Archives For Heartland

Give them the gospel

Lisa Misner —  August 19, 2019 — Leave a comment

A new ministry reignited this church’s passion

By Meredith Flynn

MIO Next Gen

Outside the white wooden First Baptist Church building, Atwood is quiet on Wednesday evening. A few parents stroll babies on the sidewalks, and a group of teen boys walks toward the school gym, basketball in hand. This community of just over 1,000 people is minutes from Illinois’ Amish country.

From the church parking lot, though, the thump, thump, thump of a bass line played over stereo speakers gets louder at the door. Inside the darkened auditorium, children and teens swing their arms and stomp their feet—matching the motions of a worship leader onstage.

This is Ignite, FBC Atwood’s year-old ministry for kids and students. On this Wednesday night, Pastor Lanny Faulkner will baptize 17 young people who came to Christ through Ignite or another of the church’s ministries for kids and teens. (The church baptized 15 people total last year.)

His church understands the statistics, Faulkner said. Most people that come to faith in Christ do so at a young age.

“If we’re going to change the world, we have to change Atwood,” said Faulkner, who has led the church since 2006. “If we’re going to change Atwood, we have to reach children and young families.”

Braving a new world
The generation coming of age now has experienced the world in a completely different way than the adults leading them at church, said Jimmy Hammond, an IBSA associate who facilitates student ministry around the state.

“For us, the challenge is learning how to see things from their perspective, so we can find meaningful ways to connect to them,” Hammond said. Throughout the year, IBSA sponsors camps and conferences for kids of all ages, and training opportunities specifically tailored for children’s and youth leaders.

Those events are possible because of the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer. Collected in September in churches across Illinois, the Offering helps provide missions and ministry that address critical needs in the state. MIO also supports IBSA personnel like Director of Next Generation Ministries Jack Lucas.

As IBSA and church leaders partner together to reach the next generation, they recognize the window is narrow. A 2004 Barna study found that 43% of Americans who profess faith in Jesus do so before they turn 13, and 64% before their 18th birthday.

The next generation presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for church leaders. They see the problems in the world around them, Hammond said, but they’re not content to sit idly. They want to be involved; they want to make a difference. “But they’re just not sure how to do that.

“We know the answer to that: the gospel’s the way to make the biggest, most meaningful change in the world.”

In the world, and in Atwood. Every Wednesday at the beginning of Ignite, attenders read or recite a 30-second gospel summary. Ignite leaders say they’ve heard kids sharing the gospel summary at school. And Faulkner recently baptized an entire family that came to Christ after the children heard the gospel every week. The parents, sitting at the back of the auditorium, heard it too, and responded in faith.

Finding what works
For 25 years, FBC Atwood church hosted a successful Wednesday night children’s ministry that depended on many teachers. When the number of available teachers dwindled, the church had to get a new vision for the ministry. They tweaked the structure so that fewer teachers are required. The church saw an average of 120 young people every Wednesday during Ignite’s first year.

Some things are the same, though. Faulkner still rides the church bus on Wednesday nights as it picks up a dozen or more children from neighboring communities. The pastor serves as bus captain (or monitor); the driver is a deputy sheriff who has been transporting kids to and from the church for 25 years. His wife, who recently passed away, started the original kids’ ministry in Atwood. Together, Faulkner said, the couple is responsible for hundreds of kids coming to know Christ.

On Wednesday nights in Atwood, the message is also the same as it always has been.

“The gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” Faulkner says. “It’s not preaching ability, teaching ability, how exciting the music is. The thing that brings people under conviction, the things that bring them to repentance and faith, is the gospel.”

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Meredith Flynn

Parents weigh options ahead of 2020 school year

By Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

School

Photo composite

Beginning next year, students at public schools in Illinois will study the role of LGBT people in U.S. and state history, after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a controversial measure into law Aug. 9. The new policy, which goes into effect July 1, 2020, affects students of all ages, although the state’s School Code stipulates that the curriculum be taught before the end of 8th grade.

