Month: January 2019

New 82-hour Southwestern M.Div. faithful, flexible, future-focused

Faithful to the institution’s core commitments yet focused on meeting the needs of current and future generations, Southwestern Seminary’s new Master of Divinity (M.Div.) program will make theological education even more accessible to God-called men and women as they seek to prepare for a lifetime of ministry. 

The 82-hour degree includes training in biblical languages and competency areas of preaching, pastoral ministry, missions, evangelism, church planting, Christian education and academic ministries. In addition, the degree includes 12 hours of free electives so that students can pursue a variety of concentrations*, and further elective options in the areas of discipleship, ethics and philosophy, making this degree more flexible than the previous M.Div. The degree is available in on-campus, online and hybrid formats.

“Southwestern’s new M.Div. offers an updated, streamlined, cost-effective avenue to its world-class training for ministry,” says Interim President D. Jeffrey Bingham. “We have always been devoted to making disciples from all the nations for all the nations and to equipping them for servant-leadership within the local church, on the mission field and in a variety of other settings. Southwestern’s new M.Div. offers God-called students an excellent, well-rounded, efficient and affordable mentoring experience that yields the necessary skills and knowledge for ministry.”

Mark Taylor, interim senior associate dean for the School of Theology, says the length of the new M.Div. brings the degree in line with other M.Div. programs, both within the Southern Baptist Convention and the broader evangelical world. “Simply put,” he says, “students will be able to complete the degree in less time without sacrificing anything in terms of robust training for a wide range of ministries. Both the motivation and the benefit are to provide the best training possible for our students and to put them out on the field as soon as possible.”

With changes to the overall M.Div. program, Southwestern’s 2 2 program (M.Div. with concentration in international church planting) has also been modified to allow students to get to their mission fields sooner. Furthermore, the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program, though still 36 hours, has been revamped, with changes including the reincorporation of Baptist Heritage and the choice between Christian Apologetics or Bible and Moral Issues.  

Bart Barber, chairman of the academic administration committee of Southwestern’s board of trustees, says these changes have been made because of the different role theological degrees now play in ministry. Once “an additional equipping step” taken primarily by pastors who wanted to grow in ministries that had already started, seminary master’s degrees have become for most Southern Baptists “the hurdle that one must clear” before being able to move into full-time ministry, Barber says. 

“In light of this reality, alongside our desire to equip pastors thoroughly, we want to acknowledge that there are challenges in terms of money and time that motivate students to seek to complete a degree in a timely fashion. … We believe that these changes make a degree at Southwestern accessible to anyone bound for ministry.”

“[B.H. Carroll’s] motivation for opening a seminary in Texas was to have a school with a strong focus on the practical needs of the churches,” Barber says. “With our strong focus on evangelism, missions and expository preaching, Southwestern offers degrees that live up to the vision of B.H. Carroll. Now, achieving one of those degrees just became more accessible than ever before.”

Current students may switch into the new programs immediately by completing the online degree change form. Students who anticipate that the curricular changes will enable them to graduate this spring are encouraged to contact the Registrar’s Office for advising at 817-923-1921, ext. 2000.

* A portfolio of 28 ministry concentrations is available for the 2018-2019 academic year, including administration; biblical archaeology; biblical counseling; biblical theology; chaplaincy; family and children’s ministry; church ministries; church music; church planting; collegiate apologetics; collegiate ministry; ethics, philosophy, and apologetics; evangelism; family ministry; Hispanic studies; Islamic studies; missions; New Testament; Old Testament; pastoral ministry; preaching; family and recreational ministries; student ministry; teaching; theological studies; women’s ministry; women’s studies; and worship. 

REVIEW: “Stan & Ollie” is a delightful film about friendship and fame

Stan and his friend Oliver were once the most famous comedy duo in the world.

But that was 16 years ago, when they had weathered the death of silent films to become successful in feature-length sound movies, too.

