Month: April 2017

Advance Weekend “invaluable” for church planters, revitalizers

SAN ANTONIO Church planters and church revitalization pastors received training and refreshment free of charge at “Advance Weekend,” an annual retreat designed for their sharpening and funded through the Cooperative Program. 

Damien Williams, a church planter at The Word Community Church in Dallas, told the TEXAN his ministry has been impacted “because Cooperative Program dollars gave my wife and I the opportunity to participate in a weekend of being poured into while we escape the busyness of parenting, life and ministry.”

Advance Weekend was March 30-April 1 at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio.

Guest speakers included former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill and his wife Paula, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards and his wife June, SBTC director of evangelism Nathan Lorick, and SBTC director of Hispanic ministries Mike Gonzales and his wife Dalia, among others.

Church growth, leadership, evangelism and balancing church and family were some of the topics addressed at the retreat.

Williams noted he and his wife could not have afforded a weekend getaway apart from this opportunity, and this one included “practical and ministry-changing sessions.” 

“I will be able to immediately put things in place at our church that will be beneficial to us for years to come, and for that I’m grateful,” Williams said. “I would recommend that all SBTC church planters and their spouses attend Advance Weekend. It’s worth the time for the sake of our marriages and our churches.”

Shane Pruitt, director of missions at the SBTC, told the TEXAN more than 250 people attended this year’s retreat, marking the largest turnout ever—and there was a waiting list. 

“On Thursday we want them to just come in, relax, spend time with each other, connect and network with other church planters and revitalizers,” Pruitt said. 

On Friday morning, participants chose from various breakout sessions. This year two tracks of breakouts were completely in Spanish, Pruitt said, and six were in English. 

A luncheon included Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, Texas, and his wife Johanna speaking on finding the rhythm of family and ministry. On Friday afternoon, church revitalization pastors had a Q&A session with Hemphill. 

Friday evening was a banquet with Christian comedian Jason Earls, and on Saturday participants were encouraged to relax before heading back to their ministry fields. 

“We just want them to recharge with their wives, to feel equipped, network with other planters and just have fun,” Pruitt said. “We feel if we can be a blessing to the pastor, the leader, then ultimately we can be a blessing to the church because they’re being sent back recharged and revamped.”

John Herring, pastor of First Baptist Church in Prosper, Texas, called the retreat “a double blessing.”

“During the weekend, we got to renew friendships and start new ones with people who are planting and revitalizing,” Herring told the TEXAN. “We shared our stories and learned from each other. That is invaluable.  

“But on top of that, we also sat under the teaching of experienced leaders. My notebook was filled with implementation ideas sparked by their sessions. When you’re in the thick of ministry, it is hard to break away and get the bigger picture. That is the value of this weekend for me: time and space to prayerfully consider these important questions,” Herring said.

Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies at the SBTC, said they try to design the sessions to address current needs of church planters and revitalizers, and pastors are “able to be encouraged, be challenged, and go back into their mission fields with renewed effectiveness.” 

Culture of hospitality key to evangelistic impact, church planter says

LAS COLINAS If churches want to reach those far from God, they must cultivate a culture of hospitality, church planter Nic Burleson told a packed room of pastors and church members at a breakout session during the SBTC Empower Conference in February. 

“Hospitality is not one thing; it’s 100 little things,” Burleson said. “And it’s 100 little things in our churches that will determine if people far from God feel welcome and wanted.

“Hospitality creates a culture where people can say yes to the gospel of Jesus.”

Burleson planted Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville in 2011, and the church has grown exponentially to more than 1,000 in attendance each Sunday, filled mostly with college students and people in the community that many would have never expected to see darken the doors of a church. He explained that when most non-Christians visit a church, they are asking, “Will I really feel welcome in this place?”

Burleson said churches must move from evangelism as a program in the church to evangelism as the culture of the church.

“If reaching people far from God is a program, it will always only involve the people who sign up to go on Monday night visits,” he said. “But if evangelism—reaching people far from God—is the culture of our church, it affects everything we do. It’s no longer a program, but it’s the heartbeat of our church.

