Month: January 2014

UN, Kenya seek lower “demand” for children

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—For Kenyan parents wanting three or more children, the United Nations and the Kenyan government want them to lower their expectations.

A 300-page “Kenya Population Situation Analysis”—sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Kenyan government—states that many Kenyan women have unmet needs for family planning services. Moreover, it cites a more fundamental problem with high fertility rates in the African nation: Women want more children than the UN and the Kenyan government deem desirable for the country’s development.

“The demand for children is still high and is unlikely to change unless substantial changes in desired family sizes are achieved among the poor in general,” the report states. “… [T]hus the challenge is how to reduce the continued high demand for children.”

UN efforts to discourage population growth in many regions aren’t new, but the Kenya report doesn’t just call for broader access to birth control; it faults Kenyans—particularly the poor—for desiring larger families.

Kenya’s population exploded from an estimated 10.9 million people in 1969 to more than 41 million today. The country’s per capita income has grown threefold during the last 35 years, but the poverty level remains as high as 42 percent. Higher populations create strains on depressed economies and challenges for communities struggling with steady access to basic necessities like food and clean water.

Still, fertility rates in Kenya have declined since the 1980s. The average number of children per woman in Kenya dropped from 8 to 4.5 in the last 30 years.

But the UN and the Kenyan government want that number to drop more. The report sets a goal of 2.6 children per woman by 2030.
Kenyan women, however, have consistently expressed a desire for more children. The report noted women in 1993 expressed the ideal number of children at 3.5. In 2009, that number hadn’t changed.

While the report doesn’t call for the kind of government-enforced quotas that the Chinese government has imposed on its citizens for more than 30 years, it does recommend “education” efforts to persuade Kenyans to have fewer children.

Steven Mosher of the U.S.-based Population Research Institute (PRI) called the report’s premise “insulting to women,” adding, “The Kenyan government, urged on by the UNFPA and USAID, is asserting the women of Kenya should not be allowed to make their own decisions regarding how many children to have, and should be re-educated into rejecting large families.”

Mosher—who also noted that the United States gives millions to the UNFPA and contributes to family planning efforts through USAID—said the new policy could violate the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits U.S. government funding for coercive population control programs, including targets or quotas for births. While the Kenyan policy doesn’t recommend quotas or forced coercion, it does set targets for fertility rates. Mosher’s take: “Congress ought to investigate.”

Meanwhile, the UN, USAID and dozens of nonprofit groups spend millions to offer family planning services in Kenya each year. Planned Parenthood distributed 1.3 million condoms in Kenya in 2011 alone. (Surgical abortion remains illegal in Kenya, except in cases where the mother’s health is endangered.)

And while the UN and other groups might persuade some women to have fewer children, a more important challenge remains: Working toward decent living conditions for the children who do arrive. Though USAID has spent millions on worthy efforts in Kenya, the group’s spending on health programs in 2011 was revealing. The organization reported spending $60,000 for nutrition. The budget for family planning and reproductive services: $10.9 million.

Giving boom at Houston’s First rooted in discipleship

HOUSTON—The pastor wondered what could be accomplished if the church increased its offerings to benefit missions. But for Houston’s First Baptist Church, the method wasn’t to be found in one more campaign or big push. It was more foundational than that.

“We aimed for the heart, not the wallet. As people were discipled we captured the heart,” said Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church.

In 2010 Matte believed God was giving the church a vision for missions. But initiating a new giving campaign on the heels of a successful capital campaign seemed imprudent. Besides, the vision was not about meeting a monetary goal, giving it away, and moving on. What if, Matte posited, First Baptist members simply gave more, recognizing their offerings supported existing ministries and kick-started new ones?

Matte and the church staff recognized one expression of faithful discipleship was charitable giving in its many forms. That would be their guide in praying for and planning the launch of an endeavor called Mission 1:8. The concept is the fusion of mission emphases with Christ’s admonition in Acts 1:8 to be global witnesses. Matte said it is not a “campaign” because, though there is a beginning to the emphasis, there is no end. Thoughtful giving should be a part of the Christian life and, therefore, does not stop, he said.

And the results have been astounding. Underestimating God’s provision by half, pledges for giving increased not by the anticipated 30 percent but almost twice that amount—$15 million became $27 million. The additional pledges to the existing $45 million general operating budget far exceeded forecasted projections, leaving ministry leaders searching for even more ways to give to existing ministries and start new ones.

