Entries Tagged as 'Missions'

Chuck Lawless on his Love and Concern for Southern Baptists

Chuck Lawless is the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a former pastor and has authored a number of books, including Membership Matters, Discipled Warriors, Serving in Your Church Prayer Ministry, and Eating the Elephant. Today Baptist Press has published an outstanding "First Person" by Dr. Lawless titled "Why I Love Southern Baptists … and Why I am Concerned." I think he is spot on. My prayer is that the SBC would enjoy a "gospel resurgence" in the next few years, which I am convinced will result in a renewed commitment to the Great Commission, a rediscovered biblical Baptist identity, an increase in the number of new converts we are baptizing, and a recovery of a disciplined regenerate church membership. 

American Football in Central Asia

helmet     If there are two things that the Akin’s will be talking about when they get together it is football and Theology… The Akin family loves college football, except the oddball Paul (he thinks he is a real GM in fantasy football; he errs on the word “fantasy”), and on most Saturdays we are watching and text messaging each other about football games, especially SEC football (unquestionably the best conference). On the other hand, many of our other conversations center on topics from charismatic revelatory manifestations to Calvinism to emerging church methods and everything in-between. Tim, the youngest, has found a way to wed these two favorite pastimes of the Akin clan together. He and his wife Anna have the amazing opportunity to coach an American college football team (different than the futbol of the rest of the globe, we are talking pigskins here) in Central Asia.

    They have been joined on this trip by Josh Lanford and Jeremy Lyons. This group of young men and Anna are currently meeting the team Tim will be coaching and instructing them in “real” football. I am writing this to ask for those who read this blog to pray for the work that will be going on this area of the world. I ask for prayer that the Spirit would move in a mighty way to draw men to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that even now the Spirit would be moving with power and authority and conviction in the lives of these men who probably do not even realize that there is something so much greater than football that will be imparted to them. If you would like to know of ways that you can help support them you can email me at nateakin@gmail.com. Please pray for their safety, but more than that pray for something of eternal significance to happen. Oh yeah, and if you see the Akin’s just know that we are still talking football and theology, and at least one of us has figured a way to use this to make a difference for the Kingdom of Christ, now that will make an older brother proud of a younger.

What Does it Mean to be a Missions-Minded Southern Baptist Church?

What does it mean to be a missions-minded Southern Baptist pastor or church? I think this is an important question, and several events over the past six months or so have set me to pondering this issue. First has been the renewed emphasis on global missions at Southeastern, where our mission statement claims that "Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission." Our unofficial motto has become "every classroom a Great Commission classroom." A zeal for the nations is evident among our students, faculty, and staff, even those who do not feel a specific calling to be career or long-term missionaries. I doubt we are the only SBC seminary characterized by a passion for the Great Commission. So what do/will the churches led by these students and attended by these faculty and staff look like?

Another reason I have been pondering this question is because of the ever-increasing emphasis on being "Great Commission churches." This emphasis comes in many forms. The International Mission Board has a variety of programs that allow individual churches to partner with specific missionaries or "adopt" an unreached people group. The missional movement, both within the SBC and in other forms, has strongly emphasized the need for cross-cultural missions, both internationally and in North America. In those circles where John Piper has influence, he modeled one way of being an American pastor with a heart for the nations, particularly through his popular book Let the Nations Be Glad! And, of course, churches of many shapes, sizes, and theological convictions are not participating in short-term mission trips to other countries.

A third reason I wonder about this is because I sense the definition is changing from what it has historically meant to be a missions-minded SBC church. To put it bluntly, it seems no longer enough to simply pray for missionaries and give generously to the Cooperative Program. But that is exactly what it meant to be a missions-minded SBC church even a generation ago. Two examples will suffice.

