Archives For March 2019

By the IBSA Media Team

5 changes that change leaders

From 2015 to 2018, God led Scott Nichols, senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, through a season of change. First, his wife, Vicki, was diagnosed with cancer. The year was filled with surgery and chemotherapy appointments, as well as a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that had them looking forward to 2016.

But the next year brought more change, this time in ministry. Eventually, more than a quarter of the congregation left the church (some were sent out to do other ministries; some were not).

Though none of the changes during this season were easy, God was still at work both in the pastor’s personal walk and ministry. At the Illinois Leadership Summit, Nichols shared what the Lord taught him in a breakout session titled “Transformed: 5 ways God grows church leaders.”

Nichols shared five truths about change: It reminds the leader of their insufficiency, keeps the leader fresh, reinforces the value of teamwork, transforms the leader personally, and provides an opportunity to learn through challenges and setbacks.

“God taught me that Crossroads would not have been positioned for our upcoming season of ministry growth if we had not endured those two years of change and transition,” Nichols said. “Discomfort can also be called opportunity.”

Mind the knowledge gap

While in London on a mission trip, Carmen Halsey noticed signs cautioning riders on the city’s underground rail system to “mind the gap.” The warning to step carefully from the platform to the subway has implications for leaders too, said IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and church missions.

In leadership, the gap is the space between knowing what you know, and what you don’t.
“You’re not acting smart by saying there’s not a gap there,” said Halsey during her ILS breakout, “Fact: You can lead in the present if you mind the gap.”

“We’re living in a constantly changing world. There’s always going to be a gap for a leader.”

Halsey suggested four ways leaders can manage the gap:

1. Seek God and be confident in your calling.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and “I’m going to find us an answer.”
3. Admit mistakes and take responsibility for them.
4. Learn what level of honesty is required.

“Be a leader with integrity,” Halsey said, “but not everything gets shared on every stage. Know your audience; think beyond the moment; tell them what they need to know. Understand what you need to say when you need to say it.”

Dysfunction: Call it what it is

Whether he verbally assaults the pastor at a church business meeting or she arranges secret meetings with members around her kitchen table, dysfunctional church leaders lurk inside every unhealthy church.

“We went to their house to let them know their reputation was on the line and we needed to get together as a group and walk through where the misunderstanding occurred,” said Bob Bickford, a St. Louis pastor and church replanting specialist for the North American Mission Board.

“They refused to do that. And as we were walking away the wife said to me, ‘We were a lot better off before you got here.’ It was at that point I knew God was working to heal the church from the incredible dysfunction that had been going on.”

In his ILS breakout session, “Dealing with dysfunctional leaders in your church,” Bickford said the early church confronted problems directly and sought solutions. They didn’t shy away from calling dysfunction what it was.

“The challenge for our churches, particularly the 900 or so who are closing each year, is that we don’t have many pastors or deacon chairs or associational missionaries who are willing to do what I’ve described,” Bickford said. “Tolerating misbehavior keeps us from the mission. It’s worth risking your salary to protect God’s church.”

Planning vision from the inside out

Frank Lloyd Wright designed one of his most famous buildings—Fallingwater—to blend seamlessly with its environment. The Pennsylvania home, built from materials found onsite, is suspended over a waterfall that existed long before the architect ever tackled the project.

Churches would do well to follow the Fallingwater method, said Cliff Woodman (right) in his session, “Beyond Sunday: Creating a better vision for your church.” The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville said that many churches use a “copy and paste” method, borrowing from other churches what’s working well in their context.

Instead, he advised, consider what’s going on in your church’s community and culture, and implement a vision that fits that context. And keep your eye on the ultimate prize: transformation.

“Your church congregation should be more than just attenders. They should be different than when they first started coming to church,” Woodman said.

“Just as a school grows their students, the church should also grow its attenders. You shouldn’t be satisfied with a 10-year Christian who is still, spiritually, two years old. Ask yourself: What steps need to be taken to grow the disciples?”

