Month: July 2020

Take some time off

Sometimes I have this uneasy feeling that if I’m gone for a week the entire kingdom of God will crumble. Bad theology I know, but many people have those moments of feeling like the most essential of essential workers. Elijah expressed the thinking during his complaint against God in I Kings 19 when he said, “I am the only one left!” But Elijah wasn’t. Neither are you. Neither am I. 

There’s a thing that happens to people when they habitually avoid taking their vacation time. The worst offenders like to brag about it. But the more humble of those who “just can’t” be gone from a ministry starts to resent it a little. Maybe you start to be discouraged because you aren’t able to get ahead even though you neglect non-ministry responsibilities. 

I’m not telling you that you aren’t overworked, but I am saying that burning out or losing touch with your family won’t solve it. Jesus was a good example of someone with a lot to do but who withdrew to pray, who went to a party with his mom and who slept while his students did the rowing. Go back to Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb. It took him over a month to get there and he seemed to be seething with disappointment all the way. Have you considered that it took him a long time to get back to his ministry? After his little talk with God I imagine the Elijah who returned was energized and refreshed by the days he spent getting back to his ministry assignment. After he recognized the sovereignty of God, his burden had to be much lighter. It’s a pretty extreme example of getting away from it all but God restored Elijah after he got him away from his enemies, his stressful context. 

There are rocks on both side of this question. We’ve all known people who took every day of vacation as soon as they qualified and every sick day they accrue. But that slack attitude is never encouraged, even implicitly. I do hear people praised for “never going home” or “working way more than we pay him for.” We encourage burn out and then cluck our tongues when someone actually does burn out. 

Vacation, Sabbath and time away can come in big and small bits. You can train the people you serve to not call you at 8:00 p.m. by not looking at your email at all hours of the day and night or by (gasp) powering off the phone altogether at some part of the evening. You are not the only one, Elijah. At least you shouldn’t be the only one. Could there be a day each week when someone else did the hospital visits, someone else answered the phone, someone else talked about ministry stuff all day? Would your wife and kids enjoy talking about something else over dinner? And all of us, even bi-vocational ministry leaders should have some weeks, some Sundays with no responsibilities and no prep. 

I’m not a workaholic, gang. Those who are and who tell you they are engage in a humblebrag. But I am a hypocrite in this column. Tammi and I have shared a ministry for my entire ministry, especially for the past 30 years of it. Our friends, church members and co-workers have most often been the same people for both of us. Her day and my day were often spent on similar work. While watching TV, she’s sorting through Baptist websites and I’m looking at Baptist Twitter to see what folly my brothers have attained since I left the office. It’s not, “That guy never goes home (isn’t he awesome?)!” It’s, “That guy never quite stops thinking about it.” That’s not time away or time off. I’ll tell you, just between us, that there are predictable months each year when I want to go someplace where there are no Baptists and lock the gate. It’s my fault when that happens. Nobody does that to me but me. 

Take your vacation and take it in chunks of more than two or three days. It will take you more than a day to remove your mind from ministry issues and habitual thinking. You’ll have to log out of your email for more than a day or two to stop working on answers to what you saw in a message. You may need to go somewhere with terrible cell coverage. (Utah, Alaska, North Central Arkansas and Grand Prairie, Texas, have fit the bill for me.) Maybe give your powered down phone to your spouse. Let your sweetie decide who needs you most for a few days.

Most things will be where you left them and some things will have sorted themselves out by the time you find out about them. But you’ll be fresher and more creative if you’ll look at and think about something else for a while. You may love your ministry more than you did when you left. That’s a pretty practical reason for doing something impractical for a while.  

Do it again, Lord!

It was 50 years ago this month that I preached my first sermon at the Lone Cherry Baptist Church in Richland Parish, Louisiana. The pastor had accepted another church. My grandfather, who was treasurer and deacon, arranged for me to supply preach. It was August 16, 1970. My grandfather was very ill but he came. My dad brought him. They placed a loudspeaker on the outside of the church so my grandfather could hear me preach. This began my public ministry. 

During my college years I served as a student evangelist. In 1974 my wife and I moved to Crowley, Louisiana to plant a church. This was the beginning of a pastoral ministry that lasted 20 years. During my time as a pastor I usually had a vocational evangelist come at least once a year to lead in an outreach effort.

In preparation for my revivalevangelistic events I would read the book “Why Revival Tarries” by Leonard Ravenhill. In my opinion it is a classic. I don’t agree with everything Ravenhill said. I do agree with his call to a deeper walk with God. Reading the book got me in position to receive from the Lord.

