Month: June 2021

Southern Baptists minister to Music City Center workers during annual meeting

NASHVILLE (BP) – As Southern Baptists from across the country gathered for the annual meeting last week, many were intentional about sharing the love of Jesus with the staff at the Music City Center.

Because of the size of the event, the Music City Center hired additional contract workers to assist during the week of the meeting.

One temporary worker, a young woman, accepted Christ as Savior through the ministry of the worship team from Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.

Andy Williams, Long Hollow’s worship pastor, said although the Sunday night prayer and worship meeting was supposed to start at 5:30, God was working in the room prior to that.

Williams said when the worship team arrived in the Davidson Ballroom for soundcheck at 3:30, they noticed a young woman working security and watching the room.

The team initially attempted to talk with her and develop a relationship, but according to Williams she did not seem very enthusiastic about being there. They learned she had been working security in the Ballroom on her own since 7:30 that morning.

“We were trying to be really nice to her and get to know her, but she just seemed ready to go home and didn’t care about what was going on,” Williams said. “At one point she even said ‘I don’t even know why I’m here, there’s nothing happening in this room.’”

Over the course of the next few hours of preparation for the prayer night, the team continued to talk with the young woman and even brought her dinner as she had not eaten all day.

About 10 minutes before the prayer night was about to start, Williams said one of worship team members suggested they pray over this worker.

The worship team, along with Long Hollow Senior Pastor Robby Gallaty, asked the woman if they could pray for her. The woman began sharing her life story and how she is now clean from drug addiction and had recently been struggling with her mental health.

Gallaty, whose testimony includes recovery from a $180-a-day heroin addiction, briefly shared his story with her.

Williams said Gallaty told her “recovery without Jesus is like a dead-end street” and asked her if she had ever given her life to the Lord. Through tears she prayed with the team to receive Christ.

“She was crying the whole time, and everything Robby was saying you could tell was hitting her right in the chest,” Williams said. “You could just tell her life was being changed in that moment.”

Gallaty opened the prayer gathering by telling this salvation story, which Williams said caused the crowd to erupt and “shifted the mood in the room.”

“Her life has been so hard and she’s sitting in the back and she’s hearing 1,500 people cheer her on,” Williams said. “It was almost like a physical representation of what Heaven was doing.”

Williams said the young worker told her after the show she had recently lost her grandmother and this night was the first time she had felt seen in a while.

He said the incident made him want to slow down and be more intentional about the things and people around him.

“It’s one of the coolest God-stories I’ve been able to witness,” Williams said. “At the core of why I do ministry is not to be an excellent worship leader, the core of what I do is about people. But I have caught myself on Sundays just focusing on the songs. It can take things to another level if you actually take the opportunity to walk through the crowd like Jesus did and you can see needs. You just never know what God can do with that.”

Intentionality can describe what some Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers displayed in their dealings with an engaged couple also working as temporary staff at the Music City Center.

Disaster relief workers traditionally volunteer as childcare workers during the annual meeting, and this year the volunteers struck up a relationship with two MCC staff who were working security for the room and discovered they were engaged. After developing a relationship with them, the volunteers wanted to minister to them.

Ron Crow, disaster relief director for Kentucky Baptists, said some of the volunteers bought the couple a Bible, signed it and wrote notes to them, and included a financial gift to help them start their life together.

Additionally, many volunteers spoke highly of the couple to their MCC supervisor, and according to Crow, the couple ended up getting hired by the MCC on a more permanent basis after the week.

David Hampton serves as a blue hat, or site director, for Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief.

Hampton said he spoke with the couple every day and was one of the volunteers to suggest to the supervisor hiring the couple permanently.

Although they did not make a decision for Christ, Hampton said the couple told him the week had changed their lives. He said he wanted to help show the couple the love of Jesus and what Southern Baptists are really about.

“Southern Baptists are a Christian organization, and our job is to build relationships with Christians and non-Christians and to disciple them, no matter where they are, who are they are, what their job is or anything like that,” he said.

“Any time we come in contact with people, we are supposed to minister to them and try to disciple them and show them who Christians really are and what Christians believe. We are people who abide by the Bible, and the Bible teaches to respect others and talk to others about who Jesus is and what He’s done for them.”

Through refugee simulation, youth at SBC meeting grow in compassion

NASHVILLE (BP) – Among the new words students attending the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting learned were “Dermici” for listen, “yoma” for clock, “Lamichca” for calendar and “itumba” for computer.

At the Youth on Mission morning session June 16, students actively participated in a refugee loss simulation, which opened their eyes to struggles many refugees experience and showed them ways to love their neighbor well.

Heather Norvell, executive director of Begin Anew in Middle Tennessee, shows a poster displaying one of the refugees her organization helped to overcome poverty and receive an education. Photo by Abby Duren

This first portion of the simulation demonstrated to students what it was like for a refugee to enter a new country and learn a new language without using their language of origin as a base teaching tool.

Begin Anew, a Middle Tennessee organization that addresses economic, social and spiritual poverty, led the refugee immersion experience. In the last year, Begin Anew served people from 33 different countries of origin through English language classes, high school equivalency assistance and weekly Bible studies.

“We want to go to the nations, but what we don’t realize is that the nations are coming to us,” said Heather Norvell, Begin Anew executive director.

Norvell works closely with refugees and used this knowledge to teach students attending the simulation about the difficult decisions and losses that refugees around the world face every day.

To give all students equal footing, the new “language” they learned was fake and created by the Begin Anew staff. Leaders taught the students new words without speaking any English. Leaders Andrea Waters and Angela Good taught the new language and encouraged students to listen not only with their ears but also with their eyes, hearts and minds.

Following each experience throughout the morning, the students were asked to discuss with others at their table how the previous activity made them feel. Some shared that during the language learning experience, they felt overwhelmed or not very smart.

Leaders commended the students for their honesty and explained that is how many refugees feel coming to a country where they do not speak the native language. They may be treated as slow or stupid, while in reality, many have advanced degrees in their country of origin. But their qualifications mean nothing in their new country. Begin Anew helps them earn high school equivalency, so they can start over with new degrees.

The next three portions to the refugee loss simulation utilized 16 colored index cards – four yellow, four orange, four green and four pink. Without explaining what the cards would be used for, Norvell asked the students to write four activities they enjoy on the yellow cards, the four most important people in their life on the orange cards, the four things they are most thankful for on the green cards and four roles they currently play in their community on the pink cards.

After writing down each answer on its own card, students were ready for the second step. Norvell announced that everyone had just 30 seconds to look at all their cards and remove one from each color category.

Students’ cries of dismay could be heard around the room.

The countdown began and students frantically looked through their cards and placed the selected ones in the middle of the table. Leaders walked around the room with trash cans, telling students to tear up and dispose of their cards.

When Norvell called time, she explained that refugees have to make split-second decisions of what to take when they run from their war-torn countries. She gave a scenario of a mother fleeing who must decide if she saves only the child in her arms, or if she will risk running to the school to save the other child knowing it is unlikely for her to make it back alive.

Student responses ranged from terror at the thought of such a choice to the realization that in such a reality, guilt would follow them the rest of their lives.

For the third challenge, students were instructed to turn their cards upside down and shuffle them. Without knowing where any specific card was, they then selected one card at random from each color and placed them in the center of the table.

