Archives For

By Eric Reed

Illinois Exodus

Hard times hit the publishing industry in the early 2000’s. The president of Christianity Today International, for whom I worked at the time, called the confluence of 9/11, falling ad sales, and the rise of the internet “whitewater.” Apparently he enjoyed rafting, but he knew the river crashing against the rocks as placid waters turned swift was a dangerous situation, even for adventurous souls. He talked often about “whitewater” for several years. He told us to hold on tight.

We did.

It wasn’t easy. In the end, the organization was leaner, but publishers who survived met the crisis with creativity and invention. And the gospel mission was advanced.

I thought of that while reading an article on “the Illinois Exodus.” In it, a Chicagoland pastor used the same term to describe these tremulous times in our state. “I suspect we’re headed into some whitewater,” said Mike Woodruff. “The waves are going to knock us around a bit. But our foundations are strong.”

Woodruff was quoted by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra at The Gospel Coalition. She asked about the future of Illinois in light of declining population and growing debt. More specifically, she questioned the impact of the resulting exodus on churches.

Some 45,000 people left Illinois in 2018, a trend mirrored in equally high-tax states California and New Jersey. In Illinois, the mounting debt is due in large part to retirement promises—and the financial obligation to cover them—which now equals about $50,800 per household.

Sound off

“What worries me is that I think most Illinois churches are unprepared for what will happen—i.e., in an effort to meet pension obligations, legislators will raise taxes and reduce social programming, which will likely shift the safety net to churches…”
– Mike Woodruff, Chicagoland pastor

“…For several generations, pastors have not seen these issues as something they need to know anything about, so now they’re unable to do much because they don’t know anything….We need to play catch-up and fast.”
– Greg Forster, Trinity International University, Deerfield

How will that affect our ministries? The first answer is obvious: population decline. Especially in troubled neighborhoods and dwindling rural communities, the loss of people hurts. As young people leave to find jobs and older people leave when they retire, the church loses reliable attenders, servants, and givers, and to some extent its future.

But beyond population loss, what happens when the politicians try to adjust the budget to cover the bills? The pastors Zylstra interviewed pointed to a different problem: efforts to cover the gaps could result in loss of services in failing communities, and increases the probability that local churches will be called upon to make up the difference for people in need.

Such a likelihood causes me to ask, Are we prepared? Evangelicals today say we are interested in social issues and in being the hands of Jesus for our community. That commitment will be tested in time and money. “There will be opportunity for pastors to lead well and offer hope,” Woodruff said. “Don’t build barriers and retreat inside and just take care of your own.”

Who imagined a call to local and state missions would be driven by the state’s financial and demographic crunch, but if that’s what it takes to spur the church to a new era of action, so be it.

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.

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.

What churches need

Lisa Misner —  February 4, 2019

By Nate Adams

Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt once starred in a box office hit that bore the simple but provocative title, “What Women Want.” The movie’s premise, of course, is that men can be notoriously oblivious to understanding what women want. But after Gibson’s character receives an accidental shock from a hairdryer, he finds he can hear what the women around him are thinking. And that makes all the difference.

One of the serious take-aways from this romantic comedy is that we would all better understand what others want or need if we would just ask, and listen. None of us can hear one another’s thoughts, and most people are reluctant to talk openly about what they really need, at least until someone asks directly.

That’s one reason IBSA remains committed to an annual survey of churches each fall. It’s our way of asking churches what they really need, and hoping they will tell us, so we can help.

Our annual survey finds we have a lot in common.

Of course, Illinois Baptist churches are diverse, as we rediscover every year. From north to south and large city to rural community, each church’s size, setting, age, leadership, worship style, and culture make it unique, and deserving of individual consideration and attention.

At the same time, we found again this year that a handful of key needs appear consistently in many churches. For example, when asked what kind of assistance a church needs most, evangelism consistently again led the list of responses, followed by leadership development, and then spiritual renewal.

When asked what age groups churches need most assistance trying to reach, respondents consistently say they need help reaching college age and young adults, followed by students or youth. When asked about missions, churches ask for more help engaging in missions opportunities nearby, in Illinois, compared with international or North American mission fields.

