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The Briefing

Charlottesville violence: SBC leaders urge prayer
Southern Baptist pastors and leaders denounced racism and called for prayer in the wake of white nationalist protests that turned into violence and death in Charlottesville, Va. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), described the rally as “a gathering of hate, ignorance and bigotry. “

Pro-life billboard reaches Chicago’s South Side
The Illinois Family Institute has rented a large billboard on the south side of Chicago with the message: “Abortion Takes Human Life.” It’s located at 59th and Wentworth, overlooking the Dan Ryan expressway (I-90/I-94), just 3 miles south of the White Sox Stadium, west of The University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. The message will be seen 3.86 million times during the month of August, reaching residents all around Chicago’s south side.

Stericycle cancels contracts with abortion centers
The nation’s leading medical waste disposal company has cut ties with hundreds of abortion centers, according to a pro-life activist group. Stericycle, which has a record of hauling aborted fetal waste despite a company policy against doing so, recently reiterated its policy against taking fetal remains and told the group Created Equal that it has “canceled hundreds of contracts with women’s clinics” over the past few years.

Iranian youths mass converting to Christianity
The massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ. According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades.

Two-thirds of Americans say they’re sinners
Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they are sinners, according to a new study from LifeWay Research. Most people aren’t too happy about it—only 5% say they’re fine with being sinners. As America becomes more secular, the idea of sin still rings true, said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based group. “Almost nobody wants to be a sinner.”

Sources: Baptist Press, Illinois Family, World Magazine, Christian Post, Christianity Today

The stand

ib2newseditor —  August 14, 2017 — Leave a comment

Surrounded by a Forest of Tall Golden Aspen Trees

Over the years, I’ve grown to love Aspen trees. They’re not that common in Illinois, growing in only about a third of the state’s counties, mostly in the north. But in cooler or higher-altitude climates such as central Colorado, they grow abundantly, often covering the mountains like wildflowers.

It was while vacationing there with my family this summer that I started asking myself why I find Aspen trees so beautiful and interesting. Is it the “quaking” leaves, which so freely alternate their green and silver sides in the breeze, and then turn bright yellow in the fall? Or is it that those leaves are mounted on a beautiful white tree trunk, crisscrossed with black bands, that grow up to a hundred feet tall?

Perhaps it’s that these striking trees always appear so plentifully. Aspens grow in clusters or “stands” and multiply rapidly. Individual trees are actually part of a larger, singular organism that spreads rapidly in the form of new trees from a common root system.
As a result, one Aspen stand in Utah is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living organism. It’s more ancient than the massive Sequoias of the West, or even the famous Bristlecone Pines, some of which are said to be 5,000 years old. It appears that individual trees like those are not quite as enduring as the spreading organism of Aspens, which presents itself as many trees, yet underneath shares a unified root system that results in each unique tree being a genetic replicate of the others.

Inspiration for Baptists from the mighty and prolific Aspen trees

As you might guess, I find in these beautiful Aspen trees an encouraging metaphor for the equally creative work I believe God desires to do among Baptist churches here in Illinois. Like the diversely colored leaves that “quake” at the slightest breeze, our lives, stirred and filled by the Holy Spirit, should attract the attention of those we meet and invite them to know Jesus as Savior.

The bright, white-and-black banded trunk that holds us together is the local church that beautifully reflects the light of Christ and his word, not just one at a time, but in diverse sizes and shapes. Yet our churches should be united by a common root system of both doctrine and cooperation, one that makes us resilient and also allows us to multiply rapidly and spread throughout our region and the world. Aspens are the most widespread tree in North America, and there are varieties of Aspens found throughout Europe and Asia.

This year, September 10-17 is the week our “stand” of churches here in Illinois has set aside to pray for mission work here, and to receive a special offering called the Mission Illinois Offering. This offering is like a refreshing rainfall on our cooperative work as Baptist churches, work that takes place in a culture that can be as harsh on Baptist churches as mountain winters on a stand of Aspens.

But with that offering, we train leaders and church members in evangelism. We strengthen churches in multiple ministries that help them make more disciples and grow. And we provide the network of doctrinally sound cooperation that gives you confidence that the 20 or so churches being started in Illinois each year, though unique, are doctrinally united with all the churches in our “stand.”

Aspens grow all the time, even in winter. But many feel they are most brilliant and beautiful in the fall, when their golden leaves paint the mountainside with the glory of God.

This fall, when you and I give a generous offering through the Mission Illinois Offering, I believe we have an opportunity to do the same.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

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

The Briefing

Protestors target Chicago church for stand on marriage
Demonstrators flocked to one of Chicago’s South Side’s largest churches Sunday morning after its pastor removed a woman from the congregation because of her same-sex wedding. The situation renewed a long-standing debate in churches around the country, pitting tolerance and acceptance against tradition and teaching. There has been a massive culture shift over the last decade on gay marriage, but the Apostolic Church of God is staying put, saying it’s defending faith and family.

