LifeWay completes sale of downtown Nashville campus

November 27 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

LifeWay has completed the sale of its 14.5-acre campus in downtown Nashville. “Although this momentous event is cause for thanksgiving, it is also bittersweet,” Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, wrote in an email to the Southern Baptist entity’s trustees and employees Nov. 24 after the sale was announced around 5 p.m.
“LifeWay has served the bride of Christ from this property for more than 100 years,” Rainer wrote. “Those of us who serve today continue an unbroken line of tens of thousands of employees who have stewarded the responsibility to produce trustworthy Christian resources for the church. And, we will continue to do so into the future, but from a new location.”


LifeWay has completed the sale of its 14.5-acre campus in downtown Nashville.

The sale was announced in a joint news release from LifeWay and Southwest Value Partners, a private real estate investment firm based in San Diego.
The news release noted that LifeWay “will continue to occupy a portion of the campus over the near term until it determines the permanent location of its corporate headquarters.”
A sale price of $125 million cash was stated by an attorney for Southwest Value Partners to The Tennessean daily newspaper, but the joint news release did not disclose a purchase price.
According to the news release, the LifeWay campus “is broadly entitled for mixed-use purposes that may include hotel, entertainment, commercial and creative office, and residential.”
Rainer, in the news release, stated, “I am confident Southwest Value Partners will continue to steward this campus in a way that is most beneficial to downtown Nashville and those who live, work and visit here.
“We have found their leaders to be professional, thorough and possessing the highest integrity,” Rainer wrote. “The addition of Southwest to the downtown community will be great for Nashville. LifeWay hopes to keep our headquarters in downtown Nashville, so I am excited about having Southwest Value Partners not only as stewards of our current campus, but as neighbors moving forward.”
LifeWay reopened its search for a new location Nov. 16 when it stepped away from the purchase of a 1.5-acre site owned by Nashville’s Metro Development and Housing Agency across the Cumberland River from Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL Tennessee Titans.
In a letter to LifeWay employees, Rainer noted at the time, “The property is a great downtown location, and would be an exciting place for our new building. But, we have concluded it’s not the best location for LifeWay. … We simply have found other potential downtown properties that are a better fit for LifeWay’s future.”
LifeWay was named the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention when it was established by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1891 after the SBC’s annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala. It has used LifeWay as its corporate name since 1998.
With a total workforce of more than 4,000 employees in 29 states, LifeWay provides Sunday School literature and discipleship resources to churches throughout the SBC. Its other services include LifeWay Research; B&H Publishing Group trade and academic books; various online services to churches; 186 LifeWay stores across the country; and a national conference center in Ridgecrest, N.C.
LifeWay stated in July that its new headquarters would encompass 216,000 square feet in facilities best suited for the ministry’s future. The property sold by LifeWay, located near Nashville’s historic rail lines, encompasses nine buildings with more than 1 million square feet of office, warehouse and parking space. About 1,100 of LifeWay’s employees work in the downtown offices, utilizing about a third of the workspace.
The 1914 Frost Building on the campus, named for founder J.M. Frost, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Other key parts of the campus are the Sullivan Tower (named for James L. Sullivan, the Sunday School Board’s president from 1953-75), built in phases from 1941-53; Draper Tower (named for LifeWay’s president emeritus, James T. Draper Jr., formerly called the Centennial Tower), opened in 1991 for the entity’s 100th anniversary; and the LifeWay Plaza entrance, opened in 2002.
Cary Mack, one of the co-managing partners who will oversee Southwest Value Partners’ development of the site, said in the joint news release with LifeWay, “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with Dr. Rainer, LifeWay and many others in Nashville to complete our purchase of the LifeWay campus. It is an exceptional site with a valuable legacy and enormous potential, and we are excited to be a part of its transformation into an excellent environment that respects the authenticity and character of Nashville.”
Mark Schlossberg, the other co-managing partner, stated, “We have long respected Nashville as a great market with great people, and over the past weeks have spent many hours working with some of Nashville’s finest professionals and stakeholders to understand the opportunities and best use of the LifeWay site. We have learned much about what Nashville needs and wants, and look forward to sharing our plans and milestones. It’s a great project, and we are fully committed to its success.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
11/27/2015 9:58:07 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prosecutor faces pastor’s ‘provocative question’

November 27 2015 by Luana Ehrlich, Baptist Press

As a prosecutor for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, attorney Travis White was familiar with asking probing questions and trying to ascertain the truth.
However, White wasn’t prepared for “a very provocative question” from Chris Smith, teaching pastor at Yukon Church in Yukon, Okla.


Photo by Luana Ehrlich
A pastor’s “provocative question” gave him “an ulcer-like experience, which can only be explained by the Holy Spirit bringing conviction on someone,” says Travis White, a prosecutor for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.

