Month: May 2012

On gay issue, SBC leader condemns harsh language

The Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues has released a statement condemning the harsh language of two independent Baptist pastors from North Carolina whose remarks on homosexuals and gender identity have gone viral on the Internet.

The controversial statements came from pastors of churches not affiliated with the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, but “they still stand as reminders to us—not only pastors, but all believers—that above all else we must represent the heart of Christ,” wrote Bob Stith, a retired Southlake, Texas pastor who has served the SBC in the gender issues role since 2007.

Stith, who has said he was once “negative and condemning” towards homosexuals, wrote in a May 23 statement released by the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that Southern Baptists seek to be “proactive and redemptive in reaching out to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions.”

“From the video clips it would appear that both men pastor fairly large churches. I wonder how many people in those congregations were gripped with the fear that their personal struggle might be discovered,” Stith wrote. “And how many have loved ones involved in homosexuality? I wonder about the loneliness and isolation they must have experienced, knowing they could never share those burdens.”

Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., described on one website as an independent, fundamental “KJV-only” congregation, drew attention from CNN’s Anderson Cooper and from other national media outlets after his rant against homosexuals went viral on the Web.

On May 13, Worley told his church: “I figured out a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers. But I couldn’t get it past Congress. Build a great, big, large fence 50 to 100 miles long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. Feed ’em and you know what? In a few years they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.”

After someone shouted “Amen!” Worley continued, “You might as well ‘Amen.’ I’m gonna preach the hell out of all of it!”

It’s not the first time Worley has advocated execution for homosexuals. “Forty years ago they would’ve hung, bless God, from a white oak tree! Wouldn’t they? Amen,” Worley is heard saying in a 1978 sermon linked from the website sermonaudio.com and reported by the New York Daily News on May 23.

Amid criticism and threats of protests, some of the church’s members voiced support for their pastor, according to WCNC-TV in Charlotte, N.C.

“He had every right to say what he said about putting them in a pen and giving them food,” longtime member Geneva Sims told the station. “The Bible says they are worthy of death. He is preaching God’s Word.”

Another pastor, Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., has since expressed regret for his words, claiming he was taken out of context and admitting he spoke carelessly after garnering attention on YouTube.

During the sermon leading up to the vote on a North Carolina marriage protection amendment, which voters passed, Harris told his church that when young boys begin acting effeminate, dads should squash those tendencies by stating “‘Man up, son, and get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch because that’s what boys do!’”

“The second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist,” Harris said. “Man up! Give him a good punch, OK? ‘You’re not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.’”

But in a subsequent YouTube video after news media scrutiny and outcry from homosexual activists, Harris tells an interviewer: “I have learned a lot from this, Justin. And I’ve learned that I need to be more careful and deliberate with my words. And I hope that if I take away anything from this incident, that I will be even better and more deliberate, more careful, with exactly the words I select.”

The SBC’s Stith responded to Harris by stating: “It is encouraging that Mr. Harris has backed away from those comments and pledged to be more careful. The real problem is the lack of understanding as to why this is problematic. Too many people, pastors and otherwise, have either said things like this or thought them, which is why I have consistently urged Southern Baptist entities to provide more training for our people.

“Don Schmierer’s excellent book ‘An Ounce of Prevention’ should be required reading for pastors—and parents. While this example is certainly extreme, I’ve heard far too many stories through the years of men and women who were wounded by well-meaning adults who employed some variation of this approach.”

Stith said he would “caution all pastors to be aware that in this cyber-savvy world, anything you say can be worldwide within moments. Paul says, ‘Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt’ (Colossians 4:6). Will your words meet that standard? Will they hold out hope to anyone in bondage? Will they bring honor to Christ?”

For more information on the SBC’s ministry to people struggling with same-sex attraction and gender issues, visit the website www.sbcthewayout.com.

Official Statement

The complete statement from Bob Stith, SBC national strategist for gender issues, reads as follows:

“Those of us who have served on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals have as a stated objective to help Southern Baptists be ‘proactive and redemptive in reaching out to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions.’ Our goal has always been to help Southern Baptists and others develop compassionate hearts for those who struggle and their families.

“Unfortunately, the watching world too often has witnessed examples of the opposite. While I am grateful that the two most recent instances were not in Southern Baptist churches, they still stand as reminders to us—not only pastors, but all believers—that above all else we must represent the heart of Christ.

“The pastors’ comments that have rocketed across the Internet and been featured in so many news outlets also show a complete lack of understanding of how to minister to those struggling with this particular temptation. Real masculinity cannot be stereotyped. Attempting to force a sensitive son to share all of his father’s interests is a recipe for disaster. Children desperately need the loving involvement of their fathers, not their condemnation. (See Parenting the Sensitive Soul by Ricky Chelette.)