“It’s a wonderful problem to have. What we’re really celebrating is God moving in the hearts of our people,” said Steven Murray, communications director at Houston’s First.

Preparing the ground for the cultivation of stewardship included the creation of a sermon series and Sunday School material in which members were introduced (some for the first time) to the gospel-centered ministries supported by First Baptist. Matte wanted his congregation to have a sense of connection to that work, understanding that money put in an offering plate really does feed widows and orphans, minister to prisoners and proclaim the gospel.

Those ministries do a profound work, and Matte said the church should be grateful for the opportunity to serve with God in those areas. But, he asked the church, how much more could be done if everyone simply gave more?

“Our ministry as a church is a response to Him—a worshipful expression of our love and gratitude,” Matte wrote in the Mission 1:8 educational material.

To help coordinate the giving plan, First Baptist hired the consulting firm Generis, which recommended keeping the mission offerings part of the general operating fund. This would keep the focus on the fact that giving was about meeting the day-to-day function and ministry of the church and not a one-time fund that would someday be dissolved.

Matte challenged the members to think about their giving patterns or lack thereof. Using a ladder as an illustration, he urged members to step up their giving by one rung. For some it would mean being first-time givers. Others would become occasional givers; then intentional givers; tithers; and, finally, extravagant givers.

Following the sermon series and Sunday School lessons last February, pledge cards were turned in the first of March. As if the pledges far exceeding their expectations weren’t enough, Murray said they were “blown away” by the first-time givers.

Of the 7,000 cards turned in, 2,031 indicated the giver status. Of those the majority, 671, were first-time givers. Extravagant givers, at 619, came in second. Giving—not pledges—between March and September increased by 75 percent over the same period in 2012. And First Baptist has already started writing checks to their missions beneficiaries.

“It’s just so fun to bless the socks off these people,” Murray said.

Regardless of church size, David Self, the church’s executive pastor, said any church can encourage its members to be faithful disciples. Like so many Southern Baptist churches, the rolls of First Baptist (26,000 people) do not reflect actual attendance on its four campuses (it averages around 5,100). Offerings could vary accordingly. But, Matte added, the benefits of intentional discipleship training could result in a burgeoning of faithful living, not just giving.

For example, an unintended consequence has been an uptick in the number of people wanting to serve in missions. First Baptist coordinates 30-40 mission trips a year, and more people are stepping up to go.

Prior to the launch of Mission 1:8 in February, Matte began having doubts. Times were hard and the church was not immune to the economic downturn of 2008. Church staff was laid off in 2009. And in 2010 the church had just completed a capital campaign that paid off all debt. In 2011 church staff began preparing for a fall 2012 roll out of Mission 1:8.

But Matte questioned the timing of God’s call to ask the congregation to give more—again.

“In the midst of it I wasn’t sure if we should do this,” Matte said.

During a sabbatical in San Francisco—one of First Baptist’s mission cities—Matte prayed about the venture. From his vantage point in a room at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Matte could see the city’s skyline as he prayed over it. But as is often the case, the fog rolled in, obscuring his view.

That fog gave him a theological insight on faith. San Francisco still sat before him. He just couldn’t see it. Matte realized the same was true for Mission 1:8. Matte said he felt God saying, “This is where I have you. You just have to trust that it’s there.”
“God used that to symbolize the purpose of Mission 1:8,” Matte said.

Joni B. Hannigan contributed extensively to this report

GuideStone injunction blocks abortion mandate

OKLAHOMA CITY—Federal District Judge Timothy DeGiusti issued a preliminary injunction Dec. 20 against the federal government’s mandate that requires employers, including many religiously affiliated ones, to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices.

Although churches and closely related ministries are exempt from the mandate, many Christian universities, children’s homes and other ministries were not exempted, and instead were in danger of being forced to provide abortion-causing drugs and devices through a poorly conceived “accommodation” or incur crippling penalties.

DeGiusti’s ruling means organizations that use GuideStone’s health care plans, now or in the future, will be protected from participating in providing abortion-causing drugs for the foreseeable future. A trial date to make a final decision has not yet been set.

“Whether the cases relate to family businesses like Hobby Lobby or nonprofit ministries like GuideStone, the religious freedom concerns cannot be overstated.”

