Month: February 2013

A positively pro-life ministry

Here’s one thing that pro-life and pro-choice people apparently agree about: a woman who is fully aware of what she’s doing is less likely to abort her baby. That agreement is why Planned Parenthood and other ardently pro-abortion businesses strenuously oppose informed consent, parental consent, and pre-abortion sonograms. Of course that is also why pro-life advocates very much favor laws that require women to receive complete information about the life she is thinking of ending. The statistics indicate that 70-80 percent of abortion-minded women who see sonogram results before an abortion will choose to let their babies live. That’s still a choice, isn’t it? Those who profit from abortion consider it an unacceptable choice. For the abortion industry, those women represent a loss of 80 percent of potential customers. For pregnancy resource centers, those choices represent women who are unscarred from having an abortion, AND children who live and grow up to have kids of their own.

That’s where the Psalm 139 Project came from. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has raised money for and placed sonogram machines in cities all across the country. More recently, the focus has been on the cities in which the Southern Baptist Convention meets each year. In 2011, Psalm 139 placed a machine in the Phoenix area; last year, a portable machine was place in the New Orleans area. This year’s SBC meeting is in Houston. The intent of Psalm 139 leadership is to place a sonogram machine that city. The location chosen is Mission Greenspoint.

Mission Greenspoint is a human needs ministry supported by several Houston area churches including Houston’s First, Metropolitan, Houston, Spring Baptist, Champion Forest of Houston, and Fallbrook, Houston. They provide the normal services: counseling, feeding, a clothes closet and assistance for those seeking employment. The pregnancy center built into Mission Greenspoint is within a short radius of several abortion providers, including one of the largest abortion franchises in the country. Their community is poor and the clientele of the pregnancy center there is 40 percent high school dropouts. We’ve got to imagine that the cluster of abortion providers in a poor neighborhood is there because the customers are there. A pregnancy resource center that depends heavily on donations and volunteers—that doesn’t make a profit—is there with a completely different motive. An average seven to nine people each month accept Christ as a result of someone at the pregnancy center sharing the gospel. I’ve often seen the stats and heard the testimonies of those who confess Christ in a pregnancy resource center and wonder, pound for pound, what else we do that has better evangelistic results.
I hope that Mission Greenspoint will have an increased flow of clients as a result of expanding its services to providing sonograms.

Perhaps they can cut more deeply into the nasty commerce being done at local abortion clinics. That’s our hope and that’s why this is a good investment.

Would you or your church be able to contribute to the Psalm 139 project? If so you can go to or contact the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at 901 Commerce, Nashville, Tenn., 37203. Because the Cooperative Program provides all the administrative support for Psalm 139 through the ERLC, 100 percent of your gifts will go to place a sonogram machine where it will do the most good.

Our goal this year is raise funds so that we may build up the ministry of Mission Greenspoint’s Pregnancy Assistance Center in time for the SBC meeting in June. I’m convinced that our support for this ministry will result not only in children who will live because their mothers saw them in the womb but also those who will live forever because of the gospel ministry of the center. Rarely does the intersection of social ministry and evangelism meet so perfectly as it does in a Christian pregnancy center. Few ministries deserve our enthusiastic support more than these.

Women told to press forward in taking risks

Women around the state were challenged to “risk it all for Christ” by women’s ministry leaders and well-known women’s authors during the SBTC Women in Ministry Forum, Feb. 1-2 at Mims Baptist Church in Houston.

Speaking from Genesis 11, Mary Kassian, distinguished professor of women’s studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, encouraged women not “to settle” in their ministry calling like Terah, the father of Abraham, who started out on a great adventure but failed to take the greatest risk of all.

Although he raised his family in Ur—a prosperous city in the Samarian kingdom—Kassian said Terah probably had roots in the city of Haran and named his eldest son Haran after this family home.

After Haran’s tragic death in verse 28, Terah and his family journeyed toward Canaan without making it to the Promised Land.

“They had only 280 miles to go to their destination, but something got in the way. Something distracted him, discouraged him, and prevented him from moving on,” Kassian said, suggesting that Terah could not get past the city that bore the name of his recently departed son. “When they came to Haran, they settled there.”

Pointing out that the Hebrew for Haran means “crossroads,” Kassian challenged the women to continue to press forward in the adventures of ministry without settling for convenience, comfort, or the familiar.

“We can settle in ministry. We can settle in our marriages. We can settle in our morals. We can settle in our standards, hopes, and dreams,” she said, pointing to Terah, who died in Haran. “We can get to that place where we settle, and we feel that pushing for God’s finish line isn’t worth the risk or the effort.”

Kassian asked women to emulate the example of Abraham, who was probably spurred on in his belief in God’s promises by the failed adventure of his father.

“He is the father of our faith because he pushed on, and he did not settle,” Kassian said, referring to the “rest of the story” as revealed in God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12. “Abraham followed and said, ‘I’m not going to settle. I’m going to go for that dream, that vision, and I’m going to take a step in the direction of the Promised Land. Are you going to step out and go on an adventure with God?”
Terri Stovall, dean of women’s programs and associate professor of women’s ministries at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, asked the women to consider if unbelief kept them from risking it all for Christ.

Using the story of the disciples’ failure to drive a demon from a boy in Mark 9:14, Stovall outlined two forms of unbelief that can keep believers from being faithful servants.

Basic unbelief—not accepting Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior—is the first marker of a faithless servant, Stovall said.

