Month: May 2024

Fire that gutted Paris church’s youth building has done nothing but ignite a movement of God

They can laugh now, three years after the fire that destroyed their youth building, about things like the name of the ministry: Ignite.

“We’ve since rebranded,” said Phil Spann, the longtime student minister at Southside Baptist Church in Paris.

They can wonder at the odd things, like the fact Billy Norris, Southside’s senior pastor, discovered Spann’s Bible a day later amid the building’s charred remains. It was sitting on the podium where he’d left it, undamaged by either fire or water. Or that the sheet music they’d used in the most recent youth service—“Another in the Fire”—was lying on the stage in similarly pristine condition.

“Amazing,” Spann said. “It’s just neat to see how God does some things to show us that He’s in control.”

Mostly, though, they marvel at how God has worked despite—or maybe because of—adversity.

“It’s a very unique story,” Spann said, “one that only God could have written.”

On the afternoon of April 20, 2021, as contractors were installing a vent-a-hood for a new commercial kitchen, sparks from a grinder ignited attic insulation. Although firefighters arrived within minutes, the building was soon engulfed in flames.

“He knows our name. He knows our address. He knows what we’re going through. He’s faithful. He’s a faithful God.”

Spann, who has served at Southside for almost 17 years, remembers praying: “What do we do now?”

“God was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this. You just follow me,’” Spann said. “That’s pretty much what we’ve done. We’ve just trusted Him, and He’s shown us over and above anything we could ever imagine.”

As Southside’s student ministry prepares, finally, to move into a newly built youth building sometime in the next few weeks, it’s clear the ministry hasn’t so much survived as thrived.

“Even since the fire, we’ve grown,” said Norris, the senior pastor. “It hasn’t hindered the ministry at all.”

Adjustments were necessary, not only by the student ministry, but throughout the church—especially when plans to replace the youth building were postponed for months by insurance issues. But Norris said Southside’s members “just responded in a way that’s been a blessing for everybody. It’s been good for the church but also glorifying to God.”

Each Wednesday evening for the last three years, Southside’s youth have met in the church’s fellowship hall, which seats around 50. After dinner, they head into the sanctuary for a time of praise and worship. When AWANA takes over the sanctuary, the students return to the fellowship hall.

An intentionally no-frills student ministry became even more stripped down because of the space limitations. But that didn’t seem to matter. Somehow, they haven’t lost any momentum.

Instead, they’ve gained students.

The Bible of Phil Spann, student minister at Southside Baptist Church in Paris, was among the remains found from the fire that destroyed their youth building.

“Kids started inviting their friends,” Spann said. “Next thing we know, here we are today, and we’ll average around 75 students. And if they all came at one time, it would be over 100.”

They bring in extra chairs from classrooms. Kids sit on the floor. They haven’t had to tear open the roof yet to get one more person in, but it can feel that way.

Again, the format is simple: Supper, then praise and worship, and then Spann opens that Bible and simply preaches. It has long been his philosophy, and it’s partially why the rebranded ministry is “412 Student Ministry”—a reference to 1 Timothy 4:12 (“Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity”).

“I believe if these kids can take the classes they handle in school, they can understand the gospel,” Spann said. “I take very seriously what Paul told Timothy, to preach the Word. He didn’t say, ‘Teach ’em how to play games.’ He didn’t say, ‘Entertain.’ He said, ‘Preach the Word’—so that’s what I do.”

For several years, the youth group has attended camp at Falls Creek Conference Center in Oklahoma. Southside shared a 100-bed cabin with a youth group from another church. But when registration opened this spring, Southside filled all 100 slots within two weeks. More students are on a waiting list. And the other church has had to find another housing option.

“We’re thinking two cabins next year,” Norris said.

The results are more than just increased participation. God’s Word hasn’t returned empty. Instead, Southside has seen a harvest. The recent fruit of the student ministry includes salvations and baptisms. During the last two years, the church has celebrated more than 60 baptisms. Norris said they’ve been predominantly children and youth. He rejoices in the 34 decisions for Christ made at camp two years ago, and a similar number last summer.

“That’s all I can say. We’ve just learned to trust Him. It’s not about how we understand. It’s what He has for us. In the end, He’s gonna make it straight.”

