Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why Baptist Border Crossing?

Some people have asked me, Why Baptist Border Crossing? I want to share my thoughts about this historic effort. John’s Gospel says Jesus prayed for his disciples and for all believers in the moments just prior to his arrest. He prayed for the realization of his redemptive work in their lives. He prayed they would be one.
John 17:20-23 (NIV)
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I do not think it was an idol wish on the part of Jesus. I believe the scripture teaches the “body of Christ is one.” Paul certainly understood the church was one body.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NIV)
12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The oneness of the body of Christ is a theological reality which church is seeking to live out each day. It seems incredible that Baptists, who profess to be a people of the Book, could so easily ignore its teachings. The Christian church is one under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Yet, our experience of the church is so fragmented and divided. I am not na├»ve about the difficulties of bringing the modern-day body of Christ together. In many respects we more closely resemble the warring religious parties of the New Testament era than we do the church Jesus Christ died to establish. However, surely a first step is to seek to build relationships within the “Baptist” portion of the Christian church.

This commitment is why our convention is a part of the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. But it is not enough to be brothers and sisters in name only. We must genuinely become one. We must love each other, serve each other, and serve our Lord together. We cannot possibly do that unless we know each other and begin to build genuine friendships and relationships. The Baptist Border Crossing is a call to the Baptist family across the Midwest to come together crossing all the borders and barriers which traditionally keep us apart—geographical, racial, denominational, economic, political, etc.

I believe the Baptist family and the larger Christian community is stronger when we collaborate and partner for the sake of the Kingdom. We miss a great deal when we isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not a simple thing to bring a diverse group of Baptists together for worship and discussion, and it is even more challenging to explore a meaningful ongoing relationships. I can appreciate the incredible challenge before us as we seek to explore what God is doing in this Baptist Movement in a way that engages and involves our denominations and organizations and yet avoids the dangers of attempting to institutionalize a movement.

Baptists need each other. We need to get over our biases and work through the racial and cultural differences that have often kept us apart. This does not mean we have to merge into a single body; however, it might mean that we eventually have fewer Baptist bodies. Most importantly, it means we find a way to work together for the sake of our churches and Christ’s kingdom. It means we humble ourselves enough to admit that we can learn from each other. I serve an organization made up of predominantly Anglo congregations. We could profit a great deal by a greater sense of collaboration and partnership with our African-American brothers and sisters. Black congregations often do a much better job of identifying with and engaging their communities. Many times they do a better job of empowering leaders for service, and many of us have come to understand the vitality and power in their worship is much more than can merely be attributed to the cultural differences expressed in worship styles. We have much to learn from our Black brothers and sisters. Our first step is to get to know each other.

It is tragic that some Baptists want to isolate themselves from those who may not have the same traditions or identical interpretations of God’s Word. Baptist Border Crossing is an opportunity for us to say “we are one.” In spite of all our differences, we are one and we need each other. It is my hope that we will find a way to come together in a fresh way as we consider a new level of relationship. I hope all the Baptists across our region will be interested in being a part of this effort. Check out Baptist Border Crossing and join the effort.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

North American Missions and The Baptist Family

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri is receiving an offering this spring for the North American Baptist Fellowship. Missouri Baptists historically have received an Easter Offering for national missions. We believe there is no better way to collaborate for missions than to join with the Baptists of North America in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our convention became a member of the North American Baptist Fellowship a few years ago. The following year we became a part of the Baptist World Alliance. The North American Baptist Fellowship is one of six regional fellowships that make up the Baptist World Alliance. Alan Stanford recently resigned as our General Secretary. A search process is underway to secure a new General Secretary. Dr. David Goatley, General Secretary of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, is President of the North American Baptist Fellowship. David will be one of the keynote speakers at the Baptist Border Crossing event April 2-4, 2009, immediately following our Annual Meeting.

The North American Baptist Fellowship is the way we join hands with Baptists from across our nation and Canada as we seek to reach our world for Christ. Your gifts to our North American Baptist Missions Offering will help to underwrite the collaborative work of this organization. If you have mission offering for other causes we will be happy to forward them on your behalf.

Our Annual Meeting will be held Thursday, April 2, from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit. We our abbreviating our Annual Meeting to allow our messengers and guests to attend the historic gathering of Midwest Baptists—the Baptist Border Crossing at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty. Our Annual Missions Banquet will be held Friday evening during the Baptist Border Crossing at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. The cost is $12.00 and you may pay at the door, but you need to contact our convention office to make reservations (bettiejo@baptistgcm.org or 888-420-2426 ext. 701).

