Author: Baptist Press

SWBTS trustees receive reports of financial stability, enrollment growth

FORT WORTH, Texas—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees heard reports of renewed financial stability and enrollment growth during their April 9-10 meeting held on the Fort Worth campus, which was marked by a spirit of unity, President David S. Dockery said.

“Southwestern Seminary is in a very different place than in September 2022,” said Dockery, noting many factors. “All this has happened because of God’s providential kindness to us.”

Trustees unanimously approved a $35.6 million budget, elected and promoted faculty, named faculty to academic chairs and approved graduates for spring 2024 during the meeting.

Board Chairman Jonathan Richard thanked Dockery for his “capable leadership,” commended trustees for their work during the meeting, noted the “high morale” among students and faculty and affirmed the seminary’s faculty as a “one of our greatest assets to this institution.”

Richard said trustees “continue to rely on the Lord for guidance” and during his tenure on the board he has been “thankful for the sustaining presence of the Lord here.”

He added that the seminary’s current financial situation is “stronger than it has been in years, and I know that with continued hard work and sacrifice, the financial future is hopeful.”

The board approved a $35.6 million budget for the 2025 fiscal year, a decrease of $300,000 from the originally approved budget for the current year. Trustees also approved the firm Guinn Smith & Company as auditors for the fiscal year 2024.

In his report to trustees, Dockery noted the collective thankfulness “to God for His presence” and the “obvious presence of the Spirit leading us,” resulting in a “genuine spirit of unity and humility that was present in all aspects of our work.” He added that everyone is “very hopeful for the days to come.”

Southwestern influence

Dockery highlighted two recent “big announcements” in the Southern Baptist Convention that exemplify the influence of Southwestern Seminary. On March 21, Jeff Iorg, current president of Gateway Seminary, was elected president of the SBC Executive Committee. Iorg, who was honored as a distinguished alumnus in 2022, holds a Doctor of Ministry from Southwestern. Pending approval of the board of trustees at Gateway, Adam Groza, a two-time Southwestern Seminary graduate, including a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2009, will assume the presidency of Gateway Seminary.

“We are thankful for the influence Southwestern continues to have not just here on this campus, but across the world where there is not a time zone … across the globe in which there is not a Southwesterner serving at this time,” Dockery added.

Encouraging future

Dockery told trustees the seminary is “very hopeful” about ongoing giving to the institution. He noted that unrestricted giving is “steady” and that temporarily unrestricted giving is “ahead of the last three years.” He said that the seminary’s operational budget is “in a good place” as it is more than $1.5 million ahead of the same time last year. He added that the seminary currently has $8.4 million in cash “which no one would have imagined this time last year.”

Dockery also mentioned the $3.4 million that was placed in a “quasi-endowment fund” that is overseen by the board.

“We have moved from crisis to challenge to stability,” Dockery observed, adding “we’re not yet at a place where we can call institutional health; we still have work to do to get there.” He said the seminary will “continue to work as hard and as wisely and as carefully as we can, but we must not fail to give thanks to God for answering our prayers.”

Dockery also commended the work of the Board of Reference, a group of “50 key voices across SBC life where they speak” into the work of the seminary as they give “guidance to our work.”

Dockery noted that one-third of the objectives of the Advance Southwestern 2030 institutional plan, which trustees adopted in the spring 2023 meeting, have been completed. He also explained there have been “markers of hopefulness,” including the spring 2023 chapel sermons focused on 1 and 2 Thessalonians; the new employee handbook; enrollment progress, including the upcoming Southwestern Preview Day; unrestricted giving; an embracing of the institution’s core values; and the commitment to prayer across the campus.

During the meeting, Dockery publicly thanked the board officers for their decision to give him a raise and bonus, which he declined, explaining he wanted all employees to be rewarded while the president should be last. Richard said Dockery’s actions were “the Lord affirming to me that we have the right man in the president’s office.”

Enrollment analysis

Dockery reported an increase in enrollment and hours taught. He said the credit hours taught in the 2022-2023 academic year were 34,836, representing an increase of 1,583 credit hours from the previous academic year. Enrollment also showed an increase of 171 students in the 2022-2023 academic year from the prior year.

Dockery added that there was an increase of 479 credit hours taught in the fall of 2023 compared to the fall of 2022 and the 15,821 credit hours taught in the fall of 2023 also reflected an increase of 1,066 credit hours taught compared to the fall of 2021.

He said the spring 2024 academic semester includes 2,711 students, an increase of 71 students enrolled in spring 2023 which was up from 2,561 the year prior. Dockery said that “uptick in credit hours is the key to our stable tuition revenue line which is so important for our overall budget.”

He noted that the total hours taught for spring 2024 has increased by almost 600 hours over spring 2023 – 14,709 credit hours taught in the current semester compared to 14,152 credit hours taught in spring 2023. The credit hours taught in spring 2024 represent an increase of more than 1,350 credit hours taught compared to spring 2022.

Citing data from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) annual enrollment report, which includes 274 divinity schools and seminaries, Dockery said that in the fall of 2023, Southwestern moved to 5th in total enrollment and 6th in total credit hours taught. The increases in enrollment and total credit hours taught make Southwestern 3rd and 4th, respectively, among Southern Baptist seminaries. Dockery also noted that Southwestern was 3rd among all of the ATS institutions regarding the total number of graduates in the past year and 9th concerning the size of the total endowment.

