Month: December 2006

Air-soft ministry reaping spiritual fruit in Buda

BUDA?Many church leaders have turned their attention to reaching out to men. Pastor David Sweet of Hays Hills Baptist Church in Buda said he has read several articles over the past year that discuss the decline of men in the church.

“Oftentimes church is a little bit more of a woman’s domain,” Sweet said. He said the church has to do a better job of providing activities more geared toward men.

So his church is trying to do that, beginning with young men and even reaching a young female or two with a ministry involving air-soft pellet guns.

Sean Sivils, youth minister at Hays Hills, has two young boys and wanted to find a way to get them involved in male-oriented activities. Sweet described Sivils as “an outdoor type of guy.”

With his two boys?ages 12 and 15?and several of their friends, Sivils started an air-soft gun ministry.

Joining the terms guns and ministry may sound strange, but it’s working, attracting about 10 new students to the church campus every week to shoot and hear the gospel. A short devotion and gospel presentation is the cost of admission, Sivils said.

An air-soft gun is similar to a BB gun but safer. The gun shoots a 6 mm plastic ball instead of a metal one and can be operated with CO2 or a battery. They can range in price from around $50 to $1,500.

“It’s kind of like paintball,” Sivils said. “You can spend as much as you want on an air-soft gun.”

The games played with the air-soft guns are similar as well. There are several different variations of the game, but usually teams are divided up and the shooting begins. When a player is “shot,” he’s out. Last team standing wins.

The air-soft ministry started about a year ago. The group meets on Sunday evenings on the church campus, which has several acres of undeveloped land where forts have been built for the games.

Before the shooting begins, players take part in a Bible devotion. Sivils said he talks about a topic, such as leadership, from Scripture.

“And we get to share Christ every week.”

Recently the church hosted an air-soft lock-in, bringing in generators to power lights so the games could go on through the night.

Six people accepted Christ during the event, Sivils said.

Sweet said the ministry might not be “politically correct” with the guns involved. But, as Sweet reminds, most little boys grew up playing army with toy or imaginary guns.

He said there has been some who scoff at the idea of having guns?even fake ones?at church.

“We just explain the benefits of the ministry and they’ve adjusted to it,” Sweet said.

The church sees about 50 people show up on Sunday night to play air-soft. Of those 50, about 60 percent are members of the church. The rest either attend another church or don’t attend at all. The majority are teenage boys, but dads are also showing up and about seven or eight girls are usually part of the mix.

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Students learn about history of movement, doctrine at annual meeting in Austin.

AUSTIN–Hoping to encourage the participation of SBTC homeschool families at the annual state convention meeting held Nov. 13-14, special opportunities were provided for homeschoolers that included meetings with three Southern Baptist leaders, a study hall, internships and a tour through an exhibit area featuring Southern Baptist ministries.
Those meeting with the students included SBC leaders who have at one time or another home educated their own children, including Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Malcolm Yarnell and Criswell College President Jerry Johnson.
Several families toured the Bob Bullock State History Museum and the capitol building. Homeschool parent Karla Sessions was available to speak with convention participants interested in learning more about educating children at home.
Susan Hall, who homeschools seven children ranging in age from two months to 13 years old, said she enjoyed the convention music, tour of the state capitol, and Land’s presentation on ethics.
“It was very interesting to hear Dr. Land explain to the kids where Baptists stand on certain issues such as stem-cell research,” she told the TEXAN.
From Johnson’s explanation of the beliefs that Baptists hold on Scripture and baptism, her children memorized key beliefs through an acronym the Criswell College president provided using the word “Baptist.”
Yarnell walked the students through an understanding of Baptist history, explaining the martyrdom of many Anabaptists, influence of English and American Baptists and eventual formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Thirteen-year-old Jarryd Hall said he was “terribly excited” to hear Gov. Rick Perry speak in his first public appearance after winning re-election the previous week. Hall said that Perry even encouraged the group on a spiritual level.
“Jarryd turned to me in the middle of Gov. Perry’s speech, and said, ‘Mom, I like him. I’ve never heard a politician say how much he loved God before.’ That made a huge impression on him that Gov. Perry would speak about his faith,” Hall said.
Her son described Perry’s speech as “straightforward and really good,” adding, “It was a cool experience.”
The teenager interned with SBC Tapes, a sound duplicating service run by Blake and Connie Stiles, who homeschool their son. Hall learned how to copy, label and sell the tapes of lectures from the convention. He also helped distribute Christian books, passed out reports of missionaries, as well as pens and calendars designed to remind conference attendees of the missionaries.
The youngest children of homeschooling families were even included in the fun, Hall said, as host church Great Hills Baptist provided access to what she described as an “extraordinary” Noah’s Ark play area for smaller children.
“Overall, I learned so much at the convention. It was worth more than I was expecting. You never can tell sometimes if something will be worth your time, but I personally felt very blessed to be there.”
Elizabeth Bransom took her teenage daughter, Mary, to the convention where she interned with the Resolutions Committee, and according to her mother, learned a lot. “It was a really neat, growing experience for her.”
“I came home with such an incredible high,” Bransom said, “because the conference was so great. The preaching was outstanding, and the music was really uplifting and encouraging.”

