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Welcome to our mission field

Elizabeth Young

Elizabeth Young

For the third time in 14 years, Arizona Southern Baptists will welcome the larger Southern Baptist family to Phoenix in June.

When Phoenix was chosen to host the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting the first time in 2003, we were more than a little surprised, given our reputation for high summertime temperatures. But with Baptists’ repeated visits, we figured the word must have gotten out that, given our low humidity, our average 102-106 degree June temperature isn’t as bad as “back home” for a lot of folks.

We’re delighted when the family comes to town. We hope, for many, it’s a reminder that Southern Baptist work does exist outside of the Deep South and west of the Continental Divide. Illinois Baptists may feel the same way about recognition of Southern Baptists north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

While we want to offer a warm welcome to the family, we sincerely pray that our guests will remember they are on a mission field. We pray for a quiet, peaceful annual meeting so that we don’t have to explain to our lost neighbors why feuding Baptists, or Baptists engaged in culture wars, made the local news. When you’re up to your eyeballs in lost people, it puts a different perspective on priorities of concern.

Illinois Baptists probably understand this, too. Although we have some differences, we seem to have a lot in common.

You have more people—almost 13 million to our 6.9 million—but we have more land—nearly 114,000 square miles to your almost 58,000. You have more churches—nearly 1,000 to our about 450—but we have similar church-to-population ratios—one church for every 13,000 people in Illinois and one for every 15,000 in Arizona.

Both of our states have one large metropolitan area that encompasses two-thirds or more of the state’s population. And whether it’s Chicagoland or greater Phoenix, also known as the Valley of the Sun, the city is a massive sea of people who don’t know Jesus as savior.

Whether on not you make the trek to the Grand Canyon State this summer, our message to you is the same. We’re drawing from Paul’s Macedonian Call in Acts 16:9 and inviting you to “Come over…and help us.”

Consider what God is calling you to do:
• Pray for God’s work in our vast state.
• Partner with an Arizona church.
• Plant a church in Arizona.

May God give all of us a “Macedonian” vision for Arizona—and beyond!

Elizabeth Young is director of communications for the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention and the editor of Portraits magazine.

Michael Allen

In a complete revamp from any year in memory, the 2017 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference features pastors of average-sized SBC churches who will preach through one book of the Bible—Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Michael Allen, pastor of Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago and a former president of IBSA’s Pastors’ Conference, is one of 12 pastors who will take the stage in Phoenix June 11-12. The group also includes David Choi, pastor of Chicago’s Church of the Beloved.

Allen spoke with the Illinois Baptist about his upcoming message and what pastors like him contribute to the SBC family:

Q: What passage will you preach in Phoenix?

A: I’ll be preaching Philippians 3:17-21. This passage gives us a reminder of our citizenship in heaven, and helps the church distinguish itself from the world in how we think, act, and live. And then it also reminds us that it is the resurrection power of Christ that changes us both inside and out.

Q: What do you think is unique about what smaller or average-sized churches (and their pastors) add to SBC life?

A: The conference choice of pastors who lead small and medium-sized churches helps the conference attendees better identify and relate to guys just like them. We know that most churches in America, regardless of denomination, are small (less than 100). It also highlights the fact that pastors of smaller churches can effectively handle the Word of God, even in big venues. The Scriptures remind us not to “despise small beginnings” (Zech. 4:10).

Q: The conference this year also is focused on diversity. In your opinion, what is the value of hearing from pastors of different ethnicities and backgrounds?

A: We all have a unique cultural background which colors how we see and experience life. Culture also is a lens through which we see and interpret God’s Word and God himself. So hearing from ethnically diverse preachers in our convention enriches us all, because God made us different and his intentions are that we learn from and complement each other.

Q: You represent both the Midwest and one of the country’s largest cities. What about your ministry experience in Chicago do you want the larger SBC family to hear and understand?

