Month: June 2022

What physical suffering has taught me

“I’ve learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the rock of ages.”

This famous Spurgeon quote has been about the only thing on my mind lately, as I’ve found myself daily in a dark room, pleading with the Lord to lift the dark clouds. For the last eight months, I’ve not had the emotional, mental, or physical energy to fully love my wife, shepherd my two small kids, or pastor the flock God has given to me. Since October, the debilitating migraines I’ve experienced all day every day have taken everything out of me.

And because of this (not in spite of this), God is good. How? Because He brought me near and showed me a clearer picture of His love for me. For the second time in my life, God providentially allowed me to walk through intense physical suffering for His glory. Though there are countless lessons God is teaching me, here are three lessons I’m learning from physical suffering over the past year.

I’m learning to share my current burdens

In an attempt to not burden my members, I foolishly didn’t let people into my dark days until the clouds began to lift. Not only did I miss the opportunity for 68 members to pray alongside me, but I also missed the opportunity to model what it is to suffer well. I know the biblical command to bear one another’s burdens, but this assumes that the burdens are known (thus shared). As a burden-lifter who hates to be a burden-giver, I’ve learned that vulnerability with suffering opens doors to be carried by the hands and feet of God in prayer and care.

I’m learning to prioritize according to my limitedness

It took all my energy to simply focus at work. I would then get home completely depleted, yet called to give to and love my wife and kids. I had nothing to give to the three people that God called me to serve above all others. My wife helped me reorder my rhythms and reconsider my commitments to make sure that my responsibilities were given time and energy according to their priority. This means I had to say no to great opportunities, but it also forced me to trust and rest in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness to accomplish His purposes.

I’m learning to give patience

I’ve always known that patience is learned through tribulation (Romans 5; James 1). But this time, my lesson was not only in the patience I needed to receive, but also in the patience I needed to give. Those two are tied: I could not patiently parent a tired toddler without God’s patience. Because I cannot give what I don’t have, I depended daily on God’s provision for grace, patience, and love. God is still teaching me these principles. But as I continue to behold the cross of Jesus Christ, not only am I learning great lessons for my life, but I’m also finding great rest for my weary soul.

Kingdom collaboration: Denison churches working together to impact their city

There were so many times Mark Baca considered leading his family away from the church they had called home for nine years.

Difficulties at the church abounded. Several pastors had come and gone. Parts of the building were in disrepair. Attempts to set things in order at the church were wobbled by COVID. Attendance began to drop as some members lost patience and went elsewhere.

“There were times when it was really rough,” Baca said. “But every time me and my wife tried to go somewhere else, God kept pulling us back and we felt like He was telling us, ‘I know you want to leave, but you need to stay.’”

Baca and others who stayed at the church are now seeing God’s hand move through a partnership with a sister church located just two miles away, Parkside Baptist Church. In late 2021, leaders at the struggling church approached Parkside’s pastor, Jeff Humphrey, to ask if his church would be willing to take over the property and help revitalize it. 

Humphrey, who has been at Parkside for about two years, said he wasn’t sure if his church would be willing or ready to take on that kind of project. But there was a deeper connection between the churches that brought with it a willingness to answer the call for help. In the late 1950s, Parkside was responsible for planting the church, which at the time was called Hyde Park Baptist Church. But over the years, difficulties led the church to become a campus site of another church in the area.

So in essence, the struggling church wasn’t just a sister congregation of Parkside. It was born of it. Several of the members at Parkside were once members at Hyde Park. 

“Because our people had so many fond feelings for the years that they saw ministry going on there, they were like, ‘Let’s do it,’” Humphrey said.

Combined churches service of Parkside Baptist Church, Living Hope Fellowship in Denison, and Palabra de Fe.

‘A new day’

Parkside took a holistic approach to the revitalization project at the struggling church, which was rebranded Living Hope Fellowship. Part of that approach led Humphrey to ask members of his church to become temporary missionaries who would not only attend Living Hope on Sunday mornings but assist with many of the necessary tasks that would be needed to revitalize the church. Sixteen Parksiders answered that call, with some of them joining the worship team and others taking teaching roles. That team has also taken the lead in making improvements to the building, which included replacing a cross that had once been fixed to the outside of the facility but had since fallen. 

Humphrey said it was critical in the first phase of the revitalization—which is being aided by funding from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention—to create a vibrant worship experience at Living Hope and add Sunday school classes for all ages by Easter. Ed Fleming, a member of Parkside who had been involved with other revitalization-type projects, was called to serve as Living Hope’s interim pastor through the first phase. In addition to preaching, Fleming said he began meeting with members one-on-one to give them an opportunity to be heard after weathering a difficult season for the church. Some of those conversations were difficult, Fleming said, but necessary and productive.

