Month: November 2020

Neighborhood kid, now grown up, leads inner city Houston church

HOUSTON Jaime Garcia remembers playing baseball on a field at Bethel Baptist Church in Houston when he was a teenager, part of one of the first Hispanic families to move into the neighborhood where the Anglo church was thriving. 

Fast forward several decades, and now he is the pastor. 

“These were my stomping grounds. This is where I grew up,” Garcia told the TEXAN. 

Though he had no other connection to Bethel, Garcia attended several of their outreach events during his youth, and when he was called to ministry at age 21, he took a student pastor position at a Southern Baptist church just a quarter-mile away. 

“I got married, and before you knew it, I was bringing my kids to fall festivals this church would do as outreach,” Garcia said of Bethel, adding the church “was always somehow in my circle of life.” 

Through the years, many of the Anglos that caused Bethel to average 500 people in Sunday School each week moved to the suburbs and the community transitioned. “It’s a rough neighborhood, so things started to change and this church started to die out,” he said.

Nineteen years ago, Bethel called Garcia as its student minister, and eight years ago, when the senior pastor retired, Garcia became the lead pastor. Attendance had dwindled to around 80 people, and those who remained had a hard time connecting with the Hispanic community.

Along the way, the church received a boost from the Cooperative Program, “to help us as a church to continue to operate when we just started to help this community,” Garcia said. Bethel “will continue to increase” CP giving “because we believe in the Cooperative Program,” the pastor said.

The congregation includes Anglos and African Americans, “but it’s now 80 percent English-speaking Hispanics,” Garcia said, describing it as an English-driven church predominantly filled with second and third generation Hispanics. Before the pandemic, attendance had stepped up to around 130, he said.

“Because I am from the community and all my ministry has been in Houston, I now have second and third generation students [for whom] I was their youth pastor and they’re now under my leadership,” Garcia said. 

To be effective in their setting, the pastor leads the church to love the people outside the walls. 

“That means we’re going to have to get dirty. We’re going to have to sacrifice. We’re going to have to work because we’re in a community where it’s the third worst area in Houston as far as crime, drugs. Prostitution is all around us. Homelessness,” Garcia said.

Though Hurricane Harvey was a tremendous tragedy for Houston, it “was the greatest evangelistic platform that this church has ever been given,” he said. “We were given the opportunity to leave these walls and to be the church.”

Volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and 33 other states came through Bethel Baptist at some point during the recovery process, Garcia said, noting the church served as a lodging location and a distribution center. 

“There’s really a need for relationship,” he said. People who survived Harvey and now have dealt with the pandemic are struggling more than ever, and they’re willing to look to the church for hope. 

Bethel started Operation Covid-19 Share Hope Today and has given out “thousands and thousands” of produce boxes and milk to people in the community. They set up prayer tents, and people have come through and said things like, “Thank you for the food, but that’s not why we came. Can someone pray for our family?”

The pastor said, “People are looking for an affirmation that they’re going to get through this.”

To minister to the nearby homeless population, Bethel members have taken them blankets and coffee, and when Houston has one of its rare freezes, they open the church for the night, Garcia said. On one of those nights, they gave a young man a Bible and he pored over it, underlining verses. Several months later they learned the man died after being hit by a car.

Another way they minister is to take food to hotels frequented by prostitutes. “Just say, ‘No strings attached. We love you. We’re just here to pray for you. Just know that somebody cares for you,’” Garcia said. “You never know how that’s going to change their life or what impact it will have. We don’t know what the future is for those people.”

As Bethel looks to the future, Garcia says they “don’t want to get to the point where the neighborhood changes again and we don’t know how to minister to them.

“The reality is this is our mission field,” he said. “We have literally the world around us.” 

Executive Board welcomes new staff, plans for executive director search

AUSTIN Executive Board members of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention welcomed new staff and received an announcement from Executive Director Jim Richards that 2021 would be his final year at the helm of the organization he has led since its founding.

Richards told the group assembled in person at Hyde Park Baptist Church, and members participating via Zoom, that he will complete his tenure at the end of 2021. While planning to announce his decision in April 2020, he said he chose to remain to serve the churches during the pandemic.

“Do not change who you are,” Richards cautioned those who will name the next leader of the convention, urging them to avoid doctrinal compromise. (See related article on this page.)

With the SBTC’s Vision 2021 restructure slated to start Jan. 1, the Executive Committee had acted to hire three full-time staff in the Church Health and Leadership department, introducing Jeff Lynn, pastor of Yorktown Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, as team leader; Shane Kendrix, pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Okla., as Northwest Texas regional catalyst; and Paul Stohler, pastor of First Baptist Church of Arnett, Okla., as West Texas regional catalyst.