Example one: In John Burton's biography of long-time FBC Dallas pastor George W. Truett, the final chapter is titled "The Preacher and Missions." The chapter is a thirteen page recounting of all the ways Truett led his church to give money for missionary causes, particularly the Seventy-Five Million Campaign and the Cooperative Program. It ends by talking about the role Truett played in building the denomination. In a chapter about missions. For the author, denomination-building and being missions-minded were two sides of the same coin. It is no coincidence that Burton wrote the biography in 1946, when the SBC was just entering into a fifteen-year period where programming, efficiency, and financial support replaced doctrinal convictions as the heart of Southern Baptist identity. [See Joe W. Burton, Prince of the Pulpit: A Pen Picture of George W. Truett at Work (Zondervan, 1946), pp. 69-82.]

Example two: Back in the spring I gave a talk at FBC Durham on the history of mission involvement at our church. I spent some time poking around in the church archives, and I came to several conclusions. First, for FBC Durham, until about 30 years ago the primary way we participated in missions was through giving to the Cooperative Program. Second, the primary way we connected with missions was through the teaching and prayer emphasis of the church's Woman's Missionary Union (WMU). Third, with the exception of a handful of church members who became career missionaries, from 1845 to 1977 our church had almost no experience with the actual practice of missions. Finally, that began to change in 1977 when our church called a former missionary to be pastor. He led the church to engage in short-term trips, initially to the Caribbean. In the last thirty years, two of our church's four pastors had international missionary experience prior to assuming the pastorate (including our current pastor, Andy Davis) and the church has participated in literally dozens of mission trips, including seven or eight this year. What it means to be a missions-minded SBC church has changed for FBC Durham; though we still give liberally to the CP and to other mission endeavors, that is no longer considered enough. We actually do missions now. I suspect other churches share this testimony.

So back to my initial question: what does it mean in 2007 for a Southern Baptist church or pastor to be missions-minded? What is the best way to measure a church's commitment to taking the gospel to the nations? Is it still financial giving, either through the denomination or through other means? Is it still having programs like WMU? Is it still through praying regularly for missionaries? Is it critical–perhaps even mandatory–to actually participate in short-term mission trips? What about identifying and cultivating potential career or long-term missionaries from within the body? How do we know our churches are doing all that they can to facilitate the spreading of the gospel to every tribe, tongue, and nation?

And here's the money question: how much of our missions-mindedness ought to be tied to denominational programs?

I am itching to hear your thoughts. 

Global Missions

Global missions stands at the heart of what it means to be a Southern Baptist. It does not look like that’s going to change anytime soon. However, the unanswered question for our generation concerning the mission of God is: How great, and with what intensity, will the Spirit of God blow through our churches, seminaries, and our own hearts to accomplish his purposes among the nations? 

Baptist heroes such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Charles Spurgeon challenged people to reflect on the statement, “The question is not ‘Should I go?’ but ‘How can I stay?’” I would ask the readers of this blog to join me in asking the same question with serious prayer and sober reflection. With over six billion people spread across the globe and the vast majority of those in an area with little or no gospel influence, we must consistently consider and reconsider how we are fulfilling Christ’s command to reach the nations.

The students at SEBTS (at least those in chapel) have been encouraged and challenged to consider the joyful mandate Christ places on his disciples in the Great Commission. Please listen to the two missions sermons delivered in chapel this week by Dr. Danny Akin and Dr. Bruce Ashford. Dr. Akin preached on the Great Commission with insights from the life of William Carey. Dr. Ashford challenged hearers from Romans 1:14-17. The sermons are here.

What practical ways can we challenge people to consider the cause of global missions? Is it passing on a sermon like these? Is it giving them a copy of Elisabeth Elliot's Through Gates of Splendor or John Piper's Let the Nations Be Glad!? Is it one on one conversations, asking each other the hard questions of discipleship? Questions like, "Are you willing to live 20,000 miles from home?" "Where is your home?" "What is keeping you here?" "Are you fully surrendered to the Lord's will for your life?" There is joy set before those who put their yes on God's table. I pray that includes us. May God’s Spirit grant us repentance and a great infusion of missionary zeal in the days ahead.

