Month: May 2008

Updated statement from Prestonwood


“We are disturbed and saddened by the reports we have received and are praying for the Prestonwood family in this time.

We have, and will, fully cooperate with the police in their investigation. This cooperation began last night when we received notice of this matter.

We have not had record or knowledge of prior improprieties, or observed any inappropriate behavior in the 18 months Joe Barron has served on our staff as one of our ministers to married adults.

We are shocked and we are grieved. But we look to the Lord even when we don’t understand. We intend to take all necessary steps of action in this matter.

Our Pastor, Dr. Jack Graham, has been out of the country and is traveling back at this time. He will address these issues upon his return.

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to share this statement of response with you.”

?Prestonwood Baptist Church Executive Pastor Mike Buster

Video of Pastor Jack Graham addressing the congregation on Sunday, May 18

Prestonwood staff member arrested in sex sting

REVISED 1 p.m. May 19 with comments by Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham.

PLANO, Texas–A minister from Prestonwood Baptist Church has been arrested in a sting operation for soliciting sex with a minor.

Joe Barron, 52, a minister to married adults at the Dallas-area church, was arrested May 15 in Bryan, Texas. Barron had made a three-hour drive to Bryan to have sex with a girl he thought was 13 but, instead, was a police officer he had been chatting with online in a sting operation, according to The Eagle, a local newspaper for the Bryan-College Station area.

Prestonwood’s pastor, Jack Graham, said in comments to the congregation May 18, “Our church has experienced a heartbreaking and tragic week. We are appalled by the disgraceful actions and subsequent arrest of one of our ministers. I am so sorry for the injury this grievous situation has caused.

“We have requested and received the resignation of Joe Barron effective immediately. He is no longer a member of the Prestonwood staff,” Graham said.

“We work very hard to earn your trust and maintain the testimony of our congregation in the community,” Graham continued in his comments to the church. “You can be sure we always make every effort to provide a staff of godly integrity and devotion. I am confident that our ministers are of the highest character and are faithfully fulfilling their calling with accountability.

“I want to thank you for continuing to believe in us and pray for God’s protection upon our lives. May God give us the grace and strength to overcome the enemy and raise a standard of righteousness. We have taken a hit but we will rise above and continue to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His glorious Gospel.”

Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood, issued two statements to the media May 16. “We are disturbed and saddened by the reports we have heard and we are praying for the Barron family,” Buster said in the initial statement. “We are fully cooperating with the police in their investigation.” Barron had been on Prestonwood’s staff for 18 months.

Buster later issued expanded comments, adding prayers for the Prestonwood family and reiterating the church’s cooperation in the investigation, which he said “began last night when we received notice of this matter.”

“We have not had record or knowledge of prior improprieties, or observed any inappropriate behavior in the 18 months Joe Barron has served on our staff as one of our ministers to married adults,” he said, adding, “[W]e are shocked and we are grieved.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that Barron was released Friday evening on $7,000 bail from the Brazos County Detention Center. If convicted for the second-degree felony, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, The Eagle reported.

The Eagle stated that Barron had counseled married couples at Prestonwood and was to lead a mission trip to Colombia, South America, in August. On May 16, however, Barron’s information had been removed from Prestonwood’s website.

SBC Presidential capsules

William L. (Bill) Wagner

BIO: Pastor of Snyder Lane Baptist Church, Rohnert Park, Calif., and former IMB missionary.

PLATFORM: Wagner has a 10-point plank accessible on his website, His goals include involving small, ethnic and non-Southern churches in greater leadership roles within the SBC. He also seeks to rebuild relationships with Baptists internationally and to encourage a missions mindset in the life of local churches by going and by CP giving.

CP RECORD: In 2006, Wagner’s first year as pastor of Snyder Lane Baptist Church, it gave $670 through the Cooperative Program, according to ACP reports. Beginning in 2007, Wagner said the church began giving 10 percent to CP missions.

Frank Cox

BIO: Pastor of North Metro Baptist Church, Lawrenceville, Ga.

PLATFORM: Cox told the TEXAN in February that a dialogue is needed about the future of Cooperative Program giving. “[U]nless we address, educate, inspire, reach out to this next generation, in 10-15 years our mission endeavors will reach a crisis point.” Cox said a common evangelistic effort is needed domestically as America becomes more secular. Also, he said he desires to encourage the mentoring of promising young pastor-leaders.

