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Mandrell to be voted on June 28 as next president of Southern Baptist publisher
Ben Mandrell, a native of Tampico, Ill., preached an emotional message at his Colorado church June 23–two days after his nomination to lead LifeWay Christian Resources was announced. Mandrell, 42, is a native of Tampico, Ill.

“All through Scripture, we learn that God is a calling God,” Mandrell (pictured above with his family) said in his sermon. “He dials our number and we have to answer. We have to take his calls.” When considering the decision to leave his church and relocate his family to Nashville, Mandrell said he had “a wrestling match with God like I have never experienced before.”

High court keeps cross
A memorial to World War I soldiers can stay standing in Bladensburg, Md., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20. The American Humanist Association asked that the cross be removed in 2012, sparking a legal battle that has bounced around the courts since then.

>Related: Christian Post writer Curtis Schube says the Supreme Court’s reasoning behind its ruling won’t necessarily protect other religious monuments.

How one ‘heartbeat bill’ sparked a national trend
The series of abortion restrictions passed in several states this year is the result of a years-long push based on a fetal heartbeat bill authored in Ohio years ago, according to analysis by USA Today. The paper’s analysis of so-called “copycat” legislation—when a bill is copied and modified for its new context—found the Ohio bill was proposed 26 times until similar legislation passed in multiple states this year.

Refugee crisis grows as U.S. welcomes fewer people
A record number of people were displaced around the world last year, while the U.S. continued to receive far fewer refugees from “countries of concern” identified by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

Americans critical of current state of political debate
People in the U.S. overwhelmingly say public discourse in the country has become more negative and less respectful over the past several years. And 78% say elected officials using heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups makes violence against those groups more likely.

Sources: Baptist Press, Storyline Fellowship, Christian Post, USA Today, Christianity Today, Pew Research

By Nate Adams

This month it is my privilege to officiate the wedding ceremony of our youngest son, Ethan, and his fiancée, Alyssa. They will be married in Elgin, where they first met as Judson University students six years ago, and where my wife, Beth, and I also met more than forty years ago.

Our middle son, Noah, is also married to an Alyssa, and so we will gladly navigate that potential confusion at family get togethers. They met in high school, however, here in Springfield, not long after I came to serve at IBSA.

And our oldest son, Caleb, literally met his wife, Laura, at IBSA. They were in high school at the time, though it wasn’t until a few years later that they reconnected for good. Both Laura’s mom, Melissa, and I worked at IBSA. One summer we dragged our two reluctant college students to the IBSA family picnic. They started writing letters, and now they’ve been married six years.

Especially as parents who mainly know boys, Beth and I are so grateful for these three young ladies who have become our daughters. All are devoted Christ-followers who love the Lord and are active with our sons in local Baptist churches. Each one is delightful, gifted, and unique. And we are especially blessed with the genuine friendship these six young adults have with one another—and with us.

And so, I want to say thank you. Thank you first to the Lord, of course, who sovereignly brought these three couples together in his perfect timing. But thank you also to the IBSA Board and the larger Illinois Baptist family, who more than thirteen years ago called me to bring a wife, three teenage sons, and a slightly quirky dog to serve the churches of Illinois. As I occasionally remind each of our sons, we have prayed for their future wives since before they were born. As it turns out, all of them were here in Illinois.

As our youngest son marries, I’m finding grace in unlikely places.

As we discussed wedding preparations, each of our sons and their fiancées asked me to make sure that their marriage ceremonies contained clear gospel presentations. They asked me to underscore that Christ is the center of their relationships, and that by his grace he will be the lifelong foundation of their marriages. What a privilege it is to prepare a marriage ceremony with that charge.

There were a number of challenging topics that I considered writing about this month. The Southern Baptist Convention will convene in Birmingham and face several difficult issues, including recent accusations of sex abuse in churches and even by missionaries. Leaders will seek the best paths forward for effectively helping prevent the travesty of sex abuse in churches.

