Archives For Heartland

New beginnings

Lisa Misner —  April 22, 2019 — Leave a comment

Streator churches merge for the sake of their town

By Andrew Woodrow

New Start

The members of two Streator churches credit God with uniting their congregations under a new name: New Beginnings.

When Mike Young first laid eyes on Streator in 2016, he saw a small prairie town in the midst of vast farmland. But he also saw a community in great need of the gospel. Young, who moved to town to manage IBSA’s northern Illinois camp facility, soon discovered that much of Streator was still unchurched. He started praying God would raise up a church to fill that void.

Mike Young

Mike Young

When Young started looking for a church to join, there was one that caught his eye every time he’d go into town. “I would pass a church right on the edge of town called Calvary Baptist,” he said. “The building looked rough, and there were bushes growing all around it. It just looked like it was closing down.” Many people in town confirmed what Young had thought—that the church was on its way out.

Still, every time he passed Calvary, something kept tugging at his heart.
Struggling churches

“Calvary Baptist Church was a long-standing church in the community,” said Mike Blakemore. “It goes way back into the ‘50s, I believe.”

Blakemore and his wife started attending Calvary in the early 2000s; he eventually became an elder. “It was a great church, great pastor, great fellowship,” Blakemore said. But after their pastor retired, “that’s when the struggle began.”

The Southern Baptist church went through a series of interims and people just to fill the pulpit, and Calvary’s numbers started dwindling. Soon, wear-and-tear to the church’s building became evident, with mold growing inside the walls and roof.

By the end of 2015, with finances running low and numbers still dropping, the auditorium ceiling caved in after a severe hailstorm. “After much prayer and a lot of discussion, we decided to vacate the building,” Blakemore said.

A few miles away, Streator’s First Baptist Church had its own problems. The Conservative Baptist church was founded not long after Streator was incorporated in 1868. Longtime member Linda Abbot speaks fondly of her church. “I have a great, great grandfather who helped start this church,” she said. “My mother was part of this church. And when I was born, I was brought into it as well. I’ve been here ever since.”

At 13, she dedicated her life to Christ at the church. She brought her childhood sweetheart, Ken, to First Baptist where he, too, came to know Christ and eventually became an elder. The Abbots married at First Baptist and have raised their own children there.

“But in the years that we had been coming here,” Linda Abbot said, “we noticed the numbers steadily declining. And we could just see things falling apart.”
The numbers continued to decline until they were down to almost 20 people, forcing the once large church to close down its main building and move worship into the fellowship hall, a stand-alone, neighboring building.

The move was made to sustain the church, Ken Abbot said, with the knowledge that if finances dwindled to a certain level, the church would dissolve and its Conservative Baptist denomination would take over the building.

Meanwhile, Calvary sat empty for almost a year while worshipers met in homes or rented spaces, praying all the while for direction. “We had just been going from place to place, and the fear that came along with that is, how long is this going to work?” said deacon Mark Martin.

But, he added, the church’s predicament drove them closer to God. “And that’s what it did to everybody that was involved,” Martin said. “Because God doesn’t bring about situations like these to drive you away from him. There might be problems, but they are meant to bring you closer to the Lord.”

Still, the uncertainty was unnerving. After months of worshipping in different places, Calvary gathered for a prayer meeting in a home one Wednesday afternoon, bringing their future and their tattered building to the Lord.

Moving forward

“From the very beginning, once we stacked hands and were ready to move forward with the merger, we very purposefully decided this was going to work,” Calvary Baptist elder Mike Blakemore (center) said of the union between his church and another in their town.

Answered prayer
It was that same Wednesday afternoon when Mike Young, unable to shake the tugging in his heart, decided to finally investigate the rundown church building on the edge of town. He pulled into the church’s parking lot, found a phone number on the door, and called. “I explained who I was and asked if there was anything I could do. I thought maybe they would need help with their building. I could help with that,” said Young, who has facilitated extensive renovations at the camp.

“Right then, they stopped that prayer meeting and they answered the phone,” Young said. “They didn’t have a pastor, they didn’t have a building, but they still had that core group of people.”

The group eventually called Young to serve as interim pastor, sparking a new beginning that would soon include First Baptist. That church was still without a pastor, and wondering what to do with their building. That’s when they heard about Calvary.

