Month: March 2022

How SBC missions have been influenced by Annie Armstrong

A few years ago, I read the SBC president at the time was considering different gavels for presiding at the SBC Annual Meeting. One of the options under consideration was the Armstrong gavel. I sent him an email with this message:

This weekend I did a bit of reading on Annie Armstrong and was inspired anew. Attached, please find 50 reasons why I’m advocating for an Annie Armstrong gavel. Annie was tireless in her efforts on behalf of Southern Baptists. We all enjoy the fruits from the toil of her labor.

Word count will not permit me to recount all 50 reasons in this article, but I want to share a few things I learned from Bobbie Sorrill’s Annie Armstrong, Dreamer in Action. Honoring Armstrong’s life means honoring the missions heritage of Southern Baptists and the contributions of Southern Baptist women. The offering which bears her name had brought in more than $2 billion for Southern Baptist missions efforts in North America at that time. In addition, at that time the offering for international missions, begun under her leadership, had brought in nearly $5 billion for the international missions efforts of Southern Baptists.

Annie Armstrong and the creation of the WMU

As a young adult, Armstrong helped Southern Baptists open and sustain foreign missions fields. No doubt, participating in the dedication services sending Lottie Moon’s sister, Edmonia, to China and William and Anne Bagby as the first missionaries to Brazil had a profound impact on her life. She developed a lifelong friendship with Anne.

With encouragement from Lottie Moon, Armstrong helped Southern Baptists continue to channel their energies toward missions with the launch of the Woman’s Missionary Union on May 14, 1888. At the meeting, Armstrong’s sister Alice read a paper titled, “Special Obligations of Woman to Spread the Gospel.”

Armstrong was elected as the first corresponding secretary of the Woman’s Missionary Union and would fill the role (unsalaried) for 18 years. During her first year, Annie personally wrote 637 letters and 182 postcards. She doubled the letters written the second year, and in the third she sent 2,737. In 1894, she wrote 17,718 letters.

Her writing hand was damaged permanently by this effort and never regained its strength.

All money collected by the organization would go to the mission boards. The first offering was at the request of the Home Mission Board to build a church and enlarge a cemetery in Cuba. The second WMU offering was to raise money for two female missionaries to help Lottie Moon in China. WMU members gave enough to send three women to China.

Annie Armstrong and domestic missions

When Armstrong heard of the plight of destitute ministers on the frontier home missions fields, she organized an effort to send frontier boxes. And she led the women to build chapels on the frontier and home missions fields.

Because of Armstrong’s efforts, Lula Whilden was appointed in 1887 to work with Chinese in Baltimore and Marie Buhlmaier was appointed to work with German immigrants. In addition, she petitioned the Home Mission Board to send a missionary to work with Italian immigrants. Armstrong advocated for the appointment and financial support of the first black female missionaries by the Home Mission Board and worked to help Native American women organize for missions. She welcomed the first two Native American women as delegates to the WMU, SBC, Annual Meeting in 1896.

In 1894, both the Home Mission Board and the Foreign Mission Board were in debt. Armstrong rallied WMU to join with the SBC to wipe out the Foreign Mission Board’s debt, raising even more than asked. For years, she even wished Southern Baptists would make provision in their wills for the work of the mission boards. And in 1899, Armstrong worked out a proposal encouraging legacies to the boards. Likewise, she worked with the boards to establish an annuity for their missionaries.

Ever the encourager, Armstrong made a 4,000 mile, 40-day trip to Oklahoma (via train, carriage and horseback) in 1900 with the hope of doing unifying work in the territory. Many people in her day used the word indefatigable to describe her.

She had seemingly unlimited energy and a deep inspiration to work. She was untiring, resourceful and persevering. Her spirit was indomitable.

Annie Armstrong had a profound and unprecedented impact on SBC missions – both in North America and around the world – that continues to resonate today in our collective Southern Baptist work and life. As you give to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering, remember the legacy of this indomitable leader whose influence is still being felt today.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Pastors say they need to develop disciple-making, technology skills

Disciple-making is the primary call of every pastor, and most recognize this as a skill they should continue to develop as church leaders.

