COMMENTARY | Josh Monda

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-4 tornado that devastated parts of Washington, Ill. Brookport, New Minden, Diamond, Coal City and Pekin were among the other Illinois communities affected by powerful storms on Nov. 17, 2013.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-4 tornado that devastated parts of Washington, Ill. Brookport, New Minden, Diamond, Coal City and Pekin were among the other Illinois communities affected by powerful storms on Nov. 17, 2013.

Humanitarian effort void of the gospel of Jesus Christ does nothing to change one’s eternal destiny. Moments after making this statement during a sermon, a tornado would rip through our town, passing a quarter mile from our church.

The day of the tornado was not without trouble, even before the storm came through Washington. A month before, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The day before the tornado, my 14-year-old daughter laid on my living room floor near death, and that evening was in the hospital.

Taking a full load in seminary, and trying to balance all that was going on in my life, I gathered our two young sons that Sunday morning and got them ready for church. The rest, as they say, is history. An EF-4 tornado hit our town as my congregation took shelter in the church basement.

It would have been easy then (and now) to focus on all that changed that day, or how everything after November 17 would be different than before. Indeed, a lot is different, even a year after the storm. Members of my church, deacons in my church, lost their homes. One of our deacons moved away, and for a small church, this is difficult.

Change has touched my family too. My daughter eventually recovered from the infection that put her in the hospital, but my father-in-law passed away before the tornado.

Not every change has been negative: After the storm, people seem more in tune to the needs of others, and thoughts about possessions have changed.

But my focus, and our church’s focus, is on something that will never change: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was not by mistake that I would make the statement about humanitarian effort and the gospel moments before the tornado hit. Our focus has to be on the gospel.

When people are hurting, our focus must be the gospel.

When people are suffering, our focus must be the gospel.

When people know not where to turn, our focus is the gospel.

A tornado can change our circumstances, it can even change where we live. But a tornado will not transfer someone from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light; only the gospel does this.

As a people, as a church, we can allow a tornado to either drive us to what truly makes a difference, or distract us from it. May our focus be on what makes a difference; may our focus be on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Josh Monda is pastor of First Baptist Church in Washington.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

At the Vatican’s Humanum Colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage—happening this week—Pope Francis affirmed marriage as providing “unique, natural, and fundamental good for families, humanity, and societies,” according to a report by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

“Pope Francis made clear that male/female complementarity is essential to marriage, and that this cannot be redefined by ideology or by the state,” said ERLC Executive Director Russell Moore, who is in Vatican City for the gathering of 300 religious leaders.

The_Briefing“I am glad to hear such a strong statement on this, and on how an eclipse of marriage hurts the poor and the vulnerable.”


Construction on the Washington D.C. Museum of the Bible is set to start by Dec. 1, reports Baptist Press. The museum will house the world’s largest private collection of biblical artifacts, owned by the Green family, who also own Hobby Lobby stores.

“We want to invite all people to engage with this book,” said museum board chairman Steve Green. “We think education is the first goal, for people to realize how this book has impacted their lives, and then consider the principles and apply them to their own lives because of the benefits that it brings.”

The eight-story museum, three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, is set to open in 2017.


Memphis pastor Michael Ellis was unanimously elected the first African American president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention during the convention’s annual meeting last week. “I just happen to be an African American,” said the pastor of Impact Baptist Church, who ran unopposed. “Race doesn’t matter,” Ellis told The Baptist & Reflector. “That’s what I love about our convention.”


With a sermon clocking in at 53 hours and 18 minutes, Pastor Zach Zehnder of Florida broke the Guinness world record for Longest Speech Marathon, The Christian Post reports. Zehnder’s message, preached from Friday to Sunday, raised money for a non-profit dedicated to drug and alcohol-addiction recovery.

The goal of the marathon message, he said, “was to talk about God’s ridiculous commitment to his people.”