Ravenhill lived in a different era, but his words still sting today. He said there were many players but few prayers. There were many organizers but few agonizers. He said preachers make pulpits famous but prophets make prisons famous. His call was to a life of surrender, fullness of the Spirit and seeking to reach those going to hell. 

What will it take to see an old fashioned Holy Spirit, sin-condemning, Jesus-exalting, hell-shaking, soul-saving move of God? Do we ever need it? Yes! Some of the barriers to seeing God move are the same as they were in Ravenhill’s day. Let me list some for us to consider.

Revival tarries because of cheapening the gospel. Easy believe-ism has caused churches to be filled with the unsaved. We talk about the unchurched but no longer about the lost. People without Jesus are not in need of a better life. They need eternal life. We have sought to meet needs. What people need is to know the bad news of judgment and separation from God and then the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. I know this is not true of all churches, but far too many have abdicated preaching the clear gospel. Call people to repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus.

Revival tarries because of fear. Public acceptance has caused churches to compromise the holiness of God. The proponents of American culture intimidate believers into silence. We are fearful of being ostracized while the saints of old were persecuted. Lifestyles are more in line with current culture than biblical norms. We want to fit in rather than stand up and stand out. May God give us courage like Daniel to be different. 

Revival tarries because we lack urgency in prayer. Prayer meetings have almost disappeared from our churches. Personal private prayer is crowded out by the demands of responding to the latest controversial thread on social media. When was the last time we actually shed a tear because someone we knew was going to hell? Personal repentance followed by passion for people would change our churches. We need the power of God in our places of worship. Only prayer can unleash his supernatural work.

Revival tarries because we steal the glory that belongs to God. 1 Corinthians 1:29 says “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” When God does move in our midst we try to think, “Which method was it that produced that reaction?” Or we develop a plan or some type of organizational strategy to try to duplicate the same response. God wants his people to wait on him as they did on the day of Pentecost to get a fresh breath from heaven. We will know when it is the Lord’s doing when it is something we cannot produce. 

It has been 50 years since I answered the call to the ministry. It has been 50 years since I preached my first sermon. I have seen the power of God displayed. I have seen believers get right with the Lord. I have seen scores of people saved at one time. But it has been too long. If there ever was a time for God’s people to be on their faces pleading for revival, it is now. All I can say is, “Do it again Lord. All for your glory!”   

Pray for Your Missionaries-in-Waiting

Over the past few months, my morning routine has consisted of the same few activities: exercising, reading Scripture, and browsing through news sites of my country of service. Every day I hope to catch something—anything—about borders reopening or visas being issued. So far, my browsing hasn’t produced any results.

In March of this year, my wife and I, along with more than 70 other missionaries, were packing our bags and saying our goodbyes as we completed the International Mission Board’s Field Personnel Orientation (FPO). Most of us from that FPO group still have our bags packed. As COVID-19 began to spread throughout the world, countries made the wise, albeit difficult, decisions to close their borders, barring many of us from entering the countries we’ve thought, dreamed, and prayed about for months (and sometimes years). 

Although some friends have made it to their countries of service in recent weeks, most in my new missionary group are still waiting for borders to reopen. And we’re not alone. Across the world, hundreds of missionaries have been displaced, evacuated or barred from readmittance. Every day we’ve been checking with our embassies to hear when we can be welcomed. That welcome seems nowhere in sight on most days.

COVID-19 has created more missionaries-in-waiting than any other event in recent history. As anyone who has gone through a waiting season knows, it presents its own challenges and struggles. With the difficulties in mind, here are eight ways you can pray for us—your missionaries-in-waiting.

Pray for countries to wisely reopen borders. 

The gospel remains an urgent message. Inside closed borders, people continue to die every day without knowledge of their Creator. Travel restrictions are preventing us from carrying the good news to those who desperately need it. Please join us in praying for admittance into these currently closed nations.

Pray that we can confidently rest in the sovereignty of God.

At the same time, we missionaries-in-waiting need to be reminded that the only reason we’re here is because God wants us here. The gospel is still bearing fruit around the world (Colossians 1:5-6) and our absence, if anything, is a reminder that God is the One who saves people, not us. Pray that we can confidently echo the words of Job: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). 

Pray that we can be good stewards of this season.

One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is that God’s calling for our lives is in the present tense, not the future. God has called us to be a light wherever we are right now, and he expects us to invest ourselves in the people right in front of us. Pray that we can steward our resources and current situations in a way that prompts the response, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” 

Pray against discouragement.

