Christians Facing Serious Crisis in California (Greg Davidson)

The California Statehouse certainly has the reputation of passing legislation that is extreme and activist against Christians and their Biblical worldview. Recently the Supreme Court struck down AB775, a law passed by the California Assembly and Senate and signed into law by the Governor, that would have forced pro-life clinics to post notices, and tell mothers they can abort their babies and have California taxpayers foot the bill via the state’s Medi-Cal program. 

Now we are facing what might be the most dangerous piece of legislation yet. AB2943, a bill backed and supported by the LBGTQ, has passed the California Assembly and is poised to be voted on by the Senate. AB2943, if it becomes law, would jail pastors or teachers. and impose the severest of fines if a speaker is paid by a church as a conference, seminar, retreat speaker, etc., and they speak on God’s loving redemption and way out of the lifestyle of the sin of homosexuality. Furthermore, if a church sells a book that communicates how the Bible offers God’s freedom from the sin of homosexuality, then prison sentences and the severest of fines could be imposed. If a church counselor is paid by a client for services, and the counselor shares that homosexuality is outside of the plan of God, and God offers them salvation that will deliver them from homosexuality, they will be considered a lawbreaker for practicing what they call “conversion therapy.” The law does not apply to a pastor’s weekly teaching and preaching at his church. These are dangerous days for believers in California.

The California Southern Baptist Convention has rallied believers to stand up to oppose the bill. Russell Moore has sent a letter to our Governor requesting that he not sign the bill as it violates religious liberty. Christians have united from across the state and rallied on the steps of the Sacramento Statehouse. I am an ambassador for the Alliance Defending Freedom, and I have spent hours with their lawyers on the phone discussing this dangerous piece of legislation. They will be filing a lawsuit against the State of California if they pass AB2943, and make it the law of the State of California. The Alliance Defending Freedom has already won three cases at the Supreme Court this year. Please pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ in California, and if you have any influence with any elected official in our state, please help us in this challenging hour that we face

Greg Davidson is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church of Vacaville, California. 

What I Learned from John Bisagno (Dean Stewart)

My week began with the news that John Bisagno, longtime pastor of First Baptist Houston, had died. Knowing that Bro. John lived a long, full life and had honored our Savior all along the way I celebrate his passing. I am certain in glory he echoes God’s Word, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” In a day when we read too often the sad news of our heroes stumbling to the finish line, it is worth noting that Bro. John hit the tape running well.

Bro. John was one of the first men in ministry that I admired. I had a chance to speak to him a time or two through the years but I had no relationship with him whatsoever. I was drawn to him because like me he was a good-sized man. Jerry Vines ran miles every day and his physique showed it. O.S. Hawkins looked like a movie star with fancy suites and perfect hair. Dr. John Bisagno, however, I could identify with. I soon learned that few pastors in the 1970’s and 80’s could match his success. First Houston added over 22,000 members during his tenure, baptizing over 15,000 people.

In a day when much conversation is taking place about women in our convention, Bro. John was a champion of women serving the Lord through ministry. Dr. Bisagno was also a pioneer in worship and praise teams. I have several books by John Bisagno such as, Power of Positive Praying, Power of Positive Preaching to the Lost, Principle Preaching. However, Power of Positive Evangelism is my favorite Bisagno book.

The Power of Positive Evangelism is written for the purpose of helping conduct revivals. I recommend every pastor, who gives a public invitation, to buy the book turn to chapter two and read about the invitation. I won’t reproduce the chapter but some of his instructions about giving an invitation I have attempted to follow are:

1. Be Specific – never assume the audience knows what you want them to do.

2. Give it urgently – Jesus always called for action today. Bisagno says never speak of tomorrow in your invitation.

3. Get into the invitation – A sharp break between the sermon and the invitation can destroy all that has led up to that moment. How many pastors have you heard stand at the front following a powerful sermon and say, “What’s our hymn today?” Never use a song for an invitation that people are not familiar with. Through the years I have settled on a few invitation songs and that is all we use. Right now, we use “Give Me Jesus” exclusively as our invitation song. I end the sermon by introducing “Give Me Jesus” and attempt to flow from the sermon to the invitation seamlessly.

4. Give the invitation prayerfully – the invitation certainly is prayed over before the service begins but the minister should continue to talk to God during the invitation.

There are several other suggestions Dr. Bisagno gives in this chapter. I encourage you to get the book and take in all his advice on giving an invitation. When I read the chapter, I knew that I had failed to plan for the invitation, all of my focus in preparation was on the sermon. I regret I pastored a few years before finding Bro. John’s invitation advice.

