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Why Chicago?

ib2newseditor —  December 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

chicago-cloud-sculpture

We may not verbalize the “why” question with the persistence of a young child, but we still look for a reason or substantial meaning when called to some action.

Through more than a dozen years in church planting, I’ve heard the “why” question. When a family gave five acres for a new church property to a local association in eastern North Carolina, many in nearby churches asked why, even as their buildings were nowhere near filling their seating capacity.

When I planted a church in Buckeye, Ariz., the North Carolina churches I invited to partner with us often wondered why they should care about planting a church in a community 2,000 or more miles away.

For nearly four years now, I have had the privilege of living in Chicago. During that time, I have mentored, coached and challenged many church planters here. I’ve also invited churches in more than a dozen states to get engaged in supporting church plants here in Chicago with prayer, action and finances.

“Why Chicago?” some ask, jesting, “Why not Hawaii? That would be a great mission trip!”

Yet there are three key answers:

The first reason is biblical. In Luke’s account of the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, Jesus tells His disciples and us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (CSB).

No matter where you live, major metropolitan areas like Chicago are located between you and “the end of the earth.” And frankly, because of political views and sensationalized news, Chicago in particular is to many in southern Illinois and elsewhere what Samaria was to the Jews: a place and people we’ve been trained or conditioned to dislike or even hate. Yet, even if it is Samaria to Christians, it’s a place and people to which Jesus has sent us to bear witness of Him and His Good News.

The second reason is practical. Cities like Chicago have, from their earliest settlement, become a home for immigrant people groups — many that are identified as “unreached and unengaged” by the International Mission Board.

Because of technology and ease of global travel from America’s major cities, many immigrants maintain a reach to and influence in their homelands. So, effectively evangelizing and discipling people in a city like Chicago gives us a reach into many parts of the world, including most of the peoples in the 10/40 window, a region between the 10th and 40th parallels across Africa and Asia where most of the people who have never heard the Gospel live.

Reaching Chicago and other metropolitan areas with the Gospel could bring a significant advance toward the global evangelization that Jesus promised in Matthew 24:14.

The final answer to “Why Chicago?” is missiological. Chicago is sometimes called the “most segregated city in America.” And while that is changing in some of the neighborhoods of the city, people groups are usually heavily concentrated in certain areas. Poles are heavily concentrated in the northwest neighborhoods and nearby suburbs. Chinatown, as you might guess, is home to mostly Chinese people, many of them still speaking Mandarin or Cantonese. Pakistanis are clustered along Devon Avenue in the northern part of the city. Professional millennials make up two-thirds of the population in the West Loop. Wicker Park is the epicenter of the hipsters.

High concentrations of people groups in a specific place give us a missiological advantage in reaching them. Even if it is a cross-culturally gifted southern boy and his family living among south Asian immigrants, winning one or two to Jesus could result in dozens who live nearby coming to faith in Christ. Given their close proximity to each other, bringing them together to a form a new church can happen very naturally.

While it may not be unique, Chicago is rare in giving us three good reasons to seize the opportunities for the Gospel that lie within our reach.

Dennis Conner directs IBSA church planting efforts in northeast Illinois. Beginning Jan. 1, Conner will transition to planting a church in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist and has been republished by Baptist Press.

Can it happen here?

ib2newseditor —  November 18, 2017

church pews

The 26 lives taken in an act of evil at a Sunday morning church service on Nov. 5 at Sutherland Springs, Texas shocked the nation. It was the largest mass shooting at a church in the history of the United States, but sadly, not the first. And it happened at a Southern Baptist Church, one named First Baptist, like so many around the country.

Still, many believe it won’t happen “here.”

It could and it already has. In March 2009 Pastor Fred Winters was shot and killed while preaching from the pulpit at First Baptist Church Maryville.

The Illinois Baptist interviewed Rich Cochran, director of leadership development at IBSA, who was minister of education and children at FBC Maryville that tragic Sunday morning.

“We ignore reality because we don’t want to face it and don’t know what to do,” he said. “We’d rather keep our heads in the sand.”

Cochran was just getting ready to enter the sanctuary when the shots rang out. The church had a security plan, but the gunman who was also armed with a knife and stabbed two church members who tried to restrain him, still managed to fire four shots before he could be subdued. The killer, who had no known connection to Winters or the church, was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Remembering that morning, Cochran said, “I don’t think there was a whole lot of second guessing. We had a plan and [after] we created a more detailed plan. There was a tornado threat that day and that was the plan that had been reviewed that morning.”

The repercussions are lasting, taking an emotional toll on the staff and congregation. “There are still dreams about and emotions from what happened,” he shared.

