Month: June 2021

Reaching places you’ve never been

Indiana was a delight. My first and third full-time ministries were among the Hoosier Baptists.

My first year working for that state’s convention, I drove 30,000 miles visiting churches in the state. I came to know it well and love it. Indiana is mostly rural in land use but metropolitan in population. I gravitated toward the miles of cornfields so high you couldn’t see over them on county roads. But people were moving to larger towns and cities. Metro Indianapolis was about a million people, but the city itself had only four Southern Baptist churches inside the loop. In that day, none of those four would have been a top-20 church in the Dallas Baptist Association. Most of the SBC churches, urban or rural, were pastored by bi-vocational men with little formal education. The story of Indiana is repeated, even magnified, in other Midwest states, New England states and the West.

Were Southern Baptists the only game in town? Nope. There were other evangelistic groups—Independent Baptists, Christian churches, Pentecostals, and some good American Baptist churches. American Baptists usually had the local First Baptist in a town, leaving the first SBC church to be called “First Southern Baptist.” But American Baptists had failed to reach the North to the degree Southern Baptists had reached the South. By the early 1990s, metropolitan and New England ABC churches—the larger ones—were wracked with the same theological chaos we’ve seen split other denominations. Absent a reformation, that denomination is not going to plant churches to sufficiently reach the areas where Southern Baptists are relatively few. They lack the will and the theological underpinnings. So Southern Baptists are there.

Southern Baptists have been in the North and West only since the late 1950s; that’s less than half the lifespan of some southern conventions. And that difference in heritage means that the churches in the North, even those pushing 80 years old, are smaller and less wealthy than their southern counterparts that fuel Baptist work from Texas to North Carolina. That’s where a great trait of Southern Baptists kicks in. Using the North American Mission Board, state-to-state partnerships and even church-to-church partnerships, we are pouring great wealth and energy into non-South areas.

My experience in and affection for newer work areas makes me thrilled to see the SBTC making a commitment to Southern Baptists in other regions. Executive Director-elect Nathan Lorick has initiated a plan to raise an endowment to provide ongoing help for church planting and church revitalization in non-South states. Perhaps you saw the article in our May TEXAN. I wanted to highlight it again and give you a personal perspective.

After spending 12 years in the Midwest, preaching in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri during the time I was working in two denominational roles, I was struck by the lack of resources I took for granted while in Texas. There is also a real shortage of trained pastors and leaders. Smaller midwestern churches just don’t draw long-term pastors as easily—especially to a region so foreign to southern men looking for a ministry. Having experienced mentors in the state office or teachers able to travel means a lot in places like Red Oak, Iowa, or Roachdale, Indiana. Southern Baptists live in those places, as do lost people. I believe that the local state convention knows or should know best the places in greatest need of a new start or shoring up. The SBTC’s state-to-state initiative will facilitate the strategic use of funding that our larger and wealthier state convention can provide.

This spirit of missionary generosity is not a new thing to our convention. The SBTC Executive Board has granted more than $4 million to North American out-of-state work, beyond mission offerings and Cooperative Program giving, since its founding in 1998. The SBTC is the newest of all the state conventions, but we have been blessed with diverse, generous and well-established churches. This newest initiative will ensure ongoing strategic partnerships wherein those blessed with great strength have the joy of encouraging folks working far over the horizon.

Thirty years ago, I heard a couple of denominational leaders fussing about the poor return they were getting from the money they provided to new work areas. They weren’t questioning if it was doing any good; they were saying their own ministries weren’t getting enough back financially. I had just returned from preaching to a joyful new congregation meeting in a building with no running water. That’s right, an outhouse out back. They were evangelistic, lean and generous. So those comments from other leaders hit me wrong. I answered their question in a column in which I said, “It’s missions, not the stock market.” They barked back at me, but I was right. The SBTC was formed a few years later by men and women committed to impacting the world, including the U.S. Gladly, that inward focus by Southern Baptist leaders is far rarer today.

Missionary zeal continues in your state convention today. If you find a way to encourage, praise or support this effort to reach far-flung areas of North America, you’ll be making a worthwhile kingdom investment.

Culture of generosity marks Great Hills in Austin

AUSTIN—Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin has cultivated a culture of generosity as it focuses on accomplishing the Great Commission locally and throughout the world, pastor Danny Forshee said. Recently, that included helping people pay off medical debt amid COVID-19.

The church gave more than $50,000 to a ministry that pooled resources to pay off $4 million in medical debt for 4,000 families in Central Texas, Forshee told the TEXAN. “It was such a blessing to be able to do that. Now we’re starting to get thank you letters from these people. It’s so encouraging,” he said.

When the pandemic began, a Great Hills church member gave a check for $25,000 and said, “Help our people. I know some of them are really going to need help,” Forshee recounted. The church used that money to help people with rent, groceries and other needs.

“Our church is just so generous,” Forshee said, marking a new day for a congregation that declared bankruptcy in the ‘90s.

Great Hills has a history of taking the gospel to the nations, the pastor said. They adopted an unengaged people group in India about eight years ago and have sent teams each year except 2020.

