Guest Columns

The danger of plenty

June 24 2016 by Kathy Howard

Few of us in the average evangelical church in America have real need. Yes, I know some do go hungry and some have no roof over their heads. But that is the exception. The vast majority of us have all that we need. In fact, many of us have far more than we need. We have plenty.
 
And that in itself is a problem. Plenty can bring more serious trouble than need.
 
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warned the children of Israel about the danger of plenty before they entered the Promised Land:
 
But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14 NLT)

 

After 40 years wandering in the wilderness and depending on God for every bite of food and drink of water, the Israelites were about to settle into a land of abundance. Yes, the wilderness had been a physically difficult place, but this land of plenty would bring unique spiritual dangers. Moses points out four specific dangers in Deuteronomy 8:11-19:
 
1. Forgetfulness – When we aren’t forced to depend on God for our daily physical sustenance, we tend to forget Him. We fail to remember that God provides everything, even our ability to work and make money to purchase all the things we have.
 
2. Pride – Not only do we forget God’s provision, we begin to think we have done it all ourselves. We become puffed up and prideful in our plenty.
 
3. Disobedience – When we have forgotten God and become full of ourselves we begin to do anything and everything we want. We do it our way and give no heed to God’s commands.
 
All this leads to idolatry. Once we have forgotten God, something else will assume His rightful place in our lives. Whether money, job, recreation, another person, or ourselves, we will worship something.
 
How can we avoid the danger of plenty? Moses tells us that too. In one word, we must “remember.”
 
Remember God’s past provision. Remember God’s equipping for work. Remember God’s rightful place as the one true God who deserves our worship.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathy Howard is the author of seven books, including Lavish Grace, slated for release by New Hope Publishers in August. She has a master’s degree in Christian education from the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and has been teaching the Bible for over 25 years. Find out about Kathy’s books and speaking ministry and get discipleship tools and leader helps at kathyhoward.org)

6/24/2016 12:12:30 PM by Kathy Howard | with 0 comments



The invited become the inviters

June 23 2016 by Ernest L. Easley

There was a lot of talk on the topic of evangelism during the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in St. Louis.
 
The sermons that were preached, the panel discussions that were presented and our mission boards’ reports all made reference to the 15-year decrease in baptisms in our Southern Baptist churches.


Plenty of people are attempting to explain the decline. Some say it’s because so many of our churches are not filing their annual report, thus skewing the numbers. Others say the decline is theologically based while still others say it’s methodological.
 
One thing is for sure: It’s time we get back to inviting people to come to Jesus.
 
When God said to Noah in Genesis 7:1, “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation,” God extended a public invitation to Him.
 
When Jesus encountered the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21, He said, “... and come, follow Me.” Jesus extended a public invitation to follow Him.
 
C.E. Autrey in his book, The Theology of Evangelism, wrote, “The primary purpose of the message of evangelism is to call men to a personal relationship with God.” Autrey, a former SBC leader in evangelism, went on to say, “If the church quits calling on people to decide, then death is certain. The church must never turn from inviting men to an encounter with Christ. The people of God have no choice but to keep a strong emphasis on confronting the lost, privately and publically, with the gospel and calling on them to decide.”
 
Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:32: “Therefore, whoever confesses [acknowledges] Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” That certainly describes what takes place during a public invitation.
 
As the apostle Peter wrapped up his sermon in Acts 2, we read in verse 37, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” Peter then told them to repent and be baptized, and we read in verse 41, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
 
How did that happen without a public invitation? How are we to move forward in fulfilling the Great Commission without inviting the lost to Jesus? The God who initiates a relationship with us and then invites us into that relationship has commissioned us to become the inviters, as we invite the lost to Christ.
 
The invited are now the inviters!
 
Regarding the public invitation:
 
First, give it consistently. When your members bring a friend to worship, they should know that a public invitation will be given. Be consistent!
 
Second, give it creatively. There are various ways to give a public invitation. Be creative!
 
Third, give it clearly. Explain in simple terms what you’re asking people to do. Be clear!
 
Southern Baptists: Let’s get back to inviting people to come to Jesus!
 

6/23/2016 11:17:38 AM by Ernest L. Easley | with 0 comments



Lebron James’ theology

June 22 2016 by David Gray

Being a resident of northeast Ohio, I’ve had a lot of fun watching Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as they clawed their way to an NBA title. At times I have lamented as the star basketball player has been lionized and other times vilified for his views on life.
 
