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Table Grace

It starts with a simple invitation.

“Have dinner with us.”

In a world where people tend to isolate themselves from their neighbors, Chad Williams and his family are recapturing an old-school concept to make a gospel difference in their community.

The family of five has a vision for biblical hospitality. They’re on a mission to bring people into their home and around their table to hear the gospel.

“They need Jesus, so we want them to come over to our house and see what it looks like to be a family that follows Christ,” said Williams, former family pastor at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur and the new senior pastor of Rochester First Baptist Church.

“All of our flaws, all of our issues, our dirty house,” Williams said. “This is who we are.”

The Williamses try to designate one night a week to invite people to their home for a meal. It’s not fancy—tacos or chili. And it’s not necessarily reciprocated. But the family has been able to sow seeds of the gospel, and they’ve seen results. Recently, they invited a family from church to dinner. The father, not yet a Christian, engaged in several hours of conversation with the Williamses.

“If we really want to make an impact and get to know our neighbors, we’ve got to start engaging them in a way that they’re not expecting.” – Chad Williams, Rochester FBC

“He had a perception of who Christians were…as he got to spend time with us, there became this openness,” Williams said. A few weeks later, the man decided to follow Christ.

Asked if the commitment to spend time with others each week impinges on their family time, Williams said no, because it’s a shared commitment. The family is still at home, still sharing a meal together. They’re just inviting another family to join them. “We see this as part of our mission,” he said, “and we want to be on mission as a family.”

How can we help?
Chris Merritt and his wife, Alyssa, moved to Blue Mound, Ill., seven years ago. Both raised in central Illinois, the couple knew they wanted to live in a smaller town. Blue Mound, a community of around 1,200, is where they’re raising their two pre-teen sons.

Their church, Tabernacle Baptist in Decatur, sponsors two small groups in the region where the Merritts live. Along with their fellow life group members, the family is invested in building relationships in Blue Mound through community activities and by simply looking for opportunities to meet needs.

About a year ago, the Merritts approached their local school to see how they could help out. When the principal identified mentoring as an area of need, the couple and others from their church started a mentoring program.

“If I’m going to dedicate time for our children to be at these things, it’s logical for us to be there not just to support our children, but to build relationships in our community too.” – Chris Merritt, Tabernacle BC

“It’s just a regular, consistent positive influence of adults into kids’ lives who maybe need an extra positive influence,” said Merritt, who serves as church administrator at Tabernacle. The 12 students in the mentoring program have lunch every other week with their mentors. For that hour, he said, someone is asking them questions, encouraging them, and helping them make good decisions.

Outside of the mentoring program, the Merritts also are involved in Blue Mound through community sports leagues—the kids as players, and Merritt as a coach. He said being involved in the community through their kids’ activities is a natural choice. And they try to be intentional about making the most of their opportunities.

“If I’m going to dedicate time for our children to be at these things, it’s logical for us to be there not just to support our children, but to build relationships in our community too.”

Faith in action
Erica Luce credits her husband’s upbringing for her children’s willingness to serve their neighbors. “Dan spent his life serving others because his parents were so others-focused,” said the member of Delta Church in Springfield. That’s why their three children can often be found raking or shoveling to help a neighbor, or baking a welcome present for neighborhood newcomers.

“It’s given us so much room to speak truth into other people’s lives that are not really even seeking God,” Luce said. “They see faith in action, whether they want it or not.”

“It’s given us so much room to speak truth into other people’s lives that are not really even seeking God.” – Erica Luce, Delta Church

It’s been contagious on their block too, she said, recalling a time when her 12-year-son was shoveling a neighbor’s driveway and another neighbor came out to help.

Seeing the family home as missionary tool—whether it’s a place to invite people to, or a place missionaries are sent out of—is something Christians needs to recapture, Chad Williams said. Too often, we’ve lost the idea that our neighborhoods and workplaces are mission fields. Instead of seeing people’s need for Jesus, we see our co-workers and neighbors simply as people we interact with—and, if they’re hurting, we often don’t know it.

Rather than backing away from a culture that seems increasingly far from the gospel, Christian families have an opportunity to lean in closer, Williams said.

“If we really want to make an impact and get to know them, we’ve got to start engaging them in a way that they’re not expecting.”


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.

Meeting Of Bible Study Group

The month-long prayer emphasis “In All Things Pray” opens 2018 on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar, encouraging churches to pray corporately for 60 minutes at least weekly in January.

Standing on Acts 1:8 and 2 Chronicles 7:14, In All Things Pray encourages 10 minutes of Scripture reading, public leadership and worship; 20 minutes of vocalized prayer requests, and 30 minutes of guided prayer in each hour-long service, event organizers said.

“We are hopeful churches will use the 10-20-30 corporate prayer model in at least one of their weekly gatherings during January,” said Roger “Sing” Oldham, SBC Executive Committee vice president for convention communications and relations. “The 10-20-30 model is very interactive and is ideal for a midweek prayer service.”

