Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

Students at Youth Encounter 2014 huddle for prayer after a main session of the annual evangelism conference. Photo by Brooke Kicklighter

HEARTLAND | Youth Encounter, the annual evangelism conference for junior high and high school students sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association, has a new look in 2015. Instead of one location, it’s in three. And the traditional post-Christmas date has been moved to October 11.

Changing patterns in youth culture and a decreasing number of attenders in recent years necessitated a re-launch of the Youth Encounter strategy, said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team. Noting the event’s rich heritage among Illinois Baptists, he said, “We are working to allow more students to have access to this event, while at the same time renewing its evangelistic purpose.

“Youth Encounter is more than just a concert; it is an event where pastors and student leaders can bring lost students to hear the gospel presented with the opportunity to respond to Christ. Not only are we praying that more churches will be involved with Youth Encounter this year, we are praying that hundreds of students will give their lives to Jesus.”

YE 2015 will take place in three cities: Country Club Hills in Chicagoland, Decatur and Mt. Vernon. The conferences share a purpose—inspiring students toward deeper devotion to Christ—but will welcome different speakers and musical guests:

North | Hillcrest Baptist, Country Club Hills
Hip-hop artist and St. Louis native FLAME will return to Youth Encounter after making his YE debut in 2014. Joining him at the Chicagoland site are singer/songwriter V.Rose and performance artist Marc Eckel. IBSA pastors from the area will lead in teaching at the northern location.

Central | Tabernacle Baptist, Decatur
Evangelist Clayton King is the featured speaker in Central Illinois. Bands Seventh Time Down and Remedy Drive will lead students in worship, along with artist Andy Raines.

South | Another YE returning guest, 321 Improv, will bring their comedy act to the southern location, joined by worship artists Jordan and Jessa Anderson, Shuree Rivera and The Great Romance. Evangelist and Liberty University Senior Vice President David Nasser is the guest speaker.

Each YE conference is 3-10 p.m., with dinner included. Until October 9, the cost is $25 per participant for churches affiliated with IBSA, and $30 for all others. Cost is $30 at the door.

For more information about Youth Encounter or to register, go to

COMMENTARY | Mark Emerson

Mark_Emerson_July30We’ve barely finished summer and it’s already time to plan spring and summer mission trips for next year. But before you get out a map and some darts, consider these questions:

• Has God brought to our attention a need, area, or people group?

• Have we identified our Acts 1:8 mission fields? What, if anything, are we doing locally, in our state, North America, and the world?

• How can we develop a long-term partnership with a missionary, church plant, or people group? What can we do in Illinois?

• Does our church understand the purpose of missions involvement?

As short-term missions increase in popularity, a plethora of reasons is being offered regarding why we are going on mission trips. Don’t get lost in a side purpose; the reason we participate in short-term missions is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With that as our purpose, we now know who should join us (those currently sharing the gospel), we know how to prepare our team (teach them to share the gospel), and we know what we will be doing when we get there (sharing the gospel).

Of course, many teams use creative means to earn the right to share the gospel, but do not lose sight of your ultimate purpose. Mission trips not centered on that purpose are nothing more than spiritual tourism.

Long-haul missions
Leaders who take the approach of engaging a different area each year may find that their efforts are as temporary as their trip. Mission leaders who are willing to invest in a long-term strategy through partnering with a full-time missionary will find their effectiveness continues beyond the tenure of their trip.

As Southern Baptists, we are part of one of the largest evangelical mission forces on the planet. There are plenty of places to discover partnerships. Effective mission trips await those churches that are willing to stop organizing projects and start developing mission partnerships.

More than 24,000 members of IBSA churches participated in missions last year. IBSA helps many churches connect with missionaries and develop mission strategies each year. Contact the Church Resources Team at (217) 391-3138 to learn more.

Mark Emerson is associate executive director for IBSA’s Church Resources Team.

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Baptists will hear from two presidential hopefuls at next week’s SEND North America Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, will interview former Florida Governor Jeb Bush Aug. 4. The conference also will include a pre-recorded interview with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The_Briefing“Evangelicals are looking for leaders who not only understand their convictions about human dignity and family stability but have plans to address them,” Moore said in a press release, “and this event will provide the opportunity for precisely this kind of discussion with some of the leading presidential candidates, and I am greatly looking forward to it.”

The SEND Conference, which is hosted by the North American and International Mission Boards, is expected to see 13,000 attenders.

In its press release, the ERLC said the leading candidates from each major party were invited to participate, including Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Moore said in a July 22 blog post. The Aug. 4 conversations will be the first in a series of discussions with candidates, Moore added.

