Advice on Preparing (Re-Preparing) for Ministry

Via The Resurgence, (HT: Justin Taylor) R. C. Sproul gives advice on preparation to young men who plan on entering pastoral ministry. What I noticed about his answer is that it likely applies just as well to someone already in ministry who feels they a lacking the power of the Holy Spirit, or just not accomplishing anything of lasting value.

They have to get in the Word. They will only be as good in the pastorate as their mastery of the Word of God. That’s what people really need. There may not be many people who really want it, but its what they need.

I think there’s a huge need for pre-ministry preparation. In addition, even just two years out of a great seminary and college experience, the need for continual growth and learning is apparent in my own life. Here’s the video:


On falling attendance at the NC Baptist Convention (Part 2)

In part 1, I mentioned the different aspects of the state convention that could encourage greater attendance numbers. Now I want to put some of those thoughts together; then offer a few suggestions more making the state convention a more compelling event.

When it comes to people making the decision of whether or not to attend, I think most of the evaluation comes down to the different categories I mentioned yesterday: voting (unity & apathy), information, good speakers, good music, friends, exhibits, and breakout sessions. For each of these, I argued that none of them by themselves were enough to get the average pastor or layperson to the meeting.

I can imagine someone pointing out, rightly, that individually they may not be a compelling enough reason to attend, but together they should add up to enough that people should want to be involved. And I think that's mostly right. It's obviously enough to get about 2,000 people there this year.

Take a look at this interest scale. Think about each different aspect as a drawing point and having a certain value. When you add those vaules up, you get the final interest level. I think most pastors are somewhere between "only if you drag me" and "looking forward to it."

The question for raising attendance numbers is simply raising the interest level in a few or all of the different aspects. This will help bring in people that may be on the fence about whether or not to attend.

By the Way... Duty Won't Work
A note for anyone out there who thinks people should attend the state convention out of a sense of responsibility or duty: It won't work for the younger generation. Younger people are not going to attend just because "they should." Thinking that way or promoting that idea will likely just alienate them more. The job is yours to make them (us) want to attend.

Some Suggestions
So how do we raise the interest level for the different aspects of the convention? I don't want to simply throw stones or criticize without throwing my own hat in to help with a solution. Here are a few ideas:

Focus on getting one or two nationally recognized speakers or pastors and feature them. Let them preach two or three times, lead a breakout session, and make them available to those in attendance several times. Mark Dever came close to this last year with the convention sermon, a breakout session (or two?), and his willingness to stand out in the foyer and talk with everyone who wanted to wait around long enough to speak with them.

Worship Time
Make two or three worship service type gatherings. No business, no promotion. Just worship music, Scripture reading, prayer, preaching of the word. Set aside an hour or an hour and 15 or 30 minutes.

Business Sessions
Do them as quickly as possible, then get out! This is an important part of the convention, but it needs to be done efficiently. I think they do a good job of this in some ways, but having different parts spaced out so much makes it seem longer and more drawn out than it is. Have two or three intense business sessions, apart from everything else, and get everything done, including election of officers, in those times.

Breakout Sessions
Work hard on getting breakout sessions with excellent leaders, interesting topics, then publicize ahead of time. Make this a true time of equipping for ministry. I think this happens to a certain extent already, other than the publicity. Take it from good to great. We also need descriptions on these sessions. Last year I went to one that ended up being nothing like the title suggested - and I had wasted one of the sessions when there were other things I would have rather attended.

I hope these will provoke some thought and be a help to our leaders. If the BSCNC is going to continue to make an impact in this state over the next 20 years, something is going to have to change that inspires the under-40 generation to get involved.


On falling attendance at the NC Baptist Convention (Part 1)

I'm hardly an expert here. I've been in North Carolina for just under two years. I had no exposure who what was going on with North Carolina Baptists before I moved here in February 2008. There are, no doubt, many who are more qualified to speak to this issue. But here goes anyway... (aren't blogs great?)

This year's BSCNC total attendance was announced as 2,053, compared to 2,373 in 2008. According to @njameson, editor of the NC Baptist state newspaper, the 2008 number was low itself. Playing off a question he asked me ealier in the convention about officer nominees, I asked back if the declining attendance numbers were a sign of unity or apathy. My answer to that question is its probably some of both.

The state convention is partially, if not primarily, a business meeting. We all know that business meetings normally only get interesting when people start arguing with each other. That may be sad, but I think its true. There is now a great amount of unity among those active in BSCNC. This equates to most votes being uncontested, with little discussion. In other words, the business sessions are going to be boring. Which leads to... apathy.

