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Families take an all-in approach to community transformation

Rodriguez Family

In one of their city’s most dangerous neighborhoods, the Rodriguez family is advancing the gospel by building relationships and trusting God to work.

On a family prayer walk, Edgar Rodriguez helped his children see their neighborhood in a new light. The pastor of New City Fellowship in Chicago’s Humboldt Park asked his kids what they saw as they walked.

“Our oldest said, ‘I see children,’” Edgar said. His response: “This is your mission right here.”

In the second-deadliest neighborhood in Chicago, Edgar and his wife, Sonia, are raising their seven children to play an integral role in transforming their community by sharing—and living— the gospel.

They’ve heard the questions about living in a dangerous place, Edgar said. “Why don’t you move out of there?”

“We believe that we have the solution to change their hearts, which is Jesus. Everything else is going to fall short,” said the church planter who launched New City Fellowship three years ago.

“We can’t leave.”

Sonia says, “If I’m giving my children the gospel, and they can give the gospel to another child, why wouldn’t I train them up for other people in the neighborhood to possibly know Christ?”

Life together
Edgar didn’t want to go back to his old neighborhood to plant a church. He was frustrated with the people—“his own people,” he said. Humboldt Park is undergoing gentrification, meaning coffee shops are popping up, along with more expensive housing. And a new demographic—hipsters—are joining large African-American and Hispanic populations.

Spiritually, though, religious tradition still had more influence than culture-impacting gospel ministry. But the couple sensed God was moving them back to the neighborhood where they both spent at least part of their childhoods.

“God, forgive me for being like Jonah,” Edgar remembers praying.

“We knew the mess that existed, but through prayer and counsel and things of that nature, we just kept telling one another that it makes sense. If the darkness in this neighborhood is what it is, and we’re light, it’s actually kind of foolish and cowardice to leave it like it is.”

Three years ago, the Rodriguezes started New City Fellowship in their apartment. Once they outgrew the space, they moved into the Humboldt Park headquarters of the Chicago Metro Baptist Association.

Planting a church in a tough neighborhood has its challenges, especially when you open your own home like the Rodriguezes have tried to do. They’ve invited drug addicts and dealers to share meals at their table. When a former friend reached out for help and a place to stay, they let him live with them for a while. That particular encounter resulted in Edgar sustaining a blow to the head when the man threw his phone at him in anger.

Months later, Edgar saw the man again. He walked up to him and reached out his arms. “Who would I be if I would not extend to you what Jesus extended to me?” the pastor explains now.

As they engage their neighbors, the couple exercises wisdom when it comes to protecting their children, but they say total security is an unreachable goal. They move forward holding out the gospel, and trusting God to work.

“Even at my best as a husband, as a father, as a protector, I can’t bullet-proof my family,” Edgar says. “When you look at Scripture, God didn’t avoid putting his people in the world. He gave his son knowing what he was going to face.”

New City Fellowship meets on Sunday for worship, but the church also gathers several times during the week for Bible study and meals together. It’s an approach they call “life on life,” which Edgar admits sounds a little cliché, even to them. But it’s a way to describe how they’re trying to integrate gospel-centered community into the everyday rhythms of life—eating, shopping, laundry, etc. What can their small group of Christians do together, so that the gospel goes forward as they disciple each other?

Some people would say it’s too much, Edgar says, and it could be, if you’re going out of your way. But the things their church does together, they’re already doing.
“It’s not a burden for us, and it’s not too much for us. And other families are starting to realize, ‘I need this.’”

The Marshes

The Marshes of Macon are renovating an old church building to create a gathering space for their neighbors.

Opening their doors
Marsh church renovationIn a small community three hours from Humboldt Park, Alan and Marie Marsh are creating a permanent space to welcome their neighbors. When the Marshes moved to Macon, just south of Decatur, they didn’t settle in a traditional house. Instead, they purchased a century-old church building they plan to transform into a community center.

“We believe that wherever the Lord puts us is where we need to reach out,” said Marie, who, as a baker and artist, has big plans for the former Presbyterian church that sits in a neighborhood of quaint homes.