“Ironically, one pastor seemed to be arguing for a genetic causation. How else to explain his statement that the death of all homosexuals in one generation would eliminate future struggles with homosexuality? Even the American Psychological Association no longer argues for strict genetic causation. The sad truth is that the attitudes reflected in these comments are far more likely to exacerbate problems than to help them.

“From the video clips it would appear that both men pastor fairly large churches. I wonder how many people in those congregations were gripped with the fear that their personal struggle might be discovered. And how many have loved ones involved in homosexuality? I wonder about the loneliness and isolation they must have experienced, knowing they could never share those burdens.

“I would especially caution all pastors to be aware that in this cyber-savvy world, anything you say can be worldwide within moments. Paul says, ‘Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt’ (Colossians 4:6). Will your words meet that standard? Will they hold out hope to anyone in bondage? Will they bring honor to Christ?”

Bryan, a founder of SBTC, dies

DENTON—Bobby Gene Bryan, 80, of Denton, a longtime pastor in Colorado, South Dakota and Texas and a leading figure in the founding of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, died May 16 at Denton Regional Medical Center.

Bryan retired from the full-time pastorate while at Cooper Creek Baptist Church in Denton in 1996 but continued to serve, perhaps most notably as chairman of the transition team that in 1997-98 helped form the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Born Sept. 11, 1931 in Dallas to Roberts Owen and Lucile Bryan, he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and Howard Payne University. In addition to Cooper Creek, Bryan pastored First Baptist Seagoville, Emory Baptist in Emory, Eastern Hills Baptist in Garland, and Grace Temple in Terrell. He was a member of First Baptist Church of Krugerville.

Bryan was preceded by his wife of 50 years, Betty Sue Wilson Bryan. He is survived by second wife, Joyce Bryan of Denton; daughter, Darla Jeanette Melton of Emory; son, Stephen Gene Bryan of Winnsboro, La.; and stepchildren Geary Watson, Stephen Watson, and Melanie Sweatman.

Other survivors include a brother, Morris Wayne Bryan of Dallas, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, plus five step-grandchildren and two step-great-grandchildren.  

The funeral was May 19 at the First Baptist Church of Krugerville with burial at the Cooper Creek Cemetery.

 

Luter receives honorary doctorate at Criswell College commencement

DALLAS—Criswell College awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree to New Orleans pastor Fred Luter Jr. during its commencement exercises on May 5, and granted degrees to 46 students.

Luter, likely the next Southern Baptist Convention president and longtime pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, received the award from Criswell College President Jerry Johnson during the school’s 37th commencement. Luter offered the commencement address.

The following students earned associate’s degrees: Hector R. Espino, Ennis; Nicole Krystin Onwiler, Royse City; and Edwin Eric Verzosa, Mesquite.

The bachelor of arts degree was awarded to: Emily Sue Adamson, summa cum laude, of Garland; Hal Benard Carouthers, Fort Worth; Betelhem Gebre Darge, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Glenn H. Garrett, summa cum laude, Seagoville; Charlie Douglass Griffin, Mesquite; Joshua Tyler Hebert, magna cum laude, Katy; Michael Glenn Johnson, cum laude, High Island; Robert Nolan Johnson, Marble Falls.
Also: Nolan H. Jones III, Kaufman; Kyle Mark Wayne Kerby, Sachse; Sarah Jean Kerby, cum laude, Dallas; James Wendell Knox, summa cum laude, Arlington; Anthaney Kong, Dallas; Frederick McGinnis III, Houston; Nicholas Blake Mires, Dallas; Mark Alan Moore, summa cum laude, Dallas; Rebecca Elizabeth Nanny, Richardson; Jordan Todd Newberry, magna cum laude, Birmingham, Ala.
Bradley Paul Patterson, Garland; Joshua Caleb Patton, magna cum laude, Palestine; Marcelle Calife Peixoto, Recife, Brazil; Cody Nathaniel Porter, summa cum laude, Granbury; Jeremy Don Reed, Lancaster; Luke Nathanael Roller, Dallas; Christina Amanda Rowe, Dallas; Darrell Jerome Thomas, Charleston, S.C.; Marietta Rene Van Schuyver, Lucas; Jerad Glen White, Mesquite; and Benjamin Dean Wilson, Abilene.

The master of arts degree was awarded to Shai ben Yehoshua, cum laude, Mabank; Frank Bradford III, summa cum laude, Dallas; Ty Derek Dauster, summa cum laude, Rowlett; Daniel Bekele Denboba, Dallas; Melinda Ann Fore, Dallas; Beatrece Necita Garner, cum laude, Dallas; Roberta Ellen Keith, summa cum laude, Garland; Nathaniel James King, summa cum laude, Royse City; Sharon Ann Pickett Maxwell, summa cum laude, Dallas; David C. Niederkorn, summa cum laude, Chicago;
Also: Kenya Jacobie Dequane Robinson, cum laude, Arlington; Gigi Nadine Santamaria, Panama; Lance Wade Wendling, summa cum laude, Mesquite; Hursel Bruce Williamson Jr., magna cum laude, Rockwall; Mira Ahn, Paju, South Korea; Richard Allen Hawthorne, cum laude, Gun Barrel City; Ester Jeong-Soon Jeong, Seoul, South Korea; and Cherquinthia Derecole Winkley, cum laude, Dallas.