James’ passion for playing and winning basketball games has been analyzed, questioned and even challenged over the years. He has proven he can take on a seemingly larger-than-life goal and achieve it.
 
My question is, What can we learn from his single-minded pursuit of sports greatness?
 
In an interview seen on television and quoted at ESPN.com, we get a brief if unintended theology from Lebron as reflected in Cleveland’s historic victory:
 
“I don’t know why the man above give me the hardest road, but ... the man above don’t put you in situations that you can’t handle,” James said after the final buzzer on Sunday. “I just kept that same positive attitude. Instead of saying, ‘Why me?’ I said, ‘This is what He wants me to do.’ And Cleveland, this is for you.”
 
Is there anything of value a man or woman of God can learn from this or is it just more worldly wisdom to be discarded? Is this what we teach our children? Can you really have anything you want if you set your mind to it and develop the physical attributes to carry it out, especially if that goal is somehow deemed honorable?
 
Looking at the obvious, this is not the hardest road. Lebron James is a grown man making millions of dollars to play a kids’ game. He has not toiled in obscurity and has won multiple honors even as he has taken flak from sportswriters and fans at times.
 
Yet there is something noble in both James’ words and actions that we Southern Baptists and other Christians might well consider: It is time to stop complaining about the situation in which we find ourselves in the world and to pursue our calling.
 
This is a time of great need in our nation and around the world. It often seems the forces of evil have hemmed us in. Our good is maligned and in some ways there seem to be historic losses in the face of the ever-present culture wars.
 
It seems hard. So what? It is time for us to take our eyes off the people and situations that would inhibit us and focus on our understanding of our great God. If He has chosen us to live in such a time as this, then our response should not be “Why me?” but “What would you have me do, Lord?” If a young man from a poor community in northeast Ohio can rise to the top of his craft by believing he is called and then living his life accordingly, what about us? Are we not the called of God? Isn’t our mission greater than ending a sports championship drought?
 
Men, women, boys and girls are going to hell because many who have been chosen by God to teach, preach and heal have often settled for the distractions of seeking their own comfort rather than developing the gritty determination to follow the will of our God.
 
Frankly I am not too sure about Lebron James’ overall theological stance. But it sure seems right for us to be able to live our lives in such a way that we can confidently say, “This is what He wants me to do.” When that happens, there will be even more joy in heaven for eternity than is being expressed in northeast Ohio for this brief season.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Gray is pastor of First Baptist Church in Garrettsville, Ohio, and a former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.)

6/22/2016 1:58:38 PM by David Gray | with 0 comments



Headline prayers

June 21 2016 by Nate Adams

Today’s headlines are driving me frequently to deeper and more desperate prayer.
 
Many of us probably whisper something like “God help them” when we see a tragedy reported on the news. But I’m not primarily referring to headlines about a natural disaster or a rare, heinous crime by an isolated evil person.


The headlines driving me to deeper prayer are those that reveal a declining morality in our culture that seems more and more widely accepted.
 
My main dose of these headlines usually comes in the early morning while I’m exercising in front of the TV. As I flip from one news channel to another, I more and more regularly see behaviors, lifestyles and decisions that would have been considered shameful or scandalous a generation ago. Now they are reported as progressive, or even normal. And the proud spokespeople for many of these decadent trends are interviewed by often-adoring news anchors as if they were the civil rights voices of today.
 
I often find myself asking “Help them, help us, help me.”
 
Unrestricted freedom of individual choice, preference and expression seem to have become idols in American culture today. Just the other day, a story and its follow-up interview so shocked and deflated me that I moaned out loud, “Oh God, help them!”
 
“Help them to see the deception they have bought into, and the damage they are doing, and the long-term consequences of the sinful lifestyle they are advocating, both to themselves and to others. Convict them of sin, God, and show them the same mercy and grace that You show me when You convict me of my sin.”
 
But as the disturbing interview went on, I also found my prayer deepening.
 
“Yes, God, help them, but also help us! Your gospel had no voice in that headline, and your church had no spokesperson in that panel discussion. Interviewer and interviewee alike just presented that issue totally void of biblical perspective or truth. God, don’t let that happen! Don’t let millions of viewers gradually learn to accept that position as true and normative. Give Your truth a voice through Your people!”
 