The Marshes live in an office/classroom wing that was added to the original sanctuary, and the family uses the sanctuary to host a “life group” of people from their church, Tabernacle Baptist in Decatur. Eventually, the space could include a library, coffee shop, and other spaces for people in Macon to come together and, as Marie put it, take a little break from their world.

“One thing that I feel like I’ve learned throughout the years is that there are hurting people everywhere,” she says. People might not want to walk into a church they’re new to, but her family can offer their neighbors a place to sit and read and relax. “I look at that as kind of our ministry,” Marie says. “They can walk in the door and they’re going to be loved.”

The Marshes share the space with daughters Grace, 12, and KatieAnn, 22, both of whom are invested in their parents’ outreach to the community. KatieAnn “is the one that goes all in when there’s an outreach that I’m a part of,” Marie says, “like helping with Grace or making, decorating, and packaging 600 cupcakes for our church’s Easter outreach. She has a giving heart that doesn’t stop.”

Sixth grader Grace also plays a key role in building relationships. She was the Marshes first foster child placement, and the couple adopted her when she was three. “To her, there’s no such thing as a stranger,” Marie says of her daughter.

Because the Marshes have fostered several children during her lifetime, Grace is accustomed to people coming and going. “And now when children come into her life, they’re her immediate friends. She welcomes them,” Marie says. “Her role is just to be herself.”

Macon is a small community, and quiet—except on the school bus Marie drives, she jokes. When the Marshes moved to Illinois, she homeschooled Grace. Once she enrolled in public school last fall, Marie got her bus license and a job as a route driver. The job has given her an opportunity to meet families in town.

It’s Marie’s own history as a child in need of a home that motivates her and her family to reach out to others with similar needs.

“I looked at it as people opening up their home for me,” she says of her years as a foster kid, “so opening up my home to someone else is a way for me to give back to God.” Her voice breaks when she acknowledges, “You can’t repay, except to do unto others as it was done unto you in that sense.”

The Marshes are taking the long view of renovating their new home and future community gathering place. They envision family movie nights, craft sessions, and maybe a place for a church to hold a worship service again. For now, their mission is to be open to the possibilities.

“We invest in people’s lives,” Marie says. “And how we do that is just by opening up our lives and our doors to them.”

-Meredith Flynn

New Places

By Van Kicklighter, Church Planting Team

Pioneering Spirit logoSo, you’ve made a “Go New Places” commitment. We believe that the Lord will honor this commitment in amazing ways. What comes next? If you already know what your commitment might be, great! If it is to Pray for a church planting need or for a church planter who is already at work, I encourage you to pray regularly. Include this in your weekly bulletin and newsletter. Have someone lead in prayer during your Sunday morning worship service. Call your church members to regular and focused prayer. If your commitment was to Partner, consider new and creative ways of partnering with a church planter. Send him an occasional gift card, send volunteers to help this new church carry out an evangelistic or ministry project, or baby sit their kids so he and his wife can have a date night. Gather your church family and make a Facetime or Skype call to pray for and encourage your church planter.

If you made a Go New Places Commitment and don’t know what to do next, here are some suggestions to help you take the next step.

Pray – We have 200 places around Illinois where we need a new church to be planted and that begins with prayer. We can help you in picking a place. If your church would rather connect with an existing church planter, contact us and we will help you connect. E-mail VanKicklighter@IBSA.org for a list of the 200 places in Illinois where a church needs to be planted.

Partner – We have church planters who would be blessed by the partnership of your church. Rural, urban, Anglo or ethnic, we can help you partner with a church planter. Learn how you can encourage a church planter.

Plant – We need churches that will give leadership to a new church planting project. Contact us and we will be glad to work with you in planting a new church. Learn more about becoming a church planter.

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Just three months into the new year, 115 churches have accepted the Pioneering Spirit Challenge. That’s more than halfway to IBSA’s 2018 goal of 200 or more churches. But for those churches—and for all of us—the work is just beginning.

The Pioneering Spirit Challenge, timed to coincide with Illinois’ bicentennial year, seeks to bring frontier fortitude to Baptist work today. Our forebears lived in trying times, meeting danger head-on, and forging a new state. Many of them brought solid Christian faith to the hard-won territory, and many of those first Illinoisans were Baptists.

