Reflections on the ERLC Conference 2014: Part 3

I recently attended the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” I am thoroughly encouraged by the work of this entity of our convention and the leadership of its president Dr. Russell Moore. The conference was designed to equip churches, pastors, and Christians to minister in our 21st century context on the issue of the future of marriage and sexuality. I would like to share 10 reflections on the conference:

 

  • This conversation must focus more on elevating Biblical marriage than highlighting what marriage is not – We should uphold Heterosexual marriage because Jesus did! Marriage points us to a greater reality – a reality that highlights the whole story of the Bible, of a King pursuing a bride at the cost of His life to rescue her, redeem her, and sanctify her to Himself so that they live in union forever. In this conversation, if there is capitulation, the gospel is muddied. Now to be clear, the gospel does not lose its power, but any union short of a man and a woman in marriage pictures something false about the gospel (Ephesians 5). The gospel is put on display when a husband (man) sacrificially provides and cares for his wife (a woman), and a wife lovingly respects and submits to her husband. That home gives a glimpse of an eschatological reality as the future consummation of the kingdom is brought into the present. So, we must speak up about biblical marriage – it isn’t a loving thing to muddy that glorious message. We must be known for what we are for – the glorious realities of biblical marriage – in a culture that so desperately needs to see and hear it. Danny Akin’s message from the conference particularly highlights biblical marriage.

 

  • This conversation must be done in compassion, conviction, and community – Many speakers pointed out our poor past history in relating to homosexuals, and many asked for forgiveness from them. It is clear in the past there has been much more condemnation than compassion. The tone and tenor of this meeting was a plea to relate to homosexuals with love and embrace rather than shouting or shun. Greear even said, “some gays and lesbians have been cast off by their parents in the name of Jesus, but that was Satan dressed up in Jesus’ clothing and using His name.” We must be driven by compassion the same way our Lord was when He saw the crowds. But this compassion must also have conviction. Moore says it this way, “we are to speak His words, but to speak them the way He does it.” Rosaria Butterfield reminded us that a homosexual’s greatest sin is not sexual; it’s unbelief.

 

Real love and compassion doesn’t stop with sentimentality but sees the holistic needs of a person. This will take a ministry, Moore reminded us, that does not relate to LGBT people as freaks to either be raged against or dismissed, but as people to be loved (that includes trying to understand why they believe the way they do) and ministered to.

 

Finally, all of this must be done in community. One of themes that rose to the top was the necessity of being a real Christian community in the church as we minister to the LGBT community. There are several reasons this is so important. First, the question of reparative therapy for LGBT came up often, and over and again the answer seemed clear. It is not compassionate if we merely teach Jesus will take away all of these temptations from you. He might, but the promise of the Gospel is not that you will be temptation free, but rather that in the midst of temptation you will be given the Spirit to fight and flee. However, in order to fight and flee by the power of the Spirit we are given another grace gift – the Christian community to spur us on to love and good deeds. Moore pointed out in a press breakfast that some of our Christian testimonies that only teach complete victory can be very discouraging to others because for some this will be a struggle for the rest of their lives until they see the King face-to-face. Jackie Hill Perry reminded us we do not fight sin in isolation. In addition, many from the LGBT community that consider Christ fear that if they turn to Him they will lose all sense of community that they have. We must share with them what Jesus shared with His disciples after the Rich Young Ruler turned away in Mark 10:29-30, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” And it must be true. We must be those brothers and sisters. I am so thankful for the tone of this conference (modeled so well by Moore and seen powerfully in the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield) and the call for compassion, conviction, and community.

 

  • This conversation is ultimately about the glory of God – David Platt reminded us that ultimately our gender and sexuality is for the glory of God. Platt pointed out that we are created as a demonstration of His glory to display His gospel. And yet, we will be judged by His righteous law (of which we have all fallen short). Christ, however, in amazing grace pursues us with redeeming love. In light of these gospel truths, Platt gave the implications for our lives. We must flee sexual immorality for the sake of His glory in the World as we live out His design as image bearers. We must display sexual complementarity in marriage for the spread and display of the gospel. We must see our singleness or marriage as a gift to be used for the glory of God in the world, particularly in the expanse of the gospel in all nations. This conversation is not ultimately about who can have sex with whom, but it is ultimately about the glory of God. We must teach that anything less will lack the proper motivation by which we use our bodies in this world!

