John Allen Chau–An Introspective Look

John Allen Chau was martyred while trying to bring the gospel to the Sentinelese people sometime between November 16 and November 19.  There have been numerous stories written about Chau’s martyrdom. Baptist Press wrote this story if you’re not familiar with Chau’s death.

I’d like to take an introspective look at Chau’s martyrdom.  Instead of asking questions about his methodology, we should examine our hearts.  Here are five questions:

 

  • Are we willing to be martyred for Christ?  That’s the obvious question, but it’s a tough question.  Every believer should answer in the affirmative. It’s easy to answer “yes” when sitting in a climate controlled sanctuary, a seminary classroom, or a weekend retreat surrounded by ebullient millennials.  What if Chau had asked us to accompany him? What would we have done? Would we have lectured him on wisdom and prudence, or would we have gotten in the boat with him?
  • What is our responsibility to others?  While I write this post, two sets of eyes are staring at me.  I’m responsible for them, my wife and three other kids. At what point should I be responsible, knowing that my martyrdom would leave a widow and five fatherless children? In 2010, I was preparing to go on a mission trip to Guatemala.  My wife was pregnant with our third child and several well meaning Christians counseled me not to participate because if something happened, my children would be fatherless. I was even told, “There will be time for missions later.” I was horrified and sad.  Jesus had an answer for this question. He was very blunt. He told His followers to hate their families. He used the word hate. We don’t use the word hate around our house, but Jesus unambiguously called us to surrender anything and everything that is valuable to us.  This includes our families. My answer to this question: I’d rather my kids grow up knowing their daddy was a martyr than never knowing the true cost of following Christ. I hope I never have to make that choice.
  • How are we doing in our missions efforts?  There are far too many unreached and uncontacted people groups.  Why aren’t we reaching them? Are we even trying to reach them? After Chau’s death, the Twitterverse was ablaze with disparaging comments, some from pastors and church leaders.  The question is not, should John Chau have gone to that remote island? The question should be, why, in an era of unparalleled technology, was he the first missionary to share the gospel with these people?  Also, why are there still some 3000 plus unreached people groups? We have the most powerful weapon of hope in history. David Platt said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors conference, “When will we stop telling the world to go to hell?”  

 

  • When does the gospel override planning and structure?  Do we need structure?  Yes we do. Do we need careful and diligent planning?  Yes we do. But more than planning, structure, and sound methodologies, we need passionate gospel proclaimers.  We need to be passionate gospel proclaimers. The gospel is not beholden to any structure, denomination, or organization.  The gospel and the gospel alone has the power to save. Paul wrote in Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.”  John Chau’s feet are beautiful. How do our feet look?

 

  • Will we see a fresh commitment to reach the lost?  There are unreached people groups in the farthest corners of the world, but there are also unreached people in groups in our own towns.  Will we see a fresh commitment from Christians to reach everyone with the gospel of Christ? Or will John Allen Chau’s martyrdom be a cautionary tale in how not to engage a hostile people group?  If John Allen Chau can kayak two miles in the hopes of sharing the gospel with an unknown people, then we should be able to cross the street and engage our neighbors.

 

These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.  It’s easy to play armchair quarterback to what seems, on the surface, to be a fool’s errand, but I like John Allen Chau’s method of evangelizing over and above my method of not evangelizing.  The unequivocal truth is this: A twenty six year old man dared to bring the gospel to a people he was almost certain would kill him if given the chance. He died sharing his faith. Do we even live sharing ours?

Worse than an infidel?

In recent days, in response to those calling on Christians to have compassion on needy people from other countries, I have heard or read several people reference 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

In this same context, some have said things like, “As long as we have poor people here in the USA, or as long as we are not taking proper care of our veterans, we should not give one red cent to help those from other countries.” While some have limited the scope of their comments specifically to government aid, I have seen others suggest that even churches and Christian ministries would do well to limit their charitable efforts to needs within our own country. 

