Month: July 2020

Michael Rhine Joins SBTF as Director of Church Lending

ARLINGTON—Bart McDonald, executive director the Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation announced the hiring of Michael J. Rhine as director of church lending. Rhine comes to Texas after serving since 2002 as the director of church finance for the Florida Baptist Foundation. Before that he was the chief church finance consultant for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. He began his work with the SBTF on July 20. 

“The addition of someone of Mike’s caliber and pedigree will be a great blessing to our affiliated churches and institutions that are searching for financing alternatives and counsel.  His experience, track record, and reputation in lending circles across the country made him the clear choice to fill this key position,” McDonald said of Rhine.

Rhine is a graduate of Ohio State University and served churches and financial institutions in Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia before joining coming to work for NAMB.  

Mike is married to Vicki for almost 32 years and they have four grown children and two grandchildren.

Speaking of the new opportunity, he said, “God has clearly spoken to me that Texas is where I am to serve him.  God has given me the opportunity to serve churches around the country during my time at NAMB and the Florida Baptist Foundation and I am excited to assist churches across Texas to obtain the facilities they need to reach their communities for Christ!”  

The Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation began providing direct loans to Texas churches in 2014 and to date has extended over $70 million of financing commitments to churches and Baptist institutions for the acquisition, renovation, and new construction of projects throughout the state. Go to sbtexasfoundation.com for more information. 

If you’ve got Jesus in your profile, don’t be nasty on your timeline

NASHVILLE (AP/RNS)—”Follower of Jesus.” A follower of Jesus myself, I normally like to see those words on someone’s Twitter profile. Lately, however, I’m reluctant to scroll down for fear that this same follower has cussed out a politician on the social media platform or tweeted nasty things at a person they disagree with.

How can people who claim Jesus as Lord act so mean?

First, we often think that because we are fighting for the right things—justice, truth, righteousness—that it doesn’t matter how we say what we say. The apostle Peter, no stranger to impulsive talk, has a tip for us. He urged first-century believers to “have an answer for everyone for the hope that lies within you” but to do this with “gentleness and kindness.” In other words, civility and courage are not enemies, but friends. The loudest person in the room or online is not necessarily the most courageous.

Second, we go off the rails online because we forget the humanity of the person on the other end of that tweet. That person we are calling out or punching at rhetorically is not a mere avatar to be crushed, but a person, made in the image of God. Those with whom we disagree are not the sum total of their opinions. James, Jesus’ brother and another leader in the first-century church, urges us to consider the imago dei of the other before we unleash a verbal assault.

Third, we often abandon kindness because politics has replaced religion as the primary driver of our discourse. We may have Jesus in the bio, but it’s the Republican or Democratic Party that is really in our hearts.

The collapse of religious institutions and the decline of church attendance have created a vacuum that politics is only too ready to fill. But politics makes for a disappointing god. It only takes and will never fully satisfy the longings of the heart.

How do we know we are worshiping at the altar of the 24/7 political cycle? When we make every argument a political one. When every aspect of life becomes read through a narrow ideological lens. When every criticism of our candidate is perceived as an attack on our hero. When we turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of leaders in our ideological camp.

As we muddle through the coming election season and a global pandemic that has divided Americans, Christians will be more tempted than ever to abandon civility.

Christians should engage in politics, but we should do so out of responsibility. Politics should be a way to love our neighbors, to use our voices and votes to shape the world in which our neighbors live. We should hold our party affiliations loosely, refusing to give temporal institutions a primacy and authority reserved for the Bible.

As members of God’s kingdom, we are indeed “strangers and exiles,” as Peter wrote. We should always sense a dissonance between our temporal, earthly allegiances and the kingdom of God. Temporal kingdoms and leaders will only disappoint us. Our faith should shape our politics rather than our politics shape our faith.

Kindness and civility shouldn’t be confused with a syrupy niceness that refuses to take a stand against injustice and for the vulnerable. The Bible is full of prophets who refused to be silent.

