Month: March 2016

Women encouraged to rely on God, release burdens

LAS COLINAS—About 200 women filed into the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas to attend the ladies session of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s 2016 Empower Conference Feb. 29. During the three-hour afternoon session, women heard from author and Bible study teacher Jennifer Rothschild, actress Shari Rigby who serves on staff at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, and Jennie Allen, founder of IF: Gathering. Modern-day hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty led the group in praise and worship.

Jennifer Rothschild

Rothschild spoke from a place of personal experience, talking about how blindness that overtook her at age 15 brought out the self-determination in her to not be overcome by her circumstances. Although when that sharp self-will faded later in life, Rothschild said she came face to face with the reality that she could do nothing without the grace and power of God.

“I was relying on my can-do attitude,” Rothschild said.

Pointing to Philippians 4:13, she explained that those following God can do all things through Christ who strengthens them, emphasizing the “in Christ” portion.

Rothschild went on to talk about two other “I” statements in the passage, including “I am,” pointing to a Christian’s identity being rooted in Christ, and “I will,” talking about placing “my will” under “his will.”

“I am going to put my will under thy will, and then I will be able to say, “I will.”

Shari Rigby

Rigby, who played the role of a birth mother in the feature film “October Baby,” offered portions of her testimony to the group of women, highlighting how God called her to minister to “broken women.” Having had personal experience with drugs, alcohol, an abusive relationship and becoming a mother at age 17, Rigby said she hopes to, through the Lord’s help, minister to those women who need to know they are valuable and “enough” for the Lord to love them.

She talked about wanting to “activate women to inspire, influence and dream,” urging women to seek what the Lord would have them do in their own areas of influence and ministry.

“Ask in prayer, ‘God, what breaks your heart, and what have you called me to?’ Commit to being that shield and linking arms with women,” she said.

Jennie Allen

Allen, wife of a former minister and a ministry leader herself, spoke about shrugging off the burdensome “backpacks” women carry for the sake of loving Jesus more and exuding his joy and light.

“Life is hard, and inadvertently a lot of time we strap it on our backs,” Allen said. “What we’ve got to do is care more about other people’s freedoms because then we want to get free ourselves.”

Allen said women must stop and ask themselves, “What am I not believing about God?”

Pointing to John 6 where Jesus feeds the 5,000, Allen explained that Jesus, believing fully in God and his ability to provide for the people, did not operate out of worry or fear or burden.

“Something Jesus beloved about his father caused him not to strive, caused him not to worry,” Allen said. “There is a reason we are so tired. We don’t have to be. I’m not saying that it is easy, but I am saying that it could be easier. If we really believe that God is so good.”

Allen closed with thoughts from Romans 8.

“There is a spirit of life that has set you free, and there is a spirit of flesh that results in sin and death,” Allen said. “The question is which one are you feeding? Are you feeding the spirit, or are you feeding the flesh?”

NAMB offers “Catch the Vision” tours in 32 major U.S. cities

As the cities across North America have continued to grow, Christianity has been on the decline. The United States Census Bureau recently posted that although cities only comprise about 3.5 percent of U.S. land area, the majority of the U.S. population (62.7 percent) live within them.

Along with population density comes influence, and the Send North America strategy works to come alongside pastors and church planters to provide the training and resources needed to be influencers and plant churches in these cities. One of the best ways to learn more about one of the 32 Send Cities and gain clarity on how God can use you and your church to be an influence for his kingdom is through the Catch The Vision tours.

“We, as Southern Baptists, need to realize that the North American Mission Board is us. And we need to know what we are about,” said Steve Kramm, pastor of Troutman Baptist Church in Troutman, N.C. “I am thankful for the experience to become a little bit more aware of what the North American Mission Board is doing.”

Kramm, along with several other pastors, had the chance to be a part of a Catch The Vision tour in Baltimore in 2015. These three-day, two-night tours introduce pastors and church leaders to church planters and ministries within one of the 32 Send Cities to show them how God is already moving and for them to explore how they can get involved.

By going and experiencing the city in-person, pastors gain a better understanding of what it means to plant churches within an unban context and also gain a heart for the people within that context.

“I was nationally aware of Baltimore and what has happened there in the past few years, but I was never broken for Baltimore. Now I find myself praying for Baltimore every day.”

Brad Harrison, pastor of Wrightsboro Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C.

“I did not previously have a heart for Baltimore,” said Brad Harrison, pastor of Wrightsboro Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C. “I was nationally aware of Baltimore and what has happened there in the past few years, but I was never broken for Baltimore. Now I find myself praying for Baltimore every day. It seems somewhat of a different world than where I come from, but it is still a world that needs Jesus.

