim Sibley be named the full-time director of the institute that he described as “part of who we are and who Dr. W.A. Criswell was.”

With the reorganization of the North American Mission Board’s evangelization division, Sibley’s decade-long service as a national missionary directing Jewish ministries recently ended, freeing him to consider the leadership post of the Pasche Institute beyond his interim status.

Johnson projected a “long-term, deep-rooted commitment to this ministry” based on the school’s theological convictions, philosophy of ministry and biblical foundation.

The Pasche Institute was formed in 2004 as a part of Criswell College to train Christians in Jewish ministry, offering the only such accredited master’s degree program. A flexible schedule of semester and intensive courses attracts undergraduate and master’s level students. A special collection of Jewish resources is being assembled in the college’s library, featuring rare books and research tools. The institute is named for the late Albert and Dorothy Pasche of Dallas, early supporters of Criswell Bible Institute and Jewish ministries.

Through the broader assignment at Criswell College and continued workshops on behalf of the North American Mission Board, Sibley anticipates an even greater focus on the needs in Jewish ministry. Southern Baptists have a long history of reaching out to Jewish people in America, he observed.

“By whatever means, I want to try to stimulate Southern Baptists to share the gospel with Jewish people. It has been a real privilege to work in Jewish ministry at NAMB for the past 10 years and I’m grateful for the commitments that NAMB has exhibited in reaching our country for Christ.”

NAMB vice president for evangelization, John Avant, congratulated the college where he once taught for making the commitment to Jewish ministry.

“We rejoice with Criswell College at this exciting announcement,” Avant told Baptist Press. “We are so very thankful for Jim Sibley’s unique blend of training, experience, calling and passion which have allowed him to make such great contributions over the years to Jewish ministries.”

Avant said NAMB’s intention “at this time is not to attempt to replace Jim, but to continue to use him on a contract basis to assist NAMB and our mission partners to better understand and share our faith with Jews throughout North America.”

Sibley is a frequent speaker on seminary campuses in such conferences and will teach a fall class on Jewish evangelism at Criswell College. Last year he led a mission trip to the Jewish communities of New York City. This summer he will return to Israel where he and his wife, Kathy, served as Southern Baptist missionaries for nearly 14 years.

In the past decade Sibley, more than any other Southern Baptist, has been the foremost spokesman for evangelicals and Southern Baptists in attempting to explain Jewish outreach.

Recent misrepresentations of views advocating dual covenant theology in a March 1 front page Jerusalem Post article demonstrated how evangelicals are misunderstood regarding the salvation of Jews.

When Southern Baptists were asked by their domestic mission board to pray specifically for the evangelization of Jews, Sibley fielded media inquiries to clarify the denominational emphasis.

“There was a great deal of concern when it was claimed by the secular media that Southern Baptists were targeting the Jewish people, but in reality what we are presenting is a way that we can share the gospel with the Jewish people with sensitivity and understanding so that the love of Christ can be communicated and so we can relate to the Jewish people as individuals and friends rather than as objects of a c

Reorganization of NAMB evangelization group shifts focus to mentoring, apologetics

ALPHARETTA, Ga.–After a year of leading evangelization efforts for Southern Baptists in North America, John Avant is more convinced than ever that evangelism cannot be accomplished from his office in Alpharetta, Ga.

North American Mission Board (NAMB) staffers, he said, will never be experts at doing evangelism in a particular state. Those best positioned for such regional and cultural expertise would be local churches, associations, state conventions, he explained.

Unlike a time when distance prevented access to resources, most any Southern Baptist can find materials helpful in planning an evangelistic strategy.

“That rural pastor doesn’t have to call anybody for help. He could get on the Internet,” stated Avant, who serves as NAMB vice president for evangelization.

NAMB’s evangelism team doesn’t assume it is the first place church leaders go for help, but Avant thinks a new emphasis on building relationships will make his group the most natural choice.

“He’s probably going to call the person who has loved him when he really has a need, especially when he believes there is value to be added to his life from that person or organization,” Avant said of the typical pastor needing help.

