In 2005, LifeWay Christian Resources surveyed more than 1,300 evangelical leaders from around the world to determine what they perceived to be the “Top 10 Issues Facing Today’s Church.”
Below, Baptist Courier Managing Editor Todd Deaton explores each issue in detail, interviewing state and national sources to offer expanded insight into each issue.
LifeWay compiled information and multiple resources addressing each issue and has posted the materials online. For the complete survey results and reports addressing all the ranked issues, visit www.lifeway.com/top10.
The resulting list of 10 issues includes such diverse topics as abortion (No. 10) and evangelism (No. 4), but it was prayer that ministry leaders cited as the most pressing concern in their churches.
“In order for today’s church to remain strong in the midst of an evil society, it must be a praying church,” said Gary Butler, a survey participant from Gospel Lighthouse Church in Anadarko, Okla.
“If we as believers … want to see the same mighty move of God that the early church saw, we must pray just as the early church did. Show me a praying Christian and church and I will show you a victorious Christian and church.”
According to the survey’s final results, the top 10 issues were:
1. Prayer: The need for more ongoing, passionate prayer in both personal and church life.
2. Discipleship: The need for involvement of every believer in being continually transformed into the image of Christ.
3. Leadership: The need for clear, biblical vision and direction by church leaders.
4. Evangelism: The decline among Christians in personal sharing of the Gospel.
5. Doctrine/Worldview: The growing pressure to compromise principles to make truths more palatable to an audience. The widening influence of explicitly anti-Christian culture and negative influences on the church.
6. Apathy: The seeming lack of personal interest, support and enthusiasm from the pews for the work of the church.
7. Marriage: The negative effects on families that result from divorce, adultery, etc.
8. Relevance: The seeming inability of the church to answer questions one has living in the “real world.”
9. Homosexuality: The rising social pressure to accept same-sex behavior and relationships.
10. Abortion: The church’s lack of an effective response to 30-plus years of legalized abortion.
Prayer ministries seen as ‘hub’ of all church does
“What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer…”
So urges a favorite hymn of many Southern Baptists. But while congregations sing about the power of prayer, do individual Christians really believe it?
According to studies conducted by the Barna Group tracking religious behavior, an average of four out of five American adults claim to have prayed to God during the past seven days. That was more than any other single religious activity, including reading the Bible or attending a worship service — both about two out of five persons.
But many ministers suspect the focus of those prayers often may be more on the individual’s own needs, rather than on the spiritual needs of others and on God’s kingdom.
In a recent Facts & Trends column, LifeWay Christian Resources president Jimmy Draper observed that “it is not the quantity of prayer we offer, but the quality — the focus on God, the submission to his authority. We quip, ‘Prayer changes things,’ and it does. It really does. But I wonder if this is more fodder for bumper stickers than a passionate belief among Christians. If it were for a stronger belief, Southern Baptists would spend more time pleading with God to use us to reach humanity for Christ … .”
In 2002, South Carolina Baptists created an office of prayer and spiritual awakening on its convention staff to encourage churches to initiate intentional prayer efforts to help the body of Christ focus more on the kingdom of God.
“Pastors and church leaders should encourage people to focus on the kingdom of God. They should be encouraged to look and see the ‘harvest’ of people in their communities. People in the faith community should ask, ‘How can Christ use us to reach our community?'” urged Rosevelt Morris, who was named to the prayer post.
Among the many ways that intentional prayer efforts may help the body of Christ, Morris listed:
— People pray specifically for lost people and unreached people groups;
— People recognize the spiritual conditions of their communities and begin to pray for spiritual awakening;
— The church prays for new congregations to be started to reach new people for the kingdom of God; and
— Prayers are offered to God for believers to be mobilized in missions opportunities.
Prayer also promotes the individual believer’s personal growth in becoming like Christ, Morris stressed. “Our dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ is increased and we begin to look more like Jesus in our conversations, behavior patterns, love, purity, faith, and in life,” he explained. “Prayer helps people discover their purpose in life, and helps the church to discover its vision for ministry.”
For all of these reasons, Morris believes it is critical that churches have organized prayer ministries, prayer rooms for intercessory prayer efforts and church prayer coordinators.
“A church prayer coordinator can provide leadership to the pastor, church staff and congregation by facilitating prayer efforts for all the ministries of the church,” he maintained. “That person promotes prayer efforts throughout the year as people follow the vision God has given to the local fellowship.”
Among the many churches with organized prayer ministries are Lexington Baptist Church in Lexington and North Trenholm Baptist Church and Shandon Baptist Church, both in Columbia, where innovative efforts to foster active prayer lives among believers range from prayer pillows and key rings to discipleship studies and prayer partners at the altar.
Flying back from a mission trip to Kyrgyzstan, where she had worked with missionary children, Kay Coker felt like the Lord was placing a burden on her heart to raise up “a generation who knew how to call out to God in prayer.”
“So many times we wait until our children are in the high school youth group to start talking about prayer, but we need for them to grow up thinking that it is the most natural thing in the world to talk to God in prayer,” said the member of Lexington First, who heads up its prayer ministry.
With the help of other church leaders, Coker started small, using the Wednesday night Kids in Action group to teach children about prayer once a month.
From one of her resource books, she hit upon another idea that has really taken off with the kids: Prayer pillows.
“Some ladies who sew signed up on Prayer Commitment Sunday to help with the children’s ministry,” she recounted. “I called on those ladies and they picked out some prints that would be appealing to young children and made 30 pillows.”
In April, the prayer pillows, which are 8×8 inches in size and have a pocket on the front to hold requests, were displayed in the church’s chapel. After talking with the children’s minister, Coker decided to give the opportunity to adopt the prayer pillows to children in the third through fifth grades who would agree to pray for the requests in the pockets for one month. Then, they could re-adopt the pillow or get another request, she explained.
“The children had been hearing about this opportunity for several weeks, and we tried to do it in such a way so they would not feel pressured to adopt a pillow,” she recalled. “But you could feel the excitement in the room.
“We started with the fifth graders and worked back. After all 30 pillows were adopted, there were four little boys who were very disappointed because they weren’t able to get pillows,” she said. “We quickly had four more pillows made,” she added.
The children have already had some of their prayers answered, she noted. Some were praying for soldiers serving in the Middle East, and they learned recently that one had come home to his family. Others were praying for youth from the church who had gone on a mission trip to Central America, and when the youth team returned, they reported to the Kids in Action group about how they had seen God at work. Still others, who had been praying for a community in the country of Azerbaijan that needed a tractor to help produce food, have since learned that funds have been provided and the tractor is being used to help spread the gospel.
“These were a real encouragement to the kids, and it was exciting for them to discover how God answers their prayers,” Coker rejoiced.
Another outreach tool of Lexington’s prayer ministry is giving key rings with scripture prayers specifically for children to new parents. “When the children’s minister visits a home after the birth of a child, she takes a goody basket,” Coker explained. “In that basket, we place a key ring with a note from the prayer ministry that says we are praying for them. We want them to be aware of the importance of establishing a strong foundation of praying for their children.”
The prayer ministry also has been coordinating a systematic prayerwalk of the community. The first year, members prayerwalked within a one-mile radius of the church. The next year, they expanded to a two-mile radius. Currently, they are finishing prayerwalking within a three-mile radius.
Like many churches, Lexington also offers an intercessory prayer room, which volunteers staff 24 hours a day. Every September, members make a one-year commitment to come on a designated day of the week for an hour to pray for requests from church members and people in the community. Volunteers go through training to ensure confidentiality is maintained, Coker stressed.
About 240 volunteers are currently involved. “The hardest hours to staff are the wee hours of the morning, when a lot of people don’t mind getting up to pray, but may feel uncomfortable getting in their car and driving to the church, then getting out of their car in an empty parking lot,” she noted. “So we have a night watch group who prays in their homes during these hours.”
Coker also felt a burden to pray for pastors. “I feel that one of the reasons our ministry has been so successful has been because of our pastor’s belief and practice of prayer. He talks about prayer often from the pulpit,” she explained. “So I felt burdened by the Lord that there are so many pastors in Lexington Association who may not know that anybody is praying for them.
“It’s just critically important that we surround our ministerial staff with prayer,” Coker asserted. “We started out calling ours the pastor’s prayer partners, but then we decided not just the pastor needed it, but all of the ministerial staff.” Now members of that prayer team are assigned a minister to pray for during a three-month period, then they are assigned another minister to pray for, she explained.
She obtained a list of pastors from the association’s offices, and placed it in the prayer room. Intercessors are asked to pray for a pastor by name and then send a prayergram to him.
“It means so much to people when they get a note from somebody they didn’t even know, and they realize that someone was holding them up in prayer,” she said, noting that her goal is to pray for every pastor in the state, starting with Lexington and Columbia Metro associations.
Coker admits that “at first it was a little scary” becoming a prayer ministry coordinator for her church because she didn’t know anything about it and felt unqualified, but now believes that “it has been one of the greatest blessings in my life because I know it is not Kay doing it, and I’ve seen so many times how God has moved and worked in others’ lives.”
Elizabeth York of North Trenholm Church agreed. “For our church, we have seen the Lord touch so many lives, so many people have been saved as a result of persons praying for their salvation. There are so many physical and spiritual needs out there, and this ministry helps meet the needs of a lot of those people,” she said.
“We’ve just seen God work through this prayer ministry. Marriages have been brought back together. We have seen situations where doctors have given someone no hope at all and God has healed that person. It’s so exciting to see how God works!” York exclaimed.
“We find that a lot of people call, not just from our church family, but also from the community,” she added.
North Trenholm has about 90 persons involved in its intercessory prayer ministry. The church has had a designated prayer room for about 13 years, and all of the volunteers are trained, York emphasized, noting that the church has offered prayer conferences led by T.W. Hunt, Henry Blackaby, Greg Frizzell and others.
She, too, encourages volunteers to write prayergrams and include a helpful scripture. “We get so many calls thanking us for the prayergrams. We have found that this, too, can be a ministry, within the larger intercessory prayer ministry.”
And, like Coker, York has a burden for teaching prayer habits to children.
“We need to be praying more and put more emphasis on prayer,” she said. “My burden has been that we have, in many of our churches, failed in the area of teaching our children to pray. As I train our intercessors, that’s one thing I’m hearing: We were never taught to pray at home, or we never had parents who prayed with us.”
York is also concerned about the homes that are breaking up, and teenagers who are rebelling or going astray. “I have had such a burden in the last few months about what we could do where prayer is concerned,” she said. “To me, that’s the bottom line: If we are not praying, we’re not going to see things happen.”
At Shandon Baptist Church, prayer ministry coordinator Susan Hogan is seeking to create “a culture of prayer.”
Hogan recently began a discipleship study, based on Greg Frizzell’s book, “How to Develop a Powerful Prayer Life,” after a member who attended a couples’ prayer retreat suggested forming a group of five couples with a passion for prayer. After being trained, each couple would then find five more couples to lead through the study. “The whole intent is for this to become a discipleship process, where prayer groups are multiplied throughout the congregation,” she explained.
“We feel like this will help saturate our church in prayer and make people, whatever their ministry is in the church, better prayer warriors for having gone through this study,” she said.
Hogan has also formed a prayer task force, assigned with not only helping plan an upcoming prayer conference, but also helping her with ideas to get members to pray together as a church. The pastor has decided to emphasize 2006 as the year of prayer, following a yearlong emphasis on reading through the Bible, and the task force will be planning events to coincide with his sermon topics.