House Bill 246 passed through the Illinois Senate last spring and was quietly approved May 23 by the House amid a flurry of other legislation, including legalization of recreational marijuana and the repeal of several restrictions on abortion. Pritzker’s signature on the curriculum bill dismayed many Christians and conservatives, with talk online quickly turning to education alternatives.

“Reason 157 to home or private school,” one poster wrote on IBSA’s Facebook page. Others expressed resolve to keep their kids in the public school system to shine the light of the gospel there.

“We are very aware that times are changing and more liberal views are entering the classroom,” said Caitlin Konieczka, a Springfield mother of three girls.

“We feel that the changes that are happening in the classroom and throughout the world right now are opportunities to share Christ and his message.”

Competing values
Illinois is one of a handful of states to consider curriculum legislation this year, but California lawmakers approved the FAIR Education Act in 2011. According to a Reuters article from May of this year, that state is still struggling to implement the law, and some parents are still protesting it. The article recounts recent fights over textbooks at school board meetings, where one mother expressed concern that her children would read books about transgender people before she’s ready to discuss gender and sexuality with them. “I should be the first one to educate about those things,” she said.

Candi Campbell and her husband, Charles, sent three daughters through the public school system in Illinois, recognizing their decision at the time as a natural way to be “a witness in the world.” The recent legislation would make the decision more difficult, Campbell said.

“As a parent, I believe it is my job to feed, lead, and protect my children. The law signed in Illinois represents a damaging social agenda to our little ones. And, until they can stand on a personal faith in Christ for truth, it is up to me to stand for them.”

A homeschooling mom in Springfield agreed, while acknowledging that homeschooling isn’t for every family. “No matter how we as Christians choose to educate our children, we must help them develop a biblical worldview,” she said. “Our children need our help in discerning truth and goodness through the lens of Scripture.”

Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, has said the new curriculum will help LGBT students feel more accepted and supported in school. Her comments also may sound alarm bells for Christian parents who fear the normalization of sexual values they believe run counter to God’s Word.

“One of the best ways to overcome intolerance is through education and exposure to different people and viewpoints,” Steans said in a news release posted on her website. “An inclusive curriculum will not only teach an accurate version of history but also promote acceptance of the LGBTQ community.”

What now?
Laurie Higgins said the curriculum changes ought to spur Christians to action—and their churches with them. Churches should have been creating affordable Christian schools “yesterday,” said Higgins, a cultural affairs writer for the conservative Illinois Family Institute. While that will indeed take time, she acknowledged, “it doesn’t take time to make funds available.” Higgins urged churches to partner together to create scholarships to Christian schools.

“Parents need to understand if we lose our kids on this [issue], they will think the Bible is wrong on other things,” Higgins said. “We have to start creating affordable alternatives.”

She also encouraged parents to contact school administrators and teachers to ask that their children not be taught about homosexuality or cross-sex identification. Ask them to acknowledge receipt of the e-mail, Higgins added.

While the Konieczka family has made a different decision about school, they’re also planning for future action, Caitlin said. “We are working now to lay a solid foundation before the girls enter school on basic biblical principles and God’s design for creation and life.” Once school starts, she said, they’ll communicate and reinforce biblical truths and establish an environment that welcomes questions.

She acknowledged there could be topics they don’t want presented to their daughters. The couple, both educators, plans to preview textbooks and content and work with teachers and administrators to accommodate their preferences.

“We view this as an opportunity to be a light in the school, and an opening to conversations about our beliefs.”

– Meredith Flynn, with additional reporting by Lisa Misner

Why Illinois matters

Lisa Misner —  August 16, 2019 — Leave a comment

By IBSA Media

Everyday headlines affirm church influence urgently needed—especially here

Illinois townsSeveral recent news stories have left us surprised, even stunned. The report that, at the stroke of the governor’s pen, LGBT history will be part of the Illinois public school curriculum starting next year leaves some Christian parents wondering how to handle the controversial subject at home, and other parents contemplating alternate education options.