After tearing up and throwing away this set of cards, leaders explained that once refugees leave their home country, they will experience many unknown losses. They may never know if their home was destroyed or if their mother or brother survived.

Some students began bargaining for one card over another as they were told to place them in the trash can. Others grew confused and concerned as they realized the card they had unknowingly selected said “Jesus,” “Life” or “the Bible.”

Though they rightfully argued that Jesus can never be taken away, Norvell explained how in a new country they may not be surrounded by people who believe the same things as they do. Without a church family or with many other faiths trying to influence their own, she said they would likely feel separated from God and find it more difficult to practice their faith.

In the final segment, leaders walked around tables and took cards in varying numbers from students. The announcement of how they would lose cards was received with gasps and surprised shouts of “No!” Several pleaded to keep their cards while others bargained to give up their less important cards.

Some students lost nothing, many lost a few cards, a small group lost everything and some were tricked into thinking they would keep everything just before all of their cards were taken. In this final stage it was clear how well the students understood the simulation. They thought deeply about how these losses would feel in real life.

Through feelings of guilt, discouragement, devastation and powerlessness, the group felt an overwhelming compassion for those who have lost everything. They wanted to share the few remaining things in their life with those who had nothing, which was the Begin Anew team’s goal for the simulation.

The team encouraged the students to continue seeking to understand the losses and struggles of others as they follow the Great Commandment and love their neighbors as themselves.

Downloadable Tech Backgrounds for July 2021

Remember to pray for missions with these custom backgrounds for your computer and mobile devices. Using IMB photos from around the world, you can focus your attention on an area of the world in need of prayer. Check each month for an updated background and pray for the unreached and for your missionaries throughout the year.

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Calendar Background

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Calendar Background (Unbranded)

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Northern African and Middle Eastern Peoples

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SEBTS prison ministry program bears fruit as graduation nears

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) — A single bar of soap was all he needed to survive. Either give a fellow incarcerated person a single bar of soap to square a debt behind prison walls, or suffer the violent repercussions his debtor threatened.

A fellow prisoner enrolled in the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) Field Minister Program saw the entire dispute unfold in the prison unit. The student “created an image of God” by interjecting himself into the dispute and offering a solution, SEBTS Director of Prison Programs Seth Bible told Baptist Press.

“He said, ‘I have a bar of soap. I will settle his debt, but you have to promise me that there will be no violence,’” Bible said of the student’s intervention. “A long time ago I realized that Jesus paid a debt for me that I’ll never be able to repay,” the student reasoned, “and I’ll never be able to do what He did for me. But I have a bar of soap and I can change this situation. I can pay this debt. … Please let me do that. And the guy accepted it. And there was no violence.”

The student who intervened is among 26 incarcerated men on track to comprise the first graduating class of the SEBTS field ministry program at Nash Correctional Institution in Nashville, N.C. A COVID-19 outbreak in the prison in the fall of 2020 shut down all forms of instruction for months, delaying until Dec. 15 the previously scheduled May 2021 graduation. The 26 men are earning bachelor degrees in pastoral ministry that they will use even as they complete their individual prison sentences. An additional 66 men are enrolled.

The Nash Correctional student’s ministry through a bar of soap in Jesus’ name a few months ago is among many such examples of how SEBTS students are already employing new skills to help restore lives inside prison walls. The two prisoners with the dispute had previously agreed upon a bar of soap as payment, but the pandemic prevented the inmate from earning the pennies per hour in prison labor that would have allowed him to buy a bar of soap in the prison commissary. The student had an extra bar of soap only because a church held a “soap drive” and donated the items to SEBTS students at the Nashville facility.

“Those are the little kinds of humane things that very rarely happen in that context,” Bible said, “but the power of that is what has given him an opportunity to speak the Gospel now to all of the individuals involved in that situation. … It spoke the Gospel both in deed and in language in front of a watching group of people that now have a very different idea of what it means to live out somebody’s faith.”

Despite the pandemic, SEBTS launched a program for women in August 2020 at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women (NCCIW) in Raleigh. A dozen women are enrolled in the program, which offers two- and four-year degrees in philosophy, politics and economics, with a minor in entrepreneurship. The program, created at the request of the correctional facility with the same core curriculum as the Nash Correctional degree program, is designed to increase participants’ chances of employment upon release.

All men enrolled in the program at Nash Correctional facility contracted and survived COVID-19 during the prison outbreak that the North Carolina Department of Public Safety said killed four inmates.

Deanna Kabler, SEBTS associate director for prison programs, said the pandemic exacted its toll on the students despite their survival.

“The stress of constant change in the prison, the fear of getting sick, congregant living environment, and loss of volunteer programs such as chapel services, negatively impacted student’s spiritual and psychological well-being,” Kabler said.

“When COVID spread through the prison at the end of the year, most of our students were sick. Thankfully, they all recovered and are getting back to a sense of normalcy in the classroom,” Kabler said. “Maintaining hope with the ever-changing COVID restrictions remains a constant challenge for people in the program. Students are concerned with new prison requirements to receive the vaccine for continuation in the program. Additionally, there are a lot of unknowns and changes that make program management difficult.”

She encourages Christians to pray for those incarcerated and to participate in such ministry outreaches as pen-pal programs.

Bible, who also serves as SEBTS associate dean for leadership and administration, said incarcerated people often respond to challenges in ways similar to those in the larger population, but in a different context.

“They’re disconnected from their support groups in some ways, but in other ways our program … operates in such a way that (students) become a community in and of themselves,” Bible said. “In those really difficult times, those really dark days, they lean really heavily on one another, they lean really heavily on their faith, they lean really heavily on their training and education.

“In comparison to the other (prison) population, I think they probably fared a lot better in that regard.”

The SEBTS program prepares them, Bible said, to leverage their prison time to serve others.

VBS ‘primed and ready’ to begin post-COVID era

NASHVILLE (BP) – As COVID-19 fears ease, Vacation Bible School leaders are especially delighted, as well as thousands of children who will receive spiritual nurture through music-sparked worship, Bible studies, activities, games and crafts.

VBS leaders are yearning to move beyond “the heartbreak we had last year in churches that decided, ‘We can’t do it this year,’” said Melita Thomas, VBS ministry specialist with Lifeway Christian Resources.

Children at First Baptist Church Choctaw, Okla., had fun learning about Jesus through crafts, Bible lessons and songs at Vacation Bible School this summer. Photo courtesy of FBC Choctaw

“I think we’re in a season where we are primed and ready,” Thomas said. “People are hungry for hope. There is a truth that is absolute, a truth that is knowable. We know where to find it. When we go searching for truth with a capital T, we find Jesus.

“Our communities are hungry for that kind of knowledge,” she said, describing the summer of 2021 as “a great opportunity for VBS.”

Unique to this year, churches could choose “Destination Dig,” the 2021 Lifeway VBS resource with an archaeological theme set in Israel, or last year’s “Concrete and Cranes.”

For churches not ready to return to in-person VBS, or those opting for a hybrid of in-person and virtual outreach, Thomas said Lifeway has aimed “to help churches say yes to VBS” with aids for any approach that might be needed.

VBS is “significant kingdom work, which is always true, but especially this year. The time is now, the urgency is here,” she said. “It’s the No. 1 evangelistic tool for almost all of our Southern Baptist churches.”