—O.S. Hawkins, president of guidestone

O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, said the ruling by the Oklahoma City federal judge “reflects common-sense legal principles, respects the rights of religious institutions to provide benefits consistent with their convictions, and provides needed relief from the government’s attempt to co-opt ministry health plans.”

“We appreciate Judge DeGiusti’s timely protection of religious liberty and give thanks to God for this victory and for the many thousands who have made this a matter of prayer,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins noted that the injunction only concerns abortion-inducing drugs and devices, not other contraceptives.

“While our Catholic friends oppose contraceptive in most every form—a belief that they should be free to exercise under the First Amendment—our plans reflect the convictions of most Southern Baptists and evangelicals that the use of contraceptives is a matter of personal conscience,” Hawkins said. “Our plans will continue to provide coverage for the vast majority of FDA-approved drugs that do not cause abortions.”

Russell D. Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the injunction is a “first step toward a historic win for religious liberty.”

“A government that can coerce the conscience is a government that has overstepped its God-appointed bounds,” Moore said. “We are thankful for Guidestone and the gospel grit of President O.S. Hawkins. We’re still early in this fight, but this is good news.”

The ruling also encompasses Truett-McConnell College, a Georgia Baptist Convention-affiliated school, and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma-based missions organization.

“We are pleased to see that Judge DeGiusti, along with many other courts, is recognizing these mandates go too far,” said Emir Caner, Truett-McConnell’s president. “We join with our partners in ministry at Reaching Souls and GuideStone in celebrating this ruling and praising the Lord for this outcome.”

Dustin Manis, CEO of Reaching Souls International, said the ruling “protects our ministry from this offensive, objectionable and onerous requirement. We pray this injunction will lead to an eventual full repeal of the abortion-drug mandate and continued protections for religious organizations under the First Amendment.”

This case is one of nearly 90 lawsuits brought against the abortion-drug mandate. Hawkins said Christians should continue to pray for these cases as they wind through the courts.

The Dallas law firm Locke Lord LLP filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The case is GuideStone v. Sebelius. Kathleen Sebelius is the HHS secretary.

“Whether the cases relate to family businesses like Hobby Lobby or nonprofit ministries like GuideStone, the religious freedom concerns cannot be overstated,” Hawkins said. “It’s time for Christians to stay informed, get involved and pray for wisdom for all in authority.”

One Google search, one mouse click, one baby girl

The positive pregnancy test sent Brittany’s life into a tale spin. She had plans—college, career and, potentially, the Miss Pennsylvania pageant. Her boyfriend, Andy, a fellow student at California University of Pennsylvania, had pro football aspirations. The couple considered themselves pro-life but confronted with an unplanned, life-altering pregnancy, all options were on the table.

Their Internet queries ranged from searches for free ultrasounds to abortion clinics. Tech-savvy businesses wrangle their way to the top, or at least the first page, of those searches. With enough money, for-profit abortion providers and Planned Parenthood can do the same, leaving non-profit crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) at a disadvantage in getting their message before desperate women. But Brittany and Andy’s Web search gave them options not available just a few years ago.

There among the hits and advertisements for abortion services was an ad for a crisis pregnancy center offering free ultrasounds. The cash-strapped couple made an appointment and their daughter was saved.

Using its marketing and technology expertise, an organization called Online For Life is turning Internet searches for abortion services into encounters with 50 life-affirming pregnancy centers in 23 states. No longer will Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers be the lone results at the top of a page when a person types “abortion clinic” in the Google search bar.

Working from a base in Florida in 2007, pro-life entrepreneur Brian Fisher and his cohorts tested the idea of online marketing for pregnancy centers. One of those clinics was Pregnancy Resource Center of South Hills (PRCSH) just outside Pittsburgh, Pa. Five years later, because an Internet search for an abortion clinic also produced a hit for PRCSH, Brittany and Andy sought their help in the fall of 2012.

“It’s a good thing we ended up there,” Brittany told the TEXAN in a phone interview from her home near Pittsburgh. “There is a chance that saved my baby’s life.”

When she and Andy arrived at the clinic for tests and counseling, Brittany had no idea how far along she was in her pregnancy. The ultrasound revealed she was 17 weeks pregnant. She was stunned. And the ultrasound also revealed more than the age of her baby—it gave her and Andy a perspective that righted their upside-down world.