In an opinion column for USA Today, Jay Keck told how his daughter, who later proved to be autistic, was affirmed by the school system in her sudden desire to identify as male, despite the objections of her parents who were trying to get help. The principal of the Chicago-area school even presented her diploma under her assumed male name at her graduation, again ignoring her parents’ request.

And this story hasn’t made the news yet, but it will probably show up on Facebook. In one quaint Illinois burg, a featured children’s book at the public library is about two worms who want to get married, but they can’t decide which of them will wear the bridal gown. Earthworms are hermaphrodites, which seems by the author’s implication to justify some gender-crossing behaviors in humans. It’s a celebration of love “in all its forms,” the book jacket says—for preschoolers.

The stories that alarm us and dismay us are not only about sexuality and gender and identity. They’re also about the multiplicity of gambling parlors for throwing away one’s pension check, abortions through all nine months of pregnancy, and readily available pot in violation of federal law. The moral decline of Illinois has happened so quickly, and most of it at the hand of the government. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t recognize this state. Would he even claim it as his own?

When we look across Illinois today, we see issues that once troubled cities are prevalent everywhere. From the smallest farming community with a school house or a bar, to the toughest neighborhoods in the largest cities, to the marble hallways of our Capitol and courts—the moral rudder is broken. And in those places the work of Illinois Baptist churches is needed like never before.

Usually in this space we would publish a feature article based on one of the
Mission Illinois videos. Three of these stories were told in the special section in the July 29 issue of the Illinois Baptist, and they’re available online. These churches are taking on the responsibility to bring gospel light to dark places. But what we need to say this year is, like those churches, won’t you focus on our state mission field in a greater way?

Because of sacrificial giving by Baptists in Illinois each September, IBSA is able to help churches grow stronger in evangelism, leadership, and ministry impact. And IBSA helps start a dozen or more churches every year in places where there is little gospel witness. About 420 churches give about $350,000 each year. And IBSA is grateful for the partnership that supports camps and campus and next-gen ministry, church planting and leader development, and more.

But some potential impact of our work is lost, because fewer than half of IBSA churches support the Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer. This annual offering is just as vital to ministry in Illinois as the seasonal offerings for Lottie and Annie are to other SBC missions. And frankly, mission work in Illinois calls for sacrifice on our part.

If your church supports Mission Illinois with giving and prayer, thank you.

If it has been a while since your church had a focus on state missions, please consider the growing need for biblical truth in Illinois. Think about the role stronger churches and more churches would serve in establishing a beachhead against moral decline. A gift to the Mission Illinois Offering is one way to fortify Baptist presence and values in Illinois.

And if you will, please join the Week of Prayer. Illinois needs relentless intercessors right now.

Learn more about the Week of Prayer for the Mission Illinois Offering September 8-15.

A box of names

Lisa Misner —  August 12, 2019 — Leave a comment

The gospel reaches from jailhouse to church house

Stevens baptism by Sexton and Easter

Easter (far left), Sexton baptizes Stevens (far right).

Jared Sexton was pacing back and forth in his jail cell. “I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know why I keep doing this… I don’t even want to live this way. I know not to live this way. I keep doing it over and over and over and over again.’”

His cellmate handed him a King James Bible and told him, “You need to read Romans 7.” In the complex passage, Paul complains about committing sins that he hates. Sexton had a hard time understanding the Apostle’s words, but, “I was like, ‘OK, well this sounds exactly like what I was just saying.’” He wanted to know more.

He began drinking at a young age. “I was always in trouble, in and out of jail, and rehabs, boot camps, prison—I’ve been to every one of them….I was literally at a point where the only thing I could do is look to God.” That was the point when he found himself in a jail cell with four other inmates, one of whom had just returned from a Bible study of Romans 7.

When Sexton bonded out of jail, he went home and found a Contemporary English Version Bible someone had given him. “I read it and it just blew my mind…I read the Bible [before] and nothing ever clicked. This time was completely different. It was like everything was jumping out at me.

