Month: July 2022

Keep the main thing the main thing

Prior to God calling me to my role as editor of the Texan, I was pastoring a church in Central Oregon. Though I’d served on a church staff previously, this was the first time I had ever led an entire church.

Like many men who find themselves called to this position, I had a million thoughts and ideas about the direction I wanted to lead this church. Big picture, I wanted what I think all pastors want—to lovingly shepherd the people to whom God had called me and to guide them toward a more intimate relationship with Jesus that, in turn, would catalyze them to invite others into that same relationship. 

But on the micro level, there were literally hundreds of critically important issues that needed to be addressed for us to be able to achieve the macro vision. Our church had a constitution and bylaws that hadn’t been updated much since they were written in 1970. Though the bylaws called for the pastor to make decisions alongside a deacon body, the church had no deacons because it had never replaced the ones who had died or moved away.

Feeling overwhelmed by tasks I had no idea how to tackle, I decided to focus on other challenges that would be easier to accomplish and, hopefully, get checked off our to-do list faster. So what did I do? I went all in on creating a website for the church and nit-picking the volunteer leading worship about starting the Sunday morning service on time.

It’s not that those latter tasks weren’t important. They just weren’t the best uses of my time and they certainly weren’t the most important things the church needed accomplished to move forward. The church could survive in the short term without an online presence, but not having solid, biblical leadership in place was setting us up for trouble down the line when COVID arrived and put a strain on churches across the nation. 

"Assess regularly where you’re at on the road to achieving your goals this coming year, be flexible where you can, but be firm where you must."

As I think back to those times, I realize I had fallen victim to a trap all of us struggle with at one time or another: I gravitated toward that which was easiest. When we feel overwhelmed, when we are exhausted, when we don’t know what to do … we will naturally try to take the path of least resistance. In my experience, that path rarely leads to a desired destination. 

Two significant events are on the horizon: a new school year will begin in August, and many churches also consider September the start of their new “church year” when their next budget cycle begins. With these events come great opportunities for churches to take steps toward achieving the big-picture goal of reaching people, discipling them, and, in time, molding them into community missionaries who reach and disciple others..

As your church is executing a strategy to accomplish these things, the big-picture plan will almost certainly find itself competing with a swarm of pesky urgencies that threaten to siphon time, resources, and focus. Only you, as a pastor or a church leader, can decide which of those urgencies you must address, which you can offload to someone else, and which ones can wait.

But the point is, that swarm is coming. Take time to regularly and prayerfully process priorities alone, then go through that same process with other key leaders. Assess regularly where you’re at on the road to achieving your goals this coming year, be flexible where you can, but be firm where you must.

Satan would love nothing more than for your church to have the best website in Texas (so to speak) if that means the main thing—proclaiming the truth about Jesus to a world desperate for hope—gets lost in a dizzying, unwieldy swirl of distraction.

Jason Lovins shares story of being spared from abortion in new music video

NASHVILLE (BP)—Jason Lovins has shared his story of being spared from abortion to audiences across the country for years. But for the first time, the story is being told in video.

The Jason Lovins Band’s new single, “Constant,” features guest vocals from Russ Lee, lead singer of CCM supergroup NewSong.

The music video for the song, released earlier this summer, depicts the story of his mother’s pregnancy journey and the decision she faced, while the song lyrics tell of God’s constant character.

Grandma Mary Jo Lovins, Uncle Greg Lovins and Grandpa Ray Lovins. It was also Jason’s third birthday.

Lovins’ mother conceived him after being sexually assaulted while walking home from the pool when she was 15 years old.

He said his mother doesn’t even remember the incident and has no idea who his father is. The way she found out was after going to the doctor after feeling sick and not knowing what was going on.

After the initial shock wore off, Lovins said his grandmother had a profound response.

“My Grandma told my Mom, ‘We’re going to go to church, and we’re going to pray,’” Lovins said. “If you could have heard her tell the story, she made it sound so simple, yet I know it could not have been easy. My grandmother very much understood how big God is. He is so big that He wasn’t surprised by me. She wasn’t listening to the world, she was listening to the One who created the world.”

Even though many Christians they knew suggested his mother should get an abortion, having the baby and putting it up for adoption was the plan from the beginning.

That is, until she heard Jason’s heartbeat for the first time.

His mother decided she not only wanted to have the baby, but raise the baby herself with the help of her parents and brother.

Lovins said he has fond memories of his unconventional upbringing, and even said his first memory is of his mother’s high school graduation, the same day as his third birthday.

