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SBC DIGEST: Thom Rainer to lead church revitalization podcast; NOBTS to provide credit for NAMB training; Sunday School leader David Francis to retire

New podcast aims to boost church revitalization

NASHVILLE (BP) — Two Southern Baptist leaders with experience and expertise in church revitalization are joining together for a podcast to assist churches in danger of shutting their doors.

In “Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer,” the president of LifeWay Christian Resources will explore challenges in turning a church around and answer questions from those serving in struggling congregations.

Mark Clifton, senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board, will join Rainer for half of the podcast episodes.

Launching Oct. 5, the weekly podcast will be a joint venture between LifeWay and NAMB. Jonathan Howe, LifeWay’s director of strategic initiatives, will serve as the podcast’s host.

“Because I share [NAMB President] Kevin Ezell’s and the North American Mission Board’s passion for healthier churches, I’m excited to have them partner with us to launch this podcast,” Rainer said. “I want to use the platform God has given us to do everything we can to help churches across North America become as healthy as possible.”

Rainer, in his books “Breakout Churches” and “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” said he has written about “the ways churches can turn around from seemingly hopeless situations. Revitalize & Replant allows me the opportunity to respond directly to questions from pastors and church leaders in those circumstances and give hope to them and others.

Having Clifton as part of the podcast “will be a great asset,” Rainer said. “He has an undeniable desire to see churches become revitalized and renewed.”

Clifton noted, “From speaking with him personally and reading his books and blogs, I know Thom Rainer and I share the same message — a message of hope for local church pastors. LifeWay and NAMB have unique resources that enable us to work together so effectively for this project.”

Each episode will feature a listener question as the starting point for a discussion about what pastors and church leaders can do to help revitalize their churches.

“We will give specific, practical answers that can be implemented right away,” Clifton said.

Leaders in declining churches often serve in isolation and feel uncomfortable reaching out, he said. “The podcast will be a safe place for pastors who are struggling. This will be friends sitting around the table talking about how we can help. There won’t be any judging or condemnation.

“Thousands of leaders are going through this,” Clifton said. “I want them to know they are not alone and to give hope that others have been through this battle before.”

The podcast is not only for pastors at churches in need of revitalization but also for those who have a desire to help, he said. “Maybe someone has driven by a church closing down and thought, ‘I wish I could do something.’ Revitalize & Replant will share ways you can.

“It can also benefit pastors of larger churches who see other churches around them struggling and wonder how they might help.”

In addition to the podcast, resources also will be available at ChurchReplanters.com. Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer can be accessed at iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio.


NOBTS to provide seminary credit for NAMB training

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Seminary credit for NAMB’s church planting programs will now be available in a new partnership between New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the North American Mission Board.

Up to 19 hours of graduate course credit toward the master of divinity degree can be earned through NOBTS for students enrolled in Multiply, NAMB’s church planting training program. Students engaged in NAMB’s BLVD/L-3 urban discipleship program, commonly known as “Boulevard,” may earn up to 18 graduate credit hours. Up to 18 undergraduate credit hours are available to enrollees at NOBTS’ Leavell College.

Mac Lake, NAMB’s senior director of church planter development and visionary architect of The Multiply Group in Atlanta, said, “Offering church planters seminary credit for completing NAMB’s Multiply training is a great way to honor the time, energy and study they put into preparing to plant a new work.”

Students must be accepted to the seminary through the normal admissions process and pay tuition and fees for the courses. As with other mentored courses, students will pay the main campus tuition rate regardless of their location.

The remaining degree coursework can be completed online; through workshops or special event conference courses; at the main campus in New Orleans or at NOBTS extension centers in Miami and Atlanta, all designated NAMB SEND Cities.

NOBTS Provost Norris Grubbs said the seminary is grateful “for the partner we have in NAMB in providing training to those seeking theological training. I pray God will use this as we partner with NAMB in making disciples.”

The credit hours offered apply to the M.Div. core requirements, and degree specializations such as the biblical languages, theology, counseling, apologetics, chaplaincy and other specializations are available.

