Guest Columns

Looming senior adult revolution to impact nation

May 21 2015 by Chuck Kelley, NOBTS president

Something is happening that you may not have noticed. If you have noticed it, you may not fully appreciate its significance. It will affect you. It will affect your church. It will affect the whole nation.
 
What’s happening is a senior adult revolution.
 
Some call it the graying of America, but that is too gentle a term for what lies ahead. It is more like a ‘60s remix. The 1960s were the most turbulent, revolutionary years in modern American history. Every aspect of U.S. culture was affected, including the church. Now picture the ‘60s reimagined and reinvented: profound changes in American life driven by grandparents rather than college students, by retirement living and health care rather than drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
 

The unprecedented generation

Here is the revolution in a nutshell: According to Ken Dychtwald in the The Age Wave, “two-thirds of all the men and women who have lived beyond the age of 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today.” Ponder that for a few moments. Dychtwald goes on to note that life expectancy for Americans doubled in the relatively brief history of our nation, creating for the first time “a mass society of healthy, active elders.”
 
Not since the days of Noah has God given a generation extended life, good health and adequate resources. Today the fastest-growing segment of the senior adult population is the 85-and-up group. The birthdays you celebrate now are practice for the birthdays you will celebrate for many years to come.
 

The ripple effect

The simple fact of senior adults living longer sets in motion many ripples. Older adults will be an important influence in our churches for a significantly longer time than was true in the past. They will not only be present, they will be active. They will not only be active, they will be vocal. This is one reason why attitudes toward worship style have become so complex for many congregations.
 
In most congregations, a strategic plan for the future that does not incorporate the needs, values and gifts of senior adults is incomplete.
 
Older adults will make attention to pastoral care essential for healthy churches. A growing number of senior adults will move from independent living to assisted living to life in a skilled nursing unit. How will the church minister to them as they make these very important transitions? How will the church incorporate their presence in a retirement community as a launching pad for evangelism and ministry to other residents of that community?
 
Senior adults will affect the lifestyles and decisions of younger adults. A growing number of church members will have the care of one or more senior parents as a priority. Imagine the questions and issues faced by Baby Boomers who will retire and still have responsibility for the care of aging parents. This will affect how families spend their time, their money and their emotional energy. A church’s attitude toward, and provisions for, senior adults will be noticed in a way not unlike how parents look carefully at programs for their children.
 

A Great Commission army

This senior adult revolution is more than a medical advance. As the number of unevangelized and unchurched in our nation grows, God is raising up a Great Commission army. He intends for senior adults to form the critical mass necessary for the gospel to penetrate the world. Their opinions will shape direction. Their willingness to give will affect fiscal stability. Their engagement with the mission will be crucial for mobilizing congregations. God intends for senior adults to step up to missions engagement and not step aside for younger adults to do all the work.
 
The current generation of young adults is often called the Millennials. I call them the Lost Generation. They are the largest generation in American history, bigger even than the Baby Boomers. They are also the most unevangelized generation in American history. So many of them have no religious background; they are also called “nones” for responding to surveys about religious background and beliefs with “none of the above.” However, connections with senior adults are possible. Millennials made Tony Bennett, popular in the 1960s, more popular than at any other time of his career. Their interest in the classic hymns of the faith has spurred every major Christian artist today to record at least one album of hymns. They have a deep respect for authenticity and consistency. We are unlikely to reach the Millennials without the witness of the seniors.
 
How can senior adults make a difference?
 
Here are some specific suggestions:

  • Write cards and notes to people. Children and their parents are a good place to start. Personal mail is so rare these days that handwritten cards and notes become treasures.

  • Be a mentor to younger adults. Get to know the ones around you. Ask about their lives. Listen to them. Pray for them. When they face issues you faced, tell them how you managed. Be a grandparent outside your family.

  • Seek Kingdom advance above personal satisfaction. You lived much of your life deferring dreams and desires for the sake of your family. Be willing to do the same when your church wants to try something new.

  • Encourage, encourage, encourage. So few people have a constant encourager in their lives.

  • Speak as often of Jesus as you do your grandkids. If you will keep Jesus on your mind, He will find a way out of your mouth.

  • Give one last gift to Jesus through your estate. Honor Him in your death as you sought to do in your life, making your last act on earth a gift to your church or a Christian ministry.

Not since the days of Noah has God done for a generation of people what He is doing for this generation of senior adults. Celebrate your extended life, health and resources as His gift for His purposes. Use these additional years for His glory.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Kelley is president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared in the Baptist Courier at baptistcourier.com, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)

5/21/2015 12:36:59 PM by Chuck Kelley, NOBTS president | with 0 comments



Redeeming your building

May 21 2015 by Mark Clifton, NAMB

Legacy church planting isn’t limited to churches at the very end of their lives. Many churches find themselves with buildings far larger than they need even as they struggle to impact their immediate community in a meaningful way. They love Jesus and the gospel. They love lost people, but they can’t seem to crack the missional code of the people who live around them. They aren’t ready emotionally to turn over their ministry to another entity. But they live daily with the reality of a building that is far too big and a community that seems unresponsive. Sound familiar? Keep reading.
 
God has raised up an entire generation of bold, gospel-focused young men who are planting Bible-believing, community-transforming and disciple-making churches all across North America. Almost 1,000 new Southern Baptist churches launch each year. One of the single greatest challenges for these new churches is finding a location in which to meet and from which to conduct ministry.
 
