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Three Illinois girls

Lisa Misner —  June 24, 2019

By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

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

By Steve Hamrick

Steve HamrickMany times in ministry, I have been called on to do something not because I wanted to, but because I knew I should or it was in my job description. Often these “acts of obedience” make me uncomfortable, but I’ve noticed when I am obedient in these hard things, I receive a blessing and satisfaction that is many times greater than the fear. Many times, I see God at work on the frontlines. I had such an experience recently in Hillsboro, Ill.

Rob Cleeton is pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Medora and a volunteer chaplain at Graham Prison in Hillsboro. One day, he told me about the prison praise team, which is made up of more than 20 prisoners who serve various ways. They set up gear and chairs, sing and play, lead worship, and run sound and video.

Rob told me that I might be able to help them. The invitation to join Rob at the prison intrigued me, but I was fearful too. With Rob’s permission, I asked several of my minister of music friends if they would be interested. Five of them, including one who is a guard at the prison, agreed to join me.

After getting security clearance, my team planned a clinic for the prison praise team. On the day of the training, we met at the prison. We were searched, left our cell phones behind, went through three or four barriers and guard stations, and found ourselves in the center of the prison. Even though I knew they were going to let us out when we were done, I had an eerie feeling about being locked in.

When we first met the prisoners they looked exactly like I had expected. Some had gang- or crime-related tattoos; others looked like they could lift 300 pounds. I knew that many of them were there for serious offences. But when they started playing and singing, I could tell that they were better musicians than I am. Many of them made a living playing in bands and clubs before their prison days. I was pretty unsure what we might be able to do to “help” them.

Pastor Rob told me that most of the guys in the prison ministry had a better relationship with Christ than most Christians on the outside. He also encouraged us not to worry, that the men would be grateful for our time with them. He was correct.

As I got to know the men and their stories, something started to change in the way I looked at them.

As I got to know the men and their stories, something started to change in the way I looked at them. No longer did they look like prisoners. They started to look like friends. One man looked like my father. Another one looked like me. God told me clearly that the only difference between them and me was that they broke our civil laws. But we both have broken God’s law. In God’s eyes, we are exactly the same kind of sinners, deserving of death and hell.

But we also share exactly the same good news. Jesus died to save us both from our sins, the prisoner and the pastor.

That evening, our ministers of music joined the praise band and to lead 121 prisoners in worship. In a room with only 80 chairs. The chaplain decided that because we didn’t have enough chairs, he would remove all of them. As the prisoners entered, led by the band, they started singing and praising the Lord. Through both familiar and unfamiliar songs, they sang with all their heart. When it came time for the message, they stayed engaged. They interacted with me while I spoke, affirming with “Amen,” “Blow it up, preach!” and “Come on!”

When the service was over, I found one of my new friends in the audience and asked him why no one had complained about standing up for an hour-and-a half. His answer has fundamentally changed the way I look at worship.

“When we come together to worship,” he said, “we are not concerned by prison bars, uniforms, rules, guards, bad food, or barbed wire; we are worshiping free before the King of Kings.”

Time was suspended while they were transported before the throne in worship. It was personal worship, yet it was fueled by the corporate singing and praise of believers. The presence of the Lord did not have to be called down, because he was already there. We stepped into his presence. Worship in our Illinois Baptist churches could be like that if we confessed our sins, left our un-prayed over opinions at the door, and set our hearts and minds on Jesus.

There in the prison, we were all blessed standing in the presence of God. The prison band was blessed as they prompted the prisoners in worship. Our ministers of music were blessed by the worship and the new relationships they made. I was blessed most of all as God showed me a new picture of what worship should really be like every time we come into his presence. Thanks, Pastor Rob, for inviting us to participate in such a blessed event.

Steve Hamrick is IBSA’s director of worship and church technology.

In the golden age of piracy, a pirate captain had power, authority, and a wide-brimmed hat that set him apart as commander of his ship. His crew agreed to follow their captain wherever the seas took them.

While the captain had legitimate power to move the ship onward, the ship’s quartermaster had a different kind of influence. Often placed second in command, the quartermaster’s primary job was to take care of both the needs and the discipline of the crew. He interacted with his fellow pirates on a daily basis and had the responsibility of keeping up morale and making sure the crew was effective in their daily duties.