“When we heard that Calvary’s roof caved in and they were without a building,” Ken Abbott said, “we started praying for them. And while we didn’t know it at the time, they, in turn, started praying for us too because of our situation.”

“It was a challenging year for all of us,” said Tim Walter, an elder at First Baptist. He and Abbot extended an invitation to Calvary to worship with them.

“We were two churches in need of each other,” Walter said. “They needed a church home. And we had facilities, but we weren’t using them because our building was pretty much all closed up.”

Calvary accepted the invitation, and the two churches held a worship service in First Baptist’s fellowship hall in January 2017. “Over time as we met,” Young said, “worshipping together became so sweet, and the fellowship was just excellent.”

At first, each church collected their own offerings and maintained separate prayer lists and bulletins. Church meetings were held in separate rooms. After a couple months of worshipping together, each church wanted a more long-term plan, and eventually took separate votes on whether to merge. The votes were unanimous—both churches were fully in favor.

Reaching

Pastor Aaron Jackson and his church are on a mission to proclaim Christ to their community.

Prayer, love, and willing hearts
Despite apprehension on each side that the other would want them to conform to their traditions, Blakemore said each church put aside their wants and traditions, focusing instead on God’s desire and Streator’s need for a thriving church.

Some described the experience as a marriage, with two parties making sacrifices toward a greater good. “When both churches came together, each naturally had their own tradition,” Young said. “But like any marriage, you have to give and take. And the two were willing to do that. They were willing to rely on God and trust him for the results. That is the most important part.”

“We had to come together as a new beginning,” Walter said. “The past is gone; First Baptist had to cease, and Calvary had to cease. As Dr. Dan Eddington told us, we had to have two funerals and a wedding for this to work.”

Both churches credit Young and Eddington, director of missions for Three Rivers Baptist Association, for guiding them through the merger. But overall, it was God, through prayer, that gave the churches their success.

“We had to bathe the entire process in prayer,” Blakemore said.

The Abbotts agreed. “From the beginning we were praying for Calvary and, without us even knowing, they were praying for us,” Linda said.

In September 2017, the two churches officially constituted as one, with a new name: New Beginnings Baptist Church. The church affiliated with IBSA last November.

“It’s new beginnings in a lot of different ways,” Martin said. “Not only is it a name for two churches coming together and a new start for a ministry, but it’s a new beginning for a work in Streator, as well as a new beginning to the lost who come here.”

Mike Young continued as interim pastor until the church was able to hire their first full-time pastor. Aaron Jackson has been serving as pastor almost a full year. “We’re already seeing what God is doing through ministries here at New Beginnings,” he said. “This is a very unchurched area and we’re doing as much as we can to get involved in the community.”

The church has moved back into the main building and has seen significant growth. They’re reaching out to Streator through multiple ministries. Walter describes the church as a family with a singular focus on Christ. “What is our mission? To preach the gospel and to proclaim Christ to a lost world. That is why we exist. And that’s our direction for the church: so that everything we do is to glorify him.”

Andrew Woodrow

Former SBC president to head Executive Committee

By Meredith Flynn

Ronnie Floyd BP

When Ronnie Floyd began his tenure as president and CEO of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee this month, he immediately became a key piece of how the denomination will respond to major challenges: preventing sexual abuse in churches and caring for survivors; building leadership that reflects the diversity of Southern Baptist churches; and reigniting a passion for evangelism amid years of declining baptisms and church membership.

The search team that nominated Floyd, 63, chose him because of his decades of leadership and his vision for the SBC. They’re counting on the longtime pastor’s experience to help the SBC navigate challenges, now and in the future.

“We needed a proven leader,” said Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of IBSA. Robinson, who also serves as one of Illinois’ two representatives on the Executive Committee, was vice chairman of the search committee. He noted Floyd’s decades of pastoring a vibrant, baptizing, church-planting church.“That type of sustained leadership of a healthy ministry said a lot about his leadership capacity.”

Floyd, who was elected April 2 by a vote of 68-1, pastored Cross Church in northwest Arkansas for 33 years. He is a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (2014-2016), and also chaired the Great Commission Task Force (2009-2010) and the Executive Committee (1995-1997). He succeeds Frank Page as head of the Executive Committee. Page resigned in March 2018 after confessing a morally inappropriate relationship.

