Month: August 2017

SBTC partners to revitalize North Dakota church

WILLISTON, N.D. In an unprecedented move, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is partnering with the Dakotas Baptist Convention (DBC) to assist with revitalization efforts in one of its churches. The venture is a covenant agreement assisting the DBC to bring new life to Cornerstone First Baptist Church in Williston, N.D., through a revitalization method developed by the SBTC. 

An oil and population boom to northwest North Dakota beginning in the mid-2000s more than doubled the population of Williston, the epicenter of the Bakken oil patch fracking production, to almost 30,000. The boom also created a lot blue-collar workers with six-figure jobs. 

Flush with cash and a pastor with big ideas, Cornerstone First Baptist Church relocated the church and built a $4 million facility. But the influx of people and money to the community and the church proved too much too fast. And the change became unwieldy.

With 98 percent of the congregation employed and “making good money,” DBC Executive Director Garvon Golden said the members paid down the debt on their new building to $1.2 million. But the underground fissures that brought financial wealth subsequently fractured the church when the price of oil and paychecks dropped precipitously in 2013. Cornerstone FBC membership plunged from 250 to 75, and even the pastor left.

An interim pastor served for about a year and, in 2016, Golden began making the five-hour, one-way trip from his home in Rapid City, S.D., each weekend to fill the pulpit. The drive gave him time to think and pray. The remaining congregation was committed to holding the church together, but Golden knew they would need help.

Throughout North and South Dakotas there are 87 SBC churches. The far-flung congregations average 30-35 members, with six churches having membership over 100 and the largest topping 200. The larger churches are “young and developing,” Golden said. But all combined, the convention did not have the resources to assist Cornerstone FBC.

Recalling a 2009-11 partnership between DBC and SBTC, Golden sent an email to Texas and two other SBC state conventions in the South asking for help.

Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies, remembered the request.

“They could pay the bills, but they couldn’t pay a pastor,” said Priest.

Golden said SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards responded immediately asking the executive board to approve a revitalization covenant with a church outside the state. It had not been done before, but the prior working relationship between the two conventions and the realization that North Dakota could lose one of its strongest churches prompted SBTC leadership to readily agree, Priest said.

When Golden informed the congregation of the offer, he said they were “blown away.”

“Why would folks in Texas help?” he recalled them asking. “They were so encouraged to know they were not alone.”

That reassurance sparked a revitalization movement before officially partnering with the SBTC, and church members began filling the pulpit in October to relieve Golden of the task.

As part of the agreement, the church as well as any prospective pastor, had to sign on to the covenant. T.J. Green heartily agreed, saying he relished the idea of working with Cornerstone FBC, not in spite of but because of its circumstances.

In July Green accepted the call to pastor Cornerstone and moved his family—wife, Kristy, and their three sons Caedmon, 7, Tyler, 6, and Maverick, 10 months—from northern Florida to Williston, which is located just 70 miles south of the Canadian border. When asked by the TEXAN if he had purchased long underwear, Green laughed saying he had already researched clothes layering in preparation for the sub-zero degree winter.

Green, like the congregation, is grateful for the Texas partnership and sees it as more than a one-off venture. The SBTC’s covenant partnership model used in the DBC-Cornerstone FBC relationship “is the route people need to take,” he said.

That kind of covenant revitalization, he said, is an untapped resource. Referring to his own congregation at Cornerstone FBC, Green said, “What about these churches? We can save them.” 

GuideStone offers tips for churches, ministries damaged in wake of Hurricane Harvey

DALLAS—While the winds and rains from Hurricane Harvey have finally begun to taper off for residents along the Texas and Louisiana coastlines, the cleanup effort will likely be measured in months and years, not days and weeks.

To aid churches as they face the daunting tasks of rebuilding, GuideStone offers tips for churches and ministries faced with property damage and claims.