We’ve sold our houses and are living out of suitcases. We have no idea how long our current situation will last. We had expectations of how this year would go, and now we have no idea what next week will look like. Satan is quick to attack us with discouragement. Pray Philippians 4:4-13 over us, specifically that we will find contentment through Christ in these circumstances.

Pray that we will find community in our temporary homes.

While many of us have returned to our home churches during this waiting season, not everyone has that opportunity. Some missionaries are waiting in another country—neither their home country nor their place of service—while borders remain shut. Pray that we can find local churches to partner with and support, as well as a community to walk alongside us as we wait. 

Pray that God would give our IMB leaders wisdom. 

This pandemic has been a logistical nightmare for leaders around the world to navigate. As borders slowly reopen, new questions and challenges will emerge. Continue to ask God to grant wisdom to our IMB leaders as they daily make difficult decisions.

Pray that our love for Christ would deepen during this season.

While we’ll certainly never know all the reasons for the waiting, we do know of at least one reason: so that we can look more like Christ. As James 1:2-4 reminds us, this season has been given to us specifically to teach us endurance and to shape us into Christ’s image. Pray that we can lean into Christ as we endure an unusual trial.

Pray for gratitude.

Over the past few weeks I have been struck by the book of Philippians. Paul, writing from a prison cell, could have easily penned a letter to voice his frustration about how his work has been hindered. He chose not to do that. Instead, he chose to send a message overflowing with joy in Christ, encouraging his recipients to “rejoice in the Lord, always.” My prayer is that I, along with my fellow missionaries-in-waiting, would emulate Paul. Our season of waiting is not an easy one, but we have an opportunity to reflect gratitude toward the One who holds all our circumstances within the palm of his hand. Pray that we can see the care our Father has for us, and that we would rejoice entirely in him. 


Joshua Alexander* and his wife, Margie*, will be serving among Central Asian peoples. (*Names changed for security)

LifeWay offers free church resources for July 19 Children’s Ministry Day observations

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  When 9-year-old Zac McCullar presented a motion at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting to add Children’s Ministry Day to the denominational calendar, he likely never imagined how children’s ministry would look just two years later. 

Despite a pandemic with social distancing rules and modified activities, Children’s Ministry Day—which falls on July 19 this year—should still be observed and celebrated in our churches, said Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids. 

Maybe, even more so than ever.

“Everyone has in some way been affected by COVID-19,” said Magruder. “Children and families have been uniquely impacted because everything about day-to-day life—school, work, time with friends, and church has changed, and one person’s changes in the household affect everyone else. This, alone, is a reminder of why children’s ministry is critical to the church—and to the families in our congregations.”

Children’s Ministry Sunday is a day set aside by the SBC to express gratitude to God for the ministry churches provide to kids and their families. It’s also a day to recognize children’s ministry volunteers.  

“Even before the pandemic, no church could do children’s ministry well without the diligence and dedication of volunteers,” said Magruder. “And over these past few months, children’s ministry volunteers everywhere have been heroes in our congregations. Countless modifications have been made to every aspect of the way they serve kids. They certainly deserve extra accolades this year.”

Whether churches are meeting online, gathering in homes in smaller groups for family worship, or offering children’s classes again, LifeWay Kids has created free resources to help churches facilitate recognition of this day on the SBC calendar. The resources include a sermon outline, children’s object lesson, teacher appreciation ideas, and “share squares” to help churches and leaders observe Children’s Ministry Day on their social media accounts.

LifeWay offers several suggestions for using the resources to observe Children’s Ministry Day: 

  • Enlist a child, volunteer, or parent(s) to share a testimony in the worship service. 
  • Include kids in opportunities to serve in church such as reading Scripture, praying, etc. 
  • Lead a parenting class using the resource “Settle for Nothing Less” (virtually or in person). 
  • Recognize events that have taken place during the summer such as VBS and camp. Share with the church how these events fit into the overall strategy of your children’s ministry to share the gospel with kids. 
  • Share a video highlighting the different parts of kids ministry. 
  • Take to social media to highlight how the children’s ministry has served and ministered to families during the time of quarantine, possibly inviting a family or teacher to share a personal story by video or in person. 
  • Share how kids, their families, and teachers ministered to others in the church and community during the last few months of quarantine. 
  • Remind parents of ways the children’s ministry continues to provide resources and curriculum for their children (in person or digitally). 
  • Use the provided object lesson and sermon outline in church services. 

“This is a critical time to remind children, families and volunteers of their value—not just in the local church but as God’s image-bearers,” said Magruder. “I encourage every church to not only do the recognition on Children’s Ministry Sunday, but to continue year-round the work of the gospel in a spirit of gratitude for His grace and for one another.”