The story passed, and I don’t know what was on the screen next because my prayer was driven even deeper.
 
“Yes God, help them, and help us. But oh God, help me too! My efforts to carry the truth of Your Word and the power of Your gospel are so weak. I’m going to go to the office in a few minutes to answer some emails, sit in some meetings, and move some projects along. But what will I have personally done to make any difference in the cultural decline I have just witnessed?”
 
My feeling of powerlessness was frustrating. And that frustration made me angry, as I found myself wanting to pray for God’s righteous judgment to simply fall upon these people, and upon our land if necessary, to make it all right again.
 
But I’ve learned to be careful, even fearful, about calling for God’s judgment. I am too often deserving of it myself. And when I was most deserving of it, when I was still a sinner by lifestyle and choice, when I was just as far from God as the frustrating people in the headlines, that’s when God in Christ reached out to me in mercy, and with conviction and grace and forgiveness. And He still does that today.
 
So I am meeting the morning headlines these days with these three prayers: God, help them. Help us. Help me. I invite you to join me in these prayers.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. This column first appeared at the Illinois Baptist, ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.)
 

6/21/2016 12:09:38 PM by Nate Adams | with 0 comments



An appeal to young Southern Baptists

June 20 2016 by Keelan Cook

Last week was the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was held in St. Louis this year and over 7,000 messengers attended. That is quite a bit larger than recent years, and I have to say, the event impacted me in a couple of significant ways. That is the reason for this appeal. I write to ask you, young Southern Baptist, to consider your involvement in our convention. Does your church send representatives to the convention? Have you ever been?
 
In my estimation, this year’s convention was deeply significant. Some pretty important issues were discussed on the floor of the convention, some sharp rebukes were delivered, and some magnificent displays of unity occurred. It was more than a convention. It was a defining moment in the direction of our giant cooperation of churches, and there is a chance history will remember it that way. What is more, I was there and I did not just watch it happen, I helped make it happen.


That is the beauty of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are America’s largest protestant denomination and we are not run by some elite board of decision makers. We are run by a room full of church members from across the United States and Canada. Our decisions are made by small church pastors, bi-vocational church planters, scholars, and automobile mechanics. Technically, our denomination only exists for two days a year, when all of our churches have the opportunity to send people to speak on matters concerning this cooperation we have created. It is powerful and it is beautiful. Unfortunately, I am afraid our generation knows little of that.
 
I struggle with this myself. I remember growing up in church, sitting through business meetings, and thinking that we were wasting God’s time. I can remember arguments over pastoral benefits and carpet color. Our generation does not like that. In fact, most of us are fed up with that, and rightly so. However, I fear we can make an error that is at least as egregious when we think the solution is avoiding the business meeting altogether. The solution to bad business meetings is not to avoid them, it is to change them. That takes participation.
 
I believe most young Southern Baptists know little about their denomination and the way it works. That is a shame, too. Tens of thousands of churches work together, often in the midst of disagreement, to demonstrate unity and share resources for the Great Commission. After all, that is why our denomination was started in the first place, to send missionaries, and that is really the only thing that has held it together. Our convention has a missions legacy that is unprecedented. I wish more young Southern Baptists could experience that.
 
This is a Stewardship Issue
In the end, it is not about a bunch of people wasting time but about figuring out how to use our resources (and we have a lot) for the Great Commission. We have two giant missions agencies that send thousands of church planters and missionaries the world over. We have six seminaries that together are training the lion-share of pastors, church planters, and missionaries in the United States. Generally speaking, they are the biggest seminaries in the country. We have a commission on religious liberty and ethics that intercedes with the government on behalf of kingdom principles and LifeWay creates biblical resources and curriculum for churches far outside the reach of our denomination.
 
Every year, our convention gathers messengers in order to decide how we use these great resources for the spread of the gospel and making disciples. The convention is not simply a business meeting; it is a weighty stewardship. It is the chance for our churches to guide our cooperative resources. As with anything, they can be steered in a way that is ineffective, or they can be harnessed and used for God’s glory among the nations. But the ability to steward only comes to those who participate.
 
