They slowly gather in a room every Wednesday morning, with no pomp and circumstance. Once, these women were young and strong. They raised families and ran businesses, but life is like a river, with many bends and turns to negotiate along the way.
Now, the women of this group are moving on up in years. Many have retired, their children and families have moved away and even their husbands have passed on. But these women have resolved to live life to the fullest. They start each weekly session by plugging in their machines, setting out fabrics and praying together. Yes, some socializing happens, but soon, that comes to an end as each one lowers the needle on her machine and pushes down on its pedal. Whirling noises ensue, and each seamstress pulls her fabric through the machine and begins to sew.
Arthritis has set in for many of the women, and sometimes they stop to rub out the soreness. But as quickly as they can, they lower their heads and continue to work. Some are making stuffed animals. Cats, dogs and bears roll off the assembly line; each one is prayed over as it is made.
Other women are making clothes for small children; still others are knitting stocking caps and scarves. The women make each of these items with the purpose of helping someone come to know Christ. These “sewing ladies” of Parkview, Tulsa, are working in partnership with our ministry, which sends groups of students between the ages of 13 and 22 across the globe. The students have found a way to use these animals, dolls and articles of clothing to engage other cultures. Before each trip, these ladies deliver bags and bags of their handmade, prayed-over products, ready to give to the next team to use wherever they might go.
The students take these animals and pack them into trunks destined for places as exotic as the jungles of Panama and the darkest parts of Africa. Once the students arrive in-country, they set up their sound systems and begin to draw a crowd. They have come to present a drama that starts with the creation and goes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before they tell this special story, they engage the crowd by making an announcement. “At the end of the program, we have a special gift for your children.” The gifts are the ladies’ handmade items.
A crowd gathers as the students share their testimonies and lay out the claims of Christ. As those watching wait for their gifts, the Holy Spirit leads many of the adults to another gift: that of Jesus as their Savior. Over and over, God uses these handmade products as His keys to open closed doors.
Orphanages and schools that refused to let us enter swing their doors wide open when they learn we come bearing gifts. Children who have never had anything to call their own now hug brand-new stuffed animals, smiles flooding their faces. I wonder if when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40), He was thinking of a stuffed animal sewn with love and delivered alongside the story of the greatest love of all.
A few weeks ago, during spring break, a team took these stuffed animals to Mexico and led 205 people to Christ. Seeing the church in action is incredible: the older generation partnering with the younger one to bring the gospel to a lost world, each doing its part. As the Bible says, “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (Ps. 145:4).
Why are the women so diligent to return week after week, producing thousands of these stuffed animals? Why are the young people so diligent about going to the far corners of the earth to deliver the good news? The two groups have a common purpose: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).
God intends the whole church to work together, each member taking a significant part. Some are hands and others, the feet. Together, they can accomplish more for the kingdom than alone.
On March 29, Gay Faith, who led Parkview’s sewing ministry for many years, went home to be with the Lord. At her memorial service, 12 of her sewing partners paid their respects. But the next Wednesday. they were back at their sewing machines, continuing to pray and sew so we might go. Thank you, sewing women, student missionaries and all who use their gifts to share His story.
During my February trek to Nashville for the SBC Executive Committee meeting, I’m always blessed by the reports from the entity leaders of the SBC. It is thrilling to hear about the advance of the gospel in North America and among the unreached in neglected places of the world.
Baptist Press reported an interesting stat. The former president of the Executive Committee, Dr. Frank Page, said in his address that “less than 2,000 churches in our convention give 50 percent of all Cooperative Program receipts.” He further noted, “Almost 7,000 churches give 80 percent of Cooperative Program receipts.”
When I heard Dr. Page, I wondered how our 1,800 Missouri Baptist churches stacked up. I sent an email to MBC staff and in seconds learned that in 2017, 22 percent, or 395 churches, gave 80 percent of the Cooperative Program dollars through our state convention.
You may think, “22 percent give 80 percent of the money?” I would suggest as a matter of stewardship to ask your own church what the percentages are. You might be surprised. It reminds me of the old sad 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the work gets done by 20 percent of the people. In the churches the Lord allowed me to lead, we were not too far off those numbers when studying the entire membership.
There are exceptions. When adult and student lives are being born again and transformed, the percentages rise. Why? Dollars tend to follow mission. When we catch the vision of God working, we want to invest in the work. When the passion to obey Christ is more important than anything else, our hands become open to the generosity in our hearts toward the Kingdom vision.
When church leaders catch the vision for what churches can do together to further the gospel, the Cooperative Program becomes the preferred conduit for amazing work.
My good friend, Ken Hemphill, has written more in the last two decades on biblically-based processes for effective local churches and the Cooperative Program than any writer. Recently, he wrote the following:
“A few weeks ago, I was meeting with a small group of North Greenville students, many from our Christian studies department. One of the young men asked me why I allowed my name to be placed in nomination for SBC president. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I am doing this for you.’
“Seeing his confusion, I asked how many of the students were planning to attend an SBC seminary. Several raised their hands. I indicated that a significant portion of their tuition was paid by Southern Baptist churches giving through the Cooperative Program. I then asked how many of them planned to go to the ends of the earth as an IMB missionary. Several responded and I told them I wanted to be able to assure them that if God called them, Southern Baptists would send them.”
In the same article, Dr. Hemphill writes about the danger of the “Neo-societal” method of churches giving to the missions.
“They give a small percentage through the traditional Cooperative Program and then give the remainder of their mission dollars through designated giving, some to Southern Baptist entities and some through other non-SBC mission agencies. Some larger churches fund their own missionaries.
“Every church is fully autonomous and can determine their own mission giving strategy, but this neo-societal method short-circuits the system of giving that has made Southern Baptists the greatest missional community of all time.
“You would think we would understand that the traditional method of cooperative giving would be the default method of giving and receive most of each church’s mission dollars. Mission trips and special initiatives that a church wants to fund would be above and beyond Cooperative Program giving. It is how we work together.
“Consider, the Cooperative Program is the unified budget of the Southern Baptist Convention. I can’t imagine any pastor encouraging church members to pick and choose among the possible budgeted items and determine what percentage of their tithe should go to a specific item of the budget. For example, what if a majority wanted to give to the youth program or choir ministry and few wanted to fund salaries or the electricity bills. No local church could long survive with such a giving pattern that ignored the cooperative nature of a unified budget.
“Another anomaly impacting our denominational effectiveness is that churches with larger budgets talk about the size of their gift and not the percentage of the gift. I have heard people remark that no one can expect the larger churches to give a significant percentage of their multi-million-dollar budget to the Cooperative Program. I must confess I find this argument difficult to understand. I can’t imagine a pastor telling church members with significant means that they can discount their tithe while expecting families with far less to maintain the tithe as their standard of giving. It is not about the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice.
“In the days of Malachi the prophet, Israel wanted to know what must occur for them to return to God and experience His blessing. God responded by asking whether a man would rob from God. He then indicated they should bring the whole tithe into the storehouse and test Him to see if He would not open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing. This is my prayer and my passion for our Southern Baptist people. I desperately want God to pour out a blessing until it overflows (Mal. 3:8-12).”
Like Dr. Hemphill, I’m super grateful for our churches of every size and style who see the value of the Cooperative Program. May the personal giving to our churches be worthy of our Lord, and may the cooperative giving of our churches be worthy of the One whose grace super abounds through His people.
ALEXANDRIA (LBM) — J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, is a candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention for a second time.
During his lunch visit to the First Baptist Church in Bossier City Feb. 27, the Baptist Message offered to interview him live but he declined, saying he does not typically give live interviews to newspapers.
The Baptist Message subsequently learned he had granted an in-person interview the day before with the TEXAN, the newspaper of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Greear offered to allow the Baptist Message to submit questions for his consideration and reply via email. The offer was declined because the Baptist Message typically asks questions for this type of article live in order to evince an authentic response, to allow for a follow up inquiry as appropriate, and to avoid receiving an answer by committee.
However, to give voice to Greear’s position on issues important to Louisiana Baptists, the Baptist Message has researched his blogs and video interviews and such public sources to share his own words with our readers.
MUSLIMS, CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD
Excerpt from a September 30, 2010 interview on the website of The Gospel Coalition, a network of Calvinist churches:
Question: It’s helpful to lay these misconceptions on the table and to talk honestly about our differences. You make the case that Muslims do worship the same God as Christians, although with obvious errors in understanding. Can you elaborate on how you came to this conclusion and how you would maintain major distinctions between Muslim and Christian understandings of God?
J.D. Greear: This is a tough question that has a considerable amount of complexity to it. But at the end of the day, I think the question of whether or not you use the Arabic name for God – Allah – is more of a practical question than a theological one.
Excerpt from Greear’s book, “Breaking the Islam Code”:
Muslims claim to worship the God of Adam, Abraham and Moses. Most missionaries find it therefore helpful to use the Arabic term for God, “Allah” (meaning literally, “the Diety”), to refer to God, and to explain the God Muslims believe in, the God of the Prophets, was the God also present in bodily form in Jesus Christ and the One worshipped by Christians for the past two millennia.
You might ask, “But isn’t the Islamic God so different from the Christian God that they cannot properly be called by the same name? Aren’t we worshiping two different gods?” Believing wrong things about God and worshipping incorrectly doesn’t mean one is worshipping a different God, just that they were worshipping the one true God incorrectly.
Excerpt from a January 1, 2018, Greear blog, “Bearing the Burdens of the Broken”:
It’s simply easier to avoid thinking about things that don’t affect us. But if we’re gospel people, we will be aware of the pain others are going through. We will be aware of the privileges we experience that others don’t have. And we will use any position of privilege or strength that we enjoy to serve others. We are called to share the burdens that our brothers and sisters of color live with as if they were our own.
Excerpt from a March 19, 2018, Greear blog, “Racial Reconciliation and Cultural Diversity in the SBC”:
For those of us in the majority culture, this process has begun with a posture of listening, not talking. The definition of a blind spot, after all, is a weakness that we don’t know that we have. Historically, the most insidious blind spots result from positions of privilege and power. If we are serious about discovering these blind spots, it means committing ourselves to uncomfortable conversations where we seek more to understand that we do to be understood.
SINCE WHEN DID WE BECOME SOUTHERN BAPTIST?
Appearing before his congregation February 4, 2018, Greear offered these comments:
Well, let me address something really quickly before we actually do get started because I know that a few of you may have noticed that my name was again placed in nomination for president of the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this week.
A few months ago, several Christian leaders from around the country approached me asking me if I would be willing to do that, and after a lot of consultation with our elder team and our pastoral team and with the consent of my supervisor named Veronica, we believe that we ought to at least make the step, take the step of making ourselves available to that if that’s what God desired. The election is not until June, and it’s usually a 2-year term, but let me address three questions that just popped into some of your minds.
Question #1 is “What exactly does the Southern Baptist Convention President do?” And, the short answer to that is probably not nearly as much as you might think. It is a volunteer position, and basically your role is to represent the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of establishing priorities and pioneering new mission ventures, and then hopefully setting a helpful tone for engaging the culture.
Question #2 people ask is, “Is this going to take you away from the Summit Church?” And, the answer to that is a very definitive not at all. Like I said to you, it is a volunteer position, so I would continue to do everything that I’m doing here. You say, “Well does that mean you’re going to be traveling a lot?” Not really. In fact, what our elder team did is we just laid out the number of days that I was gone the last year and just said that’s the standard. I won’t be gone any more than that, and so, it will not take me away from here at all.
The third question some of you just asked is “Since when did we become Southern Baptist?” And, I get that. That’s not something we really wear on our sleeve here.
There are obviously parts of the Southern Baptist Convention that we’re not excited about, and we don’t feel like really represent who we are as a church, but I will tell you that on the whole we are very grateful to be a part of a network of churches that cooperate for the purpose of mission.
To give you just one easy example to get your mind around: There are 158 members of the Summit Church that are serving overseas as missionaries with the International Mission Board, which is the international missions arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. For us to pay for our members, just our members, just to pay for them overseas would cost us in excess of $6 million a year.
It doesn’t cost us really anything.
And when we give to the SBC, but it doesn’t … they are able to go freely because of the cooperative efforts of 46,000 churches across the United States. So, we are very grateful to be a part of it, and we understand that if we are going to be a part of it, it means that we oughta take some of the responsibility in helping to shape it and to point it in the directions we feel like God would have it to go.
RUSS MOORE VERSUS ROBERT JEFFRESS
Greear’s comments during a November 14, 2017, video by The Gospel Coalition, “J.D. Greear on the SBC, Trump, and More”:
So I’ve been very attracted to either to remain within the SBC because, in large part, the staying power of the institution when it comes to international missions.
Their theological training — I’m pretty excited about the leadership of most of ‘em right now.
Kevin Ezell at North American Mission Board is fantastic. He is very humble and approachable.
Of course, David Platt, at the IMB.
Russell Moore is a great representative at the ERLC.
Our seminaries, you know, several of them are led by people that are just—and willing to do things differently in how they do it.
And we’ve just felt like it’s worth being a part of the conversation with them to keep it going in the right direction.
I added up, I don’t have a statistic relevant today, but last year added up the amount of money that the IMB pays for our people — just Summit people on the mission field — and that number was like $4.6 million.
That’s a lot bigger than our mission budget.
And so, you know, that’s the power of an institution.
And so, for some of the guys out here, the men and women, it’s going to be a natural partnership, and it’s gonna, you’re gonna hafta, you know, get your hands dirty a little bit.
But, there’s more good that’ll come out of it, and for some it’s not gonna make sense as the right network.
Question: So the disadvantages, then like the difficulty of being associated with the Baptists when something comes out in the news or some Baptist pastor says something crazy on CNN or Fox News.
Greear: Right or has one of the Fox News things in his pulpit on Sunday.
Question: A Roman Catholic in his pulpit on a Sunday morning on the same week that he called Roman Catholicism a pagan blood cult.
Greear: No irony there.
Question: No irony there. What does that, what does that draw out in you and what do you do about it?
Greear: Part of it is just the dilemma of being in any large group of people.
I think very quickly after I had grown a little disillusioned with the SBC I found that every other network I started to get in there’s like, well, they got crazy uncles too in here…
And I think I’m the crazy uncle to some of these people so, you know, just sort of the nature of it that it’s that and God has always worked in, you know, these imperfect things. And, there comes a point at which hypocrisy is so bad that you can’t go on, but … .
At some point you got to make a decision that you’re gonna be with fallen people, and fallen people bring these issues, and you gotta get in there and fight.