To access LifeWay’s free Children’s Ministry Day Resources, visit 

Southwestern Seminary trustees approve reduced budget, receive “encouraging signs” for future

FORT WORTH—Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously approved a “conservative” budget for the 2020-2021 academic year, while hearing about “encouraging signs” for student enrollment during a called meeting, July 14.

The meeting was conducted via videoconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trustees decided in their April meeting to have the special meeting in order to give the administration and trustees more time to evaluate the ramifications of the pandemic before adopting the annual budget. The meeting was held in executive session

Trustees approved a $29.7 million budget, which is six percent lower than the prior year.

“This budget represents a conservative approach in projecting revenue, a commitment to holding the line on institutional expenses, but yet is bathed in prayerful optimism that the Lord will help us to overachieve and see positive results in stewardship of the institution and its resources,” said President Adam Greenway, reflecting on the trustee action.

“We want to be in the position to navigate throughout this academic and fiscal year in a way that continues to keep students and faculty at the heart of all that we do at Southwestern Seminary,” he added. “And the commitment of our trustees and our administration is to continue to provide essential funding for us to carry out our assignment and our responsibilities.”

In spite of the pandemic, however, Greenway sees “encouraging signs” about the future.

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

“Especially in the midst of a pandemic, we are greatly encouraged by seeing a significant uptick in new student enrollment, particularly new student on-campus enrollment for this fall,” he said. “Further, at this point, it appears we will have a record summer enrollment in terms of total hours taken by students, a 24.9 percent increase compared to last summer, despite the fact that we were only able to offer online courses.”

After transitioning to an entirely online instruction model in March, Southwestern was the first Southern Baptist seminary to announce plans for resuming on campus, in-person instruction for the fall semester. The seminary is finalizing plans for returning students to campus following a “deep cleaning” of dorms and classrooms.

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

Trustees also approved a new strategic plan as a part of the institution’s decennial accreditation process.

Trustee chairman Philip Levant, pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Vid in Hurst, said the board and administration are united in the seminary’s mission.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty because of COVID-19, but our mission has not changed,” he said. “The will of the president and his cabinet and the will of the board is to continue to fulfill the mission God has given us as an institution. As long as God allows us to do that, we’re going to continue training men and women for the gospel ministry.”

The Bible this quarter

One day in late March when the pandemic had just canceled the NBA season and trans-Atlantic travel and time was going nowhere quickly, my mom suggested I take the second quarter of 2020 to read the Bible. She was then finishing a 90-day reading plan and meant to repeat it in April-June. “If you ever have time to do it, it’ll be now,” she said. I couldn’t argue with that.

We followed a chronological reading plan, the type where you read 2 Chronicles in the middle of the Prophets, and where the Gospel of John and his three letters come right before Revelation. Perhaps Q3 will be a bit faster-paced than Q2, but whether busy or not I’d recommend reading the Bible quickly in big chunks, and here are some reasons and tips for it.

One, reading large sections of Scripture helps you notice different things than you might at a slower pace. You’ll cover Genesis, say, in half a week, which lends itself to seeing how the Serpent at the beginning is “crafty,” but so too are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons. The long downward spiral of Israel and the pleas of the prophets will drag out week after week. And then in short order Jesus shows up, and things change quickly. 

Two, the Bible is not just a book—but it is a book. Reading chunks at a time lets you read entire stories and entire books in one sitting, which is how they would have been read (or heard) originally. Thus I found myself reading the entire Joseph story, or the whole book of Hebrews, in one morning. I no doubt missed some details a good, slow reading would uncover, but I felt the overarching themes more readily.

Three, I recommend you get a verse-less, chapter-less Bible, often called a “Reader’s Bible,” in whatever version you like best. A couple pages into Genesis, I was hooked. Even now in my shorter daily readings, I often reach for Volume I: Pentateuch, rather than my “regular” Bible. I find taking away the chapters and verses helps me pay attention to the words, without the constant tick-tock of numbers counting up or counting down to when I’m done for the day. What other book do we do that with?

Four, reading the Bible in 90 days is a commitment, but it’s a manageable one. Maybe I spent about 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, but with a little planning that’s not too bad. Pour yourself a little extra coffee. Reading the Bible in 90 days might sound intimidating (it did to me), but reading a really great book for 45 minutes every day? That sounds wonderful. And again this is 2020: what else are you going to do?

Five, keep a journal or mental log. It doesn’t have to be fancy—just a couple sentences or bullet points of themes, words or ideas that stuck out to you—from that day or from the last couple of days. Reading big chunks of Scripture means you’re likely to glaze over a lot of it. On the other hand, what you do remember you’re more likely to remember; it’s easier to find a connection between the end of Matthew and the beginning when you read the beginning two mornings ago and not last week.

