Thoughts on the SBC, Charleston, and Revival Hope

June 22, 2015 Category :Blog| Leadership| Movements| Revival and Awakening 0

“Praying that the power of forgiveness expressed by the families of the victims in Charleston will ignite revival.. God, do it we pray…” @crawfordlorrits

“I want to be clear about yesterday: it was my family that was attacked at the church in Charleston. These were my brothers & sisters!” @dannyakin

Last week thousands of Southern Baptists descended on Columbus, Ohio, for our annual meeting. I joined the crowd, a larger and healthier crowd generationally and ethnically than we’ve seen for a few years. My first convention came 30 years earlier in Dallas where 45,000 were embroiled in the heart of the conservative resurgence. No such controversy prevailed this week.

In fact, this was the most unified, focused, and generally sweet convention I’ve ever attended. President Ronnie Floyd called to the convention to focus on revival and spiritual awakening, evoking terms from Jonathan Edwards in the First Great Awakening. In particular, visible union became evident early. I loved seeing all our seminary presidents reporting together, including a stirring video report by each president. How I loved seeing David Platt and Kevin Ezell of the IMB and NAMB respectively come together as well. This has been far too long in coming.

But for all these good things, the best was Tuesday night. A 2 ½ hour prayer vigil for revival at a national business meeting—who would’ve thought? The crowd was strong and the Spirit’s presence was evident. Intimacy is hard to attain in massive halls like where we met, but with those around me, intimacy in prayer was in fact experienced. I heard pastors after say they had never spent that much time praying with a group.

President Floyd had a litany of pastors lead in various emphases followed by times of prayer. What in my mind overshadowed it all was the beautiful multi-ethnicity represented by all the pastors involved. The most powerful moment for me – one I will long remember — came when Ted Traylor, long time SBC leader and pastor of the Olive Baptist Church in Florida, shared about his own journey to love brethren regardless of color. We need to be real, and it was a real moment. The embracing, praying, and rejoicing across ethnic lines proved to be the most powerful feature of the night, particularly given events of the past year or two. Maybe it’s because I attended the dinner for the African-American fellowship led by my friend K. Marshall Williams, whom I respect so dearly. Maybe it’s because of the focus on diversity at Southeastern. Perhaps it’s somewhat because of my own past, witnessing the sin of racism in my home state of Alabama when younger. Regardless, the unity of pastors in prayer stirred something deep within.

I flew home Wednesday evening after a great seminary luncheon. I crawled in bed close to 1 AM, and very uncharacteristic of me, I slept until 830 AM. I got up, and before long checked my phone. There I saw the news about Charleston. Nine innocent people killed. That was tragic enough, evoking memories in my mind of Wedgwood Baptist Church back in 1999, a church I knew well. But this was even worse: a white gunman with obvious racist views, after sitting in a Bible study, killed the pastor and eight others.

Gut wrenching. How much more of this can we take? What will happen next? Will more riots break out across America?

Then we saw something amazing. But not that surprising. We saw the gospel lived out in the lives of broken and hurting people.

Peggy Noonan wrote of how the response of the families and friends of the victims moved her. She wrote in part in the Wall Street Journal:

I have never seen anything like what I saw on television this afternoon. Did you hear the statements made at the court hearing of the alleged Charleston, S.C., shooter?

Nine beautiful people slaughtered Wednesday night during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their relatives were invited to make a statement today in court. Did you hear what they said?

They spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God.

There was no rage, no accusation—just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke.

“I just wanted everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” said the daughter of Ethel Lance, killed in the shooting. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.” She asked that God have mercy on the shooter’s soul. “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

A family member of Anthony Thompson said he forgave the shooter. “I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent . . . confess, give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that He can change it—can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you will be OK. Do that and you will be better.”

The mother of Tywanza Sanders, also killed, told the shooter: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” she said. “Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. . . . Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”

. . . As I watched I felt I was witnessing something miraculous. I think I did. It was people looking into the eyes of evil, into the eyes of the sick and ignorant shooter who’d blasted a hole in their families, and explaining to him with the utmost forbearance that there is a better way.