“For the first time in my life I took a real look at what sin meant in my life…I wanted to know more what that meant. And so, I knew the perfect place to go; that was church.”
Sexton went to Metropolis First Baptist Church where his boss is a member and his grandparents had taken him a few times as a child. There, Sexton met Cliff Easter, the church’s youth and missions pastor, and gave his life to Christ.

Metropolis First is deeply involved in evangelism and missions through local outreach ministries, international mission trips, and church planting mission trips to Chicago. Easter said, “It’s not complicated. It’s just, ‘Go, reach somebody.’ We’ve incorporated that into some of our discipleship training that we’ve just begun in our church.”

That’s my ‘one’
IBSA’s Pat Pajak led an evangelism training in the local association, as he does across the state, sharing the “Who’s Your One” evangelism concept in which members pray for the people they know to find salvation in Christ. Three times in the past two years, Pajak has urged churches to dedicate one Sunday or a month of Sundays to a baptism emphasis, and baptisms in Illinois increased almost 7% last year.

The Metropolis church keeps cards at the front of the auditorium for members to write the names of people who need Christ. The cards are an important part of the evangelism effort. “Every Wednesday night at our prayer meeting, we distribute every single one of those cards, and as a church we pray over them,” Easter said. “There are hundreds of names in the box.

“The idea is, if you put someone’s name on a card in the box, you’re praying for them, and you’re looking for opportunities to share the gospel with them.”

The first name Sexton put in the box was his childhood friend, Dakota Stevens. “We all began praying for Dakota,” Easter said. “You could tell that God was at work in him, and sure enough Dakota came to repentance and faith in Christ.”

“I don’t know when he put my name in there, or what date it was, but it obviously worked…. The power of prayer does work. It’ll move anything in front of you,” Stevens said.

Sexton, as a Christian and member in good standing at Metropolis First, had the privilege of baptizing his friend. “I came up out of the water… I was like, it’s a helping hand that he’s always had,” Stevens said. “He’s good about that. If he cares about you that man will help you no matter what.”

Sexton knows he is blessed to bless others to share the gospel, especially his old friends. “I’ll try to say some things related to the Word that are happening in my life. Whether it be with prayer, or a blessing God has shown me…I just pray…that something that they heard, something catches their attention that just breaks a little bit of the resistance away from them.”

Watch the 2019 MIO videos at MissionIllinois.org and also download mission studies.

By Jeff Gonzalez 

More people will volunteer if you recognize the obstacles

Jeff GonzalezMore than 10 million people volunteer in only seven organizations: Special Olympics, Salvation Army, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, United Way, American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters. And yet there are hundreds of volunteer organizations. The reason those few organizations have the lion’s share of volunteers is because they offer a compelling vision. They move the hearts of people to serve.

The church has the greatest message ever told and the greatest mission to humanity. The church needs to do a better job communicating the vision so volunteers can understand their impact when God uses them to change a life for the kingdom. If the church is able to cast a compelling vision of the incredible opportunity God gives his followers to make an eternal difference in the life of another person, then more people will volunteer to serve.

God gave the church his own mission to go out and reach lost people with the gospel, baptizing them, teaching them, and sending them out as disciples. God gives us the opportunity to be part of his kingdom purpose.

What is great about this mandate is that God gives each of us special gifts to accomplish it. He describes his people with these unique gifts as part of the body. He hasn’t called all of us to be the head or the arm. Instead he illustrates how the parts working together as a body can accomplish incredible things, but every member must bring his own unique gifts to the enterprise.

Overcoming the barriers
The Unstuck Group conducted a survey on volunteerism in the church. They reported 46% of adults and students serve in their church at least once per month. At the high end of the report, churches reported 70% engagement, and the lowest reported was 20% engagement.

Whatever the percentages, every church could use more workers. A ministry leader is always in need of them, but sometimes good volunteers can be hard to find. We may sometimes blame the commitment level of our congregation. We ask ourselves, “Why don’t more people step up and serve?” But a better question is, “What’s preventing people in our church from engaging in service?”

