By Meredith Flynn

Of all the buzz words floating around churches over the past decade, “community” might be the buzziest. Biblical community is something many churches aspire to now. It can take the shape of small group meetings, monthly dinner gatherings, or a simple encouragement to show hospitality. “Community” can also be used to describe in general the way we want to feel about church. We want community. The Bible tells us we need community. Right?

What about the family who struggles to make it to small group during the week? Or the newcomer who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing personal details with relative strangers. And are “older” forms of community—like Sunday school classes—still a valid expression of the concept?

I’ve felt those tensions in my own life and family. As a single adult, community wasn’t difficult. An evening meeting with people in the same stage of life was a welcome break in the middle of the week. But as a married mother of two preschoolers, it’s often difficult for us to get out of the house on a weeknight, and even harder to arrive in an attitude befitting community as we’ve come to understand it.

Is it a command for all Christians, or just people who are wired for it?

Our current situation begs the question: What is the value of community with fellow Christians, even when a particular set of circumstances or stage of life makes it challenging?

Thankfully for us, the Bible has much to say about community, even if the authors don’t use the term like we do. By exploring how Scripture describes early Christian community, we can start to define the characteristics that ought to mark ours:

1. Community encourages. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul tells the church there that he longs to see them so he can “impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” His aim isn’t just one-way encouragement. The apostle says he wants to be encouraged by their faith too.

When we put this in context, we can draw a parallel between their time and ours. Christians in Rome were being persecuted. The level of our persecution now is drastically less severe in most cases, but there is a connection. We as believers can encourage each other to continue in the faith, even when the circumstances of our lives are difficult, or the culture moves farther away from a real understanding of God’s plan for the world.

2. Community shares the load. “Carry one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the church in Galatia. He’s talking about sin burdens, commentaries note, but Charles Spurgeon extended the metaphor this way: “Help your brethren….If they have a heavier burden than they can bear, try to put your shoulder beneath their load, and so lighten it for them.”

Many burdens have been shared in community groups I’ve been a part of over the years. Depression, career disappointment, death of a parent or a sibling or a child. These burdens were shared verbally and then figuratively, as group members prayed for each other and kept in close contact.
Community gives believers an extra shoulder to bear the weight when it’s too heavy to bear alone.

3. Community provokes (in a good way). The writer of Hebrews encourages Christians to “watch out for one another to provoke love and good works.” Whereas the encouragement we see in Romans 1 undergirded the early church, the encouragement referenced in Hebrews 10:24 spurred it forward.

In a recent community group discussion about hospitality, I listened as my fellow group members shared humbly about how God is opening doors to share Jesus, simply because they’re inviting people into their homes. I was encouraged and “provoked” to do the same so that the gospel can go forth.

4. Through community, God builds his church. Acts 2 paints a glorious picture of the church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer….Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42, 47, CSB).

Living faithfully in the context of community drew people to the truth of Christ. The same thing happens now. At a recent baptism at my church, two couples shared how they came to understand their need for Jesus in the context of their community group.
Scripture’s depiction of biblical community puts the emphasis on God’s graciousness to us. The gifts of community—encouragement, burden-sharing, good works, and the opportunity to see God build his church—are gifts from God himself. It’s far more about him than it is about us.

Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

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Baptist church saved amidst CA fire
When the deadliest wildfire in California state history struck the town of Magalia, pastor Doug Crowder of Magalia Pines Baptist Church opened his church to those unable to evacuate the town to take shelter with church members and himself. Despite the engulfing flames, the people came out unscathed the next day. While everything around the church had been incinerated, the church’s property was untouched.

Final rules guard conscience from abortion mandate
The seven-year battle by objectors to the abortion/contraception mandate has come to a regulatory close with a victory for freedom of conscience. The Trump administration issued two final rules Nov. 7 that supply conscience protections to Americans with a religious or moral objection to the 2011 mandate instituted under President Obama.

IMB taps Paul Chitwood as presidential candidate
The International Mission Board trustees’ presidential search committee announced Nov. 6 that the committee will recommend Paul Chitwood, 48, to be elected as the 173-year-old entity’s 13th president. The vote to elect Chitwood is scheduled for the Nov. 15 plenary session during their IMB board meeting in Richmond.

