Month: July 2022

NAMB’s Clifton brings vitality to rural America church landscape

LINWOOD, Kan. (BP)—You might be rural if you call Dollar General the mall. You might be rural if you don Carhartt work clothes on special occasions. Or, you might be rural if Third Street is at the end of your town.

Mark Clifton smoothly slides the quips from his tongue on a recent episode of The Rural Pastor Podcast with fellow rural Kansas pastor Andy Addis, a volunteer rural strategist for the North American Mission Board replant team Clifton leads.

Free yard sales were one of many community outreaches Mark Clifton led Linwood Baptist Church in conducting to reach Linwood’s 400 residents.

Clifton admits to having a slew of Jeff Foxworthy-esque rural America teasers.

“You know it when you see it; you feel it when you’re in it.”

Seriously, Clifton sees an overlooked mission field among the 35 million to 60 million residents of rural America, an expansive estimate says depends on your definition of rural. He recently added the title of director of rural strategy to his duties as NAMB’s senior director of replanting.

“Outside of the deep South, rural America is as unchurched as many of our urban core centers in our major cities,” Clifton said. “And even in the South, where we have a great number of rural churches, many of them are really struggling to connect to the culture as it changes around them.”

Clifton is drawn to small towns. He and his wife Jill sold their home in Kansas City, Mo., and rebuilt in Bashor, Kan., to be closer to Linwood – population 400.

Back in May 2020 as America was wrapping its head around the COVID-19 pandemic, Clifton and his wife Jill felt called to First Baptist Church of Linwood. The church had dwindled to three active members.

Clifton loves rural churches and thinks every small town should have at least one.

He’d like Southern Baptists to know that rural churches “are critically important, that they are in places where there is a lack of churches, that they really need to reach the next generation in those communities.” He’d like larger city congregations to view rural churches “as tremendous opportunities for a platform for ministry where, relatively speaking, small resources can make a huge difference and a huge impact.”

Mark Clifton led Linwood Baptist Church, which had dwindled to three active members, to engage the community with outdoor movie nights at the elementary school across the street from the church. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The town of Linwood sits on a small blacktop highway about 10 miles west of metro Kansas City, Mo., and about 10 miles east of Lawrence, Kan. Most people work in nearby communities or telecommute – that is, when strong winds aren’t interrupting internet service. There’s an elementary school. The lone Methodist church had already closed. Linwood Baptist was about to close its doors and donate its property.

“It was First Baptist Linwood,” Clifton said of the 111-year-old church. “We now just call it Linwood Baptist, cause there’s no second church there.”

Clifton met with the three members to discuss an alternative future to closing the doors.

“I told them they didn’t need to pay me any salary. I do believe this, that Jesus has a plan for every church,” Clifton told Baptist Press. “And I think sometimes we’re way too quick to give up on a church and just say it needs to close down.”

Clifton began with “Experiencing God” Bible studies on Wednesday nights. He posted community outreaches on the handful of Facebook community pages serving the town. He worked with the elementary school across the street to host outdoor movie nights. Free garage sales, doorknocker bags with fresh-baked cookies and Gospel tracts, free school supplies for teachers, and free garage sales engaged the community. Linwood Baptist brought Santa Claus and the Kansas City Chiefs mascot to town.

“We just immersed our self,” he said. “The reality in a small town is you can make a huge impression with really very little money and effort. It would be hard in Kansas City to make an impression on a whole city. But in a people of 400, you do a few of these things” and achieve optimal impact.

Two years later, Clifford puts Linwood Baptist’s average Sunday worship attendance at 65-70, and counts eight baptisms since October 2020.

“I enjoy the simplicity of it. I enjoy the absolutely uncomplicated nature of church,” he said. “I think sometimes we make church far more complex and complicated than it needs to be. I just enjoy the sweet fellowship, the fact that we’re focused entirely on making much of Jesus and loving our community.”

Linwood Baptist is among the latest in a string of dozens of churches Clifton has planted and replanted in the decades since he was 18 years old.

Replanting is a passion of his.

“My passion for replanting came when God brought one thought to my mind, and that was this: ‘What about a dying church brings glory to God? What about a dying church says our God is great and His Gospel is powerful?’ And then I realized that trying to reclaim dying churches was not primarily a mission endeavor, or an endeavor to help the Convention (SBC).” Clifton said. “It was an endeavor to reclaim God’s glory. So it’s really an act of worship.”

Between age 18 in 1978 and 2005, he planted 10 churches.

“I was all about church planting. That’s all I did was plant churches.”

In 2005, he went to Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., realizing that if a church of its stature, founded in 1921, closed its doors, it would say something improper about the power of the Gospel.

“This church has been saying for 90 years when I went there, that we believe the Bible, we believe in Jesus, we have the hope of the world, but we can’t keep our church open,” he said.

“That’s when my whole heart changed and I ran toward dying churches. From that point on … my ministry has been in replanting, reclaiming dying churches so that they don’t die. And then rural America is the same way. I do it for God’s glory.”

