Month: June 2008

Criswell students win souls in Indiana

NEW WHITELAND, Ind.–Criswell College students attending the Southern Baptist Convention and pre-convention evangelistic outreach learned firsthand how God redirected their plans to suit his purposes amid dangerous floodwaters surrounding the church they were to help.

Assigned to conduct revival services and evangelistic outreach for New Whiteland Baptist Church south of Indianapolis and later engaged in the kind of street witnessing they’d done in Dallas, the 13 students saw at least a dozen people profess faith in Christ. The annual pre-convention evangelistic thrust known as Crossover saw 759 people saved as 500 volunteers from across the country braved a rain-soaked weekend.

Long before the weekend of June 6-8, God had prepared the heart of an Indiana pastor to accept the call to pastor a small-town church. The students he would meet from Criswell were prepared to minister. It was more than a coincidence that legendary Dallas pastor W.A. Criswell had a hand in influencing the pastor to accept the New Whiteland Baptist Church assignment as well as laying the foundation for the college from where the students learned to be flexible in going where God leads.

In the fall of 1991, Daniel Moore attended a state convention meeting in Indiana where Criswell was preaching. He sought the famous pastor’s counsel regarding an opportunity to serve the New Whiteland church for less pay, a decision Moore’s own pastor had advised against.

“I was upset because I always thought you should go where the Lord wants you to go,” Moore shared with the Criswell College students assigned to conduct evangelistic outreach.

“After W.A. Criswell got done preaching, I told him the story and asked what I should do,” Moore recounted. “He told me, ‘Son, you just do what the Lord’s calling you to do,’ and so I told him I was going to do it,” later resigning the Indianapolis position to begin his ministry in New Whiteland.

Having served the church for the past 16 years, Moore recognized God’s providence in giving him the Criswell students on a weekend that would test their endurance.

“They learned in this experience that we may have our plans but sometimes God interrupts those plans and we have an opportunity to minister in a different way,” explained Bobby Worthington, evangelism professor at Criswell College and director of the Encounter Missions program that trains students to witness in any circumstance. “You need to respond quickly and think about the community,” he advised them. “The church is a lighthouse and we’re to respond to help people in need.”

Though he’d planned to send the students into the surrounding neighborhood to distribute VBS flyers, Moore redirected them to assist residents threatened by the floodwaters, while advising police that the church would serve as a safe haven for displaced neighbors.

“I never heard one of them complain about wading in water or anything else,” Moore told the TEXAN as he reflected on the students’ efforts. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

At press time, ministry continued following the flooding as Moore served as a disaster relief chaplain, tackling spiritual needs in the wake of the natural disaster.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” recalled student Jason Thomas. “While we were going out it was almost waist-high water.”

He and other students checked on elderly residents to tell them of the availability of New Whiteland Baptist church as a shelter.

Criswell student Byron Milligan described his amazement at the opportunities to share their faith as they walked the flooded streets. As the team approached a house with five children, Milligan shared that they warned the mother of the rising waters, urging her to get out quickly. Twenty minutes later her husband arrived, but the water had risen too high for the children to walk to safety.

“We carried them down the street to our truck,” Milligan wrote in his journal. “I was able to get a little boy named Josh to know that Jesus loved him. He was pretty frightened and I know it will be something he will always remember. Hopefully, he will also always remember that Jesus does love him and has a plan for his life.”

College student Ali Khadivi remembered prayerwalking those same neighborhoods the night before the foot of rain fell, planning to go into different neighborhoods to invite people to Vacation Bible School and the weekend revival.

“It was God-ordained and God-organized,” he said of the chaos that ensued. “There were lots of travelers that we didn’t even plan to meet. They came for food and we shared the gospel, fed and ministered to them.”

Khadivi preached at the Saturday evening service after a day of disaster relief ministry. A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary student had been redirected through New Whiteland when floodwaters overcame the freeway he was traveling. He learned of the ministry opportunities from Worthington and stayed to participate in the services since he could not make it to the site to which he’d been assigned to provide music.

“He sang a song that really touched all of the members there,” Worthington said.

“One gentleman was saved and the whole church was crying because so many had prayed for this young man,” Khadivi related.

Staying into the next week to participate in the convention meeting, students shared their faith on the downtown streets, in Circle Centre Mall, and at a Greyhound bus station.

“People were coming and going and everybody was a divine appointment,” Khadivi said.

