5 years ago

How a Secret Church meeting in Alabama became a worldwide phenomenon

Secret Church

Imagine all the blinds closed on the windows of a dimly lit room. Twenty leaders from different churches in the area sat in a circle on the floor with their Bibles open. Some of them had sweat on their foreheads after walking for miles to get there. Others were dirty from the dust in the villages from which they had set out on bikes early that morning.

They had gathered in secret. They had intentionally come to this place at different times throughout the morning so as not to draw attention to the meeting that was occurring. They lived in a country in Asia where it is illegal for them to gather like this. If caught, they could lose their land, their jobs, their families, or their lives. (Excerpt from Radical by David Platt.)

In this particular meeting, the local church leaders had not only gathered to share struggles and to pray together, they also came to study the Bible with an American who would soon become the pastor of one of the largest congregations in the United States.

With a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, Dr. David Platt, at the time in his mid-20s, taught his way through the Old Testament over the next 12 hours. When he was done, the leaders wanted more, urging him to come back the following day — in spite of the danger — to go through the New Testament in another marathon session.

Three weeks after my third trip to underground house churches in Asia, I began my first Sunday as the pastor of (The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama). The scene was much different. Dimly lit rooms were now replaced by an auditorium with theater-style lights. Instead of traveling for miles by foot or bike to gather for worship, we had arrived in millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles. Dressed in our fine clothes, we sat down in our cushioned chairs.

(…)

Please don’t misunderstand this scene. It was filled with wonderful, well-meaning, Bible-believing Christians who wanted to welcome me and enjoy one another. People like you and people like me, who simply desire community, who want to be involved in church, and who believe God is important in their lives. But as a new pastor comparing the images around me that day with the pictures still fresh in my mind of brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. (Excerpt from Radical by David Platt.)

The stark contrast between to two scenes compelled Platt and other church leaders to begin discussing ways to capture the urgency and intensity of the underground churches in areas of the world where Christians literally risk their lives for their faith — a tall order in a city like Birmingham in the heart of the Bible Belt.

“We started thinking through, how could we gather together with that kind of devotion to God’s Word?” Explained Platt. “How could we gather together to promote in the people of God a hunger for the Word of God like that? And then while we’re doing that have some time when we can identify with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and spend time in intentional prayer for them.”

In 2006, Platt and the Brook Hills leadership decided to host an intense, 6-hour Bible study and prayer time on a Friday evening from 6 p.m. ’til midnight. Just like in the tiny, dimly lit room in Asia, a survey of the Old Testament would be the topic.

Secret Church was born.

Even with promotion limited to announcements in Brook Hills church services, 1,000 local churchgoers showed up on the first Friday night. It was successful enough that they decided to do another one several months later. This time a couple thousand people showed up to hear a survey of the New Testament. Several months later the church’s massive auditorium couldn’t hold the turnout to hear 6-hours of teaching on how to study the Bible.

Unlike many of the mega-church scenes on television, the production was sparse. No arena concert-level production. No quasi-motivational speaker spouting feel-good platitudes. Just six hours of intense Bible study and prayer. The whole scene seemed to buck every nugget of prevailing wisdom on how to get busy, entertainment-saturated Americans to show up to church. And yet within months they were talking about whether or not to rent out an arena for the next event.

“We were excited, but concerned,” recalls Angelia Stewart, who was around Secret Church from the beginning and now works for Radical, David Platt’s resource ministry. “What will we do? We had to start selling tickets because people began to travel in from around the country and we wanted to make sure they had a place to sit and a study guide. The costs began to be burdensome on the church because we were printing thousands of study guides, so we charged just enough to cover the costs. It got to the point that tickets would sell out in a matter of minutes.”

Secret Church organizers realized that at some point there would not be a room big enough to hold everyone who wanted to attend, so rather than even attempting to find a larger venue, they opted instead to simulcast the event online.

“When persecuted Christians in other parts of the world come together, it’s a smaller setting. We wanted to maintain that intimacy,” Stewart said. “We thought, ‘How could this best serve the church?’ And simulcasts came up.”

They approached LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, about helping them launch a simulcast. The company quickly agreed. The first Secret Church simulcast took place in 2012 and an astonishing 35,000 people signed up to view it.

In April of 2014, the fourteenth edition of Secret Church included 60,090 participants. At least one church in every state hosted a simulcast and churches in 81 foreign countries participated as well.

Every Secret Church has been recorded and translated into 12 different foreign languages that encompass approximately 70 percent of all speakers on the planet, accomplishing another one of the organizers’ goals — to give seminary-level teaching to Christians all over the world, especially those in countries where they are persecuted.

“Knowing the Word and knowing our persecuted brothers and sisters, and serving both for the glory of Christ… Secret Church tries to bring those two together,” said Platt.

And stories have come in from all over the world about the impact the events are having.

