Guest Columns

Compromising Christians

February 11 2016 by Redunda Noble, Guest Column

Two of our Christian friends resigned from commitments in their churches last year and left ministry positions vacant. My husband and I tried to encourage them to find a way to continue their service, but they would not reconsider.
 
Once it was clear they had made their final decision, we had to let it go. But we noticed a common thread in their situations – they sought and eventually accepted secular positions requiring them to miss church.
 
Because Sunday is a day set apart for worship, studying the Bible and enjoying Christian fellowship, it is unsettling to see that church attendance is losing value among Christians.
 
A recent Barna survey found that Christians consider themselves faithful even when they only attend church once or twice a month. According to Barna, 51 percent of Americans do not see the importance of going to church. Further proof of decline is the drop in church attendance from 43 percent in 2004 to 36 percent in 2014. The declining numbers prove Americans, and even Christians, are becoming more and more secular.
 
It used to be unthinkable for a Christian to miss church on Sunday unless they were homebound or hospitalized. Nowadays, skipping church has become the new normal as believers are indulging in recreation instead of worshipping Christ. They compromise Kingdom duties and replace them with work, sports, travel and other entertainment activities.
 
When I talk to Christians, I often hear the same responses:

  • Sunday is my only day off.

  • I rarely get to sleep in.

  • We have tickets to the game.

  • My job requires me to travel on Sundays.

  • Our family is going to the lake this weekend.

  • My son has a game.

The decline devastates the small church, and many of our larger churches are scrambling to combat the trend. Churches have added Friday and Saturday evening worship services to draw new, younger crowds. However, the additional services risk burning out pastors and ministry leaders already stretched to their limit. Only time will tell how effective these additional services will be in our changing church culture.
 
Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to neglect our times of assembly for worship but to be diligent in helping our brothers and sisters commit to regular worship attendance. Knowing that Christ’s return is imminent, we cannot forsake our duty to encourage other believers in the Lord.
 
We can be sure we are obeying scripture when we do the following things to help other Christians remain faithful to the Lord:
 

Pray diligently

Pray for believers in your church to surrender to the Lord. A life fully surrendered can fully serve. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus teaches that we must deny ourselves, take up our own crosses and follow Him. Pray that our church members will see that no other work is as rewarding as serving Christ. Pray for God to give them zeal and passion to place Christ above everything else.
 

Share truthfully

Be intentional as you talk to fellow church members. If you see a lack of commitment, lovingly point them to scripture. Offer Romans 12:2 as a warning against apathy and compromise with the world. Use 1 Corinthians 12 to help them to see they are a necessary part of the body of Christ.
 

Live exemplary

Be an example of humble devotion to Christ. Do not complain or make excuses for not serving when asked. Help others see the value of servanthood in the joy you display. You may be their only example of a faithful servant. Live out Matthew 6:33 in your life and people will see how God blesses you.
 
Only the Lord can change people’s hearts, but we know our God is faithful to keep His Word when we do what He asks us to do. If even a few believers recommit their time and talents to serving Christ, God gets the glory and the church benefits.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Redunda Noble is a freelance writer who also leads a women’s Bible study, sings at church and serves alongside her husband James Noble, pastor of Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. The Barna study referenced in this article, “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” can be accessed at https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/661-americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church#.VrY3ZVgrKM8.)

2/11/2016 11:46:53 AM by Redunda Noble, Guest Column | with 0 comments



The presidential election: things to keep in mind

February 10 2016 by Ronnie Floyd, Guest Column

During this pivotal year of electing the next president of the United States, we need to be wise with our words and actions.
 
These are serious times. Much passion is rising in America during this season. It is in the air. We sense it, feel it and know it in our heart. Much is at stake. This is undeniable.
 
Yet, it would be well for each of us to remember these five things during the election season:
 

1. Keep everything in perspective.

God is sovereign over all human affairs. Regardless of who wins the nomination of your preferred party or who wins the election, God is ultimately in charge.

 
2-10-16gcfloyd.jpg

Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

I am not advocating passivism. I am calling for each of us to keep everything in perspective. Our hope and trust is ultimately in the Lord.

