Archives For January 2014

Part of solving the leadership puzzle is determining whether a particular role calls for a manager, visionary, intern, or seasoned leader.

Part of solving the leadership puzzle is determining whether a particular role calls for a manager, visionary, intern, or seasoned leader.

COMMENTARY | Carmen Halsey

Every church should be mindful that the recruitment of leaders is necessary. New leaders can bring new ideas, offer different perspectives and bring a fresh burst of energy, giving respite to an existing team. But the key phrase is can bring. Before you bring in new leaders, it’s crucial to know who and for what you are recruiting.

Your ministry’s leadership needs could include, but are not limited to:

1. Managers, capable of caring for the existing programs and maintaining a high level of performance

2. Visionaries, able to forecast future needs and develop present plans to meet them

3. Interns, willing to learn and desiring to hold positions in the future, but with little to no experience at present time

4. Seasoned leaders, possessing a transferrable skill set and core knowledge requiring minimal support or oversight

A common mistake is to promote an individual from within to an area of leadership assuming they will be effective. But just because someone performed well with one set of responsibilities does not guarantee desired performance in another. This error often repeats itself in an organization, costing precious resources like time, money, relationships and – most crucial but often unnoted – loss of self-esteem by the individual. We have a responsibility to individuals and to the organization to identify the right person for a particular leadership role.

Excerpted from the Spring 2014 issue of Resource magazine, online at Carmen Halsey is IBSA’s director of missions mobilization and Illinois WMU. A nurse by profession, she also has a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and has served in numerous leadership roles in her field and in church life.

Disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention visited families whose homes and livelihoods were disrupted by Typhoon Haiyan. The volunteers listened to the families’ heartbreaking stories and prayed with them, then distributed badly needed food and building supplies.  BGR photo, via BP

Disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention visited families whose homes and livelihoods were disrupted by Typhoon Haiyan. The volunteers listened to the families’ heartbreaking stories and prayed with them, then distributed badly needed food and building supplies. BGR photo, via BP

THE BRIEFING | Posted by Meredith Flynn

Nearly three months after Typhoon Haiyan, some aid organizations have completed their work in the Philippines. But Baptists are gearing up for a long-term relief effort, led by Baptist Global Response.

“…The need is massive,” BGR Executive Director Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press. “We are initiating large-scale work with communities, local believers and volunteers and will be constantly assessing and gauging the effectiveness of our choices.

“Please continue to pray for our team members and volunteers as they help in the face of overwhelming needs. Pray that we choose the most strategic and effective places to work that truly help people physically and spiritually.”

The biggest repair needs are for water systems, homes and schools, Baptist Press reported. BGR has created a housing kit that will construct a small home on stilts for about $250. The goal is for the construction projects to breathe life into the local job market, Palmer said.

“The community has a labor force needing work, and capable, skilled men will be contracted to work alongside [a] U.S. disaster response team and local volunteer labor when available.”

Disaster Relief chapters from five state conventions – Missouri, California, Tennessee, Kansas-Nebraska, and the Southern Baptists of Texas – have adopted different areas of the Philippines. Read the full story at

Other news:

Frank Page addresses denominational fault lines in ‘State of the SBC’ speech
The president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee began a Jan. 15 speech with an analogy about earthquakes. “Fault lines happen even in organizations,” said Frank Page during a “State of the SBC” address at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And like on the earth, where the fault lines and tectonic plates come together, pressure builds. If that pressure is not alleviated, then deep damage occurs.”

Page addressed some of the denomination’s current and past fault lines, including the debate over Reformed theology. He also spoke about the task force he appointed to study how Baptists with theological differences can work together. “Do I think that fault line is fixed forever? Hardly. But I said to them in all honesty, ‘I want us to work together so that we can at least win some people to Christ for now. Can we do that?'”

Read the full report by Midwestern’s Tim Sweetman at, and click here for a link to Page’s address.

Church ministers through abortion recovery class
Dr. Chris Midkiff likely didn’t know what kind of bombshell she had just dropped during a women’s leadership meeting at Bethel Baptist Church in Troy. The OB/GYN mentioned an abortion recovery Bible study she’d read about called Surrendering the Secret. Some of the women in the meeting personally understood the need for such a study. Read the story here.

