Allow us to give a brief response to Jay Adkins’ post.
1. B21 champions the primacy of the local church.
We stand by our oft-repeated philosophy that the local church is primary and associations and conventions are secondary. Churches and pastors aren’t “servants” of NOBA, as Jay stated, or any association. Associations are supposed to serve the churches. Associations don’t do ministry. Local churches do.
Never once in the article did we degrade compassion ministries. We are for both planting and compassion. However, the local church is the institution ordained by King Jesus to uniquely carry out the Great Commission, evangelism and compassion ministries. Our desire is to see a local church movement in NOLA. We pray this discussion leads to that end.
2. B21’s purpose is to advance discussions that no one else is having.
Our purpose in this post – as with similar ones we’ve posted in the past on various other issues – is to advance discussion about how to best advance the Great Commission. Good brothers with good intentions can disagree on this issue and the best use of these properties without questioning one another’s integrity. We are happy to have the discussion and to disagree but want to do so in the right spirit. Dean never suggested that NOBA isn’t passionate about church planting. The question is one of strategy not value.
3. There actually seems to be agreement on the basic facts.
NOBA owns properties they plan to sell rather than use to house church plants, and some of the funds from those sells will be used for compassion ministries. Jay admits this in his post, and this was Dean’s contention.
While Jay admits that there’s a plan to sell at least three properties (Carver, Sims, and Hopeview Baptist), he’s quick to say that Carver and Sims are not church properties, though he admits a small congregation did use one of the facilities for a short time. We didn’t intend for our post to get into the nuances of ecclesiology. We don’t think the church is the building anyways, but rather the people. So, even though at least one of these compassion properties did house a church for a short time, we are happy to update our post for the sake of clarity by changing the phrase “church buildings” to “NOBA properties.” But again, the basic facts remain the same. NOBA owns properties it plans to sell rather than use to house church plants.
4. B21 did not act in a way that lacks integrity.
Jay claims that our post was not Christlike, that we are ignorant of what is actually happening in NOLA, and that we had no right to talk about what’s happening in NOLA.
That’s not the case. There was no violation of Matthew 18, which governs local church interaction in cases of discipline. That is not the situation here. There is no sin issue to address here; rather, we were simply trying to advance a discussion.
Also, to suggest that we never talked to anyone locally in NOLA is incorrect. We have. Many are frustrated on both sides of the issue.
Furthermore, Dean Inserra, who is part of B21, is a key partner in Send NOLA, thus he has a vested interest in advancing the discussion about the local strategy to reach NOLA.
5. A further clarification
In the original post it was stated that the church building on Magazine St. was abandoned. Jay stated that the facility does house “Valance Street Baptist Church.” We are happy to update our blog to reflect this; the problem is the current status of the property on Magazine St. is confusing at best.
Jay states that this church has “entered into a partnership with NOBA,” but that it’s not NOBA’s “prerogative to force a church to [do] anything, especially as it has to do with property.” Our question for the purposes of clarity would be, what exactly is meant by “entered into a partnership?” Is it something more formal than simply being part of the association? Does NOBA now own the property on Magazine St?
It is our understanding from a conversation with a local church planter that NOBA does own the property. This planter approached NOBA leadership about acquiring that building, and they were denied. So, while there is a church meeting on Magazine St. at present, the property belongs to NOBA and has at least been denied to 1 church planter.
This will be the last we address this issue. We will make the updates to the initial blog, and we stand by what we have written.