 

2. Be involved in the process.

Each Christ-follower needs to be involved in the processes of electing our next president. We need to know about the candidates, understand what they believe, measure it by the Word of God, and vote as we believe God is leading us. We need to vote not only in the general election, but also in the primary of our choice.
 
It is incumbent upon us to be involved in the process at whatever level afforded to us. If you get a chance to meet one or more of the candidates, meet them. If you get a chance to speak into their lives and platform, step up and represent the Lord and His Word honorably. If you are never afforded this privilege, learn what you can by listening, watching and reading.
 
I say it again; it is incumbent upon us to be involved in the process of electing our next president. Quite honestly, America cannot afford for us to stay at home.
 

3. Watch what you say and how you say it.

Passion is rising over these matters. In our respective places and positions, each of us will be asked our opinions. Therefore, we need to be deliberate in what we say and how we say it.
 
People are watching and listening to us. We represent our Lord everywhere, so we need to live up to this wisely. This does not keep us from providing insights and speaking up when appropriate, but it does call us to weigh every word we say and the way we say it.
 
Do not lose your testimony and influence with others for the sake of pontificating, as if you are trying to win an argument or promote your preferred persuasion. This is difficult for each of us, but we must be wise with our words and gentle in our spirit.
 
In our congregations, we have people from all backgrounds with all kinds of opinions. This should not call us to silence or intimidate us into fearfulness. Yet, it does call us to be wise with our words and clear in every way, exhibiting at all times the spirit of Christ.
 

4. Refuse to be categorized.

Election season usually pushes us into categories and labels. It is now more than obvious by what we read that even evangelicals are broken into various categories. These categories are labeling different groups and how they will vote with different candidates.
 
I hope each of us will strive not to be categorized by anyone.
 
We are one thing ultimately: followers of Jesus Christ. This is our badge of honor. If we abandon this by our actions or opinions, we will begin to lose our prophetic voice during this critical hour in America.
 

5. Pray for God to raise up His next leader for our nation.

Daniel 2:21 says, “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning” (NIV). God does have a will for our nation and He has the power to raise up whomever He desires to lead our nation.
 
As followers of Christ, while we work in the processes afforded us as Americans, we need to also pray for God to raise up His next leader for our nation. May He raise up such a leader where His mercy will extend toward us. And, regardless of this leader, I pray for the mercy of the Lord to be upon us.
 
When we know we have worked in the processes and prayed for the Lord’s will to be done, when all is concluded, we have the peace to trust the Lord who is sovereign over all affairs.
 
Finally, let’s pray for one another to remember these five things during the presidential election season.
 
(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 at Ronnie Floyd’s website, ronniefloyd.com.)

2/10/2016 10:57:32 AM by Ronnie Floyd, Guest Column | with 0 comments



Bridging the generation gap

February 9 2016 by Jeremy Mahaffey, Guest Column

In 16 years of ministry I’ve noticed that nearly every church, every pastor and every church member has dealt with the issue of the generation gap. To solve this problem in our local churches we have to simply do one thing, “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
 
I’ve come to the conclusion that the generation gap isn’t really about church styles or church music, but rather it’s about a lack of love. The young like things fast, loud and technologically advanced, while many of the older like things a little slower and more predictable. But in the end those aren’t the real issues. The real problem is how we love those different from us!
 
I loved my grandparents deeply, but we were as different as night and day. For some reason I never really had any problems bridging the generation gap with my grandparents. Do you want to know why? It was because I loved them with all my heart!
 
Imagine how compelling and God-honoring a local church could be if the youth learn from their elders and the elders intentionally invest in the younger generation.
 
As a preacher I get tired of hearing the same arguments over and over again. Those arguments usually take on one of the following two forms.
 
The older say, “Those young people are going to destroy the church with all their new ideas, upbeat music and casual attire.” Second, the younger say, “Those older folks are going to let this church die because they don’t want to change anything.”
 
If you read the two complaints closely, you’ll notice the issue is more about identifying who the problem is and less about trying to understand and love those that are different from us. This problem is something that can and will quickly go away if we just love each other the way Jesus commands us.
 
Our churches will not suddenly start reaching the world for Christ just because generational preferences are met. Just because a local church does or does not cater to everyone’s personal preferences is not the reason Christ came to die. Jesus’ death on the cross was for the salvation of souls, not for the preserving of traditions.
 