It is now 1953, and the tandem known as Laurel and Hardy have embarked on a multi-city tour of Europe for a series of live shows, where they’ll perform their hilarious acts for fans and newcomers alike. Who knows? They may win another movie deal out of it.

If only people would come.

The first few shows are less than half full. The hotels, too, are unremarkable. Stan and Oliver are accustomed to big rooms and bellboys, but the budget only allows basic amenities. They’ll have to carry their own luggage.

“I thought you had retired,” one hotel employee tells them.

It seems people nowadays prefer the newer comedy duo: Abbott and Costello.

Yet something extraordinary happens as their tour progresses. Word begins spreading. Theaters begin filling. Stan and Oliver are funnier than ever.

Maybe they will get a movie deal. And maybe they’ll learn to become true friends in the twilight of their careers.  

The film Stan & Ollie (PG) expands nationwide this weekend, telling us the story of the popular comedic team as they try and revive their aging careers. It stars Oscar nominee Steve Coogan (Despicable Me 2 and 3) as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph), another Oscar nominee, as the hefty Oliver Hardy.

The movie tells the story of two men who had little more than a working relationship in their younger lives but grew to appreciate one another as their careers were ending and they were running out of money.

It is among the funniest films I’ve seen, and proves once again that the most creative humor is the cleanest humor. Coogan and Reilly are spectacular.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

None.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. We see women in one-piece swimsuits in a “bathing beauty” contest.

Coarse Language

Minimal: A– (3), d–n (2), h-ll (1). Also: dear G-d (2).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Several characters drink and smoke. One character places a bet over the phone.

Positive Elements/Life Lessons

Stan and Oliver provide lessons on bitterness, forgiveness and forgiveness.

At the heart of their divide: Oliver’s decision to get a different comedy partner years earlier when Stan was holding out for a bigger contract.

“You betrayed me,” Stan says.

Oliver responds, “You loved Laurel and Hardy, but you never loved me”

But by the movie’s end, they reconcile and have a close friendship. It’s touching to watch.

Worldview/Application

Our society worships fame. It’s at the heart of popular music, gossip magazines, television sports, and Hollywood movies. But just like that easily distracted dog in Up (“squirrel!”), our attention span is brief. The only thing we like more than celebrities is new celebrities.

Laurel and Hardy didn’t lose fans by becoming less funny. No, the public simply moved on to something else. At their pinnacle, most Americans knew who they were. Nowadays, very few do.

Fame, like everything else in life, is fleeting. James tells us that our lives are like “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

The things of this world don’t last. Instead of compiling treasure on earth, our focus should be on eternal matters — treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).  

What Works

The comedy, which required practice and impeccable timing, works. We don’t hear a single curse word in their show, but it’s funnier than anything on Netflix.

What Doesn’t

Not applicable.

Discussion Questions

  1. What made Laurel and Hardy so funny?
  2. What can we learn about fame and popularity from their story?
  3. What can we learn about forgiveness and friendship?

Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some language, and for smoking.

REVIEW: “On the Basis of Sex” is a sympathetic, incomplete view of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth is a brilliant young female attorney living in a male-dominated legal world.

The year is 1959, and although she graduated at the top of her class in one of the nation’s most prestigious schools, Ruth can’t land a job in a law firm. Some male lawyers believe she should use her skills as a secretary. Others would like to hire her, but fear their wives would become jealous.

So Ruth takes a position as a law professor at Rutgers University. There, she will mold the nation’s future lawyers to enter the fast-changing world of the 1960s. The job also will allow her to practice law in the courtroom if the right case arises.

Such a case lands in her lap when she learns about Charles Moritz, a Colorado single man who is taking care of his ailing mother and wants the same tax benefits for hiring a nurse that are afforded to women. But the federal tax law allows only females to use the tax deduction when hiring in-home nurses.

Ruth believes if she can convince a federal court to overturn a law that unfairly targets a man, then it could lay the groundwork for overturning laws that unfairly target women.