There are tens of thousands of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church buildings in neighborhoods throughout cities, towns and villages around the continent. At the same time there are tens of thousands of SBC churches that are praying for their cities, towns and neighborhoods to be reached. Maybe God wants to use a new church plant as the impact point to reach that community and to use part of your church building from which to launch that new church.
 
The new church could lead the way in pushing back the lostness of the community and the older established church can provide a building and a base of love, care and, most importantly, strategic and constant prayer. This model of legacy church planting is happening all across North America.
 
Community Baptist Church in Bellingham, Wash., is one such example. After decades of effective ministry, the church stopped growing and spiraled down in decline. In frustration they even considered closing the doors. Instead the church did something courageous. Noticing a need to reach Spanish speakers in the community, they invited church planter Ivan Montenegro to plant a Spanish-language church from their building.
 
At first Montenegro wasn’t sure if the timing was right. But God soon confirmed the timing through a man Montenegro met named Bautista – which is Spanish for Baptist. Ivan told the man he was considering starting a church in the community and asked him if he’d be interested in helping.
 
After the man answered affirmatively, he returned to the hotel where he worked and invited all the Spanish speakers he knew to the potential church. That became the foundation of a new church to be hosted at Community Baptist. The Spanish-language church plant thrived from the beginning. Where the community once saw a struggling congregation, it now saw a place full of life and new people.
 
Another church, Armour Heights Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., had struggled to reach the community and experienced few results – much like Community Baptist. Their building was large enough to house several churches so they opened it up to share with an SBC church plant. The two churches worked together on children and youth ministry and Vacation Bible School. In short order Armour Heights gained a new vision, and they too began to grow!
 
Sometimes, as the Holy Spirit leads, the new church and the older church may become one. Sometimes the older church may hand over its facility to the new church at a later date. Sometimes the two continue to serve side by side. They may even add a third! That old building that seemed too big for the declining church can once again be filled with Great Commission activity for God’s glory and your joy!
 
You don’t need a multi-million dollar budget or a large staff to become a supporting church to a new church plant. You simply need to practice that old-fashioned Christian virtue of hospitality. Connect with a church planter who has the gifting and calling to plant a church among an underserved segment of your community. Come alongside of him and the new congregation. Do joint ministry in the community. Start a new church together.
 
In one sense you’ll become a supporting church without ever leaving your building.
 
It just might be the most important legacy your church will ever leave your community.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mark Clifton serves as the national legacy church strategist at the North American Mission Board. For more information about legacy church planting options, visit namb.net/revitalization/.)
 

Related Story:

How a dying church can glorify God

5/21/2015 12:28:59 PM by Mark Clifton, NAMB | with 0 comments



Forgotten former seminarians

May 20 2015 by Bryan Cribb, professor at Anderson University

“Don’t be a ‘dropout.’” As a young aspiring minister-in-training, I remember hearing this caution frequently – and annoyingly – as I packed my belongings and headed to seminary. “Many seminarians are not even in full-time ministry anymore after 10 years,” I was warned. “Don’t be like them.”
 
For me, the warning functioned almost as a “Hebrews 6-like” threat: “Once you have tasted of the heavenly gifts of ministerial training and then fall away from the ministry, it is impossible to be restored again.”
 
Now, exactly how many former seminarians are out of full-time ministry after 10 years is unclear. But what is indisputable is that, with the number of students obtaining ministry degrees these days – whether from seminaries or from Christian colleges and divinity schools like Anderson University where I teach – we undoubtedly have large numbers of “trained up” people who aren’t actively participating in full-time vocational ministry, though many serve in a wide range of leadership and service roles in their churches.
 
I can’t tell you how many times, though, I meet people in my limited travels, who say, “Oh, I went to seminary as well, but I’m not in ministry anymore.”
 
Many reasons exist for such a turn of events in a former seminarian’s life – anything from a change of calling to bad experiences in church, difficult domestic issues or moral missteps. But I fear that the result is that many have experienced discouragement and depression from within and cold shoulders and condescension from without. Indeed, some in this category may be reading this article.
 
What can we say to and do for this neglected, forgotten and often snubbed subcategory of “former seminarians”?
 
First, if you are in this category, I would say to take encouragement. Every situation and story of a former seminarian is different, but just because you are not in active full-time ministry does not mean that you are in disobedience against God. For every one “Jonah,” there are many more Jims and Jennys who have honestly been led in different directions by God.
 
For instance, women seminarians who are now “just” stay-at-home mothers have told me they feel a tinge of guilt because people have said they are not “using” their training in a church or ministry-related vocation. False. My wife falls into this category, and I try to encourage her regularly that she is using her ministry gifts in the primary mission field divinely granted to us as parents – the home.
 
Second, see ministerial training as a stewardship. Receiving specific instruction in Bible, theology, ministry, leadership and counseling is a gift from God. And while you may not be using that gift in the manner that other Christians deem normative, you still have a responsibility and privilege to use it in a manner that glorifies God and serves the church. Lead a small group. Lead your family. Lead a life of evangelism and gospel fervor. I know as a pastor, I would love to have a congregation full of theologically trained laypeople.
 
So, third, similarly, if you are a pastor and have “former seminarians” in your congregation, seek them out. Encourage rather than exclude. Provide them opportunities to teach and serve. Use their gifts. You have a stewardship as a shepherd of the resources God has provided your church.
 
Finally, for former seminarians, be open to where God may lead in the future. Just because you are not in full-time ministry now does not mean that you are forever banned. Always be prayerful and watchful for new opportunities to use your gifts and training.
 
