Month: October 2020

North Texas pastor nominated for Dove Awards

The Gospel Music Association’s 51st annual Dove Awards ceremony honoring excellence in Christian music—which will be broadcast Oct. 30 at 7 pm CDT on the Trinity Broadcasting Network—will look like none other, with organizers foregoing an in-person event because of COVID-19. 

For Matt Boswell, pastor of The Trails Church in Celina, experiencing the event live or televised makes no difference. He is happy to be among the honorees.

Boswell and co-writer Matt Papa of Atlanta, Georgia, have been nominated for a 2020 Dove in two categories: best inspirational album for “His Mercy Is More,” and best inspirational song of the same name. 

The TEXAN interviewed Boswell on the eve of the Dove Award ceremony about modern hymn writing, what the nomination means and what’s next for the North Texas pastor.

The nominated album marks the first time Boswell and Papa have recorded together, although they have been a song-writing team for over a decade, penning such modern hymns as “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” and  “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor.”

“His Mercy Is More” was inspired by the words of “Amazing Grace” writer John Newton: “Our sins are many but his mercies are more.” 

Boswell has been writing and performing worship songs for a quarter century, since he led student worship at age 15 in his father’s church in DeSoto, Texas. He met Papa in Nashville over a decade ago when the two were writing songs for different publishers and Boswell reached out.

“We just hit it off in the beginning. We work really well together,” Boswell said of the collaboration, describing the typical process the two undergo during composition. Generally, Boswell begins thinking through a new hymn by conceiving of a title and working through content. Papa supplies most of the melodies. 

“Matt [Papa] is a much stronger musician than I am,” Boswell said. “I am not near as gifted musically as he is and I just love the melodies he writes.” 

Biblical accuracy is important to both songwriters. Boswell received his PhD with an emphasis in Christian Worship and Biblical Spirituality from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in May; Papa also attended seminary and currently serves as the worship and arts director at Christ Covenant Church in Atlanta. 

“We both care about the tethering of truth to beauty. But truth is paramount,” Boswell said. “What we sing must be true first and foremost. And then you add layers of trying to adorn that truth with beauty, whether it be with language or music. But everything revolves around the truth of who God is, the sufficiency of God’s word, the centrality of the gospel.”

Performing with Papa

Although the two have written together since 2009, “His Mercy Is More” marks the first time Boswell and Papa, who have distinct stylistic interpretations of their music, have recorded together. It won’t be the last.

To commemorate their Dove nominations, the pair released a new song, “Psalm 150” on Oct. 23, recorded this summer. 

Boswell praised the team at Getty Music for their support in taking the pair’s hymns and “scattering them all around the world.”

“His Mercy Is More” reached number 45 on the Church Copyright Licensing International charts, while the pair’s older songs such as  “Christ the Sure and Steady Anchor” and “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” remain in the 100s.

Boswell credited Northern Ireland’s Keith and Kristyn Getty and the UK’s Stuart Townend for opening the door for the “new generation” of hymn writers.

“Had it not been for those guys, I don’t know that I would have written in this genre,” Boswell said. “It’s fun to get to work with my heroes now. And to love them still.”

Boswell said he, his wife, Jamie, and their four children, plan to view the Dove Awards in a virtual watch party in Texas along with Papa in Georgia and the Gettys in Northern Ireland. 

The Trails Church

When not writing and recording modern hymns, Boswell leads The Trails Church, a church plant of Frisco’s Providence Church that has grown substantially in its short existence. Although he served Providence as worship leader, Boswell has assigned that duty to another music director at The Trails.

“I’ve retired,” Boswell mused, adding “For 25 years I led worship through song and now have the privilege of leading worship through preaching.”

The growth of The Trails has been remarkable, Boswell said, noting that some 500 attended an anniversary and baptismal service held outside in early October.

“The Lord has been so kind to us,” Boswell said. 

On Sundays, the church meets in a community room at the Prosper ISD stadium complex. Reservations are required for the two in-person services to ensure proper social distancing. Services are also online. Recently the church merged with the former Grace Baptist Fellowship in Celina. Now that facility provides office space and room for midweek Bible studies and events for The Trails.

Boswell, whose father now serves as the Colorado Baptist Association’s director of church health, and whose grandfather was an IMB missionary and interim pastor, came to Southern Baptist life naturally.

“It chose me,” he says of the SBC.

As for the Dove nomination, “The 10-year-old part of me who grew up listening to Christian music is very excited,” Boswell said, adding, “It’s an honor to be recognized by the Gospel Music Association for the work we’ve been doing.”