“It’s been a significant [number],” Spann said. “Again, I’m just overwhelmed by what God has done.”

What happened?

“The thing I’ve seen more than anything else,” Norris said, “and it just reaffirms what we knew to be true, is God is faithful. It’s all Him. If anything comes out of this, it’s that His name is glorified.

“He knows our name. He knows our address. He knows what we’re going through. He’s faithful. He’s a faithful God.”

Spann knows the Southside youth ministry has lived through an example of his favorite Scripture passage, Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

“That’s all I can say,” Spann said. “We’ve just learned to trust Him. It’s not about how we understand. It’s what He has for us. In the end, He’s gonna make it straight.”

Tapping into the real power behind pastoral ministry

There are many ways to fail as a pastor. In the last few years alone, we’ve witnessed moral failure, theological error, and cultural accommodation destroy the ministries of men like us. However, one insidious failure that is often overlooked is prayerlessness.

While most pastors are good at remaining vigilant against temptation and guarding their theology, many frequently neglect prayer. A recent Lifeway Research study found that nearly 75% of pastors say they need to invest more time to become consistent in prayer.

The New Testament, however, knows nothing of prayerless spiritual leaders. Consider that Jesus prayed for His disciples and all those who would be joined to Him by faith (John 17:17–21). In the early days of the church, the apostles refused to allow worthwhile ministry needs to shift their focus from “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Paul told the Romans that he “unceasingly” mentioned them in his prayers (Romans 1:9-10), as he did the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:16) and Philippians (Philippians 1:3–4).

Jesus and the apostles consistently express their dependence on the work of God to build the church through prayer. Derek Prime and Alistair Begg argue in their book, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work, that prayer is the “principal and main work” of pastoral ministry since it is the first way we exercise care for our people and the foundation of an effective teaching ministry.

Brothers, when we can do ministry without prayer, we are in dangerous territory, unanchored to our biblical calling, guilty of prideful self-sufficiency, and on the way toward a fall. But God is gracious in forgiving us of our prayerlessness and gives us a guide for prayer in His Word.

I have found the following prayers from Paul’s letters particularly helpful in cultivating humility and dependence on God for my ministry. Each prayer challenges the belief at the root of prayerlessness—namely, that I can fulfill my calling without God’s help.

We should pray for unity among our people (Romans 15:5-6) 

Because conflict is a normal part of church life, many pastors have grown adept at navigating it with careful and loving leadership. However, the unity that glorifies God is a work of His Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). Therefore, we should pray for God’s blessing of unity and harmony among our people.

We should pray that our people would have insight into spiritual truth (Ephesians 1:15–20) 

While we should never neglect the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word to His people, we know their spiritual insight must come from the illuminating work of God’s Spirit. As we prepare our sermons and lessons, we should pray that our people receive spiritual benefit from what they hear and ask God to bless their personal time spent in the Word.

We should pray for the sanctification and perseverance of our people (Colossians 1:9–14)

Though we’d like to think our sermons are weighty enough to equip our people for faithfulness throughout the week and that our advice can give them victory over sin, we are poor replacements for the Holy Spirit, whose work is to sanctify them. We should ask the Spirit to continue the good work He began in them and strengthen them to live godly and fruitful lives.

We should pray that God would glorify Himself through our people (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12)

God has entrusted the people in our churches to us for a season, but we should never forget they belong to Him. Their lives, therefore, are not merely reflections of our ministries but of the God who saved them by His grace. We should pray that God works in them to glorify the name of Jesus.

We should thank God for our people (Philippians 1:2–7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1–3)

Finally, as we lift our people up to the Lord in prayer, we should consistently thank Him for the privilege of shepherding them and for their partnership in the gospel. Our church members are created by God, redeemed by Jesus, and indwelt by the Spirit. Every conversation and interaction we have with them is a gift!

None of us is as consistent in prayer as he would like, but we owe it to ourselves, our people, and to God to persist and grow in this essential task. The fruitfulness of our ministries depends on it. Let us, therefore, recover the biblical and historical commitment to pray for the people we lead, and let’s watch as God hears our prayers and answers them for His glory.

