NASHVILLE?One by one, the heads of Southern Baptist Convention entities took a seat at a table Feb.16 across from members of the SBC Executive Committee’s Cooperative Program (CP) Subcommittee, which is tasked with recommending the funding percentage each entity receives from Southern Baptists’ cooperative missions giving program.
Without exception, each leader thanked Southern Baptists for their faithfulness even in tough economic times.
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary President Jeff Iorg said that two weeks earlier, another seminary in his region had closed. The school was dependent upon one donor for its funding, Iorg explained, reminding him again that “through the Cooperative Program we have a gift from God for challenging times.”
Unlike their counterparts in economically depressed industries, those at the helms of Southern Baptist mission boards, commissions and seminaries echoed Iorg’s sentiment that “there is no doubt we are going to move through this,” with each pledging to stay on mission.
The Executive Committee voted Feb. 17 to recommend a $204.3 million CP Allocation Budget to the SBC during its June 23-24 annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., down more than $1.3 million from last year’s budget. CP receipts for 2007-08 (down 0.65 percent from the prior year) set the maximum amount allowed for the 2009-2010 CP Allocation Budget.
The proposed budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50 percent of receipts to the International Mission Board and 22.79 percent to the North American Mission Board. The convention’s six seminaries will receive a combined 21.92 percent. According to the seminary enrollment formula, Southern would receive 4.96 percent (down from 4.98 percent); Southwestern, 4.84 percent (up from 4.81 percent); New Orleans, 4.39 percent (down from 4.41 percent); Southeastern, 4.04 percent (down from 4.15 percent); Midwestern, 1.90 percent (up from 1.77 percent); and Golden Gate, 1.80 percent (down from 1.81 percent).
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission would continue to receive 1.65 percent
of the budget, while the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives would receive .24 percent. The SBC Operating Budget, encompassing the SBC annual meeting costs, the work of the convention between annual meetings and the Executive Committee, would receive 3.4 percent of the CP budget. The current staff salary structure for the Executive Committee employees will continue with no pay raises projected.
“Never has there been a time the six of us so recognized what a gift CP is to our Southern Baptist seminaries,” added Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Governments come and go. The stock market rises and falls. God, in the midst of it all, is still on his throne,” Akin wrote in his report.
Each seminary president outlined cost-cutting measures that in some cases included staff reductions and hiring freezes to survive the prospect of reduced income, several of them noting severe losses to their endowments.
“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good and it has made all of our seminaries more grateful for the Cooperative Program and our churches when they’re faithful in spite of the struggle,” noted Paige Patterson of Southwestern Seminary.
New Orleans Seminary President Charles Kelley said contingency plans are in place with a commitment to operate in the black, even while continuing to recover from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.
“Theological education is a personnel-intensive industry as we put teachers in touch with well over 4,500 students at Southern Seminary,” explained R. Albert Mohler.
“The real security and power of CP is not the money, but that your six seminaries belong to someone?the churches.” They not only provide the funding, he said, but a voice.
“We don’t want to waste a crisis,” he added, pledging strategic use of CP funds. “We are six different institutions with six different stories, but we belong to one family of Southern Baptist churches.”
Economic realities are impacting student enrollment, one seminary president noted, explaining that many students cannot afford to return from one semester to the next.
Midwestern Seminary President R. Philip Roberts eased the serious tone with a lighthearted confession at being grateful that the Kansas City school has the least endowment of all six seminaries.
“There’s probably never been a time I thanked God that we are the most dependent of all the seminaries on the Cooperative Program,” he said, sharing that half of the MBTS budget comes from CP allocations?which are not as susceptible as endowments to market changes.
Still, Roberts, while also reporting good financial reserves, said precautions were taken to under spend the current budget by 10 percent and freeze non-essential hiring,.
EULESS?”Evangelism is going to the battlefield where prayer has been and picking up the spoils of war,” Don Harms told those gathered at the Empower Evangelism Conference on Feb. 17. “Real evangelism is preceded by prayer.”
Harms, pastor of First Baptist Church, Porter, in suburban Houston, began his sermon titled “A Recipe for Revival and Requirements for Real Evangelism,” by describing the apostles’ steadfastness in preaching the gospel before the Jewish Sanhedrin as told in Acts 4:13.
“The Bible says they took note of them that they had been with Jesus. That’s the premium. Can the world tell you’ve been with him?”
Harms explained that deeper into the chapter, after the believers’ gathered for prayer, Acts says the place where they were praying was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Harms added, “Every revival that I can ascertain in the Word of God was preceded by prayer.”
