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By Meredith Flynn

On our state’s bicentennial, the resolve of its early settlers has new meaning for Baptists.

Settlers arriving in the Illinois territory in the early 1800s didn’t know what to make of what they found. History tells us many of them moved north from areas that were heavily wooded. They trusted land that could support so many trees. The Illinois prairie offered no such reassurance.

“The prairies posed a new set of problems for farmers,” writes historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. “Below the land’s surface were tough, fibrous roots of tall prairie grasses, extending downward a foot or more. A simple wooden plow could hardly penetrate the surface.”

The pioneers made do by settling mostly in the southern part of the state, where ready access to water and trees made constructing their homes and farms more feasible. Some, though, eventually headed north, and found a way to work the hard prairie soil. It was richer than they thought, historians say. They just needed different tools. Steel, instead of wood.

Industrial pioneers John Deere and Cyrus McCormick developed tools for farming the prairie lands. And Illinois boomed. Its statehood population in 1818 was 35,000. By 1830, it had grown to 157,000, and would triple over the next decade. Still, tending the land was expensive. Families sacrificed much, Riney-Kehrberg notes, to run even a modest farm.

Two hundred years later, the challenges of tilling the soil in Illinois are different. But they still exist, especially in spiritual terms. More than 8 million people in Illinois do not know Christ. Many churches are struggling against the cultural tide to see real transformation in their communities.

Blue map copy

“I have often said that even though Illinois is the second flattest state in America, being Baptist here is an uphill climb,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Baptists have always been somewhat counter-cultural and a minority in Illinois, but that used to be because larger groups of people from different religious cultures had settled the state.

“Now it’s because the culture overall has become less and less religious, and arguably more hardened to the gospel message.”

Like Illinois’ early settlers found years ago, sometimes hard soil calls for new tools. Last year, IBSA presented four challenges to renew “pioneering spirit” among Baptists in Illinois. (Read more about the challenges at pioneeringspirit.org.)

These “new tools” are actually tried-and-true church practices: evangelism, church planting, sacrificial giving, and raising up new generations of leaders.

“The widespread and growing lostness of our state compels us to think in new ways. Maybe old ways,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team. “The pioneers of Illinois and parts west came to those territories knowing that if they didn’t bring the gospel with them, it just would not be present. We need that same kind of spirit and thinking today.”

‘Time to do something’
After the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, David Starr led his church to tackle all four of the Pioneering Spirit challenges. His congregation, Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City, is employing these new tools to make a difference in Illinois, especially in places where there is no IBSA church.

Starr approached Joe Lawson, director of missions for Louisville Baptist Association, about starting an association-wide prayer emphasis for the 10 counties in Illinois without an IBSA church. Community Southern, which averages around 70 in worship attendance, was assigned Carroll County in northwest Illinois. They started praying. Then, they took action.

“There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to do something,” Starr said. He spoke with IBSA staff in Springfield and leaders in northwest Illinois, planning a mission trip that would be focused on assessing needs in the region. In July, Starr and his wife and another couple from their church traveled more than 300 miles along a diagonal line from Clay City to Savanna, Ill.

During their trip, they met with a church planter in Galena for a Monday night Bible study. Then, they knocked on doors. Starr said the small team visited 70% of the homes in the focus area, and found 21 people or families who wanted to commit themselves to seeing a Southern Baptist church planted there.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

The team also saw physical need in Carroll County. The region has lost jobs in two big industries—railroad and lumber. There’s poverty and hunger. A woman who the team encountered ran into them later at a local store. “Don’t forget us,” she said.

Starr’s team went back home to Clay City, but they’ve continued to pray. There’s a map on the church bulletin board showing the streets they visited, and printed prayer reminders for the congregation.

Along with the challenge to go new places with the gospel, Community Southern is keeping up with the other Pioneering Spirit commitments. They increased missions giving through the Cooperative Program, are working to enlist new leaders, and celebrated one baptism on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis in April.

“Here is a pastor and church that captured the pioneering spirit,” Kicklighter said. “They heard about a place where there was a compelling need, and they decided to do something about it.

“We need lots of Illinois Baptist churches with this kind of passion and willingness—a pioneering spirit.”