On Church Planting versus Church Reforming

Nine Marks Ministries has recently launched a new group blog called "Church Matters." Not surprisingly, it has been a very active blog in the three weeks or so that it has been up and running. I have particularly enjoyed a recent discussion that took place at Church Matters concerning whether it is better to plant new churches or attempt to reform existing churches. See the posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I am torn on this question. On the one hand, I am a huge fan of church planting and have several good friends who are planting churches in various places. Furthermore, I teach at Southeastern Seminary, where we put a great deal of emphasis on North American church planting. I have heard Dr. Akin remark on a number of occasions that his advice to seminarians is to plant churches where there are few rather than pastor existing congregations, especially close to the area where you grew up. So I greatly appreciate church planting, particularly in areas that are in great need of a gospel witness like New England and the Pacific Northwest (see Greg Gilbert's post, which is the final link above).

On the other hand, as an historian I appreciate churches with longstanding traditions of gospel faithfulness, even if some of those churches have strayed from that heritage in recent days. The church I am a member of was an absolute mess as recently as 15 years ago, and it took two different pastors and several explosive business meetings to get the church to the place it is today. We are now a gospel-driven, Great Commission congregation. If the lay leadership of our church, circa 1988, had succeeded in making their agenda normative, we could have become a gospel-denying, leftist social justice outpost. So I have a great appreciation for reforming local churches according to God's Word.

What think ye? As you formulate your response, try not to equate "reform" with Calvinism. Though Nine Marks is committed to Calvinism, I understand many (perhaps most) of our readers would not consider themselves "five point" Calvinists. So in regard to planting versus reforming, consider the latter to represent whatever you believe constitutes proper church order and a biblical approach to gospel ministry. Unless of course your convictions look a lot like Nine Marks, in which case it is perfectly acceptable to equate "church reform" with "Reformed church!"

Full of Potential

Today as I placed the last minute details on a trip that has been months in the making, I was struck with awe and wonder at the plans God prepares for His children. In two weeks I will be on the road with a group of twelve teenagers in my care, five hours away from home, for six whole days. Honestly my mind has been glued to thoughts of the impact we hope to have on the children in the area where we will be doing Backyard Bible Clubs. It wasn't until late today that I stopped to reflect on my first missions experience.

I was a goofy seventh grader excited to be venturing outside of the city limits of my small town. I had no clue what to expect, but God knew what I would experience. It was there in New Orleans that I had my first touch with a ministry surviving on the backs and prayers of volunteers, instead of on the cash of a wealthy congregation. It was the first time I had ever seen poverty or homelessness in person. It was also the first time I had ever heard the gospel being shared, amazingly enough, outside the walls of a church. As I look back, I can see how God was laying the very first building blocks of my call into the ministry.

This will be the first missions experience for almost every student leaving with me in two weeks. They will be sretched to give without receiving in return, to love because they were first loved, and to tell because they have heard. Oh how I wonder what they will touch, see, and hear! I am both honored and humbled that God is allowing me to lead these twelve students on part of the journey with their Creator.

What were some of the "firsts" God used to prepare you for ministry?

Lott Cary: A Missionary of the Cross of Christ

What would seem like happenstance this afternoon has turned out to be a wonderful and smiling providence. I thought I was searching for a particular book on hermeneutics in an untidy office, when, by God's grace, I found an out of place biography. Soon my afternoon was spent in tears of joy and praise of a glorious Savior that gives good gifts to his people. The good gift to me today was the missionary biography of Lott Cary.

