TGC Profiles Summit Church's Incredible Sending Capacity

This was originally posted at SBC Voices.
If you want to get fired up about how a local church can develop a culture of sending its members on mission, go read the Gospel Coalition's profile of Summit Church. Titled How One Baptist Church Has Seven Times More Missionaries Than Anyone Else, Sarah Zylstra details the history of Summit: From a church plant, to quickly growing, to plateaued & declining, and then to revitalization and exponential growth, the focus isn't on the numbers attending the church but the pipeline of leaders and workers going out to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. In the 17 years since the church called J.D. Greear as senior pastor, the church has been on an amazing journey.

Some of the highlights:

  • Middle school students encouraged to do a short-term, domestic mission trip with their families.

  • Early high school students encouraged to go on a mission trip "somewhere in the Americas".

  • About 10% of their high school seniors will spend 3 weeks living overseas with missionaries.

  • College students asked to give one full summer to missions.

  • Summit has planted 40 churches in the U.S. and over 200 overseas whose combined attendance (10,171) now eclipses Summit's own attendance (9,973).

  • The number of IMB missionaries serving from Summit is 7 times higher than the next-highest SBC church.

  • Summit spends 17% of its budget on missions.

  • Every month they commission the next group being sent. Every month.

  • Services end with pastors giving the charge: "Summit, You are sent."

Even reading about this culture that's been intentionally developed gets my mind thinking about how our church can be more involved, orienting our church and members toward a mindset and lifestyle like this. Summit's sending pastor, Todd Unzicker, is quoted throughout the piece:
'About 48 percent of our people doing local outreach ministry have been on a one-week international trip,' Unzicker said. 'The people who tithe the most, who are involved in small groups, who are involved in their local community—it all came back to one thing. They’d been on a short-term trip.'

Unzicker and  J.D. Greear work together weekly to make sure at least one church planter or missionary is highlighted in Summit's service. J.D. served himself with the IMB before becoming Summit's pastor, and says he never felt called off of the mission field, just to a different role:
'When God directed me to pastor this church, he never relinquished my call to the mission field,' Greear said. 'He showed me I was supposed to reach the nations by mobilizing the American church.'

Make sure to head over to The Gospel Coalition's website and read about the work that God's doing in the Raleigh/Durham area and across the world through Summit.

Felix Cabrera to Be Nominated for SBC Second Vice President

This article was originally posted at SBC Voices.
Felix Cabrera, Pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, will be nominated for SBC Second Vice President. The initial announcement came Friday afternoon through Baptist Press. Pastor Ed Litton (Redemption Church, Mobile, Alabama) will nominate Cabrera at the Annual Meeting in Dallas, June 12-13.
Cabrera's list of accomplishments and service are impressive. You can see all the details in the BP article, but I wanted to pull a few highlights here. Iglesia Bautista Central was planted in 2015 and has grown to over 200 in weekly attendance. They've been recognized twice for their high Cooperative Program giving and also for per capita baptisms. IBC is  active in several other areas of missions in addition to their CP gifts: church planting, Baptist Global Response, and their local association among others. He's served on the SBC's Hispanic Leaders Council, ERLC's Leadership Council, is co-founder of the Hispanic Baptist Pastors Alliance, and is the Founder of the RED 1:8 church planting network. When I met Felix, he may have been as excited to talk about the church planting network as any other single aspect of the work he's involved with. They've planted 35 churches, some here in the U. S., but also churches in Puerto Rico, Central America, and other areas. (The churches located in the U. S. are affiliated with the SBC, but obviously those outside the country are not eligible to participate.)
I was really excited to hear that Felix would be nominated. I started hearing his name about a year and half ago in relation to the success of his church plant and leadership among Hispanic SBC pastors. He sets an example all of us would do well to follow. Dr. A. B. Vines will be nominated for First Vice President this year. Seeing the leadership of these two men recognized and celebrated through their respective VP nominations is a day we as Southern Baptists should be grateful for.

Dr. A. B. Vines to Be Nominated for SBC First Vice President

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
Baptist Press just reported that Dr. Johnny Hunt will nominate Dr. A. B. Vines for SBC First Vice President this summer at the Annual Meeting in Dallas. Vines is pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, President of the California Southern Baptist Convention,  and is a recent past president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC. You'll see all those details and more in the BP article.

The announcement notes the extensive missions work of New Seasons Church, Cooperative Program and Great Commission Giving, "community clothing and feeding ministries, at least two church plants, missions in Africa, and a school in the Philippines." Also notable is the multi-ethnic nature of New Seasons Church, which across five campuses includes an Arabic-speaking campus and Spanish-speaking campus. But I'm just repeating what you can read for yourself at BP.

I've not met Dr. Vines personally but I've heard in the last hour from a few different friends who know Vines and have worked with him. They are thrilled to see him nominated and speak very highly of him. I'm really thankful for Dr. Vines' past leadership in various convention roles and his willingness to be nominated, as well as for Johnny Hunt's desire to nominate him as a leader who will be a blessing for Southern Baptists at this important time.

Understanding Each Other & the Best Way to Respond to Charlottesville

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
I’ve been trying to figure out why people are getting so angry at each other about the events in Charlottesville this past weekend. Discussion has turned heated in almost irrational ways as we’ve tried to discuss and make sense of how we should respond to what happened. And here’s the thing— virtually everyone here at SBC Voices, both contributors and commenters, agrees about most of the major elements:

We all agree that white supremacy is abhorrent and evil, whether KKK, neo-nazi, alt-right or other. We all agree that leftist groups were there to escalate and incite violent conflicts, which is also wrong and evil. We all agree that protests of any kind should be peaceful. We all believe in the right to free speech, even when disgusting things are being said. We all are grieved by the terrorist attack by the white supremacist who used his car to drive into a crowd of people. We all mourn the death of Heather Heyer and pray for others who were injured in the attack. We all wish the country wasn’t so polarized right now.

So if we agree on all those things, why are we so divided? It seems like the major dividing point in the conversations I hear and read has to do with how we talk about the situation. One group emphasizes condemnation of white supremacy. The other emphasizes the need to condemn all the extremist groups involved (usually stated as to include Antifa and Black Lives Matter). Will we condemn the KKK without qualification or must we also include all groups involved in the Charlottesville protests? I’ve literally been angry at people, just yesterday, who have refused to condemn white supremacists without mentioning other groups along with them. Why should something that could be seen as a subtle nuance cause such a rift among people who agree on so much?

I’ve tried to trace it out and here’s what I’ve come up with. My hope is that it will help bridge the divide and promote understanding between the two viewpoints I’m describing.

View #1: White supremacy is evil and Christians should speak out clearly & mainly against it.
View #2: Right wing and left wing groups both caused problems and should both be condemned.

The difference between the two stems from how we answer this question: What is the most pressing and urgent problem in the Charlottesville situation? If people believe, as I do, that the most serious problem in Charlottesville was the presence of an emboldened white supremacist movement, then your primary reaction is going to be view #1. You’re going to want to speak out clearly and unequivocally against white supremacy. If people believe that the biggest problem in Charlottesville was that the protests turned violent and you’re looking to place blame for that - then #2 is likely your response. And there may be a legitimate argument that the leftist groups were equally instigating violence and that both sides were at fault, at least until the car attack made all the other violence look minor.

So the difference between us actually begins much sooner. Not just which groups we should condemn, but what is it in the Charlottesville situation that needs to be confronted? And I believe if we look at it through this lens, I can try to understand better why some want to talk about all groups and hopefully others can understand why I think that primarily addressing white supremacy alone is the better path.

Which Approach Should We Take?

In deciding between the two viewpoints, and in advocacy of my own view, I would first point out that everyone agrees that peaceful protests should be conducted without resorting to violence. That goes for all locations, all groups, and all causes. There’s nothing unusual about Charlottesville in that respect. We feel about Charlottesville the same way we did about Ferguson and Baltimore. We might disagree about the how legitimate the complaints were in any of these instances, but we all hated to see them turn violent and we all condemned the violence. The fact that there was violence between the protesting groups isn’t mainly what brought this Charlottesville event to national prominence (again, at least until the car terrorist attack).

The most significant aspect of this event is that it was an open, national gathering of white supremacists who feel emboldened to come out of the shadows, show their faces, and march chanting old Nazi-era slogans. This is the shocking facet of what happened on that Friday night. This is what makes me wonder what minority believers must be thinking and feeling — and how I can unite with them in responding to this. This is what makes me determined to speak up. The main problem was this KKK/alt-right march in the first place — and that’s not the fault of Antifa or BLM or anyone else.

I believe there are objective and subjective reasons to consider the white supremacist aspect of Charlottesville the part that needs to be urgently addressed.

  1. There would have been no event, no conflict, no violence, no death of Heather Heyer, no police officers killed in a helicopter crash if this event had not taken place in the first place.

  2. The white supremacists came armed with weapons, ready to be violent and kill if the opportunity arose. They've stated since then that they believe in their future rallies more people will die.

  3. The terrorist attack with the car was perpetrated by a white supremacist and later defended by leaders of the white supremacist group.

  4. A white supremacist rally in and of itself is meant to intimidate and terrorize the public, particularly minorities, but also anyone who would stand up against their white supremacist vision.

  5. Standing with minorities in our culture means we take seriously their perspective. Do you think very many non-white people look at Charlottesville and think the main problem was that the different groups got angry and violent with each other?

  6. Undoubtedly the public perception about Charlottesville is that the white supremacist element was the most notable. The photos of young, angry white men carrying Walmart tiki torches (seriously?) will be seared into the national consciousness for years to come. Can we not speak clearly to that without diluting what the world ought to hear the church saying? This isn't a time for anti-PC warriors to try and score points against leftist groups. That's an exercise in missing the point.

This is a time for Christians to keep the main problem in view and speak clearly, without equivocation or qualification, about the evil of white supremacy.

Bruce Ashford series on the alt-right

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
Bruce Ashford has written an incredibly helpful 4-part series on the alt-right movement and how evangelicals should respond to it. Not only is this worth your time for reading and your own understanding, but many church members will likely have questions about Resolution 10 and what the SBC meant when it passed a resolution condemning the alt-right movement. This is don't-miss material.

The Anti-Gospel of the Alt-Right

Overview: An Evangelical Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right
Part 1: An Introduction to Alt-Right Ideology
Part 2: A Profile of 5 Alt-Right Leaders
Part 3: A Response to FAQs about the Alt-Right
Part 4: An Evaluation of the Alt-Right

I mainly post this here to make you aware of this excellent resource. I plan on making it available to our church members when we give a #SBC17 overview to our church.

H. B. Charles Lays Out Vision for 2018 Pastors' Conference

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.
Last week the news broke that H. B. Charles would be nominated for President of the 2018 SBC Pastors' Conference. It was big news and widely welcomed in news and social media. Brad Graves, who had previously been announced as a nominee withdrew his name from consideration in support of Charles' nomination, which made a noteworthy announcement even more significant.

Today H. B. Charles posted at his blog an article titled "My Nomination for SBC Pastors’ Conference President" where he gives some personal reflections about his nomination. The post is well worth reading for several reasons - two of which I want to highlight here that I find hugely encouraging.

First is that Charles lays out his vision for what the 2018 Pastors' Conference will look like. Here are his words:
If elected, I will give my best effort to plan a conference that will encourage pastors, model biblical preaching, and promote the Great Commission.

We know that H. B. Charles is highly regarded for his biblical preaching - and that's exactly what we want to see at the 2018 Pastors' Conference. You might remember the 2017 PC President got the ball rolling on his nomination by asking the question "Why Not Focus on Biblical Preaching at the Pastors Conference?" This is a theme that resonates deeply with me and with the team who has been involved with the 2017 PC. We would love to see it become an expectation that future SBC Pastors' Conferences will feature expository, text-driven preaching as the norm.

Second, it is hugely encouraging to see Charles' consideration of what Dave Miller has brought to the Pastors' Conference. Again, his words:
As I contemplate this opportunity, I cast my eyes toward the work for this year’s conference. Before coming to Jacksonville eight years ago, it was my joy to serve a smaller congregation in Los Angeles for almost eighteen years. I pray this year’s conference will be uplifting for one and all. And I pray the Lord will grant me wisdom to consider the spirit of this year’s conference, as he leads me regarding next year’s theme, program, and speakers.

When Dave set out to implement his vision for 2017, we planned that it would be a one-time event. None of our group is interested in running or being as involved as we have been this year. It's a lot of time and work. We've loved doing it, but at this point it feels like we're nearing the end of a marathon – the finish line is ahead and it means what its title implies. We didn't expect another conference to be exclusively preachers from average-sized churches. We didn't expect that every PC in the future would preach through a book (though we hope this years' will show the value and possibility and that we will see the approach again).

But we did hope that some of the themes that we've desired and promoted would be given heavy consideration in the future. Dave's vision resonated with enough people in St. Louis to win that election, which surprised many at the time. But it showed there is a desire for a Pastors' Conference that aims for biblical expository preaching and values SBC churches of all sizes. So it's a joy for H. B. Charles to say he plans to "consider the spirit" of the 2017 PC as he plans for Dallas.

It's not customary for the current Pastors' Conference to comment on an upcoming nomination and probably isn't appropriate for it  to do so. So I don't speak for the Pastors' Conference or leadership team in any official capacity. But personally, I'm glad to tell you I plan to enthusiastically support H. B. Charles for Pastors' Conference President. I'd be glad for you to join me and many others who are already planning to do the same.

In Defense of Open Mic Time at Funerals

This article was originally published at SBC Voices.

Yesterday William Thornton wrote about The Bizzare Cases of Strangers Speaking at Funerals. William recommended against "the growing trend of an informal, almost ad hoc service where various family members and friends may speak as well as the minister or ministers". The article had a number of points about funerals that I would affirm as good advice - like making sure the gospel is clearly presented, and making sure you learn about the life of the deceased and include that in your message.

I thought it was worth some gentle pushback on the open mic time, however. I would estimate about half of the funerals I do have included a time of inviting anyone present to speak. I've never had a bad experience or a funeral go wrong because of including that element. The vast majority of time I've found it to be an very encouraging and memorable time for the family.

When I sit down with a family to plan a funeral, I take a sample service order that includes several optional elements at the bottom. I let the family know they are welcome to include any of those they prefer, and one of those options is an open mic time for family and friends. I allow them to choose if the mic will be completely open to anyone present or if they would like to pre-select a certain number of family and friends who will speak (that's not technically an open mic time, but it's close in the way it practically works out).

I haven't gone back and counted, but I would guess half or more of the services I've done, the family has asked to include that optional element. I think it's more common now for families to include that than it was 9 years ago when I started pastoring, but that's just my sense.

Setup Is Key

I believe one of the reasons it's worked well in services I've done is that it's planned well and we have an emergency exit plan. First, I ask the family during our planning meeting if they have a couple family members who will want to speak, to at least one of them to be ready to go first. That avoids a long, awkward wait in a "who's going to go first?" holding pattern. So ahead of time, I normally already know of two or three people who are planning to speak.

Second, near the beginning of the service, I let people know there will be "a time later for anyone who would like to share some thoughts about..." That way people have a few minutes to get their thoughts together.

Third, I introduce the time with some specific instructions (I almost have this part memorized): "We ask that you keep your comments relatively brief so that plenty of people will have an opportunity to speak and, of course, make sure whatever you decide to share is appropriate for this occasion." This gives me an emergency exit plan. If someone were to go on too long, or if someone were to branch off in an area that's inappropriate or uncomfortable, I am ready and willing to intervene with a firm but kind, "Thank you sister Margaret, let's make sure others have an opportunity to speak." I've never had to do that, but I'm always ready and let the family know ahead of time if it goes off the rails I'm prepared to handle the situation.

Allow it to Develop Naturally

Allow there to be some silence between speakers without feeling awkward. This adds to the authenticity of the moment. Some family members will cry while they speak. Let them know ahead of time people will understand and will appreciate their desire to speak at such a difficult time. After enough people have spoken, close down the time and thank everyone who spoke for their words.

People understand the unscripted nature of that time during a service so I don't feel the need to police or correct theology on the spot. It's an opportunity for people to speak their own thoughts. If there is some unbiblical sentiment expressed, I always have the time later in the service to gently, indirectly remind people of what the Bible teaches. This is actually one of the biggest advantages, one of the reasons I most like including open mic time...

I Read from the Bible

It's not unusual for a family member to ask me to read a letter or poem as a part of the service. I'm sure most pastors have experienced that as well. I've found that most funeral poetry isn't the kind of thing I'm comfortable endorsing. When I'm asked, I don't even read the content before I respond with, "When I read in funerals, I read from the Bible." I don't want to sit with a grieving family critiquing the theology of line 6 of the needlepoint craft they've had hanging in their house since they were kids, for example. So whether it's good theology or not, I decline kindly and offer that if one of their family members or friends would like to read something, they can feel free to do that during the open mic time. I've never had a family push back on that suggestion. I remind them cousin Richard would probably be honored if you asked him to read something during the service. (In cases of seriously unbiblical theology, I would let the family know I don't recommend having that as part the service and offer an alternative, but I've never had anyone want anything like that, it's usually just atheological therapeutic thoughts, which are not necessarily bad, in context, in proportion, and I know I'm going to give a strong gospel presentation during my message.)

So having the open mic time gives an informal outlet to those who want to participate but don't need to be a part of the formal service structure. It allows a meaningful and encouraging time for the family. It provides a natural and comfortable time for people to talk and express their grief in a way that honors their loved one. There is an informality to the time that I usually sense to be a welcome relief of tension in the funeral service. It helps me before I preach to hear about the life of the one I'm about to speak about. I consider my job in leading a funeral to have two main goals: (1) honor the memory of the person who's gone and (2) preach Jesus and his gospel. Open mic time has never once detracted from either of those goals.

NAAF President Byron Day - Calls for Unity, Moore 'Outstanding' as ERLC President

This article originally posted at SBC Voices.
David Roach at Baptist Press reported this evening that Byron Day released an open letter calling for reconciliation between Russell Moore and his critics (Article: NAAF pres. urges 'reconciliation' among Moore, critics). Day is the pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Maryland and current President of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention, a network of over 4,000 "predominately African American pastors and churches affiliated with" the SBC. Recent past presidents of the NAAF include K. Marshall Williams, Sr., and Dr. A. B. Vines, Sr.

The letter is first a call for unity. Of five paragraphs the letter contains, four stress the desire for unity. Day says the current controversy is damaging to our gospel witness and distracting from our mission. The fourth paragraph, which is clearly meant to play a supporting role in the letter, does offer a strong statement of appreciation & support for Russell Moore continuing to lead the ERLC. This seems especially notable after Dwight McKissic's widely shared post on Monday in support of Russell Moore. McKissic stressed how Moore is held in high esteem by the vast majority of black Southern Baptists. Day's open letter further substantiates McKissic's claims in that area.

Excerpts from the section in support of Dr. Moore follow: "Russell Moore has done nothing worthy of discipline or firing. He... has been outstanding as president of the ERLC... he has also addressed social injustices such as racism which have been long overlooked." This is high praise from an influential voice in the SBC.

Those sections are important, but please don't overlook the supporting role they play in calling the convention to unity. Four of five paragraphs stress unity, reminding us to let political differences take a back seat, requesting private meetings to reconcile (Jack Graham confirmed in Tuesday's Q&A that meetings of that nature had taken place but did not say how much progress had been made.), and other calls for us to put this controversy behind us. Letter text is reprinted below.
An Open Letter to Southern Baptists

The recent events surrounding ERLC President Russell Moore is dividing Southern Baptists and, more importantly, is hurting the name of Jesus Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel. The recent election has not only further divided our country, but it seems that political views threaten to divide our Convention, not over major theological doctrine but over practical or political preferences. Truth be told, our Lord is neither Republican nor Democrat; He is Lord of all.

The name of Christ is far too valuable and the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world too important that we should allow political disagreements to distract us from that which is most significant. The commands of our God and Savior Jesus Christ to love one another as He loves us outweigh any personal political views. This is how we show the world that our faith is genuine. To be sure, feathers have been ruffled on both sides; but obedience to the Bible's teaching can surely offer a solution so that we can get back to working together to share the good news of God's love, forgiveness, and gift of eternal life.

What would happen if those offended by Dr. Moore were to take a biblical approach and talk to him privately concerning comments that offended them and then give him opportunity to apologize and be reconciled, to the glory of Christ? What would happen if Dr. Moore would receive their calls and agree to meet with them and experience reconciliation, to the glory of God? What would happen if Dr. Moore, upon learning that his brother has something against him, would leave his offering at the altar, seek him out, and be reconciled to his brother, to the glory of Christ? Would not God be glorified and Southern Baptists be better served?

There are some who have suggested withholding cooperative dollars until Dr. Moore is either disciplined or fired. However, Russell Moore has done nothing worthy of discipline or firing. He has not violated The Baptist Faith and Message and, in fact, has been outstanding as president of the ERLC. He has represented all Southern Baptists, contending for the highly visible ethical issues of abortion and biblical marriage; but he has also addressed social injustices such as racism which have been long overlooked.

Southern Baptist have been uniquely gifted and called to have a great impact for the Kingdom of God. We must not be ignorant of the schemes of the enemy to divide us. Now is not the time for division but unity and we must be diligent to preserve the unity we have in Christ. Perhaps we should all take a step back and consider what would most honor Christ. The name of Jesus is too valuable and the preaching of the Gospel to the world too important to do otherwise.

Byron J. Day, President, National African American Fellowship of the SBC

Source: original BP article.

Open Letter to Jack Graham from NOBTS Students

This article originally appeared at SBC Voices.
This is the text of the open letter to Jack Graham by six NOBTS students. The letter was first delivered to Graham during this morning's visit to the NOBTS campus. It was released at their website, and they offer the option to add your name to the document. Graham preached chapel today at NOBTS and the students made "I Heart CP" t-shirts and asked questions during a forum time requested by Graham.

We've covered some of the details as Titus Terrebonne and Devin Haun have written about the situation & their concerns. I'm thankful for this letter as it's gracious, measured, but pointed about some of the problems they and others have seen with Prestonwood's actions. The full text is below.

Preface to Letter

The following document is our open letter to Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. Before anyone reads the letter we want everyone to know how thankful we are for Dr. Graham. We are thankful that he preached in our chapel today and we are thankful that he took the time to answer some of our questions. We hope that this letter communicates our position clearly and concisely. The drafting of this letter has been a labor of love and it is something that we have constantly prayed over. We hope that our tone is gracious and that everyone who reads this understands that we are writing this in love and not hate. Thank you again Dr. Graham. We hope to get your feedback on our letter to you. We also hope to send letters to people on the other side of some of these issues. We look forward to partnering with Dr. Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church in the future.

An Open Letter to Pastor Jack Graham

We, the undersigned students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, would like to express our concern with respect to the recent decision made by Prestonwood Baptist Church to escrow their Cooperative Program (CP) contributions. Prestonwood Baptist Church has done so in order to express their displeasure with various Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities. As students who attend an SBC Seminary and worship and serve in SBC churches, we recognize that the CP is the lifeblood of our convention and a crucial element of our Southern Baptist identity. The CP sets us apart from all other evangelical denominations, allowing us to operate one of the largest mission-sending agencies in the world. As members of SBC churches, we feel a deep sense of unity toward all who consider themselves Southern Baptists, including Prestonwood Baptist Church.

We appreciate Pastor Jack Graham, and the members of Prestonwood Baptist Church in all the ways God has used this local body to further His Kingdom. We are grateful for and honor the leadership of Pastor Jack Graham throughout his decades of service within the SBC, including the mentorship that he has provided for countless pastors during his years of faithful service. We rejoice in God’s work through Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church manifested in numerous baptisms, church plants, and support given to the CP. Because of these acts of service considered, we do not question the dedication of Prestonwood Baptist Church or Pastor Jack Graham to the Kingdom of God, the Great Commission, or the SBC.

Despite these advancements of the Gospel, we have deep concerns for the recent measures that have been taken by Prestonwood Baptist Church. Our reasons for concern are listed and explained in the following paragraphs:

Church autonomy should not hinder the unity we have within our denomination. Church autonomy is paramount in Baptist life. We want to publicly affirm Prestonwood Baptist Church’s position as an autonomous body to designate its funds wherever her members decide. We are concerned, however, that withholding CP funds to influence the convention or her entities unnecessarily hurts our gospel effort. Southern Baptists are endowed with two mechanisms to influence the direction of the convention or her entities: The Executive Committee and the Southern Baptist Convention itself. Using these mechanisms does not hinder the gospel, but it still guarantees representation. We desire to encourage Prestonwood Baptist Church to express their concerns through these other channels of communication within the SBC.

Speaking through means of church funds circumvents the processes of the convention. The convention is designed to allow a maximum of twelve messengers from each church to be able to represent their local body. This process allows churches large and small to speak their concerns on an equal platform. However, for a church to use its budget as the prominent means to voice their desires gives them undue power within the convention. This manner of maneuvering side-steps the process established by the leadership of the convention and is in danger of turning the convention into an oligarchy of the elite.

Smaller churches are at risk of losing their voices. Some may reason that “money talks,” and that these actions are justified if they meet a beneficial end. Aside from this expression not being found in Scripture, such a philosophy is in danger of dwarfing the voices of the smaller churches within the SBC. Being able to speak in the same manner as those who have more resources available to them will be impossible for smaller churches. Considering the fact that nearly 90% of churches within the SBC average 250 members or less in weekly attendance, this should be a grave concern for all within the convention.

These actions set a precedent that puts the Cooperative Program at risk. If such a method of escrowing money proves popular, a dangerous precedent will have been set for our denomination. Megachurches may withdraw their funds from the CP when they become disgruntled with the convention, spurring smaller churches to follow suit. Amidst such a climate, more missionaries may have to return home, church plants could close their doors, and young pastors may have to seek their theological training elsewhere, or even withdraw from classes.

Above all else, our heart is for the gospel to reach the lost. We believe that Prestonwood Baptist Church and Pastor Jack Graham share this heart with us. Withholding any money from the CP has a direct negative effect on the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board. The salvation of the lost means more than any number of non-dogmatic arguments.

We love the SBC and all of its churches, and do not write this letter out of anger towards Prestonwood Baptist Church, or Pastor Jack Graham. We are writing this letter because we love the CP. We are not Southern Baptists merely because we hold to orthodox beliefs; those beliefs simply make us Christians. We are not Southern Baptists because of doctrinal distinctives; those distinctives simply make us Baptists. We are Southern Baptists because of the CP, and the numerous ministries it supports.

We desire, above all else, reconciliation between Prestonwood Baptist Church, Pastor Jack Graham, and the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hope that churches will join us in recommitting our efforts to further the Kingdom through the Cooperative Program. Pastor Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church have loyally partnered with the Southern Baptist Convention for many years. We at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary look forward to continuing our partnership for many more years to come.

We love Pastor Jack Graham.
We love Prestonwood Baptist Church.
We love the Cooperative Program.
The Signing Students of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Jay Breaux
Stephen Belk
Titus Terrebonne
Michael Hogeland
Christopher Johnson
Devin Haun

[Option to add your name available on the website.]

Graham & Prestonwood's Serious Threat to Cooperative Ministry Efforts

This article originally appeared at SBC Voices.
At times, Baptists from Texas have been known to cause a ruckus in SBC life. It was about 40 years ago that Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler were forming plans for a revolution in the Southern Baptist Convention. Yesterday, news dropped that a Texas megachurch pastor aims to make serious waves in the SBC - but with a wholly different approach than Pressler and Patterson.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist, through one of their staff, announced that the church would be withholding their Cooperative Program giving, one million dollars annually, until they’re more satisfied with the leadership and direction of the SBC. We’re tempted to be shocked by this action because of the number of zeros that accompanies the financial figure. But the real story here is that a former SBC President has chosen such a destructive tactic to strong-arm change in our cooperative ministries. That’s a serious charge. And I plan in this article to explain why the charge is not overstated.

This Tactic Is Destructive to SBC Cooperative Work

Pressler and Patterson showed the way to affect change in SBC life. They worked through the bylaws and convention processes to win a majority of committee and trustee spots in order to affect change.

It’s a good thing for all of us their tactic wasn’t to withhold or redirect Cooperative Program giving. Had they chosen that path during the 70’s and 80’s, who can doubt it would have led to a splintering or fracturing of the SBC rather than the unprecedented resurgence God allowed us to see?

The reason Jack Graham’s tactics are destructive to the SBC is not because the budget will take a hit, as sorry as I am to see our missions work and seminaries have less resources to use. His tactics are destructive because as soon as this philosophy is adopted, as soon as Graham’s behavior is emulated, the entire endeavor of cooperative ministry collapses. Envision this: Faction is quickly pitted against faction in SBC life in ways far more dramatic than anything we’ve seen before. Each group states their demands and holds hostage their missions giving until those demands are met. Some factions give up and splinter off. The ones with the big money buy their influence and no one cares what the vast majority of SBC churches think—because their budget isn’t big enough for their threats to matter. This doesn’t even take into account how many churches and pastors check out of cooperative ministry because it’s become as politicized as secular politics.

If Jack Graham believes dramatic change is needed in SBC life (and I’ll disagree with him all day about that, but that’s another conversation), he should emulate those that have gone before us, continue to cooperate in good faith, and seek to influence by advocating, electing, and convincing rather than threatening to defund cooperative ministry. Pressler and Patterson chose the way of courage. It was costly and took time, but the fruit is evident now. What we’re seeing today is not courage. It’s destructive and should be widely condemned.

Withholding Funds to Seek Influence Should Be Rejected

Yesterday’s press release indicated Prestonwood was withholding funding because of their concerns and that it likely would be restored if those concerns were satisfied. This is seeking to influence through financial pressure and I see no way around that interpretation. It sounds from the press release that Graham and Prestonwood wouldn’t even dispute that’s the purpose, even if they don’t like the wording of my description.

Graham’s views on the direction of the SBC have been clear for anyone who cared to listen. They’ve been promoted by some of the more tabloid-style state Baptist papers. I’ve known for some time now that Graham isn’t happy with Russell Moore. The article indicates there are additional unnamed concerns.

Now, I’m actually a pretty big advocate of churches being able to give to cooperative missions as they feel led and not guilted into a certain percentage. So this would seem like an issue where I’d normally say, sure, Prestonwood, if that’s how you feel led to steward your money, then have at it. What makes me see this as more than just a local church stewardship issue?

Local church stewardship issues—when a church’s leadership feels stewardship demands missions dollars be redirected—can be handled wisely and quietly. I've handled some in the past. Never have I thought it would be productive to publicize reasons we decided to end support for a ministry. There’s a way to redirect missions giving as a church leader that doesn’t end up at a press conference or in a newspaper headline. This is not about an autonomous SBC church choosing to give (or not give) in a different pattern than they used to. This is about taking that decision and using it to pressure and cause people to take your threats and your position more seriously than your voice alone warrants.

Please don't miss the fact that Prestonwood could have quietly (or, less desirably, vocally) withheld funding from just the ERLC, which receives a small percentage of total CP giving while continuing to fund IMB, NAMB, our SBC seminaries. Why withhold all CP money and why the press release? Those are only a few of the questions that make this situation so disturbing.

We don’t have a convention where big money buys a big voice. But that’s exactly how we’re being treated right now. Those who have a lot of money are in the newspaper reminding us—in dollar figure form no less—that their voice needs to be heeded, or else...

A Few More Questions

Is this the way we want the SBC to operate in the future—Churches threatening to withhold money until their demands are met? Churches with big budgets calling the shots while thousands of average-sized churches watch and hope our vision for the convention aligns with the self-appointed convention benefactors? Do we really want IMB personnel on the field waiting to hear if churches are withholding funds because we can’t get along about secular politics?

I reject this future for the SBC, and because I do, I can’t be silent now. This path is destructive to our cooperative work and I pray we don’t choose it. Jack Graham and Prestonwood, leadership here looks like reversing this decision. Other SBC leaders, if they won’t, please call this for what it is.

Winning, Losing, & #NeverTrump

Before the election, projection models showed that a popular vote shift of 2 points in either direction moved the electoral outcome drastically. Nate Silver at 538 said that if Clinton won popular vote by 4 points, she would win the electoral college easily. He said if Clinton won by about 2 points the electoral college became a toss up.

Think about that. Out of 100 voters, it only takes one or two to change their minds to drastically alter the outcome.

This is one reason we should be careful in the election aftermath. The temptation is to look back and think the winning campaign was brilliant and the losing campaign incompetent. Even in the last two days I've heard people talk about how Clinton was such a terrible candidate and Trump called the most talented politician ever. If one or two people in 100 had voted the other way, people would be talking about what a disaster Trump & his campaign were and how brilliantly Clinton brushed off scandals and prevailed.

Where it hits home to me is when people now are acting like Trump's win is somehow discrediting to those who took the #NeverTrump stand. Most of us thought Trump would lose and lose badly. That prediction was wrong. Very wrong. But that wasn't the basis of #NeverTrump. I didn't refuse to vote for him because I thought he was going to lose - I didn't vote for him because I thought he was unfit for office. His win doesn't change any of that. If you had told me back in February that a Trump was going to win, it wouldn't have changed my position. I would have said, "If he's going to, he's going to do it without me." And that's exactly what he did.

So if you ask me if I feel stupid or like I've been rebuked by the election results, my answer is no. My reasoning still stands. The 1-3% shift that changes the election result — that's really not a consideration in my view.

And now even though I didn't consider him fit (nor Clinton, we were choosing from two unfit candidates, neither of whom I could support) to be president, now that he's been elected my hope is that he will rise above the things that caused me to consider him unfit and will lead the country well. I have serious concerns. I'll speak up when I see problems. But for now I'm going to hope for the best.

It's Not Tricky: J.D. Is the Best Choice for SBC President

This article originally appeared at SBC Voices.
I'll add my voice to those who have commended all three candidates in this year's presidential election. I don't have anything negative to write about Crosby or Gaines. I even blogged in a recap of last years convention about the positive experience I had meeting and talking with Steve Gaines at last year's convention. I appreciate what I know of both of the other candidates. But as I try to picture a healthy SBC in 10 years, there's no doubt in my mind that J. D. Greear is the best choice to lead us in that direction.

12 years ago Jimmy Draper launched an initiative to engage and develop young leaders and pastors in the convention. That was a hugely encouraging step back in those days.  I remember it as a time when many of us were disillusioned and felt disconnected from the convention itself. I was 24 years old and my first convention was Nashville in 2005. I went away from the pastor's conference wondering if I was even wanted in the SBC. We have come a long way in ten years. Jimmy Draper saw then, and we should see now, that developing, engaging, and recruiting young leaders is one of the keys to a healthy future. I say that as someone who's nearing, or maybe has already passed the young demographic. I need to be involved in helping engage those younger than me.

Greear is the best option to engage young pastors in SBC life. He's led Summit to invest heavily in our cooperative work, with an emphasis in international missions. This along with church planting and theological training, are the elements that will continue to drive the renewed interest we're seeing among leaders.

If we could have asked, back in 2005, what kind of young leaders we would like to develop and see take on leadership in the years ahead, you couldn't have painted a more compelling picture than the work Greear has done at Summit Church.

He's been a helpful voice in convention life for a number of years now. He's refused to get involved in the Calvinism divisiveness. He's invested his own life in taking the gospel to the nations. He's modeled healthy cultural engagement, speaking graciously while standing firm on biblical principles.

When you consider the SBC—not only in 2016, but also in 2026 and beyond—it's clear to me that Greear models where we should be going. And he's the best choice to lead on the journey to get there.

SBC 2015 Recap

I really enjoyed my time in Columbus this year at the SBC Annual Meeting. Here are six factors that made this the best convention I’ve attended. 

Ronnie Floyd’s Leadership
Last year (2014), I voted for Dennis Kim for SBC president. That wasn’t necessarily anything against Ronnie Floyd—I wanted to see us continue to celebrate our non-white Southern Baptists after electing Fred Luter the two conventions previous. All that to say I didn’t have much of an opinion of Ronnie Floyd one way or the other, positive or negative, before this year’s convention. 

Alan Cross’ article a few weeks ago alerted me to the fact that Floyd has been working hard toward racially diverse representation on the committee he was responsible for appointing, and possibly also keeping the issue in front of other committees and boards to ensure the issue was made a priority.

There was also a constant emphasis on prayer and unity as I heard Ronnie speak in his interview in the
SBC This Week podcast about two weeks before the convention. So for me there were positive indications before the annual meeting.

Those good signs proved to be only the beginning. Floyd gave a very good convention sermon and conducted the business of the convention well (even when he told me to stop speaking, another post soon on that incident). This convention was probably the most encouraging and enjoyable I’ve been to from a programming/schedule standpoint, and I think that was in large part due to the rearranged schedule Ronnie Floyd worked to put in place. The prayer time on Tuesday night was amazing. More on that below.

Schedule Adjustment
This year we consolidated similar types of reports and business together in the same session. I was skeptical this would make much of a difference in the actual convention experience. I was wrong about that. The activities of the day seemed to flow and make sense. The continuity was a welcome adjustment. The previously prevalent random “let’s stand up and sing a song now to kill a few minutes” wasn’t missed at all. Judging by the number of people still in the convention hall even at the end of some of the sessions, I’d say the change was a huge success with those attending. 

I think my only complaint with the schedule was that the seminary report time (all 6 back-to-back) seemed to drag on longer than my attention span was able to stay focused. But then the rather uncomfortable convention center chairs might have been to blame as much as the actual duration. Maybe a 3+3 format with something in the middle to break up the length of the report section, or something similar, could be considered next year.

Prayer Segment

The highlight of the convention schedule was the call to prayer segment on Tuesday night. I’ve heard good messages preached at the convention before, but this was the most powerful, extended worship element I’ve ever seen in the 5 conventions I’ve been to personally (and watched several online in that same time). And I mean by far. No competition. Dave Miller said he remembered a pretty powerful time back in the mid 80’s (about the time I was in kindergarten Happy sorry Dave) when Bellevue organized some banners to march in during a worship time, but that had only lasted a couple minutes. This was an extended time of worship and calling out to God. The time of prayer for racial reconciliation was amazing, as well as powerful times of prayer for the persecuted church and several other areas. 

Send NA Lunch
Another highlight of the convention, for me, was the Send North America/IMB lunch on Monday. Kevin Ezell and David Platt shared the stage and talked for something like 30-45 minutes. There was good information presented. The contrast between the two, with Ezell’s tendency to crack a joke about every other word, then Platt’s intensity (which he left only briefly to give a courtesy laugh to Kevin’s jokes) was classic. I think more than half the convention showed up for this lunch and I’m glad I wasn’t one of the few who missed it.

What would a SBC Annual Meeting be without getting to catch up with friends and meet new ones? I talked to so many people with such obvious love and joy in their lives because of Christ. I sat down at the Southern Lunch with a table full of people, most of whom I had never met, and within minutes we were talking like we had known each other for years and rejoicing in the work God is doing in each others’ lives and ministries. 

I met some people whose names you’d know from the stage. Each one impressed me (as much as you can tell in a 5 minute conversation or so) as being real and authentic, not walking around with an inflated sense of importance like some might expect. I got to have conversations with
Steve Gaines, Clint Pressley, Ronnie Floyd (briefly), and Kevin Smith (if I could name drop a little bit) and thoroughly enjoyed meeting each of them. In the exhibit hall, Steve Gaines called us over to pray with him for a young man who’s going with his family to Alaska to plant a church. It’s little stuff like that where I’m reminded that the pastors whose faces we see on stage and whose voices we’ve heard preach are real men who love God, people, and the work of ministry. They can be easy objects for criticism because of prominent roles (no one’s saying they’re perfect) but I believe each of them, as well as many others I didn’t meet are striving to serve Christ and I want to rejoice that God has blessed their ministries so tremendously. 

But it’s not mainly the stage personalities that encourage me about our convention. It’s the people I know from blogging & twitter, people I’ve met at previous conventions, people I’ve gone to church with in the past. Hanging out with the SBC Voices guys was awesome. I got to spend a lot of time with Gentry Hill, one of my former youth who’s now graduated from seminary and is now looking for a church to pastor, and who was an absolute lifesaver several times this week. (What a joy to see a former student ready to take on a full time ministry role?! Wow.) I want to go on but this section’s too long already. Too many great people to list and God greatly encouraged me this week through them.

Encouraging Work of Entities
The reason we all get together every year is because of the cooperative work we do through our mission boards, seminaries, LifeWay, ERLC, and others. I said it on twitter during the week and I’ll say it again here, we have tremendous leadership in each of these entities and they are doing amazing work— work that deserves to be supported with prayer, CP giving, and our encouragement for these organizations. NAMB and LifeWay are doing the best work they’ve done in years. Our IMB has always done excellent work and Platt is leading them to even greater effectiveness and focus on partnering with local churches. I can’t think of a better spokesman for us on public policy and ethics issues today than Russell Moore and his team at the ERLC. The seminaries continue to do well. And hey, GuideStone has good insurance & retirement too.

My first annual meeting was in 2005. Back then there were some bright spots but there were also some things that frustrated me with the state of the SBC. Since that time, my support of the CP has moved from feeling almost obligatory to enthusiastic as I see the direction we’re going and the unity with which we’re traveling there. Attendance has ticked up the past two years, and recent reports showed a slight increase in current year CP giving. Both indicators could mean nothing, but they could also show a slightly renewed interest in our cooperative work as a convention. I pray that’s what we’re seeing because I think it would reward well the hard work that’s been put in to get our convention moving in its current, encouraging direction. 

Great meeting, Columbus 2015. Maybe St. Louis can be even better. 

I’ve Heard LifeWay’s Critics and I’m Not Convinced. Here’s Why.

(Note: this is a post that originally appeared at SBC Voices. I wrote it while in Columbus at the convention and didn't have my laptop with me. Dave Miller was kind enough to post it for me there. You should look there if you want to follow the interaction in the comments section.)

Over the past year, there’s been a small but constant stream of criticism in SBC social media about certain books available in LifeWay stores. A few titles and authors are brought up frequently as evidence that LifeWay leadership must not care about sound doctrine or that they care about money more than biblical faithfulness. I reject those characterizations and you should too.

Everyone agrees there should be a line drawn determining what books LifeWay should sell. The issue for us today is how tightly that line needs to be drawn to our own views, preferences, and opinions.

It would be easy for any theologically aware believer to go into a Christian bookstore and find titles we disagree with. Disagreements would fit a wide range—some big, some small. Some doctrinal, some practical. Some important, some minor. No matter where the line is drawn, people will always be able to find titles that are just inside that boundary line and say, “But why is
this book here? If you cared about truth, certainly this book wouldn’t be on your shelf!”

LifeWay’s critics want Lifeway to function as a theological gatekeeper in a way Southern Baptists have never agreed it should function. Yes, we all agree there are boundary lines. But as someone who considers myself theologically educated and discerning, I am aware that if I personally drew the boundary lines, I would have a tendency to draw them too narrowly and mirroring my own views & preferences. LifeWay’s critics have consistently shown a lack of self-awareness in this area.

Here are a number of problematic assumptions and unwarranted jumps in logic that LifeWay’s critics make. These form the foundation of why I reject their conclusions and their methods.
  1. LifeWay cannot be seen as endorsing the viewpoint or contents of all the books they sell. Two books advocating different viewpoints may sit beside one another on the same shelf. Which is the endorsed LifeWay position? Sometimes stocking a book might mean nothing more than the work is a prominent example of a viewpoint we would disagree with. Let’s take an egregious example. Should LifeWay sell the Book of Mormon? Initially almost everyone would say no. But what about people who are interested in apologetics and studying other religions? Might there not be a place in a Christian bookstore for books that compare the beliefs of different world religions? Along with that copies of the books or writings of those religions? As far as I know LifeWay doesn’t have such a section and doesn’t sell the Book of Mormon. At the end of the day, I think that’s the best decision. But I hope my example goes to show that a product selection policy might (should be) much more than simply agree/disagree.
  2. The fact that I care about sound doctrine does not necessarily mean I only sell books I agree with. Mohler’s theological triage is an important concept here. We have to make decision about what issues are going to be that would cause us to include or exclude certain works. But I think most people who are involved here know that determination shouldn’t be left to the self-appointed theological watchdogs. The people who love patrolling (controlling) what readers have access to are not the ones I want making those kinds of decisions.
  3. It’s not clear to me that LifeWay needs to play the role of arbiter on close calls. What about books that fall on the borderline? A critic may list a book as out of bounds but other theologically educated believers might see it as acceptable. I myself have a category for books that I wouldn’t personally recommend but see no problem with having them available for people who want them. The critics seem to have no such category.
  4. The critics ever-narrowing set of parameters that may never be satisfied. Those who criticize in this area have shown to be implacable. LifeWay has removed a number of books over the years because of concerns expressed through various avenues. One of the critics’ favorite targets was recently removed. I didn’t see a single one of them express appreciation for the decision. It was a battle won (in their own minds, their criticism actually had little, if anything to do with the book’s removal) and they were on to the next title. Their list is long and I’ve seen nothing to make me think they would ever be satisfied. At least nothing short of letting them go through a LifeWay store and overturn book racks of their own choosing.
  5. LifeWay leadership has demonstrated through years of faithful writing & service that they place a high priority on biblical truth & faithfulness. I’m particularly thinking of Thom Rainer and Ed Stetzer here, who often bear the brunt of this kind of criticism. (As if their main role is retail product selection anyway.) Both of these guys have served Southern Baptists well and faithfully for years. They’ve stressed the importance of sound doctrine in each of their ministries. A long list of others at LifeWay should be included here too. The idea that the folks at LifeWay are sitting around board tables in Nashville rubbing their hands together and laughing evil laughs at all the money they can make off selling bad theology would be a laughable caracature if it weren’t asserted so regularly by LifeWay’s critics. It doesn’t make sense.
The critics say they’re planning to force LifeWay to address these issues on the floor at this year’s SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus. That’s why I wrote this. Because I have heard them and I disagree—with both the content of their arguments and their strong arm tactics. I’m confident everyone in the convention hall will see through this (threatened) childish tantrum for what it is.


Brewton Parker Trustees & Interim President Make Things Right

I'm really glad to hear that C.B. Scott has been reinstated at Brewton Parker College. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the injustice of his firing and the surrounding circumstances. I had some strong words for the trustees of Brewton Parker then as well. And it's because of the strong words I wrote then that I want to say an equally encouraging word of thankfulness today.

I'm not sure of the details, but from the SBC Voices post, it sounds like the interim president, Dr. Charlie Bass did the right thing. I have to assume that some of the trustees who were not fully involved from the outset decided to become involved more directly. So the trustees,
post-resignation of trustee chairman Gary Campbell, are to be highly commended. It takes a lot of courage to reverse course and right a wrong in a situation like this. May the next chapter of Brewton Parker College be characterized by the kind of integrity and leadership we've seen over the last couple of days.

We're still waiting for an official press release from Brewton Parker College on Scott's reinstatement. I'm sure their Vice President of Communications is working on that as I type.