Month: February 2012

NAMB leader: Doing more with less

FRISCO—As a seminary student pastoring his first church, Kevin Ezell learned that trust comes with giving. He and a deacon visited the home of a member of Hilltop Baptist Church, where he heard the woman describe the joy she felt in giving to the tiny congregation.

From that day forward, he determined to spend every dollar of the church’s $12,000 budget like it was Lenny Fenton's dollar, aware that every resource he’d been given came from God.

Later pastoring churches in Illinois and Kentucky, Ezell was tapped in 2010 to lead the North American Mission Board, carrying that same commitment to stewardship at a job that required sweeping changes in order to prioritize church planting and evangelism. 

“We have 200 less employees than we did at our peak,” Ezell told a Feb. 28 Cooperative Program Luncheon audience during the Evangelism Conference of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “We are continuing to downsize because we want to do more with less. You're expected to do that in your church and we're expected to do that too.”

He drew applause when he praised the work of SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards as “a man you can trust to lead your state with integrity.”

Ezell thanked SBTC churches for leading the way in sacrificially giving through the Cooperative Program (CP) and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, and partnering with NAMB to plant churches in Vancouver, Canada.

As partners in a missions enterprise, Ezell appealed for an attitude resembling the determination described in chapter two of Mark when friends of a paralyzed man cut a hole through the roof of an overcrowded room to get him to Jesus. “Here you have a service going on and something happens that's not on the printed program,” Ezell recalled. “Don't you love it? God takes over and doesn't do it always as we planned.”

Speaking particularly to pastors who might be “on the fence” regarding their church's CP commitment, Ezell recalled his own frustration when he looked at the system by which CP funds were distributed in the state where he pastored. “But now is the time to engage,” he said. “You're a part of a state that takes very good care of the resources that you pass to them.”

He imagined that many who observed the initiative shown by the paralytic's friends would have been distracted by the cost of repairing the hole in the roof rather than “the guy who needed what Jesus could do for him.”

“It may not be the normal way of going in through the front door or a side door. We may have to do something that has never been done here before and dig a hole in the roof,” Ezell said.

Empathizing with pastors who are discouraged by what they face, Ezell said, “I want to encourage you that we serve a God who is bigger than anything or anyone opposed to you. He has called us to a purpose much greater than we are. God often calls us to do things greater than our ability to accomplish and when that happens, he gets the glory and we do not. Together we must do whatever it takes to see people’s lives changed by Jesus.”

CP testimonies

Three SBTC pastors shared testimonies of the value of partnering with Southern Baptists by giving through the Cooperative Program.

Pastor Walter Jackson described the generosity and faithfulness of the members of First Baptist Church of DeKalb, who recently committed to increase CP giving by 1 percent. “The Cooperative Program allows us to partner with the world. Regardless of the size of our church, we have the privilege of being involved in reaching the world for the kingdom of God.”

Jackson remembered a couple who went out from the church to serve over 30 years in Zambia, relatives of one member's family who are serving overseas today, and two teenagers whom the church sent out on short-term mission this year.

“We're able to say to the missionaries, we've got your back. You keep serving where you're serving and we'll make sure it's possible, and to seminary students, keep preparing,” he explained.

“SBTC cares so much about reaching the world that we give away more money than we keep,” he added. “At our very core, our desire is to see the world come to Jesus.”

Joe Rivera, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista in Grand Prairie, thanked the SBTC for joining the congregation in a vision of fulfilling the Great Commission.

“They have been very instrumental in standing by our side as we struggle and as we grow,” Rivera said. “It doesn't matter what size the church is. It's all of us working together to do that.”

Through the Real Men of Impact conference and Hispanic marriage conferences, Rivera said he has seen the lives of men and families transformed. These events as well as an evangelistic block party organized at the church were possible through CP support, he said. Through a partnership with Southern Baptist missionaries serving in Mexico, Rivera and other members hope to engage an area known as “the lowlands of Mexico” where less than 2 percent of the region is evangelized.

“We feel we need to go down there and help those people, training them to witness to their own people,” Rivera said.

Pastor Tony Mathews of North Garland Baptist Church said CP dollars provided him with theological training. “I grew up broke. I was in college broke, and then I went to seminary broke, but the Lord provided a way,” he said, expressing gratitude for “planting those incredible seeds through those gifts in my life.”

“It's been such a blessing to pastor a church that encourages the members to give through the Cooperative Program,” Mathews added.

Members have taken mission trips worldwide during the past 20 years, including outreach in Tanzania, Peru and Brazil. “It's just a way of life for us.”

Recalling from Exodus 3 that God called Moses to go and deliver the people, Mathews said, “God uses us to get his Word all over this world. I encourage every pastor and church leader to give, give and give. We go and we give.”

Pastor John Meador of First Baptist Church of Euless said churches can be involved directly in missions and be involved in something even bigger than the local church through the CP. “It takes pastors and leaders to set it in front of the congregation, to take steps to increase what we give to send people all around the world all the time with the mission of Jesus Christ.”