“I was trying to encourage the people and rebuild trust,” Fleming said, “and to show them that it was a new day.”

Brooklynn Burch (left) and Mark Bacca recently became the first two people baptized at Living Hope after its revitalization partnership with Parkside. SUBMITTED PHOTO

"We were very sad in our spirit that the possibility existed that God’s Word might not be shared on that corner anymore. … We just felt very strongly that we wanted to do whatever we could to keep that going."

More healthy churches, not fewer

Denison has a population of just over 26,000 people located in what is known as the Texoma region of the state, consisting of a cluster of mostly rural counties on the Texas-Oklahoma border. According to census numbers, Denison has experienced roughly 10 percent growth since the 2010 count, and in Texas, populations are only increasing and becoming more diverse. In other words, more healthy churches are needed, not fewer. Humphrey said the Texoma population is projected to double in the next 10-15 years.

But there was another reason leaders at Parkside didn’t want Denison to lose another church.

“We hated to see that place not be a church,” said Johnnie Smith, a 77-year-old Parkside deacon who began attending Hyde Park Baptist Church shortly after it was started. Smith is now among the group of temporary missionaries at Living Hope. “We were very sad in our spirit that the possibility existed that God’s Word might not be shared on that corner anymore. … We just felt very strongly that we wanted to do whatever we could to keep that going.”

Living Hope Fellowship has now moved into the next phase of the project, which will focus on equipping those involved in the worship service and Sunday school classes to reach, teach, and minister. Humphrey said the hope and prayer is that Parkside can turn the operations of Living Hope back over to its own leaders by the end of 2022 or early 2023.

As part of the revitalization process, Parksiders have had several work days at Living Hope. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Encouragement in the congregation is rising as it watches what the Lord is doing through an effort that Humphrey calls “cooperative, not competitive.” When the Living Hope revitalization project began in January, the church had 26 adults and eight children regularly attending. By the end of April, there were 36 adults and 10 children attending. Easter was a particularly encouraging time for the church, as 73 people were in attendance after the congregation did an outreach blitz in the neighborhoods surrounding the church. By May, the church experienced its first two baptisms since the partnership began. 

Baca, who was baptized at an early age but realized he had not fully trusted Jesus until years later, was one of them. He is now serving on the worship team and with the church’s youth.

Humphrey said Parkside has a vision to continue partnering with other churches to revitalize and also to plant new churches. In such partnerships, he sees a picture of the gospel that brings together rather than separates, that cooperates rather than competes.

“Texoma needs a lot of great, healthy churches that have a lot of diversity in reaching a very diverse population that’s coming our way,” he said. “We don’t want to compete. We want to collaborate. If we can do something to help the other churches around us be stronger, let’s go, because if God wins, we all win.”

Growing through criticism

I will never forget that moment. It was a Sunday morning well over a decade ago. I had labored over my message for the church all week. I worked diligently to craft a sermon with the right mix of exposition, illustration, and application. I poured hours of my life into that message. 

As I stood behind the pulpit and delivered the message the Lord had prompted in my heart, it seemed to be connecting with everyone in the place. It was one of those days you felt like you hit a home run. 

Until the moment came. 

As I talked to people after the service, a man walked up to me and gave me some sharp criticism over my message. He strongly disagreed with something I said and wanted to be sure I knew it. I thanked him for his input and moved on to the next person.

The remainder of the day I could not find the ability to celebrate all that God did in that service and in the lives of people simply because of the criticism of that one person. I was blinded to the potential blessings that hundreds may have received because of the sharp and painful words of one man. 

Have you ever had that experience? I have had many others like it since then. However, as I have grown in leadership, I have learned how to grow through criticism as well. 

Criticism is a natural part of being a leader. The criticism you receive as you lead may or may not be helpful. It may or may not be delivered with the right intentions. It may or may not be substantiated. However, the criticism itself will not ultimately determine anything in your leadership, but how you respond will. 

As I have grown as a leader and in the grace of our Lord, I have learned two significant key components on dealing with criticism:

"I have learned that the people who truly care about me give criticism in a way that is helpful and profitable in my walk with the Lord and my calling."

Don’t internalize criticism from someone you wouldn’t seek advice from

The presence of critics will be a permanent fixture throughout your leadership. I have learned that the people who truly care about me give criticism in a way that is helpful and profitable in my walk with the Lord and my calling. They are not just out to get me or out to find something to criticize in order to hurt me. These are the people who spur me on to be a better leader every day. If you are in a position of leadership, I encourage you to be diligent and only accept criticism from those you trust.