Gaelen Cole, senior manager of risk and compliance for GuideStone’s Property and Casualty area says churches should consider four main steps:

First, promptly report the claim, even though the extent of the damage may not be fully known. Those insured through GuideStone’s Property and Casualty partner Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company should call them at 1-800-333-3371.

Second, Cole said almost every policy requires that reasonable steps be taken to protect covered property to avoid further loss. The costs may be covered under the policy, so prompt reporting of the claim can allow for discussions of that coverage with your insurance carrier.

Third, it’s important to have a thorough review of the property, looking for damage that may not be as evident.

“Some churches, especially those dealing with so many pressing needs, delegate this task and don’t give it the attention it deserves,” Cole said. “It’s important that this be done thoroughly, by a professional whenever possible.”

Fourth, providing proof of loss is also an important step, Cole said. Most insurance companies require that this be provided within 60 days of the insurer’s request for it. Churches have to consider everything from audio/visual equipment to chairs to nursery gear to office furniture in their losses. Pictures, videos and inventories are useful for determining loss.

Cole said it’s important for churches to speak with their property and casualty insurance agents, as there may be coverage for ministry interruption that can help churches who miss offerings as well as to be able to continue to meet in temporary facilities. This coverage is offered to churches using Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.

“We have seen evidence that most churches are able to maintain their giving during the weeks after a disaster, but churches must consider the expense of renting temporary quarters while they rebuild,” Cole said. 

GuideStone is also standing by to assist churches and ministries with questions about their retirement or life and health benefits. Retirement questions can be directed to 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433), and questions about life and health plans can be directed to the new dedicated line: 1-844-INS-GUIDE (1-844-467-4843).

“We are reminded of and are clinging to the promise recorded in Isaiah that ‘when you pass through the waters, the Lord will be with you,’” said GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins. “We have watched with prayer and thanksgiving the outpouring of love on the people of Rockport, Victoria, Houston, Beaumont, New Orleans and all of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and all who have served as Christ’s hand extended during these days. It is our hope and plan to continue in our role as a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security as our neighbors walk through these challenges brought on by Hurricane Harvey.”


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Churches shelter & feed flooded Harvey evacuees in Southeast TX near Beaumont

LABELLE, Texas—As the sun shone over Houston Wednesday, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey gave Texas one last punch, inundating the Beaumont-Port Arthur region with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours before lurching into Louisiana. Southeast Texas churches that did not take on water took in evacuees in the wake of the storm locals are calling worse than Hurricane Ike.

Not until the rain began to dissipate Wednesday could pastors, church members and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Field Ministry Strategists (FMS) begin to assess the damage in communities west of Houston and east to the Sabine River. But with hundreds of roads still partially submerged, getting eyes on entire neighborhoods has been impossible. Phone contact, when possible, had to suffice and began to paint an incomplete yet sufficient enough picture of incomparable devastation mingled with God’s immeasurable grace.

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“They have measured life by Ike, and now that’s been entirely eclipsed,” said Sonny Hathaway, pastor of LaBelle Baptist Church, 10 miles south of Beaumont. The church began taking in evacuees in the predawn hours of Wednesday as water poured into homes.

Water evacuations had already taken place Tuesday in Jefferson County when the sky opened up that night dumping 18 inches of rain between 9 p.m. and midnight. Hathaway said residents flooded from their homes began arriving at his locked church around 4 a.m. Wednesday. About one-third were church members. By noon about 120 people had taken shelter there.

“This place just became a place of refuge,” Hathaway said.

Hathaway, who has pastored at LaBelle for four years, said 80 percent of the church lost homes during Hurricane Ike 10 years ago. But a constable who lost his home to Harvey said this storm is 10 times worse.

Hathaway said his conversations with state and local emergency management personnel reveal the magnitude of the disaster.

“They look at me like they’re shell-shocked. Like they don’t know what to do,” he said.

Dennis Parish, FMS for the greater Houston area, could not reach his church, Needham Road Baptist Church, to assess damage until Wednesday. The building sustained little damage from the storm but a human intruder had broken into the church office and stolen cash, the church debit card and Parish’s handgun.

