LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Urban church plants have the potential to transform entire cities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, said Texas-based church planter Jim Herrington.
Because of that belief, Herrington left a comfortable position as director of the Union Baptist Association in Houston to plant a church in one of the city’s most unreached areas. He began the new work in an area with a church to population ratio of 1 to 40,000, Herrington told attendees of a recent urban church planting conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
In many cases, Herrington said, church plants have already transformed whole societies for Christ. One such example is the Christian Life Church in Kampala, Uganda, which has grown from seven persons in 1995 to over 20,000 today, he said. After years of ministry, the church’s pastor, Jackson Senyonga, now prays with the Ugandan president regularly and has begun to see widespread transformation sweep over the country.
“In the cities that are being transformed, two things became very clear,” Herrington said. “One of them was that in every city that was being transformed, the whole body of Christ was working together. The other thing that was clear was that a saturation church planting movement always accompanied transformation.”
In 1995, these observations about the success of urban church plants led Herrington to begin a church plant of his own in Houston.
“God began to stir up in me this deep, burning conviction that somebody needed to go to those places and stake out some land and say, ‘The church is no longer simply going to give this over to the enemy,” he said. “We are going to stake out some ground here, and we are going to occupy this land one day at a time, one person at a time, one church at a time.’”
Thus, Herrington and his wife, Betty, sold their suburban home and moved to Houston’s Montrose area—a neighborhood with over 6,000 homeless children and an active homosexual community—to plant a church.
Soon after Herrington’s arrival in Montrose though, he realized that he was in an extreme situation demanding an innovative strategy. Eighty percent of the people in Montrose had never read a Bible, Herrington estimates. And some had never even heard the name of Jesus.
“I have people in my church who, until they came to our church, didn’t know the name of Jesus,” he said. “It’s hard for me to believe you can live in this culture and have that be true, but it’s not the just one or two. There are a number of folks in the church I pastor who have never heard the name of Jesus until they came to that church.”
This radical ignorance of Christian doctrine in the community combined with a deeply embedded cynicism toward organized religion convinced Herrington that a network of house churches was the most effective way to reach Montrose.
“Unchurched people who know the church are so hostile and cynical in the community that I live in,” Herrington said. “Folks were not going to come to the traditional church. A combination of understanding our context, some conferencing that we were doing, and some people that the Lord brought to us along the way were all things that influenced and impacted the decision we made to do house churches.”
He started with just one house church, but that number quickly multiplied as Herrington began to connect with the people of the community.
“We started with one,” he said. “We went from one to two and two to three, and we have five now. We think we’re going to launch another one this summer and maybe another one in the fall.”
One of the reasons these house churches have been so successful, said Herrington, has been their ability to connect with the painful situations people are experiencing in Montrose.
“Almost everyone we’re reaching comes out of the drug, sex or alcohol culture that is Montrose,” he said. “They’re almost all poor, but they all grew up in middle class homes. They’re poor because of their drug and alcohol and sex addictions.”
As people came into his network of churches, Herrington says he started them on a plan of radical discipleship—a plan he urges all churches to follow.
“We’re trying to produce a kind of person with a Christian worldview who can live in a culture that is fallen and wicked and decadent and trying to undermine everything that Christ is about in the world today.
“If you’re not crystal clear about what you’re trying to produce when you’re making disciples, then it is pretty unlikely that they’re going to be able to stand in the face of what our culture calls them to and seduces them with.”
Regarding other church plants, Herrington urged students to “plant counter-cultural churches.”
Said Herrington, “We have got to plant churches that recognize that we live in a decadent, evil, wicked generation that is dominated by greed, manipulation, pleasure, and materialism.
“Don’t plant a church unless you plant it with the view to transformation of the city.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Ron Nordan is not wielding arms on the front lines as American soldiers fight to wrench Iraq from the death-grip of a dictatorial regime.
But the U.S. Navy chaplain and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate deals daily with both victories and casualties within the lives of those who are engaging in the war.
Nordon, who holds two degrees from Southern Seminary, serves aboard the USS Camden, a ship that equips other vessels with ammunition, fuel, and food to actively engage in battle. Since the Camden left for the Gulf last July, he has witnessed 35 Christian conversions among those on board.