CP RECORD: North Metro BC gave 13.4 percent, or $393,839, of undesignated receipts to CP missions in 2006 (2007 figures were unavailable at press time).

Johnny Hunt

BIO: Pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga.

PLATFORM: Hunt’s announced nominator, Ted Traylor, said Hunt should be SBC president for three reasons: His church is exemplary in its missions giving and going; he has a heart for “the next generation of young pastors and the millennial generation in general;” and he is “a leader who can forge a hopeful future” centered on the gospel and the local church.

CP RECORD: FBC Woodstock gave 2.2 percent, or $393,798, of undesignated receipts to CP missions in 2007.

Avery Willis

BIO: Member, Bella Vista Baptist Church, Bella Vista, Ark., and retired IMB vice president.

PLATFORM: Willis said in a letter to friends that the SBC needs to “gaze again” on God’s glory and return to him. “We need a discipleship revolution that recovers first-century discipleship in the twenty-first century.” “[M]y prayer is that enough Southern Baptists will respond to these challenges of God that He will pour out His Spirit upon us afresh.?”

CP RECORD: Willis’ home church gave 16.73 percent, or $119,460, of undesignated receipts to CP missions in 2007.

Les Puryear

BIO: Pastor of Lewisville

Board approves new missions leader, 84 new affiliated churches

ARLINGTON–Church planting strategist Terry Coy received unanimous support of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s Executive Board during its April 29 meeting in Arlington to become director of missions. He replaces Robby Partain, who has held the post since 2001 and recently accepted a position with Bluebonnet Baptist Association in New Braunfels.

Barry Calhoun, an associate in church planting resourcing and mentoring, will become church planting team leader.

Coy initially served as a church planting consultant for the SBTC in 2001, transitioning to full-time duties as ethnic church planting strategist a year later before assuming his current assignment in 2004. He grew up in the home of Southern Baptist missionaries who served in Chile for 35 years.

Following six years with Scope Ministries International, a biblical counseling ministry based in Oklahoma City, Coy earned the M.Div. and Ph.D. in systematic theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1992 to 2000 Coy served Tarrant Baptist Association, first as Hispanic consultant and director of the Ethnic Ministry Training Center before becoming director of church planting.

Set on making a convention-wide search for the next missions director, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told the board, “I only had to look next door” to Partain’s office for the next director of missions, having observed Coy’s giftedness and expertise in church planting. Coy will retain some of the hands-on duties in the area of church planting in order for the convention to utilize his strengths in that area, Richards explained.

“I want us to be the premier missions team with the most effective pace-setting missions strategies in the Southern Baptist Convention,” Coy told the board, adding that he is determined to see every SBTC church become fully mobilized for Acts 1:8 missions in Texas and beyond.

He described the confidence he places in Calhoun’s ability as a “quality-control man,” making sure systems are in place to supervise and strengthen church planters.

Partain thanked the board, executive director, and missions team for their support, and stated his anticipation of many years of kingdom partnership in Texas. Board chairman Dale Perry prayed for Partain as he begins a new place of service, thanking God that “the SBTC will have many years of multiplying fruit, from seed to seed to seed, because of what Robby has done.”

In response to a question from board member Terry Taylor of Mesquite, Perry confirmed that the vacancy resulting from the promotions of Coy and Calhoun would be filled in the coming months.

The board also elected Chris Enright as an associate in the operations and financial services department. Since 1994 he has worked for GuideStone Financial Resources in retirement operations and strategic marketing. Board member Gregg Simmons of Grapevine commended Enright, having served as his pastor at Memorial Baptist Church.

“The SBTC continues to attract the best and brightest and most deeply spiritual men to come alongside in these positions,” Simmons noted.

The board voted to grant its executive committee permission to conduct interviews with a candidate for language associate in the evangelism department. The candidate would be recommended for the board’s approval by e-mail ballot vote.

The number of affiliating churches continues at a pace of one every other day, with 84 additional congregations approved upon the recommendation of the credentials committee. Troy Brooks, church-minister relations director, told the TEXAN that more churches are choosing to affiliate uniquely than in past years.