We also ask in the survey how churches prefer to receive assistance or communication. Not surprisingly, churches prefer personal contact when possible, followed by e-mail and then phone. And recently, churches’ reported use of digital communications such as IBSA’s website or social media channels have actually slightly surpassed print communication channels, though both are still valued.

Every year we read and digest carefully this input from hundreds of churches. We seek to set our priorities and budget, and even hire and structure our staff, around the needs churches express. Here are two “take-aways” from this year’s survey I would like to communicate to every IBSA church:

First, you are not alone. Your church’s needs and even its frustrations are shared by many other churches. So don’t allow those needs to make you feel isolated. Use them as an opportunity to reach out and connect with other churches and leaders who have experienced the same needs, and who can advise or help.

Call IBSA for a connection or a consultation. Ask us to recommend a church that has found a way to meet the kind of need you have.

Second, choose to face your needs. Don’t just agonize over or lament them. Throughout the Bible, when God sees a need or hears a cry for help, he raises up a person, and that person leads others in a process that meets the need. Just ask Moses, or Gideon, or Solomon, or Nehemiah, or Jesus’ disciples, or the early church apostles. Paul promised the Philippian church, and us, that God would supply all their needs through his own riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

So what person and what process might God use to help meet your church’s greatest needs this year? He actually can read your mind. But he loves it when we admit our needs, and humbly ask for his help.

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

Start with ‘One’

Lisa Misner —  January 28, 2019

Baptists mobilize for year-long emphasis

By Meredith Flynn

pajak one

IBSA’s Pat Pajak (left in this IB file photo) will help Illinois Baptists engage with “Who’s Your One,” an initiative to help people share their faith in 2019.

Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear is encouraging Southern Baptists to answer a simple question in 2019: Who’s your one?

The question is at the center of an evangelism and prayer emphasis Greear introduced last year to his own congregation, Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham.

“We asked each member of our congregation to identify one person they could pray for and seek to bring to Christ over the year,” Greear wrote in SBC Life. “The phrase we kept repeating was, ‘Who’s your one?’”

The idea isn’t complicated, Greear continued, but the intentional focus on evangelism worked. Summit Church baptized 700 people last year. Now, Greear is inviting churches across the SBC to participate in “Who’s Your One?” this year.

“Intentional evangelism has always been a defining characteristic of Southern Baptist mission,” Greear said. “And rightly so, because evangelism is the primary tool by which we fulfill the Great Commission.”

He will join Johnny Hunt, the North American Mission Board’s senior vice president of evangelism and leadership, to train associational leaders in the strategy during a simulcast Jan. 31. They’ll also introduce a kit designed to help pastors lead a multi-week emphasis in their churches encouraging every member to become more focused and intentional about evangelism.

“Associations have always served as a valuable partner in cooperation, mobilizing churches together,” Greear told Baptist Press. “It only seemed natural for every association in the country to work together.” There are 1,000-plus local associations, or networks, of churches across the SBC.

Prayer is at the core of the emphasis, said IBSA’s Pat Pajak, associate executive director of evangelism. “Every Illinois Southern Baptist is encouraged, challenged really, to begin praying for one person in 2019. As they pray for that person, we believe the Lord will begin to touch their heart to witness to them. We believe God will open an opportunity to share their testimony and a gospel conversation, allowing them to present the gospel sometime in 2019.”

He has used the phrase “each one reach one” to describe a one-by-one strategy to reach people with the gospel. “Who’s Your One?” is built on the same idea. There are more than 8 million people in Illinois who haven’t trusted Christ, Pajak said. It’s an overwhelming number, but strategies like “Who’s Your One?” could have a huge impact.

“There are 114,359 resident members in IBSA churches in Illinois,” Pajak said. “Can you imagine the impact we could have on our state if each active church member began praying daily for a relative, friend, neighbor, or coworker, and then looked for an opportunity to share the truth about the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior?”

For more information about evangelism training, resources, and this year’s “Who’s Your One?” emphasis, contact Pajak at (217) 391-3129 or PatPajak@IBSA.org. You may also visit gospelaboveall.com to register and receive additional information about “Who’s Your One?”