“When we create that culture, more and more people who are far from God come, and it’s messy … but lives are changed.”

Burleson offered three principles for effective evangelistic hospitality, which guides Timber Ridge Church in their approach to reaching their community.

First, he said, “words matter.” This involves avoiding “churchy” words because “the biggest tool for creating culture is language.” In sermons and Bible studies, he seeks to explain the Bible to people as if they had never read it. 

“Whose language are you using … yours or theirs?” Burleson asked. “Are you using language that lost people understand?”

Second, he said, they think of people as “guests,” not “visitors.”

“Guests [we] prepare for. Visitors stop by unexpected, and we’re not prepared for them,” Burleson said. For this reason, they seek every opportunity to honor their guests, such as a VIP room for first-time guests where they can talk with the pastor after a worship service. In everything, Burleson wants to lead his church to remember that what is familiar to the regular church member is not familiar to guests. They consistently ask those new to the church what they see as needed changes in order to view the church through fresh eyes.

Third, they measure what matters. While hospitality is everyone’s job, someone must be in charge of it. “If it’s everybody’s job, it becomes nobody’s job real quick,” he said.

One simple tool they use is a guest survey through email or phone call for all first-time guests. The survey is brief and asks four simple questions: What was your overall impression? What did you like best? What did you notice first? How can we pray for you?

“They don’t come back the second time because of the preaching, the music or the kids ministry,” Burelson said. “They come back the second time because they feel included and welcome.”

“Hospitality is way bigger than putting out coffee and donuts; it’s about creating a culture where people belong.”

SWBTS apologizes for Twitter photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The full text of a statement by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson appears below.

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has “deeply” apologized for a photograph posted by faculty members on social media April 25 featuring some of the seminary’s preaching professors dressed as hip-hop artists.

Among responses to the photo on social media were allegations it evidenced racial prejudice. Ensuing dialogue on Twitter included an invitation by Southwestern for Grammy-winning Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae to lead a dialogue for the seminary community.

Southwestern President Paige Patterson called the photo “a moment of bad judgment” and promised to “redouble our efforts to put an end to any form of racism on this campus.”

A preaching professor “does rap as a hobby,” Patterson said in a statement released to Baptist Press April 26. “He preached a sermon recently in chapel in which he included a section of rap,” he noted. “I thought that it was great, and the students seemed responsive to it. He has since accepted a pastorate; and, as part of his departure, his fellow professors wanted to awaken memories and in so doing to tease him. That is par for the course around here. The president encourages our people to laugh at each other rather than to risk taking ourselves too seriously.

“But, as all members of the preaching faculty have acknowledged, this was a mistake, and one for which we deeply apologize,” Patterson said. “Sometimes, Anglo Americans do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives. Such incidents are tragic but helpful to me in refocusing on the attempt to flush from my own system any remaining nuances of the racist past of our own country. Just as important, my own sensitivity to the corporate and individual hurts of a people group abused by generations of oppressors needs to be constantly challenged.”

The departing faculty member referenced by Patterson is Vern Charette, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, Okla.

The photo in question—which has been deleted from Twitter—appeared to depict five Anglo Southwestern School of Preaching professors dressed in bandannas, sideways baseball caps, gold chains and other traditional hip-hop attire. Barry McCarty, who also is the Southern Baptist Convention’s chief parliamentarian, appeared to be holding a handgun. Above them was written “Notorious S.o.P.” [School of Preaching], an apparent parody of the name of late rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

The other four faculty members in the photo are David Allen, dean of the School of Preaching; Kyle Walker, vice president for student services; Deron Biles, professor of pastoral ministries and preaching; and Matthew McKellar, associate professor of preaching.

A screen capture published by Faithfully Magazine indicates Charette tweeted in response April 25 that his colleagues were “all true OG’s”—an acronym for “original gangsters.” The tweet no longer appears on Charette’s Twitter feed.