The best response to criticism is always prayer

As a leader I am constantly drawn back to the life and leadership of Moses. He rarely got a day off from being criticized for the challenges the nation of Israel faced. Almost every time he was criticized by the people or even his own family, you found him on his face praying! Moses knew the best way to respond to criticism was to seek wisdom from the Lord. 

I started doing this in my life a few years ago and it was a game-changer. In moments of sharp criticism, nothing calms my mind and heart like taking it directly to the Lord. Praying allows me to guard my heart from becoming bitter or angry at the one who is criticizing. In fact, it puts me in the right place to be objective with the criticism I receive. Prayer should be our first response. Let me encourage you to stop and pray next time you feel the weight and sting of some critic’s words.

You will have challenges, you will have critics, and you will have voices seeking to derail you from what God has called you to. However, never let your mind and heart get positioned to listen to those voices above the One voice that called you and equipped you to lead. 

I am praying for you as you lead and lead well! I am in your corner. I am your cheerleader. I believe in you! I love you and am honored to serve you!

Lo incorrecto nunca había sido tan correcto

Dios usa un número equivocado del pastor para llevar a una mujer de Fort Worth a la salvación

Larry Dan Melton, pastor del Campus de Pioneer de la Iglesia Fielder, dice que cuando la iglesia se une para buscar a Dios en ferviente oración y está sedienta de ver su mover en medio de ellos, comienzan a suceder milagros. 

Incluso a través de una llamada al número de teléfono equivocado. 

Melton dijo que recientemente estaba debatiendo si debía darle prioridad a una de las muchas tareas por completar en su lista de pendientes o dar seguimiento a las visitas del domingo. Mientras reflexionaba, dijo que sintió que el Espíritu Santo lo movió a llamar por teléfono a los nuevos visitantes.

“Dios comenzó a obrar y a moverse incluso desde antes que yo hiciera esa llamada, porque tenía la opción de continuar con mis otras tareas ministeriales, pero sentí que el Espíritu estaba guiándome a llamar”, dijo Melton.

 La iglesia es muy diversa culturalmente y uno de los nombres escritos en la tarjeta de visitantes era difícil de pronunciar, dijo Melton. Así que llamó al número, se presentó y preguntó a la mujer que respondió cómo pronunciar su nombre.

La mujer procedió a pronunciar su nombre -Daisy-, que no era el que Melton vio escrito en la tarjeta. Melton no tardó en darse cuenta de que había marcado el número equivocado. Aun así, dijo que sintió que el Espíritu lo inquietaba a continuar la conversación. Al hacerlo, pronto se enteró de que Daisy era una mujer que luchaba en un profundo quebranto. 

“Usualmente, cuando llamo a un número equivocado, suelo disculparme, desearles un buen día y colgar la llamada”, dijo Melton. “En esta ocasión, sentí que el Espíritu Santo me impulsaba a preguntar a esta mujer cómo podía orar por ella y fue entonces cuando ella comenzó a llorar y se abrió la puerta para hablar del evangelio”.

La Iglesia Fielder ha estado clamando a Dios en oración y la congregación está viendo cada vez más que Él hace obras sorprendentes. FOTOS COMPARTIDAS

"Dios comenzó a obrar y a moverse incluso desde antes que yo hiciera esa llamada, porque tenía la opción de continuar con mis otras tareas ministeriales, pero sentí que el Espíritu estaba guiándome a llamar."

Cuando Melton se dio cuenta de que el ambiente en el que se encontraba en ese momento no era propicio para tener una conversación más larga, le preguntó si vive en el área y la invitó a la oficina para hablar y poder seguir compartiendo el evangelio con ella. Daisy aceptó reunirse y, una semana después, se reunió con Melton. Después de escuchar las buenas noticias de Cristo, confesó a Jesús como su Salvador y nació de nuevo ese día, que casualmente era el cumpleaños de su madre.

Desde ese día, Daisy comenzó a asistir a la Iglesia Fielder, fue bautizada y forma parte de la clase de discipulado dirigida por el pastor de español, Rafael Rondón. La iglesia está trabajando para ayudarla a conectarse con otros creyentes y seguir creciendo en su fe.

“La salvación es el punto de partida, pero el objetivo es que sean discipulados para que puedan compartir su historia con otros”, dijo Melton, que cada semana trabaja para que los nuevos creyentes se conecten y sean discipulados para que luego puedan discipular a otros. “Esto no se trata de mí, sino que es el resultado de que nosotros, como iglesia, oramos por el mover del Espíritu y esta historia, junto a muchas más, son la respuesta de Dios a nuestras oraciones”.