According to the latest release in Lifeway Research’s 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study, U.S. Protestant pastors say disciple-making and technology are the two areas of skill development they most need to invest in to help them be better pastors.

“These findings come in a season when pastors feel a spotlight on their ability to lead,” said Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. “They’re getting more honest about how inadequate they feel. Many pastors fear at some point their perceived shortcomings are going to be on display for their flocks to see.”

Nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) say the overall category of skill development is the area most challenging for them or the one that requires the most attention compared to the six other categories covered in the Greatest Needs of Pastors study. More pastors say areas of skill development are their greatest need than any other category.

“The value pastors place on continuing to grow and invest in their skills shows the care they have for their role in leadership within the church,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

Top areas of skill development

For this study, Lifeway Research interviewed 200 U.S. Protestant pastors who identified 44 issues they face in their roles and then surveyed 1,000 additional pastors to determine which of these needs are most prevalent among pastors. The nearly four dozen needs were divided into seven categories: ministry difficulties, spiritual needs, mental challenges, personal life, self-care, people dynamics and areas of skill development.

Among the eight needs identified as areas of skill development, disciple-making stands out above the rest, followed by technology. Nearly 2 in 3 pastors (63 percent) say disciple-making is an area they need to invest in developing to help them be better pastors, and half (50 percent) point to technology.

“While pastors taking the survey were encouraged not to focus on COVID-19 in their responses, the recent experiences of many pastors likely influenced the prevalence of technology as a skill that needs more development today,” said McConnell. “In the spring of 2020, many churches moved rapidly to add streaming capabilities for their worship services. As technology met a need, many pastors realized there are other tools they haven’t used that may help them minister more effectively.”

Less than half of pastors (47 percent) identify leadership as a skill in which they need to invest. The percentage of pastors who say areas of communication (44 percent), counseling (44 percent) and administration (43 percent) are skills they need to further develop are similar. Fewer say they need to invest in conflict management or resolution (41 percent), while a third noted preaching (32 percent). Few pastors (5 percent) say none of these are areas of skill development they need to invest in currently.

Pastors with a doctoral degree (50 percent) are least likely to say disciple-making is a skill they need to invest in to improve as a pastor. Pastors in the South (66 percent) are more likely than those in the West (55 percent) to identify this as a need.

In many areas of skill development, young pastors, those 18 to 44, are more likely than older pastors to identify those skills as areas of needed improvement, with technology being the exception. Young pastors (52 percent) are more likely to identify communication as an area of skill development than pastors between the ages of 55 and 64 (38 percent) or over 65 (42 percent), and they’re the age group most likely to say conflict management and resolution (56 percent) and counseling (59 percent) are areas they need to invest in learning. Young pastors (54 percent) are more likely to select leadership as an area of skill development they need to invest in than pastors over 65 (40 percent) and more likely to select preaching (38 percent) than those between the ages of 55 and 64 (28 percent). But pastors 18 to 44 years old are least likely to say they need to invest in learning technology to help them be better pastors (35 percent).

“Younger pastors grew up with technology and are used to the rapid pace of adoption of new technologies,” McConnell said. “Technology can touch everything from communication to socializing, to finances, to where people participate. Yet each tool has a learning curve.”

With technology, pastors of churches with attendance of fewer than 50 (57 percent) are more likely to identify this as an area they need to invest in than pastors of churches with attendance of more than 250 (42 percent). African American pastors (63 percent) are also more likely to say technology is an area of needed skill development than white pastors (48 percent).

Greatest skill development need

When asked to narrow it down to the area of skill development they most need to invest in at this time, pastors chose the same top two areas. More than 1 in 4 pastors (28 percent) say disciple-making. Almost 1 in 5 (19 percent) say technology is the area of skill development they most need to invest in right now.

“Making disciples doesn’t happen by itself. It requires personally investing in others and encouraging their walk with the Lord,” McConnell said. “Much of a pastor’s training focuses on preaching. Once in the role, five times as many pastors want to develop their skills in the relational and spiritual dimensions of making disciples than in preaching skills.”

Fewer pastors say they need to invest in administration (10 percent), leadership (10 percent), counseling (9 percent), conflict management or resolution (8 percent), communication (6 percent) or preaching (5 percent) at this time. Another 6 percent of pastors say none of these are areas of skill development they most need to invest in learning.

