Saturday, June 21, 2008
J.D. Greear persuaded his church to drop the word "Baptist" from its name, sell its historic building in Durham, N.C., and move into a local high school. Greear preaches in an untucked collared shirt, sportcoat and jeans. He generally avoids politics but signed a statement urging action on global warming.
Eric Hankins preaches in a suit and tie at First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., where hymns like "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship" are the norm. Change for Hankins means adopting a new discipleship curriculum. He questions whether humans cause climate change.
Both men are Southern Baptist pastors in their 30's and lead growing congregations. Both are theologically conservative and engaged in their denomination.
Yet their different approaches are part of an ongoing debate about the future of the 16.2 million-member Southern Baptist Convention: Is there room for both the guy in the suit and the guy in the jeans? Should pastors shun politics or hand out voters' guides? Is saving the environment an issue to champion or a dangerous detour?
The nation's largest Protestant denomination is at a crossroads. After five decades of growth, membership fell last year and baptisms are dropping at an even faster clip. A growing number of Baptists see the apparent lack of relevancy, and they blame not secular America and liberals but themselves for the problem.
The Rev. Johnny Hunt of Woodstock, Ga., elected as the SBC's new president last week, already has pledged to bring younger leaders to the table. A member of the SBC's conservative establishment, the 55-year-old Hunt has been a mentor to the next generation through a pastors' school he founded in 1994.
"If we think the only ones leading are like us, then we're pretty narrow," Hunt said. "We've tried to push them into our mold instead of letting them use their own creativity."
Greear was 28 in 2002 when he became senior pastor of Homestead Heights Baptist Church, a sleepy congregation with a weekly attendance of 390 in Durham, N.C.
The building was too old, too small and in a bad location. So Greear persuaded the church to sell the building, relocate to a high school and reinvent itself as The Summit Church.
"We did not shed an ounce of Baptist identity," said Greear, whose weekly attendance is now 2,400. "The key is doing these things without compromising what you believe God's message is."
Greear rejects the dominant evangelical church form of the last 25 years: fill-in-the-blank sermon outlines and programs designed for spiritual seekers and baby boomers.
Summit Church members threw a wedding shower for a family that lost its home in a fire and volunteered to renovate a local elementary school.
"We like our community to say, 'We may not believe in everything the Summit Church believes, but thank God they're here because otherwise they'd have to raise our taxes,'" Greear said.
Greear describes his style as "humble orthodoxy." He wants to counter the image of the Southern Baptist preacher as the "angry guy with coifed hair and an out-of-style suit who likes to pick at things."
That doesn't mean watering down traditional beliefs. Greear preaches on sexual purity and believes every word in the Bible is true. But it also means going in some new directions.
Greear said he tries to avoid political stances. Earlier this year, however, he joined other Southern Baptists in signing a statement calling the denomination "too timid" on environmental issues. Global warming is a dire threat that demands action instead of more arguing about man's role causing it, it said.
The couple exchanged few words and barely glanced each other’s way during a hearing that ended their six-year marriage. Bynum signed a settlement agreement last week offered by Weeks, and the proceeding before a judge in suburban Atlanta lasted less than an hour.
Bynum filed for divorce in September, a month after the quarrel in the parking lot of an Atlanta hotel. Weeks ultimately pleaded guilty to assaulting her and is serving three years’ probation.
A 14-page document said neither party will receive alimony and Bynum will pay $40,000 of Weeks’ legal fees. The decision also restored Juanita Bynum’s maiden name as her legal one, though she never used Weeks’ last name while they were married.
Bynum left the courthouse smiling.
"I said from the beginning of this situation that this, too, shall pass, and it just did," she said.
Weeks also appeared in high spirits.
"It feels like a new day," he said outside court, adding he still has a "special love" for Bynum.
Bynum and Weeks married in a lavish ceremony in 2002. They have written books and lectured together on love and relationships.
Bynum leads a ministry that also includes a gospel record label and seminar tours. She has sold thousands of motivational books, CDs and DVDs related to empowerment and relationships.
Weeks, known to his followers as Bishop Weeks, co-wrote "Teach Me How to Love: The Beginnings" with Bynum.
[Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved.]
Isaiah 66:2 provides Mahaney with a biblical foundation for writing this book. I offer a list of quotes that I hope get your attention enough so that you will read this book.
- Humility gets God’s attention.
- Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.
- Pride seems to have a strange and sure way of ignoring logic altogether.
- Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him.
- You and I hate nothing to the degree God hates pride.
- And in true humility, our own service to others is always both an effect of His unique sacrifice and the evidence of it.
- The cross never flatters us.
- Sin doesn’t wake up tired.
- Too many Christians are more readily aware of the absence of God than they are of the presence of God, and they are more aware of sin than they are of grace.
- It is possible to admire humility while remaining proud ourselves.
Two more things I love about this book. The first is the way CJ Mahaney includes some very challenging and inspiring statements from the likes of John Owens, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, John Stott, DA Carson, RC Sproul and others. Secondly, this book isn’t just theory and theology. It also includes very practical ways to begin and end each day so that we can walk toward true greatness which is only found in humility.
[From What Leadership Demands by Shane]