IBSA churches meet mission field with ‘Pioneering Spirit’
Illinois set the foundation for IBSA’s Annual Meeting Nov. 7-8 at First Baptist Church in Maryville. The state’s bicentennial highlighted the 112th annual gathering of Southern Baptists in Illinois. The meeting also focused on four “Pioneering Spirit” challenges churches have embraced over the past year so that the gospel is advanced in a state where more than 8 million people do not know Christ.

Man files lawsuit to change age
A Dutch entrepreneur has filed a lawsuit to legally change his age to 49 – that’s 20 years younger than his chronological age. Emile Ratelband wants to change his birth date, stating that if one can change genders, he is justified to change his age. of A local court in the Netherlands will rule on the case in December.

Sources: Baptist Press (3), Illinois Baptist, CBN

Asia Bibi released from Pakistan’s death row
The release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman imprisoned for almost nine years on blasphemy charges, was cause for celebration and caution among religious freedom advocates worldwide. “She cannot be released openly,” said an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice. “If she is, there’s no doubt, no question about it, that her life will be in jeopardy.”

‘Stand for Life’ becomes ERLC initiative
An online group promoting the sanctity of every human life will become part of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Stand for Life, which began with a post by founder Jess Barfield of her infant son, has as its mission to promote human dignity through storytelling.

Sessions faces criticism from some in his denomination
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is under fire from some Methodist ministers who oppose his role in policies that separate families at the border. In a letter sent to Sessions last summer, United Methodist Church leaders urged a “reconciling process that will help this long-time member of our connection [Sessions] step back from his harmful actions and work to repair the damage he is currently causing to immigrants, particularly children and families.”

Charleston church shooting is subject of documentary
The 2015 shooting at a Charleston, S.C. church is the subject of “Emanuel,” a documentary executive produced by actress Viola Davis and Golden State Warrior Steph Curry.

Midterm election: Evangelicals in the spotlight
As voters cast their ballots in today’s midterm election, slow shifts in the evangelical voting bloc are unlikely to result in gains for progressive candidates, USA Today reports.

Sources: Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today

“Pioneering Spirit” is the theme of the 2018 IBSA Annual Meeting, kicking off Nov. 7 at First Baptist Church in Maryville. The meeting will highlight the four challenges put before churches at last year’s meeting: go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders.

Visitors to the meeting will also be invited on a virtual prayer tour where they can intercede for ministries across the state, all from inside FBC Maryville. The life-size log cabin from last year’s meeting will also return, featuring visual displays about Illinois’ mission field.

Fritz Klein, a renowned Abraham Lincoln interpreter, will join IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams for the Wednesday evening session. Worship band Sixteen Cities will lead music during the meeting.

Prior to the Annual Meeting, the IBSA Pastors’ Conference will focus on “Blazing New Trails” with messages from urban church planting strategist Darryl Gaddy, St. Louis pastor Noah Oldham, and Illinois leaders Matt Crain and Ted Max. IBSA ministers’ wives will meet Wednesday morning for their annual conference, and there are also meetings planned for young leaders, church planters and sponsoring churches, and associational leaders.

For more information about the meetings, schedules, and meals, go to IBSAannualmeeting.org. And follow along here for news and updates from Maryville.

What voters value

Lisa Misner —  November 5, 2018 — Leave a comment

Evangelicals choose issues over candidates

Vote Yeah

With a day to go before the U.S. mid-term election, new research may shed light on how evangelicals will vote. The Billy Graham Center Institute at Wheaton College and LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn., released an extensive study in October on how evangelicals voted in 2016, and how they feel about their decisions today.

The study explored the voting habits and political motivations of three groups of Americans: evangelicals by belief, self-identified evangelicals, and those who are not evangelical by belief or self-identity. (Evangelicals by belief are those who hold to four key theological statements developed by LifeWay Research and the National Association of Evangelicals.)

Among the findings: 53% of evangelicals by belief characterized their vote in the 2016 presidential election as being for a candidate, while smaller percentages said they cast their vote against Hillary Clinton (18%) or Donald Trump (15%). That only half of evangelical voters said they voted for their candidate in 2016 led researchers to conclude that evangelicals are “more issue-oriented than candidate-focused,” Christianity Today reported.

“I see no reason that focus on issues won’t be repeated next month,” said Ed Stetzer, referencing the Nov. 6 election. The executive director of the Billy Graham Center Institute detailed the research in a press release. “In 2016, many evangelicals chose to look past a candidate as an individual to vote for a specific issue, platform, or party a candidate represented, seeing the candidates more like objects of representation than as individuals whose values and ideals fit theirs.”