While filing a police report, Parish’s thoughts were with the churches in his region.

“I’m trying to contact several churches, and no one is answering. There are neighborhoods I can’t get into,” Parish said. “I have a big truck, and I’m hesitant to go [certain places].”

Bill Collier, FMS for the region east and northeast of Houston, is in the same predicament. Of the churches he has been able to contact, four took on water. FBC Fannett had taken in evacuees before taking on water forcing everyone to the second floor, Collier said.

In total 764 SBTC churches—more than one-fourth of the total churches in the convention—are in the 54 counties hit by Hurricane Harvey.

But help is on the way.

“We see a great demand of churches who want to be involved,” Mickey Caison, North American Mission Board Southern Baptist SEND Relief executive director, told the TEXAN Wednesday evening as he drove toward Houston from Georgia.

Caison said NAMB is assessing how best to utilize the limited volunteer and financial resources for what is, admittedly, an overwhelming situation. Even if all Southern Baptists showed up, there would still be work to do he said.

NAMB disaster relief strategists, including David Melber, NAMB vice president of SEND Relief, will coordinate with leadership at Houston’s First Baptist Church, using the church’s four campuses as staging areas for DR team deployments. The campuses are providentially located in some of the regions hardest hit by Harvey’s rainfall.

Caison said the NAMB leadership will “stay out of the way of the Green Berets of Southern Baptists”—the yellow-shirted disaster relief teams. More volunteers will be forthcoming, and NAMB will coordinate those deployments.

NAMB leaders hope to facilitate a culture of “churches helping churches,” Caison said. Texas congregations ministering within the disaster area will need encouraging too. The long-term work of hurricane disaster relief can carry on most effectively when churches from outside the disaster area partner with those toiling within to meet their needs so they can continue to minister to the community.

An example of how that might work played out Wednesday and into Thursday morning in Madisonville, 40 miles northeast of Bryan-College Station, where Kevin McKenzie, owner of McKenzie’s Barbeque and Burgers, packed enough food in his truck Wednesday to feed 200-300. The destination? First Baptist Church in Port Neches 176 miles away where at least 200 people had sought refuge from rising waters but had few provisions.

McKenzie became aware of their plight Wednesday morning as he and other local restaurant owners and area church representatives met at First Baptist Church Madisonville to discuss how to assist hurricane evacuees making their way to their small town of 4,396. As they met someone called the church alerting them to the plight in Port Neches.

In less than an hour McKenzie had cold cuts, chicken salad, chips, bread, buns, apples, bananas and protein drinks loaded in his truck. He headed to Trinity Pines Baptist Church over an hour away where he met Pastor Jonathan Davidson and church member Tom Foucha who took the food the final, water-logged, leg of the trip.

Davidson told the TEXAN he and Foucha drove through 12-18 inches of water in places to reach the church. By the time they arrived, the number of evacuees had swelled to 400 with some taking shelter in the junior high across the street.

Everyone received dinner, but breakfast was served with some bitter news—city officials had determined the church could no longer serve as a shelter.

“When we told them they had to pack up and leave, it was hard,” Davidson said.

Busses ferried evacuees to a local airport where they loaded Chinook helicopters headed for Galveston. From there they would board buses for a shelter in Dallas.

Davidson and Foucha, both former Marines, stayed behind this morning, joining forces with the Coast Guard personnel as they searched the as yet unreached area of Groves, Texas.

In LaBelle, Hathaway said as a pastor his role is to dispel the tension that wells up with the water and threatens to overwhelm those trying to help, many of whom have losses of their own.

“They are tired, exhausted and concerned about their families,” he said of his church volunteers caring for evacuees. “They have been on the phone with family who are evacuating while trying to serve lunch.”

By God’s grace the church will be the one thing a community should be able to depend on Hathaway said.