SWBTS team preparing music as ministry for SBC Annual Meeting

FORT WORTH—Preparing music for an annual meeting that serves more than 10,000 people over two days can be overwhelming, but Joseph R. Crider, music director for the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, is confident in—and thankful for—the team around him that will help provide worship leadership during the gathering.

Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said SBC President Bart Barber, a two-time Southwestern alumnus, wanted the seminary’s music team to lead worship at this year’s convention. Crider was elected music leader during the 2023 annual meeting in New Orleans and has spent the past year preparing for Indianapolis.

“I am honored to be asked, but … there is a lot that goes into the preparation that most people never think about,” Crider said. “The music director for the annual meeting is a member of the Committee on the Order of Business for the SBC. The business of the SBC is packed into two days of committee reports, resolutions, entity presentations, elections, preaching and worship, so there are [many details] that take the entire year to plan.”

Crider, Southwestern A Cappella, and the seminary’s Cowden Hall Band will lead the music for the meeting. Southwestern A Cappella, a select music ensemble composed of graduate and undergraduate music students in the SCMW, assisted in leading worship during the worship sessions of the 2023 meeting in New Orleans. The Cowden Hall Band is the school’s graduate house band.

Charles Lewis, associate dean of the SCMW and professor of church music and worship, is coordinating all the production and logistical details. Ricky Johnson, SCMW artist in residence and director of bands, and Hugo Encorrada, a doctor of philosophy student, are working out specific musical arrangements for all the worship.

Without the help of these men, the students in the music groups, Fran De Wysockie, administrative assistant in the SCMW, and the help and encouragement of the school’s faculty and staff, Crider said, “I would be overwhelmed.”

Crider also tapped James Cheesman, who led the music for the 2023 meeting. Cheesman serves as the worship pastor at Barber’s church, First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, and is a Ph.D. student and adjunct instructor at Southwestern.

“With all that James has on his plate, it was a lot to ask him to coordinate music for another annual meeting,” Crider said. “But I will say that the congregational participation and worship at last year’s annual meeting was the best I’ve heard in years. James did an incredible job of choosing songs people know and love, and he led with sincere, pastoral humility. I’m praying the Lord will help us do the same.”

Cheesman will lead the worship with SCMW students prior to Barber’s sermon on Tuesday morning of the convention.

Crider said preparation “began several months ago as we prayed through the theme of the meeting [‘One Mind, One Voice,’ based on Romans 15:5-6], the Scripture passages that will guide each of the worship elements and then the songs and hymns that Southwestern A Cappella and Cowden Hall Band have been leading through the year. Fortunately, we aren’t trying to learn all new music for the June meeting.”

Crider said he has lost track of the hours of rehearsal time, “But our students will come back from their summer break for three major rehearsals on campus totaling around 20 hours of intense rehearsals in preparation for our ministry in Indianapolis.”

The students will lead almost 40 songs throughout the two-day meeting, he said.

Crider explained what he hopes both SBC messengers and his students gain from the experience.

“We simply want to serve the messengers by encouraging them to worship Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “We will serve them well if they think more of Jesus than they do of us and how we lead them. At the same time, we want our SBC churches across the country to know that it [is the SCMW’s passion] to prepare men and women for their calling to the ministry – as is true of all our sister seminaries.”

Crider also expressed the desire “to be faithful in representing” the seminary and Texas Baptist College “in the best possible way – by pointing people to Christ.”

“For our students,” he added, “I hope they see the incredible phenomenon of cooperation among autonomous churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. I hope they see that the annual meeting is not only a big family reunion, but it’s also something God has used in a powerful way to build Christ’s kingdom through evangelism, missions, education, discipleship, and resources for local SBC churches. I pray they will all want to be actively engaged in the future of the SBC.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

Sometimes the waiting room is the best classroom when it comes to prayer

Prayer frequently requires waiting. The trouble is, we’re not patient. In fact, Americans are so impatient that recent studies can pinpoint what we’re most impatient about and how long it takes us to grow agitated when waiting. 

For instance, the majority of us grow quickly irritated with slow Wi-Fi. It’s our No. 1 complaint, guaranteed to ignite our impatience. In addition, on average, we find it intolerable to wait as much as 10 minutes for sluggish customer service. 

