SBCPC Scholarship Recipients (Round 1)

Congratulations to the following recipients of the 2017 SBC Pastors’ Conference Scholarship. Each of these 30 recipients will receive $1,000 for travel and other expenses to attend all sessions of the SBC Pastors’ Conference and SBC Annual Meeting. These recipients pastor average-sized SBC churches and wouldn’t be able to attend without these scholarship funds.  About 30% of our applicants are church planters. Several are from outside traditional SBC states. We love having this opportunity to bless small church pastors.

We want to thank early donors who have helped make these scholarships possible:

Cross Church (Springdale, AR)Hickory Grove Baptist Church (Charlotte, NC)Johnson Ferry Baptist Church (Marietta, GA), Roger K. Simpson (individual donor, member of First Southern Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, OK, where SBCPC speaker Shane Hall pastors), First Baptist Church (Woodstock, GA)Liberty Baptist Church (Hampton, VA)Broadmoor Baptist Church (Madison, MS), Cornerstone Fellowship Baptist Church (Haskell, TX), and the SBC of Virginia (state convention). We anticipate others coming on board to make more scholarships available (instructions here). The Pastors’ Conference is also funding a number of these scholarships. Our hope is to release a second round of scholarships by the first week of May.


Scholarship Recipient List

Chad Ashby
College Street Baptist Church
Newberry, South Carolina

Jeremy Atwood
New Harvest Baptist Church
Caneyville, Kentucky

Todd Brandt
Christian Bible Church
Yonkers, New York

Chris Canote
Perche Baptist Church
Clark, Missouri

Mark Carpenter
Bethel Baptist Church
Danville, Illinois

Nicholas Clark
Heritage Hills Baptist Church
Santa Claus, Indiana

Rob Connelly
Uptown Church
Martinsville, Virginia

Gavin Croft
North Fort Myers First Baptist
North Fort Myers, Florida

Robert Daughtry
Midville First Baptist Church
Midville, Georgia

Shane England
Resonate Church
Nashville, Tennessee

Kevin Fortier
Emmaus Church
Manchester, New Hampshire

Bobby Franklin
Temple Baptist
Dermott, Arkansas

Louie Gibbs
Radical City Church
Portsmouth, Virginia

Ryan Gilbert
Raintree Community Church
Lee’s Summit, Missouri

Luke Holmes
FBC Tishomingo
Tishomingo, Oklahoma

Kyle Hopper
New Clover Creek Baptist Church
Hardinsburg, Kentucky

Han Lee
The Philippian Church
Oakland, California

Aaron Leggett
Emmanuel Baptist Church
Batesville, Arkansas

Michael Martin
Calvary Baptist
Smithville, Tennessee

Jacob McMillian
Journey Baptist Church
Saint Joseph, Missouri

Justin Nale
Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist
Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Fabian Portunato
Revolution Church
Miami, Florida

Aaron Ramquist
Rock of Hope Church
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Brandon Skaggs
Cash Creek Baptist Church
Henderson, Kentucky

Paul Springer
Northwest Baptist Church
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin

Stephen Stanford
Forest Hills Baptist Church
Seguin, Texas

Trey Wells
Clyde’s Chapel Baptist
Wendell, North Carolina

Cameron Whaley
Canadian Valley Baptist Church
Yukon, Oklahoma

Jordon Willard
Trinity Baptist Church
Tarboro, North Carolina

Justin Woulard
Central Baptist Church
McComb, Mississippi

In Defense of Open Mic Time at Funerals

Yesterday William Thornton wrote about The Bizzare Cases of Strangers Speaking at Funerals. William recommended against “the growing trend of an informal, almost ad hoc service where various family members and friends may speak as well as the minister or ministers”. The article had a number of points about funerals that I would affirm as good advice – like making sure the gospel is clearly presented, and making sure you learn about the life of the deceased and include that in your message.

I thought it was worth some gentle pushback on the open mic time, however. I would estimate about half of the funerals I do have included a time of inviting anyone present to speak. I’ve never had a bad experience or a funeral go wrong because of including that element. The vast majority of time I’ve found it to be an very encouraging and memorable time for the family.

When I sit down with a family to plan a funeral, I take a sample service order that includes several optional elements at the bottom. I let the family know they are welcome to include any of those they prefer, and one of those options is an open mic time for family and friends. I allow them to choose if the mic will be completely open to anyone present or if they would like to pre-select a certain number of family and friends who will speak (that’s not technically an open mic time, but its close in the way it practically works out).

I haven’t gone back and counted, but I would guess half or more of the services I’ve done, the family has asked to include that optional element. I think it’s more common now for families to include that than it was 9 years ago when I started pastoring, but that’s just my sense.

Setup Is Key

I believe one of the reasons its worked well in services I’ve done is that its planned well and we have an emergency exit plan. First, I ask the family during our planning meeting if they have a couple family members who will want to speak, to at least one of them to be ready to go first. That avoids a long, awkward wait in a “who’s going to go first?” holding pattern. So ahead of time, I normally already know of two or three people who are planning to speak.

Second, near the beginning of the service, I let people know there will be “a time later for anyone who would like to share some thoughts about…” That way people have a few minutes to get their thoughts together.

Third, I introduce the time with some specific instructions (I almost have this part memorized): “We ask that you keep your comments relatively brief so that plenty of people will have an opportunity to speak and, of course, make sure whatever you decide to share is appropriate for this occasion.” This gives me an emergency exit plan. If someone were to go on too long, or if someone were to branch off in an area that’s inappropriate or uncomfortable, I am ready and willing to intervene with a firm but kind, “Thank you sister Margaret, let’s make sure others have an opportunity to speak.” I’ve never had to do that, but I’m always ready and let the family know ahead of time if it goes off the rails I’m prepared to handle the situation.