A: The SBC family needs to understand that the world continues to move into ever-growing metropolitan cities, making them more and more diverse—ethnically, socio-economically, religiously, and every other measurement of diversity. Therefore, we have a great opportunity to win the world to Christ without ever boarding a plane.

At the same time [increasing diversity] makes ministry more complex, and more resources are needed to do ministry here. Whatever strategy the International Mission Board is using to reach the world for Christ can and should be prayerfully considered to be employed in America’s rich and diverse urban centers. IMB and the North American Mission Board ought to continue to seek ways they can collaborate with each other for the glory of God in the salvation of souls.

The primary group of preachers at the Pastors’ Conference will be joined by four pastors who will give testimonies of how their lives and ministries have benefited from smaller membership churches:

  • SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis
  • J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
  • Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., and former SBC president
  • Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president

For more information on the Pastors’ Conference, including a full schedule, go to sbcannualmeeting.net.

Nate Adams IBSA exterior

Nate Adams

In just a few weeks, thousands of church messengers will gather in Phoenix for the annual Southern Baptist Convention and its many related events and opportunities. Last year’s St. Louis convention drew 533 messengers from Illinois, our state’s largest representation since 2002. Only host state Missouri and nearby Tennessee sent more messengers, and I believe Illinois Baptists’ strong showing gave us a stronger than usual voice in the national convention.

It would be great to have as many Illinois messengers as possible in Phoenix, but if history is any indicator, distance and travel expense will reduce our numbers significantly. Even if you can’t travel that far west this year, let me share a couple of ways you can stay engaged with the larger SBC from right here in Illinois.

First, the convention itself and some related events will be live streamed via the Internet, providing a front row seat from your computer screen. Our IBSA communications staff will also be there, uploading the latest happenings to IBSA.org and giving you an Illinois perspective on news coming out of the convention.

You and your church can also participate in the evangelistic efforts that surround this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, and in a way that reaches out not only to Phoenix, but to your community as well. This year the SBC is partnering with evangelist Greg Laurie to bring the Harvest America Crusade to the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday evening, June 11.

In Phoenix or from Illinois, you can help share the gospel with half a million people.

While an estimated 65,000 people will gather in the stadium that night, the Harvest Crusade hopes to invite as many as 500,000 viewers through multiple simulcast locations, such as our churches and homes right here in Illinois. In a similar Harvest America Crusade in Texas last year, more than 24,000 people made professions of faith in Christ, many of them at the remote simulcast sites.

Might this Harvest America Crusade be something that your church would consider hosting on June 11, as a way of inviting your community to hear the gospel message, and participate in potentially one of the largest evangelistic events in American history? Or perhaps you would consider hosting a small group in your home, and using it as a conversation starter with friends for whom you have been praying.

Pat Pajak, IBSA’s associate executive director of evangelism, is already in communication with dozens of pastors and evangelism leaders across Illinois, asking them to consider hosting a simulcast location. If you would like information on being a host site on June 11, you can contact Pat directly at PatPajak@IBSA.org or (217) 391-3129.

It’s amazing to me that technology and a little planning and cooperation among Christians and churches can make it possible for a half million people to hear the gospel message at the same time. It also reminds me that we could do so much more to spread the good news about Jesus if we would leverage these same things more consistently in our churches.

For example, does your church have young people that could help you use social media more effectively in reaching your community, and beyond? Are there tech-savvy folks sitting in the back rows of your auditorium that could be invited to the front rows of service?

We can stay here in Illinois and yet engage the larger Baptist family as it gathers in Phoenix. We can stay in our churches or homes and yet be part of sharing the gospel with a half million people at once. And we can stay at our computer screens and help our church reach people in new ways through technology. Aren’t these amazing days, when God has given us the ability to go, even when we stay?

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

Brandon McNeely, Sean Morecraft, Phil Nelson, and Dalton Sharro

Lakeland Baptist Church, Carbondale, SBC messengers: Brandon McNeely, Sean Morecraft, Phil Nelson, and Dalton Sharrow.

