Month: March 2018

5 ways to be ALL IN through the Cooperative Program

SBTC President Juan Sanchez issued a challenge in the last TEXAN. He sent out a video with the same message. He wants every church to be “All In” through the Cooperative Program during our celebration year of 2018. The SBTC will be 20 years old this November. The Cooperative Program makes it possible to reach Texas and touch the world together. Church plants, evangelism strategies, revitalization, over 100 local church ministries and much more are accomplished through the CP.

Although Hurricane Harvey and a downturn in the oil economy have impacted some churches, God has sustained the ministry efforts through 2017. There are ways for more churches to be involved to help with the work in Texas and beyond. Let me suggest five ways for Southern Baptists to be “All In.”

1. Pastors, please speak about the Cooperative Program to your congregations.

By explaining what it is and how it accomplishes Great Commission ministry, you will motivate your people to become more generous. Sunday morning has become the one major gathering of churches in most Southern Baptist contexts. People know what the pastor values. If he endorses the Cooperative Program on Sunday morning there will be greater participation by church members.

2. Laypersons need better education about the Cooperative Program.

This includes an understanding of how CP works and to know what it does. Lay involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention has reached an all-time low. If laypersons fully grasp what the CP does in reaching the nations, more will participate. Since the CP is not a direct appeal to wealthy donors, there is no threat to the local church’s ministry. It seems reasonable that church members will give more through the church if they are invested beyond their community. Small groups, one-on-one instruction or involvement in convention life at a state or national level would expose church members to the greatest missions funding tool ever devised.

3. Debt is one of the greatest hindrances to gospel advance.

Building costs are exorbitant. Sometimes a church funds its building program by reducing missions giving. The Cooperative Program seems impersonal, making it the easiest target for reductions. The Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation can help with loans and provide stewardship resources to assist a church in making good decisions without harming mission work through the CP. The Cooperative Program is people. There are over 3,000 international missionaries, 15,000 seminary students and 100-plus SBTC church planters depending on the CP. To each one of them, the CP is personal.

4. Unashamed identification of churches as Southern Baptist is essential. 

Even without “Baptist” in the name of the church, there needs to be an honest expression of theological affinity to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). Southern Baptist churches should participate in the Cooperative Program. The SBC is like a bicycle. It has two wheels, doctrinal agreement and shared funding. A bicycle has to keep moving or it will tip over. Both wheels have to turn. The SBC will cease to exist if either element disappears. Before the Conservative Resurgence the liberalmoderate faction wanted to make the SBC solely turn on one wheel, the Cooperative Program. Doctrinal compatibility took a back seat if present at all. Now, with biblical inerrantists in SBC leadership, doctrinal affirmation is expected but we hear less emphasis on the Cooperative Program as a shared giving plan to assist each church in carrying out the Great Commission. Unless there is a return to cooperative giving, the SBC will be nothing more than the Baptist Bible Fellowship.

5. Continue to give CP while you go!

Before the creation of the Cooperative Program, churches were constantly bombarded by ministries requesting funds. This approach is known as the “societal” method. Larger churches and wealthy members were called upon to undergird the work of the convention. We have seen more direct mission efforts by churches in the last 25 years than in all the years preceding. There are wonderful benefits to the mission trips with hands-on involvement. My doctoral project and paper were about establishing a mission trip ministry in the local church. It is not either/or but both/and. Yet some churches have chosen to give to direct mission projects by omitting or reducing the Cooperative Program. There are not enough large churches or wealthy individuals to sustain the Southern Baptist system of cooperative giving. Local churches give through the CP to enable ministries in North America and around the world. Without local churches investing in Great Commission ministries through the Cooperative Program, the greatest mission and ministry force the evangelical world has ever known will unravel.

Generosity is not about keeping the Southern Baptist Convention alive. It is about reaching 18 million lost people in Texas. It is about planting churches across North America. It is about training the next generation of leaders. It is about sending missionaries with the gospel to the hardest-to-reach places on the planet. April 8 is Cooperative Program Sunday. If this date does not work for you, plan to observe CP Sunday on another date. Join with other SBTC churches and be “All In” with the Cooperative Program.

Being an Acts 2 church in the 21st century: devoted to the apostles” teaching

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:41-42)

Some churches are known for their music programs, others for their children’s or youth ministries, others for some sort of “niche” that appeals to a large audience. While all such ministries can be good and helpful for both reaching your community and encouraging the church, it’s interesting to look back at what the first church devoted themselves to. In Acts 2, after Peter’s Jewish audience heard the gospel proclaimed, they responded with repentance and faith, were incorporated into the church through baptism, and they devoted themselves to a common faith and a common life. 