Do people of prayer reflect the power of prayer when ordinary circumstances test the fragile limits of our patience? Our impatience reminds us of the oft repeated adage, “Man microwaves, but God marinates.”

Waiting has a bad reputation in America, but Scripture is filled with positive examples of waiting. For instance, Isaiah reminds us that if we wait on God we will fly like eagles and run without exhaustion (Isaiah 40:31). Jesus instructed His eager but powerless disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49). The psalmist testified that the Lord heard his cries only after he was willing to wait (Psalm 40:1). Many of the biblical invitations to wait are directly connected to prayer.

It sounds extreme, but waiting is an inescapable factor in a praying life. In fact, Jesus insisted that we learn the discipline of waiting in prayer.

Waiting has a bad reputation in America, but Scripture is filled with positive examples of waiting.

In one of His most well-known parables in which He taught the importance of patience in prayer, Jesus contrasted a powerful, malevolent judge to a vulnerable, abused widow (Luke 18:1-8). The judge in the parable had no compassion for the widow’s legal or personal complaints. The widow, on the other hand, refused to stop showing up to court to demand justice. Finally, the corrupt judge conceded because the widow refused to stop asking for his assistance. 

Jesus contrasted the heartless judge to our loving God by demonstrating that, unlike the crooked judge, God desires to answer the cries of His people—the people Jesus compared favorably to the persistent widow. The parable is introduced with this instructive preamble, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

From this well-known text we notice some principles about patience in prayer. Sometimes the waiting room is the best classroom.

Wait in prayer even when the outcome appears unlikely

The two characters in the parable—a widow and the judge—were on opposite ends of the power and privilege scale in ancient society. The judge was a local official with authority appointed by Rome. The widow was a symbol of vulnerability in Scripture; she had no social standing. This widow had only one power—persistence! Jesus described her as one “who kept coming.” The tense of the Greek verb means continuous, repeated action. 

Her request was ignored numerous times, but she kept making the appeal. The frequency of her appeals in the face of the judge’s indifference toward her plight is a reminder to us of a basic principle of prayer: God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials. There is nothing in the circumstances of the story that suggest the widow had a chance of success, except for her persistent asking.

Wait in prayer because God hears

In the parable, the widow’s persistence won the judge over. Her resilience wore down his reluctance. Jesus urged His followers to cry out in unceasing prayer, because God will intervene for those who “cry to Him day and night” (v. 7).  

No matter how much time passes between our request and God‘s response, we should never conclude that God does not care. God wants to respond. God wants to answer. In His perfect timing, no matter how long we’ve waited, no matter how big the long shot, God answers prayer. He specializes in results that can be achieved in no other way.

Wait in prayer because an answer is coming

When does waiting in prayer reach a conclusion? Jesus said God will answer His pleading people “speedily” (v. 8). In other words, God’s answer comes suddenly. Why is it necessary to wait if the answer comes suddenly?

The Greek word translated “speedily” occurs in the New Testament seven times. It is obviously a reference to a narrow window of time. Three of the usages of the word refer to a speedy or sudden action in time. The other four usages of the word refer to the nearness in time of the action. Those instances are translated with words like “shortly” or “soon” (Acts 25:4, Romans 16:20, etc.). 

In any case, the word means that action is imminent. God will answer. You are justified in waiting, because when the answer comes it will be in a timely manner. So, our job is to prayerfully wait on God’s timing. 

Perhaps the testimony of George Müller best exemplifies our goals in patient prayer. He said, “When once I am persuaded that a thing is right, and for the glory of God, I go on praying for it until the answer comes.” If your classroom is the waiting room, God is teaching you. So, keep praying!

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Baptist Press.

Barber exhorts Southwestern graduates to go to the harvest

FORT WORTH—Get to work in the harvest, Southern Baptist Convention President Bart Barber challenged the 301 graduates of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Texas Baptist College during spring commencement held May 3 on the Fort Worth campus.

The spring 2024 graduating class included students representing 27 states of the U.S. and 22 countries. Seventy-seven of the 301 certificates and diplomas awarded were for non-English degrees and certificates.