“Outside the Cooperative Program, they receive probably most of our financial support,” Forshee said. “There were no known believers in this people group in India, and now there are many believers, and churches have been started. That just thrills me.”

Great Hills gives 7.5 percent of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program, which amounts to around $300,000, the pastor said. “Our goal is to keep going up incrementally until we reach 10 percent.”

When Forshee arrived at the church nearly 11 years ago, it had a $7 million debt, but “God worked miracles,” and a couple of years ago the debt was eliminated. “That absolutely liberated us,” he said, adding that now they’re able to give more to missions.

“We try to have a giving culture where to whom much is given, much is required, and we try to be a conduit,” Forshee said. “God blesses us, and we bless the nations.”

Forshee recently served as chairman of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Board, giving him a closer look at how the 45 percent of Cooperative Program receipts that stay in Texas is spent.

“The SBTC says they support church planting and missions, and I’m telling you they do,” he said, commending the convention for forwarding 55 percent to national and international missions and ministries—the most of any Southern Baptist state convention.

When Forshee recently reminded the Great Hills finance committee of the many ways Cooperative Program dollars help reach the world for Christ, he said it was “an easy sell.”

“I always like to share my testimony of, ‘Look, I don’t know that I could have gone to Southwestern Seminary in the ‘80s. Ashley and I had just been married 10 days. We had no money, and here we go moving to Fort Worth, Texas, and I was able to enroll and have half of my tuition paid for,’” he said.

A ministry at Great Hills that has been successful at reaching people is their English as a Second Language effort, Forshee said. The volunteers “do a great job of teaching English and building relationships with people from all over the world. I think there were 25 nations represented in the last class before

Another ministry that was going well before COVID was Respite Care, which helps the families of Alzheimer’s patients. Each Tuesday, the caregivers could take their loved ones to the church where a team of volunteers would welcome them, color with them, play games, feed them and “just love on them for a few hours” while the caregivers got a break, Forshee said.

Attendance at Great Hills was between 800 and 900 before COVID, and since then it has hovered around 500 people. The church suffered a setback in February when the building had a “catastrophic flood” during the winter freeze and the worship center couldn’t be used.

As the church moves forward, lives are being changed. In April, Forshee preached on baptism, and then a man accepted the invitation to receive Christ as Savior. As one of the pastors counseled him, the man said he wanted to be baptized right then. Though it was the end of the service and the baptism wasn’t planned, they went ahead with it, and people were cheering the man’s new commitment to Christ, Forshee said.

Discipleship is a vibrant emphasis at Great Hills, where men are being discipled in small groups with men and women are being discipled in small groups with women, Forshee said. Spurred by that, the lead guitarist in the worship band was able to lead his parents in Mexico to Christ via Zoom.

SBTC DR crews—with COVID survivor—serve in flooded Louisiana where ‘everybody needs a hug’

LAKE CHARLES A few months ago, Shirley Mills would never have imagined deploying with a Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief team to Louisiana. The 73-year-old from Redwater, Texas, was having trouble just walking and breathing.

Mills spent three months in Christus St. Michael hospital in Texarkana battling COVID from October through December 2020, including nine weeks on a ventilator. Her doctor called her his “miracle lady” after she was taken off the machine, telling Mills’ husband he had not expected her to survive.

Rigorous physical and occupational therapy followed. Mills recalled not being able to do more than sit on the edge of the hospital bed in tears as a therapist reminded her of Philippians 4:13, that she could do “all things through Christ.” At first she was only able to drag a leg. The next day she took a step. The following day she managed three steps. Then five. Then nine.

After her discharge, therapy continued at home for months.

When Mills’ friend Debby Nichols asked her to deploy with SBTC DR in early June following record floods in Northwest Louisiana, Mills knew she could not work on a feeding team as she had before. That would be too strenuous.

But she could walk and accompany Nichols as a chaplain and assessor.

Mills and Nichols teamed with Vince Rowe of Gladewater to assess damaged homes off Louisiana Avenue in Lake Charles after massive rainfall generated flooding, deluging an area still reeling from 2020 hurricanes Laura and Delta.

Hard-hit area

It was not a typical deployment, Nichols told the TEXAN. Southwest Louisiana Recovery established a clearinghouse, assigning homes for assessment and distributing work orders. An SBTC DR recovery crew from Bonham, led by Monte Furrh, was already busy mudding out homes.

Some of the requests for help dated back to Hurricane Laura, Nichols said. When Nichols, Mills and Rowe ran out of homes to assess, they were instructed by the Louisiana Baptist DR incident commander to walk the neighborhoods and offer chaplaincy services.

Assisted by two Michigan Baptist DR volunteers, Carla Strunk and Anita Parks, they began to do just that on June 1, continuing the next day after the Michigan volunteers departed for home.

Instructed not to knock on doors, the teams drove around and walked through neighborhoods, looking for people to talk to.

“We just went down the street. If we saw anyone sitting outside or walking, we stopped and visited with them,” Nichols said.

Bringing hope

The team’s first stop on June 1 proved surprising.