Cary was born into slavery in 1780. At the age of twenty-four he was sent to Richmond to work in the tobacco warehouses. He showed no signs of grace, in fact, his biographer states that he was given to drunkenness and swearing. Several years later, out of this wickedness, the Lord revealed his sinfulness to him and glories of Christ. This "omnipotent grace" in his life was evidenced by an immediate change in his conduct. His biographer James Braxton Taylor states, "He whose tongue was wont to profane the name of the Most High, was now taught to address Him in accents of prayer and praise." (12) Soon after, in 1807, he joined the Baptist church in Richmond, Virginia.

Immediately after his conversion the Lord began to prepare him for the ministry. Cary was illiterate. He did not even know the letters of the alphabet. After being so captured by a sermon preached from John 3, he decided that he must be able to read these great texts of Scripture for himself. Through much prayer and much effort he learned first the alphabet from John 3, and then taught himself to read from the same passage. This passion for the knowledge of the Word would drive him for the rest of his life. His desire to mold himself by God's Word was also seen in his work habits. He became known for his abilities and drive for hard work. At the warehouse he began to do his job so efficiently that the boss would give him bonuses for his efforts. He was also given freedoms to take the leftover portions of tobacco and sell them for his own benefit. This was quite unusual and a testimony to Cary's desire to please the Lord in whatever he put his hand toward. After just a few years he had earned enough money to purchase his freedom along with his family. The sum was $850, and vital for the task that the Lord had called him to.

Early after his conversion he displayed a desire for his neighbors, especially the Africans, to come to a saving knowledge of Christ. This desire grew in him to become a passion for his native land of Africa. Cary was integral in the formation of the Richmond African Missionary Society and later the American Baptist Mission Society and through these groups Cary would be able to fulfill his hopes to take the gospel to Africa.

This calling to Africa would come at great cost for Cary. He had a very comfortable life in Virginia, about as comfortable as possible for a freed man. He had his own farm and was one of the most respected workers in all of Richmond. He had also received the favor of many because of the sweet way that he preached Christ to the people. Yet all of that was not enough to hold him back. Upon hearing that he was planning on leaving for Africa his boss offered him a salary of $1000 per year which was unheard of at the time, but that was not enough to have him reconsider his calling.

After much examination he was appointed as a missionary to Liberia, Africa. Things moved quickly for him and before long a ship was ready to carry he and his family to their God ordained place of ministry. Cary was asked to preach a farewell sermon from the pulpit of the first Baptist church of Richmond. His text was Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also, freely give us all things.” Cary closed out his sermon with a strong call to the field; a call that rings true today as it did almost 200 years ago. His biographer Taylor records the end of the sermon,

“I am about to leave you, and expect to see your faces no more. I long to preach to the poor Africans the way of life and salvation. I don’t know what may befall me, whether I may find a grave in the ocean, or among the savage men, or more savage wild beasts on the coast of Africa; nor am I anxious what may become of me. I feel it my duty to go, and I very much fear, that many of those who preach the gospel in this country, will blush when the Saviour calls them to account of their labors in His cause, and tells them, ‘I commanded you to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature;” and with the most thrilling emphasis, looking round on his audience, he exclaimed, “the Saviour may ask, ‘where have you been? Where have you been? What have you been doing? Have you endeavored to the utmost of your ability to fulfill the commands I gave you? Or have you sought your own gratification, and your own ease, regardless of My commands?”(24)

With those words Cary departed to give his life for the sake of Christ. What an example; a man whose very life was a testimony to the gospel of Christ. He was born a slave and died and slave, but in quite different fashion. He died a slave of Jesus Christ, which is true freedom. And his freedom as a slave of Christ was used in giving his life for the sake of Christ to those who had not heard of the message of hope. May we all consider ourselves as slaves of Christ in such a way, and use our freedom as slaves to others so that we might win some. “Where have you been? Where have you been? What have you been doing? . . . have you sought your own gratification, and your own ease, regardless of [Christ’s] commands?”

The bulk of this post was taken from Biography of Elder Lott Cary by James Braxton Taylor, 1837. Reprinted in The African Preachers, Sprinkle Publications, 1998. The page numbers are to this edition.