Several volunteers are now making themselves available to pray with fellow members at the altar on Sunday mornings. Though it hasn’t been officially named yet, the chairman of deacons who had a heart for starting this ministry suggested naming it “The James 5 Ministry,” stemming from a sermon in which the pastor observed, “There is a broken heart in every pew.”
Recalling the main point of that message, Hogan elaborated, “In most Baptist churches, there is an invitation at the end for people to come to Christ or join the church, but we also know there are a lot of believers sitting there who have deep hurts and are wounded.
“They are already believers, so they are not going to come up and accept Jesus. They’ve done that already,” she continued. “This is an opportunity, in the midst of our worship service, for us to minister. People can come to the altar and pray, and if they feel a need to have someone pray with them, then we are available.”
Hogan is convicted that prayer needs to be the hub of every church. “In praying, the word that continually would come to mind was ‘saturate,'” she recalled.
After reading a book by Cheryl Sacks entitled “The Prayer Saturated Church,” Hogan, who has a Christian education degree from Southwestern Seminary, said, “That’s what my heart is: To let the other ministries of the church know we are not just here for when there is a problem. We want to be here to support and saturate whatever you are doing in prayer, whether you are going on a retreat, doing community missions work, or whatever.
“Prayer is foundational for everything that goes on” in the life of the believer and in the church, she said.
Churches seeing need for discipleship renewal
How does the church help transform believers into disciples? The question is a top concern of today’s church leaders, according to a recent survey conducted by LifeWay Christian Resources.
“Since Discipleship Training disappeared before evening service, few have ever customized a strategy of when and how discipleship training occurs,” a church leader from Helena, Mont., remarked on LifeWay’s Top-10 issues website. “The reason the saints have no influence today is because there is no intentional training on ethics, morality, doctrine, walking with the Master, etc.,” he added.
“Many churches today do pretty well bringing in new people, yet those people get lost in the programs and events, and churches don’t plug people into a viable discipleship ministry, seeing to it that people grow in the faith, come to maturity, and move into a ministry area of service in the body, and to an area of outreach in the community,” a church leader from Greensboro, N.C., observed.
Recent trends, however, show that many Southern Baptist churches are seeing the need to become more intentional about discipling new believers and those who have been Christians for many years, according to Jay Johnston, director of LifeWay’s FAITH/Evangelism and Discipleship department. Churches are focusing more on relationships and moving their discipleship ministry to multiplication, but many are doing it in non-traditional ways.
“Yes, churches are getting more comfortable with offering home groups, work place groups, and groups of three or four who are meeting in restaurants, coffee houses, etc., to pray, study and encourage others to grow in their relationship with Christ,” Johnston said, noting that some innovative churches are even attempting discipleship training through the Internet.
Jim Simpson of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s adult ministry group agreed that churches are being more intentional about discipleship, offering more options to equip believers.
“However many churches you look at, you will probably find as many approaches to discipleship,” Simpson said. “You can’t just go to a church as you could in the past and ask, ‘What are you doing at 6:30 on Sunday evenings?'”
While nationally less than one in five churched adults are involved in any form of discipleship, the 2004 Annual Church Profile showed that, among Southern Baptists, discipleship training had increased by 235,785 people, totaling 2,237,345 participants.
This was tremendous news, according to Jimmy Draper, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, who has been hearing from pastors, associations and state conventions that are seeing the need for discipleship renewal.
“Dr. Draper and I both see this as a very positive trend for individuals, churches and our denomination,” Johnston said, noting that many churches are de-emphasizing discipleship as a program, choosing instead to “lift it up as a ministry that is threaded throughout all the church does with its people.”
Among some of the churches in South Carolina that are placing an emphasis on intentional disciple-making are First Baptist Church, Mauldin; First Baptist Church, Spartanburg; and North Rock Hill Baptist Church.
At Mauldin First, associate pastor Wade Leonard and other church leaders have developed a discipleship process using LIFE groups.
LIFE is an acrostic that stands for “Learning the basics” of the Christian life; “Internal development” through Bible study and prayer; “Forming branches” by finding a place of service and ministry; and “Equipping others” as teachers or mentors. LIFE uses a tree as its symbol because “like a plant, we’re trying to help them get started, develop a strong root system, and then form branches and bear fruit,” Leonard said.
Most of the current groups, involving about 75 persons in all, meet weekly in homes, although groups can meet anywhere they like, Leonard said. But accountability is a key element. Unlike Sunday school, “where one could miss six Sundays in a row and nobody is going to kick you out,” members of LIFE groups are expected to attend at least 75 percent of the meetings, he noted.
“We wanted our Sunday school classes to be open groups where people could be added and visitors could come at any time. But to do discipleship, we felt like we needed closed groups, meaning that there was a consistent group of people where trust and intimacy could be built to more substantial levels,” he explained.
Another key element is pairing with other believers who are near the same level of spiritual maturity. “Just because you have someone who’s 35 years old and has been a member of the church for five years, that gives you no indication as to how strong of a Christian that person is and to what depths he needs to be challenged,” Leonard commented.
LIFE group participants do a spiritual maturity assessment that analyzes spiritual maturity in 12 areas. “The idea is to put new believers with new believers, people who have been Christians for a little while together, as well as people who are at deeper spiritual maturity levels with other people, so that they can be on the same page, so to speak, and be challenged by the same type of material,” he said.
While the Navigators studies are suggested, for the most part, the curriculum is flexible and depends on the leader. “To us, the material is a tool to use. It’s not the point of the group,” Leonard remarked. “The point of the group is to help people develop spiritually and move to a new level in their spiritual growth and maturity. Whatever tools the coach feels like can best help make that happen, we encourage them to use that material,” he said.
Noting that the discipleship process requires time and a high level of commitment, he added, “This is not a microwave process; this is a crock pot process.”
But for those who stick with it, the process is transformational. “We find that after about six weeks, they begin to say, ‘I can’t live without it; I can’t miss my LIFE group,” Leonard said.
Church leaders are also seeing changes in behavior and mindsets, he noted. “It’s not surprising to us that after two or three years — among those who have gone through it — their spiritual maturity has dramatically increased,” he observed, pointing out a participant who now is a ministry leader.
“Three years ago, she was a participant who would work on a special project once in a while,” he noted. But after going through a LIFE group, she realized she had gifts to offer. “She said, ‘I’m not a perfect person, but I have gifts that can be of benefit to other people, and God wants me to use those in service,'” Leonard recounted.
Because she has gone through a divorce, she feels God is calling her to use that experience to minister to others through the church’s divorce care ministry, he explained.
That’s what discipleship training is all about, Leonard added. “We believe that a measure of a devoted follower of Christ is not just church attendance, it’s in their lifestyle and in their belief systems,” he concluded.
While First Baptist Church, Spartanburg’s approach to discipleship is somewhat traditional — offering study courses, such as those by Beth Moore for women, John Eldredge for men, and Kevin Lehman on marriage and parenting — minister of education Kent Holt hopes to soon put together a two-year small group experience that springboards from the “Disciple’s Cross” study in the MasterLife series.
“Our core discipleship effort uses the four MasterLife books,” Holt explained. “For the past probably 10 or 12 years, we’ve had some groups each year that have met in homes, particularly on Monday nights, and we’ve had some groups that meet on our church campus on Sunday evenings.”
Holt estimates that nearly 500 people have been though those small groups, experiencing the relational and accountability aspects of discipleship and learning about the six disciplines of the Christian life: spending time with the Master, living in the Word, praying in faith, fellowshipping with believers, witnessing to the world, and ministering to others.
“That has had a very profound impact upon the life of our church,” Holt asserted. “I would say that if all of those people aren’t in service somewhere, most of them are involved in the life of our church. You can look through our preschool, children’s, youth and adult ministries and find many of those leaders have been through the MasterLife series.”
As a result, Holt wants every church member to go through an eight-week segment that features “The Disciple’s Cross” as its core curriculum. That study would then lead into a two-year small-group experience, tailored to their spiritual needs.
“We feel like it’s important to use MasterLife because of teaching those six disciplines of the Christian life. Those are crucial elements for all of us to become self-feeding Christians, to become multiplying leaders in the life of our church,” he said.
“That’s really our goal,” Holt explained. “We’re creating leaders who are going to go out and create more leaders. That’s what we’ve got to have in the life of our church, not only to really disciple the church but also to reach the lost.
“You know, a person who is really into discipleship is also into evangelism; one comes with the other,” he added. “It’s like, which wing of the plane can you do without? Neither!”
The emphasis on being a disciple-making church can be seen throughout the church’s ministries, from worship to its approach to youth ministry.
About 385 youth and 96 adults are involved in discipleship groups, according to Seth Buckley, minister to students. The groups primarily use material provided through LifeWay, such as “Survival Kit,” “Experiencing God,” and “When God’s People Pray.”
On Wednesday nights, between 450 to 600 youth attend “Crossfire,” a community outreach and worship experience especially for teens at “The Hangar,” the church’s youth facility, complete with a WWII plane as a centerpiece. Many of those youth are involved in leadership development opportunities, using P.L.A.C.E. materials to discover spiritual gifts to use in ministries and on mission trips.
And while there’s a waiting list of adults wanting to be involved in the youth ministry program, not just anyone can be a small-group leader, Buckley noted. “We are very intentional with our leadership training of adults. We meet with them twice each month for 90 minutes to carry them through training, prayer, encouragement, accountability and ‘visioneering.'”
At the monthly meetings, Buckley focuses as much on how the adults are growing as followers of Christ as he does on what’s going on with the youth group. The idea is that if they are not growing spiritually themselves, what would the youth observe about their leaders’ walk with God.
“The greatest thing is to have a plan of involving students in small, intimate, Bible-centered discipleship,” he emphasized. “These groups are closed groups, meaning that you cannot just come and go and visit. There is a high level of expectancy that once you commit, you will give your best to do the assigned work and participate,” he said.
“Not all of the teens do this, but the ones who do are the ones who benefit the most,” Buckley observed.
North Rock Hill Church, where Chris Ruppe is pastor, is a fairly new congregation with about 125 members, but it already has encountered a discipleship challenge.
Begun in 1998, North Rock Hill built its first building about three years ago. “We had new people coming all the time, and we were baptizing people, but we really didn’t feel like we were seeing a whole lot of life-changing, and we didn’t see our church growing like we thought it should,” Ruppe recalled. “Some people who would come wouldn’t last very long,” he added.
Ruppe began talking with fellow church planters to figure out a process of acclimating people into the life of the church.
“I asked a very basic question: What is a disciple?” Ruppe recalled. North Rock Hill then spent the next six months trying to figure out how to go about making a disciple.
“The Great Commission led us to the conclusion that making disciples is what the church should be about,” Ruppe said. Rather than focusing on attendance or baptisms, “if we are going to determine what true success as a church is, then we’ve got to measure it the way Jesus Christ measured it: He said, ‘Go make disciples,'” Ruppe emphasized.
Using a spiritual journey theme, church leaders created a process of connecting people in relationships with others through small groups. The three key elements of being a disciple, they determined, were mapping, pursuing and guiding.
“Mapping is the idea that a person should always be in an intimate relationship with Christ through prayer, quiet time, studying God’s word, and being in a relationship with other believers,” Ruppe began. “Through the process of learning more about Christ, God always reveals himself to man and communicates with us. When he does, we then determine what God is asking us to do and come up with a plan, as best we see fit, to do it. In other words, make a spiritual map,” he explained.
The spiritual map could involve anything from God speaking to a believer during a service to convict him of a sin and the need to change one’s behavior, to talking with a friend or neighbor about Christ, to taking a new job, Ruppe added.