Starr said he’s never seen anything like it in his years of ministry. His church is investing willingly in other people and places. Like Illinois’ early settlers, they’re tilling the hard soil, and using less familiar tools to do so.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

– Meredith Flynn, with info from History.com and “The Historical Development of Agriculture in Illinois” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300By Meredith Flynn

When Illinois Baptists gather Nov. 7-8, a familiar refrain will be in the air. No, not the state song, although “Illinois, Illinois” certainly fits the meeting’s theme. The 2018 IBSA Annual Meeting at First Baptist Church, Maryville, will observe our state’s bicentennial as part of a celebration of God’s work through Illinois Baptist churches across two centuries.

The meeting will also revisit the “Pioneering Spirit” emphasis, shedding light on how IBSA churches have over the past year embraced challenges to go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders—all so more people in Illinois might hear and respond to the gospel.

First Baptist Church, Maryville, will host the 2018 Annual Meeting, preceded by the IBSA Pastors’ Conference Nov. 6-7.

Along with stories of churches who have embraced the Pioneering Spirit challenges, the Annual Meeting will feature reports from ministry partners, music by worship band Sixteen Cities, and a visit from Honest Abe himself, as portrayed by veteran Lincoln interpreter Fritz Klein.

IBSA President Adron Robinson will preach the president’s message during the Wednesday afternoon session, and Tom Hufty, senior pastor of FBC Maryville, will bring the annual sermon Thursday morning.

Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference information is available at IBSAannualmeeting.org, along with historical highlights, meeting logistics, and a checklist for messengers to the Annual Meeting.

The little cabin on the prairie that served as a mini-museum of Illinois history last year will return to the Annual Meeting as a house of prayer. The log cabin will feature visual displays about Illinois’ mission field, both historic and present-day.

From the cabin just inside the front entrance of the church building, messengers and guests can tour the facility using a printed guide. At stops along the way, they will be encouraged to pray for ministries in IBSA churches, based on the activities that will happen at those locations during the annual meeting. For example, pastors’ wives will meet in the FBC chapel, so that space becomes the spot to pray for pastors’ wives and families, at any time during the three-day gathering.

“We’re asking God to stir a movement of prayer for mission and ministry, to build up strong churches across our state,” said IBSA’s Eric Reed, one of the planners of the prayer tour.

“God can move our hearts to beat in rhythm with his, for the salvation of lost people in Illinois, and strengthen his disciples to represent Jesus here, where he is so desperately needed.”

Counting to 200
When the Pioneering Spirit challenges were presented last year, the goal was for at least 200 IBSA churches to accept one or more of them. To date, 184 churches have done so.

“We knew from the outset that not every IBSA church would register a commitment to the Pioneering Spirit challenges, as much as we wish they might, because these challenges require great intentionality,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams.

“That’s why the goal is 200 churches, not just to match the Illinois bicentennial, but because that will be about 20% of all IBSA churches, and we think that’s about the percentage that will really want to work these challenges.”

Adams said IBSA has continued to invite churches to consider the challenges during local associational annual meetings this fall, and will do so again at the IBSA Annual Meeting in Maryville.

“I believe we will have more than 200 church commitments by the Annual Meeting, and we are eager to work with those churches, and to see them become an inspiration to many others to bear fruit in these important areas.”

Next stop: Maryville
Messengers and visitors to the IBSA Annual Meeting can reserve tickets for onsite evening meals Tuesday and Wednesday at IBSAannualmeeting.org. The Tuesday evening meal following the Pastors’ Conference afternoon sessions will be provided by Ravanelli’s Catering and feature their famous pressure fried chicken, slow roasted beef with gravy, baked rigatoni, mash potatoes and gravy, buttered corn, salad, bread, and
dessert. Tickets are $10 per person.

The Wednesday evening meal catered by Fire-N-Smoke will feature smoked chicken topped with cranberry barbecue sauce, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, green beans, salad, bread, and dessert. Tickets are $12 per person.

Childcare will be provided by the Illinois Baptist Disaster Relief Childcare team. For more information or to reserve childcare, contact Barb Troeger at (217) 391-3123 or BarbTroeger@IBSA.org.

By John Carruthers

October is Pastor Appreciation Month

Some church members looking at the calendar saw Groundhog Day coming up and asked themselves, “If a groundhog can have its own day, shouldn’t our pastors?” So they started Pastor Appreciation Day in 1992. Since then, the day has grown to an entire month of celebration—not in February, but in October.

While churches may recognize their pastors in many different ways, the thing many pastors say they would appreciate is simply to pray for them.