The Euless congregation increased CP giving to 11 percent of undesignated gifts last year, amounting to $849,752 and also led SBTC in per capita giving.

Richards, the SBTC’s executive director, praised the church’s generosity, noting, “They’ve given by percentage, but they also give above CP gifts to direct missions, funding missionary efforts directly as well as funding their own people on missions,” he reported, accounting for 22 percent of undesignated receipts going to missions every year. “So you can do both,” Richards said.

Baptist college files suit on contraceptive/abortion mandate

PINEVILLE, La.—A Baptist college has joined the list of schools and universities suing the federal government in opposition to the Obama administration's contraceptive/abortion mandate, making it clear the issue is not simply a Catholic one.
 
 

Louisiana College — affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention — filed suit Monday (Feb. 20) in federal court, saying the mandate violates the U.S. Constitution by, among other things, entangling the government in religious matters and forcing the college to violate its “sincerely held religious beliefs regarding abortion.” The convention is part of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The time for silence is over,” Louisiana College President Joe W. Aguillard said. “Louisiana College will not sit by and allow this or any government to usurp our God-given religious freedoms and our time-honored Baptist heritage.”

The Alliance Defense Fund is representing the school.

As part of the new national health care law, employers are required to offer health insurance plans that cover free contraceptives, including ones that can cause chemical abortions. Most churches are exempt, but Louisiana College is not a church, and the compromise that President Obama presented at a news conference is insufficient, the suit says.

“LC is being deprived of its constitutional and statutory rights, including the free exercise of religion, free speech, and due process,” the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, states. “… LC cannot provide health care insurance covering abortion, abortifacient or embryo-endangering methods, or related education and counseling without violating its deeply held religious beliefs and its Christian witness.”

Louisiana College is one of at least five religiously affiliated universities that have now filed suit. Only two are Catholic. ADF is representing Geneva College — a school affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America — in a similar suit. Meanwhile, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed suit against the government on behalf of Belmont Abbey College (a Catholic school), Ave Maria University (Catholic) and Colorado Christian University (non-denominational).

Among the FDA-approved contraceptives that must be covered are Plan B and “ella,” each of which can work after fertilization and before implantation. In fact, pro-life groups say ella can work after implantation by destroying the placenta that provides nutrition to the embryo, thus killing it.

President Obama tried to calm the controversy among religious groups Feb. 10 when he said religious organizations would not have to pay for or provide contraceptives. Instead, he said, the insurance companies would be required to pay for such services.

Louisiana College, though, says it was no compromise, partially because the compromise does not yet exist in any federal rules.

“It is entirely fictitious,” the suit said.

But even if the Obama proposal is written into law, it still violates religious liberty, the suit says, because the contraceptive/abortion coverage apparently would not be “separate from the employer's plan.” The suit says the compromise still would:

— force the college “to directly facilitate objectionable coverage by providing and paying for a plan that is itself necessary for the employee to obtain the coverage in question.”

— force the insurance company — which would need to fund the “free” contraceptives — to pass on the costs by hiking premiums.

The suit notes that Louisiana College's doctrinal statement is pro-life and states: “We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death.” As part of its pro-life commitment, the college has “ensured that its insurance policies do not cover drugs, devices, services or procedures inconsistent with its faith.”

Contrary to what some have suggested, the suit says, the college cannot simply drop insurance coverage for its employees because it would face government fines, perhaps as much as $2,000 per employee per year.

–30–

Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Read the lawsuit online: http://www.adfmedia.org/files/LouisianaCollegeComplaint.pdf.

Helping churches go where they are led

    
When the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention talks about partnership missions, it’s not with a one-size-fits-all approach in mind.

What the convention does have in mind, says Tiffany Smith, SBTC missions mobilization associate, is helping congregations connect where they believe God is leading them.

The SBTC has several high-priority mission partnerships to which they direct churches that come to the convention staff with open-ended requests for help.

But roughly half of the churches that come to the SBTC mission team seeking help in mobilizing their people already have a people group or region in mind, Smith said.

So if Church A has a plan of action and a people or place in mind already, they might need help connecting with “boots on the ground” in that place.

But Church B might be new to hands-on missions altogether. Where they abound in willing hearts and contagious enthusiasm, they might lack in direction or knowledge about engaging a lost people group.

Group A might need some help with the finishing touches, but Group B will need help discerning who and where it should engage, and everything that follows, Smith said.

“When I came into this job, I realized that not every church could be pigeonholed into one area. And so I took the approach that we would try to serve the churches according to their needs. So we do have a broader network than what has been traditionally done in the past,” she said.

“The point is to mobilize more churches to be on mission,” Smith added, “because if they are not called to East Asia, for example, we don’t want to send them to East Asia. We want to help them to get to wherever God is leading them.”

