Divine disobedience

Lisa Misner —  March 21, 2019 — Leave a comment

By Adron Robinson

Read: Acts 4:13-22

What do you do when obeying the Word of God means disobeying human governments and authorities? That is the question Peter and John faced. When commanded by the Sanhedrin, the religious and cultural leaders of their day, to disobey the Word of God, they responded with divine disobedience. “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20 ESV).

Like Peter and John, the church is called to follow in the footsteps of our Lord, to stand up and speak truth to a culture that seeks to quiet the voice of God and impede the Kingdom of God. We must follow in the countercultural footsteps of Jesus and transform our culture for the glory of God. When the world commands us to keep quiet, we are to stand on the Word of God and be a witness to a watching world.

This divine disobedience is not a 21st- century idea or a first-century idea. It is part of the character and calling of the children of God. When the Hebrew midwives defied Pharaoh’s order to abort the Hebrew babies, that was divine disobedience. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and were tossed into the fiery furnace, that was divine disobedience.

There are recent examples. When Harriet Tubman launched the Underground Railroad to free slaves, that was divine disobedience. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, that was divine disobedience.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Throughout history, the people of God have practiced divine disobedience, because we are called to obey the laws of God, even if it means disobeying the laws of man.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, you have called the church to be your witness to the world. Give us holy boldness to stand on your Word, when the world tries to pressure us into disobedience. Help us Father to fight against abortion, racism, injustice, and every evil of this culture by living out the gospel to a dying world that needs the good news of Jesus Christ.

Adron Robinson pastors Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and is president of IBSA.

Pro-life organizations urge advocates to visit lawmakers this week
As Illinois lawmakers consider abortion legislation one lobbyist called “more extreme than New York’s,” pro-life advocates will be in Springfield Wednesday, March 20, for a “Lobby Day” and rally outside the Capitol.

Court finds in favor of ministers’ housing allowance
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed an earlier lower court ruling that found the ministers’ housing allowance unconstitutional. The tax exemption permits “ministers of the gospel” to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion or all of their gross income as a housing allowance. The Seventh Circuit’s decision rejected claims by the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the tax law grants a government benefit to a religious group.

Seminary answers Facebook’s questions
Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to inquiries from Facebook about a post the school tried to boost on the social media site (Facebook refused). The post included this quote from President Jeff Iorg: “Holding the line on positions based on timeless biblical standards as an ultimate authority has been and always will be important.” Facebook asked questions about the seminary and Iorg, the president wrote later, “to establish we are a valid company, not a hate group or a foreign entity.”

Texas bill would protect churches that report sexual abuse
Southern Baptist pastors have proposed legislation in Texas that would allow churches to disclose allegations of sexual abuse without fear of civil liability. “I don’t think that it solves all of the problems related to abuse and sexual misconduct,” said Pastor Ben Wright, who helped initiate the bill. “But it does help churches and organizations know that if they pass on information that they believe to be true, that they have good reason to believe is true, it helps them know that they will be shielded from potential lawsuits.”

Most churches report little growth, few conversions
A new study by LifeWay Research found 6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.

-Illinois Baptist media, FactsandTrends.net, Baptist Press (2), LifeWay Research

 

 

 

 

 

 

The countdown is on for spring evangelism emphasis

A time to pray 2

Churches across Illinois and the SBC will focus this spring on praying for people who don’t know Christ. Last year, IBSA churches (including Staunton’s Net Community Church, seen in this file photo) baptized more than 650 people during a statewide emphasis.

March signals a new season, and in many IBSA churches, a new opportunity to focus on evangelism leading up to Easter.

Last year, One GRAND Sunday resulted in more than 650 baptisms during the Easter season. This year, IBSA’s Pat Pajak is asking churches to celebrate One GRAND Month in April, preceded by 30 days of prayer for people who don’t know Christ.

“Eight out of 10 unsaved people say they are open to a gospel conversation,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. “And research tells us that four out of five will come to an Easter service if someone will invite them.”

Pajak is urging Illinois Baptists to spend March praying for one person who doesn’t know Christ, and to begin thinking about how to invite them to an Easter service. The singular prayer emphasis is part of “Who’s Your One?” an emphasis across the Southern Baptist Convention urging every Christian to share the gospel with one person this year.

