Month: March 2010

Ancient Israel meets the 21st century

GRAND PRAIRIE?This spring, the tabernacle is coming to Texas.

The life-size replica of the Old Testament Jewish tabernacle will be on display March 18-28 in Grand Prairie and includes a narrated tour through seven interactive stations featuring the altar of burnt offering, laver, lampstand, altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant.

A press release from event organizers indicates the tour will cover themes such as biblical history, worship, atonement of sin, holiness, the grace of God, and even Christ’s resurrection.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Jeanne Whittaker, who envisioned it after a trip to the Holy Land for a women’s retreat with her church in California. Even though Whittaker believed God called her to replicate the tabernacle, she admitted feeling overwhelmed and under-informed.

“I really wasn’t quite sure what I had I just said ‘yes’ to. I looked around our immense sanctuary wondering if the tabernacle was bigger than this or smaller than a bread box? I began the game of multiple questions,” she said. “I spent precious sleepless nights traveling through the Scriptures with our High Priest, Jesus. He led me within the walls of the courtyard, ushered me into the Holy Place, and solemnly beckoned me beyond the curtain to worship him in the Holy of Holies. At every turn he revealed himself in the mystery of his Tabernacle,” Whittaker wrote.

Since then, the exhibit has moved across North America, from California to North Carolina. However, this is not the first time the Tabernacle Experience has come to Texas. Several thousand church leaders and musicians attending the National Worship Leader Conference in Austin toured the Tabernacle in 2008, and several churches have hosted it, including First Baptist Church of Borger.

Among those at the Austin event was Wayne Bartley, executive pastor of First Baptist Church in Prosper, who said the tour is an experience to remember. “So many of the Scriptures just came alive as I listened and walked through the Tabernacle Experience,” Bartley said. “It is something I will never forget and hope I get to do again.”

“As you journey through the stations of this exhibit, the person of Jesus Christ is revealed in every aspect of the Old Testament tabernacle,” explained Shawn Barnard, pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, concerning the event that his church is hosting.

The March 18 opening day is reserved for pastors and local media to preview the exhibit, opening to the public March 19-28 at a cost of $5 each. Space may be reserved in advance for large groups on March 22-24. In addition to other public viewing days, the exhibit will be open on Palm Sunday, March 28, from 2 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit

Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the TEXAN that the study of the tabernacle is vital to understanding the nature of God and the work of Christ.

“To understand the nature and the function of the tabernacle is to gain a perspective on the significance of the death of Jesus on the cross that can be appreciated in few other ways,” Patterson said. “Furthermore, the nature of God, himself, his holiness and the prescribed method of human approach to God are nowhere more clearly outlined than in the symbolism of the tabernacle and its worship. This is why such an exhibit is vitally important.”

3 days from vote, pro-life groups mount pressure

WASHINGTON–House Democratic leaders Thursday began a 72-hour countdown to a dramatic Sunday vote on the Senate health care bill, a proposal that is opposed by the nation’s leading pro-life groups and which likely will pass or fail by only a handful of votes.

Democratic leaders had been awaiting a score on the bill’s changes by the Congressional Budget Office, which issued a preliminary report Thursday morning estimating the overall bill would cost $940 billion over 10 years and reduce the deficit by $138 billion over the same period. With the CBO numbers in hand, Democrats unveiled the bill’s proposed changes, which they had promised would be public for 72 hours before the House takes a vote. None of the changes pertain to abortion.

But pro-life groups are less concerned about CBO numbers than the bill’s impact on the nation’s abortion rate, which they argue could dramatically increase if the bill passes the House. The bill changes longstanding federal policy by allowing tax dollars to fund insurance plans that cover abortion. It also appropriates $7 billion to the nation’s 1,200-plus community health centers without stating that the money cannot be used for abortions, the groups say. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, supports the bill and argued it would “significantly increase access to reproductive health care.”

Pro-life groups are turning up the pressure on like-minded Democrats, arguing the vote is a monumental one for representatives’ careers and encouraging their constituents to call their House member. National Right to Life sent a memo to House members March 5 stating plainly that “a House member who votes for the Senate bill would forfeit a plausible claim to pro-life credentials.” Local pro-life chapters also are involved, including Tennessee Right to Life, which said in an e-mail to constituents Thursday that four representatives — Tennessee’s Lincoln Davis, Jim Cooper, Bart Gordon and John Tanner — would “cast key votes.”

Likewise, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List recently began polling in 19 key districts where self-proclaimed Democratic pro-lifers reside. It sent out e-mails Wednesday highly critical of two Democrats — Dale Kildee of Michigan and James Oberstar of Minnesota — who indicated they would support the bill.

