Month: February 2016

Older Men as Fathers, Younger Men as Brothers

I first noticed it about five years ago, about the time I qualified for a “senior” discount at Taco Bueno. Approaching the front door of a store, I saw a young pregnant lady ahead of me. I’d have passed her up and held the door for her, but it would have been an awkward race. Instead, she, arms full of packages and maybe 30 pounds over her usual weight, stepped aside and held the door for me. It was weird because she did it on purpose and went out of her way to do it, though cheerfully. Why? I wasn’t in a wheel chair or carrying a refrigerator. I think she did it because my mustache was gray and my face is more wrinkled than hers will ever be … because I’m old. It wasn’t offensive; but it was a watershed. 

Things I said when I was 40, then designated “smart” or “quirky” or “wrong,” are now “wise” or “interesting.” A clerk at Walgreen’s offered to sign me up for Medicare (I was not yet 60). A few times I’ve received senior discounts that I was two to five years from deserving. One day those things never happened, and the next day they happened often enough to notice. 

No offense taken, but I’m not less hearty or hale than I was 10 years ago. I’m no more interested in “Murder, She Wrote” or the Bill Gaither Trio than I ever was. People my kids’ ages—my pastors, peers, policemen and physicians—sometimes have trouble telling the difference between me (their own father’s age) and my dad (their grandfather’s age). From the vantage point of 60 years, the difference is no less significant than that between 60 years and 40 years old. Church leaders, there is a lesson in that perspective, a lesson not unique to me. 

I don’t hear the term “senior adult” as relating to “seniority” in normal usage but rather as a short hand to refer to retired folks. Even the term “retired” means something very different now than it once did. I don’t know any people who plan to stop working and go fishing. Perhaps we have a vision to change some of the things we do vocationally, but nobody I know plans to hit the brakes until limited by health. That is, perhaps, why we often don’t join a senior adult Sunday School class. That department, fairly or not, is too often associated with people who were formerly able to be active in ministry.  

All this implies a two-pronged approach to ministry to our elder church members; one for those between 55 and the need to cut back, and a second approach to those who are less vigorous. Although all of us can tell the difference between the first and second groups, we don’t always behave as if we can. 

Those of us who are in the age group of nearly every president and world leader want to help, to lead, to contribute to the ministries of our churches in the same ways we did before our hair started to turn gray. Retirement has almost nothing to do with this except the freeing up of time and neither does turning 65, or even 70. 

But a significant part of the initiative should rest on the backs of older church members. During the years of influence we must seek ways to build up our younger brothers and sisters, from the youngest up. We often have the power to build up or tear down our pastors, who may be the age of our children. We too rarely cut them the slack we’d cut our own children. 

There really is nothing we shouldn’t be willing to try. More 50- and 60-somethings need to listen when the church asks for volunteers to teach children and students. Of course, more churches need to be open to gray-haired volunteers in even the Jr. High ministry. Churches, additionally, need to structure ministry and fellowship so that the generations mix. Young and old must be willing to be mixed during these opportunities. Balkanization of our church activities has been to the detriment of all of us. A ministry that looks like heaven will have people of all tribes but also people of all ages. Maybe we won’t all be eternally 18 in heaven; we might be eternally 65. I still want to go, don’t you? 

Minister to senior adults? Absolutely, just like we do to those in other stages of life. Evangelize one of the most underevangelized groups in our nation? You bet, lostness among Baby Boomers has snuck up on us. But don’t forget, you 30-somethings and you 70-somethings, ministry and leadership by experienced, vital, and sometimes wise, members of our congregations. An elder church member may be the right choice, even if you have plenty of younger people to choose from. 

Church compensation survey deadline May 31

DALLAS The biennial SBC Church Compensation Survey in 2016 has been launched by GuideStone Financial Resources, along with LifeWay Research and Baptist state conventions.

Southern Baptist ministers and church employees are invited to participate in the survey, a resource used by churches of all sizes to determine fair wages and benefits. Church ministers and staff have until May 31 to complete the online survey.

Survey participants will have the opportunity to enter for a chance to win an iPad. The survey and complete contest rules are available at The winner of the iPad will be notified via email.

Survey results are not reported individually. Compensation and benefit information can be contributed anonymously. At the conclusion of the survey, GuideStone and LifeWay will compile the submitted data and provide all users with access to the results. The survey’s results will be made available in the early fall, in time for churches considering their 2017 budgets. 

