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Mistaken identity

Lisa Misner —  December 6, 2018 — Leave a comment

By Adron Robinson

Read: John 13:34-35

It may take former Phoenix NBA star Edward Arnett Johnson a long time to get over the worst day of his life. After his NBA career ended, the 6’ 8” basketball player, who is now 47, spent many years serving his community.

But in 2006, another former NBA star—6’2”, 51-year-old “Fast Eddie” Johnson—was arrested for sexual battery and burglary. Some reporters around the country picked up the story and mistakenly assumed that Edward Johnson of Phoenix was the criminal. His phone started ringing off the hook. Neighbors, even friends, were quick to tell him how disappointed they were with him.

“The thing that disappointed me the most is some people were overzealous enough to think it was me and attack me with a ferocity I can’t comprehend,” Johnson said. “That’s the part that didn’t allow me to sleep last night. That’s the part that forced me to reach out to as many people as I could and say, ‘Shame on you; that’s not me.’”

Afterward, Eddie Johnson of Phoenix said his goal was to get the word out about who he really is—and isn’t.

Just like Eddie Johnson, the church is facing a case of mistaken identity. The sinful acts of some who claim the name of Christ have sullied the reputation of the church. And because of this, we need to display God’s love first to other believers, regardless of their race, social status, or place of birth.

Second, we need to venture outside the church building and into our communities to show the world our true identity: love. A world full of hateful speech and hate-filled action needs to see and hear what true love looks like, so be intentional today about loving one another.

Prayer Prompt: Father God, your Word tells us that the world will know we are your disciples by our love. Please forgive us for trying to identify ourselves by anything else but your love. Sanctify our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit to love one another.

Adron Robinson is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills and president of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

MeToo

It happens every day. Women and children, and sometimes men, are victims of physical, sexual, mental, and other types of abuse. Many are too afraid or embarrassed to seek help. Some won’t even admit to themselves what is happening. Others turn to pastors and church leaders for help. But pastors and church leaders don’t always feel equipped to help.

For those in ministry, there is increased confusion over which incidents to report, which government officials to report them to, and when it’s appropriate to break a church member’s confidence in the sometimes competing matters of compassion and compliance.

Southern Baptists were rocked last spring when the denomination came face-to-face with the #MeToo movement sweeping the country. Paige Patterson, then president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, received sharp criticism for remarks he had made in a sermon in 2000 about his counsel to a woman regarding domestic abuse and divorce. Patterson was also alleged to have mishandled allegations of sexual assault while serving as president of another Southern Baptist seminary.

The Patterson controversy, which ended in his firing, was followed by other, unrelated allegations of sexual abuse that had gone unreported for decades. In May, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler wrote, “The SBC is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment.”

It’s not just the denomination that’s reeling from the movement; individual churches are wrestling with the issues of domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and sexual assault, and struggling to determine the legal requirements of reporting such violence. They’re also tasked with answering a different question: How do we deal faithfully with these issues, in light of the gospel?

Reporting abuse
A recent LifeWay Research study found two-thirds of pastors say domestic or sexual violence occurs in the lives of people in their church. But half say they don’t have sufficient training to address it. And about one-third of pastors who have heard of the #MeToo movement say it has caused more confusion about the issue for their church.

One helpful resource for IBSA churches is Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family

Services, led by Executive Director Denny Hydrick. BCHFS is very familiar with Illinois laws regarding reporting child abuse, and also employs counselors at its Pathways Counseling Centers around the state who work with people of all ages. The agency is equipped to help IBSA churches as they wade through the proper steps in reporting abuse and caring for the abused, no matter their age.

In recent years, sexual abuse scandals in religious communities have compelled churches and clergy members to become better equipped to report child abuse. Illinois law has a long list of mandated reporters—those people required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Members of the clergy are on the list.

The Illinois Department of Children’s and Family Services Children’s Justice Task Force directs mandated reporters to “notify authorities of suspected child maltreatment immediately when they have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that a child known to them in their professional or official capacity may be an abused or neglected child.” Reports may be made by calling (800) 252-2873.