He added there is “no other Southern Baptist school that finished in the top 10” in all four categories of number of graduates, enrollment, credit hours taught, and endowment. He said the ranking “distinguishes Southwestern in a meaningful way” for which he gave “thanks to God.”

Providing a breakdown of the current student body, Dockery said that 23 percent of students are women, while international students make up 26 percent of students. Additionally, 58 percent are online students, and a “Revelation 7:9 picture of the Kingdom of God” is reflected among the students as 40 percent of students are white, 28 percent are Asian, 21 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are Black, and 6 percent of unknown ethnicity, he said.

“What takes place at Southwestern is not just counting the numbers, it’s a recognition that each one of these numbers represents a person – a person called to serve in the church, to serve our denomination, to go to the mission field, to be in counseling sessions, to be in the classroom, serve in parachurch organizations, wherever God might lead that person and we never know where they’re going while they’re here,” he said.

School and board business

Trustees received an announcement of the appointment of Carl J. Bradford as the dean of Texas Baptist College, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Seminary. Bradford, whose appointment is effective May 6, led the devotion for the plenary session of the trustee meeting.

Trustees also promoted W. Madison Grace II to professor of theology, Dean Sieberhagen to professor of missions, Michael Wilkinson to professor of theology, and Joshua Williams to professor of Old Testament. Additionally, Amy Crider, associate professor of foundations of education, and Jonathan Okinaga, assistant professor of biblical counseling, were elected to the faculty. All actions are effective August 1.

Trustees named O.S. Hawkins, chancellor and senior professor of pastoral ministry and evangelism, to the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”); Lilly H. Park, associate professor of biblical counseling, to The Hultgren Chair of Ministerial Counseling; Okinaga to the Hope for the Heart Chair of Biblical Counseling; and Joseph R. Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship, to the McKinney Chair of Church Music.

Trustees approved the students nominated by the faculty and certified by the registrar as having met all the requirements for spring 2024 graduation.

Richard (New Mexico), Robert Brown (Tennessee), and Angela Duncan (At-Large), who have served as chairman, vice chairman, and secretary, respectively, were re-elected to one-year terms as officers of the board.

Three outgoing trustees were recognized for their service. Michael Trammel (Maryland-Delaware-DC), Ron Pracht (Kansas-Nebraska), John Rayburn (At-Large) were thanked by Richard for their time and valuable contributions provided during their tenures on the board.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 21-23, 2024.

Bradford appointed dean of Texas Baptist College

FORT WORTH—Carl J. Bradford, assistant professor of evangelism and occupant of the Malcolm R. and Melba L. McDow Chair of Evangelism, has been appointed dean of Texas Baptist College, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the institution’s leadership announced today.

Bradford’s appointment is effective May 6.

“We are thrilled that Carl Bradford has accepted the invitation to serve as dean of Texas Baptist College,” President David S. Dockery said. “He and his wife Andrea have been deeply invested in the Southwestern community for several years.”

Dockery added that Bradford “is a gifted classroom teacher, has fine leadership gifts, a heart for the gospel and the importance of sharing this good news with others, a love for students, and a dedication to quality academics and to his colleagues.”

Bradford also “knows and understands the best aspects of the Carroll-Scarborough tradition at Southwestern, which will be important as he develops a hopeful vision for TBC and TBC students for the days to come,” Dockery said.

Bradford also serves as minister of evangelism at First Baptist Church of Mansfield and is an evangelism consultant for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

During the April 10 general plenary session of the board of trustees, Bradford led the time of devotion where he focused on the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. He said two lessons of encouragement can be drawn from the life of Joseph, including his faithfulness to the Lord and the “divine providence and favor of God” in his life. Bradford paralleled the life of Joseph, which included trials, to the life of Southwestern. However, he explained there are many things the Southwestern community is grateful for as it remains “faithful, thankful, and hopeful in God” as “we recognize that God is divinely at work.”

Bradford, who has served as the interim associate dean of the Roy J. Fish School of Evangelism and Missions since July 2023, began teaching at Southwestern in 2018. A native of New Orleans, Bradford holds Master of Divinity (2011) and Doctor of Philosophy (2018) degrees from Southwestern in addition to a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from Xavier University in Louisiana.

The appointment as dean of TBC is meaningful to Bradford for two reasons, he said in a one-on-one interview, noting that first he is “honored, humbled, and inspired by the administration of SWBTS and TBC’s belief in my capacity to lead TBC’s students and faculty toward a promising and God-edifying future.”

Bradford added that second, he is “grateful for the opportunity and the responsibility entrusted to me to ensure that our six core values—grace filled, Christ centered, scripturally grounded, confessionally guided, student focused, and globally engaged—continue to serve as the guiding principles shaping the community of SWBTS and TBC.”

Bradford said he is “motivated” to uphold Southwestern’s core values “and to foster an environment where students experience an enriching Christian education, godly mentorship, and develop godly friendships.”