“The next thing is to do it! That’s pursuing,” he continued. “Many people hear a word from God and feel convicted to do something, but often they never really pursue it.
“Really, the excitement and joy of life is doing what God asks you to do,” he added.
The third element of being a disciple, he said, is guiding or helping others on their spiritual journeys. “That, to us, is a critical element. As God teaches you and you grow, mature and learn, you then must pass it on to others,” he said, underscoring 2 Timothy 2:2 as a biblical injunction.
The Sunday service, which North Rock Hill members refer to as “the Lodge” — in keeping with the journey theme — is a gathering point for believers to celebrate what God is doing in their lives, but Ruppe believes that the small groups, called Journey Groups, are the center point of everything the church does. “We believe it is there where you are in relationships with other believers, are held accountable, can grow in the faith, and help others on the journey,” he explained.
Journey Groups of eight to 10 persons meet weekly for prayer, Bible study, ministering to the sick, meeting the needs of others in the group, and doing community outreach. “The people do a majority of the church’s ministry through their Journey Groups,” Ruppe concluded.
“We’re not trying to be a busy church” with a lot of programs and committee meetings, he said, “but one that is very intentional about discipleship.”
#3: Leadership (2 articles)
Draper, White, Hale, others seeking answers to stave off exit of emerging leaders from SBC
Emerging leaders. Why is there seemingly a “disconnect” with the Southern Baptist Convention? How do we get younger leaders back?
Last fall, Jimmy Draper, the president of LifeWay Christian Resources, apparently hit a raw nerve. In three articles, now known as the “frog columns,” he charged: “We have failed the younger generation by not creating a dynamic atmosphere and showing them the relevancy of being Southern Baptist. We’ve not taught people in our churches how the SBC and its entities work and relate to one another.
“We battle today over trivial issues like forms of worship, styles of leadership and approaches to ministry. These folks may not do it the way you or I do it, but who said our way is the only way?” he asked.
“Younger leaders are asking, ‘Is there a place for me at the table in the SBC?'” he said, urging current leaders, “We’d better address the question or the 50-something leaders will be turning out the denominational lights when their ministries draw to a close.”
During the past few months, Draper has traveled to eight states, hosting dialogues with younger leaders to ascertain their concerns with the SBC and to discover their ministry needs. Another dialogue is planned for June 19 in Nashville, in conjunction with the SBC annual meeting.
The listening sessions brought out five major areas that younger leaders are concerned about: missions and evangelism, creative and innovative approaches, convention renewal, diversity and inclusiveness, and healthy relationships between ministers and congregations. A recent article by Chris Turner of LifeWay, announcing Draper’s new weblog for younger leaders on Cross-walk.com, listed some key insights Draper has gleaned through the dialogues:
— Younger leaders do not believe sound theology conflicts with innovative methods. Forms of worship and styles of ministry do not change the substance of the gospel message.
— They are not seeking positions, but they do not want to be ignored or have their methods of ministry ridiculed. They want to be included and have a voice.
— Younger leaders feel the SBC is too bureaucratic, and so they question the value of being involved. They believe there is too much duplication and complexity in the SBC entities. They’d like to see a more simple and effective structure.
— They want mentoring and feel they can contribute to mentoring, making it a two-way relationship.
— They wonder why they should support the Cooperative Program when larger churches seem to give only a small percentage of their budgets to the CP.
“They have an energy, passion and creativity to address the culture in which we live with biblical truth and are going to do that with or without the SBC,” Draper said in the article. “If we do not find ways to show them we want them, they will simply walk away. I personally do not want to see that happen and frankly, we are in the wrong if we allow it to happen.”
Two South Carolina Baptist leaders recently took up Draper’s mantle. Convention president Jerry White, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church, Greer, and Monty Hale, the new director of the pastoral ministries team for the state convention, held similar listening sessions for emerging leaders in Easley and Summerville in late May.
“After I was elected president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, I felt the Lord was impressing two needs on my heart,” said White. “One was to reach out to each association, if possible, and encourage the smaller churches toward missions and evangelism,” he added. “Second was to reach out to younger leaders.
“I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I just want these folks to know I care about them and will do what I can to help,” he stated. “I also had a sincere desire to see how they felt about our Southern Baptist Convention and our state convention.”
A LifeWay trustee, White modeled their talks after the outline used by Draper. He and Hale, who recently arrived from the Missouri Baptist convention, heard similar concerns from the state’s younger leaders. And while attendance at the two meetings was small, the emerging leaders present expressed some big ideas:
— Engaging the culture. “We’ve built a kingdom of ‘y’all come.’ We need a more ‘missional’ attitude. We have beautiful buildings and nice budgets, but it’s not impacting the culture. We need to raise up disciples.”
— Emphasis on evangelism. “What I heard over and over again is the intersection of the needs of the lost and the gifts of the church. That’s going to look different in every community, but it’s where those two intersect that evangelism happens.”
— Renewed focus on discipleship. “We should move away from having a set program to actually discipling folks, so that they are not worrying about showing up on Tuesday nights to go out visiting, but they are sharing the gospel day in and day out. They are living out their faith because they are disciples and followers of Christ, not because they showed up at a particular program one night.”
— Greater cooperation and shared vision. “A lot of people don’t have faith in the state convention and what they are doing because it has failed at the association level. We see that within the association, they are not doing anything. Somehow we need to find a united vision in the association, then broaden it to a state level. We don’t have a vision in the association to work together to reach our communities for the Lord. It seems that churches are going in a lot of different directions.”
“The directors of missions I’ve talked to say we have a hard time getting churches to work together. We like to say we are untied, but we all like to do our own little thing: ‘Don’t you bother me and I won’t bother you.’ We’ve got to do a better job of reaching out to and helping each other.”
— Debunk territorial attitude. “Until we sit down across the table and start talking with other pastors and say, ‘Look, I’m not here to steal your sheep. I’m here to be able to preach the gospel to those who do not hear it now,’ the more we fight and the more others turn around and head the other way – when we both know they need Jesus.”
— Form cluster groups. “Develop small groups that we can plug into and share ideas. Getting pastors together in small groups can offer a lot more than the big groups can. It’s been extremely effective with us, getting more experienced pastor to network into the groups and bring in pastors who have differing areas of strength — one who’s a great leader, one’s who’s a great preacher, one’s who’s a great administrator, whatever, from which others can learn.”
— Provide mentoring by senior pastors. “We’ve got to convince older pastors to mentor because they have so much experience. Not just the mega church pastors, but the pastor who has been at a small church for 25 years can give incredible insight on how to deal with a small church situation.”
— Mutual appreciation for traditional, contemporary, blended and other innovative models of doing church. “Rather than saying, ‘If you don’t do church our way, you’re not really a church,’ there needs to be a concept of ‘your a church, no matter what.’ We’ve got to reach different pockets of people, particularly in the postmodern era, in a different way than we did in the 1950s and 1960s.
— Setting the example. “I’ve been convicted since I met some convention elected leaders who don’t participate in missions, are not giving much to the Cooperative Program, and are not helping churches be planted, but who keep getting elevated to positions. If we’re going to say these are convention priorities, we ought to make sure that the churches where the pastors are leaders of the convention are practicing the things we say are priorities.”
— Convention participation. “Make a conscious effort to pull in at least one young pastor to serve on committees and boards. You don’t have to be an expert before you get pulled in. Look at it as on the job training and exposure to convention work.”
Summarizing their remarks, White concluded, “We need to develop more relationships with young pastors. We can learn from them as well as perhaps help them avoid some of the pitfalls we have encountered.”
Hale agreed, “We must continue to help them see that they are vital to the work. I don’t think plugging them in to the present system and giving them a spot on a committee or board is the only answer. They must feel that what they have to say is very important and that state and national leaders are listening and are willing to respond.
“I am hopeful that we have begun a dialogue that is important to the future of the Kingdom,” Hale said. “Bridging the gaps will only happen as we respond and adapt to the needs of these emerging leaders.”
“I really feel good about our convention’s future,” White added. “I am excited about the quality and convictions of the younger leaders out there. They are gifted are excited about winning people to Jesus and making disciples.”
Spiritual formation, cultural understanding key issues
The recent survey by LifeWay Christian Resources suggests that while current convention leaders may be focusing on the lack of denominational participation by younger leaders as a cause for concern, the scope of most church leaders primarily centers around the leadership needs of the local congregation.
Among the more than 30 comments by church leaders from 17 states and three other countries to the LifeWay survey, which ranked leadership as the Number 3 issue facing churches, are two from South Carolina that are indicative of most of the others:
“Church leadership has become weakened by the world’s view of authority, respect and character. Finding men of character is difficult when we have compromised the mission of the church for number versus quality,” remarked a Greenville church leader.
“When it comes to the leadership in most churches, there is a void. Ministers lack basic management/leadership skills,” commented another from Easley.
Their remarks — like many found on LifeWay’s “Top 10” website — reflect what Reggie McNeal, director of the state convention’s leadership team, believes are the greatest needs of all church leaders today, young or old.
The number one need, according to McNeal, is for spiritual formation. “It’s amazing to me that people who operate in the spiritual world are often so derelict in their own spiritual maintenance,” he observed.
“We’ve helped church leaders become program administrators, but we are desperate for spiritual leaders to actually be spiritual. That’s not to knock all the other competencies that they need,” he added, “but first and foremost spiritual leaders have to be people who have been with God.”
Church leaders need to emphasize spiritual formation for two primary reasons, he said. “First, for their followers, because people need spiritual leaders for their lives,” he explained. “Second, these leaders are not going to be able to give the kind of leadership that is requisite in this turbulent time without a strong internal fortifying that comes from nothing else except being steeled by God for their assignment.”
In addition to spiritual formation, church leaders need the capacity to understand the culture and become “missiologists,” interpreting the church’s particular vision to reach the lost in its community.
“We basically are ministers to churches, as opposed to being apostolic witnesses to the community,” he explained. “For years and years, what we’ve done is we’ve recruited people who have gone to work in the church, in Bible colleges and seminaries. And they’ve learned how to minister to people in the church.
“But if we want to make an impact on our community and be a part of a spiritual awakening — and what we’re supposed to be doing, based on the book of Acts, is being apostolic witnesses for the gospel to people who don’t know Christ and who aren’t a part of the church culture — then we’re going to have to become missiologists.”
Many church leaders lead insular lives, staying completely inside the “church bubble,” McNeal explained. “They don’t realize there’s an entire reality that’s just beyond them. Even though they are in and out of convenience stores, using freeways and going to shopping malls, they just don’t touch that reality.”
Church leaders need to learn the language of the culture, like a good missionary, so they can converse with the natives to better share the gospel with them, he maintained.
McNeal also sees a need for church leaders to improve their transitional skills to enable people to better adapt to changing models for doing church.
“To move a church, for instance, from an inside perspective to an external focus, requires a huge transition,” he said. “To move church members to being missionaries requires a huge shift in perspective — everything from how we do worship to how we do our calendar and planning, how we spend our money, how we expect the staff to spend their time — ministering to church people or serving the community — requires helping people make those changes. Oftentimes, that involves a reworking of the church’s DNA,” he explained.
Finally, church leaders need “emotional intelligence,” McNeal said, borrowing a term coined by author Daniel Goldman. “It’s just the capacity to know how to be with people,” he explained.
“Leaders often gum up their leadership because they just don’t know how to relate to people well,” he said. “I used to call it ‘people smarts,’ but it’s really about being savvy enough to come out of yourself, to not be so self-absorbed that you’re actually paying attention to how you’re coming across to other people.”
These leadership issues affect not only the church’s staff but also its lay leadership core, McNeal contended.