Domestic violence can be a more difficult topic for church leaders, because reporting isn’t generally mandated. The Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA), which is used to obtain orders of protection, discusses physical abuse as well as harassment, interference with personal liberty, intimidation of a dependent, willful deprivation, neglect, and exploitation.

The act doesn’t speak directly to churches or clergy, but it may offer some guidance in defining different types of domestic violence and outlining the responsibilities of law enforcement and healthcare providers.

What about events that took place in the past? In Illinois, when abuse involves what was then a minor, “you do have a duty to report that even though it is no longer occurring,” Hydrick said.

When dealing with children, attorney Richard Baker stressed that mandated reporters have a legal obligation to report abuse within 48 hours. But the standards for reporting change when dealing with adults. Baker, a partner at Mauck & Baker, LLC in Chicago, said, “The assumption is when you are an adult you have the where-with-all to report for yourself.” (Mauck & Baker specializes in religious liberty issues, and frequently represents churches in legal matters.)

The law doesn’t mandate that a pastor has to report a woman has been abused. Baker said pastors have to take into account the setting when a woman says she has been abused. “Was it confidential? Was it a group setting? Then, there isn’t such an expectation of privacy. The context is very important.”

The matter of “context” has become an issue, as some people have become concerned that public confession by an adult in a small group setting about being abused, for example, might require church leaders to notify authorities. Some church leaders in other states have suggested that is the case in their states, making sharing of personal information by group participants dicey. But, following Baker’s advice, don’t jump to conclusions just yet. Yes, it’s a gray area and laws are expanding. Baker noted new questions are being raised and precedents are being set. “[But] there are differences in religious and professional contexts,” he said.

When there are questions about what is mandated by statute, “I always go back and look it up,” he said. Licensed counselors and medical professionals have their own legal reporting standards, which are different from ministerial ethics.

Bring it to light
“We’ve heard stories in other denominations of ignoring these things or covering them up, but I think as Christians we need to be proactive in not covering them up,” Hydrick said. “I think we have to recognize sin and call it sin. We need to address sin in our own lives and churches.”

Baker argues for transparency. “Transparency in policy is a very wise thing. Everybody wants to deny and hide things under a rug, but that’s not good in the long run. We have to err on the side of love.”

This summer, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas approved a resolution “On Abuse.” Messengers to the IBSA Annual Meeting will be asked to consider a similar resolution next month.

In the SBC resolution, messengers voted to “condemn all forms of abuse and repudiate with a unified voice all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful and under the just condemnation of our Holy God.” The resolution also called on “pastors and ministry leaders to foster safe environments in which abused persons may both recognize the reprehensible nature of their abuse and reveal such abuse to pastors and ministry leaders in safety and expectation of being believed and protected.”

In short: Baptist pastors are not priests, and the pastor’s office is not a confessional, but adult victims of abuse still have the priviledge of confidentiality about what may have happened to them. In contrast, alleged perpetraitors, especially in cases involving children, do not. That’s when “mandatory reporting” applies.

SBC President J.D. Greear recently announced the formation of a Sexual Abuse Advisory Committee (see column at left). And Baptist Press reported at last month’s Southern Baptist Executive Committee meeting that Gateway and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries have begun partnerships with Ministry Safe, a sex abuse prevention organization, to add sexual abuse and harassment prevention training to their course offerings.

The Southern Baptist Convention provides a list of resources for sexual abuse prevention on their website, sbc.net. For more information about background checks, protecting children and vulnerable adults, creating a safe environment at church, and more, go to sbc.net/churchresources/sexabuseprevention.asp.

Be ready

Denny Hydrick of Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services suggests these four steps for churches in handling domestic and sexual violence:

1. Pastors should be aware of local resources before an issue arises. Is there a nearby domestic violence shelter, and if so, how does a person make a referral? Build relationships with local law enforcement professionals. Know other social service supports, like the local Child Advocacy Center or the State’s Attorney’s office, who may also employ a victim’s advocate.