“The surveys can help churches benchmark their own salary and benefits packages against churches of like size within Southern Baptist life,” said O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources.

Contact GuideStone Financial Resources for more information at 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433) Monday—Friday between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST, or send an email to 

Mobilized for Missions

The SENT Regional Conferences were well received last year, so we have scheduled four conferences for this year in Arlington, McAllen, Tyler and Abilene. Teaching your church to live SENT is at the heart of God and resonates with pastors. This year workshops will include reaching the changing cultures in your community, how to plan a missions trip, how to lead teams, the importance of travel/safety training, having a mobilization contingency plan, and more.

Registration is open for all four conferences (April 16 & 23 and July 16 & 23). For more information or to register go to: or

Our partnerships in Ecuador and Seattle are exciting, and churches are mobilizing for vision tours. Additionally, plans are underway and churches are responding to the Reach Houston Initiative as the SBTC’s first “Reach City.” If you want to reach the nations, you need only to look at Houston.  I ask that you join us in prayer about these training opportunities and partnerships. Consider sending your members for training and also calendar a mission trip to Texas, Seattle or Ecuador. For dates of the current scheduled vision tours or missions opportunities, go to  

Baby Boomers change dynamics of senior adult ministry

In an increasingly fragmented society, churches must navigate the tension between affinity groups, meeting the spiritual and physical needs of each while encouraging all to be united in the cause of Christ. But what’s a pastor to do with the rapidly growing group known as Baby Boomers that is united by one characteristic—their age—but not by their life experiences? 

Answering that question and equipping churches for ministry to older adults is the goal of four SBTC conferences hosted across the state beginning March 3 in New Braunfels and March 10 in Grapevine.

Speakers at the conferences will be Scott Shulick, pastor to maturing adults at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview; Bob Neely, senior adult pastor at First Baptist Church Euless; and Billy Barnes, senior adult pastor at FBC New Braunfels and SBTC senior adult associate. They spoke with the TEXAN, offering their perspectives on ministry to senior adults across Texas. Larry Lilley, minister to senior adults at Houston’s First Baptist Church will also speak at the conference but was unavailable for an interview.

Simply defining the term “senior adult” is a point of dispute. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) welcomes those as young as 50 years old into the fold. The Golden Years will save you some green at a host of restaurants and movie theaters. At 62 you can score a U.S. National Parks Service lifetime pass for $10.

But for church ministry purposes the term “senior adult” defines members and evangelistic outreach to populations who top 50 years of age.

Still, for some, that label sticks in their craw.

“With the Boomer generation you better not use that term. You’re going to get a lot of push back,” said Schulick. “When you abut generations, there will be tension between the two.”

Such is the disparate character of senior adults in America and the church. The “Builder” and “Boomer” generations generally define anyone over the age of 50. The Builders—so named for their role in building a thriving post-WWII America—are those 65 years old and up. Boomers, aged 50-64, grew up in the America created by the Builders. Pastors and lay leaders must recognize the distinct differences between the two groups in order to maximize their service to and through the church.

And preconceived notions of what it means to be a senior adult must be dispelled said Barnes who has seen churches squander the potential of their older members.

“Churches could better utilize their senior adults. A lot of churches are trying to pacify them (and) just let them do what they want,” he said.

Too often they are not asked to work in ministry because it is assumed they will respond with, “No. I’ve done my time.” But allowing any member to rest on their laurels does a disservice to them and the church, Barnes said.

Although it is an oversimplification of their generation, Neely said Builders tend to work in service to the church taking on the roles of teacher, nursery worker, greeter, usher, counselor and mentor. They are reliable, faithful in giving and loyal to the church. As a group they are often followers, submitting to the direction of the senior adult ministry director, whether that is a layman or a pastor.

Boomers are a little harder to nail down.

“They’re a challenge,” Neely said. Once Boomers hit retirement, “they have other plans.”

Some Boomers bring to their approaching retirement unflattering perceptions of senior adult church life. Springing to mind are “Meet, eat, burp and go home” monthly lunches or the physical and mental infirmities that come with advancing years. Although these stereotypes are not unfounded, Boomers live to dispel those characterizations.

“They still think they can change the world,” said Neely. “A lot of Boomers like to get in and do quick services. They like to get involved in some meaningful projects.”

And they like to lead. So ministry directors need to have confidence in their Boomers and “get out of the way,” Schulick said.

Neely agreed, saying, “Give them the responsibility and cut them loose to do it.”