“While almost every believer knows that the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, and we are willing to obey the teachings and instructions found in God’s Word, far too many Christians have forsaken the responsibility of witnessing and left it to be done by others,” Pajak said.

“Who’s Your One?” employs what Pajak has called an “each one reach one” strategy. “It can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone,” he said. “The idea is listening and looking for the right opportunity to turn an everyday conversation into a gospel presentation.”

At WhosYourOne.com, pastors and church members can access free resources, including a guide to 30 days of prayer for people who need to hear the gospel.

For April, Pajak suggested a week by week schedule to maximize Easter impact:

April 7: Invite church members to write the name of one person they plan to invite to an Easter service on a 3×5 card (passed out with the bulletins). At the end of the service, invite the entire church to come forward and place their cards on the altar and join together in a time of corporate prayer—asking the Lord to move the people on the cards to respond to an Easter invitation. Leave the cards. The pastor or staff can gather them and pray for the people for the remainder of that week.

April 14: Write out a personal invitation and include an Easter service promo flyer or card. Mail it to the person you’ve been praying for and planning to invite. If you are going to provide a ride or an after-church meal, tell them in the invitation and ask for an RSVP.

April 21: Get ready for a great Easter Sunday! If the person you invited doesn’t have a Bible, surprise them with one as a gift and perhaps deliver it on Saturday, so they will be able to bring it to church with them on Easter Sunday.

April 28: If the person you invited made a decision to follow the Lord, encourage them to be baptized along with others on the Sunday following Easter (churches can also consider offering baptism all four Sundays in April). Make it a real celebration! Invite them out to lunch after the service and let them know you are available to walk with them in their new faith. Be sure to help them get enrolled in a Sunday school class or small group.

For more information about One GRAND Month, go to IBSA.org/Evangelism.

By Mike Keppler

Open Bible

Growing Christians often make commitments to read the Word of God more faithfully each day. Some of that reading is done by reading the “whole of the Word” through a systematic read-the-Bible-through plan. Another way to read the Bible is in “small bites,” using a devotional booklet or app like Our Daily Bread.

Both reading plans are good and balanced. They give us daily exposure to the inspiration and instruction from God’s holy Word.

May I suggest another, less common way to read the Bible? When was the last time you read God’s Word aloud? We know the Bible itself instructs us to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). Worshippers know the value of the public reading of the Bible in responsive readings and liturgies. But the value of using our voices in Bible-reading goes well beyond merely enhancing our participation in corporate worship.

By reading Scripture aloud, I have experienced a deeper blessing personally and corporately for some years now. Privately, I have made a practice of reading my weekly message and Sunday school lessons out loud. At first, I was embarrassed to have anyone hearing me read to myself. I would review the selected text for the week in hushed tones and whispers so as not to invite questions from family members at home or staff members at church.

An ancient practice is changing our Bible study groups for the better.

I soon got over being self-conscious, because I have found a specific benefit to reading the Bible with my voice: I “hear” truths that I miss when I only read a passage silently.

At first, I was surprised by these insights and mistakenly thought that maybe I was just being too careless in hurriedly reviewing the text. However, as I continued this exercise, I saw something deeper in the practice. It was as if God was speaking to me at another level…audibly.

Now, in truth, I have never had God speak to me through his mighty, audible voice, like he must have spoken when the world was created or when he would speak to the prophets of old. But, as I read the Bible to myself, audibly, I hear him “speaking” in new ways. Words that I would have just passed over before come to life with meaning I would not have “heard” in my silent reading. This was both refreshing and insightful as I began to practice reading aloud God’s Word during my private study.

With growing curiosity, I read online about the practice of reading the Bible out loud. There has been considerable research conducted on communal reading. Dr. Brian J. Wright, an author, popular speaker, and blogger who serves as an adjunct professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has written extensively on how the practice of communal reading dates back to the first century. Dr. Wright says that Justin Martyr, an early church leader, instructed believers during that period to engage in the communal reading of the apostle’s memoirs and prophetic writings on the Lord’s Day.

