Month: January 2021

Why keep evangelism a priority?

Empower 2021 is upon us. The conference is full of uplifting worship music, powerful preaching and breakouts for training and fellowship. 

On Feb. 22 and 23 our true purpose for gathering at the Irving Convention Center is to seek a spiritual awakening that only God can bring. Please check out the schedule at
sbtexas.com/empower and register.

Why are we keeping evangelism in the forefront? Why spend so much time, energy and money on a conference? Because everything we do in the way of cooperative work revolves around evangelism. To be clear, evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ found in 1 Corinthians 15: 3,4. 

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church planting experienced an uptick in new church starts from 2019 to 2020. This is nothing short of a miracle. Church planters have a passion to reach those without Jesus as their Savior. The foundational element of a new church must be evangelism. Telling people about Jesus is the reason to start a new church. When the apostle Paul went into a new city, he preached the gospel. Those who believed were baptized. A new church was formed. This is New Testament church planting. 

Church health is a major concern. One of the ways your SBTC staff seeks to help churches is through revitalization. Plateaued and declining churches have varying symptoms but one remedy. Evangelism is the answer to an ailing church. Every church must contextualize its ministry. Finding how to reach the community with the gospel will fill the building, pay the bills and encourage the saints. Some churches must transition to a new type of church, but it still means a desire to reach the community for Jesus must be the primary factor. 

Tools are available to help the existing church. An entire support system is ready for those who want to plant new churches. It comes back to the purpose of the Empower Conference. I pastored for 20 years, served as a director of missions, and now seek to serve the churches through the state convention. Two challenges have continually remained a challenge for me as a leader—prayer and evangelism. 

I pray for lost people daily. I ask the Holy Spirit to convict and convert those on my heart. I must intentionally set aside a time to share the gospel with them. Acts 6:4 describes a minimal job assignment for pastors and other leaders. We are to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. Preaching is important. The pulpit cannot be the only evangelistic outreach. Paul told Timothy that the pastor was to do the work of an evangelist. We must lead by example.

Empower 2021 is simply a time to recharge your batteries. Let’s get a heart for souls. We want others to experience what happened to us. Evangelism will flow out of the power of prayer. Pray specifically for someone who needs Jesus. Plan to share the gospel with that person.  

Faith-based crime series “Vindication” films second season

BURLESON—If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, a second season of “Vindication” might never have been made. 

The successful faith-based police series, an outreach of Burleson’s Retta Baptist Church, began streaming for free on Amazon Prime in August 2019 after its first episode appeared as a stand-alone on the subscription service Pure Flix in March 2017 and on Prime the following March. 

The 10-episode first season, which follows the saga of Detective Gary Travis in the fictional city of East Bank, Texas, can still be rented on Amazon and is available on Pure Flix. 

Pure Flix’s licensing commitment to the series helped facilitate financing for season 2, writer, director and producer Jarod O’Flaherty told the TEXAN, adding that news broke of the acquisition of Pure Flix’s streaming video on demand service by Sony’s AFFIRM Entertainment during season 2’s fall filming.

“We now know ‘Vindication’ is going to be on a subsidiary of Sony,” O’Flaherty said. “We are excited about the future.” The purchase is subject to regulatory approval, AFFIRM announced Nov. 12.

Season 2 will air in two parts in 2021, with the first half of the 10-episode split season premiering later this spring, when filming is scheduled for the second half. The first five episodes were shot in June and November and are now being edited by O’Flaherty and musically scored by composer Connor Watkins.

Fans of season 1 will be glad to learn that the principal actors have returned for the second season, including Texans Todd Terry as Travis and Peggy Schott as his wife, Becky. Emma Elle Roberts returns as their daughter, Katie, while Venus Monique will reprise her role as Kris Tanner, Travis’ protégé in the East Bank police department.

Some things have changed in East Bank. Without giving away any spoilers, Travis, who was a nominal Christian in season 1, has grown in his faith. 

“We now get to see how Travis confronts his job as a believer,” O’Flaherty said, adding that scripts concern current social issues and that increasing the tension is the rumor that the East Bank police chief will soon retire.

“There will be cliff hangers,” O’Flaherty promised.

One subject missing from much of season 2 will be COVID-19. The series continues in a post-pandemic world, O’Flaherty said, explaining that audiences don’t wish to be reminded of COVID-19 when they turn on the TV for entertainment.