Rather than bemoan the lack of volunteers, many churches could benefit from this simple exercise—identify the barriers to service, and do something about them. In addition to vision, here are a few additional barriers:

  • Nobody’s tracking service. Without tracking participation, it’s hard to know if the church is making progress.
  • The church has too many ministries. Sometimes the problem is not lack of workers, but too many slots. Cutting unneeded or outdated ministries will free up people to serve.
  • The boarding process is unclear. In some churches, it’s just too hard to get into the system. Check the volunteering process for clear entry points and adequate training for specific ministries.

Remember, it’s not the lack of volunteers that keeps a church from being effective in ministry. It’s the barriers that keep would-be volunteers on the bench rather than in the work. When we present service as a spiritual growth opportunity, instead of a survival tactic for the church, we will see people step up. When we are engaging more volunteers, then we will know that people are growing in their walk with Christ.

Jeff Gonzalez is an experienced leader in business and ministry. He is a consultant with IBSA in the area of church health and growth.

MIO Slider

Ready, set, pray!

Promotion kits for the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer were mailed to churches in late July and are arriving now. Consider bringing a promotion team together very soon to make gospel advance through Mission Illinois a priority in your church.

6 WEEKS AHEAD: PLANNING

  • Meet with missions and worship leaders to plan MIO promotion.
  • Download mission studies, announcements, promo materials.
  • Set a goal, perhaps 10% or more above last year’s collection.
  • Schedule a prayer event for state missions.
  • Schedule missions studies for children, teens, and adults.
  • Plan use of videos in worship services.
  • Request additional materials from IBSA.

4 WEEKS AHEAD: BEGIN PUBLICITY

  • Advertise in church newsletter and Sunday bulletin.
  • Post promo video on church website and Facebook page.
  • Place posters in prominent locations.

2 WEEKS AHEAD: SHOW THE MIO STORIES

  • Begin showing videos in worship services each week.
  • Push e-mail and Facebook announcements.
  • Send videos to church members, and link to Missionlllinois.org.
  • Pray for IBSA missions and missionaries in worship services.

THE WEEK OF MIO: PRAY AND GIVE

  • Give each worship attender a prayer guide and offering envelope.
  • Lead the missions studies, using the videos and/or the 4-page MIO newspaper.
  • Begin collecting the offering.
  • Pray for IBSA missionaries by name in worship services

EACH WEEK THROUGH SEPTEMBER

  • Pray for state missions in worship services.
  • Collect the offering until the goal is met.
  • Celebrate your church’s partnership in state missions.

Learn more about the Week of Prayer for the Missions Illinois Offering September 8-15.

– IBSA Media Team

The Green Wave

Lisa Misner —  August 5, 2019

By Meredith Flynn

Legal pot use will be a growing challenge for Illinois churches

When Illinois lawmakers legalized recreational marijuana in June, many lauded the fulfillment of one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaign promises, and the potential for millions in tax revenue to aid the financially ailing state.

Others, like Pastor Steve Ohl, grieved the decision’s potential impact on Illinoisans. Ohl is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Greenview; he also leads an addiction support group.

“When I was into drugs and alcohol, there was a void in my heart and I was trying to fill it anyway I could,” the pastor said. Ohl urged pastors to recognize many people in their pews and communities are struggling to fill their own heart-voids, and the road to recovery will probably be harder with easier access to pot.

Illinois becomes the 11th state to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana use on January 1, 2020, so now is the time to look to states where pot is legal, for both the impact on communities and the ministry challenges for churches.

Highs and lows

West Coast examples
Pastor Dave Seaford is well-versed in marijuana culture and its effect on a community. In the Emerald Triangle of northern California, Humboldt County is a pot mecca, with a climate right for growing and the nearest police force more than an hour away. When the hippies left San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, Seaford said, they came here to build communes and grow their own marijuana.