Advocating a need for ministerial staff to become “life coaches” for any other leaders in the church, McNeal said, “It’s amazing to me how little time is spent, even in our leadership meetings, on helping folks. We are assuming if people show up at church, they are growing spiritually. That is a patent misassumption. We don’t have evidence to support it.”
Ministers should help people become more intentional about their spiritual development, he urged. “What we have to help people do is learn to look for God in all of life,” he said.
“We’ve got to start asking people, ‘What is God doing in your life?’ ‘Where are you seeing God at work in your home? … in your marriage? … with your kids? … in the office cubicle next to you? … in your neighborhood?” McNeal suggested.
By giving people the capacity to see God at work in their lives, they will begin to live a “God-conscious life,” McNeal said. “Experiencing God is not something you do when you go to church, or something you do in your quiet time then you fold up your book and go on about life. We’ve got to have people who are God-conscious all day long.”
Instead, most interactions between the church staff and lay leaders are about how they want them to support the church, he observed. “We want you to show up at church and give more money … We need your help with Bible school … We need your help with the nursery … We need your help with landscaping … We need your help with this or that.” McNeal illustrated.
“How about flipping this thing totally and saying, ‘How can we help you live a better life?’ What an idea!”
In the past, pastors and church staff assisted members with their leadership tasks, he said. “If you were a Sunday School teacher, you got Sunday School training; if you were a deacon, you got deacon training; if you were an usher, you got usher training,” he explained.
While there is still need to provide skill training for specific areas of service, McNeal proposes the formation of a leadership community in each congregation. The leadership community, he envisioned, would meet routinely to rehearse the congregation’s mission, hear stories of the congregation’s shared vision from its chief vision casters — typically the pastor — and find spiritual help for their lives.
“I dream of a church where leaders say, “You know, being a leader in this church is the best thing that ever happened to me as a developing follower of Jesus,” McNeal said. “That’s not what I hear; I hear, ‘You know, I gotta take a break from the leadership of my church. It’s killing me!’
“What if you had such an intentional development for leaders that people were on a waiting list to be a church leader because that meant you were going to get such spiritual attention?”
When it comes to evangelism, churches not getting the job done, leaders say
“The church’s mission is more than keeping the lights on and the grass cut. We need to get out and go because that’s what Christ has called us to do,” pastor Jeff Williams exhorts the small-but-rapidly-growing congregation of West Chester Baptist Church.
In the past four years, the congregation has bolted from a struggling group of 15-20 members to a regular attendance of about 100, averaging more than 12 baptisms every year for the past three years with comparable gains in Bible study attendance. For every 11 resident members, the church has recorded one baptism, making it a leader among the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s smaller churches.
Williams attributes the gains to a willingness to “go out knocking on doors” and share Christ. Members have organized into GROW — Green, Red, Orange and White — teams that make visits weekly to area residents and newcomers. They held “Operation Saturation” last year, when, after six months of planning, members made more than 100 home visits in a single day and distributed several hundred Bibles and tracts. And one volunteer drives a van three times a week to bring children to church, he noted.
At Bath Baptist Church, near Aiken, the 430 resident members have seen an average of 25.7 baptisms per year for the past three years, resulting in a ratio of one baptism for every 16.7 members. But pastor Herb Sons isn’t exactly satisfied: “16.7 is an appalling number, isn’t it?” he asked rhetorically. “We don’t find Jesus saying, ‘I need 16.7 of you to go over and share the gospel with this man or woman,'” he continued. “The statistic should read 1 to 1, and this is our emphasis.”
Sons continually reminds the people that within a five-mile radius of Bath Church are 42,000 people, 14,000 of whom do not attend church. “Our field is truly white unto harvest, and so we pray for and encourage Christians to become workers of the harvest fields,” he said.
Sons says he can’t really explain what the church is doing that has resulted in it being a leader in baptisms. “We do not have a dynamic visitation program; we have not plugged in some new fad; and our evangelism director is an unpaid volunteer,” he noted. “Whatever good has happened has come from our willingness to see the plight of lost people at our jobs, schools and family gatherings, and to see that God has empowered each of us to follow through with his commission and command to tell the good news,” he said.
“Does every person in our church have the desire to share the gospel? Far from it. If so, we would be baptizing 430 this year, 860 next year, and so on,” he acknowledged. “But we are beginning to see the urgency of the hour and the total hopelessness of those who die without Jesus, and some of us are trying to do something about it.”
Congregations such as West Chester and Bath, unfortunately, appear to be the exception. Denominational leaders, such as Jimmy Draper of LifeWay Christian Resources and Thom Rainer of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as state evangelism leader Jack Partridge, say when it comes to evangelism, Southern Baptists, as a whole, aren’t getting the job done.
In his report to the Southern Baptist Convention last year in Indianapolis, Draper attributed four years of declining baptisms to a lack of denominational focus. “It’s hard for someone to argue to the contrary when more than 10,000 Southern Baptist churches did not baptize a single person last year,” he said. “Perhaps the main reason for the decline is that our denomination is simply failing to reach people for Christ.”
That concern led convention president Bobby Welch, founder of the FAITH evangelism strategy that utilizes Sunday school as an outreach tool, to undertake a bus tour through all 50 states this year to stir up excitement for the SBC’s “Everyone Can” emphasis. The personal evangelism emphasis has set a goal of seeing churches baptize 1 million people in a single year, nearly triple recent year-end totals.
According to the Annual Church Profile, information gathered by LifeWay, baptisms totaled 387,947 in 2004, up slightly from the 2003 total of 377,357 baptisms that marked a fourth consecutive year of decline.
In an article in the spring Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Rainer, dean of the school of missions, evangelism and church growth, concludes that “evangelistically the denomination is on a path of slow but discernible deterioration.”
He writes, “An honest evaluation of the data leads us to but one conclusion. The conservative resurgence has not resulted in a more evangelistic denomination. Indeed the Southern Baptist Convention is less evangelistic today than it was in the years preceding the conservative resurgence.”
But he adds that “without the resurgence, the evangelistic effectiveness of the denomination would be much worse.” Using a medical metaphor, Rainer asserts, “the resurgence slowed the bleeding of lost effectiveness, but the patient is still not well.”
Rainer’s data reveals that in the past 25 years, the baptism ratio has worsened from one baptism for every 36 members to one baptism for every 43 members.
“Most SBC churches are showing little evangelistic fruit,” he notes, citing statistics that show nearly one-third baptize no one in a year and two-thirds baptize six or less people. “Frankly, most Southern Baptist churches are evangelistically anemic,” Rainer asserts.
Meanwhile, Rainer estimates that there were 160 million unchurched people in America. Of these, nearly 61 million are receptive to the gospel, he maintains. In that study, Rainer also found that 8 of 10 unchurched persons said they would come to church, if someone invited them. The problem, he says, is “it appears that relatively few Southern Baptists are either inviting people to church or sharing the gospel with them.”
Partridge, director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s personal evangelism office, agrees.
“The reason we don’t have more people come to Christ is because sometimes we are not sharing the gospel and giving people opportunities to accept Christ on a personal, one-on-one basis,” Partridge said. “If we were to do that more outside of the church setting, as well as inside, I think we would find more people who want to accept Christ.”
Partridge prefers using resident church membership to determine baptism ratios. But even then, the state’s figures show a classic plateau, consistently hovering around 35 resident members for every baptism for the past 12 years. In fact, the ratio was 35 to 1 in 1979 and was exactly the same in 2004.
The average number of baptisms per church statewide — while having peaks in the early 1980s ranging from 9.1 to 9.8 — has fallen to 7.9 per church in 2004, a drop of 0.7 percent from 25 years ago.
“There are a lot of things behind those numbers that we don’t look at,” Partridge allowed. “One of which is the source of the baptisms: Is it real conversion growth of people who were lost? Or, are those baptisms coming from people converting from other denominations and rebaptisms?”
While that figure would probably be gloomier, Partridge feels it would provide “a better indication of what is actually going on” in the churches.
As far as explaining peak years, he observed, “Any time we have a focus on what we are doing to reach people for Christ, that tends to help. We know there is a great harvest,” he added, “so the real issue is whether or not we are going out there and actually verbally sharing the gospel in those harvest fields. Any time we do that, we’re going to see an increase in the harvest.”
Responding to a survey by the Barna Group indicating a rise in the numbers of Busters — those born between 1965 and 1983 — and men among the unchurched population in recent years, Partridge suggested that “a part of what we are not doing is engaging them where they are — where they live, work and play.”
Affirming men’s ministry events such as wild game suppers and bass tournaments, Partridge observed, “What we are seeing is that when we do go into those areas and actually pursue lost people where they live, we are finding that we can reach them.
“Part of where we make a mistake is when we expect them to come to our church to find us,” he added, pointing out that many GenXers and men have “a million hobbies to engage in on Sundays — hunting, fishing, riding in their boats or cars, or doing a number of other things. We have to go where they are outside of the church setting because they may not necessarily want to come to our church building or program.”
Barna’s statistics revealing that 43 percent of those who accept Jesus as their Savior do so before age 13 and that two-thirds do so before age 18 underscore for Partridge the importance of having strategies to specifically reach children. “This is one of the key times people seem to be most open to the gospel and to learning,” he explained. “The important thing is to communicate clearly and accurately in a way they can understand the gospel, so they can have an opportunity to respond to it and be saved.”
Partridge also emphasized the key role of the pastor and the need to provide training events for lay persons.
“Any time people are trained in an evangelism approach, they are going to be more effective in sharing their faith, and the focus that comes as a result in the church is tremendous,” he said. “If you look at churches that have historically reached people for Christ, they have something in place that teaches the people of the church and their leaders how to share their faith, that this is important, and that this it is why we exist.
“The tendency is to get a program, use if for a while, then get something else,” Partridge said. “But in churches that consistently win people to Christ, they teach on evangelism in lots of settings, not just during special times of emphasis. If they do it consistently through sermons, the pastor and other church leaders modeling a lifestyle of winning people to Christ, praying for people to come to Christ, and providing different opportunities for members to be involved in leading people to Christ, then that is going to cause some dramatic changes,” he said.
Partridge suggests using a combination of door-to-door, servant and ministry evangelism styles. All of these broaden the relationships one has through which to share the gospel, he observed.
“Especially for those who have been a Christian a long period of time, the number of lost friends that they have diminishes tremendously,” he explained. “They naturally have fewer lost people to be able to share with in their relationships.
“When you go and serve people like Jesus tells us to serve people, you let them see the full scope of the Christian faith and what it’s all about. That’s naturally going to break down some barriers,” Partridge said. “That’s why servant evangelism and ministry evangelism are increasingly seeing good results.”
But while servant and ministry evangelism are good means of broadening the number of people to share the gospel with, Partridge warned, “If we limit our witness to just those with whom we have a relationship, that drastically reduces the pool of people we have the opportunity to share the gospel with,” he explained.
“There’s also got to be a verbal witness and explanation of the gospel for people to truly respond,” he emphasized. “Some of these things we do to serve Christ by meeting the needs of people, but if we don’t share with them their ultimate need is to know Christ, then we haven’t really helped them that much, and we may have deprived them of knowing God in a personal way and knowing how to have eternal life in heaven.”
Yet, most Christians don’t seem to see that need. In a survey cited in “The State of the Church: 2005,” the Barna Group found that among “born again Christians,” only 43 percent both strongly affirmed their responsibility to evangelize and did so in the past year. Another 14 percent affirmed their responsibility but failed to follow through by witnessing.