Perhaps we do not see ourselves as the ones who should wield such stewardship. After all, our parents have been the ones who made these decisions for the longest time. On average, our generation is far more interested in attending a Passion conference than our annual business meeting as Southern Baptists. Maybe we have taken the posture of the recipient for so long that we do not know what it means to make the decisions about how it is done. Nevertheless, there is a point where the children become the leaders. For us young Southern Baptists, that time quickly approaches. We have an inheritance of cooperation and Great Commission partnership that has lasted 171 years, and maybe it is time we see it as such.
 
J.D. Greear’s candidacy for president was a lesson for many this year. The grace and humility with which he withdrew galvanized a divided room. J.D. was right; we can do more together. There were a lot of different opinions in that room, but despite those differences, the unity that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than enough to foster cooperation.
 
And for us younger folk, J.D. provides another lesson. He ran. Instead of avoiding “convention politics” or dismissing this great stewardship, he placed his hat in the ring. He chose to get involved and pick up the responsibility that comes with an inheritance. He did not do so with an attitude of conquest or division. That was clearly demonstrated when he withdrew and cast his vote for Steve Gaines, encouraging his supporters to do so. After all, together we can do more.
 
Get Involved
So my appeal to you is simple: get involved. I know the concerns and things that disappoint friends my age about our denomination. These things do not change when we avoid responsibility. We need to participate in the right way, in a biblical way, with grace, humility, and thanksgiving for the cloud of witnesses before us. We need to be the kind of generation that makes the previous generation proud to pass the baton. We need to remember that one of our greatest strengths is our diversity, methodological and theological diversity. It sharpens us and constantly calls us from drifting too far afield.
 
Make sure your church sends a delegation. So many decisions are made over those two days, and your church has the very real ability to affect those decisions. Every, single messenger can approach the microphone and have their voice heard, and every, single church has the opportunity to send messengers. Several resolutions this year passed or failed on the passionate appeal of a messenger from the floor.
 
Furthermore, consider being a messenger yourself. Perhaps you did not like one of those decisions. Every vote this year did not go the way I wanted it to, but the only way to speak into those is by being there. That takes a lot for someone our age, I believe. It takes a change in posture. Personally, I want to go to a conference to “learn something” or “be edified” or whatever other term you attach to sitting passively while others are doing stuff. We need to see the real opportunity to advance the gospel through our actions at the Southern Baptist Convention, and we need to grab that inheritance while we can still learn from those before us.
 
Let us take a cue from J.D. and roll up our sleeves as well. As I watched our convention this year, I was thankful to God for all that he has done to bring together such an interesting group of churches. The fact that our convention exists is an act of the Spirit and God’s great grace. I felt a responsibility for it, and I pray that more people my age will do the same. Avoidance is not the answer, stewardship is. This is not conquest, it is not a generational war for control, but a great cooperative effort.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– This article was originally published on blog.keelancook.com. Used by permission.)
 

6/20/2016 12:42:59 PM by Keelan Cook | with 0 comments



A Crossover of generations

June 15 2016 by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press

This weekend I witnessed multiple generations unite to impact the city of St. Louis at Crossover, a series of evangelistic events around the city. A diverse city was reached by a diverse group of Southern Baptists.
 
At one location, a church hosted a free rap concert at a nearby park that was deeded to it at no cost - not because of any act of generosity but simply by the fact the park was so drug-ridden that no one else wanted it. A rapper, Thi’sl, with tens of thousands of fans spanning the globe came back to his community and poured into the people he grew up with. I expected to see exclusively young faces at the concert but older faces were working in unison with my generation to reach a community in desperate need of the gospel. The concert truly brought together the whole community, and if that is not a worthy goal, then what is?
 
At another location, a church ministered to cyclists on an upscale bike trail in its neighborhood.The church handed out water to the adults navigating the trail in record-setting heat - and they had a balloon artist for children as well. Leaders of the church expressed their desire to reach multiple generations and they did so by realizing that it takes more than one approach - while working together as fellow members of the body of Christ.
 
If there was one word to describe Crossover, perhaps it would be “unified.”
 
Believers unified to spread the gospel to lost souls with hearts that did not recognize the “wrong” or “right” side of a neighborhood. Believers unified despite coming from various ethnic backgrounds and talents to share their unique perspectives and stories to impact a diverse city. They converged together to bring a gift that can be shared by all generations - the salvation of Jesus Christ.
 