Pakistani woman’s execution temporarily stayed pending court review
The Pakistani Supreme Court said July 22 they will review the case of Aasiya Noreen, known in media reports as Asia Bibi. The mother of two (and stepmother of three other children) was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory comments about Muhammad. Read the full story from Morning Star News via Baptist Press.

San Diego’s landmark cross will stay
A veterans memorial in San Diego has been sold to a private group, effectively ending years of legal battles over its constitutionality. The Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, which includes a 43-foot cross, was purchased from the U.S. Defense Department by the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association for slightly less than $1.4 million, The Christian Post reports. The group hopes to turn it into a tourist destination on par with the San Diego Zoo.

GuideStone appeals to Supreme Court
GuideStone Financial Resources has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court against a health care mandate that would require some companies it works with to provide abortion-inducing drugs. GuideStone, a Southern Baptist entity, and the churches it represents are exempt from the mandate, Baptist Press reports. But some other religious employers are at risk, they contend, even as the federal government argues it offers an accommodation for them.

Kenyan mall reopens almost two years after terrorist attack
Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi reopened July 18, 22 months after extremist group al-Shabab staged a multi-day attack that killed 67 people and wounded 175. Katherine Walton, an International Mission Board “missionary kid” now living in Kenya with her own family, was in the mall with her children during the attack, Baptist Press reports.

“It has been and still is a difficult journey in recovery. The children have all dealt with their own issues, but on the whole have done remarkably well,” she told BP. “God has been really good to us, and we keep moving forward, learning more about ourselves and about God during recovery.”

Prayer: Keep it going

Meredith Flynn —  July 27, 2015 — 1 Comment
Chicago leaders convened a one-day prayer meeting and equipping conference in January at Lighthouse Fellowship Baptist Church in Franklin.

Chicago leaders convened a one-day prayer meeting and equipping conference in January at Lighthouse Fellowship Baptist Church in Franklin.

HEARTLAND | Phil Miglioratti

God is moving, and his Spirit is stirring people in Illinois to pray. Since the Concert of Prayer at the IBSA Annual Meeting last November, we have heard reports from many places about prayer events. To all these reports I say, keep it going.

Chicago Metro, Gateway and Lake County Associations all held prayer concerts this spring. Three Rivers Association held three concerts in a single month. And many churches have reported giving whole worship services over to prayer.

“The concert of prayer during the IBSA meeting was an inspirational, powerful worship experience and served as a catalyst to do something similar in our local church context,” said Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester FBC.

“The need to see people actively engaged in the worship and prayer experience rather than being a spectator was also a compelling factor in the concert of prayer,” he said.

Some churches have used the cycle of prayer IBSA developed from Isaiah 6: lament, repent, intercede, and commit. It is a mix of Scripture, prayer, and songs in equal measure. It’s easy to adapt an existing format or to select some Scripture and let the passage guide the movements in prayer. My approach is to develop a service that is

• Spirit-led: It’s not a performance.

• Worship-bred: Every aspect of the experience is born out of worship, especially the songs and hymns

• Scripture-fed: Even without a sermon, Scripture is foundational.

• Corporate-said: Attenders are participants, not an audience.

• Global-spread: Our prayers are for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done rather than the usual prayer list items.

After I led a prayer concert at First Baptist Church of Winthrop Harbor, deacon Kenneth Anthony commented that, of the four phases in prayer, it was the time of confession that most affected him.

“We seldom stop and actually think about our own sin,” he said. “Our church, our community, our nation needs real revival and the only way to begin it is for the people of God to admit where we are at fault. If we don’t confess our sins and return to
God, the nation never will.”

Phil Miglioratti is IBSA’s prayer coordinator.

St. Louis skylineCOMMENTARY from | Ronnie Floyd

Coming off our largest convention meeting since 2012 in New Orleans, our Southern Baptist family begins to dream and cast the vision for our next gathering in 2016 in St. Louis. More importantly than the size of our gathering in Columbus this year, our great and mighty God met with us powerfully.

Save the date: June 14-15, 2016.

Will I see you in St. Louis on June 14-15, 2016, for our Southern Baptist Convention? Please mark your calendar now for this upcoming and dynamic experience with our Southern Baptist family. Make these dates non-negotiable and decide now to be in St. Louis for our 2016 Southern Baptist Convention and bring people with you.

See the vision: Get St. Louis on your heart

Metropolitan St. Louis needs the saving message of Jesus Christ. Our nearly 2,000 Southern Baptist churches in Missouri need the encouragement of our greater Southern Baptist family.