Will her strategy work?

The movie On the Basis of Sex (PG-13) is now playing in theaters, giving us an overview of the early life of now-Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It begins with her entrance into Harvard Law School in 1956 and ends with her arguing Moritz’s case before the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the early 1970s. Her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, wrote it.

Although Ginsburg is one of the nation’s most socially liberal justices — supporting legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, for example — the film aims for broad appeal by spotlighting her targeting of sexually discriminatory laws. She complains that wives should not have to sign up for credit cards in their husbands’ names. She says women aren’t allowed to work overtime. She notes that there were no women’s restrooms when she began attending law school.

The words “abortion” is never heard in On the Basis of Sex, even though she became one of the biggest supporters of its legalization. Perhaps this is because Ginsburg didn’t play a direct role in the 1973 ruling.

The result is that people from both parties can watch the film and cheer her, even if her legal philosophy needs questioned. One such example is when Ginsburg in the film argues that times are changing and that the law is behind the public sentiment. This begs the question: Then why not pressure the legislature to change the law? Or change the legislature?

In fact, the real-world Ginsburg said in 2013 that she regretted how abortion was legalized — with one case overturning all pro-life laws nationwide. Roe, she said, became “a symbol for the right to life movement.” She would have preferred a piecemeal approach to legalizing abortion — although, for sure, it still would have come through the legal process.

“That would have been my ideal vision of how this would have been evolved,” she said.

Like the real-world Ginsburg, the big-screen Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) supports incremental change, too. Her goal in the film is to take on each law where men and women are viewed differently. Supposedly, there were 178 of them. When the three justices ask her if she’s wanting to overturn all 178 laws, she says, “no.” She’s only fighting to overturn one section of the tax law. Legal attacks on the other ones will come later.

“We’re not asking you to change the country,” she says. “That’s already happened without any court’s permission. We’re asking you to protect the right of the country to change. Our sons and daughters are barred by law from opportunities based on assumptions about their abilities.

“You have the power to set the precedent that will get us started.”        

There’s a lot to like about Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex. She fought for common-sense women’s rights that all women today — conservative and liberal — enjoy. She backed an incremental approach that leaders in any movement would be wise to use. She also was a devoted mother of two children and a wife. The film shows her caring for her sick husband when he faced the possibility of death after a testicular cancer diagnosis. She even attended his classes and took notes. (He was in law school, too.)

But lurking in the background, unsaid, is her stance on more controversial decisions. As a Supreme Court justice in 2000, she voted with the majority for legalized legal partial-birth abortion — a procedure in which an unborn late-term baby is partially delivered, feet-first, before its brain is suctioned. When a similar case came before the court in 2007, she voted the same way again, although this time she was in the minority. In 2018, she joined dissenting justices who would have required pro-life pregnancy centers to hang signs about the availability of abortion.

It’s easy to cheer for the Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex. It’s just not the full picture.

Content warnings:

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

None.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal/moderate. We see Ginsburg disrobe down to a slip and kiss her husband in the bedroom. The scene then cuts away.

Coarse Language

Moderate. A– (4), s–t (3), D–n (2), misuse of “Jesus” (1), misuse of “God” (1), b–ch (1), b—ard (1), f-word (1), d–k (1), “h-ll no” as part of a chant — several times.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is Ginsburg a legal hero? Why or why not?
  2. Name three positive traits about Ginsburg from the movie. Name three negative ones (from either the film or real life).
  3. What led to abortion’s legalization?    

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

Rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive content.

Empower Conference boasts diverse speaker lineup, breakouts

LAS COLINAS—Designed to encourage and equip churches in evangelism, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual Empower Conference has steadily grown in recent years, culminating in last year’s record attendance of more than 2,800. This year’s conference—Feb. 25-26 at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas—features a modified schedule and diverse speaker lineup that includes Trip Lee, D.A. Horton, Lee Strobel and Brooklyn Tabernacle pastor Jim Cymbala.