He averages 17 counseling sessions per week, preaches twice each Sunday, and holds Bible studies each Wednesday. Yet, his toughest task has been delivering the news to a female soldier that her 2 ½-year-old daughter had been murdered back in the states.
“I spent over a half an hour in prayer before going to find her and telling her the tragic news,” he said in an e-mail interview.
“Looking back over the whole situation, I can see that the Holy Spirit stepped right in, giving me the words to say and guiding my thoughts and actions. Within eight hours, she was on her way home, which is highly unusual given the fact we were in the Persian Gulf at the time.”
While he has seen numerous conversions and “rededications,” Nordan says the USS Camden is a mission field.
“For about 20 percent of our ship, this time has provided a challenge to improve our relationship with God and with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ,” Nordan said. “Unfortunately, I would estimate that over 65 percent on our ship are not born-again believers.
“It is a challenge for every born-again believer to work and live in an environment where a Christian is in the minority. Pray for those Christians on board that they would continue to grow closer to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that they would effectively witness both in word and deed.”
Nordan received two degrees from Southern Seminary. The Washington, D.C. native graduated in 1992 with a master of church music degree and again in 1998 with a master of divinity in theology. While working on the second degree, Nordan served as a grader for preaching professor Hershael York. He joined the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps in 2002.
There are concerns both without and within the USS Camden for Nordan. While the ship is not launching Tomahawk missiles or scrambling F-16s on bombing missions, the presence of floating mines, enemy air and boat assaults are ever-present dangers, he said.
Among Nordon’s chief concerns – and prayer requests – is for the marital relationships of his shipmates. Several marriages have begun to crumble beneath the immense weight of the long-term physical separation of soldier and spouse.
“The stress of having been out here for so long with no set return date has take its toll on every person aboard,” Nordan said. “To date, there are at least 10 marriages that are heading for divorce when we return. There are bound to be more challenges for our married couples to face, not to mention what our single sailors will be going through.”
Nordan has been away from his family for almost nine months and is not certain when he will return home. He said God has given him the grace to endure these lonely months. Consistent communication with his wife and kids helps, he said.
Nordan speaks with his wife, Cindy, 3 to 4 times per week by phone and exchanges e-mail with her several times each day. He also swaps e-mail with his children, Grace, 10, and Timothy, 7, numerous times during the week. Cindy Nordan works as a music teacher outside of Bremerton, Washington, where the family lives.
“My wife does an outstanding job with both of our children, while at the same time affirming me in my ministry and letting our children know that their father loves them very much,” Nordan said. “I am very blessed. God has brought us close even in the midst of this separation.”
One great source of encouragement for Nordan has been the response of chapel attendees to his expository preaching. Careful verse-by-verse teaching from Scripture is a new concept even to soldiers who have attended church for years, he said.
“Several shipmates shared that they had gone to church their whole lives without hearing a sermon that came from the Bible,” he said. “I thank God that He has me here at this time and in this place. That really demonstrates the great truth of the power of God’s Word.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – The James P. Boyce Centennial Library can be a powerful tool to impact the world for the Kingdom of God, according to Bruce Keisling, librarian at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Keisling, who was named Seminary Librarian in August 2002, says that his ministry is to provide resources to members of the Southern Seminary community so that their ministries “are marked by dedicated study for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom.”
But it was not until 1993 that Keisling began to see his administrative and organizational gifts as tools for ministry, opting for a career in librarianship.
“By 1993 I realized that I needed to sort out my career goals, and decided to pursue a vocation of librarianship that would unite administrative and organizational gifts with a general love for learning,” said Keisling.
This realization led him to pursue a Master of Science degree in Library Science (M.S.L.S) at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. While at Catholic University, Keisling began working at the library of Virginia Theological Seminary—a job that further helped him to view library science as a ministry.
“By the time I completed my M.S.L.S., I felt complete affirmation in my career choice and that God was using me in meaningful ways to further His Kingdom at work through involvement in my local church,” he said.