-The B21 Leadership Team
A Rebuttal to Dean Inserra’s “Send New Orleans: An Opportunity and a Challenge”
I have the great privilege to serve as the moderator of the New Orleans Baptist Association of Churches (NOBA) but what follows is just my personal reaction to yesterday’s blog post at B21 regarding the New Orleans Baptist Association. I’ve lived in the metro NOLA area for 13+ years and have been amazed at what a unique, diverse and challenging place this is to live and to serve. You learn things in NOLA that I’m convinced you can’t learn anywhere else. I often joke with our pastors that we are the “Island of Misfit Toys” of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are all so different. Our theologies are varied, our worship styles—assorted and our skin color—diverse yet we find great joy and community in our unity (tell me another association where the “big church” pastors are just as involved in associational life as are the “small church” pastors… including a former President of the SBC). Maybe it is because we know that those outside our Island don’t quite “get it” the way we do. Maybe it is simply the fact that spiritually-initiated wartime trench-oriented relationships are some of the strongest and most meaningful bonds forged. Whatever the reason, New Orleans is a different place and to that I say vive la difference. It is from that background that my desire to be transparent and truthful has been cultivated and it is from that perspective that I must respond to the recent B21 article from Dean Inserra titled, “Send New Orleans: An Opportunity and a Challenge.”
I was called today by a NOBA employee to let me know about this article. More concerning for me than even the content of the article is the fact that B21 didn’t contact our Executive Director, me who serves as moderator, nor any member of the Administrative Team to offer an opportunity to address what has been written about our local work. I believe the integrity of B21 is at stake here (a ministry that I both appreciate and am often encouraged by). When such an article is to be published, journalistic (not to mention spiritual) integrity requires that a full vetting take place and at least some sort of contact be made with the organization being addressed so that an appropriate rebuttal, or at least clarification, could be rendered.
I appreciate Dean Inserra’s leadership in guiding City Church of Tallahassee to adopt NOLA as a partner. We love our partners and we appreciate the thousands of short term missionaries and partner churches who have given their time, toil and treasure to help us engage our mission field, but one of the many things I have learned while pastoring a church that has housed thousands of volunteers is that a “trip down” and a “tour around” our area, albeit important to introduce our ministry to perspective partners, could not possibly provide the necessary backdrop to our unique work in what is considered by many to be one of the most complex and diverse Baptist associations in the SBC.
I am certain Dean offers these critiques from a place of true concern, nor do I expect him to understand the history and very involved background from which this dialogue springs however, the substance of the complaint in this blog post is so scant and misguided that it is difficult to know where to begin in response. Let me do this piece-by-piece, starting with the most direct statement made by Pastor Dean…
First, Dean posits,
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Church buildings used by church plants from our own denomination to battle lostness in a Send city is a slam-dunk, right? It should be, except for the challenge presented by the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA). As proof of God’s continued work in this city, NOBA now owns several of these vacant buildings. Tragically, it seems the Association is not interested in using these properties as facilities for church planting, the reason given that they would rather sell the buildings in order to fund local social justice ministries. (emphasis his)
Nothing could be further from the truth. NOBA has not sold a single church building. Further, to my knowledge, the association hasn’t sold a church building in the 13 years I’ve pastored in the area.
NOBA owns exactly 6 “church” buildings. All but 2 of them (4) are currently used by an established congregation, mission or church plant. Furthermore our ample association office complex has been the home of a number of other church plants throughout the years an is always available for planting. It is my hope that the 2 church buildings that currently do not house any congregations (Hopeview – which has been used as a roughed out volunteer center post-Katrina and Lake Forest – used as a warehouse for NOBA’s rebuild material) will one day either return to use as local church facilities (Lake Forest) or be sold and the proceeds used for church planting (Hopeview). In fact, NOBA has already invited the submission of a proposal for a future plant in the Lake Forest facility but nothing has been received. As for the Hopeview site, after consultation with church planting and church health strategist as well as local pastors, NOBA concluded that it was not feasible to return Hopeview to service as a church for a plethora of reasons; deemed it surplus property; and has listed it for sale. NOBA has received no proposals for the expected proceeds from the sale of Hopeview, nor has NOBA taken action regarding the disposition of said proceeds, which I hope to see used for planting purposes. (By the way, in an earlier tweet I made the mistake of saying “no church building we have is being sold” I should have said, “has not sold a single church building” I want to be very careful with my words and point out my mistake here). Dean made reference to one particular building on Magazine. That building, which he seems to think is empty, houses Valance Street Baptist Church and is the oldest SBC church building in NOBA. They have had a pastor for longer than I’ve lived here and have only recently entered into a partnership with NOBA to help it become a stronger work by…. wait for it… submitting to become a NOBA church plant/replant. It is not the association’s prerogative to force a church to anything, especially as it has do with property.