If the concepts of wilderness, lostness, and battle seem familiar, it’s because they describe our spiritual frontier today—200 years later.

“It will take as much courage for today’s believers to bring the gospel to the millions in our cities, suburbs, and crossroads communities as it did for first founders to carve out those communities starting at the time of statehood,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for church planting. “Winning over wilderness has gotten no easier in 200 years.”

“We have been encouraged by how many pastors and churches are taking this commitment—and the critical challenge to advance the gospel in our perilous times—seriously.”

Against the reality of at least 8 million lost people in Illinois, Pioneering Spirit engages IBSA churches in church planting, baptisms, missions giving, and leadership development.

Kicklighter and his team have identified 200 locations in Illinois in need of an evangelical church. So far, 82 churches have accepted the challenge to “Go new places,” praying for or partnering with a new church plant.

In addition, 111 churches have said they will “Engage new people,” taking steps to increase their church’s annual baptisms. The “One GRAND Sunday” emphasis on April 8, encourage 1,000 baptisms statewide, is one aspect of this “engagement.” It is led by Pat Pajak, associate executive director for evangelism.

Another 66 churches said they will “Make new sacrifices,” by increasing missions giving through the Cooperative Program. And 111 churches will “Develop new leaders,” preparing tomorrow’s pastors, missionaries, and church leaders to continue the work in the decades ahead.

In all, 115 churches accepted one or more of the challenges since the Pioneering Spirit initiative was announced at the IBSA Annual Meeting in November.

“We have been encouraged by how many pastors and churches are taking this commitment—and the critical challenge to advance the gospel in our perilous times—seriously,” said Kicklighter.

One example in the church planting area: Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City has taken on the challenge of planting a church in Carroll County. That is one of 10 counties in Illinois with no Southern Baptist congregation. Pastor David Starr told Kicklighter that his church began praying about making the commitment after seeing IBSA’s “blue map” that illustrates lostness in the state.

To learn more about the four Pioneering Spirit challenges, and to register your own church’s commitment to one or more of them, visit PioneeringSpirit.org. Together, we will –

  • Go new places – praying for or partnering with a new church plant
  • Engage new people – taking steps to increase your church’s annual baptisms
  • Make new sacrifices – increasing missions giving through the Cooperative Program
  • Develop new leaders – preparing tomorrow’s pastors, missionaries, and church leaders

– Eric Reed

The Briefing

Moody Bible Institute affirms biblical inerrancy
In wake of allegations that not all its faculty affirm biblical inerrancy, the Moody Bible Institute (MBI) took a step to define and strengthen its position on inerrancy, and to hold its faculty accountable. In an e-mail to faculty and alumni, the institute announced it is adopting the Short Statement of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, as well as its Articles of Affirmation and Denial. The institute further stated that all faculty will be required to sign an affirmation of the Chicago Statement as a condition of employment beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year.

The end of international adoption?
New regulations and a $500 monitoring and oversight fee for adoptive families announced by the U.S. State Department in February could spell the end of intercountry adoptions in the United States, according to adoption advocates. Most agencies, or adoption service providers (ASPs), believe their costs to attain accreditation every four years will triple under the new schedule of fees. But the costs are not the main concern, according to Daniel Nehrbass, president of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. In requiring the new fees, he said, adoption agencies are being forced to buy the rope that will be used to hang them.

‘Pronouns matter’: Georgia college suggests ‘ne’ and ‘ve’ as gender-neutral words
The LGBT Resource Center at a Georgia college may want to pay a visit to the English department after a new controversial pamphlet lists several gender pronouns as “ne,” “ve,” and “ey.” The words are featured in a pamphlet titled “Pronouns Matter: A guide to using gender neutral pronouns” that administrators handed out in Kennesaw State University’s Student Center Tuesday, as reported by CampusReform.org.

LGBT advocates threaten to kill pastor over Bible workshop
A pastor of a Detroit-area church along with his family have received death threats, arson threats, and bomb threats from LGBT advocates after advertising a Bible-based workshop for teenage girls struggling with their sexual identity. The six-week workshop for girls 12-16 — which was canceled due to a planned protest by LGBT advocates — was promoted as “a safe place for teenage girls to learn what the Bible teaches about sexuality.” FORGE Ministries designed it “for those struggling with the thoughts that they are Trans – Bi – Gay – or other.”