The search team believed Floyd’s experience is needed now, Robinson said, as the SBC addresses sexual abuse and tries to help churches care well for victims and prevent future incidences. A February report in the Houston Chronicle detailed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse involving Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers.

“It’s ungodly, it’s sinful, it’s criminal and obviously we would be against it,” Floyd said during post-election meetings with various Baptist leaders and groups. “But how we get to the common path of what we do, that has become the issue.”

In February, the Executive Committee approved an amendment to the SBC Constitution that would designate churches that exhibit indifference toward sexual abuse to be not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. To become part of the Constitution, messengers to the 2019 and 2020 SBC annual meetings must approve the ammendment by a two-thirds majority.

In a Facebook Live session following his election, Floyd said Southern Baptists seem poised to unite at the 2019 SBC annual meeting in Birmingham, Ala., and make “as declarative a statement as we can make to our culture about what we believe about this issue” of sexual abuse.

‘Balanced bullpen’
Floyd’s experience as an SBC leader and megachurch pastor made his nomination unsurprising to many discussing the nearly year-long process online. But the men tapped to fill recent leadership posts are Gen X-ers, and some are associated with more Reformed theology. Floyd is neither, which Robinson said should give the SBC a “balanced bullpen” of leadership.

“I think it’s good to have a diversity of leadership styles: Reformed, traditional, Calvinist, and non-Calvinist, and we all need to work together for the glory of God.”

At a press conference following his election, Floyd acknowledged his years of experience in his response to a question, posed by the Illinois Baptist, about the generational differences between him and other current leaders. “The search committee felt they needed a seasoned leader for such a time as this in Southern Baptist life,” Floyd said.

At this time, only two of five key vacancies in SBC leadership remain unfilled. Paul Chitwood, 46, was named president of the International Mission Board in November, and Adam Greenway, 41, assumed leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in February. Search committees are seeking leaders for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary following the retirement of Chuck Kelley, 66, and LifeWay Christian Resources, whose president, Thom Rainer, 63, left in February.

Robinson said the vision Floyd presented for the SBC is “multigenerational, multiethnic, and multilingual.” At the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio, then-SBC President Floyd gathered pastors and leaders from multiple ethnic groups to pray corporately for racial reconciliation. The next year, he invited National Baptist Convention President Jerry Young and other leaders to engage in a panel discussion on racial unity in America.

His frequent communication with Baptists through blog posts and social media was a hallmark of Floyd’s SBC presidency, and Robinson said that will continue as Floyd assumes his new role.

“I think that’s going to be part of his mission, to get the story of the SBC out to the rest of the world. To highlight the things we’re doing well, so that we’re not just known for what we’re against, but what we’re for, and what we’re doing to fulfill the Great Commission.”

That charge to make disciples of all nations—given by Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28:19-20—is the “missional vision” of Southern Baptists, Floyd said after his election. “It will be to that end, that end of reaching the world that I will give my life…in this next season—100 percent, from before daylight until exhaustion, until Jesus comes or until he calls me home.”

– Meredith Flynn, with reporting from Baptist Press

There are two kinds of worship interruptions, said IBSA’s director of worship and technology Steve Hamrick—avoidable and unavoidable. Some interruptions just can’t be helped—the power goes out, a baby cries, or someone in the audience forgets to turn off their phone. But most worship interruptions, Hamrick said, can be avoided with effective planning.

“Worship interruptions are things that happen in corporate worship that distract people from the gospel and from connecting with Christ,” Hamrick said. Could it be spiritual warfare? “Yes, but often it’s poor planning.”

Hamrick offered these ideas for avoiding worship interruptions:

1. Pray for the people leading worship and for the congregation.

2. Plan. What gear is needed for the worship service? What special logistics or set-up are needed to make it work? Communicate those needs with staff and volunteers.

3. Predict. What interruptions could happen? What has happened in the past, and how can you avoid the same challenges?

4. Prepare. Know your worship plan. Work through transitions, and think through technology, video, lighting, and print materials. Create a worship checklist with needs and special circumstances for the different worship elements.

5. Practice with the technology you plan to use, including sound, video, and lighting. Approach practice as if it’s a real worship experience (and it should be).

6. Present (perform) and trust God with the results.

Worship leaders can also prepare in advance by creating an environment that encourages success for the whole team. Hamrick advises leaders to communicate the importance of each team member’s ministry by creating job descriptions for individual roles.