In addition to his classroom teaching, Bradford leads Southwestern Seminary’s Everyday Evangelism, a weekly initiative that facilitates students’ sharing the Gospel in Fort Worth-area neighborhoods, parks, shopping centers and universities. Since 2018, Bradford has also been the faculty leader for Southwestern’s participation in Crossover, an evangelism opportunity that occurs the week before the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.

Bradford said his hope and prayer for the future of TBC is simple—“every student will be not only trained and equipped but also deeply encouraged for ministry, wherever their path may lead them in industry and vocation as directed by God.”

Bradford and his wife Andrea, a Doctor of Education student at Southwestern, are the parents of Carl Jr. and Abigail.

Baptism Sunday: Southern Baptists ‘Fill the Tank’ nationwide, celebrating new life in Christ

LEXINGTON, Ga.—The last two years have been a whirlwind for Pastor Matt Bartlett and Lexington Baptist Church. At its recent low point, the 176-year-old church had 39 people in attendance, with half being from the pastor’s own family and friends.

But God has been on the move in the 200-person small town.

Just a week earlier, on Easter Sunday, 300 people attended Lexington Baptist. The church has seen nearly 50 baptisms in the past three years and added one more on April 7, the SBC’s Baptism Sunday.

“Baptism is special, not only for the individual being baptized but for our entire church family,” Bartlett said. “Many being baptized have grown through our children’s or youth ministries, influenced by numerous members of our community, including their parents and families. It’s a church-wide celebration of God’s work in their lives. It motivates us further. We often say we welcome a large water bill because it signifies continuous baptisms.”

Southern Baptist churches across the U.S. marked Baptism Sunday by celebrating new life in Christ through the ordinance of baptism. Also known as “Fill the Tank Sunday,” messengers voted to add the special day to the SBC calendar at the annual meeting in 2018 upon the recommendation of a task force appointed by SBC President Steve Gaines the previous year. Gaines appointed the task force to study the evangelistic effectiveness of churches after decades of decline in church membership and baptisms.

According to the Annual Church Profile (ACP), 2022 marked the second consecutive year of growth in the number of reported baptisms as Southern Baptists continue recovering from the pandemic 2020 drop-off.

“Of course, we want to see churches celebrating baptisms every Sunday , but having a specific day called Baptism Sunday is a unique opportunity for every pastor and church family to invite those who have come to know Jesus to take the next step and be baptized,” said Tim Dowdy, vice president of evangelism at the North American Mission Board. “So many churches have people who need to be baptized after coming to know Jesus Christ that having a specific day set aside to celebrate baptism provides us with another way to teach and encourage faithfully following Jesus through baptism.”

Some churches, like Lexington Baptist, baptized one person; others baptized more than 50.

Dean Inserra described Baptism Sunday at City Church of Tallahassee, Fla., as incredible. The church baptized 53 people after worship services on Sunday. The group included an elementary-aged friend of Inserra’s daughter, a former Mormon, college students, and a person for whom church members have been praying for seven years.

“It’s really a portrayal of the gospel story at work,” said Inserra, the senior pastor of City Church. “Our entire church actually sees what we’ve been praying for go into action. It’s a public celebration, a big party of God answering our prayers, to see the vision of this church, the Great Commission, becoming a reality.”

Inserra noted that as SBC churches nationwide celebrated baptisms on April 7, Baptism Sunday should help to push back against a narrative that the local church is struggling.

“Seeing this happening across the country should encourage us all, reminding us that God’s hand is on our churches,” Inserra said. “We’re going to keep moving full speed ahead. This should encourage everyone, renew hope and instill a fresh desire to continue witnessing God’s work.”

Wrightsboro Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., baptized five people, including children and a man in his 70s. The church’s senior pastor, Eddie Eaton, said the elderly man showed the excitement of a child as he was baptized.

The church has also seen an up-tick in baptisms in recent months, causing the congregation to schedule them monthly. Eaton regularly teaches about baptism during expositional preaching through specific books of the Bible. He also consistently brings it up in conversations with people as he has gospel conversations and disciples people who are new to the faith.

“As a church, we have only one thing to do: the Great Commission, to make disciples who will then make disciples,” Eaton said. “While we often complicate this with other activities—I call it ‘busy stuff’—our true purpose is to make disciples who make disciples.”

Eaton pointed to the encouragement of his state convention as a key reason North Carolina Baptists have had more baptisms in recent years. When Todd Unzicker became the executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in May 2021, one of his first acts was to encourage participation in Baptism Sunday.

In 2023, North Carolina Baptists celebrated more than 16,000 baptisms, a 41% increase from 2022. According to Unzicker, not all of that can be linked to Fill the Tank Sunday, but he thinks it’s had a big impact.

“It’s become a routine—Palm Sunday, then Easter, followed by Fill the Tank Sunday. Churches are now deeply embedding intentional evangelism and soul-winning into their activities,” said Todd Unzicker. “Fill the Tank has reinvigorated this focus, encouraging churches to strategically pray, give and go forth to reach people. They celebrate the resurrection one week, and the next, they demonstrate new life in Christ through public professions of faith in baptism.”