2019 Illinois Leadership Summit videos are available at Vimeo.com/album/5783060.

Who’s at your table?
A new Barna study found one-fourth of households with practicing Christians are “spiritually vibrant,” meaning families pray and read the Bible together, talk about God regularly, and open their doors to non-family guests. They also eat together, researchers found—63% of vibrant households eat breakfast together, and 75% share dinner.

College dean quits after school blocks Chick-Fil-A on campus
Rider University’s Cynthia Newman announced she will step down as a dean at the New Jersey school after a popular fast food chain was removed from a list of possible on-campus offerings. Chick-Fil-A got favorable reviews on a student survey last year, but was removed from a second survey because of its CEO’s much-publicized views on marriage.

Georgia church fires staff member accused of abuse
One of the Southern Baptist churches named in newspaper investigation of sexual abuse has terminated a staff member who allegedly admitted he had assaulted young people, Baptist Press reports. Trinity Baptist in Ashburn, Ga., was one of 10 churches identified in a February report in the Houston Chronicle as having ignored claims or dealt inappropriately with charges of sexual abuse.

>Related: Response to abuse spurs debate over Baptist process, polity

Baker reaches truce in legal battle over cakes
Jack Phillips has ended his legal battle with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, but the six-year conflict raised questions—many still unanswered—about a proprieter’s right to limit business based on religious conviction, Baptist Press reports.

UK rules could protect minors from internet porn
New guidelines in the United Kingdom will require users of free online pornography sites to verify they are legal adults, possibly serving as a gatekeeper for younger users.

Living in the aftermath: Pastor recounts Alabama tornadoes
Kevin Webb, associate pastor at Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala., writes that many in his community are still reeling from tornadoes that killed 23 people earlier this month.

Sources: Barna, Associated Press, Baptist Press (2), Relevant, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

MindbendersBy Kayla Rinker

With its historical architecture and pristine interior design, Mark Clifton’s church was so lovely that for years its tagline was “Wornall Road Baptist Church: The church beautiful.”

“And it is very beautiful. It could be on the cover of a Hallmark card; I don’t deny that,” said Clifton, senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “But somewhere along the way the mission became maintaining it, instead of its true purpose. It was beautiful, but it was empty.”

Clifton was the keynote speaker for the 2019 Illinois Baptist Leadership Summit, held Jan. 22-23 in Springfield. Nearly 250 Illinois Baptist leaders and presenters gathered to “Reimagine” their ministries and gain a fresh perspective and vision for their churches going forward. Clifton (below) spoke from his 30-plus years of experience in both church planting and in pastoring a dying church that had dwindled to less than 20 mostly elderly members.

Like many Southern Baptist churches, Wornall Road needed revitalizing. But the concept can be hard to define, said IBSA’s Mark Emerson, because the term is used to describe a variety of different strategies.

Emerson said IBSA defines revitalization as when a church that is stagnant or dying seeks to enter a process to learn new strategies to replace current ones, in hopes that the new methods spur new growth.

If that kind of revitalization doesn’t happen in time, the next step could be replanting, when current leaders step aside so new leaders can restart the church in an existing building. Or, the church could decide to turn their assets over to an organization like the Baptist Foundation of Illinois, to be used for other Kingdom work.

Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton

“One Sunday I left there frustrated and ready to walk away,” Clifton said of his time at his Kansas City church. “I came to the end of myself and then I heard a clear message: ‘What about a dying church brings glory to God?’ What about a dying church says, ‘Our God is great and his gospel is powerful?’ When a church dies, it’s not just the church that’s at stake. His name is at stake.”

While that statement might seem to put pressure on pastors and leaders of aging congregations everywhere, Clifton said the good news—the gospel, actually—says otherwise. Christ died for his church. His church. Clifton referenced Revelation 1: “I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me. When I turned I saw seven lampstands, and among the lampstands was One like the Son of Man…” (Rev. 1:12-13a).