What impact did this response have? This past Sunday, the eyes of the nation were on a worship service at a formerly obscure African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Not on a celebrity athlete embracing transgenderism. And, not at a megachurch. Not at a new, media-beloved multisite church. No superstar celebrity preacher. None of these.

What I observed was the people of God worshiping the Son of God to the glory of God. I saw hope in hurt. I watched joy in sorrow. I saw something we see too rarely: less rhetoric, more reality—the gospel come alive in a community.

“The doors of the church are open,” the Rev. Norvel Goff declared in the service. “No evildoer, no demon in hell or on Earth can close the doors of God’s church.”

Noonan added her thoughts in the WSJ: “Charleston deserves something, a bow. So too do the beautiful people who go to Wednesday night Bible study in America in 2015. They are the people who are saving America every day, completely unheralded, and we can hardly afford to lose them.”

Lately the church, or a lot of us in it, have been wringing our hands over gay marriage, transgenderism, and essentially our loss of the home field advantage we once enjoyed in America. Maybe James Davidson Hunter is on to something in his book To Change the World. Maybe the way the church can change the world has less to do with seeking to change it and more about our faithfully living out the gospel in the culture.

Tuesday night last week we prayed for revival. Wednesday night a church’s heart was broken. In both places and in both cases the gospel offers us hope.

I can’t help but notice how the story of historical revival movements is often the story of the disenfranchised:

–The Wesleys, Whitefield, and others being forced out of the established church to reach the unwanted, like the coal miners. “Why go to America to reach the heathen?” An opponent asked rhetorically. “Go to Kingwood and the colliers [coal miners].” They did, and an awakening came.

–Zinzendorf inherited an estate, welcoming the disenfranchised Hussites and others for refuge there. And there, the 100 Year Moravian Prayer Revival was birthed.

–The Jesus Movement saw a host of hippies and other unchurched youth come to Christ in the early 1970s.

I agree with Edwards who said we should judge movements of the Spirit a posteriori, not a priori; that is, we judge them by their fruits. It’s too early to say what the long-term impact of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston will have. But if we look back in a few years and talk about the movement of God in our time, it would be like our God to start with a group of believers like those we see just now, who have nothing but Jesus and whose hope rests only in God.

Church Visitation and the Next Generation

June 12, 2015 Category :Blog| Leadership 1

This week I stopped in a local coffee shop for a cup of joe (and a redeye) to get some email work done (side note: there will be no email in heaven). Next to me sat some awesome young adults  I know with whom I had a great visit. After that unplanned opportunity I met that evening at a planned event at another local coffee shop. We had a lot of guests check out our young pros ministry at our church this past Sunday, a particularly high number at the start of the summer. With the help of a young pro named Clay who helps me with this, I gathered the names and info, emailing and texting an invitation to all to meet me at said coffee shop at 8 PM.

Have you ever gone on visitation and knocked on a door of someone, only to see the look of horror that someone came by unexpectedly? Yea, me too. I don’t mind it, really, but I’ve found that there is a better way to get with young adults today to talk about Christ than unplanned (or even planned) visits at their house. Like the night above, I regularly invite folks to meet me at a coffee shop. Here is what 90% of people say when I invite them to meet me there: they either (A) love the idea and come, or (B) send their regrets because they are working that night or have some other conflict. Of those in (B), half or more of them add something like “If you do this again, please let me know!” We had three show up this time, which is more than Clay and I could have gotten to in one evening going to their homes.


Young adults today don’t display an aversion to spiritual conversations; however, they are at times not as easy to connect with using our “tried and true” methods. There was a day when it was normal to show up at someone’s house, to be invited in, and to get to know them in that manner. In a day of far more nuclear families, a more monolithic culture, more 8-5 work schedules ,and no wifi, stopping in homes was commonplace. With the rise of gated communities, garage doors and high back fences, increased mobility, security-sensitive apartment living — and wifi — many adults in general and young adults in particular prefer another venue for meetings.

Enter the world of the Third Place, a place we go to beyond our home, work, or school to meet others. Epitomized by the coffee shop, third places have become such a dominant part of our culture. Today young people go out of their way, stand in long lines, and pay inflated prices for coffee products. That would have been just weird in my day.

