Month: March 2016

Political Rhetoric During a Heated Season

Last week a Donald Trump rally was cancelled due to concerns about violence. Protesters against Trump clashed with supporters; people were hurt and people were arrested. This set off a partisan windstorm of opinions regarding the candidate’s responsibility for the violence. He made things a bit spicier by offering to pay the legal fees of a combatant during an earlier rally. The man says some outrageous things. Should he be censored?

Outrageous talk has a long history in our nation, starting even before our independence as some writers and artists urged violent resistance to English rule. The years surrounding our Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement, Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement were also years of heated rhetoric and, sometimes, violence in the streets. And at every turn, some favored silencing the most outrageous spokesmen. I offer no excuses for adults behaving like hooligans, but this is not the darkest day of American political dialogue. Blaming one columnist, cartoonist or candidate for the bad behavior of others is a dubious and partisan enterprise.

The bad behavior will continue, for better or for worse, but we should not be caught up in it. The candidates this time around have provoked a higher level of prophetic condemnation than is normal. Of course, Donald Trump is the center of this difference during the 2016 campaign. His nomination has sparked at least one public exchange wherein a pastor calls those who do not support Trump “fools” and was in turn called a fool by another brother. Is this Donald Trump’s fault? Speaking of loose talk, can we agree that comparing any current candidate with Hitler and Mussolini is at least as overdone as believing any candidate will “make America great again”? Comparisons with Hitler, unless you’re talking about Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or one of the Kims, are absurd. America is not 1930s Germany and will not elect a dictator even if an aspiring tyrant runs for president.

No elected official has the power to save or destroy our country. Our country’s trajectory has not been caused by or reversed by the best and worst of our presidents. The course set by 300 million citizens is far more durable than anything a leader can do. Neither am I nostalgic for the heyday of the Religious Right. That movement served a purpose, but this is a different time.

Advocating for or believing that a candidate is the best man for the job is not the same as believing that candidate will do the work exclusively assigned to the King of Kings. But let’s look at the converse of the overly optimistic belief that a president can turn things around. Can one man be responsible for our nation’s ruin? Is stopping his presidency more important than encouraging the election of another candidate? Does overblown rhetoric against such a man consist of a different moral quality than unbiblical trust in a merely human president?

If rhetoric against a candidate is morally superior to rhetoric in his support, that difference is too faint for the children of God. It’s an inappropriate fear of an individual just as surely as the support of boosters expresses an inappropriate faith.

Issues are still our meat, however. A candidate’s positions on the moral issues of the day are very important to biblical Christians (I’m officially retiring “evangelical” as a useful term). What a candidate vows to do or seems likely to do regarding the value of human life, the holiness of marriage, justice for the powerless and liberty of conscience is more important to me than anything he says about economic or foreign policy. It’s the difference between “thus saith the Lord” and “this sounds pretty smart.” We need to have that conversation without personal animus toward the candidate or his supporters. For that to happen in this election, we’ll need to slow our rhetorical roll just a bit.

And I am going to the polls next November, regardless of whether my guys are on the ballot. I’m going to vote my values to the degree they are represented or threatened by those on the ballot. In the meantime, I promise respect and generosity to those who are also struggling to sort out truth and value from the 24-hour noise news cycle. I fear and love the God who places the rulers of nations in office far more than I fear or admire the work of any political leader. This same God is, by the way, the one to whom we will all answer for what we say about one another.

Books offer advice on retooling ministry to Baby Boomers

The 78 million people born between 1946 and 1964 have been a driving force behind many of the changes experienced in American culture. As they approached politics, fashion, child rearing and religion differently than their parents, author Amy Hanson observes, “It should therefore come as no surprise that they are approaching the later years of life in a different way than the generations before them.”

In her book Baby Boomers and Beyond, Hanson offers churches advice on harnessing the potential of a huge demographic shift by reinventing ministry to older adults.

“There are ways in which our churches have bought into the same mind-set as society—that younger is somehow better,” she writes. “Is it possible to be a vibrant, growing, active church that intentionally seeks to reach middle-aged and older adults?” she asks, offering guidance on looking at aging as “something good and desirable, with potential and possibility.”

In her chapter on “matters of faith,” Hanson considers how aging causes people to reflect and make changes. “They hope that in doing these things, they can find purpose for their life today and rectify mistakes they made in the past.”