Most people who might attend realize their vote is probably not going to matter. They plan on not approaching a microphone to debate. It appears as if the convention assembles to rubber stamp what the various committees recommend. (And this isn't necessarily a bad thing when committees are making good recommendations!) People understandably take the attitude that "my attendance doesn't make a difference." And they are pretty much correct. Sure, if I were to attend, it would help the attendance numbers and help the conference hall look a little more full, but these are hardly compelling reasons to drive a few hours and stay two nights in a hotel for the convention.

Attending the state convention meeting does help someone stay informed about what is going on among NC Baptists, but not enough to cause someone to attend. I can stay home and watch the video feed to help stay informed. I can follow blogs and the state newpaper to stay informed. I can talk with other pastors to stay informed. All this on top of the fact that staying informed about state convention activities is nowhere near the top of the priority list for most pastors, let alone church members.

To Hear Good Speakers
The sermons at this year's convention were very good. But as conferences go, the lineup at most any state convention meeting is going to fall flat. Take one local example. In February 2010, three months away, SEBTS is hosting the 20/20 conference. The speakers are Danny Akin, Matt Chandler, J. D. Greear, David Platt, and others. We don't have time to do everything, and if my schedule forces me to choose either the BSCNC or 20/20, there really isn't any question which one I'm going to attend.

To Hear Good Music
I think the convention did a great job of representing different musical genres and getting some very talented musicians. But I can listen to good music on my iPod. The draw for music at a convention/conference is the opportunity to engage in a corporate worship experience. Its hard to cultivate an atmosphere of worship with one song, then a vote, two songs, then a report. When music is used like that, it becomes much more entertainment than worship. And I can pretty much guarantee that a Baptist state convention is not going to entertain well enough to make me drive 4 hours. (Though the web design video was pretty funny.)

To Catch Up with Old Friends and Meet New People
The convention is a good time for this kind of thing and is definietly an added bonus of choosing to attend. But again, its not enough to get me there.

Convention Hall Exhibits and Breakout Sessions
The exhibits are something else interesting and useful, just not compelling. Its fun to walk about and see all the booths set up and talk with the people involved in different ministries. It's a great way to find some ideas and resources. Breakout sessions are another good addition to the convention experience, but as with the other things I've mentioned, aren't enough to make me want to attend.

I'll post a part two that puts all of this together and then offer some suggestions for what might make an event that more people would make a priority to attend.


Some Thoughts on the BSCNC

I didn't go the the state convention in person this year, but did get to watch a lot of the event via webcast. Sarah and I went last year and really enjoyed the meeting, the people we met, and the time together. This year we went to the SBC in Louisville, so didn't want to spend the money to attend a second convention in the same year.

That said, I'm really glad for the ability to watch what was taking place. It was also fun to use twitter to update and give some thoughts on the event as it occured, which I probably wouldn't have done if I had been there in person. You can see tweets about the convention by going to twitter.com and searching for #bscnc09 or just click here.

Here are a few of my thoughts about the convention so far...

1. The convention messages I heard were good. I really appreciate the themes and emhases we heard from Milton Hollifield, Rick Speas, Danny Akin, and others. You can tell they have a heart for bringing gospel-centered renewal to our churches. I am happy about the direction of the BSCNC if these messages reflect who we really are.

2. The church planting commissioning service was a breath of fresh air for one main reason. I'm thankful for church planting work, but it wasn't exactly that. It was the fact that there were several black church planters, and hispanic church planters, and some from other ethnicities as well. As the group stood on stage, it reflected the kind of racial diversity I wish our whole convention and our churches had.

3. The financial aspect of the convention stands out as well. There had to be significant budget cuts this year because of declining giving from churches. There are several reasons for this decline in giving. Some is due to the economy, no doubt. I expect some churches stopped giving when the option was taken away last year to direct funds to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (the moderate/liberal baptist convention). I also imagine some churches have been directing their giving around the state convention. All this equals a budget that needed to be about $5 million smaller than what was expected income for 2008.

Even in the midst of many budget cuts (and even some staff layoffs!, a terrible but probably necessary step) the budget included an increase in the percentage of funds being forwarded to the national level. For the last five years the BSCNC has increased by half a percentage point the amount that goes to the SBC. It doesn't take a math genius to see that means the state convention gets less. They stood by that goal, showing it is a priority, and for that they are to be greatly commended.