“My family made it very clear to me at a young age that you don’t have an earthly father and we don’t even know who it is, but you have a Heavenly Father who loves you, and they would continue to remind me of that,” Lovins said.

“That’s always been enough for me. I don’t know any other way to say it. I was loved by so many different people. I’m blessed that God chose to put me in the family that He did.”

Despite being content in his circumstances, Lovins said he never really shared his story until his early music career.

One night while performing with his college band at a local church, Lovins said he just felt compelled to share the story with audience. The pastor commended him for doing so, and made him promise to continue sharing it.

Lovins now said he now makes it a point to share his story every time he is in front of a live audience.

“God just showed me clearly, ‘There’s a reason I wrote your story this way, and I’m going to have you share this and give you a platform to do it,’” Lovins said.

He formed his self-titled band just a couple of years after beginning to share his journey at shows. The group has performed at a variety of different venues and SBC-related events as well as at Southern Baptist churches, youth conferences, camps and “Who’s Your One?” events.

“The SBC has been good to me over the years and I’m so thankful,” Lovins said.

Many concertgoers, particularly young women, will come talk to him after a show and tell him how they were impacted by his story.

One early example happened at a Fuge Camp. He shared his story and was later connected with a 16-year-old girl there who had an eight-month-old baby. Her story was very similar to Lovins’ mother’s, and the two were able to sit down and talk.

“All she needed to know was that there was someone in the world who had been through exactly what she was going through and made it,” Lovins said. “That was life-changing for me. It helped me understand why my story was written the way that it was.”

While he has been sharing his story from stage for years, Lovins said he had never found the song that felt right for putting the story to music. That was until three years ago when he came across a video of a friend singing the song lyrics that would later become “Constant.”

“It just hit me like no song had ever hit me before,” he said. “Just the whole idea that God is constant and that He doesn’t change and that He’s great either way. That’s totally how my family lived their life.”

His friend agreed to allow the band to record the song. The band made the musical arrangements, connected with Lee to sing the second verse and eventually filmed the music video. Due to the pandemic, the full process took about three years.

Just as the band was getting ready to release the music video this spring, the topic of abortion came into the national conversation in a new way with rumors of, and eventual fulfilment of, the overturn of the historic Roe v. Wade court decision.

“I honestly just can’t believe God’s timing,” Lovins said. “I don’t necessarily get into all the policy things, but all I’ve done is just share my story and I’m just thankful my family wasn’t listening to the world. I’m just thankful that I had a shot at life.”

Lovins said he hopes his story and song can be a part of the practical ministry to women that will be needed after the historic decision.

“I’ve met a lot of women who have come and told me their stories, and there are so many out there who have really struggled and just felt like they didn’t have anybody to turn to,” Lovins said.

“We need more people like my grandma who are going to be there and take somebody in no matter who they are and tell them God is constant. That’s what’s going to make a difference in this country. I think the church has got to step up and help.”

For more information about the Jason Lovins Band, click here, and to watch the music video, click here.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Bible story translators deliver gospel to least-reached peoples

Bir Bahdur is a simple animal herder. Sometimes he works as a day-laborer. He’s quiet and meek. He’s uneducated and soft-spoken. He doesn’t consider himself qualified to share the gospel, let alone teach it. Many of his South Asian countrymen don’t think so either.

But the beauty of the Gospel is that it brings worth to those society considers not worthy.

Bir Bahdur became a believer by hearing Bible stories that were translated into his language by a coalition of International Mission Board workers, Omega Training Partnership translators and another international translation organization. Together, these three organizations form one Bible translation project.

After hearing and believing the truth, he knew he wanted to share it. With the encouragement of fellow participants and the trainers from the project’s workshops, he learned to craft and share Bible stories in his heart language.

He started telling people he encountered each day the Bible stories. And people listened.

“He’s not trained; he’s not professional, but he knows the God that he serves,” said Royce Alyward, an IMB worker who helps lead the translation initiative. “And he knows how to tell these stories. It’s by sharing those stories that God’s Word has gone forth.”

Bir Bahdur reported that several of his friends professed faith in Christ after hearing the stories.

His influence didn’t stop at those friends simply believing, though. He intentionally discipled these believers, and now from Bir Bahdur’s influence, two house churches began in his remote area.

Bir Bahdur’s story doesn’t stand alone. Royce and his wife, Elsbeth, can tell story after story of churches being planted and lives changed because of this translation project.

The idea behind this massive Bible translation project is to engage least-reached places with the Gospel. Getting the Word of God into the heart language of remote people has fostered healthy church planting and multiplication.