Smith had come by White’s home after the attorney attended Yukon Church the previous Sunday. At the end of the visit, Smith asked White about his relationship with the Lord.
“If you were to die tonight,” Smith asked, “do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt you would go to heaven?”
Even though White answered that question in the affirmative, in reality, he had no such assurance about heaven.
“As a prosecutor, I deal with burden of proof, so having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt really struck a chord with me,” White said. “From that point on, I began to have an ulcer-like experience, which can only be explained by the Holy Spirit bringing conviction on someone.”
White had experienced conviction about his spiritual condition before. It had happened often in his childhood, even though he grew up in a home where no one talked about the church or the Bible.
“Growing up, I went to all kinds of churches with my friends. Walking down an aisle was like a rite of passage, and the first time I did it, I was 12 years old.”
He recounted, “Nothing in my life changed after that, and I didn’t have any direction because I wasn’t a regular member of any church anywhere. I visited every church in the area where we lived, but it was done very haphazardly.”
White was still under conviction about his relationship with the Lord by the time he got to high school. “When I was 15, I went through the process of responding to the invitation again, but I had no real understanding of what I was doing. The Spirit was definitely pulling on me,” he said, “but I had no context, no way of understanding what was happening to me.”
When he went to college, “I went in the opposite direction. I became the pagan everyone was trying to correct. Finally, I decided I needed to change the course of my life, and I sought out a girlfriend I had dated in high school who was very spiritual.”
Hillary, who later became his wife, was a member of Chisholm Heights Baptist Church in Mustang, Okla. “I felt drawn to her,” White said, “because I didn’t want to take the same path in life my parents had taken.”
Not long after Travis and Hillary married, they both agreed they should get involved in a church. When a friend invited them to a church that was just getting started in a community center in Yukon, White was surprised when he went there.
“I didn’t feel like an outsider. In fact, I felt more like an insider, like I was part of the church staff. They asked everyone to help out, to participate, and I really liked that.”
The White family began attending Yukon Church regularly. Wrestling with Smith’s question about his eternal fate, White said, “I thought in order to be closer to the Lord, I needed to start going to church on Sunday, and I needed to start doing things at the church.”
It wasn’t long before White realized his salvation had nothing to do with his own actions. “Within a short amount of time, I was a participant and a contributor to the church, and the result of that was that I began to be exposed to the Word and prayer. For the first time in my life, I was hearing the truth, and I realized salvation wasn’t me doing something.”
He discovered the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9, a verse Smith introduced to him: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
A few months after Smith’s visit to his home, White went to pastor Keith Hinson and asked to be a candidate for baptism. “What I thought about salvation had to be completely rebuilt in my mind,” he said. “It really has nothing to do with what I do.”
White began to experience a change in his life – “a real change in my compassion for people and how I dealt with life’s challenges in general. I had a great desire to know more. I wanted to understand as much as I could possibly understand about the Word of God.”
Today, White teaches a Bible study class at Yukon Church and seeks to reach out to others who have a story like his own. “I love the verses in the book of Acts about the early church,” he said. “One of the most significant things impacting my walk with the Lord is the church.”
White said Joshua 1:7 has become his favorite verse because it deals directly with his role as a prosecutor: “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”
“I used to be so concerned about what I should be doing, and I would pray and ask God what I should be doing,” White said. But now, he has realized that God isn’t as concerned with “what I’m doing” as whether “I’m doing it for Him.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Luana Ehrlich, on the Web at, is a writer in Norman, Okla., and author of Titus Ray Thrillers, a series of Christian fiction novels.)
11/27/2015 9:57:05 AM by Luana Ehrlich, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Tennessee churches cross racial barriers

November 25 2015 by Connie Davis Bushey, Baptist and Reflector

Race relations often are tense across the United States, but in Columbia, Tenn., especially in several Baptist churches, “we work together,” reported Dale Ledbetter, director of missions (DOM), Maury Baptist Association, based in Columbia.
During his 15-year tenure as DOM, racial tensions here have always been minimal, but recently, some great things have occurred which should encourage and be refreshing to all Tennessee Baptists, he said.
“Others should see God’s work in our little corner of the world to counteract all the negative we see and hear,” Ledbetter reported recently.
African-American and Anglo Baptist congregations in Columbia are crossing the racial divide, he noted.
Two players in these instances agreed.
Kenny Anderson and Dwight Church, both African-American pastors in Columbia, are very encouraged by recent racial developments.
Anderson noted that even before the shooting by a white man at a black South Carolina church in June killing nine, “we (African-Americans and Anglo Baptists) were already worshiping together ... It wasn’t a reactive thing; it was a proactive thing and that’s always good.”
A “racial divide” does exist in the country, added Anderson. “There have been so many hateful things said, but we’re making it work in Columbia and we’re doing it on purpose.”
Dwight Church noted, “People talk a lot about unity and being unified, but they don’t want to do something about it.”
When Christians take a step to cross the racial divide, it might make a dramatic impact as it did in his case, said Church.

Anglo and African-American churches merge

Joey Johnson, a bi-vocational pastor, had been waiting and praying for God to work through him for the last several years.
Johnson has been pastor of several African-American churches over the past 17 years while working at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Then, last year he started a church in Columbia but after about a year the small congregation had dwindled. He and his family were paying a lot of the expenses of the congregation, which was renting space in a strip mall.
During this period, Johnson met Ledbetter and learned more about Southern Baptists.
Soon Ledbetter visited the new church being led by Johnson, Blessed Hope Baptist Church. In a few weeks, Ledbetter had talked again to Johnson and then to Ezell Rose, interim pastor of Mooresville Pike Baptist Church in Columbia.
Johnson and Rose got to know each other and in June, Mooresville Pike invited Blessed Hope Baptist to a joint service of the two very small congregations at Mooresville Pike. Johnson was invited to preach.
Before long the two churches had merged, with Rose continuing to serve as interim pastor. In a few months the new congregation called Johnson as pastor.
“This is something that has never happened here in Columbia, a black and a white church merging,” said Rose, who has served as a pastor and, after retirement, as interim pastor of Baptist churches for 50 years. Recently Rose was called as interim pastor to Southside Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant.
“There was a community over there that didn’t have the ministry that they needed,” explained Rose, noting that the neighborhood is made up mostly of African-Americans. If the two churches grew separately “they wouldn’t have ever gotten together. I think this was God’s way of bringing them together,” Rose said.
“We’re just about winning people. It’s not about race, not about age, not about anything like that. It’s just about winning people to Christ,” added Johnson. “We are a family now,” he concluded.