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Leading Messy People

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4

Whether you are a pastor, church staff member, employer, team leader at work or a leader in any other capacity, every person on your team is unique. They all have strengths and weaknesses. Learning to encourage them in their strengths and work together through their weaknesses is vital. Proverbs 14:4 implies two options: either everything under your supervision can be clean, organized, and exactly as you want it, OR you can work with real people. And working with real people can get messy.

But here’s the thing: the people on your team are your greatest resource. Farmers like clean stables, no doubt. And it would be easy to keep the stables clean if the farmer could just get rid of the oxen. But farmers don’t reap abundant harvests because they have clean stables. They reap abundant harvests because they have hard-working oxen, all moving in the same direction. Much like this, you won’t reach maximum effectiveness because desks are always organized, your t’s are always crossed and i’s always dotted, and there are never personality conflicts on your team. You will reach maximum effectiveness because you have quality, hard-working team members who are all moving in the same direction toward a common goal.

Sure, there are times when letting a team member go is the right thing to do. But most of the time, before this is even an option, we should look into our leadership first and ask the hard questions. Are my expectations realistic? Have I clearly communicated my expectations? Is this a real issue or only a perceived issue? Do I have the right person in the wrong position?

Learn to appreciate the different personalities of your team members. When the small things aren’t exactly like you want them, be thankful that you are leading a hard-working group of people. Leadership is not about keeping the feeding troughs clean; it’s about getting all of your people moving in the same direction toward a common goal.

I’d rather have a diverse group of hard working team members who work through personality difficulties and other minor idiosyncrasies to be exceptionally productive than a handful of superficially spotless wax figures who expend most of their energy keeping the stalls clean.

Clean stalls = no oxen. No oxen = no productivity. Value the oxen more than the stalls. Stalls are not your greatest resource, nor should they be your greatest investment. People are your greatest resource, and they should always be your greatest investment.

Children”s minister opens home to 16 evacuees and 6 dogs

CYPRESS, Texas—“I keep telling everyone that we’re honestly so good. We’re really relaxing, hanging out, and we’re no story at all,” Nicole Richert offered as an explanation for why she and her husband accepted 16 strangers and six dogs into their home days after Hurricane Harvey flooded areas of Cypress, Texas. 

“We were just headed to the gas station when my aunt called, and she was looking for a lady named Judy who had been air boated out of her neighborhood,” Richert told the TEXAN. They had just pulled into the very Shell station where her aunt had told them to find the woman and her husband. 

“When we found her we realized as we were walking through that all these other people had nowhere to go,” she explained. A bus was transporting evacuees to a local school that had not yet opened to provide shelter. “We said, ‘Who needs a home?’ That was it.” 

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Richert serves as children’s minister at Fairfield Baptist Church in Cypress, where first responders have been offered a respite area. Some neighborhoods experienced six to eight feet of flooding in houses, and churches in the area are coordinating how to meet ongoing needs.  

“We’re just trying to see what to do and where to go,” stated Jim Daniel, pastor of Fairfield Baptist, which took a hit from Hurricane Ike in 2008. He wasn’t surprised by the response of the Richert family in meeting needs of evacuees.  

The collection of house guests included older couples and young families, all grateful for help. The Richerts served up chili and cornbread for dinner then found places for them to sleep throughout the house. They even made room for one family’s dogs, including a dachshund that had just given birth to puppies. 

“This is one of those experiences where you spend time with people you don’t normally take the time to enjoy,” Richert added, describing two-hour dinners of good conversation. “We are really living very easy and comfortable.” 

Relatives have picked up the couple they initially had been asked to find, and one family is waiting for the water to recede before returning home. While FEMA offered lodging at a hotel for one of the families, they accepted their host’s invitation to remain along with the fourth family who will stay until their carpet is cleaned up from the flooding. 

Teaching lessons about being a good neighbor is a part of Nicole Richert’s ministry to children, so making that application came naturally to her family.  

“I hadn’t really even processed it or thought through it,” she admitted. “You see a need? You meet a need.” 