“There was this little baby with arms and legs kicking. I saw her on the ultrasound. I broke down. Andy was speechless,” Brittany recalled.
The staff was kind, she said. They shared their own experiences with abortion and their faith in God and the couple decided abortion was out of the question.

After the visit to PRCSH, Brittany told her family she and Andy were expecting. Her parents were supportive. On his way home from work, after being told of his daughter’s pregnancy, Brittany’s dad bought a stuffed lamb for the baby.

Looking into the face of her daughter, Kaylen, born on June 21, Brittany said she gets physically ill thinking she ever considered an abortion. One click on an Internet search was the first step in changing their family’s history for good.

CALL TO PRAYER: Pray like never before

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world.

NASHVILLE (BP)—Frank S. Page, president and “chief encouragement officer” of the SBC Executive Committee, has challenged Southern Baptists to continue praying in 2014 “like we’ve never prayed before.”

Page views his call to prayer as a “catalyst, a weekly reminder of the urgency and primacy of prayer.”

“Considering what Jesus endured for us, we must not grow weary and lose heart. We must strengthen our tired hands and our weakened knees before the throne of grace,” Page said, citing the example of Jesus in Hebrews 12. “Jesus wanted his churches to be called ‘houses of prayer.’ Let us not disappoint our Lord.”

During 2013, pockets of prayer seemed to bubble up around the nation. These include TenTwo, NAMB’s prayer initiative to pray the Luke 10:2 prayer for laborers into the harvest; the International Mission Board’s intensive prayer boot camp, the School of Prayer for All Nations, held at the International Learning Center; numerous prayer initiatives through state Baptist conventions and Baptist Collegiate Ministries; pastor-led corporate prayer initiatives such as the pastor’s prayer gathering held Sept. 30 – Oct. 1 in Dallas, and thousands of other prayer gatherings through local churches and communities.

In addition PrayerLink, an organization of state convention and SBC entity prayer leaders, at its annual prayer retreat in October affirmed Page’s call for continued prayer, adopting three guiding principles for 2014.

Seek God—Recognizing that our only hope is a God-given spiritual awakening, we acknowledge God is calling his people to repent and seek him through wholehearted love, righteous living and fervent, united, kingdom-focused prayer.

Elevate Prayer—Furthermore, recognizing that prayer is essential for personal, corporate, community, national and global spiritual transformation, we recommend the SBC entity members of PrayerLink develop a digital resource center for churches to access the many prayer tools available from PrayerLink members.

Pledge Cooperation—In cooperation with associations, state conventions, the SBC entities and other Great Commission partners, PrayerLink pledges itself as a colaborer to assist churches in mobilizing God-initiated, kingdom-focused prayer.

As we begin a new year in prayer, here are seven prayerful suggestions.

—Pray some portion of God’s Word back to Him as part of your daily quiet time.

—Prayerwalk your neighborhood as part of your daily exercise program.

—Pray about human needs reported on the daily news.

—Pray by name for at least five unsaved friends, family members or neighbors.

—Set your watch or phone to remind you to pray Luke 10:2 at 10:02 each morning and/or evening.

—Pray for your family members by name, asking the Lord to use them—and you—for kingdom purposes.

—Pray Jesus’ Model Prayer from Matthew 6:9-13 on a regular basis, savoring a different phrase from the prayer each day.

Hearing again the words of our Lord, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive,” (Matthew 21:22, KJV), let us pray like we’ve never prayed before!

—Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee.

A post-New Year’s discussion on alcoholism

NASHVILLE (BP)—New Year’s brings to mind many things, but two stand out. First, New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year. Second, it’s not a secret that some of the people who were drinking are, or will be, alcoholics.

An old joke is that alcoholics (or the Irish, as I first heard the joke from my Irish grandfather) call New Year’s Eve “Amateur Night.”

In light of those realities, it seems like a good moment to share some thoughts on alcoholism.

Views of alcohol among evangelicals

It appears views about alcohol are changing among some evangelicals. Probably more people took notice of this when Moody Bible Institute changed its alcohol policy, but it’s broader than that. I’ve had conversations about it with Wesleyans in Canada, Baptists in Texas and Pentecostals in Oklahoma. All see a shift in attitude.