While the coronavirus may be missing as a subject matter, it did affect filming.

O’Flaherty gauged the “COVID sensitivity level” of cast and crew when hiring for season 2. During filming, crew members wore masks and, while actors removed them for the cameras, they wore them during rehearsals. Special rooms were provided for social distancing and pre-packaged meals replaced buffet-style serving lines.

The very proximity of the cast and crew, who worked closely together for nine days of filming in June and then a 12-day shoot in November, allowed for little opportunity to go anywhere else and become exposed to the coronavirus.

“Both times we got through the shooting without any outbreaks, O’Flaherty said. Some new cast members received positive COVID test results before filming began and their roles had to be quickly recast, but those actors never made it to set.

And had it not been for the coronavirus, the second season might never have been.

After season 1 aired in 2019, ending a two-three year “all-encompassing” project for O’Flaherty, he promised his wife and three daughters that he would step away from independent films. Within a few weeks, he landed a job in corporate IT. Life projects—like building a new house closer to the church—had been put on hold. The girls, now teenagers, were ready for braces and cars. 

As stable as the corporate job was, O’Flaherty “began to get the itch,” and  

made plans for two more episodes of “Vindication,” which could be shot during his vacation time.

Then COVID hit and shutdowns began. O’Flaherty was furloughed from work. With the unexpected time off and a donor providing financing, O’Flaherty arranged for the June filming. The opportunity arose to expand those two episodes into a full second season.

“The funding and partnerships came together,” O’Flaherty said, declining to give specifics. “Had I not been furloughed, no way would I have walked away from my comfortable corporate job. But in the pandemic, it made sense.”

The season 2 project has also employed more than 100 cast and crew.

Schott and Terry, both Christians, expressed enthusiasm about reprising their roles as Becky and Gary Travis during interviews with the TEXAN.

Schott called the opportunity “a blessing,” adding that she sees Becky as “prayerfully and patiently encouraging her husband toward faith without being pushy or judgmental.” Schott said that she hoped Becky, “who has her flaws, but has a heart for Christ, can be a good example to viewers.”

Terry admitted that he has a “better handle” on Gary Travis this season, noting that in season 1, “Travis’ arc as a character is kind of a slow burn as far as coming to Christ.” In the season 2, the detective remains “a guy that still comes with his own set of problems and challenges.” New family members will be introduced in the season, and this will make for some “interesting drama,” Terry said.

“Vindication” remains very much a family and a church family affair, O’Flaherty confirmed. His wife provides meal service and Retta Baptist members help, not only supporting the filming efforts, but also acting as extras. 

Retta facilities are “base camp” for filming, the administrative headquarters and the location of some shoots, most of which occurred in and around Burleson.

The show’s success is unquestionable. Season 1 has aired in more than 30 countries in Europe and the Middle East and has been dubbed in at least six languages, O’Flaherty said. In addition to Pure Flix and Prime, the series can also be seen on Redeem TV and the Inspiration Network and is available on DVD.

“For a small Texas Baptist church that runs about 200 on a good Sunday to have a ministry that reaches that far and wide, can only be attributed to God,” O’Flaherty said.   

SBTC DR shared hope on the field in 2020 despite pandemic

The year 2020 saw changes in deployment protocols for Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief in response to COVID-19, yet the ministry remained vibrant and active, albeit on a smaller scale than in previous years. The year featured a growing partnership between SBTC DR and the Salvation Army, with the American Red Cross curtailing its traditional support of mass feeding because of COVID.

“SBTC DR had 25 deployments in 2020, half what we did the year before,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice told the TEXAN, adding that five deployments involved out-of-state work in California, Oklahoma and Louisiana. 

Most were shorter missions, as volunteers served those affected by fires, ice and windstorms in the Panhandle and elsewhere and moved equipment from California to Texas.  

Tornadoes struck Texas at Onalaska in April and Bowie in May, marking the first major DR deployments of the year, testing COVID protocols.

“Mississippi DR produced guidelines for doing disaster relief during the pandemic,” Stice recalled. “We adapted it for the SBTC and we went to work. We were among the first teams, if not the first, on the field in a COVID context.”

To date, not one coronavirus case among SBTC DR volunteers has been reported as stemming from a deployment, although other state Baptist teams have reported cases among their volunteers related to DR work, Stice said. 

Many Baptist state DR teams assisted communities in food distribution in response to COVID. SBTC DR did some of this in support of the Houston Food Bank, but “we mostly responded to disasters on the field,” Stice said.

Three hurricanes—Laura, Delta and Sally—pummeled Southeast Texas and Louisiana in rapid succession from August to October, while Hurricane Hanna hit the Rio Grande Valley in July. SBTC DR teams served survivors of each storm, providing food and recovery assistance.

“The year 2020 also marked the continuation of an outstanding relationship with the Texas Salvation Army,” Stice confirmed. “We worked closely with them, making use of our quick response kitchen units and manning both our larger mobile kitchens and theirs to prepare meals for survivors.” SBTC DR worked with Southern Baptist DR teams from Mississippi and Louisiana in these efforts, he added.

IMB and NAMB DR merge under Send Relief in 2020 

On the national disaster relief front, changes also came in 2020 as the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board combined DR efforts under Send Relief.

“Send Relief has become the umbrella for the national relief efforts of NAMB and the international relief efforts of the IMB. Baptist Global Response now also falls under Send Relief,” Stice explained.

Stice, who is in his second year as chairman of the national Southern Baptist Disaster Relief steering committee, expressed enthusiasm about the restructure, suggesting that it will lead to “a bigger and better Southern Baptist response to storms internationally and nationally.”

Volunteers needed

Stice reiterated the need for new volunteers to become trained in disaster relief, noting both in-person and online training sponsored by the SBTC and directing those interested to visit  https://sbtexas.com/disaster-relief/online.

“There is a need for younger volunteers, but they are often limited to deploying on weekends and vacations because of work and families,” Stice said, calling for the newly retired to also consider becoming part of SBTC DR.

Men and women who have recently retired have the time, skills and health to contribute, Stice said, adding, “New retirees are where we build our ranks.”  

McAllen church adds online pastor, notes 454 professions of faith in Jesus in 2020

MCALLEN Nearly 500 people made professions of faith in Jesus during 2020 through the multi-site ministries of Baptist Temple in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We have a commitment to presenting the gospel every week,” Chris DuPree, BT pastor, told the TEXAN. “We do a traditional invitation every week. We baptize as soon as possible, even the same day.” In 2020 BT baptized 139 people in its main campus swimming pool or elsewhere. 

DuPree and 14 other ministers lead the congregation that, pre-pandemic, averaged about 2,800 in four physical locations and online. At the start of 2021, about 1,500 attended physically and 1,500 online. 

Faithfulness in serving its on-site and online communities led to the church’s more than quadrupling its usual number of professions of faith in Jesus as Lord, the pastor said.

On-site and in the community

“We have favor in our community because we’re involved with the school system and we bless our first responders,” DuPree said. “We just try to be intentional in loving the teachers, administrators and first responders.” 

By local ordinance, on-site worship was not permitted at Baptist Temple from March 22 to Sept. 13, except for four weeks starting the third week in May.

“Our area became one of the worst places as far as [COVID] mortality rates,” DuPree said. “We had double-digit deaths each day for eight weeks.”

As the church’s actions revealed its concern for people reeling from the pandemic, God moved in people’s hearts and they responded, the pastor said.

“There was so much uncertainty, so much tension, and so much division stemming from the pandemic we realized that people both near and far were searching for hope,” DuPree explained. “While we continued to focus on reaching and ministering to those around our physical locations, we began to see an outpouring of individuals and families from all over the country connecting with us. Many of those connections resulted in people placing their faith in Jesus.” 

Online with renewed purpose

Baptist Temple, expanding its reach beyond its McAllen, Sharyland, Edinburg and Alice campuses, has had an online presence since 2016.

When online numbers jumped from about 350 pre-COVID to 3,000, DuPree added Danny Rangel to the staff as online pastor for the church.

“As our online presence grew, I knew we wanted to provide more than something for people to watch,” DuPree said. “I wanted to provide a platform that people could connect with. Those individuals watching online were still longing for connection and interaction.”

Baptist Temple is Rangel’s home church and DuPree, his “mentor since day one in ministry,” Rangel, 31, told the TEXAN. A former youth pastor, with 11 years in ministry, Rangel also helped plant a church in the New York City borough of Queens.

Rangel’s BT assignment was to create an online campus in which he would serve viewers who did not live close to a physical campus. “COVID helped [grow the online campus.] The things we desire to do are connecting with people digitally so they can grow spiritually,” he said.

BT Online uses Facebook, Instagram, Baptist Temple’s website—bt.church—and podcasts to engage followers. 

“This was the direction churches were going to have to go to in a digital world,” Rangel said. “COVID made the churches do it faster. This [the internet] is where people are hanging out. This is the direction we’re going. 

“The Great Commission talks about going to the end of the earth, and I believe our going now means going to people in a digital way,” Rangel said. “The beauty of it now is that nations can be reached through computer screens. That’s our vision.”

One challenge of online ministry is making a digital environment personal for people viewing through their computer screens, the online pastor said, adding, “Yes, we’re talking to a camera but we’re also talking to people, and we need to keep that in mind.”

It’s a fact that “people can have church right where they are. They can grow in their faith right where they are and they can serve right where they are,” Rangel said.

People hundreds or thousands of miles away from McAllen, are holding watch parties and inviting friends to their homes for BT Online. Rangel has interacted with several, included a group of 40 in San Antonio. Viewers tune in from Chicago, Missouri, Ontario, Canada, Spokane, Washington, Bangalore, plus Brownsville and Corpus Christi. 

“Watch parties are new—‘Invite your neighbors and friends to watch church together’—and a very different paradigm from a lot of churches that use social media to simply promote what they’re doing,” he said. 

Baptist Temple uses social media to “provide content people can consume to help them grow spiritually,” Rangel said. He develops Scripture-based Bible study and devotional videos to enhance worship. At the end of the morning’s worship, Rangel, rather than the on-site preacher whose message has been broadcast, gives an invitation.

In January, the church started podcasts on goals, featuring interviews with experts in such fields as marriage, parenting, finances or physical, mental and spiritual health.

“This all ties into what people are currently dealing with,” Rangel said. “Everybody is consuming something digitally. I believe we are discipled by what we consume. My hope with using social media as a platform for ministry is providing content people can consume throughout the week that can help them in their spiritual life.” 

In his first year as Baptist Temple’s online pastor, Rangel is learning who is watching and is connecting with them demographically and individually.

“We can see where people are watching from, but not who they are,” Rangel said. “We have to provide ways to gather their info to find out who they are, such as digital connect cards, and if people are watching on Facebook they can contact [us] that way.”

During live broadcasts, watchers can text or message for more information, make professions of faith, request baptism, prayer, or counseling or make other requests, all of which Rangel responds to within the week.

All together

Baptist Temple records the total number of professions of faith and other spiritual decisions from each campus. The entire ministry staff works at follow-up. Those who accept Christ are encouraged to pursue baptism and church membership, join a community group and serve on a ministry team. 

The church as a whole is responsible for its 13 church plants in Africa, the five NAMB church planters they support in Texas, the church plant in Queens, three international orphanages, various local and global ministries as well as four or five annual mission trips.

Evangelism is at the heart of each of these ventures. So are the dollars given to missions through the SBC’s Cooperative Program, DuPree said.

“We are seeing a significant outpouring of salvations in our services but I believe we also have a premium on our people sharing their faith through the week,” DuPree said. “Our people are great at bringing people with them. Every week I say, ‘Next week is bring your friend week.’ 

“We have a culture of celebration,” the pastor continued. “The reason we know we have 454 people who accepted Christ in 2020 is that we celebrate every story.”

Dupree added a caveat: “We try to do our best but leave it to the Holy Spirit to draw people to himself. We encourage personal evangelism but this year has been a challenge. This year has thrown everyone a curveball.

“Church online might not be ideal but God is allowing people to turn to churches we would never have reached before,” DuPree said. “I believe God has … changed the course of our ministry. Our focus now is to pour into our ministry in South Texas and pray for revival, believing that will change the world.” 

Boring but important

Remember church business meetings? 

I know that many churches still do them, but I sense a certain apologetic attitude on the part of even those who plan the agenda, as if we’re embarrassed to take the time of the Wednesday night gang that shows up for financial reports and consideration of major actions. Business meetings are tedious sometimes, mundane often and only occasionally contentious, but it’s the process whereby most churches convert that opening in music ministry into a person who actually helps with the music ministry. That roof leak that makes the high school boys’ class musty and floods the ladies’ bathroom downstairs? The solution was likely considered by a committee that sweats the details as part of their voluntary service to the church and then submits a proposed action to the faithful few at a church business conference. Boring maybe, too boring for most church members, but things spin out of control if no one cares about church business until Sunday morning (when the downstairs ladies’ room is flooded). 

The Southern Baptist Convention has an analogous gathering, in addition to our annual convention in June (2020 excepted). The Southern Baptist Executive Committee is the Southern Baptist Convention during the 11 months and 28 days each year when the actual convention is not in session. The EC does their work subject to the convention’s constitution and bylaws, its statement of faith, and the instructions and actions of the messengers during the annual meeting. But three times a year, this committee does important things on behalf of the rest of us. During times of extraordinary tension or opportunity within our fellowship, the work of the EC becomes more important. Pay attention, even if you never do, to the meeting this Feb. 22 and 23. 

The headlines of challenges to our nation’s wellbeing always give us a clue as to the challenges Southern Baptist Americans will face in their Great Commission work. Here are a few things likely to be discussed in February, and because of this, be directed to the messengers during our June convention in Nashville. 

2021-2022 Budget Because the convention did not meet last year, the SBC has been operating on the 2019-2020 budget for an additional year. Our entities have faced budget and staff cuts because fundraising and ministry implementation has been hampered by the pandemic. Even though CP giving has been encouraging, the financial problems of our institutions are real and likely ongoing—as they are for most other organizations.

Black-White Relations As I said, what happens in U.S. communities comes to church with us on Sunday. The report from a recent meeting between African American leaders in the SBC and several of our institutional presidents was encouraging, though no one believes this conversation is finished. Southern Baptists are looking for action on the national level to say that the white majority understands what our Black brothers and sisters are saying to us. 

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Right before the quarantine began last March, the EC began an investigation of how concerns about the work of the SBC’s moral issues agency have affected Cooperative Program giving in several states. The EC began this process; it was deferred by the cancellation of the 2020 SBC annual meeting; and this matter has remained on low simmer for a year. It should be on the agenda this month, I’d think.

Vision 2025 Last February, Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd shared “Vision 2025,” a challenge to share Christ with every household in the U.S. by 2025, among other things. The plan would have been fleshed out in greater detail during our 2020 annual meeting. Of course, that didn’t happen. I don’t believe the vision just faded away though. I expect Floyd to continue his plan to lead the convention in that direction. I’d expect this to be an important update at this upcoming Executive Committee meeting, and then of course at the SBC meeting in June. It’s also a positive way for us to point our noses in the same direction and put the challenges of 2020 behind us. 

Look at baptistpress.com Feb. 22-23 and you’ll find stories that describe how those who sweat the details are recommending that we proceed. We’ll also post these stories on texanonline.net. These deliberations directly and indirectly affect the worldwide mission that joins Southern Baptists in voluntary partnership. As your church gives and supports in other ways the seminaries and mission boards of our convention, you should be interested in how the business of our convention empowers that Great Commission work. 

For some of us, it will always be tedious, the way a budget and a plan can be in the details. But thankfully, there are some who see how these mundane things can have a kingdom impact. You, a Southern Baptist church member, should look in on them from time to time. It’s really not so boring as you’ve heard.  

Evangelism 2021 (part 2)

Turning 30 was a big deal to me and not in a good way. I felt like I was somehow “behind” in life. That was 34 years ago. 

The dilemma I was facing was a common one. I was questioning my purpose. The day I turned 30 I prayed and asked God for direction. In that prayer, I sensed (in that unmistakable way we know when God is speaking) the Lord was impressing me with a question. I’ve never forgotten it because he blessed me that day with a gift. He gave me clarity. The question was simple and direct: “Kie Bowman, if you’re not winning souls, what are you doing?”

There are a lot of “jobs” and tasks in ministry, but only one Great Commission. In the words of the late Dawson Trotman, we are “born to reproduce.” In other words, if we are not advancing the gospel, sharing our faith, and doing everything possible to lead more people to Christ, what are we doing? 

Last month in this column, I suggested three practices that can help us develop a stronger evangelistic effectiveness. One of those suggestions has to do with training people to share their faith. According to Scripture, equipping believers to do the work of ministry is essential to the success of the church (Ephesians 4:11-12, 2 Timothy 2:2). 

D. L. Moody once said, “I don’t want to do the work of a thousand men. I want a thousand men to do my work.” Training for evangelism is essential. 

To equip people we need equipment. In other words, equipping requires resources. Fortunately, the SBTC is ready to help. One of the best opportunities for training and equipping in Texas is the Empower conference that happens later this month.

This year the Empower conference is in-person but much of it will also be available online. The past focus on senior pastors resonated with many of us, but this year’s conference focuses on providing something more for everyone. Every church member can benefit from attending Empower. 

Conference speakers include leaders from across a broad spectrum of ministry. Dennis Swanberg, Ken Hemphill, and Ted Traylor will highlight the “vintage” session. 

There will be a ladies session with speaker and author Latasha Morrison. Matt Carter will speak on missional living. Student ministers will have an opportunity to meet and learn from one another and national leaders. 

Other speakers include Nic Vujicic, Gary Chapman, Costi Hinn and Johnny Hunt. 

The breakouts may be the best part of the two-day conference. There will be at least nine options: each designed to help us increase our people-reaching passion and skills. 

Churches across Texas can benefit from Empower. Equipping believers is made easier when we take advantage of this excellent annual conference. 

There is one other benefit to attending Empower that I want you to consider. The fellowship with believers and leaders from around the state of Texas can be a major stimulus in our own spiritual walk. We need conferences but we need one another more. Fortunately, at the Empower conference we get the best of both. 

Cooperative Program lunch at Empower to recognize top-giving churches amid COVID-19 pandemic

IRVING  Pastor Brian Haynes will be the special guest speaker at the annual Cooperative Program lunch during the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s upcoming Empower Conference at the Irving Convention Center on Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 11:45 a.m.

Haynes, pastor of Bay Area Church in League City, is the author “Shift: What It Takes to Finally Reach Families Today” and “The Legacy Path: Discover Intentional Spiritual Parenting.” 

The lunch traditionally serves to highlight the various ways SBTC churches are making the gospel known locally and globally through their regular Cooperative
Program giving. 

“The Cooperative Program lunch every year is just a celebration of the Cooperative Program. We give an annual report from the year before and then it sets the stage for Cooperative Program Sunday,” said Kenneth Priest, SBTC senior strategist for cooperative ministries. “The 2021 video gets played, resources are given out, and we point [attendees] to the website where they can download the video and other resources such as bulletin inserts. We also provide for churches to invite a speaker from the SBTC if they’d like someone to come in and promote the CP.”

The lunch is usually accompanied by a time of corporate worship, but according to Priest the SBTC is still evaluating whether to include that as a part of this year’s lunch due to concerns regarding COVID-19.

The ongoing pandemic is expected to result in a smaller turnout this year as well, though Priest emphasized that the Irving Convention Center has the capability of keeping the event at or below 50 percent capacity, which falls within the Dallas County guidelines for large events. Additionally, the convention will be taking a number of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID for those who choose to attend in-person.

According to Priest, the lunch will be set in the 50 percent capacity model that the convention center has in order to remain in compliance and mitigate the risk of spread as much as possible.

During the lunch, the SBTC will recognize the churches within the convention that have given the most over the last year, both in terms of dollars and per capita giving. 

Tickets to the lunch, which will be held in the Irving Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom, will be in even shorter supply this year due to the convention center’s 50 percent occupancy policy. Individuals are encouraged to register as soon as possible at sbtexas.com/empower. 

Retired couple joins IMB on and off the field (at the same time)

The retirement years are often viewed as the time to enjoy a break from years of hard work. For Joe and Wanda Kord*, retirement was time for a new kind of work as they followed the Lord’s leading to volunteer with the International Mission Board in West Africa.

Rather than leasing or selling their home in Mesa, they decided to open their home to missionaries visiting Arizona. In partnership with HiWay Baptist Church in Mesa, the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and members from Heart of Mesa Church, the Kords’ home has been used these past three years to do just that. God has led the Kords to serve on mission in the U.S. and in West Africa at the same time.

The initial assignment for Wanda in West Africa was to manage the guesthouse used by missionaries as a stopover during travels and as a hostel for volunteer teams on short-term mission trips. Joe’s job was to do building maintenance on the mission compound. About a year into their service, long-term personnel changes and security threats caused their roles to change.

“We thought we would do something different from the roles we had in the U.S. in teaching and business management,” Wanda said, “but in God’s perfect timing, He led us to use those very skills.”

Wanda had turned down offers to work at the school for missionary kids when she first arrived in country, as she felt led to focus on the needs at the guesthouse. However, as the year progressed, heightened security and safety concerns meant fewer visitors to the guesthouse. Around this time, the American international school, where individuals from a variety of backgrounds and religions attended, offered her a position. There, Wanda had the opportunity to share the love and hope of Christ with people who had not yet heard this good news.

Joe arrived with no expectations of managing major strategies on the mission field.

“I was happy to just be a maintenance worker who could be productive and get things done,” Joe said.

But when the logistics coordinator unexpectedly left the country, Joe’s business management experience allowed him to fill a critical need at just the right time. With security threats rising, outsiders were bringing greater scrutiny from the local government. Local partners were being called upon to be more in front of sharing the gospel and discipling local believers.

As travelers on motorcycles were considered dangerous troublemakers, local partners needed a different type of transportation. Putting his business experience to use, Joe managed the logistics of switching out motorcycles for bicycles so that local partners could continue to go to the six church plants in the surrounding area.

In October 2020, the Kords returned to Arizona and to their home that hosted many missionaries over the past three years. When they opened the door, they found a house that was deep cleaned, with a stocked pantry and welcome-home treats.

“We went to [West Africa] on our own dime, but we have seen again that you cannot out give God,” Joe said.  

*Names changed for security

Stone, Litton and Adams join Mohler as SBC presidential nominees

BLACKSHEAR, Ga., SARALAND, Ala., VANCOUVER, Wa. Two pastors and a convention executive director joined a seminary president as candidates for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Mike Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., and immediate past chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, will be nominated for SBC president at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, stated a Jan. 13 announcement by fellow Georgia pastor Kevin Williams.

“Southern Baptists need to be led by a trusted local church pastor with strong convictions about the sufficiency of Scripture, a passion for evangelism, and deep experience in the work of our convention,” said Williams, the current Georgia Baptist Convention president and pastor of First Baptist Church of Villa Rica, Ga. 

The announcement did not disclose who would nominate Stone at the annual meeting, which is scheduled for June 15-16 in
Nashville.

Stone, a member of the steering council of the recently formed Conservative Baptist Network, served for five years on Emmanuel’s staff before becoming pastor in 2002. Since then, Emmanuel has averaged 9 percent given annually through the Cooperative Program and contributed approximately $2.5 million through December 2020. 

Stone was the second announced nominee for SBC president, joining Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. Stone told Baptist Press he spoke with Mohler. 

Mohler was originally announced as a nominee in October 2019 for the 2020 annual meeting. After that gathering was canceled due to COVID, Mohler agreed in October to accept the nomination for president in 2021. He will be nominated by H.B. Charles, senior pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

A third presidential candidate emerged on Jan. 19 when former SBC president Fred Luter announced his intention to nominate longtime friend and Mobile, Ala.-area pastor Ed Litton for SBC president at the upcoming annual meeting in June.

“I have known Ed Litton for over 20 years. Our relationship started when we preached for each other as part of the SBC Racial Reconciliation Sunday during the month of February,” Luter told Baptist Press. 

Since 1994 Litton has been pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Ala.—known as North Mobile Baptist Church until 2014. A Southwestern Seminary graduate, Litton served in the college and career ministry at First Baptist Euless, and in the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention Evangelism department. In 1987 he planted Mountain View Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz.

Litton has also served in numerous roles in SBC denominational leadership.

For the last six years—following the riots in Ferguson, Mo.—Litton has been involved in The Pledge Group of Mobile, a diverse group of area pastors seeking to further racial reconciliation. 

During Litton’s pastorate, Redemption Church has averaged nearly 152 baptisms annually with resident membership growing by 27.3 percent over the last 10 years. From 2018-2020 the church averaged 3.66 percent of undesignated gifts given through the Cooperative Program. From September 2019 through August 2020, it also contributed 12.33 percent of its undesignated budget through Great Commission Giving.

Citing a desire for Southern Baptists’ focus to “be on the mission, with the Bible as our sole and final authority on all matters,” Northwest Baptist Convention Executive Director/Treasurer Randy Adams announced his candidacy on Jan. 20.