“There are a lot of great conferences out there, but what sets Empower apart from the others is that it is a true evangelism conference,” said Shane Pruitt, SBTC director of evangelism. “I’ve asked every speaker and breakout leader to speak on something under the umbrella of evangelism and making disciples.”

This year’s schedule includes two days of breakout sessions, allowing attendees to select from a list of 25 breakouts led by ministry experts. Sessions are designed to give practical tools and action steps for churches to use in evangelizing their communities. A full list of breakout sessions can be found at sbtexas.com/empower. 

The conference begins Monday, Feb. 25, with a missions luncheon and classics luncheon from 11 a.m.-12:45 p.m., followed by breakout sessions, a new pastors’ orientation, women’s session and classics session. 

Monday evening will feature worship by Jimmy McNeal and Austin Stone Worship, along with sermons from author, pastor and rapper Trip Lee; best-selling author and apologetics professor Lee Strobel; and D.A. Horton, a church planter in Los Angeles and national coordinator of Urban Student Missions at the North American Mission Board. Following the evening session will be a late-night gathering with Trip Lee on reaching the next generation with the gospel. 

On Tuesday morning, attendees will hear messages from Noe Garcia, Nathan Lorick and Gregg Matte, followed by a Cooperative Program lunch and afternoon breakout sessions.

The conference will conclude with a session from 4:45-5:45 p.m. featuring a sermon from Jim Cymbala, the pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle since 1971. Under his ministry, the multicultural church has grown from around 20 people to more than 10,000 in weekly attendance. The story of God’s mighty work in the church is chronicled in Cymbala’s award-winning book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.

Registration for the Empower Conference sessions is free and available at sbtexas.com/empower. Tickets for meals are available for purchase at the website as well.  

The Sanctity of Human Life

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. —Genesis 9:6

All lives matter! All lives are precious in God’s sight. The reason—because God created us in his image, after his likeness (Genesis 1:26). Consequently, every person—male/female, young/old, born/unborn, black/white, Hispanic/Asian, citizen/immigrant, rich/poor, religious/irreligious, Christian/non-Christian—every person has worth and dignity as God’s image. The dignity of all human life is evident in God’s words to Noah that if one person takes the life of another person, they forfeit their own life, “for God has made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). All lives matter because all lives are precious before God. There are no qualifications, no distinctions. 

Sadly, our culture today rejects the idea that all lives matter. The history of racism in the United States has shown us that to many, black lives don’t matter. The eugenics movement has advanced the notion that children born with genetic abnormalities don’t matter. The white nationalist movement promotes the idea that immigrant lives don’t matter. And the pro-abortion movement has legalized a practice which communicates that unborn lives don’t matter. Any movement that promotes the idea that any human being doesn’t matter is anti-God, evil and Satanic. 

As Christians, we have a responsibility not only to honor all human life but to seek to protect all human life as we have opportunity. While we should honor and celebrate all life each day, this January, as we do every January, Christians throughout the United States acknowledged the
sanctity of human life. Why January? 

First, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in January—January 15, 1929. It’s appropriate that we remember, not just Dr. King’s assassination day, but his birthday. By celebrating Martin Luther King Day, we remember Dr. King’s dream that all humans have dignity because each person bears the image of God. However, Dr. King reminded us that we cannot sit silently on the sidelines while injustice against humanity continues. In his 1963 speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. King rightly said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” But Dr. King did not choose to arm his objections with violence. Instead, he argued that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Sermons from his book Strength to Love, 1963).

Secondly, we remember and promote the doctrine of the sanctity of human life in January because on this month in 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in the Roe versus Wade decision. To date, abortion has taken the lives of over 58 million unborn children—many of them from lower income and minority families. Of all human life, the unborn are the most vulnerable because they literally have no voice. If we don’t speak on their behalf, who will?