During the month of October, the IBSA staff will lift up nearly 1,000 pastors and congregations in prayer, both individually and as a group. Pastors are welcome to share specific prayer requests at https://bit.ly/2PBcR9U, or by calling IBSA Church Relationships Manager John Carruthers at (217) 391-3110.

Based on recent interviews with IBSA pastors, here are five ways churches can support their pastor(s) in prayer.

1. Pray for wisdom. These men are confronted everyday with many decisions and they desire clarity from the Lord. Pray for God to supply them with his wisdom.
Proverbs 3:5-6

2. Pray for protection. Temptations and attacks come from many different angles and are continuous. Pray for God to protect the pastor from the enemy. I Peter 5:8

3. Pray for his family. Isolation, attacks, and bullying are very common for a pastor’s family to deal with. Pray protection around his family to avoid the fiery snares. Proverbs 12:22

4. Pray for financial pressures. Many pastors are underpaid and some live below the poverty level. They continue to serve joyfully through financial stress. Pray for God to provide not only basic needs but additional resources to provide for times of celebration and comfort. Philippians 4:19

5. Pray for gospel opportunities. Being a pastor can open up gospel conversations, or sometimes it can shut them down. Pray for the pastor to have friendships with unbelievers, and to have opportunity to share the gospel this week. Psalm 105:1

John Carruthers is IBSA’s Church Relationships Manager

One GRAND Sunday

Last Easter, a statewide baptism emphasis resulted in more than 650 baptisms across Illinois. If you missed the first one, you can do it now. If God blessed your church on the first One GRAND Sunday, pray He will do it again. IBSA churches are invited to participate in a second “One GRAND Sunday” this November 4.

1. Set a 2019 baptismal goal. Look at your baptismal number(s) from 2017-2018 and set a goal to increase by at least one! If you had 9 or 10, set a goal to baptize 12 or one a month. Determine to become a “frequently baptizing church!”

2. Plan to baptize on One GRAND Sunday. Announce your intention to the church, that you plan to baptize at least one person on November 4 in order to be a part of seeing 1,000 people baptized across Illinois on one day! Invite the church to join you in that strategy.

3. Pray for the lost in your community. Encourage the church to begin praying daily for unsaved friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers that they will be able to reach them with the gospel and see them baptized on November 4 during One GRAND Sunday!

4. Have an evangelism training class. Train members how to share their personal testimony and the gospel message of salvation. Use “3 Circles Evangelism Training” to teach members how to have “A gospel conversation” with an unsaved person they meet.

5. Plan an outreach activity night. Church members will visit when a planned opportunity is made available. Plan to have a meal, provide childcare, make student ministry drivers available, set-up a homework room, and enlist visitation teams to prepare for November 4.

6. Use daylight savings time to promote the event. Use One GRAND Sunday as a strategy to draw a crowd on time-change Sunday encourage them to be a part of this miraculous and historic event. Pray – Plan – Promote and register to be involved at www.IBSA.org/pioneering.

For more information about One GRAND Sunday, visit www.IBSA.org/evangelism.

By Andrew Woodrow

Churches combine efforts to meet needs, share Jesus in their community

Food Pantry serving

Harrisburg is a tough place right now,” said Joe Thompson, an associate pastor at the southern Illinois town’s First Baptist Church. “We’re dealing with a lot of unemployment, food insecurity for children, and there’s just a lot of under-resourced people around us. And the churches are aware of that.”

Thompson’s rural community lies in one of the state’s poorest counties. There are limited resources and manpower to meet basic needs.

But that didn’t stop Thompson and his wife, Stacey, from trying.

In January 2017, the Thompsons launched a weekly community dinner at FBC Harrisburg. Since then, the couple has been overwhelmed by how quickly God has expanded the ministry, which they named His Table.

“When we asked God to show us if this is what he wanted us to do,” Joe said, “we had no idea he would answer so loudly.”

Meeting a major need

Joe and Stacey Thompson

Joe and Stacey Thompson

At 5 p.m. every Thursday, the doors open and diners of all ages start trickling into the fellowship hall at FBC Harrisburg. Young children find seats in the back corner. Older men and women, some who have brought babies along, sit at long tables. Volunteers bring them their food and, if time allows, stay to chat for a bit.