Significant changes, a quest to find purpose in living, and the desire for meaningful relationships are factors that can draw older adults to Christ, she explains, offering methods for reaching boomer adults. By attending to their discipleship, Hanson calls on churches to count it a privilege as well as a responsibility to help older adults not waste the remaining years of their lives. 

Co-authors Bill Craig and Donna Gandy wrote Respect: Meaningful Ministry with Baby Boomers in Your Church and Community with the recognition that ministry to older adults will look radically different than it has in the previous generations.

Through hundreds of conversations with church members, Sunday School teachers, deacons, pastors, ministers of education, senior adult ministers and individuals who had no ongoing relationship with a local church, their research focused on “a generation that has changed every stage of life they’ve lived through—and every institution and organization of which they’ve been a part.”

A 2006 study by LifeWay Research found that more than two-thirds of formerly churched adults are open to the idea of attending church regularly again, even after staying away for an average of 14 years. Craig and Gandy offer ideas as to what would cause Baby Boomers to return to, remain with, or seek a relationship with the church. Biblically sound preaching and trained class leaders are two elements that stand out, along with flexibility in the timeframe of discipleship studies as well as serving opportunities.

“Boomers are not interested in just filling slots in church ministries,” the authors write. “Now that the nest is empty, and discretionary time more plentiful, they are seeking their heart ministry—ready to invest in a cause that truly matters,” drawing on experience acquired over previous decades.  

Believers learn “Rhythms” of Christian life in new discipleship curriculum

For Lance Crowell, discipling new Christians isn’t optional. It’s essential.  

Crowell, a church ministries associate at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, has seen firsthand the benefits of disciple-making, having been personally discipled as a new Christian.

“Disciple-making was a big deal in my spiritual growth and maturation,” Crowell said. “Someone discipled me. That was a big part of my life.”

A new seven-session curriculum/resource published by the SBTC and co-authored by Crowell seeks to change how churches teach and view the subject of discipleship. 

Called Rhythms: Spiritual Rhythms of Multiplying Churches, the free 67-page booklet teaches new and veteran Christians alike how the spiritual life is not one of simply learning more about God but also one of living that knowledge out. 

Crowell said he and co-author Spencer Plumlee, senior pastor of Riverview Baptist Church in Osage Beach, Mo., wrote the curriculum because they saw a need.

“There is a lot of good curriculum out there for disciple-making—good robust theological curriculum. But one of the things that seemed to be missing in a lot of them,” Crowell said, “was more of an entry-level curriculum. … Theology is important and a necessary part of spiritual growth, but a lot of times we get people who know a lot about the Bible but don’t know how to live the Word of God out.”

The Rhythms curriculum gets its name from the musical term, Crowell said, noting that rhythm is the foundation of a musical piece. 

Similarly, the Christian life is built off of various “rhythms” or foundations to the Christian life. Five of those are covered in the curriculum, which takes readers on a journey to learn more about their identity in Christ and their calling to impact the world for Christ.

Rhythms is broken into five primary sessions:

  • Fellowship with God
  • Fighting for holiness
  • Impacting at home
  • Impacting believers
  • Impacting the lost

Plumlee, who formerly served as a college pastor in the Fort Worth area, said the vertical relationship with God “fuels” the horizontal relationship with others. 

“We’re talking about investing in our families, investing in other families, and investing in the lost,” Plumlee said. “The reason this is such a passion for me is because I don’t think we really know what to do with people once they come to Christ. The goal is to move people to multiplication.”

Discipleship, Plumlee added, involves far more than teaching people about evangelism. 

“It’s also about being a believer—you growing in your faith and trying to be more like Christ,” Plumlee said. “We really believe that is a neglected area in church life. If there is not something somebody has to pass on to somebody once they lead them to Christ, you really have a hard time seeing multiplication happen like you do in the New Testament.”

The best model for learning how to disciple someone, Crowell said, is Christ. 

“When Jesus was discipling his disciples, he was teaching them about the kingdom of God and he was doing life with them,” Crowell said. “He was showing them how to live life. He was modeling for them the gospel.”

While Rhythms can be used with new Christians, it also holds value for some who have been Christians for year, he added. 

“There are a lot of people who have been in church a long time and have never been truly discipled at all,” Crowell said. “They’ve never had someone walk them through how to live out the gospel in an evangelistic way, in a missional way, in a growing-in-Christ way, in walking in maturity.”