The mission of NOBTS, graduate dean Mike Edens said, is to “equip leaders to fulfill the Great Commission and Great Commandment through the local church and her ministries. Serving pastors, church staff and church planters is at the very core of who we are. We are excited to walk alongside these church planters.”

In addition, other courses are available through the NOBTS mentoring program that pair a student with a mentor in a local church or parachurch organization in order to link academic training with practical experience.

Bo Rice, NOBTS associate dean of mentoring programs, said the new partnership allows the church planter or pastor to get a head start on the seminary degree he has wanted.

“This is taking what NAMB has already required of them, giving them the expertise, giving them the training that they need to be effective ministers in their context,” Rice said. “We want to be a part of that.”


Sunday School leader David Francis to retire

NASHVILLE (BP) — David Francis, director of Sunday School for LifeWay Christian Resources since 2005, has announced he will retire next February.

His successor is Allan Taylor, a former minister of education who currently serves as director of church education at LifeWay. Taylor also conducts Sunday School leadership conferences both nationally and internationally.

Francis, who joined LifeWay in 1997, has been a key leader, author and speaker on the subject of Sunday School and discipleship. “No one knows the ins and outs of Sunday School strategy like David Francis,” said Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay. “He has dedicated his ministry to equipping church leaders for discipleship and growth through Sunday School.”

Francis is best known for a series of books published annually on various aspects of Bible study ministry. More than a quarter million of his books have been sold, with thousands of additional copies distributed at conferences and online. The books can be downloaded free at www.lifeway.com/davidfrancis.

Francis wrote the first book in the series, “The Five-Step Formula for Sunday School Growth,” during his first week as LifeWay’s Sunday School director. The book is based on the works of Arthur Flake, the first leader of the Sunday School department of the former Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) in 1920.

Francis will continue leading discipleship workshops following retirement. He and his wife Vickie teach Sunday School to 4-year-olds at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn. They have three adult sons and five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way.

Before coming to LifeWay, Francis served 13 years at First Baptist Church in Garland, Texas, in various roles including associate pastor and minister of education. Earlier, he had been minister of education and administration at Kiestwood Baptist Church, also in the Dallas area.

At LifeWay, Francis has served as associate director of the church leadership division, director of regional operations, director of discipleship and director of network partnerships. But his role as director of Sunday School, he said, has been his passion.

“It’s been a grand privilege to do this job,” Francis said. “It never occurred to me in my wildest imaginations that I would be asked to direct this program. But I was able to do it for 13 years, and it’s been a blast.

“Now there’s a very capable, passionate, accomplished person on board who can take the reins of Sunday School and take it to another level, and that’s Allan Taylor.”

Taylor, director of church education at LifeWay, served 20 years as minister of education at First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., before coming to LifeWay in 2015. He has also been minister of education at London Bridge Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va., and Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.

“Allan Taylor has an unquestioned passion for helping churches see the value of Sunday School,” Geiger said. “In his new role at LifeWay, he will be sharing that passion with churches around the world.”

Taylor has written two Sunday School books, “The Six Core Values of Sunday School” and “Sunday School in HD,” and produced three DVD training series: Sunday School Done Right, Forward From Here and Sunday School Matters. He also serves part-time as associate pastor of education at Tri-City Baptist Church in Conover, N.C.

Taylor believes a stronger emphasis on groups can help turn churches around and help them in their mission of making disciples.

“The Great Commission is really two things — it’s evangelism and discipleship,” Taylor said. “And Sunday School or small groups is where those two things take place.”

Taylor and his wife Linda have been married 39 years; they have three children and three grandchildren.

His new role as LifeWay’s director of Sunday School and church education takes effect Oct. 1.

    About the Author

  • LifeWay Christian Resources, NOBTS & BP Staff

    Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston from reporting by Aaron Earls and Lisa Cannon Green of LifeWay Christian Resources and Marilyn Stewart of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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