It’s no accident that the first devotion mentioned was to the apostles’ teaching. We too should be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, but what is their teaching? In Acts 2:22-26, Peter preaches the good news concerning Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and exaltation as Lord and King. In Acts 4, Peter and John annoy the Jewish leaders because they were “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (v.2). Then the Jewish leaders charged them not “to teach at all in the name of Jesus” (v.18). Then in Acts 5, the apostles’ teaching is referred to as “the words of life” (v.20-21). But again, the Jewish leaders “strictly charged them not to teach in this name” (v.28). Nevertheless, after they were released, Luke says of the apostles: “And every day in the temple and from house to house they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Christ” (v.42). I trust you get the idea of what the apostles’ teaching entails.

Still, there is a little more going on in Acts 2:42 than first meets the eye. You see, faithful Jews were to be devoted to Moses’ teaching. By devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching, the early church understood that they were under a new authority—King Jesus, the new and better prophet than Moses. The apostles’ teaching is nothing other than all of Scripture, now interpreted through the lens of Jesus. This is, after all, how Jesus himself viewed all of Scripture (Luke 24:44-49). All Scripture is inspired by God and points to Jesus.

For this reason, we should want what we do together as a church to be Word-saturated (all of Scripture) and gospel-centered (interpreted through the lens of Jesus). In light of this gospel commitment, here are four areas in which we should encourage our church to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching.

Personal devotions

If our churches are to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, then our members need to be personally devoted to the apostles’ teaching. At the very least, we need to encourage regular Bible reading. To be sure, there is no shortage of daily Bible reading plans, and many of our folks get confused by all the offerings. Personally, I’ve found that a simple Bible reading plan is best. When it comes to personal devotions, I encourage our folks to be faithful in three ways: plan, time, and place. If you set a regular time and find a regular place for your personal devotions, it will likely develop into a fruitful practice. And if you commit to a simple, doable plan, you will more likely maintain it. Most Bible reading plans fail due to complexity and/or overzealous daily goals. It’s more important that our people be in God’s Word regularly than that they finish the Bible in a set time. And if our folks want accountability, encourage them to read the Bible with one or two or three others. 

Sunday School

Your church may or may not have Sunday School. At High Pointe, we call it Life Classes, and we offer topic-specific classes. Still, we want to make sure we root these classes in Scripture and point our people to Christ. Imagine an entire church studying the Bible together from the youngest to oldest. They may be working through books of the Bible or addressing specific topics. Regardless, they are learning how to understand and apply God’s Word to their daily lives. When we teach all of God’s Word through the lens of Jesus, instead of telling our people what the Bible requires of them and leaving them to their own strength to figure out how to obey, we empower them to obey on the basis of what Jesus has already done for them. Through Christ, we are empowered to obey because we have new hearts and we have the Holy Spirit living in us. 

Small groups

Perhaps your church has small groups that meet throughout the week. These groups should also be Word-saturated and gospel-centered. Whether each group is studying something different or discussing Sunday’s sermon, they should be speaking the truth of God’s gospel Word to one another, building one another up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16). At High Pointe, we discuss Sunday’s sermon because we want the one message that every member hears on Sunday morning to reverberate throughout our church during the week. We prepare discussion questions to guide the group time. Our aim is for all our groups to speak the truth in love to one another when they meet in homes throughout the Austin metro area.

Worship gatherings

It is a great joy when God’s people gather to declare our joint allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ. Corporate worship is a weekly reminder that we are God’s people on mission. It is also a time when we are reminded of the graciousness of a God who has communicated to his people by his Word. Therefore, when we gather for corporate worship, it too is a time that is to be saturated by God’s Word now read through the lens of Jesus Christ. When we gather together, we gather to SING the gospel Word, PRAY the gospel Word, READ the gospel Word, HEAR the gospel Word preached, and even SEE the gospel Word in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

As we seek to shepherd our churches faithfully, may we devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, and may we encourage our churches to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching. This is the foundation of Jesus’ church (Ephesians 2:20). And there is no other foundation upon which we may build his church (1 Corinthians 3:10–17). 

REVIEW: “I Can Only Imagine” is one of the most powerful films you”ll ever see

Bart Millard is a young boy with big dreams. Perhaps this 1980s kid will be a space pilot. Or a Jedi knight. Or a sports star.

