‘Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.’
– Wisdom from the 16th President, delivered at the Annual Meeting
By Illinois Baptist Team coverage
Fritz Klein, Abraham Lincoln interpreter
Jesse Webster’s church has a big dream. Webster, the young, bivocational pastor of Sugar Camp Baptist Church near Mt. Vernon, wants to purchase a large church facility in a different part of town and relocate his congregation to the new neighborhood. His church is on board and ready for the massive shift in direction. They sense God leading them this way.
“God began to burden our hearts for a people he wanted us to reach,” Webster said at the IBSA Annual Meeting Nov. 8. He once thought their historic building was the one thing his church wouldn’t be willing to give up. But, Webster said, “Where we were was hindering us from following God.”
The pioneering spirit of Sugar Camp and more than 200 other IBSA churches was on display at the Annual Meeting, held this year at First Baptist Church in Maryville. Webster joined IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams for a Wednesday evening service dedicated to the steps churches must take in order to reach our Illinois mission field with the gospel.
The vast spiritual need in Illinois, where at least 8 million people do not know Christ, was communicated most poignantly by the words of the state’s most famous pioneer. Delivered by renowned interpreter Fritz Klein, the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln echoed with new resonance in 2018, the year of Illinois’ bicentennial celebration.
“We are now surrounded by critical circumstances, well fitted to test our national faith. Indeed, to test our own individual virtue,” Klein said as Lincoln. In a presentation drawn almost entirely from Lincoln’s writing and speeches,
Klein brought to life the words of a President who cited Scripture and talked about faith more often than he is credited for today.
A century and a half after they were first spoken, Lincoln’s words imbued the meeting with a sense of urgency. “We’re going through a trial, and this fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, either in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation,” he said. “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, this last best hope on earth.
“We cannot escape history.”
It’s that urgency that has compelled churches in Illinois to embrace a pioneering spirit, which doesn’t always guarantee success, but meets critical circumstances with determination, creativity, and faithfulness to the task.
“I don’t know if it will work,” Adams said of Sugar Camp’s plans. “But that’s what makes it pioneering spirit.”
Adjustments worth making
At the center of the Annual Meeting were four “Pioneering Spirit” challenges churches have embraced over the past year. At the 2017 gathering of Illinois Baptists, IBSA set a goal for at least 200 churches to embrace one or more of the challenges. At the final tally, 220 churches committed to go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, or develop new leaders.
When a church pursues that kind of spirit, they often have to make adjustments, said Tom Hufty, pastor of FBC Maryville. Preaching the annual sermon to close the meeting Nov. 8, Hufty used an acrostic to highlight the steps needed to make those adjustments:
A: Check your attitude
D: Make wise decisions
J: Jesus is at the center of our adjustments
U: Understand your enemy is a spiritual one, not flesh and blood
S: Submit to God regardless of your preferences
T: Trust the Lord
Hufty used Philippians 2:5-11 as a backdrop for his message, calling his listeners to the attitude Christ showed when he humbled himself for the sake of his mission. Some adjustments we look forward to, Hufty said. Others, not so much. But when the prize is valuable, the adjustments required are worth making.
“We have someone to value,” he said. “His name is Jesus. He’s in the middle of all our adjustments.”
As churches seek to advance the gospel, there will be growing pains, Adron Robinson preached in his president’s message Wednesday afternoon. The IBSA president and pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills described the early church’s struggle with division—“growing pains,” he called them.
Acts 15 finds the early church in the middle of a major dispute. Some leaders were teaching that the Old Testament law of circumcision was required for salvation. The line they drew separated Jews from Gentiles, and diluted the new covenant established by Christ’s death the cross. The leaders were feeling superior because they had been chosen by God. They were the gatekeepers.
These “growing pains” in the early church had to be resolved because of the urgent need to get the gospel to more people, Robinson preached. Growing pains in churches today often result in racism, in division, in one group believing they’re superior over another. Our modern-day growing pains need resolution too, for the sake of the gospel.
“Salvation has never been about race, but it’s always been about grace,” he said. All believers in Jesus Christ have received the same grace—that’s why we should receive one another.
“It is amazing grace that saved wretches like us. It is amazing grace that God allows each of us to participate in the Great Commission to reach the world with the gospel,” Robinson said. “Let us grow in grace, so that we can endure the growing pains and preach his great gospel.”
In his report to messengers at the meeting, Adams shared six highlights of the past year, beginning with a new enthusiasm for baptisms. Through the One GRAND Sunday emphasis last April, IBSA churches baptized 671 people. Youth Encounter, IBSA’s annual evangelism conference for students, saw a 32% increase in attendance over last year, Adams said, and 62 people received Christ at the event’s first four locations.
Through leadership development processes, IBSA has trained almost 7,000 leaders representing 500-plus churches. And in the area of Cooperative Program giving, Adams reported, Illinois has been sending more than 40% of CP gifts to the national SBC for decades. The current ratio is 56.5% for missions and ministry in Illinois, and 43.5% to the national SBC, ranking Illinois the 12th highest among 42 state conventions.
Adams and IBSA also recognized several individuals who have achieved ministry milestones:
• Becky Gardner, who, as chairperson of Southeastern Seminary’s trustees, is the first female chair of a seminary board;
• Phil Miglioratti, recently retired after 18 years as IBSA’s prayer ministries consultant;
• Dale Burzynski, who is celebrating 50 years as pastor of Ina Missionary Baptist Church; and
• Sandy Barnard, who will retire in January after more than 33 years at IBSA, most recently as executive administrative assistant.
Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year. To mark the milestone, Adams presented BCHFS Executive Director Denny Hydrick with a $10,000 check during the BCHFS report.
In other business, messengers to the Annual Meeting:
• Re-elected Robinson as president, along with his three fellow officers who served IBSA last year. Adam Cruse, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman, was elected to a second term as vice president. Robin Mayberry of First Baptist Church, Bluford, was re-elected to serve as recording secretary, and Sharon Carty of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville was re-elected as assistant recording secretary.
• Adopted a budget with a Cooperative Program goal of $6.2 million.
• Approved changes to the IBSA Constitution presented for a second reading at this year’s meeting, and heard a first reading of proposed changes that include adding a nepotism clause to the BCHFS and BFI bylaws, mirroring wording currently in the IBSA Constitution.
• Welcomed 11 new churches affiliating with IBSA: Collinsville Community Church; First Baptist Church, Orion; First New Bethlehem Baptist Church, Chicago; Garden of Peace, Chicago; Grace Church, Metropolis; Harvest Bible Chapel, DeKalb; Iglesia Bautista el Calvario, Elgin; Manito Baptist Church; New Zion Baptist Church, Rockford; Real Church, Chicago; and Redemption Hour Ministries, Romeoville.
The 2019 IBSA Annual Meeting is Nov. 6-7 at Cornerstone Church in Marion.
– Illinois Baptist Team coverage