One-fifth of the more than 2,000 SBTC churches are dually affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

“The trend is that initial dual affiliation is a first step to unique affiliation,” Brooks said.
Credentials committee chairman Jimmy Pritchard of Forney reported that 19 churches are being removed from affiliation, several of them having merged with other congregations or ceased operation.
Cooperative Program receipts exceeded budget requirements by $2.5 million for 2007, providing twice the surplus reported a year ago. Receipts from local churches for all of the missions offerings are outpacing the previous year’s gifts, with the Reach Texas State Missions Offering expected to pass $1 million in receipts for the first time.

When asked whether the increase in giving could be attributed to newly affiliated churches or greater levels of giving, Davis said, “I think we’re receiving more funds from the churches we have.”
Fewer churches are sending money that has been escrowed, he added.

Verne Hargrave reported on the annual audit conducted by Pickens Snodgrass Koch LLP of Arlington, describing the financial operations of the SBTC as “squeaky clean.” No material adjustments were required and no disagreement was found in the management of accounting practices.

“You should be proud of the way the books, records and administration of the convention are handled,” Hargrave said in presenting the “unqualified” opinion.

Criswell College President Jerry Johnson presented the SBTC with a certificate of induction into the W.A. Criswell Society in recognition of lifetime gifts of more than $1 million. Recalling his own desire while a student to see Baptist churches in Texas supporting a college that “believed the Bible was the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God,” he thanked the more than 2,000 SBTC churches for their support of the work Criswell envisioned for training pastors, missionaries and evangelists.”

The board approved a fraternal relationship with the Baptist Credit Union upon the recommendation of the facilitating ministries committee. Board member Olin Boles of LaRue described the benefits available to SBTC employees and churches, including banking services, student, home, and car loans, as well as investment and retirement accounts. The Dallas-based entity has served Baptist organizations, including employees of GuideStone and First Baptist Church of Dallas, since 1955.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards praised outgoing Missions Director Robby Partain as a “brilliant, visionary thinker with a passion for people,” and two other staff members who recently resigned–evangelism associate Brad Bunting who has accepted a pastorate in Jena, La., and Jim Gatliff, a shared ministry strategist, who will serve as director of missions for Hunt Baptist Association.

“In 10 years there have been less than 10 full-time ministry staff leave,” said Richards, noting the increased difficulty of keeping up with the demands on staff as the convention grows exponentially.
“By the end of the year I hope to present a plan to keep the limited bureaucracy pledge and still enhance services to the churches.”

“Staff morale is high. There still is a wonderful, sweet spirit of camaraderie and no turfism,” he commended.

Richards announced that the SBTC will host the annual fellowship meeting of the state executive directors and Baptist editors in 2009.

“This vote of confidence in the SBTC is a loud endorsement of our ministry among the state partners,” he reported. “The SBTC has risen to the top as an example of ministry and missions.”

Plans are underway for the annual state convention meeting in Houston as the SBTC celebrates its 10th anniversary. Richards said the inclusion of an International Mission Board commissioning service provides a highlight worthy of churches attending. “It will be a time for us to introduce another generation to cooperative Baptist work.”

The board approved a proposal to amend the articles of incorporation to move indemnity language to the bylaws, which requires the additional support of messengers at the annual meeting in Houston Nov. 10-11.

The board also approved for consideration by messengers various changes to the constitution and bylaws. The proposed changes clarify affiliation qualifications by stipulating financial support through the Cooperative Program and the process by which affiliation is terminated by the church, SBTC Executive Board or messengers in annual session when resolution through the Credentials Committee is unsuccessful.

An article requiring membership in an SBTC affiliate church was added in reference to persons serving as convention officers or ministry employees or on SBTC boards, committees or agencies. The office of second vice-president was eliminated and duties of the recording secretary, Committee on Nominations, Committee on Committees and Resolutions Committee were clarified. Instructions specifying the number of board members to be added during the early years of growth in the SBCT membership were removed.

The process for terminating the executive director, convention officers, Executive Board members and committee members was further clarified. A reference to compensation of staff was removed while the section on funds was changed to include the purpose of the business and financial plan in governing matters not specified in the bylaws.

Peruvian pastor and Texas evangelist partner

LIMA, Peru?”Today, Jesus has come to my house!”

So said a Peruvian woman, a native of Lima, as she responded to the good news of Jesus Christ. The woman lives on the outskirts of Lima and she said that she had thought God was angry with her because her husband had left her and her son was in jail.