His influence, though not official, also allowed him to have authority over the crew. And if the captain became despotic, the quartermaster could use his influence to assume power and lead a mutiny.

Pirates don’t pastor churches, but pastors and church leaders do wield different types of influence. Each can be used wisely for the edification of the church and the glory of God.

1. Legitimate influence. This is formal authority, like the captain, the President of the United States, a police officer, and yes, a pastor. A person with legitimate influence occupies an official position and because of that, has authority. Biblical examples of this kind of influence include King Saul and King David, both anointed king by God’s prophet Samuel.

2. Referent influence. Like the quartermaster who understands and cares about the needs of the crew, referent influence is based on affection, trust, integrity, and dependability. While the culture’s referent influence comes from Hollywood actors and star athletes, referent influence in ministry often comes from missionaries, ministry leaders, and again, the pastor. He may start with legitimate influence, but to be most effective long-term, a pastor must develop referent influence.

3. Reward influence. This type of influence is based on the ability to offer rewards or incentives to motivate. A general example of this is an employer/manager or a military superior. In ministry, a pastor can utilize reward influence.

Paul’s commendations at the end of his letter to the Romans showcase the value of reward influence. He extends warm greetings to several fellow believers by name, and then addresses the whole church. “The report of your obedience has reached everyone. Therefore I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19).

4. Coercive influence. Averse to reward influence, coercive influence is based on the ability to punish, discipline, or penalize. This kind of influence also comes from an employer or superior. The same authority that can promote you can also fire you.

Pastors also have this kind of influence, though it should only be used on rare occasions.

5. Expert influence. This influence is based on knowledge, special skills, or insight that others do not have. Examples of expert influence include doctors, lawyers, teachers, and scientists. Pastors and other full-time ministers and experienced Bible teachers can become experts in their ministries. They follow trends, know what works and what doesn’t, and have experience dealing with a variety of issues and challenges.

6. Informational influence. Though not an expert, someone with informational influence possesses the ability to attain and distribute information, and usually to effect change. This influence stems from personal connections. Political leaders and people in sales are prime examples. Similarly, pastors, elders, and denominational workers can use their connections as a way to influence people around them, for the glory of God.

God is the ultimate source of pastoral influence, and we as leaders are completely dependent upon him. However, we are called by God and affirmed by our congregations, and we should be moving our people toward God’s agenda.

In other words, we want people to do what God wants them to do. Most of us influence and lead with our own intuitive style, but understanding different kinds of influence—seen both now and in a biblical context—can help us be more intentional based on the challenges and needs of our specific ministries.

– Bryan Price pastors Love Fellowship Baptist Church in Romeoville.

Write it down

Lisa Misner —  June 10, 2019

By Nate Adams

If you are a long-time reader of the Illinois Baptist, you probably remember reading something by my father, Tom Adams. Through columns like “Problem Corner,” “Speaking Out,” and simply “Tom Adams,” Dad for 34 years shared practical, biblical perspectives and sometimes personal opinions on a number of contemporary issues. Former IB editor Dennis Dawson once told me that his research had convinced him that Tom Adams had the longest continuously running column series in the history of Baptist papers.

Dad’s columns were so practical and insightful in their content, and yet so down-to-earth in their style, that many readers probably assumed they were effortless on his part. Yet when I visited my mother recently, she showed me two large boxes of books on writing from Dad’s library. In addition to dictionaries, thesauruses, and grammar guides, there were titles like Success with Words, Writing A to Z, and Writing Like the Pros.

Dad worked hard on his writing craft because he knew it gave him his largest audience and most lasting influence. It’s not uncommon for me today to walk into a church and have someone pull one of his columns out of their Bible, and tell me how much his writing meant to them, and still does.

But you don’t need a published column for your words to have reach, or lasting influence. For one thing, blogs and social media can give almost anyone a public platform for their words. Local newspapers or community or church newsletters often welcome local writers, and a simple family Christmas letter can touch most the people closest to us. I’ve even seen thoughtfully written birthday, sympathy, or thank-you cards move people to tears.