At First Baptist Church in Nashville, kindergartners learn how to make their own clay pot as they learn about biblical archaeology using Lifeway’s VBS theme “Destination Dig.” Photo by Aaron Earls

A free, 19-page “Virtual VBS Directors Guide” is a key addition to the Lifeway materials for 2021. An updated “4 VBS Strategies” e-book, meanwhile, gives churches four options for hosting a safe VBS this summer – “Traditional VBS” (in church); “Neighborhood VBS” (hosted at homes); “Alternate VBS” (spanning several weeks or a weekend); and “VBS at Home” (livestream media, with home-delivered kits for parents to facilitate Bible study, recreation and crafts). Pre-packaged individual kits were offered this year for the first time.

Lynn Jordan, children’s ministry coordinator for the Capital Baptist Association in Oklahoma City, said VBS “is going to be different” this year, with frequent washing of hands and use of hand sanitizer, more spacing between kids, what games they play and how snacks are served.

Even so, VBS and summer camp often are when kids “understand that they need to make a personal commitment [to Christ]. Not having VBS, not having camp last year, we missed those harvest opportunities.”

Jordan also noted, “We often discover good volunteers during VBS. It may be the first time they’ve done that, and you see they really did a good job and might be willing to plug in to our weekly activities. We also missed that opportunity last year.”

Jack Lucas, leadership development director for the Illinois Baptist State Association, remembers talking to church VBS leaders last year and “the defeat in their voices when they decided against going forward.”

Two children attending Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church Nashville follow along with the motions from a Lifeway “Destination Dig” song. Photo by Aaron Earls

Now he’s hearing, “We can’t wait to get back, but we’re a little nervous because we know it’s going to be different – the world is different, and church life is different.”

VBS is “important on so many levels – evangelism being No. 1,” Lucas said, “but a lot of churches rely on Vacation Bible School to power and boost their kids ministry” toward the start of school.

One positive from 2020’s battle with COVID, he added, is “the creative juices” sparked in churches that had VBS in some form. “I think that’s going to flow into 2021, and we’re going to see churches being even more creative in taking Vacation Bible School to the next level.”

Shannon Meadors, children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Nashville, recounted talking with her church’s leader for pre-teen VBS, Renee Matthews, who said, “My hopes for VBS are that I would be a vessel of connection, that our leaders would be able to connect with our kids, that our kids would be able to connect with each other, and most importantly, that we would all connect with God.”

Melita Thomas, VBS ministry specialist with Lifeway, uses games from the “Destination Dig” VBS theme to teach children about Jesus’ birth at First Baptist Church Nashville. Photo by Aaron Earls

“Especially coming off a pandemic, we just need each other,” Meadors said. “We’re built for community. Kids learn best in relationships. They often connect with God the Father because we’ve made a connection with them – when we say God loves them and has a plan, it resonates with them.

“I’m just thankful to be in a church that knows the importance of VBS,” she said. “Our people get it, that we’ll have the kids for 20 hours. That’s months of Sunday mornings just to pour into them, love them and show them Jesus.”

To access the “Virtual VBS Directors Guide,” go to To access the “4 VBS Strategies” webpage, go to

Seminaries celebrate God’s blessings, honor alumni at SBC luncheons

NASHVILLE (BP) – The six Southern Baptist seminaries hosted luncheons for both alumni and friends during the lunch break Wednesday, June 16, — the second day of the two-day 2021 SBC Annual Meeting. Seminary presidents addressed the crowds with updates from their respective schools, recognized distinguished alumni and welcomed guests.

Gateway Seminary

By Tyler Sanders

Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg recognized Gary Floyd, Charles Grant and Mitch Martin for their “distinguished careers of Christian service” at the seminary’s annual Alumni and Friends Luncheon June 16.

Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg addresses the Alumni and Friends Luncheon June 16. Photo by Abbey Sprinkle

The presentation of the distinguished alumni awards to these leaders was “an opportunity to not only congratulate them, but to inspire others to follow their example to come up to their level of leadership,” Iorg said.

Gary Floyd earned the master of divinity from Gateway in 1981. He served as SBC Disaster Relief director in the Pacific Northwest for 26 years. “He not only served with distinction on the Northwest Baptist Convention staff… but also served in significant ways in national roles with disaster relief for the Southern Baptist Convention,” Iorg said.  

“In 2019, upon his retirement, [Floyd] received the Laddie Adams Service Award, which is the highest award given annually to someone who’s distinguished themselves for a lifetime of service in disaster relief.”

Charles Grant earned the master of divinity from Gateway in 1994 and planted New Life Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., in 1997, where he served as senior pastor for 10 years. From 2008 to 2020, he was a regional church partner for Lifeway. In 2020 he took a position as executive director for African American relations and mobilization with the SBC Executive Committee.  

“We are honored that God has placed this gentleman in national leadership prominence for Southern Baptists and on behalf of Gateway Seminary,” Iorg said.  

Mitch Martin earned the master of divinity in 1983 and the doctor of ministry from Gateway in 1994. He pastored churches in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Nevada and Tennessee. In the Pacific Northwest, he worked as director of missions of the Golden Spike Association in Utah and as a missions and leadership consultant for the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention. He then served as a bi-vocational ministry specialist at Lifeway for six years. He is currently the executive director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association in Memphis, Tenn., and is the founder and leader of the Century Associations Network, an organization that facilitates best practices for leaders or larger Baptist associations.

Additionally, Martin was president of the Northwest Baptist Convention when Iorg was appointed executive director of that convention.

“Mitch and I cut our teeth together in Baptist leadership; me as a young executive director and him as a young pastor serving as president of the [Northwest] convention,” Iorg said.

Following the distinguished alumni recognitions, Iorg shared an encouraging update on the school, saying God has blessed Gateway through strong enrollment, finances and harmony among staff. Most important, the Seminary is strong because of its mission fidelity.

Read the full story here.

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

By Michael S. Brooks

The President’s Report, a presentation of the 2021 Alumni Distinguished Service Award, and a private concert by Nashville-based music artist Andrew Peterson highlighted Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Alumni and Friends Luncheon June 16 at the Omni Hotel in Nashville.

Jason Allen addresses the MBTS Alumni and Friends Luncheon June 16. Photo by Eric Brown

Midwestern’s Senior Vice President of Institutional Relations Charles Smith welcomed nearly 1,000 attendees to the luncheon. Lee Roberson, chairman of the seminary’s Board of Trustees, led the gathering in prayer before President Jason Allen delivered his report.

Allen expressed optimism regarding the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting before sharing positive news related to the growth of Spurgeon College’s undergraduate programs, updates on the seminary’s For the Church Institute online training resource and significant additions to the seminary faculty.

Following his report, Allen invited retired pastor Michael Catt to the platform as the recipient of Midwestern’s 2021 Alumni Distinguished Service Award.

Catt attended Midwestern in 1975 and recently retired from pastoral ministry after 32 years of service at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. Catt has also served as executive producer of Sherwood Films, an independent film company based in Albany that has produced major Christian motion pictures such as Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous, among others.

“When I came to Midwestern Seminary nine years ago, we were reviewing the possibilities to award an Alumnus of the Year award at a gathering such as this,” Allen said. “Pastor Catt’s name was one of the first names that came to mind, but I was disappointed to find out the seminary had previously recognized him as Alumnus of the Year. However, this year, we could not let Pastor Catt’s ministry transition pass without honoring him.