Oldham represents the Executive Committee on PrayerLink, a national organization of prayer ministry leaders that helped the Executive Committee develop this year’s prayer focus.

“We think people will be refreshed by spending a complete hour in focused prayer,” Oldham said, “and encouraged at how quickly a one-hour time of prayer will pass, perhaps spurring them on in their personal times of prayer at home.”

Four categories of prayer concerns drawn from Acts 1:8 are offered among resources at for suggested use, all or in part.

Family and friends

Target this group by creating a prayer list of family members to pray for daily. Using the CrossRoads Prayer Evangelism ministry referenced at, encourage congregants to list five friends and track their prayer and outreach targeting the individuals. Ask church members to write on note cards the names of unchurched and lost family members, bring the cards to the altar and place them before the Lord.

Church and community:

Lead church members in praying specifically for evangelistic events on the first half of the church’s 2018 calendar, such as Vacation Bible School, revivals or special music programs. The church’s continued health, ministry teams and committees are among other suggested prayer concerns.

The United States and its peoples:

Read 1 Timothy 2:1–6 aloud during the morning worship service and encourage prayer for the nation. Mention the names of elected officials during the pastoral prayer. Ask the Lord to call from within your congregation members who will serve as pastors, missionaries and church planters. Pray for the different ethnicities living within the nation and for the racial reconciliation that is possible only through salvation in Jesus Christ.

The world and its people groups:

During the pastoral prayer, petition the Lord on behalf of those within the congregation who may be sensing a call to international ministry. Ask the Lord to give International Mission Board trustees and leaders divine wisdom and guidance in challenging Southern Baptists to be on mission with God. Ask for wisdom and mercy for international missionaries working in dangerous locations.

PrayerLink is composed of prayer coordinators from Southern Baptist entities and the Executive Committee, the Woman’s Missionary Union, state Baptist conventions, and Southern Baptist ethnic and language fellowships. PrayerLink collaborates with groups represented in its membership to foster a Great Commission prayer mindset among Southern Baptists and other Christ-followers, and to promote Great Commission prayer ministries for Southern Baptist churches.

Additional resources and promotional materials are available at

This article first appeared at

Check up Pastors ConferenceThe 2017 IBSA Pastors’ Conference will kick off Nov. 7 at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur with a focus on the spiritual health of leaders, their families, and their churches. The conference, held prior to the IBSA Annual Meeting, is based on the qualities the Apostle Paul set out for church leadership in Titus 1:5-9.

The theme for the conference, “Time for a Check-Up,” is something pastors are familiar with when it comes to their congregations, said Brian Smith, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Granite City and president of this year’s Pastors’ Conference. Pastors provide spiritual check-ups for their people every week through preaching and teaching, but who’s doing the same for the pastor?

“That is what this conference is for, to provide pastors and staff with a spiritual health check-up and scriptural prescriptions for better spiritual health for them and ultimately their families and churches,” Smith said.

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines is among the preachers who will fill the pulpit at Tabernacle Nov. 7-8. Joining him are Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism; Curtis Gilbert, lead pastor of the Belleville campus of The Journey; and Joe Valenti, associate pastor of youth and missions at Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

The Pastors’ Conference also will include breakout sessions led by the speakers and other Illinois leaders:

  • Valenti will lead a session on healthy churches reaching UPG’s (unreached people groups), and also a breakout on healthy youth ministry.
  • Gilbert will lead pastors in developing healthy church elders and building a healthy multi-site ministry.
  • Rayden Hollis, pastor of Red Hill Church in Edwardsville, will lead a session on healing from an unhealthy ministry, and also will facilitate a church planting round table discussion.
  • A trio of IBSA staff members will also lead breakout sessions, which will be offered at both breakout times on Tuesday. Pat Pajak, associate executive director of evangelism, will encourage pastors with ways to make their churches more evangelistic; Mark Emerson, associate executive director of the Church Resources Team, will speak on healthy small groups and Sunday school; and Steve Hamrick, director of worship ministries, will lead a session on developing and leading healthy worship teams.
  • On Wednesday morning at 8:30, Gaines will speak to Pastors’ Conference attenders and participate in a Q&A session.

A pizza dinner will be offered onsite Tuesday evening for $10 per person. To purchase dinner tickets and for more Pastors’ Conference info, go to

Protect your church

ib2newseditor —  February 27, 2017

Abandoned Desert ChurchEach year, we Baptist state executive directors gather with leaders from the national Southern Baptist Convention. We discuss issues of common concern, and exchange both updates and ideas for future ministry and cooperation.

During our time together this year, a couple of the retiring executive directors were asked to speak briefly on “things I wish I had known before I started in this role.” Of course, some of the observations were humorous. But one serious observation resonated deeply with me, and with others.

