Month: February 2013

Update: Cargill confirmed as SBOE chair

Not exactly breaking news, but an update is needed to an earlier blog post on the Texas State Board of Education: Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) was unanimously confirmed last week by the state Senate, making her the first SBOE chairman appointee of Gov. Perry to pass legislative vetting since 2005.

Cargill, a former high school biology teacher, is known widely as a social conservative—or as Texas Freedom Network calls her, “one of the board’s far-right culture warriors.”

If you know TFN, founded by Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood, you know they mean she’s a Christian with a biblical worldview. Imagine the horror.

But she is regarded as fair-minded to those on the board to the left of her.

Austin Democrat Sen. Kirk Watson quizzed her on her views of intelligent design and other issues and reportedly got commitments from her on several hot-button issues that satisfied him and Senate Democrats that she wasn’t interested in a plotting a religious coup d’etat from the war room of the Texas Edcuation Agency.

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican SBOE member who is widely considered a moderate on the board, voiced his support for Cargill, even though he acknowledged the two have ideological differences.

I watched her and interacted with her a bit in 2011 at the SBOE’s meeting that dealt with science standards. She seemed professional, competent, and polite to all board members. I got the sense that she is less of a lightning rod than her predecessor, Don McLeroy, he being unafraid to state his thoughts clearly, and sometimes without political forethought.

As more Texans (hopefully) grasp the power this board has to help Texas public schools provide a sound, well-rounded, common sense, non-sectarian education (yes, even in science classrooms), the outcomes can be good. Again, pray for these folks. They need it and deserve it.

The day after on Tebow: A trade decision?

Those in the evangelical camp have been pretty straightforward in their criticism of Tim Tebow in pulling out of his scheduled appearance at FBC Dallas. But the pastor at the center of the stir, Robert Jeffress, has not been among them.

“Oh, look, I would never say anything disparaging to Tim Tebow. He is a fine Christian who is trying to do what he thinks is right, and I do think Tim will learn in time that you can’t appease some of the severest critics of Christianity by compromising with them,” Jeffress told The Daily Beast on Thursday.

From Dallas conservative talk show host Mark Davis to California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, it’s mostly been a chorus of criticism and curiosity as to why Tebow blinked on alleged “new information.”

Remember that Tebow is on the trading block. Could it be this “new information” was propaganda by the NY Jets to convince him his trade value would be diminished if he went to First Baptist. If that’s true, he should know better. If an NFL team thinks Tebow could help them next year, his standing on a platform of a biblically conservative church won’t stop them from signing him. I’m not mad at Tebow. Disappointed, yes, but not mad.

I’m willing to charge this one on Tebow’s moral credit card. But he will have to pay later. And when he does by admitting that he, in fact, believes God’s moral standards are the best way to live—yes, even for homosexuals—and that Jesus is the exclusive way of salvation for Republicans, Democrats, Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, gays, trangenders, and plain ol’ garden-variety pagans, then he will be scorned—once again. The world loves darkness rather than light. Let it shine anyway, Tim, so that some might believe and be saved. But know this: You will be hated. And that’s … OK.


Homeschooling as a right of parents

Consider this a continuation of our discussion of religious liberty or freedom of conscience. Several very articulate pundits have spoken in favor of a German couple, the Romeike family who are seeking asylum in the U.S. to avoid crippling fines, perhaps jail time, and the potential loss of their children. Why? Because they did what was illegal in their native land, homeschooled their children. It’s not illegal here at this time so they’ve moved here and are being defended by a homeschool advocacy group. This is a little embarrassing to the U.S. because Germany is a close ally; we rarely grant asylum to citizens of Western nations.

Catch up with the issue by reading the Baptist Press article and Professor Thomas Kidd’s column. Now, this matters. The reasoning of the U.S. Department of Justice is that no religious liberty issue exists with the Romeike case because the German law is not religiously orientated—all Germans are forbidden to educate their children, not just Christian ones. Let’s substitute the particulars with something mundane like reading the Bible or assembling to worship, or wearing a hijab. Most Americans (or Germans) would not be troubled by such prohibitions, or at least they would not feel obligated by conscience to violate them. Most of us don’t read the Bible or go to church. According to the opinion of our own government this means that no religious liberty issue exists so long as everyone is equally forbidden to read the Bible or wear a hijab. That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? What reasoning applies to one thing today, perhaps a thing about which we care little, will apply to another thing tomorrow, perhaps something that gores our own oxen.