There were more than 500 encounters like this over one week in March in Lima, thanks to a partnership between a Texas Baptist evangelist and a Peruvian Baptist pastor. Evangelist Jonathan Hewett of First Baptist Church, Celina, and Pastor Samuel Reategui Sanchez, Iglesia Bautista Betania, met last year when Hewett spent a week in Lima witnessing and preaching.

“Samuel had e-mailed asking for an evangelist to come,” Hewett said, “so I took a chance on him and he took a chance on me.”

During that first trip, Hewett was accompanied by his father, Rayford Hewett, and the two of them were able to lead 90 Peruvians to first-time decisions for Christ.

“This year, we wanted a larger team to work with more churches,” Hewett said.

Twelve Texans and two Arkansans responded to Hewett’s call for team members and all of them were able to lead many people to Christ. The team members were: Pastor Ivy Shelton of Sherwood Baptist Church in Odessa and his church members Tony Grainger, Garry Clark, Pat Wenger, George Brown and JoAnn Bell; Pastor David Baxley of New Hope Baptist Church in Bloomburg, Dereld Kuhlengel of FBC Clarksville; music evangelist Wes James and his wife, Marianna, from Prosper; Marleny and Jeremy Rios of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Plano; Pastor Philip Miller and Fred Garrison from Second Baptist Church in West Helena, Ark.; and Hewett.

The team shared the gospel in homes by appointment. Peruvian Baptist church members would invite their family and friends to meet with an “American friend.” The American friend only had one thing to say: Believe in Jesus Christ and be saved, Hewitt related.

Pastors from nine Baptist churches in Lima took part as well as other Peruvian Baptists who served as interpreters. The gospel was also preached by team members in nightly crusade services at the various churches.

At Betania Baptist in Lince, Lima, the movie “Facing the Giants” was shown and more than 40 people responded to a brief evangelistic appeal given by Hewett after the movie.

Team members were also able to participate in distributing Samaritan’s Purse gift boxes to children associated with a mission in one of Lima’s poorest neighborhoods. The occasion of the boxes and a visit from Americans enabled more than 85 to hear the gospel and 50 of them chose to accept Christ.

One team member was invited into a school and class-by-class, he shared the gospel. The principal heard the message and was converted, Hewitt said.

Hewett said he plans to return to Peru in November and will be taking another team in February 2009.

Assimilation still key to lowering membership gap for Waco church

WACO?Although undergoing several changes since its inception, Waco Family Baptist Church’s unusual approach to addressing unregenerate church members still proves effective. First featured in the Dec. 18, 2006 issue of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, WFBC now ministers with a new name and a new pastor at the helm.

The plant’s new pastor, Todd Gill, has only served at WFBC for nine months, but said he remains committed to the founding pastor’s passion for assimilating new members into the life of the church.

At its inception, the church voted to outline a provision in its constitution to address inactive members.
Along with describing membership responsibilities and rights, the constitution designates members in three categories: resident, non-resident, and inactive. If a member remains inactive for a specific time period, the church membership committee transfers him or her to an inactive listing.

“We have not changed that portion of the constitution and bylaws, and that is something I would like to keep,” Gill said. “We’ve had some members we’ve had to place on inactive rolls because they were looking for churches elsewhere. As we visited and talked with them, we tried to help them find the place where God wanted them to be.”

In following up with inactive members, Gill says it is sometimes clear that God leads members to another place of service and worship.

“Because we love one another and because we are friends, it becomes uncomfortable at times,” he admitted.

However, Gill believes the approach to membership is both necessary and effective. The church has continued to maintain about 45 attending members, and since his arrival at WFBC, the church plant has assimilated 16 new members.

Recently, the church voted to amend its constitution with one change regarding church membership. Whereas inactive members were transferred by the membership committee to an inactive listing after three months, the revised constitution stipulates a new time period of six months prior to designating a member as inactive.

Although noting that the church may revise the time designation in the future, Gill said follow-up of inactive members should happen in the first three months.

“If we wait six months to know what someone is doing, then we are remiss in our responsibilities.”
Despite the difficulty of losing church members, Gill said the decision to move members to an inactive list is not a difficult one.

“[We have] members staying in contact and constantly pursuing inactive members,” he said, adding that the constitution establishes the protocol for dealing with absent members. “It is not a decision we have to toil over.”

Yet Gill stressed that members who are moved to an inactive listing become the recipients of intense follow-up.