Second, the story indicates that “seeds of doubt,” demonstrated by both the father of the demon-possessed son and the disciples, can keep believers from risking it all for God’s glory.

“You might believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but every now and again you get hit by something that blindsides you…” Stovall explained, alluding to the desperation of the father in the story. “And you think, ‘I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to do anything with this. I do believe—help my unbelief.’”

“We [see] in this story, disciples who thought they could do it all … and Jesus comes back and finds it all a mess because they were faithless. We see a father who is so desperate and so convinced that Jesus could save his boy and when his disciples couldn’t do anything, all the sudden [he} began to have some doubts.”

Stovall referenced her own recent battle with breast cancer—a difficult situation in which she continues to walk today.

“…When you’re lying face down on a contraption having a biopsy done, or you’re being wheeled into surgery for the second time because they didn’t get it all the first time, or you’re on the radiation table for the 25th day in a row, little doubts begin to creep in,” Stovall said, quoting the fighting faith of the son’s father. “You say, ‘Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.’”

The power to overcome both forms of unbelief is also revealed in this account, Stovall added, pointing women to Jesus’ emphasis on prayer.

“These disciples had the program down; they just didn’t have the power down,” Stovall explained. “They didn’t have the connection with what would help them make the ministry God-like, God-sized, and God-powerful because they had decided to do it on their own, apart from him.”

Seventeen SBTC churches extend outreach through multi-site ministry

Whether it’s Sunday School at Calvary Baptist in Beaumont, senior adult choir at Spring Baptist Church near Houston, Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action at Bannockburn Baptist in Austin, Disaster Relief teams deployed by Fielder Road Baptist Church or TeamKid offered by Broadview Baptist in Abilene, there are methods of ministry most Southern Baptists are familiar with no matter where you go in Texas. Now there’s another trait that these five churches have in common—multi-site ministry.

At least 17 churches affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have extended their reach to the community, region or even other states, all the while keeping their commitment to teaching the Word of God to new audiences.

“By definition, multi-site involves starting a site somewhere other than your current campus,” explained Scott McConnell in his book “Multi-Site Churches.” While many of the “goals, experiences and characteristics” look similar to church planting, McConnell said, “New sites and church plants are traveling different routes that require different vision, resourcing, and style of leadership.”

Groups that worship on the same campus or via the internet are not considered additional sites. Jim Tomberlin of MultiSite Solutions adds that multi-site churches typically are centrally-governed and centrally-budgeted.

According to Warren Bird at Leadership Network in Dallas, there are over 5,000 churches with more than one location. Up from 200 in 2002. Bird and Tomberlin assisted the TEXAN in identifying multi-site churches in Texas.

Most people think of megachurches when they hear of a church launching another campus, often called a satellite in earlier years. The earliest adopter of the multi-site model among SBTC churches was Second Baptist Church in Houston, pastored by Edwin Young. In 1999 a second campus was launched, with additional sites developed to the north, south and Cypress areas of Houston during the past decade.

With the main Woodway campus, Second Baptist reports an average attendance of nearly 22,000 and membership of more than 58,000. As one of the largest churches in America, at times it has ranked at the top in average attendance and ranks as the 72nd fastest-growing church, according to Outreach magazine.

“God doesn’t want his people to remain stacked up together, so they can have a good time and bless only their own,” Young told Baptist Press during the time when new sites were being offered. “God wants his church to expand— to lengthen its cords and deepen its stakes.”

In another area of Houston, Metropolitan Baptist Church launched a second site four years ago known as the Met @ Fry Road in Cypress.
“An expanding vision to be one church in multiple locations means we are devoted to one mission, one set of core values, one strategy, and one church body, but meeting in multiple locations,” the Met website explains. Recent development of 100 acres at the Cypress campus offers the potential to reach 25,000 people each Sunday at two locations.

Begun as a mission in 1990, Fellowship Church in Grapevine experienced rapid growth necessitating use of adjacent facilities as Pastor Ed Young, preached to one audience while the other worshipped through music, and then switched places halfway through the service.
By 1998, Fellowship relocated north of DFW airport and now offers three identical services, with campuses in Plano, the arts district of downtown Dallas, and the museum district west of downtown Fort Worth.

The pastor’s Saturday night message is videotaped and transmitted to the other campuses the next morning, with live music provided and a campus pastor in place. That technology allowed Fellowship to open three more campuses beyond the state—two in Miami and one in Columbia, S.C.

Most often, a multi-site church will designate campus pastors to shepherd believers at the local site while delivering the senior pastor’s message at the original campus via video. Many also offer live streaming video via the internet.

McConnell sees the use of video preaching by “an incredibly gifted communicator” as good stewardship. In his interviews with various pastors using that approach, McConnell said, “It was a refreshing finding that it wasn’t an ego trip for most of these churches. We heard their story that it was God leading them and sometimes the leadership was reluctant” to transmit the sermon via video instead of using campus pastors to preach.”

Exceptions to that approach are found at Hyde Park Baptist in Austin, Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church in Allen, South Jefferson Baptist in Mt. Pleasant, Spring Baptist in Spring, and the Church on Rush Creek in Arlington. At South Jefferson Baptist, the associate pastor preaches in Spanish to a crowd of about 80 people at the second campus known as El Buen Pastor.

Pastor Kie Bowman delivers his message to the 8:30 a.m. traditional service which is piped live to the contemporary service meeting at the same time on campus. Then he drives to the Quarries Church to preach to that audience.

