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What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 10, 2019

Key issues in politics

IB Media Team Report

Will the church embrace immigrants?
After illegal border crossings declined in 2017 to a more than 40-year low, the numbers began climbing again in 2018. This included a record-setting number of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico traveling in September in a caravan toward the border.

Earlier in 2018, when the Trump administration attempted to deter immigration, migration declined. The government’s zero-tolerance policy ramped up criminal prosecution of anyone entering the United States illegally. But when 3,000 children were separated from their arrested parents, the policy came under attack, including a public letter of protest written to the administration by evangelical leaders.

“As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

An executive order officially halted family separations in June, but immigration policy is still in limbo, a fact highlighted by a December court decision that grants those crossing the border illegally the right to seek asylum in the U.S. With its current trajectory, migration is expected to grow in 2019—increasing the challenge for the church to offer a biblical response to an increasingly volatile problem.

Is Pence courting evangelicals?
With the first Trump term at its midpoint, several questions face evangelicals: How do they view the president now, in light of increasing scrutiny over his ethical and legal behaviors and the pending special counsel’s report? And, in contrast to Trump, how do evangelicals feel about Vice President Mike Pence?

Self-described as both evangelical and Catholic, Pence has managed to stay above the fray mostly, while appealing to Republicans’ traditional faith-base. “We know that what you do in the ministries of your churches make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation…” Pence told Southern Baptists in June. “You’re the cornerstone, not just of your communities but, in so many ways, of our country.”

Some wonder if Pence has his own presidential ambitions. In May, the New York Times reported while “[the President is] mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party” his “supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.”

The Times also noted that while the two previous Vice Presidents “have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda,” referring in part to his networking with evangelicals on Trump’s behalf—and perhaps his own.

New justices differ on key issues
In a year that saw a vicious, partisan fight over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life record, many were surprised by that new justice’s decision in a life-related case.

The Court announced Dec. 10 it would not review decisions by lower courts in Kansas and Louisiana that require Medicare to remove Planned Parenthood as a patient provider. Controversial new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined more moderately conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal justices in refusing to consider the lower court rulings.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Court pick, joined conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in filing written dissents of the High Court’s decision. Kavanaugh’s move has caused many to speculate that he may be a more moderate influence on the Court than originally thought.

In the nearly three months since Kavanaugh joined the Court, he and Gorsuch have differed on rulings concerning abortion, immigration, and the environment, USA Today reported. “There’s a pattern here that you can’t ignore,” Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, told the newspaper. “It corresponds with our prediction for Kavanaugh, which is that he would be more like Roberts.”

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

By Eric Reed

Office hours signWhen I was in seminary in the early Bronze age, there was a lot of talk about how pastoral ministry was changing. The church growth movement had taken hold, and many aspiring pastors seemed called to build great seeker-sensitive churches like one of the two model megachurches in suburban Chicago and near Los Angeles.

The motivational leaders of the day told us how these pastors weren’t shepherds any longer; they were ranchers. In order to build a great church, the lead pastor (also a new term at the time) must give to others the time-consuming work of congregational care while focusing their own attention on leadership, prayer, and preparation of the Word.

That sounded biblical to me.

The first deacons were called so the apostles would be freed for their preaching and teaching ministries (Acts 6:3-4). And Paul was clear in his teaching to the leaders at Ephesus about setting up their ministry: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

It’s time to recover the lost art of pastoral care.

That message found a ready audience among seminary students who envisioned fielding a team of highly skilled deacons or elders to visit the hospitals and console the shut-ins. The saints would do the work; the pastors would prepare the saints and dispatch them. And when the budget allowed, we would all add one or two of those new degreed Christian counselors to the staff with expertise to handle the hard cases.

It was a beautiful picture of how it ought to work. Here’s the problem: It didn’t really work.

A philosophy of ministry that “frees” the pastor from contact with church members in their time of need ignores the model of Jesus himself, and it deprives the pastor of his best opportunity to bring meaningful spiritual help when people are hurting.

Jesus chose the word “shepherd” to describe himself. And in his teaching on “the good shepherd” delivered just before his death, the Lord’s heartfelt concern for his flock and his personal contact with them is clear. Jesus might have chosen other words, but he didn’t declare himself the chief steward or centurion or theologian. He didn’t call himself “lead” anything. He chose the simplest word and the humblest position to describe his personal work—and ours. The word often translated “pastor” is poimen in Greek; it means, literally, shepherd.

In separating the sheep from the goats, the outstanding characteristics of those closest to Jesus and most like him are these: They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned.

Gone are the days when people stayed in the hospital for a week or two, and the pastor was expected to visit every day. Even major surgeries are outpatient or overnight events. And whether it’s in major metro areas or distant rural places, travel takes time—sometimes several hours roundtrip. People don’t have the same expectations for pastoral care today that they did a generation or two ago—until they really need it.

Even those who say they don’t want the attention will say afterward they were blessed by a visit from the pastor. These days, it’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you need it.

The recent news that Baby Boomers are returning to church is a two-edged sword. Hooray, they’re coming home! But there’s a lot of them, and they’re getting old. All these seniors will need spiritual care, and I think in a lot of cases, the pastorate is out of practice.

We’ve had the church-growth generation of ranchers—skilled in management and motivation. That has given way to a generation marked by a high view of theology, and their role as chief discipler and guardian of truth. What I hope we see next is the return of pastors, the men of God called to be shepherd, who enjoy caring for the sheep.

I remember during my first full-time ministry position, we got a call at the church office. A couple had suffered a miscarriage and they wanted the pastor to come to their house. The pastor was new at that church, a recent seminary graduate, and I was the youth minister. “Come, go with me,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do.”

When we got there, the couple cried. My new-to-ministry co-worker hunted for appropriate Bible verses and offered consoling prayers; I handed them Kleenex. Mostly we just sat there with our sorrowing friends. That’s all they wanted. Just be there.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.

Mistaken identity

Lisa Misner —  December 6, 2018

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,