For a full list of nominees, please visit 

Annual meeting panels to focus on post-COVID evangelism, revitalization

In the midst of a somewhat simplified annual meeting schedule for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, the Tuesday Nov. 10 schedule contains three panels on relevant subjects. One panel will take place in the main session and two will take place during lunch.

The main stage panel will be during the Tuesday morning session and is entitled “Re-engaging the Heart: Keeping Focused on the Mission,” and it is themed around the charge given to Jesus’ followers in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and] to the end of the earth.”

“With so much uncertainty in our world, it remains essential that we maintain the mission God has given us,” said Lance Crowell, panel moderator and SBTC church ministry associate. 

Panelists will include Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church; Matt Queen, L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Caleb Turner, assistant pastor at Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church; and IMB missionary Alex Traverston. 

“Churches can be tempted to focus on the logistics of ministry, while losing the hope and focus of our calling. God has redeemed and commissioned us to be his witnesses, and that has not changed in the midst of the circumstances with which we find ourselves,” Crowell added. “This panel will look to inspire, challenge and educate leaders to maintain the mission in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

The two president’s panels will be held back-to-back during lunch. The first, “The Revitalized Church in a Post-COVID World,” will be moderated by Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies.

“The panel is designed to think about how a church can re-engage missionally while COVID is still impacting gathering and how, especially in a revitalization context, churches may be experiencing a need for spiritual renewal even if pre-COVID they did not,” Priest said.

Panelists include SBTC consultant Mike Landry; Matt Queen; Randy Spitzer, pastor of Caribbean Baptist Church; and Andrew Johnson, pastor of Faith Memorial Baptist Church.

The second panel, “Reaching the Next Generation in a Post-COVID World,” will be moderated by NAMB next-gen evangelism director Shane Pruitt.

“Looking at things big-picture evangelistically, churches are saying that they want to see baptism numbers go up, they want to see people reached for the gospel. And the next generation is where that’s going to happen,” Pruitt said. “According to polls, 77 percent of born-again Christians made a commitment to Christ before the age of 17. So now is the time to reach them, and if you wait you miss a generation. 

“If there’s a blessing to COVID it’s that it has opened people’s eyes in a way and they are more aware that they’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Gen Z especially, who are agenda-weary and propaganda-weary—they’re searching for truth.”

The panelists for this second session include Brent Isbill, pastor of Epic Life Church in New Braunfels; Jessica Kowalski, college minister at Great Hills Baptist Church; Jason Mick, student pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church; Hannah Lee Duffey, children’s minister at Hyde Park Baptist Church; and Rylan Scott, student pastor at Houston Northwest Church.

The lunch panels will begin at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday and include a free boxed lunch for all attendees. No registration is required for the lunches. 

Sports is among “greatest avenues for outreach,” Pender says

HOUSTONFoot traffic on the church campus—particularly because of sports activities—has been vital to the growth of Fallbrook Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in north Houston. If people are familiar with a church because they’ve played ball there, they’re more likely to attend a service, the pastor said.

“We just think that sports is one of the greatest avenues for outreach because you’ll be hard-pressed to find somebody who has a kid who didn’t play some sort of sport here,” Pastor Michael Pender told the TEXAN regarding the local community.

The church has hosted a men’s basketball league, a youth basketball league, football, volleyball and even track and field. 

“Prior to COVID, every single weekend there was some sort of sporting event at our church. There aren’t too many Houston professional athletes in terms of basketball that did not come and play in our gym,” Pender said.

Nearly every week, people come through the visitor line and say they attended a sporting event at Fallbrook before they attended a service.

“When they decide to go to church, when the family wakes up and says, ‘We want to go to church today,’ the logical place they’re going to come is Fallbrook,” Pender said. 

The predominantly African American congregation began as a Southern Baptist church plant in 1994 with Pender, the founding pastor, also driving a truck for FedEx. Now with an ever-expanding campus and thousands of members, Cooperative Program giving remains a priority because of the resources they received in those early days, Pender said. 

“I fully support the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program certainly helped us to get started,” the pastor said.

Situated near four elementary schools in a growing community, Fallbrook has seen tremendous success at reaching people whose lives were headed in the wrong direction before they were introduced to Jesus. 

“Even those who make poor choices in America are in need of a Savior,” Pender said of the church’s decision to emphasize community missions. Too often, people who have made poor choices don’t feel welcome in church, he said, but Fallbrook seeks to change that perception.