One Baptist prof’s take on the Grammy’s
You’ve probably heard about the 33 couples, including some same-sex pairs, married by Queen Latifah during Sunday’s Grammy awards show. The song performed by Macklemore during the ceremony “took aim at Christians and their views on marriage,” blogged Denny Burk, an associate professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. But the lyrics got one thing right, Burk said: We all come from one creator God. Read his post here.

Mark Emerson, pictured here, and a team of four volunteers from Illinois spent a week in Guinea engaging people there with stories from the Bible.

Mark Emerson, pictured here, and a team of four volunteers from Illinois spent a week in Guinea engaging people there with stories from the Bible.

HEARTLAND | In Guinea on a short-term mission trip, Mark Emerson met his own version of the man from Macedonia (see Acts 16:9).

Emerson and fellow Illinois volunteer Harold Booze were waiting for a boat to take them and their missionary guide to share Bible stories with an unreached, unengaged people group. As they endured the six-hour wait, they met John, a soldier from a nearby village. When they told him where they were going and why, John asked, “Why are you passing by me?”

“So, on our return, we came back a day early to tell stories to him and his family,” Emerson said.

John was one of many Guineans who heard true stories from the Bible that week. Five volunteers from Illinois partnered with International Mission Board missionaries to locate and share with unreached people groups in the country. The mostly Muslim nation is largely non-literate; the people rely on stories to pass down their traditions and culture. In one historic village, the Americans listened first to the story of how the people had come to settle there. After detailing hundreds of years of their people group’s history – including specific names – the Guineans turned to the Americans and said, “You tell us a story.”

“I’ve got a great one,” Emerson said before launching into the account of the Good Samaritan.

The Bible stories were the group’s inroads into the villages, a way to begin building relationships so that missionaries and future teams can go back and keep sharing about Jesus. In a village where they stayed several days, the chief brought a sick child to them. After they prayed for him, the Muslim chief was so moved by the passion of their prayers that he took the group from place to place so they could pray for more people.

They met a man near death and prayed for him, that he would choose Jesus. Their missionary guide felt like they shouldn’t leave the room until they had given the man the Gospel, so, “I gave him the whole thing, the full-barrel Gospel,” Emerson said. The man didn’t turn to Christ, but the missionary encouraged Emerson and the other volunteers. “At least he had a choice.”

“My responsibility is to help people have a choice,” Emerson said once back in the U.S. “I didn’t win anybody to Jesus, but I got a whole lot of people closer.” Like the chief who told him, with his hand on his own chest, “God has designed us to know Him in our hearts.”

Church’s recovery class aids healing

Troy, Ill. | Dr. Chris Midkiff likely didn’t know what kind of bombshell she had just dropped during a women’s leadership meeting at Bethel Baptist Church.

The OB/GYN mentioned an abortion recovery Bible study she’d read about called Surrendering the Secret.

Some of the women in the meeting personally understood the need for such a study.

Karen Schemerhorn remembers thinking, “What expression should I have on my face?” The prison ministry leader hadn’t told anyone about her abortions.

Mary Beth*, also there for the meeting said, “If you’re a woman who has had that in your past, you’re sweating, you’re nervous, you’re thinking everybody’s looking at you because everybody knows.

“It’s one of those secret sins that just eats you alive.”

Now, more than five years later, Bethel’s women’s ministry has facilitated numerous Surrendering the Secret classes. Dr. Midkiff hosts the group at an off-campus location, and confidentiality is vital as women share their stories, many for the first time ever.

Karen cites a statistic that nearly half of all women of child-bearing age have had at least one abortion. It’s a problem in churches too. “That’s why my mother and father had to hide my abortion,” says Karen, the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister. “What would this do to his ministry?”

The eight-week Surrendering the Secret class had already met for two cycles when she decided to join. She couldn’t get it off her mind, she said, but she didn’t want to go. She had been a leader at the church, a Sunday school teacher. When she arrived for her first class, she was welcomed with open arms.

Carrying the shame

Telling her story was a major point in her life, Karen says. After she went through the class, her story was written down by Jill Finley, Bethel’s women’s
ministry director. In the article, published in the ministry’s magazine, Karen describes the process of facing her past.