Similarly, Spring Baptist Pastor Mark Estep travels to Klein to preach at the church’s second campus. Cottonwood Creek’s additional sites at Nevada and Denison each have campus pastors who preach. At Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington, the pastor of the Eastside campus preaches the sermon, however Senior Pastor Gary Smith or another pastor occasionally preaches to the Spanish service with an interpreter.

Some churches like Calvary Baptist in Beaumont and Fellowship of the Parks in Keller primarily rely upon video to deliver preaching, but feature the campus pastor in a preaching role about once a month.

Calvary Executive Pastor Gary Rothenberger Jr. explained, “The screen is great, but I think people still like to hear preaching in person. You can’t just put up a screen and tell people to come in and watch it,” he said. “Otherwise, they’ll just watch a service on TV. You have to have a campus pastor that does everything else that a pastor does and develop relationships through connection groups.”

Rothenberger said, “It’s not the only strategy. It’s part of a bigger strategy. You can’t just open a bunch of satellites” without careful planning and end goals, he insisted.

Thirty-thousand members at three campuses can hear the same message from Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham at whichever service time they choose. “The DNA of the church from the first century to now is the Word of God and Jesus Christ,” Graham has stated, emphasizing the priority of a preaching and teaching ministry.

“The church still exists for people who are not yet here,” he likes to remind his congregation when they extend their ministry.
The Prosper campus of Prestonwood grew out of a desire to reach people in an area of rapid growth, but also increased the likelihood that members traveling from that direction would bring neighbors and extended family. When they began looking at a site 19 miles north of the original campus, church leaders realized there were 2,000 members living midway between the two sites, providing a large base of people to join the launch of a new campus.

Prestonwood Teaching Pastor David McKinley said he saw that stewardship principle when leaders for the new site were “kind of stockpiled” at the original campus. “We found people who stretched to embrace and serve and sacrifice and give,” he told McConnell.
Prestonwood is the 75th fastest-growing church in America, according to research LifeWay conducted with Outreach magazine.

Fellowship of the Parks began meeting in a home in 1993 and now offers three campuses with more than 2,000 in attendance every weekend. Begun as a church plant of First Baptist Church of Euless, FOP has sites in Keller, Grapevine and Haslet.

Megachurches continue to dominate the list of fastest-growing churches in America and at least a fourth of them have multiple sites. While megachurches make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. congregations, more than half of American worshippers are found in the largest 20 percent of them, according to researchers at Hartford Seminary.

But many of the SBTC churches that have launched additional sites did so long before waiting to hit the 2,000-plus attendees that define a megachurch.

Broadview Baptist Church in Abilene added a west campus in 2006, reaching out to an area near Dyess Air Force Base and several mobile home communities. Attendance at the main campus averages more than 500 while the west campus draws about 70 people each Sunday.

StoneWater Church in Granbury launched in 2005. About 75 to 100 people were coming from nearby Glen Rose to the new church start, prompting the church to consider starting a new site in that area.

“Out of the blue a church called us from Glen Rose that had about 25 people attending and talked to us about merging,” recalled Joey White, who eventually led what became a new site in the facility deeded to StoneWater. Half of the former church’s members united with the new site.

Multi-site methodology and a commitment to church planting often dovetail.

StoneWater launched with a goal of planting 10 other churches in coordination with SBTC. White helped the first five in Cleburne, Weatherford and Stephenville, Wills Point and a Hispanic campus in Granbury transition to autonomous congregations with full-time leadership. All of the churches planted by StoneWater “bought into church planting” as well, he said.

Meanwhile, StoneWater will launch another multi-site campus in Bosque County south of Glen Rose this year, again utilizing preaching via video.

“Many church plants are deciding to be multiplying as they grow so they’ve put into their strategy how they’re going to do it,” McConnell said. Multi-site ministry is often a part of a plan that tracks alongside continued church planting.

“If you have a guy that’s a really good pastor/communicator who is a visionary leader, he’s more likely a good church planter,” White told the TEXAN. On the other hand, the person he describes as a pastor-shepherd who loves the people and demonstrates good organization and delegation skills is more likely to qualify as a campus pastor with the sermon provided through video, he said.

Multi-site churches tend to grow faster and become healthy in the first two years, he said, leading the church to adopt a statewide approach in starting sites in rural, county seat towns where few church planters are interested in going. Thirty-two men at StoneWater are currently training to be sent out as church planters, campus pastors, missionaries, elders or simply ministry leaders for a period of time at a new site.

Bay Area Fellowship (BAF) in Corpus Christi grew from a handful of people in 1998 to more than 4,500 with 7,600 attending worship at the nine different sites spread across the region, according to the last Annual Church Profile completed by the church.

Many of those sites came about as Pastor Bil Cornelius noticed the challenges that overwhelm church planters and invited stalled plants to join his network to free the planters up to focus on pastoring their flocks. With Cornelius’ sermons piped to the various campuses meeting in renovated theaters and storefront properties, the planters-turned-pastors develop relationships locally.

While BAF’s success has placed the multi-site church on fastest-growing lists, Cornelius has also led the way in traditional church planting, teaming with SBTC to launch Brazos Fellowship in Bryan/College Station and Revolution Church in Schertz, as well as launching other plants in Texas, California, Colorado, Georgia, and Florida, and 40 churches planted in India.

LakePointe in Rockwall is another example of a megachurch committed to church planting, working alongside other churches to launch autonomous churches in other states and countries.