 

  • We are incredibly thankful for the work of the ERLC to equip churches and pastors for this conversation – Baptist21 is extremely thankful for our partnership with the ERLC. You will be blessed, challenged, and equipped by the resources from this conference. Check out all the videos here! (Check out part 1 and part 2 of my reflections if you missed them)

The Southern Baptist Convention: An Introduction

 

“The Southern Baptist Convention is made up of many individuals, churches, and entities. Although most people understand the term Southern Baptist Convention to refer to the ongoing cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists, it can also be understood as referring to the annual two-day meeting. At this convention, messengers from Southern Baptist churches approve, adjust, or disapprove budgets, committee appointments, resolutions, and more. Though there is no literal convention for the balance of the year, denominational entities carry out their respective responsibilities until the next annual meeting.

The SBC is made up of more than 16 million members who hold membership in 44,848 autonomous, local churches.(1) By calling the churches autonomous, we mean that they make their own decisions on staffing, budget, and program. No one outside the churches holds this authority.

These churches join in 1,200 local associations. Associations place churches in close-knit networks for reaching an area. Some of these associations are supported by the state conventions, while some are not.

On a larger scale, the churches assemble in 41 state or regional conventions.(2) The state conventions (such as those of Alabama and Indiana) or regional conventions (such as those in New England and the Pacific Northwest) join with the associations in such efforts as evangelism training, church planting, Cooperative Program promotion, campus ministry, camp programs, and in many cases, they establish their own children’s homes and colleges.

Finally, Southern Baptist churches partner together at the national level, with several entities: six Southern Baptist seminaries, provide theological education— Southeastern in Wake Forest, North Carolina; Southern in Louisville, Kentucky; Southwestern in Ft. Worth, Texas; Golden Gate, in the San Francisco, California, area; Midwestern in Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans in, of course, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Besides the six seminaries, the SBC also has an International Mission Board, which sends and supports missionaries all over the world; an Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, providing resources and leadership on ethical issues; Guidestone Financial Resources providing financial planning, insurance, and annuities for church and denomination staff members; a North American Mission Board, supporting the state conventions in evangelism, missions, and ministry, such as disaster relief; an Historical Library and Archive, preserving the denomination’s heritage and assisting scholars in their studies; LifeWay Christian Resources, the SBC publishing house, with “biblical solutions for life”; and an Executive Committee coordinating the day-to-day functions of the SBC. In addition, the Women’s Missionary Union serves as an auxiliary in promoting missions.

The doctrinal center of this massive effort is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, expressing what Southern Baptists believe the Bible teaches about itself, and about God, man, Jesus, salvation, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, to name seven of its eighteen topics. While there are many things that are not covered in this document, Southern Baptists do believe that it addresses the key issues needed for cooperation.

The funding mechanism Southern Baptists use to support their various entities and ministries is called the Cooperative Program (CP). Established in 1925, the CP depends upon the undesignated gifts given to it by Southern Baptist churches. By unifying the funding, the CP provides a workable way through which tens of thousands of like-minded churches can cooperate for the advancement and application of the gospel.

Just as every family determines how much money to give to the local church, each Southern Baptist church determines how much to give to the Cooperative Program. Each state convention, then, determines how much money to keep in state and how much to send on to the national level. The SBC then divides the dollars it receives among its entities…. On average, state or regional conventions keep 63 percent of every CP dollar, while sending 37 percent on to the national level.

Of the money that reaches the SBC, 50 percent goes to the International Mission Board (IMB), 22.79 per- cent to the North American Mission Board (NAMB), 22.16 percent collectively to the six seminaries and the Historical Library and Archives, 1.65 percent to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 3.40 percent to the Executive Committee.(3)

Assuming the average state allocation, each CP dollar sent from the local church is divided along these lines: 63 cents for the state, 18.5 cents for the IMB, 8.43 cents for NAMB, 8.2 cents for the six seminaries, .61 cents for ERLC, and 1.26 cents for the Executive Committee. Guidestone, LifeWay, and the WMU do not receive CP funding.

It is also worth mentioning that there are a number of special missions offerings that take place throughout the year. The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goes directly to the North American Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering sends all its money directly to the International Mission Board….

… A basic understanding of the Southern Baptist Convention should provide Southern Baptists with a great sense of appreciation and ownership. The massive denominational effort did not come about easily and it will not stay faithful easily. We have all been given a gift. But this gift comes with responsibility. Southern Baptists must take ownership of their roles, asking the hard questions that our predecessors were willing to ask. With a laser beam focus on the advancement of the Great Commission, we must ask what the SBC should look like from top to bottom in order to be effective and faithful in the twenty-first century.”