Anglo church shares facility with African-American church

This past Easter members of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Columbia arrived at church to find that a fire had broken out and they would have to worship somewhere else.
The black congregation met in the facilities of several churches in the area that offered help. Then Anderson received a phone call from fellow pastor Mike Dawson.
Dawson already knew of the situation of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist. Anderson called him the very morning of the fire to ask him for prayer.
Dawson and Anderson have known each other for about 20 years as they have both served Baptist churches nearby. Dawson is a retired pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia. Anderson was a regular vocalist for an annual women’s event held by First Baptist. Also, the two churches held joint services together.
So it was natural for Dawson, who is now an interim pastor at Pleasant Heights Baptist Church, and church leaders to invite Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist to meet at their facility. Pleasant Heights has a large, new facility.
Anderson thought it would work out because Pleasant Heights worships at 9 a.m. and Mount Calvary worships at 11 a.m.
The situation has not only worked out but has been a blessing, said Anderson.
Sharing a facility has impacted both congregations, he added. In a joint communion service, deacons from both churches “were working together” and choirs “were singing together... It was a picture of what heaven looks like,” stated Anderson.
He has heard and seen members of Pleasant Heights learn from the more demonstrative worship of Mount Calvary members.
The two congregations also joined together recently for a benefit for Tim Anderson, Kenny’s brother, who is ill and needed help with some expenses. About 400 folks attended from across the county.
Another reason the two churches have worked well together is that both churches broadcast their services on cable television, so they’re able to use the same equipment. In fact, Pleasant Heights’ staff have recorded services for Mount Calvary, noted Anderson.
Of course, the situation has also helped Anglos and African-Americans see the “brotherhood and sisterhood” they share, added Dawson.
“This just happened real naturally and it’s been a real joy,” said Dawson.
Anderson concluded, “It’s about working together. This community has always come together.”

African-American pastors lead predominantly Anglo churches

Two predominantly Anglo churches in Columbia are currently being led by African-American pastors.
First, Northside Baptist which draws about 150 to Sunday morning activities, recently called Willie McLaurin as interim pastor. McLaurin is special assistant to the executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Ledbetter reported he has heard positive things from church members about their new leader.
Second, Immanuel Baptist Church in Columbia, a multicultural congregation including Anglos, Hispanics and African-Americans, is led by Dwight Church. The congregation has a majority of Anglos.
Church has served the congregation for five years as pastor and been a member for another eight years. He and his wife joined the church when they were the only African-Americans there.
Church said he joined the white church because God called him to be a reconciler between the races after experiences at a Promise Keepers rally in 1995.
What struck Church during the Promise Keepers rally and on the bus ride there and back were the relationships formed between Anglos and African-Americans who represented several churches. Plans were made to continue those relationships but that did not pan out, recalled Church.
What he experienced as men of all races got together and got to know each other “overwhelmed me and I wanted more. I was so excited I was about to bust. I thought, ‘We’re missing the boat here.’ “
Also, at that time he and his wife, Marilyn, were looking for a new church home.
God led them to join Cornerstone Baptist Church in Neapolis, a community located between Spring Hill and Columbia. After Church was called as pastor, the church changed its name to Immanuel Baptist.
What has happened at Immanuel Baptist has been led by God, said Church.
For years it met in a former restaurant facility. Just one of the demands of the situation was making arrangements and relocating to another church for baptisms.
Church challenged the congregation to find a permanent facility. One day a member told him about a former church facility for sale. Amazingly, the pastor as a child had attended church activities in the facility. Also it was located in a multicultural community and was affordable.
Immanuel bought the facility and paid it off in two years because we “don’t believe in debt,” explained Church. Immanuel didn’t hold fundraisers to raise money, noted the pastor. Part of what the congregation did was, along with members of the community, renovate the facility “from the inside out,” noted Church.
“We tithe and we roll up our sleeves and we get the job done.”
Today Immanuel Baptist is seeing people’s lives changed such as the new Hispanic members who are former Catholics.
Another amazing event here was a marriage conducted by the pastor on the Saturday before Easter. Then the new bride was baptized on Easter.
“What brings people together is the truth,” explained Church.
“When you communicate the truth, unity is a natural by-product.”
(EDITORS’ NOTE – This article appeared in the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Connie Davis Bushey is news editor of the Baptist and Reflector.)

11/25/2015 11:05:59 AM by Connie Davis Bushey, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

Angola prison church joins Baptist association

November 25 2015 by Mark H. Hunter, Louisiana Baptist Message

It may be the first time a local Baptist association has accepted a prison church into its fellowship.
Washington Baptist Association now counts among its members Grace Baptist Church of the Main Camp in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, La. The association encompasses 38 churches in Washington and St. Tammany parishes.


Photo by Mark H. Hunter
Paul Will, an inmate pastor inside Louisiana's Angola prison, “overwhelmed and humbled” by the Washington Baptist Association’s unanimous vote to embrace Grace Baptist Church.