Pastors over the age of 65 are most likely to say technology is the area of skill development they most need to invest in now (34 percent). Mainline pastors are also more likely than evangelical pastors to say technology is their top area of needed skill development (26 percent vs. 16 percent). And once again, pastors of churches with fewer than 50 people in their weekly worship gathering (28 percent) are the most likely to identify technology as their greatest skill development need.

“These findings tell pastors they’re not alone in their concerns,” Mandrell said. “The data also demonstrates that pastors love their people and want to be at their best for them.”

For more information, view the complete report or visit

As devastating storms take much, Jesus gives new life to survivors

Multiple tornadoes ripped through North and East Texas and Oklahoma on March 21, on the heels of wildfires that raged in Eastland and Brown counties to the west only days before.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief responded to the disasters, moving volunteers into place the day after the storms. They were joined by local community and church members plus other Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams.

Jacksboro steps up: salvations and a cross

In the Jacksboro area, an SBTC DR quick response mobile kitchen cranked out meals for volunteers and first responders and was relieved by a second QRU the week of March 27. An SBTC DR recovery unit from Bellville was joined by a team from Arkansas DR. An SBTC DR shower/laundry unit arrived on site March 26 to serve volunteers and the community. Live Oak Baptist Church in Jacksboro housed DR crews.

Mike Phillips of Bellville called the deployment “unusual,” praising the community. Often a municipality will organize debris removal, he said, but in Jacksboro, neighbors stepped up.

“It was heartwarming to see all the townspeople out to help their neighbors. We don’t always see that,” Phillips said, adding that the county district attorney even showed up with his own trailer to transport debris to the local landfill, while several father-son teams did the same thing. Football players from nearby Graham, Jacksboro’s big rival, came to help, also.

At the home of a retired Baptist pastor, a large piece of tin roofing lodged in a tree. When Phillips asked if the homeowner wanted the metal removed, the wife declined and showed them why. On the other side, the tin represented a perfect cross and the couple wanted it to stay.

Following the Jacksboro storms, a piece of tin bent into the shape of a cross and lodged in a tree reminded the homeowners of God's faithfulness. JEAN DUCHARME PHOTO

Terry Bunch, SBTC DR chaplain from Haskell, told of a callout to an address off U.S. 380. He expected a damaged structure but saw only a slab remaining.

Bunch toured the property with homeowner Miguel, who spoke of rushing home to load his wife and young children in a pickup after the tornado warning sounded. They escaped but returned to find only a pile of rubble where a small home, a chicken coop, and dog pens once stood.

Miguel told Bunch of his dreams for the land, now shattered. He had only five years left to pay on the mortgage and now he would be paying on nothing. The family was staying in a small RV pulled to the site.

“I love my family. I wanted to build a nice life for them here in this community,” Miguel said. Talk turned to spiritual things.

“I just can’t pray. I don’t know what to say,” Miguel said.

Bunch discussed the gospel with the young man and together they perused a Send Relief tract on hope in crisis. Bunch asked Miguel if he would like to make a decision to follow Christ.

“Let me see,” Miguel replied. He read through the booklet silently and suddenly stopped, removed his cap, and prayed the prayer written inside aloud. He continued praying aloud for his family, the people affected by the tornado, thanking God for sending so many people to help them.

“Only 10 minutes before he had said he could not pray anymore. Soon he could not stop,” Bunch said.

In addition to talking with homeowners like Miguel, Bunch and other SBTC DR volunteers assisted the local elementary school, helping escort first and second graders from the bus to their temporary classrooms at First Baptist Church of Jacksboro. The elementary school was damaged by the tornado; the high school gym was destroyed.

Homes crushed, hearts restored in Gilmer

Meanwhile, in the Gilmer area, SBTC DR incident leader Debra Britt of Flint similarly praised the involvement of the community and especially New Beginnings Baptist Church in relief and recovery operations there following the tornadoes.

Quickly after the storms, New Beginnings opened a distribution center for food, water, paper goods, diapers, and other supplies at its Gilmer campus, Britt said.