Sadly, though, Bart’s father—always angry and often abusive—doesn’t share his son’s joy for life.

“Dreams don’t pay the bills,” the dad tells him. “Nothing good comes from it.”

To underscore the point, Bart’s father burns his son’s space helmet – the homemade one he made out of cardboard – in an outdoor barrel.

Such hate-filled antics are not uncommon. During the day, Bart endures his father’s verbal and physical abuse. At night, Bart lies in his bed and listens to music, hoping that his unstable father—and his belt—simply stay away.

Bart is living a nightmare, and it doesn’t improve during his high school years, either. When Bart’s father breaks a kitchen plate over his teenage son’s head, Bart realizes he’s had enough. He leaves home with dreams of being a singer – and with the hope that he’ll never see his father again.

The film I Can Only Imagine (PG) opens this weekend, detailing how MercyMe’s Bart Millard became inspired to write the 2001 song In Can Only Imagine, which remains one of the most popular tunes in the history of contemporary Christian music.

It stars newcomer J. Michael Finley as Millard, Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid (The Rookie, Soul Surfer) as Millard’s father, Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein) as his grandmother, and country music artist Trace Adkins as Millard’s manager.

The movie follows the unlikely rise of MercyMe but also gives us an Apostle Paul-like conversation story in the process. As Millard’s character says at the beginning of the film about his father, “If Christ can change that dude, he can change anyone.” In the final years of his life, Millard’s dad – the same “monster” who whipped Bart so bad that he once had to sleep on his stomach – found the Lord.

I Can Only Imagine is the fourth film from directors Jon and Andrew Erwin, who also made Woodlawn, Mom’s Night Out and October Baby. It’s also their their best movie yet. The screenplay is gripping, the soundtrack is perfect, and the performances by Quaid and Finley had me squirming, laughing and crying. It’s one of the most powerful I’ve ever seen – so much so that I gave it five out of five stars.

It’s family-friendly, although it might not be appropriate for small children. (More on that below).

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. We see a young and scared Bart lying in bed, listening to his father scream at his mom. As a young boy, Bart takes a swing at his father; his father grabs him, pushes him to the floor and considers punching him—but doesn’t. Later, when Bart is a teenager, the father breaks a plate over his head. After Bart leaves home and returns, we hear him describe one of his beatings to his father. The conversations between Bart and his father are uncomfortable to watch, but are necessary for the story.       

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. A young girl kisses a young Bart on the cheek.  

Coarse Language

None.

Other Positive Elements

Tons of them, but most occur in the film’s final 30 minutes. Let’s keep this spoiler-free. You won’t be disappointed.   

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Bart’s mom leaves the family to escape the father’s abuse. We see someone pass out at a restaurant.

Life Lessons

I Can Only Imagine gives us lessons on regret, forgiveness, redemption, hope and the power of the gospel.

Worldview

Viewed from a worldly perspective, it’s easy to scoff at the central message of I Can Only Imagine and proclaim: “Any man who beats his family doesn’t deserve forgiveness.” And that’s true. Bart’s dad didn’t deserve forgiveness. But neither did Paul after he jailed Christians and watched them murdered. Or Peter after He denied Christ. Or David after he committed adultery and had a man killed. None of us deserve forgiveness. None of us are righteous before a Holy God (Romans 3:10-12).

But the gospel message is powerful because of is power. It’s not limited to the “little” sins. It covers the “big” ones, too.

The Good News is for the whole world – even for the worst among of us. Even for an abusive father who finds redemption in his final moments of life.   

What I Liked

Bart’s quirky actions. The movie’s redemptive theme. I could watch the final 30 minutes over and over again. Also, the period music from the 1980s, along with the rest of the soundtrack, complement the film well. Finally, Quaid, Finley and Adkins are marvelous in their roles.

What I Didn’t Like

Nothing.  

Discussion Questions

  1. If you were God, which sins would you refuse to forgive? Why?
  2. What can we learn about the gospel by studying the life of Bart’s father?
  3. Why do you think the song I Can Only Imagine was (and is) so popular?
  4. Could you have forgiven Bart’s father? Why did he come around to forgive his dad? How does sickness and death impact our ability to forgive and heal?

I Can Only Imagine is rated PG for thematic elements including some violence.

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

REVIEW: “A Wrinkle In Time” is missing emotion, a plot ¦ and God

Meg is a timid, insecure girl living in a world that doesn’t embrace such flaws. At school, she gets ridiculed. At home, she lays awake at night and wonders why she’s not liked.