In Joel, God lays out a vision where generations come together to spread the gospel not as a divided body, but as one unified body: “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28).
 
Too often we are caught in the trap of segmenting and compartmentalizing generations in efforts to share the gospel. It is easy to see age as a barrier in outreach and not as a tool. However, some of the most beautiful work in missions comes when generations unite to spread the gospel, and Crossover is a fine example.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Woodman, who will be a junior journalism major at the University of Missouri, is a summer intern with Baptist Press.)
6/15/2016 11:49:59 AM by Daniel Woodman, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Reflections of the stats guy

June 14 2016 by Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research

My upcoming career change means – for the first time in a long time – I won’t be employed by a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity (although I’m still a Southern Baptist). In other words, my long history of being the bearer of bad news as the denominational stats guy is coming to a close.
 
But, facts are still our friends. And, the SBC Annual Church Profile has been a bearer of unwelcome facts for a long time.


As I look back over my years of tracking SBC statistics, a few things are worth saying on the way out.
 

Dispelling the myth

Several years ago, our team brought attention to the fact that the SBC was in a long-term trend that would involve long-term decline. It was – and remains – a multi-decade decline, and it is accelerating. I wrote about it in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. As I had noted, “The membership decline of the SBC is not a matter of debate. It is a matter of math.”
 
I had to write that (and I used that exact phrase at the SBC Pastors’ Conference at that time) because some in the SBC claimed the decline wasn’t real. Articles were written to demonstrate there was no decline, as if math has some nefarious motive. But there was a decline that is continuing.
 
Although the number of congregations in cooperation with the SBC increased last year, membership declined more than 200,000, down 1.32 percent to 15.3 million members. Additionally, average weekly worship attendance declined by 1.72 percent to 5.6 million worshippers.
 
We also experienced a decline in baptisms, down 3.3 percent to 295,212. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years.
 
So, even though the number of churches continues to increase, the number of people attending SBC churches continues to decline, and the number of people baptized in SBC churches continues to decline.
 
It isn’t a pretty picture.
 
Now that the decline is unmistakable, some are blaming the percentage of churches reporting their Annual Church Profile (ACP) numbers. Doing so is just another way to refuse to face reality.
 
The reporting percentage this year is about the same as last - and the numbers continue to decline. SBC President Ronnie Floyd is correct in his analysis and warning, “Be careful in your assessments, evaluations and statements. Yet, let’s be honest with ourselves; these trends are unhealthy and undeniable, demanding immediate action.”
 
And, now, as Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, predicted a few years ago, Southern Baptists are shrinking faster than United Methodists.
 
Change is needed. And praying for an awakening without making the needed change, and engaging in the needed work, is basically asking God to do what He called us to do.
 
There are issues that still must be addressed.
 

Generational issues

Although generational division isn’t as evident nationally today, it still abounds in many places across the SBC. Join me at many state Baptist conventions and you’ll see.
 
Many younger believers have left the SBC, but they aren’t leaving the faith or becoming Wiccans. They are becoming nondenominational evangelicals who still believe like us but now want to go on without us.
 
We should continue to ask why.
 
The SBC needs to determine how to help all generations engage in the mission of God, together, before the Southern Baptist Convention grays even more.
 

Church planting

Any denomination that grows will increase in both church planting and evangelism. Currently, church planting is a bright spot in the SBC. As Carol Pipes wrote for Baptist Press, the number of churches cooperating with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 294 to 46,793, a 0.63 percent increase over 2014 – the 17th year in a row the number of Southern Baptist churches has grown.
 
However, generally denominations must plant 3 percent of the total number of churches just to maintain. That means the SBC needs 1,403 new churches in 2016, substantially more than the 800-plus in 2015, to maintain as other churches close or disaffiliate.
 
Yet, North American Mission Board’s church planting emphasis has received pushback, as if we are doing too much! We plant a substantially lower per capita number of churches than the Assemblies of God, for example – and they just celebrated 25 years of consecutive growth.
 
The SBC isn’t planting too many; in fact, it must plant more. It needs new churches that reach men and women in different communities, of different ethnicities, and across the generations.
 

Cultural challenges

A negative view of engaging culture, and being negatively viewed by culture, remains a thorn to SBC effectiveness. And, to be honest, some leaders have exacerbated this problem.
 