Yet, we should engage with humility, holding our ideas and our opinions loosely and not taking ourselves too seriously. We should start seeing folks on the other side of the aisle not as enemies to be vanquished, but as people who may have good ideas. We are not always right about everything all the time. It’s our own prejudices and biases, in fact, that lead us to believe the worst about our ideological opponents.

Instead, we should do as James instructed: be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. In an internet age, we might repurpose his words as: be quick to read the whole story, slow to post and slow to outrage.

That’s what we should commit to when we put Jesus in our bio, and it should be evident in the words we post on our timelines.

Pivoting for pandemic, Criswell College sees divine timing

Dallas  COVID-19 has impacted the entire world, and higher education is not exempt. At Criswell College, though, there are some indicators that God has prepared them for these days. 

Just before stay-at-home orders impacted Dallas County and the state of Texas shortly after, the college completed its accreditation reaffirmation—something all accredited schools must do every 10 years. When asked about the pandemic’s effect on the campus, Christopher Graham, vice president for academic affairs, noted what he believes was providential timing.

“The successful visit of the SACSCOC on-site committee with no recommendations in early March allowed us to focus fully on the emerging situation. God used the accolades received during that visit to confirm the mission of the college and the excellence with which the college carries out all of its operations in support of that mission.”

Like so many others, the college had to adjust in a very short time in order to comply with changing regulations, provide a safe environment for staff, and care for students who were no longer able to come to campus. Graham said that everyone’s response was even more remarkable than the complexities of the administrative work.

“When we moved from face-to-face to distance learning in the spring, students both witnessed the resilience of their instructors in completing the task at hand and manifested that resilience themselves as they completed the semester fully engaged. We didn’t have a single member of the class of 2020 who was derailed by the unexpected end of the semester. Returning students are already registering and enrolling to continue their fall courses.”

Among students nationwide, some worry about the safety of returning to campuses in the fall; others are concerned that campuses won’t reopen. Criswell College President Barry Creamer observed that the college is planning to offer on-campus classes this fall, but will also accommodate students who are unable to attend for COVID-19-related reasons.

“Like so many other schools, we have been vigilant not only to require masks but also to reassess our cleaning procedures and ensure that surfaces are cleaned regularly and thoroughly, both throughout the day and each night. But additionally, we formed a specially-tasked campus safety committee at the beginning of the outbreak to address issues related to COVID-19, and we give ourselves a rating at the end of each week to determine how well we are complying with these strict health and safety guidelines. We will have a safe campus and classroom environment for our staff and faculty as well as our students.”

Creamer also pointed out that the college has been blessed to maintain every staff and faculty member’s employment throughout the crisis, something the administration committed to from the beginning. Additionally, though, Creamer observed how the entire crisis has afforded staff, faculty, and students occasion to model the college’s graduate profile—the aim of preparing graduates to be ambassadors, cultivators, peacemakers, problem-solvers and professionals.

Similarly, Graham pointed out that challenges like working and studying from home, changing long-time routines and transitioning to courses offered remotely actually afforded staff and faculty the opportunity to demonstrate the college’s Christian mission. 

“Criswell College faculty and staff are in in a position to capitalize on the type of learning that can occur under adverse conditions. The inconveniences and annoyances required by staff, faculty and students to keep others physically safe is an opportunity to learn how to manifest the love and high regard we have for others through acts of humility and patience both inside and outside the classroom.”

“In short,” Creamer said, “being in the heart of a city itself unsettled by the current situation affords our students a unique opportunity to develop into exactly the leaders so desperately needed by this culture.”   

SBTC DR provides meals for people affected by Hurricane Hanna in the Rio Grande Valley

McALLENHurricane Hanna made landfall as a category 1 storm along the Texas Gulf Coast the evening of Saturday, July 25, adding another level of trauma to an area already suffering from a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

Before weakening and moving into Mexico, Hanna knocked out electricity in the Rio Grande Valley and spawned widespread flooding in Hidalgo County, necessitating at least 200 water rescues by mid-day Sunday, the Valley Monitor reported.

As rain continued Sunday, Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief volunteers Doug and Delpha Cates and Ronnie and Connie Roark brought two quick response feeding units to the Rio Grande Valley, one from the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association in Pampa and the other from Salem-Sayers Baptist in Adkins, near San Antonio.