But Boomers often have many irons in the fire. They’ll fit ministry activities in between work (they don’t necessarily retire at 65), leisure activities, grandkids, travel and the whole array of retirement daydreams. For this reason, pastors who want to tap into the resource that is their younger senior adults should calendar ministry opportunities, like short-term mission projects, in advance. 

Some Boomers at FBC Euless have incorporated evangelism into their leisure activities. A group of men who enjoy rebuilding and restoring old cars join local enthusiasts in showcasing their work at local car shows. Congenial “shop talk” can easily segue into a discussion of how a person’s life, like the cars they pamper, can be restored by Christ.

The Builders at FBC Euless host a ceramics class that draws to the church people who might not otherwise come.

Neely said it is that kind of difference in the two groups that he, as a pastor, finds exciting and enjoyable.

Sharing the gospel with their peers—be they Boomers or Builders—is always the end game of any ministry. The pastors agreed service inside and outside the church is vital and very much appreciated, but senior adults need help seeing the lostness in their own community.

“There is a presumption that older folks are saved,” Schulick said.

Neely said it is assumed seniors “are getting closer to heaven and they’ll pay attention, but they don’t.”

And Boomers are particularly indifferent to the gospel, not because they are from the rage-against-the-machine 1960s but because they are so focused on enjoying retirement that they don’t or won’t think about what comes next.

But infirmity comes to most who live long enough. Although that is the reality of aging, it does not have to define the age. Senior adult ministry is about the long haul—ministering to and through church members at every stage of life. Those who can no longer serve should be ministered to by those who can, paying special attention to members with no family living nearby. When ministering to their members at home or in nursing facilities, church members can take advantage of the opportunity to share the gospel with other residents.

And, Barnes said, it is vital to stay connected to senior adults who can no longer attend church or be a part of ongoing ministries.

“They’re not dead!” Barnes said. “There’s something for everybody to do.”

For those homebound and nursing home church members limited only by physical constraints, they should still be incorporated into the work of the church. Schulick encourages churches to create and maintain a sense of community among these older believers who can pray, write letters and financially support ministries they can no longer physically take part in.

How senior adults are utilized in church ministry is dependent, in large part, on the pastor, Barnes said. Those who keep their older congregants engaged do so to their advantage. Getting them working toward the same goal is sometimes difficult, but encouraging Builders and Boomers to appreciate the gifts and life experiences the other brings to the church is vital to maximizing what can be done in and through this rapidly growing and changing demographic.  

IMB talking points from recent board meeting

Editor’s Note: The International Mission Board provided this summary to trustees following their Feb. 24 meeting. For reporting on the reduction in the IMB mission force click here


February 24, 2016

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

â—_x008f_ IMB is committed to partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.

  • We are committed to biblically faithful, theologically responsible, and missiologically urgent work around the world.
  • We are deeply grateful for the ways that Southern Baptist churches give generously to IMB through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and we are committed to wise stewardship of all the resources Southern Baptists entrust to us in the days ahead.


â—_x008f_ Over recent years, IMB has consistently spent more money than we have received (a combined $210 million more since 2010). Though we have covered our shortfalls through reserves and global property sales, we have faced a critical need to balance our budget.

â—_x008f_ Because 80% of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel salary, benefits, and support expenses, IMB concluded that we needed to reduce the total number of our personnel by approximately 600-800 people in order to get to a healthy financial place in the present for sustained growth and engagement in the future.

â—_x008f_ In August 2015, IMB announced a two-phase process for reducing the number of personnel:

  • Phase One involved a Voluntary Retirement Incentive available to eligible retirement-age personnel, which officially came to a close December 11, 2015.
  • Phase Two included a Hand Raising Opportunity available to everyone in the IMB, which came to completion February 22, 2016.


â—_x008f_ Even though a more involuntary process would yield more precise and predictable results, IMB chose a voluntary process that would leave as much decision-making as possible in the hands of IMB personnel. Knowing that such a voluntary process would yield more imprecise and unpredictable results, we believed that we should trust God with this process and every individual within the IMB.

â—_x008f_ In order to start this process, then, IMB called all 5,250 personnel (including all missionaries and stateside staff) to seek the Lord and to ask Him if He is leading them to make a transition during this time.

  • This process remained entirely voluntary for all IMB missionaries. No IMB missionary was required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries were encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sensed the Lord leading them to do so.
  • The same voluntary nature of this process applied to stateside staff with the exception of 30 personnel in our Richmond communications office, whose positions were eliminated in IMB’s new mobilization structure.


