Archives For Heartland

The stand

ib2newseditor —  August 14, 2017 — Leave a comment

Surrounded by a Forest of Tall Golden Aspen Trees

Over the years, I’ve grown to love Aspen trees. They’re not that common in Illinois, growing in only about a third of the state’s counties, mostly in the north. But in cooler or higher-altitude climates such as central Colorado, they grow abundantly, often covering the mountains like wildflowers.

It was while vacationing there with my family this summer that I started asking myself why I find Aspen trees so beautiful and interesting. Is it the “quaking” leaves, which so freely alternate their green and silver sides in the breeze, and then turn bright yellow in the fall? Or is it that those leaves are mounted on a beautiful white tree trunk, crisscrossed with black bands, that grow up to a hundred feet tall?

Perhaps it’s that these striking trees always appear so plentifully. Aspens grow in clusters or “stands” and multiply rapidly. Individual trees are actually part of a larger, singular organism that spreads rapidly in the form of new trees from a common root system.
As a result, one Aspen stand in Utah is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living organism. It’s more ancient than the massive Sequoias of the West, or even the famous Bristlecone Pines, some of which are said to be 5,000 years old. It appears that individual trees like those are not quite as enduring as the spreading organism of Aspens, which presents itself as many trees, yet underneath shares a unified root system that results in each unique tree being a genetic replicate of the others.

Inspiration for Baptists from the mighty and prolific Aspen trees

As you might guess, I find in these beautiful Aspen trees an encouraging metaphor for the equally creative work I believe God desires to do among Baptist churches here in Illinois. Like the diversely colored leaves that “quake” at the slightest breeze, our lives, stirred and filled by the Holy Spirit, should attract the attention of those we meet and invite them to know Jesus as Savior.

The bright, white-and-black banded trunk that holds us together is the local church that beautifully reflects the light of Christ and his word, not just one at a time, but in diverse sizes and shapes. Yet our churches should be united by a common root system of both doctrine and cooperation, one that makes us resilient and also allows us to multiply rapidly and spread throughout our region and the world. Aspens are the most widespread tree in North America, and there are varieties of Aspens found throughout Europe and Asia.

This year, September 10-17 is the week our “stand” of churches here in Illinois has set aside to pray for mission work here, and to receive a special offering called the Mission Illinois Offering. This offering is like a refreshing rainfall on our cooperative work as Baptist churches, work that takes place in a culture that can be as harsh on Baptist churches as mountain winters on a stand of Aspens.

But with that offering, we train leaders and church members in evangelism. We strengthen churches in multiple ministries that help them make more disciples and grow. And we provide the network of doctrinally sound cooperation that gives you confidence that the 20 or so churches being started in Illinois each year, though unique, are doctrinally united with all the churches in our “stand.”

Aspens grow all the time, even in winter. But many feel they are most brilliant and beautiful in the fall, when their golden leaves paint the mountainside with the glory of God.

This fall, when you and I give a generous offering through the Mission Illinois Offering, I believe we have an opportunity to do the same.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

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

SWU creative movement

Summer Worship University at Hannibal-LaGrange University

A week away from home can start the journey of a lifetime

Summer camps bring to mind the outdoors, hayrides, bonfires, and new friends. But a honeymoon? For one couple serving on staff at Summer Worship University (SWU), that’s exactly what it is.

Gabe and Jenna Herbst were married June 24 and spent the first part of their honeymoon at Disneyworld and Gatlinburg. Then it was on to part 2. “We picked our wedding date around camp,” Jenna said. SWU week was July 11-15 followed by the All State Youth Choir tour.

Gabe grew up attending IBSA’s music camps for children and youth. Then he served three years as an intern before joining the SWU staff this year. He met Jenna while serving as an intern. “Gabe’s parents snuck me up here to see him and what he did,” Jenna said. “We would talk on the phone and I would hear the impact of the testimonies. It ignited a passion in me, I wanted to go.”

For his part, Gabe said the friendships he developed at camp led to relationships that have made an “impact by modeling how Christian men should live their lives.” Gabe served as youth director at First Baptist Church in Pinckneyville, but the couple has moved to the Carterville area where he is now employed as a junior high school teacher.

Breaking out
Rich Barnett is pastor of University Baptist Church in Macomb, but during SWU and All State Tour he’s also the sound tech. Those who know him know he’s not shy, but Barnett says that wasn’t always the case.

