Churches urged to take lessons from Illinois’ early settlers
You know the pioneer in the video you made, Stephen Stilley?” the woman said. “I’m his great niece. Seven greats.”
Stilley was a veteran of the War of 1812 who returned home to Illinois to continue the church planting work he started before joining the army at age 47. Stilley’s name is on a plaque outside First Baptist Church of Elizabethtown, founded in 1806. It’s IBSA’s oldest continually operating congregation, and one of four IBSA churches that predate Illinois’ statehood in 1818.
“When I heard his name, my ears perked up,” said Sheila Jessen, assistant for the Baptist Foundation of Illinois. “My maiden name is Stilley.
“I went home and looked it up in our genealogy,” she continued. “My great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather John was Stephen Stilley’s brother. I’m the niece of a Baptist pioneer,” she said, her eyes welling up a little. “It’s beginning to make sense why I’m at IBSA.”
The descendant of one of the pioneering forebears was having a moment that could be common to all Illinois Baptists: realizing that we are descendants of hearty stock, both spiritual and literal, and in their pioneering DNA we find the fortitude to inhabit the land and build the Kingdom.
With the observation of Illinois’ 200th anniversary set to begin in 2018, IBSA offered a new call to spread the gospel across the state.
“What are we going to do to get off of the flat line we are on as Illinois Baptists?” Executive Director Nate Adams asked at the Annual Meeting. Adams outlined a four-fold plan to engage churches in new commitments to church planting, evangelism, missions-giving, and leader development. “We think these are at the very core of what it means to have a pioneering spirit.”
As with the pioneers in the early 19th century, the need of the 21st century is brave souls willing to do whatever it takes to stake new territory, taking the gospel where it has never been before. The goal is to have 200 or more churches committed to each of the four challenges.
Roles and role models
Throughout the meeting, the theme was interpreted with a series of interviews. First up, a couple who found in her family tree inspiration to go to a new place to plant a new church.
Bryan and Marci Coble moved their family from Texas, where he was in seminary, to Chicago. After briefly considering planting a church in Portland, Oregon, the Cobles felt led to explore Marci’s home state. Her grandmother sent them a clipping from the Illinois Baptist saying more churches are needed in Chicago.
But there was another influence. Marci, who grew up in Chatham, is the granddaughter of former IBSA executive director Maurice Swinford (1988-1993). “He was like a second father to me,” she said at the meeting in Decatur. “He encouraged me and invested in my life. He planted those seeds of leadership in my life.”
Answering the call to church planting led the couple to the Irving Park neighborhood of Chicago, a diverse community of Anglo, Hispanic, African American, and Asian people on the city’s north side. The location explains why Bryan wore a Chicago Cubs cap for 30 days during their exploration process. Could this diehard Cards fan from Missouri minister successfully in the heart of Cubs territory? During that month, Bryan felt a growing love for the city and its lost people.
Across Illinois, there are more than 200 places and people groups in need of an evangelical church. There are many places similar to the Cobles’ neighborhood. Many are in highly populated urban areas. Many are in small towns and rural crossroads. In all of them, gospel-teaching Baptist churches are needed.
The church planting challenge is for churches to pray for new congregations, partner with a church planter to assist his work, or to lead in the planting of a new congregation.
Talking about Jesus
Pat Pajak shares Christ everywhere—even in the hospital where he had open-heart surgery. Pat told his story to show the pioneering need to engage people with the gospel. “We need to believe that God can do a marvelous thing in our church,” Pajak said. “There are lost people all around us.”
Pajak described two emphases that will be part of his work as IBSA’s Associate Executive Director for evangelism in 2018. One of them is part of a larger project led by the North American Mission Board: Gospel Conversations. Talking about Jesus is the simple calling of every believer, but many are shy to speak up. NAMB’s goal is to register one-million gospel conversations prior to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June. NAMB has created a website where church members can report their personal conversations with lost people. There are also short videos from people sharing their “conversation” experiences. (GCChallenge.com)
Pajak announced an IBSA project to baptize 1,000 people on April 8, 2018. “One GRAND Sunday” follows Easter, with the intent that witness training and gospel conversations will lead to baptisms. “We have 8 million-plus people in the state of Illinois who don’t know Jesus,” Pajak said.
This is an evangelism challenge. “We’re praying that 200 of our IBSA churches will baptize 12 people next year,” or more than the church’s previous three-year average. The hope is that churches will turn the decline in baptisms by setting evangelism goals and equipping members to share their faith, and by engaging lost people through evangelistic events and mission trips.
The commitment is for IBSA churches to become “frequently baptizing churches.”
Walking the walk
Lindsey Yoder charmed the crowd with her account of walking from Arthur, Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee: 300 miles in 27 days. The teenager first learned about human trafficking at an AWSOM weekend for teen girls, led by Illinois Baptist Women. Then, a movie on the subject convinced Lindsey that she must do something to help free young women, girls, and boys caught in the sex trade worldwide. Even in Illinois people are forced into sexual subservience. The most common route for bringing them into the state is along I-55 from St. Louis to Chicago.
Lindsey’s story is one of sacrifice.
A 14-year-old girl from central Illinois doesn’t often take on such a massive and awful cause. But this one did, one step at a time.
“It felt like I wanted to quit a lot. I refused to quit. I don’t like to quit. Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is a lot harder than it sounds,” Lindsey said. And yet, she kept walking. On the journey she raised enough money to sponsor two “rescues” in a South Asian country.
Such sacrifice is what it takes to save people enslaved by sin.
Lindsay’s mother, Regina, who handled logistics for the trip and followed her all the way, said the support of their church was crucial. The people of Arthur Southern Baptist Church encouraged the teen and contributed to her cause, and by their example showed how Southern Baptists everywhere give for missions.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ best channel for supporting life-saving missions. With regular, systematic, percentage giving from its offerings, each church makes the sacrifice each week. The need calls us to greater sacrifice.
Here’s how Nate Adams described this missions-giving challenge. “We’re asking churches to make missions-giving a higher priority in your budget. We’re asking would your church be willing to make CP a greater percentage of your budget—if the Lord would lead you to make new sacrifices to give through CP.”
The Pioneering Spirit commitment is for 200 or more churches to increase CP giving (for example, 1% per year) with a goal of reaching at least 10% of undesignated offerings.
Follow the leader
Roger Marshall said in his first 10 years as pastor of FBC Effingham, he conducted 150 funerals. Raising up new leaders was not an option, it was imperative. So he began to pray. “God really does identify new leaders,” he said. “It’s not just about finding new slots. It’s really about finding God’s person.”
Roger was on the platform with his brother, David, who recently retired as associate pastor at Mt. Zion, and their father, Frank, a 63-year veteran of ministry who is 94.
“Be the kind of leader someone ought to follow,” David said. “That’s what my father was.”
The senior Marshall’s advice for leader development: help people identify their spiritual gifts and put them to use. And “don’t blame someone else for what you are…. Live your responsibility.”
This is a leadership challenge. IBSA’s Mark Emerson urged pastors to commit to leadership development for current members and potential young leaders. The goal is for 200 or more churches to have intentional development processes in place.
During the Annual Meeting, 53 IBSA churches made one or more of these commitments.
As Illinois itself turns 200, it’s clear the work of Baptist pioneers, begun by Stilley and others, is as much needed today as when the state was founded.
See the video about four early Baptist pioneers in Illinois. Two current pastors tell the stories of the first church planters, starting with New Design near the Mississippi River in 1796.
TAKE THE CHALLENGE
Read more about the four Pioneering Spirit challenges and how IBSA can help your church with training, goal-setting, and ministry partnership. Register your church’s commitment online.