In the meantime, use those gifts of ministerial training, wherever God places you, as “Soldiers of Christ in truth arrayed.” Being a “full-time” disciple of Christ is just as important as being a “full-time” vocational minister.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bryan Cribb is associate professor of Christianity and chair of undergraduate Christian studies at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C.)

5/20/2015 11:41:58 AM by Bryan Cribb, professor at Anderson University | with 0 comments



Go to NYC, impact the world!

May 20 2015 by Bill Greenwood

After four vision trips to New York City, my wife, Sheryl, and I have discovered that we can impact the whole world by serving in this world-class city.
 
The bustling mega city is the fourth largest urban center in the world. Some 22 million people call the region their home. All the nations of the world live in the neighborhoods of greater New York City.
 
Approximately 60 percent of all residents were born somewhere else or are the children of recent immigrants. On any given Sunday, nearly 40 languages can be heard in the churches.
 
The Metropolitan New York Baptist Association is a collection of some 250 churches within a 75 mile radius of Times Square. These churches are located in parts of three states (N.Y., N.J. and Conn.) and 26 counties. They reflect the diversity of the region.
 
People ask us, “Why do you keep going back to New York City on these vision trips? Don’t you have that vision thing down yet?”
 
The answer is simple. We want to recruit others to go to where ministry is urgently needed. With less than four percent of metro New York’s people attending an evangelical church, many new churches are needed. Our N.C. Baptist churches can help extend the work of these new church plants.
 
Church plants in this city need help in three key areas: intercessors, individuals and income. They need those churches who will pray earnestly, participate eagerly and pay expectantly, trusting God to multiply their efforts – for the fame of His Name.
 
Every time we go, Sheryl and I learn more about the amazing work of God in dark places there. For example, in a recent trip, we heard of an Eastern European woman coming to Christ through the creative coffee shop outreach by new church. This woman, transformed by Christ from another world religion, “Skyped” her family back in Europe and led some of them to Christ.
 
Another couple, recently separated and not going to any church, began attending a church plant and were soon reconciled and radically changed by the power of the gospel.
 
They renewed their marriage vows and began to reach out to their many un-churched friends, inviting them to come along with them to this new church in their neighborhood.
 
We want to encourage other N.C. Baptist churches to send volunteer teams to this urban metropolis and impact the world. Our God is a global God and He wants us to be global Christians. Work in New York City can and will help reach many of the nations of the earth.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bill Greenwood recently retired after pastoring Baptist churches in North Carolina for 30 years. He can be reached at sgreenwood2@juno.com. For more information on the partnership between the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, please contact Steve Hardy at shardy@ncbaptist.org.) 

5/20/2015 11:31:54 AM by Bill Greenwood | with 0 comments



Only God could use a chicken to make a church

May 19 2015 by Chris Hefner, pastor and writer

This is a story about how a chicken became a church and a bag of change helped build multiple churches. I never cease to be amazed at the astounding ways God shows off His glory. I hope this story encourages your faith and inspires your efforts to participate in God’s global disciple-making mission.
 
A couple of years ago, Mud Creek Baptist Church sent a mission team to Kisumu, Kenya. We participated with North Carolina Baptist Men in their Houses of Hope project. Teams partner with local Kenyan pastors to build houses in rural villages. The village selects a widow or widower in need of a home. The team supplies the funds and labor to build the home. And the new home becomes a base for local Bible studies with the hope of planting a church in the village. As a missions pastor I love the partnership because local pastors return to the village regularly for follow-up and Bible studies with the hope of beginning a new church. It is a project where a mission team can successfully meet a need, engage in one-on-one evangelism, and begin a ministry built upon by indigenous pastors.
 
During that first trip, our team was sent to build a home for a widow named Irene. Irene had a number of children and one chicken whose eggs she used to feed her children. Some days, all she had to give them to eat was the eggs her chicken produced. In Kenya it’s customary for the hostess to feed guests. In this situation, the guests were our team.
 
She insisted on killing and cooking her chicken for our mission team. The team, understanding her situation, tried to talk her out of it. But she would not be dissuaded. That afternoon she fed our mission team the only source of guaranteed food she had.
 
The mission team could not get over her sacrifice and was equally burdened for Irene’s situation. They felt led of the Lord to return a gift to Irene. The next morning, our team bought seven chickens for Irene and gave them to her. Communicating very clearly that the gift was from the Lord, they used the opportunity to preach the gospel to the village.
 
A year later, we sent another mission team to Kenya. Upon arriving we discovered that the house church in Irene’s home was growing, and that God had continued to bless Irene. In between the trips, she wanted to give back to the Lord for blessing her.
 
So she deeded some of her property to the Kenya Baptist Convention to build a church building.
 
Recently, Pastor Shem Okello, the general secretary of the Kenya Baptist Convention and coordinator of Houses of Hope Project in Kisumu, came to North Carolina to visit. He shared at our church with our Awana children.
 
We discovered from Shem that the church, on Irene’s property, had not yet been built. So, our pastor, Greg Mathis asked if we could take up a special offering to construct the church. It would take $2,200 for the materials.
 
Aidan, one of our Awana kids could not make it the night Pastor Shem was to share, so he sent a bag full of change to make sure he could participate in the offering. Aidan’s gift became the foundation for an almost $6,000 offering for the church on Irene’s property and other projects in Kenya.
 
To make the story even better, Mathis was honoring a lifelong friend and fellow pastor, Jerry White, on the night Pastor Shem was with us.
 