 

Be sure to sign up for the Baptist21 panel where keynote speakers will talk about pressing and hot topics in the convention. Join B21, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Al Mohler, Thom Rainer, and Danny Akin during the lunch slot Thursday at this year’s convention. Register here.

 

Excerpt from my chapter in Retreat or Risk: A Call for a Great Commission Resurgence.

Notes

1. See www.sbc.net/aboutus/default.asp (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).

2. See http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/default.asp (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).

3. See http://www.cpmissions.net/2003/CPStatistics.asp (accessed Feb. 10, 2010).

 

Post by Jed Coppenger

9 Essentials of Church Planting – Part 2

Every so often I have a conversation with a dude that is considering church planting. And most of the conversations I have with guys considering or pursuing church planting include questions about what practical essentials a church planter should have. Over the past several years, through tons of conversations with church planters, people who train church planters, and my experience as a church planter, I have found that when these 9 essentials are present in the life of a church planter, the church planter is effective. The first four essentials were posted in Part 1. Here are the rest.

5. Growing in Self-Awareness – Assessments are important. But often their importance is misunderstood. Assessments aren’t important because they are some kind of test you pass or diploma you earn so you can go on and do what you want. Instead, they are a means by which you grow in your self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to discern your strengths and weaknesses, the way you handle situations and people, the way you handle those things under pressure, the way you respond to a crisis, and more. Self-awareness is a journey, not a destination. The greater self-awareness you have, the greater ability you will have to keep bombs from blowing up in your blind spots.

6. Growing in Idolatry-Awareness – Everyone is tempted to sin but everyone isn’t tempted to sin in the same ways. If you don’t know your idolatrous tendencies then you won’t know how to battle them and ask others help you battle them. If you don’t know how to do that, you’re going to ruin yourself, your family, and maybe everything else on the altar to that idol that is really in control. Your idol is what’s most important to you. And what’s most important to you defines your identity. And when your identity misplaced, bad things happen—really bad. Idolatry awareness is one level deeper than self-awareness. It isn’t afraid to ask questions like: If you were going to do this for the wrong reasons, what would those be? It finds out the reasons you’re so anxious, anger, and depressed. Growing in your idolatry awareness will help you battle every challenge that is making its way to your front door a few months in to your church plant. Rejecting your idols and finding your identity in Christ will enable you to live in peace, even when “failure” is staring you in the face.

7. Develop a Team With Complimentary Strengths – Once you have self-awareness and idol-awareness, you can better build out your team, whether these are paid or unpaid team members. Because you are aware of your idols and secure with your identity in Christ, you can freely face up to your weaknesses and shortcomings. You don’t have to hide or lie about them. Instead, you have the courage to identify weaknesses and shortcomings. Because you are self-aware, you know how to compensate for your weaknesses by building a team made up of people who have strengths where you don’t. Don’t hire someone with your strengths and wonder why things didn’t change. Become aware of your idols, strengths, and weaknesses, so you can put together a great team.

8. Lock Arms With Other Church Planters – Even though you may have a great team in place, it will be difficult for anyone on your team to know what your role is like. That’s why church planters are greatly helped by other church planters. You need brothers. You need camaraderie. You need to be able to hear church planters struggles and successes and be heard by them. You will see yourself in them and they in you. You will find encouragement even in struggle. You will find soberness even in success. Fellow church planters will have a perspective from which to encourage and challenge you in a way that no one else will. Don’t plant alone, lock arms with other church planters.

9. Identify an Experienced Church Planting Coach – Fellow church planters are important, but you also need father church planters. That is, you need a father in the faith that has church planting experience. You need someone who has actually done what you’re doing. And you want someone that has gone through all of the mess and difficulties of church planting life that you are facing without becoming bitter, resentful, and critical. You want someone who has walked through the fire of church planting and has come out refined, not hardened. Their perspective will give you the wisdom, confidence, encouragement, and inspiration you need to start and continue this new work.

The way these 9 essentials play out in the church planter’s life is messy. It’s always messy. And, of course, there’s more to church planting than these few things. But I haven’t come across an effective church planter that didn’t at least have these 9 essentials present in their life to one degree or another.