Initially, SBTC DR units were headquartered at the church, but on March 26, they and the distribution center moved to the nearby Yamboree Event Center.

A QRU manned by Fredye Quain of Athens, fresh from a deployment to serve fire survivors in Carbon, quickly established operations in Gilmer, preparing hundreds of meals for the community and volunteers, including 825 meals on March 26. In addition, local restaurants supplemented the feeding, Britt noted.

New Beginnings members transported meals to homes throughout Upshur County, Britt added. “They are doing a great job organizing and fielding the calls and trying to meet as many needs as they can,” she said of the church.

A second QRU staffed by Ronnie and Connie Roark of San Antonio rotated in March 27. The Roarks started preparing 250-350 meals per day.

In addition to the QRUs, SBTC DR assessors, recovery volunteers, an incident management team, shower workers, and Texas Baptist Men volunteers served at Gilmer. Volunteers were housed in an SBTC bunkhouse.

A massive oak crushed half a home in Gilmer, demanding expert removal by SBTC DR crews. COURTESY PHOTO

As in Jacksboro, Gilmer community members stepped up to help their neighbors. Chainsaw work is dangerous, and SBTC DR chainsaw crews worked on the more challenging jobs, including handling a massive fallen oak tree that partially crushed a home. Veteran Paul Easter’s crew got to work.

“The whole back of the house was destroyed. The homeowners told us insurance had totaled it,” Steve Adcock, SBTC DR chainsaw team member, said. The family was still living in half the home and the roof was “very unstable,” he added.

The tree penetrated the house to its slab, Adcock said. Large limbs, two feet in diameter, filled half the home. The crew removed as much as they could, preventing a cave-in of the remaining roof.

Another job brought eternal benefits, Adcock said. His team, accompanied by chaplain Vince Rowe, worked on the property of a homeowner whose yard looked like a “war zone,” with downed pine trees strewn about.

Several large limbs had punched through the home’s roof, which was so steep that a roofer had refused to tarp it.

“We had the lift,” Adcock said, “so we tarped the house.” The grateful homeowner thanked them profusely. Throughout the day, Rowe talked with the homeowner, a Mormon whose wife was a Baptist. The man accepted Christ as his Savior. He even asked Rowe to return to talk to his children.

“What’s happened here is a tragedy, but if your salvation came out of it, it was worth it,” Adcock told the homeowner after referencing Romans 8:28.

The man agreed, Adcock said.

“You never go [on deployment] that you’re not blessed as much or more than you help others,” Adcock said.

The Gilmer site was expected to demobilize March 30, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said.

Grayson County and Romania

In other SBTC DR news, an SBTC bunkhouse was deployed to Sherwood Shores Chapel in Gordonville in Grayson County on March 26 to house TBM volunteers.

The first multi-state SBDR team including two SBTC DR volunteers departed for Romania on March 23 and began working at the refugee center along the Ukrainian/Romanian border the following day. A second team with SBTC DR volunteers departs for the area on March 30. SBDR teams from Arkansas and Alabama are scheduled to follow, Stice confirmed.

SWBTS taking the ‘Dome’ on the road for three-state tour

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is “bringing the Dome” to cities in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas in coming weeks, connecting alumni, friends, and prospective students during Southwestern Nights events.

Offered in Houston, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, and Dallas in April and May, the free events will allow attendees to hear from Adam W. Greenway, president of Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College, members of the Southwestern Seminary faculty, and local pastors who graduated from the Fort Worth institution.

Through the events, attendees will learn about the future of Southwestern Seminary under Greenway’s leadership.

Held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at each location, the evenings will include dinner and Southwestern Seminary-themed giveaways.

The dates, locations, and registration for the events are:

April 12 – Houston, Houston’s First Baptist Church

April 19 – Oklahoma City, Southern Hills Baptist Church

April 21 – Little Rock, Immanuel Baptist Church

May 10 – Dallas, Prestonwood Baptist Church

Pastors’ Conference announces lead-in prayer gathering, additional speakers

ANAHEIM, Calif. (BP) – The upcoming SBC Pastors’ Conference will include 12 sermons and a time of prayer and worship before the meeting, President Matt Henslee announced March 29.