As the crews traveled south in tandem down Highway 281, passing motorists spying the SBTC DR logos on the mobile kitchens signaled “thumbs up” and showed praying hands, Connie Roark told the TEXAN.

The Pampa unit set up operations Monday at Sendero Community Church in south McAllen. The church also provided volunteers and pastor David Ortega and his wife, Mari, hosted the Roarks and Cateses in their home.

From 1 to 6 p.m. Monday, storm victims, most still lacking electricity, drove through the church’s parking lot, receiving a total of 261 hot meals. Many came from nearby Pharr and learned of the meal outreach from flyers hastily typed and printed by the Ortegas and distributed by church members. 

“Our members went to Walmart in south McAllen and combed the areas where there was flooding,” Ortega said. 

At the church, Sendero members, SBTC DR volunteers, Ortega and a neighborhood family greeted people in their vehicles and talked with them as they waited in line to receive hot food. Survivors and volunteers alike were masked.

Volunteers not only asked drivers how many meals were needed, but also inquired about hurricane damages and offered to pray.

Connections despite barriers

Ronnie Roark noted that masks forced him to pay closer attention to each meal recipient.

“We all have to wear masks now. We look at people’s eyes much more. Their eyes will tell you. When they drive through you can tell,” Roark mused, describing one lady who “seemed about to tear up.”

When asked if she had a prayer request, the woman replied, “Yes,” her voice trembling. “I need a job,” she said before Connie Roark prayed with her.

“That’s the beauty of how we serve today, to actually visit with the folks,” Connie said. Despite barriers set up for physical distancing, rigid preparation and serving protocols and even temperature checks for volunteers, human and divine connections occur.

A single father named Rick phoned Ortega’s church cell number. Rick had just received a flyer, noted the church name, and wanted to verify that the meal offer was legitimate.

“Are you really giving out food?” he asked.

“Yes, we are,” Ortega answered as the man explained he had two small children and they lived in apartments that still lacked power. 

By the time Ortega, who had been surveying Edinburg neighborhoods hit by the storm, returned to the church shortly after the phone call, Rick was already there in line. Ortega talked with him, asking him how things were going spiritually.

“I’ve kind of strayed away,” Rick replied, adding that in June he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had quarantined five weeks. “I thought I was going to die,” he said. Then came the hurricane. “This is the second time the Lord is trying to get my attention,” he said.

Ortega talked to Rick about Christ, encouraged him to go to church and gave him a Bible, offering spiritual food in addition to physical sustenance. 

By the end of Monday, volunteers had made spiritual contacts or prayed with 86 individuals, Connie Roark said.

Among Monday’s helpers were Eric, Jeanne, Donovan and Natalie Fagan, Ortega’s neighbors. Eric, a veteran involved with area Wounded Warriors, also contacted group members about the meal distribution.

The Cateses will man the Top O’ Texas QRU kitchen through Wednesday, serving breakfast till noon and dinner from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, while the Roarks will set up the second QRU in the Mission area on Tuesday and minister there.

Meanwhile, SBTC DR volunteers Kyle Sadler and Ralph and Debra Britt headed to the Rio Grande Valley to assess the area and see if recovery teams are needed.

Call 855.SBTC DRHelp for assistance

More flooding may be on the way, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice told DR task force members in a Zoom meeting on Monday, noting that although Hanna died out in Mexico, the watershed is draining toward the Rio Grande River and authorities are concerned flooding will occur downstream from Falcon Lake, possibly inundating an area from Rio Grande City to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We may still have river flooding in front of us, three to five days out. We can’t stand down yet because something may happen,” Stice said, confirming SBTC DR’s continued readiness.

As SBTC DR continues its response to Hurricane Hanna in the Rio Grande Valley, the Pampa QRU kitchen finished work at Sendero Community Church on July 19 and moved to provide feeding support to recovery operations at McAllen’s Baptist Temple. Seven SBTC DR volunteers also assisted the Salvation Army in food preparation at its central kitchen in McAllen from Thursday to Sunday before joining the support crew at Baptist Temple.

