Month: May 2021

With gratitude for you all

This is my last executive director’s column for the TEXAN. Believe it or not, words fail me. I could never express my thanks to the many people who have made this journey such a joy.

God gave me an assignment that was for his purpose, and by his grace I have finished my course. I will leave it to the historians to comment about my service. I leave it to the Eternal Judge to determine the efficacy of my work for his glory.

Not wanting to sound melancholy, I must reiterate my thankfulness about the next and final chapter of my life and ministry. When I was called to preach at age 17, God did not give an expiration date. I will seek to be used of him until I can no longer physically proclaim his unsearchable riches. My “yes” is on the altar for whatever he has in store for me.

My wife, June, has given sacrificially of her life to further the cause of Christ. She answered God’s call the summer before we met. All through these years she has fulfilled that calling from Jesus as well as being a cheerleader for me. God gave me an incomparable helpmate. She was truly the first lady of the SBTC in more ways than one.

Our children supported my SBTC work. Our girls, Rachel and Rebekah, were out of the house when we moved to Texas, but they were impacted by my schedule. Our son, Nathan, was eight years of age when I became executive director. Unlike the girls who saw me as their pastor, he grew up knowing me in a different role. Without complaint, he accompanied me many times on road trips. After reaching adulthood, he remained a prayer partner as did the girls. Since the founding of the convention, June and I have been blessed with five grandchildren. Now, I will have more time to be with them.

I would be remiss if I neglect mentioning the staff with whom I have had the privilege to serve. Some of God’s choicest servants did yeoman’s duty to benefit the churches. Some were with us for a brief time as God moved them to other places of service. Others were with me for over a decade. The list of people worthy of recognition is too long for me to share. However, there is one who has been a stalwart: Joe Davis. He has been a right arm to me for over 20 years. Integrity is his hallmark.

As to the future of the convention, I could not be more optimistic. Our new leadership in Nathan Lorick will continue to hold to the uniqueness of the SBTC while remaining flexible in meeting the needs of the churches. William Carey said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” As long as the convention is a confessional fellowship based on the inerrant Word of God, it will be blessed. This does not mean there will always be financial and numerical growth. It does mean that God will honor those who honor his Word. The rising generation is ready to take the mantle.

The winds of chaos are blowing in our nation. Unfortunately, most churches resemble the culture in mirroring the dysfunction. My prayer for the future, for my children and grandchildren, for the SBTC\SBC, is that God will have mercy and send a spiritual renewal to the saved and a spiritual awakening to the lost. This is my heart for the future.

So, as I end my time as executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, I leave you with a grateful heart. I have been blessed so much more than I have contributed. May God bless you, your family, your church and the efforts we do together as the people known as the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

‘Texas Heartbeat Bill’ anti-abortion measure becomes law

AUSTIN  Gov. Greg Abbott promised he would sign into law Senate Bill 8, the “Texas Heartbeat Bill,” if it came to his desk. He did just that on May 19, as the 87th Texas Legislature neared its close and the Lone Star State became the latest and largest state to pass a bill of its kind. The governor’s signing of the bill comes soon after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case concerning a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks. The Texas House of Representatives had passed its version of the heartbeat bill, HB 8, on May 6, by a margin of 84-68. The bill, originally proposed by state Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, was submitted to the Texas House by state Rep. Shelby Slawson of Stephenville, the Dallas Morning News reported. Slawson, whose mother had been advised to have an abortion when expecting Slawson because of developmental issues, explained her own story when presenting the bill to the House. Slawson’s mother delivered a healthy baby who grew up to become a pro-life advocate. Texas Senate Bill 8 was a top priority for Republican lawmakers, the majority of whom signed on as authors or sponsors of the measure. The Senate bill bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Opponents argue that this is before many women are aware they are pregnant. Abortion rights advocates have objected to a provision in the bill that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone else who knowingly “aids or abets” a procedure that violates the ban. The measure includes an exception if the life of the woman is in danger, but not for rape or incest. Over a dozen states have passed abortion bills of their own. Recent bills have survived court challenges while earlier bills have frequently been struck down or temporarily blocked. Pro-life advocates believe the Texas bill’s unique language, including its provision for civil action, could help it survive in court. “Unlike those other states’ bills, this bill gives private actors the exclusive responsibility of enforcing the law through state causes of action,” said Rebecca Parma, senior legislative associate at Texas Right to Life. “And that’s the difference that we hope will help this bill stand where those other bills have been enjoined.” Parma’s comments were reported in the Dallas Morning News. Abortion providers often sue the state to stop restrictive abortion laws from taking effect. But the Texas Heartbeat Bill is not enforced by a state official. “It’s a very unique law and it’s a very clever law,” said Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, in comments reported by the Texas Tribune. “Planned Parenthood can’t go to court and sue Attorney General [Ken] Paxton like they usually would because he has no role in enforcing the statute. They have to basically sit and wait to be sued.” The Texas Tribune noted that the bill’s signing “opens a new frontier in the battle over abortion restrictions as first-of-its-kind legal provisions — intended to make the law harder to block — are poised to be tested in the courts.” Abortion proponents have promised to challenge the new law, which takes effect in September. Before signing the bill, Abbott said, “Our Creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives, and that’s exactly what the Texas Legislature did this session.” What it means for churches Tony Wolfe, associate executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said Abbott’s signing of the heartbeat bill “is a victory the SBTC celebrates as a step in the right direction. We pray for continued measures in the Texas Legislature and gubernatorial office that would uphold the right to life of the preborn.” “SBTC churches have been steadfast in their conviction that ‘Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord,’” Wolfe said in a written statement, quoting Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the SBC’s statement of faith. “Every preborn baby is worth our tireless efforts to champion and preserve the dignity he or she carries as an image bearer of God.” Texas Right to Life described enactment of the ban as “a historic step” in the fight to protect life. For Nathan Loudin, pastor of Austin’s Milwood Baptist Church and chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, the bill is “definitely a big step” in reducing the prevalence of abortion in the state, while noting that abortions had been decreasing anyway in recent years. From 2006-2010, Texas averaged roughly 80,000 abortions per year, Loudin said. That number steadily declined to under 60,000 before “plateauing” at 55,000 in 2020. “It’s an important part of the narrative,” he told the TEXAN, explaining that the state is already seeing the effects of fewer abortions. Senate Bill 8 will only “continue the trend” that we are already in. Loudin said the new abortion restrictions may create the need for more crisis pregnancy centers that need communal support, but this is not all churches can do. In addition to supporting crisis pregnancy centers by supplying finances and counselors and conducting diaper drives, congregations must “consider how to make the young mothers and fathers welcome in our churches, our homes, our Sunday gatherings,” Loudin said. “Will they find grace and support from the church itself, rather than just in a parachurch organization?” he asked, noting the need to provide “discipleship, friendship and support for that worried mom, that confused, disoriented dad” who did not expect to be parents. Loudin called on churches to be “good neighbors” to what may well become a new constituency. Loudin recommended following the activities of the TERLC and signing up for its newsletter at https://sbtexas.com/ethics-religious-liberty/. The committee also addresses transgender issues, religious liberty and gambling, among other matters of moral consequence, he said. This article also contains reporting from Baptist Press, the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Tribune.

