Month: January 2007

Floyd urges prayer for more laborers as IMB trustees pursue missionary task

ONTARIO, Calif.?International Mission Board chairman John Floyd of Tennessee had a personal question to ask of the 79 trustees who gathered Jan. 29-31 in Ontario, Calif., as they imagined a day when all unreached people groups are engaged with the gospel.

“How long has it been since God called anyone out of your congregation to serve overseas? How long has it been since God called out of your congregation someone to serve in full-time Christian service?” Floyd asked.

While Southern Baptists are giving at record levels to fund missionary support, the IMB is not appointing as many people to serve around the world as anticipated. Even with the latest appointment service at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., where 43 new missionaries were commissioned, when balanced by the retirements and resignations, the number serving has flatlined, Floyd said.

“Most would assume the CFO of a board would be pleased to have over $2.5 million available to be used for other needs in the future,” IMB Vice President David Steverson said prior to the board approving reallocation of year-end surplus funds. “Let me quickly say that rather than coming to you with a surplus, I would much rather come to you and say we need an additional $2.5 million in order to close the books,” he said, referring to earlier years when the budget was overspent due to the appointment of more missionaries than anticipated.

Reiterating IMB President Jerry Rankin’s plea for more short-term workers, Steverson shared that the number of long-term missionaries who had previously served in a shorter-term program had declined from about 40 to 30 percent.

“Short-term personnel function as a farm team, providing long-term missionaries,” Steverson concluded.

Rankin expressed gratitude for the board’s affirmation of IMB staff, adding that they “continue to be appropriately conscientious about examining each candidate” with an impressive pattern of approval for those brought for consideration.”

Convinced that Southern Baptists are capable of meeting the stated goal of sending out 1,000 missionaries each year, Rankin insisted, “We will not accelerate and recover” by “increasing long-term missionaries to 400 or 500 a year unless we radically increase the number of short-term missionaries to 800 to 1,000 a year.”

He called on Southern Baptists to “saturate the world” with the gospel witness of short-term missionaries who provide essential logistical support.

“The field strategies floundering with a lack of needed personnel would be invigorated and the number of career missionaries would increase,” Rankin said.

He also appealed to staff to more aggressively publicize personnel needs and innovatively recruit more candidates.

“We’ve always been passive in enlisting missionaries,” Rankin said, preferring prospective candidates take the initiative in responding.

“I’m not suggesting a loosening of qualifications. We must be sure candidates are doctrinally sound, healthy, adequately equipped. But I’m concerned we must find ways to reverse the current trend by renewed commitment to mobilization and a desire that the IMB be the agency of choice for Southern Baptist missionaries being called ou

Products with substance must trump flash or simplicity, youth panelists say

FORT WORTH–WisdomWorks founder Mark Matlock asked one of the largest Christian youth ministry publishers if the proliferation of products might actually be harming the ministry they seek to help.

Recalling the conversation before the recent Youth Ministry Forum held at Southwestern Seminary, the man told Matlock, “We sell what they buy and they buy what we sell.”

Another panelist at the forum, Jeff Pratt of LifeWay Christian Resources, agreed, stating, “It’s a huge market that’s been created by our student ministry culture.”

Matlock told the group of youth leaders who gathered to determine a biblical model of youth ministry:
“I’m not the kind of guy who likes to hold up a box and say, ‘For $99 I’ll solve this problem I’ve just made you aware of.’ But more often than not youth pastors come to you and say, ‘Hey, I want the box.’
It’s frustrating because you’re saying, ‘I’m not trying to think for you. I’m not trying to make this easier for you, just make your job more efficient.’ But it’s hard because people come to you and say they want the box.”

In his new role of developing student ministry products at LifeWay, Pratt described the struggle of responding to customer satisfaction surveys from people who want material with great quality that is both simple and deep.

“I want to put into the hands of a teacher or student pastor biblically sound material that’s going to teach solid, biblical principles,” Pratt remarked. “How simple can we make a piece of curriculum that we’re not going to expect teachers to be able to teach?” he asked.

While youth ministers chase after a curriculum to solve one problem or another, Pratt said he believes a solution lies in first training teachers to teach.

“There’s a biblical mandate, a spiritual gift of teaching that helps that process. There has to be responsibility for those people who are teaching.”

Unfortunately, Pratt said, “We want it easier, faster, and better in the box so that all I have to do is spend 15 minutes on Saturday looking at something and then go and steward a group of students. It just doesn’t happen.”

Pratt assured youth ministers that LifeWay’s leaders are creating sound expository material to present biblical principles to teenagers. He spoke of a strategy described on the LifeWay website whereby tools can be customized for use by volunteers, bivocational ministers or full-time student pastors.

“We provide you with good, sound, biblical teaching with a balanced development through a six-year plan.”

He cautioned, however, that youth leaders must give attention to training their volunteers to teach a curriculum that is deeper in content and expository in nature.

Eric Bancroft of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., also spoke of the frequency of calls to his church asking for curriculum advice.

“They just want to download the curriculum, use it and teach it.”

While saying he wished he could be more encouraging, Bancroft doubted most inquirers are enthused by his response.

“I tell them we start with the Bible and train our leaders how to read a passage, observe it, interpret it and apply it. We write lessons off of that and then we discuss it.”

Bancroft said he wants teenagers to see who they are in relation to God and recognize “his amazing gift of the Bible” instead of praising some “amazing author,” then asking, ‘When can I get the next download?'”

In the quest for something easy to teach, panelists agreed that youth ministers have a longstanding reputation for depending on entertainment to attract and engage youth.

Richard Ross of Southwestern Seminary said Southwestern’s library includes a full set of the original Youth Specialties “Ideas” books on which youth leaders of his generation depended for activities like “peanut butter in the armpit” or “lift up your shirt and draw a face.”

“What every one of us did every week was flip through those books to find some craziness. I can’t believe we hooked a battery to a chair to shock kids on Wednesday night,” the Christian education professor said.

He said he looks forward to a day when local churches recover the biblical priority of equipping parents to disciple their youths using the Bible as the curriculum.

“We’re going to see people looking back to 2006 the very same way we’re looking back to peanut butter in the armpits. People will say, ‘You don’t mean parents just taxied the kids up to church and that was it?

You don’t mean everything was event driven? I believe there will be such substantial change that we will not believe we let it get to this point.”

Matlock added: “I’ve heard it said that kids don’t want to listen to a lecture for a long time, but they will and do. Youth leaders assume they only want fun, but the math teacher doesn’t do that or you’d never learn about mathematics. We try to make it too ‘Macintosh’ for them so that all you’ve got to do is click on something and get this great goody. We’ve got to get back to the DOS prompt, the command–that’s where the power is.”

“We underchallenge our teenagers. If they can learn calculus, they can sure learn theology,” said Johnny Derouen, associate professor of youth ministry at Southwestern.

When training volunteers to use a curriculum, Pratt reminds them, “You’re not the teacher. The Holy Spirit is the teacher. Are you comfortable with not having all the answers?”

Bancroft believes ministers often are looking for someone else to do the work. “We’re supposed to be known in our calling as pastors for how we handle the Word.” He turned to Nehemiah as an example of revival. “They brought the book. So bring the book and God shows up–guaranteed.”

He warned youth ministers to steer clear of “mysticism, emotionalism and experientialism,” promising God will show up when the living Word is the curriculum.

Bubba Thurman of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall said he believes misplaced expectations drive some of the demand for pre-packaged solutions.

“Whatever is driving the box sales is what we measure,” he said.

Noting that youth ministers are often judged by pastors or other supervisors based on the number of youths in attendance and baptismal statistics, Thurman said a few bad evaluations cause some to start looking for a box that brings in 50 more kids.