“As I was confronted by the reality of what I had done, waves of grief washed over me. I began to weep and grieve for my children and for the choices I had made. I felt God gently wrapping me in His arms and rocking me as I held those babies to my chest, and I started to understand the meaning of His sacrifice. Those sins, MY sins – He carried to the cross.

“There was nothing I had done, or could do that His blood would not cover. He took me out of it and it was no longer about what I did, but what Christ did for me! The chains fell right off!”

When asked now how integral the Bible is to the Surrendering the Secret study, Karen skims her class materials, calling out passages: God’s desire for peace for His people in Jeremiah 6:14. Hagar’s story in Genesis 16. Christ’s promise to save and not condemn, as told in John 3:17.

“As you’re freeing yourself and surrendering the secret,” Karen says of the Bible study, “you’re filling yourself up with God. And you’re allowing him to fill you, instead of guilt and shame.”

Sharing the truth

Surrendering the Secret generally meets twice a year. The names of women attending the class are kept confidential, but Jill says ladies involved in Bethel’s women’s ministry know when a class is going on. “And we pray for those women.”

Those who have been in the class take an active role in leading it for the next group, Jill says. Mary Beth went through Surrendering the Secret and has now helped lead the classes for several years. She underscores the importance of protecting the women’s privacy.

“The biggest encouragement you can give those women is providing them with a sense of confidentiality, privacy, and to give them a place where they feel like they can maintain that secret even within the group.

“I pray every day, never let their names slip off my tongue.”

She also emphasizes how important it is for women who have gone through abortion to hear the honest testimony of someone else who’s been in the same place.

Karen combined her passion for prison ministry with her powerful testimony and now leads Surrendering the Secret classes inside a Greenville prison. Before she even finished her cycle of classes, she shared about it with women attending a Bible study at the prison.

“One of the ladies just started bawling,” Karen remembers. “And she said, ‘I’ve had an abortion, I’ve never told anybody. This is the first I’ve ever spoken of it.’” The woman was set to be released soon, so Karen met with her and a friend two days a week. Since then, she’s led the classes in the prison twice a year.

“God just opened the doors,” Jill says. Supplies that might be forbidden inside the prison are allowed for Surrendering the Secret classes. And women have been saved, she adds.

For Karen, “Being free from any secrets has totally opened me up to accepting everybody, and looking at everybody differently,” she says. “And just knowing that if my story is God’s story, I want everything to be for His glory.”

Editor’s note: We think this column by Greg Smith, which first appeared at, is especially timely as many Christians start a read-through-the-Bible plan – beginning in the Old Testament.

Greg_Smith_0120COMMENTARY | Greg Smith

Marcion of Sinope lived in the second century during some of the most formative years of the early church. The son of a bishop, he was also active as a teacher in the region of Asia Minor. In 144 AD, Marcion parted ways with the Christian community by starting his own movement; by doing so, he encouraged thousands through his teachings to better appreciate the Bible.

There was just one problem.

In 144 AD, Marcion was excommunicated from the church for heresy. What was his crime? Marcion taught his followers to reject the Old Testament entirely. His reason? Marcion thought that the Old Testament represented a god different from the New Testament. One cannot have two gods. Thus, Marcion and his followers read only selective books from the Bible and rejected the 39 books of the Old Testament entirely.

Callout_0123Is the cult of Marcionism still alive and active in our churches? It has become apparent to me over the last seven years of teaching Old Testament Survey that students come to my class with an under-appreciation for the text and history of the Old Testament. This stems from the fact that most of their exposure to the Bible, through teaching and preaching, has come largely from the New Testament. For many of my students, the stories of the Old Testament have served as illustration material and have rarely been allowed to speak theologically. This situation falls dangerously close to what the followers of Marcion practiced in the second century.

So what can pastors and teachers do to help their congregations and classrooms grow in their appreciation for the entire Bible?

First, ground your people in the truth that all Scripture is under the inspiration of God and beneficial for preaching, teaching, correction and spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16). For Paul and the other authors of the New Testament, the Bible of their day, the Bible that they read and used in the writing of the books of the New Testament, was the Old Testament.