The world is currently experiencing its largest refugee crisis since the second world war with more than 65 million people displaced by war. The majority of these refugees come from the Middle East and Africa and are Muslim. It’s an issue that’s fraught with controversy

Last September, President Barack Obama pledged to bring 85,000 refugees to the United States with 10,000 coming from Syria. Southern Baptists took a stand on the issue, which has become a political hot potato in the race for U.S. president, at their annual meeting held this year in St. Louis June 14-15.

Resolution 12: On Refugee Ministry acknowledged the suffering refugees endure and Baptist’s historical role in refugee care, calling upon them to “minister care, compassion, and the Gospel to refugees who come to the United States.”

The resolution also called on the government to “implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process.”

Phil Nelson, pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church in Carbondale, came to the convention as a messenger, bringing with him three young men from his church, Dalton Sharrow, Sean Morecraft, and Brandon McNeely. Resolution 12 (scroll down to read the full text of the resolution) in particular, caught their attention, said Nelson. “We saw the resolutions and we saw what’s going on with the Confederate flag and some others, and we thought that’s awesome the walls have come down, but we need to communicate to the world outside the ports of America that when our government and society is saying, ‘No, don’t come,’ we represent a different Kingdom.”

Together, the four wrote and proposed an amendment to further strengthen the resolution. Their amendment encouraged, “Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at His Throne…”

The resolution received immediate support from the leaders of evangelical refugee relief organizations.

“I applaud the Southern Baptist leaders who have urged their churches and members to demonstrate Christ’s love to refugees, perhaps the most unwanted, unwelcome and unloved people in our world,” said Richard Stearns, the President of World Vision U.S.

Stephan Bauman, President of World Relief, expressed his gratefulness and said, “We believe that the biblical mandate for welcoming those fleeing persecution is clear. We see the arrival of refugees as a remarkable opportunity for the Church to live out our faith.”

Speaking with the Illinois Baptist shortly after the amendment was approved, Nelson explained, “Our citizenship is in a different place. We want to communicate clearly we belong to a different Kingdom. It’s not an American Kingdom, it’s the Kingdom of God.  We want to tell all those who are orphans and refugees you’re welcome here. I don’t care what religion, what background, you’re welcome because we believe the gospel can rescue and save everyone.”

“When we first heard David Platt give his story about the refugee issues in Somalia and Syria and other places, I couldn’t stop weeping,” Nelson said, his voice breaking. “I started seeing the kids that had no place to go. All of a sudden I thought, we have 46,000 Southern Baptist churches, what would happen if each one of those churches said we’ll take a refugee. We’ll take a family.”

Nelson shared how another Southern Baptist pastor was part of their inspiration. As they were writing it, a friend of Nelson’s who is originally from India stopped to say hello. The friend, now a pastor in South Carolina, “came over here in 1990 as a Hindu, had his gods in a suitcase,” described Nelson.

That friend was a refugee when he came to the United States and learned about Christ. “It was a Baptist family that adopted him, let him come and live with them, where he saw the gospel lived out, and as a result gave up his Hindu background, gave up his Hindu gods,” Nelson told the Illinois Baptist. “Now he’s going back to India every year planting churches. I thought if we’re going to reach the nations, and we’re going to convince the world that the gospel is for everybody, we’ve got to set the standard and say, ya’ll come.”

Nelson encourages Christians to reach out to refugees settling into their communities. “We’ve got homes, we’ve got hearts, we don’t do bombs and bullets we do hearts and homes,” he said.

