Month: July 2007

Texas women tackle West Africa missions

West Africa?A team of six Texas women, each from different cities, traveled to West Africa in June to work with International Board missionaries Brad and Sally Womble.

The Wombles work among the Songhai people, among whom Islam is the prevalent influence among the people and their understanding of God is founded upon a works-based faith rather than grace and salvation through Jesus.

Each day the team traveled by car and ferry for two hours to go into villages outside of the capital city. The team worked with two different villages and told the children about Jesus by singing and using simple Bible-storying methods.

In all, the Texans worked with about 100 children and encouraged the IMB mission team and Brazilian missionaries who were there as well.

Also, the team witnessed a baptism in a remote village where the missionaries had been working for some time.

In the Songhai culture, children are not highly valued and are often overlooked and neglected, the missionaries explained. Consequently, the children were very receptive of attention and love from the missionaries and volunteer team.

The three high schoolers on the Texas team?Rebekah Bartley, 16, of Slide Baptist Church in Lubbock, Brandi Thompson, 17, of First Baptist Church of Forney, and Kelsey Emmons, 19, of College Hills Baptist Church in San Angelo?each expressed her desire and passion to continue to be involved in missions, even possibly as a career. “How very exciting it is to see the next generation embrace God’s worldview and engage in missions as a lifestyle at home, in school, at work, as well as overseas!” said Tiffany Smith, SBTC missions mobilization associate.

“The Wombles are an incredible IMB family to work with,” Smith said. “If volunteer teams want to work with the Songhai people, then Brad and Sally are extremely adept in training and receiving teams?even teams that have never been overseas before.”

The volunteer teams stay in a guesthouse in the capital city and travel out during the day for ministry, Smith explained. The Baptist guesthouse has running water, laundry facilities, and air conditioning.

Smith said if a church or Sunday School class wishes to partner with the Wombles in their ministry to the Songhai people, the SBTC can provide specific cross-cultural training and team preparation for the mission trip.

Smith cited the following as missionary needs in West Africa:
?Strategic Prayer Partners: Churches or Sunday School classes may join the Wombles prayer team and receive e-mail updates and prayer concerns on a regular basis.

?Prayerwalkers: Volunteer teams are needed to prayer-walk roads alongside unreached villages. This might also be done by canoe along the river. Teams need not be large. A Sunday school class could send and support three or four people to do this.

?Scouting Teams: Volunteer teams are needed to scout for unreached villages along the river and begin outreach with these people.

?Bible-storying Teams: Teams may go into villages and present basic stories about Jesus, sing songs, and play with the children. Oftentimes, adults might wander into the group to listen as well.
For more information on ministry to the Songhai, contact Tiffany Smith in the SBTC office at tsmith@sbtexas.com or toll-free at 877-953-SBTC.

Longview church plant sees 31 come to Christ since January

LONGVIEW?The small church he pastors in Longview has seen 31 professions of faith since January.

“The main thing is being where God has placed you,” said Jace Roberts.

For now God has placed Roberts as pastor of Solid Rock Bible Fellowship in the low-income Greggton area of northwest Longview.

“We are a church born out of hardships and struggles in a community with a lot of hardships and struggles.”

Roberts said he saw people begin to respond to his messages when he spoke openly from the pulpit.
“Some preachers today have an older style of preaching where they are perceived as above everyone else. The Lord has used my openness,” he said. “We preach Christians should live a holy, righteous life but not be above anyone else.”

The church, which began in Roberts’ house three-and-a-half years ago, now has a regular attendance of approximately 90 in Sunday school and 125 in Sunday morning worship.

Roberts said the spark at Solid Rock ignited when four or five family members from two or three families became Christians and began talking about it in the community.

“God burdened my heart and other people’s hearts. We thought we would open our doors to this community,” Roberts said. “We’re reaching out to people in their needs to show them the love of Christ.”