Richards also acknowledged additional part-time staff and a consultant, including Tony Mathews as the new interim senior strategist for Missional Ministries while continuing to pastor North Garland Baptist Fellowship; Ryan Fontenot as staff evangelist while continuing to serve as staff evangelist at Baptist Temple in McAllen; and Jane Rodgers of Brownwood, a long-time TEXAN correspondent, as incoming managing editor. 

Retiring staff members Mark Yoakum, director of church ministries, and Gary Ledbetter, director of communications, were recognized with special gifts and expressions of gratitude for their service. 

In other business, Joe Davis, SBTC chief financial officer, gave the 2020 financial report, noting total Cooperative Program receipts of $19,424,842, through September, a decrease of $691,940 from the same time last year.

Davis said the convention’s budget shortfall began in March (with the pandemic shutdowns) but was offset by the convention’s underspending the budget by $2,524,531 (26 percent), leaving a net operating income of $1,615,469 through September. 

The board report also noted decreases in Lottie Moon receipts from just over $9.03 million in 2019 to $8.17 million in 2020, and a decline in the Annie Armstrong offering from $2.86 million to $2.4 million for that same period.

In other business, 13 churches were approved for affiliation with the convention and six churches removed based on merging with other churches, disbanding or at the church’s request. The current number of affiliated churches is 2,676.

The relocation committee was authorized to continue pursuing the possible sale of the Grapevine building and move to a smaller facility with a non-binding listing agreement.

The board also authorized reserve funding grants to cover line item overages and year-end Christmas bonuses for staff.

Newly elected officers include Mark Hogan, lay leader at Mission City Church in San Antonio, as chairman; Caleb Turner, assistant pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church as vice-chairman, and Todd Kaunitz, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church of Longview as secretary.

Members of the executive director search committee will include the three newly elected officers, as well as Nathan Lino of Humble, ministry relationships committee chairman; Robert Slavens of Cypress, administrative committee chairman; SBTC president Kie Bowman of Austin; and two at-large members, Loui Canchola, pastor of campus development and church planting at Baptist Temple in McAllen and Carol Yarber, a member of Rock Hill Baptist Church in Brownsboro.  

Tate Springs releases Christmas single

ARLINGTON—“God with Us” is to be released on multiple online music streaming platforms nationwide Dec. 6 by Tate Springs Baptist Church as a worship song for Christmas. 

It’s actually the fourth song written by the church, but the first one to be released to a national audience. All four have been written during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a few gifted writers in our church who either know how to pen lyrics or hear a melody. In February we wrote a song for Easter 2020,” Jason Nichols, worship minister, told the TEXAN. “We didn’t broadcast this to the church [immediately], and releasing that first song—called ‘Once for All’—was a huge encouragement to the body, especially during a pandemic.

“Since then, we have introduced two other songs to the congregation, and we have a team that meets regularly to share ideas and workshop potential songs,” Nichols continued. “This has spurred a lot of excitement in our church. We believe this shows God is still breathing his life-giving breath upon Tate Springs, to be used to make his kingdom known.”

Throughout its 130-year history, Tate Springs has had a thriving musical presence. It added Nichols, an opera singer and contemporary Christian vocalist, to lead the congregation in worship beginning in 2018. 

“I inherited a ministry that desires to use their musical and technological gifts to glorify God,” Nichols said. “While I have driven things in a much more modern fashion, we still use our choir, orchestra, and utilize hymns every week.”

The church’s creative arts ministries also include a praise team, drama team, and a full media production team.

Despite more than a decade in worship ministry, including touring for five years while earning an undergraduate degree in worship leadership and a master’s degree in vocal performance, Nichols had never written a song before this

The impetus for writing the song came along when their Easter program needed a soul-stirring finish. Discussion led to a scriptural search, and Romans 6:10 jumped out at Nichols. “‘Once for All’ became the title. The worship minister said. “It’s become one of our favorite songs.”

A contemporary worship song, “Once for All” speaks of Christ coming to earth, covering mankind’s sins by his death, and breaking the power of death by his resurrection. 

In May, “Untraceable” was penned by Nick Engstrom, a worship leader in Tate Springs’ young adult ministry, The Spring. It’s an upbeat song based on Romans 11:33-36. Nichols said of the song, “God calls us to come and know the depths of him, to give him glory.”

One month later, in June, “Mountains Move,” based on Psalm 46, was written and introduced by Nichols.  

“The song’s message reminds that our hope is in the God who makes the mountains move, to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). And in the stillness, worship me,” Nichols said of God. “Surrender your fight, your concerns, your anxieties, and worship me, and let God do what only God can do. It’s an active surrender, not passive.” 

Nichols was inspired to write the words for the Christmas single “God with Us” in the early spring, drawing from John 1:5, and the song was built up from there to go to recording and now for release.  

“This verse reminds us that Christ has always been from the beginning, and that his existence has been to glorify God and redeem God’s people for the glory of God’s kingdom,” Nichols said. “By coming to earth, Christ put on full display God’s redemptive plan, that we could be redeemed by his sacrifice on the cross. 

“That’s where the lyrics came from, that ‘the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,’” the worship minister continued. “Christmas began at Creation. The redemption story began when God created the heavens and the earth. From the beginning, God had a plan.

“This single explicitly speaks of this, and highlights that a year like 2020 could be the same cultural landscape that Jesus was born into, that God hasn’t been surprised by any of this,” Nichols said. “With this song we want to encourage Christians to praise God, regardless of circumstance, and praise him for sending us his son.”

One of the ways Tate Springs ministers to church families is by providing opportunities for members to serve the Lord through their giftedness, such as through the church’s worship ministry, Pastor Jared Wellman told the TEXAN. 

“I believe we are living in a new normal for creativity in the church,” Wellman said. “It’s becoming easier for churches to produce their own ‘content,’ so to speak, to glorify God, and I’ve been personally blessed by the music our worship ministry is creating with Jason at its helm.”

Tate Springs will continue to produce original worship songs, Nichols said. “God with Us” will be available Dec. 6 on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and other music streaming platforms, under Tate Springs Worship.   

Let’s refocus now

I can’t add much to all that people have to say about a memorable year and a still-unfolding election (at this writing, the president has not conceded, the presidential electors haven’t voted and two Senate seats are headed for a runoff), so I won’t try to say what’s already been said. But maybe I can say something unoriginal that is still pertinent to our day: pay attention to what you already know is important. 

Some things are just beyond our control. Tammi and I were talking last night after seeing a bit of the news and agreed that, although we have a preference on how the vote in Georgia turns out, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it that a talk show can convince us to do. To me, that’s the end of its interest until the runoff is decided. Apply this principle to much in your life—how someone else raises their kids or does their lawn, how someone else’s pastor leads their church, who someone likes or disdains in social media, the opinions of strangers or mere acquaintances, and the list could go on from there. What’s important for you and me is the set of things we’ve been given to affect. 

Much of what yells for our attention is mere mischief, worthy of rebuke rather than attention. Gossip falls in this category, as does idle speculation about even things that do matter, as does complaining. Learn to ignore things that upset you for no purpose or that harm others to any degree. Don’t carry those things to others, don’t investigate them and don’t bring them up as “prayer requests.” However much you know of your Bible and whatever the Spirit has taught you to this point will help you recognize what I’m talking about. 

Your discipleship, your devotion to your Lord, is important. Most of us have a lot more time for this than we use for it. We have more time to read our Bibles than we use. If that is true we also have more time for prayer than we spend in prayer. Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist, in his sermon during our annual meeting, pointed out that 66 percent of believers who have Facebook check it every day but only 32 percent of believers read their Bibles every day. Those brothers and sisters have time for God that they are not using for growing spiritually. 

Your family matters, whether it is extensive or compact. Consider these people a stewardship before God. We are told in the Bible to honor our parents, train up our children, love our wives, submit to our husbands and care for those in our households. I admit that maintaining relationships with blood kin, those we didn’t choose and perhaps don’t see often, is more work than our relationships with those friends we chose because of our current common interests. Maybe that’s why God tells us more often to care for our families than he does to love those who share our preferences in most things—it’s not easy. Our families teach us about God the Father and God the Son. Our marriages teach us about the bride of Christ and the bridegroom of the church. We miss the teaching of God and the ministry he’s given us when we neglect or abandon these relationships. You have time for the important things in your life. 

Your church matters. You are members of a body, diverse and complementary. Because it’s diverse, it’s annoying in detail. Because we complement one another, fellow church members must be diverse. Don’t abandon them to any degree because the pandemic has made it easy. Don’t abandon them in any way because they are not sufficiently like you. Most of us have more time for our churches than we are willing to give, more time for our brothers and sisters than our flesh will easily relinquish. 

And yes, your work matters. At the end of this month I begin a semi-retirement from the convention. I will have some time to spend on other work and look forward eagerly to seeing what that might be. I don’t have time for idleness because I wasn’t created for that. Whether it’s work that is more thistles than grain or whether it is work that is immediately pleasing to you in this season of life, working at something that matters is far more than money. Adam’s curse was that work would be more difficult, not that he was given work. We, Adam’s sons, should be productive. Our work is not a distraction from the sweeter parts of life, regardless of what the hardworking folks in advertising try to tell us. 

As I said, these things are not original. But for me this has been one of the most distracting and scattered years I remember. The distractions will not go away with the new year but perhaps this season is a time to gain some perspective, some focus about how we prioritize the coming days.  

What if we prayed?

What if all 47,500 Southern Baptist churches were houses of prayer, continuously calling out to God for national spiritual awakening? Hold that thought. 

Can you imagine a town without a McDonald’s? Is it easy to spot a Taco Bell while you’re driving across the state or across the country? How about a Subway or a Burger King—could you find one nearby if you were craving fast food? Those popular food chains seem ubiquitous—they are almost everywhere. What does the prevalence and easy accessibility of fast food restaurants have to do with the prayer lives of Southern Baptists? That’s a fair question. The reason I mention those four restaurants is this: The total number of all of those popular chains combined is only slightly greater than the total number of Southern Baptist churches in the United States. Put another way, there are more Southern Baptist churches in the United States than the total number of any combination of three of those fast food places. I can still sense you thinking, “So what?” Stay with me. 

In 1956, the Eisenhower administration took advantage of peacetime prosperity and convinced Congress to pass the Federal Aid Highway Act. This bold, multi-billion dollar action created the massive interstate highway system we travel over today. More than 41,000 miles of highway construction did what had never been done before—it linked the entire nation together with high-quality, high-speed interstate travel. America would never be the same again. Why? For the first time, the 48 contiguous states were now linked together by a network of excellent roads.

Now back to the vision of praying churches. Southern Baptist churches are like fast  food restaurants in this way: Our churches may not always be very noticeable, but we are pervasive in the United States. And we keep planting more. If we unified around a common theme, like praying persistently for the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the coming of a great awakening, our presence—like a spiritual version of the interstate highway system—could quickly link a national movement together. Think about it this way: Imagine nearly 50,000 Southern Baptist churches all across the nation persistently praying for evangelistic harvest and revival. We could light up the country like the components on a motherboard! 

What effect would revival and prayer, surging through our nearly 50,000 churches, have upon like-minded, Bible-believing churches in our towns and cities? Would it help stir the faith and passion for prayer and awakening in other churches if they witnessed our people lit up in the fires of revival? How would the fame of revival spread the flame of revival?

What if every state convention committed to hosting city-wide prayer gatherings at every annual meeting? We did it in Austin, and hundreds of people attended even though we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. What if the annual Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in those massive halls we rent every year, opened the space and allowed the time for a huge, free concert of worship and a passionate prayer meeting for the entire body of Christ in that city? What witness of unity would that send? What boldness might that engender in the churches across a region? How might it affect the potential for revival in that city?

You might say it can’t happen. But it can happen, and God would bless it. The only things standing in the way are desire and commitment. The only thing lacking is leadership. It can be done. 

What if Southern Baptists led the way? What if we accepted our calling and worked to mobilize the entire body of Christ in the United States to pray for awakening and the fulfillment of the Great Commission? What if we had a national prayer strategy? We don’t have one yet, but it’s coming. 

In this next year, as president of the SBTC, I’m committed to doing what I can in Texas. I’m motivated by one burning question: What if we prayed? 

Resolutions at annual meeting address tensions, affirm civility

AUSTIN  This year has challenged SBTC churches to an extraordinary degree:  a global pandemic that has killed 19,000 Texans as of November, lockdowns that caused economic and emotional turmoil, and racial tensions that spilled over into protests and riots. The troublesome times have scattered the church that is trying to regroup.

The SBTC Resolutions Committee offered eight resolutions that provide churches with biblically objective perspectives on some of the year’s most troubling issues. Messengers approved them all.

Resolution 1

The first resolution thanked Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin for the “kind hospitality and generosity of the staff and leadership” in hosting the annual meeting.

Resolution 2

The second resolution, “On the Affirmation of Life” is a ubiquitous resolution—the truth that humans are image bearers of their Creator was a theme woven throughout the other resolutions.

A portion of the resolution was influenced by the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. That event sparked protests and riots across the nation and warranted the reminder that Christians must protect those vulnerable to discrimination. The resolutions states, in part:

“Whereas significant challenges threaten the dignity and worthiness of human beings who do not possess power or advantage, including but not limited to: the heinous murder of the unborn child in the womb… the prejudices and discriminations of racism and ethnocentrism, various abuses of other human persons…”

The statement resolved to “affirm the full dignity of every human being, whether or not any political, legal, or medical authority considers a human being possessive of “viable” life regardless of cognitive or physical disability, and/or ethnicity, denounce every act that would wrongly limit the life of any human at any stage or state of life.”

Resolution 3

The third resolution, “On Civil Authority” does not speak directly to the year’s civil unrest but it calls Christians to remember that “all authority that exists is appointed by God” who is a Christian’s ultimate authority.

Messengers agreed to amend the resolution before passing it. A passage originally stated “we will be subject to the governing authorities.” It was amended to include the phrase “so long as they do not require disobedience to God.”

Resolution 4

“On the Family” noted three court decisions—two from this year—that “promote sexual immorality,” “promote alternative lifestyles,” and allow “children to determine their sexual and gender identity.” The resolution affirms the God-created institutions of marriage, the families that flow from that relationship, and God’s perfect design of humans.

By passing the resolution, messengers committed to “stand for the biblical family as the foundation of civilization” regardless of governmental or societal actions to alter its meaning and purpose.

Resolution 5

The resolution echoed the affirmation of life and built upon a 2018 resolution that repudiated “any and all assaults on the dignity and humanity of God’s image bearers, regardless of refugee status” and extends that biblical consideration to asylum seekers.

The resolution defines asylum seekers as immigrants in the U.S. “while applying for refugee status and are trying to live and work here” during that process. The statement recognizes the asylum seekers have fled their own countries due to persecution and include Christians and “persecuted minorities of other faiths in need of the gospel, both of which are in need of support from the local church as they seek to integrate into American society.”

The resolution calls Christians to pray for those fleeing hostility in their homelands and to encourage the churches and ministries to help meet the needs of asylum seekers in their communities and commit to disciple them.

Resolution 6

“On Religious Liberty and Worship as Essential,” the sixth resolution, affirms the God-given right to religious liberty that is reaffirmed in the U.S. Constitution.

A messenger proposed deleting this phrase: “Whereas, there is a growing tendency to label the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the assembling of the church as non-essential and the expression of the Christian mind as a ‘hate crime.’”

He questioned the use of “hate crime” as an accurate description of Christian and secular tensions.

Messengers and Resolutions Committee member Denny Autrey discussed rephrasing “hate crime” to “hate speech.” Autrey said the committee chose the stronger term “crime” because so-called hate speech is a crime in some places in the U.S. He further argued LGBT advocates have labeled the preaching of the gospel and biblical sexual ethics as a hate crime.

The resolution also addressed the “essential” nature of religious exercise that “supersede[s] popular culture’s perception or governmental shutdowns even in a pandemic.”

The sixth resolution passed without amendment.

Resolution 7

Barry Calhoun, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, authored the seventh resolution “On Civility on Social Media.”

Calhoun told the TEXAN he has seen people leave churches because of the destructive nature of unguarded words sent via digital mouthpieces.

“You’ve got the pulpit and the pew doing what they shouldn’t—sowing discord,” Calhoun said.

What’s worse, he said, is the world sees believers can’t talk civilly about divisive issues.

The resolution recognizes the potential of social media to connect people around the world and even aid missionaries in the field, but states “some using social media use language inconsistent with the fruit of the Spirit.”

From the resolution: “We know that our social media posts can and will follow us, for we never know who is looking into what we post, and unfortunately, we can write things that may negatively affect future opportunities.”

The resolution calls for believers, especially during this difficult year, to consider how to build up one another and to speak the truth in love.

And some issues should be resolved off-line. The resolution states, “…there are times when we should dialogue with someone who holds an opposing view over the phone or invite them to meet in an effort to get a better understanding of their position rather than attack them via social media and cast a stain on the body of Christ…”

Resolution 8

The final resolution “On Racial Harmony” also drew debate—not over the intent of the statement which is to “condemn prejudice as unworthy of the people of God and an offense to God” and to advance biblical responses to the problem of sin and foster harmony” among all people.

The resolution also recognizes Adam and Eve as the first humans and that the entire human race originates from them. God shows no partiality and “reveals that the dignity and equality of every human being is rooted in the image of God, regardless of ethnicity, age, or gender.”

The point of debate centered on the terms Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality. The resolution said ideologies are used as “analytical tools that are divergent from biblical truth and often create disunity, confusion, and conflict.”

Defining the ideologies behind Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality can be nebulous. For clarity’s sake, a messenger asked that the resolution be amended to include definitions of the terms. Messengers agreed to the footnote and the committee added the following:

“Critical Race Theory is the secular view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race, itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color. It is an unbiblical approach to the problem of sin that brings division among ethnic diversity and, as such, must be rejected.”

The resolution ended with the life-affirming message, “we acknowledge that there is only one race, and that is the human race, and seek to bring all peoples into the family of God through repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, thereby producing racial harmony.”  

How Southern Baptists can reach a $175 million LMCO goal

The 2020 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® goal is $175 million. That number is significant because 2020 marks the 175th anniversary of Southern Baptists sending workers to the nations. 

The annual offering makes up almost 60% of the International Mission Board’s revenue and helps to support 3,535 missionaries and their families. Going back to 1888, the year Woman’s Missionary Union launched the offering, Southern Baptists have given over $4.7 billion through the offering. 

Simply put, our company cannot exist without the Lottie Moon offering and this year’s offering goal is a God-sized goal. We’ve never had a $175 million dollar offering goal and never had a $175 million offering. Last year’s offering, the 3rd largest in history, was $157 million. The largest Lottie Moon offering ever was $165,798,000. That falls almost $10 million short of this year’s goal of $175 million.

How do we increase giving by $18 million in the midst of a global pandemic? 

Here’s how. We divide it up. We divide the increase among our churches and there are several ways that we can do that.

There are 47,000 Southern Baptists churches. To increase giving by $18 million will require every one of those churches to give an additional $383 this year. But only about half of Southern Baptist churches give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. So if only loyal supporting churches give, they will have to increase their offering giving by about $780 each. 

Let’s divide it up another way. You might know that Southern Baptists are the largest and most diverse protestant denomination in the U.S. Our churches report a membership of roughly 14 million people combined. Divided between that number of people, the $18 million increase would require every Southern Baptist to give an additional $1.29. Again consider that only half of Southern Baptists will give, so their giving increase would need to be $2.58. 

Here’s my point: it’s a big goal, but it’s doable! We have the blessing of being supported by tens of thousands of churches and millions of church members. And every one of them and every one of us has the capacity to give a little more to see us meet this year’s goal of $175 million. 

I am asking that if you have never given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, that you prayerfully give this year for the first time. And if you regularly give, I’m asking that you increase your offering this year.

I believe we can do this. I believe that we can reach record-level giving, even in a year like 2020. I believe because God is leading us and because we are focused on His glory. May Revelation 7:9 remain our vision: a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

Arabic Baptist Church pastor comes under fire, prepares for debate with local imam

SAN ANTONIOAs pastor of the Arabic Baptist Church in San Antonio, Ra’id al Safadi has encountered his share of resistance as he has sought to share the gospel in a city with a Muslim population of more than 70,000. 

Most recently, the Safadis have found themselves facing significant criticism and threats from the local Islamic community as a result of a Facebook post written by his wife, Lana.

In the post, Lana expressed sorrow after the public beheading of French teacher Samuel Paty by a Muslim teenager in October. She commented on the ongoing crisis happening within the Islamic world as peace-loving factions clash with those bent on violence.

Lana pointed out the verses in the Koran that encourage violence or radicalism, which she said is the underlying ideology of groups like ISIS, and encouraged Muslims to not take those passages literally. She also said that it shouldn’t come as a surprise when Muslims who do take the time to read and analyze the Koran find those passages and become radicalized.

“A Muslim is not guaranteed paradise unless he dies as a martyr for the sake of Allah and becomes a victim of this thought,” she wrote in her post. “Isn’t this a crisis?”

According to Safadi, his wife’s post brought swift criticism from area Muslims, including a local imam whom he has previously debated.

“Muslim people from different places in San Antonio and the Middle East were angry because of Macron’s speech against Islam,” Safadi said. “We started to receive comments, posts and phone calls attacking us and asking us to delete our writings and to apologize to the Muslims and to declare Muhammad is a prophet of God and peace.”

One day after Lana published her post, Safadi received a phone call from a local woman whom they had served in the past and who considered herself to be an open-minded Muslim.

According to Safadi, the woman told him there was a problem with his wife’s post because she insinuated that those who actually apply the verses in the Koran related to violence and jihad can end up with an ISIS-like ideology.

“I told her to calm down, and what my wife was said was right,” he said. “This is what we understand from the Koran. We understand it in Arabic, we can read it in Arabic, and this is exactly what those in ISIS apply.

“We are talking about the teaching of Islam, not about you personally,” he told her.

“She said, ‘No. If you touch the Koran, you touch me. If you talk about the Koran, you talk about all the Muslim people. And this is not allowed,’” Safadi recounted.

The woman went on to demand that the post be removed, saying that if it wasn’t, she would tell “all the Muslim people about you and your wife” and that “everyone will take action for Muslim people,” Safadi said.

Before long, Lana’s post provoked many comments. Strangers posted negative reviews calling for boycotts of the Safadis’ family business, Jerusalem Restaurant. One of their primary suppliers was pressured into backing out of a business relationship with them. 

The local imam, Said Atef, challenged Safadi to a debate to discuss Christianity and Islam, which is scheduled for November 21. A Facebook group for the Muslim community in San Antonio got wind of the post and began attacking the Safadis and the church. 

“Listen you are nothing but a puppet of the Mossad and a Zionist. You put your people to shame. Jesus taught kindness not hatred. But again, you are not a true Christian. You are a fraud,” one message read. “Furthermore, leave and go back to your own country. We don’t need nasty immigrants like you who hate.”

As the threats ramped up, Safadi was forced to contact the police out of a legitimate concern for his family’s safety. 

