By / Sep 4

Do you know someone who could be a good fit for the 2020 ERLC Leadership Council? Complete the recommendation form by October 1 to nominate them for consideration.

What is the ERLC Leadership Council?

The ERLC Leadership Council is a collection of SBC pastors and leaders who receive intentional investment from the ERLC team. During their annual term, these council members enjoy equipping through conference calls and events, while providing occasional content for From coast to coast, from megachurch to country church, and from a variety of backgrounds, these pastors and leaders represent a cross section of evangelicalism in general and the SBC in particular.

What are the qualifications?

  • Each nominee must be affiliated with a Southern Baptist church.
  • Ministry experience is encouraged, but not required.
  • Each nominee should be someone of mature Christian character.
  • Nominations are open to both men and women.
  • Candidates should resonate with the mission and vision of the ERLC.

What’s the process?

  • You can submit your nominations here by Tuesday, October 1 at 12 p.m. CT.
  • The ERLC will review the recommendations and extend invitations in the weeks following the deadline.

Who has been involved?

Current and past ERLC Leadership Council Members include:

  • Jon Akin, Fairview Church, Lebanon, Tennessee
  • Lauren Ashford, The Summit Church, Durham, North Carolina
  • Marshal Ausberry, Antioch Baptist Church, Fort Belvoir, Virginia
  • Bart Box, Christ Fellowship Church, Birmingham, Alabama
  • H.B. Charles, Jr., Shiloh Church, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Aaron Colyer, First Baptist Church, Roswell, New Mexico
  • Jed Coppenger, Redemption City Church, Franklin, Tennessee
  • Charles Fowler, First Baptist Church, Germantown, Tennessee
  • Robby Gallaty, Long Hollow, Hendersonville, Tennessee
  • Dean Inserra, City Church, Tallahassee, Florida
  • Dhati Lewis, Blueprint Church, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Fred Luter, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Carolyn McCullough, Redeemer Church, Arlington, Virginia
  • Rich Perez, Christ Crucified Fellowship, New York, New York
  • David Prince, Ashland Avenue Baptist Church
  • Vance Pitman, Hope Church, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Courtney Reissig, Midtown Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
  • Raleigh Sadler, Let My People Go, New York, New York
  • Juan Sanchez, High Pointe Baptist Church, Austin, Texas
  • Rachel White, Faithbridge Church, Jacksonville, Florida
  • Bryant Wright, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Marietta, Georgia
  • Afshin Ziafat, Providence Church, Frisco, Texas
By / Aug 26

I’ll never forget the quiet of the church building on my first day as pastor. I had previously served on a large church staff with many action-packed weekly ministries. The building was a beehive of activity. But in my new role as pastor of a small church, it was a different experience—one my Bible-college training and Christian upbringing didn’t quite prepare me for.

I suspect most of my ministry colleagues have made similar adjustments. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say to a gathering of ministers, “In ministry life, there are more moments of the mundane than the magnificent.” This is true, but why is it so hard to adjust to a ministry of the mundane?

Pastors are rightly motivated to see God do a grand work in their midst. After all, that’s why we surrendered to the call to ministry in the first place. We want to be vessels through which God changes the lives of the people we serve. We read the book of Acts and are inspired, again and again, by the way the Spirit of God builds Christ’s church. And we ask ourselves: Why can’t that happen here, in this community, through this local church?

We all want God to do something big, and we want that big thing to happen through our ministry. This isn’t necessarily a bad or carnal impulse. We should dream, as Paul did in Romans 10:1, for the salvation of those who are alienated from God. We should read the Great Commission and the words of the Lord in Acts 1:8 and the picture of the gathering of the Kingdom from all nations in Revelation 5 and 7 as both a challenge to spread God’s name and a promise of Christ’s activity in this generation. Nobody should go into ministry with only a casual interest in seeing people moved from death to life.

God is in the ordinary

However, this doesn’t mean we, ourselves, have to be overcome with frenetic activity. Sometimes God moves in big, catalytic moments like conferences and memorable worship services or large-scale events. Other times, however, God moves in the quiet, small things.

I’m reminded of Elijah, who experienced an adrenalin crash after his showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Many in Israel still worshipped Yahweh, yet still he was despondent because the big convert, Queen Jezebel, remained hardened in opposition. As God ministered to his discouraged prophet in 1 Kings 19, he demonstrates God’s unwillingness to be held captive by our expectations. Elijah stood and watched a series of big natural phenomena: a strong wind, an earthquake, and a fire. Each time, the text is clear that God was not in any of these events. God was in what came next: a whisper.

Does this mean God isn’t in control of earthquakes and fires and wind? No. Does this mean God doesn’t use big events to bring about his purposes? No. But the point God is making to Elijah and to us who speak and minister for God, is this: God is also in the whisper. He’s in the quiet, ordinary moments of life.

