Dr. David Hankins Announces Retirement

Dr. David Hankins, Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, has announced his retirement effective June 30, 2019. This newest announcement comes in the wake of a number of other recent highly visible SBC personalities stepping aside from leadership positions for various and sundry reasons.

Many people might know that Dr. Hankins and I have had our disagreements over the years but I wish he and his family nothing but the best as he transitions on to a new chapter in his life. Dr. Hankins was a faithful pastor, is a gifted speaker, and cared very much for the Southern Baptist Convention. I have said on numerous occasions, he has been one of most powerful men in the SBC for the last couple of decades.

His absence leaves a significant void in the Louisiana Baptist Convention. I am very hopeful that as the LBC moves forward, we will find a leader who will unify our convention, will encourage a big-tent mindset, will be deliberate in bringing various and diverse voices to the table from around the state and will help to lead our state further toward a 50/50 split as we seek even greater cooperation with our SBC entities.

You may find the full story at Baptist Press.

BREAKING: Dr. Chuck Kelley Jr. Announces His Retirement from NOBTS

This morning during the Founder’s Day Chapel Service on the campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), Dr. Charles “Chuck” S. Kelley Jr. announced he will be retiring from his role as the seminary’s eighth President effective July 31, 2019.

Dr. Kelley was elected President of NOBTS on February 23, 1996 taking office on March 1 of that year. At the time his retirement begins he will have served approximately 23 years as president of NOBTS which will make him the longest tenured president in the school’s 100 year history.

Photo by Van Payne. Courtesy of Baptist Press.

Dr. Kelley responded to God’s call to preach the gospel as a senior in high school and upon graduation he attended Baylor University. He was ordained to the ministry on February 2, 1972 at First Baptist Church of Beaumont, Texas. Dr. Kelley married Dr. Rhonda Harrington Kelley, his high school sweetheart, on June 21, 1974.

Upon completion of Dr. Rhonda’s Master’s degree at Baylor the couple moved to New Orleans so that Dr. Chuck could begin the Master of Divinity degree program at NOBTS. He completed his M.Div. in 1978, specializing in biblical studies, and began the Doctor of Theology degree program, with a major in preaching, which he completed in 1983.

Throughout his years of service to the Lord and to the Southern Baptist Convention Dr. Kelley has been well known for his heart for evangelism, his love for our cooperative work and his work in statistical analysis of SBC trends. His highly respected research and his many books and articles have been a blessing to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Among numerous other items, some of what I believe to be Dr. Kelley’s key contributions during his tenure include: (1) His pivotal statistical research on plateaued and declining churches, (2) His leadership in keeping the campus of NOBTS in the Gentilly area of New Orleans when others were encouraging a move to the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain, (3) His early leadership in making long-distance theological education available through on-line and other delivery methods, and (what maybe most importantly to me) (4) His leadership, encouragement and rebuild-determination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In the coming weeks and months many wonderful things will be said about the Kelley’s regarding their faithful service. My family and I deeply love and appreciate Drs. Chuck and Rhonda Kelley. What I will most remember about my president is his heart for the lost and his desire that all men would come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Dr. Kelley, for your faithfulness to Jesus, your great compassion for his bride and your love for our School of Providence and Prayer.

NOBTS Chapel and My Meeting with Dr. Kelley

Some time after Katrina (I’m not sure when. Months maybe. Those early years are a blur to me now) I arrived back to my house from a long day of helping visiting mission teams gut homes. My wife Michelle met me at the door with a big smile. It was hard to smile then and we were very busy. Well, I was very busy. Maybe too busy. But Michelle greeted me with a smile and said, “hurry in and look at what we received today.” There on the kitchen counter was probably the prettiest bouquet of flowers I’d ever seen and on the note was something like the following,

Dear Michelle and Jay, We know how busy you are during this difficult time and just wanted to let you know that we are praying for you both. Especially you, Michelle, for the sacrifice you are making while Jay is spending all this time serving with Disaster Relief. You are both appreciated.

Signed, Chuck and Rhonda Kelley

That note was then, and remains today, one of the most thoughtful things anyone ever did for us. I can’t tell you how much we needed that kind word at that time.