New reason churches end up in court
For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the No. 1 legal matter involving US congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9 of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.

Targeted for marriage beliefs, judge appeals to high court
A longtime municipal judge and circuit court magistrate is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Wyoming fired her for telling a reporter she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Judge Ruth Neely petitioned the Supreme Court Aug. 4 to hear her case after the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, ending her career as a part-time magistrate.

President’s evangelical advisers request papal meeting
President Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis after a Vatican-approved magazine published a piece condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. That request came in an Aug. 3 letter to the pontiff from Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author, activist, and public relations consultant. Moore asked Francis for a meeting of Catholic and evangelical leaders — and quickly.

People assume serial killers are atheists
A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that people around the world are predisposed to believe that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than religious believers — a bias even held by atheists themselves. The study included 3,256 participants across 13 diverse countries that included highly secular nations like Finland and the Netherlands as well as highly religious ones like the United Arab Emirates and India.

Sources: WGN, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, Axios

SWU creative movement

Summer Worship University at Hannibal-LaGrange University

A week away from home can start the journey of a lifetime

Summer camps bring to mind the outdoors, hayrides, bonfires, and new friends. But a honeymoon? For one couple serving on staff at Summer Worship University (SWU), that’s exactly what it is.

Gabe and Jenna Herbst were married June 24 and spent the first part of their honeymoon at Disneyworld and Gatlinburg. Then it was on to part 2. “We picked our wedding date around camp,” Jenna said. SWU week was July 11-15 followed by the All State Youth Choir tour.

Gabe grew up attending IBSA’s music camps for children and youth. Then he served three years as an intern before joining the SWU staff this year. He met Jenna while serving as an intern. “Gabe’s parents snuck me up here to see him and what he did,” Jenna said. “We would talk on the phone and I would hear the impact of the testimonies. It ignited a passion in me, I wanted to go.”

For his part, Gabe said the friendships he developed at camp led to relationships that have made an “impact by modeling how Christian men should live their lives.” Gabe served as youth director at First Baptist Church in Pinckneyville, but the couple has moved to the Carterville area where he is now employed as a junior high school teacher.

Breaking out
Rich Barnett is pastor of University Baptist Church in Macomb, but during SWU and All State Tour he’s also the sound tech. Those who know him know he’s not shy, but Barnett says that wasn’t always the case.

“Music camp broke me out of my shell,” he said. “My first Sunday back I sang a special a church.” It came as a surprise to his parents who didn’t know he could sing. The camp director that year was the late Carl Shephard, IBSA director of music. “He was the first church leader that really paid attention to me,” said Barnett. “He really made a big impact on me.

That same year Barnett made a commitment to ministry. “After high school I ran from God, but he dragged me back,” shared Barnett.

While in seminary he called then IBSA Director of Music Allen Mashbern to let him know that as a former All-Stater, he was going into ministry. “Allen said, ‘I still need a camp pastor.’” Barnett has served on camp staff ever since.

Pray for play
Michael Warren will be a high school senior in the fall. He is the grandson of retired pastor Tom Eggley and his wife, Esther. Michael attended music camp in sixth grade and hated every minute of it.

The children’s camp was cancelled that year, so a handful of sixth graders moved up to join the older students. “I was very scared,” he said. “I was not as outgoing then and always quiet.”

His assigned group formed a prayer circle and each person took a turn praying out loud. When his turn came, “I was silent. I’d never prayed out loud. Jonathan Hayashi (the leader) was outstanding, he prayed in my place.”

He was back at SWU two years later, becoming a member of the touring All State Choir the following year. “What really helped me was that I took classes that made me uncomfortable, like ‘Breaking Barriers’ about sharing your faith. I also got to know the seniors and developed camaraderie.”

Michael shared how he learned about the power of prayer while on tour. “We were in Arkansas doing a show for Alcoholics Anonymous members. One of our leaders said we really need to pray for this to be one of our best performances. And, it was!”

– Lisa Misner Sergent

A place of safety

ib2newseditor —  August 3, 2017

Place of safety

Why security should be on every church’s radar

The shooting deaths of nine people at a Wednesday night prayer meeting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church raises two thoughts almost simultaneously: How could that happen? and, That could never happen here.

Until it does.

The tragic shooting death of Maryville pastor Fred Winters in 2011 is all the reminder people in Illinois need to understand that violent attacks do happen inside the church walls, even here. With that realization comes the challenge to be ready for the next time, perhaps in our own sanctuary.

The killings at Wedgwood may be the first such attack many people recall. Coming just five months after the 1999 Columbine school massacre, it seemed unthinkable that such evil had moved from school house to church house when a gunman murdered seven people during a Sunday night service at Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church. Since then, violent attacks at church sites have increased 20-fold.

