IMB personnel accept VRI, continue serving

November 30 2015 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor

Missionaries considering the voluntary retirement incentive (VRI) from the International Mission Board (IMB) need prayers. Marty and Melissa Childers and Isaiah* and Josie Gabdon*, who have opted to take the VRI, have requested fellow believers surround those who made the decision in prayer.


BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle
Marty and Melissa Childers are praying about what God has for them next.

“Many of them don’t have any idea what they’re going to go to,” Isaiah said.
Both couples feel fortunate to have been in the United States when the VRI was announced in September. The IMB has not revealed how many have agreed to take the VRI, which was announced in September. An early goal the IMB set was 600-800 people.

North Carolina roots

Melissa and Marty are natives of North Carolina. She grew up in Durham while he was raised in Hildebran. They met at Gardner-Webb University.
When he graduated and started a master of divinity degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) in Wake Forest, she transferred to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to finish her degree.
They were first called to missions at a Fort Caswell event, where they had taken youth for a weeklong retreat.
Melissa recounts a missionary couple from Chile who were retiring. The woman shared, “We know we can retire because we know God is calling out more people.”
When they contacted the Foreign Mission Board (now IMB), they only accepted career missionaries 25 and older. The Childers were told to “grow up” and get some pastoral experience. She was 21; he was 23.
A few weeks after their decision at camp, Marty and Melissa prayed for the willingness to do whatever God called them to, even pastoral ministry.
The next day he received a call from a small church in Georgia looking for a pastor. Two weeks later, he preached at the church. In another two weeks, the church offered him the job. He served as pastor four and a half years.
They had two sons, Jeremy and Caleb, and in 1988 were appointed. By the end of the year, they were in Costa Rica for language school.
While they started as church planters in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, their ministry was varied over the years.
Marty realized the need to equip nationals and began pouring himself into training in the mid-1990s. In the early 2000s, Melissa had a vision to start a Christian coffee house, which led to a Bible study with eight young men in their home. Those men began to bring their girlfriends, parents and even grandparents until 45 people were meeting in their home. “It was a lot of work,” she said. “We were busy all the time.”
When the IMB started narrowing their focus to the 10/40 window – a term used to describe regions of the eastern and western hemisphere between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator with little to no Christian population – the Childers prayed about several places they might serve, but each time they felt God telling them to stay.
In 2007, ministry was booming. Marty said churches were being planted and the coffee house had grown. Someone asked what the hardest thing would be for the Childers. They both said, “Go back to the United States.”
They were asked to become a personalizer for South America. That role would bring them to the U.S. to develop partnerships with churches. They lived in Hillsborough from 2007 to 2010. In July 2010 IMB asked them to remain in the same role but in September requested they cluster developing partnerships on the field.
Their heart for unreached peoples led them to Mexico. Marty supervised 65 missionaries in 14 countries and traveled about 150 days a year.
About a year ago, IMB asked the Childers to return to a personalizer role in the United States. What they thought was going to be a three-year position turned into a one-year position with the possibility of extending.
“You’ve got all these employees,” Marty said. “You’ve only got so many, and you can only put them in so many places. Our calling hasn’t changed. The location of living out that calling is going to change.”
Since David Platt, IMB’s president, asked the missionaries to pray about staying or leaving, Marty said the decision has not been easy.
“In fact, we’ve been through the gamut of emotions,” he said.
IMB’s decision wasn’t unexpected. For several years the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has fallen short of its goal. IMB leaders tried to supplement the needed revenue by selling properties.
Marty stressed support for Platt. “This was not an easy decision for him,” he said.
Soon, Melissa will finish her degree at SEBTS (master of arts in biblical counseling). Their son, Caleb, lives in Carrboro with his wife. Jeremy, their oldest child, resides in Riverside, Calif., with his wife and two children. Melissa’s father is 83 and lives in Durham. His health issues have been a concern and were part of the decision to stay in the U.S.
At age 54, Marty is learning how to make a résumé. While he doesn’t feel God is calling him to be a senior pastor, they are trying to remain open to God’s plan for them, he said. They feel they would like to serve at a church, perhaps in the role of missions pastor.
They are staying at Durham Memorial Baptist Church’s mission house as long as they need it. “We’re not going to be homeless,” Marty said. “Their support has been amazing.”
In talking about the VRI, Marty used the pruning analogy from scripture.
“Sometimes you have to cut things off in order for it to bear fruit,” Marty said. “I just feel like we’re going to look back and be amazed at what God was doing through this.”
One of the pastors Marty encountered shortly after the VRI was announced said the decision was really more a statement about the conditions of our churches.
“It goes beyond the IMB,” Marty said. “Our desire is that our Southern Baptist churches will wake up and make [missions] a priority. I hope we’ll look back in 10-15 years and say, ‘Wow, look what God was doing.’”