“We are not writing anyone off. We feel that we have a responsibility to follow up and pursue them. If there is an issue, we have a responsibility to seek restoration,” he said, noting that the follow-up process requires wisdom. “There are also those points where you say ‘every Baptist in Waco doesn’t need to be a member of WFBC.’ We recognize God has other places for them to serve and other places for them to worship. And we want to help them be where God wants them to be.”

Still key to the church’s attempt to keep its roster clean is its commitment to assimilation. Since coming on board, Gill has led WFBC to model a family-integrated approach to ministry.

“We don’t have a youth department that separates from our adult department, because we want to keep families together,” he explained.

To further help in assimilation, Gill said the church gives jobs of service to younger members.

“Church members that are over 12 years old we consider adults. We want to give them responsibilities taking up offering and working in the nursery, and we expect them to act like adults.”

Gill said he hopes that allowing younger members to enjoy the privileges of full membership will improve member retention.

“If you have a job to do, it means you’ll be there to do it,” he said.

WFBC has also changed its approach to assimilation on the front-end of membership. While most churches offer an orientation class upon joining the church, Gill is taking a more personal approach. New members and visitors alike are invited to dinner where they are led through the church mission statement and ministries in a single session with the pastor.

“That gives them an opportunity to ask questions,” he said. “If you are talking personally with them, you can better check for understanding. With a church our size it has been more efficient and effective that way.”

The church has also incorporated a one-on-one discipleship program focusing on the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to aid in increased assimilation.

“We are seeing new Christians who are hungry for God’s Word and getting into Bible study,” Gill said. “As I’m doing that with new church members, I’ve had existing members say ‘I want that too’.”

The revised constitution and bylaws of Waco Family Baptist Church may be accessed online at

Struggle with regenerate church membership has long history, experts say

Although Baptists have always been convinced that regenerate church membership is the biblical standard, they have worried since the 1600s that the standard is eroding in churches, say several Southern Baptist seminary professors and pastors.

Regenerate church membership is the doctrine that all members of a local church should be born-again believers who have been baptized by immersion following their conversions to Christ.

“The concept of a regenerate church membership reflects the idea of a believers’ church,” said Jason Lee, associate professor of historical theology and assistant dean of theological studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

“Throughout the New Testament, the church is seen as a group of believers intentionally gathered together for the purpose of worship and ministry. This worship includes hearing the Word of God proclaimed, partaking in the Lord’s Supper and baptizing new believers. These activities should only be done by those who have experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.”

Lee explained that when non-believers are allowed to become church members, other areas of the church such as the ordinances, church discipline and unity are compromised as well.

Christians began to compromise regenerate church membership in the Middle Ages, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and everyone was baptized as an infant and considered a member of the church, said Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

During the Protestant Reformation, leaders like Martin Luther and John Calvin challenged the idea that the true church was made up of all citizens in the secular state, said Nettles, who taught church history at Southwestern from 1976-1982 and co-authored “Baptists and the Bible” with the late L. Russ Bush. Yet the Reformers did not go far enough because they saw the true church as a secret group within the state church, he said.

Anabaptists were the first group to argue that local churches should be comprised only of people who give evidence of being born again and have been baptized, he said. While he does not believe Baptists descended from Anabaptists, Nettles said the first Baptists adopted regenerate church membership based on the influence of the Anabaptists.

From the inception of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, Southern Baptists were committed to the idea of having a church of believers only. William B. Johnson, the first SBC president, defended regenerate church membership in his 1846 book “The Gospel Developed.”

“What then are the scriptural materials of a church of Christ?” Johnson wrote. “Evidently penitent, believing sinners, baptized upon a profession of faith in Christ, conscious subjects, capable of being taught all things which Christ commands.”

William Williams, another early Southern Baptist and one of the founding professors at Southern Seminary, endorsed the same doctrine in his 1874 work “Apostolic Church Polity.”

“The members of the apostolic churches were all converted persons, or supposed to be converted,” Williams wrote. “In various epistles they are addressed as ‘saints,’ ‘faithful brethren,’ ‘the sons of God,’ ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus.’ The many exhortations to a godly life and a holy conversation presume that they are ‘new creatures in Christ Jesus;’ and the motives by which they are enforced are such as could be expected to have no force upon any other presumption.”