Gregory the Great wrote, “Purity of heart and simplicity are of great force with almighty God, who is in purity most singular, and of nature most simple.” Most of our professional ministry training prepares us for the big moments. This is good. But I wonder if we go into the pastorate expecting every day to be Mt. Carmel, when more days are like Elijah’s solace under the juniper tree.

We have a natural restlessness. In part it’s a product of the culture in which we live, where we are constantly awaiting the next big thing. Our smartphones light up with alerts from social media, email, text, and phones. Each one has the promise of something new: a new conversation, a new opportunity, a new news story. We are mastered by the moment.

I find it extraordinarily difficult to turn this off. It’s a constant battle that I don’t always win. I find it hard not to check my phone regularly, even when I should be present with people. This is a symptom of not just a busy culture, but a busy heart. We are restless creatures because we are running from the solitude that allows us to meditate, to be quiet, to hear God speak, to repent. It’s uncomfortable to face ourselves, so we fill our time with distractions.

The way of Jesus is not just active ministry. It’s time away with the Father. It’s not just crisis and confrontation; it’s the ordinary, mundane, and common. As much as we need to plan the next big event, we need to experience routines, and rest and renewal. At times, this might mean a sabbatical or time away with the family. Often it’s simply structuring our lives to include moments that are not big or consequential: breakfast with friends, a few hours to read and grow, or pursuing a life-giving hobby. I’m reminded of Thomas Carlyle’s statement that silence is “the element in which great things fashion themselves together.”

Cultivating the mundane in our leadership

It’s one thing to cultivate this “theology of the mundane” in our own hearts, but it’s another altogether to incorporate it into our leadership. Leadership books often coach readers to evaluate all of life through the grid of “How does this activity contribute to our five- and 10-year goals?” Instead, try accepting that all of life doesn’t have to be driven by the next big moment. Enjoy this present ministry. We do this in a few ways: 

  1. Model in your schedule the kind of healthy spiritual rhythms you’d like others to develop. 
  2. Take the long view of church ministry, where the Spirit of God slowly changes the hearts of his people, rather than making every Sunday “the big Sunday.” 
  3. Work to balance your desire for growth with a commitment to pastor the people in front of us, rather than the people we wish we had.

Sometimes our well-meaning impulse toward missions and evangelism reduces the mundane to meaningless. We need to recall that God’s Kingdom means he rules over all the earth, not just over what happens on Sunday. It isn’t always the big moments—the dramatic altar calls, the big donations to fund a project, the talented new hire on the church staff—where God is working. The daily, obscure work that fills ministry life matters too. Painting a nursery wall, stuffing bulletins, conversations with neighbors, cleaning up after a potluck—this too is Kingdom work.

God is at work in all kinds of churches in all kinds of ways. The Spirit of Christ is drawing people to himself and changing lives through the church of 100 just as he is in the church of 10,000. He is working in the mundane, the everyday life of the church, even when it seems nothing is happening but an occasional whisper.

This was originally published by Christianity Today.

By / May 21

Better Together captures our desire to partner together as men and women in the church and beyond to advance the kingdom with mutual support and care. Better Together will address a wide range of topics from sexual abuse, leadership, women and work, women’s ministry, and more. Today’s podcast features Kathy Litton. Litton is the Director of Planter Spouse Development at the North American Mission Board. Listen in as we discuss women in ministry and leadership.

By / Apr 11


As followers of Christ, we are called to engage the world around us with the unchanging gospel message of hope and reconciliation. Tools like technology are able to aid us in this pursuit. We know they can also be designed and used in ways that dishonor God and devalue our fellow image-bearers. Evangelical Christians hold fast to the inerrant and infallible Word of God, which states that every human being is made in God’s image and thus has infinite value and worth in the eyes of their Creator. This message dictates how we view God, ourselves, and the tools that God has given us the ability to create.

In light of existential questions posed anew by the emergent technology of artificial intelligence (AI), we affirm that God has given us wisdom to approach these issues in light of Scripture and the gospel message. Christians must not fear the future or any technological development because we know that God is, above all, sovereign over history, and that nothing will ever supplant the image of God in which human beings are created. We recognize that AI will allow us to achieve unprecendented possibilities, while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care.

We desire to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI, rather than responding to these issues after they have already affected our communities. In light of this desire and hope, we offer the following affirmations and denials about the nature of humanity, the promise of technology, and the hope for the future.

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being.

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Furthermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4​

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4​

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone.

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

*Please note that the title and institution listed for each signatory is used for identification purposes only and does not necessarily constitute an official endorsement by the institution.

Russell Moore
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Matthew Anderson
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion

Vincent Bacote
Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics
Wheaton College

Hunter Baker, J.D.
Dean of Arts and Sciences
Union University

Bart Barber
First Baptist Church Farmersville, Texas

Phillip Bethancourt
Executive Vice President
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

Darrell Bock
Executive Director for Cultural Engagement &
Senior Research Professor of New Testament
Dallas Theological Seminary

Denny Burk
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Matt Chandler
Lead Pastor
The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas

Hee Yeal Cho
Executive Staff
Grace Covenant Church

Mike Cosper
Harbor Media

Michael A. Covington
Senior Research Scientist Emeritus (retired)
Institute for Artificial Intelligence
The University of Georgia

Daniel Darling
Vice-President of Communications
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Jim Daly
Focus on the Family

Dan DeWitt
Associate Professor of Apologetics
Cedarville University

David S. Dockery
Trinity International University & Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Erick Erickson
The Resurgent

Jason G. Duesing
Provost & Associate Professor of Historical Theology
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary & Spurgeon College

John Dyer
Dean of Enrollment Services and Educational Technology
Dallas Theological Seminary

Albert Erisman
Institute for Business, Technology, and Ethics

Nathan A. Finn
Provost & Dean of the University Faculty
North Greenville University

Ronnie Floyd
President & CEO
The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention

Micah Fries
Senior Pastor
Brainerd Baptist Church

Mark J. Galli
Editor in Chief
Christianity Today

J.D. Greear
Pastor, The Summit Church
President, The Southern Baptist Convention

Wayne Grudem
Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies
Phoenix Seminary

Daniel R. Heimbach
Senior Professor of Christian Ethics
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Casey B. Hough
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Camden

Michael Horton
Westminster Seminary California

Johnny Hunt
Pastor, First Baptist Church Woodstock
Vice President, North American Mission Board

Dean Inserra
Lead Pastor
City Church, Tallahassee, Florida

Scott James, MD
The Church at Brook Hills

Richard Land
Southern Evangelical Seminary

Heath Lambert
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church Jacksonville

Mark Liederbach
Dean of Students & Professor of Theology, Ethics, and Culture
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Fred Luter
Senior Pastor
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church

Ken Magnuson
Professor of Christian Ethics
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Katie McCoy
Assistant Professor of Theology in Women’s Studies
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

James Merritt
Lead Pastor
Cross Pointe Church Duluth, Georgia

Paul Miller
Research Fellow
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Matthew C. Millsap
Assistant Professor of Christian Studies
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

C. Ben Mitchell
Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy
Union University

Richard J. Mouw
Professor of Faith and Public Life
Fuller Theological Seminary

Philip Nation
Director of Advancement and Global Impact Churches
Baptist World Alliance

Trillia Newbell
Director of Community Outreach
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Samuel W. Oliver
Union University

Esther O’Reilly

Ray Ortlund
Immanuel Church

Tripp Parker
Senior Manager, Technical Program Management

Jackie Hill Perry
Author & Speaker

Matthew Pinson
Welch College

Vance Pitman
Senior Pastor
Hope Church Las Vegas

Karen Swallow Prior
Professor of English
Liberty University

Rhyne Putman
Associate Professor of Theology & Culture
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Tony Reinke

Jim Richards
Executive Director
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention

Jeffrey Riley
Professor of Ethics & Associate Dean of Research Doctoral Programs
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Rev. Gabriel Salguero 
National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Jimmy Scroggins
Family Church, West Palm Beach, Florida

Jacob Shatzer
Assistant Professor of Theological Studies
Union University

Colin J. Smothers
Executive Director
Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

John Stonestreet
Colson Center for Christian Worldview

Jason Thacker
Associate Research Fellow & Project Leader
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy

AB Vines
First Vice President
Southern Baptist Convention

Todd Wagner
Senior Pastor
Watermark Community Church

Andrew T. Walker
Senior Fellow in Christian Ethics
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Keith S. Whitfield
Dean of Graduate Studies
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

K. Marshal Williams, Sr.
Senior Pastor, Nazarene Baptist Church
Past President, National African American Fellowship, SBC

Malcolm B. Yarnell, III
Research Professor
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Hershael W. York
Dean of the School of Theology
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Christopher Yuan
Speaker, Author, Bible Professor
Bearer of Christ Ministries

By / Mar 26

Better Together captures our desire to partner together as men and women in the church and beyond to advance the kingdom with mutual support and care. Better Together will address a wide range of topics from sexual abuse, leadership, women and work, women’s ministry, and more. Today’s podcast features author, Courtney Reissig. Reissig is the author of Glory in the Ordinary and an upcoming book on the Psalms. Today she joins Trillia Newbell to discuss training women in the local church. 

By / Mar 20

As the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the ERLC engages a number of elected officials across the country. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is one of those leaders the ERLC has been privileged to work with over the years. During his two terms as Tennessee’s governor, Haslam presided over significant moments for religious liberty, ushered in protections for people of conscience, and conducted himself in a way that should serve as a model for Christians in public service.