“This award is given to Pastor Catt based on his many decades of faithful service to the Lord, Jesus Christ, as pastor of one of our convention’s leading churches, his stellar reputation as a man of God, and his commitment as a spiritually mature and spiritually-minded man. Pastor Catt’s impact has emanated far beyond the congregation he has pastored, and we are delighted to present him with this year’s award.”

Catt said he was honored to receive the award, though it was unexpected, and he announced a forthcoming personal donation to Midwestern Seminary’s Spurgeon Library, saying, “I did not expect this, but I am grateful for it, and I am grateful for all that God is doing at Midwestern Seminary.”

Catt indicated his intention to donate a first edition copy of Charles Spurgeon’s autobiography, along with a personally signed letter written by the famous Baptist preacher’s wife, Susannah Spurgeon.

Following the award presentation, Peterson concluded the event with a private concert. The quick-witted Peterson delighted event attendees with playful banter and a setlist composed of several of his most well-known songs, including “In the Night,” “Dancing in the Minefields” and “Is He Worthy?”

Read the full story here.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

By Gary D. Myers

A capacity crowd of 700 New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College alumni and friends gathered during the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting to fellowship and celebrate what is happening at the seminary.

“I’ve watched every day as God has shown up and been faithful to us,” Jamie Dew told NOBTS alumni and friends. Photo by Robin Jackson

NOBTS and Leavell College President Jamie Dew utilized the June 16 luncheon to share his vision for the school. He started by sharing what he had learned about the “School of Providence and Prayer” when he first arrived at NOBTS.

“As an outsider, I knew that’s what we were called, but I could not give an account as to why,” Dew said. “It’s been two years now; I don’t need anyone to explain it to me anymore. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve watched every day as God has shown up and been faithful to us.”

Dew said the brokenness and lostness throughout the world should guide all the efforts of the seminary and the churches the graduates serve. Dew pointed to a “haunting” statement by International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood – every day, 155,000 people die without Christ.

“It puts everything that we do at the seminary in perspective,” Dew said. “When you see that need, it causes me to approach every single thing we do with a great vision and a greater passion – that is to bring the light of Jesus Christ into that darkness.

“We are either going to do that or die trying.”

Dew said the opportunities for NOBTS and Leavell College are vast, and they are uniquely equipped to training ministers for the urban setting, for missions, for mercy ministries, for evangelism and for church planting.

“Southern Baptists need NOBTS and Leavell College to be distinctly herself,” Dew said.

To close his time with alumni, Dew challenged them to give, send students, and to pray.

He introduced two new giving opportunities for alumni and friends – the new Alumni Association, which offers discounts, library access and other benefits and is designed to foster community, and the Providence Society.

Dew closed his time with a call to prayer – not for growth or expanded programs, but that the seminary family would honor God and be a part of His mission.

The alumni also heard encouraging updates from other seminary and alumni leaders.

Stephanie Lyon, women’s life coordinator, shared about the new Prepare Her initiative at NOBTS and Leavell College. Prepare Her focuses on academic training, spiritual formation, skill development, and fellowship.

George Ross, church planting professor and a North American Mission Board Send missionary, shared about the immediate impact of the new church planting center on the seminary campus. Ross said the center has already hosted hundreds of church planters and missions and is being used as a training base for future missionaries and church planters.

Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and former SBC president, spoke about the joys and challenges of being a pastor – especially pastoring in a unique place like New Orleans. Luter concluded that NOBTS and Leavell College are uniquely positioned to prepare pastors to serve anywhere God calls.

Read the full story here.

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

By Lauren Pratt

The Alumni and Friends Luncheon of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) was filled to capacity on the last day of the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting June 16.

J.D. Greear, Ed Litton and Johnny Hunt join Daniel Akin on stage at the SEBTS Alumni and Friends Luncheon June 16. Photo by Abby Duren

Hosting nearly 800 alumni, friends and supporters, SEBTS President Danny Akin welcomed the attendees from the stage with a past, present and the newly elected president of the SBC. The crowd paused for a moment as all attendees joined Akin, Johnny Hunt, and J.D. Greear to pray for SBC President-elect Ed Litton.

Akin then shared updates about Southeastern, including the addition of the Sam James Church Planting Endowment as well as Great Commission stories of alumni who have served in ministry for more than 100 combined years.

The Sam James Church Planting Endowment, announced by Akin and Greear during the luncheon, will enable SEBTS to recruit, train and send more church planters around the world. Akin and Greear urged those in attendance to consider giving to endowment with the goal of raising $1 million to train ministers to fulfill the mission. The fund is named after a longtime International Mission Board missionary, who served more than 50 years in 115 countries.

“We want to honor [Sam James] because of his passion for the Gospel and his love for Southeastern,” Akin said.

Johnny Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership with the North American Mission Board, said based upon his background of poverty and lostness he never imagined he’d one day have a part in raising up the next generation of scholars to lead churches.

“I would have never dreamed that there would be a Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching,” Hunt said. “I’ve never considered myself a scholar. … I’ve considered myself a hot-hearted, Gospel preacher my entire tenure, and I still feel the same.”

Hunt encouraged attendees to consider giving to the mission of SEBTS, so that more students can be trained to share the Gospel and lead churches around the world.

Litton celebrated the Great Commission DNA that makes up SEBTS and encouraged alumni to continue giving to the work of equipping leaders to fulfill the mission.

“Because of the people who lead this institution, you have ‘go’ in your DNA, and it will never leave. It’s who you are… and you’re changing the world for the glory of God,” Litton said.

The luncheon also featured video testimonies from missionaries, including James as well as Dr. George Braswell, who, along with his wife Joan, served as the first missionaries to Iran in 1968.

The lunch concluded with a time of music led by award-winning artist Ellie Holcomb. 

Read the full story here.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

By Jeff Robinson

Two longtime pastors were named alumni of the year Wednesday afternoon, June 16, at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s alumni luncheon during the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville.

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler announced David Dykes and Josh Manley as co-alumni of the year.

Dykes holds both a master of divinity and a doctor of ministry from the seminary. He has served as senior pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, since 1991 and will retire on August 31.

Dykes also did post-doctoral studies at Cambridge University, focusing on biblical art from the Renaissance period. In 2017 he received an honorary doctorate from East Texas Baptist University.

He also served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Gardendale, Alabama, for many years and was one of the first conservative trustees at SBTS who helped bring about the recovery of orthodoxy at the seminary in the 1990s.

He is the author of 19 nonfiction books including: Handling Life’s Disappointments and Do Angels Really Exist? David has also written a trilogy of action novels: The Cloudstrike Prophecy, The Jerusalem Protocol, and The Masada Proposal.

David and his wife, Cindy, have two grown daughters, Jenni Holman and Laura Grace Dykes, and four grandchildren.

For the past eight years, Josh Manley has served as senior pastor of RAK Evangelical Church in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.

Manley graduated from SBTS in 2011 with a Master of Divinity and again in 2013 with a Master of Theology in New Testament. During his years at SBTS, he served as an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church and as producer of the Albert Mohler Program, the radio precursor to Mohler’s current podcast, The Briefing. Manley joined the luncheon via livestream from UAE.

Prior to entering vocational ministry, Manley worked as an aide in the U.S. Senate. He is married to Jenny, and they have five children: Reeves (13), Caroline (11), Miriam (9), Harper (5) and George (2).