White had surrendered to preach 50 years ago under the ministry of Mathis’ father, and was instrumental in recommending Mathis to Mud Creek Baptist Church. So, to honor White’s influence in his life, we have an opportunity to dedicate the construction of a Baptist church in a village in Kenya to White.
 
Now Kenya will have a new church because a pastor 50 years ago was instrumental in a teenager’s surrender to ministry, because Jerry White recommended Greg Mathis to Mud Creek Baptist Church, because Mud Creek sent a mission team to Kenya, because a godly widow gave her chicken, because a mission team gave back seven-fold, because that widow gave her property, because God will use a series of everyday events and situations to make disciples across the nations. God will use a chicken to plant a church. God will use a bag of change to build multiple churches.
 
What mission story is God writing through your church today?
 
Be sensitive to His leading and look for God working in and through your ministries. As for us at Mud Creek, we can’t wait to see what happens at White Memorial Baptist Church in Kenya.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Hefner is pastor of missions and evangelism at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville. This column originally appeared at the LifeWay pastor’s blog at LifeWay.com/pastors.) 

5/19/2015 1:13:10 PM by Chris Hefner, pastor and writer | with 0 comments



Is any problem too big for God?

May 18 2015 by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press

“Houston, we have a problem.”
 
When NASA flight directors heard those words from Apollo 13, it was like an invitation: “You are hereby invited to solve a life-or-death problem” – and they did. Flight director Gene Kranz sprang into action: “Okay … stay cool. Work the problem, people.... Failure is not an option!” (Excerpt from the movie, “Apollo 13.”)
 
Work the problem! With no heat, no light and little communication with the ground, the astronauts drifted back toward earth in darkness – helpless.
 
Work the problem! Ground engineers had to conserve enough power to fire the engines and direct them safely into the earth’s atmosphere. And they did!
 

Lost in space

Ever felt lost in space, drifting along, helpless, wondering if even God is stumped by your situation? We know God can solve problems, but in your darkest moments you wonder if He is even working on it.
 
Friend, God is working your problem!
 
Look at the Apollo 13 situation in a split-screen format: three astronauts on the left screen huddled in their freezing spacecraft, speaking little to conserve energy, fighting to stay awake, with only a flashlight – dark, cold, silent. On the right side of the screen, just the opposite, a beehive of brightly-lit problem-solving is taking place.
 
Given instructions that a plan was in the works, the astronauts had to be patient. They couldn’t work the problem, so they had to believe someone else could.
 
That’s exactly what we as Christians have to do when we have a problem with no solution in sight. We can’t work it but we have to believe that God can – and He is working on our behalf.

 
Problem solving in the image of God

Sometimes, using the gifts and abilities God gives us, we can solve serious problems, as in the Apollo 13 mission. But other times, we have to call upon God. When we are stretched beyond our human limits, we find ourselves in His limitless domain. He welcomes our cries and loves to provide solutions to our problems.
 
When asking God to help us solve problems, we have to remember that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God provided “surprise solutions” to people facing problems in the Bible:

  • Big problem, small solution. The Israelite army had a giant problem named Goliath. God’s solution was a teenager about 3 feet shorter. No armor or sword, but David had giant faith: “The Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47). Sometimes God’s solutions are smaller than our problems in order to create faith in us.

  • Physical problem, spiritual solution. Hindered in ministry by a physical problem, the apostle Paul called out to God three times for healing. Instead of bringing a physical one, God brought a spiritual one: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God may allow a problem to be its own solution when it forces us to rely more on God for grace to endure.

  • Personal problem, corporate solution. When Paul was journeying toward Jerusalem to deliver relief monies to the church, he was well aware of the danger from opponents of the gospel. He shared his personal problem with the church at Rome, asking them to pray for his safety: “I beg you, brethren … that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe” (Romans 15:30-31). God may want to use others to be a partial or total solution to your problem – but you have to ask!

The Bible, church history and hopefully your life are filled with examples of how God has solved problems His way, in His time, according to His purposes. There is no problem too big for God. Be encouraged as you trust Him to get involved in whatever problem you are facing today.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif. For more information on Turning Point, visit DavidJeremiah.org.)

5/18/2015 11:10:42 AM by David Jeremiah, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



IMB & churches to send ‘limitless missionary teams’

May 15 2015 by David Platt, IMB president

International Mission Board (IMB) exists to partner with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.
 
In order to see “limitless” missionaries working among the unreached, IMB is exploring multiple pathways through which more men and women from Southern Baptist churches might serve overseas. When you hear pathways, think possibilities all the possible ways that ordinary Christians might serve overseas: as church planters, doctors, teachers, accountants, lawyers, fitness instructors, rickshaw drivers, retirees, students, and the list goes on and on. God has providentially arranged a multiplicity of avenues through which His people can take the gospel around the world, and as the IMB, we want to help Southern Baptists go through as many of those pathways as possible.
 
Up until this point, IMB has had a certain number of pathways for career, apprentice, Journeyman, International Service Corps and Masters program missionaries. In addition to separate policies for each of these pathways, IMB has had additional policy regulations covering issues like level of education, history of divorce, teenage children in the home, the practice of tongues and/or a private prayer language and circumstances surrounding baptism. Each of these policies was put in place at various times for good reasons.
 
