Month: August 2022

SBTC pastors, leaders urged to oppose Respect for Marriage Act

GRAPEVINE—In the wake of the U.S. House of Representatives voting to pass the Respect for Marriage Act last month, the executive leadership of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is calling on leaders and pastors to oppose its passage in the Senate.

The bill, which passed in the House on July 19 by a vote of 267–157, is an attempt to enshrine the legal protections of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges into federal law by conjoining state definitions of marriage with federal protections.

SBTC Associate Executive Director Tony Wolfe sent an email to convention leaders and pastors Tuesday asking them to oppose H.R. 8404. Specifically, SBTC leadership is asking individuals to sign their names to a letter written by Alliance Defending Freedom which urges senators to oppose H.R. 8404.

Cindy Asmussen, public policy advisor to the SBTC’s Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (TERLC), said the consequences of the Respect for Marriage Act would be monumental because one state’s decision to expand the definition or protections of marriage would inherently affect other states.

“Under this bill, if even one state recognizes polygamy, polyamory, relative marriage, arranged marriage, lowering the age of consent to accommodate child marriage, or any other union, then every state would be forced to recognize it,” Asmussen said. “All tax deductions, welfare benefits, employee benefits, immigration status, and many other benefits and legal rights pertaining to marriage and families would automatically be granted.”

If passed by the Senate and signed by President Biden, H.R. 8404 would overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The bill would also jeopardize the tax-exempt status of religious non-profits that hold to a historic Christian position on marriage, and it would endanger any religious organization whose business practices overlap with the government.

“The Respect for Marriage Act effectively deputizes interest groups to sue religious individuals, organizations, and businesses that operate according to sincerely held beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that also act ‘under color of state law,’” the Alliance Defending Freedom letter reads. “Private organizations such as faith-based foster care providers and religious social service organizations that participate in a joint activity with the state or whose operations are entwined with government policies, will likely face litigation for merely practicing their faith.”

The bill is currently before the Senate, meaning it could come to a vote at any time. While passage of a bill in the Senate requires only a simple majority, the filibuster rule requiring 60 votes to end debate on a bill and move it to a vote means Democrats will need to swing at least 10 Republican votes.

Dan Darling, who leads the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Seminary and joined as a signer of the ADF letter, told the Texan that the Christian defense of biblical marriage is rooted in the imago dei and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors.

“Loving our neighbors means working for their human flourishing, and marriage between men and women is a foundational building block of society that is integral to that flourishing,” Darling said. “This bill not only enshrines the redefinition of the family into law, but it also fails to offer protections for religious institutions who adhere to their 2,000-year-old teachings on the meaning of marriage. It is one more tool in the hands of the state that marginalizes those who dissent from the sexual revolution.”

SBTC leaders are asking that as many people as possible sign the letter by Friday, September 2, although people can sign as late as September 9.

“At its most foundational level, God’s good design for marriage is as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman. Marriage is much more than a social construct or a legal contract,” Wolfe said. “The Respect for Marriage Act does not respect this biblical design at all.”

Pastors connect with faith, one another on SBTC trip to Israel

In the footsteps of Jesus


When John Aaron Matthew, pastor of Clear Lake Baptist Church in Houston, attempts to describe his and his wife’s recent trip to Israel, that’s the word he says comes to mind the most—surreal.

“It was just unbelievable,” he said, referring to a moment he and others shared at the Sea of Galilee. “Putting my feet into the water that Jesus walked on, it just had such an impression on me.”

Matthew and his wife, Emily, were among the 128 pastors and wives who traveled to Israel in July for a 10-day Clergy Familiarization Tour sponsored by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The trip was hosted by SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick, and the convention offered scholarships to financially assist pastors making their first visit to Israel.

The tour itinerary looked more like a biblical survey course, with stops in both Old and New Testament settings. The tour included a trip to Mount Carmel, where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal as recorded in 1 Kings 18. The tourists also visited Jesus’ childhood home of Nazareth and walked down the Old Palm Sunday Road leading to the ancient olive grove at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prepared to go to the cross.

The garden visit provided a particularly poignant moment for pastor Rey Cantu, whose heart was stirred by Lorick’s reminder that this was the site where Jesus “gave it all.” Cantu and his wife, Juanita, are planning on leaving behind familiarity and comfort to plant a church in Brazoria, south of Houston and near the Texas Gulf Coast.