La Iglesia Fielder ha comenzado a experimentar un avivamiento desde el momento en que el pastor principal, Jason Paredes, dijo que escuchó a Dios decirle: “Es tiempo de dejar de orar por su estrategia, para hacer de la oración la estrategia.” Desde entonces, Dios ha llevado a esta iglesia, en sus tres localidades en el Metroplex, en una jornada de verlo moverse como nunca lo habían visto, porque están orando como nunca lo habían hecho.

 Cada semana, la iglesia clama por milagros de Dios, para que los matrimonios sean restaurados, para que los ciclos de adicción se rompan, para que los ministerios crezcan y personas vengan a la fe en Jesús. Dios está respondiendo.

 “A través de la jornada en que hemos estado como equipo ministerial y por medio del liderazgo de nuestro pastor principal, hemos aprendido que nuestra obediencia a Dios debe ser inmediata y completa. Este proceso me ha ayudado a ser más sensible al mover del Espíritu y a caminar en obediencia a su dirección”, dijo Melton.

También compartió que a través de esta experiencia y del proceso de búsqueda en convertirse en una iglesia de oración, Dios lo ha movido a detenerse con más frecuencia para orar y estar expectante de lo que Dios hará, incluso a través de un suceso “equivocado”.

Wrong has never felt so right

God uses pastor’s misdialed number to lead Fort Worth woman to salvation

Larry Dan Melton, Pioneer Campus pastor at Fielder Church, says that when the church joins together to seek God in fervent prayer and is thirsty to see Him move in their midst, miracles begin to happen.

Even through a wrong number dialed on a phone.  

Melton said he recently was debating whether he should tackle one of the many things on his to-do list or make contacts with first-time guests to the church. As he pondered, he said he felt the Holy Spirit prompt him to make phone calls to the new visitors.

“God began to work and move even before I made that call because I had the option to continue with my other ministry tasks, but I felt the Spirit leading me to call,” Melton said.

The church is very culturally diverse, and one of the names written on the first-time guest card was difficult to pronounce, Melton said. So he called the number, introduced himself, and asked the woman on the other line how to pronounce her name.

The woman proceeded to pronounce her name—Daisy—which was not the name Melton saw written on the guest card. It didn’t take Melton long to realize he had dialed the wrong number. Even so, he said he felt the Spirit prompt him to continue the conversation. In doing so, he soon learned that Daisy was a woman struggling in deep brokenness. 

“When I make wrong number calls, I just usually apologize, wish them a good day, and hang up the call,” Melton said. “On this occasion, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to ask this woman how I could pray for her, and that’s when she started crying and opened the door to talk about the gospel.”

Fielder Church has put an emphasis on crying out to God, and in doing so, is seeing God do amazing things. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

"God began to work and move even before I made that call because I had the option to continue with my other ministry tasks, but I felt the Spirit leading me to call."

When Melton realized the environment she was in at that moment was not conducive for a longer conversation, he asked her if she lived in the area and invited her to the office to talk so he could continue to share the gospel with her. Daisy agreed to meet and, a week later, met with Melton. After hearing the good news of Christ, she confessed Jesus as her Savior and was born again that day, which happened to be her mother’s birthday.

From that day forward, Daisy began attending Fielder Church, was baptized (one of 152 people who have been baptized at Fielder the past two months), and is part of the discipleship class led by the Spanish pastor, Rafael Rondon. The church is working to help her connect with other believers and continue to grow in her faith.

“Salvation is the starting point, but the goal is for them to be discipled so they can share their story with others,” said Melton, who each week works to get new believers connected and discipled so they can then disciple others. “This is not about me, but it’s a result of us as a church praying for the move of the Spirit and this story and many more are God’s answer to our prayers.” 

Fielder Church has begun to experience revival from the moment their lead pastor, Jason Paredes, said he heard God tell him, “It’s time for you to move from praying about your strategy to making prayer the strategy.” From then on, God has been taking this church’s three Metroplex campuses on a journey to see Him move like they have never seen Him move before because they are praying like they have never prayed before.

Each week, all three of Fielder’s campuses cry out for miracles of God, for marriages to be restored, for addiction cycles to be broken, for ministries to grow, and people come to faith in Jesus. God is answering.

“Through the journey we have been on as a ministry team and the leadership of our lead pastor, we have learned that our obedience to God must be immediate and complete. This process has helped me to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s move and to walk in obedience to His leading,” Melton said.

He also shared that through this experience and the process of seeking to become a praying church, God has moved him to stop more often to pray and to be expectant of what God will do next—even through a “wrong” move.

The 5: Are you ready for the rest of 2022?