A man and woman sat under their carport, looking at their debris-laden yard filled with items dragged outside to dry. Nichols approached with a few plastic bags containing snacks and bottled water.

“Can I bring you something?” Nichols asked.

“Yes, you can bring me some hope,” replied the woman, whose name was Janice.

“I can bring you hope,” Nichols answered, holding up SBDR’s “Hope in Crisis” tract she pulled from a snack bag.

Janice was stunned. The family had suffered damage from Laura, burst water pipes from the winter freeze and now water damage from the floods. The woman’s father had died in December; she had lost her job. Although she was a believer, she admitted that she was struggling.

“This is a God thing,” Janice said. “I can’t believe you brought me this thing that says hope when I need hope.”

Nichols assured Janice that her hope was in Christ as they prayed together.

Balloon animals and the gospel

That day, the teams prayed with 28 people.

“We prayed with everybody. Nobody turned us down,” Nichols said, noting that many were already believers.

Vince Rowe’s talent in making balloon animals attracted the interest of young and older alike.

Intrigued by Rowe’s artistry, two African American men in their twenties walking down McCall Street stopped to chat. Rowe, a church planter and former pastor, had been presenting the gospel using balloon animals since 1999, when he first employed the method on a mission trip to Honduras.

“I jumped out of the truck and asked the guys if they wanted a balloon,” Rowe recalled. He handed the young men a deflated balloon, and one jokingly asked why it hadn’t come with any air.

Rowe replied, as he inflated and then began to twist the balloon into a puppy shape, that people go through twists and struggles in life. Each time he made a twist in the balloon, Rowe mentioned a trial: Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Delta, floods, and so forth.

Finally, displaying the finished animal, Rowe explained that after life’s twists and trials, we can “step back and see how God has shaped and molded us into something he can use.”

Rowe presented the plan of salvation and “both guys got saved in the street.” The young men said they occasionally attended church with their mothers and grandmothers, and Rowe expressed confidence they would now make church-going a habit.

The balloon animals also attracted young Landon and his little sister. Rowe visited with the boy during the morning of June 2. When Rowe asked him who God was, Landon replied, “God is my Father,” and then corrected himself, “God is my first Father.”

Later that afternoon, Landon found the DR volunteers again after school, this time bringing several young friends to get animals.

As Rowe worked with balloons and talked about Jesus, one 11-year-old girl expressed a desire to be saved. After two of her girlfriends explained the gospel further, she prayed to receive Christ.

‘Now she’s a child of God’

It wasn’t just the chaplains who made a spiritual difference in the lives of survivors.

When Furrh’s recovery team mudded out the homes of police officers, one woman, a 28-year-old recent college graduate with a degree in law enforcement, admitted to the volunteers that she had been thinking about the Lord for some time but didn’t know what to ask or what she needed to do to be saved.

“We prayed with her, and she asked Jesus into her life,” Furrh said. “Now she’s a child of God.”

So too is Mike, a homeless man that Rowe met when stopping outside a convenience store on the way back to Texas.

Spying Mike on the sidewalk, Rowe sat down and spoke to him, asking if he knew where he’d spend eternity.

Mike admitted he knew the choices he’d have after death.

“Would you like heaven to be the choice you get?” Rowe asked, explaining the gospel after Mike said yes. Tears streaked the man’s face, flowing down over his tear-drop tattoos, as he placed his trust in Jesus.

Mike’s friend Skillet wasn’t so receptive. He told Rowe he had been raised in a Christian home and his family lived into their nineties, so he believed he had time. Rowe gave Mike a Bible and prayed for the young men before getting back into the vehicle to head home.

SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice confirmed that the Bonham team arrived in Lake Charles on May 23 and stayed till June 1, while the chaplains returned home on June 3.

“We expected a longer deployment, but the work went fast, and Louisiana Baptist DR advised our recovery crews to stand down,” he said, adding, “We were pleased to go to Lake Charles and help the people. It’s been difficult to be a resident of western Louisiana with so many dangerous weather events.”

Of her post-COVID first foray into DR chaplaincy, Mills said, “God places us where we need to be,” adding, “I was not formally trained in chaplaincy, but I am fixing to get trained in it. If [survivors] just get a hug, it helps them. Everybody needs a hug.”

Why your online community isn’t your church

When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020, nobody really knew what was coming. Quarantines and lockdowns that were only expected to last a few weeks stretched to months. Events were postponed and then cancelled. Weddings and graduations became rites of passage without an audience. People lost their jobs and businesses. Worst of all, too many people died — and without a public funeral. While all this was happening, church gatherings were restricted or called off altogether.

Getting creative with “community”

But we weren’t made to do any of this alone. God created the world and everything in it in six days, and at the end of each day, God called his creation “good,” and even “very good” when he created humankind. But when God saw that Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden, he declared something “not good.” He had designed humankind for community, not isolation; loneliness was not good. So he created community with Eve — and he put a drive within us to seek out that community. 