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NEW LIFE: Children”s laughter music to ears of revitalized church

Houston The on-again, off-again summer evening showers forced a dampened group of church members, volunteers and neighbors to retreat indoors just as the Cornerstone Baptist Church block party kicked off. The sound of laugher, chatter and children running in the hallway carried like music to the ears of church members (old enough to remember when running in the church was considered sinful behavior), who relished every note. 

It had been too long since such happy sounds echoed throughout the building or since the congregation had so intentionally extended the gospel message to their neighbors. Personal conflicts and financial troubles left Cornerstone with no pastor, no building and a dwindling membership these past five years. But with an SBTC revitalization covenant and Pastor Dave Cash’s arrival, the remaining congregation believes it is with good reason they held on to hope.

“I believe God knew what was in the works,” church member Bonnie Stevenson told the TEXAN. “We’re the remnant of what God wants for this church.”

What God saw “in the works:” mishandled tax filings and the resultant crushing Internal Revenue Service fine; the sale of the church to pay IRS penalty; conflicts about the church’s mission; and members fleeing.

But even a church in crisis is not without hope, said Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies. The SBTC’s church revitalization models have been recognized nationwide as successful tools for restoring churches to spiritual health, Priest said. 

But a good plan is only as successful as a congregation’s desire to follow through on the recommended steps to recovery, Priest said. Cash and Cornerstone’s members had to agree to the three-year covenant and its accountability measures. From their first meeting, Cash said he found Cornerstone’s people willing to do what is required for restoration.

“They really felt God wasn’t done with them,” Cash said. “That, or they were stubborn. They weren’t sure.”

The 30 or so resilient members have enthusiastically poured themselves into revitalization efforts that are breathing new life into a church left for dead.

Churches in need of the SBTC revitalizations efforts are either “viable,” “sick,” or “in crisis,” Priest said. A “crisis” church like Cornerstone has no budget, no staff and probably wouldn’t exist within three years.

To resuscitate such churches and restore spiritual health, Cash, the members, and the SBTC have entered into a covenant agreement—the most “hands-on” and effective revitalization model. During the three-year commitment, the convention provides support and training for the pastor. He must also lead the church through an extended sermon series and small group Bible study provided by the convention. SBTC’s curriculum gives the Bible passages and recommended outlines for the sermon series, but the pastor studies and writes his own sermons. 

God’s grace has been evident in the midst of the difficult process at Cornerstone. Although they had to sell the church to pay the IRS fine, the buyer—Fallbrook Baptist Church, another SBTC congregation just down the road—allows Cornerstone to use the building for only a portion of the price of the utility bills.

Stevenson and fellow Cornerstone holdouts Pete Stewart, Sandra Hendon, Cheryl Jones, Doug Coleman, and Judy and Joe Celenza shared stories with the TEXAN of their beginnings at the church 30 years ago. Although damp and tired from the block party and the week’s worth of pool parties, VBS and Bible studies at neighboring apartments and a mobile home park, it’s a good kind of tired, they said. 

A large band of fifth and sixth grade volunteers from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano helped with the week’s activities, including setting up the game and food booths on the church lawn that Friday evening.

Watching the preparation brought Cheryl Jones to tears. The neighbors wouldn’t be the only ones benefitting from the evening’s fun and games.

Cash and his family arrived in April, and while the emotional wounds are still raw, Cash said he detects no anger or bitterness.  The interim pastor, Andy Hill, did a lot to help the congregation heal the people, he said.

“The past is the past,” Cash told the TEXAN. He knows Cornerstone’s troubles are common knowledge in the community, but their recent outreach has borne fruit—they will host weekly Bible studies at two apartment complexes, the mobile home park and a retirement residence.

But while focusing on community outreach, Cash understands revitalization is not as much about growing a church as it is about the spiritual health of the church members now and going forward.

“My goal is to get in with these neighbors,” he said. “And that my people will see God working after their waiting period.”