Before the end of Haslam’s tenure as governor, Russell Moore had the opportunity to interview him at The Gathering conference in Miami, Florida, to talk about what Haslam has learned about leadership, service, and the current nature of our political climate. With the permission of The Gathering, this interview has been transcribed and lightly edited for clarity and length.

Russell Moore: How do you as a Christian [elected official] deal with navigating that pull toward the approval of people as opposed to finding your identity in Christ?

Bill Haslam: I feel like people know more about you and less about you than ever before if you are in political office because there is information available everywhere. I think one of the advantages of actually having been in office for a while is you get used to that; you get used to people saying things about you that you don’t think are true or you don’t think are fair, and you kind of grow accustomed to that and learn it’s okay. There are going to be some people that don’t like me, and I have to be okay with that.

RM: When you think about your role right now and the life that you have had even before this as a business leader, how do you navigate ambition as a good thing? Sometimes people struggle with that because Jesus tells us whoever will save his life must lose it and yet, they are obviously godly ambitions. How do you personally navigate it?

BH: Think about the verse, “do nothing out of selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” How does that translate into an election where you are saying, “I’m the guy. I’m the one that can solve the issue?” I hope the church at large gets a sense that one of the really legitimate ways we are called to serve is in government. Luther said, “Send your ablest not to preach but to government. In preaching, it is the Holy Spirit doing the work, but in government, you are dealing in a world where you have to reason with ambiguity and uncertainty, and so the difficulty is higher. . . .”

If you ever want to find out who you really are, go run for office. People are saying things about you. You are trying to remember why you were running. It is a physically grueling process, but underneath all that has to be this idea that this is what I am called to do. It’s no different than being called to preach or called to lead an insurance agency or anything else.

RM: Everyday is unpredictable and filled with really momentous sorts of decisions. I think there are a lot of people who struggle when they are in the whirlwind of their lives whether in business or a minister, government or whatever. How do you maintain personally a walk with Christ in the middle of all of that?

BH: I would argue that it is no different than anyone. I’d say for me, there are a couple of answers. One, I have to carve out some time to begin the day to pray and to study Scripture. I think the second part is I need people around me who have freedom to speak into my life in strong ways. Until I moved to Nashville, every Friday morning for 30 years, I had the same group of guys come up in my driveway at 6 a.m., and we literally shared our entire lives. When I came to Nashville, one of the first things I did was to seek out a group of guys just like that. I found I need somebody asking me hard questions because I can convince myself of things really easy that aren’t true.

RM: You mention politics as a vocation. One of the things I’ve noticed is that if I’m dealing with a group of older evangelicals, normally what I’m having to hammer is Christ crucified, not generic “God and Country.” When I am dealing with younger evangelicals, I often have to do the exact reverse, which is to say God wants some of you to run the school board, and God wants you specifically engaged. How would you encourage younger people who are kind of skeptical because of the way they’ve seen politics and faith used as a political wedge to be actively involved without losing their souls?

BH: I think that’s a great question for the entire church right now because I do think there are either folks that see politics as the answer—if we can just elect enough people who believe the right things, then our country will end up in the right place—or there are those folks who say I have totally given up, I don’t care, I can’t imagine how that would be relevant.

For the second group I would say this: it is pretty clear how Scripture talks about the role of government. God is not in favor of anarchy. In the state of Tennessee, we have 37,000 employees, a $37 billion dollar budget, and we are like a huge service organization. We help people that want to adopt children. We help those that are addicted to opiates. We run prisons. We educate four-year-olds and Ph.D. students. We build roads. It is our responsibility to provide the very best service that we can at the very lowest cost. I think what has gotten lost in this idea is that people say politics is about where you are on pro-life issues or how you feel about marriage, but it is really about providing service to folks that they can’t get from somewhere else, in most cases.

RM: Cynicism is one of the things that worries me most right now, especially among younger evangelicals because they have seen people who care about a political agenda and partisanship—and Jesus is sort of the way to get there. What you have managed to do, which is sadly rare, is to be able to be a committed Christian who is in the political arena, but no one senses that you are somehow claiming Jesus as your brand in order to advance. How would you advise someone who is a Christian that wants to be in the public arena?

BH: The temptation is to use God instead of being used by God. So, it comes back to that sense of being called. I [try to] remember, if we are called, we are not called to be about ourselves; even the Son of Man came not be served but to give his life as a ransom for many. That is the foundation below the call and why the call exists to begin with.

RM: We are living in a time where people often choose a tribe, imbed in that tribe, and then find whatever facts support whatever your group holds to. How do you navigate that reality that we are living in right now, maintaining your personal integrity and what you believe to be true? Have there been times where you have had to sort of make decisions as governor where you thought this is not going to be popular with my people, but it has to be done?