Let me be crystal clear. I believe there is nothing wrong with traditions, and there is nothing wrong with change. The problems arise when our obedience or lack of obedience is directly linked to certain aspects of “church life” and not to Christ Himself.
 
Those who struggle with bridging the generation gap are usually blinded by the belief that their preferences are right and any other preference is wrong. We must pray and not be deceived into this kind of thinking. Rather, we must learn to hold to Christ alone and learn to do it together. We have to get to the point where we all love those much younger than us, those much older than us and those who are very different from us. If we only love and support those who are just like us, we aren’t really a “church body.” The enemy would love to divert us and our church’s focus away from Christ and to non-essential issues. I plead with you today to remember that Christ came for people, died for people, arose for people and will return for people, and not for our generational preferences.
 
The problem of bridging the generation gap can be eliminated, but it must start with each of us loving those who are different from us. Remember, heaven will not be filled with everyone who is just like you!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeremy Mahaffey is senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Vale.)

2/9/2016 11:47:22 AM by Jeremy Mahaffey, Guest Column | with 1 comments



Do state conventions and associations have a future in the SBC?

February 8 2016 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President

The present generation of Southern Baptists will have to answer many difficult, unavoidable questions in relationship to the future. Being proactive in dealing with difficult questions such as these is wise.
 
One of these difficult questions is: Do state conventions and associations have a future in Southern Baptist life?
 

Boots on the ground

Does this structural model still serve us effectively? I believe that if we were starting from scratch in 2016 with a mission to reach America with the gospel, we would need a way to have local “boots on the ground” in order to assist our churches in reaching their mission. If we were starting with a clean slate today, state conventions and associations might look somewhat different, but the key reality for the future would place more importance on function than on structure.
 
In fact, while these bodies today are more geographically-related, I believe if we were starting all over again, I could see not only the geographic alignment we have now, but also affinity alignment. Some of this may be occurring already.
 

A personal testimony

In 2009-2010, I served as the chairman of the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force of the Southern Baptist Convention. In leading this overwhelming task, it was imperative that I was able to relate to both state conventions and associations.
 
As a bit of background, I had been very involved for quite some time in Southern Baptist life prior to this assignment. I had already had the privilege of serving on the seven-member Program and Structure Committee that had the role of studying and recommending the needed restructuring of the Southern Baptist Convention. We moved the 19 entities of the convention to 11 entities plus the Executive Committee. Additionally, I had served on the Executive Committee for 10 years, serving as chairman two of those years, and served as a trustee of GuideStone.
 
When I began leading the Great Commission Resurgence, I had serious concerns about associations and state conventions. Yet, I became a firm believer in their role in Southern Baptist life. Somehow, some way, we must have ministry bodies as close to our churches as possible.
 

Four things are imperative for state conventions and associations to have viability in the future of Southern Baptist work

 
1. Clarify their mission.
State conventions and associations exist for one purpose alone: To serve our churches in reaching their God-assigned responsibility of going, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations. These ministry bodies do not exist for themselves or their structures, but for the churches.
 
2. Simplify their responsibilities.
State conventions and associations must do only the things that align with the mission of the churches. Otherwise, they do not need to be doing it. It is not a matter of good versus evil, but a matter of what is good versus best.
 
Additionally, state conventions and associations do not need to duplicate and triplicate one another, nor do our national entities. We must find a way to cease duplication and triplication locally, statewide and nationally.
 
3. Agile in their response to the churches.
Weighty, needless structure prohibits immediate response to the churches. We need to rid anything in our state conventions, associations and even our national entities that slows responsiveness to our churches. This is why these bodies must be lean structurally, excellent at what they believe God wants them to do, and able to respond quickly to the churches.
 
4. Sustain their work financially.
If a ministry cannot sustain itself financially, serious questions have to be asked concerning the ministry. While an initial investment may be necessary in the creation phase of the ministry, perhaps up to five years, beyond that, serious questions should be asked and answered. Perhaps the ministry of assisting our churches in going, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations can be best served by some associations merging together and some state conventions merging together for the greater cause of helping our churches more effectively.
 
Of course, these groups would have to make these decisions themselves. No one else can make them on their behalf.
 