The book’s introduction notes that there are millions of Christians in the world today, but it all began with 12 disciples who “were obedient to take the gospel to the world.” 

“We want to see multiplication be the end-objective of disciple-making, so that someone’s taking ownership of investing in others,” Plumlee said.

For more information and to order the book Rhythms: Spiritual Rhythms of Multiplying Churches, visit

Harvest America event at AT&T Stadium results in 25,000 professions of faith

ARLINGTON—Overflow crowds swelled Arlington’s AT&T Stadium Sunday, March 6, for Harvest America, a North Texas evangelistic event months in the making. After the stadium reached capacity, hundreds milled around large screens outside to watch Christian entertainers Switchfoot, MercyMe, Lecrae and Chris Tomlin as events within the venue were streamed live on the plaza.

Following the music came a message by California mega-church pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside.

Hundreds of thousands in 123 countries also tuned in via radio, television, Internet stream or remote broadcast at 7,200 host locations, crusade organizers reported, adding that 750 local churches were involved in bringing Harvest America to Texas. More than 350,000 attended the event or viewed it at a host location or via webcast.

Groups from Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches joined the 82,000 in attendance inside and out to hear Laurie’s message of hope and salvation from Scripture. SBTC churches also numbered among those providing nearly 5,000 counselors and volunteers for the event.

Harvest America reported that 6,300 in attendance responded to the gospel invitation issued by Laurie. Additionally, more than 18,000 professions of faith were made at host locations and 1,042 more were made through the online webcast, bringing the total number of professions of faith to more than 25,000.

Laurie’s message focused on John 3 but included personal illustrations of his childhood with his often-divorced mother and kindly stepfather. Referencing Clint Eastwood’s “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Laurie explained that until her salvation, his mother was “the bad,” not unlike the woman at the well in Samaria. His stepfather was “the good,” an educated, moral professional who still needed Jesus. As for “the ugly,” Laurie explained that this meant, “you and me. You need Jesus.”

“The good, the bad, the ugly, that’s all of us because of sin. Everybody needs Jesus, and that means you. You need Jesus.”

Laurie continued, citing not only Pascal’s metaphor of the “God-shaped vacuum” within humans but also quoting celebrities regarding the spiritual emptiness characterizing those who appear to have it all. “Everyone is lonely.”

Alluding to the millennial generation as “increasingly lonely,” and referencing Pew Research Center findings, Laurie said millennials spend 6.5 hours a day on social media. “They have large numbers of friends but an increasing sense of loneliness.”

Affirming salvation through faith, Laurie underscored the insufficiency of religious beliefs for salvation. “Heaven is not for good people. Heaven is for forgiven people. You don’t need a little religion. You need a lot of Jesus.”

Laurie emphasized John 3:16, focusing on God’s love. “The thief on the cross was probably a murderer, a terrorist, planning to overthrow Rome. Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ It’s a gift.”

Laurie closed with a clear presentation of the plan of salvation and an invitation to the assembled crowd to confess their sins and acknowledge Christ as savior. Thousands poured onto the field at AT&T Stadium, “not to catch a pass,” as Laurie said, “but to make a stand for Jesus.”

“Today is the day of salvation. Now is your time. Acknowledge that Jesus died for you. Repent. Change your direction. Hang a U-turn in the road of life, and go to God.”

Those receiving counseling and prayer also received Bibles from Harvest America staff and volunteers. Among volunteers and those in attendance were many from SBTC churches, including Prestonwood Baptist in Plano and First Baptist Dallas.

Prestonwood supplied nearly 1,000 volunteers as decision counselors, choir members, ushers, security staff, and parking attendants in addition to contributing more than $100,000 to help cover Harvest America expenses before the event.

“Harvest America was exceedingly more than we could have asked for or expected. To see thousands streaming down to the field at AT&T Stadium after the invitation is a sight that will be etched in our memories forever. My prayer is that Harvest America will be a catalyst for a renewed commitment to evangelism by churches all over the world,” said Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham.

“As for Prestonwood, our involvement and preparation for months leading up to March 6 were truly a blessing as they led us to become even more evangelistic in our approach to everyday ministry. Harvest America has come and gone, but the harvest is still plentiful in North Texas and there is much to do as the Church.”

Smaller churches were engaged as well. First Baptist Church of Bullard brought eight adults and 24 youth, one of whom was saved.