Khadivi, a Middle Eastern immigrant, said, “I kind of speak Spanish,” relying on Spanish-language tracts and his limited vocabulary to witness to two Spanish-speaking men who accepted Christ as Savior. “It was just awesome. Professor Worthington organized it in a way to team up with different students every day.”

“We tried to build relationships so that after we left they would turn to the local churches,” Worthington told the TEXAN.

Twenty-three professions of faith were reported during the downtown evangelistic efforts in which Criswell students participated.

Khadivi added, “Criswell College prepares you for every good work—preaching and evangelism, but my heart is on missions. Anywhere I go I can’t keep my mouth shut for Jesus Christ.”

Pastors’ wives hear from Donna Gaines

INDIANAPOLIS?Jesus died so believers could have abundant life regardless of their circumstances, Donna Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., said during the Pastors’ Wives Session of the SBC Pastors’ Conference June 9 in Indianapolis.

Before an audience of about 600 women, Gaines pointed to Genesis 2 for a picture of “life as it was meant to be.”

The session’s worship was led by Kim and Suzanne Noblitt of First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark. The women participated in a time of directed prayer for each other and were encouraged by panelists interviewed by Susie Hawkins of Dallas.

Gaines, whose husband Steve is pastor of the Memphis-area church, compared the disobedience described in Genesis 3 to “times when Christians fail to take God at his word and take matters into their own hands in order to relieve difficult circumstances.”

Separation, fear and shame replace God’s plan for intimacy, security and innocence, she said.

From 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Gaines described how the same Spirit of God who knows the very thoughts of God desires an intimate relationship with believers.

“It takes time and discipline for us to grow in Jesus,” she said, mentioning a collection of resources she described as her survival kit. Gaines advised women to read through the Bible systematically, record in a journal the impressions God provides, meditate on God’s Word and find encouragement from devotional books and music.

“This is where you spend your time if you have an appointment with God every day,” she said. “He called you and now it’s up to you to pursue him.”

Gaines cited Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:12-14 and Romans 12:1-2 in describing God’s plan for Christian maturity.

“The Spirit-filled life should not be affected by our trials and difficulties,” she said. “We should become more like Christ as he knocks off rough edges, revealing areas of the flesh that are left uncrucified.”

After describing a particularly difficult time in serving a local church, Gaines said: “It was in the middle of some of the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced that the Lord met me in a deeper and even more intimate way as he began to speak to me on a daily basis. I could not get enough of his Word. It was absolutely life to me.”

In 1 John 4:18 Gaines discovered how love is perfected “regardless of where your feet land.” She advised ministers’ wives that they can “choose not to be offended,” releasing the hurt through God’s grace. In her exposition of Psalm 37 she related the process of ascending through trust, delight, commitment and finally rest.

“God knows where he has you serving because he placed you there,” Gaines said. “Surrender to him, take up your cross today, die to hurt, unforgiveness and the bitterness that is poisoning your life to prevent you from experiencing him more. There is abundant life that will follow as you surrender to his Spirit.”

Chris Adams, a women’s ministry specialist with LifeWay Christian Resources, reminded the pastors’ wives of resources available at LifeWay’s Glorieta and Ridgecrest conference centers offer a women’s ministry track each summer, and in 2009 a “Living through Life” event is planned for ministers’ wives during the first quarter of the year. LifeWay Christian Resources helped underwrite the Pastors’ Wives Session.

Next year, the session for pastors’ wives in Louisville, Ky., will feature Elizabeth Luter of New Orleans. For more information, visit

Hunt points SBC to ‘what’s united us’

Johnny Hunt, a pastor from Woodstock, Ga, was elected June 10 as president of the 16.4 million member Southern Baptist Convention in the 151st session of its two-day annual meeting. Hunt, from the nearly 17,000-member First Baptist Church in Woodstock, was elected president when he received 52. 95 percent of the vote over five other nominees at the meeting in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Photo by Matt Miller

INDIANAPOLIS–The priorities Johnny Hunt announced for his tenure as president of the Southern Baptist Convention are the same ones that have characterized his 32 years as a local church pastor — evangelism, discipleship and missions.

“I want to see as many people as possible come to embrace Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior and then help as many people as possible become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ and to see churches become personally involved in taking the gospel down the street and around the world,” Hunt said during a news conference after being elected SBC president June 10 on the first ballot among six candidates.