Being intentional about witnessing is essential, Partridge surmised. “When people say I’m going to do this: I going to focus on sharing my faith; I’m going to start praying for people and looking for opportunities; and I’m going to start studying so I will know what to say and memorize scripture so I can reference it, we know that helps out as far as their effectiveness.”
And while there is a variety of evangelism methods and resource tools to use, Partridge asserted, “The most important thing is having a passion to pursue lost people and doing it in a way that is pleasing to Christ. If we approach people with love and respect for who they are, and if we will give a scriptural witness, and pay attention to how Jesus talked with people and how the apostles shared their faith in Acts, we would be more effective in reaching people.”
Asserting the need to use “the multiple opportunities that God give us,” Partridge urged “every believer to be willing to share their faith wherever they are, and to have a passion for people to come and have the same hope and the same peace that they enjoy.
“Doesn’t every home in this state, and in this country, and in fact in this world, deserve an opportunity to hear the gospel from a real follower of Christ?”
Worldview researcher says church leaders, parents must do better job of ‘connecting the dots’ between Bible and life
Today’s Christians — even many of those who are longtime church- goers — need help “connecting the dots” between what they believe and how they live, urges a South Carolina pastor-turned-worldview researcher.
“We are long overdue for an emphasis on Christian worldview,” asserts Tony Beam, who, after 13 years in pastoral ministry, last summer began pioneering the Christian Worldview Institute at North Greenville College — believed to be the first of its kind at a Southern Baptist Convention college or university.
“We are preaching great sermons. We are teaching great truths. We are witnessing and serving and loving and going into all the world for Christ. But we are not ‘connecting the dots’ between what we are learning from the sermons, gleaning from the teaching or gaining from the going and how we are to live every moment for Christ,” Beam maintains, citing research by George Barna that shows 91 percent of all born-again adults do not have a biblical worldview.
While developing the worldview program at North Greenville, Beam has been poring over books on Christian philosophy, theology and apologetics and teaching a Christian worldview class. And as a part of his job, he also has been speaking in churches, encouraging lay leaders to be informed about the critical issues of our day and to apply biblical principles to every area of life.
What is a Christian worldview?
Everybody has a worldview whether they know it or not, according to Beam. The problem, he says, is that many Christians believe things that “aren’t Christian at all.”
In explaining what a “Christian worldview” is, Beam likes to use Charles Colson’s definition of the term because it is simple, to the point, and easy to understand: “Colson says, ‘It is simply the sum total of our beliefs about the world, the big picture that directs our daily decisions and actions.'”
Citing 1 Peter 3:15 and Colossians 2:8, Beam underscores why Christians should be concerned about developing a Christian worldview. “The world is filled with competing philosophies and it is possible, if believers don’t know what they believe and why, that we could be taken captive by false teaching and faulty theology,” he notes. “In a postmodern world where most people have rejected the idea of absolute truth, we must be prepared to defend our belief in the absolute truth of God as revealed in scripture and through his son, Jesus Christ.”
Being a Christian, however, does not necessarily mean one holds a Christian worldview.
“Just as everyone who accepts Christ does not mature in their faith, not everyone who believes in Jesus understands the basic truths of the faith,” he explains. “Spiritual maturity and discipleship require an intentional desire on the part of believers to ‘know and grow’ in their relationship with Christ.”
Drawing from Colson’s and Nancy Person’s book, “How Now Shall We Live,” Beam suggests that answering three questions may help determine someone’s worldview:
— Where did we come from and who are we? (The creation question.)
— What has gone wrong with the world? (The question of the fall.)
— What can we do to fix it? (The redemption question.)
How one views creation is foundational to forming a worldview, according to Beam. “If we are here because of the random process of Darwinian evolution, we will see this life as all there is and we will buy into a ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy, where the weak can be neglected and the strong protected. Life has no value beyond its extrinsic, observable contribution to society,” he reasons. “If we are here because we were created in the image of our Creator, then we have a purpose built into us by that Creator and all life has intrinsic value.”
Another key question concerns one’s assessment of truth, Beam asserts. “If we believe truth is relative, then all religions and all life philosophies are equal. In a ‘relative truth’ world, the Muslim faith is just as valid as the Christian faith,” he explains. “But if truth is objective and absolute truth exists, we can compare and contrast religious systems based on their teaching and determine which systems are aligned with the truth.”
How is a Christian worldview shaped?
One’s worldview, Christian or otherwise, must be intentionally developed, Beam stresses. Unfortunately, many Christian homes do not emphasize the study of Christian doctrine, he laments.
“It is assumed in many homes that children are receiving all the Christian education they need at church,” Beam observes. “But we can’t leave something as important as the development of how we look at every issue of life to chance.”
In addition to studying God’s word, he encourages all believers to read the writings of the great Christian thinkers of our time and throughout church history. “Believers should watch less ‘Survivor’ and read more Jonathan Edwards,” he quips. “We should watch less ‘American Idol’ and read more C.S. Lewis.”
A Christian worldview is not only a perspective that must be caught, it must be taught, Beam notes.
“Pastors, teachers, parents, everyone should sharpen their mental and spiritual skills so that we will be equipped to pass our defense of what we know to be true along to others,” he says.
“While pastors and teachers do a great job sharing the basic truth of scripture, they also must be willing to share how that truth applies to every life situation,” he urges.
“We live in a world where believers are high in information about God but sometimes low in the application of that information to life situations,” he adds. “Changing that requires teaching with application in view, and it requires parents to be actively involved in the development of their children’s knowledge and application of God’s word.”
Parents can no longer just expect their children to go to Sunday school and preaching, or attend a Wednesday night service for one hour and be well-equipped to take on distorted truths that they may encounter at school, from their peers, or on a Movie screen the rest of the week, Beam remarks. “They need to hear and see Christian application 24/7/365 in all areas of life,” he urges.
When a pastor prepares a sermon or when a Sunday school teacher prepares a lesson to teach, they should ask whether or not what they are teaching connects the dots between the facts being shared how those facts should make a difference in our world, Beam encourages.
What difference does having a Christian worldview make?
Developing a Christian worldview as a youth plays a vital role in the perseverance of their faith, Beam believes. Many high school students who graduate with a basic understanding of Christianity but lack the ability to think critically about other worldviews are particularly vulnerable when they encounter persuasive college professors who attack the foundations of their faith. If these students can’t think theologically, rationally, and critically about the information they are receiving, they will begin to question their faith, Beam explains.
By the same token, adults who are not well grounded with a strong Christian worldview may falter when their faith values are challenged by their colleagues in the workplace to do something they believe is wrong.
“Most people would rationalize that by saying, ‘Oh, that is just my job. It doesn’t have anything to do with my religion,'” Beam says. “But that is the entire point: We cannot divide our lives into different rooms with Jesus occupying some rooms and excluded from others.
“We must have well-developed, consistent Christian worldview which connects the dots between the kingdom of God and the world,” he reiterates. “That will only happen when we teach, preach and set a connecting-the-dots example.”
Beyond personal integrity, having a Christian worldview also has social and political implications, Beam says.
Christians can certainly disagree about complicated issues that have more to do with political leanings than theological doctrine, Beam allows. But while Christians can disagree about specific issues and still have a Christian worldview, their disagreement always must be based on God’s word, not personal opinion or political preference, he insists.
When a Christian is faced with a complex social issue, Beam stress that “the Holy Spirit will never lead a Christian to discern something that is contrary to the word of God. If that happens,” he adds, “it wasn’t the Holy Spirit the Christian was listening to.”
All believers, including Southern Baptists, should “absolutely be trying to influence” public policy and elections, according to the principles of God’s Word, not the platform of any political party,” Beam advocates.
Pointing to the Sermon on the Mount, Beam notes, “Jesus didn’t say we should be salt and light. He said we are salt and light. To fail to allow our Christian testimony to influence every area including the public arena is to deny our very nature.
“If the Christian worldview is truly to be applied to every area of life then the political area is included. We can’t check our belief system at the door of the statehouse and then pick it back up when we go the church house,” Beam concludes.
Apathy problem in church can be countered by accepting Acts 1:8 Challenge, leaders say
“There seems to be great apathy toward things of God. It is as if we are ‘safe’ and have a ticket to heaven, so why should we care about reaching the lost. We have the idea that church is here for us to make us comfortable and to encourage us. They are apathetic toward church attendance, tithing, using their gifts, and being involved in the kingdom of God,” a ministry leader from Dodge City, Kan., commented.
“People want to be comfortable and want the church to provide for their worship enjoyment. Not enough are interested in getting out of their comfort zones, committing their time and money to the work that has to be done,” another from Grovetown, Ga., remarked.
Their comments were gleaned from a survey of 1,300 ministry leaders by LifeWay Christian Resources, which identified apathy — “the seeming lack of personal interest, support and enthusiasm from the pews for the work of the church” — as the number 6 issue facing today’s church.
The extent of apathy
These church trend-spotters may be right. Recent studies by the Barna Research Group support their observations of a general passivity among church members toward servanthood and spiritual growth.
Among Barna’s findings in “The State of the Church: 2005” are:
— In a typical week, slightly less than half of the adult population, or 45 percent, attended a religious service; and even in the South, often referred to as the “Bible Belt,” barely half of the residents had read from the Bible.
— Participation in adult Sunday school classes has drifted slowly downward from about one-quarter of the population to one-fifth, or 20 percent.
— Approximately one out of every four adults claims to volunteer their time to help their church’s ministry during a typical week. That figure has not budged in 15 years.
— While about two-thirds of adults said they donated funds to support a church, only 4 percent tithed their income.
— While two out of three adults strongly agree their religious faith is very important in their life, only one-third of adults strongly affirm a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with others.
In his “Reflections on the State of the Church,” Barna observed: “The church needs a radical shake-up; it has been static for so long that people sleepwalk through their religious paces, oblivious to the fact that many of their beliefs and practices dishonor God.”
Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Seminary, agrees that apathy is a major problem in the church.
The problem, according to Rainer, is that “for two decades many churches have attempted to attract people to the church with low or minimal expectations. We are now seeing the consequences of the low expectation church.”
In his book, “High Expectations,” Rainer maintains, “The most common reason for apathy is lack of involvement. The biblical metaphor, the body of Christ, makes it very clear that every member of the church is to be a functioning and contributing part of the body. The New Testament church has no place for mere audiences or pew sitters. Our present research indicates that that lack of involvement is one of the major reasons members drop out of active church life.”
Acts 1:8 Challenge
Like Rainer, Tim Yarbrough of the North American Mission Board and Debbie McDowell of the South Carolina Baptist Convention believe engagement in ministry is a pivotal task. They maintain that the adoption of an “Acts 1:8 mindset” is critical to energizing the laity and mobilizing them in missions and evangelism. Acts 1:8, literally the last words of Jesus, commands early believers to be witnesses, starting with Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then extending to the ends of the earth.
Explaining the purpose of the Acts 1:8 initiative, Yarbrough, who serves on the Acts 1:8 Challenge coordination team made up of leaders from NAMB and the International Mission Board, alludes to a scene from “The Wizard of Oz” in which Dorothy and the others leave the Yellow Brick Road and fall asleep in a field of poppies as they are approaching the end of their journey to the Emerald City.
Yarbrough observed, “The sad reality is that many churches have left the path of obedience and mission, and grown helplessly sleepy in one of the many poppy fields that are just off to the side of the road.
“Happily, Dorothy and her friends were not allowed to remain asleep and fall short of their mission,” he noted. “That’s what Acts 1:8 Challenge is all about: waking churches up and getting them back to their primary mission of reaching the world for Christ.”
Addressing apathy in the local church is quite simple, according to Yarbrough: “It’s get back to your mission!”