In the days when he began, Clifton would plant a church and look for a leader to designate as a founding pastor, ready to lead the church as he moved on to plant the next church.

Even today, he spends about 10 hours a week at Linwood Baptist, traveling frequently to train, mentor and empower others in church leadership and replanting. Linwood has a fulltime associate pastor, with Clifton serving as senior pastor.

Clifton loves encouraging associational mission strategists and state conventions.

“I find the greatest joy in my life is just encouraging those men and cheering them on and giving them any resource I can,” he said. “I speak in churches. I speak in associational meetings. I speak to state conventions. I speak on seminary campuses. I just try to encourage as many people as I can to help rural churches, to help replant dying churches wherever they find them.”

He leads a team of eight replanters at NAMB. He has authored “Reclaiming Glory” and co-authored (with Kenneth Priest) “Rubicons of Revitalization: Overcoming 8 Common Barriers to Church Renewal,” and he joins Thom Rainer on the weekly Revitalize and Replant podcast. He began The Rural Pastor podcast in May.

Clifton believes every community, no matter how small or isolated, needs a church.

“There needs to be a sacred space in every community. There needs to be the people of God in every community,” he said. “That’s the strength of who we are as Southern Baptists.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Gospel changes life of 108-year-old in South Asia

SOUTH ASIA—At 108 years old, Auntie’s vision has essentially failed her. But what hasn’t failed is her newfound love for the gospel.

A local believer shared the gospel in her home, using the Ek Rasta SD cards. The name Ek Rasta is translated in English as “The Way” and is based on Acts 24:14. These cards, compiled by International Mission Board teams in a remote area of South Asia, provide what IMB missionary Veronica Masterson described as a “robust gospel presentation.”

As Auntie heard the translated stories, the Holy Spirit worked in her heart. At 108 years old, she believed and was baptized. She left the religion that she held so closely for the past century—Hinduism.

Now, she has taken it upon herself to be obedient to the Great Commission in any capacity she can.

“I have no fear of dying,” Auntie told Masterson. “I’m glad I will die knowing God.

“I just sit all day,” Auntie continued, “But, while I’m still living, I’m going to tell these stories to anyone who comes to sit with me.”

In her home each week, she meets with her family in a house church and uses the SD card. This resource has a much further reach than any one IMB missionary team because it can be carried from village to village, distributed and studied in small, national believer-led groups. An IMB team in South Asia use the Ek Rasta SD cards for gospel entry as well as discipleship, healthy church formation and leadership development.

Masterson said these SD cards have had an impact. In the eight years that they have been in use, the teams have seen 187,276 baptisms and counting.

The resources are provided in five of the primary languages of the area. While written Bible translations are available in these languages, the teams found that many in the remote areas are illiterate—up to 80 percent illiterate in Auntie’s area. Therefore, another approach to getting Gospel presentations and the Word of God into hands was necessary.

Each micro-SD card contains material for entry and gospel presentation. This includes:

  • a full audio and print Bible
  • movies, including: The Savior, the Jesus Film and Magdalena
  • and 35 Bible lessons presenting an “according to the Scriptures” gospel in print and audio files with a picture for each lesson.

The emphasis of the 35 Bible lessons is a robust gospel presentation.

“We refer to it as a ‘robust gospel’ because it’s not just a Romans Road type of presentation. As a listener hears the 35 lessons, they get a full overview of God’s Word from creation all the way to Jesus’ return and new creation,” said Masterson, who has spent the last 17 years sharing the gospel among the least reached in South Asia.

She explained that with the predominant religion being Hindu, most have no understanding of God. The SD card helps build a biblical worldview.

“We want them to have enough information to come to an understanding and make a true decision to follow Christ,” she said.

The other resources the SD card provides focus on discipleship, church formation and leadership development. These include:

  • a new believer’s Bible study in print and audio files
  • discipleship material in print and audio files
  • Christian doctrines study (based on “The Baptist Faith and Message”) in print and audio files
  • character-based leadership development lessons based on Titus 1-2 in print and audio files
  • worship music
  • other resources

The SD cards help believers overcome barriers in sharing the gospel, from illiteracy to the fact that women in this culture are given very few opportunities. Anyone can invite friends over for tea and listen to the content on the cards in the comfort and privacy of their own sitting room, just like Auntie.

You can learn more, use this resource as a tool to reach South Asians in the United States and access all Ek Rasta resources including the Ek Rasta apps for Apple or Android at

This article originally appeared on IMB. Some names may have been changed for security reasons.

Percentage of Americans viewing Scripture as literal Word of God reaches new low

NASHVILLE (BP)—A survey of Americans and their view of Scripture reflects a trend of disassociation from religion. One’s exposure to Scripture, however, can also factor in those results.

The number of Americans accepting the Bible as the literal Word of God has reached its lowest point since Gallup began the study in 1976, according to its most recent findings. The new figure of 20 percent is down from the 24 percent of the most recent poll in 2017.

Respondents were asked, “Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible?” Those statements were:

The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.
The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.
The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man.