2. Keep numbers on hand. These contacts are listed on Illinois’ Department of Human Services website:
• For suspicion of child abuse or neglect – (800)-25 ABUSE

• Imminent harm or danger of any person – 911

• Abuse of a person with mental illness or developmental disability – (800) 368-1463

• Domestic Violence Helpline – (877) 863-6338

• Elder abuse – (866) 800-1409

3. Keep an updated list of local mental health and social service professionals. BCHFS is always willing to assist pastors in handling concerns with children and families, Hydrick said. Contact BCHFS at (618) 382-4164.

4. Get assistance. Often in domestic violence situations, even the best intentions of providing for safety can lead to an increase in violence. Make sure you work with a person with experience handling domestic violence situations.

Hydrick cautioned, “Safety must always supersede an ethical dilemma that may be present. There are ways to assess safety, but that should be done by a trained professional.”

By Andrew Woodrow

Churches combine efforts to meet needs, share Jesus in their community

Food Pantry serving

Harrisburg is a tough place right now,” said Joe Thompson, an associate pastor at the southern Illinois town’s First Baptist Church. “We’re dealing with a lot of unemployment, food insecurity for children, and there’s just a lot of under-resourced people around us. And the churches are aware of that.”

Thompson’s rural community lies in one of the state’s poorest counties. There are limited resources and manpower to meet basic needs.

But that didn’t stop Thompson and his wife, Stacey, from trying.

In January 2017, the Thompsons launched a weekly community dinner at FBC Harrisburg. Since then, the couple has been overwhelmed by how quickly God has expanded the ministry, which they named His Table.

“When we asked God to show us if this is what he wanted us to do,” Joe said, “we had no idea he would answer so loudly.”

Meeting a major need

Joe and Stacey Thompson

Joe and Stacey Thompson

At 5 p.m. every Thursday, the doors open and diners of all ages start trickling into the fellowship hall at FBC Harrisburg. Young children find seats in the back corner. Older men and women, some who have brought babies along, sit at long tables. Volunteers bring them their food and, if time allows, stay to chat for a bit.

The His Table volunteers are a team of about 20 people, ranging in age from 14 to 92. They arrive mid-afternoon to prepare for the evening. One group makes sandwiches for the kids to last them until the end of the weekend, while another team packs meals to deliver to shut-ins who are unable to come to dinner.

When word initially spread about the dinner ministry, funds poured in from supporters and soon five other churches—Liberty, Saline, Dorrisville, Pankeyville, and McKinley Avenue—came alongside First Baptist to help. A restaurant and a local supermarket also committed to help with food provisions.

“One of our chief concerns about launching His Table was overestimating the need,” Thompson said. The worry was unfounded. At the first His Table dinner, the Thompsons served 10 meals. Now, they see around 250 diners every week, and serve 350 meals.

“I’ve been coming since I first heard of this event,” one diner said. “My wife’s not here but this meal helps sustain us both for at least another night.” The man left that night carrying two more boxes of food to take to his bedridden wife.

“This sort of thing isn’t uncommon,” Thompson said. “These people are having to make decisions, ‘Do I pay this bill or do I eat this week?’ So to sit with people who have said their last meal was Thursday night and they’ve been waiting for Thursday night to come around again is heartbreaking.”

Thompson believes this is why the churches in the community are so eager to help.

“When you think about poverty, you don’t really think about it in your own community,” said Donnie Hughes, a volunteer from Pankeyville Baptist Church. “But it wasn’t until we saw what Joe was doing firsthand that awoke us to how great the need in our community was. And seeing children come into His Table by themselves with no parents really impacted us to get involved.”

More than a meal
“It’s not enough for people to leave here thinking ‘Boy, the spaghetti was good tonight,’” Thompson said. “If that’s all on their mind, then we’ve failed.”

His Table is meant to reflect God’s unforsaken love and compassion for his people, even amid their hardships. “Life’s pretty tough right now for these folks, but for us to be able to communicate redemptive truths to them is prayerfully and hopefully the impact we’re making,” Thompson said.