Ministry provides loaner cars for missionaries

Wanted: A person who loves the Lord to take over the operation of a well established, three-decade-old ministry. Must also love missionaries and desire to help them in their work of spreading the gospel. No passport required. And, oh, individual must really, really like cars.

As with any product or service that has stood the test of time, necessity was the mother of invention, or rather ministry, for Harvey Kneisel 32 years ago. Inspired by his own experiences and the suggestion of a friend, Kneisel created Macedonian Call Foundation. But today, at 81, he is ready to place the ministry, and 26 sets of car keys, into someone else’s hands.

“I’m almost 82. Is this going to fall on the ground when I’m gone? Surely there is someone out there younger than 81 who loves missionaries,” Kneisel said.

The Macedonian Call Foundation loans cars to foreign missionaries on Stateside assignment in Texas or surrounding states. The foundation gives priority to Southern Baptist missionaries. As International Mission Board missionaries in Asia for 13 years, Harvey and Charlene Kneisel’s furloughs were fraught with long to-do lists even before they left the field. One expensive and sometimes exasperating task was the acquisition of a car during their stay in the U.S. The task is no different more than 30 years later.

Furloughs for missionaries can last a few weeks or several months and there is a need for transportation with each trip. Renting a vehicle is cost-prohibitive and buying a car to only have to sell it a few months later is usually a money-losing venture.

“Every time we’d leave we’d lose $1,000 to $2,000,” Kneisel said of his car purchasing and selling days.

After retiring from the IMB, Kneisel worked as minister of missions at Houston’s First Baptist Church. He relished the opportunity to stay in close contact with missionaries, both short-term and career. It was then that a friend suggested Kneisel turn his old transportation frustration into a ministry opportunity.

In 1980 after consulting with friends about logistics and operational support Kneisel, acquired his first loaner car—a 1967 Oldsmobile.

Letting his automobile bias show, Kneisel said, “We ran it for tens of thousands of miles because you can’t wear out an Oldsmobile.”

Toyotas, he admitted, are also long-lasting vehicles.

With 26 cars in the MCF fleet, “That’s all I can say grace over,” Kneisel said, rejecting the idea of growing the fleet.

And that grace has been sufficient, Kneisel said. Out of the 1,439 loans in 32 years there have been no injury accidents. Some of those loans have been to repeat customers like Carla and Russell Minick, IMB missionaries on leave in Texas from their post in Asia.

“It’s a huge, huge blessing,” Carla Minick said. The couple’s one-year furlough ends in July.

She said the availability of a car upon arrival in the States makes the trip all the more convenient. A car is needed from the time missionaries arrive at the airport to the time they fly out. With that in mind, Kneisel included an airport pick-up and drop-off service available for a fee.

The fee, he added, was only initiated in April in an effort to offset the high cost of gasoline. Missionaries must also pay a monthly fee of $100 to cover the cost of insurance. The cars receive routine maintenance and repair when not on loan but missionaries are responsible for regular maintenance when the car is in their possession.

The Minicks have had to replace three tires on their current vehicle. That’s a small price to pay, she said, compared to the expense and bother of renting or purchasing a car. And though the car is 21 years old, it has low mileage and “runs great.”

The MCF fleet is maintained by a “genius” mechanic, Alberto Largaespada. Kneisel said Largaespada, who repairs cars for a living, gives his time and attention to the fleet, charging only a fraction of what a standard repair would cost.

Kneisel said God has proven himself as Jehovah Jireh since the establishment of the ministry provided men like Largaespada and a board of directors for support and direction. From the outset Kneisel wanted to operate the ministry without soliciting financial assistance. God, he recalled saying, would provide the means.

Kneisel knew countless people who had a heart for missions and wanted to be a part of what was being done overseas. Word spread about the start-up non-profit in Houston and donations—unsolicited—started coming in.

The second car donated was a 1961 Buick with a blown head gasket. The clunker, like many other donated forms of transportation, proved valuable. The sale of such vehicles brings in needed funds to pay for maintenance and repair of the fleet.

Through the years other donated forms of transportation included a Cherokee 150 airplane, a “nearly new” BMW sedan, a BMW motorcycle (donated by a deacon), and a 1939 Buick with only 16,000 miles on the odometer.

Once sold the donations translated into 25 cars for the loaner fleet. Kneisel said although the BMW car could have been used in the loaner rotation, he joked that missionaries might not invoke a very generous love offering following their presentation on the austere life in the field if they were seen driving the German-made luxury sedan.

