Archives For February 2019

Briefing

IL churches celebrate increase in baptisms
Illinois Baptist churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. The increase is one highlight of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports completed by 97% of IBSA churches, a new record high. “We were encouraged to see baptisms increase … after four years of gradual decline,” IBSA’s Executive Director, Nate Adams, said. “I sense a renewed passion for evangelism among many churches.” 

Churches identify ministry needs in survey
Preparing people to share the gospel, making disciples, and developing leaders remain top concerns in the latest survey of IBSA churches. Evangelism and the desire to reach young people ranked high for a large majority of Illinois churches, with respondents saying their church could use more assistance in those areas. The 2018 Church Needs Survey was conducted online in October and November.

James MacDonald fired from Harvest
Harvest Bible Chapel fired its founder and senior pastor James MacDonald for “engaging in conduct … contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” Harvest elders announced they were forced to take “immediate action” to end MacDonald’s 30-year tenure. “This decision was made with heavy hearts and much time spent in earnest prayer, followed by input from various trusted outside advisors,” the elders at Harvest said.

Greenway nominated to lead Southwestern Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus Adam W. Greenway has been selected as nominee to fill the presidential vacancy at Southwestern Seminary. Greenway’s nomination will be brought for a vote on Feb. 26–27. Greenway currently serves as dean of the Billy Graham School and as William Walker Brookes Associate Professor of Evangelism and Apologetics at Southern Seminary. If elected, Greenway will become Southwestern Seminary’s ninth president. 

CA must pay pro-life pregnancy centers
A U.S. District Court judge for the Central District of California issued an order saying that California must pay three pro-life pregnancy centers and a conservative law firm $399,000 in legal fees and other costs. This comes after a state law meant to force pregnancy centers to promote abortion was struck down and declared unconstitutional, with a the court granting a permanent injunction against the law.

Sources: Illinois Baptist (2), Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Christian Post

Baptism 1

Church of the Beloved in Chicago
celebrated baptisms in Lake Michigan last August.

‘One GRAND’ emphasis returns this spring, plus a new one-on-one evangelism strategy

By Meredith Flynn

When Pastor Kenyatta Smith’s church moved into their new building, an important piece was missing. The former Catholic church had no baptistry.

Another Chance Church, which Smith planted in 2012, got around it by bringing in an inflatable pool when someone was ready to be baptized. Last year, that was often. The church baptized 52 people.

The Chicago church’s increase in baptisms (up from 22 in 2017) mirrors statewide growth. In 2018, IBSA churches reported 3,676 baptisms, an increase of almost 7% over the previous year. The One GRAND Sunday emphasis last April resulted in 671 baptisms in churches intentionally focused on training people to share their faith, and inviting people to respond to the gospel.

At Smith’s church, the key to more baptisms was staying the course, the pastor said. “It wasn’t a planned thing; it was more [that] we just kept working and sharing the gospel, and it just kind of happened.”

Baptisms generate excitement and are a “big boost for evangelism,” Smith said. Another Chance does a lot of evangelism training to ensure that sharing the gospel is in the church’s DNA.

Across the Southern Baptist Convention, churches are being called to make a similar commitment to evangelism, with an emphasis on keeping things simple. In January, SBC President J.D. Greear introduced “Who’s Your One?” a convention-wide effort to pray for people who don’t know Christ, and intentionally look for ways to share the gospel with them.

The challenge comes at a time when membership and baptism numbers in SBC churches continue to decline. LifeWay Research acknowledges the decline in baptisms nationwide is due in part to non-reporting churches. But even when the numbers are adjusted, churches are baptizing fewer people per member than they did in 1950, for example.

When Greear shared “Who’s Your One?” with Baptist association leaders Jan. 31, he referenced obstacles churches face in a post-Christian culture. “These are some challenging days for the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham. “They’re challenging days for the church in general in the United States, but is God perhaps setting us up for one of the greatest evangelism explosions that we’ve ever seen?”

As Southern Baptists across the country and in Illinois look for effective ways to communicate spiritual truth with their neighbors, “gospel conversations” are key. A conversational approach to the gospel—sharing Jesus in the context of relationship—is the basis of many recent evangelism initiatives and training guides. And once Christians catch on, said IBSA’s Pat Pajak, and see how receptive others are to hear, the believer is encouraged to look for more opportunities to speak truth.