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

By Ashley Allen

A capacity crowd of 700 gathered at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Alumni and Friends Luncheon at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 16, to honor three distinguished alumni, announce plans for a newly endowed chair, hear from newly-elected SBC president and SWBTS alumnus Ed Litton and hear updates from President Adam W. Greenway.

Ed Litton and Steve Gains join President Adam W. Greenway at the SWBTS Alumni and Friends Luncheon. Photo by Adam Covington

Litton, a former member of the board of trustees of Southwestern Seminary who earned a Master of Divinity there in 1986, addressed the gathered alumni.

In his introduction of Litton, Greenway said, “Dr. Litton, we are excited for your service over this next year, and I want you to know that in any way and in every way Southwestern Seminary can serve you and serve our Southern Baptist family, as Jesus said, ‘You have not because you ask not.’”

Litton said he will “never forget the loving care I received from my professors like Roy Fish, Malcolm McDow, people who loved us through our difficulties and our trials.”

Steve Gaines, a two-time graduate of Southwestern and the most recent alumnus to serve as SBC president, led the group in praying for Litton. Gaines prayed for Litton what Gaines’ wife prays for him, that God would “wear him like a glove.”

In honoring distinguished SWBTS alumni – D. Hance Dilbeck, Jr., Thomas J. Nettles and Roy J. Fish – Greenway said, “One of the highest honors our seminary can bestow upon one of our own is to name that person a distinguished alumnus.”

Dilbeck, president-elect of GuideStone Financial Resources, earned Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from the seminary and later served as SWBTS trustee chairman. He also served as the executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and pastored churches for 27 years.

Nettles co-authored Baptists and the Bible with L. Russ Bush in 1980, a 40th anniversary edition of which was released in 2020 by Seminary Hill Press. The book proved Baptists’ historical commitment to inerrancy of Scripture as Southern Baptists passionately debated the issue.

In a video tribute to Fish, the audience heard from the late Southwestern Seminary evangelism professor in his own words. Fish said part of the training at Southwestern Seminary “is the training to share one’s faith. You may not have the gift of evangelist, but you have the role of witness. Every Christian has the role of witness.”

Greenway said he “is part of a generation … where you can’t ever think of Southwestern Seminary and not think of Roy Fish.”

“If Roy Fish is not a distinguished Southwesterner, then no one is,” Greenway said.

As several generations of Fish’s family, including his wife of more than 50 years, Jean, made their way to the platform to receive his award, Greenway asked those in the audience who had Fish as a professor to stand. More than half of the 700 attendees stood.

The luncheon concluded with updates from Greenway regarding the seminary. Noting the challenges COVID-19 had on the seminary, Greenway commended “the resiliency and the incredible work of all of our faculty and staff.”

Greenway said Southwestern Seminary at its best has always been known for a great faculty, noting the faculty had gone “above and beyond” during the pandemic. Greenway expressed thanks for the leadership of David Dockery, Southwestern Seminary’s interim provost and distinguished professor of theology.

Greenway also reported that applications for the upcoming fall semester are double what they were at the same time last year.

Reflecting on the strong attendance at the luncheon, Greenway said, “When you look around this room, dear friends, this is the big tent vision. This is the one Southwestern vision. … Southwestern Seminary at its best has always been the seminary able to bring Southern Baptists together around the things that matter most.”

Southwestern Seminary’s seventh president, Kenneth S. Hemphill, concluded the luncheon in prayer.

Read the full story here.

Christian worker responds to SBC resolution with prayer guide for Uyghurs

A Uyghur family prepares dinner over an open fire.

Editor’s note: Delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 15-16, 2021, passed a resolution concerning the Uyghur people and calling churches to pray for them. The following article explains how you can pray for this hurting people.

Life for Muslims in the province of Xinjiang in Northwest China has changed drastically over the past four years, and the transformation has been heartrending. To hear about the persecution is agonizing, but to be living in the middle of the suffering is unimaginable. While international awareness has grown, the Uyghur [WEE-ger] people have seen little change or relief from oppression. They continue to live as captives, both physically and spiritually.

The Uyghur are a Muslim people group of Turkic background. Although scattered all over the world, at least 10 million Uyghur live in Xinjiang. Of these millions, most have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel. Because of their belief in Islam, they seek to do enough good works to outnumber their sin so that on judgment day they might have a chance of entering heaven.

Throughout history there have been fruitful seasons of Christian witness among the Uyghur in Xinjiang, but seasons of persecution and government restrictions have seemingly extinguished the small beginnings of a church among them. This season is one of the latter.

Since 2017 at least 1 million Uyghur have been detained and held in reeducation centers, separated from family and suffering horrible atrocities. Their language and culture are slowly being erased as the Chinese government hopes to assimilate the Uyghur into Chinese culture. At times it seems that darkness has won. Hope seems lost.

The Uyghur long for freedom — freedom from constant surveillance, imprisonment and suffering. Freedom to speak their own heart language, to be at home and with family, to work the job of their choice. Freedom to practice their religion — even to simply speak the name of God or to pray. They long for a physical deliverance from very real suffering and captivity.

They also hunger for deeper freedom, though most of them don’t consciously understand their spiritual state before God. They need deliverance from seeking to earn their salvation through good works, from the hold of fear, from sin, from being separated eternally from the one and only, true, Creator God.

Most Uyghur don’t know that Jesus offers them spiritual freedom. Most have not heard that He wants to give them life. They wait in darkness.

Uyghur women pick cotton in fields on the Kyrgyzstan and China border.

We know that God sees the suffering of the Uyghur people. He knows each person being held against their will in a camp or prison. He sees every cruel act and every injustice. He sees the location of every Uyghur man, woman and child — even if their family cannot see them or does not know. He sees how very lost they are.

And God cares. He cares for the orphans, separated from their parents and being raised in dorms at schools. He cares about the Uyghurs’ fears that keep them awake at night. God is concerned about their mistreatment. Every tear that is shed is seen and stirs the heart of a caring Father who hates injustice and loves the precious people He created. He does not want them separated from Him eternally because of their sin.

God wants to deliver and save the Uyghur people, and He wants to give them eternal freedom.

Please pray that the current evil being done to the Uyghur would be stopped, and that they would be rescued from their oppression.

Pray for Uyghur everywhere to have an opportunity to hear about the Deliverer who was sent to the world and that the Spirit of God would cause them to believe the truth they hear.

Pray that hope would replace fear in the lives of the Uyghur, as we believe God’s Word is true: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

The post Christian worker responds to SBC resolution with prayer guide for Uyghurs appeared first on IMB.

6 reflections from SBC21

There has already been a lot of ink spilled on the events of SBC21. But before we close the  book on a very good annual meeting, I thought I would take the opportunity to set forth a few highlights and offer my own perspective about the state of the SBC as we move forward together.

Few of us knew what to expect heading into this year’s annual meeting. From the messenger pre-registration numbers, we could tell it was going to be a capacity crowd that shattered attendance records from recent years. The number of anticipated messengers continued to climb in the weeks before the meeting, and as they did, curiosity and concern about what would happen rose along with them.

Would the annual meeting be a fractured and contentious two-day civil war? Would the debate over CRT reach a boiling point? Who would be the next president? And how would we feel when it was all over? Those were just a few of the questions being kicked around ahead of our time together in Nashville. 


But when the day finally arrived, something amazing happened: Southern Baptists came together. We didn’t just meet together physically; we came together under the banner of Christ. 