The His Table volunteers are a team of about 20 people, ranging in age from 14 to 92. They arrive mid-afternoon to prepare for the evening. One group makes sandwiches for the kids to last them until the end of the weekend, while another team packs meals to deliver to shut-ins who are unable to come to dinner.

When word initially spread about the dinner ministry, funds poured in from supporters and soon five other churches—Liberty, Saline, Dorrisville, Pankeyville, and McKinley Avenue—came alongside First Baptist to help. A restaurant and a local supermarket also committed to help with food provisions.

“One of our chief concerns about launching His Table was overestimating the need,” Thompson said. The worry was unfounded. At the first His Table dinner, the Thompsons served 10 meals. Now, they see around 250 diners every week, and serve 350 meals.

“I’ve been coming since I first heard of this event,” one diner said. “My wife’s not here but this meal helps sustain us both for at least another night.” The man left that night carrying two more boxes of food to take to his bedridden wife.

“This sort of thing isn’t uncommon,” Thompson said. “These people are having to make decisions, ‘Do I pay this bill or do I eat this week?’ So to sit with people who have said their last meal was Thursday night and they’ve been waiting for Thursday night to come around again is heartbreaking.”

Thompson believes this is why the churches in the community are so eager to help.

“When you think about poverty, you don’t really think about it in your own community,” said Donnie Hughes, a volunteer from Pankeyville Baptist Church. “But it wasn’t until we saw what Joe was doing firsthand that awoke us to how great the need in our community was. And seeing children come into His Table by themselves with no parents really impacted us to get involved.”

More than a meal
“It’s not enough for people to leave here thinking ‘Boy, the spaghetti was good tonight,’” Thompson said. “If that’s all on their mind, then we’ve failed.”

His Table is meant to reflect God’s unforsaken love and compassion for his people, even amid their hardships. “Life’s pretty tough right now for these folks, but for us to be able to communicate redemptive truths to them is prayerfully and hopefully the impact we’re making,” Thompson said.

“For churches to understand the overall need, come together, and very selflessly understand that together we can pool our resources and manpower to meet the needs of the community—that is how the Church is effective.”

In time, he said, the team would like to start recovery programs and help provide jobs for people in the community. If those dreams come to fruition, the His Table team would have to find additional locations and resources. But Thompson isn’t worried.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we just want to be the Church sharing the love of Christ to the community. Just as much as Jesus did to his.”

See His Table volunteers from Harrisburg churches serve their community: www.vimeo.com/ibsa/histable

What really counts

Lisa Misner —  October 1, 2018

Pioneering-200-logo-layers-260x300By Nate Adams

Big birthdays have a way of getting our attention, as they should. Sometimes they even alarm us. Can my parents, or grandparents, really be 80? Am I really 50? Is my church really a hundred? Time really does seem to fly, whether you’re having fun or not.

And so maybe it snuck up on you that our home state turns 200 this year. One verse from the Illinois state song reminds us, “Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois.” Don’t worry, though, there’s still time to buy a gift. While the official seal of Illinois bears the date August 26, 1818, that was when the first state constitution was ratified. It wasn’t until December 3 that the U.S. government formally made Illinois the 21st state of the union.

And while the Illinois bicentennial may be receiving less fanfare than the national one back in 1976, this big birthday should still be getting our attention. There were only about 35,000 people in Illinois in 1818, but today there are at least 8.2 million who do not claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These two hundred years have brought a lot of people into our state mission field, and our Great Commission challenge as churches here is now bigger than ever.

That’s why we are embracing the Illinois bicentennial in our theme for this year’s IBSA Annual Meeting, “Pioneering Spirit – 200 and Counting.” As we now count two hundred years of statehood, we are also asking “what should we be counting?” and “what should really count?” today, if we are to have the same pioneering spirit as our Baptist forebears.

Beginning with last year’s annual meeting, IBSA has been challenging Illinois Baptist churches and leaders to join together and “count to 200” in four strategic, missional ways:

First, we have identified 200 places or people groups in Illinois where a new church is desperately needed. We are inviting churches to adopt one or more of those 200 by praying for them, or partnering with resources or volunteers, or actually sponsoring the plant as the mother church.

Second, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will seek to become more frequently baptizing churches, by setting annual baptism goals and equipping their members to intentionally have gospel conversations and participate in evangelistic events and mission trips. We are praying for churches that will set their sights on baptizing at least once a month, or more than their previous 3-year average.