What best serves the churches

There are times when greater personalization is needed, regionalization is realized, and decentralization is imperative for the greater good of assisting our churches in going, baptizing and making disciples of all the nations. Each association, state convention and even national entity has to address these matters honestly and boldly. Our goal should never be to preserve any of our old wineskins, but exist for our churches to help them advance the gospel in the best way. Yes, it comes down to one thing: What best serves the churches!
 

Robust with gospel cooperation

Our culture is not always friendly to working together. Therefore, our commitment to cooperating for gospel advancement must be chiseled into our character and practices or our future together will be limited. I respectfully request that each of us refuse to be held hostage by our present, but be freed into a future that is robust with gospel cooperation.
 

The best jobs in the future

After all of my years in Southern Baptist life, I am now convinced that leading one of our robust state conventions that serves and assists our churches in the Great Commission has to be one of the great ministry opportunities for the future in Southern Baptist life.
 
Let’s pray for one another. Now is the time for each of us in our churches, associations, state conventions and national entities to be freed into a future that is robust with gospel cooperation.
 
Now is the time to lead,
 
Ronnie W. Floyd
senior pastor, Cross Church
president, Southern Baptist Convention
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.7 million members in over 51,094 churches nationwide.)

2/8/2016 12:14:35 PM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC President | with 0 comments



You can do this

February 5 2016 by Diana Davis, Baptist Press

Let’s suppose that your boss is not a believer and you are personally assigned to tell him or her about God.
 
This is not an imaginary story; it’s a fact. God has commissioned every believer (that’s you) to share His plan of salvation with those who don’t know Him.
 
Sharing Jesus with others is really much easier than you may think. Lost people are often more anxious to hear God’s Good News than we are to tell it.
 
Begin today by taking this simple three-question quiz.

 
Question #1: In your normal pattern of life, where do you mingle with non-Christian people?

Think hard. The answer could describe the focus of your personal mission field.
 
Is it around the water cooler at work? At your tennis match? In your neighborhood or favorite coffee shop or gym? At your cancer treatment center? At your children’s ball games or on the playground? As a volunteer in a local nursing home or in Southern Baptist Disaster Relief? Maybe it’s in a professional organization or community group.
 
As you live among unbelievers, be sure to “make the most of every opportunity” (see Colossians 4:3b).
 
God has strategically placed you in every circumstance of life. “But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me” (Matthew 10:18b). If you’re a lawyer, you’re a lawyer for Jesus. If you’re a commuter, you’re with a busload of people who may need Jesus. Whatever you do, “do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:23).
 
Remember that the first word of the Great Commission is “go.” If you truly don’t ever have contact with unbelievers, perhaps it’s time to take a class, join a club or meet your neighbors.

 
Question #2. As a Christian, can you express some ways God has impacted your life this week?

It’s one of the most effective ways to share Jesus – just tell your personal story. In everyday conversations, give God the glory for blessings and tell about how He helps you through difficult circumstances. As you live for God and tell stories about how God works in your life, “many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3b). Now that’s an exciting scripture.
 
Consistently share your personal daily God-stories. Pray for listeners. Tell them more about God. Invite them to church. Introduce them to their Savior. “But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done” (Psalm 75:9a). Your story is effective.
 

Question #3. Will you count it a privilege to share Jesus with others?

Jesus has commissioned every believer to intentionally tell others about God’s salvation plan. “Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you” (2 Timothy 4:5).
 
Sharing about Jesus is not a punishment; it’s an enormous joy and privilege. You are God’s representative! “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20a). The apostle Paul said, “Though I am the least deserving of all God’s people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
 
You can do this. Today, look at the mission field around you. Tell your personal God-story. Treasure the privilege of representing God to those who don’t yet know Him. God has entrusted you, His follower, to share His salvation plan, to tell others about your Savior.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Davis can be found online at dianadavis.org. She is an author, columnist and ministry wife in Pensacola, Fla.)

2/5/2016 11:37:35 AM by Diana Davis, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ministry & family time

February 4 2016 by Jason Allen, President of MBTS

How does a pastor most healthily balance ministerial service with family time?
 
This tension is felt by all who serve the church, just under the surface in many congregations. Sadly, many men leave the ministry due to erring one way or the other in what is often a delicate balance.
 
