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.

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?

 

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.

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!