Since this coalition started in 2013, the Alywards said the project has seen:

  • The completion of Bible story sets in 23 languages among many of the least-served people groups of South Asia.
  • Multiplying of Gospel-sharing and indigenous church plants across these 23 languages.
  • The initiation and advance of New Testament translation in 16 of these 23 languages, with imminent plans to begin translation in four more.
  • Ongoing discipleship and church enrichment interaction with growing churches in many of South Asia’s least-reached peoples.

The key to seeing a work of this magnitude accomplished has been not only the partnership among the three organizations, but the strategic discipleship and deployment of national believers.

“This task is too big for anybody,” Elsbeth said, “but it is certainly biblical to have this kind of collaboration between like-minded organizations.”

As the groups partnered, they ensured they didn’t duplicate each other’s work.

She continued, “We’re working on seeing every tribe, every language be able to have an understandable and appropriate presentation of the Gospel in their language. This is such a huge need in this area of South Asia where you have so many harder-to-reach languages in harder-to-reach areas.”

Sharing the burden alleviates the burden on cross-cultural workers to learn each of the 100-plus languages spoken in their area.

“As a new worker is onboarding, learning the major language is a huge task,” Royce said. “As we move forward, for a cross-cultural worker, that can be very intimidating.

“One of the things we’re helping them understand is that language acquisition is important. But we, as the expatriates, don’t need to learn every language from the area. We need to learn the main languages (such as Hindi). We work with national partners who are bilingual. Once we can communicate with them in the main language of their area, we share the load with other believers and those who can help guide us in the language even before they come to faith.”

This intentionality in sharing the load, specifically with those who are not yet believers, not only gives the IMB worker some relief, but it sets the translator up to be saturated with the Gospel.

“We can intentionally look into those relationships and see how God is working,” Elsbeth said. “We see how God’s Word is so effective, especially when they hear it in the language that speaks to their heart.”

Some names may have been changed for security reasons.

Dallas church bringing gospel to thousands through food ministry

‘We have a responsibility’

For Johnnie Bradley, pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for the past 16 years, the struggles of the pandemic meant increased opportunities to share the gospel by expanding the church’s longtime Messiah Ministry outreach.

Messiah Ministry was part of Shiloh even before Bradley and deacon James Smith, current outreach director, arrived at the church. For years, deacon John Lemons, former outreach director, and church volunteers regularly brought men from the Dallas Life Foundation and Union Gospel Mission to Shiloh on Sundays for worship, a meal, a visit to the church clothes closet and food pantry.

“I just provided a little more structure when I came,” Bradley said. “The more organized you are, the more people you can help.”

In this case, organization included integrating the men more smoothly into the church service, so their presence became natural and not distracting. Trips to the clothes closet were moved to after the worship service when men might also pick up toiletries and nonperishable food items. 

Even before COVID hit, Bradley saw the need to expand the ministry beyond the homeless. 

“I shared with our deacons and the members that we should not just focus on sharing the gospel with men and women who were homeless, but we should also be even more focused on the fact that there are men and women that have jobs or are unemployed but not homeless,” he explained. “We needed to broaden our approach in sharing the gospel.”

A partnership with the North Texas Food Bank followed. Then came COVID.

Shiloh started regular food giveaways, which accelerated when the pandemic struck.

“When COVID hit, it just gave us a heavier influx of people who came to our food giveaways,” Bradley said. “We had already restructured our paradigm.”

messiah ministry outreach


monthly church volunteers


pounds of food


families served each giveaway

Food giveaways ongoing

Twice monthly food giveaways continue at the church, even as COVID has waned. Dates vary, as Shiloh follows the schedule given by the food bank, an organization tasked with serving many zip codes.

On giveaway days, which are publicized on social media, by flyers, and via a special flag outside the church in its highly visible location off busy West Illinois Avenue, cars line up well in advance of the opening time. 

“It’s not unusual to see 75-100 cars in line before we start,” Bradley said, adding that giveaways run from 8 a.m. to noon. Guests fill out brief registration forms to ensure there are no duplicate recipients and the food is distributed fairly.

In addition to what the food bank provides, the church purchases items for distribution. It’s gone at the end of each giveaway day.

Bradley said the church distributes up to 14,000 pounds of food (roughly 1,500-3,000 boxes) to 800-1,500 families from the community during each giveaway. Included in the food packages are gospel tracts and invitations to the church. Some 20-25 church volunteers assist in each distribution, including counselors who not only help folks with the food but also pray with them.

During the height of the pandemic, the church also received 18-wheelers of food from Bring the Light Ministries to supplement what the NTFB provided, although that partnership has phased out.