A one-year-old partnership with an East Asian region is one of the SBTC’s established partnerships, along with other regions in North America and abroad.

“We strive to work alongside the IMB in their strategy, and with NAMB in their strategy for the SEND focus cities of North America. We do emphasize that, because that’s where God is working. They have people on the ground to partner with long term for maximum effectiveness.”    

An example of that would be Montreal, where relationships are established and footwork is already being done for Texas church groups to go right to work when they travel there.

But the options for churches are diverse. Opportunities for engagement exist in places as widely varied as interior Mexico, China, and West Africa, to name just three.  

Internationally, the IMB has affinity group connectors that help church groups find vital links in engaging the lost abroad.

“I work with these affinity group connectors,” Smith said, “to make sure these churches are tied to an established ministry once they hit the ground.”

Among the SBTC mission partnerships, opportunities exist for all age groups as well—from elementary-aged students to senior adults and families, Smith added.

In cities where block parties or Vacation Bible schools are vehicles for ministry, children are especially effective at outreach and even evangelism.

The size of groups needed to orchestrate what would be considered a bonafide mission trip has changed some from what it was in years past, Smith said.

In fact, she noted church planters and missionaries increasingly are requesting smaller teams domestically and abroad.

“Three, five, seven people. It makes it easier logistically and it’s actually safer when you are talking about overseas missions. Certainly, there is a place for larger teams if you are doing larger block parties, for example.

“What needs to be emphasized is that you can take three people on a mission trip. It doesn’t have to be a large group, which would be a benefit to some of these smaller churches that think, ‘Oh, we don’t have the money to send a large group.’”

The profit of mission trips to the life of a congregation goes beyond just seeing the change in perspective that many people experience upon visiting an impoverished or restricted culture, Smith said.

“And it does build your faith and it helps you have a broader worldview in understanding that God is the God of the nations. He has blessed us to bless the nations. It’s very strategic. It’s very purposeful. It’s not random.”

For more about SBTC missions opportunities, visit sbtexas.com/mobilization.

Report: Iran may be set to execute pastor

TEHRAN—Iranian officials may have issued an order to execute a pastor at the center of a high-profile case that has drawn international attention, according to a legal group that has followed the case.

The statement asked for Christians worldwide to pray.

The American Center for Law and Justice Tuesday (Feb. 21) quoted its sources as saying pastor Yousef (also spelled Youcef) Nadarkhani could be executed at any time. Nadarkhani was convicted and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.

“Pastor Youcef’s situation — an innocent man convicted and sentenced to death for becoming a Christian — has not been this dire since we first brought his case to your attention last year,” the ACLJ said on its website. “It is unclear whether Pastor Youcef would have a right of appeal from the execution order.”

The ACLJ statement said simply, “We are hearing reports from our contacts in Iran that the execution orders for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani may have been issued.”

A second group that monitors religious liberty, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), released a statement saying the situation is dire. Nadarkhani's lawyer, CSW reported, is “is trying to confirm reports that the Iranian authorities have decided to execute the pastor.”

“There are grave concerns that the death sentence could be carried out at any time without prior notification and that the authorities will merely announce it later, a practice that is not uncommon in Iran,” CSW said.

Said ACLJ, “There has also been a disturbing increase in the number of executions conducted by the Iranian regime in the last month.”

Western leaders have spoken out for Nadarkhani. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in December calling for Nadarkhani and several other prisoners of conscience worldwide to be released “immediately and unconditionally.”

The case dates back to 2009 when Nadarkhani was arrested after complaining that his son was being taught Islam in school. He eventually was sentenced to death by the court of appeals. In 2011 the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence but ordered a lower court to examine whether Nadarkhani was ever a Muslim — a fact essential to determine whether he left Islam for Christianity. But that lower court in Rasht, Iran, found that although Nadarkhani was never a practicing Muslim he remained guilty of apostasy because he had Muslim ancestry.

In September, he was given four chances to recant his faith in court and refused each time. His case then was referred to the ayatollah. The American Center for Law and Justice reported one of his court exchanges.

“Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?” Nadarkhani asked.

“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the judge reportedly replied.

“I cannot,” the pastor responded.

–30–


Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.

Atheist billboards timed for Black History Month

  
“Doubts about religion? You’re one of many.”

The slogan on billboards in half a dozen American cities in February, including one in Dallas, is intended to draw African Americans to an organization touting secular humanism.

The African American Humanists, a project of the Council for Secular Humanism, launched the billboard campaign targeting blacks in late January. The advertising coincides with Black History Month and uses images of historical, so-called “humanist” African Americans as examples of “free thinkers” who did not conform to traditional religious expectations within their communities. The faces of contemporary activists are posted next to their bygone counterparts.

The Dallas billboard is at the intersection of Interstate 35 East and Illinois in the south Oak Cliff area. In addition to Dallas, similar billboards appeared this month in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Durham, N.C.