Although I do not mean to imply that all supporters of the current president have been swayed by this line of thinking, there appears to be evidence suggesting that an America First approach is beginning to influence the mindset of some people with regard to our approach to good deeds and charity in general. In some ways, it is not surprising to me that non-Christians would take such a me-first approach to life. As my father used to say, some people’s motto in life is “make all you can, can all you make, sit on the lid, and poison the rest.” What is especially concerning—and disappointing—to me is to hear professing Christians from the United States adopt this type of attitude and rhetoric toward those from other countries and boldly claim that Scripture itself supports this position.

I would like to address first of all some interpretational issues with regard to 1 Timothy 5:8. The context of this verse is the guidelines given by the Apostle Paul to Christian families and the church in Ephesus, by way of his disciple Timothy, for financially taking care of widows in their midst. While entreating the church to be conscientious in their support of “widows indeed” who had no one else to look out for them, he simultaneously calls out the children, nephews, and nieces of these widows who do nothing to take care of their own destitute mothers or aunts, and says they are worse than infidels. The insinuation is that even those of the world do a better job than these at taking care of their needy family members.

The idea Paul is confronting in this verse, however,  is not misguided generosity directed to others, but rather the indifference and selfishness of those who are able to help but decide to keep their resources for themselves and spend them on their own desires. It has nothing whatsoever to do with national or local group loyalty and solidarity. Interestingly enough, one of the requirements Paul suggests for the widows who might receive the aid of the church is that they must have “lodged strangers” (1 Timothy 5:10). The Greek word here, xenodocheó, literally means “to show hospitality toward foreigners.”

Now I freely recognize that this verse has nothing to say, one way or another, with regard to how much of its national budget the United States should spend on foreign aid or refugee resettlement. Since Christians in Bible times did not have the option of expressing their compassion toward others through public channels at the ballot box, instructions for doing so or refraining from doing so may only be gleaned by complex argumentation and tenuous insinuation. The overall tenor of Scripture, however, definitely favors a general stance of compassion and generosity toward destitute foreigners, whether on the part of Old Testament Israel, the New Testament Church, or individual believers.

Let me stop right here and say I am not arguing in favor of open borders or in any way neglecting necessary security measures to ensure the safety of our country. And though I do have some opinions about immigration and refugee resettlement laws, and the need for comprehensive immigration reform, that is not what I want to address here. I am talking about a general anti-foreigner, America-first, me-first attitude that seems to be gaining traction not only among Americans at large but among (at least some) Evangelical Christians in particular.

As I see it, it is basically the same attitude of those English church leaders in the room when missionary pioneer William Carey proposed going to India to evangelize the people there and received the reply, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.” It is the same attitude of multitudes of “good church people” who have told new missionary candidates, “Why go all the way around the world to preach the gospel to those people over there when we have plenty of needs right here in our own backyard?” It is the same attitude of Christian parents of missionaries who refuse to support and bless their children’s ministry because they don’t like them raising their grandchildren in a country other than the United States.

For those who may have forgotten the sermons at the missions conference at your local church, let me remind you that Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And He did not say, “Once Jerusalem is thoroughly saturated with the gospel, then you can move on to Judea; and when Judea is evangelized, to Samaria; and when Samaria is evangelized, to the ends of the earth.” Our God is a missionary God who sent His only Son to this world as a missionary. God so loved not this country or that country, but God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son. 

And just as God calls us to preach the gospel in word both at home and around the world, He also calls us to demonstrate the gospel in deed both at home and around the world. When Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 25:35-36), it was in the context of “gathering all the nations” (Matt 25:32), and the word “stranger” in v. 35 literally means “foreigner” or “alien.” The Apostle Paul praised the churches of Macedonia, who he says gave from a position of extreme poverty, according to their means, and beyond their means, not, in this case, to help the poor people around them in Macedonia, but for the relief of the saints in faraway Jerusalem. And in this same context he holds up the example of “our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

While it is true that we still have needy people among us, it is also true that here in America today we live in the most prosperous society that has ever existed on the face of this planet. And Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is expected” (Luke 12:48). No, we should not neglect the poor among us; and yes, we should take good care of all those who have courageously and selflessly served our country in the line of duty. But that is no excuse for at the same time turning a deaf ear to the needs—be they physical, mental, social, or spiritual—of the teeming millions of the poverty-stricken nations of the world.

The Missing Emphasis in SBC Life: Local Associations

Throughout the vast majority of my pastoral ministry, if I were to think about SBC life, I would first think about the local church and then the national entities. I’d think about the Annual Meeting, the notable pastors, the entity heads, denominational strategies, the Cooperative Program, Lottie, Annie, and all of this work that we do together. I’d consider the state conventions too, especially my own, and then I’d think about my local association, primarily quarterly when we’d have our executive meeting, which was always over lunch. I participated, but I didn’t put a huge amount of effort into it. When I thought about the SBC I thought small (local church) and big (national entity) and not too much in between.

State Conventions have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade since the Great Commission Resurgence called for more Cooperative Program money to go the national entities like the IMB, NAMB, and our seminaries to train future pastors and leaders. So, many state conventions down-sized. That is good and I supported that, but I also support state conventions and think that they often do great work. I think there should be a middle ground there. Through Disaster Relief, church planting, children’s homes, colleges, and all kinds of other ministries, our state conventions play a prominent role in SBC life.

With 5 entity head positions open and SBC President JD Greear rightly calling for a day of prayer and fasting on Monday, October 8th for these search committees, we are also right to be paying attention to what is happening at top level leadership in the SBC. It is really important and I don’t want to take anything away from that.

But, with all that said and with a need before us of church planting, church revitalization, church health, discipleship, evangelism, local missions strategy, cooperation, and so much more that the local church cannot do by itself, have we missed the greatest tool before us that Baptists have devised to accomplish these things? Historically, before we ever had national entities or state conventions, we had local Baptist associations. Beyond the local church itself, the association is the fundamental organizational grouping of cooperative Baptist life. Yet, we often neglect it.

Do you ever hear a young minister aspiring to be a Director of Missions? Perhaps, but often not. If you step back from it, it seems like it would be an incredible job – to direct missional effectiveness for a network of churches across a region. The Montgomery (AL) Baptist Association where I live and serve has an incredible DOM in Neal Hughes. He is a former Montgomery pastor and NAMB VP who came back to Montgomery to lead our association in planting churches, reaching the lost, being healthy, making disciples, and addressing areas of great need and division in our city with a gospel witness. He is doing a great job and lives and works as a local missionary every day. If every association had a Neal Hughes as DOM, the SBC would be in a very different position, I think. (As a disclaimer, I’m on staff with Neal as a Missional Strategist for the MBA, so he’s my boss, but I’d say this even if he wasn’t.)

The truth is, though, I’ve met quite a few DOMs who share Neal’s heart for evangelism, church planting, church health, church revitalization, and global missions. I’ve met DOMs across the South who are really laying their lives down to do great Kingdom work. But, I’ve also met a lot of pastors who tell me that their association is basically not functioning. I’ve met DOMs who are past what we would consider retirement age, and while their hearts are good and their love for the Lord is genuine, their energy is declining. They need help, encouragement, and support. They can’t do all that is required by themselves and they need people to hold up their arms. And, unfortunately, there are other associations where there is division, lack of vision, and no energy at all. It becomes a monthly minister’s lunch with whoever shows up. That is a shame.

What if we refocused our energy, effort, resources, and some of our most gifted leaders on local association leadership? The Bible Belt is rapidly dissipating and the South has become a mission field. Did you know that the South grew by 21 million people between 2000 and 2015? At the same time, between 2000 and 2017, Southern Baptists have lost 1 million people. We are going backwards while our primary region is exploding in growth. The South is by far the largest region of the country and would encompass the 12th largest nation in the world and the world’s 3rd largest economy by itself. And, immigrants from all over the world have flocked to the South over the past two decades.

Almost half of all first generation immigrant growth in the United States the past 2 decades occurred in the US South, where we have the vast majority of SBC churches. While there has been significant reaction against that politically and culturally, have we considered that God might sovereignly be at work here? In Montgomery, for example, the IMB visited us a few years back and told us that we had an Unreached, Unengaged People Group (UUPG) living in Central Alabama – the Mixtec People from Southern Mexico. They came to us by the thousands over the past 20-30 years. The Montgomery Baptist Association adopted that people group missionally (I have been closely involved in this work over the past 4 years) and we have now planted a Mixtec church in our city with a pastor, baptisms, new believers, and disciples being made. The IMB no longer calls the Mixtec “unengaged,” in part, because of the work our local association is doing.

In the midst of this incredible era of opportunity, how much more could local associations LEAD out in church planting, missional strategy, engaging immigrant and refugee people groups with the gospel, love, and good deeds, and in church revitalization? While I’m happy for the work our national entities and state conventions do, it is sometimes easy to fly at the 30,000 foot level. But, we already have local associations all over the country who are doing great work on the ground and could be doing so much more if they had the resources and focus that some of our other levels of cooperation have had. And, we have many associations that desperately need to be revived and refocused.

Could it be that associational cooperation on the local level is the missing emphasis that could help revitalize older churches, reach the lost (including immigrant groups), develop new leadership, be the ground floor for racial reconciliation, plant new churches, and be a spring board to reach the nations in North America and around the world? There is always competition for dollars and when you have state conventions and national entities constantly needing funds, I know it is hard to stretch offerings. But, what if we saw a strong association as the FIRST thing that our local church focused on instead of what is often an afterthought?

At the MBA we always talk about “doing more with less.” There is no area of SBC life that I’ve seen a dollar go further than in the incredible work of the Montgomery Baptist Association. I know that this is the case elsewhere as well. As both a pastor for many years and now a staff member at our association, I’ve seen it from both sides. And, while I know that associations across the SBC are not all that they should be, what if they were strengthened and became local missions agencies with the purpose of helping the local church reach their region for Christ?

What are some of your ideas? I’d love to see the mission work and church strengthening of the local association grow into one of the strongest aspects of SBC life. How much healthier would we be if this focus was strengthened? How much more leadership could be developed? How could we better reach areas that still have strong churches but are quickly seeing the overall churched population dwindle?

I think there is a lot of good work being done here and a lot of potential for even more. I’ve talked with others about this who agree. I’d love to see a renewal of strong associational life in the SBC that helps bring local churches together to reach their region and grow stronger together. It can be done. What is stopping us?

 

Women and Seminary: Should You Go?

When I graduated high school I had one primary goal and that was to play softball. The education part would follow, but my dream was to play college ball. At the end of my senior year I signed to play college at a small Division III school, but by the end of my first semester I knew that God was calling me into “ministry.” As a  young woman who grew up in an SBC church I thought that meant I either went to Africa for missions or I would teach children. Since I wasn’t too fond of children I figured Africa was my next step.

I enrolled at Criswell College not knowing anything other than I wanted to study the Bible.  Greek, Systematic Theology, and how do you even say the word hermeneutic much less what it is… I was stepping into a whole new, predominately male, world with more questions than answers, but I knew this was a step I needed and desired. Now 10 years later I’m in the middle of my first semester at Southeastern Seminary and there is a whole new level of excitement and expectancy as I’m back to quizzes, reading page upon page, and cramming for midterms in the middle of 4th grade math homework and cooking dinner.

A couple weeks ago I sat across a young woman I have the privilege of discipling. She shared her thoughts on her place in the church, what ministry looks like, and wanting to go to school, but also not knowing where you start, or if it was even worth the investment of money and time in the long run. It was a flashback to my 20 year old self sitting across from my pastor, and I looked at her with the biggest smile and said, “YES. GO!”

Maybe you are like my friend…… wading through what it looks like to be a woman in the SBC and not knowing your path or next steps and you feel this tug to enroll. I would think there is some interest since you are reading this post, so if I can let me encourage you a couple things:

Women Need Theology Too
My husband jokes that he and I have the same undergrad degree its just that I have a little honors sticker on mine. When I enrolled at Criswell I went in with the mindset of wanting the same training any pastor would get to teach the Word, so that I could do the same thing to a group of teenage girls or women.

So much of women’s ministry and teaching in the past has been marked by weak topical teaching. We have created a culture that gives quick fixes and popcorn Bible study as the standard for our women in their Spiritual growth and then wonder why they and us feel shallow and lacking. Good theology brings about solid moms, bosses, wives, and caretakers.

One of the biggest things I see in the women I lead and interact with today is the inability of our women to be able to take on the hard things in life because they haven’t been equipped to study, apply, and live out the Word of God when life gets messy. With the access of tons of blogs and podcasts, they are more willing to commit an hour to listening, instead of 30 minutes to studying. We need women’s voices who have done the hard work of training study to then equip others with solid meat and not infant milk. Their roots are dry and shallow and when the cares of this world come along we have a huge group of women falling away.

We Need One Another

First Sisters……There is so much beauty in watching other women who have the same heartbeat for the church and the Gospel and watching God grow them right before your eyes. In my Old Testament class, I have a classmate who is serving overseas in an unreached people group sharing the Gospel of Jesus. There is another sister who is the children’s minister at her church, and several other women who are single moms and studying to know the Bible more. Each of their stories, their life stages, you see God’s work goes far beyond you. As I have gotten to know other women in my studies it has helped me fight that lie “you don’t belong here” and instead become more passionate about my small role on this huge planet. It reaffirms that God still calls, uses, and sends women for His Gospel both here and abroad. There is a common bond that provides both encouragement and perseverance to keep going.

And Our Brothers……As a woman surrounded by men I definitely had my times of feeling out of place, but as I look back on my early years of ministry I can fully say I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my brothers beside me. I learned a lot from them about ministry and the burdens they carry as Pastors. We shared mutual stories of calling, balancing family, and ministry demands and they taught me a thing or two about Calvinism and Arminianism in their coffee shop debates before I had any idea what these “isms” were. One brother helped me get my first staff position on a church because he saw and affirmed God’s call on my life. We sat in Chapel together soaking up the Word, we walked the streets of Downtown Dallas giving food and water and sharing the Gospel with the homeless men and women of our city, and we prayed for one another in losses and victories. From the very beginning, God set the mandate that we are better together, in our uniqueness and in our similarities. Why would this be any different than in our seminaries as well?

Wide Open Opportunities

I believe in the last ten years, and even in the last year with all the conversations happening around women in Ministry, more and more opportunities are opening for us to take part in.

Because of the sacrificial giving of Southern Baptist all across the country, we are able to attend school at our 6 seminaries for a fraction of the price. My school, Southeastern Seminary, has a special initiative to help bring women and other minorities into their school through the Kingdom Diversity Scholarships that are available for us. Our seminaries are working hard at their Online and Degree Programs in order to help make education more available to the working woman, stay at home mom, and retired widow. With emphasis in theology, missions, women’s studies, counseling, and education you can study and receive a solid Biblical education on top of your desired field. The opportunities are endless! From certificates to full degrees to free courses you can take just to get your feet wet, there is so much available to you as a Southern Baptist Woman.

I want to end with saying that Seminary isn’t for everyone, nor is it the only marker for a solid study. Thanks to the internet we have so many sources at our fingertips that can help grow us both intellectually and spiritually. My favorite Bible Teacher, Jen Wilkin, is a self-taught gal, but her self-study is evident in her content and push for Biblical literacy.

Whether you step into formal education or not,  more than anything I hope you hear today that women are still called for Gospel ministry, your gifts are needed in the local church, and as a follower of Jesus you have the privilege of getting to contribute to the body of Christ both with your mind, hearts, and soul. Keep doing the hard work. Keep praying and asking God where can I serve you best and be willing to sacrifice where He leads.

It’s a great time to be a woman in the SBC, I hope to have you in class with me someday. I’m saving a seat for you!