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Seeing the Bigger Picture: Oklahoma, Liberal Arts, and Cross-Cultural…

by Michael L. Copeland, Member Care Consultant – Asia, IMB

When I wrote this, every new email in my inbox was from a colleague from Oklahoma or one degree away from an Oklahoman. As a member care consultant and a missionary focusing on the mobilization of local Christians, I regularly interact with “workers” in four different IMB Affinities (East, Southeast, South, and Central Asia). I do not have as much email as some, but it is enough to significantly hint at the impact the state continues to have. Not only are they from Oklahoma, but a healthy dose comes from OBU. In this post, I hope to ask a few questions and posit a couple of insights from my own experience on why Oklahoma is well represented in the IMB around the world.

Why does this state have such a great legacy of sending missionaries? To take the gospel to the world, to even desire to (not just having a passive desire for someone else to do so), has a great deal to do with the personal depth of discipleship and ability to see into and through the vast amount complexity in the world to the broader view of God’s work and redemption. Seeing these things and connecting them to a bigger picture is not an easy thing. It takes the wisdom of a myriad of fields of knowledge, let alone the depth of biblical understanding. Oklahoma’s missionary legacy worldwide is significantly due to the interplay between its churches and their investment in Christian liberal arts education. I would also argue that the liberal arts component has played an integral part, not just a supplementary benefit.

I began to encounter these benefits when I came to OBU in the Fall of 1997. I arrived after my first trip overseas to the city of Hong Kong. For the summer, I was on a team doing street evangelism and, on the weekends, bringing Bibles into the CCP governed mainland to unregistered churches that were fearful of buying “official” versions published in the country. In returning, I had wanted to continue this kind of work and skip my first year of college. However, the Lord (and my parents) had wiser counsel. I ended up my freshman year thinking I might bide my time at OBU before heading back overseas again.

Thankfully, I was not so foolish to believe that I would have nothing to learn. So, I began plugging away at my common core classes and OBU quickly overturned my concerns about neglecting mission. Freshman course such as English Comp, Survey of the New Testament, and Intro to Cross-Cultural Ministry allied in discussion of the spread of Hellenistic culture and language in Western Civ gave understanding on the modern world and mission. The opportunities and tensions of globalized language, culture, and infrastructure on local transmission of the gospel informs my ministry and research today. The study of philosophy and contemporary mathematics, and their lessons on a priori and a posteriori reasoning, plays a part when I teach on World Christianity, Church History, and Muslim-Christian Relations. After more than twenty years traveling overseas, more than ten serving with the IMB sharing the gospel with atheists, Buddhists, and Muslims, and finishing a terminal degree while on the field, I have not once ceased receiving dividends from those liberal arts courses. This abundant investment was deposited in my faith and obedience in Christ due to Oklahoma Baptists, investing in a liberal arts college. It is not just a Bible school or a Perspectives course, but a place where one could read, study and learn from the development of Western civilization as one finds the Lord’s calling in His Word with experts in each arena of knowledge.

Moving on from my example, there are a plethora of other equipped missionary church planters and leaders that come from Oklahoma. Avery T. Willis, in his journals, reports being called overseas while at OBU. I could point to at least three Affinity leaders as Oklahomans. I could point to many of my colleagues, who graduated with me from Bison Hill and the Hobbs College, serving in challenging fields. We were mobilized not only later at seminary, but first by the churches and professors in this state and at OBU. Their maturity in character, in language ability and cultural understanding of these men and women always have humble and encourage me.

The missionaries that OBU has helped to propel overseas are some of the most well trained, flexible, understanding, biblically aware, historically sensible, culturally astute, and kind in any field. They have skills in finance, nursing, computer science, history, and counseling that were gained as they also heard the Lord’s calling to go. These skills are increasingly needed. On the field, they partner with local Christians and often have an immediate affinity. This easy camaraderie is because Christians from the Majority World are often in isolated communities, in difficult places to live, and they long for the Word, not just what they want, to lead them. Oklahoma Baptists easily relate to such heart, and OBU aids to train them up in that endeavor.

Michael L. Copeland, is a Member Care Consultant with the International Mission Board (IMB), focusing on pastoral care for missionaries in Asia and mobilizing local Christians to go cross-culturally. He received his doctorate from SWBTS in World Christian Studies, focusing on the transmission of the gospel between non-Western  groups, especially those with disparate and tense ethnic-religious backgrounds. He teaches Church History at Siloam Baptist Bible Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand and supervises and mentors doctoral students through Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary and SWBTS.

7 Ways for Next Gen Ministries to Approach This…

by Shane Pruitt

Executive Director, Next Gen Evangelism, NAMB

We’re in the middle of the summer months for next generation ministries, but it’s a summer that looks and feels completely different than any other. In fact, I’ve heard many refer to this summer as an “eventless summer,” meaning that many churches have canceled summer camps, Vacation Bible Schools and collegiate/student mission trips.