“For churches to understand the overall need, come together, and very selflessly understand that together we can pool our resources and manpower to meet the needs of the community—that is how the Church is effective.”

In time, he said, the team would like to start recovery programs and help provide jobs for people in the community. If those dreams come to fruition, the His Table team would have to find additional locations and resources. But Thompson isn’t worried.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we just want to be the Church sharing the love of Christ to the community. Just as much as Jesus did to his.”

See His Table volunteers from Harrisburg churches serve their community: www.vimeo.com/ibsa/histable

Learning to lead

Lisa Misner —  September 20, 2018

Armed with resources, time, and friendship, IBSA zone consultants equip leaders across Illinois

Jason Vinson.jpg

With help from IBSA ministry specialists, Pastor Jason Vinson (pictured above with his children) and Charis Baptist Fellowship overcame challenges and are working to meet needs in their community of Collinsville.

By Meredith Flynn

MIO Logo 500pxIn a season meant for gratitude, Jason Vinson didn’t feel much. It was Thanksgiving when years of discouragement over his church led the pastor to the point he now calls rock bottom.

“Lord, this is not what I signed up for,” he prayed back then. “Please get somebody else. Can I have a way out? Would you please do something different, because this is killing me.”

For several years, Vinson and his church had faced internal challenges as they struggled to find effective ways to minister in their community. It was a lonely time, he said, a period when he questioned what God was doing, or whether he was working at all.

Finally, in 2016, the church decided they needed a new start. They moved forward under a new name—Charis Baptist Fellowship—with Vinson still serving as pastor. He looked for partners to help his church, and found one in Larry Rhodes, an IBSA zone consultant in the Metro East region.

“We set a date to have lunch together, and heard the story of their church—the challenges they’ve been through, and how they met those challenges through prayer and fasting and consultation within their body,” Rhodes said.

“I was so excited to hear about how God was bringing healing and new life to that fellowship.”

As a consultant in one of ten zones in Illinois, Rhodes connects resources and training with pastors, who in turn help their churches engage their communities with the gospel. In Vinson’s case, he first needed someone to listen.

Larry Rhodes

Larry Rhodes

The Mission Illinois Offering supports the ministry of zone consultants like Rhodes, who serves as a sounding board and resource for pastors and churches in Metro East St. Louis. Rhodes and his fellow consultants seek to serve on the front lines alongside churches that are seeking community transformation, through the power of the gospel.

 

“Just the fact that Larry really believed in us was incredible,” Vinson said. “He really believed that God had a good work here, that God wanted me to continue in the work here.”

The summer after their restart, Charis hosted two Bible clubs for children, using a kit provided by Rhodes through IBSA. They hosted the clubs in a local park and in a nearby trailer community with the help of visiting mission teams—partnerships Rhodes helped forge.

Charis has fostered the relationships built through the clubs in a new Sunday morning Bible study for children, and a bi-weekly family discipleship time where dads teach their children from God’s Word. Two years after God started something new in Belleville, he’s still on the move, Vinson said.

“There’s an excitement, a joy, and an expectation that God is at work in this place.”

Together in the trenches

Rhodes makes it a point to meet with each pastor in his zone, which includes the Gateway and Metro East Baptist Associations. (Local associations are networks of Baptist churches that often cooperate for ministry efforts like mission trips.) At those meetings, he wants to hear the pastor’s story, and help connect him with resources that can help the church in its big-picture mission.

Bermayne Jackson

Bermayne Jackson

For Calvary East St. Louis, that mission is to engage young people who have moved away from the church. “Our church started primarily with the concept of getting youth involved, getting them to know Christ, and keeping them involved and active in the process,” said Pastor Bermayne Jackson.

 

Rhodes came alongside the young church with resources to fulfill their mission, including a Vacation Bible School (VBS) resource kit and an evangelism training resource called “3 Circles.” Calvary used both kits last summer, hosting VBS for kids and teaching “3 Circles” to their parents.

The value of their first VBS was to show the church they could do it, their pastor said, that even a small church can be very effective. “We can make an impact,” Jackson said. “We can change lives. And it doesn’t take a hundred, 200, or 300 people to do it.