– Lisa Misner Sergent


RESOLUTION 12: ON REFUGEE MINISTRY

WHEREAS, The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over sixty million people displaced throughout the world and considered refugees; and

WHEREAS, War, violence, genocide, religious persecution, and other forms of oppression have contributed to massive people movements across the globe, as millions flee for their lives; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have a long record of caring for and ministering to refugees throughout our history; and

WHEREAS, This history of refugee ministry includes the sponsoring of almost 15,000 refugees from 1975–1985, resulting in the starting of 281 ethnic churches and a 1985 resolution commemorating this decade of ministry; and

WHEREAS, There are expected to be 85,000 refugees coming into the United States in 2016 from four continents and the Caribbean; and

WHEREAS, Scripture calls for and expects God’s people to minister to the sojourner (Exodus 22:21–24; Exodus 23:9–12; Leviticus 19:33–34; Deuteronomy 10:17–22; Deuteronomy 24:17–22; Deuteronomy 26:5–13; Psalm 146:8–9; Matthew 25:35–40); now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, June 14–15, 2016, encourage Southern Baptists to minister care, compassion, and the Gospel to refugees who come to the United States; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage Southern Baptist churches and families to welcome and adopt refugees into their churches and homes as a means to demonstrate to the nations that our God longs for every tribe, tongue, and nation to be welcomed at His Throne (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9-12; Psalm 68:5; James 1:27; Leviticus 25:35; Leviticus 19:33-34); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we affirm that refugees are people loved by God, made in His image, and that Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God’s mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands.

High stakes higher calling

Facing cultural decline and denominational woes, Southern Baptists leave St. Louis amazed by grace.

St. Louis | The stakes are high, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd declared to Southern Baptists gathered in St. Louis. And perhaps they’ve never been higher.

Christians are being martyred around the world. Refugees are fleeing for their lives. There are still thousands of people groups unreached with the gospel, but limited funds required the SBC this year to reduce its missions force by more than 1,000.

“As followers of Jesus Christ, everything we believe in and place in high value is at stake,” said Floyd, an Arkansas pastor who finished his second one-year term as SBC president.

At home, spiritual lostness is growing. Religious freedom is under fire. And the threat of domestic terrorism looms large, exhibited in Orlando just hours before Southern Baptists convened in St. Louis.

The attack on a gay nightclub early June 12 that left 50 people dead cast a shadow on the St. Louis meeting, and sent Southern Baptists to their knees in prayer. Because all human beings are made in the image of God, Floyd said, the attack “is against each of us.”

Every pastor or leader who prayed from the platform during the meeting included Orlando in his prayer.

Baptists’ commitment to missions and evangelism also were on display in St. Louis, in messages preached at the Pastors’ Conference and through a joint presentation by the SBC’s two mission agencies that highlighted the role of the local church and individual Christians in taking the gospel to unreached communities.

And at the heart of the meeting was a show of humility by SBC leaders, as two men vying for the denomination’s presidency met before their run-off election, each telling the other one to take the post.

When Baptists dispersed from St. Louis, they left having unified around a new president, and having heard a call to urgency for and commitment to the gospel of Christ.

Good thing, because the stakes are historically high.

Grassroots participation

As pastors and churches struggle to navigate social change and growing lostness, the stakes are high for people in the pew as well, Floyd said.

“Our pastors and churches need you to be engaged more on Sundays than ever before,” he preached in his president’s address Tuesday morning. “But we also need you to intentionally integrate your faith on the front lines of culture.” In everything you do, no matter where you are.

At the St. Louis meeting, everyday Baptists were urged to take the gospel to the communities as they live their everyday lives, and were shown examples of regular people who are doing just that.

During his agency’s presentation, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell interviewed a group of church planters who have started new congregations in Iowa college towns and are moving next to Columbia, Missouri. On large video screens, meeting attenders heard from a college student planning to pay out-of-state tuition so she can be part of the new church in the state next door, and share the gospel with people who don’t know Christ.

“When you really get to it, we talk about the gospel more than we actually advance the gospel,” Floyd preached.

If we had just one-fourth of the passion for evangelism that we have for American politics, SBC politics, theological discourse, blogging, and a whole host of things, we could change the world for Christ, Floyd said before adding, “I can’t be president again, so I might as well be honest.”

We must recapture a vision for evangelism, Floyd preached, starting in our own towns. “This is where it begins.”