During that closed-door meeting the youth minister may explain, “‘We’re working harder on teaching theology and doctrine,'” but the pastor is more concerned that the numbers get back up, he said.

Sometimes the church calls someone in from outside who gets the numbers up, added Voddie Baucham, pastor of Houston-area Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring. “Never mind that he completely pollutes the gospel and spiritually molests the young people to get them down the aisle. But he gets the numbers up.”

Pratt agreed, referring to churches that “pay big dollars” to go to certain camps “because we can go home and report those dramatic results.” He warned against measuring success by “hankies and tears.”

Bancroft reminded, “Emotions are a gift from God … but they do not determine the truth. They’re a response to truth so they can be wrong often.”

While one student may respond to a song with goose bumps, another remains quiet, seeking to reflect on what he understood to be an amazing truth, Bancroft said. “The experience to be validated has to be connected to the source–the truth of Scripture.”

“Teenagers are familiar with the altar call and commitment services, but do they understand the gravitas of the gospel, the seriousness of what we’re calling them to respond to,” Bancroft said. “Are they being asked to count the cost or make another decision?”

He urged those responsible for ministering to students to be faithful the theology of the gospel, describing a message that includes the righteousness of God, the universal and comprehensive nature of sin, the wrath of God culminated in hell, the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ and the resurrection as a declaration of God the Father’s acceptance of payment.

Thurman spoke of developing a list of core competencies students will acquire by the time they move out of the youth ministry.
“Most youth ministries fail because they have no comprehensive plan for what they’re trying to accomplish. If I don’t know where I’m trying to take them, what value is it?” he asked.

“One of the most humbling experiences of my life was doing a survey,” he said, recalling one student defining a spiritual gift as the things received at Christmas. “I thought I was doing pretty good, but now I realize my need for God to do something really big. I’m not even close to giving them what they need.”

Derouen of Southwestern Seminary agreed that few churches have a plan for discipleship.

“What should our students know when they graduate? How can workers and youth ministers step alongside parents and help them learn?” he asked.
Challenge teenagers to develop spiritual disciplines so they know how to walk with God, he said.

He proposed discipling students in grades seven through 10 to the point of being available as 11th & 12th graders.

“They’re not to take that role out of the hands of parents,” he said, recalling Paul’s instruction in 2 Timothy 2:2 entrusting disciples to pass on those things they heard from their teacher.

Give that child a chance to pass on truth,” Derouen said. “Encourage discipleship.”

Instead of depending on a curriculum or program to redirect student ministry, Ross said restoring teenagers to a right relationship with their families and God will yield long-term results.

“We’re hoping programmatically to fix something that the programs aren’t going to fix,” Richard Ross lamented. “It is a heart issue for most of them and once we fix that, as long as the curriculum is biblically solid, it’s not so important what it is. It’s not so important that I have the box because these kids are ready to hear the mission.”

How vital is theological training for youth pastors?

FORT WORTH–Should increased theological training and even biblical languages be a priority in training future youth pastors to minister to students and their families?

Weighing in on a discussion initiated at the Youth Ministry Forum held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December, Christian educators and youth leaders contacted by the Southern Baptist TEXAN offered opinions on specialized youth ministry training offered by seminaries.

During the forum, state and national leaders in student work called on churches to insist potential candidates for any ministry position in the church be adequately trained to handle and communicate God’s Word.

“Where churches have approached youth ministry in a fun-and-games capacity, where they have minored on biblical teaching and doctrinal issues, the paradigm needs to be changed,” said David Allen, dean of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, in an interview with the TEXAN.

“And I think we’re seeing the fruit of that. When students are brought in and catered to from an entertainment standpoint, they graduate from high school and have no foundation. When they go off to college they aren’t strongly committed to the church and to the Lord, and we lose them,” Allen said.

With recent statistics indicating teens and college students are disconnecting from the local church, many forum speakers agreed a paradigm shift is needed in youth ministry strategies.

“What we’re doing is not working,” said Alvin Reid, author and professor of evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Speaking at the forum, Reid suggested that despite the unprecedented variety of resources available to youth pastors, the methodology of most churches is failing to transform youth culture. “[I] question whether we’re preparing youth to make it through their first year of college, let alone life.”

While there are multiple root issues behind the declining youth involvement after high school, some forum participants blamed the lack of theological training required of youth ministers. Instead of focusing on Scripture application, Reid said a typical youth minister learns ministry strategies from another youth pastor, who in turn learned his strategy from another youth minister.

“It’s not intentional but they don’t have the desire or ability to do theological reflection,” he said.

Richard Ross, Southwestern Seminary’s assistant dean of the division of human growth and development and a professor of student ministry, likened the importance of proper training for youth pastors to the career-specific training required for medical personnel.

“Too few student ministers receive formal training for student ministry. That is as weighty a statement as saying too few surgeons receive formal training,” Ross told the TEXAN, adding that degrees with courses specific for student ministry are necessary to adequately prepare youth pastors for service in the local church.

“If my senior high son has a car crash, I want that young EMT in the back of the ambulance to have plenty of training to draw from,” he said, drawing a parallel to the training of youth pastors. “Why would I want less when I place my son under the leadership of a student minister?”

Johnny Derouen, associate professor of student ministry at Southwestern, believes a successful youth ministry is one that “challenges students theologically, so they can … stand up in this culture, understand their faith and speak it clearly.”

But one Southwestern professor is concerned that the popularly cited surveys–some say youth are leaving churches at a rate of 75-88 percent after high school–might lead some to reject strategies for training that are already producing students committed to the cause of Christ.

Wesley Black, associate dean for Ph.D. studies and professor of student ministry at Southwestern, has trained youth pastors there since 1983. Black told the TEXAN he worries the various studies dominating the headlines in youth pastor education do not provide a sincere vehicle for discussing youth ministry strategy.

“We start out with one figure in mind that we are losing almost 100 percent of our kids and therefore [believe] something is wrong with our youth ministry,” Black said. “That is the thing that troubles me the most. A lot of our kids are dropping out, but we don’t need to throw everything out of the window because of [those studies]. There are a lot of good things that we are doing.”

Recently, Black surveyed 1,300 students between the ages of 18-30 to determine why students who are active in church during their teen years either remain faithful following high school graduation or drop out altogether. As a result of his findings, Black said he believes youth strategies should focus on several things:

>helping students know how to choose friends and become influencers in their community of friends;

>helping students obtain spiritual depth through discipleship;

>deepening a student’s relationship with his or her family; and

>giving students opportunities to form intergenerational relationships in the local church.

Black presented his findings in the article “Creating a Student Ministry that Lasts,” published in LifeWay’s “Leading Student Ministry” winter 2007 edition and the “Journal of Youth Ministry” in spring 2006.

Opinions vary concerning the role seminaries should play in training youth ministry workers. Black said seminary training and youth strategies should be re-focused rather than re-invented.

“I really think student ministry should extend one year past high school graduation,” he said, noting this would hold high school seniors accountable to find a church home in college. “We know them, we know their families well. We as student ministers are in the best position to continue nurturing those kids as they step into the world of young adulthood.”

Others believe that youth strategies that fail to incorporate increased biblical exposition will miss the mark.

Eric Bancroft, associate pastor of high school ministry at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., presented a paper at the forum connecting the lack of theological training for youth ministers to the failure of a youth ministry.

“A youth pastor in his mid-20s might have all the zeal and love, and in some cases, personality that will reach audiences. While they can be helpful vehicles, it has to come from the Word of God. Any ministry, whether it be youth, single, or senior citizen ministries, that is not based upon the Word of God is going to be limited at best,” Bancroft told the TEXAN.