“Congressman Oberstar can no longer call himself ‘pro- life.’ He has set himself with the likes of NARAL, NOW, and Planned Parenthood, and has betrayed his pro-life principles and his constituents,” Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “… Congressman Oberstar has traded the lives of the unborn. He’s made this choice to his own political peril.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also sent out an e-mail, saying, “… if you are opposed to the health care bill, please tell your congressman to vote against the bill or any procedure that would advance the bill in the House.”

Neither side of the debate knows if Democrats have the votes, and various independent counters showed it to be razor-thin. With 431 representatives currently in the House, the magic number either to pass or defeat the bill is 216 — assuming that everyone is present. All 178 Republicans are expected to oppose it. With 253 Democrats in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi can withstand only 37 defections from her caucus, which would give her a 216-215 victory. If 38 Democrats vote “no,” the bill would be defeated.

CNN reported Thursday there were 27 firm Democratic no votes, although that number did not include Rep. Michael Arcuri, D.-N.Y., who said Thursday he would vote no. The Hill newspaper reported there were 37 Democrats who were either “firm,” “leaning,” or “likely” to vote no. A total of 49 Democrats, The Hill said, were undecided. Yet MSNBC’s First Read webpage painted a more optimistic scenario for Democrats, reporting that Democrats were “fewer than five votes away from 216.”

The bill’s changes — contained in a separate bill from the health care bill itself — are at the heart of the controversy because Senate Democratic leaders have pledged to use reconciliation to pass the changes with a simple majority vote. The Senate passed the health care bill in December, and the two chambers soon began working out the differences between the Senate version and the House version, which had passed in November. But that strategy was tossed out the window in January when Republicans won an upset U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat, denying Democrats the necessary 60 votes within their caucus to overcome a GOP filibuster. Democrats then began considering reconciliation.

Compiled by Michael Foust an assistant editor of Baptist Press. To read a Q&A on abortion and the health care bill, visit House members can be contacted through the capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) or through, where their local office numbers can be found.

Texas board tentatively OKs social studies curricula

AUSTIN, Texas ? The Texas State Board of Education turned back some controversial revisions to social studies standards in meetings March 10-12, retaining requirements that students learn about historical notables such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison and adding language about significant political ideas, including the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” cited in the Declaration of Independence.

Texas, the front line in the cultural battles over public school curricula of late, is influential in the textbook market because it buys or distributes about 48 million books annually, influencing textbook content for most other states.

The new standards, approved on the first reading by an 11-4 vote on March 12, will face a final vote in May when the board meets. Standards for given subjects are revised every 10 years. The board has a 10-5 Republican majority and an eight-member conservative voting bloc.

At meetings late last year, references to Christmas and Rosh Hashanah were reinserted into the standards after attempts by a revision committee of educators and historians to scuttle them in favor of Diwali, a five-day Hindu festival.

The board also rejected attempts to change date references of A.D. and B.C. to C.E. and B.C.E. (common era and before common era, respectively), despite contention from board member Mavis Knight (D-Dallas) that B.C.E. and C.E. are now standard in academic circles.

In other notable changes, the board added references to:

?free market economist Milton Friedman, who heavily influenced Ronald Reagan’s supply-side approach to economics, as a notable contributor to economics;

?the idea of “American exceptionalism”?that American ideals are different and unique from other nations;

?America as a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democracy”;

?major political ideas in history including inalienable rights, the divine right of kings, social contract theory, and the rights of resistance to illegitimate government.

Over the last few months, the board received nearly 14,000 e-mails from constituents about the proposed new standards, Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas, told the board.

The board drew national media attention for its latest round of meetings, similar to last year, when it ratified new science standards requiring biology students to “analyze, evaluate and critique” scientific theories, “examining all sides of scientific evidence” with “critical thinking.”

Thoughts on the GCR Task Force report

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force released a progress report last month in Nashville. It is my privilege to serve with these godly men and women on the task force. I watched the members struggle with the complexities of bettering our convention’s Great Commission ministries while moving forward together. Unity of vision and heart was accomplished on the task force. I pray Southern Baptists will catch the vision and be of one heart as well.

If I were the author of the documents, I might have chosen different words at times. If I had my way on every issue, the report would look differently (and no doubt not as good). Some may feel certain areas of Southern Baptist work did not get enough attention. Our major focus was reaching the nations and our nation. I am convinced the task force progress report is a significant step in the right direction. All of us are being challenged. It will be difficult, but anything worthwhile always calls for sacrifice.

CP definition

The Cooperative Program definition remains unchanged and uncompromised. It is still the preferred channel of giving. Some state conventions introduced a “designated” Cooperative Program in the early 1990s. It is a failed concept. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was founded with a strong commitment to keep CP an undesignated giving channel for missions and ministry. The SBTC has recognized designated gifts from churches from the beginning. In the future Southern Baptists may call those types of gifts “Designated Great Commission Giving.” However, the Cooperative Program will remain the preferred way of Great Commission Giving.