Southwestern tweeted April 25, “An offensive tweet was posted to one of our faculty members’ personal Twitter handles. We have asked that the tweet be removed.”

As of April 26, the photo did not appear on any of the professors’ Twitter accounts.

Embedded in Southwestern’s tweet was an April 25 tweet by Allen stating, “I apologize for a recent image I posted which was offensive. Context is immaterial. [Southwestern’s] stance on race is clear as is mine.”

As of midday April 26, 38 people had replied to Allen’s tweet, including Lecrae, who asked the Southwestern community, “How do you all plan to grow from this?” In reply, Southwestern invited Lecrae through its official Twitter account to lead a dialogue for the seminary.

Lecrae declined and suggested the seminary contact other African-American Christian leaders about the opportunity.

Southwestern tweeted in response to Lecrae, “Thank you, we will be reaching out.”

Another Twitter response to Allen came from Terry Turner, an African-American pastor and former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, who stated, “My prayers are with you that God gives you clarity on this subject to glorify His Name. Preach to lift Jesus up!”

Allen told BP in an email, “There is no excuse or defense for the indefensible. Context or intent are immaterial when offense has been given. I apologize for a recent image I posted, which was offensive. There are few issues in culture today more vital than racial reconciliation.”

McCarty, professor of preaching and rhetoric, tweeted April 25, “I deleted a photo that our faculty did for a departing prof., [Vern_Charette], who is famous for his raps. Dr. Allen speaks for all of us” in his apology.

Patterson noted, “In an effort to be humorous, we made a mistake and communicated something that was completely foreign to anything that any of us felt in our hearts. To say that we are sorry will not be sufficient for many. We understand. To each of those and to everyone, we extend an invitation to visit this campus unannounced and at a time of your choosing and witness the love of Christ extended to all indiscriminately and to the best of our ability to every individual who sets foot on the campus.”

Patterson’s statement included a recounting of his personal efforts to combat racism and stated, “If I intend to love God and follow His paths, the slightest tinge of racism must be eliminated.”

See full statement below by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson.

Statement from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson

Genesis 3:20 declares that “Eve is the mother of all living.” There are only two options. If I intend to love God and follow His paths, the slightest tinge of racism must be eliminated. Or if I wish to present myself as unconcerned about the ways of the Master, then I may indulge in racism or any other sin, but the consequences of such behavior are certain and tragic. In fact, this verse clearly declares that while we may have a variety of social origins, there is only one race—the human race. This fact is not abridged by skin pigmentation, body shape or size, unique abilities, or anything else. As a part of this one race, we are all sinners in need of redemption, and Christ died for every one of us.

My early years were spent in a part of Texas with a history of racism. However, the home in which I was reared was an intensely missionary home and free of racist perspectives. So I remember well returning from school in the fifth grade and asking my Mom why black kids had to go to other schools and why some of the kids at our school had unkind attitudes toward those who were different from them. My mother minced no words in explaining that such attitudes were a result of the sin of the race. She admonished above all that I would devote my life to eradicating every vestige of racism.

Since that time, I have come to understand why racism is an affront to God. The Heavenly Father is a God of variety. His artistic genius produced such a variety of birds, fish, animals—and people—that every time you meet a man of any ethnicity you meet a fascinating and unique member of the race, who in various ways demonstrates the artistry of God. To act in a racist fashion is to ridicule the God of creation for His artistry and judgment. A person who claims to follow the Bible cannot harbor racist convictions without proving himself selective in his approach to Scripture, and therefore, forfeiting his status as a faithful follower of the Bible.

The purpose of this article is not to elevate myself as any noteworthy example. Nevertheless, I will note that my first controversy in the SBC was not about the Bible per se but about the fact that I led a black man to Christ one day, thus incurring the wrath of godless men in that state and county. At Bethany Baptist Church in New Orleans, I was the object of constant threat because we ministered to children of all races in the Irish Channel district of the city. The course my mother established and my dad enthusiastically supported is one I continue to press here at Southwestern. From that I will not be deterred, whatever the cost.