Second, preach and teach from an entire book of the Old Testament and cover every verse. Will this require a few good commentaries and other resources that assist with understanding the culture, background and history of Israel? Yes, most definitely. But as you preach and teach the text and incorporate that information into what you say, you will make the Scriptures come alive for your people. You will also give them a context for reading the Old Testament on their own, with confidence, and with the ability to draw appropriate application for their lives.

Third, model life-changing application from the Old Testament in your teaching and preaching. While it is true that some things have changed over salvation history, the Old Testament still contains timeless truths that need to be incorporated into the life of the faithful.

Finally, inspire your flock with the simple but profound truth that God is always the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The “old” of the Old Testament cannot mean that God is somehow “updated” in the pages of the New Testament. Help make the pages of the Old Testament come alive for your congregation as you focus on the gracious and loving God who has revealed Himself throughout the entire 66 books of the Bible.

Greg Smith is associate vice president for academic administration and associate professor of Bible at The College at Southwestern, the undergraduate school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at

Tuesday_BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Nearly 400 Southern Baptist pastors met in Atlanta last week to pray for revival and spiritual awakening, doubling the attendance of a similar meeting last fall. Ronnie Floyd, an Arkansas pastor who organized the meetings, reflected on the most recent gathering on his blog by posting five reasons pastors pray:

1. They’re burdened for a great move of God.2. They’re aware they’re limited, and their churches are in need.
3. Pastors are concerned beyond words for our nation.
4. They believe the Great Commission (Jesus’ words in Matthew 28:18-20) can be fulfilled in their generation.
5. Pastors know we need to work together now more than ever before.

The pastors’ prayer meetings raise a question: What is the role of Christians in America’s next great awakening? Read the full story from the Illinois Baptist here.

Phone app calls people to pray for women considering abortion
What if there was a way to direct a woman considering abortion to a crisis pregnancy center, and simultaneously rally a national network of partners to pray for her? Online for Life, a nonprofit business, has developed online marketing techniques to connect abortion-minded women to CPCs, and an app to mobilize intercessors to pray for them. Read the story, first reported by the Southern Baptist TEXAN, in the January 20 issue of the Illinois Baptist (page 6).

Hannah_Gay‘God cured that baby,’ HIV specialist says. ‘I just happened to be standing close by.’
Hannah Gay, who describes herself as “the shiest pediatrician in America” has been in the spotlight for months after achieving a functional cure of a child with HIV. The continued lack of any replication of the virus indicates the first documented case of HIV remission in a child, The New England Journal of Medicine reported in October. Read the full story at

Poll: Most pastors want diversity, but most churches aren’t diverse
“Having a racially diverse church remains more dream than reality for most Protestant pastors,” reports LifeWay Research about a study released just before the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday. While 85% of senior pastors of Protestant churches say every church should strive for racial diversity, only 13% have more than one predominant racial or ethnic group in their congregation. Read more at

The (church) dating game
A new game show will test the matchmaking prowess of church members competing to set up a single member of their congregation. “It Takes a Church,” set to premiere on GSN this year, will be hosted by singer Natalie Grant. “There are a growing number of singles in the church who do not want to be single,” Grant told The Christian Post. The show will visit a new church each week, and the winning “cupid” gets a donation made to the church in their name. The best part: GSN says the unmarried church members will be “unsuspecting” until camera crews arrive. Read more at

The next great awakening

Meredith Flynn —  January 21, 2014

Great_Awakening_blogWhat is our role in America’s needed revival?

NEWS | Eric Reed

If renewal is a work of the Spirit, is there anything we can do beyond waiting for God to act in His providential timing?

Nearly 400 pastors and leaders who met in Atlanta this month certainly hope so.

“God is up to something special in America,” said Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, organizer of the two-day prayer gathering and another similar meeting last fall in Dallas.

“We had a fabulous response to our Dallas prayer gathering,” Floyd said before the Atlanta meeting. “We did not have any plans to do another gathering, but wanted only what God wanted…. After listening, prayer and discussion, we determined that God wanted us to open it up to all Southern Baptist senior pastors and God-called ministers.”

Twice as many pastors attended the Atlanta gathering. The prayer meetings raise a question: What can believers do to bring spiritual awakening to a nation lulled to disinterest by its tolerance of sin?

