Author: Russell Lightner

At The Well in San Marcos, everybody is a missionary

Central Texas plant seeing fruit after ‘by far the hardest’ ministry season

Any person or church supporting a church plant should realize the vital role they play. 

“You very well could be a direct answer to prayers they’re praying just to keep going another day,” said Chris Millar, lead pastor of The Well, a congregation that started about two years ago in San Marcos. 

The Well started with a goal of reaching students at Texas State University. He considers the first 18 months of the plant “by far the hardest” of his life. 

“God graciously sustained us through all of that. We felt inescapably called by God,” Millar said of himself and his wife, Ashley. He describes the work as slow and tough, but he said he could share a thousand stories of what God has done. 

Millar was the college pastor at University Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, content to reach students at Sam Houston State University for the rest of his life, when God used a Send Conference in Dallas to stir his heart in 2017. Specifically, it was a breakout session on collegiate church planting.

“We had never heard those words before,” he said. “We realized God had made our church to plant collegiate churches.” 

Chris and Ashley committed to being the first couple sent out from University Heights to plant, and they chose San Marcos because of its similarities to Huntsville. They moved with a team of about 10 people in January 2020 and had about two-and-a-half months of normal before COVID shut everything down.

“All our strategies went out the window,” Millar said.

Through COVID, the church planting team gathered with whomever God sent their way, investing their lives in others with a short-term goal of disciple-making and a long-term goal of sending
college students out as missionaries and church planters. They’ve already sent their first graduate to start a church in Osaka, Japan.

“We’ve said from the beginning that God was planting a church in San Marcos and He’s invited us to be a part of it because, if we were planting this church, we wouldn’t be here,” Millar said. “We would have quit.”

The Well meets in an elementary school, which Millar attributes to God opening doors with the school district and specifically the principal. The church does various things to bless the students and teachers, including egg hunts with each grade level during recess leading up to Easter.  

Church planting is important because everyone has to be a missionary in a church plant. If it’s going to survive, everyone has to be a missionary.

Chris Millar and his wife Ashley persevered through a difficult first 18 months of a church plant in San Marcos, realizing they were “inescapably called by God.” SUBMITTED PHOTO

After inviting school families to church, Millar said a child had been asking faith-related questions. The child’s family—including at least a couple of family members who had never been to church—attended a service at The Well. A teacher at the school asked Millar to officiate her wedding because she said, “You’re the closest thing we have to a pastor.”

“We love getting to see what God has done as we invest deeply in the city,” Millar said, “and all of this has been made possible by cooperative giving.”

The church plant’s name, drawn from John 4, addresses the fact that people in San Marcos are searching. 

“There are thousands of people who are thirsty, and they don’t know what they’re thirsty for,” Millar said. “We are longing to be a people that can help people meet Jesus at The Well to find living water and life in Him.”

To sustain a church plant in a college town, Millar was advised to reach families in the community first or at least alongside college students. That has been the focus so far, but they’ve done some things to reach students, such as offering two hours of free pizza rolls at a popular restaurant next to campus. 

“We’re preparing to formally reach the campus this fall,” Millar said. Their primary strategy will be “relational disciplemaking, reaching one student, helping them grow in Christ and showing them how to make disciples of other students.”

Last summer, The Well was a church of about 60 people, Millar said, and that number has grown to 130 with an average attendance from 70 to 100. They’ve baptized about 20 people.

“Church planting is important because everyone has to be a missionary in a church plant. If it’s going to survive, everyone has to be a missionary,” Millar said. “That helps solidify the missionary nature of the church.”

He contrasted it to being on staff at University Heights, an established congregation of 800 people.

“It felt like that church was really stable and healthy. We had so many adults, I spent a lot of time just trying to get people into groups instead of really reaching lost people,” Millar said. “In the church planting world, there’s only an option to reach people.”

Millar again commended the support he has received.

“While the church planting journey has been hard, the community that has come around us through the SBTC has really helped see us through storms that I don’t think we could have weathered on our own.”

The 5: Practical ways to develop a Great Commission heart

To help you and your church do the Great Commission, here are some ways to begin to think globally. As you begin to expand your vision, perhaps your burden for your neighbors and the nations among you will increase:

1

Follow the news with Great Commission ears and eyes.
Most of us hear the news as events, but we should hear newsworthy happenings as calls to prayer. People who have never heard of Christ die every day due to war and famine. Governments are in turmoil. Natural disasters destroy homes and lives. If we pray as we hear the needs, God will grab our heart for the nations. It’s possible in some cases we might be the only person who has ever prayed for some people around the globe.

2

Put a map on a wall in your home (or get a globe).
Frankly, North Americans can sometimes be geographically ignorant. And, it’s easy to ignore the spiritual needs of the world when people are only anonymous folks living in a nation we cannot name. You might find yourself more interested in the nations—and praying more for them—when a map is always before you and your family. Start by praying for a different country when your family says grace each night.

3

Take a look at who’s in your community.
My experience is that many church leaders assume their community looks like their church—and that’s not always the case. Learn about the ethnic makeup of your community and pray specifically for individual people groups in your ministry area. Your church might even partner with others to plant a church among one of these groups. Ask your pastor or another church staff member about obtaining a demographics study from the North American Mission Board.

4

Visit ethnic restaurants in your community.
Instead of choosing restaurants based on your tastes, visit restaurants just to learn about other cultures and food. Ask to meet the owners. Talk to servers who’ve been raised in other countries. Even if the food isn’t your favorite, you’ll probably like the people—and then pray more for them, their family, and their country of origin. Pray specifically for opportunities to invite your new friends to church and to your home.

5

Invite international students to your home.
If there is a university near your home, I suspect you’ll find international students there. Many of those students will never be invited to visit an American home, and some will spend holidays alone on their campus. Opening your home will not only invite fellowship and learning, but it will also open the door to sharing your faith.

Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president of spiritual formation and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. For more from Lawless, visit chucklawless.com.

I’m on the Personnel Committee. Now what?

It often surprises me, as I consult with churches and church leadership, that many congregations have elected a Personnel Committee but there is no clear direction given to them, and no definition of expectation. What is a Personnel Committee supposed to do?

One of the most common mistakes Personnel Committees make is to not meet and not have church staff in front of them until there is a problem. If you church staff dreads being called into a Personnel Committee meeting, something is wrong. The committee should be a regular support group for church leadership. Advocates. Promoters. Supporters.

Regardless the specifics of your Personnel Committee’s bylaw-driven responsibilities, here are the three basic functions of your committee. These three basic functions are the duty of every church Personnel Committee, no matter the ministry context.  

ONE: Encourage. The Personnel Committee should make it their highest priority to constantly and intentionally encourage church leadership. In case you have not noticed, discouragement abounds in ministry. Vocal critics of the ministry surface everywhere, everyday—in the larger denominational context, in the local community, and even within the membership of your own congregation. Often, a church leader’s worst critic is himself/herself. Even when things appear to be going smoothly discouragement is lurking in the hearts of your church’s leadership. Here are some ideas for regular, intentional encouragement:

  • Mail a handwritten card thanking them for their leadership.
  • Call or take them to lunch just to say, “I’m thankful for you.”
  • Pray for them, and with them, regularly.
  • Call staff members into a meeting at least once a year just to ask how things are going, lay hands on them and pray over their homes and their ministries.

“The Personnel Committee should be a regular support group for church leadership. Advocates. Promoters. Supporters.”

TWO: Equip. The Personnel Committee should take the lead in ensuring church staff members are receiving the training they need to be effective in the ministry. Ministry is a calling, and it is also a trade. We expect our church leadership to bring the deepest biblical wisdom, the best contextualized ideas, and the most informed cultural perspectives to the table every day. But are we providing them with the opportunities they need to sharpen their ministry skills? Here are some ideas for equipping your church staff to bring their best selves to the table every day:

  • Advocate for seminary scholarships in the church budget.
  • Set aside conference and travel funds for denominational meetings, ministry-area workshops, and special certification programs.
  • In annual reviews and goal setting, ask questions about personal development, ministry-area networking, and how your committee can help make these possible.
  • Provide ample vacation time and strategic sabbatical opportunities for each church leader.

THREE: Resource. The Personnel Committee should make sure each church leader has the resources he or she needs to be successful on the job. Otherwise, you become the Pharaoh doubling the work load while requiring slaves to gather their own straw. You cannot expect technological advance when you’re A/V ministry leader is working from a five-year-old computer. You cannot desire excellence in worship if the worship leader cannot afford decent instruments and musical arrangements. You cannot expect your pastor to lead a high-performance team without giving him a budget for team-building resources and opportunities. Here are some ideas for resourcing your church leadership effectively:

  • Do not assume what they need to be successful. Ask them.
  • Start with “yes” and work hard to make it happen. Reserve “no” for those rare occasions.
  • Be an advocate before the finance committee and the church, for staff member’s resourcing requests.
  • When expectations are not being met, ask if the church leader has the resources necessary for success before assuming laziness or incompetency.

What if Personnel Committee meetings became a think-tank and a resource-advocacy group for church leadership? What if staff began to long for the days when they are scheduled to meet with the committee because they know they will be championed and prayed over? What if your Personnel Committee became a team of confidants and ministry-supporters?  What if you resolved, as a committee, to Encourage, Equip, and Resource church leadership?

I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that it may promote ministry effectiveness in your church staff in ways you have not previously imagined.

What a joy it is to encourage, equip, and resource those who are called by God to lead the church in advancing the Great Commission!

Be that committee. Encourage. Equip. Resource.

What’s your story? Adoption has increased our capacity to love

I’ve been a member of the church I pastor since 1998. I found Ridgewood in the yellow pages  after I came back home to Southeast Texas from college. Shortly after I joined,  I became the principal and athletic director for five years of the church’s private school. During those five years, the church relocated to Port Arthur. In the fall of 2004, I became the lead pastor. 

My long tenure serving at a church in my hometown is unique. My family dynamics are even more unique. My wife, Kerri, and I met at Ridgewood in 1998. I guess you could say I found her in the yellow pages, too. Kerri and I had plans for a large family that would grow through both biological and adoptive children. We just had no idea that adoption alone was how the Lord would expand our household.

Our adoption journey began in the fall of 2005. Kerri called me while evacuated for Hurricane Rita to let me know that we had been chosen to adopt two little girls. Two weeks later in a parsonage that was half-livable, we welcomed a five- and two-year-old into our family. They are now 21 and 18.  

Shortly after, we had the opportunity of our lives to take home our third daughter from the hospital as a newborn. At the time we might not have called it the opportunity of our lives, as we were anxious the unknown. Our daughter, who is now 14, has Trisomy 21: Down syndrome. We found out about her at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and took her home at noon on Friday, clueless of the stressful joyride we were embarking on. 

I tell others that adoption increases your capacity to love as you experience and understand God’s love more fully, knowing that He has adopted you.

We had the blessing of getting our next two children at birth, as well. Our only boy, and fourth child, is now 12. He is a typical redhead. Our caboose, who is our fourth daughter and is Black, is now 11 years old. We are a diverse family that gets plenty of stares everywhere we go.

There are several things I share with folks about adoption. First, I’ll always say that growth is in the process. The growth is in the journey and it is humbling, as adoption exposes your selfishness and the idols you have about what you want your family to look like and be like. It’s gut-wrenching when you and your spouse go through agency paperwork listing which kids you’re willing to take. You see how selfish you are as you rate how likely or not likely you are to take a life into your home based on their ethnicity, disabilities, or deformities.