Even the principal thinks she’s a bit awkward.

“You shut everybody out, and then wonder why they don’t like you,” he tells her.

But Meg knows where her life went wrong. It began four years earlier when her father – a brilliant-but-misunderstood NASA scientist – went missing. Most assume he’s dead, but Meg is holding out hope he’s alive … somewhere. If he could be found, she tells the principal, “the world would make sense again.”

Then one day, otherworldly beings start visiting her home. One is called Mrs. Whatsit, another Mrs. Who and still another Mrs. Which. They tell Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, that their father – “Mr. Murry” — may be alive but lost in another part of the universe. If Meg, Charles and their friend Calvin will join the search, they just might find him!

Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time (PG) opens in theaters this weekend, approximately 56 years after  Madeleine L’Engle’s novel by the same name was released. It stars Storm Reid (12 Years A Slave) as Meg, Oprah Winfrey (The Butler) as Mrs. Which, Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde) as Mrs. Whatsit, and Mindy Kaling (Inside Out) as Mrs. Who.

The book and film get their name from the father’s belief that time and space can be “folded” or “wrinkled,” allowing for space travel through billions of light years in only a few seconds. This is done by something called a “tesseract,” which involves harnessing the power of the mind.

As Meg, Charles and Calvin crisscross the universe and search for Mr. Murry, they soon discover they also must defeat the evil “It” – a dark energy force that can spoil everything that is good.

A Wrinkle In Time is family-friendly in the common use of the phrase, but is it any good? I’m sorry to say it’s not. It’s heavy on eye candy and short on emotion and a plot. The first third of the movie is passable, but then we’re placed on a galaxy ride that leaves too many questions unanswered: Why is the father lost? Why can’t he get back by himself? Why is it up to the kids to do all of that? 

Then there’s the worldview. The book had its problems, but was full of Christian references and themes. They were stripped from the film. In their place, we are left with a mixture of science fiction, Eastern mysticism and pantheistic pablum.

Warning: minor spoilers!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. One character hits another character in the face with a basketball. In a scene that might trouble small children, Meg and Calvin are chased through the woods by an evil-looking dark force (it looks like a sand storm); it turns into a monstrous tornado.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Meg’s mom and dad hug. Calvin and Meg grow to like one another romantically, but they never kiss. (They hug.) A beach scene shows a couple of women in bikinis. A man and woman kiss at the end.

Coarse Language

Also minimal.

Other Positive Elements

We see Meg’s father and mother express unconditional love for their children. Adoption is shown in a positive light (Charles is adopted). Meg refuses to leave her brother when he is in danger. Calvin stands up for Meg and tells her he’s not embarrassed to be seen with her. Meg gains courage to be herself and refuses to change her ways just to fit in with her snobby friends.   

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Bullying is a major theme; on the anniversary of the disappearance of Meg’s father, her classmates post a note on her locker that reads: “Happy anniversary. … If only you’d disappear, too.” We hear a reference to someone being “billions of years” old.

Life Lessons

A Wrinkle In Time gives us lessons on courage (Meg, others), standing up for what is right (Calvin, Meg), dealing with grief (Meg), the distinctiveness of each person (something Mrs. Which says), workaholism (Meg’s father) and being yourself (Meg).

Worldview

A Wrinkle In Time never mentions God or Jesus – a disappointment for those who were hoping for Christian themes. Buddha gets a nod. The most we hear are things like “we can’t take any credit for our talents” and the question: “What if we were here for a reason?”

The rest of it is a hodgepodge of Eastern mysticism and pantheism. We’re told that the universe is a mixture of light and dark. Humans are light and the “It” is the darkness that spoils everything. We are to “become one with the universe,” Mrs. Which says.  

Scripture teaches something very different: Jesus created the universe, and he is the light. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil,” (John 3:19). Yes, we are to “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8), but that only occurs when we are reflecting Christ in our deeds and thoughts. For children, it’s helpful to consider the moon in such discussions. Is the moon bright? Sometimes, yes. But why? Because it’s reflecting the sun. In a similar way, we are to reflect the true light.     

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the Bible say about darkness and light? Are people dark or light?
  2. Are we to be “one with the universe”?  
  3. How does grief change people? What is the secret to overcoming grief?
  4. What does A Wrinkle In Time teach us about being yourself? When is that appropriate and not appropriate?

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

David Platt reflects on IMB transition

GALVESTON  David Platt, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention who recently announced his transition out of the organization he has led for the past four years, assured a group of SBC state newspaper editors  Feb. 14 that the IMB is conducting business as usual.