However, as we look toward the future and the limitless number of missionaries we want to mobilize from Southern Baptist churches, we know that this will likely involve many new pathways through which men and women might serve on missionary teams through the IMB. Each of these pathways may carry unique qualifications, involve various types of training and include different levels of support from IMB. For example, a lead church planter in the remote deserts of the Middle East may require different qualifications, training and support than an Information Technology expert in London, a student in Shanghai, a business professional in Dubai or a retiree in Bangkok. Nevertheless, all of them may be IMB missionaries, and thus all of them need to meet a base level of qualifications. In light of this, we have seen a foundational need for a simple, clear statement of qualifications that not only unifies all IMB missionaries together, but also unifies IMB with the churches and entities of the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
For this reason, IMB trustees voted this week to approve a policy that creates a single, unitary statement of qualifications that will characterize every missionary serving through any pathway created by IMB. Further, this single policy now replaces all of the other policies mentioned above that address specific qualifications for different pathways. In order to be as clear as possible, I have inserted the new policy below, and then I want to explain it further below. The policy states:
 
An IMB missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church, and affirmed by the IMB to cross geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places. IMB exists to empower limitless teams of missionaries made up of different men, women, and families with distinct roles and responsibilities. IMB provides multiple pathways in which missionaries may serve on one of these teams, each of which carries unique qualifications. However, any IMB missionary serving through any pathway created by IMB leadership is required to meet the following qualifications:
 

Spiritual qualifications

  • Vibrant personal discipleship: As they abide in God’s Word and walk in step with God’s Spirit, IMB missionaries bear fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ.

  • Evident personal disciple-making: IMB missionaries are meaningfully involved in a local church in which they participate in leading people to faith in Christ, seeing new believers baptized in the church, and showing believers how to obey Christ, all with a view toward reaching the nations with the gospel.

  • Call: The call to serve as an IMB missionary has been discerned within a local church and affirmed by that local church alongside IMB leadership.

  • Commitment: IMB missionaries are devoted to the vision, mission, values, and beliefs of the IMB.

Southern Baptist Identity

  • Currently a baptized member of a Southern Baptist church

  • Commitment to and identification with Southern Baptists

  • Conviction of truth as expressed in the current Baptist Faith and Message statement of the Southern Baptist Convention

Health

Good physical, emotional, and mental health.
 

Family

IMB missionaries model a godly family life and/or personal relationships.
 

Citizenship

Service is open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents of the United States.
 
A few comments and clarifications regarding what this policy does and does not mean are extremely important.
 
First, this policy means that when it comes to specific IMB pathways for service like career, apprentice, Journeyman, International Service Corps, or Masters, IMB no longer has official policies detailing additional qualifications for each of these pathways. Nevertheless, this policy does not mean that just anyone can now serve through any of these pathways created by IMB. We will still have clear expectations and qualifications, which accompany every pathway created by IMB (whether the ones mentioned above or new pathways we create in the days ahead). This policy simply allows IMB leadership the opportunity to evaluate and revise the expectations and qualifications for those pathways in order to continually strengthen them in the days ahead.
 
Second, this policy does not mean that current principles governing the selection of missionaries may not apply to particular pathways in the future. For example, we have had a policy prohibiting missionaries with teenage children from being selected for certain pathways. This policy was established for good reason in light of challenges for children (and their families) moving overseas at certain ages. As a result, there may be some pathways through which IMB continues to not appoint missionaries with teenage children. At the same time, this new policy does leave open the possibility for IMB pathways to exist in which missionaries with teenage children might serve through IMB. Certainly we will approach a family with older teenage children who are considering moving their lives permanently to a remote area in sub-Saharan Africa differently than a family with younger teenage children who are considering moving their lives for a one-year assignment in London.
 
Third, this policy does not signal a change in practice regarding how the IMB works in relation to Southern Baptist doctrine and practice. The purpose of this policy is actually to ensure that every potential IMB missionary is a meaningful member of a Southern Baptist church and believes and works according to the current Baptist Faith and Message. This policy asserts that this statement of faith, which unites over 40,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, is sufficient for us. Moreover, this policy states that the Baptist Faith and Message is significant for us in the sense that we will hold missionaries to it, not only in what they believe but in how they live and work as IMB missionaries. In sum, this policy states that every meaningful member of a Southern Baptist church who has been baptized (by immersion) as a follower of Christ, whose belief and practice both align with the Baptist Faith and Message, and who meet all of the spiritual qualifications mentioned above may potentially serve as an IMB missionary.
 
Fourth, simply because we replace other policies addressing more specific doctrinal distinctives beyond the Baptist Faith and Message does not mean that such distinctives are now unimportant to IMB. For example, replacing the policy that addresses tongues and private prayer language does not mean that the issue of tongues is unimportant to IMB work around the world. We will continue to train and work as missionaries in ways that faithfully represent Southern Baptist churches and conviction, and we will continue to have as part of our “Manual for Field Personnel” allowance for termination of employment for any missionary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive” to Southern Baptist missions work. In a similar way, replacing the policy that addresses believer's baptism does not in any way mean that IMB will in any sense dilute the way we select, train and work as missionaries in complete accord with the statement on baptism in the Baptist Faith and Message.
 
Fifth, this policy does not mean we are lowering the standards for missionaries. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Some may see the replacement of policies dealing with divorce or tongues, for example, as efforts to “lower the bar” regarding expectations of missionaries. One might imagine a man or woman with multiple divorces who is also engaged in harmful charismatic practices and wonder if this policy revision now opens the possibility for that person to serve as an IMB missionary. But this is most definitely not what this policy means. As you see in the new policy, the baseline qualification for missionaries includes men and women who “bear fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ” and are “meaningfully involved in a [Southern Baptist] church in which they participate in leading people to faith in Christ, seeing new believers baptized in the church and showing believers how to obey Christ, all with a view toward reaching nations with the gospel.”
 