“Much of what passes for teaching today is nothing more than lessons on morality that further insulates our need for the gospel,” he said. “We have replaced the gospel with morality, and theology with experience.”

Because many youth ministers lack theological training, Bancroft said local churches often expect them to fulfill a role they are not trained to fulfill.

“Where does the problem lie? With the youth pastor? Or is the problem with asking him to do a job that is pastoral in its major emphasis?” Bancroft said, adding that a pastor leading any specific ministry area must be trained in the Word.

Along with a change in the education and training of youth ministers, Bancroft also advocated a change in the overall role of the youth pastor in the life of the church—a shift from programming to a more pastoral function.

“Unfortunately, youth pastors are hired today more for creative ability, communication skills, personality, and to connect with teenagers,” Bancroft said, explaining that most youth pastors “give entertaining talks instead of preaching God’s Word faithfully.”

In his forum presentation, Bancroft challenged participants to find explicit evidence of the role of the youth pastor in the Bible. In preparing for youth ministry, the biblical guidelines for the pastor should be followed.

“[We] do find the description of a pastor, though. He is to teach, preach, protect, pray, love, counsel, care, correct, lead and overall model for the flock according to Scripture.”

But the failure of youth pastors to teach expositionally is not entirely their own fault, Bancroft said.

“So often parents, pastors and students alike judge [youth] pastors more on attendance and how many decisions were made at the last gathering.”

“Hiring a man to be pastor to youth and their families, but judging his success against others standards, produces immature pastors,” Bancroft said, adding that these pressures leave little time to do important things like “train godly staff, counsel families, and preparing expository sermons.”

“I think what you need to see in a man’s training is more than a knowledge of educational systems and more than a study of sociology and the related sciences. There needs to be a great deal of time spent on handling the Word of God, I think a youth pastor should study languages just like a guy who wants to be a senior pastor, because both will have a teaching outlet.”

In Texas, youth pastors have two degree options at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The master of arts in Christian education (MACE) is the traditional degree offered to youth pastors. Southwestern’s MACE is a 64-hour degree comprised of 26 hours of core curricula, 21 hours of administrative courses, and 12 hours in the student’s concentration area. Among the core classes, students are required to take evangelism, hermeneutics, systematic theology, and surveys of both the Old Testament and New Testament.

In contrast to the MACE, Southwestern Seminary also offers a master of divinity with a concentration in student ministry (M.Div.). Weightier in its core requirements, the 91-hour M.Div. allots 36 hours to biblical studies, of which 21 are slated for biblical languages. The degree also includes 15 hours of theological studies, nine hours of philosophical studies, and courses in the areas of evangelism, preaching and applied ministry/teaching. An additional 14 hours are designated for a concentration in student ministry.”

“In the educational ministries school the curriculum has been revised over the last six or seven years to include more theological training,” Allen said while noting that biblical languages are not required. “In the school of theology, regardless of concentration, all students have to take Greek and Hebrew.”

For students who desire to persevere through the extra hours of the M.Div. degree, Allen said they would still benefit from the instruction of educational ministries professors such as Richard Ross, Johnny Derouen, and Wes Black.

Despite offering two degrees, Allen said potential students are encouraged to pursue a full course of study with M.Div.

“It prepares them at a more in-depth level,” he said. “The M.Div. degree [provides] a solid foundation theologically and in the area of biblical languages.”

Allen said students are also encouraged to pursue degrees that will sustain their ministry through the course of their lives.

“I would tell an incoming student that in all likelihood you are not going to be in youth ministry all of your life. You may be a youth minister until you are 40. I would ask them, ‘What are you going to do for the last 35 years of you ministry? What if God called you to be a pastor? You don’t have all the theological training that would be helpful and needful especially to someone in the pastorate,’” Allen explained.

To encourage students considering youth work to enroll in the M.Div. program, Allen said he would speak from personal experience.

“My first five years in service, while still in college and seminary, I was a youth minister. And then after that, I became a pastor. So I am grateful I did the master of divinity program to train me. And most youth ministers will not be [youth ministers] in 10 years.”

In directing students into the appropriate degree program, Ross said it is important to listen to the student.

“If the student plans to approach student ministry primarily as an equipper of the saints, we encourage them to study the MACE degree. The same is true if they plan to build ministries centered around discipleship and mentoring,” he said. “Also, students who love teaching the Word of God and want to teach it wll seem to prosper in the MACE program.”

For students who view youth ministry as a “short-term calling to be followed by going into the pastorate,” Ross said he recommends the M.Div. program.
“Someone who will lead the church as senior pastor certainly needs the fuller complement of preaching and theology courses,” he said, while insisting that both of Southwestern’s degree programs for youth ministry give students “the ability to think reflectively.”

Black, who has committed his life ministry to youth, said student ministry education should adequately prepare youth pastors for engaging the entire church.

“No matter what kind of degree you have, you need to have an understanding of all the age groups in a church. You need to understand what is going on in the lives of those middle-age adult parents, because middle-age adults have a lot of issues, problems and stress,” he said. Black said he believes skills in counseling, teaching and administration should be emphasized in every degree program.

“Sometimes we tend to think youth ministry is nothing more than calendar planning and project-event planning. But that is so shallow,” Black said. “We need to have a thorough understanding of biblical knowledge and think theologically about what we are doing in youth ministry. But whether that involves going as far as biblical languages—they are great to know, but I wouldn’t put that in the top priority.” Explaining that biblical languages are necessary for those preaching every Sunday, Black said “there are a lot of hermeneutical tools you can use that can serve you very well.”

“I’m not saying biblical languages are not necessary; I’m just not saying they are necessary. There are some other areas of student ministry that are more burning issues right now. For example, how to relate to parents of teens, knowing how to equip and energize leaders, and knowing what goes on in the lives of teenagers, those are very important areas. And in order to minister to those, you have to have a good, strong biblical basis for all you are doing. Bible courses like systematic theology are very important.”

When faced with his own degree choice, Bancroft chose to pursue a master of divinity from The Master’s Seminary, despite the additional course work required.

Although Bancroft doesn’t advocate everyone jumping from an M.A. to an M.Div., he soes believe a minister’s primary responsibility is to the Word of God, regardless of ministry area.

“A young man should be making sure he is taking classes that help him know the Word and proclaim the Word accurately,” he said.

For Bancroft, the extra courses equipped him for his own ministry at Grace Community Church, where students are offered expositional Bible studies on Sunday mornings in both fellowship groups and corporate worship services under the senior pastor, John MacArthur.

During the school year, students attend a regional Bible study spread out around the Los Angeles area on Wednesday nights.

Also, students are given a study guide to read during the week that connects lessons from Sunday School to Wednesday evening studies. The weekly guide includes daily reading assignments and homework. Students recently worked through the Christian classic “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan.
“This accomplishes two things. It is a daily devotional and helps them come into Wednesday night being primed and asking, ‘How do I apply this to my living?’”
During the summer, the classes merge for a special study. This summer, Bancroft led students through a series on the major figures of church history.
Acknowledging biblical exposition as part of the missing link in youth ministry, Allen said Southwestern will continue to lead the way in educating tomorrow’s youth ministers.
“What we need are youth pastors who are committed to the exposition of Scripture. There is nothing more exciting than the Scripture when it is taught in an expositional way that is both creative and life changing. That is a vital ingredient to a successful youth ministry,” he said. “We will continue to strengthen [our programs] and move toward teaching how to be a good communicator and expositor of Scripture in a creative fashion so they can do biblical teaching.”

Better equipped than ever but less effective

In the early 1970s, Southern Baptists saw the number of teenagers baptized in SBC churches soar to an all-time high of nearly 138,000. It was the height of the so-called Jesus Movement. Before long, youth ministry was a booming track in local churches and a booming business for parachurch organizations and Christian publishers.