Avoid overwhelming your team by recruiting multiple people to work on a single service. For example, one works at the desk while someone else produces (listening, advising, and looking ahead to what happens next). Resist having one person run sound and video at the same time, if possible.

Finally, Hamrick said, handle interruptions with grace. They’re inevitable, and the tech team likely will be the first to recognize the problem.

Sign up for IBSA’s online Resource Center at IBSA.org.

In times of crisis, this heady Christian doctrine can become deeply personal—and reassuring.

By Eric Reed

Empty tomb

The empty tomb. Pastor Jon McDonald of First Baptist Church of Casey led a tour of Israel in January. His wife, Lindsay, is a gifted professional photographer. She shared from her album some scenes that serve to illustrate this article.

Prologue
May I tell you a secret? When I close my eyes, I still see my wife on her deathbed.

Please stay with me. This article gets much more upbeat soon, but I have to start at this point so you will know why resurrection is so important to me right now. And it’s not because I want to get a jump start on the Easter celebrations. My need to understand resurrection has become very personal.

It’s been five months since my wife died. We spent her last three weeks in Room 101 at the hospice here in town. When I close my eyes, I sometimes—make that often—see her laying on the hospital bed in silhouette against the window. Each day as the sun passed over the building toward her west-facing window, the outside light would become quite bright. And I, sitting on the opposite side of the bed in a vinyl chair, would stare at her, and beyond her into sunlight.

I can muster other scenes from those weeks: Her sister sitting on the sofa under the window texting relatives. Our dog coming for a visit. Friends praying and doing their best to cheer us. One couple bringing a guitar and my wife singing hymns from memory, even third verses, when she was unable to say much else.

And I can see the night when I played Gaither songs on YouTube, and during “We Shall Behold Him,” my wife lifted both arms upward and pointed. “What do you see?” I asked. “A glimpse of heaven? Your mother?” Eyes closed, she nodded. She was eager to see her mother and old friends from the church where she grew up.

Then she lowered her arms and clasped her hands together. “Do you want me to pray?”
She nodded.

I prayed kind of like Jesus prayed on the cross at the very end, commending her spirit to the Father.

From that time, she hardly moved. I sat there for most of two days waiting for her body to catch up with her soul, staring across her prone figure into the light.
That’s the image I see.

That’s why resurrection has become not just a doctrine, but an urgency to me. The Resurrection of Jesus? Certainly. What is our faith without it? But also my wife’s resurrection, and my own. Whole libraries have been written on the Resurrection of Jesus, but relatively little on the resurrection of believers, and even less about resurrection as a necessary present-time action.

For me this year, Easter is not just a happy dance outside an empty grave, but a time of seeking earnestly the assurance of things to come, the affirmation of reunion, and a down payment on glory. In the meantime, resurrection—not as a future event, but here and now—becomes enough to get us through the here and now.

If you’ve wondered whether you can make it through today, much less tomorrow, then join me as we think about resurrection.

Gethsemane

Gethsemane

One word changes everything
Weeping outside her brother’s tomb, Martha insisted that if Jesus had hurried on, Lazarus would still be alive. His first words to her were cold comfort. Her response to the promise that Lazarus would rise again seems to be more a protest than an affirmation. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” she said. But she was more concerned about the present day.

Jesus’ reply turns her to the truth standing before her: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

If the religious leaders standing there in the cemetery heard Martha’s statement, some would have applauded, others would have shaken their heads. The Pharisees believed the righteous dead would be raised at the end, while the Sadducees argued there was no resurrection at all.

Martha’s reply hinges not on the teachings of the major schools of Jewish thought, but on the words that Jesus has just applied to himself. He is life (zoe in Greek), and he is the very thing that guarantees life.

A friend of mine phoned across the country to tell his parents their grandchild had been born, a beautiful baby they called Anastasia. The proud dad heard his own father, a seminary professor, laughing from a thousand miles away.

“Well, son,” the older man said, “that little girl will always stand up to you. And no one will ever back her down.” He chuckled some more. “You named her anastasis, the Greek word meaning to stand up again.”

When Jesus called on Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Martha and Mary and the crowd around them saw anastasis in action. Lazarus stood up again.

More important, that’s what Jesus did soon after at his own Resurrection—stand up again. It’s a simple phrasing for a complex event: anastasis describes plainly the pivotal point in history, for, as one observer said, without the Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is quite literally dead.