“Interspersed among the 12 expositional sermons you will hear through Colossians will be six timely messages from some faithful men of God,” he said. “While exegetically faithful and a little shorter, these will cover topics vital to our work as Southern Baptist pastors. You will hear from Drs. Adam Greenway, Paul Chitwood, Hance Dilbeck, Bryant Wright, Kevin Ezell and a dynamic evangelist named Daniel Ritchie.”

The prayer time will take place in the main hall at the Anaheim Convention Center from 4-6 p.m. on June 12. “We Proclaim Him” is the theme of the 2022 Pastors’ Conference, which gathers in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting each year.

The conference preachers gathered on Feb. 17 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for a time of fellowship, planning and prayer.

“A significant time devoted to prayer” was a goal for the conference, Henslee shared. While prayer will be a part throughout the four sessions, Pastor Robby Gallaty and the worship team of Long Hollow Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., will lead in a devoted time for it before the conference.

“You may remember that Dr. Gallaty did something similar in a packed side room in Nashville [prior to last year’s annual meeting],” said Henslee, “but this will take place in the main room this year and take us to the beginning of the Pastors’ Conference.”

“I should not need to tell you why prayer is so critically important for us as we descend upon Anaheim, but I would like to remind you of what the late E.M. Bounds said, ‘Prayer should not be regarded as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed,” Henslee noted.

“If you can get there by 4 p.m. on June 12th, or 4:30 p.m. or even 5 p.m., do not stop. Go straight to the main hall and join us for prayer. If you cannot, I ask you to pray wherever you are from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.”

Those wanting to give to the conference now are still able to do so. “We are working hard to fundraise every dollar we will need so that every dollar we raise during the SBC Pastors’ Conference can go to a ministry near and dear to my heart, Mission:Dignity,” he added.

This article originally appeared at Baptist Press.

Lorick to SWBTS students: ‘Ministry is hard — but God’s Spirit empowers you’

Lorick SWBTS chapel

FORT WORTH—Standing before a diverse group of students at one of the largest seminaries in the world, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Nathan Lorick on Tuesday emphatically delivered a message he admitted might not sound like good news.

The message? “Ministry is hard.”

“I can promise that you will go through season after season after season of difficulty and challenge,” said Lorick, preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s weekly chapel service. “But it is good news, because in the face of trials and the face of adversity and the face of uncertainty, God’s Spirit empowers you daily to walk through those things. And when you are looking at an uncertain future, you can hold on to the promise that God is in your tomorrow already waiting on you when you get there.”

In those difficult seasons, Lorick cautioned students to remember that their true calling from God will sometimes be the only thing that sustains them in their ministries. He likened such challenging times to those recounted by Paul in Acts 20, highlighting from the text the character that made Paul a great leader.

Acts 20 provides a historical account of Paul’s farewell message to the elders of the Ephesian church. In the passage, Paul describes how he served the Ephesians “with all humility, with tears” (v.19) while enduring hardships that included the Jews constantly plotting against him. Despite those trials, Paul reminds the elders he never stopped proclaiming the truth of the gospel and that he will continue to proclaim it as he prepares to head to Jerusalem where “chains and affliction are waiting for me” (v.23).

In the passage, Lorick said, Paul demonstrated himself to be a leader who was not afraid to be authentic and honest about his brokenness (v.18); whose convictions did not change through difficult circumstances (v.20); who was resolved to advance the mission even in times of uncertainty (v.22-23); and who stayed focused on the things that mattered most (v.24). Lorick implored the students to adopt Paul’s leadership character and reject the tendency of some who define ministry success by measures that may not necessarily benefit the kingdom of God.

“I can’t promise success in the way that [it is measured] today,” Lorick said, “but what I can promise is that, in the calling of your ministry, there will be challenges, there will be afflictions, there will be hardships—and you have to have the resolve and calling of God. … There will be times in your ministry when the only thing you have to go to is that calling you have from God. There will be times when books won’t help, friends will try to encourage you, but you will be so perplexed about the situation and the uncertainty that the only thing you will have is to get on your knees and say, ‘God, I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know you called me to go into tomorrow in this calling.’”