“The lampstands are the churches,” Clifton said. “Jesus is among every church. He’s not looking down on them; he’s among them. You do not have to pick it up and carry it on your shoulders.

“Don’t focus on what you don’t have, which in my case was 580 empty seats and nothing but an MP3 player for worship. Instead, focus on what you do have. The risen Lord is with your church. Church revitalization doesn’t begin with you or me or NAMB, it begins with the risen Lord.”

Drawing board

THE DRAWING BOARD – Jonathan Davis, pastor of Delta Church in Springfield, serves as scribe during brainstorming at one of 36 breakout sessions offered at the Illinois Leadership Summit.

What does it take?
Clifton began to focus his ministry on the spiritual growth of his existing congregation instead of their numerical growth. And God breathed new life into the church, he said. Members began to shift from making decisions based on personal preferences, toward making decisions based on serving the neighborhood. They became a beautiful church.

“No, it’s not as comfortable singing worship songs that you don’t know,” Clifton said. “But hey, if you hear a 27-year-old singing a song about Jesus you aren’t familiar with, and they are singing it with their whole heart and you can’t worship God in that—you’ve got a real problem.”

While revitalizing the church is not about doing whatever is necessary to fill seats every Sunday, Clifton said it is about making disciples. It’s about making disciples of people who have attended faithfully for decades, and it’s about making disciples of new people who are still deciding if church is relevant in their lives.

Collective Learning

COLLECTIVE LEARNING – Large-group sessions, called “collectives,” focused on revitalization and community engagement.

In a breakout session at the summit, he shared nine steps to a revitalized church, starting with a commitment to glorify God in everything and find joy in the gospel alone. Then, he said, pray without ceasing. There is spiritual warfare happening in a church being reborn or revitalized, Clifton said.

“Joy is found in the risen Lord and, just as John sees Jesus in all his resurrected power and glory (Rev. 1), we are going to be glorified,” he said. “At Wornall’s worst—even as I was preaching and feeling like a failure—if that trumpet had sounded, we would have had a glorified church; a perfect bride ready to meet her groom.

“Don’t let Satan rob you of that joy. Those are his saints. God is under no obligation nor will he likely resource your plans for his church, but he will spare nothing from heaven to resource his plans for his church. He can raise a dead church.”

The remaining steps are practical ideas for pastors of revitalizing churches:

• Love and shepherd remaining members; don’t be more concerned and in love with the church you wish you had than with the church you have now.
• Serve the church’s unique community, never valuing your needs over the needs of the unreached.
• Use resources generously. How can the church building be repurposed and redeemed to serve the community?
• Simplify the strategy. Don’t value the process more than the outcome.
• Intentionally develop young men. Churches that die never passed meaningful leadership to the next generation. The goal is to get young men to connect and make them disciples, and then teach them to make disciples.
• Celebrate the legacy often. A church that transforms from dying to thriving is like a living sermon in its community. Celebrate that.

Clifton’s Wornall Road Baptist Church is a church revitalization success story. The church grew from 18 people when Clifton arrived, to about 120 when he left. It’s a thriving, multi-generational, neighborhood church. But it took revitalization to get there.

Currently, Clifton said, more than 900 Southern Baptist churches close each year and 65-75% of SBC churches are considered plateaued.

“Churches often begin the process too late,” Emerson said. “We recommend that church leaders study their growth trends and seek help when they discover that they are no longer growing and reaching people. IBSA can help churches assess their need and readiness for revitalization.”

For more information, contact IBSA’s Church Resources Team at (217) 391-3136.

Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer and pastor’s wife in Missouri.