Not surprisingly, the billboards have garnered criticism from black clergy, with several television news stations interviewing pastors of churches in south Dallas, an area with a large black population.    

SBTC President Terry Turner said the history and culture of blacks in the United States has been tied, not to religion generally, but to Christianity particularly. In November, Turner became the first African American elected to lead the convention.

“All we had was tied into our faith, our Christianity,” said Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, referring to the traumatic history of blacks in America.

“When it comes to our relationship with God, our history shows we have been able to love the Lord in our own way.”

That way, argues Dallas-area atheist Alix Jules, was foisted upon the African slaves. On the billboard in south Dallas, Jules is pictured on the billboard with Langston Hughes, a black writer and left-wing activist who was prominent in the early to middle 20th century for his jazz poetry and rumored homosexuality, among other things.

On the Dallas-Ft. Worth Coalition for Reason website, Jules states, “After years of trying to validate my faith as a believer, I came to understand that my former master’s master has never been interested in my people’s freedom. I look forward to the end of spiritual feudalism, when children will no longer subjected to the debasement and demoralization of slave sermons.”

Turner responded that there is a fallacy often spread about a Christless Africa before and during the slave trade. Pointing to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, Turner said from the outset, Christianity has been present in Africa.

He said the humanists’ efforts would suffer the same fate as cults and fads because “they don’t have anything that is going to keep them and sustain them.”

According to an AAH press release, there is a growing trend of nonbelievers within the African American population. They cite a 2008 work published by American Religious Identification Survey in which 15 percent of Americans identified themselves as having no religious affiliation, up from 8 percent in 1990. Within the African American population that number rose from six to 11 percent.

But Turner said the rise in the unchurched knows no racial boundaries. Churches no longer call out sin and pastors do not preach in a way to draw people to Christ and away from sin.

“People don’t know what to believe anymore,” Turner said.

The AAH statement contends African Americans who question religion or declare their unbelief “often feel rejected by religious family and friends, and by the greater black community.”

Asked if such stigma is accurate, Turner said, “I hope so!”

Questions, Turner added, are a sign of honest introspection. But wholesale denial of one’s upbringing, including life in the church, should not go unanswered. Being raised in the church—“getting enough Christ in their life”—isn’t always enough to draw an individual back to Christ’s teachings.

Because of the break-up of the family, especially within the African American community where the out-of-wedlock birthrate is 72 percent, Turner said fewer children are hearing about Jesus in the home where they once did.

“That is another problem we deal with. The home is not the place where Christ is taught, hence a falling away.”

During Sunday worship services in February, Turner said he highlights the life of an African American Christian who not only had a significant impact on the black community but on the nation. Stalwarts such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth are Turner’s counter to the secularists who would attempt to marginalize the impact of Christian faith in the lives of those who changed this nation for the better.

Johnnie Bradley, pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, told the TEXAN that black skeptics should be thankful to God, especially during Black History Month, because God “chose to open the door of equality and advancement for African Americans.”

“Regardless of the ethnicity, everyone is prone to believe in something or someone,” Bradley added. “If atheistic groups think God refuses to accomplish his will because they have purchased an advertisement, think again. No matter the publicity, God is revealed through Jesus Christ (John 1:14) and will always be more popular, potent, and powerful to deliver man.”

Cross-cultural missions: NO PASSPORT? NO PROBLEM.

If a church wants to do cross-cultural missions without passports, good news: The world has come to Texas. And it keeps on coming.

Two examples are Texas’ largest metropolitan areas, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston (respectively, the nation’s third- and sixth-largest metros). Together, they comprise nearly 13 million people.

As of August 2010, Houston was home to more than 315 people groups from 140-plus nations with 220 different languages among them, according to the Union Baptist Association in Houston.

Dallas-Fort Worth is similar. It is the second-largest recipient of international refugees in North America. More than one-third of homes speak a primary language other than English, with more than 250 people groups represented and several hundred languages spoken, according to data from the DFW Diaspora Alliance, a group of evangelical missions organizations.

If to a lesser degree, smaller cities and towns are changing as well. Visitors to Port Arthur will find a Buddhist temple. In Hewitt, near Waco, a mosque draws Islamic worshipers.

And as Texas changes, the missionary-minded are working hard at tracking who is coming and where they are settling. It’s a huge task, but once mapping of people groups is done, mobilizing churches to engage and evangelize them is step two, followed by, if success is found, multiplication of new believers and the planting of new Southern Baptist churches.

In Great Commission terms, the SBTC missions team views it as engaging its Judea, with North America as its Samaria, and abroad as the uttermost parts.

Of the newcomers to Texas, many are Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist. And 86 percent of adherents to these religions don’t have a Christian friend, said Chad Vandiver, SBTC mission strategies associate and coordinator of the convention’s Texas Missions Initiative (TXMI).  