During chapel, and at a luncheon held to honor SWBTS faculty and staff afterward, Lorick marveled at the thousands of men and women the seminary has trained and sent out into missions fields all over the world and thanked them for their dedication and service.

Choose quality over quantity when consuming God’s Word

When I first followed Christ, my pastor told me I needed to read the Bible. I tried and made it all the way through Exodus but got bogged down at Leviticus. Since those days (a long time ago), I’ve learned more about reading the Word. Here are five suggestions to help you:


Be grateful for your opportunity to study the Word 

I’ve been in places around the world where people had little or no access to the Scriptures. Meanwhile, many of us have more Bibles in our homes than we have human beings! We who have access to the Word, have a copy available in our language, and can read it without threat of persecution are blessed indeed. Why would we not want to engage the Scriptures? 


Focus on consistency more than quantity 

Reading a lot of the Bible does not always equate to reading it well and meditating on it deeply. In fact, I would rather you read one chapter every day than read 10 chapters every 10th day. Consistency will make you want to increase quantity, but the opposite is not always true. So, get a consistent reading plan in place. Let God grab your heart every day through His Word. 


Follow a plan to read through the Bible at least every other year 

I read the Word every year, but I did not start there. It took me years to get there. On the other hand, you can read the Word in two years if you read just under two chapters a day. Most of us can make that commitment even if it means giving up something else to do it. Again, have a plan—know today what you are going to read tomorrow. 


Use a good study Bible  

I try hard not to get stuck in the notes—but they do help me at times. Sometimes I need them simply to understand the Word better. The more I understand it, the more I want to read it. If you want a suggestion, I have found the CSB Everyday Study Bible helpful because its study notes are condensed from the larger CSB Study Bible.


Hold yourself accountable to someone

Here’s how I do it: I write a daily e-mail to a group of guys to tell them what I read, what I’m learning, and how they might pray for me. One of my former students sends his daily e-mail to his student ministry leaders; a colleague sent his to his deacons when he was a pastor. The e-mail doesn’t take long to write, and I suspect all of us have someone to whom we might send a message every day.

Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. For more from Lawless, visit

Digging Deeper: Lifeway Research director says Bible engagment is about much more than just reading God’s Word

We’ve all seen the numbers and heard the statistics regarding Bible engagement in America and they’re often not encouraging. There are fewer Americans who believe the Bible is 100 percent true and authoritative, and even among those who claim to follow Jesus, the level of Bible engagement is down. We asked Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, to help us process some of the numbers and provide a ray of hope for churches and leaders looking to raise the level of biblical engagement among their people.

In a general sense, we know American Christians aren’t engaging with the Bible as much as they should. Can you put numbers to that lack of engagement based on some of  Lifeway Research’s latest findings?

Scott McConnell: One of the things we see is that among Americans, only 12% have read the entire Bible and another 10% have read it more than once. So that’s less than a quarter of Americans who have read the entire Bible at any point in their life. And even if we ask, “Have you read half of the Bible?” it’s about 50/50. Half of Americans have read about half the Bible, and half have read less, and 7% have read none of it. 

If we zoom in just on Protestant churchgoers and look at their engagement with the Bible, just 32% of them read the Bible every day and another 27% [read it] a few times a week. About six out of 10 Protestant churchgoers are reading the Bible several times a week. So we definitely have some indicators that both presently and really anytime in the past, a lot of Americans and a lot of Christians have really not spent a lot of time in the Word on their own.

So how would you define biblical engagement? Is it about more than just reading the Bible?

SM: It is. It includes reading the Bible, but it also should include our beliefs about the Bible, our desires related to the Bible, and our behaviors—is it impacting the way you live your life? If you’re only engaging with one or two of those areas, you’re not getting the full benefit of what Scripture has for you. Bible engagement really should be more holistic.

Can you give me a general profile of a person who is not engaging the Bible regularly? What kind of things can we know about them from your research?

SM: When you’re not engaging with Scripture, you’re not going to be able to grow in biblical relationships. You’re not going to be able to grow in obedience. You’re not going to be able to grow in worship because it’s connected. It’s very much a tapestry. A real tangible example is that somebody who’s reading the Bible every day and then misses a few days, 65% of those folks say they desperately miss that time in God’s Word and another 21% somewhat agree. So almost nine out of 10 people who are reading the Bible every day—it’s not just a habit that they got into at some point, it’s not feeling like they have to, it is something that they absolutely enjoy. If you’re not in that place, if you’re not reading the Bible regularly, I would definitely want you to hear that. You don’t just want to try to create a habit in your life. You don’t want to just jump into this discipline for discipline’s sake. This is part of worshiping God and enjoying Him, spending that time in His Word.

When you’re not engaging with Scripture, you’re not going to be able to grow in biblical relationships. You’re not going to be able to grow in obedience. You’re not going to be able to grow in worship because it’s connected.

What can pastors and church leaders do to raise the level of biblical engagement among the people they serve?

SM: If a church is considering what it can do to encourage Bible engagement, I think they’ve got to start with the authority of Scripture. That might mean starting in a different place than we have in the past. In the past we encouraged people to just believe in the Word of God, but today we have to explain a little more. A lot of folks have not grown up in Christian homes, or they’ve grown up in a home where people take what they want from the Bible and leave the parts they don’t like. So it’s more and more important that churches are taking a step back and explaining “Where did the Bible come from?” and “Who did the Bible come from?” and letting people know that Scripture has an overall story to it. The Bible is a big book and you can kind of lose your place in the bigger story. Many people don’t understand that there’s a story of love and redemption that God has extended to us and revealed to us through Scripture. We need to set it up to make sure people understand that this book is worthy of our belief and is a precious gift of God’s revelation to us of the relationship He wants to have with us. … When somebody accepts that the Bible isn’t just a book with good moral teaching, but it actually has authority in my life because of who it came from, that can be transformative. You’re going to look at other things in life differently when you have that belief in Scripture’s authority.

If people don’t believe that the Bible is the written Word of God and is totally accurate, they’re much less likely to be reading the Word of God and engaging with it on a regular basis. You kind of wonder why they’re still practicing in other areas if they don’t believe in the Word of God, but at the same time there are many benefits to being a part of a body of believers that they may enjoy. Having a relationship with God and really wanting the truth of God’s Word to impact your life—when those are absent, then we definitely see much less engagement with Scripture.

What are the churches that are successful in helping their people engage more effectively with the Bible doing?

SM: Encouraging people to read the Bible on their own [through a reading plan] is an important thing that we see churches doing. The speed that you’re reading through the Bible seems to be less important than reading it regularly. When we ask Americans how they’ve read the Bible, only 22% actually have read sequentially and systematically through a section a little bit each day. Studying the Bible together in community is also a huge part of Bible engagement, whether that’s a Sunday school or a small group. We’ve seen statistically that people who are doing that on a weekly basis are more likely to be serving in their church. They’re more likely to be serving in their community. They’re more likely to be giving to their church. They’re more likely to be engaged in spiritual disciplines. They’re more likely to have friends at church and relationships with others at church. They’re more likely to be peacemakers at church. So many ways that we want to be growing closer to Christ happen when we study God’s Word in community. So that’s absolutely an essential piece that churches should be emphasizing. We’ve actually seen churches rebound faster [after COVID] because the people who were in groups had both the relationships and that closer walk with Christ that encouraged them to be back in person. 

We’re also seeing [churches raising engagement when they communicate] that life change is expected through God’s Word and through the Holy Spirit, that you use God’s Word in your life not because you want to be a church that knows the Bible really well, but because you believe it so well. That really completes that circle of Bible engagement where it’s actually impacting your life.

You look at a lot of numbers and statistics, and those figures aren’t always encouraging. What are you seeing in the realm of biblical engagement that encourages you?

SM: To me, the most encouraging part of it is that those who are in God’s Word on a regular basis, almost all of them enjoy it. And the other thing is just the impact it can have on your life. As with most things within our discipleship journey, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lifelong journey. The fact that you can be going through a passage for the fourth time and see new things that God is bringing to light through that passage is absolutely refreshing. We continue to see that Bible engagement is predictive of walking closer to Christ, so knowing that spending time in His Word has an impact definitely gives us confidence to encourage others and to want to be in God’s Word ourselves. In this day and age, we have so many options for how to do this. If reading is absolutely not your thing, there are so many ways to listen to God’s Word and to hear people teaching on God’s Word on a regular basis that you can fill that gap in ways that still have you engaging in the Bible regularly.

