Archives For February 2016

Good attendance tempered by fewer baptisms

For IBSA churches, 2015 was a year of ups and downs: giving and attendance were up, but baptisms were down.

“It seems clear to me that being a Baptist here in Illinois, indeed being a Christian in America, is becoming increasingly counter-cultural,” IBSA executive director Nate Adams said. “We no longer reach people and grow churches simply by opening the doors on Sunday morning.”

A rebounding economy and continued emphasis on missions giving may be behind a 1.53% increase in Cooperative Program giving to $6,230,082 (reported prior to completion of the annual audit) and a 10% hike in the Mission Illinois Offering last year at $403,595, according to the tallies of the Annual Church Profiles submitted by IBSA churches.

Total membership is up by more than 1,000 in IBSA churches (to 193,972), and worship attendance is up by almost 5,000 (7.3%) over the previous year. But baptisms declined by 2.4% to 4,400. That’s down 105 from the previous year, and down from recent averages around 5,000 per year.

On the positive side, the number of churches reporting baptisms was 591, up 29 churches from the previous year; and the number reporting zero baptisms was down by 25 churches to 366.

“The need has never been greater to live out 1 Corinthians 9 and become all things to all people to reach some, while also living out Romans 12 and refusing to be conformed to the culture in which we find ourselves,” Adams said.

Another bright spot in the 2015 ACP report is participation in missions and leadership development: Just under 24,000 volunteers from IBSA churches were mobilized for missions projects in Illinois and worldwide. And IBSA trained 8,932 leaders from 592 churches in a variety of ways, for a total of 20,203 personal training sessions.

And in a new reporting category, IBSA set a goal for 2015 of at least 100 new Bible study groups; churches blew past that goal and started 229 groups.

“One way to summarize those two contrasting pictures of our mission here in Illinois might be to simply say that fewer people are doing more with less,” Adams concluded. “Another way might be to say that some churches are doing well, while others are struggling. My primary concern is that, in total, our churches’ cumulative statewide impact on lostness in Illinois is not growing, at least not numerically.”

And with at least 8 million people in Illinois who do not know Jesus Christ personally, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

IBSA has targeted five areas for kingdom growth in 2016, rolled out at the Annual Meeting in November: evangelistic prayer, witness training, outreach events, expanded VBS, and new groups. A study in the Midwest showed that churches engaging in these activities were more likely to lead people to faith in Christ and to grow disciples. The IBSA Church Resources Team is assisting all churches that want equipping in these areas.

Look for a full report on baptisms and the evangelistic activity of IBSA churches in a future issue of the Illinois Baptist.

– Staff

Platt surprised by number, but financial position called ‘much healthier’

Richmond, Va. | David Platt’s report to the International Mission Board’s Board (IMB) of Trustees was the culmination of six month’s worth of efforts to undo the six year’s worth of overspending.

The IMB president, told trustees 1,132 total IMB personnel had accepted the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) or Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO).  The numbers broke down to 702 missionaries and 109 staff personnel accepting the VRI, and 281 missionaries and 40 staff accepting the HRO. The positions of 30 personnel in IMB’s Richmond communications office were eliminated in its mobilization restructure.

The total was nearly twice the minimum number the mission board needed to depart to balance its budget. As a result, the number of missionaries on the field are down to around 3,800, a number not seen 1992 when, according to Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual reports, the year ended with 3,893 international missionaries were serving.

Platt told reporters participating in a press conference via telephone February 24, “The numbers surprised me, for which I don’t have an explanation. We’ve put it in the hands of missionaries as much as possible… This a larger number than I or anyone else was anticipating. We called on people to pray so we’re going to trust in the Lord and his decision.”

While the press conference was taking place, Platt told reporters a severe storm was passing through and noted the lights were flickering on and off. A few minutes later the lights went out and a Tornado Warning Alert could be heard. The press conference was stopped for a half hour until the storm passed.

After discussing the numbers, Platt told the gathered media, “I want to talk about the number of missionaries who are left. Thousands of missionaries remain on the field, with thousands of years of collective experience. Everyone of them on the field has been placed there by God.”

