Religion Notes: Many young adults believe while most aren’t so sure

Many young adults who attended church as teens continue to consider themselves strong in faith, but many more harbor serious doubts about the importance of Christianity and fellowship in their lives.

That’s according to a recently published LifeWay Research project.

The organization said it surveyed 2,000 Americans, 23 to 30 years old, who attended Protestant churches when they were teenagers.

“Today, 39 percent say they consider themselves a devout Christian with a strong faith in God,” the Nashville-based research organization announced in an online summary of the survey.

But the remaining 61 percent report decreasing levels of adherence to the religion.

The next largest group, at 27 percent, said they “consider themselves Christian, but not particularly devout.”

Next were the 14 percent who believe in God “but are uncertain of Christianity,” while those who “consider themselves spiritual, but not religious” represented 11 percent, LifeWay Research reported.

Five percent said they are “uncertain about” belief in God and 4 percent said they “don’t believe in God or in any higher being.”

The survey also found that 66 percent, or two-thirds, of those who attended church consistently during high school stopped their attendance for at least a year as young adults.

“During the years most young adults are gone from church, they tend to hang onto their faith but don’t make it a priority,” Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in the report summary.

The survey also looked at attitudes young adults had toward their churches when aged 18 to 22.

Those who dropped out during those years were much less likely to say they agreed with the beliefs taught by their churches, that sermons related to their lives, or that they felt connected to church. For those who continued attending, it was the opposite.

“Some of the starkest differences we see between those who attend church as young adults and those who don’t is how connected they feel with others at a church,” McConnell said.


5,000 immigrants anticipated

Faith-based organizations on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border are preparing to serve about 5,000 immigrants expected to arrive soon in Tijuana and Piedra Negras, Mexico.

Among them are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches and partners, and other religious organizations, Fellowship Southwest said in an email to supporters.

Mexico’s federal government has asked churches to assist with the needs of the arriving immigrants. It has donated a 5-acre parcel to a Tijuana church which is a ministry partner of the Fellowship.

“We have enlisted churches along our Texas-Mexico border to help with the group of people arriving in Piedras Negras, like Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz from Laredo and Pastor Israel Rodriguez in Piedras Negras and others,” Fellowship Southwest said in the appeal.

It informed donors that a $75 donation will provide a set of beds to sleep three people.  Donations may be made online.

The organization also urged supporters to come to Eagle Pass, Texas, located located across the border from where the immigrants are arriving, to serve as volunteers. Those wishing to do so may contact Jorge Zapata at [email protected]

And believers are urged to pray “for the people who are desperate enough to make this journey, for the people tasked with serving them, and for the funds to be made available.”


American Baptist office on the move

The Office of the General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA announced it will move into a newly purchased facility sometime in mid-2019.

The office joins other ministry partners leaving the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania facility ABC-USA has occupied since the early 1960s. Those offices and organizations have been acquiring space in the area, and near each other.

“As we transition from the current Mission Center, we have created an American Baptist neighborhood,” General Secretary Lee Spitzer said in a Feb. 7 American Baptist News Service article.

“Centuries of Baptist history affirms that what unites us is Jesus, our common mission aims and ABC identity, not real estate,” Spitzer said in the article.

Baptist News Global has published news of previous ABC-USA ministry partner moves.  A listing of the new addresses of other denominational partners is available online.

Bivocational ministry is a thing of great beauty

Jack was the bivocational pastor of the church I attended in Pennsylvania when that church licensed me to ministry as a step towards my ordination. Dale was the bivocational national leader for bivocational ministries among Baptists. Glenn was the bivocational pastor who led the search committee that nominated me to lead the statewide missions efforts for Baptists in South Carolina.

These are only three of the thousands of bivocational ministers I have encountered during my life, but they certain are three who contributed significantly to my life and ministry. They were leaders whose bivocational ministry was a thing of great beauty.

It is not only pastors who serve bivocationally. Music ministers, worship ministers, campus pastors, senior adult ministers, youth ministers, children ministers, Christian education ministers, recreation minsters, family life ministers, pastoral care ministers, organists/pianists, and church planters are just a few of the other congregational ministry roles served by bivocational ministers. Can you name others?

Full-time ministers are not the norm

I would suggest that over 80 percent of the people who serve in ministry roles do so bivocationally.  When the whole spectrum of Christian ministry is considered it is easily true that the majority of the people serving congregations in the role of minister do so bivocationally. Bivocational ministry is the norm. It is a thing of great beauty.