Roundup: Greear challenges college leaders to be gospel multipliers

FORT WORTH The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s annual Roundup collegiate ministry event kicked off Wednesday night, May 12, with worship and a message from North Carolina pastor and Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear. 

Speaking at Common Grounds, part of Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth, Greear challenged college students to lay down their “yes” and be willing to go wherever the Lord calls them.

Roundup, which has been held for the last decade, drew over 250 college students and ministry leaders from eight states this year. Mitch Tidwell, SBTC collegiate ministry associate, called the event unique in that in targets college ministry done in the local church rather than through parachurch organizations.

“The biggest thing here is that this is an event for local churches,” Tidwell told the TEXAN. “In almost every other area of ministry in the building, that’s a no-brainer, but in the college world and in Southern Baptist life, it is one of the only events specifically designed for church-based college ministry. I just love that we’re investing in that and have decided to put resources behind that.

“This is the conference that the church-based leader comes to and they are the primary target audience. And I think that’s what makes Roundup what it is.”

Encouraging kingdom growth

Greear’s message to open the event focused on “the most strategic mission field,” as he challenged college students to not miss the opportunities God has presented them for kingdom impact.

He shared the vision of The Summit Church, which 12 years ago set a goal to plant 1,000 churches. According to Greear, 468 churches have been planted in that time by over 1,400 Summit members—mostly college students—who have been mobilized.

Greear described Summit’s practice of meeting with college seniors active at the church.

“We meet with our seniors and say, ‘God loves you. We’ve got a wonderful plan for your life. Will you put your yes on the table and let God put it on the map?’” he said. “We say to all of them that unless they’ve heard from God audibly or turn 30 years old, whichever comes first, they need to plan on spending at least the first two years after they graduate on one of these church plants.”

Greear next discussed the rapid spread of the gospel after the resurrection of Jesus, citing statistics from sociologist Rodney Stark that there were likely only about 7,500 Christians at the end of the first century.

With only 7,500 believers with “no money, no political influence,” whose very faith was illegal, Christianity spread to over “half the Roman empire” so much that the emperor converted 200 years later, Greear noted. He cited Stark’s explanation that the early church “had a sense that the Great Commission belonged to every single believer, that every Christian was responsible to multiply, every church was responsible to multiply.

“The DNA of multiplication was in every single believer, so that they all understood that it was their responsibility to go make disciples.”

Greear suggested we may be seeing the end of the megachurch era, that the movement “hasn’t really quite worked” because of a lack of emphasis on multiplication: “the one thing that actually would multiply the church forward in every single generation.”

Noting there are more Southern Baptist churches in America than there are Starbucks, McDonald’s and Subways combined, Greear asked, regarding the spread of the gospel: “What if just a third of those churches understood it was their responsibility to multiply? And what if each of them said we’re going to have one church that we plant this year?” 

He challenged college students who are “coming online” at a strategic point in church history, as the COVID-19 pandemic draws to a close, to see ways in which the past year opened doors for the gospel.

Calling all Christians

“You’re alive in a moment when God is doing something,” Greear urged, enumerating five “mind shifts” necessary for the church to embrace a culture of multiplication: 

  1. The greatness of the church occurs only through individual members filled with the Spirit.
  2. Unchurched and de-churched people can only be reached by disciple-making disciples.
  3. Every believer is called.
  4. God multiplies the ministry only as we give it away.
  5. Risk is right for the Great Commission.

Calling is for every Christian, Greear said, not just a mystical, sacred moment for a few. 

“The biblical truth in Matthew 4:19, the calling to leverage your life for the Great Commission is included in the call to follow Jesus,” he said. “The question is no longer if you are called; the question now is simply where and how.”

He challenged the college students to intertwine their commitment to the gospel with their other gifts and passions, leveraging all their talents for kingdom impact.

The rest of Roundup was held at First Baptist Colleyville, May 13-14, and featured Drew Worsham and Dusty Thompson addressing the general sessions. Breakouts and panels led by more than two dozen experts along tracks for student leaders and pastor and college ministers allowed participants to choose among more than 20 topics, from leadership development to counseling to conflict resolution to discipleship to communications to evangelism.

Next year’s Roundup is scheduled for May 11-13, 2022, its location to be determined, Tidwell said.

Praying for souls

Christian history repeatedly tells the story of powerfully effective evangelistic advances that trace their origins to prayer. Pentecost is our first example. After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were suddenly equipped with eyewitness evidence of the risen Savior.

Yet in spite of the Resurrection, there exists no record of a single soul being saved or baptized for 50 days. It wasn’t until after the 10-day prayer meeting in Jerusalem that one sermon led to thousands of conversions and 3,000 baptisms.

Moving forward in history we meet a young George Whitefield, who would come to be known as “the father of American evangelism.” While he was a student at Oxford in the 1730s, he prayed with unusual fervency. His prayer life was the key to his future success in evangelism. In his diary, he wrote, “I spent whole days and even weeks on my face before God.” Later, his evangelistic ministry led thousands to faith in Christ and shook the New World awake to God in the pre-revolutionary Great Awakening. His secret was his strangely intense dependence upon prayer.

In New York City, in 1857, a dying church launched a noon prayer meeting that grew so quickly it was soon spreading to other major cities of the United States. Within 18 months, more people were saved per capita than at any time before or since in U.S. history. The phenomenon has been called the Prayer Revival of 1857-1858.

On the mission field, prayer was also the key to many people coming to Christ. In India, John “Praying” Hyde wasn’t particularly skilled in learning the complicated languages of the people groups, and he lacked some of the natural gregariousness expected of a missionary. In the late 1890s Hyde was in Punjab, India, seeing little success. Starting in 1899, however, he began frequently spending whole nights in prayer for the conversion of souls.

In 1904, convinced the problem for the missionaries was spiritual, Hyde began leading a wider movement of prayer for evangelistic results. By 1908, Hyde was praying to see one person saved and baptized every day of the year. Through the growing intensity of his prayer life, he saw that vision come to fruition. The next year he doubled his goal to pray for two people a day to be saved and baptized. That year he saw 800 people come to Christ. By the time of his early death at age 47, if four people had not confessed Christ that day, Hyde refused to eat or sleep until he had “prayed through,” resulting in at least four people saved per day.

I could go on but space does not permit me to recount the miracles of prayer experienced by “Father” Nash, the prayer warrior associated with the evangelist Charles Finney. Also, the Welsh Revival, which spread all over the world in the early 20th century, essentially started as a youth prayer movement. The Shantung Revival among Baptist missionaries in the late 1920s and early 1930s was likewise the result of a renewed commitment to prayer.

In our own times, the prayer revival at Northeast Houston Baptist Church, led by Pastor Nathan Lino, has produced an unprecedented number of people coming to Christ and being baptized. A similar revival in the Nashville area has seen hundreds of people baptized this year following Pastor Robby Gallaty’s months of private prayer.

God is still answering prayer when Christians pray for souls to come to Christ. One of the most important keys to a more effective evangelistic harvest is more prayer. Paul said it like this: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1 ESV). Obviously, Paul’s prayer was passionate as he described it as his “heart’s desire.” His prayer was also straightforward intercession as he simply described interceding for his Jewish friends and family as an appeal to God that “they may be saved.”

More prayer is the key to more people coming to Christ. Billy Graham once observed that there were three ingredients for a successful evangelistic crusade- prayer, prayer, and prayer! The same is true in our personal lives and our churches.

As churches, we are challenged to pray for the lost as we begin our public worship services:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Are you regularly praying for the lost to be saved? Is your church a “house of prayer” focused intently on the salvation of many souls? If not, why not?

Prayer is certainly not the only factor for reaching more people for Christ, but in its absence, nothing else will be able to take its place or make up for its omission. As S. D. Gordon once observed, “You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you’ve prayed.”

If you want to be more effective in evangelism you need to pray more in secret and with others in prayer meetings, interceding for the lost to be saved. Scripture, history, and experience leave us no alternative but to pray for souls.

Prayer is certainly not the only factor for reaching more people for Christ, but in its absence, nothing else will be able to take its place or make up for its omission.

Honoring the past, embracing the future

It’s good to be home. In fact, when I drove my vehicle back across the Texas state line in March, I felt a sense of excitement, gratefulness, and anticipation for all that God will do. 

I am extremely honored to serve the churches of the SBTC. As I think about the task that lies ahead, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for those who have led us up to this point. From the very beginning, men like Ronnie Yarber, T.C. Melton, Casey Perry and countless others have poured their lives into furthering the kingdom through the ministry of the SBTC. However, there is one man who deserves to be honored with the highest accolades: Jim Richards. 

Jim Richards has been a faithful leader of the SBTC for 23 years. His leadership is unparalleled; his integrity is impeccable and his love for the SBTC and its ministries is inspiring. All of these things are commendable and observable. 