“If anyone criticizes me or hurts me or talks bad about my God, about Jesus, about the church, I have two choices. To clarify myself and tell about what I believe and how I believe in it, to let people know how I believe,” he said. “The second thing is just to pray, to pray for them and show kindness to them and not take revenge. I don’t have that choice.”

But the Safadis are no stranger to persecution. 

In 2018, they were forced to flee Jordan after coming under government scrutiny when the governor of Amman, Safadi’s home state, demanded that he stop sharing the gospel or talking about Christianity with any Muslim. After Safedi refused, the government began dismantling his ministry, including shutting down two schools for refugees that he had opened. The persecution became so fierce that the Safadis had to leave most of their belongings and, with little money, seek refuge in the U.S. 

“This is like the first chapter of Philippians. The privilege is not only to believe in him, but to suffer also. It’s both—two faces of one coin. There is a privilege to believe, and to suffer,” he said.

And although the pressure from the local Muslim community has been disheartening, Safadi said he is looking forward to the opportunity to debate Atef, the imam, on November 21. 

“I understand the Koran in a way and they understand it in a different way,” he said. “Let the people of San Antonio understand the Koran in the right way.”

Safadi said he has reached out for prayer and support for the upcoming debate and for his family’s safety as they endure this difficult season, but he emphasized the value of suffering on behalf of the gospel.

“God is faithful, always. Always he has grace, more than we can imagine,” he said. “Persecution and suffering are channels of blessing. It’s part of the Christian life, to take the blessing from it. As you read the Bible, to take the blessing, to grow in your faith, the same way with the persecution. It’s one of the ways God uses to grow our faith and to bless us through it.”

SBTC search committee accepting resumes for executive director

Following the Nov. 11 announcement by Jim Richards of his plan to step down from his role as executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention by the end of 2021, the convention’s executive board chairman announced the search committee that will nominate to the executive board a candidate to fill the office of executive director. 

The committee met Nov. 11 and Chairman Mark Hogan of San Antonio later announced that the committee is seeking resumes for consideration. Individual members of the committee will not accept resumes; the committee has set up an email address,, for that purpose. All resumes should be submitted through this email address, and no later than Dec. 28, 2020.  

The search committee will post a monthly update to the convention website,, for the duration of the search process and invites SBTC churches to join them as they pray for God’s guidance in the search and for the man who will lead the convention as its second executive director. 

The committee consists of the executive board’s executive committee—Hogan, Caleb Turner of Mesquite, Todd Kaunitz of Longview, Nathan Lino of Humble, Robert Slavens of Houston and convention president Kie Bowman of Austin—and at-large members Loui Canchola of McAllen and Carol Yarber of Athens.  

Annual meeting panel discussions address post-COVID ministry

AUSTINThe coronavirus pandemic has been a great leveler among SBTC churches. Virus mitigation protocols temporarily shuttered churches. Large, small, floundering or thriving pre-COVID, all SBTC congregations have all been forced to re-imagine how they will obey the Great Commission.

Once Texas churches were allowed to open in April, members gradually—some hesitantly—began meeting in-person for corporate worship and Bible study. By November, and still in the midst of a pandemic, SBTC leaders and pastors confessed failings and struggles over the months during three panel discussions. They offered encouragement and practical advice for similarly situated churches desiring to remain faithful to God’s call.

Re-Engaging the heart

“Stick to the basics,” said Gregg Matte, pastor of Houston’s First during the panel discussion “Re-Engaging the Heart: Keeping focused on the Mission—Acts 1:8.

Other panelists included Matt Queen, Southwestern associate dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions; Alex Traverston, IMB missionary; and Caleb Turner, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church assistant pastor. Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of Convention Strategies, moderated.

Although the three panels addressed different topics a common admonition wove them together:  keeping a quiet time, praying and seeking God’s will are paramount for every pastor, especially during the upheaval caused by the pandemic.

“During this time, use this for a positive,” Matte said. “There’s a lot of positive change that can come out.”

While the lockdowns have stripped church activities down to the bare bones, Matte said they have also given churches an opportunity to re-evaluate the need for programs that have built up and remained like “sedimentary rock.” 

Christians who were not actively sharing the gospel prior to the pandemic probably weren’t doing that during the pandemic said Queen. But the new circumstances offer opportunities to change habits.

Current circumstances have spurred churches to revive ministries they had furloughed long before the virus outbreak, Queen said. For example, by addressing community needs with food and clothing pantries churches demonstrate the love of Christ and the gospel.

Priest asked Turner how Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church had been intentionally sharing the gospel during the pandemic.

“We haven’t. We haven’t. Transparency, I think, is best. We have not done a good job of that,” Turner confessed.

Perhaps other pastors have likewise taken their eyes off what is important, he said.