North America

I will not comment on all the components of the GCRTF progress report in this article. But there is one of the components very close to my heart?reaching North America with the gospel.

I am a traditional Southern Baptist. My comfort zone is with traditional ministries found in many of our churches located in the Deep South or similar rural settings. But much of the world I grew up in is gone. Some of that culture was good, some of it was bad. We can’t pine for the good ole’ days or the way it used to be. Decisions can’t be based on my preferences; it has to be about Jesus’ passion. His passion was to seek and to save those who are lost.

Our nation is becoming less evangelized every year. Southern Baptists work hard. However, we will not get the job done by working harder. We have to work smarter. By approaching our nation as the world, we can have a better handle ongetting the gospel to the burgeoning people groups and diverse culture of the United States. We must find a way to move personnel and finances outside of our strongest areas and redirect them to the places of greatest lostness.

Is the GCR plan perfect? No. Is there time to improve it? Yes. I encourage you to offer positive suggestions. Help us find a way to move in the most aggressive way possible with the gospel toward lostness in America. It is my desire for God to use Southern Baptists as a tool of national spiritual awakening. It can be a spiritual morning in America. It will take a Joel chapter 2 experience. It also requires us to get outside the box to see what God would have us do differently.

We all want men, women, boys and girls to experience life in Christ. Business as usual will not get it done. An undeniable decline in the number of baptisms to population growth has taken place for decades. After much prayer and study the task force has cast a vision. I believe God is giving us one more opportunity to put our money and personnel where we say our hearts are. Let’s go for it, together!

Baptists contemplate right mix of proclamation, works

The perceived tension between the call to mercy ministries and the commission to make disciples?James 1 and Matthew 28 respectively?has gained renewed interest among many Southern Baptists and other evangelicals.

Caring for widows and orphans has always been a Christian distinctive, but it received fresh emphasis in early 20th century America with a movement led by a group known as the Social Gospelers. The Social Gospel’s theological missteps led many conventional congregations to prioritize gospel preaching over social engagement, and in some cases, to its exclusion.

But as evangelical authors increasingly call believers to a “missional” lifestyle, some Baptist leaders are rethinking the nature and scope of what constitutes evangelism and the Great Commission and the role social ministry should play in it.

This renewed emphasis on social ministry extends beyond the Southern Baptist Convention and is finding grassroots enthusiasm among younger evangelicals, with some seeking community transformation over individual salvation. Churches, parachurch organizations, and other evangelical movements are calling believers to rediscover social action as a part of their Christian witness.

“It is time for conventional [churches] to recognize that ‘fear’ of the social gospel is not only biblically unwarranted; it is also biblically irresponsible in light of the fact that Scripture clearly teaches us to engage social justice issues,” write Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professors Mark Liederbach?associate professor of Christian ethics?and Alvin Reid?professor of evangelism and student ministry?in their new book, “The Convergent Church: Missional Worshippers in an Emerging Culture.”

“Because Christ came to redeem all of creation, believers must understand that both evangelism and the moral engagement of social justice issues are core elements of the mission of God. One is not of lower priority than the other, and then rightly balanced in a particular ministry context, the combination paints a beautiful portrait of the kingdom of God for the world to see.”

Claiming that the local church is the only organization large enough to tackle global social issues such as spiritual lostness, poverty, disease, and education, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, unveiled a congregational PEACE plan in 2005 that put church planting alongside social help.

“SBC churches enlisting in PEACE plans like that proposed through Saddleback put planting churches and evangelism prior to but inseparable from aiding the poor,” commented Rick Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif. “God has created humanity in a solidarity with creation so when people sin, creation suffers (including society), when humanity repents, creation is healed, and when repentant humanity is fully redeemed, creation is renewed (Romans 8:18-22).”

“The interest in ministry toward the poor, starving, prisoners, etc., ultimately has its basis in an emulation of the ministry of Jesus Christ,” said Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“That said, there are contemporary movements that encourage such ministries among evangelicals. These include older, leftward evangelical movements such as that of Sojourners, older rightward evangelical movements such as that of the SBC’s disaster relief ministry, and newer movements such as the emergent/emerging phenomenon.”

Durst believes the renewed interest in mercy ministries comes from a more balanced soteriology. “I think a good bit of the renewed conversation and practice of servant evangelism has to do with a renewed balance between getting to Heaven and letting Heaven live in us now,” he said. “This desire finds stimulus as well through the multiple sources of information about the hurting available 24/7, locally and globally through the Internet and cell phone.”