Through events called “SENT Labs” and other trainings, Vandiver hopes to equip garden-variety Texas Southern Baptists to be able to enter a mosque, for example, developing a rapport with Muslims in their own cities as a springboard for witnessing.  

Whatever the people group, developing trust and real friendship is crucial, Vandiver said.

“The foremost obstacle to reaching internationals with the gospel is our own lack of consistency in building relationships with those who have a different belief system than we do,” Vandiver said. “We as Christians do not spend enough time engaging the nations living among us. Time is something we hold captive rather than using it as a tool to share the Good News.”

Engaging and evangelizing should also be done simultaneously, Vandiver emphasized. Most internationals are much more open about spiritual conversations than secular Americans, Vandiver added.

“It is only natural to begin sharing your faith with a new friend who is Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. They talk about their faith openly and expect those who believe in God to do the same.”

TRADITIONAL TEXANS
Of course, reaching the Jerusalems and Judeas of Texas also entails engaging the millions in Texas who, though perhaps Western and traditional in culture and not new to North America, have yet to hear the gospel clearly or to respond to it in faith.

Estimates say about 50 percent of Texas residents live in some sort of multi-housing—including apartments, mobile home parks, and duplexes—and of those, 96 percent are considered unreached, Vandiver noted.

And in cities along the Mexican border such as Laredo, cultural Catholicism sometimes mixed with pagan beliefs add even more challenge for church planters and missionaries working in those areas.

Add to that ministry to the deaf—a separate people group—which is another focus of the Texas Missions Initiative.

“The goal of the Texas Missions Initiative, simply, is to present the gospel to every person in Texas in a manner in which they can understand and respond to,” Vandiver said. “This is done by identifying unreached and under-evangelized ethnolinguistic people groups, population segments, affinity groups, etc., throughout Texas.”

Then, with a network of churches committed and mobilized to evangelizing these groups, the making of disciples will lead to the starting of new congregations, he explained.

Vandiver said a church group or person interested in engaging in missions within the state should attend an upcoming SENT Lab, where they will learn about the varied mission opportunities statewide and the people groups who need engagement with the gospel.

To learn more about the Texas Missions Initiative, visit sentcollective.org or email Vandiver at cvandiver@sbtexas.com. To register for the next SENT Lab, visit sbtexas.com/sentlab/.

SBTC seeks churches for ‘Send Montreal’ effort

MONTREAL—Driving across borders usually doesn’t result in drastic changes in scenery or culture. Crossing from the United States into the Canadian province of Quebec on Interstate 87 is an exception.

In the bustling city of Montreal, just 42 miles north of Champlain, N.Y., half of 1 percent of the city’s citizens would name Jesus as their savior, while, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, about 26 percent of Americans would fall under the category of “evangelical.”

“Within Quebec, there are 46 Baptist churches,” said Chad Vandiver, mission strategies associate at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “But there are 70 mosques in Montreal alone. There are over 7 million people in Quebec and less than 1 percent are Christians. They are one of the most unreached people groups in the world.”

The International Mission Board (IMB) defines an unreached people group as a group with less than 2 percent of its population being evangelical Christians. Jacques Avakian, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) lead catalyst for church planting in Quebec, said that because only 40,000 of the 7.5 million people living in Quebec have a discernable Christian testimony, Christians need to make a concerted effort to reach the lost in their Canadian province and especially in Montreal—a city that Vandiver said has largely turned away from God because of a disdain for the Catholic church, the religion of its largely French heritage.

“The need is great,” Avakian said. “With those numbers, you can see the need is really great for ministry here. There are opportunities to reach the nations here because we have people from all over the world in Montreal. The majority of the people are lost; it is a very postmodern city. God is not even mentioned in everyday conversations.”

So as part of NAMB’s “Send North America” campaign, designed to mobilize churches to reach and evangelize the continent’s lost and dying population, churches now have the opportunity to change that and to make God not only a part of the conversation, but a part of Canadians’ lives. To begin mobilizing churches, NAMB will first lead vision tours to Montreal, which Vandiver and Avakian hope will in turn bring more groups from more churches back to the city to help.

“My goal is to have several churches, at least five, that will bring teams back to Montreal,” Vandiver said of the plan.

Avakian agreed. “We would like for people to join us for a vision tour. On the tours they will come to Montreal and see what God is doing and how they can be involved in our work. Once they have visited, they can adopt a region or a church planter, build a relationship and commit to pray, participate and provide for the long term of 5 to 7 years.”

Vandiver, who attended the first Send Montreal church planting coalition meeting in Montreal on Jan. 15, said NAMB may offer scholarships to individuals who want to join a vision tour and plan to bring a team back with them to serve. The first three vision tours have been scheduled for May 14-17, Aug. 27-30 and Oct. 22-25.

In giving an example of how a church might choose to go and minister, Vandiver noted that Montreal is one of the top five cycling cities in the world. He suggested a team go to Montreal, bike on the trails and interact with people along the way.