By Eric Reed

“It’s just the Wild West out there right now,” a colleague declared of the Twitterverse, as Baptists registered their opinions on new reports of sexual abuse and the failure of Southern Baptists to stop perpetrators’ movement among churches. Then the Internet mostly applauded the recommendations by SBC President J.D. Greear’s study committee to address sexual abuse in our churches. Then when the Executive Committee reported that the actions of only three of ten churches cited by the Houston Chronicle merited further investigation, the blogosphere blew up again. “A free for all!” my colleague said.

That’s to be expected. Emotions are running high, and there has been a lot of use of crisis language. But beyond that, on any ordinary day, Baptists are a people who expect their voices to be heard.

Please hear me say this: Action must be taken to prevent sexual abuse in the future, to deal with those credibly accused, to assure they do not have places of leadership in SBC churches, and to minister to those who have been harmed by abuse or the threat of abuse.

That said, let me also say, we also have to handle faithfully our historic Baptist doctrines.

We may find in the discussion leading to the SBC annual meeting in June that nothing in Southern Baptist life is a done deal until it is accepted and implemented at the grassroots level.

A seminary professor of mine told this story of a convention in a large southern state: The receptionist was instructed to answer the phone, “Baptist Headquarters.”

“Hmmph,” she soon heard, followed by a long pause. “This is Pastor Smith calling from First Baptist Church. This is Baptist headquarters.”

The next time the pastor called, the phone was answered, “Hello. Baptist Building.”

The professor’s point sticks: The local church is Baptist headquarters. That’s what it means to be a Baptist. We are not a hierarchical denomination, and we don’t operate from the top down. We are the un-denomination. Early leaders even refused for the SBC to be called a denomination, thus they chose the term “convention” to describe this voluntary association of local churches. And, thus, the word “autonomy” becomes important.

In the recent reporting, a few writers described autonomy as a shield some leaders hid behind to avoid dealing with the critical issue of prevention. Maybe autonomy was an easy response to difficult situations in the past, as leaders were accustomed to churches making their own decisions on most matters of policy. And, to be sure, autonomy of the local church must not be an excuse for keeping our eyes closed to evil in our midst. But the foundational Baptist doctrine of autonomy cannot be dismissed.

In the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, around 380 people in Southern Baptist churches were credibly accused and about 220 were convicted of sexual abuse or received plea deals. Of those, 35 found new places of service in other Southern Baptist churches. For our denomination to effectively stop offenders from becoming repeat offenders in new settings, local churches will have to do the hard work of policing and training and fingerprinting and screening volunteer workers and ministry candidates. That is first a local action that must be done first in local churches. Without full participation of local churches, we won’t have a solution to the problem, even if we do create national policies and databases.

One reporter described Pope Francis’s call to his own church, in light of their abuse crisis, not to “simple condemnation but to concrete and effective measures.” As we offer and endorse solutions, we should remember that Baptists accomplish more by cooperation than declaration. In Southern Baptist life, it’s not the language of crisis that compels us or draws us, but the invitation to responsible cooperation.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Briefing

IL bill ‘more extreme’ than NY
While the state of New York approved in February the nation’s most liberal abortion legislation to date, Right to Life Action have called Illinois’s Reproductive Health Act “more extreme.” The House Bill 2495 will not only create a fundamental right to abortion throughout the nine months of pregnancy, but also mandate all private health insurance plans to cover abortions without any restrictions. Another bill, HB 2467 (Senate Bill 1594), would repeal the Parental Notice of Abortion Act, which currently requires doctors to notify an adult family member of a patient under 18 prior to an abortion.

“Peace Cross” raises questions on significance of cross monuments
An appeal by an atheist group to remove a 40-foot memorial cross caused the Supreme Court to raise not just the question of whether the “Peace Cross” memorial was constitutional, but also whether it was a secular symbol. The atheist group challenged the constitutionality of the Bladensburg, Md., cross, stating the cross promotes Christianity, thus violating the First Amendment. Lawyers argued that the historic marker served a secular purpose in honoring the fallen veterans. Judges debated on rather the cross has a preeminent symbol of Christianity or if crosses like this one has an independent secular meaning. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling before its term closes in late June or early July.