Why should we see the vision of metro St. Louis?
-2.73 million people live in metro St. Louis
-1 out of 7 Missourians live in metro St. Louis
-50.9% of the population is unaffiliated with any religious body
-Only 17.9 percent of the population of metro St. Louis is affiliated with an evangelical church
-St. Louis is one of the North American Mission Board’s SEND focus cities. Watch this video to learn more.

Southern Baptists, how do we not go and make a difference in metro St. Louis? You see, when we speak of metro St. Louis, we are also talking about East St. Louis, Ill. Two states will be impacted by our gathering next year.

How can your church participate in Crossover St. Louis a few days ahead of our convention? They will be able to assist new church plants or help established churches. This leads up to the major Crossover event on Saturday, June 11. Then, your church members can stay and attend our convention on June 14-15. Please strongly consider this.

Stand together with us to reach the world

When you fly or drive into St. Louis, you will notice the Gateway Arch as you enter the city. It stands 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide. This remarkable structure has been known as America’s gateway to the West, with St. Louis the Gateway City.

In 2016, Southern Baptists need to converge on this city from all over the world and see it as our gateway to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Stand with us!

7 reasons to come to St. Louis on June 14-15, 2016
1. We need to be with our family, our Southern Baptist family.

2. We need to be inspired to believe again that God can awaken America spiritually and the world can be reached for Christ.

3. We need to hear the Word of God proclaimed, pray and worship together by the thousands, and have our spiritual lives set on fire again.

4. We need to hear the wonderful testimonies and reports about what God is doing across America and the world through our work together.

5. We need to hear how our churches’ financial investment in the Cooperative Program and mission offerings is being used to share the Gospel.

6. We need to be encouraged to know that when we are together and working together there is hope in America and this world.

7. We need to join together by the thousands as we pray for our nation at this critical time, calling out to God to revive His church and awaken America so we can reach the world for Christ.

Now is the time for Southern Baptists to lead. Let these words encourage your life today as you lead others into the future:

“An awakening can bring about the evangelization of the world in our generation” (American evangelist Billy Graham).

“The one who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history” (South African pastor Andrew Murray).

God is not finished with Southern Baptists, America or the world.

Ronnie Floyd is president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column, reprinted from Baptist Press, first appeared at his website,

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

The_BriefingTwo men who were shot in the July 16 attacks on Tennessee military facilities were connected to Southern Baptist churches. Lance Cpl. Skip Wells, 21, was killed by Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez at a Navy support center in Chattanooga. Three other Marines also were killed, and a Navy petty officer later died from injuries sustained in the attack.

The Sunday following the shootings, Wells’ one-time church, First Baptist of Woodstock, Ga., placed a Marine flag at the seat he occupied as a clarinetist in the church orchestra, Baptist Press reported.

In Harrison, Tenn., near Chattanooga, members of Bayside Baptist Church prayed for the families of the victims and for Dennis Pedigo, a church member and police officer injured during the attacks. Pedigo, whose name was released after this Baptist Press story was published, is expected to make a full recovery.

Former Planned Parenthood clinic director reaches out to exec caught on video
Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now has a ministry dedicated to helping abortion workers find a way out of the industry, has written an open letter to Deborah Nucatola, the subject of a video made by an anti-abortion organization in which she discusses the sale of body parts gained through abortion.

“We want you to find peace,” wrote Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas. “We want you to find true happiness. We know that won’t happen as long as you are involved in Planned Parenthood.” More from Johnson’s letter, published by LifeSiteNews, can be read at, with this warning: The letter contains some graphic details that are difficult to read.

Christian colleges could hire staff in same-sex marriages
Two Christian colleges have added “sexual orientation” to their non-discrimination policies, said Christianity Today, meaning they could hire faculty and staff members who are in same-sex marriages. Both schools–Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., are affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA, which voted in July to reaffirm same-sex marriage as a sin, but also to allow churches to perform same-sex marriages if their regional conferences allow it.

GuideStone loses case against health care mandate
“Today was a setback. It is not the final outcome,” said GuideStone Financial Services President O.S. Hawkins after a federal appeals court ruled it must comply with a mandate requiring employers to cover the cost of contraceptives–including some that can potentially cause abortions. GuideStone, the Southern Baptist entity responsible for health and financial benefits, is considering an appeal of the ruling, according to a statement on the organization’s website.

Americans rooted in their communities, Barna finds
59% of Americans aren’t sure they’ll move from the place they currently live, or never plan to, according to a Barna survey on why people put down roots in a particular place. Among the findings: The largest share of Americans–45%–describe their community as suburban, and 24% currently live in the city or town where they were born. Among those who don’t, family ranked as the most popular reason they moved to their current location.

