Whatever issue a Southern Baptist church needs to address, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is seeking to tailor congregation-by-congregation methods of helping them by means of a new initiative called Church Equip.
The topics could be anything from the arena of ethics, social and family issues, and religious freedom. Regardless of the subject, the ERLC is trying to "develop customized solutions for church equipping," said Phillip Bethancourt, the commission's director of strategic initiatives. The question, he said, is: "What does that church need at any given time?"
The first two Church Equip events demonstrated that diversification. In mid-July, Russell D. Moore, the ERLC's president, taught leaders at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, on a Monday morning regarding sexual ethics, particularly homosexuality. The following Sunday, he spoke at an adoption luncheon at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., after preaching on the church's Orphan Sunday.
Assisting churches takes precedence, said Moore, whose administration at the ERLC began June 1.
"The focus of the Kingdom of God in this age isn't primarily Washington or Wall Street," he said. "King Jesus is ruling in local congregations, colonies of His reign. That's why equipping congregations to think through ethical questions is the number one priority of the ERLC.
"From sexuality to infertility to parenting to church discipline to racial unity and beyond, the questions facing our churches are about how we will follow Jesus through the confusing terrain of the 21st century," Moore said.
Austin Stone Community Church desired equipping regarding homosexuality in particular for two reasons, said pastor Todd Engstrom:
-- "To continue thinking through how we can lovingly and truthfully pastor individuals who are attracted to the same sex;
-- "To think through our individual, corporate and civic response as a church community in light of" the Supreme Court's June decision striking down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman for federal purposes.
Moore's training for a group of about 125 that consisted of elders and their wives, deacons and staff members from six campuses was "a game changer," said Kevin Peck, Austin Stone's lead pastor.
"With all of the noise in today's media-rich world, Dr. Moore spoke biblical truth and wisdom with a distinct level of competency and concern," Peck said. "He offered a level of clarity, thoughtfulness, compassion and biblical precision that will enable my team to minister more effectively. We truly appreciate his candid, Christ-centered and Gospel-saturated approach to issues such as homosexuality, transgender relationships and other challenging issues in today's society."
Engstrom, Austin Stone's executive pastor of campuses and communities, said Moore's teaching "equipped our leadership to speak intelligently and lead pastorally. He tackles difficult topics like homosexuality with candor from a variety of angles -- civically, pastorally and personally -- and provides a clear path forward for churches to contend for the Gospel in our generation."
For Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Moore served as essentially a "cheerleader" in "kind of a pep rally" for adoptive and fostering families at the Sunday luncheon, said ministry associate Jim Watterson. Moore and his wife Maria have adopted, and he has written "Adopted for Life," a book about the importance of adoption to churches and Christian families.
The church invited to the luncheon people from inside and outside the congregation who had some connection to adoption or foster care. The invitees either had been adopted, had adopted children, were fostering children or were preparing to be foster parents.
Moore encouraged the roughly 175 people at the luncheon "to keep going in their care for the fatherless, that it was not always easy but necessary and close to the heart of God," Watterson said.
"He also addressed the children gathered for lunch, expressing his confirmation to them of what their parents had done and would continue to do, to love and care for them, that they were no longer considered a family with adopted children but children adopted into a safe and forever family," Watterson recalled.
Earlier, Moore had preached in the church's morning worship services from Romans 8 on the adoption by God Christians experience and the adoption of children Christians can participate in. He spoke in lieu of the church's pastor, former SBC President Bryant Wright.
The day's focus on orphan care resulted in 35 couples indicating they wanted to adopt and 30 to 35 committing to receive training to provide foster care, Watterson said.
It also marked another milestone in Johnson Ferry Baptist Church's focus on adoption and foster care. The church encourages members to adopt and provide foster care, hosts forums for couples considering adoption and foster care, and partners with Lifesong for Orphans in its matching grant program for adopting families. Watterson, an associate in the church's marriage and family ministry, gives much of his attention to orphan care.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Pastors or churches interested in hosting a Church Equip event may contact Sam Dahl, executive assistant to the ERLC president, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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