The book of Judges is a never ending cycle of Israel falling into sin and despair followed by repentance and revival, Harms said, noting also that the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day and God’s show of power with Paul and Silas’ in the Philippian jail were preceded by fervent prayer.
In Acts, “the ground shook and the shackles fell off and revival happened right there,” he said. “The same is true in our churches today. If revival is going to come, if we are going to reap a harvest of souls, then prayer is essential.”
“We live in a time when people talk about revival and evangelism and do very little praying for it. The Bible said that when they had prayed, the place was shaken. Let me ask you a question you don’t want to answer: Have you shaken any places lately? Has your church shaken any places lately?”
Harms told of praying, prior to a series of revival meetings, over every seat in the small church where he pastored in Stanford years ago.
“When that revival had closed, we had baptized more people than attended our church on any given Sunday. God was at work. My friend, prayer is the answer.”
Additionally, real evangelism is powered by the Paraklete?the Holy Spirit, Harms said.
As a young pastor Harms said he tried to imitate Billy Graham in the same way many young preachers try to mimic someone they admire.
“Listen folks, those who say cute things are a dime a dozen, but the premium is to have the power of God on your life.”
Quoting Romans 5:5, which states: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” Harms added, “I contend that our congregations must be like this today. And our power comes from above, it does not come from within.”
Real evangelism is also propagated by the Word of God and permeated with the gospel message, Harms said.
“Have you every noticed how many times Jesus quoted Old Testament Scripture? Every sermon in the book of Acts is based on the Word of God as they knew it. And yet some sermons are just stories. Actually, they are illustrations with Scripture enveloping it and building around it.
“People don’t come to church to be entertained; they come to hear ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ The Word of God transforms people’s lives.”
Harms said Paul’s simple advice to Timothy to “preach the Word” is as relevant as ever.
“And my friend, the best thing you can do, as best as you know how?you may be a college student, you may have never have gone to college at all?just get in the Word of God and tell your people what God has told you. You don’t have to put it out in homiletical form. You don’t have to have an outline. You don’t have to be cute about it. Just stand up and preach your heart out and people will come to Christ because God honors his Word.”
The simple gospel message should be included somewhere in every sermon, Harms said.
“Our church is culturally relevant. Our church addresses real-life problems that people face today. But we address problems in light of the Scripture and in every case Jesus Christ is presented as Savior and Lord. I think every church service ought to be one where if a lost man walked in he could hear enough gospel to get saved.”
He said that on Jan. 20, 1963, he walked into a church in Alaska, where he was stationed in the military, having never been to church or ever read a Bible verse for himself. Before he left that night, he was born again.
EULESS?Using country music singer Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dyin'” as a setup for his testimony and 2 Timothy 1 as the text for his sermon, Sammy Gilbreath pleaded with those attending the SBTC’s Empower Evangelism Conference to live with eternity in mind.
Gilbreath had a blood clot and rare aneurism in his left ventricle that his physicians, including those at the Mayo Clinic, said would kill him quickly. Instead, he has defied
the odds, but knowing that each day is a blessing that might be his last.
With funeral arrangements already in place, Gilbreath has continued to serve in his role as evangelism director for Alabama Baptists.
“I hope you get a chance to live like you were dying,” Gilbreath told the crowd. “It is my prayer this afternoon that the Holy Spirit of God will empower you to learn to live like you are dying.”
“If you are going to live like you are dying, the very first thing you must learn is the value of the promise of life,” he said.
Gilbreath said he has learned to replace the words “got to” in his vocabulary with
“Before this happened I would have said, ‘I’ve got to go to Texas tomorrow.’ No, you get to go to Texas tomorrow. ‘I’ve got to go to that deacon’s meeting.’ No, you get to go to that deacon’s meeting. ‘I’ve got to go to work in the morning.’ You get to go to work in the morning. ‘I’ve got to make that visit to the nursing home.’ No, you get to go visit the nursing home.”
In the routine of life, Gilbreath said to seize opportunities to minister to people, because the way believers’ respond “may determine where [others] spend eternity.”
“If this coming Sunday is the last Sunday that you will serve Yahweh God and his beloved son, the sermon that’s spinning around in your mind, how would you change it if Sunday’s the last Sunday you will ever preach?”
Also, Gilbreath said Christians must learn that spiritual blessings are more important than physical things.
He was blessed to live long enough to marry his son and daughter-in-law, even though doctors warned him not to travel to the wedding across two states. He even thanked God for the blessing of being able to rake leaves?something he hated as a kid.