“Music camp broke me out of my shell,” he said. “My first Sunday back I sang a special a church.” It came as a surprise to his parents who didn’t know he could sing. The camp director that year was the late Carl Shephard, IBSA director of music. “He was the first church leader that really paid attention to me,” said Barnett. “He really made a big impact on me.

That same year Barnett made a commitment to ministry. “After high school I ran from God, but he dragged me back,” shared Barnett.

While in seminary he called then IBSA Director of Music Allen Mashbern to let him know that as a former All-Stater, he was going into ministry. “Allen said, ‘I still need a camp pastor.’” Barnett has served on camp staff ever since.

Pray for play
Michael Warren will be a high school senior in the fall. He is the grandson of retired pastor Tom Eggley and his wife, Esther. Michael attended music camp in sixth grade and hated every minute of it.

The children’s camp was cancelled that year, so a handful of sixth graders moved up to join the older students. “I was very scared,” he said. “I was not as outgoing then and always quiet.”

His assigned group formed a prayer circle and each person took a turn praying out loud. When his turn came, “I was silent. I’d never prayed out loud. Jonathan Hayashi (the leader) was outstanding, he prayed in my place.”

He was back at SWU two years later, becoming a member of the touring All State Choir the following year. “What really helped me was that I took classes that made me uncomfortable, like ‘Breaking Barriers’ about sharing your faith. I also got to know the seniors and developed camaraderie.”

Michael shared how he learned about the power of prayer while on tour. “We were in Arkansas doing a show for Alcoholics Anonymous members. One of our leaders said we really need to pray for this to be one of our best performances. And, it was!”

– Lisa Misner Sergent

New study shows factors that attract and keep new members

Attracting and keeping people considered unchurched is rated as the top predictor of growth through new professions of faith at small churches, according to a new study encompassing 12 Christian denominations including Southern Baptists.

“These churches are places of invitation, welcome, and involvement for the unchurched,” the study’s authors said. “So, the unchurched stick around in greater numbers. And they come to Christ and get committed to the church in greater numbers.”

The Billy Graham Center of Wheaton College conducted the newly released study in partnership with Lifeway Research of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Caskey Center for Church Excellence of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The telephone survey of 1,500 pastors and church leaders found and ranked 29 predictors of growth through Christian conversion at churches of 250 members or less. Study authors released the top 10 growth predictors June 26.

Second to attracting and keeping the unchurched, small churches that grow by Christian conversions tend to offer classes for new attendees, the study found. Such classes help even when they are not evangelistic.

Third, small churches that grow through new baptisms are led by pastors who routinely undergo personal evangelism training.

“If the pastor is a learner and stays inspired and growing in the area of evangelism,” study authors said, “that pastor’s church will reach more people who commit to Christ and who stick.”

Newcomers church growth chart

In response to declining baptisms in the U.S., Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines appointed a 19-member evangelism task force at the 2017 SBC annual meeting. The group of SBC seminary presidents and professors, pastors, and a state convention leader are expected to report its findings at the 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas.

Nearly 90% of Southern Baptist churches had weekly attendance of 250 or less as recently as 2013, and qualified for the “small church category.”

In the Wheaton study, the other top growth predictors among small churches are:

  • The pastor more frequently “pops the question,” asking people to commit after he shares the gospel.
  • The church spends a higher percentage of its budget on evangelism and missions.
  • Church members often tell the pastor that they themselves are sharing the gospel with others, rather than relying on the pastor to carry the load alone. “The church does not need superstar pastors who share their faith while everybody in the church cheers them on from the sidelines,” study authors said.
  • Unchurched visitors often communicate favorable feedback to pastors after weekly worship services.
  • The church shares the gospel outside its walls and conducts community service.
  • Churches that grow through conversions concurrently tend to draw members from other congregations. “In other words,” study authors wrote, “transfer and conversion growth tend to go together for small churches.”
  • Cited as the 10th most predictive factor of growth through new conversions, according to the study, “the pastor more frequently blocks out time in the calendar for the purpose of sharing the gospel with non-Christians. If the pastor is to lead evangelism in the church, the pastor must first personally live out the evangelism call.”

Smaller churches in the survey, those with 150 or fewer members, tended to grow more easily than the larger small churches in the survey, the study found. Additionally, predominantly Hispanic and Native American churches tended to fare better in growth.