The Father calls, Arise! and Jesus stands up. The One who lay down his life for our sake takes it up again and emerges from the place of death into life everlasting. As he does, Jesus proves to the world that he is the Christ.

Resurrection is proof that Jesus is alive. So much for claims that robbers stole his body: The grave was sealed and guarded. So much for the swoon theory: Jesus didn’t pass out, he died. The soldier’s gash in Jesus’ side proved it, as water separated from blood gushed out. And if more proof were needed, the grave clothes were still in the grave, and the head cloth was neatly wrapped and laid aside by one who sat up, stood up, and no longer needed it. So much for mouldering in the grave: He is not here, he is risen!

Jesus’ declaration that he is the resurrection was proven on Resurrection morning. But the question of what that means in our hour of need remains.

A down payment on our future
Baptists are not a creedal people, so not many of our churches recite the Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis. Yet, we find in those summaries of the Christian faith a statement that the early church fathers felt was crucial to their belief in Jesus: “I believe in…the resurrection of the body…” Likewise, the Nicene Creed lists “resurrection of the dead.”

From the fourth century onward, believers needed to state aloud, along with their systematic beliefs about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, their own hope for themselves. This was true in a largely illiterate culture, so leaders built the statements into the worship services. This was a necessary response to various movements in the early centuries of the church that denied or misconstrued the deity of Jesus, and belittled the future hopes of his followers.

“Jesus was raised from the dead, and we will be too!” If the worship service had been a pep rally, that would have been the cheer, starting in 325 A.D.

This simple statement affirming the resurrection is based on verses in the Gospels and Epistles, of which Paul’s masterwork is 1 Corinthians 15. What the apostle says briefly in Romans 6:5—“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his”—is unpacked in 58 verses to the Corinth church.

You can’t blame the Christians in Corinth for sounding a little selfish. “We believe in Jesus,” they might have said, “but what’s going to happen to us?”

Paul reminds them that his teaching about Jesus is of “first importance”—“that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day…” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Whatever they may understand about their own coming resurrection is based on Jesus’ resurrection. Paul calls him the “first fruits” of the believers, in the same way that the first grains of the harvest forecast much more to come. (Around here, we would be more likely to talk about the first ripe tomato of summer or the first ear of corn.) There is such joy when the first fruits come in, because it’s only the beginning of harvest season and celebration.

Paul continues the agricultural imagery.

“‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’….What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body….So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (vv. 35-38, 42-43).

“The analogy of the seed enables Paul to walk a fine line,” scholar Richard Hays wrote, “asserting both the radical transformation of the body in its resurrected state and yet its organic continuity with the mortal body that precedes it.”
That should be good news to us.

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

Will I know my mother?
In her final week, I asked my wife again if she was scared. Of death itself? “No,” she responded, “but dying is coming quicker than I expected, and dying isn’t so easy.” She knew that her faith in Jesus as Savior would see her through to heaven, “but,” she said, “will I know my mother?”

I was surprised by that question. I thought she knew that for certain, but now she needed reassurance. I rifled through my pastoral answers: Paul says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12 KJV).

  • Mary recognized Jesus after his Resurrection when he spoke to her. The pair walking on the road to Emmaus recognized Jesus. He was somehow changed, but he was still Jesus.
  • Thomas saw Jesus a week after his first appearance to the disciples. Meeting them a second time in the upper room, the scars showed that his glorified body was still his body. In some way it was still his earthly body—changed, transformed, glorified, but still his.
  • From his boat, Peter saw Jesus at a distance barbequing a beachside breakfast. Realizing who it was, Peter jumped into the water to swim to him, and left the others to row the boat in.

In these scenes from Easter morning forward, we see that resurrection—his and ours—proves God cares about the person and our personhood. He’s not just keeping the ethereal, spirit-y part of us, but he promises the preservation of all that makes us us. The questions that come up about the deceased whose bodies are destroyed or lost or cremated are rendered irrelevant by these truths: We are all made of dust and to dust we will return, but God has promised to this dust that it will stand again. In the biblical examples we have, the person was known by those who saw him. Organic continuity.

My wife wanted to hear that. “Will I know my mother in heaven?” was a way of saying, Will Mom still be Mom? Will I still be me?