Missionaries to South Asia

Isaiah and Josie were raised overseas. Isaiah’s parents served in Latin America, and Josie’s were in East Africa. She was in Africa from age 9 through high school. The Gabdons met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“When we were at [Southwestern] we felt together that the Lord was calling us to serve overseas,” Isaiah said. “We had both felt a strong call from Him, but He really affirmed that together.”
Their call to the international mission field was delayed when their first son had a brain hemorrhage that led to cerebral palsy. Their second son was extremely healthy when born, but was diagnosed with cancer as a baby. “God just really grew us a lot, and we really see how He has led us and grown us through different chapters in our lives,” Isaiah said.
Isaiah and Josie worked mainly with Muslim peoples in rural settings.
“The peoples that we worked with really had no access to not only the gospel but to health care,” Josie said. “I really believe that God called me to be a nurse so that I could help people with their whole health, not just their physical health but their spiritual health as well.”
They developed resources in local languages like Bible stories and radio programs.
The Gabdons also adopted their daughter from the country where they served. They credited the children with opening many doors to share the gospel.
When the boys finished high school, Isaiah and Josie were mobilizing churches to be involved in South Asia from the United States. When they returned to South Asia, they moved to a more urban setting where Josie was training IMB personnel and national partners in using health strategies throughout the region.
About a year and a half ago, the couple was asked to return stateside to assume roles of interviewing candidates.
They thought they would be doing that for one term (three years) and by then, their daughter would be graduated from high school and settled in college before the couple would return overseas.
Their plans did not include a VRI announcement.
“I think one of the really difficult things has been that we didn’t want some of the positive and the real benefits of being in the U.S. – to be near family, to be with our daughter when she goes into college instead of having to leave her and go across the world again – we didn’t want those kinds of things to be confused with having a ‘sense of peace’ you know?” Isaiah said. “But on the other hand we didn’t want the grief that we felt to be confused with a sense of unsettledness or a check in our spirit.”
He shared about their Imago Dei Church family in Raleigh and their support. The couple had not planned to retire for another 10-15 years, so “we really had to step back and really pray and really ask God ‘What are you doing now?’” Josie said.
They asked advice of elders in their current church as well as friends and people who have walked with them in ministry through the years.
The Gabdons refer to the VRI as the Voluntary Redeployment Incentive. They both stressed the IMB’s generosity during this uncertain time.
The Childers and Gabdons both have benefited from being in the States at the time of the announcement. That has made the transition easier. Because of their work with nationals in South Asia, the Gabdons have been helping their church as well as others reach internationals in the Raleigh-Durham area.
“We want to help in any way we can,” Isaiah said. “We’re not walking away from that call. We want to be using this here and the ways in which He has ordained.”
Josie has accepted a position using her nursing and ministry skills.

How can people pray?