“That really stuck with me, because the Lord has called us to start a new work,” Rey said. “I was able to take that all in, meditate on it, and tell the Lord, ‘We want to give you our all here in this new work.’”

Many on the trip decided to get baptized in the Jordan River, including retired SBTC pastor Casey Perry—who was making his first trip to Israel at age 88. Perry said the trip truly provided an experience for him where the words of the Bible that he has preached for decades came alive.

“Now when I preach, I can say I’ve been there,” Perry said. “What a privilege it was to be able to walk where Jesus walked.”

“Now when I preach, I can say I’ve been there. What a privilege it was to be able to walk where Jesus walked.”

For Matthew and many others, the trip that gathered pastors and their wives from all over Texas also brought an unexpected blessing.

“We’ve been desperate for [ministry] relationships,” Matthew said. “Spending that much time with people who understand what we’re going through—that was so needed. It helped us know we’re not alone. We’re so thankful for the relationships we made on the trip.”

Matthew said since meeting other pastors and their wives on the trip, he discovered many who are serving close to where he lives. They’ve since followed up and began deepening those newfound connections.

Holly Sanders, who was on the trip with her husband, Aaron (pastor of Coastal Community Church of Galveston), agreed about the new connections they made, saying, “That was just a very surprising, cool part of the trip. That wasn’t on my radar going in.”

God’s Word is worthy of our wholehearted devotion

One of the foundational beliefs we share as Southern Baptists concerns the nature of the Bible. Historic Christianity teaches that the origin of the Scriptures is not man, but God Himself. So when we hear the words of Scripture, we are hearing the voice of God. 

That means the Bible is not merely a book that guides our faith; it is the book upon which our entire faith rests! Everything we believe about God, Jesus, and salvation is revealed in it, and without this biblical foundation, Christianity has no substance. 

Millard Erickson states, “By inspiration of Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.” F.F. Bruce gives a more concise definition: “The inspiration of Scripture is that operation of the Holy Spirit as a result of which words spoken or written by men are also the Word of God.” In essence, the human authors of the Bible were being supernaturally influenced by the Holy Spirit as they wrote, which means they were writing the words of God. This has been the commonly held conviction since the birth of Christianity.

"What does the authority of the Scriptures mean for us today? The answer is simple—obedience!"

Justin Martyr in the second century referred to the Bible as “the very language of God.” Later, in the fourth century, Gregory Nyssa described the Scriptures as “the voice of the Holy Spirit.” This sentiment was reinforced in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Protestant reformers. It’s important to note that those convictions concerning the Scripture did not originate with these church leaders, but rather echoed what the apostles believed and what the Bible reveals about itself. 

Two of the numerous passages that clearly reveal the divine inspiration of Scripture are 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. In the first, Paul refers to the Scriptures as “breathed out” by God. In the second, Peter describes the authors of Scripture as being “moved by the Holy Spirit” in their writing. The inspiration of the Scriptures leads to the logical conclusion that they are also authoritative. As John Feinberg says, “If God, the highest authority, has given us His Word, it must have authority over us.” 

What does the authority of the Scriptures mean for us today? The answer is simple—obedience! If God’s Word is authoritative in nature, then it must be obeyed. Corneliu Constantineanu states it this way: “To live by the authority of Scripture means to allow ourselves to be permanently shaped and molded by the story of the Bible, especially as we are constantly tempted to think and to do as the world does! It is only the Scriptures that can judge and redeem our own actions and lives. That is why we should allow Scripture to teach us, to guide us, to bring us back to the biblical view of the purpose and meaning of life.” 

The Bible is the source of truth that all other views and opinions are subservient to in our life. By the Spirit of God, the Word of God has a transformative effect on us. It is through the reading, obeying, and preaching of the Bible that the glory of God and the life He offers are revealed to humanity. God has given us this precious gift as the primary means by which we know Him, His will, and His redemptive work through Jesus. Let us know it, love it, live it, and proclaim it!

Con un enfoque en la revitalización, las sesiones de Equip en español atraen a un gran número de personas

FORT WORTH – La conferencia anual Equip, organizada por la Convención de los Bautistas del Sur de Texas (SBTC) y celebrada este año en el Seminario Teológico Bautista del Suroeste, hizo historia el 13 de agosto.