The region where Seaford has ministered over the past five years was a center for illegal pot prior to California’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2018. Today, legal business is booming, and people come to Humboldt from around the world to “trim product” and otherwise benefit from the industry.

But life in the region is hard, said Seaford, who pastors First Baptist Church in Redway. The Netflix series “Murder Mountain” chronicles life in his county, where drug users scream to themselves on the streets, and stories abound of pot workers being held in shipping containers, some never to be heard from again.

Redway used to be logging and fisheries, Seaford said, with a quiet, easy, joyful lifestyle. It had its own culture apart from the marijuana industry. “How quickly that has turned.”

Illinois is unlikely to become the next Emerald Triangle, but Seaford warned Illinois pastors to prepare now for the coming challenges, and new opportunities for life-changing work.

“This is a terrible place to live,” he said of his community. “But it’s an incredible place to do ministry.”

The heart of the matter
Derk Schulze’s time in the Emerald Triangle began in 1980, when he moved to Arcata, Ca., to attend Humboldt State University. Marijuana is a catalyst for how people in the region live, think, and worship, Schulze said. His decades in the region are evident as he explains the network of cause-and-effect scenarios that led to the culture he ministers in today.

First, old industries collapsed, pushing some small-scale farmers toward the pot business, which grew as an illegal enterprise until 1996, when California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Little by little, the culture shifted until acceptance of marijuana use was widespread. Once the state’s medical marijuana policies were in place, doctors in Arcata freely gave out “215 cards” (named for the statute that legalized medical marijuana) to anyone who came in with a complaint, Schulze said.

Medical professionals couldn’t keep up with monitoring the effects of the drug on patients, and officials were overwhelmed to the point of not enforcing pot possession laws if the person in question had a 215 card. They did, however, enforce federal drug trafficking laws. Jails were overcrowded, leading politicians to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, which also promised more tax revenue.

In 2018, recreational pot became legal in California. Schulze said the arrival of the new law forced local farmers out and brought in groups looking to make a big profit. “Murder Mountain” is a sensationalized view of what has happened to his community, Schulze said, but, “It’s not a safe situation. You don’t get out of your car in certain areas.”

Marijuana is so entrenched in the culture, the pastor said, that churches can’t afford to take a temperance view on it “because the law just makes for more lawbreakers.

“The law’s not going to solve it either, because it’s a worldview heart issue,” Schulze said. “People are just as vigilant and set in their thinking about being pro-marijuana culture, as a Christian is for the kingdom.

“We have to address the heart.”
His church decided to set up their parking lot as a sanctuary for the many travelers in and to Arcata. One day, a yellow RV painted with the word “Miracle” arrived bearing a couple with a young child. The woman was pregnant with what she said God had told her were twin girls. She had a boy instead, and Schulze’s church ministered to the couple—both marijuana users at the time—and built relationships with them based on biblical truth. The couple came to Christ, and the man was later called into pastoral ministry.

The couple wouldn’t have been received at any other church in the area, Schulze said, because of the way they smelled, dressed, and talked. But his church was willing to get to the heart of the matter.

“We can proclaim the gospel and the good news, and true freedom, because that’s what a lot of people are looking to have by smoking marijuana,” Schulze said. They’re looking for deliverance, he added, from pain, anxiety, and a lack of true joy.

“We have a better salve, and that is a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Schulze encourages pastors to have conversations with proponents of marijuana, to try to uncover the underlying motive for what they do.

“We have to get to the root. We have to extract the hidden sin, the hidden issue. We have to identity that, and when we do that, the gospel speaks to that.
“Then, you get transformation. Not conformity.”

Offer real answers
Despite their challenging environment, Pastor Seaford’s church has seen numerous spiritual victories. People are trusting Christ and being baptized, some of whom were previously part of the industry. But marijuana has so permeated the culture that a lot of people don’t want to live there anymore. FBC Redway has seen more salvations and baptisms in the last five years than at any point in their history, Seaford said. But most people don’t—or can’t—stay.