“But it all starts with just one conversati0n with one person,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. “We’re asking, ‘Who’s your one?’”

Baptism 2

Pastor Michael Nave (right) baptizes Nathan Morgan at Cornerstone Church in Marion. The church celebrates baptism every third Sunday, and invites “spontaneous baptisms” when the worship service is focused primarily on salvation.

More than numbers
At Cornerstone Community Church in Marion, evangelism training is built into the church membership process. The final step in a four-pronged process is “Go.” In other words, said Pastor Michael Nave, how do you as a Christian bring other people with you?
Talking about the gospel “ought to be as natural as talking about the weather,” Nave said. Christians shouldn’t have to switch into evangelism mode; rather, the gospel should permeate the conversations and relationships we already have.

Even when evangelism is a natural outgrowth of a Christian’s spiritual development, church leaders still credit intentionality as a major factor in overall effectiveness. In 2018, Cornerstone celebrated 57 baptisms, up from 22 the previous year. The church saw the increase after implementing some intentional strategies around baptism, Nave said.

“First, we set a baptism weekend, the third weekend of each month,” he said. “We will gladly baptize someone on other weekends, but this gives us an opportunity to keep it in front of our people.” Explaining the importance of baptism is also a part of Cornerstone’s membership process. And, the church stays open to how God might work.

“From time to time, when the sermon is specifically about salvation and baptism, we offer ‘spontaneous baptism,’” Nave said. They don’t practice it frequently, he said, and are sure to give a full explanation of what baptism means. “We have simply found that some people need the opportunity to do it now!”

He recounted Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, which stirred people to immediately respond by asking, “What shall we do?” Peter’s answer: repent and be baptized. The two acts went hand-in-hand, Nave said. “That water didn’t save them, but their public profession of faith came very quickly and naturally.”

Last year’s One GRAND Sunday initiative highlighted the links between hearing the gospel, responding, and following up that decision with baptism. As people shared their stories—on video or from the baptistry or afterward over e-mail—many talked about the journey they had taken to get to the point of baptism that day.

For some, the road was long. Others took a shorter route, like the father in Amboy who came to church for his daughter’s baptism, heard the gospel, responded, and was baptized that very day.

Counting baptisms is one way to measure health and growth, but Pajak said after last year’s One GRAND Sunday that the day was about more than numbers. As IBSA churches prepare for another One GRAND emphasis this spring, his position on last year’s statewide success is an important guiding principle.

“The great thing is that it sparked a fresh passion for evangelism across the state.”

– With additional reporting from Baptist Press

 

By Heath Tibbetts

I was supposed to die on a Tuesday in 1977. My 15-year-old mother had been scheduled to have an abortion despite her objections, leading her into the high school counselor’s office the Monday before that dreaded appointment. After hearing my mother’s story, Mr. Sheets called her mother attempting some mediation away from abortion, but to no avail. He hung up the phone and asked my mom two questions.

“You plan to keep this baby, correct? You know you may not be going home tonight?”
To both questions the brave 15-year-old responded, “Whatever it takes.”

Mom lived in a few foster homes around town for the next several months before and after my birth. She continued to go to school and wrestled with the idea of adoption. As the due date drew closer, she had decided to keep her baby and to be able to support herself within a year, which she did. Many people claimed my arrival would ruin her future, but she couldn’t bring herself to end an innocent life to correct a previous mistake. My mom wasn’t a Christian then, but she had no difficulty recognizing her unborn child as a life.

Leading on life
Moses concluded his leadership of Israel by giving them a final call to pursue God diligently. He gives the people two choices: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19). As leader to the people, he called them to choose life for their sake and the sake of future generations.

Our leadership today pales in comparison on the issue of life. In our state and across the country, officials work toward the expansion of abortion rights, like the law passed recently in New York that allows abortion up until birth. What leads people to applaud such a law? They have forgotten the value of human life.

America has long struggled to properly apply that wonderful statement from our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” If this truth was self-evident, how did we refuse rights to the thousands of black slaves already spread throughout the colonies? The short answer is convenience. It was more convenient to exclude any mention of slavery from the Declaration, and later the Constitution, in order to unite the various states in one nation.