I was struck anew by this tension while interviewing a potential staff member a few years ago. The interview was going smoothly until a committee member inquired about the role the candidate’s wife would play in his ministry. The young man became defensive, insisting the church was hiring him, not his wife. That brief exchange nearly torpedoed his candidacy, and it left me puzzled.
 
In the previous months, I had gotten to know the couple personally. He was a great guy and his wife struck me as one who fully supported her husband. In fact, in many ways, I viewed them as a model couple, well balancing ministry and family. That is why I was surprised by the young man’s response.
 
After further conversation, I discovered the couple was not reticent to give themselves to the church. Both husband and wife were eager to serve. Rather, he had been coached by others in ministry to protect his wife – an appropriate concern that was inappropriately expressed. That scenario was indicative of a longstanding concern for the pastor and the church alike – how do we rightly balance ministry and family expectations?
 

A swinging pendulum

In the mid-20th century – during the heyday of programmatic and event-driven ministry – churches prioritized pastoral presence. In many churches the pastor was expected to be virtually omnipresent. The dutiful parson was always roaming hospitals, making house calls to church prospects, and presiding over every church function. In addition to limiting his time for sermon preparation, it often compromised his ability to lead his family.
 
In its most excessive forms, congregations expected their pastor to lead ever-growing ministries, even at the expense of their family. In fact, one of the 20th century’s most famous pastors once remarked, “A man has to choose. He can have either a great family or a great ministry. He cannot have both.”
 
Other, more budget-mindful churches, may expect a “buy one get one free” scenario. If you hire a man to pastor, surely his wife will play the piano, coordinate the nursery or direct the children’s ministry for free, right?
 
In other words, the pendulum needed to swing the other way and, thankfully, in most contexts it has. Yet, at times I fear the pendulum has swung too far the other direction. We must protect our families, but we need not sequester them. Balance is hard to find, but perhaps these five principles will help.
 

Ministry is life on life

We must remember that ministry in the New Testament is life on life. For the apostle Paul, the church was not a distant group before which he occasionally appeared. They were his spiritual family, with whom he lived and ministered.
 
Oftentimes the most fruitful ministry is organic. It happens when church members are in your home, and you are in theirs. Maximum fruitfulness in ministry requires life on life – and often family on family – engagement. There simply is no shortcut.
 
If the church is so burdensome that you feel the need to erect barriers between God’s family and yours, it likely points to deeper issues of concern either in your family or theirs.
 

You are inseparable from your family

The pastor is not an autonomous agent, hired by the church without consideration of his family status. If that is the case, the church merely wants a clergyman to deliver chaplain-like goods and services. The New Testament picture of the pastor is much more inclusive and robust.
 
Though the church does not hire our wife and children, it is entirely appropriate for them to expect us to lead biblical families. This does not mean we exhibit perfection, but that we handle our imperfections in biblical ways.
 
The simple fact is if our household is not in order then our entire ministry is in question. Our household cannot be fully in order unless they are actively engaged in the local church.
 

You can minister with your family

Many of my fondest family memories have been in the context of ministry, and many of my fondest ministry memories have occurred with my family present. I have made a thousand hospital visits, knocked on hundreds of doors and shared the Gospel countless times, all with a child or two by my side.
 
Over the years my kids have heard me preach hundreds of sermons, sat through scores of seminary chapel services and participated in countless church outreach projects. We’ve always sought to make such outings enjoyable, so that they made the body of Christ more attractive to our kids, not less.
 
If we really believe in the glory of the church and of the splendor of God’s call to ministry, then it is not something from which we shield our families. We should expose them to it. I have learned that oftentimes choosing between family and ministry is a false choice. Why not just bring them along?
 

Know your wife and kids

The wise man is always observing, always learning his wife and children. Different life stages, particular ministry contexts, and the relative bandwidth of the minister’s wife will all impact their participation. If your season of life is particularly challenging, just be up front and state plainly your needs to the church. Most likely they will understand.
 
Over the years my wife has been a wonder woman, resolutely supportive of my ministry. Yet there have been seasons – like when our five kids were ages 5 and under – that required unique energy and attention at home. That required me, and my places of service, to understand.
 