The QRU from Salem-Sayers set up at Sullivan City, where the Roarks prepared more than 500 lunches daily from Thursday to Sunday. They also served 500 dinners provided by the Salvation Army each day.

Assessments continue, joined by chaplains. A SBTC DR shower/laundry unit has been moved to the area to support volunteers. Clean up and recovery work began on Thursday, July 30, and a second recovery crew began work on Monday, August 3.

A SBTC DR phone number for Rio Grande Valley Spanish speakers needing food or assistance following Hurricane Hanna has been set up at 956.448.4712, manned by David Loyola. The other toll free number also remains active: 855.728.2374.

How to pray for missionaries displaced by COVID-19

COVID-19 has upended many plans. From vacations to graduations and everything in between, the global pandemic has left few events or lives intact. One group of people whom COVID-19 has profoundly impacted is missionaries. Many missionaries have had to shelter in place and quarantine in their host countries. Their lives were put on pause, and missionaries tried to find creative means to continue ministry. 

As more time passes, many missionaries find themselves unexpectedly back in their countries of origin. While many might assume “coming home” is nothing but fun, many, if not most, missionaries are standing in a now unfamiliar place without the blessing of goodbyes to friends or much time to pack. Many of these missionaries also had to make this return without knowing when, if ever, they would be able to return to their home and place of service. 

My family went through something similar when we had to leave the field abruptly due to health issues in our family. A quick return to the states helped us address our son’s health, but also took us away from a country and people whom we love. Having walked through similar circumstances, here is how I would suggest we pray for missionaries who have been unexpectedly displaced:

Pray that they feel the freedom to grieve.

Praying for someone to grieve might seem morbid, but being ripped out of your life and ministry is traumatic and hurtful. Pray that these missionaries would give themselves the freedom to feel and express their grief. 

It is easy to shut down emotions like grief in the name of moving on or “trusting the Lord.” Grief is not a denial of faith in the Lord; instead, expressing our grief to the Lord says that we acknowledge He is big enough to handle it. If we do not acknowledge our weakness, we rob ourselves the opportunity to see His strength. 

Pray for trusted listeners.

Returning missionaries often feel out of place in their home country. This home country is not really home anymore! The missionary is changed, and her old friends have changed. Everything is different. 

On top of this reverse culture shock, missionaries have already undergone trauma and pain — pandemics and forced relocations aside — that are hard to express to someone who has not walked in those shoes. Ask God to provide safe friends, church members, even counselors, who will listen, mourn with those who mourn, and point towards Christ — the incarnate One who shares in our sufferings. 

Pray for peace. 

Missionary life is uncertain by nature. However, the complete chaos caused by COVID-19 means many missionaries have no idea when they will be able to return to their place of service. Pray that the Lord would give them peace that passes understanding. Ask also that the Lord would make clear the next good works He has prepared for them. 

Pray for spiritual intimacy and growth. 

Unexpected changes often leave us open to stagnancy or aimlessness in our walks with the Lord. Removed from ministry that can give meaning and identity (and not always in healthy ways), missionaries can feel far from God’s presence. Ask that the Lord would fill these missionaries with knowledge of His steadfast love. Ask that this time would be the beginning of a deeper walk with the Lord. 

We know that the sudden displacement of missionaries did not surprise the Lord. Even where grief springs up, the Lord is at work. Missionaries being displaced does not mean disciples are not being made and churches are not starting. Many missionaries remain on the field.

Around the world, local churches and believers are faithfully meeting needs and sharing hope. Displaced missionaries and the Southern Baptists who sent them also find the peoples of the world all around us. In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, for example, there are more than 400 people groups, of which more than 100 are unreached with the Gospel.  

As we pray for these missionaries, let’s also pray that the Lord would use us to make disciples of the nations around us. Also, consider asking if your church or association knows of any missionaries who have returned to your area. Consider writing them a note or dropping off a meal to let them know you are praying for them. 

As it is safe and permissible to do so, ask some of these missionaries to teach you about their people and go with them to share the Gospel with internationals. Let’s pray with our brothers and sisters and join them in making disciples of all peoples!