Issues of convenience continue to devalue life today. Abortion advocates regularly declare their concern for the health of the mother, but the top reasons for abortion in 2013 (as published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information) were “not financially prepared” and “bad timing.” Abortion is too often a procedure of convenience.

But the emotional scars carried by men and women who make this choice are anything but convenient. For years I couldn’t understand why I was my grandmother’s favorite grandchild. I’m not being a narcissist; everyone knew it was true. Only later did I learn Mom’s story and my grandmother’s role in it. My grandmother dealt with the guilt of even suggesting an abortion for decades after I was born, trying to make it up to me my whole childhood. Being able to tell her as an adult that I forgave her was probably the best gift she’s ever received from me.

“Pro-life” is being rebranded by opponents as “anti-choice,” but nothing could be further from the truth. I support every women’s right to choose avoiding sex if she’s not ready for a child. Children are rarely convenient. Even the married couple intentionally trying to bring children into their family quickly finds the dynamics of life and relationship have changed. Yet any parent will tell you these little lives are worth it.

The rest of the story
My mom was able to introduce me to her former high school counselor, Mr. Sheets, in 2002. I found myself imagining how his Monday changed when Mom walked into his office. What if he had been out sick that day or had decided not to get involved in a messy family situation? Mr. Sheets was the advocate that encouraged her to choose life, a life that became the first in my mother’s family to go to college, partnered to create the three coolest kids ever and has been used to impact lives, souls, and churches.

I often thank God for allowing me to escape the abortionist that Tuesday in 1977. My hope is to be an advocate for every unborn life in some way, attempting to convince people that every pregnancy is a creation of the Creator. I was not a choice. I am a life and every life matters.

Heath Tibbetts pastors First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.

Greear: ‘Abuse is never the fault of the abused’
One day after two newspapers released an investigation into sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear urged victims of abuse who haven’t reported it to reach out for help. “Abuse is never the fault of the abused,” Greear said in an article co-authored with biblical counselor Brad Hambrick. “The appropriate response of anyone who is representing Jesus to you should be care and compassion.”

The article includes resources for finding help to deal with the trauma of abuse, and also counsel for pastors and church leaders. “People in our churches and community need to know that we are concerned about their safety, not about our reputation,” Greear and Hambrick wrote. “The way we respond in this moment—either in protecting and caring for victims, or defending ourselves and our institutions—will either obscure or adorn the gospel we claim to preach.”

IBSA releases statement on abuse
Following the Houston Chronicle’s report on sexual abuse, the Illinois Baptist State Association urged churches to employ a rigorous screening process for potential staff and volunteers.

“As one national leader pointed out, Southern Baptist churches do not have bishops, but are a priesthood of believers,” the statement reads. “That means all believers in Jesus Christ are personally responsible to God, and as church members are responsible to and for each other. As such, we all must take care to protect each other, especially children and the vulnerable. In addition, when local church leaders become aware of abuse or the potential for abuse, they should deal swiftly and legally with the perpetrators.”

Millennials lukewarm on evangelism
Nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian Millennials believe it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.” Barna Research also found that despite their hesitance, the overwhelming majority of Millennial Christians believe witnessing about Jesus is part of being a Christian.

Greear names diverse Committee on Committees
Reflecting his commitment to promote diversity in Southern Baptist leadership, SBC President J.D. Greear named a 2019 Committee on Committees he said is “truly a reflection of Christ’s kingdom.” The group will nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who will, in 2020, nominate trustees for the boards of SBC entities. The committee includes two members from each Baptist state convention; Illinois’s representatives are Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Churh in Chicago, and David Sutton, pastor of Bread of Life Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago.

5 moments from the National Prayer Breakfast
The Feb. 7 gathering included bipartisan prayer, reports The Christian Post, along with worship led by Chris Tomlin, a testimony from a Christian doctor who helped fight Ebola, and a plea to end human trafficking.

By IBSA Staff

Illinois Baptist churches celebrated 3,676 baptisms in 2018, an increase of 6.8% over the previous year. The increase is one highlight of the Annual Church Profile (ACP) reports completed by 97% of IBSA churches, a new record high.