It’s not hard for the 46-year old NAMB administrator to think like that rural pastor because he’s walked in those shoes, starting out as what he calls a “trivocational pastor” at Hay Valley Baptist Church in Gatesville, Texas.

“I had different needs when I pastored a tiny rural church than when I was pastor of a larger suburban church, Northrich Baptist in Richardson,” Avant told the TEXAN. Recalling how often he longed for someone who could help him learn the ropes, he said, “I often thought how I wish somebody would coach me because I didn’t know how to do certain things.”

Through a reorganization of NAMB’s evangelization division, Avant expects each of three teams to develop relationships across the denominational landscape, developing trust between NAMB staff and local churches, associations, state conventions and SBC entities.

“If we’re going to come alongside them and make any difference, we have to know them. There has to be trust. Then we know what they actually need that we can provide.”

The Church Evangelism Team, led by Terry Fields, seeks to equip the local church for chaplaincy, evangelism of children and students, evangelism accomplished through ministry and servant type approaches, as well as personal and mass evangelism.

The Cultural Evangelism Team, led by Gary Hollingsworth, seeks to engage the culture through apologetics and interfaith evangelism, collegiate evangelism, evangelism of internationals and multiethnic groups, while providing an evangelism response center to field inquiries from individuals seeking salvation.

Through the Strategic Evangelism Coordination Team, Toby Frost leads staff in utilizing prayer, spiritual awakening and mentoring strategies to share the gospel with the continent.

Evangelization is one of the eight groups operating at NAMB. Other divisions are administrative, church consulting, church planting, finance and organizational services, missions mobilization and strategic initiatives.

The reorganization of the Evangelization Group required personnel changes such as those affecting the Interfaith Witness Department.

IWF is now a part of the Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism Unit led by Mike Licona, whom Avant described as a leading expert on apologetics. He described Licona’s recently released book, “Paul Meets Muhammad: a Christian-Muslim Debate on the Resurrection,” as “a clear, devastating argument for the resurrection of Jesus” while “allowing even Muslims to feel like they’ve been fairly presented.”

Avant said the Interfaith Witness Department initially was renamed Apologetics, but later changed to incorporate both headings.

“Some of the old baggage of the term ‘interfaith’ can imply that our job is to carry on dialogue with other world religions when our job is to deliver the good news,” he said. “The word is not a bad word and it’s familiar to Southern Baptists, so we decided to call it apologetics and interfaith.”

The program of interfaith witness was established in 1965 and assigned to the Home Mission Board. Staff researched the beliefs and practices of other religious groups, highlighting similarities and differences for Southern Baptists when confronted with other faith groups.

By 1985 IFW was holding 200 conferences drawing 23,677 people. Last year the department sponsored 381 conferences with 20,484 participants.

The baggage to which Avant referred developed in the 1970s and 1980s as dialogue became preferable to witnessing for some IFW staff. A director with 13 years of service voiced his view that Jews were not in need of salvation. In response, the newly named Home Mission Board president insisted there is no other way to salvation except through personal faith in Jesus Christ and proposed relocating the errant director in 1988. Instead, he resigned and accepted severance pay and the position was abolished.

On into the 1990s, Avant said, Interfaith Witness was transformed into a department that researched the views of other religions and cults in order to develop rapport for sharing the gospel.

National media attention often resulted from the contention that non-Christian religions and cults had no promise of salvation. When IWF staffers held their own in such interviews, the gospel was shared with a broader audience nationwide.

Although Licona moved to the newly structured department from a year of service as director of the Interfaith Witness Team, all other former IWF staffers were offered reassignments.

IFW associate Bill Gordon, an expert in Catholicism, now works in the Evangelism Response Center. IFW manager Tal Davis moved to the Strategic Evangelism Coordination Team as manager of evangelism strategic mentoring.

Three national missionaries who worked in the renamed Interfaith Evangelism Department focused on ministries aimed at sharing the gospel with particular non-Christian groups.

While each of them will continue to be available when NAMB gets requests for evangelistic training suited to their areas of expertise, their assignments have changed.