“This class represents the student body at Southwestern, which is now a multinational, multi-ethnic, intercultural, intergenerational community,” said SWBTS President David S. Dockery, noting the names listed in the commencement program that were representative of “every region of the country and multiple nations around the world, and we celebrate God’s goodness in bringing them here.”

Framing his commencement address around Jesus’ exchange with the disciples following His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria in John 4, Barber, who has pastored First Baptist Church of Farmersville since 1999, noted the disciples encouraged Jesus to eat. Jesus refused and told the disciples His food was to do the will of His Father, which was to sow and reap for the harvest of the kingdom of God, Barber explained.

Barber, himself a two-time graduate of Southwestern Seminary, reminded the graduating class that the education and training they received at the seminary is an “investment” by the students themselves and the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention that is to be put “to work in the harvest.”

“Unlike some educational institutions, we have not led you to knowledge merely for knowledge’s sake, in and of itself,” Barber said. “But instead, there is great need in the world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we launch you into that world in order to accomplish the purpose for which God has raised you up.”

First, Barber noted, the new graduates’ studies should give a “hunger for the harvest.”

“A seminary education is supposed to light a flame in your heart,” Barber said. “It is supposed to give you a vision and a passion in addition to giving you technique and information and know-how about how to pursue it.” He added a seminary education should “light” a “vision for the evangelization of the world, for the rescuing of souls from the domain of darkness and bringing them into the light of God.”

Barber said the disciples wondered why Jesus was not hungry when “Jesus in effect turned to them and said, ‘I’m wondering why you’re not hungry. I’m wondering why you’re able to walk by these people who are in need of the truth – in need of the Gospel and all you care about is food.’”

“I beseech you,” Barber pleaded, “to kindle in your heart a hunger for the harvest for the cause of the gospel.”

Second, Barber said, the graduates needed to have a “perception of the opportunities to harvest that are around” them. He observed that Jesus was “training” the disciples, but He also told the disciples “the harvest is ready now” as “the fields are white unto harvest.”

Third, Barber encouraged the graduates to have “an optimism about the harvest.”

“There is joy found in the ministry that you will pursue as you go from this place and there is opportunity that is there,” Barber said, while noting the graduates leave Seminary Hill “into a season of time that some have called the ‘great de-churching.’”

“You have heard it said that the opportunities are few. And you have heard it said that people are running away. And you have heard it said that your prospects are going to be difficult serving in ministry,” Barber observed before reminding the graduates that church history records “seasons of decreased interest in the Gospel” that are “usually followed by seasons of spiritual awakening.” He said that “we’re seeing something like that happening.”

Barber noted that “a godless culture has not served well the people who are coming into adulthood today.” He noted that teenagers have “been deprived of human nurture and spiritual encouragement and instead have been handed a screen and find that their calendars are full and their souls are empty.

“They have a great need for the gospel,” Barber said.

He added that “people say” the churches of the SBC are “shrinking and waning,” but, he said, “that is not true.” Barber said the last published statistics show “an increase in baptisms” in the SBC and he predicts “that is a trend that will continue to grow in the days to come.”

“If you will be faithful to plant the seed, God will be faithful to bring forth the harvest,” Barber said.

Barber concluded his remarks by encouraging the graduates to “be optimistic about what Jesus can do through your ministry—about what Jesus can make of your faithfulness.

“You are among the best-trained Christians in the world on this day,” Barber concluded. “May you also be among the most zealous Christians in the world going forth from this day and may God make much of your labor in Him.”

Barber’s sister, Traci Barber Smith, was one of the graduates, having earned a Master of Theological Studies from the seminary’s School of Theology.

The ceremony also included the awarding of the David S. and Lanese Dockery Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence to Joshua Williams, associate professor of Old Testament and director of the seminary’s Research Doctoral Studies program. Williams, who has served at Southwestern since 2006, was nominated for the award by his faculty colleagues based on the award’s criteria of faithful and effective teaching of students and genuine care and concern for the spiritual development of students inside and outside of the classroom.

In his opening remarks during the ceremony, Dockery told the gathering that the fathers of both Southwestern’s ninth president, Adam W. Greenway, and Jamie Dew, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, had died the day before, and he then led the congregation in a time of prayer for the families.