Thoughtful words have a wonderful, powerful, lasting effect.

Thoughtful words, carefully chosen and delivered with sincerity and love, can have a wonderful, powerful, lasting effect, whether on one person or thousands. I receive at least a hundred e-mails a day, but recently someone wrote me one that stopped me in my tracks and made me think about a very important situation very differently. It has begun a very positive understanding and change in my relationship with that person. That’s the power of thoughtful words, carefully chosen, and delivered with sincerity and love.

So as summer approaches this year, let me encourage you to take some of your quiet time, perhaps some early morning or late evening time on the front porch or the back deck, or even some of your vacation time, and sit down with a pen and pad of paper. What are the most important things you have to say, things that matter, and that are closest to your heart? Who are the most important people in your life, or the people with whom you have the most influence, or who most need to hear your thoughts?

Could you call them on the phone, or even wait until the next time you see them? Maybe. But spoken words are not always heard clearly, and do not always survive the test of time.

Written words, carefully chosen, can have a special clarity, power, and endurance. I think that’s why God has so miraculously assembled, preserved, and inspired his written Word for us, and why John 1 describes Jesus as the Word made flesh to dwell among us.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as a writer. As my dad’s stack of books reminds me, we can all improve our writing. But what’s most important is that your words come from the deepest and best parts of who you are, and that they are conveyed in sincerity and love to those who need them most. That’s how God writes. That’s how Tom Adams wrote. Your best thoughts matter too. Write them down.

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

Grilled, not toasted

Lisa Misner —  June 6, 2019

By Eric Reed

toastTwo things surprised me about my ordination: the interview was not nearly as painful as I anticipated, and it was scheduled 90 minutes prior to the evening service where I was to be set apart for God’s use.

What if I fail the test? I thought. My mother drove 10 hours to attend the service. And there’s an ice cream social afterward. What will happen to all that ice cream if I give the wrong answers?

I passed.

A dozen of the church’s finest gathered in the church library and asked me to share my testimony and my calling. (As I had recently written at length about that for my seminary application, the telling of it was easy and lasted about 40 minutes of the hour they reserved for the meeting.) Had I read The Baptist Faith & Message? (I had. In fact, the previous pastor had required it as part of a church membership class.) Did I disagree with any basic Baptist doctrines? (I did not.)

Their vote was unanimous. Half an hour later the church body approved. It seemed right that my little local congregation was doing the ordaining; after all, they knew me. I had served as their youth minister for two years.

I still remember a few prayers of those men as they laid hands on my head and whispered over me. Then came their wives and other members of the church. The praying lasted longer than the quizzing as the line to affirm God’s call wound around the inside walls of the sanctuary and Norma Lassiter played hymn after hymn on the Hammond.

Those men were serious, and they took their responsibility seriously. I recall with appreciation those who signed my ordination certificate: Leslie Rooks and Stephen Young and Marion Oldham and Luther Barker and more.

Anyone ordained in a Southern Baptist church might tell a similar story. They might also tell this one, as a friend described his own ordaining council: “I expected to be grilled, and instead I was toasted”—as if they had raised a glass in his honor.

In retrospect, I respect those men and the process. But times have changed and the call for more stringent screening is appropriate. The questions I have asked in ordaining councils have gotten tougher across the years, and yes, even a bit embarrassing, but it’s necessary. And ordaining councils would be well advised to bring directors of missions and pastors, a theologian, and men who aren’t so close to the candidate into the process to beef it up.

For the safety and well-being of the church, the pastorate, and the faith, we need to do more grilling and less toasting.

– Eric Reed

gallery

The abortion debate has always been emotional, but in our culture today, emotion has overtaken fact. This was on display when the Illinois House debated SB 25, what its sponsors named the Reproductive Health Act, a bill which removes limits on late-term abortions, allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions, and requires insurance companies to cover the costs of abortions. I watched debate, and ultimately the vote, from the House gallery.

In the gallery one is told to remain silent, that photography is forbidden, and not to react after votes are taken. Across from me sat protestors dressed in scarlet costumes based on the book-turned-TV series “A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. On the floor, one state representative who also boasted his title of pastor, spoke for the bill and the “rights” of women including his young daughters to “choose” what they will do with their bodies. Women in the gallery nodded their heads, and quietly said, “Yes.” An elderly lady sitting next to me whispered, “I’m so tired of those men telling us what to do with our bodies.”