I decided some time back that since young adults love third places like coffee shops, since I love them too, and since it’s easy to access them (they are everywhere it seems),  I would try to meet there. This week I’ve met with no less than ten people in a third place, all but two in their twenties. This far surpasses relying on google maps to find an apartment only to discover no one was home and thus about 45 minutes was shot. Don’t get me wrong, I still visit people in their homes and have led folks to Christ that way in the recent past. But for this generation — the generation we are not reaching — we would do well to meet them where they are comfortable instead of expecting them to be available in ways we are used to using.

For us, this has become an especially effective method for reaching dechurched young adults, those who grew up in church and somewhere around their college years pretty much dropped out.  I have this year met more than a few young pros who have found a home at our church in part because we interacted with them in their world, affirming their desire for community, which is why third places thrive.

The third place has become a gospel outpost.

If you don’t do this already, this week try working on a sermon or other work at a third place. Get out of the church building into the community. Note how many young adults show up. Get to know the baristas and regulars. See how the third place functions as a mission station. Pray for ways to reach people there, and see how God can use this venue as a new approach to visitation.

Pastors, Depression, and Our Definition of Success

June 4, 2015 Category :Blog 1

This morning I read the sad news about pastor Phil Lineberger, who apparently committed suicide at age 66 (only ten years older than me) after years of battling with depression. It seems we see this happening too often these days. It hits me harder than in the past.

A couple years ago I was diagnosed as having an issue with depression myself. The news stunned me as I always pictured myself as Mr. Positive. But in quiet, alone moments, or times where the busyness of ministry hits hard, I have felt its icy grip around me.

I claim no expertise in this area. The fact that I am a professor with academic credentials makes me no more authority on this than anyone else. But I have walked with many, many men of God at various stages of ministry, and I have seen personally the weight of discouragement on the one hand to clinical depression on the other. Here are a few things I’ve learned about this:

1. We need to be real with ourselves and others. Sometimes people want to treat us like supermen, as if we do not have struggles like most folks. We have the call of God on our lives, after all. Our supposedly impressive our track record of ministry accomplishments does not negate the fact that we are fallen, sinful men with weaknesses. Depression is real, and it can be deadly. We need to be able to express our brokenness and need for daily grace to others. I have a couple of men in my life I can be very honest with, and it has been refreshing.

2. We need to own our discouraging days or, when a reality, our real issues with depression. In my Evangelism Handbook I note four major reason ministers leave ministry: 1) sexual misconduct; 2) financial pressure; 3) selfish ambition; 4) discouragement. We may not be as melancholy as David Brainerd, but we all have times where we are down. Let’s give ourselves a break. We simply are not going to be “up” all the time.

3. We need to learn the reality of Sabbath and personal retreating. Instituting a regular time of Sabbath for me–at least a half day to full day a week to get off the ferris wheel of a busy life and rest in Christ–has been invigorating and life-giving. We tend to mock gluttony and health issues and ignore Sabbath and the need to rest in God. These traits are not good. This week has been grueling as I’ve been co-teaching a PhD seminar. Every day at lunch or just after the seminar I’ve taken a short little nap, and it has made a big difference.

4. We need to take care of our bodies. Eating well, cutting out the junk food, getting exercise, drinking lots of water, and resting well all have an impact on more than our physical life–they all affect our emotional, mental, and spiritual lives as well. I had lunch with a PhD student this week who has lost 100 pounds over the last few years. It’s affected all of his life, not just the bathroom scale.

5. We need to learn what sets off our downward trajectory emotionally and mentally and as we can provide safeguards and outlets. Reading some books on ADHD, depression, and sabbath have helped me to recognize when I am becoming depressed while giving alternatives to that direction. I got some bad news the other day; instead of my previous tendency to blame myself and see myself as the reason (sometimes that is the case and we should take responsibility!), I looked at the issue more objectively and was able to see this as a good thing from the Lord instead of a failure of mine.

6. We need to rehearse the gospel again and again, and then again. Most days of my life I rehearse these great gospel truths I read in the book Everyday Church:

–God is GREAT, so I don’t have to be in control;

–God is GLORIOUS, so I don’t have to fear others;

–God is GOOD, so I don’t have to look elsewhere (for joy, etc);

–God is GRACIOUS, so I don’t have to prove myself.