And so we did. When we couldn’t meet in our regular church buildings or hold our most beloved celebrations like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we had to get a little creative. We wrangled technology like Zoom and FaceTime and social media to reach past restrictions. We recorded services and spliced video clips and reimagined activities and held virtual gatherings. We even went old-school, connecting with each other through snail mail and phone calls (because yes, phones can still actually make calls).

In many ways, this was a welcomed wrangling — more and more churches harnessed technology as a divine catapult, sending the gospel message literally around the world instantaneously. Biblical teaching and preaching reached inside the homes of many who may have never otherwise crossed the threshold of a church building. In our information-at-our-fingertips-age, pandemic or not, we can gather as households and stream solid biblical content from Bible teachers whenever we want. 

Yet, we can’t take all of this in while in New Testament community (Acts 2: 42-47), though the internet tries to offer a semblance of this. Facebook has groups and community pages. Zoom has breakout rooms where small groups can discuss from a distance. Forums and membership-based apps provide a sense of community where people can gather around shared faith. These online relationships can make lockdown life a little easier, but they only offer a shadow of what God has created us for. 

Ultimately, this type of online community isn’t healthy. “Parasocial relationships are a problem because they foster the feeling of friendship and community without the benefits of it,” Chris Martin writes. “The illusion of friendship with people on a social media platform is a hollow form of community often built on conflict and at the expense of real relationships unmediated by a social media platform.”

Something is missing

In a year of social distancing, restricted gatherings, and unprecedented quarantines, we’ve done our best to be together in person as much as possible. Zoom gatherings, streaming platforms, social media, porch drop-offs, drive-by birthday parties, and drive-in church services have been a sort of band-aid. But still, we feel a crucial pull to return to real-live community because we were created for it. Hebrews 3 calls us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’,” and Hebrews 10 teaches us to meet together regularly in order to “stir up one another to love and good works.” Ephesians 4, Titus 2, and James 5 describe life-on-life church community that edifies us as Jesus-followers.

The church was God’s idea, and he created church community for a purpose. Being the body of Christ includes many facets, from hearing the Word proclaimed together to breaking bread with one another. The community of the local church is unique and vital and can’t be replaced by screens. 

The internet can’t give us the warmth of a bonfire shared with friends on a crisp evening. It can’t give us a group of people who’ll help us move that old piano across town (again and again, for free). It can’t give us the joy of celebrating new life by passing around a newborn baby, or bouncing a toddler on our knees. It can’t have us over for dinner, can’t smile or weep, and can’t hug. Only people can do these things—real, living, breathing, incarnate people, which is significant because our Savior came to live among us; he put on flesh, dwelt with us, and experienced what it was like to live in human community (John 1:14). And he gave us a taste of what it our fellowship should look like. 

COVID-19 was incredibly hard, yet maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to our churches. The physical absence of our brothers and sisters accentuated a God-given desire to gather together. And, as a result, we can pray it continues to clarify our need for true biblical community and reinvigorates our love for and commitment to each other.

What to expect in Nashville at the SBC annual meeting

NASHVILLE – May 26 marked the first of three consecutive Wednesdays in which Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear invited Southern Baptists into “committed, specific times of prayer and fasting,” leading up to the SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville June 15-16. See Prayer.

From the adoption of resolutions to elections of officers to the approval of a new financial plan, messengers to the 2021 meeting will deal with the business of the national convention. They will also have opportunities to attend events sponsored by SBC entities and related groups.

The SBC’s Send Conference will precede the annual meeting. For details, visit Send Conference.

For our readers attending, here is an overview of what to expect in Nashville. 

SBTC @ the SBC

SBTC friends will want to mark their calendars for 7:30 p.m. June 14 for the SBTC’s Texan reception at the JW Marriott Symphony Ballroom D/E/F. The event is for “Texans, former Texans or anyone wishing to be a Texan” and no ticket is required. More information is available at

New tech

To keep track of all events, including each day’s schedule, messengers will be able to download the upgraded annual meeting app: SBC annual meeting app. Livestreaming of events will also be available via the app. As business takes place Tuesday and Wednesday, June 15-16, messengers wishing to participate in making a motion or an amendment to business items are requested to do so by email prior to the time of business. For more information, see SBC annual meeting tech.

Candidates 2021

In addition to Al Mohler, Jr., Ed Litton, Randy Adams and Mike Stone—the four announced candidates for the SBC presidency profiled by the TEXAN online and in the January, April and May print editions—multiple nominees will be presented for the other offices. At this writing, candidates include Lee Brand and Anthony Dockery for first vice president of the SBC. For second vice president, Javier Chavez, Dusty Durbin and Ramón Medina are the announced candidates. John Yeats will be nominated for recording secretary and Don Currence for registration secretary.

Nominations for all offices remain open until the time of election at the SBC Annual Meeting and Send Conference.

Revamped business plan

Messengers at the annual meeting will be presented an updated business and financial plan approved by SBC Executive Committee members on May 11. For more information, see SBC new business plan.

Panels, exhibits, resources

The SBC Executive Committee’s Vision Stage will feature panel discussions on topics relevant to Vision 2025, the comprehensive plan to advance the Great Commission adopted this year. 