You have more time than you think

Over the years I’ve learned that we have more time than we think. Adrian Rogers counseled pastors that the larger God grows your ministry, the less “me time” we will enjoy. Often, the key to giving our ministry and our family more time is giving ourselves less. If you question this assertion, ponder how much time you have given social media, leisure, recreation, sports, entertainment, idle chatter and various other distractions this past week. Make sure your ministry and your family win, even if you have to lose.
 
Brother pastors, if a church expects us to win at ministry while losing at home we are right to push back. Let us not neglect our families, but let us not hide behind them either. We can have – indeed we must have – strong families and strong ministries. And let us be willing to die to ourselves, forgoing some of our personal pleasures and privileges, so that we can have just that.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jason Allen is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. This column first appeared at his website, jasonkallen.com.)

2/4/2016 11:34:34 AM by Jason Allen, President of MBTS | with 0 comments



Need a mom? You may already have one

February 3 2016 by Catherine Parks, CathParks.com

I haven’t had family living nearby during any of my 10-plus years in the Nashville area – from my early days of marriage into my current stage as a mom of two grade-schoolers.
 
My kids see their grandparents as much as possible, but I lack the pleasure of dropping the kids off for a night out or sitting down over coffee with my mother or mother-in-law to talk about my struggles of the moment.
 
I have my mom on speed dial for emergency cooking questions, but there are days when I wish she could be in my kitchen, demonstrating how to fold egg whites into my waffle batter. While she is not close in physical proximity, I know I am blessed to have a close relationship with my mom. A large number of my peers cannot say the same.
 
Many in my generation find themselves away from home and in need of a motherly mentor, and this inspired one Brooklyn woman to develop a new business model – Need a Mom. Nina Keneally, a mother of two grown children living in the midst of 20- and 30-somethings, saw this opportunity after younger adults began confiding in her about their personal problems.
 
“There are people who have a mentor in their professional lives; now I am doing that in their personal lives,” Keneally told a writer for Slate.
 
For $40 an hour, Keneally will talk you through parenting issues, teach you to sew a button on a shirt or demonstrate cooking techniques. But Keneally makes it clear she is not a mom or grandmother substitute. She is a not a friend. She is a coach, a counselor, a professional.
 
Whether her business takes off or not, the media jumped on the idea, and Keneally’s story was featured in newspapers and morning shows around the country. Similar in many ways to a “life coach,” the Need a Mom business touches on our innate need for guidance and counsel. But unlike a life coach, this model takes an existing relationship – that of mother to child – and capitalizes on what many people lack in their own families.
 
Indicative of our society’s obsession with quick fixes, the whole idea of purchasing time with a personal mentor is saddening. To buy into this idea, one must accept a world in which meaningful relationships are rarely developed apart from the exchange of goods and services – and really, what kind of meaning is that? People and their time become commodities to be bought and sold because there is a demand, and someone is willing supply the desired goods.
 
When I was thinking about this story, I remembered a friend from high school who so admired Elisabeth Elliot that she wrote and asked if she might spend a day with her.
 
Elliot graciously accepted, so my friend rode the train from D.C. to Boston to spend a day learning from the wisdom of this godly woman. I love that my friend had the gumption to do that, and it is telling of Elliot’s character that she welcomed my friend into her life. No money was exchanged, and surely Elisabeth Elliot had little to gain from giving a day of her busy life to a 17-year-old. Yet she did.
 
While hiring a mom is not the solution for our lack of mentoring relationships, perhaps neither is reaching out to the well-known Christian writers and speakers of our day. I don’t think my friend was wrong for spending the day with Elisabeth Elliot; in fact, I would love to have had that experience. But neither do I think Elliot was the only godly woman to whom she could have reached out.
 
Rather, I believe our churches are full of women who have loads of practical and spiritual wisdom to give, if only we will ask.
 
I was reminded of the surrogate mothers in my own life as I pulled out our Christmas decorations this year. My tree skirt is the product of a loving relationship with one such woman, whom my kids deemed “Grandma Jan,” as she has been their local grandmother since they were tiny. In the early days of my marriage, I had few Christmas decorations, so Jan came to my apartment and taught me to sew by making a tree skirt. She has taught me much more in the subsequent years of our friendship, and she is just one of a number of women who have poured into my life.
 