I want to encourage us, however, to look at this summer with optimism, because I believe we have an awesome opportunity to rethink the summer strategy and not simply focus on how different our summer schedules are. How we navigate these three calendar months can provide an opportunity to shape our ministries for years if not decades to come.

Here are seven ways for next generation ministries to continue to approach this unique season in a way that could make this the most effective summer your ministry has ever experienced.

Keep the mission at the forefront. So much in our world has changed, and if we’re not careful, we’ll feel the pressure to focus solely on the need to radically change everything about our ministries. When we’re restless, we want to tinker with things. We turn inward, and it’s usually the mission that suffers the most. A lot has changed in our world, but not our calling. The coronavirus did not push pause on the Great Commission. The mission always has to be our main focus.

Have healthy expectations. We really don’t know what to expect. However, one thing we do know is that you can’t take previous summers and lay them on top of this one and expect the same results. It’s completely different, so don’t beat yourself up or set your team up for let-downs by comparing to previous summers. This is a different reality. So, take this time as an opportunity to do some educating through celebrating.

You may not be able to do a lot of celebrating of grandiose numbers, but you can celebrate stories of students obediently sharing the Gospel, testimonies of salvation and examples of on-mission living. I learned this as a pastor: whatever I celebrated the most was what I was intentionally or unintentionally discipling our people to believe was most important. If we say the mission is most important, then we should celebrate the mission the most.

Kill the cows. What “sacred cows” can you barbecue? That is, what are some ineffective or unhelpful things you’ve wanted to get rid of for a while now, but were unable to in normal seasons? Think about it. You’ve been given a unique opportunity in these abnormal times to do what you could not do in normal times. Nothing else has been immune to the coronavirus, so don’t let unnecessary sacred cows be either.

Equip parents and legal guardians. Often, I am asked what I’d do differently if I could go back to my student pastor days. Without a doubt, I’d spend time, energy and resources on equipping the parents and legal guardians to be the evangelists and disciple-makers that God has called them to be for their kids. Parents have just experienced the longest spring break of their lives. They’re looking for help.

Generation Z is largely being parented by older Millennials and Young Xers who were never discipled themselves. As leaders, we’re great at preaching to the parents, “You need to disciple your kids! You’re their primary pastors.” And they are replying back, “Yes! I agree. I want to, but I don’t know how. Help me.”

Focus on cultivating your ministry to reflect the community. Honest evaluation — do our ministries look like our communities? If not, then we have to figure out what bridges we can build and what barriers we can remove. According to Pew Research Center, 48 percent of Generation Z is non-white. They are by far the most diverse generation alive. If we’re going to be intentional to reach the next generation with the Gospel, we will become diverse ministries.

Seek solitude. Most likely, your summer won’t be as full as a typical summer, so allow yourself and your team the margin to seek solitude. Solitude is different from isolation. Isolation is unintentional time by yourself. Solitude is intentional time with the Lord in Scripture reading and prayer, where we grow spiritually. It’s also typically where fresh vision, innovation and anointing comes. We’re always going to be at our best when we minister, lead, serve and share Jesus from the overflow of our own worship of Him.

Don’t rush back to normal. Personally, I’ve found myself saying over and over again in recent months, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” Then, one night it hit me like a ton of bricks. What if the last thing the Lord wants is for us to go back to normal? At the end of the day, we don’t need normal. We desperately need revival and renewal.

“Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at namb.net.

Shane Pruitt is the National Next Gen Evangelism Director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), and is also the author of the book – 9 Common Lies Christians Believe. He and his wife, Kasi, have five children and reside outside of Dallas, TX.

Train Yourself

by John Wohlgemuth

Lead Teaching Pastor, Henderson Hills Baptist Church (Edmond, OK)

As a former athlete, I am drawn to the passages in Scripture that refer to a sports motif. Maybe it is my internal bias, but due to the number of times the apostle Paul mentions athletics, I tend to think the apostle Paul was either a pretty good athlete when he was younger, or he was a sports fan at some point in his life. (Or he may simply be very good at finding illustrations inspired by the Holy Spirit!)

The passage under consideration today is 1 Timothy 4:6–10, which in the ESV translation reads, “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

Notice first that Paul had “trained” Timothy in the good doctrine of our faith. The Greek word Paul uses there connotes the idea of feeding someone, of nourishing them on the inside. And it was because of that sustenance that Paul then shifts to calling Timothy to avoid the old wives’ tales of their day—the humanist superstitions made up by uniformed people. Instead, Paul writes, Timothy must discipline himself for the purpose of godliness, similar to how Paul had Trained Timothy earlier. Like an athlete training at the gymnasium (which is the Greek word used in v.8 for “train”), Timothy should focus his energy, time, and effort primarily on his spiritual life.