BH: Yes, so, I’ll give you an example. Every context is different everywhere, but several years ago Vanderbilt, which is private and based in Tennessee, set up a deal that they called an “all-comers” policy for all student groups. This meant that every student group had to take whoever wanted to be a part that had equal access. So, if you are in InterVarsity on campus and someone who had different beliefs maybe wanted to be the president, they had to be able to do that. A lot of Christian groups said there are certain things we believe we are not going to give up on, and Vanderbilt said, “You can meet but you just can’t be on campus.”

Our legislature, a fairly conservative legislature, said, “We are not going to let them get away with that; we are going to take away Federal money, or any state money that goes to Vanderbilt because we don’t want them to restrict religious freedom that way.” They passed a bill basically saying that the state will fund Vanderbilt hospital through Medicaid and some other things, but we are going to restrict all state monies to Vanderbilt.

I ended up vetoing the bill, and I had calls from a lot of friends and people I respect saying, “Don’t you understand if Vanderbilt does this, then pretty soon everybody is going to do it, and we are going to lose who we are?” But I also felt like there was another principle: do we really want the state telling private institutions what they can do? Because there will be a day when the shoe is on the other foot. I just felt like that principle is a hard one.

RM: The legislature also passed a bill proclaiming the Bible as the state book, and you vetoed that as well. I bet that’s a hard day.

BH: I did.

“Honey how was your day?”

“I vetoed the Bible.”

And to this day, I still have people say they don’t understand it. But I know this: when we combine state and the church, the church is the one that loses long term. Look at Europe as an example, where the church and state were combined, and now the church is just kind of a semblance of what it should be. So I actually believe that we don’t use the state to establish our Christian belief. That’s not the state’s role.

And so the legislature said, “We are passing it because of historical significance; that’s why it will be the state book.” That’s how they kind of got around the Constitutional question.

I said, “Well that’s fine, but to me that Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is not an historical book full of great stories. And so we are either going to say we are going to ignore the Constitution, or we are going to act like the Bible is something that it is not.” I just didn’t feel like that was a great path.

RM: You know, it is a really bleak time in many ways. I know people will often say, “Well, we’ve had contentions in political environments going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.” But something feels different now, both in terms of decorum and norms from political leaders, but also just looking at social media and seeing the ways that people are arguing. People tend to change their positions not because they come to some different conclusion but based upon just whatever their political party or favorite political leaders hold. How do we get out of this? What’s the way forward?

BH: I think the reality is all that has been exacerbated by how we get our news today. Everybody gets to filter and screen their own news, a lot of which no longer comes through an editor because it is coming to you through social media, or you are watching Fox which is giving you one exact set of facts and then CNN doing the other.

The first thing I would say is make certain that you yourself are not setting up filters for how and where you learn the truth. The second is to come back to: 1. electing the right people is not what’s going to save our country; and 2. on the other hand, it is really clear that who we elect matters. As believers, of all people, we should be the ones that can get that balance right, who can understand both the ability that should come from us as believers but also the sense of there is such a thing as truth.

RM: When you think about trying to move from now, to being in elected office, to the next year, what do you see is your calling in this coming crisis?

BH: I’ve been the governor for seven years and eight months. In less than 17 weeks, I lose my job. I have loved being in public office, and if I never get a chance to do it again, I will be really sad. I honestly don’t know what will come next, but I will stay engaged in what I think are some of the bigger policy issues one way or the other. I think it really does matter, and I’d say this to the church at large: We live in a world where people are giving up on institutions, period. They are giving up on government, they are giving up on the church, they are giving up on media. I think the one way we can get folks’ attention back is by literally living out the gospel.

RM: I was talking to someone in political office who talked about his frustration with the church because he said that at his church he is seen as whatever his office is. So he is not able to find the kind of community he needs because everything he does or says is viewed through that lens. So, what do political leaders need from their churches?

BH: The obvious is prayer and encouragement. It is a lonely road because there is always somebody mad at you, and no matter what you say, you tend to hear those voices louder than the people saying, “Hey, you did that well.” So, encouragement and prayer is incredibly important. Also, particularly if it is somebody you actually know, the willingness to step in and say, “Hey, I know this is a hard one; if it helps any here, I’d be more than glad to sit down and talk with you on that.”

I do want to say this: I have an even greater appreciation for the role that believers play in our society since I have been governor. I just see so many who have been instrumental in working for the common good, and I would say don’t stop. I’ll give you an example. Memphis has the first or second highest poverty rate in the country and historic racial issues that, to this day, drive the city. But if you go down there to Memphis, the one thing that really is bringing life to that city is the church.

I can just tell you that whoever is the mayor of your city or the governor of your state, they may or may not have an appreciation for what you are doing, but I will say this: the feet and hands of Christ that you are being in your communities is so, so important. On behalf of all of us that get to do this, thank you, because I can’t imagine what it would be like without the church.

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.