“[T]he IMB is not David Platt,” he said, but instead a “coalition of over 47,000 churches working together for thousands of anonymous missionaries whose names and [locations] cannot even be mentioned in public because in spreading the gospel, they bring great risk to themselves and their families. They are the IMB.”

IMB personnel continue to work hard, Platt said, summarizing the organization’s “pretty full” week following his announcement—including training pastors in South Asia, spreading the gospel through media in the Middle East, seeing six converts from an unreached people group in Eastern Europe, and worshiping with 85 new believers in a Asian country where evangelism and baptism are illegal.

“Disciples are being made. Pastors and missionaries are being trained all over the world. And the gospel of Jesus is being proclaimed,” Platt said. “We’re still doing what we’ve been doing for 173 years.”

Describing a recent trip to Brazil, Platt recounted visiting Sao Paolo’s notorious Cracolândia district southwest of the city’s Luz station, calling the few city blocks an “urban jungle” where the government sequesters crack addicts.

“Picture a city square filled with people of all ages … all strung out on crack,” Platt said, labeling the heavily-policed scene among the “most hopeless” he had ever witnessed.

At the edge of Cracolândia sits Cristolândia, a food kitchen established by IMB partners and also visited by Platt, who served breakfast and presented the gospel to addicts gathered for a meal. A few responded to Platt’s invitation to a transformed life.

“They began a process that day,” Platt said, explaining Cristolândia’s rehab program. Soon after, Platt saw the results of that program while attending a conference of 1,000 Brazilian pastors. A few dozen former crack addicts, sporting yellow tee-shirts emblazoned with “Jesus Transforma” in Portuguese, led the worship, praising Jesus with strong, sober voices.

The work in Sao Paolo continues what Texans William and Anne Bagby, the first Foreign Mission Board missionaries to Brazil, began in 1881, Platt said, evoking the IMB’s history.

“Hold fast. Stay fast,” Platt said he encourages contemporary missionaries to remember, calling the IMB’s potential “limitless,” especially when more than North Americans are involved and “people from the nations [go] to the nations.”

Platt affirmed his commitment to leading the IMB until a new president is found.

“I don’t want to put pause on what we are doing. Nobody in the IMB wants to put pause on what we are doing. The last thing the unreached people of the world need from the IMB is a pause.”

David Platt affirming his commitment to leading the IMB until a new president is chosen

“I don’t want to put pause on what we are doing. Nobody in the IMB wants to put pause on what we are doing,” he added. “The last thing the unreached people of the world need from the IMB is a pause.”

The IMB is “financially healthy, biblically strong and practically ready to send and support,” Platt said, admitting being “overwhelmed” by both the “power of the gospel” to transform lives and by “God’s mercy” in his own life, which enabled him to hear the good news of Jesus when so many have never had the opportunity.

“I realized the only difference between these people and me is the mercy of God,” he said of the addicts mired in Cracolândia.

When asked about the Cooperative Program, Platt said his appreciation for the CP and the entire SBC “ecosystem” had increased throughout his tenure at the IMB, even in recent days.

As for the IMB’s allocation of resources, Platt was adamant that the IMB would not “shrink” from pursuing even those people groups resistant to the gospel.

Regarding the relationship between local church evangelism and the sending of missionaries, Platt admitted a correlation. “We often say there’s no transformation by aviation. We … want to send Southern Baptist missionaries to share the gospel around the world who are sharing the gospel right now where they live.” He called upon pastors to be “intentional” about encouraging both missions and candidates.  

He also recommended downloading the IMB prayer app, available for both Android and iPhone users. (Visit imb.org/imb-apps.)

In his letter to IMB trustees announcing his intentions, Platt confirmed he remained “passionate” about reaching the lost. 

As teaching pastor of Virginia’s McLean Bible Church, he will lead a congregation of 100 nationalities strategically located near Washington, D.C., he told editors, confirming that IMB trustees had expressed a desire for his continued involvement in the “IMB family.” 

When asked about his IMB successor’s challenges, Platt cautioned against complacency and stagnation, while urging that mission work will grow increasingly complex in an “ever-changing world.”  

Cooperative Program luncheon guests urged to be all in_x009d_ on CP Sunday, April 8

LAS COLINAS—Joshua Crutchfield, vice president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, affirmed the SBTC’s commitment to the Cooperative Program (CP) of the Southern Baptist Convention to 490 guests filling the grand ballroom of the Irving Convention Center for the CP luncheon held Feb. 27 in conjunction with the 2018 Empower evangelism conference.