Of course I begin with the assumption that this is a religious matter. Tammi and I were homeschoolers. Each of our kids experienced home teaching, public schooling, and private Christian education for some portion of their childhoods. We were homeschooling parents because we believed that our children were assigned to us by the Lord (not by the state) for training in all things. Each year we considered each child and each option available to us and made the best decision we could for our family. We considered that our right but more importantly our appropriate application of Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6:4. For us, it is a religious thing we did, and a very fundamental religious thing. Regardless of who assisted us in the teaching of our children, we were their primary teachers. And when we (rarely) discovered those assistants teaching our kids things we considered wrong or wrong-headed, we corrected the error by whatever means necessary. One news story quoted a spokesman for the German Teachers’ Association as saying, “No parental couple can offer a breadth of education [that can] replace experienced teachers.” I pretty much disagree with that and have three well-educated and admirable kids to back up my point.  

The rights of American parents to educate their own children have been often challenged and some states are more friendly to the idea than others. That, by the way, is why the Homeschool Legal Defense Association exists.

And of course there is another way of understanding the idea of religious indoctrination. One reason that any culture would want to provide, even require, standardized education is to somewhat conform all budding citizens to a baseline understanding of citizenship. In our culture and in our day, I don’t agree with the majority opinion on morals. The “settled science” (I love that term) on creation, marriage, and other hot button issues are matters of faith no less to the non-religious than to the religious. Christians are a doctrinal minority but we are not the only “people of faith” contending for the hearts of our children. If I lived in Germany, I’d probably agree with the Romeikes and their dismay over what kids are being taught. Is that opinion allowed even in our country?

Maybe the problem is not animosity toward religious liberty. It needn’t be that to be a problem. If our top cops in the DOJ seriously misunderstand the notion of religious liberty, we have a problem. I know that immigration cases have complex facets that go beyond the convictions or even the needs of a petitioning family. But if our Department of Justice does believe that religious freedom is not abridged if it is abridged uniformly, it has ominous implications for every American with a conscience.

To be plain, if the Romeike case is being accurately reported, they should be granted asylum as refugees from religious persecution. They are fleeing unjust persecution as surely as our Pilgrim forebears. Sending them back to imprisonment and possibly the breaking apart of their family is unworthy of this nation.   

Mergers often allow church revitalization in multi-site scenario

ARLINGTON—Multi-site ministry was nothing new to the Church at Rush Creek when the opportunity arose last year to launch a third campus in the Mansfield-Kennedale area, six miles from their original south Arlington campus. The Mira Lagos site was steadily growing to more than 300 in attendance after being launched in 2004 with 70 people.

About that same number were on hand for the first service of the Church at Rush Creek when it launched as a mission of Tate Springs Baptist Church in 1984, meeting in an elementary school.

A decade later current pastor Russ Barksdale began serving. During the interview process he remarked, “If you don’t like change, don’t ask me to lead this church.”

Barksdale had earned an undergraduate degree in petroleum land management, working for Shell Oil until 1981 when God called him into vocational ministry. After completing his master of divinity and Ph.D degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Barksdale began serving at the Arlington church, guiding them to make changes that God blessed with capacity crowds three times each Sunday morning.

The most recent of those launched last spring when Rush Creek merged with Fellowship of the Metroplex in Mansfield, which has been pastored by Scott Oldenburgh since 2004. Now known as Mansfield West, Oldenburgh now serves as campus pastor and preaches from the same sermon series developed for all three campuses.

Together, the three campuses now average more than 3,200 individuals in attendance on any weekend. Barksdale lends his expertise at MultiSite Solutions, a consulting firm that helps churches develop and implement a multi-site strategy. He said the difference between launching a multi-site and merging with an existing church is “the difference between having a baby and adopting a teenager!”

Describing the third campus as more of a revitalization, Barksdale told the TEXAN, “That’s a trickier deal.” Instead of trying to pick a location for each site, he said he believes it is best when it happens organically through relationship.

Rush Creek leaders have been in dialogue about revitalizing three other churches in the last six months, but they’ve yet to decide if any would be a good fit. “DNA is important,” Barksdale said. “Do they have the desire to revitalize or do they just want us to come in and make it the way it was 20 years ago? We’re not interested in that, so their desire is critical.”

If churches have a sense of legacy, Barksdale believes they can build on that.

Committed to staying put in the same church to which God first called him, Barksdale has been around long enough to observe the death of too many churches that once had vibrant ministries.

“We know that in the Arlington-Mansfield area there are hundreds of churches that are marginal. If they’re not in ICU, they’re about to die and we’re praying that God would give us a chance to revitalize some of them,” he added. Some have already given up their buildings, he noted, but many others are surrounded by people representing ethnicities that Rush Creek hopes to reach.

Barksdale is quick to acknowledge that it’s easier said than done. “They all die for a reason. Most of them would rather die than switch, but there are some who are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the witness of Christ in that area, build on what’s there and honor the legacy of the past that might be tied to it.”