Thirty-five years later, the number of youth baptisms has slipped to 81,000 while the number of trained youth workers has increased. Half of all SBC churches–more than 20,000?did not baptize even one teenager last year. And among those who are active in youth ministry, most are absent from church only a year after high school graduation.

“The time has come for an audit of our ministries,” declared one of six panelists assembled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December to examine the condition of youth ministry. Some of what was shared could be said of church ministry in general–concern for a lack of discipleship, dependence upon God, and even a return to doctrinal soundness.

“It is a crucial time for us to face reality,” said Jim Richards, executive director of the forum sponsor, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “I am convinced beyond any doubt that we are in a crisis moment in Southern Baptist life in particular, and evangelicals in general. We are desperate before the Lord and any solution will be spiritual,” he added.

“God works through people and a plan and he will use the sorting out of methods to bring us to a place where we can be what he wants us to be in this spiritual restoration and awakening,” Richards said.

Facing those hard facts was a panel with varied experience as youth pastors, Christian education professors who train youth ministers, and curricula and conference developers who equip them with resources.

SBTC Youth Evangelism Associate Brad Bunting set the stage, citing often-repeated statistics from a 2006 Barna study and a study from LifeWay Christian Resources indicating from 75 to 88 percent of students going through youth ministry now “will check out of church during their freshman year of college.”

Bunting added, “Not only are we not reaching in the way God called us to do, we’re not retaining youth that we do reach. Something is not working.”

“It’s a double-edged sword,” explained Alvin Reid, evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of “Raising the Bar” and other books on evangelism. Having watched youth ministry grow out of the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Reid said many were won to Christ at a time when parents and youths were alienated.

“That helped create a culture that called for youth pastors,” he added.

And yet, at a time when the number of youth ministers is at an all-time high, the amount of youth participation is in decline.

“Because of the large numbers [of new converts], we institutionalized youth ministries,” Reid said, turning a movement into a program to sustain. “It’s really ironic when you think about it.”

“If programs could change the world, we’d have changed the world,” Reid said. “They haven’t and they won’t.”

Instead, said Reid, who has studied occurrences of spiritual awakening throughout history, only a movement of God provides an answer for increased baptisms that represent changed lives in Southern Baptist life.

Of the 24 pastors giving eyewitness accounts of the churches that exploded with growth during the Great Awakening of the 18th century, Reid said 22 talked about the role of youth specifically, most of them crediting the response of that age group with such dramatic change.

Reid questioned today’s paradigm for youth ministry, encouraging transitions from activities to life change, programs to passion, institutions to mission and from protecting children to building an army to engage the culture.

“We are not even preparing them for their first year of college, much less for life,” Reid lamented.

Jeff Pratt, managing editor of student ministry materials at LifeWay Christian Resources and formerly associated with InQuest Ministries, admitted that any business that operated on a 20 percent success rate would be in trouble. “Are we developing student ministries or are we developing students?” he asked the panelists, audience of more than 750 and 311 viewing a webcast of the event.

During his own college years, anywhere from 75 to 200 young people gathered regularly for a Bible study in a field, Pratt said. Today, he isn’t sure where such gatherings may be found, he said.

Johnny Derouen, a professor of youth ministry at Southwestern, shared similar concerns.

“I became a Christian at a time in youth ministry when we knew nothing at all. Youth were getting saved at a higher rate than ever. Now we know more and are losing our youth.”

Looking back on his salvation experience, Derouen recalled a dependence on youth volunteers who lacked the training available today.

“The church didn’t know any better so they did it themselves. But the fruit was those who stayed strong. When they were taught well, it carried through.”

Derouen called for ministers to examine the purity of their own lives.

“If your walk is impure you lose the ability to hear God’s direction for your ministry. So many ministers are so busy programming, writing talks or designing things that they sacrifice time with the Lord.”

“Their ministries are defined by what they are doing,” added Eric Bancroft, associate pastor for youth at Grace Community church in Sun Valley, Calif., and a professor at The Master’s College. “They started chasing all those activities and didn’t connect with the why of what they’re doing,” he said, speaking of generations of youth ministers who just kept reproducing themselves—following the example of how their youth ministers conducted their work—sometimes getting better and sometimes worse.

“It’s not intentional, but [current youth ministers] don’t have the desire or ability to do theological reflection,” Reid added.

“It’s like a VCR tape that gets recorded over and over and loses its quality,” added Mark Matlock, founder of WisdomWorks and a frequent speaker and author on youth ministry.

Reid said youth ministers tend to seek the proverbial flavor of the month, seeking the coolest speaker, coolest band with the best poster and best stuff.

“It’s so counter to the book of Acts where they never had an event where they invited anyone to anything. They just went to where the people were, showed up because God was there—a very different culture form where we are.”

Bancroft hammered home his concern that youth ministers “have little or no understanding of theology” and must return to the centrality of Scripture for their focus.

“They may be very creative and have a lot of programs, but as we’ve heard, they’re making very little impact,” Bancroft observed.

Derouen sees that as the natural result of substituting activity for a movement of God. While assuming that buildings, money and youth ministers can do the job, Derouen said he believes God is waiting for them to recognize they are bankrupt until they call on God to step in.

Bancroft said the decline in ongoing church participation by formerly involved students reveals a more basic problem—a large number of false professions of faith during childhood and teenage years.

“Have we contributed to this false assurance of salvation? Is it possible we’ve replaced the gospel with morality?” he asked, referring to talks on avoiding sex before marriage and saying no to drugs without spiritual transformation.

“Much of what passes for teaching today is nothing more than lessons on morality that further insulates our need for the gospel, the message of a Savior saving sinners. Without candid talk about sin there will be no need for a Savior.”

Otherwise, Bancroft said, students think they have graduated from church when they graduate from high school.

“Pastors have sounded the alarm that not everyone in the visible church is part of the invisible church—the Body of Christ. That’s true of teenagers as well. By the time of the early teen years to the mid-20s, we see the overwhelming amount of response to the gospel and I say amen to that, but we also see the largest amount of false professions.”

For some teenagers, their baptismal experience is more comparable to earning an AWANA badge, Bancroft said. “I’m concerned that we hold it in such low esteem.”

He cautioned against baptizing teenagers apart from an assembly of the congregation where the church body assumes responsibility for the new believer’s spiritual growth in addition to the parents.

“There is no New Testament pattern at all of being a leader that is not connected by baptism,” Ross said, emphasizing the importance of baptizing into the local church every teenager who comes to faith in Christ.

Bubba Thurman, youth minister at LakePointe Church in Rockwall, said he sees a shift in how the gospel is preached.

“At certain points we’ve bought into this mentality that sharing the gospel is offensive.” If such straight talk causes kids to leave, the youth minister fears his job is in jeopardy, Thurman added.

In 16 years he said he’s seen a move away from the kind of clarity of the gospel to which Bancroft referred.

“The lost art of an invitation has an impact on how we do evangelism. You can’t compromise on that issue when you talk about being biblical.”

Often the most discouraging influence is a parent, said Reid, describing a parental mindset that equates the center of God’s will with physical safety and comfort.

“That’s kinda hard to tell a martyr,” he responded. And yet parents worry that efforts to reach kids with earrings and Goth clothing might corrupt their kids, he said.

Many of the panelists emphasized the need to equip students to share their faith and engage the culture from a Christian worldview.

Reid said one constant of his involvement in leading “Disciple Now” conferences is witnessing on Saturday afternoon. He said he often finds that students like that experience more than any part of the weekend retreat.