Begun in 1979 by seven families meeting at a marina bait house where Pastor Steve Stroope’s office doubled as a preschool classroom, the congregation now worships on a 34-acre site with campuses at Town East in Mesquite, Firewheel in Garland, and one in Forney, each embracing different worship styles.

In reality, nearly every multi-site church affiliated with SBTC is directly planting churches in Texas, and oftentimes in other regions of North America or even internationally. They provide funding for a church plant and frequently send members to help with outreach efforts of a plant.

In many cases these investments are made in coordination with SBTC strategy or that of either the North American Mission Board or International Mission Board. Many of the megachurches are directly engaged in church planting through another missions organization or network.

New sites can help churches reach diverse populations, often by adopting or merging with floundering churches. (See related article on page 14.)

Spring Baptist Church in Spring was approached by Bridgestone Baptist in Klein about becoming a second campus, a story McConnell relates in his book.

Seeking guidance from member T.W. Hunt, Pastor Mark Estep wrestled with the impact on each congregation. Hunt told Estep to ask, “If you do this or don’t do this, what does it mean for the kingdom?”

At that point Estep sensed God directing the church to move forward with the merger. Preaching a third time in person at the Klein campus is at times a workout, Estep admitted, but he prefers to speak directly to all the members of Spring Baptist Church.

Whether it’s a missions mindset, preaching priority or congregational polity, McConnell advises churches to consider how to transfer their DNA to new sites by asking about:

  • Identity: Who is your church?
  • Values: What matters to your church?
  • Expression: How does your church function?


The beliefs and vision of the church expressed as components of identity are where prospective members learn the doctrinal beliefs of a congregation, while polity matters arise in regard to expression. (See related article on page 13.)

For instance, nearly every multi-site SBTC church clearly states doctrinal beliefs on their website, some like Fellowship of the Parks taking a step further to provide a lengthy post relating doctrine to various ethical issues. Others pare down the commitment to the Baptist Faith & Message in brief content and direct further inquiries to the full document.

At Calvary Baptist in Beaumont, inerrancy is listed as the first of 11 core values, stating: “It’s all about him and it’s all in the Book.” Each value is explained in a message by the pastor.

McConnell said doctrine is a part of new member classes at most multi-site churches. Ensure there is consistency in what is taught among campus pastors “so that you don’t have two different views of eschatology or two different views of Calvinism being expressed from different sites,” he added.

When identifying denominational distinctives, some churches may be “slower to mention denominational affiliation,” McConnell said. “You’ve got to dig to find it.” He often fields questions as to whether a church is Southern Baptist in his role of managing Annual Church Profiles at LifeWay.

On the other hand, many multi-site churches affiliated with SBTC note that relationship on their websites and in material distributed to new members.

What McConnell does not see in multi-site churches is any hesitation from the pulpit to deal with doctrinal issues. “They’re digging in, understanding the Millennial generation wants to deal with real issues and deep truths. But probably through some of those front door places like a website or handouts in the worship center there may be a little less denominational-type distinctives showing up.

Southern Baptists searching for a new church home may also check to see if sermons are available on a church’s website, allowing them a preview of the pastor’s preaching and teaching ministry.

Since the 1980s Houston’s FBC has worked with more than 75 local congregations all more than the city, encouraging and revitalizing their ministries as part of a local missions effort. So when they launch the Sienna campus this Easter, the revitalization of Grace Church pastored by Jeff Rees will continue that priority.

Rees approached leaders at the Houston church last year about adopting their congregation and both congregations approved the merger in January with Rees continuing as campus pastor.

“It was a divine intersection where God orchestrated the exact moment at which years of prayer and pondering and panning by two church bodies would finally come to fruition,” stated Houston FBC Pastor Greg Matte in describing initial conversations with Rees.

Church leaders cite research that indicates a multi-site strategy has an 80 percent success rate as compared to a 30 percent success rate for traditional church plants, viewing it as a way to extend ministry to reach the lost. By focusing on neighborhoods, the multi-site approach is about “creating, not cloning” since the approach in each area matches the context. The campus pastor is empowered to shepherd his segment of the congregation in a particular location, they said.

McConnell is quoted by Houston FBC leaders to describe “what multisite is and what it most definitely is not.”

“The multisite strategy does not replace any other method of participating in kingdom growth,” McConnell wrote. “It does not replace church planting, personal evangelism, visitation programs, investing and inviting, servant evangelism, or evangelistic training.”

Church growth leaders who study the multi-site phenomenon are quick to point out that it is the Great Commission that must motivate new sites, not growth for the sake of growth.

“In short, multi-site is a means toward an end, not an end goal in itself,” write the authors of “The Multi-Site Revolution.” “Most churches do generate growth through multi-site, but just as importantly, multi-site keeps them from capping the growth they’re experiencing.”

Austin Stone Community Church offers a St. John campus to serve that neighborhood, sharing space with For the City Network where non-profit organizations work alongside the church for efforts of restoration and renewal. In addition to the downtown campus near the University of Texas, two other sites are offered on the south and west sides of the capital city.

“Having more and smaller worship gatherings with the same theology, vision and leadership will allow us to continue to grow wide as well as deep,” according to the church website. LifeWay Research studies for Outreach magazine report Austin Stone Community Church as the 69th fastest-growing congregation in the U.S.

Their goal is “to multiply missional communities of disciples of Jesus throughout the city of Austin and on into the nations.”