Frankly, it was a word I needed too. I needed assurance that at the resurrection of the dead, a body ravaged by cancer is somehow transformed into something immortal and incorruptible and glorious. God promises to raise us from the dead, preserves yet transforms us, and that action assures us we will be together again.

When and how, we don’t know for sure, but we’re sure it’s coming. And like my wife said, it seems to be coming more quickly than I expected.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

As if there was any doubt. “I will arise and go to Jesus; he will embrace me in his arms,” the hymnwriter said. Or as Paul concluded his Thessalonian note: “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

The Resurrection of Jesus foretells the resurrection of his followers. For me in recent months, that has proven to be a powerful, bankable promise from God. (See Philippians 3:10-11.) But what about the meantime? What does resurrection mean to us right now?

Baptism

The River Jordan

Throw some wood on the fire
Let’s be careful that this article doesn’t take a sharp, unwarranted turn at this point. That said, here is a road we should go down, if only briefly.
With Christ’s resurrection on one end of the timeline, and the promise of our own on the other end, what’s in the middle? I find an answer in that word we most often translate as resurrection: anastasis.

Literally the word means “stand up!” While linked theologically to life after death in many New Testament uses, it’s also a simple command to those who are sitting, resting, or, perhaps, lollygagging.

  • When Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple, the tax collector “arose” and followed him (Matthew 9:9).
  • Jesus told Jairus’s little girl to get up from her deathbed and she “arose” (Mark 5:42).
  • Jesus said the prodigal son came to his senses and “arose” to go to his father (Luke 15:18, 20).
  • Jesus told the one healed leper who returned to give thanks to “arise” and go his way (Luke 17:19).
  • The Holy Spirit told Philip to “arise” and head south for his divine appointment to share the gospel with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26).
  • And on the road to Damascus, Jesus commanded Paul to “arise” and go into the city for further instructions (Acts 9:6).

For those mired in grief, daydreaming about what might be, or lamenting what never was, this imperative is a big help. Stand up. In other words, until that final morning when we all stand up, there’s a lot of daily getting up to do and serving to fulfill Jesus’ mission.

There’s a lot of work to be done.

I’m still thinking about a story Pastor Ralph Schultz of Fieldon Baptist Church told at the Sandy Creek Association’s fall meeting. When he was a teenager, his family home was heated by a wood stove. Just before bedtime, his father would stoke the fire to keep the house warm overnight. Ralph would be snug in his bed and sleep soundly for several hours, but as morning approached, he would discover he was awake and thinking, “Someone needs to throw some wood on the fire.”

In a few minutes, Ralph’s father would call out from his own bedroom, “Son, get up and throw a log on the fire!”

“The house was cold, we needed someone to throw some wood on the fire,” Ralph said, “and I realized that ‘someone’ was me.”

Anastasis.

Epilogue
Maundy Thursday will mark six months since my wife died. On that day before Good Friday, I will retire some of my small grief rituals. Soon afterward, the dog and I will move to a new house in hopes of creating some fresh memories. And on Resurrection Sunday, I will arise and run with the disciples to the empty tomb, then beyond, seeking the Risen Savior.

“He is not here, he is risen,” I will hear.

And one day, by God’s grace, we will be risen too.

Eric Reed is editor of Illinois Baptist media and IBSA’s associate executive director for Church Communications.

Final walks

Lisa Misner —  March 25, 2019

Beth and WillyBy Nate Adams

We adopted our dog Willy as a scraggly shelter puppy eight years ago. Our veterinarian looked him over during his first visit and said, “This little guy looks like he was made out of spare parts.” Willy was never very coordinated, and one eye didn’t work very well, if at all. At 17 months, when his other eye suffered a detached retina, he became completely blind.

I’ve admitted many times since then that my first thought was to look for a money-back guarantee from the shelter. I wasn’t sure we wanted a dog that couldn’t see a ball, much less catch one.

But I married a tender-hearted, compassionate wife who immediately declared that Willy needed us. Her grace gave him value, and he has continued to be a sweet and obedient companion to our family since that day. He is my wife’s prayer walking partner. He’s her conversation starter and relationship builder with our neighbors. And occasionally, he’s even a sermon illustration for me.

Now, six and a half years later, the vet tells us that Willy is in his last days. Each time Beth or I head out the door with him, we know it is one of our final walks.

