Month: June 2020

Cross-cultural pastors face challenges, advantages as they lead during nationwide protests

ARLINGTON—For three months, Pastor Jason Paredes has looked forward to the day when his Fielder Church family would once again gather again for worship. Like nearly every other pastor in Texas, Paredes’ church hasn’t gathered since March.

“I have been looking forward to this moment and the celebration it was going to be—air high-fives, distance hugs and the excitement of seeing everyone,” Paredes said.

But this Sunday, June 7, when Paredes once again stands before his congregation after nearly three months apart because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’ll start his sermon with words he never expected to say: “This is not the way I wanted to start coming back.”

Like many other pastors throughout Texas, Paredes is pressing pause on his current sermon series. Instead, he’ll focus his attention on the need to be unified amidst the cultural unrest that has erupted throughout the country since the death of George Floyd while in police custody on May 25.   

Paredes, a Hispanic who was born and grew up in the United States, is among a number of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention pastors who are of a different ethnic background than the majority of their church during the unique cultural moment that has developed since Floyd’s death. The protests, which have now reached every state in the country, came less than a month after a video surfaced showing African American Ahmaud Arbery murdered in what was reportedly a racially inspired incident in Georgia.

“There are a lot of polarized views, specifically in these few incidents that have come up the last few months and realizing people have different sources of information and different people who are influencing their perspective,” Paredes said. “I have one side of my congregation saying if you don’t stop talking about racial tension, you’re just propagating the problem and you’re turning into race-baiting. Then I have another side of my congregation saying we’re not saying enough. If we’re silent in this moment, we’re going to miss the greatest opportunity to stand up and to speak and be a presence for the gospel of Jesus. These are all members of the exact same congregation.”

Paredes notes Fielder Church has become increasingly diverse in recent years, and the church is praying for an even more diverse future. Currently, approximately 30 percent of the church is from a non-Anglo ethnicity. 

“One of our vision goals that we have for our church is that we would be a radically diverse church so that not one group would make up more than 50 percent of our church,” Paredes said. “Not one ethnic group, not one socio-economic group, not one age group, that we’d be a radically diverse church. So we’ve been talking about this for a long time.”

Paredes has served in various roles at the church for 15 years. He became Fielder Church’s senior pastor in 2016 with the retirement of longtime pastor Gary Smith.

The last time Marcus Hayes, an African American pastor, preached in person to the people of Crossroads Baptist Church in The Woodlands, he was preaching in view of a call. The church called Hayes to be their next pastor during the historic COVID-19 pandemic that prevented them from gathering until June 7. Crossroads is intentional about growing into a more diverse church but is still predominately Anglo. 

Hayes says he has heard nothing but positivity from the congregation about the need to deal with the racial issues that are surfacing in the culture at the moment. 

“We put together a prayer guide for the entire church to be praying through, for God to be preparing our hearts for change,” Hayes said. “This is going to happen only through the gospel, but bathed in prayer. We can’t manufacture change. Change has to come from within. Only Jesus can do that.”

When Andrew Johnson arrived at Memorial Baptist Church in the predominantly Hispanic Denver Arbor area of Houston in 2012, the church was most Anglo. As Johnson has led the church through a period of revitalization, its ethnic background has begun to better reflect the surrounding community.

Johnson, an Anglo pastor in a majority-minority culture, has focused on being a listener and student of culture. Sometimes, he says, the best action a pastor can take is to relate to the experiences of the community.

Johnson says prayer must also play a critical part in how the church engages this topic. Earlier in the week, the church hosted a special online prayer meeting in regard to the recent period of unrest.  

“In moments like this, there is this temptation for pastors and leaders to feel like we need to comment on something because the church is looking for an expert,” Johnson said. “This social media age we live in has kind of made everyone feel like they need to be an expert on every topic. As Christian pastors, the power we have is not in our commentary. The power we have is in prayer. I don’t think as Christians we should do the Christian version of what the world is doing, but doing what the world cannot do, which is access the divine power that comes in prayer.” 

Hayes and Paredes note there are both strengths and weaknesses during this period to being of a different ethnic background than most of their church.

Hayes says his presence gives the church a different perspective on the events they are seeing unfold in the community and around the country. 

“They get to see a young man that is just different,” Hayes said. “That is different from what’s being portrayed on TV, sometimes through movies, through social media platforms, and all that stuff. I think that’s the unique part. They’ll begin to see my heart, and the fact that I only stand on biblical truth. They’re seeing an authentic gospel transformation and what the gospel can really do in the life of any single person. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, this is the power of the gospel, the gospel walks towards the mess and the gospel redeems the worst. They get to see my heart and go, ‘Man, you know, we love pastor Marcus.’ They’ll begin to hear my story.” 