The job load for the remaining missionaries is changing. Melissa requested prayers for those missionaries. They are losing family, and some might feel overwhelmed with taking on more responsibility.
Missionaries returning to the States will also be battling the feeling of abandoning nationals.
Some of the people returning have spent a majority of their adult lives overseas. Many returning missionaries haven’t prepared a resume in quite a while.
Isaiah encouraged churches and individuals who have job opportunities as well as housing or vehicle options available to contact the IMB transition team:
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – K. Allan Blume, BR editor, contributed to this story.) 

11/30/2015 2:13:24 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Production Editor | with 0 comments

Cultural Impact Tour calls for action

November 30 2015 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Mark Harris is concerned about cultural shifts that have forced same-sex marriage on Americans and fostered anti-Christian sentiments. As the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, he is traveling the state to mobilize pastors to take positive steps of action against destructive forces in the culture.
The Cultural Impact Tour (CIT) is a series of events Harris has led in 2015, with plans to continue into 2016. CIT is sponsored by Family Research Council, North Carolina Policy Council, Vision America and other organizations.
Ten pastors across N.C. are leading an organizational strategy to host vision luncheons for pastors. During a November event at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, Harris told the pastors it is not a mistake that “God has placed you in your position as a pastor and Christian leader of the church you serve.”


Mark Harris

He is concerned because Christian leaders will one day stand before God and give an account of their life and ministry. Addressing the significant cultural changes, he said, “We have allowed it to happen under our watch, and we have nothing else to do but to step up to the plate and let God work in and through all of us to bring our nation back to Him in repentance and brokenness. But it takes leadership to do that.”
The first step is to “take responsibility that this happened on our watch,” he said. Then we must be willing to correct the course of the nation. “It’s now time to take the action.”
In the pattern of patriot pastors who prepared their people for the Revolutionary War, Harris said pastors must take the lead in the battle. Much of the training during that pivotal war took place in the churches, led by pastors. “The churches [are] where they hid the gunpowder in the Revolutionary War,” he added.
CIT calls for pastors and churches to take action. “Today is not about hearing, it’s about doing,” said Harris. “We need men of God that will do what has to be done.”
Another speaker at the event, Rick Scarborough, is the founder and president of Vision America, as well as the former pastor of Pearland Baptist Church in Texas. Vision America’s website, said the organization “informs, encourages and mobilizes pastors and their congregations to be proactive in restoring Judeo-Christian values.”
Scarborough said in June that “the Supreme Court decided to mandate that which God forbids and natural law proves is incorrect.”
He pointed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was executed April 9, 1945, by Hitler’s Socialist Party. “His crime was refusing to say that Hitler was his führer,” Scarborough said. He inserted one of Bonhoeffer’s famous statements, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
“Increasingly, as a nation forsakes God and as a general principle the fear of God evaporates, that culture will digress to lawlessness,” Scarborough said. When the Ten Commandments are taught to be irrelevant, they are irrelevant to students. 
There are two choices for the pro-family movement in America according to Scarborough. “We can pray and hope for the best, or we can pray and act.” He called the pastors to respond to a scripture “we have all preached.” James 2:17 says, “Faith without works is dead.”
Pastors need to act because Judeo-Christian values are the foundation of Western civilization, he declared. “People are recognizing that there is something wrong with the culture. Even those who are not church attenders are seeing a shift in values. Foundations and freedoms are being threatened.” 
Harris said he invited pastors to the luncheon to ask them to do three things.
First, “Determine in your heart to have a Culture Impact Team in your church,” he said. “The team serves to inform, equip, alert and mobilize the membership of the body of Christ.” He explained that just as a church has a personnel committee and finance committee, it needs a Cultural Impact Team.
Second, Harris asked the pastors to choose a leader to attend the training session. Pastors are invited to attend the training but it is not necessary if the lay leader will attend.
“I’m not here today to ask you to do something that’s going to add one more thing to your plate,” Harris told the pastors. It is not the pastor’s responsibility to do the work of the team. “The pastor’s responsibility is to identify a lay leader in the church who will be trained.”
The CIT training is a two-and-a-half hour evening event. “All I am asking you as a pastor to do is to support it and to choose the lay person in your church you feel like would be great to be equipped. They will be reporting to you,” said Harris.
Christians feel like they don’t have the information they need to deal with the pressures they experience.