Further, prospective missionaries must evidence a missionary call that is both “discerned within their local church and affirmed by that local church alongside IMB leadership.” Finally, they must be “devoted to the vision, mission, values, and beliefs of the IMB.” We hope that if all of these characteristics are evident in a member of a Southern Baptist church, and that church affirms with us God’s call for that member to work as a missionary, then pathways for service as an IMB missionary may be a possibility (whether as a church planter or support worker who receives full financial support from the IMB, as a business professional who receives no financial support from the IMB or anywhere in between).
 
In conclusion, what this policy means is that IMB wants to open wide the door for Southern Baptist churches to send thousands upon thousands of biblically qualified members in the days ahead to serve as IMB missionary team members who are making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached. These members will serve in many different positions with many different responsibilities, ranging from lead church planters to vital support roles, from business professionals to college students to active retirees. From a variety of different backgrounds with a variety of different skills and a variety of different qualifications, they will join together to spread the gospel to people who have never heard it. The ultimate aim of this policy revision is to enable limitless God-exalting, Christ-following, Spirit-led, biblically-faithful, people-loving, high-quality Southern Baptist missionaries to serve with IMB through a multiplicity of pathways in the days ahead.
 
For an International Mission Board FAQ on the new policy to streamline guidelines for appointing new missionary personnel, click here.
 
(EDITOR'S NOTE – David Platt, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, amplifies a new policy to streamline guidelines for appointing new missionary personnel. The policy was adopted by IMB trustees during their May 12-13 meeting in Louisville, Ky.)
 

Related Story:

IMB opens new pathways for service

5/15/2015 11:14:02 AM by David Platt, IMB president | with 0 comments



Nominals to Nones: 3 Key Takeaways From Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey

May 14 2015 by Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today

Christianity is not dying, as I've often said; nominal Christianity is.
 
May 12, Pew Research Center released a report drawing a variety of headlines – everything from “Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion” to “Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America.”
 
So what are we supposed to think of Christianity in America?
 
The big trends are clear, the nominals are becoming the nones, yet the convictional are remaining committed.
 
In other words, Americans whose Christianity was nominal–in name only–are casting aside the name. They are now aligning publicly with what they’ve actually not believed all along.

 
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Ed Stetzer

The percentage of convictional Christians remains rather steady, but because the nominal Christians now are unaffiliated the overall percentage of self-identified Christians is decline. This overall decline is what Pew shows–and I expect it to accelerate.
 
Not one serious researcher thinks Christianity in America is dying. What we see from Pew Religious Landscape Survey is not the death-knell of Christianity, but another indication that Christianity in America is being refined.
 
As such, let me share three takeaways from the data.

 

1. Convictional Christianity is rather steady.

Evangelicals are not the only people who call themselves Christians and a good proportion take it seriously, but since this is an evangelical publication, let me share some data from there with one caveat. You might say that I have a vested interested in evangelicalism's success. However, as an author, the opposite is true. If I announced the death of evangelicalism and Christian faith, I'd sell a lot more books, I assure you.
 
But, facts are our friends and math is math, so let’s take a look.
 
First, from 2007 to 2014 the number of evangelicals in America rose from 59.8 million to 62.2 million. Evangelicals now make up a clear majority (55 percent) of all U.S. Protestants (in 2007, 51 percent of U.S. Protestants identified with evangelical churches).
 
Within Christianity, the only group retaining more of their population than the evangelical church is the historically black church.
 
One of the primary reasons it appears as though "American Christianity" is experiencing a sharp decline is because the nominals who once made up (disproportionately) Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are now checking "none" on religious affiliation surveys, and this is why their numbers continue to sharply decline.
 
For those who have only ever considered themselves "Christian" because they've been to church before or because they aren't Muslim or Hindu, it is starting to make more sense to check "none" on religious identification surveys.
 
Yet, church attendance rates (though overreported) are not changing substantially.

 

2. There have been significant shifts within American Christianity.

One of the most notable shifts in American Christianity is the evangelicalization of the church. Fifty percent of all Christians who comprise 70 percent of the U.S. population now self-identify as "evangelical" or "born again," up from 44 percent in 2007.
 
Pew notes, "The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching."
 
It should be noted that evangelicals' share of the overall U.S. population dropped by 0.9 percent over the last seven years, but the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as evangelical actually rose from 34 percent to 35 percent over the same period. The drop in population share is based on denominational affiliation, whereas the 1 percent increase is based on self-identification.
 
The percentage Millennial evangelicals remained the same 21 percent from 2007-14. The only decline was among the Greatest Generation (28-25 percent), who, because of their age, are not a growth demographic. Every other one stayed the same as well.
 
Only 45 percent of those raised in the Mainline Protestant tradition remain in Mainline churches. Sixty-five percent of those raised evangelical remain evangelical, behind only Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and historically Black Protestant. Sixteen percent switched to another version of Christianity, 3 percent switched to another faith and 15 percent became unaffiliated.
 
The only region where evangelicals decreased was the South, from 37 percent to 34 percent. It remained the same in the Northeast and Midwest, and grew in the West, from 20 percent to 22 percent.
 