Many conservative evangelicals have been moderationists for a long time, so an anti-alcohol sentiment is not universal among evangelicals. Sometimes observers will see “Northern Evangelicalism” as moderationist, with “Southern Evangelicalism” being abstentionists, and there is a good amount of truth in that geographic reality. However, it is still a bit more complicated since Wesleyans, for example, are concentrated in the North, and you cannot be a covenant member of a Wesleyan church if you use alcohol as a beverage.

I’ve always been very open that I don’t drink beverage alcohol. Part of that comes from a heritage of alcoholism that inspires this post. I’ve seen it up close and know alcoholism’s destructive power—yet, many evangelicals have not. More evangelicals may be exposed to the destructiveness of alcoholism if acceptance grows.

I believe this column would not be needed if everyone shared my view, but they don’t. So my purpose is to point to a side effect of a growing acceptance of alcohol, and no one should disagree with the importance of this topic (unless you don’t believe in alcoholism).

We need to talk more about alcoholism.

After I read the article “5 Uncomfortable Issues the Church Needs to Start Talking About” in Relevant magazine, I was more convinced that it needed to be written. In it, Zach Perkins explained: “At AA meetings and therapy sessions, talking about addiction makes sense, but for some reason, it’s not a topic most church people want to hear about. Certain addictions are definitely more socially acceptable to talk about than others. For example, it’s OK to bug Frank about his smoking, but John’s alcoholism is more hush-hush.

“And yes, in many churches, a person’s addictions can become fodder for gossip,” Perkins said. “However, if the Church were to first approach one another as family, then addicts in the Church might feel safer to be vulnerable about their struggles. Often, they just need to be loved and feel safe enough to know they can expose this part of themselves in a community where the addiction isn’t crushing them every second.”


A friend’s story

I recently was in a conversation with an old friend of mine who over the years had changed his view on alcohol, moving from an abstentionist position to a more moderationist one. But he found that, like a consistent percentage of people who intend to drink in moderation, he could not. He would later call that “alcoholism.”

Some studies show that 30 percent of Americans will struggle with alcohol in some way. That does not mean they are all alcoholics, but there are real issues to be addressed. If more evangelicals are going to accept beverage alcohol, we need to have this conversation. Even if the views don’t change, there are still many secret alcoholics. So let’s have the conversation either way.

Following is an interview with an anonymous evangelical pastor who is a recovering alcoholic. I’m hoping it might help someone see a problem they might be ignoring in themselves or a friend.

Q: Tell us how you viewed alcohol and how those views changed over time.

A: I grew up in the South. I was taught that alcohol was “of the devil” but tobacco was a gift from God.

My family didn’t drink. I never had alcohol until college, never partied much there, but I discovered in graduate school that it was good for relaxing.

I was a youth pastor for a while and never drank during that time. I had a hard enough time keeping some of my youth from DUIs as it was. Later, I planted a church that grew very quickly, and, again, a glass of wine became a way to relax in the evening.

Q: How could you tell and when did you realize you had a problem?

A: Alcohol became more of a need than a want. As success and stress increased, the need to use it to relax became more of a habit than an occasional thing. I started to hide it from family. I made promises to never drink during “work time,” which of course began to shrink. My family and a couple of my staff expressed concern in a loving way, but I said I could handle it—a major flag.

Q: What is unique about being an alcoholic evangelical pastor?

A: I never thought it would happen to me, and most evangelicals view any form of alcohol as evil to begin with. However, that attitude has changed somewhat, and most of the church folks I know drink socially. However, I had a temperament/physical makeup that didn’t allow me to do that.

I think we tend to view alcoholism as a sin, which it is, but it also has other factors which make it unique, like most addictions. However, the key to change is to change from the inside out. It [my alcoholism] also gives me a special heart for those who suffer from addiction, whether substance, sexual, spending, etc.

I have been able to look into a lot of eyes and say “I understand. There is an answer.”

Q: How did the church leaders respond?

A: Very gracefully and lovingly. One leader said, “You’ve taught us not to shoot our wounded. We’re not going to start with you.”

People know if they “need to know.” I know that sounds cryptic, but I don’t identify myself first and foremost as an alcoholic. It’s not my true identity.

I am a Christ follower who struggles(d) with the sickness of alcoholism.

Q: How should Christians view Alcoholics Anonymous?

A: I cannot speak for AA. All I know is that it worked for me, and many times I see more of God and more miracles in the rooms of AA than in most churches.