It’s hard to believe that half of the year is now gone. Rather than worry about
days past, let’s focus on preparing for the rest of the year. Use this list as a spiritual checkup to evaluate your walk, and then invite others to pray for you:


Am I reading the Bible and praying daily?
If you adopted an annual reading plan at the beginning of the year, is your reading up to date? If you don’t have a plan, how are you doing in your Bible intake? Are you praying regularly without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? Are you praying for lost people (Romans 10:1), for believers to share the gospel boldly (Ephesians 6:18-20), for government and church leaders (1 Timothy 2:2), for your enemies (Matthew 5:44)? If either discipline has been a struggle, you can renew your commitment today.


How often have I shared the gospel this year?
Is the gospel so striking to you that you cannot keep it to yourself? Have you reached beyond the church world to develop gospel-centered relationships with unbelievers? For what non-believers are you praying as Paul did (Romans 10:1)? Ask God to increase your burden for lost people throughout the remainder of this year (Romans 9:1-3). Start praying for a few non-believers by name today and ask other believers to pray you will boldly and clearly share the gospel with them. 


Am I faithfully fighting sin in my life?
Be honest—have you experienced victory over sin this year? Is there a hidden sin that continually haunts you even though you’ve sought to overcome it? If so, what steps do you still need to take this year? The good news is that God is a God of new beginnings. Turn from that sin, confess it, and seek accountability. Start afresh. God really is “faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 


Who is walking more with God because of my influence this year?
That is, are you making disciples? Have you purposefully walked with others as they follow Christ? It’s one thing to simply live a good life in front of others; it’s another matter to intentionally invest in somebody else’s life. I would even say that if you can’t name someone in response to this question, you may need to refocus your discipling for the rest of the year. At a minimum, schedule a monthly lunch with someone you might encourage. 


How would my family assess me as a family member and a believer this year?
Those who live with us are most equipped to evaluate our spiritual walk. If I were to ask your family about your walk with God, what would they say? Would they say your life models Christ? Or, might they recognize that who you are on Sunday is not who you are the rest of the week? Again, you have the opportunity beginning today to make adjustments for the rest of the year. That’s good news!

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

What’s your story? God sent help in a great time of need

One Saturday morning last fall, I decided to water flowers that were planted a few days prior. There was no thought on that bright sunny day that I was about to face death.

Our townhouse is only 10 feet or so from Lake Conroe. My wife, Joyce, and I are blessed to have lived 17 years in a place with such beautiful surroundings: a 180-degree view of the marina with dozens of docked sailboats, the yacht club’s stately building further away but in clear sight, and several large three-storied condos across the water.  

I was walking backward pulling on a water hose, not realizing how near I was to the lake’s edge. As I tugged at the hose, I plunged backward, headfirst into the cold lake waters, clothes and all.

 When I surfaced, regaining my feet, I heard a lady’s voice coming from the condo area. “Are you all right?” she hollered. 

I immediately yelled back, “Sure, I’m OK!” as I waved, but I wasn’t OK. The water was up to my chest and the bulkhead wall was over a foot higher with nothing for me to grab. My fingers could not grab the wood top. Trying to swim to a more acceptable place in full clothing was not an option. I knew then I didn’t have a chance to get out by myself.  

My continued calling to Joyce was so weak I just stopped trying. I began moving step-by-step through the water toward our patio area where our wall-to-wall large windows were located. Perhaps, I thought, Joyce might be able to clearly see me. 

I was in and out of consciousness as I continued to move more slowly toward my goal. Out ahead I could see our boat dock, which is connected to the bulkhead boards. It now seemed even more difficult to move forward. Just as I was in full view of our windows, I slipped underwater again. Up I came, this time with the fear of drowning. I felt that another episode would be my last. I was facing death.

"What’s my story? It’s God’s promise in Psalm 91:11: ‘For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.’ God keeps His Word!"

I inched forward until I reached the corner of the bulkhead board and our boat dock. I felt totally exhausted and could barely stand up, so I clung even closer to the boards. I was still in chest-high cold water and hoped if I could hang on long enough, Joyce could see me. I felt a huge anxiety because I knew I was stuck. Energy and time were running out.

Hanging on, I looked up and to my grateful surprise a lady was standing in front of me. Weakly I begged, “That’s my house, go get my wife!” I assumed she was the lady from the condos across the lake. 

As Joyce retrieved a ladder, the unknown lady grabbed it out of her hands and rushed to me. She quickly lowered the ladder into the water to me. I hardly had enough strength to take step one, and as the ladder was sinking in the mud, I made one wobbly final step on the white handle of the ladder. With a push from my foot, I crawled onto the deck on my stomach and laid there, so exhausted I couldn’t move. 