However, the Jim Richards I know and have had the opportunity to serve under and now alongside, is much more than the things the public sees. First, he is faithful to the Lord in his walk. I have on occasion had the opportunity to stay in his home. Early in the morning, you would find him in his study, reading the Word of God and praying for the people and churches of the SBTC. This was not on some large stage, but in the shadows; there, you find faithfulness. 

Second, he is a family man. I have been challenged and encouraged as I have seen Jim Richards love his wife and kids. He is gentle and loving and makes me want to be a better husband and father. Third, he is a mentor and friend. There have been many times when he would send an unsolicited text or email letting me know he is praying for me. All of these things, though not public, are what makes Jim Richards who he is. I have had few men make the impact on my life as he has done. So, we say to Dr. Richards, thank you for your leadership and for giving your life to the SBTC. We are better because of you. 

Anytime there is transition, we honor the past but must embrace the future. If the Lord allows and tarries his coming, there will be much time in the days ahead to discuss the future. In a world that is ever changing, we must always be adapting to better serve our churches while holding fast to biblical truths and our core values. Victories and challenges are sure to arise. However, one thing will always ring true: the SBTC is here to reach Texas and impact the world!

SBTC gives $500,000 grant to SBC national and global missions

NASHVILLE—The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) presented $500,000 from its financial reserves Thursday (May 20) to the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to support national and international missions.

SBC EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd expressed appreciation for the gift, which was approved by the SBTC Executive Board and presented by retiring SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards and Executive Director-elect Nathan Lorick.

“Since the inception of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, they have demonstrated a strong commitment to our Great Commission mission and ministries across America and the world,” Floyd said. “Above and beyond their ongoing generous support of forwarding 55 percent of all their Cooperative Program receipts to our national SBC ministries, this over and above gift of $500,000 is truly amazing and appreciated.

“Thank you, SBTC churches, for your generosity and testimony of advancing the Gospel throughout America and around the globe. The missional leadership of Jim Richards all of these years will live on through his successor Nathan Lorick. Thank God for these two godly men.”

More than 50 percent of the gift to the SBC EC’s allocation budget is designated for the International Mission Board, and 45 percent is tagged for North American Mission Board missions and theological education.

“It is a joy for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to be able to give more towards advancing the Gospel at home and across the world,” Lorick said. “The generosity of SBTC churches giving through the Cooperative Program provides us the opportunity to support our SBC entities and their ministries to see the world won for Christ.

“It is our prayer the Lord will multiply our gift to see people come to Christ, churches strengthened, churches planted and pastors cared for. It is an honor to walk hand-in-hand and heart-in-heart with our SBC partners.”

The gift is among $2.4 million in grants the SBTC approved in April, including grants to support the work of Southern Baptist state conventions located outside the South, and donations to Jacksonville College, the Montana Southern Baptist Convention and Yellowstone Christian College, the Southern Baptist Texan reported.

The grants were awarded despite 2020 SBTC receipts that were $2.3 million under budget. The necessity of moving events online during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed SBTC to underspend the budget by $3 million, SBTC Chief Financial Officer Joe Davis said at the April executive board meeting. Davis reported SBTC reserves of more than $10.3 million as of February.

Lorick began April 1 as SBTC executive director-elect after Richards, SBTC’s founding executive director, announced his retirement. Lorick will transition to executive director July 1.

Russell Moore announces departure from ERLC helm

NASHVILLE—Russell Moore is leaving the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, ending an occasionally controversial eight-year tenure, to take a role with Christianity Today.

Moore, who has served as president of the ERLC since June 2013, announced May 18 he will begin a role this summer as a public theologian for what the magazine described as “a new Public Theology Project.” In a message posted to his personal blog, Moore said the project “is devoted to cultivating a forward-looking, joyful, consistent gospel witness.”

“I’ve struggled with this decision,” Moore wrote, “because my gratitude for the honor of serving the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is so deep. As I conclude my time serving Southern Baptists as ERLC president, I am filled with gratitude as well as excitement for the future.”

Moore said he was “thankful for Southern Baptists, whom I love and to whom I owe so much.”

David Prince, chair of the ERLC’s board of trustees and pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., expressed gratitude for Moore’s service and sadness over his resignation, which is effective June 1, but said the ERLC’s trustees would identify a new leader to continue the ERLC’s work, which he described as “essential to the SBC.” Daniel Patterson, the ERLC’s executive vice president, will serve as acting president.

Moore was the eighth president of the entity, which is tasked with helping churches understand the moral demands of the gospel and public policy, as well as promoting religious liberty on behalf of Southern Baptists. Originally created by the Convention in 1913 as the Social Service Commission, it became the Christian Life Commission in 1953 and the ERLC in 1997.

In a release announcing Moore’s departure, the ERLC noted that under his leadership, the entity advocated for “human dignity, religious liberty and justice before Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court,” and touted accomplishments including:

  • • Leading a group of faith leaders in a push “for religious liberty for child welfare providers and conscience protections for medical professionals.”
  • • During a debate in 2017 on tax reform, the ERLC’s advocacy helped prevent the elimination of the Adoption Tax credit.
  • • Within the last year, the ERLC was involved in ensuring faith-based organizations could access funds from the Paycheck Protection Program created as part of the COVID-19 relief stimulus package in 2020. During the pandemic, the ERLC worked with local, state and national government officials, attempting to ensure the First Amendment right to religious liberty was taken into account when instituting restrictions on religious gatherings.

But during Moore’s tenure, the ERLC has at times been a flashpoint of controversy within the SBC, most notably in reaction to his opposition to candidate and president Donald Trump.