“They are being bullied,” he said. “They’re being told they are bigots and that they are wrong.”
Third, he offered a tool that helps a church discover how many people in the congregation are registered to vote and how many voted in the last election. He said it is the greatest tool to help a church be effective in cultural impact. “This is all public information,” he added. “The means are now available for churches to find out how many in our church are registered and how many voted.”
CIT organizers believe pastors can lead better when they have good information, which is available in print, on websites and through equipping sessions. Seven events are listed on the organization’s website through January. Visit
11/30/2015 2:08:11 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

ERLC trip points to complexity in Israel

November 30 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

American Christians need humility and helpful information to think biblically about modern Israel, pastors said after touring the Middle East country as part of a Southern Baptist delegation.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission led the Nov. 9-16 tour to equip Southern Baptist pastors and leaders regarding issues in Israel and to acquaint them with the work of the entity’s new international religious freedom office, which is located in the Middle East. The trip – organized and fully funded by the Philos Project – also included six ERLC staff members in its party of more than 20.


Image capture from Russell Moore Instagram video
ERLC President Russell Moore shared thoughts with the tour group as they overlooked Nazareth, Israel.

ERLC President Russell Moore described leading the delegation in partnership with the Middle East office as an honor.
“At a time where the lands where our Father Abraham and our Brother Paul once walked are now killing grounds where the people of the cross are being slaughtered, we are determined to be a witness for religious liberty around the world for the sake of the gospel,” Moore told Baptist Press in a written statement.
The trip’s goals included helping participants gain a deeper understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian refugee crisis and international religious freedom, according to the ERLC. The tour was filled not only with visits to important religious and national sites but conversations with government authorities and diverse religious leaders.
Southern Baptist pastors Nathan Lino and David Prince came away from the trip with a greater appreciation for the complexity of the issues in Israel and for their importance to pastors and churches.
Pastors of Southern Baptist churches “need to be renewed in a proper discipleship of our members regarding Israel and the Middle East,” said Lino, lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church.
“The absence of discipleship on this matter has created a void that has been filled with misinformation and unbiblical thinking amongst God’s people,” Lino said in an email interview with BP. “And because the subject of Israel and the Middle East is so central to the Christian narrative, and is by God’s design intricately related to what is happening in the world today, pastors cannot afford to let this subject matter go unaddressed.”
Experiencing the complexities involved in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute was humbling, Prince said in a Nov. 24 post for the ERLC’s Canon & Culture blog.
He realized “the tendency of Americans to watch cable news channels and make snap judgments about what ought to be done in the Middle East conflict is audacious hubris.” said Prince, the pastor for preaching and vision of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
“More than being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, Christians must be pro-Jesus as they think about the conflict,” he wrote, acknowledging, however, that “knowing the best way to be pro-Jesus is not easy.”
“Too often, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, or even pro-Jesus descriptors function merely as shibboleths,” Prince wrote. “This kind of lazy sloganeering does not address any of the real and vital issues. It takes a multilayered complex situation and makes it neat and tidy. Too often this kind of approach is not the fruit of critical thinking and engagement but rather a simplistic way to avoid thinking about the issues.”
Each of the various groups in the region has a “completely opposite story” of those told by other groups, Prince said.
Christians should care about the welfare of God’s image bearers in the Middle East, he wrote.
“Taking ‘every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5) demands being informed and takes deliberate prayerful effort,” said Prince, also associate professor for Christian preaching and pastoral ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The pastors and leaders on the ERLC trip heard from and/or dialogued with a senior peace negotiator with the Israeli government; a former member of the Knesset, Israel’s legislature; Bethlehem Bible College’s president; an Arab Muslim teacher; a Messianic Jew from the Jerusalem Institute of Justice; a Palestinian journalist; and other experts.
The ERLC group also met with David Saperstein, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Saperstein was in Israel during the same time period.
In addition, the trip included Moore teaching at important biblical sites, as well as a briefing on the Syrian civil war at Israel’s border with that country, a visit to a Galilean medical center in which Syrians fleeing the conflict are being treated and meals in homes.
The trip served as part of the ERLC’s effort to help Southern Baptist Convention pastors and leaders gain “a global understanding of the issues facing the church today” and as an opportunity to launch the entity’s international office, said ERLC Executive Vice President Phillip Bethancourt. The leaders on the trip “were able to experience the epicenter of challenges in the Middle East,” he told BP in an email, “while getting exposed to the work” of Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s office in the Middle East.
The trip proved helpful to Wussow. It was a great opportunity to meet with the ERLC team in Israel “to collaborate on strategy for the region and to plan for projects and priorities for the next 12-18 months,” he told BP by email.
The Philos Project is a New York-based organization that attempts to foster constructive Christian engagement in the Middle East. The ERLC tour was among those it organized in its first year of such trips, said Luke Moon, the Philos Project’s deputy director.
The project sponsors the trips by Christian leaders to Israel to enable them to hear from experts with the Jewish left and right, Arab Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews and others “to help them understand the complexity of what’s going on in Israel” and communicate what they learn to their constituencies, Moon told BP.
Prince’s blog post may be accessed online at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)
11/30/2015 2:00:17 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Alexis church applies revitalization plan