Fifty-eight percent of Christian adults view Scripture as the inspired Word of God, compared to a quarter who see it as the actual Word of God. Among all U.S. adults, 49 percent consider it inspired while 20 percent see the Bible as the actual Word of God.

Those attending church weekly are most likely to hold a view of Scripture as the actual Word of God, though even that number came in at 44 percent.

John Hammett, senior professor of systematic theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said one’s perception of Scripture is largely shaped by one’s exposure to it.

“People who consistently hear thoughtful, expository biblical preaching are much more likely to be convinced of the Bible’s trustworthiness, authority and inerrancy than those who have little to no exposure,” he said. “Such expository teaching and preaching of the Bible is the greatest need of this and every generation.”

According to Gallup, 40 percent of those identifying as evangelical or born again hold the Bible as literally true while 51 percent consider it inspired. Surprisingly, 8 percent in that group stated the Bible was an ancient book of fables.

Conversely, 6 percent of adults who either identify with all other religions or claim no religious identity nevertheless say the Bible is the literal Word of God. That figure falls well short of the 65 percent in that group who consider it mythology, however, and the overall 29 percent of U.S adults who hold that position.

Historically, more Americans viewed the Bible as literal instead of as a collection of fables, marking its widest difference of 28 percent in November 1984. That gap closed to 7 percentage points by February 2001. It widened again in the years following the 9/11 attacks before closing again toward the end of that decade.

The crossover came in 2017, when 26 percent of respondents described Scripture as a collection of fables, history and moral precepts as opposed to the 24 percent who claim it to be the actual Word of God.

As Hammett stated, a consistent, biblical exposure to Scripture bears a tremendous impact on how one views it. It also helps in how one views the truth contained therein.

“Those who stumble over the word ‘literal’ need a more careful understanding of what that word means,” said Hammett, who also serve SEBTS as the John Leadley Dagg chair of systematic theology. “Many think because the Bible uses language of the sun rising and setting, it must be wrong and science right and the Bible can’t be taken literally. But literal interpretation of figurative language requires understanding what the figures literally mean.

“Literal interpretation does not equal wooden interpretation, with no understanding of the literary genres in Scripture. There are parables, poetry, lament and narratives in Scripture. All communicate literal truth, but in diverse ways. Faithful biblical exposition explains such matters to people, and allows them to see the literal truth, often couched in figurative language.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

‘Very high priority’: Barber reveals criteria for new task force appointees

FARMERSVILLE, Texas (BP)—Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber has unveiled his desired skillset for appointees to an Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force approved by messengers at the 2022 SBC Annual Meeting.

“You need, above all, a sense of the rightness of this task and the importance of this task, for everyone,” Barber said during the July 5 episode of the SBC This Week podcast. “Everyone on this implementation task force needs to be committed to the solution of this problem.”

Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force members must understand trauma, sexual abuse, the needs and concerns of abuse survivors, pertinent legal requirements and SBC polity and structure, Barber said. The team must include good communicators, people who have good relationships with SBC leaders and people who have the diplomacy to provide proposals and receive feedback.

“It’s enormous, if you think about it,” Barber said. “I’ve just been trying to compile and analyze all of those skillsets in order to have the data that I need” to make appointments. “If I just decide to wing it … I could end up with a great, well-intentioned team who did not know how to do what they needed to do.

“So I’m devoting a lot of time to that right now. It’s a very high priority for me.”

Barber shortened his anticipated timeframe for appointing members to the task force, moving from the end of July to mid-month.

In addition to preventing sexual abuse, Barber said, Southern Baptist churches should become a place of excellence in ministering to sexual abuse survivors.

“There’s tremendous hurt and need all around us in every one of our congregations,” he said. “And to the degree that we haven’t taken clergy sex abuse very seriously – worker or volunteer sexual abuse – and worked to prevent it and to respond well to it, to the degree that we have egg on our face or anything like that, survivors of other sexual abuse are not going to feel safe and comfortable coming to us for help with what they’ve suffered.

“Beyond our mistakes and our problems, there’s a vast ministry need and ministry opportunity here that I hope we’ll be able to address.”

The task force will study the feasibility of various sexual abuse prevention measures recommended by Guidepost Solutions and the Sexual Abuse Task Force (SATF) following an independent investigation of the SBC Executive Committee’s response to sexual abuse complaints spanning two decades.

Barber mentioned one recommendation in particular – the creation of a website tracking sexual abuse convictions and credible accusations.

“People are waiting on the Ministry Check website and the database and that sort of thing. They’re waiting on that to be fully ready and implemented,” Barber said. “So I’m working on this constantly. I feel very much the burden and mandate responsibility to accomplish this task and accomplish it well and accomplish it in a timely manner.”

The skillsets encompass and surpass those required of the SATF, which Barber encouraged all Southern Baptists to thank for its extensive and comprehensive work completed in advance of the SBC annual meeting. The work required the SATF to have knowledge of sensitive and traumatic accounts of abuse during the study period.