How in the world can I bless God?


e often think about blessings in terms of possessions, things received. It’s not unusual to hear someone say, “God blessed us with this house” or, “She was blessed to receive a scholarship”—and let’s be clear, we’re not wrong when we credit God (which is to say, give Him glory) for the things we have.

But thinking about blessings merely in terms of possessions can skew our understanding of what Scripture means when we see instances of humans blessing God. For example, we find this command frequently in the psalms. Psalm 96:2 and Psalm 100:4 instruct us to bless the name of the Lord. Psalm 103:2 and Psalm 104:1 form the basis of what has famously been put to music: “Bless the Lord, O my soul!”

Obviously, there’s no possession I can give to the God of creation who owns the cattle on 1,000 hills. So how in the world can I bless God?

These questions hit me hard recently in a most unexpected place—the gym. As I was working out, the song “Promises” by Maverick City began to play through my headphones. I’ve heard—and sung—this song more times than I can count, but for some reason, a couple of lines impacted me differently than they had before: 

I’ll still bless you—in the middle of my storm, in the middle of my trial, 

I’ll still bless you—in the middle of the road, when I don’t know where to go …

His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. He is God, and He is doing something good.

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. There have been no major crises, but instead, a series of annoying challenges that have been labor-intensive, attention-hogging, and frustrating to say the least. We all experience these kinds of challenges—they don’t typically change the course of our lives, but they threaten to dislodge us from comfort and disrupt whatever plans we’ve made for ourselves. Nobody wakes up and says, “You know, Lord, I’d love a little more adversity to toughen me up this week,” and yet we know God absolutely uses storms and trials to achieve His purposes.

Pain and discomfort tend to make us forget those truths, and I certainly have been guilty of that lately. My complaints have been numerous enough to fill a football stadium. If pouting was an Olympic sport, I’d be well on my way to gold. I’ve asked God why these things had to happen right now (as if there’s a different time I’d gladly accept difficulty). And as I lay in the gym floor between sets that morning, I felt like the Lord reminded me of something: out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. 

So what does all this have to do with blessing God? I think one of the primary ways we can bless God is through faith. Not the kind of faith that saves us, but the kind of faith that sustains us—the kind that says, “Lord, I don’t like this but I know you are at work, and I trust whatever work that is.” This is the kind of faith that delivers the peace Jesus promises. 

How can you bless God today? Trust Him—and bless Him by telling Him you trust Him. You don’t have to like what He is doing, and His shoulders are certainly big enough for you to be honest with Him about that, but in the end, His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. He is God, and He is doing something good. 

Setting your house in order

We may not have much control over when we leave this planet, but we do have a say in how we leave and the impact it will have on our families. When King Hezekiah became terminally ill, the prophet Isaiah said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Put your affairs in order, for you are about to die’” (2 Kings 20:1).

Abraham is an even better example of how to put our houses in order because he didn’t have a heads-up like Hezekiah—and neither do we. I can think of at least three ways Abraham showed us how to put our houses in order:

Update your financial affairs

Very few people can relate to the size of Abraham’s vast estate, but we all have something of value to leave our family. Sentimental value is as important to some people as financial value. I have too often seen friction surface during a time of grief, which is always unfortunate and usually avoidable.

 A 2013 survey conducted by LifeWay Research found 37% of Southern Baptist Convention pastors do not have a trust or will of any kind. More than half (55%) of all Americans will die without a will or trust, according to the American Bar Association. Almost half do not have any life insurance for that matter. 

Scripture instructs us this way: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, that is his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). 

Abraham’s sons had an awkward reunion at their father’s funeral. Neither dickered over the details because Abraham had it all pre-arranged (Genesis 25).


of SBC pastors do not have a trust or will of any kind

—Lifeway Research


of all Americans will die without a will or trust

—American Bar Association

Formalize your funeral plans 

Some pastors don’t like to talk about death, which is strange considering how often we help others through it. You don’t have to like death to get ready for it. The fewer decisions your family must make when you die, the better.

Shortly after Abraham’s wife Sarah died, he not only bought a funeral plot, but he also bought a whole cemetery! It was a nice cave, which was the upscale equivalent in that culture. Many family members were likely buried in Abraham’s family cemetery, including his great-grandson, Joseph. 