Durante años, la SBTC ha ofrecido talleres en español durante Equip, pero este año, por primera vez, Equip ofreció una conferencia completa, incluyendo una sesión general de apertura, en español — una iniciativa que fue recibida con gran aceptación y apoyo por parte de la comunidad hispana presente. El auditorio estaba repleto de líderes y pastores de habla hispana en busca de ideas para promover un avivamiento y crecimiento en sus iglesias.

Equip en español contó con una sesión de apertura, un panel de discusión para ayudar a los pastores y líderes a ser más fructíferos en sus iglesias y una variedad de talleres. La conferencia comenzó con un tiempo de adoración, dirigido por Jesse Contreras, asociado de SBTC en español, quien también regaló algunas Biblias y recurso didáctico para los participantes (auspiciado por LifeWay español).

Chuy Ávila, asociado principal de SBTC en español y asociado de plantación de iglesias, fue el orador principal de la sesión de apertura, en donde hizo “Un llamado a la Renovación Espiritual” destacando cómo la visión de Dios es esencial para una iglesia saludable. Cuando esa visión se asegura, se disfruta, se comparte, dijo Ávila, el pueblo de Dios se unirá a la visión.

Ávila también compartió principios fundamentales para establecer iglesias sanas para que pueda ocurrir un despertar espiritual en las congregaciones de habla hispana: la dirección y obra del Espíritu Santo (Hechos 1:2); el recurso humano (Hechos 1:8); y la oración intencional de la congregación (Hechos 4:31).

La conferencia también ofreció una variedad de talleres. Cristina Ochoa y Diana Puente dirigieron los talleres para mujeres, Amanda Gladden se enfocó en el ministerio infantil, Vidal Valentín en la escuela dominical y Juan Puente enseñó sobre los dones espirituales y ofreció un taller para matrimonios junto con su esposa, Diana. Además, Luis González capacitó a los participantes en evangelismo y José Santiago sobre soluciones visuales para la iglesia.

José Pacheco, pastor y escritor, ofreció un taller bajo el tema “La Iglesia que Cristo soñó”, inspirado en el título y temática de su libro. El libro se basa en una investigación que realizó en busca de un modelo bíblico que pudiera utilizarse para hablar sobre la revitalización. Eso le llevó a realizar un estudio basado en el ciclo de vida de la iglesia de Éfeso. El taller se desarrolló en dos partes, que en conjunto presentó a los asistentes una evaluación positiva de Dios (Apocalipsis 2:1-3) que describe a la iglesia de Éfeso como un modelo de iglesia saludable.

Pacheco también presentó una evaluación negativa de la iglesia de Éfeso (Apocalipsis 2:4-6), que puede servir a las iglesias y a los líderes como guía de auto evaluación. También trató los acontecimientos y características de la iglesia de Éfeso que pueden guiar al liderazgo de la iglesia en el proceso de iniciar una revitalización.

El panel de discusión se ofreció durante la hora del almuerzo y fue dirigido por Bruno Molina, asociado de evangelismo entre creencias e idiomas de la SBTC. El panel estaba formado por Juan y Diana Puente, González y Pacheco. Entre las preguntas presentadas al panel estaban: “¿Cómo podemos ayudar a las iglesias a ver la necesidad de la revitalización y qué pasos deben darse para comenzar?”

“La revitalización surge de un liderazgo dispuesto a preguntarle a Dios, ‘¿Qué quieres que hagamos?’ y [entonces] estar dispuestos a hacer cosas que nunca hemos hecho antes”, dijo Juan Puente. Su esposa, Diana, añadió: “Es necesario evaluarnos constantemente. Los cambios empiezan por uno mismo. La clave es reevaluar lo que estamos haciendo y hacia dónde queremos ir”.

Pacheco compartió que cuando se trata de la revitalización, es importante “recordarnos cuál es el sueño de Dios para la iglesia, reconocer nuestra realidad y evaluar, luego tomar una decisión -aunque duela- y poner siempre a Cristo como centro.”