Grace Baptist is five years old and is the only Southern Baptist church among the prison’s 28 inmate-led churches. Its 65 or so members meet five times a week in the Main Camp’s Education Center and twice a month in the Main Camp’s Tudy Chapel.
The church is led by inmate pastor Paul Will, 42, a 2007 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension program at Angola. Like most of the men at Angola, Will is serving a life sentence.
Andrew Voss, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Franklinton, La., where Will was ordained last year, facilitated the Washington association’s vote during its Oct. 5 annual meeting at Franklinton’s First Baptist Church.
“To our knowledge this is the very first, fully recognized Southern Baptist church ... located inside a penitentiary,” said Voss, who also is an NOBTS adjunct professor. “The vote was unanimous and there was an overwhelming eruption of applause after the vote was taken.”
The process started about a year ago “as a way to further validate what God is doing there,” Voss said, “not only through the seminary but through the churches because these inmate pastors are the ones who are on the front lines touching these guys’ lives and their families back in their communities.”
Will, Grace Baptist’s pastor, wrote in a statement that “God has allowed, through His providence, an incredible history to unfold here at Angola, a history that only God could have orchestrated for no man could have planned all that has transpired.”
Will credits Warden Burl Cain for bringing the New Orleans Seminary to Angola 20 years ago and creating the prison’s innovative re-entry programs.
“The Scripture has proved to be true,” Will wrote about Ephesians 3:20-21. “‘Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask, or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen.’”
“If I were to sum up my feelings concerning this event I would have to say that I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the fact that God has chosen to love and use the most broken of souls, in the most unlikely of circumstances to do such a marvelous work,” Will wrote.
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, who was a featured speaker for the associational meeting, tweeted, “I’m at Washington Baptist Association that just accepted a church started at Angola prison by our inmate students as a member. Wow! What a God – Our God is so great!”
In a later phone interview, Kelley said, “To my knowledge I don’t know of any other association that has accepted as a member church a church composed of inmates inside a prison, so it was a very historic night, very wonderful night!”
Bill Sumners, director of the SBC Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, was reluctant to declare it as a historical “first.” But after he searched the convention’s databases he concluded, “As far as we know this has not happened before.”
Angola chaplains Rick Sharkey and Robert Toney also affirmed the Washington association embrace of Grace Baptist.
“I think it’s an awesome thing,” Sharkey said. “It’s the Kingdom of God expanding beyond the walls of a prison.”
“The Louisiana Baptists just love the inmates,” Toney said. “For that we are forever grateful.”
The Washington Baptist Association is one of three parts of the 91-church Baptist Associations of Southeast Louisiana, along with the William Wallace Baptist Association with 24 churches and Two Rivers Baptist Association, 29 churches.
Stan Statham, the Southeast association’s director of missions, said Angola prison is located in the William Wallace Association in West Feliciana Parish but because Voss and other local men who regularly visit Angola are in the Washington association, they were the logical group to accept the prison church.
“We hope that a lot of our churches will journey over there and fellowship with them because they obviously can’t come to us,” Statham said.
“We’re pretty excited about it – we think it’s a great step in how the Lord is working,” he added. “We know that a lot of those men won’t ever be released – but we pray that His Kingdom will go forward even there. He came to save and we pray those guys will reach other inmates with the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark H. Hunter is a regional reporter for the Louisiana Baptist Message,, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)
11/25/2015 11:02:37 AM by Mark H. Hunter, Louisiana Baptist Message | with 0 comments

Pro-marriage professor faces possible dismissal

November 25 2015 by Benjamin Hawkins, Baptist Press

A tenured, Southern Baptist professor at a university in California could face dismissal for allegedly “retaliating” against a student who complained about his support for traditional marriage.
“If I were to use legal terms – even though this is not a legal proceeding – I’ve been convicted but not sentenced,” Robert Oscar Lopez, an associate professor of English and classics at California State University-Northridge (CSUN), told Baptist Press. “They said that I was guilty of retaliation, which is a serious charge in academia” – punishable at [CSUN] by demotion, suspension without pay or dismissal.”
In June, Lopez learned university officials had spent eight months investigating him after students complained about being exposed to a “hostile learning environment” during a 2014 optional conference organized by Lopez at the school’s Reagan Library. The conference, called “Bonds That Matter,” emphasized the importance for children of having both a mother and a father.
CSUN found no fault with Lopez during its investigation into complaints about the conference’s supposedly “anti-gay” and “anti-female” agenda. However, in October, the university charged Lopez with “retaliating” against a student who brought complaints about him to the administration. Among the charges is that he prevented the student from receiving an award to which she allegedly was entitled, The Daily Signal reported.
Lopez contests this charge. The student received an “A” in his class, according to The Daily Signal, and Lopez said the allegations against him are based upon undocumented testimony of the student. The administration, he added, declined to consider emails and other documentation that seemed to corroborate his side of the story.
Charles S. Limandri, president and chief counsel of the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, wrote in a letter to CSUN Provost Yi Li that Lopez neither retaliated against students nor interfered with their attempts to bring complaints before CSUN’s Office of Equity and Diversity.
“Under these circumstances,” Limandri wrote, “we have no choice but to conclude that the disposition of this investigation is a purely political and ideological attack on Dr. Lopez for holding – and exposing students to – ideas about children’s rights [to a mother and father] which are apparently unpopular.”
CSUN spokesperson Carmen Chandler defended the university’s ruling against Lopez. The university, she told The Daily Signal, “is fully committed to upholding academic freedom and free speech, as well as the right of our students to bring forth concerns. Any investigation resulting from student complaints follows established CSUN protocol and is conducted on the basis of determining whether or not there has been a violation of university policy.”
A member of a Chinese Southern Baptist congregation, Lopez was raised by two lesbians and identified as bisexual as a teenager. He came to faith in Christ in 2008 and is the father of two children with his wife – though he wrote in a commentary for The Federalist that he still considers himself “bisexual.”
Lopez has been an outspoken advocate for the traditional, biblical definition of marriage and the right of children to have both a mother and a father. He filed an amicus brief earlier this year with the Supreme Court, urging justices not to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
The value of traditional marriage for children, Lopez said, literally was “written in stone” in the 10 Commandments’ admonition to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).
“That really means,” he said, “that you have to organize your time in this life around sexual difference and around a vision of family and a debt to your origins which respects both motherhood and fatherhood.”
In addition to the allegations brought by CSUN, Lopez faced opposition last year from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – one of the nation’s largest pro-gay activist groups. HRC made accusations against him as part of its so-called “Export of Hate” initiative and allegedly urged its members to call Lopez and his family, as well as the university. At times, Lopez said, the phone calls seemed threatening.
Lopez told BP he hopes ultimately to prevail against the charges brought against him by CSUN, especially since the outcome will “set a huge precedent.”
“I’m a member of the largest faculty union in the world, Cal State faculty union,” Lopez said. “And if they can get me for this, then that looks very badly for all higher education. ... If we as a society are going to prohibit certain ideas, we’re on a road to a totalitarian society.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is associate editor of The Pathway,, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