Does your family know what your funeral preferences and plans are? A few minutes of your time will save several tough hours for your family. 

Mend your family fences

Abraham did not have a perfect track record, especially at home. He lied to, and about, Sarah more than once. Sarah pushed him into fathering an illegitimate child because they both grew tired of waiting for one. Favoritism between sons ran rampant and became a family tradition, which was passed down to succeeding generations.

Pastors are called to lead their homes as well as their churches. Since your family is your most important ministry, what do you need to do to put your house in order? Abraham’s family benefited not only from how he lived, but also how he died, as can yours.

SBTC executive board hears reports on networks, church planting, and more

HORSESHOE BAY—There is power in connecting.

That was a key message Spencer Plumlee, elder and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Mansfield, delivered to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention executive board April 23 during its quarterly meeting. Plumlee was speaking about the SBTC’s Young Pastors Network (YPN), for which he serves as a consultant.

YPN is a networking and leadership development initiative offered by the SBTC for pastors 40 years old and younger. Several years ago, YPN was reorganized around three priorities, according to Plumlee: to encourage pastors with resources to help them grow in their calling; to empower them to have a voice in the future of the convention; and to connect them to lifelong ministry relationships and partnerships.

“What has made this network thrive is deep brotherhood and connections,” Plumlee said. “As we look to the future, let me encourage whatever networks we launch to have relationships at their heart. The SBTC is strategically positioned to convene—that is, to pull leaders together in these kind of meaningful connections. Networks are an amazing way to accomplish this.”

One of the ways YPN connects its members is through cohorts. Participating YPN pastors are placed in groups of five to 10, with each group being led by an experienced mentor. Cohorts meet several times over a two-year period to discuss current issues related to pastoral ministry, to connect and speak into each other’s lives, and to hold each other accountable. Plumlee said 80 pastors have participated in a cohort to date.

“What’s happening in the Young Pastors Network is a true brotherhood,” said Joe Lightner, SBTC’s associate executive director. “ … It’s something we want every pastor to experience in some way in our convention.”

Send Network SBTC: 

‘It’s been a great season’

The SBTC’s mission focus is to mobilize churches to multiply disciple-making movements in Texas and around the world. The Well Community Church in San Marcos is a great illustration of that.

Pastor Chris Millar gave testimony to the board about the vital role the SBTC has played in his journey from church member to church planter to leading The Well to become a church-planting church. That journey included getting connected to SBTC leaders through the annual collegiate Roundup event, connecting with SBTC pastors in college towns who encouraged and mentored him, and training that equipped him with the tools and training needed to reach people in San Marcos.

Now in its fourth year, The Well has baptized 60 people.

“I remember all the support that took place, all the relationships I had through the SBTC,” Millar said. “It was really as though there was this extended family of churches and people that said, ‘Chris, we’re going to come carry you.’ And the Lord really did carry us through that season.”

Julio Arriola, director of Send Network SBTC, said the SBTC’s partnership with the North American Mission Board is yielding a growing number of church plants like The Well across Texas each year—the result of God blessing faithful prayer and the convention’s unwavering commitment to “discover, develop, and deploy” pastors to launch new congregations.

Even so, there’s much more work to be done.

“It’s been a great season,” Arriola said. “The harvest is plentiful. Even though we’re seeing an increase in church planters, we need more laborers.”

Said SBTC Executive Director Nathan Lorick: “Not only are we seeing an increase in [churches planted], but we’re seeing momentum in planting. We’re seeing the energy of what God’s doing.”

In new Criswell book, Hawkins examines the life of a man who impacted millions

A man for many seasons

O.S. Hawkins is chancellor of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and president emeritus of GuideStone Financial Resources. He has authored more than 50 books, including the latest, Criswell: His Life and Times. Hawkins recently spoke with Southern Baptist Texan magazine about why he chose to write about the legendary W.A. Criswell and how others can benefit from learning about his life.

You’ve described W.A. Criswell as a friend and mentor. Can you talk about the impact he had on you personally and why you decided to write a book about his life? 

