Month: March 2021

COVID-19 illnesses and deaths felt in churches as pandemic passes one year

Senior Pastor Jimmy D. Pritchard had a new vision for the future of First Baptist Church of Forney.

“Brother Jim just came into my office and said, ‘I’m tired of this.’ He said, ‘I’m tired of being on the defensive. I’m tired of sitting back,’” Executive Pastor Ed Hancock recalls from that early January day. “He said, ‘We’re going on offense.’ I said ‘OK,’ so we met with the leadership team, and he laid out his vision.”

Weeks later on a Monday, as the church of about 1,200 worshipers prepared to implement Pritchard’s Reignite 2021 plan with a church-wide prayer meeting, Pritchard was in the hospital with COVID-19.

Two days later Pritchard was dead. He died at 5:25 p.m. Feb. 24 of COVID-related pneumonia. The church staff announced his death at the beginning of the prayer meeting already scheduled that very evening.

“Like a lot of congregations, we’re not unfamiliar with COVID,” Hancock said just days after the March 6 celebration of life service honoring Pritchard. His widow Jeannette was still hospitalized with COVID-19 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and could not attend his memorial.

“We’ve had members get COVID and pass away from COVID,” Hancock said. “We’ve had staff members with COVID.”

Numerous churches are in similar predicaments as the pandemic nears the one-year mark. Many churches, like Neptune Baptist Church in Neptune Beach, Fla., have suffered illnesses and deaths.

Neptune Baptist Church Pastor Tom Bary died of COVID-19 in mid-December after a month-long battle with the virus.

Tanya McAvoy, Neptune Baptist’s minister of evangelism and education, said the church has dedicated all of 2021 to walking through the grief of Bary’s death with the congregation and his family, expressly noting milestones in church life without Bary’s presence.

“Pastor Tom was with us for 36 years,” she said, including his earlier 12 years as youth pastor and later 24 years as senior pastor after a leadership stint at another congregation. “We are grieving together, so we have been moving forward by grieving together in unity. We have decided that as a staff and as a church to dedicate this next year to walk through this grief together, to not ignore it.”

Other churches have similar journeys of pastors and members succumbing to COVID-19-related diagnoses. Baptist Press previously reported on the deaths of Pastor Michael Stancil of Fulton Bridge Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ala.; retired Alabama pastor and church planter Fred Wolfe; and Willard and Wilma Gail Bowen, members of Poplar Springs Baptist Church in Hiram, Ga.

More than 538,000 people had died of COVID-related illnesses in the U.S. at press time, among more than 2.8 million deaths globally. 

At First Baptist Forney, a kidney transplant Pritchard underwent at age 19, necessitating daily immunosuppressant drugs, made it difficult for the 65-year-old husband and father to survive.

“It was obviously a shock to us when Brother Jim died because he died so suddenly,” Hancock said. “He went into the hospital on Saturday, Feb. 20, and passed away on Wednesday, Feb. 24.”

Many in the congregation had sat under his ministry since he was called to First Baptist in 1994 and led the church through significant growth, welcoming over 6,000 new members, and baptizing over 2,600 new believers, with 38 people having answered a call to full-time Christian vocations. International, North American, and Texas missions has been a hallmark of his tenure, including work in Scotland, Hungary, Lebanon, Uruguay, Thailand, Czech Republic, India, Cuba and Ethiopia, various projects in the U.S., and birthing a new church in nearby Talty, Texas. 

In addition to serving as president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention from 2014-2015, he was elected second vice president for 2008-2009, and served on the SBTC Executive Board. Most recently, he was tasked with chairing the SBTC’s relocation committee. A trustee for the International Mission Board and Criswell College, he served on presidential search committees that selected Tom Elliff at IMB and Jerry Johnson at Criswell. He also offered leadership to the denomination as a trustee of Baptist World Alliance, IMB trustee chairman, Home Mission Board workshop leader, and Southwestern Seminary alumni association president, in addition to local associational duties everywhere he served in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. 

First Forney is grateful that Pritchard left a vision for the future.

“The elements of Reignite are to reignite your passion for prayer, reignite your passion for worship and to reignite your passion for personal evangelism,” Hancock said. “It was God’s plan for him to give us the vision and for us to carry it out.”

At Neptune Baptist, the church of about 350 worshipers maintains a Celebrating Tom Bary memorial Facebook page.

“Some people hide grief and we’ve decided to display it … so we can grieve together,” McAvoy said.

“The church has been so sweet to support our staff as we’ve walked through grief, recognizing that our grief is important also, and we have just loved each other through it. And the church is going to be stronger because of it.” 

We have been heartened to see the responses of our Southern Baptist churches as they seek to continue their ministries and worship activities in new ways. For weekly encouragement during these trying times visit sbtexas.com/covid.

—Diana Chandler of Baptist Press contributed to this article. 

“Every day more and more come” as ministry continues along the Texas-Mexico border

BROWNSVILLE and DEL RIO—With the current migrant crisis along the Texas-Mexico border worsening by the day, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches and disaster relief volunteers are sharing the love of Christ by ministering to the displaced. Politics and views on immigration aside, for those serving along the border, the issues are humanity and eternity.

For Carlos Navarro, pastor of West Brownsville Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista West Brownsville), migrant outreach is nothing new. He and his church have ministered to the displaced for decades.

Since the migrant crisis escalated in 2019, West Brownsville’s Golan Ministries has supplied more than 8,200 people seeking U.S. asylum with Bibles, food, clothing and assistance in understanding their legal obligations. More than 3,245 have prayed to receive Christ following simple gospel presentations.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of West Brownsville’s migrant ministry occurred on the church campus or across the border, where migrants waited in camps and detention facilities in Matamoros.