He said they tell them how much the Lord loves them and how he can help them out of hard times.
Solid Rock has outgrown its location twice and now meets in the family life center of the former Central Baptist Church.

Central had shrunk to five members including its pastor and his wife when Solid Rock and Central decided to merge.

Now Solid Rock owns debt-free approximately $750,000 in property that once belonged to Central.
Roberts said that while they are now remodeling the worship center so that Solid Rock can hold services there, they plan to keep the family life center in its present renovated condition so that a Hispanic mission church can meet there.

“We hopefully have found a Hispanic missionary who can pastor that church,” he said.

Solid Rock has a blended style of music in its worship services as well as a blended style of dress.
“Anyone is welcome at our church. I don’t wear a suit every Sunday,” he said. “The people here don’t go to church to see who is dressed well. Some dress up. Some don’t.”

Roberts said the church has a higher-than-average attendance for Wednesday and Sunday night activities.

“We have about 70 percent show up to our studies on Wednesday and Sunday nights. They’re mostly new Christians who say they can’t wait to come back.”

Roberts said around 85 percent of his congregation are new Christians and young adults.
“At one point we had seven ladies expecting babies due within a six-month period. Now, we’ve had one, and six are on the way.”

Roberts said he is amazed at how God has used him and how God has worked out everything.
“I believe we are having a positive impact on Longview. We are a lighthouse in this community,” he said. “We’re not here to win the world, just the ones Christ wants us to win.”

Roberts shared some advice for other pastors and Christians.

“Be willing to do what it takes and to get your hands dirty. Don’t let others discourage you,” Roberts said. “If the Holy Spirit is leading, don’t worry?you’re here to please the Lord.”

SBTC president sees CP and Lottie Moon dollars at work in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya?A whirlwind tour of Central, Eastern and Southern Africa impressed the president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Steve Swofford said he wished every Southern Baptist could experience and see what he and his wife, Brenda, did.

“We saw Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon dollars at work and Southern Baptists would be proud of how it’s used,” Swofford, who is also an International Mission Board trustee, said. “How Southern Baptists do missions is very impressive. When you go out and see it, it just reinforces how important it is to give to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.”

A percentage of money from the Cooperative Program goes to support international missions. All of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering supports international missions. Brenda said she sees the offering in a new light after her trip to Africa.

“We’ve seen people sacrifice to get the gospel out,” she said. “That’s important for Southern Baptists to see and for us to report back. Many in our churches sacrifice to give to international missions and they should know that those using the offerings sacrifice.”

Swofford said he was impressed with many missionary families who chose to move closer to the people they worked with. This meant leaving the comforts of a city, considered modern by African standards, and living in the middle of the bush. Many don’t have electricity and have to carry water to their house. It touched the Swoffords that missionaries cared that much about telling the gospel to make sacrifices.

“No one is living in luxury. The mission board takes good care of their people, but there’s a point when you have to be with the people to share and it impressed me that we have missionaries willing to do this,” Swofford said.

This single-hearted devotion by missionaries was something the Swoffords said they found all over the region. They watched a missionary translate the Bible. At another stop, they met the cast getting ready to dub the Jesus Film in a new language. They traveled up into the hard-to-reach mountain areas of Tanzania where some college students spent their summer working.

They met missionary after missionary with stories about the people they worked with. Sometimes the stories told about conversions, other times, the stories told of persecution or a closed door. No matter the story, Swofford said the missionary always ended the story by asking the couple to thank Southern Baptists for the part they play in international missions.

“They (missionaries) thanked me for what we, as Southern Baptists, do in allowing them to share the gospel,” Swofford said. “They asked me to tell Southern Baptists thank you for what they do! Even the national believers thanked me for investing in their nations.”

After 37 years, divided congregations in Athens reunite, share resources

Church members: No one remembers for sure what the fuss was about.

ATHENS?Three miles was the distance between the two churches, but that isn’t what separated them.

