By / Dec 7

In 2019, I was elected president of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists at 26 years old. Our state convention is much smaller than many others, so I’m under no illusion that being elected was some incredible feat. It was, however, an honor to be given the opportunity, and it has been an even greater honor to serve West Virginia Baptists in this capacity. As my term comes to an end, I’ve spent time reflecting on what I’ve learned over these last two years. I share these four thoughts in the hopes that they may be helpful as we navigate tumultuous days in Baptist life. 

  1. Disagreements are inevitable, but love is a choice

In denominational life, no one agrees with anyone on everything. Ideological camps don’t line up as clearly as it seems. I have found incessant gatekeeping simply exhausting. I’ve learned that my primary obligation to my brother or sister is to love them, not figure out what ideological tribe they really belong to. If they don’t love me back, that is okay. If they pigeonhole me into some particular tribe, so be it. My charge remains the same: love them. Love is the only way to survive for the long haul. 

  1. Institutions are frustrating, but institutions have value. 

We want institutions to perfectly reflect the sensibilities of our day. They simply do not. Institutions move slowly — frustratingly so. Now, this is no excuse for institutional dysfunction, obfuscation, or corruption; these things must not exist in healthy institutions. But in our institutions, the past and future collide. And therein lies their value. We must reckon with our institutions as they are, not as we wish they were. Good decisions and bad decisions made by scores of people across time and space have led us here, and the decisions we now make will shape those who will follow us.

  1. Our challenges are real, but so is God’s grace. 

I mentioned that disagreements are inevitable. To be clear, this does not mean all disagreements are created equally. We face real challenges in our day — challenges we must not downplay, trivialize, or spiritualize. Focusing on “the mission” demands a clear, biblical understanding of “the mission.” We may disagree about the biggest problems in our society. We may disagree about how we got here and where we should go. I do not offer a trite, overly spiritualized solution. I simply commend all of us to God’s grace as we discern these things together. His grace is sufficient for us.

  1. Falling from platforms is dangerous, but so is seeking them. 

We talk a lot about the dangers of falling, and rightfully so. But I think it’s important to talk about the dangers of climbing. Oh, I see this in myself! When I start asking, “What’s next for me?” I am in a dangerous spot. I want to be faithful; I want to utilize the gifts God has given me to serve God’s people. But it’s easy to convince myself that’s what I’m doing, when really, I am trying to grow my platform. It’s easy to talk about serving God’s people, when really, I want God’s people to serve me. 

That they may be one

We live at a time and in a culture that is fraught with division, even inside our churches. But this is not a time for Southern Baptists to mimic the cultural norms of our day. Now is the time for us to live into the words of Jesus in his high priestly prayer: “that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22).  

In a culture that is often hateful and ill-tempered on nearly every emerging issue, what might happen if Southern Baptists exercised an abundance of love and earnestly pursued the unity that Jesus prays for in John 17? He tells us: the world would come to know that Jesus has been sent by the Father who loves them like his own Son. They would come to know that John 3:16 is, in fact, true. The love and unity practiced and expressed in the church is a reflection of the love and unity practiced and expressed in the Godhead, and it is part of our witness to the surrounding culture. 

As my term as president of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists draws to a close, this is my hope: that we would take God’s call to pursue the love and unity that Jesus prays for seriously so that the watching world would know that God loves them and that Jesus has come to save them. 

By / Jun 6

The American church is facing an abuse crisis. Is your church doing all it can to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse?

What is the Caring Well Challenge?

The Caring Well Challenge (CWC) is a unified call to action on the abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention. The goal is to equip churches to be safe for survivors and safe from abuse. It provides churches with an adaptable and attainable pathway to immediately enhance their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.

We urge all Southern Baptist churches to commit to taking the challenge over the next year as an important next step in addressing the crisis of abuse. Beginning at the SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, churches will commit to the challenge and find resources for the initiative at

The centerpiece of the Caring Well Challenge is your church’s commitment to empower a Caring Well Team to lead a year-long effort to enhance how your church addresses abuse. Tools and training will be provided throughout the Caring Well Challenge to give your church the resources it needs to take each step. The eight steps involved are—Commit, Build, Launch, Train, Care, Prepare, Share, and Reflect.

Is your church ready to commit to the Caring Well Challenge?

What’s involved in the Caring Well Challenge?