For more information on church revitalization through SBTC, visit

SBTC camps see students changed for eternity

As young hearts collided with the truth and love of the Heavenly Father through student camps this summer, student leaders also felt God’s hands better train them for spiritual leadership within their churches. This summer, God moved in and through the Southern Baptists of Texas M3 and Youth Week student camps in more ways than just the record-breaking attendance.

“This is the biggest and best year we have had since the camp started in 2010,” Garrett Wagoner,  SBTC student ministry associate and M3 camp director, said. “Each year we are growing as a camp and in numbers. We are gaining more confidence in our leadership, and we have found what God is calling us to do.”

There were three M3 camps, each in a different location and almost hitting capacity in all three; Highland Lakes registered 706, Camp Zephyr in Live Oak County registered 507, and Glorieta held in Glorieta, N.M., reined in 1,558 students, student pastors and adult volunteers.

According to Wagoner, M3 stands for moment, mission and movement. 

“We want to see students, youth pastors and adult leaders have a moment where they encounter Jesus at camp, then equip them to live a life on mission and be a part of the movement of Jesus as they go home to advance the gospel and make disciples,” Wagoner said. “We pray that camp is a gathering of churches all over Texas coming together to experience that.”

Located at Texas Baptist Encampment, Palacios, Youth Week brought in 300 registrants. The camp, which is organized by the SBTC Hispanic ministries but draws a multiethnic crowd of teenagers, recorded 20 students who dedicated their lives to Christ and three students who surrendered to a call to ministry. 

“We emphasized prayer and calling out to God, for everyone to be broken over our sin and desire to be used as instruments of revival,” Jesse Contreras, Hispanic ministries associate and Youth Week camp director, said. “Through that, we had a large number of first-time attendees from one particular church commit their lives to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

During Youth Week, contemporary Christian artist Jamie Grace put on a concert for the camp.

“This year we were blessed to have Jamie Grace have a concert and challenge our youth to glorify and live in holiness in our relationships and to continue to dream for him,” Contreras said.

Both sets of camps had one theme in mind, momentum with Acts 26:12-18 as the camp verse. 

Brandon Bales, student pastor for Northeast Houston Baptist Church, attended M3 camp in Glorieta with his students and adult sponsors.

“The two most important things that we received from camp, that really sets it apart from any other, is the sense of community you feel within your own church group,” Bales said. “Second, the intentionality of networking student pastors together throughout the week is a true blessing.” 

With a balanced combination of evangelism and discipleship, M3 Camps teach students and adults to check their own lives with Christ and leave knowing how to bring others in their community to Christ, Wagoner said.

“For our church, we spent most of the summer on mission and this camp provided a reflective conclusion to our students by coming together as a large community,” said Kayla Williams, student ministry associate for Northeast Houston Baptist Church. “The most important part of the camp was being able to meet with our students during church group and debrief with them at the end of the day to see how God is moving in and through them.”

Youth Week and M3 Camps invite youth leaders to grow in their spiritual walk along with the students they bring to camp.

“This year we added a workshop specifically for youth leaders and emphasized outreach to the Muslim world during our ‘What’s Next’ special program,” Contreras said.

Many students and sponsors were set free from their bondage to sin and others learned how to pray for the first time, Wagoner said.

“There was a spiritual awakening happening,” he said. “We saw students get set free from addictions, abuse and things that held them captive. We saw youth pastors encouraged to keep going in their ministry, and we heard about marriages from leaders come to reconciliation. We watched many walk away tired physically but spiritually refreshed in their walk and on fire for God.”

For more information about next year’s camps, stay tuned to and

ERLC trustees honor champions of religious liberty, approve 2017-18 budget

NASHVILLE—Trustees for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention voted to honor champions of religious liberty, approved a $4.23 million operating budget, responded to a motion from the SBC related to publishing trustee contact information, and elected officers during their annual board meeting, Aug. 24. They met at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Conference Center in Nashville prior to the ERLC’s national conference on parenting.


Trustees voted to award Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam with the Richard D. Land Distinguished Service Award.