Around 25 volunteers gather at each Shiloh distribution to give out not only food, but personal care and prayer. SUBMITTED PHOTO

"We have a responsibility to try to help people, try to serve people, try to share the gospel when we are trying to assist them with their physical needs. We give a hand up, not a hand-out. We meet people where they are."

A multiethnic ministry

The Shiloh congregation, which has just under 500 members and an average in-person attendance of around 325, is predominantly African American. Even so, the recipients of the food giveaways are mostly Hispanic and Anglo, Bradley said, adding, “There is a major need in our zip code.” 

The scriptural basis for helping those in need is clear, the pastor said. “We try to fulfill what the Scripture says: when you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it to me,” he continued, paraphrasing Jesus in Matthew 25:40. The Old Testament emphasizes giving, too, Bradley added, referencing Proverbs 28:17.

“The poor we will have with us always,” he said. “We have a responsibility to try to help people, try to serve people, try to share the gospel when we are trying to assist them with their physical needs. We give a hand up, not a hand-out. We meet people where they are.”

Testimonials are not uncommon. Men and women on the grounds of the church sometimes weep when they receive food or assistance. It can be a transformational experience.

“Toward the end of the day, we are the hands and feet of Jesus,” Bradley said.

Other churches have gotten on board, the pastor added, noting that volunteers from New Hope Baptist, pastored by Damien Williams, have partnered with Shiloh, assisting when help is needed.

Shiloh invited members of North Garland Baptist Fellowship to assist in running the giveaways, too, Bradley said, so they could learn the system. Shiloh sent boxes of food to North Garland, a suburban church whose demographic varies considerably in terms of income, to do their own giveaway during the worst of the pandemic.

“Even professionals were struggling,” Bradley said. “We did more ministry during COVID than before COVID,” he mused, noting that while July 2022 will feature only one food giveaway because of vacations and schedules, August will include a backpack and school supply initiative.

At the height of COVID, many communities were hemorrhaging, he added. “The Lord made a way for our church, for His church, to make a difference. The church fulfilled the mission of the church.”

ERLC president search team continues work

NASHVILLE (BP)—The group tasked with recommending the next president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is currently working through the process with an active candidate, its chairman told Baptist Press July 26. Todd Howard, pastor of Watson Chapel Baptist Church in Pine Bluff, Ark., said the search team will present its report at the ERLC trustee board’s annual meeting in September.

The selection process had narrowed down to three candidates in February. Factors such as the desire for a strong consensus among search team members brought the focus to the current candidate.

The group decided to hold off on discussions this spring in anticipation of the Guidepost Solutions report released in May and the Sexual Abuse Task Force report, which was delivered last month at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, Calif. Whenever the search team reaches a strong consensus, they will present that candidate to the ERLC’s board for a vote.

In recent years the ERLC has met with sustained criticism and calls for it to be defunded, though Southern Baptists have voted by substantial margins several times to continue supporting the entity. A task force commissioned by the Executive Committee to study the ERLC’s impact on Cooperative Program giving was released in February 2021. Discussion at that month’s EC meeting resulted in no vote taken on the report.

Baptist Press asked Howard if the criticism had affected the search team’s progress.

“It’s definitely had an impact and made it a little more difficult because some who would otherwise aspire to this position understand the tenuous nature of the commission itself,” he said. “There is probably a bit of hesitancy if they have a more secure job and see we’re voting on [the ERLC’s] viability every June.

“It’s made our job more challenging, for sure. Anyone with common sense can see that.”

If doors close regarding the current candidate, Howard said, the group will consider re-opening the portal for new names to be considered.

Howard asked that Southern Baptists continue to pray for the seven-member search team as they continue the process. “This is something God’s got to do,” he said. “He does the heavy lifting; we’re just trying to follow His will.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

In South Texas, Hispanic plant seeks to raise faith from the ruins

HEBBRONVILLE—Like many towns, Hebbronville has its challenges.

This small South Texas city with roughly 5,000 residents wrestles with crime, drugs, and divorce. No aspect of the community is unaffected.

“It’s hard to work [in Hebbronville],” says Jhonny Gonzalez, pastor of True Hope Bible Fellowship Church, “because now we have seen this town’s spiritual and moral condition is in crisis.”

Amidst all the physical ruin, social deterioration, and spiritual drought, God called Gonzalez and his family from Reinosa, Mexico, several years ago to plant True Hope. The church’s vision and mission are focused on restoring families, marriages, and children and strengthening family relationships through the gospel.