The church’s most effective ministry is its partnership with a local shelter. They offer theology classes through the Eureka Rescue Mission’s discipleship program, trying to get to the spiritual need at the root of drug use. The focus is on apologetics, a specialty of Seaford’s.

Some people assume the addled brain of a drug user can’t handle deep spiritual truths, the pastor said. The opposite is true. “We need to present the truth of the gospel, and we need to do it at a level that their questions are genuinely answered,” he said. “These guys want real answers.”

Of course, detox is a real need too, which is why FBC Redway works with the rescue mission. Seaford encouraged pastors in Illinois to seek out similar partners. He also urged church leaders to prepare for ministry opportunities by shoring up their own theological training.

“I believe it’s absolutely essential that we’re prepared to give people real answers,” he said. “Many times, they’re in the situation they’re in because they had no spiritual hope to begin with.”

Bryan Hall entered the rescue mission’s residential program 14 years ago, after many years of drug use that started with pot in junior high.

He was radically saved 25 years ago, Hall said, but fell back into drugs multiple times over the years, punctuated by several arrests and stints in jail. It was an act of honesty that ultimately led to his deliverance, Hall said. Led by God to confess to a crime he had committed, he was inexplicably granted probation instead of a mandatory sentence. He started at the mission soon after, weeping on his first day in the program when a chaplain taught from the Bible.

Hall is now executive director of the Eureka Rescue Mission, a non-profit completely supported by private donations. He directs the mission’s ministry to homeless and addicted people, including partnering with Seaford to offer Scriptural truth through systematic theology classes for men and women.

The answer to reaching addicts is really easy, Hall said. “It’s got to be love.” The only way to reach somebody in drug addiction is developing a loving relationship with them.

“I think that the reasoning behind a lot of drug use, marijuana, is that people are just trying to feel good. They live on feelings, not conviction,” Hall said. Some people come to Christ and keep smoking pot, but over a period of time, he said, they set it aside. “It’s sanctification.”

The theme of the mission’s work is changed lives, and they’re seeing that happen all the time, Hall said. People are getting jobs, going to church, and loving the Lord. They’re becoming salt and light in a very challenging culture.

“It’s really amazing to see someone who just wanted to get clean and sober start to come alive in Christ because some of their questions get answered.”

Be ready to help
In Gunnison, Colo., a small college town of 6,500, legalization of recreational and medical marijuana use in 2014 has made an already pot-friendly culture even more challenging for churches. “We have a significant degree of poverty in our community, which our church feels called to alleviate,” said Pastor Tom Burggraf. “As we try to help families financially and spiritually, it is rare we find someone stuck in long-term poverty that is not also suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs.”

Burggraf, a bivocational pastor who is also on staff at the local university, says it appears that legalization has increased use among those already on drugs. But from his involvement with young adults, Burggraf cites increased first-time drug use. “It’s another substitute-savior that is now more accessible to those searching for rescue in places where it cannot be found.

“We are investing heavily in Celebrate Recovery,” he said.

That tactic may be an answer for many more churches soon. Steve Ohl already leads a Celebrate Recovery group at Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman. He got involved when he was a member there, before accepting the pastorate in Greenview.

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step program focused on helping people deal with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” The ministry started in 1991 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca. Groups now meet in 35,000 churches around the world, but each has the same DNA: large-group worship, testimonies from people whose lives have been changed, and discussion time in smaller, gender-specific groups.

“When I was struggling, the main thing I needed was somebody to be there for me, to just listen to me and not to judge me,” Ohl said. “I knew that I was having a struggle, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to get the help I really needed.”

Over the past four years, Ohl has seen people get that help through Celebrate Recovery. One member accepted Christ and was baptized at the church.

With legal pot coming to Illinois in less than six months, Ohl urged fellow pastors to research recovery groups and programs in their area, so they have resources to steer people toward when they need help.

“There’s going to be somebody sitting in their congregations struggling with this,” Ohl said, “and pastors need to be ready when they come to talk to them about it.”