“We’ve been so inwardly [focused] during this time that we’ve forgotten our call from Christ. The commission from Christ,” Turner told the 400 messengers. “But when I leave from here some things are going to change. I am grateful to God for that.”

Shifting from state-side engagement, Priest asked Traverston how ministry “to the ends of the earth” has changed.

“Definitely the plans went out the window,” said Traverston.

The undisclosed region where he lives faced some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world. In order to remain faithful to the call to make disciples, Traverston said there almost had to be “a forced commissioning of lay people.” 

And the lay disciples began reaching their neighbors in the densely populated city.

“So, we’ve seen, almost, a new little army of ordinary people doing the will of God. And that’s what we need,” Traverston said. “If we do not equip disciples to make disciples, have a culture of that, we don’t stand a chance.”

Reaching the next generation

Discipling parents to better equip them to raise their children in the faith was a key theme during the panel discussion, “Reaching the Next Generation in a Post-COVID World.”

Panelists included Hannah Lee Duffey, children’s minister at Hyde Park Baptist Church; Brent Isbill, lead pastor at Epic Life Church; Jessica Kowalski, college ministry director at Great Hills Baptist Church; Jason Mick, minister to students at Prestonwood Baptist Church; Hannah Lee Duffey, children’s minister at Hyde Park Baptist Church; and Rylan Scott, pastor of student ministries at Houston Northwest Church.

Panel moderator, Shane Pruitt, Next Gen director for the North American Mission Board, recently polled 2,700 people and discovered that 95 percent of those surveyed had professed faith in Christ before they turned 30.

That demonstrates the scope of the challenge of reaching the 82 million Americans in that younger age group he said. The oldest among that generation are the often-maligned Millennials.

And they’re having children—the Alpha Generation.

“As we’ve gone through COVID, if we didn’t equip them to disciple their kids, we have thrown them into the fire,” said Duffey.

Like the pastors on the “Re-Engaging” panel, Duffey said parents also benefit from getting back to the basics of prayer and Bible study.

“Because, you know what, if a parent’s having a quiet time and they’re growing with the Lord, there’s no way they can’t pour into their kids,” she said.

But many of those parents aren’t believers, said Isbill who pastors in New Braunfels. Millennials are part of the post-Christian generation.

“I believe one way to reach the next generation is to reach mom and dad. And the only way to do that is to be the church—not expecting them to come to the building but equip your people to share the gospel in their homes and in their neighborhoods, their schools and their board rooms.”

The generation coming up behind Millennials is Gen Z.

Scott, who counts himself among the Millennials, said his generation was the last to live by the “do as I say because I say so” ethos.

“We just did what our parents told us to do,” he said. “Gen Z, they want to know the truth. They want to know answers.”

Understanding that perspective helps inform how church leaders tailor their Bible studies for each group, Scott said.

What church doesn’t need revitalization?

The coronavirus lockdowns dealt a particularly hard blow to churches in the SBTC revitalization program. The COVID-related upheavals revealed some cracks in their rebuilding foundations.

The “Revitalized Church in a Post-COVID World” featured Mike Landry, SBTC church revitalization consultant; Matt Queen; Randy Spitzer, pastor, Caribbean Baptist Church; and Andrew Johnson, pastor, Faith Memorial Baptist Church. Kenneth Priest moderated the discussion.

The two pastors on the panel, Spitzer and Johnson, recounted their churches’ years-long progress of healthy change and growth. They admitted the pandemic revealed some deficiencies.

“It became painfully apparent that we had a very stage-centered church,” Johnson said of his east Houston church. “When there was no show to put on on a Sunday morning… the temptation is to go from a stage-centered church to a screen centered church.”

The crisis has challenged Faith Memorial to make worship services more “communal.”

“We are committed, as we move forward, that this is going to be a more participatory worship service,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have more integration of the saints regardless of their speaking skills. We’re bringing back that old school time of testimony, people reading Scripture out loud.”

For Spitzer’s Corpus Christi congregation, the generational divide became a chasm. The older generation wanted to be in church. Others called for caution.

Spitzer said the desire to have worship and Bible study in the church building revealed the fact that people aren’t meeting together outside the church during the week.

“It’s Sunday morning Christianity which basically shows us a bigger problem. People are leaving it behind on Sunday morning, Sunday evening,” Spitzer said.

With thoughtfully crafted plans for 2020 “shredded” by the pandemic, Caleb Turner said churches have learned—and are still learning—to rely on God’s leading.

“Sometimes our focus needs to be shifted from the idea of the work to the actual work and being flexible to meet the needs wherever they are as opposed to always having to be rigid in everything that we do,” Turner said. “But being fully aware of the importance of just allowing God to lead us and guide us by the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to shift when need be.”