While Titus 2:3-5 is far from the only biblical passage applicable to women, it does have wisdom for those of us on both sides of these potential mentoring relationships. Its existence in Scripture indicates that younger women need the counsel of older women, and that older women need to share that counsel.
 
I love the church for many reasons, not the least of which is that without it I would lack the relationships I have with so many women. I understand the desire to pay for time with a mother figure, because if I had not had these women in my life over the years, I would have missed out on so much.
 
Surely this is an opportunity for the church to meet the needs of the world. Young women are searching for guidance, and all we have to do is strike up a conversation at the gym, the store or the cul-de-sac to begin building those relationships. And we can even do it for free.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Catherine Parks, on the Web at cathparks.com, is the coauthor with Linda Strode of “A Christ-Centered Wedding: Rejoicing in the Gospel on Your Big Day” (B&H Publishing Group, 2014). This column first appeared at the website of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, erlc.com.)

2/3/2016 11:18:03 AM by Catherine Parks, CathParks.com | with 0 comments



Larger churches & their denomination

February 2 2016 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Convention of New England

Though many feel we are living in a post-denomination age, I believe denominations still have a valuable role to play in God’s plan for the church. Denominations provide a way for local churches to work together on projects too big for any one church to handle on their own.
 
But what about churches that have grown numerically to the point when they no longer need many of the services the denomination provides? Should they remain invested in a group that provides many services they may no longer need? With the rise of the mega-church, this is a question that even many non-mega-churches are asking.
 
I think there are a number of reasons why larger churches need to remain involved in and actively support their denomination. Large churches have often learned something about reaching people that other churches need to learn. They often have developed specialized ministries that other churches need to know about.
 
One might argue that those churches can host their own training conferences and seminars to promote these ideas without any connection to the denomination. While that might be the case, why recreate an information distribution system and spend money on mass advertising when the denomination already has numerous the channels needed to get that information out to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches? It would be better for larger churches to partner with their denomination to provide those training experiences through the denominational system.
 
Think about this from a local church perspective. If the most gifted church members decided to keep all their talents and abilities to themselves or to only use them for para-church groups and never use them in the local congregation, it would adversely impact the ministry of the local church. It would set the local church back and hinder its effectiveness greatly. The same thing is true when the largest churches in a denomination start doing their own thing outside the denominational system. It robs the group of the very thing they need to move to the next level. When large churches work through the denominational system, instead of outside of it, they help raise the level of training and effectiveness in the entire group.
 
Then there is the issue of money. Larger churches almost always have more financial resources than smaller churches, yet as they grow, they often redirect their resources away from the denomination toward their own causes. That lowers the resources available to the denomination to offer high-caliber services to the smaller churches that remain – churches which often need those services the most. For example, I serve a denominational missionary organization that serves 337 churches, most of which average less than 85 in regular worship attendance. Twenty five of those 337 churches provide 61 percent of the financial support for our ministry. If any one of those 25 key churches withdrew its support, it would severely limit the services we could provide to the other 312 churches.
 
Some might be tempted to disparage all of those smaller churches as “ineffective” and therefore not worthy of support. That is not always the case. In our situation, 40 percent of our churches are from 19 different ethnic groups we serve, some of which are economically disadvantaged. Nearly 50 percent of the churches in our network are new church plants less than 10 years old and are still in the process of becoming stable. Many churches in our family of faith are located in small villages and mountain towns or other out-of-the-way places that will never be serviced by a larger church. For the sake of the gospel, we must have a strong denominational budget so these small churches can continue to be assisted. The only way we can have a strong budget is for our larger churches to continue to support the denomination.
 
Larger churches may no longer need someone from the denomination to train their Sunday School teachers or deacons, but that does not relieve them of the obligation of assisting the denomination in training Sunday School teachers and deacons in other churches. Larger churches may no longer need financial assistance from the denomination, but many smaller churches do need it and larger churches should have a Kingdom mindset and continue to invest the funds needed for the whole family of churches to be healthy.
 