Second, I tell others that adoption increases your capacity to love as you experience and understand God’s love more fully, knowing that He has adopted you. It is a beautiful picture of the gospel.

Third, I share how adoption teaches you how to depend heavily on the sovereignty of God.  There are many disappointments and roadblocks along the way. We Americans pretty much control our own lives; if we want something, we know how to get it. If we can’t afford something, we figure out a way to make it happen or use a credit card. When you go through the process of adoption, you realize that this is an area you simply can’t control. 

Our kids have only known one church. Ridgewood has been a blessing to our family and has grown along with us in our journey. At one point, we had 21 adopted children in our congregation, and the church has paid out around $30,000 in adoption grants to members. Ridgewood is a safe place to be vulnerable about your ups and downs. It’s a place where it is OK to be not OK. Much of this vulnerability has been birthed through the church standing by us in our unique and unusual journey as a family over the last two decades.

Ridgewood has been a blessing to our family and has grown along with us in our journey. At one point, we had 21 adopted children in our congregation, and the church has paid out around $30,000 in adoption grants to members.

I need to share how the adoption of our daughter with Down syndrome has changed us all and has led Ridgewood to lead the way in Southeast Texas in serving the No. 1 unreached people group in North America: people with special needs and their families. For the last four years, we have hosted Night to Shine (NTS), sponsored by The Tim Tebow Foundation, which is a prom night for people with special needs. NTS SETX has allowed us to reach over 200 individuals with special needs and their families, host over 500 volunteers from the community, and have over 25 community sponsors. After our first NTS, the matriarch of our church who, with her husband, founded the church in 1958, stood up and said, “I’ve been here over 60 years, and this is the best thing I’ve ever seen us do.” That says volumes, as Ridgewood has a rich history of outreach that predates me. We’re experiencing the fruit of many that have gone before us.

What’s my story? God has given my church and my family a greater capacity for love and a deeper dependence on the sovereignty of God through the process of adoption.

What's your story?

Want to share a story of what God is doing in your life or your church? 

Share your story here

Prioritize ‘being’ over ‘doing’

We live in a “doing” culture. When things seem broken, we fix them. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. If there was a problem, yo, we solve it (let the reader understand).

Our culture respects hard work, and it should. Some of our favorite stories are those in which the protagonist sheds his or her rags for riches through a mix of fortune and hard work. Dear to our culture are the biographies of those achievers who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps (let the reader of a different generation understand).

The problem is, we often carry this kind of mindset into the realm of our faith. When we feel broken, distant from God, like we’re not as far along on the path of faith as we think we should be, we search for something we can “do” to make things better. We turn to the world of Christian publishing, where there are literally thousands of titles offering to help us be more like Jesus, think more like Jesus, lead more like Jesus, and so on. We tell ourselves that if we would just read an extra chapter of the Bible per day or serve more in the church, we would start feeling closer to our Father.

Such things sound reasonable, but in actuality they merely offer “doing” solutions to a “being” problem. What do I mean? I mean that instead of pressing closer to the Lord when we struggle, consuming our minds with who He is, what He has done, what He will do, what He promises, and His unchanging character—in other words, “being” with Him—we try to undertake a series of actions designed to fix our own spiritual problems. We do what we’ve been conditioned to do since our formative years, namely, we attempt to pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps.

"If you find yourself in a season of spiritual struggle, may I challenge you to try to ‘do’ less for God and ‘be’ with Him more?"

I want to remind you that one of Satan’s great tools of deception is the counterfeit. He waves the banner of freedom, yanking on patriotic strings that resonate in the deepest parts of us, in an attempt to thwart God’s design for gender. There’s no bigger fan of unconditional love than Satan, at least when he is attempting to convince a culture that God’s design for marriage is outdated and exclusionary. And you better believe the devil, in an attempt to keep you from sitting quietly with the Lord and sharing your heart daily, will be the loudest voice in your life screaming, “Do more for God! Do more for the church! Just do more!” Broken men lie on the bed of such beliefs clutching their best intentions. 

I recently decided that of all the spiritual disciplines I observe, none will be more important than sitting and talking with my Lord. Instead of doing things to “make me stronger,” I just want to be a better friend and devoted follower of a God who has always been faithful to me and who is always right. I want to spend time thanking Him, telling Him what’s got me feeling flustered or angry, sharing with Him where I feel like I’m coming up short. Sometimes I just sit in silence and fight off a flood of thoughts as I learn to wait for Him to speak to me.

If you find yourself in a season of spiritual struggle, may I challenge you to try to “do” less for God and “be” with Him more? He didn’t create you because He needed your help getting things done. He created you to be in a relationship with Him, so that you may know the hope of His calling and the riches of His glorious inheritance.

Practice being with God, the much more difficult discipline of our time, and the doing will come.

SBC presidential candidates share hearts, vision as election draws closer

Editor’s note: Southern Baptists in June will meet in Anaheim to conduct business that will include selecting the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Texan correspondent and former editor Gary Ledbetter recently submitted questions to each of the three announced candidates about his desire to lead the SBC, the challenges it faces, and his vision for the future.

Click the images below to see the excerpts of their written responses, which reflect their opinions about the topics submitted. Candidates are presented in alphabetical order.

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

SBC President Candidate Q&A: Tom Ascol

Scroll to bottom of this article for other SBC President Candidate Q&As


Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry?

I have been pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., since June 1, 1986. In many ways, we are a normative Southern Baptist church. I was the only pastor for many years and today we only have one assistant pastor. We are intentionally simple in our structure, focusing on being faithful stewards of the gospel. Verse-by-verse expository, Christ-centered preaching is the norm in our worship gatherings. We encourage all our members to be engaged in discipleship relationships. Several of our men are open-air preachers. Being in South Florida, we have a variety of ethnicities and cultures in our congregation and leadership. We have sent several missionaries out, mostly to Muslim people groups, and have rejoiced in seeing churches planted among them. Twenty-two percent of our budget goes to Great Commission giving.