Paredes notes that it’s often lonely in this situation, though.

“It’s not because of a lack of love,” Paredes said of the loneliness. “It’s just because of cultural dissonance. We’re a little more disenfranchised. For me personally, and I would imagine a lot of people who are serving in churches where they’re the non-majority ethnic background, it is because they’re bridge people. They are able to navigate cultures. One of the things that causes is that it makes you feel like you don’t belong to either culture. That’s a triple lonely place to be. I think, as we’re praying for pastors who are of a different ethnic group than the majority of their culture, we should pray against a definite feeling of loneliness and isolation.”

Despite the awkward situation of gathering after months apart to address this unique cultural moment, Paredes believes gospel fruit will come from it. 

“My hope, more than anything else, is that we look back at this moment that when we came back together again and dealt with the hardest issue, we did so in the light of the gospel of Jesus and they will say God was setting us up for something even greater,” Paredes said. 

SBC weighs challenges of missed trustee elections

GRAPEVINE—If history is any indication, the Southern Baptist Convention’s trustee system will continue without a snag despite the cancellation of this year’s SBC annual meeting due to COVID-19. The last annual meeting cancellations, during World War II, were followed by a boom of evangelism and discipleship resourced by the convention’s entities.

Still, the unique circumstances this year create some potential challenges for a convention reliant on annual trustee elections.

Across the 12 SBC entities (including the Executive Committee), the terms of 129 trustees are scheduled to expire in 2020, according to last year’s SBC Annual. Typically, the convention would elect Southern Baptists to fill those slots based on nominations from the SBC Committee on Nominations. This year, that isn’t possible. Until the convention can convene, how to handle the open trustee slots is defined by a combination of SBC governing documents, entity charters and state laws where each entity is headquartered.

“We have a rotating system” of entity trustees, SBC Recording Secretary John Yeats said. “As a result, missing a year of being able to elect brand new trustees as a convention shouldn’t hinder us.”

The TEXAN queried the trustee chairs of all SBC entities to see how each board is handling its vacancies created by members rotating off this year.

Based on applicable state laws and entity charter provisions, current trustees of 10 entities remain in office until their successors are elected—even if their terms have expired. Some of those trustees are extending their first terms and likely will be elected to second terms at the 2021 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Others already have completed two terms and will be replaced next year.

The other two entities—GuideStone Financial Resources and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—have charters that require trustees to rotate off the board when their terms end, even if no successor has been elected. Both entities’ board chairs said trustees plan to make interim appointments to fill vacant slots until the 2021 SBC annual meeting.

The charters of all but three entities—the Executive Committee, the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board—permit interim trustee appointments by the board when a position is vacant. Those interim appointees serve until the next SBC annual meeting. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is the only entity to exercise that option so far, appointing Phil Hanberry of Mississippi in April to fill the unexpired term of a trustee who resigned.

One intriguing possibility for a missed annual meeting involves the Executive Committee. SBC policy analysts debate whether the convention’s bylaws permit the EC to elect entity trustees on the convention’s behalf. SBC attorney Jim Guenther said “it is clear the Executive Committee could not elect trustees of some of the entities of the convention because of the wording of their charters.” But even for entities where it might be permissible, EC chairman Mike Stone gave no indication the committee will seek to elect trustees.

In general, the anticipated result of this year’s trustee board actions, Stone said, is that “current trustees remain in place until June 2021.”

Despite well-defined policies for missed annual meetings, some challenges remain.

Smaller states and defined territories will lose representation on some boards temporarily if their lone representative is forced to rotate off without an immediate replacement. At GuideStone, for instance, the sole representatives from California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Maryland/Delaware/the District of Columbia all are slated to rotate off the board this month. Southern Seminary’s lone trustee from Ohio likewise rotates off the board this month.

Another potential concern is that SBC messengers won’t have an opportunity this year to amend the list of nominees to trustee boards. Messengers exercised that prerogative in 2018, when they granted Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission trustee Dan Anderson a second term despite the Committee on Nominations’ recommendation to fill his slot with someone else.

In the absence of an annual meeting, it is especially important that trustees recall their accountability to the convention and that the convention recalls its dependence on the trustee system, said Jimmy Draper, president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources and a former SBC president.

Southern Baptists must not “become distanced from the trustees,” Draper said. Trustees must not “become isolated on their own, working with the entities, and lose their sense of responsibility to the convention.”

Yet Southern Baptists need not worry about a year of missed trustee elections, Draper said, “because we are proceeding based on what we are allowed to do.”

History suggests Southern Baptists are up to the challenge. Since the SBC began meeting annually in 1866, it had previously only missed two scheduled meetings (due to World War II reductions of available food and lodging, among other factors). In each instance, the SBC Annual records that trustees extended their service for an additional year, with vacancies filled temporarily by the various boards.