Kneisel currently has in storage a 1997, low-mileage Rexhall Vision RV that he is trying to sell.

“God is good. He has provided,” he said.

Kneisel hopes to stay involved with MCF once he steps down from leadership. He said an individual or even a group of people could take charge of the Houston-based ministry. He would even like to see the work expand to Dallas. Similar ministries have borrowed the Macedonian Call Foundation name, with Kneisel’s permission, to establish similar ministries in other states.

The main requisite for taking the leadership of MCF is a love for missionaries and their work and an appreciation for cars.

Minick said Kneisel’s love of both has been obvious to her.

“They are so gracious. They’re so excited about the number of people they’ve been able to help and how many cars are in the fleet,” she said.

Any replacement would have to appreciate the value of the ministry to families like hers. He would have to be “someone who just really saw how the ministry aspect is such a blessing,” she said.

Individuals or groups interested in taking over the leadership of Macedonian Call Foundation or purchasing the RV may call Harvey Kneisel at 713-436-6092.

SBC far from monolithic, strategist says

Southern Baptists signaled their intention to broaden ethnic involvement, passing a set of proactive recommendations last year at the annual meeting in Phoenix. In his new role as presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations, Ken Weathersby has begun the task of helping implement those recommendations by simply listening.

“The main goal is to make sure we focus on the task at hand, that is to penetrate lostness in North America and the world,” Weathersby told the TEXAN. “The way I have approached that, first of all, is by listening to the direction of where we’re going in convention life and how we want to be inclusive in anything we’re doing.”

Weathersby most recently served as associate vice president for ethnic mobilization at NAMB. He has previously served in leadership positions in NAMB’s church planting and evangelism areas as well. He has also served in an evangelism leadership role with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and pastored churches in Baton Rouge, La., and Cincinnati.

With over 10,000 ethnic and African American churches among more than 45,000 that make up the Southern Baptist Convention, Weathersby is convinced there is plenty to celebrate.

An exhibit at the annual meeting in New Orleans will illustrate the many faces of the denomination to show its diversity, he said.

“We have to highlight what God has already done in the life of Southern Baptists. For many years people have labored and worked hard to make sure we, as Southern Baptists, penetrate communities with the gospel,” he explained. “In doing so, we have been planting healthy, New Testament churches among all ethnic groups. We’re grateful to God for that.”

“We probably are the most diverse Protestant denomination because of the number of non-Anglo churches that are a part of our convention,” Weathersby said.

There’s no mechanism for counting diversity within predominantly Anglo churches, but Weathersby has seen enough multiethnic congregations to be encouraged. “It’s just amazing to see what God is doing based on building relationships and getting to know people in the community.”

Three advisory councils jointly appointed by the presidents of the Executive Committee and North American Mission Board will provide Weathersby and other SBC entity leaders an opportunity to hear from representatives of non-Anglo groups. An Hispanic Advisory Council appointed last September as a three-year ministry initiative will offer the perspectives Hispanic churches and church leaders bring to the common task of reaching the United States and other nations with the gospel. A similar group made up of African American representatives was formed next and a multiethnic group is yet to be named.

“We’re going to be listening to our church leaders and getting information from them on how we approach working together for the cause of Christ,” Weathersby said. “Right now we are in the listening mode.”

In meeting with various groups, Weathersby wants them to understand how their ministries can be magnified through giving to the Cooperative Program and the two mission offerings to send missionaries throughout North America and around the world. “As one writer said, we are not giving to the Cooperative Program. We are giving through the Cooperative Program,” he reminded.

As he coordinates efforts to implement the components of the SBC’s ethnic study report that was approved overwhelmingly last year, Weathersby will encourage ethnic churches to be full participants in Southern Baptist life.

He is encouraged by the election of four African Americans at state convention meetings last fall. “At the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention we are grateful to God that the convention called Bro. Terry Turner to be state president. That helps,” Weathersby said. “We have Roscoe Belton as state president in Michigan, Mark Croston as state president in the Baptist General Association of Virginia and Kendrick Curry in the D.C. Convention.”

Weathersby has no doubt that there will be a greater increase in the diversity of people serving on SBC committees, boards and commissions in the coming years.

Those expectations are a part of the recommendations passed by messengers to last year’s annual meeting. The notebook for the next SBC president will include an encouragement “to give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the Convention.” The president will report the total number of ethnic appointees when names of the committees are released next year to Baptist Press.

The SBC president and Committee on Order of Business will be asked to give “due consideration to the ethnic identity of program personalities” enlisted for the annual meeting in 2013.

This year’s Committee on Nominations will include in its annual report in New Orleans the total number among its nominees that represent the ethnic diversity within Southern Baptist life.

“We see signs right now,” Weathersby said when asked if he expects to see progress in the inclusion of varied races and ethnicities.