When I was in Israel in December of 2017, I had the opportunity to walk through the Yad Vashem (the Holocaust museum) in Jerusalem. It was disheartening to observe the evidence of hatred against Jews, not only from Nazi Germany, but from governments all over the world. One theme stood out to me during that visit. It’s captured in a quote often attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

If we don’t speak up against injustice, who will? Evil only needs us to be silent to continue to have its way. So, whether it’s having a needed personal conversation with a family member, walking out of the room when an ethnic joke is told, volunteering with an organization that is seeking to address issues of injustice (whether poverty, hunger, racism, sexual abuse) or gathering for a public event like a Martin Luther King Day parade or a March for Life, let us be silent no longer. Let us proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ who died and rose again to bring together one new man from Jew and Gentile; let us announce the good news of the kingdom that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father, and he is gathering for himself a people from every tribe, language and nation, making them brothers and sisters. In God’s kingdom all are family, all are equal, all are of worth and have dignity—male/female, young/old, black/white, Asian/Hispanic, rich/poor, citizen/immigrant, born/unborn. Let us celebrate such life! 

The ministries of older members

I’m younger than half of the Sunday School class I teach, but older than any of my doctors (except my dentist, by three months) and older than my last five pastors. My perspective on church things changes as this transition to being among the elders becomes more undeniable. My wife Tammi and I were talking the other day about how we’d seen several empty nester friends fade from regular church attendance—call it a second DINK (Double Income, No Kids) era of life. We should be more responsible now than we were in the sparkly days of being newly wed, but that’s not why I’m writing. Sometimes I wonder what my church or your church does to keep those who are becoming less vigorous a vital part of our ministry. 

Perhaps we don’t know what to do when a generation of church leadership—those who were go-to people in deacon ministry or administrative help—needs to be in charge of fewer things. With some of my friends it looks like a severe drop off between “she is everywhere” to “where’d she go?” The false dichotomy between being essential and being useless is fostered from both sides. Church members who slow down a little because their own health, or that of a spouse or parent, sometimes quit everything and fade before anyone notices. Church leaders are unprepared with options for those who need to be less prominent but who don’t want to become uninvolved. 

It’s not an easy nut to crack, but I have been in many meetings where bright people strained and brainstormed about how to get younger families engaged at some level—“Where can we plug them in,” “How can we keep them from just going out the back door?” and so on. If the focus is just on ensuring the future of the church or institution, that scrutiny of assimilating young families is right on. If the focus is on ministry to those God has placed in our hands, our motives and reach need to be less ageist.

Some who’ve taught for decades don’t walk so well these days. There’s not a correlation between one ability and the other. Additionally, you might consider that older members are qualified to teach more than just their peers. Middle-aged folks, 20 years older than I, taught my Sunday School classes from childhood until I was myself middle aged. Can a 70-year-old teacher be an effective teacher of young adults, children or high school students? I can’t imagine why they couldn’t. Some do imagine that pretty easily. 

Multi-generational fellowship is born in multi-generational worship and ministry. Do we want the generations to trust each other and understand each other? A good place to start is engineering opportunities for us to work alongside each other. Instead of a senior adult retreat, how about a retreat focused on the interests of members within more than one demographic? We do have some things in common. Include older members in the student mission trip; let them bunk together and eat together, just like they do with relatives during family events. 

The generations are more likely to snipe at each other when individuals of one age group don’t know anyone of another age group. I assume that my children, well adjusted and gainfully employed, are an exception when I read something foolish done by another member of their generation. I’m less likely to do that when I’ve spent some good time with solid younger folks who are not my kin. My kids are indeed exceptional, but they are not the only wise Millennials.

I recognize the need for outreach among generations that are moving away from their churches. We need to preach the gospel to them and we need to teach them how to follow Christ. Older members are not the “future of the church” unless you consider the next 20 years sufficiently futuristic, but a significant number of their Baby Boomer generation are also lost. We have a few years to preach the gospel to them and teach them to follow Christ. This outreach can be a ministry of young and old, and it can bear unimagined fruit among family members of all ages. 