Now, if Dean is referring to the sale of two former compassion ministry sights (Carver and Rachel Sims) then that is another story. First of all, these buildings are not and never have been “church properties” (although a small mission church did for a short time utilize one of the large cavernous facilities) Second, these buildings were given to NOBA during the time NAMB was ridding itself of compassion ministry sites. When representatives from NOBA went to visit NAMB’s leadership to share our newly minted and ratified areas of focus—church health, church planting and compassion ministries—we identified our desire to reach into underserved communities with the gospel witness through compassion ministries including the possible introduction of a health clinic. NAMB loved the idea. Thus, for a number of years we have planned on selling these two properties to help further our compassion ministry efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward – where today we have the first of what I hope to be a number of gospel centered medical ministries in which our doctors tend to physical needs while also praying for and encouraging its patients. Tell me of another Baptist association that has a medical clinic.
Dean also argues, “the money invested in these ministries will be spent and gone for good.” Again, he is mistaken. Our hope is that this is an investment which will have a financial return to our association to further our vision. To suggest that we are impeding church planting by investing funds into compassion ministries is tantamount to suggesting that a church is not about global missions if it also is involved with funding local ministry. Dean also suggests, “One would think that starting and maintaining healthy churches would be the priority for a local association, rather than social programs.” Wow, I’m not sure how to respond here. Dean is simply presenting the fallacy of a false dilemma. Why can’t we do both? Further, we are not just talking about “social programs.” We are talking about meeting the physical needs of a neglected and underserved community (something that Jesus himself did). The fact is, not every penny spent by NOBA will go to church planting. NOBA has a gospel-centered strategy to expand the kingdom of Christ across the greater New Orleans region that involves three prongs: Church planting, Church health and Compassion Ministries; or as some have described it—Sharing Jesus, Starting Churches and Shaping Culture.
Pair that with the fact that, if you will allow this analogy, the “church-planting” faucet (so to speak) is wide open. A significant amount of funds are available from the SBC, the LBC and church partners from all around the country for church planting. There are however, NO funds for compassion ministries through CP efforts (however, since my original post one brother has let me know that there are some funds for local churches to engage in compassion type ministries). That we need to defend why we want to use this one-time asset (which was dedicated to compassion ministries) for the furtherance of our compassion ministry is very frustrating to me, especially when it comes from someone in another state who clearly has some but not all the information. I’ve already had friends from around the country contact me about this. That this post might jeopardize our current and the possibility of future partnerships is upsetting and such irresponsible misinformation is disappointing to say the least.
To suggest that NOBA is not passionate about church planting is absurd. NOBA and its churches have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to church planting and church planters in an effort to see this city inundated with the Gospel. We have used both NOBA owned and our locally owned buildings to house plants. My small church has relationships with two plants outside of our state (Utah and Vermont) and one in the next community over from ours. No one, and I mean NO ONE has any more heart for this city than those of us who daily work and labor here. To suggest otherwise is, and I’ll say it as nicely as I can, without understanding. The men and women, pastors and servants of NOBA work together in a way I have seen no other association do in order to fulfill our cooperative call to exalt Christ. We do so with joy in our diversity and singleness of heart in our effort.
You want to know about church planting / church life in southeast Louisiana? Come for a visit and talk to those of us who have walked it. I’d encourage you to get to know the pastors who have grown up here, those of us who were here through Katrina, and those who have come here to plant and pastor since that deluge. We will continue to prayerfully seek God’s direction for our association to impact our neighbors around our home. At least, if you’re going to publish something about our work, talk to one of us first… please.