Many think being on the front line of the culture wars for decades is “fighting for the faith.” There are things worth a fight, but we’ve sure found a lot of fights to wage.
 
For many of our neighbors, our warring is interpreted as being against them. You can’t reach a people and war with a people at the same time.
 
As of yet, we’ve not made it to the point where we have, as SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page has suggested, become known for what we are for rather than what we are against.
 
Yet, we simply cannot continue building walls between ourselves and the culture, then castigate people on the other side for not climbing over.
 
That means our churches need to change, and part of that change has to be a renewed emphasis on evangelism.
 

Effective evangelism

The fact is, we seem to have lost our passion for evangelism. Baptists love evangelism as long as somebody else is doing it.

Baptists love baptisms so much that we named our denomination after them. Yet, there are fewer and fewer. Evangelism, and the baptisms that flow from gospel proclamation, must be our focus again or we need a new name that does not involve the waters of biblical baptism.
 
And, yes, that evangelism has to change in some ways, and innovation and change are just not bad things, Southern Baptists.
 
The gospel needs to be proclaimed, and Southern Baptists need to get more serious about proclaiming that same gospel in new ways.
 
As I leave denominational service, I’m a bit relieved to drop the role of statistical truth-telling to Southern Baptists. It’s not a fun job, I assure you, as telling the statistical truth is often controversial in our denomination.
 
And, some have a vested interest in saying things are fine, since they are (at times) the ones in charge.
 
But all is not well. Sure, there are other issues to address like how Southern Baptists treat one another, organizational challenges, character issues, and more.
 
However, at this point, might I suggest that we need the truth and we need change.
 
The truth is the SBC is declining, the decline is accelerating, and if something does not change, the denomination will depopulate itself in a matter of decades.
 
The change is more focus on sharing the gospel, planting churches, engaging the culture, and joining Jesus on mission.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, will join the faculty of Wheaton College beginning July 1 as The Billy Graham Distinguished Endowed Chair for Church, Mission, and Evangelism; executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism; and chair of the Wheaton Graduate School’s evangelism and leadership program.)

6/14/2016 10:19:55 AM by Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



13 questions to ask a never-churched guest

June 10 2016 by Chuck Lawless

I was a fully unchurched, never-attending teenager when I visited a church for the first time. I had all kinds of questions, but I didn’t know whom to ask. Consequently, I sometimes struggled needlessly.

 

Here are some questions I would want to ask as a never-churched person attending church for the first time (though I’d probably keep my questions to myself):

 

Photo courtesy of chucklawless.com

1. Am I a “guest”? I see something called “guest parking” when we pulled in, but I don’t know whom that includes. I’m a visitor, for sure, but maybe the church has other guests today.    

2. Where’s the right entrance to the church? I thought I’d just follow the crowd, but the crowd’s entering several doors.

 

3. Where do the people gather for the service? Maybe this is a case where I can indeed just follow the crowd. Maybe.

 

4. Who’s that person talking up there on the stage? I’m sure the church knows who he is, but I don’t have a clue – and he didn’t introduce himself. In fact, there’s more than one person I don’t know.

 

5. Am I the only one in the room who doesn’t really “get it”?  It feels weird, actually. A lot’s going on in this service, and I’m always at least one step behind. Everyone else seems to have his or her act together.

 

6. Is it wrong if I don’t sing? Most everybody else seems to know these songs, but I’ve never heard of them. It’s tough to figure out the melody when only the words are on the screen.

 

7. Do I have to give money? I don’t carry much cash, and I’m not prepared to give much. Is that okay?

 

8. Does it matter that I don’t have a Bible? All these people appear to have their own Bible, and they’re following along with the speaker. Is it a problem that I don’t have one?

 

9. What’s “Exodus 1:8” [or any verse]? The speaker said to “turn to” that in the Bible. I see the others turning to that page, but I wouldn’t know how to get there even if I had a Bible.

 

10. What’s that word mean? When you don’t know some of the words in the sermon (like “justification”), it’s difficult to understand all the points. I’m embarrassed asking somebody to define the words.

 

11. What am I supposed to do now? I think we’re supposed to do something now the sermon’s over, but it’s not clear to me. I need clearer directions.

 

12. Where are my kids? I know I walked with you to take them to their classroom, but I’m not sure I can get back there by myself after the service. What if we can’t find them?