“What we probably will never appreciate is the degree to which being that close to that much trauma over the span of an entire year is traumatic in and of itself for anyone who’s involved in something like that,” Barber said. “I promise you it’s true that these are people who have given of themselves sacrificially in ways, not just in terms of time and work, but just in terms of their hearts and their emotions. They’ve given sacrificially over the space of a year.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.


Church experiences revival through Bible-reading movement

BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana — On a cold January morning in Northwest Louisiana, pastor Terry Young couldn’t distribute Bibles to his congregation fast enough.

Young had just challenged his church, Airline Baptist Church, to read the Bible in a year—something he does every January. This year, however, was different. At the end of the service, he shared that the church had purchased 50 leatherbound CSB study Bibles they had found on sale. “If you’d like one of these Bibles to help you make a fresh commitment to reading God’s Word, come down during the invitation, leave $20 and take one,” he said.

Fifteen minutes later, there were no Bibles left. The following week, the church placed another order for study Bibles with Lifeway Christian Resources. Young made the same offer to his congregation during the invitation, and again, his people clamored for a new copy of Scripture. Now, six months into the Bible-reading initiative, more than 150 church members, including the entire church staff and all the deacons, are reading Scripture every day with the goal of completing it within the year. One senior member of the church, 90-year-old Billy Wood, took it a step further by beginning the Bible in January and reading it all the way through in 60 days.

“In years past, I’ve had maybe five people take me up [on reading the Bible in a year]. This year has been amazing,” said Young. “You can feel the difference it’s making in the church. The movement of God in our services has been different. The Scripture passages we’re reading are coming up naturally in our staff meetings, in prayer times and in offline conversations.”

While members of Airline Baptist are discovering or rediscovering a love for reading the Bible, they’re also developing a desire to share God’s Word with others.

“The feedback we’ve been getting has been so encouraging,” said Rusty Richardson, the church’s minister of education. “Fathers are buying new Bibles for their entire family, and members are passing Bibles along to their unchurched neighbors.”

In one case, a church member who works with students gave his study Bible to a young woman who had just become a Christian at another church. During this exchange, a Muslim student observed the hefty, leatherbound book and approached him to ask if it was a Bible. She shared she had been having dreams about Jesus and asked him to tell her about the God of the Bible.

“This is the kind of story you hear happening on international missions, but it occurred in Northwest Louisiana,” said Young. “To hear the testimonies that have come out of people simply committing to read the Bible and letting it impact their lives has been amazing.”

Young is quick to credit the Lord for his church’s embrace of daily Bible reading, but there are aspects of this year’s initiative he thinks God used as a catalyst. Here are six suggestions he provided when asked what advice he has for other pastors and leaders who are hoping to encourage Bible-reading in their congregations:

Provide tangible, “touch and see” resources

Young and Richardson both said having physical Bibles on-hand made a significant difference in their congregation’s embrace of committing to read it in a year. In a world where much reading is done on screens, many churchgoers have never held a physical study Bible in their hands. The physical CSB Bibles Airline Baptist purchased helped convey that the Bible is more than just “one app among many” on a phone.

Still, Young says it’s important to offer flexibility when considering how people like to engage Scripture, whether that be on paper or a device. He told his congregation to consider the YouVersion app which will read Scripture aloud, transforming one’s commute into a quiet time.

Regardless of how people read or listen to the Bible, Young encourages leaders to provide their congregations with Scripture reading guides. Lifeway provides these for free including a chronological plan, an “every day with Jesus” plan that includes daily readings from the Gospels along with the rest of Scripture and reading plans for 90 days, one year or three years.

“You can feel the difference it’s making in the church," Pastor Terry Young says. "The movement of God in our services has been different. The Scripture passages we’re reading are coming up naturally in our staff meetings, in prayer times and in offline conversations.”

Introduce a new translation or Bible type

For many years, Airline Baptist had used the NKJV translation in its services. So, when Young introduced the CSB and offered it in a study Bible format, it sparked curiosity in his congregation. “Our members are commenting about how they love the CSB version of the Bible. And they love the helps in the study Bible format,” said Richardson.

Young also said he uses a different Bible each time he begins a new reading plan to not get distracted by the notes and underlining left from his last read-through.

Give people permission to simply “get through the story”

In counter-intuitive fashion, Young said he encouraged his church members to not always read the Bible for depth. “Leviticus is known as the graveyard of Bible reading plans,” he said.

Rather than seeing his church get bogged down in a deep dive of repetitive sections of the Bible like the ceremonial law or genealogies, Young told his members it’s OK to read parts of the Bible at a 30,000-foot level. “I told them to press through these parts and focus on getting through the story. Giving our people permission to read certain biblical sections with consistency but less depth served as an encouragement to them,” he said.

Leverage circles of leadership

Before Young introduced this year’s Bible-reading initiative to the entire church, he began with his staff and then the deacons.

“Begin with a small group that buys in to the initiative and can become ambassadors,” he said. “That way, it’s not just the pastor saying, ‘You need to read the Bible;’ it’s their Sunday School teacher or a parent. Start with the small, but as quickly as possible, invite the next level of leadership.”