Sonya Daily brought all three of her children along, and had an unusual experience, which, although initially frustrating, led to an exciting turn of events. After some confusion with schedules, which caused them to miss the homeschoolers’ tour of the state history museum, the family hurried back to the conference, afraid of missing the governor’s speech, and actually ended up on the front row as he walked through.

“It completely made up for not going to the museum,” Daily says. “We got to see him and shake his hand. It was crazy how the events of the day ended up for me, but I was thrilled to death that the kids got to see the governor,” Daily said.

Even her 9-year-old daughter Sophia, and 11-year-old son Stephen enjoyed going through the exhibits and getting all the freebies such as pens and calendars.

“We certainly enjoyed all the speakers and appreciated what the governor had to say,” Daily said, calling his message encouraging for Texans and Christians who were there. She definitely plans on attending again next year, where she hopes there will be even more opportunities for homeschoolers.

“I would like to see the Southern Baptists keep expanding that door,” she said. “I think there’s a big group out there who just haven’t gotten plugged in yet.”

One missionary family who homeschools was among those seated at the front for the governor’s speech, shaking his hand as he left the auditorium. Joe Bryan said his girls were “very much enlightened by all the speakers,” adding, “My youngest had the opportunity to low-five the governor.”

Brenda Clements, who has been involved with Baptist churches for years and attended many similar conferences, said this year’s convention was helpful and well-organized.

“Overall, the conference was a good experience for the kids and a good time for us as a family,” Clements said. “I really appreciate the Southern Baptists of Texas acknowledging homeschoolers in a positive way,” she continued, “and their efforts to include homeschoolers in the convention.”

Fourteen-year-old Cathy was excited to be able to take pictures at the convention, enjoyed attending the different presentations with her parents, and said she would definitely like to go back next year when the meeting will be held in Arlington. Her 17-year-old sister, Beth, enjoyed hearing Perry, stating, “It’s a blessing to know that godly men are leading our country.”

She said she thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on the Resolutions Committee, learning more about the issues discussed which ranged from immigration reform to persecution of Christians in Darfur.

Resolutions committee chairman Marlene Boswell encouraged allowing several homeschooled students to observe their deliberations over several days.

“I think they learned all the work that goes into researching, presenting, defending, and coming to a conclusion before sending that resolution off to press and then defending it before the body,” Boswell said.

While working as a group is not always easy, they eventually come to a consensus, she said.

“I think the students learned confidentiality, compassion, and admiration for all the pastors that were in that group. Even though we had differences of opinions, the one thing that bound us together was our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.”

Plans are underway for similar opportunities for homeschooling families when the SBTC Evangelism Conference is held in Euless Feb. 5-6. For more information contact Tammi Ledbetter by e-mailing

For more information on home education in Texas, contact karla Sessions by e-mailing her at

The Southern Baptist Church and Home Education Association provides information on support and fellowship for Southern Baptists who are home educating their children with details available at The SBCHEA’s annual Kingdom Education Summit will be held during the annual meeting of the SBC next summer in San Antonio.


Tony Evans among preachers scheduled for SBTC Evangelism Conference Feb. 5-7

EULESS?Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, is among the preachers scheduled for the Empower Evangelism Conference sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Feb. 5-7 at First Baptist Church of Euless.

Others include Wichita Falls evangelist Jay Lowder, retired LifeWay Christian Resources president James Draper, Lynchburg, Va., pastor Jerry Falwell, and others. Tuesday’s Cooperative Program Luncheon will feature Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page and Wednesday’s Senior Adult Luncheon will feature comedian Dennis Swanberg.

The conference theme is “God’s Amazing Grace,” based on Ephesians 2:4-7.

Evans, whose preaching is broadcast daily on more than 500 radio stations, is the co-founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and founder of The Urban Alternative, which seeks to bring spiritual renewal in urban America through evangelical churches.

The first African-American to earn a doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary?an honor he received in 1982 after earning a master of theology at DTS in 1976?Evans has taught evangelism, homiletics and black church studies at DTS.

