Author: Baptist Press

SBC 2024: National Hispanic Baptist Network workshops focus on women’s ministry, missions, evangelism

INDIANAPOLIS—The National Hispanic Baptist Network (NHBN) organized a day of workshops for Hispanic Baptists gathered in Indianapolis for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Pastors, lay leaders and women had 19 different breakouts to choose from covering missions, evangelism, church planting and children’s education, and for the second year running, the NHBN offered a workshop track specifically designed for women.

Led by Clara Molina, director of the network’s ministry to women, the women’s general session started with worship led by Nelly Juarez, followed by a short devotional shared by Diana Puente and a biblical message conveyed by Molina. The message, titled “United at the Vine with a Sound Doctrine”, encouraged women to pursue sound doctrine to shape their lives in the likeness of Christ. The women were led in prayer by Aleyda Muñoz before splitting up for breakout sessions. The sessions included a children’s education track, serving in the church, personal devotional life and an evangelism tracks.

Besides the women’s program, there were another 15 workshops to choose from. The Logos Bible software presentation was one of the best attended sessions. Led by Jose Chicos, the workshop modeled for pastors how to use software that facilitates access to various Bible versions, languages, historical context and more. Lifeway’s Carlos Astorga led a session on the Baptist Faith and Message, which those in attendance found refreshing and useful. David Perez shared from his book the 7Ds of Prayer, International Mission Board’s Annel Robayna session talked about being a church on mission, Send Relief’s Jonathan Santiago’s shared with pastors how Send Relief comes alongside local churches to help their communities in times of disaster and open doors to share the gospel.

Raul Santamaria led a church planting workshop; Ronald Vides focused on revitalization of churches; Prison Fellowship’s Karin Arango shared how churches can come alongside families affected by the imprisonment of relatives; Angel Jordan with the Billy Graham Evangelism Association facilitated an evangelism workshop; Corporate Chaplains of America’s Cesar Brito’s session highlighted the ministry of chaplains; Apartment Life’s Rey Matos shared how apartments can be a missionary field and Luis Soto from the Southern Baptist Convention of Puerto Rico taught on personal discipleship.

New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Fabio Castellanos session focused on Bible translations; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Ricardo Sanchez’s session focused on leadership training and manuscripts and Rafy Gutierrez from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary taught about Biblical paternity.

Following workshops, state representatives for the NHBN met for fellowship and to discuss ministry in each of their regions. The NHBN’s board of directors met for a business meeting where they unanimously passed the following resolution: We serve the Hispanic churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and as an organization affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

Jesus film entirely in sign language is historic first for Deaf community

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (BP)—When Joseph Josselyn of “Jesus: A Deaf Missions Film” lost his hearing as a toddler, life became “a little painful at times” as he grew, accepted Jesus and worshipped God in the hearing world.

As the only Deaf member of his family, and despite his parents’ best efforts, only at Gallaudet University was he exposed fully to the Deaf culture and began to grow in his walk with Jesus, Josselyn told Baptist Press through the use of an interpreter.

“A lot of Deaf people don’t know Jesus as well,” he said, “and that’s a big issue … that need for them to meet, know and follow Jesus. And that’s been a big role of Deaf Missions, is to create media and resources to help get the awareness out there of Jesus.”

Communicating with the Deaf community in its heart language is a key concept of Jesus: A Deaf Missions Film portraying the story of Jesus entirely in American Sign Language (ASL), billed by Deaf Missions as the first-ever ASL adaptation for the silver screen.

The film removes all barriers Deaf people face when viewing spoken-language films with subtitles, a standard that Josselyn says makes it difficult for Deaf viewers to experience the emotions critical to any given story.

“Having an experience where Jesus is Deaf, is signing, and a Deaf cast where they’re all signing, so they could see all the emotion, they could see what was happening,” is what Josselyn sees as critical to the production. “There wasn’t anything they had to detach from. There were no barriers. They didn’t have to go through an interpreter … or a second party to get that information. To me, that’s why this is so important.”

Showings are scheduled in at least 275 theaters in the U.S. June 20 and 23. Deaf Missions recommends early ticket purchases and group attendance to encourage theaters to expand the schedule.

Deaf Missions made the film primarily for Deaf audiences, but included elements such as English subtitles and a soundtrack to accommodate a hearing audience. Also, Deaf people can experience music by feeling the bass.

“We felt it would be beneficial for hearing people to come and partake and to view the movie as well,” Josselyn said, “because most Deaf have children and parents. Or you think of relatives or siblings of the Deaf, or friends of the Deaf, so that they have access to the movie as well. Just as hearing folks give me access to their films, then we wanted to do the same thing for hearing folks.”

Josselyn, who produces and directs the film along with Deaf producer Michael Davis of GUM Vision Studio, faced unique challenges in the production, spanning the mundane of securing a boat for the scene of Jesus walking on water, to the creative element of portraying Jesus’ last words on the cross.

“Jesus is on the cross where He says certain things which I want people to watch, to see. How do we get Jesus to say those words while He was on the cross?” Josselyn shared, declining to reveal his solution. “That is part of the mystery of it all, is how did that scene take place. Thank God for His provision, for working all the details out.”

Deaf Missions, a ministry to Deaf people in more than 100 countries encompassing more than 60 denominations, hopes the film will draw unbelievers to Jesus and help believers learn more of Jesus and grow in faith.

“It’s been a true joy to see people’s response to the film,” Josselyn said, referencing recent red-carpet events where the film was shown. “The people watching were moved to tears. They were sitting speechless, deep in thought. And that is what has been the biggest encouragement for me.

“For folks to see the movie in their heart language has been the greatest reward.”

This article originally appeared on Baptist Press.

‘When can I return to Uganda?’: IMB missionary shares cancer journey

Rebekah Lockhart drove past leafy, vibrant banana trees on her way to the airport in Uganda. As she passed them, she wondered if she would ever see them again. Was this the last time she would be in this land she had grown to love?

Healthy, and in her early 40s, the International Mission Board missionary to Uganda had begun feeling intense exhaustion. She wondered if the exhaustion was just from having a lot on her plate. She was planning for her family’s stateside assignment and trip to the U.S.; her oldest son, Elijah, was about to graduate from high school and move to the U.S. for college; and she was organizing the trip-of-a-lifetime to the United Kingdom for vacation with her family.

However, doctors found something was very, very wrong. The IMB’s medical team flew her to Kenya and immediately had her admitted to the hospital. While her husband, who was ministering in Togo, couldn’t be by her side during the first few days, someone from the medical team was with her through each test and hospital stay. When she realized she wouldn’t be able to attend Elijah’s high school graduation, her fellow IMB team members surrounded him, video chatting with her the entire time and showering him with love and affirmation.

After a few tests, they had her diagnosis: leukemia.

“Cancer is shocking period,” she said. “But coming from complete health and in my early 40s, it was even crazier.”

A few days later, the IMB’s medical team arranged for her to take a private medical flight out of Africa and back to the United States. During the next year, she underwent treatment through the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and she battled the many illnesses that can accompany cancer and chemotherapy.

She was strengthened by the support of her family in the U.S., waiting for her husband (Eric) and sons (Elijah, Noah, Gavin, and Corban) to join her while she underwent her first round of chemotherapy. Three of them had tested positive for COVID-19 while trying to leave Uganda, so none of them could fly out. She prayed her hair would hold on until her boys could see her, wanting to reassure them she’d make it through this.

She spent 40 days in the hospital, undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatments. The doctor told her they were aiming for a cure. She told them, “As long as you know I’m aiming for Uganda.”

She described her situation: “I had MRIs and PET scans and CAT scans and CT scans. I was constantly getting ultrasounds. I felt like I was going to die because I felt so bad. You pretty much just weather the storm, waiting for your platelets and your white blood cells to come back up.”

The fight wasn’t over after she was released. She had another week of chemotherapy and then spent an additional week in the hospital with an infection and dangerously low platelets. “At that point, I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m done.’ I was so tired of being in and out of the hospital. And I was so tired of being sick and not feeling myself. I don’t know how to make this go away,” she said.

After many tests, it was determined that a blood marrow transplant was the best option for a cure. They were able to find a donor with a 100 percent match, and Rebekah had the transplant in November 2022. After the transplant she spent 100 days in isolation. There was constant danger of infections and her body rejecting the transplant, but God kept her and her family healthy.

During that time, grief struck. Her father, who had been battling his own illness for years, passed away. Her first public event was her father’s funeral. She was still waiting for her body to repair itself, receiving ongoing care.

But slowly, she began improving. And though the road to recovery was long, eventually, she was declared cancer free. With her hair growing back, changing from straight, blonde hair to curly, brown locks, her body getting stronger, and her spirit livening, she had one question: “When can I go back to Uganda?”

About 18 months after her original diagnosis, she was cleared to return to the field, to serve her beloved Ugandans. She breathed a sigh of relief as she passed the same banana trees she had thought she’d never see again.

She’s back now and busy as ever, teaching church history at Uganda Baptist Seminary, serving as the school’s registrar, working for the IMB’s field human resources department, among other things.

She expressed her gratitude to the IMB and to Southern Baptists for the care she felt as she battled this life-threatening disease. As an IMB missionary, she had her treatment funded through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program. Southern Baptists gave, and now the Lockhart family is back in Uganda, equipping and encouraging seminary students – training a new generation of Christian leaders.

“In the 18 months of my ‘blip,’ we only had to pay co-pays for my medicine,” Lockhart said. “I can’t imagine what my hospital bills were, let alone the medical flight, but we didn’t have to pay a dime. I saw the bill from the hospital in Kenya and it was almost $5,000 for just one week, and that would have been the cheapest of the hospital bills. Because of LMCO, we didn’t have to worry about finances as well as my prognosis and transitioning back to the States. We will be forever grateful to everyone who prayed for and supported us – we still don’t know each one who lifted up a prayer and probably never will.”

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.

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.

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.