IMB reported it had “consistently spent more money than it has received — a combined $210 million more since 2010…Because 80 percent of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel salary, benefits and support expenses, leaders determined a need to reduce the total number of personnel by approximately 600-800 people to get to a healthy financial place in the present for sustained growth and engagement in the future.”

The Illinois Baptist asked what his reaction was to receiving almost double the number of resignations needed? “My heart is heavy but hopeful,” he answered. “Heavy in a sense that my heart is not to see less people on the field. My heart is heavy seeing the effects…It’s a hopeful confidence mingled with that heaviness.”

“What does this say about the confidence the missions force has in the new leadership?” the Illinois Baptist asked in a follow-up. Platt replied, “I’m very encouraged to see God working in the middle of all this. I have a hopeful confidence in what the IMB will be able to do in the future.

“I hope Southern Baptists see a serious desire to love and lead the IMB well…This is in no way a commentary on past leadership. Past leadership made a bold decision to put people on the field.”

Platt also addressed a question he said people have been asking, “How can you send thousands more when you just sent a thousand off the field?” His answer focused on what some would describe as marketplace missions, “limitless opportunities for people to work overseas and retire overseas.” In turn they would be funded by their paychecks and pensions. He also noted mission opportunities for students studying abroad.

One reporter expressed concerns from churches about the departure of so many missionaries leaving a “brain drain” on the field. Platt responded, “We encouraged missionaries returning to take their last days on the field to pour into our national partners and other IMB missionaries that were still there.”

Another reporter asked Platt if he saw this proposed use of self-funded missionaries as the IMB taking a societal approach to missions.

In his answer Platt noted, people who get jobs overseas and are paid by their businesses, universities provide scholarships to students, and countries in southeast Asia are seeking Westerners to retire there “rolling out the red carpet.” With these opportunities, he asked, “How can we not support the core paid missionaries with those around them that can help?”

He continued, “I can’t pray Matthew 7:9 and then tell people who want to serve with the IMB, ‘no.’ God’s created these other avenues…”

Platt also responded to a question regarding what kind of response he has heard from Southern Baptists. “I’ve not been surprised by the feedback from Southern Baptist pastors and church leaders,” he shared. “They’re thankful we’ve chosen to stewardship resources in the way we have…They’ve been very encouraging. Once they hear the big picture they say that makes sense, thank you for making that decision.”

He went on to say, “People aren’t happy about it. I’m not happy about it. It’s a hard reality for Southern Baptists to face that we don’t have the resources to keep more people on the field….I expect people to be upset that people are leaving the field but God’s leading us to greater financial stewardship.”

SBC President Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press, “This reset is not regress or retreat. Southern Baptist churches must see this as a fresh calling to reaching the world for Christ. Now is the time to go forward with a clear vision and an aggressive strategy to make disciples of all the nations for Christ.”

Twenty-six new missionaries were appointed to the International Mission Board Feb. 23, in a service that was the first to be live-streamed.

The IMB Board of Trustees met February 22-24 in Richmond, Virginia.

IMB will host a livestream focused on “The Future of the IMB” Thursday, March 3, at 11 a.m. EST. For more information, visit IMB.org/live.

Denominational tags have fallen on hard times. History and tradition have become baggage.

I would be surprised if you know of a new church that can be identified with any recognizable branch of Christianity. If you can get creek, river, brook, or tree into your church name, for sure it will grow. The more bland, comforting, serene; the more easily confused with a country club or a rock band your church name is, the more in tune with the times you appear.

And the latest trend has moved beyond nature: Bridge. Liquid. Radiance. Paradox. Propulsion.

In the interest of transparency, I began a move to change our church name 15 or 20 years ago, then I chickened out. Baptist is still our middle name.

Here is my attempt to give a bit of context and explanation for our church name to a deep blue, urban, postmodern population.