“Here we are going to the convention in New Orleans with the potential of nominating the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Pastor Fred Luter of New Orleans, and as first vice president Pastor Nathan Lino of Texas” who is white but of South African heritage.

“We see God is certainly at work,” Weathersby said. “I’m so glad that God has us on purpose making disciples among all ethnic groups. In doing so, people are getting to know one another and are recognizing because of the blood-stained banner of Christ we must work together for his cause.”

Book signing for SBTC exec book

A book signing for Jim Richards’ “Embracing the Ends of the Earth” will be from 10:30-11:30 a.m. on Wed., June 20 at the LifeWay bookstore in the exhibit hall at the SBTC annual meeting in New Orleans.

The book by Richards, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention executive director, is available for ordering. Published by the SBTC for a church audience and available at cost, the 62-page paperback weaves scriptural principles, missionary anecdotes and the latest data into a primer for carrying out the Great Commission. The foreword is by International Mission Board President Tom Elliff with endorsements by pastors such as Bryant Wright and John Meador, and educators and denominational leaders such as Paige Patterson, Jerry Johnson and Kevin Ezell. The book is $3 or $390 (130 books) by the case. Shipping is free for one book. Simply type MISSIONS in the discount code. Shipping is $20 for a case.

An accompanying weeklong devotional and two Bible studies are available online. To order the book or download the accompanying material, visit sbtexas.com/resources.

FIRST PERSON: Rethinking cooperation

After sharing a Mother’s Day brunch with two families who are faithfully and sacrificially investing themselves in the life of our church plant, I began to rethink cooperation. As we stuffed ourselves with waffles and crispy bacon, I was reminded of the rich benefits that stem from the “Baptist way” of shared ministry (potluck dinners aside).

Take my Mother’s Day brunch, for instance. Joe and Amy Baumgardner sat on my left. They are members of Pittsburgh Baptist Church (PBC), one of a few established Southern Baptist churches in Pittsburgh.

I say “one of a few” because according to the Baptist Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania, there are only 60 churches to reach a population of 3 million people, of which 2 million are considered unchurched. The association website calculates that there is one SBC church for every 61,225 people in Southwestern Pennsylvania. In Alabama, for example, that number is one church for every 1,452.

The Baumgardners, Pennsylvania natives, have attended PBC for six years. But when North American Mission Board missionaries Ken and Paula Cordray moved to the Steel City to plant Living Faith Community Church (LFCC), the Baumgardners knew God was calling them to cooperate with the new church start in some way.

So, every other Sunday the couple attends the early worship service at PBC, then they drive across town to serve in the LFCC preschool and nursery class. Even though the Baumgardners discovered a new way to participate in cooperative missions without leaving their home church, the sacrifice of such cooperation is high.

Most people don’t enjoy serving in their own church’s nursery, much less driving across town to serve in the nursery of another church. (The difficulty of recruiting and maintaining church nursery workers testifies to that fact).

Also, consider Dave and Kim Lenon, who sat on my right at our brunch.

The Lenons currently serve at two separate Southern Baptist church plants in Pittsburgh. On Sunday mornings the couple welcomes new guests at LFCC and on Sunday evenings they encourage the Doxa Church in a nearby township. They are greeters, leaders, prayer warriors, ministry supporters, small group hosts, and more.

During our meal together, the couple spoke about the joy they’ve experienced cooperating with both churches. Likewise, LFCC cheerfully “shares” the Lenons with Doxa, because their cooperative ministry helps both ministries showcase God’s glory to an unreached city.

But for many Southern Baptists, “cooperation” is a loaded term. Although cooperation is part of the rich fabric of our denominational heritage, it’s also a word that can make younger generations grumble. That’s because when you tell Baptists they need to cooperate more, some mistakenly believe you’re simply asking for more money.

Yet, in Baptist polity, cooperation is truly tied to finances. The SBC’s Cooperative Program is THE premier unified giving mechanism among the denomination’s now 50,000 churches for fueling diverse missions efforts. Evangelism, discipleship, church planting, disaster relief—the Cooperative Program allows small churches to fulfill the Great Commission in big ways.

Personally, the out-workings of shared ministry in church planting has only bolstered my confidence in the SBC’s traditional, shared-ministry mechanisms. But the type of sacrificial cooperation demonstrated by the Baumgardners and Lenons is new to me.

Living in a pioneer area—a North American region not yet saturated with the gospel—has exposed to me to the need for a new kind of cooperative ministry. I’ve discovered a need for cooperation that extends beyond giving money to good—even biblical—causes. I’ve discovered a need for cooperation that encompasses more than establishing partnerships for special events.

The churches that cooperate with LFCC do so out of no personal advancement for their own ministry. They receive no financial benefit and absolutely zero ministry exposure. There are no pats on the back, no new prospective members, and no additional Facebook “likes” or Twitter followers.