He also has served as a chaplain for football’s Dallas Cowboys and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

A father of four children and grandfather to six children, he was named “Father of the Year” in 1989 by the Dallas Father of the Year Award Committee Group.

He was also honored by the Family Research Center with the Marian Pfister Anshutz Award for his “dedication to protecting, encouraging and strengthening the American family.”

The author of 23 books, his latest, published by Multnomah, is titled “Dry Bones Dancing.”

SBTC Evangelism Director Don Cass said he prays those who attend will “take back to their churches the things they have learned.”

“The main purpose of the conference is to equip and inspire people to do the work of evangelism. So I certainly hope this will be a springboard or a catalyst to help increase baptisms in the local churches, that we would be zealous for the kingdom of God, more compassionate toward lost people, and more passionate for Jesus.”

A women’s session on Monday afternoon will feature Laurie Cole, Dawn Smith Jordan, Jaye Martin and Priscilla Shirer, daughter of Tony Evans.

Page, elected the SBC’s president last June in Greensboro, N.C., is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C.

“We are grateful that Dr. Frank Page has agreed to be the keynote speaker for the SBTC Cooperative Program Luncheon,” said Troy Brooks, SBTC director of minister-church relations. “As a pastor he has demonstrated his strong commitment to the time-honored Cooperative Program. As SBC president he has shared his passion for the CP with churches across our convention.

“We eagerly await his message to the churches in the SBTC. We are expecting a sell-out crowd so we are encouraging our folks to purchase their tickets now. They may do so by going to our webpage ( or by calling Traci Ravelo at 817-552-2500.”</ST1<

Merry, happy, Christmas greetings

What does “Happy Holidays!” or “Seasons Greetings!” really mean? It was common to hear that from businesses when I was growing up and just today I received two cards from conservative Baptist institutions with that sentiment on the front. I’ve always assumed that it meant, “Since everything turns into one big feast and shopping spree from Thanksgiving to New Years, let’s just offer a generic greeting for the last six weeks of the year.” Some of us have come to suspect something more sinister.

Maybe now it really is a sop to religious/cultural diversity. That’s easy to assume when a business makes a more vague greeting the official company line as Wal-Mart did for a short time. Maybe they were trying to avoid offending Muslims (less than one percent in America) who celebrate Ramadan, Jews (2.2 percent in America) who celebrate Hanukah, or a few African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa. Perhaps the goal was to keep employees from creating their own greetings advocating anything from Christmas to Festivus. Either way, Wal-Mart now acknowledges Christmas as the primary American holiday of the season.

I’ll admit the whole thing gets silly. I’ve received cards with a manger scene and “Happy Holidays” underneath. Tammi has some cards with Snoopy being decorated as a Christmas tree by his little friend Woodstock. They say “Seasons Greetings.” It’s a Christmas-tree, Hallmark. Stick your neck out a bit. I also believe there is a fear that customers will rise up and call you biased if you leave out the Muslims (whose holiday ended in October this year) or atheists. That’s a particularly far-fetched fear; atheists don’t have a “holy day” during this season because they don’t believe there is anyone to thank or to send a savior. It makes corporate leaders look like wimps.

On the other hand, businesses are in this to make money. If they torture themselves for some politically correct fantasy, whose business is it but their own? Perhaps I can suggest some ways we might better spend our energy.

Christian people want our big holidays to remain religious. While I find the half-dozen secular Christmas standards cycling through the background music grating, I’m not being persecuted by this musical tastelessness. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and other holidays can be God-honoring if we make them so. We don’t actually need Wal-Mart or Target to help.

First, set your own priorities. It’s too easy to let the general cultural mood call the tune. Advertising can make us feel cheap, lazy, primitive, and downright Scrooge-like if we listen to them. Without this kind of external motivation why would anyone pay over $2,000 for a $600 Playstation 3 on eBay? I assume it’s because you’re a good parent if you deliver the newest and hottest and disappointing if you don’t. The urgency is false.

Another part of the mood is busyness. Church people can definitely understand how an overscheduled December can take some of the appropriate joy out of everything we do. Churches and individuals must not buy into the lie that every opportunity is a mandate. Around Christmas we’re taking about every opportunity for a party, concert, event, or service project. There is just more good available to us than we have any business experiencing.

Second, make your own celebrations God-centered. No one can stop you from doing that and no one needs to help you. If you think the biblical Christmas story needs to be at the center of things, make it so. Read the story to your family; read also the prophecies fulfilled in the Gospel narrative. If you like the traditional carols, sing them loudly in public or put them on your CD player as you travel about.