As early as the 17th century–the same century in which the very first Baptists lived–Baptists began to feel concern over the decline of regenerate church membership. However, Nettles believes the greatest threat to regenerate church membership emerged in the 19th century when the evangelistic methods of Charles G. Finney came into popularity.

The “new measures” sought to draw sinners to salvation through the use of emotional and social pressures along with the preaching of the gospel. For example, Finney asked people feeling convicted of sin during revival meetings to sit in a designated place known as the “anxious bench.” During a worship service, the preacher would appeal directly to the anxious bench and other attendees would focus their attention on praying for those seated there.

Baptist state newspapers from the mid-1800s recount stories of how the new measures resulted in unsaved people being added to church membership roles, Nettles said. The practice of accepting those who profess faith during the emotionalism of a revival meeting–without further counsel to sense whether their decisions are credible–continues to encourage acceptance of unregenerate church members, he added.

When scores of people are reported to have been converted through evangelistic efforts, but few remain committed church members months later, such methods “pervert our churches,” Nettles said.

In his 1879 commencement address at Southern Seminary, President James P. Boyce expressed concern that Southern Baptists had impure churches because they were admitting people to membership who gave no evidence that the Holy Spirit had changed their hearts and saved them.

Boyce told seminary graduates that a successful pastorate was one where nearly all church members evidenced their salvation by daily commitment to Christ.

In their book “Firefall: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals,” co-authors Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid acknowledge that the evangelistic methods introduced in the 1800s “have been the source of controversy from Finney’s day until ours.” While noting Finney’s use of separate meetings to give counsel as to how one might be saved and house-to-house visitation where instruction was given concerning personal salvation, the authors agree that Finney’s views gave impetus to a more man-centered focus on revival.

“Finney himself admitted later in ministry he overemphasized the role of man in salvation,” Reid told the TEXAN. “No doubt the long-term impact of the new measures was to lead to manipulation of people by more than a few and an unintended consequence of Finney’s ministry was a rise in unregenerate members.”

Reid said he finds fault with both extremes–those who taught that God would have to send revival if steps one, two, and three were followed, and those who so opposed the emphasis as to not call people to salvation.

“Although some have swung the pendulum too far the other way in our day, I do think many times we have watered down the gospel in our well-intentioned evangelism, and I do think our church rolls are absolutely filled with lost people,” concluded Reid, who said he agrees with the call for a resolution on the subject at this year’s SBC.

Southern Seminary’s Nettles said organizational unity took precedence over rigorous membership standards or the practice of church disciple for fear of causing division in the early decades of the 20th century. Even the well-intentioned development of the Cooperative Program in 1925 emphasized united support of missions and less attention to enforcing a regenerate church membership, Nettles said.

“Anything that would diminish membership, anything that would create division or had the potential for schism or controversy within congregations was seen as detrimental not only to the Baptist witness in that location, but the Baptist witness worldwide,” Nettles said. “So the concept of a disciplined church membership began to fall even more with the necessity of having the right numbers for the support of the Cooperative Program as it developed.”

Nettles stressed that the Cooperative Program was not to blame for the decline in regenerate church membership.

“I’m not blaming the Cooperative Program,” he said. “I’m a full supporter of it. What I’m saying is there did not seem to be a sufficiently confident mentality that whatever we’re going to do as churches, we need to do as churches composed of regenerate members. We need to do it as people who are concerned about the members demonstrating the power of the gospel in their lives first and foremost and progress and holiness.”

The SBC’s “A Million More in ‘54” campaign to baptize a million people in 1954 was another occasion when Southern Baptists admitted to church membership people who did not give evidence of true conversion, according to James Bryant, senior professor of pastoral theology at Criswell College in Dallas.

“I tend to think the problem with unregenerate members is a denominational shortcoming going all the way back to ‘A Million More in ’54,’ when 4- and 5-year-old children were reported as baptisms on annual letters. Also, before Billy Graham, there was no personal counseling at the front of the church,” Bryant said, suggesting that quick counseling sometimes encourages acceptance of unregenerate members who have not been thoroughly examined.

Still, there are some encouraging signs that regenerate church membership may be making a comeback. Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said he cleaned the rolls in Dallas so that people who had not attended church for decades were not counted as members.

“When I arrived at FBC Dallas, everyone knew that the rolls were not accurate, so I had them cleaned,” he said. “We took off thousands upon thousands. We began to reflect honestly what we ran, that is who was actually in Sunday School on a Sunday morning. Then we listed separately those that were in the missions.”