“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,” said Willie McLaurin, the EC’s vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization.

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 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 a variety of relevant topics. To find out more, see Panels and exhibits.

Revised ministry assignments for Lifeway, NAMB

Messengers will also vote on proposed changes to the mission and ministry statements of Lifeway that, in turn, will affect the North American Mission Board.

At the February SBC Executive Committee meeting, the Committee on Convention Missions and Ministry presented a motion to amend the missions and ministry assignment of Lifeway Christian Resources. Within those revisions, which were approved by Lifeway trustees in January, the entity would move away from collegiate ministry responsibilities to focus more on Vacation Bible School and camps as well as Bible and book publishing.

In May, NAMB trustees voted unanimously on a resolution formally requesting ownership of the collegiate ministry assignment as Southern Baptists’ domestic missions agency. The changes were approved by the Executive Committee May 11 and now await final approval by messengers in Nashville. More details are available at Lifeway NAMB changes.

Women’s events, other events

Events, dinners and fellowship opportunities abound sponsored by SBC entities and affiliates. From health checks offered by Guidestone to meals sponsored by the IMB, NAMB, WMU and the seminaries, messengers may choose from a host of events when they are not perusing the exhibit hall. 

Women’s events will be well represented in Nashville, including the women’s track at the June 13-14 Send Conference and the Women’s Expo at the Karl F. Dean Grand Ballroom on June 14. Various events offering encouragement, networking and development will be available.

Several ancillary Baptist groups have also planned meetings in conjunction with the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville. They include 9Marks, B21, the Conservative Baptist Network and the Pillar Network. 

For the big picture of women’s and other events, visit Events.

Cross-cultural and multiethnic opportunities

Cross-cultural cooperation, communication and understanding within the Southern Baptist Convention are goals of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) approaching the annual meeting, according to NAAF President Marshal Ausberry. See NAAF meeting.

NAAF, a fellowship of 3,700 predominantly African American Southern Baptist churches and missions, will hold its annual business meeting and George Liele Missions banquet held in advance of the SBC Annual Meeting. NAAF is among several ethnically specific fellowships in the SBC, including Asian, Hispanic and other groups.

The first Asian American Collective will meet Sunday, June 13, one of several events geared for Asian American messengers. For more details, see Asian American collective.

On Sunday and Monday, June 13-14, Spanish-speaking pastors and leaders will fellowship and train to be “Firmes y Adelante” (Steadfast and Forward), the Send Conference’s Spanish-language theme. The two-day conference, sponsored by the North American Mission Board, will take place in the Karl F. Dean Ballroom (level 4) of the Music City Center in downtown Nashville, alongside the English-language conference in the same building. The Hispanic Send Conference is one of many events geared for Spanish speakers. More information is available at Send en Espanol.

Something for everyone

In short, the SBC annual meeting features something for everyone. The links in this article will help you plan, but even more events and opportunities will likely be available in Nashville, both at the annual meeting and at the preceding Send Conference, June 13-14. To stay fully informed, be sure to download the annual meeting app. 

Additionally, while the City of Nashville currently has no official restrictions concerning COVID-19, some businesses still require masks. Messengers should prepare for the possibility of needing masks or face coverings. Social distancing by messengers is encouraged when possible. Hand sanitizer stations will be available at the Music City Center and other convention venues.

SBC DIGEST: NAMB, SBCV partnership; Allen named SWBTS director of news and information

NAMB, SBCV announce Send Network Virginia partnership

By Brandon Elrod/NAMB

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia (SBCV) have formed a cooperative effort to create Send Network Virginia to bolster church planting efforts in the state.

“As a former church planter, I can testify first-hand that the SBC of Virginia and NAMB have been giving much needed and strategic support for churches planting churches,” said Brian Autry, executive director of the SBCV. “However, I believe this new partnership, Send Network Virginia, can take it to another level.”

In the Southern Baptist Convention, churches plant churches, but entities and state conventions, like NAMB and the SBCV, seek to provide support as likeminded Southern Baptist congregations come together to cooperate in planting new churches where a Gospel witness is most needed.

“I am so grateful for Brian and his vision for supporting Southern Baptist churches in the state of Virginia,” NAMB president Kevin Ezell said. “He has not only led the SBC of Virginia to do great work in their state, but they have also made a great impact in North America and around the world for the sake of the Gospel.”

Autry described how the demographics in the state have shifted in recent years as cities like Richmond and the Washington, D.C., metro area have grown. As the population continues to increase, there are more than a hundred different people groups represented in the state.

“More Ethiopians live in Virginia than anywhere else except for Ethiopia,” Autry said. “We are seeing a great movement among Hispanic churches. We have growing college campuses, military communities, beautiful countryside communities as well as growing towns and cities.”

Josh Weatherspoon, church-planting missionary of The Way Church near Richmond, Va., launched out of Salem Baptist Church in Manakin-Sabot, Va., where Weatherspoon had been associate pastor. After sensing the call to plant, they recognized that there were serious needs in their own state.

Read the full story.