“For the past 10 years, the SBTC has sent 55 percent of all undesignated CP gifts to the SBC, with 45 percent retained for missional ministry in Texas,” Crutchfield said.

As the SBTC celebrates its 20th year, Crutchfield encouraged Texas congregations to be “all in,” supporting the Cooperative Program, challenging churches to hold a special offering April 8, CP Sunday.

Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies, introduced a video on the CP’s “nuts and bolts,” featuring local, national and international ministries made possible through CP giving.  Priest described videos, bulletin inserts, even speakers available to promote the Cooperative Program, accessible at http://whatiscp.com/. He also highlighted SBTC stewardship resources, including the SBTC Foundation.

Michael Criner, pastor of First Baptist Bellville, discussed the “big picture” of CP giving as a means of fulfilling the Great Commission, tracing the CP from its beginnings in 1925. On average for every church, CP giving in 1925 was 11 percent; today it is between 5 and 6 percent, Criner said.

“Do not give to the Cooperative Program. Give through the Cooperative Program,” Criner urged, adding, “Get in the game.”

Steve Cochran of Round Rock’s Crosswalk Church detailed the history of his church plant which grew to 250 in five years.

“I am here to give glory to God and gratitude to you for the SBTC CP dollars [making] it possible for us to do what we’ve done,” Cochran said.

“CP has been our lifeblood. I am not talking about all that we have received. I am talking about God’s blessing as we have participated to give through the Cooperative Program,” he said, confirming that Crosswalk has donated 8 percent of its receipts to the CP annually from the start.

“When the Bible says give, we are going to give,” Cochran said, relating examples of extraordinary blessings Crosswalk has received.

Mike Dean of Fort Worth’s Travis Avenue Baptist Church, called his church’s CP giving a “serious and sacrificial” practice. Dean cited the example of a predecessor, C.E. Matthews, who halted CP giving only to come down with a life-threatening tooth infection shortly after. Matthews, later director of the Home Mission Board, believed his illness occurred because he had counseled the church to cut missions giving. He called for a reversal of that decision.

 “Since then, I have been very, very leery of touching the Cooperative Program,” Dean said as the crowd laughed.

CP giving reflects “our purpose to be a balanced Great Commission church,” said Dean, highlighting CP-supported entities and programs: seminaries, church revitalizations, disaster relief and missions efforts.

Nineteenth century missionary William Carey told his friend Andrew Fuller, “I will go down into the pit if you will hold the ropes,” Dean said, adding, “That’s what we get to do as partners in the Cooperative Program.”

“You can’t afford not to give,” Crutchfield reminded guests in closing, promoting April 8 as CP Sunday.

Empower evangelism conference targets 18 million unsaved Texans

LAS COLINAS—With 18 million unreached, Texas is no longer the Bible belt, Shane Pruitt, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention director of evangelism, told about 2,000 assembled at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas for the Monday evening session of the 2018 Empower evangelism conference,  held Feb. 26-27.

The conference broke records with a registration total of over 2,827, Pruitt confirmed, praising the multi-generational make-up of attendees.

Empower featured something for everyone.

Christian comedian Dennis Swanberg entertained guests at Monday’s Classics Luncheon, followed by praise and worship by the Erwins and sermons from Junior Hill, Herb Reavis, and Tom Elliff.

Monday’s events included a men’s and women’s dinner, a Next Gen leadership reception, a late-night session with Bob Goff, while Tuesday featured the Cooperative Program luncheon and the African American fellowship dinner.

Apodarlos, the SBTC Hispanic ministries event at First Baptist Euless held prior to Empower, Feb. 24-25, attracted 500 and featured both Christian performer Julissa and evangelist Luiz Diaz Pabon, recording 47 professions of faith, said Bruno Molina, SBTC language evangelism associate.

“It was a very inspirational time,” said Mike Gonzales, SBTC director of Hispanic ministries.

Monday breakout sessions were led by Kie Bowman, Robby Gallaty, Leah Holder, Shane Russell, Juan Sanchez, Grant Skeldon, David Stockwell, Dennis Watson, Scott Kindig and Barrett and Jenifer Johnson.

Monday evening featured recording artists Shane and Shane, who led music in the main sessions Tuesday morning, afternoon and evening.

In an unexpected appearance Monday night, Sutherland Springs pastor Frank Pomeroy expressed thanks to all who had helped his church in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 shootings which claimed 27 lives. Pomeroy explained the ongoing evangelistic impact of the church memorial and called on pastors Paul Buford of River Oaks Baptist and Mark Collins of FBC Yorktown to pray.

Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and founder of Replicate Ministries, led off the evening program, speaking on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20, using a kayak fishing analogy to pose the question: “As leaders of the church…could it be possible that we have been trying to row the Christian life with one oar, evangelism, and we have neglected the other oar, discipleship?”

In Matthew 28 Jesus gave us a “strategy to change the world,” Gallaty said, challenging pastors to pray, read Scripture and share the gospel: “Jesus emulated discipleship; go and do the same.”

Lamenting spiritual infancy even among long-time Christians, Gallaty urged, “Baptism is not the finish line. It’s the starting line . . . where the real work begins.”

Following Gallaty came Bob Goff—New York Times best-selling author, lawyer, honorary Consul of the Republic of Uganda and founder of the international relief organization Love Does—who encouraged the audience to “get real” with Jesus, evoking frequent outbursts of laughter while telling stories of relating to “messy” people.

“I spent my whole life avoiding the people Jesus spent his whole life engaging. You know why? I didn’t want to get any on me. The simple message of the gospel of Christ: ‘Get it on you,’” Goff urged.

With stories of building schools in Uganda, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan to dealing with witchcraft practitioners and terrorists, Goff stressed that “The only thing that matters is faith expressed in love.”

“Following Jesus means a life of constant interruptions,” he also urged, telling the audience to answer their cell phones and be available.

“Hungry people, thirsty people, creepy people, sick people, naked people, people in jail–find some people you’ve been avoiding and see what will happen,” Goff said, adding, “I want to fail trying. I don’t want to fail watching.”

J.D. Greear of The Summit church in Durham, North Carolina, followed Goff, assuring the Texas audience that Davy Crockett was his distant uncle, according to a family Bible.

Greear described his church’s missional strategy of planting 1,000 churches by 2050, explaining what he humorously called the “Mormonization strategy of The Summit church,” whereby college graduates are encouraged to pursue careers in regions where they could also be involved in strategic church plants.

Joking about the “warm glow of God’s word on faces,” Greear asked the audience to call up Acts 4 on their smartphones, reminding all that evangelism is “quite simply reaching people for Christ.”

He cautioned against getting distracted by certain doctrinal issues and political agendas that “bog down” evangelism, citing seven-year forecasts predicting the closing of 55,000 churches and an expected attendance drop from 17 to 14 percent, before exploring Acts 4.

Invoking Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, Greear underscored the urgency of the gospel, reminding all of that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Cautioning against arrogance, he affirmed the authority of Scripture and Jesus.

Stressing the importance of having a platform, Greear explained The Summit’s commitment to community action and emphasized the intimacy of a relationship to Christ.

Finally, Greear discussed dependence upon the Holy Spirit, adding that Old Testament revival is “always described as Israel remembering what God had done.”

Tuesday Empower events included morning sessions with Ryan Fontenot and Jim Richards, afternoon sessions featuring Gavan Spinney and DZ Cofield, and an evening program with Robert Smith, Jon Akin and OS Hawkins.

Smith, Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, roused the crowd with a message from Acts 8, the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

Smith called for a “theology of integration” rather than “avoidance,” illustrated by the example of Philip and the eunuch who first sat down “together in the chariot” before going “down into the waters” of baptism.

“Reconciliation will not take place in the baptismal pool until we sit together in the church,” Smth said, later describing the “learning, burning, yearning” experience of the Gaza, Emmaus and Damascus roads, and urging all to “preach Jesus.”

Jon Akin, director of young adult engagement for the North American Mission Board, spoke next on Acts 16, emphasizing Jesus as the “hero of the book of Acts” and focusing on what “Jesus continues to do through his church on the earth” today.

Highlighting the salvations of Lydia, the demon-possessed girl and the Philippian jailer, Akin emphasized the “simple teaching of the word of God” and cautioned against categorizing people: “There is no one Jesus cannot save.”

Emphasizing the “big tent in the SBC,” Akin urged audience members to reach their relational networks with the gospel: “Our role is to share. God’s role is to save.”

O.S. Hawkins, president of Guidestone, concluded the evening with a message from 1 Kings 17, stressing that, in evangelism, “being comes before doing” while describing Elijah’s experience “absenting” himself at the brook Cherith where he experienced God’s provision.

“The brook Cherith always leads to the Carmel experience,” Hawkins said, describing Joseph, Moses, Joshua and even Jesus spending years waiting for God’s “recognized plan” and emphasizing the importance of obedience and trust.