“We were surprised by the turnout. We arrived an hour before the event and barely got seats behind the black curtain. We watched the evening on the Jumbotron,” said Tony Shafer, FBC Bullard youth pastor. “This did not ruin the evening at all. Just being there, bringing students from a small town, seeing [82,000] people worshiping God, made a huge impact. The message was spot on. God touched us and moved us. I know the evening will have an impact on lives moving forward.”

Amy Fullen, First Baptist Bullard administrative assistant who attended as a volunteer with her daughter, a high school senior, echoed Shafer’s enthusiasm. “It was wonderful to be in the mass of Christians like we’ve never seen and good to see the diversity, too. People came from all walks of life. The message was just what our group needed.”

“Harvest America was truly an incredible experience. It was so exciting to see thousands of people place their faith in Jesus at the end of the night,” said SBTC Director of Evangelism Nathan Lorick.

“The event was a great example of how God uses churches working together for the common goal of the gospel being proclaimed. I am convinced that God will continue to use SBTC churches in the same way across Texas as we work together to see one million homes reached with the gospel.”

Watch the archived webcast at

“Small” congregation plants 17 churches

HEARTLAND  Any given Sunday will find Vista Church’s congregation of 180 gathered for worship in the local elementary school in Heartland, a small bedroom community just off Interstate 20 outside Terrell, near Forney and Dallas. As members assemble for worship, they do so aware of a common bond with the 17 churches from Boston to Toronto to Seattle to Bangalore that Vista Church has helped plant since its own founding in 2007.

“For many in our congregation, church planting introduced them to something they would have never known. Now it has become part of our DNA,” said Kevin Cox, the church’s pastor. “’When is the next one?’ people ask.”

“Our people have a kingdom mindset. Our giving [to church plants] will not expand our church numerically but will expand the kingdom of God.”

Kevin Cox, pastor, Vista Church of Heartland

Excitement about planting new churches has resulted in generous giving. A special offering the first Sunday in December 2015 brought in $35,000, Cox said, adding, “Our people have a kingdom mindset. Our giving [to church plants] will not expand our church numerically but will expand the kingdom of God.”

Cox’s commitment to planting churches solidified in 1997 when he and his wife started a church in Seattle. The Coxes returned to Texas nine years later, determined to make church planting a priority in whatever congregation they served. That chance came when Cox and five others sat around the family’s kitchen table in May 2007 to start Vista.

“We wanted to plan and multiply,” Cox said, noting that from the beginning, the six Vista members set aside 1 percent of their budget for assisting the first church plant. Within 14 months, the Vista congregation had grown, accumulating $2,500, which they used to assist a Southern Baptist church plant in Seattle.

“We started giving money to the Seattle church before our own grand opening in 2008,” Cox recalled.

Vista assists church plants in three-year cycles. 

“We commit to three years of monthly giving to the churches we work with and partner with,” Cox explained. This January, Vista began supporting church plants in Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon, in addition to continuing partnerships with churches in Bangalore, India, and the Texas communities of Rockwall/Heath and Mont Belvieu. Vista contributed $45,000 to partner churches in 2015 and will give the same amount again in 2016, Cox said.

This generosity comes from a young church in a commuter suburb of starter homes and young families. The average age of adult attendees at Vista is 32. Heartland is not even a town but rather a Municipal Utility District with a Forney zip code within the Crandall school district. Some 1,700 homes exist now; more than 6,000 are plotted. 

Eventually Heartland will be a community of 25,000 with seven schools, possibly annexed one day by Forney or Crandall. For now, it is “really a gigantic HOA,” Cox said. Laws forbidding door-to-door solicitations make advertising church events or ministering to residents challenging, so Vista church has engaged the community through volunteering at local events and serving the elementary school where Cox’s wife, Kathy, teaches special education.

Vista is the only church in a community where, for many, Sunday is just another day. 

“Out here off I-20, we are under the radar,” Cox said. “Many have gotten out of the habit of going to church.”

Meanwhile, Vista Church remains united behind sister congregations across the nation and world. Partner churches are chosen partly as an outgrowth of the church planter training Vista offers in a facility built for that purpose by a family in the church on 40 acres of private property.

“Teams come, stay for four days, and we work through the process of church planting with them,” Cox said, adding that Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, has assisted in the training.