IL couple featured in Annie Armstrong Week of Prayer
Kempton Turner and his wife, Caryn, have dedicated their lives to helping restore hope in East St. Louis, an area known for gangs, drugs, and staggeringly high murder rates. Their church plant, City of Joy Fellowship, focuses its ministry on the tough inner city where Kempton endured his own struggles growing up, including never knowing his biological mother.

Sources: Julie Roys, World Magazine, Fox News, Life Site News, Annie Armstrong

Kempton Turner

Former East St. Louis resident returns to plant a new church

Editor’s note: Kempton and Caryn Turner are two of the missionaries featured in the 2018 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Week of Prayer for North American Missions. The annual offering, collected in many IBSA churches this spring, supports missionaries appointed by the North American Mission Board.

East St. Louis | Kempton Turner grew up on the same streets where he now serves as a church planting missionary and pastor.

“Because I was raised here, I’ve got a real heart for the people,” says Turner (pictured above left, with youth director Zach Chike). He launched City of Joy Fellowship in East St. Louis in September 2016. “It’s a small city. It’s a dangerous, poor place, 85% fatherlessness. The houses, the buildings, and the roads show the desperate place that East St. Louis is in. The people know struggle.”

In East St. Louis, buildings sit abandoned. The public library, the McDonald’s Turner visited as a child, family-owned restaurants—all closed now. Though the decline in population started more than 100 years ago with an infamous race riot, recent years have seen the numbers dwindle from around 60,000 to 26,000.

“Jobs and police officers have left this city,” says Turner. “Downtown is kind of like a ghost town, but it’s ripe for the gospel. The Lord hasn’t forgotten this city.”

Faith on the rise
It is 6 a.m. and a group of men from City of Joy Fellowship are up before the sun, worshiping with an acoustic guitar. Says Turner, “As the psalmist looked around at the tragic condition of the people in his city, it appeared as though God was unaware, inactive, or asleep. So, he prays, ‘Arise, O Lord.’  “Likewise, we cry out in one way or another every Wednesday morning.”

The prayers ring out over a people facing poverty, gang violence, environmental contamination, and continued decline. Turner, his wife, Caryn, and their five children believe that change is possible. They are working side by side with other believers to show their neighbors that love is real and hope is alive.

Recognizing that teenagers here are in need of community and a safe place to gather, Turner and the team at City of Joy host a youth night on Tuesdays where they train young people how to serve others and hold down a job. The church also goes to the places where youth already gather during the week—schools and community centers—to establish consistency. Their desire is to show teens that they care and are invested in their well-being and future.

Turner names a long list of men and women who have moved to the area to help with the youth: Matt and Hannah, who moved their young family from Missouri; Staricia, who came from Indiana to work in the school system; Lydia, a nurse who has a heart for young people; Joel, a skilled basketball player and coach who uses the sport to connect with the youth; and Zach, who started a Bible study for the youth in his home that has already outgrown the space. The list goes on and on.

“These precious believers are a picture of Jesus, coming out of comfortable suburbs, moving into the heart of a 99.9% African-American city with danger, poverty, and fatherlessness,” Turner says. “They’re moving because Jesus is sending them as a reflection of his heart for this city, and God is blessing their efforts. It’s amazing.”

Building the future
Home renovation is another practical way City of Joy is connecting with their community. Hammers and nails, primer and paint—these are the tools that are allowing believers to build a relationship with people who live near the church.

“All we need is a way to start a conversation,” says Turner. He is training the members to intersect with nonbelievers, meet needs, and share their personal stories of redemption.
Dubbed R3, the outreach ministry is focused on community development, house restoration, business restoration, and employment. The goal is to work corner by corner and house by house throughout the city until each square foot has been covered in both repairs and improvements, as well as prayer.

In their business revitalization program, they work on providing local businesses with the resources to launch or relaunch. They also strive to connect young men and women from the youth program with job opportunities in these local businesses as a way to benefit the local economy and foster a sense of community.