“There is a very natural bridge for evangelism there,” Vandiver said.

Opportunities to join in the evangelism effort do not end with physically traveling to Canada, though. Both Vandiver and Avakian said prayer tops the list in priority and that the need for financial help follows closely behind. Vandiver said the church planters have practical needs such as laptops, projectors, portable baptistries and microphones.

“We welcome help that can come from Texas or anywhere else in the U.S.—anyone who wants to come alongside our planters and churches,” Avakian said. “None of our pastors are full-time, therefore we need support for them to be able to do their ministries full-time.”

Vandiver said since Canada is both foreign and a part of North America, NAMB and the IMB have been working “seamlessly” together, along with the Canadian Baptist Convention, to enable people to share the gospel in Montreal, which Vandiver noted has one of the highest suicide rates in North America.

Vandiver said a “both/and” strategy applies when allocating resources to evangelize all nations—be they Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria or the “ends of the earth,” as Jesus instructed the apostles in Acts 1:8.

“I like the word ‘glocal,’” Vandiver said. “You don’t have to spend a lot of money finding darkness in Montreal. I think it would be a shame to continue to go oversees and to not reach Montreal.”

Vandiver’s vision brings encouragement to church planters like Avakian who see that the harvest is ready but that the workers have been few.

“To know that churches and the Southern Baptist Convention are taking a special interest in Montreal and Quebec is truly an answer to prayer—and not just my prayers, but the prayers of many believers in Montreal,” Avakian said. “It really humbles me and brings great joy to me to know that God is preparing people for what he is doing and is about to do in Montreal and Quebec.”

Those interested in going on a vision tour or receiving more information can contact Vandiver by email at cvandiver@sbtexas.com or by phone toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC). To receive newsletters about the work in Montreal from Avakian, email javakian@namb.net.

SBTC missions training opportunities abound

Interested in learning more about putting action to your faith at home or across the globe?

The SBTC has training events planned throughout the year, from the annual SENT Conference—a weekend gathering with multiple speakers and breakout sessions—to smaller events with a specific missions focus in mind. There are also vision trips scheduled domestically and internationally during which pastors and lay leaders travel to meet missionaries and learn how to engage with the goal of leading a team back to that region.

The following events are scheduled:

SENT Lab
March 15-17, Euless

SENT Labs are training sessions that equip local churches to identify and reach out to isolated ethnic, language and socio-economic groups in their own communities. These labs will help Christians grasp the cultural and social practices needed to locate, engage and disciple these people groups toward the goal of planting reproducing, New Testament congregations. The trainings use the expertise and experience of missionaries who have served internationally and who understand the growing number of cultures in the United States.

The next scheduled SENT Lab is March 15-17 at First Baptist Church of Euless’ Campus West. For more information or to register, visit sbtexas.com/sentlab/.

SENT Conference
April 27-28, FBC Euless

The annual SENT Conference is the largest missions equipping and information event of the year. The 2012 SENT Conference will include two dozen workshops covering a wide range of mission endeavors, from literacy missions to engaging internationals in your community, to disaster relief training and evangelism strategies.   

Additionally, the training is geared for large church groups and individuals interested in leading a church to become missionally engaged. For more information or to register, visit sbtexas.com/sent or contact Gayla Harris in the SBTC missions office, toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC) or gharris@sbtexas.com.

Vision Trips
A vision trip typically includes a small group of interested pastors or lay leaders who travel to a missions destination, spending several days there visiting with missionaries and church planters, encountering the culture, and assessing the spiritual and practical needs. The goal is to capture a vision for the mission and return later with a missions team to assist the missionaries and church planters in their gospel work.

More than a dozen such trips are planned for 2012. The following is a list of available vision trips.

  • Boston: April 24-25
  • Utah/Idaho: TBD
  • Toronto, Canada: March 19-21, April 16-18, May 14-17
  • Montreal, Canada: May 14-16, Aug. 27-29, Oct. 22-24
  • India: June 28-July 6, also September TBD
  • China: September TBD
  • Japan: July 23-Aug. 2
  • Turkey: April 30-May 10
  • Mexico: Dates ongoing

For more information about these trips or connections to other areas not listed, contact Tiffany Smith, the SBTC’s missions mobilization associate, at tsmith@sbtexas.com or call toll-free 877-953-7282 (SBTC).

Embrace Lab-West Texas
March 10, Lubbock

Embrace Labs aim to equip Southern Baptist churches in Texas to embrace an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG). These labs will help churches to understand what it means to embrace a UUPG and what they will need to give in the process.

Churches will hear from a Southern Baptist pastor who has led his church to embrace a UUPG. They will have the opportunity to network with other churches and pastors who have begun the journey to embracing a UUPG. Finally, churches will hear about future training sessions on embracing a UUPG. The next training is 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. March 10 at Redbud Baptist Church, 801 Slide Road, Lubbock 79416.

Also, two additional Embrace trainings are scheduled as follows: Embrace SE Asian Peoples, March 1-3 in Euless, and South Asia people groups Embrace training, March 27-28 in Longview.

To register for these, visit sbtexas.com/mtraining or contact Gayla Harris, gharris@sbtexas.com, or call toll-free 877-953-7282 (SBTC).

Disaster Relief
The SBTC’s Disaster Relief ministry has been dispatched locally, regionally and around the world. The “yellow shirts,” as they are known, are some of Southern Baptists’ best ambassadors for Christ, offering a warm meal or a helping hand in Jesus’ name during some of the world’s most dire situations.
Working in tandem with Baptist Global Relief, SBTC DR personnel are trained in feeding operations, cleanup-recovery, and chaplaincy.

Upcoming DR trainings are listed below. Phase 1 training is a prerequisite class. Registration is available at sbtexas.com/mtraining.

  • Phase I training: March 10, Borger;  April 27, Euless; May 19, Atlanta, Texas; June 2, Pflugerville.
  • Phase II training: April 30-May 5, Larue.

South Asia partnership seeks churches

The need is immense and the mission field vast in South Asia. Millions of people have never heard the gospel and indigenous workers are few and untrained. Local governments are hostile and the danger is real. Despite the challenges, the call of the gospel remains.

Answering the call, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has developed a partnership in South Asia, working with nationals and mission personnel to spread the gospel to unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPGs).

“Our work is in a South Asian country with great needs,” a Southern Baptist missionary, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, told the TEXAN. “It is rural and also urban. It is in the least evangelized area of this nation. This area has massive numbers of lost people and many unreached, unevangelized people groups.”  

The region of South Asia where the SBTC is partnering also has seven major languages and many sub-dialects, making training, preaching, and discipleship very difficult. More than 60 major people groups call this area home.

In addition to the vast number of people groups, it is also governed by groups hostile to the gospel.  
“In our area, strident, radical, militaristic Hinduism is rampant,” the missionary explained. “This nation is ruled and guided by unseen but all-powerful social rules of caste and privilege. Often the existing established churches are cold, formal, dead, and filled with in-fighting and fleshly leaders.”

In the face of these daily challenges, mission personnel are working to evangelize the lost and train indigenous leaders to pastor and plant churches.  

“Physically, we are promoting self-support for pastors and teaching them skills, trades, and small business work that will allow them to plant churches and spread the gospel.  Simple things such as candle making, tailoring, basic electrical skills, cabinet making and basic carpentry are most useful at a village level. We are beginning a series of trainings to teach organic production of vegetables on small plots for home use and for sale to others.”

Meeting physical needs of pastors is combined with training in basic Bible teaching.

“We are training new leaders and young pastors in simple Bible doctrines and simple church leadership skills.”  

Pastors are taught how to grasp the gospel, how to reproduce their own new leaders, and how to grow their own network of churches and workers.  

Missions personnel are called upon to motivate, guide, and train these national workers.  

“They can do the job and our joy is to assist them,” the missionary said. “In doctrine and in practice they are open to scriptural guidance. They attend various one-, two-, or three-day events when doctrine is explained and taught. We show them how to use basic study tools, such as a concordance. We help them learn to prepare sermons and to teach small groups. We want them to do the ministry, not us.”

Michael Dean, pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, has personally seen the value of training national pastors for ministry in South Asia. Travis Avenue has had a partnership in South Asia for six years and Dean said the work there is best done by indigenous leaders.  

“The vast lostness of the area can be pierced through the establishment of believers and groups that ultimately grow into house churches,” Dean said. “These churches need leaders who are trained to be New Testament church leaders. One of the greatest investments that can be made by SBTC churches is to partner with a specific area to train and equip leadership that results in church planting.”

Investing the past six years in the same region of South Asia has produced results in ministry, Dean said.  

“Our church has adopted a specific district and we’ve strategized as to how we can best equip leaders who can go into places that Americans can’t go. In the course of that, we have discovered that American churches can come alongside indigenous churches to help with family ministries, children’s outreach, community health camps, youth ministries, and many other efforts.”

Dean encourages other SBTC churches to get involved with the South Asia partnership.  

“Don’t underestimate the impact your church can make in a region halfway around the world,” he said. “Partnering with local ministry leaders provides valuable encouragement to believers who are serving Christ in settings that are often hostile to the gospel. These leaders need to know that other believers are standing alongside them. We have the resources that can be strategically vital to the reaching of one of the most densely unevangelized regions on the face of the earth.”

The missionary the TEXAN spoke with agreed, adding, “I urge churches to work with Terry Coy [SBTC missions director] and other state SBTC leaders. Join them and help us. We need volunteers, teachers, and other workers.”