Cochran referenced Tom Hufty’s message at the IBSA Annual Meeting on Nov. 8., when Hufty said he “still runs into people with strong hurts that don’t go away.” Hufty took Winters place as pastor of FBC Maryville.

Hufty noted the different emotional responses that occurred within the congregation. According to Hufty, some said, “I can’t come back to that place. Others closed ranks — we’ve got to stick together we can’t let Satan win. And others needed a new start.”

When asked what advice he would give to pastors and staff thinking about putting a church safety plan together, Cochran said it’s important that pastors and staff process and walk through mentally and verbally would what they do were such a thing to happen.

“Review your risk, take an assessment, know where your vulnerabilities are, minimize those vulnerabilities, live out your mission,” those are the key things they can do.

He also noted, “It’s important congregations be extremely friendly, engaging everyone. Then, you can notice when something isn’t right. Then, it doesn’t seem like you have the National Guard in your lobby. The best way, is to train people to be nice and to welcome everyone.”

There is a danger in letting fear take hold he cautioned. “If we pat our heads and build mega-forts around ourselves we do a disservice to missionaries. If we protect ourselves so much it disrupts our mission we’re out of whack. There is a constant tension.”

Prayer does play a role. “We need to pray, yes, we need to prepare,” he nodded. “Yes, we need to live by faith. We live in a world where evil is present. Even Jesus said there would be troubles.”

In the simplest of terms Cochran urged, “Prepare, prepare, prepare. Then you have to walk by faith. We’re called to illuminate the darkness.”

– Lisa Misner Sergent

red leaves church steeple

This past June, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines put together a task force charged with recommending how we might deal with the alarming decline in baptisms in our Convention. What a daunting task it is. Baptisms have declined precipitously for the past 17 years. We have gone from more than 400,000 baptisms per year, to less than 300,000. The needs in America are greater than ever, but our effectiveness in meeting those needs has plunged. This ought to greatly concern all of us who care about the Great Commission and this land in which we live.

The task force’s first meeting, held at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, was both disquieting and encouraging. We stared the terrible problem of lostness in the teeth. It is daunting. But we prayed long and hard to the God who is greater than our problems. Dr. Paige Patterson, chair of our group, called us to prolonged periods of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance. The Lord’s power and direction, after all, is what we most need. These times of prayer were so refreshing to my soul.

We heard from all the members of the task force—and there are some outstanding people on this team. Each member spoke about some aspect of evangelism. I was moved by their passion and insight and clarity. We began the process of thinking through what might be recommended to our churches at the convention next June. Subsequent meetings will begin to hone in on those possible recommendations more directly.

The SBC’s Evangelism Task Force has a big challenge: Helping churches recapture their evangelistic zeal.

Two things have become crystal clear to me. I speak for no one on the task force but myself, but these two things seem obvious to me. First, we have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Second, we need a renewed passion for evangelism. I will give my thoughts briefly to each:

1. We have lost our focus on leading people to faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelism is hard. It takes work and effort and intentionality. It doesn’t happen without commitment to it. Evangelism, it seems, is the first thing that goes when a church faces controversy or problems or challenges. It doesn’t happen unless it is a concerted focus in our lives and churches.

Dr. Gaines uses the term “soul winning.” It comes from the Bible passage I learned in the old KJV as a boy: “He that winneth souls is wise.” We don’t hear that term so often anymore. Come to think of it, we don’t hear about evangelism in any form as much anymore. We are far more likely to hear about church planting or discipleship or worship—all good and important things. But evangelism is spoken of less often in our Baptist circles, it seems to me.

I know this in my own life: If sharing the gospel is not high on my radar it is not practiced in my life. I can fill my life with meetings and sermon preparation and dealing with a myriad of problems. And, if I am not conscious about it, I can forget about sharing the gospel with those around me. Somehow, evangelism must again become a focus of my church and your church, of my life and your life.

2. We need a renewed passion for evangelism. Passion is a powerful force. Passion changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions. It changes our lives and it changes our churches. Let’s get passionate about sharing the message of the gospel. Let’s get passionate about seeing lost people saved. Let’s be so passionate about evangelism that it changes our thoughts, our dreams, and our actions.

I want more passion for evangelism in my personal life and in my church family. As a pastor, I want my church to know that I am sharing my faith and I want my church members to join me in sharing the gospel. Without evangelistic passion, we will just go about the routine business of the church without doing the primary business of the church!

Perhaps that passion will show itself in strategic decisions or training programs or events. But passion always makes a difference. Let’s pray for more evangelistic passion personally and corporately.