“He has been involved in a multitude of questions that we have been working on this year,” Moore said, including signing the Tennessee Infants Protection Act, which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks in most cases. Moore also noted that Haslam has worked diligently for religious liberty and foster care reform in addition to being “an unbelievable help and encouragement to the ERLC.”

Trustees also voted to award the John Leland Religious Liberty Award to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic order of nuns that cares for the elderly poor and stood against the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services mandate requiring religious organizations to violate their beliefs by adopting health care plans that included coverage for abortifacient contraceptives. The nuns fought the issue through the courts system, taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a unanimous ruling in favor of the Little Sisters.

The Leland award is named for a Baptist preacher who helped secure a constitutional guarantee of free religious expression within the First Amendment.

“We bring this recommendation for an extraordinary group of women—who we have great theological differences with, especially in the year that we’re celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—but women who have stood up for freedom of conscience in ways that are going to be applicable to everybody across the spectrum,” Moore told trustees.

Moore also gave a resolution of appreciation to trustee John Whitehead, an at-large trustee from Missouri, for his role as an attorney in the U.S. Supreme Court religious liberty case involving Trinity Lutheran Church. The Court ruled that the state of Missouri violated the church’s right to exercise its faith freely by prohibiting it from participating in a government program involving playground resurfacing.

Response to SBC Motion

Trustees responded to a motion at the 2017 annual meeting of the SBC in Phoenix requesting SBC entities to “consider publishing online, in an easy and accessible place, the names and contact information of the trustees of their institution.”

The approved response said, “The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission strives to conduct its work utilizing best practices regarding all organizational policies. As a result, the Commission does not release personal information regarding its staff or trustees as personal data is subject to spam, abuse and security concerns. Trustees may be contacted through the Office of the President.”

In presenting the motion from the board’s executive committee, chairman Ken Barbic noted concerns about security and spam as reasons against providing email addresses.

“There is danger in having [contact information] out publicly,” Barbic said. “I think this is a wise and appropriate response in terms of how we want to handle trustee information. There is privacy that each of you is entitled to, and at the same time, if people want to reach out, there is a means that they can go through in order to get that information.”

Kelly Hancock, an at-large trustee from Texas, voiced a concern for transparency, noting that Southern Baptists should be able to easily access contact information of the trustees on the ERLC website. Presently, names and mailing addresses of all entity trustees can be found on the SBC website, Hancock also said there are ways to protect email addresses on websites from receiving spam.

“You could still list who we are, and make that accessible, and protect us at the same time,” Hancock said to trustees prior to the vote. “You should be able to go to the ERLC website and find out who the trustees are.”

Trustees approved the response, with Hancock the only trustee voting in the negative.


Trustees approved a 2017-18 operating budget of $4,234,885, a slight increase over the current year.

Election of Officers

Trustees elected Trevor Atwood of Tennessee as board chairman, Barry Creamer of Texas as vice chairman and Roger Manao of Pennsylvania as secretary. Atwood, pastor of City Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., served most recently as vice chairman. Creamer, a member of Lake Highlands Baptist Church in Dallas and president of Criswell College, served most recently as secretary.

REVIEW: “Leap!” tells us to follow our hearts. But is that biblical?

Felicie is a free-spirited young redhead who has one goal in life: to become a ballerina. She dances when she works. She dances when she plays. And when she sleeps? This tween girl is dreaming of dancing.

Felicie, though, lives in an orphanage that continually squashes her aspirations.

“Dreams are not reality,” a nun tells her.

It seems Felicie is destined to a life of fantasy; that is, until her best friend and fellow orphan Victor hatches a wild escape plan that involves running away in the dead of night and hopping on a train to Paris, the home of a world-famous dance school. Once there, she’ll enroll, impress everyone, and become a world-famous ballerina! Well, that’s the plan.

They do escape, but the Paris they discover in 1880s France is one that shuns orphans and has little taste for children without homes. Perhaps that nun was right.