At the outset, I found myself sitting next to two men, older saints whose views and preferences (even clothing) in many ways certainly did not match my own. But we stood shoulder to shoulder and prayed next to one another. We sang praises to God together. At several points, we cast votes the same way. And when we didn’t, we simply turned to one another to discuss the reasons why. Honestly, it was wonderful. 

There is something special about being together in the room. For too many of us, two years without an annual meeting and the coldness of online discourse allowed a defensive posture to develop. But from my vantage point, that largely dissipated once we were in that room. I don’t mean that every person in the room was totally unconcerned about our differences. But I do mean that I think most of us felt grateful to be there together and proud of the faith and practice we hold in common.

Among the two big stories coming out of the annual meeting, our shared sense of unity is certainly one of them. Looking at the final tallies from the presidential runoff, you might think the two candidates being separated by less than 600 votes represents a deep divide. But if you were there, you know that one vote doesn’t tell the whole story, because on so many occasions, the room overwhelmingly expressed the same opinion on a range of issues. For my part, I could not be more grateful for the sweet spirit of unity that permeated so much of those two days.

Sexual abuse

The other major story coming out of the annual meeting was the resolve of the messengers to continue to address with absolute seriousness the scourge of sexual abuse among us. The abuse of the vulnerable is heinous. And it is especially so when those being preyed upon are victimized in places where they are supposed to receive spiritual care and instruction. Ahead of the annual meeting, significant allegations surfaced about the potential mishandling of the SBC’s response to the issue of sexual abuse in some of our churches by certain members of the Executive Committee. 

In response to those allegations, Grant Gaines and Ronnie Parrott, local church pastors in Tennessee and North Carolina, announced their intention to call for the newly-elected SBC president to appoint a task force to oversee an independent, third-party investigation of these allegations. Gaines called for that action in the form of a motion on the first day of the meeting. But because it involved a specific SBC entity, under the convention’s rules that action was automatically referred to the Executive Committee. The following day, Gaines rose to speak to the issue and urged those to whom it pertained to treat such allegations with the utmost seriousness. But when another messenger requested a floor vote on the issue, the messengers overwhelmingly voted in favor of the motion to form the task force to oversee the investigation.

To be clear, the investigation is merely that. It is an inquiry to determine what, if any, wrongdoing occured in the course of the Executive Committee’s response to the issue of sexual abuse. But even this reflects a firm commitment on the part of the messengers, and the whole SBC by extension, to accept nothing less than our very best efforts to make our churches places that are safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

Ed Litton

The vote for SBC president was probably the most anticipated vote of the convention. And it was close. The four candidates each represented a unique vision for the future of the SBC. Each man also had a particular emphasis about what the SBC needed most at this time. Ultimately, after a memorable nomination speech from former SBC president Fred Luter, the messengers narrowly elected Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Mobile, Alabama. Providentially, Litton’s point of emphasis was unity. As a pastor, he has championed the ideas of racial reconciliation and worked with other pastors in his community to bring the body of Christ together and address points of tension and division. God willing, Litton will continue to lead efforts to pursue unity and reconciliation during his tenure as the leader of our denomination.


One of the highlights of any annual meeting are the sermons preached from the stage in the main hall. This year, J.D. Greear delivered his final sermon as president of the SBC. And he held nothing back. In it, he addressed the issues of sexual abuse and race within the convention. He called for Southern Baptists to keep our eyes focused on our mission and to avoid allowing politics to create division. 

Similarly, pastor Willy Rice of Calvary Church in Clearwater, Florida, preached the convention sermon. Rice challenged messengers to embrace not only the teachings of Jesus but the manner of Jesus as well. Specifically, Rice insisted that Southern Baptists should not be jerks in the way we treat others and warned of the divisiveness that often emanates from discussions online. Both sermons are well worth (re)watching in full.

Events & exhibits

Outside of the business of the convention are dozens and dozens of ancillary events and a massive exhibit hall. If you’re not careful, you can spend most of your time simply wandering from booth to booth picking up free swag. We had an incredible time at the ERLC booth talking to folks, giving away t-shirts, and highlighting the work of our Psalm 139 initiative that places ultrasounds in crisis pregnancy centers around the country (and soon the world). This annual meeting also featured a number of incredible events including the Send Conference, the SBC Women’s Leadership Network gathering, the seminary lunches, and the B21 panel. But an unexpected highlight for many, many people was the hymn sing that happened in conjunction with the 9Marks events that were hosted at First Baptist Nashville.


This year’s Resolutions Committee was an all-star team. They brought forward nine important resolutions that the messengers approved including resolutions on Baptist Unity, the Equality Act, the Hyde Amendment, and Race and the Sufficiency of Scripture. Each one was careful and precise, and to the best of my memory, all of these resolutions garnered strong support in the room. (We wrote about the ones pertaining to the ERLC here).

But at the conclusion of the time for resolutions on Tuesday, a pastor made an earnest appeal for his resolution on the abolition of abortion to be brought to the floor (it was one of several dozen the committee did not put forward to the messengers). Southern Baptists, never missing an opportunity to oppose abortion, voted convincingly to bring that resolution to be debated on the floor. 

The following day, the resolution calling for the abolition of abortion was debated on the floor. I ended up speaking against the adoption of that resolution from the floor, not because I opposed its aim but because there were (and are) troubling aspects about this particular resolution. As originally written, it called for the total rejection of any law or statute to curtail abortion that fell short of total abolition. That would mean that the vital tools employed by the pro-life movement such heartbeat bills, pain-capable bills, informed-consent laws, and parital-birth abortion bans would be taken of the table. 

After I spoke, another messenger successfully moved to amend the resolution to reopen the door for these measures. But even so, in my view, substantial problems remain with this resolution, which have now been addressed by seven SBC professors and separately by a member of the 2021 Resolutions Committee. Simply put, even the amended resolution provides no exception for the physical life of the mother and seems to indicate support for the prosecution of post-abortive women, both of which represent significant departures from both the SBC’s historic approach to this issue as well as the consistent messaging of the pro-life movement. The enemy in the fight for life is not vulnerable women but the abortion lobby: doctors, lawyers, and activists who profit from the destruction of innocent human life. Though women who pursue abortions unquestionably commit a grievous sin, it is still critical to distinguish between these vulnerable women and the abortion industry that preys upon them.

Ultimately, I absolutely affirm the messengers’ desire to make a clear statement demonstrating their resolve to end abortion at the nearest possible opporunity. And honestly, I believe that is what most believed they were voting for: a resolution calling for the immediate abolition of abortion. Unfortunately, this resolution went further than that in ways that actually repudiate the efforts of the pro-life movement in which countless Southern Baptists labor every day. In any case, it presents an opportunity to potentially revisit this opinion next year at the annual meeting in Anaheim, California.


To wrap this up, I would simply say that for myself and so many others, this year’s annual meeting was a surprising and welcomed breath of fresh air. Regardless of which candidate we may have supported to succeed Greear, last week so many Southern Baptists were able to come together and remember how wonderful it is to partner with millions of other Baptist Christians through the SBC for the purpose of reaching and discipling the nations. From my vantage point, we were unified and filled with joy, and we left with confidence that the SBC has exciting days ahead of us.

Nashville native ministers to refugees next door and abroad

NASHVILLE (BP) – Meeting a refugee at a community center helped set the trajectory on which Evie Tucker* finds herself today, working among Middle Eastern refugees in a community center overseas.  