Thirty-seven years ago members from West Athens Baptist Church parted ways with fellow members because of a difference of opinion over something that today no one really seems to remember?members of the two churches speculate that it involved the direction of the youth ministry.

The parting members formed a new church a few miles down the road called Fellowship Baptist Church. Now, the two churches have rejoined in a remarkable act that church members said can only be explained as God’s divine will.

“We believed it was God’s plan and that it [the merger] was going to be better for us, and if that was his plan he was going to verify it for us,” said Mike Dean, who was the pastor at Fellowship Baptist Church prior to the merger.

Three times the number of people who would normally sit in the pews at West Athens Baptist Church attended on July 1 to worship as Dean, who is co-pastor with Rocky Weatherford, preached the inaugural sermon for the newly formed Fellowship Baptist Church.

Both of the churches prior to the merger were in need of something that the other had. One of the churches was struggling financially and the other was struggling with accommodating its congregation.
“We had the facilities, but were struggling financially and they were in old facilities that were land-locked, making it difficult for them to build,” said Weatherford, who was pastor of West Athens Baptist Church for four years prior to the merger. “We put two churches together that were spiritually growing, that had needs that could mutually be met by each other.”

Weatherford had felt burdened for his congregation. He prayed for God to strengthen his church, he said. Being a “big-picture guy,” Weatherford set his sights on Fellowship Baptist Church after hearing that they needed more facilities because of their growth but had nowhere to build.

“He just called me up out of the blue and we met for coffee,” commented Dean, who has been friends with Weatherford since the early 1990s. “That was when he laid out the idea.”

After an hour of talking, the two men parted, with Weatherford asking Dean to pray about it and call him back if God prompted him.

“Two days later he called me back asking if he and some of his church members could take a tour of our facilities? They loved it,” Weatherford said.

The two churches formed a committee comprised of members from both churches that would examine the proposed merger for 60 days before presenting the report to the congregation. They studied the finances, facilities, legalities and organization, then voted on the matter on June 3.

The congregation overwhelmingly approved the merger.

“By and large they [the congregation] see it as a real healing process. They all are going to participate with merging. And they see it as a complete circle,” Dean said.

Faced with the problem of having to sell their facilities, Fellowship sold their property to another local church a week before the vote passed.

After splitting apart because of what some believed to be a difference in opinion over the direction of the youth ministry, the two churches continued bearing fruit. But the effects of a church split can still be felt today in the community with several area churches in Athens being products of a split.

“I think anytime there is division in church it is devastating to ministry. It is usually selfish. People didn’t get their way,” said Weatherford, who has been a pastor in Henderson County for 13 years. “The society in which we live expects churches to fight and split.”

With the church split a part of the newly formed church’s past, the merger serves as an example of the Lord’s love for the visible church and his capability to mend hearts and relationships.

“For those 37 years there have been two churches that have been doing ministry. And Fellowship Baptist Church has had a strong ministry in the last 15 years. God still used both entities to do his work,” Weatherford said.

To bond the church together, a lifestyle of selflessness and God-centeredness has become the formula for the new era.

“It is not about West Athens or Fellowship?it’s about him [the Lord],” proclaimed Dean from the pulpit. “If we will adopt this motto, the merger will go smoothly.”

Church fishing outreach helped draw Longview man back to discipleship

LONGVIEW?Driving to an all-night fishing tournament in East Texas outside of Longview, Mitch Gumby decided to do something out of the norm by stopping at a cookout his church was hosting. It was then that Pastor Jace Roberts approached Gumby, who at the time was sporadic in his Sunday attendance at Jay Valley Baptist Church, with one of the greatest proposals Gumby has ever accepted.

The proposition was if Gumby won the tournament, then he would attend church the following morning. He immediately had a level of rapport with Roberts. To Gumby’s and Robert’s surprise, the next Sunday Gumby was in church listening to Roberts preach after having won the tournament. Gumby even brought along some of his fishing partners.