“Every church is called to fulfill the Great Commission and make disciples,” said Harrison on getting involved in church planting. “There will be revival in Baltimore. It’s going to happen with or without us, and the question is, are you going to be in it?”

“We need Southern Baptist Churches involved in these cities,” stated Kramm. “This is the job of the church—to get outside our comfort zones and reach into the hard places. It can be really hard. I don’t spend a lot of time in a downtown location; I just don’t live there. We have to be on mission though. Part of that is going outside of our Jerusalem.”

NAMB scholarships for the ground expenses are available for participants who have not yet partnered with a church plant or a planter in a Send City. Travel expenses to and from the Send Cities are to be arranged and covered by the attendee for all CTVs.

Watch a video and learn more about Catch The Vision tours at namb.net/ctv32.   

Evangelizing Boomers requires making connections in a mobile society

DALLAS About 10,000 Baby Boomers daily reach retirement age and will continue to do so until 2030, Pew Research reports. However, this does not mean Boomers are retiring and becoming inactive. 

No one-size-fits-all methodology of evangelizing Boomers exists, according to ministry leaders from Lake Pointe Church of Rockwall, First Baptist Church in Dallas and Spring Baptist Church in Houston.

At Lake Pointe, evangelism is a church-wide, relationally based focus involving all ages. “We challenge members to identify three unchurched people and build relationships with them over a year,” said Carter Shotwell, executive pastor of ministries. 

“It’s mobilizing the entire church to do the Great Commission,” Shotwell said, admitting that Boomers can be challenging to mobilize.

“Many Boomers are active on weekends. Church attendance is optional. You have got to find a way to impact them beyond Sundays.”

Carter Shotwell, executive pastor of ministries, Lake Pointe Church of Rockwall

“Many Boomers are active on weekends. Church attendance is optional,” Shotwell said. “You have got to find a way to impact them beyond Sundays.” Other avenues include helping Boomers become involved with Christian social ministries. “We reach unchurched people because they want to be a part of that and help the community.”

What separates Boomers from younger, socially conscious groups? “Many Boomers tried church early on and wandered away from it, but some in their 20s might never have tried it. Their Boomer parents had already quit organized religion,” Shotwell added, noting that Boomers are still “hungry for connection,” a need motivating the church’s emphasis on life groups. 

While Boomers are open to relationships, their life stage makes it hard to make connections, Shotwell said. “They are mobile. Their kids are grown. They have the freedom and money to travel, making it harder for them … to commit to ongoing groups.” For this reason, Lake Pointe encourages some Boomer life groups to meet midweek. 

But Boomers may never be part of a “senior adult” ministry. “Even when Boomers turn 65 and 70 they are probably not going to want that,” Shotwell said. “They won’t see themselves as senior adults. They are going to see themselves as something different.”

Ryland Whitehorn, executive pastor of ministries at First Baptist Dallas, echoed Shotwell’s assessment of Boomers as financially flexible, observing that prosperity has left many empty. Approaching retirement, they realize they have “focused energies on career, status, making money, or even recreation” but still experience a void. 

On the “other side of the spectrum” are Boomers “who did not make provision economically or spiritually for the phase of life they are about to enter,” Whitehorn said. “We deal with people in their 50s and 60s all the time who are having a personal confrontation with life and reality and coming to Jesus.”

“People our age … are reluctant to admit they need salvation,” added Gary Shepherd, a Lake Pointe life group leader. “Don’t forget, we used to be called the ‘Me Generation.’ When you’ve spent your whole life making sure the world revolves around you, it’s difficult to give up that control.”

At First Baptist Dallas, Boomers are called “median” adults. “Boomers are still motivated by points of action,” Whitehorn noted, explaining that Boomers recognize hierarchy and absolutes. Unlike Millennials, whom Whitehorn finds are more driven by feelings, Boomers “simply want to know biblical truth.”

When presented with a clear message from scripture, Boomers tend to respond, said Whitehorn. “It’s really refreshing. Black and white. You don’t have to put on a show.” 

“Evangelizing Boomers is not as relationally based as with Millennials,” Whitehorn said, “but relationships are important. You can see that from Facebook, which they’ve taken over.” Hence, Sunday School classes are not intergenerational. 

“Boomers tend to want to be together. Many have been so focused on careers that they didn’t develop lifelong friendships.” To facilitate relationship, First Baptist Dallas encourages each class to subdivide into smaller geographical share groups. 

The Dallas church further enables this generational desire for connectedness through planned social events and Discipleship University—short term courses offered two semesters a year on Sunday evenings. 