When I looked up, there were six blue-uniformed 911 men. Two guys picked me up and dragged me to our patio where Joyce was waiting. As I sat dazed on the patio edge I said, “Just let me rest here awhile, then I’ll go into the house to lay down.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” they quickly responded. “What hospital do you want us to take you to?” With that, they lifted me on to a gurney and put me in the ambulance.

My “guardian angel” neighbor lady had disappeared after the 911 men appeared.  Who was she? My wife only caught her name: “Debbie.” Maybe she lived across the lake in one of the three-storied condos?  Without a doubt, God allowed this guardian angel to see me fall into the lake, and led her to follow through to my rescue, both in person and by calling 911. She was God’s messenger for me.  

I spent a week in hospital care with a heart catheterization by my cardiologist, which revealed no heart attack. My knees were so battered and bruised from trying to get out that it took three days before I could walk. Our family physician told me that the hospital reports said that my strength was nearly gone and that I would have likely died if not for a timely rescue.  

Today, reflecting upon my near-death experience causes me to feel closer to God. Certainly, God has yet a plan for my life. I continue to thank Him for His guardian angel! We found her, by the way. Debbie is a librarian. Yes, she lives in one of the three-storied condos across the lake. She saw me fall in the lake and called 911 while driving over to try to help me. God bless her!

What’s my story? It’s God’s promise in Psalm 91:11: “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” God keeps His Word!

What's your story?

Want to share a story of what God is doing in your life or your church? 

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Supreme Court supports coach’s right to pray on field

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court delivered what most religious liberty advocates declared an important victory in ruling Monday (June 27) the post-game, midfield prayer of a high school football coach did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.

In a 6-3 opinion, the justices decided the Bremerton (Wash.) School District actually violated the First Amendment rights of Joseph Kennedy by removing him as a coach because of its concerns his practice infringed on the Establishment Clause. In doing so, the majority acknowledged it no longer abides by a more than 50-year-old standard in church-state cases known as the Lemon test.

“[A] government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment,” Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the court’s opinion. “And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech.

“The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”

Joining Gorsuch in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion that was endorsed by Associate Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), applauded the decision.

“As any Christian knows, our faith is deeply personal and rightly shapes every aspect of our lives,” Leatherwood said in an ERLC news release. “We live out our faith in any number of ways, both privately and publicly.

“Today’s case centered on the latter and the Supreme Court rightly determined that an individual employed by a school does not forfeit his or her constitutional right to free expression simply by entering ‘the schoolhouse gate’ or, as it were in this case, the field of play.”

The ERLC joined in three friend-of-the court briefs in support of Kennedy, two urging the Supreme Court to review rulings by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and one in March calling for the justices to reverse the lower court. “The Establishment Clause, as properly interpreted, does not override the government’s duty to accommodate the free exercise of religion on a nondiscriminatory basis,” the most recent brief said.

The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco twice ruled against Kennedy, who was ultimately joined by some players and others in the on-field prayers. In a 2021 opinion, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court said the school district would have violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause had it permitted Kennedy to continue to engage in his on-field, religious exercise after games.

In the court’s opinion, Gorsuch said, “Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic – whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head.”

The school district sought to “generate conflict between an individual’s rights under the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses and its own Establishment Clause duties.  . . .  Not only does the District fail to offer a sound reason to prefer one constitutional guarantee over another. It cannot even show that they are at odds,” he wrote.

“In truth, there is no conflict between” the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses on one hand and the Establishment Clause on the other, according to Gorsuch’s majority opinion.

Leatherwood said the ruling reaffirms the following “aspect of constitutional law: our First Amendment rights travel together. We, and many others, have long held that religious liberty is our nation’s first freedom and that it bolsters and strengthens other foundational rights.”

“The Court today strengthened this perspective by writing that the clauses of free expression, establishment and free speech are all complementary,” he said. “If it were not already clear enough, this Court views religious liberty as a bedrock right in our free republic.”

The oft-criticized Lemon test became a subject of discussion during April’s arguments in the case, Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The Lemon test was based on a standard offered in the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman opinion, which said a law must have a secular purpose, not primarily promote or restrict religion and “not foster an excessive entanglement with religion” to avoid a violation of the Establishment Clause.

In Monday’s opinion, Gorsuch said the school district and the Ninth Circuit Court overlooked that Lemon’s “ahistorical approach to the Establishment Clause became so ‘apparent’ [citing an earlier decision] that this Court long ago abandoned Lemon and its [government] endorsement [of religion] test offshoot.”