Jared Cornutt, lead pastor of North Shelby Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., calls Baptism Sunday a reminder for Southern Baptists that God is still moving among his people. Cornutt celebrated his one-year anniversary at North Shelby Baptist on Baptism Sunday with six baptisms, bringing the one-year total to 23.

Cornutt attributed those baptisms to the kindness of God and shared his gratitude for how God is at work in his church and around the world through Southern Baptists.

“Our task is really quite simple—be obedient to the Word, be obedient to his calling, proclaim his Word, and trust him to do the work,” Cornutt said. “[Baptism Sunday] gives me hope. It gives me hope that in a convention of 46 to 47,000 churches—where it always seems like there’s fighting and, at times, things look bleak—that even as we wander through the proverbial desert, God is saving and redeeming people. That’s what we need to really be focusing on.”

Easter Sunday remains a high attendance day for most churches

BRENTWOOD, Tenn.—Most pastors are expecting one of their largest crowds on Easter, but those expectations have tempered some in the past decade.

The three highest-attendance Sundays for pastors—Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day—have remained the same since 2011, but each is now less likely to be among the top days, according to a Lifeway Research study of U.S. Protestant pastors.

“While many churches consider high attendance as something from their pre-pandemic past, seasonal changes have resumed,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “Church attendance is predictable again with periods of consistency in the fall and early spring, as well as holiday crowds at Christmas and Easter.”

Today, 90% of pastors identify Easter as the day their church has its highest, second-highest or third-highest attendance for worship service. Four in five (81%) say the same for Christmas, and 51% identify Mother’s Day. But fewer pastors point to high attendance on those three days compared to 2011. Easter, down from 93% to 90%, and Christmas, down from 84% to 81%, dropped three percentage points, while Mother’s Day fell eight points from 59% to 51%. A day the church designates to invite friends is the only day to have a statistically significant increase in the past decade, climbing from 14% in 2011 to 20% in 2024.

An additional study finds several of the top days for church attendance are among U.S. Protestant churchgoers’ favorite holidays to celebrate.

Easter Sunday gatherings

More than half of U.S. Protestant pastors (52%) identify Easter as the day their church typically has its highest attendance for worship services, statistically unchanged from the 55% who said the same in 2011. Another 30% say Easter is the second most attended day at their congregation, while 8% identify it as the third-highest-attendance worship service.

“On any given Sunday, a large minority of a congregation may not be present for worship,” said McConnell. “Easter is the day when the most church members get to church—and for a good reason: No other theme is as profound to a Christian than celebrating that they died with Christ and as Jesus was raised to life, so too Christians are now alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Pastors of churches that top 100 attendees are more likely than small church pastors to say Easter is one of the highest attended services, if not the highest, at their churches. Those at churches with 250 or more for an average weekend worship service (67%) and those with 100 to 249 (60%) are more likely than pastors at churches with 50 to 99 on average (51%) and those with fewer than 50 (44%) to say Easter is their highest-attendance service of the year. Additionally, those at churches that average 100-249 for worship services (93%) and those at churches with 250 or more (98%) are more likely than pastors of churches with attendance of less than 50 (87%) to rank Easter in their top three high-attendance days.

Among churchgoers, Easter ranks third among their favorite holidays to celebrate (10%). Those who attend worship services at least four times a month are more likely than those who attend one to three times a month to pick Easter (14% v. 5%). Also, churchgoers with evangelical beliefs are more likely than those without to choose the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (13% v. 6%).

Christmas crowds

Perhaps unsurprisingly, U.S. Protestant pastors say Christmas is also one of their most well-attended services. More than a quarter (28%) say they typically have their highest attendance for worship services as they celebrate the birth of Jesus, statistically unchanged from 29% in 2011. Around 2 in 5 (39%) point to Christmas as the second in their attendance rankings, while 14% place it third.

“Pastors may have been thinking of different types of worship services for Christmas since the question did not specify a Sunday morning or weekend worship service,” said McConnell. “Different churches have different traditional Christmas celebrations that may not land on December 25. The largest attendance may be on Christmas Eve, the nearest Sunday or the day of a concert.”

Mainline pastors are more likely than their evangelical counterparts to identify Christmas as their best-attended service (35% v. 26%). Protestant pastors in the Northeast are also more likely than those in the South to have Christmas at the top of their attendance rankings (33% v. 24%).

Additionally, pastors in the Midwest are more likely than those in the South to have Christmas in their top three (84% vs. 78%). The largest churches, those 250 or more, are more likely than the smallest churches, fewer than 50 in attendance, to say Christmas is one of their three most well-attended services (89% v. 79%).

Christmas is by far the favorite holiday of Protestant churchgoers (63%), but those at the smallest churches are least likely to agree. Those attending churches with weekly worship services that average 500 or more (69%), 100 to 249 (69%) and 50 to 99 (63%) are more likely than those at churches with fewer than 50 (53%) to say Christmas is their favorite holiday to celebrate.

Mother’s Day visits

While pastors identify Christmas and Easter as far and away their highest-attendance seasons, Mother’s Day remains the clear third, despite dropping in popularity in the past decade. Few Protestant pastors say Mother’s Day is their highest (6%) or second-highest attendance day (14%), but a plurality (31%) point to the holiday as their third highest.