“A couple of American girls were serving in Asia and were able to form relationships with friends there and ultimately led them to Christ,” said Stewart. “The first place they turned to for teaching was our website where the Secret Church resources had been translated into Mandarin. They began sharing the Gospel with their friends and meeting regularly. Then they got to the Secret Church teaching on The Body of Christ — the church — and realized, ‘Hey, we’re a church!’ So a new church was born. When you hear stories like that, you know it’s all worth it. Now people are able to come and get resources and have secret churches on their own.”

On April 24 of this year, the fifteenth edition of Secret Church will be held at the Church at Brook Hills, in churches around the United States, and in just about every corner of the globe.


To learn more about Secret Church or to host a simulcast, head over to the Secret Church website.

(Video below: David Platt discusses Secret Church)


2 hours ago

Tuberville on China, coronavirus: ‘We’ve got to worry about Alabama and this country’ right now

Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville is taking a different stance on China than his Republican primary runoff competitor, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In an appearance on Talk 99.5’s “Matt and Aunie Show” Thursday morning, Tuberville was asked about what he thought was happening with China.

He responded, “Well, we can’t worry about China right now. We’ve gotta worry about Alabama and this country.”

Experts agree that the novel coronavirus originated somewhere around the city of Wuhan in China, and the country spent several weeks trying to obscure the extent of the outbreak. There have since been significant indications that the death toll in China is higher than the country is publicly reporting.

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Sessions has called for an extensive investigation into the communist government that runs China, and blasted the current leadership there, calling it an “evil regime.”

“You know, I hear about all these people hollering for investigations and we always investigate,” commented Tuberville on Thursday, before later adding, “[Congressional committees] investigate and nothing ever comes of it, so right now we’ve gotta worry about this country. ‘Cause right now we’re in trouble.”

In tweets responding to the Tuberville interview, Sessions said, “China’s where the virus is from, and their deliberate lies hid the danger & resulted in a pandemic that never should’ve happened! We must take on China NOW and WIN, not run scared like Tommy Tuberville!”

Later in the interview, Tuberville praised President Donald Trump’s efforts to shift the United States’ economic relationship to China.

“They’re gonna be knocked to their knees, and they should be,” the former coach said.

Paul Shashy, Tuberville’s campaign manager, said in a statement to Yellowhammer News, “If Jeff Sessions was too afraid to stand up to Robert Mueller, how can we ever expect him to stand up to China? Like President Trump, Coach Tuberville believes we should focus all of our resources on ending the Coronavirus pandemic, fixing our economy, and helping the Alabamians who need help now. Once that’s done, he’ll stand with the president to hold the Chinese fully accountable, unlike Jeff Sessions, who voted with Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to reward China with permanent trade status.”

Tuberville and Sessions will face each other at the ballot box on July 14 in the Republican primary runoff.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Ivey issues ‘stay-at-home’ order for the state of Alabama effective Saturday afternoon

MONTGOMERY – Governor Kay Ivey has issued a “stay-at-home” order for the state of Alabama as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and deaths continue to rise.

The order is effective beginning Saturday, April 4, at 5:00 p.m. and will expire Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. CT.

Exceptions apply for essential activities and businesses.

The order can be read here.

An updated supplemental State of Emergency can be read here.

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Ivey made the announcement at a press conference Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT alongside State Health Officer Scott Harris, Attorney General Steve Marshall and the Reverend Cromwell A. Handy of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Reporters were able to attend and ask questions live afterwards while following social distancing guidelines.

In a statement, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said he supports the stay-at-home order.

“I agree with Gov. Ivey’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order throughout Alabama, and though many may find it inconvenient, her action is the best method of combatting and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our cities, towns, and communities,” he said.

“Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so at this critical time, the best way we can stand together is by staying apart,” Ainsworth concluded.

Ainsworth’s full statement can be read here.

Ivey said in her remarks that it became obvious to her Thursday afternoon that more must be done to flatten the curve.

The governor advised she was “convinced our previous efforts to reduce social interaction [had not been enough].”

“That’s why we are taking this more drastic step,” she added.

Ivey cited the jump in confirmed cases the state experienced Thursday, along with location data made available by news outlets, as sources of information she found relevant in making her decision.

“April stands to be very tough, and potentially very deadly,” warned Ivey.

The governor said that Alabama should expect a surge in hospitalizations that she estimates will peak in 2-3 weeks.

Harris noted the the models projecting caseload change every day.

Marshall said that intentionally violating the new order is a class-c misdemeanor.

Marshall urged law enforcement officers around the state to practice restraint in enforcing the order, only using criminal action if someone was endangering others.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Alabama’s budgets will face real issues post-coronavirus

Every American is fixated on the current coronavirus pandemic. It dominates local and national news, daily talk radio and Alabama’s major newspapers three days a week.

The Alabama political press is busy using this to accuse Governor Kay Ivey of wanting Alabamians to die because she hasn’t issued a “shelter-in-place” order. To their credit, usually, it’s Alabama’s budget cuts, low taxes, taxes on food, failure to expand Medicaid or abortion bans that are being used as an implement of murder by their target of the day, so give them credit for creativity.

If we as a state look past this healthcare issue and look at the damage it is already doing to the state’s economy, we will see a bunch of major issues on the horizon.

When State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) appeared on WVNN Friday morning, he talked about budgeting issues that will definitely be of major concern when the state is back open for business and the legislature resumes its budgeting process.

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Orr, who has chaired both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund committees, said that the next legislative session will be a hard one with hard fiscal choices.

Planned pay raises for teachers and other state employees are gone. Orr noted that the budgets that are passed will be “level-funding” — or close to it — and hard choices will have to be made.

But that “pain” may be short-term, not that the reverberation of the coronavirus pandemic won’t last for years. There could be long-term issues as well.

The Retirement System of Alabama has long been a hot-button in this state.

Orr sounded the alarm on the viability of the system, saying, “The RSA is among, if not the most, highly exposed defined benefit, public defined benefit plan in the country to equities or to the stock market.”

He noted, “When the stock market has tanked 30 plus percent, RSA feels a much larger hit than other retirement funds. It’s going to be a concern.”

My takeaway:

With a defined benefit payout and few opportunities to increase revenue. the actuarial tables will take a beating as the stock market slides.

Most expect the market to rebound eventually, but Orr has been talking about the RSA’s vulnerabilities for years. And this will not help.

Even if you aren’t a beneficiary of the Retirement System of Alabama, you will still feel the impact if its finances continue to head south. Orr warned of a stark reality where “taxpayers will be ending up having to pay more for retirement for all the government employees.”

Obviously, no one is thinking about this right now, but we will be revisiting this in the very near future and the impact of this could go on for a very long time.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

4 hours ago

Survey: 50% of small businesses cannot survive more than two months of coronavirus restrictions

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Center on Friday released its latest survey detailing the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on small businesses across the country.

The survey was conducted March 30 and utilized a random sampling of the organization’s 300,000 members. This garnered 1,172 usable responses, all small employers with 1-465 employees.

Unfortunately — but also unsurprisingly, the survey showed continued overall deterioration in the small business sector since the NFIB’s previous similar survey, which was conducted on March 20. A release from NFIB on Friday stated, “The severity of the outbreak and regulatory measures that cities and states are taking to control it are having a devastating impact on small businesses.”

In the latest survey, 92% of small employers said they are negatively impacted by the pandemic, up from 76% saying the same just 10 days prior.

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The latest survey also showed 3% of small employees answering that they are positively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. NFIB explained that these select firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods and services. That effect will likely wane in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels, NFIB added.

State-specific survey data was unavailable, but NFIB Alabama State Director Rosemary Elebash said in a statement, “Without a doubt, the coronavirus has taken a tremendous toll on Alabama’s small businesses. Our members are determined to get through this, and they’re working to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans and other forms of financial relief so they can avoid layoffs and having to close the doors for good.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) noted, “We have organized an Emergency Small Business Task Force to identify problems our businesses are facing during this difficult time. We need to bring clarity to issues and government orders that are often confusing and to effectively communicate solutions and direct business owners to resources that can help. NFIB is an indispensable member helping to guide this task force.”

RELATED: State Rep. Whitt on coronavirus restrictions: ‘Our small businesses are getting destroyed’

Among negatively impacted small employers in the NFIB survey, 80% reported slower sales, 31% reported experiencing supply chain disruptions and 23% reported concerns over sick employees.

One other major point in the survey pertained to how long can small businesses can continue to operate under current conditions.

With the pandemic projected to continue for weeks, it is especially concerning that approximately half of small employers said they can survive for no more than two months. About 15% of small employers responded that they cannot last even another month.

Mitigation is ongoing, however. Due to escalating financial stress on the sector, more small businesses are now talking with their bank about financing needs than was the case 10 days ago. Approximately 29% of small employers have talked with someone at their bank or with the Small Business Administration (SBA) about finance options, and another 23% are planning to do so soon. A total of 38% of small employers have not, and do not, intend to do so, per NFIB’s survey.

Read the full survey here.

RELATED: University of Alabama program helps connect small businesses with federal relief funds

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Alabama automakers lend a helping hand in COVID-19 battle

Alabama automakers are stepping in to aid their communities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including support of crucial testing services and production of protective face shields for healthcare workers.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

In addition, the plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals, along with $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

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“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement today.

Similar efforts are also happening at Toyota facilities nationwide.

Other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand community testing efforts.

The grant will support the existing drive-through testing site in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening, said UAB Medicine CEO Will Ferniany.

“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” he said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Nationwide, Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer, and the company said the pandemic is a particular risk to children with cancer who have compromised immune systems.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled amid the outbreak, as have other auto assembly plants in the state.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are also helping out during the crisis, including its factory in Talladega County.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Plants also are donating equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers, deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

In Tuscaloosa County, the Mercedes-Benz plant has donated N100 reusable filters,  protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is also working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

The automaker also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)