Mormonism expert Cky Carrigan recently moved to a strategic mentoring role operating from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. While he will be responsible for mentoring pastors through the field-based initiative west of the Mississippi River, Davis will oversee similar work for the eastern half.

Interfaith evangelism associate Josue’ del Risco now serves in the international and multiethnic unit where he continues to do training on cults and world religions. And national missionary Jim Sibley’s position as director of Jewish ministry was eliminated and no agreement was reached regarding reassignment.

Staffing the newly created Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism Unit are Licona, who equips pastors with Christian evidences and the defense of the Christian faith while overseeing development and maintenance of the Interfaith website and apologetic resources; associate Robert Ndonga whose expertise is in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Animism, and one other associate position currently vacant.

Avant explained the rationale behind a greater emphasis on apologetics at NAMB compared to a decade ago when greater understanding of major religions and cults laid the groundwork for evangelism among such adherents.

“In a postmodern society which is not completely transitioned, we still have plenty of modernistic thinking,” he said. “Apologetics is more important than it’s ever been,” he added, as people continue to want a point-by-point discussion explaining a belief in the resurrection or the Bible.

“It’s a great tool for answering those questions, but also in this postmodern culture we feel like postmodern seekers are only going to seek for so long with a belief that there’s not any truth. That’s going to get really old, really fast,” he insisted.

“We think there’s a turning now and a massive turning in the future toward a pursuit of truth and we believe a new kind of apologetic that says why should we believe in truth at all—and if we do, why would we believe Jesus is truth—has tremendous potential. We hope the joining of apologetics with interfaith will provide an opportunity to say, ‘Okay, how would we in a very engaging way defend our faith with Buddhist, Muslims, Jews, or any other world religion or cult.’”

Ultimately, apologetics and interfaith witness will become a part of the entire culture of what NAMB does, Avant said. He believes the staff assigned to these areas will work more effectively alongside collegiate, international, multi-ethnic and Evangelism Response Center personnel.

Instead of having “a few pastors who are experts” in a particular religion or cult after having been certified through interfaith witness training, Avant said the question become, “How do we think systematically about taking the good news of Jesus to a lost and often postmodern culture?”

Much of that approach occurs on college campuses, he added, calling that a perfect place for apologetics and interfaith witness,. International and multiethnic efforts intersect along the way and ultimately the Evangelism Response Center is tied in as people respond to the gospel.

With a continuing contractual relationship with people like Jim Sibley, Avant anticipates an even more productive approach to specific areas of interfaith witness like Jewish ministry. The reorganization cut Sibley loose for consideration as permanent director of the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies, prompting Criswell college trustees to approve him as full-time director earlier this month.

“We can lead a seminar there at Criswell College at least annually and will contract with him for other training that we all agree is needed,” Avant said in describing the new approach to Jewish evangelism. “At the same time we’re moving Jewish evangelism from one field office to hopefully the whole culture of what we do with clear accountability not in one area, but in two.

The departments of Apologetics and Interfaith Evangelism as well as the International and Multiethnic Unit will have specific assignments at NAMB for Jewish evangelism, approaching it both religiously and ethnically, Avant said.

NAMB will give attention to particular strategies like the development of a Yiddish version of the acclaimed “Jesus” film.

“That could be critical in reaching orthodox Jews that are going to need to hear the gospel more in private and more carefully. We can produce things in house with a very strong emphasis, but also have a great partnership with Jim Sibley” as he directs the Pasche Institute at Criswell College.

While the actual number of man-hours given to Interfaith Witness is likely to see a dramatic decrease, Southern Baptist seminaries have already been picking up the slack in many cases.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s summer 2005 issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology tackled Mormonism with a lead piece titled “Evangelicalism, Mormonism, and the Gospel” and “The Challenge of Islam” in spring 2004. A Firm Foundations Apologetics Conference set for September at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will address false gospels and a comparison of Christianity with Islam.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary continues to host workshops outlining evangelization of particular people such as the focus on Catholicism addressed last November and Judaism this month.

And the newly announced L. Russ Bush Center for Theology and Culture will provide intensive mentoring in worldview, ethics, and apologetics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, S.C. The missions conference of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary focused on Islam last month.