Reid believes the increased popularity in social help fits well with the mindset of younger

A rich legacy: So. Baptists not new to mercy ministry

While younger evangelical groups are renewing their passion for social activism, leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention are countering criticism from some younger Baptists that the denomination has failed to transform a postmodern culture with what they perceive as a proclamation-only social ethic.

In fact, many Southern Baptist leaders contend that the convention’s fellowship of churches has combined the verbal proclamation of the good news with physical demonstrations of Christian love since the denomination’s inception in 1845, and that criticisms by theological moderates, and more recently, from adherents of emerging church models present a false dichotomy between social engagement and evangelism.

Linda Bergquist, adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and church planting missionary in the San Francisco Bay area for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, believes Southern Baptists have consistently engaged the culture on difficult social issues and social needs.

“Actually, Southern Baptists have always engaged in ministries that affect people socially,” Bergquist said. “For example, across the world, we are one of the first groups called in to assist with disaster relief. In the name of Jesus we feed people, clothe them, help with medical needs, tutor children, resettle refugees, assist people in finding jobs, teach English, and so much more. We do these things because they are a reflection of Christ in and through us. …They are part of who we are as a family of Southern Baptists.”

One has to look no further for evidence of Southern Baptist social relief than the list of recent natural disasters.

“I am really impressed with the national and global record of Southern Baptists in disaster relief ministry,” said Rick Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, in an e-mail. “One of the first people I led to the Lord was on the search and rescue team from Southern California that was at the twin towers with their search dogs within 24 hours after the towers fell on 9/11. However, their access was delayed due to understandable if regrettable response by the NYPD and FD on site. In contrast, as soon as the Baptist Men’s disaster ministry team arrived (also within 24 hours) and identified themselves as having been at the Oklahoma City bombing, NYPD and FD gave them immediate access and appreciation for coming to Manhattan. My point here is that in an increasingly traumatic world, Baptists having a practice of caring in the most difficult places are granted unique access to the hurting hearts and lives of people.”

During natural disasters Southern Baptists have often partnered directly with the Red Cross. A search for “Southern Baptist” on the Red Cross website yields numerous press releases with statistics of local church support. One such news release indicates Southern Baptists prepared more than 68 million meals for the 2005 hurricane season survivors.

“This was seen very specifically when we had the Katrina struggles in New Orleans,” said Mark Liederbach, associate professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in an interview posted at Liederbach shared the interview with fellow SEBTS evangelism professor Alvin Reid, with whom he recently co-authored the book “The Convergent Church.” The book presents a model for conventional churches to converge with members of emerging church models on several issues, including social engagement.

“Southern Baptists poured millions of dollars, but more importantly, thousands and thousands of man hours. And not only were they rebuilding churches and rebuilding homes, digging people out of rubble, but in the process while they were there, they were verbally proclaiming the gospel,” Liederbach said.

Reid credited Southern Baptist relief work in the wake of the 2004 tsunami for opening doors for gospel proclamation.

“[I] had a student who graduated from our college and spent two years in Southeast Asia?.She said she was in an area that was completely Muslim, and completely closed to the gospel. But because of the incredible relief efforts of Southern Baptists from the tsunami, she said the gospel is more open to that part of the world than any time in recent history,” Reid recounted. “In other words, they would not have been able to proclaim the gospel in that community had they not shown how much compassion they have.”

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Tension between Good News, good works? Baptist authors offer modes of biblical orthopraxy

To help local churches avoid the pendulum swing between mere social help or a proclamation-only approach to missions, three new resources authored by Southern Baptists offer methods for mixing tangible works with the verbal witness.


Two professors from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary are calling the church to re-evaluate its nature and values in light of its actions. Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr co-authored “Church Turned Inside Out: A Guide for Designers, Refiners, and Re-aligners,” hoping churches might learn to align their actions and ministries with their stated beliefs.

Essentially a design book for new and established churches, “Church Turned Inside Out” centers on the belief that kingdom churches should be seeking holistic community transformation. The authors use many metaphors from various disciplinary fields but have borrowed language from the wildly popular ecological movement to describe the church’s role in social issues.

“Churches are living things, not mechanical,” the authors write, referring to the description of the body of Christ in 2 Peter 2:10 as “living stones”?a metaphor that dovetails nicely with an emerging worldview that is quickly eclipsing postmodernism.

“The adjective I use most frequently to describe this worldview is ‘ecological,'” said Bergquist in an interview with the TEXAN.

Noting that she didn’t coin the term and employs it differently from secular philosophers, Bergquist, who also serves as a church planting missionary for the San Francisco Bay area for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, said “ecological in the broad sense of the word means something like systemic, whole, networked and connected. When you really think about it, it is a way of looking at the world that changes how we interpret all kinds of formal and informal relationships.”

In short, this new worldview “demands a way to help people know how to live together on and with the earth,” the authors write. As such, the church must take the task of improving the quality of life for all people more seriously.

“One of the new design tasks of today’s church is to learn how to create contextually relevant, biblical structures that serve this kind of world,” the authors state, urging church planters to create “a fresh expression of church” around a network or community.

In short, Bergquist and Karr offer the Living Systems Network as a metaphor for organizing the church around the organic idea of community. Interdependence is the key to this new paradigm for church design, a concept rooted in relationships rather than “completed tasks.”

The authors are careful to distinguish between a secular understanding of living systems, and the metaphor employed in their book. “The living systems metaphor is holistic and systemic. If we view ministry and evangelism as part of a whole, we begin to see that they are not opposites but counterparts,” Berquist said.

The authors use the idea of sustainability to convey how mercy ministries fit into the living systems paradigm.


In their new book “The Convergent Church: Missional Worshippers in an Emerging Culture,” two Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professors employ a metaphor taken from corporate America to demonstrate how social ministries and evangelism may be fitted together in the local church.

Alvin Reid, professor of evangelism and student ministry, and Mark Liederbach, associate professor of Christian ethics, co-wrote the book as a response to the growing philosophies of the Emerging Church Movement (ECM) and the call to reflect a missional lifestyle among conventional churches.

“We are convinced that fresh, relevant, and effective ministry requires a convergence between two paradigms of thought and ministry: so called ‘conventional’ Christian approaches and ‘emerging ones’,” the authors write.

Although typical, Bible-based “conventional” churches have been effective in taking doctrinal stands, the authors believe more is needed to transform the culture with the gospel. But because churches can easily fall prey to over-contextualizing the gospel message in the search for relevance, the authors recommend the convergence of the conventional churches with the positive elements of the ECM.

And while the authors propose convergence on a variety of religious issues, two chapters of the book are given to the issue of harmonizing the biblical mandates of mercy ministry cited in James 1 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28.

But because finite resources often require local churches to make difficult budgetary decisions, the authors offer a recent example from the world of business ethics in the allocation of ministry funds called the Stakeholder theory.

“Typically, businesses seek to serve the interest of their owners—the shareholders—by maximizing profits,” the authors state. When profits are maximized, society is “protected” as the community enjoys a higher living standard from the overall increase in wealth, and social concerns are alleviated.

In contrast, the stakeholder theory speaks to the moral obligation of businesses to “serve the interests of all those who have a ‘stake’ in the company, not just shareholders.” Stakeholders can be “anyone who affects or is affected by the company’s missions and objectives.” So, in addition to the ‘bottom line,’ businesses “must also consider the interests of everyone who has something at stake in the company’s success—employees, customers, suppliers, and the community in which the business firm operates.”

As with any metaphor, the authors state that these businesses can only cautiously serve as an analogy between evangelism and social mission.

“There is no question that evangelicals have tended toward ‘shareholder theory’ of evangelism in which the bottom line of ‘saved souls’ is really ‘the only line that matters’,” Reid and Liederbach write. “While there is no question that this approach has effectively ‘increased the bottom line’ in regard to soul winning, one wonders whether the converts ‘produced’ via this ‘bottom-line’ form of Christianity are birthed in a context that embodies the full mission of God for redeeming all of creation.”

“By serving the needs of all ‘stakeholders,’ [the church] does a superior job of ensuring its pivotal role in the community as a whole and provides a much wider range of ministry exposure for discipleship and ministry training,” the authors write. However, verbal proclamation of the gospel and a solid theological foundation always must be included.

For churches needing a more incremental approach toward incorporating social ministries with evangelism, a third resource offers a small-group Bible study on servanthood evangelism. As a part of its Growing Disciples Series, LifeWay Christian Resources offers a new study called “Minister to Others.”

Co-authored by Richard Leach, servant and ministry evangelism team leader for NAMB, and former Texan David A. Wheeler, professor of evangelism at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, “Minister to Others” is a six-week study that focuses on using God-given gifts to serve others. Some of the study’s objectives include: surrendering to the lifestyle of servanthood; learning how to assess and meet needs; connecting social concern with the gospel; and learning principles for announcing God’s kingdom.

“Churches today are discovering that they can increase their relevancy to their communities by building relational bridges through which they can meet needs and intentionally share the gospel,” the authors write in the study’s introduction, stressing the distinction between pursuing good deeds and becoming a servant.

Each lesson includes daily devotionals and a study for small-group discussion. From a practical perspective, the study may help develop ministry plans connected to spiritual needs.

“Ministry is incomplete if it doesn’t lead to a communication of the gospel,” the authors write. “When you meet someone’s physical needs, always be ready to introduce them to Jesus, the only One who can meet their spiritual needs.”

Each lesson showcases biblical examples of balancing good works with the good news, such as the Apostle Paul in Acts 14 and the life and ministry of Christ. And the study concludes with four pages of ministry action ideas detailed according to concepts, equipment needs, cost, and weather conditions.

From $6 million in debt to a surplus, First Euless turned its dollars outward

EULESS–In 2005, First Baptist Church of Euless shared more in common with its neighbors than many a church member would care to admit.

In the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) school district, many families struggle to pay the bills. Nearly 50 percent of students receive government-subsidized school lunches because their family income is below the poverty line. The district categorizes about 600 of its schoolchildren as homeless.

Go back five years. The church’s expansive property along Airport Freeway in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex was impressive, but appearances were deceiving: The church was between pastors and was saddled with a $6 million debt.

Rather than creeping along in reducing the burden, interim pastor Bill Anderson, who had led the church years before, issued a challenge: Don’t just observe the tithe, give $20 above it. See what God does.

Anderson asked church members to ask three things: “Lord, is this of you?” “What’s my part?” And, “Lord, bless your people so they may give generously.”

Twenty-eight months later, not only was the debt retired, the church had $1.2 million in the bank.

“It was going to take a miracle, and God did a miracle,” recalled Scott Sheppard, who grew up at First Euless and whose family goes back five generations as charter members.

Then Anderson challenged the church a second time: “What could you do if you could continue to give at this rate? How many water wells could you dig, how many churches could you plant, how many families could you help?”

In 2008, the year John Meador was called as pastor, “we spent over a million dollars from here to China” over and above the church’s giving through the Cooperative Program, a shared funding strategy for the network of Southern Baptist missions and ministries worldwide, Sheppard said.

The church, it seemed, was hooked on giving.

6 Stones Mission Network

Sheppard, a 1980 graduate of Trinity High School, just across the street from the church, has watched Euless transform from middle-class bedroom community to an economically and ethnically diverse city where 60-plus languages and dialects are spoken.

Two years ago, Meador came to Sheppard, then the church’s “Share and Serve” pastor, with a problem and yet another challenge.

“We’re going to fix this,” Meador said, explaining the travails of a woman who had come to the church in dire need following an apartment fire after being turned away by a non-profit because she lived in Euless instead of a sister city nearby. It was one in a series of awakenings about the needs of people in the community.

The two discussed building a coalition of like-minded churches to meet the needs of those falling between the cracks.

When Sheppard asked Meador how he planned to do that, he replied, “I don’t know. Go figure it out.”

Weeks later, Meador was casting a vision during a church missions conference for a separate non-profit social ministry called 6 Stones, named for the memorial of six 700-pound stones on the church’s campus. Each time a million dollars of debt was paid down, a mammoth stone was placed as a sort of Old Testament-style “Ebenezer.”

Before long, God was orchestrating his divine appointments. The city, among other things, had a problem with people living in conditions Sheppard said he wouldn’t let his dog live in.

“I had no idea we had that kind of desperation right under our noses,” he said upon discovering an infirm woman and her mentally handicapped sister who were using space heaters to warm themselves in their dilapidated house while an inch of rainwater stood on the kitchen floor.

Sheppard called a church member with the news: the question wasn’t if the church was going to participate but how much and how soon.

Tillie Burgin, director of Mission Arlington, told Sheppard early on, “You never say no. You just dive in and let God do what he’s going to do.”

Sheppard took that to heart, and God has done more than anyone at First Euless could have imagined through 6 Stones, from housing refurbishments to food and clothing, job training and networking, and evangelism and spiritual mentoring.

Sheppard stepped down from his church position to become executive director of the newly formed non-profit. Meanwhile, the missions committee of the church not only agreed to redirect $200,000 of its budget, but it wanted to do it immediately.

Last June, 500-plus volunteers, mostly from the church, spent two days making 14 dilapidated homes habitable for their residents again. In all, they fixed up 20 homes last year. Tarrant County has a program that provides a city $500,000 in grant money if the city matches it with $125,000. The City of Euless was elated, Sheppard said, because volunteers may be counted as virtual dollars toward reaching the $125,000 matching contribution.

That partnership is continuing this year, and numerous other likeminded churches are participating with 6 Stones. The endeavor has a name, Euless Revitalization, and several hundred pastors, civic and business leaders were on hand on Jan. 27 at the church for a luncheon outlining plans for further work.

The list of corporate and non-profit sponsors for Euless Revitalization numbers more than 80 and includes corporations such as TXU, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Starbucks, and Aetna Insurance, among many others. The list included 11 churches and growing.

In addition, a food and clothing store has opened on First Euless’ West Campus property across from the church, a converted old strip mall. 6 tones’ offices are housed next to Sunday School and conference space. A warehouse in the back overflows with food items, clothing and donated household goods.

A decision to intentionally share the gospel with every person who applied for aid at the 6 Stones offices has born fruit since the new process was implemented last June; nearly 1,200 people have prayed to receive Christ “picking up pinto beans and blue jeans,” Sheppard said.

“When we started sharing the gospel, the whole thing escalated,” he added, noting the flow of people to the ministry has been helped along by its relationship with the HEB school system, which refers families to the ministry because of 6 Stones’ eagerness in helping the schools.

On Aug. 22, a back-to-school outreach involving 600 church and community volunteers strewn across the parking lot at First Euless drew scores of families. The 6 Stones ministry distributed 1,300 backpacks full of school supplies donated by Target, Wal-Mart and 33 other businesses and non-profits. Representatives from the police and fire departments were there to talk with children. John Peter Smith Hospital flew in a helicopter to wow the school kids and medical personnel offered health screenings.

A ministry called Kids’ Beach Club, begun by First Euless member Jack Terrel that operates afterschool programs in 15 of 19 HEB schools, was also there to sign up kids for the program.

“It’s amazing what you can do if you don’t know you shouldn’t do it,” quipped Sheppard.

“I learned that miracles are not the events that occur, they are the chain reactions from the events. You get in line with God’s will and they just keep unfolding.”

Gene Buinger, superintendent of the HEB schools, said 6 Stones has been an asset to the schools because it has created a one-stop, non-profit organization that in one year has involved 20 to 30 churches to refer students and families. Buinger envisions a cadre of churches and community organizations working together to revitalize many of the 100,000 homes in the HEB area that were built in the 1950s and 60s.

“Our children cannot learn if they are hungry or if they are moving every 60 days if they get evicted,” remarked Buinger. “If we can keep this kind of involvement with our schools, we can produce a successful learning environment.”

So positive is the relationship of 6 Stones with the school system that school officials were enthusiastic about allowing a Christmas “Night of Wonder” party at 10 HEB elementary schools in December. The school system provided a list of needy families who wished to attend, and on Dec. 14 and 15, the 6 Stones ministry brought together several churches and provided gifts for 1,170 school children and ended the evening with a gospel presentation.

“We had 518 people pray to receive Christ at 10 Christmas parties,” Sheppard marveled. “It goes bac to those three prayers—if God’s in it, if you’ll be obedient and if he’ll bless his people, it’s crazy what can happen.”

Meador remarked: “We believe God enabled us to be debt-free because of a desire to be used to impact the community and our world. His provision allowed us to do that in a significant way. It’s an amazing thing—the more we invest in the community, the more the doors of ministry open. God is truly giving us favor, and we’re so excited about the fruit of that.”

Most of the people the ministry touches will never attend First Euless or give a dollar to the ministry, and Meador understood that from the outset, Sheppard said. Instead, “this has to be a truly kingdom initiative. That’s what I’m learning.”


Pastor: Gospel plow has two handles, not one

ARLINGTON  “Don’t be one-armed preachers” is the challenge Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., issued to pastors gathered at the SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference in February.

“Don’t tie your good works behind your back and just go with the Good News,” Traylor said. “But oh, don’t dare tie the Good News behind your backs and just go with good works. You’ll just dress people up and send them to Hell looking better. It takes both hands.”

Preaching from Luke 4:17-21, Traylor, a former Texas pastor, reminded his audience that all believers have an anointing from God for two tasks, sharing the Good News and doing good works. “We are to be gospel tellers,” Traylor said. “We are here to proclaim, to shoot forth, to herald out the gospel. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, the gospel will be able to touch you and save you.”

Traylor shared that after leaving seminary, he was concerned about what is known as the Social Gospel. “I thought it had more ‘social’ than gospel. I put my ‘good works hand’ behind my back. I became a one-armed preacher,” he confessed. “I preached so much grace that I almost preached myself into believing you could have grace and not even have to have good works.”

But Traylor was challenged over time to see that Good News and good works must go together in bringing others to Christ. “We don’t just need Good News. We’ve got to have some good works. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. The gospel plow has two handles on it and you’ve got to use both hands if you’re going to cut a furrow through the culture in which we live today.”

Traylor’s changed viewpoint has not come without uncomfortable moments. He shared the challenge that faced him just outside the property of Olive Baptist Church. On one side of the church property was a Starbucks selling $5 a cup coffee and on the other was a family living in a trailer with no electricity and water borrowed from the next door neighbor’s hose. He reached out to this family with food and concern.

“They were hungry,” Traylor said. “I didn’t know poor people. I didn’t know anybody in jail. I still don’t feel comfortable, but God said ‘go’.”

