Author: Baptist Press

Litton urges Executive Committee to regain trust of Southern Baptists

NASHVILLE (BP) – Southern Baptist Convention President Ed Litton reported Monday night (Sept. 20) on the Gospel work he has witnessed during the first months of his presidency while urging Executive Committee members and guests to model and speak Christ’s message for those inside as well as outside the church.

“My heart is heavy about this gathering,” he said. “I think all of us feel the weight of it, and we need to find a way forward for the glory of God together.”

Litton’s address came just a few hours after EC members entered a closed session to debate whether waiving attorney-client privilege as requested by the Sexual Abuse Task Force could affect the committee’s fiduciary responsibilities to the Convention. SBC messengers voted in June for Litton to appoint a task force to oversee a third-party investigation of the EC’s handling of sexual abuse claims and treatment of victims. Earlier this month, the task force named Guidepost Solutions to handle the review.

The motion called for the Executive Committee to “agree to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

Guidepost has since asked the EC to waive attorney-client privilege.

“Our convention is struggling right now,” Litton said, “and it’s a crisis of trust. However you label it, there’s a solution and that solution is with us. Our churches want to see our entities working together in harmony, and they want to see the EC leading the way.”

The Southern Baptist family has “genuine concerns” for how abuse cases will be handled, he said. “The people are watching, and what they’re looking for is openness and transparency.”

Litton pointed to Executive Committee responsibilities originating from the floor of the annual meeting each year.

“We could talk all day about what your assignment is … but folks, we cannot disconnect ourselves from Southern Baptists,” he said. “On that floor from the world’s largest deliberation that lasts two days, they do direct us in the way we should go, and they are concerned.”

Litton, who is pastor of Redemption Church near Mobile, Ala., also addressed an overall lack of civility and perceived losses of influence and certainty. Southern Baptists are a family of churches, he said. They should be marked by love as Jesus said in John 13:35 and should outdo one another in showing love (Romans 12:10).

“In the toxicity of the conversation and lack of civility, we do the opposite,” he said. “We should honor one another [and] those who are struggling. The mood of our times is to attack, demonize, make allegations and threaten. We are seldom slow to speak and slow to anger. Why not come and reason together instead of promoting tribal hostility, ungraciousness and suspicion of one another?”

Litton called for Southern Baptists to buck that trend and instead treat each other with kindness, advocating a civil discourse that runs in opposition to a world accustomed to interactions that are crude, coarse and soul-destroying.

Litton said he has witnessed Southern Baptist making a difference for Hurricane Ida victims, for immigrants gathering along the southern border and for church planters like a former gang member who has established a congregation in Los Angeles. From those discussions, he said, he has witnessed an SBC wanting to address sexual abuse and racial reconciliation, but also yearning for unity.

“The cross of Jesus Christ unites us like no other people can be united,” Litton said. “The only way the Gospel remains above all else is if Jesus remains at the center of it all.”

However, he said there is much work to be done within the Convention and within the Executive Committee itself.

A loss of influence and certainty in the culture has led many to succumb to a fear of man, he said. Citing Proverbs 1:7 and 29:25, Litton encouraged those gathered to instead fear God and thereby trust the Lord for leading and deliverance. Turning in the other direction, he said, leads to a brand of fundamentalism that stokes fear.

“I have always believed that the word ‘fundamentalist’ was a good word,” he said. “Those are people who believe in the fundamentals. But there’s a danger for fundamentalists. [Evangelist] Del Fehsenfeld Jr. said, ‘Fundamentalism thrives on fear, force and intimidation.’”

That can show itself in preaching about security in Christ, while being fearful that a movement will lose its leader or fail because of a lack of trust. Pastors can become concerned about using the wrong keyword or phrase, lest their loyalty to a particular movement, rather than Christ Himself, be questioned.

Earlier in his message Litton placed a full-throated confidence in Southern Baptists living up to the challenges in Vision 2025 – seeing more missionaries for Christ, more churches in a cooperative family, more workers in the field, more children coming to know the Gospel, more resources for the Great Commission and zero tolerance for incidents of sexual abuse and racial discrimination. The Executive Committee can play a key part in all of those, he said.

“Our actions will either trouble Southern Baptists and their mission to take this Gospel to the ends of the earth or we’ll do what is right … and we’ll do whatever is possible to lift high the trust … that has been given to us,” he said.

“The Southern Baptist Convention is not a child, that we hold their hand. We hold the trust of the Southern Baptist Convention in our hands.”

Task Force chair addresses Executive Committee, discusses client-attorney privilege

NASHVILLE (BP) – Debate over the long-term effects of waiving attorney-client privilege and remaining in step with the entity’s fiduciary responsibility led the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to call for an executive (or closed) session Monday afternoon (Sept. 20).