“We are the revival generation,” Floyd posted on his blog after the Atlanta meeting.

“We must reach this world for Jesus Christ. The hour is critical. The time is short. This is why we need to practice extraordinary prayer.”

Or, as one pastor asserted at the Dallas gathering, “God, I’m not going to let go of You until You burst from the heavens and come down.”

What woke Great-Grandpa

“Generally, the people of God were going about life and ministry with a business-as-usual attitude,” Phil Miglioratti, IBSA’s prayer consultant and leader of the National Pastors’ Prayer Network says of the periods just before the Great Awakenings.

“They were either satisfied with the current situation of cultural decline or lacking in faith for the church to have an impact on the country.”

But God moved back then.

What historians generally call the First Great Awakening started in the 1730s when the stern preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, in a ritualistic period of churchmanship, stirred in their hearers a desire for a more personal faith.

Another wave started in the early 1800s and set the stage for sweeping revivalism across the U.S. both before and after the Civil War. That awakening moved from New England, across what was then the upper Midwest, and after the war down into Kentucky and Tennessee.

“In both the First and Second awakenings, the church needed a revival of prayer,” Miglioratti said. “The Holy Spirit responded with a rhythm of praying in the First awakening, at first with individuals, then congregations, and then regional prayer movements. In the Second, it was an outside-the-box movement of noon-time prayer meetings that spread west from New York City across the country.”

The pattern Miglioratti identified started with individual repentance, but often spread quickly. It began with prayer and proclamation of the word. And the awakenings came ahead of times of national testing: the American Revolution, the Civil War.

God was preparing his people.

In recent years, the pattern of awakenings has included spontaneous prayer meetings on college campuses, where run-of-the-mill chapel services turned into days-long sessions of personal confession. Wheaton College experienced such a revival in 1995, at the same time campus revivals broke out in Texas, with students praying non-stop for several days. But there is a difference between protracted personal chest-beating and intercession on behalf of a wayward nation pleading for the salvation of millions of lost souls.

“For some time, God has been burdening my heart about prayer and spiritual awakening,” Frank Page wrote when he called the denomination to prayer in 2013. “I talked about this a great deal when I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2006-08)…. That deep sense of need for revival in our land has only gotten stronger over these past six years,” said Page, now president of the SBC Executive Committee.

“If we do not have God’s reviving hand upon us, we will move into a precipitous decline from which we will never recover,” Page said.

Beyond personal confession and pleading for the nation, some theologians say believers can’t just sit back and hope God moves. Action is required, specifically, bringing the body of Christ together in unity.

“I was recently involved in a prayer gathering, entreating the Lord for spiritual awakening and revival in our nation,” said Roger Oldham, executive editor of SBC Life, published by the denomination’s executive committee. “As we prayed, person after person lamented the apparent lack of love for the brethren within Christian circles… We don’t stand our ground in defending one another, especially when a fellow believer takes a strong stand on a crucial issue.”

Oldham is not alone in that opinion. Leaders in several denominations have called on evangelicals to come together to pray for revival – and to take stands on issues vital to America’s spiritual renewal.

So, the pattern emerges: prayer for renewal begins with the individual believer, then moves to the church as prayer for revival, and ultimately becomes prayer for national awakening.

“‘Start with me, Lord’ must be our personal call for real conviction and cleansing,” said Miglioratti, “and we do not need to wait for a leader to schedule a Solemn Assembly to pray that prayer. Then pray for your congregation to be called into times of honest reflection and Holy Spirit-sourced repentance, with witnessing and evangelization as the fruit of an authentic restoration of Christ as Head of the Church.”

Or, as one pastor in Dallas prayed: “Lord, I don’t want to do [ministry] if You don’t come down in power….Lord, it’s one thing to read about it; we want to experience revival.”

Layout 1NEWS | “Where are you?”

That simple question, asked from the Youth Encounter stage, has stuck with Kendra Lorton ever since she attended IBSA’s annual conference for students.

“When God asks where are you, are you right behind him, or are you away from him?” Lorton paraphrased speaker Brian Burgess’ final message of the weekend.

“That’s been in my mind every day since then.”