One in every 30 U.S. children experienced homelessness last year, according to a report by the National Center on Family Homelessness. “America’s Youngest Outcasts” outlines the prevalence of the problem in every state and ranks them from best to worst. Illinois is in the middle at #25.


Baptists in Illinois joined in a “Concert of Prayer” at their Annual Meeting Nov. 5-6 in Springfield. Read a full report here.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Women worship at the Ministers’ Wives’ Conference, held each year during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference.

Women worship at the Ministers’ Wives’ Conference, held each year during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference.

Ministers’ wives face a lot of expectations—from themselves and from other people. Often, those expectations are too high, said Sue Jones during IBSA’s annual Ministers’ Wives’ Conference and luncheon.

“As we confront expectation, as we confront worry, what we need to do is to remember the truth that God has for us,” said Jones, who has been married to her husband, Clif, for 34 years—30 of those in ministry. “That He will never leave us or forsake us, that He who has called us will complete the work in us.

“Am I there yet? Oh my goodness, no.”

God’s sovereignty was the theme of this year’s conference, held during the IBSA Pastors’ Conference Nov. 5. Jones, a native Southerner, entertained her audience with stories about her family and frank life advice, which she said may some day make it into a book about common sense living. She talked about her worries, and asked women to call out their own: money, children, church, husbands, not saying the right thing.

Jones urged minister’s wives to believe rightly by “taking every thought captive,” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:5. How do we live transformed lives, she asked. God led her to try to memorize John 1. She didn’t want to, Jones admitted; in fact, once she got to verse 11, she felt like that was probably enough. But the words have helped her ward against worry.

Sue Jones from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur shared about living a life transformed by a reliance on God’s Word.

Sue Jones from Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur shared about living a life transformed by a reliance on God’s Word.

“When I lay down at night and those thoughts come to my mind, I say, ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God…” said Jones, quoting the passage.

“And as I begin to pray John 1:1-11, I find peace. He is God. All things were made by him. He is light and life. I am dearly loved. I am the apple of his eye. There is nothing in my life, there is no hurt, there is no person, and there is no worry that is beyond the scope of the God of the universe. And I begin to discover rest.”

Libby Morecraft from First Baptist Church, Harrisburg, led in worship during the conference, and current officers Judy Taylor and Lindsay McDonald shared encouraging words about missions and marriage. IBSA’s Carmen Halsey spoke about upcoming women’s ministry opportunities, and encouraged the audience about the position they have.

“Yes, it’s different,” Halsey said. “Yes, there are some hardships that come with it. But it’s really a glory moment, too, that God trusted you to do something unique and put you out in front.” She encouraged women to “be the vessel” through which God works.

Ministers’ Wives’ Conference officers for 2015 are: president, Judy Taylor, Dorrisville Baptist Church, Harrisburg; vice president, Lindsay McDonald, First Baptist Church, Casey; and secretary-treasurer, Sue Jones, Tabernacle Baptist Church, Decatur.

The 2015 Ministers’ Wives’ Conference and Luncheon will be held Nov. 11 in Marion.

COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

As the crowd thinned and the reception neared an end, one voice could be heard from a table near the chocolate fountain: “Come over here and take my picture so I can go home.”

Thurman Stewart was kidding; he wasn’t looking for press, just laughs. Surrounded by other volunteers in yellow hats and shirts, he and his wife, Carol, marked the end of another day watching kids while their parents attended the IBSA Annual Meeting.

The Stewarts are part of a group of Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers who provide free childcare every year. Several of them also travel in the summer to the national Southern Baptist Convention to serve families there. And they have a mobile Disaster Relief childcare unit, so they can help kids and parents in crisis across the country.

At the Crowne Plaza in Springfield, their classrooms were stationed on the third floor, one level above the ballroom where the business meeting took place. Downstairs, messengers to the 2014 Annual Meeting adopted several resolutions, including one on including younger leaders in church and denominational life. Among several “resolved” statements, the document encouraged IBSA churches to pray for, identify and train young leaders, “and to release joyfully
young leaders into ministry.”