“If we’re really interested and intent on winning America to Christ we have to be very serious about cross-religious evangelization,” stated Midwestern Seminary President R. Philip Roberts. “The statistics show that unfortunately most of our baptisms not only are our people getting rebaptized, but we are increasingly ineffective in touching the lives of people who are outside the realm of a Christian worldview.”

“With tremendous growth of diverse religious movements here, then we’ve got to be absolutely committed to the principle of sharing the gospel and knowing how to do it effectively with people from non-Christian perspectives,” Roberts said, noting that at least 1,650 major religious movements are at work in the United States.

Developing partnerships with seminaries, such as connections NAMB has with Southeastern evangelism professor Alvin Reid, and now Carrigan at Southwestern, is part of Avant’s field-based relational strategy.

“It’s really not been that hard,” Avant said of the transition. “The key thing is developing high trust level relationships.  As Southern Baptists we have yet to tap into the full power of who we can be in Spirit-filled relationships,” he insisted.

One place where Avant wants to see those relationships strengthened is in state conventions, where he finds some of the most gifted leaders.

“As soon as we really believe we can do this together rather than separately, trust each other and talk to each other rather than about each other, amazing things can happen.”

Avant is encouraged by the partnerships NAMB is enjoying with all of the Southern Baptist Convention entities, particularly LifeWay Christian Resources.

“Jimmy Draper did a wonderful job of preparing the way for all of us to work together, reaching young leaders and traditional people alike. Thom Rainer is wide open to our doing things in partnership,” he added, referring to the new LifeWay president.

“We’re working hard to not have evangelism at NAMB isolated to a building in Alpharetta, but linked in partnership and deep relationship with state conventions, associations and [SBC entities such as] our seminaries.

As an example of forging relationships that will result in more effective evangelism and increased baptisms, Avant described a new coaching methodology NAMB is piloting with pastors. Each two-day workshop led by Reid will equip 20 to 30 pastors who have agreed to enter into a relationship with NAMB personnel for one and a half to two years.

“We’ll have accountability, coaching and resourcing to help pastors effectively evangelize and increase their baptisms.”

The pilot project will be introduced through state conventions in Utah-Idaho and Florida this spring, adding Arizona and Kentucky next fall. To both Avant and Reid this represents NAMB’s shift away from products to people.

“We believe in this with all our hearts,” Avant told the TEXAN. “People are going to be our products in this day in evangelism.  We’re not producing a lot of traditional products, though we will as needed.  We’re much more concerned about building relationships, coaching, mentoring and resourcing people.”

Avant said it’s not unusual to get an email like the one he received last week—a rural pastor wanting a successful rural pastor to coach him. The move away from spending time producing products frees up more time to answer such requests, he explained.

“We believe in that methodology. [Even] if one of us has to do that personally, he’s going to get help,” Avant pledged.

Effective evangelism and ultimately an increase in the number of baptisms among Southern Baptist churches has become the bottom line for the evangelization division, Avant said. As more practitioners receive training in these areas, Avant expects “a snowball effect as thousands of pastors begin saying, ‘We can go to NAMB and actually have value added to our lives.’”

Avant asked, “How do we help the vast majority of Southern Baptists who never share the gospel and apparently will not come to many of our training methodologies? How can we very simply challenge, motivate and help them to see evangelism as joy, good news and the greatest motivation for them to get up in the morning?”

For every member of the Evangelization Group, Avant expects them to not only think about how to lead somebody to Christ, but also help that person follow through with baptism and become a disciple.

A step toward recovering church unity, discipline, and joy

Billy Graham has been credited with the often-repeated claim that 50 percent of our church members are not even redeemed. Quietly, we know he’s understated the problem. Churches over 20 years old have a hard time fielding half their membership at any one time. A third or better never show up. The more optimistic among us are suggesting that the half to two-thirds we occasionally see are all Christians. And yet you’d have to stay home yourself to continue in that delusion.