Paul writes here of our focus, where we spend the resources of our lives. Unfortunately, many people today immerse into godless ideas and unhelpful opinions (see cable news networks, talk radio, and social media feeds, for example). Rather, we should focus our energy and time on growing in godliness. I thought of this passage as I watched the 2020 Summer Olympics get postponed for a year. I felt for those Olympians who had planned their entire training regimens around this August. Their discipline got interrupted and they were forced to adapt. According to God’s Word here, though, a similar kind of focus should sustain our spiritual training even more.

But shouldn’t we want the kind of godliness that results from the spiritual discipline Paul describes here? Of course. We should want our lives to look more like Jesus’s did. And that desire should be enough to compel us to train spiritually. But in v.8 Paul adds a further reason: because it actually does improve our lives here, plus it lasts into the next life.

Now, this reality of pursuing eternal benefit does not mean we simply write off our bodies like the Gnostics did. I love that even God’s Word says here we should work out and not “Elsa” our bodies (“let it go…”). However, we must not allow physical training to become our primary focus. Because no matter how many times I do CrossFit, or eat less sugar, or bike, or whatever…I am still dying! So I should prioritize my spiritual training, with benefits that will last into eternity. I must grow in godly obedience first and foremost. That pursuit is how I store up treasures in heaven and how I point others to Jesus as they see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven.

One further reason that Paul gives for this spiritual training is due to his final trustworthy and acceptable saying—that our hope is on the living God who is our Savior. That truth is why we “toil and strive,” v.10 says, because we place our trust in the risen Jesus who is good on His promise.

Those two words in v.10, though, remind us that this pursuit remains practically difficult. We pursue the mission of God and the spiritual training in our own lives by working hard and continuing to struggle (agonizo is the Greek word here). I remember from my physical training in football that discipline and hard work are difficult, and I often wanted to give up. Spiritual training is possibly even harder, though, because the enemy’s headwinds stand against us. So, we must continue to strive and give every effort, knowing that like physical training, spiritual training takes a long time to build the muscles needed to sustain the long haul, to “run with endurance the [long] race that is set before us.” We get that strength, though, by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

May God strengthen us to pursue Him with our hearts, promote Him with our lives, and proclaim Him with our lips.

I Have Called By Name Bezalel

by Chesed Dent

Director of Global Studies Internships, Liberty University

Many of the students who sit in my office want to change the world and do big things for God. Some crave recognition; but most just really want to be a part of something big and impactful for the Lord. I understand this desire. I myself am someone that thrives on large platforms and I enjoy opportunities for big impact in God’s kingdom. However, in the last year, in response to my desire for big recognized things, the Lord has consistently brought to mind a man named Bezalel.

Exodus 31:5

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.”

About a year ago I was reading through Exodus and the Lord paused my eye on the name Bezalel; I haven’t been able to “unpause.” Among the giant names of the Christian faith like Abraham and Moses, Bezalel has not really been given a place. I cannot say I have ever heard a sermon about him and I know I am guilty of skimming his story in Scripture. And yet, he played an important role in God’s story.

Bezalel was chosen by God to oversee the building of the tabernacle. Exodus 31 and 35 tell us that God “called by name Bezalel” and “filled him with the spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship.” This is not a list of different things that the Lord provided Bezalel, but, instead, is one thing that God gave Bezalel (the spirit of God) and it was from that one thing that the other things  were released (skill, intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship). In other words, Bezalel is filled with the Spirit who then fills him with what is needed for him to do what God has tasked him with.[1]

If overseeing the building of the tabernacle is not enough of a big deal, reading further in the account sets Bezalel apart even more. While Bezalel did have a lot of help from other craftsmen with the building of the tabernacle, it was Bezalel that built the Ark of the Covenant and some of the most holy items placed in and near the Holy of Holies (Exodus 36–39).

Exodus 37:1a

“Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood.”

It is interesting to read through the account of the tabernacle being built. There are many times where it says “they” did such and such, but what stands out to me is the number of times you see that “he” did such and such. What an honor to be tasked with such a unique work. But it also made me consider what it is like to be set apart for a work. Was he lonely? Did he get tired? Was he recognized for what he was doing? Did anyone care?  He worked hard. He built something beautiful and God glorifying. And yet, we barely know his name.  Could it be that we barely know his name because his name is not what is important? Bezalel may not be remembered by many of us, but his work is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I consider what it is that the Lord tasks me and others with and the fact that there are so many hard workers in the Kingdom of God whose names will never be known. Our culture, even our Christian culture, likes to recognize people. I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad. There are a lot of names that I know in Christendom. Some of those names belong to solid preachers and teachers who probably never ever tried to make their own name known. But some familiar names belong to people who have given into the pull of fame and though they might still point to Jesus, their names oftentimes seem to throw a shadow over the message they say they proclaim.