O.S. Hawkins: I first met him back when I was a kid. In my generation he was legendary, and for some reason early on, he took a liking to me and we developed a warm friendship. I just considered him a great mentor and, in many ways, he was like a father to me. … Really the reason I wrote the book was he was a polarizing figure in many ways, and there has been so much written about him from people who were adversarial to him, whether it was because of theological or philosophical reasons, and then there were other things written that [portrayed him as being] sort of almost without sin. So, what I tried to do was bring balance to his life and also to introduce him to a new generation of preachers who may not have known him in his greatness.

How might pastors who don’t know as much about Criswell’s life be encouraged or even equipped by some of the things you included in this book?

Hawkins: They will see that education is important. They will see that in the first 10 years of his pastorate, he pastored little bitty churches in far-away places. It gave him a love for pastors. There are a lot of stories in the book about that. He ended up leading the largest church in the world for years at First Baptist Dallas, and he had no peer in his prime—I mean, no peer. But he never got away from loving pastors.

I also believe the title of the book, Criswell: His Life and Times, is important because this book is not just for pastors. It’s for everyone who’s interested in leadership or interested in history. It’s about his times. Dr. Criswell lived in every decade of the 20th century, and there’s a chapter on each of these decades throughout the whole book that really describes the times in which he lived. So many things were swirling around the culture in America through World War I, through World War II, through all of these decades that unfolded. So, it’s really a book about Baptist history, Texas history, American history. It’s not just about Criswell. It’s about the times in which he lived and loved and ministered.

What kinds of insights about Criswell will readers walk away with that might inspire them or even change the way they look at the world? 

Hawkins: Well, I would say one thing that gets lost in the midst of all of his notoriety was how much he loved people. He’s known as a great preacher and theologian, but what many people don’t know is what an incredible pastor he was and how much he loved his people—and they loved him back. He’d often weep when he preached and the people would weep with him. It was amazing.

He was an eternal optimist in many ways, which we need in Baptist life today. He was naive in the sense that, even in the midst of the great Baptist battles of his life, it never dawned on him that [certain] people didn’t like him or didn’t love him. He was above the fray in the fact that he didn’t hold any personal animosity. He had a unique ability to realize that things are going to get better and that nothing lasts forever. Whatever he was going through, he moved forward knowing this too will pass, and he would hunker down and move on.

He owned his mistakes, which a lot of people don’t do, and he was open about them and he sought to recover from them. And then, of course, you’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die, and I didn’t see anyone ever die like he died. I mean, he died with such a sweet spirit. He would wake up his caretaker in the middle of the night preaching the gospel in his sleep.

He was such a unique individual. Had he gone into law, I think he probably would’ve been on the Supreme Court. Had he gone into business, he’d have built a Fortune 500 company. If he’d gone into politics, he’d have been a senator, maybe president of the United States. He was just a unique individual, greatly gifted by God. And yet he never lost the childlike wonder of it and the work of it. He never lost the wonder of God’s creation. I’ve never known anyone that loved the Lord and depended upon Him and consistently lived for Him and served Him like W.A. Criswell. All he ever wanted to do was pastor a local congregation of baptized believers.

Making an eternity of difference a world away

Bruno Molina, language evangelism associate for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, got good news a couple of months ago. Let’s just say it was good news about the good news. 

Molina received notification that the SBTC’s 1Cross app had been used to share the gospel with somebody in India. In response, that person made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ—11 years to the day the app was launched by the SBTC right here in Texas.

The 1Cross app was developed as a tool churches and individuals can use to share the gospel in nearly 70 languages, including many you’ve probably heard of (Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian) and maybe a few you haven’t (Pokomo, Zomi, Luhya-Bukusu, and Gujarati). Each video includes a gospel presentation that can be downloaded or shared, and there’s even a gospel presentation in English.

“We have had the joy of seeing God use the 1Cross app to bring people to Christ both in the U.S. and abroad,” Molina said. “On one occasion, a Korean student at Southwestern Seminary used the app to lead a Spanish-speaking Mexican man to Christ and we were able to connect him to a church in Fort Worth. On another occasion, I recall with gratitude that one of our SBTC churches went on a mission trip to Thailand and led two people to Christ that I was able to connect to a Baptist church in Bangkok. Praise the Lord!”

Likewise, Molina said he was able to forward the person’s name who got saved in India to an International Mission Board leader there to help connect that person to a local church.