“We’re a church that has 46 members on the books. Average attendance is 30 a Sunday. But we feel confident in the fact that we can go out and make changes in our community.”

Jackson is a bivocational pastor, spending his days working as a sales manager and his evenings and weekends at church. He’s surrounded by a great leadership team at Calvary, but acknowledges pastoring can be lonely. Friendship and encouragement from experienced leaders is a key factor in being able to stick with the mission.

“Personally, (I) get an increase in energy by knowing that you have a support system there,” Jackson said of relationships he’s built with Rhodes, others from IBSA, and leaders from his local network of churches, Metro East Association. “Sometimes (Larry) is talking, and he doesn’t know how much encouragement he’s giving to me.”

Rhodes knows how difficult it is for pastors to find time to meet with him, especially when so many are working at other jobs during the week, and balancing work, family, and church responsibilities. On top of all that, they want to see their communities transformed by the gospel.

“That’s why we’re here, to serve them, and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast,” Rhodes said.

“It’s critically important that IBSA realizes the people ‘out in the trenches,’ as I like to say, are crucial to evangelism and to discipleship in the state of Illinois. We’re fighting an uphill battle all the way, but we’re still fighting, and we should.”

Here to help

Andre Dobson

André Dobson

André Dobson has pastored churches for 44 years. Still, he said, he needs people like Larry Rhodes to come alongside him and help him be better.

 

“He went out of his way to stop by the church to introduce himself and inform us about things happening with IBSA,” Dobson said. Rhodes also offered friendship. “It was really out of that relationship, knowing that here was someone that I could trust…that I asked him to begin to get involved in helping us as a church be able to minister in the way that we needed to.”

The long-time pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Alton is mindful of the DNA he’s building for the next generation of leaders at his church. He wants to establish strong, effective, meaningful practices in areas like worship, discipleship, and evangelism.

Armed with resources, zone consultants stand ready to help churches do more effective ministry in their communities. They also serve leaders like Dobson, who are deeply invested in seeing their congregations embrace the gospel and the call to share it. Because of their visibility and partnership with churches, zone consultants often serve as the faces of IBSA, Rhodes said.

“I don’t think this face ought to represent anything,” he said self-deprecatingly, “so I call it ‘boots on the ground.’ I think it’s a tremendous way to let our churches know that we’re here. That we’re here to help them. And we’re here because of them.”

Call to prayer

Please pray for IBSA’s zone consultants and the churches they serve. Pray for stronger churches across Illinois that can build up disciples and share Christ with lost people. Pray for the Mission Illinois Offering, that many more churches will support the annual collection for state missions, which helps fund the work of Larry Rhodes and IBSA’s other missionaries and ministry staff.

MIO Logo 500pxThe Mission Illinois Offering and Week of Prayer is September 9-16. For all the resources and materials available online and at your church, you may be thinking, Where do I begin? How do I get my church excited to give and contribute to kingdom work here in our own state? The first answer is to pray for state missions.

Pray for your congregation’s hearts to be open to giving to the Mission Illinois Offering. Then, distribute the prayer guide and join as one body, committing to praying together for all the requests listed.

  • Ask your worship leadership team to allot time for prayer for Illinois during the month of September.
  • Distribute the Mission Illinois Offering bulletin prayer guide in your Sunday morning worship service. The guide is in your MIO kit and at MissionIllinois.org under the tab “Downloadable Extras” and then scroll down the page to “Inserts and Other Helpful Documents.”
  • Consider holding a special prayer gathering at your church where you take turns individually lifting up each ministry and missionary.
  • Pray for the millions in our state who don’t know Christ, for church leaders and church planters in Illinois, and for local churches to have opportunities to share the love of God with their community.

Organize a state missions study. It is easy to do a mission study! Missions-related studies geared specifically towards students and adults are available at MissionIllinois.org. You simply need to pick a time for people to meet—it could even be during the Sunday school hour—and find someone to facilitate the study and discussion. We all could use a fresh understanding of the spiritual need in Illinois.