Next, be a selective buyer. Our kids and grandkids are not the best judges of what’s good for them. They ask for too much (or the wrong things) and we want them to like us. We’re the ones who decide, though. When someone opens a gift, it should reflect both the giver and the relationship of the giver to the recipient. It should not be a test of the giver’s taste, popularity, or generosity. Perhaps you’ve experienced that moment of doubt when someone unwraps a gift from you. You say, “I hope you like it. You can take it back if you don’t.” Stop that. Give in love (and wisdom) and stop worrying about your poll numbers.

On a related point, be selective in your holiday entertainment. This is the biggest season for movies, partly because many families will go and see nearly anything that comes out around Christmas. Not everything that is animated or PG rated is even remotely worthwhile, by the way. A good rule of thumb for this year is to take your family to see “The Nativity Story” twice for every time they see anything with dancing penguins, a hilarious Santa, or a talking reindeer. I’m just kidding, sort of.


SPECIAL REPORT: Born-Again Baptists?

The forebears of modern-day Baptists aimed for something above all else, and it had nothing to do with abstaining from drink or dance or wagering.

It wasn’t even what they were most known for?the notion that New Testament baptism was plunging a new Christ-follower into and out of water to identify him with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

The primary mark of the early Anabaptists and later the English Baptists was the attempted gathering of regenerate?or born again?members. In short, Baptist churches aimed to be believers’ churches.

In fact, the principle of a regenerate church is “the Baptist mark of the church,” asserted John Hammett, a systematic theology professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a paper presented at the second conference in the Baptist Distinctives Series, held Sept. 28-29 at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.

What Hammett and others lament is that Baptist churches in the last two centuries have largely lost their claim to being believers’ churches. In fact, judging by church attendance figures, academics like Hammett and pastors such as Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. say the membership rolls of Southern Baptists may be filled significantly by unconverted souls.

Baptist historian Leon McBeth, writing in his 1987 book “The Baptist Heritage,” noted: “Perhaps the origin of Baptists is best explained as a search for a pure church. They sought a church composed of ‘visible saints,’ that is, true believers.”

The early baptistic movement, Hammett explained, served to distinguish the gathered, baptized believers from the state-sponsored churches, which they saw as a mixture of saints and the unconverted, who were sprinkled as infants but often were never born anew despite their membership in the churches.

Hammett quoted the Somerset Confession of 1656, drafted by English Baptists, that stated “in admitting of members into the church of Christ, it is the duty of the church, and ministers whom it concerns, in faithfulness to God, that they be careful they receive none but such as do make forth evident demonstration of the new birth, and the work of faith with power.”

In gathering a body of believers, Hammett wrote in an academic article in 2005, the church “has power given them from Christ for their better well-being,” a quote from The First London Confession.

Hammett states that in the book of Acts, “churches are composed of those who ‘accepted his [Peter’s] message’ (Acts 2:41), those who ‘believed’ (Acts 4:4), those who were ‘won’ to discipleship (Acts 14:21).”

More than 60 times in Paul’s letters he refers to those in the churches as “saints” or “those set apart as devoted to God,” Hammett wrote.

“How could the church be ‘the body of Christ’ if the members of that body were not, in fact, joined to Christ?” Hammett asked.

Hammett wrote in his paper delivered at Southwestern: “Baptist churches in the South in the early 19th century typically had attendance well in excess of the number of their members. The children of members were present, but rarely were seen as fit subjects for baptism and church membership prior to their teenage years. Moreover, many adults would regularly attend but not seek church membership, because the standards associated with membership and a regenerate life were daunting to them.”

Baptists in the early South, characterized by constructive and sometimes corrective discipline, “maintained high rates of growth, growing at a rate twice that of the population, while in later years, as their discipline fell, so did their growth,” wrote Hammett, quoting from Gregory Wills’ book “Democratic Religion.”

Theologian suggests three things for more meaningful membership


John Hammett, professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said churches could do three things to make membership more meaningful: drafting unique church covenants, reforming baptism and membership requirements, and restoring redemptive discipline.

Hammett’s suggestions were published in his paper “Regenerate Church Membership: The Baptist Mark of the Church,” during the Baptist Distinctives Series held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in September.

Return to church covenants

Hammett cites Charles DeWeese’s assessment that a “commitment to church fellowship, an acceptance of the authority of the church’s discipline, a pledge to support the worship of the church and personal devotion, and a commitment to mutual care one for another appear in virtually all Baptist church covenants.”

“These documents are different from confessions of faith in that conduct is emphasized more than doctrine, though doctrine is often mentioned secondarily.”

Many parachurch organizations and Baptist bodies have offered model covenants?something Hammett warns against.