What’s in a name?
John the Baptist, eccentric prophet. William Carey, linguist, humanitarian extraordinaire. Fredrick Douglas, abolitionist-orator. Charles Spurgeon, urban crusader. Nannie Helen Borroughs, women’s leader. Walter Rauschenbusch, social justice warrior. Lottie Moon, China champion. Martin Luther King, renowned activist. Billy Graham, global evangelist. Mahalia Jackson, vocalist without equal. Rick Warren, mega-church pastor, best-selling author. Baptist is a name associated with colorful, controversial, influential figures here and around the world.

There are approximately 32 million Baptists in the U.S., half of them are “Southern Baptists,” over 100 million in the world. As for “The Baptist Church,” there isn’t one. Each Baptist congregation is independent, autonomous, self-governing. Many churches participate in larger entities, but those affiliations do not infringe upon congregational self-determination. Yes, this lends itself to some craziness and confusion; it is what it is.

Baptists are not self-named. Our persecutors began using this label in derision beginning in the 1400s. Theologically and historically, Baptists are those who hold the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible, as sole authority in all matters of faith, church order, and practice rather than looking to tradition, human hierarchies, committees, or governments.

Many historians seemingly fail to notice that many who came to America for religious freedom, instituted the same state church systems, persecuting those who did not adhere, repeating the sins of the governments they fled.

In U.S. history, Rhode Island, the first colony with complete religious freedom, was founded by Baptist Roger Williams. Williams’s life was a crusade for freedom of conscience and religious liberty. He founded Rhode Island in 1636 after purchasing the land from the Narragansett Indians.

A refuge from religious persecution, Rhode Island became home to the first Jewish synagogue in America and a sanctuary for Quakers who were being persecuted and killed by anti-Quaker laws in Massachusetts and other colonial territories. Rhode Island was an open door to all people, a safe harbor in a sea of tyranny and oppression.

In the flurry of activity around the colonies becoming states, the constitution presented for ratification did not provide for religious liberty. Baptists supported the proposed constitution on the condition an amendment on religious freedom would be added.
Finally, Massachusetts and Virginia became the pivotal states in the process. James Madison was running for the state legislature of Virginia against Baptist pastor John Leland.

Madison was about to lose the election. Leland knew this. He also knew without Madison’s golden voice and political influence there would be no constitution. With victory already in his hand, Leland dropped out of the race, giving Madison an open road on the promise that he would pursue language providing for religious liberty.

So sympathetic was Congress, urged on by President Washington, that they made it their first business to consider the issue Baptists were pressing. As a result, the line of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Baptist then is not a “brand name” so much as it is a historical, theological descriptor of people who adhere to biblical authority over human authority and are advocates of religious liberty for all.

Charles Lyons pastors Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago.

I Voted!With the nation’s first few presidential primaries and caucuses out of the way, pundits are scratching their heads and wondering why evangelical voters aren’t behaving as predicted. Among the three candidates most popular with evangelical voters, Donald Trump, a Presbyterian with a less than pious past, continues to best his two closest rivals – Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist, and Marco Rubio, a Catholic who attends a Baptist church.

Now, many are starting to ask: “Who are these evangelical voters?” “Who are they really supporting, and why?” Some analysts say not all the people pollsters are calling “evangelicals” really qualify for that label. That may be the reason it appears the evangelical voting bloc is split. It may also be the reason Trump is claiming the support of evangelicals despite the outcry among some devout leaders that his lifestyle and apparent values clash with their own evangelical beliefs.

A survey by LifeWay Research and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) determined last fall that evangelicals (as most Southern Baptists would describe them) hold four common beliefs: the Bible is their highest authority, it is very important to share Christ with non-Christians, Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that can remove sin, and only those who accept Christ as their savior will receive eternal salvation

The survey surprisingly found just 41% of self-identified evangelicals hold all four beliefs, and 21% of those who rejected the evangelical label actually agree with all four. Other polls and studies have found many define evangelical in much broader terms, or as LifeWay’s Trevin Wax stated on The Gospel Coalition’s website, “’Evangelical’ sometimes means ‘cultural Christianity.’”

Later in that same article, Wax also blamed a lack of discipleship as a factor in evangelical voting writing, “A 30-minute sermon once a week or a brief morning prayer are not nearly as formative as the hours and hours a congregant may spend watching cable news, or listening to talk radio, or frequenting conspiratorial websites, or sharing articles that fan the flames of fear and anger.”