When reporters tried to apply characteristics of Hunt’s ministry to existing political agendas, he kept to his message and refused to be drawn into what he regards as lesser issues. “I’ve not really thought that much through things that have divided us. I believe if we’ll keep the focus off of that and our hearts on what’s united us, it can lead us to the best days in the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Hunt said he would uphold Southern Baptists’ common identity as “a people of the Book,” one of the leading mission-minded denominations of the world, and a body known for its commitment to planting churches. Instead of directly answering questions about “narrowing parameters of participation within the SBC,” Hunt said, “I would hope to unite our hearts around the things we believe Christ was most committed to.”

Issues in the culture such as global warming, homosexuality and abortion, and concerns within the SBC over the funding mechanism known as the Cooperative Program, a decline in baptisms, and disaffected young leaders were offered for his analysis. However, Hunt redirected attention to “inspiring the next generation with a vision for the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Having established a track record of mentoring younger pastors through his Timothy Barnabas conference ministry the last 14 years, Hunt said he sees ministers in that age group as the future of the convention. “If we don’t have someone coming behind us, we don’t have a future. That is why God put fire in my heart to get involved. If our denomination were to become a byword in years to come, I would hate for it to be on my watch when I felt I maybe could have led to a positive change.”

Hunt plans to network with younger pastors to encourage them to be part of what he predicts to be “a winning team” instead of giving them the idea that “we want them to be involved just to keep us alive.” While he called for a “change in radical leadership to turn the tide in our denomination,” Hunt set his sights on “sharing a vision of what’s made our denomination great,” then inspiring others to “step up to the plate.”

“I’m not one who believes we need a whole lot more information about what we need to do. I just believe we need to be inspired.”

Hunt praised efforts at this year’s convention to increase the participation of younger generations. Instead of “constantly saying, ‘Give to the Cooperative Program,'” he said, “We ought to show the generation coming behind us all that the Cooperative Program is doing.” When taking a special offering in his own church, Hunt said he first tells what is happening and then proposes how to respond, whereas in the SBC, “We try to take the offering before we tell the story.” By utilizing “e-mail blasts constantly streaming to make it clear to all who want to know,” Hunt hopes to tell more people what Southern Baptists are doing “so they will want to be a part of it.”

He also called for a realistic assessment of the facts concerning a decline in baptisms. “We ought to be doing more with all the people we have. We have a larger army and ought to be taking in more territory.”

Though he pastors a large church, Hunt said he is not seen as “a large church pastor” by his peers. Asked whether his election silenced the notion that Southern Baptists were no longer electing mega-church pastors, preferring men like the current president, Frank Page, Hunt said, “I can only hope that I can be as good a Christian gentleman in public and private as Frank is.”

Hunt said he “never intended to be pastor of a large church. I just wanted to reach all of the people I could.” He said every church he pastored was smaller than the one he previously served. His current church, First Baptist Church in Woodstock, had 200 in attendance when he began 20 years ago.

“I’ve had an opportunity to lead every church I’ve been in through a transition to be a growing church,” Hunt said. “My heart, through the times I address the denomination and in print, will be to lead them and encourage them to once again embrace God’s heart for the nations and neighbors and hopefully see a turnaround” in declining baptisms.

Believed to be the first Native American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Hunt was asked about his ethnicity as a Lumbee Indian of North Carolina and involvement with a new fellowship of Native American Southern Baptists. “I’m proud of my heritage and have some of my Indian family here with me. I don’t know that we have enough to take on all of you,” he joked, “but I’m very grateful for their graciousness and commitment to me through the years.”

Having only pastored Anglo churches, Hunt said Lumbee tribe members often appealed to him to return to serve their community, yet later expressed their pride that God had sent to “to help all those white people.” His own congregation supports a Spanish-speaking ministry as well as work in 37 nations this year. “We’re committed to the neighbors and the nations. That’s our prayer.”

Hunt pledged to rely upon “a multitude of counselors” for wisdom in prayerfully making decisions. “I’m certainly not looking to lead as president by consensus, but I really do believe we need to broaden not just who serves, but broaden the area of wisdom.”

When engaging the culture in regard to homosexuality, Hunt said Southern Baptists should “love them where they are and at the same time share what Scripture teaches and how we can help them.”

Oftentimes, Southern Baptists are known for what they’re against instead of “the wonderful things we’re for,” Hunt said, hoping to follow his church’s desire to “love loud” in dealing with the culture. While he plans to become more educated about existing Southern Baptist ministries, Hunt said, “I’d like for this nation to see what we’re doing and for it to be so loud that they see the love of Jesus and say, ‘You know what? I’d like to hear more from you,’ that they see the genuine person of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hunt explained, “I can only try to lead the denomination as I do the church. I am a pastor, first and foremost. It is my calling.” In contras