Editorial Note and UPDATE: I have come to understand where the author of the original blog received his limited information. Although I am very disappointed with the circumstances surrounding this stir and I remain indignant that this piece was written, much less published without an attempt at engaging the Executive Director or the Administrative Team of NOBA. That was simply not the way Christ tells us to deal with others… at all. In fact, it is contrary to Scripture. I do however, now know that there was no intention on the part of the author or publisher to present false information. He seems to have been speaking from what what he was told. What is clear to me is that he only had bits and pieces of information. What remains disappointing is that such an article was written in the first place considering our work is a local Baptist work and historically, entities and individuals outside of an association do not have a place to nor should they be lodging complaints or directives toward an association that is not their own… especially about properties owned by the association. Because of that I want to make a couple of adjustments to my post. Anywhere I suggested or insinuated that someone was deliberately presenting false information I am retracting. Understand that I am NOT retracting the facts I have carefully presented nor am I discounting my disappointment with the article and its deployment but knowing that there was no deliberate attempt to deceive is enough for me to soften my language in some areas.
I believe in the vision of Dr. Kevin Ezell and the call to participate in Send North America under his leadership at the North American Mission Board. For the church I pastor in Tallahassee, FL, part of helping to carry out that vision has been for us to become a lead church-planting partner by adopting the city of New Orleans, one of the strategic cities in the Send North America initiative. After visiting the city with some of our staff from City Church, we fell in love with the city, and saw the great need to help lead a church planting movement in the Big Easy, a place with little evangelical presence.
Send New Orleans: The Opportunity
The harvest is plenty as twenty-five percent of Louisiana residents live in the New Orleans region. Reaching New Orleans with the gospel would impact the entire state. This great American city has endured a tremendous amount of pain following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, yet it continues to boast a proud local culture that celebrates its uniqueness through food, sports teams, music, and regular festivals.
Though it is located deep in the South, New Orleans more closely resembles a European city than it does one in the Bible belt. There is a great Catholic influence, which often creates confusion between understanding religion and actually believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. As of 2012, over 900,000 people live New Orleans, yet we have only one SBC Church for every 8,011 residents. During our visit, our staff took an uncomfortable walk down Bourbon Street and felt like we were walking through Sodom or Nineveh. We prayed we would see the city the way Jesus would, and have great compassion.
In the face of a culture of lostness, the good news is that Southern Baptists are currently perceived mostly positively in this ethnically and religiously diverse city. This is largely due to the election of locally revered Pastor Fred Luter as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the outstanding response by the SBC to the disaster following Katrina. With such an opportunity to truly reach a city in desperate need of Christ, the time to act is now.
I am confident that NAMB has the right plan in place to push back the lostness currently stretching across this unique city. With more than seventy distinct neighborhoods for residents to claim as home, a parish-type model of planting a minimum of one church per neighborhood is what it is going to take to reach this city. One neighborhood at a time, we will push back lostness through healthy church planting and disciple making.
Land and buildings required to plant are rare finds in this dense and crowded city, and that is going to be a great barrier to this mission, especially in the necessary model of reaching over seventy neighborhoods. Abandoned church buildings and other properties have great potential to serve as local catalysts to new works.
Sadly, it seems that many of these resources (NOBA properties) currently remain untapped. On our recent tour, several of these NOBA properties were pointed out to us.
I believe that if these historic buildings were utilized to build healthy churches once again, the investments made by generations of believers would not be in vain, and the city could see its greatest days ahead.
Send New Orleans: The Challenge
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Baptist properties used by church plants from our own denomination to battle lostness in a Send city is a slam-dunk, right? It should be, except for the challenge presented by the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA).
As proof of God’s continued work in this city, NOBA now owns several vacant properties. Tragically, it seems the Association is not interested in using these properties as facilities for church planting, the reason given that they would rather sell the buildings in order to fund local social justice ministries.
While we should celebrate compassion ministries that show love to the city, the money invested in these ministries will be spent and gone for good. Allowing a church or NAMB to have the buildings will support an initiative whose legacy will last for generations. One would think that starting and maintaining healthy churches would be the priority for a local association, rather than social programs. In fact, new plants could oversee social justice efforts that operate as ministries of their own, allowing local churches to bless the neighborhoods where they are planted. This also would give them another avenue for effective evangelism.