Despite all the challenges, they continue to see the power of God bringing families out of the ruins of sin so that they can then be witnesses for Jesus among their neighbors—even as parts of their own church are in disrepair. A portion of the building where True Hope meets, that once housed the now-defunct First Baptist Church of Hebbronville, has been condemned by the local government. So True Hope’s members meet in a multipurpose room on another portion of the property.

After 100 years of existence, FBC Hebbronville closed due to a significant drop in membership, Gonzalez said. In early 2000, the roof of the church collapsed, the walls began to break, and the few remaining families meeting there had to look for another church.

One of the families that left went to Retama Park Baptist Church, located about 60 miles east of Hebbronville, and upon meeting Gonzalez and his family, urged the leaders at their new church to join with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to seek ways to resume services at the old FBC Hebbronville site—but this time as a new Hispanic mission. Hebbronville’s population is nearly 90% Hispanic.

Retama Park continues to support True Hope by helping fund the pastoral salary and administrating the church’s finances.

“Our heart is to be involved in the Great Commission,” said Brent Howard, Retama Park’s pastor. “Hebbronville, it’s an area that is kind of economically depressed. It is very much predominantly Catholic, so there is very little evangelical presence there at all. So a major thought in the process and the goal is to establish solid Bible belief and a Baptist presence in that town and region. That’s why we continue helping Brother Jhonny and True Hope the best that we can to be an established church fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Healing the divide

Gonzalez said many years ago, racism was very strong and evident in Hebbronville. The divide could be seen in the town’s churches, as many Anglos attended the Baptist church while Hispanics attended the Catholic church. Gonzalez—who was raised in the Catholic church—said the racial divide left many Hispanic residents feeling welcomed only in the Catholic church, and as it grew with the population, other evangelical or non-Catholic churches were viewed with contempt.

Thanks to the church planting efforts and the work God is doing in Hebbronville, those feelings have been changing in a positive direction and more and more people in town are receiving the gospel and seeing Anglo people as brothers and sisters in Christ, Gonzalez said.

Although the mission at True Hope began as a Hispanic one, Gonzalez said he realized there were still original Anglo families from the old First Baptist Church who needed to be ministered to, as well as second- and third-generation Hispanics who prefer to speak English. Because of that, True Hope began transitioning to a bilingual work. One of the church members began helping translate, and now Gonzalez preaches his messages in Spanish and English.

Moving forward on mission together

Gonzalez constantly urges his congregation to share the gospel—not only because of the biblical mandate to do so, but because “not everyone wants to talk to a pastor, but they listen to their cousin or neighbor.” Church members are responding and are increasingly sharing the gospel more naturally with their families and neighbors, he said.

The result? Ex-alcoholics are now evangelizing their alcoholic friends. Husbands are wanting to come home and restore their families. A local nursing home is hearing the gospel each week through one of the church’s outreaches, with some employees not only sharing their need for Christ but also expressing a desire to someday visit the church. Gonzalez and his daughter offer piano and guitar lessons to the community, as well, which has allowed them to connect with two families.

In other words, the mission of the church is moving forward. Gonzalez said he is daily seeking wisdom from God about how to continue moving ahead in this gospel work. He is also urgently seeking help to demolish the old church building that has been condemned so a new work can soon be constructed in its place.

A work that, literally, will rise from the ruins and provide hope to a city where hopelessness, for many, is a daily reality.

Americans divided on who should lead healthy conversations on challenges in America

NASHVILLE—Although Americans need to have productive conversations regarding challenges in our society, there is no consensus on who is in the best position to generate healthy conversations around these issues.

According to a study from Lifeway Research, fewer than 1 in 5 (18 percent) Americans say their elected president is in the best position to generate healthy conversations on challenges facing society. And 14 percent believe local church pastors are.

“A beautiful thing in America is that anyone can seek to lead productive conversations about problems in our society,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Sadly, very few Americans agree anyone is well positioned to do so.”

Fewer than 1 in 10 say elected members of Congress (9 percent), business leaders (8 percent), professors at universities (8 percent) or members of the media (6 percent) are most positively positioned to lead Americans in having healthy conversations about challenges in society.

Even though professional sports players and musicians often receive attention for public statements they make about issues Americans are facing, few Americans view athletes (3 percent) and musicians (3 percent) as thought leaders.

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans (32 percent) say none of the roles considered in this study are best positioned to lead healthy conversations on challenges in America.

Opinions have shifted slightly

Compared to a 2016 study conducted by Lifeway Research in September and October leading up to a major election, fewer Americans today say the president is in the best position to generate healthy conversations on challenges facing society (18 percent v. 23 percent). However, compared to the previous study, more Americans say elected members of Congress (9 percent v. 6 percent), professional sports players (3 percent v. 1 percent) and musicians (3 percent v. <1 percent).