â—_x008f_ The final number of personnel who have transitioned outside of the IMB over the past six months is 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff.

  • 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took the Voluntary Retirement Incentive.
  • 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the Hand Raising Opportunity.  NOTE: It is possible that the number of missionaries who took the Hand Raising Opportunity may decrease, for they can rescind their decisions through April 2016.


â—_x008f_ Because of this process and the generosity of Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially during these days, IMB is now in a much healthier financial position.

  • IMB is confident that for the year 2017, we will operate with a balanced budget. Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving are both trending upward.


â—_x008f_ In addition to reducing the total number of personnel over the last six months, IMB has made significant changes to our infrastructures and systems in order to work with greater excellence, effectiveness, and efficiency, all with prayerful dependency upon the Holy Spirit.

â—_x008f_ The organizational reset begun in August 2015 has now come to completion in February 2016, and IMB is positioned to move into a future marked by faithful stewardship, operational excellence, wise evaluation, ongoing innovation, and joyful devotion to making disciples and multiplying churches among the nations.

â—_x008f_ The future strategy of the IMB revolves around:

  • Enabling limitless men and women to participate in global mission through a multiplicity of pathways and opportunities.


â—_x008f_ Continuing to support full-time, fully-supported personnel around the world as the essential, critical core of our missionary force.

â—_x008f_ Surrounding these personnel with students, professionals, and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations, and retirements for the spread of the gospel.

  • Serving and mobilizing local churches as the primary agent God has promised to bless for the spread of the gospel in the world.
  • Training and equipping Christians and church leaders, pastors and missionaries to make disciples and multiply churches across cultures.


â—_x008f_ Engaging and reaching unreached peoples and places through missionary teams who are maximizing opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, church formation, and leadership training from the most populated cities to the most extreme places in the world.

â—_x008f_ Supporting and strengthening an ever-multiplying mission force through practical services that include everything from logistical help to health care to tax assistance.

â—_x008f_ IMB remains the largest mission-sending organization of its kind in the world, providing support for thousands of missionaries around the world with thousands of years of collective experience.

â—_x008f_ IMB is committed to working with churches and entities across the Southern Baptist Convention to unite churches and their members like never before in their praying, giving, going, and sending for the spread of the gospel to people who still haven’t heard it.

â—_x008f_ On Thursday, March 3, at 11 a.m. EST, IMB will host a livestream focused on “The Future of the IMB.” IMB President David Platt will cast vision for the future and respond to questions or comments which people submit live via Twitter. For more information, go to

Texas trustees analyze IMB ‘reset’

ROCKVILLE, Va.—While saddened to see any missionaries leaving fields of service, Texas trustees of the International Mission Board are encouraged by what has been called a “reset” of the largest mission organization in the world. Upon returning from the Feb. 22-24 board meeting, trustee Geronimo Disla told the TEXAN, “My assessment is that we are doing the right thing concerning the future of the IMB.”

The Bedford layman expects “it will take a few months to come back even stronger with the vision of reaching many for Christ with the gospel.”

Laymen often cut to the chase more quickly in their analysis than the pastors who dominate the composition of Southern Baptist Convention entity boards. Trustee John Ross of Judson, a dentist, reflected on the process of resetting the massive IMB organization, reminding fellow Southern Baptists of the type of leader they embraced 18 months ago as president.

“My assessment is that we are doing the right thing concerning the future of the IMB.” —Geronimo Disla, IMB trustee

“One constant is change, and ‘business as usual’ under David Platt is unlikely,” Ross said after returning to Texas.

In spite of news that far more missionaries and stateside personnel accepted incentive packages than expected in the effort to reduce the force sufficiently to balance the budget, Ross focused on Platt’s vision of “sending limitless missionaries to the world” now that the IMB is on track for a balanced budget by 2017.

The 2016 budget approved by trustees will continue a six-year trend of tapping reserves in order to sustain a $23 million deficit primarily caused by one-time costs of bringing so many missionaries back home. Of the 5,250 personnel offered incentives to retire or resign, 1,132 took advantage of the opportunity—a number nearly double the minimal 600 projected to be needed, though closer to the figure of 900 that was seen as the most responses needed to avoid involuntary terminations.

