Month: May 2015

Disaster Relief volunteers rerouted to Jacksonville College

JACKSONVILLE, Texas—Nine SBTC Disaster Relief workers en route to Wimberley were rerouted to Jacksonville College on May 27 to respond to damage caused by straight-line winds estimated by the National Weather Service at 60-80 miles per hour that blew through the East Texas community late Monday afternoon.

“DR volunteers from Lufkin, Onalaska, Madisonville, Rusk and Lake Palestine are here,” Garry McDugle, SBTC DR incident commander at Jacksonville, confirmed. “Most were on their way to Wimberley and were redirected at the last minute to come to Jacksonville.”

SBTC DR efforts have focused on Jacksonville College, where at least 20 trees are down, McDugle said.  A large tree fell on a home owned by the college and used for student housing.  Two of the largest trees fell into the college parking lot.

SBTC volunteers have been engaged in chainsaw, rigging and climbing work, McDugle said, noting that Jacksonville College president Mike Smith is working with teams and ministering to a family living near the college whose home was damaged by a fallen tree.

As of Wednesday, electricity had not been restored to the college and to other parts of Jacksonville.

McDugle expected DR efforts to extend to the home of an elderly couple across the street from Jacksonville College. “The retired couple used to teach at the college,” McDugle said. “Trees are leaning on their home, and we are planning to help them.”

SBTC volunteers continue to survey neighborhoods and assess damage for additional needs.

McDugle said he expected SBTC DR volunteers to remain in Jacksonville at least until the weekend.

DR volunteers respond quickly to flood emergency in Wimberley

WIMBERLEY, Texas—SBTC Disaster Relief personnel deployed to Hays County Monday, May 26, following the preceding Saturday’s flash floods, which devastated the town of Wimberley, destroying hundreds of homes and claiming at least three lives. At least nine remain missing, including seven members of two families staying in a vacation home on the Blanco River that was swept downstream and into a bridge.

The National Weather Service called the event a “flood emergency” Saturday evening and issued a warning for residents to seek higher ground because of the “extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation.”

SBTC DR volunteers arrived in Wimberley on Monday (Memorial Day) to assess the situation and offer assistance. “We spent the first day getting out into the community and letting them know we were here and what we have available,” said Mike Jansen of Linden, who is serving as the SBTC disaster relief “white hat,” or incident commander.

Twenty-five volunteers, including two mud-out teams led by Julian Morales and David Dean, are engaged in clean-out work.

“Teams are getting mud out of homes and removing furniture, flooring and sheetrock to the water line and treating houses with the Shockwave anti-mold application,” Jansen said. “We have operations, assessment and chaplain personnel on site.”

A shower and laundry unit from the FIRM Baptist Area and manned by its volunteers is also in Wimberley, Jansen said. DR personnel are being hosted by First Baptist Church Wimberley.

As of Thursday, 56 work orders had been received, Jansen said. New SBTC teams are expected to rotate in over the weekend. Work has focused on homes off Flite Acres Road along the Blanco River.

The work has also been spiritual. “We have been sharing the gospel with individuals,” Jansen noted, issuing an appeal for Christians to pray for the victims who have lost homes and loved ones.

“We need to keep them in mind. Authorities are still searching for lost ones down here,” Jansen said.

Spiritual development of children begins at home

FORT WORTH “Children learn spiritual and moral principles best from people who care for them on a consistent basis.” With that goal in mind, Ann Iorg challenges parents and extended family members to help children develop spiritually by first teaching them to love God.

“Even those who came to Christ as an adult usually had a friend, a grandparent, aunt or uncle who at least let them know they were loved by God,” Iorg told a breakout session of the Homemaking Conference offered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary earlier this year. The wife of the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Iorg has directed and taught preschool at several of churches for more than 30 years.

Iorg said the framework for spiritual development is offered by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40 when he summarized the truths found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Exodus 20:1-17. “The most important concept a child can have is to love God with all their heart, all their soul, all their might and all their strength,” she reminded. “They also need to learn to love others as they love themselves.”

Recognizing that children are born with unique personalities and giftedness, Iorg said, “They’re not born with knowledge or a complete sense of values. Those things are taught, and that’s when we come into play.” By starting with the big picture of loving God and loving others, she said even a two-year old can learn these basic concepts. 

“Start with the simple and then expand,” she stated. “If you don’t give them a framework from which to attach these truths, they have a hard time putting in the extra facts later.”

From Proverbs 22:6 parents find encouragement in knowing these foundational principles will continue to influence their children, she said. “The things we learn as children stay with us for life, and there is the constant reminder to do the right thing. It’s the truth that stays with us.”