Molina añadió: “Una iglesia vibrante es como un árbol fructífero, es decir, [que da] frutos de carácter y frutos evangelísticos. Esa debe de ser la marca de una iglesia”. González dijo: “No debemos esperar a que la iglesia se esté cayendo para dar un paso. Estar aquí (en Equip) es un avivamiento, es un ánimo que Dios está trayendo”.

La Conferencia Equip, cuyo tema este año fue “Renovar, Reponer, Restaurar” (1 Pedro 5:10), se celebra cada año gracias al Programa Cooperativo de la SBTC.


Equip Spanish sessions draw capacity crowds, focus on revival

FORT WORTH—The annual Equip Conference, organized by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and hosted this year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, made a little history on August 13.

For years, SBTC has offered Spanish breakout sessions during Equip. But this year, for the first time ever, Equip offered a full conference, including a general opening session, in Spanish—a move that was received with great acceptance and support from the Hispanic community in attendance. The auditorium was packed with Spanish-speaking leaders and pastors looking for ideas to promote revival and growth in their churches.

Equip en Español featured an opening session, a panel discussion to help pastors and leaders be more fruitful in their churches, and a variety of workshops. The conference started with a time of worship, led by SBTC en Español associate Jesse Contreras, who also gave away Bibles and some teaching resources for the participants (sponsored by LifeWay Español).

Chuy Avila, SBTC en Español lead associate and church planting associate, was the keynote speaker of the opening session, where he made “A Call to Spiritual Renewal” highlighting how God’s vision is essential for a healthy church. When that vision is ensured, enjoyed and shared, Avila said, God’s people will embrace the vision.

Avila also shared the fundamental principles for establishing healthy churches so that a spiritual awakening can occur in Spanish-speaking congregations: the guidance and work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:2); the human resource (Acts 1:8); and the intentional prayer of the congregation (Acts 4:31).

The conference also offered a variety of workshops. Cristina Ochoa and Diana Puente led workshops for women, Amanda Gladden focused on children’s ministry, Vidal Valentine offered information about Sunday school, and Juan Puente taught on spiritual gifts and offered a workshop for married couples along with his wife, Diana. Additionally, Luis Gonzalez trained participants in evangelism and José Santiago taught about visual solutions for the church.

Jose Pacheco, a pastor and writer, led a workshop called “La Iglesia que Cristo soñó” (“The Church that Jesus Dreamed Of”), which was inspired by the title and theme of his book. The book is based on research he conducted in search of a biblical model that could be used to talk about revitalization. That led him to conduct a study based on the life cycle of the church of Ephesus. The workshop was developed in two parts, which together presented the attendees with a positive evaluation from God (Revelation 2:1-3) that describes the church in Ephesus as a model of a healthy church.

Chuy Avila (right) gives the keynote address at Equip en Español. CALLIE SERCEY PHOTO

Pacheco also offered a negative evaluation of the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4-6), which can serve churches and leaders as a guide for evaluation. He also covered those events and characteristics of the church in Ephesus that can guide church leadership in the process of initiating a revitalization.

The panel discussion was offered during lunchtime, led by Bruno Molina—SBTC’s language and interfaith evangelism associate. The panel consisted of Juan and Diana Puente, Gonzalez, and Pacheco. Among the questions presented to the panel were: “How can we help churches see the need for revitalization, and what steps should be taken to begin?”

“Revitalization comes from a leadership willing to ask God, ‘What do you want us to do?’ and [then being] willing to do things we have never done before,” Juan Puente said. Elaborating on the theme of revitalization, his wife, Diana, added, “It is necessary to constantly evaluate ourselves. Changes begin with oneself. The key is to reevaluate what we are doing and where we want to go.

Pacheco shared that when it comes to revitalization, it is important to “remind ourselves what God’s dream is for the church, recognize our reality and evaluate, then make a decision—even if it hurts—and always put Christ as the center.”

Added Molina: “A vibrant church is like a fruitful tree, that is, [one that grows] character fruits and evangelistic fruits. That should be the mark of a church.” Gonzalez said, “We should not wait until the church is falling to take a step. Being here (at Equip) is a revival, it’s an encouragement that God is bringing.”

The Equip Conference, whose theme this year was “Reset. Replenish. Rebuild” (1 Peter 5:10), is held every year thanks to the SBTC Cooperative Program.