November 30 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A well-known Southern Baptist pastor, W.A. Criswell, once said, “Methods change; principles don’t ... This is a new day and a different one in which we live, and how to reach these people for God, [may] the Lord give us His benedictory wisdom from heaven.” Criswell’s statement was a reflection on three decades of ministry in Dallas, Texas, and his words were given at a dinner banquet for another congregation, encouraging them as the church experienced transition.
Sandy Marks, another Southern Baptist pastor – this one in Dallas, N.C. – seems to agree with Criswell’s sentiment as he leads Alexis Baptist Church into a new season of ministry. What began as a new system for deacons to serve the congregation and reach out to the community has become a way for each member of the church to experience robust discipleship and live on mission.
The North American Mission Board estimates that 80 to 90 percent of Southern Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining in membership numbers. When Marks learned that statistic, it left him with a burden that compelled him to pursue further pastoral training.
“I was convicted that if Alexis was going to experience revitalization,” said Marks, “we as a body had to change our culture to a disciple-making culture.”
At the time, Marks discovered that Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., was the only Southern Baptist seminary offering a doctoral studies emphasis in church revitalization. So, he enrolled in a hybrid doctoral program that allowed him to learn more about reinvigorating the ministry of his local church.
Marks’ study included an in-depth analysis of how Jesus trained His disciples. He noticed three distinct aspects of Jesus’ ministry: educational, experiential and relational.
Marks employed those three elements to help him answer the question, “How can we prepare people … to be a disciple?”
He reflected on his previous ministry method at Alexis, “We had been doing all these topical studies – marriage, finances, this or that.”
Marks began to see that if the congregation had a deep “biblical understanding,” then they would be able to approach all aspects of life from a biblical perspective.
Marks implemented a plan in September 2015 to teach his congregation the “overarching, redemptive story of the Bible.” On Sunday evenings, the church is currently doing an overview of the Old and New Testaments, covering each testament for six months. Next year, they will add to the program more intensive studies of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and the New Testament Gospels, for six months each.
In early 2015, Marks and the deacons at Alexis had decided to restructure their deacons’ ministry. They didn’t feel like their current plan was effective at meeting the needs of the community nor utilizing the gifts of the deacons.
Marks said team-based ministry seemed like a good approach. Deacons formed four groups: caring, congregational, connection and communication ministry teams.
The caring ministry team attends to member visitation, including hospital and shut-in visits, averaging around 150 contacts per month. The congregational ministry team carries out neighborhood mission projects. The connection ministry team welcomes visitors to the church and coordinates plans for meeting the needs of the community.
Making contact through social media and relaying information about church events is an important part of ministry in today’s world, according to Marks. That effort is carried out by the communication ministry team.
What started as an opportunity for the deacons to expand their ministry efforts developed into an avenue for the whole church to become involved, covering the experiential aspect of the revitalization plan.
Marks admitted that many churches have teams of deacons doing various aspects of ministry, but he said the vision for Alexis was broader. “At some point in this process the Lord asked me, ‘Why just have these teams for the deacons?’” said Marks. So, he decided to invite the whole congregation to get on board.
The church has dedicated Wednesday nights for ministry team meetings, replacing their traditional, midweek prayer and Bible study. “They meet, they plan, they rejoice over what they’ve done in the last week,” Marks said, describing how the time encompasses the relational aspect.
Plans for the future include yearly re-evaluations of the ministry teams to determine whether or not they continue to effectively meet the needs of the church and the surrounding community. “The idea is to stay very liquid and fluid,” said Marks, explaining how this approach matches the biblical concept of needs-based deacon ministry.
Transition is difficult for many churches, but Marks said, “They have responded in a tremendous way, and it has brought renewed excitement and vision to our entire church.” 