A gracious young Native American preacher on our staff does rap as a hobby. He preached a sermon recently in chapel in which he included a section of rap. I thought that it was great, and the students seemed responsive to it. He has since accepted a pastorate; and, as part of his departure, his fellow professors wanted to awaken memories and in so doing to tease him. That is par for the course around here. The president encourages our people to laugh at each other rather than to risk taking ourselves too seriously. But, as all members of the preaching faculty have acknowledged, this was a mistake, and one for which we deeply apologize. Sometimes, Anglo Americans do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives. Such incidents are tragic but helpful to me in refocusing on the attempt to flush from my own system any remaining nuances of the racist past of our own country. Just as important, my own sensitivity to the corporate and individual hurts of a people group abused by generations of oppressors needs to be constantly challenged.

Southwestern cannot make a moment of bad judgment disappear. But we can and will redouble our efforts to put an end to any form of racism on this campus and to return to a focus that is our priority—namely, getting the gospel to every man and woman on the earth. God has been kind to us and blessed this effort. In an effort to be humorous, we made a mistake and communicated something that was completely foreign to anything that any of us felt in our hearts. To say that we are sorry will not be sufficient for many. We understand. To each of those and to everyone, we extend an invitation to visit this campus unannounced and at a time of your choosing and witness the love of Christ extended to all indiscriminately and to the best of our ability to every individual who sets foot on the campus. Thank you for praying for us and especially praying that our Lord through His Spirit will perfect our hearts in every way to reflect the heart of the Master.

Annual 5K serves as family reunion for foster/adoptive parents, children

WAXAHACHIE—The annual 5K run benefiting the Texas Baptist Home for Children appeared more like a family reunion than a hurried rush to the finish line the morning of April 22. Foster moms and dads, adoptive parents, and scores of children traveled in clusters along the trail bordering Waxahachie’s Getzender Park.

The 180 runners and walkers included grandparents and friends from area communities who joined the families for whom the race was a personal expression of gratitude for the opportunity to help children coming out of difficult circumstances.

“Everyone was very enthusiastic and came together as a team to make this an outstanding event,” reported Randy Odom, executive vice president for the 117-year old agency with offices in Waxahachie and Bedford.

Foster dad Clay Fisher served as the unofficial motivational coach for runners and walkers alike, navigating his golf cart alongside the path of participants, occasionally pausing to retrieve a worn out kid or a struggling adult.

“You can do it! Only six more miles!” he hollered to one couple approaching the halfway mark. For the less fit among the runners he gave encouraging high fives, yelling, “Good job! Good job!”

Fisher was on his way to being certified as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, planning to volunteer to guide children in need of placement through the foster care system to find safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible.

“I got all the way to the swearing in part, and then I felt God call me to do foster parenting,” he said.

He and his wife have cared for 52 foster kids over the course of six or seven years, happy to tell stories of lives changed through adoption ministry. “In most of our cases I feel like God put them there, and it’s worked out. I always pray that God will put them in just the right spot.”

TBH serves foster children as well as children waiting for permanent homes through adoption. Abba’s Heart is an extension of the pro-family ministry, helping women who are experiencing an unexpected pregnancy. Private adoption services are offered in coordination with birth families that voluntarily place their children for adoption by TBH adoptive families.

The ministry is funded by the Baptist Missionary Association, Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, as well as churches, businesses, and individuals.

Next year’s event will return to the usual third Saturday in January. For more information, call the Waxahachie office at 972-937-1321, the Bedford location at 817-355-1700, or visit

Prudence & Liberty: What the “Billy Graham rule” outrage misunderstands

Vice President Mike Pence is not the only man to use the “Billy Graham” rule to safeguard his marriage. Named for the famous evangelist, the rule is based on Graham’s determination, early in his ministry, to avoid being alone with any woman who was not his wife. At SBTC, our version of that entails the “rule of three.” When we travel or meet with a co-worker of the other sex, we ensure that there is a third person with us to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Our offices all have windows in the doors to enable confidential meetings that do not compromise the reputation of any party. It is sometimes inconvenient and the temptation to “cut this corner, just this once” arises for practical reasons. But we don’t do that. We are committed to guard our own marriages, as well as those of our co-workers.

