Religious Freedom Webcast Recap

This past week on January 11, 2021, Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, GuideStone Financial Services and Louisiana Baptists hosted a webcast on Religious Freedom During COVID-19 and Beyond.

The Brotherhood Mutual webcast panel included: Michael Allison, Vice President and Chief Counsel’ Steve Case, Assistant Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel; and Kyle Johnson, Senior Corporate Attorney.

The past few years, particularly 2020, have brought dramatic changes to our nation, and our churches. It looks like 2021 will also be a challenging year.

The webcast covered the following areas of concern for churches:

  • Emerging Religious Freedom Issues for Churches and Ministries
  • How can a Ministry Protect its Religious Beliefs Against Legal Threats?
  • How can a Ministry Align its Facility Use with its Sincerely Held Beliefs?
  • How can a Ministry Address Employment Issues Related to Morals and Values?
  • What should Ministry Leaders Know About Gender Identity Issues?
  • How Concerned Should ministries be about Governmental Actions and Challenges?
  • If a Ministry is sued for Standing up for its Beliefs, will Insurance Coverage be available?

These are issues every church and ministry needs to address with their insurance provider, church by-laws, employee handbook, code of conduct, and other documents.

If you missed the webcast or would like to watch the 1½ hour presentation you may do so here.

Brotherhood Mutual has also provided an excellent and free pdf resource entitled, “Religious Freedom Protection: Shepherding Ministries in a Time of Change,” that is also available to download.

There are also many other free resources for churches and ministries at: www.brotherhoodmutual.com and LouisianaBaptists.org/about/directory/evangelism-church-growth/adults/church-administration.

If you have additional questions, please contact Jeff Ingram, at Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org or 318.449.4295.

Part 1 – Rebuilding the Sunday School/Small Group Ministry in the Local Church

Like you, I was glad to see 2020 come to an end. However, many of the same issues remain a significant part of our life and ministry in 2021. So, how does the church move forward to grow healthier and stronger?

Adapt – Many of us have learned how to do our work—differently. When the pandemic struck, we quickly learned how to do church online, through Zoom, on our phones and computers. We learned how to record video and put it online so any and all could watch. We learned how to minister via group texts. We used Facebook Live to attempt to do worship and Bible study. We were forced to adapt to strange new environments. We missed the hugs, handshakes and high fives. We still do. In all these situations, we learned to adapt…something we must continue into the future.

Create – Not only did we have to adapt, we had to create new ways, new venues and new opportunities for the church to be the church. We had to try new things. We learned a lot of new stuff.  Even so, the church is not a building—it’s people. We are the body of Christ. We must be creative and try new things. The future of the church requires this adaptation and creativity as we seek to make disciples in new, strange and exciting ways.

Focus – Too often, when we are working to adapt and be creative, we lose focus on the things that are most important. Worshipping online and in person are great, but lest we forget—worship is still about God. We may not need bricks and mortar to have church, but God can and will continue to use buildings and online platforms for people to worship, have Bible study, minister and fulfill the Great Commission. Buildings, programs and people do not bring changed lives. God changes lives. He changes lives by using buildings, programs, people and even the internet. Let’s not forget to keep the main thing, the main thing. We exist to make disciples who make disciples.

Adapt and be creative…just don’t let the methods become the focus. Instead, “keep your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB). He is the power to change lives and He is at work in and around you today. Make Him the center of your attention and worship.

Deep Discipleship

A book summary of: “Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus”

Discipleship is an area I have emphasized throughout my ministry and when I saw this book in a fall 2020 issue of Christianity Today, I ordered a copy and read it over the holidays.  Some of the main points in each chapter of the book are listed below:

  • Discipleship is not just a program but a total reorientation to reality. There are two main challenges to deep discipleship: self-centered discipleship and spiritual apathy. (A God-Centered Vision, Ch. 1)
  • The church is called to make disciples, and it is time for us to stop delegating our responsibility. Other organizations can come along side the church, but they can never replace the church. (The Church, Ch. 2)
  • Community is indispensable to discipleship, but community is not discipleship. We cannot be disciples of Christ outside the context of community. However, we can be in community that is not teaching us to be disciples of Christ. (Space, Ch. 3)
  • Instead of asking the question, “What do disciples want?”, we need to ask the better question, “What do disciples need?” (Scope, Ch. 4)
  • If the local church is not calling people to press forward, to grow, to strain ahead, we will lose them. One of the paradigm shifts we need in ministry is the shift from asking the question, “How do we keep disciples in the church?” to the better question, “How do disciples grow in the church?” (Sequence, Ch. 5)
  • Churches that are pursing a culture of deep discipleship are intentionally commissioning their disciples into the church, the home, their neighborhoods, the workplace, and the nations. (Send, Ch. 6)
  • We will never make deep disciples if we apologize when we ask people to make commitments. (Strategy, Ch. 7)

Initially, I was somewhat skeptical of the first two words of the title, “Deep Discipleship,” because of people wanting to “go deep into discipleship,” and neglecting other areas of the Christian life such as evangelism, worship, service, ministry, etc. However, after reading the book I felt English clearly made the point that discipleship encompasses all the spiritual disciplines and that obedience to God’s Word is the true test of maturity.

The author also emphasized the importance Sunday School/Bible study classes for everyone, Bible studies for men only and women only, and in particular contextualizing  a discipleship program for the church with specific goals and initiatives (Space, Scope, Sequence, Send, and Strategy).

Will you pray for this?

What big things have you prayed for during your lifetime?

They change from year to year, don’t they? Think for a moment about your requests through the years:

  • A new bike.
  • A date!
  • Admission to your college of choice
  • Help that special person to say “I do.”
  • Give us a child.
  • Help me understand that child!
  • A raise or a new opportunity.

And finally…

  • Help me keep my teeth!

Notice that these universal prayers center often around me, mine, and ours. It’s easy to spend most of our knee time focusing on ourselves. Even during a pandemic our prayers can take an inward turn. I read a social media meme featuring a small child saying grace before dinner. The caption read, “Lord, please don’t let brussel sprouts be part of the cure for COVID-19!” In the church realm, some pray for their church to grow so they can enjoy new buildings or programs.

On the flip side, what is the most insignificant thing you’ve prayed for? A parking place? For the traffic light to stay green? Eating all the sweets you desire without gaining a pound or an inch?

When is the last time you prayed for a seed? Sounds crazy, I know. Such a little thing and yet, such an important thing. Think about it – we all benefit from seeds.  Without seeds the world would grind to a halt. Without seeds, mankind would starve.

After all, according to one source, the average seed weighs only .24 grams. If I were to drop a single seed, more than likely you wouldn’t see it or hear it. If I threw it at you, you wouldn’t feel it. Such a little thing and at the same time, such an important thing.

Yet, according to the parable of the sower in Mark 4, if this seed finds good soil, it can produce a harvest 30, 60 or even 100 times greater than what was sown.

All of us are beneficiaries of seeds. Sometimes the seed was sown by our parents or grandparents. In my case, they were sown by friends who invited me to church. A seed can come from a billboard, a social media post, a commercial or countless other ways.

Why are seeds so important? Why are these small, seemingly insignificant seeds worthy of your prayers? Because the harvest we long for will not happen until the seed is scattered. The seed in the package has no impact. Talking about the seed is insufficient. The seed in our hand stops short. It’s not until the seed is intentionally and consistently scattered that it has the potential to find good soil. Nothing happens until the seeds are scattered.

The seed is the beginning that leads to an end – if it’s scattered.

So, do we trust the seed? Do we believe the seed of God’s word has the power to change people? To heal marriages? To save families? Redeem a culture?

Here’s the good news, if we’ll scatter the seed, it knows what to do. God has designed the seed in such a way that when it finds good soil, it knows what to do. We may not know what to do, or how it works but by design, the seed knows what to do.

If we long to see a harvest of souls, the question becomes, will we throw the seed? Will we intentionally and consistently scatter the seed of God’s truth and let the seed do what it knows to do?

Make no mistake, we still have to gather the harvest. The farmer in Mark 4 put out a request for assistance to bring in the harvest, but it all begins with a seed.

Do you remember the children’s story of Jack and the Beanstalk? Jack’s mother was furious when he traded their cow for a handful of worthless beans so she threw them out the window – but that is where the adventure began. Nothing happened until the seeds were scattered.

Since 2019, Louisiana Baptists have scattered the seeds of God’s truth in approximately 95% of TV households across the state through Here for You, our multi-media evangelism strategy. These seeds are reaching an average of 250,000 people each month via social media and streaming services. Over 1,100 people have indicated a decision for Christ through our partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since January of 2020.

Visit LouisianaBaptists.org/hereforyou, enter: luke1423 and see how you can connect yourself and your church with this effort.

The seeds are doing their thing – beginning the process of drawing people to Jesus.

Will you pray for these seeds? Pray they find good soil. Pray God will protect and nourish the seeds and pray God will harvest the hearts of those who are ready.

Remember, when the seeds are scattered, the adventure begins!

The Awesomeness of Christmas is in the Simplicity of Christmas

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NIV)

Captain Gerald Coffee was a POW for 7 years and 9 days during the Vietnam War. In no context are a COVID-19 quarantine and an imprisonment in a war camp comparable, but I think many will resonate with Captain Coffee’s words about Christmas.

Christmas 1968 stands out in my memory. I had never known what real loneliness could be. And then I thought about the simplicity of Christ’s birth. Here there was nothing to distract me from the awesomeness of Christmas. No commercialism. No presents. Little food. I was beginning to appreciate my own spirituality because I had been stripped of everything by which I had measured my identity…rank, uniform, money, family. Yet I continued to find strength within. And I realized that although I was hurting and lonely and scared, this might be the most significant Christmas of my life.

What if all of us could have the most significant Christmas of our lives? Many of us are struggling with what Christmas will look like this year. Should we travel? Should we gather in large groups? Some will spend their Christmas in quarantine. Some will spend it in the hospital. Some will spend it alone in a nursing home. Some will spend Christmas in a quieter place because a loved one has died this year. And yet, all of us have the potential to have the most awesome Christmas ever. How? By dwelling on the simplicity of Christmas.

Consider the simplicity of that first Christmas. God chose a simple couple from Nazareth named Joseph and Mary. He chose a simple place—a manger. God appointed the angels to go to simple people, the shepherds, to announce the divine arrival.

But as we consider the simplicity of Christmas, our minds must dwell on the significance of Christmas. We would do well this Christmas to spend some time doing as Mary did, “pondering these things.” (Luke 2:19)

Ponder His name, Jesus, which means Yahweh saves. Ponder His name, Immanuel, which translated is “God is with us!”

Ponder again the reason for His coming – to seek and to save the lost. (1 Timothy 2:15 and Luke 19:10) He came to bear witness to the truth. (John 18:33-40) He came to give His life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:32-45) He came to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:1-10)

A simple Christmas need not be a sad Christmas. In fact, in light of all we’ve experienced this year, it could be the most significant Christmas of our lives. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10, NIV)

The Messy Reason for Christmas

In the beauty of the Christmas season, don’t forget the messy reason that it came about. The reason for the season and the savior was to deal with the sinfulness of humanity.

  • 1 Timothy 1:15 – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…”
  • 1 John 3:5 – “Jesus came to take away our sins…”
  • Luke 7:34 – “The Son of Man came eating and drinking… a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
  • Luke 19:10 – “the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
  • Matthew 20:28 – “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

These purpose statements of Jesus remind us of the messiness of our lives that can only be cleaned up through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  • He took out the trash of our lives. Jesus is our Savior and Sacrifice who took away our sin (1 John 3:5).
  • He sits down at our messy table. Jesus is a friend of sinners, with a love that looks past our sinfulness to make relationship with God possible (Luke 7:34)
  • He paid the price to get me out of the mess I was in. Jesus’ life served as a ransom for my sin enslaved soul (Matthew 20:28).
  • He rescued me from the edge of the cliff. Jesus is a shepherd who finds the lost sheep and joyfully takes us into his arms (Luke 19:10)

These purpose statements also should remind us of the mission that Jesus now has us on. Our mission is not about safety, personal achievement, or self-actualization. Our mission is about sin and its impact on humanity. We join Jesus by:

  • Sharing the story of his love and sacrifice that overcomes sin.
  • Befriending, not separating from sinners in order to share Jesus with them.
  • Living sacrificially to serve others and show them the work of Christ in our lives.
  • Taking risk and going after the lost one until he or she is found.
This Christmas, let’s celebrate the reality that God, through Christ, was willing to enter the world to take on the messiness of our sin that we might know Him and join Him on this messy mission for lost souls.

A Familiar Verse, Christmas, and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering

John 3:16 is likely the most well-known verse in all of Scripture. For many, it was the first verse committed to memory. Max Lucado called it the “Mount Everest of the Scriptures.” This one verse communicates to us the message and hope of Christmas.

The Personal Message of John 3:16

You have probably heard, more than once, that if you would have been the only person on earth, Jesus would have come and died just for you. Some have said you can put your name in this verse so that it reads, “For God so loved Steve that He gave His only begotten Son, that if Steve believes in Him, Steve would not perish, but have everlasting life.” Indeed the message of Christmas, the message of John 3:16, the message of salvation, is a very personal message.

The love described in this verse is not just a word, but a tangible love. Jesus showed us His love in that He came. If His coming was not enough, He came knowing He was going to die.

The Global Message of John 3:16

Not only does this verse carry a personal message, but also notice it has a global message. “For God so loved the world.” Everything we believe about God’s personal message is true for the whole world. God loves the whole world. In Jesus, He came to the whole world. In Jesus, He died for the sins of the whole world. He wants the whole world to believe in Him. He wants the whole world to be saved. Indeed, the last book of the Bible describes the worship scene in Heaven in which there are gathered people of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

If you want to be like Jesus, you must have the same passion and priorities of Jesus. We must adopt the same purpose Jesus had.

How do we respond to this “global” message of John 3:16?  We must go!

  • We must pray God will give us a passion for the whole world.
  • We must pray God will give our churches a passion for the whole world.
  • We must pray we would be sensitive and obedient if God says, “go.”

I remember hearing someone preach while I was in seminary and he used this to challenge our student body regarding God’s call on our lives. He said, “Most of us say we are willing to go, but in reality we are planning to stay.” He challenged us to reverse that notion and instead be “planning to go, but willing to stay.”

God does not want us all to go, but He does want us to see the whole world. And for some of us, He will call us to go. Will you be willing to go, should He call?

Whether we are called to go or not, we are called to participate in global missions, and that brings us to the annual offering of Southern Baptists called the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

The Sacrificial Message of John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave”! What sacrifice! Since Christ sacrificed for us in such a way that He gave Himself on a cross, should not we sacrifice so all the world might know He died to save them from their sin? All of us should think deeply about what we are going to give to missions this year in hopes that someone will have the opportunity to hear about Christ.

Would you consider putting missions at the very top of your Christmas list? Would you consider spending on missions at least as much as the most expensive gift you are going to buy? If we really care about the world knowing Jesus, can we do anything less?

In the words of our own Southern Baptist missionary heroine, Lottie Moon:

“Why should we not … instead of the paltry offerings we make, do something that will prove that we are really earnest in claiming to be followers of him who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor?”

January Bible Study videos now online

January Bible Study 2021 Preview Videos are now available online!

“Living with Assurance: John’s Epistles” is the theme for January Bible Study 2021. The focus of this study is on how a person’s understanding of Jesus impacts their daily lives in practical ways.

The apostle John wrote to combat false teachers who sought to mislead believers in the early church and continue to do so to this day. “Living with Assurance” will help your people live with assurance of their eternal life by living in light of their relationship with Jesus.

The epistles are outlined as follows:

  1. Fellowship with God (1 John 1)
  2. Remaining in God (1 John 2)
  3. Living as God’s Children (1 John 3, 4)
  4. Living with Love (1 John 3, 4)
  5. Living as Conquerors (1 John 5)
  6. Faithful to Truth (2 John)
  7. Hospitable to Truth (3 John)

We will not be having regional previews this year due to the pandemic. However, Dr. Philip Caples, Pastor, FBC Harrisonburg, LA and Adjunct Professor at Louisiana College, has recorded the previews for this study and can be accessed below:

The Leaders Guide and a Personal Study Guide for the “Living With Assurance: John’s Epistles” study is available for purchase at www.LifeWay.com.

If you have questions, please contact Jeff Ingram, Adult Ministry & Church Administration Strategist at Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org or at 318.448.3402

 

Critical Coverage Gaps

Does your Church’s Insurance Policy Contain Critical Coverage Gaps? An updated booklet by Brotherhood Mutual encourages churches and ministries to regularly review their insurance coverage in a rapidly changing world.

Consider:

Religious Freedom Protection: claims related to your church’s belief-based decisions and activities. Examples include refusing to marry a same-sex couple or limiting the use of your facility to certain groups.

Worldwide Liability Protection: are your short-term mission groups traveling outside the U.S. covered for medical expenses, as well as liability suits and hiring local legal counsel while overseas?

Sexual Acts Liability Protection: this would cover claims against your ministry or other innocent insureds related to a leader or worker’s sexual misconduct.

Security Operations Liability Protection: this includes claims against your church, its leaders and/or security team members when enforcing your security policies.

Traumatic Incident Response Protection: this would cover expenses your church incurs while responding to a traumatic incident; for example, counseling costs, legal counsel in responding to the media, victims, and to law enforcement.

Directors and Officers Liability Protection: offers protection for individuals, employees, volunteers, spouses of leaders for financial damages caused by alleged wrongful activities of church leaders.

Legal Liability Defense Cost Reimbursement: addresses issues like, lawsuit for breach of contract, employee claims of bodily injury not covered by workers compensation, and wrongful termination of an employee not covered by the policy.

Counseling Liability Protection: this covers claims against your church, its pastors, lay counselors, employees, volunteers in relation to counseling on your church’s behalf.

These would be good questions to ask your church’s insurance agent or broker to determine if your church’s current insurance coverage is adequate for the rapidly changing world we’re called to minister and witness.

This free resource booklet can be downloaded at brotherhoodmutual.com/gaps/critical-coverage-gaps.

If your church has questions regarding church administration issues, contact Jeff Ingram at Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org and at 318.448.3402.

Church Administration Resources are also being added here.

They Do Have an Amen Corner After All!

One of the sporting world’s most celebrated events, The Masters, occurs this weekend. Usually occurring in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom, this year’s event will have a backdrop of fall foliage. The world’s best golfers will compete over four days for a total prize purse of 11.5 million dollars. The winner gets 2.07 million and the coveted green jacket. Even those who usually have no interest in golf are likely to tune-in at some point this weekend.

Holes 11, 12, and 13 on the course are called Amen Corner. This got me thinking about a few of the spiritual lessons we can glean from golf – and not just the ones relating to “throwing your clubs in the water!”

I have actually seen entire devotional books written with this in mind and although I am not an accomplished golfer, a couple of spiritual lessons stand out to me. New Testament writers used sporting imagery from their day to convey spiritual truth. So, on this Masters weekend, I offer a couple of spiritual insights from the great game of golf.

  1. Bad things happen when you do not keep your eyes on the ball. That’s true in golf and life. I have a tendency in golf to look up to see how far I hit the ball. The problem is I tend to look up before I hit the ball. As believers, when we fail to keep our eyes on the ball of seeking first God’s kingdom, we soon find ourselves seeking another kingdom. Similarly, when churches fail to keep their eyes on their main mission which includes evangelism, discipleship, and missions, they often find themselves chasing matters of trivial importance.
  2. It’s the next shot that matters most. In golf and in life, we are going to make some bad shots. What we do after the bad shot is what really counts. On the golf course, I have seen people so upset about a bad shot that they quit in the middle of the round. Unfortunately, I have seen some people give up in life as well. In Christ, we can’t do this. Because of God’s forgiveness, we always get another shot.

In what areas of your life have you taken your eyes off of the ball – off of God’s plans and purposes for you? It doesn’t matter if you’ve landed in the sand, the rough, or even out of bounds, it’s your next shot, your next move, that matters most. When the Psalmist found himself in the rough, or out of bounds, if you will, he discovered this truth – even when he falls, he will not be overwhelmed because the Lord holds his hand, Psalm 37:24 (HCSB)

As long as your next move includes prayerful repentance as needed and a confident request for God’s wisdom, you can rest assured you’ll round “Amen” corner in great position for your next opportunity.