But Willy doesn’t seem to have a clue about his mortality. Though his appetite and energy are fading, he slowly rises and follows us wherever we are in the house. He walks as well as he can when we take him outside. He asks for attention with his paw when he needs something. And he seems completely content just to be with us.

Nearing death is a sobering thing to think about, at least for those who don’t feel they’re nearing it yet. I remember as a young boy accompanying my dad to a nursing home each Sunday afternoon. I was learning to play the piano, and our church had a portable keyboard that I thought was cool. So I would play songs for the residents to sing, and then my dad would share a brief devotional.

At the time, I guess I wondered why we bothered to go, or why the people there bothered to come and listen. Some of them didn’t sing. Some didn’t seem to be able to walk, or even to talk. They just smiled at me while I played, or closed their eyes and nodded their heads. Many were eager to speak to me before we left each week, and to thank me for coming, maybe even more than they thanked my dad. But he didn’t seem to mind. He told me most of them didn’t have little boys that could visit very often.

Willy has taught or reminded me of many spiritual truths during his brief life. Though he is extremely limited in what he can offer in return for our care, he loves us and wants to be near us. He’s obedient, and sweet-spirited. He follows very close to us, wherever we go and whatever we ask him to do.

And now, as we go on our final walks with Willy, he has caused me to remember some anonymous, sweet, devoted saints from my boyhood. Though they too were very limited physically, they still lived each day knowing and loving their Master, wanting to be near him and to obey him, and smiling at the little boys he sent, who were learning to play the piano.

I hope that during my own final, frail walks with my Master I will be able to love and serve him with the devotion of the faithful, elderly saints I have now known throughout my life. I will be grateful if I can simply imitate the devotion of a blind dog named Willy, who somehow understood he was rescued by grace, and therefore walked faithfully with his Master.

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

A month for baptisms

Lisa Misner —  March 18, 2019

The countdown is on for spring evangelism emphasis

A time to pray 2

Churches across Illinois and the SBC will focus this spring on praying for people who don’t know Christ. Last year, IBSA churches (including Staunton’s Net Community Church, seen in this file photo) baptized more than 650 people during a statewide emphasis.

March signals a new season, and in many IBSA churches, a new opportunity to focus on evangelism leading up to Easter.

Last year, One GRAND Sunday resulted in more than 650 baptisms during the Easter season. This year, IBSA’s Pat Pajak is asking churches to celebrate One GRAND Month in April, preceded by 30 days of prayer for people who don’t know Christ.

“Eight out of 10 unsaved people say they are open to a gospel conversation,” said Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism. “And research tells us that four out of five will come to an Easter service if someone will invite them.”

Pajak is urging Illinois Baptists to spend March praying for one person who doesn’t know Christ, and to begin thinking about how to invite them to an Easter service. The singular prayer emphasis is part of “Who’s Your One?” an emphasis across the Southern Baptist Convention urging every Christian to share the gospel with one person this year.

“While almost every believer knows that the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, and we are willing to obey the teachings and instructions found in God’s Word, far too many Christians have forsaken the responsibility of witnessing and left it to be done by others,” Pajak said.

“Who’s Your One?” employs what Pajak has called an “each one reach one” strategy. “It can be done anywhere, anytime, with anyone,” he said. “The idea is listening and looking for the right opportunity to turn an everyday conversation into a gospel presentation.”

At WhosYourOne.com, pastors and church members can access free resources, including a guide to 30 days of prayer for people who need to hear the gospel.

For April, Pajak suggested a week by week schedule to maximize Easter impact:

April 7: Invite church members to write the name of one person they plan to invite to an Easter service on a 3×5 card (passed out with the bulletins). At the end of the service, invite the entire church to come forward and place their cards on the altar and join together in a time of corporate prayer—asking the Lord to move the people on the cards to respond to an Easter invitation. Leave the cards. The pastor or staff can gather them and pray for the people for the remainder of that week.

April 14: Write out a personal invitation and include an Easter service promo flyer or card. Mail it to the person you’ve been praying for and planning to invite. If you are going to provide a ride or an after-church meal, tell them in the invitation and ask for an RSVP.

April 21: Get ready for a great Easter Sunday! If the person you invited doesn’t have a Bible, surprise them with one as a gift and perhaps deliver it on Saturday, so they will be able to bring it to church with them on Easter Sunday.