The Supreme Court has explained the Lemon and endorsement tests “’invited chaos’ in lower courts, led to ‘differing results’ in materially identical cases, and created a ‘minefield’ for legislators,” Gorsuch wrote, again quoting a previous opinion. Instead, the high court has emphasized an “analysis focused on original meaning and history” has “long represented” its Establishment Clause doctrine, he wrote.

In her dissent, Sotomayor said the court’s opinion “is no victory for religious liberty.”

“It elevates one individual’s interest in personal religious exercise, in the exact time and place of that individual’s choosing, over society’s interest in protecting the separation between church and state, eroding the protections for religious liberty for all,” she wrote.

The high court “now goes much further” than its recent church-state opinions, “overruling Lemon entirely and in all contexts,” Sotomayor wrote. “It is wrong to do so.”

Becket, a religious freedom advocacy organization, tweeted, “We are thrilled that the Supreme Court recognized the importance of religious expression and finally buried the Lemon test that restricted religious expression.

“Religion should not be scrubbed from the public square just because it makes a few people uncomfortable. And a person’s faith – like Coach Kennedy’s – shouldn’t be forced to stay private.”

John Bursch, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written statement the high court was right to reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision “that wrongly reasoned that Coach Kennedy’s personal, on-field prayers were not his own, but the government’s. American citizens don’t give up the right to prayerfully practice their faith during working hours when they accept a job with a public employer.”

Advocates for a strict separation between church and state decried the opinion.

Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said the decision “undermines religious freedom in public schools by holding that school officials must accommodate a public school teacher’s religious exercise at a school event.”

The court “pays lip service to religious freedom but throws out any concern about avoiding government pressure on students,” she said in a written release.

In 2008, Kennedy – an assistant coach with the Bremerton (Wash.) High School varsity team – began the practice of walking to the 50-yard line after each game, kneeling and briefly praying, thanking God for the players. Players eventually began joining him, and Kennedy, who was also head coach of the junior varsity team, continued to pray at midfield following games for the next seven years. He also reportedly gave motivational speeches to players on both teams who gathered around him.

During the 2015 season, the school district superintendent sent a letter to Kennedy telling him to refrain from the post-game prayers and from religious expression in his motivational talks to players. The superintendent said Kennedy’s practices likely violated the Establishment Clause. After abiding by the mandate for a few weeks, Kennedy returned to his former practice of praying at midfield and was joined by others.

The school district placed Kennedy on administrative leave as a result. The athletic director recommended the school not rehire him in 2016, and Kennedy declined to apply for a coaching position when a new varsity head coach was hired for the next season.

The article originally appeared in Baptist Press.

Connection and conviction in Southern California

As the worship singing ended and a line of chairs were queued on the stage at a small Baptist church in this suburb of Los Angeles, those in attendance quickly realized that a sermon wasn’t going to be delivered on this breezy and bright Southern California Sunday morning. 

What members and guests got instead was a panel discussion consisting of church members who, in various ways and apart from any ministry of the church, have found ways to connect and minister to their communities. One by one, each panelist gave a testimony of how they are planting gospel seeds as they go about their daily routines.

One couple, the Nishimotos, said they decided to go door-to-door during the pandemic and meet the practical needs of their neighbors, distributing hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper at a time when stores couldn’t keep them in stock. Another couple, the Spykermans, used their daily walks to engage other walkers who, over time, trusted them enough to share struggles in their lives for which they had no answer. 

The pastor, Mike, said he has used walking his dog as an opportunity to talk to people he sees along his regular route. One of the women he greets regularly on those walks, a Muslim, recently told him she has lost two husbands—one to cancer and another to a car wreck. “She was just desperate, and you could tell she wanted to tell someone her story,” he said. “And when she tells me her story, it opens the door for me to tell her my story. And my story is God’s story.”

"The modern church does a lot of things well. We preach well. We teach well. ... But one thing we struggle to do well is connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ."

These couples weren’t just describing “buddy evangelism,” a practice of befriending someone with the intent of eventually sharing a gospel message that never seems to conveniently fit in the friendship. They were describing efforts to make personal, relational connections with people they don’t know for the purpose of inviting them into a spiritual space—either by praying for people or telling them their own stories of how Jesus has transformed their lives. 

The modern church does a lot of things well. We preach well. We teach well. We are great at putting on world-class events. But one thing we struggle to do well is connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not talking about small talk and handshakes on Sunday morning. I’m talking about down-and-dirty, sometimes-inconvenient, real-life connections that you can count on when the going gets tough. I’m talking about the manifestation of Galatians 6:2, where the overwhelming burden that you are carrying is lightened by someone who loves and cares about you enough to give their most precious—and rare—commodity: their time. 

As needs have been met and the gospel has been proclaimed, several of the panelists testified that they have been blessed in ways they would have never imagined by simply putting in the effort to get to know the people God has put in their lives. 