According to the research, two-thirds of evangelicals by belief agree committed Christians can benefit from a political leader even if that leader’s personal life does not line up with Christian teaching.

The 2016 election
In the 2016 presidential election, 9 in 10 evangelicals agree they felt strong support for their preferred candidate, with 69% strongly agreeing. And little has changed two years later. Today, 88% agree they feel strong support for who they voted for in 2016, with 70% strongly agreeing.

Among evangelicals who voted, most did so for Donald Trump. More than half of evangelicals by belief (58%) and self-identified evangelicals (53%) cast their ballot for the Republican nominee, while 36% of evangelicals and 38% of self-identified evangelicals voted for Hillary Clinton.

African-American voters with evangelical beliefs overwhelmingly voted for Clinton (86%), while more than three-quarters of white voters with evangelical beliefs voted for Trump (77%).

Around half of younger voters with evangelical beliefs cast their ballot for Clinton—47% of those 18 to 49. A majority of voters 65 and over who have evangelical beliefs voted for Trump (72%).

The survey also measured the issues at play in the 2016 presidential election. Both evangelicals by belief and self-identified evangelicals said an ability to improve the economy was the most important reason for voting the way they did, followed by positions on health care and immigration.

Few evangelicals by belief (5%) and self-identified evangelicals (4%) said abortion was the most important issue in deciding their 2016 vote. And 7% of evangelicals by belief and 6% of self-identified evangelicals chose likely Supreme Court nominees as the most important reason.

Working across divides
Most evangelicals by belief and self-identified evangelicals say the 2016 election brought to the surface some underlying divisions among Christians. Yet, most evangelicals also believe someone in the opposing party can be a devout Christian.

When evangelicals encounter someone using biblical beliefs to justify political views that are opposite of their own, few question their political opponent’s faith. Evangelicals by belief are most likely to say they are hopeful they can find common ground biblically.

“Jesus is not coming back on a donkey or an elephant,” said Stetzer. “We have to acknowledge that people vote for different and complex reasons and that Christians can differ on politics and agree on the gospel.”

– From LifeWay Research, with reporting by Christianity Today

Most white evangelical voters plan to vote Republican in Tuesday’s midterm elections, according to research by PRRI, including many of those 18-29 years old. But the voting bloc is changing, researchers say.

“White evangelical protestants have certainly been a powerful force in American politics for a couple of generations since the ‘80s and (Ronald) Reagan, but their clout in the general population is waning over the last 10 years,” PRRI CEO Robert Jones told USA Today. “There’s been a bigger loss at the younger end of the spectrum.”

According to PRRI, white evangelicals comprise 15% of the U.S. population, down from nearly a quarter in 2008. And the median age is 56. Younger evangelicals tend to think differently about certain issues than their parents, like same-sex marriage and the environment. (The New York Times recently interviewed young evangelicals about faith in the current political climate.)

The differences in ideology could eventually show up at the ballot box, but probably not this year, University of North Carolina professor Molly Worthen told USA Today.

“The religious right, as a network of very savvy political institutions, will continue to punch above its weight politically for decades,” Worthen said. “Even as we see that secularizing trend persist, it will not likely immediately translate to a huge turnout of votes for progressive political candidates.”

Race also plays a role in how evangelicals vote, according to a recent study by LifeWay Research and Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center. The research found 77% of white voters with evangelical beliefs voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, while 86% of African-American voters with evangelical beliefs voted for Hillary Clinton.

Most evangelicals haven’t changed their minds since 2016, according to the research. Nine in ten said they felt strong support for their preferred candidate then, and today, 88% say they still do.

By Andrew Woodrow

YE 2018 Marion

Hundreds of students and leaders gathered across Illinois in October for Youth Encounter, IBSA’s annual evangelism conference for students. In Marion (above), Decatur, and two sites in Chicagoland, almost 1,400 attenders heard from speakers and worship leaders who encouraged them to keep going in their faith, even as they face unprecedented challenges from the culture around them

For young Christians, following Jesus can be a lonely pursuit. Especially in today’s pressure cooker culture. It’s overwhelming, said student pastor Mark Davis, when young people have constant, instant access to information—and much of it beyond their years.

In that environment, discovering and developing your faith can be difficult. It’s easy to feel alone. At Youth Encounter, IBSA’s annual evangelism-focused conference for students, young believers have an opportunity to escape societal pressures for a while, and fully engage in worship with hundreds of other students like them.