By / Mar 19

Better Together captures our desire to partner together as men and women in the church and beyond to advance the kingdom with mutual support and care. Better Together will address a wide range of topics from sexual abuse, leadership, women and work, women’s ministry, and more. Today’s podcast features the director of communications for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Amy Whitfield. Whitfield shares about women in leadership.  

By / Mar 12

Better Together captures our desire to partner together as men and women in the church and beyond to advance the kingdom with mutual support and care. Better Together will address a wide range of topics from sexual abuse, leadership, women and work, women’s ministry, and more. Today’s podcast features the president of the ERLC, Russell Moore. Moore shares about why he wanted to host the ERLC Women’s Summit, his hope for women in leadership, flourishing in the church, and how we can best care for those who have experienced abuse.  

By / Feb 21

The scenario is depressingly common by now—word of another ministry leader having his hypocrisy and hidden life exposed. An addiction here. An affair there. An abusive exercise of power and narcissistic exploitation of position. I don’t know if pastors fall at a higher rate today than they did, say, 30 years ago, but our social media age certainly makes it seem that way.

Each time it happens, we get less adept at incredulity, less inclined to outrage and distress. We’re not happy about it, of course, but we are, sadly, getting used to it. Then the backward troubleshooting begins, the diagnosing of sicknesses long after the deaths. Ministry post-mortems tell us so much, but it would be great if we could see the falls coming.

But can’t we?

How you can fall in ministry

Looking back over the wreckage of so many disgraced pastors and failed ministries, what are some common denominators across the landscape of impurity in the pastorate? If you wanted to fall, what would you make sure you’d do?

First, you’d let the power of success (or just the position itself) go to your head.

You don’t have to be a glad-handing type-A leader to fall into the rut of egocentrism; you only have to be a pastor who enjoys approval and accolades. You could be a small church guy who enjoys being your congregation’s functional messiah—available 24/7 for the needs in your church and open to their every religious whim or command. Before you know it, you’re stressed, tired, and feeling either a little entitled or a little resentful (or both). And this combination of fatigue, stress, and stewing bitterness, over time, is a recipe for moral failure. Pushing yourself to these limits makes you extremely vulnerable for increasingly serious temptations from the evil one.

Secondly, you’d stop investing in your marriage.

For pastors blessed to have families, one of the quickest ways to vulnerability in temptation is nurturing neglect of your wife and justifying it at the same time as “the demands of ministry” or something else similarly self-aggrandizing. After a while, you may even come to see your wife not as your primary ministry but as an obstacle, an impediment, a preventer of your ability to flourish in ministry. The bitterness takes root. She doesn’t understand you, she doesn’t “get” you. And then guess what happens when you come along someone who does—or at least seems to?

Thirdly, you’d isolate and obfuscate yourself.

This is a surefire way to sabotage your ministry. Ministers have a variety of ways of removing themselves from real companionship and the accountability that often comes with it. You may find the best way is to exploit the leadership structure of your church or even tamper with it so everybody answers to you, and you answer to nobody, or nobody but “yes-men.” Or, you simply retreat further and further away from team dynamics whether emotionally or physically.

Almost every one of the pastors I’ve known personally who lost their ministries to moral failings would say later that they had no real friends. Nobody knew them. This has implications for accountability and also general emotional wellbeing. Not every lonely pastor falls morally, but they are all vulnerable to it.

But for those who don’t feel isolated from others in structure or position, there is still the real danger of obfuscation. In other words, they aren’t honest or confessional. They arrange things so no hard questions about their lives can be asked, and if they are, they just lie. The truth is seen as more costly. But nothing is more costly than investing in your not being known until the truth busts out through the debris of a moral train wreck.

Finally, you’d make a routine of neglecting communion with Christ.

This really sets a course for moral failure. Out of all the traits common to pastoral falls, this is in my estimation the most common of all—neglect of devotional life. Falls are different and so are the routes taken to them, but as soon as you commit, even if unintentionally, to not nourishing yourself in the Word and boasting in the weakness of prayer, you are deciding you are smart enough and strong enough to do life by yourself. This is a great way to plan for a spectacular failure.

When Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he fought the enemy off with Scripture, and he was ministered to by the Spirit and the angels. If Jesus needed that wisdom and protection, who do you think you are that you don’t?

So now you’ve put all the plans in place. You’ve bought your own hype or acquiesced to cultural or programmatic demands to center the ministry on yourself. You’ve sacrificed your family on the altar of success. You’ve isolated yourself emotionally and spiritually from others, living a life of hidden struggles and sins among others. And you’ve gone stale in your devotional life, pouring yourself into things more readily efficient or immediately practical.

Then you crash and burn.

Now what?

What to do when you fall

Well, pastor, once you’ve fallen, stick the landing. And by that, I mean that once you’re laid low, stay there. For a long time. No, not in your sin. Not in self-pity or wallowing. Repent of your sin and all the excuses for it and whining over it, but don’t jump back up to pretend everything’s fine. Listen to those you’ve hurt. Submit to those who know you. Remember that vocational ministry is an honor, and it’s nobody’s right. You are
not entitled to a ministry position.

And what about grace, you say? Well, grace means that a repentant sinner can be restored to the fellowship. And grace also means that no fellowship should be subjected to unqualified leadership.

Can you ever be restored? Perhaps. I take from Christ’s restoration of Peter that it’s not just to the fold but to the feeding that fallen shepherds can be shepherds again. But I do not take from Christ’s personal restoration that haste would be prudent. We read in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 that pastors must be qualified. In those qualifications we see nothing of the aspiring pastor’s ambition or preferences. We see character issues, spiritual aptitudes, and well-developed reputations for relational and communal integrity. These do not exist for the pastor who has disqualified himself. It does not mean they can never exist again, but they cannot exist right now.

You cannot tell if someone is a good manager of a household the first time you meet him. You see the witness of his family life over time. Similarly, when a guy cheats on his wife, you don’t determine he’s a good family man soon after the revelation. It will take more time, given the offense, to see him walk in repentance, to gain that reputation back.

This is the case with any point of disqualification, although some levels of discernment can occur more quickly than others. It is not an immediate thing for a pastor disqualified for a long pattern of verbal abuse or coarse jesting to gain a reputation as a gentle, peaceful man. It is probably less still for a pastor disqualified for a pattern of alcohol addiction or sexual immorality to gain a reputation as sober-minded or a “one-woman man.”

This is parallel to the biblical qualification of “not being a new convert.” Obviously we are speaking to a (presumably) Christian person who is newly repentant, but the underlying principle is the same. Repentance is an immediate re-entry to the fellowship, but re-entry to the pastorate takes the testing of time.

This is not graceless. It is how Christ protects his church and, incidentally, how he protects repentant sinners from rushing too soon back into the same pressures that revealed their undeveloped character to begin with.

So what you do, pastor, is lay low. I know it is difficult; I know it is embarrassing. But Christ and his church are bigger than you and your aspirations. The kingdom will not perish without your leadership—and, though it’s hard to face, neither will you. If you love Jesus and want to serve his church, do so out of the spotlight. Detox from the need for power and approval. Walk daily with Jesus in quiet ways over a long period of time. Let qualified shepherds feed you.

You may imagine that the bigness of grace is shown in the rushing of a fallen minister back to ministry, but the opposite is true. If you will stay low, humble yourself, and serve Christ and his church from the shadows of obscurity, you will discover just how satisfying grace actually is.

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.

By / Feb 11

Leadership is risky—the world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire against us. So we start listing the dangers, and then we compile lists of antidotes and advice. These words of wisdom aren’t bad; they are usually very helpful (and I plan to offer a few here, myself). But the gospel offers us more. The gospel offers a life of faithful, joyful service springing not from lists of what we should and should not do, but out of love more abundant than we can imagine (John 15:12-17).

The reality is that regardless of age, experience, maturity, spirituality, theological aptitude, or insightful exposition, faithfulness in ministry is rooted in love for God, which necessarily and inevitably overflows in love for others.

Conversely, unfaithfulness springs from love for ourselves, which both expresses and fuels that most foundational of sins: pride. It might sound simplistic, but it’s true: Whether a young pastor fruitfully thrives or withers on the vine is determined by one thing: Who does he love?

Lovers of self or lovers of others?

I sometimes observe the meal-time behavior of potential leaders. I’m not talking about the social niceties or etiquette, or even whether he leads a solid and sound “grace” at the beginning. But does he wait to serve others before helping himself? Does he get up to help clear away the dishes? Does he express gratitude? Does he take a spot at the sink to help with cleaning up?

And when we have church functions, who is helping with the unseen, often unpleasant jobs? Who is sweeping the muck under the toddler table, emptying the garbage, folding chairs, scraping plates? This observation extends to our gathered worship as well: Who is making an effort to speak to newcomers? Who is quick to arrange chairs to make room for a wheelchair? Who is standing up and moving over so someone else can sit?

Much of this is simply common courtesy, but it reveals something vital about the heart—is this person acting out of love for others, or love of self? Is his concern for those around him, or to preserve his own physical or social comfort? I don’t consider a young man to have potential as a leader in God’s church until I see that he is acting out of love for his Savior in loving service for God’s people. Of course, the ability to teach the Word of God is essential. But as God tells us through Paul, the most gifted and eloquent Bible teachers are nothing but resounding gongs or clanging cymbals without love.

So with that foundation laid, how do we keep alert to some common pitfalls which young leaders face as they seek to serve God’s church? Where are we tempted to live by pride (which is love of self) rather than love for God? I think the dangers fall into three main categories:

1. Identity

It is all-too-easy to slip into the belief that who we are is defined by what we do, how we appear, or what people think of us. Perhaps the demands of ministry accentuate this risk because there will always be a heightened level of judgement from others—sermons are critiqued, interpersonal skills are analyzed, and family choices scrutinized.