And today, compared to 2016, there are a similar number of Americans who are looking to local church pastors (14 percent v. 11 percent), university professors (8 percent v. 10 percent), members of the media (6 percent v. 8 percent) or business leaders (8 percent v. 7 percent) to lead healthy societal conversations.

“Anticipation of a new president in 2016 likely led to more people hoping the elected president could lead healthy conversations,” McConnell said. “Midway through the next president’s first term, hopes for that office have faded with even less agreement on who could start or moderate needed discourse.”

Americans hold varying opinions

There are several key indicators of who Americans will view as holding the best position to generate healthy conversations on challenges in society. Males are more likely than females (10 percent v. 6 percent) to say business leaders are best positioned to lead these conversations, and those who are high school graduates or less are the least likely to say the same (4 percent).

Older generations are more likely to look to pastors, while younger generations are more likely to look to university professors to generate healthy conversations. Those 50-65 (18 percent) and those older than 65 (18 percent) are more likely to say local church pastors than those 18-34 (9 percent) and 35-49 (11 percent). And those ages 18-34 (10 percent) and 35-49 (10 percent) are more likely to choose university professors than those 50-64 (5 percent).

Those in the South, where America is saturated with churches, are more likely than those in the West to say they look to pastors to lead healthy conversations (16 percent v. 10 percent).

Views from the pews

Even those who identify with a religious group or attend worship services hold varying opinions on where conversations about issues in society should be birthed. Catholics are more likely than Protestants to say healthy conversations should start with our elected president (22 percent v. 16 percent) or business leaders (12 percent v. 7 percent). Meanwhile, Protestants (22 percent) are more likely to say pastors of local churches should lead these conversations when compared to Catholics (9 percent), people of other religions (9 percent) or those who are religiously unaffiliated (3 percent).

Furthermore, those with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without evangelical beliefs (32 percent v. 9 percent) to say healthy conversations should start with pastors.

Christians who attend worship services at least four times a month (30 percent) are the most likely to look to pastors to generate conversations about challenges in American society.

“Society certainly has its problems, and productive dialogue on these challenges has become increasingly hard to find,” McConnell said. “Many have preferred solutions to society’s ills, but with no one trusted to stimulate or moderate a healthy discussion around them, achieving consensus will be rare.”

For more information, view the complete report and visit


She Stands keynote Lennon: ‘Hope is more than a feeling’

Andrea Lennon is a Bible teacher, author, podcaster, and founder of Andrea Lennon Ministry. She also serves as Women’s Ministry Specialist for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Her books include “God in the Window” and “Hope: More Than A Feeling.” Lennon recently spoke with Texan editor Jayson Larson about her upcoming keynote address at the She Stands Women’s Conference set for August 26-27 at West Conroe Baptist Church in Conroe.

JL: What do you see as the greatest need of women today?

AL: I really think we need hope. We’re in a season of time where life is hard, questions are big, there are twists and turns, and there are ups and downs. We have to understand that daily, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to possess a biblical mindset. That is where we filter our life and our experiences and our thoughts through the Word of God. So what we’ll talk about at She Stands is how to know, live, and share the truth of God’s Word in the context of biblical hope. Hope is more than a feeling. It is not an emotional whim that comes during the good times and leaves during the hard times. Biblical hope is a strong assurance based on God’s character rather than our circumstances. I think the greatest need for women is to just understand that God loves us, that He has a plan for our lives, that He is in control, and because of who He is and how He faithfully works, we have hope in Him. That’s really a message that God has placed on my heart for women today.

JL: There’s so much bad news and hopelessness and so many things that can steal our focus away from remembering what true hope is. How do you plan to address that at She Stands?

AL: We’re going to dig into Romans 15:13, which says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” What we’ll see there is that hope originates with God. He is the God of hope, and as we place our trust and our faith in Him, His hope is applied to our lives. That gets into the nitty gritty details of life, the hard questions, the unknown situations, the overwhelming seasons. So that’s where I just encourage women to bring your questions, bring your doubts, bring those hard things that are going on in your life, lay them before the Lord and His Word, and watch Him speak truth and direction into those places and spaces where maybe you have questions and doubts.

JL: If hope is a mindset that exists within individuals, encouragement may be better understood as something that occurs between two or more individuals. What are some things women can do to be more effective encouragers of one another?