Alumna, women’s ministry leader Ashley Allen named SWBTS director of news and information

By Katie Coleman/SWBTS

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumna and Baptist women’s ministry leader Ashley Allen has been named director of news and information, the school’s administration announced today.

Ashley Allen

“I am delighted to welcome back home to the Dome Ashley Allen, an alumna with a unique combination of ministry, academic and professional experience that makes her an exceptionally qualified person to fill this leadership position in our Office of Communications,” SWBTS President Adam W. Greenway said. “Her addition to our administrative staff underscores our resolve to elevate God-called women to all places of service consistent with our high view of Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message.”

In her role, Allen will lead the news department, supervising news writers and serving as managing editor of Southwestern News, the seminary’s flagship publication, and as managing editor of Seminary Hill Press, the publishing arm of Southwestern Seminary.

“God’s provision of Ashley Allen to Southwestern Seminary is yet another sign of His blessings to this institution,” said James A. Smith Sr., associate vice president for communications. “As a key member of the communications team, she will provide leadership to our efforts to tell the story of God’s work on Seminary Hill. I’m thrilled to have this gifted Southwesterner on our staff.”

Allen said she is “deeply honored and humbled to serve the Lord by telling the story of God’s hand at work on the Southwestern campus and through alumni who are faithfully and obediently serving all over the world to make the gospel known. To share the testimonies of what God is doing is a privilege and not one I take lightly.”

Allen is a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, having earned the Master of Arts in Christian Education in 2003 and Ph.D. in 2009. She also earned a journalism degree in 2000 from the University of Texas at Austin.

Read the full story.

Lifeway’s 2022 VBS theme sparks kids’ creativity

NASHVILLE (BP) – Next summer, kids will let their imaginations and ingenuity run wild at “Spark Studios,” Lifeway Christian Resources’ 2022 Vacation Bible School theme that explores the creativity of God and His image bearers.

At “Spark Studios” kids will learn how they were created in Christ and designed for God’s purpose. Throughout the week, kids will sample different forms of creative expression – from painting and sculpting to robotics and inventing – to explore ways they can use their own talents to bring God glory.

“God’s creativity didn’t stop in Genesis. He is redeeming and reclaiming His creation and gives us an incredible gift in allowing us to be creative too,” said Melita Thomas, VBS and kids ministry specialist for Lifeway. “There’s something for everyone in this theme because every person is creative in some way or another. That’s one of the ways we are made in God’s image.”

Thomas said “Spark Studios” has a broad appeal across the gamut of creative expression, including classic fine arts like painting and sculpting, creative and dramatic arts like playing instruments and producing music, STEM-related arts (science, technology, engineering and math) like bringing inventions to life, and more.

“‘Spark Studios’ is home to every creative outlet and is a place where kids, and adults too, can get their creative juices flowing and enjoy the process of making something incredible,” Thomas said. “Along the way, they will learn that God is the infinitely creative Master Artist who is transforming His creation.”

“Spark Studios” uses the motto, “Created! Designed! Empowered!” and features Ephesians 2:10 as its theme verse, which refers to Christians as God’s workmanship, created for good works. The weekly Bible lessons will explore the life of David, both before and after he became Israel’s king.

“David was known as a mighty warrior and king, but he was also a musician and poet. He wrote psalms proclaiming the majesty and glory of God the Creator,” Thomas said. “God gave David the talents and skills he’d need when he was king, and David used them throughout his life to bring glory to God.”

As kids learn about David they will also be introduced to stories about Jesus – God’s forever King – with nods to David’s lineage and writings interspersed to help kids connect threads between the Old and New Testaments. They will discover that people in the Bible had expectations for a kind of king they thought they wanted, but that God had His own creative plan in sending His Son as the King who would lay down His life and pick it up again to save sinners.

“‘Spark Studios’ will help kids see that becoming a Christian is not the end of a journey, but the beginning,” Thomas said. “We are being reshaped and reformed by the Potter to become more and more like His Son.”

VBS remains one of the most popular church programs in the U.S., Lifeway Research shows. Six in 10 Americans say they went to VBS growing up, and 95 percent of parents whose child attended VBS say it provided a positive experience.

“Spark Studios” was revealed through a Facebook Live event today (June 8). More information can be found at

Acting president: ERLC will keep focus on Great Commission


NASHVILLE (BP) – The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will maintain the same aim in its work while the search is underway for a new leader, acting president Daniel Patterson said.

Daniel Patterson

Acknowledging it is “a time of change” at the ERLC, Patterson said in written comments Friday (June 4), “[T]he primary thing remains the same: Our commission is relentless in our focus on the Great Commission. So whether it’s standing for life, advocating for religious freedom, engaging in courts and Congress, or equipping the church, we’ll continue to serve Southern Baptists by speaking from our churches into the public square for the sake of the Gospel.

“It’s a privilege to do so with the convictional and Christ-like team we have at the ERLC.”

Patterson’s remarks came after the ERLC’s presidential post became vacant June 1, when Russell Moore’s resignation became effective. Moore, who served eight years as president, announced his departure May 18 to become public theologian for Christianity Today and lead the evangelical magazine’s new Public Theology Project. Additionally, Immanuel Church in Nashville announced June 1 that Moore would become a minister in residence with the non-denominational congregation.