Derouen said he worries that most Christian teenagers view sharing their faith as little more than an occasional event staged at a mall or bringing their friends to an evangelistic event. Instead, he said, it should grow naturally from the believer’s life.

Pratt responded, “The best evangelism strategy is found in Scripture. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Evangelist and author Voddie Baucham, pastor of Houston-area Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring said he encourages families in his church to practice hospitality.

“Overwhelm your neighbors with biblical hospitality,” he said.

As heads of households are reached, families are transformed, he explained. When unsaved teenagers visit his church, Baucham sees families drawing them into their times of prayer.

“Instead of going off with a bunch of other teenagers, they’re with one of our families. They’re watching me as a father, weeping before my family, making things right before we go before the Lord’s table,” Baucham said.

Lost young people will be attracted to grace-filled churches, add Richard Ross, Christian education professor at Southwestern, founder of the True Love Waits abstinence strategy and an advocate of equipping parents to disciple their children.

“Right now if we see a kid [at church] smoking behind the gym, the upsetting fact is we’ve taken a deacon’s smoking spot and that’s a crisis,” said Ross, prompting laughter from the audience. “The other part of that is the issue of parents who are desperately trying to create a perfectly safe environment for their kids.”

He encouraged pastors to clearly communicate that church is a “safe haven for broken people.”

Several panelists expressed the need to better integrate teenagers into the life of the church, moving away from many age-segregated meetings. Derouen added that a weakness of the emerging church models is that they fail to integrate all ages.

Matlock said the findings of the Barna study are often misapplied, explaining that the reference to losing a high number of teenagers does not mean they have turned their back on Christ.

“They’ve just turned their back on the congregational model as the place to experience transformation,” said Matlock, calling that a paradigm people are questioning around the world.

Agreeing that the study must be reviewed carefully, Ross said: “Are there students who reject congregational church life and stay connected in an intimate walk with him? Yes. But there are large numbers who walk away from anything that looks like faith.”

He directed the audience to further research indicating that the time when young adults start having babies is “the moment that has the most powerful, potential motivation for them to become extablished in church for the sake of their children.”

“I don’t know how your faith grows without fellowship with other believers,” Matlock said.

“One of the ways of keeping them is immersing them in the total life of the church and not just a part of it,” Ross added while citing the research of Southwestern Seminary professor Wes Black, which affirms that Christian young people are sustained through relationships.

“The four-million-dollar building is almost the final nail in the coffin,” Ross added, alluding to large student ministry facilities that often isolate teens from the rest of the church. Ross proposed returning to the kind of accountability present in a country church where the occasionally absent teenager was confronted by several adults inquiring about his welfare the next Sunday.

“If we want to produce teenagers to look like teenagers, then keepthem together,” Baucham said. “If we want them to be men, then model for them what we expect them to become.”

Derouen and other noted that ministry tailored to teens is not explicit in Scripture.

“You will not find teenagers in the Bible. When they were 12 they were treated as adults,” Derouen said.

He encouraged church leaders to train teenaers to be a part of committees in order to learn the process of decision-making and leadership.

“Have them on committees, being memtored, involved in how the church is run so they don’t quit [the church] when things don’t go their way,” he advised.

If the gathered church is to display God’s glory, segregating teenagers from that larger body gives a mixed message, Bancroft added.

“Attendance at church is optional at best,” in such cases, he said. “If it is only the youth group that a teenager connects with, then he is sure to disappear when he’s gone. Any ministry that isolates youth is a ministry that is swimming upstream when it comes to the Bible.”

But efforts intended to bring parents and teenagers together often do not work, Matlock argued, recalling joint events planned at his church recently. “It’s a hard sell.”

However, Derouen recalled a recent conversation he overheard between an 80-year-old church member who told a teenager, “I don’t love your songs, but I’ll sing yours if you’ll sing mine. Let’s do it together.”

In one respect, kids in manyt youth ministries are demonstrating better character and more lasting commitment than in the past, said Thurman.

“I’ve got kids leading worship, music, going on mission,” Thurman said. “That’s their focus and absolutely their passion.”

The difference between today and yesteryear is the huge distance between those committed to being on mission as a way of life, and those lacking any spiritual interest, he added.

“The bad kids are worse than they’ve ever been, but the good kids are greater than they’ve ever been,” Thurman said.

In his work in a parachurch ministry, Matlock said he is careful not to go around youth pastors and parents to get to students.

“We think the local church has to be the way of God accomplishing his kingdom on earth. Events are not primary to a student’s experience,” he said.
Baucham’s views, reported in the Southern Baptist TEXAN previously, are radically opposed to recent youth ministry trends.

He even questions the need for a specialized youth ministry in the local church. At the Houston church he planted, the congregation has no intention of having a youth ministry or hiring a youth minister he said, because “no exegetical source exists that would even allude to the concept.”

While stopping short of calling youth ministry “heretical,” Baucham said it is by no means essential to a biblically structured church.

“Instead, we have limited, strategic, biblical leadership,” he explained. “We expect our families to have family worship—Bible reading in their homes.”

He said he finds biblical support for church leaders holding families “accountable for what the Bible has called them to do and not do it in their stead.”

“If we really want a lot of this to shift like we say, then a lot of people are not going to be making money like they are today when parents and local churches assume their roles,” Pratt said.

Away-from-church experiences ought to be an extension of the ministry of the local church, Pratt said, rather than “usurping” what the local church ought to be doing.” And yet, the desire for resources and experiences that lead to spiritual growth has funded what one panelist estimated to be a billion-dollar industry.

Bancroft has readjusted his focus, he said, to training young people to study the Bible for themselves.

“I felt their quiet time was based on the latest devotional book you handed out, and that’s not equipping the saints. So I went back and I’m actually training them to study the Bible—through observation, interpretation, and application—trusting the work of the Spirit of God.”

Reid said he finds plenty of biblical evidence of positive outcomes in the lives of young teenagers.

“It’s amazing how many people in the Bible God used while they were young,” he said, adding that the problem occurred largely when teenagers are not challenged.

“They need to be challenged to share their faith, pray, do deep, to worship. Teens are learning trigonometry and winning Olympic gold medals. Give them theology,” Reid pleaded.

Noting that America is ripe for revival, Ross said he expects the younger generation to be the most likely leaders of such awakening.

“Pastors and parents falling on their knees, praying to God—until then it’s not going to happen,” Derouen added.

“For us to think somehow by programming we can replicate [fervent prayer] is foolishness,” Ross said. Instead, student ministry should be shaped by those things God requires for him to move. “God can accomplish more in your student ministry in 15 minutes than three years of hard work, so why don’t you get on your knees?”

A second wind for youth ministry

Our special report on youth ministry is of great interest to me. My first five local church ministries were with youth (three during school, two after) and I loved it. I thought it was important then and I think it is now. Additionally, I have raised three kids of my own. My last one is in her last year of our church’s youth ministry. I’m a participant and a close observer for a variety of reasons.

It’s heartening to know that there are thoughtful spokesmen out there for revitalizing the church’s ministry to teenagers. I greatly admire Voddie Baucham, Alvin Reid, and Richard Ross, even when they don’t completely agree on the particulars of renewal. All three of these men have been saying things that seem essential as any church of any size considers its work with junior high and high school students.

As a parent, volunteer and interested observer, I offer some traits I’d like to see in every church youth ministry. Reform requires a set of attitudes and priorities rather than mere resources.

First, youth ministry must be more focused. While activities and trips are not necessarily bad, they tend to become the tail wagging the dog in youth ministry. Why have a youth ministry? What important thing should this portion of our church’s work accomplish? If our primary, or even secondary goal is to provide an alternative to something another organization is doing?to keep them off the streets prom night or Halloween?I’d say don’t bother.