The 5: Getting a good read on the rest of the year

It’s September, so there are four months to go in 2022. Do you have a reading plan to finish the year well? As I think about my own reading for the rest of the year, I always like to read at least one book that’s short and practically helpful. If you think the same way I do, here are five short books I encourage you to consider:


Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes the Church
by John Onwuchekwa (137 pgs)

We know we need to pray, but we often don’t know how to get started or keep it going. This little book is especially helpful in building prayer into your church. It’s filled with ideas, examples, and challenges that will make a difference in your life, your small group, and your church. 


The Money Challenge: 30 Days to Discovering God’s Design for You and Your Money
by Art Rainer (148 pgs) 

My wife, Pam, and I work hard to be wise and generous with our finances, but we’ve learned the hard way. Had we read this resource when we first married more than 31 years ago, we would have made even wiser decisions. Reading this book—and guiding your church
to join you—will strengthen your church’s ministry efforts. 


Problems of Christian Leadership 
by John Stott (95 pgs)

I review this abridged version of other writings of the famous pastor at least every other year. Not all of it applies directly to me (e.g., one chapter is about being a leader when “comparatively young”—which I’m probably not anymore), but I always remember something of value. Other chapters deal with discouragement, self-discipline, and relationships. 


Nobodies for Jesus: 14 Days to a Great Commission Lifestyle
by Chuck Lawless (108 pgs)

Forgive the self-promotion, but this book describes what I believe
we must do to be evangelistic people again: be filled with wonder over Jesus like we were when He first saved us. Evangelistic programs and processes simply don’t work well when we’ve lost our amazement over the Savior—or when we’re amazed over ourselves. 


The Art of Turning from Sin to Christ for a Joyfully Clear Conscience
by Kevin DeYoung (40 pgs)

No matter how long I’ve been a believer, I’m still learning. I don’t always pay sufficient attention to my God-given conscience. Sometimes I let the enemy lead me too far into self-condemnation. This really short book is packed with guidance if you face any of these types of battles. It’ simple. It’s clear. It’s freeing.

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

Givers—and recipients—testify to the impact of Operation Christmas Child

The Gift of the Gospel

In every church that Paul Beam has served, he has seen people rally around packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with gifts for children to be distributed around the world. 

“Our people enjoy simply filling a shoebox and letting the gospel go and do its work,” said Beam, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Pampa. The 2022 National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child is November 14-21.

OCC is a project of the Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, reaching more than 198 million children in over 170 countries and territories since 1993.

The Pampa church also serves as a drop-off point for boxes packed by churches in half of West Texas. “This gives us some new opportunities in being able to provide joy to the hearts of boys and girls all over the world,” Beam said.

Across the state at Calvary Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Wanda Hightower is helping members gather hygiene items, toys, and school supplies to pack in boxes this fall. 

“Besides helping a child with physical items, it enables them to hear the gospel,” she said. Some of their folks have crocheted small purses or pillowcase dresses for the boxes designated for girls.

Sunday school classes of all sizes, individuals, as well as families continue gathering supplies for the boxes that will be prepared at packing parties in churches. Samaritan’s Purse offers online resources explaining how to pack a box, as well as giving the option to assemble a box online.

After being transported from local churches to regional drop-off stations, the boxes will go to Colleyville—one of eight national processing centers where volunteers inspect and prepare the shoeboxes for international shipping, stopping work every hour to pray for the children who will receive the gifts.

In addition to hearing the gospel shared by local church leaders who have been trained by OCC, kids are given The Greatest Gift, a storybook about Jesus that features the apostle John as narrator. This resource makes its way into the homes of the children to share with family and friends, as they read 11 Bible stories and are invited to follow Christ.

Later, those children are invited back to participate in a 12-lesson discipleship course called “The Greatest Journey.” It features Bible stories and Scripture memorization to help them follow Christ in their daily lives. Over 30.9 million children have enrolled in the program since 2009.

Andy Castillo serves as the regional manager for the north and central areas of Latin America where he sees the impact of the boxes on the local level.

“Normally, we focus on the blessing of the child to hear the gospel message and receive that tangible demonstration of the love of God through the box where they will find items that will make a huge difference in their lives,” Castillo said. “Additional elements that bring passion to why we are involved include the impact the ministry has on our volunteers and local churches,” he added, sharing stories from local participants in the distribution of OCC boxes.