9 Essentials of a Church Planter – Part 1

Every so often I have a conversation with a dude that is considering church planting. And most of the conversations I have with guys considering or pursuing church planting include questions about what practical essentials a church planter should have. Over the past several years, through tons of conversations with church planters, people who train church planters, and my experience as a church planter, I have found that when these 9 essentials are present in the life of a church planter, the church planter is effective.

1. Strong Sense of God’s Leading – Planting church can’t be about your daddy, proving that you’re “somebody,” or anything like this. This isn’t some high school clothing fad that you need to be a part of so you know you’re cool. The reason you’re starting this new church has to include you sensing God leading you to take these next steps—in a life of limited steps—for the advancement of his kingdom. When you get this undeniable sense of his leading on your heart, you have something you’ll need throughout your church planting experience—the ability to follow God’s leading into the unknown. Sensing God’s leading isn’t just about an initial call, although it includes that. It’s about being a man of faith who is able to take courageous steps into the unknown of the mission of God for the glory of God. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue this pattern throughout your ministry.

2. Have a Committed Family – When you have a strong sense of God’s leading to church planting, you also need a family that is committed. Although the call begins personally, it has to include a committed family. Any new job opportunity impacts a family, regardless of the profession. But there are hardly any opportunities that will impact your family more than church planting. Your family will become a strategic target for the Enemy. The enemy will pay special attention to you and your family. And so will the folks in your church, regardless of your context. Because of this, your family will experience unique challenges. They aren’t called to be your staff, although they’ll probably help like it a time or two (or ten!). Church planting is messy, which is why you really need a committed family to be an effective church planter.

3. Be Local Church Proven – Local churches plant churches by sending qualified men out to start new endeavors. By qualified men, I mean a lot of things. Primarily, I mean that you should have a track record of being a faithful, effective, and catalytic leader within the local church. If you haven’t started a growing small group, you probably shouldn’t try to start a church. If you haven’t been the kind of church member needed to grow a church, you probably shouldn’t try to start a church. You may not be a part of a local church that has the vision to plant churches, but people that are considering investing in you should be able to easily track down a proven local church track record. If they can’t, push church planting into the future and invest in a local church for a while.

4. Have a Compelling Plan – There are a lot of gifted guys and gals talking about vision, mission, strategy, and all the rest these days. Of course, they disagree with one another on the nuanced definitions of each of those things. It can be a bit overwhelming. However you slice it, they are saying the same thing: you need a compelling plan. A compelling plan is clear about what you want to see happen, how you hope to see it happen in your particular context, and why it needs to happen in your particular context. A compelling plan is unshakably aligned with the Great Commission. This isn’t a plug-and-play plan that you heard at the last conference you went too. It is something that you have wrestled (and are wrestling with) with personally for a specific context for a specific time. Although this plan isn’t perfect, it has to be compelling enough to move people—some people—to join and fund this new work.

 

Concerns about Elevation Church

(Note: Before we released this article we sent it to Elevation church with the hope of opening dialogue about these concerns and learning from Elevation church and Pastor Furtick more about the things of which we were concerned. It has now been nearly a week and we have not heard back from them.)

The evangelical world is buzzing with concerns about the practices of Elevation Church and Pastor Steven Furtick (Click here for one article). Let us begin by saying that we are grateful for every good thing that God has done through Pastor Furtick and Elevation Church. Their zeal to see lost people saved is truly wonderful. And, we want to say with the Apostle Paul that we rejoice anytime the gospel is preached (Phil 1:15-18). Having said that, we do want to raise questions about whether or not the reported practices of Elevation Church are inconsistent with the gospel. We have hesitated to write about another pastor or church for many reasons, and we know that in doing so we open ourselves up for critique. Even so, we felt it necessary to raise these concerns for several reasons: first, we are concerned for our brother Pastor Furtick, and for his church. Second, we have members in our churches who are interacting with this story on social media, and we have a responsibility to address these issues as their shepherds. Third, since Elevation has sought to distribute their guide to spontaneous baptisms to other local churches (Click here), this is a public issue that affects more than one local church. We see some deep theological problems in these reported practices, so we want to raise some questions in hopes of helping our churches wrestle with what our practices communicate:

1)    Do our practices reveal a lack of confidence in the power of the gospel?