11/30/2015 1:49:10 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Greensboro church to ‘give Christmas’

November 30 2015 by Liz Tablazon, BR Writer

Members of Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro want to make Christmas look a little different this year. They hope to give it away by giving to someone else in need, instead of emphasizing the presents on their wish lists. Lawndale’s annual Greensboro Christmas Spectacular Dec. 12-13 will feature a 100-voice choir, 75-voice children’s choir, full orchestra and a 100-member cast, including about 60 students.


Contributed photo
Lawndale Baptist Church performs a production that highlights favorite songs as well as points to the gospel.

Another 150 people work behind the scenes in construction, technology operation and costume design. Terry Adams, associate pastor of worship and music at Lawndale, said while the music ministry plans the event, the entire church works together to reach the community through it.
Three acts make up the Christmas production. The first is a collection of favorite holiday songs; the second is an original drama written by Lawndale staff; the last is a nativity presentation, complete with live animals and costumes from biblical times.
This year’s drama is titled “Give This Christmas Away” and is based on the true story of Edna Olgan. When she was a child in the 1940s, Olgan’s mother taught her family how to “give Christmas away.” They earned and saved money to contribute to a special offering designated to a family in need. They ended up giving more than any other family did, only to discover that they were actually the recipients of the offering. Adams’ wife personally contacted Olgan and wrote the script for the drama. The story is a “wonderful challenge to each of us to give Christmas away to someone in need,” Adams said.
In the spirit of generosity, volunteers from the church distributed vouchers for free tickets to a thousand families on Nov. 24 as part of Lawndale’s Feeding the 5,000 outreach event. The event is not funded by the church budget; rather, members donate food and money to provide 1,000 families a box full of all the necessities of a Thanksgiving dinner. Volunteers distributed 1,000 bags of groceries in addition to the dinner boxes. Families can return the accompanying voucher to receive free admission to the Greensboro Christmas Spectacular. Adams said offering the vouchers makes the Christmas Spectacular available to those who may not otherwise have an opportunity to attend.
Some Lawndale members purchased tickets in bulk and gave them away to encourage people to see the performance. Adams has seen people reserve rows of seats and bring friends.
“The membership really embraces the event because the gospel is presented in a beautiful way,” he said.
Lawndale’s senior pastor, Joe Giaritelli, delivers a brief message after each production and offers an invitation for people to give their lives to Christ. Adams said many of the approximately 5,000 visitors respond positively to the event every year.
Performances are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 13 at 4 p.m. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit General seating is $5, and reserved seating is $10.
11/30/2015 1:42:58 PM by Liz Tablazon, BR Writer | with 0 comments

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

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