Look for the MIO kit in your church office. Download mission studies and videos at MissionIllinois.org. If your church has not received its kit, e-mail MissionIllinois@IBSA.org and request one.

Commit to give. And keep giving until your church’s goal is met! Lead by example and communicate to others the importance of this offering for furthering the kingdom in Illinois.

Provided in your church’s MIO kit are video reports showing the need for Christ across Illinois and some of the missions and ministries IBSA churches together support to meet those needs. During the Sundays leading up to MIO Week, please show them to your congregation. Make sure to include the video “Partners for Illinois” and at least one or two of the stories from the mission field.

Just as there are those who speak up for other annual offerings or ministry events, you can become a champion in your church for the cause of state missions. Whether you are a pastor, a deacon or elder, a missions leader, part of a committee, or a preschool teacher—you can be a voice for Mission Illinois. Our call to missions begins here where we live.

When you champion missions in Illinois, know that lives will be transformed because of your church’s commitment to prayer and to generous giving,

‘To see the gospel carried through Baptist churches generation after generation’

Essentials MIO

MIO Logo 500pxSharing the gospel with at least 8 million people is a daunting calling, especially as the cultural opposition churches face continues to grow. But that is our calling here in Illinois. And each year in order to fulfill that calling, Illinois Baptists gather resources to fund ministries for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

How’s that working?

Gathered in the chapel of Broadview Missionary Baptist Church following a meeting of pastors, four IBSA leaders discussed the mission field and the future of ministry partnership through the Illinois Baptist State Association. In the discussion were:

• Nate Adams, IBSA Executive Director
• Mark Emerson, IBSA Associate Executive Director of the Church Resources Team
• Adron Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, and serving his first term as IBSA President
• John Yi, IBSA Church Planting Catalyst focused on second-generation ministry in the Northeast region

How does our view of Illinois affect our churches’ commitment to partnership in state missions?

Nate Adams: I think a lot of people don’t think of Illinois as a mission field, because their community is reasonably churched and they’re reasonably happy in their church environment. But Illinois has 13 million people. At least 8 million of them don’t claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And a lot of those who do say they are Christians have just nominal church relationships.

John Yi: And there are many people groups that don’t have a single church that serves them. In Chicago we see so much diversity—people from all over the world speaking all kinds of different languages. There are about two million immigrants in Illinois.
And there are at least a half-a-million young people who have come to Illinois to study, and a large portion of them have come from overseas. We really have a unique opportunity to reach people with the gospel—in our cities and all over the state.

Adams: Illinois is very much a mission field. In Acts 1:8 terms, where Jesus said, “You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” Illinois is the “Judea” part of that mission field. In this environment, Illinois Baptists are missionaries, going to places like college campuses and large cities and rural areas, bringing the gospel there as if it had not come there before. Because for a lot of people, they’ve never heard the gospel in a way that they can really understand, even here in Illinois.

Seeing the needs, some churches have noticeably raised their support for state missions. Yours is one of them, Pastor Robinson. Why?

Adron Robinson: My congregation recently increased its Mission Illinois Offering giving because we saw the work that was going forward because of last year’s offering. We were able to see the money that we invested going to reach lost people in Illinois—going to help us reach our Judea, you know. Hillcrest can’t reach the entire state, but by giving through the Mission Illinois Offering, we can help other Illinois Baptists reach other lost people in their areas. We can join in our part of fulfilling the Great Commission.

Adams: IBSA is helping churches think about the mission field that is most accessible to them. Even though it’s a wildly diverse mission field, it’s the one that’s near enough where they can go there themselves.

Illinois is a very diverse state, both ethnically and in spiritual need. And John, you serve among people who exemplify both needs.

Yi: Chicago is a landing spot for so many immigrants. And because that’s the case, we can’t stop planting churches for our first-generation folks. But as soon as they arrive, a cultural gap starts to form between the generations almost immediately. And so the challenge is two-fold—that we reach immigrants in their own language, but also reach their children with the gospel in English, which the parents are unfamiliar with, in a meaningful way that’s going to bring them to Christ.