If a church follows these spontaneous baptism practices (click here for the How-To Guide), then it might reveal a lack of confidence in God’s Spirit and the gospel. At Pentecost, Peter didn’t plant people in the crowd to respond to the sermon. He didn’t assign people to “smile and clap,” create a “HUGE and over the top celebration,” or “pick young energetic people” to go first in order for God to perform a miracle (all direct quotes from the guide). Instead, he simply stood in the power of the Spirit, proclaimed the simple gospel of Christ crucified and risen, and a miracle happened. These types of practices sound very similar to what Paul references in 2 Corinthians 4:2 when he says, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul didn’t manipulate miracles. He trusted in the power of God to open blind eyes through the message about Jesus (2 Cor 4:1-6). (Note: It is also concerning that no where in the “How-To” document do they instruct potential churches who they are encouraging to follow their pattern to interview candidates about the gospel or give their testimony. In fact, the words “gospel” and “testimony” are not found in this document. This is no minor oversight because it could imply that regeneration is not necessary for baptism.

2)    Do we pull the verses out of context for our own purposes?

There seems in integral places to be misuse and poor interpretation of the Bible. One simple example is the coloring sheet (see the coloring sheet here) that uses Romans 13:1 to teach the kids at Elevation to submit to “the visionary,” Furtick. Romans 13 talks about the government not the pastors of the church. Certainly there are verses that talk about following pastoral leadership, but Romans 13 isn’t one of them. In addition, check out this blog (read blog here) about Furtick’s troubling use of “I Am” to also refer to human beings not just Yahweh. This is potentially dangerous teaching that sounds close to prosperity theology.

3)    Do we believe in the priesthood of the believers?

Repeated statements about the authority of pastor Furtick’s vision from God seems to communicate a pope-like role for the pastor (contra 1 Peter 5). The Elevation Code seems to have no place for the Priesthood of the Believers; instead, the priesthood seems to lie with the Visionary alone. Elevation Code 4 states, “We are united under one vision: Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.” This is quite problematic for two reasons among others: 1) The Scriptures indicate that all Christians can hear from God and know his plans for the church as outlined in the Bible. 2) We don’t need a priest to mediate these things to us because there is One Mediator (1 Tim 2:5).

Yes, the pastors are called to lead the church in accomplishing God’s mission (Heb 13; 1 Pet 5; etc.), but God in his goodness has also given a voice in decision-making to the congregation (cf. Acts 6; 13; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2; Gal 1).  Church leaders and the congregation hold one another accountable and serve on mission together.

4)    Do we believe that a pastor should shepherd his people?

There seems to be a wrong understanding of the role of the pastor in regard to the church at Elevation. In the Elevation Code (read the code here) it states, “We need your seat:  We will not cater to personal preference in our mission to reach this city. We are more concerned with the people we are trying to reach than the people we are trying to keep.” And in another clip on YouTube (Watch clip here), Furtick says “if you know Jesus, I am sorry to break it to you, this church is not for you.” On the surface, both of these statements seem right. Our mission – like our Savior’s – is to seek out and see the lost saved. However, these statements fly in the face of the Biblical witness. Paul told the Ephesian elders otherwise, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This doesn’t mean catering to personal preferences; it means that you have a weighty and high calling to protect, exhort, rebuke, encourage, pray for, and equip your sheep because you will give an account for them (Hebrews 13:17).

Yes, the church should be focused outward, but at the same time the pastor and the church should be focused inward to care for members (i.e. obey the one another commands). To say that we must choose one or the other is a false dichotomy not presented in the Bible. The early church’s love for one another was part of their corporate witness that led to people being added to their number daily (Acts 2:42-47).

5)    Where are the Bereans?

Finally, where have all the Bereans gone (Acts 17:11)? Why don’t more church people question what their pastor says to see if it squares with the Bible? Why does the coloring page not shock more parents? Why are more people not asking, “Does planting people in the crowd not violate 2 Corinthians 4?” Church members need to search the Scriptures to see if, as this graphic (View graphic here) indicates, what the Lead Pastor hears from God truly comes from God and is in line with the Scriptures.

These are important theological questions for all of us to ask ourselves. Do our practices reveal any of these theological concerns? It may not be our spontaneous baptism plan that lacks confidence in the gospel, just our lack of passion to share it. It may not be a coloring sheet with the pastor on it that shows a misuse of the scriptures, but we all have agendas that we will be tempted to paste a verse over. Out of concern for the witness of Christ’s church in the world, the clarity of the gospel and our own local churches, we need to answer these questions to the benefit of our own churches and ministry.

Nate and Jon Akin