McDowell, missions mobilization director for South Carolina Baptists, is seeing the difference that the Acts 1:8 Challenge is making in churches.
“More and more people in the pew are seeing that they can be personally involved in missions,” McDowell said. “We’ve done a great job of giving and praying for a long time, but as far as personally hands-on being involved, we’re seeing a growing enthusiasm and support for missions involvement.”
When people get involved in missions, “it rekindles an excitement and burden for witnessing, for praying and for giving,” she observed. “When the lay people are involved in living out Acts 1:8 in a hands-on missions involvement way, it has a ripple effect across the whole congregation, as well as across the different areas of an individual’s life and walk with God.
“Being personally involved in missions makes Acts 1:8 more than a verse to memorize,” she said. “It makes it a personal commandment from God that you’ve obeyed. It becomes a heart passion.”
The Acts 1:8 difference
Among the many pastors who can testify about the difference that missions involvement is making in their congregations are David Blanton, Curt Bradford and Mark Hathcox.
Southside Baptist Church, Spartan-burg, where Blanton is pastor, has adopted an elementary school, providing refreshments for teachers at special events, offering tutoring and lunch buddies to students, and sponsoring a Good News Bible Club. Currently, the church has a partnership with the Charleston Outreach Ministry, and two weeks ago, its fourth- and fifth-graders went on a mission trip to minister in nursing homes and conduct backyard Bible clubs. In addition, the congregation recently commission a student summer missionary, Ashley Benshoof, to assist missionary Larry Leming in the Hilton Head area.
In national missions effort, the church partners with the Southeast Kentucky Appalachia ministry, working with Lonnie and Belinda Riley, and is making plans to provide a ministry center for bi-vocational pastors there.
As far as its “ends of the earth” commitment, Southside recently commissioned Mike and Sue Monroe to serve in South Asia, and next month will commission James and Hannah Hanson to serve in Central Asia. And a student summer missionary, John Paul Watson, will serve in South Asia.
Some teams of volunteers will also be directing a camp in Guatemala and conduct prayer walks and vacation Bible schools in India.
“Almost every Sunday at Southside, we commission someone or some team to go out,” Blanton said. “We constantly put missions involvement in front of our people.
“To me the real health of a church is not how many people come to a service, but how many people go out in service,” he stressed.
Five years ago, Southside was a typical Southern Baptist Church in that missions involvement meant giving to an offering and very little hand-on work, Blanton shared. But as members have gone on mission trips and projects, they have seen the needs of the world and “experienced firsthand the darkness and also the power of God working in and through their lives.”
“They have become for us the best champions for missions. Those members have become mobilizes,” Blanton continued. “They, in turn, have encouraged their families, Sunday school classes and friends to become personally involved in missions,” he said.
Last year, the church, which averages about 450 in worship, saw more than 160 of its members of all ages — from children to senior adults — directly involved in missions projects through the church. In addition to that, prayer has taken on a new level of intensity, according to Blanton. When the church commissions a team to go out it also commissions prayer warriors, which they called “Rope Holders,” to undergird their work. “We consider them just as much a part of the team as those who are going,” he said.
Missions giving has also significantly increased as the whole concept of missions has become personalized and members are connected to what God is doing around the world. Five years ago, a good global missions offering would have been around $25,000, Blanton notes. This past year, the church surpassed its goal of $81,000, giving more than $96,000 for missions efforts — above and beyond the 10 percent of offerings contributed to the Cooperative Program.
Southside hosts a n annual, five-day global missions conference, bringing missionaries from its various state, national and international partnerships into direct contact with its members. “Many of the families we have commissioned into missions service are a direct result of the conference,” Blanton noted.
Coining the term “glocal church” — linking global and local — Blanton said he has a vision for his church to become a “mobilizer for other churches” that accept the Acts 1:8 Challenge. “We don’t want to keep this to ourselves,” he said. “We want to help other churches in casting the vision of Acts 1:8.
“It’s not how big you are; any church any size can be obedient to the great commission,” he stressed. “It’s not about having a big number. It’s about having a big heart.”
Even before the Acts 1:8 Challenge was issued by denominational leadership, Curt Bradford says the membership of Riverbluff Baptist Church, Charleston, felt “the mission of the church given by Christ, was to reach the world.”
“What that meant was that we were to reach the immediate area surrounding the church, our state, our nation and the world. And to focus on one to the exclusion of the other would be, to some degree, disobedient,” Bradford said.
As a result, over the years, the church began to develop strategies that now fit well within the Acts 1:8 strategy, he said. “We decided to begin personal evangelism efforts, starting churches, creating community changing initiatives, such as benevolent ministries.”
Since 1994, Riverbluff has started three cross-cultural missions — two African-American congregations and one Hispanic church — in the Charleston area.
“Just the idea that we were involved in reaching the world and making disciples was something that energized people. It gave us a purpose as a church, ” Bradford explained. “Rather than a refuge or sanctuary from the world,” he added, “we saw ourselves as a world missions center: Wherever you go, you are a missionary.
That vision of being a disciple-making, life-changing fellowship of believers reaching the world with the gospel, coupled with the adoption of Rick Warren’s purpose-driven principles, has resulted in dramatic growth, he said. Membership has jumped from about 150 in 1998 to more than 750 this past Sunday.
Since then, the church has relocated, but it felt led to keep its old facility and turn it into a ministry center, maintaining its former name of Midland Park. Two of its missions now meet there, and the building also houses a feeding ministry, medical clinic and an after-school care program. A Korean Methodist mission also worships in the facility, Bradford noted.
Missions involvement is now part of Riverbluff’s DNA, Bradford emphasized. “When we do our membership class, we tell all new members that we feel we have a responsibility to reach the world — locally, nationally and globally. It’s kind of like, don’t sign up if you’re not interested in that,” he explained.
At Riverbluff, the way one joins the church is not by walking down an aisle, but by going through a new members class where the expectations are set high from the start. In the class, new members make a commitment to the church and its people, to spiritual growth, to finding a personal ministry, to being on mission with God, and to sharing one’s faith locally and globally.
Riverbluff is getting two kinds of new members, as a result: those who are lost and coming to Christ, and those who being involved in missions resonates with their heart, Bradford said.
One of Riverbluff’s associate pastors has just returned from a mission trip to Iraq. The church has recently adopted Surnami Kurds as its unreached people group and is planning one or two trips this year. It is also working with the state convention to go to India.
Teenagers are participating in two World Changers trips — one to Kentucky; the other to Venezuela. And mission trips are planned to Washington, D.C., and New York City. Locally they are involved in Charleston Baptist Associations Seafarers ministries.
In addition, each of its small groups are expected to be involved in community ministry projects, such as the Ronald McDonald House, homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers. The small groups have undertaken about 40 to 45 project, many of which are being done on an ongoing basis, Bradford said.
“Whenever a church decides we’re going to be on mission with God,” Bradford added, “that’s when it has made the most crucial decision about whether it’s going to live or die.”
Six-city initiative transforming mentor couples from congregations into ‘Marriage Savers’
Marriage is in trouble, disintegrating at a rate of 1.16 million couples annually.
For about every two marriages in the 1990s, there was one divorce. While the divorce rate tripled between 1970 and 2000, the marriage rate fell by 40 percent. Meanwhile, cohabitation soared eleven-fold, rising from 400,000 to about5 million couples.
And the crisis is impacting the lives of children as well as adults. In South Carolina, where nearly 15,000 couples divorce each year, according to a recent state statistical abstract, 40 percent of the children in single-parent families live in poverty.
Figures such as these have America’s religious leaders alarmed. A LifeWay Christian Resources survey of more than 1,300 ministers revealed that the need to strengthen and restore marriages is the no. 7 issue facing churches.
Last week, a group of about 40 pastors, priests and other church leaders in Greenville, Greer, Simpsonville and Mauldin became pro-active in addressing the marriage issue. They signed a Community Marriage Policy and banded together to strengthen marriages through a faith-based program called Marriage Savers.
“Our goals as clergy are to promote lasting marriages under God and spiritually healthy families. Since we perform nearly 75 percent of all marriages, we are uniquely positioned to affect the marriages and families in our community. We are deeply troubled by the epidemic of marital instability and divorces, and we are convinced it must be addressed directly by the faith community,” the ministers stated in their Community Marriage Policy.
Among the covenant’s guidelines are to expect a minimum of four counseling and mentoring sessions for engaged couples; train married couples, with experience in dealing successfully with marriage difficulties, to serve as mentors for couples in crises; encourage enrichment opportunities to strengthen marriages and families; and seek to establish or promote support systems for blended families.
“Ministers are coming to the realization that we have to take more of an active stance,” explained Roger Acton, associate director of the adult ministry group at the South Carolina Baptist Convention. “With the way the divorce rate has risen — even higher in churches than in the non-churched world — there are some reality checks, and a lot of our pastors are starting to realize that we need to do more for marriage,” added Acton, who has been enlisting support of Baptist leaders for upcoming Marriage Savers events.
In addition to Rock Hill, which held a training event last week, church leaders in four more communities — Charleston (April 29-30), Columbia (May 6-7), Florence (May 13-14), and Greenwood (June 3-4) — will have an opportunity to train mentoring couples, making this the first statewide Marriage Savers effort. Spearheaded by Heritage Community Services, a statewide character-based abstinence organization with a mission to reduce adolescent sexual activity, the marriage initiative seeks to promote abstinence through a holistic approach of improving the family life of teenagers.
“Heritage would like to see a reduction in the number of divorces and single-parent families,” explained Carole Walters, abstinence education technical assistant for Heritage. “If we could help couples prepare for marriage, do marriage enrichment, do crisis work with those in difficult marriages, we know that we would help the young people because the more stable their family, the more likely it is for them to avoid all kinds of problems, including sexual activities, alcohol and drugs.”
Walters, who experienced the effects of divorce and remarriage about 25 years ago, said she was “touched by the fact that there may be help for couples who are experiencing what I experienced — people going through divorce, or couples who are struggling with their marriages. I was glad to see something that I felt was very positive and had some real answers and resources.”
Heritage’s regional director for the Greenville area, Julie Hershey, and her husband Ray attended a Marriage Savers training event last fall and have since trained six couples in their church, Crossroads Community in Greer, to be mentors for engaged couples.
“It’s wonderful because it is so biblically based,” Hershey said. “When you sit down with a young couple and go through the premarital inventory, everything that is on it is a biblical principle. As a mentor couple, you can tell them firsthand how well their marriage will work if they have God as the third person in their marriage.
“You spend quite a few hours with the couple over four months,” she continued. “They see you interact with each other, and you tell about your experiences, the blessings and lessons that the Lord has shown you and the success you’ve had as a result of obedience. It helps them understand how to communicate effectively and lovingly.”
Her husband Ray agreed, “A lot of times, problems don’t pop up until there are children, until someone loses a job, or something else affects the marriage, and the couple doesn’t know how to handle it. Mentors help couples think about issues. They may not know all the answers, but at least they know what the questions are.
“As they go through the meetings, the couple really matures,” he noted. “For my wife and me, it brought up a lot of memories of similar situations we’d gone through, and we were able to share how we’d addressed them.”
Marriage Savers, founded by Mike and Harriet McManus of Bethesda, Md., is a national organization that has reduced divorce and cohabitation rates as well as restored four out of five troubled marriages within many of the 190-plus cities that have adopted a Community Marriage Policy. The McManuses establish covenants with clergy to equip mentor couples in congregations.