Some trademarks of mistaken identity include feeling more important than we are and wanting proper acknowledgement of all we do. For example, continual overwork reveals that we have forgotten that we are mere creatures. Fear of what people think of us reveals that we have forgotten that it is what God thinks that counts. Being overbearing reveals that we have forgotten that we ourselves are sheep before we are shepherds, while timidity reveals that we fear people more than God. All of these reveal basic forgetfulness about our identity in Christ and a deep seated, self-loving belief that we have what it takes.

But the truth is that our value and glory is eternally secure because of the union with Christ that has been won for us and gifted to us. This identity is absolutely unshakeable and impregnable. When we wallow in identity amnesia, we turn again to slavery. Remembering who we are in Christ, however, gives beautiful gospel color, texture, and flavor to our lives and work.

2. Ecclesiology

It is possible to view the church in a mercenary way. Rather than brothers and sisters for whom Christ died and for whom we are willing to lay down our lives, they can become those who consume a Sunday sermon, fund our salaries, and cause us pain and hassle. “Ministry would be great if there were no people” is a well-known tongue-in-cheek complaint. We might chuckle, but deep down we sometimes believe it. This is nothing more than pride, and needs swift repentance.

Young leaders, don’t go along with that seed of complaint about God’s people. The gospel compels a real affection and love for the church; this is Christ’s body, a temple built upon the solid foundation. This is the Bride being prepared for her husband, and you are part of and belong to her. There is no place for looking down upon the church. Love, serve, rebuke, and correct her when needed—but always cherish her.

One symptom of wrong ecclesiology is keeping ourselves aloof. We try to protect ourselves from our church when we don’t trust our church family. Choose to trust them! Don’t prioritize friendships with those who merely like you and who are similar to you, as comfortable as that is. Our pride is what whispers, “But these people really understand me,” or, “I deserve some down time.” Leaders set the culture, so set a culture of gospel intentionality in your own friendships.

Also, despite all western convictions to the contrary, “family time” is not sacred. The corrective is a proper understanding of family in the Bible. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family, so work to nurture those relationships. Open your home. Don’t allow your pride to hinder hospitality. Visit those who are suffering, even for 10 minutes to pray with them. Ask for help, counsel, and prayer from your home group. Seek accountability—not just with the like-minded pastor from across town, but with the awkward college student in your church family as well.

As you foster warm affection for your brothers and sisters, with all of their human idiosyncrasies and awkwardness, you are employing one of the means of grace to build a safeguard against many pitfalls of self love.

3. Success

Young leaders can easily be distracted and wooed by the world’s definition of success—numbers, power, influence. It’s hard not to feel successful when we are commended, when our church is growing, when we’re busy doing important things, and especially if we receive some renown. The misuse of power and authority can flow from this, because if “success” is really all about me, then ministry becomes all about me, too.

But for the Christian, success is defined by one thing: faithfulness in and out of season. And faithfulness happens insofar as we are devoted to our Savior. Furthermore, our faithfulness depends upon Jesus. This is a blow to pride. If the church is growing, it’s God’s work. If my preaching is effective, it’s God’s blessing. If the church is financially stable, it’s thanks to the Spirit-inspired generosity of others. If my heart is soft to the Lord, it’s his kindness. Anything good that we are or do—anything—is a cause for gratitude to God alone. Young and old must continuously bow before the Lord, the giver of all good gifts, in repentance for the ways in which we try to grab glory that belongs to him alone.

Lovers of God and others

Paul reminds young Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). This is love which flows from the love of the Father and which we offer back to him in gratitude. The gospel is the glorious reality of something completely other, something fully outside of us—God, who is love. It’s the love of the Father, through Christ and applied by the Spirit that sets us free from slavery to sin and the punishment our sin deserves. This gospel is all we can offer, and this gospel is all we need. Considering God’s love levels our pride into the dust. We must cling to it!

Young leaders, to live faithfully out of God’s love you must dwell on it long and often. Use the means of grace: God’s Word, prayer, and God’s people. Consider Jesus. Meditate on God’s character. Be silenced in worshipful awe by the Trinity. Be stunned by the Incarnation. Worship the great God we cannot even begin to fathom, who makes himself accessible to us through his Son, tenderly enlivening our hearts by his Spirit. Fix your thoughts on the Resurrection and the New Creation to come.

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done for us and all he has for us in Christ. Our brief lives are to be expended proclaiming it and enjoying it with God’s people until we are called home to eternal glory. What could be better? This is a love story to capture our hearts; the greatest love story of all. Why would we make it about ourselves?

The article originally appeared in our print publication, Light Magazine. View the latest issue here.