How did it come to this? Millions of words have been written or spoken in an effort to come to one answer to that question. It stems from the way we witness, preach, teach, and disciple so the problem is a total one and requires a total answer. Practically though, there is a choke point through which all members must pass. It is also the point at which we make meaningful church discipline possible. Further, any possibility that the church will be unified is decided at this same time?the receiving of new church members.

Clearly this is not a new problem. Older churches have been accumulating members for over a generation and yet don’t know many of them. Part of our losing touch may have to do with success. The small churches of earlier centuries were located in communities that didn’t change much. The hundred or so members of your church would be your neighbors, your cousins, your city councilmen?people known to you for the whole of your life. If your doctor was absent from church for a few weeks, you’d mention it when you had your check up. If your milkman was acting the fool on Friday nights, his Sunday School teacher saw or heard of it and was positioned to encourage him toward spiritual maturity. It was harder to lose track of people in smaller, less transient settings. That’s changed and so must our way of evaluating new members.

Our mission boards have had to go on record defining the nature of baptism for missionary candidates largely because our churches have taken too much for granted for decades. The cooperative work of Southern Baptists will sooner or later reflect the trends present within our churches. Missionary work around the world will flourish or flounder depending on how we conduct our ministries at home.

There is, as one pastor put it, a “King James” procedure that involves responding to an invitation to become a church member by baptism or, for Christians from churches of like faith and order, by letter or statement. Overwhelmingly, this has been my experience of joining a new church. It assumes that the church sending a member actually does and believes the same things as the receiving church to an acceptable degree. That assumption was always dubious and is more so in this ecumenical age.

Some say that denominations only divide and thus the differences between Lutherans, Baptists, and Methodists can be easily overlooked by those who are wise enough to see. These sanguine brothers are actually cousins to those who think Jews, Christians, and Muslims are the same because we are “children of Abraham.” The differences are significant, not imaginary. The differences in the way Christian denominations work are usually indicative of how they each interpret Scripture. If Southern Baptists believe we are conducting our church life according to our best understanding of biblical truth, it is a problem for us to casually mix in new members whose understanding of biblical truth is greatly less or different than our own.

As you can see in our special article on the subject, churches have found new ways to ascertain the truth about the spiritual lives of new member candidates. When we hear that 80 to 90 percent of new members actually come back to church after this more rigorous assimilation process, it’s clear that a little effort accomplishes a lot here.

There is variety in the way churches have updated their procedures. Some are based on small new member classes, others assimilate new members through personal mentoring. One church a friend is considering uses a new member application and a personal interview before even considering accepting a new member. What they have in common is increased thoroughness.

I’d hate to have to address the reality many of our churches (including my own) face today. They have hundreds of members who don’t participate or show any sign that they are in fellowship with the body of Christ. How would a pastor initiate a discipline (not rejection) program in the face of years of relative inactivity on the part of the church? You also have the classic scenario wherein a controversial business meeting is attended by a hundred people the pastor has never met. They’re members in good standing who show up every few years to elect or fire the pastor. While I can’t see many pastors eager to address the problems of the past, it is easy to see the advantages of thoroughly examining new members.

Unity?This misused term is not an absolute. We are not unified for unity’s sake; we are unified around something important we hold in common. In this context, we must agree regarding the truth of the gospel and how we should live it out in fellowship with a local church. Trust and transparency are only possible if we believe other church members are oper

Churches rethinking how to receive members

In the average Southern Baptist church on the average Sunday morning, the pastor gives an invitation at the end of the service, inviting worshippers to make a number of different decisions. One of these decisions is the option of church membership. When the candidate for membership makes his way down the aisle, the average church offers him three avenues: profession of faith followed by baptism, transfer of letter, or membership by statement.

Often a vote by the church immediately follows that walk down the aisle and the candidate instantly joins the congregation with all the privileges that membership affords. But in recent years, concerns have arisen about the practice of “instant” membership, leading churches to rethink how they receive and disciple new members.

Newly elected LifeWay President Thom Rainer in his book “High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church,” lamented the ease at which professing believers join most local congregations.

“After studying nearly two thousand churches in America for the past six years, I heard prospective members and new converts ask this question with a slight change of words: ‘What must I do to join this church?’ Unfortunately, the leaders of the vast majority of churches responded with a nod to walk an aisle or to fill out a membership card. Nothing else was expected or required.”

