In the Middle

Lisa Sergent —  September 21, 2015

HEARTLAND| Nate Adams

I am reminded lately of the song “Stuck in the Middle with You.” The song was written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Eagan, and recorded by their band, Stealers Wheel, in 1972. The song was inspired when Rafferty and Egan were seated at a restaurant table with record company representatives on one side of them and producers on the other. The executives were talking across them, conducting business, and the singers were “stuck in the middle.”

Neither the IBSA staff and missionaries nor I feel “stuck” in any sense of the word, but I do feel we’re in the middle of something. As a middle-sized state convention here in the middle of the country, and now in the middle of a funding challenge, we are also in the middle of some crucial questions about how we do ministry, how we advance the gospel, and how we sustain our shared work financially.

Nate Adams

In the previous issue of the Illinois Baptist, I outlined reasons that inspire me personally to give through my church to the Mission Illinois Offering each year. (See IBSA.org/MIO.)

I unapologetically ask IBSA churches to receive an annual offering for state missions. But there are some additional dynamics that make the Mission Illinois Offering even more important this year.

For one thing, Cooperative Program giving in Illinois, the primary funding source of our missions and ministries, has not yet rebounded from what’s now called “The Great Recession” of 2007-2009. Yet expenses, especially “people costs” such as healthcare and travel, continue to rise. For example, IBSA’s healthcare premiums will increase 20% next year, or almost $65,000. Yet CP income planned in the 2016 IBSA budget is actually $340,000 less than we received in 2009.

Compounding the CP shortfall is a strategic shift by our partners at the North American Mission Board to focus almost exclusively on church planting in larger cities. Of course church planting is a top priority for us in Illinois too. But now funding for staff and ministries such as WMU and women’s ministries, collegiate ministry, IBSA’s church consultants and partnership with local Associations, and soon our funding of the Christian Activity Center in East St. Louis, must come 100% from the IBSA budget, rather than being shared by both NAMB and IBSA.

We appreciate the partnership NAMB provides for church planting, especially in Chicago and metro St. Louis. But we must ask how other Illinois ministries can continue to be funded. The Mission Illinois Offering is the single most important factor in answering that question.

Over the past five years, larger state conventions have downsized by a third or more. Smaller state conventions who are much more dependent on NAMB funding have needed to focus their attention more exclusively on church planting, often at the expense of assisting existing churches.

While we in Illinois have also downsized and economized, we’ve done so gradually, without layoffs or major loss of services or ministries. In a sense, we benefit from being “medium-sized,” with enough resources to be somewhat self-sufficient, and yet not so many institutional obligations that limit our options for trimming budgets.

You and your church can help through generous participation in the Mission Illinois Offering. If your church does not collect the Mission Illinois Offering, you can contribute directly. Visit www.IBSA.org and click on the “donate” tab. Or mail your gift labeled “MIO” directly to IBSA at 3085 Stevenson Dr., Springfield, IL 62703.

And for the record, there’s still no place in the world I’d rather be than here in the middle with you.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.

Lisa Sergent

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Lisa is IBSA Director of Communications. A Missouri native, she moved to Illinois 22 years ago and arrived at IBSA a few years later. Lisa and her husband, Chris, have been married 19 years.