Nashville, Tucker’s hometown, is home to the largest population of refugees from one Middle Eastern people group. Many of the refugees live in one section of town that has become a refugee resettlement location.  

Tusculum Hills Baptist Church is located in this part of town, and before moving overseas, Tucker taught at an English as a Second Language (ESL) center located in the church.  

Evie Tucker drinks black tea as she disciples Kala, a refugee living in the country where Tucker serves. IMB photo

Tucker, now a missionary with the International Mission Board, said there are 91 different people groups in middle Tennessee and between 30 to 40 unreached people groups represented in a one-mile radius of the church. She recalls hearing how Tusculum Hills began praying for the Lord’s direction and how they could be involved in reaching their neighbors. The Lord answered by directing them to open their facilities for ESL classes. Tucker’s home church, Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, and Nashville First Baptist Church partner with Tusculum Hills to minister to refugees.  

At the ESL center, Tucker met a woman who shared her story of fleeing her country, living in a refugee camp for five years, losing her husband in the camp and her difficult journey to the U.S.

Through listening to her story, the Lord planted a love for the woman’s people group in Tucker’s heart. Tucker had begun the process to serve with the IMB and prayed as she drove to a job-matching conference about where the Lord would have her serve.  

The Lord kept bringing to mind the faces of the refugee women at the center. She accepted a position serving among the same refugee people group overseas.

Gathering the scattered

Tucker and her IMB teammates are using community outreach to minister among refugees. 

Children play under a parachute during an outreach. IMB photo

Language classes have met a particularly important need. Many of the refugee women did not go outside their houses in their home country for cultural reasons, and some assumed it would be the same in the country they fled to, so they viewed learning the language as unnecessary. Tucker said many refugees did not have a long-term mentality of staying in the country. Some expected they would return to their home country, and others planned on resettlement in another country. Since moving appears less and less likely, they are seeing the value of learning the language.  

Local Christians are teaching the language classes, and Tucker says it gives the Christians a chance to serve and show their concern.

The refugees have remarked on the untainted love they see being displayed by the local Christians.

Tucker, other IMB missionaries and Christians are often invited over to refugees’ homes after the classes. The home visits allow them to be open about what they believe, ask if they are interested in studying the Bible and build a Christ-centered community. 

In their home country, refugees had strong communities, but war scattered their families and friends like shards of glass. Trust was also shattered. Refugees in Tucker’s city often reside in small communities and are reluctant to trust outsiders. Tucker focuses on helping them build connection and trust within their community,  

COVID-19 necessitated the closure of many outreach efforts, but Tucker and her teammates adapted their programs to meet in smaller groups and homes. 

“It’s been really amazing to see how doing it in their homes has really been transformative to build relationships,” Tucker said. “It’s gotten us more connected in those communities, and it is already planting the seeds of what a house group or house community looks like.” 

The pandemic has also changed the forum for discipleship. Tucker is unable to travel to visit a refugee she is discipling who lives in another city, so the women moved their study online. At the end of one of their lessons, Tucker asked the woman, Kala*, if there was someone with whom she could share the Gospel. Kala immediately named several people.  

Kala began sharing with the people she mentioned and over phone calls took the lessons she learned from Tucker to share the Gospel with her sister, who still lives in their hometown. Her sister recently committed her life to Christ.  

Kala is married to a non-Christian, but some of her daughters join her in the Bible study. She is faithfully sharing with them, and she prays they will choose to commit their lives to Christ soon.  

Initially, when Kala started studying with Tucker, Kala didn’t feel confident enough to teach the Bible on her own, but now, Kala hopes to start a study group in her home. She is praying for the four people she plans to invite to study the Bible with her. 

At home and abroad 

Short-term teams from the U.S. have come to partner with Tucker. These teams have allowed Tucker different opportunities to invest in the refugee community. Each team has been able to use their gifts and backgrounds to hold different community outreach events to meet the needs of the refugee community.  

Tucker encourages churches to look for opportunities to serve domestically as well.  

There is a natural connection between Tucker’s ministry among the refugee people group overseas and the Nashville church’s ministry among refugees. 

“This people group is in Nashville; they’re in your backyard. These people that you’re praying for me to be here working with, they live right down the street from you too,” Tucker told her church. 

Come alongside Tucker and her teammates in prayer.

Pray outreach activities will resume soon.
Pray for their IMB team, as many team members will be in the U.S. over the summer.
Refugee men work long hours and often are not able to attend events. Pray for more opportunities to share the Gospel with men. 
Pray for the few followers in the people group to be bold and committed to Christ and for the gospel to spread through their families and networks.

*Names changed for security  

VISION STAGE: Advancing the vision

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Vision Stage in the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting exhibit hall saw approximately two dozen different panels over three days discuss topics ranging from the sending missionaries to leading a church in a post-pandemic world – all with a focus on the Great Commission.

Below are descriptions of some key panel discussions, followed by video recordings of each one. See earlier Baptist Press reports on panel discussions about diversity in the SBC as well as a discussion among past SBC presidents about the status of the convention.

Young leaders

By Timothy Cockes

Several panel discussions during the Vision Stage at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting revolved around the topic of training up young leaders.

During the Monday morning, June 14, hours on the 2021 Vision Stage, moderator Jordan Easley hosted many younger pastors speaking on topics related raising up other young leaders.

Easley, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cleveland, Tenn., oversees the SBC Leadership Pipeline, which was created this year at the request of SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd.

The Leadership Pipeline serves as a way to train Southern Baptist ministry leaders under 40 and allow space for them to have important or challenging conversations about the convention.

Panel discussions during the 9-11 a.m. time slot included:

Preparing for Revival
How Do We Truly Become a Great Commission Convention?
What is it Going to Take to Reach the Next Generation?
A Convention Conversation with a Handful of Generals
Calling out the Called

Panelists included Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.; Jeff Lorg, president of Gateway Seminary; H.B. Charles Jr., pastor at Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist in Jacksonville, Fla.; and Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas.

Easley said he hopes the panels and the Leadership Pipeline as a whole will encourage young leaders in the SBC to pay less attention to the things that divide people, and instead focus on unity around the Gospel.

“The SBC is not a great big dumpster fire to put out; it is a great big family,” Easley said. “We need to focus on things that are going to matter in 100 years. What’s going to matter in 100 years is what we did with Jesus.”

Advancing the vision

By Kirby Cochran

International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood shared the story of his journey to a relationship with the Lord and then to a calling to missionary mobilization Monday, June 14, on the Vision Stage.

Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, joined Chitwood on stage for a relaxed conversation about following a life calling. Floyd opened the conversation by asking Chitwood to share his story and his path to the IMB and missionary mobilization.

Living in a small town with two brothers and a single father, Chitwood was not initially raised in church. One day, a pair of deacons knocked on their front door, and the following Sunday their family joined the deacons for church. 

“That then became the pattern of our life,” Chitwood said.

Chitwood’s family remained in that small church family where he and his brothers would eventually be saved and baptized. In his first year of college, Chitwood felt the Lord call him toward pastoral ministry, which he pursued at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and then as a pastor in churches around Kentucky.

Chitwood said that during a “missions week” while in his first pastorate, he felt the Lord calling him to help mobilize missionaries. He later served as a trustee of the IMB and has been president since 2018.