Another representative shared a story about a woman who already had seven children and was so desperate that she resorted to a coat hanger abortion. That was in 1948. Did we want to return to those days? she asked rhetorically. “That’s right,” women in the gallery nodded quietly. No one would have considered my argument that birth control would prevent such extreme measures. Or abstinence. Or adoption.

Debate continued with more of the same. More “yes’s” and “that’s right’s” from the gallery until I heard myself quietly say, “No.” All heads in my little section quickly turned my way. The elderly lady sitting next to me got up and left. I could take it no more and had spoken. No one in the gallery near me commented on anything after that. Soon the vote was taken. Of course, the bill passed, and the gallery erupted into applause. The steward came rushing through telling everyone the gallery was not to express emotion at the result of the vote and it was over.

Improving ordination

Lisa Misner —  June 3, 2019

More careful interview process needed to protect churches

By Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist

Ordination_web

The ordination process of Southern Baptist churches is a weak spot when it comes to protecting congregations from sexual predators, according to a report released May 9.

The report, “Above Reproach: A Study of the Ordination Practices of SBC Churches,” was conducted by Jason A. Lowe, an associational mission strategist in Kentucky, in response to a Feb. 10 Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse among Southern Baptist churches.

Lowe began polling pastors and other Baptist leaders across the Southern Baptist Convention on Feb. 20, two days after SBC President J.D. Greear presented 10 calls to action from the Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Study, one of which was to enhance the ordination screening process.

IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams said the survey is helpful because it inquired about familiar aspects of ordination, but also some that are less often considered. “For example, it asked about various types of background checks as part of the ordination process, and also about how ordination councils can provide follow-up and accountability,” Adams said.

The screening process is a “sacred responsibility” that needs to be taken seriously, Greear said at a February meeting of Baptist newspaper editors. He explained that ordination candidates should have no hint of sexual abuse or cover up in their past. Greear asked why background checks are often more rigorous for children’s ministry volunteers than for people being ordained to lead.

Fewer than 1/3 of ordination candidates were required to have a background check.

Ordination, a process that sets a person aside for ministerial service, is left up to each individual Southern Baptist congregation in keeping with the SBC’s policy of church autonomy. Churches may review a person’s salvation experience, pastoral call, qualifications, and potentially his experience or seminary training to determine if he’s an appropriate candidate, according to the SBC’s website, sbc.net.

But Lowe wrote in his article that up until now, no one had a good snapshot of what was actually happening across the SBC when it came to ordination practices. “Very little study” has been done on this topic, he said.

“No one knows how thoroughly candidates for ordination are being examined,”
wrote Lowe, who serves as associational mission strategist for the Pike Association of Southern Baptists in southeastern Kentucky, as well as executive pastor for First Baptist Church of Pikeville.

“No one knows how many ordination councils require candidates to complete a background check,” he wrote. “No one knows how many ordination councils examine a candidate’s sexual purity.”

In late February and early March, Lowe gathered 555 survey responses. He compiled his findings in a 42-page report and noted five significant points of interest:

1. SBC ordination practices have significant room for improvement. In addition to Greear, other SBC leaders had spoken out about weaknesses in the ordination process ahead of Lowe’s report.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in February that “lackadaisical ordination will produce doctrinally dubious and morally corrupt pastors.” That kind of trend “must end and churches must take responsibility for those men they ordain for ministry,” he wrote.

Thom Rainer, former president of Lifeway Christian Resources, also wrote that because of the weak process, “we ‘bless’ new pastoral candidates who may not be ready for ministry at the least, and who are sexual predators at worst.”

Lowe said his report confirmed their observations. “While there are some encouraging trends, [Southern Baptist] churches need to improve our current ordination practices in a number of ways,” he said. For example, only 30.2% of ordained ministers were required to have a background check and only 29.4% were asked about their sexual purity. Also, in roughly 60% of cases, the ordination service was publicized before screening took place and the screening council happened on the same day as the service.