African American pastors are more likely than white pastors to say they have their highest attendance for a Mother’s Day service (12% v. 5%). They are also more likely than white pastors to rank the holiday in their top three (66% v. 49%). Additionally, pastors 65 and older (55%) are among the most likely to say Mother’s Day is one of their three highest attendance services.

Non-denominational pastors (64%), Baptists (59%), Restorationist Movement pastors (59%) and Pentecostals (54%) are more likely than Presbyterian/Reformed (39%) and Lutheran pastors (30%) to place Mother’s Day in their top three.

Kendrick Brothers revive favorite characters in upcoming release ‘The Forge’

ALBANY, Ga. (BP)—It mirrors a family reunion from the best of the Kendrick Brothers’ work. “The Forge,” releasing in August, revives beloved characters from “War Room” and features actors from “Courageous” and “Overcomer.”

Returning in The Forge are War Room’s prayer warrior Miss Clara, played by Karen Abercrombie; young mother and lukewarm Christian Elizabeth, portrayed by Priscilla Shirer; and Elizabeth’s husband, an overambitious pharmaceutical salesman and lackadaisical father played by T.C. Stallings.

Add to them Cameron Arnett from Overcomer, where he played Thomas Hill, a recovered drug addict blessed to meet and coach his daughter while suffering blindness months before his death. And there’s Ken Bevel, the Courageous father and sheriff’s deputy Nathan Hayes, who stoically held onto his truck as thieves sought to carjack it, solely to save his infant son inside.

Super Bowl champion, husband and father Benjamin Watson makes his Kendrick Brothers debut in The Forge, as does Aspen Kennedy, who stars in BET’s “Ruthless.”

Prayer and discipleship are the themes of The Forge, featuring a committed Christian husband and father who mentors a high school graduate unsure of what to do in life.

“The message of prayer that was featured in War Room is interwoven in The Forge,” Stephen Kendrick said of the film in “The Heart of The Forge,” released March 11. “I believe the church, right now in this generation, needs to get back to what Jesus did with His disciples.”

Prayer is enriched in The Forge with discipleship among a tightknit group of men, Alex Kendrick said in the March 11 video.

“Karen Abercrombie played the role of Miss Clara in War Room, and she resumes that role, playing Miss Clara in the Forge,” Alex Kendrick said. “The women in War Room that pray for each other and invest in the younger generation, matches up to the men of The Forge praying together, keeping each other accountable, investing in the younger generation.”

“The Heart of The Forge” teases with a glimpse of Shirer portraying not only Elizabeth, but a twin sister Cynthia. And there’s a glimpse of Arin Thompson, who played the asthmatic champion cross country runner Hannah Scott – and Hill’s daughter – in Overcomer.

“I always enjoy working with The Kendrick Brothers, mostly because I know whatever’s going to happen, it’s going to be an adventure,” Shirer said. “The body of Christ, the bride of Christ, is supposed to be about turning all of our attention, our ambitions, our focus, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

It’s Shirer’s third outing with the Kendrick Brothers, adding to her roles in War Room and Overcomer.

It’s Stallings’ third time around as well, after Courageous and War Room.

B.J. Arnett, Cameron’s real-life wife and a department chair at Clark Atlanta University, plays wife to Cameron’s role of Joshua in the new production.

Affirm Films, a Sony company, plans to release The Forge in theaters in August.

Shirer’s brother and former NFL fullback Jonathan Evans, an associate pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship pastored by their father Tony Evans, also joins the cast.

Awakening conference to focus on ‘extraordinary power of prayer’

FORT WORTH—“The ministry of prayer,” E.M. Bounds once wrote, “ … is a ministry of ardor, a ministry of unwearied and intense longing after God and after His holiness.”

Continuing to encourage churches and leaders toward that passionate pursuit is the chief aim of the Awakening National Prayer Conference scheduled for April 18 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“The Awakening National Prayer Conference at Southwestern Seminary will be a day set aside to focus on the extraordinary power of prayer,” said Kie Bowman, SBC national director of prayer.

Featuring speakers who have “all experienced significant encounters with God as a direct result of prayer,” Bowman says the conference will focus on prayer for spiritual awakening and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. “I encourage pastors to bring their teams to learn and grow in the power of prayer,” he said.

The conference, a collaboration between SWBTS and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, will feature some of the country’s most influential prayer leaders:

  • Julio Arriola, director of Send Network SBTC, a church planting partnership between the SBTC and the North American Mission Board;
  • Bill Elliff, founder and national engage pastor for The Summit Church in Little Rock, Ark.;
  • Ronnie Floyd, author and senior pastor emeritus of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark.;
  • Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., and his wife, Donna;
  • Robby Gallaty, senior pastor of Long Hollow Church in Hendersonville, Tenn.;
  • Todd Kaunitz, lead pastor of New Beginnings Baptist Church in Longview;
  • Nathan Lino, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Forney; and
  • Nathan Lorick, SBTC executive director.

“The SBTC has made prayer a priority for many years,” Lorick said. “It’s a joy to come alongside Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and prayer leaders to spend a day diving deep on developing a culture of prayer.”

The conference will include a pair of lunch sessions: Elliff will facilitate a panel discussion with Kaunitz and Lino on the role of prayer in life, ministry, the church, and revival. Donna Gaines will lead a women’s prayer lunch. The conference will also feature times of worship, prayer, and sermons.

“I encourage pastors to bring their teams to learn and grow in the power of prayer,” Bowman said.

For more information or to register, visit

SBTC DR teams respond to historic Panhandle wildfires

PAMPA—Late February wildfires ravaging the Texas Panhandle continued to burn from northernmost Hutchinson County across the region, prompting Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott to issue a disaster declaration for 60 counties on Tuesday (Feb. 27) as the fires doubled in a single day.

Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief crews immediately responded to the emergency and continue to do so.

SBTC DR’s quick response feeding unit (QRU) headquartered in Pampa with a crew from the Top O’ Texas Baptist Association led by James Greer sprang into action Tuesday, setting up operations at the association office in Pampa to cook for first responders. After preparing lunches and dinners, most volunteers left for the evening to take care of their own places threatened during the emergency, Greer said.

Volunteers returned Wednesday as the Pampa QRU spent that day preparing meals, its operations moved to Canadian, Texas.

“They’ve got hot chili dogs going out for lunch right now,” Scottie Stice, SBTC DR director, said at noon Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, Stice issued a call-up for SBTC DR recovery units to be deployed to Canadian. The Pampa QRU is expected to continue its service and an additional QRU will be activated, Stice said. Plans are in the works for an incident management team to deploy as well, with a command post to be established either in Canadian or Pampa. Chaplains and shower/laundry crews and units are also being activated.

“Our QRU and shower/laundry volunteers will support the expected 150 first responders who will be housed at First Baptist Pampa,” Stice said.

“At the moment, our energies will be directed toward Pampa and Canadian,” Stice noted, adding that as of Wednesday, as many as 100 homes have been reported burned in the Fritch area also.

Currently six wildfires are burning: the Smokehouse Creek fire in Hutchinson County, the 687 Reamer fire nearby, the Grape Vine Creek fire in Gray County, the Magenta fire in Oldham County, and the Windy Deuce fire in southern Moore County, just north of Potter County, where the Pantex plant, the nation’s main facility for assembling and disassembling nuclear weapons, was forced to cease operations temporarily Tuesday night.

Active Panhandle blazes currently cover a combined area of some 374,000 acres, according to the latest figures by the Texas A&M Forest Service and reported in the Wall Street Journal.

This article also contains reporting from and the Wall Street Journal.

Puerto Rico Baptists ready for ‘great movement of God’

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico Baptists learned about church revitalization efforts, were encouraged in their cooperation, and heard from several SBC leaders at their annual meeting Feb. 10.

“The unity and transformation of lives through the gospel will be an important emphasis in our continued work,” said Luís Soto, director of the Convención de Iglesias Bautistas del Sur de Puerto Rico (Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico). “I firmly believe that in Puerto Rico there is a great movement of God through our churches and our convention.”

Soto, who is also the pastor of Iglesia Bautista Sin Paredes in Guayama, Puerto Rico, emphasized the great opportunity that pastors will have to receive revitalization. “We eagerly anticipate the launch of our new revitalization process and are confident that these tools will be a great help to our churches,” he said.

Growing spiritually and numerically

As part of this revitalization, Nathan Lorick, executive director of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC), brought greetings via video from the 2,749 SBTC churches that are praying for Puerto Rico. The two conventions are ministry partners.

Lorick also extended an invitation to “Pillars of a Healthy Church,” a conference scheduled for March 23 at the Iglesia Bautista Sin Paredes, in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

“At this conference we want to help you identify and overcome the barriers that prevent churches from growing,” Lorick said, adding that SBC President Bart Barber will attend the conference. The SBTC and Puerto Rico partnership is under the supervision of Colin Rayburn, mobilization and missions associate for the SBTC.

“We have loved being your ministry partners for the past year,” Lorick said. “We look forward for the coming years of fellowship and partnership.”

The meeting was held at the Send Puerto Rico and Iglesia Bautista Ciudad de Dios. Xavier Torrado, director of Send Network Puerto Rico, leads a church planting residency.

There are currently 56 Southern Baptist churches on the island trying to reach a population of more than 3.4 million people. Puerto Rico has 78 municipalities, and roughly 40 of those do not yet have a Southern Baptist church. In the capital city, San Juan, there is a great need for more churches to serve its population.

Bruno Molina (left) of the SBTC and Luis Soto, director of the director of the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Hearing from leaders

Attendees also received video greetings from Barber, who thanked the leadership of Puerto Rico for their faithfulness and love for Christ; North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell; and International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood.

Bruno Molina, language and interfaith evangelism associate at the SBTC and director of the National Hispanic Baptist Network, addressed the meeting.

“I want to encourage you as Hispanic pastors and leaders to connect in mission, share resources, celebrate what God is doing among Hispanics and collaborate together,” Molina said.

Brad Russell, pastor of Old Powhatan Baptist Church in the city of Powhatan, Va., brought a message from 1 Corinthians 15:58. Russell’s church has collaborated with Send Relief for more than five years. He encouraged pastors to “stand firm and unmovable,” united in ministry, as people bought by the blood of Christ, focused on the Bible, and not to crumble under the pressure of being a pastor.

