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The Briefing

HHS division created to guard right of conscience
A new division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is earning praise from religious liberty advocates. The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division will “more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights,” the Trump administration announced Jan. 18.

“I am thankful that HHS recognizes how imperiled conscience rights have been in recent years in this arena and is actively working and leading to turn the tide in the other direction,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Health care professionals should be freed up to care for the bodies and minds of their patients, not tied up by having their own consciences bound.”

Christian student organization takes university to court
A student organization deregistered by the University of Iowa is fighting the school’s decision in court. Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) was deregistered in November after a former member said he was not allowed to become a leader in the organization because he is gay.

Evangelist Palau shares cancer diagnosis
International evangelist Luis Palau announced last week he is fighting stage 4 lung cancer. Acknowledging healing “would literally take a miracle,” Palau also said he is “completely at peace.”

Parenting research: More kids, not enough time
Two recent Pew Research studies measure current family dynamics, both for moms, who are having more children now than a decade ago; and dads, who say they spend too little time with their kids.

Midwest Baptist leaders meet in Illinois
The Midwest Leadership Summit begins today, drawing Southern Baptist leaders from 13 states to Springfield, Ill., for plenary sessions and breakouts facilitated by ministry leaders in a variety of specialties. Follow along on Twitter with #mwadvance.


Mark Emerson (right) led prayer for Sylvan Knobloch and his wife, Kathy, during a retirement celebration in November. Knobloch said he’s not certain exactly what shape life after retirement will take, other than he “wants to be a good grandparent.” The Knoblochs have two adult children and six grandkids.

Sylvan Knobloch, currently the Illinois Baptist State Association’s longest-tenured employee, will retire at the end of this year after 38 years in the areas of campus ministry, church health, and leadership development.

Knobloch was honored at a Nov. 27 retirement dinner in Springfield, where friends and co-workers celebrated his work over the years—and the nearly one million miles he has traveled as a consultant for IBSA churches.

Bob Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Marion, and a one-time co-worker of Knobloch’s at IBSA, spoke during the dinner and cited the familiar passage in Matthew—“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

A native of Waterloo, Ill., Knobloch was working as a pastor and volunteer campus minister in Bowling Green, Ohio, when he met then-IBSA campus ministry director Bob Blattner at a missions conference. A few months later, Blattner asked him to consider leading student ministry at Eastern Illinois University. Knobloch, who had been looking for a full-time campus ministry position, sensed God was opening a door.

He worked in Charleston from 1979 until 1988, when he moved with his wife, Kathy, and their two children to Carbondale to direct ministry at Southern Illinois University. In 1993, then-IBSA Executive Director Maurice Swinford offered Knobloch the opportunity to join the Springfield-based staff as director of discipleship, singles ministry, and senior ministry, a job move that later morphed into a long stint in the areas of church/minister relations and church health. In those capacities, Knobloch helped churches and pastors navigate conflict, negotiation, and reconciliation.

He helped establish a severance process by which churches can ease a difficult transition for their pastor. He also aided individual ministries through Rekindling the Call retreats designed to refresh and renew pastors and their spouses.

In 2016, he took on the area of leadership development and helped IBSA continue to establish processes to help churches identify emerging leaders and equip current leaders by making available a spiritual gift and personality profile.

On the eve of his retirement, Knobloch talked to the Illinois Baptist about the joys of 38 years of ministry, the challenges still facing Illinois Baptists, and the journey toward true understanding between pastors and churches.

Illinois Baptist: What have been the greatest joys of your years of ministry in Illinois?

Sylvan Knobloch: One of the most significant joys from my years of campus ministry has been seeing the numerous students from the Baptist Student Union continue to serve faithfully in their respective churches across Illinois.

Another great joy is witnessing church growth and renewal in congregations that I worked with over the years. It is gratifying to know I played a small part in their transition.

IB: How have you seen churches and communities in Illinois change over the past 38 years, as far as how churches do ministry?

SK: There is more diversity in both the types of pastoral leadership and the types of churches. A growing number of pastors today simultaneously serve two churches, while other churches have more than one campus.

The single-staff pastor is not a new phenomenon, but many of these pastors today are serving in declining and aging congregations. Often these churches are resistant to the changes needed to reach younger families.

IBSA is meeting this challenge by encouraging ministers to build relationships with other pastors and to support each other through cohorts.

IB: What are some other challenges facing IBSA leaders today?

SK: Pastors need relationships. Pastors and staff today often are not going away to one of the six SBC seminaries for education like they did 38 years ago. Today’s minister often chooses to take advantage of online seminary degrees; a decisive advantage is the minister remains in Illinois serving their churches. But on the negative side, these pastors miss out on the relationships that develop naturally on the seminary campus.

IB: If you could tell church members one thing about their pastor, what would it be?

SK: I would ask search committees to spend time getting to know their pastoral candidate before calling him. He will be doing life with you; therefore, consider the iceberg. Don’t merely look at what is above the waterline, but consider what is below, the unseen: character, ministry goals, and dreams. Church leaders should ask the new pastor how they can help him succeed.