Thirty employees in the 40-member communications department in Richmond were the exception to the voluntary nature of the process with their terminations included in the count of departing home personnel. The 30 communicators were allowed to apply for open positions within the board and were praised by the IMB president as “some of the kindest servants in the Richmond office who were nothing but incredible to work alongside.”

/ / / 1,132 missionaries, staff opt to leave IMB / / /


The 10 remaining members of the Richmond communications team were reassigned to the IMB’s new mobilization structure when administration eliminated the stateside group was deemed ill-equipped for what Platt described to Baptist state paper editors as “digital realities and opportunities of our day.”

Disla, Ross and other Texas trustees present for the meeting at the International Learning Center outside of Richmond offered assessments of news that 983 Southern Baptist missionaries serving on the field voluntarily retired or resigned when offered incentives to consider whether God was leading them to transition out of employment with IMB. Another 189 stateside employees based in Richmond, Va., accepted either a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) to eligible retirement-age personnel or a “Hand Raising Opportunity” extended to remaining employees.

Trustee Ron Phillips of White Settlement admitted his surprise when he heard how many missionaries would be leaving the field and home office employment. “The number was higher than I thought it would be,” he told the TEXAN in an interview following adjournment of the board meeting.

Like every other trustee, he knows missionaries who are taking the VRI as well as others who are staying. “It’s disheartening. I wish we could keep everyone on the field, but we have to live within our means. We can’t keep selling properties and taking from our contingency funds,” he said, referring to practices that have allowed the IMB to spend $210 million more than expenses covered over the last six years.

“This was an inherited situation that Dr. Platt walked into with his leadership team. I’m grateful he tackled it,” Phillips said.

Phillips is glad to see churches beginning to increase their gifts to the Cooperative Program (CP) to help secure funding for the remaining mission force. “I’m thankful to be a part of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention because we give 55 percent [of undesignated receipts from churches] to the Southern Baptist Convention for CP. As I was sharing with David last night, I wish every state convention would do the same.”

After hearing that 28,000 SBC churches gave nothing to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) for International Missions, trustee Mike Simmons of Midlothian said his focus is on encouraging any he can influence to realize missionaries are dependent on CP and LMCO for funding. Without that support, finances will always be strapped at IMB, where 80 percent of the budget relates to personnel costs.

Simmons said the smaller number of churches supporting Southern Baptist mission causes is “indicative that we desperately need revival in this country in our churches.” He and other trustees were encouraged to hear that both funding sources are trending upward in receipts from those that do contribute to the Cooperative Program and annual mission offering, hopeful that practice will extend to more churches.

Ross spoke of one Shreveport church that reported “an amazing increase” in giving as an example of many congregations that rallied to increase their mission offerings in light of missionaries having to return home in order to balance the IMB budget.

Simmons was heartbroken by news that a couple from Hillcrest Baptist Church where he pastors had accepted the VRI. Simmons said he has already learned of a new opportunity for ministry in Seattle where they are moving. “They assured me this is what God was leading them to do or else they wouldn’t have done it.”

While some regions are facing gaps in ministry due to the departure of so many missionaries, he said IMB leaders are moving some remaining missionaries to meet strategic needs.

Going into the meeting Simmons had questions about closing the stateside communications department but was told the IMB has personnel throughout the world that can accomplish the task some were doing out of Richmond. “I don’t think it’s going to leave a void.”

A closed-door forum with Platt provided trustees extended time for questions to be answered in an informal setting. “Our leadership gave us some very transparent answers,” Simmons said. “I really expected there’d be some testy moments, but there absolutely were not. There were some wise questions, and it was very helpful.”

Trustee Nathan Lorick of Fort Worth agreed that lengthy dialogue was healthy, stating, “Trustees and staff leadership continue to have those eternally significant discussions in order to find the best roads forward for that vision” to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth.

Lorick praised Platt’s diligence in “laying out a plan that allows the IMB to be positioned to send missionaries to take the gospel to the ends of the earth for many years to come.” While heartbroken at seeing missionaries come home from the field, he said, “It is comforting to know that each one who made the decision to come home or stay did so after earnestly seeking God’s will for their life and ministry.”

Trustee Byron McWilliams of Odessa said the IMB president was handed “an organization that was hemorrhaging financially, and he has determined to stop the bleeding and put us back on solid footing.” McWilliams supported the necessity of the decision and is encouraged that the reset will ensure a much healthier International Mission Board from this point forward.