The National Review also weighed in after Trump’s win in South Carolina, the fifth most religious state according to Pew Survey. Writer JD Vance cited lack of church attendance by self-identified evangelicals as a factor in the second and third place finishes of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. “While approximately 80 percent of the country identifies as Christian, only about one in five regularly attend church services,” Vance wrote.

Based on this, he believes Cruz, who has most actively sought the evangelical vote, may be depending “on a group of religious voters who increasingly spurn church services and, consequently, traditional social conservatives like him.”

There is still much to be said. Next week is Super Tuesday, when Bible Belt states will have their say. While Illinois voters won’t go to the polls until March 15.

Perhaps Rubio, may have had the best insight when speaking after learning of this second place finish in South Carolina. “If it is God’s will that we should win this election, then history will say that on this night in South Carolina we took the first step forward in the beginning of a New American Century.” Truly, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election does hinge on God’s will.

Trump wins evangelicals in S.C.
Billionaire Donald Trump easily won the Republican presidential primary Feb. 20 in the evangelical Christian stronghold of South Carolina. The success among self-identified evangelicals in South Carolina of Trump nearly mirrored his total among all Republican voters in the state.

Planned Parenthood videos mostly ignored
Over the past six months, a series of undercover videos focused on Planned Parenthood made national headlines, provoked outrage in Congress, and prompted investigations in about a dozen states. However, LifeWay Research found 7 out of 10 people are either not aware of the videos (43%) or have not spoken out after seeing them (27%).

More sue home-school guru for sexual harassment
The sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Gothard, whose ministry preached the subordination of women to men, has grown again. Now 18 people — 16 women and two men — are suing the 81-year-old founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, and the Oak Brook, Ill.-based institute. Thousands of conservative Christian families have relied on the IBLP’s home schooling curriculum.

‘Risen’ takes first in new releases
“Risen,” a film that tells of Jesus’ resurrection from the eyes of an unsaved soldier who participated in His crucifixion, opened in first place at the box office among new wide releases the weekend of Feb. 19–21.

Nike drops boxer over anti-gay comments
World champion boxer-turned-politician Manny Pacquiao apologized on social media for saying that people who engage in homosexual acts are “worse than animals,” but not before the remark cost him Nike’s sponsorship.

Sources: Baptist Press, Facts & Trends, RNS, World Magazine

Teaching Sunday School

Lisa Misner Sergent —  February 22, 2016

I have the privilege and challenge of attending a different church almost every week, but this past month I was able to attend my home church two weeks in a row. The first week, at the end of our Sunday school class, our teacher announced that he and his wife would be gone the following Sunday, and asked if any of us were available to substitute.

Our eyes met, and he smiled and said, “I don’t guess you will be here next Sunday.” I replied that actually I would, and a few minutes later I was walking out the door with his teacher’s book under my arm.

Teaching Sunday schoolI love teaching Sunday school. I’ve done my best to learn to preach over the years, but I’m really more at home in a classroom setting. I love the process of studying and organizing a lesson, of thinking through its most relevant, real life applications, and then planning creative illustrations or exercises that will help everyone take home some practical help.

But it’s more than just the teaching process that always made me love leading a Sunday school class. It’s living life with a small group of people week in and week out. It’s coming together outside class for fellowship and ministry. It’s doing missions projects together. And it’s making our class so fun and inviting and loving that we have lots of opportunities to welcome others in, and even send some of them out to do the same thing elsewhere.
That one week I got to teach Sunday school, I really only got to do the teaching part. Most of the rest of those benefits only come with consistent, loving investment in a group of people over time.

But the Lord did give us a special moment during that lesson. Our text in 2 Corinthians spoke of the burdens and hardships that Paul was carrying for the sake of the gospel. It wasn’t in the curriculum, but in my notes I had simply written the question, “Are we carrying any burdens or enduring any hardships for the sake of the gospel?”

