Author: Jayson Larson

SBC 2024: In leading worship, SWBTS’ Crider has one goal: ‘This is about Christ’

INDIANAPOLIS —Joe Crider smiled broadly as he stepped onstage Tuesday morning, surrounded by the worship team that had just opened the 2024 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention with songs ranging from the traditional to the jazzy.

They had arrived. Crider’s smile reflected joy—and perhaps a touch of relief.

He welcomed messengers and guests, evoking the convention theme from Romans “that we would magnify and glorify the Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice.” After reading from Psalm 90, he asked that the Lord would “establish the work of our hands during our meeting” and that “we would rejoice with one heart and one voice for what He has done, for what He is doing, and for what He will do.”

It’s been a busy year for Crider, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Church Music and Worship (SCMW).

Last-minute pre-SBC preparations included a daylong rehearsal on the first Saturday in June with two SWBTS musical groups both leading worship at Indy: Southwestern A Capella, the 17-member select vocal ensemble of graduate students, and the seminary’s 10-person Cowden Hall Band.

That Saturday marathon was followed by a Monday afternoon session with James Cheesman, going over the meeting’s musical selections that he led prior to Barber’s presidential address. Cheesman, worship leader at First Baptist Church in Farmersville—the church pastored by SBC President Bart Barber—led worship at last year’s SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

These rehearsals represent a fraction of the time spent getting ready for the annual meeting. Crider told Baptist Press in an earlier interview that he had lost track of the hours of rehearsal time spent over the past year.

As if things weren’t hectic enough, during the final pre-convention week, the seminary also hosted 67 young people attending its Student Worship Camp, conducted in partnership with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“This place is hopping!” Crider said of the Southwestern campus, as he offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the story behind the story of worship at the annual meeting.

Countdown to Indy

As the days counted down to the opening of SBC 2024, Crider stressed the need for flexibility, adding that his team had worked diligently to ensure a seamless musical experience for messengers.

“We wanted to make sure we hit our times so we don’t cause any delays in the business. … We have to be flexible. Meetings run over. We may not do some sets at all,” he noted, adding, “We are ready to turn on a dime if needed. We have to be ready for anything.”

Serving as music director has entailed far more than holding rehearsals and selecting music, Crider said. He has attended meetings of the SBC’s Committee on the Order of Business as an observer, to be part of the conversation as needed.

He praised his team, including Chuck Lewis, associate SCMW dean and director of Southwestern A Cappella, for his handling of musical and logistical details, and Ricky Johnson, SCMW artist-in-residence and Cowden Hall pianist and band leader, for their invaluable assistance.

“This means a lot for us as a seminary,” Crider said. “One, that Pastor Bart [Barber] trusted us. We are grateful for the trust and the stewardship we have been given. We have been blessed with wonderful faculty and students in the School of Church Music and Worship to serve the convention.”

SBC 2024 marks the third consecutive year of significant involvement by Southwestern musical groups, Crider noted. Two years ago, the Cowden Hall Band played for the Pastors’ Conference in Anaheim, when Matt Boswell led worship. Last year, Southwestern A Capella sang under Cheesman’s direction.

“We are grateful for these three years of involvement,” Crider said.

Those assisting in leading worship included Southwestern A Capella, a 17-member select vocal ensemble of graduate students, and the seminary’s 10-person Cowden Hall Band. SBTC PHOTO

Crider expressed enthusiasm about what serving at the convention will mean for the students, most of whom are pursuing master’s degrees. The band and ensemble represent a variety of ages and ethnicities, he said. While some have attended multiple annual meetings, for at least a third, this year’s SBC will mark their first exposure to the event.

“It’s pretty amazing. Several international students … are seeing firsthand the beauty in cooperation, the power of cooperation,” he said. They are “realizing that they, too, because they are part of Southern Baptist churches in the United States, that they …  have a part in this although they might be from Mexico, Korea, Venezuela, Argentina, or even Nagaland.

“I hope they realize that all of us together are better than one of us alone.”

Picking the music

The musical selection process began months ago, as team members prayed about the meeting’s theme: “One Mind, One Voice,” and its scriptural basis in Romans 15:5-6.

The convention featured a variety of music, including several of the great classic hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” and “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.” One session included selections inspired by a heaven theme; another focused on the blood of Jesus.