IB: If you could tell a pastor one thing about his church, what would it be?

SK: I would encourage him to spend time with church leaders to understand their dreams and goals, both for their church and for their own lives. Pray for ways you can enable each leader to become all he/she is called to be.

The prerequisite for this is for the pastor to have self-awareness, to understand his emotions and their impact on others. In this way, he will become an effective leader.


When I said to my co-workers, “Well, let’s go meet a thousand of our closest friends,” I didn’t know how true that statement would be. We left our offices and drove the four blocks to Springfield’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, site of the 2015 Midwest Leadership Summit. And like so many of our Baptist gatherings, this one felt like Homecoming Week at Sandy Creek Church. We saw dear friends from across Illinois, and some we knew from the other dozen states in attendance.

Eric_Reed_Feb9But I never expected to see Woodie.

After all, it’s been 35 years. And the last time I saw Woodie, he was a Mormon. In Alabama. Go figure. Woodie and his siblings were fourth-generation Reformed Latter Day Saints (RLDS) living in a fishing town on the Gulf Coast. We all went to high school together. Although our school was a ministry of a conservative fundamentalist church, no one made an issue of Woodie’s religion. All his family
were clean-cut, well-mannered, and better behaved than many in our class who claimed to be Christians. I remember Woodie as a great guy, a good football player, and very well liked. But lost.

Woodie came to that truth while in college. Through a campus ministry he came to a life-saving faith in Jesus Christ and left his family’s religion. Later, he attended Mid-America Seminary and was called to ministry. Eventually Woodie moved to Lamoni, Iowa, the place where Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith once lived and present-day home to the RLDS college. Woodie had attended that college for a couple of years until he began question the RLDS religion.

Returning in 1991, Woodie started a Baptist student ministry, reaching out to RLDS students and others.

Eventually he pastored First Baptist Church of Lamoni, the sponsor of his college ministry, for nine years, and just recently was called to lead Calvary Baptist Church in Clinton, Iowa. Woodie said God is opening doors to Brazilian soccer players (in Iowa!) because his son plays soccer and his wife is originally from Brazil. Go figure.

That’s why he was at the Midwest Leadership Summit and standing in the hallway outside the ballroom at the Springfield Crowne Plaza. Woodie is a Southern Baptist pastor in the Midwest, looking for fresh ideas, inspiration, and encouragement.

I stand amazed by all God has done in Woodie’s Christian life and Baptist ministry. And I’m so glad God brought our paths to cross again.

I should be more amazed that 35 years after high school—even though Woodie hasn’t changed much—I recognized him standing there. But that’s the Lord’s doing too.

Go figure.

Eric Reed is IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Communications team, and editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Okay. Here’s my qualification to talk about Halloween on campus: I served as a campus minister for seven years in Carbondale. Beginning in the 1980s, Carbondale became known for its raucous Halloween celebrations. In fact, most folks these days refer to them as “the riots.” Cars got turned over. Store windows were busted. Bottles were thrown at police. After a particularly violent weekend in 2000, city officials closed the bars on “the Strip” each Halloween in hopes that it would discourage the behavior. Instead, students just celebrated a week earlier in what is now infamously “Unofficial Halloween” (or simply “Unofficial” if you’re a cool kid).

Even this year, Unofficial got bonkers and police showed up in riot gear to mace and pepper spray the crowd after a car got turned over just blocks from campus.

Chase_Abner_callout_Oct30I never found an effective way to engage students during Unofficial outside of throwing my own tamer Halloween party. I can’t talk about that or I’ll draw the ire of my more fundamentalist friends. However, I can talk about what I think students’ fascination with Halloween reveals about culture on campus.

The Supernatural
Part of what makes haunted houses and scary movies enticing to people is the notion that there are malicious spirits that walk among us. In some ways, it’s a subtle rejection of the naturalistic worldview that can be common on campus, especially among those immersed in the physical sciences. Even as Dawkins-flavored atheists/agnostics become more vocal, research shows that the majority of Millennials believe in God with “absolute certainty.”

While it may be disconcerting to see students toy with the concept of evil spirits for the sake of entertainment, I encourage you to see it as a bridge to talk about Christ. Christians, of all people, should be ready to affirm the existence of a paranormal reality and to point others to the one who is ultimately victorious over evil.

Research by the National Retail Federation predicts that 67.4% of 18-24-year-olds will spend money on Halloween costumes this year. These young adults predict that they’ll each spend about $40 on their costumes. I guarantee that these students aren’t going to shell out that much cash to get all dressed up and have nowhere to go.

The point of wearing a costume is to join the throngs of costumed students in the campus community – to see and be seen. Halloween reveals, almost as well as athletic events, that students want to be a part of a community rallying around a common purpose. Like all people, they have an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to belong and they want to celebrate.

Our ministries have so much more to offer that desire than Halloween can provide. We can provide ongoing community that is centered around an eternal purpose realized in the mission of God.