4. J. D. Greear's absence really stands out in my mind for some reason. I'm not sure where he was. He may have attended and was never invited to the platform. Maybe he was at the Acts 29 meeting going on this week. It seems to me that the BSC leadership would have going out of their way (and they may have) to make sure J. D. was a part of this meeting. Is the convention serious about attracting young pastors? I have to say that, looking at the platform, it doesn't seem to be a priority. It's nothing about J. D. personally, he's representative of the kind of leader that might cause young pastors to participate. Last year, I was planning on not attending until I heard Mark Dever would be preaching the convention sermon. That alone made me make the trip. Now, like I said above, I enjoyed the convention and there were a lot of good things about it, but there was one thing that got me "out of my seat" and it was the chance to hear someone like Mark Dever speak to a group like the BSCNC.

5. I was glad to hear the positive allusions to GCR Task Force. Several speakers mentioned that work either directly or indirectly. Most, if not all, seemed to be affirming and not antagonistic to the work going on.

6. Officer elections are a mere formality. Most are uncontested. We have very little information about any of the nominees. We hear a two or three minute speech that tells us how many kids they have, they are great husbands, and their churches are really growing. Even when there is more than one nominee, I would have no idea which to vote for.

If these elections are meaningless, then there's no problem here. Move on folks, nothing to see! But if there is actually something important for us to know about these nominees or which direction they would like to see the convention move, we really need a way to know about that. And sooner than 30 seconds before the vote. This really does need to be changed, IMHO.

7. This is still one big business meeting. Sure there are a few sermons, music, and breakout sessions to spice it up a little, but the purpose of this meeting is to debate and vote on things. Someone on twitter was ripping the convention meeting because it was boring. He said our churches would be in trouble if our worship services looked like the BSCNC meeting. Well he's right - except for the fact that the BSCNC is not a worship service.

Voting on bylaw changes is boring, yes. But it needs to be done and this is the only place to do it. The leadership has done a good job of providing listening sessions at other times so questions can be answered and the main session is as short as possible.

That's something that could be changed in the future. We could make the main meeting more of a conference type event with the business sessions sidelined. Or maybe we could stop "decorating" the business sessions with music at the beginning and end. Have a cut and dry business time, and then a more intentional worship time. There are some possibilities - but there is a lot of business to get done and not much time to do it. Maybe some of us just need to grow up and realize sometimes boring stuff is necessary. Just don't criticize a business meeting for being a business meeting.

From my computer screen, it looked like a good meeting and convention. I hope the priorities of our churches will reflect the things we heard about and saw on the platform.


Newest Baby Video

So you can see what's been going on around our house lately...


The need for interaction with IMB missionaries

Greg Alford posted some of his thoughts on the need for direct church communication with our missionaries. I think he brings up a great point. People are much more willing to pray for and support financially someone they have some personal contact with.

I would love for our church to partner with a specific missionary: be able to hear, maybe on a monthly basis, from him/her/them. It would give us a tanigible connection with that missionary and the IMB as a whole.

This would be good for the IMB as churches sense a fuller connection with the missions work around the world. It would also be good for churches to "put a face" to "our missionaries."

Why the SBC numerical decline is not as bad as some say

In the past two years we have seen a slight decline in membership numbers for the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole. There have been some who have pointed to this fact as a demonstration of our ineffectiveness in reaching our culture. One or two others have suggested its simply a result of changing demographics - implying there's really nothing to be worried about. (Ironically, the 'no worries' people seem to also be the people who are pretty much comfortable with the SBC as it currently exists.)

For the record, I'm of those who believe that declining numbers likely indicate there's a problem that needs to be addressed. Declining baptisms worries me more than declining membership, but I think both indicate we may not be as effective as we need to be.

I would offer up one example, however, that may point to why declining membership numbers may not tell the whole story.

When I arrived at this church as pastor, I received a couple different membership lists. They were 90% alike, but each one seemed to have a few people that the others didn't have. Within the first few months I was here, I combined the lists, went through with a few church members to remove anyone that had passed away, and so came up with what I believe to be a pretty accurate membership list. 79 members were on that list. We've had two join since that time so we're currently at 81 members.

Then I received our annual church profile for 2008. It listed our membership from 2007 as being 151! I have no idea where that number came from, I assume in the past the number may have been correct and it just kept getting carried over without ever being updated.

When I sent in our accurate numbers in 2008, it appeard that our membership had declined by 47%, or 72 members in just one year. It takes a lot of churches growing by 2 or 3 or even 10 members to make up for a kind of decline like that.

With the resolution on regenerate church membership that passed in 2007, plus the growing influence of 9Marks, and a refocus on what church and church membership should look like, I really wouldn't be surpised if there were a good number of churches who have done something similar to what happened here at our church. If just 100 churches made this kind of effort to return to accuracy, and our church is typical, that would alone account for a decline of over 7,000 members.