When the tabernacle is completed, that is just what is said. It doesn’t say that Bezalel finished it. It just says “all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished” (Ex 39:32). In fact, the last time Bezalel’s name is mentioned in the account is just to say that he made everything he was commanded to make (Ex 38:22). We are often guilty of wanting our names to be known. I read about Bezalel and I keep thinking, “He worked so hard!! He did so much!! How do we not know his name?!?” But I think this is the point. His name is not important. And neither is mine. Neither are the names of my students. Neither is yours. We do not serve God for the purpose of our fame and recognition of our names. We serve for His fame and His Name. We are simply tasked with the obediences God places before us in order to invite people into worship of HIS name.

Exodus 38:22

“Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses”

I hope I do recognize the Bezalels of God’s work.  Furthermore, I hope I train my students to be willing to be Bezalels, obedient to work hard in the tasks set before them even though their names may never be known. May God call us by name and set His Spirit in us to enable us to do the work that makes His name more known.


[1] Stuart, Douglas K. “Exodus.” Vol. 2, The New American Commentary,  edited by E. Ray Clendenen, 650-651. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group. 2006.

Chesed Dent has spent almost 20 years in Southeast Asia, both as a third culture kid and as a global worker. After graduating from Southeastern seminary in 2012, she moved to Lynchburg, VA to work at Liberty University. Currently she is serving as the Director Of Global Studies Internships where she trains students for overseas service. Her focused interests of training include: Third Culture Kids, Transition and Culture Shock, Reentry, Spiritual Warfare, Storytelling/Orality, and the Grand Narrative of the Bible. She just completed her second Master’s degree and connected research: “The Grand Narrative Worldview: A Narrative Inquiry into the Impact of Biblical Metanarrative Teaching in Liberty University’s School of Divinity Global Studies Program.” She loves to shop in international markets, sing, ride rollercoasters, go to festivals, watch crime shows, eat French fries, and can regularly be found surrounded by Old Testament commentaries geeking out over the awesomeness of God’s Word.

The Analog Revolution

by Jeff Crawford

Lead Pastor of Ministries, Teaching Pastor, Cross Church (Springdale, AR)

A curious thing is happening with the next generation. Digital is out and Analog is in. I see it with my own teenagers and their friends. Not long ago my daughter had a friend over and when they showed up at my house, they had, of all things, a turn-table with them and a set of….get this…vinyl records! For Christmas, one of my kids ordered a vinyl album from Amazon for a friend of theirs. 

Analog is popping up in other areas too. I recently heard a news story while driving in the car that spoke of the revival in the popularity of board games. Kids are (re)discovering the joy of playing a game that has real pieces and cards, and boards that you can touch and feel. So for all the attention that video games still garner in our culture, analog is alive and thriving.

For some of us, analog has never quite gone out of style. Yes, in my office I have a “record player” and sometimes will play my own vinyl albums while I work. It’s true that I have a virtual scholar’s library on my computer through Logos, but my office is also loaded with good ol’ fashioned print books that you can touch and feel. So while I read like crazy on my Kindle, I will admit there is nothing like the feel and smell of a real book. Even at my own house, we have a slew of board games to go with our Nintendo Wii and X-Box One. Monopoly, Life, Risk, Uno, etc. But our favorite family game is Settlers of Catan

Yes, the digital world is here to stay, but the analog world provides a depth of experience that digital cannot reproduce. Which is why, I believe, we are seeing a re-discovery of this too quickly buried medium. And of course this has exciting implications for the church.

The Analog Church – In a world dominated by social media and Facebook “friends,” the return of analog is good news for the church. Nothing can replace the tactile experience of driving to a location where God’s people physically meet. Where you shake someone’s hand, and worship to LIVE praise music. Where the Lord’s Supper is taken, engaging the senses of taste and smell. Where you literally hear and taste and see that the Lord is good. The church is not perfect, but it is real…just like life.

The Analog Bible – I have the Bible on my iPhone, tablet, and computer. I’ve never been one to have a problem with people who use their devices to access God’s Word. In fact, I think anything that helps to perpetuate the spread and the digestion of God’s Word is a good thing. But I also think that the virtual Bible is inferior to the analog Bible. By analog, I mean a standard, paper and ink, print Bible – preferably bound in cowhide (okay, the part about the binding is just meJ.) You cannot duplicate the feeling of carrying an “old friend” around with you. There is a familiarity with the Book that is non-existent with digital copies of the Bible. Notes and highlights are better retained. “Scrolling” is actually quicker in a print Bible than on a device once you know your way around the Bible. And that’s an important point – using a print Bible actually facilitates knowledge of how the Bible is organized and fits together. In short, an analog Bible provides for a more intimate encounter with the Word of God.