Things have changed both with the pandemic and the shifting political climate. 

“It’s three times worse than last time,” Navarro told the TEXAN. “We are seeing 200 plus per day in our part of Brownsville. Each day border officials release 200 who head to the bus station and from there go to New York, California, Boston, Florida, Missouri. Not as many stay in Texas.”

They come hungry and often hopeless. Navarro and his volunteers offer hope.

Three times a week, West Brownsville vehicles bring donated backpacks filled with Bibles, socks, underwear, t-shirts (sizes S-XL), shoelaces, towels, packaged snacks, bottled water, Gatorade, toiletries and hygiene kits. New to the gift packs this year are hand sanitizer gel and face masks.

West Brownsville volunteers set up tables at the bus station and distribute items. With masks and other COVID protocols in place, ministry occurs with as much social distancing as possible. Many of West Brownsville’s older members are still waiting on vaccinations and are unable to help as in years past. But the ministry gets done.

The SBTC and Send Relief have provided support, Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, confirmed. Corporations, religious organizations and individuals have donated backpacks and towels also. Navarro said they can use anything, but clothes larger than XL are not needed. 

Until the pandemic, West Brownsville’s facilities functioned as a day shelter, with meals, showers and counseling provided at the church. Nowadays, volunteers pick up purchased or donated pre-packaged tacos or pizzas to provide a hot meal for migrants at the bus station awaiting transport north.

“Every day more and more come,” Navarro said. “It’s bad. Real bad.”

Aware that immigration continues to be a politically sensitive issue on both sides, Navarro knows the people who come have needs regardless, the deepest of which is Jesus.

Elsewhere along the border—SBTC DR volunteers deployed March 24 to assist the Salvation Army at an immigration release center in Del Rio. 

“We’re working in support of the Salvation Army’s feeding operation,” said Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director. “Migrants arrive with little to no resources.  A meal as they are released by federal authorities is greatly appreciated by the migrants. Our assignment is to be a blessing wherever we find a need.”

A two-person team from Rockwall and Texarkana will serve in Del Rio for the next couple of weeks.

The group has been called to serve because the immigration system is overloaded, Stice said.

Criswell College dedicates new student residence hall

DALLAS—Criswell College held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new residence hall on Saturday, March 6.

Donors, members of the Board of Trustees, students, alumni, and leaders from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention were in attendance for the historic event. Criswell College staff gave visitors a tour of the residence hall, including the fitness center, meeting spaces, and dorm rooms.

The ceremony also unveiled the name of the building as “Lance’s Hall.”

The name of the hall was a surprise gift from Mary L.A. Stanton to her son, Lance Ouellette. Stanton, whose donation had remained anonymous until the event, said that her son had no idea that her $5 million dollar gift to Criswell would also include the hall being named in his honor. She also spoke of her excitement for what the hall will mean to students.

“I could not be happier,” Stanton said. “I think providing students with a safe place to live together on campus where they can develop relationships and study together will help them become stronger Christians. I think it will also improve their academic performance. I am extremely excited for them.”

During the ceremony, President Creamer expressed thankfulness to the Lord and his faithfulness through the completion of the residence hall and the continued success of Criswell College.

“We had no idea how on earth we would actually arrive here, and yet here we are. We have learned over and over again that if you just follow where the Lord is leading with faith, then the Lord can do all the things you cannot do,” Creamer said. “We are now blooming where we are planted. I look forward to seeing how the Lord blossoms this even more into what he desires.”

Stanton shared words of encouragement during the ceremony, thanking those who contributed to the residence hall’s design and construction and giving thanks for the opportunity she has had to give to others. 

“Your donation is very much appreciated and will continue to be appreciated for many, many decades to come. I know when I donated my $5 million, I felt like I was saying in a very, very small way, ‘thank you, Jesus, for all the many, many blessings you have given me throughout my life.’” 

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board voted in 2018 to provide from overage a gift of $250,000 toward the building of the residence hall. In recognition of the generosity of SBTC churches, the college has posted a plaque in the first floor lobby to remind students of that gift. 

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards, who attended the ceremony, said of the new dormitory, “I am excited to see this dream for Criswell College come to completion. It is a blessing for our convention to have been part of the provision. God has been gracious to us and we are happy to share some of what he has provided.” 

The residence hall marks the first time in the 50-year history of the school that the college has been able to provide on-campus housing for students. 

—Includes reporting by Gary Ledbetter

WMU names three teens — including two Texans — to national panel

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—National WMU selected three outstanding young women to this year’s National Acteens Panel: Hope Howard of Retama Park Baptist Church in Kingsville, Texas; Kayla Moore of Durham Baptist Church in Lewistown, Missouri; and Rana Seddik of Freeman Heights Baptist Church in Garland, Texas.

“We are thrilled to have these young women represent Acteens this year as National Acteens Panelists,” said Heather Keller, children’s and student ministry consultant, national WMU. “The call to make disciples across their generation is so great, and Hope, Kayla and Rana have a strong history of already making disciples in their communities and in places around the world. We are excited to see them influence other young women this year as they represent Acteens.”

Howard, a home-schooled junior, has been involved in Acteens for five years. In that time, she said she’s realized missions is not only for missionaries, but for every person who makes a commitment to Christ.