The Caring Well Challenge is a 12-month, eight-step process of listening, learning, assessing, and launching needed initiatives to ensure that your church is safe for survivors and safe from abuse. Each church that takes the Caring Well Challenge would commit to these eight steps—Commit, Build, Launch, Train, Care, Prepare, Share, and Reflect.

Here are more details about each step:

1. Commit: Commit to the Caring Well Challenge

The first of the eight steps in the challenge is simple. Sign up for the Caring Well Challenge so that you get updates throughout the year on what your church needs to be doing next and aids to accomplish your next steps.

For the sake of the most vulnerable in our churches and community, we ask you to take this challenge. If your church is ready to commit, you can sign up here.

2. Build: Build a Caring Well Team to lead your church’s effort

Your second step is vital for an initial commitment to become more than good intentions. We are asking you to build a “Caring Well team” to coordinate your church’s efforts in the remainder of this campaign.

This team should be comprised of a small group of key leaders from your pastoral staff, student ministry, children’s ministry, women’s ministry, or marriage ministry. This Caring Well team will ensure that the remaining steps are achieved.

If you have church members with a background in social work, law enforcement, counseling, or education—fields experienced in responding to abuse—they would make excellent team members. If you have a church member who has experienced abuse, and is far enough along in their recovery for this to be a healthy experience for them, they would offer an immensely valuable perspective.

3. Launch: Launch the Caring Well Challenge

Your entire congregation needs to know your church is taking the Caring Well Challenge. August 25, 2019, is the Sunday when churches embracing the challenge will officially launch and explain their efforts. Though August 25, 2019, is the date most churches will launch the challenge, you are welcome to select another Sunday if a similar date works better for your church’s calendar.

The third step is to set aside time during your Sunday services to do four things:

  1. Acknowledge the need for churches to grow in their awareness about, prevention of, and response to incidents of abuse. For survivors in your church, this may be the first time they’ve heard people in leadership acknowledge the need to grow in an area that has so radically impacted their life.
  2. Explain the Caring Well Challenge so that your church knows what you will be doing over the next year.
  3. Introduce your Caring Well team so that your church knows who will be leading the effort over the next year.
  4. Pray for (a) those who are processing their own experience of abuse, (b) your church’s Caring Well team, commissioning them, and (c) for the church at large to grow in this area.

Resources on this step will be sent to every church that signs up and will be available soon to help you conduct this portion of your service with clarity, compassion, and excellence.

4. Train: Train your team at the 2019 ERLC National Conference

Before your church begins to implement changes, it is important to ensure that your leaders are well trained on the issue of abuse. The fourth step in the challenge is to equip your Caring Well team through the 2019 ERLC Caring Well Conference on October 3-5, 2019, in Dallas.

Your team will have the opportunity to listen to survivors, learn from experts, and leave equipped with an understanding of the full spectrum of abuse issues. Everything about this conference is designed with the intent of equipping your Caring Well team.

This conference will also be available online, so travel will not be an obstacle for anyone wanting the training. Churches are also encouraged to pursue additional training from state conventions, associations, and other partners.

The conference will equip your Caring Well team with the tools it needs to lead your church effectively through the Caring Well Challenge. Register your team today.

5. Care: Equip leaders through Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused

It is not enough for your Caring Well team to be the only members of your church equipped to care well for the abused. The entire leadership structure of church—paid staff and key volunteers—needs to be equipped to care well.

When a survivor of abuse is ready to confide his or her experience to someone in your church, that individual will talk with whomever he or she trusts most. That is why everyone in key roles at your church needs a basic level of training.

Step five is for your pastoral staff to go through the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum. This is a free 12-video curriculum. Each video is 20 minutes and is available in English and Spanish. At the conclusion of the training your pastoral staff will be advised to send select videos to key lay leaders in your church.

Read more about the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused curriculum.

6. Prepare: Enhance policies, procedures, and practices related to abuse

One of the main reasons your church is committing to the Caring Well Challenge is because it desires to do all it can to ensure that it is safe from abuse. This sixth step in the challenge seeks to prepare your congregation to prevent abuse.

Whether your church has extensive systems for abuse prevention or is just at the early stages, every church can benefit from an effort to review and enhance its prevention practices, policies, and procedures.

In this sixth step, your Caring Well team will evaluate your church’s policies designed to prevent abuse—both the policies you have on record and the actual implementation of those in practice.