 
Why are you willing to be SBC president this year? 

I am concerned that over the last several years we have begun to drift in ways that makes our commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture largely theoretical. I wrote about that a couple of years ago. Because of these concerns I believe we need to change the direction.

I am willing to be nominated for president because I love the SBC and believe that it matters. We educate a third of all seminary students in the USA across a variety of denominational affiliations. We have the largest missionary sending force in the world. Our disaster relief ministry is second to none. Southern Baptist churches—who own all our SBC entities and agencies—have a stewardship to protect and keep mobilized all of these cooperative efforts for the glory of our king, the Lord Jesus.


 
What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions?

Sadly, trust has been fractured at many levels of SBC life. Too often, our entities and agencies have been indifferent to or even dismissive of regular Southern Baptist churches and pastors. Trust is the connective tissue of our convention. If it is not repaired and carefully guarded, our cooperation will fall apart. 

In addition to this, we are living in a day of highly effective assaults by the powers of darkness on our civilization and churches. Worldly ideologies, like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Intersectionality (I), Queer Theory (QT), and radical feminism have come in like a flood throughout our society. We see it in our political, educational, sports, and health institutions as well as in our public discourse. Tragically, these ideologies and the new pagan religion that they have spawned do not respect the borders of Christian organizations and churches. This became undeniable during the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020. Christian leaders—including some Southern Baptists—were leading marches in the streets even while (and this compounds the problem) refusing to open the churches that they lead. We had Southern Baptist seminary professors as well as North American Mission Board leaders explaining away the violence under the guise that “rioting is the voice of the unheard.” 

So, while God’s common grace has awakened a growing number of moms and housewives across the United States to demand that their local boards quit teaching CRT/I and QT in public schools, the 2019 SBC resolutions committee led the convention to adopt Resolution 9 that tells us CRT/I are useful analytical tools for churches to use. And many Southern Baptists denounced our six seminary presidents when they finally offered a mild repudiation of CRT. 

Over the last few years, we have seen the language and many of the ideas of CRT/I being promoted by some whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches. We have been told that the stain of racism can never be removed from the SBC because of the tragic advocacy of chattel slavery by many Southern Baptists in the 19th century. Such attitudes betray a very low view of the gospel and the power of Jesus’ blood to make the vilest sinner clean and wash all our sins as white as snow. We have also been told that the gospel is not good news if it merely brings about spiritual reconciliation between God and sinners. For it to be good news it must also achieve economic, emotional, and social reconciliation. These distortions and misrepresentations of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ will lead us to lose the gospel altogether if they are not identified and renounced in no uncertain terms.

For Southern Baptists to maintain a viable, robust witness for Christ in the 21st century we must recalibrate our convictions by the Word of God. We need to wake up and recognize where such dangerous ways of thinking have subtly made inroads, repent of our spiritual laxity, repair the breech, and move forward joyfully and unapologetically preaching the lordship of Christ, who is willing and able to save anyone and everyone to turns from sin and trusts Him.


 
Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?

I think we are beginning to see cracks that reveal subterranean fault lines (to borrow Voddie Baucham’s analogy) that have gone unnoticed for a long time. One of the clearest of these is on the God-designed distinctions between men and women. The rise in defense of women preaching in our churches has been treated as an insignificant, and even laughable, matter. The language of the Baptist Faith and Message that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” has been turned into a wax nose to fit almost any face. We have been told that it means only that women may not hold the office of pastor but may function as a pastor. We have also been told that a woman may be a pastor in a Southern Baptist church as long as she does not hold the title of “senior pastor.” We have been told that Paul’s clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12 that he does “not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” means that we should permit women to teach or exercise authority over men.

The spirit of egalitarianism (which says that everyone must get a trophy) and an anti-authority mood (which holds all authority suspect and measures it in terms of power-dynamics) are permeating everything in our culture, and God’s people are not immune. Therefore, we must, as Scripture exhorts us, be watchful and stay alert. 

Another, related doctrinal issue confronting Southern Baptists is the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we really believe the inerrant Scriptures are sufficient in the ways that Paul says they are in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? We have been told that we need worldly wisdom to help us understand how to deal with racism, misogyny, abuse, disparities, and injustices. We must reassess what Scripture claims for itself as being able to thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work.


 
How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see?

I would hope to promote open, honest conversations about all these things. I would plead with Southern Baptists at every level, from local church pastors all the way down to the heads of all our entities and institutions, to be open and transparent about these matters. It may be that some of our divisions are merely verbal. But it may also be that some of them are consequential. 

Most importantly, I would encourage my fellow pastors to work for a fresh awakening to the fear of God in our churches. We must again come to grips with the fundamental reality that we are in God’s world, serving in His churches, for His purposes, according to His revealed will. We must let the words of our Savior regularly ring in our hearts and minds, that we must not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul, but rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.    


 
Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists?

I would plead, and have pled, that Southern Baptist churches would stay within the convention for the purpose of cooperating in the good work that we have done, are doing, and have potential to do even better. Obviously, staying or leaving is a local church decision and I would never criticize a church that decides differently about these things, but I love the SBC and believe it is a matter of stewardship to work to preserve and, where necessary, recover our clear mission to take the unadulterated gospel to the world.


 
Any final comment? 

Thanks for the opportunity to address these matters. The SBC is diverse and will inevitably remain so. But our diversity must be guarded by genuine unity in the important matters extending from the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word. One of the most encouraging things that I have experienced since it was announced that I would be nominated is to hear from not only those Southern Baptists that agree with my soteriological views, but also from those who disagree with them. We have our differences, but we are genuinely united in Christian essentials and Baptist distinctives. If God, by His grace, enables us to stand against the prevailing winds of this evil day and recover ground that we have already lost, I will be happy to buy coffee for any of my brothers with whom I disagree and resume our fraternal, iron-sharpening-iron debates.

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

SBC President Candidate Q&A: Robin Hadaway

Scroll to bottom of this article for other SBC President Candidate Q&As


Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry? 

I was ordained at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., by Adrian Rogers and have been in the ministry for 42 years. This includes six years as a senior pastor, 18 years as an IMB missionary, and 18 years as a professor of missions. I now serve as the senior professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Kansas City, Mo.). After an 18-year residential career as their residential professor of missions, I now teach online masters courses and on-campus doctoral seminars.  

One year ago, my wife and I moved to Oceanside, Calif., (North San Diego County) where we joined New Song Community Church, a multi-ethnic, multi-racial Southern Baptist congregation. I preach once a month at my first pastorate, First Southern Baptist Church of Monterey Park, Calif., (Los Angeles County) and teach Bible classes at my local church. I teach missiology to masters students 45 weeks a year. 


 
Why are you willing to be SBC president this year? 

Remember the mission.

After graduating from Southwestern Seminary, Kathy and I left for the pioneer West where I spent six years as a senior pastor. We then spent 18 years as missionaries with the IMB in Africa and Brazil. Due to our fourth child’s disability, we returned from the mission field to become the professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For 18 years I trained students to love and appreciate Southern Baptist cooperative missions. I have been employed by Southern Baptists as a missionary and missions professor for over 36 years. I have a nationwide and global view of the Southern Baptist Convention and her people and mission outreach. 

As the IMB Regional Leader for Eastern South America, I supervised over 300 missionaries and their families from a budget derived from the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I attended three IMB trustee meetings annually and implemented IMB policies on the field. While interim president of Midwestern Seminary, I guided the institution through a financial crisis. For the next five years, I served on the MBTS president’s cabinet and attended every SBC Executive Committee meeting. Additionally, I served on the 2000 SBC Committee on Committees and the 2006 and 2007 SBC Resolutions Committee. I know how the SBC works and more importantly, how it does not work. In agreeing to be nominated for SBC president, I am offering my experience, wisdom, and vision to the messengers at the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim this June. 

My vision is to see 500 new churches started in North America; to see 2,000 new churches planted overseas; to see thousands sent out as home and foreign missionaries; to see 1,000 new WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union) chapters started nationwide to support our missionaries; to “call out the called;” and see thousands of Southern Baptist men and women appointed as home and foreign missionaries. 


 
What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions? 

There are always challenges in any era of missions. The year Adoniram and Anne Judson, the first Baptist missionaries, departed America for India and Burma in 1812, the British burned Washington, D.C. Southern Baptist missions survived the American Civil War of the 1860s, World War I, the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II, the civil unrest of the 1960s, and the Cold War. A number of our missionaries were martyred in the service of Christ and on behalf of Southern Baptists. Brazilian Baptist missionaries took secular jobs on the field because the Foreign Mission Board could not pay them during the Great Depression. 

The last chapter of my recent book, “A Survey of World Missions” (B&H Academic, 2020, p. 281-283) attempts to envision the challenges of the church in the first part of this century: 

Although nuclear bombs were last detonated in 1945, there is no assurance this could not happen again. Furthermore, globalization has increased the possibility of another great plague sweeping the earth. The earth’s interdependency could spawn an economic crisis to rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. The rise of cryptocurrencies might spell disaster for financial markets… Despite its unlikeliness, a direct hit on the planet by a large meteor might occur… Into this bleak narrative, Christ offers hope. Missions and missionaries both overseas and in North America will always be needed.

I do not know what the future holds, but whatever Satan throws at us, with Jesus’ help Southern Baptists can overcome the world. As I John 5:4-5 says, “because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world; our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?
During the 1980s all our seminaries had problems with neo-orthodox, moderate, and some liberal professors. The Christian Life Commission (precursor to the ERLC) supported abortion. Although there were conservatives serving with our mission entities, many within those agencies followed a “look the other way” policy when it came to theological drift within SBC institutions. Very, very slowly what came to be known as the Conservative Resurgence installed conservative trustees in every SBC entity. Each SBC agency, as openings occurred, began to choose conservative presidents who would, in turn, employ conservative staff, missionaries, professors. 

This process took about 20 years. In some ways it never ends. I only spent eight months as the head of an SBC entity (2012), but during that time I personally scrutinized every prospective adjunct MBTS professor to ensure they adhered to the BF&M 2000, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality did not yet exist). 

The doctrinal issues of the 80s and 90s included, but are not limited to, the historicity of the Old Testament, the reality of the miracles of Jesus, and the inerrancy of Scripture. The issues of today, however, are less about orthodoxy and more about orthopraxy. The latter involves the implementation of one’s interpretation of Bible doctrine. 

At the 2000 SBC Annual Meeting, the messengers approved an updated Baptist Faith and Message. The members of this committee, chaired by my former pastor, Adrian Rogers, carefully constructed a document that Southern Baptists could affirm that was biblical, conservative, and evangelistic. I believe the BF&M should be the document that guides our faith, doctrine, and practice. 

Of course, the BF&M 2000 does not cover every base regarding faith and practice. For instance, abstinence from alcoholic beverages, illicit drugs, and gambling are not mentioned. Baptist seminaries and colleges are advised as follows in the BF&M 2000: “In Christian education there should be a proper balance between academic freedom and academic responsibility. Freedom in any orderly relationship of human life is always limited and never absolute.” Entity staff, professors, and missionaries have the right to express their opinions but are accountable to their agency’s administration and trustees. 

Furthermore, the BF&M 2000 states:

Christ’s people should, as occasion requires, organize such associations and conventions as may best secure cooperation for the great objects of the Kingdom of God. Such organizations have no authority over one another or over the churches. They are voluntary and advisory bodies designed to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of our people in the most effective manner. Members of New Testament churches should cooperate with one another in carrying forward the missionary, educational, and benevolent ministries for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom.

The BF&M 2000 was never intended to cross every “t” and dot every “i” regarding every matter of faith and practice. Rather, it was written by those holding differing views on many topics, but the committee members found places of agreement where Southern Baptists could cooperate in missions, education, and benevolent ministries. 

Cultural, political, and theological flashpoints will continue to arise. They are important in our day. Past generations of Southern Baptists dealt with women receiving the right to vote (1920), as well as “mixed bathing” and dancing in the 1950s and 1960s. Yes, today’s cultural issues are much more challenging, but Southern Baptists will overcome as the they cooperate together. 


 
How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see? 

The SBC president has no power, no pay, and only a fraction of Southern Baptists even know who he is. The prominent person in the SBC is the local pastor of each independent cooperating Southern Baptist church—and that’s as it should be. 

But the SBC president does have some influence. He starts the committee process in the SBC by appointing the Committee on Committees. This committee fills the members of the Committee on Nominations which recommends new members for the various trustee boards for the many SBC entities. Also, the SBC president sets the tone and emphasis for the annual meetings of his presidency and in the SBC Executive Committee meetings where he speaks. I would use my presidency to remind Southern Baptists to “Remember the mission” as described in Acts 1:6-11:

So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” 


 
Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists?

My church, New Song Community Church, was planted by another Baptist denomination 29 years ago. Our pastor, Hal Seed, tells me that New Song joined Southern Baptists 10 years ago because they were head and shoulders above anyone else in church planting and evangelism. Churches in the USA should affiliate and/or remain Southern Baptist because our denomination excels in home and foreign missions. What’s good about our fellowship? Our mission boards are filled with outstanding missionaries who start strong, biblical churches. My wife and I served as missionaries, and I have trained many of them since becoming a mission professor. Furthermore, our seminaries are filled with godly professors who believe the Bible and teach according to the BF&M 2000. These professors are my colleagues and friends. 


 
Any final comment? 

I heard Adrian Rogers say once, “Southern Baptists, we are many, but we’re not much.” Indeed, in 2020, Southern Baptists numbered about 14 million persons worshipping in a little over 47,500 churches. It took all of us to send and maintain a little less than 4,000 missionaries overseas. Interestingly, when a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier leaves port they carry just a few more sailors on board than that to accomplish their mission. In other words, it takes 14 million of us to send enough people to almost fill one aircraft carrier. We need to do better. I plan to herald the need for more Southern Baptists to drop what they are doing, listen to God’s call on their lives and surrender to a career in home missions, foreign missions and church planting. Remember the mission. 

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

SBC President Candidate Q&A: Bart Barber

Scroll to bottom of this article for other SBC President Candidate Q&As


Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry?

I have served at First Baptist Church of Farmersville since 1999—23 years. We had 323 in Sunday School last Sunday, and that’s a pretty exciting day for us! First Baptist Church has ministered to the Farmersville area since 1865.


 
Why are you willing to be SBC president this year?

The messengers to our annual meetings set our vision long ago. We’re providing the best theological education available in the world. We’re sending missionaries all around the world and planting churches all around the country. We have one of the greatest disaster relief organizations around. Those things are just the highlights. The messengers from our churches and the people who serve them have already given us a wonderful vision. We really don’t need any elected official, in my opinion, to come in for two years and expect the whole apparatus to fall in line with his temporary emphases. The actual constitutional duties of the president of the SBC are important, but modest in a convention structure that rightfully decentralizes power.

I believe that it is time to decrease partisanship and bring Southern Baptists together, as many of them as are willing to cooperate with one another. There have been concerted efforts, I think on more than one side, to undermine trust in the convention. The actual constitutional duties of the president make important contributions to this effort [to decrease partisanship]. 

First, the president moderates the annual meeting. I will make it my top priority to moderate the meeting fairly, safeguarding the rights of every messenger. Fairness will help to bring us together. 

Second, the president appoints several key committees. Among those are the Committee on Committees, which is the first step in the process by which our messenger body appoints the trustees who govern our entities. I believe that our trustees need better and more independent training. Although it does not lie within the authority of the president to set policies for trustee orientation, it does lie within the president’s authority, where he makes appointments, to appoint people who understand the need—always present, but acute right now—for transparency and accountability in the manner of operation of our entities. Transparency and accountability will help to bring us together.

Third, the president serves often as a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, and he therefore has the chance to affect the tone of discourse within our convention. While we maintain our commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, we ought not to lose sight of those passages the teach us about the fruit of the Spirit, the command to avoid foolish quarrels, or the obligation, as much as it lies within us, to live at peace with all men. Civility will help to bring us together.


 
What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions?

Challenges? We are the spiritual descendants of martyrs. The idea that God is bigger than all our challenges is not mere theory; our present challenges pale in comparison to those that we have seen God overcome for us already. I believe that the cultural changes brought on by the internet pose substantial challenges for us. Whether by corralling us into opposing factions on social media, permeating every aspect of our society with a caustic brew of pornography, or even by causing more and more of us to pursue our theological education alone in a living room with a screen rather than building lifelong relationships with classmates, the internet is making fundamental changes to our society, the depth and breadth of which we may not realize for decades. Against this challenge stands the work of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us and to fit us together, stone by stone, into a living temple.

The report of the Sex Abuse Task Force is going to pose substantial challenges for us as a convention. As someone who has demonstrated both an earnest commitment to doing the right thing about sex abuse and an earnest commitment to Baptist polity, I believe I am well equipped to lead us during this time. Sex abuse in Baptist churches looks different than it does in Roman Catholic parishes because of our unique theological and ecclesiological attributes. The way we address sex abuse must also be adapted to our polity. I believe that the decentralized nature of Baptist ecclesiology will prove to be an asset for us as we face this challenge.

Against this challenge stands a God who hears the cry of Abel’s blood from the ground while also showing compassion to murderous Cain even as He administered justice against him. He is the God who called to mourning a Corinthian church who, while themselves not guilty of the infamous incestuous relationship among them, arrogantly disregarded the unholiness in their midst.

The largest challenge we face is the growing hostility in American culture toward anyone who affirms biblical truth on any number of topics, but especially with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity. People are going to compromise all around us, but Southern Baptists must hold the ground of biblical truth at all costs. This is actually a good reason for us to avoid foolish quarrels now. We are going to need one another more and more as time passes.

But again, it has never been a profitable move to bet against the church of Jesus Christ. Against this challenge stands a God who brought Sodom to ruins while delivering Abraham and Lot. I am not afraid of our challenges.


 
Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?

Yes. I believe that a number of the core distinctive beliefs that make us Baptist have been attenuated in recent decades. Tom Ascol and I have both expressed concern and have taken action to try to shore up our commitment to meaningful regenerate church membership. Our commitment to congregational church polity is as weak as it has been since our inception as a convention. Frightening cracks are appearing in our commitment to the biblical doctrine of religious liberty. An open approach to receiving infant baptism, once all-but-absent among Southern Baptists, is sometimes now found among us. 

Our commitment to (and understanding of) the priesthood of all believers is sometimes eroded by a celebrity culture that fixes a wide gulf between the pulpit and the pew. Our embrace of local church autonomy has faced new tests as we have experimented with multi-site churches. The rise of Internet remote worship calls into question the meaning of having a “gathered church.” The addition of more and more staff positions has caused us to lack clarity about how the biblical offices of pastor/elder/overseer and deacon fit in to the growing category of “staff members.” Our commitment to associationalism and the doctrine of cooperation have waned as our churches have grown more isolated. We are losing sight of what it means to be Southern Baptists. In almost every one of these doctrines, the Southern Baptist position has been a range on the continuum rather than a single, fixed point. There are a lot of ways to practice congregationalism that all are legitimately congregationalism, for example. But sometimes our flirtations at the boundaries seem to denude a weakening attraction toward the center of Southern Baptist theology. 

One might read this list of doctrinal concerns and expect to find an angry man behind them. Not at all. Quite the opposite. I care very much when the churches I love so much are struggling to know who they are. I am not angry because I cannot help but love us. Also, I am not angry because I believe it is good strategy to live in the fruit of the Spirit—these spiritual attributes are profitable. Love and kindness are rare, powerful, and persuasive. For example, I think we’ve seen great improvement in the past 30 years among Southern Baptists in the areas of congregationalism, the understanding of biblical offices, and regenerate church membership. Much of the credit for that goes to one man, Mark Dever, who with a conspicuous absence of belligerence has winsomely led Southern Baptists (among others) back toward our biblical heritage in these areas. I believe that historians will call IX Marks the most successful theological movement of the turn of the 21st century, and none of it is built upon insult and slander.

In a similar way, we are going to have to find the center of complementarianism that pulls us together toward a continuum of practice that is closely and tightly centered upon biblical truth. But that work is going to need to be done with love and kindness. I think we cannot wander off over the edges and pretend that we are embarrassed of this doctrinal commitment or that it is unimportant. As I wrote in my chapter, “A Denomination of Churches: Biblical and Useful” in the book “Upon This Rock: A Baptist Understanding of the Church,” I believe that denominations are, essentially, families of churches that freely exchange members and pastors without much in the way of barriers, and that this lack of barriers is indispensable. Profound differences about pastoral qualifications always eventually split families of churches. We cannot pretend that this question is unimportant, and we cannot square egalitarianism with our commitment to biblical inerrancy. But the way I have chosen is one that can take issue with early indications of Beth Moore’s movement away from that complementarian center without losing all sight of what it means to be a Christian gentleman. I am not ashamed of being a strict complementarian. I am not ashamed of telling people who move away from complementarianism that I think they are wandering away from biblical truth. I am also not ashamed to call Beth Moore a friend. We disagree about complementarianism, but she’s never deliberately tweeted a dishonest half-snippet of something I’ve said to suggest fraudulently that I hate democracy and prefer totalitarianism.

I think loving people in such a manner even while taking firm doctrinal stands is the way of Jesus, much more so than is the conjuring up of shock-jock phraseology to throw red meat to a (paying) mob. This is the double-tragedy of the way that secular political questions have invaded our discourse of late. They commit us to the losing strategy of anger and slanderous false accusation. Even if you win with that strategy, you lose. Those salacious questions also take all the oxygen out of the room and leave us very little room to discuss looming problems in what have for centuries been the core doctrines of our churches. Who wants to talk about the autonomy of the local church when you can have a good fight about wokeness instead?


 
How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see?

I believe that our family of churches contains an army of peacemakers who are steadfastly committed to cooperation on the basis of the Baptist Faith & Message and the Cooperative Program. Some of them are just afraid to stick their heads out of their doors while shooting is taking place in the streets. I want to stand up first and give them courage and resolve to do it themselves. If we can do that, they will solve these problems for us.

To be frank, I have long suspected that this could better be accomplished without my being encumbered with official denominational office. If Southern Baptists elect someone else, I will be content to continue this mission in that way and will take it as divine validation of that theory. Nevertheless, contrary to my previous expectation, I believe that God may be leading me to call out to those peacemakers from the podium of our convention, and I will undertake that task if Southern Baptists entrust it to me. 

But mark my words, no matter who is elected, no elective office will ever be powerful enough to overcome that army of peacemakers once they have stepped out of their trenches and begun to march.


 
Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists? 

You can’t love the Bible without loving efforts to fulfill the Great Commission. You can’t love efforts to fulfill the Great Commission without loving what God has used the Southern Baptist Convention to do. The Baptist Faith & Message is a wise and helpful statement of faith. The Cooperative Program is a work of genius that has helped us to accomplish so much more together than we could accomplish on our own.

Do we debate issues? Every year. But the topics we are debating in 2022 are completely different than the ones that we were debating in 2014. Our system for making decisions really works to help us resolve differences and move on. I believe that will continue to be true into the future.

What’s more, even in our times of division, our God who works all things together for good for us is using those seasons to bring us closer together. Some of my closest friendships in this convention were forged during times of denominational conflict. Whatever you think the climate may be today, the Southern Baptist Convention remains a great place to combat lostness and loneliness, and I commend it to everyone who will stand still long enough to listen to me.


 
Any final comment?

Dear Southern Baptists, I may never again have as prominent a place to say it. You funded half of my seminary education. You sent out church planters long before I was born to plant the churches who taught me about Jesus, won me to faith, and sent me out into ministry. You connected my church with missionary opportunities that have changed my life. You created a disaster relief ministry through which my wife has enjoyed years of fulfilling service. You have been a place where my children have made friends and built memories that they will keep forever. Thank you.

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Tom Ascol

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Bart Barber

SBC President Candidate Q&A:

Robin Hadaway

Southeast Texas church plant recently given building desires to plant churches of its own

Hope Church in Montgomery, near Houston, was meeting in an elementary school when COVID shut them down, but God had a plan for their future campus right next door. Now the church plant is building on nine decades of faithful service in the same community. 

The plant was barely a year old when the pandemic hit, and since they were running 75 to 100 people each Sunday, the group was too large to meet in a home, lead pastor Justin Dancer said. 

“There were no other places to meet,” he said, “so we went
online.” 

Right next to Lone Star Elementary was Honea Baptist Church, which the church plant had befriended during its short existence. Honea had been in the community for more than 90 years but was dwindling and struggling. The members saw God working at Hope Church and wanted to join Him.

“It wasn’t a merger. They disbanded, and most of their members joined our church,” Dancer said. Honea gave their campus, including five acres and about 15,000 square feet of building space, to Hope Church as a foundation for the future.

"They saw the greater vision of God working, and they saw the life and the growth, and they saw it as a God thing to join that. I take that really seriously."

Wednesday night meals—where multiple generations can gather at a table for Jesus-centered conversation—are a key part of the church’s strategy.

“They saw the greater vision of God working, and they saw the life and the growth, and they saw it as a God thing to join that. I take that really seriously,” Dancer said, adding that Hope Church’s effectiveness in making disciples “honors the 91 years of Christ’s legacy at Honea.”

Hope Church has baptized about 60 people in its first three years, and they’ve made a practice of bringing the children—who normally meet for kids worship—into the worship center to watch baptisms.

“Every time that happens, I see these older, faithful people weeping,” Dancer said. “They’re just crying, so overjoyed.” Former members of Honea often tell Dancer, “We prayed for this for so many years,” and, “I can’t believe I lived long enough to see this.” 

Hope Church has renovated the space given by Honea to reach a 21st century community, which is growing substantially. The church has two services on Sundays with 200-300 people attending, and each Wednesday night the campus is at capacity. 

“I have like 15 high school students in my office for small group time,” the pastor said. “We literally use every single room on Wednesday nights.”

Since Dancer grew up in Texas with Wednesday night activities a strength of the local church, it’s important to him that it’s a key part of Hope Church in a day when many churches are not emphasizing a midweek gathering.

Montgomery is a multi-generational area with about 20% each of five different generations showing up in a demographic study. Because of that, Hope Church is intentionally multi-
generational.

“That’s why we have Wednesday night meals,” Dancer said. “I want older people sitting with middle age and young people having Jesus-centered conversations regularly, so we’re trying to create space for that.”

Honea Baptist Church, a congregation that ministered in Montgomery for nine decades, gave its campus to Hope Church as a foundation for the future.

Montgomery is known by many who live there as a wealthy community.

“The greatest obstacle in our community, because of the affluence, is pretense,” Dancer said. “Outside, there’s money, big houses, nice cars, but on the inside, you would never know it, but everyone is a wreck. There’s huge amounts of debt, there’s family issues. It’s just covered up.”

What that means for the church, the pastor said, is they have to be a beacon of light, providing a place where people can be
“authentically connected in Jesus-centered relationships.”

“People can come as they are and be connected and loved and grow no matter where they’re at,” Dancer said.

The idea for Hope Church began when Dancer was on staff at Crossroads Baptist Church in The Woodlands and the pastor there asked him to plant a church on behalf of Crossroads. Dancer had previously served for six years in South Dakota planting churches with the North American Mission Board. 

When Hope Church launched in April 2019, a core group of about 20 people from Crossroads was part of the average attendance that ranged from 50 to 100, Dancer said. They set a goal of helping to plant 25 churches in 25 years.

To facilitate that, Hope Church already has a church planting residency program and has trained and sent out one planter to Conroe, about five miles down the road.

“We’re also partnering officially to plant two other churches outside the Houston area, so we’re at three right now with a vision of being a part of planting many more,” Dancer said.

Church planting is on the front lines of gospel work around the world, the pastor said, and training planters to establish effective, sustainable churches is his goal. Attrition takes out too many planters and pastors, Dancer said, and he wants to help them achieve long-term ministries in the communities where they plant.

“If anybody is reading this and has an interest in church planting, I would love to talk to them,” he said.

"We’re also partnering officially to plant two other churches outside the Houston area, so we’re at three right now with a vision of being a part of planting many more."