Also, at the end of their May session, the Illinois legislature approved the “Reproductive Health Act” that legalizes abortion through nine months of pregnancy, requires all insurance to cover abortions, and allows nurse practitioners to perform abortions. This appalling legislation is a major setback to the pro-life movement in Illinois. The action stands in stark contrast to recent legislation in states including Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama that have sought to limit or end abortion.

So it’s a tough month for Southern Baptists in Illinois. But right in the middle of that, I get to celebrate this wedding, this testimony to the gospel message and to Christ and his church. I get to welcome this wonderful young lady into our family, and watch our son be welcomed into hers. And I get to remember that God called me here to this often tough Midwest mission field, and that his grace and provision are still evident, in at least three Illinois girls.

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

Nathan CarterRecent abortion-expanding legislation, high-profile pastoral failures, and a pending statewide “exodus” are a few of the concerns cited by Chicago pastor Nathan Carter. “Yet Christians must not despair or retreat,” Carter writes in his call to prayer on ERLC.com.

“Ours is not the first age to have rulers who ‘frame injustice by statute’ (Ps. 94:20). And the gospel still has the power to transform people who are foolishly set on autonomy at all costs into selfless lovers of the less fortunate other,” wrote Carter, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. “For the gospel tells of One who did not take life to protect his own, but laid his life down to give life to those who killed him.

“Pray for churches in Illinois to be renewed by this gospel and live out of it in the midst of its mission field.”

Giving is up amid declines in baptisms, membership, and worship attendance
The most recent Annual Church Profile reports collected by the Southern Baptist Convention show continued decline in key markers, including a 3% decrease in baptisms from the previous year. And Christianity Today noted membership fell to 14.8 million in 2018, the lowest since 1987.

“As we look forward, it is time to press reset spiritually and strategically in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd. “Prioritizing and elevating the advancement of the good news of Jesus Christ into every town, city and county in America, as well to every person across the world, must be recaptured by every church.”

>Related: New data from the General Social Survey says just over half of people who were Southern Baptists at 16 still are as adults.

Churchgoers split on existence of undiscovered sexual abuse by pastors
Nearly all churchgoers say their church is a safe place where children and teenagers are protected from sexual abuse, according to a new survey by LifeWay Research. But almost one-third (32%) also believe many more Protestant pastors have sexually abused children or teens than we have heard about, while 37% disagree and 31% say they don’t know.

Texas lawmakers pass ‘Save Chick-Fil-A’ bill
A so-called “Save Chick-Fil-A” bill was approved May 22 by Texas lawmakers, prohibiting government entities from acting against businesses and people because of their associations with religious organizations. The bill is connected to the chicken chain following the San Antonio airport’s decision to deny space to Chick-Fil-A based on its support for traditional marriage. Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law.

Younger Americans find more meaning in work than religion
Americans under 40—less likely to say religion is important to them—are finding more meaning and identity in the companies they work for and the jobs they do, Fast Company reports.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today, LifeWay Research, Fast Company

Baptists authored bill now before Texas Senate
Southern Baptists initiated a measure they hope the Texas Senate will vote to approve before the May 27 end of their current session. The bill, Baptist Press reported, would protect charitable organizations, their volunteers, and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible sexual abuse allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill May 8.

Harvest pulls MacDonald’s sermons
Three months after firing Pastor James MacDonald, Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicagoland has removed audio and video versions of his sermons from their online channels. The church also won’t move forward with plans to distribute MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” digitally, Christianity Today reported.

Freed woman’s attorney takes up another blasphemy case in Pakistan
The attorney for Asia Bibi, who was imprisoned for years on charges of blasphemy, said he will help the woman who now occupies her prison cell.

States consider Bible classes in public schools
Several states are now offering elective Bible and religion classes for public school students. The Washington Post explains how it works in two school districts in Kentucky, and how advocates are working to pass similar legislation in more states.

