WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)–A truck driver taught young Johnny Hunt — former poolroom hustler turned follower of Christ — how to lead others to faith.
“He’d take me to the home of some rough customer from the pool hall, since he had been converted out of that type of life, too,” recalls Hunt, 57, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church of Woodstock. “I thought he would do all the talking, but right in the middle of the visit, he would say, ‘Johnny, tell about what Jesus did for you.'”
Hunt, who is completing his second term as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has never forgotten the simple lessons he learned long ago from that truck-driving mentor in his hometown church: Always take someone with you in ministry. Lead by example. And most important: You teach what you know; you reproduce who you are.
“You can preach all you want about reaching the world for Christ, but if you don’t get out there on the edge with your people, they won’t go,” Hunt said.
That’s one of the key messages of Hunt’s new book, “Get Connected: Mobilizing Your Church for God’s Mission,” published by the International Mission Board.
Hunt tells the story of how he led First Baptist Woodstock — a church struggling to survive when he arrived as pastor in 1987 — to explosive growth while planting churches across the United States and sending hundreds of mission volunteers worldwide. His secret? Connecting his church with God’s heart for the nations — and with strategic mission partners like the IMB to multiply Woodstock’s impact.
“A lot of pastors are selling themselves and their people short when it comes to how much God can accomplish through them,” Hunt said. “We need to realize how great God is. It’s not what we bring to Him; it’s what He brings to us and does through us — if we give Him a chance to work.
“I show people God’s vision and the needs around the world, and I give them ways to get involved,” Hunt said of the book. “When they take ownership, it’s theirs. I have a hard time keeping up with them!”
Hunt has long been committed to encouraging other pastors, both individually and through his popular “Timothy+Barnabas” conferences. Four pastors he has mentored also contributed chapters to the book:
— Paul Purvis has led First Baptist Church of Forsyth, Mo., in reaching not only its own “Jerusalem” but multiple places and peoples around the world.
— Richard Mark Lee, pastor of Sugar Hill (Ga.) Church, is a member of the younger generation who has led Sugar Hill’s people into hands-on missions in South America, the Middle East and beyond.
— Tim Anderson, pastor of Clements Baptist Church in Athens, Ala., realized that Clements wasn’t fully obeying Christ’s Acts 1:8 command until it went to the “ends of the earth.”
— Brad Bessent became pastor of Beulah Baptist Church in Hopkins, S.C., in 2005. In the years since, the small, rural congregation has been transformed by a commitment to reach Muslims in West Africa with the Gospel.
The book also includes a short practical guide that IMB church strategists use to “coach” pastors in five key aspects of the journey to a comprehensive mission strategy: awakening to God’s heart for all peoples; exploring His plan for your church; equipping your church to fulfill its mission; engaging in God’s plan for your church; and multiplying your ministry to other believers and churches.
Get Connected: Mobilizing Your Church for God’s Mission will be available in June. Orders can be placed at imb.org/GetConnectedBook.
WMU VENTURES INTO MISSIONS FICTION — New Hope Publishers, the trade publishing imprint for WMU, has launched a fiction book series in an effort to make the call to missions come alive within the literary genre.
The first book in New Hope’s “Extreme Devotion” series of missional fiction, “No Greater Love” by Kathi Macias, transports readers to South Africa where a couple of teenagers whose parents were murdered for their work in the African National Congress movement now live and work on an Afrikaner family’s farm.
One of the teens, 16-year-old Chioma, who hates white men because they killed her parents, escapes to join an ANC rebel band in an effort to gain revenge, but she learns that she must choose between violence and revenge or forgiveness and selfless love.
The book is loosely based on historical events and set near Pretoria, South Africa, amid the violent upheaval preceding Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.
Also in the series published by New Hope is “More than Conquerors” by Macias. This book takes place in Mexico, where violent crime is on the rise and the political climate makes opportunities for open Christian witness nearly impossible.
Hector Rodriguez, pastor of a small church on the outskirts of Tijuana, caries his Bible into areas of the country where those with Mayan beliefs grow more hostile as 2012 approaches. That’s the year their calendar says the world will end, and Hector strives to tell them otherwise.
Hector’s mother Virginia lives in a village deep in the Mayan hostilities, and she uses Scripture to teach reading to the families who are open to it. But then she disappears.
As he searches for his mother, Hector must decide if he will continue his work and endanger his wife and children. And his young friend from California, Marty, wants to help Hector expand the ministry, but Hector wonders if Marty and his future family can bear the persecution.
Andrea Mullins, New Hope’s publisher, said Macias shares WMU’s desire “to challenge readers to live out God’s love in the world…. Her powerful storytelling will transform readers’ attitudes and actions in a world that needs courageous commitment to Christ.”
Macias is an award-winning author who has written nearly 30 books, including mystery novels and a devotional.
“Writing the Extreme Devotion series has long been a dream of mine,” Macias said. “I have a passion to partner with the persecuted church any way I can, and to help bring their plight and their courage to light through fiction is not only exciting, it’s an honor.”
The next two books in the series are called “Red Ink,” based in China, and “People of the Book,” set in Saudi Arabia. The first two books are available at Amazon.com and in bookstores.
More than 50 authors encompassing 100-plus individual works are affiliated with the WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union) imprint.
B&H Publishing Group, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, has published at least one title that also could be categorized as missional fiction.