Selections reflected each speaker’s message or complemented the Scripture guiding a particular convention moment.

“We [chose songs] in the heart language of a lot of Southern Baptists,” Crider said. “For many, it may have been a long time since they have sung a lot of those older hymns.” he said.

The students will lead 35 songs throughout the two-day meeting, he said.

Logistical matters

It is no easy or inexpensive task to transport nearly 30 people from Texas to Indianapolis. Crider especially thanked First Baptist Benbrook, First Baptist Farmersville, and Birchman Baptist for their support. All three churches hosted special evenings of worship highlighting the seminary vocal ensemble and band, resulting in generous gifts to help defray costs.

Churches in Indiana—Friendship Baptist in Franklin and Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis—provided the use of their vans to transport the students from the airport to the convention center, eliminating the costs of taxis or ride shares.

“We really couldn’t have done it without all these churches,” Crider said. “ … We do not want to make this opportunity about us. This is about Christ and pointing people to Him. We want to rely completely on Him and the power of His Spirit to guide and direct us.”

 

SBC 2024: Southwestern students lead people to Christ, learn lessons of evangelism through Crossover

Trying to share the gospel with a 73-year-old man who was “rude,” reminded Joo*, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Master of Divinity student from East Asia, how God “patiently waited” for her when she came to Christ about seven years ago.

Joo recalled the man told the team to “stop” talking about Jesus before he walked away. She said when she “faced his rejection,” she thought about her “personal journey” and how God “used different people to reach my life.”

Joo was one of 22 Southwestern students and friends who participated in Crossover, an evangelistic outreach the week before the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, in Indianapolis, Ind., June 3-7. The Southwestern students spent each morning in classroom instruction alongside other students from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, before they would disperse in the afternoons to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through door-to-door evangelism in groups of three to four people.

Through Thursday, the Southwestern team saw 13 salvations, shared the gospel 126 times, and engaged 342 people in conversation.

Carl J. Bradford, dean of Texas Baptist College and assistant professor of evangelism, has led Southwestern’s Crossover teams since 2018. He said Crossover “provides opportunities for further cooperation within our convention.”

“Students partner with churches and NAMB to engage the surrounding community of the SBC’s annual meeting of that particular year through door-to-door evangelism,” Bradford said. “It’s fulfilling the Great Commission together.”

Bradford said during the week of sharing the gospel in Indianapolis, students’ hearts “broke” for the lost, which resulted in “the students embrac[ing] the uncomfortableness of evangelizing with strangers.”

McLain Johnson, a Master of Divinity student with a theology concentration from McKinney, Texas, participated in Crossover for the first time. Johnson said he learned “teamwork” from his week in Indianapolis as the “neatest thing” was “seeing everyone be encouraged to evangelize and work together and figuring out how to help each other and giving advice.”

He added “seeing the Spirit move between the different team members, while we’re actually out talking to somebody” was the “coolest thing” as they would see “a light go off in somebody’s head” as they understood what the team was sharing. Johnson explained it led the team members to understand “this is the perfect time to share this part of my testimony” or to apply something they learned earlier.

Johnson recalled a Tuesday afternoon experience in a group sharing door-to-door with Joo and Richard Silva, a student in the 5-year program from Brazil. He said the trio encountered Laverta who said she was “curious” about God. He said as the group talked with her, they learned she was “open to different religions and just wanted to know the true way to God.”

As the group spoke further with Laverta, Johnson said she mentioned that her late father was a preacher and she had his Bible. They also noticed she had stickers of the cross on her car because “she said it made her feel closer to God,” he said.

“We just thought that was a great bridge, a great opportunity,” Johnson said. “We talked about how, you know, the true meaning of the cross … is God bringing us closer to Him. He’s coming close to us” and “uniting us with Him through that cross.”

Carl J. Bradford, dean of Texas Baptist College and assistant professor of evangelism, was one of the evangelism professors who taught students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, during the morning teaching sessions of Crossover. SWBTS PHOTO

Laverta told the group, “I don’t know what the true way is,” and Johnson said the group explained, “God was here to tell her that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” based on Jesus’s words to His disciples in John 14:6. Johnson said they asked Laverta if she wanted to “commit” her life to Christ that day, but the woman “struggled,” and said she would “go to church” and “she would give her life [to Christ] when she got to church.”