Parents and other people who care for a child on a consistent basis have the credibility to be trusted. “A little child doesn’t care how much money you have, what position you have or how many degrees you have. They only care about one thing: Does this person care about me and help me find Jesus? If not, I don’t have any reason to listen.”

Iorg pointed to the testimony of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:14-15 as an example of parents and grandparents developing a child spiritually. “Paul recognized the significant influence that the mother and grandmother had on Timothy as a child in giving the wisdom for salvation and what you need to know to come to know Christ.”

Made in the image of God with the capacity to relate to him, Iorg said even preschoolers can learn and recognize objects like the Bible. She pointed to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to illustrate teaching them to love and relate to God through everyday activities.

“Long before anybody thought to study child development, those principles were already taught in Scripture,” Iorg said, pointing to the instruction to learn through activity, verbal instruction, visual signs and written words. “Take whatever is happening and bring God into it to help the child see him.”

Short family devotions should model how a child eventually has a personal time with God, Iorg said. “A little preschooler can’t do that so you need to model that for them so they know what to do when they’re older,” she explained. “Keep it short because if it’s too long they won’t do it and they won’t stay interested.”

Spiritual development should be reinforced in a local church setting, Iorg continued. Parents can also be taught how to do the primary teaching at home. 

Developmentally appropriate curriculum is particularly important for Bible study offered at church, she said. Referring to a chart outlining 10 “Levels of Biblical Learning” developed by LifeWay Christian Resources, Iorg said a good curriculum will give a child a well-rounded theology. 

“It’s easy to neglect one area if you don’t have a plan,” she added, explaining how LifeWay curriculum offers a comprehensive approach over the course of two to four years. 

As parents and teachers help a child to follow God, Iorg said it is important to recognize that only God can offer salvation. “We can help the child know that God speaks to them and encourage them to respond to God,” she said, pointing to the example of Eli in helping Samuel go and listen to what God was telling him. 

“You cannot think that you can control your child the rest of his life. You get him prepared for what God has for his life.” Teaching a child to respectfully follow adults prepares him to learn how to follow God, she explained. 

“We are careful to instruct them about God and guide them to him, but not try and be God for them. They must have their own relationship with God and follow him on their own.”

Preschoolers should be encouraged to continue learning about God even when they’re not really ready to respond to God, Iorg said. She recommended Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor as a means of asking young children about a Bible story in order to find out what they’re thinking. “We think it’s so important to tell our kids things but forget to listen to find out how they’re processing it.”

As children grow older and come under conviction for the sin in their lives, they are likely to ask a lot of questions, Iorg said. “They may be disobedient as they struggle with their sin and their need for God,” even ignoring or disagreeing with the parent for a short time.

“Children are ready to decide to follow God when they show a genuine sadness about their bad choices and are consistent in their desire to decide to follow God,” she added. “Little kids often will say, ‘We believe in God, don’t we Daddy? We love Jesus, don’t we Mommy?’” as a means of tagging onto the parent’s faith. 

“When they get ready to receive Christ they say, ‘I believe,’” she explained. “Notice the pronoun change. That will give you a clue that it’s a personal decision for Christ.”

Through careful follow-up, a parent can interact with the child to determine whether a decision represents a genuine conversion. Iorg recommended LifeWay’s I’m a Christian, Now What? as a resource for careful discussion.

Spiritual development in young children also includes teaching them to love others, Iorg reminded. “We mentor children as we teach them how to follow God. We give them opportunities to serve with our support until they are old enough to serve God and others on their own.”  

“Age of accountability” supported by Scripture

GRAPEVINE The “age of accountability” is one of the least understood historic Baptist beliefs, Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), said. 

“All three Baptist Faith and Message statements (1925, 1963, and 2000) assert that children are not morally accountable until ‘they are capable of moral action’ (Baptist Faith and Message, Article 3),” Lemke wrote in an article on the age of accountability that first appeared in the Louisiana Baptist Message in 2010.

Since children mature at different rates, it is difficult to establish a specific age at which they become morally accountable, he wrote. 

“It is therefore more accurate to speak of a ‘state’ of being accountable rather than an ‘age’ of accountability,” Lemke, also a professor of philosophy and ethics at NOBTS, wrote, adding that a state of accountability is normally associated with a coming of age “sometime in adolescence.”

Perhaps the best biblical support for the age of accountability, Lemke wrote, is found in Jeremiah 31:29-30 and the parallel passage in Ezekiel 18:14-21. 

The texts, he wrote, make clear that children will “not suffer punishment for the father’s iniquity,” but rather “each one will die for his own wrongdoing.”

