A box of names

Lisa Misner —  August 12, 2019 — Leave a comment

The gospel reaches from jailhouse to church house

Stevens baptism by Sexton and Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jeff Gonzalez 

More people will volunteer if you recognize the obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Eric Reed

Ben Mandrell held a meeting with the employees at LifeWay last week, the first since he was elected by the LifeWay trustees to serve as CEO of Southern Baptists’ publishing entity. The meeting was invigorating, by all reports, as the Nashville team saw Mandrell’s passion for spreading the gospel and for advancing LifeWay’s mission in a mostly-digital era. Dressed in the jeans and plaid shirt common among church planters, and with his charming wife, Lynley, on stage with him, Mandrell said he had not sought the position, and only accepted when it was made clear to them both that God was leading in his nomination.

Whatever doubts outsiders to the selection process may have concerning the visionary large-church planter’s lack of publishing experience may have been assuaged by his assessment of the issues facing LifeWay—and especially in relation to these challenging times in our culture.

For us Southern Baptists ministering outside the deep South, Mandrell’s apparent understanding that what still works in the Bible Belt doesn’t work as well in the Midwest any longer is encouraging. As a native of Tampico, Illinois (“I will always have a heart for Illinois people! Those are my people,” he told this newspaper in June), his Midwestern background will well inform key decisions leading what was once the Baptist Sunday School Board. Successful ministry as a church planter in Colorado will illuminate further advancement of the gospel in places that are gospel-ignorant and even gospel-averse.

The whole of American culture is moving that way, even in the South. People like Jeff Iorg, from his outpost as a seminary president in San Francisco and now in Los Angeles, have warned us for years that what becomes legal and acceptable in the West (and we would add, the Northeast) is a nascent wave that will sweep the rest of the nation. Certainly we are seeing that in Illinois, with much redoubtable legislation shaking the moral ground beneath our feet.

Perhaps Mandrell can join Iorg and others in sharpening the skills needed by Baptists—Southerners, Midwesterners, and all—to uphold Christ and advance his gospel in an increasingly dystopian world. “Lord,” Mandrell prayed at that team meeting, “give us a servant’s heart and help us to be willing to do whatever we need to do to make LifeWay what it needs to be.”

To that we would say, Amen.

– Eric Reed

Christian leaders decry ‘system of hatred’ after weekend shootings
After a gunman killed 22 people in a Texas border town Aug. 3, evangelical pastors and ministry leaders spoke from their pulpits and on social media against the racism and white supremacy that motivated him, according to an online manifesto.

“When these manifestos outline the motive as #WhiteSupremacy, the Church CAN’T be silent in calling this out!” tweeted D.A. Horton, pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, Ca. “This doesn’t mean everyone of European descent is a White Supremacist. But it does identify the system of hatred that is rooted in evil.”

In the early hours of Aug. 4, another shooting took nine lives in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

>Related: While President Donald Trump said Monday the country “must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” USA Today reported the President’s remarks signal a focus on mental health and cultural issues, rather than gun control.

How to pray for shooting victims
Shooting survivor Taylor Schumann shares 11 specific suggestions for praying for people in the aftermath of a shooting. “I know firsthand what living through a shooting does to a mind and what a bullet does to a body,” she writes at Christianity Today online, “and I believe that my recovery and healing is a direct result of prayers that were prayed for me.”

>Related: “Welcome Jesus into the midst of this turbulent time,” author Max Lucado urged after the shootings. “Don’t let the storm turn you inward. Let it turn you upward.”

Movie trailer leads to board resignations
Founders Ministries, a Calvinist group with roots in the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the resignations of three board members following the release of a controversial promo video for an upcoming documentary about liberal drift within the denomination. The trailer for “By What Standard” features interviews with prominent Southern Baptist leaders, some who have since distanced themselves from the project.

 -Christianity Today, The Christian Post, USA Today, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

MIO Slider

Ready, set, pray!

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

6 WEEKS AHEAD: PLANNING

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

4 WEEKS AHEAD: BEGIN PUBLICITY

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

2 WEEKS AHEAD: SHOW THE MIO STORIES

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

THE WEEK OF MIO: PRAY AND GIVE

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

EACH WEEK THROUGH SEPTEMBER

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

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

– IBSA Media Team

The Green Wave

Lisa Misner —  August 5, 2019

By Meredith Flynn

Legal pot use will be a growing challenge for Illinois churches

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

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

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

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

Highs and lows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Michael Kramer

Michael-Kramer

Michael Kramer

Three years ago, my job title was changed from adult education pastor to discipleship pastor. I was happy. Discipleship is a trendy term, but no one quite knows how to define discipleship. I realized this a couple months ago at an education conference put on by LifeWay. The presenter made the off-hand comment that discipleship seems to be the fad in evangelicalism. He had my attention.

The presenter explained that there have been several church growth models over the last 50 years, and he thinks discipleship is the current trend. Yet, he lamented, everyone has a different take on discipleship. He then produced a two-page handout offering his own definition. This made me chuckle. Why is discipleship such a tricky term?

I once watched a ministry leader draw a pie chart depicting Sunday school. He then put discipleship as one-sixth of the pie alongside community, shepherding, evangelism, teaching, and service. Discipleship had been relegated to a narrow slice. If I were discipleship, I think I would be offended.

We wrestle with discipleship because it is a relatively new term that is, at best, tenable and, at worst, divisive. First coined over 150 years ago by a well-meaning church educator, the term has come to distinguish the “two wings of the plane” which give flight to evangelicalism. These two wings are evangelism and discipleship. Sadly, this has created a division within disciple making, and we have yet to recover from the schism.

It’s not about ‘me’
Fast forward a century or so, and attempts at wordsmithing are causing confusion. You may wonder if discipleship is a biblical term. Nope, it is not. Jesus made disciples and called us to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, but “discipleship” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. That’s just a little problematic when we seek to define discipleship in a consistent or biblical fashion.

Most church members will say they are involved in discipleship. After all, they participate in youth group, Bible study, women’s ministry, life group, or Sunday school. But this definition of discipleship is about personal growth or finding a niche within community. Reduced even simpler, discipleship is all about the participant. Discipleship at this level is designed to help “me” follow Jesus.

If a pastor refers to discipleship, most likely he has the spiritual maturity of church members in mind, relying generally on programs to foster maturity. Most pastors would say that the sermon, serving in the church, and going on mission trips are vital parts of the process. In some church cultures, discipleship may focus on spiritual disciplines coupled with some degree of intentional accountability. Again, the focus is on “me.”

My job title says it’s what I do, but do I?

At the leadership level, discipleship and disciple making are often used interchangeably, but the terms have dramatically different focuses or applications. While discipleship focuses on the participant, disciple making focuses on reproducing others. As leaders, we need to decide if we are calling people to invest in themselves or replicate others.

Words matter, especially when used by leaders.

So, is discipleship an evil term? No, not really, but it is unfortunate, because the term tends to not move beyond “me” and my walk with Jesus.

Discipleship places emphasis on the Great Commandment, me loving God and others, but misses the intentionality of the Great Commission, me making disciples. Ultimately discipleship is an unfortunate term because it fails to call people clearly to reproduce themselves in the lives of others.

While I doubt my title will change any time soon, as a leader who wants to communicate clearly, I have decided to call people to disciple making, which I believe carries a lot more weight. Disciple making begs the question, “Who or what am I reproducing?” I, for one, want to reproduce disciple makers.

While discipleship will continue to be a moving target, the term disciple making is biblical, offers a clearer vision, and is measured by reproducibility. Maybe we would save ourselves a lot of trouble if we focused less on the wings of the plane and more on the engine that makes the plane soar, disciple making.

Michael Kramer is discipleship pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Benton. He recently completed a Ph.D. in leadership at Southern Seminary.