Develop a follow-up plan

Young also encourages leaders to have a follow-up plan mapped out from the get-go. “Don’t wait 30 days into the plan to begin following up with your people,” he said. “Habits—good or bad—form in as little as 21 days, so if you’re waiting 30 days to follow up, you’ve missed out.”

Young encourages leaders to inspect what they expect by checking in early and then following up in regular intervals such as in 30 and 90 days and at the six-month mark. And if people have fallen off, tell them to simply jump back in and not worry about catching up.

In following-up, testimonies and good news stories can serve as powerful motivators. Lastly, Young says to lean into small groups, which act as great settings to share how things are going and create accountability.

Pray for your people

More than anything, Young emphasizes the importance of prayer. “Always ask for God’s direction and for Him to unfold a love for His Word among His people,” he said.

More information about tools to encourage daily Bible reading can be found at

2023 SBC Pastors’ Conference theme, officers announced

NASHVILLE (BP)—The theme and the officers for the 2023 SBC Pastors’ Conference have been announced by conference president Daniel Dickard.

The theme for the conference, scheduled for June 11-12 in New Orleans, will be “Character Matters in Ministry: Beatitudes of a Pastor.” Eight speakers will preach through the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5.

Dickard, pastor of Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., also announced a slate of pastors serving as officers for the conference in a Twitter thread on Friday, July 1.

Among the officers announced were Vice President Stephen Rummage, senior pastor of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla., and Treasurer Robert Keatts, associate pastor of Business Administration at Dickard’s church.

Dickard spoke highly of both men.

“Dr. Rummage is a well-respected SBC pastor who is committed to biblical truth & expository preaching,” he said. “I told Dr. Rummage that he should be the president and I should be his 5th Vice President. I appreciate that no office is beneath this Godly and humble pastor.” Rummage served as SBC Executive Committee chairman from 2016-2018.

Dickard added that Keatts “will serve with great integrity and humility.”

Additionally, Kenny Lamm, lead worship ministry strategist for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, will lead the worship selection team, and a group of Southern Baptist pastors will assist Dickard in selecting speakers for the conference.

Before Dickard was elected president of the conference, he announced the slate of pastors he would appoint to help him select next year’s conference preachers.

The list includes Rummage, as well as Mac Brunson, senior pastor at Valleydale Church in Birmingham, Ala.; Quintell Hill, lead pastor at Multiply Community Church in Wake Forest, N.C.; Chad Campbell, senior pastor at Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in Easley, S.C.; Gevan Spinney, senior pastor at First Baptist Church Haughton, La.; and Matt Capps, senior pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, N.C.

Dickard said he will select the speakers from among nominations submitted by his team, and he listed a few criteria he’s looking for.

“Selected speakers must be a member of a Southern Baptist Church, be men of credible character, possessing a proven track record of integrity as defined by 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9, and evidence the fruit of the Spirit in their personal, public, and ministry life,” he said.

They also must be “men who are biblical inerrantists, devoted to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and demonstrate a commitment to biblical expositional preaching.

“Men who are doctrinally sound, as evidenced by their commitment to the BF&M 2000, and men who are encouragers to pastors.”

In addition to the eight speakers offering messages about each Beatitude, Dickard said he will name nine additional speakers to give 10-minute talks under the theme “Personal Lessons that Kept Me Going in Ministry.” Each of these speakers will be Southern Baptists with more than 25 years of pastoral experience.

Beyond the announcement of the theme and officers, Dickard also mentioned initial discussions he and his team have had about the possibility of developing governing documents and bylaws for the conference.

“This is an ongoing conversation, and we are both hopeful and expectant to bring forward governing documents to be voted upon in New Orleans,” Dickard said. “We will solicit input from previous SBCPC presidents in the weeks and months to come.”

Dickard said he and his team will be offering updates each month and will be developing ways to raise funds through partnerships with state Baptist conventions.

He asked fellow Southern Baptists for support not just financially, but through prayer as well.

“We hope your church will consider a small one-time gift to the Pastors’ Conference endowment, in addition to your church’s faithful and on-going contributions to the Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and similar SBC funding programs,” he said. “Please pray for our team as we prepare for New Orleans.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

A new day for a culture of life

Editor’s note: Adam W. Greenway is ninth president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Daniel M. Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement the seminary.

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)—The Dobbs decision is a great day in America for the sanctity of human life, and it’s especially significant for the most vulnerable members of our society who have no voice other than those who have spoken on their behalf in myriad ways, like marching every January in Washington, D.C.

When the Roe decision was issued in 1973 by the Supreme Court, few thought it would be challenged. The idea of a pro-life movement, a movement on behalf of unborn persons, was unthinkable. And yet, year by year, patient activism, led mostly by women, has introduced into America’s moral vocabulary the idea that life at its most vulnerable is worth protecting. March for Life, the annual pro-life event held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, was founded by Nellie Gray and is currently led Jeanie Mancini – just two of the women who have had an incalculable impact. Today, that relentless effort has paid off.