History tells us the Torah was passed down audibly from generation to generation, preserving Jewish traditions and teachings. Even Scripture itself speaks to the power of hearing the Word of God aloud:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

I started practicing communal reading during my Wednesday night Bible studies at our church a couple of years back. Our regular attenders seemed to readily take to the exercise and enjoyed it. In recent months, I have been leading our auditorium Sunday school class in the same practice. Not everyone chooses to participate, but those that do have sat up straighter and spoken out louder with more authority and respect as they have joined in the reading.

I am now convinced more than ever that this simple engagement through communal reading of the Word is blessing both study groups. It involves us and inspires us to hear the Bible passage read with our own voices.

I encourage you to make a renewed commitment to read the Bible aloud and try to involve your friends in this practice as well. This refreshing approach to the Word will bless your personal worship and study and enrich your disciple-making ministries. I am convinced that as you read the Word aloud you will discover hidden truths and insights you haven’t “heard” before.

Mike Keppler pastored Springfield Southern Baptist Church for 26 years before
retiring in 2018. You can read his blog at mjkministries.com.

By the IBSA Media Team

5 changes that change leaders

From 2015 to 2018, God led Scott Nichols, senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, through a season of change. First, his wife, Vicki, was diagnosed with cancer. The year was filled with surgery and chemotherapy appointments, as well as a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that had them looking forward to 2016.

But the next year brought more change, this time in ministry. Eventually, more than a quarter of the congregation left the church (some were sent out to do other ministries; some were not).

Though none of the changes during this season were easy, God was still at work both in the pastor’s personal walk and ministry. At the Illinois Leadership Summit, Nichols shared what the Lord taught him in a breakout session titled “Transformed: 5 ways God grows church leaders.”

Nichols shared five truths about change: It reminds the leader of their insufficiency, keeps the leader fresh, reinforces the value of teamwork, transforms the leader personally, and provides an opportunity to learn through challenges and setbacks.

“God taught me that Crossroads would not have been positioned for our upcoming season of ministry growth if we had not endured those two years of change and transition,” Nichols said. “Discomfort can also be called opportunity.”

Mind the knowledge gap

While in London on a mission trip, Carmen Halsey noticed signs cautioning riders on the city’s underground rail system to “mind the gap.” The warning to step carefully from the platform to the subway has implications for leaders too, said IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and church missions.

In leadership, the gap is the space between knowing what you know, and what you don’t.
“You’re not acting smart by saying there’s not a gap there,” said Halsey during her ILS breakout, “Fact: You can lead in the present if you mind the gap.”

“We’re living in a constantly changing world. There’s always going to be a gap for a leader.”

Halsey suggested four ways leaders can manage the gap:

1. Seek God and be confident in your calling.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and “I’m going to find us an answer.”
3. Admit mistakes and take responsibility for them.
4. Learn what level of honesty is required.

“Be a leader with integrity,” Halsey said, “but not everything gets shared on every stage. Know your audience; think beyond the moment; tell them what they need to know. Understand what you need to say when you need to say it.”

Dysfunction: Call it what it is

Whether he verbally assaults the pastor at a church business meeting or she arranges secret meetings with members around her kitchen table, dysfunctional church leaders lurk inside every unhealthy church.

“We went to their house to let them know their reputation was on the line and we needed to get together as a group and walk through where the misunderstanding occurred,” said Bob Bickford, a St. Louis pastor and church replanting specialist for the North American Mission Board.

“They refused to do that. And as we were walking away the wife said to me, ‘We were a lot better off before you got here.’ It was at that point I knew God was working to heal the church from the incredible dysfunction that had been going on.”

In his ILS breakout session, “Dealing with dysfunctional leaders in your church,” Bickford said the early church confronted problems directly and sought solutions. They didn’t shy away from calling dysfunction what it was.

“The challenge for our churches, particularly the 900 or so who are closing each year, is that we don’t have many pastors or deacon chairs or associational missionaries who are willing to do what I’ve described,” Bickford said. “Tolerating misbehavior keeps us from the mission. It’s worth risking your salary to protect God’s church.”