11/25/2015 10:59:35 AM by Benjamin Hawkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Montana Baptists to sell site, downsize

November 25 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Montana Baptists are downsizing from their Billings headquarters for a building to better accommodate their smaller, less centralized staff, messengers voted at their 2015 annual meeting.


MTSBC photo
Newly elected Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC) President Darren Hales, pastor of Big Sky Fellowship in Helena, listens to a message at the MTSBC annual meeting.

Fred Hewett, Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC) executive director, said the current site is too large, as the office staff has decreased from about 12 to three since 2008.
“Fewer jointly funded missionaries and then dispersing them around the state so they would be more accessible to the field is why the building is today too large for us,” Hewett told Baptist Press. “But to be good stewards of the building, we decided to sell it and reallocate those equity dollars to a smaller building and ... other mission endeavors here in Montana.”
The building is currently on the market and a new site will be chosen after the sale, Hewett said. The proposal to relocate specifies that the state office will remain in Billings.
“Beyond the Status Quo” was the theme for the meeting Oct. 6-7 at Crossroads Church in Bozeman, Mont. In his message, MTSBC President Bruce Speer encouraged pastors to become a “change agent” for church growth, rather than being stuck in complacency.
“The Bible defines faithfulness in John 15 as fruitfulness,” Speer told messengers. “Showing up is not faithfulness. Faithfulness is producing something. And the one thing God wants me to produce more than anything else is reaching lost people.”
In business sessions, messengers approved a 2016 budget of $1,353,000, anticipating $542,000 in Cooperative Program (CP) funds from participating churches. The state will forward 25 percent of CP receipts, or $135,000, to Southern Baptist Convention national and international causes, the same percentage forwarded in 2015.
The 2016 budget is slightly less than the $1,140,000 budget that messengers approved in 2015, but anticipates a growth in CP giving of about $19,000.
“Our CP giving in 2015 was the best CP year we’ve ever had,” Hewett said, “and it exceeded our CP giving of 2014, which had been our previous best year we’ve ever had.”
Newly elected officers are president Darren Hales, MTSBC church strategies team member and pastor of Big Sky Fellowship in Helena, and vice president Lee Merck from Church of The Rockies in Red Lodge.
Messengers approved a new MTSBC staff position for 2016, a next generation ministry director, to help churches reach and disciple teenagers and young adults.
“If we’re truly going to reach this state for the glory of God, we’ve got to do a better job of reaching the next generation,” Hewett said.
As the new MTSBC president, Hales hopes to energize Montana Southern Baptists.
“I just want to be a great cheerleader for our convention,” Hales said. “I just want to be an encouragement to our pastors, to our churches, to the people of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention ... to see how I can pray for them [and] walk alongside them.”
Outgoing president Speer accepted a plaque of appreciation from Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis in commemoration of 10 years of partnership between the two state groups.
In addition to Speer, Davis and Hewett, annual meeting guest speakers included Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Theological Seminary; Frank Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee; Daniel Lambert, senior pastor of Easthaven Baptist Church in Kalispell; B.J. Hallmark, associational coordinator of the Triangle Baptist Association; and Darwin Payton, director of mission for Yellowstone Association and pastor of The Rock Church in Laurel.
Pastors and other church leaders said they left the meeting feeling encouraged, motivated and challenged.
“There’s such a spirit of harmony and a spirit of unity here,” Merck said, “and it’s a great atmosphere for worshipping the Lord, and a lot of encouragement.”
Jacob Oiler, in his first annual meeting, was encouraged by leaders’ willingness to share ideas.
“People here are so transparent in the way they talk about their experiences ... Each person goes up, goes to their Bible, and it all comes back to ‘we all do this because of the lost.’ So all of these meetings and all of these programs are all because of the lost -- and that’s so important,” Oiler said. “I love how it always comes back to that.”
All MTSBC annual meeting messages and business sessions are available to watch on the Montana E-quip website at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.)
11/25/2015 10:54:15 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Meeting needs key to church’s ministry

November 25 2015 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

“Is this a Jesus thing?” a homeless man asked Charity Brown.
That day Brown and a team of volunteers from The Branch church in Corvallis, Ore., were making it their mission to serve those most in need in the community. And one of the ways the team was doing that was through washing feet.


The Branch photo
Volunteers from a partner church in Texas helped The Branch church in Corvallis, Ore., host a community soccer camp, one of many ways the church plant engages families in the city.

While washing the feet of another person is a reminder for believers of Jesus’ example within the Gospels, its meaning can be particularly practical for a homeless man or woman. It can guard feet against the onset of infections and is a critical part of medically necessary hygiene. While washing one man’s feet, Brown had an opportunity to share with him why the church wanted to serve him in this way. The man then asked if he could wash the feet of the volunteers. Brown noted it was a transformational moment for her and the homeless man.
“I think it’s really important for those who aren’t believers to see that we’re not just trying to sell an idea of this person who we worship as God but isn’t relevant to our lives,” said Brown, who serves as the director of worship arts at The Branch. “I think when we can meet needs in our community of different people groups, it demonstrates the character of God in a way that might not be as prevalent in the world.”
In its three years of existence, The Branch has made serving the community a key part of how it shares the Gospel with its neighbors. Just a little more than an hour south of Portland, Corvallis is in a college town, home of Oregon State University.
The Branch, whose launch happened through partnerships with Southern Baptists and the Northwest Baptist Convention, has also been active in helping single moms in the community. Earlier this year the church gathered lists from 10 to 15 single moms and did their grocery shopping for them.
Josh Howeth, the church’s founding pastor, said his wife Elizabeth had an opportunity to lead one of the women to faith in Christ during the outreach. When Elizabeth arrived at the single mom’s home with the groceries, the lady wanted Elizabeth to pray with her. She then told Elizabeth that she had been reading through the Gospels, believed that Christianity was real and wanted to pray to receive Christ.
“She has been attending our church ever since,” Howeth said. “Her commitment to Christ seems genuine.”
The Branch’s ministry to single moms didn’t end there. They’ve also taken the time to meet ongoing practical needs of the moms, such as yard and handyman work.
With the help of a partner church from Texas, the congregation reached out to families in the city by hosting a free soccer camp, plus feeding all the attendees breakfast and lunch. At one point during the week, 70 kids were attending the camp. The church ended the week with a barbecue for families. Howeth said he believes many of the children wouldn’t have been able to participate in the camp if there had been a cost.
More than 70 percent of the congregation consists of college students. During the school year the church averages around 140 people in attendance each week. Howeth acknowledged that the church hasn’t seen much numerical growth directly because of its community ministry work, but – he added – that’s not why they’re doing it.
“We want to see more families connect with our church,” said Howeth, speaking specifically about the soccer camp. “But at the same time I want my heart and our church’s heart to be that we want to do this even if people don’t come and be a part of our church. We don’t want to do a cost-benefit analysis on everything we do. We just want to bless our community and amplify Christ in the process.”
The church’s community ministry efforts, Howeth noted, are built into the church’s gospel-centered strategy to reach the community.
“When you look at Jesus’ life as He is changing ours, you see how He cares about physical needs,” Howeth said.
“Our biggest needs are spiritual need, and we need to be reconciled with God, but at the same time we see that God is redeeming the whole world. He’s desiring to transform it ultimately and make it new. So when we see people around us with needs, we’re called to meet their needs because He has met our needs.”
For more information about how to share the gospel by meeting community needs, visit
11/25/2015 10:50:09 AM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abortion, women’s views of church focus of study

November 24 2015 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research

Many women with unplanned pregnancies go silently from the church pew to the abortion clinic, convinced the church would gossip rather than help, a study released Nov. 23 by LifeWay Research shows.


More than 4 in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers when they ended a pregnancy, researchers found in a survey sponsored by Care Net, a nonprofit organization supporting more than 1,100 pregnancy centers across North America. The study features data from a survey conducted May 6-13.
“That’s a huge opportunity for the church to have an impact on those decisions,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research.
But only 7 percent of women discussed their abortion decision with anyone at church. Three-fourths (76 percent) say the church had no influence on their decision to terminate a pregnancy.
The results point to a church culture that often lacks grace, McConnell said. Among women who have had an abortion:

  • Two-thirds (65 percent) say church members judge single women who are pregnant.

  • A majority (54 percent) thinks churches oversimplify decisions about pregnancy options.

  • Fewer than half (41 percent) believe churches are prepared to help with decisions about unwanted pregnancies.

  • Only 3 in 10 think churches give accurate advice about pregnancy options.

“Women are perceiving judgment from the church, and that’s probably partly because there are clear teachings in the Bible including about how and why we make judgments,” McConnell said. “However, if they don’t start experiencing something different than what they’ve seen in the past, these numbers aren’t going to change.”


Christian connections

The church has connections with many women who choose abortion, Care Net and LifeWay Research found. In the survey of 1,038 women who have had abortions, 70 percent claim a Christian religious preference, and 43 percent report attending church monthly or more at the time of an abortion.


But distrust of the church’s response is widespread, the survey shows. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) believe church members are more likely to gossip about a woman considering abortion than to help her understand options.
When weighing an abortion decision, women say they expected or experienced judgment (33 percent) or condemnation (26 percent) from a church far more than caring (16 percent) or helpfulness (14 percent).
Judgmental attitudes among even a few people in a church can discourage women from seeking help, McConnell said. “They’ll perceive everybody feels that way.”
Only 38 percent of women who have had an abortion consider church a safe place to discuss pregnancy options including parenting, abortion and adoption. And while 25 percent say they would recommend a friend or family member discuss an unplanned pregnancy with someone at church, more than twice as many (54 percent) say they would not recommend it.


Culture of silence

Women keep silent in church both before and after ending a pregnancy, the study found.
More than half of churchgoers who have had an abortion (52 percent) say no one at church knows it. Nearly half of women who have had an abortion (49 percent) say pastors’ teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies.
“That tells you the environment of the church,” McConnell said. “You can’t say you’ve had an abortion, you can’t say you’re considering one – it’s completely taboo to discuss.
“But when a woman is willing to publicly acknowledge she’s had an abortion in the past, she will sometimes be approached by several other women in the church who’ve never been willing to share with anybody that they too have had an abortion,” he said. “It’s incredibly freeing for them.”


Church attendance makes a difference for many

Even among regular churchgoers, 52 percent of women who had abortions say the church had no influence on their decision. However, women attending church at least once a month were more likely to discuss their abortion decision with someone at church (16 percent) than those who rarely or never attend (2 percent).
Regular churchgoers who had an abortion are also much more likely than those who rarely or never attend to say they anticipated or experienced positive church responses such as caring (31 percent vs. 7 percent), helpfulness (28 percent vs. 7 percent) and love (25 percent vs. 6 percent).


“While much work needs to be done to equip the church to help women and men with their pregnancy decisions, there are positive signs that many churches will be receptive to efforts to implement programming that addresses this need,” said Roland C. Warren, president and CEO of Care Net.

“The survey shows that frequent churchgoers – people who know the church best – were significantly more likely to believe the church is prepared to provide loving, compassionate support for those considering abortion, especially those attending evangelical churches,” Warren said.
Supportive responses from the church are key, McConnell said.
“For most women with an unwanted pregnancy, if nobody is willing to say, ‘We’re going to help you through this,’ it’s hard for them to rationally say they should keep the child.”
Methodology: A demographically balanced online panel was used for interviewing American women from May 6-13, 2015. Quotas and slight weights were used to ensure the sample matched national totals for ethnicity, age, income and region. This nationally balanced sample was screened to include only those women who indicated they had ever had a pregnancy termination/abortion medical procedure. The completed sample is 1,038 surveys.
LifeWay Research, based in Nashville, is an evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

11/24/2015 11:54:23 AM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

Jewish evangelism: Conference spawns reflections

November 24 2015 by Benjamin Hawkins, The Pathway

An international conference on Jewish evangelism provided an occasion for Christians to reflect on why they should share the gospel with ethnic Jews.
Convening in Jerusalem, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism’s 10th International Conference on Jewish Evangelism included some 200 Jewish evangelists from six continents. Participants strategized about the best methods for communicating the gospel to Jews.
Jim Sibley, a former professor at Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued in a presentation at the conference that Jewish evangelism must continue because scripture presents the gospel as “especially for Jewish people.”


IMB Photo by Walter Donaldson
One of the most sacred sites in all of Judaism is the Western Wall – part of the ruins of the second Jewish temple. Above the wall is the disputed area known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary with its Dome of the Rock.

“My thesis is a simple one,” Sibley, a professor of biblical studies at Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel, wrote in the paper he presented. “It is that scripture teaches that the Jewish people should not only be a continuing priority in evangelism and missions, but that this priority is intrinsic to the gospel itself. ...Ultimately, this is the case, because it is rooted in the promise of the fathers, as recorded first in Genesis 12:3b: ‘In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’“
Paul’s statement in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” doesn’t mean simply that the Jews heard the gospel first, Sibley argued. Rather, it means the gospel was intended first and foremost as a message for Jewish people.
“The gospel itself requires that we maintain a particular concern for the Jewish people,” Sibley wrote in his paper for the Aug. 16-21 conference, “for if the gospel is not especially for the Jewish people, can it really be for anyone else? This priority should have an impact on the church’s strategies of missions and evangelism, as well as its prayer life.”
In a related article, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Sibley challenged those who believe ethnic Israel has been rejected by God and replaced by the church as God’s people – even if only temporarily. This theme is reflected in the article’s title: “Has the Church Put Israel on the Shelf? The Evidence from Romans 11:15.”
Speaking of ethnic Israel, Paul writes in Romans 11:15, “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” Sibley disagreed with many biblical scholars – including some conservative evangelicals – who suggest Paul is speaking about God’s temporary rejection of ethnic Israel. On the contrary, Sibley argued, Paul is talking about the Jews’ rejection of the gospel.
“The rejection of the salvation which was offered through Jesus the Messiah by the majority of Israel has meant that salvation could be offered to the nations, even as the Abrahamic covenant had promised,” Sibley wrote. “In verse 15, Paul argues that if their rejection of salvation has brought such blessing to so many, how much greater the blessing when they accept that salvation.”
Even though many Jews have rejected the gospel message, their acceptance of it would mean the spiritual rebirth of Israel, Sibley wrote. He said this should drive Southern Baptists to share the gospel with Jews.
“Romans 11:15, far from teaching that God has rejected the Jewish people, actually provides the church with a rationale for Jewish evangelism and missions in the present,” Sibley wrote.
Other Southern Baptists take a different view. Sibley challenged, in particular, the views of Tom Schreiner, a professor of New Testament interpretation and biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Although Schreiner affirms that Christians should carry the gospel to ethnic Jews, he has expressed a different interpretation of Romans 11:15 in his commentary on Romans (Baker Academic).
When Paul says in Romans 1:16 the gospel is the power for salvation “to the Jew first,” Schreiner wrote, the apostle “may be reflecting on his missionary practice of using the synagogue as a starting point for the preaching of the gospel” and his “theological conviction that the Jews were specially elected to be God’s people.”
Yet while Jews maintain a “crucial” role “in the outworking of salvation history,” Schreiner argued, Romans 11:15 references God’s temporary rejection of “some Jews.” The church – consisting of both Jews and Gentiles – has received the blessing once promised to the nation of Israel.
But, Schreiner argued in his commentary, a time will come, after the fullness of the Gentiles has been gathered into the church, when a great ingathering of Jews will occur, and they will place their faith in Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:26).