In fact, much of our core group was formed when area churches, such as Pittsburgh Baptist Church and Faith Community Church Lakeside, invested in LFCC by willingly sharing with us some of their active and vibrant members. By market standards, this means these churches lost more than they gained.

Do those churches—which are small-to-medium sized churches—miss those members serving each week within their own church walls? Undoubtedly so. Do those churches already cooperate with other Baptist churches in missions by giving to the Cooperative Program? Of course. This very important cooperative measure must continue to be one of the unique mainstays our shared denominational identity.

But if Baptists are going to make any measurable gains in the Great Commission in this generation, it will take a new vision for cooperation that extends beyond financials and church growth strategies.

It will take Southern Baptist churches—and the individuals comprising them—sharing and investing their lives in other Southern Baptist churches around them. This type of selfless service—that enables another church to flourish instead of our own—sounds counter-intuitive.  But in the end, so does the gospel.

If we continue to refine our perception of cooperation, who knows, maybe one day there will be more Southern Baptist churches in Pittsburgh—and more Christ-followers cooperating to build out the Great Commission.

—Melissa Deming is a former TEXAN managing editor, a wife and a mother of twins who blogs at melissademing.com, where this column first appeared.

Multiethnic churches crucial for reaching North America

NEW ORLEANS—Cultural exclusivity in the church represents neither the power of the gospel nor American society as a whole. And for the church to maintain relevance and vibrance in the coming decades, that has to change.

That’s the message Damian Emetuche, national missionary for the North American Mission Board and assistant professor of Nehemiah Church Planting at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is telling his students as they prepare for ministry in the 21st century.

Emetuche, who also directs the Cecil B. Day Center for Church Planting at NOBTS, took a unique path to his current post in New Orleans.

The Nigerian-born husband and father of five got his start in ministry by serving as a pastor and church planter in his home country in the early 1990s. Then in 1995, he was sent as a missionary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention to nearby Ivory Coast to do church planting. He served in Ivory Coast through 2003.

In 2004, Emetuche moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While studying there, he served as a North American Mission Board church planter in Hamilton, Ohio, near Cincinnati. And in 2007, he moved to the Seattle area where he worked as a chaplain, pastor and church planter.

Emetuche, who came to NOBTS in early 2010, admits he’s a relative newcomer to American culture—but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage.

“I see things, at least for now, as an outsider,” Emetuche said.

And as someone who still has an outsider’s objective point of view, Emetuche offers a major critique of the American church: In a time when North America is becoming more and more multicultural, North American churches tend to be culturally exclusive. Members too often share the same race, nationality or socio-economic background.

That’s a problem, Emetuche said, first because it goes against the message of the gospel.

THE BIBLICAL PRECEDENT
From the Pentecost experience in Acts 2 and the church at Antioch to the apostle Paul’s calls for unity in Ephesians 3 and Galatians 3, Emetuche said the New Testament paints a clear picture of the church as diverse and multicultural.

“I believe there was no New Testament church that was a homogeneous church,” Emetuche said. “Every New Testament church was multiethnic.”

But achieving diversity wasn’t always easy for the early church.

NOBTS New Testament and Greek professor Gerald Stevens said the early church grappled with whether Christianity, like Judaism, should carry ethnic prerequisites.

“Is Christianity ethnically defined? That was the question before the church. And that’s what Acts 15 is about,” Stevens said.

In Acts 15, Paul, Barnabas, Peter and the Jerusalem church leaders met to debate whether the new Gentile Christians had to follow only Jesus or both the teachings of Jesus and the social customs of Judaism. Stevens said that, at the heart of the debate, was a battle over ethnicity.

“The apostles were the ones that were helping break that mold of ethnicity as definitive of the people of God,” Stevens said of the Jerusalem debate. “And we begin to perceive it’s not our ethnicity that makes us the people of God but our obedience and our faith, regardless of ethnicity.”

Stevens admitted that, both in Jesus’ day and today, embracing diversity can be difficult and even threatening. It requires a healthy dose of humility, which gets to the heart of Jesus’ command to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he said.

“In a cosmopolitan setting, we cannot claim success of the gospel unless we are multiethnic and multicultural in our visible expression of Christianity,” Stevens said. “The groups we show—the Bible study groups, the mission groups, any group in which we present ourselves to the public—if it’s not multiethnic, it’s not gospel.”

Emetuche echoed that imperative.

“In the kingdom of God, we’re going to ultimately be together, so we better learn to be together here,” Emetuche said. “If the church is divided, we have little or no message to give the world.”

One key way for existing churches to become more diverse, Emetuche said, is by diversifying their leadership.

“With a multiethnic church, the leadership has to be diverse. You have to intentionally have diverse leaders,” he said.

NOBTS urban missions professor Ken Taylor, pastor in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood for 27 years, echoed that call to leadership diversity. Until Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Taylor served as pastor of Elysian Fields Baptist Church. Afterward,  Elysian Fields and Gentilly Baptist churches worshiped together and later merged.