Castillo translated for Rosa Mills, who coordinates mobilization for La Paz, Honduras, describing the first OCC distribution event sponsored by her church in 2016. Traveling for more than six hours to reach families up in the mountains, the volunteers rode on horses and donkeys to areas that are difficult to access.

“The first person that gave his life to the Lord was a man of 83 years of age,” Mills shared. “And from that moment we came back again to the same community and more than 100 people showed up. Our meeting for the distribution event took place beneath a tree, but one of the attendees donated a piece of property so that we could build a church in that community.”

“What a privilege and responsibility we share in advancing the gospel.”

The church has seen children “grow in their knowledge of the Lord” from that first encounter, now serving as musicians, Bible school teachers, and leaders implementing projects in other areas.

Mayer Murillo, a strategic regional coordinator for Intibucá, Honduras, has seen children live out their new-found faith in the community. “These kids are growing and sharing,” he said by way of Castillo’s translation, adding that several youth who gave their lives to the Lord eventually attended seminary in Mexico and returned to serve in a local congregation.

Castillo is grateful for the way pastors who come together to train as volunteers with OCC “strengthen one another and push forward with the gospel message.”

“This is a big reminder to me of how truly big God’s arms are,” added Ross Robinson, senior ministry strategist for church partnerships at Operational Christmas Child. “What a privilege and responsibility we share in advancing the gospel.”

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, contact Ross Robinson at

Lone Star Scoop • September 2022

Tyler church rallies around family of fallen sheriff’s deputy

TYLER—Smith County Sheriff’s Deputy Lorenzo Bustos was killed in the line of duty during a routine traffic stop in July. Following his death, Friendly Baptist Church—of which Bustos, 29, was a member—stepped up to minister to the Bustos family, establishing a memorial fund to benefit his wife and their three children (ages 4, 5, and 8).

A 21-year-old driver was arrested for intoxication manslaughter in connection to Bustos’ death.

His pastor, Dan Lewis, said Bustos is remembered for his big smile and positive attitude. Bustos had a significant “impact on our church family,” Lewis said, noting that the deputy and his wife, Gloria, started actively serving in GAs and RAs shortly after joining the church in May 2015.

Rush Creek lead pastor Marty Collier (second from left) prays over Damian Cirincione (center) and Bradley Linkins (left) of the Nevada Baptist Convention Tuesday at the SBTC Executive Board meeting. Caleb Turner, assistant pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church (right) is also pictured. SBTC PHOTO
SBTC enters into partnership with Nevada Baptist Convention 
GRAPEVINE  Underscoring the cooperative work that is foundational among Southern Baptists, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention announced on August 9 that it has entered into a multiyear ministry partnership with the Nevada Baptist Convention. The partnership, SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick said, will provide financial support and various resources to help Southern Baptists in Nevada strengthen existing churches, plant new churches, reach the lost, and develop leaders. In July, the SBTC Executive Committee approved funding of up to $150,000 to be disbursed to the Nevada Baptist Convention in three annual installments of up to $50,000 each beginning this year. A fourth installment may also be given with Executive Committee approval.
Cooperative Program Sunday set for Oct. 2

Each year, the Southern Baptist Convention sets aside one Sunday to promote giving to the Cooperative Program, the mechanism by which the convention funds missions. Sunday, October 2, has been designated as this year’s “Cooperative Program Sunday.”

As churches are preparing for services, they are asked to prayerfully consider playing CP promotional videos, use provided resources, preach a related sermon, or invite a guest speaker from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention to come and share about the Cooperative Program.

Leading forward in humility

I n July, I had the privilege of leading a group of 128 pastors and their wives to Israel. I must admit, it was one of the highlights of my ministry.

One day while visiting Bethlehem, we stopped at a gift shop. While our group was shopping, the owner of the tour company we went with asked me to find a small gift to take back for my office. As I perused the store, I really wanted to choose something that exemplified my calling. I really wanted one of David killing a lion with his bare hands, but that’s not what I do. I then found one of Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders—a picture of the Shepherd carrying His sheep. I loved it, but that is not what I do (that is a more accurate picture of a pastor). 