Last Easter, 275 attended worship services at Vista. But across the world, more than 4,000 worshipped in the churches with which Vista had partnered. 

“You don’t have to be big to partner with churches. Don’t wait till you are big to partner with another church.  You can be small and still have a huge kingdom impact.”

Kevin Cox

“We want to grow, but we want to see the kingdom extended even more,” Cox said. “You don’t have to be big to partner with churches. Don’t wait till you are big to partner with another church.  You can be small and still have a huge kingdom impact.”

For more information on Vista Church, see their website at

Why you should participate in Cooperative Program Sunday?

The Cooperative Program is the most tangible way Southern Baptists express their support together for missions and ministry. Certainly, there are many worthy appeals that deserve our attention, including special offerings and designated gifts to benefit a specific need or project. Still, the best way to extend the influence of the gospel is to regularly and consistently give through the unified giving plan of Southern Baptists—the Cooperative Program (CP). 

The SBC budget is determined by the messengers each year at the annual meeting in June, and CP funds are distributed to SBC agencies according to a percentage-based funding formula. The International Mission Board receives a fraction above 50 percent of CP dollars. Most Baptists are aware of the serious shortfall in operating cash for IMB. David Platt is to be applauded for his willingness to right the financial ship at IMB. Presenting the gospel to those who have never heard takes priority for us. If you give more, more will have the opportunity to hear. We must rally behind the foremost reason for collaborative work among Baptists—missions. The SBTC is committed to seeing more dollars go to the places that need it most.

The North American Mission Board receives almost one-fourth of all SBC Cooperative Program dollars. While NAMB coordinates disaster relief, pastoral care, and other ministries, planting churches in the west and north is the focus of NAMB. Going to major population areas that are least evangelized is where your dollars travel through the Cooperative Program. The SBTC is committed to investing the gospel in dark areas of North America.

Southern Baptist seminaries equip pastors, church staff and missionaries. Because of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist seminary students have a portion of their education paid. You can have confidence in the theological integrity of each seminary’s faculty and staff because The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is the instrument of accountability. Some state convention-owned seminaries do not have this guarantee. Put your students and your money where your biblical convictions will be taught. You invest in the future when you give through the Cooperative Program. The SBTC supports seminaries that are doctrinal compatible with our faith statement.

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission gets a tiny amount in comparison to the other SBC ministries but is a needed ministry in precarious times. In January the ERLC hosted an event in Washington D.C. championing the sanctity of life for the unborn. The SBTC and the ERLC joined in an amicus brief to uphold the Texas law that requires abortion providers to meet reasonable health standards for women. The ERLC speaks to social and moral issues that range from pornography to the First Amendment. The SBTC joins with the ERLC in biblically based efforts to be salt and light in the American culture.

Although the Executive Committee of the SBC is not a glamorous part of the Cooperative Program budget, it is a necessary one. Two days once a year, the messengers of the churches gather as the Southern Baptist Convention. The Executive Committee operates for the SBC ad interim. Public relations, communications, race relations and the SBC annual meeting itself are all functions of the Executive Committee. The SBTC is grateful to SBC EC for their frugal management.

When you give to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention through the Cooperative Program, 55 percent is directed to the SBC and 45 percent is invested in Texas. Church Planting is exploding all across our state, while established churches are being revitalized with a passion for people. Churches are being strengthened and pastors encouraged. Communities are impacted through our disaster relief volunteers. 

Texas is rapidly growing with a population of 26 million people. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in the nation. The need is great. This past November SBTC messengers voted to send 100 percent of all funds exceeding the 2016 Cooperative Program budget to the Southern Baptist Convention. Prayerfully consider having your church increase Cooperative Program giving so more can know our Lord Jesus.

When you partner through the Cooperative Program, you give internationally, nationally and across your state. Lives are being changed through the Cooperative Program. You will meet someone in heaven who will be there because you gave through CP. That’s why your church should participate through the Cooperative Program!

Cooperative Program Sunday is April 10. For more information, visit our website at or

Waterfront Church aims to be a fort in the nation”s capital

WASHINGTON, D.C. Zack Randles believes that the nation’s capital needs another fort, and he’s willing to build one. The fort he envisions, however, will not look anything like the military installations that protect the hub of America’s government—this fort will be a church.

The young West Texan set his heart toward Washington during his senior year at Oklahoma State University where he studied sociology. He committed to God in prayer to “do whatever you want me to do.” Randles had prayed that before, but this time was serious about obedience for the first time in his life.