That's not to say that evangelicalism is doing well it peaked a couple of decades ago in the United States but one of the big shifts inside Christianity is toward evangelicalism, oddly enough. Yet, in the culture as a whole, and as a percentage of the population, evangelicalism is losing ground.

 

3. Mainline Protestantism continues to hemorrhage.

Only 45% of those raised in the Mainline Protestant tradition remain in Mainline churches. Those whose parents and grandparents were mainline Protestants aren’t carrying on the family tradition like those who align with other Protestant denominations. Since members of these churches are not gaining new members from the culture at-large, nor growing by birth rates, they continue to decline precipitously.
 
Mainline Protestantism isn’t experiencing growth as a portion of Americans generally nor American Christianity specifically. If Mainline Protestantism continues its trajectory it is only a couple of generations from virtual extinction.
 
But Christianity, overall, isn’t dying and no research says it is; the statistics about Christians in America are simply starting to show a clearer picture of what American Christianity is becoming – less nominal, more defined, and more outside of the mainstream of American culture.
 
For example, the cultural cost of calling yourself “Christian” is starting to outweigh the cultural benefit, so those who do not identify as a “Christian” according to their convictions are starting to identify as “nones” because it’s more culturally savvy.
 
Because of this, the statistics show (on the surface) that Christianity in America is experiencing a sharp decline. However, that’s the path of those who don’t read beyond the surface. If there remains a relatively stable church-engaged, convictional minority, and there is a big movement on self-identification, that means that the middle is going away.
 
In short, and as I put it, the “nominals” are becoming the “nones” AND convictional Christian practice is a minority, but generally stable, population. If that is the case, and that is what the data is showing, than the decline is primarily (not exclusively) that nominal Christians are becoming honest reporters.
 
So, Christians, we need not run around with our hands in the air and say, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
 
Christianity is losing, and will continue to lose, its home field advantage; no one can (or should) deny this. However, the numerical decline of self-identified American Christianity is more of a purifying bloodletting than it is an arrow to the heart of the church.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE  –  Chris Martin, Aaron Earls, Marty Duren, and Casey Oliver contributed to this blog post by Ed Stetzer.)
 

Related Stories:

Can you be a Christian without believing in Christ?
Pew: Christians decline while ‘nones’ increase

5/14/2015 9:41:27 AM by Ed Stetzer, Christianity Today | with 0 comments



Can you be a Christian without believing in Christ?

May 13 2015 by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service

The rise of the “nones” – Americans who no longer check a religious affiliation on demographic surveys – has stirred up interesting conversations among church leaders. A generation ago, many Americans would have been considered “nominal” in their devotion. Today, many have stopped claiming a religious identity altogether.
 
But what happens when the “nones” find themselves longing for the religious world they once knew? Is it possible to reclaim your religious affiliation if you no longer believe in the doctrines of the faith?
 
This is the situation of Alana Massey, who calls herself a “cultural Christian” – an atheist who finds she can neither fully embrace a secular identity nor abandon her Episcopal heritage. In an article in The Washington Post, “How to Take Christ out of Christianity,” Massey claims a “profound connection to Christianity” even without “theistic belief.” In her experience, secularism isn’t good enough; it doesn’t create a lasting community bond for celebration during the good times and comfort during the bad. What’s more, the “self-help” advice from the nonreligious world is a poor substitute for the robust vision of Christianity, where the moral and ethical stakes in the Bible are so high.

 

So, if younger American Jews can base their identity on “ancestral, ethnic and cultural connections rather than religious ones,” why can’t Christians celebrate their religion’s moral benefits and societal aspirations, even if they don’t believe in God?
 
Massey believes we should broaden the meaning of Christianity so that nonbelieving people can be part of the same family seeking peace in the world.
 
Should we accept a “cultural Christianity” that relishes religious ritual while rejecting religious belief? I offer both a firm “no” and an unreserved “yes.”
 

“No” to cultural Christianity

Massey’s “cultural Christianity” is not Christianity at all. Only in a world where the individual is the sole determiner of one’s identity does it make sense to say, “I want Christianity without Christ.” Imagine a teetotaler who wants to join a wine-tasting club (“I just love the fellowship!”) or a vegetarian who frequents a barbecue restaurant (“Vegans can’t compete with the smell of pork!”).
 
You can’t love the “epic moral narrative” of the Bible but reject the major turning points of that storyline – like the resurrection of Jesus, without which the Apostle Paul said Christianity is futile, pitiable, and built on a massive lie.
 
Furthermore, we must distinguish between the gospel and morality. Massey assumes that the purpose of all religion is to help people become moral and good. Morality is the center of Christianity; therefore, the existence of God and the reality of miracles are not essential to Christian identity.
 
But what if that assumption is wrong? What if morality isn’t the heart of Christianity but a byproduct of the Christian gospel? The gospel is not about good people getting better but about bad people being made right with God. It’s not about humans making the world a better place but the Son of God making the world his home and then dying and rising to save us.
 
Once you make Christianity a means to something else, whether it’s the 1960s hippie vision of free love or the social activism of today’s millennials, you trade God’s agenda for your own and create a Jesus who looks an awful lot like yourself. Massey commends a cultural Christianity because it’s helpful; the apostles commended Christianity because it’s true.
 

“Yes” to “cultural Christians”

Following quickly behind my firm “no” to the idea of cultural Christianity, comes my unreserved “yes” to people like Massey who recognize the real results of the gospel in the church, even though they don’t follow the footprints back to God.
 
We shouldn’t be surprised when nonbelievers admit there is a void in our secular society. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has described our secular age as a “disenchanted” world that leaves people longing for transcendence, something more than the “this-world-is-all-there-is” dogma of unbelief. As atheist Julian Barnes opens his memoir on death: “I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”
 
On our way to church this week, I explained to my kids Massey’s idea of “wanting to be a Christian without believing in God” and asked what they thought the church’s response should be. My 11-year-old son answered without hesitation: “Welcome her.” His 7-year-old sister piped up from the back seat: “Yes! If she’s close to the church and reads her Bible, she might meet Jesus.”
 
Neither of my kids thought it possible to be a “true Christian” without believing in Jesus. Nevertheless, they both thought individuals like Massey should be welcomed into churches with open arms – not as brothers and sisters who are part of the same family of faith (for true spiritual kinship is only possible when we have bowed the knee to King Jesus), but as people who bear the image of God and who we pray will one day be remade into the image of Christ.
 
Massey is right about one thing: Secularism doesn’t fill the longing of the human heart. But neither will “cultural Christianity.” Only the ancient gospel story has that kind of power. And it’s that gospel story that may lead to the day when the “nones” aren’t checking that box anymore.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project and author of multiple books, including “Clear Winter Nights: A Journey Into Truth, Doubt and What Comes After.”)

5/13/2015 10:57:00 AM by Trevin Wax, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Five things you can expect at the SBC this year

May 12 2015 by Ronnie Floyd, SBC president

I want to share five things to expect when you attend the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting. Many will be attending for the first time, others will be attending their first in a few years, and some will be like me, annual attenders. By the way, you can still register, so perhaps this will encourage you to do so.
 
1. God will meet with us powerfully.
 
A few thousand people have been praying for our gathering almost daily, or at least weekly. In these final days before we gather, we pray and ask each of our pastors, church leaders and their churches to set aside a day to pray and fast for this gathering, June 16-17 in Columbus, Ohio. At the least, thousands of our churches could set aside two or three Sundays before our meeting to take five to ten minutes in their worship services to pray for our upcoming convention.
 
Many of our churches have set aside entire Sunday mornings to pray for revival in the church, awakening in America and to reach the world for Christ. More may do so before we gather in Columbus.
 
What I do know is that we have set aside moments to meet with God, especially on Tuesday night, when we will take the entire evening session for a national gathering of Southern Baptists to pray for the next Great Awakening and to reach the world with the gospel. Do not miss it. God will meet with us powerfully. May this evening become a catalyst for the next great move of God in America.
 
2. The schedule will be completely different.
 
Our Order of Business Committee and the Executive Committee leadership have worked with me in partnership to create what we believe will be a very creative and impactful schedule. Take a moment to download the entire schedule or at least some highlights of it.
 
We have created packages, things that we believe go together, to help all of us understand more the impact of what God is doing and wants to do through us. The tone will be set in our Tuesday morning session, so do not be late and definitely do not miss it. I hope you will pray for me as I begin preparing to deliver my address to our convention at approximately 9:30 a.m.
 
3. Multiple opportunities will be given to you continually.
 
Much occurs at our Southern Baptist Convention. While I rejoice in this and have attended many of them, they exist to complement what we do together inside the convention hall for two days, not compete with it.
 
I respectfully request all of the groups and leaders that are hosting something or offering something to our messengers to please remember this. Start and conclude before our sessions begin or after our sessions conclude. Let the people out in plenty of time to get into the hall.
 
Messengers, please be diligent in attending each session. You would be surprised to discover that many messengers never even make it into the hall to attend any sessions. Remember that your churches are funding your trip so that you can participate, listen and return with a report of what our Southern Baptist Convention is doing. This is why we convene, so please join us. We have changed the way we do things so that new people will be interested in attending and to re-engage all of us.
 
4. Outstanding work is preceding our convention.
 
At the present time, we have 81 of our 119 churches that are a part of the Metro Columbus Baptist Association involved in Crossover Columbus! This is due to the phenomenal leadership of their director of missions, Rich Halcombe, and the entire Ohio Baptist Convention staff team that is led by their executive director, Jack Kwok.
 
Preceding the convention, many of our churches from across the country will arrive early to assist in Crossover Columbus. Additionally, seminary and college students will be equipped to evangelize and lead various gatherings to impact the city. We could have up to 1,000 college students assisting in this and hundreds of them attending our convention.
 
There is still time to come and help. Everyone who will be there for the weekend before can come assist on Crossover Saturday, June 13. Give a few hours to touch Columbus for Christ. Discover what God is doing and how He can use you at crossovercolumbus.org.
 
Additionally, there will be many fabulous moments afforded to you before Tuesday. Here is a list of those various meetings from our outstanding Pastors’ Conference, led by Willy Rice, to the great leadership given to our Woman’s Missionary Union by Wanda Lee.
 
5. You will leave Columbus with vision and hope abounding.
 
I want to assure you, if you are in our sessions at the Southern Baptist Convention, you will leave with vision and hope abounding.
 
Can I guarantee that? Yes, because I am convinced the reports and presentations along with the various features will be outstanding. Additionally, I am convinced the business will be conducted diligently.
 
More than anything, I am convinced that God will meet with us powerfully. I pray you will leave with a burden for what God wants to do; but even more so, we appeal to King Jesus that you also leave with vision and hope abounding.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas. This column first appeared at Ronnie Floyd’s website, ronniefloyd.com.)

5/12/2015 11:56:48 AM by Ronnie Floyd, SBC president | with 0 comments



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