In both the 2016 and 2020 elections, Trump received overwhelming support from self-described evangelicals. But Moore cited character deficiencies he said were disqualifying. In an op-ed column for the New York Times in Sept. 2015, Moore wrote that to support Trump, “evangelicals and other social conservatives” must “repudiate everything they believe.” He later attempted to clarify, saying he understood many of Trump’s evangelical supporters were motivated by biblical convictions and voted their conscience. But the backlash from some Southern Baptists was fierce.

In 2017, Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, criticized Moore’s “disrespectfulness towards Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present.” Prestonwood—one of the largest churches in the SBC –announced it would escrow Cooperative Program funds over “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the” ERLC.

In 2017 and 2020, task forces were formed by the SBC Executive Committee to study the ERLC’s impact on the Cooperative Program. The 2017 task force reported impact on the CP was “not as significant in fact as it is in perception.” The study found withholding to be “lower than anticipated,” identifying 14 churches as confirmed as “escrowing, designating or withholding funds” from CP estimated at a total of about $1.5 million.

At the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting, a motion attempting to defund the ERLC was rejected by an overwhelming margin.

In a report issued in February 2021, a second EC task force acknowledged both support within the SBC for the ERLC and that some see it as “a source of significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.”

The report cited responses from a questionnaire sent to the SBC’s 41 state conventions. Fifteen responded. Without identifying them, the report described those state conventions as serving 60 percent of the SBC’s 47,000-plus churches and giving 74 percent of the total Cooperative Program funds received by the SBC Executive Committee.

While several of the state executives who responded “reported little to no negative effect” from the ERLC’s ministry, several others reported multiple instances of churches reducing giving or withdrawing from the state and/or national conventions. According to the state executives, those churches reported several reasons for their decisions, but often included concerns about the ERLC – including a list of rumors and anecdotal reports. Collectively, according to the task force report, the state executives reported negative impact on CP giving totaling millions of dollars.

The task force report asserted that “the current perception of the leadership and direction of the ERLC by many Southern Baptists is a substantial impediment to the growth of the Cooperative Program,” with “potential for a measurable decline in the near future and beyond” if there are not “quick and significant changes in that perception.”

In response to the second EC task force report, Prince, the ERLC’s board chair, said: “I think Southern Baptists can see this report for exactly what it is and are ready to move on from this moment and focus on our mission together. The ERLC has served Southern Baptists faithfully during a time of political, cultural, and in some cases, denominational chaos. … All this and more is why I am grateful the ERLC serves our churches with a vibrant and bold gospel witness day in and day out.”

Moore had previously served as dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At his inauguration as ERLC president in 2013, Moore rooted the ERLC’s mission in proclaiming the gospel, saying the kingdom of God is “not made up of the moral. The kingdom of God is made up of the crucified.” He also said the “end goal of the gospel is not a Christian America,” but instead a Revelation 7:9 vision of “redeemed from every tribe and tongue and nation and language” dwelling in the new Jerusalem. He said on his watch, the ERLC would “stand as good American citizens,” fighting for justice, liberty “for all those things that have been [guaranteed to us] by the Constitution as Americans, but we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom.”

In announcing Moore’s hiring at Christianity Today, Tim Dalrymple, the president and CEO of the evangelical magazine, described Moore as “indisputably one of the most significant evangelical voices of our time,” adding in a statement: “He illuminates the relevance of the gospel to the whole of life, from everyday matters of faith to the great debates in our society and culture.”

In a statement, Moore said he was “thrilled to join” Christianity Today, which he said “has meant a great deal to me in my faith journey.”

“We need to recover a theologically orthodox, intellectually credible, socially engaged, missiologically holistic, and generally connected witness for American evangelical Christianity,” he said.

In a statement released Tuesday, Prince said:

“On behalf of the ERLC board of trustees and Southern Baptists everywhere, I want to extend our deepest gratitude to Russell Moore for his eight years of principled, energetic and prophetic ministry. He led with integrity, courage and convictional kindness during tumultuous times. It has been our joy as trustees and fellow Southern Baptists to be on mission for Christ and His kingdom with the utmost confidence in Dr. Moore’s leadership and in the effectiveness of the commission’s ministry.

“Though we are sad to see his time leading this entity come to a close, we wish him the best and will continue to look to his leadership and voice in American evangelicalism. The importance of the ministry assignment Southern Baptists have given to the ERLC remains essential to the SBC and our trustees will now begin taking the necessary steps to identify the next president for this organization.”

SBC exhibits: Vision 2025, diversity, panels and resources on tap

NASHVILLE (BP) – Cooperation, the Great Commission, responding to godly callings and enhancing diversity will be main topics at the SBC Executive Committee’s Vision Stage at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting June 15-16 in Nashville.

The Vision Stage, formerly the Cooperative Program stage, will target the topics in keeping with its theme, Advancing Vision 2025, according to Willie McLaurin, the EC’s vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization.

“We have reimagined and redesigned the Cooperative Program Stage. The panel discussions will center around topics that will equip and encourage pastors and churches in their task of advancing the Great Commission,” McLaurin said. “Baptists are best when we have the opportunity to dialogue together. The Vision Stage will provide a family-friendly atmosphere where helpful conversations will take place.”