Joining Southern Baptists in responding to the survey are members of the Assemblies of God, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, Converge Worldwide, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Evangelical Free Church in America, The Foursquare Church, the Missionary Church, Vineyard US, and The Wesleyan Church.

Study authors include Ed Stetzer, executive director of Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and former LifeWay Research executive director.

LifeWay Research plans to release a full report of the study at lifewayresearch.com.

– Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Interior of airplane with people inside

Boarding a small airplane recently, I immediately noticed the cheerful, positive demeanor of the lone flight attendant. It was early in the morning, and amidst the crowd of bleary-eyed passengers shuffling onto the plane, she beamed like a ray of sunshine.

After welcoming us on board and making sure we were all buckled in and our carry-on luggage stowed, she proceeded to give us the prescribed safety instructions that anyone who has flown often could probably recite from memory. But instead of monotonously reading from a script about emergency exits and unlikely water landings, she delivered the entire speech from memory, yet with great personal warmth and conviction.

I was impressed, even inspired. But what I have not yet forgotten about this exceptional young lady are her spontaneous words after delivering that mandatory safety speech. She paused, and then with the most childlike wonder and enthusiasm you can imagine, she said, her eyes twinkling, “And now—it’s time to fly!”

Oh, I wish I could better convey in writing the way she bade us to the heavens with that one well-delivered phrase. As many times as she had undoubtedly endured the routines of stowing luggage, delivering safety speeches, and serving soft drinks and peanuts, she had not yet lost the wonder of getting to fly.

A few days later, I heard a comedian on a talk show describing his own recent experience on an airplane. As he awaited takeoff, he said he was contemplating the miracle that he would soon be sitting in a cylindrical tube 30,000 feet in the air, hurling through the atmosphere at 500 miles-per-hour to arrive cross country in less than four hours, a trip that used to take early pioneers a lifetime. Just then the flight attendant announced that wireless internet would not be available on that flight, and the man sitting next to the comedian flew into a fit of profanity. How quickly, he observed, we turn miracles into entitlements, and entitlements into opportunities for criticism.

How quickly indeed.

The word “miracles,” of course, turned my thoughts to the many spiritual blessings that I too often take for granted, or consider entitlements. Every week, I gather freely with other believers and have fresh opportunity to celebrate the resurrected Lord Jesus and the transformational difference he has made and is still making in my life. Every week I sing, along with people I call brother and sister, the songs of our deliverance from sin, our new life purpose, and eternity in heaven. Every week, I hear from God’s word a new, relevant message that applies to me personally.

With all that being true, it seems that every week, every worship leader in every local church should stand and tell us, “And now—it’s time to fly!” Yet it may be more common for us to settle into familiar weekly routines and even rituals. It may be more common for us to take for granted the gathering for corporate worship, and consider it an entitlement. It may be more common for us to complain about what programs or services didn’t meet our standards, or what people disappointed us.

That cheerful, positive flight attendant reminded me that it only takes one sincerely excited and grateful worshiper to call other sleepy souls out of their routines and criticisms. One person who recaptures the wonder and miracle of the church assembling together in God’s presence can rekindle that wonder in others. This Sunday, I will not be a presumptuous passenger who feels entitled to the miracle of access to God that cost Jesus so much. This Sunday, my worship will say to any on board with me, “And now—it’s time to fly!”

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

Young family

Gen-Z has its own language and way of communicating. How can we connect?

Her inquisitive 4-year-old sat in his booster seat snacking on chips, staring out the window, and watching the world pass by.

“Daddy, why is the sky blue?”

Leneita Fix listened as her husband gave a simple yet scientific answer to her sweet boy. Then boy asked, “Why do cows moo?”

Her husband began talking about the communication strategies of livestock when her son posed a third question.

“How did Jesus do it? How did he take away my sin?”

Fix and her husband glanced at each other. Wow, where to start? Better not mess this up with the wrong words and confuse him. Maybe talk about the ABC’s of being a Christian? Or focus on the theology of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. Probably need to tell him the definition of sacrifice—

“Whoa! Look at the size of this Dorito!!” the child said next.

“I love to tell that story because it perfectly exemplifies the reality of Generation Z,” said Fix, speaker, missions and training coordinator for BowDown Church and Urban Youth Impact in West Palm Beach, Florida, and author of several books including No Teenager Left Behind. “This generation has so much information at their fingertips that they are used to having the answers immediately. They want to soak up information, including deep spiritual truths about who God is, but they have only about an 8-second attention span.”