Taylor said Gentilly Baptist Church is about half African American and half white. And to reflect that racial diversity, Taylor said he has pursued a similar diversity among the church’s leaders.

“It’s helped people see that we’re not just a diverse church, but we’re willing to have diversity in leadership too,” Taylor said.

And that was a strategy the early church followed as well, Stevens said, when the apostles appointed a group of Greek believers to oversee the food distribution to Greeks in the church.

“That had to have been uncomfortable for them. Who wants to give up power? That wasn’t necessarily pleasant, but they knew it was the right thing to do,” Stevens said. “For everyone to have ownership in this ministry, we have to empower others.”

Taylor also encouraged church pastors to understand and acknowledge their church’s history with regard to race and social class in the surrounding community. In the case of Elysian Fields and Gentilly Baptist churches, both congregations had a history of racial exclusivity that had to be overcome with years of love and ministry.

And as a church achieves greater diversity, Taylor said members and leaders alike must approach worship—and worship styles—with an extra helping of grace.

“It just takes a lot of grace, but I think there’s some enjoyment there too,” Taylor said of combining various worship styles. “The joy is to just be able to look out and think, ‘This is a little bit like how heaven will be.’ That’s a great thing.”

Ultimately, Stevens said, diversity can take hold when people look past outward differences to see the wealth of human commonalities just below the surface. He said that was one positive effect Hurricane Katrina had on the New Orleans community.

“Katrina shook us up and shaved us of our cultural identity [that we have] through our homes, our cars and our possessions. Once all of our culture was stripped away, we found that we were all human beings,” he said. “The trappings of all our culture went down the river, and all that was left was just one human hand reaching out to another human hand, asking ‘Can I help you?’”

—Reprinted from NOBTS Vision Magazine. Written by Frank Michael McCormack | New Orleans Seminary

Remain colorblind in this spiritual, political climate

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

I have been asked to clarify and expand a statement I made to the Executive Board of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at its spring meeting. In an attempt to challenge the board to pray for President Barack Obama, I made the statement that “it’s hard to be a black pastor in a predominantly white convention.” This was my effort to reduce the tension of the moment and request a plea for understanding. I have since developed great apprehension for having made this statement because I never want to be considered as a president who represents one group of people. Please allow me to make it clear: my commitment as president of this great state convention is to represent all ethnicities within our 2,400 churches regardless of race. I am proud to represent a multi-cultural convention. However, if a conversation on this subject will assist in making the SBTC more inclusive, I am available.

It is no secret that there has been a heightened cultural divide in our country following the 2008 presidential election, and it appears comparable in many ways to the late 1960s and early ‘70s. As an African American pastor, I choose to remain colorblind and encourage God’s people to remain the same with all the racial overtones being leveled at President Obama. This task, as a conservative evangelical pastor, has become increasingly difficult as I attempt to understand whether the many negative connotations associated with the name Barack Obama are based on his ethnicity or some of his anti-biblical policies. I hope the posture of evangelical conservative congregations, with regard to ethnic relationships, are determined by their view of Scripture. However, the historic companionship of race, religion, and politics in America leaves much uncertainty as to the converted hearts of men. As a pastor, I intentionally incorporate into my sermons the biblical disapproval of racism, abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, cohabitation, gambling, drinking, etc. For centuries pastors have failed to condemn racism, and yet it is one of America’s most prevalent sins.

Our country’s moral values have eroded under this current president and his administration—I feel embarrassed and ashamed. Likewise, these same feelings are replicated when I see those who use the anti-moral policies of this administration to hide behind their racism. A major concern of mine is how to lead my church to bridge the racial divide and remain colorblind in the process.

The morning after the 2008 election, I was delighted to be an American living in a country that had reached a point of ethnic diversity by electing an African American to the highest office in its government. I quickly found myself wedged between an African American community that was overjoyed, and the annoyance of many evangelical conservatives. As one could imagine, this is a difficult spiritual and sociological situation to manage.   

The excitement of many conservative African Americans began to fade into irritation as the opposing political parties continued their warfare at the expense of all Americans. This annoyance and irritation crept into our churches among people who love the Lord from all ethnic backgrounds. In the black community, the term “evangelical conservative” has become synonymous with racism because of its slant to a political party. Furthermore, the SBC, abiding by its conservative biblical views, has become identified with an anti-Obama movement, which the majority of blacks believe is stemmed from racism and not biblical beliefs. Black Southern Baptist pastors are often confronted with the question, “Why do we remain affiliated with the SBC when the political party of its choice can say such mean and hurtful things about the president of the United States?” For me, it is difficult to observe the negative effects politics takes on the body of Christ based on cultural bias.

This positional statement on race, located on the website of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, says:

“Tragically much of our nation’s history is stained with the ugliness of racial discrimination and prejudice and, even more distressing, there was a day when many condoned these attitudes from church pulpits, twisting Scripture to justify their bigoted behavior and thought, rationalizing it was perfectly all right to own and/or abuse another human being.