One-in-five attacks happens at a Baptist church, according to security expert Kevin Hardy.

“There is a threat against churches…We don’t know when something is coming, but we want to watch, we want to be prepared for when it does.”

Hardy led a conference on church security at Chatham Baptist Church in May. Over two days, church leaders from across Illinois received training from Strategos International, a Missouri-based company that teaches church personnel and lay leaders how to respond in stressful or crisis situations.

Hardy cited several statistics showing the need for increased security:
• Between 1999-2016 there were 1,314 deadly force incidents in churches, resulting in 651 deaths.
• In a study where 750 of 950 total motives for church violence were identified, robbery was the reason for 25% of attacks.
• Over half of incidents of church violence occur in towns with populations less than 10,000.

“You see statistics like [these],” Hardy said, “yet you’ll still hear people say ‘we don’t need protection.’” And, he warned, attacks happen in churches of all sizes.

Create a culture of awareness
James Gentry is a pastor on the west side of Chicago. Serving in an area marked by criminal activity, Gentry is concerned for his church, but not only for those in troubled neighborhoods. “I think all churches need to take a stand for security and not brush it off,” the pastor of New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church said. Many claim God will keep them safe, ignoring the need for security, he said. Yet, in the Bible, God used armies of men to fight for his will and purposes. “So we need to keep that same mindset even today. We still have to keep the flock [safe].”

His wife, Ericka, agreed. “I can see [church security] being an even more urgent need in the near future. So the more we know and implement now, the more we can learn and improve and be prepared for those things.”

Being prepared starts with creating a culture of awareness in the local church, Hardy said. “You develop a culture where people recognize when something just doesn’t look right, or when someone may be acting just a little out of sorts. It’s a mindset; it’s being actively aware of your surroundings and those around you.”

When a whole congregation is trained to recognize when something doesn’t seem right, there’s an increased chance that suspicious behavior will be reported and dealt with before it escalates.

“The idea is to pray for the best, but prepare for the worst,” said Hardy.

The role of volunteers
Not many churches have security teams—yet. But Hardy advises training volunteers to serve. When dealing with an emergency, he said law enforcement officers are not the true first responders. Volunteers already on scene are. Hardy said he could only point to 9 or 10 times in the past decade when an act of church violence was resolved by an on duty police officer.

Considering this, it’s important that each church have a volunteer security team that is ready to respond to any possible threats, said Hardy. “We want to be able to function under pressure…knowing what to do, how to do it, [and] when to do it.” And that’s only possible through prior preparation and practice, he concluded.

One time of vulnerability is during and after the weekly offering collection. As the money is being gathered, Hardy advised having security team members stationed around the sanctuary. Then make sure at least two of those individuals escort the head usher to the counting room or keeping area until the collection is counted, secured, or transported to the bank.

Hardy suggested that in larger churches, when dealing with an especially big offering, it’s a good idea to even consider having security and armed transport take money to the bank. Or if you are part of a smaller congregation, designate this as a job for the security team.

Keep calm and carry on
Some people object to the way a security team would look to visitors. How can a team be equipped to protect the congregation, while still providing an atmosphere of comfort, refuge, worship, and learning?

“Historically, churches are not security-conscious; churches are image-conscious.” Therefore, he advises taking an informal approach, using non-uniformed security on Sunday mornings.

Hardy said he has attended churches with a uniformed team, and some even have local police officers keeping watch. This is a great deterrent outside the building. But inside, this can cause churchgoers to wonder why it’s necessary to have uniformed security at the church they’re visiting.

“You don’t want an armed officer sitting up by the podium or by the platform. Pastors don’t usually like that,” Hardy said. But ultimately, this is a personal decision to be discussed by church leadership, as every congregation has different needs and security concerns based on their church size and geographic location.

Jerry Weber, minister of education and administration at Chatham Baptist Church, said he thinks all churches should be following the basic guidelines presented in this training—look and observe, and if you see something, say something.

Some of this seems to be common sense, Weber said, “but it’s these things we need to train people how to do. We come to church and we focus on worship and Bible study and not really thinking, ‘OK, we need to focus on security as well.’”

But as Hardy reiterated several times throughout the conference, security should be on every church’s radar. “We often assume we’re going to have a safe worship environment.” And most of the time we do, he clarified. But we need to be prepared for the days that are the exception.

When planning for church security, the experts advise, “have a servant’s heart with a warrior’s mindset.”

-Morgan Jackson is a freelance writer living in Bloomington.

The Briefing

NY Times op-ed spurs discussion of race & the SBC
A black Oklahoma minister’s New York Times op-ed “renouncing [his] ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention” has drawn responses from a range of African Americans who say they will continue to cooperate with the convention as it pursues racial reconciliation. Meanwhile, the op-ed’s author, Lawrence Ware, explained his views in an interview with Baptist Press, noting he does not believe Southern Baptists by and large are intentionally racist. He also said he likely would have “softened” some of his language against the SBC if given an opportunity to rewrite the op-ed.

