Archives For Chicago

The Briefing

Charlottesville violence: SBC leaders urge prayer
Southern Baptist pastors and leaders denounced racism and called for prayer in the wake of white nationalist protests that turned into violence and death in Charlottesville, Va. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), described the rally as “a gathering of hate, ignorance and bigotry. “

Pro-life billboard reaches Chicago’s South Side
The Illinois Family Institute has rented a large billboard on the south side of Chicago with the message: “Abortion Takes Human Life.” It’s located at 59th and Wentworth, overlooking the Dan Ryan expressway (I-90/I-94), just 3 miles south of the White Sox Stadium, west of The University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. The message will be seen 3.86 million times during the month of August, reaching residents all around Chicago’s south side.

Stericycle cancels contracts with abortion centers
The nation’s leading medical waste disposal company has cut ties with hundreds of abortion centers, according to a pro-life activist group. Stericycle, which has a record of hauling aborted fetal waste despite a company policy against doing so, recently reiterated its policy against taking fetal remains and told the group Created Equal that it has “canceled hundreds of contracts with women’s clinics” over the past few years.

Iranian youths mass converting to Christianity
The massive rise of Christianity in Iran, especially among youths, continues despite the Islamic government’s efforts to suppress the faith. Even Islamic leaders admitted that more and more young people are choosing to follow Christ. According to Mohabat News, which reports on the persecution and state of Christianity in Iran, the “exponential rate” of Christian growth has been a factor for the last couple of decades.

Two-thirds of Americans say they’re sinners
Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they are sinners, according to a new study from LifeWay Research. Most people aren’t too happy about it—only 5% say they’re fine with being sinners. As America becomes more secular, the idea of sin still rings true, said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville-based group. “Almost nobody wants to be a sinner.”

Sources: Baptist Press, Illinois Family, World Magazine, Christian Post, Christianity Today

The Briefing

Protestors target Chicago church for stand on marriage
Demonstrators flocked to one of Chicago’s South Side’s largest churches Sunday morning after its pastor removed a woman from the congregation because of her same-sex wedding. The situation renewed a long-standing debate in churches around the country, pitting tolerance and acceptance against tradition and teaching. There has been a massive culture shift over the last decade on gay marriage, but the Apostolic Church of God is staying put, saying it’s defending faith and family.

New reason churches end up in court
For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the No. 1 legal matter involving US congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9 of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.

Targeted for marriage beliefs, judge appeals to high court
A longtime municipal judge and circuit court magistrate is seeking relief from the U.S. Supreme Court after the state of Wyoming fired her for telling a reporter she believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Judge Ruth Neely petitioned the Supreme Court Aug. 4 to hear her case after the Wyoming Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics forced her to stop solemnizing marriages, ending her career as a part-time magistrate.

President’s evangelical advisers request papal meeting
President Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers are requesting a meeting with Pope Francis after a Vatican-approved magazine published a piece condemning the way some American evangelicals and Roman Catholics mix religion and politics. That request came in an Aug. 3 letter to the pontiff from Johnnie Moore, an evangelical author, activist, and public relations consultant. Moore asked Francis for a meeting of Catholic and evangelical leaders — and quickly.

People assume serial killers are atheists
A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour found that people around the world are predisposed to believe that atheists are more likely to be serial killers than religious believers — a bias even held by atheists themselves. The study included 3,256 participants across 13 diverse countries that included highly secular nations like Finland and the Netherlands as well as highly religious ones like the United Arab Emirates and India.

Sources: WGN, Christianity Today, Baptist Press, Religion News, Axios

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.

The Briefing

Immigration raids target Iraqi-American Christians
Chicago’s Iraqi immigrant community is bracing for raids by U.S. immigration officers after witnessing a sweep in Detroit, where federal agents rounded up more than 100 Iraqis, most of them Christians, and sent them to a detention center in Ohio, pending deportation. Federal agents took Detroit’s Iraqi-American community by surprise, showing up at a Chaldean church during Mass, at restaurants frequented by the Iraqi Chaldean community, and at homes bearing orders to arrest and deport residents.

Baptists deny CSB translation is ‘gender neutral’
Conservative Christian groups and intellectuals are rejecting a recent claim that the latest version of the Christian Standard Bible has been edited to be more “gender neutral.” The Atlantic published a piece on Sunday that claimed that the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention was embracing a more gender-neutral version of the Bible.

SBC Phoenix wrap-up: Alt-right resolution & evangelism draw focus
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying “alt-right white supremacy” were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. Attendees of the SBC Pastors’ Conference preceding the annual meeting elected Florida pastor H.B. Charles as the conference’s first black president.

Chicago records 300th homicide
Chicago recorded its 300th homicide over the Father’s Day weekend, just like it did last year. The somber milestone was reached around 2:30 a.m. Monday when a 33-year-old man was gunned down during a burst of violence that saw four people killed and 13 others wounded over just five hours Sunday evening through early Monday, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Catholics launch conversation about female deacons
Several progressive Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons. Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

Sources: World Magazine, Christian Post, Illinois Baptist, Religion News, Chicago Tribune

David Choi

David Cho

Chicago pastor and church planter David Choi opened the 2017 SBC Pastors Conference with a challenge to his colleagues: don’t rely on yourself or our own accomplishments, rely on Christ. His sermon from Philippians 1:1-11 on Sunday night was the first of 12 from pastors of regular-size churches. The annual pastors’ meeting ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention was focused on average churches, and as promised by Iowa pastor and blogger Dave Miller when he was elected president of the Pastors Conference last year, the 2017 version features few big names.“No smoke. No show. No mood setting. Only a man and his Bible,” tweeted Mike Wilbanks of Mississippi.