“He is likeable and open with you,” said Gumby, a Longview machinist. “Brother Jace is a working preacher.”

Gumby continued attending church and quickly formed a friendship with Roberts and eventually followed Roberts to a church plant that became Solid Rock Bible Fellowship. Gumby received Christ in 1986 after the death of his brother, but became mired in alcohol and complacency before meeting Roberts. Soon after his return to church, he rededicated his life to Jesus Christ and has been diligent and faithful in his walk.

Since his rededication, Gumby serves the body of Solid Rock by teaching Sunday School and at times even directing music.

When asked about the force behind the rapid growth of the church, Gumby was quick to credit the Lord saying, “It is totally God. If the Holy Spirit isn’t active, your church isn’t active.”

Just the basics: God the Father

Boiled eggs, strawberry pies, layer cakes. Have you ever wondered where preachers come up with the far-fetched examples of how to explain the Trinity? Through the ages, innumerable attempts have been made to explain how the living Lord of the Bible exists as one God, revealed in three persons. In Scripture, God reveals himself as Father in order to communicate relationship to his creation, his people, and perhaps most clearly through his own Son.

Since Jesus’ incarnation, Christians have struggled to comprehend the complexities of God’s revelation of himself as the triune God. To prevent heresy in the early church, early Christian theologians agreed in the council of Nicea (325 A.D.), “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible.” With these words, early churches fought against the misunderstanding that Jesus was not God while also protecting the fatherhood of God over all things. To this day, Islam teaches that Christians misconstrue God, identifying the doctrine of the Trinity as polytheism and Christians as those who worship three gods.

The doctrine of God and the term “Trinity” come directly from the teaching of Scripture. God reveals himself in the Bible as one. One in nature and being, and all of his attributes are one in the Lord. From Moses’ teaching from the mount, God reveals himself as one Lord (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). In the New Testament, Paul defines for the troubled church at Corinth the nature of God as one (1 Corinthians 8:4). From the beginning, God has identified himself as the Lord who reveals himself in three persons. In divine conversation, he confers with himself in order to create the cosmos (Genesis 1:26), confuse languages (Genesis 11:7), and send Isaiah on the mission field (Isaiah 6:8).

While it may be difficult to comprehend the “one God, three persons” doctrine, understanding his role as God and Father remains critical for the believer today. One possible way to understand better the “three-in-one” teaching can be accessed through another divine institution?marriage. God creates Adam and Eve, and he commends man toward his new wife, calling them “one flesh,” yet they exist as two distinct persons. In a similar way, God possesses all of his attributes as eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. Thus, he is one, and Father, Son, and Holy Spirit possess all of these attributes equally. Today, Christians would do well to understand the way the Father relates to himself, his creation, and his people.

First, God’s revelation of himself as Father relates to his role over all of creation. his words spoke the cosmos into being. Out of nothing (ex nihilo) God becomes the Father over all the universe, yet the Son carries out the commands that bring the world into existence (John 1:1-5). Paul explains to the Corinthians the Father is the source “from whom are all things” (1 Corinthians 8:6). Beyond existing “from him,” he further explains that “we exist for him.” Jesus’ apostles clearly teach that God serves not only as his Father, but he serves as the Lord and Father over humanity. This role, Paul explains, functions to provide care and protection over humanity as well as relationship (Ephesians 3:15).

Second, God the Father reveals himself in the relationship he creates with his people. From the earliest days, God calls humanity to serve him as Father. Adam and Eve follow him as Father through worship and fellowship, but rebellion and sin severed the relationship, resulting in the need for judgment and discipline from the Father. From Adam to Noah, then through Abraham, God elects a people and calls them his children through whom the nations, and ultimately all of creation, would be blessed. Through this relationship, the Father’s call culminates in the birth of his Son. As the Father of creation, God sends his Son to reveal the Lord in the flesh. Following the Father’s will, the Son dies as a sacrifice for sin, providing redemption and restoring the path for creation to enter into relation again to the Father through the Son. In Ephesians 1:3-4, Paul explains the Father’s love for his people whom “He chose in him before the foundation of the world.” While the act of choosing is attributed to the Father, the act of redemption is attributed to the Son. As the Father, God protects his people, corrects his people, provides for his people, and disciplines his people for their good and his glory. Thus, God the Father provides a divine and perfect example of earthly fatherhood that families would do well to imitate.

