EDUCATION BRIEFS: Rainer & Stetzer urge bridging of generational divides

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--Unity in the body of Christ can be hindered by pride, an unforgiving heart and an unwillingness to join together for the sake of the Gospel message, speakers said during Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's LifeWay Conference Week.

The special chapel services, which are an annual event to focus on Christian education and spiritual formation in the local church, featured Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, and Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.

During his address, Stetzer exhorted young and future leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to work to close the generational divide that he said is threatening the convention.

From Titus 2:1-8, Stetzer examined the roles and responsibilities of multiple generations of believers in ministry and said it is important to overcome the challenges of generational tradition and bridge any outstanding gaps.

"I know it's easier to birth a baby than raise the dead," Stetzer said, referring to the importance of finding common ground among the generations rather than splintering into multiple factions.

"We share the same Gospel but perhaps not the same direction," Stetzer said. "Generation has become a dividing line in the SBC, and it hurts and hinders our witness and our mission in the world."

A tendency to divide along generational lines stems from differences in the way one generation does church versus the way a different generation does church, Stetzer said.

"Why are we battling about the way to do church instead of standing on the Word of God and taking it to every tribe and tongue in the world?" Stetzer asked.

It is the responsibility of young leaders to honor leaders from previous generations as those who fought for the Bible and built the denomination and seminaries into what they are today. Young leaders also ought to work on cultivating elders of integrity, he said.

"We need to stop seeing older members as hindrances to the plan and instead see them as fellow laborers for the Gospel," Stetzer said. "It doesn't mean I need to treat his way as truth, but it does mean I need to honor him. There's a promise of mutual accountability."

To bridge the generational divide, young leaders should talk less about the way they do church and talk more about the doctrines they teach, he said.

During his address, Rainer said forgiveness is a vital part of the Christian doctrine that Christians should emphasize among the local body of believers.

The power to forgive others, regardless of how grievous the sin, is found in God alone, Rainer said, referring to Matthew 6:14-15.

"When we talk about the health of the church, perhaps one of our greatest spiritual impediments to that is the inability to forgive others," he said.

Even within the broader SBC, some conflicts arise because people are unwilling to forgive and to realize the issue is their own hearts, Rainer said. Jesus knew people would hurt, but he didn't give any constraints in the passage on when to forgive others, he said.

"Every Christian has been sinned against, and everyone has something in their past or present that causes them to have anger," Rainer said. "There is no sin we should not forgive.

" ... It does not say, 'Forgive men when they commit a minor sin against you.' Sometimes, we have to forgive them for more than the minor," he said. "Sometimes it is more than the petty. It's deep and you say, 'How can I do it?' In God, all things are possible, including forgiving those who have hurt you."

Rainer cited as an example the early years of his relationship with Stetzer, which he said was characterized by strife and an unwillingness to forgive.

"I despised him. We didn't see eye to eye on hardly anything," Rainer said.

But as God began to soften their hearts, the two men sought reconciliation with each other.

"Finally, my stubborn heart melted enough to see that I did not have an enemy but a brother in Christ," Rainer said.

Now that Rainer and Stetzer both work at LifeWay and recognize the need for unity among the body of Christ, Rainer said they are attempting to glorify God together.

"Sometimes now we may actually be able to do some good things for the Kingdom," Rainer said.

"... Maybe some denominations are failing because they fail to forgive. The health of the local church depends on the hearts of its people, and the restoration of our fellowship with God is predicated on our willingness to forgive others," Rainer said.

"Though our relationship with God will hold, our fellowship with Him is broken as long as we are unwilling to forgive."

JOHNNY HUNT HONORED AT MIDWESTERN -- Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was honored at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in March with the dedication of a faculty office in his name.

Jerry Johnson, vice president for academic development at Midwestern, said it was appropriate to honor Hunt in a building dedicated to the memory of two martyred missionaries, a building named for Midwestern graduates William Koehn and Martha Myers.

"Just as the prophet Elisha sought a double portion of Elijah's spirit, my hope and prayer is that our pastors, missionaries and evangelists going out of Midwestern catch some of the fire you have for soul-winning, missions and evangelism," Johnson told Hunt at the ceremony.

The office will be occupied by Stephen Andrews, a professor of Old Testament, Hebrew and archeology. Andrews also directs the Morton-Seats Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at Midwestern.

Dan McDonald, a Midwestern trustee and regent from Roswell, Ga., provided the funding for the office. During a prayer at the dedication, he expressed gratitude "for the leadership Pastor Johnny has personally given me and my family and my church that has enabled me by the power of the Holy Spirit to lead people to Christ." Hunt is pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga.

Marty Harkey, vice president for institutional advancement, read a resolution recognizing Hunt's 22-year tenure at First Baptist Woodstock, a congregation that has grown from an average attendance of 275 to nearly 7,000 people attending one of three morning services.

"His ministry spans the world in international missions, evangelism, pastoral ministries and training and equipping leaders and other believers to reach people for Christ," the resolution read. "His legacy in the lives of believers and his ministry influences will live on for all eternity." Midwestern is in the midst of a capital campaign for building renovation and construction projects called "Building for the Future." The office of institutional advancement offers room-naming opportunities for new and existing buildings as a means of honoring family members, pastors and churches.

PASTORAL CALLING CELEBRATED AT GOLDEN GATE -- David Johnson, director of the Arizona campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said anyone who is eager to be a pastor desires a beautiful work, referring to 1 Timothy 3:1 during the spring convocation at the seminary's main campus in Mill Valley, Calif.

"The New Testament uses several words to describe pastor, including shepherd, pastor, overseer, bishop and elder," Johnson, associate professor of New Testament studies, said.

"Certainly one of the most compelling images of the pastor is as shepherd," he said. "And the image of God as shepherd informs the role of pastor."

Johnson provided several Old Testament verses as examples of how the image is as ancient as the profession of watching over a flock or herd. He also noted how the New Testament identifies Jesus as the Messiah fulfilling the image of shepherd.

"If being a pastor is such a beautiful thing, why does it seem there are fewer responding to the call to be pastors today and why are so many negative things said about this vocation?" he asked.

Johnson said research indicates that fewer people are choosing to become pastors and the total number of students entering seminary and master of divinity programs has declined recently. Fewer are choosing to enter the ministry at this point in time, he said.

"What can churches, seminaries or denominational structures do to encourage the vocation of pastor?" Johnson asked, offering four suggestions.

First, create an understanding of calling and vocation.

"God's call includes three distinct aspects: a universal call to Christian service for all believers, a general call of some believers to ministry leadership, and a specific call to a unique ministry assignment or particular ministry position," Johnson said.

Second, be honest without being negative. He urged pastors, professors and mentors to help those entering the pastorate through teaching, sharing personal experience and providing useful and needed resources.

Third, call attention to the benefits.

"When many pastors look back on a life spent in pastoral ministry, they feel a sense of satisfaction that their lives have made a positive difference in the lives of others," he said.

Finally, uphold the biblical images of the vocation of pastor.

"While there is much to be learned from leadership principals of the business world, at times this sends the wrong message to those considering the vocation of pastor," he said.

"Let us encourage the brightest and best to respond to this calling to give their lives in the service of the Lord and His church," Johnson said. "And let us pray that God will raise up a great generation of pastors to shepherd His church until He comes."

KOREAN PASTOR EXHORTS STUDENTS -- Daniel Dongwon Lee, pastor of Global Mission Church in Bundang, South Korea, was the 2009 Hester Lecture Speaker at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in March.

The two-day lecture series in Mill Valley, Calif., drew several pastors from local Korean churches, including some Golden Gate graduates. Lee spoke in the Korean language on "Preaching in the Postmodern Age" and "The Holy Spirit and Preaching." English translation was provided by Peter Jin, pastor of New Vision Baptist Church in Milpitas, Calif.

"I don't think that the postmodern generation is essentially different from the people of past generations," Lee said in his first lecture. "But I do believe that their daily life and way of thinking is clearly different."

As today's pastors consider ways to adapt sermons to the "restless changes in the culture," Lee said the change is not about abandoning the old for the new. Instead, it's about refocusing the emphasis.

"Although Christ is still the solution, I believe that we have a call to provide the same solution with a different perspective and a different heart," Lee said. "And this new perspective and heart must follow the same perspective and heart of Jesus for this postmodern generation."

During his second lecture, Lee said preaching the Word of God is the most important calling of a pastor.

"It is the Holy Spirit who called us to be preachers," he said, noting that "preparing a sermon is not an endeavor we do alone. If we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit also leads and guides us through the sermon preparation."

Preaching that is anointed by the Holy Spirit, Lee said, "is the only hope to heal this world."

In addition to pastoring a 30,000-member church, Lee is president and founder of the Korean Baptist Church Future Preparation Forum, founder of the Korean Students Abroad Movement and co-chair of the Korea Global Mission Summit.

Lee has written more than 100 books including "Expository Preaching that Awakens Audiences," which is available in Korean, Kazakhstan and Indonesian.

The Hester Lectureship on Preaching is sponsored by an endowment created in 1969 by the late H.I. Hester, a longtime Bible professor and head of the department of religion at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

'WHAT WE SING SHOULD REFLECT OUR THEOLOGY' -- Instead of opening the chapel service with a few hymns and then teaching from the Bible, Daniel Akin and the music faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary interspersed theologically pertinent hymns into an exposition of 1 Timothy 3:16.

"What we sing when we worship should matter, because what we sing should reflect our theology," Akin said during the chapel service at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus March 31.

Looking at the text in 1 Timothy, Akin noted that it is one of several early confessional hymns to Christ found in Scripture.

"What purposes did these hymns serve and what insights do we glean from studying them?" Akin reflected. "The hymns reveal the kinds of Christological affirmations made in the earliest days of the church. Because the hymns are earlier than their citation in the New Testament, they are even more primitive than their New Testament record."

Akin also said the hymns of the early church represented "Christological explosions of worship and adoration." The scriptural hymn in 1 Timothy 3 has been referred to as "Paul's 'How Great Thou Art,'" Akin said. "It is the high point, the very heart of this letter, wedding beautifully how we behave with what we believe."

Beginning with the first stanza of verse 16, Akin said the scriptural hymn begins by highlighting the incarnational aspect of Christ.

"Unlike the pagan gods of the Greek pantheon that often masqueraded as men, the Son of God became a man, adding to His divine nature a true and genuine human nature," Akin said.

In this spirit of recognizing Christ's humanity, Akin led the student body in singing the contemporary hymn "Here I Am to Worship."

Akin noted that reading and analyzing the text of the hymn in 1 Timothy 3 should remind believers to sing also of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord when He was seen by angels, as is detailed in the text.

"Witnessed in heaven by the angels, believers now bear witness on earth to King Jesus to the nations," Akin said. "This Jesus is adored in heaven but He must be proclaimed among the nations. The latter is a divine assignment given to you and me."

1 Timothy 3:16 also teaches that believers should worship the Lord by meditating on and singing about the salvation of the Lord by following the example of the angels, Akin said.

"In heaven they sing about the salvation of our Lord," he noted. "On earth, we must do no less. Indeed with the angels above we join our voice and sing Revelation 5:12, 'Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing.'"

As Akin expounded upon the final stanza of 1 Timothy 3:16, he urged the Southeastern family to wait expectantly on the promise found in the end of the hymn.

"Thus, through the singing of this hymn we confess that our Lord was revealed by His incarnation and resurrection [stanzas one and two], is witnessed by heaven and earth [stanzas three and four] and is honored on earth and in heaven [stanzas five and six]. How then do we respond to this, our great God? The hymn written by Phillip Bliss says it as well as any I know. Its title: 'Hallelujah, What a Savior.'" The chapel audience closed the service by singing the final two verses of the hymn. Having sensed a movement of God's Spirit, many lingered after the service not to chat with friends but to remain in the presence of God.


Based on reports by Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Tammi Reed Ledbetter of the Southern Baptist TEXAN; and Phyllis Evans of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

Download Story