Jim Tomberlin of MultiSite Solutions told the TEXAN that 80 percent of Protestant churches are plateaued, dead, or dying.

“Russ Barksdale has demonstrated that churches can be turned around and revitalized. He’s been there, done that and has the heart to help other churches do it.”

For the Church on Rush Creek and many other multi-site churches developed by merging with churches that are about to give up, the end result is worth one more try.

“The light in that part of God’s world is just flickering and to think about coming in and fanning the flame to see the light of Christ be stronger in the community, that ignites me a ton.

FBC Dallas controversial?

Tim Tebow is coming to First Baptist Dallas in connection with the dedication of their new building project. More about the building another time but right now the focus is on the views of the church and her pastor. Tebow, who has borne an amazing amount of scorn for simply living out his Christian faith in public, is now being urged to distance himself from First Dallas because the church has a reputation for … living out its faith in public. It really is OK to laugh at our critics sometimes I think.

FBC Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress has been in the news over the past couple of years for his statements regarding homosexuality, Islam, Mormonism, and even Rick Perry. It’s no surprise that he is usually in disagreement with our elite opinion makers. And his statements are no surprise or scandal among those who believe that some behaviors and doctrines are not compatible with biblical Christianity. Frankly, I don’t think those who disagree with us are surprised either. It serves their purposes to act as if they are surprised. It serves their purposes to pretend they are giving Tim Tebow good advice that they know he will not take unless he is pressured by his employers. It’s posturing, another flail to beat Christians who believe what Christians believe.

Sometimes churches should be controversial. The gospel certainly is. Frankly, Robert Jeffress’ comments about the most controversial issues of the day are offensive to many because they are the gospel. We won’t win the media battle and we don’t need to. But we should stand with our churches and pastors who get pounded for preaching the truth.

Clarity of vision builds unity across multiple campuses

Unity comes around clarity of vision as members agree on their motivation and method, stated Bryan Rose of Auxano, a newly acquired division of LifeWay. “Then success will be measured, not so much by numbers,” but “how are people being made into disciples.”

Fashioning ministry at new sites has to get beyond mere preferences, Rose added. “You have to get into the simple vision of what we’re here to do,” he added, encouraging churches to ask, “Why are we called to do this?”

A downtown site may look very different from a suburban site meeting in a theater, “but there has to be that shared DNA” that is carried more than through the unity of “shared vision and articulation.”

Rose consults with churches onsite from six to 12 months as they consider a move to multi-site or other new models of ministry. “We believe in more than just transferring statistics and best practices or coaching in the principles of launching a campus,” he added.

Auxano is in the early stages of piloting a lab of sorts in the Dallas area for churches interested in developing a multi-site strategy around vision clarity—the element Rose considers most crucial to long-term church health and intra-campus alignment.

When sharing success stories, multi-site churches shift into storytelling mode, he said, with testimonies of new disciples told from one campus to another, building unity around fulfillment of a clearly stated vision. Churches like Fellowship of the Parks in Keller and the Met in Houston are among those that feature videotaped testimonies of changes in the lives of their members.

Participation by members of different campuses in mission trips and other service opportunities help unify the congregation across various campuses.

Congregational business meetings can be a challenge, but Beaumont’s Calvary Baptist Executive Pastor Gary Rothenberger Jr. said those who are concerned about making decisions for the church’s future will make an effort to show up at the main campus. “We’ll answer questions at the north campus, but we will all gather to have the vote.”

Prior to a vote at the various campuses on a transition to elder governance, the Met facilitated a joint Q&A session one week in advance.

Fellowship Church in Grapevine relayed video of the 90 baptisms from distant campuses during a challenge for Christ-followers to observe the ordinance that day. Young’s appeal resulted in 515 people stepping forward for a spontaneous baptismal service.

“I told the crowd that when someone balks at this first step of obedience in the Christian life, I have to wonder if they are really a Christian,” Young said.

“We were not sure if the spontaneous baptism approach would work via video, but it did,” former campus pastor Mark Morgan said at the time. “We were excited to see a total of 90 people baptized at our satellite locations. We had to get creative since our satellites meet in high schools and renovated warehouse space where there are no baptisteries. We used an inflatable kid’s pool for one location.”

Bannockburn Baptist’s South Austin campus transported its “singing Christmas tree” to the Dripping Springs campus, providing an outreach tool that attracted more than 220 worshippers.

“One church meeting in multiple sites sounds good, but multiple sites can lose their connectedness if ‘out of sight, out of mind’ starts to become the norm,” said BBC’s multi-site pastor, Jeff Humphreys, who praised the commitment of 100 members from the main campus.