Let me end by saying one thing that stinks about growing old is the people you admired in your youth all begin to pass away. Dr. John’s works will have to follow him to glory because I and countless others will follow this sage’s advice.

Signs of a Healthy Church? Lessons from Multiplying Churches in Asia (Don Dent)

In the summer of 2018, I joined five other Southern Baptist theological educators visiting IMB work in a specific segment of Asia. For 9 days we studied and assessed networks of reproducing churches organized in networks – 20,000 new churches in 8 years. One motivation for this assessment was to see whether such movements are producing healthy churches. Frankly, many critics in America simply do not believe healthy churches can develop so quickly. Here are vignettes I witnessed that raise the question of what really is a healthy church.

1. These churches multiply, i.e. churches plant churches that plant churches. Instead of seeing that as a problem, we should recognize this as a significant sign of spiritual vitality. In this one segment of Asia, local partners of our missionaries have started 180 streams with at least 4 generations – church starts church starts church starts church! Missionaries and their partners have assessed 20,000 new churches. Really, some say we should slow this down?

2. Evangelism is normative among these churches and a large portion of the believers are actively sharing their faith. New believers are trained to share with 20 oikos members in the first few months. Church growth and multiplication are driven by massive gospel sharing that produces fruit in a generally hostile environment.

3. There is accountability to share the gospel. I saw one church service where each adult was asked how many times they would share that week. The answers were written down and next week they will share testimonies of their efforts. How many American church members would miss church next week?

4. Almost all additions to local churches are through adult baptism following conversion from another religion. For instance, one whole network of new churches did not have a single member transfer in from another church and this is not untypical. How many adults has your church baptized in the last 2 years?

5. New churches result primarily from evangelism and baptisms instead of planning, money raising, and grand openings. In a three-year study period, one network of churches saw an average of 17 baptisms in the first year of each new church. When we remember that these churches started from the witness of approximately 2 people, then that is an astounding percentage growth. Does that seem unhealthy?

6. I met several teenagers who have already started one or more churches. They heard the gospel and believed and immediately started sharing the gospel with dozens of friends and relatives and churches resulted. So, how would your church do if we counted the number of youth who have started a church before they graduate from high school?

7. Local church leadership is almost always chosen from within the group on the basis of who is faithful in sharing their faith and training the new believers in discipleship. Unlike our Western practice, church leadership in those churches is functional before it is positional. Which sounds closer to the New Testament?

8. Intensive mentoring is a primary means of raising up quality leaders. For instance, missionaries choose faithful men and then spend 60-90 days a year mentoring them life-on-life. How many US church leaders invest that kind of time in equipping people?

9. These churches show a deep commitment to mission partnership. For instance, although the average income for many families is below $1000 per year, one network of churches gives 30% of their offerings to mission work outside their local church. How does that stack up against our SBC churches giving out of our wealth?

10. Although gospel proclamation is the priority in ministry, the believers also pray for the sick and demonized. Most networks can report several miracles that brought more attention to the gospel. Why does this make most Westerners nervous?

11. A commitment to on-the-job practical training is essential to growth. Every believer is trained to share their faith and follow-up new believers. In 2013 missionaries provided training to 1000 emerging pastors, but by 2017 they and their partners had trained 20,000+. How are we doing in equipping emerging leaders?

12. Several networks that are approximately 5 years old have planted churches in several other countries. Although they are working hard to reach their ‘Jerusalems,’ they are not waiting to go to Samaria and beyond.

13. In many networks, a majority of the leadership is between the ages of 22-40. They show both maturity and energy in their service. Truthfully, wouldn’t we like to see that pattern in our church?

14. False teachers are trying to infiltrate the church, but leaders are equipped to counter them. When God is working powerfully, then Satan will try to copy and deceive. Instead of proof of a problem, this is actually a sign of health. Groups of pastors practice interpreting Scripture, developing sermons, and writing doctrinal statements from Scripture under the watchful eyes of mature mentors.

15. This growth is taking place in a climate of persecution, where it is illegal to become a Christian. Believers can be beaten, thrown out of the village, and jailed. Yet, we heard multiple testimonies of people who heard the gospel for the first time and asked to be baptized immediately. A policeman broke into a house church meeting and told the believers to stop meeting or he would see they were punished. A grandmother stood and walked up to the officer and said, “Kill me first. We will not turn back and will continue to worship Jesus. If this is wrong, then kill me first.” The policeman has been defending the church since that day. What are we afraid of?

 

Don Dent has served as an IMB missionary and now works at Gateway Seminary. 

A Plea to Our Predecessors (Scott M. Douglas)

Last night my heart was grieved yet again as I read (yet again) another essay from an older SBC statesman lamenting that things “ain’t what they used to be.” With more straw men and mischaracterizations and a healthy dose of fear mongering, I was grieved not because of how the Convention is portrayed or how its trajectory is mislabeled.

I was grieved because again I found myself saying “Is this really how you want to go out?” Several years ago during our national meeting, one of the architects of what can only be described as the miraculous Conservative Resurgence took his final address and stomped his feet about the changes he didn’t like being proposed. Earlier this year we watched a tragedy unfold as a denominational hero dug in his feet and stomped and kicked. AFA published a hit piece on the newly elected SBC president and stirred up a storm predicting that it won’t be long before the SBC descends into cultural liberalism. SBC entities are put under fire and accused of being accomplices with Soros and his global takeover.

As a Millennial pastor, can I make a plea to our predecessors? Don’t go out like this. Don’t sacrifice an entire lifetime of faithful service and personal cost. Don’t give up an entire generation of labor and honor, taking the high road and preserving biblical fidelity. Please.

You are honored – I say this with all sincerity, few of us would be where we are if not for the work of those who came before us. I would not have been invited to church where I met Jesus for the first time with a friend if that church hadn’t been faithful to the Bible. I’d not have had a pastor who taught and preached if he’d not been trained and equipped by faithful seminaries. Those faithful seminaries wouldn’t exist.if not for the work of diligent trustees appointed by godly men who loved the Bible and labored to ensure that our denomination would return to its orthodox roots. We don’t look away from our predecessors. We are amazed when we see footage of Dr. Mohler fielding questions from seminary students intentionally standing against Scripture and the school’s theological statements. We truly do honor what you accomplished.

We are not liberal – One of the accusations lobbed at the shift in SBC involvement and leadership is that it’s “liberal,” whether it’s cultural or theological. Predecessors, we are not. We are committed to historic orthodoxy, the orthodoxy you taught us. We are committed to biblical inerrancy, the same inerrancy you worked to reclaim. We are committed to the exclusive salvation through Christ, the same you preached to us that we heard and responded to. We have been taught and trained under an entire generation of professors and pastors who affirm without reservation key fundamental documents and theological positions. What you labored for theologically is safe. 

We are not social gospel – Unfortunately, the GA Baptist article pushed a view that the SBC and its younger leadership is moving towards a social gospel. But we cannot divorce the evangelistic commands of Mark 16:15 to “preach the gospel to every creature” from the call of Micah to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” We cannot separate John 3:16 from James 1:27. We cannot put into conflict Romans 10:13 and Matthew 25:40. The same Bible that tells us that we are to go to the ends of the earth on mission is the same Bible that tells us to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless. It’s a legacy we inherited from you to do disaster relief, provide food pantries, collect for benevolence, to volunteer in schools, to do clothing drives, and to host Cub Scout packs.

We are not feminist – One of the central moves of the Conservative Resurgence was to return to a biblical model of pastoral ministry laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 – that the office of pastor is reserved for qualified men. The backlash to the effort among many in the SBC to try to find ways to engage women in leadership has prompted many to question if women should be pastors. None of us are saying that. None of us, not even the women who are providing a voice for inclusion, are saying this. We are applying the same hermeneutics you taught us, to let Scripture speak. And it does. Women have a function and role in the church: Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, and others did more than operate fellowships and walk around barefoot & pregnant. So when we recognize the giftedness and calling of women in the church, we recognize both what God has gifted them with and also the boundaries placed on the pastoral office.

You will not be cast aside – My fear is that many who hang on too tight or who go out kicking and screaming do so because they think they will be cast aside. Please don’t feel this way. We want you, not just for your wisdom but for your friendship and impact on our lives. We want to learn how to be better pastors, better preachers, better counselors. And we need you more than you know. We learn a lot in seminary about exegesis, but it takes a seasoned mentor to show us how to hold a widow’s hand as her husband of 60 years dies in front of us. It takes a seasoned mentor to help us navigate change in established churches. We need you. You will always have a place, you always have a seat at the table.

We love you. We’re grateful for you. We cannot say enough how much we appreciate the hard work and sacrifice you made. We will take care of what you built. It won’t look exactly like you built it, because each generation leaves its imprint on its legacy to pass down. But it will be cared for well, because we, like you, will stand before King Jesus and give an account for how we cared for His Bride.

So please, my dear brothers and sisters, don’t go out like that.

Scott is the senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Parrish, Florida. He is an M.Div. and Ed.D. alum of Southern Seminary. He is married to his wife Carrie and they have two sons. You can follow him on Twitter at or follow his blog at