Analog Jesus – One of the ancient heresies in the early centuries following Christ’s ascension was the belief that he did not physically rise from the dead. But he did. Jesus even went out of his way to highlight the analog nature of his resurrection. He challenged Thomas to touch his wounds from the crucifixion. He asked the disciples to give him some food so he could eat it in front of them (Luke 24) thus demonstrating his physical, post-resurrection nature. Jesus was born in the flesh. He lived in the flesh. He died in the flesh. He was resurrected in the flesh. And he ascended in the flesh. This is critical because Jesus promised he would return in the flesh. We do not worship a God only of spirit but one who took on a flesh and bone body. This separates our God from all others.

The Analog Resurrection – And all this leads to our own promised resurrection. I agree with N.T. Wright that we too often don’t get it quite right in the way we talk about what happens after we die. Yes, we are more than flesh. We are also a spirit. And our spirit indeed goes to heaven when we die. But that is not the sum of it. When we talk about dying and going to heaven, we have told only half the story. The “digital” half. The best half is yet to come. The analog half. The part about how we will one day be resurrected just as Jesus was resurrected – in the flesh! Our eternal promise is not one of a perpetual disembodied experience of floating on clouds and playing harps. Can anyone really get excited about that? The eternal promise is that we will come back to life – in all our analog/fleshly glory. Better than before. Perfected. And our new analog bodies will reside on a physical and very analog New Earth, all set to enjoy God’s good creation forever and ever. 

Can I get an analog “Amen”?

Jeff Crawford, Ed.D., is the lead pastor of ministries and teaching pastor at Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, a multi-site megachurch and one of the nation’s fastest growing churches according to Outreach magazine. Dr. Crawford is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and the author of three books, the most recent of which is his debut novel, Finding Eden. He and his wife Julie (also of OBU) have two married adult children, two teenagers living at home, and one grandson.

Changing an Established Church’s Culture

by Josh King

Lead Pastor, Second Baptist Conway (Conway, AR)

Culture eats strategy for lunch – or is it breakfast? Either way, a bad culture will kill a good plan. We all know that. The classic example is Chick-Fil-A – great food but phenomenal culture. We as the Church have great food. We have the best food. Living Water, bread of life, that is what we serve. If you want to go a little less Jesus-jukey, we have community, forgiveness, encouragement, the very best food. The problem though, is often we have the worst culture.

When you lead a church you may see this, but you also may be frustrated in how exactly you can change it. You may even wonder if one person can change the culture of an entire church. I say you can, especially if you are the Pastor but even if you are not. I’ve seen the culture set or changed by one person a few times. Some of those were good a few were bad but all of the culture setting paths had similar mile markers. Here they are.

  • Model what you expect. We all know leaders that expect a work ethic they just don’t live up to. They will preach being on time as they run in late. They will demand servant leadership as they pull into their designated parking spot. If you don’t model it, they won’t do it. 
  • Write it down. Our church calls it the Family Values – seven values we want to see in the lives of each person that calls our church family. By writing them down we can continually point back to them. Don’t expect people to pick these things up by osmosis. These documents will evolve over time and that’s OK, but start somewhere. Ask yourself what would be the (less than 10) characteristics that would make a church Christlike, then write em out. 
  • Say ’em and then say ’em again. Preach a sermon series through the values, talk about one each leadership meeting, post them on the wall, share it with the choir and senior adults and students. Just keep talking about them. Say them until it is just part of your collective vocabulary. I will regularly hear members and leaders use the phrase “one voice” in our halls and meetings. That is how you know the culture is taking root and you can expect to see fruit in the near future. 
  • Celebrate publicly every chance you can. Make it a regular feature of each church gathering to call out groups or individuals that have embodied one of the values. It can be a quick little word or a major announcement but as we all know, they will repeat what we celebrate. So make a big deal when you see someone Speak Love or Cooperate Sacrificially. It not only sets the bar; it is the best reward you can give the one who is carrying the culture forward. 
  • Correct missteps. When you have the values written down you can more effectively let someone know when they have done something that conflicts with the culture. Small things matter. It doesn’t need to be a full blown thing, but a quick word about how a comment was not “speaking love” or how showing up late is not “redeeming the time” will help to keep everyone aligned. 

The good news is that it doesn’t take a long time to align the culture toward common values. It just takes intentionality. I encourage you to spend a little more time, especially at first, working on culture than you do working on strategy. The results will last longer and the ride will be smoother.

Josh King has been the Lead Pastor at Second Baptist Conway (Conway, AR), since August of 2018. Prior to moving to Arkansas, he had served churches in Texas full time since 2001. His experience includes student ministry, serving as Associate Pastor, and Lead Pastor. Josh is a proud graduate of Criswell College in Dallas, Texas and holds both a Bachelors Degree as well as a Masters. Both are in Biblical studies and ministry. He is married to Jacki, a passionate and talented women’s minister, and they have three sons, Haddon, Leland, and Amos.