Brunson added that he tries hard in Jacksonville as well to keep on the church roll only those who give evidence of being regenerate members.

“For too long we have equated size with greatness,” he said. “That is a misnomer. We have also divided churches up and labeled some as megachurches. Any church that is actively preaching the gospel, seeing people saved, doing the work of the church is a megachurch. The reason is because it is mega-work to carry out the work of the kingdom.

“I doubt that God is very impressed with our rolls anyway,” Brunson added.

An unregenerate church membership ultimately affects the progress of the gospel around the world as the integrity of that witness is compromised, Gordon Fort, International Mission Board vice president for overseas operations, told IMB trustees meeting in Texas in April. Fort said polls reveal little difference between attitudes of believers and non-believers regarding moral behavior.

“Where do these people live? They’re in your churches,” he answered.

Missionaries recruited from local churches that fail to uplift a high standard of Christian conduct are likely to carry that attitude with them overseas, he explained.

“Who is responsible for that?” he asked, placing the responsibility with pastors, church leaders, Sunday School and discipleship leaders.

“Have we become so engrossed in our culture that we are afraid to address with our congregants the issue of holy living lest we offend?” Fort asked. “The reason why you and I were a part of the Conservative Resurgence was because we believed it was important that the Word of God, his inerrant Word, would be our sole guide for life. When was the last time you sat in a congregation where God’s Word as it deals with sin was preached?” he challenged.

Lee of Southwestern Seminary suggested that churches guard regenerate church membership by implementing membership classes, interviews for prospective members, church covenants and church discipline. Lee further encouraged churches to maintain contact with those inactive members.

“If churches were serious about membership, they would make every effort to see that all church members were somehow or another contacted on a regular basis,” stated Robert Mathis, associate vice president for institutional assessment at Southwestern Seminary.

He recommends utilizing Sunday School as the basic means of “keeping up the church membership and the foundational place for ministry.”

At one time the Sunday School roll was “exaggerated to good effect,” he said. “And this would not be a problem since Sunday School was supposed to be an entry point to the church. But then it got to where it was harder to enroll in Sunday School that it was to join a church. Often you had to attend Sunday School three times in a row before you could enroll. Whereas church membership only required a trip down the aisle.”

At least three resolutions have been announced for consideration by this year’s SBC Resolutions Committee.

Nettles said he hopes a resolution “could be adopted in such a way as to indicate that the convention as a whole is concerned about that—it wants to give a witness to our historic understanding of that as a means of saying. ‘We think the gospel is powerful. And when a person is converted by the gospel, they love God’s people, they love God’s Word, they love the church, and they’re holy people.’”

What happened?

As useful as the hard facts are, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that our 2006 (the latest year compiled) Annual Church Profile (ACP) numbers are down in some critical areas and tepid in others.

Most of us had no reasonable expectation that the last couple of years would reverse our 30-year trends because we saw no sign of it in our own ministries.

LifeWay has told us definitively what we already knew in our hearts. Now, the scramble is over what it all means.

The “C” in ACP stands for “church.” This is not the report card for your association or one of our mission boards. Those institutions have their own accountability process.

Neither is this judgment day for the Conservative Resurgence. That reformation was primarily about the institutions Baptists support, not about the spiritual condition of Ichabod Baptist Church. If there had been no resurgence, most of us would no longer be Southern Baptists but we would still be struggling with stagnation in our church ministries.

This is the self-graded report card for our churches, indicative of the trends revealed in the statistics in most of our churches. Many of our churches do not turn in annual profiles, but we have little reason to think that those churches would noticeably affect the overall numbers.

And while these numbers have huge implications for the work of all things denominational, neither the problem nor the solution will be found in denominational bodies?which are themselves made up of churches.

A perfectly administered denominational fellowship (most of us define that as one that takes our advice) could perfectly assist only those churches that want help and that further utilize the perfect resources. A denomination as bad as some say we are will mostly hinder churches by not doing useful things. Even this dreadful possibility cannot provide much explanation for the general slide of American churches.

I believe that to whatever degree we have run off younger leaders or narrowed the parameters of denominational fellowship are likewise beside the point. These accusations, just or not, deal with who leads our denominational bodies and to whom we listen most intently. If the SBC is deeply mired in these sins, it may keep a church from cooperating denominationally, but it will not keep your church or mine from reaching people with the gospel.