In many ways, Roe corrupted our politics by dividing Americans against one another, and, tragically, consigned more than 60 million lives to their premature end. But we must understand that the reversal of Roe is not the end of abortion; it is only the beginning of our work to build what President George W. Bush and others have called a “culture of life.” The conversation around abortion now shifts to the states, where legislatures must take up this debate. A recent survey commissioned by the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and conducted by Lifeway Research shows that a majority of Americans favor significant abortion restrictions and see the unborn as full human persons.

We believe this is the result of patient activism on the part of pro-life people as well as the advent of new technologies that have given multiple generations of Americans a window into the womb. And yet, as Christians, we come to this moment guided by the vision laid out in Scripture. The Book of Genesis tells us that every human life is “made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26). There are no disposable humans in God’s economy. King David wrote poignantly in Psalm 139 how God “knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

We understand that the Dobbs ruling will also mean that those of us who champion the sanctity of unborn life should be ready to welcome those lives into our churches and communities, and we are ready to do so. Pregnancy resource centers in almost every community are led by loving volunteers and staff who can walk young women in crisis through painful decisions. Our churches are ready to help build a community around families in crisis. And we believe there are government policies at the state and federal levels that can help buoy family life at its most fragile.

We also pray that this decision will not signal a new era of divisive and violent politics, but willingness for us to hear and listen to each other. We pray that the threats of violence against pregnancy resource centers and churches will not take place and if it does, will be met by swift law enforcement action. May we see even those who disagree with us as image-bearers of God.

The Dobbs decision is one for which pro-life citizens have prayed and worked since 1973. This monumental victory is on par with Brown v. Board of Education as it overturns a clearly unjust ruling. Now, we must seize this opportunity to enact just laws that protect unborn human life. More than ever, those who value all human life must demonstrate their commitment not merely with their words, but also by their deeds.

Joining with many other faithful Christians, we pray for the day when abortion will be an unthinkable option because our society truly values all human life.

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Small-town East Texas church sees massive gospel response in Malawi

FRANKSTON—Hilltop Baptist Church, in cooperation with Circle J Ministries International, recently completed a two-week mission trip to Mzuzu, Malawi. The team left the U.S. on May 29 and returned June 11.

Four members of Hilltop—Gordon Folmar, Dianne Burgamy, Tracy Jinkins, and pastor Randall Jinkins—were joined by three members of Fairview Baptist Church of Town Bluff (Texas): Malinda Patton, Jill Loar, and pastor Scott Loar. Pastor Dr. Richard Harvey of Cross Baptist Church of Eufaula, Ala., was also on the trip.

The first week of the trip was spent with each man visiting three schools every morning, where they preached the gospel to students and gave an invitation. These schools included students from a very young age through high school. Pastor Jinkins said there was an amazing response to the gospel by both students and teachers.

After the preaching, each school was presented two Bibles for the school library and two soccer balls, (what they call footballs), for the school’s sports program. Both the Bibles and balls were happily received and greatly appreciated. The Bibles will be used in class to help teach students English. Most secondary schools teach exclusively in English.

The men also encouraged the headmasters of the schools to start Bible Clubs in their schools.  Assistance from local pastors and church members was offered to help with Bible Clubs. If the school already had a Bible Club, the same assistance was offered to help with both manpower and materials for study. The women who went on this trip spent their mornings conducting women’s conferences in the local churches where they shared discipleship lessons, testimonies, and fellowship. These conferences were also well received and friendship were made that will last a lifetime.

Every evening, each man made his way back out into the rural areas around Mzuzu for a showing of the Jesus Film or the film, “Magdelana.” The ladies accompanied the men to these showings. The teams would set up the equipment and play music until it got dark and then begin the film. There were crowds of up to 600 people who would come out of the bush to see the film. There was, conservatively, a 65% positive response to the gospel from the adults in attendance. Contact information was gathered from those making decisions to be used in follow-up.

On Saturday, the team went to the Mzuzu Prison, where they were allowed to preach the gospel to both the male and female inmates. Harvey brought the message. The team also presented gifts of four Bibles and four soccer balls to the prison. Each prison has a football team and they travel from prison to prison playing matches against each other.

Later that day, the group sponsored a football/netball bonanza in a rural area near Nkhata Bay with over 1,000 in attendance. Two local teams of boys competed in the football match and two team of girls competed in the netball match for a cash prize. During halftime of the football match, Pastor Loar preached the gospel and there was a tremendous response.

On Sunday, each man preached in a local church. These churches were, generally, the churches that provided interpreters for the trip. Everyone enjoyed the worship services tremendously.

On Monday, the team took a little time off to visit the Vwassi Game Reserve. It was a good time to relax a little before finishing the trip. The team saw elephants, hippos, monkeys, baboons, and impala. It is sad but the only place in Malawi you can see these animals is in these government reserves, Pastor Jinkins said. There are very few animals outside these protected areas because the population considers them food.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent at two more prisons. Tuesday, the team visited the prison at Nkhata Bay, where Pastor Loar brought the message. Wednesday, the team visited the prison at Rhumphi, where Harvey brought the message. Bibles, soccer balls, and bales of sugar were presented as gifts to the prisons.