“I can’t tell you how much joy there is in loving people without expectation,” one woman on the panel said.

No, the congregation didn’t hear a sermon on this particular Sunday, but that’ll preach.

As the second-fastest-growing city in Texas, Fort Worth needs more churches

Through prayer and partnerships, Redemption City is seeing God move in a mighty way

The population of Fort Worth has increased by 30% since 2010, making it the second-fastest-growing city in Texas, according to statistics cited by church planter Matt Kendrick. Projections indicate Cowtown will basically double in population by 2040 compared to 2000, prompting a major need for more churches.

“The counterintuitive thing is how many more churches Fort Worth and cities around Texas need now,” Kendrick, lead pastor of Redemption City Church in Fort Worth, said recently. “A misconception even that I had before planting here was that there are plenty of churches, but that is not the case.”

A culture shift has accompanied the population growth so that fewer Fort Worth residents are attending church today than in 2010, Kendrick said, indicating a need for fresh congregations to reach the city.

People are moving to Fort Worth from other parts of the country and the world. Kendrick said his neighborhood is a good illustration of the trend: he has neighbors from Michigan, California, and a country in the Middle East. “God is bringing the nations to our doorstep,” he said.

Kendrick served at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano and at Biltmore Church in North Carolina before God led him to plant in Fort Worth in 2020. Redemption City started with four core families, and they officially launched last August at the Benbrook YMCA, where they still meet.

Redemption City Church puts a priority on connecting with its community. Church leaders have a goal of knocking on the doors of 120,000 people in the church’s target area over the next decade. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

The YMCA is “the perfect location” because it’s at the center of a five-mile target radius the church has identified to reach, Kendrick said. Another reason for planting in Fort Worth is its proximity to students. 

With Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Texas Christian University, and other colleges, “we see Fort Worth as a strategic city to accomplish the Great Commission,” the pastor said. In its infancy, Redemption City already is sending students to about 10 countries this summer. 

Kendrick said 100% of the people attending Redemption City are unchurched, dechurched (haven’t attended church in 15-20 years), or are new to the area. In other words, their growth isn’t from taking people from existing churches. 

The church has identified 120,000 households in its target area, and church leaders have a goal of knocking on all of those doors within 10 years. “We’re eating an elephant one weekend at a time,” Kendrick said.

With knocking on doors as their primary outreach strategy, Redemption City also has taken a posture of servanthood in Fort Worth, Kendrick said. “We find ways to serve our neighbors. We do free car washes. We go on running trails and give out free bottles of water.

"A misconception even that I had before planting here was that there are plenty of churches, but that is not the case."

Redemption City Church has grown by 10 percent each month since beginning last year. The prayer support of partner churches is key to that growth, Pastor Matt Kendrick said.

“At Christmas, we gave all of the teachers in Benbrook—two elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school—a coffee gift card or a Sonic gift card of $25 to say, ‘Thanks for all you’re doing. You’re surviving the pandemic through all the different things. Way to go.’”

Redemption City had 176 people on Easter this year. The average attendance is around 150, but it has grown by 10 percent each month since the beginning, Kendrick said. “When we were growing from 30 to 33, that was exciting,” he said, “but now that we’re at about 145-150 people growing 10 percent a month, it’s really kind of snowballing and getting fun.”

Just like Jesus, Kendrick said Redemption City will “take anybody,” but the kind of stories that are emerging of people being reached include that of a couple that got pregnant at age 16 and were “judged harshly” by their church. That was 20 years ago, and they’ve only recently started attending church again, this time at Redemption City.

Now the family has grown to six, and recently the mother, father, and four children received Jesus as Savior, Kendrick said. 

“Those are the kinds of people that we’re reaching, and it’s so exciting. From death to life, new kingdom growth,” he said.

Established churches play an integral role in church planting, Kendrick said. Prestonwood is their sending church, and churches across the state, including Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler and Broadview Baptist Church in Abilene, support them monthly or yearly and send mission teams to spur them on.

In fact, mission teams from partner churches have knocked on most of the doors in the target radius on behalf of Redemption City, Kendrick said. Such teams also help set up and tear down at the YMCA on Sundays, “which is such a big feat for us because that’s such a grind.”

All Southern Baptist churches are supporting church planting through the Cooperative Program, Kendrick noted, but he advised churches that don’t currently have a direct link to a church plant to reach out to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention so they can get connected. 

“I can’t tell you how many Sunday school classes and Wednesday night prayer meetings are praying for Redemption City,” he said. “All across the country, churches are praying for us, and we are growing and seeing the lost saved. Those two data points are connected.”