Outsiders find the effort to avoid potentially compromising situations quaint, threatening and sexist. One absurd comment suggested that Pence is some kind of predator who fears the beast within. Another hysteric said that those who keep this rule fear or objectify women. Let’s rake those extremes aside. There is still a theme, carried even by those within our fellowship, that acknowledging the God-given differences between men and women in this way is demeaning and legalistic. One evangelical writer says that men who strictly avoid private meetings with female co-workers are guilty of a vice—the lack of moral character. 

I have a general and a specific concern here. Specifically, the argument that this is a rule more fit for the 1960s when women were less equal in our society—that this practice holds women down—is beside the point. The essential nature of men and women has not changed since the fall of Adam and Eve, much less over the past 50 years, but the sexualization of our culture has only hastened. Divorce rates are higher than in 1960. Why should we pretend to be safe from temptation or moral failure for the sake of social “progress”? Mike Pence and I should not be required to disrespect our marriages in order to hold a job. If men and women are different in some essential ways, it is not progress to behave as if they are not different. That is only one blind absurdity in the decision to place women in military combat roles. If men and women are equal before God, and we are; and if men and women are equal before U.S. law, and we are; it still does not follow that we are indistinguishable from one another. That is true in church life, political life, academic life and business life. Institutions that “move beyond” the sensibilities of a hundred generations are reaping the whirlwind in our day.  

Generally, my concern is that my fellow believers will feel liberated from prudence for the sake of a social value. Consider the use of beverage alcohol as a parallel example of the prudence and liberty discussion. I don’t believe the Bible demands total abstinence from beverage alcohol for believers. But we are called to temperance, humility and a willingness to give up personal rights for the sake of the gospel. I have heard legalistic messages against the use of beverage alcohol, but I have also seen some who seem mindless of the “Corinthian Principle” (see 1 Corinthians 8-10) and insistent that all mature believers should enjoy a craft beer with the Bible study group. In a society where so many violent acts and deadly accidents feature alcohol as an aggravator, I teach and have taught that abstinence is a safety rail between ourselves and intemperance—the way of the wise. I may be missing something good, but I am certainly missing something bad. It’s fine if you call me the weaker brother in this scenario; I’ve heard that before.  

Similarly, the Billy Graham rule is not a specific demand of Scripture. Scripture does not offer us a “go and do likewise” or a “thou shalt not” on this subject. It is a safety rail for those of us who discern the times as very dangerous for men and women desiring godly relationships. Pence’s critics, if desirous of the same things, are too optimistic about the nature of mankind. The risks are greater than the reward in thinking we have evolved beyond the temptation of marital infidelity. Perhaps we are the weaker brothers. Or maybe we are just more aware of our weakness. 

It is wrong to judge the virtue of Billy Graham’s disciples whose pursuit of integrity leads them to avoid situations that tempt. Nearly everyone who has railed against the vice president in recent days has at one time removed something from the pantry to avoid eating it or told the waiter to remove the bread from the table. Is this poor character? If you are a sober alcoholic, do you socialize in bars to display your moral strength, or do you run for your life, as Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife? That’s sometimes what prudence looks like. Those who scoff at those who run misunderstand liberty as well as prudence in a dangerous time.   

The Reason the World is Watching “Thirteen Reasons Why”

The New York Times best-selling book turned Netflix series “Thirteen Reasons Why,” a story about suicide and the real pressures of high school life, has turned into an overnight national phenomenon. Why is this series catching the attention of parents, teachers, teenagers and pretty much everyone? While the series has many critics, it has one main attraction—“Thirteen Reasons Why” is the most accurate show on television.