Worried that his family would need him after he died, he said he cried out to God.
“And in that prayer time God said ‘grace is never given in advance. Grace is always given at the point of need.’ So sweetly, he said when they need the grace there will be more than enough. And then almost as a reminder he said, ‘Oh, by the way, I can take care of them better than you can.’ I don’t worry about them any more.”
To live like one is dying, he must live with a clear conscience, Gilbreath added.
“You may decide after this conference that you are going to change some of your behavior, some of your study habits, some of your personal time with the Lord. That’s admirable but that’s not a clear conscience. Only God grants a clear conscience, following repentance.”
Finally, “If you are going to live like you are dying, you are going to have to learn the value of remembering.”
Noting Paul’s remembrance of the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother in 1 Timothy 1:5, Gilbreath asked: “Who led you to the Lord? Who stood by you when no one else knew you were struggling?”
If that person died, what would you spend the rest of your life wishing you had told them? he asked.
“I wish mentally you could just come and get on that stainless steel cardiology table with me, your feet dangling off, your family sitting right there with you. The cardiologist calls you by name and looks at your family and says ‘you’re going to die, and you’re going to die very, very quickly.’ What is it that you need to do this afternoon in this session for that to be all right? It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit of God will empower you to learn to live like you’re dying.”
EULESS Be prepared, because the Holy Spirit may ambush you with opportunities to share the gospel, Christian apologist and author Lee Strobel told those attending the Empower Evangelism Conference at First Baptist Church of Euless.
Strobel, author of bestselling books “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for the Faith,” told of being impressed to share his newfound faith years ago with an atheist co-worker during his days as legal editor at the Chicago Tribune.
Discouraged that the witnessing opportunity seemed to go nowhere, Strobel said he wondered why he had been so impressed to share his faith.
Years later as a staff pastor at a large church in Chicago, Strobel met a man who explained that he had been laying tile in the newspaper office that day when Strobel attempted to win his atheist friend, recalling how Strobel had defended the bodily resurrection of Christ. The man had already been thinking of visiting a church, and when Strobel invited his friend to Sunday services, the man took a mental note of it and came that Sunday with his family.
Eventually, the man was saved, as was his family.
“This man was down on his hands and knees” laying tile, Strobel said. “This is the unexpected adventure of the Christian life,” Strobel added, alluding to the theme in his latest book co-written with Mark Mittelberg, “The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People about Jesus.”
Noting Thom Rainer’s research that 80 percent of churches are plateaued or dying, Strobel said to win people to Christ and stem the tide of a vanishing Christianity:
?Leaders must own and model the value of evangelism.
?Leaders must instill these values in their congregation.
?Leaders must appoint and empower a “point person” to lead the evangelistic charge.
?Leaders must train 100 percent of the congregation to share the gospel, “because we’ve all been called upon in Scripture to do that.”
?Leaders must unleash church members who have a passion for evangelism.
?Leaders must create safe places where non-believers can ask questions without embarrassment or manipulation.
In today’s church, Strobel said it takes on average 86 church members one year to reach one convert. The old adage, “Speed of the leader, speed of the team” is apt for evangelism, he said.
“One of the biggest reasons people don’t evangelize is because pastors don’t lead evangelistically.”
“Your church is not going to be more evangelistic than you are,” Strobel said.
In evangelizing, pastors need not add anything new to their plate. But, “we need accountability. We ought to be asking the question, ‘Who are you reaching out to?'”
In delegating the leadership of an evangelism endeavor to a point person, the pastor can focus on preaching and leading the congregation.
“Pastor, you can’t do it all. You’ve got a million values you have to raise. Who is going to help you raise the evangelistic value in your church?”
Furthermore, everyone can learn to share the gospel naturally, within their own personality style, said Strobel, who told of a young woman named Julie who thought her introverted personality exempted her from witnessing. Once she learned she could share the gospel apart from a set approach, she led 14 people to faith in one year.
“But she would have never gotten into the game if she had not learned that it was OK to be herself,” Strobel said.
Additionally, some people seem to have a special gift for evangelism, and these people “have a disproportionate effect on evangelism in the church.” Consequently, a pastor must encourage these people to pursue souls.
In creating safe, caring environments for people with sincere questions about the faith, churches can speak volumes about the love of Christ, which has the power to overwhelm people.
Strobel told the story of Maggie, who claimed to be an atheist but had slowly become involved in a home group at his church. Often, she would deride Christians and Christianity, but she kept coming.