Bible studies at the White House
Some of the most powerful people in America have been gathering weekly to learn more about God’s Word, and this Trump Cabinet Bible study is making history. They’ve been called the most evangelical Cabinet in history – men and women who don’t mince words when it comes to where they stand on God and the Bible. They’re all handpicked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Democrat boss says no abortion litmus test
Democrats will not withhold campaign funds from pro-life candidates running for elected office, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chairman of the Democrats’ House campaign arm, told The Hill. “There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Luján said. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Toy makers blurring gender line
Like wildfire, the transgender revolution appears to be consuming, changing and confusing everything in life as people used to know it. Now the confusion has extended to the choice of toys for children. Hasbro, one of the biggest U.S. toy-makers, has announced that it has changed its thinking regarding certain toys being geared toward particular genders. In a recent interview, Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said his company has found that a significant percentage of boys are interested in My Little Pony, traditionally more popular with girls. Conversely, girls are taking a liking for Star Wars products marketed more at boys.

Christians & non-Christians Agree: College is about getting a job
Despite the abundance of Christian learning institutions and campus ministries in the U.S., American Christian adults, including evangelicals, are no more likely than the religiously unaffiliated — or religious “nones” — to list spiritual growth as one of the reasons for going to college (9%). And evangelicals are less likely than both religious “nones” and the general population to include moral character development among the reasons for seeking a postsecondary education (10% vs. roughly 14%).

Sources: Baptist Press, CBN, World Magazine, Christian Post, Influence Magazine

New study shows factors that attract and keep new members

Attracting and keeping people considered unchurched is rated as the top predictor of growth through new professions of faith at small churches, according to a new study encompassing 12 Christian denominations including Southern Baptists.

“These churches are places of invitation, welcome, and involvement for the unchurched,” the study’s authors said. “So, the unchurched stick around in greater numbers. And they come to Christ and get committed to the church in greater numbers.”

The Billy Graham Center of Wheaton College conducted the newly released study in partnership with Lifeway Research of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Caskey Center for Church Excellence of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The telephone survey of 1,500 pastors and church leaders found and ranked 29 predictors of growth through Christian conversion at churches of 250 members or less. Study authors released the top 10 growth predictors June 26.

Second to attracting and keeping the unchurched, small churches that grow by Christian conversions tend to offer classes for new attendees, the study found. Such classes help even when they are not evangelistic.

Third, small churches that grow through new baptisms are led by pastors who routinely undergo personal evangelism training.

“If the pastor is a learner and stays inspired and growing in the area of evangelism,” study authors said, “that pastor’s church will reach more people who commit to Christ and who stick.”

Newcomers church growth chart

In response to declining baptisms in the U.S., Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines appointed a 19-member evangelism task force at the 2017 SBC annual meeting. The group of SBC seminary presidents and professors, pastors, and a state convention leader are expected to report its findings at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Nearly 90% of Southern Baptist churches had weekly attendance of 250 or less as recently as 2013, and qualified for the “small church category.”

In the Wheaton study, the other top growth predictors among small churches are:

  • The pastor more frequently “pops the question,” asking people to commit after he shares the gospel.
  • The church spends a higher percentage of its budget on evangelism and missions.
  • Church members often tell the pastor that they themselves are sharing the gospel with others, rather than relying on the pastor to carry the load alone. “The church does not need superstar pastors who share their faith while everybody in the church cheers them on from the sidelines,” study authors said.
  • Unchurched visitors often communicate favorable feedback to pastors after weekly worship services.
  • The church shares the gospel outside its walls and conducts community service.
  • Churches that grow through conversions concurrently tend to draw members from other congregations. “In other words,” study authors wrote, “transfer and conversion growth tend to go together for small churches.”
  • Cited as the 10th most predictive factor of growth through new conversions, according to the study, “the pastor more frequently blocks out time in the calendar for the purpose of sharing the gospel with non-Christians. If the pastor is to lead evangelism in the church, the pastor must first personally live out the evangelism call.”

Smaller churches in the survey, those with 150 or fewer members, tended to grow more easily than the larger small churches in the survey, the study found. Additionally, predominantly Hispanic and Native American churches tended to fare better in growth.

Joining Southern Baptists in responding to the survey are members of the Assemblies of God, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Converge Worldwide, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Evangelical Free Church in America, The Foursquare Church, the Missionary Church, Vineyard US, and The Wesleyan Church.

Study authors include Ed Stetzer, executive director of Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and former LifeWay Research executive director.

LifeWay Research plans to release a full report of the study at lifewayresearch.com.

– Diana Chandler, Baptist Press