“God knows the results and our work is not in vain,” Russell said. “None of us deserve the ministry we have; it is an act of God’s grace. God does not depend on us because no one can do what God has done on this island.”

Convention President Camilo Méndez said 2023 was “a period of significant progress for the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico.”

“We are excited by the opportunities that this new year presents to us,” he said. “We are confident that, with the continued support of our members and collaborators, we will be able to achieve new goals and continue to serve our local churches well and effectively.”

Conducting business

Representatives and leaders of convention presented annual reports, and Soto pointed out one of the last year’s most notable achievements—the completion of the convention’s first two modules of biblical counseling training, which included more than 250 people representing 35 churches and 39 pastors.

Attendees also approved a budget of $143,000, $20,000 of which will go to SBC Cooperative Program causes. Both of those numbers are increased from last year.

Jonathan Santiago, director of Send Relief Puerto Rico, thanked pastors and leaders for their help with Send Relief, specifically a new adoption office in San Juan.

“We thank all the churches and ministries that have been part of this cause,” he said. “As an integral part of the Adopting Ministry, we continue committed to the service of caring for orphans.”

He added that more than 2,500 volunteers served with Send Relief in Puerto Rico in the past year.

Soto thanked pastors’ wives, saying: “Their dedication and service in the ministry are invaluable, and we are grateful for their commitment and sacrifice.”

The women’s ministry of the Puerto Rico convention is under the direction of Kirzy Colón under the umbrella of the local Woman’s Missionary Union. Kirzy presented the annual report for the WMU (Union Femenil Misionera). “There is no doubt that God is at work in the Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico,” she said.


Retired missionary mobilizes Black churches to the nations

Keith Jefferson stood at an all-too-familiar pulpit in Cachoeira, Bahia, in Brazil. With gratitude, he looked out at the church he’d partnered closely with during his time on the field over a decade ago. The retired International Mission Board missionary finished his sermon, and a young Quilombola walked the aisle, tears in his eyes.

Broken over his sin, he came forward and buried his head in the preacher’s chest. “I surrender. I just give up. I want Jesus in my life,” he said. That night, he was one of three to decide to follow Christ.

Anytime someone puts their faith in Christ, Jefferson knows it’s an act of God. But when a Quilombola comes to faith, it’s extra special to Jefferson. The entire trip proved to be notable. Later that week, the Jeffersons were honored at another church through song and speeches.

This church was one Keith helped build with his hands 15-plus years ago. He’d returned with a team of volunteers from a church in the United States. He wanted them to see this – the fruit of missions – a thriving church among a previously unengaged people group. He wanted them, and wants all Southern Baptist churches, to catch this vision.

He and his wife Deborah marveled at all God had done in the church since they left the field in 2011. As a plant of the church he preached in earlier that week, he was thankful the Quilombola church was being constantly mentored and encouraged by the local Brazilian congregation about 30 minutes away.

Jefferson returned to a different world than the one he arrived in the late ‘90s.

‘This was beyond my understanding’

While living as a missionary in Brazil, he learned of the Quilombola tribes, an unreached people group. Before 1997, they were largely unengaged. There was one known believer in the entire Quilombo village where Jefferson first visited. They trace their ancestry back to escaped or freed slaves during and after the time of the slave trade in Brazil.

Jefferson first heard of the people through an Afro-Brazilian pastor he worked with during his more than 15 years on the field. At that time, he and Deborah traveled 200 miles from the city where they lived, trekked an hour down a dirt path with the national pastor and found the front door of the small hut where the only known Christian in the village lived.

“How long has it been since a minister has visited this village?” Jefferson asked the believing Quilombola woman.

She replied, teary eyed, “Pastor Jefferson, we have not had a minister in over four and a half years.”

Decades later, while recounting the story, the emotion is apparent in his voice. “As an American Christian this was beyond my understanding,” he said, his voice choking back tears. “I thought to myself ‘So you mean there has been no one to preach, to marry, bury or baptize any individuals?’”

After this initial contact, “I felt God leading me to help take the Gospel to as many Quilombola villages as possible,” he explained.

For the next 10 years, he mapped out and visited villages and surveyed more than 130 Quilombolas. He’d navigate muddy roads, entering regions much different than the Brazilian cities. Single bedroom homes were crafted from mud. Women still carried water from ponds to care for their families and after sunset, everything went dark. With the help of the Brazilian officials and national pastors, he and his team were able to strategically locate clusters of villages, plant churches, host Vacation Bible Schools and share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard the good news.

Staying connected

Each time Jefferson returns to one of his villages, he’s amazed that water and electricity run through modernized homes – often made of brick now.

When Jefferson left his position as an IMB missionary, he wanted to be a part of sending so that more missionaries would take his place, perhaps working among the Quilombolas. He served for five years as the African American missional strategist in the IMB’s Richmond office, where he focused on mobilizing Black churches to the nations.

He’s retired now, but he hasn’t slowed down in his love for Brazilians or his passion to see Black churches on the move. Since retirement in 2016, he’s been on nearly 10 mission trips. At least once or twice a year, he visits his beloved Brazil – like the last trip he took. But he doesn’t go alone because he’s a mobilizer at heart.