Instead, he encourages a conversation about what commitments Scripture requires of the local church members followed by a drafting of a new church covenant, and if necessary, the reconstituting of the church membership.

Hammett said a similar binding agreement is described in Nehemiah 9 and 10 as a covenant for Israel.

“Adopting a church covenant is one way God’s people today can say, ‘We will not neglect our church.'”

Hammett said once a new covenant is adopted, members should be asked to renew their commitment annually.

“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the practice of covenanting declined,” Hammett wrote. “A number of factors contributed to this decline, among them the sacrifice of the ideal of regenerate church membership to the ideal of numerical growth, the general secularization of American society, and the unwillingness of church members to hold one another accountable.”

Reform baptism, church membership

Hammett wrote that early Baptists were confident in the local church’s ability to search for evidence of regeneration in the testimonies of prospective baptismal candidates. Fear of appearing judgmental keeps modern churches from doing this effectively, he contended.

Noting that human judgment is fallible, he wrote that “there are some measures churches may take to be responsible as well as hospitable in baptizing and welcoming new members.”

First, Hammett said, a clear separation must exist between welcoming someone who applies for membership and the granting of membership.

“In most Baptist churches in North America today, what happens when someone comes forward at the end of a service and asks for membership? There may be a few moments of whispered conversation but after a few perfunctory questions the person is presented for a church vote. The problem is the church members have no basis for voting on such a person. No one would think of opposing their request for membership and so the vote becomes a meaningless gesture, a relic of an earlier time when churches took membership more seriously.”

Despite the doctrinal victories of the conservative resurgence, the Southern Baptist Convention is dying, contends Jim Elliff, founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. With congregations of many unregenerate members and long rosters of inactive members, Elliff urged Southern Baptists to combat the rising trend of unregenerate membership before it is too late.

“The Southern Baptist Convention has a name that indicates that it is alive, but is in fact, mostly dead. Regardless of the wonderful advances in our commitment to the Bible, the recovery of our seminaries, a closer look reveals a denomination that is more like a corpse than a fit athlete,” Elliff wrote in an article published on his website,, titled “Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination.”

With Southern Baptists claiming 16,287,494 members nationwide, only 6 million people or 37 percent attend services at their church, according to statistics from LifeWay’s Strategic Information and Planning Department.

“In other words, if you have 200 in attendance on Sunday morning, you likely have 500-600 or even more on your roll,” Elliff said, adding that the numbers of attending members is even lower in evening services. “These figures suggest that nearly 90 percent of Southern Baptist church members appear to be little different from the ‘cultural Christians’ who populate other mainline denominations.”

Even if the small percentage of members who attend services are considered true believers, Elliff said Southern Baptist congregations are still more dead than alive. “If we are honest, we might have to ask ourselves, ‘Do Southern Baptists believe in a regenerate membership?'”

Having served on church staffs in Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma and speaking to groups and congregations across the United States and overseas, Elliff shared some practical examples of unregenerate congregations obtained through his travels.

“In one church, with 7,000 on the active roll, there were only 2,000 in attendance on Sunday morning,” he said, excluding an additional 500 for guests and non-member children. “You have about 1,500 actual members coming in the morning and 500 or so in the evening. Where are the 5,500 members who are missing on Sunday mornings? Where are the 6,500 who are missing in the evening?”

Another church in which Elliff spoke reported 2,100 on the attendance roster with 725 showing up for Sunday morning service. “Remove guests and non-member children and the figure drops to 600 or less. Only about a third of that number came out on Sunday evening, representing less than 10 percent of the membership.”

If love of the brethren serves as evidence for love of the Father, Elliff believes that many of the “missing Christians” are probably not Christians at all.

“Attendance alone does not guarantee that anyone is an authentic believer, but ‘forsaking the assembling,’ is a serious sign of the unregenerate heart,” he said, referring to 1 John 3:14-19. “But their apathy towards regular and faithful church attendance betrays their true affections.”

Despite evangelistic crusades that yield large numbers of converts, only a small percentage of new believers remain in the church to continue spiritual growth, Elliff said, adding that poor follow-up is not to blame.

“In many churches there is every intention and effort given to follow-up, yet still the poor numbers persist,” he said, citing an example of a church that followed discipleship methods “by the book” after the crusade of an internationally-known evangelist. Yet the pastor reported that very few of the new believers wanted to “talk about how to grow as a Christian.”

Elliff said authentic believers will not reject opportunities for spiritual growth, having been given love for the body of Christ and the Word of God. “But you cannot follow-up on a spiritually dead person. Being dead, he has no interest in growth.”