As a licensed professional counselor who presents suicide prevention programs in public and private schools, I can tell you that, unfortunately, this show depicts the struggles many of our teenagers are facing. Personally, I went into the show ready to be a critic, ready to dismantle it for romanticizing suicide and for depicting dark images and ideas.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming accuracy of this show. Research tells us that 1 in 6 women are sexually abused and 5,000 teenagers in the United States attempt suicide daily, which means our high schools are filled with Hannah Bakers (the story’s protagonist who commits suicide).

Of course, there are many reasons not to watch this show, but I want to focus on my number one concern I have with it. Surprisingly, the number one issue is not suicide; it’s a victim mentality.

Victim mentality is different from being a victim. Without a doubt, people are victims of assault, abuse and other horrible acts for which they are in no way responsible. Victim mentality does not necessarily have anything to do with being the object of a crime. Victim mentality is letting other people rule your life or, in Hannah Baker’s case, letting other people ruin your life. While this idea can sound harsh, it is the reason Hannah Baker’s character and millions of other people take their own lives.

I remember counseling a suicidal 20-year-old girl who was a complete puzzle to me. I could not figure out why this beautiful and talented young woman with her whole life ahead of her was suicidal. Finally, she said to me, “I want to commit suicide because I want my dad to know how badly he hurt me when he sexually abused me.” That is the suicidal delusion that many teenagers and adults believe—that because of what has happened in their lives, their lives are over.

Many suffering people believe they are the only ones—the only ones being bullied, the only ones being sexually abused, the only ones without friends. And when people believe they are alone, they feel hopeless.

But the truth is that our lives are never completely hopeless, never beyond repair, and never beyond redemption because God is big enough to redeem and restore even the worst parts of our lives. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph had the ultimate chance to confront his brothers who sold him into slavery and left him for dead, and his response was not to leave cassette tapes for all his brothers to listen to so they could be punished. Instead, Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.”

In evaluating “Thirteen Reasons Why,” we must remember the reason it is a hit show—countless numbers of people are hurting and tempted to commit suicide every minute. We must stop letting other people ruin and even take our lives. We must open our eyes to the nationwide epidemic and reality of suicide.

Julia Jeffress Sadler serves as the Girls Ministry Director at First Baptist Church in Dallas and is a licensed professional counselor, specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm. She is also a National Board Certified Counselor.

Prestonwood resumes CP giving “without designation”

PLANO—Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano has announced it will resume giving through the Cooperative Program after two months of evaluating its support of Southern Baptist missions and ministries.

“After a time of prayerful evaluation, Prestonwood is renewing our commitment to Southern Baptist missions by giving to the Cooperative Program without designation,” Prestonwood executive pastor Mike Buster told Baptist Press in a statement April 26.

“For more than 40 years, Prestonwood has been a steadfast supporter of the Cooperative Program and its mission to advance the gospel through this vital giving program. We are grateful for the Southern Baptist Convention and our longtime ministry partnership and look forward to fulfilling the Great Commission together in the days ahead,” Buster said.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ shared funding strategy, traditionally given through state conventions and then onto national and worldwide Great Commission causes.

SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page expressed gratefulness at the congregation’s announcement.

“I am so delighted to hear of this news,” Page told BP in written comments. “In an earlier conversation with Dr. Graham, he promised that Prestonwood would be back in to CP sooner than later, and he is a man of his word.”

Prestonwood had announced in mid-February it would escrow CP funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.” During the escrow period, the congregation said it would evaluate how to proceed with future financial support of SBC and state convention ministries.

In a December 2016 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham, a former SBC president, alleged “disrespectfulness” by ERLC President Russell Moore toward evangelical supporters of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In March, Moore and the ERLC executive committee released an extended statement “seeking unity in the Southern Baptist Convention.” Shortly after the ERLC’s statement was released, Graham tweeted, “This is a gracious and unifying statement from [Moore].”

Responses to Prestonwood’s decision to escrow included a unanimous vote in February by the SBC Executive Committee’s CP Committee to create an ad hoc committee to “study and recommend redemptive solutions to the current reality in Southern Baptist life of churches’ either escrowing or discontinuing Cooperative Program funds, with the report being brought back to the September 2017 Executive Committee meeting.”