Check out the event website (http://www.baptistbordercrossing.org/) for more information, to register, or to secure hotel information. The President of the Baptist World Alliance and the President of the North American Baptist Fellowship are both keynote speakers for this event. Other speakers include Carolyn Ann Knight, Tony Campolo, and President Jimmy Carter. The breakout session will allow you to get acquainted with our brothers and sisters from other Baptist conventions. I hope you will make plans to join us for both of these important meetings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln's Birthday

I must confess that I have been a fan of Abraham Lincoln since I was a kid. I am not sure whether it was the pennies I began collecting at about 7 or 8 years of age, or my first visit to Washington, D. C., at about the same time. (I still collect pennies, and my collection is much more impressive than when I was a child.) I was captivated by much of what I saw in our nation's capitol city, but I was particularly fascinated by the Lincoln Memorial.

As I grew up and began to learn more about our former presidents, I became a great admirer of Lincoln. His words, memorialized in his speeches, were often profound and challenging. Even in his brief addresses he insightfully confronted his hearers with their current realities and called upon them live up to their ideals and values. I guess my greatest appreciation for him lies in his courage and leadership.

Few leaders have confronted challenges more weighty than he did. I believe he sought to speak the truth and do what was right. I am not sure we can ask anything more of our leaders. This is true whether we are talking about political leaders or church leaders. We desperately need leaders today who have integrity and courage. I sometimes wonder what might have become of our nation if Abraham Lincoln had not been elected president. Leaders can and do make a difference. We need church leaders who will call God's people to live out their faith. It is easier to go along and get along, but how the church of the 21st century needs leaders. I wonder how many of our messages will still be quoted 150 years from now.

The Gettysburg Address
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why Not Lead?

I wrote a series of six articles for my blog last year about Leadership. The thrust of the articles was to share my thoughts regarding Joel Barker's Leadershift--Five Lessons for Leaders in the 21st Century. In reality it was a kind of running dialogue between me and Barker's video presentation, his leadership principles and their application to local church ministry. If you would like to review them the links are below.

Like everyone else I have been watching and reading the reports regarding the recovery and stimulus plan that is working its way through congress. I listened to several commentators on the radio today as I traveled. Some complained that our new president had not provided more leadership in solving our nations current problems. (That sounded a little strange to me when you consider the complexity of the problems and the fact that he has only been in office about three weeks.) Other reporters were frustrated at the Washington politics and lack of leadership in the House and Senate. While I certainly hope those who are much smarter than I am will find ways to help our country work through the multiple challenges we face, the discussions on the news programs prompted me to think about "leadership" again.

Solving a problem is really a leadership issue. We need information, background data, and a critical examination of the problem, but ultimately problem-solving is a leadership issue. Someone has to identify the problem, pull together the resources (people, information, etc.), and develop a process or strategy to solve the problem. The more complex the problem the more information and input on the process may be needed. Unfortunately, most problems do not "go away" on their own. I am convinced our current economic and housing crisis will not. I am praying for those who are working on the solution.

As I consider church life, I realize that many churches have been living with difficult problems that negatively impact their ministries for years. A great many churches and pastors want to avoid conflict and disagreement at any cost. In reality conflict is a natural (and even healthy) part of every organization made up of people including the church. Many church leaders do not understand how to work through problems and conflicts in a healthy, productive way. Sometimes a small problem has grown into a major crisis just because no one provided leadership to find a solution.

I realize that change and growth are never easy. I also know they never happen without some conflict and frequently they create problems. However, these problems are why we need leaders. Leaders who are courageous enough to take on the serious challenges before them. Leaders who are not afraid to help a church move to healthy ministry even when it means helping people work through problems. So my question is, Why not lead? I believe it is a part of our calling as ministers and church leaders. Those with leadership gifts should use them for the benefit of the Kingdom. Maybe there has never been a time when we needed leaders more--in our government and in our churches.

Leadership Articles:
Leadership 1 - Definition & Roles
Leadership 2 - Focus on the Future
Leadership 3 - Understanding Change
Leadership 4 - Complex Systems
Leadership 5 - Leadership Styles
Leadership 6 - Shared Vision

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Everyone Needs a Hug!

Some friends invited Bettie Jo and I to go the Missouri-Kansas Game last night at Mizzou Arena. I had not been to a game in the new arena. More than 15,000 people packed the arena to watch this episode of the Border War. Missouri had a very difficult first half shooting only 24 percent and turning the ball over frequently, but the second half was different story. Missouri kept trying to climb back into the game--edging closer and closer. A young man sitting in front of us was almost beside himself--jumping and cheering. He gave me a couple of "high fives" at keys moments. When Missouri scored the go-ahead basket with 1.3 seconds remaining and then held on to win, he went crazy (along with the rest of the crowd). He hugged me and everyone else he could reach. It was a great game (if you cheer for Mizzou).

The experience reminded me of a report I heard during the inauguration of President Obama. The news reporter talked about being in the crowd on the national mall during the inauguration. She said she had never worked a crowed where everyone was willing to be interviewed. She went on to say that each time she finished an interview the person hugged her.