“My heart hurts when I think about billions of people in the world who do not have the joy and hope that I have in my life, and not knowing that they will one day have everlasting life with their Savior,” Howard shared. “Worse than that even, is the fact that they will spend eternity in never-ending punishment. As I have made many, many friends who are lost, the reality really hits on a completely different level when it is your best friend that is going to be permanently separated from Jesus. I feel compelled to do all I am physically able to reach people for Christ.”

Howard said one of the most meaningful things she has done in Acteens was learning to sew face masks last spring when COVID-19 restrictions began in the U.S. 

“We knew of a missionary couple in Detroit who were still feeding the homeless, even though the wife suffered from severe respiratory problems,” she said. “This inspired my mom, who is also my Acteens leader, to sew masks.” 

Howard said they held countless Zoom meetings with other girls in their Acteens group related to the project, which resulted in more than 100 masks sewn by Acteens, their mothers and older women in the church who wanted to be a part of the effort. 

The pandemic “has shown me just how capable God is of working, no matter the circumstances,” Howard reflected. “I’ve learned that I can’t let fear control me, whether it is fear of the coronavirus, or simply worrying about what kind of career path to choose, and what college to attend. Doing this particular project with the masks also reminded me to reflect on the command to serve others. I was so touched to see the amount of loving hearts who volunteered their time to help those in need.”

As a member of Acteens for the past six years, Moore, a high school senior, has helped lead her Acteens group, Vacation Bible School, Girls in Action retreats, coed events, her youth group and during mission trips.

In summer of 2019, Moore went on a mission trip to Uganda with her Acteens leader and others. While there, they organized and conducted two Bible clubs, visited mothers of newborns, and arranged gifts to distribute among mothers at a hospital for premature babies. They also attended a local Sunday morning worship service and visited a nearby village where they had the opportunity to share testimonies and invite people to church.

Moore describes missions as a lifestyle and a decision that needs to be made every day. 

“As Christians, we are called to dedicate our lives to please and live for Jesus,” Moore asserted. “Every day we have opportunities to share the love of Jesus with whomever we meet. Missions is not just for missionaries, it is for me. I am a servant of God, doing His work and His mission. This is what Christians are supposed to do. We’re called to be His light.”

Moore encourages this daily reminder, “Serve the Lord with all you do, and go out of your way to bring Jesus into someone’s life every day.”

Moore’s pastor, the Rev. Ted Middleton, has seen her live out her missions focus. 

“Kayla encourages those around her to follow Jesus,” Middleton noted. “One of her friends recently came to know the Lord as their personal Savior as a direct result of Kayla sharing the love of Jesus with them. Not only is she a good example before them, but she helps to show them how to live for Jesus. She has learned to lead others well.”

Seddik, a high school senior in her seventh year as an Acteen, said, “The main reason missions is important to me is because my faith is a product of missions. Through missions I was introduced to Christ. I was able to understand enough to accept Him in my heart, and continue growing in my faith.”

Seddik said that Audrey Gibbs, a Mission Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, and Mary Lou Sinclair, her GA and Acteens leader, are two influential women who poured into her life. Through Gibbs’ apartment ministry, she helped Seddik with homework and projects while also sharing life lessons and the love of Jesus. As their relationship grew, Gibbs invited Seddik to church where she met Sinclair and attended her first GA camp as a third grader and accepted Christ.

“These two women not only taught me about the Bible, they lived it,” Seddik reflected. “They were generous, joyful, and most of all, loving. They were so willing to go out of their way to help me understand. They were patient and caring and all the things one is supposed to be. Missions has changed the way I see the world around me and therefore I strive to live my life for Jesus.”

Seddik said the most impactful things she has done in Acteens was leave her comfort zone in Texas and travel to New England on a mission trip. While on the trip, they assisted a Brazilian congregation affiliated with the Baptist Convention of New England whose members spoke Portuguese and very little English.

“Even with this language barrier, I was able to make friendships with the others around me,” she noted. “We were able to connect over food or worship music, even when we couldn’t always understand each other. This showed me you don’t need to speak the same language in order to make connections. They showed so much hospitality . . . I realized so much about how we need to live out our faith.” 

Seddik said her trip to New England wasn’t meaningful because she traveled across the United States to do missions, but because it taught her how to live on mission better while at home.

“Living a missions lifestyle means consciously trying to find ways to connect with people everywhere you go,” she stated. “It means that wherever I am and whatever I do or say reflects Christ. It is a commitment to investing in the lives of others, just as Christ calls us to do.”

Seddik’s faith and missions focus is also evident in her public school where she helps lead a weekly girls’ Bible study by preparing and leading the lesson and planning games and activities. 

Lauren Peterson, a teacher and coach at Garland High School, said, “Rana’s love for the Lord shows through everything she does. Every action on the court, every interaction with her teammates, and every interaction with her coaches is completely faith-based. Before games I would pray with Rana, and just hearing her passion for the game stemming from her relationship with the Lord was so inspiring to me, and helped me grow further in my faith.” 

These three national Acteens panelists will be featured program guests during the WMU Missions Celebration and Annual Meeting in Nashville on June 13, 2021. They will serve through 2021, and each will receive a $1,000 scholarship from the WMU Foundation. They may also have speaking opportunities in their respective states and will write blogs for Acteens at wmu.com/students.

Evangelistic revivals among Mike Stone SBC priorities

Editor’s note: The May print edition of the TEXAN will include an interview of the fourth announced SBC presidential candidate, Ed Litton.

BLACKSHEAR, Ga.—Mike Stone envisions evangelism, the sufficiency of Scripture and broadened involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention if he is elected as SBC president during the June 15-16 annual meeting in Nashville.