In response to an EC member’s request, the body’s officers also said they would “monitor the activities of our various Southern Baptist entities since our last convention … in relation to how those activities might adversely affect” CP and “our churches and other stewardship structures of Southern Baptists.”

The EC had received reports of other churches taking actions similar to Prestowood’s, BP reported previously.

EC chairman Stephen Rummage told the SBC This Week podcast in March a decision by Prestonwood to resume CP giving could indicate resolution of “most of the concerns that have been raised by the [Executive] Committee.” Prestonwood appears representative of other concerned congregations, said Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.

Women”s brunch encourages hospitality as means of discipleship

AUSTIN “Hospitality sets the stage for the great commission,” speaker Monica Carpenter told attendees at the Titus 2 Brunch at Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, April 8. 

The brunch was one of an ongoing series of events through the church’s women’s ministry, emphasizing the importance of community and discipleship. 

A wife and mother of six from Fort Worth, Carpenter said she declared her life and her door open early on in her marriage, and over the years, God has faithfully brought many young women into her home. 

“If your door is open, your life is going to open, and if your life opens, you have just given yourself the opportunity to demonstrate and describe the gospel to every single young woman that enters.”

Monica Carpenter

“If your door is open, your life is going to open, and if your life opens, you have just given yourself the opportunity to demonstrate and describe the gospel to every single young woman that enters.”

At the brunch, Carpenter spoke to a room full of women of all ages and life stages about what it looks like to use hospitality as a means of mentorship, drawing from the biblical model found in Titus 2:3-5. 

“Lest you think we don’t have a role in the church, your role is to protect the Word of God from being blasphemed. How? By pouring into younger women,” she said.  

The concept sounds simple, but too often, Carpenter said, culture has dictated our definition of hospitality, making it easy to get caught up in the details of a well-cooked meal or a perfectly clean house.

“We feel the pressure of presenting things and performance. We need to just move on to a bigger and better picture,” she said. “Imagine being so in tune with what really matters that we actually begin to think less about ourselves and how we appear to other people … and more about the gospel mission we’ve been called to.” 

As she lives a life of hospitality, Carpenter said she still sometimes struggles with how to balance her role as a mom with her role as a mentor. For others feeling this tension, she gives the same advice that her own mentor once gave her. 

“Keep your hand on the plow. You’re on your field. Keep your hand at that plow and just allow (other women) to step on the field with you and observe and watch you.”

Even in her weaknesses and failures, or on her worst days, Carpenter said she has seen how God weaves beauty in her relationships when she allows people to truly enter into her life, the messiness and all. 

“Inviting a young woman in your life is not inviting them to observe perfection. Be vulnerable, open, willing to teach the truth, even if you fall short of it … be willing to be used for your weakness.” 

Ultimately, Carpenter said, the key is to remember Christ, who set the ultimate example of hospitality by inviting strangers to come into a relationship with him. 

“The call to being a hospitable woman is nothing more than a call to unfold the gospel with your life actions in front of the women you’re dispcipling. If they become more devoted Christ followers, then you’ve succeeded.”  

REVIEW: “The Promise” is a faith-filled tale about the “forgotten Holocaust”

Mikael is a brilliant medical student living in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire and the historic multi-ethnic city that will make his dreams of becoming a doctor come true.

He’s smarter than the other students, and braver, too. The same day one of his classmates passes out while dissecting a cadaver, Mikael calmly pulls out a spleen.   

His future in the medical field seems bright, but all that changes in 1914 when the Ottomans enter World War I. Suddenly, the people he considered his friends—including his Muslim classmates—turn on him.

Mikael is part of the Armenian population, a Christian minority that had lived in harmony with the Muslims in recent years but now finds itself the target of an empire-wide cleansing. He witnesses family members being taken away and killed. Soon, he’s forced into a labor camp. Will he, and the rest of his family, survive?        