Getting it right
Generation Z is the group of children and students who are being raised and launched into the world right now. Born between 1995 to the present, Gen-Z is nicknamed the “Always On Generation” because they’ve never known a life without a touchscreen, without global terrorism, without civic unrest and financial unrest, and they have a unique perspective of what a normal family unit looks like.

“Another difference is while Millennials are well-known for dealing with FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, Generation Z is more concerned with FOMU, or Fear of Messing Up,” Fix said during her D6 Connect Tour presentation at First Baptist Church Bethalto.

Sky, cow, Jesus, Dorito: This teacher’s story shows how today’s kids can think deep thoughts—and shallow ones—almost at the same time. How will parents make the most of the moments they have to communicate about the more important matters?

“They have a deep need to know the right answers and having Google at their fingertips leaves no room for doubt. Studies show that Gen-Z is destined for success in both college and career and they care about injustice more than any other generation in history.” However, it’s their fear of imperfection and “not getting it right” that Fix said could easily derail their ambitions.

“We have to teach them the difference between messing up and intentionally making wrong decisions,” Fix said. “It’s OK to not know the answer or to have questions. We all have questions and don’t have it all figured out. Give them the space and grace to not be perfect. However, if they intentionally choose not to do a homework assignment or some other truly wrong decision, that’s not OK.”

And despite every preventive measure taken, Brian Housman, author of Tech Savvy Parenting, said wrong choices and moral failures are going to happen. He said parents and the church support system must always parent with the end game in mind.

Housman used the example of a video he once saw of 16-year-old Bobby Fisher playing ten games of chess at once. He won every match and when interviewed about how he kept track of each game Fisher said based on the opponent’s prior moves and body language, he developed a strategy to win and then just let that strategy play out.

“We have an end-game in mind financially and in our careers,” Housman said. “We need to focus on the end-game with our kids and the good news is that we’re not alone. We are partnering with the Savior to raise them to be like Christ.”

Without the end game in the forefront, parents default to wanting to change feelings and even unintentionally guilt their kids into better behavior.

“We’ve become geniuses at sin management and masters at behavior modifications,” Housman said. “Christian parents, particularly those in the ministry, are more concerned about the appearance of things and what might make us look bad. We make it about us when we want to change the feeling or their behavior. We need to seek to change their heart.”

“The best approach to moral failure in our kids is the same as God’s approach to us,” he said. “God never shames his children. He loves first, forgives, acknowledges the wrongdoing, but understands what we’re going through. God chooses to be with
us as we walk out of it.”

Say it, don’t Snap it
Communication is key. This generation is bombarded with messages coming at them from every one of their devices. However, when it comes to hearing the messages that matter, Fix said face-to-face interaction is still the best way.

“Don’t over complicate things,” she said. “Generation Z is striving for authenticity. Many studies have shown that they actually prefer face-to-face communication over the multitude of other options. Yes, they talk through Snapchat and Instagram and even through their video games, but the people they consider themselves closest to are those they see every day at home, church, and school.”

But never wait for the perfect moment to have an in-depth conversation, because that moment will never come for these success-driven kids. Instead, Fix suggests utilizing the margins of time between practices and appointments, dinner prep, or yard work.

“There is no longer the space or grace to wait,” she said.

“Remember sky, cow, Jesus, Dorito. Sometimes God will lay an encouraging word or thought on my heart and I text it to my kids right away, because they need to know God loves them and I love them all the time. We need to become really good at communicating in the moments we have.”

-Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer living in Park Hills, Mo. 

Rites of summer: VBS

ib2newseditor —  July 17, 2017
VBS-Rockford

Living Stones Community Church, Rockford

A woman pulling dandelions along the sidewalk in front of her house seems willing, even eager to take a break.

“Well,” she says, “the church is over there about a block,” pointing westward along one of the community’s few streets. “But the marker you’re asking about is right over there, waving a hand holding weeds southward.

“That’s where it really started, so that’s where they put the marker.”

It’s clear that Hopedale, Illinois is still proud of its place in history as the one-horse, no stop-light town that birthed an international movement: Vacation Bible School.

In the late spring of 1894, Mattie Pritchard Miles, wife of Hopedale’s Methodist minister, had a bold idea: take advantage of the summer break to teach otherwise idle children about the Bible. She planned a day of Bible teaching and activities “for all children of whatever church—or no church at all.” From the beginning, VBS has been about outreach. Perhaps that’s why its first organizer took the school outside the walls of her church and denomination.