“Throughout the years, we’ve had so many men and women who came and didn’t know Christ. They received Christ and got saved, and now they’re Sunday school workers,” Pender said. “That’s pretty much how we’ve gotten our people over the years.”

Something people are searching for, he said, is authenticity. People also look for leaders who demonstrate integrity and set a good moral example, Pender said.

The latest way Fallbrook is bringing people to its campus is by building a state-of-the-art facility to be used as a branch of Lone Star College, the third-largest community college system in America. The church has included chemistry and biology labs in the new building and will welcome students in January. 

“This partnership, from what we understand, is the first of its kind,” Pender said. “Fallbrook Church believes that if we love our community, we’ve got to put skin in the game. We can’t wait on government. We can’t wait on others outside the community. We’re going to be able to bless thousands of students in our community.”

The pastor said, “Kids come to my office all the time and say, ‘Hey, Pastor Mike, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I’m going to be able to walk them across the parking lot on our campus and get them registered at one of the largest community colleges in America.” 

Fallbrook already houses a K-12 charter school as well as a before-and-after-school program and a daycare. Pender likes the idea that a child could come to the church campus as a baby and not have to leave for his education until he has graduated from college. 

“We want to get traffic in our buildings, so we want our buildings used every day,” Pender said. 

The church hosts blood drives and has been a voter registration site for years. Twice a month they host a drive-through food pantry, giving out thousands of meals. 

“Early on, we realized our building was just a building,” the pastor said. “People and kids are going to tear up your building, and that’s why God gives you resources to fix it up. We have thousands and thousands of people outside of Sunday that come through our building.”

Those are people the pastor and other church members have grown to love and to recognize when they see them at the mall or elsewhere in the community, he said. 

“Traffic is our friend, and in my mind it doesn’t make sense to have a church building—hundreds of thousands of square feet—that’s only used on Sundays and Wednesdays.”   

East Texas church revitalization spurred by food ministry

SWAN  A small East Texas congregation is making a big difference in Swan, a once prosperous community just north of Tyler.

When Jeremiah Dollgener, pastor of First Baptist Swan, came to the church in July 2019, his family of eight doubled the congregation’s size. Attendance, now about 30 members, has more than tripled since the pastor’s arrival.

When Dollgener accepted the church’s call in 2019, he told members he wanted to reach Swan.

“We started praying, ‘God, what does that look like? Give us a specific vision for this community,’” Dollgener, who also teaches social studies at Tyler’s Hogg Middle School, told the TEXAN.

From the 1960s to the 1980s Swan thrived, boasting a grocery store and a post office. Tyler Pipe, Swan’s major employer, located just across County Road 492 from the church, provided jobs for around 2,000, Dollgener learned from local businessmen. 

Then Texas energy sector cratered in the 1980s, devastating the Tyler economy and by extension, Swan’s. Although Tyler has rebounded economically since the 1980s, Swan has not. Tyler Pipe has steadily reduced its local workforce to around 100, Dollgener said. 

Highway 69, on which the church is located, connects Lindale and Interstate 20 to Tyler. Some 4,000 people reside within a three-mile radius of First Baptist. Although one neighborhood features middle-class houses, Swan also contains empty apartment complexes and lower income housing. The area enjoys Tyler water but lacks city sewage, trash pickup and even internet. 

“This is the community God has given us,” Dollgener said, “Our church vision is simple: we love the Lord and we love people.”

In early 2020, this simple vision acquired an unanticipated focus.

Swan native steps forward

A businessman who no longer lived in Swan but had grown up there came to Dollgener’s attention. The man desired to start a food pantry in the community, an idea that had already occurred to the pastor.

Dollgener made contact. The businessman, who asked not to be identified for this article, explained that he had grown up in poverty and remembered the kindness of a local grocer who left boxes of food at his family’s doorstep.

“I remember how much that meant to my parents that they were going to be able to feed all of us kids,” the benefactor said, offering to underwrite the costs of a food pantry in Swan. He just needed space.

“That’s great,” Dollgener replied. “We’ve got all kinds of room [at the church] and no money.”

In January 2020, Swan Food Bank opened its doors at First Baptist, where storage areas and freezers are now stocked with non-perishable and perishable food items. 

“We started in January by going to Walmart and buying 20 loaves of bread, peanut butter, staples like rice and beans. Then COVID-19 hit and we started getting dirty looks when we’d buy 20 loaves,” Dollgener recalled with a chuckle.