“That day the Lord cast a vision for a place I’d never been and for people I’d never met. I felt drawn to Washington, D.C.”

Zack Randles, pastor, Waterfront Church, Washington, D.C.

“That day the Lord cast a vision for a place I’d never been and for people I’d never met,” Randles said. “I felt drawn to Washington, D.C.”

During the next several years, Randles worked on ministerial staffs of several large Texas churches while attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He regularly led mission trips to the nation’s capital with his wife, Autumn. In 2005 with 42 students, “The spirit just fell in a way that I had not experienced before. We knew that we would come back here.”

What he didn’t immediately know was that coming back would involve church planting.

A Ministry Legacy

Randles grew up in the pastorates his father served. Jon Randles was a pastor and an evangelist. When the senior Randles served existing churches as pastor, those churches typically experienced much growth. But his father never planted a church.

“My dad was my absolute hero,” Zack said. “It was not always this way. It’s rare to find someone who is your dad, best friend and hero all wrapped into one. He was an incredibly godly man.”

Zack was already following in his father’s steps by preaching at events for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, something his father did for years. So if the Lord wanted him in Washington, there surely would be an existing church calling him.

“I had been filled with so much pride that I had to take over a pre-existing church,” Randles said. “I thought people planted because they couldn’t plug into an existing system. I was incredibly wrong.”

God was calling the younger Randles to a city that many churches had recently abandoned for the suburbs. During his trips there, he determined that if his calling was to pastor in Washington, he would have to plant the church. The “follow me” passages of Luke 9 helped bring him to that realization.

Of the three people Jesus encountered that day, Randles realized that the only person Christ called to action was the second one. He wanted to bury his father first.

“The second guy in the story, Jesus has a mission set aside just for him,” Randles concluded. “It’s strategic and timely.” 

Randles then understood God to say, “Trust me, and do the mission I’ve called you to do.”

His father became sick before Randles left Texas. A month after arriving in Washington, the diagnosis was pancreatic cancer. There was no turning back, but his heart was clearly back home.

As Zack and Autumn poured themselves into starting Waterfront Church, they wrestled with how best to support Jon. For Zack the answer was to preach. His dad had said to him, “If a Randles can preach, he should preach.” 

The flights between Lubbock and Washington and the emotional roller coaster stretched him. 

His father died April 1, 2015. Several days later, after preaching an Easter message in Washington, he returned to Lubbock to preach his father’s funeral to about 2,500 people in attendance and several thousands more via a live stream of the service.

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Randles said. “Planting a church is a close second.”

Building the Fort

The Randles felt God’s call to plant along a revitalized area between the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, less than a mile from the capitol and just two blocks from Major League Baseball’s Nationals Park. 

“In the years we came here to do short-term mission work, we met brick wall after brick wall when it came to the gospel message,” Randles said. “When we moved here, it was the exact opposite. We prayed for 25 people. God sent us over 100.”

Waterfront Church launched August 10, 2014, at the Courtyard Marriott Navy Yard. By Easter Sunday 2015, Waterfront Church had 150 in attendance. Randles baptized 15 people in the first eight months of the church—11 of whom were adults.

Randles calls Waterfront the bridge between politics and poverty. Though the neighborhood is now upscale, homeless people are still in the area.

“A homeless man walked in late,” Randles said of one Sunday service. “He sat next to
a congressman.”

Waterfront is mixed culturally, ethnically and economically, Randles said. Members range from Capitol Hill workers to military to hot dog sales people at the nearby ballpark, and the congregation is not necessarily a young one. 

“We don’t sell ourselves as the young-person church or the southern-gospel church,” Randles said. “We sell ourselves as the church that really does care about our community and wants to share the gospel message above all else.”

Planting a church in Washington hasn’t been cheap. Waterfront’s five-year budget is $1.3 million. An acre of land sells for $10 million. Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® and Cooperative Program funds helped Waterfront launch. 

In spite of the cost, Waterfront’s leadership plans to have a permanent presence in the capital.

“Our goal is to establish a fort,” Randles said.  

Prayer, intentionality keys to reaching communities with the gospel

LAS COLINAS—Christians and churches must rely on God’s power through prayer and recognize their role in reaching friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and the nations with the gospel, speakers at the 2016 Empower Conference said Feb. 29-March 2. The three-day evangelism conference put on by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) at the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas drew pastors and church members from across the state and featured 15 main session speakers as well as breakout sessions.

Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and SBTC president, spoke of what he called a “state of evangelism atrophy” in the majority of Southern Baptist churches today. Similar to muscle atrophy—a loss of vigor and strength due to lack of activity—churches and individuals are suffering from a lack of regular, intentional gospel witness.

“Everything left alone under the curse of sin ultimately reaches a state decay, even the most important things, like evangelism,” Lino said in the opening evening session of the conference.

Preaching from Ephesians 6:19-20, Lino acknowledged the great irony for the Apostle Paul to request prayer for boldness and clarity to speak the gospel, but Paul recognized that “past effectiveness is no guarantee of future effectiveness.”

“I don’t think what we need as shepherds in Texas is more statistics about evangelism and how urgently we need revival,” Lino said. “I think what we need is to return to intentionality in evangelism. Nothing good happens in this world for Jesus Christ without intentionality.”

Intentionality was the theme of Lino’s message as he exhorted pastors in particular to greater intentionality in personal and corporate evangelism.

“Intentionality looks like a plan,” Lino said. “So what is your plan to directly engage unbelievers with the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

“We need a return to exhorting each other and our people to actually verbalize the gospel in its entirety to people who do not yet believe.”

International Mission Board President David Platt urged Christians to “recognize the reality of God’s wrath upon millions of people across this state and billions of people around the world” during his message, which followed Lino’s. Too often, Platt said, Christians are ignorant or indifferent regarding Scripture’s teaching on hell and the fact that people who do not repent will spend eternity suffering there.

Preaching from Exodus 32:1-14, Platt also called on believers to “realize the role God has given you to play in his relenting wrath.”

“Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you do, realize that God has put you where you are for a reason. … God loves the people around you so much, and he’s designed your life to be the means in his sovereign hand by which his wrath is relented and his mercy is made known to the people around you.”

Like Moses, who interceded on behalf of the Israelites for God to show mercy on them, Christians must regularly intercede in prayer for those unreached with the gospel.

“Pray to God like it matters; pray to God like your prayers affect the way God acts,” Platt told conference attendees and those who were watching the event via livestream.

“God wills to work through willing intercessors. When we pray, God responds. When we pray, we take our God-given privilege to participate with him in the spread of his mercy in the world. Moses prayed, and it had an effect. When you pray for people in Texas, it will have an effect.”

In addition to praying like it matters, Platt called on Christians to share the gospel like it matters.

“We’ll never reach the nations with the gospel if we’re not reaching our neighbors with the gospel,” Platt said. He concluded his message with a challenge to pastors in the room to commit to reaching homes in their communities as part of SBTC’s “One in a Million” evangelism initiative to reach 1 million homes in Texas with the gospel by the year 2020. Scores of pastors brought forth commitment cards and placed them on the stage.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd continued the call for prayer and bold gospel witness during his message, March 1. Too many churches, he said, are trying to accomplish God’s work apart from his power.

“Why do we believe so much in the power of God for New Testament salvation, but we struggle believing in the power of God to turn the deadest church in Texas upside down?” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, asked.

“Trust the God of heaven who was able to raise Jesus Christ from the dead is the same God who can raise up this convention of churches to take the gospel into at least 1 million homes in this state. We need to understand that none of that can happen without God.”

Floyd assured pastors and churches that God has a future for them individually and corporately and that faith-saturated prayer was the bridge between their current state and that future. Preaching from 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, the account of a man named Jabez’s prayer, Floyd explained that the passage was not a prescription on what to pray but was a description of a man who cried out to a God who answered. Likewise, Christians should cry out to God as their only hope and the only hope for an unbelieving world.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

During the Empower Conference, SBTC evangelism director Nathan Lorick recognized two men for their faithfulness in evangelism. David Stockwell, a fulltime vocational evangelist from Katy with more than 50 years of evangelistic ministry, received the Roy Fish Lifetime Achievement Award for vocational evangelism. Lynn Crosslin, a bi-vocational pastor at Harmony Baptist Church in Weatherford, received the W.A. Criswell Lifetime Achievement Award for pastoral evangelism.

In 2017, the Empower Conference will return to the Irving Convention Center in Las Colinas, Feb. 27-28.