What can our churches do together that they could never accomplish alone?

Robinson: I’m grateful for our partnership with IBSA, because it gives the local church the resources and the connections to do statewide ministry that we can never accomplish as one small local congregation. Through Disaster Relief, evangelism training, equipping of our local church body through IBSA staff, we are able to reach people all around the state.

Mark Emerson: As Pastor Robinson points out, missions is part of our work, along with evangelism and discipleship. And we help churches do this by equipping them for leadership: IBSA develops leaders.

I think back to several of the guys who were on the IBSA staff when I was a new pastor and church planter almost 30 years ago, how they took me under their wings and mentored me. Today, I’m thinking how great it would be if every Illinois Baptist pastor had that kind of connection.

Adams: I think the advantage that IBSA has, that allows us to create that kind of opportunity, is proximity to the churches. Southern Baptists have an International Mission Board helping churches go around the world, and a North American Mission Board focusing on some of the great cities in North America. But the Illinois Baptist State Association is the nearby partner. They’re the guy nearby to the church who equips the church to reach its own mission field right here in Illinois.

Emerson: As a pastor, I recall how I looked at a lot of different things in our organization and thought, “Well, our church is not growing because we have a community problem. Or an organizational problem. Or a financial problem.” What I learned is that our ministry really had a leadership problem. And if the church was going grow, I was going to have to grow.

So, we are developing leaders by providing the same kind of experience that I had through the state association—creating cohorts where leaders come together and learn to lead. We have about 40 of these groups all over the state now.

In addition to cohorts, the Church Resources Team equips 6,500 leaders from almost all of our 1,000 IBSA churches and church plants in all aspects of ministry in statewide and regional training events. And we train kids and students in missions and leadership with camps each summer and evangelism events in the fall.

Robinson: Our church has hosted youth events for the northern region. Without our IBSA connections, these things would never happen—praying together and serving faithfully, partnering together—

The key word is partnership.

Adams: I hope our young people won’t lose the vision of partnering with others who believe Baptist doctrine to send missionaries into places that no one church could send by themselves. But that working together as Baptist churches we can send reliable missionaries to places that will deliver the gospel and start New Testament churches that are relevant to that community. And I hope that’s something that will happen for generation after generation.

Emerson: That our work is handed from one generation to another.

So how do you see state missions in the future?

Adams: For me personally to see the gospel carried through Baptist churches generation after generation is a continuation of what my dad started when he was a pastor and a director of missions in Illinois. I want to see that happen in the generations of my kids and their kids—a stewardship of faithfulness, that we believe the Bible, that we believe the gospel, that we believe the mission of God is the most important thing in our lives.

By Andrew Woodrow

Classic Outreach

In a town proud of its Route 66 heritage, thousands gather every year to celebrate what John Steinbeck called “the Mother Road.” For more than 20 years, Edwardsville’s annual Route 66 festival at City Park has offered visitors fun, food, and classic cars. What was missing, realized church planter Rayden Hollis, was a gospel opportunity.

Hollis is the planter and lead pastor of Red Hill church in Edwardsville. The church isn’t quite three years old, and they don’t have their own building yet. But Hollis is passionate in leading his church by a missions strategy based on Jeremiah 29:7.

“Just as the Israelites, exiles in their community, were commanded to seek out the welfare of the city they were living in,” Hollis said, “it’s our philosophy that we too, as exiles, need to seek out the welfare of the city we live in and pray for it.”

That philosophy is at the core of Red Hill’s presence at their city’s summer festival—and it’s a noticeable presence. At this year’s event June 8-9, park visitors stirred the humid air with hand-held fans emblazoned with Red Hill Church. Diners at picnic tables ate under misting fans donated by the church. Dog walkers at the festival discussed their pets with dog walkers from Red Hill. Church members brought a bean bag set and played alongside park visitors.

Church Hits the ‘Mother Road’ from IL Baptist State Association on Vimeo.