Pre-COVID, the church provided food to 10-20 families per week and began preparations for a clothes closet.

When the coronavirus hit, the numbers of families needing food skyrocketed and the church’s distribution system shifted to follow safety protocols and serve 60-70 families weekly, a trend that continues. 

Six months into the pandemic, Swan Food Bank’s partnership with the East Texas Food Bank was approved, allowing the church to obtain free and reduced price grocery items from that facility. Still operating on around $250 per week, they now order weekly from the regional food bank. Dollgener’s wife, Jessica, does the ordering, and volunteers from the church and nearby Hopewell Baptist handle packing, boxing and curbside delivery.

The menu changes weekly, depending upon what the East Texas Food Bank offers. Area citizens and businesses also sometimes drop off food. A nearby Lindale food bank shares its surplus. Tyler Pipe sends regular donations, and the original benefactor covers the bulk of the $1,000 – $1,200 monthly budget.

Each Tuesday, Dollgener hurries from school to the church shortly after
4:00 p.m. to greet clients lining up in the church’s slag parking lot. He offers the week’s menu and sends the orders inside, where Jessica logs the information required by the East Texas Food Bank. The boxed food is delivered within minutes to the waiting cars.

“Each week, the line wraps around the church,” Dollgener said. “For us to see a church that had been in decline for years now with a parking lot full of people is amazing.”

The outreach has attracted families to First Baptist Swan. Volunteer Mike Steemfott, whose wife helps Jessica with orders, began helping in March. 

“The desire to serve has really increased in our church. We’ve gotten some new folks. This attracts people who like to work, who like to do things. They want to make an impact on their community,” Dollgener said, also praising the help from Pastor Floyd Smith and Hopewell Baptist.

Spiritual and physical food

Dollgener asks clients how the church can pray for them. Opportunities to witness for Christ are common. Some families have expressed interest in attending the church after the pandemic ends.

Clients have come to church, including a formerly homeless woman who trusted Christ during a service and was baptized. Only days before, a Swan volunteer had given his own boots and socks to the woman’s boyfriend, who had been wearing worn-out flip flops.

 Physical services at the church resumed in June and Dollgener said he is happy to have the surplus food and clothing available to give people in need who come asking for money.

“We can’t give them money, but we offer them food and let them go in the clothes area and get what they need,” the pastor said, adding that he hopes in post-pandemic times to extend the ministry by expanding the clothes ministry and appointing a board. 

For Ellarene, a colon cancer survivor awaiting disability, each Tuesday’s food distribution is a lifeline.

“I can’t work no more,” Ellarene told the TEXAN. 

Dollgener’s life experiences explain his empathy. Raised in a Christian home, he was saved after high school. The pastor friend who led him to the Lord recommended he attend Criswell College. The Dollgeners married during college. 

The heartbreaking loss of their firstborn to cystic fibrosis led to a stint in Uganda establishing an orphanage and later to their involvement in foster care after moving to the Tyler area, where Dollgener began teaching following two pastorates in East Texas. They have adopted six children, all homeschooled. The older Dollgener kids volunteer at the food pantry.

Over 300 individuals have received help from FBC Swan in the last nine months in a church revitalization project born of a businessman’s vision and a pastor’s dream.

“We really get a chance to meet people’s needs. You look at the Gospels. Jesus goes around meeting people’s needs. He was filled with compassion for the people,” Dollgener said, gesturing to the line of cars: “They are going to be fed because of the work we are doing here.” 

—With reporting by Gary Ledbetter

First candidate announced for 2021 SBC President

One year after announcing his willingness to be nominated for SBC president during the 2020 Southern Baptist Convention meeting set for Orlando last June, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has announced that he will be nominated during the 2021 SBC meeting in Nashville, June 15-16. The 2020 meeting was cancelled because of COVID-19 and Mohler says his reasons for being willing to serve the convention in this way have not changed. 

“Anything that has happened in the last several months has only amplified the reasons I was willing this year to be nominated and now next year since the convention was delayed,” he told the TEXAN, “I think Southern Baptists face some incredible challenges and some very real issues, and I think we need to have the kinds of conversations that will clarify issues and bring Southern Baptists together. And we’ve got to address some questions of urgency, as the SBC moves into the 21st century. I would hope to serve Southern Baptists by helping the right conversations to take place in the right way.”

Mohler told the TEXAN in a January interview that he was concerned but optimistic about the future of the SBC. That optimism remains, calling Southern Baptists, “incredibly committed and generous and focused on the gospel,” though he believes circumstances related to the pandemic have prevented Southern Baptists from addressing some issues, while also increasing tension. 

“When you think about the national conversation right now, everything appears to be reaching a feverish boil almost instantly. And Southern Baptists have demonstrated over time an incredible faithfulness in being deliberate and careful and biblical. And so, to put it bluntly, the future of the SBC can’t be woke and it can’t be mean,” he said. 

“We’ve got some very real theological and moral issues to deal with just in terms of our engagement with the culture and where we stand. There are some ideologies set loose in the larger society that will be absolutely toxic to biblical Christianity. Southern Baptists need to be very clear that many of these ideologies, including critical theory, have no place in the Southern Baptist Convention and are antithetical to the confessional basis of our denomination. At the same time, we’ve got to show that we are a gospel denomination of biblical Christians who are committed to talk to one another about these things with respect and to seek agreement.”

Mohler is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2019, the last year reported, Third Street gave $66,000 through the Cooperative Program, which is 6.1 percent of the church’s $1,075,000 in undesignated receipts. 

Give thanks in all things

In 1789, George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation stating, “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection, aid and favors. … Now, therefore, do I assign and recommend Thursday, the 26th day of November next … that we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind care and protection of the people of this country, and for all the great and various favors which he has been pleased to confer upon us.”

In 1942, Congress passed a bill setting the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. Now Thanksgiving was to be observed annually as a federal holiday. In the book The New England Mind: From Colony to Province, the author wrote this: “For the Puritan mind, to fix thanksgiving to a mechanical revolution of the calendar would be folly; who can say that in November there will be that for which thanks should be uttered rather than lamentation? By the time ceremonial gratitude can be channelized into an annual festival, calculated in advance, society is rewarding its own well-doing, not acknowledging divine favor … though the society doggedly persists in giving autumnal thanks, it no longer has a mechanism for confessing its shortcomings and seeking forgiveness for its trespasses.”

This year Nov. 26 is Thanksgiving Day. Most of the time it is associated with family, food and football. This year is different. Amid a pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, racial discord, civil unrest and political rancor, we struggle to be thankful. Perhaps we have lost the concept of thanksgiving altogether. 

Thanksgiving is more of an attitude than an event. God has given us much. We have physical life, material possessions and spiritual truth. Sadly, most of us are spoiled with abundance. Yet we find it hard to acknowledge God’s hand. I hear people say, “Thank goodness,” or, “I’m so thankful.” They have no concept that it is the sovereign God of the universe who has made the blessing possible. Spiritual consciousness of the God of the Bible has been lost in the general population. We know to whom we are to offer our thanks as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

As believers we march on through this life without much more awareness of God’s hand of providence than our unbelieving friends. Perhaps if we were to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts about our sins, we could once again catch a glimpse of Calvary. Once the cross is in full view, we can do nothing else but offer thanks for all things. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

Once we revisit the grace of God, we can begin to give thanks in all things. And as Paul writes once again in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The New American Commentary on this verse says, “Paul never instructed the church to thank God for evil events but to thank God that even in evil times and circumstances our hope remains, and God continues to work in our lives.”

The hardship of a pandemic will pass. Natural disasters will end one day. The injustices of this world will be rectified when Jesus comes back. So, when you think all is lost, give thanks. Return to the cross and enjoy the grace that is abundant. It is saving grace, traveling grace and dying grace. Above all people, we should express our deepest and heartfelt “thanksgiving” to our wonderful Savior. I pray you and your family will experience a blessed Thanksgiving.   

A church is more than just a crowd

First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (I Timothy 2: 1-2)

What do they teach in schools these days? Actually, what did they teach 20-30 years ago when many of our elected leaders were in college? Among the many things that had the paint scraped off them by 2020 is respect for the free exercise of religion. I’m talking about several states and cities led by those who see churches as unruly crowds, singing and hugging one another. In one egregious case, the mayor of Washington D.C. said that Capitol Hill Baptist Church could not enjoy the same rights to gather, carefully and outside, as various protests and marches held in D.C. A federal court has recently overturned the mayor’s order but it’s troubling that a court had to do so. Protests and marches are covered under the First Amendment of the constitution. But if you read the whole thing, so is the right to exercise your religion without undue government restrictions. Similar disputes have arisen in Virginian, Michigan and California. 