Floyd then turned the conversation toward the missionary calling and asked Chitwood if he believed there was such a calling.

“We believe in the Great Commission,” Chitwood answered, “and we believe we all have a part to play in the Great Commission, every person. I think it’s as clear as – is my role a mobilizer or is my role that of a missionary in getting the Gospel to the nations?”

As the discussion continued, Chitwood praised the courage of missionaries who are called internationally as they not only go to the nations but stay and are prepared to give their lives for the Gospel. He shared stories of missionaries who first surrendered their lives as they followed the Lord and their calling, and who later gave up their lives for it.

“Those are the kind of people we get to support,” he said. “They’re taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth to the hardest to get places and willing to die to do it. Our job is to hold the ropes.”

Adding 500 missionaries

By Kirbi Cochran

A June 14 panel discussed Vision 2025 and the SBC’s four-year push to live out the Great Commission by “reaching every person for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation.”

IMB President Paul Chitwood (left) talks with Ronnie Floyd, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, and moderator Jordan Easley about how to mobilize 500 more missionaries to take the Gospel to the world. Photo by Abby Duren

The panel speakers consisted of Jordan Easley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cleveland, Tenn., Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee and Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board.

They began their discussion by covering Vision 2025’s Strategic Action #3 “Calling out the Called,” which seeks to increase the number of workers for the Gospel by encouraging pastors to call out those in the church who receive a calling from the Lord. Once they accept that call, the church must equip and prepare them to go in obedience to the Lord. 

“God is the one who calls, but we have the privilege of putting a voice to that call,” Chitwood said. “We have the privilege of pointing to God’s call in Scripture upon the lives of those who He would use, and in this, people respond. They respond to the Lord to the Lord’s word, and we get to be a part of that.”

As the number of those called increases, so will those ready be sent as international missionaries. The SBC plans through Strategic Action #1 of Vision 2025 to increase the number of active missionaries by 500. Currently there are 3,361 fully-funded missionaries supported by the IMB as well as 2,700 children serving as part of their missionary families. 

However, raising that number requires more than just 500 new missionaries. Every year, around 300 missionaries return home due to age, health issues or other needs. So, to reach the 2025 goal of and additional 500, the IMB must send 425 new missionaries abroad every single year.

Easley said 500 should be the floor, not the ceiling. The panel agreed that they all hoped to surpass the goal. 

“These are strategic requests to push the mission forward to get us to the edge of lostness and get the Gospel where the Gospel isn’t,” Chitwood said. “How do we do that? It’s by calling out the called. How do we do that? It’s by working together.”

Floyd, Chitwood and Easley all stressed the importance of Visions 2025’s Strategic Action #5, which calls to increase giving through the Cooperative Program, the fund which supports all national and international missions and SBC ministries, to at least $500 million by 2025. By increasing funding for the Cooperative Program, churches increase the ability of the IMB to send more missionaries and provide resources and support for them on the field.

Who’s Your One and reaching young people

By Kirbi Cochran

A June 15 Vision Stage panel discussion dealt with the continual decline in baptisms of 12-17-year-olds and the Vision 2025 plan to reverse this trend through the North American Mission Board ‘s (NAMB) “Who’s your one?” initiative.

Panel speakers included Jordan Easley, pastor of First Baptist Church, Cleveland, Tenn.; Johnny Hunt, NAMB senior vice president of evangelism and leadership; NAMB President Kevin Ezell; and Shane Pruitt, NAMB national director of next gen evangelism.

Since the initiative’s launch in 2019, NAMB has hosted 27 “Who’s Your One?” conferences across the country. These conferences are a time of worship, teaching and prayer to equip believers as they bring the Gospel to the world around them. “Who’s Your One?” is also an individual and church movement where NAMB encourages everyone to identify one non-believer whom they commit to pray for and intentionally share the Gospel with.

“If you’ve been bought with the blood of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit of God,” Pruitt said. “Whether you’re a 13-year-old, 18-year-old or 20-year-old, you’re not the future of the church, you are the church right now. So, go be the church.”

Church leaders and pastors play a large role in the evangelistic initiative of a church in its community. Hunt spoke on the importance of leaders modeling evangelism rather than delegating it. 

“There is no evangelistic church without an evangelistic pastor,” Hunt said.

In the fall of 2020, NAMB conducted a poll on Twitter asking current believers at what age they surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. The age options listed were 13 and under, 13-18, 18-30 and 30-plus. Of these options, 48 percent surrendered their life before the age of 13 and 77 percent surrendered their life to Christ before the age of 18 (including the first two categories).

“I know God is sovereign,” Pruitt said. “He can save whom He wants when He wants. But practically speaking, if we don’t reach a generation before they turn 18, then we lose a generation. So, now is the time.”

To close the session, the panel encouraged everyone to support the Cooperative Program, which funds the establishment and growth of new churches. Churches planted since 2010 account for 17 percent of baptisms in the SBC.c

Everyone can take part in the “Who’s Your One?” initiative by texting “One” to 888123 and including the first name and city of the one person you are committing to pray for that they would come to know Christ.

Rebuilding the church post-COVID-19

By Kirbi Cochran

A panel of pastors discussed their churches’ experiences during COVID-19 as well as methods for churches and pastors to recover and grow as they exit the pandemic season.

(Right to left) Panelists Whitney Clayton, Buddy Champion and Ronny Raines discussed pastoring a church in a post-COVID world. Photo by Abby Duren

The June 15 Vision Stage panel included Whitney Clayton, pastor of Living Stone Community Church in Mesa, Ariz.; Buddy Champion, pastor of First Baptist Trussville, Ala.; and Ronnie Raines, pastor of First Baptist Church, Clarksville, Tenn.

Champion recounted his own church’s navigating the pandemic, saying he was thankful for the trust his congregation placed in him. He said he sought new technological solutions as well as new methods to minister to people even with the physical distance. 

“Let’s do everything we can to be effective in what we’re doing although we’ve never done it this way before,” he said. “Let’s embrace it because good comes from bad, Romans 8:28 really is true.”

Raines’ experience differed greatly from the other pastors. He became pastor of his church in the middle of the pandemic. So unlike Clayton and Champion, he did not have a bank of trust built up with his congregation, so he started from scratch. In order to meet the members of his church who were unable to attend in-person, he scheduled time every day to contact five or six families through a phone call.

All three panel members shared the same struggle of attempting to continue administering pastoral care even without a face-to-face connection.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever walked through a season as a pastor that demonstrated so clearly to me that I need all the saints to do the work of the ministry more than this season,” Clayton said.

Clayton acknowledged that many pastors in the last year d new methods and technologies to reach their church membership. He said now the challenge is to decide which of those changes will remain moving forward and which will be laid aside.

Although online services worked well for families who could not come to church in person, Raines pointed out that it also isolated people from their Christian community. He urged everyone who is able to return to in-person services. There, the church body can better support its members in discipleship, in spiritual growth and in the midst of trials.

The panel also stressed how deeply pastors need a similar network of support with other pastors. When in hard seasons such as COVID-19, Champion said that church leaders must invest in one another so that they have a stronghold of brothers to lean on.

“Pastors need to be healthy to lead healthy,” Raines said.

In closing, the group encouraged pastors to seek out one another both through in-person meetings or group messages and phone calls in order to build healthier pastors who go on to lead healthier churches.

Watch videos below of panel discussions from the Vision Stage.