Regarding closure of the communications department, McWilliams said he regrets the loss of jobs but trusts Platt to have made the right decision. “I feel confident that our state news agencies will continue to receive excellent material on the status of the work the IMB is doing.”

Ross also shared concern at “decentralizing communications.” He told the TEXAN, “At first glance it appears counter intuitive, but we have been assured it is in the best interest of our mission. I am taking the focused prayer approach, hopeful the new communication strategy will work well.”

He encouraged patience, adding, “God will use Southern Baptists who are yielded to him, or he will raise up others for the task if we are derelict in our duties. Pray with me that we will be good stewards of all that God entrusts to us.”

“While all of (David Platt’s) decisions have not been perfect, I feel strongly as a trustee that he is relying more heavily upon the Holy Spirit for guidance than anyone else, and he is leading the board forward with a strategy that remains positive and exciting for Southern Baptists worldwide.” —Byron McWilliams, IMB trustee

McWilliams said a new day began when Platt was elected in August of 2014. “While all of his decisions have not been perfect, I feel strongly as a trustee that he is relying more heavily upon the Holy Spirit for guidance than anyone else, and he is leading the board forward with a strategy that remains positive and exciting for Southern Baptists worldwide.”

Ross borrowed a phase from Ben Franklin in noting, “It is a rising and not a setting sun for the IMB.” While he will personally miss working with many missionaries he has had the privilege of knowing during the last six years as a trustee, Ross said, “The IMB mission force is resilient and other missionaries will rise to the surface to assume roles and responsibilities of those leaving.”

He also expects “they will become more efficient than ever to ensure the gospel is spread until all hear.”

Reflecting on IMB’s 170 years of experience “in taking God’s offer of salvation to the world,” Ross said, “I have no doubt we will continue this relationship.”

Recalling Platt’s vision of “sending limitless missionaries to the world,” Ross said, “Thanks to various instant communication tools, there is deep appeal to millennials, and they are stepping up.”

Trustee Robert Welch of Brownsboro praised the churches, state conventions, and SBC entities that rallied around returning missionaries. ‘It’s been amazing to watch and a great testimony of just how deep our cooperation goes.”

While the number of people taking advantage of incentive offers was higher than Welch expected, he agreed with other trustees that God had guided the process to give discernment and clarity to each individual. “The voluntary nature of the VRI and HRO helped families truly seek the Lord for his will in this matter.”

Grateful for the financial stability the reset brings to the IMB for the future, Welch said, “That’s a place we’ve not been for a while.” Though painful to walk through, he said it was needed.

“The staff began working diligently after the VRI deadline to begin filling voids that would be left as a result,” Welch explained. “It’s been reported that many of the key leadership positions in the field left vacant have already been filled with more soon to follow.”

He took encouragement in “the many stories told by our personnel of the gospel reaching people all over the world during the past few months.” Welch said, “Thousands have been saved, churches have been planted, nationals have been discipled, and people who have never even heard the gospel have now been engaged.”

While the IMB experienced “a much needed reset,” Welch reminded that the need, the gospel, and the Great Commission remain the same. “I’m glad that our IMB can now focus on these pressing things with the reset complete.” 

Trustee Deron Biles of North Richland Hills also expressed gratitude for recent increases in CP giving and a projection that the LMCO offering will yield more support for IMB. “I was encouraged to hear the testimonies and passion of the new missionaries being sent out, and I am also proud of the many excellent reports from churches and state conventions like the SBTC who are providing housing and ministry opportunities for our veteran missionaries returning from the field.”

— Additional statements from IMB trustees from Texas will be added as they are provided.

IMB commissions 26 new missionaries

ROCKVILLE, Va.—Asked to confront the lostness of the world, 26 new missionaries were approved by International Mission Board trustees Feb. 23 and commissioned later that evening at the International Learning Center outside of Richmond.

The event was broadcast via livestream, allowing friends, family members and churches a chance to hear the testimonies of the new group of missionaries. Only darkened profiles were shown in order to protect the security of Southern Baptist personnel who will be serving in dangerous destinations.

In making the recommendation as chairman of the Global Engagement Committee, Texas trustee Byron McWilliams of Odessa told board members meeting earlier that day, “The greatest power on the face of the earth is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are sending 26 heroes out into the world to confront the lostness.”

Of that number, seven are going to Central Asia, five to South Asia, 11 to North Africa and the Middle East, one to Europe and two to Sub-Saharan Africa. Five have ties to Texas by birth, education, or church membership, though only Josh Krause, a native of Abilene who will be involved in church planting in Poland, could be identified by name due to security concerns for the other four missionaries.