The most common answer to this misunderstanding is to say that churches are vital community resources. Why do people routinely show up at a church when they run out of gas, food, money, etc.? It’s normal and expected that churches look for ways to encourage the common good through the school systems, law enforcement, emergency services, voter drives, food distribution and disaster relief. Many thousands in our own state have been the recipients this year of basic benevolence from the hands of church volunteers. 

In that same vein, churches are facilitators of stability and order in communities. Church people are law-abiding and outwardly focused for the most part. And when we are not, sister churches and denominational leadership encourage greater energy toward helping those outside the church fellowship. 

But it is important, and missed by those who consider churches non-essential, to realize that people are not just needy physiques. Feeding a person is a good work but it is an insufficient work for those who profess to believe that God is a spirit and that we are made in his image. We are immortal, living, souls. 

Many people who don’t believe God suspect that I might be right about this. It is, for example, rare to have someone decline an offer to pray for them. Put them in a hospital bed, prepping for surgery, and even fewer will decline your offer to pray.

A church therefore provides something that no community benevolence is able to provide—soul care. Our generation-long experiment with pretending this is not true has been disastrous for families and for the mental health of individuals.  

Most Americans are sympathetic to the work of churches either as benevolence agencies or as a “just in case” refuge in the time of national crisis. “There’s the slightest chance that what devout religious people say is true,” they think tolerantly. At times when the activities of churches become troubling because of what they teach or what they will not do, or because they gather, sing and hug, in our current context, churches are evidently seen as less important than other First Amendment groups. 

In our nation as it is, and with our Bill of Rights as it is, this is an understandable misconception—and completely wrong. It becomes ominous when any magistrate gets this wrong. In most nations, even most democracies, the situation is different. In ours, the mysterious spiritual work of churches must not be hindered without a compelling reason, and then it must be hindered to the least degree necessary. 

It is not necessary for elected leaders or judges to understand the way a church works or even the most important things it does. Leaders who are believers understand it, and that’s a benefit, but no leader is granting us a right; they are, or should be, respecting a right clearly affirmed by the U.S. Constitution.

For our part, we must do the work of soul care—witnessing, discipleship, discipline, prayer, etc.—whether others find it acceptable or not. We must not be pressured into being only a benevolent organization whose agenda is drawn from news headlines. There are other groups and some vaguely theist denominations that will chase relevance in that way. 

Like Paul, we can use the rights granted by the laws of our country to facilitate the gospel ministry (Acts 22). But, like Peter and John, we must also do the work God has set before us—even when an authority says no (Acts 4).   

Feeling my way through a global pandemic

An African American spiritual, first published around the time of the Civil War, seems surprisingly relevant and contemporary for our times: 

“Nobody knows the 

trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows the sorrow…

Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down

Oh, Lord

Sometimes I’m almost 

to the ground.”

Even for the most naturally optimistic among us, we may occasionally relate to feeling down and “almost to the ground.” That can be especially true during a global pandemic which, at this writing, hangs on tenaciously. 

We know what the pandemic has done to our church attendance. We have suffered through the economic impact. We have weathered the toll it took through this political season. The coronavirus has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, including how we feel. By the way, how do you feel? For many people, feeling our way through the pandemic has been rough.

Research from the CDC paints a picture of millions of Americans suffering from mental health challenges related to the coronavirus due to the lockdowns, job losses, and other factors associated with the pandemic. For example, during June of this year, 40 percent of U.S. adults were struggling with mental health or drug abuse with more than 10 percent seriously considering suicide.

Are the people of our churches at risk for mental health challenges during this difficult season? In a recent Baptist Press article, Ed Stetzer said churches are going to face “a real crisis coming very soon.” He suggests ministering to Christians with mental health issues, exacerbated by COVID-19, is as urgent as the ministries of financial management, caring for the physically ill and small groups. 

My training does not qualify me as an expert on mental health diagnosis or treatment, but as a pastor I can recommend at least three ways our churches can minister to people who find themselves struggling with anxiety, anger, discouragement, loneliness, fear, and other COVID-induced emotional reactions. 

Prayer and the Word

The Old Testament prophet recognized the relationship between our faith and mental health when he called out to God: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trust; in you” (Isa. 26:3). How can we help people keep their minds “stayed” on God? Obviously, Bible study plays a role in the spiritual growth of every believer; but the psalmist recognized a correlation between Scripture and emotional peace when he wrote: “Abundant peace belongs to those who love Your instruction; nothing can make them stumble” (Ps. 119:165). In addition to the reading of Scripture, prayer plays a part in keeping us emotionally healthy. Paul said: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). We can worry, or we can pray.  Prayer is better.