Lorton attended her first Youth Encounter December 27-28 as a leader from Herrick Baptist Church. The church sent a group of 20 students and chaperones, including Pastor Jay Huddleston. He told the Illinois Baptist three students from his church made decisions to follow Christ, including a brother and sister. Four Herrick students recommitted their lives to Christ. Huddleston also remembers Burgess’ “where are you” message:

“I’m telling you, the spirit of God touched all of us … it was unbelievable.”

Final reports indicate 32 people at Youth Encounter made decisions to follow Christ; 1,003 students and leaders were registered for the conference, representing 91 churches.

At the heart of Youth Encounter is the desire to present the Gospel in clear, creative ways, said Tim Sadler, IBSA’s director of evangelism. That’s why Sadler and his team work to recruit a variety of artists and personalities for the YE stage. In addition to Burgess, the 2013 conference featured bands Citizen Way and 33Miles, evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake, entertainment from 321 Improv, and local rapper Loudmouth. And they didn’t come just to perform.

“I was super impressed with the time our artists took with the students out in the lobby,” Sadler said. “They were willing to pour into the lives of the students.” Huddleston agreed. His group took pictures with Loudmouth and Drake and came to see the artists as “down-to-earth people.”

Breakout sessions, new to Youth Encounter this year, gave attenders another opportunity to engage with leaders in a smaller group setting. After the opening session, students streamed downstairs to the lowest level of the Prairie Capital Convention Center. They lined the walls of two large rooms to hear about summer missions opportunities in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, El Salvador and Jamaica.

Students also crowded into a classroom to learn from Sadler about sharing their faith; others met with IBSA’s Steve Hamrick to hear about Illinois’ All State Youth Choir. And a group of leaders listened as Pinckneyville native Brent Lacy gave suggestions on how to make the most of youth ministry in a rural context.

GO Week, a new student experience from IBSA, also got its own breakout session. The inaugural project, scheduled for July 13-18, is an opportunity for those in grades 7-12 to work alongside church planters in Chicagoland. Students will stay at Judson University in Elgin, and also gather there for worship led by Ben Calhoun of Citizen Way. GO Week is part of a partnership between IBSA and Judson to involve more students and graduates in church planting.

Missions was a major focus at Youth Encounter on purpose, Sadler said. “The wedding between missions and IBSA’s student events finds its roots in the Bible,” he said, referencing James 1:22-23. “The rightful response of every believer is to live the mission; to impact the neighborhoods and the nations with the Gospel.”

For Kendra Lorton’s group, Youth Encounter was such a good experience that she wishes they could go more than once a year. Her youth group runs 18 to 20 on Wednesday nights in Herrick, a town of less than 500.

“I think being in a big arena like that and that many kids, it opened their eyes up to a whole new experience.”

Speaker Brian Burgess

Speaker Brian Burgess

Students prepare for a breakout session about upcoming summer missions opportunities.

Students prepare for a breakout session about upcoming summer missions opportunities.

Ben Calhoun of the band Citizen Way

Ben Calhoun of the band Citizen Way

IBSA's Tim Sadler leads a session on sharing your faith.

IBSA’s Tim Sadler leads a session on sharing your faith.

Evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake

Evangelist/illusionist Bryan Drake

Charles Campbell meets with students interested in church planting.

Charles Campbell meets with students interested in church planting.

Nate_Adams_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

The Christmas and New Year holidays have passed, again. The decorations are mostly put away. The gifts have been placed into use, or into storage, or quietly returned. The various stresses of the season now finally seem to be subsiding, only to be replaced with something new – the stresses of returning to our regular routines.

One of the Christmas messages I heard last month focused on the shepherds. Before telling the story of how the angels came to announce Jesus’ birth, and how the shepherds left immediately for Bethlehem, the pastor went into some detail on how miserable the life of a shepherd was during that day. Their work was hard, and long, and dirty. They were poor. They had no status in society, no education, no real prospects. They were not only physically unclean, they were also considered spiritually unclean, at least by religious people. They had little hope.

As the pastor spoke, I began to think about how hard and thankless and frustrating work can be, and the drudgery of life’s routines. None of us have it as rough as first century shepherds. But I started thinking about the stacks of papers I had brought home from the office, and had not yet touched. I thought about my job’s most challenging problems, projects, and people, all of which would be waiting for me after the holidays.