Third, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit a specific percentage of their annual budgets to Cooperative Program missions, and then seek to increase that percentage annually toward 10% or more.

And finally, we are praying for at least 200 churches that will commit to intentional leadership development processes—not only for the pastor and current leaders, but also for tomorrow’s pastors, church planters, and missionaries.

You can learn more about these commitments, and register your church’s pledge to them, by visiting pioneeringspirit.org, or by calling John Carruthers at (217) 391-3110. There are currently 166 churches that have registered a commitment, and we are hoping to celebrate 200, in more ways than one, when we gather at First Baptist Maryville for the IBSA Annual Meeting.

Of course, some churches are fulfilling one or more of these challenges already. But for the overwhelming majority of IBSA churches, these challenges will be a major stretch. In fact, as our Annual Meeting theme suggests, moving beyond our status quo into these types of commitments will take a true “pioneering spirit.” It’s the kind of spirit that brought Baptist pioneers to Illinois more than 200 years ago.

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

By Mike Keppler

Mike KepplerI was pretty unruly the last weeks leading up to my retirement. In dealing with the loose ends and trying to find an acceptable closure to over 26 years of ministry, I was stressed and disagreeable at times. I was getting into trouble by saying some harsh things to family and friends and finding myself needing to ask for forgiveness. How often do we need to ask, “Please forgive me”?

Over the years, I have had to “walk back” several comments that were hurtful. Sometimes I tried unsuccessfully to make excuses about what I had meant, but when something mean comes out of the mouth, something mean must be in the heart. No amount of excuse-making will work toward healing in these situations. Rather, it’s time to admit wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. You would think that as time goes on, a maturing Christian should be growing past some of these careless words and actions, but it seems that the devil never gives up working to trip us up!

While patience may be one of the more important of virtues required in a long-term ministry, asking for and offering forgiveness is a close second and surely related. By the grace of God, I have been able to re-constitute my relationship with some fellow church members over the years. Misunderstandings, differences of opinion, and handling (or mishandling) expectations often disrupt our relationships, but patient forgiveness helps us to reform and experience even stronger bonds with those individuals who may have become adversarial toward us at times.

I had an “old salt” come out the auditorium doors one Sunday morning early in my ministry. I had been his pastor for a good three years by this time. As I reached out to shake his hand, he bluntly declared, “Preacher, I was against calling you when you came, but I’m for you now!” I thought later how that would qualify him as a “late adopter!”

You might think it’s ‘I love you,’ but it’s not.

I wasn’t really aware of the man’s resistance to my leadership, but evidently, he was not fully on-board with it either. I was able to forgive that blunt remark, even forget about it and move on with him in the following years of service together. Sometimes it is not so easy with others. I have been “dressed down” in auditorium confrontations, “roughed up” during church business meetings, and yes, there was also that unpleasant incident of “physical aggression” in my office long ago that left me asking myself what I had done to deserve such an angry reaction. These encounters take a lot of time, prayer, support from family and friends—and forgiveness—if there is to be healing.

When I read about Paul’s encounters, I think I had it easy. He suffered numerous angry reactions and many hardships throughout his ministry. He said to the Corinthian believers, “As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger…” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5). Paul never wanted to be a stumbling block or to have his service and witness for Christ discredited by inappropriate responses. Neither should we!

Paul warns the Ephesians, “Watch the way you talk!” (4:29,32). Speaking in a “kind and forgiving” way should define us. Our speech should not be from a rancid, angry disposition, but rather, one that always expresses thoughtful consideration and patient preference of others.

One way we do this is to show kindness. We must learn to let go of things and forgive. In the Model Prayer, Jesus gives us the motivation: “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:11). We respond with forgiveness because we have been the recipients of God’s great forgiveness of our sins.

Have you discovered that an unforgiving spirit does more harm to us and our relationship with the Lord than it does to hurt others? My experience is that if we aren’t kind and don’t exercise forgiveness, we will be miserable in our spirit. God has taken me to the “woodshed” to discipline me more than a few times for grieving the Holy Spirit. I think it all comes down to this: It grieves God and breaks his heart when we have conflict in our relationships and use speech that does not build others up. The Holy Spirit is aggrieved by our harsh and unforgiving ways. When the Spirit isn’t happy, we’re not happy as a result.

Mike Keppler recently retired after 26 years as pastor of Springfield Southern Baptist Church.