—Samuel Brittain, who previously served in South Asia, is associate director of the World Missions Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Digital detour a successful path for Jacksonville College

Known as “the biggest small town in Texas,” Jacksonville is situated on 14 square miles of rolling hills. Jacksonville College, founded in 1899 and the oldest two-year school in the state, keeps stride with current technology and offers quality general education courses.

The college’s online capabilities proved indispensable halfway through this spring semester. Like other higher education institutions across the country, Jacksonville College faced the COVID-19 shutdown, which made online remote learning crucial.

“It’s been wild. That’s an understatement, isn’t it?” said Vice President for Academics Marolyn Welch in a virtual trustee meeting May 16.
“Everything was rocking along really well until after spring break, and the news began to filter in that schools were not going to reconvene.”

“There was a bit of trepidation about how we would work it out,” she said of the initial stages, but noted the faculty went through fast-track training “with a resolve that we would finish the semester online through remote instruction, and we were able to finish successfully,” Welch said. “I am very proud of my faculty.”

Despite the virus’s ramifications, Jacksonville College transitioned smoothly to 100 percent online remote instruction. A major factor in the seamless adjustment was preparation. Welch said the college was already preparing through its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) called “Going the Distance with Distance Education.” Because of the QEP, the faculty adjusted well to moving courses online, Welch said.

The college’s QEP embodies the institution’s determination to “challenge minds and transform lives” through improving student success in online education courses. Successfully facilitating its QEP is integral to the college’s standing with its accrediting body.

As students nationwide struggled with the drastic academic adjustments the virus caused, Jacksonville College’s Teaching & Learning Center (TLC) extended its tutoring to 11 hours a day.

“The additional summer hours for online tutoring have allowed students to receive tutoring throughout the day and early evening, giving them extra time to get assistance to successfully complete their coursework,” said TLC director Jan Modisette.

“Four tutors are monitoring their computers from 8 a.m. through 7 p.m. weekdays, offering tutoring in all subjects and technical assistance for submitting assignments in addition to giving friendly smiles with encouragement to students who are often lonely during the pandemic,” Modisette added.

Based on future social distancing directives, plans for the fall semester could include hybrid classes, meaning face-to-face instruction combined with remote learning may be used to follow guidelines.

The college has established a COVID-19 task force that is studying what procedures to establish when students return to campus. The overarching protocol is to follow the recommendations from local and federal public health officials, Welch said.

“We anticipate the use of hand sanitizer, face masks and social distancing,” she said, “but the specifics are yet to be determined. We also have capped the number of students that can be seated in our classrooms, but that cap is flexible based on public health reports.”

Though the college already has a robust online instruction capability, this summer the college is developing an online proficiency rubric for all faculty who teach face-to-face classes, in case instruction is required to move 100 percent online this fall, Welch said. “No matter what happens, we will be ready to go fully online.” 

—Jacksonville College is a cooperating ministry with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

SWBTS readies for fall on-campus instruction

FORT WORTH As the first Southern Baptist seminary to announce plans to resume on-campus instruction in the fall in an April 29 message to the seminary community, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Adam Greenway reaffirmed those intentions in a June 26 message following an increase in Texas coronavirus cases.

As of late June, some details about the seminary’s reopening plans were not finalized, but Greenway said significant renovations to the residence halls and other campus improvements and a “deep clean of the entire campus” will be completed before the semester begins on Aug. 17.

“I want to assure you that we are doing as much as we can to make the reopening of campus this fall as safe as possible,” Greenway said.

In the case of on-campus classroom instruction, Greenway said, “[W]e are implementing various procedures by which social distancing can be observed while still receiving the highest quality educational experience in the classroom. In some cases this will include limiting the size of classes; in others this may include having a single course meet in multiple locations.”

Additionally, “expanded online course offerings” will be available, including “live online classes, where students will join a class taking place on campus through videoconferencing technology, as well as our new eight-week online course format,” launched in March.

Although a June 25 Tarrant County order requiring use of facemasks in businesses does not apply to the seminary, Greenway advised students and faculty that facemasks are recommended in common areas on campus and other settings where people are gathered together.