 

13. Where’s my car? I thought I knew where we parked, but I guess I got turned around in the building. Whom do I ask for help?

 

What questions do you think a never-churched person might ask when he or she attends your church?

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on chucklawless.com)

6/10/2016 4:42:47 PM by Chuck Lawless | with 0 comments



A $4 CD

June 9 2016 by Art Toalston

A $4 thrift store purchase is affecting my life.

It’s not as life-changing as the name of Jesus, but it is nudging my soul in a positive direction.

This purchase – a beginner’s CD for learning Spanish – is teaching me more than an alphabet, basic grammar and Spanish words for everyday nouns and verbs.


One word in particular is energizing my venture into Spanish:

“Maravilloso” – the word for marvelous.

It’s fun to insert it into emails with Spanish-speaking friends whenever opportunity permits. It seems to spark a unique, albeit brief, reaction – something like, “Oh, you’re trying to learn my language.”

Think for a moment when you’ve spoken with someone from another culture who is trying to say something in English. Your heart goes out to the person. You try to find the right word. You likely smile together. You connect for a precious moment.

The same thing happens when we are the stammering ones trying to stretch our lives - even by a single word – into the context of one who speaks Spanish, Chinese, Russian or any of the world’s heart languages.

No doubt, the centrality of words precedes the advent of linguistics and communication theory. God, first and foremost, speaks. In His case, it’s through the words of Scripture, illuminated within our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

So in our everyday lives, I suggest buying a $4 CD to learn some Spanish if you see one in a thrift store. Better yet, I’ve learned of a Spanish-learning website and mobile app named Duolingo that’s free, has no ads, and even is a bit entertaining.

Then, from time to time, listen to the CD if your car, home computer or laptop has a CD player. Or take your first venture into Duolingo. Have the humble courage to say “maravilloso.”

And, certainly from an eternal perspective, learn God’s language in Scripture. One of the great connection points between God and humankind is in the New Testament book of Romans, chapter 10: “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming. That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved … for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (verses 8-10,13).

To hearts hungry for an eternal connection, these words – and all of God’s words across the pages of Scripture – are maravilloso indeed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press and author of the ebooks “When I Meditate” and “Meditation & Morality.”

6/9/2016 9:36:48 AM by Art Toalston | with 0 comments



The Southern Baptist Convention and our future

June 8 2016 by Ronnie Floyd

The future of Southern Baptist Convention is on my heart this week. Perhaps now, days away from the conclusion of my two-year presidency, my feelings may lean toward being a little nostalgic.


What will our future look like? If Jesus tarries His coming, how long will our convention of churches last? Only God knows the answer to these and more questions when we think about our future together.


Who do we want to be in the future?


This should be a concern for all of us, and we should never minimize this issue: Who do we want to be in the future?
 
I recently heard a major political leader say that during the decision-making process, he keeps in mind that “Every step is a forward-moving step.”
 
The same is true for the future of our Southern Baptist Convention. Every step we make needs to move us forward. Nothing moves fast in a major government or a convention of churches. Checks and balances are provided at many levels. At times these may appear to bind us, but in reality, they protect us in the long term.
 
I want to suggest some steps that will always keep us moving forward. Perhaps these steps could be more properly called axioms, which are principles or self-evident truths that are widely accepted among us. Who do we want to be in the future?
 

1. A Bible-believing Southern Baptist Convention

 
While this may currently be part of our identity, the reality is that the culture mocks the authority of the Bible in 2016 and beyond.
 
Our pastors and churches are navigating in a world unlike anything we have experienced before. Our leadership with our laypeople and one another is critical in this hour. Whatever step we take in our decision-making, we must always do so believing the Bible is infallible, trustworthy, sufficient and inerrant, progressing toward the goal set before us.
 

2. A gospel-advancing Southern Baptist Convention

 
In this diverse, complex season in American life and in the evangelical world, there really is only one passion that keeps us tied together:
 
Advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire nation and world.
 
Our pastors, churches and convention leaders must dig deep and find a way to experience a rebirth of sharing the Gospel personally and a renewal of our priority to evangelize the towns and cities of America and simultaneously extend the gospel globally.
 
We cannot retreat from this calling, but must renew our commitment to such a point that we act upon it urgently, personally, collectively, cooperatively and aggressively.
 