Professional counseling

At times, in addition to the spiritual disciplines, the mental health needs of our Christian brothers and sisters require the support of professionals. For those instances, we should readily suggest qualified counseling. Any church can help their people connect with the right Christian counseling in their area by contacting Tony Wolfe with the Church Health and Leadership Department of the SBTC (

Preach and teach

Finally, every church has a unique platform to help people struggling with every kind of real-life issue if the pastor will leverage the power of the pulpit. Preachers can preach a series on emotional well-being. We can invite Christian counselors to teach our congregations on the best mental health practices. We can focus attention on various resources available by posting information on our church websites, church newsletters and on social media platforms. Honestly, when we want to help people – we can find a way.

The coronavirus has disrupted and, in many ways, injured our lives. As we rebuild our ministries in the weeks and months ahead, we can help our people, many of whom may be suffering in silence, when we focus on emotionally healthy congregations. 

Louisiana hurricane survivor to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers: “This is not a coincidence. This is a God-given appointment”

ALEXANDRIA, LouisianaPummeled first by the category 4 Hurricane Laura on Aug. 27, then inundated by torrential rains from Hurricane Delta only six weeks later, Louisiana endured a double hit prompting a multi-state response by Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers—including DR teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—that is bearing fruit.  

DR crews serving in the Bayou State after Hurricane Laura paused work as Delta churned its way inland. Volunteers returned to the field Oct. 11, as a SBTC DR administrative team assumed responsibility from Louisiana Baptist DR for coordinating SBDR recovery efforts based at Philadelphia Baptist in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Volunteers from Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana reestablished operations in Alexandria, with additional teams from Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Alaska and Texas’ Jacksonville College expected to rotate in, said Wally Leyerle, SBTC DR associate and incident leader. 

Leyerle told the TEXAN much of the work based in Alexandria is a continuation of Laura recovery efforts and expected to wrap up on Oct. 31.

A picture of ‘the big guy’

For volunteers like Tennessee’s Karen and Tommy Wilson, the deployment has brought unexpected blessings. The couple returned to Alexandria after serving two weeks there following Laura and spending a week at home in Martin, Tennessee, awaiting Delta.

Teaming with SBTC DR’s Brad Stover and Larry Mika on Oct. 15, the Wilsons paused from driving skid steers, operating chainsaws and dragging tree limbs to make the day of a little boy and his great uncle.

Karen Wilson noticed little Mykel, age six, shyly watching a DR crew at work in his neighborhood of small frame houses. She asked the man who appeared to be the boy’s father if the youngster would like to take a closer look at the chainsaws in action. Bryan Newman, Mykel’s great uncle, agreed as Karen approached.

“Bless his heart, the little boy took my hand and we walked over, hand in hand,” Karen said. She answered his questions about how chainsaws worked.

“What’s that stuff?” Mykel asked, spying sawdust, a novelty to him.

Karen explained and the team allowed Mykel to touch and smell a handful.

“Man, that smells so good,” the little boy exclaimed.

As the men on the crew paused their work to play baseball with Mykel using a pine cone and tree limb, Karen visited with Newman, who related the family history.

“I am raising him,” Newman said. “It’s just been really hard. He has so much energy.”

“God put on my heart: this is the guy,” Karen recalled. She remembered the packets of small amounts of cash and Bibles left her by a Louisiana DR volunteer who had asked her to distribute them to people in need.

“You walk into a situation and God just says this is where the need is,” said Karen, a retired physical therapist and veteran of several short-term missionary trips to Honduras. “After hearing Bryan’s story, I knew God was telling me they needed this.”

She went to her vehicle to retrieve and deliver the gift to the big man who stood speechless and then teared up.

“You don’t know how much this means,” Newman said in a voice choked with emotion. “This is not a coincidence. This is a God-given appointment.”

The fun was not over for Mykel as, with his great uncle’s permission, Tommy helped the boy climb up into the skid steer, placed a yellow DR cap on his head, and drove him around for several minutes, to Mykel’s delight.

“I want a picture with the big guy,” Mykel asked after the ride, indicating Tommy.

After selfies and photos, Karen explained about the “big guy” to Mykel.

“You called Tommy the ‘big guy,’ but there’s really another big guy and he is the reason we are here. That big guy is named Jesus. It’s because Jesus loves you and loves us and he allows us to love you,” Karen told the boy, transforming a DR break into a teachable, gospel moment.