Memorizing God’s Word is foundational for student growth

For 20 years I have had the honor to serve the Lord in student ministry. In those two decades, I have discipled and taught hundreds of teenagers to engage God through his written Word.

I have noticed two things remain the same for a teenager’s engagement with God’s Word, regardless of cultural influence and generational differences: 

1) Teenagers want to engage with God through His Word; and 

2) They want to be challenged to do so. Someone just has to being willing to challenge them. 

I have also noticed a connection between the number of students who engage with God’s Word and the number of adults who challenge students to engage with God’s Word. The more adults encourage a single student to engage the Word of God, the more likely that student will engage with the Word of God. It’s that simple.

There are many ways to engage the Word, but here are some simple strategies I have used to challenge students (and my own children) based on the challenge found in Psalm 119:11: “For I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

How old are you? 

Can you recite from memory, without a break, the same number of Bible verses as you are old? For instance, if a teenager is 15, can they recite 15 Bible verses without taking a break? As an adult, can I recite 38 Bible verse without a break? This is a fun challenge I do with my 17-, 13-, and 8-year-old children on a regular basis. We even try to see who can quote them the fastest (naturally I never win!).

How small (and big) can you go? 

Memorize a small book of the Bible: Titus, Jude, James, etc. As you memorize one book, move to a larger book. Maybe, just maybe, someone can memorize all of Psalms. 

What is your topic?  

I have found a great apologetic tool is to memorize Scriptures based on a topic. For instance, I ask my students and children to memorize the following Scriptures to recount the creation account: Genesis 1:1-2:3, John 1:1-18, and Colossians 1:15-20. Given, there are lots of other creation-account scriptures, but I give these to my students and children because it encompasses a full and Christ-centered view of creation. 

No matter your age, I challenge you to join your local church’s youth leader or pastor to disciple a younger generation. After all, it takes more than one person to challenge this next generation to engage with God through His word. Will you?

Learning, leading, and living out your calling

Recently I was invited to speak at a luncheon for one of our associations in Texas. I always really enjoy doing this. It allows me to spend time with the leaders of our associations. It also allows me to be with pastors from across Texas, hear their stories, and celebrate what God is doing in them and through them. 

On this particular day, the format that was requested for me was called the “3/2/1.” I was asked to give three leadership lessons I have learned, two people who had profoundly impacted my life, and one leadership decision I would do differently. Thinking through this format was helpful and insightful. 

I admit, I am not as seasoned in life and ministry as many of the people I serve. However, over the last 20-plus years, God has, in fact, taught me much about leadership. In this article, I want to list 10 leadership lessons that are among the best I have learned. Many of these I have heard from others and found them to be true for me, too. 

Over the coming months, I will unpack some of what God has taught me about leadership. For now, here is the list: 

  1. Broken leaders are the best leaders.
  2. Love people and they will let you lead them. 
  3. Don’t internalize criticism from someone you wouldn’t seek advice from.
  4. Never let your planning take priority over your praying.
  5. Stand firm on your convictions, regardless of the consequences.  
  6. Success makes you a more confident leader, failure makes you a more cautious leader, but humility makes you a better leader.
  7. Surround yourself with people who will teach, encourage, challenge, and sharpen you as you continue to grow as a leader.
  8. Never be too busy to pour your life into others. 
  9. Don’t place your identity and value on what others perceive as success. Find your identity and value in what pleases the Lord.
  10. Be focused, passionate, and resolved to lead forward. If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.  

As you can see, this is not an exhaustive list. In fact, I am sure the greatest lessons I will learn about leadership have yet to be revealed. While this list certainly flows out of the leadership lessons I have learned in ministry, each of these is applicable in all areas of life. Whatever your calling may be, you can take these principles, apply them to your unique context, and become a better leader one day and one step at a time. What is your list?

I love you, I believe in you, and I am honored to serve you!