3. A leader-developing Southern Baptist Convention

 
In order for us to live out Ephesians 4:12, “For the training of the saints in the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ,” every member in the body of Christ must be developed to do the work of the ministry in and through the local church. Until our local churches return to our members owning the ministry and personalizing the Great Commission locally, we will not seize this opportunity before us.
 
While our six seminaries are developing just over 20,000 seminary students in their various locations, their robust effort must continue forward for God’s glory. This is one of our most encouraging dynamics in Baptist life. This indicates a hope that perhaps God is preparing His called servants to impact our nation and the globe in an unprecedented way.
 

4. A multi-ethnic, multi-lingual Southern Baptist Convention

 
Strengthening our commitment to becoming a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual denomination begins in the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. In other words, this is a local church issue more than a Southern Baptist Convention issue. The Southern Baptist Convention will mirror our churches.
 
If our churches are going to reach the towns and cities of America with the Gospel, each church must become committed to reach people that comprise their community, including those of unique ethnicity and may speak a language other than English.
 
The North American Mission Board informed Southern Baptists that 58 percent of the churches planted one year ago are non-white churches. In the past two years, with the appointments I am permitted to make as president of our convention, we are at the highest percentage of appointments of non-white Baptists in our history. Additionally, in last year’s National Call to Prayer and with this year’s National Conversation on Racial Unity in America, the Southern Baptist Convention is making great strides in this conversation and will continue to do so. But let me remind you, the key is what is happening in our churches.
 

5. A local church-centered Southern Baptist Convention

 
The Southern Baptist Convention is not centered on our SBC national entities, state conventions, or regional associations; we are to be centered on helping our churches. These entities, conventions and associations exist for one purpose alone: for our churches. Their role is to assist our churches to carry out their God-assigned, God-anointed task of reaching the world for Christ. Otherwise, they have no reason to exist.
 
Southern Baptists are always at our best when our churches are being assisted and equipped, and our pastors are leading not just their churches, but in their beloved Southern Baptist Convention.
 

6. A generously-giving Southern Baptist Convention

 
Southern Baptists have been able to do what we do for one reason alone:
 
Our churches are generous in giving through the Cooperative Program and to our mission offerings. We do not need to minimize what our churches are doing already and have done together historically.
 
While generosity must continue to grow, money usually follows vision and the unity of our fellowship together.
 

7. A people-loving Southern Baptist Convention

 
Southern Baptists are not perfect, especially in our testimony together in fellowship, but we must not neglect our need to be a people-loving convention. Right now in these socially uncertain waters in America, we face an ongoing threat of being pulled into an ocean of skepticism, criticism and cynicism toward not just people in America, but even more sadly, one another.
 
Southern Baptists should want to be known for being a people-loving convention, both within our family and outside of our family. Jesus calls us to love one another.
 

Who we do not want to be

 
Daily, we face the ongoing tension between who we want to be in the future versus who we do not want to be in the future. I have encouraged us to make great choices about who we want to be in the future.
 
Briefly, I want to declare who we do not want to be in the future:
 
- We do not want to be a convention that questions or denies the Holy Scripture and its ongoing authority until Jesus comes again.
 
- We do not want to be a convention that minimizes evangelism locally, regionally and nationally, or we will become a convention that does not advance the Gospel globally. If we lose evangelism as our priority, we will soon cease to have a convention.
 
- We do not want to be a convention that demeans the role of laypersons in our churches and minimizes the ministry of equipping from the local church to the convention level.
 
- We do not want to be a convention comprised of only Anglo/white churches, or we will soon be dead and irrelevant to our culture.
 
- We do not want to be a convention centered on ourselves, our structures, and our systems, or we will float away on the seas of selfishness.
 
- We do not want to be a convention that is comprised of selfish non-giving Christians and self-serving churches or we will cease being able to finance our work together statewide, nationally and internationally.
 
- We do not want to be a convention that erodes relationships with each other and other evangelicals through constant, ongoing skepticism, un-Christian criticism, and unattractive cynicism.
 
I call our pastors, churches and convention leaders to a higher life and a greater level of leadership in the times in which we live today.
 
In 2016, we need leaders to rise up as modern men and women of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32)
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. This column first appeared on Ronnie Floyd’s website, www.ronniefloyd.com.)

6/8/2016 10:07:05 AM by Ronnie Floyd | with 0 comments



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