David Prince, chairman of the ERLC’s trustees, echoed Patterson’s comments.

The ERLC’s record during the last eight years “speaks for itself,” Prince said in a written statement. “Much of that was due to the leadership of Russell Moore, but, as our trustees recently discussed, it is also a credit to the talented staff serving Southern Baptists at the commission.

“I have no doubt, during this interim period under Dr. Patterson, the ERLC will continue to equip the church, apply the moral demands of the Gospel to issues in the public square and promote religious liberty and human dignity in ways that Baptists have come to expect.”

Prince, pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., said, “As trustees, we have a significant task in front of us to find the next leader of the ERLC who can continue this track record of excellence, but I am confident the Lord is already moving to identify that person for us in the months ahead.”

A presidential search committee from the ERLC trustees has not been named, but recent efforts to find SBC entity leaders have succeeded within a year.

The ERLC trustees elected Moore as president in March 2013, nearly eight months after Richard Land announced his retirement to complete 25 years in the post. A review provided to Baptist Press of transitions at six SBC entities since 2018 showed those searches for and elections of new presidents required from eight months to a year.

A review of the ERLC’s ministry during Moore’s presidency demonstrated a focus on applying the Gospel of Jesus, including on contentious issues in the culture. That concentration was displayed in multiple ways, such as the themes of its national conferences – including “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” in 2014 and “The Cross-shaped Family” in 2018, its “The Gospel for Life” book series and in spoken and written messages from Moore and others.

Moore made the entity’s Gospel focus clear at his presidential inauguration in 2013.

The mission of the ERLC, as well as God’s people, “is not simply to speak of the ethical norms that the Scripture has given to us,” Moore said. “It is to speak primarily with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In two letters released within the last week – one addressed to ERLC trustees’ executive committee in 2020 and one sent to SBC President J.D. Greear only days ago – Moore outlined the pushback he said he faced from some SBC leaders in his attempts to address racial justice and sexual abuse in the SBC.

During the last eight years, the ERLC expanded its reach to young pastors and church members, women and ethnic minorities while seeking to guide Southern Baptists to think in a Gospel-focused manner and advocating for biblically based policies regarding such issues as abortion, freedom of religion and conscience, sexuality and marriage, racial reconciliation, parenting, adoption and immigration.

Included in the ERLC’s work and accomplishments the last eight years were:

  • A national conference annually from 2014 to 2019 that was attended by as many as 1,650 people and addressed topics including homosexuality and marriage at the height of the same-sex marriage debate, politics, parenting and the sexual abuse crisis in the church.
  • Advocacy in Congress, the federal executive branch and states for such positions as implementation or protection of pro-life policies and abortion funding bans; defeat of the pro-gay and transgender rights Equality Act; support for international religious freedom; reform of the criminal justice system; defunding of Planned Parenthood; defense of faith-based, child-welfare agencies from government discrimination; and a permanent remedy for undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children.
  • An Evangelicals for Life conference each January from 2016 to 2021 that was co-hosted with Focus on the Family the first three years and was held in conjunction with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
  • “MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop,” a conference on racial unity attended by about 4,000 people and co-hosted with The Gospel Coalition in Memphis upon the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
  • Friend-of-the-court briefs at the Supreme Court and lower courts in defense of such causes as religious free exercise, freedom of conscience, pro-life laws, the ministerial housing allowance and conscientious objections to the abortion/contraception mandate.
  • The Caring Well Challenge, an endeavor that began in 2019 in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group to confront church sexual abuse and to guide congregations in enhancing their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.
  • The ERLC Academy, an annual event held in either or both Nashville and Washington, D.C., to equip the next generation of leaders to apply the Gospel to the moral and ethical issues facing the church.
  • The continuation and expansion of the Psalm 139 Project, the ERLC’s ministry to help place ultrasound machines in pro-life pregnancy centers.
  • Leadership summits on “The Gospel and Human Sexuality” and “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
  • The yearly Leadership Council, consisting of Southern Baptist pastors and other church members whom the ERLC spent time training through regular meetings to apply the Gospel to all areas of life.
  • Capitol Hill events regarding religious liberty in Southeast Asia and North Korea that accompanied the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
  • “The Gospel for Life” nine-volume book series, a partnership with B&H Publishing Group that addressed such issues as racial reconciliation, same-sex marriage, religious liberty, abortion, adoption, parenting and pornography.
  • Publication in 2015 with Alliance Defending Freedom of a legal guide to help protect Southern Baptist churches and other evangelical institutions in the face of the advance of same-sex marriage and the enactment of sexual orientation and gender identity laws.
  • Periodic Capitol Conversations panel discussions in Washington, D.C., and Leadership Luncheons interviews in Nashville.

Atheist accepts Jesus in public confession of faith in Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya (BP) – “Praise God. God is good all the time,” Seth Mahiga proclaimed at the altar of Life Church International in Nairobi, Kenya. Just two days earlier he announced his resignation as general secretary of the Atheists in Kenya Society.