Churches keep commitment to Cooperative Program despite struggles

IRVING—First Baptist Church of Iowa Park has a long, committed history to giving 10 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program. The only problem came when budget expenses outstripped income.

“We were having the financial secretary cut the checks, and then she would mail it if the money was there,” explained Pastor Glen Pearce during a March 1 Cooperative Program luncheon as part of this year’s Empower Conference. When funds were tight, other commitments took precedence. “We did this over and over again,” he said. “At the end of the year we’d sit down the finance committee and if there wasn’t enough money [for the CP portion] we’d release some of it and void the other.”

Pearce admitted, “We felt guilty, repented a little bit, felt terrible about it and promised to do better. But the same cycle happened again, and this went on and on and on.”

God eventually convinced Pearce of the need to pray specifically for the church’s financial situation, inviting staff and deacons to join him. When an administrative assistant proposed writing a check for CP giving every Monday based the previous day’s offering, Pearce agreed. “Every Monday they would count the offering. She would write the check and mail the check,” he recalled.

“For 52 weeks that happened, and we ended the year in the black because we pulled money from our contingency fund,” he explained, “but the Cooperative Program (commitment) was met that year.” As the church began 2015 with no money in the bank and no contingency fund, Pearce said, “I think God was testing us to see if we’d keep doing that.”

There were times when the staff held their checks, waiting for another Sunday to come through. “But the Cooperative Program check went.”

By the end of last year, receipts exceeded budgeted expenses, depleted reserves were replenished, and excess income covered the cost of remodeling an entire floor for children’s ministry. Once again, the church kept its commitment to allocate 10 percent of undesignated receipts for distribution through the Cooperative Program.

“I believe what we’re seeing is that God hears our prayers,” Pearce shared, interrupted by applause. “God blesses, but we have to do what it takes to be obedient.”

Encouraging pastors to make good on their support for the Cooperative Program, Pearce said, “Our church isn’t huge, and we don’t have a lot of rich people, but if you’re faithful to God and pray and expect him to come through, he will come through.”

Darryl Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Huntington, described giving to the Cooperative Program as an investment in a kingdom that reaches around the world.

“Many times it is easy to look within our four walls and our city limits,” he said in describing ministry in a small town. “Obviously we’re responsible for reaching Huntington for Christ, but the Cooperative Program is a great way to invest in God’s kingdom that’s going around the world.”

Early into his 17-year tenure as pastor, Smith heard a young man express appreciation for prioritizing missions giving. Looking at the financial report during a business meeting, the man asked if Smith had noticed that after making a commitment to give sacrificially to missions and the Cooperative Program, God had blessed the church with more than they had planned on receiving.

“It’s the paradoxical truth that’s throughout the Scripture that as we give our life away more and more, we receive more and more of life,” he added.

“Missions is a part of my DNA, and it became a part of the DNA of our church,” Smith said. “The Cooperative Program is very personal to us because it’s real people.”

FBC Huntington has adopted an unreached people group in West Africa and travels to the sight four or five times a year. When members of the church give their offerings, they know they are supporting missionaries who serve through the International Mission Board like the couple with whom they work.

“They came from churches just like ours,” Smith said. “I look at them as my kids and tell them, ‘We have to take care of you.’”

Following the testimonies, Ken Weathersby, vice president for convention advancement at the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, told those attending the luncheon, “We have a great cause to cooperate together to do what Christ Jesus is calling us to do.”

At a time when criticism of the local church abounds, Weathersby praised what is right, starting with the mission found in the Great Commission. Drawing from Matt. 16:16, Weathersby said, “We’re to knock the gates of hell down and go in and set the captives free.”

The method of “witnessing, evangelizing and sharing Christ out of the overflow of an intimate walk with Christ” provides further evidence of what is right with the local church that is empowered by God, Weathersby said. For Southern Baptists, the mission strategy of the Cooperative Program serves as a tool to accomplish God’s work, he added.

“How are you going to be able to do all this?” he asked. “We accomplish what Jesus Christ has called us to accomplish because the minister is right,” he explained, referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in coming alongside believers in the local church.

“We are grateful and thankful for what God is doing through this convention that sacrificially sends more money for national causes than what you keep in the state,” Weathersby said in closing. “What a sacrifice from the churches, but what a sacrifice from the convention of churches who give 55 percent away. That is a testimony in itself.”

Watch Weathersby’s message here.