Whereas traditional Sunday night services might draw 600, Discipleship University reaches 1,400 with classes addressing specific felt needs, Whitehorn said. Medians make up the majority of attendees.

“Boomers want to be mentored. They want to understand God’s Word. They want to make a difference before they die.”

For Laura Hazelwood, who works with senior adults at Spring Baptist Church, Boomer lifestyles may contribute to a “disconnection.”

“A lot is going on in their lives,” Hazelwood said. “Their kids are raised. They are tired. They want to take a break and go visit the grandchildren. Or with the economy, they may start a second career.” 

Hazelwood, who raised three children as a single mother, should know. With two children still at home, financial challenges forced her eldest daughter and family to move in also. “For two years, it was a very full house,” Hazelwood laughed.

“Many of my generation are raising their grandchildren,”

Laura Hazelwood, Spring Baptist Church

“Many of my generation are raising their grandchildren,” Hazelwood said, noting that churches must become more “creative” in reaching Boomers who may be pulled in many directions. 

“We try to reach out, draw them back in, keep them. They have a wealth of wisdom to impart to our younger people.”

Unlike Lake Pointe and First Dallas, Spring Baptist emphasizes intergenerational activities. Boomers remain a busy, often well-traveled group.

Like many Boomers, Hazelwood also assists elderly parents.

“Society is different. Saturdays are errand days. Sundays, children and grandchildren play sports. Many [Boomers] want flexibility. We try to offer new things,” said Hazelwood, adding that Spring is planning mission trips and adding a disaster relief ministry to provide meaningful service opportunities. 

While strategies of evangelizing Boomers may be diverse, commonalities emerge. 

Boomers understand absolute truth, like doing life together, want to make a difference and demand flexibility. Just don’t call them seniors.  

Gospel-Shaped Community

We all want to belong, and our world offers many opportunities for belonging. We take our infant children to playgroups so they can be around other children and learn how to play well. As our children get older, we may register them for scouting, recreational athletics, dancing, music. Then, in junior and senior high, we encourage our children to try out for band, athletics, clubs. Even as adults, we look for groups where we may fit in and where there are people that like the same things that we like. After all, that is where we are most comfortable: where people understand us and where it’s not hard work to relate with others.

There will always be people that we like to be with more than others. It could be because we share the same ethnicity and culture; it could be because we like the same music; it could be because we are the same age; it could be because we are in the same stage of life; it could be that we are in the same line of work or have the same hobby. There may be a thousand different reasons why we like “these” people and find it easy to hang out with “them.” It just seems so natural.

So strong is the power of commonality in drawing people together that churches have adopted this same strategy as a way to reach the unchurched. The technical name for this principle is called the homogeneous unit principle: like attracts like. But should a church be marked by what attracts people naturally? Or should a church be marked by what attracts people supernaturally? In their book, The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop argue that there is a difference between community that is built around what is merely natural and community that grows out of what is supernatural. To be sure, we will always be attracted to people like ourselves, and in many ways there is nothing wrong with having friends that like the same or similar things as we do. But what do you think is a more powerful witness to the gospel—a bunch of college students getting together just because they like each other and have a lot in common or college students hanging out with senior adults because the gospel has drawn them together. I think you know the answer?

The gospel brings together both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2) into one new man—the body of Christ. Together, this unified diversity displays the power of the gospel and the wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:9-10). As a result, Christians are to fight to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-6). We do not create or build gospel unity; the Spirit of God creates gospel unity. It is our duty to maintain this Spirit-given unity as we share a life in common (Ephesians 4:3); that is true commUNITY. 

So, how may we begin cultivating supernatural community, Christ-rooted, Spirit-given, gospel-shaped community? Obviously, we need to work at getting to know the Christian brothers and sisters in our church, especially those who are different than we are: different age, stage, ethnicity, etc.?

If you don’t know where to begin, let me encourage you. First of all, greet people before and after the Sunday gatherings. Get to know people you presently do not know. If your church has a membership directory, begin studying it, and use it to pray for the members of the church. As you get to know new brothers and sisters in Christ, ask each other questions about your life and history. Tell one another your stories of coming to faith in Christ. Then be hospitable. Go out for coffee or a meal together. Invite people over to your home. I pray that the Lord would allow our SBTC churches to be attractive witnesses to unbelievers because when they’re around us, they observe a genuine community that is not of this world, a gospel-shaped community that displays the gospel to all those around us who presently do not know Christ.  

—Juan R. Sanchez is senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin.

In Reaching Baby Boomers: Vidor church leverages generation for kingdom impact

VIDOR America’s Baby Boomers are aging. In 2014, the last of the Boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—crossed the threshold into their 50s; and whether they liked it or not, they received their first invitation to join AARP and entered the ranks of “senior adults.” 

Aging Boomers present new challenges for churches, who now must balance ministering to younger Boomers, who do not consider themselves to be seniors, and their Builder Generation parents, many of whom are still active and involved in the same churches and ministries as their own children.

In his 21 years of ministry to seniors at First Baptist Church of Vidor, Phil Burnaman has seen huge changes in senior adult ministry. 

For years, senior adult ministry was a “silo” ministry, according to Burnaman. “All our ministries—preschool, children, youth, adults and senior adults—were separate and competed for people, time and budget. Our senior adult ministry was activity- and fellowship-centered. It was set up like a youth ministry for 60-70-year-olds.”

However, about 10 years ago, FBC Vidor rewrote its mission statement and shifted how it does ministry in all areas, including senior adult ministry. “Here, we eliminated ‘silo’ ministries,” Burnaman says, adding, “All our ministries (now) work together as a team.” Part of the shift included changing the name of senior adult ministry to “Encore Adults”—saving the best for last. 

That reorganization, in addition to the dynamic of having both Boomers and Builders involved in senior adult ministry, fueled a significant change in how FBC Vidor views ministry to and by older members. “Our senior adult ministries don’t focus on activities but on how Boomers and Builders can be effective in serving and in growing in our walk,” Burnaman says.

“Our senior adult ministries don’t focus on activities but on how Boomers and Builders can be effective in serving and in growing in our walk,”

Phil Burnaman, First Baptist Church of Vidor

Burnaman also says everything in the Encore Adult ministry has been brought into alignment with the church’s ministry statement: “First Baptist Church of Vidor exists to make disciples who worship God, grow in Christ, serve others, and impact the world.” Every activity of Encore Adults must fall under one of the four tenets of this church mission statement. 

For example, The Glory Singers, a choir of Builders and Boomers, minister inside the church and fall under the worship component of the mission statement, while The Glory Band, comprised of younger Builders and Boomers, goes into the community to minister, so it is part of the church’s impact strategy.

Even as Encore Adult activities support the mission statement, they are also grounded in the church’s small group program. Currently, 145 Baby Boomers are enrolled in Life Groups, which are divided by age and stage of life. 

With the structure firmly in place, Burnaman is then free to minister to both Baby Boomers and the Builder Generation, striving to meet each group’s unique needs. “If you want to be effective, you have to be creative and strategic to provide ministry opportunities for two different generations,” he says.

“Baby Boomers do not want to be called ‘seniors.’ Baby Boomers are not interested in doing the same things as their parents. The main thing with Boomers is how they serve, impact society and socialize.” 

The Builder Generation, on the other hand, is more interested in clubs, game nights, day trips and luncheons, but these activities are not priorities for Baby Boomers. 

“Boomers couldn’t care less to get together for a program,” Burnaman says. “They like large group meetings for a cause. They also like conferences or forums with things to help them enjoy life better, such as ‘how to be a better caregiver.’“

Boomers are also facing additional challenges that don’t plague Builders. Boomers are “the sandwich generation”—caring for their elderly parents while also raising their own children. Due to the number of single parents raising children alone, Boomers are also being called on to help raise the next generation. 

“Many are focusing on taking care of their grandchildren,” Burnaman says.

While Builders and Boomers are both considered “seniors,” Burnaman has also noticed that Boomers themselves can be divided into two groups—those who grew up in the church and those who did not. 

“Boomers who grew up in the church have been mentored and see the importance of long-term projects and are willing to mentor long-term,” Burnaman says. Therefore, Encore Adults is currently involved in a spring mentoring program for students in grades 1-12, teaching them how to become godly young people. 

On the other hand, Boomers who grew up outside the church see everything from the point of view of the “Me Generation,” according to Burnaman. “They are willing to do short-term projects but want freedom to fulfill their social needs. They will participate in projects, such as mentoring young people, if it’s worth their time and is self-satisfying, making them feel good.”

Over time, Burnaman believes that Boomers can move away from their “Me Generation” upbringing and learn to worship, grow, serve and impact their communities. “We have to be patient with Baby Boomers who did not grow up in church. They are at a stage of life where they are thinking about spiritual things. However, they see things through their anti-establishment filter. You must earn their trust, and once they accept Christ as their Savior, they put everything into it. They are a valuable asset.”

As Boomers continue to age and people in general continue to live longer, their impact on the church will continue to be felt for some time. Boomers have many more years of active service left to give to the Lord and to their churches. 

“Baby Boomers have had an impact on the world,” Burnaman says. “They bring that experience to the local church. Boomers have vast experiences that will help the younger generation, if they will listen.”