The Church is Full of Orphans

by John Wohlgemuth

Lead Teaching Pastor, Henderson Hills Baptist Church (Edmond, OK)

I remember the wide range of emotions that accompanied becoming a father for the first time. The overwhelming joy of seeing my son face-to-face. The awe for my wife who endured twenty hours of active labor. The fear in facing the reality of taking our son home (“You trust us enough to send us home?! You mean you’re not coming with us?!”). I knew, though, that because we loved our son, we would do everything in our power to help him grow up into the man God has called him to be—through all of the highs and lows in the process.

A similar process shows up spiritually (apart from the Father’s fear, of course). The New Testament gives us an understanding of the “life cycle” of a Christian—from birth through maturity. First Peter 2:2 calls us “newborn infants” longing for “the pure spiritual milk” that helps us “grow up into salvation.” Of course, that imagery applies to us as individuals. Growth is to occur where a believer should not act the same years after their new birth. But also think about that picture of spiritual growth in the context of the church. If new believers are similar to babies, we then must begin to think about the healthiest way for them to grow up and to be nurtured.

Our world is full of physical orphans (one estimate puts the number at 153 million, or roughly half the population of the United States). Thankfully, many Christians and others have organized funding and support for orphanages and other support ministries around the world. But everyone understands that an orphanage is not the best nurturing environment for a baby. If no other option exists then care and nourishment in a group home is better than nothing (that’s why James commands true Christians to care for vulnerable orphans in 1:27), but a nuclear family is the God-ordained best means for a child to mature, to be provided for, to be instructed, and to be loved. If that child is parentless, the best scenario remains for non-biological parents to adopt that child into their loving family.

This reality is no different in the church. For comparison’s sake (and don’t push this too far), we could compare the large church gathering on Sunday to an orphanage. Here’s how this idea has shown up in the past and even still today: a person trusts Jesus as his or her Savior and Lord, and what do we often do with them? We invite them to “attend church” (meaning, the Sunday large-group gathering). We hope that they will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love that they need, but that abundant provision often does not occur. That person receives enough to stay alive, probably, but gets lost in the crowd and never really flourishes in what they were created for. They feel more like a number than a family member, even though they may have an important task to accomplish to maintain the organization.

Now compare that scenario to a different (seemingly more biblical) approach. Say that same person comes to trust in Jesus. Instead of inviting them to an event, we invite them into our lives. We invite them into our “family,” so to speak, where there are just a few of us in intimate relationship sharing life together. What I mean by this is a group of a few people not only meeting to study the Bible and to pray and to hold each other accountable, but people who go on errands together, eat meals together, serve the community together, etc. As these elements of life are shared, then questions are asked, theology is clarified, and obedience to Christ in every area of life is modeled. There is no doubt that the new believer will receive the spiritual nourishment, direction, and love they need. Not only do they get enough to stay alive, they flourish and mature as a member of a family. And they grow up into maturity more readily.

Does it not make more sense to raise up a “child” in this “family” way rather than in an “orphanage”? My challenge to us, church, is to take all of these orphans (physical orphans too!) into our lives and make them a part of a forever family, where they will receive all that they need to live the abundant life that Jesus has promised His children (John 10:10).

Though you may not believe that you can really make a difference, you can. All the Lord is looking for is a willing vessel. Although you may not be the next Billy Graham yourself, you might be the one with the opportunity to disciple him, to “parent” him spiritually. And all it takes is one who God can use to change the world; so, who is your one?

John Wohlgemuth has served as the Lead Teaching Pastor at Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, OK since 2018. Born in Enid, OK and raised in Fairview, OK, he is married to Emily and they have three sons, ages 11, 8, and 6. They met at Oklahoma State University in the engineering classroom and while participating in OSU’s athletic department.

6 Common Traits of Gen Z: In Their Own…

by Shane Pruitt

Next Gen Evangelism Director, North American Mission Board (NAMB)

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at Baptist Press.

Often when you hear an “expert” speak or write about reaching a particular generation, it will inevitably be someone from an older generation. For example, you’ll have a baby boomer or Generation X-er talking about how to connect with millennials or Gen Z.

In no way am I saying this is an ineffective approach. In fact, there is a plethora of resources out there done in this particular way that are extremely helpful. However I wanted to take a different approach.

Over the last year, while speaking at student camps, DiscipleNow weekends, conferences and young adult worship services among other events, I took the opportunity to sit down and ask these young people some probing questions. One of the things I love the most about young people is if you want to know what they’re thinking, all you have to do is ask them.

Sometimes, you don’t even have to ask! Instead of adults telling other adults how to reach students, I decided to ask students, “What do adults need to know about your generation, known as Gen Z?” It was an incredible journey. I became a student so that I could hear ideas from this generation about reaching their generation.