There are some concerns churches have that other institutions do not. There are some things that your church can do better than the schools, Boy Scouts, YMCA, or other clubs. Do those things first and always. If your stated goal is to see kids come to Christ and follow him, make sure nothing in your ministry waters that down or competes for precious time with that priority.

One priority that church ministries should have is the teaching of doctrine as part of a thorough discipleship strategy. Youth ministries should provide a solid doctrinal base for students who are growing in their relationship with God. No other organization except the home will make this a priority. A timely result of this training will be personal “ownership” of the students’ faith. They will not be able to easily leave behind a faith they understand and have built into their view of the world.

Today’s richness of resources and successful models is a two-edged sword. The urgency to be big or edgy can drive out old-school basics, and it has done so to a large degree?even among ministries that have little chance of being trendsetters. Careful focus helps guard against this dissipation of impact.

Second, youth ministry must be challenging to the students. I remember how cool it was when my pastor during high school gave me important things to do. He expected me to know things and do things I’d come to expect only of adults. It made me want to live up to his expectations.

Most high schools do a better job of that than churches. Boy Scout troops do a better job of that than churches. Most homes also expect more of their teenaged kids than is expected of them at church. That says something unfortunate about the importance we place on evangelism, missions, discipleship, and the other things on which our churches might focus.

Third, youth ministry must be family focused. No ministry of our churches supersedes the responsibility of parents to train their children. That’s why strengthening families should be the first focus of youth ministry. Practically speaking, nothing our ministries can do in a few hours each week can compare to the influence of families. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes not so good. Either way, it is a reality our ministries must embrace.

Parents should be very involved in setting the course for a church youth ministry. It is the work of pastoral leadership to not merely allow but to actually obtain that parental direction of ministries intended to help them teach their children. The idea is that while church ministry leaders should have a more global view of discipleship and the needs of church members, the parents know the needs of their own families. If the youth ministry is to have an impact on families, they must find out what tools and help the families need.
That sets the course for the church’s ministry?the gap between an ideal outcome and the ability of individual families to get there on their own.

Youth ministers should become experts on resources for parents and families. These resources can be for use in the home and for use in church-based presentations. If families are not thinking systematically about teaching their kids the whole counsel of God, encourage them to do so by providing a thorough selection of resources. If parents need help in studying and teaching the Bible, show them how to do it just as if they were youth Sunday School teachers.

Some ministries aimed at men, or fathers and sons, or mothers and daughters, should be coordinated through the children’s or youth ministries. Ministry for families should be often addressed to family units rather than just parents or just children. Youth ministry must not usually be something the kids do while the rest of the family does something else.

This is also a place where the attention of the church’s pastor should be faithfully directed. A younger youth minister may face difficulties being a parenting resource to older parents.

These ideas are not exhaustive but do give an idea of what a serious focus on families will mean for youth ministry.

Fourth, youth ministry must be pastoral. I do not believe youth ministry should be a program of the church or even a vaguely defined “ministry.” It is a pastoral ministry to parents, volunteers, saved students, and lost students?in that order.

Our basic biblical qualifications for youth ministers should not be lower than that for pastors. His training should be that of a pastor, not an education minister. His work should be that of a pastor, not that of a therapist or activities director. Those engaged in pastoral ministry are obliged by their calling to spend time shoring up their own knowledge and skills by means of self study regardless of the focus of their formal training. This is even more crucial when a pastor lacks formal training in pastoral ministry.

Pastors have a ministry of the Word. They prepare the saints for ministry and preach the gospel to the lost. That ministry should be applied diligently to parents, volunteers, and students.

Fifth, youth ministry should heavily concentrate on the impartation and application of biblical knowledge. It’s a teaching and preaching ministry. The teaching of biblical knowledge without application is incomplete. The application of knowledge the students do not have for themselves is far worse. I think it is one reason we find ourselves failing to reach our kids for Christ.

The Word of God has power that no method or explanation of can boast. A Christian who knows the Word and doesn’t live it will be convicted by the words of Scripture. The Holy Spirit will apply it to his life whether a man does or not. It is irreplaceable. A Baptist assembly where the Bible is merely read for 30 minutes is more significant than one where a smidgen of Scripture is buried under very well-prepared, but ancillary sights and sounds. I don’t think it’s an either/or situation but if you find yourself having to choose, choose power over flash.

Sixth, youth ministry should be a higher priority of the church. But you say, “Of course it is; we give them money and a great staff.” Good as this is, it is not all there is to priority. Youth ministry is also enhanced by a time investment by the church’s pastor. He doesn’t have to come to lock-ins (no one should, actually), but he should be aware of the youth ministry in detail and help the youth minister keep hi

Appearance of non-trinitarian speaker at yearly conference for pastors defended

Pentecostal mega-church pastor T.D. Jakes of Dallas, often criticized for holding a non-trinitarian view of God, will speak for the second time during Fellowship Church of Grapevine’s Creative Church Conference (C3) for pastors.

Jakes will appear at the Southern Baptist congregation Feb. 22-23 along with fellow preachers Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, LifeChurch pastor Craig Groeschel of Edmond, Okla., and Houston pastor and former SBC president Edwin Young, father of Fellowship pastor Ed Young.

Jakes is internationally known for his media ministry and as pastor of The Potter’s House. He has been featured in numerous news articles, including some by Christian watchdog groups questioning his views on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Orthodox Christianity holds that one God co-exists eternally in the three co-equal persons of the godhead–Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In fact, Young has done a sermon series on the Trinity titled “Tri-God.” He said every church should study trinitarian doctrine.

“But our conference is a leadership conference; it’s not a theological conference,” Young told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. “We will bring in, and we have brought in, a number of people whom I personally would not agree with theologically. In fact, I think Bishop Jakes is a great communicator, a great leader.”

“I love Bishop Jakes, but we’ve had many people in Fellowship Church over the years … whom I would not agree with concerning all of their theology,” Young said. “We’ve interviewed people here from Jerry Jones [Dallas Cowboys owner], we’re in a series of interviews right now with Hulk Hogan, all sorts of people. But when you have a leadership conference, I think it’s important to hear from people in different realms, different companies, different churches. So I embrace it. I think it’s a great thing. I don’t see it as a negative thing at all.”

Young said Jakes’ address last year on “Moses’ Ten Commandments for Leadership” was enthusiastically received by many he figured to be Southern Baptists.
Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell College and a theology professor there, said despite Jakes’ well-attested oratory skills, “some [pastors] might not have the discernment to separate the meat from the bones there, and really, to beware of the heresy–and that is a heresy against classic Christianity. We are not talking about a Baptist distinctive or even a Reformation distinctive. That is a heresy going against classic Christianity, the confessions and the creeds.

“Christian fellowship stands and falls on [the trinitarian doctrine]. Partnership in ministry is jeopardized by the heresy of that doctrine, according to First, Second and Third John.”

Also, Johnson said it is unwise to divide leadership from theology.

“It’s confusing,” he said. “Christian leadership and pastoral leadership includes and perhaps should be driven by theology, particularly, ‘Who is God? Who is Jesus?’ And so it doesn’t matter what your techniques of leadership and style of leadership and philosophy of leadership are if you don’t know who God is. I think that’s an important point. God is the first prerequisite to good Christian leadership.”

Young told the TEXAN he has not discussed the doctrine with Jakes, but might do so in the future.

“We’ve talked about some other issues,” Young said. “We’ve had great discussions about churches and just the issues that we face, that he faces, and things like that. But you know, I’ve never talked with him about that. I’m sure one day we will though. And I’ll look forward to it.”