Yeats recalled that those missed annual meetings were followed by a boom of “new post-war, born-again disciples for Christ and a passion for the church to permeate culture with a biblical worldview.” Between 1945 and 1962, membership in Southern Baptist churches increased 74 percent to 10.2 million and annual gifts through the Cooperative Program increased 411 percent to $53.5 million, according to Albert McClellan’s history of the Executive Committee.

Such historical realities remind Southern Baptists, Yeats said, that the trustee system can be a powerful tool for facilitating gospel witness, even when annual elections prove impossible.

“In some ways,” Yeats said, “the [coronavirus] pandemic has set Southern Baptists free to make the gospel above all in every context.”

Minneapolis pastor leads in peaceful protests after Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS—Pastor W. Seth Martin sat on guard in his front room until 3 a.m. Friday in case rioters approached his home, which is located just a block from where George Floyd was detained by police and died.

“I would, prayerfully, if it was outside, I would petition and seek the peace for my street,” said Martin, who is also a young husband and father. “I’m a black man who is grieving and this is closer to me as a black man. I would seek peace in that way, but also, I would protect my family. If peace wasn’t possible, I would obviously make sure I protected my family and put them in the safest position possible.”

Martin, the founding pastor of The Brook Community Church of Minneapolis, has led his congregation in joining peaceful protests since Floyd’s death. They’ve sat, chanted and prayed at the memorial which has grown at the location of the incident. They’ve protested on the front lawn of Minneapolis District Attorney Mike Freeman. A church member was shot in the hip with a rubber bullet as she protested outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct.

Martin estimates about 90 percent of protestors chant, sit and march peacefully, while only a handful loot, burn and destroy others’ property.

“We’ve been down at the protests, and we were protesting peacefully, praying, engaging in conversations with one another and with some other pastors who joined us,” Martin said. “It was especially meaningful for us to get together and talk through some of these issues, together.”

Floyd’s death, which occurred during an arrest on Memorial Day, has prompted protests, as well as rioting, over the issues of police brutality and racial disparities in criminal justice.

Derek Chauvin, one of four arresting officers in Floyd’s case who were fired, was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Floyd died after Chauvin used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the ground for several minutes, as Floyd complained repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. Peaceful protests and violent riots have erupted in several other U.S. cities since Floyd’s death.

Outdoor prayer vigil

Saturday (May 30) at 5:30 p.m., Martin plans to join an interdenominational group of pastors in a prayer vigil in Phelps Park, about a mile from the epicenter of riots. Chris Reinertson, director of missions for the Twin Cities Baptist Association in Bloomington, Minnesota, helped arrange the event.

“We’re praying that God answers our prayers, God brings us peace, God brings his love, God brings his justice,” Reinertson said, adding they would pray that “God brings his Kingdom, God rescues people from their selfishness and sin, God brings people to the reality of who they are in their situation,” that God would bring “massive healing to that Floyd family,” and for “racial healing.”

The violence has not deterred pastors from gathering to pray, though socially distanced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m going to be with Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit and his angels protecting,” Reinertson said, “and my brothers … in Christ of all ethnicities. We’re going to be together; we’re not going to be alone.”

Reinertson pastors Southtown Baptist Church in Bloomington, a congregation of about 125 worshipers comprised of more than 15 nationalities. Citizens from Sierra Leone, Kenya, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, China, Russia, Korea, Cambodia and other nations are among Southtown’s membership.

Martin leads a multiethnic congregation of about 60 worshipers, which he estimated was approximately 47 percent white and 53 percent black.

Martin believes the problems Minneapolis faces are gospel issues.

“I firmly believe Jesus is on the side of the oppressed. I believe that George Floyd is somebody who is made in the image of God, and that regardless, his life didn’t have to be taken,” Martin said. “I still believe, even in the midst of all of this, that Jesus is the answer, that the church still has the answer.

I don’t want the culture to dictate or try to fix this thing. I want the culture to see a representative of Christ not just preaching about it, but also engaging in protests in a healthy way, in a way that’s peaceful, in a way that reflects loving my neighbor well, and in a way that still says that this is wrong, and that God is grieved by this.”

Martin said the protestors are hurting and want to be heard.

“Whereas I don’t agree with it [violence], I don’t condone it,” Martin said, “when people are hurting and want to be heard, people will go to extreme measures to try to get people’s attention. I think that that is what we are seeing. We’re seeing not just people doing things to take advantage of a moment, but I think we’re seeing people who are bubbling over with the hurt and the anger that they feel and that even, honestly, that I feel.

The hardest thing for me has been how do I contain my raw emotions, and simultaneously not mismanage what God has called me to be and what Jesus has put me on the earth to do.”