Recently Beth and I had the opportunity to travel to Alaska for our 30th anniversary, and to see for the first time the famous Alaska Pipeline. It is truly a modern marvel, transporting millions of barrels of oil each week over 800 miles from the north slope of Alaska to its northernmost ice-free port in Valdez. Since the pipeline opened in 1977, more than 17 billion barrels of oil have flowed through it, along a route that travels both underground and over the permafrost, in climates that can vary from -80 to +95 degrees Fahrenheit.
The amazing length, cost, and complexity of the pipeline is a testimony to the value of the oil it carries. At $8 billion, it was the largest privately funded construction project ever at the time, and took 70,000 workers and more than three years to build. But it has paid for itself many times over.
Here in Illinois, Baptist churches are working together to build a different kind of pipeline, one designed to carry something of far greater spiritual value than oil. We are seeking to build a leadership pipeline, one that can deliver church planters and tomorrow’s church leaders, both to current churches, and to the under-churched regions of our state.
This summer we laid some major new sections of that pipeline. For the second year, IBSA hosted “ChicaGO Week” at Judson University in Elgin, a mission week experience designed to connect student groups with church planters in Chicagoland. We were delighted to see participation triple over the previous year, as 181 students and leaders from 14 churches invested a week of their lives in numerous neighborhoods where we are seeking to plant new churches.
Earlier in the summer, we laid yet another track of leadership pipeline through IBSA’s Summer Worship University, hosted by Hannibal-LaGrange University. About 130 students and leaders invested a week learning music and worship leadership skills, and then more than 50 of them went on tour to put those skills into practice through the All State Youth Choir.
Super Summer for student leaders at Greenville College, kids camps at Lake Sallateeska and Streator Baptist Camps, and many other leadership development efforts throughout the year are designed to prepare tomorrow’s leaders, and guide them through childhood and adolescence and internships into tomorrow’s—and today’s—church leadership roles. In fact I frequently meet young adults serving in IBSA churches who say they got their start in church leadership through an IBSA leadership development event for students.
A church leadership pipeline is something that we all have to work together to build, in multiple different ways, whether we’re preparing leaders for our own church, or for a sister church somewhere. If we all work at it together, the value of the leaders the pipeline eventually delivers is well worth the cost.
The last day of the ChicaGO Week student camp happened to fall on July 31, which was also my mother’s 85th birthday. So that morning I showed a picture of her to the almost 200 students, interns, youth leaders, and church planting catalysts, and reminded them that missionaries like my mom and dad had invested their lives for decades in the work those young leaders were just now being challenged to continue. I wanted them to see where the leadership pipeline was leading.
After the group joined me in singing “Happy Birthday” on video to my mom, they loaded up in their respective vehicles. But as they drove away, I told myself that they were not just headed home. They are now on a long but important journey, down a pipeline that will one day deliver them to the church of tomorrow, as its leaders.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.