As more people come to know Christ, City of Joy is celebrating more baptisms. And it all started with a very special one that healed a broken relationship from the past. Turner says, “The first baptism at the church was my birth mother who did not raise me. Praise the Lord!”

Indeed, the church is appropriately named. With prayers, planning, and consistent efforts, they are working toward bringing that same kind of joy into every home in East St. Louis. They want people to not only remember this place but to invest in it.

“Some of the neediest places in America are in the inner city,” Turner says. “We’re excited to join the momentum of what God is already doing in this city with so much potential. Acts 8:8—that’s our hope and prayer for East St. Louis: that the Lord will fill the city with joy.”

Turner explains that they are praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send more laborers. The vision for change is great—and so is the need for ministry partners.

“Psalm 127 says, ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it,’” Turner noted. “And so, the Lord is the builder. The church is not about bricks and mortar and boards. He redeems his people and puts them in front of others in houses, on street corners, in Sunday school classes and in large- and small-group gatherings.

The Lord builds his people through the Word. And our vision is that the Word of God would so transform East St. Louis that multitudes of souls are saved and established in faith, families are restored, children can have a mom and dad in their house again, prevailing cultural brokenness—like drug addiction and gang violence—would be healed, and churches would be started near and far.

“Our house renovation ministry is just a small echo of the thunderclap of spiritual renovation that we see God doing,” Turner said, “one soul, one house, one block at a time in my hometown.”

– North American Mission Board

The official date for the annual Week of Prayer is the first Sunday in March through the second Sunday in March. Your church can choose this date or another time during the Easter season to participate. Learn more at www.AnnieArmstrong.com.

Fundamental change

ib2newseditor —  February 19, 2018

church pews hymnals

Church planting changed me. It was a fundamental change that has continued to influence not only the way I think and feel about church planting, but also the way I think and feel about churches in general.

Before planting, I saw the church as an organization that primarily served its members. It was the group of people that employed my dad, and later me as a youth minister. Our job was to lead worship services and classes, plan programs and activities, and nurture positive relationships. The church membership’s job was to participate, learn more about the Bible, and relate to one another with love and service. Sometimes new people visited and considered joining us.

During and after planting, I saw the church as those who seek and save the lost, and help nurture them into maturing believers who also seek and save the lost. As disciples, we worshiped and studied the Bible and enjoyed fellowship and served. But those weren’t the primary focus; they were things we did along the way as we pursued the mission of seeking and saving the lost.

How can we prioritize the lost and unchurched?

When we left our church plant in the hands of its first full-time pastor and moved to Georgia, we were fortunate enough to find a church that was still behaving like a church plant. Frankly, we had to visit several churches before finding it, and it was a half hour from our home. But it was worth it.

Though this church had its own building, full-time staff, and basic programs, it was clearly focused on engaging and serving its community, more than its members, and on being an inviting environment that expected guests every week. It created multiple entry points for the unchurched, and trained its members to engage them with relationship and with the gospel.

It doesn’t seem right to characterize my before-planting view of church as self-serving, because other church members and I often served each other selflessly. Sometimes we would even invite unsaved friends to what we were already doing, and sometimes we would go on mission trips to look for unsaved people. But we didn’t re-order our thinking and plans and resources toward the lost and unchurched. So, as a church, we were basically self-serving.

This fundamental change in my own life is on my mind and heart right now, because 2017 Annual Church Profile reports have just been totaled. They tell us that total baptisms reported by IBSA churches were lower by more than 11% for the second consecutive year. And about 40% of reporting IBSA churches did not record a baptism.
I love our IBSA churches, including the ones that didn’t see a baptism in 2017! I see so many positive ministries and sacrificial servants in every church I visit, and I recognize that churches are in different situations and settings, and have different strengths. If the gospel is proclaimed faithfully and the Lord Jesus is worshiped sincerely, and believers are maturing and serving, then there is much to celebrate.

At the same time, I would invite us all to simply ask whether a fundamental change is needed in our perspective. Many, many good things happen in a church where the members worship God and serve one another. But the best thing happens when the lost are saved and welcomed into the family of God. And that happened almost a thousand times less in our churches over the past two years.