Some bivocational ministers would prefer to serve in their ministry role full-time; some would not. Bivocational ministers are not ministers part of the week. They are always ministers who focus portion of their week on direct ministry engagement.

Some denominational cultures do not make intentional room for bivocational ministers. Some do. When there is less focus is on a professional, degree-holding clergy or a centralized the ordination process, more bivocational minsters serve in the affiliated congregations. Other denominational cultures either state or imply that real clergy are full-time. But, again, this is not the norm. It is the decentralized grassroots ordination movements that are growing and the centralized ordination systems that are not.

The case for bivocational ministry

A great case can be made for bivocational ministry. Here are a few observations. Perhaps you have others.

  • Bivocational ministers are often as highly educated as full-time ministers. Their degrees may not always be from a seminary, school of theology, or divinity school, but may provide them with specialized skills and great leadership knowledge.
  • The vocational roles of bivocational ministers outside local congregational ministry are often roles of exceptional value and responsibility in the community. I recall a university president who was a bivocational minister. I often encounter exceptional leaders in the marketplace who serve in a bivocational ministry role.
  • Many congregations under 135 in average weekly attendance cannot afford the full financial support for a full-time pastor. If they have a full-time pastor they may be depending on the pastor’s spouse to have significant employment to support the pastor’s household. That is fine if the spouse desires to pursue a career. Many of these congregations might be better served by a bivocational pastor.
  • Even congregations larger than 135 in attendance might best be served by a bivocational pastor. If the congregational members are generous givers, it is possible three bivocational ministers can be called and employed by the congregation for the price of a full-time pastor’s salary package. They can create multiple staff congregations with a more diverse ministry leadership team with a variety of gifts, skill, and preferences.
  • Bivocational ministers who serve in the market place have regular connection with various non-churched people, and are able to help laypersons learn how to connect with non-churched people. Congregations, and even pastors, easily become too insulated from preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched people. They are often looking for ways in which they can connect with people who need the benefits of connection with a Christian congregation.
  • When congregations are served by bivocational pastors and other ministers, they must create a cultural where laypersons step up to serve in various ways throughout the congregation. This is a great asset for the spiritual and leadership development of laity. It also keeps the congregation from developing a pastor-dependent culture.

Check out these urban legends

Before leaving this topic, I invite you to check out in your own denomination the following urban legends:

  • Congregations served by bivocational pastors are smaller than congregations served by full-time pastors.
  • In congregations where the pastor is bivocational, their tenure of service in that congregation is shorter than the tenure of pastors who serve full-time.

I suspect that in some denominations you will be surprised by what you discover.

Why I am so passionate about starting new congregations

Note: In a recent post I talked about the role of women in ministry regarding church planting. In this new post, I focus on my personal passion for starting new congregations that is foundational to urging a generation of women in ministry to consider starting new congregations.

It is very personal for me. I came out the womb into church planting. It is part of the birth and infancy stage of my life narrative.

I was born into the home of a father and mother who had gone out with a group from their congregation to start a new congregation. It was an intentional church plant to reach the northern suburbs of their city. Dad was the pastor. That meant various aspects of church planting were part of conversation around the dinner table, even though I did not understand the conversation at my young age.

My passion deepened. When I was six we moved to another city where my father was pastor of an established church, but led them to start two new congregations during our eight years there, and supported the starting of congregations throughout the northeast part of the United States.

My passion deepened again. When I was a teenager we moved to the northeast and my parents led the initiative of our Baptist denomination to start new congregations in southeast Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. When they arrived there were seven congregations in this region. When they moved on to another ministry placement seven years later the number of congregations had grown to 29.

Therefore, by the time I was an adult I was convinced of the high priority of starting new congregations as I had experienced many of them first-hand, and seen the positive impact and the joy they brought not only to the core group that initiated them but to many preChristians, unchurched, and underchurched people who connected with them.

I remember how being part of a new congregation which met in a motel for two years provided a dimension of spiritual formation and missional engagement I had not experienced to that point of my life. Being part of starting a new congregation empowers Christians to rethink the core values of what it means to be Church in the spirit of the first century, New Testament Christians. It is exhilarating!

During my first 12 years of ministry I started three congregations and helped organize a few more. By the time I was 30 I had experienced multiple times what it was like to be the organizing pastor of a new congregation. I was really fulfilled in ministry by engaging in church planting. Yet I saw myself as a strategist for church planting more than a pastor of new congregations.

I spent my thirtysomething decade as a strategist for church planting. First, I led a national effort in metropolitan areas of a million or more in population to start new congregations and ministries, and to strengthen existing one. Then, I let a statewide strategy in a southern state to start 500 new congregations over a 15 year period. This was in a state where many people would say there were already enough congregations.

We took the approach that it was not how many congregations existed, but how many preChristian, unchurched, and underchurched people were in the state who might be responsive to a new Baptist congregation. We also had a broad diversity strategy that looked at the need for new congregations in non-Anglo and non-English speaking communities and networks. At least a third of the new congregations fit these characteristics.

The state also had a very fast growing region along the Atlantic Ocean where it was difficult to keep up with the fast rate of population growth with many new residents who were not from a churched culture; at least not an evangelical culture. While not all church plants were successful, and some existing congregations died, we did experience a net increase of more than 300 congregations over the 15 year period of this emphasis.

During the past 20 years I have focused my consulting and teaching work with denominations on the importance of planting new congregations. The reality is that it is the top priority congregationally-focused action that will contribute to the long-term vitality and vibrancy for denominations. Where denominations are not experiencing a rate of new congregations equal to at least two percent of their number of affiliated congregations each year, they are on a slow glide path to death. It actually takes three percent per year to be experiencing growth.

Over a lifetime I have learned many principles of church planting that I will share selectively in future posts. Stay tuned!

Gene Puckett, my father, and the best member of our family!

In 1978, Gene Puckett was the major speaker at the retirement dinner for my father, G. W. Bullard, as executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey. He and dad had gotten to know one another in 1966 when Gene arrived in Maryland as editor of the Maryland Baptist news journal of the then Baptist Convention of Maryland.

Our family had been in Maryland from 1957–1965, but had moved on to Philadelphia where Southern Baptist work was organizationally supervised by Maryland Baptists. Dad and Gene hit it off well. They were in some ways cut out of the same cloth. Their speaking and writing were sharp. They were staunch defenders of classic Baptist perspectives.

In the 1970s when my father became the executive director-treasurer in Pennsylvania-South Jersey that role also carried with it the assignment of editor of the Penn-Jersey Baptist. This allowed dad and Gene to get much closer in their relationship as the Maryland Baptist provided the production services for the Penn-Jersey Baptist, and the national, international, and some feature content. This also allowed my mother and Gene’s wife Robbie to get closer as they were together at various meetings of the editors of the state Baptist news journals.

The relationship of the Bullards and the Pucketts grew deep. When my father prepared to retire he could think of no better person to both praise and roast him than Gene Puckett. It was of course a fine evening.

Gene knew my oldest sister, Carolyn Bullard Rock, because she had been on the staff of a congregation in Maryland and had been on the board of the state convention. He knew me because I was serving a two-year internship on the Maryland staff at the time of my father’s retirement. But he did not know my other sister, Judy Bullard Longshore; now Sanford. Judy lived in South Carolina and had not met Gene Puckett.

During the evening Gene said some wonderful things about my father and mother. He also said some gracious things about my sister, Carolyn, and me. He acknowledged he did not know my sister, Judy, but suspected there were fine things to say about her also.

Judy could not let the best go unknown. As the event concluded, she went up to Gene and introduced herself to him and told him she was the best member of our family and he needed to get to know her! Gene laughed, but he did later have opportunities to get to know her.

In 1990 Judy and her family joined St. Johns Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, where she and John Longshore were married around 15 years earlier. At St. Johns they crossed paths with Gene and Robbie’s daughter, Janet Wade, as well as her husband Landis and their children. Judy would see and talk to Gene from time-to-time when he visited in Charlotte. She also taught his grandchildren in the children’s choir program. There is nothing like loving on a person’s grandchildren for them to decide you are the best!

From the perspective of our family, Gene Puckett was the best! He was prophetic and courageous. He was an excellent preacher and one of my favorite Bible teachers. He was Mr. Baptist who could speak profoundly into issues Baptists needed to address and into controversies where Baptists were divided. He spoke the truth in love, but also with a big stick. He had deep convictions about the key issues of being Baptist that shone even in his role as executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

My father’s retirement in 1978 did not end the relationship with Gene and Robbie. My parents retired to Raleigh, NC. Four years later when Gene became editor of the Biblical Recorder, dad was selling real estate and was the agent that helped Gene and Robbie secure their Raleigh home. That provided several years of renewed relationships between the Pucketts and the Bullards. In 1985 my parents moved to South Carolina to be closer to two of their three children.

When my father died in 1987 and mother in 1994, they were buried in Raleigh. Once again, our family was blessed to have Gene Puckett speak words of affirmation and in this case spiritual comfort as he led the Raleigh portion of my parents’ funerals.

The prophetic voice of Gene Puckett still sings in our ears. In many ways he was the best!

50 years of confusion about school prayer

Fifty years after the Supreme Court case that excluded required prayers from public schools in the USA, confusion reigns around this issue. One of the easiest ways to rally some conservative Christians emotionally is to proclaim that prayer must be restored to public schools. Likewise one of the easiest ways to stir the passions of Christians who believe in the separation of Church and State is to suggest that mandatory Christian prayers ought to be restored to public schools.

As a person who lived through the days of the Supreme Court cases in 1962 and 1963, and who was directly impacted by these cases, what stirs my passion is that Christians in general have not discovered a reasonable approach to this whole matter.

The Supreme Court cases were actually three. First there was a case that originated in the state of New York about requiring a certain prayer to be recited in public schools each day. It was a relatively generic prayer intended to replace the Lord’s Prayer. Second, there was a case that originated in Pennsylvania about the required reading of the Bible in public schools each day. Third, was a case that originated in Maryland over required opening religious exercises each day in public schools.

Let’s start with the Maryland case.

I spent first grade through tenth grade in Baltimore, MD where my father was pastor of a Baptist church. In Baltimore, as in many cities and states throughout the country, each school day began with an opening exercise that involved a reading from the Bible, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and the pledge of allegiance to the American flag. This was a civil religion exercise for sure that violated the separation of Church and State. Yet, it was one that reinforced Christianity as the de facto established religion.

A prominent atheist, Madelyn Murray, filed suit to have these opening religious exercises declared illegal. Her case began as Murray v. Curlett, but was later consolidated before the Supreme Court with a case referenced below. At the time her case was ruled on by the Supreme Court in 1963, her son, Bill, was a student at Woodbourne Junior High School in Baltimore. Most of my friends at Gregory Memorial Baptist Church went to this school and knew Bill. We were all about his age. Bill would walk the halls of the school during the opening religious exercises as he was excused due to the protest of his mother.

This made the case a major subject of dialogue in our youth group. Baltimore city schools later changed the name of the school to Chinquapin Middle School. One impact was this allowed the school to be forgotten as the location of the protests by atheists. After the Supreme Court case Baltimore city schools would not even let voluntary religious activities happen in their schools, which was itself a violation and misunderstanding of the Supreme Court ruling. They were afraid of more law suits if they allowed anything.

Two years later my family moved to Abington, PA where the case originated that eliminated required Bible reading from public schools. There had been a Pennsylvania law that said that before the opening of the school day ten verses of the Old Testament should be read without comment.

Suit was brought by Edward Schempp against the School District of Abington Township asking that this law be struck down as it supported the establishment of a particular religion. His case was ultimately consolidated with the Madelyn Murray’s case, and his case prevailed.

In Abington High School there was a voluntary student-led morning prayer service in the school athletic director’s office, and I was the leader of it during my junior and senior years from 1965 through 1967. There was also a large and active Bible Club in the high school with a teacher sponsor, and I was president my senior year. It was all voluntary and occurred before or after school hours.

Then, of course, the prescribed prayer by the board of regents in New York was the third case that had been ruled on by the Supreme Court in 1962. This was the Engel versus Vitale case referred to in a recent ABP article: http://www.baptistnews.com/culture/politics/item/7791-expert-ryan-wrong-about-school-prayer#.UEx5kLJlS0g.

Many people have misunderstood the three Supreme Court cases. When the Supreme Court has heard and ruled on similar cases in the years since, they have appeared to support the type of voluntary religious activities we did in Pennsylvania. I support voluntary things in schools. I oppose required specific religious practices from any religious perspective in schools.

Where do you stand on this?

Editor’s note: This blog appeared previously as an ABP Commentary