“This is precisely what the age of accountability teaches—that we are not responsible for the sins of others, but for our own sins when we reach the age that we are morally aware and morally responsible,” Lemke wrote.

In every New Testament case of baptism, Lemke noted, it is adults who come to faith in Christ. “Evidently, then, moral accountability and salvation by faith are applicable only for those who are capable of moral discernment,” he wrote.

Baptists have never believed, Lemke wrote, that a person could be saved by physical birth or by the faith of his parents. “Each person must make a personal profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in order to be saved,” Lemke wrote.

“… Baptists do believe that we children of Adam ‘inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin,’ but it is not until we become ‘transgressors’ ourselves that we come under guilt and condemnation (Baptist Faith and Message, Article 3),” Lemke wrote. “So while we believe in an inherited sin nature, we do not believe in inherited guilt.”  

Thorough new believers” class for kids is essential, say Texas children”s ministers

For a myriad of reasons, a substantial number of Christian adults who grew up in late 20th century America professed Christ as Lord at a young age. Some remember it, and some do not. Some moved forward assured of their salvation. Some began to doubt whether they had truly been saved at all. Photographs from a baptism and assurance from parents often added to the confusion many felt as they tried to discern whether they had truly made an eternal decision for Christ or not.

Fifteen years into a fresh century, the generation that spent a portion of their adolescence wrestling with the scary thought that they might not be saved is looking for ways to make sure their children have a different come-to-faith experience. They’ve realized the line between prematurely urging a child toward salvation and hindering a child’s genuine desire to know Jesus is thin and often blurry. Churches and pastors have realized this, too, and make concerted efforts to help parents guide their children to a true relationship with Christ that will spur them on into spiritual maturity instead of into a false security that stunts their children a few years later.

Children’s ministers from four churches offered the TEXAN a look into how they navigate adding children to church membership rolls and how they guide those children through understanding, receiving and professing salvation in Christ. All of them agreed that parents play a pivotal role in preparing their children for a profession of faith and then discipling them in that faith.

Jamie Brooks, children’s pastor at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, said that instead of offering a traditional class directed by church leadership in response to a child’s interest in following Christ, they equip and support parents and guardians for that role. He said that the church currently uses Next Step for Kids (NSfK), produced by Harvest Children’s Ministry, to guide families as they escort children toward a commitment to Jesus. The curriculum discusses being a new believer and being involved in the church family. Brooks said it also opens the door to conversations about baptism, serving, witnessing, other religions and other topics.

“We communicate to parents that this is not a checklist for salvation in their children,” Brooks said. “It is, however, a great tool to see if a love for the things of the Lord is developing out of a response to accepting Him as savior and king,” Brooks said. “For children in need of a spiritual leader to fill this role, we will partner a committed and qualified mentor with them. In addition to NSfK, we have a guide to lead parents through conversations about the purpose of the church, the qualifications for membership and the expectations accompanying membership.”

Brooks said while some children have already accepted Christ when they join the church with their families, the majority of children become members by profession of faith. Brooks says the church takes seriously its role of making certain that new members—no matter their age—understand what it truly means to follow Christ and to live for him.

“For a child coming to us as a professing Christian, it is important that we hear his/her testimony from the parents and the child,” Brooks said. “As pastors, we hold the responsibility of church membership gravely, and therefore hold even children to the standard of verbal/written testimony and life fruit. In these conversations, we are affirming the biblical truth that church membership follows a faith commitment proclaimed through baptism. In all of these conversations we have with children, we want to proclaim that church membership, baptism, communion, etc. is the outflow of a personal response to Christ’s lordship and not the process to achieve salvation.”

Brooks meets with families while they work through the NSfK curriculum, listening for children to be able to express why they need to be saved, how they are saved and what it means to trust and follow Jesus as king. Only when a child can clearly articulate those things can he or she be baptized. 

Jeffie Burns, children’s ministry director at Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Lufkin, said baptism follows a children’s new believers class at their church as well.

“We require one parent/guardian/grandparent to attend the class with the child, and then they have to come in and speak with me or the family life pastor before baptism is scheduled,” Burns said. “In the past, so many people say, ‘I was saved and/or baptized as a child but I didn’t understand.’ We don’t want that to happen, so we have this process to know that we know.”

Burns said that during the class they talk with parents and children about what salvation and baptism mean, being careful to make sure that the children do not associate the act of being baptized with actual salvation from sin. In addition to the class, the church saw a need to produce take-home information that parents can use with their children to make sure they fully understand the decision before making it. The curriculum they produced includes the gospel, the ABCs of salvation, information about baptism and a family discussion guide.

The class, Burns said, gives parents the confidence to work through their child’s desire to be saved and baptized. 