For me, planting a church brought fundamental change to my heart and mind, that the church should seek and save the lost as its first priority. That’s now what I look for, and long for, in every church I enter. I believe it is the fundamental change that is needed in many churches, to reach the millions of lost people that live in our Illinois mission field.

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

Leaning into the challenge

ib2newseditor —  February 12, 2018

Amid decline, churches called to new commitments

Pioneering Spirit

Throughout 2018, Southern Baptist churches in Illinois are invited to accept challenges in four key areas: evangelism, church planting, missions giving, and leadership development.

The challenges, focused on the “pioneering spirit” needed to advance the gospel among more than 8 million lost people in Illinois, were laid out last November at the Annual Meeting of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Their urgency was reinforced by new data based on the 2017 Annual Church Profile reports completed by 95% of IBSA churches.

“The 2017 ACP data from IBSA churches tells us that, while some churches are thriving, many are struggling,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “For example, about 40% of IBSA churches didn’t report a baptism in 2017. And the sum total of information from all churches shows flat or steadily declining dynamics in many key indicators, including baptisms, worship attendance, Bible study participation, and church planting.

“This doesn’t do justice to the many bright spots where effective ministry and growth is happening, but it does give an overall picture.”

In 2017, IBSA churches baptized 3,441 people, a 13% decrease from last year’s total of 3,953. Other measurements also were down, including professions of faith, church membership, and missions giving. Giving through the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program totaled $5,924,029 in 2017, compared to $6,032,407 the previous year.

A highlight of 2017 was growth in the area of missions participation, as 21,607 people engaged their Acts 1:8 mission fields through projects and partnerships.

“It was studying last year’s ACP numbers, and really the last several years’, that led us to the important theme for the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting,” Adams said. “Advancing the gospel through Baptist churches in Illinois has, and always will, require a ‘Pioneering Spirit.’ That means continuously engaging new people, developing new leaders, making new sacrifices, and going new places with the gospel.

“Churches that are not intentionally and effectively reaching out into their communities with a pioneering, missionary spirit, face inevitable decline.”

The lower numbers in Illinois reflect national trends, according to the most recent data available. (National ACP data for the previous year is released in the summer, prior to the annual Southern Baptist Convention.) In 2016, baptisms in SBC churches decreased by 4.9% from the previous year, and worship attendance declined 6.8%.

“I would encourage any church that is struggling or simply desiring assistance to invite IBSA, its local association, or perhaps another like-minded church to come alongside and help,” Adams said. “Often another trusted leader’s perspective can make all the difference, along with the experience and resources that others can bring.

“For our part, IBSA is eager to bring training, consulting, and resources in any of these areas, and to any IBSA church. That’s why we’re here, and we really want to help.”

The power of ‘one’
A decline in baptisms over the past decade is behind this spring’s “One GRAND Sunday” emphasis, which calls IBSA churches to participate in baptizing at least 1,000 people on April 8, the Sunday after Easter.

Last year, 352 IBSA churches reported zero baptisms. The churches that did report baptisms had an average of 6.4 baptisms per church.

The ‘GRAND’ goal is lofty, IBSA’s Evangelism Director Pat Pajak has acknowledged, particularly amid the current downward trend. But he’s urging church members to focus on the “one” part of the challenge, and to pray for one person to come to Christ and be baptized. That idea was recently echoed by prayer leader Phil Miglioratti.

“And as my ‘one’ is added to your ‘one’…as their church’s ‘one’ is matched by that church’s ‘one’…as a Sunday class prays for ‘one’ and is joined by a fellowship group asking for ‘one’…a youth group in a southern association, a seniors’ class in the center of the state, a planting team up north, a children’s ministry along the eastern border, and a WMU along the western border, each claiming, petitioning, pleading for ‘one’…one plus one equals two. But in God’s mathematics, ‘one’ plus ‘one’ times prayer could equal ‘One GRAND Sunday!’

“Even the smallest church among us can ask in faith for ‘one,’” Miglioratti said.

Sign up for the “Pioneering Spirit” challenge at pioneeringspirit.org. Register for One GRAND Sunday at IBSA.org/Evangelism.