When hundreds of churches convene next month for the IBSA Annual Meeting in Decatur, we will assemble under the theme “Mission Illinois.” For me, however, it’s more than a meeting theme. In the days ahead, I hope the mantra of Mission Illinois will begin to represent a fresh new vision of why we as churches choose to cooperate, and how we measure our effectiveness as a state association.
For several years now, we as the churches and leaders of IBSA have focused our energies on four key priorities: strengthening churches, starting churches, sending Christians into their Acts 1:8 mission fields, and stimulating stewardship among churches so we can do our part with other Southern Baptists to fund the larger missions efforts of the SBC.
Our goals within those key priorities have been aggressive, and we haven’t always attained them. But for the most part we are training more leaders with fewer staff, starting a steady number of new churches with lower national funding, and directly assisting more churches in their evangelism and missions efforts in spite of higher travel costs and a challenging economy.
But we as an association of churches still long to see increases in indicators such as baptisms, worship and Bible study participation, and the net number of IBSA churches – all of which have remained relatively flat over the past few years. We don’t care about numbers for numbers’ sake, but because they are indicators of missional advance, church health, and Kingdom expansion. We want to see lostness decrease and the accessibility of Bible-believing churches increase.
So I’ve been asking myself, and would invite you to ask with me, what might need to change? How might we adjust our efforts in this mission we call Illinois?
I don’t claim to have it figured out yet, or that I can do it alone. More often than not, I feel like our blind dog Willy that I described in the last issue. In fact, our mission here in Illinois is partly what I had in mind when I wrote, “There are times when it seems that I just can’t see things, or can’t see where things are going, with the clarity or certainty I would like. Things in my family, my work, my church, things in Baptist life, things in our nation, things on the world scene – all seem to be less predictable, less comfortable than in the past.”
That certainly is an environment where faith and dependence on God for vision are desperately needed, as Willy’s situation illustrates. And so I have not been hasty to propose a new mission statement or declare a new direction. I’m praying and thinking, listening and observing, drafting and revising, waiting and praying. And I invite you to join me, and to e-mail, write or call with your thoughts or ideas.
In the next couple of issues, I’m going to share a little more of what I think “Mission Illinois” might mean as a vision for our future as IBSA churches. On one hand, it’s hard for me to imagine that strengthening churches and starting churches and sending Christians on mission, and stimulating faithful stewardship among churches will not still be primary priorities. On the other hand, I can’t help but believe that God wants to do more through our cooperation than we are currently experiencing.
So please join me in prayer and creative thinking as we approach this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting. For us as Illinois Baptists, Mission Illinois must be more than an annual meeting theme. It must become a rallying cry for reinvigorated, purposeful cooperation that actually impacts the lostness of our Illinois mission field.