This is an important conversation that I hope others will continue. Here are some resources if you are struggling with alcohol addiction:

—Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research (, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article first appeared on

A “moral” right to die?

The Pew Research Center has released results of a study on views of end of life medical treatment. Among the findings is how different faith groups view the morality of ending life.

A fourth of evangelicals believe a person has a moral right to suicide if he or she “is ready to die, living is now a burden” (25 percent) or if that person “is an extremely heavy burden on family” (24 percent). 

When the situation is escalated to an incurable disease, 36 percent of white evangelicals believe a person has a moral right to suicide. If the patient “is in a great deal of pain” with “no hope of improvement,” the percentage increases to 42 percent. 

Should we be surprised by these increasing numbers? Is it concerning that growing percentages of evangelicals (and every other religious category) view suicide as a moral right? 

When I was a seminary student, I took a class on the ethics of life and death. One of my classmates made a presentation asserting that he would rather take his life than live through a difficult disease. He based his conclusion on the words of Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” 

My classmate rebuffed any attempts to be talked out of his view that his moral right—even his biblical right—was to take the supposed perspective of the apostle Paul and seek death in order to be united with Christ. 

While the Pew Research Center did not equate the changing views of faith groups with the Pauline declaration of Philippians 1:21, I cannot help but think that is at least in the background. Is this what Paul meant? Did he really intend to encourage Christians to seek death over life in difficult circumstances? 

Let’s consider what was happening in Paul’s life. 

In Philippians 1:7, we see that Paul has been imprisoned. He is fighting for his own freedom (and possibly his life) in front of the Roman authorities. Even though Paul was a Roman citizen and may have spent some of his imprisonment in house arrest, the Roman authorities were still not known for making the lives of their prisoners as comfortable as possible. In fact, it is likely that Paul considered his own life to be at risk from the Roman government. His spirits are buoyed by the love and affection of the believers in Philippi (Philippians 1:3–11), but life is still hard. 

Taken out of context, Philippians 1:21 seems to be Paul’s final desire for death in the face of his circumstances. But we need to take a closer look. He goes on to say, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose” (Philippians 1:22). Verse 22 puts Paul’s struggle in context. He knows that if he continues living he will be fruitful spreading the gospel, but if his life ends he will be united with Christ. 

We then read the following: “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again” (Philippians 1:23–26). 

Paul sets aside his own personal desire to be united with Christ and sets his sights on living for the benefit of those he loves. He considers it to be more necessary that his sufferings continue for the sake of the Philippians so that they will progress in their faith. 

Now let’s revisit the topic at hand. Do we have a moral right to suicide? The text most often employed to justify this right (Philippians 1:21) actually compels us to continue living for the sake of others. No matter how bad the circumstances are, our suffering can be beneficial for the faith of others. 

Suicide is often considered an escape from the pain of this world. No one desires to endure an extended bout with a terminal illness. No one wants to be a burden on family. However, claiming a moral right to suicide does not take into account the biblical understanding of the value of life and how persevering in terrible circumstances can build the faith of others and advance the gospel. 

—Evan Lenow is assistant professor of ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He also is the chair of the seminary’s ethics department and associate director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. Lenow holds the seminary’s Bobby L. and Janis Eklund Chair of Stewardship. This article first appeared at his website,

Church planter: “Let God use you to push back the darkness”

ROWLETT—When one of Christianity’s first church planters, Paul of Tarsus, set about his work, there was no cookie-cutter approach. In Athens, a center for academia and false Gods, he engaged the intellectuals and polytheists. In other towns, he learned to sew tents while building relationships with those who would come to faith in Christ.

Simply put, Paul thought like a missionary.

So it has been for Shane Pruitt and his church planting team at Connection Community Church in Rowlett, a community of 56,000 in the suburban sprawl east of Dallas. In less than three years the congregation that began with 31 people in a living room now has more than 400 in worship Sunday mornings in a building the congregation owns outright. The young church has baptized 53 people this year.

It’s a suburban church planting success story. But in a Texas so rapidly growing and becoming more diverse racially, ethnically and socio-economically, the formula that is working in Rowlett may not work in other Texas settings.

