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A Year of Suffering and Soul-Searching in Sutherland Springs

How does a God-fearing, gun-friendly church recover from a horrific mass shooting? Long after the camera crews departed, a Texas journalist stuck around to find out.

Frank Pomeroy, pastor at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, was away for the weekend when he received a text message alerting him that a gunman had just attacked the church during Sunday worship. Among the dead was his own daughter, Annabelle.

“By noon,” as Texas journalist Joe Holley writes in his new book recounting the massacre and its aftermath, “Frank was in his truck barreling down I-35, every mile a rolling kaleidoscope of memories … [He] began to separate out the feelings of pain and desperation that threatened him from the practical steps he knew he had to take in the next few hours, the next several days.”

Holley, columnist for the Houston Chronicle and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his columns on Texas gun culture, was at a book signing when he learned about the shooting. Driving home afterwards, he heard all the terrible details on the radio: “A Baptist church. Multiple deaths. Sutherland Springs.”

Soon enough, a clearer picture of the carnage—and an outline of the trials to come—was emerging: “Twenty-five friends and loved ones had lost their lives … A pastor who knew and cared about those broken people needed to preach their funerals. Twenty of their friends and loved ones were in area hospitals, some still fighting for their lives; they needed visiting and their families needed consoling.”

When Holley saw the exit for I-35 he began driving toward the small town. He would spend the next year of his life there, remaining long after most reporters had left. The resulting book, Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town, paints a picture of tragedy, despair, faith, and resilience. But Holley also shows the systemic ...

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The Greatest Gospel Question of this Moment: “How Are You Doing?”

Two weeks ago, the question, “How are you doing?” was a passing gesture that meant relatively little. Things have changed.

For some of us, it’s hard to think about mission right now.

This sentiment is surely understandable—pastors and church leaders are scrambling to discern the best path forward to love and lead the sheep entrusted to their care. This work, combined with genuine personal anxiety about the coming crisis, sickness, and death, leaves many with little mental or emotional margin to consider how best to care for those outside of the flock.

Yet such efforts are needed, perhaps now more than ever. Our last decade stands as a condemning witness to almost every tribe for the lack of prioritization in disciple-making. Many have authored compelling articles which included undeniable stats of languishing evangelism numbers.

The calls for increased efforts in evangelism often elicit resounding “amens” from pews to tribal leaders alike. Yet even with all the hearty ‘amens’, the numbers suggest that we’ve failed to make progress. Could it be that this moment of global crisis comes with a Sovereign reawakening from our complacent self-fascination to a renewed commitment our King’s commission?

There seems to be three means of gospel engagement that never change. Disciples of Jesus are always positioned with these three tools in their missionary arsenal: what we say, what we do, and how we respond. Let’s think about each in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and how we might effectively lean into each for missionary engagement.

What We Say

The gospel is multifaceted. This is the brilliance of God’s plan. God’s redemptive work is impossible to contain in one image or concept, so the biblical writers use many different pictures to convey the glory of what God has done for us in Christ. ...

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With Conferences Canceled, UMC Split and SBC Votes Wait for Next Year

Besides budget approvals, most denominational business can be rescheduled.

Major conferences held by the two largest Protestant denominations in the country have joined the long list of events canceled by coronavirus.

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) called off its annual meeting scheduled for June 9-10, its first cancellation since World War II 75 years ago. The week before, the United Methodist Church (UMC) announced it would have to push back its quadrennial General Conference another year after its venue, the Minnesota Convention Center, canceled events through mid-May.

While members understand the circumstances, the decisions still come as hard news. Besides the denomination-wide fellowship and morale-building that happens at these gatherings, they are the vehicle for important decision-making affecting churches and ministries.

Leaders from both denominations say the delay puts some business on hold—but in most cases, the votes can wait. That includes the long-anticipated decision over how the UMC could split over irreconcilable differences on LGBT issues.

UMC split delayed

Postponing the UMC conference to 2021 gives leaders more time to deliberate their disunion. In January a group of traditional and progressive denominational leaders agreed on the “Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation,” which proposed allowing conservative congregations to break away and form a new body. Rather than voting on the protocol in May, delegates will hold off until the 2021 General Conference.Many UMC churches had already begun to discuss whether to stay or go—with exiting churches keeping their buildings and taking $25 million to form the new denomination under the proposed protocol—but it’s unlikely any could afford to jump the gun and leave ...

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Black and Latino Church Planters Hit Hard by Coronavirus Shutdown

Because their congregations are less established, they risk losing significant momentum and funding.

Pastor Kerlin Calderon knows that if the coronavirus shutdowns continue for another three months, it’s possible his church in the Bronx could be in trouble.

Weekly offerings keep dwindling. He worries that the church may have to dip into its savings to pay its rent. But he remains hopeful.

“You always have faith that you are going to make it, that God is going to provide because if God called you, then he will sustain you,” said Calderon, 35, pastor of Tabernáculo de Gracia (Grace Tabernacle).

Calderon, who grew up in Washington Heights, started the congregation three years ago when he noticed a lack of Spanish-speaking churches in an area where Catholic churches were shutting down.

What began with Bible study classes from people’s living rooms is now a church of about 150 members that rents space inside a Korean United Methodist Church. Next to the Korean church signage is Grace Tabernacle’s message: “Una iglesia en comunidad para la comunidad” (A church in community for the community).

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the United States, faith leaders have canceled worship services and shifted their ministries online to abide by social distancing guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. While megachurches and more established congregations likely have the financial resources to weather this pandemic, church plants may not have the means to do so.

This is concerning for Elizabeth Rios, executive director for Plant4Harvest, an organization that coaches and trains black and Latino faith leaders to start multiethnic churches in urban communities. But she is motivated by the way startup churches are advocating for their flocks during this crisis. Black ...

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