Discussion centered around an introductory report brought by Bruce Frank, chairman of the Sexual Abuse Task Force, and Julie Wood, chief executive officer of Guidepost Solutions. The creation of the task force was approved by messengers at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in June to commission and oversee and independent, third-party investigation into allegations of the mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the Executive Committee. Earlier this month, the task force announced it had selected Guidepost Solutions to conduct the investigation.

Prior to Frank and Wood addressing members, EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd presented a statement on behalf of the Executive Committee.

“The SBC Executive Committee is committed to doing the right thing in the right way in order to elevate the mission of the Convention – eliciting, combining and directing our energies for the global propagation of the Gospel,” he said. “The SBC Executive Committee stands against all forms of sex abuse, mishandling of abuse, mistreatment of victims and any intimidation of abuse survivors in every Southern Baptist church, association, state convention, entity and affiliated organization.

“As president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, I encourage the members of the SBC Executive Committee to work with the Sex Abuse Task Force and the Independent Review Firm in every way possible, but within our fiduciary responsibilities as assigned by the messengers. We have added two sessions to our meetings with the hope we can help bring clarity to these issues for you as you seek to find a path forward.”

A 2 p.m. Concert of Prayer just for Executive Committee members preceded the first of the additional sessions referenced in the statement. The second extra session will take place Tuesday (Sept. 21) following committee meetings and the second plenary.

Early on, Frank addressed concerns over potential litigation concerning sexual abuse and its financial impact on the SBC versus the potential impact of a damaged witness.

“A non-profit that doesn’t have the trust of either the messengers or the mission or the mission field is going to be impacted far more by not dealing transparently with any mess than if they deal honestly with it,” he said.

“There is a huge cloud over our convention right now,” said Frank, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, N.C. “We can run away from it; we can pretend it’s not there, but there is a huge cloud that alleges that some of our leaders have not cared for, not shepherded, not responded to efforts to improve how we care for survivors and best prevent sexual abuse in our convention.”

The 86 Executive Committee representatives come from all qualified regions and states to provide a broad representation of Southern Baptists. The group meets three times a year – each February and September in Nashville and each June, in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting – to promote the general work of Southern Baptists but also to act on behalf of the Convention to review financial statements and recommend the Convention’s annual operating budget.

Wood spoke to questions of attorney-client privilege. The motion put forward by messengers spoke to the Executive Committee’s corporate privilege, she said.

“Even though it’s made up of individual people, the EC as an institution actually holds the privilege for EC-related activity,” she said. “It is the EC, as an entity, that will make the determination about which items are privileged and whether the privilege can be waived at all. It is not up to the individual employees, staff members or even the EC members themselves.”

Wood provided examples of communications that would not be considered privileged, including a third party reaching out to an EC attorney, meetings between the EC and sexual abuse survivors and a human resources consultant providing guidance on how to deal with sexual abuse.

“It’s important to understand that regardless of whether the EC waives privilege, there are many relative documents that … are simply not covered under attorney-client privilege,” she said.

The motion approved by messengers at the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting in Nashville called on the task force to agree “to the accepted best-standards and practices as recommended by the commissioned third-party, including but not limited to the Executive Committee staff and members waiving attorney client privilege in order to ensure full access to information and accuracy in the review.”

A 20-minute question-and-answer session with Frank and Wood by EC members probed various aspects such as the time frame of the investigation (2000-2021) and how many such investigations Guidepost has conducted for corporations. (“A lot,” Wood said, declining to give a specific number).

Later in the session, Executive Committee member James Freeman made a motion to go into executive session to discuss the information brought forward regarding the task force investigation. Discussion lasted longer than 10 minutes, with 54 EC members ultimately voting to enter executive session and 23 voting against.

Prior to the vote, EC members advocating a closed session cited the need to speak freely among peers. Those speaking against the motion called for transparency. All, however, seemed to echo EC Chairman Rolland Slade’s opening remarks at the beginning of the session.

“These next two days will be significant,” Slade said. “We have started with prayer. We must continue seeking the Lord’s guidance.

“I want to make one thing clear. It’s the intention of our staff, officers and committee to cooperate fully [with the investigation]. We are not attempting to do anything but that.”

Slade also recognized sexual abuse survivors in attendance, who received an ovation.

Reach Texas sees record giving

Reach Texas Offering all-time high at $1,527,969

Southern Baptists in Texas contributed to the annual Reach Texas state missions offering in record-setting fashion, SBTC Executive Director Dr. Nathan Lorick announced Monday via Twitter.

This year’s Reach Texas offering came in at $1,527,969 — exceeding the statewide challenge goal by nearly a quarter-million dollars. The figure also exceeded last year’s giving total by $239,000.

"The churches of the SBTC continue to be incredibly generous and have a strong desire to see the gospel advance across Texas.”

Nathan Lorick, SBTC Executive Director Tweet

“The churches of the SBTC continue to be incredibly generous and have a strong desire to see the gospel advance across Texas,” Lorick said. “We absolutely believe that God is going to use this offering to further His kingdom through the missional ministries of the SBTC. Great days are ahead.”

Reach Texas giving is collected year-round, but churches participate in a Week of Prayer and offering emphasis during the month of September. One hundred percent of Reach Texas giving is spent on missions and evangelism strategies, including disaster relief and church planting.

The next SBC missions offering is the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which supports international missions efforts. The Week of Prayer for the offering will be November 28-December 5.

Widespread devastation stretching Southern Baptist Disaster Relief thin

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP) – Kenton Hunt, disaster relief director of the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, expresses a heartfelt burden to help the hundreds of homeowners in his region trying to recover from flooding and tornadoes wrought by Hurricane Ida.

“It’s hard to find enough help to work with, and most of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was concentrated on Louisiana, because that’s where Ida hit first and did the most damage,” Hunt said. “So now here we are way up on the upper edge of where Ida went off shore and finally petered out, but dropped a lot of rain, as much as 10 inches in some places. … That’s a lot of water to handle in one storm. … I’ve had to ask for help because it’s so much bigger than we can do ourselves.”

Seven state conventions are helping with flood cleanup including chainsaw work, feeding, chaplaincy and assessment in three Pennsylvania counties Hunt serves, but Hunt said the widespread need for help has stretched volunteers thin. And he’s not aware of another relief organization currently in the area to help homeowners clean up from the storm.

“We are not going to meet all the needs. … But everybody’s leaning on us, and we’re a small state convention. I’m feeling the weight of it,” Hunt said. “I feel responsible to do everything we can to meet the needs of the people … that truly need assistance to clean up, to remove the trees that they cannot do themselves or cannot pay someone else to do. Or to clean up their home, to get it where it’s safe and sanitary to live in again, and remove debris that’s just holding the water and getting rid of mold and other contaminants in the home that make the house unsafe.

“I feel responsible. We know how to do this stuff, but just having the manpower. I know my counterpart north of us in New York and North Jersey is facing the same thing.”

A mobile kitchen team from North Carolina get meals ready for distribution in Louisiana.

Mike Flannery, disaster relief director for the Baptist Convention of New York, is receiving help from and has commitments from six state conventions to mainly conduct mud-out and mold remediation, but he also voices concern.

“We didn’t get much (news) coverage up here in the New York area, maybe one or two days, then it’s off the front pages,” Flannery said. “Not to complain or anything. I’m not complaining about that. But I am concerned that a lot of times people don’t think anything’s going on in flood recovery areas. When I’d tell people from Buffalo I’m going to go over to New York City to do flood recovery they said, ‘What flood. What happened?’ They just don’t remember or they missed those two days of news reports that they had on mainline TV.

“But there’s hundreds of houses, thousands of houses. I think the five boroughs had 15,000 requests for assistance. But in New York City, the city has to go out and inspect it before they allow volunteers to come in.”

Both leaders express appreciation for the help they’re receiving from other states, local churches, donors and other volunteers. Work is expected to continue into October in Pennsylvania/South Jersey, and possibly into November in New York.

“We do have plenty of callouts, plenty of work to do,” Flannery said. “We want the Southern Baptists to know that we’re still working … and they can volunteer. We’d love to have them.”

Among conventions helping Flannery and Hunt, in addition to Pennsylvania/South Jersey and New York, are the Baptist conventions of Kentucky, Maryland/Delaware, Michigan, New England, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah/Idaho, and the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

The work in the northeast is in part of the larger Southern Baptist response to Ida including Louisiana. Meanwhile, work in Louisiana was hampered by rain from Hurricane Nicholas, which came ashore near Matagorda, Texas, Tuesday (Sept. 14) as a Category 1 storm with wind gusts of 95 mph. As much as 10 inches of rain was reported in parts of Louisiana, weather.com reported, with rain expected to linger for days.

Southern Baptists have together logged 9,700 volunteer days, prepared more than 530,000 meals and aided more than 500 homeowners with chainsaw work, debris removal and temporary roofing, the North American Mission Board reported yesterday (Sept. 16). More than 106 professions of faith have been reported through nearly 500 presentations of the Gospel, NAMB said.

“I never cease to be amazed by how God’s people come from across the United States to serve as the hands and feet of their Lord Jesus, filled with His compassion,” said Sam Porter, national director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief with Send Relief. “With catastrophic hurricanes, the recovery can go on for months as SBDR volunteers help individuals and families clear trees from their homes, place temporary roofing or gut out flooded homes so that they can rebuild.”

Coy Webb, crisis response director for Send Relief, said he expects work to continue for weeks as teams “continue to assist survivors with hundreds and hundreds of damaged homes across southern Louisiana and from Virginia to New York in the Northeast.”

ERLC unveils new technology, pro-life initiatives

NASHVILLE (BP) – The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission plans cutting-edge work the next 18 months on technology and pro-life issues, trustees of the Southern Baptist entity were told at their annual meeting.

Jason Thacker, chair of research in technology ethics, and Elizabeth Graham, vice president of operations and life initiatives, outlined the plans in their areas of responsibility during their reports to the ERLC board Sept. 15 in Nashville. Acting on the final day of their two-day meeting, trustees unanimously approved motions after both reports to affirm the work in both areas and to encourage the staff’s continued efforts.

Thacker unveiled to the trustees a new research project he is leading – the Digital Public Square. Launched after the trustees’ vote of affirmation, the project is designed to produce resources to assist churches and leaders to “navigate this digital age with wisdom and to think through some of the most complex and crucial ethics challenges to our faith with wisdom and insight,” he said in his report.

The project, Thacker said, will help answer such questions as:

What is the proper role of government in digital governance?
How do I disciple other people if they’re primarily being shaped by technology in their use and habits?
How do we champion free speech and religious freedom in an increasingly polarized society?

The resources to be provided during the next 18 months consist of four major elements, he said: (1) A “state of digital governance report” that will present a portrait of current and future technological issues; (2) an evangelical Christian statement of principles on “content moderation and digital governance;” (3) a church resource kit scheduled to be released in the summer of 2022; and (4) two books to be published next year – “Following Jesus in the Digital Age” and “The Digital Public Square: Ethics and Religion in a Technological Society.” Thacker is writing the former for Broadman & Holman Publishing and editing the latter for B&H Academic.

“Given the current state of debate over the proper role of free expression and religious freedom and digital governance,” the ERLC believes this is an important area in which to invest, Thacker told the trustees. It will produce “substantive resources” and “seek to equip the church in the digital age and allow us to advocate for these principles in this important arena,” he said.

Thacker’s work on technology ethics the last several years has resulted in ongoing opportunities to “give critical feedback, as well as counsel, to a lot of these large technology companies, as well as their policy teams, as they’re forming and crafting” policies, he said. When one of those companies learned about the Digital Public Square project, it offered to provide support.

The project is funded by the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified giving plan, but Facebook Technologies LLC also provided a research grant after the effort was under way. Thacker provided assurances to the trustees and on the project’s website – www.erlc.com/digital – regarding the ERLC’s independence in accepting the grant.

“This research grant was provided on an unrestricted basis, meaning the grant monies will be used at [the] sole discretion of the ERLC leadership team and board of trustees without any direct or indirect oversight by Facebook in research efforts nor any influence on project outcomes or resources produced,” according to the answer to one of the Frequently Asked Questions on the website. “All materials produced in this research project will be copyrighted to the ERLC and/or the individuals contributing.”

Facebook and other technology companies have approached the ERLC for resources because “there is a dearth of literature in this area,” Thacker said to the trustees. “There’s been very little if any research done into the nature of religious freedom and religious expression in the digital age.”

Brent Leatherwood, named acting president at the board meeting, told trustees Thacker “is quickly cementing his reputation as one of the leading voices, if not the leading voice, in evangelicalism as it relates to technology ethics, and we believe this project is a natural place to house all of this research, to produce resources that will equip the church and to again just allow him to have a platform to speak into these issues.”

Elizabeth Graham outlined the ERLC’s pro-life agenda leading up to the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Graham described the ERLC’s pro-life work, including its leading role in a campaign with other organizations as the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade nears. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in its Jan. 22, 1973, decision in Roe.

The Road to Roe50 “is our short-term strategy to engage the church,” Graham said of the alliance, which she said also has mid-term and long-term strategies. “With this moment, we see the chance of a lifetime to bring awareness to our work and action to the church.”

The effort “is a strategic window of opportunity” the ERLC and its partners believe can “unify and mobilize the church” leading to Roe’s 50th anniversary, she told the trustees. “The purpose of Roe50 is to inspire, educate and activate the church to support and defend the dignity of each human person.”

The church is “not deeply engaged with the abortion issue,” Graham said, citing a series of statistics in multiple surveys as evidence. More than 60 percent of women who have had an abortion say they are “religiously affiliated,” according to a survey by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute that is supported by other studies, she said. A Lifeway Research survey sponsored by the pregnancy resource center network Care Net in 2015 showed 36 percent of women were attending a Christian church at least once a month at the time of their first abortion, she told the trustees.

“We need to make abortion illegal, but we need to make it unnecessary and unthinkable,” Graham said. “We believe the church is the answer. This is why the role of the church is so important. This is why what we’re doing and hoping to accomplish at the ERLC is so important.”

The church-engagement strategy of Road to Roe50 includes, Graham told the board:

Curriculum for all ages that is designed as a three-year discipleship program. The separate material for children, teenagers and adults will have a prelaunch release in the fall of 2022, with a general release in January 2023.
A Roe50, multi-state tour to strategic cities in the fall of 2022.
A Roe50 event in Washington, D.C., in January 2023.
A broad digital campaign to affirm life, as well as to train and mobilize people to serve “vulnerable moms, preborn babies and families.”

The ERLC and its partners are asking people to “join us on the Road to Roe50,” Graham said. “We want Southern Baptists to be leading the way [in] serving women and children” who are in crisis.

The ERLC’s other pro-life efforts include the Psalm 139 Project, which helps provide ultrasound technology to pro-life pregnancy centers. The ERLC has placed ultrasound machines at 18 centers so far this year, Graham told trustees in a committee meeting Sept. 14.

After Graham’s report, David Prince, presiding in his final meeting as the board’s chair, told the other trustees, “There is not an evangelical organization in the world doing life work with the depth and breadth of the ERLC. And a lot of other organizations are bolstered by the fact that the ERLC is doing life work with such depth and breadth.”

FIRST-PERSON: Champion your pastor in October

NASHVILLE (BP) — The month of October is Pastor Appreciation Month. This is the time to champion your pastor.

Pastors are God-called servant-leaders who feed the people of God through the ministry of preaching the Bible and lead the people of God by providing spiritual oversight of the church. In his shepherding role, the pastor prays for the people regularly, and especially when they find themselves in a time of great need.

There is nothing like the pastor-church relationship

One of the most special relationships on this earth is the relationship between the pastor and the church he serves. Each week when he delivers the Word of God in an effective manner, the people receive the Word from their God-called pastor. No pastor is perfect. He knows it and his wife surely knows it; but through the ministry of preaching, the people learn to receive him as he is.

The pastor’s relationship with God’s people is taken to a more personal level when he celebrates in their successes and grieves with them in their losses. There is truly nothing like the relationship with a pastor and his church. Through these times, trust is built in his relationship with the people of God. Living life together with God’s people and worshiping the Lord with them weekly is, for the pastor, indescribable.

Four ways to honor your pastor this October

Regardless of the size of your church, the length of time the pastor has served, or whether the relationship is healthy or not, honoring your pastor is the right thing to do. He is not an idol. He is a man. He needs you. You need him. Here are a few ways to honor and encourage your pastor:

Recognize the pastor and his family one Sunday in October in a public manner.

Honoring your pastor and his family is more about honoring the calling of this gift to your church given to you by the Holy Spirit. Make them feel special. Verbally recognize them in an encouraging way. Whether by video or in person, have two to three church members bless them publicly.

Give the pastor and his family a special gift this October.

It is not about the amount of the gift you give; it is about making them feel special and appreciated. This has been a difficult season for every pastor and his family. Blessing them with a special gift says “thank you” in a respectable way. In whatever you do, do it in a generous way. Honor those to whom honor is due.

Pray for the pastor and his wife one Sunday morning in October.

Plan a focused prayer time in a worship service one Sunday morning. Have the pastor and his wife come before the church for an intentional time of prayer for each of them. Give five to 10 minutes for this prayer time. You could have the men come to pray for the pastor and women come to pray for the pastor’s wife. You could have two to four people publicly call out to God in prayer while those gathered around them, as well as the church, agree in prayer. Praying for the pastor and his wife demonstrates your faith in the Lord alone who will use them, anoint them, and empower them to serve with faithfulness.

Present the pastor with the special blessing of 31 members who will own one day a month in October, specifically praying for him and his ministry to the church. 

In the assigned day of the month, whether it be Day 1 or Day 16, this is your day to focus your prayer upon him and his ministry to the church. Write him a note or send him a text asking him for three specific prayer requests for himself, his family and/or the church. Whatever his burdens are, you are there to pray him through.

One Sunday morning about 25 years ago, 31 men walked into a private prayer room during my regular prayer time with men from our church. A spokesman for them said, “Pastor, we are giving you a special gift today. Each of us will pray and fast for you one day each month. Here is a commitment we are making to you.” They presented me with a framed commemorative letter that had each of their names on it. This is one of the greatest gifts I ever received.

Friends, champion your pastor. Love him. Honor him. Respect him. Pray for him. Bless him. Do this daily throughout the year, not just in October.

Mother-daughter duo finds kindness the ultimate weapon against abortion

MARIETTA, Ga. – Suzanne and Rachel Guy exude kindness.

It shines in their eyes. It resonates in their voices.

The mother-daughter duo from First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., are on the frontlines of the continuing battle over abortion, but their approach is markedly different from the more militant pro-lifers often seen on television news programs in front of abortion clinics waving graphic signs and shouting hateful rhetoric.

The Guys’ placards say, “We Will Help You.” Instead of mere words, they dole out gift cards from grocery stores and restaurants, even small boxes wrapped in ribbons and bows, filled with goodies for newborns, including a baby-size shirt that says, “Best Gift Ever.”

Rachel Guy shows one of the gifts she gives to expectant mothers.

They spend a lot of time on a narrow strip of grass across the parking lot from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Marietta, some 50 feet from the front door. Each time a young woman arrives at the clinic, Suzanne beckons to her.

“We would love to talk to you,” she says sweetly. “We’re here because we love you. Would you talk to us while you wait?”

Suzanne, who has been a sidewalk counselor outside abortion clinics for years, always speaks in soothing tones. It’s a natural trait her daughter inherited. Together, they’re helping lots of young women choose life for their unborn babies.

“These young women are frightened and confused,” Suzanne said, standing on the patch of public property that Marietta police have told her she and Rachel are allowed to occupy. “They may be being pressured by boyfriends or their own families to get abortions. We want them to know there is help, that we’re here for them.”

A young woman hears Suzanne’s pleas and walks tentatively across the parking lot to where she and Rachel wait. They greet her with reassuring smiles and strike up a conversation. The connection is immediate. It’s as if they’ve known each other for years. It’s apparent Planned Parenthood has lost yet another customer.

Rachel explains all the resources available to the young lady through the many Christian ministries in Georgia. Some provide food and housing for expectant women in need. Some provide ultrasounds and prenatal care to ensure a healthy delivery. Some provide maternity clothing for expectant mothers and newborn outfits for babies. Some supply diapers and other necessities. Some provide counseling and training in how to be a mother. Some provide baby beds and other furnishings. No needs go unmet.

“The financial struggles are huge,” Rachel said. “Often, these young women feel they can’t afford to have a baby. We want to take away that concern We want them to know there is hope and there is help.”

Most of the young women going into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Marietta don’t respond to their invitations to talk. But enough do to keep Suzanne and Rachel motivated. In the past year and half, they have convinced 20 of them not to go through with abortions.

Saving unborn babies has been a passion for Suzanne since she was pregnant with Rachel, who is now 23 years old. Doctors insisted Suzanne abort Rachel, telling her during her first ultrasound that her baby wouldn’t live and that, if she somehow did survive, she’d likely have severe physical and mental disabilities.

“I’m lying on the table; the cold gel is on my stomach; and the ultrasound tech is moving the wand around,” Suzanne explained to Focus on the Family President Jim Daly in a nationwide radio broadcast earlier this year. “I’m excitedly looking at that beautiful baby, the humanity of that beautiful child on the ultrasound screen, and the next thing I know the technician says, ‘I need to excuse myself and go get the doctor.’ Now I knew in that moment that something was probably not right, but I was not prepared for what was about to happen.”

In the next moment, the doctor came rushing into the room frantically and repeatedly telling her she needed an abortion.

“Half your amniotic fluid is gone,” the doctor told her. “Your baby must have a chromosomal abnormality not compatible with life. You could die and your baby most certainly will die.”

When the doctor finally paused, Suzanne gave her adamant and emotional reply:

“I would never get an abortion. Stop saying that.”

When the pregnancy reached 26 weeks, Suzanne underwent a C-section. Her husband Peter saw Rachel the moment doctors lifted her from the womb. She weighed only 1 pound 2 ounces, but, he said, she was very much alive, wiggling and crying and waving her tiny arms around.

“My wedding band went over her hand and slipped past her elbow,” Peter said in the Focus on the Family broadcast. “That’s how tiny she was.”

That experience is what made the Guy family the pro-life activists they are today.

Rachel, now a student majoring in Christian ministry at Trinity International University and leader of the pro-life group Marietta 40 Days for Life 365, said she’s grateful her parents refused to listen to the doctors who wanted to abort her.

“It shocks me to think that they devalued me,” she said of the doctors. “It makes my heart hurt.”

So they stand on the grassy patch in Marietta, reaching out to frightened young ladies considering abortions.

“Will you come talk to us?” Suzanne pleads with another young lady. “Please? We can help.”

Mike Griffin, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s legislative agent who works on public policy at the state level to curb abortion, said the Guys are both passionate and effective in saving the lives of unborn babies.

Griffin has joined them on the grassy patch in Marietta, and he has marveled at the number of young ladies who heed Suzanne’s call to talk.

“I believe the Lord has anointed her voice, that when she’s talking to people, they can hear her heart, her compassion, and that makes the difference,” he said.

The Guys welcome like-minded people to join them outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, but not if they’re there wave graphic signs or shout angry rhetoric.

“We’d humbly ask that they not do that,” she said. “And if they persisted, we’d ask that they not stand near us. This place is holy ground.”

SBTC DR crews brave heat and humidity to help Ida survivors

SBTC Feeding Unit in Louisiana

HAMMOND, La.  Battling mosquitoes, poison ivy and the lack of electrical power, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief volunteers endured sweltering temperatures and soaring humidity to assist survivors of Hurricane Ida, which struck Louisiana on Sunday, Aug. 29, 16 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina blasted ashore.

Crews continue to serve, even though Hurricane Nicholas made landfall as a category 1 storm at 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 14, southwest of Sargent Beach, Texas, and moved toward Louisiana.

The SBTC’s response to Katrina, led by the late Gibbie McMillan, the convention’s first director of disaster relief who died of COVID this August, marked the inaugural major deployment of SBTC DR.

SBTC DR crews continued building on McMillan’s legacy as they again traveled quickly to Louisiana, where they were joined by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from across the country.

Even as Ida still raged, a four-person SBTC DR incident management left Texas for Alexandria, La., where they established operations from Aug. 30-Sept. 12 to help coordinate SBDR activities across the Bayou State. A feeding team staffing the mass feeding unit from the Unity Baptist Association was soon joined by another mass feeding team and unit from First Baptist Pflugerville in Gonzales, La. New volunteers have rotated in to relieve the original crews.

To date, the feeding teams have produced more than 190,000 hot meals distributed by the Salvation Army to survivors.

West Monroe, Hammond and six other sites

Other SBTC DR workers have since joined hundreds of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers to help Louisiana in a deployment with what Scottie Stice, current SBTC DR director, called, “many moving parts.”

Shirley and Cliff Spencer of Spring set up the SBTC DR shower and laundry unit from the Bowie Baptist Association on Sept. 2 in West Monroe, where they began doing laundry for survivors at a shelter there, work that is ongoing. Other SBTC DR shower / laundry units deployed to Gonzales and Denham Springs, La. to serve both feeding teams, power line crews and recovery units. Some of the shower / laundry units will demobilize by Sept. 17.

A quick response kitchen deployed to Denham Springs to feed DR volunteers. A second QRU set up operations in Kenner, La.

An SBTC DR utility support unit deployed to Houma to assist Alabama Baptist DR feeding efforts there, and a recovery team will work under the direction of Oklahoma DR in Morgan City, La., beginning Sept. 19.

SBTC DR recovery units also arrived, rotating in and out over ensuing weeks, working under an incident management team from Arkansas in the Hammond area.

The eight sites manned by SBTC DR volunteers by mid-September marked the most of any state Baptist DR team, Stice told the TEXAN.

Chaplains see fruit

In addition to feeding, shower / laundry and recovery crews, SBTC DR chaplains and assessors came to Louisiana.

Chaplain Wayne Barber of Jasper found unexpected opportunities to share the gospel in Hammond as he and assessor Jim Casten of Collinsville traveled through mostly middle-class and working-class neighborhoods to offer assistance.

Amazingly, Barber said, many of the gospel encounters happened seemingly at random, at addresses where the team had not intended to go.

“Every night, we just prayed for divine appointments the next day,” Barber told the TEXAN. “I asked the Lord to prepare their hearts and prepare my words.”

 

"Every night, we just prayed for divine appointments the next day. I asked the Lord to prepare their hearts and prepare my words.”

Wayne Barber, SBTC DR Chaplain Tweet

One elderly gentleman at first seemed reluctant to talk, telling Barber that he had gone to church. The men kept visiting.

“We talked. He started crying,” Barber recalled. “Then he prayed to accept Christ as Savior.” The new believer was 86.

“That’s pushing it pretty hard,” Barber, himself a young 77, said of the man’s late-in-life decision.

Another time, finding their intended road blocked by the fire department, Barber and Casten headed down an alternate route where they spied people sitting outside their manufactured home to escape the heat inside.

“We stopped and asked if they were O.K.,” Barber said. “Did they need anything?” After conversation, five of the men prayed to accept Christ.

“We weren’t supposed to even be there, but God had a plan,” Barber said.

Another God-ordained appointment came when the pair encountered a young mother with two small children whose military husband was enroute back from Afghanistan. The volunteers returned the next day with two packs of diapers.

“She was so appreciative that we came back. She said she sure could use [the diapers],” Barber said.

One man told the pair it was the first time anyone had ever told him about Jesus. Another man was alerted to the coming of the chaplain team by his Christian mother, whose home they had just visited. She didn’t need help, but he did.

“I hope they tell you about Jesus,” the mother said.

They did, and the young man, an EMT in his thirties, prayed to receive Christ. He also filled out a work request for his home.

Bringing hope and help in crisis is the heart of disaster relief. One survivor who had been helped at her home in Hammond texted her thanks to recovery team leader David Dean, adding this:

“Tonight, when things quiet down, I’m signing up with SBC to give back to my community. God is good.”

Efforts to help Ida survivors in Louisiana are ongoing, Stice said, even as SBTC DR also stays on alert to help survivors of Nicholas as needed. For more information about SBTC DR, visit https://sbtexas.com/disaster-relief.

SBTC DR response to Ida (as of Sept. 15)

       945 -- volunteer days
190,285 -- meals provided
                 23 -- professions of faith

SBTC DR response to Ida (as of Sept. 15)

       945 -- volunteer days
190,285 -- meals provided
                 23 -- professions of faith

Getty Sing! Worship Conference meant to ‘Reset. Restore. Reunite.’

Keith and Kristyn Getty

NASHVILLE (BP) – Several Southern Baptists were among the noteworthy speakers and worship artists at the 2021 Sing! Worship Conference, hosted by hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty.

The fifth annual conference, held Sept. 13-15, attracted a large crowd to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.

“When we sing, we’re singing worship to our Lord, but we’re also singing to one another and encouraging one another in what we believe and in what we affirm,” Keith Getty said as he opened the conference Monday (Sept 13).

After last year’s conference was hosted solely online with recorded videos, this year’s conference was live with an available online option. The theme for the conference was “In Christ Alone” and operated under the tagline “Reset. Restore. Reunite.”

The theme was appropriate, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Gettys’ well-known hymn “In Christ Alone.”

Monday’s evening session featured a time of worship, including a performance from the Gettys that included all the songs from their upcoming album.

Also Monday, songwriters and worship leaders Matt Papa and Matt Boswell premiered their full upcoming album. Boswell is pastor of Trails Church in Prosper, Texas, and assistant professor of church music and worship at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Matt Boswell
Matt Boswell from The Trails Church, Prosper at Sing! 2021

Other notable musical guests at the conference included Chris Tomlin, Shane and Shane, CityAlight and Bill Gaither.

Notable speakers included Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President (SEBTS) Danny Akin, John Piper, David Platt, Alistair Begg, Paul David Tripp, Dane Ortlund and SEBTS professor Karen Swallow Prior.

H.B. Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., spoke during the opening plenary session Monday afternoon about focusing on God alone during worship.

“True worship is God-centered,” Charles said. “We don’t gather to proclaim our cause. We gather to proclaim the virtues of Him who called us into the marvelous light.”

Charles, who has released two albums of original music himself, preached out of 1 Peter 2:4-5 about the Church both proclaiming Christ through worship and relying on Him in the midst of trials.

“We are not the ones who nurture the Church, sustain the Church or advance the Church,” Charles said.

“If this extended pandemic has taught us anything, I hope it has taught us the Lord doesn’t need us. Pastoral leadership, ministry leadership, worship leadership do not grow the Church. … The Church stands firm because Christ is the Cornerstone. In Christ the Cornerstone, we are safe, strong and secure.”

H.B. Charles
H.B. Charles at Sing! 2021

Charles acknowledged that the last year and a half has been challenging, but Christ is sufficient for meeting the needy where they are.

“It is in Christ alone that we find total sufficiency for all of the needs of our lives, especially the deep needs of our souls …,” he said. “There are many of us who gather here weak and weary and worn out. How do we reset, find renewal and restoration – as we come to Him.”

During the final conference session Wednesday (Sept. 16), Keith Getty had a conversation with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin about living a missional life and the role of worship in fulfilling the Great Commission.

“At Southeastern I’ve had music professors that were the most active in going to the nations in my entire faculty,” Akin said.

“They (music professors) recognized the value of teaching different people groups songs in their heart language, not just exporting our songs, but teaching them how to create, how to write, how to put melody to songs in their heart language.

“For the musicians here, I would say get your passports. … God can use you in an incredible way because music is universal and barriers come down very easily in that context. Barriers come down and friendships are quickly established around God’s great gift of music.”

FIRST-PERSON: 5 things I’ve learned about children’s ministry and volunteers

Children’s Ministry is difficult in a lot of ways. It’s not even working with kids that makes it so challenging. Instead, having enough people ready and able to serve is the most difficult part. I have often wondered if this is a unique problem to my local church context, but having talked with dozens of churches — big, small, rural, and urban — I’ve discovered that we all seem to struggle with the same difficulty: finding great volunteers!

I’ll admit that I haven’t cracked the code, but I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned that not only help us staff our classrooms with able and trusted people but have also allowed our leaders to flourish and enjoy serving in ministry.

Not everyone can do children’s ministry 

It sounds strange to suggest it, but one way to get more volunteers, and the right ones, is to narrow your audience. What I really mean is that when you are talking to leaders or potential leaders, make sure they know you need skilled laborers. Highlighting the specific and unique qualities needed for service will empower volunteers to step into service with the confidence that they are gifted for the role. How would it make you feel if your boss walked into your office and said, “We just need more people doing your job, and literally anyone can do it!”? When we lower the bar by saying, “Anyone can serve in kids ministry,” we can unintentionally belittle the work of our current volunteers, alienate high capacity leaders, and inadvertently welcome the wrong or even unsafe volunteers.