“Is it any wonder that the membership standards of civic organizations are usually much higher than those of local churches? Is it any wonder that only four out of ten Southern Baptists attend church services on any given Sunday?” Rainer wrote.

Three SBTC churches the TEXAN contacted have adopted non-traditional approaches to screening and discipling new members.

At Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio, new members receive counseling and are required to attend a Discovery Class before they are voted into the fellowship, said David George, senior adult pastor. “We require it to get a better idea of who they are and where they stand spiritually,” George said.

When a person presents himself for membership at Castle Hills, a pastor or a deacon contacts him to help him begin the process of “plugging in,” George said.

Prospective members are then encouraged to attend the Discovery Classes, which are adapted from Saddleback Church, led by Rick Warren. The first class, “Discovering Your Membership,” is required before a candidate is presented at the quarterly business meeting. The other three classes, “Discovering Your Maturity,” “Discovering Your Shape for Service,” and “Discovering Your Mission,” are recommended but not required for membership.

George said he believes these classes are vital in assimilating new members.

“They help people to join,” George said. “They put us all on the same level playing field.”

In addition to leveling the playing field, this process also gives the church time to get to know new member candidates.

“It gives us plenty of time to discern where they are spiritually,” George said. In fact, during this process candidates have realized they are not believers.

“This minimizes the number of people in the church who are not saved,” George said.

The new member’s class, however, has not been without controversy at Castle Hills. The church requires the class for all new members, even those transferring by letter from other Southern Baptist churches. “You always have some stubborn Baptist who doesn’t want to take the class,” George said.

He said the church then lovingly tries to encourage them to participate and shares with them the advantages of membership at Castle Hills, which include the ability to hold positions of responsibility in the church.

Ted Tedder, a Castle Hills member, was one of those “stubborn Baptists” at first, he said, but has come to see the value of the new member classes. When Tedder joined Castle Hills, he had already been a Christian for 70 years and had seved in many leadership positions, including deacon and Sunday School director.

“At first I thought it was ridiculous,” Tedder said.

But after attending the classes, he said he believes they are an important part of helping everyone understand how the church functions.

Required new member classes didn’t work well at Macedonia Baptist Church in Longview, Pastor Steve Cochran said.

“Getting everybody in a class was kind of like moving cattle through a stall,” he recalled.

One-on-one mentoring has become the preferred method for assimilating new members at Macedonia.

“It’s not really a program, it’s a lifestyle,” Cochran explained. “We are trying to put people together with others who have similar life experiences.”

New believers or those who might already be believers but are struggling are paired with a maturing Christian in the fellowship for approximately 6-8 weeks of personal growth.

The staff at Macedonia helps facilitate these connections. Cochran said the staff has been at the church long-term and knows the background and history of most of the members and is therefore able to pair new believers and maturing believers with similar life circumstances.

“We define people as they come,” Cochran said. “This is the most effective—one-on-one.”

In addition to one-on-one counseling, Cochran said Macedonia’s deacons play an important role by counseling people as they come forward during the invitation.

“At invitation time, we have a 90 percent return rate on decisions [when] we have done counseling,” Cochran said, explaining that before using this one-on-one approach, often a person would make a decision and then never come back to church again. “I think it was because we didn’t make a connection. This is more effective.”

Making a connection in a new way is the job of Skip Smith, personal assistant to John Morgan, pastor at Sagemont Church in Houston. Smith works to evaluate and assimilate new members into the fellowship since the congregation does not vote on members. Membership at Sagemont does not begin after walking the aisle, but rather after filling out a card at the end of the service. This method actually began by accident, Smith said.

“We went to three services six years ago and ran out of time in the services,” Smith said.

Morgan asked people to fill out a card to make a decision and that day 37 cards, representing decisions by 60 people were turned in. Smith was asked to begin follow-up on these cards. After a couple of weeks of using cards, Sagemont went back to the traditional altar call, but saw decisions drop. It was then that church leaders realized that they might be on to something new.