Class action

Many thought the election of a new SBC President would signal whether it was time for a generation of older pastors to pass the baton. There were theological issues at play too: Two of the candidates for president—Steve Gaines, 58, and J.D. Greear, 43—are established leaders of different theological streams within the SBC.

In the end, age and theology differences gave way to the greater good. A first vote between Gaines, Greear, and third candidate David Crosby of New Orleans forced a run-off between Gaines and Greear. A second vote was still too close to call, with Gaines narrowly edging Greear but not receiving the needed majority due to 108 disallowed votes. Greear announced Wednesday morning there was no need for another vote, because he was withdrawing his name from contention.

“Through this whole process, I’ve been praying for unity,” Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, posted on his website. “…If we go to a third vote, and one of us wins by one-half of one percent, it doesn’t matter which of us it is—it’s hard to see how that makes us a united body.”

After announcing his intention to withdraw, Greear received a long standing ovation from those in the convention hall. Floyd asked Greear to pray for Gaines and for the denomination, and messengers elected Gaines president by acclamation.

“I think it was a transcendent moment for the Convention because it embodies the spirit of humility that we as Christians are called to have,” said Kevin Carrothers, pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association. “I think it was well-timed. I think it was a God thing. So, I’m excited about moving ahead, and admire both men and respect their decisions, both willing to step aside for the sake of something bigger than them.”

At a press conference after the election, Gaines said he and Greear “both were sensing the Holy Spirit moving in the same direction.” As both men considered dropping out of the race, they met together with SBC leaders the evening before the third vote was to be taken.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Man, you can have it,’” recounted Gaines, who pastors Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. “He said, ‘No, I want you to have it.’” The meeting prompted Gaines to remember Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

“When the leaders are unified in the Lord Jesus Christ, it brings unity to the body,” Gaines said. As president, he plans to emphasize spiritual awakening, soul winning, and stewardship.

Greear encouraged his supporters also to exhibit a unified spirit. “The task for those of you who voted for me is not to complain that things didn’t go our way,” he posted the morning of his announcement. “It’s to follow the example of our Savior, who came not to be served, but to serve.

“It’s time for us to step up and get involved, to keep pushing forward and engaging in the mission with those who have gone before us. It’s time to look at what unites us.”

Munton elected

It took a little longer than expected for messengers to elect Illinois’ Doug Munton as First Vice President. Because Tuesday’s business proceedings ran over time, Munton’s election didn’t happen until Wednesday afternoon. The pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, who ran unopposed, told the Illinois Baptist the St. Louis convention was in some ways the most unusual one he’s been to, but also encouraging.

“God brought some unity, much-needed unity, to our Convention. That’s encouraging for our future. I’m grateful for it, and hopeful because of it,” Munton said. “The Lord is obviously at work. He is not done with the Southern Baptist Convention.”

Also elected as officers were Malachi O’Brien, pastor of The Church at Pleasant Ridge in Harrisonville, Mo., as second vice president; John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, to his 20th term as recording secretary; and Jim Wells, retired member of the Missouri Baptist Convention staff, to a 15th term as registration secretary.

The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Phoenix June 13-14.

– Meredith Flynn

Greear Floyd Gaines2

JD Greear, Ronnie Floyd, and Steve Gaines.

There are three winners at the conclusion of the SBC presidential race: Steve Gaines takes the position and the responsibility; J.D. Greear takes the mantel as most Christ-like, and Southern Baptists leave St. Louis unified behind a single presidential candidate.

Greear’s action, withdrawing his name from the race after two ballots failed to produce a winner, was a first for longtime observers of the convention. Greear guaranteed two things: many of his supporters who are young and are new to SBC life are more likely stay engaged if they do not feel pushed out by the older, traditional constituency Gaines represents. And Greear guaranteed himself a place in SBC leadership for decades to come.

Would anyone be surprised if Greear ran unopposed in 2018? The 50% of SBC messengers who had backed Gaines could easily support in the next election the young man who did the very mature thing.