A growing slate of featured panelists will include SBC EC President Ronnie Floyd; International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood; North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell; Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Fred Luter of New Orleans; First Baptist Church of Cleveland, Tenn., Pastor Jordan Easley; Long Hollow Baptist Church Pastor Robby Gallaty of Hendersonville, Tenn.; and D.A. Horton, associate teaching pastor of The Grove Community Church in Riverside, Calif.

This year’s panel discussions will put a “laser sharp focus” on advancing missions and ministry through the CP, McLaurin said. A select group of the more than 1,500 individuals who have been engaged virtually in the SBC Young Leader Pipeline will participate in a special panel discussion.

Other panels will focus on:

How to build a church culture that can produce more missionaries
Advancing church planting across North America
Funding missions at home and around the world
Calling out the called
Rebuilding the church post-COVID
Reaching, equipping and mobilizing Asians, Hispanics and African Americans
Reaching, baptizing and discipling 12- to 17-year-olds

Sessions on evangelism, congregational prayer and increasing ethnic diversity are also on tap. Six ethnic fellowships are participating, including the National Asian American Fellowship, the National African American Fellowship, the Fellowship of Native American Christians, the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, the National Fellowship of Hispanic Southern Baptist Churches and the Filipino Southern Baptist Fellowship.

Giveaways will include “Ten Percent: A Call to Biblical Stewardship,” the curriculum study “It’s A New Day For Financial Freedom” and other stewardship resources.

A full three-day schedule of the events, which begin at 8:30 a.m. daily, will be available on the SBC mobile app and will be listed in the annual meeting’s daily bulletin.

Also slated for the exhibit hall:

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

The ERLC will feature its new “Stand for Life” materials and the latest issue of the award-winning Light Magazine, focused on the issue of life. Messengers and guests will receive various giveaways and will be able to write encouraging notes for distribution to expectant mothers who may be considering abortion. The notes will be sent to pregnancy resource clinics around the nation.

Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention

The benefits of training students in the challenging setting of the American West will highlight Gateway’s exhibit. At the school’s alumni and friends luncheon June 16 at noon in room 102A/B of the Music City Center, President Jeff Iorg will report on Gateway’s journey through the COVID-19 pandemic and announce alumni award winners. Seating is limited. Tickets, $10 each, can be purchased here.

GuideStone Financial Resources

GuideStone’s popular Wellness Center will offer personal health assessments June 14-16, beginning daily as the exhibit hall opens and ending Monday and Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Wednesday at 1 p.m. The free assessments, valued at $150 each, will include blood-based cholesterol and glucose screenings, providing reports suitable to take to a family doctor. GuideStone staff will be available during all exhibit hall hours to meet with participants about their retirement accounts or to speak about insurance coverage.

Giveaways will include a backpack and water bottle at the GuideStone Property and Casualty display and the nearby booth of Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, with which GuideStone has an alliance to provide property and casualty coverage and education. Free copies of devotional books written by GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins will be available, including “The Nehemiah Code,” “The James Code” and “The Believer’s Code.” All author royalties and proceeds from sales of the books benefit Mission:Dignity. Free promotional materials for Mission:Dignity Sunday, June 27 on the SBC calendar, will be available at MDSunday.org, or by texting MDORDER to 41444.

International Mission Board

IMB’s 2021 exhibit will be a celebration of the unity found in our Revelation 7:9 vision – a multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language worshiping before the throne. While there is much to celebrate, 4.5 billion people remain unreached on the earth. The global need for the Gospel is more urgent than ever. The Great Commission Baptists who visit the IMB exhibit will learn how they can play a part in advancing God’s kingdom every day.

Lifeway Christian Resources

Lifeway Christian Resources’ 8,800-square-foot exhibit will offer a store containing a wide selection of books, Bibles, boxed cards, music, small-group studies, Spanish resources and other Christian products. Other features include onsite demonstrations of newly launched digital curriculum experiences and a sneak peek at recent and upcoming enhancements at lifeway.com. Lifeway’s Auxano team will be onsite to consult with church leaders about vision and mission. Visioneering Studios representatives will be available to talk with churches about intentional environments for ministry.

Lifeway staff will help messengers and guests plan and select appropriate materials for group Bible studies and offer information on Lifeway’s ongoing studies including Bible Studies for Life, The Gospel Project, Explore the Bible, and You, as well as short-term Bible studies. Digital tools to enhance personal relationships with Christ and help discipleship will be available.

Lifeway Films will be sharing information on film screenings scheduled during the annual meeting, including the Kendrick Brothers’ documentary “Show Me the Father” and the Voice of the Martyrs’ dramatic film “Sabina.”

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Prospective students are invited to visit the MBTS booth for a promo code to waive the seminary’s application fee. Admissions team members will be ready to answer questions about opportunities for training for ministry in the local church setting, on the mission field or in the marketplace. Various giveaways will be featured.

Reservations will be available at the booth for MBTS events including the For the Church Nashville micro-conference, at noon June 15, and the alumni and friends luncheon June 16 at noon.

The alumni and friends event will include a free, private concert with singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Visitors to the NOBTS and Leavell College booth will learn of exciting changes taking place at the New Orleans site, including a new House System at Leavell College, campus renovations with today’s student in mind, and Kingdom-focused degree offerings at every academic level. Faculty and admissions personnel will be on site to answer alumni and prospective students’ questions about campus life, renovations, new degree offerings and ministry opportunity in the unique ministry setting of New Orleans.

Giveaways at the booth bearing NOBTS/LC colors and a new logo highlight the NOBTS/LC commitment to prepare students to walk with Christ, proclaim His truth and fulfill His mission.

North American Mission Board/Send Relief

A virtual prayerwalk experience will highlight NAMB’s exhibit on how “The Gospel Unites” Southern Baptists in reaching North America through church planting and evangelism. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn how they can engage the mission of church planting across North America through prayer and personal involvement.

Send Relief’s exhibit will feature an opportunity for attendees to actively participate in backpack ministry and to learn how churches can share the Gospel in their communities through compassion ministry. Visitors to Send Relief’s exhibit will also have a chance to receive the forthcoming book “Make the Call” by Mark Richt, former college football coach at the University of Georgia and the University of Miami.

Seminary Extension

Those interested in the theological education and ministry training Seminary Extension offers are encouraged to visit the booth. Courses are available through select Southern Baptist associations and churches and through independent home studies. Seminary Extension staff look forward to meeting prospective students, alumni, instructors and friends.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

SEBTS will highlight its focus to “Fulfill the Mission,” designed to ignite the passion and calling that Jesus has for His disciples today. A “Pray for the Nations. Fulfill the Mission” campaign will ask visitors to commit to pray for specific unreached countries and to send postcards urging others to pray for targeted countries. Copies of the spring edition of Southeastern Magazine will be available, highlighting how SEBTS is fulfilling the Great Commission in unique ways.

Giveaways will include an iPad set and various books including “40 Questions about the Great Commission” by SEBTS President Danny Akin and George Robinson. Learn about Akin’s new resource for pastors, “Understanding the Bible (Hermeneutics).” Anyone interested in learning more about how SEBTS can help build solid theological and biblical foundations and offer valuable and practical ministry insights is encouraged to visit.

Southern Baptist Foundation

Visitors to the Southern Baptist Foundation booth will be greeted with Tennessee moon pies and encouraged to explore how they can have an impact the Kingdom by the legacy they will leave. They also will be challenged to think about causes they love and discover ways to support them. Visitors can register to win a Fender guitar autographed by multi-platinum band MercyMe. They also can win a giant soda bottle filled with money by guessing the amount. For more information, visit the booth or email sbfdn@southernbaptistfoundation.org.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

A number of resources and giveaways will be available for all visitors to the SBTS exhibit. Featured giveaways include the newly released “Psalms of Ascent Journal” by Jim Hamilton, and “flash giveaways” of the latest faculty publications including “The Person of Christ: An Introduction,” by Stephen Wellum; “The Church: An Introduction,” by Gregg Allison; and “The Gathering Storm” by SBTS President R. Albert Mohler Jr. The latest Southern Seminary Magazine will also be available.

Convention attendees can connect with alumni, professors, friends and prospective students throughout the exhibit area. Tickets to SBTS events will be available, including a presentation on religious liberty with Mohler and SBTS Ethics and Public Theology Professor Andrew Walker at 9 p.m. June 15 in the Music City Center’s Davidson Ballroom, and the annual alumni and friends luncheon June 16 at noon in Grand Ballroom C of the Music City Center.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

SWBTS will feature a new exhibit with quotations from SWBTS founder B.H. Carroll and the ninth and current president, Adam W. Greenway. Visitors to the exhibit will receive the latest issue of Southwestern News, with features on the Fort family’s missions legacy, which began on Seminary Hill; a student evangelist who is a refugee from Rwanda; the seminary’s doctoral programs; and an excerpt from the recent Seminary Hill Press book, “The B.H. Carroll Pulpit.”

Daily giveaways will feature seminary-branded and Texas-made T-shirts, coffee mugs and notebooks. A Ministry Now Conference prize pack will be given away, including all expenses for two to the September event and other ministry equipping resources. SWBTS faculty and staff will host the exhibit and explain the seminary’s programs. Tickets to the alumni and friends luncheon on June 16 in the Music City Center will be available while supplies last. During the luncheon, three new distinguished alumni will be honored and participants in the luncheon will receive the newest Seminary Hill Press title, “Profiles of Faithfulness: Revised and Expanded.”

Historic 53-year pastorate, church financial freedom hallmarks of John Morgan’s career

While many things can be said of John Morgan’s ministry, perhaps nothing speaks more to his passion and character than the length of his tenure at Sagemont Church.

Founded in 1966, Sagemont called Morgan as its first pastor. He served there for 53 years, committed to seeing the gospel go out to the world from suburban Houston.

As a seminary student in Fort Worth in 1966, Morgan said he wasn’t expecting the phone call from Gene Alexander, a banker who attended his father’s church. Alexander asked him to fly down and see the burgeoning city and the empty rice paddy in southeast Houston where they were planning to build a church. 

“He began to tell me the story of the First Baptist Church of Pasadena, which had started a mission in every part of the city. NASA was coming in and they had gotten word of a builder that was wanting to have two churches in his building area, one a Methodist and one a Baptist,” Morgan told the TEXAN.

Though he had recently been offered a pastorate with a higher salary at an established church, Morgan said he and his wife Bethel did not have peace about accepting that call. But after his visit to Houston and his conversation with Alexander, Morgan said they found the peace they were looking for and he accepted the Sagemont position.

Back to his roots

“The Lord strongly spoke into my life, and to my wife, that he was bringing me back to where I was born,” he said.

Part of Morgan’s sense of calling stems from growing up as the son of a missions-minded pastor, L.D. Morgan, who led FBC Pasadena, the church Alexander had noted for its mission outreach, for 33 years. Every time FBC Pasadena reached 1,000 people, they would plant a church with members who lived in that part of town, Morgan said.

When it came to Sagemont, however, there were only two people who lived in the area where the new church was being built. Morgan said that after arriving, he spent the first few months personally inviting people to be a part of the church when they launched.

“When I came down here, I knocked on every door of the area that we were going to reach out to and told them what we were going to do and invited them to some meetings we had in homes,” he said. “The first Sunday we had 151 in attendance, and we had one young man saved who is a member of our church right now, and his son was a missionary for quite a while and is back on staff at our church now.”

Of those in attendance that first Sunday, 50 people decided to join the church—despite the toilet overflowing into the sanctuary just hours before the service started. 

Morgan noted many qualities that made Sagemont unique, including the sense of unity within the church.

“I retired after 53 years, and we never had an ugly word spoken in a church conference or a deacon’s meeting or any committee meeting in all of those years. There was just something that brought us into one accord,” he said.

Church unity was such that when it came to voting to approve deacons, the lowest percentage a deacon nominee ever received was 99.7% in secret ballot voting.

Debt-free policies lead to financial freedom

One well-known legacy of Morgan and Sagemont has to do with the church’s approach to finances. According to Morgan, when he started in ministry most of his contemporaries and mentors believed that going into debt was a perfectly acceptable approach to church finance.

In 1975, as he read through the entire Bible, Morgan was convicted by a verse in Deuteronomy regarding a command not to borrow, and he was surprised as he looked through Scripture to see that God’s people never borrowed anything to complete the work God had called them to.

This conviction led Morgan to challenge the people of Sagemont to pay off all of their loans and never again borrow money for anything they were planning to do.

“When we got out of debt, it just changed everything,” Morgan said.

One of the ways in which the church was able to get out of debt was by taking on a challenge to give back to the Lord everything they made for 40 days. To make the most out of that time, many from the church did odd jobs around the community to make extra money to give back to the church.

During one of these jobs to help out a family that had recently moved to the area, an unsaved man named Jim was so surprised by the church’s generosity that he demanded to speak with Morgan. Later that night he gave his life to the Lord, and his wife told the church that she had been praying for Jim’s salvation for over 20 years.

Morgan’s book Financial Freedom and his Financial Freedom seminars, which have been presented to over one million people, are rooted in the principles he honed at Sagemont, bringing the church to fiscal health, with every building project and undertaking since paid for in cash. 

According to Morgan, church members have given close to $400 million since its founding.

Sagemont’s financial practices proved contagious, and pastors like John Bisagno, Bailey Smith and W.A. Criswell sought Morgan’s help in doing similar things at their own churches. He told the story of being asked by Criswell to speak at First Baptist Church Dallas and being so nervous at preaching for the SBC luminary that he forgot his Bible in Houston.

“I prayed that the Gideons had put a Bible in the hotel room,” he added, chuckling.

As stewards of God’s money, Morgan said that Sagemont decided early to advertise the church in ways that wouldn’t require expenditures. That approach required creativity on the church’s part but blessed the community.

Instead of placing paid ads on television or in the papers, Sagemont started making the front page for good news as God revealed local projects, Morgan said.

For instance, Morgan said the church refurbished and purchased new furniture for the teachers’ lounges at a local school, which brought significant favor with the community. After a local student died in the middle of a basketball game, Sagemont offered to cover funeral costs when the young man’s family lacked the means to pay. 

“Very quietly … with just the people that needed to know, we paid for the cemetery lot and the funeral,” he said. “The next week, the headlines of the paper told what Sagemont had done.”

At one point the church was even named Citizen of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce.

What’s next?

In addition to his financial ministry, Morgan is also known for his mentorship of younger pastors, something he plans to continue in his next season of ministry as he stays involved with the Timothy Barnabas mentoring initiative sponsored by the North American Mission Board.

“It’s what we call a Paul/Timothy kind of thing where every Timothy needs a Paul. I had one in my dad when I was Timothy and my dad was Paul,” Morgan said in an interview upon the occasion of his 2019 retirement from Sagemont.

“I love to talk to pastors,” he told the TEXAN. “The thing I tell them is to try to leave out all of the language regarding ‘my’ church, but to keep the role of being a servant.”

As he speaks of Sagemont’s legacy, it is clear that Morgan views people—and their commitment to the gospel—as the central ingredient to any success he has had as a pastor.

“Sagemont has been blessed not because of me, but it has been blessed because it’s been able to keep the main thing the main thing,” he said of the megachurch.

Matt Carter, who followed Morgan into Sagemont’s pulpit in May 2020, said of his predecessor: “His impact for the kingdom in the city of Houston and beyond is impossible to quantify. People tell me all the time, ‘you have big shoes to fill.’ I disagree. They’re giant.”

“’Retirement’ is only a word and not a reality to Brother John,” said Kathie Reimer Morgan, whom John married in fall 2018, a year and a half after Bethel’s death in May 2017. Their combined five children, spouses, and ten grandchildren keep the couple busy. Morgan and Kathie’s first husband Jim, a pastor who also died in 2017, were friends. 

Morgan welcomes opportunities to preach and teach, especially in the areas of evangelism, financial freedom and church growth. An avid sportsman, he enjoys reaching men who share his love of the outdoors.

Morgan may be contacted through his administrative assistant, Beverly Chambers, at 713.725.4056, directly at 281.414.5433 or at JohnMorgan.sbc@gmail.com.