“The Moon in the Mango Tree” by Pamela Binnings Ewen is based on a true story and is set in the Roaring Twenties. It chronicles the life of Barbara Bond, a young woman with a dream of becoming an opera singer.
When her doctor husband becomes a missionary to Thailand, Barbara must choose between following her dream and supporting her husband. When she chooses to follow her husband, she finds herself in the jungles of Siam where Buddhism is prevalent.
The book explores struggles that women face today, such as whether to give up their careers in order to care for children. Also, if the husband is transferred, does the woman automatically give up her dream to follow?
LIFEWAY’S ‘DIGITAL CHURCH’ IS ONLINE — LifeWay Christian Resources has launched a “Digital Church” Web portal to make it easier for church decision-makers to access a wide range of online resources.
Tim Vineyard, LifeWay’s chief information officer, said the portal — LifeWay.com/DigitalChurch — provides “access, in one place, to a full range of digital resources. Digital Church services and solutions are easy to use and come from trusted resource providers.”
The “cloud” services, in Internet lingo, include LifeWay resources such as the WorshipMap Pro and SongMap for downloading and customizing worship music; LifeWayLINK church website service; and eMediaLINK for adding online video to ministry websites.
LifeWay’s Digital Church cloud also features new services available through alliances with Fellowship Technologies and ServiceU.
— Church management software through Fellowship Technologies’ flagship product, Fellowship One, which provides secure, fully integrated options for managing members, visitors, contacts, small groups, children’s check-in, volunteers and contributions. Ministries of all sizes around the world, from new church plants to mega-size, multi-site churches, use Fellowship One.
— TransactU from the ServiceU Corporation software development company that equips churches to set up online giving and event registration. ServiceU is one of the few companies in compliance with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards as a Level 1 Service Provider — meaning customers can have the highest degree of confidence in the security of their credit card information when making online purchases or donations.
Other services and service providers will be added in the months ahead, said Vineyard, who noted that LifeWay’s Digital Church can help ministry leaders in a number of ways: It’s easy to access from any computer with a username and password; it’s highly secure and easy to navigate; and it’s trusted because it features well-known LifeWay resources and LifeWay-recommended services and service providers.
The Digital Church initiative is part of LifeWay President Thom Rainer’s vision, as voiced to trustees earlier this year, for the Southern Baptist entity to become “the ministry leader in the digital world…. A digital strategy is critical to our future.”
More information is available at LifeWay.com/DigitalChurch.
STUDY BIBLE HELPS STUDENTS DEFEND THE FAITH — The college experience of Jeremy Howard played a key part in the development of “The Apologetics Study Bible for Students,” released this spring by the B&H Publishing Group of LifeWay Christian Resources.
Howard, B&H’s managing acquisitions editor of Bibles, reference books and commentaries and publisher of the new study Bible, grew up in a Christian home, went to church most Sundays and felt prepared to defend his faith when he went off to college.
Instead, he discovered that the scientific information his non-Christian professors presented in class made more sense than he had anticipated. They also didn’t seem to be part of an anti-religion agenda. They simply presented scientific data week after week, some of which conflicted with common Christian views about science and earth’s history. It didn’t take long for Howard to begin questioning his Christian faith.
“Too many young Christians are going off to college unprepared to deal with college professors and peers who do not believe in biblical truth,” Howard said. “Since college I’ve come to see that science, when done carefully and kept within its proper bounds, can testify to the wisdom and ingenuity of God.”
Howard’s college experience fueled his desire to provide practical tools such as The Apologetics Study Bible for Students to equip young adults to defend their faith.
The Bible features study notes and more than 100 articles dealing with tough biblical questions such as: Are there contradictions in the Bible? What does it mean to have faith in God? Why pray if God supplies what we need? How do we know God is real?
Sean McDowell, the study Bible’s general editor, said B&H “targeted the top questions young people are asking and elicited 50 experts in those fields — youth pastors, teachers and speakers who understand how students think, understand how to communicate with them, and know how to motivate them.” McDowell is a speaker and author of apologetics material and son of another well-known Christian apologist: Josh McDowell.
“When kids can answer those tough questions,” Sean McDowell wrote in a released statement, “they begin to build conviction, to have courage to step out of their comfort zones and get out there and make a difference. Apologetics helps develop believers who are passionate and self-confident.”
The study Bible also includes “Twisted Scripture” notes that address ways various religious movements distort God’s Word. And there are “Bones & Dirt” notes that showcase important archaeological discoveries that support the Christian faith.
Simply believing without critical reflection isn’t enough to prepare students for college, said Howard, who authored “Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Jesus” and edited “Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation.”
“Some students think they will keep on believing no matter what facts or arguments come against them,” Howard said. “That’s a noble commitment, but it’s not a defensible faith. To equip our students with defensible faith, church leaders must teach them to think critically, to probe and dig deeper, and even to question some of the standard apologetics answers we’ve heard so often.”
Howard encourages student ministers not only to introduce the study Bible to their students but also use its articles for small group study. “For instance, you could take six weeks and zero in on a study of the best tactics for defending your faith,” he said. “This study Bible provides that kind of material and format.”
Because young people can go online and find critical comments and information on anything, including Christian beliefs, Howard noted: “We need to be pressed and challenged. This helps us remove error from our beliefs and purify the core message that we must defend: Christ as risen Savior.”
Compiled from reports by the International Mission Board communications staff; Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach; Ashley Stephens of WMU; Rob Phillips of LifeWay Christian Resources; and freelance writer Russ Rankin.