“Yet racist thought and behavior denies the reality that each of us is created in the image of God. It empties Scripture of its power in our lives when we accept some of its teachings and reject other biblical instruction because it conflicts with our idea of what is right and what is wrong. And as much as we want to believe otherwise, racism has not been erased from society. It’s sin—pure and simple.

“While we have made progress in our country in this area, we have not yet arrived. Much of what was spoken aloud in the past by many is still being whispered by some.”

I believe the SBC is striving to overcome the sins aforementioned. My election as president of the SBTC, along with three other African Americans who are SBC state presidents, and the upcoming election of Rev. Fred Luter as the next SBC president, says that we are steadily pressing for a new day of inclusion. The struggle still remains for total ethnic inclusion in all Southern Baptist life, especially in its executive positions. It is my belief that strides towards greater diversity will enhance an atmosphere more accommodating to black pastors in the SBC. The following sermon illustration, from Parson’s Bible Illustrator for Windows, I pray will help us to bridge our cultural divide as Southern Baptists:

Shortly after the end of the Civil War, in a fashionable Richmond church, members of the congregation were invited to come to the altar to receive Holy Communion. After several rows of worshipers came and left after receiving Communion side by side, a black man walked down the aisle. A tense silence gripped everyone. No one else got up to go receive the bread and wine, although many had not yet received Communion. The black man started to kneel alone. Quietly, a tall, graying man with a military bearing stood up and strode down the aisle to the black man’s side. Together, they knelt. Before the preacher could continue, people realized that the person kneeling beside the black man without showing any distinction was General Robert E. Lee.

Although Lee said nothing, everyone knew he had shown his faith through his act of joining that lonely black worshiper at the altar. Lee’s example is an example for all of us. We have to work toward breaking down the racial, cultural and denominational barriers that divide us as Christians. We’re called to let go of past hurts that have separated us from one another by turning them over to God and offering those who have hurt us forgiveness. And in seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt. We’re called to demonstrate our unity in Christ through love. It has to start with us. We have to pull together. And we have to keep on climbing. No matter what the vote: Christ’s prayer and Christ’s command is still that we be one as He is one with God and that we love one another as He has loved us. This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

—Terry Turner is the pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church and is serving his first term as SBTC president.

Hispanic scholarship recipient close to PhD.

DALLAS—Baltazar Alvarez III is excited to see what God will do in the next seven years based on what he’s seen in the last seven. As a scholarship recipient in the Hispanic Education Superhighway developed by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Alvarez is about a year from finishing a Ph.D. in foundations in education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Quoting the British poet and hymn writer, William Cowper, Alvarez said, “‘God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.’ Seeing God’s will in my life is much clearer in the present than while experiencing it in the past. He has worked different aspects of my past to come together in ways that are fitting more perfectly every day.”

His first connection to Southern Baptists came in 1993 when he joined a Southern Baptist church in Dallas pastored by David Allen, now theology dean at Southwestern Seminary. Serving as a music intern, Alvarez followed his pastor’s advice and enrolled at Criswell College where he earned the bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies with honors.

“I can still remember how proud my parents were when I started my studies at Criswell back in 1998,” he recalled. “Their influence to persevere and complete anything I start has been a driving influence in continuing and completing my education.” Further encouragement came from his wife whom he described as “my constant companion, cheerleader, drill sergeant, life coach and friend.”

Allen provided Alvarez with additional ministry opportunity at MacArthur Blvd. Baptist Church in Irving, enlisting him to teach “Theology for Everyone” on Sunday nights. Former Criswell professor Doug Wood helped him refine his presentation skills in both academic and church environments.

After serving as an academic assistant and instructor, Alvarez was elected as an assistant professor upon completion of his M.A. in theology at Criswell. He began leading an annual cross-cultural mission practicum to Brownsville where students help with Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church and share the gospel throughout the city.

When Criswell theology professor James Bryant told Alvarez about a new education commission begun by the SBTC, he learned of a scholarship named for the state convention’s second president, Rudy Hernandez, to assist Hispanics pursuing ministerial training at Jacksonville College, Criswell College and Southwestern Seminary.

“My connection to the SBC in 1993 led me to Criswell. My connection to Criswell led me to the SBTC. My connection to the SBTC led to my Ph.D. as well as my service to the SBC,” he said, referring to his service on the Committee on Committees for the annual SBC meeting in 2010. Alvarez also served on the SBTC Resolutions Committee in 2007, and the Education Commission, most recently as chairman.

Grateful for the influence of people like Hernandez who developed the idea of the Hispanic Education Superhighway, Alvarez said, “I am grateful to God for those who have been good stewards of their efforts and goods to give to such a venture as this. My hope is that I can return this stewardship with one of my own.”