Thursday began the long drive back to Lilongwe. Mzuzu is only accessible by car, as the airport has fallen into disrepair. A new airport is being planned, but currently the only way to get there is a six-hour car ride. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, the new airport will be constructed making this area much more accessible.

Conservatively, over 20,000 people responded positively to the gospel. That is, over 20,000 people listened to the gospel preached and, during an invitation, raised their hands and prayed the sinner’s prayer.

“The harvest is truly great, but the laborers are few,” Pastor Jinkins said.

Mzuzu is just one area where Circle J Ministries and these churches have ministered in Malawi. There are more than 20 other areas, towns, and cities where the same work needs to be done.

“If your church does not have an international mission presence, we pray that you would consider a trip to Malawi,” Pastor Jinkins said. “Any church is welcome to go on one of these trips with us.  Should your church want to do a trip on their own, Circle J Ministries would be happy to provide the contacts and logistical support to get you started.”

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Sibling trio from Mount Pleasant sticking together at Louisiana Christian University

PINEVILLE, La.—They say everything is bigger in Texas, but three siblings from Mount Pleasant, Texas, might disagree. They found their college home in small town Louisiana.

The mysterious ways of the Lord and a dedicated father brought Krissa, Jonathan, and Jaycee Woods—members of South Jefferson Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant—and they say the Louisiana Christian University campus community and welcoming faculty and coaches kept them here.

Krissa, the eldest sibling, was a high school senior in 2017 at Mount Pleasant High School with no specific future plans other than to play college soccer, she said. Knowing this, her father, Donald, was diligently searching for ID camps that could help Krissa pursue her dream. ID camps help high school athletes get their name out to college coaches in hopes of being recruited to play.

He happened on Louisiana Christian University, some 250 miles away, that was hosting a camp. After doing his research on the school, he and Krissa’s mom, Amanda, decided this was a good camp for Krissa, who hesitantly agreed. Krissa enjoyed the camp so much, she accepted an invitation to attend LCU’s Spring Preview Day, where she met and heard President Rick Brewer speak and interact with the prospective students.

“It was the coolest thing because I hadn’t seen anything like that at college before,” Krissa said, in reference to LCU having a worship service during Preview Day.

Krissa said Brewer was so encouraging to the students that she felt LCU was where the Lord was leading her to attend college and to play soccer.

“Krissa is a person that will put everyone before herself, that is loyal to her friends and will do anything for them,” said Carla Tejas, LCU’s former women’s soccer coach. “She is there for the team in the good and the bad, and that is what I admired about her.”

Krissa, now 23, completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology and is now pursuing a Master of Educational Leadership at LCU.

“The Woods siblings have been and are still wonderful additions to the University,” Brewer said. “They’ve discovered what many other Texans know that LCU provides an excellent, affordable Christ-centered education equipping students to serve in any and all culture-shaping venues.”

Two of those, younger brother Jonathan and little sister Jaycee, grew up traveling to Pineville to watch Krissa play soccer, and during some of those visits, they got the chance to see what Krissa had experienced on her early visits to the LCU campus.

Jonathan said he already felt connected to LCU through meeting some of the professors in the Missions and Ministries Department, so he prayed for God’s direction to make it clear where he was meant to go to college and to make the finances available.

Just two weeks before LCU’s Freshmen Move-In Day and the start of the fall 2019 semester, he received word that LCU was offering exactly enough in scholarships to cover his tuition.

“Someone told me, ‘You shut the door, and God opened the garage door, and you need to walk through it,’” Jonathan said. He knew the Lord had answered his prayer.

Jonathan, now 20, is a junior missions and ministries major and said he has always known he was being called into the ministry in some capacity. He also said he feels that LCU makes it possible for students to have a more personal and genuine connection with professors unlike some institutions.

“Professors at LCU genuinely care about the well-being of their students and want to help in any way they are able to,” Jonathan said.

A prime example, Jonathan said, is when Justin Langford, dean of the School of Missions and Ministries, opened his house to a group of his students to socialize over s’mores.

“The Lord has been working behind the scenes very evidently in the roles and opportunities that I have,” he said.

One such opportunity was serving as an intern for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry on campus.

“Jonathan is a mature, hard-working student who exemplifies Christian character and often can be found encouraging others,” Langford said.

Once Jaycee, 18, was ready to make her college commitment, she knew that her siblings and soccer were where her heart was.

Fortunately, then soccer coach Tejas, who was already acquainted with Jaycee through her sister, Krissa, and knew of Jaycee’s desire to play at the next level, watched her films and made her an offer. Jaycee said she was excited when she was offered the chance to play on the same team as Krissa, as they had never experienced that before because of their age difference growing up.

“Jaycee’s soul is so noble,” Tejas said. “She brings into the locker that unity that every coach wants in a player. The Woods family has raised amazing girls that Louisiana Christian University is lucky to have.”

Jaycee recently completed her freshman year as an exercise science major with a concentration in clinical wellness. She said she always knew she would go into the medical field in some way. She had already received certification as a medical assistant by the time she finished high school.