IMB President David Platt turned to Luke 9:57-62 to describe what it means to follow Jesus as he challenged new missionaries. “Apparently, the call to follow Christ is not simply a call to pray a prayer,” he said. “It’s a summons to lose your life.” Platt said the passage tells believers to love Jesus in a way “that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate in comparison.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have found someone who is worth losing everything for,” he said. “Jesus is this good, this great, and this glorious that he is worthy of the surrender of our lives.

“Don’t doubt for a second in the valleys you walk through, the challenges you face, the questions and confusion you have, ‘How did I get here? Why is this happening?’ Don’t doubt for a second he loves you so much. He’s worthy of your total affection.”

Before closing the appointment service in prayer, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin related a message from the president of Brazil’s mission board who asked him to thank Southern Baptists for their witness. “His great, great, great grandfather was led to Christ by a Southern Baptist,” Akin said, adding that the gospel was repeatedly shared with each generation that followed.

“Today there are more than 12,000 Baptist churches in Brazil with over 1,000 international Brazilian missionaries,” Akin said. “That’s because of our giving, our sacrifices, our sending, and your going.”

TX Senate committee urged to add more religious liberty laws

AUSTIN—During the 2015 Texas legislative session, all but one religious liberty bill died either in the House, Senate or in committee. Charged by Attorney General Ken Paxton with drafting new religious liberty laws for the 2017 legislative session, the Senate State Affairs committee heard testimony from two disparate groups who view such laws as either a shield or a sword.

Last spring, on the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, the Texas legislature passed the Pastor Protection Act, shielding clergy from lawsuits if they refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Conservative Christians lamented that it was the lone religious freedom protection codified that session. Organizations that promote LGBT civil rights cheered the outcome. Each testified Wednesday, Feb. 17, before the committee chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.

Criticized for failing to push religious liberty bills out of her committee last session, Huffman called the meeting at the behest of Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In an October letter to Patrick, Paxton wrote, “Based on that model [the Pastor Protection Act], the legislature now has the opportunity to afford much more clarity and prevent needless litigation.”

Brantley Starr, Texas deputy attorney general for legal counsel, told senators they can create “targeted legislation,” proactively addressing anticipated areas of legal conflict. Such laws, he said, would not dodge legal challenges but would expedite the trial process.

Paxton listed 10 issues he expects the legislature to act upon: staffing and housing for religious organizations; faith-based adoption and foster care; accreditation for religious schools; tax accommodations for religious organizations; religious counseling; businesses that provide services for weddings; those who solemnize marriages; government employee speech; student speech protection; and uniformity of municipal ordinances.

Starr and Justin Butterfield, senior counsel for First Liberty Institute, said other states are currently drafting or have already passed legislation targeting the same areas of potential conflict. Starr said while the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) provides general protections for citizens seeking relief from state-sponsored laws and regulations that violate “sincerely held religious beliefs,” litigation can take years. Challenges against Obamacare at the national level serve as an example.

And RFRA is often interpreted differently between judges resulting in varied rulings over the same issue but in different courts. Targeted laws cut to the nub of a conflict, defining for both parties what is or is not protected religious activity.

During the senate hearing, testimony was civil but revealed opposing viewpoints. Some argued Texas religious liberty law is a shield that protects people acting upon their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” while others contented it is a weapon that discriminates against and harms LGBT Texans.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention representatives testifying before the committee included Cindy Asmussen, Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Advisor; Steve Branson, pastor Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio; and Steve Washburn, pastor FBC Pflugerville.

They relayed to the committee concerns from their constituents about the real or perceived hardships of living according to the Christian faith in public and at work. Asking for relief from the senators, Branson said, “These people are hurting.”

But targeted laws confer special privileges to people of faith, opposing attorneys and activists claimed, saying religious liberties do not “trump” civil laws or allow private individuals and public servants to opt out of complying with the laws because of their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Acting upon one’s faith ends where civil law begins, they argued.

Summarizing the tension between the two ideologies, Starr referred to an 1878 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court first cited the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. He said, “You can have your religious liberty, but you can’t use it to harm someone else.”

Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Texas, said laws passed under the guise of protecting one person’s religious liberties harm others.