One of four announced nominees for SBC president, Stone served as chairman of the SBC Executive Committee from 2018-2020. He has served at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Ga., since 1996 and was elected as pastor in 2002.

Stone was president of the Georgia Baptist Convention from 2017-2018, having earlier served as chairman of the Georgia convention’s Executive Committee. Online at www.pastormikestone.com, he also is a member of the steering council of the Conservative Baptist Network formed in February 2020. 

Stone addressed the priorities he would set forth as SBC president in answer to questions from the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

1) Four proponents of biblical inerrancy have declared their willingness to serve as SBC president. What is distinctive about your vision for this role?

I am an evangelistic pastor and an expository preacher who has just finished preaching verse-by-verse through my 34th book of the Bible. I have been actively involved in every aspect of SBC life from my local association to the chair of the SBC Executive Committee. My threefold vision is born out of ministry in my local church.

First, I want to call our churches to an evangelistic emphasis. Our baptismal numbers are the lowest since before World War II. Evangelism must become, once again, our top priority. I will challenge our churches to two separate wave revivals. We should pick two eight-week periods and call on every congregation to have an evangelistic event. The plan would be easily customizable to fit the schedule and methodology of participating churches. Two separate periods would allow for a “Host One, Help One” emphasis. Established churches can assist church plants. Stronger churches can assist those in need of revitalization. Larger conventions can partner with smaller conventions. I envision teams traveling across the state, region and nation to help our sister churches.

Second, I will champion the sufficiency of Scripture. Nearly every Southern Baptist pastor affirms this but we need an honest conversation about flawed ideologies entering the SBC bloodstream. The sufficiency of Scripture means that any believer of any ethnicity, living in any time and any place, with any experiences or none of those experiences, can open the Bible and get an accurate word from God. We have many challenges but the Bible is sufficient to address them all, such as our lack of agreement over Resolution 9 and the seminary presidents’ response as well as “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” (which I affirm) and the “Justice, Repentance, and the SBC” statement. We do not need Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality or some identity-based approach to hermeneutics. My rejection of these approaches is because I care deeply about ethnic reconciliation. I think these approaches lead to greater division and not unity.

Third, I want to encourage greater involvement in the SBC. The convention has become too top-down in its leadership. Powerful national entities and high-profile figures seem to make the majority of decisions. I believe there is a conflict of interest in denominational employees or their spouses serving as SBC president. I am an “organizational insider but a relational outsider.” Georgia is one of our largest state conventions. I served as its president (2017-2018) and chairman of its Executive Committee (2015-2017). I am the immediate past chairman of the SBC Executive Committee. Yet I have never been part of the “who’s who” of the SBC. I will soon celebrate my 25th anniversary at Emmanuel. We are in a very small town in a rural part of the state. Yet the Lord has planted a vibrant church here. Although Emmanuel is not a small church, it is not a megachurch. It would encourage involvement to have a more normative pastor serving as SBC president.

2) How would you hope to use the SBC president’s influence/bully pulpit to impact these challenges?

The SBC was birthed on the wrong side of the slavery issue, a vile sin for which we rightly repented in 1995. We have made tremendous progress in recent decades but we have much further to go. With tens of millions of Hispanic, Asian and African Americans in our nation, we must continue to diversify in membership and leadership. Not for the sake of the SBC but for the sake of the harvest. As president, I will do what I did in Georgia. Through presidential appointments, I included Baptists from diverse backgrounds. I increased the involvement of Asian and Hispanic leaders. Georgia will soon have its first Hispanic president because of the great leaders we recruited. In June 2020, I became the first Anglo leader in the SBC to step aside to allow a non-Anglo leader to serve. Due to the cancellation of the annual meeting, a bylaw revision was needed to allow officer elections. I led that effort, making way for our first-ever African-American chairman.

The decline in the Cooperative Program is a real and present danger. CP giving has declined by tens of millions of dollars in recent years. Dr. Ronnie Floyd’s address as EC president in February put a national spotlight on this. Part of his challenge in Vision 2025 is to reverse that decline. Our church has averaged just over 9 percent CP giving. That is over $2.5 million CP dollars over my tenure. Our “Great Commission Giving” would be significantly more. That would be the highest percentage of any SBC president since 2006 and one of the highest since the Conservative Resurgence.

The challenges we face in entity accountability are real. We have many examples of boards that seem to operate in the interests of the entity heads or the trustees themselves and not the interests of the entity and the SBC. We have had trustees receive direct/indirect financial benefit from the entity in apparent violation of SBC bylaws. Sponsored church plants have not all adhered to the Baptist Faith and Message. One entity was left in financial distress while its CEO departed with a seven-figure agreement. Too many of our boards are filled by close friends and supporters of the entity heads. That does not foster accountability. I am not accusing anyone of personal wrongdoing. I am saying the trustee system needs immediate attention. As president, I would begin by appointing a Committee on Committees that shares these concerns. Through the trustee election process, we can immediately and graciously begin addressing this in a healthy but intentional way. 

3) Has the COVID pandemic amplified or accelerated these challenges?

The biggest impact was the cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting. Major concerns are on hold because they can only be addressed at the annual meeting. The discussion of Critical Race Theory is one example. I would like to see us reverse the statement made in Birmingham. Others desire a reaffirmation of Resolution 9. In either case, that matter cannot be resolved until the annual meeting.

4) What would you say to those, particularly Black pastors, who are considering leaving the SBC because of discouragement over racial tensions?

I would say the same things I would say to any pastor considering leaving for any other reason. The SBC is a diverse group of imperfect people serving a perfect Lord. We are a biblically-based, gospel-centered, missions-focused convention of churches that desires to reach people. The SBC is a family. And sometimes family can be messy, crazy and even hurtful. But the family needs to stay together to accomplish our common goal. Our unified mission to take the gospel to the world must be stronger than the tensions that would seek to divide us.

5) Why should any pastor or church remain with the SBC, or join it—what is good and strong about our convention right now?

With the blessing of the Cooperative Program, our seminaries and our mission entities, the SBC is the greatest collective tool to propel the gospel to the ends of the earth. Every Baptist body will have its unique challenges. But the SBC is, with all of its warts and flaws, overwhelmingly committed to working together in gospel ministry. One of the most important things we will do this June is affirm Vision 2025. It is a bold plan to take the gospel to every town, every city, every state and every nation throughout the world. That’s the mission that God is on. And I want to be a part of that effort.  

Panel discussion on racial harmony to be held April 13 in-person and online

GRAPEVINE—In the midst of ongoing racial tension within the body of Christ and the Southern Baptist Convention, Tony Mathews, SBTC interim senior strategist for Missional Ministries, asked himself, “What can I do?” In his 34-year pastoral career, Mathews had focused on bringing people together and breaking down barriers. In his new SBTC role, he decided to create an event to foster racial reconciliation. 

Strengthening Racial Harmony, a panel discussion, will be held on Tuesday, April 13, from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. in the multipurpose room of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention building for in-person and online audiences.

Registration is open to the public.

“Pastors, church leaders, men, women, everyone is welcome,” Mathews, who will moderate the discussion, told the TEXAN. Mathews, who also pastors the predominantly African American North Garland Baptist Fellowship, said the event will be a conversation about strengthening racial relations between Black and white believers. 

“Our purpose is to identify barriers and discuss factors that promote racial harmony,” Mathews told the TEXAN, adding, “Panelists were selected who desire to [do this], but who can also address the challenges with which we are met.”

Panelists scheduled to appear include Michael Criner, pastor of Rock Hill Baptist Church near Tyler; Todd Kaunitz, pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview; Joe Ogletree, pastor of Image Church in Houston; Kasi Pruitt, adoption and foster care coordinator for Lakepointe Church, Rockwall; and Mike Satterfield, teaching pastor at Fielder Church in Arlington.

All have done significant work in encouraging racial harmony, Mathews said, noting that Pruitt will offer a unique perspective as a parent of a multiracial family. Satterfield and Ogletree, two African American pastors on the panel have worked “across the racial divide,” Mathews said, while Criner and Kaunitz are “in tune with the racial challenges.” 

The discussion will focus on Black-Anglo relations, but future conversations are planned with other ethnic groups as well, he added.

“We have so much racial unrest in the body of Christ. It’s important to have harmony among all races. We are focusing on Blacks and whites first because [the SBC] has had Black pastors to leave,” Mathews explained.

The panel’s purpose will not be to debate Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, but to examine how to focus on the issues with civility.

“We can agree to disagree and still be civil,” Mathews said. “I’m not naive. We have some real racial challenges. Instead of fighting, we have to find solutions … to co-exist and be about carrying out the Great Commission. We have to be reminded of that.”

Mathews said he hopes the discussion will suggest new ways to break down racial barriers and that all who hear will be inspired to cultivate healthy relationships with all people. 

Mathews is, he said, a firm believer in “carefronting,” a term coined by David Augsburger more than four decades ago. “You have to sometimes carefront folks who are unaware of some of the racially-sensitive issues,” Mathews said, noting that often it is better to carefront than to confront.

Extremism must also be avoided, Mathews said, adding, “If you deny racism exists, that’s incorrect. But if everything is racism, nothing is racism.”

Calling Jesus our model for race relations, Mathews added, “Through his death, burial and resurrection, he wants unity. We’re humans. Racism is sin. We know that this is something we have to combat.”

Challenges abound. “As Christians we have to answer with Christ in our lives and the Holy Spirit guiding us,” Mathews said. Only then can we “really come together and help heal the hurts and challenges we have along racial lines. It’s going to take all of us to do it. We’ve got to come together.”

Division hurts and reconciliation is possible, he said, urging tolerance and forgiveness.

“God created us with distinctions. Distinctions can be celebrated without compromising doctrine,” he said, urging forgiveness: “Give people the benefit of the doubt. Let them talk. Give them space to make mistakes.” 

Speaking as one who has pastored several races and ethnic groups, Mathews affirmed, “We’ve got more in common than not.” 

With the April panel, Mathews hopes to get the reconciliation conversation going.  

For more information on the panel discussion, or to register to attend virtually or in-person, visit sbtexas.com/racialharmony. In-person attendance may be limited, depending upon COVID-19 protocols.

Transparency, accountability anchor Randy Adams SBC bid

Editor’s note: The TEXAN earlier interviewed SBC presidential candidate Albert Mohler for an article posted online Jan. 27, 2020, and reviewed his candidacy in an Oct. 23, 2020 article. Both Mohler articles are accessible at TEXAN online. The May print edition of the TEXAN will include an interview of the fourth announced SBC presidential candidate, Ed Litton.

VANCOUVER, Wash.—Randy Adams intends to underscore transparency and accountability of Southern Baptist Convention entities if elected SBC president during the June 15-16 annual meeting in Nashville.

One of four announced nominees for SBC president, Adams has been executive director/treasurer of the Northwest Baptist Convention since 2013 and is a member of the Go Church plant in Ridgefield, Wash.