I have long appreciated Dr. Kelley for his encouragement to me and his heart for evangelism. I have loved him for his love for New Orleans and his service to our school. He has been gracious to my family, including to my mom and dad (Dad served for 10 years on the Board of Trustees at NOBTS). I publicly defended him from the floor of the Convention way back during the “Sole Membership” issue. Prayed for him in the aftermath of Katrina. Disagreed with him on some administrative issues at NOBTS and then this past Tuesday was disappointed and deeply frustrated with his chapel message that opened the Fall semester at NOBTS. You can find the link to that video HERE.

In the 16 years I have known Dr. Kelley I had never seen him stick out his neck like he did this past Tuesday. He rarely engages in polarizing topics. He appears never to be rattled by the goings on around the convention. He, to my knowledge, has never publicly waded into the trite debates of social media. But there was something markedly different on Tuesday.

Admittedly, he did something he had never done before and that was to publicly offer his own personal thoughts, from his private journal, during a chapel message about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention. While many of us in the blogosphere regularly comment on SBC issues without giving it a second thought, for him, it is unusual. And it was disconcerting and uncomfortable for me to see it happen in chapel.

Most everything he said during the first half of the message (much of the second half was agreeable to me) felt to me, not angry or malicious, but rather like I was watching a deeply hurt man react to frustration and pain that has been building for some time.

I basically disagreed with almost everything he said. He spoke of communicating with people who expressed great disappointment in the meeting in Dallas and on the direction of the future of the convention. I, on the other hand, have never been more encouraged and excited about the SBC and its future. He spoke of concerns for entities and decision makers that came across as frustrating and perplexing for him, and although I have had concerns about our entities from time to time I have not once been as moved to the level of disappointment that he is experiencing.

After his message Tuesday afternoon I though about contacting him, but then I thought (or hoped) maybe folks didn’t interpret the message the way I was afraid it was going to be interpreted. So I waited, but I didn’t have to wait for long. Social media lit up and it was clear that for some, his message came across even worse than I assumed it had. So, Friday afternoon I contacted his office for a meeting and he graciously received me. What follows is not a verbatim account of our two hours but is a survey of our interaction and my thoughts. It was a private conversation with privileged information but he is aware that I was going to write about our meeting.

After a kind welcome, he asked about my dad’s health. We chatted for a moment and I began my remarks by expressing my appreciation for him, retelling him of the story of those flowers after Katrina and how important I believe, just as he does, it is for brothers to speak with one another when we have differences. I expressed my concern over his comments, how I believe they have been taken in a very negative light by a great many Southern Baptists. I expressed my concern for him and for how his remarks reflected on our school as well. I told him that it was clear to me, although others may not have seen it, that I was watching a man that was hurt and that I was surprised by his message because it was not what I was used to seeing from him. I went on to state my concern for how his words could be damaging to recruiting efforts for new students and frustrating for current seminary students who might feel as if their thoughts/opinions and their hopes for the future of the SBC have been dismissed as being off course. I spoke for quite some time on a number of concerns and he listened actively and with interest. Then it was his turn to share his thoughts.

If Dr. Kelley is anything, he is a walking encyclopedia of Southern Baptist life and history. He recounted some aspects of the history of the SBC of which I was unaware. He spoke of the histories of entities, of stories of convention work and cooperation through the years and his deeply held conviction about what is happening in the SBC.

Although he did not “double down” on his remarks from Tuesday, his conviction regarding his concerns remain steadfast. He did not say this to me but I honestly do not think he expected the kind of response his message engendered. It is clear to me he feels strongly that he is expressing the sentiments of a significant portion of people in the SBC and as evidenced by the number of people that have corresponded with him before and after his message, he appears to feel validated in most, if not all of the ideas he shared on Tuesday.

I believe he painted an unfortunate, dark and foreboding picture of the SBC on Tuesday and I could not disagree with him more. I see great hope in the future of our convention. I am very happy about the election of our new president (of whom, by the way, Dr. Kelley spoke very highly and shared his confidence in Dr. Greear’s work in evangelism and passion for the gospel). I am encouraged by the overall direction of the entities (but will continue to offer critique when I feel it is appropriate) and I am down-right excited with this current generation of pastors and young people who have a great passion for the lost and a heart for discipleship. I have argued in the past that convention entity heads ought to be allowed to speak their mind about issues in SBC life, just like the rest of us (albeit not in the area of entity servers being used for electioneering 🙂 ) … and, well… he did just that. He shared his concerns. I just wish he hadn’t done it in chapel.

It is most evident to me that his greatest concern is with the change in dialogue we have witnessed which favors spending time on secondary and tertiary issues in place of focusing on the “heart matter” of evangelism. To me, it appears that his particular critiques weren’t as much about the specific concerns he shared as it is that those things, in his mind, are the evidences that our focus is not where it should be. He offered me a helpful analogy in the form of “conversations at a party.” He noted that the tone and tenor of a party is often loud with many different conversations going on at the same time. He suggested that the reason for or theme of our party (the SBC) is for the work of evangelism. However, he notes, when the purpose of the party has been lost, people begin to hear and pay more attention to the private side conversations taking place at the party and we become distracted by the peripheral dialogues. He believes the reason for the problems, which he has pointed out, is due to our lack of focus on evangelism. I heard him loud and clear on that. In fact, I’m now rehashing his sermon through that lens. All in all, it is even more clear for me that a sort of perfect storm happened for Dr. Kelley on Tuesday with (1) his personal convictions, (2) validation from an agreeing segment of Southern Baptists, and (3) his own hurts and concerns culminated in privately-journaled thoughts that were (unfortunately, in my opinion) unveiled in a chapel message.

Dr. Kelley does not need me to defend him, nor would he want me to, and certainly, in this case, I would not do so. We not only have disagreements about the content of his message but also about some of the mode and tone of the message. However, what we ALL need is to realize that each of us are more often misunderstood than completely understood by others. I know I have been. I believe Dr. Kelley to be wrong about most of his concerns, although I now understand his concerns better than I did. I believe him to be wrong about the state of the SBC, but I now understand what he is seeing that moves him in that way, even if I disagree with his interpretation. What is NOT wrong is his heart for the lost, his love for the SBC and his willingness to stand up and say what he feels is right even if he is in the minority. I think the most important thing I took from our meeting is that we all do well to remember in these days, however you feel about the state of the SBC, there are considerable numbers of Southern Baptists who feel differently about the health of the SBC.

On a side note, I was reminded today why it is so important to interact with those with whom we disagree. Sitting down with one another does not mean, nor should it mean, that we rise in unanimous agreement. But it does mean that we are giving ourselves and the other an opportunity to listen and to be heard. I have been reminded anew that to sit on the other side of a computer screen and lob ad hominems to and fro is sinful action. It is unchristlike. I needed to remember that. We need to be better at communicating. We need to engage one another. We need to be people who will “talk with” one another rather than just “talk about” one another.

Also, let me reiterate something for current and any possible future students of NOBTS. I am very proud of our seminary on a couple of fronts. As Dr. Kelley mentioned in the later part of his message, NOBTS has always been a balanced school. In my words, we have had both 5 point reformed profs and 4 point remonstrant profs. 😉 Speaking as a Pastor who holds to a reformed soteriological position, I can say that I have only and ever been appreciative of the good balance of professors at NOBTS. We are not a “reformed” seminary and we are not an “anti-Reformed” seminary. We are a Baptist Seminary holding to the tradition of “both rails” and I want to assure anyone who might view Dr. Kelly’s chapel message in contrary terms to rest assured, that will not change. His hiring philosophy has kept our school balanced and for that I am very thankful.

We left one another still in disagreement about the particulars but I hope we left with a little more respect and appreciation for one another having sat down to talk as brothers should. This is how Jesus taught us it ought to be. For the sake of our school I believe we can move past this issue and on to a mutually shared excitement for the future of the cooperative work of the SBC.

P.S. I have asked Dr. Kelley if he would be willing to consider writing something for us here at Voices that might offer more insight or help to clarify his position and he received that offer with a smile and suggested he would consider that opportunity. I hope he does.

Evangelism or Compassion?

I’m excited about the recent upswing in public words of affirmation for local baptist associations. I love hearing about the good things happening all around our convention related to the very important (I’d even say pivotal) role that the association can play in permeating the larger local area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart aches for my pastor friends serving areas in which the association does not have the support and strength it could (and should) have. Let me just remind you, pastors, YOU have the power to make the association be what it can be.

The New Orleans Baptist Association of Churches (NOBA) is at the forefront of what I think is groundbreaking work. We have specialized ministry sites, a blessing of a fantastic office complex, a great relationship with the city, and have pastors of all sizes of churches attending meetings and serving in leadership roles. We have also launched medical clinics that are serving under-served areas of New Orleans in a way no one else is doing. We function with a small but gifted staff and do what we do well – with good stewardship. We do not all always agree on things but we disagree with love and patience, without accusations and suspicion knowing that hearts can be right while particulars can be debated.

The men that lead us, lead us well. Jack, Leroy and Alex serve with humility and devotion. I am thankful for them. I am particularly thankful for a great article that Alex penned and posted today. I asked him if I could post it here for you. You can find that original posting here. I’d like to encourage you to go take a look at our NOBA site and peruse the work going on in the metro area of New Orleans. Have a said how much I love serving here? 😉

 

To Such as These: Evangelism or Compassion?
by Alex Brian

How many times, as Southern Baptists, have we heard compassion ministries pitted against evangelism—as though the two are separate, as though the two are contradictory?

One of my favorite things about Jesus is the way he answers the questions people ask him—or rather, he doesn’t. He answers the question which should have been asked; he responds to people’s motivations. We see it again and again throughout Scripture:

“Who is my neighbor?” You’ve kept the law, but you don’t have love, so you have nothing. You’re rich, but you’re destitute.

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” God’s salvation won’t save you from trouble in this world, but it is good.

“Should we worship in the high places or in Jerusalem?” You’re worried that you are too sinful to ascend to heaven, but I have come down to you.

Christ still responds to us in this way. We ask, “Lord, in our interactions with the world, should we focus on evangelism; or compassion and justice?” The reason so many brothers and sisters in Christ can debate this question and never arrive at a clear answer from the Lord is because the Lord is not answering this question. He never will, because he will respond to the question we should have asked, and he will respond to our motivations.

One of my favorite examples of Jesus answering the question that should have been asked is in Joshua, when he asks the angel of the Lord, “Are you for us or our enemies?” and he responds, “No, but I am the commander of the Lord’s army.” Then the angel reveals the world’s worst-ever battle plan to conquer Jericho, which was an impossible task even with the best strategies and methods. You see, the question they should have asked is, “Lord, how will you establish your kingdom here?”

When we ask the Lord whether we should invest our church resources and time in evangelism or in compassion ministries, he answers, “No, but I will establish my kingdom with the least of these.” Then he lays out the world’s worst-ever church growth strategy: go to those who have no money, no influence, and no societal standing; shout God’s praises, watch the walls fall, and keep none of the spoils.

My point is this: compassion and evangelism are necessarily tied. We are quick to remind those who seek to meet physical needs that every person’s greatest need is his or her need for Christ, and this is true; it’s just not a reason to fail in compassion. As a denomination, we are less ready to remind all those who seek to evangelize that evangelism without compassion is hypocrisy. It’s saying “be warm and well fed” without giving a coat or a meal. It’s praying for the Samaritan as we pass by him on our way to temple.

Jesus’ answer to us is that we must have both, that we can’t separate evangelism and compassion—in our churches or in our individual lives.

This article is rooted in central city; it sprung from a recent nola.com article and documentary following a football coach who has seen 28 of his former players killed in the neighborhood. Ask yourself, what does the life and death of Jesus Christ mean for that neighborhood today? How should the people of God in this place respond to such violence? We should bring the gospel, and peace with it. Attempting to do either without the other is vanity.

Your context may be similar, or it may be vastly different—our association ranges from churches meeting in the projects to those nestled in affluent bedroom communities—but everyone has need, first of Jesus, but also of other things, be they material or relational. (Some of the wealthiest communities in our nation fester with a violent loneliness.) Part of the work of ministry is to find the needs where you are and systematically, wisely, sustainably, begin to meet those needs alongside a compassionate, bold, direct sharing of the gospel; both. Shout God’s praises, watch the walls fall, and keep none of the spoils.