AL: I always encourage women to really cultivate a passionate pursuit of Christ in their life, because if we’re going to minister out of the overflow and encourage others with the encouragement we receive, then we better be receiving encouragement. So often, I think we focus on roles and responsibilities and we forsake relationships. If we can go back and abide in Christ and let His Word abide in us, then what’s going to happen is we’re going to bear much fruit. So it’s really just learning how to abide, learning how to sit at the feet of Jesus, inviting Him to answer those questions that are in our life, and inviting Him to give encouragement to our soul.

JL: Are there some practical rhythms that you would recommend to women to help them come to that place where they are living and hoping and encouraging—as you said—“out of the overflow?”

AL: I have an eBook called, Andrea’s Top 10 List, where I talk about the top 10 things we can do to cultivate hope or cultivate a passionate pursuit with Jesus. A couple of things that are in that eBook, I think, are very pertinent to this question. Number one is that we have to have a daily quiet time. I mean, we need time in the Word with the Lord every single day. Another thing is that we need a consistent prayer life where we’re utilizing an ACTS model where we have a balanced prayer life engaging in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication so that our prayer lives don’t just consist of telling God what we think He needs to know or asking for what we think we need to receive. It’s more of a relationship where we’re praising Him for who He is, and we’re confessing our sins to Him and asking for forgiveness so we have that passionate pursuit because we’ve encountered the grace of God.

One other discipline that I think is so important is to both memorize Scripture and to share Scripture with others. It’s so easy in the category of encouragement to share our thoughts or our feelings or our perspectives, but we need to share the Word of God and be prepared to do that throughout our day. One of my favorite things about the faithfulness of God is that, even if we don’t know it, He prepares us during our quiet times with Him to live out that truth and share that truth later in the day. So in that sense, the Word of God is lived out through us.

Bible teacher, author, and podcaster Andrea Lennon will bring a message of hope and encouragement at the She Stands Women's Conference August 26-27 in Conroe. SUBMITTED PHOTO

State of the Bible: Younger adults love prisoners, immigrants as neighbors

PHILADELPHIA (BP)—Younger Christians who engage with Scripture are more apt to care for prisoners and immigrants as neighbors than are older Christians, the latest release from the 2022 State of the Bible reveals.

While older Scripture-engaged Christians, those age 77 and above, more often say it’s important to be good neighbors, the difference is likely attributable to seniors’ narrower definition of the term neighbor, the American Bible Society (ABS) said in releasing the chapter focusing on being a good neighbor.

“It’s possible that many of these seniors … are defining neighbor very specifically, if they have developed deep relationships with those who have lived near them for years,” the ABS said July 14 in releasing the fourth chapter of the report. “In the digital world of younger respondents, when people routinely interact with others on the other side of the globe, the concept of neighbor becomes more abstract.”

Among the Scripture-engaged of all ages, being a good neighbor ranked as highest among what the ABS described as pro-social priorities, followed by advocating for the oppressed, caring for the environment, caring for those in prison, befriending people of other religions, befriending people of other races, and welcoming immigrants. But all priorities ranked between 4.4 and 5.3 on a scale gauging importance between a low of 1 and a high of 6.

But Gen Z ranked higher than other generations in caring for those in prisons, scoring 3.7 compared to seniors or elders who ranked 3.5; and 4.2 in welcoming immigrants, compared to 3.5 among seniors, ABS reported from the study conducted in January.

“For a representative cross-section of American adults, being a good neighbor and caring for the environment are the highest rated priorities overall,” ABS said. “The questions on prisoners and immigrants have the lowest ratings.”

Study participants described as comprising a “movable middle” on Scripture engagement, and those who are disengaged scripturally ranked lowest in all categories except caring for the environment. Here, those described as scripturally disengaged tied with participants described as Scripture engaged, ranking at 4.8 in environmental care.

The ABS studied neighborly characteristics among American adults in its 2021 report as well, but in 2022 in addition to actual activities, looked at the desires of Americans regarding neighborliness. The study considered Americans’ desires in following Jesus’ teachings on loving neighbors, focused on seven specific categories indicated above.

“Controversy swirls around a number of these issues. Some might be considered more political than religious,” ABS said. “Yet, though they might disagree on specifics, students of Scripture apparently recognize a biblical call to act on these matters — to welcome, befriend, care, and advocate.”

“This year’s report shows clearly that Scripture Engaged people make better neighbors. They care for people in need. They take civic duty seriously. They realize they don’t know everything, and they admit that in conversation. They serve others in a variety of ways.”

Previous chapters, released in April, May and June, focused on the level of Scripture engagement, how the Bible shapes ideas about spiritual things, and how Scripture engagement impacts trauma survivors.

Future chapters, scheduled for monthly releases, will focus on faith, the Bible and technology, and generosity.