“We can still find the stereotypical Texan here. But Houston, from what I understand, is the most ethnically, racially diverse city in the country,” Terry Coy, the SBTC director of missions, said. “The Hispanic population is approaching 50 percent. We’ll get there within the next 10-15 years. We’re already a majority minority state. Immigration of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhist background, while still small in number, is growing significantly,”

Six of the top 20 fastest-growing cities in America are in Texas, Coy said. The border with Mexico from Brownsville to El Paso is one of the most unevangelized “lost” areas in the United States.

“All that together means we’ve got to plant more churches of all kinds to reach all kinds of people,” Coy said. “This is not your grandfather’s Texas anymore.”

The SBTC has made church planting a priority. The convention hopes to partner in planting 50 congregations in 2014 with an eye toward 100 annually.

Shane Pruitt and his team in Rowlett are exemplars for what can be done with God’s favor, Coy said.

Unlike the apostle Paul, no Damascus Road experience spurred Pruitt to plant a church. God used the simple stuff of everyday life. While serving at a church in nearby Garland, Pruitt lived with his family in Rowlett.

“Everything we did, community-wise, the majority of our close relationships, discipling, the lost people that we were building relationships with, they were in Rowlett,” Pruitt said. “We just saw a need in Rowlett. There are great churches in Rowlett, but the majority of the churches were what we would call a ‘traditional church,’ reaching empty nesters and above.

“There wasn’t really a church in Rowlett that was reaching young families. The majority of the young families that were going to church were going out of Rowlett to do so. We saw a great need.”

The call to plant Connection Community Church, known affectionately among its flock as “C3,” was unexpected, Pruitt said. He talked with friends at the Dallas Baptist Association about the needs in Rowlett. He saw himself as a church planter, but was uncertain about the timing.

But over time, the Lord put a call on the hearts of four men and their wives, “specifically for Rowlett,” Pruitt said. He, along with Nick Gainey, Daniel Hancock, John Rogers and their wives set out to plant C3.

“It wasn’t one of those light-bulb, put-my-finger-on-a-globe-and-hit-Rowlett moments. We were already doing life there and saw the need. Through that, it just sort of happened.”

The newness of the church presented a blessing, and a challenge, for the C3 team. Over a 10-year period, seven churches tried and failed in Rowlett. As a result, the church attracted worshipers from outside Rowlett but struggled in its own backyard at first. But that has changed.

“Trusting a new church can take time. Here in Rowlett they have seen many other church plants start and then fail. In a town like Rowlett, they’ve seen that happen, so they kind of sit back and wait to see if it is going to make it, is this something that’s here to stay, or is it something that’s going to be gone tomorrow? So, it took some time to build up that kind of trust.”

But the newness has also helped.

“There’s a newness buzz going on because the church is new and it’s growing, and so people are coming to check us out to see what’s going on and see what God is doing. Our greatest hurdle has also been one of our biggest selling points,” Pruitt said.

Amid all the busyness and hard work, Jesus must be the focus, he added.

“Obviously, God is sovereign. And if he’s in it, he’s going to do it. He’s creative enough to use many different avenues and many different ways, whether it’s parachuting in or living in a town for a while. He can do whatever he wants,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt gained valuable counsel from another SBTC church planter, Bill Lundy of Heartland Fellowship south of Mesquite: Don’t go it alone. Embrace God’s vision, not your own. And think like a missionary.

“Keep surrounded by other men. ‘Don’t ‘go rogue,’” Pruitt said. “Keep yourself surrounded by other men, other pastors, other people in your network. Every pastor needs to have three men in his life: A Paul, who will be a mentor and pour wisdom into you. Everybody needs a Timothy whom they are discipling and pouring into. And everybody needs a Barnabas in his life who’s side by side with them, encouraging them to stay the course,” Pruitt said.

Also, “There’s no greater joy in life than God giving you a vision, you being obedient to that vision and then seeing lives transformed through that. It’s so true.”

He added, “When I see someone get baptized at C-3, it brings tears to my eyes, because I’m reminded of that. Three and a half years ago, this church didn’t even exist. But God had a vision, people were obedient and lives are being transformed.

Pruitt passes on a simple, yet powerful, message to the congregation.

“We’re not called to be parish priests,” Pruitt said. “We’re called to be missionaries. If you’re planting in the suburbs or you’re planting in the urban areas or in the deserts of Africa, you’re in a mission field. Approach it all the same. Learn the culture. Learn the people. Learn the hurts and the needs and let God use you to push back the darkness.”

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