Adams, online at randyadams.org, led the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Church Outreach Team from 2004-2013, encompassing BGCO work in evangelism and missions, church planting, leadership development, associational outreach and chaplaincy. He also served as a pastor at three churches over a 19-year period.

He was a trustee of California’s Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Seminary) from 2002-2012, serving as chairman from 2009-2011.

Adams addressed the priorities he would set forth as SBC president in answer to questions from the Southern Baptist TEXAN.

1) Four proponents of biblical inerrancy have declared their willingness to serve as SBC president. What is distinctive about your vision for serving in this role? 

The SBC has suffered the worst decade in its 175-year history of advancing the Great Commission. We must return to the path that enabled us to become the greatest missionary force in our nation’s history. In 2010 the SBC left the path of local control of mission strategy and chose a centralized, top-down control of North American missions. Baptisms have since plummeted to a level not seen since the 1930s, down more than 100,000 per year. New church starts have dropped to levels not seen in over 40 years. Our international mission force has been reduced by 2,000 missionaries. Cooperative Program (CP) mission giving has dropped by over $60,000,000 since 2010, or $160,000,000, considering inflation.  

Renewing the effectiveness of our Great Commission advance will happen as we return to a New Testament missiology in which decisions about strategy and resources begin with the local church, supported by local associations and state conventions, with resourcing from the national entities. Actions in three specific areas will put us on the path to needed reform:

1) Transparency builds trust. We must have transparency in finances and performance metrics. Our SBC entities must “open the books” so that every church can know how their mission dollars are spent.

2) Accountability preserves trust. In the past several months there have been noteworthy examples of massive failure in which there has been no clear accountability. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) joined an amicus brief on behalf of NAMB, filed in the U.S 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in which they argued that the SBC is a “hierarchy” with the SBC serving as the “umbrella” organization over all churches, associations and conventions. This violation of Baptist polity and governing documents puts every Southern Baptist church at risk. A few months ago we learned that the former chair of Lifeway’s trustees approved a compensation/transition package of more than $1,000,000 to the outgoing president without informing the board’s Executive Committee or Compensation Committee. This same trustee remains on Lifeway’s board, while also having three book contracts with Lifeway in violation of SBC Bylaw 15F which forbids direct or indirect compensation to a trustee of an entity. Our churches deserve better.

3) Participation in the annual meeting of the SBC must expand to every church. This could happen as associations and state conventions provide locations in which to participate in the annual meeting, or it could be done through technology. The time has come to enable all our churches to participate without the expense of traveling to a distant location for the annual meeting.

My vision is birthed from experience as one who entered the SBC family through collegiate ministry at Montana Tech in Butte, Mont. I was a petroleum engineering student, preparing for what I thought would be my life’s work. That changed because of the one and only Bible-teaching Christian group on campus, the Baptist Student Union. Through BSU I learned to love God’s Word and to share the gospel. I also learned the value of cooperation and the Cooperative Program (CP). I learned that Southern Baptists were committed to reaching the lost with the message of Jesus, even in places far from the South like Montana.

While pastoring in McAlester, Okla., the executive director in Oklahoma asked me to lead the state convention’s evangelism and missions team. In this role I learned how cooperation works best between local churches, associations, state conventions and national SBC entities. My leadership of the Northwest Baptist Convention has furthered my understanding of how Southern Baptists can cooperate to advance the mission of God. 

2) What are two of the foremost challenges facing the SBC today?

Restoring trust in the SBC missionary system is our greatest need. In 2007, 34,322 churches contributed to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). By 2019, that number fell to 29,064 churches, a decrease of 5,258 churches, and 40 percent of SBC churches did not contribute to CP missions in 2019. Moreover, the budget percentage of CP per church fell from 6.20 percent to 4.82 percent in just one decade.

The second challenge is that of returning to true collaborative and cooperative partnership between NAMB, state conventions, local associations and local churches. NAMB has greatly reduced their work in the South and nearly eradicated partnership with state conventions and associations outside the South. Despite claims that centralization of church planting would increase mission effectiveness, the opposite has happened, even as NAMB’s church planting budget has grown to $75,000,000, an increase of over $50,000,000 in less than 10 years, 

3) Has the COVID pandemic amplified or accelerated these challenges?

The COVID pandemic has made everything more difficult. For one thing, the inability to meet together in conferences, training events, and even gathering for fellowship, has placed a strain on relationships. While we are seeing a decline in baptisms and other Great Commission metrics due to COVID, we are learning that our people are biblical stewards, not merely religious consumers. Giving to our churches has not suffered during the pandemic as much as many feared. 

4) How would you hope to use the SBC president’s influence/bully pulpit to impact these major challenges?

Restoring trust in the SBC missions system requires more than anecdotes. You must look at the broader picture and the trends. Too often this information is not provided because in a period of decline leaders often fail to reveal the brutal facts. After a decade of decline we must ask and answer the all-important question, “Why?” 

I will also call for an end to the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by our SBC entities, and for most of those currently silenced by NDAs to be released from them. They are used too often to prevent exposing what might be deemed “whistleblower” information. Integrity does not fear Southern Baptists having a right to know the truth.

5) What would you say to those, particularly Black pastors, who are considering leaving the SBC because of discouragement over racial tension?