“I think parents really want the opportunity to lead their child to Christ,” Burns said. “They just are scared. They think there is a ‘special’ thing they have to say or do. This class, we feel, makes them more relaxed about talking to their kids about salvation and baptism. We always try to make sure we are equipping parents; they make the difference!”

Chris Gary, minister to children at Central Baptist Church in College Station, agrees that parents often shy away from helping their children in this arena out of fear.

“Parents are scared to death of messing up their kids, so they tend not to have these conversations with their kids or push them to the church,” Gary said. “We must help parents be involved in the spiritual growth of their kids. They are the primary teachers for their kids, and we are to equip them for success.”

At Central, that equipping comes by way of a two-step approach.

“Any child that makes a decision meets with our senior pastor and is given a Survival Kit for Kids to work on with their parents,” Gary said. “After they finish it they meet again with the senior pastor to go over it. When they leave that meeting, my office gives them another devotional book, Passing the Baton.

Gary said that if a church is currently without a new members plan for children and wants to begin a class, he would suggest using the Survival Kit for Kids content (available through LifeWay), which his church uses in one-on-one settings with families, as the material for a six-week class. Working one-on-one with families, he said, allows his church to be flexible about the age at which a child can begin the process of professing faith and being baptized. Brooks said MacArthur Boulevard’s family-driven and paced process allows them the same flexibility. At Harmony Hill, the church asks that children not be baptized before the third grade, though some exceptions have been made.

Whatever direction a church decides to go, Gary said, some sort of training and equipping for children is essential.

“If you are not discipling them,” Gary said, “then you are not helping a child get a good foundation as they begin their walk with Jesus.”

Cedar Hill’s Hillcrest Baptist Church minister to children Keri Meek said discipling children has often led to reaching parents at her church. She said her favorite part of Hillcrest’s four-week class for newly believing children is week one where, after a time of breakfast and fellowship, the children go with teachers to the Kid Faith room and the parents remain with her.

“We sit in a circle and begin what I feel is the sweetest time of fellowship with these parents,” Meek said. “I start the time off with telling them a little about me and my family—how long we have been at the church, when I became a Christian, how I continue to grow in my faith. I then ask each parent to share the same. It has been a huge eye opener to me that we have many parents who were not raised in a Christian home and are so eager to know how to raise their child up with a biblical worldview. There have also been instances where a parent shares that they have never been baptized but through hearing everyone share they realize they need to be baptized too.”

And sometimes, this first week of discipleship with the children even leads to the salvation of a mom, dad, grandparent or guardian—stories that Meeks says become her “very favorite.”

“God is using this time with these parents to draw them to him,” Meek said. “I am able then to meet with that parent and share the gospel with them and lead them to their Savior.”  

Ministry wife: Three reasons you should join your husband at the SBC annual meeting

Each year since marrying my husband, we’ve made our way to various host cities to attend the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Since we are in the middle of seminary studies—a station in life with which many can resonate—we do this creatively and only because the Lord continues providentially to provide for it to happen each time.

Between carpooling with friends, staying with family along the route, eating sandwiches in our hotel room and splitting meals when eating out, we’ve managed to afford these yearly trips when the Lord makes it clear that he wants us to go. I just have to pause to say how thankful I am that we don’t serve a God who makes us read between the lines but one who is clear in his guidance. He often makes me laugh at his clarity in the almost humorous way he steers our lives.

Even when it has seemed that we might not be attending this year or that year, things just fell into place beforehand to make sure we were there. I’m just a newbie in ministry wife land, but I can tell you that after only a few years of seeing the Lord actively direct us to attend the annual meeting, I have become more and more convinced that it has far more to do with divine planning than happy accident.

As we place year after year in our rearview mirror, I’m also beginning to get a small glimpse of just why it is that the Lord would work behind the scenes with such vigor to make sure we join in this gathering each year. It seems there is just something marvelous about spending half a week out of the whole year with as many other Southern Baptists as possible. Scripture tells us how crucial it is that believers gather together to encourage each other (Heb. 10:25), admonish each other (1 Thess. 5:14), sharpen each other (Col. 3:16) and pray with each other (Matt. 18:20)—all things that happen at our convention’s annual meeting.

Spending a few days each year to worship, fellowship and conduct business with brothers and sisters in Christ always adds fuel to the proverbial ministry tank. So, as this year’s pastors’ conference and annual meeting draw nearer and you decide how to spend your third week of June 2015, let me encourage you, ministry wife, to join your husband in Columbus.