Passage of the federal and state RFRAs clarified—to a degree—the religious exemption clause of the First Amendment. Robertson said the ACLU of Texas routinely uses the law to defend clients in cases of religious discrimination. The Texas RFRA strikes a good balance between religious liberties and civil laws that promote the “common good,” she said, but it could not be used to opt out of compliance with the law.

Robertson failed to note last June the national ACLU rescinded its support for the federal RFRA. States, including Texas, had used that law as a model when drafting their own RFRA legislation. In response to a question from the TEXAN about the perceived conflict, Robertson said, “Unlike the federal version, the Texas law includes a provision that prevents people from using RFRA to discriminate.”

In July the ACLU endorsed a bill in the U.S. Congress, the Equality Act, which religious liberty advocates claim would undermine all RFRA laws. The measure essentially creates a new protected class of citizen based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“I want to be very clear that all of these protections for religious liberty do not mean and have never meant that a law that conflicts with your own personal religious beliefs is somehow an infringement on your religious liberties,” Robertson told the committee.

But other witnesses disagreed.

“We can point to countless times in recent years in which the Catholic Church’s charitable mission as directed by Christ to serve the poor and vulnerable … have been coerced to either violate our beliefs or risk losing our ability to provide such care or services,” said Jeff Patterson, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, executive pastor at Cottonwood Creek Baptist Church, was encouraged by the Senate chamber’s early action on the important issue. He was especially pleased to hear discussion of the need for protections for faith-based foster and adoption agencies, legislation Sanford unsuccessfully championed last session.

Although the discussion was overwhelmingly productive, Sanford said there were a couple of times he wanted to scream. One was when Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, said that any religious liberty bill passed by the legislature would be bad for Texas businesses. Sanford said most people would not want to come to a state that did not assure them freedom of religion and conscience.

Sanford was equally frustrated by liberal witnesses who repeatedly characterized religious liberty laws as deceitfully crafted attacks on LGBT Texans instead of acknowledging that most of the laws are about marriage and how it is defined.

Scalia”s voice for the unborn will be missed at the high court

With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court has lost its most ardent pro-life voice two weeks before the court hears a Texas lawsuit considered one of the most important abortion-related cases since Roe v. Wade. Also lost is the precedent-setting ruling that would have settled legal challenges to abortion regulations across the nation.

Scalia died in his sleep Feb. 13 at the age of 79 while on a hunting trip in West Texas. His absence on the court could jeopardize the outcome of pro-life and religious liberty cases pending before the court, including Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt—a challenge to Texas abortion regulations established in 2013. The court will hear those arguments March 2.

Confident he would have upheld the Texas law, known as House Bill 2 (HB 2), pro-life advocates said it is Scalia’s voice, informed by the intent of the Constitution’s framers, that will be missed during oral arguments. John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life was not confident any of the remaining justices could fill that void. He said Scalia argued the Constitution applied to the pre-born and opposed efforts by his fellow jurists to “rewrite history.”

Seago believes Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, particularly, have pushed to reframe the Roe v. Wade decision away from its “right to privacy” foundation to one of gender equality. Without Scalia’s counter arguments the more liberal wing of the bench could hold sway over oral arguments and the final decision.

Justice Anthony Kennedy will be the deciding vote giving pro-life advocates a tie or handing them a 3-5 loss. A 4-4 decision will let stand the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit ruling upholding the Texas law, but it will not apply across the country like a majority decision would. States with similar legal challenges will have to argue their own cases before the high court.

Many conservatives were hopeful a majority decision upholding HB 2 would once and for all define “undue burden,” an ambiguous requirement dictated by the Supreme Court in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v Casey. Without quantifying the “undue burden,” the court left open to legal challenge attempts across the nation to regulate the abortion industry.

“That’s one of the things we were hopeful about. But now that’s been taken away,” said Seago. “It’s unfortunate that we can’t settle this.”

If upheld there are two exceptions to the implementation of HB 2. The U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit ruled last year Texas could require abortion facilities meet ambulatory clinic standards and require abortionists attain admitting privileges to hospitals within a 30-mile radius of the abortion clinic where they work. But the court made an exception for Planned Parenthood abortion facilities in McAllen and El Paso. Both facilities faced closure for failure to comply with the regulations.

Using the “undue burden” argument, attorneys for the abortionists said the clinics’ closures would force abortion-minded women to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest Texas abortion clinic. The appellate court agreed.

If HB 2 is upheld, Seago said, about 15 Texas abortion clinics will be forced to close pending compliance, leaving 10 or 11 facilities open.