After searching for a while, I found the one that best represents my calling. It is a beautiful carving of Jesus on his knees washing the feet of Peter. This was it. This exemplifies what I live for—to serve with humility. 

If there is anything I have learned about leadership, it’s this: success makes you a more confident leader, failure makes you a more cautious leader, but humility makes you a better leader. Serving in any leadership capacity can be challenging. The stress and anxiety of day-to-day decisions often weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of leaders. The ever-changing culture adds to the complexities of leading. However, with the right mindset and posture of heart, leaders can excel in advancing the mission. 

I want to suggest two principles to live by in leading with humility: 

"When you lead with humility, you desire to honor those in your life. Paul challenges the church in Rome not only to honor others but to outdo each other in showing honor."

Realize our position

It is easy as you progress in your calling to become more self-confident and less self-aware. Oftentimes, success brings great things into your life: expanded influence, job promotions, salary raises, and a lot of affirmation. These are all good things. However, if we are not careful, it also brings pride, arrogance, a lack of concern for others, and a loss of gratitude. 

We must remember what 1 Peter 5:6 says: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you.” As we lead forward, it is imperative to realize our position. Humility comes from a heart that is postured in submission to God. It comes from people who know they are nothing apart from the hand of God on their lives.

Honor others

One of my favorite verses is found in the second part of Romans 12:10: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Leaders excel in this principle when they are secure in who they are in Christ. When you lead with humility, you desire to honor those in your life. Paul challenges the church in Rome not only to honor others but to outdo each other in showing honor. What a principle to live and lead by! As you lead forward in humility, find ways to honor the people God brings into your life. 

Leading is challenging, but doing so with humility is fulfilling. I encourage you as you lead to position your mind and heart to do so with humility. It will change your life and allow you to serve with joy and gratefulness. I love you and am humbled to serve you!

Satisfied only by the Savior

Carrollton pastor walked away from lucrative investment banking career for something far more compelling—God’s mission

Ryan Lee wasn’t expected to live long as an infant. 

“He’ll be gone within a few weeks,” the doctor told Lee’s parents of the baby born in Suwon, South Korea. Despite the prognosis, Lee’s parents signed paperwork instructing the hospital to preserve their infant son’s life, even if he remained unconscious for the rest of his days.

Dr. Billy Kim, the prominent Korean Christian leader and the Lees’ pastor, prayed with Ryan’s mom in the hospital hallway. “If the baby is safe and well,” he asked Mrs. Lee, “will you give this baby to the Lord, so that the Lord can use him as His servant for the rest of his life?” 

Mrs. Lee said yes.

“They were very eager to save me,” Ryan said recently. “Really, God touched my body and He healed me.” Within a month, against all medical expectations, Ryan was sent home healthy. He not only survived, but today pastors a sizeable Korean American congregation, Semihan Church in Carrollton, focused on planting new churches. 

Before arriving in Carrollton, his journey took him from Korea to the corporate world of New York City and through the oldest and one of the most prestigious Ivy League universities in the country, Harvard. Through it all, Lee has learned that riches fade, but God’s Word endures.

Ryan Lee, Korean name Eunsang Lee, came to Semihan Church in an atypical way: following a successful investment banking career and an Ivy League education.

From college to global financial crisis

As a youngster, Lee attended the Christian school founded by Pastor Kim, also a former Baptist World Alliance president who assisted Billy Graham during the evangelist’s Asian crusades. The rigorous curriculum, which Lee likened to that of the most competitive college preparatory schools, readied him for further study. 

He subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Carleton College in Minnesota.

Although Lee had become a Christian in middle school after viewing the Jesus film, the pastorate was a long way off. He returned to Korea after college and worked as an investment banker specializing in mergers and acquisitions. By his mid-twenties, he was earning a six-figure salary with deals, such as his firm’s planned acquisition of a percentage of Lehman Brothers, promising much, much more.

Had the Lehman Brothers deal gone through, Lee’s bonus might have been $15 million, he estimated. But the subprime mortgage crisis hit; financial institutions collapsed; and the acquisition fell through. Lehman Brothers would soon crater.

“Had I made that deal, I might never have become a pastor,” Lee said. “But fortunately, by the grace of God, that didn’t happen.”

He left banking for Manhattan in August 2008, where a deferred admission to graduate school at Columbia University awaited him. 