There may have been a day when denominations had bloated staffs and wasteful budgets, but those days are long gone. Denominations that are thriving today are lean and efficient and need their larger churches to remain engaged for the sake of the Kingdom.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – To learn more about becoming connected with the Southern Baptist family, visit SBC.net/becomingsouthernbaptist. This is the third in a three-part series by Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, on the topic of joining a denomination. For the first and second articles in this series, click here and here.)

2/2/2016 11:42:18 AM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Convention of New England | with 0 comments



Should my denomination serve my church?

February 1 2016 by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Convention of New England

As a Baptist state convention leader, I am often asked what our organization does to serve churches. I am pleased to be able to give those who ask a list of nearly 25 benefits churches that cooperate with our missionary organization gain through their connection to us.
 
But I confess, sometimes the question itself concerns me. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the convention should serve the churches, not the other way around. But I wonder if the question says something about the motives of those who ask.
 
I did not grow up in a denomination. When I decided to join one, my choice was not driven by what the denomination could do for me – but how joining it would help me be more effective in reaching the world for Christ.
 
Isn’t that really the question churches should be asking? Rarely does a church ask how the denomination can help their church reach their community, their region, the nation or the world with the gospel. This concerns me, and it should concern local church leaders as well.
 
When churches only focus on what they get out of the denomination instead of how they can use their connection to the denomination to reach others, it indicates they have turned inward on themselves, caring more about meeting their own needs than reaching the lost. When churches focus on what they get out of the relationship, it is very similar to individual Christians who demand the church meet their needs or they will leave and go to a church down the street.
 
Regretfully, some denominations do not help their churches share the gospel more effectively. And it is legitimate for churches in those denominations to consider changing their denominational affiliation. Sometimes denominations have various agencies, regional offices, associations and connections that are less effective than other branches of the same denomination. In those situations, churches might consider if they can shift to a different organization or branch of the same denomination so their energy is focused on the most effective aspect of denominational life. But when a church is only connected to a denomination for what they can get out of the relationship, something is wrong.
 
Let us all examine our hearts and motives and ask how we can use the connections in the denomination we find ourselves in to advance the Kingdom of God, not just to increase the list of benefits available to us.
 
To learn more about becoming connected with the Southern Baptist family, visit SBC.net/becomingsouthernbaptist.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This is the second in a three-part series by Terry Dorsett, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, on denominations. For the first article in this series, click here.)

2/1/2016 11:28:33 AM by Terry Dorsett, Baptist Convention of New England | with 0 comments



Religious liberty: a Baptist distinctive

January 29 2016 by Danny Akin, SEBTS President

A passion for religious liberty and freedom of conscience runs in the veins of Baptists. It is actually in our DNA! Our forefathers and mothers fought and suffered for this inalienable right because they understood to truly love and worship God is to love and worship Him freely.
 
Coerced love is an oxymoron. It is nonsensical. We must be free to love our God without intimidation because it is a divine right granted to us by our Creator as His imagers. This is why we persuade others to trust Christ with the Word and not the sword!
 
Southern Baptists are firmly committed to this proposition for all people. Indeed, we are willing, like those who have gone before us, to fight for and even suffer for every person’s right to believe or not believe according to their conscience.
 
So important is religious liberty to us that we have an article in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message specifically dedicated to this conviction. There we read:
 

XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
 
Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 66-7, 24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1, 13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.
 
This is a wonderful statement of faith and conviction. God alone is Lord of the conscience. Not any man. Not any government. The government is to keep its nose out of the church’s business and we will honor and obey the government as long as what it requires is not contrary to the will of God revealed in Holy Scripture. All men should have “the right of free and unhindered access to God ... and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion ...” What we ask for ourselves we gladly grant as a right to others.
 
George W. Truett, renowned pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas from 1897-1944, said, “Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of Baptists” (citing American historian George Bancroft).
 
I fear this trophy is in serious danger of being snatched away in our day. Rumblings in our governments and courts signal that a “religious liberty tsunami” is at hand. For the sake of our nation and the nations, we cannot sit on the sideline or be silent. My friend Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, says, “We [Baptists] have a history of being irritants” when it comes to religious liberty. Irritants, let us rise up and seize the day!
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Danny Akin is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. This article was originally published in the fall 2015 issue of The Great Commission Magazine of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

1/29/2016 11:27:08 AM by Danny Akin, SEBTS President | with 0 comments



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