One Sunday during a baptismal service, Strobel noticed Maggie in the line of those waiting to be baptized. Shocked at the change of heart, he asked her later what broke her resistance to Jesus Christ.
The Hispanic session of the Evangelism Conference, held Feb. 15 at First Baptist Church of Colleyville and Feb. 16 at the Campus West facility of First Baptist Euless drew 1,000 people and resulted in approximately 100 salvation decisions after evangelist Alberto Mottesi (middle photo) preached. In top photo, participants sing during the Feb. 15 rally. In the bottom photo, a young man takes notes during a breakout session on Feb. 16.
EULESS?Leading churches in Cooperative Program (CP) missions giving were recognized during the annual CP Luncheon Feb. 17 at First Baptist Church of Euless. The lunch was held during the Empower Evangelism Conference.
CP leaders in per capita giving for 2008 were: (100 members or less) First Baptist Church, LeFors; (101-250) Skyline Baptist, Killeen; (251-500) Church at the Cross, Grapevine; (501-750) First Baptist Pampa; (751-1,000) Friendly Baptist, Tyler; (1,001-1,500) West Conroe Baptist, Conroe; (1,501-2,500) First Baptist Rockwall; (2,501-plus) First Baptist Dallas.
CP leaders in total giving for 2008 were: 1) First Baptist Rockwall; 2) First Baptist Houston; 3) First Baptist Dallas; 4) First Baptist Euless; 5) Prestonwood Baptist, Plano; 6) Champion Forest Baptist, Houston; 7) Sagemont, Houston; 8) Great Hills Baptist, Austin; 9) Humble-area First Baptist; 10) Castle Hills Baptist, San Antonio.
The CP missions funding channel begins with churches sending through the SBTC a portion of its tithes and offerings. Of those receipts, the SBTC retains 45 cents per dollar for church planting and missions causes in Texas while the remaining 55 cents of each dollar through the Southern Baptist Convention to fund more than 5,500 full-time international missionaries, another 5,000 North American missionaries and six seminaries, and a social concerns agency.
The SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Services receive no CP funding.
KATY?Randy White, pastor of First Baptist Church of Katy, has written an open letter to the trustees of LifeWay Christian Resources after trying to get the company to remove a fictional bestseller from its shelves. White’s letter expresses his theological disagreement with some of things taught in the popular book.
While the pastor acknowledged “The Shack” has been “a comfort to millions and given them spiritual hope,” he contends that the novel “falls tragically short of the biblical revelation of God.”
In support of this claim, the letter, dated Feb. 19 and mailed Feb. 20, listed 10 bullet points signifying problems from the first 100 pages of the 248-page novel. White told the TEXAN he read the entire book but considered the concerns raised in the first half to be typical. His letter was also e-mailed to LifeWay President Thom Rainer and other staff members with whom he had been in dialogue.
A critique of the book, detailing some of the same concerns, was also posted on White’s blog.
Among White’s concerns were a perceived “mocking of the complete nature of Scripture,” the incarnation of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit as women, a flippant attitude toward the role of the Holy Spirit, crude language attributed to the persons of God, and an unbiblical explanation of Christ’s incarnation and sacrifice.
White concludes by calling the decision to sell the book through LifeWay Christian Stores, “unconscionable” and asking the trustees to “take measures to remove the book from LifeWay stores.”
Responding to White’s concerns, LifeWay Christian Resources provided a statement saying that “the overwhelming number of Southern Baptists like the book and expect us to carry it in our stores.” The statement also notes that customers complained during the period last summer when the book was removed from LifeWay’s shelves “for further review.”
LifeWay also said “The Shack,” as a work of fiction, should be evaluated by different standards than a doctrinal or theological work. Their statement cites the example of C.S. Lewis as a popular author who took theological license in an effort to convey spiritual truth.
Each copy of the “The Shack” sold by LifeWay stores includes a “Read With Discernment” flyer that urges readers to exercise “extra discernment” because of the book’s “thought-provoking nature.” The enclosure also directs customers to a book on the Trinity and a basic introduction to Christian doctrine for further study.
LifeWay also provided endorsements of their corporate decision to sell the novel from Texas pastors David Dykes and Robert Jeffress, former LifeWay President Jimmy Draper, and Union University President David Dockery.
Rob Phillips, LifeWay’s communications director, told the TEXAN the company’s trustee chairman planned to send a response in support of LifeWay’s decision to White. The trustee chairman’s response was not available at press time.