ABS researchers collaborated with the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center to survey a nationally representative group of American adults on topics related to the Bible, faith and the church. The study conducted online via telephone produced 2,598 responses from a representative sample of adults 18 and older in all 50 states and Washington D.C.

The fourth chapter, titled “A Nation of Neighbors,” may be downloaded here.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Deep in the heart of Texas, a gospel explosion

China Spring church plant rapidly
reaches neighbors, co-workers for Christ

At a year-and-a-half old, Wellspring Church in China Spring has grown to about 250 members, has nearly paid for 36 acres for a future campus, and is self-supporting financially with three full-time staff members. 

“We’re seeing families transformed—those that came in that maybe were on the fence or just hadn’t been in church in a long time or maybe were unchurched completely, really beginning to grow in the Lord and love Him deeply,” said Matt Byrd, who pastors Wellspring, located about 13 miles northwest of Waco. 

Byrd, a Southwestern Seminary graduate who was called to ministry at a Centrifuge camp at Glorieta years ago, said it’s no longer just the church planting team trying to bring people in. 

“God has just moved in our people, and there’s a community in our church that exists, a family that exists, and they’re going out and reaching their neighbors and inviting their co-workers,” Byrd said.

One of the factors that has contributed to Wellspring’s rapid growth is that China Spring is one of the fastest-growing suburbs of Waco, fueled in part by the popularity of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” based in Waco, Byrd said. Though he finds it unbelievable, people nationwide still use their family vacations to visit the Silos at the now-world-famous Magnolia Market. 

Wellspring launched in February 2021 as a plant of RockPointe Church in Flower Mound and First Baptist Church in Cooper, both churches where Byrd had served on staff. From the beginning, discipleship pastor Brent Bolton and worship and student minister Austin Crosby were part of the team. 

“We launched with about 60 adults serving that day, and I think we had 230 or 240 people come to the opening service, which was incredible,” Byrd said. The serving team grew out of home meetings that had started the previous fall. 

Lead pastor Matt Byrd said he has had a front row seat to watching God accomplish the impossible in the planting of Wellspring Church in China Spring.

“It’s been kind of fast and furious ever since then,” Byrd said. More than 30 people have been baptized, and some men have been through about 10 months of training as elder candidates. Byrd hopes they’ll be installed in August.

When 36 acres of land became available on the main highway, the church sensed God saying, “This is for you,” and they took on nearly half a million dollars of debt as an eight-month-old church plant last fall. They owe $70,000 nine months later and are on track to pay it off within a year of buying the property.

“God has been overly kind to us, and it has been an amazing journey,” Byrd said. “It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in ministry, but it’s also some of the most fun I’ve ever had because you get kind of a front row seat to, ‘If God doesn’t show up, we’re going to die out here.’ He does incredible things that are seemingly impossible, like, ‘This doesn’t happen without God doing this.’”

When Byrd was led to plant in China Spring, he didn’t realize what a tight-knit community it was, but that has contributed to the church’s growth. 

“I’ve got three kids under the age of 10, and they go to church with the same kids they go to school with and play sports with on Saturdays,” he said. 

CrossTraining is a three-day summer event at Wellspring Church in China Spring that teaches children about glorifying God. Submitted Photo

"God has just moved in our people, and there’s a community in our church that exists, a family that exists, and they’re going out and reaching their neighbors and inviting their co-workers."

The local high school won a state football championship last fall, and some of the coaches attend Wellspring. Baylor, of course, won the Big 12, and some of those coaches also go to Wellspring. “It’s been neat to celebrate what’s going on in those types of ways in the community,” Byrd said. 

Most Sundays, Wellspring serves 80-100 children with 25-30 volunteers. “Our student ministry kind of popped up out of nowhere,” he said. “We weren’t quite ready for it, but we had students, so we started it.” They’ve seen more than 10 students give their lives to Christ. 

“We probably have 120 adults serving in our church regularly right now,” Byrd said. “Our church wouldn’t happen without our laypeople serving.” Part of that includes setting up and tearing down for Sunday services at China Spring High School.

Church planting is important, Bryd said, because, statistically, church plants reach more lost people in the first couple of years than established churches. 

“I think maybe it’s because you’re meeting in a coffee shop or a school cafeteria or a movie theater where the unchurched or lost people maybe feel less intimidated than coming into an established church,” Byrd said. 

He believes Scripture commands believers to multiply churches.

“I believe that the missional push of the kingdom of God was supposed to be through the context of the local church,” Byrd said, “so I believe our call to go and make disciples is one of going and planting healthy churches that make those disciples.”