Finally, God’s role as Father may be understood in the way he relates to himself. As mentioned above, the Father and Son relate together in redemption: the Father chooses his children, the Son dies for them. From eternity past, the First Person of the Trinity relates to the Second Person of the Trinity as Father and Son. This relationship results as the Father who presides over creation and redemption in a way that the Son stands before him as the one who mediates and advocates for humanity before the Father. While both Father and Son are God, Scripture reveals each share a role that serves as the perfect revelation of God.

God describes himself in Scripture in this way to reveal the one who serves as Father over his creation, Father of his people, and Father of the Son. Through his plan, God provides the salvation that reconciles his people and his creation back into proper relation with him.

Mark M. Overstreet is a vice president and assistant professor of communications at Criswell College in Dallas.

The ‘imperative’ of higher education

It’s become part of the American Dream. My parents determined that their kids would do better financially, be freer to follow their dreams vocationally, and that we would each graduate from college. They paid a daily price to make those things happen, and they succeeded.

Every generation amends their dreams for their own offspring but few people I meet have let go of the hope that their brood will attend college. These days we say that with a bit of a gulp considering the cost.

But why do we go to college? Increasingly, I hear that the purpose is to prepare for a career. If that is so, why are so many philosophy and English majors serving as store managers and airline pilots? The idea that college prepares graduates for specific careers is dubious, I think.

Martin Luther King Jr. during his college days stressed the importance of character in addition to intelligence as the goal of “true education.” Others have followed this same line of thinking in making morality, the setting of goals and values, a primary item in the agenda of higher education. A valedictory address from 2005 claims that college is an opportunity to find out who you are and what you want out of life. I’m even less taken with the notion that a college education is responsible for setting one’s moral compass than I am with the whole “college as vo-tech school” idea.

Families and communities (churches too, for that matter) content to let kids grow to 18 years without knowing “who they are” reap the whirlwind with every emerging generation. Additionally, those willing to trust the Academy with the values-training of their young adults are criminally negligent. It’s a bit like letting kids watch dirty videos to learn about man-woman relationships. Kids should be fortified before facing the challenges to their values that typify a college education?quite the opposite approach to sending our little missionaries into the world completely unformed.

If the point made by Dr. King and company was smaller?that a student’s value system should be challenged by the new and diverse world opened by higher education?I’d be more enthusiastic. Even then, the definition of “challenge” in some classes and universities better fits the term “attempted murder.”

Character can be formed over the course of 18 years; it can only be tested or devastated in a mere 48 months.

I think I’ll go with a purpose Dr. King found important but incomplete.

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction,” he wrote back in 1947.

In other words, the purpose of higher education (all education that comes after a person commands the basic three R’s, I’d say) is to teach a person how to think and learn. The mark of an educated person is not based on what he believes or what he tolerates or even how much he knows; it is his ability to rationally evaluate an ever-expanding body of knowledge.

By my definition, high school should do for minor children what college does more rigorously for young adults. In neither case is it the role of the institution to form the character or belief system of the child. In both levels of study the institutions, public or private, should enhance the core of knowledge, the critical thinking skills, and the command of learning tools for each student.

Without an understanding of the “soft sciences” (the liberal arts), the much-touted math and science training our students need becomes the realm of vo-tech training. A man who has a deep understanding of bio-chemistry, for example, but who does not know or value historical context or the counsel of the ages contained in literature will be less prepared to rightly divide the massive amounts of information he retains. That’s a pretty good reason to discount political, theological, or relationship advice from those whose genius is narrowly focused in physics or medicine or even football.