Racial tension in our nation affects every community and each institution in which there is diversity, including the church. The SBC is a large convention of churches, with great linguistic and ethnic diversity, more than any other network of churches. Nearly a third of the churches in the Northwest Baptist Convention, which I serve, worship in a language other than English. I am frequently in Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese language churches, among others. The beauty of the SBC is not simply our diversity, but that our diverse network of churches unites for making disciples of Jesus Christ among all the peoples and languages of the world. Southern Baptists find unity in our theological convictions, as outlined in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, and in our common mission commitment to the sending of missionaries, the education of pastors and missionaries and the evangelization of our nation.

One final point is that the source of much of the racial tension in the SBC is a lack of relationship to formulate ways to approach the issues and build respect for each other. This is not the sole source of tension, but it is a major source, from what African-American pastors have told me. We need to talk together, plan together and pray together.

6) Why should any pastor or church remain with the SBC, or join it—what is good and strong about our convention right now?

When someone surrenders to ministry and missions in your church, you have a network of schools and seminaries for training, a network of churches in which to serve, and mission capabilities that are unmatched. With all our troubles, and they are substantial, Southern Baptists still train more leaders, start more churches and send more missionaries than any other ministry network. We are a people who strive to obey the Scriptures, which we hold to be inerrant and completely sufficient for faith and practice.  

Y’all come back now!

My suburban church is running about 50 percent of what it ran 13 months ago; my Sunday School class is also about half as big as it was. That’s been the story for months, even before any of us had received a vaccination. I understand that some are particularly at risk, and there are some other pretty good reasons to come back slowly, but I have come to believe that some of us are just out of the habit. I get that, but we mustn’t just accept that tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest. 

There are some important things in peril if we corporately, or I individually, stay away from our church body longer than necessary. If you’ll consider the metaphors the Bible uses to describe a church, you see what I mean. 

A church is like a family with God as our father, Jesus as the firstborn heir, and we as children, sisters and brothers. Did you grieve missing birthdays or holidays with family members over the past 12 months? I did. In fact, I’ve determined that I will not willingly have again a Christmas as strange as Christmas 2020. Big talk maybe, but you probably know what I mean. I missed grandkid birthdays, funerals of friends and a host of other things that will never be repeated. My point is not to whine but to say that family matters deeply to most of us. Do we grieve what we’ve missed with our church family in the same way? Are we eager to once again rejoin the comfort and joy of seeing our church kin? It should be important to us for our own sake and for the sake of our brothers and sisters. 

A church is also like a body, connected and interdependent. The head of the church made up of all the redeemed of all the ages is Jesus Christ, and he is also the head of your local church. But we are the members, the limbs and organs and digits and eyes. The thing the Bible emphasizes is how important we are to the well being of other church members, even as our specific gifts and roles are distinct. While I would grant that we live out our gifting in places beyond our regular gathering, that face-to-face time with the brethren and sisteren enables our ministry to each other when we are not together. There is also the fact that we regularly think of those with whom we are closest; regular gathering reminds us of those who are not as much like us in age, culture or interests—the rest of the body. 

I think the longest Tammi and I have been apart has been about three weeks when she was caring for an ailing relative. I thought about her constantly; everything reminded me she was not here in the house. We were still married and we still talked, but we were apart. That length of time made me miss her more as the days rolled on. Do you ever feel that way about your church? Yes, the relationship continues while we are away for a long time, but it’s missing something that you sense more urgently the longer you don’t see one another. We all continue to be family, and we even keep track of each other in an incomplete way, but the intimacy of the relationship begins to wane over time. 

Maybe you lose that desire to be together after a while. I’ve seen people just “get out of the habit.” Often there is a reason for staying away for a while, good or bad. To me it is dreadful to be away from your church family so long that you no longer mind it—an ominous threat to your spiritual vitality. Fact is, no church uses the giftedness of a person who doesn’t come. I don’t believe that you benefit from the gifts and encouragement of other church members when you are never around them. You will inevitably cool spiritually when this happens. When you can’t go for health reasons or extended travel, you think of being away as unfortunate, temporary. When you can go but choose to not do so until you feel like it again, I’m concerned that you won’t. I’ve seen it happen and you likely have as well. 

So here’s my sermonette. When you can, go back to church. Maybe for you it needs to be after you’ve been vaccinated—fine. For others it may extend to a family member you care for and that loved one’s vaccination. Okay, we’re on the same page. But fear getting out of the habit or growing cold in your love for your church family.

And for church staff. I’ve been one of you and found delegating to others one of my weakest points. Last year was a lousy year for delegating the ministries of the church to church members. Last year is over. When the church begins to ramp back up its regular ministries you may need to go after your formerly regular volunteers, twist arms and empower those who have been faithful in the past. As strange as church ministry has become for church staff members, it’s likely just as strange to lay leaders. 

Watch your church online as long as you absolutely positively must, and no longer. Take advantage of that Facebook Live thing when you’re home due to the plain-old flu some Sunday. But through it all, eagerly anticipate a face-to-face reunion with those God has made your family.   

CP: Moving forward together for the glory of God

April 25 is Cooperative Program Day! It is also my spiritual birthday. Fifty-one years ago, I trusted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. 

By his grace I was called to the preaching ministry three months later. Beginning at that time and continuing to this day, the Cooperative Program has been a part of my spiritual life.

At 17 years of age, I attended Louisiana College. The Cooperative Program provided partially for the housing, meals and professors. Sadly, the experience was not positive. I ran into theological liberalism at the school. (LC has since been reclaimed for biblical fidelity.) When I realized how the institution was funded, I talked with my pastor. I wanted something done. Good and godly people were giving their tithes and offerings to support something that was undermining the faith of the students. 