Consensus on Jewish evangelism

Despite disagreement on some issues related to Israel, Southern Baptists agree Jewish evangelism is urgent.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1996 annual meeting in New Orleans expressed this consensus view in a resolution “on Jewish evangelism.” The statement included a commitment to pray “for the salvation of the Jewish people” and to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.”
In recent years, Southern Baptists have increased their efforts to reach people from every ethnic group, including Jews, the president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship (SBMF) told Baptist Press. Since 2014, the SBMF has been an organizational member of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.
Southern Baptists are “the most evangelical of just about everybody. We share with everybody,” SBMF President Ric Worshill said, adding that Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page especially encouraged outreach among ethnic groups when he established a Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council that completed its work last year.
Thanks in part to the advisory council’s work, Worshill said, “slowly and surely, our ethnic groups” – like the SBMF – “are being supported by local Southern Baptist churches.” But the work isn’t finished, and Worshill urged Southern Baptists not only to support Jewish evangelism, but also to practice it.
“Jews also need to hear the gospel,” Worshill said. “All people need to hear the gospel. We need to plant seeds in abundance, so that many people will come to the Lord.”
Matt Queen, associate professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he is “convinced” that a “consensus affirming the importance for Jews to be evangelized exists among Southern Baptists” despite disagreement on some theological matters related to the Jewish people.
“We must not only care about Jewish evangelism, we must practice Jewish evangelism,” Queen said. “In addition to offering himself to be accursed by Christ if only his ethnically Jewish brothers would be saved (Romans 9:2-3), Paul desired and prayed for their salvation (Romans 10:1). How can Southern Baptists be anything but passionate about Jewish evangelism?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Benjamin Hawkins is the associate editor for The Pathway, the newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

11/24/2015 11:49:24 AM by Benjamin Hawkins, The Pathway | with 0 comments

Swedish court rules midwives must perform abortions

November 24 2015 by Sarah Padbury, WORLD News Service

A district court in Sweden recently ruled against midwife Ellinor Grimmark, who was denied employment at four hospitals because she refuses to participate in abortions.
In November 2013, Höglandssjukhuset Women’s Clinic in Jönköping County rescinded its job offer to Grimmark after she said she could not perform abortions because of her conscientious objection and her Christian faith.
The head of the maternity ward left a voicemail saying “she was no longer welcome to work with them” and questioned “whether a person with such views actually can become a midwife,” according to Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers (SHRL), an NGO representing Grimmark. Swedish midwives are similar to nurses in other countries.


Grimmark filed a religious discrimination complaint with Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman. While waiting for a ruling, two other employers also refused to hire her because of her pro-life stance. A fourth potential employer, Värnamo Hospital, offered to hire Grimmark as a temporary employee, but withdrew the offer after her complaint went public. The head of the hospital told Grimmark no employee was allowed to publicly take a stand against abortion, according to SHRL.
“As a midwife, I want to exercise a profession which defends life and saves lives at all cost,” Grimmark said in a statement printed in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. “Are healthcare practitioners in Sweden to be forced to take part in procedures that extinguish life, at its beginning or final stages? Somebody has to take the little children’s side, somebody has to fight for their right to life.”
In April 2014, the Equality Ombudsman ruled Grimmark did not have a case because the hospital refused her the position “not because of her religion, but because she was not prepared to perform duties that were part of the job description,” reported at the time.
But Sweden is a member of the European Union, which obligates the country to follow international laws defined by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In 2010, the Assembly passed a medical care law declaring “no person, hospital, or institution shall be coerced, held liable, or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist, or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia, or any act which could cause the death of a human fetus or embryo, for any reason.” In addition, the ratified European Convention on Human Rights states in Section 1 Article 9, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion ….”
Grimmark appealed the ruling and enlisted the help of Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF). ADF filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the district court on Grimmark’s behalf.
“Willingness to commit an abortion cannot be a litmus test for employment,” ADF legal counsel Paul Coleman said in a press release.
But on Nov. 12, the court ruled against Grimmark, stating employers have the right to define job descriptions and expect applicants to be willing to fulfill all the duties listed. It also found it was appropriate and necessary to require midwives to perform abortions because “the region has an obligation to ensure that women have effective access to abortion.”
Grimmark’s husband noted the court loss in a Facebook post and pleaded for financial help. The court ordered Grimmark to pay the county’s legal fees – about $109,000.
After the ruling, SHRL announced Grimmark, currently working as a midwife in Norway, will appeal the decision to Sweden’s Göta Court of Appeal.
“Freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right,” said SHRL attorney Jörgen Olson. “To deny freedom of conscience to all healthcare workers in Sweden cannot be considered a measure necessary in a democratic society.
Sweden has not shown in what way the country’s healthcare system is so unique compared to the rest of Europe and neighboring countries that it is impossible to grant Ellinor Grimmark a right to conscience.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Padbury writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

11/24/2015 11:44:54 AM by Sarah Padbury, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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