Another learning experience came from a member of his own church who was a social worker. She visited him regularly to encourage him to put a social worker on the church staff. Finally she challenged him.

“Preacher, have you read Matthew 25?”

Traylor recalls being a little offended. “I’ve read the Bible through several times, I’ll have you know,” he replied.

“Matthew 25 is the final exam and if you get to Heaven you are gonna have to pass that test,” she continued. “You may not pass. It says to do it unto the least of these.”

Traylor hired her, and she started winning people to Jesus, he explained.

In addition to a social worker, the church also has a ministry to women just getting out of prison. They own two homes where women can transition to a new life. The church has seen prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics, and criminals come to salvation in Christ through its good works.

Traylor continues to point out that good works must always be accompanied by the Good News.

“It’s a two-handed gospel that we’ve got to take to this world.”

Even though Traylor is actively promoting the Good News and good works together, he’s still learning to look for opportunities everywhere he goes. Olive Baptist has a prison ministry and on the way home from preaching at

Good works are the handmaiden of proclamation

Our special report on social ministry emphasizes what should be emphasized. Our articles point out the gospel priority of caring for our neighbors in more than theoretical ways. Some of our experts remind us of the way evangelism works in harmony with good deeds. We hear more than one call for a higher commitment to good works as well as an affirmation that Southern Baptists are now and have usually been very effective in meeting human needs while also providing the Bread of Life. These are good words, good reminders, but I hope you also sense the difficulty of making all the things our Lord has called us to do work together according to biblical priorities.

Our culture makes it difficult to sort out our thinking as we seek to follow the commands of Christ thoroughly. Our lost neighbors, and more than a few who call themselves Christian, find overtly evangelistic efforts on our part quaint and offensive. How dare we claim to know who’s going to Heaven and who’s not, after all? At the same time, our highly visible relief work in many states and countries has been dismissed by some as window dressing to hide the fact that we really don’t care for people at all. It’s tempting to want good press. It’s tempting to let lost people tell us what we should do to make our ministries more loveable to them. It’s futile but I know it does turn our heads as we talk about doing good works.

In the apparent contrast between proclamation and works, I understand those who say that our attitude should not be either-or, but rather both-and. Sometimes, though, that way of putting it emphasizes the distinction between those components to an inaccurate degree. Often our proclamation of the gospel is used of God to work a miracle of social as well as spiritual transformation in the redeemed life.

Consider the healing of a marriage that often occurs when one or both partners are saved. A family thus diverted from divorce is also saved from the ravages of poverty that often afflict single-parent homes. Children who will now be raised in a more solid and complete household will better understand how to be functional adults. The daughter is more likely to be spared the trials of unwed motherhood and the son the devastation of a prison term. What social work was done by the evangelist, then?

I was reminded of this thought when I heard Ted Traylor preach during our recent evangelism conference. (The story on his message is on page 11.) Traylor spoke of his own learning curve regarding the importance of good works in a thorough gospel ministry. After telling the stories of people who’d become part of his church’s ministry, he showed us photos of a couple of them, parole board mug shots. Then he showed us pictures of those same individuals today, healthier, smiling, productive people. Sure the church served and gave to facilitate this progress but it was the spiritual transformation that powered the social redemption of these less than functional lives. The essential element was the gospel.

That is a common testimony of those who were saved out of an addiction or violence. They always credit someone for loving them in Jesus’ name but the real change came from the power of God within. It was the person who won them to Christ that performed the most crucial good work.

Professor Rick Durst of Golden Gate Seminary speaks well of the efforts of Southern Baptists in Texas to meet social needs through various institutions we began during the 19th century. He’s right but to my mind we also changed the social landscape by sending missionaries to various people and places within the state (Germans, Indians, former slaves, new settlements, etc). Lives transformed first by the gospel dealt a harsher blow to hunger, poverty, and other social ills than did any institution in itself.

As an aside, that’s why a gospel focus must be of higher priority than institutional ministry in the life of our state convention. Christian institutions will be focused and fortified by a continued emphasis on the saving message of Christ. History has shown that it doesn’t work the other way around.

Imagine a situation in which our churches entirely neglect the poor and the otherwise needy but in which we do effectively share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. The situation is imaginary, I insist, because we have not ever done so, but grant me the point for a minute. If we gave our full attention to evangelism and none to social ministry the impact on our communities would be remarkable nonetheless. Growing Christians are better fathers, husbands, employees, students, bosses, and civil servants.

Now imagine, it’s not so hard, a church giving millions to feed and house the poor but without that gospel message that provides context for good works by Christians. Imagine that this church spends 10 times as much on this project as the church that only preaches the gospel. Which church will save more lives? Which one will be a greater blessing to its own community?