Here are just a few reasons why you really should get this on your calendar if at all possible:

  1. There are events especially for ministry wives. For me, the absolute highlight of any convention week is the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon. (Tickets are still available here.) In addition to hearing from top notch ministry women selected as speakers and the joyous time of worship, I love getting to spend a couple of hours sitting around a table with a handful of women from across our convention. These ladies know ministry life with all its ups and downs. Some of them are new, like myself, and some of them have decades of experience and wisdom they’re willing to share with you over a cup of coffee. What a sweet treasure to leave a new city with six new friends from around the nation.

    There’s also the Pastors’ Wives Conference, which you can attend for free. (In fact, most of the events held this week are free with just a few exceptions, and many of the events offer free books and resources to those who attend. So, if you pack like the average female, you might consider bringing an extra suitcase for the things you’d like to take home.) The wives conference will be held Monday, June 15 from 8 a.m. until noon. This women-only morning session is a fabulous time of worship, laughter, prayer and encouragement. You don’t want to miss it, and you also don’t want to miss all the booths set up by various ministries that offer resources specifically for ministry wives and women’s ministry. And remember, where there are women’s ministries, there is chocolate. Enough said.

    Also, new this year is the Tea at 3 event hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and open to all women. This event, created to help women connect with each other and to give them a chance to enjoy tea with friends, will be held Monday afternoon (June 15) from 3-4 p.m. in the Hyatt. I was curious what to expect at this new event, so I checked with Southwestern’s Dean of Women’s Programs, Terri Stovall, and she had this to say about Tea at 3: “We will have ‘3-minute connection points’ where women like Rhonda Kelley, Chris Adams, Ann Iorg, Susie Hawkins, Candi Finch and others will give a three-minute highlight of some resource or opportunity specifically for women. We have free resources from six different publishers for the first 100 who attend plus some other great door prizes. It will be a fun, fast-paced hour and great place to connect with friends.” Sounds so fun—and so girly! I will definitely be marching myself over to that event.

  2. Yet, attending the meeting does far more than just help you, encourage you and help bolster your spiritual walk with the Lord. Attending the meeting helps you bring those same benefits home to whomever comprises your ministry. Whether God has made your main ministry for the moment your husband and children, an energetic group of high school girls or the entire list of female members in your church (or all three), God can use your attendance at the annual meeting to train and renew you so that when you return home, you can serve and impact these people with his message. Keep in mind that is THE VERY THING Satan would love to NOT happen. If he can keep you burnt out, overwhelmed and downtrodden, he will. So if you had an inkling a moment ago that, yes, maybe you should join your husband for this, but almost as quickly became besieged with a million reasons not to go, examine those reasons closely to see if they are legitimate or the ploys of a devil who wants nothing more than to make you a less effective servant of Christ Jesus. I’m not saying every person who reads this should go; but I am urging you to make it a real matter of prayer.
  3. Most importantly, you should join your husband because it will help your husband. Right off the bat, when you travel with your husband, you help to curtail temptations that might be waiting for him in his hotel room—a serious matter about which all of us must remain vigilant. I’m reminded of how Scripture tells us to “catch all the little foxes” that would love to sneak in and ruin marriage relationships. This is just one opportunity we have as wives to be on fox duty simply by traveling with our husbands.

    When you go with your husband, he’s also able to join other ministry couples for dinner with his ministry teammate by his side and avoid awkward third wheel situations. Additionally, joining him allows you both to hear many of the same messages, motions and resolutions. When you’re clued-in, so to speak, about everything from laws impacting churches to doctrinal stances throughout the convention, you become a better sounding board for your husband and a better conversation partner—things that will serve both your church and your marriage well.

    Sweet friends, God has ordained us as our husbands’ permanent helpers. This job is a critical one and one we cannot afford to take lightly; the eternity of so many people literally hangs in the balance. I pray that if there is any way you can make it, you’ll join me at this year’s annual meeting. I’m confident it will be a fruitful and refreshing time that you won’t regret or soon forget.

Here’s to hoping maybe you and I will be seated together at the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon or bump into one another at tea. I sure would love to get to know you!

See you in Columbus, friend!

IMB trustees alter policies relating to baptism, tongues and divorce

RICHMOND, Va.—The International Mission Board’s new policy on missionary qualifications—replacing previous restrictions related to baptism, speaking in tongues and divorce among other matters—represents an effort to keep basic requirements from going beyond the Baptist Faith and Message, IMB President David Platt told reporters May 14.

“We want it to be simple and clear that what’s driving us doctrinally is what all these churches [of the Southern Baptist Convention] have agreed on in the Baptist Faith and Message,” Platt said during an hour-long telephone press conference. “… We’re tethering ourselves to the Baptist Faith and Message, and we tethered ourselves to it in such a way that if the Southern Baptist Convention were to edit or adjust the Baptist Faith and Message a year from now or two years from now or whenever, then that would adjust the way we work.”