Some churches like Calvary Baptist of Beaumont have maximized their experience with multiple venues on the main campus as training ground for adding a new campus off site. V2 was the nickname for a second venue on the main campus where Pastor Nathan Cothen delivers his sermon in between the other worship services. Worship is offered in Spanish in the church’s gym, delivered by a Hispanic pastor who shares Cothen’s earlier message.

After initially meeting in a remodeled skating rink in Lumberton, north of Beaumont, the second campus relocated to facilities on 14 acres where a church had closed its doors. Steven Hays serves as campus pastor with 300 adults in worship and another 100 kids in Sunday School classes. Eventually, the north campus will offer adult Sunday School, but for now evening connection classes meet the need for discipleship.

“The sign out front says Calvary Baptist Church,” Executive Pastor Gary Rothenberger Jr. said, affirming the denominational connection Calvary has had for over a century. “When somebody wants to join we explain who we are, get them a copy of the Baptist Faith & Message and tell them we are involved in Southern Baptist mission causes.

Of the 17 multi-site churches studied, four are among the top 30 in Cooperative Program giving through the SBTC while four gave nothing in 2012. A few, like the Met use the majority of their mission dollars to partner with a variety of mission organizations.

Anticipating construction plans for their second campus, Pastor Sal Sberna reflected on the $5.3 million given to global mission efforts in the past three years, “What hasn’t changed is our devotion to the call of God to go and make disciples of all nations.”

Prestonwood Baptist Church led the group in per capita giving to Southern Baptist causes. Prestonwood Baptist Church led the group in per capita giving to the Cooperative Program among SBTC churches with half of the 17 ranking in the top 50.

Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington has a long history of being engaged in missions in the local community and abroad. Its new East Arlington campus maintains a priority of being multi-ethnic and multi-generational led by campus pastor Ender Palencia-Sanchez.

By giving members an opportunity to serve together across campuses, multi-site churches build unity, deepening relationships.

Stroope said of LakePointe’s approach, “It’s not one big church, but a collection of small churches,” alluding to the small groups where members receive “care, an opportunity for service and accountability.”

Even as these churches grow larger, many leaders encourage members to recall when they first began ministering.

“The greatest growth story is the first eight years,” Ed Young recalled when he took a group from Fellowship back to Irving to remind them of the church’s roots.

“We’re not going to become a monument,” he said. “We’ve had momentum for 20 years. We’re a movement and it’s not going to stop.”

20 years later, True Love Waits returns to where it started

NASHVILLE (BP) — True Love Waits morphed from a nameless concept in coffee break conversations into a movement that, beginning in February 1993, steadily spread to teenagers across the country.

That month, 53 youth at Tulip Grove Baptist Church committed themselves to sexual abstinence before marriage.

In the 20 years since, millions of teenagers have followed suit, bringing abstinence to the national conversation and strengthening innumerable marriages before they ever began.

The grassroots movement calling teenagers to make commitments of purity celebrated its local-church anniversary with a True Love Waits-themed Disciple Now weekend Feb. 1-3 at the Nashville-area church where the first group of Tulip Grove students made a True Love Waits pledge.

The pledge states, “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.”

Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, cofounded the movement with then fellow-LifeWay employee Jimmy Hester while also serving as youth minister at Tulip Grove. During the 20th anniversary weekend at Tulip Grove, Ross watched as a second generation pledged their purity before God.

“In several cases, I was speaking to teenagers who are the teenage children of those who made the first promises,” Ross said, marveling at the wonder of leading those he knew as babies in the same commitment as their parents to wait for their future mate.

Susan (Fitzgerald) Bohannon was among that first group of students making True Love Waits commitments at Tulip Grove. Now married and a mother of three, Bohannon noted that the movement that began when she was a teenager has reached beyond her Tennessee church to impact the lives of people across the world as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood with their purity intact.

“True Love Waits was not just for one generation of teens but every generation of teens,” Bohannon said. “The children who are being born now will be teens one day, and it will be for them. It is not a movement that is relevant to only our culture or our ways, but [it is] an international, intergenerational and timeless movement.”

Since its formation, True Love Waits has spread to more than 100 countries — something for which Ross said only God can receive the credit.

“For a Supreme Being, this was no problem at all,” Ross said. “The fact that the movement continues in its 20th year is a clear indication that it is empowered by the Spirit of God and not by some human ingenuity.”

Ross said it was the Lord’s hand that allowed the movement to spread beyond the walls of Tulip Grove.

“We had virtually no funds for advertising to let people know about the movement,” Ross said, recalling the fledgling days of True Love Waits. “So God simply harnessed the entire news industry at zero cost.

“As I explained True Love Waits to Katie Couric on the ‘Today Show,’ or as Oprah interviewed the teenagers on her show, that was more powerful than millions of dollars of advertising,” Ross said. “Virtually every national news [outlet] or local news coverage carried stories about True Love Waits. You cannot explain that other than the Spirit of God.”

Next year (2014) will mark True Love Waits’ 20th year as an outreach of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. More than 100,000 teens’ commitment cards were displayed at the 1994 SBC annual meeting in Orlando followed by a display of 200,000-plus commitments on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in July of that year.

Though a tally has never been kept of those who have made the True Love Waits pledge, a U.S. government study conducted three years after True Love Waits began found that 3 million teenagers had made a promise of purity. As the movement grew and expanded into other denominations and countries, Ross believes the number of commitments made to date reaches into the multimillions.