Will you pray for the Evangelism Task Force when you think of it? It will take a work of God to turn our Convention to greater effectiveness. But by God’s power we can see that change made. My prayer is that God will use our group toward that end.

Doug Munton is pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Briefing

15 attorneys general oppose transgender military ban
Fifteen state attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, filed a brief Oct. 16 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing that banning transgender individuals from the military is unconstitutional and against the interest of national defense and that it harms the transgender community.

Air Force punishes colonel over marriage views
U.S. Air Force officials have suspended a decorated officer and revoked his recommendation for promotion to brigadier general because he would not sign an unofficial document affirming a retiring subordinate’s same-sex marriage.

Study: Congress should end IRS oversight of sermons
In the 1950s, Congress banned charitable nonprofits–including churches — from endorsing candidates or otherwise intervening in elections. Any nonprofit that violated the ban could run afoul of the IRS. Churches risked losing their tax-exempt status if the preacher endorsed a candidate in a sermon. It’s time for that to change, most Protestant pastors say in a new survey from LifeWay Research.

Col. baker asked to make ‘Birthday Cake’ for Satan
Lawyers for “cake artist” Jack Phillips say someone e-mailed a request for him to design and bake a cake celebrating the birthday of Satan. Phillips, a Christian who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, is headed to the Supreme Court in December after declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Bill Hybels names male, female co-pastor team as his successor
Bill Hybels, the founder and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, announced the names of two leaders who will take on new roles to replace the role of senior pastor as he transitions out of the church leadership next year. Heather Larson, currently executive pastor, will step into the role of Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, and Pastor Steve Carter, currently teaching pastor, will become Lead Teaching Pastor.

 Sources: Chicago Tribune, Baptist Press (2), Daily Signal, Christian Post

Somebody’s prayin’

ib2newseditor —  October 2, 2017

Pray button

After my dad’s mother died, I remember him saying that he physically felt the absence of her prayers. Dad had, in some ways, a challenging personality for pastoring. He was introverted, in many ways non-assertive, a quiet thinker and reader who scripted his sermons by hand so that he could deliver them effectively.

So, if you only knew my dad personally, you may have been surprised when you first saw him step into the pulpit, or witnessed him in some other pastoral role. He was wise, articulate, bold, insightful, truly helpful. As a pastor, he was supernaturally equipped for the role to which God had called him, in a way that eclipsed his natural limitations. And I believe this was supernaturally sustained by the devoted prayers of people who supported him over the years, his mother and my mother chief among them.

Our pastors need our sincere and earnest prayer. They need us to intercede spiritually for them, every bit as much as they need us to support them in leading the ministries of our church. Not all pastors face the same challenges that my dad did, but all of them face their own unique struggles and obstacles. If it is primarily those closest to them that sustain them in prayer, just think what could happen with an entire church earnestly praying.

Pastors need our sincere and earnest intercession.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. If this is not already your practice, let me encourage you to take the month of October to pray for your pastor, and perhaps other pastors you know, daily. At the IBSA.org website, there will be a daily prayer guide to assist you in that discipline.

You will not be alone. Throughout October, our IBSA staff will be praying for every IBSA church pastor, by name. We are also asking for specific prayer requests by e-mail, and personally calling more than 300 pastors for whom we don’t have a current e-mail address, to ask them how we can pray.

I hope many pastors will share specific prayer needs, perhaps some that are difficult to share with church members, and will allow us to pray for them personally in this way. For those from whom we don’t receive specific requests, we will simply use the prayer guide to pray for each pastor.

Many churches give gifts and other expressions of love to their pastors during October. Prayer, especially consistent, daily prayer, is one of the greatest appreciation gifts you can give. When something “appreciates,” it increases in value. And I believe that the sincere, consistent prayers of a congregation will “increase the value” of a pastor more than anything else. And by the way, that’s true even when you may personally struggle with your pastor!

In a recent IBSA chapel, we were talking about praying for pastors. Our state worship director, Steve Hamrick, shared about his dad, also a pastor, who prayed for him daily throughout his ministry. When his dad passed away a few years ago, his father-in-law noted at the funeral how special that prayer relationship was, and committed to him to take up the privilege of praying for Steve from that day forward.

During that same chapel, Steve led us in singing the old Ricky Skaggs song, “Somebody’s Prayin’.” The first two lines of that song are simply, “Somebody’s prayin’, I can feel it. Somebody’s prayin’ for me.”

IBSA pastors, I will be one of those somebodies praying for you throughout the month of October, along with every member of our staff. I hope you “feel” it in the same way that my dad did from his mom. And I hope you will feel it from many faithful church members as well.