Think of it as a stewardship of your present ministry, not so focused on the ministry you will have in 10 years. Some of your older members will be able to do less, and you’ll do some funerals. Some of their friends, who will attend the funerals, are lost and hardened to the gospel. Some of their neighbors at the senior center or nursing home are unbelievers. You have church members and staff members who would be well-focused on ministry in this field. As for those who are still active, though a little slower, in your church, what can you do to intentionally equip them for significant ministry during every day God gives you with them?  

Lisa Harper to headline Empower women”s session

LAS COLINAS Women attending the SBTC Empower Conference Feb. 25 will enjoy a session just for them featuring worship along with a message from noted Christian author and speaker Lisa Harper. Using her mix of humor and sound biblical teaching, Harper will encourage and inspire during the women’s session on Monday afternoon from 1:00-4:15 p.m.

Registration for the conference is free and available at sbtexas.com/empower.

Love—and earned trust—fuel Ranger church

RANGER—In a bit over two years, The Woodbridge church plant has grown to about 170 mostly unchurched people of varied ages in Sunday morning worship, and at least 40 baptisms.

Church planter Jared Johnson has done this with shoe leather, acts of service and simply inviting folks to the church that meets in the Ranger Academy of Martial Arts.

“America has voted on whether or not they want to go to church, and the church is dying,” Johnson told the TEXAN. “You can do all the neat gadgets and tricks you want to get people there, but they’re not going to come on their own unless they feel love and trust.”

The Woodbridge’s story starts in 2005, when a pastor told Johnson, “If I would start a church with five people who weren’t steeped in tradition, I’d be further along in one year than with a church that started with 100 people steeped in tradition.”

Johnson traces his call to church planting—and to church planting with a focus on the unchurched—back to that remark. In 2015, he left a church staff position to begin a one-year church planter apprenticeship under Nic Burleson, pastor of Timber Ridge Church in Stephenville, which had just started in 2011.

Plan A was to start a church in an under-churched big city. Plan B was to focus on a section of a city and make a more focused impact on the unchurched.

“Then,” Johnson said, “I began to ask myself, ‘How big would that section of a city be?’ And as I was passing through all the little towns on my way home from the big city, I felt like the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘This big.’ That’s when we began to see the value of ministering to a small town.”

He and his family—wife Laine and four children under 8—didn’t know anyone when, in February 2016, they arrived in Ranger, a community near his hometown that he had rejected the first nine times it came to mind. 

Ranger sits just off Interstate 20 about 75 miles west of Fort Worth. It had a population of about 50,000 during its early 1920s heyday as an oil boom destination. Today, only around 2,400 people remain. An initial demographic study showed only about 10 percent of the town’s residents attended church, most of whom were senior citizens.

“I went around Ranger and asked people to help us start a church, people not in church,” Johnson said. “We started a launch team and probably had 20 folks, give or take, who were pretty invested and excited before we had our first church service.”

Jared and Laine Johnson met weekly in their home with the launch team. Three preview services in August 2016 led to the grand opening service that about 75 people, all from Eastland County, attended. SBTC’s church planting ministry added strength to the effort by providing basic training, financial support and coaching.

The Woodbridge worships with contemporary music and a four-instrument praise team. A monthly rotation provides leadership for KidBridge, aimed at children between birth and fourth grade and coordinated by Laine Johnson. 

Those fifth grade and older stay in the worship service. Youth meet Wednesday nights in their “One80” group, while students from Ranger Community College meet Thursday evenings. Adults meet during the week in three life groups.

Sunday mornings start early, with volunteers rolling up the martial arts mats and punching bags, setting up the chairs and children’s classrooms and then replacing everything after the service.

The Woodbridge story mostly takes place in the community.