Special moments sometimes cause us to form an immediate emotional bond with people. Several years ago I was leading a group on a trip to Israel with my brothers. My older brother and I were talking about how our family has always been "huggers." He suggested that I should hug the people in the church where I was serving as pastor. He said you should particularly hug your widow ladies. Everyone needs a hug.

I must admit I came home a little skeptical. Not because I disliked hugging (I grew up in a family of huggers). I was not sure how people would react. I remember asking some of widow ladies as they greeted me following our worship services if they would like a hug. You cannot imagine the overwhelming response I received. Their responses ranged from "Oh, yes" to "Please!" to "I would love to have a hug." One lady whispered to me as I hugged her, "I cannot remember the last time someone hugged me." Before long I was hugging almost everyone, including big, burley men. People would come up and say, "Can I have a hug, too?"

I hate to admit it, but my big brother was right. People (even shy and reserved people) long for a sense of connection. There is something about a hug that causes us to feel we are not alone. Christianity is about reaching out to people. It is about touching their lives and ministering to their needs. It is about inviting them into the family. I don't think we have to wait for special moments to reach out in love and compassion. Everyone needs a hug!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Celebrating Baptist Freedom

The following article was written for the next issue of Word&Way.

Baptists around the world are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist church. Church historians tell us that English Christians living in Amsterdam, Holland, gathered for worship and began practicing believer’s baptism. They had all been baptized as infants in the Church of England, and no one in their fellowship had experienced baptism as a believer. They were committed to the belief that church membership should be based on a personal confession of faith followed by believer’s baptism. Their conviction brought them into direct conflict with the Church of England when the group, led by John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, returned to England and started a new church. The group openly asserted every person must have complete spiritual freedom.

I was a student of church history in college and seminary. I believe religious liberty, believer’s baptism, the priesthood of the believer, and the autonomy of the local church may be some of the most significant contributions of Baptists to the life of the Christian church. In a real sense they all speak of freedom, liberty and responsibility.

It seems a little incredible to me that during a year when Baptists are celebrating 400 years of freedom the Missouri Baptist Convention leadership is still committed to making everyone do things their way. After nearly seven years of litigation and rulings by the local and appellate courts that went against them, these leaders are still committed to spend millions of dollars attempting to get control of institutions and ministries that are faithfully carrying out their God-given ministries. Never have they said these institutions and ministries have strayed away from or failed in fulfillment of their mission. They just want to be “in control.” That does not sound like Baptist freedom to me.

The Missouri Baptist Convention also voted over the past few years to require churches to be singly aligned with the MBC. They redefined that to mean several things. First, you have to affiliate with the SBC and only the SBC including financial support of their work. Secondly, your doctrinal statement must meet their standards, which essentially means it is in agreement with the SBC statement. Finally, your church cannot financially support or send representatives to any other national and/or state convention or organization which serves and/or acts as a national and/or state convention. That does not sound like Baptist freedom to me.

The Baptist General Convention of Missouri approaches things in a different way. We have no desire to control institutions or dictate to churches their doctrinal statements, how they relate to other churches, or how they channel their mission gifts. Our first priority is serving churches. While we welcome and encourage churches to support our ministries, our Board of Directors voted several years ago that we would serve any church desiring our help, whether they were supporting our ministries or not. We contribute to all the Missouri Baptist institutions without a desire to control them. We have joined forces with the larger Baptist family through partnerships, collaborative efforts, and memberships in the North American Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. If you are tired of the litigation and denomination organizations that dictate to churches, we invite you to explore a new relationship with our convention. Let’s celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Baptist work by discovering religious liberty again. Please call on us if we can be of help to your church.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New Relationships and New Opportunities

I am serving as a co-chairperson for the Baptist Border Crossing Task Force. The Task Force is providing leadership for the planning of a regional gathering of Baptists from across the Midwest. The event will be one of several regional events that are being planned as a follow-up to the New Baptist Covenant Celebration held in Atlanta last year. Our Task Force includes representatives from Kansas City area Baptist groups, including the National Baptist Convention USA, the National Baptist Convention of America, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, American Baptist Churches USA, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, and the General Association of General Baptists. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, Senior Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City, is serving as the other co-chairperson for the Task Force.

The Baptist Border Crossing event will be April 2-4, 2009, at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri. Participants from all Baptist groups in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, and Nebraska are invited to participate in this historic event. Plenary speakers for the event include Tony Campolo, David Coffey, David Goatley, Carolyn Ann Knight and President Jimmy Carter. Breakout sessions will be led by facilitators from the various Baptist groups and will deal with issues such as poverty, peacemaking, religious liberty, and diversity.