“Ordination is too important and consequential to be handled casually or quickly,” Adams said. “I would start by inviting local associational leadership into the process, and developing a plan for the ordination that allows sufficient time, and that can be thorough and involve as many ordained men as reasonable.” He also suggested churches obtain a guide or checklist of ordination best practices that would include steps of preparation for the candidate and the ordination council.

2. Discussions regarding a candidate’s sexual purity are sparse, but on the rise. Even though sexual purity is not discussed most of the time, the report found that there has been a “significant uptick (40.5%) since 2010.”

During the ordination process, Adams said, questions of an extremely personal nature should be tempered with a sense of appropriateness, respect for the candidate’s privacy, and recognition that past mistakes and especially pre-conversion behavior are not necessarily disqualifiers.

“That being said,” he added, “in today’s world especially, ordination councils—and pastor search teams too, for that matter—are wise to include in their processes background checks, reference checks, and secondary reference checks, and even a loving line of questioning about personal purity.”

Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, suggested a standard questionnaire about sexual purity and other moral issues could be helpful for ordination councils.

3. SBC ordination practices are changing in both positive and negative ways. Lowe’s survey garnered information on ordinations spanning every decade since the 1960s, and across the years, a number of trends emerged. Some were positive—for instance, more churches are requiring theological training, and more are conducting background checks and asking candidates about sexual purity.

But on the other hand, the role of the ordination council seems to be decreasing in importance. Screening periods have gotten shorter as a whole, and councils involve fewer ordained pastors.

Pajak recommended councils seek help from others. “Few church members may feel qualified to ask theological questions,” he said. “That is why the practice of church councils inviting associational mission strategists and other pastors to sit in on the questioning is necessary, but unfortunately, rarely done.”

Adams suggested every Baptist ordination council should have at least one, and hopefully several, members who have studied The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (Southern Baptists’ statement of faith) thoroughly enough to question the candidate through its articles. “That’s why it can be valuable to have multiple pastors involved in ordination processes, as well as local association or state convention staff that are usually available to help when needed.”

4. Ordaining churches in more populated areas set higher standards for their ordination candidates. The report data showed urban and suburban churches handling the process differently than churches in less-populated areas. City churches more often check on candidates both before and after ordination and require training more often. Rural churches are more likely to publicize the ordination service before a candidate is approved, then conduct the screening on the same day as the service.

Joe Lawson is associational mission strategist in Rehoboth and Louisville Baptist Associations. He agreed with Lowe that interview questions are important, but said they should be part of a longer-term mentoring relationship that starts well before the ordination process. “By the time a person is ordained, they have very likely been in a position of leadership teaching children, youth, and/or coed adults in church. They have also preached,” Lawson said. “A candidate desiring to pursue a call to ministry should have a pastor/mentor who will ask the questions about debt, sexual purity, and other behaviors, i.e. drugs and alcohol. It is easy to hide and not be transparent about the sin in our lives. Yet, leadership demands that we hold each other accountable.”

5. Larger churches are more thorough in their examination of ordination candidates. Churches with a larger membership are more likely to cover more topics during the screening process, require a background check, and require training.

Lawson cautioned against creating too rigid a barrier between ordination and theological education, though. “Personally, I am a little concerned we could establish a hierarchy of clergy and lose the power of the Spirit of God and the call of God in people’s lives,” he said. “Many of our churches are served by folks who are well-read, articulate, and theologically sound, but not formally educated. They are effective pastors serving in small places.”

Lowe didn’t make any specific recommendations for improvements, but he wrote that he shared the findings “with the hope of generating productive conversations among Southern Baptists as we seek ways to improve our ordination practices in the days ahead.”

“Ordination by local churches is one of the grassroots practices that has for generations allowed Baptist churches to recognize and develop leaders, accelerate proclamation of the gospel, and establish new churches more rapidly and expansively than other groups,” Adams said. “That’s why it’s imperative that ordination by local churches be administered responsibly and thoroughly, whether its result is to qualify or to disqualify.”

The full report is available at https://jasonalowe.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/sbc-ordination-practices-report.pdf.

– Grace Thornton, with additional reporting by the Illinois Baptist