When he takes these trips, he brings along leadership from churches he connected with during his time as a missional strategist. There, he introduces the pastors and church leaders to national pastors. In turn, they can form their own relationships – sometimes lasting.

On his last trip, Ken Tilley, pastor of Crosslink Baptist Church in Mebane, N.C., brought with him several church members after experiencing a vision trip with the Jeffersons earlier in 2023. On these trips, they did ministry in the cities, sharing the light of Jesus in a drug-saturated culture, while also visiting Quilombos.

They went into schools and spoke on abstinence, suicide prevention and the dangers of drug abuse. They also hosted sports camps for youth. Because of the culture of respect for elders, both Deborah and Keith agreed that the messages the team shared with the Brazilian teenagers were well-received. In November 2024, Jefferson is planning to accompany another group on a trip, hoping they catch the vision too.

Jefferson believes that retired missionaries are valuable to the ongoing mobilization of churches because they not only have experience, but they also have contacts – if they’ll keep up with them.

“We’re at our peak number of contacts and places we’ve been and pastors we’ve worked with. So, keep up with them,” he encouraged retired missionaries. “It’s important. Don’t let your contacts go. Call up your old friends and pastors and let them know you’re praying for them.”

IMB trustees appoint 62 missionaries; highlight growth in globalization

PHOENIX, Ariz.—International Mission Board trustees approved the appointment of 62 new full-time, fully funded missionaries during their Feb. 14-15 meeting in Phoenix. Trustees met in conjunction with a Sending Celebration for new appointees hosted by North Phoenix Baptist Church on Feb. 14.

Keith Evans, trustee chairman from Washington state, presided over the meetings. Trudy Crittendon, trustee recording secretary from South Carolina, called Thursday’s plenary session to order and opened the meeting in prayer.

The meeting included reports from standing committees: administration, mobilization, global engagement, human resources, LFTT (logistics, finance, travel, technology), marketing and communications and training.

President’s remarks

IMB President Paul Chitwood thanked trustees for their ongoing service and commented on the significant partnerships among Southern Baptists. Chitwood spent time earlier Thursday morning with state convention executive directors.

“All of IMB’s Cooperative Program dollars and the overwhelming majority of our Lottie [Moon offering] gifts come from churches through their state conventions,” Chitwood said. “As such, those state conventions are not only essential partners, they are among IMB’s strongest advocates.”

Celebrating the appointment of 62 new missionaries by the board on Feb. 14, Chitwood told trustees that the missionary candidate pipeline is currently 1,355. He emphasized the importance of encouraging those who have served with the IMB before to return to career service. The missionaries appointed on Wednesday participated in a Sending Celebration at North Phoenix Baptist Church that evening.

Chitwood shared a report from Daren Davis, the leader of IMB’s Sub-Saharan African Affinity. Davis shared earlier in the week about the launch of the Africans on Mission sending body, a partnership of 14 African Baptist entities that will now work together to send cross-cultural missionaries to all of Africa and from Africa to all nations.

“IMB’s role in the formation of Africans on Mission could not be overstated,” Chitwood remarked, “but that is only one example among many of how our investment in the globalization of the missionary task is inspiring sending among our Baptist brothers and sisters the world over. An important part of this investment is our objective to add 500 global missionary partners to IMB teams. Since the pandemic released its grip on the world, we have added 134 global missionary partners to IMB overseas teams and have 136 more GMP candidates currently in the pipeline.”

Global missionary partners are overseas partners, called to cross-cultural missions, sent by their local church or sending entity and affirmed by IMB field personnel. They receive training and ministry resources through their cooperative work with IMB missionary teams.

Chitwood reported that the IMB audited financials for 2023 have been reviewed by the LFTT (logistics, finance, travel, technology) and the audit committees of the board of trustees. “We are happy to report that we’ve received an unmodified opinion by the auditors, which is the highest level of assurance available,” Chitwood said.

“No property sales were used for operations,” he continued. “Reserves were funded at appropriate levels, including commitments to retiring missionaries being fully funded. And as always, 100 percent of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering proceeds were spent on the field. We’re thankful for the generosity of Southern Baptists and their faithful giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Simply put, the IMB would not exist without them.

“We are also thankful for the IMB Finance Team, both abroad and in Richmond. We are blessed to work with many men and women of integrity who love the Lord and desire to see the Gospel proclaimed to the ends of the earth. The auditor’s opinion confirms, yet again, what we already knew, and indeed we are grateful.”

Chitwood closed his remarks reflecting on his six years as president. He told trustees that though there is much work to do, “I retire every evening confident of this — the work of the IMB is the Lord’s work. We give ourselves to it as a privilege and a calling but never under the illusion that the Revelation 7:9 vision we long to see fulfilled will in any way be accomplished in our power or according to our plans.

“But the vision will come to pass. Every nation, all tribes, peoples and languages will someday be a part of that great multitude standing before the throne and before the Lamb. Might God find us faithful striving to do our part. But might God also find us full of faith that He will do what He has said in His Word, with us or without us. As much as it depends on you and me, let it be with us, not without us.”