Modesto, Calif., clergy were the first to create a policy in 1986. Ninety-five priests, pastors and rabbis committed to requiring a minimum of four months of marriage preparation for engaged couples using mentoring couples. The divorce rate there is now down 57 percent, and its marriage rate rose 12 percent.
Other cities that have cut divorce rates by more than half after adopting policies include Austin and El Paso, Tex.; Kansas City, Kan.; and Salem, Ore. But typical results, while notable, average less dramatic drops, McManus noted. An independent study of 114 cities where policies were adopted reported the divorce rate fell 2 percent more per year compared to similar cities, or 14 percent over seven years.
Among the Greenville-area Baptist churches that have already signed or agreed to sign the policy are White Oak; First, Simpsonville; First, Greer; Brookwood Community; El Bethel; Pleasant Grove; Rocky Creek; and Westside, Simpsonville. Ron Davis, director of missions for Greenville Baptist Association, served on the committee that wrote the policy.
Jim Bates, pastor of White Oak, said at the policy-signing ceremony, “We are committed to making our marriages in our church and in our community stronger, and we hope to be able to play a part in spreading that work in our community. We believe God will do amazing things as we come together as a community of faith to support marriage.”
Rick Julian, minister of evangelism at Simpsonville First, remarked, “One of the things I like so much about Marriage Savers is that it couples you with a mentor. We love the idea of someone walking through (crises) side by side, arm in arm, with the couple. We just love the idea of having encouragement and hope and having God be the center of marriage.”
And Joey Seay, pastor of El Bethel, added, “In our culture — with families hurting and marriages falling apart — the church has a great responsibility to try to take marriages and make the bad ones into good ones, and make good ones even better.”
Calling the signing of the Community Marriage Policy by Greenville-area ministers a “defining moment,” Harriet McManus explained, “It will be a marker in the history of your community because of the difference you will see, when you look back three, five, seven, 10, 20 years from now, in the fabric of your families and the health of your communities.
Observing that children feel the destruction of divorce keenly, she noted, “They are twice as likely to drop out of school; three times as likely to bear a child out of wedlock; six times as likely to commit suicide; and 12 times as likely to be incarcerated.
“By establishing the various ministries of marriage in your home congregations,” she told the ministers, “you will be forming a safety net under every marriage.”
Elated that the initiative marked the first statewide effort to reduce the divorce rate, Mike McManus said his hope is that the six cities will see a dramatic fall in their divorce and cohabitation rates.
“I am concerned, however, that (at this time) only Greenville clergy plan to sign a Community Marriage Policy, pledging to undertake the reforms which have been proven to work in more than 100 cities,” McManus added. “We are training mentor couples in each city, but hopefully this initiative will persuade their churches to invest the energy and effort needed to get many more congregations involved in adopting and implementing a Community Marriage Policy, which can benefit so many families.”
A syndicated writer of an ethics and religion column since 1981 and author of several marriage books, including “Marriage Savers: Helping your Family and Friends Avoid Divorce,” McManus believes that Marrige Savers can help:
— enable couples to avoid bad marriages, through a premarital inventory;
— provide marriage insurance by virtually guaranteeing a lasting relationship;
— strengthen every marriage in the church through enrichment events;
— restore marriages in crises by pairing them with “back-from-the-brink” couples; and
— reconcile those who are separated.
In their church, Fourth Presbyterian in Bethesda, Md., mentor couples have helped prepare 288 couples for marriage since 1992, McManus said. Of that number, 54 decided not to marry, suggesting they may have avoided a bad marriage before it was begun, he said.
Of those who married, only seven couples have divorced. “That’s a 97 percent success rate,” he emphasized. “That can happen in your churches!”
For cost and information about mentor training events, see www.scbaptist.org/family or call Acton at 1-800-723-7242.
For cultural relevancy, rediscover church’s mission before reinventing worship style, McNeal advises
Church leaders may find themselves scratching their heads and wondering, “How far can the church go in becoming culturally relevant and still remain faithful to the Great Commission?”
But that’s the wrong question, according to Reggie McNeal, because “you can’t be faithful to the Great Commission without being culturally relevant.”
The “come and get it” attitude of some churches is opposed to the Great Commission, which means, “Go get them,” asserts the director of leadership development for South Carolina Baptists. “That’s why relevancy is such a big issue for church leaders,” he explains.
And while many churches have moved from a traditional worship style to a contemporary one, preferring business casual to suits and ties or dresses, guitars and electric keyboards to organs and pianos, praise teams to robed choirs, and video projection screens to hymnals or bulletins, McNeal believes that really isn’t the issue in reaching the emerging culture.
“What is traditional now was contemporary once, and what is contemporary now will be traditional at some point,” explains McNeal.
Instead, the bigger issue, he maintains, is “the way the church expresses itself, primarily in an institutional setting.” McNeal, author of several books on spiritual leadership — including a related recent work, “The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church” — sees the church’s institutional setting as becoming increasingly problematic for reaching the emerging culture.
Allowing that the church is always relevant because it deals with the big issues of God, life, meaning and purpose, McNeal observes that the emerging culture isn’t looking for spiritual answers in the institutional setting of the church. “They look to Oprah, Dr. Phil, or the Barnes and Noble bookshelves,” McNeal explains.
“We can be mad that they are looking in the wrong places, or we can make a decision to get out there and meet them on the street,” he urges.
So to be culturally relevant, the church must engage people with biblical truth wherever they are — at home, in the workplace, at school, at the health club, even at Wal-Mart, he believes.
“People do not understand why they need to leave their homes, workplaces or schools to go find God at a church meeting,” McNeal says. “Only church people think like that.”
Meeting people in the street with the gospel is a kingdom perspective, he maintains. “Jesus taught and took God to the streets,” he says, noting that the Pharisees and other religious leaders of that day were still asking the people to come to a church setting first.
“We’re still meeting and having discussions, instead of helping them learn how to see God, not just in the Bible, but in every arena of their lives where God is at work — in their kids, their neighbors, and among their co-workers,” he says.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is an example of religious folks who were too busy to help people whom they came upon on their way to a church meeting, McNeal emphasizes. “Jesus helped people. He touched a need,” he explains. “He talked to them where they were — at wells, weddings and wakes.”
The Good News of how to have an abundant and eternal life is ultimately “what people on the street are looking for,” McNeal underscores, pointing out that “The Purpose-Driven Life has sold more than 26 million copies. The church, he adds, will be relevant so long as it will take the message of the gospel — how to have an abundant and meaningful life — to the streets, he notes.
One of the reasons he believes that the kingdom is about taking God to the streets, and beyond the Sunday morning church crowd, is that “the kingdom sees God primarily at work in the world,” McNeal says. “The church,” on the other hand, “sees God primarily at work in the church, and the world is off limits. As a result, the church has abandoned the world.”
John 3:16 is way more revolutionary than most think, according to McNeal. “A lot of church people think this verse means, ‘God so loved the church, he gave his only son.’ But God’s heart is always for the world, and God is at work there,” he says.
For the church to be more relevant, it must reach the position that the people of God exist for one reason: to partner with God in his redemptive mission in the world, McNeal urges, pointing out that God’s promise to Abraham was not just to create a special people, but so that God could “bless all nations” through them.
The church has the same commission, McNeal asserts. “If we are obedient to our reason for creation, we don’t have to worry about being relevant,” he says. “The fact is, we have been disobedient: We’ve abandoned the world, when our job is to share the truth with it in love,” he explains.
Citing John 4, McNeal illustrates the spiritual principle involved by recalling how the disciples passed a woman at the well on their way to town. “They don’t deal with her, and Jesus has to chide them,” he recounts. “And they were even on a mission trip, going into town to pick up food.
“Now I’m not against mission trips,” McNeal corrects. “My point is, we have to open our eyes, look at the fields. We’ve got to learn to see people and their needs.”
By default, the church often chooses to look internally at its own business functions, maintaining programs and keeping attendance “score cards,” rather than searching out and meeting the needs of hurting people in the community.
Relevancy is a discipleship issue because it’s an obedience issue, McNeal stresses. “Jesus said, ‘If you’ll look out there, the fields are white. You’ve just got to pay attention,'” he recalls. “So if we follow Jesus, we will follow him out there” into the fields.
And while some may start addressing relevancy by dealing with worship styles, the relevancy issue, he concludes, is ultimately about the church’s mission.
“People have to worship in their own ‘heart language,'” McNeal allows, but adds, “our worship will be only as relevant as the church’s mission is, and people are only as willing to explore worship styles and new ‘heart language’ expressions, if it grows out of a sense of mission.”
McNeal finds hope for the future of the church with the rise of a “missional” expression.
But what will that “missional” church look like? The church of tomorrow will look like everything from mega church to storefronts, from schools and care groups to country clubs, from family Bible studies in apartment dwellings to home cell groups and house churches, McNeal believes.
“It’s going to take all of these,” he says, “as the missional church grows out of being obedient to the Great Commission in its own setting.”
The key, he maintains, is that the church has to begin to “think like a missionary.”
“We must look at the community as a missionary would see it,” he suggests. “If the community needs a school, offer one. If people need water, then dig a well. If they need medical care, build a clinic.
“A missionary does this because he is very clear about what his mission is: to spread God’s love by meeting people’s needs,” McNeal concludes. “It’s about community transformation for the sake of gaining a hearing for the gospel.”
How much is homosexuality affecting the family lives of church members? More than you know, ministry leader says
Churches like to think that homosexuality is on the outside,” but some pastors would be shocked by the number of individuals and family members in their congregations who are affected by or dealing with homosexuality on a daily basis, according to a regional leader of a ministry to homosexuals.
A recent LifeWay Christian Resources e-business survey of 3,600 pastors and other ministry leaders in North America and Europe identified homosexuality as the #9 issue facing today’s church, and McKrae Game, director of Truth Ministries in Spartanburg, agrees that it is among the top issues confronting the family.
Game, who is also a representative of Exodus International for a five-state Mid-Atlantic region that stretches north to Washington, D.C., claims that “real life” statistics are somewhere between 1 and 4 percent. “Probably about 1 percent are lesbian, and about 3 percent male homosexual,” he says.
His statistics line up with the National Health and Social Life Survey — a widely accepted study of sexual practices in the United States — cited in several articles on homosexuality found on Focus on the Family’s website. And Game believes that “those percentages would be at least equal in the church as in society.”
At Truth Ministry, which he started in 1999, Game has found that “an overwhelming majority” of individuals who struggle with homosexuality come from a Christian background. “They come from being educated in the church, but not to the point of it becoming a lasting, meaningful relationship with Christ,” he observes.
“If you look at stereotypical male homosexuals — because there are three times more gay men than women — they are the good children. They’re the children who never rebelled. They’re the children who never gave Mom and Dad any problem,” Game says.
“They struggle with this internally,” he explains. “They are the kids who asked Christ into their lives when they were 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, and they don’t understand why they struggle with homosexuality, and they are Christians.
“And the church wants to turn a blind eye,” Game asserts. “The church has been telling them that it is the non-believers who deal with these things. Which is not always true. Just because you are a believer doesn’t mean you are not going to be tempted, not going to have problems, not going to have broken families, and not going to have issues in your life that need to be dealt with and healed.”How can the church counter the culture?
“We have to focus more on the breakdown of the family,” suggests Game, who was ordained as a minister about two years ago at First Baptist Church, North Spartanburg, where he has been a member now for more than 10 years.
“We have to realize that the single mom is not necessarily the cause of homosexuality, but a root cause of homosexuality is the father not taking the godly leadership role in leading the family, being that man of God he is called to be,” Game believes, drawing upon his own experiences.