Jakes’ views have been critiqued by several Christian apologetics organizations, including the Christian Research Institute, which broadcasts the “Bible Answer Man” radio program and publishes the Christian Research Journal, which featured a lengthy article on Jakes’ theology in 1999.

The journal’s editor Elliott Miller, in an e-mail to the TEXAN, wrote: “The fact that the conference is about leadership rather than theology still begs the question of whether the person participating holds to orthodox theology. We don’t only insist on orthodoxy for theological discussion but for all expressions of Christian faith, and especially leadership.”

“I think Bishop Jakes is a phenomenal guy,” Young said. “I love him. He’s doing a great work. … I don’t agree with every single thing theologically, just like with other people we’ve had over the years at the C3 Conferences. That’s my thought.”

Youth dropout rates, religious views of young adults examined in studies

Despite an overwhelming number of programs to firmly ground children and youth in Christianity, a recent study by The Barna Group ( finds that the majority of young adults, also known as “twentysomethings,” move away from active participation in Christianity during their young adult years and beyond.

Approximately 61 percent of young adults who had been involved in church during their teen years no longer actively attend church, read their Bibles or pray. In addition, adults in their 20s also tend to be the most spiritually resistant group in America, according to Barna. Research shows that the majority of this group pulls away from church during the college years.

In addition, the usual events that draw young adults back to religious activities, such as the birth of a child, have a weaker draw on the current generation of young adults. According to the Barna study reported Sept. 11 in an article titled “Most Twenty-Somethings Put Christianity on a Shelf Following Spiritually-Active Teen Years,” only one-third of young adults who are parents regularly take their children to church, compared to 40 percent of parents in their 30s and half of parents who are 40 or older.

A study at the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles supports The Barna Group research, but also refines it.

The four-year study that began in 1997 and concluded in 2001 tried to determine the percentage of “born-again” college students who left the faith during their time in college. The study looked at eight types of college environments and then determined the number of students who fell away during the four-year period.

According to the UCLA study, the highest number of students who no longer claimed born-again status after four years was found in Catholic universities with 59 percent of previously identified born-again students no longer claiming this status.

Forty-five percent of private university students no longer claimed their faith with 38 percent of nonsectarian students falling away.

Thirty-four percent of public university students no longer claimed to be born again while 32 percent of public, four-year college students left their faith.

Lower numbers of students disavowing their faith were seen in Prot1:PersonName w:st=”on”>testant universities and historically black colleges, with 31 percent and 25 percent drop-out rates, respectively.

By far, the lowest number of students no longer claiming born-again status was seen in colleges that were part of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Only 7 percent of these students fell away from their faith.

“It appears from the findings of both the 1985/1989 and the 1997/2001 surveys that students that have strong religious beliefs self-select to attend Council for Christian College and Universities institutions and there find a nurturing environment for their religious beliefs and practices,” according to the UCLA study. “Born-again students that choose other types of colleges find environments that are not intended to nurture their faith, and over time more of these students fall away from previously held beliefs.”

Daniel Kinnaman, the director of The Barna Group’s research, said the shift of young adults from churches signals that current youth ministry in American churches needs to be reinvented.

“Much of ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul?not because churches fail to attract significant number of young people, but because much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school,” Kinnaman said.”A new standard for viable youth ministry should be?not the number of attenders, the sophistication of the events, or the ‘cool’ factor of the youth group?but whether teens have the commitment, passion

Spending God’s Money: it should have been better

I was hoping for more from Mary Branson’s book about her experiences at the North American Mission Board. Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry is the long-anticipated tell all from the former marketing director for NAMB. Mrs. Branson was in a position that allowed her to see some disappointing examples of financial misuse. Unfortunately, she went beyond what she knew in writing the book.

The strengths of SGM deal with Mary Branson’s first-hand knowledge of some of the matters referenced in last February’s GeorgiaChristian Index story and the resulting board of trustees investigation. She paints a truly depressing picture of poor leadership, indecisiveness, and the use of missions money for personal advantage.

In a year when several staff members were let go for financial reasons, the executive staff is reported to have scheduled their annual retreat at a posh resort. NAMB spent $3,700 to send the Reccords to a London movie premier. A poorly considered conference for young adults cost the board over a million dollars instead of being a revenue enhancer.

She retells the story of extravagant travel arrangements and wasteful projects. Clearly, and this is not a new revelation, the Reccord administration went badly astray. Further, problems in the president’s office created a culture of privilege where legal and open, though unethical misuse of missions money was too common.

The book’s weaknesses have to do with the way she expresses a more general frustration with anyone who leads anything in the SBC. A quote from Randall Lolley saying that 35 people run the Southern Baptist Convention moves from opinion to fact in Mary Branson’s later evaluation of the SBC.

Mrs. Branson was “in the house” when employees sold books they probably wrote on company time back to NAMB. And yet it’s a big house and she does not know it so well as she thinks. She talks of a new VP who had “dreams of publishing” a book called Total Church Life. In fact this book was published four years before Darrell Robinson came to work for the board. For her to suggest that the publication of the book and the use of the book in conferences is an example of abuse is clearly wrong. Some abuse of work product likely went on and she gives other examples, but here’s a case where she does name names but gets the facts verifiably wrong and impugns a man’s reputation to boot. A reader has to wonder how many of her other first person accounts are also wrong.

For some reason, the excesses of the Reccord administration at NAMB are also attributed vaguely to other agency heads. One bit of hearsay portrays an unnamed agency head as “Bob [Reccord] on steroids.” It’s unspecific; so Al Mohler, Jerry Rankin, and Richard Land, as well as eight more agency heads, must take the same hit. Another tale implicates Larry Lewis, Bob Reccord’s predecessor, in the same creeping attitude of entitlement?and yet it’s admittedly hearsay.

Mary Branson also gives Bob Reccord’s salary and severance package but it’s modified by “word got out” instead with any claim of certainty or authority. As much as I think Southern Baptists should know those things, I don’t think publishing rumors is of any use.

It’s just so disappointing that SGM did not verify all that it seems to assume to be true. Now, that would be a useful book. If we have agency heads who live like Pharaohs, I want to know who and how. If the NAMB board gave away the farm in Bob Reccord’s settlement agreement, they should have to face it. That won’t happen if all we have is “some guy said.” As it is, the verified portion of the book is pretty thin.

This is a book that needed to be written. I think Mary Branson would be a useful source for some other writer but I don’t think she was the one to write the story. She had a personal agenda and part of it seems petty. It became clear that some of the things she considered misuse were pet peeves instead of unethical. She was personally offended that some above her did not take her expert advice in marketing. She did not like the executive leadership team raiding her budget for their unbudgeted projects. I understand that she’s annoyed, but it’s not news or scandalous that this happens.

Mrs. Branson also thinks that big agencies are not efficient or worthy. She advocates cutting back funding to “mega institutions” by 1 percent each year in favor of state/associational/local church projects until the institutions are less “mega.” Who are these other megas that depend on CP funding? Is funding hundreds of smaller denominational entities cumulatively more efficient than a big one? It seems her answers to the problem are not so well thought out. Her response to administrative problems seems to be to dismantle the whole thing rather than to fix it.

Here’s a value of the book for us all. Mary Branson seems earnest and idealistic in her love of missions and Southern Baptists. We have a lot of people like that in churches and denominational units across the nation. These folks know what is going on at work. Some of them know what the boss makes and they look at his expense reports. Many of them know when the people above them come back from lunch or go home. They see and evaluate the stewardship of missions money they give each month. That should be sobering to everyone who supervises anyone else in their conduct of Christian ministry.


SWBTS tenure case draws media interest, criticism from bloggers

FORT WORTH–The denial of tenure to a former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor in the school of theology has drawn fire from Internet bloggers, statements from school officials and sizable media exposure.