Send New Orleans: Time to Act
Available space is obviously a massive issue for planting churches in New Orleans, and as a result, becomes a barrier to the forward movement of the gospel in the city. In several of the neighborhoods currently being targeted by Send New Orleans, baptist properties exist, buildings that are owned by the New Orleans Baptist Association. Are you scratching your head like I am? I know the people of the Association are good folks doing good gospel work, but this is unacceptable. Far too often, bureaucracy causes us to be timid in calling something as it is. Whether this is an issue of turf protection or something else, it must change as soon as possible. Let us pray together, and even demand for this to happen. I am calling on the New Orleans Baptist Association to donate those properties to NAMB. Let the process of reaching that great city with the gospel of Jesus Christ begin through healthy church planting. The plan is in place, it is time to act.
-Dean Inserra, Lead Pastor of City Church, Tallahassee
Update: We have updated for clarity
Update: Jay Adkins is the moderator for NOBA. He has responded to this blog and we have posted it here on B21.
The Celtic’s Boston Garden. The Bull’s Madhouse on Madison Street. The Laker’s Forum. These are a few of the most famous arenas in NBA history. The reason those arenas are so famous has nothing to do with the types of materials used to make them. There were no magic powers infused in the structures. The reason these arenas are so famous has to do with the fact that they were the places where the NBA’s greatest competition was put on display. Whether it was Bird’s Celtics, Jordan’s Bulls, or Magic’s Lakers, these arenas put on display some of the most incredible basketball games known to humankind. The NBA plays all their games in arenas, but only a few arenas standout for the competition that they’ve housed.
Our lives are a little bit like this. Although every “arena” in our lives should display our love for Jesus—whether we are eating, drinking, or whatever we do—there are a few key arenas that stand out above the rest (1 Cor 10:31). There are a few key arenas where our love for Jesus faces its greatest competition. So as you make your way through 2015, I’d like to offer 3 arenas to focus on showing your love for Jesus.
Show Your Love for Jesus Through Personal Bible Consumption and Prayer
It doesn’t matter if you have a “date night” every week, if there isn’t genuine, focused listening and talking, your marriage relationship won’t grow. Checking things off a list won’t grow a relationship, real communication will. And this isn’t unique to marriage. If you want to grow any relationship there has to be talking and listening.
The same is true with Jesus. If you say you love Jesus but you don’t consistently spend time listening to him through his word and speaking to him in prayer, you don’t love Jesus. Your relationship with Jesus won’t grow. This doesn’t mean you have to read the whole Bible through. There isn’t a verse in the Bible that says you need to read the Bible through in a year. I’d rather see people read Ephesians over and over all year than read 30 chapters of Genesis and never read the Bible again. Your personal Bible consumption and prayer life are a key arena to display your love for Jesus in 2015.
Show Your Love for Jesus Through Your Work
I knew Tom was a spy. At least, I thought I knew. Tom is the husband of Elizabeth Keen, one of the central characters on the show Blacklist—a show filled with spies. But it was difficult to know if Tom was a spy for sure. After all, he acted like a normal husband in a lot of ways. He had a job and a wife and friends.
But over time, we began to see actions that let us know that he was indeed a spy—he was controlled by someone outside of his immediate situation that impacted the way he acted. His devotion to another controlled his work.
Christians are called to work like that. Only, instead of being controlled by evil direct reports outside of our context, we should manifest the righteousness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and excellence that our real direct report—Jesus—values. Sure, most of the time there won’t be any difference between us and our co-workers, but over time our love for Jesus should become clear. The way you approach your work—whether paid or unpaid—is a great arena to display your love for Jesus in 2015.
Show Your Love for Jesus Through Your Money Management
One of the main ways private investigators help spouses catch their spouse cheating is through the finances. The reason why this is such a consistent part of a PI’s work is because it is such an accurate indicator of what our heart loves. Sure, many of us spend our money on similar expenses—housing, gas, food, fun. But amongst these cheating spouses there is usually a strange pattern of giving that gives their true heart’s affection away.