Monday evening also featured the presentation of the Roy Fish evangelism award to evangelist Mike Courtney and the W.A. Criswell lifetime achievement award to pastor Tommy Oglesby.

Empower will return to the Irving Convention Center Feb. 25-26 next year. For more information, visit sbtexas.com/evangelism.

Rowlett church prays for “gift of desperation”

ROWLETT  Over the next three to five years, “Every single person sitting in this room will be discipling someone else to become a fully devoted follower of Christ.” 

On Vision Sunday in January, Jason Collins, pastor of Crossroads Church in Rowlett, shared that vision with his congregation, adding, “We believe that the world will look different if that happens.” 

The mission of Crossroads Church is to “Expand the KINGDOM one relationship at a time.”  

In an interview with the TEXAN, Collins elaborated on that mission.   

“Our methodology is centered on 1:1 Evangelism, so we teach, train and equip for that. We want to be a church growing through salvation and we want every member to be an active participant. So while we teach on this topic, we really focus on equipping for individual conversation to lead someone to Christ. Being a covenant member of our church means that I will be sharing my faith and discipling others to share their faith.” 

Relationships have been a priority throughout the church’s 25-year history. But in 2015, the mission statement was revised to make relationships the center of everything they do. 

Kelby Mullins planted the church in 1993 with a vision to reach people who were not typical church-goers. The church began in a shopping center before storefronts were a trend. As God grew the church, they purchased property to build, and for a time they met in an open pavilion in a park. 

Mullins, who is still an elder at Crossroads today, stepped down after about 10 years. Kent Cox, known for a deep focus on relationships, became the lead pastor. People who had become bored with religion or burned out in previous church experiences found a home at Crossroads. 

But after 12 years of impactful ministry, Cox died at the age of 49.   

Collins was called to be the lead pastor in July 2015 with a congregation of about 80 people. The church is now averaging 450 people for Sunday worship.  

In a video produced for the SBTC after the 2017 Empower Conference (https://vimeo.com/240611662), Collins explained how Crossroads emphasizes that every member is a minister, and that every believer has a story to tell. He said: “In the last year we’ve seen 100 people come to know Christ and follow in baptism at our church. . . . And that didn’t come through amazing preaching or worship. It came through people of God sharing their story of what God has done in their lives.” 

By the end of 2017, Crossroads had celebrated 160 baptisms. 

Collins and his leadership team attended the 2017 Empower Conference, after which Crossroads Church made the decision to affiliate with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. They had considered affiliating prior to the conference, and, said Collins (in the video), “After [Empower] it really solidified some stuff for us. We came and just heard the passion of reaching lost people, and that so resonated with who we are as a church.” 

Collins praised Empower for the inspiration and equipping they received there. “Since then our rep from the SBTC and the director of evangelism have both been incredible at following up with us to encourage us and motivate us.”

Church members who have embraced the church’s mission are being changed. Collins said, “The best thing that can happen for anyone is to be used by God as a part of reaching someone. It changes everything.”  

Some key priorities that have helped Crossroads leaders in living and imparting the vision to members, include: 

  1. Getting out of the office. Collins said, “People are not a distraction from our work; our work is a distraction from people. Long after sermons are forgotten, one-on-one conversations will remain.”¯ 
  2. Scheduling time with people. “We schedule what we value!” 
  3. Using a plan and teaching the plan. “People tend to do best with things that are reproducible, so not only do you share the gospel, you really begin a model of discipleship too.” 
  4. Modeling evangelism. “We cannot expect our people to do what their leaders avoid.” 
  5. Loving people. 
  6. Planning events to build relationships. “That will always maximize the return.” 

Crossroads is also actively engaged in relational ministry through church mentoring, prison ministry, rescuing victims from sex trafficking in India, and supplying water filters homes in Zambia. They are praying about expansion into church planting, orphan care and support ministries for people emerging from varied life struggles.¯  

“I want God to give us the gift of desperation. The Bible is full of desperate people who walked with Jesus Christ,” Collins said in his vision sermon. 

As biblical examples, he referred to two of “the desperate” in Luke 8.  Jesus was the only hope for Jairus, a synagogue leader, desperate for a miracle to save his dying daughter. And he was the only hope for the woman with the 12-year issue of blood, who pressed through the crowd just to touch his garment.   

Just as Jesus moved toward those desperate people, Collins said, “We need to see those who are desperate and move towards them. We can’t allow them to go unnoticed. That is our vision.”