Tajikistan law limits religious activity
A new religion law in Tajikistan has authorities barring children from attending religious services. The law gives the state greater control over religious education, increasing the information religious organizations must pass to the state. In the same month, 5,000 calendars with Bible verses, imported by a Baptist Church, were confiscated by custom officials and destroyed. The church received a large fine for producing and distributing items of a religious nature which have not passed through the compulsory prior state religious censorship.

30+ Christians killed in Nigeria
At least 32 Christians were killed by suspected Fulani extremists in Nigeria on February 26, sources reported. In addition to the loss of lives in the Kaduna state of north-central Nigeria, multiple homes and at least one church were burned as hundreds were displaced.

Greenway elected Southwestern president
Trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) elected Adam Greenway as the institution’s ninth president during a special called meeting Feb. 26-27. Greenway fills the post left by Paige Patterson, who was moved to emeritus status last year and later terminated. Danny Roberts, chairman of the search committee, called Greenway “a man of impeccable character…, a bridge builder in the Southern Baptist Convention, and a true scholar with a heart for missions and evangelism.”

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

Our neverending task

Lisa Misner —  March 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

In addition to a great faculty of Illinois pastors and church leaders, last month’s 2019 Illinois Leadership Summit welcomed Mark Clifton as its primary speaker. Mark has been a pastor, a church planter and replanter, and a director of missions for decades. He now serves churches through the North American Mission Board in the area of church replanting.

The theme of our conference was “Reimagine.” I was hoping that leaders in general, not just church replanters and revitalizers, would benefit from Mark’s teaching. I was not disappointed.

As Mark began describing churches that should consider replanting, he clarified that he was talking about churches that, presuming they remain on their current trajectories, would probably need to close their doors in the next three to five years. And yet as he described the characteristics and needs of those declining or dying churches, I saw many, many pastors and leaders in the room nodding in empathy and agreement. Their churches may not have been five years from closing, but it was clear they recognized some of the same danger signs in their own settings. In a sense, all pastors must be revitalizers or replanters.

Churches that die, Mark asserted, tend to value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached. They cease, perhaps gradually, to be part of the fabric of the community. In fact, what was once a community church often becomes a commuter church.

On today’s ministry landscape, all pastors must be ‘vitalizers.’

As the church declines, some members tend to resent the community for not responding the way they once did. They may work harder and harder on church programs or activities, but these tend to be for insiders, and have little impact on the unchurched, or little relevance to the community.

Dying churches, Mark observed, also seem to have an inability to pass meaningful leadership on to the next generation, and they can often confuse caring for the church building with caring for the church and community. Dying churches value the process of decision-making more than the outcomes of those decisions. And a few strong personalities tend to drive those decisions, while others remain silent or simply drift away.

Of course, it’s much easier to recognize those kinds of traits in churches other than your own. That’s why an outside perspective or consultant is often helpful. And as this experienced leader from outside Illinois described the churches with which he had worked over the years, it was as if he was holding up a mirror in which we could also see ourselves.

One thing I really appreciate about Mark’s background and experience is that he had invested 10 years in a Midwest, urban church that had declined to 18 people when he arrived and grew back to about 120 by the time he left. He spoke personally and lovingly, not of “small” churches, but of “normative” size churches, reminding us that 63% of SBC churches in America have less than 100 in worship, and 83% have less than 200. If we are going to penetrate the lostness of our nation, he reminded us, it will not just be through large churches, but through thousands of normative-size churches, both revitalized and newly planted.

My greatest personal takeaway from the conference was simply this. Especially in the normative-size churches of Illinois, the primary focus of a pastor or church leader must be to bring vitality to a church by leading it proactively out into its community. Replanting is only necessary when revitalization doesn’t happen in time. And revitalization is only necessary if we allow the church’s intended vitality to fade.

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