Other indicators measured by the ACP reports are leading IBSA staff to focus increasingly on church revitalization and next generation ministry strategies, alongside the priorities of evangelism and leadership development, said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

“We are clearly in a time and a culture, especially here in Illinois, where just having church services is not enough to sustain a church’s health, much less reach the lost,” Adams said. “Churches that survive and thrive in these days are intentionally looking for ways to reengage their neighborhoods, and to provide relevant ministries that can lead to gospel conversations, and invitations into a loving, local community of believers.”

Church plant statsIn 2018, IBSA churches engaged a statewide strategy focused on evangelism and baptism. One GRAND Sunday resulted in hundreds of reported baptisms during the Easter season. (Churches are invited to participate in One GRAND Month later this spring) One of the four Pioneering Spirit challenges, issued in 2017 and adopted by churches last year, also called for a new commitment to evangelism.

“We were encouraged to see baptisms increase by almost 7% in 2018, after four years of gradual decline,” Adams said. “I sense a renewed passion for evangelism among many churches, as evidenced by the 223 churches that committed to “Engage New People” as part of the Pioneering Spirit challenge, and by the 671 baptisms reported during last Easter season’s One GRAND Sunday.”

Missions giving was another area of growth in 2018. IBSA churches gave $5,991,634 through the Cooperative Program (CP), the Southern Baptist Convention’s main channel for financial support of missions and ministry. However, the Mission Illinois Offering, collected annually to support missionaries and ministries in the state, fell by 4.1% to $349,507.

Adams pointed out that while CP giving increased by 1%, 2018 missions giving was still about 10% below its peak levels back in 2009. With that increase, per capita missions giving in churches is actually higher, even though other key indicators, including worship attendance and Bible study participation, were lower last year.

“There simply aren’t as many attenders or givers in church as there were 10 years ago,” Adams said. “Many churches are now finding a need to focus on intentional revitalization strategies, and our IBSA staff is eager to help with those efforts.”

IBSA hosted more than 200 ministry leaders at the Illinois Leadership Summit Jan. 22-23, featuring teaching from experienced church revitalization veteran Mark Clifton. A second summit will be held March 15-16 in Chicagoland, with large-group sessions led by former Chicagoland pastor Jonathan Hayashi and J.J. Washington, a pastor and church revitalizer in Atlanta.

“Holding the Illinois Leadership Summit in Chicagoland allows us to design our conference to match the context of our churches,” said Mark Emerson, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Resources Team. “Our guest speakers are two men who have had success developing leaders and growing churches in an urban context like Chicago.”

The Chicagoland meeting is at Brainard Avenue Baptist Church in Countryside and will also include breakout sessions designed to help leaders reach the next level of leadership potential. For more information or to register, go to IBSA.org/Summit.

 

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

Briefing

Survey: Church attendance linked to higher levels of happiness
Church participation leads to more happiness and civic engagement, according to Pew Research’s analysis of surveys from the U.S. and 25 other countries. Religious affiliation without participation does not lead to the same positive outcomes, Pew found.

Young adults keep Christian label; fewer ‘devout’
Most young adults who attended church as teenagers say they believe in God today, but fewer consider themselves devout Christians, according to a LifeWay Research study released Jan. 31. And some say they believe in God but are uncertain of Christianity.

Boy Scouts officially accepting girls
The Boy Scouts of America officially changed their name Feb. 1 and began accepting girls in all scouting programs. Troops, however, will continue to be single gender, the organization has said. Maybe a quick quote from the opposition?

Asia Bibi finally free to leave Pakistan
On January 29, the Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld its decision to acquit Asia Bibi. In one of the most high-profile Christian persecution cases in the past decade, Bibi spent eight years in prison convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad—which is a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic—until Pakistan’s Supreme Court rejected her conviction last October. Bibi was the first Christian woman in the country to be convicted of blasphemy and to have her case go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Who is most ‘Bible engaged’ in the U.S.?
Amid cultural shifts in beliefs and reading habits, African Americans consistently outrank other racial groups for their reliance on the Word. Last year, the American Bible Society (ABS) once again named African Americans “the most Bible engaged in the US.” They are more likely to own a Bible—93 percent of African Americans do, versus 82 percent of Americans overall—and more than twice as likely to say Bible reading is crucial to their daily routine, according to the society’s 2018 State of the Bible report.

Sources: BP News (2), Christian Headlines, Christianity Today (2)