In the 20 years of True Love Waits’ existence, the United States has seen a decrease in teenage sexual activity. Before then, there had been 20 years of steady increases. In countries where the movement has spread, AIDS infection rates also have declined, while they continue to rise in other nations.

Part of the longevity of the movement can be traced to its leadership, which understands that effective teenage decisions must be heart-based and not fear-based.

“Teenagers live with a developmental characteristic called the myth of invulnerability,” Ross said. “They really do not believe that bad things can happen to them, which means calling young people to abstinence and purity only to avoid negative consequences will never be effective.

“We have to give them much stronger and a much higher motivation,” he said. “They really need to believe that they’re committing the most intimate part of who they are for the glory of the King.”

Ross explained that while True Love Waits’ focus always has transcended preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies, it stretches beyond simply being an obedient Christian. The focus, Ross explained, is the glorification and magnification of Christ.

“In the past, True Love Waits young people have often made promises thinking, ‘Jesus wants me to do this because it will make my life better, so bad things will not happen to me, so I will not be a disobedient Christian,'” Ross said. “There is an element of truth in each of those statements, but I detect a shift [toward] ‘Not that I do this so that my life will be better, but I choose purity for Christ’s glory. I am doing this for his sake, not my sake. I am doing this because he deserves adoration, and the purity of my life is a way to show him that adoration.’

“The focus comes off of ‘me,’ and the focus goes to ‘him.’ There is no moralism,” Ross said. “If I choose sexual purity for the glory of Christ, that is just pure worship.”

Ross said he has seen that act of worship transfer into worship through marriage.

“In scores of weddings over the past 20 years, brides and grooms have made slight changes to the wedding ceremony in order to celebrate promises they made as teenagers,” Ross said. “For example, we know of True Love Waits rings that have been melted down and have become part of wedding rings.

“We know of tattered True Love Waits cards that have been exchanged by brides and grooms after riding in a billfold or purse for many years. I have loved this for the joy it brought to the couple but also for the witness it is to the younger youth watching from the audience,” he said. “They got to see the power of promises kept.”

By the end of the Disciple Now weekend at Tulip Grove, 65 more teenagers made promises they pray to keep as well. Jeff Pratt, Tulip Grove’s youth pastor, told the Baptist & Reflector newspaper that the commitment service on Sunday was a great day for the church.

“It was awesome to see 65 teenagers kneeling before the altar, making commitments to purity and being led by Richard Ross,” Pratt said. “Richard has such a great legacy here at Tulip Grove and there could not have been a better person to lead us for our weekend.

Pratt added, “I am praying that this is the beginning of a new generation of students who will be committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ and will demonstrate that through their commitment to purity.”

Parents, youth leaders and students who want to learn more about True Love Waits, such as how to hold a commitment service in a local church or how to sign a commitment card online, can visit

Boy Scouts delay decision on homosexual troops, leaders until May

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) voted Feb. 6 to delay a decision on allowing homosexual Scout leaders and troops until May when the organization’s 1,400-member National Council meets, citing more time needed “for a deliberate review of its membership policy.”

The board of the 103-year-old organization directed national committee leaders to “engage” Scouting members “and listen to their perspectives and concerns,” a press release issued by the BSA shortly after their vote said.

The vote followed almost two weeks of controversy and “an outpouring of feedback” after the Scouts announced they were considering, once again, removing the policy barring openly homosexual boys and adults from membership and positions of leadership. The proposed policy change brought out enough questions in BSA committees regarding the legal and social implications of such a move to prompt a vote to delay their decision.

Chip Turner, chairman of the BSA’s Religious Relations Committee, said he was pleased with the decision as it reflects a resolution passed by committees representing all 109,000 Boy Scout troops in America.  Turner said there was only one dissenting vote as the resolution passed through three committees on its way to the executive board. The resolution asked the executive board to table a vote on the matter pending further discussion.

BSA’s top leadership presented the proposed membership policy change to the Religious Relations and other committees, opening the issue for discussion. Though no official polling was done within his committee, Turner said he believes the majority would have voted for a resolution maintaining the standards. But, he added, it would not have passed unanimously. The resolution to table the issue passed without dissent.

About 70 percent of Boy Scout troops are related to a church or faith-based institution.

At a rally outside of Scout headquarters the same morning as the BSA board vote, several hundred people gathered to pray, hear speakers and hold signs proclaiming such things as “Keep BSA morally straight” and “Keep God In, Sin Out!”

Darmonica Alexander of Lancaster said he was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout growing up in Dallas. He said the Scouts were a positive influence in his upbringing and he couldn’t sit by without speaking up. Allowing gay Scout leaders would bring the potential for lawsuits when abuse occurs, he added.

“To allow homosexuality in the Scouts is one way of seeking and destroying the youth from the inside,” he said. “Nobody’s looking out for the kids.”

Susan Fletcher of Frisco said her son is one rank away from Eagle Scout and although she has nothing against homosexuals, “I just didn’t want them in leadership positions in the Scouts. This is America. They have a right to their own worldview. But I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to be camping out with Boy Scouts.”

Dave Welch of the U.S. Pastor Council in Houston told the crowd, “This is about the tyranny of the few to silence the many.” He encouraged those attending to “walk the grounds and pray and pray and pray.”

Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values said the victory for traditional values is temporary. “Let us not wait until the last day of April to get involved,” he added, alluding to the National Council meeting in May.