Since then, Sagemont uses cards exclusively and Smith is responsible for follow-up with every individual who makes a decision.

But even the follow-up is unconventional, Smith explained. Many times, he makes contact with people by phone.

“On a phone conversation, I’m doing what we use to do by pastoral visitation. People are so busy they don’t want a visit.”

Through those phone contacts, Smith tries to determine the validity of the person’s decision.

“We do have some people who misrepresent the truth,” he said. “I’m able to talk with people and discern their intent.”

He notes that about five couples a month who are living together apply for membership at Sagemont.

“We try to counsel them, but only 1 out of 10 will take us up on it,” Smith noted.

In addition to discerning the intent of potential new members, Smith also counsels new believers on the importance of believer’s baptism.

About 35 percent of Sagemont’s new members are from a Catholic background, Smith said. Sagemont requires baptism for those joining from churches that are not of like faith and order.

“Catholics and Episcopals are the most open to rebaptism,” Smith said. “Presbyterians are the most hesitant to be rebaptized.”

After the issues of membership are resolved, Smith encourages new members to attend a five-week Discovery Class, where they not only learn about Sagemont and biblical foundational truths, but are also introduced to other new members of the church.

“Our main effort is to try to get them connected,” Smith said. “We call the ‘the little church within the big church.’”

In addition, Smith helps them become involved in Sunday School.

“Eighty-two percent of new members age 20 and over are situated in a Sunday School class,” Smith stated.

Even though Smith is responsible for bringing new members into the church unconventionally, he said he was the most resistant of the staff to the new method.

“I was the guy who was stuck in the mud. It boiled down to ‘if I had to walk down the aisle, why don’t they?’”

But Smith admits that he now sees the benefits to Sagemont’s approach.

“There are some changes and we are having to adapt to that,” Smith said.


A historical look — Baptism: what’s the big deal?

The meaning and mode of baptism is a demarcation line within evangelical Christianity. Some denominations that preach salvation by faith alone and in Christ alone also baptize infants or sprinkle adults.

Baptists, who teach that only believers should be baptized and these by immersion, are among a small number (though large in membership) of Christian groups that attach great importance to what we see as simply scriptural guidelines for administering and understanding the ordinance.

For Baptists, believer’s baptism is the first step of obedience in the Christian’s life and marks his identification with a local church.

Although modern Baptists would not consider this understanding innovative, it was the cause of great consternation when it was revived in the early 16th century.

The great reformers of Christianity?Martin Luther of Germany and Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, both of Switzerland?advocated a drastic return to scriptural authority in the teachings and practice of Christian churches?a significant reform but not a total one.

Some of Zwingli’s students, heartened by his teachings from the Greek New Testament (and not, significantly, from just the passages approved by the Roman church), kept reading and applied biblical precepts to their lives and ministries far beyond the reforms of their teacher. One of these more radical reforms was the practice of believers’ baptism.

Zwingli swerved violently away from the Catholic teaching that baptism has a regenerative effect. Baptism was, to him, merely a sign of joining the Christian society. He equated it with the circumcision of Jewish baby boys and further identified God’s chosen within his Zurich parish with spiritual Israel.

This understanding of baptism was as extra-biblical as the Catholic one, though perhaps not as damaging to the doctrine of salvation. His radical students were pejoratively called “Anabaptists,” or “re-baptizers.” They hated the term because they did not consider any baptism but believers’ baptism valid.

The term did associate them with an earlier heresy though, and cast them into the role of outcasts in the minds of many Germans and Swiss.

Baptism was only one issue among many. These early Baptists also rejected alcohol, rich foods, fine clothing, coarse language, the death penalty, and the wedding of church and state. This last issue proved significant. It was their teaching that Christians should not obey the state in religious matters, or even participate in civil matters, that threatened the growing state churches of the reformers. War with the Catholic nations was immanent and the teaching that Christians should not take up arms was seen as a threat to the Reformation that could not be ignored.