And showcased just outside the church’s two tents at the festival: a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The gleaming red and white car—made even more vibrant by the sun’s glare—attracted visitors to the Red Hill display.

To Hollis, Red Hill isn’t just about gathering for their Saturday evening worship, it’s about the church going out into the community and making the city better.

“I’ve been a part of churches where if the Lord removed that church from the community, the community wouldn’t even notice,” Hollis said. “We don’t want to be that church.

“We want to be so deeply integrated into the life of our community that if we were pulled out, it would have a devastating effect upon the regular rhythms that people engage in inside of our cities. So, we’re trying to find ways that we can step in and make an immediate impact and difference in the life of our city, just by observing what’s naturally happening in it.”

Nothing in return

Early on, Red Hill began to observe the rhythms and patterns of Edwardsville, seeking out ways to serve at city events with a focus to “breathe even more life into it,” Hollis said. “We want to be given an opportunity to show the city how much our church cares for it.”

Once Hollis learned of the success of Edwardsville’s Route 66 Festival, he knew he needed to get involved.

But at first, it wasn’t easy. Katie Grable, assistant director for the Edwardsville parks department, was uncertain about allowing a church to actively participate in the festival. “Initially I was a bit skeptical,” she told the Illinois Baptist. “Not because I was against a church partnership, but rather, I was nervous that their angle would be vocally evangelistic.”

Still, in 2015, Red Hill was granted permission to set up a photo booth tent in the far back corner of the festival. They provided props and space for festival-goers to pose for photos. “We wanted to do something that added to the festival’s success,” said Sarah Hollis, Rayden’s wife. “And through that, begin those gospel conversations with the park visitors.”

Realizing the potential to reach up to 10,000 people in one weekend, Rayden Hollis was eager to do more the next year. He asked Grable how Red Hill could best contribute to the festival, and the city’s success, from Red Hill’s own budget. His requests puzzled Grable, leading her to eventually ask Hollis what was in it for his church.

“Nobody just gives freely without wanting something in return,” Grable said. “And they were just willing to offer so much I eventually asked what Rayden wanted, and we would see what we could do to help.”

To Hollis, Grable’s question came as a surprise. “At first I didn’t know what she was talking about,” he said. “But then something really awesome happened.” Hollis was able to explain to Grable that what Red Hill was doing was meant to be a reflection of God’s love. Hollis further explained there wasn’t anything he needed but rather that the opposite was true. “I told her I had something that she desperately needed,” Hollis said. “And I got to share the gospel with her.

“Now the unfortunate news is that she didn’t receive Christ, but because of what we’re doing as a church, I got the opportunity to share with someone why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Grable wasn’t yet ready to receive Christ, but she understood Red Hill’s genuine intent in giving. And a partnership blossomed between the Parks and Recreation department and Red Hill.

“It was through that experience that I finally realized this was just an honest willingness in wanting to help,” Grable said. “They’ve been our most frequent partner since then and are the only organization that is coming out to basically anything that we do in the city.”

Valued partners

Since their first involvement with the Route 66 Festival in 2015, Red Hill has come a long way at the event. Their photo booth tent is no longer in the far back corner of the park. It has instead been moved to the front.

“We even have a second tent where we pass out handheld fans,” said church member Casey Elmore. “And we do almost all the volunteering for the kids’ activities.”

Elmore emphasized Red Hill’s devotion to the city as a “heartbeat to serve and build relationships within our community. And through that, crack open those opportunities to share the gospel.”

The church is also fostering its relationship with the Parks and Recreation department, who has called on Red Hill to help open their newest park, and even made Hollis an administrator on their Facebook page.

The pastor thanks Illinois Baptists for giving through the Cooperative Program to help make his church’s outreach possible. 

“Events like this would never happen unless Southern Baptists of Illinois continued to give to the Cooperative Program, to the Mission Illinois Offering, and other Illinois Baptist offerings. So, to every pastor, thank you for inspiring and encouraging your church to give. And to every Illinoisan who’s given over the course of their lifetime, thank you.

“Your generous gift helps make this moment possible for us to be a gospel witness and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this city.”