Planning vision from the inside out

Frank Lloyd Wright designed one of his most famous buildings—Fallingwater—to blend seamlessly with its environment. The Pennsylvania home, built from materials found onsite, is suspended over a waterfall that existed long before the architect ever tackled the project.

Churches would do well to follow the Fallingwater method, said Cliff Woodman (right) in his session, “Beyond Sunday: Creating a better vision for your church.” The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville said that many churches use a “copy and paste” method, borrowing from other churches what’s working well in their context.

Instead, he advised, consider what’s going on in your church’s community and culture, and implement a vision that fits that context. And keep your eye on the ultimate prize: transformation.

“Your church congregation should be more than just attenders. They should be different than when they first started coming to church,” Woodman said.

“Just as a school grows their students, the church should also grow its attenders. You shouldn’t be satisfied with a 10-year Christian who is still, spiritually, two years old. Ask yourself: What steps need to be taken to grow the disciples?”

2019 Illinois Leadership Summit videos are available at Vimeo.com/album/5783060.

Who’s at your table?
A new Barna study found one-fourth of households with practicing Christians are “spiritually vibrant,” meaning families pray and read the Bible together, talk about God regularly, and open their doors to non-family guests. They also eat together, researchers found—63% of vibrant households eat breakfast together, and 75% share dinner.

College dean quits after school blocks Chick-Fil-A on campus
Rider University’s Cynthia Newman announced she will step down as a dean at the New Jersey school after a popular fast food chain was removed from a list of possible on-campus offerings. Chick-Fil-A got favorable reviews on a student survey last year, but was removed from a second survey because of its CEO’s much-publicized views on marriage.

Georgia church fires staff member accused of abuse
One of the Southern Baptist churches named in newspaper investigation of sexual abuse has terminated a staff member who allegedly admitted he had assaulted young people, Baptist Press reports. Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga., was one of 10 churches identified in a February report in the Houston Chronicle as having ignored claims or dealt inappropriately with charges of sexual abuse.

>Related: Response to abuse spurs debate over Baptist process, polity

Baker reaches truce in legal battle over cakes
Jack Phillips has ended his legal battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the six-year conflict raised questions—many still unanswered—about a proprieter’s right to limit business based on religious conviction, Baptist Press reports.

UK rules could protect minors from internet porn
New guidelines in the United Kingdom will require users of free online pornography sites to verify they are legal adults, possibly serving as a gatekeeper for younger users.

Living in the aftermath: Pastor recounts Alabama tornadoes
Kevin Webb, associate pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., writes that many in his community are still reeling from tornadoes that killed 23 people earlier this month.

Sources: Barna, Associated Press, Baptist Press (2), Relevant, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

MindbendersBy Kayla Rinker

With its historical architecture and pristine interior design, Mark Clifton’s church was so lovely that for years its tagline was “Wornall Road Baptist Church: The church beautiful.”

“And it is very beautiful. It could be on the cover of a Hallmark card; I don’t deny that,” said Clifton, senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “But somewhere along the way the mission became maintaining it, instead of its true purpose. It was beautiful, but it was empty.”

Clifton was the keynote speaker for the 2019 Illinois Baptist Leadership Summit, held Jan. 22-23 in Springfield. Nearly 250 Illinois Baptist leaders and presenters gathered to “Reimagine” their ministries and gain a fresh perspective and vision for their churches going forward. Clifton (below) spoke from his 30-plus years of experience in both church planting and in pastoring a dying church that had dwindled to less than 20 mostly elderly members.

Like many Southern Baptist churches, Wornall Road needed revitalizing. But the concept can be hard to define, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson, because the term is used to describe a variety of different strategies.

Emerson said IBSA defines revitalization as when a church that is stagnant or dying seeks to enter a process to learn new strategies to replace current ones, in hopes that the new methods spur new growth.

If that kind of revitalization doesn’t happen in time, the next step could be replanting, when current leaders step aside so new leaders can restart the church in an existing building. Or, the church could decide to turn their assets over to an organization like the Baptist Foundation of Illinois, to be used for other Kingdom work.

Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton

“One Sunday I left there frustrated and ready to walk away,” Clifton said of his time at his Kansas City church. “I came to the end of myself and then I heard a clear message: ‘What about a dying church brings glory to God?’ What about a dying church says, ‘Our God is great and his gospel is powerful?’ When a church dies, it’s not just the church that’s at stake. His name is at stake.”

While that statement might seem to put pressure on pastors and leaders of aging congregations everywhere, Clifton said the good news—the gospel, actually—says otherwise. Christ died for his church. His church. Clifton referenced Revelation 1: “I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man…” (Rev. 1:12-13a).

“The lampstands are the churches,” Clifton said. “Jesus is among every church. He’s not looking down on them; he’s among them. You do not have to pick it up and carry it on your shoulders.

“Don’t focus on what you don’t have, which in my case was 580 empty seats and nothing but an MP3 player for worship. Instead, focus on what you do have. The risen Lord is with your church. Church revitalization doesn’t begin with you or me or NAMB, it begins with the risen Lord.”

Drawing board

THE DRAWING BOARD – Jonathan Davis, pastor of Delta Church in Springfield, serves as scribe during brainstorming at one of 36 breakout sessions offered at the Illinois Leadership Summit.

What does it take?
Clifton began to focus his ministry on the spiritual growth of his existing congregation instead of their numerical growth. And God breathed new life into the church, he said. Members began to shift from making decisions based on personal preferences, toward making decisions based on serving the neighborhood. They became a beautiful church.

“No, it’s not as comfortable singing worship songs that you don’t know,” Clifton said. “But hey, if you hear a 27-year-old singing a song about Jesus you aren’t familiar with, and they are singing it with their whole heart and you can’t worship God in that—you’ve got a real problem.”

While revitalizing the church is not about doing whatever is necessary to fill seats every Sunday, Clifton said it is about making disciples. It’s about making disciples of people who have attended faithfully for decades, and it’s about making disciples of new people who are still deciding if church is relevant in their lives.

Collective Learning

COLLECTIVE LEARNING – Large-group sessions, called “collectives,” focused on revitalization and community engagement.

In a breakout session at the summit, he shared nine steps to a revitalized church, starting with a commitment to glorify God in everything and find joy in the gospel alone. Then, he said, pray without ceasing. There is spiritual warfare happening in a church being reborn or revitalized, Clifton said.

“Joy is found in the risen Lord and, just as John sees Jesus in all his resurrected power and glory (Rev. 1), we are going to be glorified,” he said. “At Wornall’s worst—even as I was preaching and feeling like a failure—if that trumpet had sounded, we would have had a glorified church; a perfect bride ready to meet her groom.

“Don’t let Satan rob you of that joy. Those are his saints. God is under no obligation nor will he likely resource your plans for his church, but he will spare nothing from heaven to resource his plans for his church. He can raise a dead church.”

The remaining steps are practical ideas for pastors of revitalizing churches:

• Love and shepherd remaining members; don’t be more concerned and in love with the church you wish you had than with the church you have now.
• Serve the church’s unique community, never valuing your needs over the needs of the unreached.
• Use resources generously. How can the church building be repurposed and redeemed to serve the community?
• Simplify the strategy. Don’t value the process more than the outcome.
• Intentionally develop young men. Churches that die never passed meaningful leadership to the next generation. The goal is to get young men to connect and make them disciples, and then teach them to make disciples.
• Celebrate the legacy often. A church that transforms from dying to thriving is like a living sermon in its community. Celebrate that.

Clifton’s Wornall Road Baptist Church is a church revitalization success story. The church grew from 18 people when Clifton arrived, to about 120 when he left. It’s a thriving, multi-generational, neighborhood church. But it took revitalization to get there.

Currently, Clifton said, more than 900 Southern Baptist churches close each year and 65-75% of SBC churches are considered plateaued.

“Churches often begin the process too late,” Emerson said. “We recommend that church leaders study their growth trends and seek help when they discover that they are no longer growing and reaching people. IBSA can help churches assess their need and readiness for revitalization.”

For more information, contact IBSA’s Church Resources Team at (217) 391-3136.

Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer and pastor’s wife in Missouri.