They leave the conference—held this year in five locations around the state—better equipped to live out their faith and share it with the people around them.

Encouraged, emboldened
At Youth Encounter, middle school and high school students are led in worship by up-and-coming Christian artists, and inspired and challenged by some of the top student ministry speakers in the country.

But perhaps the greatest encouragement students receive from the conference is knowing they’re not alone.

“Oftentimes, the students feel that if they talk about their faith or visibly live it out, they’re going to be abandoned,” said Davis, pastor to students at Murdale Baptist Church in Carbondale. “Youth Encounter gives them a chance to see they’re not alone. And seeing there are other students in their area, not just a handful but hundreds of them, helps encourage and embolden their faith.”

For the first time this year, Youth Encounter events were scheduled in five locations across Illinois. Nearly 1,400 students and leaders attended the first four conferences, including sites in Decatur, Marion, and two in Chicagoland, and 62 people have given their lives to Christ. The final Youth Encounter conference for 2018 will be held Nov. 11 at First Baptist Church in O’Fallon.

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To students like Jade Nappier, Youth Encounter is a break “from the stress during the school year that can be hard to find at church.” Nappier, a student from First Baptist Church in Marion, also said Youth Encounter has helped her discover she’s not alone in exploring her faith, motivating her to “be the Christian I want to be.”

Selena Petrowich from Third Baptist Church in Marion has been coming to Youth Encounter ever since she can remember. Now a senior in high school, she describes how Youth Encounter helped her not feel alone in discovering her faith.

“A lot of people trying to come to Christ feel alone. I know I did. So, having more people around you that you know are exploring their own faith [makes it] definitely easier to share mine.”

Petrowich expressed how moving it is to see school acquaintances at Youth Encounter who wouldn’t otherwise show their faith. “What caught my eye was seeing so many teenagers actually open in wanting to learn about God,” she said. “That’s when you realize, ‘Okay, I can do this too.’ And for me, that was my biggest thing: realizing that not just older people can be interested in worship and in God.”

Changing world, unchanging Word
“One of the great things Youth Encounter presents to the kids is that while the culture is constantly changing, the Word is unchanging,” said Madison Presswood, minister of youth at FBC Marion. Presswood encourages his students to be less concerned with the media and warns them where their attention is kept the most is where their sphere of influence is the strongest.

There is also a need, though, to engage the culture without fear, Andrew Nippert encourages his students. “If a church wants to help their young people survive their culture they’re living in and help them prepare to engage with their culture and be gospel-relevant in their communities, you can’t be scared of the culture or of change,” said Nippert, youth and children’s minister at Third Baptist Church in Marion. “Because the one thing that should never change is God’s Word.”

Amid pressures from the world they live in, students are going to mess up, Nippert said. “But that’s why we work with them. That’s why we minister to them. Because they’re who need the Lord. We all need the Lord in our own way, and we just have to be willing to go to those that are, sometimes, the troublemakers. And give them the One who can lead them out of their troubles.”

Equipped to go out
Youth Encounter helps prepare students to take their faith into the community by exposing them to bands and speakers they can look up to, and by equipping them to live out their faith, despite cultural pressures.

“IBSA does a really good job getting solid speakers that unpack the gospel and the reality of Christ in a way that makes sense to the students’ worlds,” Nippert said. “So then, it’s a lot easier to walk back into their world with Christ at the center of what they’re doing.”
High school junior Seth Lindhorst has already been to the youth conference multiple times. He said Youth Encounter teaches students his age realistic ways to live out their faith “and still be normal.”

One of Lindhorst’s frustrations with societal pressures is the bombardment Christians receive for living a ‘boring’ life, despite attempts to be more involved and have appropriate fun outside the church. “It’s extremely difficult for a Christian my age,” said the student from Third Baptist in Marion. “So, the Christian youth in today’s culture feels pressured into doing things that really aren’t appropriate for kids our age.”

Coming to Youth Encounter, however, encourages him not to back down to the peer pressure.

“When I go back to school after Youth Encounter, I always walk with a jump in my step. It gets me pumped up,” Lindhorst said. “Youth Encounter equips you for the long run and gives guidelines you can use in your daily life. And as I’m singing songs, as I’m listening to the speaker, I’m thinking to myself, ‘How can I change my life to make Jesus’ name look better?’”

For more information about resources and opportunities for students, go to IBSA.org/students.