Callout_1113_edited-1But when they’re released, what kinds of ministries will these young leaders be looking for? Certainly, some will be pastors. Some will serve on committees and trustee boards. Some will lead mission teams to the other side of the world. And some, hopefully, will join the Stewarts’ ranks on the third floor. Or look for similarly vital roles that happen behind the scenes.

George Jones sang, “Who’s gonna fill their shoes,” about country music legends who are hard to replace. No one’s ever going to be like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash, Jones sings. But who’s next? “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?” he asks in the chorus.

The Stewarts and their fellow volunteers are the Illinois Baptist version of those country music superstars. Giving their hearts to work that isn’t front and center, ministering to kids and families and underserved communities. Perhaps young leaders can make the greatest contribution to church and denominational life by emulating the example set by the Stewarts and so many others.

Theirs are big shoes to fill.

Pray-ers lined "wailing walls" inside the Springfield Crowne Plaza during the "lament" phase of the Concert of Prayer.

Pray-ers lined “wailing walls” inside the Springfield Crowne Plaza during the “lament” phase of the Isaiah 6 prayer cycle.

NEWS | Eric Reed and Meredith Flynn

Messengers to the 108th Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association Nov. 5-6 pled for spiritual awakening and revival, highlighted in a Concert of Prayer based on Isaiah 6.

Vocal quintet Veritas led in worship during the service, and attenders were led to pray through a four-phase cycle: lament, repent, intercede, and commit.

“I believe we need to cry out to God for spiritual awakening and for revival in our churches,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams as he opened the Concert of Prayer. He asked attenders to lament the decline of our culture.

Adams invited the people to move to the walls of the room and use them as a sort of “wailing wall,” not unlike the famous one in Jerusalem where Jews pray. Soon a chorus of voices and some sniffles filled the space.

“I’ve never been to the Wailing Wall, but knowing the purpose of the wailing wall and what it represents just kind of got me,” said Rick Dorsey, pastor of Beacon Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago Heights.

Veritas, a group started in part by "Truth" founder Roger Breland, led in worship during the Concert of Prayer.

Veritas, a group started in part by “Truth” founder Roger Breland, led in worship during the Concert of Prayer.

“It hit me in the gut. And just made me lament that we are still struggling to reach a lost world and not doing everything that He needs us to do, that we need to do in order to reach this lost world.”

After a season of personal repentance, attenders formed small groups and began interceding for lost people they know personally.

“‘Spiritually refreshing’ is the only way I can describe the wonderful Concert of Prayer we experienced Wednesday night,” Adams said later. “Dozens and dozens of folks came to me afterward and told me how very much they needed it. In fact, many described it as the best thing they’ve ever experienced at an Annual Meeting.”

The messages of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference, which precedes the Annual Meeting, and the IBSA President’s message resonated with the prayers:

“The world is at its darkest, it’s a mess—in America, and sure enough in Illinois,” declared Marvin Parker, pastor of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church. “Darkness is covering our state, with same-sex marriage and more. It’s messing with the fabric of the family.”

“If we’re going to push back the darkness in Illinois and in our nation, we’re going to have to get desperate,” IBSA President Odis Weaver said. “If we’re going to push back the darkness, we have to ask the question, How desperate is my church for spiritual awakening? How hungry are our hearts?” And in phrase repeated by others several times, Weaver said, “We will either hunger for God’s righteousness out of desperation or…out of devastation.”

Church planting urgency
With prayer permeating the Annual Meeting and the Pastors’ Conference that preceded it, messengers also voted on officers for the coming year, welcomed new churches affiliating with IBSA, and heard reports from IBSA entities.