Similarly, the Christian’s spending habits should indicate a heart affection that seems strange—not because of some love affair with another person, but because of our love for Jesus. A Christian’s spending patterns should reveal obvious indicators of their love for Jesus and his ways in the world. Whether that is 10% of your pre-tax income or more, we’d be hardpressed to look at the New Testament (Acts 2, 4, Heb 10, 2 Cor 8-9) and come to the conclusion that we should give less than 10% of your income toward the advancement of the mission of Christ. The way you handle your money is a great arena for showing your love for Jesus in 2015.
How are you doing in these key arenas for love of Jesus? Are you making a strong performance? Is there evidence that you love Jesus more than acclaim, security, power, control, and your reputation? If you’ve failed at these, don’t walk in shame and condemnation. Confess your shortcomings and sins to Jesus, experience his forgiveness, and walk in the freedom he has purchased for you on the cross in 2015 (1 Jn 1:9; Rom. 8:1).
Oxford University is concerned about pork. They wrote that writers should avoid mentioning “anything else which could be perceived as pork.” And while it is certainly good and loving to try to avoid unnecessarily offending each other, the timing of this adjustment is a bit curious. Why after hundreds of years of publishing did Oxford University press decide this was the time to make that specific adjustment? Coming in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy by a violent group of Muslims, it isn’t hard to see why Oxford might make this move for Muslims, while forgetting a wide range of other religions’ preferences. Violent Muslims are striking fear in the hearts of their neighbors.
But violence isn’t the only action that produces fear. A fire chief in Atlanta was fired for his views on sexuality, even though he was said to have never discriminated against anyone. Bakers and florists are being forced to provide services for weddings that they believe are wrong. College student ministries are being removed from campuses because of their views on sexuality. Even here in Nashville I’ve heard stories of employers asking their employees their views on sexuality.
It would be easy for Christians and people of good will to act out of a fear of their neighbor—whether it’s a violent Muslim, a religious liberty hating American, or anyone else that might seek to do them harm. It would be easy to live a life in a constant state of fear that there might be some misstep that could cost you your reputation, your job, or your life.
But does anyone want to live in that kind of world? Does anyone want to live in a world where that kind of fear is the norm? I don’t. A world where fear reigns is a world were creativity, beauty, truth, and goodness disappear. It’s a world where the unique gifts and skills that each person has to offer are missing. It’s a world that doesn’t achieve greatness. It’s North Korea.
But a life motivated and controlled by a fear of our neighbors isn’t the only way to live. There’s an alternative. We can choose to love our neighbors, opening ourselves up to whatever may come. We can choose to create a world where love reigns. Because when love reigns, creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth flourish. But in order to love in this way—to create this world—we’ll have to access the unique resources offered in Christianity’s gospel.
In short, a fear of neighbor can only be overcome when our fear of death is overcome. As Christians, we uniquely believe that our Savior defeated death through his substitutionary death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. We believe that he now freely offers forgiveness of sins and eternal life to a world that can receive this gift by faith. When we receive this eternal life we don’t have to fear our neighbor—even if death makes it to our front door—because we believe our Savior will undo any terrible act done to us. In Christ, death becomes a comma, not a period. Our best life is on the other side of the grave and it’s eternal.
Christians are uniquely equipped to create the kind of world we all want to live in because we are able to deal with this ultimate fear—the fear of death. In Christ, the fear of death is overcome which enables us to overcome fear of neighbor. This frees us up to love our enemies, to give our lives to creating a world where this kind of love reigns supreme, and to create the conditions needed for creativity, beauty, goodness, and truth to flourish.
If there’s no Christian God, then there should be great fear. After all, in this view your life is only in your own hands or the neighbor that intends to surprise you with great harm. Those that would intimidate your life control your life because there’s no God big enough to control them or undo their horrible acts. So fear is the rational response of those that don’t have a God powerful enough to raise them from the dead.
Let’s not live that way. Let’s not create that world. The world needs love, not fear. Only Christianity has the resources not to fear even the most fearful situations—the possibility of death. Why? We believe in a God who promises to raise us from the dead. Let’s not flinch, and let’s not hate in the face of intimidation. Let our fearlessness in Christ drive us to love our neighbors, whether they take our jobs or kill us for cartoons.