Deferring to the older candidate is indeed a mature move. And, in this case, it’s wise.

Both Greear and Gaines cited the need for unity in the denomination in this decision. “For the sake of our convention and our mission, we need to leave St. Louis united,” Greear said.

Gaines said he, too, had considered withdrawing. He quoted a close friend who said to him after the first day of the annual meeting, “We’re in a mess, aren’t we.” After two ballots, Gaines was still four votes short of a majority, because 108 ballots were disqualified by improper markings. Messengers at the best-attended convention in a decade or more were split right down the middle.

“It’s tricky,” Greear joked as he stepped to the podium to make his announcement, referring to a rap music video produced by a member of his church that some had construed as endorsements by several SBC-entity heads. The crowd laughed.

But it would be tricky to lead the denomination with the membership divided into two camps: established and traditional epitomized by Gaines, and younger and Reformed led by Greear.

For the sake of unity, Greear withdrew.

Gaines had offered to make the same move.

At 43, Greear will likely have another opportunity to be SBC president. Perhaps at 58, it is Gaines’s turn. With his mid-South megachurch platform, Gaines is likely to lead the convention in renewed evangelism, which Floyd and others have said is so vital.

And Greear has a little longer to bring his half of the SBC populace into leadership to form a new mainstream and identity, rather engage in a tug of war with the old guard over theology and tactics. “We are united by a gospel too great and a mission too urgent to let any lesser thing stand in our way,” Greear said.

The two men hugged on the platform, as Gaines was declared the winner by outgoing president Ronnie Floyd.

He could have as easily said, We all win.

– Eric Reed

Jimmy Scroggins

Jimmy Scroggins

St. Louis | Speakers at the SBC Pastors’ Conference preached on one passage during the 2016 meeting in the Gateway City, diving deep into the apostle Paul’s instruction to younger church leader Timothy.

“Live This,” the theme of this year’s Pastors’ Conference, was taken from 2 Timothy 4:5-6, when Paul urges Timothy to “be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Ten preachers unpacked the Scripture passage, using their messages to urge leaders toward greater obedience, particularly the area of evangelism, and to be mindful of the legacy they’re leaving.

Do the work

“The last thing the nations need is the exportation of nominal Christianity from North America,” International Mission Board David Platt preached in a message on “do the work of an evangelist.”

In his post at the IMB, Platt says he sees much of the broader missions world that is “gospel-less and gospel-lite.” Debates about whether or not to call Jesus the Son of God when conversing with Muslims. Practices that minimize the call to Christ in the gospel, assuring people that they can be both Christian and Muslim.

Platt asked, What does that have to do with us? “Missionaries are reflections of the pastors who train them and the churches who send them,” he said.

“If we preach a small view of God, people will have a small view of the gospel. If we preach a glorious view of God, people will have a glorious view of the gospel.”

Jimmy Scroggins preached on Paul’s proclamation that he had “poured himself out” for the task of evangelism. The West Palm Beach, Fla., pastor opened his message by describing his diverse community. His congregation, Family Church, was named the 9th fastest growing church by a magazine, Scroggins said, which is the way it ought to be, because they live in an area with a lot of people who are far from God.

But even with their fast growth, “we are not making a dent in the millions of lost people right there within a few miles of our church,” he said.

Looking at recent statistics from LifeWay Christian Resources, it’s apparent churches across the SBC are facing similar challenges, Scroggins added. He gave conference attenders four steps churches and leaders can pour themselves out for the task of evangelism, starting with investing in far-from-God people.

Scroggins told the audience how, as a pastor in Kentucky, his church had been winning people to the Lord, but they were “nearly saved” people. In West Palm Beach, it was a different story. Some people may say evangelism just isn’t their lane, he said.

“If your lane does not take you and your church to far-from-God people, change lanes.”

Read the June 20 issue of the Illinois Baptist for additional coverage of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.

– Meredith Flynn