Some of you grind your teeth when I seemingly discount vocational-technical training. Rest easy, I don’t. It occupies an important place in our communities. We need people who know how to do things. Such training may also be just the ticket for those who want a good job providing services for other businesses. My point is that these schools train people?they don’t educate them. Vo-tech training does not claim to be university training. Its focus should be narrower and its goals simpler. That does not make it something lesser, just different. A vo-tech school that teaches literature and welding is doing its job plus a little more. A university that simply teaches what people need to get an entry level job as a teacher or accountant has not done its job.

So what’s the point of this cheerful little back-to-school rant? Simply this: don’t stop expecting something pretty specific from those who help you educate your children after they graduate from high school. Do not, on the other hand, expect most colleges to institutionally add anything good to the character or direction of a child’s life. The years of young adulthood should do that. The total experience should reveal the character formed in childhood?and hopefully you’ll find a like-minded ally in a professor or administrator (we did)?but don’t send blank slates out the front door and expect the college faculty to consistently bless your heart with what they write there. Regardless of what they might think, it’s not their job to do that.

As to the imperative of higher education: I don’t think we should think of it that way. If we educate our children appropriately to their needs and nature for 18 years and then pay for whatever happens for the next four (or so), why put our children into a one-size-fits-all system for grades 13-16? Some kids need vocational training. It fits them best and will annoy them least and will cost all of us less. Some kids will flourish in a military environment?think of it as a total immersion course for adulthood. Some are ready to apprentice in some trade or business and should continue in the direction they have already begun. And then there are kids who are directed and fit and fortified for academic study. One size does not fit all, regardless of what we dreamed of when we first held the little nipper.

Whether or not our kids leave the nest as educated people depends on the same triad as other aspects of their character: nurture (how they were raised), nature (inborn personality traits), and will (what they decide to do). No one aspect of character is unimportant; neither are we powerless before any of them. A person will be (or not) that curious lifelong learner regardless of whether or not he/she pursues higher education. People who learn and think, whether they are carpenters or engineers, will distinguish themselves in any setting.

When you read of some of the lunatic ideas and priorities of a few members of the Academy do you ever think we have too many universities? Consider course offerings such as “Native American Feminism” at the University of Michigan, or “Adultery Novel” at the University of Pennsylvania, which studies “Marxist examinations of family as a social and economic institution,” among other things.

When you see kids with no idea of why they’re attending college backed by parents hoping the campus will somehow provide the cure for their son’s apathy toward learning, do you wonder why the poor boy is there? I do, and I think we often trudge unthinkingly behind models for our parenting that do not fit what know of our children.

Regardless of our best earlier intent, we continue to raise our kids even as they nose into young adulthood. That’s OK so long as it eventually tapers off some. In the meantime, let’s do it thoughtfully.
<script

Reflections on the West Africa mission

Kelsey Emmons (age 19),
College Hills Baptist Church, San Angelo:
“My short trip to West Africa changed my worldview more than I ever anticipated it would. The poverty and difference in culture struck me hard, but God taught me things that I will never forget. I had to learn my weaknesses and also how to adapt to my surroundings because different types of people must be reached in different ways. While I was in West Africa, I felt the call of God to a long-term commitment to missions.

Never before had I considered being a full-time missionary. Suddenly I realized that this was what I was called to do. No matter where I am, I am to be on mission. We are all called to be ambassadors for Christ. Maybe I won’t be in Africa, but I do plan to pursue this career field after I graduate college.”

Rebekah Bartley (age 16),
Slide Baptist Church, Lubbock:
“Coming to Africa is scary and even more scary to come to a Muslim country. If I had not come, God would not have used me like he did. Meeting with people I didn’t know at all and trusting them with my life was a big step out of my comfort zone. God opened my heart to the Songhai people and to the people whom I worked with. I have never felt more at home than when I was in West Africa because that is where God told me to go. And, home is living in the center of God’s will. Also, it was challenging to step away from American ways and slow down and be flexible.”