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

Talking with kids…about race

ib2newseditor —  September 18, 2017

Parenting conference takes on serious discussions

parenting panel

Steven Harris (left) moderates a panel including the ERLC’s Trillia Newbell and Texas pastor Jason Paredes on how to help children view diversity like God does. Photo by Kelly Hunter

Is it ever too early to talk about race with your children? Panelists at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Aug. 24-26 conference on parenting said no, resoundingly.

“You should not wait,” said Rachel Metzger, an educator and mother of two. “Because waiting seems like a secret, or something you don’t want to talk about.” Metzger joined four other parents and church leaders for a panel discussion on how to raise children with a biblical view of racial unity.

Coming less than a month after deadly protests in Charlottesville, Va., the panelists addressed the topic at a time when America’s racial divides are glaringly apparent. But, “this is not just something that we need to be talking about because something in the culture happened,” said Trillia Newbell, director of community outreach for the ERLC. “It’s something the church needs to be on top of, ahead of, because it is ultimately a biblical topic.”

Newbell is the author “God’s Very Good Idea,” a new children’s book about the diversity inherent in God’s creation. The book calls families to celebrate differences because they are, after all, God’s doing.

“That’s what’s missing in our culture—we don’t celebrate our differences; we politicize them,” Newbell said during the panel. “And we should celebrate. This is God’s good plan. It’s his idea.”

With kids, celebrating differences means acknowledging them. Newbell told the audience in Nashville that her son identified early on the difference between his mom’s skin color and his own. As her children have gotten older, open conversations about skin color have evolved into discussions about the realities of racism, division, and ethnic pride.

“It is heartbreaking, but it’s something that we have to be talking about,” Newbell said. “But even with that, we are sharing the full picture of the gospel that unites.”

The panelists shared several suggestions for fostering in children a biblically-based appreciation for racial diversity and unity:

1. Educate yourself. Dive into what the Bible says about the nations and the image of God, said Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., and president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. “You need to know for yourself first of all what it is that you believe, and why you believe it, so that you can better then explain it to them.” Day noted two helpful Scripture passages: Genesis 10 and Revelation 7.

2. Point to real-life examples. Adoption is such a part of the culture on his church staff, said Pastor Jason Paredes, that if an outsider were to try to match parents with kids based on skin color, it would be impossible. In that environment, said the pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington, Texas, identity is based less on looks and more on family bonds, giving parents a real-life way to talk to their kids about God’s view of racial unity.

3. Lay a biblical foundation. Pastor Afshin Ziafat recalled seeing an interview with a white nationalist in the aftermath of protesting in Charlottesville. The man’s angst, Ziafat remembered, seemed ultimately to be about protecting himself.

The root of racism is the sin of self, said Ziafat, pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas. “With our children, I want to teach them that all are made in God’s image, but I also want to make sure I’m teaching them that life isn’t about you. Philippians 2 is what I want to teach them: Count others more significant than yourselves; put the interest of others before yourself.”

4. Invite people in. Get to know your neighbors, Newbell advised. Ask God to give you eyes to see color and culture, and invite the people around you into your family’s life.

Ziafat said mission trips have motivated his church members to get to know the people around them. “As we’ve gone on mission trips and our people have gone to other cultures and come back home, I’ve seen them have a heart to now want to go meet my Indian neighbor who I’ve never even talked to, because I just got back from India. I think tharat’s been a huge thing for us too.”

5. Start now. Newbell acknowledged some listeners probably feel the guilt of not having had these kinds of conversations with their kids. “It’s never too late to talk about the glory of God and Imago Dei. If you’re listening and thinking, ‘Well, I didn’t do that,’ start today.”

The Illinois Baptist’s Meredith Flynn was there. Watch for more articles from Meredith from the conference.

Compassionate ministry

Food Pantry

Derrick and Ailee Taylor have a heart for their small town, reaching into the community by meeting needs. The Net Community Church shows how missions and evangelism work together. Soon after the new church started, they became active with the food bank in Staunton. Participating with the local fire fighters and other congregations, the church help refurbish the facility. Now they help staff the operation, which is open twice weekly. The food bank is filling a great need for people in the community.

Many new churches use this compassion ministry approach. It puts them in contact with people who need Jesus, in the way Jesus would serve them. Every compassion opportunity becomes a faith sharing opportunity.

Pray for the Taylor family and their new church, downstate church planters, Eddie Pullen and Ken Wilson  who lead IBSA’s church planting strategy there.

Give to the Offering. If your church promotes and receives a Mission Illinois Offering, we encourage you to give that way. If not, you can also give here — www.IBSA.org/GiveToMIO.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Watch the Taylor’s story, “Feeding People, Loving People.”