These glorious statements rooted in the goodness of God and the gospel of Jesus confront my tendencies to be depressed. I still fail; I still find myself in times of despair. But they are less, and He is more.

7. We need to confront the performance-idolatry of our time. It’s true; lots of ministers are lazy. But for many of us, the emphasis on successful-ministry-by-production can become suffocating. I learned the game, and have played it well. But in recent years I’ve realized that one more accomplishment is not the goal. The things we do for Christ should come as a by-product of our walk with Him, not as the goal of our ministry.

8. We need to be grateful for those loved ones God has put in our lives. My patient, loving wife and our wonderful children have been so good to me. Their encouragement means more than 1,000 tags on social media. We need to be grateful for these and other blessings.

I’m grateful that a couple of years ago this humpty-dumpty hit a wall and fell down, broken. But in my case, God was able to put me back together again. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Remember, Jesus already walked the earth. We don’t have to be the Messiah; He already is.

Stuff I Learn from New Believers

May 21, 2015 Category :Blog| Leadership 0

I love to preach. I don’t travel and preach as much as in the past, but communicating God’s Word — either as a guest preachers or teaching our Young Pros weekly — brings joy and satisfaction like few things do. If you are a preacher, you know exactly what I mean.

Last Sunday I preached for a friend, Pastor Rick Byrd, to the great folks at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro. I’ve preached there several times over the last decade or so. Sunday night I preached for one of my mentees, Nathan Brown, who is the new pastor at Raleigh Road Baptist Church up in Henderson. I’ve also preached there a couple times previously and enjoyed being back with the fine folks there.

Beyond the joy of preaching the Word, one reason I love to do this as an itinerant preacher is because of the people I meet. Like Joe. I met Joe at Cornerstone Sunday, and had lunch with he and a couple of staff to talk about life and godliness. Well, they sat there while Joe and I talked the whole time.

Joe came to Christ less than a month ago. He’s 45 years old and perhaps the most fit man physically I have ever met. We sat at lunch, me proudly eating my healthy salmon and vegetable medley, and he drinking his protein shake. Joe showed me something that day.

Discipline. Discipline like I have rarely seen. Physical discipline like I have never seen in a preacher.

Joe, this new baby Christian, talked with genuine humility. He talked of his struggles he now faced as a Christ follower. He spoke of his goals, of his training, and he inspired me. I hope I helped him as well. I challenged him in some ways in terms of spiritual discipline.

Then Joe taught me. He spoke of how the Bible teaches our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and how we should take care of them as part of our witness. Again, he spoke humbly, not with some athletic bravado (and he had earned the right if anyone had). He spoke logically: if we seek the Lord throughout the day in prayer, and seek to walk with Him and please Him, should we not show the same discipline in our diet and other areas of life?

I’ve met too many preachers who mock gluttony by word and deed as if it were an entitlement. I’ve been guilty myself. Here, a baby Christian shamed my tribe with his genuine yearning to know God and his sterling example of discipline. He reminded me:

Longevity does not necessarily mean maturity. Longevity in ministry can lead to lethargy in discipline. Being a Christian 40 years does not make you superior to an infant in Christ.

Spiritual infancy does not necessarily preclude one from teaching others. Sometimes a young believer sees things clearly through the eyes of simplicity.

–A title, including a spiritual title, does not necessarily make one a spiritual model in all of life.

I’m convinced that a key to our spiritual growth, whether we’ve been saved a year or half a century, involves some key relationships. Yes, as Howard Hendrix noted, we all need a Paul, a Timothy, and a Barnabas in our lives. But we need two other people as well:

First, we need unbelievers in our lives to love, to grow in friendship, and to remind us of the world around us we can easily escape from into our Christian subculture.

Second, we need new believers with a white hot zeal in our lives. We need to be reminded of when we first met the Lord, and reminded how not everyone is where we are spiritually. Because, in some cases, brand new Christians are at a better place than we are.

By the way, Joe is coming to see me in June, to push me in my physical discipline even as I push him spiritually. It’s the beginning of a friendship for which I am extremely grateful.

Because I still have much to learn.