Johnson said the group “pleaded with her” telling her “you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Laverta “gave her life to Christ right there” as Johnson said he led her in prayer—his first time to lead someone to Christ “in a prayer like that.”

“As far as prayers go, it was a pretty poor prayer,” Johnson recalled, adding “I was not prepared for that. But it wasn’t about me. I had no part in it. So, it was just neat to get to see God do that, despite me.”

Spending the week sharing the gospel caused Grace Kim, a Doctor of Philosophy student from Korea who grew up as a missionary kid in Japan, to understand the importance of evangelism in Christian education. Kim, who was participating in Crossover for the first time, said attending a Christian college for her undergraduate studies and two seminaries afterward caused her to have a “mindset” that is “really focused on discipleship.” Subsequently, she said she has sought to “encourage the Christians around me making sure that they fix their eyes on God and encouraging them in God’s Word.”

However, her Crossover experience was “stretching” as she said it was the first time she was “so exposed to the world, and realizing how much they are lost people in the world,” adding that she “knew it in my head, but actually seeing this is a great awakening moment for me.”

During the Thursday afternoon opportunity for door-to-door evangelism, Kim and her teammates, Anna Matsuura, a Master of Arts in Christian Education student from Japan, and Josh Okoye, a Master of Divinity student in evangelism from Houston, encountered a man who had experienced depression and at one point in his life tried to commit suicide. Kim explained as they talked with the man in his 40s, they learned he did “firmly believe in God,” but was “struggling to find a church” and was grieving the loss of both of his parents within the past year.

Kim noted that Okoye pointed out it was “not a coincidence” that the team encountered the man as the man could “be led to church and have that Christian fellowship together.”

“And so in that sense, yes, in evangelism, we do want to reach out to non-Christians, but at the same time, God allows these Christians to meet and help them [and] encourage them in faith,” Kim observed. She said encountering Christians allowed the opportunity to “testify Christ” and that “the Gospel itself is so powerful.”

Okoye said that hearing about Crossover through participating in Everyday Evangelism with Bradford led him to think it was an “opportunity to come out and evangelize in a different context.” Everyday Evangelism, a weekly evangelism initiative led by Bradford during the academic year, allows students to share the Gospel at parks, shopping centers, and other places around Fort Worth.

Okoye said during the week he “saw God bring people to salvation.”

Okoye, who helped lead people to Christ through door-to-door opportunities, said “one thing” that he “definitely” likes about evangelism is that “despite our weaknesses, … He’s still able to do His work.”

He added that it “creates an environment where we have to rely on Him more than we have to rely on ourselves and, honestly, the more I think that that happens, then the greater that we can expect to see from God.”

One of the experiences from the week that stood out to Okoye included when he was witnessing to three men “and they all eventually ended up coming to Christ. They were convicted about the message that we were sharing.” He said preparing the invitation and “helping them in the process of placing their faith in Christ or praying through it” was something that he found to be a “struggle.” However, he learned from Bradford who “sort of stepped in and helped me with that process.” Okoye said the next time he applied what he learned from Bradford as he led a man to faith in Christ.

Okoye said his first experience participating in Crossover showed him God’s sovereignty “to answer other people’s prayers” as he encountered two people who had been praying about finding a church and “to see people come from halfway across the country, not even just in their environment, but to see people come from halfway across the country and have the need met.”

As he prepares to return to Fort Worth at the end of the week, Okoye said he brings with him the lessons of keeping evangelism as a “practice” and helping people in the local church body “get more acclimated to having the conversations or having that on the forefront of their mind and going out.”

Okoye concluded that he believes there is an “intentionality that is key” to evangelism and he wants to help those in the local church to have “conversations” within their own “spheres” that are “that are Christ-exalting and are evangelistic.”

Bradford observed the long-term result of the Southwestern group’s participation in Crossover was committing “themselves to take the next step in their evangelism practice, whether knocking on a stranger’s door, praying for an individual, getting through an entire Gospel conversation, or answering an objection to the gospel. Simply put, they allowed God to work in them and through them.”

*Name changed for security reasons.

 

SBC 2024: Panel discussion underscores the primacy, power of prayer

INDIANAPOLIS—Nathan Lorick, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, was 17 years old when God changed his life through an encounter with prayer.