The joke goes that historians one day will say they specialize in the year 2020, only to be asked, “Yeah, but which quarter?” Why not take this next quarter to read the Bible quickly in big chunks?

Midwestern Seminary introduces free local church theological training through FTC Institute

Midwestern Seminary announced July 7 the launching of the For the Church Institute—a free online training platform designed to provide accessible theological training to equip, encourage and edify the local church and beyond.

Jordan Wilbanks, director of church partnerships at Midwestern Seminary, acknowledged that there is a growing movement in local churches, called “church-based theological education,” where regular church members are seeking out educational opportunities—such as classes typically taken in seminaries—from within their own churches.

In response to this need, Wilbanks said Midwestern Seminary has spent considerable time over the past year-and-a-half developing For the Church Institute, which provides solid theological training to local congregations through 10-week classes on foundational subjects like theology, church history, being a Christian, Old Testament, New Testament and more.

“What we’ve aimed for in developing FTC Institute is to provide a curriculum consisting of shell versions of our core classes that are accessible for anyone from pre-teens to great-grandmothers,” Wilbanks said. “We want to remove the ivory tower image of a seminary in our dealings with churches. The fact is we exist for local churches.

“Our primary goal is to strengthen the church from the inside out,” he added. “In these challenging cultural times, it’s imperative that our everyday church members know how to defend their faith and continue growing as a Christian.”

The FTC Institute, Wilbanks shared, is a free resource built specifically for church members to learn from Midwestern Seminary’s world-class faculty—making the Bible come alive and enabling believers to grow in a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Wilbanks added that through this program there is absolutely no intent to displace the local church pastor’s teaching responsibilities or teaching function. Rather, he noted, “For the Church Institute is a tool created to help church leaders shepherd their people and equip them for ministry.

“The courses are intended to help church members know God better through his Word under the instruction of their pastors with our professors as a resource. At Midwestern Seminary, we have a world-class faculty, and FTC Institute shares them directly with local churches. In these classes, you can build a solid foundation of theological education to strengthen your faith and your confidence with the Word of God.”

Wilbanks said his office frequently hears from pastors wanting to provide some kind of educational structure so their people can grow deeper in their personal study and knowledge of God. In partnership, he said, FTC Institute desires to see these saints, with eyes trained on eternity, being equipped for the work of the ministry—while not leaving all the ministry to those in pastoral ministry.

For the Church Institute’s initial offerings include Church History I, taught by John Mark Yeats, dean of students and professor of church history; Theology I, led by Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian Theology; “Being a Christian” with President Jason Allen; and “The Story of Everything” led by Jared Wilson, author-in-residence and assistant professor of pastoral ministry. Other courses to be developed in the future include Old Testament & New Testament Surveys and Interpreting the Bible.

Wilbanks explained that FTC Institute is a tool ready-made for pastors to help their churches without needing much prep time, and participating church members aren’t required to have any prior level of training to benefit from the courses. “Just come with a heart willing to learn more about the God who saw fit to come to the earth, save us from sin, death, and hell, and make us his own through his Son, Jesus Christ.”

The FTC Institute’s vision for the future is one in which each member of each Christian church is trained with sound doctrine to go and make disciples, Wilbanks said. “For the Church Institute is not a silver bullet or the ultimate answer to any church’s woes—again, that answer is Jesus Christ.

“But through these classes, we desire to have a church body in which 15-year-olds know that the Old and New Testaments are one story, revealing the Word made flesh. We need our oldest saints equipped and laser-focused for mission that they might share the great story of Scripture with friends who fear the darkness on the nearing horizon. As a result, the church of Jesus Christ will be made stronger.”

To learn more about the FTC Institute or register your church for the program, visit

SBTC founding board member dies

Albert Yukio Kawamoto, 87, a member of SBTC’s inaugural executive board from 1998-2007 died June 24. Kawamoto was born in Hawaii and worked for 29 years at IBM. He also served as a trustee for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. 

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards said of Kawamoto, “Brother Al had great experience in leadership and business practices, and he brought those gifts to his diligent service to the SBTC during its first years. We know that he is rejoicing the presence of the Lord he loved so well. We are grateful for the faithfulness he showed in serving the churches of our convention.” 

He is survived by Kathleen, his wife of 55 years, three children, eight grandchildren and a great granddaughter. His memorial service was held July 13 at the Arlington Park campus of Rush Creek Church in Arlington, Texas.