Instead of staying and working to change the system, I bolted, leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. For six years I wandered in the wilderness outside of the SBC. The Conservative Resurgence got in motion during that time. The thrust of the resurgence was to return missions and ministries to the grassroots Southern Baptists who were paying for it. God called me back to the SBC to make a difference.

A portion of my education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was paid by Mom-and-Pop Baptists in the pew. Their gifts through their local church participation in the CP enabled me to be trained. As a pastor participating in mission trips, I saw firsthand how in North America and internationally God was using the CP to fuel gospel work. When I transitioned to become a director of missions, I understood associational giving was separate from CP. Yet state convention partnership in church planting and SBC involvement in a local off-campus seminary site served the churches. The Cooperative Program made associational ministries better for everyone. 

When I came to Texas, there were state conventions telling churches that they could give designated funds and it would be called “Cooperative Program.” Designated funds strike at the very heart of the CP. By definition, the CP is an undesignated giving channel. Undesignated giving is an open-handed gift from an open heart enabling us to do more together.

Now for the last 22-plus years I have observed how churches have sacrificially given to accomplish the Great Commission. New churches are being started, adding to the hundreds that have been started in Texas over the years. Human suffering is alleviated through Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Struggling churches are given new life through revitalization. Evangelism is enhanced through training and tools. Students are reached for Christ. A new generation is being engaged. Beyond Texas, missionaries are penetrating darkness in North America and around the world. Seminary students are being equipped for ministry. All of this and so much more is possible because of the Cooperative Program. Thank you, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, for what you have done to the glory of God. 

There are critics of the Cooperative Program. All human endeavors have their flaws, but what we have as Southern Baptists is the best option for gospel advance. Your investment of time, energy, and dollars, especially through the Cooperative Program, is well worth it.

April 25 is Cooperative Program Day! Just as CP has contributed to making my life and ministry more effective, to the glory of God, I encourage you to set aside time in your church to celebrate what God has done. You can find resources at whatiscp.com. You can contact the SBTC office at 817.552.2500. Someone will come to your church and share about this gospel tool known as the Cooperative Program. Let us stay together and move forward for the Lord Jesus Christ!  

Lighting an evangelistic passion in any church

My first pastorate, on a back road through the tobacco fields of Kentucky, had a church building with room for about 12 pews, four Sunday School classrooms, and an old graveyard beside the church. 

It also had a well-worn path to the “bathroom,” which was outside because we had no running water inside. The biggest day we ever had in Sunday School was 50 people. It was a record-breaking high attendance. I was the pastor for only a year, but that year we baptized 25 people—even though we normally had an attendance of 35-40. We managed to baptize the equivalent of over 60 percent of our normal attendance for multiple reasons. No matter how much larger the churches I’ve pastored since then might have been, those reproducible principles I practiced in that little Kentucky congregation still help us reach people for Christ. I want to discuss one of those principles here. 

The Passion Principle 

As a student, I was the grader for an evangelism professor at Southwestern Seminary. On nearly every test this question appeared: “What are the two indispensable ingredients for church growth?” The answer was: “The pastor must want to grow and the people must want to grow.” No church is evangelistic by accident—you have to want it. You might say, “But we all want to see people saved.” It is true most believers would say they want to see more lost friends and family members come to Christ. Wanting it to happen, and wanting it badly enough to do something about it, however, are two different levels of passion. 

One way of moving spiritual passion to strategic practice is by identifying your desired outcome. In other words, set some evangelistic goals for your church. In a 2017 article on evangelism, Thom Rainer cited numerous reasons why setting evangelistic goals for the church usually increases evangelistic effectiveness. According to Rainer, research has shown that churches, even those with little to no history of evangelistic passion, can see dramatic results when they start setting goals for evangelism and then acting on those goals. I have found that to be true. 

Some may argue that goal setting reduces the transformation of souls to a “numbers game” or a secular endeavor. Of course, it’s true that any well-intentioned focus can be tainted by selfish motives, but even the Great Commission itself is a God-sized goal-setting strategy for evangelism. Jesus challenged 11 outnumbered, over-awed disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). World evangelization is a pretty big goal, wouldn’t you agree? If you want to reach more people for Christ, you must want it badly enough to identify some goals and do something about them. 

For years I’ve heard that John Knox—the leader of the 16th-century Scottish reformation—once prayed, “Lord, give me Scotland, or I die!” That kind of passion for evangelistic effectiveness isn’t secular or selfish. It grows out of a passion to see more people saved. It has its roots in a statement by the apostle Paul who passionately declared, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). Paul had such an ardor for the lost he would have been willing to go to hell if it meant more lost people being saved and going to heaven! Passion for evangelism motivated Paul to preach throughout the Roman empire, often experiencing prison time, riots, illness, injury, and eventually execution. Passion makes the difference between saying we want an evangelistic outcome and doing whatever it takes to lead others to Christ. 

Do you want to see more people saved? Do you want your church to be more effective in evangelism? How badly do you want it? There are numerous other factors for increasing evangelistic effectiveness other than the passionate desire to see it happen, but without passion it’s unlikely we will ever make the effort to do the others. You have to want it.

Passion for reaching the lost should also eclipse everything else on our agenda. As Charles Spurgeon once said that “our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ, and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity.” In other words, our passion for the salvation of the lost is more important than other less significant distractions and arguments which devour our time and energy. In light of eternity, what is more valuable than a human soul? 

Do you have a passion for reaching the lost? If you do, your passion is an indispensable factor in leading your church to reach more people for Christ, and lighting a fire of desire in the hearts of the people of God.