With that in mind, here are six things we need to know about Gen Z in their own words:

— They want more out of church than potluck dinners. This generation wants to be a part of “doing” something. They’ll want more out of their church than sitting in a pew, listening to sermons and going to potluck dinners while waiting on the “Rapture Bus” to swoop down to pick them all up. They are not scared to die young; they are terrified, however, to die at a ripe old age while not having done anything significant with their lives in their own eyes. They are not typically impressed by a church’s size or budget. They’re interested both in being noticed relationally and in what the church is doing outside the walls of the building. Let’s mobilize a generation. They will make mistakes, but so do we. That’s why grace is so amazing.

— They are not ageist. People tend to think that students don’t want to have anything to do with the older generation. Gen Z is in desperate need for older generations to invest in them. This is largely a fatherless generation. They often seek out or are more open to discipleship or mentorship than we tend to think. But they won’t know how to ask for it. They may ask you to “hangout” by using some other word that sounds like gibberish to you. Nevertheless, if this generation wants to spend time with you, then they are giving you the most valuable thing they have to offer and that you have to give — time.

— They largely value the “why” over the “what.” Students are not typically open to doing something just because it’s the way it’s always been done or because it’s what their family has always known. They are not driven by heritage. For example, students are not going to be Southern Baptist just because their parents were. If we can’t answer their “why” questions or we get defensive over their questions, we’ll lose them. Be ready to answer their honest questions with love, patience and kindness. Their experience with something or someone will often dictate their views more than history will.

— They don’t want to be seen as the future of the church. Remember, the younger generation is not the future of the church; if they’ve been redeemed with the blood of Jesus, then they’re the church of right now. Let them have some ownership of the ministry, and be patient with them when they mess up … possibly a lot. A great way to keep students engaged in the ministry is by constantly communicating, illustrating and empowering participation in the vision and mission of the church. Sometimes, we’ll schedule an event to reach Gen Z using all older generations to plan it, then plead with students to bring their friends. Then we get upset, when they don’t show up. Want them to show up? Want them to invite their friends? Then let them have a voice in planning it.

— They want authenticity and transparency. Nearly all students grow weary of gimmicks and “sleek presentations” very quickly. The more transparent and vulnerable a communicator is the more students connect. There was a time when speakers/teachers were told not to use themselves in personal illustrations. This generation, on the other hand, wants to hear those personal stories. As adults, if we act as those who have it all figured out and are not in desperate daily need of God’s grace, we’ll lose students’ attention. They won’t believe that we’re “being real” and they’ll think our faith is unattainable for them.

— They know brokenness at an earlier age. They are exposed to more violence, graphic images and evil at an earlier age. Exposure to these things on the internet, in media coverage and through broken homes is unfortunately the norm for far too many. They don’t know a world without the fear of mass shootings and terrorism. This is also a pornography-saturated generation where the average age of first exposure is 11. The fastest growing demographic for internet pornography consumption is females age 15–30; 70 percent of guys admit to interaction with internet pornography, and 50 percent of girls. This generation is looking for solutions at a much earlier time in their lives. They know they’re broken. Thank God for the Gospel because it is mighty to save Gen Z. Share it with them. They’re starving for it, whether or not they know it.

I’m personally encouraged by this generation of students. Even as an adult, I resonate deeply with their views. According to a recent Wall Street Journal survey, 30 percent of Gen Z says, “religion is very important to them,” the lowest in U.S. history. But 78 percent say, “living a self-fulfilled life is very important to them.” This should be extremely eye-opening to us. That’s the threshold to cross in communicating to Gen Z. Help them see that a “fulfilled life” only comes from Someone outside of “self.”

Be sure to check out Shane’s new book
9 Common Lies Christians Believe<https://www.amazon.com/Common-Lies-Christians-Believe-Infinitely/dp/0735291578/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2M8OI57VSZM7P&keywords=9+common+lies+christians+believe&qid=1555301555&s=gateway&sprefix=9+common%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-1>

Shane Pruitt is the National Next Gen Evangelism Director for the NorthAmerican Mission Board (NAMB), and is also the author of the book – 9Common Lies Christians Believe. He and his wife, Kasi, have five childrenand reside outside of Dallas, TX.

Storied Discipleship

by Chesed Dent

Director of Global Studies Internships, Liberty University

Just a couple of weeks ago Christians around the world celebrated Christmas. There is a wonder to this time of year, a whisper and shout of “Jesus came!” The shadowed outline of the nativity takes center stage on holiday greeting cards and the students on our campus are decked in their holiday sweaters singing Christmas carols on the quad. And in the midst of the normal Christmas culture of celebration, a student walked into my office last month and said, “I’m so excited about Christmas. I think it’s the first year I finally understand why Jesus came. And I’m telling everybody about it.”