Approved during a May 12-13 IMB trustee meeting in Louisville, Ky., the new policy is one component of an effort to open “new pathways” of missionary service overseas for students, professionals, retirees and others and establish a single set of preliminary qualifications for all categories of missionaries, Platt said. Trustees and staff will establish additional requirements for specific categories of IMB overseas personnel, he said.

New pathways of missionary service have not been established yet but are expected to be announced in the months ahead, Platt said.

Subsequent to the press conference, IMB spokeswoman Wendy Norvelle told Baptist Press trustees have yet to determine the preferred funding mechanism for new pathways of missionary service. She added, however, that the IMB encourages churches to give through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions and the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptists’ unified method of funding missions and ministries in North America and across the globe.

Previous policies “were put in place at various times for good reasons,” Platt said, but needed revision given the demands of fulfilling the Great Commission today. He commented on several specific changes related to hot-button issues:

“Under [the newly adopted] 200-1, a divorce is not an automatic disqualifier for long-term service with the IMB as it was under the old policy,” Platt said.

The marital history of all missionary candidates still will be examined. However, the circumstances of a divorce will now be considered along with the view of the prospective missionary’s host culture regarding divorce and the candidate’s potential role on a missionary team, Platt said. Requirements regarding divorce may need to differ for lead church planters and support personnel, he said.

Previously, divorced persons were disqualified from service as career and apprentice missionaries.

The only baptism requirements under the new policy are that a missionary be “a baptized member of a Southern Baptist church” and possess a “conviction of truth as expressed in the current Baptist Faith and Message statement of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

The BF&M, Article VII, defines baptism as “the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.” Article VII adds that baptism is “prerequisite” to church membership and the Lord’s Supper.

IMB missionaries, Platt said, “are going to believe and function and practice and live in accordance with” the BF&M.

Previously, IMB policy 200-16 stated: “Baptism must take place under the authority of a local church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer’s salvation and does not view baptism as sacramental, regenerative or essential to salvation.” The policy applied to all missionaries at all levels of service.

The previous policy on tongues and private prayer languages “went beyond some of the language in the Baptist Faith and Message,” Platt said. The BF&M makes no mention of either issue.

Policy 200-1 also does not mention speaking in tongues or using a private prayer language, but Platt said the IMB Field Personnel Manual allows a missionary to be terminated for disruptive emphasis on any specific spiritual gift as normative for all Christians. He stressed his opposition to excesses of the charismatic movement.

“I have seen and confronted the dangers of the charismatic movement and the error that has in so many ways undercut the authority of God’s Word,” Platt said. “… I want to make sure that we are faithfully representing Southern Baptist churches and convictions at every point.”

Previously, IMB policy defined the gift of tongues as speaking “a legitimate language” and disqualified from service all missionary candidates who used an unintelligible language in worship or practiced glossolalia in worship without following the New Testament guidelines. Using an “ecstatic utterance as a prayer language” disqualified a candidate from service.

Families with teenage children are eligible to serve under policy 200-1 and will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Platt said, noting some mission fields are suitable for families with teenagers while others are not.

A previous policy stated that couples with children 12 and older would be eligible for service only after specific criteria were met, including psychological or psychiatric evaluations of the children.

“What we’re trying to do is move away from a one size fits all,” Platt said in response to questions about educational requirements for missionaries. “If somebody is a lead church planter, there will be seminary qualifications for that—absolutely.” However, he added, “It’s not going to be the same bar for the IT (information technology) expert in London who is serving under the leadership of a church planter.”

Platt added, “That doesn’t mean the IT expert in London doesn’t need to know anything about Scripture, theology or missiology. We want to match what he needs to be doing there and do that with different positions and different pathways. Without question we will still have educational requirements for different people in different roles.”

Asked about policies governing alcohol use, Platt said trustee-approved policy did not previously and does not currently disqualify from service candidates who drink alcohol. Yet the Field Personnel Manual requires all missionaries to abstain from alcohol following their appointment. Platt cited policies on alcohol as a model for how other debated issues might be handled in the future.

“The only way to address some of these issues is not a policy that’s a disqualifier on the front end,” Platt said. “People know. It’s not like we’re hiding any of what we believe about these issues. But we are saying, ‘OK, they’re not automatically disqualifiers on the front end, but it’s clear, as an IMB missionary, that we abstain from alcohol.’”

Making adherence to the BF&M the baseline requirement for missionary service represents an attempt to ease initial restrictions on qualified Southern Baptists who feel called to take the gospel to the nations.