When I framed that question for the group, I made it clear that I wasn’t just looking for a list of minor inconveniences, or for the self-absorbed whining in which we can readily engage. I asked them what burdens or hardships they were currently facing because they longed for someone to know Christ.

Frankly, I didn’t expect a lot of response. Sometimes teachers ask questions simply to create reflection or allow for conviction. But in the hallowed moments that followed, several in the class shared with quiet emotion the difficulties they were currently facing while trying to lead someone they loved to Christ, or back to Christ.

After a few minutes of sharing, we encouraged one another, and urged one another “not to give up,” as Paul had written. Paul labeled his own afflictions “momentary” and “light” compared to the glory that is waiting for us. And as our class shared our own burdens with one another in the context of God’s Word, we felt them get lighter as well. We walked out of that class with renewed determination and optimism. Now that’s Sunday school.

My one week back in teaching Sunday school reminded me again how powerful and transformational small group Bible study can be. And it gave me a renewed appreciation for my own Sunday school teacher, Matt, and for the thousands of faithful men and women that lead Bible studies in our churches every week.

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

Illinois flood callout complete, Missouri recovery ongoing

Kincaid_flood_recovery

Illinois Disaster Relief teams, including one from Capital City Baptist Association, dismantled destroyed houses in Kincaid.

Illinois Disaster Relief volunteers were busy with flood recovery efforts in two states throughout the month of January. They came to the aid of flood victims after holiday storms dumped 10 or more inches of rain across Illinois and Missouri.

Flooding in the states killed at least two dozen people, affected roughly 5,000 homes and temporarily closed portions of Interstate 44 and Interstate 70. The flooding was particularly bad in Missouri where in some areas along the Mississippi, floodwaters rose to 48.9 feet, surpassing the 1993 record by nearly half a foot. “It’s bigger than people realize,” said Joe Banderman, leader of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s collegiate relief team. “Unless you’re here, it’s hard to get an idea of the scope of the flooding.”

Arnold flood recovery

It’s dirty work mudding out flooded homes in the Mississippi River region. Members of Genesis Church suited up to dig out in Missouri.

Illinois DR teams were kept busy in the rural Illinois town of Kincaid, extreme Southern Illinois in Alexander County, and in the suburban St. Louis town of Arnold, Missouri.
Flood recovery work includes helping homeowners dispose of flood-soaked belongings, ripping out floors and walls, spraying mold repellent on the remaining wall studs and floor joists. The process is very emotional for the victims.

Missouri was hit particularly hard by the flooding, said Dwain Carter, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s disaster relief director. He hopes Southern Baptists can continue to help families by deploying volunteer teams to assist in flood recovery, following the departure of teams in late January who prepared meals and engaged in various facets of outreach to flood victims.

“Our Disaster Relief teams had a great impact in Kincaid and also in several small communities in Southern Illinois,” said Rex Alexander, IBSA’s DR coordinator. “These smaller towns are often ignored during times of disaster and the residents were especially grateful for our ministry.”

He expressed his gratitude for all the volunteers who served during the coldest month of the year. “Their commitment and service to the Lord is an example for all of us to follow!”
Carter said the sacrificial service of disaster relief volunteers from 21 state conventions painted a “perfect picture” of Southern Baptist cooperation. “We talk about cooperative giving a lot, but this was a cooperative effort to overcome a disaster,” he said.

“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief,” he added, “is a cooperation of thousands of Southern Baptists to bring hope, help and healing while transforming lives and communities through the Gospel.”

In all, 48 volunteers from Capitol City and Metro East Associations served in Kincaid, while 41 volunteers from Harrisburg First Baptist and Williamson Association served in Olive Branch. A team of 14 volunteers from First Baptist Galatia worked in Arnold.

If you would like to become a disaster relief volunteer, training events are scheduled for April 8-9 at Western Oaks Baptist in Springfield, April 22-23 at Streator Baptist Camp in Streator, and October 14-15 at Lake Sallateeska Baptist Camp in Pinckneyville. For more information visit www.IBSA.org/DR or call Rex Alexander at (217) 391-3134.

– With additional reporting by Baptist Press