It’s all part of the animated movie Leap! (PG), which opens in about 2,000 theaters this weekend and tells the story of a talented-but-poor girl who follows the dreams that her birth mom—a mom she never met—planted in her. It seems that Felicie’s mom left her daughter a miniature, ballerina-themed music box.  

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to dance,” Felicie says.

It stars Elle Fanning (Maleficent, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as Felicie; Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) as Victor; singer Carly Rae Jepsen as Felicie’s teacher, Odette; Maddie Ziegler as Felicie’s ballerina rival, Camille; and Mel Brooks as Luteau, the orphanage supervisor.

Leap! is an entertaining, mostly clean film that has plenty of fun moments but also a couple of ethical/worldview concerns.

Let’s examine the details.

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing Images

Minimal. Luteau chases Felicie and Victor out of the orphanage; even though he doesn’t intend physical harm, he ends up placing everyone’s lives in danger. Later in the movie, though, Camille’s wicked mother Régine does try to hurt Felicie in a page straight out of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga. Also, we see a boy punch another boy.   


None. Felicie has two suitors: Victor and a French dancer named Rudolph. The romance angle is a major part of the film, although Felicie never kisses either of them on the lips. (Victor does try to do so once.) She later kisses Victor on the cheek.

Felicie and Victor end up in a pub where she performs an Irish step dance on patron tables.    

Coarse Language

None. (Although one character does say the word “sucks.”)  

Other Positive Elements

Odette, a servant to Régine, initially shuns Felicie but soon sacrifices her time and energy to become her mentor. Later, another character who had ridiculed Felicie changes his mind and decides to help her. Also, Felicie’s positive outlook on life is contagious to those around her.  

Other Negative Elements

The movie’s biggest ethical problem: Felicie steals Camille’s identity to get into dance school. She does get caught, but she is allowed to stay in the class due to her talent level and perhaps her background. (She is an orphan. Who wouldn’t feel sorry for her?) Maybe the instructor made the right decision, but it’s something parents should be ready to discuss.

Régine and Camille constantly belittle Felicie. (Camille calls her a rat and tells her: “You’re nothing” – a reference to her social status.)    

Life Lessons

There are solid lessons on hard work (Felicie), forgiveness (several characters), kindness (Odette and Victor) and mentoring (Odette and Felicie). Régine and Camille give us lessons on how not to treat someone. Their dehumanizing of Felicie is painful to watch, and we immediately feel compassion for Felicie.     


“You should always follow your heart and never give up,” a character tells Felicie in a pivotal moment. This theme is popular among Hollywood films. It’s also unbiblical.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us not to follow our own will: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Jeremiah 17:9 describes the heart as “deceitful” (ESV) and “wicked” (KJV).

In other words, we’re in trouble if we follow our heart. We better make sure our desires align with God’s will.

That said, God does give each of us unique talents, and those talents often spark a natural desire to use them. Scripture tells us not to waste our talents (Matthew 25:14-30). But we’re also not guaranteed fame. Consider: God just might want a girl in your church to be a world-famous ballerina. But he also might want her to use her talents locally. Either way, he is glorified.  

Follow your heart? No. Use your talents for God’s glory? Of course.


Leap! contains no language, no sexuality and minimal violence. The ethical/worldview concerns can be corrected in a post-movie car discussion. It’s family-friendly.  

What I Liked

Leap! is a beautiful film that displays the marvels of 1880s Paris. We see the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower being built (even though they were constructed a few years apart). We see the grand buildings and the marvelous museums. It’s easy to turn the film into a history lesson.  

Meanwhile, I also enjoyed watching a young girl turn down a kiss. How often does that happen on the big screen?

What I Didn’t Like

The dehumanizing of Felicie. It was a bit too much.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the Bible say about following your heart and your dreams?
  2. How are we to find the will of God for our lives?
  3. Was it OK for Felicie to lie? Should her punishment have been more severe?
  4. Have you ever seen someone make fun of another person? How did you react? How should you have reacted?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.