No resolution, no critical spirit, no pharisaical scrutiny, and no perception that Southern Baptists are negative helps us understand why individual churches, that mostly don’t send messengers to the SBC, are not winning people to Christ. On one hand we’re told that many find the denomination irrelevant and on the other that the denomination is stifling local church outreach.

These explanations offered by various denominational employees and officers might be answers to other questions, but not to this one. That answer will be found locally, personally.

This makes our malaise or coldness or whatever an “us” problem, since we’re all church members and leaders. It can’t be solved by quitting something or firing someone. Wouldn’t that be easy, though?

We, locally, in my own church and community, are acculturated to an inappropriate degree. American Christians are “of” as well as “in” the world.

I don’t mean that we should not be Americans or live among pagans. We should not let the culture in which we live call the tune for what we value and how, or if, we conduct our ministries, though.

Christians and families, the basic units of churches, have become lotus-eaters of American prosperity. We don’t, aggregately, care enough about anything else. Family disintegration, church fights, family financial problems, and general narcissism are caused or at least aggravated by selfish materialism. In this climate, telling our neighbors about Christ is pretty far from our minds. We are just the opposite of Paul?we have learned, in whatever state we find ourselves, to desire more.

Having our heads turned by the culture also affects the ministries of our churches, which are, remember, made up of us. There are many things related to making disciples we no longer do. I’d argue that even our commitment to making disciples is so fragmented as to be dubious.

Here’s an example. Of the reporting churches, over 26,000 reported conducting Vacation Bible School. That’s sounds pretty good until you consider that there are 44,000 churches in the SBC. I understand that some churches didn’t report at all but reasonably you’d expect that something like 15,000 of our churches just didn’t do it. On top of this, more than a fourth of our 2006 baptisms grew out of VBS. That would be kids saved and parents saved as a result of follow-up visitation.

For 15,000 Southern Baptist churches, their evangelistic effectiveness could be 26 percent higher if they just used VBS as a means to share Christ in their communities. But they don’t. They just don’t.

Other ways of sharing the gospel seem to be bearing fruit in our day. Men’s outdoor fellowships, regional crusades like the SBTC’s Celebration of Hope meetings, church-sponsored pregnancy resource centers, disaster relief, prison ministry, FAITH, and other traditional and innovative ways of sharing seem to work in those places where churches utilize them. Some of these are denominationally resourced and some of them originate in the heart of a pastor or lay leader, but they are implemented by churches and their members, or they’re not.

No, we can’t program evangelistic results. But it’s not surprising to find that churches that share are more likely to see people saved than churches that don’t.

It is also observable that our culture is increasingly hostile to anything resembling the biblical gospel message. Our communities respect religious observance in only the broadest way. The biblical reasons behind evangelism seem foreign and threatening to most expressions of our culture. But that doesn’t mean that our own neighbors are hostile to the gospel. Most of us don’t know the answer to that question. It’s no excuse.

Our culture constantly shifts but cultural shifts don’t explain why we let the simple act of sharing the gospel take a back seat to so many things in our lives and ministries. To me, acculturation on the part of all of us explains it better. We’d rather fit in, live to ourselves.

Perhaps another way to express it is that we love things more than we love people. Even our own leisure and peace become “things” in higher priority than the eternal state of others.

I don’t have the answer. We’ve tried things and I’d say that they work better than nothing. That’s a good thing. Still our hearts are mostly cold. I believe going back to the basics makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard.

By this, I mean:
?The Bible Study hour should be an hour when the Bible is thoroughly studied. No self-help courses or 12-step programs can replace this crucial discipline.

?Worship services should be focused on prayer, Bible reading, and the exposition of the Word. Use as creative a format as you like but don’t fall off into lesser things.

?Discipleship training, focused, systematic, and by whatever name, should once again occupy a prime place in our church schedules. Converts we do baptize are not often enough taught all the things Jesus commanded us. We don’t need to think about whether or not we should do these things; we’ve already been told to do them.

?Prayer, personal and intense, should also be a repeated exhortation for all of us great and small. Only God can warm our hearts so that we return to the first things.

Evangelism and the baptisms that should follow are the results of the more foundational things we do. Those are symptoms of relative c