That September, Lee learned that Bank of America acquired the last company he had worked for. Equally shocking, one day later he saw former employees—the “best and the brightest”—of Lehman Brothers’ New York office streaming into the subway, carrying boxes of personal items.

“Their faces were hopeless; their eyes lost focus,” Lee recalled. God brought Isaiah 40:8 to mind: “The Word of our Lord endures forever.” 

“The living and active Word of God struck my heart, my mind, my soul. I couldn’t move,” he recalled. He told God, “I will work for that everlasting Word of God, your Scripture, your kingdom. All other kingdoms—the money mountain, the political mountain, the power mountain—they’re all collapsing. The Word of God, the gospel, the Jesus message stands forever.”

On that subway train, he once again gave himself to the Lord.

“Semihan Sing” featured talented church members this spring. The church’s main focus is multiplication and they have started additional congregations in California and Texas in partnership with Gangnam Joongang Baptist Church in South Korea. SUBMITTED PHOTO

"We often say we have to multiply disciples, make more disciples of Jesus Christ, but we don’t really say we must multiply church. Church should multiply church."

From Cambridge to Carrollton

Fast forward: within a year Lee finished his master’s at Columbia. He met and married his wife, Sarah, in New York in 2010. The couple has two children.

While serving in a Korean church in Manhattan during his studies at Columbia, Lee led the welcome team. Using evangelical tools, he presented the gospel to newcomers who were not believers. Many accepted Christ as Savior, and Lee experienced another life-changing moment through what he calls the “true joy” of preaching the gospel.

Even as a successful investment banker, he was not satisfied. Seeing people trust Jesus, confess their sins, and accept Christ as Savior, brought real joy. Lee became wholly committed to a new “life-saving ministry, the gospel ministry.” 

Sensing the call of God, he entered Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, earned a Master of Divinity, and was admitted to a doctoral program in systematic theology under the direction of Malcolm Yarnell, his advisor.

Instead, Lee chose Harvard—for a few reasons: a full-ride scholarship and he wanted to understand theological liberals and liberalism.

His professional friends, he said, were not friendly to conservative theology or evangelical society, but they were open to liberal Christians, theologians, and churches.

“I really had to deal with liberals at some point,” Lee said. “I knew I had to go to more liberal schools so I could expose myself to liberal theology but still steadfastly hold on to the truth of the Word of God.”

While he encountered well-known secular thinkers there, Lee said he “became more Southern Baptist at Harvard than at any other place,” engaging in debates and discussions, presenting the evangelical perspective. 

After studying religion at the Harvard Divinity School and politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, Lee returned to Southwestern Seminary for a Ph.D. in World Christian Studies.

Semihan Church

In 2018, Lee succeeded founder Lloyd B. Choi as pastor of Semihan Church in Carrollton. The church’s name means bringing the world, America, and Korea to Jesus Christ. The congregation is mostly Asian: primarily Korean and Korean American.

Choi started Semihan in 2000 with 14 people. By 2022, registrants to the church’s YouTube channel numbered 6,800. Traditional membership, meaning those active in the church’s core small groups, numbers 2,000. Between in-person and online attendees, weekly attendance runs over 3,000. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has about 100,000 Koreans and Korean Americans. 

The church budget has grown substantially, too.

“It’s all the grace of God,” Lee said.

He added that Semihan is at its core a church-planting congregation, planting churches in Houston and Irvine, Calif., and expanding to a second campus in Frisco to accommodate those coming from that city, McKinney, Plano, Prosper, and Celina. Semihan is also preparing to plant a church in Austin.

The Semihan philosophy is partly adopted from theologian Leonard Sweet’s four stages of church life: mission, ministry, maintenance, and museum—a model describing how churches move from creation to stagnation. To Sweet’s paradigm, Lee and Semihan have added a third “M” between “ministry” and “maintenance” to keep the church on mission: multiplication.

“The only way for a mega or bigger church to survive and maintain a healthy church is to multiply,” Lee said. Multiplication becomes an energizing movement.

“We often say we have to multiply disciples, make more disciples of Jesus Christ, but we don’t really say we must multiply church. Church should multiply church,” Lee said. 

Thus Semihan’s focus, and what keeps its congregation engaged, is a firm focus on multiplication.

And growth continues as a result.