In addition to hands-on partnering, all churches can lend vital prayer support to the work in South Asia.
“We need prayer most, first, and to the largest degree,” the missionary emphasized. “If you would, please simply take a few minutes at the beginning of each Sunday School class or other small group meeting, and pray for us. Oh, how we need that.”

The SBTC mission staff can provide e-mail addresses and names of mission field personnel for churches to provide prayer support.  

Churches interested in becoming part of the South Asia partnership should contact the SBTC’s Tiffany Smith—tsmith@sbtexas.com or 877-953-7282 (SBTC)—to learn about the next SBTC vision trip to South Asia. Smith can also connect churches with another church that is already involved in the partnership.

Task force: Keep legal SBC name, but adopt informal name, ‘Great Commission Baptists

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—The task force appointed to study a possible name change of the Southern Baptist Convention is recommending the convention maintain its legal name but adopt an informal, non-legal name for those who want to use it: Great Commission Baptists.

 

The report Monday night ended weeks of speculation by Southern Baptists and fellow evangelicals as to what the task force would do. The convention was formed in 1845, and a name change was first proposed in 1903, although one was not adopted then, or since.

The task force was appointed by Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright.

“This is an issue that just won't die,” task force chairman Jimmy Draper said in presenting the task force's recommendation to the Executive Committee, which will consider it Tuesday.

The name “Southern,” Draper said, is a barrier to the Gospel in some regions of the country.

If the Executive Committee approves it Tuesday, then convention messengers will consider it in New Orleans in June at the SBC annual meeting.

The recommendation would mean that the legal name of the convention would remain “Southern Baptist Convention” and could be used by any church which wishes to use it. But other SBC churches could call themselves “Great Commission Baptists” if they wish.

“We believe that the equity that we have in the name Southern Baptist Convention is valuable,” Draper said during the task force's recommendation. “It is a strong name that identifies who we are in theology, morality and ethics, compassion, ministry and mission in the world. It is a name that is recognized globally in these areas.”

Draper continued: “We also recognize the need that some may have to use a name that is not associated with a national region as indicated by the word 'Southern.' We want to do everything we can to encourage those who do feel a name change would be beneficial without recommending a legal name change for the convention. We believe we have found a way to do that.”

The goal from the beginning, Draper said, “was to consider the removal of any barrier to the effective proclamation of the Gospel and reaching people for Christ.”

Website URLs already have been secured, the task force said, in case the Executive Committee and convention approves the informal name.

Changing the legal name, Draper said, would have been fraught with problems.

“We believe that the potential benefits of a legal name change do not outweigh the potential risks that would be involved in a legal name change,” Draper said. “Changing the name of the convention would require a great cost in dollars and in energy, and would present huge challenges legally that create a multitude of issues. The value of a name change does not justify the risks involved.

“At the same time, we are concerned about the negative perception that the word 'Southern' may carry in certain geographic areas of North America. But even there, the opinions are mixed on this issue. From leaders in non-Southern states, one-half of those we heard from reported that it would be a benefit to them to change the name, but the other half said it would not be a benefit. It is true that the leaders of African American and other ethnic Southern Baptist churches indicated that it would be helpful to them.”

Keeping the legal name while using an informal, non-legal name would be a “win-win” situation, Draper said.

Two task force members spoke to the Executive Committee regarding the report: Ken Fentress, pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md., and Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Why am I Southern Baptist?” Fentress asked. “This is a question that I've been confronted with several times over the years, and it's probably true that most African Americans are Southern Baptist despite objections of many in the larger black Christian community.”

The convention's ties to slavery upon its founding in 1845 is a barrier to some in the African American community, Fentress said, saying “the name Southern Baptist is full of meaning, significance and history.

“For many African Americans, our reasons for being Southern Baptist are theological — not cultural, not political, not geographical,” Fentress said. “… I am a Southern Baptist specifically because of the theology for which the Conservative Resurgence stood.”

The SBC name, he said, has been “a source of difficulty for church planters … serving in areas outside the American South.”

Paige Patterson, a task force member and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he has favored a name change of the convention for a while, saying the convention is no longer regional and that “Southern” is offensive to some.

The report, he said, is one that “satisfies my conscience on all levels to a degree I never thought possible. I support it enthusiastically.”

At a news conference, Draper said that in recent history, messengers have not been given a report explaining the rationale behind the argument for a new name.

“I don't think Southern Baptists, at large, ever really saw the bigger picture, and when we came to the conventions, the vote was usually an emotional vote,” Draper said.

The task force, Draper said, is praying that when people come to the convention in June — if the report is OK'd by the Executive Committee — “the people [will] at least have a background on which to make a decision.”

“We're not stipulating that anybody do anything,” Draper said of a church's usage of a name. “Already, Southern Baptists can do anything they want to do. But it really would very helpful … to so many that have become disenchanted [that] if they use a name other than Southern Baptist, Southern Baptists said, 'That's OK.'”

The task force believes “Great Commission Baptists” can be trademarked, Draper said.
–30–


Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press