I was taken aback at first. She grew up in the church. She has been a Christian for a long time. She even holds a spiritual leadership role on our campus. So I asked her to explain what she meant. This is what she said: “Well, before now if you had asked me why Jesus came, I would have said that He came to die on a cross to forgive me of my sins. And that’s not wrong. But this is the first year I understand how Him coming is a part of the Story.”

Over the past few years I have become more and more convinced that many of our students come into our program in similar places of understanding. They claim Christ as their Savior and know the answers to the Gospel outlines they have been given, but would have a very difficult time telling the story that led to the birth of Christ. They know the Romans Road or whatever evangelism tool they have learned. Many of them know the focused explanations of specific passages and theological viewpoints. However, when asked how Jesus’ birth is the answer to what happened at the Fall in Genesis 3, their explanations are the rote memorization of the Gospel tools they have been given and discipled under instead of the telling of the Gospel Story written throughout the Grand Narrative of the Bible.

My dad commented a few weeks ago that we are very good, in Western Christian contexts, at digging postholes. “We train pastors and teachers to dig deep in one spot (passage), which is actually very good. However, if we want to build a fence, we not only need fence posts; we also need rails to connect the posts.”[1] Many of our students have been discipled under fence post teaching. They have learned great truth but have not been given the rails that connect the posts. Then they are trained in the many and varied Gospel evangelism tools that were developed to help explain and present the Gospel but were never meant to take the place of the Gospel story.

Faith family, I fear that we are developing a generation of Christ followers that have a fragmented understanding of the Bible and we then train them to share the Gospel in the same way. They know the script of their tools and explanations but not the script of the biblical story. And they are so very hungry for a good story to belong to and tell. Do we not see it in the passion they have when they talk about their favorite books, movies, and fandoms? Are we guilty of not teaching them the better story? Is this why so many of them are leaving it?

Our students don’t only need evangelism and discipleship tools. They don’t only need focused fence posts. They don’t only need explanation and script. They need to know how to integrate all of these crucial elements into the story they come from. Research shows that worldview and identity are tethered to the narrative that a people belong to.[2] In a world where there are so many competing narratives, we must do a better job telling the true narrative of the world.[3] Into this narrative we must help our students place their knowledge and tools. In the God of this narrative they will find identity, meaning, and purpose. And from this narrative they will better speak an invitation to be a part of a story that celebrates the coming of Christ.

The student that came into my office was walking in new knowledge of the biblical metanarrative teaching she has been sitting under recently. This is not the first year she celebrated the coming of Jesus. I am not, in any way, questioning her sincere salvation and love for Christ. But there is a newfound excitement in how she understands and shares about the baby boy born in Bethlehem so long ago. She now understands that the birth of Jesus is part of a progressive story of God making His presence available to His people. She understands that at the Fall, when God was laying out the consequences before Adam, Eve, and the serpent, the promise He made for the offspring of the woman to bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15) was a promise for the birth of this Christmas child. But her understanding does not stop there. She doesn’t jump from Genesis 3 to Matthew 1 in her Christmas narrative. Instead, she can follow the line of God pursuing His people in order to dwell with them through the entire metanarrative. The Christmas story has expanded out in her understanding to include the entire Grand Narrative of the Bible. This is why she said, “I’m so excited about Christmas. I think it’s the first year I finally understand why Jesus came. And I’m telling everybody about it.”


[1] Dr. Don Dent, shared in a phone conversation, October 25, 2019.

[2] Michael Vern Matthews, “Is There a Reader in this Text?: The Place of Metanarrative in the Problem of Meaning” (PhD diss., Trinity Theological Seminary, 2013), 104-105.

[3] Michael W. Goheen, “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story.” Theology Today 64 (2008): 469.

Chesed Dent has spent almost 20 years in Southeast Asia, both as a third culture kid and as a global worker. After graduating from Southeastern seminary in 2012, she moved to Lynchburg, VA to work at Liberty University. Currently she is serving as the Director Of Global Studies Internships where she trains students for overseas service. Her focused interests of training include: Third Culture Kids, Transition and Culture Shock, Reentry, Spiritual Warfare, Storytelling/Orality, and the Grand Narrative of the Bible. She just completed her second Master’s degree and connected research: “The Grand Narrative Worldview: A Narrative Inquiry into the Impact of Biblical Metanarrative Teaching in Liberty University’s School of Divinity Global Studies Program.” She loves to shop in international markets, sing, ride rollercoasters, go to festivals, watch crime shows, eat French fries, and can regularly be found surrounded by Old Testament commentaries geeking out over the awesomeness of God’s Word.

Theological Education and the Christian Life

On Sunday, November 17th, OBU hosted a For the Church Micro-Conference on theological education and the Christian life. The panel discussion was moderated by Nathan Harris, Director of Institutional Relations Initiatives at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and included Dr. Heath Thomas, President-Elect of OBU; Dr. Jason Allen, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and Dr. Matthew Emerson, Associate Professor of Religion at OBU. You can watch the panel below.