7. Share: Dedicate Sunday services to address abuse

Every successful journey has a beginning and conclusion. The same is true for the Caring Well Challenge. While the commitment to safety and excellent care persists, your congregation needs to know what came from the Caring Well Challenge they heard about back in August.

Step seven is to dedicate your Sunday services on May 3, 2020, or a similar date, to focus on the subject of abuse and highlight the results of your efforts in the Caring Well Challenge. Though May 3, 2020, is the date most churches will conduct Caring Well Sunday, you are welcome to select another Sunday if a similar date works better for your church’s calendar.

During this service you will have the opportunity to do four things:

  1. Equip your church to understand what the Bible says about abuse and the refuge God wants His church to be.
  2. Allow your Caring Well team to review the outcomes from each of the elements in the Caring Well Challenge.
  3. Acknowledge the continued need for growth in this area. We want to always be improving in how we prevent and care for the abused.
  4. Pray for those who are still healing from abuse and that God would allow the effects of the Caring Well Challenge to be lasting in the churches that participated. 

8. Reflect: Reflect on the Caring Well Challenge at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting

What you did as a church on May 3, 2019, we want to do as a denomination at the 2020 Annual Meeting in Orlando. As a denomination, we want to resolve to continue our collective work to make our churches safe for survivors and safe from abuse.

To help us do this we will ask you to do two things as the Caring Well Challenge reaches a conclusion:

  1. Let us know you completed the Caring Well Challenge.
  2. Share stories with us of how it impacted your church and what you learned in the challenge.

How can you sign up to take the challenge?

Visit to learn more and sign up!

Churches should be a refuge for those who have experienced abuse. But, too often, survivors haven’t found the protection they deserve and the care they need from the church. Our churches should also be places that are safe from abuse. Are you ready to join us in changing this by committing to the Caring Well Challenge?

By / Aug 22

What is the “Ice Bucket Challenge”?

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a campaign started by the ALS Association to raise awareness and donations for ALS. The challenge involves people getting doused with buckets of ice water on video, posting that video to social media, then nominating others to do the same, all in an effort to raise ALS awareness. According to the ALS Association, people can either accept the challenge or make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice, or do both.

What is ALS?

ALS is the initialism for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease or classical motor neuron disease. ALS is a neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste away, and twitch. The disease become progressively worse the ability of the brain to start and control voluntary movement is lost, eventually resulting in death. The cause of ALS is not known, and scientists do not yet know why ALS strikes some people and not others. About 30,000 Americans now have ALS.

Why do some people have ethical concerns with the challenge?

There have been some concerns registered on social media about the charity sponsoring the challenge, the ALS Association, and whether donors are contributing to an organization that supports embryonic stem cell research. Based on reporting from the American Life League, a spokeswoman from ALSA wrote the following:

The ALS Association primarily funds adult stem cell research.  Currently, The Association is funding one study using embryonic stem cells (ESC), and the stem cell line was established many years ago under ethical guidelines set by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS); this research is funded by one specific donor, who is committed to this area of research.  In fact, donors may stipulate that their funds not be invested in this study or any stem cell project. Under very strict guidelines, The Association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future.

To be fair, according to Munk, it seems ALSA supports the philosophy of embryonic stem cell research, but that known funding is exclusively done through the direction of one donor, and that potential donors have the opportunity to withhold funds that would be used for such purposes. By its own admission, however, it appears that ALSA reserves the right to further embryonic stem cell research at its own discretion.

What is Embryonic Stem Cell Research?

Embryonic stem cell research is speculative medical research (it has never resulted in clinical treatments) that is predicated on the destruction of embryonic human life. The process uses stem cells harvested from embryos conceived through vitro fertilization (IVF) that have been donated for research purposes rather than being implanted into a woman’s uterus. The embryos are killed during the process of harvesting their cells and then are discarded afterwards. In 1999, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution expressing opposition to the destruction of innocent human life, including the destruction of human embryos for research purposes.

Should Christians not participate in the challenge?

With the close proximity to a moral dilemma that this situation presents, it is reasonable that Christians would register hesitation and distrust towards collaborating with an organization that harbors no moral opposition to the destruction of unborn life, but instead endorses such activity. Christians should also consider whether their contributions are unwittingly undergirding a philosophical worldview at odds with Christian ethics. The taking of innocent life under any circumstance is sinful. Moreover, fostering a culture of life predicated on the destruction of life is contradictory.