“If the city is doing it, we’re involved,” Johnson said. “We try to partner with the city with everything we can—city, school, whatever.

“We’ve done a lot of things to earn a good reputation,” Johnson added. “One of our most effective ways of discipling people is to put people in charge of something and walk with them. We ask people early on to serve.”

The Woodbridge returned the city park to a place of useful beauty, including transforming the unused tennis court into a regulation basketball court, painting playground equipment and park benches, landscaping and more.

For the last three summers, the church has provided free family movie nights in the park. Other community outreaches include popsicles and water at the summer parade and popcorn and hot chocolate at the winter parade, a harvest event in October that includes a pumpkin smash and pumpkin toss for parents and a variety of activities for youngsters, including a hay maze.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Johnson said, referring to the church’s emphasis on local involvement. “We don’t make it into something religious. We just try to bless the community and invite people to church.

“With whatever we do, we invite people to church. We tell people there’s no bad day to bring somebody the first time.”

Johnson’s advice to his volunteers each week: “Find a heart and heal it. Find a need and fill it.” 

The church’s name—a bridge between God and people, joined together by a now-empty wooden cross—reflects its mission. 

“Our goal is to bring people closer to God, to the unchurched, de-churched and atheist,” Johnson said. “A lot of people don’t come to church because they don’t know anyone there. They don’t feel loved. 

“My job as pastor is to teach people to love people. We stress the importance of loving, so love them, and invite them.”  

Who”s your one?

J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is challenging us to pray for and witness to one person in 2019 in an effort to win that person to Jesus. Juan Sanchez, president of the SBTC, is challenging our state convention to prioritize evangelism. The SBTC’s emphasis will culminate at the Oct. 28-29 Annual Meeting in Odessa. Shane Pruitt, SBTC Evangelism Director, is leading us to participate. The North American Mission Board is making “Who’s Your One?” a national focus.

We have a plethora of options when it comes to evangelism training. The SBTC staff has many practical tools we will gladly share with your congregation, and I would encourage you to plan an evangelism workshop in your church. While I endorse the use of methods, there is something missing that information cannot fill. It has been my contention for some time that it is not a lack of programs, but a lack of passion, that keeps us from sharing Jesus with others.

I confess I have to work at being a witness. For some time, the approach has been for us to share Christ out of the overflow of our lives. We will get so full of Jesus that some of him will spill out when we interact with others. This is not always the case with me. I love Jesus, but opportunities arise where I could speak the gospel and I clam up. It just doesn’t come out. For me, having a regular time to go holds me accountable.

When I was a pastor, I pulled rank and got all the hot prospects when we went on church visitation. I would go into homes of people who had been to our church. It was easier for me to present the good news to folks with whom I had a connection. Don’t get me wrong—I witness to Uber drivers, waiters and service people—but it is not the same. Having a set time to share the gospel is not legalism, it is obedience.

Being a witness and seeking to “win” someone to Christ is not the same. We can hand out a tract as a witness. We can pray the gospel in a hospital room as a witness. We can speak the name of Jesus to those we come in contact with, thereby being a witness. A true gospel conversation culminates in asking the person if they would like to receive Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. This is different from being a witness. I do a fairly good job of being a witness; I have to work at be a soul-winner.

The SBTC Empower Conference is Feb. 25-26. Speakers will remind us of how great the Great Commission really is, and we will have numerous breakouts designed to equip you in methods for gospel presentation. Soon, a devotional produced by the SBTC Evangelism ministry will be released which will seek to inspire us to have passion for Jesus and the lost sheep. All of these things are helpful, but ultimately we must decide we are going across the street or across the room to plead with someone to accept Jesus as their Savior.

I have my “one” in mind. Others are on my heart. It is just a matter of me getting out of my seat, going in the street and giving the the gospel with a plea to respond. So, who’s your one? 

Former SBTC president: To overcome nationwide family crisis, understand African-American history

Terry Turner understands firsthand the value of knowing African-American history because he has seen the importance of discovering his own family’s history. 