Though he gave his life to Jesus as a child, Lorick admits he was not living for the Lord as he approached the latter part of high school. So one day, a youth pastor brought him into a room to show him something. Upon entering the room, Lorick saw his name written over and over again on one of its walls.

“What is this?” a bewildered Lorick asked the youth pastor.

“A few months ago, we began challenging our students to name that one person who they think would be impossible to imagine walking with God because of the state of their life,” the youth minister explained. “They identified you … and they’ve been praying for you. They’ve been begging God to do the impossible in your life.”

On Monday, speaking on a prayer panel at the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting, Lorick recounted that story and spoke about the impact the prayers of his peers had on him.

“These are people whose names you’ll never know or who you’ll never see on a stage,” he said, “but they got behind the curtain of their prayer closets and got on their faces before God for me.”

The panel was hosted by Kie Bowman, SBC’s national director of prayer, and also included International Mission Board ambassador Gordon Fort. Bowman’s work has included keeping prayer at the forefront of ministry efforts among SBC churches. For his part, Lorick has repeatedly stressed the primacy of prayer if SBTC churches are to experience a movement of God to reverse the growing rate of lostness in Texas and around the world.

“[Prayer] is not just an emphasis—it is a major emphasis for the churches of the SBTC,” Lorick said. “We are going to unapologetically be churches of prayer. … I’m convinced that the tool of prayer is one of those things churches [often] use as an accessory, but when it becomes a driving force, we experience the power and presence of God in ways we’ve not experienced before—and it’s exciting.”

Added Fort: “The great need of the hour is to restore the doctrine and practice of prayer.”

Bowman concluded by asking each panelist what advice he would offer to young leaders struggling to develop and maintain their prayer lives. Fort encouraged such leaders to make a daily request that the Lord teach them how to pray and to prioritize prayer at the beginning of each day. Lorick challenged young leaders to make note of how God moves when they have prayed. He said being able to see how God powerfully moved in a situation when prayer was made a priority will leave a lasting impression.

“I promise you,” Lorick said, “you’ll become a prayer warrior who is intentional about chasing after the heart of God.”

 

SBC 2024: ‘The church has left the building’: SBC Crossover team takes unique approach to open doors for spiritual conversations

INDIANAPOLIS—Tailgate parties—where fans gather, socialize, and barbecue in stadium parking lots before a sporting event—usually require people to come to them.

Living Faith Church in Indianapolis tried something a little different this past weekend as part of the evangelistic Crossover event held each year in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting.

The church brought the party to the people.

Living Faith Church held a mobile “tell gate” party, serving traditional stadium fare such as hamburgers and hot dogs to residents of the Indianapolis neighborhood of Riverside. The food was cooked on a grill fastened to a rack on the back of a van, which included a decal on one of its back doors stating, “The church has left the building.”

The strategy was simple: meet needs through food service, make connections, and tell people about the love—and saving power—of Jesus. The church later reported that, through a series of Crossover-related events over the past couple of days, it had shared the gospel with 400 people and seen 17 put their faith in Christ.

Living Faith’s “tell gate” team was joined by members of SBC churches from as far away as Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas.

“Friends from around the country joined us to serve burgers door-to-door in Riverside today,” stated a June 8 post on the church’s Facebook page. “Together, we extended the love of Jesus in conversations and condiments.”

Tony Mathews, senior strategist of missional ministries for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, was on the Living Faith team.

“It was an amazing event,” Mathews said. “Not only did we get to interact with the people in the neighborhoods, but we got to pray for them, pray for their families, and share the gospel with them. The response was incredible. You could tell they really appreciated what we were doing.

Zamari McClain, 13, gets a snow cone from Hope Howard, a member of Retama Park Baptist Church—an SBTC church in Kingsville, Texas—at a block party at Bertha Ross Park in Indianapolis on June 8. JOSSELYN GUILLEN PHOTO/BAPTIST PRESS

The North American Mission Board, which hosted Crossover 2024 in partnership with the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana and the Indianapolis-based Crossroads Baptist Association, said 44 local churches participated in the event from June 3-8. Those efforts included block parties, sports camps, health clinics, door-to-door evangelism, and service projects. Students from several Southern Baptist seminaries also participated in Crossover, NAMB reported. A number of SBTC churches participated in the event, as well.

“As followers of Jesus we are all called to engage the world around us through personal evangelism,” said JJ Washington, NAMB’s national director for personal evangelism. “Crossover is an event where we get to put that into practice. I’ve been thrilled to see Indiana Baptist churches embrace the opportunity both in the preparation leading up to Crossover and in proclaiming Jesus to the people in their communities scattered throughout Indianapolis.”

Mathews said plans are already underway for Crossover 2025 when the SBC Annual Meeting comes to Dallas. SBTC churches are invited to a NAMB-hosted Crossover interest meeting, which will include an evangelism toolkit training, scheduled for Oct. 22 at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano.

Information from the North American Mission Board was used in this report.

Supporting the point, not making the point

Finding sermon illustrations can sometimes seem daunting. In my own process, finding an illustration is often the last task that keeps my sermon from being complete. Authors have made a boatload of money churning out books of illustrations, but a sermon illustration doesn’t have to be complicated to be great. It just needs to help your sermon transition from the exposition of the text to the application of the text.

Think of the illustration as the transmission of your car. The source of power for your car is the engine, but for your car to travel effectively and efficiently, you need something that will translate that power into energy that can be applied to the wheels in a way that is appropriate for the conditions you are traveling in. All things being equal, if you had two identical cars—same model, same engine, even the same driver, but one had a six-speed transmission and one had a three-speed transmission—the six-speed would be faster and more efficient. Why? The transmission would allow it to apply the engine’s power more effectively and consistently.

This is what a good illustration can do: provide the mental shift from understanding the text in abstraction to applying the power of the text in the life of the believer. A great sermon illustration helps make that transition.

Find the point of connection

Some think that for an illustration to be good, it must be a personal, powerful story, but almost anything can serve as an illustration: the workings of nature, history, current events—the list can go on. The key here is the illustration doesn’t have to be an incredibly powerful example, nor an allegory of the point. Instead, you just need to find the point of connection between the potential illustration and the point of your sermon. In fact, the closer the illustration and the point of the sermon are to one another, the more memorable and effective the message tends to be.

Keep your illustrations common

Illustrations should generally be familiar to your congregation. Since your illustration is meant to help your audience grasp the point, it doesn’t help if they have to work to understand your illustration. But if it is something they have experienced, they can immediately identify. Moreover, if you pick something common to their life, it can serve as a subtle reminder of the point.

To this day, I think about the resurrection every time I eat pancakes. Why? Because 14 years ago, a chapel speaker illustrated the logical chain that Paul built in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 by comparing it to the steps necessary to be able to eat a pancake: If there was no visit to the store, then there would be no pancake batter in the pantry and, thus, no pancakes. In the same way, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then there was no resurrection of Christ, and thus no hope. It’s simple, familiar, and constantly reminds me of the centrality and necessity of the resurrection.

Keep illustrations in their proper role

When we illustrate, there are two pitfalls to be aware of. First, it is possible to let the illustration drive the sermon. Sometimes it comes from trying too hard to “work in” a specific illustration. Sometimes it happens without us even realizing it. But if we let the illustration start making the point instead of supporting the point, it could ultimately lead us into misreading the text and misleading our flock. So, when you are seeking an illustration, make sure the point you are making is crystal clear before you look for the illustration.

Second, if we use a personal story as an illustration, we run the risk of making someone other than Jesus the hero of our sermon. But if you keep Jesus as the hero, the text’s point as the sermon’s point, and you find an illustration that will help you transition to application, then your illustration will have served its purpose well.

Illustrations can be useful tools in our preaching ministries, but don’t go overboard. Preach the text of God’s Word and let illustrations be a support, not the main point.

SBTC DR response to SE Texas storms mark ‘longest, most involved deployment’ since Hurricane Harvey

HOUSTON—As spring storms pummeled Southeast Texas, including the greater Houston area, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers, with help from Baptist DR teams from other states, launched and maintained a steady monthlong response to the emergency.

The response included serving survivors and first responders with logistical support, hot meals, showers, laundry services, chaplaincy assistance, and recovery operations.

“This has been the longest and most involved deployment since Hurricane Harvey,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. “It’s involved a series of smaller events spread out over the state. We’ve been there to help.”

SBTC DR volunteers responded to April storms that impacted Trinity, Polk, San Jacinto, Walker, Montgomery, Liberty, and East Harris counties in Southeast Texas. They also served survivors of a May storm event in Hardin County and, as of this writing, are on standby status to respond to a tornado that hit the Temple/Belton area in May.

The disasters keep coming.

On May 24, SBTC DR feeding volunteers using the kitchen at Flint Baptist Church fed 160 first responders and members of the public affected by a tornado in Palestine. That work continued on May 25.

“We’ve been busy, and we continue to be busy,” Stice said. “DR response can be a moving target.”

Helping Houston

The greater Houston area prompted the largest response of the spring to date. With their main base of operations set up at Spring Baptist Church in Spring, SBTC DR and Arkansas Baptist DR teams provided showers and did dozens of loads of laundry in addition to completing clean-up at 12 homes and chainsaw work.

Also in Houston, Clay Road Baptist Church continues to offer survivors shower and laundry services.

In North Houston, SBTC DR teams continued their groundbreaking partnership with the Salvation Army, staffing a mass-feeding kitchen site. Teams contributed 2,220 volunteer hours to prepare 20,235 meals distributed by Salvation Army personnel. In addition to mass-feeding operations from large field kitchens, SBTC quick-response mobile unit workers spent 320 volunteer hours preparing and serving 1,017 meals to Salvation Army and other SBTC DR volunteers.

SBTC DR volunteers prepared more than 20,000 hot meals distributed by the Salvation Army to Houston storm survivors, continuing the groundbreaking DR partnership between the two gospel-centered organizations. SBTC DR PHOTO

Outside the Bayou City

SBTC DR volunteers also supported the San Jacinto County Shelter, providing 997 showers and doing 236 loads of laundry until May 24.

Chainsaw and recovery teams from First Baptist Bellville responded to needs in their community, northwest of Houston, by completing 27 jobs, logging 18 heavy equipment hours, and contributing 240 volunteer hours.

SBTC DR equipment and teams additionally set up headquarters at Central Baptist Church in Livingston on May 12. Since then, more than 746 meals have been served, 268 showers provided, 92 loads of laundry done, and 56 home cleanup requests completed with 10 more pending. SBTC DR teams alone have clocked 3,820 volunteer hours at Livingston in a deployment which also involved Baptist DR teams from Oklahoma and Florida.

At the American Red Cross shelter set up at Cleveland ISD’s Pine Burr Elementary school, SBTC DR teams from the Top O’ Texas Association continue to staff a shower and laundry unit as they have since May 16.

“Pine Burr houses the largest Red Cross shelter at the moment,” Stice said. “Our volunteers have done a phenomenal job here as elsewhere … [with ] lots of ministry, lots of gospel conversations, lots of encouraging folks.”

Also in Cleveland, SBTC DR and other state Baptist volunteers based at Calvary Baptist Church began cleanup operations which were suspended on May 25 till floodwaters recede.

At Huntsville, an SBTC QRU and volunteers supported the shelter established at the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Museum of Texas until May 6, while at Liberty County, an SBTC DR shower and laundry unit supported survivors from May 7-13.

Cleanup operations based at Coldspring in San Jacinto County, staffed by Baptist DR teams from Arizona and New Mexico, also took place, with operations closing on May 25.

Meanwhile, in Hardin County, SBTC DR teams served 30 volunteer hours, cleaning out three damaged homes.

“It has been a very busy spring,” Stice said, expressing thanks not only for SBTC DR volunteers who give so much but also for the out-of-state teams who came to help Texas survivors.

“We appreciate the prayer and financial support of SBTC churches through the Cooperative Program and Reach Texas giving,” Stice added.

 

Tapping into the real power behind pastoral ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HORSESHOE BAY—There is power in connecting.

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

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

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

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

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

Send Network SBTC: 

‘It’s been a great season’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going to multiple services? It’s about timing and trust

As I sat down with a young pastor in our region recently, he shared with me the latest challenge at his church.

It was growing.

I believe growing people grow a church, so I was elated when he shared this news with me. But that wasn’t exactly how this brother was feeling. He was distraught.

Being in his first pastorate, this pastor was happy his church was growing. But he loved the feel and experience of being in one service, and he knew growth in corporate worship would cause his elders to consider adding an additional worship service. He was concerned how adding a second service would affect the unity of the church, as well as the impact multiple worship services would have on recruiting volunteers.

I reminded my pastor friend that unity is driven by consistently declaring the gospel, clarity of vision, and a trust in the Holy Spirit—and not necessarily by having everyone in one room together—and that offering an additional service would not only provide more opportunities for others to serve, but no longer force them to choose between attending the worship service or volunteering.

As we sat there and I considered what this brother was sharing with me, I asked him this: “Do you care more about your preferences for the church or the mission of the church?” My point was that if he wanted to continue to reach more people, he was going to have to create space for more people, and one of the ways to do that was with multiple worship services.

Here are two things to think about when implementing multiple worship services:

Timing matters

Consider when it would be best to add a new worship service. I would suggest choosing a natural break in the church calendar, like the beginning of a school year or the new year. Typically, these are the seasons average attendance increases, which might help you gain momentum to grow each service.

When thinking about the schedule of your services, there are several options to consider. One option is to have two services on Sunday morning with Sunday school or groups meeting during both hours. If your Sunday school program is strong, it might be good to adopt this model so that as your groups grow, you have the appropriate space to accommodate everyone.

Another option is to have two services with Sunday school or groups meeting during the hour in-between. If you have families with young children and want to ensure church members are “seeing” each other, this is wonderful. The constraint will depend upon your facilities, which will over time become an issue, Lord willing!

A third option is to add a second service on a Saturday night or Sunday evening, or at an alternative venue at the same location. This can be a good option if your church is full of commuters or people in need of a variety of options, but it may not work in most settings.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget to consider what is most optimal for guests and what kind of programs need to be offered during each time slot. If you have a strong children’s ministry program, for example, consider scheduling your services when families are most likely to attend. Timing matters, so choose wisely.

Trust the process

When you are making the decision to move to multiple services, go in knowing there will be a significant amount of work, including coordinating with staff, volunteers, stakeholders within the church, and ensuring those outside the church know of the changes. You’ll need to think through all the logistics: times of service, worship service format (different styles, lighting, arrangement), parking, greeters, ushers—the list of things to consider feels endless.

But you need to trust the process. This will be a significant stressor and strain on your resources, staff, volunteers, and even your people. You’ll hear positive and negative about the switch. Therefore, it’s important to have a plan to address these concerns and help each person feel heard. The church must ensure others feel heard so you can maintain unity.

Trusting the process will allow you to absorb the common objection and fear of not knowing everyone anymore. But the reality is, when a church grows beyond 120 people, it is difficult for anyone to know everyone. By trusting the process, you can help church members remember that the mission is the Great Commission—sharing the gospel and making disciples—not keeping the church a small, close-knit community.

Moving from one service to two is a major decision for any church regardless of size. Nobody has it down perfect. It is indeed an exciting time of transition and a great opportunity to reach more people who are far from God to become followers of Jesus.

SBTC DR offers update on April flood response in Southeast Texas

KIRBYVILLE—As soon as the April 10 torrential storms ceased after inundating Kirbyville with nearly 18 inches of rain, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief teams deployed to the area with other Southern Baptist DR crews and first responders to assist survivors. An incident management team based at First Baptist Church in Kirbyville became operational almost immediately, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. By April 11, an SBTC DR feeding team supporting volunteers set up and began preparing and serving meals. Shower and laundry crews also established support operations, as did a communications team. SBTC DR volunteers began cleanup efforts at Kirbyville on April 15. Only five residential cleanup requests remained as of April 29, Stice said. To date, SBTC DR volunteers have contributed the following in Southeast Texas in response to April flooding:
  • 12 professions of faith reported by volunteers;
  • Nearly 1,200 meals prepared and served in Kirbyville and in support of a Red Cross shelter in Port Arthur;
  • 136 loads of laundry done for DR volunteers in Kirbyville;
  • 2 recovery units deployed to clean up flooded homes;
  • 80 communications fielded; and
  • 3,870 SBTC DR volunteer hours performed in Kirbyville and Port Arthur.
“We praise God for the 12 professions of faith reported by our volunteers,” Stice said. “Pray with me and ask the Lord of the harvest for more workers in His field.”

SBTC DR volunteer Paul Wood scrapes up soggy linoleum at a clean-up site. SUBMITTED PHOTO