Jaycee said she has always had a passion for sports, as well as learning about the different aspects that play a part in the body such as bones, nutrition, muscles, and all that encompasses the body.

Being so far from home for college has presented challenges for the Woods siblings, but they count it all joy. Even COVID-19 turned out to be a blessing, they said, in that the move to online classes in the spring of 2020 allowed them to be home in Texas to spend the last few weeks of their grandfather’s life with him.

That April, they learned that their grandfather had a brain tumor and was given three months to live by his doctors. The quarantine allowed them to have extra time with their grandfather before he died in June and also allowed them to be together with family. Had they not been home isolating, as the entire country was, they would have been hundreds of miles away in school.

“The Lord specifically used all of that, with all the bad and ugly that came with COVID … for his glory,” Jonathan said. Even so, the Woods’ were happy to return to campus as restrictions eased.

Each sibling has many reasons for why they enjoy being at LCU together. Krissa smiled as she said she enjoys when Jonathan texts her and Jaycee to tell them he has leftovers for them. Jonathan is grateful to not only be a part of his sisters’ lives, but also to be involved in their lives, too. Jaycee loves having her older siblings at the same university because they are always there for her, whether they are giving her advice, encouraging her, or just hanging out.

“It’s about always having a shoulder to lean on,” she said.

The Woods siblings have grown closer since being at LCU. They make it a priority to hang out if they haven’t seen each other because of their busy schedules. They enjoy being able to experience college with each other.

Krissa said whether they are home in Mount Pleasant or at Louisiana Christian University, her siblings will always be “her home.”

“My time at LCU has flown by; I blinked, and it was gone,” Krissa said. But she has learned some valuable life lessons. “You’re only going to get out as much as you put into something. That goes for classes, work, or anything that you’re involved in.”

Everything LCU teaches its students is to prepare them for their futures after graduation, Krissa said. Even if a student has no idea where life will lead them, it is important to learn from everything they have endured.

“It’s what we’re called to do as Christians,” she said. “We know that this is what we should do for ourselves and for the Lord. As Christians we should want to better ourselves for what God has in store for our future.”

Jaycee said the biggest lesson she has learned so far is to work hard at everything she does in order to be successful. She is grateful for the enormity of resources LCU makes available for students, such as the Student Success Center and the Center for Calling & Career, as well as many, many more.

“You can’t be lazy, if you want to earn something,” Jaycee said.

Becoming a church friendly to those with special needs

Editor’s note: Southern Baptists of Texas Convention churches will observe Special Needs Sunday on July 10. The SBTC caxn help you evaluate your current level of accessibility and take steps to welcome even more families. Contact Sandra Peoples at to get started.

When we got our son’s autism diagnosis in 2010, a lot changed for our family. Our plans for his schooling changed, the way we spent our money changed (“therapy” got added to our budget), and even our home changed as we turned an extra room in the basement into a safe sensory space for him. 

One more important part of our lives also had to change—our church. At the time, my husband pastored a small church in rural Pennsylvania. For us to stay there and serve the congregation God had called my husband to shepherd, they would have to welcome James and make accommodations for him. Thankfully, they did! 

God raised up helpers in the church who had backgrounds and experience in therapy and special education, as well as family members of those with disabilities to guide us in those early years of making first our children’s ministry and then all our church ministries welcoming for special needs families. James flourished there, and more families came because our church was known for being accessible. We didn’t make it complicated or expensive. We just followed Jesus’ example in the gospel of Matthew. 

After Jesus’ triumphal entry, Matthew 21 tells us He cleansed the temple of moneychangers and those selling animals for sacrifice. They were likely set up in the area open to Gentiles and those who were considered unclean, including people with disabilities. When Jesus drove them out and overturned the tables, Scripture tells us “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (v. 14). The barriers were gone—they could enter the temple area and come close to Jesus. 

Any church can break down barriers and invite those without access to come close to Jesus and be part of our church families. It takes three simple steps:

Identify the barriers that may be keeping special needs families from attending your church

According to the 2000 census, one in five families in the U.S. has a member with a disability. If that percentage isn’t reflected in your church, they may be facing challenges that are keeping them from attending.

Implement changes that will break down those barriers

You don’t have to think about these changes as adding programs or taking resources. They are signs of friendship and hospitality. How can our children’s ministry be welcoming to a student with autism or our youth ministry to a teenager with Down syndrome? How can we show hospitality to a family in our worship service that has a member who may make noises during what is usually a quiet part of the service? Because we see the image of God in all people He created, we can ask the Holy Spirit to first work in our hearts and then work through our hands as we break down barriers so everyone is welcome in our churches.   

Invite families in the community to join you

We consider special needs families an unreached or underserved people group. A great way to start reaching them is to offer respite nights or sensory-friendly events. Encourage your congregation to invite the families they know to special events and services. Word will spread that you are a welcoming church!

Special needs ministry isn’t about adding a new ministry to your church—it’s about making your existing ministries accessible so special needs families can be transformed by the gospel and use their gifts to build up the church body. Churches of every size in every corner of Texas can do that!