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21st-century challenges confronted

BALTIMORE (BP) — As Southern Baptists reflected on and bantered various topics — including numerous challenges of the 21st Century — at the Cooperative Program exhibit during their annual meeting in Baltimore, most agreed studying Scripture in its proper context, selfless giving and a commitment to praying for others are good starting points for progress.

How Southern Baptists engage Millennials inside and outside of the Bible belt also garnered differing opinions from seminary professors, pastors, church planters and other Baptist leaders.

While addressing the topic of meeting challenges of the 21st Century during one of the panels, Jonathan Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., and co-founder of Baptist21, suggested Christians are accused of being inconsistent when they choose which parts of the Bible to emphasize.

Rhyne Putman, assistant professor of theology and culture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said bringing biblical text into a proper context is important to the theological process because it gives God credit for the past.

Akin noted that some contemporary arguments on popular cultural issues are not consistent with Scripture but can be a “massive challenge” for Christians who are not consistent in sharing their views.

Addressing the moral and social issues in the same manner as Jesus, is the key to reaching younger people, said Edgar Aponte, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Steven Smith, vice president for student services and communication at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, challenged pastors to “pull back and see the big picture,” which can help them address contemporary issues and put them into the proper context.

While presenting a 10-minute TED-like talk on sexuality at the CP exhibit, Den Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., said there is a right way and a wrong way to talk about theological issues.

“As a church we have to not only get the theology right, but to get the approach right,” Inserra said.

When addressing sexual issues in their college town, for instance, Inserra said his congregation has learned not to respond to people in a “combative way” about hot-button issues.

While Christians must not abandon biblical teaching, they also should not make inappropriate jokes or be “prudes” in their behavior toward non-Christians.

“We preach to two different crowds at the same time,” Inserra said. Those crowds include people who need to hear about repentance and those who need to hear of God’s commands.

Inserra said, “Christians in my generation have friends who are gay.” But he also added, “Theology is not going to change for us…. We believe in every inch of every line of the Scriptures.”

Generational shifts in giving, care and prayer

In a separate panel that focused on generational shifts in giving, Jim Shepphard, author of “Contagious Generosity,” and Houston’s First Baptist Church pastor Gregg Matte discussed giving rates in America and how that impacts the church. Matte said the churches can’t expect different results if they do things the same way.

Matte said giving has unified First Baptist because people have “received the blessing of being a giver, [and] who doesn’t want to be a part of that.”

While on another panel, Matte addressed the importance of pastor sabbaticals. As father of two elementary age children, Matte said he looks at extended time away each year to “work ‘on,’ instead of ‘in’ the ministry.” He spends that time reading and having time alone with God in the mornings, and enjoying afternoons with his family.

Johnny Hunt, a former SBC president, and longtime senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., said every five years he leaves town completely for six weeks to “love on my wife and my grandchildren.”

In a separate TED-like conversation, Matt Chewning, a church planter and pastor of Netcast, one of the fastest growing church plants in New England, focused on the importance of prayer. Sharing some of the challenges he has faced on his personal faith journey, he spoke on the stress of living in “out of the Bible belt” isolation. Southern Baptists need to be engaged in prayer and care for each other, he said.

Chewning, who grew up Catholic and later came to a saving knowledge of Christ during his college years, gave three suggestions for supporting ministries outside of the Bible belt:

— Ask rather than tell how you can help. “It is possible that what you think we need is not helpful…. I need your support; I need your help. I don’t need you to tell me what to do.”

— “I would really love if you care more about me than my church. The Kingdom of God will advance.”

— Ask hard questions. “The best partners check on my soul and ask me about my marriage, they ask me about my kids … how I am managing my family’s schedule.”

Chewning added, “At the end of the day if you truly believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ … if you truly believe in what you preach, there would be less broke planters and there would be more healthy churches.”
Joni B. Hannigan is a freelance writer in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Joni B. Hannigan