Former Southwestern Hebrew professor Sheri Klouda left the school last year after two years of searching for another teaching job. In 2004, she was told that tenure would be denied her because of the school’s desire for a pastor-qualified, male-only theology department, school officials said.

Criticism of the school’s handling of Klouda surfaced on Internet blogs last week, with some of the sharpest critiques coming from Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, an International Mission Board trustee and an activist among some younger Baptist conservatives who allege the SBC is tightening cooperative doctrinal parameters.

Also, the Dallas Morning News and the Associated Press both posted stories on the controversy Jan. 20.

Klouda, a Criswell College honors graduate, earned a doctorate with honors at Southwestern and was hired in 2002 under former school President Ken Hemphill to teach Hebrew. The following year, after current President Paige Patterson was hired, Klouda was told she would not be tenured, “was given two years to find new employment and chose to take the offer from Taylor University [in Indiana] when it came,” theology dean David Allen told the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

Burleson and Georgia pastor and blogger Marty Duren alleged that Klouda was wrongly denied tenure because she is a woman and that the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement restricts the pastorate, not parachurch roles such as seminary professor, to men.

Allen told the TEXAN in an e-mail: “The Burleson article is not reflective of the hiring or termination practices at SWBTS. Legal, accreditation, and confidentiality reasons prohibit all of our seminaries from discussing details of personnel matters of this nature. Much of the information in the Burleson blog appears to me to come from secondary, even tertiary sources.”

Allen continued: “Many factors contribute to the hiring and termination of faculty members. From the outside looking in, sometimes things may appear to be one way, when in reality the situation is quite different. Or, to put it in the words of my grandmother from Georgia: ‘It’s a mighty thin pancake that only has one side.’

Trustee chairman Van McClain also charged that Burleson’s blog was largely inaccurate, telling the Dallas Morning News: “Dr. Klouda was not dismissed from SWBTS. Actually she did not have tenure and, like hundreds of professors around the U.S. every year, was told that she would not be awarded tenure. She accepted another position while employed at SWBTS.”

“The second issue involves the desire of SWBTS to have only men teaching who are qualified to be pastors or who have been pastors in the disciplines of theology, biblical studies, homiletics, and pastoral ministries. This is in keeping, of course, with the statement of faith of the SBC that clearly says that the pastorate is reserved for men.”

However, Burleson retorted on his blog Jan. 22, “Nowhere does the Bible, the convention, or our official confession forbid [a woman from teaching theology in a seminary role].

“Sheri Klouda is not a pastor, she has not been ordained or licensed, she does not perform ministerial duties.”

Duren, in an e-mail to McClain and posted on his blog, asked, “[C]an you help me as to where the BF&M addresses the issue of gender related to seminary or college professors? I realize that the pastoral office is covered, but where does that prohibition extend to the classroom?”

McClain told the Dallas Morning News: “Klouda was hired to teach Hebrew, but I seem to recall that her teaching was to be limited to the area of the Hebrew language. In other words, at the time of her hiring, there was still a concern that women should not be teaching theology to men, expecially men who were to be pastors. The question at issue was whether a woman teaching the Hebrew language was also teaching theology.”

“I cannot speak to the question as to why she was not granted tenure,” McClain continued. “However, I can say that the administration was patient with her and allowed her to teach a full two years, after she was told that she would not have tenure. During that time, she looked for a job, and the seminary even agreed to continue her support after her teaching responsibilities were over, so her family would have financial support. The seminary went far beyond anything that could be expressed as its duty or responsibility.”

McClain said he believes all the SBC seminaries have sought to “be more consistent” with Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message “on the matter of women serving as pastors.”

“With regard to the tightening of the policy of women teaching in the School of Theology, there has been no change in policy, but rather a return to the way it has always been.” Alluding to Klouda’s hiring to teach Hebrew, he said, “There was a momentary lax of the parameters, and SWBTS has now returned to its traditional, confessional, and biblical position.”

One Scripture passage cited in the Baptist Faith and Message article on “The Church” is Paul’s writing in 1 Timothy 2:9-14 on the conduct of men and women in public worship. First Timothy 2:11-12 reads: “A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.”

Dallas Theological Seminary, another conservative, evangelical seminary, has a woman teaching Hebrew, though the school has struggled through the years with the role of female instructors, Old Testament professor Eugene Merrill told the Dallas Morning News.

A parting of the ways that just won’t end

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and current Mercer University President Bill Underwood have a dream. They recently announced a convocation set for next year in Atlanta to begin “mobilizing 20 millions Baptists to find a unified voice” in addressing critical issues such as AIDS, poverty, the environment, health care, racism, religious liberty, and religious diversity. I’ve left out a few but you can go to a copy of the Democratic Party’s platform document to fill in the rest. Lest you think that harsh, Bill Underwood expressed some anticipation that some Baptists who “happen to be Republicans” might one day participate in the movement.

The announcement was made at the Carter Center after 80 leaders from various Baptist denominations, state conventions, and institutions met with the former presidents. Their assumption seems to be that Baptists are racially fragmented, scorning the poor, and theologically picky. Some Southern Baptists were present but our convention was not invited.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the key players. The meeting last Tuesday (January 9) was led by Mr. Underwood and Mr. Carter with former President Bill Clinton in attendance as a “cheerleader” for the effort.

William Underwood is a former Baylor law professor who served for a short time as interim president of the school after Robert Sloan resigned as president. He previously made headlines for his support of Planned Parenthood. When a group of “progressive” theologians wrote a manifesto affirming the role of community in biblical interpretation Mr. Underwood responded that this was too great a limitation on individual freedom.

He has also taken this stance in relation to academic freedom. Upon his election as president of Mercer he said, “if our pursuit of truth leads us to question our existing view of God, it may just be that God is trying to tell us something.”

We all know something of Jimmy Carter. He has questioned the integrity of Scripture on several occasions. When speaking of women as senior pastors he plays Paul off Jesus, as though Jesus spoke through the gospels in a way he didn’t though the epistles. Jimmy Carter consistently takes theological, moral, and political stands that are on the liberal side of moderate.

When speaking of the convergence Mr. Carter said that it might be “one of the most historic events, at least in the history of Baptists, and perhaps Christianity.” Wow. The council of Nicea, the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakening, and a group of leftist Baptists getting together to criticize conservatives. Yes, I guess I can see his point.

Let’s just give Mr. Clinton a pass. Anyone reading this could write the paragraph for me.

Clearly, as a theologian, Bill Underwood is a highly qualified (I suppose) law professor. As a biblical interpreter, Jimmy Carter is a fine, uh, peanut farmer. The efforts of these men to form a cabal of left-leaning and, let’s face it, Democrat Baptists is not that earth shaking.

Reform is a Baptist instinct. There is always some movement within the SBC to tweak or reexamine how we express our beliefs and conduct our ministry. Amen, it should always be so even when it might lead along the occasional side street. This effort on the part of moderate and liberal Baptists is not an example of renewal. It is more nostalgic than reforming. Southern Baptists have already been what these Baptists aspire to be. In fact a good number of the people in attendance at the Carter Center were part of Southern Baptists in those days?some as employees of the convention.

Southern Baptists will remain one of the most ethnically diverse, compassionate, evangelistically focused and forward thinking Christian groups in the world. We are big enough and diverse enough so that it’s easy to cherry pick our faults or blind spots. That’s OK too, I suppose. We are large enough, though, that we have plenty of critics who truly love us. It’s not necessary for outsiders to help with that.

Even so, I offer moderate Baptists best wishes as they move a little further toward the mushy majority of American Christianity. Mainstream Christianity will be a bit more orthodox and evangelistic because of the Baptist influence, at least for a while.