When I try to figure out what might motivate a college student to don a costume and go make mischief (like tipping a car over or assaulting police officers, cf. “Unofficial” above), one answer that comes to mind is boredom. I think a lot of the trouble students get into at Halloween stems from the extended adolescence that finds fertile ground during college. Without a clear path to make a difference in the world, many students will use their freedom from immediate parental guidance to indulge some of our basest desires simply for lack of something better to do.

One way that our ministries can serve students (even before they know Jesus) is to provide them with opportunities to make a positive impact in the surrounding community. These students may not ever be ready to teach Bible studies, but they can read to underprivileged children, clean up litter, or clean out gutters for the elderly. Imagine the Gospel-centered conversations that could occur between students as they do community projects together. Imagine the good that could be done for your city if you find a way to channel bored students’ talents and energy into a Kingdom-focused alternative.

The Gospel
I know some will accuse me of over-thinking things. “Can’t Halloween just be about fun, Chase?” Of course it can, but even the desire for fun reveals something about the human condition, no? We all chase various things in hopes of being satisfied. So whether students are seeking supernatural affirmation that there’s more to life than what they see…or a sense of belonging with others…or an escape from a routine, meaningless existence…the Gospel of the Kingdom offers more than they could dream.

So, this weekend, I’m not asking you to ruin anyone’s Halloween fun. But as you observe the celebration (and probably mischief) in your campus community, let it freshly awaken you to why you’re there and why collegiate ministry matters.

Chase Abner is collegiate evangelism strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

THE BRIEFING | InterVarsity Christian Fellowship will lose its current access to all 23 schools in the California State University system because the ministry requires their leaders to affirm Christian doctrines, reports Christianity Today. IVCF’s policy is in violation of a university rule, adopted in 2012, that requires recognized groups to accept all students as potential leaders.

The_Briefing“While we applaud inclusivity, we believe that faith-based communities like ours can only be led by people who clearly affirm historic Christian doctrine,” reads a statement on IVCF’s website.

The ministry received a one-year exemption from the policy for the 2013-14 school year, but will now lose privileges including free meeting space and access to campus activity fairs.

On his blog, LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer examines the ramifications: “The bigger, and ongoing, issue is the continual sanitization of unacceptable religious voices from universities.”

State marriage cases likely to land in high court
Recent rulings on marriage by federal judges and circuit courts have advocates on both sides of the debate looking toward the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the issue. On Sept. 4, 32 states—15 that allow same-sex marriage and 17 that don’t—asked the high court to settle it once and for all, reported the Associated Press.

Same-sex marriages in Illinois officially began June 1, although some counties issued licenses earlier. The state’s General Assembly approved “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” last fall.

‘Elevate Marriage’ scheduled for Oct. 16
The Illinois Baptist State Association will host an “Issues & Answers” event in Springfield, Ill., to help churches address cultural shifts on marriage. The Oct. 16 conference for pastors and church leaders will feature Kevin Smith, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Andrew Walker, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Jill Finley, Bethel Baptist Church, Troy, Ill. Lunch is included, and registration is required; go to

Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy dies at age 93
Christian leaders and fans of Chick-Fil-A mourned the loss of S. Truett Cathy, who died early Monday morning. Cathy built the chain—known for its chicken sandwiches—from one store in 1946 to more than 1,800 restaurants currently operating in 40 states and Washington, D.C. He was known for his Christian faith and Chick-Fil-A’s “closed on Sundays” policy. Read more at

Osteen answers criticism
Megachurch co-pastor Victoria Osteen said that church-goers at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, understood her recent controversial comments about why people ought to obey God. “When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really,” Osteen said during a Lakewood service Aug. 31. “You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.” The video went viral, garnering much criticism on social media. Osteen told The Blaze she could have been more articulate, but she stands by her point. “I did not mean to imply that we don’t worship God; that’s ridiculous, and only the critics and cynics are interpreting my remarks that way.”

Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, blogged that the message preached by Osteen and her husband, Joel, “is the latest and slickest version of Prosperity Theology.” Read Mohler’s commentary here.

MIO_blogDAY 7: Watch “Nations at our Doorstep”

Campus ministry is effective for evangelism. Young and exploring, college students are often open to the Gospel. But campus ministry is also a challenge. Illinois has 172 campuses and 800,000 students. Some 34,000 of those students are from foreign countries. Chase Abner welcomes those challenges as opportunities.

Since we first told of Chase’s work at SIU Carbondale, where he met and led students such as Feng Yu to Christ, Chase has joined the IBSA leadership team. He is leading ministry on campuses across the state. And he is helping churches reach out to the college and university students near them.

“Time and presence” is what it takes to minister to college students, he says. Often far from home, as Feng was, students simply need someone who will “be there” for them. And that opens a door to introduce the greatest friend of all, Jesus Christ.

Read: Jonah 4:7-11; Acts 17:10-12

Think: Coming to faith sometimes involves hard questions. What questions have you faced that may help others believe?

Pray for the 30 campuses with Baptist-led student ministries. Pray for collegiate evangelism strategist Chase Abner and campus pastors and leaders. Pray for IBSA churches to reach out to local college students.