Saenz said a website,, would include updates as the issue continues to be debated.

Pressure from homosexual activists to overturn the prohibition of homosexual Scout leaders and troops has been applied for several decades. A 2001 Supreme Court decision gave the Scouts legal standing, but social pressure on sponsoring corporations has increased. Two prominent members of the BSA board—AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson and Ernst & Young CEO Jim Turley—have publicly supported a policy change.

GuideStone releases statement on proposed HHS mandate changes

GuideStone Financial Resources released a statement this morning (Feb. 5) on the latest HHS proposal claiming to expand accommodations for religious organizations opposed to the contraceptive-abortifacient mandate.  

“The proposed rules just issued by the government appear to provide additional, but limited, guidance for churches and ministry organizations,” the statement reads, noting that some of the concerns for churches may have been addressed. However, “definitive statements at this time regarding whether or how these proposed rules could actually work are premature.”

Because the public comment period is now open and some of the proposal would be firmed up by later revisions, GuideStone said it would continue to press its concerns and those of other church plans and would not rule out later court action if necessary.

“We recognize, with regret, that these proposed regulations do not achieve the ultimate goal of removing objectionable forms of contraceptive coverage from the healthcare arena,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said.

Also, “GuideStone fully and fervently supports the actions of other believers who are pursuing actions in the courts, and we share the heart-felt concern of our fellow-believers that these proposed rules do not protect the religious liberty of all employers who seek to uphold and reflect Biblical convictions,” he said. 

A PDF of the statement is found here.

A way that seems right to a man

What a crazy time for pro-family Americans. First, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that women would, over the next three years, be allowed to apply for combat postings currently closed to them in the U.S. military current. The most reasonable rationale offered during the discussion surrounding the decision was that the careers of servicewomen are unfairly hindered by denying them combat commands. High-sounding statements about military readiness were completely unconvincing. This week, the leadership of Boy Scouts of America tipped their hand that next week’s board meeting would consider dropping the ban on openly homosexual Scout leaders. The earthshaking reversal seems mostly about money—the threats of big corporate donors, who in turn are responding to the threats and opinions of an increasingly confused mob of American consumers.

My title quotes Proverbs 14:12; the remainder of that verse indicates that the way that seems right to a man ends in “death” or “destruction.” I take the proverb literally in its primary meaning that the blindness of man leads to spiritual and often even physical death. For two highly respected institutions like the U.S. military and the Boy Scouts of America, I think the proverb could also hold true in a figurative though disastrous sense.

Such big policy reversals have to be seen as successful to accomplish their public relations purpose. That means that women will be in the infantry regardless of if they conform to current qualifications or not. Loudly homosexual Scout leaders will hold press conferences and turn their new role into an advertisement for the “new normal.” Neither result will be in service of the time-honored missions of those institutions. Those missions will be degraded by the placing of people in inappropriate roles.

Another thing will happen and will accelerate the damagedone to these masculine institutions. People most appropriate to military service and families formerly supportive of Scouting will flee. That’s understandable and is perhaps a consequence unforeseen by those at the top. It’s an incredible blindness that those whose sons experienced Scouting or combat do not suffer.

Our dialog on both these issues has been mostly pragmatic. Those who favor the decisions point to the desires of individuals, the opinions of the masses, or the support of influential leaders. We who argue against both of these decisions talk about the complications of women in combat, the physical differences between men and women, or the risks of placing Boy Scouts under the care of those who may find them sexually attractive. Although we won’t win either argument in the near future, we’re wrong to stress merely pragmatic arguments.

These are moral issues. There is an “ought” to these decisions that is simply disregarded at the highest levels. It is wrong and destructive to ask our young men to view a woman as merely “one of the troops.” The respect young men give to young women may be cultural but it is the best kind of enculturation. Our nation’s moral slide is seen far more clearly in the lack of consideration men give women than in any unreasonable exalting of the fair sex. It is wrong and destructive to break down walls of modesty or to ask service wives to face the added stress of knowing that their husbands are living intimately with other women. It’s a social experiment that will have victims at home and abroad. Our nation is immoral to do this thing to our children.

The Scout decision seems more obviously a moral decision though not one imposed on an institution of our government. Scouting has been a tradition that adds much positive to our society. Values and responsibility we taught in our home were strengthened by leaders of two different Scout troops during the 1990s. Our confidence in Scouting as a friendly institution would have been severely damaged if we doubted the morality being overtly taught at meetings, campouts and week-long camps involving several troops. This bending to the breeze of public opinion and the blasting threats of wealthy men is a moral loss to our families.

Part of the tragedy is that some of our best people will abandon these honorable institutions. Perhaps they should but regardless it is a loss to our nation. These are two very different decisions with a moral aspect in common. And in both institutions top leadership seems set on a way that leads to destruction.

$21.6M tithe propels church to record Cooperative Program gift

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) — Quail Springs Baptist Church already had given nearly $1 million through the Cooperative Program for the year. When the Oklahoma City church, which forwards 13.5 percent of its offerings to the Cooperative Program each year, received a historic $21.6 million tithe at year’s end, it propelled the church to unprecedented levels of giving.

“Frankly, it is a bit overwhelming,” pastor Hance Dilbeck said of the tithe to Quail Springs.

“The church members [an unnamed husband and wife] who gave this did so as a matter of principle,” Dilbeck noted.