Yet, Miller was pleased with the attendance, “blown away” as he tweeted from the platform with a photo of the audience. Miller opened the conference with thanks to all who made the event possible, without naming names for the sake of time. Some of the funds that would usually have gone to fund the event were used to provide “scholarships” for pastors who would not otherwise have been able to attend—62 of the them at $1,000 each.

Unassuming in manner and dress (black-and-white checked shirt and jeans), Choi shared some of the story of planting Church of the Beloved on Chicago’s near west side. The conversion of one man in particular, a Buddhist anesthesiologist whose Christian wife had turned away from the church held the audience’s attention. That man was convinced of the truth of the gospel at the church’s first service. Within 24 hours of receiving Christ as savior he was telling other Buddhists that he had found what they were looking for, pure joy.

The man became a leader in the church, and two years later in a church plant on the West Coast. Choi described a reunion meeting as involving hugging, weeping, and “holy snot.” “You find that you have a love for them that is supernatural,” Choi said, relating his experience to Paul’s love for the Philippian people.

Choi encouraged pastors in their own spiritual walk. “You don’t want to be defined by your performance; that well leads to destruction,” the 39-year-old pastor said, sharing his one-time reliance on personal achievement. Neither does failure. “Pastor, your past does not define you. Christ’s past defines us…. It has nothing to do with you, everything to do with Christ, rest in your gospel identity.”

— Eric Reed in Phoenix

Phoenix map 2

People everywhere need the Lord, says IBSA’s Dennis Conner

In its first two years of production, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” topped the TV ratings in the U.S. It was so popular in those early years that nearly 40% of households that were watching television were watching the Clampetts. That’s a larger percentage of viewers than Game 7 of the Cub’s World Series Championship victory.

The basis for all the humor on the show was the fact that the principal characters were out of place. The family from deep in the hills of the Ozark Mountains discovers oil on their land and moves into a posh mansion in Beverly Hills. Hilarous hijinks ensue.

While not quite that extreme, a move from a small town in northeastern North Carolina to the western suburbs of Phoenix 11 years ago was a similar learning experience for my wife and me. Here are just a few of the things we learned:

People are open to the gospel. True, church attendance has declined substantially in the little more than half century of my lifetime. Yet, while people may not be going to a church gathering to hear the gospel, they are willing to hear it, discuss it, consider it, embrace it, or reject it in a park, a coffee shop, a work place, a restaurant, a classroom, a condo building, and a myriad of other places.

When we were planting Crosspointe, the Church at Tartesso, Arizona, most of the gospel conversations I had with those who became believers (and those who didn’t) were in one of the parks in our community.

In the three years I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve learned people are open to the gospel here as well. And while I haven’t lived in the other cities, towns, villages, or farm communities that make up the varied mission field of Illinois, I’m confident that every place in our state has people who are open to the gospel, even if they might reject an initial invitation to church.

The fruit of the Spirit is effective in opening doors of opportunity for evangelism. When our lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we will never lack opportunities to talk about what produces those qualities in us.

Unbelieving people recognize the difference in us. They are drawn to the fruit of the Spirit. They will ask questions. Often, their desire to learn will be expressed in invitations to family or social events that welcome us into their lives and networks of relationships.

Effective evangelism often starts with open ears, eyes, and minds. Taking time to get to know someone is an expression of the value we place on them. Asking questions about a person’s education, family, work, or interests demonstrates a desire to know them. If that desire is genuine, it will communicate our value of others as human beings. Simply demonstrating care and concern for others earns us relational credibility and opportunities for relational influence. As Jesus-followers, our influence will lead others to go with us as we follow after him.

New people bring new opportunities for the gospel. Moving to a new place will often open people up to new relationships and new experiences. While planting a church in a brand-new planned community in Arizona, we hosted numerous community events that were intended to serve the community and gather new neighbors together.

Bringing people together at the common ground of a park or a school gave them an opportunity to get to know each other. Being a part of those networks of relationships gave the people of Crosspointe an opportunity to share the gospel with new friends.

People who are new to Chicago will often be ready to meet new people. A monthly weekend brunch for newcomers could be an effective tool in a condo building. While small towns in rural Illinois may not see as many new people as Chicago, the new people who do arrive are often even more open to new relationships because the established social networks can be hard to penetrate.

In just a few weeks, Illinois Baptists will have an opportunity to spend several days in Phoenix for the Southern Baptist Convention. Take some time to step away from the familiar crowd from Illinois. Engage some locals in conversation. If you encounter someone who is not a Phoenix native, ask them about how different it is for them. Their answer may just make you more aware of the people in your own town who need to hear and respond to the gospel.

Dennis Conner is IBSA’s director of church planting in northeast Illinois.

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.