We all know that the numbers of people truly involved in our churches is far lower than the 16 million we claim. The ultimate result of that, if we are serious about honestly and transparently reporting our numbers, is a necessary reduction in membership numbers. I say our membership numbers must decline. And while we return to accurate numbers reporting, lets be honest with ourselves that we are not reaching the people in our culture the way we may have in the past. Declining baptism numbers tell that story better than membership numbers.

Mohler: Why moralism is not the gospel

Al Mohler's latest blog post takes direct aim at one of the most common misunderstandings of the gospel... especially among those of us in the 'Bible belt' saturated with a cultural 'christianity'.

It's called Why Moralism Is Not the Gospel - And Why So Many Christians Think It Is. Mohler says:

Sadly, this false gospel is particularly attractive to those who believe themselves to be evangelicals motivated by a biblical impulse. Far too many believers and their churches succumb to the logic of moralism and reduce the Gospel to a message of moral improvement. In other words, we communicate to lost persons the message that what God desires for them and demands of them is to get their lives straight.

And about the witness of the church:

The deadly danger of moralism has been a constant temptation to the church and an ever-convenient substitute for the Gospel. Clearly, millions of our neighbors believe that moralism is our message. Nothing less than the boldest preaching of the Gospel will suffice to correct this impression and to lead sinners to salvation in Christ.

Hell will be highly populated with those who were "raised right." The citizens of heaven will be those who, by the sheer grace and mercy of God, are there solely because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Satan will be pleased to populate hell with people who lived my a set of cultural do's and don't, always thinking they were pleasing God, be never understanding the message of salvation through Jesus.

A friendly dicussion with Les Puryear

Les Puryear is a small church pastor in North Carolina. I like Les a lot, from what I know of him. I met him briefly at last year’s North Carolina Baptist Convention and I follow his blog regularly. (There’s a link to his blog in my blogroll to the left.)

Les posted about a comment Dr. Mohler made at yesterday’s GCR Task Force meeting. He (and several questioners present at the event) asked why there was not more small church representation on the Task Force. I pointed out that I’m pretty happy with the Task Force as it stands. My specific comment was that I wanted the “best and brightest” on the Task Force.

Les and several of the other commenters took special exception to what I said. Les followed it up with another post today you can see here.

I agree with Les a lot of the time. And I see where he’s coming from here in some respects. But I still think God gifts some people in greater ways for leadership and vision. I realize those people are not always in big churches. And being in a small church doesn’t mean that you’re not one of those people. But pastors in large churches have had the opportunity to demonstrate exceptional leadership and therefore inspire a certain amount of confidence for a job like the GCR Task Force.

It’s easy to fall into the stereotype here. Large church pastors feel superior to small church pastors. Small church pastors look at large church pastors have ‘sold out’ on genuine ministry. I think both of those attitudes are wrong and divisive.

There’s no conspiracy. There are some very practical reasons large church pastors often get named to things like this. My point is that I want Johnny Hunt to appoint the people he feels will do the best job on the GCR Task Force, regardless of church size or other criteria.

Here’s where I agree with Les: I certainly agree that SBC leaders should be more aware of the discrepancy in appointments. I’d love to see us work together to have a more balanced representation: pastors, SBC leaders, president, everyone involved. But let’s avoid making it sound like we’re seeing purposeful discrimination. And remember there may be important occasions (GCR Task Force is a perfect example) where having the right people is more important than equal representation.

Al Mohler has been busy lately

Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, has been working hard over the last few days. These are a few resources all informed Southern Baptists should be aware of.

Yesterday, Mohler gave a presidential address at the seminary on what the SBC must be in the future if we are to have any real impact. The message is available here for video and here for audio. Take some time and listen to this prophetic call. You can also watch or listen below.


Also, Mohler has recently picked up a blog called Conventional Thinking. It is dedicated to current issues facing the SBC. I expect it to be a great resource especially over the next year as the GCR Task Force continues its work. (Mohler is a member of the GCR Task Force.) We Southern Baptists desperately need some voices like Mohler right now.

CT Interview with David Platt

If you’ve never heard of David Platt, first read this recent interview in Christianity Today about him and his church, The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham.

After that, please go and listen to or watch some of his sermons. I dare say you won’t be disappointed and may find your new favorite preacher.

It gets funnier every time you watch it.


Chuck Lawless: Questions about the GCR

Dr. Chuck Lawless, professor of evangelism at THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has another great post over at his blog called “Questions about the Great Commission Resurgence or ‘Reflections on Lostness’”. Here’s a selection of some of the questions he asks us to think about:

Does anybody even think about death and judgment and eternity?
When did Christians become more known for what we are against than for what we affirm?
How many non-believers ever have anyone praying for them?
Is it possible that I’ve sometimes been more uncomfortable around non-believers than they are around me?

That’s just a few. There’s plenty more so hop over there and take a look. There are some real issues we need to think through on our way to figuring out how we can best impact our culture and world with the gospel.

CT article on our attitudes toward marriage

Mark Regnerus writes for this month’s edition of Christianity Today on The Case for Early Marriage. I recommend taking a look at the article. It challenges some of our ingrained thinking on the issue of marriage - I think from a biblically informed view of what marriage and human sexuality.

The world has plenty to say on why marriage needs to be postponed until at least the mid-twenties. We need some loud voices in the Christian community that will say marriage is good and it doesn’t need to wait until ‘after college’ or until we’ve ‘figured out who we are’.

Marriage and the family (meaning kids, and lots of them) are part of God’s good plan, not the burden our world would teach us.

Some athletes are role models

Tim Tebow is the man. Heisman winner. NCAA Football national championship quarterback. Follower of Jesus. And the last one is most important to him. ESPN Magazine has an article on him this month (HT: Denny Burk) where the writer calls him a “nerd for Jesus.”

One of my favorite clips of Tebow is a report by ESPN on his mission trip to the Philippines (Tebow is an MK who grew up there) and some other things he’s involved in. Here’s the clip, but make sure you get to the end where he’s preaching the gospel to inmates at a correctional facility.


The joys of being a daddy

I had to share this video of Thomas playing ball. He’s obviously having a great time. The ball was a gift at one of Sarah’s baby showers from Mrs. Whitley. Its great for a dad to see his son enjoy playing with a ball of any kind! Children are a blessing from the Lord.

After you click play, you can watch in high definition by clicking the HD button in the bottom right-hand corner.


Christmas In August for the IMB

Due to a budget shortfall, the IMB may have to make significant cuts in its missionary force. Danny Akin has called on churches to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering in August in an attempt to make up at least some of the shortfall. I’m glad to say Severn Baptist Church will be participating in Christmas in August.

Southwestern Seminary is in the process of making some promotional materials available here. A short video is already posted, which you can watch below. I know not everyone knows how to download YouTube videos, so I downloaded them and posted them here for download. (Right-click and choose “Save as...” )

Christmas in August Teaser (Normal Quality) .flv format

Christmas in August Teaser (HD) .mp4 format


Can We Stand a Little Silence?

Mark Dever’s church uses silence as an element of worship between
9Marks Ministries, Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church
songs, Scripture readings, etc. I think thats a pretty cool idea. You can read his article over at the 9Marks blog for some of the reasons he feels like its beneficial to the church.

I really like how he says it “amplifies” what was just done. Almost as if it gives the words of Scripture time to echo in the minds of the hearers. I know often times I’m quick to jump up and launch us in to our next song after our Old Testament or New Testament readings. I think it may be worth a try sometime to insert some silence into our worship.

Prayer the SBC's Greatest Need

Chuck Lawless has some great thoughts on our need for prayer as we undertake a Great Commission Resurgence.

The Great Commission resurgence for which we long will not come if we pray only out of habit while we’re really trying to fix our problems in our own power.

God grant that we do not forget the power and necessity of prayer if we mean to accomplish anything of eternal value.

Letter Published in Biblical Recorder

Last month I sent in a letter to the editor of the North Carolina Baptist newspaper, the Biblical Recorder. It was in response to this editorial and this letter affirming the original editorial. Somehow it got published and you can read it here.

The subject matter is the Great Commission Resurgence document and motion that passed at last month’s Southern Baptist Convention. If you haven’t heard about this movement yet, do yourself a favor and see the original document (take a minute to sign it if you’re on board) and listen to Danny Akin explain it in his sermon on the media page called “Axioms of a Great Commission Resurgence.”

There’s more excitement over this issue in SBC (especially among young pastors) than anything in recent memory. I hope there will be some great things that come out of the GCR movement.

The motion, offered by Southern Seminary President Al Mohler, was to allow SBC President Johnny Hunt to appoint a task force to evaluate our current way of operating. The task force is then to put together some recommendations on how we can more effectively and efficiently work together to help accomplish the Great Commission.

Working on Update

The last four updates have averaged about 6 months apart... I know its shameful. I’m trying a site reorganization to see if I can get a little better about keeping up with it. You notice the blog is the first thing you see. Before I was updating two pages (at least), this should encourage me to give some more frequent updates.

I’ll be working on getting some more recent photos and videos up too. So if you’re one of the dedicated few who continues to check back every once-in-a-while: Don’t give up just yet. I may get better!

Until then, check out our church website at http://severnbaptistchurch.com/ and look around there.