Reflecting on the disrupted spring semester, in April Greenway praised the seminary’s faculty and Campus Technology team for their shift to entirely online instruction necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have never been prouder to be a Southwesterner as our incredible faculty and staff seamlessly made this transition in the span of a few weeks to best serve our students,” he said.

Students and faculty also praised the transition.

Master of divinity student Brit Redfield from Mansfield admitted that while she missed the “person-to-person” interaction of the classroom, she said the seminary and professors made the fully-online spring semester experience a positive one.

“The school was very quick to get everything up and running so that we could seamlessly transition into our completely online portion of the semester,” Redfield said.

L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism Matt Queen said that because the seminary has had a strong online and distance-learning presence for many years, the change to online-only in the spring brought minimal problems.

Though COVID prevented an in-person commencement ceremony, the seminary awarded 336 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in May, the first time in 112 years the institution was unable to hold in-person commencement. Scarborough College, the seminary’s undergraduate school, saw its largest-ever graduating class.

In a video charge to graduates, Greenway expressed disappointment in not being able to celebrate their achievement together.

“This class will be one that will be remembered in the annals of the history of our seminary forever because you experienced a kind of disruption in the end of your studies as a seminary or a college student unlike anything we’ve ever known,” Greenway said.

He assured the graduates on behalf of the administration and faculty that “your alma matter stands with you. … Know that you are, indeed, Southwesterners. We are in this together as we work to continue to be found faithful.”

Spring 2020 graduates will be given the opportunity to participate in a future commencement ceremony.

Although the pandemic also prevented an in-person preview for prospective students, the seminary hosted a series of online “virtual previews,” resulting in a 165 percent increase in participation over spring 2019. Additionally, the seminary has received 63 percent more applications than the 2019 and 2018 spring previews combined.

Early indications are hopeful for a stable fall enrollment, although data will not be available for several months. Meanwhile, summer course enrollment saw a 24-percent increase in total hours taken by students compared to 2019, according to seminary officials.

In his April message to the seminary community, Greenway expressed the belief that God is at work through the pandemic.

“I am prayerful that God is using the coronavirus pandemic in a way that will make us more faithful ministers of the gospel and that will see the advancement of the gospel across the world,” he said. “As Robert E. Naylor, our fifth president, frequently said, ‘The sun never sets on Southwestern.’ That truism remains undiminished in our time, and it is our prayerful ambition that because of the training they receive here, our students will continue to be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission across Texas, throughout the United States and around the world.” 

Preach it brother!

The 20th century expositor Stephen Olford was known to say, “Only one thing will ever take the place of great preaching, and that’s greater preaching!” Is that still true today?

During the massive cultural disruption of COVID-19, every aspect of our lives has been challenged or changed. As Christians even our public worship habits have been tested. For a while churches everywhere were left with little choice but to close the doors to public gatherings and move to a completely online presence. Many are still in that mode now, and some others are returning to online-only as the virus stubbornly spreads. 

What does the coronavirus and the rapid conversion of churches to online platforms have to do with preaching? The two seemingly disparate issues are actually interconnected. For instance, early research demonstrated that only a minuscule fraction of Americans planned to attend an in-person worship service on Easter Sunday in 2020, since by then most states were already under a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order. Yet, by contrast, a striking majority of people attended an online Easter service. The number of Americans who had never viewed church online surged. Millions of people signed up for online platforms to participate in church services, with one megachurch reporting that 10 million people went online to view their Easter services.  

While 10 million viewers is a notable exception to the rule, churches large and small have rapidly converted to an online platform to continue ministry and have experienced a surprisingly extensive reach. Even if a smartphone video camera and Facebook Live was the extent of the available technology, churches opted for it. In addition, it’s common to hear pastors report their online congregation is now larger than their in-person attendance had been prior to the pandemic. In other words, not only did churches rapidly transition to producing online church, the members (and others) just as rapidly transitioned to consuming online church content. We are witnessing a seismic shift in how we do ministry!

So, what has all of this got to do with preaching? If you watch online church, especially during the early days when we were all first getting used to the new option, the content was fairly consistent and mostly stripped to a minimum. Most churches offer some music, even if it’s a single guitar player singing a song of praise. Someone on camera usually offers prayer, and every church has a preacher. When millions of Americans, including many who rarely ever attended before, tuned in online for church, what were they coming for? The answer is clear. They were looking for worship and the preaching of the Word. Apparently, people’s need to hear the Word proclaimed is greater than even the most faithful practitioners of the ministry of preaching may have dared to hope.

In one respect, not much has really changed for the preacher since New Testament days. That sounds far-fetched, but after thoughtful reflection we realize it’s not. Certainly we have better technology and more immediate access to resources, but the work itself remains essentially unchanged. For instance, when Paul wrote his final letter to his younger apprentice Timothy, who was himself busy with the work of the church in Ephesus, one of the final instructions to the younger pastor was about the ministry of preaching. Paul said, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). 

Ephesus was one of the megacities of the ancient world, the fourth largest in the Roman Empire. It was a cosmopolitan center of academia, boasting one of the largest libraries in the world. The city was also inebriated with sporting and entertainment events held constantly in the Great Theater of Ephesus, a magnificent 25,000-seat amphitheater, the largest of its kind in Asia Minor. Ephesus also had a dark side. Prostitution and sex trafficking was common and openly advertised and practiced throughout the city. While Ephesus may not be just like your town, one thing is certain. When Paul said to be ready to preach “out of season,” he knew Ephesus wasn’t exactly the Bible Belt. Timothy faced enormous challenges when he tried to minister. 

The challenges faced by our churches during a pandemic are different but not unrelated. Ministry can be exhausting, and now it’s even harder as some of our familiar habits and expectations have been knocked off balance. 

So when Timothy was called to minister in a hard place, what did Paul insist he do? Timothy was instructed to “preach the Word.” Obviously, Paul had decided preaching Scripture was a sufficient strategy to reach people in a tough context. Nothing has changed. The preaching of the Word is still what we need for hope, for encouragement, for instruction from the Lord, and for spiritual growth and renewal.

Preacher, we need your ministry right now more than ever. You may be preaching while staring at a cold, indifferent camera lens and wondering if it’s worth it or if there’s anyone out there; but we are watching, and we need a word from God. So give us the Word. Tell it like it is. Preach it brother!  

Hispanic pastors address stress and suicide

Pastoral ministry is often fast paced and high stress, from weekly administrative responsibilities to speaking engagements, unexpected late-night calls, counseling sessions and crisis management. While church members may be aware of some of the challenges their pastors face each week, many seem unaware of the taxing effect such a workload has on ministers. 

Ministers themselves are often hesitant to share such burdens with others. 

“This problem has always existed,” said Chuy Ávila, SBTC church planting associate. “The problem is that, for cultural reasons, it hasn’t been treated so openly as we are attempting to do. We wanted to provide a safe platform where we offered pastors the possibility to identify themselves with one of the areas we covered, even when they might not dare to express it publicly.” 

SBTC en Español talked openly about such problems with a number of experienced ministers and counselors as panelists. The discussion was recorded through Zoom and can be viewed online. The panelists included Edgar Trinidad, pastor of Second Baptist Church in San Angelo; Mario Martínez, pastor of The Good Shepherd Baptist Church in El Paso; Eric Puente, a trained pastoral counselor as well as the interim pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Dallas; Armando Vera, pastor of Power of God Church in McAllen; and moderators Ávila and Bruno Molina, an evangelism associate with the SBTC. 

At the beginning of the panel discussion, an often-avoided question was placed on the table: Why do pastors commit suicide? 

Puente noted that a fast-paced lifestyle filled with chronic stress, among other factors, can put a pastor’s life at risk. “It’s of uttermost importance not to spiritualize the matter, Martinez added. “It’s really delicate … [involving] factors that are outside of our control and are not necessarily related to spiritual/religious elements.” 

Indeed, pastors often face loneliness in ministry, Ávila said. “The pastor is often everyone’s friend, attempts to be everyone’s friend, but very few seek to intentionally befriend their pastor.” The panelists emphasized that one must have friends while doing ministry—particularly, trustworthy friends also in the ministry and who are able to understand the nuanced issues ministers face that are not as well known among church members. “Being in isolation or wanting to go solo is the worst thing a minister of the gospel could do,” Martinez said. “‘It is not good for man to be alone.’”

The panelists also recommended that all pastors have an emergency contact number belonging to a trained counselor they can call if they need help, a prayer team within the local church which specifically and actively prays for the pastor and a support group of other pastors with whom they can be accountable. 

Implementing all of these preemptive steps might be difficult, especially in a profession where one’s job is tied to one’s own moral performance, which in turn can discourage vulnerability among pastors. Nevertheless, as Puente pointed out, pastors have the example of Christ, who was open about his emotions, his sadness and his tears, particularly in Gethsemane.

Puente emphasized that in the gospels, “Jesus is speaking to you and to me.” 

Prestonwood Pregnancy Center opens across the street from Planned Parenthood

DALLAS—The goal of Prestonwood Pregnancy Center is to be available to as many people as possible, letting them know the options they have when encountering an unplanned pregnancy, according to director Leanne Jamieson.

To better accomplish that goal, Prestonwood Pregnancy Center, launched by Prestonwood Baptist Church in 1991, has opened its second location directly across from the largest Planned Parenthood abortion center in Dallas.

The expansion plan had originally been to revitalize another crisis pregnancy center located near the Planned Parenthood location. The struggling center was on the verge of closure. But when Jamieson discovered an empty building across the street from Planned Parenthood, she began praying that God would open doors and provide a way for the two crisis pregnancy centers to merge and open a new location.

“We were driving by the Planned Parenthood and at the time we were talking about the repairs that would be needed and how it wasn’t an ideal location,” Jamison said. “I mean we were looking at a lot of money. It needed a new roof, it need a whole update.”

As they drove past, Jamieson pointed to the empty building across the street and said if she could move the center anywhere, it would be there. Slowly, and by God’s grace, doors were opened for Prestonwood to open in that very building.

“God was just providing for us to be there,” Jamieson said. “We very quietly did the renovations. The last thing we did was put the sign up the weekend before we opened.”

Jamieson said they chose the location because when women are headed to the Planned Parenthood center, it is usually because they believe they have no other option or are looking for answers to a seemingly impossible situation.

“I really believe that most people seeking an abortion are doing it for some very fundamental reasons,” Jamieson said. “Often there’s a great deal of fear surrounding their pregnancy and because of that fear they’re really looking for some sort of answer, we might say hope. Hope that pregnancy does not have to change their life in what they view to be a disastrous way.

“We’re there because we want to provide them true choice. We want to be a light in what is often a very dark situation. In my experience, Jesus shines the brightest when the situation is the darkest. We thought, ‘Let’s position ourselves so those who are heading toward the abortion facility might see us and might give them pause and might end up coming to us instead of them.'”

Prestonwood Baptist Church Pastor Jack Graham said the move is timely.

“I truly believe this relocation is the greatest opportunity we’ve had in our 29 years of operating,” Graham said in an interview with Fox News. “To offer hope where it’s been lost, to offer a better choice that leads to life instead of death and to show grace and love at the very moment when many women are their greatest need.”

Jamieson said the decision to open across the street was not motivated by a belief that Planned Parenthood is the enemy, but rather that they wanted to make people aware of their options.

“Planned Parenthood is not the enemy; we know who the real enemy is,” Jamieson said. “Planned Parenthood is staffed by people that need the love and grace of our Lord and Savior as much as clients walking through our door do. But we are moving in because that is a place where the enemy has positioned himself and we want to say we can serve them (clients), and that they have more options beyond just abortion.”

In 2019, Prestonwood Pregnancy center saw more than 12,500 clients, and through June, Jamieson reported they have seen approximately 8,000 clients, a 43 percent increase from 2019 at the same time. In June alone, they saw 269 clients, a 35 percent increase from the previous year.

Jamieson said people just want to be loved, heard and cared for, and to know they are not alone. Prestonwood Pregnancy Center hopes to meet those needs.

“Some of the stories we hear would break your heart,” Jamieson said. “But I’m so grateful to know that I know a Lord that specializes in the broken.”