This western state leader, a returning international missionary, said, “One thing that surprised me was how much time I needed to invest, and how important it is, to help existing churches navigate pastoral leadership changes.”

Congregations are especially vulnerable during leadership change.

He then referred to churches that had been “lost” to the Southern Baptist family, or that had closed entirely, when they had not done a careful or wise job selecting their next pastor. In some cases the property had been lost; in others the church had abandoned its Baptist convictions; and in still others churches had deteriorated quickly from a couple of hundred of members to just a handful.

I wish I could say these things don’t happen in Illinois—and they don’t happen frequently—but this fellow executive director’s comments brought to my mind even current examples of churches that are in peril here in Illinois. Most I would have never imagined to be vulnerable to losing their Baptist witness, or the church property for which previous generations have sacrificed. But all it takes is one unhealthy or wrongly motivated leader, invited in by one careless or compromising search and selection process.

What can churches do to protect themselves and their legacy? Two primary things come to mind.

First, whenever your church faces a pastoral leadership transition, invite experienced help from your local or state association. There are proven processes that can be employed, and predictable pitfalls that can be avoided, and you have access to experienced leaders who have been through multiple searches, with multiple churches. Of course, your autonomous church can choose which resources to use, and customize any process to your unique situation. But please take advantage of these free resources that are available to help you make a wise and Spirit-led selection.

Second, there are steps your church can take now, even if you are not facing a pastoral transition, to protect both the assets and the Baptist witness of your church. Your church governance documents, and especially the deed to your property itself, can help ensure that your church sustains its Baptist witness, even if it somehow becomes susceptible to an unhealthy leadership situation.

Once my fellow executive director shared his observation about the vulnerability of churches during leadership transitions, I was surprised how many examples started flowing between the rest of us. One executive director said that his state convention had lost 12 churches during the past year. Another told of messy lawsuits entangling a couple of churches in his state, because an unscrupulous leader was seeking to profit personally from the sale of a church property.

So while this isn’t a particularly uplifting topic to write about, I came back from these conversations committed to doing so. Please make sure your church protects both its Baptist doctrinal commitment and its property and assets from the sometimes unpredictable times and people who would take them in another direction. And please call on us at IBSA to help. As my friend reminded us, protecting the doctrinal integrity and lasting witness of our churches is one of the most important things we do.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at

Stronger Churchers

ib2newseditor —  September 17, 2016

Mission Illinois Offering Week of Prayer Day 7

MIO-box-smallStrong ministry depends on strong churches. More than 20,000 times each year, IBSA trains leaders in worship, evangelism, discipleship, missions, and more. For pastors and leaders who find these to be especially challenging times for their churches, IBSA’s zone consultants are experts in church health and growth who are nearby and available to help. One example is Sylvan Knobloch who has led and lifted up pastors in his 35 years with IBSA. He urges churches to consider the needs of others first and to engage a process of rejuvenation.

Another team member is Brian McWethy, a church planter and pastor in Amboy who is serving as zone consultant in the northwest corner of Illinois. That region, including Rockford and the Quad Cities, has fewer churches than any other part of Illinois, and the few churches there need strength and encouragement.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering

Pray for church health director Sylvan Knobloch, and for team leader Pat Pajak and IBSA’s consultants in ten zones who serve to build up pastors and churches across Illinois.

Watch IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams in “Our Frontier State.”

Who’s at the table?

ib2newseditor —  August 18, 2016

Office chairLooking around the table at a leadership meeting, I noted who was there. More important, I realized who wasn’t.

This was the first meeting under the church’s new leadership structure. Most of the people had served in leadership capacities and most of them had served together at one time or another. But they had not all served together at the same time.

So we brought them together.

The need in this congregation was enhanced communication among ministry planners. The church’s various ministries had a history of bumping heads. There was confusion over use of rooms and recruiting workers. There was often a sense that no one really knew what was going on. And it was evident that the ministry teams held differing views on their own purposes, and different interpretations of the vision of the church.

Surely a regular meeting of the leaders would help to fix this. But it didn’t.

Not all the leaders were there. One man who said he hated meetings chose not to attend, so his cause had no voice in the allocation of dates and resources. Another team had three people in attendance, so the discussion felt tilted to their interests.

Sitting there, I made a few notes:

• Everyone here is a longtime member. Are there new people with fresh ideas we should bring to the table?

• Everyone is from the same generation. How can we bring other age groups to the discussion?

• Everyone is from an elected position, but not all ministries are represented. And a couple don’t need this level of input. Which are the right ministries to include so the vision is accomplished?

• Our discussion seems dominated by a few not-well-prepared people. How can we improve their preparation or dismiss them from the group?

• After this meeting, we still need buy-in from “unelected” leaders. How can we bring opinion leaders to the table?

Next time you’re at a leadership meeting, give some thought to who’s at the table.

 This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Resource Magazine. Read it online at

 – Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist