Archives For cooperation

The stand

ib2newseditor —  August 14, 2017

Surrounded by a Forest of Tall Golden Aspen Trees

Over the years, I’ve grown to love Aspen trees. They’re not that common in Illinois, growing in only about a third of the state’s counties, mostly in the north. But in cooler or higher-altitude climates such as central Colorado, they grow abundantly, often covering the mountains like wildflowers.

It was while vacationing there with my family this summer that I started asking myself why I find Aspen trees so beautiful and interesting. Is it the “quaking” leaves, which so freely alternate their green and silver sides in the breeze, and then turn bright yellow in the fall? Or is it that those leaves are mounted on a beautiful white tree trunk, crisscrossed with black bands, that grow up to a hundred feet tall?

Perhaps it’s that these striking trees always appear so plentifully. Aspens grow in clusters or “stands” and multiply rapidly. Individual trees are actually part of a larger, singular organism that spreads rapidly in the form of new trees from a common root system.
As a result, one Aspen stand in Utah is considered by many to be the world’s oldest living organism. It’s more ancient than the massive Sequoias of the West, or even the famous Bristlecone Pines, some of which are said to be 5,000 years old. It appears that individual trees like those are not quite as enduring as the spreading organism of Aspens, which presents itself as many trees, yet underneath shares a unified root system that results in each unique tree being a genetic replicate of the others.

Inspiration for Baptists from the mighty and prolific Aspen trees

As you might guess, I find in these beautiful Aspen trees an encouraging metaphor for the equally creative work I believe God desires to do among Baptist churches here in Illinois. Like the diversely colored leaves that “quake” at the slightest breeze, our lives, stirred and filled by the Holy Spirit, should attract the attention of those we meet and invite them to know Jesus as Savior.

The bright, white-and-black banded trunk that holds us together is the local church that beautifully reflects the light of Christ and his word, not just one at a time, but in diverse sizes and shapes. Yet our churches should be united by a common root system of both doctrine and cooperation, one that makes us resilient and also allows us to multiply rapidly and spread throughout our region and the world. Aspens are the most widespread tree in North America, and there are varieties of Aspens found throughout Europe and Asia.

This year, September 10-17 is the week our “stand” of churches here in Illinois has set aside to pray for mission work here, and to receive a special offering called the Mission Illinois Offering. This offering is like a refreshing rainfall on our cooperative work as Baptist churches, work that takes place in a culture that can be as harsh on Baptist churches as mountain winters on a stand of Aspens.

But with that offering, we train leaders and church members in evangelism. We strengthen churches in multiple ministries that help them make more disciples and grow. And we provide the network of doctrinally sound cooperation that gives you confidence that the 20 or so churches being started in Illinois each year, though unique, are doctrinally united with all the churches in our “stand.”

Aspens grow all the time, even in winter. But many feel they are most brilliant and beautiful in the fall, when their golden leaves paint the mountainside with the glory of God.

This fall, when you and I give a generous offering through the Mission Illinois Offering, I believe we have an opportunity to do the same.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

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

HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Nate_Adams_March23Recently a bivocational pastor shared with me a difficult decision he needed to make, whether or not to stay as pastor of the church he was serving. He had already accepted the reality that the small church could not afford both his insurance and a full-time wage, and that he needed employment outside the church to support his family. What seemed to have him questioning whether he could stay were recent remarks by a couple of his church members.

“We had to cancel Sunday services one week because of a snowstorm,” he explained, “and a couple of the members raised the question of whether or not they should still pay me that week, since I hadn’t actually preached.”

I could hear the hurt in his voice, and read the disappointment in his face. He was still a few years away from retirement, and had recently lost his job outside the church. At a time when being valued by the church was very important to him, a couple of unthinking church members had made him feel less valued than ever.

But the pastor went on to explain that, in his view, the problem probably ran deeper than a careless statement or two. “I really think some of them think that way. They aren’t giving generously to the Lord, or even to support me as their pastor. They feel they are merely purchasing a service from me, and that if that service is not delivered, the church shouldn’t have to pay.”

After a few minutes of talking it through, it seemed clear to me that the pastor was going to stick it out. He loved his congregation, and I suspect that even the ones who made the hurtful statements loved him. But he and I agreed that if he was going to feel appreciated, and perhaps even more importantly, if his people were to have their hearts matured and transformed into generous, godly givers, that he needed to provide some candid teaching, and loving but direct conversation, on tithing and giving.

I think one of the reasons I was able to understand this pastor’s hurt and encourage him to press on is that this same dynamic of consumerism can also affect our cooperative missions work as churches. Not often, but occasionally, I will hear someone ask, “Why should we give to that? What do they do for us?”

They could be referring to a mission offering, or the Cooperative Program, or the local association, or any ministry where the investment is largely in people that are doing ministry among and on behalf of the churches. If there’s not some direct, tangible benefit back to the church, the value is questioned. “If they aren’t here, helping us, maybe they don’t deserve our support.” If the sermon isn’t preached, the ongoing, continual ministry of the pastor isn’t valued.

The next Sunday after that conversation, a snowstorm hit here in Springfield. Several area churches cancelled services, but our church did not.

With that pastor’s pain still in the back of my mind, I got up early to clear the snow from our driveway, and make sure we could get to church. As we headed out the door, I asked my wife to make sure we had our offering envelope with us. I remembered in a fresh way that our tithe was the Lord’s, and that our church’s staff and ministries count on our support, whether we’re there benefitting from them or not.

I also remembered that the portion of my weekly offering that goes through the Cooperative Program supports thousands of missionaries and other ministries that operate literally around the clock and around the world. The Lord and they are at the heart of my giving, not the benefits I receive. And I’m grateful for each one of you that feels and gives from that heart too.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

One Baptist leader says Scripture’s case for cooperation is the most compelling reason to work together.

Micah_Fries_blog“My entire life growing up, what I heard about the Cooperative Program was, ‘give to it because it works,’” said Micah Fries (left), vice president of LifeWay Research.

Indeed, historical evidence supports it—CP does work. Southern Baptists’ main method of supporting missions and ministry here and around the world, will turn 100 in 10 years, and has helped mobilize one of the largest missionary forces in the world.

Last year, Baptists gave more than $186 million through the CP Allocation Budget to send and support church planters in rural America and the country’s largest cities, and to get the gospel to places and people around the world that have never heard it. At a meeting of the SBC Executive Committee last year, CEO Frank Page called CP the best way to “concurrently, consistently and, yes, completely fulfill Acts 1:8 as a church body. Through that, you’re involved in missions and ministries all over the world, all the time.”

But the average percentage churches give through CP has fallen over the years, from 10.7% in 1982, to less than 5.5% the last few years.

In this climate of decline when it comes to cooperative engagement, there is a better, more compelling reason to work together than to do so “because it works,” Fries said during a breakout session at the recent Midwest Leadership Summit in Springfield, Ill. He argued for a theological foundation, rather than pragmatic justification.

“…I want to plead with you to go back to your churches and plead with your churches, go back to your associations and your state conventions and plead with them to be faithful at partnership mission, but not because it works. But because the Bible tells me so.”

A better rationale
Our need for a biblical foundation for cooperation, Fries said, starts with characteristics we have that are specifically human, and specifically American. In our consumer-driven culture, most people shop for churches like they shop for blue jeans. Where can I get the best product for the lowest cost? If the personal price is too high, they’ll look elsewhere.

That consumerism, along with pride, independence, and the valuing of perception over reality, runs counter to the ideas of community and cooperative engagement.

“…When you and I call for community in the context of the local church, and cooperation or collaboration between local churches, we need to understand that what we’re calling for is a radically counter-cultural identity,” Fries said. “It strips away the core of who we are, and calls us to be like Jesus.

CP charts are complicated, Fries said, even for those who have long understood the system. “Stop making it so confusing for people.” “That’s what the Cooperative Program does," Fries said.

CP charts are complicated, Fries said, even for those who have long understood the system. “Stop making it so confusing for people. You put money in the plate, money goes to a missionary, missionary tells people about Jesus. That’s what the Cooperative Program does.”

 

“This is challenging. This is why it’s not enough to say, ‘We need to give to the Cooperative Program because it works.’ Because ‘it works’ is not a compelling enough reason to deny the core of who we are.

“Because it makes us to be like Jesus, because it helps to advance the gospel, because it helps to glorify God; those are compelling reasons to engage in counter-cultural activity.”

Younger Baptists are looking for more than pragmatic justification too, Fries said. The generation raised after the Conservative Resurgence spends more time thinking about what the Bible actually says, than arguing its truth. “So, you’re not going to compel them with pragmatic arguments, it’s going to have to a biblical rich, theologically rooted argument.”

Toward gospel advance
“Without a doubt, the high calling and common cause that unites diverse Baptist churches in cooperation is the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples of all the world’s peoples,” IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams wrote for Resource magazine last year. “Wherever else Baptists may disagree, we are agreed on the priority of advancing the gospel, both across the street and around the world.”

CP also helps involve different kinds of churches in that mission, Page noted during the Midwest Leadership Summit. The SBC is a convention of small churches, including many ethnic congregations. “The Cooperative Program levels the playing field so everyone has opportunity to bring worshipers to God.”

Ultimately, biblical cooperation leads to an advanced gospel, which is “the compelling apologetic for collaborative mission,” Fries said. Choosing for the gospel to go forward through believers wasn’t the most pragmatic choice for God to make, he said; rather, he designed it that way because it brings him glory and brings us joy.

Read more from the Feb. 2 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.

Nate_Adams_1110HEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Recently the city council in Seattle, Washington, voted unanimously to change their designation of the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. “Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington,” said one Indian nation president during the council meeting. And so, at least on one day in October, the city of Seattle will go its own way.

And yet, Seattle is not alone. The Minneapolis, Minnesota, city council passed a similar measure earlier this year. In Hawaii, they now celebrate “Discoverers’ Day” instead of Columbus Day, while in South Dakota it’s now “Native Americans Day.”

As much as I appreciate our nation’s Native American heritage, actions like these seem to me to denote a troublesome attitude or mindset, and yet one that I’m noticing more and more, even in Baptist life. It’s a mindset that says, “We’re mainly interested in what’s relevant and valuable to us here at home, and less interested in the bigger picture of what others are doing.”

In a way, it’s a mindset that’s compatible with the deeply held Baptist belief in autonomy. “No one outside our church is going to tell us what to do!” Yet at the same time it’s a mindset that tugs against the very spirit of unity and cooperation that have always been the hallmarks and strength of Baptist churches.

The way I see it expressed more these days is through practices such as designated rather than cooperative giving, or ecumenical rather than denominational partnerships. For example, one large Baptist church in the south that used to give more than $1 million through the Cooperative Program recently shifted more than 90% of that directly to their preference, international missions. And I see Baptist churches of all sizes occasionally doing missions or benevolence projects with partners whose doctrinal positions I daresay they have not examined.

Some of this is people just naturally doing what they want, or supporting what they find most compelling. But in those individual choices or preferences, there are often also great losses. When we each do what we prefer locally, we diminish what we can all accomplish collectively.

As we come to the close of another year here in Illinois, and perhaps finalize our church budgets, I would encourage us to do more pulling together and less pulling apart. There is already great individuality and diversity among our churches. And yet it is our unity around Baptist doctrine and cooperative missions that pulls us together, and allows us to accomplish together things that no individual church could do on its own.

Recently I’ve been invited to a number of churches to share, usually in a combined adult Sunday school class, how and why “cooperative missions” works, and then to preach in the morning worship service. Each time I do, there are older adults who come and say something like, “That’s why I’ve been Southern Baptist all my life.” And there are younger adults, many of whom didn’t grow up in a Baptist church or receive any childhood missions education, who say, “You know, I don’t think I really understood how we work together with other churches, but that really makes sense.”

In other words, our churches are already full of indigenous peoples, who naturally go their own ways. Our responsibility as autonomous but cooperating Baptist churches is to pull people together around the Word of God and the Mission of God.

Columbus wasn’t the first or only discoverer of America, and he wasn’t perfect. But when we celebrate in his name, we pull together as a nation, and we affirm the spirit of adventure and discovery. Likewise we should enthusiastically pull together as Baptists, around the name of Jesus Christ, and in support of the wonderful adventure we share, establishing His Kingdom in a new world.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Baptist_hymnalHEARTLAND | Nate Adams

Our youngest son, Ethan, recently mentioned to his mom and me that he had heard a couple of great new Christian songs he really liked. We asked what they were, hoping that we had been listening to enough Christian radio to perhaps recognize them.

Imagine our surprise when the songs he named were 100-year-old hymns.
We couldn’t help but show our disbelief. “Have you never heard those hymns before?” we asked. “Have you not been in churches that sang either of those?”

Perhaps he had, we decided, but apparently not often, or not at a time that he remembered. As we then reviewed the churches our family attended since Ethan was born, we realized that each of those churches had a contemporary worship style, or at least a blend of contemporary music and hymns. Therefore, hymns that I know by heart, sometimes even by page number, have become almost lost treasures to my son.

Music is just one example of the things in church life that sometimes need to change or evolve over time in order to stay relevant to new generations. But as my son’s new love for old hymns illustrates, sometimes we let treasures that have lasting value slip away simply because we have not properly maintained them, or passed them along effectively.

Nate_Adams_blog_callout_4Cooperative missions giving is one of those time-proven treasures that I fear we risk losing in the next generation if we do not more intentionally teach its value and practice its power. As with hymns, we may be assuming that what we have known so well by heart will always be with us, even if we’re not rehearsing it regularly with new church leaders and members.

That’s one reason many Southern Baptist churches set aside one special Sunday in April to inform and educate their church members on the incredible, week-after-week power of our ongoing missions support system known as the Cooperative Program. This year the national Cooperative Program promotion Sunday is April 13, but since that happens to fall on Palm Sunday, many churches may choose another nearby date for this emphasis.

Whether it’s April 13 or some other time, intentionally educating everyone in the church about Cooperative Program missions is extremely important. Church members need to understand that the Cooperative Program portion of their church budget provides
foundational support for thousands of faithful Baptist missionaries, throughout North America and around the world. They need to know that hundreds of people groups in more than 150 countries are receiving the Gospel through these missionaries, and that thousands of new churches are being planted as a result. Right here in North America, more than 900 new churches are being established each year, and coordinated ministries such as Disaster Relief help place thousands of Southern Baptist volunteers and chaplains right in the middle of people’s deepest physical and spiritual needs.

Cooperative Program giving helps make theological training at six world-class seminaries affordable for tomorrow’s pastors, church staff, and missionaries. And it gives us an important voice in the culture through the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC Executive Committee. Right here in Illinois, CP helps train more than 23,000 leaders each year, and start 25 new churches.

There are lots of good resources at http://www.IBSA.org/CP and http://www.sbc.net to help church members understand how the CP works, and, more importantly, how many lives are being transformed through it as the Great Commission is advanced. There are short videos to use in worship services or small groups, and well-designed print pieces ranging from bulletin inserts to multiple-page articles.

Many of us may assume that, like a treasured hymn, the Cooperative Program will always be there, always fueling the most effective and far-reaching missionary system in history. But that will only happen if we consistently and continually teach new
generations of church leaders to carry the tune.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.

Everything grows together

Meredith Flynn —  August 22, 2013

pull quote_ADAMS_NEWCOMMENTARY | Nate Adams

Editor’s note: This column is the second in a three-part series, interpreting IBSA’s 2013 state mission offering theme statement: Mission Illinois – Churches Together, Advancing the Gospel. Read Nate’s first column here.

Throughout September, and during the September 15-22 week of prayer in particular, churches across our state are joining together to focus on our Illinois mission field, where at least 8.2 million people don’t yet have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In addition to praying, most churches participate in the “Mission Illinois Offering,” all of which goes to work right here in our state to push back lostness, and to assist missionaries and churches in disciple-making evangelism and church planting.

The theme statement we’ve chosen to describe Mission Illinois is “Churches Together, Advancing the Gospel.”

The second word of that theme – together – speaks of the multiplied strength, impact, and growth that happen when churches embrace cooperative missions. The power of what churches can do together far exceeds the power of what any church can do individually.

Individually, an Illinois church might work for years to help establish one new congregation somewhere else in the state. But last year, Illinois “churches together” started 28 new congregations.

Individually, an Illinois church might be too far away from a college campus to have a meaningful ministry, even to its own students there. But Illinois “churches together” provide Baptist collegiate ministries on dozens of college campuses.

Individually, an Illinois church might be able to equip a handful of its members to go on an annual mission trip or two. But Illinois “churches together” sent more than 27,000 missions volunteers last year, a 34% increase over the previous year.

Individually, an Illinois church might baptize five or ten new believers, or even a hundred if it were one of our larger churches. But Illinois “churches together” welcomed more than 5,000 new believers into the Kingdom of God last year.

Those kinds of results go beyond mere cumulative totals. They are the synergistic result of us believing together, praying together, giving together, and working together as a Baptist family of churches here in Illinois. But let me cite another noteworthy example, or rather examples, of what “together” means.

Individually, an Illinois church might be flooded, or lose its pastor, or be divided in conflict, or be confronted with a lawsuit. That church might simply not know how to respond to a crisis or traumatic event, or it might need help improving its Sunday School, or evaluating its facilities, or hosting its first Vacation Bible School in years.

Illinois “churches together” provide one another with our statewide staff and resources so that each church is only a phone call, e-mail, or visit away from getting whatever kind of assistance each one needs to remain strong, or in some cases, to survive.

One of the many catchy tunes embedded in my memory from childhood days of watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is the song, “Everything Grows Together.”  Mr. Rogers taught us that: “Your toes grow as your feet grow as your legs grow as your fingers grow as your hands grow as your arms grow as your ears grow as your nose grows as the rest of you grows, because you’re all one piece.”

How does everything grow, even in the ministry of our churches? Together. Why?  Because we’re all one piece. We know the joys and benefits of interdependence. As you consider your gift to the Mission Illinois Offering this year, I hope it will be in part because you see the amazing value of what can only be done by churches together.

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