SBC DIGEST: Prestonwood's 'Songs of the People'; Thom Rainer virtual tour; Alaska's Jimmy Stewart continued recovery; Saddleback's 45,000 baptisms

'Songs of the People' flow from Prestonwood

PLANO, Texas (BP) -- A new collection of music built on the faith stories of the people of Prestonwood Baptist Church and written by the church's worship ministry debuted atop Nielsen Soundscan's Christian music chart after its September release.

"Songs of the People," which also rose to #6 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart, grew out of a conversation between Prestonwood pastor Jack Graham and lead worship pastor and Dove Award winner Michael Neale a year before.

"We'd been talking about writing music here at Prestonwood for a while," Graham said. "But when Michael came, [songwriting] was his sweet spot."

Neale said they wanted songs that that rose up from the stories of the people at Prestonwood, "bringing the songs from the platform to the people so their songs were being sung."

Members of the worship team began writing music almost immediately and worked together for several days in a mid-January retreat. Legendary worship writers and leaders Paul Baloche and Michael W. Smith were among those who contributed to the collaboration. Neale said that in the end, the 14 writers involved completed more than 40 songs, "all representing this great narrative -- the story of God unfolding before us."

By mid-May, the music had reached its final form. And at a special Saturday night worship service, the musicians and singers, the combined choirs of Prestonwood and a crowd of several thousand recorded Songs of the People.

The finale featured Smith in an unadvertised but widely rumored appearance, and included the new song "We Are Alive," written and completed almost literally at the last minute. It served as the exclamation point to a powerful worship experience.

Songs of the People, released in conjunction with Integrity Music, was a first for worship at Prestonwood, an album of all new songs reflecting the heart of the church. But it won't be the last, Graham said.

He said he senses a particular need among Southern Baptist and evangelical churches for songs built around the deep faith of those congregations that serve as a cross-generational bridge for worshippers, from oldest to youngest.

"We don't know where the Lord is going to take this," Graham said, "but we know we're on the path to providing music for Prestonwood and other churches.

"Songs of the People is something we pray will be part of the culture of the church -- a growing movement in the church."

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Virtual tour underway by LifeWay President Thom Rainer

NASHVILLE (BP) -- LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer is making his way across the U.S. and Canada on a virtual speaking tour.

Rainer is hosting 49 live, interactive webcasts for pastors and church staff over the next 11 months addressing what he describes as five seismic shifts in the church today. Each one-hour webcast includes a time for participants to ask questions about the five shifts and the overall state of the church in North America.

Rainer said he is focusing on shifts taking place in church attendance levels, small group discipleship and leadership training, as well as how churches are outsourcing some administrative functions and downsizing their facilities. "These are not necessarily trends," Rainer said, "but rather are shifts that will cause drastic changes in the church in the next few years."

Rainer said because of the demands of his role at LifeWay, he's unable to accept many of the speaking requests he receives from churches and conferences. But, he noted, "Our partners for the virtual tour, eaHELP and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, are making it possible for me to meet with leaders in every state and province in the U.S. and Canada over the next year.

"Most conferences don't allow for one-on-one time with the speaker," he added. "We wanted to use a medium that would allow interactive dialogue" with pastors about the challenges they are facing.

Rainer said another benefit of the webcast is introducing leaders from the same state to one another. "A pastor in Boise, Idaho, may not realize a pastor across the state is dealing with the same challenges," Rainer said. "We're able to connect them with one another.

"Peer learning is an important function of these webcasts," he said. "Part of the goal is to help church leaders build community with other leaders in their state and learn from one another."

The tour kicked off in October with stops in Ohio, Idaho, Washington and Florida. Tour stops in November include Rhode Island and Connecticut, Montana, Arkansas, Oregon and Alaska. Registration is limited to the first 25 pastors and church staff in each state who sign up. Registration is free and opens a few weeks before each webcast. For more information, visit ThomRainer.com/virtualtour.

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Alaska's Jimmy Stewart moves to rehab for 3rd-degree burns

SEATTLE (BP) -- Alaska Baptist leader Jimmy Stewart is continuing his recovery from third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body sustained in a gas leak explosion in July.

Stewart, evangelism and church growth director for the Alaska Baptist Convention, was moved to in-patient rehab at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he has undergone numerous surgeries since the explosion at a cabin in Alaska.

His wife Kathryn, in an update on the Caring Bridge website, wrote, "We had wondered for a long time if we would ever get to this point, and we have made it!

"Praise to the Lord and thanks to many of y'all's prayers and the prayers of many, many other folks across the nation as well as in many other countries," Kathryn continued in her Oct. 18 report. "Thank you for diligently and fervently praying for Jimmy and our family for these past 80 or so days. The Lord is good to send us special encouraging messages and blessings just when we need it most through all the wonderful snail mail that has come every day. It has really cheered us up and as the Word says, 'A cheerful heart is good medicine.'"

Kathryn listed three specific prayer requests:

"1) Jimmy's elbows - (he can barely bend the arms a bit) Pray this H.O. (heterotrophic ossification) in each elbow will somehow begin to disappear. Our God has taken on harder things than this these past few weeks and months!

"2) Pray very hard for the left hand to regain feeling, some movement, strength, and to become flexible again.

"3) Pray for his eyes -- close vision is somewhat returning, now we are praying for distance vision to return."

Cards and letters of encouragement can be mailed to Harborview Medical Center, 325 9th Ave., Seattle, WA 98104, with "Attn: Patient Jimmy Stewart" included in the address.

The Alaska Baptist Foundation has created an assistance fund to help the Stewart family with expenses. Donations may be mailed to the Alaska Baptist Foundation, 1750 O'Malley Rd., Anchorage, AK 99507.

For Baptist Press' initial report on Stewart's injuries, click here.

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Rick Warren & Saddleback surpass 45,000 baptisms

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP) -- Rick Warren and Saddleback Church recorded the 45,000th baptism in the church's 36-year history on Oct. 16 -- Alberto Flores who was baptized alongside his 13-year-old son Andre.

Warren told the California congregation he would take the 45,000th person baptized to lunch.

By the end of the day across all 16 campuses, Saddleback had recorded a total of 45,743 baptisms, 792 of whom were baptized during the weekend alone, with Warren personally baptizing 600 of them.

"Baptisms are an amazing moment in the life of the church," Warren said in a news release. "They are a public sign of new life in the believer, of new beginnings for all those involved, and they encourage everyone watching to renew their own commitment to Christ. We are grateful that God has graciously allowed us to be a part of more than 45,000 people taking this amazing step and we pray that we'll get to be a part of many, many more in the coming months and years."

Saddleback Church, founded by Rick and Kay Warren in 1980 in Lake Forest, Calif., is now the home of nearly 40,000 members with a weekly attendance of 26,000 people at 16 campuses throughout Southern California, Hong Kong, Berlin, Buenos Aires and Manila.

Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston, with reporting by Michael E. Young of Prestonwood Baptist Church and PowerPoint Ministries with Jack Graham and Carol Pipes of LifeWay Christian Resources.
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