The meeting place was on the grounds outside the elementary school, where the historical marker stands today, with the park next door.

Some 37 children showed up.

What’s even more remarkable is that Mrs. Miles didn’t hold a one-week VBS, or even two-weeks as some older people may remember. Her Vacation Bible School lasted 26 days over five weeks.

The 1894 school quickly became a model for churches and denominations everywhere. The big stone marker includes a time capsule that is to be opened in 2094, on the 200th anniversary of VBS.

In the meantime, proponents of the summertime discipleship ministry, and Southern Baptists in particular, still see its value for evangelism as well as discipling children (and adults). LifeWay reports that 25% of all baptisms in SBC churches come through VBS.

Consider these other 2015 statistics from LifeWay, which produces VBS curriculum especially for SBC churches.

• Every one person trained in VBS in SBC churches results in 1.1 salvation decisions.
• 10% of people enrolled in SBC VBS are unchurched.
• 2.7 million people enroll in VBS each year.
• 72,925 people each year accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
• 2,666 people commit their lives to church-related vocations through VBS.
• 56,386 people enroll in Sunday School/small group Bible study as a result of attending VBS.

Mrs. Miles lived 55 years after her first month-long experiment. By 1949, VBS was a well-established tradition that continues to reach children and families and to change lives today.

-Eric Reed

Tale of two cities

I’ve visited Phoenix a few times over the years, but attending the Southern Baptist Convention there recently reminded me again how much it differs from cities here in the Midwest. Of course, it’s a city in the desert, a reality that’s evident even from the sky as one’s plane lands. That difference is even more noticeable as you first breathe the dry air, touch the hot pavement or sand, or simply realize that, at least in the summertime, the brown of Arizona bears little resemblance to the green of Illinois.

In the short walk from my hotel to the convention center each day, I also noticed many different cultural influences, from Native American and Hispanic to the Old West. I saw colorful jewelry, pottery, and clothing in the store windows, and pragmatic architecture spread low across the skyline, all reflecting the unique beauty of the desert.

It wasn’t long, however, before I also began seeing similarities between Phoenix and cities like Chicago. For example, there is great wealth alongside great poverty. There are busy freeways, and constant traffic, and countless people in a hurry. There are many faces that seem sad, or angry, or just empty as they go about their routines. And there are relatively few Baptist churches, or visible evidence of Christian hope.

I’m taking time to paint this picture of Phoenix because I hope that by the time our IBSA Annual Meeting rolls around this November, we may be ready to invite many Illinois Baptists to return there. Discussions with Arizona Baptist leaders during the convention revealed several opportunities for partnership.

For example, there are currently only three African American Southern Baptist churches in the Phoenix association, while Chicago has dozens. On the other hand, Arizona Southern Baptists have been particularly effective in suburban church planting, an area of great need in Chicagoland. We began to see that a complementary partnership between churches in our states, focused especially on church planting in these two “Send Cities” of North America, could give each of them a needed boost in reaching people with the gospel and establishing new Baptist churches.

We also discovered that there are numerous natural connections between the mission field residents of Chicago and Phoenix. For example, according to recent census data, Chicagoans move to Phoenix more than any other metropolitan area except Champaign, Illinois. In fact, more move to Phoenix than to New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Atlanta, or even Indianapolis, which round out the list of top relocation destinations. And while Phoenix is a much smaller city, more than half the number of people that move from Chicago to Phoenix each year also move the other way, from Phoenix to Chicago.

Many Chicagoans “snowbird” in Phoenix. And the fact that both the Cubs and White Sox hold their baseball spring training camps in the Phoenix area is just one factor that keeps the airports full of tourists as well as business travelers. In fact, one travel writer recently referred to Phoenix as “Chicago West,” and commented on the numerous pockets of Chicago culture that can now be found in the desert city.

So, the tale of these two cities isn’t over with the conclusion of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, at least as far as Illinois Baptists and Arizona Baptists are concerned. We are discussing a more formal partnership, with vision trips in early 2018, facilitated mission trip opportunities next year, and the matchmaking of several church-to-church partnerships. If all goes as planned, our desert partners may even provide Illinois Baptists with a welcome, new experience—the winter mission trip.

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