April 28: If the person you invited made a decision to follow the Lord, encourage them to be baptized along with others on the Sunday following Easter (churches can also consider offering baptism all four Sundays in April). Make it a real celebration! Invite them out to lunch after the service and let them know you are available to walk with them in their new faith. Be sure to help them get enrolled in a Sunday school class or small group.

For more information about One GRAND Month, go to IBSA.org/Evangelism.

By the IBSA Media Team

5 changes that change leaders

From 2015 to 2018, God led Scott Nichols, senior pastor at Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, through a season of change. First, his wife, Vicki, was diagnosed with cancer. The year was filled with surgery and chemotherapy appointments, as well as a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that had them looking forward to 2016.

But the next year brought more change, this time in ministry. Eventually, more than a quarter of the congregation left the church (some were sent out to do other ministries; some were not).

Though none of the changes during this season were easy, God was still at work both in the pastor’s personal walk and ministry. At the Illinois Leadership Summit, Nichols shared what the Lord taught him in a breakout session titled “Transformed: 5 ways God grows church leaders.”

Nichols shared five truths about change: It reminds the leader of their insufficiency, keeps the leader fresh, reinforces the value of teamwork, transforms the leader personally, and provides an opportunity to learn through challenges and setbacks.

“God taught me that Crossroads would not have been positioned for our upcoming season of ministry growth if we had not endured those two years of change and transition,” Nichols said. “Discomfort can also be called opportunity.”

Mind the knowledge gap

While in London on a mission trip, Carmen Halsey noticed signs cautioning riders on the city’s underground rail system to “mind the gap.” The warning to step carefully from the platform to the subway has implications for leaders too, said IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and church missions.

In leadership, the gap is the space between knowing what you know, and what you don’t.
“You’re not acting smart by saying there’s not a gap there,” said Halsey during her ILS breakout, “Fact: You can lead in the present if you mind the gap.”

“We’re living in a constantly changing world. There’s always going to be a gap for a leader.”

Halsey suggested four ways leaders can manage the gap:

1. Seek God and be confident in your calling.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and “I’m going to find us an answer.”
3. Admit mistakes and take responsibility for them.
4. Learn what level of honesty is required.

“Be a leader with integrity,” Halsey said, “but not everything gets shared on every stage. Know your audience; think beyond the moment; tell them what they need to know. Understand what you need to say when you need to say it.”

Dysfunction: Call it what it is

Whether he verbally assaults the pastor at a church business meeting or she arranges secret meetings with members around her kitchen table, dysfunctional church leaders lurk inside every unhealthy church.

“We went to their house to let them know their reputation was on the line and we needed to get together as a group and walk through where the misunderstanding occurred,” said Bob Bickford, a St. Louis pastor and church replanting specialist for the North American Mission Board.

“They refused to do that. And as we were walking away the wife said to me, ‘We were a lot better off before you got here.’ It was at that point I knew God was working to heal the church from the incredible dysfunction that had been going on.”

In his ILS breakout session, “Dealing with dysfunctional leaders in your church,” Bickford said the early church confronted problems directly and sought solutions. They didn’t shy away from calling dysfunction what it was.

“The challenge for our churches, particularly the 900 or so who are closing each year, is that we don’t have many pastors or deacon chairs or associational missionaries who are willing to do what I’ve described,” Bickford said. “Tolerating misbehavior keeps us from the mission. It’s worth risking your salary to protect God’s church.”

Planning vision from the inside out

Frank Lloyd Wright designed one of his most famous buildings—Fallingwater—to blend seamlessly with its environment. The Pennsylvania home, built from materials found onsite, is suspended over a waterfall that existed long before the architect ever tackled the project.

Churches would do well to follow the Fallingwater method, said Cliff Woodman (right) in his session, “Beyond Sunday: Creating a better vision for your church.” The pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Carlinville said that many churches use a “copy and paste” method, borrowing from other churches what’s working well in their context.

Instead, he advised, consider what’s going on in your church’s community and culture, and implement a vision that fits that context. And keep your eye on the ultimate prize: transformation.

“Your church congregation should be more than just attenders. They should be different than when they first started coming to church,” Woodman said.

“Just as a school grows their students, the church should also grow its attenders. You shouldn’t be satisfied with a 10-year Christian who is still, spiritually, two years old. Ask yourself: What steps need to be taken to grow the disciples?”

2019 Illinois Leadership Summit videos are available at Vimeo.com/album/5783060.