Inspired by true events, The Promise (PG-13) opens in more than 2,000 theaters this weekend, recounting an Armenian genocide that is often called the “forgotten Holocaust”—the time when 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated during and after World War I through killings, forced labor and death marches. To this day, the country of Turkey—the successor to the Ottoman Empire—denies it ever happened.

Additionally, most Americans know little about it, perhaps because we also know very little about the first World War. Filmmakers hope The Promise changes that.

The story is told through the eyes of three fictional characters, including Mikael, who is played by Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). He falls in love with Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), an Armenian artist from Paris who is romantically involved with American photo-journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight trilogy).

The Promise is not a faith-based film in the strict sense, although it carries a strong Christian worldview with a significant amount of faith-based dialogue.   

It’s not as graphic as Schindler’s List (not even close), but it does have several scenes that discerning families will want to know about before they go. Let’s look at the details …

Warning: minor spoilers!

The Good

Jesus once said, “There is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered, nothing hidden that won’t be made known” (Luke 12:2). Wouldn’t it be tragic if 1.5 million people were killed and no one remembered or acknowledged it? The Promise, in a sense, helps to uncover the truth. It is a gripping, moving film that shines light on one of history’s forgotten atrocities. And it does so with a romantic angle that keeps us engaged while we learn.

Despite the violent nature of the film (details below), faith is a major theme, and it is evident that the Armenians’ belief in Christ gave them strength. (“Praise God you’ve been spared,” Mikael’s father tells him at one point.) It has more Christian content and lines than 99 percent of other mainstream films.

Chris, an AP photographer, serves as our eyes and ears, investigating the unthinkable and refusing to buy the government line that the civilian population is being peacefully moved to a “safer” region.

Isaac, Le Bon and Bale are impressive in their roles.

The film begins strong, hits a lull in the middle, and picks up steam again in the end.

The Bad

Even though it’s not Schindler’s List, The Promise has a fair amount of violence. We see an Armenian village after it is burned, with two dead men hung in the street. Mikael fights someone in an alley, and later he is hit in the head and bloodied with a butt of a gun. A camp laborer intentionally blows up a package of dynamite, killing himself and others (bodies fly everywhere). Hundreds of bodies line a riverbank (clothed but bloodied). We see people shot in the head and executed. In the film’s final scenes, there is a battle between Armenians and Turks, with people shot and killed.  

There are a few other disturbing scenes. We see a cadaver’s abdomen open and organs pulled out. We also see a trainload of Armenians begging for someone to help.

Still, the violence stays in PG-13 territory.

The film has no nudity but a minor amount of sexuality, including one bedroom scene in which two characters kiss and she is then seen in a bra. They then kiss on the bed. Sex is implied, but the scene between the unmarried partners—unnecessary and too long—switches to a shot of them covered up the next morning. (All total, it lasts perhaps 10-15 seconds.) Characters kiss at least four other times in public. The film also contains a belly dancing scene (with some sensuality).     

Language, for this type of film, is minor: S—t (1), h— (1), OMG (3), ba—-d (1), misuse of God (1). 

The Worldview

Sometimes, truth shines brightly in the most unlikely of places. When police attacked peaceful civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965, Americans were outraged. Instead of protecting life, police had beaten and bloodied those who were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)—and the entire nation intuitively knew it. The Promise gave me a similar feeling. The Ottoman government, which had a God-given role to protect life (Romans 13:4), was attacking its own people—including its children—simply became they were of a different ethnicity and religion. But through it all, the Armenians’ faith helped them persevere.

The Verdict: Family-Friendly?

This one’s definitely not for kids, but I’d strongly consider taking teenagers, provided they were discerning enough to handle the violent and sexual content.

Discussion Questions

Why is there so much controversy about the Armenian Genocide? Are you satisfied with how America has handled the issue in its interaction with Turkey? What is the solution to racism and bigotry? Why did the Ottomans hate the Armenians? Did Mikael truly keep his promise to his fiancé? What is the role of reporters during a war? How much freedom should they have during a war? What did you find inspiring about the Armenians?

Entertainment rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

The Promise is rated PG-13 for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality.