'Lean into culture,' speakers urge pastors' wives

by Shannon Baker, posted Tuesday, June 14, 2016 (2 years ago)

ST. LOUIS (BP) -- Burdened with a changing culture and apparent declining in Christian influence, the women who shared the stage at the 2016 Pastors' Wives Conference urged their listeners to pray, lean into the culture and personally get involved in reaching their communities.

Anne Graham Lotz, keynote speaker for the 2016 Pastors' Wives Conference, said that if there was ever a time our nation needs prayer, it is now. And not what her mother called "on-the-hoof" prayer, but intentional, disciplined prayer. Photo by Bill Bangham
 
Anne Graham Lotz, executive director of AnGeL Ministries, headlined the June 13 event in the Marriott Majestic Ballroom prior to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

Fearing America is facing impending judgment like Israel faced before going into captivity, Lotz said, "Our nation is a mess, imploding at every level."

Unless there is repentance, she believes, God will judge the nation with a Romans 1-type judgment. He will "back away" and "will give us over to ourselves," she said, noting Israel had been warned and warned, but God turned against her, allowing the Babylonians to take them captive, destroying Jerusalem.

"It's time to wake up and pray" like Elijah or Daniel did, said Lotz, author of "The Daniel Prayer: Prayer that Moves Heaven and Changes Nations."

Nearing the end of his life, the prophet Daniel recognized God's promise through Jeremiah that, in the span of just three years, He would restore his nation after 70 years of captivity. Daniel felt compelled to pray God's Word back to Him, appealing to His covenant promises and to His greatness.

Daniel was confident in the character and commitment of God, knowing that He is "a prayer-hearing, prayer-answering, covenant-keeping, miracle-working God," Lotz said.

"How confident are you in God?" she asked, before leading in a time of prayer. "What difference does one person's prayer make? You never know until you are that one person!"

Ruth Ripken said prayer is critical for persecuted Christians all over the world.

Ripken is a pastor's wife who spent seven years ministering in war and famine in Somalia where she said, "The darkness was so dark, you could taste it," comparing it to the plagues of Egypt in the book of Exodus.

But over time, she and her husband Nic, author of "The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected," which also is being released as a movie, learned that the stronger the believers' persecution, the stronger their convictions.

"I found a faith in [persecuted believers] -- there's no comparison -- and I began to think, 'What have we done with our faith in the West?' It is watered down so much, whereas these believers have paid the price," Ripken said in an interview with Donna Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

"Persecution has made them count the cost but it has also made them live victoriously," Ripken said.

She pointed to the biblical story of Joseph, who was falsely imprisoned because of Potiphar. "Brothers and sisters around the world have reminded us that sometimes God needs Joseph in Pharaoh's prison.... If we get Joseph out of prison before he has a chance to interpret Pharaoh's dream, Egypt dies." And Israel dies.

"So, can we from the West who do have a freedom -- that believers from persecution call a 'miracle' every single day -- can we from the West be so strong" to be there, praying, if God needs them to be in prison to win prison guards to Christ?" Ripken asked.

"Believers in persecution can only stand because you are praying," she said, relating how believers would weep when they learned other believers were praying for them and they were not forgotten.

And yet, the most persecuted people on the planet are those who have not yet heard about Jesus, Ripken said, because they are going to go into eternity without Christ.

"Are we keeping Jesus to ourselves so much that we are persecuting those who live in our midst?" she asked.

Gaines understands the tension. People in ministry and leadership are putting themselves out there every day for "public consumption," she said. "Sometimes I think we are so fearful of being gnawed on ... that we pull back. But are we not grateful that our Savior was willing to be consumed for us?"

Comedian and singer Anita Renfroe challenged pastors' wives to allow themselves to be putty in God's hands as Southern Baptists face an uncertain future. Renfroe spoke during the 2016 Pastors' Wives Conference on Monday, June 13 in St. Louis. Photo by Bill Bangham
 
In her session, comedian Anita Renfroe offered a simple solution to engaging those in today's culture who seem hard to reach: "We need to be human beings, not roles, not responsibilities, not titles."

"Once we become human again, and we engage with people the way Jesus did, on a human level..., [that] is when we will most actively, most successfully engage the culture," Renfroe said.

She cited the words of Augustine of Hippo: "Truth is like a lion; you don't have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself."

"We need to believe once again who God is and the power of the Holy Spirit to engage truth on any level, but we need to be human," she said, later urging her listeners to allow themselves to be "putty in God's hands" -- soft, pliable and able to be used for His purposes.

Selma Wilson, vice president of organizational development at LifeWay Christian Resources, developed this idea further. Sharing about a Saudi student who feared going back to her home country where women were not free to obtain educations, Wilson felt the Lord ask her: "What's your excuse for not getting an education?"

Selma Wilson believes every woman should have a personal development plan. The vice president for organizational development for LifeWay Christian Resources told the 2016 Pastors' Wives Conference that is it important get out of the church and into the community, and this is a good way to do it. Photo by Bill Bangham
 
"We have the freedom to do that! Own your own development," Wilson said. "You have so much potential in Christ. You were created by Him, gifted by Him, redeemed by Him.... Step up and step into the culture we live in today."

Kathy Ferguson Litton, in an interview with Trillia Newbell, said pastors' wives "function well in the friendly confines of the church culture" but most struggle to reach into the broader culture.

Instead, they should "lean into the culture," said Litton, North American Mission Board consultant for pastors' wives. She encouraged the wives to say no to something in the church in order to say yes to something in the community.

Newbell, director of community outreach for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, agreed. She said many Christians tend to be isolationists, who hide from the culture or give in to fear -- afraid of the unknown or operating in the fear of man.

Kathy Litton, national director of the North American Mission Board's Ministry to Pastors' Wives, held a discussion on addressing our changing culture during the 2016 Pastors' Wives Conference. Photo by Bill Bangham
 
"We don't want to get stained by people ... or we don't want to make a mistake," Newbell said. She suggested pastors' wives seek to understand the culture before forming opinions about it.

Listen to podcasts, read, be "quick to listen and slow to tweet," she said. Ask why others are so hurt and angry. Pray before making assumptions. Listen to them.

"We have pulled back so much that it is not healthy," Litton said. "We will never listen to people if we don't lean into them."

Meredith Floyd of Cross Church in Fayetteville, Ark., emceed the annual conference, which is held during the Monday morning session of the annual SBC Pastors' Conference. Barbara O'Chester of Wake Forest, N.C., opened the session with prayer for the wives, and Kristin and Eric Yeldell of First Baptist Church of Naples, Fla., led in worship.

Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network in Columbia, Md.
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