In his report, IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams shared encouraging news about the ministry of Illinois Baptist churches, including four new campus ministries begun this year, 260 congregations now registered as Acts 1:8 churches, and 140 pastors and leaders engaged in leadership development processes.

Adams also pointed out areas in need of growth. Through August of this year, IBSA has helped start 16 new churches, down from 24 last year, he reported. “We are not satisfied with that level of church planting in Illinois, and it will not allow us to significantly impact the desperate need of the lost of Illinois for relevant new Baptist churches that can deliver the Gospel in their context,” he said.

Citing the need for more church planters and more church planting sponsor churches, Adams urged, “Together, we must ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field, particularly in the area of the church planting in Illinois.”

Messengers approved six resolutions brought by the IBSA Resolutions and Christian Life Committee: affirming the Bible’s authority; encouraging prayer for elected officials; repenting of sinful choices related to media consumption; including younger leaders in denominational life; encouraging prayer for the Palestinian Church; and affirming the resolution on transgender identity approved by messengers to the national Southern Baptist Convention in June 2014.

An additional resolution on Common Core education standards was referred back to the committee for further study and revision.

Amendments postponed
Leading up to the Annual Meeting, the IBSA Constitution Committee was prepared to ask messengers to suspend the rules of the IBSA Constitution—bypassing the usual two-year process

needed for revision—so that the IBSA Constitution could allow for the Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services to have its own bylaws, in compliance with Illinois not-for-profit law.

“Upon further examination, however,” Adams told the Illinois Baptist, “the Committee came to believe that it would not be proper parliamentary procedure to apply the ‘suspending of the rules’ action that Robert’s Rules of Order allows to the Constitution itself.

“Rather than go against the IBSA Constitution’s requirement for two readings at separate meetings, then, they decided that approval of separate Children’s Home bylaws and revision of their articles of incorporation at the IBSA Annual Meeting would allow for legal compliance, and that a first reading of the proposed revisions to the IBSA Constitution would be sufficient.”

Messengers at the Annual Meeting unanimously approved the new bylaws and articles of incorporation for BCHFS. “If the IBSA Constitution is amended at the second reading next year, all the necessary documents will have been revised,” Adams said.

Budgets from IBSA, Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services and Baptist Foundation of Illinois were approved during the business session. IBSA’s Cooperative Program goal for 2015 is $6.4 million, 43.25% of which goes to national and international SBC missions causes, while 56.75% stays in the state to support Illinois missions and ministry.

The association’s four current officers were each re-elected by acclamation: Weaver, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, Plainfield, as president; Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church, as vice president; Melissa Carruthers, member of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church, Jacksonville, as recording secretary; and Patty Hulskotter, member of Living Faith Baptist Church, Sherman, as assistant recording secretary.

At the start of the Wednesday evening session, messengers welcomed seven new churches affiliating with the association. IBSA’s Credentials Committee also recommended during its report that the association disaffiliate with seven churches that have been non-cooperating for eight or nine years.

Through the annual Ministers’ Relief Offering, taken during the Annual Meeting for pastors facing unexpected transitions, attenders gave $1,651.

The 2015 IBSA Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference is scheduled for November 10-12 at First Baptist Church, Marion.

The_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

A new Barna study explores what kinds of worship spaces are most attractive to Millennials, and what words describe their ideal church. Not surprisingly, not every answer matches up: 77% chose “sanctuary” compared to 23% who answered “auditorium.” And 67% of Millennials chose “classic” over “trendy” to describe their idea church. But modern and casual also won out over traditional and dignified.

Barna points out this “cognitive dissonance” evident in the survey: “Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”


After the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals became the first such court to uphold states’ rights to ban same-sex marriage, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said it’s now up to the Supreme Court to take up the issue, The Christian Post reported.


From ChristianityToday.com: “The Pakistani state has to act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said after a Christian couple was beaten and burned to death one week ago. A mob attacked Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi, who was five months pregnant, over accusations that Bibi had burned the Qur’an.