Allow it to Develop Naturally

Allow there to be some silence between speakers without feeling awkward. This adds to the authenticity of the moment. Some family members will cry while they speak. Let them know ahead of time people will understand and will appreciate their desire to speak at such a difficult time. After enough people have spoken, close down the time and thank everyone who spoke for their words.

People understand the unscripted nature of that time during a service so I don’t feel the need to police or correct theology on the spot. It’s an opportunity for people to speak their own thoughts. If there is some unbiblical sentiment expressed, I always have the time later in the service to gently, indirectly remind people of what the Bible teaches. This is actually one of the biggest advantages, one of the reasons I most like including open mic time…

I Read from the Bible

It’s not unusual for a family member to ask me to read a letter or poem as a part of the service. I’m sure most pastors have experienced that as well. I’ve found that most funeral poetry isn’t the kind of thing I’m comfortable endorsing. When I’m asked, I don’t even read the content before I respond with, “When I read in funerals, I read from the Bible.” I don’t want to sit with a grieving family critiquing the theology of line 6 of the needlepoint craft they’ve had hanging in their house since they were kids, for example. So whether its good theology or not, I decline kindly and offer that if one of their family members or friends would like to read something, they can feel free to do that during the open mic time. I’ve never had a family push back on that suggestion. I remind them cousin Richard would probably be honored if you asked him to read something during the service. (In cases of seriously unbiblical theology, I would let the family know I don’t recommend having that as part the service and offer an alternative, but I’ve never had anyone want anything like that, it’s usually just atheological therapeutic thoughts, which are not necessarily bad, in context, in proportion, and I know I’m going to give a strong gospel presentation during my message.)

So having the open mic time gives an informal outlet to those who want to participate but don’t need to be a part of the formal service structure. It allows a meaningful and encouraging time for the family. It provides a natural and comfortable time for people to talk and express their grief in a way that honors their loved one. There is an informality to the time that I usually sense to be a welcome relief of tension in the funeral service. It helps me before I preach to hear about the life of the one I’m about to speak about. I consider my job in leading a funeral to have two main goals: (1) honor the memory of the person who’s gone and (2) preach Jesus and his gospel. Open mic time has never once detracted from either of those goals.

Can’t Afford the Trip to Phoenix? Scholarships Available

We’ve got some big news to announce today. Our team has been working to maximize the benefit of this year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference for those of us who pastor average-sized churches. Our speakers are drawn from that demographic. The Caskey Center, our major partner for this year’s PC, specializes in equipping what they call “smaller-membership churches.” Caskey has a number of program elements designed with us in mind: Common Ground Testimonies are one example. They’re also releasing new research at the SBCPC designed to strengthen smaller church leadership and health.

While this focus has been clear from the start, we also know some pastors of average-sized churches are unable to attend the Pastors’ Conference and Annual Meeting simply because of the cost. The expenses can be out of reach for some smaller churches. Their pastors would attend if they could—but this obstacle has stood in their way in the past. Our aim is to help some of these pastors be able to attend this year by blessing them with a scholarship for travel and convention expenses.

We think this fits incredibly well with our focus and vision for this year’s Pastors’ Conference and we are thrilled to announce it today.

How Does the Scholarship Program Work?

We will be awarding scholarships in the amount of $1,000 each to be used for flight, hotel, mileage, rental car, meals, books, resources—any convention-related expenses. Applicants will be asked a series of questions to make sure they qualify for the scholarship. Those who qualify will be awarded on a first-come basis until the funds are exhausted. For those awarded the scholarship, a $1,000 check will be mailed directly to your church, with a letter explaining that the funds must be used only for convention expenses.

Who qualifies?

We’re looking for pastors of churches with less than 200 in average attendance whose churches are either unable or unwilling to fund expenses to Phoenix this summer. By “unable” we mean that the church doesn’t have enough money to feasibly fund needed expenses for a trip to Phoenix. By “unwilling” we mean the church has the funds and the pastor has asked for convention expenses to be covered, but the church has refused that request. By applying you agree to use the funds only for convention-related expenses and to return the full scholarship amount if you do not travel to Phoenix. You also agree to attend all four SBCPC sessions and all SBC Annual Meeting sessions.

How Can We Do This?

As far as we know this is the first time a scholarship program like this has been offered. We have been blessed in our fund-raising efforts by The Caskey Center and our other sponsors so the cost of the conference is fully covered. In past years, a number of large churches have given as part of the conference fund-raising efforts. Since our costs have been covered before we contacted these churches, we wrote to these churches and asked them to contribute instead to this scholarship fund so we could help pastors attend the conference. We’ll recognize the churches who contribute at the PC and in the event program. The generosity of these large churches is what is making this scholarship program possible.

How Many Scholarships Will Be Available?

We will award as many scholarships as we can with the funds donated. We don’t know yet if that will be 5, 10, or 20 scholarships, but we hope that somewhere in that range may be possible.

How Do I Apply?

We will open applications Monday, April 10 at 11am Eastern (10am Central, 9am Mountain, 8am Pacific). You can apply by online form we will post here at SBC Voices. The application will be simple: contact information for you and your church, as well as a series of questions allowing you to agree that you meet the qualifications to apply. There is no judging criteria or decision to be made on our part: those who qualify will be awarded scholarships on a first-come basis, so make sure to apply early if you want to be with us in Phoenix.

So if you want to attend this year’s SBCPC and money is what’s holding you back, our prayer is this scholarship program will make it possible for you.