Our Baptist forbears were drowned, beheaded, burned, and hounded from their homes in a persecution that eradicated the sect in Lutheran Germany. They were persecuted in Catholic and Protestant Europe alike. It wasn’t until they took root in the New World that they found safety and freedom. Today they exist as Amish, Mennonite, Shaker, and Baptist Christians, along with a few other small free-church groups such as Evangelical Free churches and Bible churches.

Back to baptism, though. Charges against the earliest of the radical reformers were that they had embraced “Anabaptism,” which was shorthand for various beliefs called treason by civil church leaders, including Zwingli.

Believers’ baptism was an important part of following Christ to early Baptists and an important part of their offense against a partially reformed church. On the way to his execution in Zurich, Felix Manz (one of the first Baptist martyrs) witnessed to his executioners, upheld believers’ baptism, and praised God for the privilege of suffering for the truth. He was then trussed up and thrown into the river to drown outside the city where his teacher taught him to read the New Testament.

The scriptural mode of baptism was, for these stalwart preachers, no less a part of the gospel than the nature of redemption. The simple truth of the Bible was compelling to them and they would not give it up to save their lives.

IMB chair: Lack of consistency led to new baptism guideline

As a new trustee to the International Mission Board, Oklahoma pastor Winston Curtis listened attentively to the candidate consultant’s assessment of a prospective missionary couple. The staff member told how the woman had professed faith in Christ while a teenager attending a camp. She maintained her membership in a Methodist church where she had been sprinkled.

Later, while in college, she met the Southern Baptist boy who would become her husband. When the couple graduated and moved they joined a Southern Baptist church?he, by transfer of his letter from a sister Southern Baptist church, and she, by statement of her faith in Christ.

“So they go to the mission field and she’s never been baptized,” recalled Curtis, pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Duncan, Okla. “I thought that’s the purpose of the process,” he said, adding he wished he’d questioned the recommendation for their appointment even though he was a new trustee learning the ropes. “This is not hypothetical. They were members of a Southern Baptist church and both had signed off on the Baptist Faith and Message. So why should we require her to be biblically baptized?”

Curtis said, “My answer was that if she got saved, why did she not want to be baptized the way Jesus was baptized? I reluctantly voted for her because [at the time] I didn’t have the experience or resolve to challenge the decision.”

IMB trustee Wade Burleson pastors Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., 180 miles due north of Curtis’ church. In his first year as a trustee, Burleson rose to the floor of the November 2005 board meeting in Huntsville, Ala., to oppose passage of a guideline intended to help candidate consultants consistently evaluate baptism testimonies of prospective missionaries.

[This issue] “violates convictions I have as a third-generation Southern Baptist pastor,” said Burleson, concerned that what was approved as a guideline might become a policy. Like Curtis, he too made a decision based on his experience with a prospective missionary yet to be appointed.

“A Muslim man, converted in Israel, baptized in the Jordan, came to my church. We examined his faith. We examined his baptism. He affirmed our doctrinal statement?the Baptist Faith and Message, and is now a member of our church making application to be a missionary for the IMB. It is unconscionable to me that, as a member of my church with his baptism examined?and he has been scripturally baptized?that this board may take the position that he is not and he must come back to me and be 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.”

Whether it’s the couple already serving on a mission field or the converted Muslim anticipating mission service, at some point a local Southern Baptist church decided if each missionary candidate’s profession of faith and subsequent baptism aligned with Scripture as interpreted in the Baptist Faith and Message.

The IMB guideline specifies:

?immersion as the proper method of baptism, thus rejecting sprinkling;

?a repenting individual professing faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as the proper candidate for baptism, thus rejecting infant baptism;

?the purely emblematic nature of baptism as a testimony to one’s profession of faith as commanded and modeled by Jesus as the purpose of baptism, thus rejecting the view that baptism saves or is regenerative; and

?the proper administrator of the ordinance of baptism is a local church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view it as sacramental or regenerative, and embraces the doctrine of eternal security.

“This is a thorough process that we take very seriously because these potential missionaries will be guiding our work around the world,” stated IMB trustee chairman Thomas Hatley of Rogers, Ark., regarding the process by which trustees review the lives, ministries, callings, testimonies and core beliefs of candidates recommended by staff consultants. “