“I’m just grateful to tell you I was the … general secretary of the Atheists in Kenya Society. It is the largest in Africa. … It represents more than around 5 million atheists in Africa,” Mahiga said in the Apostolic church. “I think a couple of days ago I’ve been going through some difficulties in life, and then I decided to resign as the secretary. I’m so happy to be here.”

Mahiga is now in the majority in the country of about 55 million people. More than 85 percent of Kenyans are Christian, according to 2019 numbers from Statistica, with more than 20 percent of Christians there described as evangelical, and more than 33 percent identifying as Protestant. Statistica counted 1.6 percent of Kenyans as “nones.”

Mahiga’s May 30th profession of faith was broadcast live on the church’s Facebook page and Elevate TV, which regularly broadcasts the church’s services.

As the church prayed for Mahiga, Pastor Mark Mutinda described Mahiga as “a point of contact (for) all those people who are in darkness and all the atheists who say there is no God,” and encouraged prayer that “the grace of God reach out to wherever they are.”

As Mahiga prayed the sinner’s prayer, led by a member of the church’s pastoral staff, he described himself to God as “a new creature no longer doubting about your existence. Indeed you are my God, and I will forever confess you are God. In Jesus’ name I accept you and I give my life to you.”

Atheists in Kenya was formed in 2016 in Nairobi, but suspended for two years after Christians complained. It regained active status in 2018 and describes itself as an organization of secularists who believe no deity exists.

The secular group announced Mahiga’s resignation in a press statement, including a link to a portion of the May 30th worship service.

“Seth’s reason for resigning is that he has found Jesus Christ and is no longer interested in promoting Atheism in Kenya,” group chairman Harrison Mumia said. “We wish Seth well in his newfound relationship with Jesus Christ. We thank him for having served the society with dedication over the last one and a half years.”

EQUIP to offer ‘best ministry training’ in-person Aug. 14

HOUSTON—EQUIP, the one-day church training event sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, will return in-person this summer. While the 2019 EQUIP conference saw 2,500 attending, the 2020 event was held fully online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  EQUIP 2021 promises to be back better and bigger than ever on August 14 at Champion Forest Baptist Church, 15555 Stuebner Airline Road in Houston. “We will have 300 breakouts this year with over 100 different expert speakers,” Mark Yoakum, SBTC director of the event, told the TEXAN.  At only ten dollars per person, which includes lunch, EQUIP is a bargain by any estimation. “It’s so affordable, basically the cost of lunch,” said Charles Draper, associate pastor of families and discipleship at Spring Baptist Church.  Spring Baptist brought large groups to EQUIP in 2017 and 2019, Draper told the TEXAN. “The fact that we had more than 80 both years says our folks saw value in the equipping for ministry that the SBTC EQUIP conference provides.” Draper noted the benefits that leaders in all age group ministries—from preschool to senior adult—can receive from training at EQUIP. Children’s leaders, life group leaders, Bible study teachers, ministry directors or coordinators: all can acquire ministry tools at the conference. “My opinion is that EQUIP is the best ministry training and equipping the SBTC offers, especially for Sunday School and small group ministry,” Draper said. In addition to the quality of training, Draper said that it is also encouraging to join together with those from other churches engaged in the same work of sharing the gospel.  “We share ideas in breakout sessions and learn from one another as well as from the speakers in each session,” he said. EQUIP also “gets our folks connected to a network of ministry leaders and training resources for further leadership development.” Neal Livingston, Spring Baptist children’s minister, echoed Draper’s sentiments, noting that EQUIP encourages leaders by allowing them to “think beyond just the four walls of a classroom or church setting.” He added that EQUIP also promotes “ongoing relationship building with others on the same journey of caring deeply for the local church.” In short, EQUIP is a most worthwhile bargain for ministry tools, ideas and networking. George Ohmstede, pastor of First Baptist Church Dayton, said he, his wife, and staff members have attended EQUIP twice and watched online as well. While he will be leaving soon for another pastorate, Ohmstede confirmed that FBC Dayton plans to return to EQUIP this year. “It’s a great resource,” Ohmstede told the TEXAN of EQUIP, especially noting the help he had received in revitalization at FBC Dayton. “By using resources from the EQUIP conference, we were able to see growth take place and unity take place, and we are leaving with a healthy environment in place for the next guy to be able to come and build upon,” Ohmstede said. EQUIP enabled Ohmstede to see “how everybody else was doing things and to gain knowledge and wisdom, and to be able to take what works for us and use that [at Dayton].” EQUIP 2021 will feature Ronnie Floyd, president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, as keynote speaker. Breakout sessions will run the gamut from preschool, children’s, student and collegiate ministries to adult, senior adult and multiethnic ministries. Training will be offered in more than 20 ministry areas including church technology, evangelism, missions, church planting, worship, chaplaincy, next gen and leadership. Lay leaders, deacons, teachers, Bible study leaders, pastors: EQUIP has something for everyone who desires to make a difference in the church. EQUIP runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 14.