Adams, who has served in his current role since 2013, intended to be nominated for SBC president at the 2020 annual meeting. In January’s announcement, he stated that his reasons for accepting that nomination have only intensified over the past year.

In a post on his personal blog, Adams pledged to push for “transparency and accountability” among the SBC’s national entities.

Adams, along with several other non-South state executives, has been involved in a prolonged dispute with the North American Mission Board over its allocation of funds to states related to church planting and evangelism.

Russell Fuller, a former professor of Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will nominate Adams.  

Missions, mentoring among Lane Prairie’s priorities

JOSHUA—A world map in the worship center reminds members of Lane Prairie Baptist Church in Joshua, Texas, of the Great Commission weekly, and they’re working to see pins marking at least 10 locations of missionaries sent from their church through the International Mission Board. 

Toward that end, the church recently hired Travis Kerns as associate pastor of missions and mentoring. Kerns served as a Send City Missionary in Salt Lake City with the North American Mission Board for six years before moving to Fort Worth as associate professor of apologetics and world religions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Matt Queen, associate dean of Southwestern’s school of evangelism and missions, is a member of Lane Prairie, and with longtime pastor Jerry Clements and executive pastor Ricky Fuchs, the four are serious about getting the gospel to the ends of the earth as they shared in a recent Zoom conference call with the TEXAN.

“We want to be a Great Commission church. That’s our desire, and that means not only do we share in Jerusalem but Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world,” said Clements, who will mark 22 years as pastor of Lane Prairie in February.

So far, the church is supporting—largely through Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving and through regular contacts—David and Kristin Washer, IMB workers in Madagascar. The Washers were members of Lane Prairie while they were students at Southwestern, and they were instrumental in “talking up missions,” Queen said.

“To have somebody with flesh and blood whose family is going to be on the field was really good, and it really pumped our people up for missions,” Queen said. “In fact, we’ve got several lay people who talk to Washer weekly. They’re contacting him, and our staff keeps in contact with him.”

Lane Prairie, a 150-year-old congregation, had a chance to contribute to a specific need in Madagascar recently. 

“Someone went to a village the other day and the whole village was dead from starvation,” Clements said. Lane Prairie immediately sent $5,000 through the IMB and planned to send more. “He can feed a whole village for a month with $5,000,” Clements said of Washer.

Clements expressed a desire to challenge other churches to send $1,000 through the IMB in care of David Washer to prevent people from starving in Madagascar. He noted that in three months, the Washers shared the gospel more than 1,000 times and saw 84 professions of faith, which is “pretty phenomenal in that area.”

“We’re so proud of them,” Clements said. 

Kerns said the church aims to send “as many as the Lord will give us as quickly as the Lord will give them to us.” To aid that goal, Lane Prairie launched a mentoring program a year ago to train students in a local church context. 

“Seminary can teach you a lot of things in a classroom, but there’s only so much it can teach you in a classroom,” Kerns told the TEXAN. “We can talk about how to run a deacons meeting in a seminary classroom, but then you get into a deacons meeting and realize it’s a whole different ballgame.”

In addition to strong Cooperative Program giving, Lane Prairie is identifying seminary students who are called to missions or the local church, and they’re adopting six students per semester as interns. 

“They come to our church, and we train them how to preach a sermon, how to teach a Sunday School class, how to serve the Lord,” Clements said. “We invest in them. We give them $800 a month toward their tuition or housing or whatever they need.”

To reach the local community, Lane Prairie hosts Operation Backpack each August, inviting students to receive school supplies, clothing and shoes. The year before COVID-19 was their biggest yet with nearly 600 children receiving supplies. The church also led Good News Clubs in four of the five local elementary schools before the pandemic. 

At Thanksgiving, the church gives out baskets of meal supplies for families in need, and each time, they tell about Jesus.

“We’ve seen people saved through every single one of those ministries,” Fuchs, the executive pastor, said. “As we do every single one of these, the gospel is at the forefront.”

Clements, whose father was pastor of First Baptist Church in Brownsville years ago and who has three brothers who are pastors, is battling blood cancer, which returned after nine years in remission. 

“Pastor Jerry is fighting the good fight and running the race with endurance, even in this season of life,” Tony Wolfe, church health and leadership senior strategist with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said. “He is faithful. He is leading well. He is reproducing. He is an inspiration. He is the SBTC.”

Clements told the TEXAN, “God gets all the glory.”