Christian Kenneth Bae returned to the U.S. over the weekend after two years of imprisonment in North Korea, CNN reported. “Kenneth has been in God’s care all this time, and we are thankful that he brought him home,” Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, told reporters. “He only has the best wishes and intentions for that country, still.”


The organizers of International Day of the Bible are calling for people around the world to read Scripture out loud at noon on November 24.


Baptist Press reports Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has finalized the purchase of its new, larger campus in Southern California and is on schedule to relocate its main campus from the Bay Area by June of 2016. The seminary will request a name change—to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention—during the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio.


International Mission Board President David Platt launched his new podcast series, Radical Together, on Nov. 3. “Every 2 weeks, 30 minutes of Word to exhort you to pray, give, & go however God leads in the world,” he tweeted.


Things are looking up for church giving, according to survey by LifeWay Research. More than half of the Protestant churches surveyed reported still feeling the negative impact of the economy, but two-thirds are meeting or exceeding their budgets for 2014. And 74% report offerings at or above 2013 levels.

Nate_Adams_1110HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently the city council in Seattle, Washington, voted unanimously to change their designation of the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. “Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington,” said one Indian nation president during the council meeting. And so, at least on one day in October, the city of Seattle will go its own way.

And yet, Seattle is not alone. The Minneapolis, Minnesota, city council passed a similar measure earlier this year. In Hawaii, they now celebrate “Discoverers’ Day” instead of Columbus Day, while in South Dakota it’s now “Native Americans Day.”

As much as I appreciate our nation’s Native American heritage, actions like these seem to me to denote a troublesome attitude or mindset, and yet one that I’m noticing more and more, even in Baptist life. It’s a mindset that says, “We’re mainly interested in what’s relevant and valuable to us here at home, and less interested in the bigger picture of what others are doing.”

In a way, it’s a mindset that’s compatible with the deeply held Baptist belief in autonomy. “No one outside our church is going to tell us what to do!” Yet at the same time it’s a mindset that tugs against the very spirit of unity and cooperation that have always been the hallmarks and strength of Baptist churches.

The way I see it expressed more these days is through practices such as designated rather than cooperative giving, or ecumenical rather than denominational partnerships. For example, one large Baptist church in the south that used to give more than $1 million through the Cooperative Program recently shifted more than 90% of that directly to their preference, international missions. And I see Baptist churches of all sizes occasionally doing missions or benevolence projects with partners whose doctrinal positions I daresay they have not examined.

Some of this is people just naturally doing what they want, or supporting what they find most compelling. But in those individual choices or preferences, there are often also great losses. When we each do what we prefer locally, we diminish what we can all accomplish collectively.

As we come to the close of another year here in Illinois, and perhaps finalize our church budgets, I would encourage us to do more pulling together and less pulling apart. There is already great individuality and diversity among our churches. And yet it is our unity around Baptist doctrine and cooperative missions that pulls us together, and allows us to accomplish together things that no individual church could do on its own.

Recently I’ve been invited to a number of churches to share, usually in a combined adult Sunday school class, how and why “cooperative missions” works, and then to preach in the morning worship service. Each time I do, there are older adults who come and say something like, “That’s why I’ve been Southern Baptist all my life.” And there are younger adults, many of whom didn’t grow up in a Baptist church or receive any childhood missions education, who say, “You know, I don’t think I really understood how we work together with other churches, but that really makes sense.”

In other words, our churches are already full of indigenous peoples, who naturally go their own ways. Our responsibility as autonomous but cooperating Baptist churches is to pull people together around the Word of God and the Mission of God.

Columbus wasn’t the first or only discoverer of America, and he wasn’t perfect. But when we celebrate in his name, we pull together as a nation, and we affirm the spirit of adventure and discovery. Likewise we should enthusiastically pull together as Baptists, around the name of Jesus Christ, and in support of the wonderful adventure we share, establishing His Kingdom in a new world.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.