“They tithed on a large increase just as they have in the past on a smaller scale. Quail Springs followed the same pattern. God has blessed us as we have given 13.5 percent [of offerings] through the CP. This has been our pattern through multiple building campaigns and a rapidly growing budget. We believe it would be a mistake to change our pattern of giving now,” Dilbeck said.

Of the total contribution, Quail Springs sent $2.916 million through the CP, making its annual total more than $3.8 million. Of the $2.916 million CP contribution, 50 percent was sent to the Southern Baptist Convention for national and international missions and ministries.

Through the SBC, Quail Springs’ tithe will include more than $725,000 for the International Mission Board, more than $330,000 for the North American Mission Board and approximately $320,000 to be shared by the six SBC seminaries. In addition, $162,000 from the tithe was sent by Quail Springs to the Capital Baptist Association in the Oklahoma City area.

In Oklahoma, nearly $1.5 million will be directed by Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony L. Jordan and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma board of directors to boost ministries like Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, with its evangelistic camps attended by thousands of youth each year; BGCO partnership missions; and the convention’s various affiliates.

“The Lord is amazing,” Jordan said. “The CP process, which is based on biblical principles, shines through.

“This is an instance where someone is hugely blessed by God. They are faithful to tithe, the church is faithful to give through the CP, and the state and national conventions wisely steward the monies. A rising tide lifts all boats, and we will ensure each penny is invested in kingdom work,” Jordan said.

“I commend not only these generous givers,” Jordan added, “but also Pastor Dilbeck for his faithful leadership and stewardship.”

The contribution propels Quail Springs, already a national leader and the state’s leader in total CP giving, to all-time record giver, according to research from the Executive Office of the SBC.

“From everything we can tell, this appears to be a record-setting gift of a local church in a single year through the Cooperative Program,” said Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee. “We thank the Lord for this gift — and for every gift — that enables the convention to further its Kingdom work of reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Dilbeck announced the momentous gift to the church congregation at a church business meeting Jan. 27 and called on members to pray about how God would lead them to use the funds.

“God is faithful,” Dilbeck said. “He has provided for his church through the stewardship of faithful church members. Now we as a congregation will work to be faithful stewards.” To quote Haggai, ‘The silver and the gold are mine says the Lord.'”

Quail Springs, which offers four Sunday morning worship services with multiple styles of music, was founded in 1950 as Nichols Hills Baptist Church. The congregation moved to its present location on North May Avenue in 1982. Quail Springs has had four senior pastors in its history: Rupert Naney, Charles Graves, Brian Waite and Dilbeck.

“The church maintains an active role in the Oklahoma City metro area, as well as missions activities throughout the world,” Jordan said. “Whether through helping public schools with tutors to its active food pantry ministry, Quail Springs has a heart for reaching the world at its door. The church’s ministry staff has proven their commitment to taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.”

Dilbeck, who holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been Quail Springs’ pastor since 2003. The church’s budget at that time was $1.5 million, and average Sunday School attendance has more than doubled since then.

“Our faithful people have been giving sacrificially through back-to-back-to-back campaigns in order to provide facilities to reach our growing community,” Dilbeck said. “This major gift allows us to move forward with our plan to gather people together, build them up and send them out with the good news of Jesus.”

Prior to his time at Quail Springs, Dilbeck served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Ponca City, Okla. A native of Pawhuska, Okla., he has been the featured preacher for Falls Creek Youth Camp, chairman of the Oklahoma Baptist University’s board of trustees (2001) and is a Southwestern Seminary trustee.

“I have been privileged to serve in various capacities of SBC and BGCO life, and I cherish the role Southern Baptists play in the kingdom of God,” Dilbeck said. “This is a key moment in the life of our church. We hope this historic, beyond generous gift will lead to even more unity and maturity as we seek the Lord’s will as to how to invest every dollar in kingdom work.”

(This article first appeared in the Baptist Messenger, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)

Murdered SEAL Chris Kyle spoke at Fellowship last year

It’s been stated repeatedly over the last two days, but celebrated Navy sniper Chris Kyle’s death along with that of his friend and military veteran Chad Littlefield is especially sad in that it came trying to help a military brother.

At an appearance at Fellowship Church in Grapevine last summer, Kyle told Pastor Ed Young that the divorce rate among SEALS is “95 percent” and that his marriage of 10 years almost led to divorce after he left the Navy in 2009 because he felt like his wife had made him get out. He said over the final three years of service, he was home only six months with wife Taya and his two children, 7 and 6.

“I felt like that was my calling—that that’s where I was supposed to be,” he said of his work in the war on terror.

He said the couple had worked through it and “patched things up.”

Speaking to Young about serving under authority and the social problems that are prevalent in America, Kyle told Young most of those problems stem from lack of solid parenting. Kyle credited his father for instilling in him a respect for authority.

“The biggest part of that, I believe, is Christianity—you believing in God and you have that faith. It will fix most things,” Kyle said.

When Young told him he had Kyle’s bestselling book on his Kindle but hadn’t yet read it, Kyle quipped that he was glad because the book had “a lot of bad words in it.”

Seems Kyle was a country boy with a big heart, and like some steeped in the military culture, not a role model in some ways and in other ways an exemplar for our sons (and daughters). However, the evidence suggests he had a Christian testimony. I’ll be interested in learning more on that if there’s more to tell.

Speaking of his 150-plus kills as a sniper, he told Young: “Whether I killed one person or a thousand, that doesn’t make me any more of a man. I’d love to be known for the number of people I saved.”