Survey: Growing diversity has advantages and challenges, Americans say
Americans have complicated views about the country’s growing diversity, Pew Research reports. Among the findings of a new survey: three-quarters of people say it’s important to promote diversity in the workplace, but only 24% believe companies should take race and ethnicity into account along with qualifications when it comes to decisions about hiring and promotions.

-Baptist Press, Christianity Today (2), USA Today, The Washington Post, Pew Research

Disaster Relief teams respond in Iowa, Nebraska
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders are working with a critical timeframe in the Midwest, where flooding has damaged homes and displaced residents. With tornado season looming and warmer temperatures on the way, responding to more than 1,400 requests for help is urgent, said Sam Porter, national director for SBDR at the North American Mission Board.

Illinois teams are currently serving in Glenwood, Iowa, and are scheduled to be there through May. For more information, go to IBSA.org/DR.

Prolific Warren Wiersbe remembered for writing gift
“I’m not an athlete, I’m not a mechanic,” said writer and pastor Warren Wiersbe. “I can’t do so many of the things that successful men can do. But I can read and study and think and teach. This is a beautiful, wonderful gift from God.”

Wiersbe authored more than 150 books, including the “Be” commentaries, a 50-volume series on the Old and New Testaments. Wiersbe died May 2 at the age of 89.

Fellow leaders mourn Rachel Held Evans
Progressive Christian writer and speaker Rachel Held Evans died May 4 after a brief illness. She was 37. Christian leaders from across the theological spectrum grieved for Evans’ husband and young children, and lauded her unique style, despite disagreements they may have had.

Church membership down, anxiety up nationwide
Gallup reported last month that 50% of Americans are church members, a decline of 20 percentage points since 1999. Another study from the researcher reports Americans were more stressed, worried, and angry in 2018 than at most other times in the last decade.

Floyd calls church to unity on National Day of Prayer
“…Government cannot fix us. Politics cannot heal us. But loving one another can change the world,” said Southern Baptist leader Ronnie Floyd on the National Day of Prayer observance in the U.S. Capitol. Floyd, National Day of Prayer Task Force chairman and president-election of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said, “A divided church cannot call a divided nation to unity. Love is the better way.”

-Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today, ChristianPost.com, Gallup.com

There are two kinds of worship interruptions, said IBSA’s director of worship and technology Steve Hamrick—avoidable and unavoidable. Some interruptions just can’t be helped—the power goes out, a baby cries, or someone in the audience forgets to turn off their phone. But most worship interruptions, Hamrick said, can be avoided with effective planning.

“Worship interruptions are things that happen in corporate worship that distract people from the gospel and from connecting with Christ,” Hamrick said. Could it be spiritual warfare? “Yes, but often it’s poor planning.”

Hamrick offered these ideas for avoiding worship interruptions:

1. Pray for the people leading worship and for the congregation.

2. Plan. What gear is needed for the worship service? What special logistics or set-up are needed to make it work? Communicate those needs with staff and volunteers.

3. Predict. What interruptions could happen? What has happened in the past, and how can you avoid the same challenges?

4. Prepare. Know your worship plan. Work through transitions, and think through technology, video, lighting, and print materials. Create a worship checklist with needs and special circumstances for the different worship elements.

5. Practice with the technology you plan to use, including sound, video, and lighting. Approach practice as if it’s a real worship experience (and it should be).

6. Present (perform) and trust God with the results.

Worship leaders can also prepare in advance by creating an environment that encourages success for the whole team. Hamrick advises leaders to communicate the importance of each team member’s ministry by creating job descriptions for individual roles.

Avoid overwhelming your team by recruiting multiple people to work on a single service. For example, one works at the desk while someone else produces (listening, advising, and looking ahead to what happens next). Resist having one person run sound and video at the same time, if possible.

Finally, Hamrick said, handle interruptions with grace. They’re inevitable, and the tech team likely will be the first to recognize the problem.

Sign up for IBSA’s online Resource Center at IBSA.org.