Celeste Rowan (age 45),
Coastal Oaks Church, Rockport:
“The greatest thing I saw in West Africa was that God can move and work in a Muslim world. The people are so dry both mentally and physically. The Wombles (IMB missionaries) are able to bring living water to a dry and parched nation. I never was fearful because any fears about food or people were not a problem. If God is calling you to join him, then don’t let Satan overpower you with fears. Satan wants to keep the Songhai people wrapped in the Muslim faith and living in a dark and fearful existence without hope. So, allow God to use you in a mighty and powerful way by ministering to the Songhai people of West Africa!”

Brandi Thompson (age 17),
First Baptist Church of Forney:
“The trip to West Africa is one that I will never forget. The Songhai people are amazing. The children have captured my heart. It was incredible to see how the children could just absorb all of the stories of the life of Jesus and how the smiles on their faces would shine when they learned something new and were praised for it. It was inspiring to see what God did in such a short amount of time in their little hearts. My favorite memory was all of the kids running to the car and grabbing our hands to lead us into the village. One thing that was extremely challenging was the poverty, death and hopelessness. Tears were flowing inside of me daily. My prayers will never cease and I am more willing to share Jesus now with whomever I meet.”

Amy Horton (age 23),
Family Life Fellowship, Amarillo:
“Going to Africa was such a unique experience unlike any other mission trip I’ve been on. The Songhai are such a hurting and lost group of people. It’s so amazing to see God’s love and glory in the midst of such a poverty-stricken land. It is incredible and truly a miracle of God that these people are turning away from their Islamic beliefs and searching for truth in Jesus Christ. I feel honored that God would use me in West Africa to be a light in just one person’s world. I pray that as a group we were able to relay a sense of hope that there is freedom in the cross, and at least spark some curiosity to learn more about Christ.

One of the many things that God showed me here in Africa is how much we really do need him ? We’ve been taught to be independent and self-sufficient so it’s almost considered a weakness to admit that we cannot do it on our own. If I was put in this environment for a long-term period of time, I can see how I would learn to completely rely on him. God revealed himself to me and showed me that I am nothing without him. He opened back up that place in my heart that hungers and thirsts for more of him. God showed me just how much my life is not about me, but about living a sacrificial life for his sake.”

Disaster relief continues flood ministry

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief volunteers continue to serve in response to the Texas floods.

Currently, volunteers are serving in Eastland County with First Baptist Church of Gorman. Throughout the last two weeks of June and into early July, SBTC disaster relief volunteers fed those stranded by flooding near Weatherford while responding to needs in Haltom City and Keller as well.

In addition to clearing homes of mud and flood debris and damage, volunteers have helped in cleanup and recovery, communications/operations, chaplaincy, and feeding while praying with victims and sharing the gospel when possible.

The convention has scheduled a Phase 1 Disaster relief Training on July 21 at Eagle’s View Baptist Church in Saginaw, near Fort Worth. More information and registration forms can be found on the website at www.sbtexas.com/dr.

Lord of nickels, noses and numbers

Southern Baptists have a love/hate relationship with statistics. On one hand, this is one imperfect way we have of evaluating ourselves. How are we doing as churches, individually and in cooperation? Part of that story is expressed in the measure of people and money. On the other hand, it is an imperfect measure. There is also the real danger that we’ll consider numerical success more thorough than it is. And then there is the real struggle with reporting and interpreting our numbers honestly. We need our numbers even as they vex us.

I think the guy who considers good numbers the whole story is a bit like Bigfoot?he’s probably out there but most of us will hear more of him than we see. A contrary, and also mostly legendary, beast is the sophisticate who “doesn’t do numbers” in order to give the illusion that he cares about people instead. Everyone “does numbers” in at least some informal way. Yet those two legends are invoked quite often when we begin to talk about the need to measure our resources. Each side cites the extreme view to justify their own convictions for or against the reporting of our stats.

God seems to be a pretty committed counter. He tells us the days of creation and assigned special meaning to one of them. He told Noah the how many clean and unclean animals to save from the great worldwide flood. He even gave Noah the dimensions for the ship he was to build. Even the number of days for the flood were specified, as was the span of time before they left the ark.

On we go through genealogies, the counting of tribes, the years of bondage, the number of great kingdoms on the earth (with their horns, heads and wings all counted), the portion we should return to the storehouse, the Lord’s knowledge of the hairs of our head, the number of the disciples, the days Jesus spent in the grave, the thousands saved on Pentecost, the number of the first deacons, the churches in John’s revelation, and hundreds of other examples. There is also a “fullness” of numbers after which God will again send Jesus?a number known only to God but a number nonetheless.

Some of the numbers were given to provide specificity to instructions and to nail down that these things actually occurred (or were/are to occur) in space and time. Other numbers were made up of individual souls, genealogies and tribal censuses. Don’t do numbers? God does.

At the same time, the Bible tells of individual heroes and heroines who were notable for their faith. The Father, the prophets, Jesus, and the disciples paid attention to individuals who needed a personal touch. Jesus seemed to be engaged in mass evangelism and yet took time for specific people who were changed by his touch or attention. The apostles preached in the synagogues and streets and yet also to beggars, centurions, kings, sellers of purple, jailers, and demon-possessed girls. Ministry to the numbered masses is not contrary to the idea of touching lives.

And why this foray into number-ology? Simply this: our customary counting of SBTC (the whole SBC does it, actually) statistics will begin next month. Consider for a minute why a church might not want to tell us the numbers of its members, baptisms, income, missions giving, and so on. Each year, we mail out the material with a letter. Later, we call and remind those who don’t respond. Some information we fill out while on the phone. A few we actually go visit and fill out the statistics face to face with the pastor or clerk. All that effort adds up to about 75 percent of churches reporting, on average.

Here’s why we, as a fellowship of churches working together, need to hear from your church on this. I have numbered points, for your convenience.

1) We strive to be strategic in our cooperative work. We don’t know how that’s working unless we hear from our partners in the field. It’s harder to see the holes in our strategy unless we have detailed reports to examine.

2) It allows us to evaluate how individual churches are doing. SBTC tries to do those things affiliated churches find helpful or needful. We can’t know that if we only have word-of-mouth information.

3) Part of knowing the raw truth about a joint effort is seeing which way the graph is tracking. We might not know that our evangelistic efforts are less effective if we never count up the numbers. We’re baptizing people regularly in my church, but I don’t know how this compares with other years unless we add it up. That process often suggests a need for change or redoubling of effort.

4) An Annual Church Profile report gives churches an occasion to see their own numbers. It encourages them to accurately evaluate their own effectiveness. Usually, some of the report comes as a surprise to most church leaders.

5) Churches are individuals so we can’t know a church until we spend time within it. On the other hand, we can know some things about the church from looking at its trends, changes in direction, times of apparent growth, and participation in various ministries.

The point is this; please fill out your ACP this year. I’ve tried to show that it is useful for your sister churches, even if you have no need for the information. Demonstrably, there is nothing ignoble about looking at our numbers. If things seem to be great, statistically, it needn’t lead you to pride since it is the Lord who brings the increase. Declining or plateaued numbers should be no reason for shame; many churches are in that same state. The first step to looking at answers is to acknowledge the reality of the situation.

It’s worth a few hours of your time. The hardest part is pulling together the numbers to put in the report. Compiling that information is a good idea in the first place. We just ask that you share it with us.

Special thanks to Troy Brooks for the idea for this column. I think he may have preached part of it in a sermon. Talk to me about the column, though. It’s all mine.