During those years in Washington, Keisling experienced a period that he labels “a spiritual restoration.” Though he had committed his life to Christ at age 12, Keisling admits that his early adulthood was spiritually unhealthy. Yet through the ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, the Lord renewed his spiritual condition.
In 1998, Keisling left his post at Virginia Theological Seminary to become Associate Librarian at Southern Seminary, having been introduced to Southern by his pastor and seminary trustee Mark Dever.
Ever since his arrival at Southern, Keisling has led the library in a vibrant ministry of theological research, a ministry he describes as providing collections and services that prepare ministers for service to the local church.
“The library’s rich heritage and our ongoing work of stewarding library resources help to prepare ministers of the gospel for more faithful service by offering materials that encourage the pursuit of truth and wisdom,” said Keisling.
“Essentially what we are trying to say here is that we see collections and services as the two most important things we provide to the seminary community. We want to acquire all of the relevant material and to provide all the necessary services to support the institution’s mission of training, educating, and preparing ministers of the gospel for more faithful service in the Kingdom.”
After four years of service at Southern, Keisling was named Seminary Librarian in 2002, replacing Ronald Deering, who retired after serving in the position for 40 years.
Since assuming that post, Keisling says he feels an overwhelming sense of responsibility to uphold the seminary’s rich academic heritage—having been particularly influenced through reading about James P. Boyce.
“I have come to have an overwhelming sense of having become a caretaker of Dr. Boyce’s personal library, his vision for the seminary library, and for the endowment his family donated that funds current library acquisitions,” Keisling said.
He additionally cites the works of Richard Baxter, Jonathan Edwards, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as influential in his ministry.
Keisling hails from Franklindale, Pa., where his father pastored the Franklindale Christian Church. He attended college at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH.
Keisling and his wife Jennifer are currently members of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville. They have two children, Jacob (3) and Elizabeth (15 months).
LOUISVILLE, Ky (BP) – The sovereignty of God as presented in the book of Revelation should remind Christians that God is in control of all the events of history, even those that such as warfare that result in suffering, Scottish minister Eric Alexander said recently at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Alexander, a noted Presbyterian minister, said chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation paint three pictures that should give believers assurance during uncertain times.
Rev. 4-5 unpacks God’s kingship, His guidance over the history of creation, and the central act of history—God’s redemption of sinners in Jesus Christ, he said.
“We are conscious that these are critical hours in which we live,” he said. “We are aware of the question, ‘Where is the hand controlling the events we are passing through?’
“The relevance of the Bible at such a time as this, and the relevance of Revelation is that it takes us to this throne of God. It (Revelation) is not there to satisfy our curiosity, but to give us a perspective on the world in which we live and the whole of history, so that we are able to see it (history) from a different vantage point from the rest of the world.”
The apostle John presents the throne as the central feature to his vision in Rev. 4. This is highly significant because the eternal kingship of God is evident by John’s pointing out that the throne is constantly occupied, he said.
John penned Revelation while suffering in exile on the island of Patmos, which Alexander described as “a kind of Alcatraz in the ancient world.” His audience – the seven churches in Asia – were also undergoing intense persecution. John shared his vision to encourage the churches and to remind them that God was still on the throne despite their suffering, he said.
Alexander recalled where he was when terrorists attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. He was in the clubhouse at St. Andrews golf course in Scotland when the news that America was under attack scrolled across a television screen.
Alexander remembered how a fellow golfer reacted to the news after discovering Alexander to be a minister. The man’s words echo the very thought that sometimes enters believer’s mind during seasons of suffering, he said.
“He said to me, ‘I guess your God has gone for a holiday,’” Alexander said. “And that is the deep fear that lies even in the hearts of some trembling, faithful souls: ‘Is God really on the throne?’ And John clearly gives us the answer in the outset of his vision.”
In Rev. 5, John’s vision includes an angel holding a scroll. This scroll is the record of human destiny and divine purpose for the world, Alexander said. The scroll is both complete – it contains no blank spaces – and is sealed or closed.
This points to the fact that, while every event in history is in God’s hands, it is sealed from the sphere of human speculation or knowledge, he said. It also shows that there is God-ordained purpose for every event in life and that all God’s purposes in the world are a closed book to human beings.
“John weeps. It has made him deeply sad and the mystery of life is beginning to engulf him,” he said.
Believers should note that John points to the climax of history in Rev. 5:6. The “Lamb looking as if it had been slain,” is Christ who is the key to history.
During times of war and suffering, Christians must look to the Lamb and take comfort in the fact that His purposes – even though mysterious from a human perspective – will not be thwarted, he said. This should lead Christians to worship God in awe and wonder, he said.
“That Lamb is the crucified, risen, exalted, and now reigning Lord Jesus Christ,” Alexander said. “He is the key to history, the key to life. Christ is the key to every mystery that life brings to us because He was slain and with His blood purchased a people for God.
“That is the central thing about the whole of history. It is the building of the church which is the central element in history. When that work is done and when the church of Jesus Christ is complete, that is when God will bring down the curtain on the affairs of this sad world. May God help us that we may have that special view of the world which comes from dwelling near the throne.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – Worship leader Bob Kauflin thinks Christians have reacted too extremely to the contemporary praise and worship movement.
Instead of either wholeheartedly embracing praise and worship music or completely rejecting it, Kauflin encourages a middle approach: Appreciate the benefits of contemporary praise and worship, but recognize that some concerns accompany those benefits.
Kauflin says such an approach may ultimately allow worshipers to learn a new vocabulary for declaring God’s glory.
Kauflin serves as director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, an organization that seeks to establish and nurture local churches. He recently spoke at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. His lecture was part of the seminary’s Institute for Christian Worship speaker series.
Urging churches to consider the benefits of contemporary praise and worship, Kauflin said, “Worship is not about what’s comfortable for me. Worship is about learning new ways to express God’s glory.”
While not advocating exclusive use of contemporary praise and worship music, Kauflin cited several positives emerging from the contemporary praise and worship movement. Among them:
* Praise and worship music has renewed a God-focused emphasis in the Christian music industry.”Certainly entertainment is still a big part of CCM [Contemporary Christian Music], but you hear more talk about people wanting to listen to music to connect with God, to experience intimacy with God, to encounter God.” One example of this trend, he said, is the overwhelming sales of recent worship albums such as Third Day’s “Offerings,” and Michael W. Smith’s “Worship,” he said.
* Praise and worship music is helping to revitalize worship services. In many churches, Kauflin said, praise and worship music has helped people to gain “a new awareness of God’s presence, a new appreciation for the words they are singing, and a new experience of intimacy with God as a result of just singing songs that allowed them to say these things.”
* More styles of music are being used to praise God, reaching a new generation. “Every generation will in some way reflect its own voice in the worship of God. Now it shouldn’t do that alone. It shouldn’t do that exclusively, but we should welcome new expressions,” he said.
Yet despite these benefits, the contemporary praise and worship movement has brought some negative features to the arena of Christian music, Kauflin admits. Negatives include:
* Contemporary praise and worship may cause us to think that worship is equivalent to music.God certainly values our musical expressions of worship, but true worship is much broader than music, he said. ”God loves music. He wants us to praise His name with music...but worship has to do with what rules our hearts and desires, what takes up our time, what we think about when we don’t have to think about anything. That’s where we see worship,” Kauflin said. “It’s reflected not just in what we sing, but in the way we speak think and act.” Because so many contemporary uses of the word ‘worship’ refer to music exclusively—such as worship CDs, the worship station and worship bands—we may gain a warped perspective of the term’s true meaning, he said.
* With the contemporary praise and worship movement, there may be a temptation to think that worship is somehow new or has finally become genuine. According to Kauflin, every generation of Christians tends to think that its music has reached an unsurpassed level of genuineness. But such a thought is simply inaccurate, he said. “What a slap in the face to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have worshiped God probably more sincerely than you ever did, before you were ever born. There’s that tendency to think that because the style of music is new that the worship must be better, and we just want to be careful here.”
* Given the fact that worship songs are highly memorable, musicians can become our primary theologians. Many contemporary worship songs stick in our minds because of their catchy tunes, said Kauflin. But some of these songs may not accurately transmit the message of Scripture.
“Just because a song has a catchy chorus and is easy to learn doesn’t mean it’s good theology,” he said.
Ultimately, Kauflin concluded that Christians should utilize contemporary worship music but take care to ensure the biblical faithfulness of their worship.
“Look for songs that contain solid biblical truths, that inspire a passionate response,” he said.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) – At an ever-increasing rate, modern churches are turning their attention to church growth at the expense of strong church foundations—a trend that believers must reverse by teaching their congregations the essence of biblical discipleship, according to a new book by one professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In his recent book, Discipled Warriors (Kregel Publications), Charles Lawless, associate professor of evangelism and church growth at Southern Seminary, explains that building strong church foundations and combating Satan’s attacks requires a dual emphasis on biblical discipleship and biblical spiritual warfare.
“...[B]elievers who are adequately taught and trained know how to stand against the enemy by claiming the promises of God,” writes Lawless.
“They know how to extinguish Satan’s darts through faith. They have learned how to pray effectively. They find guidance and strength in their devotions. They feel confident to share their faith at every opportunity. They are discipled warriors.”
This book is particularly relevant for churches today because many churches are focusing on organizational issues at the expense of discipleship—a strategy that plays directly into Satan’s hands, Lawless contends.
“Few people are addressing the spiritual issues that affect church growth,” he said. “We’ve written much about contextual and institutional issues related to church growth, but the church is a spiritual entity. We can’t legitimately talk about church growth without addressing factors such as spiritual warfare.”
Lawless opens Discipled Warriors by voicing three concerns in particular about current models of a “healthy church.”
First, he notes that such emphasis has been placed upon church structure that “too little attention has been given to the theological foundation required for any healthy church.”
Second, Lawless insists that an increased focus on prayer is essential for healthy churches—so essential in fact, that prayer should be considered a main purpose of the church.
Third, he worries that many churches view discipleship as a segmented purpose of the church rather than an overarching process.
“In some churches disciplemaking is a narrow training program with little focus or intention,” Lawless said. “Believers study randomly chosen, short-term courses, and those who complete the courses are ‘discipled.’”
In response to these concerns, Lawless draws upon Ephesians 6 and issues a call to intensified discipleship in our churches – to teach believers how to model every aspect of their lives after Christ. Such discipleship will effectively undermine Satan’s attacks on the church, according to Lawless.
Discipled Warriors additionally explains that a healthy church will fulfill six biblical purposes for the church: worship, evangelism, equipping believers for the Christian life, edifying one another through service and ministry, encountering God through prayer, and fellowship. Along with each purpose Lawless offers practical suggestions for building a biblical church.
Yet he warns that for each purpose of the church, Satan has strategies of his own that attempt to thwart God’s purposes.
To combat the devil’s attacks, Lawless argues that Christians must focus on obedient living and not yield to the temptation to seek a magical formula to defeat Satan.
“Here’s my concern,” he writes. “Many people are enamored of the power and excitement of spiritual warfare, but leaders aren’t often calling them first to holiness and obedient living. They are trying to be warriors without first being discipled.”
“Healthy churches, on the other hand, strive to grow discipled warriors. They build a theological foundation, fulfill the purposes of the church, and guide members to flesh out their faith in their personal walk, in their homes, in the church, and in their workplaces.”
Ultimately, Lawless concludes that because spiritual warfare is a reality, churches must lead believers to put on the armor of God.
“We fight warfare most effectively when we not only reach people for Christ, but we also train and equip them as disciples,” he said.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--A New York Times columnist’s “discovery” of evangelicals demonstrates just how far out of touch the media elite are from mainstream America, R. Albert Mohler Jr. wrote in the March 22 edition of World magazine.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a response to a column by Nicholas D. Kristof in which the longtime journalist took his media colleagues to task for being “completely out of touch” with evangelicals.
Kristof called on his media brethren to take into account the growing influence of evangelicals and stop sneering at them, though Kristof made clear his own alarm at their clout. “I tend to disagree with evangelicals on almost everything,” Kristof wrote, “and I see no problem with aggressively pointing out the dismal consequences of this increasing religious influence.”
As evidence of an upswing in evangelical influence, Kristof cited a December Gallup poll in which 46 percent of the respondents described themselves as “evangelical Christians” and the faith of President George W. Bush.
The “elite national news corps,” Mohler observed in response, “is so far removed from ordinary Americans that evangelicals seem to have emerged from a forgotten ‘fringe’ into the national spotlight.”
“The fact that something like 100 million Americans claim to be evangelicals is almost unbelievable to journalists.
“They simply don’t know any evangelicals. Who are these conservative Christians anyway? And why don’t they just go home, and leave public debate to journalists and their liberal friends?
“Every few years the secular elite rediscovers evangelicals,” Mohler wrote, “and then treats conservative Christians like National Geographic announcing the discovery of an exotic new tribe. ‘These people are very interesting to watch,’ the secularists explain, ‘but just don’t let them get close to public policy and influence. They look dangerous.’”
Kristof chided journalists for mocking the faith of evangelicals and accused his colleagues of “showing more intellectual curiosity about the religion of Afghanistan than that of Alabama, and more interest in reading the Upanishads than in reading the Book of Revelation.”
Kristof wrote, “I cannot think of a single evangelical working for a major news organization.”
Mohler pointed out that Kristof’s obvious shock at evangelicals moving from the fringe to the mainstream reinforced the stereotypes the columnist has set out to dismiss.
“Well, elite journalists may take secularism to be normal, but that just demonstrates how distant they are from Main Street America -- the country outside the elite schools, clubs and newsrooms where reporters and editors decide what ‘normal’ is,” Mohler wrote.
“Some evangelicals see the Kristof column as a step forward. After all, his column asks fellow journalists to show conservative Christians some respect. But it’s hard to see how Kristof’s approach is anything but a well-intended failure. He ends up reinforcing all the stereotypes he sets out to dismiss.
“Nevertheless, his column is noteworthy,” Mohler wrote, “because such an influential journalist is now on the record in The New York Times accusing his colleagues of being ‘completely out of touch’ with evangelical Christians. But when it comes to this kind of bias, America’s elite journalists and news executives are not only out of touch -- they’re also out of excuses.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) -- United States Air Force chaplain Andrew Thornley recently demonstrated to a national television audience that the war in Iraq offers Christians a unique opportunity to minister to the families of deployed U.S. troops.
The war is also creating a wide open mission field for military chaplains, he said.
On March 19, Thornley, a 2000 graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., appeared on ABC’s popular morning show, “Good Morning America” (GMA) to discuss how parents can tell their children about the war.
Thornley spoke about the military chaplaincy with GMA host Charles Gibson and answered questions on war from a panel of children whose parents have been deployed in Iraq.
Thornley, who serves as an Air Force chaplain at McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, N.J., said of the war effort, “It’s a difficult time on military families in general, but the military chaplaincy is ready for this. We are reaching out to the families. We do a lot of counseling.”
By fielding questions from a panel of children, Thornley demonstrated how his counseling ministry offers comfort to military families.
In answer to 7-year-old Cynthia Bensberg’s question, “Why do we have to go to war?” Thornley replied, “Cynthia, that’s a great question, and I’d ask a question to you. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where everybody got along, everybody was nice to each other, everybody told the truth and nobody wanted to hurt anybody else?
“That would be a great place to live wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, our world’s not like that yet. We live in a place where there are bad people who do bad things, and nobody wants to go to war. But sometimes we have to do that.”
When Emily Lucas asked how to make the time go by faster while her dad is serving in Iraq, Thornley encouraged her to pray. “If I were you,” he said, “I would just try my best to go about life as normally as possible. Think about your dad. Pray for your dad. Realize he’s over there doing this for you because he loves you, and he loves this country.”
Ultimately, however, military chaplaincy includes far more than simply explaining theories of just war to children, Thornley told Baptist Press. “My primary purpose for being a chaplain is to fulfill the Great Commission,” he said. “ This is in my mind one of the best kept secrets about doing ministry in America—that is, the mission field of the military...Indeed the fields are ripe for harvest.”
And according to ABC, an increasing number of soldiers are coming to appreciate the ministry of military chaplains as the war intensifies. With reports of U.S troops being baptized in the Kuwaiti desert and military churches overflowing, chaplains say that the danger of military conflict is driving soldiers to contemplate their spiritual condition.
Stephanie Walker, a soldier serving in Iraq, told ABC that the danger of war has made her think about her relationship with God more seriously than she has in years. “I get a little nervous out here and think, ‘Maybe I should get things straight,’” said Walker.
For Thornley, one of the most effective ways of ministering to military personnel like Walker has been through a small group ministry called, “Ministry Reaching Everyone.” This ministry brings soldiers and their families together for small group Bible studies, discussions, and prayer times. It brings a network of prayer support and Christian fellowship to the lives of transient military families, he said.
Prior to his ministry as a chaplain, Thornley pastored Southern Baptist churches in South Carolina for more than a decade.
In the final analysis, Thornley told GMA that it has been a great honor to minister to the families who risk their lives to protect our nation.
“They have very special families,” he said. “They are willing to put on the uniform and to defend the country. And in regards to that, it’s not easy. But everyone I‘ve found wearing the military uniform, every family, has just been exceptional in their character. So they can be proud of that.”
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--Lance and Shawna Fadeley know it’s just a matter of time. All within two hours, the phone could ring, the orders could arrive, and Lance could be transported along with several thousand other U.S. troops to the front lines of America’s war on terror.
If and when the call comes, Lance, a 2001 graduate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will go to perform his service to God and country as an active-duty chaplain in the 4th Infantry Division from Texas’ Fort Hood. No doubt, his ministry on the battlefield will be challenging. But, the separation and uncertainty for both Lance and Shawna will be even more so.
Shawna doesn’t plan on taking the hardship, loneliness and worry sitting down, though. While her husband is ministering to U.S. Army soldiers, she will be ministering to the Army families left behind.
“Lance loves his job,” said Shawna, who served as executive secretary to the dean of the School of Leadership and Church Ministry while the couple was at the Louisville, Ky., seminary. “God has called him to minister to soldiers. I have peace knowing that Lance is in God’s will. I am scared that when he leaves, it may be the last time I see my husband.
“... [But] I have great support groups here and am looking forward to ministering to those who will be staying here.”
Indeed, the ministry opportunities will be and are plentiful. A primary place of service for Shawna will be her local church.
“They are getting together a support group for families of deployed soldiers,” Shawna said. “... I am excited to be involved in that group. They are also thinking of having a women’s Bible study during the day. I told the pastor I would lead it.”
Shawna will also be involved in ministry on base, where the needs are great among the soldiers’ spouses.
“From the meetings I have been to so far, there seems to be a lot of needs to be met,” Shawna said. “A lot of the ladies are newly married with children and are not Christians. I feel that by getting to know these women by having them over for dinner and taking an interest in their children, a friendship may be formed.
“I am thankful our church wants to be involved with the families, and that will be something I will share with these ladies.”
On base, Shawna is already involved in the battalion’s Family Readiness Group (FRG). FRG is a group of about 55 spouses from Lance’s battalion which meets on a monthly basis. They gather to share news and offer encouragement to each other.
“I would like to get to know these ladies so they can trust me and call on me when their spouse is gone,” Shawna said. “Since I am not working, I would like to watch their children if they need a baby sitter, pray for their specific needs and just be there if they need help with anything.”
She is also participating in the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) group on base. Each week, this group of 50 women come together for fellowship, testimonies, music and Bible study. Shawna has volunteered to lead a PWOC Bible study, as well as an aerobics class.
“This may be the only day of the week the ladies are doing something for themselves,” she said. “And what a great environment [it is for them] to be around other Christian women and children and learning about the Lord.”
But Shawna’s ministry isn’t limited to church and Ft. Hood. She also has an important ministry at home -- to manage the household while Lance is gone.
“I will have to take care of the house [and] lawn and pay the bills,” she said. “For me, this will not be so difficult since I have done these things before. We don’t have any children and that makes it easier to keep up on these tasks. For spouses who just got married -- and some people do get married just because their boyfriend or girlfriend is leaving -- the household duties may be more difficult since they may have never paid the bills before. They do not know what bills need to be paid, how much is owed, where to send the bills, and they may not know when they are due.”
As challenging as it will be for Shawna at home, the separation from her husband will be the most difficult.
“Lance will not be able to tell me where he is going,” Shawna said. “He may not be able to communicate with me for three months or longer depending on what he is doing.”
For this reason, she knows that her most important ministry to Lance will not be in the home but will be in her prayers.
“I will pray for Lance daily,” she said. “I will pray that he can minister to those around him, that he won’t get discouraged when he comes to the road blocks while he is away. I pray that many will be receptive to him and that God reveals Himself to them.”
She takes comfort that Lance is where a sovereign God has called him to be.
“I am thankful God is in control,” she said. “He will be with Lance.”
And she has faith that God will use Lance in a powerful way.
“God called us back into the Army for such a time as this,” she said. “The military needs good chaplains right now. Many are not called to be there, and some do not preach God’s Word. That is really scary during this uncertain time.”
It is this assurance in God’s providence, love and care that she hopes to share with those other women who are left behind.
“I want to be available to these ladies, whatever their needs entail,” she said.
LOUISVILLE, Ky.(BP)--As war commences in the Middle East, students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are expressing confidence in God’s providence and hope for future missions efforts in Iraq.
In interviews following chapel services at the Louisville, Ky., seminary March 20, several students said they were praying with assurance that God would protect people in harm’s way and would expand His Kingdom through this crisis.
“My wife and I prayed last night for, of course, the safety of our troops over there [and for] the safety of the Iraqi people,” said Greg Gilbert, a master of divinity student from Linden, Texas. “Mostly, I think that I‘ll be praying that when this regime is toppled, that the country will be opened up to the Gospel. I would like to see missionaries flood in there and preach the Gospel to all those people.”
Many students watched the beginnings of American operations the night before. The sounds of explosions drove home the fragility of life and the urgency of the Gospel.
“I think the fact that it [the war] is so vivid makes you immediately think of the consequences,” said Dave Theobald, a master of divinity student from Hamilton, Ontario. “And as a Christian, I immediately think of their souls rather their lives. I‘m concerned about their lives, but I just hate the thought of people dying without knowing Christ.”
Yet, students are also confident that God is in control and that His will is being accomplished.
“The images were very sobering to see,” said Mark Schweitzer, a bachelor of arts student at Boyce College, Southern Seminary’s undergraduate institution. “... Holding a view of the sovereignty of God such as I hold, I have confidence that through His plan and according to His purposes He will bring about a good end to this.”
Students, however, do feel the apprehension and uncertainty accompanies war.
“I guess you have to be a little anxious about terrorist attacks here,” Gilbert said. “And, I hope Saddam Hussein doesn’t try to do anything unconventional over there--chemical or biological. But, I’m pretty confident.”
But, they said such uncertainty can be used by God for good.
“You know, times like this God uses,” Theobald said. “These people are more face to face with the reality of death. I‘m just praying that the Lord will use that to make people see the their need of Him and their own sin.”
Many students have friends and family involved in the conflict.
“I actually have [a friend] who’s over there,” said Kristin Sanford, a bachelor of science student at Boyce College. “He’s 19. And I‘m praying for him as a Christian that he’ll stand strong in his faith. And I‘m praying for all those who do not know the Lord, that this will be a time they would by the grace of God be humbled.”
Master of divinity student Kyle McDaniel has a brother-in-law who serves as a C-130 navigator in the United States Air Force. He doesn’t know where his relative is, and he is concerned for his safety.
“The American Air Force is amazingly superior,” said McDaniel, a Disputanta, Va., native. “But, you know, it doesn’t take superiority [to shoot someone down], it just takes a rocket hitting the wrong spot. But once again, ultimately, we don’t trust in our own strength.”
Indeed, God’s strength, sovereignty, and providence in war was a refrain echoed by each student. They each are praying that Americans and Iraqis will turn to this God in this time of crisis.
“I just trust that the president knows what he’s doing,” McDaniel said. “But more than that, like we prayed in chapel today, this isn’t ultimately in the hands of the president.”