Yes, leaving my own field of work for a break had actually sounded pretty good to me just prior to Christmas. The question was, where would I find my enthusiasm for returning to that field? Where do any of us find new hope and purpose for our work at the start of a new year, or a new week, or a new day?

We find it the same place the shepherds did. We find it in the presence of our King.  We intentionally pull away from our work, both its importance and fulfillment, and also its occasional drudgery and hopelessness. And we worship. We run to Jesus, and we realize again that He is our hope, that He is our strength, that He is our reason for living and that He gives purpose to our work.

Whatever our life’s work may be, if we do it merely for a paycheck, or for status or success, or to try and give our lives meaning, we will constantly feel like hopeless shepherds. But look at how these shepherds returned to their fields after worshiping the Christ child! They were enthusiastic, they had hope, and they were eager to tell everyone about the Immanuel who had come and made all the difference in their lives.

Especially if you are a pastor or busy church leader, you may have allowed the holidays to come and go this year without pulling away for some genuine, personal, renewing worship time. If so, let me urge you to do that before returning to your ministry field’s routines for 2014. Gaze at Christ as if for the first time, and remind yourself what your life, and His, and your work, and His, are really all about.

In fact, throughout the year, let’s let the shepherds remind us that we can always return to the fields of our work and our ministries different, with renewed strength and purpose, after experiencing true, heartfelt worship. It’s true once in a lifetime, when we meet Christ. It’s true once a year, when we pull away for the holidays and then start a new year. It’s true every week, when we remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. It can even be true every day that we go to work, if we return to that same old field with a fresh view of the King.

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

IBSA's Mark Emerson (left) and Harold Booze from Woodland Baptist in Peoria (right) stand with a village chief in West Africa.

IBSA’s Mark Emerson (left) and Harold Booze from Woodland Baptist in Peoria (right), with a village chief in West Africa.

COMMENTARY | Mark Emerson

My wife recently downloaded and played for me Scott Wesley Brown’s classic song “Please Don’t Send Me To Africa.” It brought back memories of college chapel services and the annual mission challenge to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Tammie played the song for me because as I write this, I’m getting ready to join four Illinois Baptist pastors on a mission trip to the very continent Scott Wesley Brown was praying God wouldn’t send him.

Among missiologists there is a growing debate on the effectiveness of such short-term trips. Should we really go to Africa? Here are a few insights God has laid on my heart.

First, I’m going to Africa because God commanded me to go. Some would say there really doesn’t need to be another point. God has said it and that settles it. When the Lord shared that we should “go into all the world and take the Gospel to every creature,” He wasn’t directing the challenge only to a small group of disciples at that particular time. He was including you and me. God was declaring that we are the instruments He has chosen to take the Gospel to the world.

The second reason I’m going is because there are people who need the Gospel. In Africa our team will visit UUPG’s – “Unreached, Unengaged People Groups.” These groups are less than 2% Christian and do not have an indigenous church planting strategy. Simply put, there are few believers and no churches. I have never been to a place where the Gospel hasn’t been. The privilege of being able to share the story of Jesus around the village fire to those who will hear it for the first time has captured my heart.

And finally, I’m going to Africa because it may help others to go! Many groups are unreached in our world because it is hard to get the Gospel to them. I have led numerous groups to fairly easy locations, many have gone, but we followed multitudes that had already been there.

Going to West Africa is hard. Inoculations are expensive; airfare is expensive, travel conditions are difficult, living conditions are outside our comfort zones. But millions are dying without Christ. If I go, maybe someone would be willing to go with me, or better yet, see going as not so difficult. Pastor Kevin Carrothers from Rochester First Baptist Church is going with me in hopes of helping volunteers in Capital City Association engage an unreached people group. He is going so others can go.

I may have returned by the time you read this article. If so, I would love to share with you how God opened doors and used our team to share the Gospel. I would also love to share with you how your gifts through the Cooperative Program have provided full-time IMB missionaries who are working on your behalf to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. I will get to work alongside several of our missionaries during this trip. They are anxiously awaiting the opportunity of working alongside you in Africa and all over the world. Consider going!

Mark Emerson is IBSA’s associate executive director of missions.