The 7th Annual Meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri is scheduled prior to this special event on Thursday afternoon, April 2, 2009, at First Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit. This year’s Annual Meeting will be abbreviated to one session to allow all our messengers and guests to attend the Baptist Border Crossing event. Our president, Dr. Randall Bunch, will be speaking during our Annual Meeting on Thursday afternoon. I am very excited about the potential this process and the event have for laying the groundwork for a new level of relationship and collaboration among the Baptist family in the Midwest. I am delighted to have the opportunity build new friendships with my Baptist brothers and sisters. I would encourage you to check out our website (http://www.baptistgcm.org/) and the event website (http://www.baptistbordercrossing.org/) for more information. Click here to view or download the Baptist Border Crossing flyer. I hope you will make plans to be a part of our Annual Meeting and this special Baptist gathering.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Windermere Board of Director's Action Legal

The Court of Appeals ruled today that the lower court's decision to dismiss the Missouri Baptist Convention case against Windermere was proper. In the ruling the court indicated that the Windermere Board of Directors acted legally when they changed their charter several years ago. I have no desire to rehash the litigation process that has been going on for more than six years. I just want to express my grief at the year's of litigation that have diminished our Baptist witness and the millions of dollars that have been wasted on depositions, legal fees, and court costs. A major portion of Windermere's debt could have been paid off by now if these funds had been redirected to the conference center's ministry. What a waste. I believe those leading the charge for litigation were more interested in control than in Windermere's ministry. Unfortunately, it appears the MBC will continue to enrich the attorneys and force Baptist institutions to spend needed resources on litigation rather than ministry.

Incredible as it seems Windermere has continued to grow and expand its ministry even during some very difficult years when they lost convention funding and a major portion of their revenue when the MBC quit utilizing the conference center for convention activites. This past year was one of the best years in Windermere's 50 years of ministry. The BGCM is committed to supporting this vital ministry with our gifts and our presence. Bettie Jo and I made a personal commitment to Windermere's Building Lives Campaign. Hopefully, many Missouri Baptists will choose to move beyond the years of litigation and begin supporting Windermere again.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Legislative Breakfast Forum

MOCARP
This past year I have had the privilege of serving as chairperson for an ecumenical group called Missouri Christians Against Racism and Poverty. Each year we sponsor a Legislative Breakfast Forum that provides an opportunity for faith leaders from across our state to meet with state legislators to discuss issues confronting our state. The forum provides a context for the faith community to become advocates for the most vulnerable in our state. This year the Legislative Breakfast Forum was held on Wednesday, January 28, at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City.

Last year our forum subject was "tax justice." This year our topic was "Moving toward Quality, Accessible Health Care for All Missouri." Our MOCARP Plan Team has said, "As citizens of a democracy, American Christians have both an opportunity and obligation to help give voice to those who are poor and disenfranchised. Our churches have made an intentional commitment to oppose all marginalization in our society. Deep care and concern for our state encourages us to press our government to be the best, most honorable, and most fair that it can in all matters, but particularly those related to opportunity for health care and healing for all our citizens."

The winter weather diminished our crowd a little, but I felt our breakfast forum was a success, and I was grateful for those who participated. Rabbi Susan Talve, Chairperson for Missouri Health Care for All, spoke to the needs in Missouri. Bishop Barry Howe, Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri, provided a theological response and helped to set our discussions within the context of our Christian faith.

The Legislative Panelists included Senator Rita Heard Days, Democrat, 14th District; Representative J. C. Kuessner, Democrat, 152nd District; and Cynthia Davis, Republican, 19th District. One additional Republican Senator was unable to attend. Rev. John Bennett, Outreach Coordinator for Missouri IMPACT and retired minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), served as moderator for the event.

MOCARP includes representatives of the following churches: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Baptist General Convention of Missouri, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church. I am grateful for the opportunity to join with other Christian voices as we seek to become advocates for justice for all people.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I Love the Church

Today, I want to admit something very personal. I have an ongoing love affair. The one I love is beautiful, talented, gracious and generous. She is giving, loving, and precious to me. She is bold, exciting and challenging. We have had a lifelong romance. Of course those adjectives describe my wife, Bettie Jo, but I have another love besides my wife. These same characteristics describe the church. I love the church!

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ has been my life. I went to church with my mother prior to my birth. Shortly after my birth, I found myself enrolled in the cradle roll of the nursery. In the church I learned the great stories of the Bible and the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. In the church I found the solid foundation for my life. I have made life-long friends. I discovered my spiritual gifts, and I sensed my call to ministry. In the church I married my wife, my life partner. I first began to preach and teach. In the church I have raised my children, and in the church I hope to raise my grandchildren. In the church, serving my Savior, I have found meaning and purpose. The church has been my life. I love the church!

Maybe most of all I love the church because I love my Savior and the scriptures tell us that he loved the church and gave himself for the church! The first priority of the Baptist General Convention is serving churches. If we can help your church, give our staff a call.