Trustees “see that there are some issues we must address as the IMB,” Platt said. “Our pipeline has been small and tough to get through in different ways that we could open up and free [up].”

Regarding prospective missionaries who were prevented from serving under the old policies, Platt said, “The door is open for them to explore serving with the IMB.”

Platt asked Southern Baptists to pray for wisdom among IMB leaders as they seek to increase the number of missionaries despite limited funds.

“Even before this, we were turning away Southern Baptist church members who were qualified to serve as missionaries—even under our old qualifications,” Platt said. “All the more under our new qualifications.

“Some would say, ‘Then why open up the pathway if you’ve already got kind of a backlog?’ Well, I don’t want to continue to say no to qualified members of Southern Baptist churches,” Platt said.

Platt told reporters that trustees “agreed to disagree on some things” related to the changes, while working together with a spirit of unity.

Half of the dozen Texas trustees were present for the meeting, including Geronimo Disla of Bedford, John Meador of Euless, Nathan Lorick of Fort Worth, John Mann of Springtown, Byron McWilliams of Odessa and June Richards of Keller. With IMB administration instructing trustees to refer media inquiries to the Richmond office, most trustees declined any comment, though both Disla and Meador said they voted for the changes.

McWilliams, who chairs the strategy committee, told the TEXAN that the board spent more than seven hours walking through the changes piece by piece with multiple conference calls that allowed questions to be asked of staff.

“I expressed my feelings fully regarding the proposed changes,” he said, adding that he “challenged numerous areas.” Called back at a later date, McWilliams said, “They were receptive to recommendations and sought to present a document that most trustees could readily agree with.”

Ultimately, McWilliams said, “there were certain changes made which some trustees wish had not been made, but when the vote was taken the majority of the board overwhelmingly supported the proposal.”

Meador learned that only 10 of the 66 trustees present voted against the measure, a number he said “was not polarizing.”

“It streamlines the process but leaves trustees as those who can assess the qualifications of missionaries,” he stated, describing the changes as part of a larger package that “elevated the Baptist Faith and Message as the key qualification.”

Calling it “a monumental task,” Mann said the executive administration and the board’s executive committee “committed to find a way to increase missionary presence in an ongoing, financially difficult time.”

“The trustees have been assured that the removal of these policies [on baptism, private prayer language, divorce and teenage children on the field] would open the door to a greater number of candidates while providing a more substantial means of funding, without weakening our ecclesiology or compromising our Baptist identity,” Mann said. “I pray they are correct.”

—Tammi Reed Ledbetter contributed to this report. Visit to see text of the new policy and further commentary from Platt. 

SBTC DR volunteers assist East Texas tornado victims

Editor’s Note: See related story on SBTC DR work in the aftermath of the Van, TX tornado here.

VAN, Texas—Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers deployed to Van, Texas, on Monday, May 11, in response to the EF-3 tornado that swept through the East Texas town the evening of May 10, Mother’s Day Sunday, killing two, destroying homes and severely damaging J.E. Rhodes Elementary School.

The National Weather Service reported Monday that winds from the tornado reached 135-140 miles per hour.

SBTC DR personnel set up a joint command center with Texas Baptist Men at First Baptist Church of Van, said George Yarger, SBTC white hat, or incident commander. “We have 24 SBTC volunteers on site, including two chainsaw crews, clean up and recovery teams, three chaplains/assessors and operations staff,” Yarger, pastor of Harbor Baptist Church in Payne Springs, confirmed. The SBTC brought a shower trailer, skid steer and mule.

Most work has involved debris removal, Yarger said. A chainsaw team led by Jim Howard removed a large tree from the roof of a home.

SBTC DR volunteers are housed at First Baptist Church of Van, which has become an emergency center for the Red Cross and other groups, according to Tom Campbell, FBC Van pastor.

The tornado damaged or destroyed the homes of five families from FBC Van who lived in a small housing area north of Bois d’Arc St. adjacent to the damaged elementary school. Law enforcement officials restricted access to the affected neighborhood on Monday, but when Yarger, Campbell and SBTC assessors approached the first check point, the official on duty exclaimed, “Oh good, here come the Baptists!” and allowed them to enter.

“The fire department was in search and rescue mode, but they waved us on through,” Yarger noted. “Pastor Campbell was able to find and talk to most of his church members.”

The team also talked to other victims. The tornado lifted one family’s wood frame home completely off its foundation, Yarger said. “The tornado moved the house 20 feet on one side and 10 on another, stopping it against a tree.”

The family was inside during the tornado. “The kids were in their bedrooms and when the sirens went off, they moved the kids into the middle of the house, where they would be surrounded by walls. Those bedrooms were gone. The family is pretty sure the children would have perished had they stayed in their rooms,” Yarger said.