Churches, institutions prepare for fallout from marriage decision

NEWS | From the Illinois Baptist

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, leaders of churches and Christian institutions are asking several key questions: Is the threat to religious liberty as real as we imagined? And will our insurance cover the costs if our churches and schools are sued?

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide flipped the final switch on a new marriage culture many observers believed was a foregone conclusion. In the days and weeks following the announcement, Christian leaders urged churches and ministries to evaluate their policies to determine if they will be adequately protected against potential infringements on religious liberty.

“For a few years now, leading up to the time ‘same-sex marriage’ became legal in Illinois, IBSA has been seeking to inform and resource churches regarding steps they can take to protect their freedoms of speech and religious exercise,” IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said immediately following the Court’s decision.

“In light of this latest Supreme Court ruling, we would again urge churches to be vigilant in pursuing the recommended steps
in their constitutions and policy manuals to help protect those freedoms. On this issue, as on others before it, the local church and churches banding together in unity and cooperation are likely to be the primary opponents of laws that threaten religious freedom.”

New research from Barna indicates 56% of Americans are concerned that religious freedom will be more restricted in the next five years, with adults over age 40 more likely to say so than those under 40.

The numbers soar when Christians answer the question: 77% of practicing Christians and 93% of evangelicals are concerned about religious freedom over the next five years.

Those polled by Barna were more likely to protect the rights of churches than those of businesses: 38% of U.S. adults say businesses should have to provide services for same-sex weddings, while only 19% say religious institutions should be legally required to perform same-sex weddings.

But some, including Illinois pastor Danny Holliday, say churches could be in danger. “I think some churches are going to end up having to close because of the Human Rights Act and the building usage issue,” Holliday, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Alton, told the Illinois Baptist.

(Illinois’ Human Rights Act protects individuals from discrimination based on classifications like race, gender, and sexual orientation. It was used by Chick-Fil-A opponents in 2012 to file complaints against the company after President Dan Cathy vocalized the business’ views on marriage and family.)

Prior to the Supreme Court decision, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission released “Protecting Your Ministry,” a booklet for churches, schools, and businesses. The guide, available for free at, provides checklists for navigating the new marriage culture (and avoiding lawsuits).

If churches do face lawsuits resulting from their refusal to perform same-sex weddings, said Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company attorney Joshua Lederman, the claim would most likely be “emotional injury as a result of improper discrimination.”

While some insurance companies only cover emotional injury claims caused by physical injury, said Lederman, Brotherhood
Mutual offers a Religious Freedom Liability Coverage endorsement that covers “alleged discriminatory acts, religious communication, challenges to your ministry’s tax exempt status, reimbursement for declaratory judgment actions that your ministry initiates in order to protect its right to pursue a belief-based decision or practice, and liability defense reimbursement coverage.”

Churches aren’t the only institutions potentially affected by the ruling: Oral arguments heard by the Court in April touched on
concerns for schools, specifically related to whether they could lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex unions.

A few weeks after the Court’s ruling, two Christian colleges, Hope College in Holland, Mich., and Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., announced they would extend benefits to same-sex spouses of employees. But Shapri LoMaglio, a representative for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, told Baptist Press that as long as Christian colleges and universities “ensure that all of their policies are clearly tied to their religious beliefs,” the threats of losing tax-exempt status and being held liable for discrimination aren’t immediate.

While nothing will change for most Christian organizations in the short term, said David Dockery, president of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., schools like his and other institutions could face challenges in the areas of hiring, financial aid and accrediting.

“It is also possible that the ‘free exercise of religion’ as defined by the First Amendment and echoed in the Civil Rights Acts of
the 1960s could be reduced to a more narrow understanding of ‘freedom of worship,’ thus applicable only for the ‘heart, the home, and the pew,’” Dockery told the Illinois Baptist. “As Chief Justice Roberts suggested in his minority expression, this could have implications for religious expressions in education, publishing, social services, or other spheres.”

That’s why a holistic understanding of religious liberty—one that harkens back to Baptist leaders in the 18th century—is important, Dockery said.

“We want Mormon schools to be able to hire only Mormons if they choose to do so. We want Buddhists to be able to hire only Buddhists if they choose to do so. We want Muslims to be able to only hire Muslims if they choose to do so.”

Following the Court’s ruling, Dockery advised a “wise, careful, and prudent” approach for Christians in the days ahead.

“At this point it is important for Christians to carry out their callings in a faithful and joyful manner, seeking to be kind and civil in all of our responses with all people, even as we seek to remain convictional about the teaching of Scripture and the pattern of Christian truth.”

Read the July 20 issue of the Illinois Baptist newspaper online at