While there are many factors, from Game’s perspective, teaching “dads how to be dads” is essential. “Teach dads that your sons, your daughters need you,” he asserts. “We live in a country where we are valued by how much work we do. How much is it talked about that dads need to hug and kiss their children? You need to spend time with them.”
Observing that scripture talks more about sex and money than most other topics, Game asks, “How often do fathers take the time to teach their sons about sex and money” from a biblical perspective?
Game, who was involved in the homosexual lifestyle for several years after high school, is living proof that transformation is possible.
He accepted Christ at an AmWay conference after being around some friends who were Christians. Although he was raised a Southern Baptist, Game says that he “did not know what having a relationship with Christ was about.”
His friends were “Jesus on two feet,” however. “Though they didn’t necessarily talk about God, I saw they had something that I wanted: peace,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what it was until that day when people were giving testimonies at the meeting about Christ in their lives.”
Admitting that he had been involved in countless homosexual relationships, Game explains, “I didn’t know it then, but I had a void in my heart that I just couldn’t seem to fill. Only after I asked Christ into my life did I begin to realize that I had been trying to fill this God-given void in my life with relationships with people.”
God used that self-revelation to draw Game into a ministry to others who are struggling with homosexuality. He met his wife Julie at the North Spartanburg church and now has two children.
“McKrae Game has a tremendous commitment to help those affected by the tragedy of the homosexual lifestyle. He is unapologetic in his stance for the gospel, and we’re grateful for his work in this important area of ministry,” says senior pastor Mike Hamlet. Two members of the staff of First Baptist Church, North Spartanburg, including associate pastor Al Phillips, have served on the board of directors for Game’s ministry.
Truth Ministry is the only Christian organization in South Carolina working with pastors and churches on the sensitive issue of homosexuality, according to Joe Mack, director of the office of public policy for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. “When pastors call our office with questions of how to deal with individuals or families faced with homosexuality, we refer them to McKrae and his staff,” Mack says.
Many of those who come to Truth Ministry for help already have a relationship with Christ and “don’t understand why they can’t just get over homosexuality,” Game says. “They pray that these feelings will go away. And they just don’t.”
“They have to want to change,” stresses Game, underscoring the psychological and spiritual aspects of real transformation. “We have to deny ourselves and pick up cross and follow Him,” he emphasizes. “Just like a drug addict has to come to the place where he says, ‘I’m going to lay this down. I’m not going to pick up a needle or shoot up again. I’m going to purely deny myself when what I really do want is to act this way.'”
In that process, Christ will change their hearts and their desires, Game affirms. The homosexual has to adopt the attitude that “God is going to show me a new way: It’s going to be through total and complete dependence on Christ.” he explains.
Individuals who are struggling with homosexuality also have to learn to give themselves grace, Game says. “They need to give themselves time. They need to understand that it’s going to be a process.
“Often parents want a quick fix, overnight deliverance,” he adds, “but most of the time that doesn’t happen.”
But that’s not necessarily bad, he observes, recalling the story of Jesus calming the storm. “Jesus chose to be in the boat with the disciples during a storm,” Game emphasizes. “He did calm the storm when everybody was freaking out, but His response was, ‘Chill out! I’ve got things covered.’
“We’ve got to realize that in the time of the storm in our lives, we will learn something. We will grow in wisdom and statue and character,” Game says.
“So many times we just want the storm removed from our lives. We just want these temptations removed,” he notes. “But that may not be God’s plan. His plan may be for us to go through the storm by his help.”How should the church reach out?
Maintaining a clear scriptural stance against homosexuality is important, Game acknowledges, affirming Southern Baptists for past moral stances in resolutions and their recent formation of a task force on homosexuality.
“The homosexual lifestyle is a fantasy world that is being popularized by the media. It’s now pop culture,” he warns. “You can’t watch television without being bombarded with same-sex issues. You can’t flip channels without seeing it.
As a result, kids may become confused about gender and sex, he believes. “To say, ‘It’s not necessarily between one man an one woman’ — to bring that into the equation — that is exactly what the gay agenda is and that’s what is happening on TV everyday.”
The church needs to respond by not only “putting one hand up” to say, “Stop! We won’t tolerate this,” it also must have a balanced approach by “putting one hand out” to say, “We will help those who are affected by homosexuality.”
One of the ways the church can best reach out is by making the church a safe environment for people to deal with their struggles with homosexuality, Game suggests. “Yes, the church needs to take a clear stand against homosexuality,” Game agrees. “But it also needs to take on a stance of being a safe place for those that are affected by homosexuality, whether they are affected by it as an individual struggling with it or as a member of a family with a gay child.”
Just as churches provide divorce care and addiction care, the church needs to offer a safe environment for family members and individuals to discuss their personal struggles with homosexuality.
“We don’t have to have all the answers,” Game advises. “A lot of times, people just need to be able to talk. They need to know they won’t be persecuted for sharing what they have going on in their lives. And they need somebody to pray with them.
“How many times have we prayed for somebody and admitted to them, ‘I don’t really have an answer for your question, but God does? God has an answer for your situation,'” Game continues. “Sometimes it is enough just to be someone who is there for them and who will pray for them,” he says.
During this transition time, the homosexual needs grace from the church to give them time; people who will come beside them and help show them the way, pray with them, and help them understand scripture; and people who will be patient with them, and not run away or reject them if they fall, but help them know that everybody occasionally messes up.”
In that way, Christians will “allow the light of Jesus Christ to shine into even the darkest of dark areas,” Game concludes.
NAMB leader, counseling center workers say greater response needed by churches
The new pregnancy care ministries associate at the North American Mission Board couldn’t agree more with a recent survey of evangelical leaders that identified abortion as one of the 10 most important issues today’s church must address.
“Nationally, one in four pregnancies ends in abortion,” asserts Elaine Ham, underscoring the need for Southern Baptists to be more involved in crisis pregnancy counseling since abortion is more common than most Christians realize.
Across the nation, approximately 3,850 abortions occur every day, according to statistics from Planned Parenthood provided on the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s website.
“Abortion is something that many women do not feel the freedom to talk about,” explains Ham, who served as director of development for the Piedmont Women’s Center before taking the position at NAMB. “No one wants to admit they’ve had one, but many are hurting and need healing through Christ.”
Her colleague, Lenna Neill, chief executive officer of the Piedmont Women’s Center in Greenville for the past 14 years, agrees, “Abortion is causing a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological harm to women and their families.”
Neill observes that this problem is compounded because some women who have experienced abortions may turn to alcohol, drugs or domestic violence to escape the anger, disappointment, embarrassment and grief often associated with an abortion.
Although the abortion rate has dropped in South Carolina during the past 15 years from a high of 14,133 in 1988 to 6,573 in 2003 — resulting in an estimated 66,110 babies saved, according to the South Carolina Citizens for Life website — there is still much work to be done.
Even inside the church, Neill says, there is surprisingly only a small difference comparatively in the number choosing to have abortions. “One out of four or five women within the local church has had an abortion,” she notes, “and three out of four of these women experience intense grief and guilt, and may even feel that they can’t be forgiven.”
Pointing to 42 million abortions in the past three decades, the 1,300 evangelical leaders who responded to a LifeWay Christian Resources survey believe — like these counselors — that sanctity of life must be highlighted within the church to help Christians understand the magnitude of the problem and formulate a biblical response. How are some S.C. churches responding?
Currently about 25 evangelical women’s centers across the state partner with churches for referrals and follow-up, providing crisis pregnancy counseling to abortion-vulnerable women, benevolent care to mothers and their newborns, and abortion recovery workshops.
Crisis pregnancy counseling is a much- needed ministry “because of the many lives that have been saved,” asserts Judy Brown, a volunteer counselor at Piedmont Women’s Center in Greer.
Brown, a member of First Baptist Church, Taylors, and wife of a retired South Carolina Baptist pastor, felt specifically called to minister to young women in crisis about six years ago. She first learned of the work of Piedmont Women’s Center in her Sunday school class and through a bulletin insert at a church where her husband, Fred, was supply preaching.
A member of the Christian Life and Public Affairs Committee of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Brown sees her work as a key component of the church’s response to the abortion issue. She and the other counselors at Piedmont Women’s Center present the gospel to all who come into one of its three centers. Brown says. “What a joy it is to be the one who leads someone to Christ!”
“Many women have come into our center thinking it was an abortion clinic, and they have changed their minds after seeing the results of a free ultrasound,” explains the volunteer counselor. This is supported by recent Focus on the Family research that shows 57 percent of abortion-minded women who receive pregnancy counseling alone will change their minds, but if they are also shown their babies on an ultrasound, 79 percent will choose life.
Ham, a recent recipient of the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s E.A. McDowell award for innovative work in social ministries, which included the “Baby Bottle Boomerang” project that raised more than $10 million nationally for ultrasound equipment, emphasizes that churches play a vital role in supporting these ministries through providing both funding and volunteers.
Many churches also host baby showers to provide women who choose not to have abortions with maternity outfits, baby clothing, blankets, cribs, diapers, food, toys and other supplies. Some Sunday school classes and Woman’s Missionary Union groups have adopted the mothers and their newborns as ongoing community missions projects.
Neill’s desire is for “any woman in crisis to think first about going to Piedmont Women’s Centers, rather than to an abortion clinic,” and she wants pastors to know that the pregnancy counseling centers are available as resources for providing speakers, training volunteer counselors, and offering abortion recovery seminars.
Last year alone, she estimated, Piedmont Women’s Center in Greenville saw about 3,000 women, many of whom crossed the line from neighboring states. While numbers of actual abortions prevented are hard to track, Neill can account for about 100 decisions for Christ and well over 125 babies spared. “Those are good numbers,” she says, “but not near what we should have.”
Women who come into the center are greeted with love and compassion, Neill emphasizes. “Sometimes we want to be so candid with them. We want to say to them, ‘You wanted to go to the clinic next door, but God spared you and brought you into our door. Can you not see that God has given you a way out?'” Why is more involvement still needed?
“Churches have really stepped up to this issue by starting and supporting women’s centers,” Neill underscored. “Without the churches, many of these centers could not exist.”
Much of the recent drop in the rate of abortions, Neill attributes to pastors talking more about the sanctity of human life and a growing awareness of life issues through the media.
“We are seeing more about ultrasounds and fetal development on television programs,” she explains. “Embryonic stem cell and euthanasia issues are in the news regularly. And people are having to talk more about when does life begin and how should it end.
“People are always having to assess what their beliefs are,” she says, “and that’s a good thing. As they continue to talk about issues and look for answers, the church can say, ‘For foundation and character, you need to look to the One who has a plan for your life.'”
Southern Baptists pastors have a major role in helping shape the culture, Ham underscores, pointing to the successes of abstinence programs such as “True Love Waits” and other “sexually pure” emphases among teenagers.
“If Southern Baptist don’t set the example, who will?” Ham asks. “We are the largest evangelical denomination in the country. We value life and believe the Bible from cover to cover, and the Bible tells us that God creates life,” she continues.
“Yet, we are looking the other way when women are aborting their children, when they need someone to stand with them and tell them there are other options,” Ham adds. “They are in crisis, and many are open to hearing solutions,” Ham notes. “The reality is that only Christ makes a long term difference in their lives.”
Recovery workshops help women work through depression and emotional needs. “They have a hunger for what we have to offer,” Neill says. “They are desperate for spiritual help, even if they are not intentionally seeking the Lord.”
Churches must be willing to “go where people are hurting and be the feet and hands of Christ,” Neill urges, adding that for her there is nothing so rewarding as seeing a woman walk in the center where she works — with her newborn in her arms — just to say, “Thanks.”