“It was kind of a mini-VBS,” Karen said. “The look on his face was priceless.”

While Tommy, a semi-retired FedEx driver, had deployed often with Tennessee Baptist DR, the Louisiana deployment was only the third for Karen, who retired August 1.

She felt God leading her then to retire in August rather than waiting till December as planned. 

“I’m glad I did,” Karen said. “Now I am devoting my time to DR and grandkids.”

Ironically, she retired from a home health agency based in Lafayette, Louisiana, and had returned to that state to help.

“I love meeting the people and just listening,” Karen said, describing another episode from the Louisiana deployment when crews working at a home made sure to involve the male homeowner, who had dementia, in the process.

“I am so glad you are here,” the man’s wife said amid joyful tears, as she watched the volunteers carefully incorporate her husband into the day’s work. 

“Every appointment that we go to is a divine appointment…. Being able to clean things up is an added bonus,” Karen said. “I am so glad I can be here.” 

‘Baptist people like that’

For SBTC DR volunteer Hope Hext of Tyler, Texas, manning the phones in Alexandria has been daunting as the administrative team organized work orders interrupted in advance of Hurricane Delta.

“We have made hundreds of calls this week,” Hext said on Oct. 16.

After a few days fraught with computer glitches and multiple attempts to reach homeowners, Hext felt exhausted in the late afternoon of Oct. 15.

Then the phone rang once more. Hext took the call. Her spirit weary, she gave the usual greeting, offering help.

“Miss Hope, can I just tell you there were five men who came to my house and they worked nine hours,” the enthusiastic caller exclaimed, introducing herself as Chastity, a local barber and single mom with a four-year-old daughter.

Chastity praised the SBDR workers, who not only refused money and offers of food, but removed numerous downed trees from her yard about three weeks before.

Chastity explained that her neighbor had paid a private crew $1,300 to remove a single tree and marveled that the SBDR crew even refused her homemade gumbo since they had already eaten lunch.

Not only that, but the men gave Chastity a New King James Bible and recommended she start reading the Gospel of John.

Chastity told Hext she already had found a Baptist church and been saved and baptized. Now she wanted to help others.

“I want to be around Baptist people like [the SBDR team],” she said, asking, “Do y’all need help? Do y’all need free haircuts?”

Hext encouraged her to use her position in town to tell others about Jesus, starting with her clients and her daughter, who would now have access to truth. 

For nearly 45 minutes, Hext shared encouragement and Scripture with Chastity, including Psalm 119 and Romans 8:28. By the end of the conversation, both women were refreshed and the once-weary Hext knew they had enjoyed another God-given moment in disaster relief.

Boy Scouts bankruptcy could leave churches liable in future sex abuse claims

NASHVILLE—Churches who chartered or have ever hosted a Boy Scouts of America (BSA) troop should seek legal counsel now in case they are named in future sex abuse claims against the BSA, a Southern Baptist legal representative told Baptist Press.

The BSA filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reorganization in February to establish a trust to pay sex abuse claims and to limit the BSA’s liability in such cases. As such, indemnification clauses would no longer apply, and liability could fall to churches associated with specific troops named in lawsuits, attorney James “Jaime” Jordan said.

“If a church five years from now gets sued by a former Boy Scout who was molested or claims to have been molested in that church’s troop, normally the church would turn to the Boy Scouts and say, ‘You guys said you would hold us harmless and insure us, so do that,’” Jordan said. “And the Boy Scouts will say, ‘Sorry, we went through a bankruptcy reorganization and we no longer have any responsibility to do that.’”

Churches can maintain their indemnification and gain access to the trust by filing a “placeholder” claim with the court by the Nov. 16 deadline, said Jordan, whose firm Guenther, Jordan & Price is outside general counsel to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and the SBC.

“For people who don’t notify the court that they have a claim by the (deadline) of Nov. 16, there may not be any coverage,” he said. “The solution would be for churches to file a claim with the court saying, ‘We may in the future have a claim made against us by a Boy Scout, and so we’re raising our hand now, so we won’t be barred when that day comes.”

Jordan advises churches to seek individual legal counsel regarding how they should respond.

“I advise churches, if they have now or have ever had a Boy Scout troop, that they should contact legal counsel to see if they need to file a prospective claim before Nov. 16,” Jordan said., including churches that chartered or simply hosted a troop.

More information about the bankruptcy filing is available here with claims information available here.