Just as Yarger and team were “marveling” at the damaged home, the door opened and out walked the family. “The mother broke down. She was crying and saying, ‘I want to go home. I just want to go home. We talked to her about a home in heaven and asked where she was in Christ,” Yarger recalled. “She assured us that she had met Christ more than a decade ago and that she was certain God was with them during the tornado. We prayed with them for encouragement and comfort. I checked on them Tuesday, and they were doing better.”

DR workers have seen 14 people make professions of faith in Van so far as a result of their witness.

“We need prayer more than anything,” Van Zandt County fire marshal and emergency management coordinator Chuck Allen said in a news conference Monday, expressing appreciation for the outpouring of help from outside.

“Give us a few weeks, and we’ll be right back on track,” Van mayor Dean Stone said in the news conference.

 SBTC DR volunteers are expected to be in Van at least till the end of the week.

FBC Van families lose homes in tornado, church opens doors to community and relief workers

Editor’s Note: See related story on SBTC DR work in the aftermath of the Van, TX tornado here.

VAN, Texas—First Baptist Church of Van Pastor Tom Campbell knew a tornado warning had been issued but learned that his town had been hit by an EF-3 tornado Sunday night, May 10, via calls and text messages from Dallas friends. He would soon discover that a neighborhood that was home to five FBC families had been devastated.

Youth minister Kenneth Meadows was driving to FBC in response to a call from the alarm company when he learned of the devastation and phoned Campbell, who started for the church immediately from his home five miles east of town. Campbell’s progress was stalled by a traffic jam on Interstate 20 caused by an 18-wheeler overturned by the tornado.

“It was raining and pitch black, with the electricity out. Trees were down everywhere. By the time I got to the church, the east side of the parking lot was filled with emergency vehicles and hundreds seeking shelter. It had been turned into a triage area,” Campbell said. A deacon had opened the church for use by local first responders.

“We contacted the Red Cross to offer our church facilities,” said Campbell, whose experience as a pastor during Hurricane Rita confirmed the importance of emergency management help.

“We had no formal agreement with the Red Cross, but we do now,” Campbell said. “Our facilities are among the best places for people to go. We have a nice-sized gym and kitchen.” Some 50 cots have been set up at FBC Van. The church is also housing SBTC DR volunteers.

“The storm came so quickly that people barely had time to react, to get into a coat closet or wherever,” Campbell said.

Two FBC Van families whose homes were destroyed lived across from each other on Washington St. Their survival is nothing short of miraculous as all came through the tornado uninjured.

Only a single interior wall remained of the home of FBC Van’s Robby and Amy Parish and their two elementary aged-children. The family huddled in an interior closet, opening the door after the tornado passed to find their home gone.

Robby Parish, a Van ISD coach, outside observing the devastation of his own home, heard shouts from across the street. Parish and neighbors ran to assist Ken and Donna Strom, a retired couple from FBC Van trapped in their home by debris. Only one interior wall of the Strom home remained. They, too, had sought refuge in an interior closet.

“Both families picked the only spot they could have picked and remained safe,” Campbell said.

Somehow, neighbors managed to find Amy Parish’s wedding ring set amidst the rubble.

“It is a miracle that we don’t have more fatalities,” Campbell said, noting that one-third of Van was affected and current estimates place damages in the $40 million range.

Campbell praised the close-knit Van community and the Red Cross, SBTC DR and other volunteers for the “outpouring” of help. “People, food, clothing, bottled water, the response has been tremendous.”

State Bible Drill awards 9 scholarships, advances 3 to national competition

GRAPEVINE, Texas—The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention held the state Bible Drill competition at its Grapevine offices, May 2, awarding college scholarship money to nine students and advancing three to the national competition in Kingsland, Ga.

In the Speakers’ Tournament Joshua Mason of Cornerstone Baptist Church placed first and advanced to nationals; Madison Russell of Cornerstone Baptist Church placed second; and Anaya Runnells of Cornerstone Baptist Church placed third.

In the high school Bible Drill division, Braden Samuels of First Baptist Church Stinton placed first; Riley Tatum of Bethany Baptist Church placed second and advanced to nationals since Samuels advanced last year; and Jacob Walters of Lake Athens Baptist Church placed third.

Janice Beto of Esperanza Del Rio Community Church and Victoria Christopherson of First Baptist Church Euless tied for first in the youth Bible Drill division. Hope Murphy of First Baptist Church DeKalb placed third. Beto advanced to nationals.

Students placing first won $1,000 college scholarships while second and third place students won $500 and $250 scholarships, respectively.