There are pathways to participation that don’t require moral compromise and that can allow those interested to join in the campaign without violating their conscience. The ALS Association encourages people taking part in the challenge to “make a donation to an ALS charity of their choice.” Listed below are a few organizations recommended by Christian bioethicist David Prentice that use adult stem cells in ALS research:

The Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center (MSCTC) at the University of Kansas Medical Center is starting an increasing number of clinical trials and educational efforts.

To donate: Click the “Make a Gift” link in the left column of their web page, it specifies donation for the MSCTC.

At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Anthony Windebank and his team have one ongoing clinical trial for ALS patients and are ready to initiate a second clinical trial for ALS patients.

To donate: There is a “Give Now” link near the top of web page from Dr. Windebank’s link above; people can specify that their donation go to his ALS research team.

The Adult Stem Cell Technology Center, LLC is a for-profit company developing new methods for growth and application of adult stem cells, and does not support embryonic stem cell research.

To donate:  Click “Contact Information” in the right column of the web page and email the Director to learn more about the company’s adult stem cell technology development plans.​.

By / Jun 17

Literature is one of the most effective—and enjoyable—ways to engage the culture.

Reading great literary works allows us to “test all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). Even reading works reflecting mindsets that deviate from a biblical worldview can spur on spiritual growth, allowing us to imitate Daniel and Paul who were learned in their surrounding pagan cultures and used that knowledge to point to the Creator of the universe. Furthermore, reading works that convey worlds of experience different from our own allows us to walk a mile in our neighbor’s shoes, thereby assisting us in loving them better.

Toward these ends—as well as for the sheer pleasure of reading a good book—I’ve chosen a short list, ranging from classics written centuries ago to works from more recent years, all of which offer (in addition to a rich literary experience) various kinds of challenges to most contemporary Christians. Sometimes the challenge is in disturbing material or notions that counter the comfort of commonplace ideas and experiences. Some of the works offer a direct challenge against Christianity or the church. Sometimes the challenging aspect is simply in the work’s level of reading difficulty.

But I’ve chosen all the works because I believe the returns offered by their challenges are well worth the reader’s investment. These works—presented in no particular order—are among my own personal favorites and by no means reflect any comprehensive or universal list of great books. I simply believe that these are works that offer edifying reading for the Christian who is willing to be challenged and stretched in a variety of ways. I would consider all of these works to be most suitable for mature readers.

Each work here has helped me, in one way or another, to love the Lord my God with all my soul, all my strength, and all my mind—and to be a better steward of this world in which God has placed us. I pray they do the same for you.

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: The first four books listed offer futuristic dystopias of one kind or another. The title of Bradbury’s book refers to the temperature at which books burn. The setting is a future America when books are outlawed and incinerated. In the past, Christians have been prone to censorship; today, it’s Christian ideas that are most under siege. This story demonstrates that censorship of any should frighten us all.

2. 1984 by George Orwell: Orwell’s classic features a totalitarian government that uses external force to transform internal thoughts and desires. The book is utterly terrifying in its realistic psychological and political insights.

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Huxley offers a vision of a consumeristic world where citizens are encouraged to give in to their sexual and material desires. Children are manufactured, leaving sex and procreation completely severed—and promiscuity, not love, highly encouraged.

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Road is a very dark but deeply moving and lyrical story of the journey of a father and his young son across a sparsely-populated and dangerous post-apocalyptic landscape.

5. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy: Hardy was a fierce critic of the church and its traditions. This work, his last novel, questions the role of the church in modern society as well as its most revered institution: marriage. The book was met with so much controversy when it was published that Hardy never wrote another novel. He was, as it turns out, prophetic.

6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: Many connect the protagonist of this novel to Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the “Superman”—Nietzsche’s ideal figure who, faced with the “death of God,” devises his own morality absent any concepts of the divine or eternity. Crime and Punishment demonstrates the impossibility of such a life.

7. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy: This short story is a kind of parable. At its center is a literal “fall” of a successful and materialistic man, followed by a painful, slow, but moving journey to redemption through a most unlikely, humble means.

8. Beloved by Toni Morrison: A brutal and devastating fictional account of slavery in America, this novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988.

9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: This autobiography by the recently-deceased Angelou brings home how far and how long the reach of slavery’s legacy has been in this country as Angelou retells a coming of age marred by racism, rape, and poverty.

10. The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor: O’Connor uses the violent and grotesque to shock complacent characters (and readers) into recognition of the grace of God at work all around. This is not your Sunday School version of Jesus, however. Start with “Revelation” which depicts more literally than most of her stories O’Connor’s recurring themes and techniques.

11. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: This book-length, highly readable poem depicts a journey through hell, purgatory, and finally, an ascent into heaven. A work reflective of medieval cosmology and theology, it offers challenges to and insights into many of today’s Christian assumptions, particularly in the categorizing of sins in Inferno.

12. A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift: This is probably the most difficult work to read on the list. Dive in with the modest goal of enjoying whatever you get and letting the rest go. A satire on the abuses of religion and the excesses of the early modern age, the allegorical parts depicting the three brothers (who symbolize the Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican traditions) are the most delightful and instructive for the general reader.

With a bonus selection, let’s make it a baker’s dozen:

13. Areopagitica by John Milton: This treatise by the seventeenth century Puritan poet and divine served as a foundation for the modern concepts of free speech. Here Milton argues that his Puritan government’s censorship only undermined the power of Truth to overcome falsehood. In pursuit of Truth, Milton argued that books should be “promiscuously read.” The full text is available online here.

Read on!

By / Jun 3

High school graduation is a rite of passage unlike any other. You move from being treated like a child (legally) to being counted an adult, both in society and in any academic setting you might enter. Colleges aren’t even allowed to discuss your grades with your parents apart from your consent. Childhood is over. Adulthood beckons. How should you respond to the blessing and challenge?

1. Own Your Faith.

If you come from a Christian home, you have benefited tremendously from a host of supportive circumstances (household rules, numerous protections, church life). Testing awaits as you enter the world. It won’t be enough to ride the coat tails of your parents’ faith. If you’re not sure about Christianity, now is the time to settle the matter (Eccl. 12:1). Christianity is a faith unlike any other because it’s based on historical events that were verifiable to thousands of people in Christ’s day (1 Cor. 15:3–6, 12–14) — some of whom died for what they would have known to be false, had it been false. If you have doubts, ask away. The existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus being the only way to God — there is a wealth of material which addresses these and other questions.

But do you want to base your life on Jesus Christ? You’ll soon encounter new opportunities to misuse God’s good gifts in ways that seem alluring — that seem to offer immediate pleasure. Will you believe the lie that God is a cosmic killjoy, out to rob you from experiencing the good things of life (Gen. 3:6)? Or will you trust that the One who made you knows best, that his rules are an expression of his love, and that his ways lead to your greatest happiness (Ps. 16:11)?

2. Own Your Relationships.

The Christian faith is lived out in community. So you’ll need to find a good church. Somewhere you can worship, learn, grow, and serve. Somewhere you can form friendships and where you can be a friend. Look at a few church websites before you leave home. Check out their beliefs, listen to their sermons, and be aware of their ministries. Make church attendance a priority early. It’s a harder habit to form later.

At college, the easiest friendships aren’t always the best. To become wise, you need to walk (or do life) with the wise (Prov. 13:20). Look for others who share your commitment to the things of God and faithfully invest in them. Relational evangelism is worth pursuing, especially at college, but make sure you also nurture friendships that strengthen your faith (Prov. 27:17). We’re commanded to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16) — which presupposes we are salt and light. To make a difference in the world we must be different than the world. Holiness in lifestyle, combined with a gracious demeanor, provide a winsome alternative to the wasteland of hedonism and materialism that are rampant on college campuses and youth culture in general.

3. Own Your Decisions.

Assessing situations, weighing alternatives, and thinking critically are like using muscles. Flabbiness comes from disuse; strength comes through practice. The next few years are full of choices — which college (or trade) to pursue, what to study, how to pay for it, and more. It might be nice if God spoke with an audible voice at each crossroads, but that’s not been my experience. We should pray (Jas. 1:5). We should seek counsel from trustworthy people who know us (Prov. 15:22). We should consider where we’ve been successful and what activities we enjoy, as these point to where, over time, we might be most useful in this world for the good of others and the glory of God.

Panicked that you’ll miss God’s will? God wants us to follow him more than we do. His moral will is revealed in the Bible. His sovereign will is revealed as we live it. So make the best decisions you can based on sound judgment, accept the consequences, learn from any missteps, and trust God to shower you with mercy and goodness (Ps. 23:6). With God no path is without difficulty and no path is without blessing.

Congratulations on your graduation. Godspeed in the days ahead. Grace be with you to the end.

Originally published at the Desiring God blog. Republished with permission.