Turner, a past president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, began looking into African-American history as part of his doctoral research and discovered a correspondence between his story and the larger story of African Americans. During this time, Turner was introduced to the research of Orlando Patterson, who described the links between the breakdown of African-American families today and slavery. 

“Patterson brought to my attention that the greatest problem that African Americans were given from slavery is a history of disconnected fathers and husbands,” said Turner, whose own research and story became the basis of a 2017 book, God’s Amazing Grace: Reconciling Four Centuries of African American Marriages and Families. “Because those roles were destroyed, we’ve never been able to redefine them in the African-American community. Of course, fathers lead families. No family is complete without a father.”

Turner experienced this himself at age 10 when his father passed away. The pain and stress of growing up without a father followed him for years. Later, he had a child out of wedlock, continuing a cycle of absentee fatherhood into a new generation.

Eventually, Turner came to faith in Christ, got married and had additional children. For his first 25 years of pastoral ministry, he counseled couples to live out Christian principles in their marriage, but he struggled to bring the satisfaction he felt should have come from his own marriage and family. Turner returned to school for his doctorate with an emphasis on family and marriage, in part, to get answers to the pain in his own family.  

As he researched the broader history of African Americans for his dissertation, Turner became interested in his lineage, tracing his family back to Warren and Elvira Turner, both born into slavery. Warren had conceived a son with another woman before gaining his freedom in 1865. Even after gaining his freedom and marrying Elvira, Warren fathered another child out of wedlock.

Later generations of men in the Turner family continued this pattern of risk factors, including cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births. 

Turner notes that during slavery 89 percent of African Americans cohabited because they were forced to do so. 

“I believe these risk factors were handed down to us through the generations of time,” said Turner, who serves as the senior pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite. “The Bible tells us that the sins of the father would be handed down to the third and fourth generations. A lot of time we don’t take into account how what our parents went through impacts our lives. … Many of the risk factors present in my life were also present in my great-grandfather’s life.”

To turn around what Turner calls a crisis in American families, he urges all Americans to understand African-American history—both the broader history of slavery and racism and the individual stories within families. 

“I think the big problem is a lack of knowledge,” Turner said. “That’s what my book is all about, trying to promote an awareness and knowledge of our history. African-American history has been basically written out. A lot of people don’t take into account where we are today in our country as far as race relations and the problems our families have. The family is the first institution God created. It is the basis of all of society. When the family structure is messed up and diluted, you’ll find that society is messed up.”

Turner says while slavery impacted African-American families by taking fathers and husbands out of the home, it impacted Anglo families by passing on racism and prejudice through later generations. 

Turner believes churches have a role to play in teaching African-American history since most won’t learn it elsewhere.

He says it’s important for churches to teach the Christian principle of love—and be clear about their opposition to hate. But love isn’t just something for Caucasians to better understand; African Americans need to get it, too. 

“You have to fight hatred with love, which is the premise of my book,” Turner said. “Many African Americans look at American history and see how evil it was toward us and how enslavement was so difficult on our ancestors, and they want to rise up and take vengeance. My book is designed to show how the power of love brought our ancestors through all of that pain—and it will also bring us through it, too.”

Turner notes that his book is full of biblical passages. He says the Bible speaks directly to what ails families, whether African-American or otherwise. 

“The Bible addresses every issue we deal with,” Turner said. “Preachers today don’t preach against sin like we used to. The greatest tool we have to change society is when a preacher stands up and preaches against the sins in society.”

Turner believes there is hope for struggling families as churches begin to directly address some of the risk factors that are not only present in African-American families but are rising across the board. Those risk factors include out-of-wedlock births, cohabitation and abandonment by fathers. 

“I believe it can be turned around, but we have to know where we came from,” Turner said. “I encourage everyone to study their history. It was beneficial to me and has helped me to become a better father, a better husband, as I learned what my ancestors went through.”